E. Belfort Bax

Party Progress and Party Problems

(December 1906)

E.B. Bax, Party Progress and Party Problems, Wilshires Magazine, December 1906, p.11
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The astounding numerical progress of the Socialist party in all countries where modern capitalism exists is the great historical feature – the feature most pregnant of import for the future – distinguishing the time which has elapsed since our comrade Wilshire began his activity on behalf of Socialism. Not only has the American party grown out of all knowledge from quite small beginnings since then, but the German, the French, the Italian and other parties have grown in equal proportion. The Russian revolution, with a Socialist party that seems to hold the key of the situation, is in full blast. We all, as Socialists, rejoice in the fact of the progress. We don’t all, perhaps, realize the problems which lie in the way of the rising generation of Socialism. Hence in view of the progress achieved and the equal or greater progress we expect within the next decade, it may not be amiss to consider the situation from the above point of view.

The danger of compromise from ill-considered revolutionary attempts is not, perhaps, very urgent in most constitutional countries at the present day. On the contrary the more urgent danger would seem to lie in the “primrose paths of dalliance” with the capitalistic “powers that be.” The question of whether any, and if so, how much, part, Socialists should take in the work of administrating the existing state and its machinery, is likely to become more burning as the party increases in numerical strength and consequently as a factor of importance in current politics. The attempts of the governing class to “nobble” the party, and still more, any leader of the party, whom they think will be useful to them, are not likely to grow fewer as time goes on. Hence, the danger of the Socialist party being, if not swamped altogether, at least crippled in its activity, for a time, is a very real one. This great question of tactics, discussed at such length at the Amsterdam International Congress, can hardly be considered settled as yet.

As regards the danger from ill-advised insurrectionary attempts and the like, though as already said, not so urgent as the last mentioned in Western countries, it is nevertheless always a possible one and may likely enough become an actual one as soon as the privileged class are driven to bay, and despair of legal methods. A provocation on the part of the authorities might easily lead to a premature attempt to try conclusions in a forcible manner. What happened in Moscow last winter might conceivably, under certain circumstances, occur in constitutional countries at no distant day. It ought to be thoroughly well recognized that, whatever the provocation, the starting of an overtly insurrectionary movement, without reasonable chances of success – though it may be magnificent, as was the case in Moscow – is not war, and not only so, but that any such action may conceivably hold back the movement for a generation.

Then, again, as concerning the internal life of the movement itself, there are sides and problems of social life not precisely economic in character, but which nevertheless it is a vain attempt to ignore, since they force themselves upon the Socialist whether he will or not. Such are the questions of marriage, sexual and family relations, also that of the attitude of Socialism to the traditional historical religions. Is there any justification for a legally enforced monogamy? Ought not the marriage relation to be entirely free so far as any form whatever of external coercion is concerned? Does not the claim of society to interfere, either in the name of law or of morality, begin with the existence of children and refer exclusively to their welfare? Such is the opinion of many Socialists, as well as many others. But there is in some quarters a hesitancy in proclaiming views which may be deemed unpopular for fear of alienating public opinion. Here then we have a question which, between the men of expediency and the men of principle in the party, is likely to cause some trouble.

Again we have the religious question. Hitherto, “religion a private matter” has been accepted by the party generally as a sacramental formula representing its attitude to Christianity or other traditional theological systems. But this may be interpreted variously. It may merely mean to deprecate attacking any one unnecessarily on the ground of his nominal religious creed. On the other hand it may be interpreted as meaning that Socialism is logically compatible with all creeds, and is hence a theory suspended in mid-air and not a doctrine strictly deducible from a rationalistic and scientific view of the universe. If again we admit the latter to be the case, it follows that at least in expounding Socialist theory we are bound sooner or later to come into collision with the theological view of the world generally, and hence with the special religious systems elaborating that view. Moreover, though the personal opinions of any given man on the question, say, of a future life, etc., may be “private” and of no concern to anyone but himself, yet when opinions are accepted as part of a dogmatic system, one and indivisible, and embodied in a definite religious organization, they surely then become more than a mere “private matter.”

Lastly, if Socialism itself be a religion, does it not necessarily exclude other religions having different aims and a different basis?

These are some of the questions it will be necessary to take into consideration in the future, while steadily pushing forward the more strictly economic issues with which militant Socialism is primarily concerned.


London, England


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