H.M. Hyndman

Further Reminiscences

Chapter V
International Socialist Congresses

IN the year 1888 a Trade Union International Congress was held in London. It was a very dull affair, almost wholly controlled by the Liberal members of Parliament, who then held the dominant position in English Trade Unionism. The delegates were, indeed, a most respectable, comfortable, self satisfied lot. Not that they were destitute of class feeling, or that they were unable to conduct a determined Trade Unionist fight against employers in their respective trades. Broadhurst, Burt, Pickard, Fenwick, Burnett, Mawdsley, and others had given abundant evidence that they could stand up for the aristocracy of labour in their limited way as well as any of the representatives of the workers who have come to the front since. But they had no ideal whatever: no conception of the tremendous change which the development of economic and social conditions, combined with the class-conscious intelligence of the producing class, would bring about. Socialism was for all of them an unrealisable, not to say undesirable, Utopia; the teachings of the old Chartist leaders had completely faded from their minds, and they stoutly resisted as contemptible trickery any attempt to use the machinery of the Trade Unions and the votes of the Trade Unionists in order to obtain political influence. These leaders were Liberals, Nonconformists, Compromisers, respecters of the powers that be, almost to a man. And the delegates were like unto them. Anything duller than the proceedings it is impossible to imagine. I was reminded, as I looked down at them, of the French Assembly at Bordeaux, after the great Franco-German war, when certain of the more frivolous young women in the gallery used to gamble with one another at a game which might be Englished as “Bald-Headed Loo,” stakes being risked and winning determined by the number of flies that might settle at any one time on an eminent legislator’s head.

The only interesting stir was created by one of our party, who has since sold out to the Liberals, but then was preparing the way for his profitable political deal, by furious personal attacks on Mr. Henry Broadhurst; and by our old friend Adam Weiler, who actually had the temerity to propose an Eight Hour Law enacted by Parliament in that strange Rip Van Winkle gathering. Needless to say, he met with no success. Of Adam Weiler the story is told that, when working as a joiner at Shoolbred’s, at the time of the establishment of Bismarck’s Exceptional Laws against the Socialists in Germany, his fellow-workmen chaffed him mercilessly upon the sort of legislation that was thought good enough for Germans. Weiler said nothing. “They wouldn’t bring in laws like that here.” Weiler still kept silence. “They would never attempt to put us under Muzzle Laws of that kind in England; they know better.” “Vell,” retorted Weiler, “I never did hear of no man as vas such a fool as to muzzle a sheep.” Bernard Shaw “conveyed” this witticism and spoilt it in his John Bull’s Other Island. The English workers are not quite so sheep-like today. But I have never forgotten that 1888 Congress. Its dreary bleat sounds still in my ears.

The International Socialist and Trade Union Congress of 1896 was a very different affair indeed. Socialism had then begun to exercise slowly, more slowly than we thought at the time, a considerable influence in this country. So great a change had been wrought indeed that the Trade Unions cordially welcomed co-operation with the Social-Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party in holding this International Socialist and Trade Union Congress, and they behaved most handsomely throughout. Taken as a whole, this Congress of sixteen years ago will well bear comparison with any that have been held since. The Queen’s Hall, with its side Halls and Committee Rooms, formed a magnificent centre, the arrangements for the Congress itself and for the convenience of the delegates were admirably carried out, the social functions in connection with it were pleasantly conducted, and the great meeting in Hyde Park, though spoilt by the weather, was preceded by as imposing and well-ordered a procession as has ever marched to that historic demonstration ground.

It has always seemed to me that the English Trade Unionists acted so well on this occasion, that had the Socialists themselves been thoroughly consolidated they might have been able to make such agreements with these organised workers, without in any way sacrificing their principles or giving up their independence, as would have led eventually to great results. But the love of intrigue, devotion to sharp practice, and eagerness for domination which have always characterised the leaders of the Independent Labour Party, even before Mr. Ramsay Macdonald came forward to strengthen and exacerbate these unpleasing and injurious tendencies, rendered co-operation impossible, and a very promising chance of organising the working-class forces was missed.

Wilhelm Liebknecht, who, prior to this Congress, had had a strong prejudice against the Social-Democratic Federation, saw then clearly how the land lay, detected who were to blame for the lack of Socialist fraternity in Great Britain, and sided with us thenceforth to the day of his death. More important was a conversation I had with James Mawdsley, the acknowledged chief of the cotton-workers, at his request during the Congress. Unlike the majority of the Trade Union leaders, Mawdsley had no love for the capitalist Liberal Party and its chiefs. He regarded them as the worst enemies of the working class. This, notwithstanding the recent miserable truckling and selling out to Liberalism in this country, has always been the attitude of the most capable and honest men in the International Socialist movement. Mawdsley was of opinion that advantage should be taken of this Congress for the Trade Unionists to endeavour to shake off the galling yoke of the treacherous and hypocritical Liberals, and to constitute a thoroughly organised party of the people. I pointed out that Socialists could not possibly co-operate in such an effort so long as English Trade Unions kept out of the political arena and adhered to the old hopeless laissez-faire doctrines; that also some definite recognition of Collectivist and Socialist effort must be conceded, even if we retained, as we must retain, our full liberty of propaganda and political action in any combination that might be formed.

The whole thing fell through, and the Trade Unionists, unfortunately, have not ceased to grovel before the Liberals. I only recall the incident now as showing that even in 1896 one of the ablest, as well as one of the most upright and independent, of the old school of Labour leaders saw that until the workers combined politically in their own interests and co-operated with Socialists in a vigorous attack upon the capitalists nothing important could be done. That was sixteen years ago. In 1912 the Socialist Party in Great Britain is still divided, and the Trade Union members of Parliament are still the most obedient, humble servants of the capitalist Liberals; many of them having quite recently accepted highly-paid posts from their political masters and constituted themselves members of a corrupt and irresponsible bureaucracy.

