THE Second International has been ailing ever since the outbreak of the World War; the recent split in the French Unified Socialist Party and the disappearance last spring of the German Social Democratic Party have, it seems safe to say, put an end to its suffering.

The Second International was founded in Paris in 1889 as a loose federation of the many strong socialist parties then in existence. Since the war of 1870 a state of tension had existed between France and Germany; it showed no signs of abating by 1889 and many thought it a threat to peace. The French Government had recently come closer to the Tsarist Government; Germany, Austria and Italy had renewed the Triple Alliance for a second time and were to bind themselves again in 1891; Europe was rapidly becoming an armed camp. The First International had been founded in 1864 as a protest against Russia's treatment of Poland. The Second International remained strongly anti-Russian but, on account of the tense international situation, placed its main emphasis on combating militarism. At its first conference it demanded that standing armies be abolished, that international tribunals of arbitration be set up, that the peoples have a voice in questions of peace or war. It laid down as one of its cardinal principles that its members should never vote military credits or the expenses for colonial expeditions, and held to the motto of the old International -- "not a man, not a cent, rather insurrection than war."

By the turn of the century the loose federation had grown into a strong organization; a permanent Bureau was founded, with headquarters at Brussels, and year by year its power increased. Socialists from then on were urged to increase their parliamentary representation with the aim first of acquiring a nuisance value -- like the Irish members of the House of Commons -- and eventually of gaining control of the legislative assemblies of the world. Many socialists at that time believed that if universal suffrage were everywhere granted, the working classes would come into power automatically. They did not reckon with the growing wealth and power of the middle class, or with their ingenuity. They did not foresee the development of those organized minorities and special interests which were to interfere with what appeared to be the legitimate and inevitable advent to power of the majority any more than the nineteenth century economists foresaw the dislocation of their "free market" by the establishment of trusts and tariff walls. Nor did they assess realistically the power of nationalism over the minds of the working class itself.

And so socialists everywhere set to work to increase their parliamentary representation. In roughly the twenty years before the war the number of socialist representatives grew in Germany from 43 to 110, in France from 50 to 103, and in England from o to 42. Speaking very generally, as socialist representation increased, socialist doctrines grew milder. Beginning with Bernstein in Germany, the Broussists and Independent Socialists in France, and the Fabians in England, "revisionist" or "evolutionary" as opposed to the "catastrophic" socialism of the early Marxian and Communard days came to dominate the leaders of the Second International. Whether moderation came because of a desire to hold on to power and position obtained after much struggle, or because of a growing sense of the responsibilities of that power, there is no doubt that between 1905 and 1914 more and more stress was laid on "reform" through parliamentary methods and -- depending on varying domestic considerations -- less on antimilitarism or on the class struggle.

In Germany, the extremely conservative parties divided power between them. Liberal-minded persons who in France might have been Radical Socialists or in England might have been Liberals saw little chance of influencing the policy of the government except by joining the Social Democratic Party and helping build it up into a strong organization. As a result, the Party's anti-Russian basis remained, but its stand against militarism gradually weakened. In the years before 1914, the British, French and American socialist representatives at international congresses tried time and time again to pass a resolution calling for the general strike in case of war. Each time the German Social Democrats blocked these efforts, taking the tactical ground that such a resolution might interfere with their successes at home. They felt on the verge of gaining control of the Reichstag (just before the war their registered vote actually was 4,500,000, or one-third of the total registered vote of Germany); they believed that if they attained this objective the danger of war would almost automatically disappear; and in the meantime they wanted no revolutionary resolutions to frighten off their more timid supporters. In other words, German Socialism became a stronghold of liberals rather than of socialists.

But the Social Democratic Party did not gain control of the German Government. War came. The Second International had no program. And on August 4, 1914, the German Social Democrats voted the war credits, 111 to 14. Steamroller methods provided that the party vote must always appear publicly as unanimous. Hence the world did not know for some time of the fourteen courageous dissenters, among them many of the outstanding leaders -- Kautsky, Haase, Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring.

