"SOCIALISM is that policy or theory which aims at securing by the action of the central democratic authority a better distribution, and in due subordination thereunto a better production, of wealth than now prevails."

This definition of socialism, taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica, is open to the double criticism of being at once too narrow and too vague. It excludes from socialist ranks anarchists like Elysée Reclus or Kropotkin, who, though they always claimed to be socialists, were actually centralists. On the other hand, it also leaves out the Bolsheviks, whose dictatorship of the minority is the negation, pure and simple, of democracy. Moreover, the definition seems rather vague when we compare it with the statements of principles made by all the social-democratic parties, who, according to a formula derived from Karl Marx, pursue the conquest of political power by the workers and the socialization of the means of production and exchange.

The Encyclopedia Britannica's definition, however, does possess the advantage of applying accurately to all the parties and labor organizations which before the World War were organized in what has since come to be called the Second International. At that time, indeed, the Russian Bolsheviks still called themselves social-democrats and formed part of that particular International, where they rubbed shoulders with English trade unionists, men of very moderate views, who were not socialists at all in the Marxian sense of the word, but who admitted the necessity of political action by the workers as a class and whose social tendencies corresponded fairly accurately to the definition given above.

As I write these lines I have before my eyes the commemorative album prepared by the Austrian socialists for the Tenth Congress of the International, which, as every one knows, was to have been held at Vienna during the month of August, 1914. Several copies were already off the presses of the Arbeiter Zeitung when the war broke out, and ten years later these were presented to the members of the Bureau Socialiste International (B. S. I.) when it met in the former Hapsburg capital in June, 1924. Of special interest among the other contents of this album is the collection of portraits of the sixty-six members of the B. S. I. which sat before the war in the Maison du Peuple at Brussels. Lenin is not among them, although he had for years been a member of the B. S. I.; but one can find the faces of Rosa Luxembourg and Rakovski, today the Soviet Ambassador to London, side by side with Daniel de Leon, the American delegate, Jaurès, Ebert, the future President of the German Reich, Stauning, Branting, and MacDonald, who have since been the Prime Ministers of Denmark, Sweden, and Great Britain, respectively. One sees here, too, delegates from the trade unions, though not very many of them.

At that time labor and socialist unity in Europe, from an international standpoint, was apparently complete. The war was to change all that. From 1914 to 1918 the overwhelming majority of socialists in France, England, and Belgium ranged themselves for national defense. The Italians, except for the group led by Mussolini, who at that time was a Socialist of the Left Wing, declared themselves neutral. The Russians, after the fall of Tsarism, became either "social patriots" with Kerenski or defeatists with Lenin. In Austria, and above all in Germany, the social-democrats at first voted for the war credits, but before long the radical elements fell away. While the "majority element" were vainly trying to regain contact with the French and Belgian socialists, the "Independent Socialists" resorted to Kienthal and Zimmerwald in Switzerland, where they met with various extremist groups from the Entente countries who, like themselves, were exponents of an immediate peace "without annexations or indemnities." In short, the international unity of 1914, which after all had been rather superficial, practically went to pieces under the shock of events. After the armistice, with rumblings of revolution over half Europe and with socialist coups taking place everywhere, the dislocation of the International was an accomplished fact.

The Bolsheviks, believing themselves already masters of the world, declared the Second International dead and proceeded to found the Third International, which soon came to be known as the Communist International. At Amsterdam in 1919 other labor organizations from various countries founded the International Federation of Trade Unions, which at one time possessed 23,000,000 members, of whom 16,000,000 still remain, and in which the American Federation of Labor under Samuel Gompers joined forces with the French Confédération Générale de Travail and with the German Freie Gewerkschaften. Politically, therefore, the International found itself divided into three branches: the Third International at Moscow; the Second International,--in which the German "majority element" and the British Labor Party provided the big battalions,--at London; and betwixt the two, at Vienna, the International Working Union of Socialist Parties, which was dubbed the "Two-and-a-half International" and which aimed to knit up once more the pre-war International, though with somewhat more vitality and efficiency.