But the 1896 Congress, nevertheless, was a most inspiring gathering, which might well lead those who took part in it to believe that great things would shortly be achieved. It created a marked impression upon our Continental comrades to find that even Great Britain, with all her stagnation and reaction since 1848, was beginning to move in an international sense. To look round the large hall, crowded with delegates from all parts of the United Kingdom, as well as from all the nations of the Continent, was full of encouragement for them. On the other hand, the Englishmen had the opportunity of seeing the veterans of the continental movement in the flesh, whom for many a long year they had known only by reputation. They felt for the time being that they too formed an integral portion of that vast and ever-growing international party which, though with their “practical common sense” they smiled at its ideals and distrusted its methods, they could not but recognise had organisations as powerful as their own, to be able to send such a number of delegates to the British metropolis, who obviously met not as strangers but as friends and comrades in one great cause.

The whole of the metropolitan press set to work to misrepresent and belittle the Congress from the first. The journal with the largest circulation of the day actually instructed its chief representative, in a letter which came into my hands, only to report scenes of disturbance and uproar. Most of these journals garbled the speeches, mis-stated the facts, and grossly caricatured the whole of the proceedings. The Times, the Standard, and the Westminster Gazette, however, though they vilified us in their comments, did report honestly what took place. Happily, by a very great effort on the part of all connected with the paper, Justice was published daily during the Congress with a correct record of what took place; so that all who take an interest in the details of one of the greatest and most important international gatherings ever held can still learn the truth about the debates. Even Socialists are sometimes apt to overrate the influence of the capitalist press. But all really great movements of the people have necessarily been carried on regardless of, and in opposition to, the opinions of the dominant classes as expressed in their Parliaments, on their platforms, in their pulpits, and through their press. Socialism in this and every other country has made way in spite of the most furious detraction from all these quarters.

As I wrote at the time, the opinions of the capitalist press “have no more real value as to the importance of our Congress than the views of the priests of the temple of Jupiter at Rome had as to the advance of Christianity in the third century.” And I repeat this now, not out of any animosity towards an institution which is so obviously the creature of its surroundings as the advertisement-supported press of this country, which has always treated me personally quite as well, or better than, I had any right to expect; but because there is a tendency even in our own ranks to exaggerate the influence of daily papers, forgetting, as many do, that in Germany, by far the most advanced country, it is the movement that has made the Socialist newspapers, not the newspapers which have made the movement, though now, of course, they act and interact upon one another. That the journalists of a party should exalt the horn of journalism is only a piece of human nature with which it would be foolish to quarrel. But somehow both Christianity and Mahommedanism, not to speak of other Asiatic creeds, made rapid way without newspapers, and their votaries fed upon pamphlets and speeches. The same has been the case with Socialism.

I am bound to admit, however, that the Congress of 1896 did give some cause for our enemies to blaspheme. We were there smitten with a plague – the plague of Anarchists. Of Anarchism I have spoken before. Its theories, if theories they can be called, are so intensely individualist that I have never been able to understand how Anarchists can logically accommodate them even to the most primitive and elementary form of Communism or the simplest Trade Unionism. But logic is not their strong point. It introduces consecutive and intelligible co-ordination into the processes of thought and reason, and they revolt even against the abstract being in any sense regimented, or reduced to a system. If it suited their immediate purpose, they would forthwith revolutionise the rules of arithmetic and turn the motions of the planets upside down. Why men of this texture of mind should wish to force themselves upon a Socialist and Trade Union Congress I am at a loss to this day to understand. But there they were – Malatesta, Merlino, Domela Nieuwenhuis, and a good many more. The infuriated subversionist, Aristide Briand, had of his mercy withheld from us on this occasion the light of his countenance and the mellifluous accents of his voice. But there were quite enough without him.

The shindy began on the point of verification of credentials. Naturally. Opposed as they were to everything the rest of the delegates stood for, it was very difficult, no matter how elastic we might make the proverbial catholicity of Socialists, to bring these advocates of topsy-turvy dom within the fold of the material church. It was argued, especially by the Germans, that those who were opposed to collective and Socialist organisation for the attainment of individual perfection had no right whatever to be present at a Congress summoned to promote that end; that direct actionists who abjured and denounced all political propaganda were out of place among hundreds of delegates who all accepted politics as the easiest and best means of economic emancipation of the workers; and that people who believed in the personal propaganda of deed by bomb and assassination, even in nondespotic countries, could not rightfully claim to take part in a Congress which regarded such proceedings, in Western Europe at any rate, as anti-social crimes.

To my mind these contentions were absolutely irrefragable. They did not leave the Anarchists a leg to stand upon. But there they were, and there they stood, and there they vociferated, when they learned that there was an intention of excluding or ejecting them from the Congress. Perhaps I shall not be doing them an injustice if I say that they came expecting a disturbance and would have been disappointed if the opportunity had not been given them for making an uproar. The truth was, the Congress had been rather loosely summoned. There had been no more thought of the presence of Anarchist Trade Union delegates than of Catholic or other reactionary Trade Union delegates. And the Anarchists, mostly Trade Unionists themselves, claimed that they had as much right to be present as any Trade Unionists on the floor of the Queen’s Hall.

Hence an indescribable hubbub. The chairman for the first day was appointed by the English Trade Unionists, who constituted a majority of the British section. He was a fine, upstanding, full-blooded Yorkshireman with a north-country accent of a most pronounced kind. Three languages were allowed at the Congress – English, French, and German. Our chairman, Cowey, only understood one – his own – and that, for the purposes of such a Congress as this, no more than imperfectly. So when this question of the Anarchists came up there was a pretty to-do, which Cowey, though everybody recognised his goodwill and impartiality, was wholly unable to calm down. Business became almost impossible, and I felt quite sorry for Cowey, who, unaccustomed to the most peaceful methods of discussion at continental gatherings, which, to us, always seem so much like vehement controversy and physical misunderstanding, could scarcely be expected to regard the simultaneous outbreak of downright disorder and furious vociferation as the natural concomitants of fraternal greetings. It did look at one moment as if the Assembly might resolve itself into two conflicting factions of the chuckers-out and the chucked. One Anarchist hot-gospeller, Cornelissen by name, who would persist in mounting the platform, was indeed induced to seek a lower level with more precipitation than judgment as to his method of descent. So the Anarchists may be said to have had an excellent innings at Anarchy, small as was the minority which embraced the lot of them.

