Ernest Belfort Bax

Internecine Divisions in the Socialist Party

(18 June 1892)

Internecine Divisions in the Socialist Party, Justice, 18th June 1892, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The English Socialist party up to the present time has been numerically small. In the progress of Socialism in this country, as elsewhere, one must distinguish between the party, properly so called, and the general movement. The new English Social-Democracy, both as a party and as a movement, is a growth of the last ten years. We well recollect the time when the word “Socialism” connoted to the ears of our countrymen nothing but Utopian theories; rabid diatribes, and utter defiance of all the laws of political economy – the epoch when people used to urge, as a crushing and conclusive argument, that, if you should divide the total wealth of the country into equal portions to-morrow, you would the day after have fresh inequalities manifested; that the thrifty, the industrious as they termed it (the gradgrinding, cunning knaves as we Social-Democrats would say to-day), would get the advantage immediately over the idle, the extravagant, and the otherwise wicked. Few men who have any concern for their intellectual reputation would dare to put forward these arguments now in so bold a form.

Within the last decade or thereabouts the Socialist movement has “permeated” more or less the whole working-classes of the country, and the ideas of Socialism have won for themselves recognition from the intelligent of even the middle class. Can we say that the Social-Democratic party has grown proportionately to the diffusion of Social-Democratic principles? No one will, I think, venture to make this assertion. And if not, why not? The economic development, some will say with a measure of truth, has not yet gone far enough to force on the more complete organisation of the party. But we believe that, to some extent, the cause may be found in the personal disputes which have existed, and do exist, amongst English Collectivists. Like the measles, they are the inevitable accompaniment of the infancy of the movement. And like the maladies peculiar to the infantile organism, they are often the fruitful cause of delay in growth and healthy development.

With one or two exceptions, the internecine warfare of Socialists in this country has been a mere “pot and kettle” business. Pot’s insinuations against the kettle’s character ought to be interesting to pot and kettle alone, but this has not been so in the past. Like the meaningless badges of the Byzantine circus, these personal recriminations against individuals have served as the rallying-cries of sections. The true and only colour, the red of Social Democracy, has been forgotten in the strife between the “blue” and “green” factions. It is not made a question of recognised difference and fair discussion, but nothing will do on” either side but an unequivocal belief in the utter villainy of the opponents. Every action, public or private, is coloured by the one fixed idea of the black treachery and scoundrelism of Short seen in the clear white light which encompasses Codlin.

Oftentimes, when investigated, many of these insinuations resolve themselves into trivialities of an almost humorous kind. One man has committed the crime of writing articles for a paper which, like most papers in the present day, is a bourgeois one. Another, it is whispered, has been guilty of unseemly language or conduct in the presence of, say, his great aunt. Against a third is brought the vague charge of intriguing; this reminds one of the stock charge of “conspiracies within the prisons” brought by Robespierre against the “fourneaux” (the “batches”) in the last days of the Terror. A little obtrusiveness of self-estimation, a little pecuniary remissness, an obstinacy in opinions or tactics, all these are made capital offences when personal enemies are in question.

The fact is a strong party does not tolerate personal squabbles, by whomsoever they may be initiated. It does not permit the canvassing of every detail of private character in the light of a party concern. As a matter of fact, the reputation of a man as a member of a party may not be homogeneous with his character in his personal relations. We have in our mind instances of persons who have been for years hard workers for the cause, whose party-character is unimpeachable, but who are nevertheless sometimes difficult to get on with in private life. And, conversely, we know some whom we would personally trust to the uttermost, but politically as far as we could see them and no farther. The former, we believe, can often, and the latter seldom, be used in the interests of the party. Anyway it behoves us to leave unimpeachable homogeneity of character to the editor of the Review of Reviews, to Mr. Hugh Price Hughes, or to other directors of that respectable firm, the Non-conformist Conscience. Their ideal perfections we may admire at a distance, but few of us can hope to attain.


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 5.6.2004