Source: New International, Vol.8 No.5, June 1942, pp.153-157.
Written/First Published: 1916 (approximately) in The War and the Crisis in Socialism
Transcription: Daniel Gaido & Ted Crawford.
Mark-up: by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
We have already said that the entire theory of modern social chauvinism is contained essentially in the quoted passages from Walterhausen and Schmoller, The “theoreticians” of social chauvinism today draw almost exclusively from this imperialist source. “Truths” such as those propagated by imperialists like Walterhausen for years are recast by them somewhat and painted over with a Marxist veneer to serve for use among the workers. What the Messrs. social chauvinists dish up for the masses as socialism today is in reality little more than the perfected theory of the community of interests between the imperialist bourgeoisie and the “little bourgeoisie,” the labor aristocrats.
What, indeed, is the basic thesis of Cunow, Legien, Winnig, Lensch, Scheidemann and their consorts? We, they say, support “our” government and “our” bourgeoisie, not at all because we like its looks; no, the interests of the German working class demand an ever stronger development of “our” fatherland’s capitalism, demand that the economic progress of our country proceed as rapidly and as freely as possible, that “we” find a sufficiently great number of export markets, of sources of raw materials, of spheres of influence of “our” capital, etc. Only then will the demand for labor power be big enough, only then will the living standard of the workers rise. When “our” capitalists make more profits there will be something left over for the workers as well.
But the same picture unfolds before us on the opposite side. It is not only “we” alone that are interested in the profits of “our” bourgeoisie; the workers of other countries that compete with “us” have identical interests in relation to “their” bourgeoisie. When the contest for colonies, for the “freedom of the seas,” has been sharpened to its highest pitch, war breaks out. What is to be done? It is a tragic necessity. The workers would naturally prefer to settle such matters peacefully, but that is not always possible. War has become a fact. What shall the German workers do? Shall they refuse to support their government and their bourgeoisie? But in that case, Germany will suffer defeat. And that will mean that the development of capitalism in Germany will be retarded, that the demand for labor power will decline, that the German workers will be forced to emigrate in order to earn their bread on foreign shores, to content themselves with low wages. What else can the German workers do if they are to avoid this misfortune? Only one thing: support “their” government, “their” imperialism. We know, Legien, Lensch and Winnig say, that imperialism has its bad features, that it is bound up with wars, etc. But these are far outweighed by its good features. Thanks to imperialism, the living standard of our working class has been rising. We know, say these leaders of the official German social democracy, that when we support our imperialism, we thereby take up arms against the workers of other countries. That is truly very sad – but we have no choice in the matter. A tragic necessity remains a necessity nevertheless.
And what does this tragic necessity really prove? Only that in practice, in living reality, the actual interests of the workers of the various countries do not at all coincide. Often the interests of the workers in one country stand in an irreconcilable conflict with the interests of the workers of another country. “Workers of all Countries, unite!” That sounds very good, but what can be done if the economic interests, practically speaking, do not unite the proletarians of the various countries, but rather divide them?
We are thus in a position to recognize also the historic causes which led to the collapse of the International. Theoretically the solidarity of interests among the proletariat of the great industrial countries did exist, to be sure, but not yet practically ... International solidarity of the proletariat was valid only as a slogan in the social democracy. But this solidarity – and this is one of the great new realizations brought home to us by the war – is by no means to be determined in advance ... It presupposes a certain equality of status among the powers involved. As long as one nation is so superior to another as to be regarded as a world dominion, this contrast, in so far as it is a matter of the other nations standing in opposition to a single world dominion, is transposed upon their respective working classes as well. The war opened the eyes of the German social democracy to this fact: that, historically considered, it is stilI too early to speak of an international solidarity of the working class. (Paul Lensch: Die Sozialdemokratie, ihr Glück und ihr Ende.)
The standpoint of consistent social chauvinism is so dearly formulated here as to leave nothing more to be desired in the way of clarity. International solidarity is a great ideal. But in practice the economic interests of the working classes in the individual countries “still” require their solidarity with “their” bourgeoisie, with “their” imperialism.
