Published: The Labour Monthly, December 1924, pp. 740-751
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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“Social Democracy has become the third party (left wing) of the bourgeoisie.” This poignant remark of Zinovieff in his report to the Fifth World Congress of the Communist International has been amply borne out by facts. The action of Social Democracy during the year preceding the fifth congress warranted this remark; but subsequent action has corroborated it, if corroboration was still required. The despicable degeneration of Social Democracy and political schools allied to it is the most outstanding feature of the world to-day. The British Labour Party, which cannot even be called Social Democratic, stands at the head of this process of degeneration.
Great political parties, which for decades paraded as working-class organisations, and pretended to be working for the substitution of the capitalist system by a Socialist society, are to-day the outspoken advocates of “reconstruction” on a capitalist basis. They may not always say so; but in fact that is precisely what they stand for. Besides, there are the Marxian economists, led by Hilferding, who preach that capitalism has not done its job yet, and that to rally to the rescue of this “revolutionary” agency is an historic necessity. These renegades to all intents and purposes virtually represent the essential character of international Social Democracy.
Insatiable imperialist greed plunged the European bourgeoisie in the cataclysmic war which irreparably undermined capitalist economy by throwing the mode of commodity production into a chronic state of chaos and anarchy. For more than five years after the armed conflict had been brought to an apparent close, the bourgeoisie tried by all conceivable means to extricate themselves from this ruinous mess of their own creation, but with no appreciable success. In fact, things steadily went from bad to worse, some local indications of temporary betterment notwithstanding. To escape the disastrous consequences of one war, they plunged Europe into a permanent state of war; while talking hypocritically of disarmament, they went on feverishly preparing for future wars, which would be more murderous and more destructive than the last; failing to regain economic equilibrium by normal methods of production and exchange, they adopted such violent means as the Ruhr occupation; they signally failed to arrest the industrial anarchy as expressed by chronic under-production on the one hand, and incurable unemployment on the other. Empires showed signs of tottering. Brutal oppression only incensed the rebellious colonial masses, while a policy of reconciliation ominously made for eventual disruption. In a number of European countries, even the pretence of democracy and constitutional government were discarded. Undisguised dictatorship was tried in Germany, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and Greece, but with hardly any better result. The bourgeoisie were at their wits’ end. At this juncture the Social Democrats and the allied breed came very handy. The bourgeoisie resolved to let them try their hand in saving capitalism.
This combination has inaugurated what is called the period of pacifist illusion. The programme of reconstructing Europe by peaceful means has once more entered the realm of practical politics. Ramsay MacDonald has stepped into the shoes of the late but unlamented Woodrow Wilson as the saviour of humanity. The Wilsonian Covenant has been replaced by the Dawes Plan. Where the professor failed, the financier must succeed. German “Marxists,” French Radicals and English Pacifists are unanimous in this conviction. The New Era has begun. The London Conference and the Fifth Assembly of the League of Nations mark the stages of advance.
Now, how did the new era begin? Did the nonplussed bourgeoisie invite the Social Democrats and their allies to take up the reins of government in Britain, France and several minor countries? Or did the latter come to power by dint of their own strength? Neither the one course nor the other. The juxtaposition of several political factors contributed to the development of the situation. The advent of the Labour Government in Britain marked the beginning of the new era. It is a mistake to think that the Labour Party was placed in office purposely by the bourgeoisie. Just remember the terrible scare that was felt all over the country when a Labour Government could be considered to be within the realm of practical politics. What a howl of horror was raised to the bourgeoisie, a Labour Government was analogous to revolution. The most powerful section of the bourgeoisie, represented by the Tory Party, did everything possible to prevent the advent of a Labour Government. Finally, the bourgeoisie became reconciled to the monstrosity of a Labour Government only by making a virtue of necessity. A sense of practical politics told them that Labour could not be kept out without dissipating the constitutional illusions which stand between the revolution and the British proletariat.