The main disturbances arose about the admission of Anarchists at all. A resolution had been passed at the International Congress of Zurich by which Anarchists, who were and are opposed to political action and to representation in any form, were excluded from future International Socialist Congresses. This resolution had been accepted afresh by the English delegation by an overwhelming majority. It was well known that nearly all the national delegations in the hall were against the admission of, or at the least against giving equal opportunity for discussion to Anarchist delegates. They had no right there at all, and could only remain as a matter of courtesy. But they were determined to upset the proceedings if this lay by any means in their power. Moreover, they were vehemently supported in their action, notwithstanding the vote of the British delegation, by Keir Hardie and Tom Mann. Mann was specially furious, not only in the Queen’s Hall, but at the separate Anarchist meeting afterwards held in the Holborn Town Hall, at which Keir Hardie was the first speaker. Hardie actually advised his Anarchist friends to stand firm and remain as delegates in spite of all votes. Mann went farther and declared that he did not differ materially from them as to methods, and gave them his heartiest welcome.

It was in opposition to such fustian, given forth in and out of the Congress, that I made the following speech, when the chairman, Paul Singer, quite unexpectedly called upon me:

In rising to reply to the unexpected request of our Chairman, I wish in the first place to say that I do not support the resolution because it was formulated at Zurich. I was not at Zurich, and I am not pledged to it personally. I support it from an independent point of view. Look at the title of this Congress. It is the Congress of the International Socialist Workers and Trades Unions. No word of invitation to Anarchists or Anarchist-Communists. The Social-Democratic Federation in issuing its invitations did not insert Anarchists or Anarchist-Communists, because they have repeatedly declared that they do not believe in Congresses or in representation at all. Merlino, who is a personal friend of my own, and for whom I entertain a most kindly feeling, declared at the Paris Congress in 1889 that they had come there with the express intention of upsetting a lot of fools like us. There was order, there was toleration, there was fraternity!

Here arose terrific interruption from the Anarchists, which I claimed should not be counted in my time. Hoarseness having supervened with the majority of the shouters, I was again able to make myself heard.

I now say in reference to Tom Mann’s speech that the difficulties he experienced in the early days of the movement I experienced also, and even some years before him. Who were the men, however, who, when the capitalist press was vilifying us as rogues and scoundrels – who were they who joined in this denunciation? The Anarchists.

Again the Anarchist interruptions broke forth and continued.

There is another example of toleration, Mr. Chairman. We are told if we admit our opponents we can rely upon their dignity and self-control. [Keir Hardie and Tom Mann had both earnestly pleaded this on behalf of their Anarchist comrades.] I congratulate Mann on the way his clients are acting in support of his speech, to which they have just listened! The British section just now decided by 223 to 104 against the view taken by the Vice-Chairman, Keir Hardie, and Tom Mann. We therefore stand committed to the Zurich resolution. We have come here to do business and not to dispute about principles. If you do not accept this resolution, you will stultify yourselves in the eyes of the world. We cannot enter into discussions here upon basic questions which have been decided at Congress after Congress. I yield to no man in toleration, whether the discussion take place at the street corner or in the lecture-room. But I denounce Anarchy. I declare against disorder. I stand up here for the order and organisation of International Social-Democracy.

Jaurès and Vandervelde spoke at much greater length in the same sense, and in favour of political action. Domela Nieuwenhuis, then recently perrverted to Anarchism, spoke at still greater length in reply. After this, preparations to take the vote by nationalities were made. The Zurich resolution was carried by 18 votes to 2. [1]

Unfortunately, also, at this particular Congress the acute differences between the two sections of the French Socialist Party made themselves manifest after a very robustious fashion. With a disregard to the fitness of things, which was bitterly regretted when the result was witnessed, but which was surely a natural mistake on the part of the organisers of the Congress, the Guesdists and the Possibilists were put close together at adjoining tables, under the grouping of “France.” They took advantage of this ill-devised propinquity to call attention to one another’s shortcomings with an amount of detailed particularity that left nothing to desire in point of offensiveness. This too scarcely helped to impress the harmony of the proceedings upon outsiders not already imbued with the true faith. In fact, I have always congratulated the comrades from that day to this that the greater part of the delegates came of cooler blood than is to be found to the south of the Channel.

It is not to be wondered at that the English press should have made the very most of these scenes, regardless of the fact that in the sober, phlegmatic House of Commons itself much more serious trouble, tempered by dynamitical explosion and accompanied by revolverist threats, had occurred night after night in the previous decade. Men in these cases only recall what they wish to remember. But the upshot of it was that the fine but much-bewildered Cowey gave up his Presidency of the recalcitrant assemblage, and the able, if a trifle arbitrary, Singer, of the German Social-Democratic Party, reigned in his stead.

Singer understood the languages, and was well supported, not only by his own national comrades, but by the overwhelming majority of the Congress. But here again, unluckily for all of us, our chairman was too autocratic and dictatorial towards the Anarchists. Cowey let them out of hand by too great urbanity: Singer provoked their fury by too much authority. Bedlam broke loose more than once, and we began to despair of peace and progress within the period of seven days during which Queen’s Hall was at our disposal. Hitherto, with the exception of the one little pacificatory speech, given above, which the Daily News was kind enough to preface its report of with the kindly note of appreciation: “Then arose Mr. Hyndman, with a tongue like a razor dipped in gall” – with this exception, I had been a silent, if somewhat exasperated, participator in the deliberations. Now my turn came, and I found myself in the chair. I wondered as I took my place whether the bell on the table, almost a replica of Big Ben, would be of any more use to me than it had been to my predecessors. Like Singer, I knew French and German, and was therefore able to deal with the disorderly elements direct. With an amount of prudence, which I can easily imagine might be called by a harsher name by some, I came to terms with the Anarchists, and, by arrangement, Malatesta, whose violent honesty nobody has ever challenged, was given a reasonable time to explain his position and place his views before the Congress. He spoke very well from his point of view, and as the Anarchists kept in the main to their bargain, we had comparative peace until the disagreements between the more and the less advanced parts of the Socialist army became troublesome.

Aggravating, however, as these misunderstandings were, and terribly as time was wasted on the earlier days, the principal objects of the Congress were achieved. Complete solidarity among Socialists of various nationalities on the main issues was displayed; resolutions of an important character were passed; as the Congress progressed, a fine spirit of fraternity and good feeling was evoked; the great social gathering at the Crystal Palace – enlivened, no doubt for the express benefit of our French comrades, by a pyrotechnic reproduction of the Battle of the Nile! – was a huge success; and the evening meeting in the Queen’s Hall – when all the leading orators spoke, and I was in the chair – was crowded and enthusiastic. Even more important would have been the meeting in Hyde Park. The procession, with bands and Socialist and Trade Union banners, was one of the most imposing that has ever been seen in our metropolis.

