The Copenhagen Congress (Quelch)

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The great gathering of representatives of the International Social-Democracy has been held; its debates and deliberations are part of the history of the past, and we are now in a position to gauge the importance of its conclusions and appraise the value of its achievements.

In some respects it was a great Congress – the greatest our movement has ever held; in others that was not the case. The menu provided, as we pointed out at the outset, was not a very inspiring one, and savoured too much of a mere reform programme rather than that of an organised revolutionary movement. It must, however, be confessed that, except in one or two instances, the Congress made the best of the questions with which it had to deal, and showed that, however tame and moderate the proposals discussed might appear to be, there was no weakening of the Socialist spirit, and no falling-off in revolutionary zeal in the movement as a whole.

The resolution on Unemployment was one of the exceptions. It is at once a reformist and an impossibilist resolution, because, while it proposes certain reforms, it asserts that, those reforms can do no more than palliate the evil, and that nothing can be done, while capitalism lasts, to remove it. With that we do not agree; we do not think it should be the finding of an International Socialist Congress; and it is very encouraging to find that the whole British delegation took our view on the subject.

Unemployment is the inevitable consequence of capitalism. Agreed. It can only disappear with the disappearance of capitalism. That also may be agreed to, as also the statement that only palliatives are possible in the circumstances. But Socialists have no interest in supporting palliatives which only serve to make capitalism tolerable. Those are palliatives, or reforms, it is true; but we advocate reforms which are revolutionary in their effect; and in the case of unemployment we want such measures put into operation as will not merely keep the unemployed workers in a fit condition for the use of the capitalist when he may require them. We want their labour to be organised and applied in such a fashion as will take them out of the competitive labour market altogether, will enable them to be self-supporting and will pave the way to the complete reorganisation of industry on a co-operative basis. Thus the measures taken to palliate unemployment would be the beginning of the end, of both unemployment and capitalism.

In this connection, therefore, we shall take the liberty of reading into the resolution of the Congress the memorandum of the British delegation.

The resolution on Armaments is much more satisfactory, and we have little fault to find with the conclusions of the Congress on this subject. It is true that our comrade Ledebour took the opportunity the occasion offered to animadvert on our defence of British naval supremacy in present circumstances. We do not object to that. Our reply to all such criticism on the part of our German comrades is that given by Jones in the Congress.

It is true, also, that the Congress refused to accept the amendment in favour of a general strike against war. That does not matter; the question will come up again. We do not agree with Keir Hardie that there is no danger from Germany, or that the German naval expansion was provoked by the refusal of the British Government to surrender the right of capture. Nor do we think he would find the people of any country in Europe to agree with him; but we do agree with him in putting forward the General Strike as a means of preventing war. We do not say that a general strike in the event of war would be practicable at the present moment in any country in Europe, but that is no reason against affirming the principle; and such an affirmation would in itself be of value in showing the workers the power for peace they might exercise by an organised effort. Even as it is, the resolution of the Congress may be taken to cover that, since it advocates the use of every possible means to prevent war. And we must not forget, as Jones said, to remind our trade unionist friends here that it was their representatives who were the foremost advocates of this line of action.

It is less in its resolutions, however, than in the mere fact of its being held that the importance of the Congress lies. Here were nearly nine hundred delegates, representing practically every civilised nation under the sun – the delegates of millions of people of all races; gathered together with one common aim and object, and only differing as to the means to be immediately adopted to attain that end. That is the one great, outstanding fact of the Congress, the unity of the International Social-Democracy; the solidarity of the International Working-class movement.

There is every reason to hope, indeed, that the Congress will have done good service to the cause of unity – national and international. At the outset our friends of the I.L.P. and the Labour Party seemed determined to crush the S.D.P. out of all representation by sheer force of numbers, and there was very keen hostility manifested between the two sections in the British delegation. On the general propositions before the Congress, however, there was found to be much more agreement than difference between all sections of the British delegation, and the influence of this agreement made itself felt in the internal relations of the delegation. We can only hope that this effect will continue, and will manifest itself in the fashioning of some means for putting into practical operation that union of Socialist forces in this country at which the resolution of the Congress on this subject was specially aimed, and which would immensely strengthen the Socialist movement here as well as its influence in the counsels of the International.

In the organisation of the Congress; every detail, and in the arrangements made for the convenience of the various nationalities and commissions, and for the comfort of the delegates, our Danish comrades are entitled to the highest praise. In these respects each succeeding Congress appears to be an improvement on the last. And that is also true of the general conduct of the business: no diminution of zeal there is more discipline and toleration, and a general absence of those “scenes” so dear to the capitalist press. The International Socialist Congress is the outward manifestation of a great movement: in the making, the organisation of a world-wide force which will abolish frontiers and destroy race distinctions. And the Congress is “finding itself.” Changes and modifications in the manner of conducting the business are manifestly necessary, but these will be made. Among other things the work of the Commissions must be shaped before the meeting of the Congress. But, looking back upon the enormous progress which has been made since the practical founding of the New International at Brussels in 1891, we can regard the Copenhagen Congress as a notable landmark on the forward march of the Socialist army to the emancipation of the workers of the world.