Ernest Belfort Bax

The New International

(19 August 1893)

The New International, Justice, 19th August 1893, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Zurich International Socialist Congress has come and gone. The scoffer points to time spent in the expulsion of Anarchists and other irrelevant issues, and asks how much business has been done. Of the resolutions passed, important as most of them were, I do not propose to speak at length in the present article. I wish especially to call attention to one or two aspects of the gathering which, even apart from everything else, would suffice to give the Congress just concluded a historical importance.

It has been, in the first place, the most comprehensive assembly of divers nationalities that the Socialist world has yet seen, and, further, it is the first in which representatives of all the leading British working-class organisations have fallen into line, outwardly at least, with the general Socialist movement of the Continent. Our trade unionist friends have come into contact with a number of men representing directly and indirectly millions of workmen for whom the immediate questions of their particular trades or even of trade organisation in general, interesting though they be in themselves, are yet as nothing before the greatest question of all, the international movement of the proletariat, the aim of which is, to quote the words of the resolution passed with acclamation by the Congress, “the transformation of society, economically, morally, and politically.”

The doubtful chance, more or less immediate and “practical” though it be, of here and there gaining a trifling advantage over an employer by means of trade combinations, while by no means left out of sight, is nevertheless with Continental workmen definitely subordinated to the greater struggle which aims at the extinction of class through the corporate possession of the productive wealth of the community. This is a lesson that can hardly fail to give the trade unionist food for reflection. Knowledge of the fact that on the Continent Social-Democracy is first, and trade unionism very much second, will, let us hope, result in leading the British workman at last to temper his “practical common-sense” with a little “reason,” i.e., with a little rational determination as to the goal he is half unconsciously aiming at, and to which events are driving him in spite of himself, and as to the course he means to pursue for arriving there.

The smart saying of our comrade Greulich at the open-air demonstration of Sunday week, to the effect that whilst the old International was a small body with. a large soul, the new one was a large body with a soul inadequate to its dimensions, will, we are firmly convinced, soon cease to be true as regards the latter clause. The big soul, it is true, burst the old inadequate body; but even if the new one is a little limp and sprawly in some of its members, yet the “materialistic basis” is there, nevertheless – the flesh, indeed, is willing, but the spirit is weak. It is our business, as conscious Socialists, to bring the spirit up to the scratch. And this means agitation, education, and last, but very much not least, it means organisation. Now effective international organisation implies the recognition of facts, in the face of personal antipathies and old jealousies.

I still maintain emphatically what I have before urged in these columns, that historical selection has for the, time being placed the German Social-Democratic party in the van of the Socialist movement, and that, in consequence, it has, at least for the moment, acquired a natural leadership. Those who refuse to recognise this fact are simply effacing themselves. Nobody ever yet fought against historical selection without coming of intensely second-best. There were clever Christians in the early centuries who thought that they could cut themselves adrift from the main stream of ecclesiastical development, and form specious-looking dunghills of their own, on which they might crow. They and their dunghills went under in the great stream. There are clever Socialists nowadays who think similarly, to cut themselves adrift from the main Social-Democratic party, and (just as Montanists of old did as regards Christianity) to start a rival show of their own, uncontaminated with the impurities they imagine as attached to the historical Socialist movement of our time.

The fact that the German party has acquired the ascendancy that it has is due to its enormous achievements in education and in organisation. It is this that gives it its pre-eminence – a pre-eminence it would never have attained through any superficial and temporary success in tinkering ameliorations and municipal reforms, attained by truckling to one or other of the dominant parties.

If all Socialists would bear this fact in mind, then would so much the sooner be accomplished what Christianity failed to accomplish, i.e., the unity of peoples and the brotherhood of mankind. This modern Socialism will succeed in achieving, not by the ideological perfection of the individual, but by the economic emancipation of the proletariat class throughout all civilisation.


E. Belfort Bax


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