Under the leadership of Jean Jaurès, the French socialists showed a more sincere effort to live up to the anti-militarist principles of the International. In the twenty years before the World War, the political atmosphere in France was very different from that in Germany. The Dreyfus case had worked a profound change in the international outlook of the French socialists. Up to that day in 1894 when Captain Dreyfus was arrested and unjustly condemned at the instigation of a corrupt military clique, French socialists, true to their old Jacobin traditions, had been revolutionaries at home, patriots abroad. They had looked on the armies of France in the light of '93, as the emissaries of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity -- the Commune itself was started by super-patriots who regarded Thiers as a traitor to France for his surrender to Germany. But in the six years before Dreyfus was finally pardoned (due to the courageous and untiring efforts of men as different as Jaurès, Clemenceau, Zola and Péguy, to mention only a few) the socialists had become strong anti-militarists almost to a man. From 1900 to 1914, too, the governments of France were in the hands of the parties of the moderate Left, principal among them the Radical Socialist Party, the party of the anti-clerical middle class -- lawyers, professors, small tradesmen. The Radical Socialists undertook many liberal reforms tending to improve the conditions of the working class. At the same time, they took over from the socialists the old revolutionary patriotism; they signed the Franco-Russian alliance and increased the term of compulsory military service; though liberal in their domestic policies, they were distinctly conservative (nationalistic) in dealing with foreign affairs. Jaurès consequently concentrated his attention on the international and anti-militarist aspects of socialism rather than on its revolutionary teachings. He denounced the Franco-Russian alliance; he pleaded for an understanding between the French and German working classes; he staked everything on the building up of an international socialist organization to combat war; in general, he worked for peace rather than revolution.

In 1913, Jaurès proposed to reduce the French military budget by 100,000,000 francs in spite of the German Social Democratic support of the 1½ milliard mark credit for German heavy artillery in the spring of that year.[i] Jaurès by this proposal aroused the fury not only of the Right parties in France, but also of the moderate Left. Péguy, once a fellow socialist and friend, one of the band of young intellectuals who had fought through the Dreyfus crisis by his side, wrote of him: "I am a good republican. I am an old revolutionary. Yet in wartime there is only one policy, the policy of the National Convention. It is useless to deny that the policy of the National Convention means Jaurès in a tumbril and the beat of a drum to drown out that great voice." And so it was that his internationalism rather than his social theories led to his assassination on July 31, 1914, by a half-wit who had been egged on by the calumnies of L'Action Française. After his death, and after the German declaration of war, it was the French socialists who demanded and obtained the withdrawal of the French troops to a distance of 10 kilometers from the frontiers. But eventually, convincing themselves that the war was one of defense for France, the French socialists voted the military credits; they even joined the government of "l'union sacrée;" and leaders as well known as Jules Guesde, Marcel Sembat, Albert Thomas and Léon Blum accepted cabinet and other posts. In the same way, the British socialist parties, with the exception of the Independent Labor Party, offered their support to their government and accepted cabinet posts for their leading members.

Analyzing the reasons for the failure of the Commune in 1871, Lenin in 1908 had written: "In the union of these contradictory aims -- patriotism and socialism -- was the fateful mistake of French socialism." It was the fateful mistake of world socialism in 1914. The Second International had failed.

But in all countries there were active minorities intent on saving it. In France the war had made plain a division of thought within the Unified Socialist Party. The "majority" group led by Pierre Renaudel supported the government wholeheartedly; but the "minority" under Jean Longuet, Marx's grandson, gave only provisional support. They acknowledged the right of France to defend herself but pronounced in favor of a war without victory and an attempt to save the International from disaster. And so in 1915, at the request of the Italian socialists, a conference was called at Zimmerwald and was attended by socialists from the Scandinavian, Central and Allied Powers, with the exception of Great Britain. It was at this conference that Lenin and Trotsky tried to organize a socialist entente against the war, with the ultimate aim of turning economic strikes into political strikes and civil war. But their proposals were rejected and the conference was content merely to pass a resolution against war in general. Even this mild performance caused indignation, and the French "majority" group denounced it. Only three French socialists attended the succeeding conference at Kienthal in 1916, and they did so unofficially. This time the Leninites were in control; they scored bourgeois pacifism, declared that no real peace was possible under capitalism, and attacked the Second International for its inactivity. This attack seemed ominous, for by the spring of 1917 there had already sprung up the slogan "For the Third International." Lenin asserted that the masses ought to realize that socialism had split throughout the world.

