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Can we disarm?

par Georges Darien

par Joseph McCabe

Prix : 2,99 €
ISBN : 978-1-909782-16-7
Nombre de pages : 96 pages
Langue du livre : english

Thème : English eBooks

“Can we disarm?” is an essay written and published in 1899 by the English religious philosophical thinker Joseph McCabe in cooperation with the French anarchist libertarian Georges Darien; it is a dense, original and pragmatic essay about the possibility of disarmament in pre-World War One Europe.

Context of Darien's and McCabe's cooperation

Darien met McCabe whilst he was living in London. Admirative of McCabe's works he decided to co-write a book about war and disarmament with him. “Can we disarm?”'s main contention is that disarmament is impossible in the social and economic conditions prevalent in 1899. In spite of all the good words, militarism is a consequence of late Nineteenth century's capitalist system. And interestingly, Darien and McCabe maintain that only national armies, by providing numbers and guns to conscripts, will allow the people to rise and revolt against the exploitation by the powerful and wealthy backed by their so-called democratic systems.

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Militarism as key component of the capitalist system

“So closely is militarism woven into the fabric of the modern industrial world, that its destruction, in the present order of things, would cause a dislocation and a chaos which neither capital nor labour is willing to contemplate.”. And the authors say: “War has become a science, and it has given birth to enormous industries.” In other words, they already explain the principles of the military industrial complex: “many who do not realize how deeply militarism is rooted in the present industrial order”. The authors then calculate the ever growing budgets allocated to military expenses. Germany spends nearly 50% of its national budget on armament. As for France, 30% goes to military spending, and 25% on servicing the interest of the national debt (it's interesting, as it shows the interest as a percentage of total budget back then, 114 years ago, was very close to what it is now). The authors add that those expenses are increasing very rapidly. They also spot another problem in the economic system of the time: labour, hinting to the natural tendency of nineteenth century capitalism to destroy employment rather than create it: “At the present day, with our enormous military expenditure, and our absorption of hundreds of thousands of men in the military life, we cannot find employment for a very large section of the workers....Militarism has relieved the labour market very considerably by removing a very large proportion of the younger workers every year.” They then go on with their analysis, and imagine the consequences of the abolition of the current military industrial complex: “...the money which was saved from military expenditure would not immediately flow into a new channel of re-distribution. Military budgets being suppressed, the people would refuse to pay the taxes which were formally exacted from them...”. They then consider the implications of the industrial age on the condition of free men: “The community has reached that higher stage of economic development, in which production and distribution have passed beyond its control so completely, that any change of its tastes or customs involves a painful confusion and much suffering; in which it is possible for a million strong men to be utterly incapable of earning their own living; in which the mass of the people long for higher standard of individual comfort, are prepared to expend time and energy enough to create and diffuse that higher stage of comfort, and yet are condemned by the iron laws of the “system” to spend half their days, or leave half their number, in an exasperating idleness.”

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Pretorian and national armies

In the old days, “the army was an instrument, quite apart from the mass of the people”; armies aimed to fight with other armies, and in spite of the regular civil exactions, this was the way it worked. For many centuries in Europe, wars were not total, and the numbers of military men were limited as a proportion of total population. This changed radically as a consequence of the first, or rather second, industrial age war, the 1870 Franco-Prussian war.

Numbers of enrolled men in the five main armies jumped three-fold following 1871, and the national debt of many countries skyrocketed as a consequence. McCabe and Darien claim it was in the interest of rulers to keep Pretorian armies and to resist the lure of creating national armies. But a combination of factors, chauvinism, embraced by both the people and the prosperous bourgeoisie, willingness of the bourgeoisie to sell their wares to the growing army, and the ability to raise taxes and allow the national debt to skyrocket, all contributed to the building of mass, national armies even if it did not necessarily make sense when considered on pure internal security grounds (ie arming millions of young male conscripts who could then decide to revolt). The authors observe: “And the socialist attacks on the military system are not formidable. They forget its national character, and thus they ignore (and help the Government to restrain) the true feeling of the masses on the question.”. Then (belligerent feelings towards the other nation) as now (same feelings sublimated in football passion), the left has always misunderstood that the true, dual nature of men, was often at odds with expected rational behaviour. In conclusion, the paradox is that ruling, semi-despotic governments backed by the haute bourgeoisie ended up creating the national armies which they dreaded for fear of possible armed revolt, but managed to galvanise the masses through waving the red cape of chauvinism. An armed people constantly reminded of the evilness of the enemy across the border would have other things to do than to seek armed rebellion. It is through the spectre of nationalism that exploiters have shrewdly annihilated rebellious sentiments within their people.