It was a splendid show. But I for one had looked with apprehension all the time upon huge masses of cloud that were banking up to the westward, and hoped rather than believed we should get through the proceedings without a downpour. My worst anticipations were realised. The rain carefully waited until we had reached the Park and were arranged on and around the platforms, when it burst out upon us with more than tropical fury. Millerand, who has since “gone capitalist,” was on the platform where I was chairman. He had a waterproof. I had not. I opened the meeting, briefly, and stood out a portion of Millerand’s address.

Then none of us could bear it any longer. People often talk metaphorically of being “wet to the skin.” I have seen the heavens open upon me with a fine rush of rainwater in many climates, but never before or since in my life could I use that phrase in its full significance of complete personal drenching so correctly as on this occasion. This time I could feel the water actually flowing down what I may call my innermost skin and finding its way in haste to my boots. It was a case of sauve qui peut from the elements. No Anarchist bombs could have brought about a more universal scuttle.

I felt that cab or omnibus, even if one could be got, was useless, and I made the worst of my way, still pelted continuously with rain, and oozing water at every seam, till I was able to deposit my dripping raiment, which fell with a squish, on the floor, and my person, which was thoroughly chilled, in a hot bath, about a mile from the scene of our abortive demonstration. Nobody who was in Hyde Park without an umbrella or mackintosh on that day will ever forget it. To make up for this untoward experience we organised a trip on a steam launch up the Thames to Henley. These picnics were by no means so common then as they are now; and as genuine picnics they were most enjoyable. Our foreign comrades, none of whom had seen the upper reaches of the Thames before, were delighted; and a certain significance was given to the trip by a body of Socialists who came to meet us at Henley from Oxford, Reading, and other branches of the SDF. Our guests on board, Bebel and the others, delivered inspiring addresses, and, the weather being fine, the whole trip was delightful.

This International Socialist and Trade Unionist Congress of 1896, though marred to a certain extent by the troublous incidents I have lightly touched upon, remains a landmark in the history of Socialism in this country and elsewhere. Taught by experience, it was decided that in future only those Trade Unions which accepted political action and were prepared to advocate the socialisation of the means of production should be admitted to the next and succeeding Socialist Congresses. This decision has permanently kept out the Anarchists; but the non-Socialist Trade Unionists have of late years been admitted on the express ground that by arrangements with the capitalist Liberals their representatives could get into the British House of Commons, while avowed revolutionary Socialists could not. It is a singular position for a Socialist Congress to drift into. But the value of these International Congresses is mainly, as will be seen, the meeting of the most active men from all countries, and the encouragement they give to one another by conference as to the progress of the cause in each.

By 1900 the cause of Socialism in France had advanced so far that the two French sections could join in the invitation to the International Congress of that year. This, I am bound to say, was the utmost limit of their unanimity. That accomplished, they parted in peace and came together in war. The scenes of the London Congress between the French delegates were reproduced in an even more furious fashion in Paris. It is not too much to say that the whole of the proceedings were greatly interrupted, at not remote intervals, by exhibitions of Gallic fraternity which could scarcely be distinguished from a keen disposition for mutual slaughter. To this day all who witnessed these demonstrations of goodwill express their astonishment, when they speak of the Paris Congress, that the delegates from the French parties were able to take part in subsequent proceedings without bearing evidence on their persons of brotherly love turned pugilistic.

This was the year also of the Great Paris International Exhibition, which taught many a lesson beyond and above the mere desire to produce goods for the market, or to manifest the powers man had acquired for the destruction of his fellows. Mechanism, chemistry, and electricity in their numerous applications inevitably held a prominent position. But the French, with the natural aptitude of their race for the display of culture and refinement, had determined that Art should hold the first place all along the line. And they succeeded. The Street of the Nations was nothing short of magnificent in every way. All countries strove to set forth before the coming millions the exquisite architectural beauties, enhanced by the glorious paintings and fine decorations, of their past. It was one long lesson in diversity of faculty, and gave to every one who studied it a higher conception of other men and of himself.

If our own old English country house was almost crushed out by the superb edifices which surrounded it – a result that was predicted to the late King Edward VII when he insisted upon this homely reproduction representing Great Britain in that majestic array – the pictures and furniture within differed so completely from the rest of the artistic collections, and were so beautiful and harmonious in themselves, that the inadequate simplicity of the building itself was almost forgotten. A leisurely stroll through, and then a careful examination of the treasures in that street, followed by a visit to the wonderful collection of ancient French art in the Petit Palais – I should have liked to communise that Palissy pottery – and the splendid modern sculpture across the way in the more imposing structure which, like its smaller rival, has become one of the permanent attractions of Paris, formed a delightful introduction to the Socialist Congress, where the possibilities of the future, to those who could appreciate them, transcended by far even these fine productions of the past and of the present. It is only when what has been done under endless difficulties and with imperfect knowledge is thoroughly understood and enjoyed, that the imagination can figure forth to itself, in some degree, the endless vista of splendid achievement which lies before emancipated mankind.

It is always assumed by the educated ignorant that Socialists limit their aspirations to the kitchen and the table, and that their ill-nourished minds make a god of a full belly for their half-fed bodies. Nothing can be more absurd. No sooner does any human being grasp the truths of Socialism than his capacity for the appreciation of beauty in Nature and Art begins to grow. That I have always observed. And many a working man has told me in grim seriousness that what makes him hate the existing social system and the class which administers it so bitterly as to render him, in thought and action, a dynamiter, but for the innate consciousness that this wild justice of revenge could have no permanent effect on the social state, is that he and his have been shut out, not only from complete physical development by insufficiency of food and inadequate clothing and housing, but that all the higher part of his nature has been starved and stunted by privation of any opportunity in childhood and youth for learning to love beauty for its own sake. This does not apply to all, of course: some have been thrust down too deep into the mire to think of anything beyond the immediate needs of the day. But it affects an ever-increasing number, and these are they who will count in the coming period of social revolt.

