MoboReader > Literature > The Inside Story of the Peace Conference

   Chapter 2 SIGNS OF THEIR TIMES

The Inside Story of the Peace Conference By Emile Joseph Dillon Characters: 22777

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Society during the transitional stage through which it has for some years been passing underwent an unprecedented change the extent and intensity of which are as yet but imperfectly realized. Its more striking characteristics were determined by the gradual decomposition of empires and kingdoms, the twilight of their gods, the drying up of their sources of spiritual energy, and the psychic derangement of communities and individuals by a long and fearful war. Political principles, respect for authority and tradition, esteem for high moral worth, to say nothing of altruism and public spirit, either vanished or shrank to shadowy simulacra. In contemporary history currents and cross-currents, eddies and whirlpools, became so numerous and bewildering that it is not easy to determine the direction of the main stream. Unsocial tendencies coexisted with collectivity of effort, both being used as weapons against the larger community and each being set down as a manifestation of democracy. Against every kind of authority the world, or some of its influential sections, was up in revolt, and the emergence of the passions and aims of classes and individuals had freer play than ever before.

To this consummation conservative governments, and later on their chiefs at the Peace Conference, systematically contributed with excellent intentions and efficacious measures. They implicitly denied, and acted on the denial, that a nation or a race, like an individual, has something distinctive, inherent, and enduring that may aptly be termed soul or character. They ignored the fact that all nations and races are not of the same age nor endowed with like faculties, some being young and helpless, others robust and virile, and a third category senescent and decrepit, and that there are some races which Nature has wholly and permanently unfitted for service among the pioneers of progress. In consequence of these views, which I venture to think erroneous, they applied the same treatment to all states. Just as President Wilson, by striving to impose his pinched conception of democracy and his lofty ideas of political morality on Mexico, had thrown that country into anarchy, the two Anglo-Saxon governments by enforcing their theories about the protection of minorities and other political conceptions in various states of Europe helped to loosen the cement of the politico-social structure there.

Through these as well as other channels virulent poison penetrated to the marrow of the social organism. Language itself, on which all human intercourse hinges, was twisted to suit unwholesome ambitions, further selfish interests, and obscure the vision of all those who wanted real reforms and unvarnished truth. During the war the armies were never told plainly what they were struggling for; officially they were said to be combating for justice, right, self-determination, the sacredness of treaties, and other abstract nouns to which the heroic soldiers never gave a thought and which a section of the civil population misinterpreted. Indeed, so little were these shibboleths understood even by the most intelligent among the politicians who launched them that one half of the world still more or less conscientiously labors to establish their contraries and is anathematizing the other half for championing injustice, might, and unveracity-under various misnomers.

Anglo-Saxondom, taking the lead of humanity, imitated the Catholic states of by-past days, and began to impose on other peoples its own ideas, as well as its practices and institutions, as the best fitted to awaken their dormant energies and contribute to the social reconstruction of the world. In the interval, language, whether applied to history, journalism, or diplomacy, was perverted and words lost their former relations to the things connoted, and solemn promises were solemnly broken in the name of truth, right, or equity. For the new era of good faith, justice and morality was inaugurated, oddly enough, by a general tearing up of obligatory treaties and an ethical violation of the most binding compacts known to social man. This happened coincidently to be in keeping with the general insurgence against all checks and restraints, moral and social, for which the war is mainly answerable, and to be also in harmony with the regular supersession of right by might which characterizes the present epoch and with the disappearance of the sense of law. In a word, under the auspices of the amateur world-reformers, the tendency of Bolshevism throve and spread-an instructive case of people serving the devil at the bidding of God's best friends.

As in the days of the Italian despots, every individual has the chance of rising to the highest position in many of the states, irrespective of his antecedents and no matter what blots may have tarnished his 'scutcheon. Neither aristocratic descent, nor public spirit nor even a blameless past is now an indispensable condition of advancement. In Germany the head of the Republic is an honest saddler. In Austria the chief of the government until recently was the assassin of a prime minister. The chief of the Ukraine state was an ex-inmate of an asylum. Trotzky, one of the Russian duumvirs, is said to have a record which might of itself have justified his change of name from Braunstein. Bela Kuhn, the Semitic Dictator of Hungary, had the reputation of a thief before rising to the height of ruler of the Magyars.... In a word, Napoleon's ideal is at last realized, "La carrière est ouverte aux talents."

