Ernest Belfort Bax

Socialism and Foreign Politics

(15 February 1896)

Socialism and Foreign Politics, Justice, 15th February 1896, p.6.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Allusion has been more than once made to the lack of interest, and still more of understanding, among Socialists of foreign politics. But the reason, I think, lies near at hand. Foreign politics apparently are remote from Labour concerns. International relations seem mainly to interest the army, navy, and diplomatic service, the big capitalist, and the high financier. Hence, because foreign politics lie outside the habitual sphere of interest of the Socialist, he has never given himself the trouble to think out the logical outcome of his position as regards international relations. We may dismiss very shortly, from a Socialist point of view, phrases such as “one’s own country,” the “supremacy of England,” “national prestige,” “England’s place among the nations,” &c., when used in this connection. They simply refer to the amount of profit which the capitalists of this country can retain in the channels leading to their own pockets, or can divert from the pockets of the capitalists of other countries into their own. This is the aim of the foreign policy of all Governments – Tory, Liberal, Radical, or what not. The whole question of foreign relations at present simply turns on a dispute between the agents of rival profit-mongers, each anxious to secure for his own firm the lion’s share of the world’s surplus-value, but all determined to stand together against the Proletariat. Even the family interests of what Hyndman has called the Monarchical International (or, as it might be termed, in allusion to its traditional emblems, the “Gilt International,” in contradistinction, on the one side, to the “Black International” of the Catholic Church, and, on the other, the “Red International” of Socialism), can rarely assert itself with effect should those interests momentarily collide with the policy of the financial capitalist class. The same may be said of the Catholic Church – and perhaps even to a still greater extent. The Vatican finds it necessary in its policy not to cross the lines of the various national capitalistic interests. Of course, the difficulty does not often occur inasmuch as the interests of both the forces named – the Royal houses and the Catholic Church – since they themselves belong to the big possessing classes, must necessarily be, in the main, identical with those of the latter classes in general.

The foreign policies of every State are then, at the present time, solely concerned with the profit-mongerings of the possessing classes of the particular State in question. Hence it is that the relative merits of diverse schemes for promoting these profit-mongerings do not at first sight seem a fruitful subject for the consideration of Socialists. It is, however, apt to be forgotten that the question of the predominance of race is inextricably bound up with the affirmation of the capitalist interests of a particular nationality. Bourgeois public opinion, while shamming special concern for, say, the glory of the British people, is, of course, really interested in the expansion of markets for British wares. But the fact remains that the expansion of markets for British wares implies also a corresponding expansion of British national preponderance, which further involves the widened domination of the special form of modern civilisation associated with the Anglo-Saxon race. It is from this latter point of view that questions of foreign policy must have the chief interest for those who believe in the coming downfall of the capitalist system. Now, it may be true that the determining factor in the character of all societies is undoubtedly the manner of their life as moulded by the mode to which they produce and distribute their wealth. It would however be none the less going too far to deny any inherent diversities of race whatever – even though there may be ground for believing that if a particular social system only lasts long enough these may be reduced to something inappreciable. Thus, Egypt or Syria although under the Roman Empire subject to much the same politico-economic conditions as Italy and Gaul, yet nevertheless remained Egypt and Syria. Or, again, as in the Middle Ages, though all Europe was substantially one, economically, politically, and intellectually, yet feudal society had a distinctive colouring in Italy, differing from what it had in France or Germany. Or, finally, as to day, modern capitalistic civilisation, substantially the same throughout Europe, has not succeeded in making French, German, and English modes of thought and habits of life identical. In this latter case, however, it has gone some way in this direction. The special character of English, French, and German civilisations and national modes of habit and thought is less differentiated to-day than, say, in the thirties and forties. The great industry has undoubtedly here done an appreciable amount of “levelling down” (to employ a favourite expression of our Individualist friends) and this fact lends considerable colour to the theory above hinted at, that in course of time, among races in close contact and living under the same economic conditions, such differences would practically disappear. But be this as it may, there is no doubt whatever that they will continue for an indefinite period yet, and that the dominant race, if any, must leave its impress on life generally. It hence behoves us to consider, from the standpoint of the future, and of humanity as a whole, the question of the ascendancy of race as implying the dominance of a particular mode of thought and habit of life far into the society of the future.

