R. Page Arnot
Source: The Communist Review, July 1923, Vol. 4, No. 3.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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 Conference at Hamburg in the last week of May, which the Second International and the Vienna Union (or Two-and-a-half International) were fused into a single body, is of great importance in the development of the working-class struggle. It is of importance, but not for the reason given by the fusionists. To them Hamburg is the ending of the divisions in the Socialist movement caused by the great war; to us it marks the formation of a definitely anti-Communist bloc, the clearing away of the confusions caused by the wavering centre parties, the paving of the way for fascism in every country.
By all accounts, this Hamburg Conference was very touching. Emotion was generated in great quantities. The leaders of the Second International, long ago forgetting the quarrels they had had as patriotic supporters of the Kaiser on the one hand, and of the Entente bourgeoisie on the other, had been sorely vexed by the revolt of their pacifist sections during and immediately after the war. The faith of Clifford Allen in the wise leadership of Henderson had been badly shaken: the faith of Hilferding in Noske had almost entirely disappeared. But now the Second International could use the words of Shakespeare, and say magnanimously of Hamburg that it did “unthread the rude eye of rebellion and welcome home again discarded faith.” On its side the Vienna Union, rising to even greater heights of magnanimity was prepared to welcome out of the abundance of its pacifism those who had driven the workers by millions to be killed. The Holy Spirit moved on the face of the waters of the Alster,  and everybody was forgiven by everybody else until seventy times seven: there was complete tolerance.
Nevertheless this complete tolerance was rather like the complete religious toleration accorded by Cromwell’s Puritans to all religions—“except atheists and Catholics.” In the same way the complete tolerance of the Hamburg Conference does not apply to the Communists, and the rules of the new organisation have been very carefully drafted so as to secure that they shall never be applicable to Communists.
The differences which divided the pacifists and the Second International were only apparent: the real difference was between the Communist International and all the others. Thus, the significance of this Hamburg Conference is its formation of a definitely anti-Communist International: everything else is mere words.
The account of the sessions of the Conference and the preliminaries bears this out. First the conditions of summons were such as to exclude the Communists. Only those Parties were invited to attend which accepted the following conditions:—
(1) The principle of the economic emancipation of the workers from capitalist domination as their object, and the independent political and industrial section of the workers’ organisations as the means of realising that object;
(2) The unity of the International Trade Union movement of Amsterdam as an absolute essential for the realisation of that emancipation;
(3) The resolution of the Hague World Peace Conference, 1922, on “The Mission of organised Labour in the movement of World Peace,” as the present basis in all action when there is imminent danger of war, and recognise the necessity of adopting a clear and definite policy to be pursued by the workers’ movement in case of war;
(4) Recognise the Labour and Socialist International, not only as an effective instrument in peace, but an absolute essential during war;
(5) Agree after the formation of a Labour and Socialist International not to affiliate to any other political International.
Clause 1 means anything or nothing. Clause 4 is the sort of death-bed repentance that pleases priests; as the song goes, “When the devil was ill, the devil a monk would be.” Clauses 2 and 5 are directed against the Communist International, and in so far as a reference in Clause 3 to the farcical Hague Conference of last year has any meaning at all, it is to debar the Bolsheviks because they will not stop exposing it as a farce. Not only were the pre-conditions of the Conference thus mainly aimed at the Communists, but out of all the discussions the one that was marked by a note of passionate sincerity was that in which the Communists were cursed, damned, and excommunicated. It is impossible, reading the fragmentary accounts of the Conference, not to be struck by the whole-hearted sincerity of the hatred shown to the Communist International. It contrasts with the insincerity of the fundamental paragraph of the new Constitution, which is as follows:—
“The Labour and Socialist International (L.S.I.) is a union of such parties as accept the principle of the class struggle for the economic emancipation of the workers from capitalist domination and the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth as their object, and the independent political and industrial action of the workers’ organisations as a means of realising that object.”
“Such parties as accept the principle of the class struggle.” How does this square with the repeated declarations of the Labour Party that it is not a class party, or with the repudiations of Marxism by its best known leaders? In its total abstention from the class struggle at home, and its swallowing the formula of the class struggle during its week-end at Hamburg the Labour Party is like some Scotch teetotallers of my acquaintance, who, when at home in Glasgow “Never touched it,” but were perfectly willing to tipple at Brodick Fair. The significance of this Hamburg Conference, then, emerges in its anti-Communist character. But to have said that is not an explanation. It is necessary to discover how it should be anti-Communist, how the many divisions in the Labour movement have gradually disappeared or been stopped up, leaving the one big gulf between the Communists and the anti-Communists.
