E. Belfort Bax

Internationalism and Bourgeois Foreign Politics

(6 June 1908)

Internationalism and Bourgeois Foreign Politcs, Justice, 6th June 1908, p.6.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The present situation between the Labour Party and the Government respecting the King’s visit to the Czar serves, at least, one useful purpose. It brings out into clear relief the unbridgeable chasm which separates the theory as regards foreign relations of the world of present-day Capitalism, from that of modern Socialism. The Labour Party and the Radicals, who go with then in this matter, are not avowedly Socialist in their aims, but they represent nevertheless, in a sense, the political instinct of the proletariat, and this instinct has ranged them, for the nonce, on the side of the principle underlying the internationalism of the Socialist Party. This principle, instinctively felt by modern Democrats and Radicals, finds its definite expression in Socialism. The Internationalism of the Socialist Party recognises the ultimate solidarity of the human race its goal, but first and foremost, it assumes the unity of interest and the unity of development of the peoples of all the progressive races – that is, of all those countries within the pale of modern capitalist civilisation. Hence to the democracy generally, and still more to the conscious Socialist, the “internal policy” of all countries is equally of vital moment. Here we have the dividing line between the ordinary politician and the Socialist in their respective ways of looking at foreign relations.

The existing official view of the matter which is shared by the average bourgeois citizen, is that one country has no concern whatever with this internal conditions of another country. Modern Capitalism has for its political expression the modern centralised State or nation, autonomous as against its compeers, similar and rival States or nations, No direct relation between the internal conditions of one State and those of another is recognised. Every State is, in this respect, independent of the other. Hence the stereotyped phrase of the Foreign Office and its Ministers “We have no concerns with the internal affairs of foreign Powers.” Now we by no means condemn the official world of today for adopting this attitude. On the contrary, it follows inevitably from the principles lying at the root of the national State of to-day, to which the principle of isolated national systems is essential. But if essential to the world as at present constituted, it is none the less in impossible antagonism to the world as envisaged by Social-Democracy.

For the latter, as above said, the solidarity of Europe and of the capitalist States and dependencies outside Europe, their indissoluble unity as one great whole of development, is an essential article of faith, No Socialist can, therefore, subscribe to the orthodox official view of the present day that the people of one country have no concern with the internal affairs of another country. On the contrary, the Socialist regards the democracy generally, and first and foremost the Socialist Party, in his own country, as intimately concerned with the progress of those of other countries. This is, of course, without prejudice to the fact that in matters of detail, policy, programme, etc., the freedom of action of every national Socialist Party is recognised and respected by every other.

Where, however, the Socialist Party and the democracy of a nation generally is fighting, as a whole, against oppression and reaction, then Socialist principles proclaim that the entire influence at the disposal of the popular progressive forces of every other nation must be thrown into the breach in their favour. There is no question then of not taking sides in an internal dispute, nor of which side shall be taken. The only question is of the most effective ways and means. We rejoice that we have got so far that at least the instinct of the organised proletariat is partly aroused to the situation in this sense, even though few may as yet be alive to the full import either of their feelings or their action in the matter.

It is worthy of remark here that the governing classes are not always true to their own (and only logical) maxim of polity in this connection. When statesmen or “heads of States” are unceremoniously disposed of by their subjects they are by no means loth to depart froth this maxim. Not to go so far back as Pitt and the revolutionary war, we have seen within the last few years the British Government withdrawing its diplomatic agent from Servia because the Servians had, in what was unfortunately the only effective way at their disposal, got rid of their King and Queen. Mr Asquith when questioned as to this, anent Russia, denied the efficacy of the precedent. We are not surprised. In fact the governing rings of one country naturally cannot regard the slaughter of mere ordinary men and women by the governing rings of other countries as on a level with the enormity of the killing of a king and queen by an outraged people. In addition to this there is of course the consideration that Servia is a weak and small State which it is safe to bully, whereas Russia is a first-class Power which it would be awkward and dangerous for John Bull to tackle in such a manner. No, if the maxim of non-intervention is to be departed from by the present depositories of State-power two conditions are to be observed: (1) such departure must only be in favour of monarchs and statesmen against popular violence; and (2) the object of the intervention must be a weak State that cannot retaliate on John Bull.

The fact is the whole of existing foreign policy and diplomacy is essentially and necessarily in hostility with the Internationalism that Socialism proclaims. Its theory is that of the competition of the various “Powers,” of each national-State for itself and the “devil take the hindmost.” This is at the root of that accursed thing called Imperialism, the latest and vilest monster born of the capitalist world, and of the “patriotism” which is its counterpart in the sphere of morals. Its practice is the manipulation of the balance of power so as to snatch an advantage for its own nation-State (which means for the capitalist classes of that State), the resort to war always remaining as the ultimo ratio when other means fail. Over against this is the Socialist theory of foreign relations, which implies the co-operation of the democracies (not of the Governments) of the existing nationalities in pursuance of a common aim, and the Socialist practice which consists in common action through friendly negotiation and mutual coming together in conference and congress. Between these two is a great gulf fixed, the gulf between the world of civilised competition and the world of socialised cooperation.


E. Belfort Bax


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