Offshoots of Liberalism—Pacifism
By Albert Weisbord
Among the interminable writings of the Liberals there has been developed the proposition that society has evolved from militarism to industrialism. From this thesis there flows the implication that, since the highest product of industrialism is Liberalism, the dove of peace rests contentedly on the Liberals shoulders. From first to last the thesis is false.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, in the beginning of human society war was generally unknown. Life was too precarious, the means of subsistence too difficult to obtain, and the instruments at hand too puny for war possibly to have been carried on to any considerable degree in the lowest levels of savagery. (*1) What damage could the savage have done with his crude paleolithic knife? What sort of mass warfare could have been carried on with stone and club? War on a really grand scale demanded far better implements to be devised.
In the upper level of savagery, although the bow and arrow were used, and the possibilities for war were thus increased, there was still little incentive and profit in war. The maintenance of life was still too difficult for tribes to devote any considerable part of their time to warfare. There being as yet no private property, war for permanent aggrandizement was unknown. Finally, the practice of exogamy, that is, the custom of seeking one’s wife outside the tribe and among neighboring tribes, militated severely against mutual tribal warfare.
Among the Plains Indians in North America “It was common, in early times, for a battle or skirmish to last all day, with great display of daring and horsemanship, but with scarcely more killed and wounded than might be carried from the field during a university game of football.” (*2) Warfare was regarded as a tournament, never for territorial aggrandizement or overthrow of a brother nation. And, says the same writer, “The slayer of a man in battle was expected to mourn for thirty days….” (*3)
Thus we may say, “War like everything else in the universe has had a beginning. And in searching for its origin one discovers that it is non-existent among plants, animals and savages. It was found that the latter are, contrary to the benighted belief of bourgeois scholarship, the most peaceful of men.”
“If the savage ever fights, and he seldom does, we find him engaged in personal combat, generally with the intention of rendering his antagonist hors du combat rather than slaying him.” (*4)
During the period of the lower stage of barbarism there occurs that which to the civilized observer appears like war, namely, raids by parties of one tribe against the others. The raid could be as an act of vengeance, or for abduction of women, or for head or scalp hunting as a means of increasing the raiders standing within the tribe and of carrying out religious customs. Later these tribal raids became forays for cattle or for slaves. Arranged spontaneously, the raids were participated in by only a few members of the tribe, and would die down as quickly as they arose; fights once started stopped very soon.
It was only with the rise of private property and slavery that warfare begins. But even here the armies that were gathered against each other resembled loose hordes rather than organized bodies of men. Not until the barbarians came in contact with civilization did they seriously begin to organize mass formations of warriors. In the early days, instead of going at each others throats, the armies would adopt the general procedure of sending forth champions from each side to fight individual combats, the whole army agreeing to abide by the results waged by their champions. Biblical stories, Greek mythology, ancient sagas of all sorts, amply testify to this mode of battle. The results were not very bloody.
As civilization and slavery came into being so did the incentive and means of regular war. War in the modern sense became organized with the formation of the political State. The same forces that bring society to differentiate itself into ruling classes and oppressed classes and thus leading to the formation of the State, also create that military might which can wage war professionally against other societies and States. War and civil war have the same roots.
War and politics are inseparable and von Clausewitz well says: “The political result is the object; war is but the means to accomplish the object. We see, therefore, that war is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.” (*5)
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It was during the chaos of feudalism coinciding with the collapse of the old states of antiquity founded on slavery on the one hand, and the dissolution of the barbarian tribes on the other, that the condition of war of all against all broke out and the hierarchy of serf society was created. The fact, however, that society had taken to crude agriculture, rooting each community to the soil and isolating one group from the other often by vast stretches of wilderness, precluded mutual wars of annihilation. The wars that took place were initiated by individual rulers and their armed retinues rather than by a mass of serfs, who, in fact, remained essentially untouched by the tempests breaking around them.
Money and commerce, that is, the very forces which generate Liberalism, gave warfare the impetus to attain a wholesale murderous character. The Crusades are an example. It was the moneyed men allied with the Liberals within the Catholic Church who initiated and pressed forward the mighty Crusades. Involving as they did millions of people and armies of hundreds of thousands, the Crusades meant not only a new deal for the Catholic Church and the annihilation of a good part of the nobility, but also brought unheard of wealth to the merchants and traders of the times. Thus, the Crusades not only laid the basis for the power of the Catholic Church, but also for nationalism and Absolute Monarchy.
