Max Shachtman


Old Garbage in New Pails

(June 1939)

From New International, Vol. V No. 6, June 1939, pp. 179–182.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THE INVALUABLE ASSISTANCE given the imperialists by the social democracy in the last World War is too well remembered to require elaboration even at a distance of twenty-five years. If the leaders of the Second International had not sown such demoralization and confusion among the workers by their chauvinistic activity, their repetition of the official imperialist lies, it is doubtful if the war would have lasted half as long as it did. There is indeed good reason to believe that if the rulers of France, Germany, Austro-Hungary and England felt that they could not rely upon their agents in the labor movement, the fear of proletarian revolution might even have curbed their otherwise uncontrollable lust for settling inter-imperialist rivalries on Europe’s battlefields. For this we have the involuntary confirmation of no less a patriotic authority than the then and present leader of the French trade unions, Léon Jouhaux, who confessed in a speech delivered on August 1, 1937 at Toulouse, on the twenty-third anniversary of Jean Jaurès’ murder in Paris: “If on the day of the assassination of Jaurès his friends had not spoken to the people of Paris, the revolution would have preceded the war, for the workers thought that the hand of the assassin was armed less by the love of country than by the desire to shatter an obstacle to the war.”

Given an organized labor movement, the social democracy is an indispensable prop of the bourgeois social order. The ruling class tolerates it until it finds it expedient to resort to fascism, whereupon it dismisses the social democracy and exterminates the labor movement. The moving protestations of patriotism and loyalty are thereafter of no avail. “The Moor has done his duty, the Moor must go.”

While a measure of bourgeois democracy is maintained in a country, that is, while the social democracy is tolerated, it proves its indispensability to the bourgeoisie in all crises, above all when war comes, for then it does not allow itself to be excelled in patriotic zeal. But what about the social democratic party of that country in which fascism has rudely suppressed or exiled it, in which there is not even a pretense of democracy – how can it come out in favor of the “defense of the fatherland”? It cannot and, as a rule, it does not. What it does do, however, is hire out its services to the ruling class of a foreign democracy, asking in return only that it be brought back to the position it once occupied in its native land on the gun carriages of its temporary foreign employer.

The exiled German social-democratic leadership is now playing precisely that not very dignified role in world affairs. A blatant example was the revelation a year and a half ago that the sorry hero of the Saarland social democracy, Max Braun, had applied to the French government for financial support to his newspaper and his movement in return for military propaganda among the youth of the German emigration which would convert them into ardent soldiers for the French army “against German fascism”.

The perverted war-mongering of the German social-democratic leaders, who capitulated cravenly to fascism when they had invincible forces at their command and now hope to restore their power by “a policy that expects salvation by foreign bayonets”, as one of their dissident number puts it, is not confined to France. In all the imperialist “democracies” the German social democrats have their emissaries and representatives whose main activity is directed towards mobilizing the labor movement for the new Holy War, this time not “against czarism” but “against fascism”. The United States has its share of these ladies and gentlemen, mainly former members of the Weimar Reichstag.

There is Miss Toni Sender who was known years ago as a bit of a radical oppositionist to the German party leadership, along with Max Seydewitz and Paul Levi, but now repents weekly in the New Leader in the form of moving supplications to all decent Americans to join in a war – defensive, you understand, or at least, preventive – to crush the German monster. Working-class mothers are soothingly assured by her that it is better for their sons to die gloriously under the Stars and Stripes than to live as serfs under the Swastika. Another recruiting sergeant in the War for Democracy is the former Reichstag member, Gerhart Seger, now editor of the New York social-democratic Neue Volkszeitung which, unlike the old Volkszeitung but quite like its ex-editor, Ludwig Lore, glistens with an American chauvinistic sweat. Still another former Reichstag member now in this country is Wilhelm Sollman, whose nationalism and contempt for the proletariat were notorious in the Weimar days of the party. A briefer but not less purposeful visit to the United States was paid a while back by the former editor of the Berlin Vorwärts, Friedrich Stampfer, faithful retainer of His Royal and Imperial Majesty during the last war, mouthpiece of the party bureaucracy all the time, and missionary for the coming war. He is the perspicacious politician who, six years ago, just after Hitler became Chancellor, told John Elliot of the Herald-Tribune that “fascism stands no chance of gaining a foothold in a nation like Germany that has a certain level of political culture, owing to the resistance that will be forthcoming from the workers”. Since Stampfer and his colleagues prevented the organization of this resistance, it was not forthcoming. Stampfer has now transferred his anti-fascist hopes from the Reichswehr Generals to the General Staffs of the French, British and American armies. Also with us today is Albert Grzesinski who, while Prussian Minister of the Interior ten years ago, did not show much ability in crushing the Nazis but did distinguish himself in the struggle for Democracy by his brutal decree suppressing the Red Front Fighters League In a recent biography he described his sorrow at being unable to enlist for the front in 1914 because patriotic duty kept him behind the lines where his proposals for the “Stick-It-Out!” propaganda campaign won him the approval of the Prussian Generals among whom, he writes, he often found more social understanding than among the trade union leaders. In the next war – not for the Barons of East Prussia, this time, but for the financial Barons of the Bourse, the City and Wall Street – duty will again retain him behind the lines where he is already active in the war preparations “against fascism”.

