HENRY NOEL BRAILSFORD
THE WAR OF STEEL AND GOLD
A STUDY OF THE ARMED PEACE
PART II --- CONSTRUCTIVE
THE earlier chapters of this book have essayed the task of analysing the economic tendencies which explain the armed peace in Europe. As a study of the forces opposed to any humane ideal of the relations which should obtain between peoples, it is incomplete: as an estimate of the real forces at work it is still less adequate. The financial motives which make for Imperialism and underlie the struggle for a balance of power have been isolated and emphasised in this sketch. Behind these influences there are potent causes, intellectual rather than material, which are still at work in the world, attenuated indeed, disguised and shamefaced, but still active as they have been since the dawn of history. The charity, the sympathy that pass beyond frontiers, the sense of a common brotherhood amid the problems of life, the perception of a common interest in opposing predatory and anti-social forces ----these have been of slow growth, and even to-day they are a formed habit and a conscious ideal only among the more enlightened individuals of civilised peoples. They seem to have little relation to culture, and are sometimes more highly developed in the proletariat than among the "intellectuals." The pride of race, the insolence of colour, the megalomania which swells as it contemplates great possessions and vast territories, the theatrical instinct which hails even war as a relief from the drab monotony of modern industrial life, the ignorant distrust of the "foreigner," the inability to seize the standpoint of a rival---all of these reinforce the financial pressure towards expansion. It is not necessary to assume that the interests which profit by Imperialism consciously and deliberately play upon these primitive passions, this vulgarity of mind. They need rarely take that trouble. This emotional crudity, basing itself, as it does, upon a whole series of fallacious axioms and half-truths, requires little prompting. It is always ready to spring into activity at the first hint that British interests are in conflict with those of a rival people. As little need we suppose that the bankers and bondholders and contractors, whose private enterprises are the origin of an international complication, are aware of what they do when they exploit patriotism to secure their dividends. The human mind has an infinite capacity for illusion, and abstract words were made to assist the process. The average selfish employer who withstands a demand for a living wage, convinces himself with ease that he is a pillar of society, and that he is resisting anarchy and fighting against an agitation which would be "the end of all things." We have all learnt to think in a fog of words and to clothe ourselves in abstractions, lest haply we should know that we are naked, and learn to discern evil from good. With the same mellow, habitual hypocrisy, the financier who embroils a nation over his distant ventures, persuades himself that his own cause is that of the Empire. He reads of himself every day in leading articles. He is one of the "pioneers." He is concerned in "trade," and our trade has "made us what we are." By general consent, it is the business of the Empire to foster and protect our " trade." There is nothing personally sinister in all this, because the financier is acting in accordance with the accepted moral standards of his class, and these are still the dominant standards of every industrial State. The financier who prompts the press to appeal to the lower passions of the mob is not engaging in a cold and calculated wickedness. Subject himself to these passions, he appeals instinctively to those who share them.