Under a monarchy, the State wars were principally dynastic conflicts for territorial advancement. At first, the central authority was too weak to maintain a very large standing army and met great resistance from the upper aristocracy. “The strongest army put into the field by Francis I would have withered away before a single division of the army of Petain or Foch. Even in the most advanced states of the sixteenth century, the government lived from hand to mouth, improvising armies and navies to suit particular occasions, and driven to the most desperate expedients for finance. To recruit, to pay, to feed a national army were feats not only beyond the power of any government to execute, but beyond the scope of any statesman to conceive. Charles VII of France had asked of every parish in France that it should maintain an archer for the wars. The scheme broke down at once. His successor, Louis XI, fell back on a force of foreign mercenaries.” (*6)
At this stage, the mass of peasantry were generally untouched, but a bitter struggle went on among the knights and nobles as feudalism disintegrated and Absolute Monarchy rose. This struggle in some countries resulted in a practically complete extirpation of the secondary aristocracy. After the Wars of the Roses in England, for example, Henry VII could summon only twenty-eight peers to his first parliament, and even Henry VIII only thirty-six. In France the nobility was reduced to the level of courtiers and courtesans. Feudal castles were finally blown to bits with the introduction of more powerful means of destruction, gunpowder, muskets, and cannon. The old feudal retainers were wiped out to the great advantage of the King.
Liberalism, therefore, made its bow into the world coincident with the increasingly destructive character of warfare. How difficult it is for Liberalism to identify itself with Pacifism can be seen from the most cursory examination of political history. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Liberalism of Holland fought for the freedom of the seas, that of England, to rule the waves. English Liberals gloried in their military resistance to Stuart despotism, while with Cromwell the first trade wars were begun, Ireland was ruthlessly subjugated, and a great British navy founded.
We can continue the story of Liberalism’s “love of peace” on to later years. In America, Liberalism was founded on the military conflicts of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the bloody Civil War. On the other hand, British Whig Liberalism was responsible both for driving America to revolt and for preventing George III from negotiating for peace. The Liberals of the French Revolution took the initiative in declaring war against Austria. Nor did they hesitate to support the bloody wars of Napoleon. Again, it was the British Liberals who unceasingly pushed the war against Napoleon to the bitter end. If British Liberalism can take pride in the British navy, French Liberalism is responsible for the national army, and both in England and in France, Liberalism took to conscription. (*7)
In the nineteenth century, Liberalism was wont to claim as its own the various wars for national independence, such as occurred in Italy, Central Europe, the Balkans, etc. At the same time, States where Liberalism dominated also attempted to prevent such national independent movements. The war between Holland and Belgium is a good example, as is the crushing of the Egyptian revolt and the Indian mutinies by British Liberalism. Through war, too, European Liberalism compels China to drench its population with opium.
Nor must we forget that it was the Liberal Party in Great Britain that declared war in 1914 and that it was the Liberal Lloyd George who came out for the “knock-out blow.” So far is Liberalism divorced from war that "The immediate cause of its downfall was Mr. Lloyd George’s threat of a renewal of war with Turkey.” (*8) It was the Liberal Woodrow Wilson who opened the war for the United States. Finally, European Liberalism was responsible for the horrors of the Versailles Treaty and for the interventionary wars against Soviet Russia. So much for the thesis of Peace under Liberal industrialism!
The relation of Liberalism to Pacifism varies drastically according to whether Liberalism will be forced to pay for the war or will be the beneficiary of it. Before Liberalism came to power in England it was very clear that the Liberal movement had to oppose the wars of the King, which could only still further strengthen and centralize his power against them.
As William Penn put it in 1695, “Peace preserves our possessions; we are in no danger of invasions; our trade is free and safe, and we rise and lye down without anxiety. The rich bring out their hoards and employ the poor manufacturers buildings and divers projections for profit and pleasure go on. It excites industry, which brings wealth, as that gives the means of charity and hospitality, not the lowest ornaments of a kingdom or commonwealth—But War…… seizes all these comforts at once, and stops the civil channel of society. The rich draw in their stock, the poor turn soldiers, or thieves, or starve; no industry, no building, no manufactury, little hospitality or charity; but what the peace gave, the war devours.” (*9)
Thus in every respect did the rising capitalist class idealize peace as constructive in contrast to war. In the same way the industrialists of the Manchester School were to prove later that war could have no utilitarian value. Turning society’s attention from peace to war meant a reduction in the growth of science, invention, and the arts and crafts of industry. War deprived them of their laborers who were forced to fight in the army. It ruined certain sections of industry and created a feverish speculative tendency that reduced all stability to a minimum. War destroyed vast quantities of property and goods. The country that lost had to pay huge indemnities and suffered narrowed markets. The military machine was growing increasingly costly. Thus, merchants and manufacturers joined forces to prevent war from disturbing investments and profits.