An attempt at reconciliation by a joint conference of the three executive committees, made at Berlin in April, 1922, ended in complete failure; and since then the Communist International has never ceased to accentuate the violence of its opposition to social-democracy. Between Vienna and London, however, the points of difference tended to diminish. As early as 1921 and 1922 the socialists of France, England, Germany, Italy, and Belgium, some of whom adhered to the Vienna International and others to the Second International, were holding meetings, first at Paris, then at Frankfort; and with one accord adopted the resolutions which have since become famous as the Frankfort resolutions. Anticipating the Dawes Plan, they demanded the reduction of the German debt to a reasonable amount, but, on the other hand, insisted that an end should be put to military occupations and that inter-Allied debts should be annulled.

After December of that year it was understood that the International Socialist Congress would be convoked at Hamburg, where the International was actually reconstituted (May 27, 1923). It was necessary at that time to lay down the conditions on which parties or parliamentary groups might be admitted to the International. Agreement was easily reached in a Franco-German text which, borrowing its somewhat heavy terminology from the Marxian vocabulary, appealed to "those who see in the replacement of the capitalist method of production by the socialist method of production, the goal, and in the class conflict (lutte des classes), manifesting itself in political action, the means, of the emancipation of the working class." But when it came to translating this document into English the delegates from Great Britain made difficulties. They objected that the words lutte des classes--on the Continent the touchstone of socialism--were not in current use in England; that the extremists, who alone employed the expression, did not say "class struggle" but "class war"; and that under these conditions it would be better to render the idea by periphrasis, as, for example, by the phrase "independent political and industrial action of the workers' organization." And thus it was. The Franco-German text was retained, as was inevitable, since it would otherwise have been emasculated, but a free translation was permitted--for English consumption.

I report this trivial incident because it is still highly instructive, showing as it does that in spite of their common purposes and tactical unity, English labor and Continental socialism do not speak at all the same language. Such differences in terminology are the external expression of differences that strike deeper and are due to the various social environments in which contemporary socialism has been formed and developed.

Re-read, for example, such pre-war books as Jean Jaurès's "Etudes socialistes," Ramsay MacDonald's "Socialism and Society," or Karl Kautsky's "Das Erfurter Programm," and you will see how different is the socialism of Jaurès, steeped in the spirit of the French Revolution, and still more the socialism of MacDonald, which seeks its inspiration in the pacific and fraternal ideals of Christianity, from the more "materialistic" and "economic" socialism of the Marxians.

Since the war, however, these differences, even in their theoretical aspects, have been reduced. A kind of doctrinal amalgamation has gone on among the several national parties. German socialism has become less doctrinaire, French socialism, under the influence of the Guesdists, has come closer to Marxism, the socialism of the Independent Labor Party has almost completely conquered the world of British labor. No longer is there merely international unity of organization among the parties which advocate social-democracy; there is also a growing measure of unity in their programs.

In short, the twenty odd million men and women who have been voting socialist during the year 1924 in France, Italy, Germany, England, and the Scandinavian countries have all been more or less conscious supporters of a common doctrine which finds its most striking expression in the Communist Manifesto and the other works of Karl Marx.

Even in 1878 Frederick Engels was attributing to his fidus Achates, Karl Marx, the chief credit for the two "great discoveries" which in his view had made socialism into a science: historic materialism, or, if you prefer, the "economic interpretation of history"; and the doctrine of surplus value, that is, the amount which labor earns but does not receive, and which the capitalist appropriates when he puts his wage-earners to work.

These ideas, which when first enunciated were treated by some as discoveries and by others as mere paradoxes or sophistries, have within a few years become the commonplaces of socialist activities and of socialist propaganda. Whether they have read a line of Marx or not, there is not a coal-miner in Yorkshire, or a socialist metal-worker in the Creusot mills, or a laborer in the Sicilian sulphur mines, or a Polish weaver, or a worker in the salt-mines of the Salzkammergut or the tobacco factories of Philippopolis, who does not join with the social-democrats of the Ruhr and the Saar in agreeing to a series of formulae, Marxian in origin, which constitute the common groundwork of all the parties affiliated with the International. These formulae are as follows: Political struggles are due, in the last analysis, to class struggles; these struggles increase in scope and seriousness as capital becomes concentrated and as, in consequence, the exploitation of the workers progresses; to end this exploitation, capitalistic property--that is, property which has nothing to do with work--must be socialized; and to this purpose the socialist or labor parties pursue a common end, namely, the conquest of political power and the collective appropriation of the means of production and exchange.

