Ernest Belfort Bax

“Reasonable” Social Democracy

(25 November 1893)

“Reasonable” Social Democracy, Justice, 25th November 1893, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A sapient individual belonging to that journalistic priesthood of capitalism which professes to instruct the public in the way it should look at all things, by initials “L.T.”, is kind enough to patronise Socialism in the columns of the Sun.

He has read Mr. Drage’s report on the German movement, and apparently nothing else on the subject to judge by the following doxology to his lucubrations:– “Therefore, Social-Democracy is not a bogey. It is a healthy and reasonable Labour movement, the excellent aims and intentions of which are only shrouded by irresponsibly offshoots that go skulking through society in the shape of Anarchists and Communists. At their next congress the Social-Democrats would do well to speak plainly with regard to the theorists whose even imaginary alliance is such a source of dangerous misunderstanding to them.”

Such ignorant and imbecile impudence as the foregoing would be unworthy of notice were it not for the prevalent tendency of middle-class journalists to misrepresent Socialism or Social-Democracy as a mere movement for reforming existing relations between capital and labour, in fact a sort of sublimated trade-unionism with a politico-radical background. They think they gather support for this view from the practical political programmes of the Socialist party. They read there of reforms of all sorts, social and political, but all presupposing the present social system. “Here,” say they, for instance, “is the programme of the (German Social-Democratic Party: much of it perfectly reasonable – in fact some of the items we have long ago obtained in England.” “After all,” they think, “Social-Democracy seems less dangerous to the present system the more we look into it.”

Now it may be as well once for all to call the attention of theme scribblers of nimble nonsense who, benign and smirking, pen up the praises of a Socialism which they have just discovered to accord with their very common (not to say low) common-sense, to the true facts anent theme charmingly reasonable aspects of Social-Democracy.

Our journalistic patrons all leave out of account the little fly in the “reasonable” amber of their specially-prepared Socialism to wit, that these programmes are nothing else, and not intended to be anything else, than mere hand-to-month productions drawn up with an eye to immediate circumstances at a particular time, in a particular country, and sometimes even in a particular locality of that country. They are, in short, in no sense statements of principle, but simply and solely planks of immediate policy, stepping-stones to something other than themselves.

This something other is the principle, the permanent and abiding substance, of Socialist doctrine – i.e., Communism – of which all these programmes are merely the transient and, taken singly, very unimportant accidents or phenomena. It is needless to tell even a bourgeois who knows anything of the movement that every man of the German party, as of every other Socialist party, is a Communist. Only, as you cannot jump from capitalism into communism, at each stage you have your special programme for that stage, these being simply instalments of the road to be traversed. If I want to get from the office of Justice to Blackfriars Bridge, it is no very praiseworthy sign of “moderation” or “reasonableness” on my part to recognise the fact that my first efforts are directed towards getting out of Clerkenwell Green into Farringdon Road.

To revert to our friend “L.T.” Let me advise him to spend a few months reading up his subject, and then he may be in a position to write “leaders” for the Sun on the German Social-Democratic party – i.e. assuming the editor has any regard for the accuracy of his journal.

Furthermore, I would modestly suggest that our apparently young friend should curb the tone of breezy exuberance which leads him to assume that Lassalle had never heard of the relative successes of English trade unions in their fight with capital, and to believe that the present armistice in the coal lock-out would have affected by one jot Lassalle’s conviction of the indubitable generalisation as true to-day as ever, called – “The Iron Law of Wages.”

No, no, “L.T,” before you were born there were also oxen; and before the latest hardly-won struggle of the miners, not to improve, but to maintain, their old position for the time being, there were also successful (aye, and more successful) struggles of labour with capital fought out by trade unionism than any we see to-day!


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 11.6.2004