Leaders of the Manchester School put forth several proposals for peace. Cobden advocated a lockout by industrialists to prevent loans being given to foreign countries for war purposes. Bentham published his Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace, in which he called for disarmament, abolition of secrecy in foreign relations, emancipation of colonies, and an international court of judicature. Almost a hundred years later these points were to be among those laid down by Woodrow Wilson.
War’s brood included increase in taxation and in the national dept, inflation of the currency, and confiscation of property. It was against the heavy taxation engendered by the dynastic wars that Liberalism had revolted in England in the seventeenth century and France and America in the eighteenth. Liberalism pointed out that, with the Treaty of Rhyswick ending the war of 1697, the national dept first rose in England and thereafter grew exceedingly rapidly. It is true this growth of the national dept provided a fruitful market for investment for the financiers and moneyed men, but payment of the interest and principal eventually had to be taken out of industry and from the pockets of all sections of the population. The wealthy capitalists, especially the industrialists who were in need of capital themselves and who as yet had not obtained their share in political control of the government, did not feel that war expenses were justified.
War also meant the inevitable growth of the power of the State. To carry on a war a strong government was needed. In back of the military had to stand another army of bureaucrats and thus, not merely the host of military parasites grew increasingly, but State bureaucracy, State control, and centralization as well. Furthermore, it was precisely State diplomacy and military affairs that the capitalists, inured to the counting-house factory, had traditionally left to the nobility. The more these sections of the State grew, the stronger it seemed would be the power of the ruling classes of the old order which had opposed them.
In England, the victory of Liberalism had been a victory for parliament, not only over the King, but over the people as well. We have noted how, under such circumstances, the Liberals had avoided theories of violence to take to doctrines of rationalism and tolerance. The Liberals had not fought much in the revolution, although they had become the beneficiaries of it. Once in power it was to their advantage for parliamentary cliques to adopt an attitude of tolerance in order to maintain the status quo. Their confidence in the power of persuasion and reason was increased by their hold on the forces of government. The Liberal theory of natural law and social contract had enunciated the belief that in primitive nature men were generally good and peaceful, these honorable men having come together without compulsion to form the contract of the State. The world thus started with pacifism and the beauties of reason; in this state of affairs it was the destiny of Liberalism to continue. Not by conquest, but by contract would the Liberals win!
With the consolidation of power of Liberalism in England in the eighteenth century, the plea for peace was supported by other weighty reasons. England was becoming the workshop of the world. It did not need war to enjoy prosperity. The cheap prices of its goods proved far superior to cannon in battering down tariff walls. Given peaceful conditions and equal trade treaties, English factories and merchants would undersell all competitors. Moreover, England had become the great place for transshipment of goods, and controlled a goodly portion of the worlds commerce. Free trade and a free hand to reduce the cost of production were the needs of the capitalist, if only the State would let him alone he felt he could quickly dominate the world. Principles of laissez-faire and of utilitarianism connected themselves closely with doctrines of Pacifism.
Besides, the more England was at peace the more could she stir up war among her neighbors to ruin her competitors. Then she could sell both sides goods to shoot down each other. Peace was synonymous with escape from the convulsions of Europe and thus was profitable to England in many ways.
If British Liberals, then, went to war, it was always with the declared pacific motive of curbing the military machine of the enemy that threatened to end free trade and low costs for the British capitalists. The struggle against Napoleon was a struggle against his militant army and against his embargo legislation. The Napoleonic Wars helped English Liberalism in several ways. They consolidated the power of the Liberal government; they raised the prestige of the new capitalist classes which had always controlled the navy which now was the main British arm against Napoleon. Finally, while warring against the French, the Liberals of England could crush the aspirations of the lower classes striving to express their own radical needs.
The French Liberals were placed in an entirely different situation than the British. Their task of conquering the market and taking trade away from the British was yet to be accomplished. Thus their slogan had to be, "Make way for the French.” To attain this they needed governmental help. French theories of laissez-faire by no means took on the form of political struggle against a centralized State. National State and national army were too important to the Liberal business man not to be whole-heartedly supported. French Liberalism, from the start, was deeply colored with an active militarism.