To get this, we must go a little further back than the emergence of the Vienna Union. The question is that of the most fundamental division first showing itself in debate, and secondly in Party organisation. It is the difference between those who believe in co-operation, however partial, however temporary, but still co-operation, with the bourgeois State and those who will have nothing to do with the capitalist State. That difference emerged at the International Socialist Congress held at Amsterdam in 1904. A well-known French socialist had taken part in the formation of a French radical cabinet. He claimed that his action was perfectly consistent with a socialist standpoint, or (since the word Socialist is now used to justify any and every activity) let us put it that he frankly endeavoured to justify his action on the ground that it was in the true interests of the proletariat. The matter was debated in France in 1903; it was brought up at the International Socialist Congress in 1904. Jaures, Bebel, Kautsky and all the others discussed it, and in the end it was decided that the action of that French socialist was opposed to the interests of the working class. The name of that French Socialist was Alexandre Millerand: he is now head of the capitalist State in France.
Further, it was laid down that no socialist must enter a coalition with the bourgeois parties. But the decision went deeper than the mere question of joining this or that ministry. It was the division between those who believed in working with the capitalist state and those who, believing the State to be the Executive Committee of the capitalist class, would have no truck with it. It is true that the poison within the Second International was even then at work, the poison which consisted in adding clause after clause to resolutions until they became perfectly meaningless, and so could not possibly offend anyone. Therefore this decision was hedged about with clauses which allowed for exceptions, but the actual decision does not matter: the important thing is that the two fundamentally conflicting conceptions of socialism were brought to an issue.
It was therefore but as a pendant to this resolution on working class independence that the Congresses of Stuttgart (1907), Copenhagen (1910), and Basle (1912) passed and repassed the resolutions defining the attitude of the Socialist parties in the case of a European war. The outbreak of the war, however, concealed for a time the fundamental differences. The line of cleavage was between those who supported their Governments, making timely use of the exceptional clauses in the 1904 resolution in order to enter coalitions, become ministers and effective recruiting agents on the one side, and on the other those who being tinged with Cobdenite pacifism would not support their Government in a war, together, of course, with the minority who remained faithful to the resolutions of the International capitalist resolution and would have no truck with the bourgeois on any action. The lines of division occurring in this manner it was some little time before the true differences began to appear. At the Zimmerwald Conference of September, 1915, the cry was not for peace through socialism and social revolution, but simply for peace, peace without annexations and without indemnities, peace at once and peace at any price. The succeeding Conference of anti-war socialists held in April, 1916, at Kienthal made the distinction plain. The language of the resolutions is clear. Not only are the patriotic socialists denounced, but the futility of bourgeois pacifism is exposed, and the hope of any real peace under capitalism is declared to be an illusion; the only peace that endures will come with the triumph of socialism. The triumph of socialism is, therefore, the only urgent question.
Already we see the outlines of the Third International gleaming; already the complete betrayal of the workers by the chiefs of the Second International has made it clear that the new International, if it is to start clean and honest must not include any of these discredited traders and bankrupt merchants.
At the same time as the Versailles Conference, a Socialist Conference is held at Basle: that Conference is like the marionette players. The Entente Socialists raise the question of Germany ’s guilt at the same time as Monsieur Clemenceau and others are reaching, on the same subject at Versailles, and the German Social Democratic Party replies to the same purpose as, a few months later, did Count Brockdorff Rantzau at Versailles. In the best manner of the Big Four dictating to the defeated Central Empires, it was laid down that future congresses should have as a main item on their agenda the question of the responsibility for the war; the second main item which it was decided should be discussed was the question of Democracy. A resolution was passed which contained the telling phrase:—
“A society more and more permeated with socialism (the Fabian touch) cannot be realised, much less permanently established, unless it rests upon triumphs of DEMOCRACY and has rooted in the principles of liberty.”
We are back again it is clear to the year 1776, and the American Declaration of Independence that preceded and guaranteed the white terrors of capitalism of the United States. To the resolution on Democracy the answer was given in the next month, March, 1919, in the “Thesis on Bourgeois Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship,” the first pronouncement of the newly-formed Communist International. The ambiguities of the pre-war International were past; the possibility of contradictory views existing in the same organisation no longer survived: it had led to the bloodshed of 1914. Against those who had insisted on fulfilling the 1904 resolution against co-operation with the bourgeoisie, there was uttered the shibboleth of Democracy and liberty by the war-mongers, who (to do them justice), never failed to say that it was for these things they were fighting or inducing others to fight. The challenge was taken up, and the nature of bourgeois democracy and bogus liberty, examined and exposed. It is no wonder that the jingo Socialists have now formed an anti-Communist International.
