Th. Rothstein August 1907

Revisionist Misrepresentation

Source: Justice, 21 September 1907, p. 6;
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.

Had we not had the good fortune of knowing our friend Mr. Ramsay MacDonald we would have thought that the article on the Stuttgart Congress which he contributed a couple of weeks ago to that excellent Liberal weekly, the “Nation,” was one of those wily stratagems by means of which one lulls an enemy into a false sense of security in order the better to slay him when the time for attack comes. That article endeavours to show that Socialism is gradually becoming a sweet and reasonable thing eminently deserving the sympathy of all good Liberals and Radicals; and coming as it does at a moment when the Tory press, with the good old Thunderer at its head, is trying to frighten the wits out of the Liberals by conjuring up a dreadful picture of the Socialist danger, the article is bound to act as a balm on the lacerated feelings of the editors and readers of the “Nation” and induce them to slacken their watchfulness over the progress of revolutionary socialism. As we say, had we not known the writer of the article we might have regarded it as a sort of a Trojan horse which the Ulysses of the Labour Party had cunningly introduced into the Liberal camp. Unfortunately, we all know Mr. MacDonald. We know how utterly he abhors the idea of slaying anyone but the dogmatic Socialist, and we cannot but accept his views, as expressed in that article, at their face value, and as being prompted by no other wish than to convince his readers of the respectable meritoriousness of latter-day Socialism.

Already in the introductory paragraph of his article Mr. MacDonald strikes, on behalf of Socialism, a note which is bound to meet with a sympathetic echo in the minds of his public. In that pleasant style of good-humoured badinage in which the “descriptive” writers in our great daily press usually dress up for our delicate powers of digestion most of the events, be they ever so solemn, or tragic, or inspiring, of contemporary life, Mr. MacDonald gives a picturesque description of some of the men and women at Stuttgart—of “little Madame Balabanoff” with her square mouth and other features “which make you feel all the time that she is an imp of vengeance sent to extirpate all the aristocracies of all ages”; of Jaurès “gay as a strolling player”; of Hervé “walking the platform like a quarterdeck”—all calculated to reassure the reader as to the true character of these maligned individuals and to make him feel that their supreme characteristic was only—their picturesqueness. “How very nice and interesting it most have been!” was probably the phrase on the lips of most of Mr. MacDonald’s readers—interesting almost as a gipsy show.

Having thus set the minds of his readers at rest, Mr. MacDonald then proceeds to show how those sections of the international Socialist movement who, not being members of Parliament, “do not understand Parliamentary procedure,” and continually “trouble the Parliamentary parties with their complaints, that Socialism is not coming quick enough”—how these miserable and ignorant sections were smitten at the Congress hip and thigh. Already, he assures the reader, Troelstra, of the Dutch party, raised the question of how to dispose of these obnoxious elements at the Inter-Parliamentary Commission; but the decision was postponed for twelve months. Nevertheless, the trend of the general proceeding of the Congress was unmistakable. Though there were still plenty of speeches delivered of the old kind—“of the abstract, dogmatic kind, which treated the world as if it did not exist, and assumed that the Socialist movement was the Creator planning from the beginning what course evolution was to take,” yet, thanks to the good sense of the International Bureau, which is presided over by the “Liberal and Revisionist” Belgians, and to the steadying efforts of the Parliamentarians, the Congress, as a whole, has shown that Socialism was “passing beyond the propaganda stage,” and was preparing “to promulgate positive ideas regarding the transition stage between capitalism and Socialism.”

By way of proving these comforting, if somewhat fanciful statements Mr. MacDonald dwells upon the way in which the Congress dealt with the question of the relation between the Socialist parties and the trade unions, and with that of Colonial Policy. Like this careful man he is, he wisely avoided bringing under the notice of his readers the other resolutions of the Congress, dismissing the one on Militarism as “of little importance,” and making no mention of the resolution on Woman Suffrage at all. The former would have exhibited the Socialists in a light scarcely agreeable to the patriotic minds of Mr. Macdonald’s public while the former would have shown them that the Parliamentarians of Mr MacDonald’s school have been crushed by those who “do not understand Parliamentary procedure.” In either case this public would have been alarmed, and Mr. MacDonald’s efforts to paint Socialism in attractive colours would have been turned to nought. He proceeds, then, to the question of the relation between the Socialist Parties and the trade union; and makes the important discovery that the Congress has, by its resolution, decided that “Socialism is not to be the whole, but merely the nucleus of the working-class movement,” and that “the working-class political party is to be a federation or an alliance between the various working-class organisations the Socialist Parties being essential (how very good of him!) to the success of the “bloc.” This is a, pleasant discovery, indeed! Fancy a Socialist Congress declaring that Socialism is not to be the one-and-all of the working-class movement, and recognising that, besides the Socialist parties, there were other organisations entitled to lead the political movement of the proletariat on the basis of equal rights! Quite truly Mr. MacDonald says that “if the Stuttgart Congress had done nothing more than this, and had dissolved immediately it would have been of great political importance in the history of Socialism.” Of course it would have been: It would have dissolved both immediately and for ever, to the great delight of the readers of the “Nation,” as there would have been no more Socialism left to hold Congresses about. But is Mr. MacDonald’s interpretation of the Stuttgart resolution on the trades unions correct? We are afraid his wish to reconcile the good Liberal readers of the “Nation” to Socialism and to justify the policy of the British Labour Party has somewhat interfered with his judgment and rendered Plato dearer to him than truth. For as a matter of fact, never did Socialism, as the political movement of the proletariat, claim for itself the right or the ability to absorb the entire working-class movement, to the destruction of all other forms of proletarian warfare—trade union, co-operative, etc. In so far, therefore, it is not correct to say that it was only at Stuttgart laid down that “Socialism is not to be the whole working-class movement.” There lurks in this assertion of Mr. MacDonald a suggestio falsi which acts upon the uninformed mind of his Liberal reader as a direct suppressio veri.

