Dogmatism and Opportunism

Herman Gorter

Published: The Workers' Dreadnought, Volume VII, no. 18. July 24, 1920.
Transcription/Markup: Micah Muer, 2017

The Example of Holland.

In the first article we showed why, theoretically, the use of Parliament in a country like Germany, where the revolution has broken out, is harmful to the proletariat. In the second article we proved the same, from a practical point of view. We will see how dangerous the use of Parliamentarism may be in a country where the revolution has not yet broken out.

There is a country where a radical revolutionary Socialist movement has existed these five-and-twenty years, where a Communist Party has succeeded in getting seats in Parliament, and where, therefore, we can study the results of practical participation in Parliamentary action. This country is Holland.

A short survey of the history of the Dutch movement should precede.

Birth of Dutch S.D. Party.

After a long struggle with Anarchists and Syndicalists, the old Social-Democratic Party was born in 1894. After a very few years of really Marxian revolutionary propaganda and practice, opportunism began to manifest itself. Immediately we took action against it. We tried to hold it back. We fought opportunism in nearly every question of internal politics, in the agrarian question, the educational problem, the suffrage, the colonies, in the problems of the workers' insurance, the eight hours' working day, of militarism, of imperialism. We never gave in, but we did not succeed. We gathered a minority around us, however. The fight was fought for the most part theoretically, in written and oral debates, at congresses, etc. Of this struggle Henriette Roland Holst and the writer of this present article were the "leaders."

Then a new generation came, who took up the fight on other, more practical lines. They began to organise the opposition in the groups of the party, and founded a weekly, the Tribune, of which the writer became a collaborator, and Wynkoop and van Ravesteyn were the leaders.

Expelled from Party.

Our fight grew so fierce, that, in 1909, the leader of the opportunist part, Troelstra, caused us to be thrown out of the Party, an unprecedented proceeding in the International till then.

It proved to be a blessing to us. For this was the time of the growth of Imperialism, and now our fierce struggle for life against the almighty old Party constrained us to fight even more strongly, and to the utmost, for Marxian principles. We had to take all consequences, draw all issues–in the first place in the question of militarism, colonisation, and imperialism. We numbered only a few hundred, so that we had to find our weapons in hard study, truth, and the keenest fighting.

And thus we succeeded in forming a very small, but very strong party; a party that fought on straight lines, theoretically as well as practically, and on every question. Two proofs will suffice here. In 1912, when a world-war threatened to break out (by the conflict in Bosnia), we proposed at the Basle Congress immediately to proclaim the general European strike against war, a course of action which, in 1914, proved to have been right. In July and August, 1914, when it was generally believed that Holland would be likewise involved in the war, the course of action taken by our Party was exemplary. And so it has been for many years since. Our Party was rightly called the Bolshevist Party of Western Europe.

Now all this has changed completely. Although much stronger externally, the party has weakened considerably internally. We are a strong party no longer.

Little united as we are, we no longer present one single front. We have grown opportunist, erring in many directions, on many questions of principle, uncertain, often, how to act. And through what reason? Through the use of Parliamentary action, and of the elections.

In showing how much the Dutch Party (since 1918 no longer the S.D.P., but the C.P.: Communist Party) has deteriorated through the use of Parliamentarism, I will have to be most careful. The English worker cannot read our Press, and cannot therefore verify what I am going to say. For that reason I will omit all cases that are in any way dubious, stating only such facts as I have brought forward a hundred times in Holland, and as have never been opposed or denied.

As I have said before, our fight had ever been clear and straight in every direction. Then in 1917 our electoral campaign began, and things became quite different.

Dutch Workers During War.

In order to understand this, we should know the position of the Netherlands workers during the war. As everybody knows, Holland depended on Germany, economically and consequently politically also. For that very reason the old party, and its leader Troelstra, opportunist and nationalistic to the core, were pro-German. The Anarchists and Syndicalists, and many petty-bourgeois, were pro-Entente, in the first place on account of the invasion of Belgium. In the electoral fight against that old party, the votes of these petty-bourgeois, the Anarchists and Syndicalists would be obtained, by being pro-Entente.

And thus our "leaders," Wynkoop and van Ravesteyn, changed their tactics. To get seats in Parliament, to obtain "power" for the party and for themselves, these true and splendid fighters, these true and sincere Marxists, became the enemies of German imperialism only, and turned into partisans of the Entente! In the opening speech of Wynkoop's electoral campaign, German imperialism was denounced, whilst there was a complete silence with regard to England and the Entente. And in our paper, the Tribune, it has been the same, for many years.

I will next give the mere facts.

