Harry Quelch October 1908

My Mission to German

Source: Justice, 3 October, 1908, p.7, (2,783 words).
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Markup: Chris Clayton

Unlike Mr. Penley) in the “Private Secretary,” I do like London. A cockney, not by birth but by adoption, as Jimmy Mac­donald says of himself, I prefer London to any other place in which I have had to dwell. It probably is not the best place in the world, but I have been able to hit upon no better. The consequence is, therefore, that I do not as a rule find any pleasure in leav­ing London, except that to be derived from the anticipation of returning to it. I have no local patriotism or national prejudices, but, cosmopolitan as I am, I can find ample scope for the exercise of my international sentiments within the bounds of this world-metropolis.

Within a stone’s throw of Clerkenwell Green is Little Italy, in whose borders one can partake of the fruits and wines, and hear nothing but the soft tones of the Sunny South. A mile or so further west lies Soho, where, seated in a French restaurant, with a meal washed down with claret, or in a German Speisesaal, with Wurst and Sauer­kraut and lager beer, one might easily imagine oneself in France or the Fatherland, and this without the cost, trouble and tedium of a long journey. In spite of these natural predilections, however, for a life in London, and for getting my foreign experiences within her borders, when I was appointed to go to the Annual Congress of the German Social-Democratic Party, I, on account of the special circumstances, was very pleased to undertake the mission of fraternal dele­gate of the Social-Democratic Party of this country to our German comrades.

We had usually been represented on these occasions by our good comrade Askew, with whose knowledge of the movement in. Ger­many our readers will be acquainted through his writings in “Justice,” and who, residing in that country, has been generally regarded as the residential representative there of the British section of the International Social-Democratic movement. On this occasion, however, it was felt that the circumstances called for the appointment of a sort of pleni­potentiary extraordinary. For various reasons I was regarded as specially qualified for the post, but particularly because it was thought that one who had made himself so obnoxious to the ruling class as to be ex­pelled from the neighbouring State of Wür­temberg would be a welcome visitor to the representatives of the whole Social-Demo­cracy of Germany assembled in Bavaria. Anyhow I went, and was heartily welcomed.

I had the advantage on the trip of the company of our good and genial comrade Guy Bowman, who volunteered to go with me, at his own expense, in the capacity of private secretary. With his more perfect knowledge of the German language, his quite extraordinary bonhomie, “go,” and general savoir faire, my private secretary was an invaluable companion.

We had mutually agreed to make the most of the journey in acquiring informa­tion, and our first halt was at Frankfort, where we visited the offices of the local Social-Democratic daily, the “Volkstimme.” It made one, accustomed to the very circum­scribed area and stinted means of “Justice” office, feel perfectly wicked with envy when viewing the palatial quarters of the “Frankfurter Volkstimme.” These offices occupy one side and the end of a quadrangu­lar court, one end with publishing office facing the street. On the ground floor are the machine and composing rooms, the editorial and other offices — fine, large, well-lighted rooms — being on the floors above.

The “Volkstimme,” edited by Dr. Quarcke, has a circulation of 35,000 daily, and is supplied to subscribers at 1.65 Marks per quarter — precisely the same subscription as for “Justice”; which means, of course, exactly one farthing a copy delivered free! The “Volkstimme” is exactly the same size page as “Justice” as indeed are many of the German papers, including “Vorwaerts,” and the Würtemberg party organ, the “Schwabische Tagwacht.” This is rather curious, as the size of “Justice” is not any standard size, and was adopted to meet the exigencies of our machinery. While, how­ever the size of the page of the “Volktimme” is the same as that of “Justice,” it is seldom that it appears with so few pages, and on special, occasions these number as many as forty-eight — a forty-eight paged daily paper, delivered at your own door for a farthing! We have certainly something to learn from our German comrades in this respect. The headquarters of the trade union organisation of Frankfort — the Gewerkschaftshaus, was next visited. Here again the Germans, have gone ahead of their English comrades, and set an example for their predecessor in working-class organisation. Every town of any importance in Germany has its Gewerkschaftshaus; some of them being quite palatial in their proportions. Here all the various trade unions have their headquarters instead of being scattered all over the place as is our English fashion. There any stranger member of a trade union can make straight for the Gewerkschaftshaus, knowing that there he will find the headquarters of his union, no matter what it may be. In England a trade unionist in like case — a stranger coming to London, for instance — scarcely knows in which direction to turn, Here every trade union has its separate dwelling-place, meagre and commonplace enough, as a rule, and generally far removed from every other. Trade unionism has no central organisation in London; the London Trades Council, which should stand for that is impotent, because starved for want of means, and its offices are a reproach to the trade unionism of the metropolis. How different the headquarters of trade unionism in Frankfort, for instance! Here is a fine building of several stories, containing not only the offices of the different trade unions, but committee rooms, and large rooms suitable for trade or public meetings, reading-rooms, library, and so on, and last, but not least, the beer hall, in which friends and comrades foregather in social inter­course, what time they imbibe copious draughts of the cool, refreshing, but not potent beer of the country. In some of these trade union houses, as in this at Frankfort, sleeping accommodation is also provided, at a very cheap rate, for unem­ployed comrades on tramp.