The mass of the voters in any civilised country are the prey to interested promptings, when a foreign crisis arises, partly because their knowledge of the actual facts is limited, and still more because their perception of the real causes which govern international rivalries is hazy. They can be stirred by any eloquent emotional appeal. Two tendencies lie latent in their minds in a semi-conscious confusion. Let a group of Labour leaders, English and German, address a mass meeting of British working-men. It can be roused to a real sense of the solidarity between the two proletariats; it can be induced to vote a contribution from its own trade union funds to assist German miners on strike; it will leave the meeting with a real desire for peace and fraternity between the two nations. But it has little power to transform this energy of goodwill into political pressure, and in the existing condition of Parliament. there is comparatively little which a Labour Party can do to further the wishes of their electors in this direction. The good will is unluckily rather fleeting. The same crowd, prepared by the press and artfully stimulated by skilful orators, could also be induced to applaud the speeches of naval scaremongers, and to go away shouting for more Dreadnoughts, and looking for German airships in the sky. The two sets of instincts co-exist in the popular mind, and either can be roused by an emotional appeal. There must be a more educative propaganda, a more conscious effort to fix principles, before any democracy can be trusted to stand firm in moments of national crisis. It is not enough to make the masses feel, as they always can be made to feel while a good orator is speaking, that war is horrible and barbarous, armaments wasteful, and a peace based on arbitration desirable. That feeling is not an adequate intellectual defence against the special pleadings which can always be used to show that each case as it arises is the exception to the general rule. There is no security until the mass-mind has come to understand the working of the capitalistic pressure which tends towards Imperialism and makes great armaments in order to achieve a balance of power favourable to expansion. It is necessary to implant a general and rooted scepticism, which will instinctively ask, when the glowing words and the specious abstractions are deployed, "About what loan or concession or sphere of economic interest are you really talking? "Such a task is beyond the scope, it is sometimes beyond the insight, of the special propagandists of peace. There are limits to the vision and even more to the action of a propagandist whose outlook is what is rather vaguely termed Liberal. Sincere, disinterested and well-informed though he may be, he cannot always dissociate himself from the very forces that maintain the armed peace of the "Balance." Talking to-day of disarmament and arbitration, he will work to-morrow for a party which is hardly less dependent than its rival on the great contractors and bankers who maintain the modern connection of diplomacy and finance. The work of education and organisation on behalf of peace is carried on adequately only by the Socialist parties, and they alone represent a force whose undivided vote will always be cast against militarism and Imperialism.
The permeation of public opinion by "pacifist" thinking goes on apace, in spite of these difficulties. It has lately received a powerful intellectual stimulus from the work of Mr. Norman Angell. He is probably the ablest pamphleteer who has used the English language since Thomas Paine, and he brings to his task a knowledge of affairs and an insight into the detailed working of the world's machinery which few of the early Radicals possessed. With this he has kept that faith in the power of reason which was the great gift to mankind of the pioneers of Paine's generation. He does not doubt that if he could convince mankind that war is irrational, war would forthwith cease. To bring back such a faith as this into our daily life would be an even greater achievement than the banishment of war. For want of it all our progressive agitations are nerveless and timid. We have reacted so far against the eighteenth century conviction that man is a reasonable animal, that we have almost ceased to hope anything from fundamental argument. The main thesis of "The Great Illusion" is already so well known and so widely accepted, that we need not pause here to demonstrate it. From a national standpoint war is a mistake and conquest an illusion. A nation does not own its colonies, and by taking provinces from a rival it would acquire nothing for itself. Conquest indeed in this barbaric sense of the word is obsolete, and belongs to the agricultural stage of civilisation. If a civilised State annexes a fully occupied country inhabited by another civilised race, it will neither expropriate land nor lay hands on any of its realised or potential wealth. The conquerors will be no richer, and the conquered no poorer for the change. Where then is the gain of conquest? It is also manifestly true that a war between two elaborately organised industrial States like Britain and Germany would so shake the whole fabric of credit in both, that the conqueror, for all his triumphs, might emerge from the struggle weakened and impoverished. Once more war is unreason. The gain is an illusion; the losses are a certainty. It ought to follow, if this reasoning is sound, that armaments are useless and will be abolished when nations have grasped the fact that war is an anachronism, indeed, well-nigh an impossibility in a society based on a respect for private property, and accustomed to conduct its business by a system of cosmopolitan credit.
