J. T. Walton Newbold

Socialism and Militarism

Source: The Call, February 1, 1917, No. 43, p. 2
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THERE is very great need to-day, clearly, to define what is the attitude towards Militarism which Socialism demands of its adherents because, both from the nationalist and from the sentimental wings of the movement, have been put forward views which have no foundation in our specifically Socialist principles. Whilst we cannot lower our banners and march to war beneath the alien flag of the Imperialists, or persuade ourselves that this is a struggle for Liberty against Oppression, or for Democracy against Oligarchy and Autocracy, neither can we acquiesce in many of the ideas of our whilom pacifist colleagues. Our conception of the sovereign rights of the community is such that the claim of some persons to arrogate to themselves what is the best form of service which they can render, and which are the laws which they will obey appears impossible. We cannot sympathise with those who will not undertake other work than that on which they are normally engaged at the behest of the State, but would do that same task if they were not ordered.

It is not compulsion to which we object. It is not conscription to which we oppose ourselves. What we are opposed to is the submission to a governing class which we deem to be our natural enemies, and to aiding them in the advancement of causes and the defence of interests to which we are unalterably hostile. We do not, however, expect that the State, i.e., the supreme representative of our ruling classes, will recognise our right to contract out of the engagement to which they have committed us. We would think them extraordinarily stupid or astoundingly weak or very alarmed if they did so. Socialists may have conscientious objections to participating in the war, but how they can reasonably expect their opponents to recognise these as valid is beyond the comprehension of some of us. It would appear to be due to the fact that they have not realised the character of the State as it exists to-day, and have not appreciated the truth of Liebknecht’s, dictum that the national governments are the executive committees of the junkers and the capitalists.

Similarly, the elevation of the goddess Freedom, and the importance attached to the protection of her domain puzzles us when we observe our comrades joining in the solemn rites and repeating the holy incarnations. Naturally, the middle-class, or that section of it which is out of power,is much distressed to see now this and now that prerogative slip away. For it the end of the world seems to have come just as it appeared to the minions of King Bung, ten years ago, when this same section was all-powerful.

We never persuaded ourselves that the Freedom which had been won during the ascent of the middle-class to political power would be respected by the authorities, by these new authorities, when new classes hove in sight or when the interests of the oligarchy were not consonant with freedom of speech, person and press. Freedom to us is not absolute. It is strictly relative according as social forces play one upon another, and the interests of the classes determine.

Nor do we consider Militarism as something which has intruded itself into the quiet, well-ordered world of Democratic institutions. Militarism is, in our sight, but the reflex of social forces under certain conditions, and in certain circumstances. We do not say that capitalism is, by nature, warlike, or, on the contrary, that it is pacific. It is both, as its interests determine. Capitalism, during the greater part of the 19th century, was pacific and the prominent figures amongst capitalist statesmen have, until recently, been Pacifists, Free Traders, Liberals. But there was a reason for that, there were several reasons, and many of those reasons no longer hold good for the dominant forces in modern capitalist politics.

The capitalists of the Liberal era had not yet reinforced their economic ascendancy by the conquest of political power. The agrarian and mercantile interests still dominated the situation and the laws and the executive reflected their ideology. That is the real explanation of the adherence of the Liberal statesmen to the cult of laissez-faire. The victory of Free Trade principles marked the equipoise of the old governing class and the new. The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the Crown.

Protection, Colonies, Navigation Laws, Armies, Fleets were all the means of defence and aggression used by the landlords and the “planters” in their competition with similar interests in other countries as well as in their social warfare with the rising capitalist, class. Their effect was to divert profits from the industrial magnates to the governing classes as interest on public debts, official salaries, rents, freightages, etc. They increased the cost of production and diminished the share of profits which came to the Cobdens and the Horrockses, the Peases and the Chamberlains. These latter did not require public assistance to market their commodities, because they were, as yet, without serious competitors. Their handicaps were in the vested interests of the established order.

But in the last generation all that has changed. The industrial capitalists have won almost everything that they required, whilst the landed interests have, in turn, merged with the capitalists by marriage, investment, and the industrial development of their properties. The Bates have become capitalist coal-owners and railway magnates, the Peases have become landowners with a stake, also, in the Empire. At the same time foreign countries have succumbed to capitalism and industrial competition has become fiercely keen between all the nations with big industries creating immense volumes of surplus value and exporting unsaleable commodities to “civilize” the heathen. Large scale production, the big business, has swollen the ranks of the proletariat, driven thousands of the middle class downwards, and has begun to stimulate intense class consciousness wherever capitalism has developed most highly. Each community of capitalists now looks to its organised self, the Government, for protection and assistance in maintaining its mastery at home and abroad. Each and all, the capitalist dominated Governments, have become Militarist and are becoming increasingly Imperialist and Protectionist.

We, needless to say, are irrevocably hostile to capitalism, whether, the Rochdale brand or the Birmingham kind. We see the New overwhelming the Old and smile, not because we love one more than the other, but because we see them both swirling down to the Social Revolution along the appointed channel of historic necessity. Capitalism is in rout whilst it shouts of victory. It is doomed, and it has become, and will increasingly become, brutally ruthless and ingenuously unscrupulous. This assurance, this conviction dominates our whole attitude to public affairs, to Peace, to War. Across the stormiest years of human history, over the blood-soaked battlefields, and the crowded gaols and the industrial slave compounds, we see the promise of Socialism and our thoughts go back to the titan—Marx!