In April, 1917, Lenin, Zinovieff and others went from Switzerland, through Germany, to Russia. The editors of our paper (Wynkoop and van Ravesteyn) wrote disapprovingly about that voyage. (It might possibly be harmful to the Entente!)

In July, 1917, Kerensky and Broessiloff made their last desperate offensive to save the cause of the Entente. This offensive, according to Trotzky, was the most terrible blow to the world-revolution and the Russian workers. Our daily paper, the Tribune, formerly the champion of Marxism and the revolution, approved openly of the Kerensky-Brusiloff offensive.

And they wrote their disapproval of the peace of Brest-Litowsk, by which Lenin weakened the cause of England!

An Amsterdam comrade and the present writer, in August, 1917, wrote against the attitude of Wynkoop and van Ravesteyn. Our opposition, however, was crushed. Two articles of mine against English Imperialism (in which I proved it to be as bad for the workers of the world as German Imperialism) were suppressed during nine months; the last of them, a keen attack against England, was not printed till after the elections, when it could do harm no longer! Thus the freedom of speech in our once so splendid party was done away with, only for the sake of some seats in Parliament!

Celebrating Wilson.

Matters grew still worse, however. After the United States had joined in the war, van Ravesteyn and Wynkoop began to celebrate Wilson. When at the Amsterdam Conference I told this to comrade Sylvia Pankhurst and others they would not believe me. I will add here the words written by these editors of the Tribune:

"Indeed, for the United States it is not in the first, and not even in a foremost place, the direct, we might say tangible, imperialistic interests which are at state–interests, therefore, of a territorial, economic or financial nature."

According to the Tribune, therefore, the United States do not fight for power in China, on the Pacific, in Japan, in Siberia and in Russia. According to the Tribune the United States do not fight in order to obtain world-dominion! This is surely the most untrue utterance ever published by a Communist paper.

And the editors go still further. They say:–

"Wilson strives in the first place to defend the Union from a terrible danger he seems looming ahead, and to create a new world-order, in which that threatening danger, if it cannot be averted altogether, will at any rate be far more easily mastered, and it [sic] which it might even be possible forever to avoid great collision between the powers. This is the material foundation for his 'idealism' and his war-madness. A capitalistic ideal, it is true, but an order of things which would undoubtedly mean a higher stage of development. ...

"This imperialistic ideal implies ... nothing less than the possibility, the aim, to guard the capitalist world from a fearful catastrophe, such as it has been undergoing these last four years."

And according to the editors, this war-aim of Wilson's has become "more and more the war-aim of radical political opinion in many European countries."

Here, therefore, we have approval for the aim of Entente Imperialism.

Here, after it has been said that the United States do not fight for material profit, it is said of the United States and of the entire Entente, nay of all pacifists in Europe, that they may very likely bring about a new capitalistic world-order, in which the great collisions are done away with, or for the most part prevented!

Here reformism is propagated in foreign politics, which can have the same outcome as reformism in home politics.

And in many other places this imperialistic aim of America and England was defended.

The editors of the Tribune agree here with all reformists and Social-Patriots, with all false Marxists of the type of Kautzky, with all pacifists, with all bourgeois demagogues like Lloyd George and Wilson, and with all bourgeois parties that try to betray the workers with the possibility of a world-league and world-peace. This world-peace is the most gigantic fraud the world has ever seen, and the Tribune agrees with it.

This is opposed to all the teachings the Marxian theory gives us so far. This is the strongest sample of pro-Entente politics on the part of the Tribune editors.

As there was a possibility that the Zimmerwald Conference at Stockholm would strengthen the position of Germany, Wynkoop boycotted that conference, and, by his manoeuvres and his position as president of the Executive of our Party, rendered it impossible for us to go there.

The leaders of the Communist Party (then the S.D.P.), however, have applied these tactics also to practical politics in Parliament.

Food from America.

The most serious suspicions that Wynkoop and van Ravesteyn would be pro-Entente and pro-American also in Parliament, have come true. During the war, in the autumn of 1918, they have in Parliament proposed, "by every means," to obtain food from the United States. This means, therefore, also at the cost of having to give ships, etc., to the United States to help them in their fight against the Central Powers, Russia, etc. For everyone knew–and the term "by every means" proves that Wynkoop also understood–that in case the Netherlands acceded to their proposition, the United States would in their turn claim more ships for war purposes. In order to obtain white bread, therefore, the Parliamentary fraction supported the Entente. And it did so at a moment when the Entente was about to attack and suppress the Russian Revolution, and perhaps, also, the revolutions of Germany and Austria! As for that, the Members of Parliament had promised it already during the elections: "White bread for the people of the Netherlands, above all" (1).

