Saturday, September 23, 2017

2708. The Social Roots of Opportunism

By Gregory Zinoviev, New International/Marxists' Internet Archive, 1916 
Gregory Zinoviev

At the outbreak of the war, the opportunists in the working class of all the most important countries became social chauvinists.
The evolution of the individual persons, of the individual representatives of the Second International cannot be exhaustively explained in the light of the struggle of the two tendencies, It is not correct to maintain that all the present social chauvinists were previously opportunists. It is true beyond a doubt, however, that all the former opportunists are today social chauvinists. Individual, isolated exceptions merely prove the rule, in this case as well. The most important elements of modern social chauvinism were always latent in the old theory of opportunism. The war came, and everything that was still unclear in the ferment of opportunism took on sharply defined forms. The entire bourgeois residue which was until then concealed by the mask of socialism came suddenly out into the limelight. All the potential (bourgeois) energy took on kinetic form – what was kept secret until then was now openly expressed.
But here the question arises: where does opportunism in the socialist movement come from? How, by which path, and through which channels does this bourgeois influence penetrate the workers’ parties?
One of the causes of opportunism are the so-called camp-followers, that is, those strata of the electorate which are mainly recruited from the petty bourgeoisie, which do not belong to the social-democratic party and are not convinced socialists, but nevertheless join with the social democracy occasionally under the influence of one accidental circumstance or another, contributing their voting strength in the elections.
This phenomenon has its deeper causes and is rooted, above all, in the entire development of the bourgeois parties and of bourgeois liberalism. In all countries in which – one way or another – a bourgeois revolution has taken place, the bourgeoisie has long been – in Germany, ever since 1848 – counter-revolutionary and inimical to the people. The historic experiences accumulated by the bourgeoisie have had their effect. Even in a country which is going through the state of development that present-day Russia is, the bourgeoisie has become a thoroughly counter-revolutionary factor.
Bourgeois liberalism has lost its attractive powers and is continuing to lose it ever more, from year to year. In Germany, for instance, for some time now no genuine people’s party has existed outside of the social democracy. There is no great bourgeois-democratic party to take into its ranks, not proletarians, but millions of the small people, those people who are dissatisfied with the existing order, who feel that they are at a disadvantage in modern society, who long for a radical economic and political improvement of their situation. All the dissatisfied, all the distressed, all the disfranchised elements are forced to go to the social democracy. No matter how moderate in its demands, how opportunistic the German social democracy was even before the war, it was the only democratic people’s party in Germany. It alone defended, for better or for worse, the interests of the small people and the middle classes. Thus it became converted into a refuge for all the non-proletarian elements who could not stomach the practices of counter-revolutionary and anti-democratic liberalism, already fast in the grip of the imperialist claws. Under the influence of one or another aggressive measure on the part of the bourgeoisie or of the Junkers, many hundreds of thousands of petty bourgeois camp-followers came over and gave their votes to the social democracy.
Therein lay the strength as well as the weakness of the German social democracy. Its strength consisted in the fact that the German social democracy had become the only people’s party, that all the dissatisfied in the country sought its protection, that almost the entire democratic population flocked to its banner. Its weakness consisted in the fact that the petty bourgeois camp-followers brought with them into the workers’ party the political lack of character, the indecision, the bourgeois mode of thinking and all those other characteristics inherent in the strata that stand between the classes. Socialism became infected with opportunism.

Universal Suffrage – The Hunt for Votes

In a country that has universal suffrage a particularly intensive vote-chasing is inevitable. In the chase after electoral successes, the German social democracy adapted itself to its eventual allies, to its camp-followers recruited from the non-proletarian strata. A whole category of people arose who voted for the social democracy, but only reluctantly joined the social-democratic organization, who interested themselves exclusively in the general democratic and reformist work of the social democracy.
The world of the “camp-followers” also carried to the surface the corresponding leaders. Heine, Sudekum, Landsberg, David – these are the typical representatives and leaders of such strata. One such stratum, for instance, the saloonkeepers, is strongly represented in the social-democratic fraction of the Reichstag. Among the social-democratic deputies to the Reichstag there were four saloonkeepers (out of 35 deputies) in 1892; six (out of 81) in 1905; 12 (out of 110) in 1912. [1] Basing themselves upon the more backward layers of the working class, these ideological-political leaders of the camp-followers create a whole tendency inside the social democracy. Gradually a state within a state is formed. The petty bourgeois influences grow constantly stronger. The social democracy itself becomes a camp follower of the camp followers. It is not the camp-followers who adapt themselves to the social democracy, but the social democracy that adapts itself to them. In the critical moments of history it is the petty bourgeois and not the proletarian tendencies in the social democracy that win the upper hand. The petty bourgeoisie, due to its social situation, is doomed forever to vacillate between two camps. Thus it is not at all surprising that in the course of such a crisis as was created by the outbreak of the World War, the pendulum swung over to the bourgeois-imperialist side and remained stationary there. That is how the bourgeoisie achieved a signal victory inside the German social democracy against the working class elements.
How large is the figure for the electoral camp-followers of the social democracy? It is not easy to give an exact answer to this question. First, it is necessary to become familiar with the manner in which the parliamentary successes of the German social democracy developed in general, with the way the entire number of active voters in Germany grew and with what percentage of it the social democracy captured.
The following table throws some light on the subject:
Total Vote
Increase or

Vote Cast
for S-D
Increase or

(S-D Vote)
of S-D
+    210,700
+   349,500
−  56,200
−   663,100
+   566,200
−   312,500
+   445,500
1,786, 700
+     74,700
This is the general picture up to the year 1907. Finally, the German social democracy gained 990,0000 new votes in the last Reichstag elections (1911), receiving 4,250,000 votes and 110 seats for its deputies.
Let us look at these figures closely. In so far as the absolute increase in votes is concerned, the German social democracy has been marching from triumph to triumph. Only twice, at the inception of the anti-socialist laws, was there an absolute loss of votes cast. But the absolute increase in votes proceeds, not gradually, but in leaps. In view of this circumstance, the question arises: Isn’t there some logical law even in this jerky process, isn’t there some connection between this process, on the one hand, and the influx and decline of camp-followers, on the other hand?
K. Kautsky drew attention to this condition in 1912; he maintained that in the years in which the total number of voters grew, the social democracy did not immediately gain the new votes, but even registered a relative loss of votes. But three or four years later, in the successive elections, the social democracy usually won a big election victory and increased considerably the number of votes cast as well as the number of seats gained. Thus in 1887 the total number of votes rose by about two million, but the social democracy gained only about 213,000 votes and even lost thirteen seats. But in the succeeding elections in 1890, the social democracy gained 664,200 votes and 24 seats in Parliament. A similar phenomenon may be observed between 1907 and 1912. In 1907 the total vote again increased by almost two million, but the social democracy gained only 248,000 votes and lost 38 seats. It was only in the elections of 1912 that the social democracy gained 990,000 new votes and 67 new mandates.
Naturally, inter-party combinations and various sorts of election maneuvers played their role in all this. But, generally speaking, it is clear that this irregular movement may be accounted for in this manner: When there is a sharp rise in the number of voters, that signifies that such layers of the population as had previously been indifferent to politics have now been awakened to political life. Quite often it is the bourgeois parties and even the governments who share in the creation of this phenomenon by allowing them to participate in political life. In their mad scramble for votes the Center party, the Conservatives, the Liberals, etc., are forced to draw ever new strata of the population into politics. At first the bourgeois parties succeed in deceiving these new layers of politically inexperienced voters – the peasants, the petty bourgeois parties win an electoral victory. But this victory is of short duration. The new strata of voters are soon disillusioned by the bourgeois parties, they become convinced that they are being betrayed and politically exploited. Gradually they begin to go over to the social democracy. This is why we witness a particularly sharp increase in the social-democratic vote at the election several years after the sharp rise in the total voting figures.
Applied to the question of the camp-followers which occupies our interest at present, this has the following significance for us: Between the official social democracy on the one hand, and the bourgeoisie, the Junkers and the clericals on the other, there arises a contest for the vacillating intermediate layers, among whom both camps enlist their auxiliary cadres of camp-followers. The bourgeoisie and the Junkers naturally have at their disposal far greater means and far more opportunities to arouse new strata of voters to action. But a large section of the latter, in so far as they are not directly included among the rich and the exploiters, must inevitably shift to the side of democratic principles, the only representative of which, in Germany, is the social democracy. Part of these camp-followers may, naturally, return once more to the bourgeois parties under the influence of various circumstances. They constitute a changeable quantity, an unreliable element, both from the point of view of the social democracy as well as from the point of view of the bourgeoisie.

