Isaac Deutscher 1956

Review: James Joll, The Second International, 1889-1914

Source: International Affairs, Volume 32, no 1, January 1956. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

James Joll, The Second International, 1889-1914 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1955, pp. 213).

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Mr Joll’s short history of the Socialist International during the first twenty-five years of its existence (1889-1914) is based on fairly wide reading, is written lucidly and vividly, and is full of interesting episodes, illuminating quotations and thumb-nail sketches of various Socialist personalities. The author develops two major and up to a point interconnected themes: the protracted conflict between German and French Socialism; and the discrepancy between the Marxist, revolutionary and internationalist precept and the reformist and virtually nationalist practice of the constituent parties of the International, the discrepancy which led to the International’s collapse in August 1914. Some readers of this book will be surprised to learn to what extent the political conceptions and even the tactical ideas and slogans of the Communist International have been rooted in the traditions of its Socialist predecessor. Thus the Stalinist Popular Front was obviously much closer to Jaurès’ reformist tactics than to the ‘orthodox Marxist’ ideas expounded by Kautsky and Guesde. For all its merits, Mr Joll’s book is, however, far too sketchy and superficial, largely because of the needless limitations the author has imposed upon himself. He avoids summarising and analysing the major issues of political theory and the programmes of the Socialist parties. These were, however, far too important to those parties to be glossed over in an historical account. Mr Joll’s crucial chapter (Chapter IV) on Reformism and Revisionism is therefore most unsatisfactory. The positive achievements of the International certainly deserve, despite the International’s eventual failure, more attentive and less supercilious treatment than Mr Joll gives it. Finally, the author’s attitude may be criticised as highly inconsistent: all his sympathy is on the side of those reformists who fought against ‘Marxist orthodoxy’ which is the real villain of his story. Yet the author himself cannot avoid the conclusion that it was precisely those reformist elements that were largely responsible for the collapse of the Second International and ultimately even for the easy ‘triumph of National Socialism’ over the Reformist-inspired sham democracy of the Weimar Republic (p 186).