Among the peculiar traits of this evanescent epoch may be mentioned inaccessibility to the teaching of facts which run counter to cherished prejudices, aims, and interests. People draw from facts which they cannot dispute only the inferences which they desire. An amusing instance of this occurred in Paris, where a Syndicalist organ[36] published an interesting and on the whole truthful account of the chaotic confusion, misery, and discontent prevailing in Russia and of the brutal violence and foxy wiles of Lenin. The dreary picture included the cost of living; the disorganization of transports; the terrible mortality caused by the after-effects of the war; the crowding of prisons, theaters, cinemas, and dancing-saloons; the eagerness of employers to keep their war prisoners employed while thousands of demobilized soldiers were roaming about the cities and villages vainly looking for work; the absence of personal liberty; the numerous arrests, and the relative popularity withal of the Dictator. This popularity, it was explained, the press contributed to keep alive, especially since the abortive attempt made on his life, when the journals declared that he was indispensable for the time being to his country.

He himself was described as a hard despot, ruthless as a tiger who strikes his fellow-workers numb and dumb with fear. "But he is under no illusions as to the real sentiments of the members of the Soviet who back him, nor does he deign to conceal those which he entertains toward them.... Whenever Lenin himself is concerned justice is expeditious. Some men will be delivered from prison after many years of preventive confinement without having been brought to trial, others who fired on Kerensky will be kept untried for an indefinite period, whereas the brave Russian patriot who aimed his revolver at Lenin, and whom the French press so justly applauded, had only three weeks to wait for his condemnation to death."

This article appearing in a Syndicalist organ seemed an event. Some journals summarized and commented it approvingly, until it was discovered to be a skit on the transient conditions in France, whereupon the "admirable exposé based upon convincing evidence" and the "forcible arguments" became worthless.[37]

An object-lesson in the difficulty of legislating in Anglo-Saxon fashion for foreign countries and comprehending their psychology was furnished by two political trials which, taking place in Paris during the Conference, enabled the delegates to estimate the distance that separates the Anglo-Saxon from the Continental mode of thought and action in such a fundamental problem as the administration of justice. Raoul Villain, the murderer of Jean Jaurès-France's most eminent statesman-was kept in prison for nearly five years without a trial. He had assassinated his victim in cold blood. He had confessed and justified the act. The eye-witnesses all agreed as to the facts. Before the court, however, a long procession of ministers of state, politicians, historians, and professors defiled, narrating in detail the life-story, opinions, and strivings of the victim, who, in the eyes of a stranger, unacquainted with its methods, might have seemed to be the real culprit. The jury acquitted the prisoner.

The other accused man was a flighty youth who had fired on the French Premier and wounded him. He, however, had not long to wait for his trial. He was taken before the tribunal within three weeks of his arrest and was promptly condemned to die.[38] Thus the assassin was justified by the jury and the would-be assassin condemned to be shot. "Suppose these trials had taken place in my country," remarked a delegate of an Eastern state, "and that of the two condemned men one had been a member of the privileged minority, what an uproar the incident would have created in the United States and England! As it happened in western Europe, it passed muster."

How far removed some continental nations are from the Anglo-Saxons in their mode of contemplating and treating another momentous category of social problems may be seen from the circumstance that the Great Council in Basel adopted a bill brought in by the Socialist Welti, authorizing the practice of abortion down to the third month, provided that the husband and wife are agreed, and in cases where there is no marriage provided it is the desire of the woman and that the operation is performed by a regular physician.[39]

Another striking instance of the difference of conceptions between the Anglo-Saxon and continental peoples is contained in the following unsavory document, which the historian, whose business it is to flash the light of criticism upon the dark nooks of civilization, can neither ignore nor render into English. It embodies a significant decision taken by the General Staff of the 256th Brigade of the Army of Occupation[40] and was issued on June 21, 1919.[41]

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

EXPLOITATION ET POLICE DE LA MAISON PUBLIQUE DE MüNCHEN-GLADBACH

(1.) Les deux femmes composant l'unique personnel de la maison publique de Gladbach (2, Gasthausstrasse), sont venues en délégation déclarer qu'elles ne pouvaient suffire à la nombreuse clientèle, qui envahit leur maison, devant laquelle stationneraient en permanence de nombreux groupes de clients affamés.

Elles déclarent que défalcation faite du service qu'elles doivent assurer à leurs abonnés belges et allemands, elles ne peuvent fournir à la division qu'un total de vingt entrées par jour (10 pour chacune d'elle).

L'établissement d'ailleurs ne travaille pas la nuit et observe strictement le repos dominical. D'autre part les ressources de la ville ne permettent pas, para?t-il, d'augmenter le personnel. Dans ces conditions, en vue d'éviter tout désordre et de ne pas demander à ces femmes un travail audes

sus de leurs forces, les mesures suivantes seront prises:

(2.) JOURS DE TRAVAIL: Tous les jours de la semaine, sauf le dimanche.

