The Next Peace
HERE are three striking shots from the film of current history: —
First. On September 30 last, Mr. Neville Chamberlain’s airplane taxies up to the concrete on its arrival in London from Munich. The Prime Minister waves a scrap of paper at the curious onlookers. With obvious optimism he cries: ‘I believe it is peace for our time.’
Second. On March 29 in the Commons, a fortnight after Herr Hitler’s final elimination of Czechoslovakia, Mr. Chamberlain undertakes once again not to introduce conscription in peacetime without full national consultation.
Third. On April 26 in the Commons, without previous consultation with anyone save those in his own immediate entourage, Mr. Chamberlain introduces conscription. Heckled by certain members of the Opposition, the Premier justifies his action (to quote the sympathetic British quarterly Round Table) ‘by suggesting that the times through which we were living were not peace in any sense in which the term could fairly be used,’
These three shots raise striking queries on the answers to which depends not only the destiny of nations great and small, but perhaps also the development of civilization in the Old World.
Suppose Europe gets by for the next ten or twenty years without any actual shooting, — perhaps we had better say, with sacrifices of principle and profit for the sake of peace, extorted by threat of shooting, — what will remain at the end of the period of ‘peace’? Will there be any democracy left in Europe? Any private property? Any private enterprise, save that of a petty, local, feudal kind? It is ironical that to prevent actual shooting, once called ‘war,’ the British Big Four — Chamberlain, Simon, Hoare, and Halifax — now find themselves compelled to convert what we once called ‘peace’ into a kind of Hades, an intermediate state, of which they themselves refuse to speak as ‘peace in any sense in which the term could fairly be used.’ If, to prevent our slipping into real Hell, we have to make a long sojourn in Hades, will not the powers of darkness and of light eventually become indistinguishable? In other words, if Britain and her associates can only keep the present kind of ‘peace’ by rapidly becoming more and more totalitarian, will there be, in the long run, any significant difference between the systems of Germany, Italy, Russia, Britain, and France?
Irony may yield to irony. We may all find that a European crisis which began as a fundamental cleavage between democracy and despotism over foreign policy will end in complete European unity between domestic despotisms. To exorcise the demon of tyrannical force in foreign affairs at a perilously late hour, the European democracies have already invited in the totalitarian Satan. It would be a sardonic judgment upon their dilatoriness if they succeeded in preserving ‘peace,’ in preventing forceful coups in foreign affairs, and in achieving European unity, by undoing themselves as democracies.
Thus, as I concluded last month’s article on ‘The Next War,’ whether we are warmongers or peacemongers, whether we believe in a short and bloody or a long and neurotic purgatory, does not really matter very much; for ‘peace is the proposition.’ We have not got peace, and we may have real war. In that article I examined the implications of real war, up to the point where peacemaking became the problem. Now we have to examine the implications of peace, the next peace, whether after a war or not.
Theoretically, and in a ruthlessly cold spirit of detachment, it must be admitted that we could make and establish peace more easily after a war than in the present chaos of ‘cold war’ or ‘hot peace.’ In accord with my last article, I assume Germany and Italy cannot win a general European war in a military sense. Whether the victors would establish peace after making peace is open to grave doubt. They might be tempted to do what the victors did not do in 1918 and 1919: namely, proceed to drastic extremes in dealing with a people so disastrously given to militaristic ‘leadership’ as the Germans. On the other hand, after the next war, however short, both sets of contestants will have gone completely over the brink of domestic bankruptcy, and there will be no reparations. Consequently, the ability to exact a Carthaginian peace may not be there on the victors’ side, nor may the will; for great political and social changes will certainly occur in Britain and France once they become fully totalitarian at war. It is as likely that the next war will end by handshaking between a Socialist Germany and a Socialist Britain as it is that it will end by a Fascist Britain’s grinding a revolutionary Socialist or Communist Germany into the dust for Fascist Britain’s safety. Neither is predictable; either is likely. Now that thinking Europeans see Germany and Italy going Leftward, Russia going Rightward, and Britain flirting with the Russian Fascism against the German and Italian brands of Socialism, no one can say what will happen.
But just because the outlook Is so obscure, it becomes more obvious that ‘peace after war’ would be an easier proposition (owing to its dictatability) than ‘peace after “peace.”’ Yet here again the issue is clouded; for if we determinedly engage in war, believing that at any rate when it is ended we can remould Europe nearer to our heart’s desire, we may be just as disillusioned as many were in 1919, and as the extremist Nazis are going to be, anyhow. For in the meantime, while winning the war in a military sense, we may lose everything worth enjoying in peace: namely, freedom, representative government, the highest European standards of living, individualistic culture — all indissolubly bound up with what we have come to term the democratic way of life.