Another factor that made the advent of a Labour Government possible was the conflict of interests between the two wings of the bourgeoisie, representing two forms of capital—Finance, allied with heavy key industries (coal and iron), and Manufacturing, together with commerce. The decay of capitalist economy, and the consequent chronic industrial chaos, had sharpened this conflict between the two sections of the British bourgeoisie. This internal contradiction of capitalism reflected both on the home and foreign politics of Great Britain. It has also affected the colonial policy, although not so very acutely as yet. In home politics, the classical controversy over Protection v. Free Trade was revived; but since the industrial crisis in Great Britain could not be overcome independently of the world capitalist economy as a whole, this hackneyed controversy was futile. The fundamental political rivalry revolved upon the axis of foreign politics, and the summum bonum of capitalist world politics was the Reparation Problem—that is to help Europe recover from the ruins of the war. The great financial combines, operating politically through the Conservative Party, desired the colonisation of Europe, and were not particularly averse to using French militarism as the police force. The manufacturing and commercial interests, on the other hand, represented by the Liberal Party, were in favour of reviving the European market, which could not be done unless the twentieth-century Napoleonism of France was defeated and Germany set back on her feet—in short, the war declared to have been a momentous folly. This clash of interests did not permit the two bourgeois parties to combine against Labour. Only such a combination could have prevented the advent of the Labour Government within the framework of the existing constitution.
The Liberals thought it advisable to fight the Tories in coalition with the Labour Party; especially since the latter subscribed in full to the Liberal Programme of the capitalist reconstruction of Europe, and could be easily induced to pigeonhole those few points on their home programme to which the Liberals took exception. Thus it is also true that the Labour Government could not be in office without the grace of the bourgeoisie, although returned to the Parliament in a considerably increased number. Being in the minority as against this Lib.-Lab. Coalition, the Conservatives, in their turn, found it necessary to mark time. So the Labour Party came into office, as it were, by default. Had there been the slightest indication that the Labour Government would try any Socialist prank, the bourgeoisie would make I.L.P their internal divergence, close up the ranks and keep Labour out. As this was not the case, and as the only anxiety of the British Labourites (one cannot call them Social Democrats) was to disprove the charges of anti-patriotism, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, &c., brought against them by the bourgeoisie, and to prove that they could do what the bourgeois Governments had failed to do, namely, to make Europe safe for capitalism (not even for democracy, as Wilson pretended), there was no particular objection to their becoming his Majesty’s Ministers, ad interim. Both the bourgeois parties were conscious of their failure to drag Europe out of the ruinous mess. Of course, their faith in the eternal nature of capitalism was not seriously shaken. Not a few among them would just as soon go straight over to Fascism to maintain the domination of their class; but it could be done only by risking the possibility of a revolution, even in the safe and sane British Isles. If the Labour Government, by some miracle of democratic liberalism, could do the impossible—could stabilise the tottering capitalist system—why not let them try their hand at it? If they succeed, so much the better for the bourgeoisie. In that case, the latter would not hesitate to hail Ramsay MacDonald as the saviour of Europe, as they did the naively vain American school teacher, though their contempt for the theories of the one would not be any less than for those of the other. If not, there would be always time to fall back upon the methods of undisguised dictatorship, of blood and iron, which would then be justified by the fact that Labour had tried its programme and failed.
The third factor that contributed to the advent of the Labour Government was of an essentially revolutionary nature. It was the first sign that the British proletariat was losing faith in the capitalist system. The electoral success of the Labour Party should be looked upon by a real proletarian party as the signal for the approaching revolution. The proletarian masses, as it were, ordered their leaders to throw down the challenge to the bourgeoisie who had failed to reconstruct European social economy. This threatening mood of the working class induced the astute sections of the bourgeoisie to be careful in their dealing with the Labour Party, if a revolution were not to be precipitated. The vision of the masses was not sufficiently clear as yet. A “Labour Government” could still satisfy them, and at the same time could enlist the willing services of the Social Democrats to the ultimate benefit of the bourgeoisie.
Thus was ushered in the new era of “reconstruction by international understanding.” The very first event of this new era proved that the Social Democrats and the Labourites were sold body and soul to the bourgeoisie, that there was no such thing as a Social Democratic or Labour policy. Social Democracy had become the third party of the bourgeoisie.
