Ernest Belfort Bax

Germany Shows The Way

(24 June 1893)

Germany shows the way, Justice, 24th June 1893, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The success of our party in the recent German elections, though not exactly unexpected by either friends or foes, is nevertheless making middle-class politicians and their representatives in the Press emphatically to “sit up.” This is evident from the very lame attempts of the latter, notably in certain metropolitan would-be Radical organs, to minimise or, at all events, to explain away its importance. The Morning Leader has the impertinence to try and persuade its readers that all that the Social-Democratic vote at the polls really implied was opposition to the Government Army Bill. Such drivelling imbecility as this would scarcely seem to need refutation, and could only have been written by some one who either knew nothing of the subject himself or was attempting to impose on people whom he believed to be similarly ignorant. It is enough to point out, of course, that all the parties who made a particular plank in their programme of opposition to the Army Bill, notably its most uncompromising opponents outside the Social-Democratic party – Herr Richter and his followers – have failed most signally at the polls. It would scarcely be an exaggeration to aver that not one single vote was given to Social Democrats merely on account of their opposition to the Army Bill.

The Daily Chronicle adopts as its special contribution to the question the point of ignoring the international side of the success of the Socialists. Unlike the Morning Leader, it indeed admits its full significance in Germany itself, but deliberately refuses to recognise Socialism as a factor to be reckoned with elsewhere. That this is an illustration of the policy of journalistic dishonesty which the Chronicle so commonly adopts, is, we fear, only too obvious. But although the leader-writer doubtless knew that his comments contained both a suppressio veri and a suggestio falsi, it is probable he would not have dared to have uttered them for fear of making himself a laughing-stock in any other country but this for every journalist must lie with a semblance of plausibility – where there are certain reasons which seem to give colour to his remarkable comments. It is, no doubt, a fact that the English-speaking race is possessed with a mania for not looking beyond the petty details of the moment, on which account it prides itself on its practicality. The British workman is loth to be behindhand in the qualities of his nation and he is so determined to be thoroughly practical that he never makes his power felt in the great questions of national polity, and only slightly in the readjustment of his parochial conditions. The British workman is, in short, determined to be so jolly practical that he never does anything, and for thanks he gets more kicks than ha’pence from his betters.

When Socialism makes its first appearance in history, it is as dissociated from the labour movement. The thinker in his study formulated plans for juster social conditions than those he saw around him, and hoped to gradually realise them from above, that is, by inducing the educated classes to see their sweet reasonableness. He neglected the workman; and as a consequence the workman neglected him. He despised the working-class movement as representing the mere unreasoning ebullition of popular discontent, while the mass of the workers themselves did not even know of his existence, and where they did despised him in turn as an impracticable dreamer; the one failed utterly to see the importance of the practical side of the movement with its roots in the past, the other to see its ideal side with its branches in the future. With the exception of a few sporadic instances in France, this Opposition, or even antagonism, as it sometimes amounted to, has first been transcended in the modern Socialist movement. This movement which is in progress in all countries has become completely dominant in Germany, and the reason for this we must admit to lie in the nature of the German mind itself. It is the eternal glory of Germany to have first completely rid itself of the opposition between the practical democratic movement and its ultimate theoretical expression, its ideal meaning as discerned by the thinker, and this explains the present situation in the German Empire of which the recent victories are the latest indication.

In Germany the working classes have ceased to despise the thinker, or to regard him as a being with whom they have no connection; and, on the other hand, Germany has produced thinkers who have ceased to despise the proletariat as the common mob whose demands are the expression of economic ignorance and unreasoning envy. The workmen have consented to openly proclaim and recognise the ideal end which the thinker has perceived; the thinker, in his turn, sees that this end can only by any possibility be attained in and through the working-class movement, and both are united in the name of Socialist and Social-Democrat.

The Englishman is still afraid of theory. Unhappily, the majority of British workmen, even at the present moment, are either too besotted by their sound British common-sense to see the ideal end towards which their class-politics must be directed if they are to be benefited; or, if they see it, they are too cowardly, too much afraid of being called dreamers, to admit it. Hence it is that the name Socialist or Social-Democrat so heavily handicaps a man in his political career in this country, even among the working-classes themselves.

But let them form their labour-parties, let them struggle for two pence a week more wages or an hour a day less work – in short, let them welter in their practicality and sound British common-sense for a while longer, and see how much they gain by it all. For the time assuredly will come, if I may for the nonce use the language of transpontine melodrama, when they will be ashamed not to range themselves under the names Socialist and Social-Democrat. Meanwhile we may rest assured that these sodden praxaticalists, with their ragged parties, will decrease, and that we shall increase until one day we shall sweep the board in England as effectually as our comrades are doing in Germany.


E. Belfort Bax


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