It is true that these social reformers who wish to improve capitalism in order the more easily to preserve it oppose to this formidable diffusion of Marx's thought among the masses a pretended error in Marxism, which men like Menger, Böhm von Bawerk and other "socializers" of the days before the war could definitely have attacked. It is in vain to reply to them that Marx's ideas as to the decisive importance of economic factors, as well as capitalistic concentration, the downfall of the middle classes, and the growing opposition between bourgeois and labor or proletarian parties have all found startling confirmation in the conditions existing in post-war Europe. They assert that the science of economics has definitely condemned the Marxian theory of value; that consequently the rest of the edifice crumbles with it; in short, that if socialism wishes to survive it must seek other foundations.

Of the anti-Marxian literature that has appeared since the war, Nicholson's "Revival of Marxism" and Aftalion's "Les fondements du Socialisme" deserve special mention. Among many others they are distinguished by genuine and thorough knowledge of the doctrines which they essay to criticize. Perhaps Nicholson's little book is the best in which English and American readers can inform themselves, both as to what form modern Marxian socialism has assumed, and what the arguments are that people think they can oppose to it. But it is in Aftalion that we shall find the most concise and convincing criticism of Marxism and especially of that theory of surplus value which, implicitly or explicity, lies at the base of all socialist demands.

M. Aftalion says: "However undeniable the revolutionary force of the theory of surplus value, today its insufficiency as a doctrine seems certain. It cannot meet the simple observed fact that in every private enterprise the profit tends to be proportional to the amount of capital engaged and not to the number of hands employed, and, in consequence, not to the amount of the surplus labor, as the Marxian theory would imply. Marx's desperate effort in the second volume of 'Das Kapital' to reconcile the doctrine with the facts, when he asserts that it holds true only for production as a whole--for the total capitalist income of a country--is much the same thing as saying that he abandons the essential elements."

An expository article such as this is not the place in which to open an extended discussion on this subject. As a matter of fact, Marx did not delay until his third volume was published to show the difference between value and price, surplus value and profit. Rodbertus, however, among others, had done it before him in this characteristic passage: "As a result of competition profits ought to be equal. . . . The principle that the value of the product is equivalent to the amount of labor it costs is made questionable by the law of uniformity of profits. . . . In my opinion it is enough that the production of a society, taken as a whole, should have a value which is measured solely by the work required for its production, in order to supply all our present income, both that derived from land and that derived from invested capital."

In the same spirit Marx compares modern society to a gigantic stock company, a trust, the sum of whose profits--that is, the surplus value produced by the workers as a group--are divided among the various stockholders in the form of dividends, interest, and profits. Thus understood, surplus value--which Rodbertus calls stock dividends (rentes) and Menger unearned income (revenu sans travail)--does not seem to me to be essentially different from what M. Aftalion, in the latter part of his study, calls the social surplus (surplus social). This, however, is the terminology in which he formulates his "theory of social surplus or exploitation by exclusion": "Modern views show that capitalistic income is not an exploitation, but that in the profits, taken as a whole, a part of the value that has been created is really due to the land or the capital. Such a view, to which the theory of distribution leads us, amounts to saying that, besides labor, that which nature has given us or that which has been accumulated through the centuries also shares in the value that has been created. Here is a surplus value. Here is wealth whose value is added to that created by the present labor of man. But why should the benefit of it be reserved for certain privileged individuals, since it was not they who originally produced it? That which nature gives us, and that which centuries of effort have created, ought to belong to all."