Indeed, this much has already been made perfectly plain to the British and French peoples by their governments during the last twelve months. In that short time, a time which no one now dares call peace, France has completely abandoned any pretense of representative government, and only the barest lip service to honored forms and traditions in England — for example, the perfunctory use of Parliamentary debate — disguises the fact that the destiny of the British people lies in the uncontrolled determination of a handful of Conservatives. The advent of mob voting at the behest of opposing demagogues was the bogy of nineteenth-century Whigs and Tories alike. To-day British democracy has come to mean a contest every few years between opposing party machines, the directors of each intent upon swindling the electorate on as wholesale a scale as possible in order to secure five years of unchallengeable power. And, on the whole, the electorate has betrayed an almost indecent passion for being swindied — until to-day, when less than 50 per cent of the electorate in the last seven by-elections troubled to use their vote at all. (These hard words are used only of British democratic government, not of the British feeling for the democratic way of life. The latter is a real article of faith, even though that faith is only ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’!)
Consequently British and French citizens, the men and women who are making great personal sacrifices in behalf of what remains of Europe’s culture, face a dreadful dilemma. Called on by governments that have themselves lost any faith in democracy at home to defend, by blood and sacrifice, what former democracy bequeathed to Europe, they obey without examining too closely the horns of the dilemma. And that spells the end of democracy at home. This is the thing that is wrong with European democracy, and the thing that robs fervent democrats of any conviction that, should they go to war, they would be really ‘fighting to make the world safe for democracy.’ No thinking European can believe that any more — though Mr. Eden and other dissident Conservatives sometimes say it in public. If we fight, we shall be fighting for our property and our skins. If we preserve our skins, it will only be by sacrificing our property along with our liberties. But if we do not fight we shall eventually have to sacrifice our property along with our liberties just the same. Heads I win, tails you lose. The only difference is in the timing; and that isn’t much. The latest issue of the Round Table puts it discreetly, but clearly, from the neo-imperialist standpoint:
The economic future, if we are spared the war that many of us fear, can only be a matter for speculation; for immense government borrowing, conscription for a quarter of a million young men a year, and a considerable diversion of civilian activity from its normal channels, have produced an entirely new economic order of things, and may well produce a new social order.
Thus, ‘the proposition is peace’; but what kind of peace? A peace à la Munich? Another Versailles, only worse, after an infinitely worse war? A peace which reduces all Europe to totalitarian standards of living and culture? A peace which weans totalitarianism back to democracy, or one which weans all European democracy away to totalitarianism? A peace which re-creates private enterprise and frees commerce between the powers by reversing the arms race, or one which, based on an uneasy armistice between expanding arsenals, finally wipes out private enterprise and private international trade? These are all questions about ends; but to answer them we must know the answers to others about means. For example, can a durable peace be established by new bilateral pacts for disarmament and the denunciation of existing alliances, or only by the perfecting of an overwhelming military combination of powers pledged to resist aggression on one of their number? These are two totally opposite means to the single end of peace; but which, in Europe to-day, will attain the end? Again, take the economic factor: would Europe’s vestigial democracies strengthen the factors making for peace, or those making for war, if they gave (that is, donated, without any payment at all) to the Axis powers fresh territories, colonies, special financial and commercial concessions, loans, food, and raw materials? We all agree on the end, peace. But we powerfully differ on the means proposed to attain it. Therefore we must concern ourselves almost exclusively with the political and economic means now under consideration by Europe’s statesmen.
Let us begin by taking the proposition that we can avoid war, establish real peace, and preserve liberty and prosperity by rational discussion of grievances with the Axis powers, leading to final agreement. This is the main assumption on which all British policy was, and is still, reared. Britain, say Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, is only organizing her own forces and those of others against her will, because Germany compels her to.
The first warning reaches us from Italy herself. Signor Mussolini has devotedly tried to collaborate with Herr Hitler’s system. Italian Fascism was in many ways more fit to do so than any European democracy. What has happened? Signor Mussolini is credibly reported to be pacifistic, to loathe the Genii which he has helped to let out of the German bottle. Nonetheless, Italy is as much a prisoner of the German system to-day as the Duce is, in fact, of the Gestapo and its Italian brokers, Count Ciano and Signor Starace.
The second warning comes from our experience in Europe’s democracies. For years we Englishmen have been led by a handful of our own citizens who thought (and disastrously acted on the thought) that by ‘taking the long view,’ by ‘appeasing’ the so-called temporary aberration of Naziism, by conferring, discussing, offering, and chaffering, we should escape unscathed, should get by without war, merely at the cost of smaller powers’ souls and property. Well, they sacrificed the smaller powers; they have only got by without shooting, but not without war. And we are now in the throes of being scathed by the very men who committed the blunders of the last eight years. We in Europe’s democracies are being scathed by a domestic authoritarianism, exercised by a small oligarchy, just because their policy has raised the Axis powers to a dangerous eminence. In the name of that danger (and it is cynically called ‘ a danger to democracy’) democracy is being frozen stiff. Ironically, the refrigeration is being voluntarily carried out by convinced democrats. These good-hearted folk accord the governments of Britain and France full support in the belief that such governments, having swung their foreign policies through an arc of 180 degrees, are now worthy of trust. What is likely to happen if these governments, responsible for the pass to which we are all reduced, now open negotiations with Herr Hitler, Signor Mussolini, General Franco, and the Japanese? Will an embryonic, much publicized Peace Front cow Nazis and Fascists into honesty, sincerity, and coöperation?
