Irreconcilables Have Turned to Communism, and Socialism Seems on Wane
Has Socialism Had Its Day?
Irreconcilables Have Turned to Communism, and Socialism Seems on Wane
IT IS NOT so many years ago that Socialism was a master force that was making its influence felt over the whole world. Now even some of those favorably disposed toward it feel that it is largely a dead issue. The Irreconcilables have turned to the growing giant of Communism, and Socialism has to all intents died of inanition. William MacDonald, writing in the January Current Opinion, tells of the failing of this once great force.
“Twenty years ago, even ten years ago, socialism seemed on the highway to becoming in most European countries an accomplished fact. The theory of socialism, expounded with elaboration and force in the classical writings of Karl Marx and his followers, had apparently withstood some of the strongest arguments leveled against it, and had been popularized in innumerable works in almost every language. Political parties, organized to spread the doctrine and to embody its principles in legislation, were to be seen actively at work in almost every country and had become a political force to be reckoned with. Half the statesmen of Europe were, in one way or another, avowed' socialists, while the membership of socialist parties, nominal or actual, ran well into the millions.
“What was more, it seemed to many that the doctrines of socialism were actually being worked out in practice. European governments everywhere were doing things which socialists demanded. Germany, from the days of Bismarck, the first of the great statesmen who had affected to read the handwriting on the wall, had apparently become more and more a socialistic state. France, Italy, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries and some of the larger British dominions showed a vast quantity of socialistic legislation, especially in matters affecting the wage-earning classes and the daily life of the average citizen. Even in Great Britain, naturally conservative and little inclined to accept innovations, the theory and practice of socialism were making their way, thanks in large part to the ceaseless activities of the Fabian Society; and the much-discussed program of the British Labor Party, launched during the war, was hailed in England and America as a socialist charter to which enlightened British legislation was certain to conform more and more. It had become fashionable to call oneself a socialist, to denounce the evils of capitalism, to champion the cause of the proletariat, and to acclaim each new amelioration of working-class conditions as a step in the direction of ultimate and complete socialism. And when great employers of labor, impressed by the undoubted evils of the system which they represented, themselves championed
social reforms, it seemed to many of the faithful that the by of emancipation was at hand. Everybody knows how we felt about socialism ten or twenty years ago.
“Then came the great war. In the one absorbing struggle for victory, whicheve r side that one happened to support, everything save the war and its necessities for the time being went by the board. Most socialists, whatever they thought of the immediate responsibility for the contest, were at heart convinced that the war was at bottom a natural result of capitalism, of the intense and relentless struggle for commercial and political supremacy which they had all along denounced as the inevitable consequence of the capitalistic system. But they all supported the war. With inconsiderable exceptions, socialist parties and their leaders everywhere rallied to the support of their governments. The action of the Majority Socialists in Germany in voting for the war budgets was matched by the action of the socialist parties in France in joining the so-called ‘union sacrée’ in which the FVench parties for the time being sunk their differences.
“Where stands socialism to-day new that the war is over? From the standpoin of those who, before the war, felt that the ripe fruit of socialist agitation was about to fall into their hands, the outlook is discouraging. As a political force, socialism in Europe is everywhere demoralized. An aggressive minority, including most of those who, either at the beginning of the war or during its progress, opposed the war and the governments which prosecuted it, have become communists, seeking in that powerful and growing movement the realization of a socialist program to which, in their opinion, the former socialists have split into numberless groups, parading under more or less meaningless names and no longer present a united front or endorse a common political program. When they unite in a legislative chamber it is usually in support of the government whose capitalistic character they have, in fervid but empty rhetoric, just been denouncing. Without a common program or a common basis of theory, the socialist parties of Europe have become in the main, sources of petty and irritating opposition to the party in power, or else, as with the Italian Fascisti, a menace to the stability of the state by reason cf their open attacks upon the communists. There is not to-day, in any European country, a government that may properly be called socialistic nor is there in any country a government policy which embodies anything that Karl Marx and his earlier followers would have cared to call their own.
“In short, socialism, as apolitical force, seems pretty much to have gone to pieces.
The explanation of its decay is not to be found wholly in the war. It is easy to see how socialism, even if its followers had been true to their convictions, might naturally have suffered a great check when nations were battling for their lives. It is not apparent why, if its foundations had been as sound and deep as its followers professed them to be, it should have become so thoroughly demoralized. The fact is, of course, as anyone who looks closely into the history of the movement will see, that socialism appears to have been studied superficially.
“What is clear now is that socialism, as a theory of society, had really never been tried. There was no social state, there was not even an important socialist community. What would have happened when the war came on if such a state had actually existed must now remain a matter of speculation, but everyone can
now see that a bit of socializing of industry or governmental organization here or there was not socialism. The capitalistic system, vigorously attacked in theory in a whole library of books, pamphlets, reports and magazine articles, was at no time seriously attacked in fact, except about the edges or at some small point of social weakness. No one took the trouble to work out in detail the steps by which the enormously elaborate and complicated structure of a modern industrial and commercial society was in fact to be replaced by a new order in which private capital, privately controlled in the main, was to have no place.
“Will socialism recover its former prominence, when distracted Europe has settled down? At present the outlook is dubious. As a political program, socialism seems, as yet, to have no message for Europe or the world.”
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