The MacDonald Government took up the Dawes Plan, prepared by the Commission of International Bankers (which had been brought into existence by Baldwin’s Tory Cabinet with the approval even of Poincaré), as the Magna Charta of the new era. A remarkable “socialist” beginning indeed! Europe should be reconstructed on the basis of this plan, drawn up by an agent of J.P. Morgan, and ratified by the banking and industrial concerns of the principal European countries. What happier solution could have been found? Of course, it was happy only for the bourgeoisie, who were very pleased that their trick worked so easily, but damnable on the part of Social Democracy, and tragic for those who believed and followed these traitors of the working class.
The British example was followed in France. The Radical Socialist, Herriot, was placed at the head of the Government by the Social Democrats and reformist syndicalists on the one hand, and the liberal bourgeoisie on the other. Even before he came into office Herriot had declared that, although his party was opposed to the Ruhr adventure of Poincaré’s Bloc National, still, once it had been occupied, the Ruhr Valley could not be evacuated unconditionally. In office he carries out the Ruhr policy of Poincaré, only using different words, but with no less disastrous consequences to the French workers and peasants.
In France, again, there operated an analogous juxtaposition of forces to bring about a Social Democratic Government. (The Herriot Cabinet is no more purely Social Democratic in composition than the MacDonald Cabinet, but the Social Democrats are practically in it.) Heavy industry drove Poincaré to the Ruhr; but this policy made surely for eventual war, the ominous vision of which alarmed the other wing of the bourgeoisie. Once the utmost possible benefit had been derived by the party concerned, namely, the French iron and steel trusts, the Ruhr deadlock had to be brought to an end. It could not be pushed forward without courting a disastrous end. It became necessary to extricate French capitalism out of the uncomfortable position, without losing the precious prestige. Poincaré had committed himself too much to retreat. His Napoleonism was rejected, not only by the workers and peasants, but by a considerable section of the bourgeoisie. He lost his majority in the Chamber; but the Bloc National still remained the single largest political combination. Single-handed, the liberal bourgeoisie were obviously not in a position to keep Poincaré out of the Quai d’Orsay. In fact, Poincaré himself was not keen upon shouldering the burden of office. Therefore he delegated Loucheur to swell the ranks of the Bloc des Gauche’s. It was convenient to be in the Opposition at this moment. Why not let the Socialists draw the chestnuts out of the fire? Thus the Socialists came into office to oblige both the wings of the bourgeoisie, and the new era dawned upon la belle France—Renaudel, Paul Boncour, Jouhoux and Co. cheering the saviour Herriot by waving the tricolour of the Grande Revolution. The drapeau rouge was tucked into the pocket, to be brandished rather furtively in workers’ meetings.
The ground was ready for the next step. General Dawes, personifying simultaneously the military and financial power of the United States, was holding out his infamous plan, blessed unanimously by the world bourgeoisie. The German Social Democrats, the classical vanguard of international Social Democracy, had already accepted the plan as the charter of freedom for the German proletariat. It was only left for MacDonald and Herriot (through whom spoke Renaudel and Paul Boncour) to start out on their evangelical mission, armed with this mandate. The London Conference met, over which presided Ramsay MacDonald with all the airs of the new Messiah.
The Dawes Plan is a remarkable document. All the cleverness as well as the greed of the world bourgeoisie went into its composition. If Europe, ruined by the imperialist war, will be saved by this Plan, the credit must go, not to MacDonald and his naive vanity, but to American finance, aggrandised and but little scathed by the devastations of the war. Firstly, the plan is a serious attempt to reconcile the antagonism between the two vertical groups into which the capitalist system is rent. It devises a means how banking capital and manufacturing capital can both feast on the carcase of prostrate Europe. Secondly, it is a scheme for the colonisation of Europe by Anglo-American finance (in which combination the American element should predominate)—to reduce the working class of Germany and other east European countries to the level of the Asiatic masses. It is this monstrous plan, which he inherited from his Tory predecessor, which has lent Mr. MacDonald the wings of an angel.
