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THE IRON MAN IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS
BY ARTHUR POUND
In America we invent, manufacture, and use in the production of goods, an infinite number of machines; but we pay scant heed to the effect of these machines upon the evolution of society. Out here, in our great Middle West machine-shops, where the automatic principle of machine production has reached its highest development and broadest application, we possess tools superior to those of Paris. Yet it would never have occured to any of us to say in 1914, as did M. Bergson, addressing the French Academy: —
'Many years hence, when the reaction of the past shall have left only the grand outlines in view, this, perhaps, is how a philosopher will speak of our age. He will say that the idea, peculiar to the nineteenth century, of employing science in the satisfaction of our material wants had given a wholly unforeseen extension to the mechanical arts, and equipped man, in less than fifty years, with more tools than he had made during the thousands of years he had lived upon earth. Each new machine being for man a new organ, — an artificial organ, — his body became suddenly and prodigiously increased in size, without his soul being at the same time able to dilate to the dimensions of his new body.'
Bejgson pictures the 'machinate mammar of Butler's striking phrase as a dread, autogenetic being, adding limbs and organs ad infinitum, without corresponding growth of soul — a modern monster set going by our busy Frank
ensteins, the inventors. Let us consider, rather, man in society, organized into states, and observe some of the political and social results which have followed, and are likely to follow, multiplication of man-power by machinery.
Multiplying man-power by machinery sets going certain forces and tendencies in key with — but not at all points parallel to — those set going in other times by brisk breeding. However generated, new peaks of human energy strain social and political systems evolved to carry currents less high. Unless the current is cut down, or the system of distribution readjusted to carry the new peakload, something breaks. War is simply one method of restoring equilibrium between the kinetics of human energy and the statics of social order.
Machine use, on the expanding scale of recent years, multiplies goods-production over and above any point attainable by natural increase without machine assistance. Power over machines enabled the coal-and-iron members of the great-nations group to establish world-leadership in the years between the industrial revolution and the World War. Not only did population in the industrial state increase absolutely, but the effectiveness of those increased populations in wealth-production multiplied over and over. States with more machines assumed preponderant political influence over those with less.
Because the nations of leading power at the opening of the twentieth century were all white and all Christian, a false idea arose that this overlordship rested upon race or religion; but Japan's entrance, following victory over Russia, proved the acid test of world-power to be industrial prowess. Enough productivity to furnish, year after year, a considerable excess of goods for export, and to support naval and military forces proportionate to the resulting extensive overseas interests — these were the prime desiderata of power; and the nation possessing them could be sure of its place in the sun, regardless of color or the constitution of its Godhead.
Machine-power not only strengthened nationalism by slowing down dispersion through emigration, but also intensified it through generating real need for group-action to ensure subsistence from foreign sources. To make the industrial centre secure, its economic hinterland must be likewise secure; states were constantly urged by groups oppressed by the conviction of insecurity to move outward toward the control of that ever-widening hinterland, without whose produce and consumption the industrial complex at home must languish in unprofitable depression.
In earlier times natural increase set going centrifugal forces, which machine increase shifted into centripetal forces. Nations in effective possession of coal and iron held their nationals, because machines permitted the use at home of more labor and more capital per acre. Instead of sending forth surplus population at the former rate, the industrial states sent forth, in ever-increasing volume, surplus goods to compete with those of their rival nationals in world markets. The descendants of men who had won sustenance at the spear-point in forced migrations now fought one another with goods, and recorded their victories in ledgers instead of sagas. Upon the profitable and certain sale of
these goods depended national solvency and domestic content, the hunger or plenty of millions of wage-earners, the revenues which supported governments, military establishments, educational institutions — in short, moder n Western civilization. Realizing the vulnerability of their economic supports, the industrial societies of the Old World grew more and more state-conscious, and drifted into more and more bristling attitudes toward one another. Thus modern nationalism developed a sinister accent.