It is necessary to investigate only one small matter yet: is it true, as the social chauvinists contend, that the whole working class benefits from a boom on the part of its domestic imperialism, that its economic living standard actually rises and that its wages are raised? Or have not Legien, Lensch (as well as their imitators) perhaps confused the working class with the labor aristocracy! And, in the case of the latter, have they not also confused a transitory material advantage with much more profound and more permanent interests?
But first, another question: Have Marxists dealt with these problems before the war and what answer did they give then? When we ask ourselves this question we must say: yes, of course these problems were dealt with before the war; it was impossible to avoid them because all these “proofs” of the social chauvinists for the necessity of supporting imperialism were at that time zealously propagated by the bourgeoisie itself, because the politicians and ideologists of imperialism disseminated them far and wide. And what must now be directed as a reply to the Lensches of all countries was cited back at that time in the polemics against the Walterhausens of all languages. Let us, for example, hear what Otto Bauer has to say on the subject – we purposely refrain from quoting theoreticians belonging to the Marxist left wing; we pick, instead, a representative of the moderate “Marxist center.”
The struggle for export markets serves this same purpose, just as in the case of the struggle for spheres of influence. The decrease in fixed capital, the speeding up of its circulation into the sphere of production, the extension of the period of production inside of the period of the turnover as a whole, all these appear to be the common interests of all the classes, The working class also appears to have a stage in this process: if the mass of monetary capital withdrawn from capital circulation at a given moment is decreased, the demand for labor power grows, the position of the worker on the labor market is strengthened, wages are raised. It is therefore taken fair granted that the worker’s interest as a producer favors protective tariffs and expansion policy. (Otto Bauer: Die Nationalitätenfrage und die Sozialdemokratie, Marxstudien, vol.2.)
Otto Bauer analyzes thoroughly this whole chain of syllogisms characteristic of bourgeois political economy (we know that all these “socialist” officials have made this bourgeois political economy their own) and reaches the following conclusion:
Bourgeois economics has observed that modem tariff policy and colonial polity changes the circulation of capital and that these changes emphasize the tendency toward a rise in prices, profits and wages. That is why capitalist expansion policy appears, from that point of view, to be just as advantageous to the interests of the workers as it is to the interests of the capitalist class.
But that is not so, says Bauer, adding:
Protective tariffs force society to produce such commodities for which the conditions of production are less favorable in a particular country. Thus the: tariff reduces the productivity of social labor. This is evident from the high prices of the commodities thus produced. In this wise the purchasing power of money wages remaining stationary, these are the working class actually loses ... Higher commodity prices, a decreased purchasing power of money wages remaining stationary, these are the first effects of capitalist tariff policy in so far as the working class is concerned.
If we compare the distribution of productive capital under the influence of the protective tariff with the distribution of productive capital under the conditions of free trade, we find a far greater share of social capital flowing into branches of production which, capital investments remaining equal, employ less labor power than the other industries. The protective tariff, therefore, reduces the demand for labor power and deteriorates the position of the worker on the labor market. More than that! The industries favored by the trust-protecting tariff are such in which capital has reached the highest point of concentration, in which the mobility of the workers has been almost abolished and the trades union struggle extraordinarily impeded ... By favoring the heavy industries, by damaging the industries using iron and steel as raw materials, the protective tariff transposes capital into branches of production that offer the least advantageous conditions for the struggle of the trade unions.
Furthermore, imperialism requires immense military resources. Tremendous sums must be sacrificed for military and naval purposes. The sober observer will only be able to justify imperialist policies if the economic advantages resulting from them outweigh these economic sacrifices. This question also is posed differently for the working class than it is for the bourgeoisie. For everywhere a far greater part of labor’s wages than of surplus value is sacrificed to militarism ... The capitalist states ... are determined to impose the costs of military armaments upon the working class. Thus the decline in the rate of accumulation is prevented, for a far smaller part is accumulated from labor’s wages than from surplus value. When the worker has to surrender a considerable part of his wages as taxes to the state, then the individual consumption of the worker cedes to state consumption in the form of expenditures for militarism ... The concern over the level of the rate of accumulation alone instigates all capitalist states ... to balance the budget for the army and the navy by means of indirect taxes and revenues which burden the working class far more heavily than the owning classes.