The terrific shake-up in society engendered during the French Revolutionary Wars had tumbled the wealth of the old aristocracy and royalty into the laps of the Liberal-Radical nouveau-riche. How could French Liberalism as heir to these favors fear war? In England, on the contrary, a chief argument against war was the social upheaval it brought in its train. In France, only when Napoleon had been defeated and the French had been bled white, did pacifism make itself known to Liberalism, although the basis for this pacifism was not so much derogation of the military as fear of the poor. Peace and harmony were preached so as to provide the basis for a theory uniting all classes under the leadership of the wealthy Liberals in power after 1830.
German Liberalism took to pacifism for the same reason that the French took to war. The Wars of the French Revolution brought defeat to Germany as they brought victory to France. Overwhelmed and devastated by the power of the French, the impotent and divided German Liberals could only pray for peace. So long as the German army was invading France, Liberals like Goethe could go along enthusiastically with the generals, but when the German army was thrown back with great loss by the French Revolutionists, "He returned home with a shuddering horror of war, more convinced than ever that wars and revolutions were not worth their price and that the highest duty of rulers was to render them unnecessary.” (*10)
The French Liberals rode high and mighty on the backs of the masses; the German Liberals feared the masses more than anything else, and as the French events had brought home to them the intimate connection between revolution and war, they turned from war as they turned from revolution. In the end, the mean character of German Liberalism prevented it from doing anything but worry about the tariff.
Excellently illustrating German Liberalism’s fears is Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace. Despite its sanctimonious air of uttering eternal truths limited by neither time nor space, its close connection with the petty interests of the princes is seen in almost every line. Kant’s Perpetual Peace merely perpetuates the bankrupt Holy Roman Empire and makes it "universal.”
According to Kant, to achieve everlasting peace, (1) no independent State, small or great, should be acquired by another through inheritance, exchange, purchase, or deed of gift; (2) no State should forcibly interfere with the constitution and government of another; (3) no secret reservations in treaties should be made or State debts contracted for external State enterprises. Then standing armies eventually will cease to exist, and, if the civic constitution of every State is like that of the Holy Roman Empire, presto, the professor guarantees us perpetual peace!
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In America, the pacifism inherent in American life and so thoroughly connected with Liberalism sprang from entirely different sources than those of Europe. No one in America could say that war does not pay. Always the Americans had been successful in whatever war they had engaged, whether against the Indians, the British, Mexico, or Spain. Nor were the wars very costly, amounts expended indeed being ridiculously insignificant in comparison to the prizes won. Pacifism, therefore, could not be placed on the foundation of utilitarianism or on the ground that war spelled revolution or ruin. (*11) On the other hand, the American, unlike the French, could not turn to militarism.
Militarism means masses. In the early days, in America, the masses were discrete as individuals. American society was entirely too porous to provide the close contacts on which militarism thrives. War spells discipline; Americans did not know what discipline meant. War means duty; Americans recognized no duty but only their own rights. War is an act of society; to the Americans, society hardly existed.
In America, there was simply nobody to fight. A comparatively empty continent stretched out before the colonists. Conquest consisted in labor. On both sides extended vast oceans separating the Americans from all the civilizations of the Old World. With such isolation from the class struggles and national pressures of Europe and Asia, coupled with a wide dispersion of the general population enjoying relative prosperity, there was no possibility of military affairs engrossing the attention of the majority of the people for any length of time. Americans had their economic problems without having to bother with political. The American could be aggressive and militant without being militarist; this is amply shown by the crime rate in the United States.
The same forces creating the extremely puny State in America, the unique situation of classlessness, the widespread equalitarian distribution of property, at least in comparison to Europe, the belated accumulation of capital, and finally, the rampant individualism that marked everything in America, completely prevented militarist tendencies and laid a natural basis for pacifism. Even to this day the American army is entirely voluntary and mercenary, not so much to save expense—indeed, the American government is exceedingly lavish in its expenditures upon the small army it has, --- as owing to the fact there is no possible excuse for a larger force.
Not that the American did not praise and honor his military leaders. The Presidencies of Washington, Jackson, Tyler, Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, amply illustrate the leading role military leaders have played in politics in America. But these were generals without an army. Besides, they were generally farmers or business men playing at war.