The call of the Third International was at once responded to. Movement was felt amongst the workers, everywhere the leaders were forced to make the appearance of a move towards the new International. Inside such parties as the French Socialist Party, the German Independent Socialist Party, the I.L.P., the response of the working class elements was unmistakable. The leaders, however, hesitated. They stated that they were anxious to have a reconstructed international on a wider basis than that laid down in the Manifesto of the Third International. They wanted something, as the I. L. P. put it, which would leave the national sections complete autonomy, by which I understand it meant liberty to accept the class-struggle in international congresses and to repudiate it at home. In Germany, in France, and in other countries during the next eighteen months the majority of the parties, including nearly all the working class elements, went over to the Communist International.
It might have been thought that the adherence of the majority of these parties to the Communist International settled the question. No, curiously enough, it was immediately after the adhesion of the majority of these parties that the remainder set themselves to build up an International which would neither be the Second International nor the Third International, and which approximately received the name of the Two-and-a-Half. Before they began it was predicted that they were a sort of astral body, temporarily detached from the Second International, and that while this astral body might roam for a time through the ether in quest of its ideal of cosmic unity, it was bound sooner or later to return to the vile corpus, from which it was but an emanation. They carried on this spiritualistic trickery for a couple of years, at the end of which, they suddenly re-united with the jingo Socialists, crying as they did so, “At last we have the one united International.”
No doubt some of them really deceived themselves. Socialists brought up in the atmosphere of Imperialistic Britain are naturally adepts at the art of self-deception. One can imagine Charles Buxton, or better still, Clifford Allen, as Sir Galahad in search of the Holy Grail of International Unity. Again and again they cross the misty seas, again and again they return defeated, but still hopeful. At last one fine May-day, in the year of our Saviour nineteen-hundred-and-twenty-three, they come sailing over the sea from Germany and spread the glad tidings that they have found the Holy Grail: and the faith and fervour of Sir Galahad is so strong that no one has the courage to break it to him that what he has got is not the Holy Grail of Joseph of Arimathea, but simply a batterered old pint pot from the tavern of the Second International.
The object of spiritualists, like other charlatans, is to fool the populace, and holy legends, like that of Sir Galahad, have often bemused a people in the past and helped to keep it from revolt. Here it is that we find the reason for the existence of the Two-and-a-Half. After the war, within a few short months, as the workers began to realise their conditions, the chiefs of the Second International with their policies and reformist illusions, were hopelessly discredited. For nearly three years after the armistice the masses were still in a revolutionary mood. What is more, that mood was growing and spreading ever wider. At the beginning large numbers of the workers were sunk in slumber, lulled by the promises of the Second International, made when they were members of Governments and Royal Ministers; with the end of the war, and even before it in some cases, the trustfulness of the masses passed away. Very quickly it became clear that nothing would hold them back from following a revolutionary lead, or at any rate, from following those who spoke in revolutionary phrases, whether they meant it or not. The old magics were stale: reformism was seen through as an illusion: the overthrow of capitalism was recognised as the only solution that would be lasting. It was at this point that the Centre Parties, the Parties whose leaders afterwards formed the Two-and-a-Half, began to talk wild, began to pass most revolutionary resolutions, began to invent special red pigments and paint themselves all over. The German Independent Socialists in December, 1919, at their Leipsig Congress, declared for Workers’ Councils and also for the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was all camouflage, of course, but the workers were not to know that. Nothing could be more scathing than the references of some of the Two-and-a-Half people to the Second International. They referred to it with opprobrious epithets, and even as late as December, 1920, the manifesto of the preliminary meeting of the Two-and-a-Half referred to the “so called Second International” as the “only obstacle to the unity of the working class.” More than that, the I.L.P. set about revising its obsolete constitution, and in proof of its modernity called in Mr. G. D. H. Cole to help. The months from the signature of the Versailles Treaty to the spring of 1922 were passed in the most desperate and revolutionary manner. Swashbuckling speeches were made by the Centrists, and in return for the swashbuckling speeches the bourgeois Governments handed out some transient concessions. The working class, or parts of it, stilled by these concessions, rejoiced that they had followed the tactics of the Two-and-a-Half and not run after the men of Moscow, who were so dangerous, so divorced from common sense, so unaware of political conditions in this country (whichever country it was), so narrow in their views.