The Congress of 1900 was held in the Salle Wagram, a hall devoted for the most part to music and dancing. It cannot be said that the organisation was at all what it ought to have been. In fact, the arrangements could scarcely have been worse, and compared very badly indeed with the admirable dispositions made for the delegates in London. Not even pens and paper and ink could be found, and everything else necessary was similarly lacking. There was, of course, a great deal of grumbling at such unreasonable neglect, but, to do them justice, even the delegates who had come from the greatest distances suppressed their indignant criticisms in order not to give offence to our French comrades. I must here declare, however, that much as I admire and respect France and Frenchmen, I shall feel seriously uneasy if it is proposed we should hold another Congress in the French metropolis. The truth was that the French sections did not even sink their animosities in deference to the duties of hospitality, and, with a lack of a sense of humour, which, I confess, surprised me, gave this as their reason for insufficient preparation.

But there is another truth at the back of this, and that is, French Socialists, even now that they are “unified,” are singularly deficient in solidarity and steady organisation. They do wonders on occasion. Their great ideals are ever before them. But the weekly payment of dues to a centre, with punctilious regularity, is a detail which is classed among the non-essentials of Socialist life, and similar lack of business aptitude is to be observed in other directions. As, however, the sections have now come together and seem likely, in spite of deep-seated differences, to keep together, they may improve in this respect too. Incidentally, I may remark that these differences in themselves arose out of distinct historic causes, and have had grounds for continuance which are quite wanting in other nationalities. Names, like dates, count for a great deal in France. Men like Blanqui and Raspail, St. Simon, Fourier, and Victor Considerant, to say nothing of Proudhon and his Anarchist followers, founded schools of thought which, of necessity almost, degenerated in active life into factions. Their separate existence continued long after their usefulness had disappeared and ought to have been absorbed in the wider movement of organised scientific Socialism, which, by its inclusion of all forms of human endeavour, and even sentiment, should afford an outlet to every faculty.

Other nationalities have not this excuse for segregations in the Socialist ranks, which are in their case almost exclusively due to quite recent personal intrigues and rivalries. That Guesdists, and Possibilists, and Blanquists, and Subversionists (Allemanists), and Parliamentarists, however, should all have joined in bringing about this Paris Congress of the beginning of the century was a good sign of progress. But that they should cease from troubling one another and give peace to the Congress was more than could be expected all at once.

So Paris, like London, witnessed some sharp encounters among the French delegates, which, happily, did not extend to other nationalities. The hall itself was by no means well suited for a Congress of this importance and magnitude, and the method adopted at all these International gatherings made it seem even less satisfactory than under other circumstances it would have been. Commissions are appointed, after the credentials of the delegates are verified, to examine into, discuss, arrange, and report upon the various suggestions and resolutions submitted to the Congress. These discussions are open to the other delegates, and generally there are two or three of special interest. The rooms where these take place, and in which the principal orators of the Congress meet in friendly conflict, are, as a rule, crowded, leaving the detail business in the main hall to be conducted by a mere handful of those delegates who are less excitable or more conscientious. This is a very bad arrangement, which, in addition to spoiling the appearance of the Congress as a whole, and lowering its tone, necessitates the doing of the same work twice over on the reports of the Commission, and some steps should be taken to reform the procedure.

The principal discussion on this occasion was on the right and advisability of Socialists to join administrations formed by the dominant class, Millerand having lately become a member of the Combes Cabinet. The feeling of the Congress was undoubtedly against any such compromise of principle, except when voted by an overwhelming majority of the party in the country where the opportunity should arise. It is, indeed, difficult to see how a genuine Socialist, opposed to all forms of government based upon capitalist supremacy, can honestly co-operate in making that supremacy more tolerable and therefore of longer duration, unless there should be an overwhelming necessity for such temporary sacrifice in order to avert some great and pressing danger to the Socialist Party itself; though that men and women should join in municipal work, in order to obtain local ameliorative reforms, may seem reasonable, has proved to be advantageous, and does not involve the individual in the same hazardous responsibilities.

But the most important outcome of the 1900 Congress was the establishment of the International Socialist Bureau. This I had personally striven to bring about for many years, in order that the traditions of the “Old International” might be carried on under new and more favourable conditions, and that the great Socialist movement, growing every day more conscious of its own strength and therefore more formidable to those who opposed the inevitable reconstitution of human society, might have a permanent centre – for preparation at first, and, eventually, for thoroughgoing and simultaneous international action. Though at this particular date the conception of such a breaking through of the carapace of capitalism had somewhat faded, and the bourgeois ideal of endless progression by infinitesimal advances dominated many minds, there was still enough of the true scientific spirit in the delegates present to apprehend that these slow, almost imperceptible steps towards the next period of evolution may end, and often have ended, alike in natural and social development, in one sudden and violent attainment of the higher level immediately ahead. That all the great capitals and industrial centres of civilisation might, when the time was ripe, as Bronterre O’Brien first predicted and Marx foresaw, combine in a capable and co-ordinated endeavour to realise, by common concerted action, the overthrow of the effete and outworn, and the building of the foundations of the new and vigorous society, was the idea which underlay in many minds there present the vote in favour of the establishment of the International Socialist Bureau. Brussels was decided upon as the least dangerous, freest, and most convenient seat for the Bureau, and our Belgian comrades proudly accepted the great trust confided to them.

Have I been disappointed? Perhaps it is too early to say. I served myself on the Bureau for a whole decade. There is to be another International Socialist Congress held at Vienna in 1913.

Two other matters which interested me much came also before this Congress: India, and the South African War. On both questions the Congress was at one with the English delegates; not, as I firmly believe, from any feeling of national repulsion whatever, but because Socialism is opposed to race repression and race aggression in every form and by every nationality. It was in relation to the South African War that the late Pete Curran, afterwards M.P. for Jarrow, performed the feat to which I think I have previously referred. He delivered an impassioned oration against the war, and all who were directly or indirectly responsible for it, with such terrific energy and fire that he roused the enthusiasm of every delegate present, though not one out of ten understood the meaning of a single word he was saying, and sat down amid a thunderous burst of applause. It seemed as if even more than the full spirit of his great namesake’s eloquence inspired him on this occasion.