Soldiers entering the army have treated their job as others would a civil profession or trade; in both cases they are to be paid at a certain salary or scale of wages. In the American Revolution the officers demanded half-pay for life. The soldiers who fought in the Civil War organized themselves into a powerful “Grand Army of the Republic” to obtain life pensions, as did the veterans of the Spanish American War. After the World War, in no country in the world did there arise a situation in regard to bonus payments such as prevailed in America. So exceptional has military duty been considered in American life that those who are engaged in it feel they must be heavily recompensed for being taken away from normal, ordinary occupations.
In the United States, military affairs have been completely subordinated to civil machinery. This conception is emphatically embedded in the Constitution of the United States. (*12) And all parties to the Federal Government, from the President, who is Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to the judiciary, have jealously guarded the superiority of peace time machinery.
For a long time, militarism was completely non-essential to maintaining the property and leadership of the American ruling class. Here it was possible to write: “In Europe, but not in the United States, ‘big business men,’ not satisfied with being captains of industry in the world of commerce, have tried to drive the political chariot, and have often enough succeeded in overturning it. In the United States they prefer a political semi-obscurity even though they openly display the splendors of industrial leadership.” (*13)
The lack of military activity in American life enabled the capitalists to concentrate entirely upon economic forces and the accumulation of capital. This peaceful industry could take full advantage of European convulsions. The Napoleonic Wars greatly developed American shipping, trade, manufactures, and agriculture. The World War placed America in the world’s leading position. The policy of being inextricably involved in European political and military affairs brought handsome dividends to American capitalism and formed a material basis for its pacifist pretensions.
In the eighteenth century, the rationale of pacifism in America cloaked itself with arguments from morality and religion. War was un-Christain, said the Quakers; it was inhumanitarian and immoral. It meant misery, disease, and death. It destroyed the productive forces, particularly labor, so highly priced in America. The generally prevailing prosperity had allowed humanitarianism to become a deep-felt philosophy in this country.
Thus the wars conducted by America have always been in the name of humanity, either to build the New World, to free the slaves, to free Cuba and the Philippines or other oppressed nationalities, or to free humanity from war and make the world safe for democracy. Only the Americans could have entered an imperialist war under the slogan, “End all war forever.”
Pacifist humanitarianism played the same propaganda role in mobilizing the Americans for war as the idea of spreading “kulter” did in Germany. If the Germans had philosophy and no humanity, the Americans had plenty of humanity and no philosophy. The British fought for their Empire. With the American, imperialism and humanitarianism have been theoretically identified for a long time.
Between the Napoleonic Wars and the great World War capitalism enjoyed a relatively prolonged period of “peaceful” and organic growth. As this was precisely the period of the domination of Liberalism in governmental affairs in certain important countries, Liberalism has not neglected to take full credit for bringing about this peacefulness. It is true that during this period there were approximately forty wars of importance fought throughout the world, some of them, like the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the American Civil War of 1860, considerably costly. (*14) Nevertheless, these wars were not too detrimental to the growing industrial societies controlled by Liberalism. Most of the wars were of short duration and were waged in the far corners of the earth. They were localized and spasmodic. These wars could be considered as merely interpreting the regular regime of peace, and could not refute the claims of Liberalism to pacifism.
Furthermore, the Liberals could demonstrate the progressive character of these wars. By means of them the Chinese walls of Asia were battered down, opening the way for grandiose development of both continents. Through such wars, also, the “dark continent” of Africa was exposed to the light of nineteenth century civilization. And so, just as Liberalism was wont to take pride in the wars that overwhelmed the ancien re’gime of feudalism, so did it hail these “Liberal” wars to insure the domination of free trade and industrialism all over the world.
In the nineteenth century, the wars conducted by capitalism acted generally as a stimulant to business rather than as a threat against it. Since the wars were not too prolonged and not too general, and therefore not too destructive, they could serve to tone up capitalist society. The wars of Liberal business were but draconic acts to brush aside the obstacles obstructing the development of peace-time economic and social forces. They enormously accelerated and advanced the technological and industrial development of society as a whole. Those that suffered were the so-called backward countries which were being opened up to capitalism, but these backward countries at the moment had no great progressive role to play. The countries that prospered were the countries which had the most progressive mission to perform.
The wars of Liberalism were simply another form of the competition of business men and of nations for world markets and control. War is the quintessence of competition, doing quickly what peace would perform more slowly if permitted by the political relations of the backward countries. Military war is but concentrated peace; peace is diluted war. Military battles culminate the price wars of competition.