These considerations are vital; for there is ample evidence in London that ‘appeasement’ is alive and kicking, even if off stage. There are great gulfs fixed between (a) what the British Government declares, (b) what the small group within and without the Cabinet intends, and (c) what the public-spirited citizen thinks is the policy which his sacrifices are helping to execute.
This is nothing new in British history. It has nothing to do with the present division of Europe on ideological grounds. During the general European wars of Louis XIV and Napoleon, there were cabals and camarillas in high places, seeking to enlist the British citizen’s body, property, and liberties for a policy flatly contradictory to that proclaimed to him. It is only one aspect of a policy which seeks, as much as ever any dictator ever did, but in more genteel and kindly guise, power for power’s sake.
The present administration in England must go to the country within the next twelve months, if there is no war. (If there is, this administration will vote itself immortal.) There is now no Opposition in which the electorate can have any confidence. Accordingly, on the assumption of an election in the fall, the same political strategy is being pursued which was initiated by Mr. Baldwin (as he then was) in November of 1935. This is as follows.
The Opposition’s criticisms are belatedly accepted as the Government’s new policy, which involves a startling 180degree whip-round. This is done by Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, and Sir Samuel Hoare in the summer and fall of 1935, when they adopt the sanctions policy against Italy, in order to quiet the 11,000,000 League of Nations supporters up and down the country. Next, the Opposition being deprived of any electoral leg to stand on, the Government calls a General Election on the Opposition’s platform. Thirdly, it wins a crushing majority. Lastly, and in 1935 within six weeks, it publicly tears up its electoral program and pulls a Hoare-Laval on everybody — but is ‘in’ for another four years! This is sound party management, from which even the Nazis could learn. To-day the same dangerous situation has been prepared by Mr. Chamberlain’s volte-face a little over three months ago. Again there is no leg for the Opposition to stand on. There is now none for Mr. Churchill or Mr. Eden to stand on. Gone are the days when a Prime Minister, having been proved disastrously wrong in every aspect of his policy, and the Opposition proved right, resigned. To-day he gets another five years of power for adopting, even if too late, the Opposition’s program. Then he jettisons the program and, if precedents are trustworthy, reverts to his former policy. While this is still called representative government in England, it is difficult to find out who represents whom, and for what. The danger is that, in confusing this brilliant party management with the governance of an apparent democracy, the outside world may come to attach no credence whatever to anything a British Prime Minister may say before a Genera! Election. Indeed, it may do more; it may believe the exact opposite.
That is exactly what the Russians — and to a less extent the Poles, Rumanians, Greeks, Turks, Belgians, Dutch, Scandinavians, and even the French — have long been thinking about Mr. Chamberlain’s startling reversal of foreign policy. That is why peacetime conscription was necessary in England, to ‘show we meant business.’ That is why Mr. Strang, who is not a Minister but a Foreign Office servant, has had to be sent posthaste to Moscow, where Britain maintains an Ambassador. And if all these people were skeptical, what about the effect on Herr Hitler? Are we warranted in assuming that all Dr. Goebbels’s beating of the ‘encirclement’ drum is due to anger and fear at Mr. Chamberlain’s grim determination? Or is it that the exigencies of domestic politics in England have forced Messrs. Chamberlain, Simon, Hoare, and Halifax to present Herr Hitler with a heaven-sent rallying cry for the German people at a time when they were particularly disunited? If it really is the latter, then Mr. Chamberlain’s and Lord Halifax’s fervent bids for ‘ negotiation ‘ with Germany in Lords and Commons during June acquire a subtler significance. They seem to indicate the discomfiture of the British Inner Cabinet over the acceleration in European affairs caused by their own Peace Front boost. Is it desperation that prompts these offers? Or desire to clear Britain of the charge of ‘encirclement’? Or preparation for such negotiations as may prevent, before a General Election, an irresistible warlike challenge from Herr Hitler, so that, after the election, another and more extensive Munich may be made with him? All these explanations are current in London. Yet no one dares to come out in the open and tackle the root problem: what kind of agreement, what kind of peace, can be made anyhow between Germany and the vestigial democracies?