Nothing more surprising or more effective ever was done. He is dead: one of the spent forces of the Socialist movement. He first joined the Social-Democratic Federation in 1884 in Glasgow, and his street-corner speeches were perfect in their way. Parliamentary ambitions and Parliamentary success – Colonel Seely, then as ardent a Conservative as he is now a highly-paid officialist Liberal Cabinet man, congratulated Curran after his first speech upon having so successfully “caught the tone of the House” – ruined Curran, as it has wiped out many an inferior man: that and a tendency to good fellowship and its concomitants, not unusual to his race. But he was a good man, even when gone wrong, and anyhow his speech in Paris in 1900 was one of the features of the Congress. Another was the solid disciplined front shown as ever by the German battalion. Our French friends could scarcely understand, still less appreciate, this intelligent regimentation, and at such Congresses it has its drawbacks. But that it means business we long ago found out. In spite of certain shortcomings, we all left Paris regretfully, with the strains of L’Internationale ringing in our ears.

International Socialist Congresses have a certain similarity about them, and, except for Socialist readers, details of the discussions become very wearisome. In fact, they are wearisome in themselves even to those who take part in them. But the work done is good work, and helps greatly to knit the national parties together. The Amsterdam gathering was no exception to this, and the Congress should be remembered, if only on account of the inexhaustible tact and cheery, humorous vigour of that splendid specimen of a Dutchman, Van Kol, who presided. The decision of the Congress, acted upon since by all but the British groups, that all national sections of Socialists should combine in every country was important and successful. But the acceptance of non Socialist English Trade Unionists, present by accident in Amsterdam, on their own business, which has led to a complete change in the character of the International Congress, made specially in order to include them, was a great mistake. We left Amsterdam with regret, and with a keen remembrance of the good fellowship and hospitality of our Dutch comrades.

The last Congress I was present at was held at Stuttgart. That involved a long and an expensive journey out and home, and I was agreeably surprised that so many English delegates were able to be present. Up to the last moment we heard from one quarter or another that the King of Würtemberg would never venture to allow such a revolutionary concourse to meet in his dominions; that his own well-to-do subjects would object; that pressure would be brought to bear from Berlin, and so on. Whatever difficulties he may have had to encounter, the king withstood all antagonism, and with an amount of liberality that might have been a good lesson to potentates farther north, Stuttgart was left open to the International Socialist Congress of 1906. The one trifling incident which marred an otherwise perfectly peaceful Congress was the expulsion of Quelch, who referred to the International Arbitration Committee then sitting at The Hague as a “Thieves’ Kitchen.” This was considered offensive, and the authorities of Würtemberg, not sorry, perhaps, to show that they too had their lines of limitation in the matter of free speech, insisted that the English Social-Democrat should make the best of his way across the German frontier in twenty-four hours. He was given a farewell “punch of honour,” followed up by several slaps on the back, and was conducted to the station by quite a large number of Socialists in addition to the police.

It is the fashion to accuse me of having some bitter feeling against Germany, because I have done my very best for many long years, in common with German Social-Democrats, to oppose the militarism of Prussia, which I have always regarded as a menace to the freedoms of Europe. But, as a matter of fact, my friendships with Germans have been both numerous and close, and I like the country and the people. Certainly he must be a hard man to please who does not get on well with the Swabians, as courteous, and well-educated, and charming a folk as I have ever encountered. And Stuttgart with Cannstatt is a delightful place in itself, constituting, as all our working-class delegates themselves quickly recognised, a very pleasing, but in a sense shocking, contrast to the horrors of English manufacturing towns. Trees and pleasant gardens were to be seen at every turn, there was no hideous canopy of smoke to befoul the atmosphere and dim the sun, and the vine-clad hills formed a bright setting to the picture.

The population was suited to its surroundings. There was poverty, no doubt, but it did not obtrude itself upon the visitor as it does with us. The physical development of the men and women was infinitely superior to that which is to be seen so sadly manifested in Lancashire and Yorkshire, as well as in our other industrial regions and in large districts of London. This is chiefly due to the fact that Germany has not yet undergone more than one full generation of fully-developed factory capitalism. But whatever the main reason, and taking everything else into account, no unprejudiced observer can dispute that military drill has a good deal to do with the superior physical development and general carriage of the German men.

This was specially observable at the great openair meeting, when many thousands of demonstrators marched to the field where the gathering was held in military order. It was a magnificent display of organised peaceful force, and the crowds round the platforms were as attentive and enthusiastic as any that I ever addressed. I was on the same platform with Bernstein, who, in spite of sharp differences, was good enough to say some very flattering things about me. Greulich also, the fine old Swiss leader and poet, was there, and made a great impression. I spoke in German: the crowd was polite enough to behave as if they understood me, and even went so far as to cheer passages in my speech. I was quite gratified also to read in the papers next day that I delivered myself in “flowing German.” Some of the other platforms, notably that where Bebel, the leading German Socialist statesman and orator, addressed the people, were more crowded than ours; but, at all, the disciplined enthusiasm was very impressive, and the idea of thoroughgoing international combination against all attempts to keep the peoples apart by rousing national jealousies was received with deep and unmistakable assent. The speakers were loudly cheered all along the line, as they drove to and from the parade, alike, as it seemed to me, by the Socialists and by those of the townspeople who were only out for a holiday.

It is needless to say that the whole of the Congress arrangements were as perfect as they could be. Whatever feelings I may have had against the German Executive Committee for their most unfair treatment of us English Social-Democrats, in days when their recognition and appreciation would have been a great advantage to us, memory of the difficult and dangerous period we had had to pass through had gradually faded, and I could praise quite ungrudgingly their admirable management of this great international demonstration. Nothing was lacking. Every detail was thought out and elaborated beforehand, any mistakes which occurred by neglect of plain instructions were met and corrected with admirable courtesy, and throughout the whole week it is impossible to speak too highly of the care and consideration shown.

And I am particularly entitled to speak on the matter. I was myself the chairman of the British Section, and had to be in my place at eight o’clock in the morning, and to remain, for the fulfilment of my duties in that capacity, and as a member of the International Bureau, from that early hour until the Congress rose, and sometimes afterwards. If everything had not gone like clockwork, it would have been impossible to carry out the programme set down for us to get through. We may criticise the Germans as much as we please, and object, as some of our party do, to their cool and almost phlegmatic fashion of conducting their national movement; but when it comes to the unseen work of organisation, or the outside manifestations which call for the most complete voluntary discipline to render them effective, the German Social-Democrats give the lead to all Europe.