Nor can we say that the wars of Liberalism were more costly than its peace. “Indeed, peaceful industry demands in the long run a heavier toll even in life and blood than does war. It suffices to note the physique of the thousands—women as well as men—who pour through the factory gates of the North; the health of the children left at home; the kind of life that industry involves for millions, to say nothing of the casualty statistics in railroading, fishing, mining, and seamanship, to be persuaded of the fact.” (*15)
It is well for those who disclaim against the terrors of war, to reflect upon the horrors of peace, not only upon the toiling masses of the prosperous countries, but especially upon the conquered colonial peoples. The many millions of Indians who were driven to death, wiped out annually by efficient Manchester power-loom production, the countless millions of China who were drawn to an early death by avaricious exploitation under European capitalists, the millions of Africans who perished under the whips of colonial masters --- these speak eloquently of the fact that peace is not less dreadful than war. Indeed, capitalist peace is industrial war, while war is only military peace.
Historically, Liberalism could justify its wars as being in the long run humane. Above all, civilization was saved time, since Liberal wars hitched history to a locomotive rather than to a stage coach. The countries that won in war would generally have dominated and did dominate in peace-time. Political might was great only when supported by economic might. What mattered it historically whether the tariff walls of backward technique were blown up by cannon in a year or torn down by cheaper prices eventually in twenty years? Machinofacture, in any case, whether flanked by cannon or not, was destined to wipe out hand labor. Peaceful methods would only have slowed up history; at least by war a modicum of that most important material dimension known as “time” was won for all humanity forever.
Such being the case, peace could be praised only by those who stand to be defeated in war or who need time to recuperate from previous defeats, or by those who are glutted with victory and can gorge no more but fear their conquests will be taken from them by the hungry ones left outside the feast. In the former position is Germany today. In the latter are England and France, masters of the League of Nations. With the failure of the League of Nations to keep the peace, the utopian plans of Bentham, Kant, and all the other “thinkers” of Liberalism come to an Ignominious end.
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Only the people who were doomed to fight and die in Liberalism’s wars, namely, the petty-bourgeoisie and workers, protested against them, and as Big Business abandoned pacifism in the twentieth century, it was the common people who took a prominent part in the cry for peace. Pacifism became attached to religious Leftism and middle-class and proletarian political movements. The petty-bourgeoisie formed its peace societies. In the ranks of the proletariat there arose vigorous anti-militarist agitation.
Petty-bourgeois religious movements naturally took humanitarianism as their keynote. Wherever the petty proprietor dominated a church, love became the essence of religion. God was no longer a mighty task-master; God was Love. It was love that was to rule the world. Thus the bedroom arrangements of the city petty-bourgeois shopkeeper, employee, etc., became idealized in religion.
These people, totally foreign to the theory of war and unaccustomed to the physical hardships of industrial life, shrank from the violence and murder of warfare. Using the Biblical enjoinment, “Thou shalt not kill,” with the slogan, “God is Love,” pacifism worked out its programs with the miserable orientalism of Mahatma Ghandi as its standard in the midst of stained-glass windows and the subdued strains of the church organ to give the proper emotional setting for its noble cadences.
In America, peace-at-any-price pacifism became the rage. The Reverend John Haynes Holmes could write: “Pacifism in other words, is the cause supreme. Not merely a means for the attainment of other ends, it is its own sufficient end. For all else is won if this be won; and all else is lost if this be lost. This is the reason for pacifism; and the reason why I had rather die for this cause than live for any other.” (*16) During peace-time, Protestant churches vied with the Catholic in Pacifist proclamations. John Haynes Holmes’ fervent oratory was no doubt in part evoked by his bitter competition with Pope Pius XI’s Encyclical calling for peace.
In the Left Wing of the Liberal Pacifists is to be found a Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom, an international grouping, with headquarters at Geneva, publishing The Pax International. The program of this League contains the following points: (1) universal disarmament; (2) solution of conflicts by (a) recognition of human solidarity, (b) council and arbitration, (c) world co-operation and world recognition; (3) “to establish social and political economic justice for all without distinction of sex, race, class, or creed."; (4) to oppose every kind of war, exploitation, and oppression.
With this sort of a program, the Left Wing middle class has hoped to tie labor to its pacifism. The League of course, has supported the Kellogg Peace Pact and the League of Nations, and has been against the policy of military training in schools and colleges. It has claimed education must be the chief instrument to gain peace. The idea is to instill in the people’s minds a hatred of war.