When the tide turned, when the capitalist offensive begun, their work was finished. First their tone changed into one of much greater conciliation; secondly, the concessions they had won were taken away again by the capitalists (for example, Trade Boards Extension, Mines Act, etc.); and finally, under the stress of the capitalist offensive, the revolutionary mood of the workers and the concessions that bought off that revolutionary mood having both disappeared, the Two-and-a-Half International quietly disappeared also. It was gathered to its forefathers, its forefathers of the Second International. Deceiving or self-deceived (it does not greatly matter which) it had served the capitalists in their hour of need. This was the historic rôle of the Two-and-a-Half International.
But the importance of the recent Conference was not so much in its Organisation of the anti-Communist forces within the working class as such, or in the fitting ending that it gave to the meteoric career of the Two-and-a-half, but in its relation to the menace of the capitalist offensive. It is by its alteration of the factors in the class struggle that the Hamburg Conference is really important.
Let us for a moment consider the position of the enemy. The Bourgeoisie, like the socialists of the Second International, has for five long years hoped for normalcy, for tranquility, for a return of the good old peaceful days and so on. Every disturbance, every uprising, everything that would tell an experienced observer that he was on the verge of a volcano, tells them simply nothing. All these things are so many isolated instances, and to none more so than to the journalists and pundits of the new Labour and Socialist International. “If only Monsieur Poincaré were defeated,” they sigh, or, “If only the President of the U.S.A. would authorise a billion credits to Europe,” or, “Now that Mr. Lloyd George has gone, if only Lord Robert Cecil would”—; so they go on. But after five years of these hopes, some amongst the bourgeoisie are beginning to doubt if the world can be set right so easily. The times are rather out of joint, they feel, and drastic must be the remedy. They find on the one hand an anarchy of production which has led to the crisis of unemployment that continually threatens future wars, struggles for the markets and “yards of mud between two blades of grass.” Against this they have no remedy. Their spells and incantations, their armed forces and their aeroplane squadrons, their hoarded gold and their printing presses are all of no avail. On the other hand they feel that their trouble comes from the movements and uneasy stirring of the subject classes against them. If the weapons of persuasion, religious dope, class education and newspaper propaganda have no effect, then repression must be used. Is not repression used already? it may be asked. Indeed it is, but legal repression in these days is not enough. The learned professors read in their books that the repressive laws of the Spartans against their Helots were not enough to ensure the safety of the State, and that therefore divers of the Lacedeamonian young men were licensed to walk abroad and put to death any Helot they might find. A lesson like that can be very easily applied: and Fascism is the result. It has begun in Italy; it has spread to Poland and Hungary and Yugo-Slavia; there are signs of it in France, and it has its backers in this country. It has sprung up in various forms in America, and even in Japan, where there might seem but little need of it—so complete is the domination of the ruling class. It has begun. Before the next election in France, Fascism will be tried, while the whole policy of the Entente towards Germany is to destroy the “Jew Republic,” as they call it, and introduce a monarchist, Fascist, re-action to seize power. Exit the new German State and the pale shadow of socialisation, of which the Second International was once so proud.
As Fascism spreads, everything gets ready for a grand final assault on Soviet Russia. Even as I write, the news comes through that sixty Japanese Communists have been arrested on a charge of “conspiring to set up a Communist Party.” As Marcel Cachin was arrested by the Ruhr-monger Poincaré, so the arrest of these Japanese Communists will be utilised to prevent a Trade Agreement between Japan and Soviet Russia. The European situation is black; the world situation is blacker still.
The formation of the Labour and Socialist International paves the way to Fascism. Firearms Acts may be put in force against the workers: nothing disarms the workers so completely or heartens the would-be Fascists so much as the Labour and Socialist International. Do we see any sign of it in this country? The answer is in the affirmative. In the spring of this year there was every sign of a Labour revolt. The mood of despair amongst the workers was passing away. The Times, which knows its England, was saying gloomily that the country was in far the biggest industrial struggles it had ever faced. The builders, the agricultural workers, the miners, the shipbuilders, all these, and many more, were on the move. Where is that revolt now, what has smothered it? Everyone has forgotten the gloomy anticipations of the governing class, and what has smothered it? It was the combination of the Labour machine with the bourgeois machine: the sleeper was awakening, everything had to be done to keep him quiet. Thus, while Fascism is being prepared behind the scenes the stage is set for Fascism by the complete organisation of the Labour forces of Western Europe under the constitutionalist banner. It effectually does disarm the, workers. Apart from those led by the Communists, the workers put-up no resistance, physical or moral. When the British Mussolini is given his cue and steps on to the stage, he will be able to say that it was “a bloodless revolution.”
1. The river of Hamburg.