Th. Rothstein 1908

Peace or Revolution

Source: Justice, 17 September 1908, p. 3;
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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 more one reads comrade Hyndman’s angrily-worded articles directed against Germany, the more one is lost in amazement as to whether his aim is really to prevent a war between the two countries, and not rather to render it popular. It would seem that for the purpose of averting such a calamity, his energy should have been devoted to an exposure of the criminal callousness with which the governing classes in, both countries have settled down to work for war, though the object of such a war is of no earthly concern to the working class, which will have to bear the brunt of it. Instead, his efforts are one and all directed to fan the public mind into a deadly hatred of Germany, thereby assisting the jingoes of this country in creating a favourable atmosphere for their nefarious plans.

Indeed, one has only to read his article in last week’s “Justice,” where he has gathered up all the counts in his indictment, to see that there is nothing to distinguish between the case as presented by him, and the case as presented by Mr. Maxse’s writers, except that the latter are more logical in demanding the immediate destruction of this fiendish Power, Germany, ere it had time to complete its preparations for an attack on this country. It is really impossible to see how Hyndman, after showing what Prussia and Germany are, can demand the conclusion of an entente between this country and Germany, and believe in the possibility of an arrangement on the basis of give-and-take. It seems to me that with such a country as Hyndman represents Germany to be there can be no pact, and as for “give-and-take,” why, this is excluded by the very character of the Prussian State which has always led a “predatory” life, and which seems now to be bent on grabbing these islands, as she has grabbed the territories of some of her neighbours. Is not, then, Hyndman’s idea chimerical, illogical—nay, mischievous?

Well, for my part, I sincerely believe that this idea of an understanding with Germany is perfectly feasible, and I only charge Hyndman with going about the wrong way to achieve it. He seems to have committed two serious mistakes. In the first instance he conjured up the spectre of war in order to make out a case for a citizen army. Then, as he was attacked for representing the war as almost inevitable, and admitting of no other way of meeting it than taking the necessary measures of defence, he turned round and charged his opponents with shutting their eyes to the danger which was threatening the country. On this latter ground he is still standing, trying in every way—now by quoting the testimony of Bebel, and then by showing up what a monster Prussia is—to substantiate his assertion that a war with Germany is not only possible, but if events are allowed to drift in their present course, even probable—perhaps, inevitable. May I be allowed to point out to Hyndman that he is really fighting with windmills. Nobody, so far as I know, has ever denied that war between the two countries is possible. What has been denied, and what I for my part most strenuously deny, is that the “resources of civilisation” have really been exhausted already, so that nothing else remains for this country to do but to take measures of self-defence. In fact, Hyndman himself has now abandoned his original position, and discovered that there is still another way of meeting the danger, besides arming the people for self-defence, and that is, by meeting Germany half-way.

Here, however, he committed his second mistake. Instead of showing that such a way of averting the danger of war is possible, he is doing his utmost to demonstrate its impossibility by painting Germany in the blackest colours, at the same time instilling into the minds of the public an aversion to even attempting to seek, Germany’s friendship. What credence can one attach to the idea that Germany would be willing to compromise matters when one reads the string of charges which Hyndman brings against her in his last article? Nay, more, what desire can one have for avoiding a war with her at all costs when one is shown that she is the blackest political power on earth, which it would simply benefit the world to crush? I have not the slightest doubt that comrade Hyndman’s arguments have on his readers an effect precisely the reverse of what he intended, and his plea for an entente appears to them as a complete non sequitur.