But I am lingering too long at Frankfort. After our visit to the newspaper office and the Gewerkschaftshaus, we spent a very pleasant evening with several representatives of the trade unions, including a genial burly miners’ agent, whose name I am ashamed to have forgotten, but who has a good knowledge of English, having spent some time in this country, and is an ardent admirer of Bob Smillie. Others of the company were Dr. Quarcke, the editor of the “Volkstimme,” and the courteous and genial manager, who was indefatigable in his attentions to us, from whom we parted at a late hour.

From Frankfort we journeyed to Karls­ruhe, again in order to visit friends, with whom we contrived to spend a very pleasant time; and then on to Nuremberg, which we reached on the Saturday night preceding the Congress.

Comrades who attended the International Congress at Stuttgart last year, were all impressed with the admirable manner in which that great undertaking had been organised. It is not too much to say that the National Congress at Nuremberg was organised no less admirably. A group of comrades were on the station waiting at the exit from the platform to direct the visitors to the room in the station building occupied by the reception committee. One can scarcely imagine a large room at Charing Cross railway station being placed at the disposal of the S.D.P. on a similar occasion! Here delegates and visitors received their cards of admission to the Congress, together with a history of the growth of the Party in Nuremberg — a handsome volume — and a map and guide to Nuremberg.

I had been led to fear that there might be some difficulty in finding accommodation with such an influx of visitors. But we ex­perienced none. On the contrary, as soon as our cards had been made out, we were taken by a comrade to a very comfortable hotel, within five minutes’ walk of the station and of the Congress Hall.

The Sunday was chiefly taken up with renewing old acquaintances, and making new ones. We discussed the international situation, the war menace, the difference between North and South German Social-Democrats over the Budgetbewilligung question, and Revisionism and Radicalism in the Party in their various aspects, with Kautsky and Ledebour, Mr. and Mrs. Wurm, Mrs. Kautsky, Mrs. Popp of Vienna, Rappoport of Paris, Moor of Berne, and many another.

In the evening, at a huge social gathering in what had been an exhibition hall in the Luitpoldhain, we met many another com­rade and friend, including. Singer, Sudekums, Molkenbuhr, and Sanders, secretary of the British Committee. He was there on a like mission with myself, on behalf of the I.L.P. I was also engaged with him in a joint mission, that of endeavouring to induce Kautsky and Ledebour to accept the invitation sent them some time earlier by the British Committee to visit this country, and address large meeting to be held in London. In this we were ultimately successful.

Of Nuremburg the limitations of space forbid me to speak. Moreover everybody has heard of Nuremburg and no description will serve so well as a visit.

With the much vexed question of the difference in the standard of living of the German and English workmen ever in my mind, I was interested in endeavouring to discover what was the truth in this respect. I found that it is practically impossible to make a comparison from any statistics without actual personal experi­ence of working-class life in both countries. And that view was borne out by those whom I met who had actually had that experience, Speaking generally, it may be conceded, I should say, that wages are lower and work­ing hours longer in Germany than in England; my miner friend gave a com­parison between wages and hours in the Durham coal-fields and those of Westphalia which was certainly to the advantage of the former. But this is not by any means in­variably the case, and by itself a comparison of hours and wages is a very imperfect basis upon which to form a judgment as to the actual difference in standard of comfort.

What chiefly strikes a casual observer, I think, is the apparently superior physical development of the German working class, men and women, and the absence of that hopelessly squalid poverty which is so marked a characteristic of many quarters of our large towns.

Another point of interest is the better cul­tivation of the land and the larger number of people engaged upon it. I have stood on Leith Hill, and, looking over the wide ex­panse of country before me, have been unable to discover a single human being in all that area. That would, I imagine, not be possible in Baden, Bavaria, or Würtem­berg, except, perhaps, in the Black Forest.

