Th. Rothstein August 1910

Fraternal Democracy

Source: Justice, 10 April 1910, p. 10;
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.

It was no empty sentimentality or sportive ideology which prompted the representatives of International Socialism assembled at the Paris Congress of 1889 to set aside one day in the year for the proletariat to proclaim its international solidarity and its opposition to war. For the first time in human history a class of people has arisen to whom the secular yearning after peace and goodwill among men is a living and fruitful aspiration which guides their action and tends ever nearer to its realisation. That class is the proletariat. More than once in the course of long ages the same sentiment was uttered by solitary thinkers, and even entered the faith and the political philosophy of large bodies of men. At no time, however, was it susceptible of realisation, being devoid of the two fundamentals—the nationality and the international interdependence—which alone could uplift it above cosmopolitanism or make it something more than a mere consolation in despair.

The ground for a true and living sense of international solidarity has only been created in modern times by the rise and development of the capitalist mode of production, which has welded peoples into nationalities and brought them together by means of modern economic exchange. Yet, even so, Internationalism is at present but a semi-reality, and very often its very opposite. For the same Capitalism which has created the nationality has split it into two nations, and, while bringing the world together, it has filled it with national rivalries.

This is but one instance among many of the contradictions which Capitalism, like Faust, carries in its bosom. There can be no national sense of international solidarity, because there is no such thing as a nation conceived as an organic whole. There are classes within each nation feeling their international class-solidarity as against the rival classes, but the nation as a nation has no such international sense. The latter can only be realised when the nations become classless nations, and this cannot take place so long as Capitalism subsists. And as the proletariat is the class which will put an end to Capitalism, its movement is the only one which carries with it the principle and consciousness of international solidarity. It is with it no mere dream of a noble mind or a vague yearning in the midst of untold sufferings of the present. Nor is it with it, as it was with the bourgeoisie in the heyday of its power, an ingenious scheme for the perpetuation of the present order of things. It is with it part and parcel of its movement towards emancipation—a thing at once ideal and material, which must grow and expand until it is realised. That is why the decision of the Paris Congress of 1889 was no mere sentiment or chance idea. It was a statement of one of the manifold aspects of the proletarian Socialist movement, without which it would not and could not have been complete.

As a matter of fact, not only did modern Socialism begin in the form of an international organisation known as the International, but the very entrance of the proletariat on the historical arena as a class conscious of itself was accompanied by a living sense of the international aspect of its own movement.

It is, of course, difficult to fix the exact moment when that entrance took place, but it would be no great mistake to associate it with the movement for political emancipation which at first centred round the Reform Bill of the beginning of the thirties, and afterwards consolidated in the struggle for the Charter. Just at that time, in 1830, occurred the July Revolution in Paris, re-echoed far and wide, in Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, by other revolutions and insurrections, and the working class of this country, scarcely yet got on its legs, responded to it with enthusiastic meetings and numerous manifestoes, in which it expressed its solidarity with the revolutionists and insurgents all the world over. And why? Because, as one of the manifestoes put it, “that glorious and immortal act was the victory of the working class.”

This was, perhaps, the first manifestation of international proletarian solidarity which ever took place. Subsequently each anniversary of the, “glorious three days of July” were celebrated by the working men of London by meetings and banquets until other events of a similar nature inspired them with renewed enthusiasm. At the same time London I began to be filled with exiles from Poland, Prussia, France, Italy, and other parts of the Continent, and already in 1845 that existed among them a Society of “Democratic Friends of All Nations,” with which the Radical leaders of the English working-class kept in close touch.

