The International Workers' Congress and the German Social-Democrats

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There is at the present time a difference of opinion, which we hope will eventually prove to be only a friendly difference of opinion, between a section of the German Social-Democrats and JUSTICE. We think, and we have said plainly, that the German Social-Democratic party, as represented by Bebel and Liebknecht, and the "Sozial-Demokrat," have made serious mistakes of late by trying to carry matters with a high hand in regard to the arrangements for the International Workers' Congresses in this country and in France. We have also said that these mistakes have arisen partly from a certain inherent Teutonism which leads them to force German methods on all countries, and to use their own language for purposes of propaganda even where another would be more useful. Whether our views are right or wrong, there is no doubt that the harmony of the coming International Workers' Congress in Paris is in jeopardy. We thought we were bound, therefore, to point out to the readers of JUSTICE that the blame for this misfortune seemed to us to rest primarily on the "Sozial-Demokrat" and those who summoned a small and hastily-called Conference at the Hague on February 28th. That Conference we spoke of as a Caucus. Our comrade E. Bernstein, editor and publisher of the "Sozial-Demokrat" has issued a sixteen-page pamphlet controverting our views, and on this pamphlet we now propose to offer some observations.

It will be noticed that this article is written and signed by one who certainly cannot be accused of having any prejudice against German theories or German Socialists. He may, indeed, claim to have done far more than any other Englishman to popularise the writings of Marx and Engels in Great Britain, while his own countrymen consider that he is, if anything, too much permeated with German ideas. Nor can anyone honestly contend, either, that JUSTICE has ever failed to speak most cordially of German Social-Democrats. Five years ago, also, three delegates of the S.D.F.—Bax, Joynes, and Quelch—went to the Congress at Roubaix called by the section of French Socialists with whom the German Social-Democrats, who control the "Sozial-Demokrat," are specially friendly, and to this day we have had no quarrel with them of any sort or kind. True, the stern logic of facts forced the S.D.F. as a body to acknowledge that the so-called French Possibilist Party, which holds and always has held identically the same principles as the German Social-Democrats and ourselves, represent the Socialists, the Trade Unionists and organised workers of France far more completely than do Guesde, Lafargue, and their friends. Consequently, our alliance in France, so far as we have an alliance, has been with the Possibilists; though we have no prejudice against Lafargue and his body, and, as Bernstein's own quotations from our journal show, JUSTICE has criticised the Possibilists more freely than, taking into consideration the extraordinary difficulty of their position, we were, perhaps, quite entitled to do. Assuredly, we have exercised far less restraint in commenting upon the proceedings of our French friends than we have in dealing with our German comrades. Yet there are not a few English Social-Democrats who think that "a party whose strength is but very inadequately indicated by the 770,000 voters it brought to the poll in 1887" scarcely does as much for the cause as might be expected. We have felt, however, that we were not the best judges as to what might be politic or practicable under such a system as obtains in Germany. We have therefore said little or nothing on the subject. The "Sozial-Demokrat", "Der Sozialist" (of New York). the "Recht Voor Allen," &c., practice no such modest reticence with respect to France. They are overmastered by the conviction that they know much better what ought to be done in France than the French Possibilists who cast 50,000 votes in Paris alone, and they use very strong language indeed in denouncing the policy of our French comrades—language which is repeated, almost as if inspired by one mind, in all the Socialist journals under German influence. Surely that is not quite just or wise.

Let us also recall what happened with reference to the International Trade Union Congress held in London last year. When that Congress was summoned, owing chiefly to the really marvellous tact, energy, and persistence of our comrade Headingley, Bernstein and Bebel came to London and met at Kautsky's house a number of members of the S.D.F. The writer of this article could not attend; but it was distinctly understood on our side that we should as individuals use our very utmost endeavours—we had, of course, no say whatever in the matter as a body—to secure the full representation of German Social-Democracy at the Congress, seeing that German trade unions had been disbanded by law. It was distinctly understood from their side that the S.D.F. should be communicated with by Bebel and Bernstein, if admission to the Congress was refused by Broadhurst and Co., before any further step was taken. We did use our very utmost endeavours, but the Trade Union Parliamentary Committee—to their shame be it said! shut the door on the Germans. Thereupon the German Social-Democrats, without a word of notice to English Socialists of any school, issued a manifesto. In that manifesto the Germans not only protested, as they were bound to do, against the unfairness of the Parliamentary Committee, but they actually called the Congress a "Rump-Congress," because they could not be present, and appealed to the trade unions of all other countries not to send delegates to it on that account! Surely that also was not quite just or wise.