A Cross-Section of Social Democratic Votes

Let us turn now to the quantitative side of the question. Let us see if we cannot establish what part of the voting strength of the German social democracy the bourgeois camp-followers constitute.
Regarding the social composition of the social-democratic electorate in Germany, only scant data are available in the press; and that, despite the great importance of the question as to what strata the immense army of voters of the biggest political party in the world are recruited from. All the more valuable, therefore, is the attempt at a scientific investigation of this question that we find in Werner Sombart’s Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik for 1905. We refer to the essay published therein, entitled The Social Composition of the Social-Democratic Electorate in Germany.
In a special post-script to this article, Prof. Max Weber, one of the editors of the journal, points out that in view of the nature of the material with which the author had to operate, the result of his research cannot lay claim to absolute scientific exactness. Our reader must also take this annotation into account. Nevertheless, the data which we cull from the aforementioned work are extraordinarily valuable for the question concerning us.
The investigation bases itself upon a combination of election statistics and social statistics.
“By comparing the corresponding proportions in each of these two fields, valuable disclosures regarding the relationship in question become of themselves apparent, and the contents of the sealed ballot box automatically emerge from their mysterious obscurity.” (Op. Cit., p.59, Essay of Dr. Blank.)
This collation is constructed on the basis of the figures in the election campaign of 1903. But in the course of the two succeeding election campaigns the number of social-democratic voters coming from the petty and middle bourgeoisie must have risen even more considerably.
The method of the author consists of the following: On the basis of the data furnished by social statistics he calculates the figure for all workers participating in the elections in a given city. Then he compares these figures with the data furnished by the election statistics and arrives at the figure for the total number of workers participating in the elections. For instance, if in the city of X, let us say, 10,000 workers participated in the elections, while at the same time, the social democracy received 15,000 votes, then it clearly follows that in this city at least 5,000 votes were cast for the social democracy by non-workers; for, even if we assume that all of the 10,000 workers without exception voted for the social democracy, then the remaining 5,000 votes much have been cast by non-proletarians. This conclusion cannot be challenged.
Applying this method, the author has drawn up a table which comprises the twenty-eight most important cities in Germany. (Op. cit., Vol.20, No.3, p.529.) Since it is of great importance, we are quoting it in full. The center of gravity of the German social democracy is being transferred ever more completely to the city, in line with the whole process of social development. The strength of the German social democracy is concentrated mainly in the cities. The elections of 1912 showed this in a particularly graphic manner. [2]
And what do we see? In the elections of 1903 the German social democracy receives 40 per cent of its votes from non-proletarians in such a city as Bremen, 41 per cent in Hamburg, 41 per cent in Frankfort-on-Main, 41 per cent in Munich, 39 per cent in Leipzig, 41 per cent in Dresden, etc. (See the table.)
Name of City
No. of Workers
of voting age
in categories
A, B, and C
No. participating
in the elections
in the year 1908
No. of S-D votes
in the elections of
June 16, 1908.
Surplus in S-D
Votes in Elections
in percentages
Frankfort o.M.
Aix (Aachen)
Strassburg (Alsace)
We do not wish to quote figures from the research study mentioned which may be challenged. But the figures are, as a whole, incontrovertible. And they give the expression to a fact of tremendous political importance. Even in Germany’s biggest cities, in the chief fortresses of the social democracy, more than a third of its voters does not belong to the working class, but to the bourgeoisie. To the petty bourgeoisie, for the greatest part; to those strata which are on their way toward proletarianization and stand close to the working class population – but in any case, to the bourgeoisie.

The Desire to Increase the Electorate

The author of the aforementioned treatise arrives on the basis of a series of computations at the conclusion that as early as 1903 the number of bourgeois votes cast for the German social democracy had already reached the 750,000 mark, at the very least (Op. cit., p.520). This just about equals the number of votes polled by the two liberal parties of the bourgeoisie in the same elections; the “National Liberals” and the “Liberal People’s Party” (542,556). The bourgeois camp-followers of the social democracy are so numerous that they form a counter- balance to the number of voters following the two big German bourgeois-liberal parties. The author regards it as probable that in the elections of 1903, the bourgeois elements in most of the big cities in Germany contributed one third of all the social-democratic votes – in many big cities, even as much as one-half (Op. Cit., p.527).
The German social democracy has its camp-followers not only in the big cities, however, but also on the countryside. In the elections of 1903 the votes cast in the agricultural districts were divided as follows among the various parties:
Social Democratic Party
National Liberal Party
Empire Party
Liberal People’s Party
Thus the social democracy polled all of 735,093 votes in the elections of 1903, on the countryside alone. Undoubtedly the greatest part of these votes came from farm hands and day laborers. But even so, there can be no doubt that votes coming from the agrarian petty bourgeoisie are included in this total. The percentage of the latter is particularly low in the Catholic districts, but even in the Protestant districts it is not high.
By and large, the voters coming from bourgeois circles naturally only form a minority inside the German social-democratic electorate. The majority of the social-democratic voters consists of workers. [8] By the force of their numbers, the working class element could impose their majority will upon the non-proletarian elements. But in reality this does not normally happen. The party wants as many camp-followers as possible. In practice, the party exerts all its energy to draw these bourgeois camp-followers to its side, not to do anything that might displease them very much. Consequently, a whole series of concessions to petty bourgeois psychology, moderation of the proletarian demands, the opening of the road to opportunist unclarity.
Immediately after the abolition of the anti-socialist laws, the German social democracy doubled its vote. The total number of participants in the election fell in 1890 by about 312,000 votes (1887, 7,540,900; 1890, 7,228,500). The number of social-democratic votes, on the other hand, rose by some 664,200 votes (1887, 763,100; 1890, 1,427,300). Whoever followed German public affairs attentively could have observed even at that time, that this growth in the size of the vote was not simply due to the influx of many thousands of petty bourgeois camp-followers. There was some talk, even then, about a certain kind of coalition between bourgeois democracy and the workers’ party.
As an indirect confirmation of this sort of evaluation of the events the following simple but significant incident may serve. In 1891 the German social democracy considered it necessary to change its name. Previously the name was Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany. Now it is simply Social Democratic Party of Germany. The word “Workers” disappears from its name.
Obviously a social-democratic workers’ party must not close its doors to people of another class origin. A social-democratic party gathers within its ranks all those elements of society which adopt the point of view of the working class. But in its basic structure, it must remain a workers’ party. It can hardly be regarded as accidental that the German social democracy in the Nineties considered it necessary to change its name precisely in the direction indicated. It must be assumed, moreover, that this was a manifestation of a decidedly opportunist tendency. In the light of the events of 1914, we are naturally inclined to become distrustful. There is even the danger that we might consider accidental and unimportant events retrospectively, as symptomatic of a whole line of opportunism. To all appearances, the incident we have cited has not, however – we repeat – been one of an accidental character.