This summary does some injustice by reason of its brevity and simplicity to Mr. Norman Angell's doctrine, but it is too well known to need a full re-statement. Its main positions are unassailable. It is a sound logical fabric, and the world will be a more habitable planet when it is generally accepted. One may, however, subscribe to its general truth, and yet feel that it fails in some vital particulars to grasp the whole subtlety of the dry warfare, the armed peace of modern Europe. At the risk of seeming to trifle with a paradox, one may sum up a criticism of this doctrine in a sentence. The purpose of armaments is not necessarily war; with a great army one may bully profitably for a generation, keeping a risky peace. If the view taken in the preceding chapters of the meaning of the struggle for the balance of power is even partially and approximately true, then this pacifist argument against armaments is an elaborate missing of our opponents' point. Let us admit at once that war is a folly from the standpoint of national self-interest; it may none the less be perfectly rational from the standpoint of a small but powerful governing class. Further, if war is a folly, it does not follow that the typical forms of modern expansion, which are commonly achieved with the aid of armaments but without war, are follies from this same capitalist standpoint. We share with Mr. Norman Angell the belief that war between European Powers for the possession of European soil or of old-established colonies has become an anachronism, as an economic venture. The reason is perfectly obvious. Between two States which are approximately on the same level of industrial development, conquest promises no gain, even to the financier. If the Germans could annex Lancashire they would alter nothing in its economic life. It is self-subsisting. It has capital enough for its own needs, and more than enough. It is, so to speak, saturated with capital, and could absorb no more from German stores. It is being as fully "exploited " (to use a convenient if controversial word) as it possibly can be by its own native capitalists. The same thing is true of the Rhineland, and what is true of Lancashire and the Rhineland is true in some degree of all civilised countries, including not only our "white" colonies, but our older tropical possessions. They are not the "places in the sun" to which the modern Imperialist turns his gaze. He seeks new countries to "exploit," promising regions with virgin mines, untilled fields, cities without banks, routes without rails. These are the opportunities he covets. He is pleased to have them without conquest, and he does not desire war. His ideal is to fence them in as an economic sphere of interest, within which he may dump his capital as a national monopoly.
This is the process which we must visualise if we would understand the survival of armaments, and it is a process of which Mr. Norman Angell's doctrine takes too little account. We are all accustomed to repeat the axiom that capital is cosmopolitan. So, indeed, in many senses it is. But it is also national in its workings; the flag, as Mr. Cecil Rhodes used to say, is an asset. Explain the connection as one may, it is the fact that the capital invested in any new country which has come into the possession of a given Power, or has been recognised as its sphere of influence, tends to belong to subjects of that power. An English company will not receive a concession to build a railway in a German colony, nor in spite of our devotion to the maxims of Free Trade and to the principle of the open door, does one find German railways in British colonies. A curious phrase was employed in the Anglo-Russian convention relating to the recognition of separate spheres in Persia. It was stipulated that neither Power should seek "political concessions" in the sphere of the other, and the term was defined by enumeration to include railways, telegraphs, roads, harbours, and the like. Such public works as these, if they are in private hands, will usually, for reasons of policy, belong to subjects of the dominant Power. The great engineering works in Egypt were executed before our occupation by French contractors and engineers. They have now become an enormously valuable opportunity for British firms. Capital moves with the flag---sometimes before it and sometimes after it. The Balkan conquests supplied an interesting illustration. One of the first acts of the Servian Government in the portion of Macedonia which it had annexed, was to expropriate the privately-owned railway, which belonged chiefly to Austrian subjects. This order of facts has been passed over too lightly by Mr. Norman Angell in his controversy with the brilliant German Socialist writer Kautsky. To adopt Kautsky's illustration, it is surely impossible to deny that the German governing and financial class (if not the German nation) would derive considerable profit from the conquest, let us say, of India. The actual investments of British capitalists would, of course, be respected. But the privately-owned railways would tend to pass by purchase into German hands. German banks, assured of official patronage, would compete on favoured terms with the existing British banks, and would soon control the credit system of India. The profits of all the new loans required for public works and military works would fall to German financiers, and the immense gains from contracting would go exclusively to Germans. To Germans also would fall the large sum that now flows in pensions and salaries to England. To recognise this fact is not to question the central doctrine of The Great Illusion, that conquest does not benefit a nation. But the small class which in every country maintains Imperialism is not deficient in intelligence, and there is no fallacy in its egoistic calculations. But let us add, however, that this class would readily find adventures more attractive and more profitable than the conquest of India. It would prefer an untilled and unappropriated field, like Turkey and China, not merely because it may with luck be had without fighting, but even more because the capitalists of the favoured Power could operate there without competition. It would be "bad business" to attempt to conquer a thoroughly capitalised European country, and for the same reason it would be relatively foolish business to attempt to take for choice an old and established dependency like Egypt or India.
