E. Belfort Bax

The German Party
Its Misfortunes and its Faults

(June 1891)

The German Party – Its Misfortunes and its Faults, Justice, 27th June 1891. [1]
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The German section of the Socialist Party as the most numerous, best organised, and most educated, naturally carries a weight as regards its utterances to which no other national section can lay claim. For this reason we suppose there is a persistent conspiracy on the part of the bourgeois press, now by distorting speeches and proceedings, now by misrepresenting the opinions of an isolated individual as the pronouncement of the party as a whole, to convey the impression that German Social Democracy as abjectly worships moderation and respectability as any English Radical candidate. An instance of this occurred last year anent the Halle Congress, when Reuter’s agency circulated a telegram consisting of a garbled report of a single speech in a lengthy discussion, which led many persons in this country to think that the German Socialists were clamorously eager to lick the boots of the Prussian “evangelical” clergy.

The occasion of the present article is the prominence given by a well-known evening journal to a report of a speech made at a meeting at Munich by Volmar, one of the Reichstag members for that city. We have not had an opportunity of seeing a full report of the speech, but assuming the Pall Mall version to be correct (and it appears to be substantially borne out by the comments of the German party papers), it undoubtedly contains doctrines which, if not constituting a technical breach of the party programme, are such as every thorough-going Socialist will repudiate with loathing.

It is satisfactory to find that Herr Volmar has been in some quarters already severely handled by our German comrades. To say as the representative of Munich is reported to have done, that “ in the event of war the French party will find that German Socialists are first of all Germans” is, we are convinced, a monstrous libel on the immense majority of the German Social Democracy, and fully justifies the demand of the Berlin Shoemakers’ Union for his expulsion from the party. We deny that any vexation at the attitude or language of the French Chauvinist press can justify utterances such as the foregoing. It is easy to attack the infamous Franco-Russian alliance, and stigmatise the way in which a certain section of Frenchmen are grovelling in the dust before the Czar without throwing to the winds a fundamental principle of the movement. The injurious effect is seen at once. The German reactionary organs are aflame with laudations of the patriotic Volmar; the English bourgeois press reproduces the sentiments of the hero of Orleans as those of the German Social Democracy in general, to point an implied moral that blood is thicker than principle, and that after all the fine old crusted instinct of national antipathy will outlive all new-fangled notions of international solidarity, proletarians of all countries uniting themselves, &c. And the worst of it is that this feeling reacts upon and discourages the working classes themselves.

It is necessary to point out the use that is made of any seemingly reactionary expressions of the leaders of the German party, and how eagerly they are reproduced over here and doubtless elsewhere by the bourgeois press, in order to indicate the responsibility of their leaders to the cause of international Socialism. The importance to the progress of the Revolution throughout all Europe of the proceedings of the party in Germany imposes a special obligation upon those who represent it to be at once clear and circumspect in their utterances.

It cannot be denied that a spirit of great moderation and exemplary respectability seems to have been wafted from heaven or elsewhere upon the bearers of certain respected names since the fall of the coercive legislation. The mere political radicalism of the Baden programme has come upon many as an unwelcome surprise, and as looking like a tendency to drift into mere political opportunist currents. This is, doubtless, a matter of internal tactics which it would be an ineptitude in outsiders to criticise. Nevertheless the fact may be noticed.

But it is in external matters that injudicious words and actions concern us most directly, and here we have an undoubted right of criticism. For example, the forwarding of official congratulations on 1st of May to a society of particular reactionary patriotic Poles while studiously ignoring the party working in Poland for the common cause of international revolutionary Socialism, can only be interpreted by the most charitable as an act of inexcusable carelessness, We know, of course, that we are all liable to make mistakes, as the Chinese executioner remarked when he cut off the wrong man’s head, and it would be absurd to expect immaculacy in men who have the heavy work of the party organisation, in Germany on their hands, but still there should be limits even to the blundering of Socialist leaders.




1. This article was replied to later in the year by Dalchow.


Last updated on 29.2.2004