Dr. Blank’s Thesis and Bebel’s Reply

But let us return to Dr. Blank’s treatise. This work made its impression. None other than August Bebel devoted a long article to it in the Neue Zeit. Bebel disputed the conclusions drawn by Blank, who insisted that in view of the motley composition of its electorate, the German social democracy was not a class party. But the figures employed by the author are recognized by Bebel as substantially authentic. Bebel writes:
“We are even inclined to regard his numerical results, as a whole, as quite close to the point; but it is an entirely different matter with the conclusions he draws from the results of his work.” (A. Bebel, Die soziale Zusammensetzung der sozialdemokratischen Wählerschaft DeutschlandsNeue Zeit, Vol.23, 1904-1905, II, p.332.)
Although Bebel recognizes the statistical data of the author as “quite close to the point,” he is nevertheless of the opinion that the number of social-democratic voters coming from bourgeois circles in 1903 amounted to only 500,000, “so that there were approximately six working class voters to one bourgeois voter (Loc. cit., p.335).
“These are artisans, small businessmen, small farmers, small government employees, teachers, artists, white collar workers in the various types of enterprises, etc.” (Loc. cit., p.337).
“There are, for instance, tens of thousands of industrial workers who receive better pay and better treatment and who are more independent than tens of thousands of business men and office workers. That also explains why, at the elections to the Court of Commercial Arbitration in Berlin, on May 7, 1905, the social democracy received 21 per cent of the votes cast and came out as the second strongest party.” (Loc. cit., p.335.)
Bebel disputes energetically the contention that the social democracy had become transformed from a socialist into just a democratic party. The change in the name of the party, made in 1891, did not have the significance attributed to it, he contended.
“Since the present writer,” Bebel said, “proposed the new name, he is in the best position to furnish information as to the motives behind this proposal. Under the regime of the anti-socialist law all sorts of ‘socialisms’ had made their appearance: in the bourgeois camp there was talk of Christian socialism, of government socialism – with special emphasis on the social insurance legislation – of conservative socialism, etc. It was necessary for us to distinguish ourselves dearly from all this. None dared to call themselves social democratic; therefore we chose the name social democracy, which, because of its brevity, had long before come into common usage.” (Loc. cit., p.339.)
That does not explain, however – we must remark for our part – why it was necessary to delete the word “Workers” from the name. Since such a decision could not have been made without weighing its political significance, it must be assumed that a definite political tendency was, indeed, inherent in this decision. The only question that remains is, what tendency? There can be no two opinions with regard to this: if there was any at all, it could only be an opportunist tendency.
We repeat: in the fact that a large number of “camp-followers” are beginning to penetrate the ranks of the German social democracy, we may perceive in a certain sense, not only a weak side but also a strong side. Bebel was naturally correct in pointing out in his article that not only workers but all the needy and the suffering in general had to look for shelter among the social democracy. That is quite right, but the party must remain a workers’ party. And it must always underscore its proletarian character.
“The process of disintegration in bourgeois society,” Bebel says, “and the constantly more precarious situation of the middle and petty bourgeois strata evoked by it, has also brought a change in the political structure of the bourgeoisie. New political parties have arisen which seek to represent the parliamentary interests of the socially threatened layers of the bourgeoisie. Such are the anti-Semitic and middle class parties, for instance, who have constituted themselves an anti-Semitic fraction and an economic reform fraction in the Reichstag. The political party life of the bourgeoisie has thus become differentiated in accordance with its economic development. In the first place, to the disadvantage of the liberal parties, who have thus suffered the greatest losses among their following. But not by any means to the direct advantage of the social democracy. The latter has also suffered some losses, even if these cannot be proved by means of bare figures.” (Loc. cit., p.335.)
This is only one side of the process indicated by Bebel. Certain sections of the middle and petty bourgeoisie desert the party of the big bourgeoisie and form their own middle class parties. But these intermediate parties have a more or less ephemeral existence in comparison with the new political parties.
The “new liberalism” of which the Marxists of the “Center” had been dreaming ever since 1910, did not come into being. Democratic liberalism is impossible in a society which has reached such a maturity in its class relationships. The last few years of social development have proved the correctness of the views of Rosa Luxemburg and the whole left wing of German Marxism, which had been carrying on a struggle against the alliance with the “new” liberalism.
“Capitalism does not become more democratic, but constantly more plutocratic and liberalism does not become more democratic but more reactionary,” Bebel goes on to say.
A section of the middle and the petty bourgeoisie aims at the creation of independent party combinations. But another – and very considerable – section joins the social democracy, strengthens it in the numbers of its votes and mandates, but weakens its socialist character.
Many of these camp-followers are not only poor socialists but also very inconsistent democrats. Many of them are shaky recruits, unreliable allies of the working class even in the purely parliamentary contests. Bourgeois demagogy – particularly that demagogy which rests upon a “patriotic” base – can always count upon a certain amount of success among these alleged adherents of social democracy. In this connection the official German social democracy was given a sound lesson by the elections of 1907.
These elections, which have gone down into political history as the “Hottentot Elections,” took place under the sign of “patriotism.” Under the slogan of “saving the country,” of strengthening the “military power” of Germany, of fighting for the “rightful interests of the nation” in the field of colonial policy, Prince Bülow succeeded in uniting all the bourgeois parties against the social democracy. And by uniting their forces, these parties succeeded in administering an electoral defeat to the social democracy. The German social democracy lost 38 seats in Parliament at the elections of 1907. To be sure, the absolute number of votes cast for the social democracy had risen by some 248,000. (Loc. cit., pp.335-6.) But the total number of voters participating in the elections had risen by about 2,000,000. In other words, relatively speaking, the German social democracy even lost votes in these elections.
The petty bourgeois camp-followers of the social democracy had been taken in by the bait of “patriotism,” and thus the opponents of the social democracy were assured of success. The workers received an imposing lesson. The dependence of the official German social democracy upon its camp-followers was distinctly proved.

