Correspondence: Concerning “National Socialists” and other matters

Dear Sir,—If you will allow me to make a rejoinder to your correspondent “MacC.,” in reference to my “Letter to Irish Workers,” I would emphasise the essential theme of that letter, which is that it is inconsistent with Socialist principles to lend countenance and encouragement to any faction of the Irish people who have for their avowed object the overthrow of British rule in Ireland by force of arms. I gave at some length my reasons for believing that such an attitude on the part of Socialists would be inconsistent with their Socialist principles, and the substance of that reasoning was that the mere overthrow of one set of political masters for another set, under the present capitalist regime, would be “an act of futility and folly that can only bring suffering upon these misguided men in the event of failure, and complete disillusionment in the case of apparent success.” Now the only thing that matters concerning my letter is whether or not my position is true. If false would it not be the manly thing for your correspondent to attempt to refute it ? If true would it not be equally manly to acknowledge it and to reinforce it ? But he does neither. Instead, he goes heresy-hunting with all the zest of a mediaeval Inquisitor, and also displays a Quixotic ardour in keeping his party and his “party organ” a close preserve.
“MacC.” fails in both enterprises, presenting on his return an air of discomfiture that has at any rate, I am sure, provided a humorous spectacle for not a few readers whose Socialism even he would vouch for. For he has to acknowledge that “it is difficult to place the finger on any definitely unsound phrases,” and can only discover a certain “atmosphere” that makes him sniff suspiciously.
“MacC.” gets “the creeps” from my suggestion that “Ireland a nation” is not a first class Socialist issue. I did not suggest that it was a second class one or even a third class. I stated in the next line that it has no direct relation to Socialism, and that there is no satisfactory evidence adduced to show that its realisation under modern capitalism would be of the slightest benefit to the Irish workers. Is it the fallacy set forth in this statement that gives “MacC.” the creeps ? If not then I must conclude that “the creeps” is a malady one gets when one hears a disagreeable truth.
Lastly, your correspondent objects to my repeated use of the term “international Socialist,” “as if there can be a Socialist without being an internationalist.” But surely of all times in the history of modern Socialism this is the most awkward time to deny that there can be national Socialists. Millions of Socialists whom we had believed to be international are now engaged in mutual slaughter. Will “MacC.” maintain that these men are, or can be, both Socialists and internationalists ? Socialism is undoubtedly an international faith, but that is not the issue here. The issue is that the men who profess Socialism are not necessarily by the fact of their profession all international Socialists. Hence my deliberate insistence upon the term used ; and what genuine and faithful international Socialist will now affirm that my distinction was not called for by all the facts ? I am an international Socialist because, first, I arn a Socialist, and second, because I have consistently opposed the war from the first day till now, have spoken and written against it in public and in private, have lost business and social status by my stand against it ; and if conscription comes to Ireland am prepared to oppose it to the death. I will never pay a penny directly to support the war and will never fire a shot at any fellow worker.
Yours faithfully,



Circumstances compel us to deal with this matter editorially.

Mr. Brown says that the essential theme of his “Letter to Irish Workers” was that certain action which he criticised was inconsistent with Socialist principles. If that was a sufficient ground for him to request us to spare him space to give publicity to his criticism, he must concede that, quite apart from whether that criticism is correct, a like objection against his own actions is a perfectly legitimate ground for offering criticism against him. In other words, it is not correct to say that the only thing that matters is whether or not Mr. Brown’s position in relation to those he was criticising is correct. He cannot complain if he is judged by his own standard, and brought to book on the score of his inconsistency with Socialist principles.

When our comrade “MacC.” stated that it was difficult to place the finger on any definitely unsound phrases he made an admission that by no means weakened his case. Mr. Brown himself brings forward a phrase which very well illustrates the point. He said “Ireland a nation is not a first class Socialist issue.” Obviously this is not in itself a definitely unsound statement, for the only definite statement contained in the sentence is perfectly correct. But it implies that “Ireland a nation” is a Socialist issue of some class. What follows does not alter this. The I.L.P., B.S.P., and other pseudo-Socialist parties thrive on “Socialist” issues of various magnitudes which have even in their own wild claims, “no direct relation to Socialism.” “The Clarion,” which Mr. Brown accepts as a prominent Socialist organ, and which, in its jingoistic frenzy, certainly would not approve (any more than we do) of his resolve to never fire a shot at any fellow worker, built up a considerable circulation on “Socialist” issues that were not first class, and which had no direct relation to Socialism.

Such vagueness, missing definite fallacy only by accident arises from lack of that knowledge upon which alone can a person’s claim to be a Socialist rest. It is evidence, therefore, that the person from whom it emanates does not possess the mentality which entitles him to membership in the Socialist Party. It was in order to obtain a clear understanding upon this point that our comrade “MacC.” penned his letter. This Mr. Brown translates into endeavouring to keep his party and his party organ a close preserve. This is, of course, ridiculous. All that Mr. Brown’s critic desired was to secure that no matter from non-members of our party should appear in onr party organ without it being made clear that the writer of such is a non-member. What does Mr. Brown want—to get admittance to our pages under false pretences ?

Another point upon which Mr. Brown was criticised was his persistent use of the term “international Socialist.” Again this was not definitely unsound. It might be mere tautology on the writer’s part, as one speaking of black niggers, or it might mean that the user of the term held that internationalism is not an essential character of the Socialist’s make-up, and that therefore there could be Socialists who are not Internationalists. Anyway, taken with the rest of the letter, the term possessed an atmosphere which would make any Socialist “sniff suspiciously.” Our comrade “translated” that “atmosphere.”

And if he had nothing more than his suspicion to go on then, Mr. Brown’s rejoinder proves how well-grounded the suspicion was. He still eschews definite statements. He still clings to his negative arguments. He still does not say outright that there are Socialists who not Internationalists. But he says that this is an awkward time for denying that there can be national Socialists, and he asks what “genuine and faithful” (how fond he is of these sentimental but senseless qualifiations !) international Socialist will affirm that his distinction is not called for by the facts.

If this means anything at all it means that in Mr. Brown’s opinion there are non-international Socialists. There is nothing strange, therefore, in his conception of the pro-war “Clarion” as a Socialist organ.

“Millions of Socialists whom we had believed to be international,” says Mr. Brown, loose again as always, “are now engaged in mutual slaughter.” And he asks if ‘”MacC.” will maintain that these men are both Socialists and Internationalists. Our comrade’s position, as our party position, is that if they are Socialists they are Internationalists. Whether they are or are not Socialists, and therefore Internationalists, depends not upon whether they are engaged in mutual slaughter, but upon something which our critic does not think of sufficient importance to give us any information upon, i.e., whether they are willing or unwilling instruments in the war.


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