International notes [1922]

It has been a year of shattered illusions, and that is in itself an invaluable gain. Events have been busily at work teaching the masses as they could not otherwise be taught. With their own eyes they have seen, and in their own bodies they have felt, the worse than futility of these Governments in whose paternal benevolence they had put so blind s trust. All the grandiose schemes have broken down. Peace has not been restored, and the economic position of the people is worse than ever. The situation of the unemployed was never so desperate as it is to-day, and every one of the innumerable remedies advanced has proved itself almost immediately a hopeless failure. The great and influential middle class never felt itself so insecure. High Finance, marching hand in hand with Officialdom, is sweeping all before it.

This is the general lesson of the last twelve months, but Labour also has had its own particular schooling. Its own Governments, its own official machinery - patterned tamely after its master’s models - have shown an impotence no words can measure. Not one effective blow can be recorded to their credit; and, as they never dared to seize the rod that smote them, they have now to kiss it in obedient submission. Everywhere Labour is beseeching its owners to give it work. In all those countries whose currency has been debased it is toiling - if it can get the chance to toil - exhaustingly for wages that barely keep body and soul together. In such other countries as Great Britain and the United States the fear of unemployment has killed whatever fighting spirit it once possessed. Faced by these conditions, and by the ruthlessly repressive measures of the modern State, trade organisations stand paralysed.

All along the line the failure of Socialism has been conspicuous. In Great Britain and in the United States its impress on the thought of the masses is imperceptible, and if it occasionally influences legislation that is because the governing machine is always willing to have the sphere of its activities enlarged. In Germany, where it is substantially in power, it has crushed remorselessly every manifestation of the spirit of revolt, and cajoled the workers into bearing patiently such a burden as they never hitherto have borne. Helpless Austria it has saddled with a bureaucracy that is completing the ruin capitalist Governments had wrought. Its record in Italy and Spain has been that of the wrecker whom all insurrectional movements have trusted to their sorrow. In Russia it has reached its logical and inevitable aim - the creation of an all-governing machine which resuscitates the military dictatorships of the Middle Ages.

These reflections come properly under the heading of “International Notes” because, as we believe, they give the pith of what is going on throughout the Labour world, and may serve to indicate the real forces now at work. Of strike news, which formerly monopolised the columns in most of our exchanges, there is now practically none; but much space is occupied by bitter complaints and internecine wrangles. In all that we take no interest, for we regard it as a confession of weakness and despair. On the other hand, fundamental principles and the tactics that spring from them are coming once more into their own, being discussed with an earnestness and intelligence that seem to us most promising. There is nothing in going it blindly. It is surely high time for the whole movement to shake off its war hysteria and come back to solid thought.

These points stand out in the general discussion. First a growing distrust of opportunisms, of all so-called leaders who lean toward opportunism, and of the transitory regimes for which they stand. As a sample of many similar articles we select a leader from L’Emancipateur (Belgium), which seems so excellent that we translate at considerable length. It runs as follows:-

Ah! This famous Transitory Regime! It has a strong back. Already it has seen much use, but still it serves its turn. Always Governments have invoked this lie as an excuse for crimes they commit, and as a consolation for the miseries suffered by the governed. It was the transitory organisms that came into existence with the Revolution of 1789 which led to the Empire, by way of the transitory regimes of the Directoire and Consulate. Napoleon himself only made war as a transitory measure, that he might impose on Europe peace and make it permanent by means of a Confederation of States which the Empire’s iron hand destroyed. Half a century later Napoleon III climbed into power by a’ Coup d’Etat,’ and got universal suffrage to clothe him with the authority that would enable him to realise the generous ideas of 1848. The chief result was the war of 1870. The bare recital of similar examples would more than fill a volume… And finally, the regime of the transitory dictatorship, acclaimed by Marx and his apostles! People, make the Revolution! Then give us the power and we will give you Paradise, or, at least, show you the road to it! Well, we are no longer willing to be duped. We cannot admit that men learn liberty by being put in chains. We have no belief in Authority, of its own free will, letting go its grip and abdicating in favour of the governed. On the contrary, we believe it is natural for Authority to remain in power and to become more and more authoritative, violent, and despotic.”

Le Réveil, of Geneva, points this moral by calling attention to a resolution proposed by the Central committee, which the recent Congress of the Workers’ Federation of Metallurgists and Watchmakers adopted. It calls for “the immediate expulsion of any member guilty of opposing the wishes of the Directors, and especially those belonging to the Communist Party.” On this the editor makes bitter, and surely justifiable, comment. He remarks that for ten years past he has been criticised for his attacks on Syndicalist bureaucracy and centralisation of power, but that unhappily his attacks have been always more than justified. Looking back on an experience that now covers more than forty years, and recalling many instances of once-promising movements that were wrecked remorselessly by the ambitions of stupid leaders “dressed in a little brief authority,” we think the protests of Bertoni and many other revolutionary editors more needed now than ever. Among our own railwaymen Mr. J. H. Thomas appears to be a god, and Mr. Havelock Wilson seems to be plenipotentiary for the seamen. The former is of His Majesty’s Privy Council, and the latter’s name is in the New Year’s Honours List. “In the Labour troubles of the last few years he has exercised a moderating influence on the extremist section,” says the report.

