Editorial from the December 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard
One of the most important questions raised at the International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam was that of Socialist Unity. This is by no means the first time that consideration has been given to this subject. It has often been felt by many of those who have taken part in Socialist propaganda and Socialist organisation that much harm was done by the existence in this and other countries of rival Socialist organisations. And those who have thus felt have been anxious to find some means of unifying the Socialist parties in each country. The International Congress has on the present occasion contented itself with passing a pious resolution recommending the various groups in any country to use their best endeavours to secure this end.
We confess that we are not sanguine that anything will be done. And we are by no means certain that if anything could be done that such thing would be desirable. We are all for unity. We believe that unity of party organisation based upon unity of purpose, unity of principle, and unity of method is the one thing desirable. But to-day we are only too sure that such unity of party organisation, so far as the various groups of Socialists in any country are concerned, would be at the expense of unity of purpose, principle, and method.
In the field of Socialist thought and Socialist action there are to-day two distinct tendencies to be found: the revolutionary and the revisionist. At one time the main trend of Socialist development was essentially revolutionary, but today the Socialist movement has been overtaken by a wave of revisionism.
In every country where there is anything in the nature of a Socialist party we have a struggle for supremacy between these two opposing tendencies. And these tendencies manifest themselves in opposing groups. The differences existing in France between Jaures and Guesde and their respective parties are not isolated cases. In Italy we have the patties of Ferri and Turati; in Germany we have the Bernsteinianers; in Belgium the Socialists are almost purely revisionist; in America and elsewhere we have similar dissensions.
In this country we find the same forces, the same influences at work. There are in England —in addition to The Socialist Party of Great Britain three organisations closely identified with Socialism, viz.. The Fabian Society, The Social-Democratic Federation, and The Independent Labour Party. Of these four organisations the three latter are revisionist, the former is revolutionary. Hence while there exists no apparent reason—except the jealousy of the individual members—why the three revisionist bodies should not unite, The Socialist Party, taking its stand on the class struggle, which The Fabian Society and The Independent Labour Party in their writings, and The Social-Democratic Federation by their actions deny, is fundamentally opposed to these other parties.
Unity is an important factor in the growth of a party, but it is not the most important. Better far to have a party, however small, with common principles and a common end, than a party, however large, which is bound by no tie save party interest. We, therefore, who differ from these other parties in essential principles—inasmuch as we accept the principle of the class struggle while they do not—cannot consent to unite our forces with theirs. It would weaken both parties—and the weakening would he more disastrous to the uncompromising section than to the revisionist.
But, it may be objected, does not at least the Social-Democratic Federation accept the principles of the class struggle? Judging from their writings one would imagine that they did. But judging from their actions they do not. And when a party pretends to believe something which their actions belie, the most charitable construction to put upon the matter is that they are avowing their belief in principles which they do not really understand. Their allegiance is but lip-allegiance.
The latest action of the Social-Democratic Federation is proof conclusive that they have little faith in the principle of the class struggle. In the columns of “Justice” recently, the claim was put forward that the Social-Democratic Federation controlled a million votes in the United Kingdom—an avenge voting strength, that is, of nearly 1,500 in each constituency. The absurdity of this claim is shown by the fact, first, that the total strength of their organisation does not exceed, if we judge by their subscription list, 1,500 in all or two in each constituency, and, second, that in those constituencies in which their voting strength is the greatest, as shown by their being selected for contest, their vote has ever failed to reach this number of 1,500. If in selected constituencies they cannot secure this number, how much less can they secure it on the average in all the constituencies?
Why do they raise this absurd claim? Is it not that they hare ceased to be a purely Socialist party and are going in for mere reform? In the first number of The Socialist Standard we expressed our opinion that they had become a reform party seeking only to secure free maintenance of the children. Now they are acting in the stereotyped method of all reform parties and are coquetting with the Liberal Party. They have written to the Liberal Leader asking him for a pronouncement as to the position of the Liberal Party on the question of free maintenance of the children and of the payment of members. Now, what is their position if he affirms that the Liberal Party are in favour of these two principles? They are morally bound to throw the million votes they say they control on the Liberal side: they are morally bound to give their utmost support to the Liberal Party. Hence their million votes! And the Liberal Party, knowing that the million votes are but the figment of the Quelchian imagination, treat their communications with studied contempt.
The Fabian Society is a collection of middle-class men who cannot possibly, if the class war theory be correct, believe in that class war. They think the best method of furthering what they understand to be Socialism is to join other political parties—Tory or Liberal—and educate them from within. And with their type of Socialism they may be perfectly right. But the Socialism of the Fabian Society is not the Socialism of the class struggle, not the Socialism of the Dresden resolution, not the Socialism of anti-revisionism. Their Socialism is a commercial type—the Socialism of the merchant, of the market: as mongrel a breed as the Manchester brand of philosophic radicalism.
The methods of the Independent Labour Party are such as might be expected of a party which was avowedly the child of political cowardice. "We find” said the founders of that "we find that many people dislike the name of Socialism and, therefore, we must start a party with Socialist principles but without the name.” Since its initiation it has held unswerving and uncompromising faith in the principle of compromise. And now it has entered into an unholy alliance with the Labour Representation Committee and is already quarrelling with the other organisations represented therein as to who should have the dominant voice in the administration of that wing of the Liberal Party.
We cannot see, therefore, how we can secure unity by joining hands with these organisations. They are carrying out a policy with which we cannot agree, and we, and with us the Socialist movement of this country, of which we claim to be the truest representatives, would be hindered for a space. We are all for unity, but it is for a unity firmly established on a common aim, and a common method. Any other unity is but a delusion.
We shall continue then to carry on our work of propaganda and organisation in our own way, trusting that our party will gain the support of all those in this country who are desirous of achieving unity, and that as time goes by our present party nucleus will widen until such time as its strength will have rendered it in reality as in name the worthy political expression of the whole of the Socialist movement in Great Britain.
We, for the present, think that a unification of Socialist forces in this country is neither possible nor desirable. As the years go by our work will bear good fruit and we shall grow in numbers until the accomplishment of Socialism shall have rendered our party unnecessary. Its only remembrance will then be in the hearts and minds of a happy and contented people— the children of The Socialist Republic.