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Albert Gates

Books in Review

Bourgeois New Worlds

(July 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 6, July 1942, pp. 189–190.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan.

Post-War Worlds
by P.E. Corbett
Farrer & Rinehart, Inc. 208 pp., $2.00

Marxian socialists were not and are not now alone in their endeavor to chart a new world free of nationalism. But they are alone in knowing what to do about it. The contradictions of capitalist society as a world profit economy resting on a system of national states is all too apparent even to the theoreticians of the bourgeois order. Special pleading on the cause of the war notwithstanding, they all realize that war, particularly total war, is an enormous degenerating influence upon society and humanity.

At the turn of the century, in the period of expanding economy and the rise of imperialism as the main policy of the powerful and rich national states, many writers sought a justification for imperialism and war in the fact that this related phenomenon was unavoidable and necessary because it resulted in a higher development of society and a general improvement in the world standard of living. This, too, was special pleading, for such views were based on national interests and failed to take into account the fundamental basis for imperialist policy, the inevitable decline of world capitalism, and the fact that an improvement in the world standard of living was for only a section of society and that was based on exploitation of the national populations and the colonial peoples.

Since World War I, at least, the danger of a complete degeneration of capitalist society and its replacement by socialism, has become a source of discomfort to the bourgeoisie and its ideological defenders. The war of 1914–18 was a portent of the future. New weapons of destruction, the signing of a peace which guaranteed the outbreak of a new war, the narrowing bases of world capitalism, pointed the way to a new breakdown of the profit system.

The League of Nations Experiment

The post-war period witnessed a feverish movement in all the warring countries to prevent a repetition of that devastating conflict by the creation of instruments for solving national conflicts and to provide the means for a peaceful solution of the “differences” between the countries (or alliances) of the world. What was really sought was a guarantee of the power of one group of capitalist states against another – the maintenance of the status quo in world relationships. As a result, we had the formation of the League of Nations and the World Court.

The years following the formation of these two bodies were not promising in the fulfillment of the aims of those who prevailed in the establishment of these Utopian organizations. What stands out in the intervening years between the birth of the League of Nations and the outbreak of World War II is the sharp conflicts on the Continent and in the colonial areas between the powers which engaged in the First World War for “peace and democracy.” War, in one form or another, has existed since 1918; These preliminary “skirmishes” merely foreshadowed the present holocaust.

This is the singular fact which disturbs men like Professor Corbett, who are ardent advocates of world bodies to outlaw war and “internationalize” bourgeois society.

In Post-War Worlds we have the classic bourgeois approach to this problem. Corbett’s analysis of the First World War is unusual only in the fact that he does not, after twenty-five years, understand the fundamental cause of that war. Perhaps it is more correct to say that his understanding of the war is confused, for he declares that the root causes of the old conflict, and the new, are “political, economic, social and psychological in character” (page 3), What he understands by this is difficult to assay, since the ideas which follow this statement are devoted to the Axis program of the “master race” and their innate desire for “conquest.” The conclusion drawn by the professor is that the present war “may therefore be accurately described as one between democracy and totalitarianism” (page 5).

Ideas for World Reorganization

He is not really sure of this because he observes that on the democratic side are such countries as Poland, Greece and the Soviet Union. “Nevertheless,” he writes, “there is an element of truth in the description” (page 4). Having assured himself that his doubts on the character of the war are groundless, the professor warms up to his theme.

A good part of the book is devoted to the experiences of the League of Nations and its ultimate downfall. While the author readily admits that the League was doomed in advance, his theory is that this need not have happened. One of the main reasons attributed to its downfall was the failure of the United States to become a member of the body to enforce its influence (finance and arms) upon any country which sought to violate the covenants. Another, that France and England fell out over policy, the former seeking the enforcement of sharp measures against Germany, the latter aiming to reduce the strength of France on the Continent and maintain a balance of power in favor of England. From then on, the professor concedes, the conduct of the League was totally uninspiring.