Capital exports effect a sinking demand on the European labor market ... A decrease in the nation’s desire for work signifies in capitalist society, a decline in the demand for its labor forces, a deterioration of the condition of the workers on the labor market. In so far as imperialism favors the emigration of European capital to foreign parts of the globe it threatens altogether too directly the workers’ “interests as producers”. By extending the arena for the leveling of the rate of profit to the entire face of the earth, imperialism aims at the displacement of European labor by the cheaper labor of the less advanced nations, which therefore signifies – as Kurt Eisner once said – a tendency toward a general lock-out of the European working class ... Does not the exploitation of the most impoverished and most despised worker in the entire world, the Chines coolie, directly detrimental as it is to the cause of the workers in all countries, indeed furnish us with a remarkable example of the international solidarity of the workers’ interests?
Imperialism thus decreases the share of the working class in social wealth, transforms the relationship between the amount of values accruing to the possessing classes and those appropriated by the working class to the detriment of the proletariat, thus increasing the exploitation of the workers.
This is the conclusion Otto Bauer reaches. Schippel’s views, shared today by the whole social chauvinist cult from Lensch to Maslow, are characterized by Bauer as bourgeois views. Schippel is carrying on “not proletarian, but capitalist, not social democratic, but national-liberal policies.”
It is of no use to the proletariat in an economic sense, that is quite beyond questioning. However, “(imperialism) furnishes the ruling classes with ever greater masses of armed men serving as their involuntary instruments. Thereby it becomes a danger to democracy ... The working class youth forms the backbone of the modern (conscript people’s) armies: how can workers overlook the question whether an increase of profits is really of such an invaluable benefit that it must be paid for with the lives of thousands upon thousands (today we must add millions) of hopeful young men?”
All this was a self-evident truth recognized by all adherents to the labor movement before the war, by all – save that little band of gentlemen who even at that time openly served the bourgeoisie, like Schippe & Co. And now? What can the Messrs. social chauvinists reply to the proofs furnished by Otto Bauer? Absolutely nothing! They do not even attempt to refute these proofs, which were once flung in the face of the bourgeoisie, but which today apply so perfectly to the official “theory” of the modern also-socialists.
There can be no question that imperialism does not result in any advantages whatsoever for the working class as a whole. But it cannot be denied that for a certain minority of skilled workers, for the labor aristocracy, a few crumbs may fall from the imperialist table. Bauer came quite close to such a conclusion when he wrote: “Certainly the protective tariff has the effect of channelizing a greater share of capital into branches of production with a highly organic composition, that is, with a far lower capacity for the absorption of labor forces than that which would ordinarily have found a place for itself in these branches of industry. The branches of production which require a great deal of constant, but very little variable, capital (i.e., few workers – G.Z.) are most mature for trustification. The export practices of these trusts, based upon the protective tariffs, aim to strike at similar branches of production abroad with a low organic composition” (i.e., a relatively greater number of workers – G.Z.).
A small minority of skilled workers, those employed in the branches of industry enumerated by Bauer (and in several other), actually do feed on imperialism. But it is a dwindling minority of the working class. The experience of the World War has proved this in particularly striking fashion. The condition of the great mass of workers has – due to the frightfully high cost of living and the suspension of the protective labor laws, etc. – become considerably more miserable. Millions of women and children working at starvation wages have been drawn into the process of production. The economic situation of the entire great mass of, let us say, the British workers has undergone an absolute deterioration. Only a small minority – some two million workers – have succeeded in retaining their former real wages (i.e., an increase in wages corresponding to the rise in the prices of the necessaries most in demand); only in the rarest cases are present-day wages higher than those of pre-war days.
Yet there can be no doubt as to the existence of a small layer of labor aristocrats whom the cannon and munition kings do throw a bone occasionally from their rich feast of war profits. This minority made good wages even before the war and has enjoyed still higher wages during the war. All kinds of privileges were granted this minority before the war, also. During the course of the war these privileges have become far more valuable for these aristocrats of labor. It is sufficient to point out that this labor aristocracy has not been sent to the front in most cases. The industrialists need them at home; they are indispensable as the element under whose direction the ordinary workers, the women, the youth and the children are carrying on their work in the factories and in the mills and mines.