On the one hand, all the government’s spokesmen — press and politicians alike — loudly play up the Peace Front. They say Britain will certainly keep to her bond and fight. On the other, they all equally loudly play up the government’s willingness to negotiate. The results on the Continent have been such as to weaken the resolution of the Front’s members, and to strengthen Nazi beliefs that the British are crumpling once more. This in turn calls forth violent counterprotestations from the British Government’s spokesmen, press, and radio. That annoys the Nazis again. And thus Europe travels farther and farther from real peace.
Perhaps the greatest factor making for peace — at a price which it is not reckoned decent even to mention in England — is the rapidity with which the political and economic systems of Britain and France are being made to catch up with those of the Third Reich.
This, again, is a hard saying and demands precise formulation. It does not mean that the British and French Governments, and the small groups within and without their Parliaments from which the administrators of Britain and France are now being drawn, are a band of crypto-thugs waiting with glee to clap everyone into a concentration camp. Far from it. It does, however, mean that all the British and French apparatus of State is being taken over by a small group for the duration of a crisis which may last a generation. So much is already plain in both countries. The chief positions in the new bureaus, ministries, boards, and so forth, being set up in England are being distributed among an exceedingly narrow group of men who sympathize with the policy formerly advocated by Mr. Neville Chamberlain. This applies to the new department of information in the Foreign Office, which will immediately become the Ministry of Propaganda in wartime, headed by the former British Ambassador in Rome. Censorship of the press, films, and radio has already been arranged. The civil service, together with the big public corporations like the British Broadcasting Corporation, are being combed out; and those with political views known to have been at variance with government policy are to be allocated to wartime posts very inferior to their powers, and inferior to posts to be obtained by government supporters, known as ‘sound men.’
Again, this is not new; but it occurred in wartime before, and a long time after war had been going on. To-day we in England have already reached that stage of warfare at which the Budget is hopelessly out of balance, domestic trade and foreign trade are being alike distorted, all business is primarily subject to governmental requirements, hours are being lengthened, skilled labor is being diluted by unskilled, taxes are rising, and personal consumption must be reduced. The entire British economy is now entering the perilous, if necessary, stage of an armaments boom — a boom which five years ago the Nazis showed us how to produce. It is obtained by earmarking more and more of the national annual production for unreproductive, unconsumable arms. It lasts until its continuous expansion, like a cancer, begins to eat into that part of the economy which serves consumption needs. Then labor must be intensified, women enrolled for men’s work, the range of consumers’ choice curtailed, and enterprise further controlled so as to set free more men, money, and materials to produce (or bear) arms. As long as there is a lot of slack in the country’s economic rope, — unemployed men, money, machines, materials, — arms are like civilian public works, except that they add nothing at all to the nation’s annual flow of amenities and consumables. But when the slack gets near to tautness, strain becomes observable. That has been happening for two years in Germany. It is as yet barely observable in England. When the tautness itself is strained, strands in the rope begin to part here and there. That is now happening in the Reich. It has not yet occurred in England. But the margin in time is thin. Already it has become necessary to put British industry under a blanket provision enabling the government to step in and take over any firm proving recalcitrant or an obstacle to the progress of the defense program. The real problem in this system is not the standing of the strain, but slacking off the rope again!
The realization of all these things has impelled the Federation of British Industries, a body of industrialists far less liberal-minded than the American National Association of Manufacturers, zealously to advocate, lobby, and propagand for an agreement between the British and German Governments to ‘divide and rule’ the trade of Europe and beyond. The F. B.I. negotiators at Düsseldorf last March saw their hopes dashed by Herr Hitler’s annexation of all Czechoslovakia; yet they have not repined. Indeed, the F.B.I. scheme, which raised a furore of resentment in the City, has never been disavowed by the government; and the recent governmental hints of British readiness to talk economic concessions with the Reich have resuscitated the F.B. I. scheme. Another furore in the City was caused by the Bank of England representative’s quiet agreement at a meeting of the Bank of International Settlements to hand over to its German colleague on the B. I. S., the Reichsbank, all the Czech gold lodged in the Bank of England. In this case, Mr. Montagu Norman’s habitual susceptibility to a German request was screened in the Commons by the skillful and long-practised advocacy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Sir John Simon blandly informed questioners that he could not be expected to answer for the actions of the board of ‘this Swiss bank’!
Thus there is evidence to show that, politically, Mr. Chamberlain and his associates — both within and without Parliament — would probably push through an agreement, with Herr Hitler, once the General Election in England was safely in the bag. But there’s the rub. What agreement? On what? Would it mean peace? Presumably not; otherwise Mr. Chamberlain and his associates would not have needed to prepare for war on the truly drastic scale which they have, with efficient speed and much desperation, adopted. Then if not peace, could they at any rate establish the current kind of ‘cold war,’ or ‘hot peace,’ for an indeterminate season?
There is reason to believe that this, in fact, is the real aim of the British Government, and therefore of the acquiescent French Government. It marks the peak of their ambition; and it is a terrible comment on their record that the peak should now have to be set so low. For mark what it implies.