On the other hand, while repudiating any such extravagant Utopias, Socialism has always claimed to represent the only political movement of the proletariat, that is, of the proletariat struggling for emancipation from the economic and political power of capital. It claims for itself the title to represent the political aspirations of the working class in the same way as Liberalism represents the political aspirations of the middle-classes and Toryism those of the landowning classes. One may, if one is a Liberal, deny this claim; but for one who pretends to be a Socialist to deny it is tantamount to a denial of one’s own political existence. But this is precisely what Mr. MacDonald does. In trying to be as agreeable to the Liberals as he possibly can he denies, on behalf of Socialism, the very basis of its existence, making it say that not the Socialist Party is the sole political party of the working class, but a heterogeneous coalition of various organisations which, by implication, are not Socialist. Needless to say, the Stuttgart Congress never proclaimed any such absurd principles. Quite the reverse. While declaring that the trade union organisations of the working class must remain separate and distinct, it nevertheless, laid it down that these organisations must not remain distinct also in spirit, as is unfortunately the case in this country, and, in particular, within the Labour Party, but must be inspired by “a thoroughly Socialist spirit,” so that the proletarian movement may, in spite of its different forms necessitating different organisations, remain homogeneous and an integral whole. It would thus seem that so far from merging the Socialist parties into an amorphous coalition with non-Socialist organisations, the Stuttgart resolution demanded of the other organisations of the proletariat to assimilate themselves in spirit to the Socialist parties, thereby condemning the anti- or non-Socialist attitude of the British trades unions within and without the Labour Party, and indirectly repudiating the policy of the I.L.P. assimilating itself to the non-Socialist spirit of the British trades unions. It is quite evident, from the Stuttgart resolution, that the co-operation between the two arms of the militant proletariat on which the Congress felt bound to insist in view or the recent developments, both in France and in Germany, was made conditional on the adoption by the trade unions of the principles and tactics of the Socialist parties, and not the reverse, and how Mr. MacDonald came to discover differently is, or would be, a mystery if it had not been—well, Mr. MacDonald.

Not much nearer the truth is Mr Macdonald’s interpretation of what took place on the Colonial Resolution. Like our dear friend Bernstein, the apologist for the Boer War and British Rule in India, Mr Macdonald sees the main difference between the majority and minority resolutions on Colonial Policy in the fact (?) that the former not merely condemn “capitalist exploitation,” but also promulgated positive ideas of reform. As a matter of fact, however, a mere comparison of the two resolutions shows that the paragraph of the resolution of the majority which alone promulgates these positive ideas was bodily transferred to the motion of the minority, and that the sole difference between the two consists in the circumstance that the majority resolution did not condemn capitalist exploitation at all, and even promised a colonial policy for Socialist society. We thus have here two cardinal misrepresentations at one stroke—first, suggesting what is false, and then suppressing what is true. This at the same time shows that what irritated Mr. MacDonald and his friends of the Revisionist camp and made them angry with the resolution of the minority was not that it did not propose any positive policy on the subject of colonies, but that it condemned capitalist exploitation, and refused to mislead the working class by telling it that colonies may be of some use to it either now or at some future date.

