Ernest Belfort Bax

Reminiscences and Reflexions of a mid and late Victorian

Chapter VI
Personalities of the Socialist Movement on the Continent

The modern Socialist movement on the continent of Europe preceded the movement in England by some decades. The imaginative faculty of the continental workman is, as a rule, much stronger than that of his English colleague, and without an appreciable amount of what we may term constructive imagination in the masses, no world-historic movement can get under way. Then in all the principal continental countries there has been a revolutionary tradition that is wanting in Great Britain. Even the Chartist movement of the thirties and forties was a flash in the pan, so far as revolutionary action was concerned, and hence could supply no starting-point for a revolutionary tradition such as we meet with in so many continental countries. More than this, its failure before the advancing tide of Liberalism rather tended to damp down, or we might even say to kill off, all ideas of drastic revolutionary change. This may at least partly account for the obtuseness of the British working classes even to grasp, still more to become enthusiastic for, an ideal outside the range of current politics, or, indeed, to concern themselves with aught beyond the sordid issues of the moment, such as a trifling rise in the rate of wages, etc. This is partly due to lack of education and knowledge of history, which leads the British workman to the view that things as they are and were in his lifetime were always so and ever shall be, and that any idea of a fundamental change in social and economic relations is unworthy of the attention of the sensible, practical man that he is. In most continental countries, on the other hand, the workman is better educated than here, and owing to this and his greater imaginative grasp of things, is able to look forward to the future in a manner alien to the average uneducated English mind, more especially as that mind was constituted during the middle and even later decades of the nineteenth century Hence the priority and the more effective spread of Socialist ideas in the minds of the continental working class that have hitherto been so noticeable.

Of all European countries, the revolutionary tradition is, and has been since the Great Revolution, strongest in France. Hence France throughout the middle period of the nineteenth century was regarded as par excellence the home of political and social revolution. At the same time the great ’48 movement seized Europe from end to end, and so created a democratic revolutionary tradition in countries such as Germany (for instance), where, in spite of the prince-made wars which had devastated it, such a tradition had before been almost wholly absent. If the first suggestions of Modern Socialism in theory are to be found in the Communist manifesto, in practical political life the first attempts, vague and inchoate though they may have been, are to be looked for in the French Red Republican movement of ’48. Between this period and the Paris Commune of 1871 the first International was founded, and about the same time, or, a little before, arose the first beginnings of German Social Democracy. The International took root and spread in France, especially in Paris. The ideas of the old French Red Republican party began to grow in clearness, although it was still nebulous as regards many of its elements. Then came that epoch-making event for modern Socialism, the Paris Commune. I have already briefly dealt with the Paris Commune, and I need only here remind the reader that the Commune was the first government manned by the working classes and which had the Socialistic reorganization of society as its aim. The Paris Commune, therefore, and the year 1871 afford us a convenient date for reckoning the birth of the modern Socialist movement in the wider form in which we have known it during the last decades of the nineteenth and the opening years of the present century. The beginnings, of course, in various lands date from an earlier period, as already pointed out; but from the seventies onward the Socialist movement in all countries has become a world-movement, the importance of which is universally recognized, which cannot be said of the earlier and more local movements out of which it developed.

As already explained in an earlier chapter, the Commune it was that awakened me, as it awakened many others, to an interest in the Social problem, and the first Socialists that I met were members or adherents of the Commune. There was Pascal Grousset, a handsome man, who in the later seventies was a regular attendant at the British Museum Reading-room. About the time referred to, I used to see a good deal of him, and often talked over the Commune. He deplored the want of initiative and of a coherent policy which characterized it. He also told me how ignorant the non-political Parisians were of the actual facts of the struggle going on around them. During the semaine sanglante, he said – at a time, that is, when the unfortunate Communards were being butchered by the Versailles troops on all sides – he overheard a woman saying to a child she had in her arms, in tones of indignation, “Oui, oui, mon petit, nous nous rappelerons de la Commune, nous, n’est-ce pas?” the idea being, of course, that the communards were the slaughterers, instead of the slaughtered.

During their exile in London, the adherents of the Commune used to celebrate the outbreak of the insurrection of the 18th of March by a banquet in a French hotel named, if I remember rightly, the “Hotel de la Cloche,” in one of the passages off Holborn. I was present by invitation on one of these occasions (1880), when I remember that Charles Longuet, who married Jenny Marx, Karl Marx’s eldest daughter, and became father of Jean Longuet, at present editor of l’Humanité and member of the Chamber, made a speech in which he set forth the failure of the Commune to achieve its ends as being due to the fact that the Commune had to struggle with the military situation throughout. This hampered its social and economic work, while at the same time it was unable to cope with the military situation itself. Hartmann, the Russian Nihilist, was present at this anniversary dinner. Dr. Albert Regnard, the secretary of police under the Commune, a man with an extraordinarily impressive head and, like Pascal Grousset, a constant student at the British Museum, was also present. Charles Longuet, Paschal Grousset, and Albert Regnard are all three long since dead, as also Camélinat, the governor of the Tuileries during the Commune, and many others who were there. Of those who took a leading part in the events of the Spring of ‘71 there are few, if any, survivors left. The last time I met some of the “old guard” together was about the January of 1899, at a little friendly gathering one evening in a cafe somewhere off the Boulevard St. Michel. “Papa” Longuet, as he was called, I saw, however, for the last time at a luncheon party at his house in the Autumn of 1900, after the Paris Congress of that year.

