Socialism's Moral Collapse
By John R. McMahon
[The Independent; October 12, 1914]
The author of this article has been a member of the Socialist party in this country for more than half a dozen, years, and has written extensively for the party press. His views seem to foreshadow an internal revolution in the ranks of socialism—THE EDITOR.
Socialism in Europe is guilty of a monstrous crime. It has swallowed its principles, spat upon brotherhood, betrayed the class it professes to represent, everlastingly disgraced the red banner of internationalism. It has surrendered to the enemy; it has joined with enthusiastic abandon the capitalistic and dynastic butchers who are turning Europe into a people's killing bed.
These are severe charges for a Socialist to make against Socialists. I make them, and I know that hundreds of my comrades in this country are making them in their hearts, tho they may not have yet publicly exprest them.
William English Walling, writing in The Independent of August 24, 1914, treats socialism in Europe with mild and academic tolerance. He gently blames the compromising majority of German Socialists and apparently rather approves the attitude of the parties in other lands. It will not do. Scientific apology for Judas may have its place. But this is not the time or place for apology or extenuation. Let us understand the facts, yes. But once having the facts, we are forced to give a verdict in accordance with them.
Algernon Lee, a prominent American Socialist, wrote, from Amsterdam that we should suspend judgment on European socialism for three months. Why? The evidences of a foul and frightful betrayal have been mounting up for six weeks, and we could not learn more to the point if we waited for six years. We dare not delay judgment. Events are moving at railroad speed.
The cowardly surrender of this false army of peace, eight million able-bodied and "class-conscious" men, has already had terrible results and will yet spread chaos over the whole earth. The example of treachery has been set, the futility of socialism has been demonstrated. If European socialism failed, how can American socialism succeed? Our organization has a trifling strength compared to theirs.
I am not a sentimentalist. I do not utterly despair of the world. I believe the final results of the Great War will be beneficent. But the welter and loss of attaining to beneficent results are chargeable to incompetent and criminal socialism. Whatever happens in the future, whatever socialism yet accomplishes toward world peace and justice, the blot upon its record and the stain upon its banner cannot be wiped out.
Troelstra, leader of the Dutch Socialists, says that after the war the international movement will have to be reconstructed. He is right. Socialism will have to vivisect from itself its shining apostles in many lands—Vandervelde of Belgium, Guesde of France, several Englishmen and Austrians, Deputy Haase and a large number of his fellow Judases masquerading as Socialists in the German Reichstag. And the rank and file of the Socialist army must be purged of perhaps half its members, who are perfectly good patriots and butchers with a sickly tendency toward reform.
All our news from Europe is censored. Is it not possible that cunning military authorities have invented the patriotic spasms of Gustave Hervé, the fatherland drivel of Germany, the motherland whine of England, and that appeal of German Socialists (God save the name!) to Italian and Dutch comrades to ''come on in, the blood is fine"? Let us assume that these things have been invented, that the military authorities are writing and publishing the Socialist newspapers and Socialist manifestos of Europe. Assume so much, and yet we can hardly doubt the equally monstrous facts that Vandervelde, a leader of the international party, took a job in the war cabinet of Belgium, that Jules Guesde, the once venerable revolutionist of France, became a war minister of the French republic, and that English socialism's best word to the combatants (excepting Keir Hardie's stalwart but vain protest) has been to use the bayonet on our foreign comrades—gently.
Renegade John Burns and aristocratic Lord Morley, quitting their government posts in protest against war, played a better part than our Socialist misleaders.
But the fundamental and conclusive evidence of the crime of European Socialists is that we have had no disavowal whatever from them of the multiplied news of their loyalty and activity in the capitalistic slaughter; They have had plenty of chance to send put word past the censorship. They have uttered only a few pious wishes and have scarcely deigned to offer a few weak-kneed apologies for the most colossal betrayal in history.
Socialism opposes war on the ground that war is due to the clash of economic interests of the master class and that the working class has no reason to spill its blood for the sake of trade and markets. This has been taught for half a century as a first principle. International socialism began to consider years ago how to exert its strength practically against war. At Stuttgart and Copenhagen the subject was debated. We laughed at the churches and the peace societies, knowing that we were the only real force for peace. Did not a single word from us, at the time of the Algeciras crisis, bring Germany and France to their senses? We were a power in the parliaments of Europe, having around one hundred representatives in each of the chief legislatures. We controlled the army of the working class, we could call a general strike.... Ah, yes, that general strike. It needed the brains of the party to consider it. We couldn't decide that question in a hurry; put it off to another congress and let a special committee make a scientific report on it. Events hurried. The Balkan crisis of 1912, came on. A special congress of the International was held in Switzerland. There were eloquent and threatening speeches. Was it Bebel, the German warhorse, who made a passing reference to defending the Fatherland? Well, of course, that was all right. About the general strike and practical measure—talk and further talk. Thank heaven, the crisis past. There was plenty of time to take practical measures.