The sweet women of the Pax International evidently have believed the masses do not know enough about war or are so morally perverse as to like it. However, armed with Pax education, reason would ultimately triumph and the dove of peace fly away no more. Alas, people find it so hard to reason!
These people have made no distinction between progressive and reactionary wars, or between imperialist and colonial wars, or between national and civil wars. They are against all war in general, and have pledged themselves to refuse to fight in any case.
The extreme Left Wing has organized a War Resisters League and War Resisters International, with the following program: “The method of war resistance is the continuous organization of men and women for a refusal to all support of war whether by bearing arms, subscribing to war funds, or performing noncombatant service as an aid to winning the war. Its power will grow in direct ratio to the number enrolled for this refusal, a number small now while the Movement counts thousands rather than millions, but greater with every man or woman who enrolls…. It is the deliberate refusal of this popular support that will be able to put force behind international treaties and eventually abolish war and armament, and the War Resisters International is already in a position to prevent at least the giving of 100% support.”
The Liberal Pacifist movement generally has completely failed to analyze the relationship of war to peace or to understand the economic contradictions of capitalist society inevitably evoking the social and national antagonisms leading to wars of all sorts. It has failed utterly to meet the arguments either of businessmen or of militarists. Expressing its hatred of war on merely religious grounds, it has attempted to fight war by means of persuasion and reason and to enlighten humanity as to the values of peace.
The Radical Pacifists, tried to transcend mere thought and get into action. Their action took the form of advocating individual resistance to war, of refusal to pay taxes, to buy Liberty bonds, etc. Their program has embraced such ideas as complete disarmament as the sole way to end war. These Radicals have also essayed to connect their pacifism with vague formulations about the coming end of capitalism.
This pacifism whether of Liberal or Radical variety, was only part of the Welfare-Liberalism prevalent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Later, tremendous devastation of the World War was to fall heavily upon them. Then, sections of these groups turned decidedly to the Left, and as there was borne home to them the meaning of imperialism and Fascism, they learned how to use Socialist and Communist phrases.
It must not be imagined that religious, Liberal, or Radical pacifism is entirely divorced from militarism. Quite the contrary, paradoxically as it may seem, the pacifist movement often plays directly into the hands of militarism. Ministers who, in time of peace, prated about love, when war begins become most efficient agents for the preparation of cannon fodder, employing the very argument of pacifism to “Turn the other cheek” to induce men to obey the conscription laws. (*17) It is the same with many pacifist societies which, though they love peace, love law more.
Conversely, organizations which ardently support war, immediately after a war reform themselves into pacifist societies. A good example of this in the United States is the Conference for the Cause and Cure of War, organized in 1925 and holding annual meetings in Washington. This Conference is made up of precisely the same elements that formed the patriotic network of conferences of women’s organizations organized during the World War under the direct supervision and control of the Federal Government, (*18) and in time of war can be found linked up to the Women’s Patriotic Conference composed of such elements as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Ladies Auxiliaries of the various veterans societies, etc.
The World War gave rise to a tremendous impoverishment of the people, loss of life and property. In England, for example, between 1913 and 1932 taxes grew more than five times. The income tax jumped from ls.2d per pound to 5s, the super tax from ls.4d. to 8s.3d. The tax on beer in 1932 was twelve times the pre-war rate. Even the wealthy have felt the strain; in 1933 over two-thirds of the income of the richest taxpayers was consumed in taxes. (*19)
The national dept too, became enormously increased. The war dept of Great Britain increased thirteen times over 1913, now being about forty billion dollars. The national dept of the United States has jumped from one billion immediately before the War to over twenty-one billion immediately after, and has steadily increased until in 1936 it approximates forty billion dollars. Other countries have been forced into open bankruptcy or , as in the case of France and Italy, into partial cancellation of all debts by inflation of the currency. The heavy weight of taxation and of the national debt, as well as the wiping out of savings by inflation, etc., has fallen squarely upon the people, making them realize more than ever that in the twentieth century war does not pay.
But most important of all, the World War brought in its wake many people’s and proletarian revolutions, immensely frightening to the middle class pacifist as to the capitalists generally. With the cry “stop war or be consumed by revolution,” schemes of total disarmament have been proposed as an immediate panacea not only to end war but to secure the stability of the whole social order. Above all, the working class must be disarmed; in the International Disarmament Conferences, the Pacifist “Communist” delegate from Russia, Litvinoff, made sure to point that his “complete” disarmament plans by no means included the disarmament of police or colonial armies, or other State forces used against the people.