Of the newer men of the French Socialist movement, the one who played the most prominent role was Jean Jaurès. He came noticeably to the front in the later years of the nineties. Jaurès studied for an academic career at the University of Paris, and was a contemporary of the celebrated Henri Bergson as a student. Subsequently he became Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toulouse. His strikingly brilliant oratorical powers are known to all the world. Staunch and consistent to his declared convictions throughout his whole political career, his fairness and rigid impartiality of judgment procured him the esteem of men of all parties. His achievements in the way of work were something extraordinary. With all his parliamentary duties he found time to write a detailed and carefully documented history of the French Revolution, perhaps the best existing. As a conversationalist, Jaurès was not so striking as he was as an orator. A nervous twitching of the eyes, especially when in Company, vas a marked characteristic. Jaurès nevertheless had remarkably persuasive powers in dealing with men. No other man could have succeeded in uniting the apparently irreconcilable sections of the French Socialist party and welding them into an organized whole as Jaurès did after the Amsterdam Congress of 1904. This was the more remarkable a triumph of personal magnetism and of the respect inspired by character, seeing that Jaurès had undoubtedly played a distinctly opportunist role during the Combos administration. His bowing to the decision of the Amsterdam Congress, which was practically a condemnation of his attitude in the matter in question, was an act of self-abnegation which showed a true sense of Internationalism. Altogether, Jean Jaurès was a rare personality. Possessed of personal amiability combined with extraordinary powers alike in the intellectual and practical spheres, and an integrity of character not merely moral, but political as well, which was absolutely stainless, it is difficult to find his equal as an all-round man, at once a capable theorist and a remarkable leader.

Another very different personality, well known in French Socialist circles at one time, although as a political force somewhat of an homme manqué, was Paul Lafargue, who married Laura, the second daughter of Karl Marx. A pleasant and genial fellow, who had sat at the feet of Marx himself and was an intimate friend of Engels, Lafargue was chiefly known as a writer of propagandist pamphlets, of which the most popular was the Droit a la Paresse, and polemical essays on the materialist theory of history, on Marxian lines. He was, however, elected to the Chamber once, though he failed to make his mark there. His writings were vivacious and clear, but for the most part superficial and without originality. He was a striking-looking man personally, with a dash of negro blood in his veins. His devotion to his wife was extraordinary, and they committed suicide together by means of morphia injection early in 1912 in his house at Draveil, near Paris, the alleged ground being dread of approaching old age, though some say financial embarrassment was the cause. He was close upon seventy and his wife a few years younger. Lafargue, as I knew him, was a fairly well-to-do man, but had the reputation, whether justly or unjustly, of being somewhat close in money matters, for which reason, I suppose, he obtained the nickname in the French party of le petit épicier.

An abler man than Lafargue and, like Jaurès, a powerful orator, is Jules Guesde, who became a member of the first French coalition War Ministry. An intimate personal friend of Lafargue, he was the leader of the specially orthodox Marxian wing of the French Socialist movement. Tall and striking, with his long black beard, Guesde has been an impressive figure at all International Socialist Congresses. His uncompromising zeal for the purity of the party in the sense of its rigid adhesion to principle, and his abhorrence of all contamination with the trickery of bourgeois party politics, were notable features of his policy and speeches on all such occasions. I shall never forget the fiery and powerful attack he made at the Amsterdam Congress of 1904 on the policy of Jaurès at that time, which favoured the participation (under suitable guarantees, of course) of Socialists in the work of existing governments. Jaurès, as already stated, subsequently receded from this position in deference to the decision of the International Congress, and was instrumental in the formation of the French United Socialist party, on which, of course, Guesde and Jaurès became reconciled. Guesde has been accused recently of dereliction of principle in having joined the coalition French Ministry. It may fairly be argued, however, that the principle of abstention from co-operation with non-Socialists or anti-Socialist governments, even in matters where they are prepared to make concessions from a Socialist point of view, does not apply to the abnormal conditions arising from a national crisis precipitated by an invasion and the presence of a hostile foreign force on the national territory. Besides, the case of a coalition government in normal times is quite different. In an ordinary government the theory is that complete unity and solidarity obtain as between its members. The mere participation, therefore, in such a government necessarily indicates, at the very least, bare assent to all its measures, and to give even this implied assent to measures, many, or probably most, of which will be designed with the purpose of bolstering up the present capitalist system in some form or shape, is obviously inconsistent for a Socialist who is the sworn enemy of that system. The case of a coalition ministry in time of War, however, is by no means the same. Here there is no pretence of agreement on any other point than the desire to provide the most effective organization for the national defence, and there is no question of any legislation not bearing on this one question being introduced. Hence, whether advisable or unadvisable as a matter of expediency in a particular case, I fail to see any breach of essential consistency in the course adopted by Jules Guesde as regards France, or for that matter by Emile Vandervelde as regards Belgium, in joining the coalition Ministries of their respective countries. The divergencies of view and hostility between various members of such coalition ministries are openly and directly admitted on any or on all points lying outside the immediate purpose for which the government in question has been formed. This being so, membership of an emergency cabinet of this sort does not, I contend, necessarily infringe the principle of abstention from co-operation with non-Socialist political parties.

