R. Palme Dutt

Notes of the Month

The Issue in Europe

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. V, No. 5, November, 1923.
Published: 162 Buckingham Palace Road, London.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The Menace in Germany—A Class Issue—Hushing up the World Revolution—The Silence of Knowledge—Black Dictatorship or Red—Democracy in Practice—A New Capitalist Offensive—The Bourgeois United Front—The Decisive Hour

BEFORE the terrible state of events in Germany it is not easy to write quietly in terms of theoretical analysis. When crowds of starving men and women are besieging shop windows with no money to buy, and are driven down by armed police with swords and revolvers, then it is difficult to believe that the most constitutional democratic socialist cannot feel some indignation, and not least when he realises that that sword was put in the hands of the policeman by a social democrat instead of helping the starving men and women. Against the black alliance of Stinnes, French militarism, and the Second International, combining at this moment to crush down the German workers to the extreme of exploitation and subjection, it is difficult to believe that every active force in the working-class movement would not rise in immediate opposition or would fail to realise the deadly threat conveyed to the whole European working class. Yet the reaction of feeling in this country to-day is still conventional, indifferent, in terms of obsolete issues, utterly without relation to the present situation.

CAN it not be seen to-day at any rate that the German issue, and indeed the whole European issue, is a class issue? There is no “France” or “Germany,” or exacting of reparations from the German “nation.” Instead there is Stinnes and Degoutte meeting to arrange how to impose a ten-hour day on the German workers; and the German Government timidly trying to take part in the negotiations and being contemptuously relegated to the rôle of a policeman. What is Stinnes? What is Degoutte? The one is slave-driver, the other is bully, of the same Central European plantation on which both live: and their quarrels and contracts and agreements are only the haggling of slave-driver and bully over their respective shares of the proceeds. They are the prototypes of post-war European culture: able to meet together as civilised bourgeois representatives and upholders of all political, moral, and æsthetic values (slave-driver and bully) against the rising tide of the proletarian revolution.

YET at this moment in British Labour propaganda the issue is still presented as an issue of France and Germany: the fight is still presented as a fight over reparations; the solution as some kind of settlement over reparations and debts. Why this blindness to the existence of the German workers? Why this compassionate upholding of the cause of Stinnes? Why this heroic applause of Baldwin against Poincaré? Why this indifference to what the settlement preparing must actually mean to the working class? Why this deafness to the actual clash already sounding? Why this complacent acceptance of a dictatorship against the workers established by their own colleagues of the Second International? There is one answer to all this, and only one. Eyes and ears are there: and eyes and ears are daily assailed by the torrent of facts. But to admit the facts to-day is not merely to admit the immediate facts. It is to admit the world revolution.

TO admit the facts to-day is to admit the failure of every theory and assumption on which the present policy of the British Labour Movement has been built up. They preached democracy. Their own side has thrown it over. They preached international peace to be achieved on the sword of the Allies. The Allies have destroyed it. They preached the improvement of the workers’ conditions by the “peaceful” progressive methods of German social democracy instead of the “violence” of the Russian workers. To-day the German workers are in the descending hell of misery: the Russian workers are on the rising path of health and strength. They preached capitalist reconstruction and increasing production and prosperity. The outcome has been wholesale unemployment, growing dislocation, and falling standards shattered by the capitalist offensive. Every shred and remnant of which the tattered banner of the Second International was made up after the war has been scorched and shrivelled in the blaze of events, and the stark issue of the world struggle of capitalist reaction and the workers’ revolution stands out clear and inescapable. The leaders of the British Labour Movement are not blind from ignorance. They are well posted through their international contacts in what is happening. They are blind, not from ignorance, but from knowledge. They are silent with too much understanding. Just as two years ago the chatter of the Centre dried up as the real issue became clear between the reaction of the Second International and the united fight of the Communist International, so to-day the Second International has become silent as the supreme battle has become clear between the black dictatorship of Stinnes-Poincaré and the proletarian dictatorship of the Communist International.

“TAKE care that for fear of a red dictatorship you do not come to accept a yellow or black dictatorship.” How soon have Fimmen’s words to the British Trades Union Congress become realised. Military dictatorship against the workers has been established in Germany—by the Social Democrats. Without the will of the Social Democrats that dictatorship could never have been established. Without the vote of the Social Democrats the Chancellor would never have secured a quorum for his Emergency Powers Act, much less its passage. Without the presence of the Social Democrats in the Cabinet the appointment of notorious monarchists as the dictators could never have been imposed on the workers. In 1921 the establishment of military dictatorship against the working class failed because of the united opposition of the trade unions. In 1923 it succeeded because the Social Democrats helped to establish it. There has been no other purpose in the presence of the Social Democrats in the Stresemann Cabinet. There is nothing they can point to that they have achieved by it. There is not even the fig leaf of constitutionalism: for the Social Democratic President Ebert had declared already that he would proclaim the dictatorship in any case even if it did not pass the Reichstag. There is not a single right or protection for the workers they can claim to have preserved. Even the eight-hour day, on which they made their short-lived stand as (in their own words) “the last remnant of the victories of the revolution,” they abandoned with a formula that preserved it “in principle” while agreeing to its destruction in practice. Hilferding’s financial schemes were soon given up and himself sacrificed. For what then have they abandoned everything? In order to establish a dictatorship of militarists and industrialists, which is engaged in breaking up working-class organisation, smashing the working-class Press, shooting and sabring workers in the streets, and at the same time supporting and consolidating the illegal Fascist and nationalist armed anti-working-class organisations. All this the Social Democrat Ministers in the Cabinet are sanctioning and encouraging by their presence, until the time comes when the workers are finally stripped and helpless before their enemy and the Social Democratic puppets are flung aside as of no further value.