The man chiefly responsible for the masterly organisation of this Congress of 1906 was Dietgen, the publisher and philosopher who has devoted his life and fortune to the spread of Socialism and the publication and distribution, generally at heavy loss, of the highest class of Socialist literature, with a persistence rare even in the annals of a party which has given many examples of such work and selfsacrifice. He was ably and loyally supported by local comrades, as well as by those at a distance. From first to last everything went like clockwork.

Here at Stuttgart we saw Bebel and Singer in full vigour, though both of them were, of course, old men. August Bebel I met frequently both at Stuttgart and elsewhere. The impression he gave to most English people present was that he was a rather stern and unapproachable man, with little sense of humour and possibly too full comprehension of his own position in the party, and of the work he had done in the world. This was not my view of him, seen close at hand. In fact, I have rarely met any one who had done so much to be proud of who was so simple and modest in his private conversation, or who took so little upon himself in his everyday intercourse with his fellows. It would have been easily pardonable had he shown some slight consciousness of his own importance. For Bebel, it may be said, has been with the party from the very beginning, and, starting as a skilled workman, has never allowed his own success in business, or money which came to him quite unsolicited, to divert him for a moment from the great task he set before himself. Unlike Liebknecht, with whom his name will ever be associated, he is no master of languages, and that fact probably has always rendered it somewhat difficult for him to come into intimate relations with men of other nationalities at these Congresses.

His influence over his own party was obviously quite unbounded. To us English perhaps there was a trifle too much of hero-worship and deference in the attitude of German Social-Democrats towards him. That is how I felt myself when I saw their devotion to him at the time. But since then I have come to the conclusion that though, assuredly, there ought to be no sacrifice of equality in a Socialist party, the voluntary respect paid to Bebel was in fact a tribute paid through him to their own organisation and themselves, of whom he was the acknowledged representative; that, moreover, the object of all educated and disciplined democracy is to find the man best suited for the leadership which is essential to all organisation and determined action, and, having found him, to support him loyally, so long as he on his side loyally serves them and the cause. That is what Bebel has done for fifty years, “a great space in the life of a man,” and I, for one, appreciating more fully each day that I live the difficulties he had to encounter and the jealousies he had to outlast, even among those who now acclaim him, am glad to be able, as an old Social-Democrat myself, to add my tribute of regard and affection to one of the noblest servants of our cause.

Bebel as an orator shows his innermost personality very clearly. Then the shrewdness, humour, and sarcasm which are ordinarily concealed below an impassive demeanour make themselves apparent. One of the greatest effects ever produced on a platform was when, in answer to some arguments of Jaurès, he suddenly pointed out in the middle of his speech that the French owed their emancipation from the Caesarism of Napoleon III to the success of the German armies. This from Bebel, who had gone to prison for protesting furiously against the war with France, was literally overwhelming. Almost too much so, in fact. Though Bebel was, of course, speaking in German, and speaking rapidly also, the meaning of what he said seemed to strike the whole Assembly at once, as if every one present had received a heavy blow. It is no business of mine to discuss here the full bearing of this remarkable pronouncement. I relate only the effect it produced. Bebel’s whole performance on this occasion was a masterpiece of oratory – luminous, vigorous, impassioned, hot with the impact of conviction and enthusiasm upon the facts and arguments adduced, and – not too long.

I cannot for the life of me comprehend the love for long speeches. It has been nothing for Bebel to hold forth three, four, five hours on end. Why on earth should listeners want to have it all at once? Surely the orator will live to speak again? Jaurès also takes half a day or so to get into his stride, or I should have said the Germans were the exception in this matter. The ancient Greeks knew something of what public speaking was and ought to be. I doubt, however, if any of their greatest orations took more than two hours to deliver. But then so perfect in matter and form were some of them that the most acute and critical audiences in the world were glad to hear them again and again. My view of long speeches is that they are the outcome of laziness in the orator – it takes much harder work to compress than to expand – and of imperfect training on the part of the hearers.

But there – I am not writing an essay on the art of oratory. Some day I may. Meanwhile there is Bebel on the platform at Stuttgart, a compact, well-knit, close-shaven figure of a man, of small stature for his race, with a broad forehead, narrowish chin, and rather harsh expression, holding his audience in the hollow of his hand, and rousing his cool, methodical countrymen to the highest pitch of enthusiasm. As he stood there, the great army of the German people formed up behind him in my imagination, and I myself beheld the irresistible Teutonic revolution which Heinrich Heine foresaw and predicted sweeping on majestically to victory down the vista of years to come.

A very different man was Singer. Singer was a Jew, but a very jolly Jew, wholly devoid of those unpleasing characteristics we are apt to associate with men of his race. He had an excellent business which he gave up in order to devote himself wholly to Socialism. I did not consider this was wise, for, after all, if you are obliged to live under capitalism, it is better, as Robert Owen said, and he certainly was no money-lover, to be a slave-driver than a slave. Singer simply replied, with his jovial air, “A man cannot serve two masters,” and laughed off any further discussion of the matter. Singer was the chairman of the Stuttgart Congress. In that capacity he was, as a rule, a trifle too much of what the cabman described John Forster, the writer, as being, to Sala, Dicey, and one or two more, at the door of the Reform Club at two o’clock in the morning – “Ain’t he just a harbitrary cove?”

Paul Singer when in the chair was emphatically “an arbitrary cove,” and at Stuttgart I withstood him to his face when he tried to steamroller the whole British delegation in much too disciplinary a fashion. We really did protest, all of us together, at that time. And when we did agree our unanimity was certainly wonderful. We increased our stature by a good deal more than the regulation cubit by standing on the chairs and tables, and we made ourselves heard by all the varied arts of homogeneous vociferation which tell at such times. The Germans were very angry, and so was their chairman. Singer’s manipulation of his bell was almost entitled to rank with my own tolling down of the Anarchists at the Queen’s Hall. But we were quite within our rights, and eventually this was recognised, and the British delegation held its own. Some of Singer’s more ardent champions considered that I was specially to blame for this temporary misunderstanding, and, going back to old French history for a term of genial reproach, actually had the audacity to call me a Frondeur.

