Let us, even at the cost of a certain repetition, look a little more closely now into the fashion in which the disruptive forces are manifesting themselves in the Western and Eastern hemispheres.
In the Old World the hypertrophy of armies is most conspicuous, in America it was the hypertrophy of big business. But in both the necessity for an increasing collective restraint upon uncoordinated over-powerful business or political enterprise is more and more clearly recognised.
There is a strong opposition on the part of great interests in America to the President, who has made himself the spear-head of the collectivising drive; they want to put the brake now on his progressive socialisation of the nation, and quite possibly, at the cost of increasing social friction, they may slow down the drift to socialism very considerably. But it is unbelievable that they dare provoke the social convulsion that would ensue upon a deliberate reversal of the engines or upon any attempt to return to the glorious days of big business, wild speculation and mounting unemployment before 1927. They will merely slow down the drive. For in the world now all roads lead to socialism or social dissolution.
The tempo of the process is different in the two continents; that is the main difference between them. It is not an opposition. They travel at different rates but they travel towards an identical goal. In the Old World at present the socialisation of the community is going on far more rapidly and thoroughly than it is in America because of the perpetual war threat.
In Western Europe now the dissolution and the drive towards socialisation progress by leaps and bounds. The British governing class and British politicians generally, overtaken by a war they had not the intelligence to avert, have tried to atone for their slovenly unimaginativeness during the past twenty years in a passion of witless improvisation. God knows what their actual war preparations amount to, but their domestic policy seems to be based on an imperfect study of Barcelona, Guernica, Madrid and Warsaw. They imagine similar catastrophes on a larger scale — although they are quite impossible, as every steady-headed person who can estimate the available supplies of petrol knows — and they have a terrible dread of being held responsible. They fear a day of reckoning with their long-bamboozled lower classes. In their panic they are rapidly breaking up the existing order altogether.
The changes that have occurred in Great Britain in less than a year are astounding. They recall in many particulars the social dislocation of Russia in the closing months of 1917. There has been a shifting and mixing-up of people that would have seemed impossible to anyone in 1937. The evacuation of the centres of population under the mere exaggerated threat of air raids has been carried out by the authorities in a mood of frantic recklessness. Hundreds of thousands of families have been broken up, children separated from their parents and quartered in the homes of more or less reluctant hosts. Parasites and skin diseases, vicious habits and insanitary practices have been spread, as if in a passion of equalitarian propaganda, from the slums of such centres as Glasgow, London and Liverpool, throughout the length and breadth of the land. Railways, road traffic, all the normal communications have been dislocated by a universal running about. For a couple of months Great Britain has been more like a disturbed ant-hill than an organised civilised country.
The contagion of funk has affected everyone. Public institutions and great business concerns have bolted to remote and inconvenient sites; the B.B.C. organisation, for example, scuffled off headlong from London, needlessly and ridiculously, no man pursuing it. There has been a wild epidemic of dismissals, of servants employed in London, for example, and a still wilder shifting of unsuitable men to novel, unnecessary jobs. Everyone has been exhorted to serve the country, children of twelve, to the great delight of conservative-minded farmers, have been withdrawn from school and put to work on the land, and yet the number of those who have lost their jobs and cannot find anything else to do, has gone up by over 100,000.
There have been amateurish attempts to ration food, producing waste here and artificial scarcity there. A sort of massacre of small independent businesses is in progress mainly to the advantage of the big provision-dealing concerns, who changed in a night from open profiteers to become the “expert” advisers of food supply. All the expertise they have ever displayed has been the extraction of profits from food supply. But while profits mount, taxation with an air of great resolution sets itself to prune them.
The British public has always been phlegmatic in the face of danger, it is too stout-hearted and too stupid to give way to excesses of fear, but the authorities have thought it necessary to plaster the walls with vast, manifestly expensive, posters, headed with a Royal Crown, “YOUR courage, YOUR resolution, YOUR cheerfulness will bring us victory.”
“Oh yus,” said the London Cockney. “YOU’LL get the victory all right. Trust YOU. On MY courage, MY resolution, MY cheerfulness; you’ll use up ‘Tommy Atkins’ all right. Larf at ’im in a kindly sort of way and use him. And then you think you’ll put him back again on the dust-heap. AGAIN? Twice?”