RENDEMENT MAXIMUM: Chaque jour chaque femme re?oit 10 hommes, soit 20 pour les deux personnes, 120 par semaine.

HEURES D'OUVERTURE: 17 heures à 21 heures. Aucune réception n'aura lieu en dehors de ces heures.

TARIF: Pour un séjour d'un quart heure (entrée et sortie de l'établissement comprises) ... 5 marks.

CONSOMMATIONS: La maison ne vend aucune boisson. Il n'y a pas de salle d'attente. Les clients doivent donc se présenter par deux.

(3.) RéPARTITION: Les 6 jours de la semaine sont donnés:

Le lundi-1er bat. du 164 et C.H.R.

Le mardi-1er bat. du 169 et C.H.R.

Le mercredi-2e bat. du 164 et C.H.R.

Le jeudi-2e bat. du 169 et C.H.R.

Le vendredi-3e bat. du 164.

Le samedi-3e bat. du 169.

(4.) Dans chaque bataillon il sera établi le jour qui leur est fixé, 20 tickets déposés aux bureaux des sergents-majeur à raison de 5 par compagnie. Les hommes désireux de rendre visite à l'établissement réclamerout au bureau de leur sergent-majeur, 1 ticket qui leur donnera driot de priorité.

The value of that document derives from its having been issued as an ordinary regulation, from its having been reproduced in a widely circulated journal of the capital without evolving comment, and from the strong light which it projects upon one of the darkest corners of the civilization which has been so often and so eloquently eulogized.

Manifestly the currents of the new moral life which the Conference was to have set flowing are as yet somewhat weak, the new ideals are still remote and the foreshadowings of a nobler future are faint. Another token of the change which is going forward in the world was reported from the Far East, but passed almost unnoticed in Europe. The Chinese Ministry of Public Instruction, by an edict of November 3, 1919, officially introduced in all secondary schools a phonetic system of writing in place of the ideograms theretofore employed. This is undoubtedly an event of the highest importance in the history of culture, little though it may interest the Western world to-day. At the same time, as a philologist by profession, I agree with a continental authority[42] who holds that, owing to the monosyllabic character of the Chinese language and to the further disadvantage that it lacks wholly or partly several consonants,[43] it will be practically impossible, as the Japanese have already found, to apply the new alphabet to the traditional literary idiom. Neither can it be employed for the needs of education, journalism, of the administration, or for telegraphing. It will, however, be of great value for elementary instruction and for postal correspondence. It is also certain to develop and extend. But its main significance is twofold: as a sign of China's awakening and as an innovation, the certain effect of which will be to weaken national unity and extend regionalism at its expense. From this point of view the reform is portentous.

Another of the signs of the new times which calls for mention is the spread and militancy of the labor movement, to which the war and its concomitants gave a potent impulse. It is differentiated from all previous ferments by this, that it constitutes merely an episode in the universal insurgency of the masses, who are fast breaking through the thin social crust formed by the upper classes and are emerging rapidly above the surface. One of the most impressive illustrations of this general phenomenon is the rise of wages, which in Paris has set the municipal street-sweepers above university professors, the former receiving from 7,600 to 8,000 francs a year, whereas the salary of the latter is some 500 francs less.[44]

This general disturbance is the outcome of many causes, among which are the over-population of the world, the spread of education and of equal opportunity, the anonymity of industrial enterprises, scientific and unscientific theories, the specialization of labor and its depressing influence.[45] These factors produced a labor organization which the railways, newspapers, and telegraph contributed to perfect and transform into a proletarian league, and now all progressive humanity is tending steadily and painfully to become one vast collectivity for producing and sharing on more equitable lines the means of living decently. This consummation is coming about with the fatality of a natural law, and the utmost the wisest of governments can do is to direct it through pacific channels and dislodge artificial obstacles in its course.

One of the first reforms toward which labor is tending with more or less conscious effort is the abolition of the hereditary principle in the possession of wealth and influence and of the means of obtaining them. The division of labor in the past caused the dissociation of the so-called nobler avocations from manual work, and gradually those who followed higher pursuits grew into a sort of hereditary caste which bestowed relative immunity from the worst hardships of life's struggle and formed a ruling class. To-day the masses have their hands on the principal levers for shattering this top crust of the social sphere and seem resolved to press them.

