A. A. Watts

The Folly of War and the Possibilities and Perils of Peace

Source: The Social-Democrat, Vol. XV No. 10, October, 1911, pp. 436-438, (790 words);
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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 article by H. Quelch in the August number of the “Social-Democrat” is not only an able contribution on an important phase of present-day happenings, but also is one that stimulates thought in all who read it. We Social-Democrats are so apt to oppose, tooth and nail, war and any possibilities of war that we might possibly lose sight of those dangers of peace so ably pointed out by comrade Quelch; not to speak of the horrible loss of life now daily and hourly occurring in peaceful industrial pursuits. I am one of those who oppose war and all actions likely to lead to war; I emphatically object to armies and navies; to the expenditure on them, and to the waste of them, even while agreeing that the expenditure might not be spent on social amelioration, and that the waste gives employment. We cannot uphold waste simply on that plea. Just as when comrade Quelch quotes Kautsky to the effect that war might hasten the Revolution; possibly it might, but I take it we do not want it that way; we are not willing that such a price should be paid for it, because we know all the time that the people can bring it about—at least, in many instances—peaceably.

But it is not so much to say this that I write this short note. Comrade Quelch seems to me to have proved too much. After, as he says, having scrapped all the navies, beaten our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning-hooks, and converted our rifles and machine guns into the component parts of bicycles and motor-cars, he goes on to say that the peoples “would be held down under the iron hand of one universal authority.” But whence would the “authority” get its force if the armies and navies were abolished? At the end of the article we have a casual reference that “the international police would be omnipotent.” I confess I cannot follow our comrade. The police, as we know it, and almost even as we can imagine it, cannot hold down a revolt on anything like a general scale. This has been proved times without number. If our comrade has in his mind an enormously increased police force, armed with “swords and spears and rifles and machine guns,” then it seems to me it is only “begging the question” to abolish the army and set up another force similar (or even worse) in its place.

No doubt Quelch will answer this point by saying that the Powers may agree to abolish the armies and institute such a force as I have described, capable of putting down revolt and yet not to be used, as armies are now, in territorial conquest. Of course, that is the point of his article—namely, that war (and armies and navies) may be abolished, yet the peoples be in economic servitude. It might be so, but I very much doubt it. After all, I think we are a little further on the road to progress than the people of Montezuma when Cortes gobbled up ancient Mexico.

But surely we have to take up a position on one side or the other. Either we are against war or we are in favour of it. If we are opposed to it, then we should oppose it on all and every occasion, and all that leads to it. Whatever may occur on its abolition—well, we must risk that. Otherwise it seems to me a policy of despair. The net result of comrade Quelch’s article is, “What’s the good of anything?—nothing.” True, he has a face-saver at the close in saying we are to strive for Social-Democracy; of course, we always do that. But I think, before we expect to lead the working class to that goal we shall need to be very clear ourselves on such matters as these. So far, we have presented a very good front in favour of peace, but there is danger of that being whittled down. What comrade Quelch should have done, to my mind, was to have pointed out the dangers and horrors of war and the dangers and horrors of peace, and then to have definitely chosen one side or the other and put in a powerful plea for that side, still keeping his conclusion for Social-Democracy. For myself, understanding the horrors and the reaction of war, knowing something of the horrors and lethargy of peace, I still unhesitatingly choose the latter, and look to our propaganda and education of the people to result in the accomplishment of Social-Democracy by peaceable methods.