Now, if governments headed, for example, by Poincarés or Baldwins, should try to put this plan into operation there would be no end to the suspicion as to its altruistic motive. Even the liberal bourgeoisie must oppose it, if only to maintain their political identity. Socialist and Labour parties, of course, should be absolutely against it. In that case, it would be almost impossible to carry out the plan. Socialist and Labour Governments coming to office by default, and remaining there by the grace of the bourgeoisie, were, therefore, a god-sent opportunity. In the hands of ex-pacifists and pseudo-, Socialists this predatory plan assumes the appearance of a decree of liberation, a token of goodwill, a guarantee of peace. It is expected that this stratagem will deceive the working class; that the latter will submit to the inhuman exploitation, because it is approved by their “leaders” for the sake of “reconstruction and peace.” Well, that remains to be seen. Meanwhile what is sure is the abject prostitution of Social Democracy.
It would be erroneous to believe that the bourgeoisie entrust their third party with the actual administration of the plan of reconstruction of their own making. No, they have nothing but contempt for the intellect and ability of their servitors, whose faithfulness, however, they do not doubt, and whom they employ as propagandists. After the solid work had been accomplished by the princes of international finance in London, Mr. MacDonald went to Geneva for propaganda purposes—to raise a cloud of illusions about Disarmament, International Arbitration, Mutual Co-operation and what not. All these stage effects were meant to hide the dirty deal made under his very nose in London—to apply an anaesthetic while the painful operation is performed on the body of Europe.
It was not without considerable difficulty that the Allies—that is to say, America, Britain and France—came to an agreement over the Dawes Plan. The difficulty was concerning the division of the pound of flesh to be extracted from Germany in return for the forty million pounds loan. It involved the questions of participation in the proposed loan, and that of the guarantee for it. The security demanded from and conceded by Germany, in the last analysis, is nothing but the supposed ability of her working people to work more for less wages, in order that the reparation problem might be solved to the satisfaction of the bourgeoisie, victorious and vanquished alike. The prolongation of the working day in Germany, and the lowering of the standard of living of the German working class, would inevitably reflect in Britain, as well as in other industrial countries, to the detriment of the proletariat. But a Labour Government, which was supposed to be the moving spirit and directing genius of the London Conference, had nothing to stipulate on this score. If they did, the Dawes Plan would fall flat, and European reconstruction would remain a mirage (which it will in any case). But Mr. MacDonald would rather be the saviour of the humanity than a defender of the sordid material interests of the British proletariat, not to mention those of the German workers.
The guarantee demanded from Germany was essentially satisfactory; there was, however, a difference of opinion as to how this guarantee would be made operative. These differences were caused by the suspicion that one capitalist group might steal a march upon another; that the German bourgeoisie might make away with more than they should get as slave-driver. The struggle for supremacy between Anglo-American finance and the French Steel Trust almost threatened to wreck the Conference. The former would not grant the credit to Germany, upon which the Plan hinged, unless the “jugular vein” of German industry, and particularly the railways, were freed from the strangle-hold of French militarism. Business is badly managed by bristling bayonets. If the German railways, customs, forests, &c., were to be solvent pledges for the loan offered, they must be managed, not by generals, but by business men. In other words, the Anglo-Saxon business sense strongly disapproved of the French bullying methods for making the German workers atone for the sins of their rulers, past and present. The French, on their part, shook their head in distrust, and obstinately stuck to their own point of view: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. It was neither MacDonald’s humanitarian formulae, nor Snowden’s “socialist” economics that steered the ship of the London Conference through these rocky shoals. In fact, the deal was done behind their backs, they having no more to say in the making of the Second Versailles than their spiritual predecessor, Wilson, had in the original. They only served as the willing tools of the bourgeoisie, which was trying to entrench itself for the last and decisive battles.
The second difficulty was to reconcile France—to make her see that the only hope of salvaging European capitalism was to accept the hegemony of Anglo-American finance. Although, financially, France stood in a rather weak position, yet by virtue of being in possession of the Ruhr, in addition to Lorraine and the Saar Basin conceded to her as the booty of war, she is not only the military dictator of Europe, but can dominate the industrial life of the Continent. An Anglo-American combination might put on the financial screw, but the French military domination of Europe could not be challenged without risking another war, which again would dash all hopes of capitalist reconstruction. This was the rock on which Poincaré stood and defied the chagrined allies of yesterday. The Dawes Plan proposed to bribe France out of the manger.
