E. Belfort Bax

A Word With Professor Beesly

(July 1900)

E. Belfort Bax, A Word with Professor Beesly, Social Democrat, July 1900, pp.165-68.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

All Socialists will feel grateful for the sympathetic remarks of Professor Beesly with regard to them quoted in last month’s Social-Democrat. Most of us recognise the services the Positivists have rendered to certain aspects of progress in the past, and their outspoken condemnation of points of view dictated merely by the bias of the possessing classes. Perhaps certain of us have sometimes wished that some of their leading lights would put off the “superior person” a little more than they do. But I suppose it is a part of their creed that they, as representing the “spiritual power,” are in duty bound to stand upon their dignity. It was at one time, I believe, their custom to refuse to answer criticisms at public meetings they were addressing on the principles of Positivism, on the ostensible grounds that their critics had only wanted to hear themselves speak, and therefore were not worth answering, which may or may not have been true, but was scarcely compatible with the human courtesy one might have expected from the priests of the nouveau grande Etre Supreme. This was the more noticeable seeing that one of their number at least (not Professor Beesly) was always eager for the fray in the august columns of the half-crown monthly when his opponent was an archbishop, bishop, or lord, those exalted “types,” we suppose, being placed above that level of common humanity which can be suspected of ever speaking or writing for speaking or writing’s sake.

But still, these, to unregenerate man, unpleasant angularities of the disciples and successors of Auguste Comte, are as dust in the balance compared with such things as the defence of the Commune against an avalanche of class-hatred and calumny, or the persistent and resolute opposition to aggressive wars.

My object in writing this is to traverse some remarks made by Professor Beesly anent Social-Democracy and Patriotism. “They” (Social-Democrats), writes Professor Beesly, “are accused of cosmopolitanism, that is, of discarding the sentiment of Patriotism. The same charge is brought against us who repel it as a shameful calumny. I believe it is equally undeserved by Social-Democrats ... in neither one case nor the other is there any dream of abolishing national delimitations or fusing all Europe into one state, or even federation of states.” Now speaking, as I believe, for the vast majority of Social-Democrats, I venture to assert the above statement as to the views of the party on the subject of Patriotism and Internationalism to be misleading and incorrect. The majority of Social-Democrats do repudiate patriotism as implying any special duty of attachment to the State system in which they happen to have been born as against any other. The Socialist has no affection for any of these national State systems as such. He believes, it is true, in independence for nationalities as against annexation or interference from without by the force majeure of other nationalities – acting in their own interests – but in no other sense. On the contrary, he believes, the present nationalist systems, which have grown up since the Middle Ages, with the growth of capitalism, will likewise perish with it, giving place precisely to that federated Europe which appears to be Professor Beesly’s bogey.

The whole system of things economic already tends to become more international or cosmopolitan, if you will, year by year, and the assumption by the people collectively of the control of the means of production and distribution must inevitably, from the point of view of production and distribution alone, lead to some form of international direction. That this would involve the political power in the last resort is obvious. Whether, as I suggested at the London International Congress of 1896, a standing international court of arbitration might form the nucleus of, or first step to, a central administrative organ for a Socialist mankind (or at least for Europe) I will not venture to predict. Anyway, it is clear that a Socialised world must be, in part at least, administered internationally from the outset. The inevitable tendency would follow, which we see to-day in the case of national federal states, such as Germany, and to a lesser extent Switzerland, viz., for the central power, to absorb more and more of the functions of the political unities composing it. This tendency has its complement in the increasing devolution of local matters, and some others perhaps, to municipal and other purely local bodies, Professor Beesly does not believe in a Socialised world in which capital has ceased from troubling; but he seems to forgot, that the only alternative under the conditions of existing economic evolution, to the international, political and administrative union here indicated, is – precisely that very imperialism against which Professor Beesly, like ourselves, protests. It is not for nothing that the term “Patriotism” has been annexed by the jingo-imperialists. For imperialist expansion is the only possible attitude for the patriot, in the sense of one who wishes the continuance of his own glorious country as an independent political entity against other countries, at all costs. The economic self-sufficiency or autonomy of this island or any other single state at the present time is an impossibility. The only (temporary) alternative to Internationalism is its Imperialism. Imperialism would establish the federation of a group of populations on a racial and unilingual basis dominated by a single nationality. By this means, and by this means only, the economic inadequacy of the parent country would be got rid of, wholly or partially, for the time being. And by this means only can the political integrity and independence of the parent country be also secured for its “patriots.” Hence, for practical purposes, Patriotism and Imperialism are synonymous. For the loathsome moral and aesthetic depths to which that patriotism can degrade men, the alleged absence of which in himself and other Positivists is repelled by Professor Beesly as a “shameful calumny,” I refer him to a certain extremely patriotic “poster” now defiling our public places. Doth he like the picture?

It cannot be too strongly insisted upon that international as opposed to a national administration of production and distribution, and finally of other departments of life, is the logical outcome of the principles of Social-Democracy. That the change cannot take place in a moment is obvious, and meanwhile Social-Democrats are prepared to unite with all other honest and decent men in denouncing any act of aggression on the part of one nationality against another. They are none the less certain that it is the duty of the Socialist party of every country to combat patriotism at home, i.e., from within, at every turn and every hour of the day. To this end they will not hesitate to point out that Patriotism at its best is not, and never has been, the noble virtue it is represented to be, and at its worst, is as base and vile a vice as can well disgrace human nature.


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 31.3.2005