But the Second International still struggled on. In France there had been a displacement of power in the Party. As the war aims of the Allies became more concrete, as the censorship increased and the conduct of the war fell more and more into the hands of the conservative element, the "majority" group lost influence. By 1917 the war weariness, the lack of decisive victories and the Russian Revolution had their effect; the severe repressions of the Clemenceau régime did the rest and resulted in a revolt in the Party. In July 1918 the "minority" under Longuet and Paul Faure ousted Renaudel from leadership; they tried to reorganize the Party, to preserve proletarian unity, and to reconstruct the almost defunct international organization. It was no easy task. They had to cope with Renaudel and his parliamentary "reformism" on the one hand and with the extreme Left under the influence of the Russian Revolution on the other. From the moment in 1919 that the Third International became a reality, their program was painfully handicapped. The Party refused to join the Third International, taking its stand with the Ledebour Socialists in Germany, the Social Democracy of Austria, and the majority party in Switzerland. But when it began to be apparent that popular sympathy in France was turning toward the Left, alarm spread through the ranks. The Party leaders decided to try to negotiate a compromise, and sent to Moscow two prominent members, Marcel Cachin and L. O. Frossard, to talk things over. To the horror of the leaders, Cachin and Frossard returned enthusiastic communists. At the Congress of Tours, in 1920, 3,028 out of the 4,050 delegates voted to join the Third International. This vote brought about a definite break in the ranks of the Unified Socialist Party after sixteen years of life. Longuet and his followers withdrew, leaving in the hands of the new party -- the "Parti Communiste, Section Française de l'Internationale Communiste"-- the control of the old socialist machinery, two-thirds of the membership, and the socialist paper, L'Humanité, founded in 1904 by Briand and Jaurès and known all over Europe as one of the great socialist organs. But the Longuet group retained the original title of the Unified Socialist Party -- "Parti Socialiste, Section Française de l'Internationale Ouvrière"--and the majority of the socialist deputies in the Chamber.

Since that date the wing calling itself the Unified Socialist Party has been the chief support of the Second International in Europe. In 1924 it joined the "Cartel des Gauches" in order to defeat the powerful "Bloc National" at the polls -- and succeeded. Throughout the years since the war the "Cartel" has stood consistently for internationalism and pacifism, and has been more successful than mere figures can show in spreading these doctrines. France at the present time is probably the most pacifist country in Europe. Many believe that wide popular resistance would oppose a general mobilization order except in case of some foreign aggression so flagrant that it is not likely to occur. The government and general staff have obviously become worried. A recent experience of the Minister of Education shows the trend of public feeling. He sent to all teachers a circular warning them to refrain from pacifist and unpatriotic teachings in the schools. The associations of teachers refused bluntly, and no reprisals were taken against them.

Yet less than a year ago, on April 14, 90 out of 129 socialist deputies voted the military credits, and in July a group of 43 left the Party to form a National Socialist Party. When a socialist party splits because one section prefers the risk of a bourgeois to that of a communist alliance, it has lately been a sign that the party is about to disappear; and often it has preceded the rise to power of some kind of a strong government. This was the fate of Italian socialism in 1922, of the German Social Democrats in March 1933, and, in a less dramatic manner, of the British Labor Party when a great part of it merged in the National Government. Such, perhaps, is about to be the fate of orthodox French socialism under the leadership of doctrinaires like Léon Blum and Paul Faure, with their quasi-mystic attachment to the formulæ of the early years of the century. One rash enough to prophesy in a time like the present might venture the belief that there is no longer any important place for the classic type of socialism of a Jaurès, a MacDonald, a Scheidemann or a Turati.

The first indication of the recent serious rift occurred in February 1933, when 104 deputies voted with the Daladier Government for a salary reduction for civil servants. Léon Blum, president of the Party, resigned in protest. But the really significant fact, the fact which showed that the last stronghold of international socialism was tottering, was the tiny number who in April actually stood by socialism's cardinal principle and voted against the military credits. Out of 129 deputies there were only 11, including M. Blum. True, 28 more abstained from voting; but this in itself was a defection from true orthodoxy. At the Socialist Congress, held in Avignon immediately afterwards, the action of the 90 Renaudel deputies who voted the war credits was heatedly discussed, and a majority vote of censure was passed upon their conduct. Again in July, at the Congress in Paris, they were censured. When the result of the vote there showed another large majority against the Renaudel renegades the crowds stamped and cheered and burst into the "Internationale." It seemed to them as if Léon Blum and orthodoxy had triumphed. Yet the fact remained that while at both congresses Blum had the support of three-quarters of the delegates, in parliament Renaudel controlled three-quarters of the deputies.

