Harry Quelch 1905

The Rout of Revisionism

Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. IX No. 1, January, 1905, pp. 14-20;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

It always suits the Liberal Press of this country to endeavour to make out that the Socialists of other countries are only a sort of mild, tame Radicals, who would be in the Liberal Party if they lived in this country. We of the Social-Democratic Federation are much too extreme; too intolerant; too altogether impossible; but we in no way represent the good Socialists of France, of Germany, of Belgium, or even of America. It must be admitted that some justification has been afforded to this conclusion by the gyrations of the Bernsteinianer and Revisionists of the countries named, and by the declarations of the leaders of our own I.L.P. There is little doubt that the relaxing political atmosphere of this country had a very bad effect on Bernstein’s moral fibre, as on that of many Continental revolutionists who have sojourned here for a number of years. Fortunately there are many who, in spite of a lengthened stay in this country, have successfully resisted this enervating influence, otherwise there would be still more justification for the conclusions of the capitalist Press than there really is. As a case in point might be mentioned a conversation between the present writer, Eduard Bernstein, and Wilhelm Liebknecht, on the occasion of one of the later visits of the latter to this country. Liebknecht was furiously indignant at a suggestion of Bernstein that there really was not any very great difference between Socialists and Liberals, and that we were really the inheritors of Liberalism and had to carry on its work. Liebknecht knew at least as much about English politics as Bernstein did, but their atmosphere had not weakened his moral fibre. And Liebknecht rather than Bernstein must be taken as the representative of Continental Socialism.

Nevertheless, it is quite the fashion with the capitalist press to represent the mild reformist tendencies of Revisionism, as represented by Bernstein, to be in the ascendant, and to be gradually acquiring greater influence and power in the movement.

What is extraordinary is that the leaders of the I.L.P., who profess to even greater hostility towards the Liberal Party than we are accustomed to express, say precisely the same thing. From the Bernsteinian point of view there is so little difference between the aims of Socialism and those of modern Liberalism that it is difficult to conceive of any reason for the existence of an independent working-class party. The leaders of the I.L.P. profess agreement with Bernstein; yet they are all for an independent party, which, on the basis of Bernsteinism, is quite unnecessary and useless. Why the I.L.P. leaders should be so eager to thus cut the ground from under their own feet and to show that the hostility to bourgeois parties, which is the only reasonable ground for the existence of their party, really does not exist, it is impossible to say, but that is what they do. Immediately after the Amsterdam Congress, Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald, and Bruce Glasier were at some pains to demonstrate in Liberal journals, as well as in the Labour Leader, that revolutionary Socialism had received its quietus, and that a mild sort of philosophic collectivist Progressivism, based upon the reform of the individual and the moralising of the capitalist class, really represented the sentiment and theory of the International Socialist movement. Certainly the Amsterdam Congress had reaffirmed the principles of revolutionary Marxian Socialism, with its insistence on the class struggle and the necessity for the expropriation of the expropriators, with practical unanimity. Certainly, too, the Congress had voted, by twenty-five nationality votes to five, in favour of the Dresden resolution, which emphatically condemned anything which was calculated to obscure the revolutionary character of the movement, which masked or disguised the class struggle, or favoured Revisionist tactics in any way.

All that, said our good friends, really amounted to nothing at all. The nationalities, they claimed, which had Parliamentary institutions and were able to enter into effective Parliamentary action had either voted against the Dresden resolution or had abstained. The majority was made up of small nationalities who were precluded by their circumstances from Parliamentary action. They could easily afford to be uncompromising, but they really were not in a position to judge. Was it not absurd, for instance, that Japan, with one delegate, and having only just entered into the comity of modern nations, should have two votes, and should thus be able to outvote a nationality like Belgium, possessing full-blown Parliamentary institutions, or that the Russian or Polish delegation should be able to neutralise the vote of Great Britain or France? We can readily admit the anomalies and even absurdities of the voting without for a single moment admitting the conclusion which is sought to be arrived at that the anomalies were all on one side, and that it was the small nationalities with but few representatives and little Parliamentary life who carried the Dresden resolution, and that all the others were on the opposing side.

That Japan should outvote France or Belgium was no more an absurdity than for the British colonies to constitute a nationality and outvote Germany, for instance. It is difficult to prevent these anomalies, and we are perfectly justified in discounting them, but they do not really count in the present controversy, for they certainly did not account for the majority, as a glance at the nationalities voting against will readily show. The nationalities abstaining from voting were Argentina, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, and Switzerland. Only four of these could be regarded as possessing such Parliamentary institutions as to give them importance from the point of view of our Revisionist friends.