Yielding to the Petty Bourgeois Vote

Even on the eve of the elections, in January, 1907, Franz Mehring had pointed out that Bülow and Company were intent on prying the camp-followers loose from social democracy with the aid of patriotic slogans.
“There is a certain amount of crafty calculation in their belief that the most appropriate weapons for the reserve army of the Philistines, with whom they hope once again to crush the hosts of the modern revolution, are the rusty carbines hailing from the days of the Old Fritz,” writes Mehring. (Neue Zeit, Vol.25, 1906-1907, I, p.253.)
But the “reserve army of the Philistines” actually exercised a decisive influence upon the outcome of the elections.
Not only Mehring, but other German Marxists as well, were clearly aware of the fact that this dependence upon its camp-followers constituted the Achilles’ heel of the social democracy. Just as clear was the knowledge that the petty bourgeoisie could most easily be ensnared with the aid of “national” questions.
In the first article in which the results of the “Hottentot Elections” were summed up, Kautsky explained the defeat of the German social democracy by the circumstance that the latter had underestimated the attractive power of the colonial idea in bourgeois circles. This defeat, he said, was administered to the social democracy by the middle strata which had deserted it this time. (K. Kautsky, Der 25. Januaribid., p.589.) Kautsky speaks of the loss of many hundreds of thousands of camp-followers from the middle strata, but he expresses the hope that they would soon return to the social democracy. In 1903, according to Kautsky, many peasants had voted for the social democracy. There has been no lack of elements originating from the non-proletarian strata, Kautsky tells us further, and he explains that he has in mind such elements among them as small businessmen, artisans, the new middle class, the government officials and office workers, physicians, teachers, engineers, etc. In concluding, Kautsky arrives at the reassuring result that the camp-followers are being absorbed gradually by the social democracy and that the social democracy must be the party of all the oppressed. We have gone into this argument more thoroughly in the above passages. Here it is important to establish the fact that Kautsky also admits the existence of many hundreds of thousands of social-democratic voters originating from non-proletarian orbits of the population.
The outstanding parliamentarians and practical politicians of the German social democracy who at that time belonged to the Marxist camp also evaluated the outcome of the “Hottentot Elections” in more or less the same manner as the theoretician Kautsky. “The petty bourgeois camp-follower has played a trick on us” – that is the general sense of this explanation. At the same time they cite figures which prove that this type of camp-follower has long been a powerful factor inside the German social democracy.

Everything Is Measured by the Vote

“The national question, which we had considered as completely obsolete, exercised a surprisingly strong influence ... the furor teutonicus ... [explains] the rapid advances of our opponents. (In Bavaria) tens of thousands [just think: tens of thousands! – G.Z.] who voted for us in 1903 gave their votes on January 5, 1907, to the liberal candidates. The decline in camp-followers is an indisputable fact for Bavaria. But it would be self-deceiving to assume that the 236,871 votes cast for our candidates were therefore entirely reliable,” writes Adolph Braun, very moderate in his politics even at that time. (Adolph Braun, Die Wahlen in BayernNeue Zeit, Vol.25, 1906-1907, I, pp.678-80.)
“From the industrial workers alone we cannot expect to get that kind of a growth in votes and in mandates, which our party needs [?] for a victorious advance,” writes Heinrich Busold in his article Lehren aus dem Wahlkampf (loc. cit., p.706).
“It was precisely in the kingdom of Saxony that many events occurred in the course of the last few years before the elections of 1903, that vexed the Philistines to such an extent as to make them our camp-followers. As long as we grew gradually and recruited in the main from the ranks of the industrial workers, we succeeded in effectively enlightening the newly-won camp-followers by means of our press as well as through meetings; to educate them as party comrades and to organize them politically, at least in part. After 1903 we did not, however, succeed in doing this any longer. To be sure, our organizations grew in a hitherto unexperienced manner, our newspapers reached circulation figures that we had not even dreamed of a year or two before. But in relation to our increase in votes, neither our organizations nor our newspapers showed a corresponding growth.”
This is the explanation for the outcome of the elections of 1907 put forth by the well-known orator and Reichstag deputy, Adolph Hoffman. (Loc. cit., p.639; Adolph Hoffman, Ursachen and Wirkungen.)
“Naturally, there have always been a good many camp-followers everywhere, and there still are today. But there was never such an abundance of them as in 1903, when they were pushed over to our side by the vexations of the Saxon petty bourgeoisie ...,” writes one of the foremost social-democratic practical politicians, Hans Block, in his minute examination of the causes for the social democratic defeat in the elections of 1907. (Ibid., p.668, Hans Block, Das Wahlergebnis in Sachsen.)
“Saxony displays ... a powerful development of large industry, to be sure, but also a perseverance in backward industrial forms far greater in extent than in any other part of Germany ... And thus we have a clue to the solution of the question as to how the vacillations of the petty bourgeoisie in a highly industrialized country can have such a strong influence on the course of its political history.” (Loc. cit., p.672.)
Thus we see that the petty bourgeois camp-followers, in a certain sense, had the electoral fate of the German social democracy in their own hands. Despite the fact that the camp-followers turned their backs en masse on the social democracy in 1907, the latter nevertheless received three and a half million votes in the elections. In order to exert a decisive influence on the outcome of an election campaign of as numerically strong a party as that, there must have been camp-followers in large numbers. Blank has estimated, as we have seen, that the camp-followers of the German social democracy in 1903 amounted to 750,000 votes. Bebel was of the opinion that this figure was more or less correct, but rather somewhat smaller. In any case, it was a matter of very large figures ...
In the elections of 1912 the camp-followers were once again on the side of the social democracy. On the one hand, they had become disillusioned with the policy of the bourgeoisie: the promises of mountains of gold had remained mere promises. The burdens of militarism were growing. Taxes were continually on the increase. The so-called financial reform brought about a deterioration in the condition of the middle class. On the other hand, the official leaders of the social-democratic party the chief lesson of the elections consisted in this: that it was necessary to adapt themselves even more to the camp-followers, If the mountain refuses to come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain ... As a result, we see in 1912 a new and very strong fluctuation of petty bourgeois camp-followers toward the German social democracy.
How strong – as expressed in numbers – was this influx in 1912? Akademicus, who compiled the election campaign surveys for Neue Zeit in the course of decades, dismissed this question with a few words. “Definite statistical data regarding the position of the new middle class in the elections,” he writes, “are for the present very difficult to obtain.” (Statistische Nachklänge zu den ReichstagswahlenNeue Zeit, 1912, II, p.882.) “But the fact remains that in numerous districts with a predominantly agrarianpopulation we have made gratifying progress,” Akademicus lists forty-six rural districts in which there is a preponderantly strong village population and in which the social democracy nevertheless achieved such “gratifying” results.
“We have won over nearly a million new fighters: [Not fighters so much as voters – G.Z.] for the most part, let us hope, young people who burned with anxiety to join the active army of our voters; to a lesser extent ‘camp-followers’ whom general dissatisfaction with the policies of our rulers has driven over to our side.” (Loc. cit., p.873.)
This conclusion of Akademicus’s is no doubt very “gratifying.” Only, it is too bad that the author simply decrees it into existence, instead of basing it on facts.
About 75 per cent of the votes amassed by the German social democracy in 1912 came from the cities. This is proved by the following figures supplied by A. Kolb (Die Sozialdemokratie in Stadt und LandNeue Zeit, 1912, II, p.61): In 1912 the German social democracy received 2,128,210 or 43.1 per cent of all the social-democratic votes, in sixty-eight metropolitan electoral districts. In these sixty-eight districts the number of social-democratic votes rose by 537,330 (33.8 per cent) over that of 1907. In 116 urbanelectoral districts the number of social-democratic votes in 1912 amounted to 1,321,833, i.e., 30.8 per cent of all the social-democratic votes. The increase over 1907 is 471,956 votes (55.6 per cent). In the mixed electoral districts, the number of social-democratic votes amounted to 675,066, i.e., 18.8 per cent of all the social-democratic votes. In seventy rural electoral districts the number of social-democratic votes in 1912 amounted to 125,220, i.e., 7.7 per cent of all the social-democratic votes. The increase in comparison to 1907 amounted to 24,355 votes (24.2 per cent).
Thus 74 per cent of all the social-democratic votes were cast in the cities – both the large and the small – while in the purely rural electoral districts only 7.7 per cent were cast and in the mixed districts, only 18.8 per cent. According to the composition of its voters, we repeat, the German social democracy is an urban party. But if we recall the table compiled by Blank, quoted above, and remember that Bebel confirmed its general correctness, then we must realize that this circumstance not only does not exclude a great degree of dependence upon its camp-followers on the part of the social democracy, but even presupposes it. If, as early as1903, the number of camp-followers in such cities as Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfort, Leipzig, etc., constituted 40 per cent (and even more) of all the social-democratic votes, then it is very likely that this percentage was not by any means lower in 1912 in the big and the middle urban electoral districts. That would, however, signify that, not counting the camp-followers among the rural population, the host of social-democratic camp-followers in the urban (and mixed) electoral districts alone amounted to more than one and a half million in 1912.
The social-liberal Professor Schmoller evaluates this situation as follows:
“From among the 3 to 4.5 million votes amassed by the party in the last Reichstag elections not quite a million can be attributed to the party itself, about 1.5 million to the trade unions and the rest to the camp-followers. The latter consist of small and poor artisans, domestic workers, shopkeepers, unorganized workers, dissatisfied lesser employees of the state and of the great corporations.”
From this evaluation one may conclude that the number of social-democratic camp-followers in 1912 amounted to about 2 million, This figure is probably exaggerated. But one may maintain, without risking the danger of a serious error, that in the last elections (1912) this figure actually did vary between a million and one and a half million.