Hardly a person would have disagreed. Almost from the very inception of the League new plans for world organization were announced. In the so-called “disarmament” period of post-war capitalism, “world plans for peace” were abundant. They flourished until the present war. But what is highly indicative of the utter futility of this war is that such plans have been pushed precisely in the midst of the present conflict when the warring governments avoid any discussion of specific war aims.

There are literally hundreds of books devoted to this problem of the establishment of permanent peace by international organizations under capitalism. Professor Corbett’s book has this value: it discusses all the plans proffered by the ideological representatives of bourgeois life and thus presents a compendium of futility. For anyone interested in the burning problems of social reorganization, of socialism, this is a valuable handbook, summarizing the best thinking of the existing social order!

The Federal Idea and Internationalism

In the opinion of the reviewer, the important chapter of the book is the one entitled Ascendancy of the Federal Idea (page 42). Here we find summarized the most important projects for bourgeois world reorganization. (At this point it is important to bear in mind that federalism is not internationalization; the plans fostered by bourgeois theorists are, in truth, opposed to true internationalism.) In their order, Corbett outlines the main ideas of Briand’s plan for a United States of Europe; Civitas Dei, by Lionel Curtis; Union Now, by Clarence Strict; New World Order, by H.G. Wells; A Federation for Western Europe, by Ivor Jennings, and similar plans based on identical thought.

All the gentry mentioned, with the exception of H.G. Wells, think only in the terms of the continued existence of capitalism and their plans are based, not on a thoroughly internationalist concept, but on the national interests of whichever country they happen to represent. Thus the plans are regional or sectional, and their realization is based on the “power principle,” the right of domination by one power or set of powers over the rest of the world. For the socialist point of view, Corbett turns to the muddle-headed thinking of utopia-crazed Wells.

These plans, as already indicated, are predicated on the idea that union must be initiated by the Western democracies, which should employ arms to enforce peace! Or, international organization must begin on the European continent; or, it must be organized and led by the United States and Great Britain against the rest of the world!

Corbett proceeds to outline the concrete form of world organization through economic reorganization based on capitalist production, the formation of supranational police, supranational courts, supranational legislation and supra-national administration. All of this is to be based on the maintenance of the fundamental structure of the system of national states and private capitalism, howsoever amended.

How They Regard the Colonial World

The reactionary thinking of the sponsors of “post-war worlds” is nowhere so graphically revealed as in their common attitude toward the colonial world (page 177). Here again they prove the contentions of Marxian thought which charges that bourgeois society cannot act beyond its national and profit interests. The gentlemen referred to realize that the colonial problem is of the deepest significance, and by his devotion to the question, Professor Corbett reveals that, at least in so far as he is concerned, it is in many respects decisive.

And the solution? You can guess it immediately. It is not freedom and equality for the colonies. Quite the contrary, a new form of the exploitation is projected for the vast majority of the people of the earth. The new exploitation should be conducted in common by the “white world.” Thus, Corbett writes: “To share out the colonies as a step preliminary to federation or reconstituted and reformed league would involve dislocations as disastrous as they would be absurd. The alternative appears to be their assignment to the federation or league for administration” (page 178). Who will determine the share of each country in the wealth and exploitation of the colonial world? Naturally, the strongest of adherents to the new world organizations!

The key to understanding these men is the fact that in the entire book there is no discussion of the economic problems of imperialist capitalism and the class problems of this social order. It is not really funny that Professor Corbett chooses the writings of H.G. Wells as representative of socialist thought – a man whom not even the milkiest of socialists regard as an authority. All that Corbett has to say about the socialist solution to the problems of modern society is: “A spontaneous world revolution aiming not only at the abolition of privilege, class, monopoly, but at the suppression of political boundaries and the fusion of all peoples into one society is as inconceivable as the immediate perfection of civilization in every corner of the globe” (page 193). And why not? Perhaps the reason why the professor leaves a discussion of the socialist answer to the very last two pages of his book is because it enables him to avoid answering the question.

Immediately following the above, we are treated with a genuine piece of bourgeois thinking: “Even if it be admitted that socialism is a condition of peace, it does not follow that it is the sole condition” (page 194). It is, for our money, especially after reading Post-War Worlds.

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