Here again we see that pacifists are only the counterpart to militarists. Both sections work hard for “law and order,” and in their own way nicely supplement each other. This is beautifully illustrated by the farcical Disarmament Conferences held since the World War. The pacifists idealized these conferences, praising the statesmen who proposed them. The conferences themselves were only military maneuvers, each militarist using “his” pacifists to prove that always the “other countries” wanted war. Each militarist turned pacifist to put forth schemes to disarm “the enemy” and to mobilize his own adulatory pacifists for the next war.
* * * *
When middle classes turned to pacifism, the working classes turned to anti-militarism. Proletarian Anarchism, Syndicalism, and revolutionary Socialism turned violently against capitalist war. After all, these groups furnished the chief regiments of cannon fodder and feared the warfare more than any other. Their anti-war activity was only part of the general struggle for emancipation of the working class.
None of these groups, however, could escape from theories of pacifism. They were not able to understand the laws of social dynamics. The Anarchists turned to Tolstoyan pacifism while they built dreams of mutual aid co-operatives, or they adopted the Liberal methods of individual objection. The Syndicalists proposed the general strike as a method of stopping war, as though the peaceful diluted economic action of their general strike could liquidate at the start the terrific concentrated political violence of war. The parliamentary Socialists adopted the theory that war can be stopped by the ballot-box and by theories of international co-operation and total disarmament. Later on, the degenerated Communists of the Stalinist variety would propose on the rostrum of the Disarmament Conferences the old pacifist utopia of universal disarmament as the “cure” for war.
Like Liberalism, all of these proletarian movements prove bankrupt in stopping the all-consuming development of militarism and war.
1. See W. J. Perry: War and Civilization, p. 7.
2. C. A. Eastman: The Soul of the Indian, p. 106.
3. The same, p. 106. This was before the white man came. According to this authority on the Plains Indians, scalping of the whole head by Indians was a practice introduced by the white man, the Indian being paid for each whole scalp turned over to the French or English in their mutual wars.
4. E. Kanter: The Evolution of War, p. 113.
5. C. von Clausewitz: On War, I, p. 23
6. H. A. L. Fisher: A History of Europe, II, p. 435.
7. 227,510 conscripts were forced into compulsory military service, 1805 to 1813. The conscription, of course, had discriminatory provisions to exempt the wealthy.
8. F. W. Hirst: The Consequences of the War to Great Britain, pp. 27-28. Under the rule of Lloyd George, Ireland burst into bitter insurrection requiring an entire army to subdue it.
9. Given in Old South Leaflets, III, No. 75, p. 2. Also W. Penn: The Peace of Europe, p. 4. (Everyman’s edition)
10. G. P. Gooch: Germany and the French Revolution, p. 184.
11. Indeed, Thomas Paine takes care to emphasize that only a war for independence can prevent civil war from breaking out in America. See T. Paine: Common Sense, I, pp. 95-96. (Writings 1906, ed. M. D. Conway)
12. Samuel Adams spoke much against militarism. Jefferson thought war a blunder and became an honorary member of the Massachusetts Peace Society immediately upon its founding. Benjamin Franklin’s opinion was, there never was a good war or a bad peace. These opinions have steadily prevailed in American political thought.
13. M. J. Bonn: The American Experiment, pp. 105-106.
14. See A. Ponsonby: Wars and Treaties 1815 to 1914.
15. Norman Angell: The Great Illusion, see pp. 6-7. Approximately 25,000 deaths solely from industrial accidents were the annual toll in certain years in the United States alone.
16. J. H. Holmes: The World Tomorrow, Feb. 15, 1934, article:
17. The role of the ministers in the last war is well brought out in the book, Preachers Present Arms, by Professor Ray Abramans.
18. It comprises such national bodies as the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, The National League of Women Voters, the National Women’s Trade Union League, The National Board of the Y.W.C.A., etc.
19. F. W. Hirst provides the following comparison, furnishing a table of per capita taxation in several different countries. (See F. W. Hirst: The Consequences of the War to Great Britain, p. 236.)
Taxation Per Head Country 1931-32 1913-14 l.—s.—d. l.—s.—d. United Kingdom 15—17—11 3—11 - 4 France 10 - 0 - 2 3 - 7 - 0 Germany 7 - 0 - 5 1—10 - 8 United States 5—18 - 2 1 - 7—11 Italy 4—9 - 7 2 - 2 - 8 Note: The figures for Germany and the United States are for federal taxes only.