Peter Petroff Vanguard November 1915

The Breakdown of the International

Source: Vanguard, No.3. November, 1915, pp.1-2;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Whichever State will emerge victorious from this world war – one thing is perfectly clear: the working class of all the belligerent countries has suffered the most disastrous defeat.

One has only to recall to mind the main landmarks of the Socialist and working class movement in the various countries before the outbreak of the war and to glance at the present situation in order to gain a true perspective of the dimensions of this defeat.

In Germany the powerful army of Social Democracy, equipped with a magnificent scientific theory and practical knowledge, was in battle array against Prussian militarism and junkerism. They were waiting for the opportunity, and considering the most effective methods of assault of the Prussian stronghold of reaction – the three class franchise system – which barred the way to their greater triumph. In Russia the workers were actually fighting on barricades against the Tsar’s hordes. The French Socialists had gained victory at the election and were threatening the financiers who hitherto were ruling supreme in France. In Great Britain the process of awakening of the working class had reached its culminative point in the formation of the “triple alliance” of the Railway-men’s Union, the Miners’ and the Transport Workers’ Federations. The giant who has aroused from his slumber has been showing his fist.

These growing forces of the proletariat were threatening the thrones of the Tsar and the Kaiser, the French financiers and the British magnates of capital. No doubt the promoters of this terrible war, in so far as they were free agents, were actuated by the desire to retard the class struggle within their countries and direct the attention of the workers to the “foreign foe.”

Before the outbreak of the war Socialists all the world over were combating imperialism and militarism. At every international congress the danger of commercial rivalry, imperialism and the growth of armaments was emphasised. Decisions to employ all effective means against war were adopted. At the Stuttgart Congress in 1907 a resolution was carried which clearly outlines the duties of the organised workers in case of war:-

If war threatens to break out, it is the duty of the working class in the countries concerned and of their parliamentary representatives, with the help of the International Socialist Bureau as the means of co-ordinating their action, to use every effort to prevent the war by all the means which seem to them the most appropriate, having regard to the sharpness of the class struggle and the general political situation.

Should war none the less break out, their duty is to intervene bring it promptly to an end, and with all their energies to use the economic and political crisis created by the war to rouse the populace from its slumbers, and to hasten the end of capitalist domination.

That the imperialist policy of the various capitalist governments was leading to war was generally accepted, and that such a war would have to be vigorously opposed by all Socialists seemed obvious. A division of opinion prevailed only as to the methods to be adopted. There were, of course, exceptions, such as H.M. Hyndman, Robert Blatchford, Schippel and others; but – there is no family without a fool.

Now millions of proletarians are murdering each other in the battlefield. Socialists and Labour leaders are preaching the gospel of hatred with greater zeal than even the avowed reactionaries. In Germany the Socialist deputies in the Reichstag voted the war credits, notwithstanding the fact that their party for over forty years persistently rejected the budget. The leaders of the French Socialists entered the ministry in order to produce more shells, and together with reactionaries of the Delcasse type they are depriving the people of their liberties for which generations have fought. The Minister of Munitions, M. Albert Thomas, went even further and issued a circular to the secretaries of the Trade Union branches asking them to supply him with names of their members who are “shirking” in order to inflict punishment on them. In this country many Socialists and Labour leaders have reached a similar state of degradation. To speak of the so-called Socialist Defence Committee would mean lowering of one’s dignity. The Trade Union leaders not only became recruiting agents, but are striving hard to deprive the organised workers of attainments achieved in a century of struggle. We know many instances of repressive legislation against the workers in all countries, but there has never been a case in history where representatives of labour have supported the enacting of such legislation against their own class. The recent Trade Union Congress will stand in history as a sample of unsurpassed humiliation. Surely that farce could have been just as well played by any group of wishy-washy Liberal voters. Lloyd George apparently estimated them at their real value when he demonstrated to them a .4 bomb!

It is true the majority of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, the Italian Socialist Party, the section of the rank and file of the B.S.P., and a very large section of the German Social Democratic Party, which includes in its ranks perhaps more members than all the above parties together, have remained loyal to the Socialist principles and are vigorously opposing the war. The fact of the paralysis of the International as a whole, however, remains.

