Reform or Revolution
In April 1904, I received a letter from the German editor of the New York Volkszeitung, Herr Hermann Schliiter, the author of several books on the German movements in the United States, to copy for him a letter addressed by the American President Abraham Lincoln to the International Working Men’s Association in reply to an address sent to him by that body in 1865 on his election as President of the United States. The letter was reproduced at the time in the Beehive, a London periodical of the trade unions. The only complete set of that paper is in the possession of Mr. John Bums. I therefore applied to him by letter, asking to be allowed to copy the letter at his house. We had known each other since 1902; I used to see him sometimes in the House of Commons and talk about politics. Mr. Burns granted my request, and on the morning of April 27, 1904, I was at his house in Battersea, and found everything prepared for my work: the volume of the Beehive, paper, ink, and so on. After I had finished my copying, Mr. Burns came in, and we had a most interesting chat on British politics. We both knew that the coming elections would mean an
overwhelming Unionist defeat and the coming in of a strong Liberal Government. At that time Mr. Burns was already quite outside the organized Labour movement; so I disliked telling him my opinion that there would be some surprises even for the Liberals, caused by the victories of the Labour Representation Committee, which was to become later the Labour Party. I preferred to hear what he had to tell me, for he was evidently in a talking mood. What he said was certainly worth noting. He informed me that in the next Liberal Government he would be President of the Local Government Board, and perhaps Mr. Sidney Webb Home
Secretary, but that the latter was not yet quite certain. I then asked his permission to have a good look at his library, which is in some respects unique. It contains the results of a lifetime’s expert collecting of Labour and Socialist literature. It will sooner or later enrich the British Museum or the University of London. Its value in money is very considerable. He told me, with the caressing love of a book collector, how he got this or that rare book. Meanwhile, the time for lunch had arrived, and Mr. Burns, greatly embarrassed, told me he couldn’t invite me to lunch, as there was very little in the house to offer me; it was the end of the month, and the grant from his union would not come in before the 30th of the month. I had £2 in my pocket, and I asked him to use them and to repay whenever he could. We then went to a restaurant together, and he continued to give me his political views, every word of which came from the heart of a British patriot. Two or three months after this visit I received a postal order for £2, but without a single word or the name of the sender. I could only guess from the handwriting of the address on the envelope that the postal order with the Battersea postmark on it had come from Mr. Burns. Still, the information he imparted to me with regard to the composition of the coming Liberal Government had an important sequel at the Sixth Congress of the Socialist and Labour International, which was held in the third week of August, 1904, in the ConcertGebau in Amsterdam. This Congress, one of the largest of its kind, had to give its
final decision on the question of “Ministerialism,” which had formed for several years a topic hotly discussed in the Socialist Press, meetings, and conferences. It began with the Dreyfus affair, which caused a government crisis in France; it was finally solved by the entrance of the Socialist Deputy, M. Alexandre Millerand, into the Waldeck-Rousseau Govern ment, that is, into a bourgeois government. The left-wing Socialists disapproved this compromise with the middle
125 classes, and argued that, in view of the class antagonism which was constantly in evidence between Capital and Labour, no Socialist ought to join a non-Socialist government; for, in the last analysis, economic interests governed the policy of the middle classes, so that their government was inevitably bound to act against the interests of Labour, and the presence of a Socialist in such a government could not but result in discrediting Socialism in the eyes of the working classes. The ministerialist question in France was aggravated by the fact that the War Minister in the Waldeck-Rousseau Government was General Gallifet, the cruel persecutor of the Paris Communards in 1871. The left-wing Socialists submitted to the Congress a resolution, which originated in Germany, condemning ministerialism, and calling upon the organized Socialist and Labour movement to guide its policy by the principle of the opposition of interests between Capital and Labour. The leader of the left wing was Jules Guesde; his opponent was Jean Jaures, who argued that in a democracy a great deal could be achieved for the welfare of Labour by a Reformist policy, and that a too strict adherence to the class struggle theory led to political sterility. As the resolution of Jules Guesde was of German origin, the German delegation, headed by August Bebel, joined issue and defended Guesde. At the end of July, Jaures asked me to come to Amsterdam. I had published a few signed articles in the Paris Humanite, established by him in the same year, and he wished to hear my opinion about Germany. I travelled with Belfort Bax to Amsterdam, he as one of
the delegates of the Social Democratic Federation, I as a sightseer. The Congress was opened with the usual formalities, and, as it happened that the Russo-Japanese land war was at its height, the Congress Committee nominated, amidst the rapturous cheers of the delegates, Plekhanoff the Russian, and Katayama the Japanese, as honorary presidents, who demonstratively shook hands as friends and comrades when
they took their seats on the platform. The proceedings of the first few days were of little interest, as most of the leaders were busy with committee work, particularly on the Guesde resolution, to which several amendments were moved. On that Committee there sat from the British delegation Hyndman and Ramsay MacDonald, the former on the side of the left wingers, the latter on the side of the Reformists. On the fifth day the amended resolutions had to come before the plenary session, on the eve of which Jaures gave a dinner to his friends in one of the restaurant rooms of the Concert-Gebau.