Eden and Cedar Paul

Book Review

The Crux of Alsace-Lorraine

Source: The Call, 21 March 1918, p. 3
Transcribed: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.

“The Question of Alsace-Lorraine”
By Jules Duhem.
Translated by Mrs. R. Stawell.
Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1918.
pp. 206, 2s. 6d. net.

This excellent translation of an interesting book is a welcome contribution to a difficult problem. M. Duhem writes as dispassionately as can be expected of a Frenchman who holds in all seriousness that (p.143) “on the day that the German army marched upon France the question of Alsace-Lorraine ceased to exist. The two provinces are now French territory, temporarily occupied by the enemy, and will be recovered by force of arms, like Lille and the departments of the north.” He writes with force, and with as much insight as can be expected from a man to whom the socialist outlook on life is a sealed book, from a man, too, whose keen sympathy with French nationalist aspirations dulls his understanding for the obverse nationalist aspirations of Germany. But he is essentially fair-minded in that there is no wilful distortion and little subconscious distortion of facts, so that one who reads with a wary eye to the writer’s very manifest bias may gather much useful information on a matter concerning which we have far too little knowledge in this country. Even if we cannot agree that Alsace-Lorraine was the sole, nor perhaps even that it was the main cause of the war, the difficulties that centre round that disputed territory are among the most striking manifestations of the conflicts between capitalist imperialisms which were the essential factors of the struggle. From the earliest days of the war, too, the present writers have held that “the lost provinces” were destined to prove the most irreducible obstacle to a settlement. Another question of a similar kind was added when Italy entered the war, and yet another when Roumania was forced into the struggle. But Roumania has nwo dropped out. And Italy (the secret treaties notwithstanding) never seems to have had formidable weight in counsels of the Allies. We are still, however, officially fighting, not only for the treaty rights of Belgians, but for the integral “restoration” of Alsace-Lorraine to France.

The chapter on “Germany and Alsace-Lorraine” is one of especial interest, detailing the attempt to Germanise the acquisitions of the last war. But we must read it, as we must read the whole book, bearing in mind that “Germanism” is no more than an extreme, a logical and unhypocritical, manifestation of the inevitable tendency of capitalist imperialism. We think of French imperialism in Algeria and Morocco and Tonquin; of English imperialism in India and Egypt and yet nearer home; of Anglo-Boer imperialism with its exploitation of the native races in South Africa. We know that a modern capitalist state which shall persistently respect the rights of small nationalities which shall enduringly distribute none but good fruits at the close of this “war for liberty,” is a liberal hallucination. M. Duhem’s atmosphere of idealism has probably concealed even from himself that he possesses capitalist horns and a capitalist tail. Yet very plainly, from time to time, does he display the cloven hoof. Here are a few quotations, which the reader may italicise for himself:—

“Our statesmen [1880 to 1889], being entirely occupied with schemes for colonial expansion, made arduous efforts to come to terms with Berlin, with a view to securing safety in that direction” (p.60).

“A few military reviews, the excellent quality of some new troops, the improvement in military equipment caused by the adoption of the Lebel rifle and smokeless powder, and the popularity of a general, were enough to revive a feeling of power in the country, and forthwith the idea of a struggle with Germany” (pp.60, 61).

“As a matter of fact, the ruling factor in the discussion lies in the needs of Germany’s immense metal industries. Three-quarters of the iron she uses is derived front the mines of Lorraine” (p.130).

Nationality, patriotism, the French spirit (or the German, or another)—what are these but masks, assumed for the most part almost unconsciously. What is a “scheme for colonial expansion” but a search for lucrative investments by exploiting capital, search for a field in which to dispose of the surplus furnished by domestic exploitation? As long as exploiting capital dominates the world, so long will our Alsace-Lorraine questions remain unsettled, and so long will our rival capitalist imperialisms endow us with the blessings of armed peace and conscription, varied by war with its increased opportunities for devotion to the lord god of profit. As for M. Duhem’s idealisation on one page of the regime of force which he condemns on another, his approval of J. and F. Régamy’s expression of the problem in a simplified form (p.74): “Since Alsace-Lorraine was torn from France by force and kept under the yoke of force, and can never be Germanised even though centuries should be devoted to the task, it can only be recovered by force” . what can one say but this, that it reminds us of Treitschke’s defiant assertion of nearly half a century back: “These territories are ours by the right of the sword, and we shall dispose of them in virtue of a higher right—the right of the German nation, which will not permit its lost children to remain strangers to the German empire. We . know better than these unfortunates themselves what is good for the people of Alsace . Against their will we shall restore them to their true selves.”

The bourgeois is the same, be he French patriot or German. He learns nothing and forgets nothing. But M. Duhem’s book is worth reading despite its limitations.