What, then, is the cause of this breakdown of the International? Various explanations have been forthcoming. Some comrades attribute it to the opportunist tendencies “within certain Socialist parties and to Parliamentarism.” On the other hand J. Ramsay Macdonald says that the revisionists remained internationalists while the revolutionaries deserted their banners: And his opinion is as little warranted by facts as that of his opponents. The leaders of the Russian Social Democratic Party declare that the Marxian theory, the tremendous organisations and large funds weighed like heavy loads upon the German Social Democrats, and prevented them from drastic revolutionary action against the war. Should that be true then it would be necessary to explain as to why the Russian Social Revolutionary Party stuck in the mud of social patriotism. It is very well known that this party possesses neither a Socialist theory nor a solid organisation.

Other Socialist writers attempted to provide a theoretical justification for “social patriotism” and national unity by the assertions that the economic interests of the capitalists involved in this war are common to those of the workers, that the working class organisations therefore, in supporting the imperialist aspirations of their respective capitalist governments are defending their own class interests.

Everyone who possesses some knowledge of the development of modern imperialism knows that the exportation of capital is one of its principal functions, that by exportation of capital only the financier gains, the people have to keep up strong armies, navies and government departments for the advancement of the interests of the Magnates of capital. Mr. Brailsford, in his “War of Steel and Gold” says: –

“What is a national interest? How, in particular, are the interests of the people of these islands advanced when a group of Liberal capitalists succeeds in manufacturing in China, with cheap native labour, soap which used to be produced at Warrington at Trade Union rates and exported to China in British ships. It is possible that the electors of Warrington and Port Sunlight might not feel that their taxes were advantageously employed in ‘protecting’ such enterprises as this.”

Taking into consideration that the foreign policy of the belligerent capitalist powers consists in the advancement of such enterprises, it is obvious that the interests of the proletariat and the capitalist class have become even more antagonistic.

The fact that many Socialists and Labour men are now fraternising with the middle class does not yet prove that there are common interests of the possessed and dispossessed classes just as the support of the working class electorate to the Liberal Party in this country does not signify an identity of interests.

The causes of the breakdown of the International can be made plain by the analysis of its composite elements. An organism is capable of effective action only if all its parts perform their duties. Unfortunately, the Second International was not in that position. The Socialist and Labour forces are very unequally developed in the different countries. In Germany the Social Democratic Party has been so powerful that by decisive action it might have able to paralyse the military machine, While the Socialist Organisations of most of the other belligerent countries were almost a negligible quantity. If we further take into consideration the fear of Russian Tsarism prevailing in the minds of the German workers we can understand the difficulties which were in the way of the German Social Democratic Party in any serious attempt of drastic revolutionary action. Such action could be effective if it would be undertaken by the workers of all the belligerent countries. It is of no use for Guesde, Vaillant and Albert Thomas to ask the German Social Democrats to revolt they themselves, as members of the French ministry, are carrying on the war.

We have had many international congresses at which resolutions, and manifestoes were adopted. But those declarations were hardly known to the large masses of the organised workers who were supposed to be represented there. Some countries only actually elected delegates with mandates, while from other countries only representatives of small groups and a large number well-to-do cranks attended. In this country, for instance, the organised workers devoted very little attention to the International. The agenda of the international congresses was scarcely brought to the notice of the members of the organisations; reports were given only in exceptional cases.

Before the Copenhagen Congress several articles appeared in “Justice,” discussing the very serious problem as to the most comfortable way to go to that beautiful town, but not a word was said on the questions which were to be considered at the congress. So far as the B.S.P. is concerned, the loose manner of appointing delegates can be illustrated by the that to the proposed Vienna Congress a “Comrade” who was not a member of the party and hardly knew any English obtained a mandate by paying one year’s contribution. Obviously, such people were very successful in misrepresenting the organisation.

The war has revealed all that was bad in the Labour and Socialist movement. The progress of the war, with all that is accompanying it, is strengthening those elements who will build a new International on a more sound basis.