E. Belfort Bax

Internationalism and Anti-Nationalism

(25 May 1916)

E. Belfort Bax, Internationalism and Anti-Nationalism, Justice, 25th May 1916, p.8. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dear Comrade, – The statement in your leader of April 27 that the positive principle of Internationalism cannot be based on the mere negation of nationality is unimpeachable as far as it goes. But I submit there are occasions on which anti-Nationalism may legitimately be based on Internationalism, or rather, in which a definitely anti-Nationalist attitude is the logical outcome of Internationalism, although the converse is not the case. The principle of Nationalism as a positive political platform involves always (in practice if not in theory) the doctrine of “My country right or wrong.” Now this doctrine, I contend, is utterly incompatible with Internationalism and detestable from the standpoint of Socialist morality. When the aforesaid doctrine comes into play, therefore, our Internationalism may necessarily involve anti-nationalism; since Socialist Internationalism if it means anything at all, means that Socialist principles and Socialist interests take precedence of all national interests whatsoever. Hence a consistent International Socialist must be anti-national to the extant of openly rejoicing in his country’s defeat when he sees his county is in the wrong. This was the case with the vast majority of British Socialists during the Boer war. This is the case with the honest section of the German Social-Democratic Party at the present time. Our glorious comrade Karl Liebknecht, perhaps the bravest man Europe at this moment, has as good as given expression to his sympathy with the Allies and detestation of the Prussian Government and army in open Reichstag. The sort of anti-Nationalism that Justice deprecates is, I take it, the “Damn-my-country-right-or-wrong” attitude of certain pacifists. This is of course, the reductio ad absurdum of notion that right becomes wrong just because one’s own country happens to champion it is certainly fatuous beyond words. And yet it was probably this sentiment which was at the back of the minds of many of those who opposed the minority at the recent B.S.P. Conference at Manchester.

For my own part, I should be prepared to co-operate with anyone, no matter whom, in righting an immediate wrong or seeing a specific act of justice done. I certainly have no love for the Russian, or for that matter for the British Empire in itself, but, all the same, I could wish them both all success in destroying an internationally criminal power such as the present imperial and military oligarchy which rules Prussia and cruelly forces all the German peoples to act as the tools of its international brigandage. Let us take an illustration of what I mean from ordinary civil life. Socialists and trade unionists in many countries have a standing quarrel with the police, and with good reason. The Socialist at least thinks, and quite rightly, that the police organisations of the present day represent capitalist interests and hence are antagonistic to his movement, and that public safety ought to be secured by other and more democratic means. He certainly would not incorporate the existing police organisations into a Social-Democratic Commonwealth. Yet, for all that, he would wish even the present-day police to succeed, and if necessary would give them his assistance, in tracking down and destroying a band of murderous robbers like the Pollet gang which pursued its depredations in certain departments of the north of France a few years ago. Now such is the attitude of many Socialists towards the Governments of the Allies in the existing emergency. While retaining to the full their point of view as regards them, as Governments, and the capitalist system which in the main they necessarily represent, they regard their action in the present war as the performance of necessary and legitimate police duty in the interests of humanity in general, and as such they support them pro hac vice. – Yours fraternally,


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 27.10.2004