Book Reviews: ‘Socialism and the Great War’, & ”Marx before Marxism’

The Second International and the 1914 War

‘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


The Young Marx

‘Marx before Marxism’ by David McLellan. Pelican. 40p

This book, now republished as a Pelican, traces the development of Marx’s ideas until in 1844, at the age of 25, he became a Socialist (or Communist, as would then more usually have been said).

Marx was born in May 1818 in Trier in the Rhineland, which had been annexed to France between 1795 and 1814. His father was a legal official who was originally a Jew but who, on the return of the Rhineland to Prussia, had to become a Christian in order to keep his job. Marx himself was baptized as a Lutheran Protestant and went to the local high school and later to university at Bonn, then at Berlin and then back at Bonn again, eventually getting a doctorate from the University of Jena for a thesis on the Ancient Greek philosophers, Democritos and Epicurus.

Marx had originally intended himself becoming a lawyer, but then planned an academic career as a teacher of philosophy. When political considerations made this impossible—Marx had become one of the Young-Hegelians who gave Hegel’s philosophy an atheist and radical-democratic twist—he turned to journalism, becoming in October 1842 the editor of the liberal Rheinische Zeitung. At this time Marx was still politically a radical democrat and argued forcefully against censorship and for freedom of the press in Prussia. So forcefully, in fact, that the paper was banned in March 1843. In June Marx married Jenny von Westphalen (whose father had not only been a German baron but also related to the British Dukes of Argyll!) and in October moved to Paris.

Here Marx came into contact with German and French Communists (indeed he lived in the same house as one prominent member of the German Workers’ League of the Just, which later became the Communist League for which the famous manifesto was written) and his writings take on a more pro-working class character. McLellan dates Marx’s adherence to Communism as sometime during the first three months of 1844.

Marx’s writings of this period are, to a modern reader, excessively philosophical, being full of the difficult terminology of the then fashionable German philosophers Hegel and Feuerbach. Marx’s whole conception of the socialist revolution too was still philosophical: he saw it as the combination of man’s most advanced consciousness (German philosophy or, rather, its outcome) and man’s most suffering section (the proletariat). This conception had élitist undertones—the proletariat was to be the instrument of philosophy, i.e.,  a weapon in the hands of philosophers, to achieve Hegel’s “rational reality” or Feuerbach’s “true species-life”—which Marx was soon to abandon when he teamed up with Engels and the two of them began to put socialist theory on to a more scientific basis. Hence the title of this book of course.

McLellan here provides a good introduction to Marx’s writings of this period: the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the State (some unpublished notes written in March 1843 before he moved to Paris), on The Jewish Question and Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law (both of which were published by Marx soon after moving to Paris, the latter containing the famous phrase about religion being the opium of the people) and the so-called Paris Manuscripts (again unpublished notes).

These works are not essential reading but they do provide the key to what Marx and Engels meant when in later works they wrote of “the end of philosophy” and of leaping “from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom” and of Socialism as “the beginning of history”.

Adam Buick

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