LET every worker who has ever listened to the beautiful phrases of a MacDonald or a Thomas or a Brailsford about the great democratic principle and the violence and cruelty of dictatorship consider this picture: for here are the facts that those phrases conceal. To believe in democracy can be an honest dream, and even a beautiful dream, even though it is the dream of a man blind to the cruel pyramid of existing society. But the Labour and Socialist International does not stand for democracy. Its prospectus may be democracy: but its policy is different. Its policy is dictatorship—but dictatorship of a different kind. Against the dictatorship of the working classes and the peasants, of the vast majority in the interests of the vast majority, it puts forward and supports a dictatorship of a handful of militarists and industrialists breaking down the workers to heavy exploitation with the armed assistance of the foreign bourgeoisie. And this policy is endorsed and supported by Henderson and Thomas and the other leaders of the British Labour Party who are united with the Social Democrats in the Labour and Socialist International. We do not blame them for supporting a dictatorship. We agree that in times of social crisis a dictatorship is inevitable. But we do blame them for supporting a dictatorship of the exploiters and militarists against the workers instead of a dictatorship of the workers against the exploiters and militarists. This, then, is the practical working out of democratic principles. The beginning of the avenue is fair enough—Weimar hurrahs and “the freest Parliament of the freest State on earth”; the end is Von Kahr and the Emperor Stinnes, the machine guns in the streets and the women shot in the market places. And what is happening in Germany is only an advance working model of what must happen in every country of capitalism in Europe and America. As sure as democracy is democracy, as the Second International is the Second International, and the class war is the class war, so surely will the same scenes be enacted in England: the armoured cars will race through the streets, and the bombs will rain down from aeroplanes on the heads of strikers, and all this will be done under the seal and signature of MacDonald and Thomas.

BUT the dictatorship in Germany is something more than a phenomenon of social collapse. It is the spearhead of a European capitalist offensive against the workers. The nature of that offensive is already clear. It is an offensive for intensified exploitation as the only means of carrying on the broken-down capitalist economy. Its watchwords are the ten-hour day and the destruction of trade union protective standards. Its initial scene of operations is the principal centre of European production, the Ruhr. Its agents are the Ruhr industrialists: but behind them and working with them are the French Government on one side and the German on the other. The Stresemann Government came to power as the representative of a single policy, but with a two-fold aspect. The single policy was the policy of the big industrialists, from whose party Stresemann came. Its two-fold aspect was capitulation abroad and dictatorship at home. The day after the capitulation the dictatorship was set up. In the words of the Times correspondent “violent measures have been taken against disorders before those disorders have actually occurred.” But what is the meaning of a policy of capitulation abroad and dictatorship at home? It means the united front of the bourgeoisie against the working class.

THE French and German Governments play into each other’s hands through the mediation of Stinnes, while the British Government abstains from interference. The French Government, so adamant to German overtures, readily negotiates with Stinnes. Stinnes, having thus made friends with the enemy behind the Government’s back in so open a way as to provoke the cry of “Treason!” is endorsed and approved by the German Government. The industrialists, who were ready to sacrifice all in an heroic national passive resistance hand in hand with their workers, now raise no objection to being protected by French bayonets against those workers. The French troops are used to suppress Communist agitation and clear the streets of Dusseldorf with armoured cars. The British forces, it is announced, are ready to “restore order” if the German forces should be insufficient. The German Government orders the Ruhr workers to take the oath of allegiance to the Franco-Belgian regie. Is it not clear that what is being prepared behind the fantastic network of the reparations issue is something very much simpler—the subjection of the German working class to a gigantic industrial combine? And if that subjection succeeds, then it must lead the way to the subjection of the European working class.

IF a Franco-German reparations settlement is reached on the lines of the Stinnes negotiations, if the Ruhr and the Rhineland are made a separate economic domain, if the German workers are provoked into sporadic hunger struggles to be suppressed in blood by the weapons so elaborately prepared against them, and if such a suppression is followed by the consolidation of the dictatorship in some more permanent form, whether monarchic or otherwise, and the extirpation of all militant working-class organisation, then the European Counter-Revolution will have won its battle for the immediate period and set up in the face of economic forces its system of post-war capitalism on a basis of military dictatorship and vast trustified exploitation. In that hour it will be too late for the British working class to move: for their fate will be found to be as irretrievably bound up with that of the European working class as it has proved to be during the past three years. But to act is to act now: for every day that is lost, every day that leaves free and unchecked the military preparations of the German, the French, and the British bourgeoisie, is loading the dice against the working class.

R. P. D.