Europe Of Today – Democracy, Or–?

IN another sphere Russia poses the great interrogation. Is Bolshevism to spread westward from Moscow ? It is better perhaps to speak of Communism, though with the reservation that what passes under that name is not necessarily the same thing in Prague and Berlin and Madrid. Not much is heard of Communism in Great Britain, but it is worth noting that in the last Parliament in Czechoslovakia the Communists formed the largest single party (they have dropped to fourth place in the present one, with 20 seats out of 200) and that in the German Reichstag they hold 77 seats out of 577. In other countries they would secure considerably more seats than they do if the elections were free. This does not suggest that Communism is so far a serious menace, and so far, outside Russia, it is note But if economic conditions in Europe get worse Communism will un- doubted grow, for its banner is a rallying-point or every kind of discontent, and economic discontent most of all. The growth of Communism and the growth of Nationalism in Germany is a double portent, a reflection on a national scale of the portent provided by the simultaneous -rise of Bolshevism and Fascism in Europe. Between the conceptions of Lenin and of Mussolini there are strange parallels, though the former embodies a preconceived doctrine, the latter an experiment out of which doctrine has developed. In both the nationalistic appeal is developed to the utmost—in Russia’s case more as the result of external hostility than of deliberate intention. Fascism, its principal exponents declare, has been devised to meet Italy’s peculiar need. It never was intended for export. Bolshevism undoubtedly was and is, though, like other exports, it is finding some diliculty in getting across the frontier at present.

But political tendencies in particular countries are only of importance for present purposes so far as they throw light on political tendencies in Europe as a whole.

And neither Bolshevism nor Fascism goes far in that direction. Nor does any other factor. There is no definite political tendency in Europe as a whole. The war, of course, brought great changes. Monarchy went largely out of fashion. Germany and Austria became republics, and of the new States that came into existence all except Jugoslavia, if that enlargement of Serbia is to rank as new, set up republican governments. (Albania is a monarchy, but Albania existed before the war.) A little later dictatorships came in. They could not be defined with precision, for some dictators, like Marshal Pilsudski in Poland, maintained the constitutional forms as cloak for their absolutism.

But it was usual to include in the list the administrations of Mussolini in Italy, Pilsudski in Poland, Primo de Rivera in Spain, Mustapha Kemal in Turkey, Pangalos in Greece, Valdemaras in Lithuania, Bratiano in Rumania, King Alexander in Jugoslavia. Not all of these were contemporaneous, but all of them were covered by the ten years 1920-30. The position at the end of 1931 shows a considerable change.

Russia and Turkey may be neglected, as being in neither case exclusively European.

Of the rest, Spain has established a strictly democratic régime, though its durability has still to be demonstrated. So have Greece, and, in a lesser degree, Rumania. Jugoslavia has elected a Parliament, though the elections were so far ” “managed ” that the King, in no doubt retain the reality of control without the full appearance of it. Nevertheless, his action in holding the election is evidence of a disposition to return to democratic forms.

Valdernaras has disappeared in Lithuania, and Count Bethlen, so long Prime Minister of Hungary that he might almost rank among the dictators, is now out of office. There remain Mussolini and Pilsudski. The future of Fascism is a matter of much interest and much uncertainty. Some signs of a reversion to constitutional forms (such as Signor Mussolini’s resignation of five of the seven portfolios he had held in his single person) have been visible, but there is little indication of the return of normal democratic institutions in Italy at present. In Poland the form of government is purely personal and it is improbable that Marshal Pilsudski will have any successor in the dictatorship.

There is, in short, no great substance in the claim that democratic government in Europe is obsolescent. It exists in Great Britain, in France, in Spain, in the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland, in Holland and Belgium, in Austria and Hungary, and amid a good many vicissitudes in the Balkans.

A distinction ought perhaps to be made between democratic and parliamentary government, for parliamentary forms can be maintained when, as the result of ” made” elections, democracy is denied its proper expression. That is true of more than one country mentioned in the list just given.

From that list Germany has been omitted.

Parliamentary government there is at a crisis, and resort has so frequently been had to legislation by Presidential decree (reaching its climax in December 1931) that normal democratic institutions cannot be said to be in full operation. There is, moreover, the prospect of the early accession of the National Socialists under Herr Adolf Hitler to office. If that happens, as it well may have before these words are published, will that portend the downfall of democracy in Germany ?