The present stage in European affairs, political and economic, is a race between bankruptcies. Those bankruptcies are political as well as economic. Every time the British Government sees the Third Reich’s rope nearing snapping point — that is, every time Europe reaches the brink of war-with-shooting — some new formula has to be devised to stave off an explosive German bankruptcy. The democracies send the hat round. Hitherto it has stopped short of the two big fellows, France and Britain. Can it stop short of them in future? Apparently not, since they have had to fence off the abyss by a Peace Front. Yet suppose in the near future Herr Hitler is clever enough not to ride full tilt against that fence. Suppose he does not attack any of the Front’s members frontally, but by internal fomentation, so that it becomes very hard to say whether Poland’s, or any other guaranteed State’s, integrity is threatened from without. If the Polish Government took up arms against a ‘rebellion,’ would the British Government adjudge this to be beyond the scope of its guarantee? How would they decide if Poland were really the victim of ‘aggression’? Here, at least, is an opening for another Runciman Mission, another installment to keep the current kind of peace going at someone else’s expense.
The coincidence of the crisis over Tientsin with the continuous delay in Anglo-Russian negotiations clearly shows how strongly British policy is still bent on appeasement, no matter how great the provocations on the other side may be. The speeches of Lord Halifax, Mr. Chamberlain, and Mr. R. A. Butler over Tientsin have made it quite clear that the British Government is prepared neither to take a firm fine with Japan nor to extend the Anglo-Russian negotiations to cover the Far East. That this conclusion has quickly been drawn by the Nazi High Command is obvious from the immediate German preparations against Danzig and Poland.
Enlargement of the Reich to include Hungary, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Rumania— even if thinkable for Britain and France from the strategic standpoint — would not diminish, indeed would of necessity vastly increase, the Reich’s administrative and economic problems in the short run. As that short run would be at least five years, the danger of a warlike explosion within those five years would not be eradicated. It would remain; but more strength would be behind the Reich than it enjoys to-day. Hence, a peace so bought and so established would not offer us a single solut ion for our current problems and dangers. We can accept one thing as axiomatic: that the more this Reich expands, the stronger will Naziism need to be clamped down upon it, the less possibility will there be of any return to economic normalcy in Germany’s system. Indeed, the Nazi system cannot, continue to exist if it starts to ‘return’ to anything which preceded it. Its very nature is antithetical, negative, contradictory to normalcy. So much my friend Mr. Pet er F. Drucker has made abundantly clear in his brilliant book, The End of Economic Man.
Accordingly, the more the remaining European democracies are forced to face up to the Reich by copying, more efficiently, its political and economic methods, the more impossible they, too, will find it to make any return to normalcy. They will find it impossible to unscramble eggs. Already one of the nightmares haunting the British Government’s new economic General Staff is the problem how to undo, if we get real peace, the current financial, industrial, and administrative tangle of war economy. The tighter that tangle is drawn by the need to maintain an armed peace, the closer will Germany’s and Britain’s fundamental social, political, and economic problems approximate. A war would solve those problems, inevitably and drastically. A continuous armed peace (which is no peace) would merely aggravate, by enlarging, them.
Perception of these issues is responsible for the grim air of resignation which now broods over Whitehall (though not over Downing Street!). The gentlemen whose business is war preparation know, like physicians, when symptoms are ripe enough to warrant prognosis. These keen-faced technicians do not fool themselves. Their job is not to dispute over ends. They are engaged in studying warlike means. Privately they recognize war to be inevitable. They leave the politicians to count on miracles. They know that a European agreement establishing real peace would be a real miracle. So they get on with their job — receiving the almost uninterrupted military, naval, air, and economic missions from France, Poland, Rumania, Greece, Turkey, and dispatching British missions back to these places. Soon we shall read of ‘exchanges’ with Moscow; and that will make some more amusing reading in the London Times. If ever peace were to be secured, as well as desired, by preparing for war, Europe now ought to be enjoying it!
But suppose a miracle does occur. Suppose Germany, Italy, Britain, France, and (of course, or of course not?) Russia conclude an agreement which provides for a halt and reversal in the arms race, settlement of just grievances, economic concessions to enable Germany and Italy to ‘unwind’ the taut mainsprings of their war economy, and an effective form of sanction for the honest fulfillment of the agreement. What would it involve?