It is these very narrow, corporate interests of this minority of privileged labor aristocrats that the social chauvinists have confused with the interests of the working class. This confusion is quite understandable when we grasp the fact that the leaders of the trade unions and of the official social democracy hail, in their majority, from that very same environment of the labor aristocracy. The labor aristocracy and the labor bureaucracy are two blood brothers. When the social chauvinists speak of the interests of the working class, they have in mind – often quite unconsciously – the interests of the labor aristocracy.. But here too, it is not really a matter of veritable interests in the broader meaning of the word, so much as of immediate material advantages. This is absolutely not one and the same thing. Marxists have never held the view that the realization of the interests of the workers means to fill their pockets as much as possible. From the point f view of interests, understood in the more profound sense of the term, the labor aristocracy is committing treason against itself ... For, the “aristocrats of labor” remain wage slaves for all that. Temporarily they do enjoy a certain advantage, to be sure, but they undermine thereby their own position and violate the unity of the working class. They sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. They retard the erection of a new order in society which will of necessity free them, the “aristocrats” themselves, from wage slavery. They become a tool of reaction.
Look at the bourgeoisie. We are inclined to believe that its basic principle is the immediate interest in the fate of its pocketbook. But the bourgeoisie understands only too well hat it must subordinate this “principle” to its general class interests. It would be easy to prove to the bourgeoisie that a people’s militia is considerably less expensive than a standing army, that it is much more preferable from the point of view of immediate interests. But the bourgeoisie will nevertheless prefer, as a rule, the much more expensive standing army. And in doing so, its point of departure will always be the more important class interest of the bourgeoisie.
To foster splits between the various strata of the working class, to promote competition among them, to segregate the upper stratum from the rest by corrupting it and by making it an agency for bourgeois “respectability” – that is entirely in the interests of the bourgeoisie. Even if we were to disregard the political interests of the working class, the social chauvinists would still be traitors to the cause of the workers. For even in the field of protecting the economic interests they cannot see further than their noses. They identify economic interests with a temporary advantage amounting to a few more pennies. They split the working class inside of every country and thereby intensify and aggravate the split between the working classes of the various countries. Thanks to the common efforts of the bourgeoisie and the social chauvinists, the world proletariat is being split horizontally as well as vertically, if we may be permitted to use these terms.
We have said that the official “European” labor organizations – particularly its leading strata – are recruited in the main from the better-paid workers, from the labor aristocracy. Is that correct? Are there sufficient objective and well-founded proofs to substantiate this contention? These proofs are beyond a doubt, at hand.
Let us turn once more to the German labor movement as the classic example of a labor movement in this past epoch. The composition of the German Social Democratic Party and of the German trade unions is certainly more proletarian in character than that of any other “European” party. And what do we see? The German social democracy has not provided for extensive statistics regarding the social composition of its whole party organization. But such statistics do exist and may, to a certain extent, be regarded as symptomatic for the entire party.
We have before us an excellent piece of statistical research regarding the composition of the Berlin social democratic organization; it was compiled some eight or nine years ago, but may still be considered as quite valid even today.
Berlin is the largest labor center and the strongest pillar of German social democracy. The data relates to the years 1906 and 1907; they encompass some 53,106 organized workers, members of the Social Democratic Party (81 per cent of all the members organized into the Social Democratic Party in Berlin at that time). At first glance two circumstances command our attention in this extremely interesting piece of statistical research. First, the existence of a numerically strong group of non-workers in the social democratic organization, who are designated as “independents.” Second, the relatively poor percentage of party members recruited from the mass of unskilled workers. The group of “independents,” that is, people who do not live by the sale of their labor power, consists of some 5,228 men (out of 53,106), i.e., amounts to 9.8 per cent of all the party members under investigation. Nearly 10 per cent of all the organized social democrats in the city of Berlin and its environs are, therefore, not workers. Of the 5,228 “independents,” nearly half are saloon keepers. They are 2,528 men strong in this group. Then there are 452 independent barbers, 310 merchants and shop keepers and 74 factory owners. The others “independents” are recruited from among owners of printshops and artisans, commission agents artists, etc. Thus, at least one out of every ten members of the Berlin organization of the social democracy belongs to the petty bourgeoisie. The owners of saloons, barber shops, etc., are in most cases intimately linked with the working class population. Workers are the chief customers of this sort of commercial enterprise. Nevertheless, the interests of the workers and the interests of these groups often diverge.