Now there are some “men that are also our friends,” (as Aristotle has it) who seem to believe that the Briton is the best and the greatest of all evolved beings, nature’s most perfect work, the crown and summit of Man. Like the Oxford bedmaker who divided the egg tribe into “new laid egg,” “fresh egg,” “egg” casually observing that he said nothing of “stale egg” as that was a commodity relegated to visitors at commemoration time – so certain Englishmen divide the human race into Briton (corresponding to new-laid egg), American (to “fresh egg”), Continental European (to “egg”), while savage and barbaric races are relegated to some other category representing “stale egg,” as left behind in the race, and not counting in the summing up of humanity. For those who hold this view it is perfectly clear that you cannot have too much Englishman. Every form of society should have an Anglo-Saxon basis as being the best possible basis so far as race is concerned. For such a one a universal British domination is obviously desirable. But those on the other hand who, while duly appreciating the qualities of the bold, brave Briton can also see that he has his defects, some of them grave, that toujours Anglais may become as objectionable as toujours perdrix and that other races possess qualities also worthy of preservation, cannot logically view with complacent equanimity the domination of those new countries probably destined to form the main terrain of the world of the future by one race only, especially when that race for him does not monopolise all that is valuable in human nature and human culture. From this point of view the “English-speaking democracy across the seas joining with the more ancient democracy at home” in bossing the world generally, and impressing upon the transitional period on which we are entering its own special characteristics – bad as well as good – is not so particularly exhilarating a prospect after all. Not that holding what I may term the anti-Anglo-Saxon view, one should be understood as wishing to substitute some other nation or race for the former. It seems to me extremely undesirable that any one race should have a substantially and permanently preponderating influence in the develop Tent of civilised mankind at the present time. I maintain there is no one nationality at present existing so super-eminently excellent as to have a right to claim by virtue of its national characteristics any prominent or definitive leadership in the transition from modern capitalist Civilisation to Socialism. If this be accepted the aim of the foreign policy of Socialism should be equality (relative of course to population) of all those nationalities actively concerned in the immediate future of progress.

It is useless to bandy about national reproaches. If the German has his political servility which makes him tolerate lése majesté laws, if the Frenchman has his fits of hysterical sentiment, patriotic, revolutionary, reactionary by turns, which makes him nationally unreliable, so the Englishman has his religious hypocrisy which leads him to tolerate the Sabbath day and cringe before the Nonconformist conscience, not to mention the melancholy hysteria which is perennially sighing over the imaginary wrongs of divine Woman. The German brute who bellows “Deutschland über alles,” the French ape who blathers about “la France” and “la Patrie,” and the British swine who howls “Rule Britannia” and “Down with the Boers,” are all alike, “the enemy.” If the relative equality of all the leading races as regards influence in the period of transition lying before us, be our aim, the tendency our foreign policy should follow is clear. It becomes one of the chief duties of each national Socialist party to jealously defend the relative equality spoken of against the undue pretensions of its own nationality. It is the guardian of the interests of International Socialism within its own borders against the interested claims of Bourgeois Patriotism. Hence every Socialist ought to be an anti-patriot as the phrase is nowadays understood, and hence therefore “any other country but one’s own” is not such a bad motto after all for a Socialist foreign policy. The ascendancy of “one’s own” country is necessarily looked after quite well enough by the governing classes. Socialist influence when felt at all should be felt on the other side.

Now as regards our English party we have, I contend, a special duty in this respect. There is no imminent danger of Germany – occupied as are her governing classes with maintaining her position in Europe, and with a language which, owing to the defects of its very great qualities, has been unable unfortunately, we think, to maintain its ground when in contact with English – there is no danger of Germany, I say, acquiring an undue predominance in the comity of races. Still less is there of France, with her stationary or declining population. Least of all of Italy with her chronic insolvency and generally backward condition. No, the two European nationalities respecting which there is an appreciable danger of their acquiring an undue racial pre-eminence are unquestionably Great Britain as representing the Anglo-Saxon race in Europe, and Russia as representing the Slav race. The British Socialist who takes a moderately far sighted view of things, while desiring to see the power of Russia curbed and Russian influence circumscribed in every possible way, must also aim at the same result as concerns his own beloved country. In the case of Russia, of course, there is the additional reason that the expansion of Russia means the strengthening and expansion of despotism and the forces of reaction generally. But the extension of the area of British hypocrisy and cant, conjoined with the vulgarity and sordid methods of Anglo-Saxon aggressive commercialism and the type of character they engender, is an evil not many degrees less. Our aim should surely be to prepare the way for the incorporation in the world of the future and in the men and women of its society of a natural selection of the best qualities peculiar to each existing race – to subject diverse racial characters to a refining and combining process in the laboratory of social development that will tend to the evolution of a human product such as the world has not yet seen, but a product which will form the civilised groundwork for the new economic condition of Socialism.


E. Belfort Bax


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