Morris Hillquit.

Socialism in theory and practice online

. (page 13 of 26)
Online LibraryMorris HillquitSocialism in theory and practice → online text (page 13 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ing work, and on an equitable distribution of the products
of such joint labor among all the members of the com-
munity. The Socialist Party, the only party which frankly
recognizes the class character of the contemporary state
and politics, is at the same time the only party which ad-
vocates the abolition of all class distinctions. All other
political parties, while they ignore or deny the fact of the
class struggle, either stand for the preservation of the
present class relations or strive merely for the shifting of
power from one of the existing classes to the other. The


Socialist Party alone has thus a certain right to claim that
it represents the interests of the whole society.

The Socialist Party is, however, preeminently a working-
men's party, for the reason that its ultimate aim coincides
primarily with the interests of the working class, while it is
a menace to the privileges and immediate economic in-
terests of the possessing classes. Recognizing that the
vast majority of men are moved by economic motives,
the socialists make their appeal in the first line to the
working class, and as a rule the Socialist parties actually
recruit their adherents mostly from that class.

But the w^orkingmcn are by no means the sole supporters
of socialism. Its ranks are continually swelled by members
of the middle classes, and by large numbers of ideologists
from all classes of society, including those of the capitalists.
These bourgeois ideologists come into the socialist move-
ment either because they perceive in its lofty social ideal
the realization of justice and freedom, or because they
have become convinced, through a scientific analysis of
modern tendencies of social and economic development,
of the inevitability of socialism. The founders of theoret-
ical socialism were men of that type, and the leaders of
the socialist movement in all countries recruit themselves
principally from among that class.

The socialist movement did not enter the arena of uni-
versal history as a practical political movement. In its
inception it was purely a philosophical school indulging
occasionally in miniature social experiments, and inter-
fering in concrete political movements only by way of
exception.!^ In 1848, Marx and Engels still proclaimed
that the "communists (the term then employed for the
modern word Socialist) do not form a separate party op-


posed to other working class parties," and as late as 1867,
when the German subjects were granted universal suffrage
in elections to the North German Diet, the socialists of
that country seriously debated the question whether they
should take part in these elections, or scornfully reject
"the gift of Bismarck," and abstain from voting.

The reasons for the reluctance of the socialists of the
earlier period to engage in politics are quite obvious.

In the first place, the movement in its more modern
phase was only in its inception, and the number of its
adherents was quite small. But it is numbers more than
issues that count in political campaigns.

In the next place, the franchise of the workingmen, the
class upon whom the socialists primarily relied for their
support, was in most countries of Europe monstrously
restricted. In Germany universal manhood suffrage was
confined to elections to the powerless North German Diet,
but the more important municipal and state elections were
then as now based on the "three-class system,"^ which
reduced the working-class vote to a minimum, or on a
property test, which had the same effect.

* Elections on the "three-class system" are by "categories." The
voters are divided into three classes: the first including the largest tax-
payers paying together one-third of the taxes; the next, those paying an-
other third of the taxes in the second largest amounts; and the last class,
including the remainder of the people. Each class elects the same num-
ber of delegates to the conventions that choose the councilors or deputies.
The result, of course, is always to return an assembly representative of
the property interests, and quite unrepresentative of the masses.

In the elections of 1893 to the Prussian Landtag 5,989,538 voters took
part. Of these only 210,759 constituted the first class, the second con-
sisted of 722,633, while the third class embraced all the remaining
5,056,146. The 933,392 citizens of the first two classes could thus en-
tirely outvote their 5,000,000 fellow-citizens of the poorer classes.


In Italy and Belgium the right to vote in parliamentary
elections was restricted to citizens paying direct taxes of
specified minimal amounts, and qualified by a property
test, with the result that in the former country there were
in 1879 only 7.77 electors for each 100 male adults, while
in the latter the voters constituted but little above 2 per
cent of the population in 1874. Similar conditions existed
in Holland, Hungary, Austria, Sweden and Norway.
In England the expenses of the electoral campaigns were
borne by the electors, as they still are, and were prohib-
itively high for the workingmen. (Within the last decades
the electoral laws in many European countries have been
somewhat reformed in the direction of greater liberalism.)

Besides, in most countries it was only the lower house of
parliament that was elective, membership in the upper
house was mostly, as it still remains in many cases, heredi-
tary or appointive, and the composition of these bodies
was frequently such as to blast all hopes of a progressive
parliamentary policy. Thus the upper house or senate
of Italy was composed of princes of the royal family and
other dignitaries of the realm, more than 40 years of age,
and chosen by the king from among the archbishops,
bishops, ministers of the cabinet, admirals, generals and
very heavy taxpayers. In Hungary, the upper house
consisted of 3 princes of the reigning house, 31 Roman and
Greek Catholic prelates, 11 "standard bearers," 57 lord
lieutenants, 3 dukes, 219 counts and 81 barons. What
a chance a democratic lower house would have for the
cooperation of such a chamber !

Moreover, the early socialist leaders had serious mis-
givings about the effects of an electoral activity on the
morale of the socialist masses. The parliamentary elec-


tions, they argued, could result in but little, if any, benefit
to the working class, but they might tend to divert it from
the consistent stand of revolutionary opposition, and from
the straight path of education and economic struggle.

But still more than the demoralizing effects of electoral
campaigns upon the movement, the socialists feared the
corrupting influences of parliamentary life upon the chosen
representatives of their party. They were inclined to view
the European parliaments, with their limited powers, as
assemblies whose principal function was to cultivate in
their members the fine art of talking; talking not for the
sake of convincing, but for the purpose of shining, and such
talk, they reasoned, is calculated to deaden the revolution-
ary spirit of the orator, to arouse his personal vanity and
ambition, and to degrade him into a shallow demagogue.
The views on the efficiency of parliamentary activity prev-
alent among the socialists of that time were very similar
to those recently expressed by the French socialist writer,
Paul Louis, who says: —

"Never has a great decision capable of briskly accelerat-
ing the course of history, emanated from a parliament.
Parliaments, even when elected by universal suffrage,
occupy a position similar to that of the academies; they
regard the past, they defend the existing status; by their
temperament, their procedure and byzantine exactness,
they soon paralyze all men of action who may penetrate
there." '

Furthermore, they contended, for the socialist move-
ment parliamentary activity could never be anything but a
useless farce. As long as the socialist deputies shall
remain in the minority, they will be powerless to influence

' "L'Avenir du Socialisme," Paris, 1905, pp. 72, 73.


the actions of Parliament, and when the party shall be
strong enough to elect a clear majority of the members of
any parliament, the country will be ripe for the social
revolution, and the cumbersome machinery of Parliament
will become useless.

Besides, their strict and rigid interpretation of the class-
struggle theory made them doubt the wisdom of deliberat-
ing and cooperating with the representatives of the hostile
camps in joint council. " Wer mit Feinden parlamentelt,
parlamentirt, wer parlamentirt, paktirt!" tersely decreed
the veteran leader of German Social Democracy, Wilhelm

But as against these possible disadvantages, the socialists
were bound to consider the following features of political
and parliamentary activity as positive advantages for their
cause : —

The times of active electoral campaigns are peculiarly
propitious for the discussion of social, economic and politi-
cal theories ; hence they ofifer an excellent opportunity for
the propaganda of socialism among the broad masses of the
people, and that opportunity is largely enhanced, if
socialism is made one of the direct issues of the campaign.
And not only are political campaigns important as mediums
of effective propaganda, they are also useful as periodical
reviews of the socialist forces. The number of votes which
the socialists poll at general elections is one of the surest
gauges of the progress made by the movement in each
country among the masses of the population, and nothing

' "Ueber die politische Stellung der Sozialdemocratie," Berlin, 1893,
p. 12. The sentence is very difficult to render in English. Its mean-
ing is about as follows: "He who discusses with the enemy, negotiates
with him, and he who negotiates, compromises."


stimulates growth so much as the proof of growth. Then,
again, parliament is a platform from which the popular
representative addresses not only his colleagues, but prac-
tically the entire nation, and the socialist deputies thus are
afforded a rare chance for the propaganda of their party
principles on a large scale.

The practical aim of the Socialist Party, moreover, is
the capture of the powers of government by the working
class in order that it might transform the state from an
instrument of class exploitation into a cooperative common-
wealth. But the working class cannot accomplish these
tasks unless it is well organized and trained in the art of
politics and administration, and practical political activity
is best calculated to give it that organization and training.

And finally, the socialists by no means disdain all partial
reforms, and parliamentary activity opens to them the
opportunity to urge and the chance to pass reforms of
actual benefit to the working class.

These, then, were the doubts and questions, the pros and
cons which met the sociaHsts at the threshold of their
political career, and while the leaders were discussing the
theoretical aspects of the problem, the mass, as usual in
practical questions, solved it, and, as usual, solved it right.
The socialists went into politics yielding to the instincts
of the masses, rather than following the reasoned policies
of the leaders.

Electoral Tactics of the Socialist Party

The tactics and policies of every party must necessarily
be such as will be best calculated to insure its political
success at a given time and place. They must be shaped


to meet the special conditions of each country and period,
and must change with the change of these conditions.
Political tactics are never immutable, and they are not even
as stable as poHtical programs. But v^hile the tactics
of a political party are variable and changing, such varia-
tions and changes are as a rule neither very radical nor
very sudden. The policy of every party must in the last
analysis be determined by and subordinated to its main
aims and objects, its political platform, and as long as the
latter remains in force, the former changes but slightly.

These general principles of party policy apply to the
Socialist Party with even greater force than to the other
parties. The socialist platform is the only political plat-
form which is practically identical in its main features
and important details in all civilized countries; the prin-
cipal aims of socialism are not those of local or temporary
reform, but of permanent and radical social reconstruction ;
the socialist methods of warfare were not evolved from
casual and fleeting conditions, but from general and firmly
established social and economic relations; hence the main
points of socialist tactics are bound to be practically uni-
form and fixed as long as the present social system lasts.
And as a matter of fact, we observe that while the details
of socialist policy and tactics vary in every country, and are
modified with every economic and political change, its
most salient features are identical everywhere, and have
undergone but little change since the days when the So-
cialist Party first established itself in practical poHtics.

The most striking characteristic of all socialist tactics
is the political isolation of the party, its reluctance to fuse
or combine with other parties in electoral campaigns.
The Socialist Party usually makes independent nomina-


tions for public office regardless of the prospects of imme-
diate success in the election. As a rule it does not unite
with other parties on a common electoral Hst or "ticket,"
it does not nominate non-socialists on its own ticket, it
does not support candidates of other parties, and its mem-
bers do not accept nominations or even indorsements from
other parties.

This poHcy of isolation has its good reasons. In theory
it is the logical and inseparable sequel of the class struggle
doctrine. Viewed from that standpoint there can be no ac-
tual solidarity of interest, at least under normal conditions,
between the Socialist Party which strives to overthrow the
present regime, and the various parties of the propertied
classes which are interested in upholding it. A political
union between the Socialist Party and any other party can
be accomplished, therefore, only on the basis of a compro-
mise which of necessity entails the concealment or aban-
donment of the most vital principles of socialism. And
the Socialist Party is invariably the loser by such combina-
tion. Experience has abundantly demonstrated that
whenever a party of the propertied classes has invited
the political cooperation of the working class, the latter
has, with few exceptions, been used by it as a cat's paw for
the furtherance of its own class interests. The working
class has never derived a substantial or lasting benefit from
such an illogical alliance, but the latter has frequently
served to bring in demoralization and disorganization in its
ranks. Many young and promising revolutionary move-
ments have been smothered by such compromises with
the enemy, and the fate of the numerous short-lived politi-
cal labor movements in the United States is very strong
proof of the truth of this assertion. Nor is even the un-


solicited support of the bourgeois parties always without
danger to socialism in politics. The socialist candidates
elected by non-socialist votes tacitly assume certain moral
obligations towards this class of voters, and when elected
they can rarely maintain the uncompromising attitude of
the purely socialist representative. The socialists are,
therefore, inclined to reject such political support, arguing
with the Roman poet — "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes"
— I fear the Greeks even if they bear gifts.

But with all that the rule of uncompromising socialist
tactics, like every other rule of human conduct, is not
entirely free from exceptions. It is apt to be observed
most rigorously and inflexibly in the earlier days of the
socialist movement in every country, when that movement
has not yet passed the phase of pure theoretical propa-
ganda and has not yet become a real factor in practical

"There is no need of compromising while the entire
activity of the party is limited to oral and written propa-
ganda and the purely theoretical defense of party prin-
ciples, which saves them from contamination by any
foreign elements," observes S. Kotlyarevski.^

And, it may be added, not only is there no justification
for a compromising policy in the early phases of the social-
ist movement, but there is every reason against it. While
scientific theories or social philosophies are new, it is
always their novel and striking features, the features dis-
tinguishing them from the accepted theories and philoso-
phies, that receive the greatest emphasis. And only
when such new theories or philosophies gain considerable
currency or following, are their main propositions sub-

* "Partii i Nauka," in Polyarnaya Svesda for January, 1906.


jected to a more minute and critical analysis, and their
qualifications and exceptions noted. The uncompromis-
ing and uncriticising propaganda of new ideas is useful
and even necessary in the early stages for their popular
dissemination. And a practical movement based on such
new ideas has besides a special interest in guarding its
pristine purity and complete independence in the critical
period of its inception or formation, for it is then that it
can be diverted or absorbed by foreign elements with the
greatest ease.

But with the spread of the socialist movement and the
growth of the Socialist Party, new problems present them-
selves. When the party becomes so numerous as to con-
stitute a factor of importance in the politics and parlia-
ment of any country, but not numerous enough to control
them by its own strength, the temptation to enlist the co-
operation of other progressive parties for the purpose of
accomplishing some immediate practical reforms becomes
great. Impatient cries are raised within the party urging
political combinations for such purposes, and are met by
the warning voices of the more conservative leaders tena-
ciously adhering to the class-struggle tactics.

How do the socialists generally meet the new situation ?

In a preceding chapter we observed that even in our
present class state there are certain political situations in
which the immediate interests of classes otherwise hostile
may occasionally coincide.

In countries of feudal origin it is generally in the com-
mon interest of the progressive bourgeoisie and the work-
ing class to remove the surviving feudal remnants from
the social and political structure of their countries, since
such remnants are often an impediment to all social prog-


ress, and in the countries of restricted, plural or qualified
suffrage, the Radical, Liberal and Socialist parties have
sometimes an equal interest in extending the suffrage.

The extension of popular suffrage, more especially, is
of the greatest vital importance to the Socialist Party, since
the latter can hardly make any political progress, still
less conquer the political powers of the country, in the
absence of equal and universal suffrage.

This situation is the key to the solution of the problem.
The socialists often combine with other progressive parties
for the attainment of these common purposes; they com-
bine but rarely for any other purposes.

Thus Ferdinand Lassalle, the founder of the Social
Democratic Party of Germany, outlined the tactics of the
proposed party in his famous "Open Letter" addressed
to the workingmen of Leipsic in 1863, in the following
language : —

" The working class must constitute itself into an inde-
pendent political party, and must make the demand for
universal, equal and direct suffrage, the watchword and
motto of that party. ... It must feel and constitute
itself as a party entirely distinct and separated from the
Progressive (Liberal) Party; it must nevertheless support
the Progressive Party in those points and questions in
which the interests of the two parties are identical, but turn
its back upon it and actively oppose it as often as it aban-
dons these interests." ^

When the English Reform League was organized for
the purpose of securing much-needed reforms in the mode
of parliamentary elections, Karl Marx and other members

^ Ferdinand Lassalle's "Reden und Schriften," Bernstein Revision,
Vol. II, p. 413-


of the General Council of the International Workingman's
Association took active part in the deliberations of that
body together with the bourgeois members of other
progressive political parties, and in Belgium, Denmark
and Sweden the Socialist Party has at different times for-
mally entered into pohtical alliances with other parties
upon the common platform of suffrage extension.

But all such socialist alliances with bourgeois parties,
whether made for the purpose of suffrage reform or for
any other pohtical object, are never permanent. They
are made for a special purpose and are dissolved as soon
as that purpose is accomphshed.

"We social democrats," said Bebel at the International
Socialist Congress of Amsterdam, in 1904, "are broad
minded enough to accept from our adversaries all con-
cessions we can obtain from them, w^hen they offer us some
real benefit in order to secure our support to-day for the
government, to-morrow for the liberal parties, the day after
even for the party of the center, which makes a special
bid for the workingmen's votes. But the hour after we
combat them all, the center, the government and the
liberals, as our permanent enemies. The bottomless
chasm which separates us from the government as well as
from all parties of the bourgeoisie is not forgotten for a
minute." ^

In the countries where an absolute majority is required
for election to parliament, and a second ballot thus often
becomes necessary to determine the choice in certain
districts, the Socialist parties frequently enter into agree-
ments with other parties for the support of their mutual

» "Sixi^me Congr^s Socialiste International," Compte-Rendu Ana-
lytique, Brussels, 1904, p. 88.


candidates as against the candidates of other parties, on
the second ballot. While the excuse for this seeming
digression from non-compromising socialist tactics is
obvious, the Socialist parties of Germany and other coun-
tries have repeatedly endeavored to abolish this practice,
but with little success; the socialist voters as a rule insist
on exercising their suffrage on all occasions, and the watch-
v^^ord of abstention in any election has never met with their
general approval.

In the United States, in which there are no political or
economic remains of a feudal system, hardly any restric-
tions upon universal manhood suffrage, and no second
ballots in general elections, there seems to be no reason or
excuse for any de\iation from the general socialist prin-
ciple of absolutely independent politics, and the socialists
of America^ have in fact on every occasion declared them-
selves against all forms of political combination or coopera-
tion with other parties.

Parliamentary Tactics of the Socialist Party

The first entry of socialists into parliamentary politics
was characterized by the same diffidence and misgi\'ings
that had marked their early participation in electoral

Thus, when the first socialists were elected to the old
North German Diet, so shrewd a party leader as Wilhelm
Liebknecht advocated a purely negative attitude on the
part of the socialist deputies towards the positive work of
ParHament. "My personal opinion," says he, "was that
our elected representatives should enter Parliament with
a protest, and withdraw immediately, without, however,


surrendering their credentials. With this opinion I re-
mained in the minority; it was decided that the repre-
sentatives of democracy could utilize every opportunity
they might deem appropriate, in order to emphasize in
the 'Diet' their attitude of negation and protest, but that
they should keep aloof from all practical parliamentary
proceedings, because any participation in such proceed-
ings would imply a recognition of the North German

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryMorris HillquitSocialism in theory and practice → online text (page 13 of 26)