Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 15. July 26, 1939
Tomorrow and the Pacifist
Tomorrow and the Pacifist
A recent debate at Training College provided one of the most interesting situations I have ever witnessed. Six Socialists debated the motion: "That complete pacifism is the only creed for the modern citizen." Their identity of political label was fortuitous: the debate was between present students and past students, and the best speakers available for each side happened to be Socialists. Because of this we enjoyed a debate comparatively free from the confusion and misunderstanding of terms so frequent between people whose mental make-up is widely dissimilar. Words like Capitalism and Fascism meant the same thing to either side. The debate had a further value in that many of the audience went along without previously formed opinions. They were ready to be convinced, and therefore there was some likelihood that the side putting up the better case would win the vote. In my opinion, that is what happened.
There was a time when it was easy for the Socialist to feel he could be a Pacifist as well. Wars were Imperialist affairs he need not take part in—Fascism's threat to the democracies was not so alarmingly apparent. Then Munich provided the final proof that, so far from offering any obstacle to Fascism, the democracies were speedily adopting Fascist methods and co-operating in their own downfall. The process now seems so fast and so certain that the best the Socialist can hope for is the maintenance of that "democracy" he once hated. He has, in fact, become a Conservative, while the Conservatives of the past, in the desire to safeguard their personal wealth, plan the overthrow of Britain. They fear British Socialists more than they do foreign Fascists. Unless the present trend is arrested, war is inevitable: and unless Socialism is organised and armed, Britain will emerge from the war in an infinitely worse state than Germany is today. And if most of the Socialists are jailed or shot as conscientious objectors, they will be neither armed nor organised.
If the Left can be brought to realise this, they can make them selves strong enough to force the British Government to abandon its present Fascist tendency and make some serious attempts to obtain a military alliance with Russia. The present negotiations are fizzling out—the newspapers seem anxious to forget them. If they can be revived on a new basis, there may be still time to avert war, because the Fascist danger would speedily wither in the face of an alliance between Britain, France, and Russia.
But just now such an alliance is but a castle in the air. What will be the position of the Socialists if, despite intensified pressure from the Left and the public. Chamberlain and his Government dodge the alliance? It is certainly not worth while to fight for British Fascism against foreign versions—one is as bad as the other.
Let us consider the possible courses of action for the Socialist if Britain goes to war as a Fascistic power, against other Fascist powers or against Russia. If he enlists, it is to fight for a completely different object than that of his Government. It is in order to obtain arms and to have the chance of beginning a revolt when the moment is favourable, as Lenin did—but this time a revolt against a Fascist regime. The chance of a world Socialist revolution arising from another world war seems to me extremely probable. Every friend of every Jew exiled from Germany, every family with a son in a concentration camp (and there are thousands) are against Hitler—saying nothing but waiting their chance. The German revolutionaries of 1918 have not all forgotten what they then mutinied for. In that year there were two million active Communists—they have not all been converted or imprisoned. And the Penguin Book "Britain," by Mass Observation, indicates that many millions in Britain are opposed to the recent trends of their Government: not enough to win an election perhaps, but enough to make things very awkward during a war. The belligerent nations might well be forced to unite (as in 1918) to oppose a common enemy—Socialism.
"But," says the Pacifist, or the reader of "Ends and Means." "what kind of Socialism will it be, coming after a period of violence, and brought into being by the violent? Look at Russia!"
"Certainly." says the Socialist. "Look at Russia!"
But it would be a mistake the boil the problem down to the question of whether the Russian revolution, judged on the position of Russia today, was worth while. Because Russia has had to undergo constant interference from Capitalist Powers, and has had to spend an enormous amount on armaments because of the danger of attack by Germany, Italy, and Japan, which nations would probably have the benevolent neutrality of the British Government, as Stalin has long recognised. But in the problem we have been discussing, we must consider how much of Russia's iniquity can be discounted on the grounds of interference from outside. With the lesson of the last war still in their minds, the revolutionaries in the next war will not put down their arms until Socialism is established in the other countries as well as their own. The new society will no doubt be tainted by the means adopted in bringing it about. How much we cannot tell, but it is not hard to see that for the other side to win would be infinitely worse. We must choose the faction with the less bloody aspect.
Now let us suppose that the revolutionaries are defeated. The end of the struggle will see the nations governed by Fascist gangs, possibly something like the war-survivors in "The Shape of Things to Come." If he is not already dead, what will be the position of the Pacifist? If he preaches Pacifism, he will be executed, and his children will grow up subject to the full power of Fascist schools, press and radio; all that they can do, know, or understand dictated by the rulers. The victory of Fascism means the end of all the Pacifist stands for. He had better choose the lesser evil.