Given the determining mechanisms, this development was sure as fate. Arteries of national existence, inextricably interwoven, came to thread the Seven Seas. Though the bulk of imported nourishment grew in stabilized quarters, certain essentials of industrial life were gathered from lightly settled districts of uncertain political complexion, where the white man's code did not run. Concessions and capitulations, extra-territoriality and economic penetration — these satisfied neither natives nor invaders. Willy-nilly, the situation made for imperialism. Wherever moneys were owing and courts were not; wherever raw materials needed in the mills back home could be produced; wherever goods could be sold to the heathen if the latter could be educated sufficiently in wants; wherever capital could be multiplied by exploiting cheap labor — there industrial societies, although located on the other side of the earth, had stakes, vital stakes of existence. The temptation was powerful, indeed, to change these stakes of existence into stakes of empire. Africa was partitioned; western Asia became a bickering ground; China was partitioned into spheres of influence, and must soon have been parceled out, if the United States, not yet hard pressed economically, had not initiated the saving reprieve of the Open Door.
So far toward the war had the nations traveled by the beginning of the century. Thereafter came intrigue after intrigue for adjustment and review. Only by stating and restating the Monroe Doctrine, in terms which would have amazed Monroe, were we able to fend off itching hands from South America, perchance to keep for ourselves freedom of action in that quarter at some later date. Elsewhere the game went on with ever-increasing openness as the economic needs of Europe became more acute. The nations looked sharply to navies, coaling-stations, merchant marines, as so much national insurance under the conditions imposed by the Iron Man. Popular hate must be roused to wring funds for naval expansion from parliaments and tax-payers. Enter propaganda, the press doing its share and navy leagues the rest. Diplomatic incident followed incident, well named because so obviously incidental eruptions of the primary force that made peace ever more difficult to keep. Algeciras, London, The Hague — all vain while factory wheels continued to move at an ever-accelerated pace, and statesmen continued thinking in terms of politics instead of economics. Back of all this diplomatic jockeying and military picketing, commercial zeal and naval expansion, — the motor-force behind all these expressions of national will, — operated unceasingly the overload of human energy released by machine multiplication of man-power.
Responsibility for this dangerous evolution rests upon political rigidity rather than upon industrial progress. Internally each of the industrial states maintained such a division of the returns of industry that its full production could not be consumed at home; internationally trade and finance reached planetary proportions without correspondingly broad political and legal controls. Failing such controls, the situ
ation marched swiftly to its conclusion. Almost to the last, either of two denouements was possible — either the boundaries of industrial states must burst under inequalities of pressure generated by increased populations and increased machines, or the machines themselves must be slowed down by eliminating profits from their operation. The first meant war — the World War; the second meant war also, but of a different sort— th£ war between classes, the social revolution.
In midsummer of 1914, it was hard to say which method of bleeding the too-vital patient would be adopted. Had Juares lived, who knows how changed the face of history might be? The state-war method won the desperate race against time. At the moment decision rested with certain Germans, who may have been influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the hovering spectre of social and political revolution. If deferred then, the decision a little later might have rested upon other persons elsewhere; and if so, the answer must have been the same — war. Useless to apply ethical rules at such a pass; indicting forces is even more absurd than indicting nations. The important thing to understand, here and now, is that, given nationalism as the dominant social fact of the planet, sea-striding industrialism as its dominant economic fact, and the control of weak peoples by strong as its dominant political fact, peace in or near the year 1914 could not be maintained without qualifying one or all of the three. It was not done. There were none big enough to do it. To that extent the war may be considered inevitable.
Has Europe's blood-letting, plus its post-war Socialism and Communism, rid the world of wars bred in the marketplace? The situation does not make for confidence. State competition, intensified by hunger, hate, and debt, is not yet restrainable by international bonds. Russia's experiment does not recommend the class-war as a means to peace. Just as industry and nationalism conceived and brought forth the World War, without quite knowing either when or how conception occurred, so they may add to the Martian family in the future. Indeed,'certain tendencies of modern industrialism, in its new automatic phase as yet but dimly understood, seem destined to put even more strain upon the political framework of the planet than that under which the same framework cracked in 1914.
One such aspect of industrialism is its tendency to spread. Born in England, the factory system has migrated to northwestern Europe, northern Italy, the United States, and Japan. It has healthy roots in Canada, less healthy ones in Mexico. It appeared in Russia, and contributed to that debacle. China is getting under industrial way, slowly, but with a steady ponderosity which Ross, Stoddard, and Weale agree means nothing less than an economic upheaval certain to affect every nation and individual on earth as time runs on. India, too, is on the way, quickening step during the war; Australia, by erecting a tariff wall, encourages domestic industries. Thus industry travels; how far can it go?
