50 Years Ago: Socialist Unity

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 today 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 today 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.

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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 revisionists, 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 be more disastrous to the uncompromising section than to the revisionist

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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 hardened 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.

[From the “Socialist Standard,” December, 1904]

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