Karl Radek

The Balance of the Hamburg Socialist Conference

Without sail or rudder

(31 May 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 40 [22], 31 May 1923, pp. 366–367.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). 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.

The Congress of the London and Vienna Internationals is at an end. Its sole result consists in the fact that the open and the disguised reformists have amalgamated. They have not formed an international. They were not capable of applying any political principles, not even reformist ones, to the questions now confronting the proletariat. They were incapable of forming one unanimous judgment upon the most important facts with which the proletariat is now grappling, much less of laying down any line of action. The broken pitcher cannot be mended, and the Second International, shattered by the war, cannot be set up again.

The Collapse of the 2nd International

The cause of the break-down of the 2nd International lay in its essential character. It was a reformist organization. It is true that it employed revolutionary phrases in its resolutions, but in reality it strove solely for reforms on the basis and within die limits of Capitalism. As it not only rejected the idea of the approaching proletarian revolution, but even the idea of the mental preparation of the proletariat for coming revolutionary struggles – because it assumed Capitalism to be the only possibility within any calculable time – it was bound to stand and fall with Capitalism. But for the parties of the 2nd International, capitalism is only the general conception of the existing separate capitalist state and economic areas, for every party belonging to the 2nd International is internally bound to its state, to its bourgeoisie. When the capitalist states quarrelled with one another, when the great war broke out, then every party in the 2nd international sided with its own national bourgeoisie, in the hope that the victory of its bourgeoisie would form the foundation for the uplift of its working class, for reforms within the confines of its own state. Reformism gave birth to social patriotism, and this proved to be the child and destroyer of reformism at the same time. The self-annihilation of the proletariat in the great war enabled capitalism to carry on the war until Europe was reduced to a heap of ruins, under whose debris all possibility of reforms, or of amelioration of the lot of the proletariat, is buried for decades.

The Congress and National Defence

Now they have all met together again. Mr. Vandervelde, minister of His Majesty the king of Belgium; Mr. Henderson, late minister of His Majesty the king of England; Mr. Branting, minister of His Majesty the king of Sweden; Mr. Scheidemann, minister of His Majesty the emperor of Germany, and dozens of others, ministers of its holiness the world bourgeoisie. And the first task with which they were faced was to learn the lesson left behind by the war, to decide for or against the falsehood of defense of native country, for or against reformism, that is, coalition with the bourgeoisie. Could they now openly pronounce themselves in favor of defence of country? 15 millions of human beings lie beneath the sod, victims who have fallen in the interests of the bourgeoisie. The stench of putrefaction still rises to heaven. During the first years following the war, the social democrats attempted to overcome this stench by swinging the censer of pacifism, and shrieking “Never another war!” But now they would only render themselves ridiculous if they took up this refrain again in face of the daily increasing armaments and war danger in Central Europe, in South Eastern Europe and in the Orient, in view of the Anglo-French and Americano-Japanese antagonisms. What is left for them to do? At the Hague, the Amsterdamers declared: general strike against the danger of a new war. But the old secretary of the 2nd International, Camille Huysmans, declared to them: Let it pass; if it comes to war we can do as we did in 1914. And now the situation has become so threatening that they do not venture to repeat the joke this time. They might be taken at their word tomorrow by the Communists. The conference therefore replied to the fundamental question of the day, to the question of how the proletariat should defend itself against the fresh war danger, by a resolution to the effect that it did not intend to answer this question at all. And so this International is launching out into the stormy ocean without rudder, a derelict, driven before the storm.

Attitude towards Reformism

Reformism, improvement of the status of the proletariat on the foundation of democracy, by means of democracy! Reforms to the front, reforms to the rear, democracy here, democracy there, and Kautsky declares, in his book on the program of the International for the coming time, that Marx’s teachings require correction. Marx declared that the dictatorship of the proletariat lies between the periods of Capitalism and Socialism. When the Russian revolution showed for the first time the actual concrete substance and mechanism of the proletarian dictatorship, the old gentlemen was alarmed. He laid all Marx’s books on the floor, put his spectacles on his nose sniffed and poked about, and finally ejaculated; I have it? The proletariat will gradually gain the majority, and when the counters of the voting papers at last declare: “Aha! here we have a proletarian majority”; then the labor government will come, and everything will be all right. In 1918 Herr Kautsky was still an opponent of coalition with the bourgeoisie. Since then, four years have passed. Social democrats have entered bourgeois governments wherever they have been granted admittance. They have helped the bourgeoisie to establish its power, and have been promptly kicked out as soon as the work was done. In quite a number of countries they are standing like whipped cars, and it avails them little that they express themselves in favor of coalition. Where they sail have the chance of entering bourgeois governments, the tasks awaiting them there are such that most of them take fright. Should the German social democrats enter the Great Coalition today, they would not only be unable to offer the proletariat even reforms as a reward for co-operation with the bourgeoisie, but they would have to load the heaviest burdens upon the proletariat. When Herr Kautsky wrote his book on the new program, the social democrats were in the government, and he declared that Marx’s teaching should be corrected as follows: It is not the dictatorship which lies between Capitalism and Socialism, but the coalition government. His book was out-of-date by the time it was published. The Fascist movement arose and grew in power in a number of countries. It would be ridiculous to inscribe coalition with the bourgeoisie on the banner of the Second International at the present juncture, it take two to make a coalition, as it takes two for a love affair. And the bourgeoisie is swinging the Fascist cudgel and calling out to the coalition-seeking social democrats: Here is your coalition, my cudgel will connect itself with you. What is left of the reforms to the front and to the rear, what is left of the poor broken down nag of democracy?! By the waters of the Alster they sit down and weep, like the Jews by the waters of Babylon: reaction, reaction everywhere! Hard times. – Nebbich! Let us postpone the question until better days come.

