Otto Bauer 1912

Buried Hopes[1]


Source: British Socialist, April 1912, pp.224-231.
From Kampf (Austrian SD).
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

“England is certain of a peaceful solution to her social difficulties and antagonisms. No Englishman has any doubt of that, on whichever side he stands, Right or Left, whether he be an employer or workman. Nowhere in England, is there to be found that state of mind of social pessimism so well known to us, nor that belief among the lower classes of society that salvation is alone to be sought in revolution and in the destruction of the existing order; nor, among the upper classes, the idea that the thing is to have done everything first so as to be able to draw the sword with an easy conscience.”

Thus wrote Schulze-Gaevernitz in the year 1890. He described elaborately how Labour protection laws, trade unions, friendly and co-operative societies had raised the status of the British workman, how tariff agreements, arbitration courts and sliding scales of wages had insured social peace in British industry. Peace between employers and workers according to England’s example – that was the hope of German Social-Liberalism in the nineties. This was not without its effect even deep down in our own ranks. Edward Bernstein acknowledged that his judgment of the Labour movement’s future had been influenced by Schulze-Gaevernitz and other similar thinkers.

The hopes of Social-Liberalism and its Revisionist imitators are buried. There where they thought social peace was certain, the Social Revolution is to-day in progress. For a year the British working class has been in revolt. Upon the gigantic struggles of the railwaymen and transport workers last summer has now followed the gigantic strike of the colliers. These are no longer mere wage-struggles between a group. of employers and a group of workers. The quantity is lost sight of in the quality. The strike becomes the revolution. It is true that riot and high treason, in the sense of the Penal Code are not to he found in the history of the great coal strike. But the strike becomes a revolution when it no longer merely threatens the profits of a single category of employers, but holds up the industrial life of the whole social body. The shareholders of the mining companies may he able to bear for months the stoppage of work in the mines ; but society suffocates if the coal shortage puts out of action the railways, the steamboats and the factories. The effect of the strike is no longer through the pressure on one particular category of employers, it acts as a blow at the life of the whole community. Labour demonstrates the impossibility of the permanence of the capitalist system of production, by simply snaking production impossible far beyond the limits of a particular branch. The mining shareholders fall into the background; the finishing of the strike becomes the business of the administrators of society itself, the function of the Government and of Parliament.

But the end they make of it merely serves to give impetus to fresh struggles. What the miners attain to-day, the workers in gas and electricity, the railwaymen and dockers will conquer tomorrow by the same means. What has succeeded in England to-day will be tried to-morrow by the workers of other countries. The bourgeoisie can only defend themselves from the attack by attempting to diminish the right of combination for those categories of workers whose daily labour is indispensable to society as a whole. But in this way they will bring about the very struggles they desire to avoid.

There is no possibility of social peace, in industry. By the iron logic of its own development the trade union struggle is drifting towards more and more violent and dangerous phases.

Industrial State or agrarian State? – that is the question. The parties which have their roots in the industrial growth of Germany stand together. The industrial working chess is the natural ally of the industrial employing class. Out of Social-Democrats, Radicals, National Liberals must arise the ‘Party of the New German People’s Development.’ Once a ‘Parliamentary Left capable of governing,’ is created, there will begin in Germany a period of united industrial and liberal legislation, a working out of all the elements contained in the basis of the German Empire. The East may mutter and growl, then only will the West and South really quite have found their Emperor. As he stood at Dortmund, – so he ever stands, surrounded by the mass of those in whose eyes the light of the new century burns. The centre of gravity of Germany will be transposed from the right to the left of the Elbe. Just as hitherto the East sought to fasten its ‘Gesindeordnung[2] on the West, so it will now be the great and glorious task of the West and South to carry out an agrarian programme for the East – one peasant-holding after another, right up to the Russian frontier.” Thus wrote Friedrich Naumann in the year 1900. And in this case, too, the hope of a Social-Liberal alliance was not without its effect also on us. The alliance of Social-Democracy with Liberalism, the block from Bebel to Bassermann, is the political ideal of German Revisionism.

No epoch has yet seemed to the employers so favourable as the past year. The National Liberals, separated from their old allies, the Centre and Conservatives, carried on, hand in hand with the Radicals and the Social-Democrats, the struggle against the Blue-black Block. The hour seemed to have come for the realisation of the United Left.

The Social-Democracy adapted its attitude to the new grouping of parties. It carne to a second-ballot agreement with the Radicals. It supported the National Liberals in second ballots. It was complacent towards the Liberals in constituting the new Reichstag. It drew up a programme of Parliamentary action calling upon the Liberals for support. It did right. For two centuries the Liberals have spread the fable that nothing but the obstinacy of the Social-Democrats barred the way to a Union of the Left, which would exclude the squires and parsons from power. Now, the German people had to learn by experience whether a union of workers with employers was possible.

