The Basel Congress (Justice, 1912)

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A number of Socialists whose acquaintance with churches and cathedrals is limited to some knowledge of their architectural features; attended a very live service last Sunday at the beautiful and quaint Cathedral of Basel—“built in dead days by hands a long time dead,” for its construction dates from the eleventh century, and they were edified by discourses delivered from its pulpit by Adler, Jaurès, and other representative speakers from some half dozen European countries. Perhaps the most venerable and interesting visage of all those which faced the dense congregation at St. Martin’s was that of our valued Swiss comrade Greulich, who is one of the few surviving links between the Old and the New International. Of all the delegates who are attending the Basel Congress of 1912, he is probably the only one who was present at that of 1869 in the same town. Though he is now in his eighties, he retains much of the physical vigour he displayed in the organisation of the Zurich Congress of 1893, where many members of the S.D.F. first met him, and his earnest and eloquent address testified that age has in no way impaired his intellectual faculties. Our comrade Hyndman once said that when the Social Revolution was effected the only reward he would claim for his services in helping to promote it would be permission to preach the first Socialist sermon in Westminster Abbey. Had he been able to attend the Basel Congress, his ambition might have been in some measure gratified, without waiting the advent of the Revolution, for he would certainly have been chosen as one of the speakers from the pulpit of Basel Protestant Cathedral, which, being under the control of an enlightened municipal authority, was gracefully granted to the Socialists as the most fitting edifice to hold a meeting convened to protest against war, and Dr. Blocher, President of the Basler Government, welcomed the Congress in an opening speech from the cathedral pulpit. The building, which is estimated to hold 5,000 people, was crowded, and a still larger audience was addressed from four platforms erected in the Cathedral Square. Its cheers reached the ears of the congregation assembled within walls, but did not disturb its devotions.

The Congress was opened on Sunday morning by an address from comrade Wullschleger, who welcomed the delegates in the name of several Swiss and Basler organisations, and our comrade Anseele made an eloquent response on behalf of the International Bureau.

The chair was taken on Monday by comrade Greulich, who in his opening speech gave some reminiscences of the Basel Congress of 1869, when the “Times” described the International as “a big soul in a small body.” The morning was taken up almost entirely by Jaurès and Adler, who, each of them, read in extenso a manuscript copy—one in German the other in French—of the manifesto, which exceeds 3,000 words, printed copies of which were not delivered to the delegates till the close of the morning sitting. As a result of “clergy-man’s throat” with which Adler was affected following his appearance yesterday in the cathedral pulpit his voice was scarce audible, and one was struck with the absurdity of inflicting it upon the Congress seeing that the Austrian delegation number 59, and any one of the other 58 whose lungs were in good order could have read aloud the manifesto without distressing either himself or his audience. But our comrade Adler is one of those “veterans” of the movement who imagine that the proceedings of an International Congress would be abortive if they did not monopolise the conduct of its affairs, even to the extent of displaying their abilities as elocutionists.

The manifesto is unduly verbose, but it should serve a useful purpose if only because it assigns to the Socialist Party of each European country its particular task. It calls upon the Social-Democracy of the Balkans to set themselves to work to prevent the results gained by such terrible sacrifices from being confiscated either dynasties, by militarism, or by the Balkan bourgeoisie, and to prevent, if possible, any recrudescence of old animosities between Serbs, Bulgars, Roumanians, and Greeks, as well as any oppressions of Balkan people who are to-day in the other camp—namely, Turks and Albanians.

It is the duty of Socialists of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy to continue their energetic opposition to any attack upon Servia, and in co-operation with Italian Socialists to pay particular attention to the Albanian question, for Albanian Autonomy must not be sacrificed to Austro-Hungarian and Italian ambitions.

The Congress counts upon the industrial and agricultural proletariat of Russia, Finland and Poland using its increasing strength to tear the veil of falsehood from a Czarism which poses as a Liberator of Balkan peoples, and which is only a hypocritical pretext to reconquer its preponderance in the Balkans. Czarism is the hope of all the forces of reaction in Europe, and the most terrible enemy of democracy, as it is of the Russian people.

But the most important task in international action rests with the workers of Germany, France and England, who must persistently call upon their Governments to refuse to lend any countenance to Austro-Hungarian and Russian schemes of aggrandisement. The workers must not permit secret diplomacy to entangle them in the Balkan conflict.

Twenty-three nations were represented at the Congress by 555 delegates, of which France sent 120, Germany 75, Bohemia 76, Austria 59. Even Russia and Poland each sent more than the 13 delegates who represented Great Britain.