E. Belfort Bax

The International Situation

(24 October 1890)

From Justice, 24 October 1890, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In how far are Socialists interested in the international complications of the existing state-system of Europe? This is a question which can hardly fail to recur to the thinking and newspaper-reading Socialist, and workman conscious of his class interests, from time to time. At first sight one is disposed to regard such questions as outside the range of Socialist party-interests, as concerning merely the capitalist and official classes. A little closer view, however, shows us that although they only directly concern the aforesaid classes, yet that they may have a very important indirect bearing on the democratic and Socialist movement.

All questions of foreign policy are discussed and decided by those immediately concerned in directing foreign policy solely with a view to the interests of the privileged classes of the particular nation they represent – these interests ranging from the monopoly of trade and the opening up of new markets for the creation of government posts for “younger sons” and the disclosure of fresh fields and pastures new whereon the forensic, military, and administrative abilities of the middle and upper classes may display themselves, and their possessors fatten. These are the primary interests of foreign policy to-day. But the conflict of these interests, when pursued by force of arms, especially today, when war means the throwing of a whole working-class population into the field, it is quite impossible should not be a crushingly important factor in the retardation or development of the Social Revolution.

Were the situation economically and intellectually further advanced than it is; could we, as the excellent Domela Nienuwenhuis suggested at the Brussels Congress, proclaim a general strike on the first declaration of hostilities; were there an enormous and consolidated body of the working classes prepared in all those countries constituting what are termed the “great powers,” to refuse to take up arms or in any way to aid the prosecution of war, or to rise in insurrection on its first declaration, the position of Socialists would be plain and simple. But we all know such is not the case, and that the attempt to carry out such a policy must necessarily be farcical, were it not suicidal.

The question then resolves itself into this: Given the present. European combination, Germany, Austria, and Italy on the one side, and France and Russia on the other, in the event of war, the victory of which side in the struggle would be most conducive to the speedy triumph of the Social Revolution in all the countries concerned, vanquished no less than victors. This, and this alone, is our concern as a party. The victory, in so far as it would result in strengthening the position of the governing classes in any of these countries is an immediate evil; but which is the lesser of two evils, that the triple alliance or the Franco-Russian should win, if one of them must? There can be little doubt in the mind of anyone who “grasps the situation,” that in the latter case two things would happen. Firstly, the great reactionary force in European politics, the Russian autocracy, would acquire a new lease of life; and, secondly, France would fall under the power of the General who had made most noise in the campaign. Either or both of these things would mean the condition of all others most adverse to the Social movement, not only in France and Russia, but over the rest of Europe. Russia is regarded as the great Conservative bulwark by the reactionary classes of Austria and Germany, and the crushing of the latter countries by Russia (even if we set aside annexation on any extended scale as an impossible contingency) must mean the domination of every reactionary element, such a domination as has not been known in Europe since the days of the “Holy Alliance.” It would simply be the unlimited intensification of the present police system of Central Europe.

There is a tendency among English working men to favour France as a “Republic” against imperialist Germany. But let them not be led away by phrases. The value of French republican sentiment, even from the most commonplace point of view, may be gauged by the crawling and bootlicking attitude (not of the French Government merely), but of the French people toward the Czar. It is alleged that were the Czar candidate for the post of president of the French Republic to-day he would be elected by a majority of not less than a million votes. Whether this be true or not, it is certainly significant of the situation. As we all know, French jingo sentiment sweeps every other sentiment in the French mind before it like chaff before the wind. Whatever other excellencies the French character may have, no reliance can be placed on it, so long as it continues to be the victim of tawdry “patriotism” and bunkum about “La France.” The French working classes musk learn a wholesome contempt for “La France” before they will their rank as a leading factor in the International Social Democracy.

On the other hand the freeing of the German element of Central Europe from the pressure of France and Russia cannot fail to mean the downfall of the existing system and the beginning of the Revolution within a measurable period in these countries. This international pressure is the sole barrier to revolution at present in Germany, and probably in Austria. The dread of the Muscovite gives pause to all. Its removal would mean speedy revolution and the assumption of the revolutionary leadership of the world by the German party. And never have the Germans shown themselves better fitted for the post than by their recent conduct at Erfurt, by the unanimity and decision with which they poleaxed the rotten old knacker, Chauvinism, yclept “vaterlandsliebe,” in the trotting out of which Herr von Vollmer thought to acquire a little cheap popularity.

E. Belfort Bax

[We print our comrade Bax’s article as he has written it, but we have not the slightest confidence ourselves in the competence of the German Social-Democrats to lead the international revolutionary party. Neither the economical nor geographical position of their country nor their national characteristics qualify them for this post. – Ed. Justice [1]]


Footnote by MIA

1. The editor of Justice at this time was none other than H.M. Hyndman.


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