British Pacifism and the British Dislike of Theory
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 21, pages 260-265.
Political freedom has hitherto been far more extensive in Britain than elsewhere in Europe. Here, more than anywhere else, the bourgeoisie are used to governing and know how to govern. The relations between the classes are more developed and in many respects clearer than in other countries. The absence of conscription gives the people more liberty in their attitude towards the war in the sense that anyone may refuse to join the colours, which is why the government (which in Britain is a committee, in its purest form, for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie) are compelled to bend every effort to rouse “popular” enthusiasm for the war. That aim could never be attained without a radical change in the laws, had the mass of proletarians not been completely disorganised and demoralised by the desertion to a Liberal, i.e., bourgeois, policy, of a minority of the best placed, skilled and unionised workers. The British trade unions comprise about one-fifth of all wage workers. Most trade union leaders are Liberals; Marx long ago called them agents of the bourgeoisie.
All these features of Britain help us, on the one hand, better to understand the essence of present-day social-chauvinism, that essence being identical in autocratic and democratic countries, in militarist and conscription-free countries; on the other hand, they help us to appreciate, on the basis of facts, the significance of that compromise with social-chauvinism which is expressed, for instance, in the extolling of the slogan of peace, etc.
The Fabian Society is undoubtedly the most consummate expression of opportunism and of Liberal-Labour policy. The reader should look into the correspondence of Marx and Engels with Sorge (two Russian translations of which have appeared). There he will find an excellent characterisation of that society given by Engels, who treats Messrs. Sidney Webb & Co. as a gang of bourgeois rogues who would demoralise the workers, influence them in a counter-revolutionary spirit. One may vouch for the fact that no Second International leader with any responsibility and influence has ever attempted to refute this estimation of Engels’s, or even to doubt its correctness.
Let us now compare the facts, leaving theory aside for a moment. You will see that the Fabians’ behaviour during the war (see, for instance, their weekly paper, The New Statesman), and that of the German Social-Democratic Party, including Kautsky, are identical. The same direct and indirect defence of social-chauvinism; the same combination of that defence with a readiness to utter all sorts of kindly, humane and near-Left phrases about peace, disarmament, etc., etc.
The fact stands, and the conclusion to be drawn—however unpleasant it may be to various persons—is inescapably and undoubtedly the following: in practice the leaders of the present-day German Social-Democratic Party, including Kautsky, are exactly the same kind of agents of the bourgeoisie that Engels called the Fabians long ago. The Fabians’ non-recognition of Marxism and its “recognition” by Kautsky and Co. make no difference whatever in the essentials, in the facts of politics; the only thing proved is that some writers, politicians, etc., have converted Marxism into Struvism. Their hypocrisy is not a private vice with them; in individual cases they may be highly virtuous heads of families; their hypocrisy is the result of the objective falseness of their social status: they are supposed to represent the revolutionary proletariat, whereas they are actually agents charged with the business of inculcating bourgeois, chauvinist ideas in the proletariat.
The Fabians are more sincere and honest than Kautsky and Co., because they have not promised to stand for revolution; politically, however, they are of the same kidney.
The long history of Britain’s political freedom and the developed condition of her political life in general, and of her bourgeoisie in particular, have resulted in various shades of bourgeois opinion being able to find rapid, free and open expression in that country’s new political organisations. One such organisation is the Union of Democratic Control, whose secretary and treasurer is E. D. Morel, now a regular contributor to The Labour Leader, the Independent Labour Party’s central organ. This individual was for several years the Liberal Party’s nominee for the Birkenhead constituency. When Morel came out against the war, shortly after its outbreak, the committee of the Birkenhead Liberal association notified him, in a letter dated October 2, 1914, that his candidature would no longer be acceptable, i.e., he was simply expelled from the Party. Morel replied to this in a letter of October 14, which he subsequently published as a pamphlet entitled The Outbreak of the War. Like a number of other articles by Morel, the pamphlet exposes his government, proving the falseness of assertions that the rape of Belgium’s neutrality caused the war, or that the war is aimed at the destruction of Prussian imperialism, etc., etc. Morel defends the programme of the Union of Democratic Control—peace, disarmament, all territories to have the right of self-determination by plebiscite, and the democratic control of foreign policy.
All this shows that as an individual, Morel undoubtedly deserves credit for his sincere sympathy with democracy, for turning away from the jingoist bourgeoisie to the pacifist bourgeoisie. When Morel cites the facts to prove that his government duped the people when it denied the existence of secret treaties although such treaties actually existed; that the British bourgeoisie, as early as 1887, fully realised that Belgium’s neutrality would inevitably be violated in the event of a Franco-German war, and emphatically rejected the idea of interfering (Germany not yet being a dangerous competitor!); that in a number of books published before the war French militarists such as Colonel Boucher quite openly acknowledged the existence of plans for an aggressive war by France and Russia against Germany; that the well-known British military authority, Colonel Repington, admitted in 1911 in the press, that the growth of Russian armaments after 1905 had been a threat to Germany—when Morel reveals all this, we cannot but admit that we are dealing with an exceptionally honest and courageous bourgeois, who is not afraid to break with his own party.