First, we should have to face every social and economic effect of a vast demobilization after ‘cold war.’ It would have to be done gradually. There are to-day about 6,000,000 men — of military and therefore of working age — actually under arms in Britain, Prance, Germany, Italy, and Poland alone. This includes men whose whole time is taken up by service in their government’s military or air-raid defense forces, as well as the S. S. (but not the S. A.) in Germany. Yet this number could be vastly swollen if we added all men whose whole-time work was in behalf of military or defensive preparations. Indeed, if we compare all Europe’s demobilization problem with that of 1918 (and exclude Russia and the U.S. A.), we find that, owing to the increase in population since 1918 and the absence of any killing of men in the present ‘cold war,’ we have a problem already half as large as that which faced Europe a mere two decades ago after four years of real warfare. If the present ‘ hot peace’ goes on for another two years, our problem will then be almost as great in numbers as it was in 1918. This is something few people can realize. It is a colossal social, political, and economic problem for Europe entire. It is a problem which has not arisen as a peacetime effect since the Middle Ages (with which there are, alas, so many parallels today!), when the peasants flocked to the new towns and upset the agrarian basis of feudal society. And it arises, unfortunately, in an epoch when there is no opening up of industry and the world, as there was in the Middle Ages and after the Napoleonic Wars. It arises, indeed, at a time when Britain is coping with the economic legacy of the last war by preparing for the next — witness the unemployment figures in her ‘distressed areas.’ Thus, the new problems could only be dealt with in totalitarian fashion, by vast public-works schemes on a national and even international scale.
Secondly, in order to face up to the warlike achievements of Germany, Italy, and so forth, private capitalism and private enterprise have already had to give way to collectivist economies in Britain, France, and so forth. It is therefore evident that Europe could not go back to the ‘private’ (whether individual or corporate) kind of economy which ruled up to 1914. If we now secured a real and lasting peace by agreement with Germany and Italy, we in the vestigial democracies could not possibly maintain our part of world commerce and finance on ‘private’ lines. Here, of course, the Federation of British Industries are right, in their own behalf, in trying to cash in with the German industrialists before any peace agreement is accomplished. They are, in the same sense, right to try to make a joint cartel system with German industry; for, as with the existing British and German steel industries, governments give them the status of public board, with extensive powers over domestic and foreign trade, tariffs, and so forth, when they are organized as an industrial monopoly. The F. B.I. have simply recognized, earlier than others in England, that British private enterprise is bound to die quickly, peace or war. Accordingly, their duty to themselves is to secure the most favorable position and powers under a new régime. That they chose to do so first in the field of foreign trade is understandable, for the German system represents the greatest threat to the British industrialists, and — as with the German budgetary and rearmament systems — to meet it the British Government has had to adopt the same methods.
It is gradually becoming apparent, in America as in Europe, that after 1918 we tried to, but never did, ‘get back’ to the good old days of private enterprise; that the post-war gold standard from 1925 to 1931 was a flash in the pan; and that the crash after 1929 was not just a depression but the delayed effect of causes working out before the war of 1914-1918, and infinitely accelerated by it. Consequently we in Europe’s so-called democracies cannot do anything else than go forward with the social, political, and above all the economic tide of totalitarianism. We cannot back up. We tried to do so in the halcyon peace of 1919-1929. Since then we have only paid lip service to the household gods of private enterprise, while plunging ever deeper into the opposite movement. Since 1935 we have lost every chance we had. Now, if we make a miraculous peace with the more ruthless totalitarian systems, we shall have to become efficiently authoritarian ourselves, in all walks of public life — finance, trade, politics, and (I fear) social life.
In parenthesis, I should like once more to explain more fully my use of the words ‘authoritarian’ and ‘totalitarian’ in reference to Britain, France, and other vestigial European democracies. These words have come to wear a derogatory aura, draped round them by our shame at the barbarities disfiguring the régimes of Germany, Italy, and Russia. Therefore when I say Britain and France will have to go authoritarian, I run the risk of being understood to say that Britain and France will be run by gangs of toughs, that concentration camps will be instituted, and that no one will be allowed to think or say what he likes. I do not mean that. It would not sit upon the shoulders of the British and French peoples, who have not been defeated in war, are not ill-fed, and are exceedingly individualistic in their likes and dislikes. I do, however, mean that the liberties of labor, movement, enterprise, speech, the press, property, public meeting, and political activity, will be rapidly and increasingly restricted by a small oligarchy. This oligarchy will represent itself as representing the people, by the simple expedient of making it impossible for anyone else to represent them. The forces of administration and the civil service will be controlled to that end; and the forces of private enterprise will at first willingly support this system, as they did in Germany. (Already in England it is pathetic to hear once-great Labor and Liberal voices advocating, in the plea of national emergency, the granting of powers which will quickly reduce Liberalism and ‘Labor-ism’ to nought.) The way in which this brand of authoritarianism will be administered in England and France will be kindly. The mass of the people will scarcely be aware of it at first, especially as in both countries the civil service is decent and the traditional and conventional forms of doing things will be scrupulously respected. In the end, authority will be snatched from the hands of the elder Tories who first seized it. In peace or war, the younger men will prove more radical.