At the commemoration on September 22 of the anniversary of the first French Revolution, Julian Harney then laid the foundation of the celebrated association of “Fraternal Democrats,” which filled with its activity on behalf of international solidarity literally the entire revolutionary and Socialist world. Wherever anything in the form of a revolution or insurrection happened, the Fraternal Democrats, composed as they were of delegates from various nationalities, were certain to hold meetings and issue manifestoes explaining to the world the attitude of the working class and proclaiming their solidarity with the event. Their motto was still the old humanitarian motto: “All men are brethren,” but the spirit which animated them was wholly proletarian. Their first public act was the issue of a manifesto to the working classes of this country and America on the dispute then raging in connection with Oregon. The manifesto pointed out that the working class had never in the past gained, nor was it likely in the future to gain, anything from wars. A war such as seemed impending “would distract public attention from your grievances, would add to your burdens, might probably afford a pretext for your Government for curtailing your scanty liberties under the pretence of ‘providing for your safety,’ and would indefinitely postpone your political emancipation.” As a matter of fact, the working class of England had no interest whatsoever in the matter under dispute. “ There is no foot of land, either in Britain or in the colonies, that you, the working class, can call your own…. They will take the land, they will fill all the higher situations, civil and military, of the new colony—your share will be the slaughter of the combat and the cost of winning and retaining the conquest.”

A couple of months later, on the return of the anniversary of the French Revolution, the Fraternal Democrats issued another manifesto, giving a sort of exposition of their political and social creed: “ All men are brethren. We denounce all political and hereditary inequalities and distinctions of castes …. We believe the earth, with all its natural productions, to be the common property of all …. We believe that the present state of society, which permits its idlers and schemers to monopolise the fruits of the earth and, the production of industry, and compels the working class to labour for inadequate rewards, and even condemns them to social slavery, destitution, and degradation, to be essentially unjust …. We condemn national hatreds which have hitherto divided mankind. …. Convinced that national prejudices have been, at all ages, taken advantage of by the people’s oppressors to set them tearing the throats of each other when they should have been working together for their common good, this society repudiates the term ‘foreigner.’ We recognise our fellow-men, without regard to country, as members of one family, the human race, and citizens of one commonwealth, the world.”

There is much in this association of Internationalism with the earliest expression of Socialism which is interesting to us. Marx and Engels were already in close touch with the leaders of the Chartists and the Fraternal Democrats, and their newly elaborated views on the class-war began to infiltrate among the English proletarian democracy. On the occasion of the return of Feargus O’Connor to Parliament for Nottingham Marx and Engels, in the name of the Brussels bureaucratic Committee, sent a letter to the Fraternal Democrats, congratulating the workers of England on their great victory

To this the Fraternal Democrats replied with an expression of their thanks regarding the address “as another proof of the advance of Fraternity and the approaching union of the Democracy of all countries in the great struggle for political and social emancipation”. This exchange of fraternal greetings led to further intercourse, and when, in November 1847, the Fraternal Democrats arranged a meeting in commemoration of the Polish insurrection of 1830 Marx came down specially from Brussels to speak of international solidarity. It was decided, as a result of this meeting to arrange for an international democratic congress of workmen to be held early next year, but the revolutions of 1848 prevented the plan, which might have proved an anticipation of the International of sixteen years later, from being realised.

But the effect of this intercourse with Marx and Engels on the minds of the leaders of the Fraternal Democrats must have been great, all the same. Listen, for instance, to the speech which Harney made at one of the innumerable gatherings arranged by the Fraternal Democrats. “Nationality has in other times been a necessity. The nationality saved mankind from universal and irredeemable slavery In our own day, too, the invoking of the spirit of nationality in some countries is indispensable to re-kindle life in those countries. …. I consider Poland and Italy to be two instances where the spirit of nationality may be invoked with beneficial results. I would, however, suggest to the Poles and Italians that mere freedom from the Russian and Austrian domination is not all that is necessary. We must have no King Czartoryski. We must have no kingdom of Italy such as the Italian deputies solicited of the Holy Alliance in 1815. We must have a sovereignty of the people in both countries, the education of the people, and at least the progressive social advance of the people, ever progressing until the workers own no masters but themselves, and enjoy the fruits of their labour. In other countries, such as England and France, there is no need to rekindle national feeling; on the contrary, the efforts of the good men in both countries should be directed to the abolition of the remaining prejudices which a barbarous cultivation of the spirit of nationality in days gone by called to existence. I appeal to the oppressed classes, of every land to unite with each other for the common cause. ‘Divide and conquer’ has been the motto of the oppressors. ‘Unite and triumph’ should be our counter-motto. Whatever national differences divide Poles, Russians, Prussians, Hungarians, and Italians, these national differences have not prevented the Russian, Austrian, and Prussian despots uniting together to maintain their tyranny; why, then, cannot countries unite for obtainment of their liberty? The cause of the people in all countries is the same—the cause of Labour, enslaved, and plundered …. In each country the tyranny of the few and the slavery of the many are variously developed, but the principle in all is the same. In all countries the men who grow the wheat live on potatoes. The men who rear the cattle do not taste flesh-food. The men who cultivate the vine have only the dregs of its noble juice. The men who make clothing are in rags. The men who build the houses live in hovels. The men who create every necessary comfort and luxury are steeped in misery Working men of all nations, are not your grievances your wrongs, the same? Is not your good cause, then the same also? We may differ as to the means, or different circumstances may render different means necessary but the great end—the veritable emancipation of the human race—must be the one end and aim of all.”