It so happened, however, that the Congress, to the chagrin of the apologists of capitalist exploitation, adopted the resolution of the minority. How could this be made to fit in with the character of respectability which Mr. MacDonald has just given to the Socialist movement? Why, nothing easier. The voting matters little, as it mattered little on the question of militarism. “The voting is of little importance,” says Mr. MacDonald, “except that by a great majority every nation which has to have a colonial policy, because it has colonies, voted for the resolution,” even “Germany going solidly with us.” Happy man who can thus find consolation even in defeats. It was the same at Amsterdam when the Dresden resolution was carried by a majority of votes some of which belonged to the smaller nations and parties. “We were beaten by Bulgaria and Servia,” was the lament of Mr. MacDonald, Herr Bernstein et tutti quanti. Unfortunately for them the man who was beaten, namely, Jaurès, who also at first joined in the disingenuous cry, soon had to acknowledge that Bulgaria and Servia were right and that he was wrong. Unfortunately, also, the mode of voting had, since Amsterdam, been changed, giving the smaller nations and parties a proportionately smaller number of votes in order that they may not outweigh the more important parties. How, then, did it happen that while “every nation which has to have a colonial policy, because it has colonies, voted for the majority resolution,” the latter was defeated? Quite simply. Because it is not true that “great majorities” in every nation which have colonies were in favour of it, but merely fractions, while two great nations which have colonies, and disposed of a large number of votes, voted against it. Those were the United States and— Germany! Yes, Germany, in spite of Mr. MacDonald’s assertion to the contrary. At first, it is true, there was in the German section some hesitation as to how it should vote—for there some of the trade unions are also exhibiting, like their British brethren, an inclination to accept the capitalist status quo—but when their own weakish amendment was thrown out (an amendment, for the rest, which did not say that the present Colonial Policy was good for the proletariat) they all voted solid for the minority resolution, and that in the teeth of the nasty manoeuvre of Herr David, another bird of the same Revisionist flock, who wanted to commit the German delegation by shouting out: No! For the rest the Essen Congress will show Mr. MacDonald what the attitude of the German Social-Democracy towards colonies is.

On the other hand, we should like to know in what way Bohemia, which has no colonies, was more entitled to vote for the majority resolution than Poland, which also has no colonies, but knows all the beauties of being a colonised country, was for voting against it; or in what way Belgium whose only colonising experience consists in her King’s exploits in the Congo is considered as more entitled to the respect of Mr. MacDonald than Spain who has lost by a stroke of good fortune the last of her quondam world-empire under the eyes of the present generation? Surely what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, unless, indeed, we assume, after the serene manner of the Botokuds, that “If you steal my wife it is wrong, and if I steal your wife it is right.”

It will thus be seen that in his interpretation of the Colonial resolution Mr. MacDonald was as far from truth as in the interpretation of the other resolutions. There is, however, one other matter which he mentions in his article as having been a victory over the “dogmatic Socialists—erroneously called Marxians,” in which he is absolutely right. We mean the action of the Bureau in upsetting the decision of the British section, as regards the division of the twenty votes, and in favour of the Labour Party” Here, undoubtedly, Mr. MacDonald and his friends have scored over us but by what means? Mr. MacDonald does not tell us, or rather insinuates that “all the national leaders present, including Babel,” took the part of the trade unionists out of sheer antipathy towards the “hard-and-fast Socialists of the S.D. As a matter of fact, it was nothing of the kind. The national leaders, in their ignorance of the conditions under which the members of the Labour Party appeared at the Congress, allowed the themselves to be imposed upon by the pompous and unwarranted declaration of Mr. Shackleton that he and his friend were “representing” one million of organised workers, and decided that it would really be ridiculous if the Labour Party “delegates” were only allowed a small fraction of the votes. We do not deny that our Continental comrades look upon the Labour Party with great favour. After having waited so long for the awakening of the British proletariat, they are naturally apt to exaggerate the importance of the actual situation, and are more prepared than we, who have to carry on the actual fight for our principles and programme, are here to condone the shortcomings, the fooleries and the trickeries of the Labour Party and its leaders. In a similar way the members of the Bureau attach a totally undeserved importance to the Russian Revolutionary Socialists, who in reality are no more Socialists than the Zionists, whom the Bureau had the stupidity to admit to the Stuttgart Congress, and give them equal rights with the Social-Democrats to the detriment of the cause of the Russian proletariat in general, and to that of the Russian Social-Democracy in particular. We feel sure, however, that if the Bureau had the real facts of the case of Mr. Shackleton’s representation at the Congress laid before it, or if an appeal had been made by the S.D.F. to the Congress, Mr. MacDonald would not have had the chance now of boasting before the readers of the “Nation” of a victory over the “hard-and-fast” Socialists. At any rate it is very characteristic of Mr. MacDonald to declare, as he does, that “this decision . is of more importance than the resolutions passed in open Congress.” Of course, to a man like him a victory, even a stolen one, over his party-opponents is of greater importance than the acts of the international in preparing the victory of the proletariat over capitalism.

With this we will end. We have no doubt that the readers of the “Nation” were highly pleased both with the picture which Mr. MacDonald has drawn up for them of the international Socialist movement and with himself. It is true, that at the great meeting at Cannstatt, on the opening day of the Congress, Mr. MacDonald spoke in a somewhat different strain; but that, if the readers of the Liberal weekly had known it, would have still more endeared Mr. MacDonald to their hearts. A politician who cannot accommodate himself to varying circumstances is no politician at all, and one who can do so in such a superior way as our friend Mr. MacDonald is worth his weight in gold. The only awkward thing about it is that with the development of the Labour Party into a Socialist one Mr. MacDonald may depreciate in value; but then he is doing his level best to prevent such a calamity.