In many ways authoritarianism will do the lackadaisical English people a lot of good. It may even make them think out anew the reason why their forgotten ancestors fought and died for certain liberties. After a lapse of years — the two generations now aged from thirtyfive to seventy-five in English politics (who have ruled or acquiesced since 1914) will have to pass from the scene altogether — the present younger generation, aged fifteen to thirty-five, may get its chance. It may get that chance very soon now — before it is twenty-five to forty-five. The younger spirits during the Napoleonic Wars railed at the Tories who were ‘in’ from 1782 to 1830. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Leigh Hunt — they had to pocket their impatience and await their turn. But 1832 came in the end, more than fifty years after the Tories had lost the Thirteen Colonies; and England was saved from the Fascism of ‘the King’s Friends.’ That is all I mean when I use the word ‘authoritarian ‘ of England. I mean that, perhaps for half a century, perhaps only for a few years, England will have to pass again under the elder Tories’ yoke as it did at the time of the Six Acts. In the end it will be good for England, and very bad for the Tories. In the interim it will certainly be as unpleasant for the thinking few as it was between 1789 and 1823.
The third main effect on Britain and her associates of a reliable accord with Germany would be social and financial. Quite apart from having to give Germany money and colonies, perhaps even ships and materials, it will soon become obvious that Britain cannot maintain the National Debt, the balance of payments, her overseas investment income, and the heavy burden of social services at home. If we regard arms and defense as being gradually eliminated from the sphere of production, we shall have to bridge the gap, absorb not only soldiery and conscripts but also men formerly making swords, and institute public works to turn out ploughshares on a scale vast enough to eliminate unemployment altogether. We shall have the arms money to spend, but not the fictitious arms prosperity. As authoritarianism spreads in the neo-democracies, as liberalism and socialism and Marxism and communism come to sound like echoes from a dim past, so will Toryism — the respectable kind — fade, too. Authority will breed its own brand of oligarchs. They will be younger men. Then, as in every revolution, Levelers will appear.
The group in power, though they hug the symbols of British monarchy and democracy never so tightly, will be gradually forced to legislate more and more for the inarticulate mass of the people, whom they began by despising. They will always be outbid by younger men. The elder Tories will not dare prune the social services, which touch so many millions, when they can as easily prune the City, the big incomes, the annual service of the colossal (and by now rapidly growing) National Debt. ‘The conscription of wealth,’ that phrase so beloved of our present dim socialists and liberals, will actually be brought in by younger Tories as a new discovery to placate the masses and consolidate power. In fact, as we have already witnessed in the last five crisis years of Tory rule, the measures taken by a Tory government of an authoritarian kind will become steadily more and more radical; just as the Nazis, whom superficial German industrialists and AngloSaxons once spoke of as ‘the Right Wing,’ have turned out to be violently of the Left. In fact, in economic and financial measures as in political methods, any authoritarian régime which begins mildly in a neo-democracy will soon be forced out of alignment with old party labels and programs. There will be no more High Tory and Progressive Tory and National Liberal and Opposition Liberal and Socialist and Communist.
I repeat, authoritarianism, once adopted (and it really doesn’t matter who is the first party to adopt it), will breed its own species of oligarch. Each will get more and more radical. The effect of this on the highly conventionalized, rigid, stratified economic, financial, and social structures of Britain will indeed be worth watching. You will see all foreign trade and exchange under control by the oligarchic State; all domestic investment, production of investment goods, food distribution, social services, transport, fuel and power output, utilities, and so forth. The obverse of this must necessarily be (as in the Reich) the disruption and realignment of all Britain’s oversea trade and financial connections. And, of course, the field of real private enterprise wall necessarily become so exiguous as scarcely to be significant.
I have developed this aspect of the ‘peace with dictators’ rather fully because there is a disposition abroad to caricature English and French Tories and business men as congenital idiots, anxious for ‘a deal with Hitler’ in order to secure for their and their children’s enjoyment private property and private enterprise in England. This I take to be far from the truth. Some (and some we have all had to dine alongside) certainly are congenital idiots as far as Europe’s crisis is concerned. They are pathetically ignorant, self-confident, and dim. But they are a minority. The great majority are shrewd, well-informed, and astute. They seek only to support, share, and even control the new authoritarian controllers of the country, in order that, when private property and private enterprise fade out (as the surprising majority frankly expect them now to do), they and their children may become the high executives and ‘Stakhanovites’ of the New Economic Policy. Though they too will be cheated of power as authoritarianism develops, this is the way they now think.
All this sounds like state socialism. So it is. So it must be, if we in Europe are all to live and lie down together, instead of shooting each other, for the next few years or decades. Only, of course, as in the last two decades and the last half of last century, a reliable and durable state socialism can only be brought m by a party which the owners of great possessions trust. It becomes a bourgeois revolution. That is all.
It would not be fair to conclude without sketching the possibilities of peace after real warfare.