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The French army

This chapter was probably written by Darien. Many of Darien readers will recognize themes further developed in La Belle France. He writes: “it was after the war of 70 and the Commune that France organized its active army with three great lines of reserve. Previous to that date, the army had been composed of an active permanent army with only the national guard as reserve. The National guards kept their weapons at home, and elected their own officers. So purely democratic an institution was a standing menace to the bureaucracy, and in point of fact, many of the Guards had taken the revolutionary side in '48 and '71. After the fall of the Commune, therefore, the Government suppressed the National Guard, made military service obligatory for all, on its actual footing.”. But “in order to preclude any understanding between the people and the army, they abolished the recruiting and garrisoning of soldiers in their own provinces.”. But this system works because “the command is still entirely in the hands of the privileged classes, the aristocracy and the haute bourgeoisie.”. The rulers have found a way to turn a pretorian army into a national army as an instrument of control of the people: “ The army seems to be organised only in view of a time of peace – that is in reality, in view of internal action – not all for the active life of war. It is not commanded: it is simply administered.” By the way, this provides an interesting explanation of the sudden failure of the French army to prepare for war from 1870 till 1940 (even if WW1 was won in the end, but at which cost...): during Napoleon III's reign and over the course of the Third republic, the French army became an instrument of control of the people by the combined powers of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, not an instrument of war. An instrument of control and a symbol of corruption, supporting our ongoing theme that the Second Empire and the Third Republic are the closest France ever came to resembling a Latin American republic; “Enormous sums have been spent on national defence. The people bend under the burden of taxes, and they know that a large proportion of the money they have sacrificed has been shamefully squandered.”

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Upcoming world war

“The next great war will infuse a tremendous vitality into our drooping industries. If war breaks out once more between France and Germany, the conflict will be titanic. France would put 3,280,000 men and Germany 3,350,000 men, fully armed and equipped.”. McCabe and Darien show that the loss of Alsace-Lorraine will always be exploited as a bone of contention (generations of young people have been educated and psychologically conditioned for revenge war against Prussia). They already predict that the Germans will rush through France and easily occupy the Eastern side, primarily because of the chaos that the poor logistics and absurd conscription system would entail. But did anyone read them at the time?

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A very original view on the Dreyfus affair

Out of the French writers of the Nineteenth century, Darien is one of the very few who was not an anti-Semite. In fact, he is one of the very few writers who even wrote a book, Les Pharisiens, in fact a pamphlet disguised as a novel attacking Drumont and his friends the anti-Semites. Still, Darien was not a Dreyfusard, ie he was more against those against Dreyfus than he was taking the side of the accused Jewish captain. This is what he says: “The Press gives one the impression that the French people is divided today into two great classes – the Dreyfusardsand the anti-Dreyfusards, the partisans of the civil power, and these of the military power. In point of fact, these two classes only constitute a minority of the people: there is an enormous proportion who do not enter into either category.”. And this is how he looks at Dreyfus: “if his lot is hard in the île du Diable, especially if he is innocent, it is no worse than that of thousands of soldiers, many equally guiltless, who are rotting in the prisons of Africa: and that, if a miscarriage of justice has taken place, indeed it must be repaired – but only on condition that all the countless iniquities of military justice be redeemed at the same time, and that a system which authorises so much injustice (which the rich incur so rarely and poor so often) be swept away for ever.”.

In other words, Darien uniquely manages to vent his anger at those who persecute Dreyfus, especially those who hate him because he is Jewish and because he is a convenient scapegoat, but without espousing the cause of the Dreyfusards who, according to him, too easily forget that Dreyfus is a senior officer of the army, and therefore an accomplice of an exploitative system that Darien rejects entirely. No doubt, Darien, right or wrong, is a free-thinker.

© 2013- Les Éditions de Londres

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