To understand the orthodoxy of the delegates in the congresses and the heretical action of the parliamentary deputies, we must know something of the French electoral system. To be elected to the Chamber a candidate must receive a majority on the first ballot or a plurality on a second ballot. Of the 129 socialist deputies chosen in the May elections of 1932, 90 were elected on second ballots after the withdrawal of their Radical-Socialist rivals. That is to say, they were elected with Radical-Socialist support, and, in order to be reëlected, must satisfy the middle-class Radical-Socialist voters as well as the socialists. The 39 remaining deputies were elected on first ballots in strongly proletarian districts. They therefore owe their election to purely socialist support; to satisfy their constituents they must remain orthodox and under no condition agree to participate in bourgeois governments or measures. Should they do so, they run the risk of losing their advanced followers to the French Communist Party. Thus while the greater number of the deputies depend not on a purely socialist electorate but on a mixed electorate of socialists and Radical Socialists, the delegates to the Socialist Congresses represent purely socialist organizations.

Until last April -- with the single exception of 1914--no member of the French Socialist Party had ever voted the military credits. What caused the volte-face? The obvious answer is Hitler, the threat of German aggression combined with the Nazi attack on trade-unionism, pacifism and liberalism. This probably was the immediate reason, but it does not account in full for the development of Neo-Socialism, the term now applied in France to the doctrines of Renaudel, Montagnon, Deat, Marquet and their followers. As early as the spring of 1932, M. Marquet, Mayor of Bordeaux and deputy, foreshadowed the movement. Hitler came later.

The statement of the case for Neo-Socialism at the recent Paris Congress, and Blum's defense of the classic socialist position, draws attention to a division in socialist thought which prevails throughout the world. Blum summed up the situation succinctly by observing that "an examination of the state of Europe today leaves the impression of a race for power between fascism and socialism." He believes that socialism can triumph only by remaining true to itself. As he cried, "Simple slogans, elementary slogans -- these socialism has never given. Remember that simple slogans are those of fascism. I do not know what may be the intermediate forms of power which may intervene between those of the present moment and those which we have always considered as the socialist forms. But our rôle is not to accept them. They are not ours." To those who insisted that youth would turn away if not given something new, he replied, "Then let them go," and added unhappily, "I feel that the rôle which I have filled in the Party is over. The position should pass to another."

The situation wears a different aspect to the Renaudel socialists. They see socialism everywhere losing ground, and they are worried. As M. Montagnon says:

Capitalism is dying; . . . In that case, according to our doctrines and propaganda, we should be happy . . . over the break-down of a system which we condemn daily. Yet we are not happy; we are worried; and it is this anxiety which constitutes the socialist drama in all its seriousness. Why are we anxious? Because in our innermost hearts . . . we know that socialism cannot come out of the present chaos . . . We have fought, we have done everything to restrain and prevent the scramble towards economic autarchy. But it is a fact which we should not underestimate . . . The present period of depression and dislocation is a blessed one for fascism . . . If French socialism continues merely to announce a hypothetical and imaginary revolution on an international basis . . . it will be swept aside as it has been in Italy and Germany. For if fascism had been merely a mercenary movement initiated by the banks and big industrialists, it would never have stirred up the dynamic power which it has in the middle classes of Italy and Germany. The Left (Léon Blum) would lead the Party to cut itself off from the middle classes, from democracy, from the nation. And then fascism would come, for the socialist barrage would be broken . . . What counts above everything in the growth of fascism is the economic crisis, which threatens to proletarize the middle classes. They are determined not to accept such a fate . . . It is in the middle classes that a revolutionary ferment exists today. . . .

M. Marquet then took up the thread and startled his hearers by stating that the crisis played into the hands of reaction rather than of socialism:

A man without work is not a revolutionary factor. He is a human factor broken by his own misery, ready to embrace any creed or follow any adventurer . . . In order that the country may feel that you are able to bring order out of the present capitalist disorder, you must put forward the idea of authority . . . If instead of being spectators you wish to become a center of attraction, then you must organize and advance on a national plane.

It was after these speeches that the July Congress pronounced in favor of M. Blum. As the applause and singing died down, Renaudel, pale and tired, rose to announce that he regarded the vote as a "moral split." The majority, he said, had not taken the trouble to formulate a constructive policy; the minority had. The minority was against war but would not neglect national defense. A storm of hisses and boos greeted his last words, and Léon Blum, usually so mild, cried out angrily: "If Jaurès could hear Renaudel's declaration he would rise in savage indignation."

The crowds dispersed; they did not know that very probably they had witnessed the signing of the long-deferred death warrant of the Second International.

