Th. Rothstein, under his pseudonym W.A.M.M. 1918

The Reconstruction of the International

Source: The Call, 25 July 1918, p.2 (editorial), (1,534 words);
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Chris Clayton
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.


(The recent Annual Conference of the B.S.P. passed a resolution instructing the Executive Committee to take steps to secure the reconstruction of the International Socialist Bureau, and the Editorial Committee is arranging for a symposium of articles on the subject to appear in “The Call.” These will subsequently be con­sidered by the Executive Committee with a view to drafting a series of definite proposals. In a previous issue we published an editorial giving the facts and stating the problem to be considered. Comrade W.A.M.M. now opens the symposium with the contribution below; others will follow. It only remains to add that the writers of the articles are expressing their own per­sonal opinions, and are solely responsible for what appears over their signatures.)

There is not a Socialist in the world who is not anxious for the restoration of the International. Internationalism is the essential condition of our activity and of our ultimate success, and he who does not want the revival of the international organisation of Socialism does not want Socialism itself. This conception is at bottom of the man­date given at the last annual conference of our party to the Executive Committee to work for the restoration of the International.

But we must be clear as to terms of that con­ception. Already before the war, before, that is, the collapse of the several Socialist Parties, a departure was made from the original basis of the Socialist International by substituting for it an International of Labour simply, provided “Labour” carried on in practice, if not in theory, a political class war. On that new basis the British Labour Party was admitted to the mem­bership of the International on the initiative of the Independent Labour Party, with the advocacy of the right wing and the centre of the Continental Socialist movement, led by Kautsky, Vandervelde and Victor Adler, and against the opposition of the left wing as represented by the S.D.P. of this country, and the Russian Bolsheviks led by Lenin. The question might well have been and, indeed, was debated as to whether the British Labour Party had ever pursued a class war even empirically, but the main issue was not this. The main issue was whether any party other than an avowedly Socialist party could be admitted to the International at all, and this was decided by the united vote of the above-mentioned sections of the Socialist movement in the affirmative. We had here a particular case of that general tendency of Socialist thought which began to spread more and more in the decade preceding the war, and which regarded the movement as everything and the final object as nothing or next to nothing. This last aphorism, formulated by Bernstein in the heyday of his Revisionism, was once strenuously com­bated by Kautsky and other Socialist theorists of the then left wing. But in course of time the left wing moved more and more towards the centre, and the Revisionist doctrine was tacitly, if not expressly, also embraced. Misinterpreting the famous passage in the “Communist Manifesto,” according to which “the Communists did not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties” and had “no interests separate and apart from those of the, proletariat as a whole” — a passage which was conceived strictly in the spirit of the time when the Chartist movement was dominating the Labour world in this country and compelled every new organisation, be it that of the Fraternal Democrats or any other, to re­pudiate any intention of setting up a rival organisation to the main movement — the advo­cates of the substitution of a “Labour” for the Socialist International argued that practice was more important than theory, that a “real” work­ing class movement was more precious for Socialism than the clearest doctrine, that, in fact, a large Labour Party, distinct, in political practice, from the bourgeois parties, was more valuable than a small Socialist organisation. In face of such arguments the only wonder was that their authors still deemed it necessary to attach the practical pursuance of the class war as a condi­tion for the legitimation of such a Labour Party, and did not go further and admit also, e.g., the Australian Labour Party on the ground that experience would in due course lead it to the adop­tion of a practical policy of the class war in the same way as the practical pursuance of that policy by the British Labour Party would one day lead that Party to theoretical recognition.

We know now how profoundly and disastrously mistaken these advocates of a new basis of the International were. We know even more: we know that their advocacy of a new basis was itself due to that loss of the moral and intellectual grip over the principles of Socialism and the funda­mentals of Socialist policy, which in this war has brought about their political and moral bankruptcy as Socialists. There can be, we see now clearly, no International outside Socialist parties, because Internationalism is the essence of Socialism, and of Socialism only; and there can be no Socialist parties outside revolutionary doctrines and practice which alone constitute the essence of Socialism.

In face of these teachings from the recent past, how do we picture to ourselves the future of the International, the mode of its restoration and the methods of working towards that end? It seems clear that the future International can no longer be a hotch-potch of “Labour” parties, “prac­tising” the class war, but denying it (and Social­ism) in thought, and, as a matter of fact, and naturally so, also in action, since all our actions are guided by thought, and what is not given in thought is not given in action. But can it be an International of Socialist parties simply? Look at the so-called National Socialist Party, of this country, the creation of Messrs. Hyndman, Lee and Co. Can it be a member of the International when the very emphasis in its title lies on the word “national”? On the Continent the Socialist parties who are now thinking “nationally” have not gone the length of emphasising the new fact in their names. But does it alter the fact that they have become “national,” that they are pre­pared to co-operate, and are, indeed, co­operating, with the other class-parties of their respective countries for the good of the “nation” as a whole; that they, in short, place the nation above the class? What else are the Scheidemann and Renaudel parties, the “Broad” Socialists of Bulgaria, the followers of Vandervelde and Destrée in Belgium, the Revolutionary Socialists of the Right in Russia, and so forth? Are we going to reconstruct the International with elements who, by placing, as said, the “nation” above the class, are ipso facto denying the basis of the International? What sort of International would that be in the midst of a capitalist world, the essence of which is the Imperialist rivalry of the various “nations” coming constantly into con­flict with one another and sweeping into those conflicts also their respective “national” Socialists? Obviously, an International with such “Socialists” would be a farce. It could not come together at all, or, if it did, would fall to pieces at the first quarrel of the Governments and capita­lists of the countries represented.

If so, what remains? It is quite clear that the first requisite of the International of the future must be that its members place the class above the “nation,” the class-war above “national unity,” the Revolution above “national” defence. In other words, the International can only consist of such Socialist parties as now form what has be­come known as the “left wings.” The followers of Liebknecht in Germany, the Bolsheviks of Russia, the “Narrow” Socialists of Bulgaria, the followers of Racovsky in Rumania, those round Merrheim in France, the Italian Socialists of the “Avanti,” the Austrian Socialists of Friedrich Adler — such, among the Socialists of the Con­tinent, are the coping stones of the International of the future. It is true that there are Socialist ele­ments everywhere who neither belong to the “national” nor to the “left” wings, but stand in the middle, opposed to the former and yet unable to join the latter. Theirs is the fate of those to whom the verses of Revelation iii., 15 and 16 refer. They will have to become either hot or cold, else history will spue them out of its mouth. In a sense they are more dangerous even than the “national” Socialists, but all the same, their day cannot be long.

It will be said that according to this) view the future, International will be a small body and a small force. We do not know. We cannot yet foresee how events will shape themselves in the future, at the end or after the war. If the masses are revolutionised by the war and its after-effects, the new International will be the most powerful body in the Labour world. If they are not, the International will be small, but it will exist not only in name, but also in fact, and experience has taught us that it is better to be a small fact than a big sham.