Other of the later leaders of Socialism in France I have met on different occasions, but have not known more closely. If I remember rightly, I sat with Aristide Briand at the London Congress at Queen’s Hall in 1896 on the Standing Orders Committee. The late Charles Vaillant, the old member of the Commune, was also there.

Turning from France to its eastern neighbour, little Switzerland, in taking note of the proletarian and Socialist movement, one can hardly fail to remark as one of its foremost representatives the name and figure of Hermann Greulich, the Labour Secretary for the Swiss Confederation. The shaggy figure of Greulich, with its shock head of white hair and ragged beard and its rough garb, of which the homespun jersey generally forms a part, has been prominent at all Socialist Congresses. Greulich is an autodidact, and a very remarkable one. Born in Breslau in 1843, of poor parents, he was apprenticed to the bookbinding trade, after having received the ordinary school education. During the Lehrjahre and Wanderjahre, which at that time formed part of the curriculum through which every skilled workman in Germany had to pass, Greulich improved every occasion for self-education. This he has continued throughout his life. As a young man Greulich emigrated to Switzerland, becoming a Swiss citizen, and ultimately settling in Zürich. What is remarkable in Greulich is his all-round culture. He is not merely well read in the literature of Socialism, in general economics, or in the aspects of industrial history, having an especial bearing on the present conditions of the working class, but there are few departments in which he is not equally grounded. Greulich has all the qualifications of a scholar and what the Germans call a Schöngeist, and would have doubtless made a name for himself in scholarship or in literature had he been born in different circumstances. As it is, his conversation never fails to leave the impression of a man of wide reading and independent thought.

As might be expected, no name throughout the working-class and Socialist movement of Switzerland is better known than that of Hermann Greulich. It is a curious circumstance that Greulich has been the victim more than once of false reports of his death. Some years ago one of my sons [1], returning from a visit to New York, told me that a report was current in Swiss circles there that Greulich was dead. I immediately wrote to him stating that I had heard he was dead, but hoped it was not true. A few days later I received a reply from him that he was not dead, although he had not been very well lately.

Singularly enough, not very long after this another report of his death arose, and this time in Zürich itself. The rumour spread very widely that the well-known labour leader, parliamentary representative, cantonal and municipal counsellor, Hermann Greulich, was no more. That evening the Choral Society of Zürich, of which Greulich was an active and influential member, met for rehearsal, when the conductor, on taking his seat at the desk, addressed the society on the sad news of the loss they had sustained in the death of one who had done so much for the society and for choral music in Switzerland generally. He invited his hearers to rise in their places as a sign of respect for the deceased before proceeding with the work of the evening. This act of homage was only just performed when Greulich himself walked in. Already in the afternoon of the day the same rumour had spread round the shores of the lake, where silk-weaving factories and other industrial establishments are situated. In many of these the workmen demanded that work should cease for the day as befitting the occasion of the loss of the great Swiss labour leader. This was objected to by the employers, and after some altercation the matter was arranged by the compromise that work should continue that day till the usual hour, but that the factory should be closed altogether on the day of the funeral. Accordingly, the same evening a committee was formed for celebrating the obsequies, wreaths bought, and a speaker chosen to deliver the funeral oration. Next day that committee dissolved.

I remember very well one afternoon sitting with Greulich in the Labour Bureau, when the late Sir Randall Cremer, whom I knew slightly, appeared seeking some piece of information or other. I had to act as interpreter for Sir Randall, who did not speak German. The upshot was an invitation for Greulich and myself to dine with him that evening at the Bellevue Hotel, where he was staying, to meet the late Sir John Lubbock (afterwards Lord Avebury), who was also a guest there. We went and met sir John, but I am bound to say the distinguished man did not impress Greulich or myself as giving evidence of any great intellectual power in his manner and conversation. whether the report was true that his books were by no means entirely original, but largely the work of “ghosts,” I am unable to say. On the other hand, it is of course undeniable that the capacities of able men by no means always translate themselves into an impressive personality in social intercourse.