The Hardie-Vaillant motion for a general strike to oppose war was scheduled for discussion and action at the Paris congress of August, 1914. We must admit that general strike was a ticklish subject. To vote for that measure might be unpleasant for delegates from countries where military service is compulsory; a charge of treason might lie; immediate prosecution blocking the grand work of Socialist growth. Anyhow, the subject would be discussed, scientifically and eloquently discussed by the brains of the world's Socialists.
Then the capitalistic stage manager let the drop curtain fall. Martial law, no ships or trains to Paris, no congress anywhere, international 'socialism paralyzed, gagged, dumb, stowed out of sight, swept aside as a feather while hell's legions marched blood-lustfully to the front. Millions who had been singing
The International Party
Shall be the kuman race!
took up the refrain of "Deutschland über Alles!" "Allons, enfants de la Patrie!" and "God Save the King!" And shortly thereafter the brilliant leaders of socialism, who had made up speeches against war to be spouted at Paris, were joining the cry of fatherland and motherland (not sisterland or brotherland) and were entering the cabinets of governments they had ever denounced. Where was the Science of socialism, that it had no hint of impending war and knew no more of this vast social event than a native of Patagonia? It had not only scientific theory, but extraordinary special means of knowing the inside of events. Why did Socialist leaders talk and only talk so long on the brink of a volcano whose day of eruption was near?
The Paris fiasco itself proves the sheer incompetency of the Socialist leaders. If a band of low grade outlaws had determined to hold a congress in Paris, they would have held it, police or no police. But the world's revolutionists couldn't get together, anywhere.
Not an apology nor excuse advanced for European Socialism will bear examination.; "We had not agreed on a practical anti-war program." A dereliction to excuse a crime; you violated a cardinal principle, the spirit if not the statutory letter. Capitalistic England stood by France, impelled by honor and interest, despite the absence of a positive agreement or pledge. "We would have been shot if we had refused military service." Betted shot for the Cause than, alive for Capitalism. How many Socialists were shot and will be shot in the service of the enemy! For betraying your principles you gained few weeks' life and the agony of the battlefield. For example, Dr. Ludwig Frank, Reichstag deputy, disgracefully killed at Lunéville, September 3. "Socialists are not martyrs." Then they should quit mouthing: "revolution." A little Socialist martyrdom, a few thousand Socialists shot for refusing to be traitors, would have saved a world of horror. "If we had not gone with the tide, we would have lost our influence." Your influence is forever gone except as henchmen of the ruling class. "We had to 'defend our country against, the inferior—Yes. "Inferior" and "defend" are the most lying words in language. There is not ten cents' worth of choice between the fatherlands and motherlands you are offensively defending and defensively offending. In a word, you act as plain, honest patriots, tools for the trading oligarchy, murderers in the interest of the world market, loyal cannon fodder. You cannot plead ignorance. You have the light. You act deliberately. What right have you to the name of Socialists?
Ernest Untermann suggests that we send money to our European comrades to show solidarity. Why? So that they may destroy one another on the battlefield more quickly?
What explanation, not excuse, for a colossally lamentable situation may be given, consists, firstly, in the inherent character of the Socialist movement. It is a movement of the proletariat and partakes of the weakness, ignorance, sentimental enthusiasm and inefficiency of the proletariat. It especially attracts cranks, failures and weaklings. It is a hospital for cripples and a haven for the feebly discontented and the visionary. It is inflated and tainted with numbers of the petty bourgeoisie whose grievance is against big business rather than capitalism. It is composed largely of those who by age and temperament have not an ounce of real fight in them. Dr. Halpern, returning from Berlin, says that anti-war meetings on the eve of mobilization were attended by serious persons, of middle age, including women, while patriotic meetings were attended by young hoodlums. Yes; such Socialists may talk ably against war, but they are outweighed by young hoodlum eager to fight.
A weak and incompetent proletariat has produced leaders of its own sort, politicians of the first water, dry rotted parliamentarians, talkers of great brilliance and no practical ability. Always orators, never practical men. American as well as European Socialists have chosen as their leaders the best and noisiest talkers. These talkers have proved worse than worthless in a great crisis.
Yes, I ascribe importance to leaders. They have a real great power and responsibility. Without its great captains and commanders, where would capitalism be today? Imperial Germany has great leaders; so with the other nations. If socialism is markedly inferior in leadership, it is partly due to a fetish worship of democracy—again inherent in the movement. Capitalism also pretends to worship democracy, but tempers its adoration with tricks and devices whereby fools are shoved into places of harmless honor and a sufficient number of capable men are kept in charge of the vital concerns of government, and particularly the army and navy. Socialism's eloquent incompetents immediately rise to the top and stay there, for there is no inner circle of big business directors to pull them down.
A new kind of Socialist leadership will be inevitable in the near future, a leadership less democratic and eloquent but more practical and effective.
The final conclusion is that socialism will yet win the world, but at a great cost and waste and loss. It will win like the Cossack hordes invading Germany, destroyed like ants by scientific efficiency, but at last invincible thru sheer weight of numbers and the momentum of social forces. It will win on account of capitalism, hara-kiri rather than its own ability.
New York City
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald