E. Belfort Bax

Treacherous Toleration and Faddist Fanaticism

(January 1900)

Treacherous Toleration or Faddist Fanaticism, Social Democrat, Vol.4 No.1., Jan. 1900.
Reprinted in E. Belfort Bax, Essays In Socialism, New & Old, 1907, pp.100-102.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Social-Democracy has been unwearied in the affirmation of its principles not only against the present order of society and its supporters, but also against those who, while on one side professing the same ultimate end as Social-Democrats, nevertheless on another repudiate alike the programme of Social-Democracy and its method and policy. I refer to the various groups of “Communist-Anarchists” and “non-Parliamentarian Socialists.” There is, of course, a type of Anarchist who, by his very principles, cuts himself off from Socialism altogether. But those Anarchists who label themselves as above, whatever they may do or feel, however illogical they may be in theory, at least do not definitely detach themselves from Socialism. And the latter type, to which the majority of persons calling themselves Anarchists belong, is nevertheless regarded by Social-Democrats as the greatest danger to the party when hanging on to its skirts. Now there is, I conceive, a dangerous tendency everywhere, at the present time, that the movement, having religiously expelled all elements that could be suspected of Anarchism in any form or shape, denouncing the “toleration” certain comrades would have extended to such misguided persons as of the devil – there seems; I say, a grave danger of its developing a limitless toleration in the opposite direction. While to doubt the efficacy of Parliamentary action is anathema, to doubt or to express open disbelief in the root-principles of Socialism is deemed quite consistent with continued membership of the party. The very self-same persons who would give a Nieuwenhuis and a Landauer short shrift, grow eloquent upon the undesirability of “making a martyr of” a Bernstein or a Blatchford or of anyone who under cover of the name of Socialist preaches anti-Socialistic reaction, be it music-hall jingoism or the doctrine that the proximate end of Socialism is municipal tramways and its highest ideal improved factory legislation. The Socialist body as a whole, it is said, is sound and does not sympathise with, indeed, utterly repudiates, these views. But it would be a mistake, it is further said, to expel these persons or to refuse to recognise them as comrades! (Oh Socialism, Socialism, what queer fish they would have us assimilate in thy name!) For do they not believe in municipal tramways, lighting, water, and even sewage; nay, have they not intimated their willingness, under certain circumstances, to consider legislative interference with the conditions of adult labour? How can one refuse to recognise such a man as this as a full-blown Socialist, even though in other matters of secondary importance – such, for example, as war, internationalism, foreign policy, belief in and work for the transformation of society by the communisation of the instruments of production, &c. – he is not as sound as we could wish? No, we are told if we want a big party, or even a party at all, we must count all as fish (however “queer” it may be) that comes to our net – all men as comrades who adopt our label, and consent to swallow, say, a little municipal sewage by way of credentials. The way in which men, who, if they only happen to depart from Socialism on the reactionary side, are tolerated, gives pause indeed to consider, when we think of the promptness with which men who talked too “revolutionary” have been given their party-quietus in the recent past. Talking too revolutionary may be silly, it may be waste of time, and do no good; but reactionary doctrine, jingoism, gas-and-water Socialism, factory legislation as panacea, these things sap the foundation of Socialist theory and disintegrate the party. The weak-kneed toleration which shudders with horror at the idea of not regarding as a “comrade” a Blatchford, a Bland, or a Bernstein, because they have done – what? Merely set at nought what are elsewhere acknowledged as fundamental doctrines of Socialism, that is all – is surely a sign of decadence in a party, not of strength. If those who hold such views as the above-mentioned “comrades” (?) are not aware that they have, ipso facto ceased to be Socialists, surely it is the duty of the party, as such, to point it out to them. That good Social-Democrats can take up this attitude over “differences of opinion” of such wide-reaching importance as those referred to, and yet be prepared to unceremoniously eject a comrade who happens to disagree with the rest of the party as to the value of Parliamentary action (important though this latter may also be), must surely have ideas of party logic which are decidedly peculiar, and hence require an explanation which we have as yet waited for in vain.