The leaders of German imperialism know exactly how dependent the German social democracy is upon its petty bourgeois camp-followers. And they know very well how to play upon the chords of “patriotism.”
Above all else the imperialist gentlemen would like to be assured of the demoralization of the workers, main pillar of the German social democracy. In a book which appeared shortly before the outbreak of the war the well-known German imperialist. Rüdorffer (the active German diplomat, Ritzner), gives expression to the following sober views:
“If international socialism should succeed in severing the worker, in his innermost convictions, from the woof of the nation and in making him a mere link of his class, then its victory is assured. For the purely violent means by which the national state can attempt to keep the worker fettered to itself must, by themselves and in the long run, prove to be entirely untenable. Should international socialism fail in this however, and should those internal bonds which, even unconsciously, bind the worker to the organism known as the nation remain intact, then the victory of international socialism remains questionable as long as these bonds exist and turns into a defeat in case these bonds should, in the last analysis, prove to be the stronger.” (Grundzüge der Weltpolitik in der Gegenwart, p.173, 1914.)
That is how things stand with regard to the workers. So far as the petty-bourgeois camp-followers are concerned, Mr. Rüdorffer sees no cause for worry. “When the government of Prince Bülow dissolved the Reichstag in 1907 over a question of colonial policy and appealed to the people, election experts, clinging to the experiences of previous days, regarded the electoral slogan as unpopular and held that a defeat was inevitable. The contrary happened. The older generation of politicians stood there, amazed at the elemental force of the nation’s will to self-assertiveness in world politics,” Rüdorffer-Ritzner tells us. Indeed, the patriotic propaganda of Bülow and his friends led to the most favorable results. The demagogic outcry about “defense of the fatherland,” and “national interests,” etc., exerted great influence over wide layers of the population. “No bourgeois party,” writes Rüdorffer, “can permit itself a policy of negation in such questions; even the social democracy must, in its parliamentary conduct and in its agitation among the people, reckon with the national argument more and more each year.” And several pages later, the same author says: “Even the social democracy which, bound by its program, naturally remains in opposition, must exercise a certain amount of prudence and moderation in combatting such demands and will not deny the fact that when such a question leads to new elections, it is sure to suffer a painful defeat.” (L.c., pp.103, 110.)
Rüdorffer has observed the facts very correctly: out of the fear of losing its camp-followers, the official German social democracy has always made big concessions to petty bourgeois “patriotism.” “The election campaigns of the last few decades,” the same author continues, “have showed ever more distinctly that every emphasis upon the national questions by its opponents has reduced the attractive powers of the social-democratic movement and that socialist agitation itself has been forced to conceal or to adulterate the international side of its program when facing its voters ... The party has been forced, in practice, to restrict its internationalism and to submerge it by means of all kinds of conditioning clauses. It has not dared to develop sharp agitational campaigns against any of the great armament budgets proposed in the past decade and its opposition, to which it is theoretically obligated, has been conducted with a certain amount of prudence. It has indignantly denied the assertions of its opponents that in case of war, the social democracy will instigate the laboring masses following the party to turn their weapons against their leaders and thus seek to prevent the war together with the French socialists. Indeed, it even regards complaints of its lack of patriotism as insults.” (L.c., p.176. Note that all this was written before the war.

Socialism by Votes

The facts are here once again described correctly. The official German social democracy actually avoided an open struggle against bourgeois “patriotism.” It took up the struggle against the bourgeoisie on the latter’s own premises. The official opposition of the German social democracy in this question was exhausted by the thesis: “We are also patriots, we are even better patriots than you are.” Instead of a struggle between two principles-internationalism against nationalism-there appeared an unprincipled rivalry over the question as to who the greater “patriots” were. And there can remain no doubt: this position of the official German social democracy was determined in a very important measure by opportunist considerations as to how to hold the camp-followers to the party. It suffices to recall the fact that in 1911 Molkenbuhr (one of the pillars of the party leadership and officially a “Marxist” and not an opportunist) proposed that the International Socialist Bureau shall not be convoked and that no alarm should be sounded over the Morocco conflict. He based this position upon the grounds that Reichstag elections were approaching in Germany and that it would not be favorable for the social democracy to have international politics debated at every election meeting and in every village in place of the questions of internal policy.
Immediate successes in the elections, even if they had to be paid for at the price of concessions to national prejudice – that was always the aim of the opportunist wing of the German social democracy. The greatest possible number of seats in Parliament – that is the Alpha and Omega of the policy of opportunism.
The old leaders of the social democracy attempted to combat this tendency which was steadily gaining the upper hand, But not always with success. On the eve of the elections of 1912 Bebel made a speech in Hamburg in which he postulated the following thesis: Let us rather have 50 deputies and 4,000,000 votes than 100 deputies and 3,000 votes. In other words: what is important for us is not the number of seats in Parliament, but the number of sympathizers we have among the population. This was a feeble attempt to enter into a struggle against the policy of adaptation to the camp-followers. Only a feeble attempt; for, in order to speak out clearly it would have been necessary to say: let us rather have 2,000,000 votes of convinced socialists than 4,000,000 votes at the price of an adulteration of socialism; let us rather have twenty deputies who are really socialists than a hundred deputies of whom half are still deeply immersed in the petty bourgeoisie. But even for this feeble attempt Bebel was fiercely attacked by the opportunists. And to tell the truth, the elections of 1912 actually proceeded far more under the banner of Südekum than under that of old Bebel.
The opportunists began to demand ever more openly that the line of the social democracy be determined not by the party, not by the sum total of the party organization, but by all the voters. For while the party amounted altogether to about 1,000,000 members, the voters on the other hand, numbered fully 4,500,000. “Our responsibility is toward broader masses,” said the opportunists.
In 1912 the German social democracy consisted of 4,827 locals and over 1,000,000 members – 970,112 men and 130,371 women. For every hundred voters there were only 22.8 party members. “We,” said the opportunists, “want to be responsible not only to these 22 but also to the other 78.” In reality this meant that they wanted to free themselves of all responsibility, of any kind of discipline from the side of the organized socialist workers. In reality this meant that they considered themselves the political representatives not of a revolutionary class, not of a revolutionary party, but of an accidental mass of petty bourgeois camp-followers who are radical today but fall into the arm of nationalism and reaction tomorrow, who vote for the social democracy today and tomorrow serve as tools of a robber imperialism.
Naturally, we do not wish to contend that the opportunism inside of the German social democracy arose only and exclusively because of the camp-followers. No, opportunism is the product of a whole series of facts. The camp-followers, however, constitute one of the channels through which opportunism penetrates the workers’ party.
The opportunists won the victory over the Marxists in the German social democracy and not in the German alone. That signifies, among other things, that the policy of adaptation to the petty bourgeois camp-followers defeated the other policy. The official German social democracy has itself become a camp-follower, an agent, a tool of imperialism.