Thus the formation of the Presidency of the Reichstag became a symbol. Scheidemann was elected Vice-President. But the experiment ended, as it was bound to end: after four weeks the National Liberals had turned tail. The Social-Democrat left the presidential chair. And the Kaiser refused to receive the Liberal President because he had kept company for a moment with “those in whose eyes the light of the new century burns"! Not even in a matter so trifling as a presidential election can a league of the Left be found. How, then, would it be if it came to the carrying out of Naumann’s programme, “one peasant-farm after another up to the Russian frontier"?

There is no possibility of any “Block” of the Left! In what domain could it be possible? In social reform? The National Liberal factory-owners will, in company with the squires (Junker), who dread a dearth of labour in the country, vote down the demands for Labour legislation. Taxes? The National Liberals will vote for the agrarian taxes, in order that the squires should vote for their tax-protecting cartels. Armament Bills? The National Liberals will not tamper, any more than will the Conservatives, with the defensive constitution of the capitalist State. Foreign policy? The factory-owners of the West compete with the Heydebrands of the East in the policy of armaments and conquests!

A few Radicals may indeed’ follow in the retinue of the Social-Democrats. But the National Liberals, and soon, probably, the Right Wing of the Radicals, too, can combine much more easily with the squires and parsons than with the Social-Democrats. Not the Union of the Left, but to have one great reactionary mass is Germany’s fate in the near future.

The working class must be victorious over all the property owning parties; it must obtain a majority in the Reichstag alone, so that the “majority of the Left capable of governing” may be rendered possible! Will property, which it threatens, wait inactive till general suffrage gradually gives it this majority? Will not the dice be thrown beforehand, even outside the Reichstag, on the question of the suffrage? Not towards a union of the Left but towards the decisive struggle between the working class and the whole bourgeois world, is the development of Germany drifting.

“The fact may be accepted as certain that the path of raw revolution is abandoned,” wrote Naumann in 1900. And this opinion too, was shared by the Right Wing of our Party. It has even attempted to prove to us by means of geology and biology that idea of revolution is a contradiction to that of evolution.

Since those days we have experienced the Russian revolution of 1905, the Persian revolution of 1906, the Turkish revolution of 1908, the Portuguese revolution of 1910, and the Chinese revolution last year. The revolution in China, the gigantic Empire which has nearly as many inhabitants as all the European States together, is the event of our times most pregnant with consequences. Like all Oriental revolutions, that of China arose from the connection of the Liberal movement of the educated upper class of the nation with the Conservative national-religious movement against foreigners and the new developments of the masses.

The Liberal movement of the educated upper class begins after China’s defeat in the war of 1894 against Japan. It rapidly wins over an influential portion of officialdom. Under its influence the young Emperor, Kuang-Hsu, announced in 1898 his policy, “to imitate European methods, because, though China and Europe are equally of opinion that the primary object of the State is the welfare of the people, Europe is more advanced in this conception than we are, so that, by adopting European methods, merely remedy our deficiencies.” In the first place the Emperor tries to transform army and schools according to European example. But after 100 days of reform a coup-d’état on the part of the reactionaries puts an end to the attempts at reform. The Emperor is taken prisoner, the dowager-Empress, Tzu-Hsi, assumes the Regency, the leaders of the reform movement are executed.

And now, among the masses of the people, the National-conservative movement arises. The Boxers – half militia, half a religious sect, rise (1900) to drive the foreigners out of China, and put an end to the propagation of Christianity on Chinese territory, to liberate primeval Chinese tradition from all foreign influencies, and to regain China’s independence towards the world powers. Europe replies by the campaign of the Huns. The seizure of Pekin by the European troops is the deepest humiliation for the Middle Empire.

The Russian-Japanese War (1904) is an encouragement for the humiliated nation. For it is now proved that the Mongolians can be victorious over a great European Power if they make use of European methods. The reform movement arises again. Schools and army are reorganised on a European pattern, railways are built, students sent to Japanese, American, and European colleges, provincial Diets convened, a Constitution promised.

But these reforms do not satisfy the national movement. Its representatives are: patriotic officials, who long for the reorganisation of the downtrodden country; the merchant class, who announce the boycott of foreign goods and oppose the concessions made to foreign capitalists; the officers of the reorganised army; the teachers and scholars of the reorganised high schools; the students and workmen who have been in Japan, America, and Europe, and have there become acquainted with higher forms of social and national existence. But, unlike the movement of 1898, the national reform movement now meets with a ready response among the masses of the people. This it gains by appealing to the Chinaman’s double national antipathy: his hatred as a Chinaman of the Tartar Manchus’ alien rule, and his hatred as an Asiatic to the presumption of the European strangers. “Soldiers from Europe force their way in. Hark! In the palace of the Emperor are heard the footsteps of the man who receives the strangers with open arms”; so runs the warning of the revolutionary song. The Manchu dynasty must fall that China may regain its might and independence. Thus the Intellectuals, educated in America, win over the masses for the programme of a Republican federated State on the American pattern. The use of European and American methods as a means of liberation from European and American pressure – that is the explanation of the revolution. The Liberal-reform movement of 1898 and the popular-national reaction of 1900 have become welded into a higher unity.