All the “democracies” now have their quota of Senders, Segers, Sollmans, Grzesinskis and Stampfers. And since a defense of their pro-war position of 1914-1918 would not be very popular with the bourgeoisie or even the proletariat of the countries in which tkey have taken refuge – for virtually all their newly-acquired fatherlands were in the Allied, anti-German camp! – they have adjusted their present pro-war agitation to the new geographico-political requirements. Together with the more native patriots, they reluctantly murmur a hint that the last World War might have been imperialistic and the slogans under which it was fought a pack of lies. But this time, things are really and truly different. The coming war will – they give their solemn word of honor – not be fought for spheres of influence, sources of raw materials, colonies and markets. It will be fought for the Great and Honorable Cause of smashing fascism. It is not – God forbid! – that they are for a war, any more than they were for it on August 4, 1914. Rather it is a case where war is either inevitable or else an accomplished fact. Inasmuch as one cannot be utopianly neutral and since, moreover, fascism menaces us all, and since, finally, the poor proletariat is too weak to do anything by itself – the only thing left is to help the Democracies arm and, as soon as it is most expedient to start marching, speed their victory over totalitarian fascism.

The garbage which these social-democratic war missionaries spread before the workers is not new; it is the same foul stuff with which they poisoned the European masses twenty-five years ago. Only the pails out of which it is dumped are new, or at least scrubbed to look like new. How true to form the social democrats are running today may be seen by comparing their present position with their record during the last year.

In the middle of 1914, the Austro-German ruling classes must have concluded, according to Count Max Montgelas, that “the risk of a European war that breaks out over Servia can be borne only if Italy and Rumania consider that there are grounds for the alliance and, if possible, it Bulgaria too is fighting from the outset on the side of the Triple Alliance”.

Who was more qualified to supplement the efforts of Austro-German diplomacy in these countries than the German social democracy? The diplomats worked in the chancelleries of Italy, Rumania and Bulgaria to draw them into the war on the side of the Central Powers; the social democrats sent their own ambassadors to work in the labor movements of those countries towards the same end. In giving their social-democratic lieutenants such missions, the Prussian warlords were actuated by the same considerations that moved Woodrow Wilson to send the socialist turncoat George D. Herron as his confidential agent to the socialist and labor circles of Europe.

“The enemy countries,” writes M.P. Briggs, the biographer of Herron, “were employing ex-pacifists and socialists in much the same manner as the United States and Great Britain were employing Herron. The old associations of these men had created a bond between them which made it possible for them to hold conversations with a predisposition to understand each other. They used the same idiom, whatever differences there might be in language ... Thus Herron’s socialism served as a valuable apprenticeship for his short diplomatic career.”

Now, the all-too-prevalent view that the German social democrats acted during the war in exactly the same way as the Kaiser and his entourage, is quite erroneous. Socialist support of the war was motivated on “socialist” and even “revolutionary-internationalist” grounds. Revolutionary-internationalist? Yes; because, they said, we German socialists cannot confine our struggle against capitalism to its German sector alone. We must not be so nationalistically-limited. Our efforts must be directed mainly against the world-imperialist vampire, Britain, on the one side, and against arch-reactionary czarism, on the other. Our troops will cross the Russian frontier, as the younger Plekhanov had said years before, not as conquerors but as liberators; whereas the Cossacks crossing the German frontier will come to enslave the German workers to reactionary feudalism and to smash the most advanced socialist movement in the world.