France agreed to the forty million pounds loan to Germany, on condition that the major part of this money would go into her own pockets in the shape of reparation payment. For the Anglo-American bankers who would finance the loan, the transaction was something like buying off from France the mortgage on Germany. By this golden chain the German bourgeoisie would be (very willingly) drawn into the Anglo-American orbit, thus driving a wedge between France and her east European vassals. France could not reject this ostensibly equitable offer without morally isolating herself.
Then arose the thorny question of the Ruhr evacuation, which had been made the sine qua non of the Dawes Plan. France would not throw away her trump card for anything on earth. Once more the London Conference was in grave danger. So long as France remained in the Ruhr, she would have a hand on Germany’s throat. Consequently, she could always secure the co-operation of the German bourgeoisie (coal kings and iron magnates) for building up the gigantic Continental metallurgical combine which would be a dangerous rival for British and even American industry. But France could not be got out of the Ruhr just by asking, not even in return for the major part of the forty million pounds nominally loaned to Germany. MacDonald, energetically aided by his “socialist” Chancellor of the Exchequer, fought valiantly to safeguard, not the interests of the British proletariat menaced by this plan of capitalist reconstruction, but the future of the Armstrongs, Vickers and Baldwins. But all in vain. A hostile Chamber, led by Poincaré, supported by sections of the Government bloc (Loucheur, Painlevé and Briand groups), stared Herriot in the face, and he refused to be persuaded by his “dear friend” and spiritual colleague, MacDonald. Once more the Dawes Plan was in danger, and Mr. MacDonald’s career as a more successful Wilson was at stake. The scheme to “deliver” Europe (to the ravages of capitalism) was saved, but not by the pacifist aphorisms of MacDonald; it was the mysterious visit to London of M. Loucheur, leader of the French Metallurgical Trust and representative of Poincaréism in essence, which smoothed the situation. The formula of “evacuation within one year” was accepted by Herriot, with the approval of Marshal Foch, for whose benediction the “victor of May 11”—the leader of the French democratic majority—had to rush to Paris in person. Even Poincaré benignly smiled upon his worthy successor, in the person of his secretary, who was present in London and amiably lunched with Herriot, just before he went to sign the “epoch-making” London Agreement. So, on the one hand, MacDonald personified the programme of the British bourgeoisie, unsuccessfully championed by Lloyd George, Bonar Law and Baldwin, while, on the other hand, Herriot carried through all the essentials of Poincaréism, freed from its clumsiness.
Thus under the cover of MacDonaldism, which typifies the worst prostitution of Social Democracy, the new era of capitalist reconstruction is begun. In a subsequent article, we will expose the impossibility of this reconstruction, even with the magic formula of MacDonaldism. Meanwhile, be it said that any plan of capitalist reconstruction will succeed only in case MacDonald and his kind succeed where Mussolini has failed, namely, in exterminating the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat and corrupting the rest.
Versailles marked the downfall of Wilson; but London, which is the continuation of Versailles, signalised the triumph of MacDonald, the inheritor of Wilsonism. This came about because the bourgeoisie have learnt some lessons since 1919, while the pacifist illusions of Social Democracy have degenerated into veritable treachery to the proletariat and subject nationalities. The London Agreement is a revision of the Versailles Treaty—its practical rendering. The Entente bourgeoisie forged such a suicidal instrument at Versailles because, drunk with victory, they were guided by the antiquated jingoism of Clemenceau, and cynically brushed aside Wilson, their unappreciated saviour, although they did not begrudge him the frantic acclamations outside the council chamber. Five years’ experience has helped the bourgeoisie to regain their business sense. To-day they have discovered in Wilsonism a very serviceable instrument with which to modify their suicidal policy, and thereby escape destruction. Hence the apparent success of MacDonaldism. How long will this illusion last?
This article was written before the defeat of the Labour Government, but it loses none of its value thereby as an analysis of European affairs during the period of Mr. MacDonald’s administration,—EDITOR, THE LABOUR MONTHLY.