Cracks are starting to appear.
The union has become increasingly fractious. This in now clear. In full daylight. Much was decided at the previous conference six years ago. Much has changed since.
Back at the conference held in May 1920 we came away with a system and an ideological position that would start to pave a path towards frictionless transit, and trade, between allies. Suddenly there was some little benefit to be derived from the terror and destruction, and devolution of progress, wreaked by the Great War. Although we did not whole heartedly agree with the stated intent to facilitate a “complete return to pre-war conditions” (after all, it was those conditions that provoked this mass conflict in the first place) we did see much sense and great advantages in the re-greasing of the wheels of trade and applying ‘economic recovery’ in melding the many sores and wounds that were taking an inordinate amount of time to heal, particularly around infrastructure and urban planning.
Poland initiated the discussion, from Day 1, around the abolition of the Passport, as a regime and an entity. Their argument was that the implementing of this newly formalised system had created chaos and confusion. Their blunt suggestion was to remove the Passport regime altogether—not just within Poland, but amongst all other nations within the league (if not the world, heck the galaxy). Their initial scope included Visa too but they rowed back on this in favour of targeting Passports in particular. It was then argued (we forget by who) that a multitude of personal identification systems would be required for travel instead and that a singular ‘identity card’ would need to be looked at. Refusing to back down after loosing face the Polish delegates retreated into a gruff sort of silence.
The German delegates leant their voices to the discussion at this stage, taking the view that the system, as it stands, still needed work but much good progress had been made so far. They added that they appreciated the invitation to participate and would contribute in any way they could. ‘The League needed Germany more than Germany needed the League’ was the overall message but this was welcome enough. The Japanese delegate was similarly impressed with progress to date on smoothing transitions between nations but pointed out the Eurocentric nature of regulation to date. Industry delegates naturally looked forward to the abolition of the Passport and all forms of obstructions to trade, no doubt envisioning nations spilling over into each other—with borders becoming as runny as egg yokes, frontiers blurring their edges until every territory overlapped every territory, becoming one enormously exploitable morass.
The event bought to mind our friend Physarum polycephalum or the “many-headed slime mold”. Not because of it’s gooey, lumped form that sort only to expand and expand and expand but because it was the type of conglomerate we thought the league was going to produce. A living, movable organism with many limbs but one mind—a perfect, clear systematic being that could slowly, methodically grow and spread to cover over the mess, fuss and disaster of years gone by. Eventually reaching out across all the frontiers and gathering all nations everywhere into its pulsating arms. But, it seems there is no perfect system. We were wrong to think it was a matter of unification. We were wrong to think there was a perfect system. That nations could be automated somehow. We are a mass but we are also apart.
But still there is the Passport. It is link… of sorts. An imperfect link. But a link. It has survived as an entity for a while now. It has survived this conference. For how much longer it will be around, time will have to tell. There will always be another conference… By the way, I hear talk that Le Corbusier has entered a design for the League of Nations Palace. Now, how do we get on that committee? ●
🄯 Michael Bojkowski, 2019
League of Nations passport design guidance c.1925. / Credit: League of Nations. / Source: New York Public Library via Quartz [qz.com]
‘Overweighted’ cartoon by Bernard Partridge for Punch magazine, issue #243, 26 March 1919. / Credit: Bernard Partridge. / Source: Punch Magazine [punch.co.uk]
Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret’s rejected design for the Palais de la Société des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, 1927. Submitted as part of an international competition. / Credit: MM. Le Corbusier with Pierre Jeanneret. / Source: Fondation Le Corbusier [fondationlecorbusier.fr]