Supported by a considerable portion of the army and of the official class, the revolution succeeds. But, just as the French Constituent Assembly of 1789 was not the end but the beginning of a revolutionary epoch which lasted ten years, so the proclamation of the Chinese Republic is not the end but the beginning of the Chinese revolution. All the internal antagonisms are opened out anew: the antagonism between the necessity for a rapid transformation, and the conservative instinct of the masses, which clings to primeval tradition, between the Empire and the provinces which are craving for independence, between the South and the North, between the landowners and the farmers, between town and country. In the largest Empire on earth there begins a period of gigantic internal struggles, of enormous changes.

All the Powers have possessions on Chinese territory, and all are eager to extend their possessions. Each new phase of the Chinese revolution will be a welcome opportunity for them to pursue their booty. But every State grudges the others their share in this booty. For that little bit of Morocco we have been twice on the verge of war. What will it be like when China is in question? Increased armaments, growing burdens of taxation, intensified menace of war – these will be the first effects in Europe of the Chinese revolution.

The responsibility for a war between great European Powers has now become so enormous that, in view of the dangers with which such a war would threaten the whole civilised world, in view of the remoteness of the chances of gaining anything by it, and the ever greater probability of destruction, any such insanity would already seem to be impossible.” Thus wrote Alfred J. Fricd, the theoretician of the Peace movement, seven years ago. This opinion, too, crept into our ranks. Some wanted to fetter the war-god by arbitration treaties and declarations of neutrality; others to prevent war by the threat of the mass-strike if it broke out. The idea that the tithe of revolutions was over coupled itself with the belief in the maintenance of peace; for in history war was often the source of revolution, and revolution the source of war.

Will anybody to-day dare to say that a war between great European powers seems impossible? Even to-day, after the war scares of the Morocco crisis in 1905, the annexation crisis of 1909, and the terrors of last summer? Does anybody still think to-day that the world-Powers’ struggle for supremacy could be peaceably settled by the judicial court at The Hague? Does anybody yet to-day, after the experiences of last summer, feel certain that the veto of the working class could, at the last moment, in the hour of the greatest national excitement, arrest those tendencies of capitalism which are forcing on a world-war?

Just at the present moment two European Powers are at war. A wretched war, which does not extend beyond the fringe of the Tripoli coast. But how will it end? Will, if the war continues, the Italian fleet appear before the Dardanelles and revive the old bone of contention, the right of free passage to the Black Sea, the question which touches the vital interests of all the Powers around the Mediterranean? Or, if Turkey submits, and leaves the Arabs of Tripoli alone to fight for their liberty against the foreign conqueror, will not the old hatred between Arab and Turk, which was suppressed heavily enough in 1911, flare up afresh? Will the end of the war shake the prestige of the Young Turkish Government, and give the counter-revolution a welcome excuse, re-arouse the unrest in Albania and Macedonia, giving the small Balkan States the longed-for occasion for a brigand expedition? Who to-day would dare to prophecy what will be the result of a war that may open up all the unsolved problems between the Adriatic and the Persian Gulf?

And what is to-day’s anxiety about Turkey beside the incomparably greater questions which may arise to-morrow in China, in Persia, in India? Who would still have the courage to-day, in this hour of doubled armaments in all the States, to say that a war between great European powers was impossible?

Social-Liberalism and Revisionism came into being during an interval of repose in history. They thought the world’s history was closed, that no more great events were in store for us. No more class struggle – only peaceful negotiating between the trade union representatives and the employers’ representatives at the green table of the Arbitration Court. No more forcible upsetting of political powers – a Parliamentary league of the Labour Party with bourgeois parties would gradually transform the States. No more wars of the peoples – the Hague Arbitration Court would smooth out all disputes. No more revolutions – peaceable “undermining of capitalism,” gradual “growing-in” to the Socialist Commonwealth!

But history marches quite otherwise. Eighty years of the most violent upheavals – 1789 to 1871 – were necessary in order to create the bourgeois world. It was a time of sanguinary race-wars, of frightful revolutions, a time in which old States disappeared and new Empires arose, a time of the rapid overthrow of many a Constitution. By such roads humanity had to travel in order to replace the feudal by the capitalist world. And will the path be different by which we shall reach the building up of Socialism on the ruins of capitalism?


1. From the German of Otto Bauer in the April number of the Kampf (the “Struggle”), the monthly organ of the Austrian Social-Democracy.

2. A special and very reactionary law controlling country labourers and servants in some German States.

Last updated on 4.11.2008