That is all too credible. But this time our rulers will emerge discredited and frustrated from the conflict to face a disorganised population in a state of mutinous enquiry. They have made preposterous promises to restore Poland and they will certainly have to eat their words about that. Or what is more probable the government will have to give place to another administration which will be able to eat those words for them with a slightly better grace. There is little prospect of Thanksgiving Services or any Armistice night orgy this time. People at home are tasting the hardships of war even more tediously and irritatingly than the men on active service. Cinemas, theatres, have been shut prematurely, black-outs have diminished the safety of the streets and doubled the tale of road casualties. The British crowd is already a sullen crowd. The world has not seen it in such a bad temper for a century and a half, and, let there be no mistake about it, it is far less in a temper with the Germans than it is with its own rulers.
Through all this swirling intimidating propaganda of civil disorder and a systematic suppression of news and criticism of the most exasperating sort, war preparation has proceeded. The perplexed and baffled citizen can only hope that on the military side there has been a little more foresight and less hysteria.
The loss of confidence and particularly confidence in the government and social order is already enormous. No one feels secure, in his job, in his services, in his savings, any longer. People lose confidence even in the money in their pockets. And human society is built on confidence. It cannot carry on without it.
Things are like this already and it is only the opening stage of this strange war. The position of the ruling class and the financial people who have hitherto dominated British affairs is a peculiar one. The cost of the war is already enormous, and there is no sign that it will diminish. Income tax, super tax, death duties, taxes on war profits have been raised to a level that should practically extinguish the once prosperous middle strata of society altogether. The very wealthy will survive in a shorn and diminished state, they will hang on to the last, but the graded classes that have hitherto intervened between them and the impoverished masses of the population, who will be irritated by war sacrifices, extensively unemployed and asking more and more penetrating questions, will have diminished greatly. Only by the most ingenious monetary manipulation, by dangerous tax-dodging and expedients verging on sheer scoundrelism, will a clever young man have the ghost of a chance of climbing by the old traditional money-making ladder, above his fellows. On the other hand, the career of a public employee will become continually more attractive. There is more interest in it and more self-respect. The longer the war continues, the completer and more plainly irreparable will be the dissolution of the old order.
Now to many readers who have been incredulous of the statement of the first section of this book, that we are living in the End of an Age, to those who have been impervious to the account of the disruptive forces that are breaking up the social order and to the argument I have drawn from them, who may have got away from all that, so to speak, by saying they are “scientific” or “materialistic” or “sociological” or “highbrow”, or that the Providence that has hitherto displayed such a marked bias in favour of well-off, comfortable, sluggish-minded people is sure to do something nice for them at the eleventh hour, the real inconveniences, alarms, losses and growing disorder of the life about them may at last bring a realisation that the situation in Western Europe is approaching revolutionary conditions. It will be a hard saying for many people in the advantage-holding classes, and particularly if they are middle-aged, that the old order has already gone to pieces and can never be put back. But how can they doubt it?
A revolution, that is to say a more or less convulsive effort at social and political readjustment, is bound to come in all these overstrained countries, in Germany, in Britain and universally. It is more likely than not to arise directly out of the exasperating diminuendos and crescendos of the present war, as a culminating phase of it. Revolution of some sort we must have. We cannot prevent its onset. But we can affect the course of its development. It may end in utter disaster or it may release a new world, far better than the old. Within these broad limits it is possible for us to make up our minds HOW it will come to us.
And since the only practical question before us is the question of HOW we will take this world revolution we cannot possibly evade, let me recall to your attention the reasons I have advanced in the second section of this book for the utmost public discussion of our situation at the present time. And also let me bring back to mind the examination of Marxism in the fourth section. There it is shown how easily a collectivist movement, especially when it is faced by the forcible-feeble resistances and suppressions of those who have hitherto enjoyed wealth and power, may degenerate into an old-fashioned class-war, become conspiratorial, dogmatic and inadaptable, and sink towards leader worship and autocracy. That apparently is what has happened in Russia in its present phase. We do not know how much of the original revolutionary spirit survives there, and a real fundamental issue in the world situation is whether we are to follow in the footsteps of Russia or whether we are going to pull ourselves together, face the stern logic of necessity and produce a Western Revolution, which will benefit by the Russian experience, react upon Russia and lead ultimately to a world understanding.
