Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Countdown to War, Day 33. 30 July: the war has started, but surely the people, and above all the socialist people, can stop it spreading

One hundred years ago today, on Thursday 30 July 1914, Martin’s crew found that the Manchester Guardian included the Austrian Emperor’s Appeal to his people. Or rather peoples, since the Empire included so many ethnicities: Germans, Hungarians, Italians and a whole slew of different types of Slavs.

The original assassination took place in Bosnia.
Here Bosnian troops are inspected by Austrian Archduke Eugen
It was my fervent wish to consecrate the years which by the grace of God still remain to me to the works of peace and to protect my peoples from the heavy sacrifices and burdens of war. Providence in its wisdom has otherwise decreed. The intrigues of a malevolent opponent compel me... to grasp the sword after long years of peace... an end must be put to incessant provocations of Servia... I must, therefore, proceed by force of arms...

Gloomy reading.

“At least it doesn’t affect us,” said a voice.

“It will,” said the Cynic.

“I don’t see why,” said the man holding the paper, and read from a leader article:

We wish Servia no ill; we are anxious for the peace of Europe. But Englishmen are not the guardians of Servian well-being, or even of the peace of Europe... We ought to feel ourselves out of danger, for, whichever way the quarrel between Austria and Servia were settled, it would not make a scrap of difference to England...

That all seemed clear enough. Unfortunately, the article didn’t end there.

But, though our neutrality ought to be assured, it is not. Mr. Asquith speaks with a brevity natural, perhaps, if we were directly concerned, but quite unnatural if it were certain, as it ought to be, that we should not be involved. Sir Edward Grey walks deliberately past opportunities of saying that we are and will be neutral in the quarrels of Europe... This official reticence is in contrast with unofficial garrulity. The “Times,” whose influence at great crises in our foreign affairs has almost always been for evil, yesterday took it for granted that if the war were not localised this country ought to take the side of Servia and Russia. It exhorts us to patch up our difficulties about Home Rule in Ireland in order that we may the better be able to see fair-play between Austria and Servia. Who made us the arbiters of “fair play” between Austria and Servia, and what conceivable interest have we in subordinating any British interest whatever to so gratuitous a task? Having sacrificed Ireland to Servia, the “Times” wants us to sacrifice England to Russia’s eccentric notions of what is in the interests of her people.

“See?” said the Cynic, “they’re going to take us in.”

“I wish they’d stop talking about England,” interjected the lone Scotsman in Martin’s crew, “they’ll send us along with you lot if they do go in.”

“Hold on, hold on,” said the reader, “hear what they say.”

How could we serve [the balance of power in Europe] better by throwing our influence on the side of Russia rather than on the side of Germany? Why strengthen the hand which is already beating us in Persia, and which, if it triumphed over Germany, would presently be felt in Afghanistan and on our frontiers in India? Why should the Slav be so much dearer to us than the Teuton that we should tax the necessaries of the poor to famine prices and the income of the rich to extinction? For that is what our participation in a great European war must mean to England.

“See? See? It makes no sense. We’ve no reason to prefer one lot to the other. So we’ll choose neither. Help make peace if we can, keep out of the way if we can’t.”

“You all need to learn to listen to the silences of politicians,” said the Cynic, “if they’re keeping quiet on something, you can sure they’re about to spring it on you.”
“Personally,” said the man who’d always been uncomplimentary about the French, “I’d rather have the Germans alongside us than the Frogs.”

Why indeed the French rather than the Germans, Martin wondered? Why in particular the Russians? Why were we so keen on them? Weren’t they making the trouble far worse?

Everyone professes to be anxious to “localise” the war. But only one Power can do it, namely Russia. If Russia attacks Austria, Germany is bound by treaty to join in defence of Austria; if Germany fights, France is bound to do the same...

The paper was right. It would be up to Russia to turn the war into a continent-wide conflict. If they did that, why should Britain support them?

Anyway, the general conflict hadn’t started yet, and the people were against it. Another article from Berlin reported on several tens of thousands of Socialists who had attended meetings and then paraded in the streets of the city chanting “Down with War!” These were the brother organisations of Martin’s own Labour Party.

Once more he was proud of the movement he belonged to. Socialism was by its nature international. It would lead the people, across nations, to uphold their rights and foremost among them, the right to life unthreatened by war. With so many demanding neutrality, what government could resist? If the people stood firm, Ministers could hardly ignore them.

But a small news item gave a different view.

Natives of Austria and Hungary resident in Manchester who are liable for service with the Austrian army have already, to the number of about 250, reported themselves at the offices of the Austro-Hungarian Consul...

They were signing up for the fighting? His spirits, briefly raised at the idea of Socialist and popular opposition to the war, sank again. If the people themselves were the accomplices of their own downfall, how could anyone prevent it?


Anonymous said...

Socialists will fight socialists. As Christians will not hesitate to kill other Christians. Muslims kill Muslims. TROTSKYISTS. Mensheviks, Shias, Sunnis, Ismaelites, Catholic, Protestansy, Orthodox...


David Beeson said...

Yes, I think you've got that about right. Free thinkers and non-believers in anything, too.