“Germany does not pursue the aim of extending her markets by means of this war or of strangling her competitors,” wrote Wolfgang Heine in his polemic against the anti-war left wing. “The war, on Germany’s part, is therefore no imperialist undertaking.”

The former extreme radical and associate of Luxemburg who turned chauvinist over night, Paul Lensch, declared it “a symbolical act that the world revolution [!] was begun by the German side with a conscious insurrection, with the tearing up of Belgian neutrality”.

“We in Germany,” wrote Philip Scheidemann in a letter to the New York Volkszeitung on September 14, 1914, “had the duty to defend ourselves from czarism, had to fulfill the task of protecting the country of the most highly developed social democracy from the menacing enslavement by Russia ... A Germany enslaved by the Czar would have meant setting back for decades the socialist movement of the whole world, not only the German.”

With this “revolutionary” war-cry, with the slogan of the defense of the socialist movement from reactionary czarism, social-democratic war emissaries were dispatched all over Europe to rally foreign support for German imperialism. They even had the impudence to send Noske to occupied Belgium and Auer to Roubaix and the North of France with the aim of reconciling the labor movement to the noble-minded, socialistically-inspired invasion of Wilhelm’s armies. Was it there and then that the touching and all-but-eternal friendship was cemented between the social-democratic leaders and Paul von Hindenburg?

Müller and Scheidemann were sent to Holland to win the support of the Dutch social democracy. Dr. Südekum became notorious for his voyages, made with the knowledge and consent of the government, to Sweden, to Rumania, to Italy, which remained neutral in the first period of the war. It is interesting to recall that the French social-chauvinists heaped abuse and slander upon the Italian Socialist party by saying that its position in favor of Italian neutrality in the war was due to the fact that before 1914 the German Social-Democratic party had helped the Italian party financially and that Südekum’s visit to Italy right after war broke out was made for the purpose of threatening a withdrawal of financial support unless the I.S.P. maintained a friendly attitude. The same people were anything but abusive after the counter-visits to Italy of the Belgian social-patriot Jules Destrée and the French chauvinist, Marcel Cachin. The latter brought with him the money with which Mussolini was bribed to support the Allies; the fascist-leader-to-be used it to found his Francophile Popolo d’Italia.

Another prototype of the Senders and Stampfers was the notorious Parvus – Dr. Helphand. He was sent to Sofia, where he lectured the social democrats on how Bulgaria’s entry into the war on the side of Germany would aid in the victory of Democracy. From there he proceeded to Constantinople, where he made a fortune in grain speculation and in provisioning the German armies and, as his political work, agitated among the Caucasian revolutionists and nationalists that “in the interests of the Russian revolution”, now was the time to organize an insurrection in the Caucasus against the Czar.

The policy of supporting “revolutions” – not at home where they were brutally suppressed, but in the camp of the enemy! – was a recognized part of the war strategy of each imperialist group, even if it was so dangerous that it was cautiously applied. German imperialism was not loathe to offer assistance to Indian and Irish nationalists. Wilson, through Herron, sought to establish connections with the German internationalists during the war. Renaudel, the French social-patriot, exclaimed upon hearing the news of Liebknecht’s vote against war credits in the Reichstag: “Bravo, Liebknecht! At last, here is the word waited for by the socialist hearts of France.” (The same Renaudel, it goes without saying, urged the French authorities to mobilize the French Liebknechts for immediate service at the front, where the speediest and most conclusive results might be hoped for.) The business of organizing “revolutions” elsewhere was, of course, largely entrusted to the social democrats in each country.

Thus, Parvus’ efforts in Turkey were complemented by similar activities in Austria. The social-democracy cordially and hypocritically supported its Galician section – the Polish nationalists led by Daszynski and Pilsudski – in the formation of legions to fight for Polish independence ... from the Czar. At the same time, according to the account Scheidemann gives in Der Zusammenbruch of the joint meeting of the German and Austrian party leaderships towards the end of 1915, Victor Adler said, “We – the Austrians – are ready ‘to take’ Poland and Servia. That’s not annexation. Austerlitz even considers a further partition of Poland to Austria and Germany as the ‘happier solution’.” These genuinely Hapsburg-socialists were for the “socialist revolution” – but only as a commodity for export behind the enemy lines. Acting on the same “principle” they helped organize in Vienna a “Ukrainian Union of Revolutionary Socialists” to fight for “Ukrainian independence” (again, from the Czar but not from the Kaiser). Its leader was described by the organ of the revolutionary Ukrainian exiles in Geneva as a man who had

“assembled around himself and around Austrian money a dozen swindlers, drunkards and people without opinions, Bukovinians and Galicians, who readily consented to play in Austria the pleasant, care-free, profitable and gay rôle of private revolutionists of His Majesty Franz Josef, Kaiser and King of Austro-Hungary.”