Yet anyone will at once concede that, after all, Morel is a bourgeois, whose talk about peace and disarmament is a lot of empty phrases, since without revolutionary action by the proletariat there can be neither a democratic peace nor disarmament. Though he has broken with the Liberals on the question of the present war, Morel remains a Liberal on all other economic and political issues. Why is it, then, that when Kautsky, in Germany, gives a Marxist guise to the selfsame bourgeois phrases about peace and disarmament, this is not considered hypocrisy on his part, but stands to his merit? Only the undeveloped character of political relations and the absence of political freedom prevent the formation in Germany, as rapidly and smoothly as in Britain, of a bourgeois league for peace and disarmament, with Kautsky’s programme.
Let us, then, admit the truth that Kautsky’s stand is that of a pacifist bourgeois, not of a revolutionary Social-Democrat.
The events we are living amidst are great enough for us to be courageous in recognising the truth, no matter whom it may concern.
With their dislike of abstract theory and their pride in their practicality, the British often pose political issues more directly, thus helping the socialists of other countries to discover the actual content beneath the husk of wording of every-kind (including the “Marxist”). Instructive in this respect is the pamphlet Socialism and War, published before the war by the jingoist paper, The Clarion. The pamphlet contains an anti-war “manifesto” by Upton Sinclair, the U.S. socialist, and also a reply to him from the jingoist Robert Blatchford, who has long adopted Hyndman’s imperialist viewpoint.
Sinclair is a socialist of the emotions, without any theoretical training. He states the issue in “simple” fashion; incensed by the approach of war, he seeks salvation from it in socialism.
“We are told,” Sinclair writes, “that the socialist movement is yet too weak so that we must wait for its evolution. But evolution is working in the hearts of men; we are its instruments, and if we do not struggle, there is no evolution. We are told that the movement [against war] would be crushed out; but I declare my faith that the crushing out of any rebellion which sought, from motive of sublime humanity to prevent war, would be the greatest victory that socialism has ever gained—would shake the conscience of civilisation and rouse the workers of the world as nothing in all history has yet done. Let us not be too fearful for our movement nor put too much stress upon numbers and the outward appearances of power. A thousand men aglow with faith and determination are stronger than a million grown cautious and respectable; and there is no danger to the socialist movement so great as the danger of becoming an established institution.”
This, as can be seen, is a naïve, theoretically unreasoned, but profoundly correct warning against any vulgarising of socialism, and a call to revolutionary struggle.
What does Blatchford say in reply to Sinclair?
"It is capitalists and militarists who make wars. That is true. . . ,” he says. Blatchford is as anxious for peace and for socialism taking the place of capitalism as any socialist in the world. But Sinclair will not convince him, or do away with the facts with “rhetoric and fine phrases”. “Facts, my dear Sinclair, are obstinate things, and the German danger is a fact.” Neither the British nor the German socialists are strong enough to prevent war, and “Sinclair greatly exaggerates the power of British socialism. The British socialists are not united; they have no money, no arms, no discipline”. The only thing they can do is to help the British Government build up the navy; there is not, nor can there be, any other guarantee of peace.
Neither before nor since the outbreak of the war have the chauvinists ever been so outspoken in Continental Europe. In Germany it is not frankness that is prevalent, but Kautsky’s hypocrisy and playing at sophistry. The same is true of Plekhanov. That is why it is so instructive to cast a glance at the situation in a more advanced country, where nobody will be taken in with sophisms or a travesty of Marxism. Here issues are stated in a more straightforward and truthful manner. Let us learn from the “advanced” British.
Sinclair is naïve in his appeal, although fundamentally it is a very correct one; he is naïve because he ignores the development of mass socialism over the last fifty years and the struggle of trends within socialism; he ignores the conditions for the growth of revolutionary action when an objectively revolutionary situation and a revolutionary organisation exist. The “emotional” approach cannot make up for that. The intense and bitter struggle between powerful trends in socialism, between the opportunist and revolutionary trends, cannot be evaded by the use of rhetoric.
Blatchford speaks out undisguisedly, revealing the most covert argument of the Kautskyites and Co., who are afraid to tell the truth. We are still weak, that is all, says Blatchford; but his outspokenness at once lays bare his opportunism, his jingoism. It at once becomes obvious that he serves the bourgeoisie and the opportunists. By declaring that socialism is “weak” he himself weakens it by preaching an anti-socialist, bourgeois, policy.
Like Sinclair, but conversely, like a coward and not like a fighter, like a traitor and not like the recklessly brave, he, too, ignores the conditions making for a revolutionary situation.
As for his practical conclusions, his policy (the rejection of revolutionary action, of propaganda for such action and preparation of it), Blatchford, the vulgar jingoist, is in complete accord with Plekhanov and Kautsky.
Marxist words have in our days become a cover for a total renunciation of Marxism; to be a Marxist, one must expose the “Marxist hypocrisy” of the leaders of the Second International, fearlessly recognise the struggle of the two trends in socialism, and get to the bottom of the problems relating to that struggle. Such is the conclusion to be drawn from British relationships, which show us the Marxist essence of the matter, without Marxist words.
- The New Statesman—a Fabian weekly, founded in 1913 in London. Since 1931, published under the name of New Statesman and Nation.
- Socialism and War. The Clarion Press, 44 Worship Street, London, E. C. —Lenin