M. Aftalion, it is true, qualifies his recognition of this fact with many a reserve and limitation, and these reserves and limitations are worth closer examination. They may furnish arguments for continuing certain proprietors in possession and the indemnification of others, but they do not seem likely to impress the growing number of workers who feel the grip of capitalism. It is possible to justify ownership combined with labor. There is no way to justify those who happen to monopolize nature's gifts or the products of past labor in taking a portion of what present labor has produced. At the bottom of all socialist doctrine lies the idea of simple justice which we find as early as St. Paul, and which the Soviets have inscribed at the head of their Constitution: "If any would not work, neither should he eat." To bring this state of affairs about in societies so complex as ours, it is indispensable to socialize the fundamental branches of activity and to substitute the sovereignty of the workers over capital for the sovereignty of capital over labor.

It remains to discover what results labor parties and workingmen's organizations have secured in their duel purposes during the last ten years. From the socialist standpoint, such "wild expropriations" as were attempted in Bavaria, Hungary and other countries where proletarian insurrections took place have led merely to bloody reaction. The Russian Revolution, on the other hand, not only had the result--an essential for future purposes--of stamping out Tsarism to its last root and transferring the lands of Crown, nobility, and clergy to peasant ownership, but it also brought the collective ownership of industries and urban real estate into the hands of the Soviet State.

"In this way," writes Professor Varga, a communist writer, "Russia has today reached a condition which the Social-Democrats are pleased to style in their program as a point of departure for social transformation. The proletarian state remains in possession of those departments of economic life which are 'ripe' for socialization: the mines, heavy industry, large enterprises in general, transportation, finance, and foreign trade."

What will result from this collective control, whose revolutionary acquisition seems as a whole to have been more onerous than it would have been if the capitalists had been indemnified? What are the social transformations which will eventually be produced in this way? To these questions it is still too early to attempt reply. Experiment is still going on. It is desirable, however, to attempt an objective examination of the question, without preconceived ideas, eschewing alike the systematic optimism of the English trade unionists who have just passed a few days in Russia and the blind prejudice of those who seek arguments against socialism in the misadventures of the state capitalism instituted by Lenin.

If, now, we pass to those countries that have not been shaken by revolutionary convulsions, it becomes obvious that there has been since the war a reaction from, rather than progress toward, state centralization--that is to say, the direct exploitation by the state and government of certain industries or services. Mussolini has "unstated" the Italian railways. In France a majority of the Bloc National had decided upon the abandonment of the monopoly in matches, prior to the election of May, 1924. Everywhere complaints arise against the defective organization of the "bureaucratic régimes." To many of these complaints one can apply what Delemere says in his book, "le Bilan de l'Étatisme," about the French administration of posts, telegraphs, and telephones: "The P. T. T. emerged from the war in a condition of the most profound technical and financial disorder. Their organization was too fragile to stand the test, and the general crisis affects simultaneously the posts and telegraphic service, reaching its climax in the telephone service."

But though state centralization may be declining, socialization, under new aspects, is developing. A system of autonomous controls is being substituted for bureaucratic control. As in Germany, compulsory trusts under state control are being formed in the chief branches of heavy industry, with representation of the workers in the factory councils and in the "parliaments" of steel, coal, and potash, where owners, workers, and consumers are all represented. Most of all, combined enterprises (économies mixtes) are being set up in which public and private capital participate jointly, though in varying proportions. At this very moment, for example, all the hydraulic enterprises of Bavaria are being centrally operated in this way. Similarly, we have seen in Belgium within recent years an outburst of combined enterprises--the so-called sociétés nationales--whose control is retained by the state as the majority stockholder, but in which private individuals and municipalities participate on equal terms. This is especially true of narrow-gauge railways, inter-community water service, low-cost housing, the distribution of electric energy, the industrialized control of navigation on the Congo, and, in a general way, of the opening up of Belgian colonial mines, which are being developed by companies in which the state invariably possesses half the stock.

It is scarcely necessary to add that in these national companies the capitalist spirit still predominates; that their methods of exploitation differ little if at all from those of private industry; and that the workers have little or no share in the management of the industry. To transform all this, to accomplish something beyond the creation of a few new controls, to eliminate bureaucracy from those already in existence, and to give the people as a whole their due share in private enterprises, one condition is essential: the workers must wrest political power from the state.

In short, the ultimate progress of socialization depends largely on the political progress of the working class, and such progress is itself a function of industrial development, of the growth of the proletariat, and of the consciousness and organization of the working class. From this standpoint there can be no doubt that the war has given a definite impulse to previously existing tendencies and has laid the way wide open to the socialist conquest of power.