How many such “private revolutionists” of the modern, “anti-fascist” type, will we see mobilized into similar groups in the coming war? To judge by the number who are already functioning, they will be as thick as flies and just as sanitary.

Let us again emphasize that the war which is now justified morally in the name of “the struggle against fascism” was justified a quarter of a century ago, in one camp, in the name of a “revolutionary struggle against czarism”. Parvus wrote joyfully, a year after the war began, that “now the German General Staff had to come out for the revolution ... and the German workers stepped forth against czarism as a well-organized army”. If Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Falkenhayn, Kluck and Emmich were leading the Russian revolution, then Lensch was surely right in declaring of the Kaiser’s Chancellor that “at the head of the German revolution stands Bethmann-Hollweg”. The same Lensch proudly claimed that “as a matter of fact, the Russian revolution [March, 1917] is a child of the German victories”. At the first war congress of the party where the leadership had to give an accounting of its pro-war policy, at Würzburg, October 1917, Dr. David, reporting for the Reichstag fraction, had the cool effrontery to say:

“The justification of our attitude has still another strong argument. A policy is best judged by its successes. What success has it had? The one immense fruit of this war, which we all greeted with jubilation, is the collapse of the czarist system, is the Russian revolution, the Russian democracy, and with it the end of the perils which the czarist system meant to Europe. But this event would not have occurred if we had acted as Haase and his friends wanted us to on August 4, 1914.”

But the slogan “Down with czarism!” on the lips of the social-patriots was as hypocritical, as fraudulent and as treacherous as the slogan “Down with fascism” is on the lips of the social democrats and Stalinists of today. The German social democrats remained quiet while the German troops of occupation imprisoned genuine Polish revolutionists. They continued to support the Kaiser when the German invader forced the “liberated” Polish worker and peasant into whiplashed labor battalions. The German proclamation of the “Kingdom of Poland” in November, 1916, for which Hapsburgs, Hohenzollerns, Wittelsbachs and even Saxon royalty immediately claimed the throne, was hailed by the Vorwärts as the execution of the testament of Marx and Engels! Even after the overturn of the Czar by the March revolution, the social democrats revealed most crassly the hollowness of their “war against czarism” slogan by continuing to vote the military budget in the Reichstag. In July, 1917 the fraction voted an additional war credit of fifteen billion marks!

Almost a year after the Bolshevik victory, on October 3, 1918, that is, just a few weeks before the utter collapse of Germany and the abdication of the Kaiser, the same Stampfer who is now again recruiting imperialist cannon fodder for a war against czarism – beg pardon! against fascism – was still writing in the Vorwärts to urge more sacrifices for Hindenburg and less thought of revolution:

“Woe to the people that stacks its arms five minutes too soon! ... A people who loses patience at the end of a long war and cripples the maintenance of domestic authority, is like a sick man who, in fevered frenzy, rips off his bandages and leaps out of bed.”

Less than forty days later, fortunately, the German workers did rip off the bandages with which the Stampfers had kept them paralyzed for four years, and brought the war and the Hohenzollern dynasty to a close.

In their war-mongering agitation of today, the Senders and Segers and Stampfers are merely paraphrasing slightly the socialistically-varnished imperialist arguments of their predecessors, the Parvuses and Südekums and Stampfers of 1914–1918. We have the duty to reply to these emissaries of “democracy” by paraphrasing the indignant declaration adopted by the leadership of the Italian Socialist party in 1915, when it rejected the advances made by Dr. Südekum and his associates:

“We socialists regard the dispatch of the German mission to Italy as an offense against the dignity and independence of Italian socialism; the more so as the German Social-Democratic party, by supporting the German and Austrian policy of aggression, has forfeited the right to the title of internationalist socialists.”


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Last updated on 19 January 2016