I submitted to the imputation with even more than my customary meekness, for I reflected that the Fronde did not win, and we did. I say it with the greatest satisfaction that Singer bore no malice against us whatever for having thus upset his autocratic misruling, and I was delighted at the end to propose a hearty vote of thanks to him, and, as it was all over, to give the fullest credit to him for impartiality. His manner of receiving this olive branch was quite charming. Afterwards we had a cordial parting, and I heard of his death with the deepest regret; only sorrowing much that circumstances prevented me from attending the great funeral accorded to him by his fellow Social-Democrats, in token of respect to the departed for his fine work when here.

Many of the papers read and the discussions and reports upon them at Stuttgart were very interesting and important. Here and there, of course, sharp differences of opinion arose. But the main principles of Socialism in all countries – the absolute ownership and control of the great means of creating and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community – were never for a moment in dispute. Those principles, as already said, constitute the unshakable basis of every International Socialist Congress, and it is only on the matter of tactics and methods that discussion can possibly arise. In this Congress at Stuttgart one of the two most difficult questions was the means to be adopted to regulate Emigration and Immigration. This subject is so vast and so complicated, embracing as it does practically the whole civilised world and all its races and nations, that it is scarcely surprising that the Commission, of which I was a member, was unable to do more than formulate in their report certain general recommendations and suggestions, mostly bearing upon the competition of immigrant wage-earners accustomed to existence on a low standard of life. Further dealing with the matter was postponed. No wonder. Emigration and immigration will require a generation at least of investigation to solve the problem, and by that time Socialism will hold a very different position from what it does today.

The other serious issue was raised by antimilitarism. Here, once more, the system of full discussion in Commission tended to spoil the main Congress. Delegates were eager to hear what the most eminent disputationists on both sides had to say – at inordinate length – on every phase of this prickly question, and the room in which the preliminary debates were held was crowded all day. The hero of the fray was Gustave Hervè, who, at any rate, was strictly logical in his view. He argued that no national armies should be kept up, because no nationality under present conditions is worth defending by the people. They would be no more squeezed under German rule than under French, or by a French Republican proconsul than by a German military satrap. Granted the economic assumption of the inevitable outcome of competitive wage-earning, so long as that system of nominally free human slavery endures, and not all the rhetoric or eloquence in the world can add much to this simple statement. The majority of the delegates were not of Hervè’s opinion, as many of them exhaustingly expounded, and throughout the Congress felt it was upon treacherous ground, regard being had to the fact that the discussion was being conducted on German territory.

Karl Liebknecht, whose imprisonment and then his electoral triumph at Potsdam have brought his father’s honoured name so much to the front, took Herve”s side, but the leaders of his party were opposed to the entire propaganda. For myself, I have always been in favour of the defence of nationality, whether large or small, against external aggression, and the maintenance of an independent, self-respecting and vigorous France seems to me a necessity for progress in Europe. On the report of this Commission the International Bureau, which controlled the proceedings, denied to Hervé the right of reply in full Congress, on account of the misinterpretation that might be put upon his speech and the disadvantage of publicity in such a matter. This, I now consider, was a mistake.

This was the first International Congress at which the United States was at all adequately represented, and it was pleasant to meet Simons and Hillquit and English Walling and others, some of whom I had known before, all active in the cause, as well as the vehement, not to say vituperative, Daniel de Leon, who came, as we understood, prepared for desperate ventures, but whose most daring exploit was to deliver a long and none too interesting address on the first principles of Socialism to a purely social gathering, to which the English delegates had invited their American brethren. If he had known the extreme difficulty I had as chairman in preventing a brawny and irascible Irishman from falling upon him with true Hibernian vigour for thus “interrupting the harmony of the proceedings,” he would even now congratulate himself upon having the uninjured development of nose with which nature provided him. But we all had a very good time, and parted the best of friends.

I lunched the last day very pleasantly with the Guesdists, Guesde himself, Bracke, Rappoport, and others whom I knew well, being present. Not only did we swear an eternal friendship, but we solemnly pledged ourselves, with fraternal enthusiasm, to write regularly for one another’s periodicals. Not a line has passed between us from that day to this. I have been no more and no less to blame for it than they. But be it known unto all whom it may concern that the Citizen Edouard Vaillant of Commune of Paris and Peace fame is the only French revolutionary Socialist who ever keeps his promises in the matter of writing to or for his comrades of other lands. Vive Vaillant!

And so my wife and I left Stuttgart weary but in good heart and ready for such encouragement, or disappointment, as the future might bring forth. On our way back we stopped at Strasburg, which we never pass unless a halt is very inconvenient, in order to see again the old cathedral and the fine old town. And here in Strasburg is another mystery about nationality. The people of Alsace are Germans, whatever the inhabitants of Lorraine may be. Strasburg is a German city of German cities, and all its art is German art, and most of its history German history. Both provinces and city were only conquered and annexed by France within a comparatively recent period. Alsace, this undoubtedly German province, was reconquered by Germany more than forty years ago. While Alsace belonged to France she was by no means well treated, heavily taxed and neglected in many ways. If, also, a stage villain of more than ordinary turpitude was wanted on the French stage, or in a French novel, be sure he was an Alsatian. The manners, accent, character and methods of the Alsatians were held up to ridicule daily. I remember it all well. Germany has acted quite differently. Instead of draining Elsass – who ever writes Elsass out of Germany? – she has spent money in the province, has cherished Strasburg, has built up a fine University there, and has behaved well to the people generally. Yet they cleave to their French detractors and denounce their German benefactors. And instead of the country becoming more German it is actually becoming more French. There’s perversity for you! They would welcome annexation to France tomorrow. Nationality seems an unaccountable factor in this case, I admit.

The last Congress at Copenhagen I did not attend. Some of my Labourist countrymen who were there are convinced I was detained in this island by cowardice. I daresay!

I had thought of giving some account of my experiences on the International Socialist Bureau on which I sat as a member for ten years; but I despair of making them sufficiently interesting to read. Mere annals are not exhilarating, and polyglot conversations have in them many of the elements of boredom. So I refrain.


1. It is only fair to state that a vigorous and influential protest against the speeches and action of Keir Hardie and Tom Mann was issued by members of the ILP. The signatures to this document included those of J.F. Green, Ramsay Macdonald, Joseph Burgess, Percy Widdrington, Enid Stacey, John Lister, and many more.

Last updated on 1.11.2007