The German Social Democratic party, owing to various circumstances, to its direct connexion with the chief founder of modern scientific Socialism, to its rapid growth and consequent numerical greatness, as well as to its perfect organization, acquired up to the outbreak of the war in 1914 a certain hegemony over the International Socialist movement as represented by the National Socialist parties of other countries. Hence the German party, as it existed from its inception until recent years, has a unique interest and importance of its own. Latterly, of course, as many of us had long suspected, and as events have proved, it had degenerated into a favourable nest for political intriguers and adventurers of the worst type. But this is a development of the last twenty years, and, indeed, in its worst form, of much less time. It was not always so. And even now there is no evidence at present forthcoming that the defection and corruption of the majority of its actual parliamentary leaders is shared in by the bulk of the rank and file. There can be no doubt, however, that impatience with mere propaganda, and the desire to play a rôle in current, or as it would be termed “practical,” politics, has prepared for mans- years past a suitable soil for “Revisionists” and political tricksters of all sorts. On the other hand, in the conduct of the party from its early beginnings in the sixties to near the end of the nineties of the last century there is no serious breach of principle that can be charged against it as a whole. For the earlier period I refer, of course, to the Marxian party. The followers of Lassalle were always Nationalist. The question of Internationalism was indeed one of the great bones of contention between them and the Marxians. The tendency of the Lassallian party, moreover, was undoubtedly not without inclinations to traffic with non-Socialist parties. But from the union of the two sections at Erfurt in 1875, when the bulk of the Lassallian section accepted the Marxian programme in its entirety, until, let us say 1895, although mistakes may have been made by individual members, there was nothing in the conduct of the party as a whole calculated to forfeit the respect and confidence of the Socialists of other countries.

Now, the personalities with whom I was best acquainted in the German movement were those who flourished in the period named – the so-called “old guard” of German Social Democracy. The names of the late Wilhelm Liebknecht, of the noble conduct of whose heroic son Karl we have heard so much during the present war, August Bebel, Paul Singer, and others less known to the outside public, will hold a distinguished and an honourable place in the history of the Socialist movement for all time. My introduction to the men of the German movement during the eighties was in the main, directly or indirectly, through Friedrich Engels. Karl Kautzky, upon whom the mantle of Engels as theorist of the German movement fell after the latter’s death, I met first at Engel’s house in Regent’s Park Road. Bernstein I first saw in Zürich in 1886. He was then editing the party organ, the Sozialdemokrat, there, it being during the period when Bismarck’s anti-Socialist legislation was in force. Of several of the then prominent members of the party I made the personal acquaintance at Zürich and St. Gallen, at the time of the great party Congress held at the latter town in October 1887. This Congress was necessarily, under the, circumstances, of a more or less secret character. I was invited to attend by the executive council of the party, the members of which arrived in Zürich from Germany a few days before the Congress met. Our train was received at the St. Gallen station by a committee of trusty party men, who had been in the town already for a day or two, organizing the arrangements, and who conducted us to the inn “Zum Schönen Weg,” some two miles out. I remember that Grillenberg, the Reichstag member for Nürnberg, who had come by a previous train, and had been followed from Germany by a Government spy, on remonstrating at being dogged by this man, was assaulted by him with a life-preserver and left bleeding on the road. He was, however, taken to the house of a friendly inn keeper in St. Gallen for recovery. The proceedings of the Congress lasted nearly a week, and during this time I naturally came into close relations with all the more important members of the movement, lodging in the same Gasthaus with Liebknecht, Bebel, Singer, Auer, Hasenclever, etc. Not one of these men of the “old guard” of the German party is now living. Among the burning issues discussed at this Congress was a vote of censure on certain members of the party for having supported a Goverment project, to wit, the construction of the so-called Baltic Canal. The majority of the party, including all the leaders with the exception, I think, of Hasenclever, were for maintaining in its integrity the principle of opposition to all important Government enterprises. This Congress of the German party of October 1888 created considerable sensation at the time, as it was the first that had been held since the passing of the anti-Socialist law.