Of the Congress itself I need say nothing here. Of all that is implied by the lengthy and occasionally heated debate on the ques­tion of Budgetbewilligung I may have something to say later. So far as my own special mission was concerned, that of ex­pressing to our German comrades our solidarity with them in their work for Social-Democracy, I may, I think, claim that it was entirely successful. There could have never been any doubt in their minds on this point, and I had no difficulty in showing that in calling attention to the menace of war, in­herent in the capitalist system, and now threatening from one Power, and now from another, we were not actuated by any chauvinism or national prejudices, but were pursuing the course which we considered most calculated to promote peace.

One evening we spent with the members of the Berlin party — jolly companions every one; and I am delighted to say that from first to last, from the reception on the Satur­day night to the mass meeting of the Sunday, a week later, among Berliners, Frankfurters, Leipzigers, and Nurembergers; Prussians, Westphalian, Baden­sers, Bavarians, and Würtembergers, we met with only comrades and friends, and the courtesy and kindness comrades and friends display.

As one of the speakers at the immense demonstration held in the Ludwigsfeld on the Sunday, I was unable to hear any of the other speakers except Huysmans, the able and genial Secretary of the Inter­national Socialist Bureau. His speech, I think, may be of sufficient interest to the readers of “Justice” to warrant its trans­lation here.

Huysmans said that at the present time we saw the capitalist world divided between two centres of interest: The Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria, and nominally Italy), and the other nations who by alliances or temporary understandings wished to constitute a counterpoise to Teutonic ambition, or were obliged to join with France for some economic or political object.

But if the English bourgeoisie seemed to be desirous of maintaining peace, it was not because it was pacifist. It simply wished to digest in peace the fruits of its numerous piracies. The high German bourgeoisie, on the other hand, demanded new profits. These two groups had, the one an annual budget of 2,338 million francs, the other 5,285 millions. In the course of ten years their annual military expenditure had in­creased by 2,602 and who paid all that? The proletariat These figures de­monstrated something more. Namely, that the situation did not appear so dangerous as might be supposed. In effect, so long as Germany remained isolated, she could not, she dared not, make war. One of the guarantees of the maintenance of peace, then, was the isolation of Germany. But a better guarantee certainly would be a rapprochement between Germany and France, and Germany and England. And if to this it should be objected that Germany could get out of her, isolation by a rapprochement with Russia we might point out that there is no likelihood of this eventuality as long as Russia has need of the French financial market.

On the other hand, it is interesting to note that the foreign policy of France is scarcely any more democratic than that of other countries. The enemies of the awakening Asiatic civilisation are equally the pretended Liberal European governments (as witness France in Indo-China and England in India)n as reactionary governments like Russia in relation to her policy in Persia. The world, therefore, is not solely dominated by the struggle between capitalists and workers, by the plunder legally perpetrated by the first to the detriment of the second, The capitalists loved to play at brigands among themselves, and in that, also, they had to employ the workers as instruments of their cupidity. Thus the latter were doubly victims; as food for profit and food for powder.


What then is the duty of the working class at the present juncture?

At the International Socialist Congress of Brussels in 1868, a resolution was adopted declaring that to prevent war between France and Germany, recourse should be had, if necessary, to the general strike. As was well known, the Socialist deputies in the German Parliament, Bebel arid Liebknecht, refused to vote the military credits, and did their duty splendidly. On July 12, 1870, the workers of France published an address declaring their solidarity with the workers of Germany. On July 16, 1870, the German workers fraternally replied, declaring that only the despots were their enemies. But war broke out, and what then was the outcome of the Brussels resolution? Nothing whatever.

We have had enough of these paper reso­lutions!

The thousands of working-class German Socialists of 1870 have become millions. The workers think, with reason, that it would be better to sacrifice a few individuals before the war, than to permit the sacrifice of thousands of workers during and by the war.

The workers think, and they note that to-day those nations are felicitated in which the army has, by a revolution, transformed autocracy into a Parliamentary regime.

The workers must, therefore, arouse the indifferent, and take into their own hands the control of foreign policy. The German comrades were arduously working in this direction, and it was a mistake to suppose, as was sometimes said, that they were making no progress in this regard. They were animated with the true revolutionary spirit, and would one day verify the truth of the idea which Marx had formulated in his second address on the war of 1870 “History will one day prove that the German working class are not made of the same malleable material as the German bourgeoisie have been made of.”