Suppose each of these four had voted against; their eight votes added to the five votes given against would have made 13 as against 25; thus with these neutral nationalities voting against the Dresden resolution there would have still been a nearly two-to-one majority in its favour. Then as to the five votes actually given against, they were – British Colonies, 2; France, 1; Norway, 1; and. England, 1. Rather a sorry slow for those who claim that practically all the Parliamentary countries were on the side of Revisionism! Each of three out of the four nationalities voting in the minority were divided on the subject, and gave one vote for the Dresden resolution. Of course, even those who voted against the Dresden resolution could not be claimed as voting for Revisionism, as the Adler-Vandervelde resolution was scarcely less uncompromising than the former. In any case, however, the only nationality which cast its two votes solid against the Dresden resolution was that made up of three men representing the British Colonies of Australia, Canada, and South Africa. Our Revisionist friends made much of having got this vote on their side – it showed that the people who really possessed and used political power were on the moderate side. As a matter of fact, however, the Canadian delegate was in favour of the Dresden resolution, but allowed himself to be overruled; the South African delegate has always been somewhat Liberal in his leanings; while the vote of the Australian delegate has been emphatically repudiated by the Socialist Party at the Antipodes. The delegates from the United States, moreover – De Leon among the rest – gave both votes for the Dresden resolution. Even as matters stood, therefore, of the six votes cast by the three sections into which the English-speaking nations at the Congress were divided – Great Britain, the United States and the British Colonies – three were cast for the Dresden resolution. Not much of a victory that for Revisionism certainly, among the most advanced nations in a Parliamentary sense in the world! When, however, the following facts are taken into consideration: That the Dresden resolution was affirmed by the majority of the British delegation; that of the three delegates representing the British colonies one was in favour of that resolution, another has had his action in voting against it repudiated, and the third represented South Africa, where the Socialist organisation is distinctly Marxist – when these facts are considered, it will be seen that five, instead of three, of the six votes should have gone for the Dresden resolution, and that so far as the English-speaking delegations were concerned, it was not a victory for Revisionism, but a rout; and our friends of the I.L.P. are left in “splendid isolation” as the only English speaking – or should we say Scotch? – representatives of the cult which, according to Bernstein, is practically the same as advanced Liberalism in this country, and, according to a Spanish Anarchist, writing in a recent number of the Labour Leader, is “almost identical” with that of the Federalist Republicans of Spain!

What is most encouraging in this connection is the emphatic repudiation of Revisionism by every section of the Party in the United States. The leaders of the I.L.P. have more than once claimed that the Socialist Party of America, which ran Debs for the Presidency, was in complete agreement with the tactics they themselves have adopted in this country, and that it was only the little rump of Impossibilists left with De Leon which differed from them. The resolutions of the last Party Convention should have effectually dispelled that idea; and if they were not sufficient there is the vote of the party’s delegation at Amsterdam, and, later the severe condemnation of Keir Hardie’s position expressed in an article in the International Review by A. M. Simons, one of the most representative writers of the Socialist Party of the United States. In this article Simons declares that this attitude of Hardie’s “places him and the handful of Labour Representation Committee leaders in a class entirely by themselves.”

The same writer, in an article in the last number of La Vie Socialiste, on the elections in the United States, says, “The single State in which the Socialist vote has decreased is Massachusetts; and the lesson to be drawn from that is not less interesting than that which has been afforded by the States in which we have made most progress! The Socialist movement in Massachusetts was above all constituted of two elements. On one side the sentimental ‘sympathisers,’ to a large extent bourgeois in their origin; on the other hand trade unionists, voting not as Socialists, but as trade unionists. When a large boot manufacturer, who has always enjoyed the reputation of being a ‘good employer’ was put forward as a candidate, and a ‘friend of Labour,’ sentimentalists and trade unionists alike deserted the Socialist flag to rally to his support.

“Moreover, the whole movement in Massachusetts has been, taken altogether, practically analogous, in its tendency, to Keir Hardie’s Independent Labour Party, and to the Labour Representation Committee, in England. For our part, we American Socialists, we have received with hostility every attempt of our English comrades to propagate these tactics on this side of the Atlantic.

“All that we know of the International Socialist movement has, in effect, taught us the superiority of the strict Marxist tactic, based on the irreducible principle of the class struggle.

“Everywhere where the movement has been founded on these solid bases, and where the fight has been conducted on these methods, the growth has been continuous, strong and great. Wherever mere ‘Sentimental Socialism,’ English ‘Labourism’ or French ‘democratic’ Socialism has manifested itself, we have suffered disillusionment and reverse.

“Revisionism has no foothold in America, and the economic development of the country affords it no chance of success. If the economic situation is less clear elsewhere, here the division of classes is clear and precise, the ceaseless antagonism is brutally in evidence.”

In France, moreover, the Parti Socialiste de France and the Parti Socialiste Francaise have now united on the basis of the uncompromising tactics affirmed by the Dresden resolution; so there, as elsewhere, Revisionism has been emphatically condemned.

Not only, therefore, has Revisionism been routed internationally, but wherever it has been tried nationally it has resulted in disaster. In Massachusetts, in 1902, the Socialist vote was 33,629; in 1904, it was 13,604. No other State showed such a falling-off. In most, of course, there was an enormous increase. This shows, if any evidence were needed, that Revisionist trimming means defeat in the long run, and that straight, uncompromising Socialism must eventually “win out” everywhere.

H. Quelch.