The S.D.F., acting solely in the interests of the cause of Social-Democracy and with a view to influencing the English trade unions eventually in a Socialist sense, issued a counter-manifesto to other nationalities and the Congress was successfully held; producing a very great effect upon the rank and file of English trade unionists whom it has hitherto been difficult to reach by our ordinary propaganda. That Congress unanimously appointed the French Possibilist Party to organise the International Workers' Congress of 1889. After it was over, nearly all the delegates were present at a most pleasant and harmonious gathering at the German Communistischer Arbeiter Bildung's Verein, 49, Tottenham Street when, as before remarked in JUSTICE (though Bernstein in his pamphlet cuts out the passage), Rackow delivered an admirable speech of welcome, to which Levy replied in a similar strain on behalf of the Possibilist delegates. Everybody seemed quite contented with the mandate of the Congress to the Possibilists, and no objection whatever was raised. All this must be fresh in our minds.

Now we come to the main point. Nobody doubts, whatever else he may question. that the Possibilists are by far the most numerous and infinitely the best organised Socialist party in Paris, or can dispute that they are capable of making the International Congress a great success. This time the Germans are not at all afraid of being excluded themselves, but they are afraid, so they urge, that men who they consider ought to be admitted—Guesde and Lafargue to wit—would be kept out. We have seen no evidence whatever of any desire on the part of the Possibilists to exclude anyone unfairly in the past, nor do we fear such action on their part in the future. Still, we hope they will go to the extreme limits of concession in order to meet all objections, and we believe they will. The other points at issue relate to the "order of the day" and the general management of the Congress. On these we understand negotiations are proceeding, so we shall say no more about them just now.

But how did the Germans begin their dealings with our, and properly speaking their, comrades of the Possibilist party ? By summoning first a preliminary Conference at Nancy to which the Possibilists were invited only at the last moment, but which was given up; and next by calling one at the Hague, to which, so it is alleged, only those who were known to be opposed to the Possibilists were invited. Certainly, not one of the Socialist organisations in Great Britain was invited to send or did send delegates to this Conference, and we believe several other nationalities were similarly neglected. But to omit to ask those who, if the Conference meant fair play, had a right to be asked is to constitute a caucus—is it not? Moreover, although one of the chief objections raised at this Hague gathering was to the time appointed by the Possibilists for the Congress—the end of July, when the Republican fetes would be in full swing—Lafargue, Guesde, and the Germans now positively threaten to call a rival International Congress in Paris themselves at that very time! Surely, this, too, is not quite just or wise.

We say, again, therefore, that, though the Possibilists may have made mistakes in regard to French internal affairs, the Germans and their special allies in France will be to blame if the Congress of 1889 exhibits to the world a spectacle of Socialist discord instead of offering happy evidence of Socialist union. For our part, we still sincerely hope that a peaceful solution will be found to all these petty differences, and that in spite of the very bad tone of the articles in the "Social-Demokrat," of March 30, there will be a suspension of bitter attacks on the Possibilist party until after the Congress. We at least have no personal or family feeling involved in the matter at all, and we are confident that our comrades in every country, so soon as they understand the situation, will decide by an overwhelming majority that all minor points must be sunk in the general endeavour to hold in this year 1889 an International Congress of the Workers of the World worthy of the great cause we are striving for.


[Certain other matters in Bernstein's pamphlet we shall touch upon later. Meanwhile, we shall be happy to print any comments on the above article, of reasonable length, from Bernstein or Rackow or Varenholz. Bernstein's pamphlet, can be had from himself at 114, Kentish Town Road. London, N.W.; or from the office of JUSTICE. Ed.]