But where are you to draw the line, it will be said? You cannot have unity of opinion on every question. This is perfectly true, and no one would suggest making a test point of vaccination or anti-vaccination, teetotalism, or moderate drinking, of a belief or disbelief in “occult phenomena,” of any point of metaphysic or of more opinion. But let us remember that Socialist principle is definite and not to be played fast and loose with by Socialists, if the name is to retain any significance whatever. Hence the question of the soundness or unsoundness of any individual opinion often turns on the way it is held. Thus a Socialist may express an admiration for an ascetic life (say) or for exclusive fruit-eating, or for top-hats, and prefer those things to their opposites without any violence to his Socialism. But if he preaches asceticism, fruit-eating or top-hats as the great panacea for social ills, then he, ipso facto, ceases to belong to the Socialist Party, and to tolerate him as a “comrade” is simple idiocy. What is vital in Socialism? In the first line, I take it, comes the (1) Collectivisation of all the instruments of production by any effective means ; (2) The doctrine of the class war as the general historical method of realising the new form of society ; (3) The principle of internationalism, the recognition, i.e., that distinction of nationality sinks into nothingness before the idea of the union of all progressive races in the effort to realise the ideal of true society, as understood by the Social Democratic Party; (1) The utmost freedom of physical, moral and intellectual development for each and all consistent with the bare necessities of an organised social State.

For the rest, the question turns upon the consistency or inconsistency of any theory, with those positions. It is commonly asked whether dogmatic theological belief is consistent with Socialist principle. I take it that the promulgation of the thesis that the acceptance of any dogma which primarily has any other basis whatever except reason (i.e., a logical process resting on given matter-of-fact) is essential to personal or social salvation or well being, is anti-Socialistic, and that the man who promulgates it can no longer claim to belong to the Socialist Party. This is why the Socialist Party as such can never be Christian. Christianity requires an act of faith on the part of its votary. He may prop his faith up by reason afterwards, if he will, but his first duty as a Christian is faith in a divine revelation. The doctrines of Socialism are held by Socialists on the ground of a conviction arrived at by reason, observation and evidence, and they are prepared to stand or fall by this test.

Another point. The mere repetition of an abstract Socialist formula is not of itself sufficient to constitute a man a Socialist. He must be prepared to adopt and act upon the implications which the formula directly involves. Thus his adhesion to the doctrine of the class war involves his opposition to all measures subserving the interest of any section of capitalism. This, coupled with his Internationalism, leaves him no choice but to be the enemy of “his country” and the friend of his country’s enemies whenever “his country” (which means, of course, the dominant classes of his country, who always are, for that matter, his enemies) plays the game of the capitalist. Let us have no humbug. The man who cannot on occasion be (if need be) the declared and active enemy of that doubtful entity “his country” is no Social-Democrat. Again, a man may call himself and be called a Socialist because he is willing to nationalise or municipalise certain branches of industry on the ground of their peculiar monopolistic nature rendering nationalisation or municipalisation desirable and feasible in his opinion, while at the same time repudiating the desirability or feasibility of the socialising of other branches of industry, where these peculiar conditions do not obtain. This exceptional Socialism represents the attitude of the average Fabian, the Webbite, though not, I believe, of all Fabians. Now are we, I ask, to be condemned to hug such a man as this to our bosoms as a “comrade” because, forsooth, he can in a contain sense repeat that he favours the “socialisation of the means, &c.”

The Socialist Party ought to come to a clear understanding as to what amount of divergence from principle and declared policy can be tolerated from professed members of the party. Let us hope the next international congress will deal with it. At present we find ourselves in the anomalous position of having persons (few I admit) nominally in our ranks, who are positively less socialistic or even more anti-socialistic than many who still claim to be no more than Liberals or Radicals.



Last updated on 13.1.2006