It is perhaps rash to put a question to which events may so soon provide an answer. But at the moment it does not seem to portend that. Hitlerism is sometimes referred to as though it were merely a German form of Fascism. Up to the present at any rate, Herr Hitler has taken his stand definitely on constitutional methods. His very success at the polls, both at the Reichstag elections of 1930 and at the various State elections since, provide the best of reasons why he should make full use of machinery that has served him so well. Irregular armed forces, like the Stalhelm in Germany and the Heimwehr in Austria (opposed by the Socialist Reichsbanner and Schutzbund, respectively), can be used for purposes of intimidation, and as such they constitute a grave threat to democratic government, but in spite of his association with the Stalhelm Herr Hitler shows more signs of supporting than of overthrowing Parliamentary government in Germany. He is aiming at a majority in the Reichstag, and if he secures that it will give him the power he needs and enable him to govern with less opposition than if he threw over Parliamentary forms altogether and left his opponents with nothing but unconstitutional weapons to fight him with. The alternative possibility the acceptance by Hitler of a place in a coalition government would be a definite vindicationof constitutionalism.

But in Germany, as in half a dozen other countries of Europe, the economic factor will determine the future of government. A financial crisis, with banks unable to meet their obligations and employers unable to pay their men, will mean the collapse of ordered government, and in some cases at any rate some form of dictatorship endeavouring to control events that in fact will have taken control themselves. What that may lead to is beyond prediction. All that can be said at all about forms of government in Europe is that if by the exercise of a wisdom and realism of which there is too little evidence to-day, the political leaders in the different countries do somehow reach practical agreements over debts and reparations and tariffs, then the crisis may be staved off and the countries of Europe continue on their present roads. In that case there seems reason to anticipate that over the greater part of the continent what is commonly called democratic government will continue.

One factor that ought to serve as index to the future of democracy is the progress of organised Socialism in the different European countries. Socialism and democracy are not synonymous, but Socialism involves democracy if democracy does not necessarily involve Socialism. If, therefore, Socialism in Europe is steadily growing it is safe to regard democracy as established. But, in fact, it is not steadily growing. The political Socialist parties hold strong positions in Great Britain and France, Germany and Belgium, Spain and Czechoslovakia, but not commanding positions. They are not, moreover, gaining substantially in strength.

There have, it is true, been two Labour, or Socialist, Governments in Great Britain, but both of them were in a minority in the House of Commons, resting on the support of the Liberals. The Social-Democrats in Germany have helped to keep several coalition administrations in power, and in Prussia they have for some years been in office themselves, but their position is on the whole static. The French Socialists have been in opposition ever since the war and there is no immediate prospect of their being anything else. In some of the small countries, such as Belgium and Austria, they are stronger, but there is no ground for looking forward to the coming decade as the era of Socialism, if by that is to be understood Socialism as an organised political force. The spread of Socialist ideas is another matter. Indeed, the assimilation of Socialist doctrines by other schools of political thought everywhere has done as much as anything to retard the growth of Socialism as a separate political entity. So far as organised Socialism does influence national politics it is uniformly a force making for the abolition of war, for Socialists put the international idea in the forefront, and in spite of memories of the support of war-credits by the bulk of the Socialists of all countries in 1914 it is true to say that Socialism means peace between nations, whatever views Socialists may hold on the subject of war between classes. And in the defence of democracy in Europe Socialism plays a leading, if not an increasingly effective, part.

And yet believers in democracy—government of the people by the people for the people—cannot feel altogether easy in days when the people can only express itself through a Parliamentary system, and the issues placed before it are so abstruse and so technical that only experts are really competent to pronounce on them. What does the expression of the popular will mean, and what can it claim to be worth, when the problems before the voter include such questions as currency policy (how many electors in Great Britain, one of the best educated countries in Europe, really understood what was involved in the appeal for ” the defence of the pound ” at the General Election of 1931), or tariff policy, or the exaction or abolition of reparations ? In such a situation democracy’s exercise of its franchise must generally mean no more than registering a choice between two (or more) rival sets of rulers. And there are alternative ways of selecting rulers. Italy has devised another way than democracy, and, as very many Italians would claim, a better. At any rate Fascism works. It produces in many fields an efficiency unknown before its advent. May it not be true after all that “whate’er is best administered is best ” ?

To that question Europe as a whole unhesitatingly answers ” No.” Good administration means much, but the right to choose a government, which involves the right to change a government, is far too highly estimated a possession to be surrendered. The nations of Europe that enjoy it will hold to it. Those that do not will strive constantly, and in the end successfully, for it Government imposed from above it will have been noted that the reference a few lines back to an Italy which had ” selected ” her present rulers was inexact; they, in fact, imposed themselves, with the help of an organised and resolute minority) and resting on no broad basis, sometimes no basis at all., of popular approval, must be a government maintained in the last resort by intimidation. Neither Communism in Russia nor Fascism in Italy can afford to tolerate opposition. A government is set up, and declared to have the popular will behind it because popular opposition to it dare not show its head. The confino in the Lipari Islands and the exile of Siberia or the Caucasus or Murmansk are evidence of that.

Where there is (for good reasons) no open opposition general assent can be claimed with enough show of justice to pass muster. That system means necessarily that there is no visible alternative to the existing adminis tration. There are no experienced politicians of rival parties ready to take office in their turn when a popular mandate gives them the opportunity though there will in any case be no popular mandate, because the people is given no chance of overthrowing the administration in office constitutionally. The only way out, to all appearance, is by revolution.

But democracy and Parliamentarism are not the same thing, however inseparably they may be connected. We must get down to something a little more elemental. How far throughout Europe is it recognised that all men are born free and equal ? Flow far is the inalienable right of every man to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness admitted ?

How far haste battle for equality against privilege, of freedom of conscience against religious or political intolerance, been won, and where has it still to be waged yet ?

” To proclaim and to practise the equality of all citizens,” wrote President Masaryk in The Making of a State, with the making of his own young republic in mind, ” to recognise that all are free, to uphold inwardly and outwardly the humane principle of fraternity-, is as much a moral as a political innovation.”

If the names of European States where those ideals are far from being realised today Russia and Italy, Hungary, Jugoslavia-leap to the mind, and it seems easy to believe that the tide is running against democracy, not with it, the corrective is to remember not merely what Europe is but what it was, what Turkish rule in the Balkans meant down to 1878, Russian rule over what is now Finland and Poland and the Baltic States down to 1914, the rule of the Dual Monarchy over its subject races to the same date. Democracy’s battles are not won yet throughout Europe.

A man may not work for Socialism in Italy or individualism in Russia. The day may be far distant when freedom of thought and action is established in the Soviet Union. But there is more democracy, none the less, in Europe today than there was twenty years ago.

And democracy, with all its defects, will survive in Europe. It meets the needs of most European countries, and will meet the needs of more, better than any alternative of which they have experience. It answers the elemental claim of every man capable of understanding anything of the society in which he lives to have some voice in the government of himself and his fellows. He may not want to change his masters, but he claims the right to change them if he chooses.

The ear of democracy, of course, is far too easily caught by the first fluent windbag with wares to peddle. (” Democracy has to find means of turning semi-education into education,” to quote Masaryk again.) A false patriotism and a narrow nationalism is inculcated with fatal ease. A cheap Press has numberless sins to answer for. Statesmen with a vision that can range beyond their country’s frontiers, and grasp the great international tendencies that involve their own State with the rest, are compelled too often to see the way of salvation and refrain from following it because the mass of their countrymen, from whom their authority derives, will tolerate no leader prepared to accept the least encroachment on national sovereignty, or willing to expose some sheltered industry to freer competition for the benefit of world trade as a whole. The autocratic ruler is hampered by no such obstacles as that. He can act as he chooses. But in actual fact, to retain his power, he is usually compelled to be so intensely nationalistic that he will rarely be disposed to consider any interests but his own country’s.

But since the authority of the Church in temporal matters has decayed there is no enduring sanction for government but the people’s will. Democracy means the investiture of the people with power, or rather the assertion by the people of the power inherent in it. That power, once realised, will not be renounced, in spite of the temporary and limited emergence of autocracy, as lately in Spain and still in Italy. And Fascism, in the course of its evolution, may yet prove to be compatible with democracy.

In Europe today, therefore, democracy, for lack of any other effective alternative to take its place, and because it responds to the peoples instinctive sense of right and justice, promises to endure. The task of the future is to carry the democratic spirit yond national frontiers and apply it in the relationships of State with State, not in Europe only but throughout the world.

The League of Nations is in fact a democratic organisation of States, and it is noteworthy that in Europe alone of all the continents every State (with the exception of semi Asiatic Russia and mainly Asiatic Turkey is a member of the League.