Undoubtedly a distinct petty bourgeois current is introduced into the Social Democratic Party by this stratum of socalled “independents.” Thousands of saloon keepers, hundreds of small manufacturers, merchants and independent tradesmen – these are not individuals who have adopted the point of view of the proletariat. This is an entire, distinct stratum which has retained its own interests, its own psychology, its own mode of thinking.
On the other hand, we find the following things worthy of note in these Berlin statistics: The authors of the work have segregated the unskilled workers into a separate category under the classification of “workers” – without any further supplementary description. And what is the result? The unskilled workers amounted to 14.9 per cent, all told, of the entire number of members of the Berlin social democratic organization under investigation. In the First Electoral District of Berlin they amount to 2.5 per cent of all the organized; in the Third District, to 5.6 per cent; in the Fifth, to 7.9 per cent; in the Second, to 9 per cent. Thus it follows that the predominant mass of the membership of the Berlin social democratic organization is composed of trained, of skilled workers. In other words, the predominant mass of the membership of the social democratic organization consists of the better-paid strata of labor – of those strata from which the greatest section of the labor aristocracy arises.
This conclusion is also confirmed by the statistics regarding the trade unions, which are particularly thorough-going in the research work we have mentioned. What branches show the highest percentages in trade union organization? Among the compositors and pressmen, 90.6 per cent or organizen (of the 100,986 printers employed in Berlin, 9,850 are members of the free trade unions). Among the lithographers, 90.5 per cent are organized; among the engravers, 75.6 per cent; among the metal workers, 68.7 per cent. In the textile industry, on the other hand, the organized workers are only 21.4 per cent of the total. Of the garment workers, only 10 per cent are organized; of the transport workers, only 25.3 per cent; of the tobacco workers, 34.3 per cent; of the bakers, 34.1 per cent; of the shoe workers, 34.7 per cent. The picture is the same throughout. No matter how big the membership of the free trade unions may be (before the outbreak of the war they comprised over 3,000,000 organized workers) - they do not include in their ranks the great mass of the unskilled workers. The free trade unions have succeeded in organizing only a small minority (one-fifth) of the workers. The predominant mass of their workers are likewise recruited from among the skilled, the better-paid, category of workers.
Returning once more to the statistics covering the membership of the Social Democratic Party of Greater Berlin, we can draw the following balance sheet: The great mass of the unskilled workers, of the most exploited and most oppressed section of the proletariat, is very feebly represented in the German Social Democratic Party. It constitutes within it a group of no more than 15 per cent in strength, at best. On the opposite pole to this group we have a numerically almost as strong (10 per cent) group of non-workers, namely, saloon keepers, barbers, merchants, etc. This group may be smaller in number than that of the unskilled workers. But its influence on party affairs – that may be said a priori – is incomparably bigger. The “independent” elements are far more mobile; far less preoccupied with physical labor; dispose of a far greater amount of free time; are in a position to offer the party material services; their social position is on a much higher plane, they are the ones that are put up as the party’s candidates in the elections, etc. Between these two groups, which represent opposite poles, stand the better situated, more skilled workers, the real props of the Social Democratic Party organization. The main body, the central organism of the party, is thus formed of these strata of skilled workers.
In the previous section we have acquainted ourselves with the social composition of the electorate of the German social democracy and discovered the existence of a large group of petty bourgeois among it. The same symptoms – even though of a different numerical relationship, perhaps – can be established in the composition of the party organization as well.