What is it that the Atlantic world finds most objectionable in the Soviet world of to-day? Is it any disapproval of collectivism as such? Only in the case of a dwindling minority of rich and successful men — and very rarely of the sons of such people. Very few capable men under fifty nowadays remain individualists in political and social matters. They are not even fundamentally anti-Communist. Only it happens that for various reasons the political life of the community is still in the hands of unteachable old-fashioned people. What are called “democracies” suffer greatly from the rule of old men who have not kept pace with the times. The real and effective disapproval, distrust and disbelief in the soundness of the Soviet system lies not in the out-of-date individualism of these elderly types, but in the conviction that it can never achieve efficiency or even maintain its honest ideal of each for all and all for each, unless it has free speech and an insistence upon legally-defined freedoms for the individual within the collectivist framework. We do not deplore the Russian Revolution as a Revolution. We complain that it is not a good enough Revolution and we want a better one.
The more highly things are collectivised the more necessary is a legal system embodying the Rights of Man. This has been forgotten under the Soviets, and so men go in fear there of arbitrary police action. But the more functions your government controls the more need there is for protective law. The objection to Soviet collectivism is that, lacking the antiseptic of legally assured personal freedom, it will not keep. It professes to be fundamentally a common economic system based on class-war ideas; the industrial director is under the heel of the Party commissar; the political police have got altogether out of hand; and affairs gravitate inevitably towards an oligarchy or an autocracy protecting its incapacity by the repression of adverse comment.
But these valid criticisms merely indicate the sort of collectivisation that has to be avoided. It does not dispose of collectivism as such. If we in our turn do not wish to be submerged by the wave of Bolshevisation that is evidently advancing from the East, we must implement all these valid objections and create a collectivisation that will be more efficient, more prosperous, tolerant, free and rapidly progressive than the system we condemn. We, who do not like the Stalinised–Marxist state, have, as they used to say in British politics, to “dish” it by going one better. We have to confront Eastern-spirited collectivism with Western-spirited collectivism.
Perhaps this may be better put. We may be giving way to a sub-conscious conceit here and assuming that the West is always going to be thinking more freely and clearly and working more efficiently than the East. It is like that now, but it may not always be like that. Every country has had its phases of illumination and its phases of blindness. Stalin and Stalinism are neither the beginning nor the end of the collectivisation of Russia.
We are dealing with something still almost impossible to estimate, the extent to which the new Russian patriotism and the new Stalin-worship, have effaced and how far they have merely masked, the genuinely creative international communism of the revolutionary years. The Russian mind is not a docile mind, and most of the literature available for a young man to read in Russia, we must remember, is still revolutionary. There has been no burning of the books there. The Moscow radio talks for internal consumption since the Hitler–Stalin understanding betray a great solicitude on the part of the government to make it clear that there has been no sacrifice of revolutionary principle. That witnesses to the vitality of public opinion in Russia. The clash between the teachings of 1920 and 1940 may have a liberating effect on many people’s minds. Russians love to talk about ideas. Under the Czar they talked. It is incredible that they do not talk under Stalin.
That question whether collectivisation is to be “Westernised” or “Easternised”, using these words under the caveat of the previous paragraph, is really the first issue before the world to-day. We need a fully ventilated Revolution. Our Revolution has to go on in the light and air. We may have to accept sovietisation à la Russe quite soon unless we can produce a better collectivisation. But if we produce a better collectivisation it is more probable than not that the Russian system will incorporate our improvements, forget its reviving nationalism again, debunk Marx and Stalin, so far as they can be debunked, and merge into the one world state.
Between these primary antagonists, between Revolution with its eyes open and Revolution with a mask and a gag, there will certainly be complications of the issue due to patriotism and bigotry and the unteachable wilful blindness of those who do not want to see. Most people lie a lot to themselves before they lie to other people, and it is hopeless to expect that all the warring cults and traditions that confuse the mind of the race to-day are going to fuse under a realisation of the imperative nature of the human situation as I have stated it here. Multitudes will never realise it. Few human beings are able to change their primary ideas after the middle thirties. They get fixed in them and drive before them no more intelligently than animals drive before their innate impulses. They will die rather than change their second selves.
One of the most entangling of these disconcerting secondary issues is that created by the stupid and persistent intrigues of the Roman Catholic Church.
