E. Belfort Bax

Patriotism v. Socialism

(22 July 1911)

E. Belfort Bax, Patriotism v. Socialism, Justice, 22nd July 1911, p.3.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We have recently had a plebiscite of the branches of this S.D.P on the subject of national defence, which has yielded the result, with a good many abstentions, of a victory for what is known as the Hackney resolution. The matter arose, as we are all aware, from a resolution at the last Annual Conference, the wording of which at least is generally admitted to have been unfortunate, in favour of naval defence against a hypothetical German invasion. The resolution had its origin notoriously it the campaign of our comrade Hyndman in this sense. A consequence of this fateful resolution was the resignation of sundry members of the Party.

Now, I may say at once that I as strongly disapprove of the Conference resolution as anyone. The Party, in my view, is not concerned to trouble itself whether England has an “adequate” Navy (which for aught I know may be interpreted to mean a hundred Dreadnoughts) or not. In fact, I hold it should be rather against such a Navy than otherwise. I am not even convinced, that a successful invasion of these shores, would be necessarily in the long run prejudicial to the general interests of the Socialist Party, while at the same time I am convinced of the extreme improbability of such an invasion in view of the interests of international finance. I am an internationalist to the point of absolute indifference to the national interests of any particular country, my own included. The thing to which I am not indifferent is to the principles of Socialism as I conceive them. I would describe myself as an anti-patriot, since I heartily loathe all manifestations of patriotism, and, as regards this country, the war in South Africa has made me ever since cherish a secret wish to see the British people punished and humiliated in their national vanity on account of the mean and dastardly role they played at that time. For it is useless to disguise the fact that the war could not have continued but for the backing of the Rand magnates by the British people.

The fact, nevertheless, remains, that large numbers of Social-Democrats do not carry Internationalism to the conclusion which other members of the Party, myself included, deem to be its logical issue. Not to cite “Socialist” members of the Labour Party as crucial instances in this connection, we may remind the reader that one of them declared his readiness to vote for a Navy “sufficient to defend our commerce.” This strikes me as going at least one better than our comrade Hyndman; and, taken together with other patriotic protestations, backed by a vote for the Army and Navy Estimates, is certainly significant as coming from a Party wont to wrap itself in the blanket of a prayerful pacifism.

Then again, on the other hand, when we turn to our German comrades, whose example, if any, might be considered crucial, do we not find, in the spring of the year 1907, Bebel making a patriotic ovation in the Reichstag, and being carried away by the ardour of his enthusiasm to the point of declaring his willingness personally to shoulder a gun in defence of the Fatherland? It is true in the German Party Congress held in the autumn of the same year Bebel was somewhat severely taken to task for his utterances; but there were not wanting Social-Democrats who defended them. And Bebel has remained the typical representative of the Party, with undiminished prestige. Are not also the patriotic articles of Schippel, not to mention others, written in the pages of the German Party-Press? With the above facts to their record, the extreme unction with which some of our German friends have dilated on the wickedness of Hyndman’s zeal for the defence of England’s shores would seem a case of protesting somewhat too much. “Oh, but,” someone may say, “the gravamen of the offence consists in stirring up enmity when there is no danger!” To this I may reply that, though I personally most potently agree with the last proposition, yet, if you put the matter on this ground, you are being your objection merely on opinion and expediency, which carry the personal equation with them.

It is really necessary to clear our minds of cant over this matter. I am opposed to Hyndman’s attitude, and to the Coventry resolution on principle, because my internationalism I interpret as involving “anti-patriotism” – i.e., the repudiation of patriotic sentiment – and I should be just as much opposed to it if the danger of invasion were imminent as if it were (as I believe it is) illusory. In either case I hold that the International Socialist Party has no concern with national defence, Technically, of course, we admit the right of every State to defend itself against aggression from without, but such defence, I contend, is at best not our affair as Socialists. For those members of the party, however, who retain what I should term the patriotic virus in some term or shape, as so many do, I fail to see how anything Hyndman has written can be so very shocking.It is scarcely necessary to say that I rejoice that the Hackney resolution was accepted by a majority of the branches. But, nevertheless, I cannot understand the justification, even before this happened for withdrawing from the body on the part of those, who, as I conceive, adopt the true Socialist position on the question. To right and left of us in every country we see the ravages made by what is in Germany called Revisionism. Even on this very question in France we have Jaures writing an elaborate book on army organisation and national defence, while in Germany we have our Bernsteins, Schippels and Franckes, al of whom devote themselves to dismembering the Socialist theory and programme on various sides. In Austria we see a Revisionism dominant in the party which laughs at the very idea of Socialist principle. In Italy it is the same. And yet the leading men who represent these represent these views remain prominent members of their respective organisations. Is it, then, necessary because we think that our comrade Hyndman and others, even, were they for the moment in the majority, err on this one question of national defence – is it necessary, I ask, to break up the party? Is it not far better to remain in the party and fight out our differences there?


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 16.9.2004