The Labor Bureaucracy

The term “labor bureaucracy” was long ago legitimized in scientific and political literature. When we spoke of labor bureaucracy before the war we understood by that almost exclusively the British trade unions. We had in mind the fundamental works of the Webbs. the caste spirit, the reactionary role of the bureaucracy in the old British trade unionism, and we said to ourselves: how fortunate that we have not been created in that image, how fortunate that this cup of grief has been spared our labor movement on the continent. 
But we have been drinking for a long time out of this very cup. In the labor movement of Germany – a movement which served as a model for socialists of all countries before the war – there has arisen just as numerous and just as reactionary a caste of labor bureaucrats. The present crisis has revealed this fact with unsparing clarity.
Up to now little has been known of the numerical composition of the labor bureaucracy, of its influence, of its income, of its corporative organizational strength. Just as a great many things are concealed from the public eye and wrought in secrecy within the circle of the leaders of the capitalist trusts, so it is in that closed caste of the labor bureaucracy which represents a unique job trust that directs the mass organization of the workers in all countries with an advanced labor movement. It is a characteristic attribute of every caste to be shut off from the entire world outside of it, to be accessible only to the initiated. That is why it is so extraordinarily difficult to obtain factual data about the role of the labor bureaucracy.

The Type of Functionary

Let us first of all turn our attention to the labor movement in Germany. How strong is the labor bureaucracy there? How big is the influence of the “leaders” of the mass movement? Let us dwell for a while on the quantitative side of the matter. Several exceptionally interesting descriptions of the rôle of the labor bureaucracy, i.e., the rôle of the functionaries in the social democratic party and in the free [5] trade unions may be found in the Handbuch des Vereins Arbeiterpresse. This manual has been appearing only for the past three years and is accessible only to functionaries of the labor movement. It cannot be obtained in book stores. With great effort we succeeded in getting a copy of it for the purposes of this work. [6]
At the very end of the booklet there is an alphabetical index of all the paid officials working for the party and the free trade unions, This register of names alone occupies 26 pages of three columns each in print of the very smallest petit type. According to our calculation, the entire number of paid officials working for the party and the trade unions in 1914 amounts to 4,010. In Greater Berlin alone it amounts to 751, in Hamburg to 390. (Handbuch des Vereins Arbeiterpresse, pp.252-299, 392-415, 534-589).
The great majority of this “upper” four to five thousand are workers in their origin. We have thoroughly investigated the data for a number of cities and received the following results:
  • Berlin. For every 100 functionaries who were previously workers there are non-workers as follows: 17 clerks, salesmen and white collar employees, 2 lawyers, 4 journalists, 1 druggist, 1 waiter, 2 coachmen, 1 merchant.
  • Berlin and the province (without the big urban centers). For every 200 worker-functionaries there are: 27 clerks, salesmen, white collar employees. 5 artists and musicians, 10 journalists, 3 lawyers and physicians, 3 waiters, 2 coachmen.
  • Hamburg. For every 10 worker-functionaries there are: 4 clerks and salesmen, 3 sailors, 3 coachmen, 2 teachers, 2 waiters, 1 journalist, 1 judge, 1 shopkeeper.
  • Munich. Here a total of 129 party and trade union functionaries are employed, among them: 85 workers, 13 clerks and salesmen, 9 journalists, 4 merchants, 3 officials, 3 waiters, 1 photographer, 1 coachman.
  • Frankfort. A total of 103 party and trade union functionaries, among them: 85 workers, 4 journalists, 4 salesmen, 3 merchants, 4 officials, 1 barber, 1 waiter, 1 coachman.
  • Dresden. 153 functionaries, among them: 115 workers, 5 journalists, 4 officials, 2 merchants, 2 salesmen, 1 artist, 1 waiter, 1 barber.
  • Stuttgart. Altogether 184 functionaries. Among them: 116 workers, 8 clerks and salesmen, 4 journalists, 4 merchants, 1 official, 1 teacher.
  • Karlsruhe. Altogether 34, as follows: 28 workers, 4 white collar employees, 1 merchant, 1 chemist.

Bureaucracy and Aristocracy

In general the picture is the same all over. The great, the overwhelming majority of the functionaries are workers. The purely bourgeois element (merchants, academicians, literary men, etc.) is strongest in the opportunist center, Munich, and in part also in Frankfort and Stuttgart. Generally, however, it may be said that workers constitute the absolutely preponderant element among the “upper” four thousand functionaries of the German labor movement. This fact cannot be disputed and in this respect our data here correspond with all the other data.
But the concept “worker,” in and by itself, must be applied with the greatest care in this case. It would be better perhaps in this case not to say “worker” but “worker in his origin”. For such party leaders as Scheidemann, Ebert, Legien, Pfannkuch, etc., also belong in the category of worker functionaries. Scheidemann is a compositor, Ebert a saddler Legien a turner, Pfannkuch a carpenter, Molkenbuhr a tobacco worker. In reality, however, these people are no longer workers and have not been for decades. They have incomes bigger than that of the average bourgeois and have long ago given up their trade. They are workers in the same sense as the well known “labor” ministers John Burns, Henderson, Fisher, etc. And that holds true not only for the people in the center who stand on the highest rung of the bureaucratic ladder and direct all the affairs, like Legien, Scheidemann, etc. It holds true also for the great majority of all the four thousand functionaries of the German labor movement. In the provinces the picture is the same, the functionaries have long ago given up their original trade. They are workers in name only. In reality they are bureaucrats with a standard of living quite distinct from that of the average worker.
The worker-functionaries very often hail from the circles of the labor aristocracy. The labor bureaucracy and the labor aristocracy are blood brothers. The group interests of the one and of the other very often coincide. Nevertheless, labor bureaucracy and labor aristocracy are two different categories.[7]
The four thousand constitute a particularly unique corporation that has a number of purely craft interests of its own. To protect their corporative interests they have founded their own special trade association of party and trade union functionaries. This association numbered 3,617 members in 1917 and had an income of 252,372 marks in membership dues. Interest on capital (and other incomes) netted the association 47,5521 marks in 1913. (Handbuch des Vereins Arbeiterpresse, p.50.) Apart from this, the functionaries in the individual branches of the labor movement have formed still other, separate mutual aid societies, etc. Thus, for example, an association of all functionaries employed in the coöperative movement. In 1912 this association had 7,194 members and its capital amounted to 2,919,191 marks. (L.c., p.73.)
The employees of the labor press, the editors, correspondents, reporters, etc., form a numerically large group in themselves; It suffices to point out that the free trades unions spent 2,604,411 marks for their union organs in 1912 alone. (L.c., p.1) If we add to that the 70 social-democratic daily papers and all the numerous social-democratic weeklies and monthlies, then the sum of the salaries. received by all the employees of these publications mounts high up into the million mark figures every year. It is easy to imagine what a large number of journalists, secretaries, etc., live on these millions. Those participating in the work of the labor press have their own professional society, the “Labor Press Association,” which has been in existence for more than a decade. This association has worked out an entire scale of salaries for editors and editorial employees. The salaries of an editor, for instance, must be at least 2,200 marks – and with a bi-annual increase of 300 – can mount up to 4,200 marks annually (L.c., p.51). In reality they are paid considerably more. There is a constant demand for editors. Often an “ad” appears in the party press: this or that paper is seeking the services of an editor, etc.
According to our calculation, 4,000 functionaries occupy at least 12,000 – if not more – important party and trade union functions. Every more or less efficient functionary takes care simultaneously of two to three and often even more offices. He is at the same time a Reichstag deputy and an editor, a member of the Landtag and a party secretary, the president of a trade union, an editor, a coöperative functionary, a city councilman, etc. Thus all power in the party and trade unions accumulates in the hands of this upper 4,000. (The salaries accumulate, too. Many of the officials of the labor movement receive 10,000 marks and over per year.) The whole business depends upon them. They hold in their hands the whole powerful apparatus of the press, of the organization of the mutual aid societies, the entire electoral apparatus, etc.