This sounds very much like a modern speech, yet it was made more than sixty years ago! About the same time England intervened in Portugal in order to suppress the revolt of the Junta against the Queen Donna Maria, and the Fraternal Democrats passed the following resolution: “While asserting the right of every nation to mould its own institutions, make or amend its own laws, and appoint or dismiss the entire body of its governing officers without let or hindrance from any other Power, this meeting denounces in the strongest terms the unjustifiable intervention by the Governments of England, France, and Spain in the affairs of Portugal as tyrannical towards the people of Portugal, and calculated to dishonour the name of this country and excite against the people of the United Kingdom the hatred of the oppressed of all lands.”

In moving this resolution, Harney, among other things, remarked: “The people are beginning to understand that foreign as well domestic questions do not affect them; that a blow struck at liberty on the Tagus is an injury to the friends of freedom on the Thames; that the success of Republicanism in France would be the doom of tyranny in every other land, and that the triumph of England’s democratic Charter would be the salvation of millions throughout Europe.” Again, in view of the war-scare against France at the beginning of 1848, the Fraternal Democrats issued a manifesto to the French proletariat assuring it of the solidarity of the working class in England, and passed the following resolution: “That, in the opinion of this meeting, the outcry respecting ‘National Defence’ is got up by those who have an interest in perpetuating the present unjust plundering and murdering system; and that the object of the parties which have created the said outcry is—first, to prolong the slavery of the British people by increasing the physical force of their rulers’; and, second, to prolong the reign of tyranny generally by reviving those national antipathies which were the disgrace of our fathers, and which this meeting solemnly repudiates.” And, lastly, when the February Revolution broke out in Paris, Harney, in the name of the Fraternal Democrats, and Ernest Jones, on behalf of the National Chartist Association, went to the Provisional Government with an address to the French people congratulating them on their glorious victory, and took part in a great public meeting, at which also Marx, Herwegh, and others spoke.

The Fraternal Democrats existed and were active; for many years after, and when, on the departure of Harney from London, their organisation died out; their place was taken by other bodies under the leadership of Ernest Jones, Bronterre O’Brien, and other noble champions of British proletarian democracy, which continued to give utterance to the workers’ feeling of international solidarity, and, by working hand in hand with the numerous foreign exiles of the period, imperceptibly led the way to the formation of the International, soon, under the master-hand of Marx, to acquire a unique importance. We shall not enter into a description of this period, as it will lead us too far. But enough has been said to show how intimately the growth of class-consciousness in the proletariat is bound up with its sense of international solidarity, and how true to the traditions of the glorious past are we modern Social-Democrats, who year by year come out on the First of May to give utterance to this sentiment. As in many other things, the British proletariat, once in the van of the movement for the social emancipation of its class, was the originator of the idea of “Fraternal Democracy,” which, through Marx and Engels, those great, transforming minds, spread with a deeper and more precise meaning among the struggling proletariat all the world over.