Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Second International and the 1914 War (1972)

Book Review from the December 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism and the Great War, by Professor Georges Haupt. Oxford University Press. £5.00.

In this revised edition of a work published a few years ago in French and German, Professor Haupt sets out to examine the activities of the International Socialist Bureau and its affiliated national parties in the years before 1914 and to explain why it failed to prevent the war.

Professor Haupt has had access to the archives of the Bureau and claims that his re-examination of the reasons for the collapse of the International has led him to reject or modify various earlier attempts to explain why, when the war came, the International disintegrated. If we accepted the view shared by the organisations which belonged to the International and by Professor Haupt, that it was a body representing the Socialist convictions of millions of organised workers, there would be a mystery needing to be explained; but of course this belief is a myth. Most of the affiliated organisations were non-socialist, most of the four million workers supposed to be represented at the International congresses were indifferent to it and were neither internationalist nor Socialist in outlook. There was never any real unity among the organisation and not even the leaders who attended congresses took the Bureau seriously.

It is absurd to treat the electoral success of the German Social Democratic Party in 1912, with its 4 million votes, as a victory for Socialism, and the half-million votes given to the candidates of the British Labour Party in 1910 as another—the Labour Party at this time was running hand-in-hand with the Liberal Party. When Bruce Glasier made an impassioned speech declaring that "the British proletariat was ready to obey the International's instructions to the last detail", he was speaking without any mandate from British workers and simply deluding himself and the other members of the Bureau.

The material unearthed by Professor Haupt from the Bureau's discussions and resolutions shows an almost universal inability to understand how capitalism engenders war, and an equal ignorance of Socialist principles. When the war was about to begin the members of the Bureau were relying for the preservation of peace on the belief that capitalism had outlived its warlike propensities and on blind confidence that the German, French and British governments were all "against war".

It is not that the non-socialist outlook of the Bureau and its affiliated parties was entirely unknown. It was pointed out repeatedly by the Socialist Party of Great Britain but, strangely, Professor Haupt's researches into the Bureau's archives fail to disclose this. Having sent delegates to the Congress at Amsterdam in 1904, the SPGB tried in vain to secure that membership should be restricted to genuinely socialist parties based on recognition of the class struggle—at that time the British affiliates were the ILP, Fabian Society, SDF and Labour Representation Committee (later to become the Labour Party). Failing to secure this, the SPGB withdrew from membership of the International.

Though Professor Haupt still thinks that what happened in 1914 needs to be explained, it came as no surprise to the SPGB that war found most of the parties affiliated to the International supporting the policies of their respective governments and most of the prominent individuals who had declared their intention to oppose war—including Keir Hardie—supporting it.
Edgar Hardcastle

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