DEFEAT CAPITALISM AND ITS DEADLY SPAWN, IMPERIALISM
ecological murder • endless wars • ingrained racism & social injustice • worker exploitation • incurable via reforms
During the “severe pontificate” of Leo XIII, the elite could also increasingly count on the church to “glorify the throne, the sword, the flag, and the established social order” and, conversely, to condemn socialism and (non-Christian) trade union activism. Nevertheless, the spectre of revolution – not only social, but also national revolution – continued to haunt Europe.
What had gone wrong, and what could be done about it? To find answers to these questions, the European and American elites sat down at the feet of the great German philosopher of the end of the century, Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche has been described by Arno Mayer as "the chief minstrel of this battle [of the elite against all forms of equality],…[a man whose] thought was coherently and consistently antiliberal, antidemocratic, and antisocialist…He reviled his own age for permitting the masses to shackle the will to power of the ‘highest specimens’…[so that] herd animals made themselves masters."
War is the foundation of all the arts...it is the foundation of all the high virtues and faculties of men...All great nations learned their truth of word, and strength of thought, in war; that they were nourished in war, and wasted by peace; taught by war, and deceived by peace; trained by war, and betrayed by peace; in a word, that they were born in war, and expired in peace.
War was the ultimate test, and it also served to make good women and men even better and the strong, stronger; it served to make young people hard like steel and to forge national solidarity. War allegedly bestowed energy on individuals as well as on peoples, it rejuvenated the “races,” revived entire societies, regenerated moral existence, etc. The elite had to be brutal, merciless, and bellicose, preached Nietzsche, and to show itself ready to sacrifice “enormous human masses” in wars without the slightest remorse – which is precisely what would come to pass in 1914-1918. In the society of which Nietzsche dreamed, war was just as essential as slavery. It was only through war, he believed, that Europe could lift itself out of the mud of decadence and decay in order to step boldly into a heroic and glorious future.
According to the German admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, militarism and war were necessary as antidotes to “the propagation of Marxism and political radicalism among the popular masses.” He viewed Mars as the perfect ally against Marx! The European (and American) elite, which felt increasingly threatened by the rise of the labour movement and of socialism, believed that it could use war as a kind of life vest that would allow it to survive the democratic deluge. In this sense, it is true that war was “a profoundly conservative activity,” directed “against the Idea of Progress,” as the American historian (and World War II veteran) Paul Fussell has written.
Contempt of death means not fearing death, and indeed, the elite did not fear the death of proletarians they loathed, over whom they exercised total power, and whose lives they would waste so lightheartedly during the Great War, as the German historian Hermann Glaser has observed. With respect to this culling of their ranks, certain proletarians were in fact convinced that these seemingly senseless massacres reflected a desire on the part of their generals to reduce the ranks of the workers and thus to make the fearsome masses less “massive” and less frightful. During one of the many strikes Paris witnessed in June 1919, a striker, reflecting on the Great War, declared that,
¶ The above is a chapter from Jacques Pauwels' book on WW I, The Great Class War 1914-1918, published by James Lorimer in Toronto in 2016.
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