Dora B. Montefiore

Socialist “Man Power”

Source: The Call, November 9, 1916, No. 31, p. 2
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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.

It is interesting to note how the capitalist Press exploits for its own purposes the sayings and doings of German International Socialists, who have the courage to attack militarism and all its works. A large part of Chapter IX. of Mr. Thos. Curtin’s disclosures about his ten months in Germany, now appearing in the columns of The Times, is devoted to a description of one of the historic protests made by Dr. Liebknecht in the Reichstag, not, of course, with the intention of showing the nobility and daring moral courage of our German comrade, but with the intention of discrediting the German Government, which he calls “a one-man affair, consisting of the Imperial Chancellor.”

Curtin describes the scene on January 17th of the present year, the day set for discussion of military matters. “Liebknecht arrived early, a slight and unimpressive figure in somewhat worn field-grey, the German khaki” (Leibknecht is in the A.S.C. of the German army, and was given occasional leave of absence to attend to his Parliamentary duties). Curtin describes how, while one of the 111 Socialist members was addressing the House, he watched Liebknecht “walking up the aisle leading from the Socialist seats to the President’s chair as unobtrusively, as possible. He was walking furtively, and he cut the figure of a hunted animal, which is conscious that it is surrounded by other animals anxious to pounce upon it and devour it if it dares to show itself in the open.” (Is not this descriptive of the attitude of the majority in England towards any anti-militarist, who dares to raise a voice in protest against the bloody horrors of “a fight to a finish?”) When Liebknecht had reached the bottom step of the stairway leading from the tribune, he could be plainly seen from all sections of the House; and immediately he asked to be heard on the question of the day, not only as a member of the House, but as a soldier, the Chamber was filled with shouts and jeers, and cries of “Shut your mouth!” “Throw him out!” Liebknecht, though pale with excitement and danger, did not quail before “the imprecations snarled at him,” but stood facing the raging members, his right arm extended and his finger pointed in accusation. Then Ledebour, another staunch Internationalist, intervened, remarking sarcastically that checking free speech was an evil custom of the Reichstag; this remark made the House turn on Ledebour, who has more than once weathered a similar atom. In a passing lull, Mr. Curtin managed to catch these words of Ledebour’s, which should be emblazoned on our banner as Internationalists: “Wait, wait,” he thundered to the angry warmongers. “My friend Leibknecht and I, and others like us have a great following. You grievously underestimate that following. Some day you will realise that. Wait—”

This is the message of the Socialist man-power, organising itself to conquer eventually in the long, long war between Labour and the Capitalist State. Liebknecht, Ledebour, Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxembourg, they have in truth a great following—they have the following of the Third International, the International whose birth pangs were hastened on by the shock of armed workers killing and maiming other armed workers in the cause of capitalist rivalry.

The Second International showed itself moribund at the Baste “Peace” Congress, when the revolutionaries who were present were no more allowed “free speech” than were Leibknecht and Ledebour in the Reichstag. War was threatening then, it is blazing now; the conflagration might have been averted if the Second International had organised for Revolution instead of for Reform. But the cleansing fires of the war are, in every part of the world separating the gold from the dross—dynamic Internationalism from State Nationalism. In South Africa it has rent the Labour Party into twain, the dynamic influences crystalising in the International Socialist League of South Africa with its virile young Press organ, The International; while in Australia the crisis at the present moment working itself out, when the powerful Labour Party organisation, with its Parliamentary majority in many States, is being cleft from chin to heel with the sword of the conscription campaign, which in New South Wales is forcing a coalition between the Labour and the Opposition parliamentarians on the lines of “Prosecution of the War and Social Betterment,” as opposed to the Political Labour Council, which possesses an anti-militarist majority.

If any one is doubtful about the value of educational spade work in our movement, let me point out that the International Socialist founded in Sydney several years ago by our comrade Harry Holland, has consistently opposed militarism both before and since compulsory military training was introduced by Labour politicians in New South Wales. In 1911, Holland being in hospital, the task of editing that paper devolved on me, and it was during the period of my editorship that the Commonwealth Labour Party put into force the compulsory military training Act for all boys over 12 years old. The politicians knew quite well then that adult Labourites would not stand compulsory military training, so they roped in the children of the workers, thousands of whose bodies are now rotting at Gallipoli or, in the sands of Egypt. By systematic education the International Socialist, ably edited since 1912 by our comrade Winspeare, has now so permeated with its teaching and spirit the Political Labour Council that it has cast out its militarist politicians, and is doing its level best to upset the devices of the conscriptionists.

Our own B.S.P. has also had to face the fire of its own members, and has come out of the melee weakened in numbers, but spiritually strengthened in its revolutionary faith; and we, like Ledebour, can exclaim, “Wait, wait! Liebknecht and others like him have a great following!” In them is vested the man-power of Socialism. They are proud to enrol themselves in the fighting army of the man of whom a political opponent can write the following sentence: “He makes an unforgettable figure, alone there, assailed, barked and snarled at from every side, a private in the German army bidding defiance to a hundred men, also in uniform, but superior officers. Mere cannon-fodder defying the majestic authority of its helmeted and epauletted overlords! An unprecedented episode as well as an unforgettable one!”

Would that we had one of the forty Labour Members in our British Parliament with the moral courage to protest as Liebknecht protested, and to share the honour of the penal servitude to which Leibknecht has since been sentenced. But our Labour Members have “caught the tone of the House,” and that tone is political ca-canny and the avoidance (except in the case of Irish Members) of “vulgar” scenes. They are not among the “great following” of Leibknecht. They will not count when Internationalists all over the world commence their “great push,” starting from their base of the Third International. Even the War Lords are beginning to shrink in terror from the Frankenstein they have let loose in Europe, Asia and Africa, and Viscount Grey is calling out for a future “League of Peace” among the nations. When the International Anti-militarists desire to organise such a League they are taunted with being “pacifists.” We can stand the taunt, even as Liebknecht stood reply snarls and threats of the Reichstag; and our reply is as that of Ledebour, “You grievously underestimate our following. Some day you will realise that. Wait—!”

Dora B. Montefiore