War operates in only one way on a country’s social and economic structure. it is the most powerful accelerator known to man. It raised, and did not lower, standards of living between 1914 and 1929 at a faster pace than peace would have permitted. In and after a war, trends and tendencies which would have taken decades to work out are completed in months and even weeks. Effects which would have been only gradually perceptible are suddenly felt as explosive convulsions. War seldom, if ever, reverses or arrests a tendency. It generally raises the functioning of preëxisting peacetime factors to the nth power. It made for equality, not inequality, after 1919. It is, moreover, the younger generation’s opportunity either to die or quickly to rise to high positions. Consequently to-day, more than ever in history, we can safely predict that whatever is likely to occur gradually if peace endures will occur immediately and violently if war breaks out. Accordingly, all the developments we have foreseen as occurring with ‘the inevitability of gradualness’ during peace — whether ‘hot’ peace or normal peace does not matter — are still bound to happen in war, but without any gradualness. The war being militarily won by means of a rapid shift to totalitarianism, what kind of peace is likely to supervene?
I have already indicated my belief that, viewed in utter cold blood, the actual making and establishing of a real peace would theoretically be easier after a modern war than without such a war. That is, of course, only to say that human beings act better when they are forced to do one thing than when they have the choice of doing many things; that they work better on means when the end has been determined by forces beyond their control. If Europe were to be dragged through another blood-bath because human reason could not agree on a common European end, human reason would quickly devise means to win the war and to establish peace once the war was over. And younger men would make, and keep, peace. It would have to be made more quickly than in the Napoleonic Wars, and more quickly than in the last war. Europe cannot continue even as long a war as that of 1914-1918.
Peace of a sort having been made, the right kind of peace would have to be established; for after the next European war the process which was already under way in our social and economic systems before 1914 will have been twice boosted by war within one generation. If the social, political, and economic landmarks of European democracy have been gradually vanishing since 1914, and are bound to disappear under this kind of peace, how much more quickly will they vanish under another war!
Here the prospect becomes really interesting. For, although the British and French cannot justifiably go into another war with the slogan of saving democracy, it is possible that their military victory in that war will bring Europe nearer to unity than at any time since the Middle Ages.
By this I mean that another general European war will exert an enormous leveling influence upon European society. Differences of aim and interest between nations may be reduced to a low point. The great differences of wealth, of caste snobbery, even of education inside the Great Powers, will be eradicated in the process of totalitarian war. The old will be killed with the young, women and children with soldiers. Old men will have less power after the war. The rentier class will be wiped out with National Debts. The intelligentsia and the hearty Bright Young Things alike, the pink trade-unionist and the true-blue employer, the shareholders and the directors, all these will find their traditionally opposing interests flattened out beneath the authoritarian steamroller. Reason itself—the conceit of editors, authors, radio talkers, university professors, lawyers, politicians, and all professional men — will be in the discard. What is ‘ reasonable ‘ will be defined daily by the government. And the tough, keen-faced, narrow-eyed, younger men who ‘get things done’ will eventually be the government, everywhere — no matter what decorative, smooth-faced old gentlemen lead the neo-democracies into the war. In the existing totalitarian states, these things have already occurred in time of peace. That, as I tried to point out in the former article, is probably why they will snap first once real war comes. But when it has come and gone, we shall all have snapped a good deal, victors and vanquished alike.
In this grim picture there is more than one gleam of hope. The mistake after 1918 was that of the victors’ elderly representatives, nurtured in an earlier epoch, who imagined that, because they had won the military victory, because they were stronger than the vanquished, they had in no way impaired the strength of Europe, the world, and themselves. Hence the ludicrous efforts to maintain old parities of currency together with crushingly multiplied National Debts, to secure reparations for everything by adding vast new loans, to ‘return to’ normalcy in world trade while maintaining at full running capacity all the vastly expanded productive equipment set up in neutral and belligerent countries alike during the war. For two decades we have been remorselessly taught the futility of such efforts. At any rate, it should teach us what to avoid after the next war. We ought now to realize, and to say to ourselves every day the war lasts, that we shall all have to stoop down together after the next European war, stoop down to one common dead level — socially, economically, politically — if ever we are to build a new order. (And if we don’t build a new order, we shall stay longer on a lower dead level.) Even then, we shall possess only worn-out tools.
Americans may be surprised to find that they will not even be asked or needed to play any military part in the short next war. But when it is oxer, America’s rôle will almost certainly become paramount. It will be peaceful. It will be constructive, not destructive. And it will be a task fully as big as that of one, two, and three centuries ago, when Europe opened up the New World. After the next war in Europe, America may be called on to reopen the Old World. America — or Russia. They are the two largest and most self-sufficing units in the western world. They can stand longer and endure more than any other power to-day. They both stretch from Pacific to Atlantic. The outcome of whatever happens in between them, in Europe, will determine their own destinies; and this whether it is war or peace — or neither.