A few months before the catastrophe of 1914, Jaurès, who had the prophetic instinct highly developed, said in an appeal to the German socialists: "A European war may produce a revolution, and the ruling classes will do well to consider that fact; but it may also produce, during long periods, counter-revolutionary crises, furious reaction, nationalism, strangling dictatorship, monstrous militarism, a long series of retrogressive violences and unworthy hatreds, reprisals, and slaveries." Since 1914 Europe has passed through the crises of counter-revolution which Jaurès foresaw. Yet who, on the other hand, can gainsay the correctness of President Masaryk of Czechoslovakia when he says in his recent book that revolution is on the way? Before the war three great autocracies overshadowed Europe. In democratic countries, the bourgeoisie were everywhere in power; the socialists were merely an opposition party--and often the weakest one. Today the remaining monarchies, scattered here and there, are either constitutionally limited or else subordinate to military dictatorships which are already staggering. In almost every country socialism is already either in power, on the verge of power, or else has become the opposition, the only opposition that can some day replace the conservative parties that now constitute the governments. Such is the case, for example, in Belgium, in Austria, and in Finland, where the socialists form more than two-fifths of the parliamentary representatives. We see them, moreover, assuming power in Denmark and Sweden, or sharing it with the agrarians in Czechoslovakia. They were far and away the most numerous party in Italy until Mussolini's coup d'état. They had the majority in the Russian Constituent Assembly prior to the Bolshevik dictatorship. In France the hundred Socialist deputies form the most active wing of the Radical-Socialist majority. In the English elections of last October they obtained 34 percent of the votes as against 30 percent in 1923--5,551,000 Labor votes as against 2,949,000 Liberal votes and 7,866,000 Conservative votes. In Germany, despite their loss of ground since the revolution, the Social-Democrats have 131 deputies (without counting 45 Communists) as against 137 deputies of the Centre parties and the 176 deputies of the right wing. In short, throughout Eastern Europe the Social-Democratic Party now constitutes one-third of the electorate, and its accession to power, which in 1914 was, if not chimerical at least very distant, today seems one of the possibilities--or rather, probabilities--of the immediate future.

To sum up, during the last ten years social-democracy in Europe has been able to establish anew its international unity. It has found a confirmation of its doctrines in the conditions of the post-war world. It has forced the bourgeois parties either to reach an agreement with it and submit to reforms, or else unite to block its path. It has met with great success. It has met, too, with serious reverses. In a word, the advance of labor to power is, to borrow a phrase from Goethe, a spiral, but an ascending spiral.

Yet even in admitting the importance and significance of these results it is necessary to guard against excessive optimism. In the first place, the fact that socialism has not struck root very deeply in the United States, the very heart of the capitalist world, and that the workers there have not yet succeeded in organizing an independent political party on the English model is not to be neglected. In the second place, representation in parliament is nothing but a "bit of Constitution." It would be a naïve illusion to imagine that for the political and economic expropriation of the capitalist class it is sufficient to gain a majority of the votes, little by little, in one country and another. The problem of the present hour is not the victory of a political party but the accession of a class to sovereignty--that is to say, a revolution, and the most profound revolution that the world has ever known. Will this revolution take place--in certain countries, at least--by peaceful and legal means? Or shall we, on the contrary, see it marked by those violent convulsions which have attended its beginnings in the greater part of Europe? It is to be hoped that the first will prove true, but it is unhappily impossible entirely to disregard the second possibility. In any case, however, the impatient, the enlightened, those who still believe in the complete power of either legislator or dictator to bring about revolutions before the appointed time, cannot meditate too often the words of Marx: "The workers have no utopias ready to produce by popular decree. They know very well that to bring about their own emancipation, and at the same time the most noble form of that organization toward which modern society is moving by its own economic forces, they will have to pass through a long struggle and a course of historical progress which will transform men and conditions."

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  • EMILE VANDERVELDE, chief of the Socialist Party in Belgium; former Minister of Munitions and Minister of Justice
  • More By Emile Vandervelde