Old Wilhelm Liebknecht, who died in 1900, I often met during the ensuing years both at Socialist congresses and in private. But the man with whom I came most in contact among the leaders of the “old guard” of German Social Democracy was August Bebel. This was largely owing to the fact that Bebel, whose daughter Frieda married and was living in Zürich, built himself a house at Küssnacht, about three miles from the town, on the lake. Many are the discussions on points of Socialist policy, on the woman question, etc., I have had with him during these years. I can recall one incident of a somewhat amusing character to those who witnessed it. One evening I had crossed the lake to Küssnacht from a place on the other side with some friends. At Küssnacht we boarded the steamer going to Zürich. Bebel was on deck with a group of companions. Among my own party was a Socialist from Köln, who had fled to Switzerland, having been threatened with a prosecution for some article he had written in the local party organ. Now, it should be said that a ukase had recently been issued by the Council of the part that those threatened with prosecutions of this kind should not flee, but “face the music.” The immediate occasion of this decision was the fact that certain persons, having expatriated themselves for the foregoing, reason and not finding employment whither they had gone, had become a financial charge upon the party. Such, however, was not the case with the person in question, who had sufficient means of his own to live on. Hence he maintained that the rule referred to did not in intention apply to his case. Bebel, however, took the view of the stern moralist, fearing, as he afterwards told me, that the comrade in question would tend to become demoralized by the idle life he was leading, being still quite a young man. Accordingly, with perhaps questionable tact, Bebel seized the occasion of meeting the unfortunate Rhinelander on the steamer for rebuking him severely for his conduct in not only infringing party discipline, but withdrawing himself from his legitimate sphere of usefulness. The scene was distinctly humorous. There stood on the deck of the steamer our passive Rhinelander, looking rattier “small,” while his party leader, confronting him, poured forth a flood of admonishing rebukes, the two principal actors in the scene being surrounded by an audience of some twenty persons, consisting of friends, acquaintances, and casual outsiders.

I chaffed Bebel afterwards at the exhibition of the Rhinelander in the rôle of the poor sinner being rebuked by his father-in-God. Bebel pleaded that he had only acted with the best intentions for the man’s good. The man himself, however, apparently took this matter otherwise, and a few days later, at a little dinner-party given by a mutual friend to which our Rhinelander, Bebel, and myself were invited, the Rhinelander was conspicuous by his absence.

My intercourse with the circle in Zürich in which Bebel moved belonged mainly to the nineties of the last century. It was not confined to members of the Socialist party, but included some men of the ’48 period, already, as may be imagined, having attained “the sere and yellow” stage. Most of them were refugees from Germany who had settled down in Switzerland on the collapse of the ’48 revolutionary movement. The somewhat belated ideas of these good men and their want of understanding of modern Socialism were amusing and instructive.

The later years of Bebel’s political career were somewhat clouded for many of his Socialist comrades by the unfortunate speech suggestive of jingoism which he made in the Reichstag in March 1907. Returning from the South of France through Zürich a few weeks after its delivery, I there met his wife, Julia Bebel. On my expressing my regrets at the pronouncement in question, she entirely agreed, remarking, “I told August that he had made a great mistake and that his statements would be resented by many.” This was the last time I saw her, for she died a few months later. Bebel himself lived six years longer, being found dead in his bed on the 20th August 1913, at a health resort near Chur, in Eastern Switzerland.

Talking of the German party and its “old guard,” I must not forget my old friend the “Red Postmaster,” as he was called, from the fact of his having organized the transmission to Germany from Zürich of the Sozialdemokrat during the period of the anti-Socialist law. Julius Motteler had been a member of the Reichstag from the beginning. A Swabian by birth, he early became attached to the party, where his exceptional abilities as an organizer soon made him one of its most indispensable members. His steady and unswerving devotion throughout his life to his ideals (he died in 1907, aged seventy) and his amiability of character have left an ineffaceable memory with those who knew him.

Of the leaders of the Austrian party, though I have met them all at congresses and elsewhere, the one with whom I have had most personal intercourse is the original founder of the party, and still its leading representative, Victor Adler. Adler devoted a considerable part of his personal fortune to organizing the Austrian movement in its earlier stages. Austrian Socialism owes much to him. It should be said that Adler personally deprecates the credit he has got for his pecuniary sacrifices to the party, saying that it was not so much after all, and that too much had been made of it. In any case, however, it amounted to the best part of the fortune his father left him. Suffering for some years from asthma and chronic bronchial catarrh, Adler was in the habit, up to the outbreak of the war in 1914, of spending some two or three months of the worst part of the winter on the Riviera, where I often met him. He has, of late years especially, developed marked opportunist or, as it would be called in the German-speaking world, “Revisionist” tendencies. His belief in parliamentary action as a means for the emancipation of the proletariat is unbounded. He seems at times, indeed, to regard Socialist principles with a certain amount of impatience, as a hindrance to the party’s activity in so-called “practical politics.”

One of the most effective speakers amongst Austrian Socialists (Adler himself is not a good speaker) is the former Radical and veteran party politician, Engelbert Pernerstorfer. There are few men in Austria who can sway a large popular assembly with their eloquence as can Pernerstorfer.