The Reparation Question

And since they are putting out to sea without rudder, and without sail or compass, the storm tosses their weak vessel to and fro, so that they stumble against one another as if drunk. They have to adopt some attitude towards the reparation question. A short time ago de Brouckère, at the congress held by the Belgian social democrats; called Scheidemann a criminal on account of his war policy, and the congress clapped applause. And now they all sit down together, the worthy German social patriots and the worthy Belgian and French social patriots, in the congress hall of the trade union buildings. It is difficult to address one another with the words: Honorable assembled criminals! It is not customary. Thus they let Sidney Webb justice prevail. That has always been the rule of the Englishman. And the just man says: All governments are to blame for the war – that is to say, Scheidemann is just such another criminal as Vandervelde. Forgive their trespasses, that they may forgive yours. But then they deal with the reparation question. This question, as is well known, consists of the principle laid down in the holy scriptures – not in the books of Moses or of the New Testament – but in the books of the Versailles peace, and concentrated in the formula that: Germany is to blame for the war, and Germany has to pay the reparations.

The socialists of the Entente first declared through Sidney Webb, that all governments are to blame for the war. The logical, conclusion would be that the congress would protest against Germany being compelled to pay. But the bourgeoisie of the Entente countries continues to repeat that Germany has to pay her debts, and the social democrats of the Entente are afraid of their bourgeoisies. Thus they find that Germany is under the moral obligation to pay the reparations. The German social democrats do not concern themselves about moral obligations, however, unless their fulfilment is likely to be forced at point of the bayonet. No social democrat has been struck with the idea that the peasants of the Ukraine should be compensated for the looting done by the German imperialist armies during the war. But French imperialism has its army in the Ruhr area. Hence Mr. Hilferding strikes an attitude, and, dripping with morality, be declares: It do not recognize the obligation to pay because there is a pistol at our head, but because we art moral human beings. Upon this Mr. Blum, leader of the French social democrats, presses him to his bosom, moistens his vest with tears, and sobs: Man is noble, helpful, and good. At the same time he utilizes the softened mood of the public to put in a good word for his own much slandered bourgeoisie. Bauer has spoken of French imperialism, and others have also used this objectionable word. But of course no such thing as French imperialism exists. France is merely very much alarmed, is so afraid of German weapons that she has taken refuge in live Ruhr area. And after this speech, the good old seaman Crispien uses, and swears that he has never witnessed so lovely a scene before, not even in the theatre, and that Blum sings as sweetly as the leading tenor soloists in the Second International before the war. The chairman at this festival performance was Emil Vandervelde, whose signature ornaments the shameful document of Versailles. And what resolutions were passed, and how! The resolution on the reparation question was not submitted to the conference, not even read to it. Fritz Adler simply requested the congress to accept the unread resolution in the reparation question, in full faith in the various commissions and sub-commissions. And thus it was done!

Soviet Russia

If Versailles is the symbol of counter-revolution in Europe, Soviet Russia is the seat of proletarian revolution. For five years she has stood fast, like a rock in the midst of the capitalist ocean, and all around her the storms of capitalism are raging, as the waves break on the red cliffs of Heligoland. She stands fast, poor still, for she can only work with one hand, being forced to hold a rifle in the other. Her children are still hungry. The mailed fist at the dictatorship not only has to crush every sign of counter-revolution, but it has to keep within bound, all the weak elements, all the vacillating spirits who spread abroad disbelief in victory. The social democrats, who have always held the stirrup of the White generals of the landowners and bourgeoisie in every conflict of Russian revolution and counter-revolution, who have always lent their aid to every attack made by the capitalist enemy on this stronghold of revolution, who undermine the morale of the garrison these cannot be treated otherwise than as enemies of the proletarian republic, and they are so treated by this republic. What wonder that they now lament in every social democratic and bourgeois newspaper, and what wonder that neither Wels nor Noske can subdue his emotion at the lamentations of these poor worms. Wels and Noske have only the blood of about twenty-four thousand revolutionary workers on their conscience. Workers murdered by Märcher, Epp, Tatter, Ehrhardt, Reinhardt, etc., these brave generals of the Minister for War of his majesty the German bourgeoisie, the proletarian Noske. How can Henderson suppress his tears, when he, as royal minister has done no more than agree to having the workers of Dublin shot down with their leader Conolly. Therefore a curse on Soviet Russia, persecutor of the innocent. But oh dear! if Soviet Russia be crushed, then the White terror will be victorious, and not only in Russia, then reaction will be victorious all over Europe, and the struggle for spheres of influence in a Russia degraded to a colony will kindle a war such as the world has never seen. Thus the curse on Soviet Russia is followed by a whimper. Hands off Soviet Russia! And they appoint a commission, and this deletes a piece from the beginning of the resolution dealing with relations to Soviet Russia, sticks it on the end, crosses out the middle part and replaces it by fresh phrases. And all this with the utmost wailing and lamentation. The soup cooked at last from all these ingredients would make any goat bleat that had to drink it. And this is called adopting an attitude, on the part of the International Socialist Congress, to the question of the first workers’ and peasants’ state of the world.

A ship is leaving Hamburg which it leaky as a sieve, with broken masts, with sails like scarecrows, without rudder, without compass, without course, with a crew of tricksters and sharpers. It will be the sport of wind and waves until it is shattered on the rocks.

Last updated on 14 September 2021