The truth is, Hyndman’s desire, first, of making out a strong case for a citizen army, and next his mistaken notion that somebody is disputing the fact that there is a danger of war with Germany, have got the better both of his knowledge of foreign politics and of his judgment both as a man and a Social Democrat and have varried him in his reading of the case between Germany and England, much further than he ever expected. One has only to read in his last article what he says about Prussia to see this. I am sure comrade Hyndman knows as well as anybody that Prussia is not the only predatory Power on earth; that all the Powers of the present day are of a like nature; that all of them, but above all England herself, have attained to their present territorial limits by “deliberately aggressive wars,” and that none of them, so far as their Governments at least are concerned, would hesitate one moment to grab a weaker country, if only the opportunity presented itself. Think of Russia, which has absorbed Poland, Finland, the Caucasus, and the Baltic Provinces. Think of Austria, which has raised her rule on the ruins of an independent Bohemia, Hungary, and a multitude of Slavonic States. Think of France which has, absorbed Savoy and Nice, and possessed for two centuries the then German countries of Alsace and Lorraine. Think even of Sweden which held in her grab Norway, of Holland which ruled over Belgium, and think, lastly, of England which has absorbed more countries belonging to other people than she can now conveniently digest. What good is there in pointing to Prussia as if she were the only sinner? Comrade Hyndman goes so far as to reproach Germany for having refused her agreement to the proposal for the limitation of armaments—a proposal which England, who has constructed a navy which renders her the complete mistress of the sea (she was at that very time building her Dreadnoughts!), has hypocritically, under the cloak of humanity, put forward in an informal way, while reserving formally and frankly her right of capture of private property on the high seas! One knows too much of Hyndman to suspect him of wilful misrepresentation of these and similar cases. One clearly sees that on this occasion his usually sound judgment and intimate knowledge of international affairs have forsaken him, or, rather, yielded their place to the supposed necessities of an argument.

Far be it from me to deny that Prussia is a predatory Power. Nor do I deny that Germany is preparing for war, though it is not quite true what Hyndman says in the sixth clause of his indictment about the preamble to the Navy Law of 1900, and though I doubt the accuracy of the fact as stated, and of the interpretation given to it, that the coal-carrying capacity of Germany’s latest vessels is small, and is due to aggressive intentions against England. But while I grant that, as a matter of fact, Germany does prepare for war with England, I should like to ask comrade Hyndman whether England does not? I know what he will say—in fact, it follows from all his previous arguments—namely, that Germany is the aggressor. But that is not correct, and it is just because this is not correct, and Hyndman has failed to point it out, that his case is so exceedingly weak. As a matter of history, it is England which is primarily responsible for the present tension between the two countries, in that she, out of fear for the further commercial expansion of Germany, has systematically been hindering her in her efforts to, acquire colonies and financial markets. It was the action of England in acquiring Wei-hai-wei as a counter-move against Germany’s seizure of Kiao-Chau which first showed to Germany that England will never allow her to obtain “places in the sun,” as the Kaiser once called it, and the subsequent action of England in Asia Minor, and in the markets of the Ottoman Empire in general, substantiated the first impression. Of course, we Socialists are against colonial adventures, and no one combatted so bitterly and fearlessly the Kaiser’s new World Policy as our German comrades. But it was not out of sheer virtue that England opposed the colonial aspirations of Germany, and it is, therefore, not surprising that Germany should have turned the enemy of England, and commenced building heavy battleships in the place of the cruisers of which her navy was originally composed. And when, England, as if to show that her obstructive tactics were purposely directed against Germany, shared out with France the northern portion of Africa, Kaiser William decided that nothing but the sword will ever guarantee him the freedom of necessary—as he understands it—expansion. How, then, can one take upon himself to represent Germany as the aggressive wolf and England as the innocent lamb driven to self-defence? Is it not a complete perversion of the real facts of the situation?

It is in the contemplation of the facts as presented above one obtains the proper insight into possibilities of a settlement of the dispute between the two countries by other means than the sword. Had the facts been really such as Hyndman presents them, the situation would have been hopeless. Against a Power obsessed by a lust of more conquest, what can you do except to defend yourself? But when one places the facts in their true perspective, the vista of a settlement becomes quite plain. Granted the Kaiser is mad in his colonial dreams. Granted he is a brute in deciding to fight over them. Surely we Socialists can suggest something better than giving him the opportunity of playing havoc with the lives of millions? Comrade Hyndman persistently points out the mistake committed by Jaurès in overthrowing Delcassé. But that was no mistake at all. It was the proper line of policy for a Socialist to take, declaring that the whole of Morocco, and any number of Moroccos, were not worth the bones, of a single French soldier, and Delcassé, if this did not suit him, must go. We must say the same to our British Government. We must tell them that all the available “vacant” places in any of the four quarters of the globe, and all the financial markets put together are not worth the bones of a single proletarian, either in this or any other country, and that if they, the Government, think otherwise, we shall arouse the masses against them, and upset not only them, but the whole of the blessed capitalist order. There must be no war. Let England cease obstructing Germany as she has ceased obstructing France. Let there be no further provocation by a policy of penning her in. Let there be peace or there will be a revolution!