The Austrian movement has produced many able men whom the exigencies of space preclude from particularizing. There is one, however, who, not himself a member of the Socialist party though generally sympathetic with its aims, is well known in certain circles in this country as the energetic secretary of the “International League for the Protection of Workmen,” having its central bureau in Switzerland, at Basel. I refer to Stephen Bauer, who, in addition to his secretaryship of the League in question, occupies the position of Professor of Political Economy in Basel University. Bauer was a great friend of the late Sir Charles Dilke, at whose house he was a frequent visitor. His International League for Workmen’s Protection, which was founded at a meeting of International delegates held at Zürich in 1897, is anything but Socialistic in its character and mode of working. It is based rather on the notion of gaining the support and assistance of the various national governments in the furtherance of its object; in a word, it relies on the official class in the various countries rather than on the democracy for the realization of its object. Still, small as may be the faith of the Socialist in any serious amelioration of the lot of the workman resulting from these methods, even he must pay a tribute to the energy of the League’s secretary in waiting on ministers, under-secretaries of departments, not to speak of the smaller fry of officialdom, soliciting both personally and by letter their support and interest with their respective: governments on its behalf. And he claims to have achieved at least something. Whether this something is worth the time, energy, and machinery expended on it, and whether such might not have been used to a better purpose, is another question. Stephen Bauer is a good linguist, a brilliant conversationalist, and knows his Anglo-Saxondom, both British and American, well.

The mention of Basel reminds me of another professor (though not an Austrian) at the Basel University, a man of acute and powerful intellect, a friend and colleague of Bauer’s, to wit, Robert Michels. Of an old German family of the Rhineland, Michels has lived for many years in Italy, and has, I believe, recently become a naturalized Italian. Michels began life as a German officer, but the horrors of militarism in general and of the Prusso-German military service in particular led him to renounce his original profession and take to an academic career. He soon after joined the Socialist movement, but it was not long before he became dissatisfied with the inaction and opportunism of the party as represented in the Reichstag, which he criticized, not sparing some of the honoured leaders, in more than one scathing article. During his residence in Italy, where he obtained the professorship of Political Economy at Turin, his membership of the German party seems to have lapsed. He was, however, present at the International Congress at Stuttgart in 1907. Here occurred a trifling incident which affords an illustration of a significant trait in the German national character, to wit, its excessive tendency to hero-worship. Some appreciative remarks to some of the Germans present having been made by an English delegate à propos of Michels, the observation came from the German side that Michels, it was understood, had written something against Bebel, the implication being that if this were so he was a man with whom one should have nothing to do. Now, Michels, in denouncing the slackness and opportunist tendencies of the Socialist party in the Reichstag, had, as a matter of fact, criticized Bebel. But there was nothing in his article of a personally offensive nature, or that was otherwise than what would elsewhere have been regarded, whether right or wrong in itself, as perfectly fair comment. But the shuddering horror at the laying of a sacrilegious hand on the party leader is, as already said, characteristic. It is only fair to Bebel to add that he himself took the matter much more sensibly, and meeting Michels in a hotel in a Swiss health resort a year or two later, became perfectly friendly.

Bebel’s own good sense in the matter excited the indignation of, I am sorry to say, other Germanic colleagues, among them Victor Adler, who expressed to me the opinion that Bebel ought to have refused to speak with his critic in terms of social intercourse. I had a further illustration of this same national characteristic on Bebel’s will becoming known, and this time it was again exemplified in the person of Adler. Speaking of the will, I ventured the harmless remark to Adler that I was rather surprised that Bebel had not left a larger sum to the party. I did not say this in any spirit of severe criticism or even of disapproval, but the bare remark was enough to excite Adler’s indignant remonstrances, which even tended to overstep the limits of personal courtesy. Hero-worship up to a point may be an excusable and even a laudable sentiment, but hero-worship developed to the point of an idolatry which would place its object above criticism, thus making of the latter a kind of God Almighty, whose name must not be mentioned save in terms of reverential adulation, is surely to be deprecated. Adler comes, of course, of Jewish stock, but, as is often the case with the Jewish race, he has completely assimilated the characteristics and tradition of the nationality with which his family have been for so many generations identified. And the trait just referred to is, I venture to think, significant beyond what might at first sight appear. It seems peculiar to the German character and national habit – this slavish attitude towards persons in authority, whether party leaders, kings, kaisers, policemen, or non-commissioned officers. It will explain much in the somewhat abject role played by the German peoples towards their Prussian rulers in recent events. This servile strain in the German character is a strange blemish in a race otherwise possessed of such great intellectual Powers. The “cold-shouldering” of Robert Michels for criticizing Bebel by his former colleagues of the Social Democratic party is of a piece with the toleration by the German people as a whole of the laws of lèse-majesté and Prussian military discipline, etc.

