H.N. Hyndman Justice, January 21 1911

Pacifism and German Aggression

Source: Justice, Jan 21, 1911, p.6;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

There are certain Socialists who imagine that because we are all working for International unity, and admit fully there is no real cause for enmity among the peoples, that, therefore, there is no probability of any further war, and that all armament’s should at once be suspended, regardless of what may be going on all over the world which should give pause to this strange outbreak of sentiment. Unfortunately, Socialists have no direct control in any country: they have, in fact, at present little influence on the policy of those particular countries which are arming with the greatest assiduity. Nobody can deny, for instance, that our party in Germany is by far the strongest Socialist Party in the world. Yet, even in Germany, the Social-Democrats are as yet quite powerless to arrest the enormous expenditure by land and by sea used to back up the traditional Prussian policy of aggression, which, in my opinion, is at the present moment a serious menace to Europe. A serious menace to Europe, and I say this as a Social-Democrat of 30 years’ standing, and before then an advanced Radical from my boyhood onwards.

What I cannot understand is how Radicals, who very properly object to schemes of aggression on the part of Great Britain, of Russia, of France, of America, of Japan, are absolutely indifferent to the dangerous action of Germany in Europe and elsewhere. They seem to have forgotten the history of Prussia altogether. They pay no attention to the fact that the Poles in Prussian Poland are still worse off than they are under Russian rule, and far behind their compatriots in Austria; they are indifferent to the treatment of the inhabitants of Schleswig-Holstein; they care not at all about the suppression of popular rights in Alsace-Lorraine, and make no comment on the farce of a “Constitution” which is being thrust contemptuously upon those two provinces; they deliberately maintain a conspiracy of silence about the threatening attitude of Germany towards Holland; they are equally indifferent to the highhanded proceedings of that country in China; they consider the Bagdad Railway as purely a commercial venture; they carefully pass by the hectoring arrogance with which she is treating Switzerland in the matter of the St. Gothard Railway; and if anybody dares to hint that the enormous increase. of the German navy, built up by borrowed money in a time of profound peace, is directed against this country in order to obtain for Prussian policy a free hand in working towards the dominance of Europe by direct menace in the North Sea – that man, no matter how completely his previous career may falsify such preposterous misrepresentation, is denounced as a Chauvinist and a fire eater. I myself have been most bitterly attacked on this issue, and if I were to collect all the imputations and epithets piled up upon me by people whom I supposed to be my friends I think they themselves would be a little astonished at the sort of language they have permitted themselves to use about me.

I again repeat, however, regardless of these attacks, that I consider the German Empire, under its present Government and leadership, a direct danger to the peace of the world; and I am quite convinced that the traditional policy of the Hohenzollerns and Prussia is now taking another great step in advance towards a period of continuous aggression, such as that which I myself watched the development of from 1858 to 1871.

As opposed to this policy, which took active shape at the time of the Boer war and directly afterwards, an effort was made to form a combination directed to maintain some sort of balance of power in Europe in opposition to the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy. This was considered as an attempt to isolate the first-named Power. That, I presume, would not now be disputed. The weak points in this endeavour were this apparent attempt to isolate Germany, the alliance between Russia and France, and our own entente with Russia. We ourselves had practically made the Russo-French alliance almost inevitable, objectionable as it was from every point of view, by our refusal to help France after the disaster of Sedan and by our not taking advantage of what occurred in 1874 and 1884 to draw closer our bonds of friendship with that country. As a result of this alliance France has lent Russia at the very least £500,000,000, an investment which gives much uneasiness at the present moment to the ablest financial heads in the Republic, and served for a time to strengthen Russia against Europe. That would have been discovered by this time but for the idiotic policy which landed the Muscovite power in the war with Japan.

