E. Belfort Bax

1884 and 1921

(10 February 1921)

E. Belfort Bax, 1884 and 1921, Justice, 10th February 1921, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Justice recently published an anniversary number on the occasion of its 37th birthday. The difference between these dates, comprising, as it does, more than a generation of political and social life, represents a toll of many changes. As regards the personnel of the then single Socialist party, the old SDF, at that time it consisted of a strictly limited company of enthusiasts, almost all personally known to each other. Hyndman was not yet 42; Morris was barely 50; Harry Quelch, a serious man in the twenties; the present editor of Justice, a hale young knight of some nineteen summers, full of ardour and vigorous activity in organisation. Then there was Joynes, fresh from resigning his mastership at Eton; Champion, from the army; his friend, Frost; Andreas Scheu, the Austrian revolutionary; the present writer, and others besides. When one looks back at those days one is apt to regret the loss of a certain freshness of enthusiasm when the knowledge of Socialism was confined to our small band. But such is the way of history. A great world-historic idea embodies itself in a (nationally-speaking) feeble few. The feeble few develops an enthusiasm and moves mountains of prejudice. The idea gradually permeates the masses, is everywhere discussed, and becomes a moving force in society. But the old enthusiasm is already modified. It takes other forms, becomes “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,” new problems loom above the horizon, new differences arise.

Such has been the evolution of Socialism in Britain between 1884 and 1921. Socialism was then a new and almost unknown conception. I well remember a letter Marx wrote me by the hand of his daughter, Eleanor in 1881, about eighteen months before his death, apropos of an article of mine, in which he congratulated me on my interest in Socialism; “the great question of the day and the future.” I must confess the phrase struck me for the moment with a strange sense, living in a world as it then was in which every newspaper and every book or article on Economics or Sociology treated Socialism as an exploded fancy of Utopian dreamers, the schemes of community-building of the early nineteenth century being the only Socialism heard of in England forty years ago. Manchester school theories then still ruled the roost; all else was voted “unscientific” sentimental fancy. Free competition was the slogan.

Well, these forty years have led us a long way. There is no subject so much discussed to-day as Socialism in the modern sense in its various phases and modifications. Certainly hardly any serious man would now question the remark contained in Marx’s letter of 1881. Meanwhile the whirligig of time has led the solid “practical” trade union official round to the position of having to call himself a Socialist and to believe in the International! Our approach to the period when the Co-operative Commonwealth shall emerge from the welter of disintegrating capitalism is visible to the most superficial observer not blinded by anti-Socialist prejudice. But we are not there yet. When Justice was founded, all we knew of divisions was that between Social-Democracy and Anarchism. Now we have Servile Stateism, blood-and-thunder Bolshevism, Guild-Socialism, and I know not how many other variations more or less divergent from the Democratic Socialism always consistently preached by the SDF find to-day they are all competing for the suffrages of the future, But it is “dogged as does it.” By its tireless propaganda the old SDF forced the ideal of Socialism upon the attention of the British people, and, as we hope and believe, it will be the new SDF that will be not the least important factor in the realisation of its old ideal of Democratic Socialism in the not far distant future.


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 27.5.2007