Let me be clear here. I am speaking of the Vatican and of its sustained attempts to exercise a directive rôle in secular life. I number among my friends many Roman Catholics who have built the most charming personalities and behaviour systems on the framework provided them by their faith. One of the loveliest characters I have ever known was G. K. Chesterton. But I think he was just as fine before he became a Catholic as afterwards. Still he found something he needed in Catholicism. There are saints of all creeds and of none, so good are the better possibilities of human nature. Religious observances provide a frame that many find indispensable for the seemly ordering of their lives. And outside the ranks of “strict” observers many good people with hardly more theology than a Unitarian, love to speak of goodness and kindness as Christianity. So-and-so is a “good Christian”. Voltaire, says Alfred Noyes, the Catholic writer, was a “good Christian”. I do not use the word “Christianity” in that sense because I do not believe that Christians have any monopoly of goodness. When I write of Christianity, I mean Christianity with a definite creed and militant organisation and not these good kind people, good and kind but not very fastidious about the exact use of words.
Such “good Christians” can be almost as bitterly critical as I am of the continual pressure upon the faithful by that inner group of Italians in Rome, subsidised by the Fascist government, who pull the strings of Church policy throughout the world, so as to do this or that tortuous or uncivilised thing, to cripple education, to persecute unorthodox ways of living.
It is to the influence of the Church that we must ascribe the foolish support by the British Foreign Office of Franco, that murderous little “Christian gentleman”, in his overthrow of the staggering liberal renascence of Spain. It is the Roman Catholic influence the British and French have to thank, for the fantastic blundering that involved them in the defence of the impossible Polish state and its unrighteous acquisitions; it affected British policy in respect to Austria and Czechoslovakia profoundly, and now it is doing its utmost to maintain and develop a political estrangement between Russia and the Western world by its prejudiced exacerbation of the idea that Russia is “anti-God” while we Westerners are little children of the light, gallantly fighting on the side of the Cross, Omnipotence, Greater Poland, national sovereignty, the small uneconomic prolific farmer and shopkeeper and anything else you like to imagine constitutes “Christendom”.
The Vatican strives perpetually to develop the present war into a religious war. It is trying to steal the war. By all the circumstances of its training it is unteachable. It knows no better. It will go on — until some economic revolution robs it of its funds. Then as a political influence it may evaporate very rapidly. The Anglican Church and many other Protestant sects, the wealthy Baptists, for example, follow suit.
It is not only in British affairs that this propaganda goes on. With the onset of war France becomes militant and Catholic. It has suppressed the Communist Party, as a gesture of resentment against Russia and a precaution against post-war collectivisation. The Belgian caricaturist Raemaekers is now presenting Hitler day after day as a pitiful weakling already disposed of and worthy of our sympathy, while Stalin is represented as a frightful giant with horns and a tail. Yet both France and Britain are at peace with Russia and have every reason to come to a working understanding with that country. The attitude of Russia to the war has on the whole been cold, contemptuous and reasonable.
It is not as if these devious schemes can take us somewhere; it is not that this restoration of the Holy Roman Empire is a possibility. You confront these Catholic politicians, just as you confront the politicians of Westminster, with these two cardinal facts, the abolition of distance and the change of scale. In vain. You cannot get any realisation of the significance of these things into those idea-proofed skulls. They are deaf to it, blind to it. They cannot see that it makes any difference at all to their long-established mental habits. If their minds waver for a moment they utter little magic prayers to exorcise the gleam.
What, they ask, has “MERE size” to do with the soul of man, “MERE speed, MERE power”? What can the young do better than subdue their natural urgency to live and do? What has MERE life to do with the religious outlook? The war, these Vatican propagandists insist, is a “crusade” against modernism, against socialism and free thought, the restoration of priestly authority is its end; our sons are fighting to enable the priest to thrust his pious uncleanliness once again between reader and book, child and knowledge, husband and wife, sons and lovers. While honest men are fighting now to put an end to military aggression, to resume indeed that “war to end war” that was aborted to give us the League of Nations, these bigots are sedulously perverting the issue, trying to represent it as a religious war against Russia in particular and the modern spirit in general.
The well-trained Moslem, the American fundamentalist, the orthodox Jew, all the fixed cultures, produce similar irrelevant and wasteful resistances, but the Catholic organisation reaches further and is more persistent. It is frankly opposed to human effort and the idea of progress. It makes no pretence about it.
Such cross-activities as these complicate, delay and may even sabotage effectively every effort to solve the problem of a lucid collectivisation of the world’s affairs, but they do not alter the essential fact that it is only through a rationalisation and coalescence of constructive revolutionary movements everywhere and a liberal triumph over the dogmatism of the class war, that we can hope to emerge from the present wreckage of our world.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02