It is impossible, of course, within our limits to go into all the details of the diplomatic arrangements which have brought about the present situation. But it is at least certain that what “Justice” said time after time about the impossibility of relying upon Russia when German interests were opposed to that Power, especially since the Japanese War, has been proved to be true in every way. The skin is nearer to the body than the shirt. Russia some time ago removed all her troops from Poland and left that territory at the mercy of a German advance. That, surely, was pretty good evidence of what was coming about. The manner in which Russia was obliged, also, to sit down under the snub she got for talking too loud about the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina showed that she was in no condition to hold her own. The “storm cloud” of which our old friend Stepniak used to write a quarter of a century ago has therefore shifted from St. Petersburg to Berlin. Recent events, the arrangement of the affairs of Turkey and Persia between Russia and Germany, without any reference to France or to England, point in the same direction, as also does the specific understanding in relation to the Balkans, No sane statesman goes to war if he can gain all that he wants by peace, and this is precisely what Prussia has done, and what, if allowed, she will continue to do in the near future, when ready for the next forward move which is being rapidly prepared.

Yet in the midst of all this, when he himself lays great stress upon the fact that Russia has carried out her own arrangements in the Balkans, Turkey and Persia, without any reference to the French Government, our friend Jaurès delivers another of his fine poetical orations in the French Assembly, and talks as if all antagonism were at an end, and it were possible to accommodate the independence of the small peoples – he sympathises deeply with the Poles! – to a policy of complete pacifism. If France were disarmed at the present time, as M. Pichon truly said, she would practically be at the mercy of any opponent; yet that is precisely what Jaurès, with all his vehement enthusiasm on behalf of national freedom in India, in Canada, in Egypt, in fact in every country not directly threatened by Germany, is ready to concede.

After all, what most concerns us, alike as Englishmen and as Socialists, is what effect this will have upon our own country. I am not a pacifist and I never was. I have upheld the absolute necessity for an overwhelmingly strong Navy for this country for 45 years, and anybody who likes to look again into my little “England for All,” presented to every delegate at the first conference of the Social-Democratic Party, then the Democratic Federation, will find that in the main precisely the same policy which I advocate now I advocated then. Unfortunately, the possession of India and Egypt entirely blinds our governing classes to the right policy and to the real strength of our position.

A great many years have passed since the late Lord Salisbury, who at any rate knew thoroughly well what he was talking about, said publicly, “We are carrying too much sail.” That is far more true to-day than it was then, and of course it is still more true from the point of view of Social-Democracy than from that of State policy. The people of Great Britain have no interest whatsoever in the retention of India and Egypt. They are weakened and injured every way by holding these conquered possessions, and are prevented from exercising their due influence as a democratic Power in Europe just as they are handicapped at home by the neglect of their domestic conditions. Let this be frankly recognised and acted upon.

It is high time, at any rate, that Social. Democrats and all Socialists should clear their minds of cant in this department of foreign policy. If the Socialists of Great Britain come to the conclusion that this island is not worth defending, and that they have no duties towards other nations which they are called upon to perform, then let them, following the counsels of Gustave Hervé and Count Tolstoy, sell out their fleet, suppress their futile army, and go forth as Quakers with empty hands before the world. If, on the other hand, it is recognised, as appears to be the case now even by Radical Ministers and pacifist leaders, that naval armaments and military forces are necessary under the conditions of to-day, then let our own policy towards foreign nations be discussed without prejudice or bitterness, and let us take full account of the course we should follow in view of the threatening aspect of affairs. Never before in the history of the world were the complications so great: never before were the people at large kept so completely in the dark as to the real intentions of the men who control the immediate destinies of this country. We have the right to know whether we have a clear understanding with France or not, and if we have whether we are in a position to act up to it. We are likewise entitled to be precisely informed as to what steps, if any, are being taken to come to an arrangement with Germany, especially in view of M. Pichon’s remarkable statement about the fortifying of Flushing by Holland. The persistent bleating of “Peace, Peace” where there is no peace has landed us in war before to-day, and not so very long ago either. But that war is fatal to Socialist, progress we are all agreed.