The next day about 43 of the socialist parliamentary group joined together and formed the National Socialist Party -- or Neo-Socialists as they now prefer to be called. The new group calls for the modernizing of socialism to make it a living, vigorous creed to inspire the youth of today as Marx inspired a previous generation. To quote M. Montagnon again, "The soul of our people, of our youth, is crying out for leadership. If we cannot provide it others will."

Is this schism in the Socialist Party merely one more quarrel in a party with an unusually quarrelsome record? If so, it would be of minor interest. Or does it disclose two definitely incompatible attitudes on the great question of how to deal with those unplanned-for rebels, the middle classes? The problem of the middle classes is the problem of the present day in Europe, and it seems likely that the socialist split in France is part of the European process of taking sides on the question of how to cope with it.

Socialism originally was essentially a doctrine and a movement aiming at the collective organization of the community in the interests of the mass of the people, namely the working class, by means of the common ownership and collective control of the means of production. Socialists agreed that the conduct of industry for private profit produced anti-social results. They also challenged the laissez-faire doctrine that the pursuit by each citizen of his private economic interests worked out for the good of society as a whole. Their stand on this last point, which of course is the root of the socialist program, has now been accepted in part by capitalist society in the hope that its application may offer a way of avoiding complete socialization.

Fascism, realizing that the spirit of revolt today is to be found in the middle classes, attempts to conciliate this spirit of revolt by a defense of existing rights. It knows that the middle classes cling desperately to their rights and position, that they refuse to become proletarians and consequently repudiate communism, while at the same time they rebel against industrial capitalism. Hence the fascist insistence that private economic interests must be regulated. It is this aspect of fascism which appeals everywhere to the middle classes, and with greatest force to the lower middle class; they see in it a chance to attack the big banks, the chain stores, the cartels, trusts, monopolies, which have squeezed them out and placed before them the hated alternatives of proletarization or starvation. For fascism merely proposes to regulate business. It does not propose to remove the profit system or to socialize the means of production. In fact, it definitely promises to respect private property. It professes to put the good of the state above the claims of either capital or labor, and in so doing wins the frantic applause of the middle class, which since the war has everywhere felt itself to be the "forgotten" class.

The Neo-Socialists claim that in facing this state of affairs they are realists. They see in the fascist acceptance of the end of laissez-faire the beginning of socialism. They believe like Proudhon that without the middle class revolution is impossible; they see the middle class in other countries going over to fascism; in order to avoid this in France, and to lure the middle class to socialism, they advocate the abandonment of those principles of socialism which the middle classes reject -- in this case, internationalism and pacifism -- and the postponement of the basic attack on individual property rights.

The orthodox socialists are filled with horror at the defection of their Neo-Socialist comrades. Facing the extremes of the modern world -- the system of the Soviet Union on the one hand and the state capitalism of Italy and Germany on the other -- they cling to a theory of socialism evolved before fascism or communism existed. They are still under the spell of Jaurès, disregarding the fact that in 1914 the socialist organization in which he put his trust broke down, that international arbitration on which he counted failed, and that he, who advocated them, was assassinated.

In Jaurès's day the material for the success of communism or fascism did not exist. The mass of the people in Europe did not yet feel so conscious of their ability to determine their own fate, they had not yet had preached to them the conception that ideal ends can be obtained by brute force, they had not acquired the feeling of instability which the war produced, nor had they experienced the war's long aftermath of economic misery. Yet the French Socialist Party today is trying to steer its course as though the last twenty years had not existed. It is acting as if neither Soviet Russia nor Fascist Italy existed, and has even begun to look back to "the good old days" of socialism's peaceful penetration during the lull before 1914. Generally when an organization becomes insistently eloquent about the past it is nearing the end of its usefulness. When, in facing new problems, it calls only upon Hamilton or Jefferson, Disraeli or Gladstone, Choiseul or Danton, or even upon Jaurès or Marx, it is acting like an army which today might try to fight machine guns with the rifles of 1870 or a scientist who would approach the world of Einstein with the mathematical notions of a Newton.

Italian socialism went under in 1922 because it made no effort to adapt itself to a changed world. German social democracy flickered and was extinguished because it compromised its basic principles in an effort to adapt itself. At heart both feared fascism less than communism. They discounted fascism's strength and dynamic appeal. They paid too little attention to the possibility that in a world shaken by the war and tired of liberal shilly-shallying men's choice might no longer lie between democracy and dictatorship, but between two dictatorships, fascist or proletarian. Is this again the case in France?

[i] The Social Democrats justified their action on the ground that the German Government had promised them that the cost would fall on bourgeois and not on proletarian shoulders!

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now