E. Belfort Bax

Organisation versus Principle II

(18 February 1915)

E. Belfort Bax, Organisation vs. Principle II, Justice, 18th February 1915, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).

It is impossible to believe that the able and hard-headed men constituting the Reichstag “faction” could have been deceived by the thin excuses by which the Prusso-German Government and its satellites attempt to turn the overwhelming case against themselves – a case based on fact and documentary evidence. The general summing-up of their defence for wanton and criminal aggression, accompanied by every circumstance of barbarity, amounts to this: the present Prusso-German Empire was surrounded by enemies on all sides, therefore the Prusso-German Government in all that it did was justified. To this it may be observed that the evil-doer is generally surrounded by enemies – viz., the honnête gens. But even apart from this, it is a well-known fact, as true in the life of States as of individuals, that the man who is surrounded by enemies generally has himself to blame for it, and usually deserves his fate.

Isolation of the Prusso-German Empire

It is quite true, of course, that the best and most honest man may have enemies more or less, but they do not “surround” him on all sides. Besides, supposing it were possible that an innocent man were surrounded by enemies in the manner suggested, this would hardly justify or even excuse him for divesting himself of all humanity and behaving like a beast of prey. As a matter of fact, it is easy to show that the existing Prusso-German Empire has alienated all surrounding nations, and we may say the whole world, by the arrogance, brutality, and unscrupulousness of its policy, domestic and foreign, for well-nigh half a century past. The Prusso-German governing classes have deliberately made themselves hated abroad and, as many of us believe, at home also (as would be shown if the voice of the masses of the German people could only make itself heard). The average man will be inclined to think that the outrages and violations of the laws of war of which he daily reads in connection with the Prusso-German Army are themselves sufficient to indicate that the hatred spoken of is by no means unfounded.

“Proofs” of “Plots”

The British Government was also engaged in an infamous enterprise years ago in South Africa, for which the “bunkum” pleas were alleged in excuse such as are always at hand when a powerful State takes into its head to commit an act of brigandage on its neighbours. It was stated that the Boers were plotting to attack the British of which fact mysterious “proofs” were whispered to exist. (They always conveniently do on these occasions.) But the British Socialists were not to be “got at” on behalf of a Britain so sorely beset by wicked enemies.

All this sort of humbug we had a right to expect the majority of the Reichstag “faction” to be able to see through as well as we could, but they have, nevertheless, constituted themselves the lackey of the Imperial Government and of aggressive militarism in its worst form. The conduct and the utterances of the members of the “faction” in Belgium, as related by Vandervelde, has filled every honest Socialist and Democrat with disgust and indignation. Now there are only three causes which can account for such a startling and flagrant defection from principle on the part of men who are supposed to be its custodians. We have already indicated what we believe to be the chief of them. But we would fain press the point home:-

Three Causes

(1) The conduct in question may be ascribed to personal corruption. This, however, in the absence of proof, or at least of some corroborative evidence, may be regarded as improbable. It hardly seems likely that a considerable number of men, against whom nothing of the nature of personal corruption has been hitherto suggested, should suddenly allow themselves to be bribed wholesale by the Government, although it is of course conceivable that this may have occurred in individual cases.

(2) The cause may be sought for in the conventional Chauvinistic sentiment expressed in the well-known phrase, “My country right or wrong.” But here, again, seeing that the country was not invaded or threatened with invasion, but was itself invading its neighbours’ territories, and seeing that up to the very last day, as we understand, the most unexceptional sentiments adverse to the war were expressed in public by these very men, it is difficult to explain the volte face of a few days later by a sudden accession of Chauvinistic sentiment alone, though such may have co-operated more or less in some instances.

The Chief Factor

There remains what I hold to be the chief determining factor in the case. And this, as I have already pointed out, is the habit of regarding the material party organisation as the paramount thing, and the principles for which it is supposed to stand as its comparatively unessential decorations. This attitude of party discipline and party loyalty, as it is often termed, is the mortal bane owing to which so many parties and organisations originally created on behalf of ideal aims have come to grief, so far as their ostensible ends were concerned. It opens up a vantage-ground for all sorts and conditions of men to disport themselves for personal ambition and personal interests generally. These men often enough from the very first care not one jot for the principles of the party as such, but they see a well-constructed and well-engineered party organisation, possessed of more or less wealth an influence, ready to their hand, and into which they can enter by the merest lip-homage to its ostensible doctrines. This is the meaning of Revisionism in German Socialism and of similar movements in the socialism of other countries. Clever and worthless men on the make get control of a party and run it in their own interest, preaching the while the importance of party unity and party discipline.

Meanwhile the representatives of Socialism in the German Reichstag are reduced to Karl Liebknecht and the seventeen or eighteen other members who stand together with him. The rest of the party leaders have definitely ruled themselves out of the International Socialist Party.

These considerations once more, I insist, give us pause. They show us the very real danger in organisation as such, more than all where that organisation is for political and Parliamentary objects. We must not, I repeat, let our conviction of the fallacies contained in Syndicalist and Anarchist theories blind us, as it is sometimes apt to do, to the evils which the very strength and effectiveness of an organisation bring in its train. This may have often been said before, but current events have given it an enhanced, and its recognition a very urgent, importance for the future of Socialism, considered as an organic whole of doctrine and of political practice. We want to be a “party” not a “sect,” say some. This may be. But a party without principles is more valueless than a sect with them.


Last updated on 28.5.2007