The Fall of The Internationale—
Gustave Hervé on "Bleating Socialism"
By Stoddard Dewey
[The Nation; September 30, 1915]
Paris, September 11.
'Tis the final struggle!
Close ranks—and to-morrow
shall be all mankind!
To-morrow has come and the Internationale lies stark with the other illusions which war has slain. Jaurès must have known it before he was killed. His last appeal to the comrades to force the keeping of peace was made in the name of all mankind—"Humanity," he called it. Their answers were already coming in—"We go with our country!"
Gustav Hervé recognizes the fact: "I don't know where our English Socialist comrades get their bleating Socialism. Hasn't their journal Justice been writing: 'The Labor Internationale and not the Pope of Rome has authority in Europe to speak of peace in the name of the peoples and it's not too soon for its voice to be heard! [I re-translate from Hervé's French.]
"Labor Internationale? [asks Hervé]. Where is it? Who does not see that the war has felled it to earth? What have we at present in common—we French Socialists—with the Kaiser's Socialists who have not had one word of protest against the violation of Belgium's neutrality? The proof that she's very dead—our Labor Internationale—is that I who profess to be a good Socialist feel myself a thousand times nearer to a French Reactionary fighting in our trenches than I do to a German Socialist. She will arise perhaps. She shall arise surely, even. While waiting, she's dead. De profundis!
"She has just as much authority to speak of peace at this present moment as the traveller whirled away in a lightning train whose brakes refuse to work would have to stop the train. What's the use of bluffing?"
Once started, like his lightning train, Gustave Hervé is not easy to stop. "We wished to try every means, even big means, to prevent war—and those German Socialist idiots, who are politically two hundred years behind us, would not follow us. We did our duty. We have nothing to reproach ourselves with—we French Socialists—for we got ourselves dragged in the mire by trying to prevent the catastrophe. The catastrophe came—and, now we can do no more.
"Or rather all we can do is to get the best we can from it for Humanity."
Some of us, from the beginning, were clairvoyant enough to perceive that any Internationale in which Karl Marx and his disciples had a finger would really work for a German mankind. This was Bakunin's prophetic idea when, at the Congress of Basle in 1869, he did his best to get control of the old Internationale for his Anarchy—which had at least the negative merit of not playing the game of any particular race of schoolmasters. Then came the German war of 1870 and smashed, the Labor Internationale a first time. The Commune of Paris had its last explosive echoes.
Gustave Hervé now goes on to ask: "What is the best we can get from this war for Humanity?" He begins with a recollection which might well touch Americans to the quick and make them ask in turn why, at the Internationale's beginning, American principle and practice were so often cited as an example, whereas now we are ignored. Or else we are passed by on the other side as citizens of a Republic held in fee by that bourgeoisie which Karl Marx tried to set permanently over against his Labor proletariat. (And, by the way, what really was the idea of the New Englander Uriah Stevens to whom I remember hearing ascribed at the time—after 1864—Karl Marx's final plan for an international federation of labor?)
This is Hervé's recollection: "Our good ancestors—those of 1848—with the good ancestors of our friends of Italy dreamed of founding by Revolution a new Europe—they called it Young Europe—in which peoples should govern themselves, in which there should, no longer be one people reduced to serve another, and in which all the peoples, free and independent, should try to found the United States of Europe.
"The operation failed in Central Europe—in Germany and Austria—where castes and dynasties have kept on governing uncontrolled; and in Eastern Europe—in Turkey and Russia—where bureaucracies have been able to rule regardless of public opinion."
Gustave Hervé, with the usual fixed idea of a Frenchman, imagines the English comrades must "get their Socialism from the Holy Bible" and admonishes them in consequence: "Dear brethren, the ways of God are impenetrable. In His Providence He has let loose this catastrophe that all oppressed people may be freed—the French of Alsace-Lorraine and the Danes of Schleswig and the Poles of the three Polands, Russian, Prussian, and Austrian, and the Rumanians of Transylvania, and the Servians of Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, and the Bulgarians of Macedonia, and all—Greeks and Armenians and Arabs—whom the Turk oppressor holds beneath his yoke five centuries long.
"His Divine Providence has willed that the two oldest royal families of Europe, the Hapsburgs of Austria and the Hohenzollerns of Prussia, should be discredited and dishonored and thrown into the dustbin; and that Holy Russia should pass gently, without revolution—lo, the miracle is at work before our eyes—from autocratic Czarism to the Parliamentary regime of the Duma.
"And you, O English Socialists! you would have us, soldiers of God, soldiers of the Right, you would have us stay our avenging arm and stop God's finger short?"
Under the whiplash words of irony thus; cracked at all pacifists who conspire for the German peace now that the German conquest by force is failing, we hear the honest expression of feeling of what the war's end ought to bring to mankind.
God said, I am tired of kings—
provided only that republics be turned also to ruling the people from above down, like kings, instead of from the town-meeting up as Tocqueville praised in the Republic of the Fathers.
A union then of honest men,
Or union never more again.
Perhaps the nearest lesson to be retained from this fall of all Internationalism is, after all, the old proverb enshrining the wisdom of the ages—-Blood is thicker than water. The universal Church of Christ has never before so nationalized itself. Socialists, whose cause is really that of all peoples and who had their label to protect, now glory in having thrown it to the winds. Pacifists Germanize or announce their conversion to something else. And the latest Novoye Vremya bears to us the voice of the Russian common soldier dying for his people. It is told by Father Staphanoff:
"A wounded soldier begged me to hear his confession. He was mortally wounded. With tears that brought tears, he made his self-accusation. Then, when he was to receive the last sacraments, he grasped the priest's hand, pressed it in his own fainting hand, and besought him: 'My father, quiet me for God's love.'
"'Why? Have you something to send to your wife and children? Shall I write, a letter for you? Be quieted, I will do all I can.'
"'I have been twice wounded and everything has been done; but now I feel I am dying. I shall not rise again. Say, please, that which will make me close my eyes in quiet.'
"'What is it you wish?'
"'Is it possible they will make peace with Germany? Shall not the war last to its end? Then, why all this blood we have shed, why all these men killed, why all these eyes closed in death? The struggle must be kept up to the end, no matter what it costs.'
"'You should have seen the joy and happiness reflected in his eyes and on his face when I explained there had never been any question of concluding peace with the Germans, that all Russians were firmly resolved to conquer, cost what it may, the enemy. Quieted, he made the sign of the cross with his cold hand. And the priest blessed and kissed him."
This may not be Tolstoi, but it is the rude direct logic of the Russian mujik repeating, as all those who have suffered in this most cruel war must do, and what the refined French mother after the slaying of her last son wrote to War Minister Millerand:
"See that all this bloodshed and sorrow may not have been in vain and that other mothers may not, in the future, have to suffer as we have done,"
In a letter from the trenches where the most murderous fighting goes on, I find other words of this natural upright reasoning: "Little more than a year ago not one of us dreamed of going to war. Is nothing to be done to those who have forced us into it? Not one of us wishes for peace until Prussian militarism is crushed for ever!"
It is not probable that all Internationalist theories which put abstract Humanity in place of the country a man knows and loves—they might as well obliterate the man's family—will cease in France. In spite of Hervé, there are still attempts to keep to the old phraseology.
And yet the village churl feels the truth more than you,—
Who's loath to leave this life
Which to him little yields—
His hard-task'd sunburnt wife,
His often labor'd fields,
The boors with whom he talk'd, the country spots he knew.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald