Mary E. Marcy

Our Gains in the War

(May 1917)

From International Socialist Review, Vol. 17 No. 11, May 1917.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

WE doubt whether Socialists and industrial unionists are ever going to start a revolution. This is not the way revolutions or even revolts arise. First, we are too few in number; second, we cannot plan a revolution, and third, people do not act in unison because their ideas are similar.

People act when they are hungry and cold, at a time when they are torn from their old moorings and thrust into new sets of conditions, a new environment; when they are jolted from their old habits and customs, when they suffer, in short; the mass revolt only when they have to.

We cannot make our opportunity, but we must keep up a constant work of education and organization and class struggles in order to be ready to take advantage of opportunity when it is presented to us. And we are almost inclined to believe that such an opportunity may only come during some great cataclysm like the world war, or some other great national or international disaster when social institutions are crumbling and men and women are torn from their old habits of thought and of action, and Misery, Hunger and Death stalk abroad among the working class.

Every true Socialist opposes capitalist wars at all times with every ounce of his strength, by all means at his command – because such wars are waged in the interests of Big Business – to gain new territory for capitalist exploitation, or to save old fields to their capitalist possessors, to protect commerce, property or profits rather than human lives.

For if it were lives with which the governments of the world were concerned, you would find the government of the United States making war upon the railroads to save the lives of the thousands of railroad workers killed needlessly every year, or the German government making war against the landlords in Berlin to crush out the awful scourge of tuberculosis that has raged for years in that metropolis, or you would find the British government using its power to prevent famine in India and the chronic starvation that existed among the poor of England before the war.

We oppose capitalist wars because we know that, in the past, wars have brought in their train oppressive measures which have deprived the working class of freedom of the press, free speech, the right to organize and to strike, and the right of assembly. During war the working class may lose all the small gains they have made to better their conditions during the past fifty years at so much cost and sacrifice.

We oppose capitalist wars because they are usually the great foes of liberalism and democracy; because, when Imperialism has been saddled upon a nation, and a strong military caste stands ready to serve the billionaire owning class, we feel that it will be almost impossible for the productive workers of that nation to make any headway against the encroachments of capital. For the army may stand ready to break every strike; to suppress every tendency toward freedom; to crush out all revolt.

This is true of Imperialism in times of peace; but Russia, on the other hand, points to the hopeful possibilities during war. It may need the national, hungry, bereaved desperation of the working class to cause the workers to rise as a class and to fight as a class.

Elsewhere in this number of the Review we hope to publish an interesting article on Economic Determinism and the Capitalist Class, in which the writer points out how the German government undoubtedly declared war in order to prolong the dominion of its ruling class and to prevent a possible revolution at home.

But the German government, as well as the governments of other warring nations of Europe have started something that they are now unable to stop. The great giant they loosed has grown beyond their control, and the longer the war lasts the more impossible will it become for the old system ever to be reconstructed. In fact, already we have witnessed the downfall of more of the strictly capitalist institutions during the past thirty months than the world has seen in a century.

The private ownership of the means of production and distribution has almost disappeared from the face of Europe today. And the longer the war lasts the more certainly is this private ownership forever doomed, the more widespread does state ownership and state control become.

In any nation, as war progresses and grows more intense, gradually the utterly useless parasites upon the social body are forced from their snug hiding places and set to work carrying on the task of feeding and clothing the people of that country, and the soldiers on the field.

Gradually production and distribution break away from all individual control and restraint and become social or national in scope. Every healthy human being is forced to perform some function in the social body in order to preserve what the publicists are pleased “their honor” or “their national unity.” Meanwhile the old order is surely tumbling about their ears nevermore to be raised up again.

We are not so much concerned whether the border of this country, or of that country, be moved a few miles east or west, as we are in the changed methods of production and distribution, the economic changes – that emerge out of the war chaos, in the disappearance of institutions that have long served the exploiting classes so faithfully and so well. We are interested in learning that parliaments have become outworn, vestigial social organs, or institutions, no longer necessary to the social body.

We rejoice to see the people of Russia throw off the century old yoke of autocracy that has hampered her productive development, tho it be, in some measure, but to wage a sterner war. We are glad to learn that some of England’s underfed population are acquiring the habit of regular and abundant food, and still more happy over the news of a possible revolution that may forever destroy the Prussian military caste and bring some measure of gain to the working class of Germany.

Individuals have ceased to stand out in this war, which has grown to such colossal proportions that men are no longer big enough, important enough, to stand out in the noise of great social changes. The profit-mad capitalist classes of the various nations, who caused this war, are fighting, thru their home governments and armies, for new fields of profit-taking, or to preserve old fields of profit-making. And now that the war is on, they find that all things must yield to bring efficiency for the defeat of their competitors across the border lines.

Meanwhile their own national protective social institutions are tumbling about their ears and the rumblings of revolt and revolution are heard in nearly every land. During war the first consideration of every government is to see that its soldiers are well clothed and well fed, and that its people are well housed and clothed and well fed, so that the people can supply the army. But what government (not planning great wars) concerns itself with the food, the shelter and the clothing of its people? Can we imagine that people who are becoming accustomed to regular work, regular pay, and, for the great portion of the population, a goodly measure of security – can we imagine that these people are going to permit themselves to be thrown into unemployment, uncertainty and hunger after the war is over?

Was it possible to break up the great trusts and monopolies once they were organized? Will it be possible to un- scramble the industries absorbed by the governments during war time? We cannot believe it, for it is the methods of production which determine things, events and institutions, not the desires of the most powerful individuals.

If the war lasts long enough the new system of production may grow beyond the control of any individual or groups of individuals if it has not already done so.

You may wonder if so much that is good may come out of this great capitalist war, why we oppose this war, why we must oppose all capitalist wars with all our strength and all our means. We believe the answer is plain.

This is not our war – a war of the working class to throw off the yoke of exploitation. It is a war between great national and international capitalist groups to widen their spheres of profit-taking, just as it was John D. Rockefeller’s fight when he went about freezing out his weaker competitors in the oil fields. It was not the part of an intelligent working class to help Mr. Rockefeller squeeze out the little fellows and help him build a great oil monopoly. It is not the part of the working class to fight the battles of more ambitious capitalists. Besides –

We understand the game. We are not fooled. We see our own international working class interests. We will wage our own fight in our own interests. It is our mission to use the opportunity that may develop if the working class is driven to desperation by hunger and misery. It is our mission to gain from new opportunities things that will mean lasting economic independence and industrial democracy to the working class.

We believe this is the function of the advanced guard of the working class. Either these things or reaction will be the fruits of the war.

Russia has struck, in part; Germany may follow. Who shall say what the end may be?

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