Whether this proceeding was harmful to the Russian, the German, the Austrian, the International Revolution, was of no concern. Long live the National! This should come before the International! White bread by every means.

The S.D.P. claimed that the others, the German, English, French and American parties, should be international in the war, that they should not support it, that they should all suffer hunger, sorrow, the destruction of their land, the death of their children and women, and their own death, rather than support imperialism. And now, that the S.D.P. and the Netherlands proletariat were to suffer, but a thousand times less than that of the countries at war, now the S.D.P. and the Netherlands proletariat had no need to be international!

It was all make-believe, therefore. The abusing of the Social-Patriots as well as the glorifying of the Bolsheviki. As soon as their proper turn came to suffer for the international ideal, to place it above the national, they have failed. The S.P.D. [sic], in taking this course of action, has accepted the standpoint of Kautzky, Longuet, etc. Again it has place the small National Party interest over the International class interest. The great need of the present is to forget the party interest, and to place the international class interest above all. Or rather, to render the International interest the party interest.

Rotterdam an English Base.

And in practical politics Wynkoop and van Ravesteyn added to this that they did not protest against the making of Rotterdam into a base for England and America. Although this base was intended without a doubt against the German Communist revolution also, although England and America will doubtlessly try, when in the future the Communist Revolution again breaks out in Germany, to smother it from this base, as they did in Hungary and tried to do in Russia, although in ceding Rotterdam as a base the Netherlands Government for the first time joined the world's reaction, although this was the first opportunity for the Netherlands proletariat to join on the one front in the international struggle against world capital for the world revolution, the Communists in the Netherlands have not uttered a single word of opposition or protest.

And, lastly, the leaders of the Communist Party in Holland have refused to protest against the Peace of Versailles, only in order not to offend the Entente capitalists. This peace brings immense suffering to the entire European proletariat. It renders the Continent of Europe impotent, uniting the entire world capital, under the leadership of England and the United States, against the world proletariat. And yet the Communist Party refused to join in the protest!

Again the same tactics: Everything against Germany, nothing against Anglo-American Imperialism.

So much where foreign politics are concerned.

It goes without saying that to carry on these tactics, and to obtain that end, the gaining and retaining of seats in Parliament, the greatest opportunism became inevitable also in internal politics.

Holland has a Social-Patriotic Trade Union movement of some 250,000 men; a syndicalist movement of some 60,000. Wynkoop and van Ravesteyn wanted the votes of these latter. To that end the criticism on Syndicalism had either to cease completely, or to become totally insignificant (just as in England, when one needs the votes of the Labour Party, the sharp criticism of it will have to disappear). And thus it happened. The Syndicalists are constantly praised. And also the Anarchists. An article of mine, containing a sharp attack on the Syndicalists, was refused. There is a constant endeavour to win the good graces of these voters. Further, the old party gave money for the famished people of Vienna and Budapest. Wynkoop and van Ravesteyn consequently proposed to send one hundred thousand guilders out of the Amsterdam and Rotterdam municipal funds! This was actually done!

Only on the Programme.

The Social-Patriotic Party has on its programme the socialisation of industry. To compete with these in the eyes of the voters Wynkoop and van Ravesteyn claimed in Parliament the nationalisation of the soil. No revolution, therefore, but socialisation by means of Parliament!

It likewise goes without saying that in order to carry on these tactics the leaders had to become tyrants, almighty leaders, usurping all the power. The opposition had to be crushed, and to that end the most infamous means were used. Just as in the old parties of the Second International. Once more the workers were betrayed, and left in ignorance of the real aims of the leaders.

This is what has become of our splendid party, of the Bolsheviki of Western Europe.

In the place of a party that was as clear as crystal, and as hard as steel, we have a turbid mass. In the place of a united, harmonious party, conscious in its every deed, we have a few leaders, who, on many questions, use the workers as their tools. In the place of a party that in the interior fights all parties alike, Anarchists as well as Syndicalists and Social-Patriots, we have a party that bends before the two former, and in many questions compromises with the latter for the good graces of the voters, and that is not very far off, consequently, from a compromise with either. In the place of a party fight against world imperialism, we have a party that favors one form of imperialism–English Imperialism.

When the revolution comes, this party of ours will not be strong; it will stand powerless.

And what is the cause of all this? The use of Parliamentary action.

The English reader sees clearly that in countries where the revolution has not yet broken out, the use of Parliament involves a great risk. He sees it not only in theory, it has likewise been proved by us by daily experience.



(1) Holland had more brown bread than any of the countries at war had.