Another point comes into view - one on which the conduct of the whole revolutionary movement eventually will turn. The impotence of big organisations, such as the Social Democratic Party in Germany, the American Federation of Labour, and the Triple Alliance in this country, has been one of the most significant features of the last few years. The perception of this has resulted in a critical examination of the entire mass action philosophy - a philosophy naturally dear to organisers and politicians inasmuch as it secures them audiences, furnishes them with funds, and enables them to win elections. All this is grist for the official mill, but leaves the muses, if possible, more helpless than before. Finding themselves in the grip of huge machines over which they have not a particle of control, the rank and file sink into indifferentism, lose all initiative, and become, as it were, so much dead timber in a forest out of which the life is dying. Our exchanges begin to swarm with admirable articles upon this subject, and one of our most experienced American correspondents calls our attention to an outstanding fact which well may furnish food for thought. He points out that the present tidal-wave of unemployment is far greater than any the United States has ever known. Yet, for the first time in the country’s history, practically no resistance has been shown!

From these reflections comes also the understanding that the crowd, as a crowd, is helpless against the forces the State to-day commands. Against machine guns no mob, however numerous, stands a chance. As shown by the records of past Revolutions, and by to-day’s events, it is only when the people’s individual indignation can be no longer held in check that action becomes fruitful. Kropotkin has many luminous pages on this subject, and perhaps Carlo Pisacane is even more instructive. He was a military expert, and he wrote, in the middle of last century, from personal revolutionary experience. In our exchanges translations from his writings now constantly appear.

The failure of the Russian Dictatorship has, given a strong impetus to all this line of thought. A study of the European press will convince any one that the Anarchists, at least, regard that failure as complete. What their press generally emphasises is not so much the persecution of our own comrades; cruel though that has been, as the incompetence of the governing machine and its heartless sacrifice of the masses to its own lust for rule. Anarchist editors generally consider that the Dictatorship has merely ushered in a regime of State Capitalism, which they look on as being the most oppressive system yet devised. After all, that is precisely what Bakunin taught, more than half a century ago; that being, indeed, the basis of his great quarrel with Karl Marx. Bertoni is writing powerfully on this subject in Le Réveil. He considers that Bolshevism his brought Revolution, as a popular aspiration, into grave distrust; that Anarchists abstained from criticism far too long; that we are too prone to make alliances with those who seem to be going, for however short a distance, along our road. This he ascribes to weakness; to lack of faith in our own principles. In our opinion, he is unquestionably right.

Whether the revolutionary movement is better favoured by active or by passive resistance is a question on which opinions have differed widely, and round it controversy is again arising. This is most desirable and was inevitable. In the first place, a reaction against the brutalities of war was bound to come. In the second place, many are beginning to think that the passive resistance policy of Gandhi is more effective than the Bolshevik terrorism. We can lay our hands on more than one recent Anarchist editorial which insists that a large percentage of the Bolsheviks has come to worship violence for its own sake, and that many Anarchists, afraid of being considered lukewarm or cowardly, have followed them. That is always a great danger. Assuredly the progress of the revolutionary movement is the all-in-all, but if we are good workmen we shall attain the maximum result with the minimum of effort and the least possible expenditure of material.

We are delighted to find Le Réveil publishing an article headed “Why have we made the Revolution?” It is given in Le Réveil as having been translated from the Russian, but it was written by Ricardo Flores Magón, the noted Mexican revolutionist, some twelve years ago. The present writer then translated it, and it formed part of the “Land and Liberty” booklet published by the Mexican Liberal Party in 1913. In the French translation the names of Lenin and Trotsky have been substituted for those of Madero, Gomez, etc., used by Magón. In all other respects the translation is word for word.

This reproduction delights us because it shows how widespread and enduring is the influence of really first-rate propaganda. Magón was always first-rate. We know of no revolutionary writer who has wielded a more poetical, powerful, or truthful pen. Invariably he went unflinchingly to the very heart of things, and in the person of Madero, riding into dictatorship on the crest of the revolutionary wave that swept Porfirio Diaz into oblivion, he crucified, twelve years ago, the Lenin of his day. What a pity that the Anarchist movement never troubled itself to study seriously the Mexican Revolution, for that in Russia has travelled almost the selfsame road! What a pity that a body of workers so earnest as is the I.W.W. forgot the lessons Ricardo Magón taught with a fire, an eloquence, and a perseverance no one could excel! At one time they admired him greatly, and they bought by thousands the booklet mentioned, selling it at their street meetings and giving it the widest circulation. Ricardo’s brother, Enrique, is now at liberty, and he writes that Bolshevist agents have tried repeatedly, but vainly, to enlist his services. Ricardo is still in gaol. He could get a pardon at any moment if he would sue for it.

From: Freedom (London) January 1922.