Among the petty bourgeois elements of the German Social Democratic Party organization, the saloon keepers, particularly, play an important role. We have already seen how strongly they are represented in the Berlin party organization. In the province of Leipzig the number of “organized” social democratic saloon keepers amounted to 87 (1.7 per cent of all members of the local organization) in 1900; in the city of Leipzig, to 63 (3.4 per cent of all the members) in 1905; in Offenbach, to 76 (4.6 per cent) in 1905; in Munich, to 89 (5.5 per cent); in Frankfort O.M., to 25 (1 per cent ; in Reinickendorf (near Berlin), to 18 (5.9 per cent). According to Michels’ figures, there is, in the various localities, one “social democratic” saloon keeper to every 20 party members. In the social democratic Reichstag fraction there were four saloon keepers (out of 35 deputies) in 1892; five saloon keepers (out of 58) in 1903; six (out of 81) in 1905. In Berlin there has been organized a special – and very strong – association of social democratic saloon keepers. Workers constitute the greatest bulk of their customers and that draws the owners of saloons and restaurants much closer to the workers. On the other hand, the workers need meeting halls. The cheaper restaurants in the working class neighborhoods, the saloons, therefore, serve the organized workers as hangouts and as meeting places. According to their economic position, however, many saloon keepers are much closer in their relationship to the petty and middle bourgeoisie than they are to the proletariat. Often they themselves exploit the wage workers. Often their interests are opposed to the interests of the organized workers, and hostile clashes occur between them – as, for example, in the case of workers boycotting breweries or when workers carry on anti-alcoholic propaganda.
The influence of this whole group of members of the Social Democratic Party is often quite substantial. Particularly in the smaller cities, a good deal of the social democratic organization, if not all of it, depends upon them. Professor Schmoller contends that anywhere from one-third to one-half of the entire Social Democratic Party are not workers at all. That they are radical petty bourgeois. That the party has therefore tended to become more and more of a radical-democratic coalition party. In so far as the quantitative side of the whole matter is concerned, Professor Schmoller may be painting things a bit too thick. But in relation to its qualitative side, his evaluation is correct. The official German social democracy has actually become more and more of a radical-democratic coalition party. That is just what the opportunists wanted and they have led the party on this path with full consciousness. Bernstein was right in one respect, when he said at the beginning of his campaign against Marxism: we need not fear to call things by their right names – to say that we are simply a party of democratic reforms.
The petty bourgeois elements have laid their stakes in the ranks of the official social democracy – they constitute one of the sources of opportunism. The labor aristocracy – that is the second source, the second channel, through which the contagion of opportunism penetrated the party. Often one is struck point blank by this very insistence of the labor aristocracy on taking the path of opportunism. Take the printers, for example, It is noteworthy that in Germany – as well as in France, Italy, Holland, Switzerland, etc. – the typographical unions stand far more to the right than the general run of the already quite conservative trade union movements of these different countries, In Germany, the opportunist Rexhauser heads ,the printing crafts, in France it is the opportunist Keufer. In Belgium and Holland the workers engaged in the diamond cutting industry form the bulwark of opportunism. And these are not isolated examples.
The bourgeois opponents of socialism know that only too well.”The more the worker gains in importance, the more realistic he is inclined to be; he places his laurel wreath on the unforgettable head of Karl Marx in its fine marble cast and pays higher dues into the trade union treasury,” writes Pastor Nauman, not without a touch of irony, in his article entitled The Fortunes of Marxism. In the same article this Nauman, one of the ideological leaders of German imperialism, writes:
“The word, ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite!’ have had their effect. We are now faced with numbers of organized people whom no one had previously given a thought. There is money in the treasuries-as much as one could want ... Are there still not enough organized? Why is everything so quiet all around us? Where is the even step of those brass boots?”
Maximilian Harden, Ludwig Stein, Werner Sombart and the others mock at the German social democracy in a much similar vein. In the course of its development the German social democracy is losing more and more of its revolutionary “venom.” Its need for peace and for order is becoming constantly greater. It is becoming a conservative party.
The more far-sighted bourgeois have long ago noted this process, They know “their” social democracy only too well. One of the social-liberal German professors, Max Weber, a colleague of Sombart’s, once turned with this counsel to the German princes: if you want to be radically cured of your fright from social democracy, you should attend one of the Social Democratic Party conventions. He advised them to look over the delegates at these conventions from the spectators’ gallery and become convinced that among these revolutionaries, among these overthrowers of the state, it is the physiognomies of good-natured saloon keepers and typical petty bourgeois that predominate. They would soon become convinced that there is not a trace of revolutionary enthusiasm among them.
Unfortunately, the social-liberal professor was right. The crisis of the World War has proved that the official German social democrat is not only not revolutionary, but directly counter-revolutionary. Only in opposition to this official social democracy, only in the struggle against the specific “interests” of the labor aristocracy, can the road be paved for a truly socialist movement in Germany as well as in the other countries.
Last updated: 17.6.2008