The problem for the solution of which they now menacingly clamor is the establishment of an approximately equitable principle for the redistribution of the world's resources-land, capital, industries, monopolies, mines, transports, and colonies. Whether socialization-their favorite prescription-is the most effectual way of achieving this object may well be doubted, but must be thoroughly examined and discussed. The end once achieved, it is expected that mankind will have become one gigantic living entity, endowed with senses, nerves, heart, arteries, and all the organs necessary to operate and employ the forces and wealth of the planet. The process will be complex because the factors are numerous and of various orders, and for this reason few political thinkers have realized that its many phases are aspects of one phenomenon. That is also a partial explanation of the circumstance that at the Conference the political questions were separated from the economic and treated by politicians as paramount, the others being relegated to the background. The labor legislation passed in Paris reduced itself, therefore, to counsels of perfection.

That the Conference was incapable of solving a problem of this magnitude is self-evident. But the delegates could and should have referred it to an international parliament, fully representative of all the interests concerned. For the best way of distributing the necessaries and comforts of life, which have been acquired or created by manual toil, is a problem that can neither be ignored nor reasoned away. So long as it remains a problem it will be a source of intermittent trouble and disorder throughout the civilized world. The titles, which the classes heretofore privileged could invoke in favor of possession, are now being rapidly acquired by the workers, who in addition dispose of the force conferred by organization, numbers, and resolve. At the same time most of the stimuli and inventives to individual enterprise are being gradually weakened by legislation, which it would be absurd to condemn and dangerous to regard as a settlement. In the meanwhile productivity is falling off, while the demand for the products of labor is growing proportionately to the increase of population and culture.

Hitherto the laws of distribution were framed by the strong, who were few and utilized the many. To-day their relative positions have shifted; the many have waxed strong and are no longer minded to serve as instruments in the hands of a class, hereditary or selected. But the division of mankind into producers and utilizers has ever been the solid and durable mainstay of that type of civilization from which progressive nations are now fast moving away, and the laws and usages against which the proletariat is up in arms are but its organic expression.

From the days of the building of the Pyramids down to those of the digging of the Panama Canal the chasm between the two social orders remained open. The abolition of slavery changed but little in the arrangement-was, indeed, effected more in the interests of the old economics than in deference to any strong religious or moral sentiment. In substance the traditional ordering continued to exist in a form better adapted to the modified conditions. But the filling up of that chasm, which is now going forward, involves the overthrow of the system in its entirety, and the necessity of either rearing a wholly new structure, of which even the keen-sighted are unable to discern the outlines, or else the restoration of the old one on a somewhat different basis. And the only basis conceivable to-day is that which would start from the postulate that some races of men come into the world devoid of the capacity for any more useful part in the progress of mankind than that which was heretofore allotted to the proletariat. It cannot be gainsaid that there are races on the globe which are incapable of assimilating the higher forms of civilization, but which might well be made to render valuable services in the lower without either suffering injustice themselves or demoralizing others. And it seems nowise impossible that one day these reserves may be mobilized and systematically employed in virtue of the principle that the weal of the great progressive community necessitates such a distribution of parts as will set each organ to perform the functions for which it is best qualified.

Since the close of the war internationalism was in the air, and the labor movement intensified it. It stirred the thought and warmed the imagination alike of exploiters and exploited. Reformers and pacifists yearned for it as a means of establishing a well-knit society of progressive and pacific peoples and setting a term to sanguinary wars. Some financiers may have longed for it in a spirit analogous to that in which Nero wished that the Roman people had but one neck. And the Conference chiefs seemed to have pictured it to themselves-if, indeed, they meditated such an abstract matter-in the guise of a pax Anglo-Saxonica, the distinctive feature of which would lie in the transfer to the two principal peoples-and not to a board representing all nations-of those attributes of sovereignty which the other states would be constrained to give up. Of these three currents flowing in the direction of internationalism only one-that of finance-appears for the moment likely to reach its goal....

FOOTNOTES:

[36] L'Humanité, March 6 and 18, 1919.

[37] Cf. L'Humanité, April 10,1919.

[38] The sentence was subsequently commuted.

[39] La Gazette de Lausanne, May 26, 1919.

[40] 128th Division.

[41] It was reproduced by the French Syndicalist organ, L'Humanité of July 7, 1919.

[42] R. de Saussure. Cf. Journal de Genève, August 18, and also May 26, 1919.

[43] d, r, t, l, g (partly) and p, except at the beginning of a word.

[44] Cf. the French papers generally for the month of May-also Bonsoir, July 26, 1919.

[45] Walther Rathenau has dealt with this question in several of his recent pamphlets, which are not before me at the moment.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares