Th. Rothstein 1919
Source: The Call, 17 April 1919, p. 4; (written under his pseudonym John Bryan)
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
The time, it seems to me, has arrived when we, of the British Socialist Party, must make up our minds where we stand. We are constantly proclaiming our complete sympathy with the revolutionary doctrines of the Russian Bolsheviks and German Spartacists, and I gather that a resolution is to be submitted on behalf of the E.C. to the Conference at Sheffield, sending our greetings to the Hungarian and Bavarian proletariats, who have seized the reins of power and have established or are about to establish a Communist regime. At the same time, only a few months ago, we were anxious to send delegates to the anti-Bolshevik, anti-Spartacist, and anti-revolutionary conference at Berne, and were very angry with the wirepullers of the Labour Party when we found ourselves excluded from the delegation. Are we with the Russian Bolsheviks and German-Hungarian Communists or not? If we are, why did we want to go to Berne? If we are not, what are we? These questions have been occupying my mind ever since my return home, and now they have been put to us as a party fairly and squarely by the resolution establishing a Communist International, which was adopted at the Communist congress in Moscow, and which, I learn, is to be published in the present issue of the paper. Obviously we cannot belong to both Internationals at one and the same time. Are we to join the Moscow International or shall we remain in the fold of the Berne one? In other words, are we prepared to take our share, in this country in making the Social Revolution by calling upon the working-class to rise, and help it to do so, or shall we go on preaching the Social Revolution, in common with the anti-revolutionary “patriotic,” opportunist, and pacifist Socialists of all hues and shades?
To my mind—and I have made it up long ago—the choice is quite simple. We all, from the most moderate to the most revolutionary, are agreed that the Social Revolution, that is, the conquest of power by the working-class and the subsequent transformation of our capitalist into a Socialist society, is inevitable. If we did not believe in its coming, we should not be Socialists. But there are some who do not believe in revolutionary methods at all, and there are others who believe them to be practicable in other countries, but Utopian and unnecessary in ours. Britain, they say, is different from the Continent. Britain has a 600-year old Parliament, its people have been wedded for centuries almost to Parliamentary methods of political warfare, and, last but not least our ruling classes are differently constituted, mentally and morally, from the classes abroad, inasmuch as they have learnt the wisdom of yielding and compromising to a degree unknown elsewhere. Should they, it is argued, find themselves, one day confronted with the determined will of the people in the shape of a Laboou or Socialist majority in Parliament, they will be off and say no more.
I for one, do not agree with this counter-revolutionary optimism. That Britain is different from other countries I agree. Only the other day I read quotations from a leading article in the Vienna “Arbeiterzeitung,” the organ of the Austrian Socialists; setting out in very eloquent language how and why Austria is so totally different from Russia as to make Bolshevism out of place and out of tune there. Similar articles, no doubt, were appearing before in the Hungarian Socialist Press, and I well remember reading them many months ago in the “Vorwarts.” Why, I remember reading a celebrated article in the last-named paper some twelve months ago, at the height of the German offensive, in which the writer, the editor himself, argued in a most convincing manner that even the idea of a Republic was totally foreign to Germany, which traditionally was wedded to a centralised Monarchy! And in Russia herself, as students of her political history well know, had not the so-called Narodniki, the precursors of the Socialist Revolutionaries, argued, since the days of Alexander Herzen, that capitalism and its offspring, the proletariat, could never strike root in Russia’s soil, and that, in consequence, Socialism could never be brought about there by class war? The truth is, every country can claim exemption from the operation of social and historical forces on the plea of “peculiarities”,- since every country is “peculiar”, but underlying all peculiarities are the same social factors—modern industry, capitalism, proletariat, and, now, the world-war which are bound to produce the same effects.
Britain has an old Parliament, and its people has become accustomed to the Parliamentary forms of political warfare? So had Russia, so had France before 1792, so had Germany till yesterday: all had century old monarchies and were used to be governed by an irresponsible bureaucracy from above. But now they are all Republics; Russia, Holy Russia, Russia of the Tsars, Russia of the peasantry, with its superstitious awe before the Little Father, having become a Socialist Republic, and Germany, Germany of the Hohenzollerns and Junkers, Germany of the most marvellously organised bureaucracy, hovering over the brink of the Communist abyss. Our ruling class knows how to yield and compromise? Look at Ireland, look at Egypt, and calculate how much our ruling classes would be prepared to be off and say no more, when it should come to the fundamental issues of power and property. Is it not plain to every student of our history that the “wisdom” of yielding and compromise, with which our ruling classes are generally credited, was but the fruit of their lack of sheer physical power in the shape of a large standing army such as was placed in the hands of their brethren on the continent by the geographical situation and consequent military requirements of their respective countries. With a small army such as they have hitherto had what more could they keep in subjection than Ireland, which was conveniently close at hand, and backward, disorganised countries like India, Egypt, and tropical colonies. The attempts to apply this insufficient force in dealing with their own people at home or in America and Canada necessarily failed each time, and taught them that “wisdom” which in now trotted out by the anti-revolutionary Socialists. But surely the times are changing? Surely the governing classes are perceiving the dangers which have arisen to them from the war and revolution, and are arming in advance, by continuing conscription and by raising Volunteer forces, to meet them when they come too close? Those who cannot read these plain signs of the times are blind. Our ruling classes are no more willing to yield and compromise on the fundamental questions mentioned above than are other ruling classes in our, or before our times, and they will resist by force as the others did.
And how, speaking concretely, are we going to get a Socialist majority in Parliament? Is it to come gradually, in the course of five or ten general elections—that is, in about twenty-five or fifty years? The Socialists who reason so are obviously not young men in a hurry, and the ruling classes will gladly agree to such a “compromise” with Bolshevism, and go peacefully to bed. Or is the majority to burst out overnight? But how will you adjust it precisely for the time of the general election? Suppose the working class suddenly feels a desire to upset the precious capitalist society, but find that the general election to Parliament is only due three years hence. Will they, remembering that they are “traditionally” wedded to Parliamentary methods, pickle their revolutionary ardour as careful German housewives pickle cribbage, and produce it when the Government issues the order for the elections? Or is it not more likely that they will forget their Parliamentary “traditions,” and confront both Parliament and the Government with some such tangible expression and embodiment of their will as a Labour Convention, a congress of delegates from the rank and file, call it Soviet our by any other name? I think that the latter course is more likely—especially as we have had interesting precedents in other countries; and what will Parliament and the Government do then? Will they dissolve themselves and invite the workers to take their seats? Or will they start parleying with them, thereby themselves making the Convention or the Soviet a permanent institution, rivalling in authority and disputing power with Parliament.
One need only put these concrete questions in order to perceive that they admit of one reply only: a revolution, just because it is a revolution, breaks with all traditions and establishes its own practice. Such was the case even in this Parliamentary country in 1649-1659, and such will be the case when the next revolution is made by the proletariat. It will make its revolution outside Parliament and Parliamentary forms of warfare, and we shall see essentially the same phenomena as in other countries.
Are we “in” for such a revolution? Is it our mission to agitate and work for it? Then our place is in the Third International. If not, then the sooner we recognise our mistake in identifying ourselves with the Russian and other Communists and in sending greetings to the revolutionary proletariats of Hungary and Bavaria the better for everybody concerned.