The Role of the Youth

At the moment in which we are setting down these figures, a report has come in of the death of the outstanding Hamburg social democrat, Adolph von Elm. In the obituaries are enumerated all the offices von Elm held in the last years of his life. We have counted a dozen and a half such offices in trade union and coöperative organizations. Reichstag deputy, chairman of the press commission, member of the social-democratic fraction of the city council, chairman of the district committee of the Wholesale Buying Association, etc., etc. – these are some of his offices. And von Elm is by no means an exception.
Regarding the number of persons vested with functions and of “representatives” in the individual provincial organizations of the social-democratic party, there is very little material in the press. There are some isolated examples, however, which are noteworthy. Thus, for instance, the social-democratic organization of the Baden district had 7,322 members all told in 1905; its representatives in the municipalities, however, reached a figure well above the thousand mark. (Minutes of the Jena Congress, 1905, p.16.) Consequently, every seventh party member in Baden was, in a certain sense, a party functionary.
But the real power in the party does not reside in the hands of this relatively broad layer of “representatives.” It rests in the hands of a much smaller stratum of party functionaries, the top bureaucracy. More than a thousand small employees, clerks, managers, etc., are directly dependent economically upon the party and trade union leadership. As early as 1904 there were already 1,476 men in the employ of the print shops belonging to the social democratic party (the number of editors had reached 329). In 1908, 298 men worked in the Vorwärts plant alone. All these people are just as dependent economically upon the higher bureaucrats as the workers are on any given private entrepreneur.
The business turnover of the Vorwärts alone reached the figure of 1,904,659 marks, i.e., about two million marks in 1914-1915 (from April 1, 1914, to March 31, 1915). The salaries for members of the editorial board of this paper amounted to 94,005 marks in the same year. In the course of the year 239,754 marks were paid out to editorial workers and other collaborators of the paper. In 1915-1916 (from April 1, 1915, to March 31, 1916) the turnover had dropped, in view of the war, to 1,406,726 marks. The expenditure for salaries remained about the same as before. (Verband der Sozialdemokratischen Wahlvereine Berlins und Umgebung, Annual Report, 1914-1916, p.104.) In the fiscal year 1915 expenditures for the printing of the Vorwärts amounted to 997,573 marks, almost a million. The administration of the paper’s circulation department required an expenditure of 33,914 marks that year. All the expenses of circulation totaled 419,773 marks. The Vorwärts alone is a great enterprise that feeds several hundred party functionaries and employees. It was upon these functionaries, above all, that the party leadership (Scheidemann and Co.) supported themselves when they seized possession of the Vorwärts with the aid of the government, at the end of 1916, violating the legal prerogatives of the oppositional Berlin organization. It was upon these functionaries that the party leadership supported itself also in Bremen, Stuttgart and a number of other cities when they wrested from the oppositional majority the local newspapers, the publishing houses and book, stores, the treasuries, etc., with methods of brutal force. The legal owner of the party property is in most cases some party functionary. If the majority of workers in any locality opposes the party leadership, the legal owner appeals, with Scheidemann’s blessings, to the “law.” The editors who permit an expression of the views of the opposition are discharged after being paid their salaries for six weeks in advance and – suddenly the paper becomes “patriotic.” ... The reactionary rôle of the labor bureaucracy is so openly revealed in such cases as to leave nothing more to be desired.

The Rôle of the Youth

The youth organizations brought a breath of fresh air into this set-up. Here there was no stultifying routine. These organizations enjoyed organizational autonomy on a genuinely democratic basis. A spirit of equality and brotherliness prevailed. Every tendency toward bureaucratism was eschewed. And what happened? Hardly ten years passed before the official party (the “adults”) succeeded in penetrating the youth committees as well with its bureaucrats.
Naturally the youth organizations never thought of refusing well-meant aid from the side of the adult “Marxists”; on the contrary, they valued it greatly. But the “party heads” did not restrict themselves to that. They wanted to get into their hands the entire apparatus of the youth organizations. For the youth are notoriously an “unreliable” band of enthusiasts. And by systematic efforts the “older” generation of opportunists succeeded completely in achieving their aim. Inside the responsive social democratic youth of Germany, in a state of continual ferment, an almost unanimous opposition against the official course has prevailed. But the official youth paper and the official youth committees stand entirely and completely behind Scheidemann and Co. The “adult” bureaucrats have done their “duty” to the “party.” Wherever the youth has attempted, in the course of the war, to defend the autonomy of its organization, it has been deprived of its means, of existence; the party subsidies have been withdrawn, they have been kicked out of the headquarters, the “People’s Houses,” in which they have been lodged. Finally, the recalcitrant organizations were dissolved altogether. That is what has recently happened in Hamburg, for instance, one of the great centers of the German labor movement.
The following table illustrates this process of the displacement of the democratic autonomous administration by bureaucratism from the top:
No. of
Equal No.
Youth and
than ½
as Youth