It follows that we must seek the reason for the survival of armaments in some cause more rational and more permanent than the prevalence of fallacious thinking and the persistence of barbaric sentiments. If the world at large has failed to embrace the cogent logic of Mr. Norman Angell's doctrine, the explanation is that powerful private interests have their motives for resisting it. Armaments are not necessarily required for war at all. They serve a purpose first of all in giving prestige to the diplomacy of the Great Power which is seeking from an undeveloped State concessions for its subjects. They are valuable in the second place when rival Powers are competing for some sphere of influence. The "balance of power" is a balance of armaments, and modern States appear to desire a balance favourable to themselves, primarily because it will assure them freedom of movement in the competition to secure "places in the sun." When the Triple Entente is dominant, it takes Morocco and divides Persia. When the Triple Alliance recovers its lead, it takes Tripoli, assures its hold in Bosnia, and makes progress in the economic penetration of Asiatic Turkey. The oscillations of the balance are registered moreover in the gains or losses of each group in the open competition for economic opportunities in China. These summary sentences convey, perhaps, a provokingly simple account of a process which is in reality extremely complex. Certainly when our representatives in China try to obtain a concession for a British syndicate, they do not threaten Chinese statesmen with the instant bombardment of a Chinese port. Diplomacy is neither so brutal nor so predatory as that. But Chinese statesmen in dealing with us must none the less remember that we have sometimes bombarded their ports and sacked their palaces. They must calculate that if they annoy us beyond a certain point, they must reckon in some one of the future crises which are sure to confront them with our hostility, and if they satisfy us, they may count in some measure on our support. Our hostility is dangerous, and our support valuable in the last resort, because we are a great naval Power. So, too, in our dealings with Germany over the Bagdad Railway or our "sphere of influence" in the Yangtse Valley, it is true that we are unlikely to go to war for either of these objects. But continual friction is risky because on the appropriate occasion we have the ability to assert ourselves in a manner disagreeable to Germany ---in the midst of her Moroccan negotiations with France for example. For years in succession Powers may bicker over their economic interests without moving a cruiser or uttering a threat, but their bickerings are affected and even governed by the knowledge that sooner or later, on one issue or another, decks may be cleared and armies mobilised. It is characteristic of our civilisation to disguise the connection of diplomacy with armaments on the one hand and finance on the other under an elaborate code of courtesies and hypocrisies. Pacifists risk the misdirection of their movement if they allow themselves to be deceived by it. The possession of armaments influences all the dealings of nations, and more especially it influences their rivalries to secure financial advantage in countries unable to protect themselves. When British and German bankers and contractors compete in Peking, they do not meet as rivals of the same nation meet at home. There is a clash of armour-plate when they jostle. The problem of pacificism has not been faced as a whole so long as it confines its argument to a demonstration of the folly of war. Few modern Europeans want war, and of those few, fewer still have the sinister strength to declare it, when the moment of decision arrives. But large and powerful strata of European society desire armaments and the bloodless warfare of the contemporary struggle for a "balance." They desire armaments, because armaments have become indispensable for the pursuit under actual conditions of the gains of economic "penetration." Our problem is much larger than the abolition of war or the reduction of armaments. If all the Great Powers were to resolve to-morrow by a sudden inspiration of good sense to reduce their armaments by half, that would not free us from the moral consequences of the elusive conflict to adjust the balance of prestige and force. On the lower scale these reduced armaments would still be used to exert pressure on undeveloped States, and to win monopolies for the financiers of the dominant Power or Group. The taxpayers' burdens would indeed be lightened, but the shadow of a financially-minded diplomacy would still darken the liberties of struggling nations, and on bourses and in Foreign Offices those who profit by expansion would still assess the relative power of these halved navies and diminished armies.
The problem for men who have reached a humane vision of international relations is to bring about some organic change in the machinery which governs the action of the Powers abroad. It is a problem with two aspects. We must first consider how the will of a democracy can be brought to bear upon the processes of diplomacy, how the small governing class which everywhere promotes its own economic ends and imposes them on public opinion as national interests, can be combated and dispossessed. We must devise a mechanism by which public opinion, as it becomes enlightened, may check and guide the working of diplomacy. The second half of the problem is even more complicated. We must consider whether the restless export to undeveloped countries of capital accumulated at home can in any degree be regulated, and in what measure and by what means it can be controlled. Is it possible or desirable to divorce diplomacy from finance, or by any expedient to denationalise exported capital so that its dangers, ambitions and rivalries shall no longer engage the action and imperil the relations of the nations whose ruling classes own it? Finally, is it possible to conceive an organisation of Europe by which some process less risky, less wasteful and more civilised shall supersede the struggle for a balance of power?
Before we attempt to answer these questions in detail, there are two developments of the modern opposition to war and armaments which deserve consideration. With the "anti-militarism" of Continental Socialism we will deal in the next chapter. It is an elaborate doctrine with a completed theory and a carefully thought out strategy, and it demands full consideration. Slighter and simpler but none the less interesting is a phase of opposition which is to be found in the writings of some Christian thinkers. A man of clear insight and unflinching logic might urge, as Tolstoy did, and as a few English writers, notably Dr. Horton and the late Dr. MacKinnel have done, an ideal of mere retirement from the armed rivalries of Europe. The prophetic vision of a "martyr nation" has long haunted the imagination of the Society of Friends. Let some one people set the brave example of total disarmament, beat its cannon into ploughshares and turn its ironclads into floating sanatoria , and await, unprepared and unresisting, the effect of its splendid example. It is an alluring suggestion, and on one condition it would probably not involve any considerable risk. If we attempted to retain our colonies and dependencies, while we disarmed at home, we should at once be dismembered and overrun by stronger Powers. The millionaire who left his door ajar would certainly be robbed. The cottager may sleep secure by the high road without locks and bars. If we chose to be simply an unarmed and unaggressive island on the confines of Europe, we should have nothing to fear. We should be as safe as are neutral Switzerland and Holland. They owe their immunity from invasion not to their small and doubtfully efficient armies, but to the conscience of Europe and the rivalries of military Powers, any one of which could crush them without an effort. If we became an island Switzerland, we should not be a "martyr nation." We should, however, be a parasitic nation. For we should owe our safety to the fact that the armaments of France and Russia neutralised the armaments of Central Europe. We should indeed have retired from the competition, but we should continue to profit by it. Safe ourselves, we should none the less have ceased to play a part, or to exert an influence in the general progress of the civilised world. We could not intervene to check even the grossest inhumanity, and such an accident as the rise of some conquering Napoleonic despotism might end our experiment and with it the hope of any European advance towards an assured and permanent peace. To devote ourselves to the preaching of such an ideal as this is, moreover, to sacrifice the present to a remote and perhaps impossible future. This ideal could triumph in our country only if it become sincerely Christian or completely Socialist. Before the coming of that Utopia whole races might have been sacrificed, and civilisation itself destroyed by the unchecked working of capitalistic forces.
It is a much harder and a much more complicated problem which confronts those who aspire to a permanent peace. We are citizens as well as idealists; we have our share in the responsibility for all that our rulers do in Egypt or in India. We have a duty not merely to posterity, but to the men who are being drilled for slaughter to-day with the money which we as taxpayers provide. While we state and defend our distant ideal, we must also find some strategy which will even now check the worst consequences of a capitalistic foreign policy, and, if possible, turn it to some partial good. The thinking of Socialist idealists has imposed a constructive policy of domestic reform upon the present generation of Liberals. The same task must be faced in the less familiar field of foreign policy. Nor can the two fields be isolated. Imperialism, with its spendthrift and wasteful expenditure, its positive encouragement to the rapid accumulation of capital for investment abroad, and the distractions which it invents to divert the attention of the masses from their more intimate preoccupations at home, is to-day a more formidable enemy to social reconstruction than the nearly obsolete individualism of the Manchester School. Our first task will be to win the bare possibility of influencing the foreign policy of the governing class. Our first battle must be to secure the effective control of the democracy over the external policy of its rulers.
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