Turning to the Italian comrades, among those I have known best are Turati, since become a somewhat moderate and chastened Socialist light of Monte-Citorio. At the time I knew him he was in association with Madame Kolischoff, a Russian lady who has played a not uninfluential part in the Italian Socialist party in earlier years. Much more intimate than with Turati was my acquaintance with that genial free-lance Paulo Valera. A clever and even brilliant journalist, Valera has never been in the Italian chamber, or has, indeed, played any very important role in the party organization itself. He is known best as pamphleteer. In this capacity and on his own lines he has scarcely an equal in Italy, though the chief seat of his activity remains local, to wit, Milan and Lombardy. Professor Enrico Ferri, whose picturesque figure of old Roman type did not fail to attract attention at Socialist Congresses, was known as a fine orator, and for a time led the left wing of the Italian movement. Of genial disposition, and socially agreeable as he was, I have always regretted his defection from his old principles. It is not so many years ago since I was one of a large number of Socialists of all countries to sign their names to an illuminated address which was presented to him as a testimony to his services for the cause.

Among the Russians, I have already in an earlier chapter spoken of Kropotkin. The late Wolkowsky was for some years well known in London political circles. He was also prominent as a lecturer on his personal experiences in the Russian movement. I heard him deliver his lecture entitled The Story of my Life, in which he described his persecutions at the hands of the Russian authorities, in the Temple, to the members of the Hardwicke Society. A more important person than the last mentioned was Sergius Stepniak, whose real name was Kravchinsky. Of powerful build, thickset, and of strong Mongoloid face and figure, Stepniak was a prominent personality in advanced London society during the eighties and early nineties. I cannot recall anything especially striking in his conversation, though the man conveyed an undoubted impression of power in his whole personality. Underground Russia and The Career of a Nihilist, the latter book a novel that excited the warm admiration of Shaw, undoubtedly give evidence of literary genius, each in its own way. Stepniak’s untimely death by an express train on the level crossing near Turnham Green assuredly cut short the career of one who would have achieved much more than he did had he lived.

Another personality among the advanced Russian politicians with whom I came much in contact is worthy our attention for a moment. I refer to the one time Slade Professor of Slav language and literature at Oxford, the late Maxim Kowalewski. Like most cultivated Russians, he spoke fluently, besides his native tongue, English, German, French, and Italian. Though not himself a professed Socialist, Kowalewski was on terms of personal friendship with many of the leading representatives of Socialist thought throughout Europe. Marx and Engels he knew well and was much liked by them. Vandervelde was also a friend of Kowalewski and a frequent visitor at his villa in Beaulieu, besides other more or less prominent members of the Socialist party. Speaking for myself, I shall always have pleasant recollections of the hospitality received at the Villa Batava. Kowalewski had a man servant or valet of local origin named Baptiste, but who was colloquially spoken of as “Leporello,” of whom he used to relate amusing anecdotes. On applying for the situation, this worthy gave as one of his qualifications that he had received the first prize for dancing in his native village. On one occasion when Kowalewski was about to give a large dinner-party, he duly instructed “Leporello,” when serving at table, to help the older ladies before the younger ones. “Leporello” endeavoured conscientiously to carry out his master’s instructions. Now it so happened there were two ladies sitting near each other, alike of doubtful and uncertain age. Accordingly, our “Leporello,” not quite knowing which to serve first, decided to solve the matter by putting the question straight to them, “Mesdames, laquelle de vous est la plus anciennes?” During the latter years of his life Kowalewski resided in Russia, where, probably as a sop thrown to the left wing of the Duma, he was offered a seat on the Russian Imperial Council. He accepted it, he told me, when he called on me a year or two ago on a flying visit to his old haunts, thinking he might bring successful pressure to bear on the Government in favour of political prisoners. This seems actually to have been the case in some instances.

Before closing the present chapter it may be worth while to say a few words on the general subject of International Congresses. The first of the series of International Socialist Congresses, which were interrupted by the outbreak of the European War, though not before they had resulted in the establishment of the International Bureau, thereby constituting the New International, as it was called, was held in 1889 in Paris. At this Congress, which divided itself into two, owing to the split between the Guesdist and the Broussist sections of the French party, I was not present. A second Congress was held two years later at Brussels, in which I also took no part. The third Congress was at Zürich in 1893, and on this occasion I attended as a delegate of the Social Democratic Federation. This Congress was notable for the fact that Friedrich Engels made the closing speech, in the course of which he explained the reasons for the action of Marx and himself which led to the break-up of the old International in the seventies. The reasons given, as I have already stated, were that they both felt that the organization in its then existing form had done its work, and that it was not strong enough to face the opposition and persecution with which it was threatened by the Governments of Europe. They felt, he said, that its continued existence at that time was likely only to result in unnecessary suffering for members of the working-class movement, and perhaps even the loss of some of its best leaders. This authoritative statement made by Engels has undoubtedly considerable interest for the historian of the Socialist party, although the point of view taken might have, and has indeed, been traversed by those not belonging to the Marxian section in the narrower sense in which the Fre-tch used to speak of “la chapelle Marx.” For the rest, the Zürich Congress of 1893 was signalized by some disturbances created by the Anarchist and quasi-Anarchist elements that had got into certain of the delegations, especially the French and the Dutch.

Up to the Zürich Congress these meetings had been held every two years, as decided by the Paris Congress of 1889. But at Zürich the German party pressed for a longer interval between the International gatherings, suggesting even four or five years as not too long. Eventually three years was decided upon, and the next Congress took place in 1896 in London. It was held at the Queen’s Hall, and I was elected on to the Standing Orders Committee. The Congress opened noisily, owing to the intrusion of Anarchist elements. The French delegation had stormy sittings and eventually became split into two parts, the moderate section of which Millerand was a member refusing to work any longer with the extreme section. The latter section, if not actually Anarchist, certainly had Anarchistic tendencies, though its opponents, it is only fair to say, included men like Millerand himself, whose Socialist principles were unquestionably of a very doubtful character. At this Congress measures were taken for the exclusion of Anarchists and, as far as possible, other disturbing elements from future Congresses.

The next Congress was held in Paris in 1900, at the time of the Exhibition. It was due in 1899, but the German party, having failed to secure officially a longer term than three years for the interval between the Congresses, obtained by intrigue behind the scenes a prolongation of a year. The same tactics were adopted by the German party on more than one subsequent occasion. The chief feature of the Paris Congress of 1900 was the dissension between the sections of the French party, which had as its result a defective organization of the arrangements. In consequence the gathering, although well attended, was not as successful as some others have been.

I may mention that, the week immediately preceding the Paris Congress of 1900, the German party held its own Congress at Mainz, at which I was also present. Here I made the interesting acquaintance of the Kapellmeister and composer Weissheimer, who was a friend of Wagner and is referred to with, for him, an unusual appreciation in his autobiography. Weissheimer, who conducted the opera at Mainz for many years, was a member of the Social Democratic party and took part in the Congress. At the close of the proceedings one evening, in reply to a question of mine respecting the best place to obtain genuine Rhenish wine, Weissheimer took us to a special Weinstube that he knew of, when more than one flagon of “Rhenish” was consumed – in fact, more perhaps than a stern moralist in these matters like my friend Hyndman would have approved. Weissheimer, I remember, was particularly pleased when I told him that Felix Moscheles, the son of Ignaz Moscheles, the celebrated pianist, by whom he had been taught in his youth, was, if not a declared Socialist, at least a Democrat, an Internationalist, and a strong anti-militarist.

A very interesting Congress was that held at Amsterdam in 1904 (the Germans having again succeeded in postponing it for a year). It was on this occasion that the question of opportunism and the taking part by members of the Socialist Party in current politics was discussed, with the results already- spoken of in the unification of the French party. The debates at this Congress issued in the passing of resolutions condemning the participation of Socialists officially in existing State governments, and generally in “bourgeois politics.” The Congress held at Stuttgart in 1907 was memorable for the expulsion of Quelch from Würtemberg for his characterization of the diplomatic conference, then sitting at The Hague, on the peace question, as a “thieves’ supper.” It was also remarkable for the strong stand made by Gustave Hervé on the question of patriotism and national military organization – the same Hervé who is now so enthusiastic a patriot.

If we except the special Peace Congress called at Basel on the outbreak of the Balkan War, the last International Socialist Congress was that held at Copenhagen in 1910. Here also the question of armaments and peace was largely to the fore, but in general the gathering, though successful in every way as a Congress, the arrangements of the Danish comrades having been altogether excellent, was not distinguished by any special features. The following Congress should have taken place at Vienna in 1913, but this time once more the German party insisted on having it put off for a year. All arrangements had been made for holding the gathering in Vienna in August of the fateful year 1914, but the great world catastrophe intervened, and International Socialism was deprived of the possibility of making a united pronouncement on the question of international relations generally, and of the special circumstances that had led up to the European situation as it then stood in particular. This is much to be regretted, since had the Congress been held in 1913 according to the instructions given to the International Bureau at Copenhagen, the probabilities are it would have resulted at least in the clearing of the air on the general question of war, and on the attitude of the various Socialist parties towards it, in the event of hostilities arising. I know it maybe said that in general terms the question had already been dealt with at previous Congresses, but the terms were too general. Moreover, in the three years that had elapsed since the last Congress, that at Copenhagen, the international situation had considerably changed, and in a sense undeniably rendering essential a more detailed and more precise pronouncement on the eventuality of a great European war, for determining the practical attitude of the party on this all-important question.



1. Bax had four sons and two daughters. – Note by Ted Crawford


Last updated on 28.3.2004