Democracy's Issues in the World War
Looking back over the three years of the war, realizing that we ourselves are entering into the valley of its shadow of death, accepting the spiritual bankruptcy of war which has been the logical outcome of its efficiency, seeing all its pomp and trappings hopelessly mired in the trenches and the deliberate modern barbarities that demand retaliatory barbarities, we recognize that war can no more be accepted as part of the mechanism of modern society than filth, diseases and blights and famines which have stalked as "God's agents" through human history.
But the last three years have accomplished this, they have transformed what began as a vast imperial and commercial raid on the world by Germany and Austria into a contest between democracy and autocracy, and the entrance of Russian and American democracy into the fight have underscored the transformation. It remains to be seen how far the democratic forces of the western world can realize this change and with what intelligence they can direct its fortunes.
In Russia we can see as yet only huge popular upheavals and depressions, with heroic figures struggling to master its disorganization and give effective direction to its titanic forces. In the western countries of Europe the socialistic parties that have so largely directed the action of the masses have begun to assert themselves again, seeking on the one hand , for greater democratic control at home and, on the other, with more uncertainty to revive their internationalism.
We can only wait, with patience and profound sympathy, the outcome of the Russian revolution. It is not as yet articulate. The socialistic international we can better understand and more clearly envisage. We must not conceive it in terms of American socialism, for socialism has never been the articulate voice of democracy or even labor in America.
Socialism abroad has been the outcome of popular struggle against governments which have been in the hands of privileged classes. It has logically pitted against the privileged classes the laboring masses. It has undertaken to give them a class consciousness and a class program with which to fight the dominant classes. It has been democracy's fighting formation when opposed to a modern feudalism. But it has been a fighting formation, and has opposed the program of socialistic state to the feudal order it conceived itself to be fighting. Not unnaturally it sought to endow the classes in control of its own state program with the same powers which it would wrest from the privileged classes.
Just because it has been a battle formation of the laboring classes it has never represented the democratic attitude of a whole community and its internationalism has stood only for the solidarity of the laborers in the different countries in their opposition to the privileged groups. It has never stood for the common spirit of a society made up of different nations. It has been unable to enter into vital relation with the national self-consciousness which is of such overwhelming importance in the present struggle.
In a word, socialism, in its international attitude, is unable to express the individual spirit of one community entering into relation with another in a society of peoples.
When the declarations of war came socialism's internationalism was shown to have no roots in the larger society of the world. And even now, when the socialistic groups come forward with formulae for peace which are free from the tenets of their doctrines, they are suspect at home to the governments they oppose on principle and abroad because they have supported their own governments in their war aims.
The real assumption of democracy inside the society of a nation and with the society of different nations is that there is always to be discovered a common social interest in which can be found the solution of social strifes. Democratic institutions recognize this assumption in giving political power to all groups and individuals, confident that out of the political struggle of the conflicting aims and interests of individuals and groups the common interest must eventually arise to command the allegiance of all.
Democratic advance, therefore, has always been in the direction of breaking down the social barriers and vested privileges which have kept men from finding the common denominators of conflicting interests which have been at war with each other, because they have been incommensurable.
The same democratic assumption in the relation of nations insists that there are no irreconcilable conflicts between peoples if only there is adequate opportunity for bringing these conflicting interests in deliberative contact with each other, backed by a public opinion that enforces a thrashing out of the questions, before resort is had to force.
It is the laboring masses of all communities that are more interested in the assertion of this democratic assumption than the vested interests. In war they suffer most and profit least. They have more at stake, for they are the beneficiaries of every democratic advance, and no advance can be of such importance as that which dispossesses autocracy of its last hold on militarism.
Thus there has arisen a great opportunity for democracy in America, and especially for labor, which must be most jealous of its security, an opportunity to give to the war, so far as we are concerned in it, the paramount issue of the elimination of war by the democratic principle. This implies the rights of nationalities, government by the consent of the governed, the opportunity for the full discussion of international disputes under conditions which open the discussion to the public opinion of the world before war may be declared, and such a league of nations as will enforce this appeal to the democratic principle.
With Russia still inarticulate, with the European nations compromised by their earlier formulations of terms of peace and the uncertain note of the socialistic parties, America is in a peculiar degree called upon to interpret the import of the struggle between democracy and autocracy.
The principles have been presented by President Wilson. It remains for the American people and their most democratic groups to make these principles consciously their own as the issues of the war.