The spread of industry among colored and Slavic populations has been retarded appreciably by the fact that, in the past, industrial production required the application of certain traits, natural or acquired, which, for historic reasons beyond the scope of this paper, are more apparent in white peoples than in others. The skill element was paramount. Now industry has machines so highly perfected that highly specialized skill is not required. Ordinary intelligence and
average manual dexterity are the top requirements, from the standpoint of production only, for the operative or attendant of automatic machines. He who brings maximum endurance to the shop at minimum cost will profit his employer most. On this basis the Chinese coolie, at first glance, appears unbeatable. If not the best individual, his cheapness still may give his produce an advantage in the market. The Japanese have demonstrated a considerable degree of Oriental adaptability to modern machines. The Hindu test may not be far behind. And since the tendency in machine-development is always toward less and less mental demand upon the operative, there is the possibility that even more backward peoples than these may some day find machines attuned to their mental and manual capacities. The huge profits likely to follow promptly upon the putting of cheap, low-standard labor to work upon automaticand semi-automatic machines should be enough to ensure that, soon or late, all peoples will be brought to the ordeal by the Iron Man.
But whether browns, blacks, and yellows can withstand this ordeal is another matter. Theoretically, expansion of industry should proceed until export trade in manufactured goods is much curtailed. But there are offsets to consider — capital, coal, iron, oil, waterpower. Dearth of these bars industry from many quarters. Far more important, however, are the varying abilities of races and peoples to meet the social and political problems presented by machine industry. The white race is progressive; the historic concept which has motivated western history gives it a superior elasticity of adaptation to changing conditions. Yet the war proves that even we favored whites could not escape at least one terrific setback resulting from industrial impact. The depth and breadth of present social unrest further emphasizes the difficulties of adjustment on that side of the equation. Since the colored races have not yet been tried in the fiery crucible of industry, no one can prophesy their reaction to the impact of modern industry.
Consider from this angle some of the vital demands that industry makes upon government and upon society. Industry requires a government at once strong and flexible. Government must preserve domestic order against class jealousies that fatten upon the disparity of wealth inevitably arising from industrialism under private ownership, as King demonstrates in his comparison of incomes in Prussia and Wisconsin. It must uphold contracts under conditions in which contractual relations become increasingly complex. It must protect the people from their employers and from themselves; it must maintain such hours of labor and working conditions as will save the workers from being ground down in ruthless competition, or enfeebled by their own weaknesses. It must encourage the public, and find ways and means to compensate it for the social sacrifices involved in industrial production, which compensations must be provided outside of factory walls and enjoyed in leisure. To provide these sedatives requires an imaginative, strongly functioning public spirit outside of the industrial group, and the finding of funds to make expensive dreams of social progress come true, at least sufficiently to allay discontent.
The dilemma presented by heavy social needs and the very real danger of overtaxing industry is not an easy one to solve, even for states highly organized; it may well prove insoluble for states which, like China and Turkey, reveal chronic inability to establish sound public finance. Finally, history gives no ground for believing that in
dustry and autocracy are compatible; in the long run, so strong are the social pressures involved, a successful government of an industrial state must grow out of the conscious will of its people, represent their ideals, and be amenable to those ideals as they change from generation to generation. Even in Japan the advent of industry brought constitutional forms, not yet nationally digested. Those states in which representative democracy had reached its highest expression emerged from the desperate test of war and the grind of war-production with the least political and social damage.
Industry prospers best under capitalism and under representative democracy; I cannot conceive industry functioning well under other dispensations. German autocrats might introduce state socialism as they pleased; the fact of autocracy remained a threat to German industry. And because no colored race equals the white in its power to create the social and political setting in which machine industry thrives, I am unable to follow Lothrop Stoddard as far as he goes in forecasting the shrinking of the white man's markets, in his book, The Rising Tide of Color.
Indeed, the impact of industry upon colored races seems as likely to weaken them as the reverse. Modern industrialism places both the individual and society under severe and continued strains, physical, mental, moral. The more static the society, the more custom-tied the individual, the more severe the strain. English people have been evolving with and in industry under representative government for six centuries; for two centuries they have been applying power to machines and building up a factory system. All this time they have been building up definite immunities against industrial ills and definite predispositions to bargain themselves out of industrial ills. Yet they are