Maintaining the Bureaucracy

The trade unions cite, in their literature, detailed data regarding the moneys required for the maintenance of the bureaucracy in the trade unions. In 1914 alone the administrative costs of the free trade unions of Germany reached the round sum of 12,877,090 marks.[5] These administrative costs are for the greatest part expenses for the maintenance of functionaries. For all the other categories of expenditures, such as those for agitation, educational purposes, etc., are entered separately. Thus it appears that expenses for the maintenance of the trade union bureaucracy and several other administrative expenditures together amount to 13,000,000 marks annually, consequently to over one million monthly. The lion’s share of these sums is spent directly on the salaries of the trade union functionaries; this is apparent from the figures of the expenditures incurred by the central administration of the free trade unions. Here the expenditures for salaries are quoted separately. Of the 2,009,834 marks constituting administrative costs, the salaries, the personal administrative costs, amount to 1,266,615 marks. (L.c., p.169.)
The total sum of all expenses paid out by the free trade unions in 1914 amounts to 79,547,272 marks. Of these 80 million, 12 million marks were spent in one year (1914) for agitation, maintenance of connections, etc., and 2,598,476 marks for educational purposes. (L.c., p.169.) Here we have again twelve and a half million marks, of which a good part was likewise spent for personal salaries due to speakers, journalists, etc. These twenty-five million, which are expended annually for administration, agitation, etc., are of course collected by more than one thousand trade union functionaries who form a closed corporation.
We cite below the latest data regarding the number of functionaries in the free trade unions of Germany. These data were made public in October, 1916. In forty-six trade unions – it is still only the free (social-democratic) trade unions that are in question – there were employed in 1914, before the outbreak of the war, the following number of functionaries (Korrespondenzblatt der Gewerkschaften Deutschlands, Statistical Supplement No.4, October 1, 1916, p.74).
In the Central Offices
In the District Offices
In the Local Unions
In the Editorial Offices of the Trade Union Papers
Toward the end of 1914 this figure dropped to 12,287, toward the end of 1915 to 1,477. The war had cut the number of functionaries down to half the previous figure. But the pre-war figure must naturally be taken as the normal figure. Thus almost 3,000 paid officials – chairmen, presidents, editors, etc. – are employed by the German free trade unions.
In 1915 – right in the middle of the war – the costs of the central administration of the German free trade unions amounted to 1,718,820 marks. The expenses are divided into two categories: for materials, and for personnel. The former amounted to 488,389 marks in 1915, the latter, i.e., the functionaries’ salaries in the first place, to 1,230,431 marks. And that only in the central administration! Together with the expenses of the local departments, the administrative costs in 1914, amounted to 9,721,190, marks, i.e., almost ten million. The publication of the trade union organs – a separate category – cost 2,0791,049 marks (circulation, 2,610,695) in 1914, and 1,225,165 marks (circulation, 1,328,218) in 1915. Obviously, a good part of these sums is expended on salaries received by trade union officials, editors, editorial secretaries, permanent staff workers, etc.
These sums are enormously high!
In the social-democratic party as well as in the free trade unions there has been a notably over-developed specialization of functions – an extremely favorable circumstance for the labor bureaucracy. Hundreds of labor bureaucrats specialize in communal policy, in insurance problems, in the consumers coöperative system, etc. In the social-democratic Reichstag fraction the division of labor among the speakers according to professional specialities has taken on extreme forms. In the trade union movement the situation is the same. A whole science of bureaucracy – if one may say so – has arisen. The statutes of the German Metal Workers Federation, for instance, fill 47 printed pages and 39 paragraphs, of which each is once again subdivided into ten to twelve sections. That is really a complete bureaucratic encyclopedia. The uninitiated inevitably go astray in the midst of it. Only a specialist, a functionary who has been engaged in such affairs for years, can find his way in it without any trouble.

“The Need for Trained People”

The good old German social reformists are very much concerned that the social democracy shall have “sufficiently trained” leaders, that the functionaries of the labor movement shall be up to the “necessarily high level” of their tasks. The bourgeois professor, Ferdinand Tönnies (today an open imperialist) proposes that the social-democratic party shall introduce regular examinations. Before a party member can become a candidate in the election, or for a secretarial post, he should be obliged to pass an examination. (Prof. Ferdinand Tönnies, Politik und Moral, p.46, Frankfort 1901.) The well known Prof. Heinrich Herkner goes even further. He poses the question as to whether the great trade union federations can content themselves altogether with leaders of working-class origin. He foresees a situation in which the trade unions will soon be compelled to do without exclusively proletarian elements and to prefer as directors, persons who possess economic, juridical and commercial school training. (Heinrich Herkner, Die Arbeiterfrage, pp.116-117. 5th ed.) That means nothing else than that the workers are being propositioned with the idea of choosing for themselves educated bourgeois as leaders, of selecting their functionaries from the ranks of the bourgeois intelligentsia “standing above the party”. And this proposition is not at all unexpected if we recall the usages in the labor movement of other advanced countries. In England, for instance, the socialist paper, Daily Citizen, founded by the trade unions, not so long ago selected its editors from among the staff of the bourgeois Daily Mail. The Daily Citizen could not, or did not want to, find sufficiently experienced journalists among the socialist writers. The paper was organized on the model of the “great” European newspapers. Inside of a very short time it ate up a million marks and went under. This is a very characteristic picture of the practices prevalent in these spheres ...
The reactionary rôle of the trade union bureaucracy is confirmed even by such moderate critics as the historians of the British trade union movement, the Webbs. But we cannot here go into the rôle of the labor bureaucracy in England more thoroughly (the number of top functionaries in the trade unions in 1905 was 1,000; more recent figures are, unfortunately, not available). That would be too much of a digression.
In the land of “unlimited possibilities,” in America, the leaders of the labor unions sell themselves quite openly to the bourgeoisie. There the material dependence of the leaders upon the bourgeoisie is not even concealed. There it is a common practice for the capitalists and labor leaders, and their respective wives, to exchange valuable “gifts” after the conclusion of a wage agreement with the trade unions. Naturally, this is quite ordinary bribery. The labor leaders there are often pure and simple handy-men of the bourgeoisie, “labor lieutenants of the capitalist class,” as they say in America. That is no longer a matter of petty bourgeois hangovers or of the group interests of the labor aristocracy, but plain and ordinary venality. There, the trade unions do a wholesale and retail trade with labor votes before the presidential elections. The leaders of the labor unions over there take a prominent part in various capitalist associations.
One example: the notorious Samuel Gompers. He is simultaneously the president of the American Federation of Labor, that is, the trade union federation of the workers, and first vice-president of the Civic Federation, that is, the most important capitalist organization for the combatting of socialism. When Gompers came to Europe in 1909, Karl Kautsky extended to him this mocking greeting: “Welcome, brother – president of the American labor unions; begone, Mr. Vice-President of the National Federation of American capitalists!” (Neue Zeit, 1908-09, Vol.27, Bk.II, pp.677f.)

From the “Down-Under” Land

However, the reactionary role of the “socialist bureaucracy” appears nowhere so ostentatiously as in Australia, that veritable Land of Promise of social reformism. The first “labor ministry” in Australia was formed in Queensland in December, 1899. And ever since then the Australian labor movement has been a constant prey of leaders on the make for careers. Upon the backs of the laboring masses there arise, one after another, little bands of aristocrats of labor, from the midst of which the future labor ministers spring forth, ready to do loyal service to the bourgeoisie. All these Hollmans, Cooks and Fishers were once workers. They act the parts of workers even now. But in reality they are only agents of the financial plutocracy in the camp of the workers, The caste of the “leaders” here appears quite openly as a unique type of job trust. The labor party as such comes to the surface only during the parliamentary elections. Once the elections are over, the party disappears again for three whole years. The party conventions are only conventions of party functionaries. They never include a trace of real representatives of the mass of labor. The party leader is elected in conference and functions as such until the next election at the succeeding conference. If he is elected to Parliament, he also becomes the leader of the parliamentary fraction. If the party gets a majority in Parliament, the leader becomes prime minister and forms a “labor ministry.” The powers of this leader are almost unlimited. It went so far that the “labor” minister of New South Wales, Hollman (a former carpenter), proposed at the party conference of 1915 that the leader be given the power to change the program of the party at his own discretion, if this should be necessary for its “salvation.” We have recently had quite a striking example of the means whereby Fisher, Hollman &: Co. “save” the labor party. These “leaders” have proved to be the worst sort of chauvinists. The majority of the workers pronounced themselves against the introduction of military service in Australia. But Fisher and his friends continue to represent the views of the bourgeoisie.
When the Danish socialist, Stauning, not so long ago became a minister, Huysmans congratulated him on his success and noted with joy the fact that Stauning is the tenth socialist to become a minister. It would be interesting to know whether Huysmans counts Fisher also among the ten ministers ...
There is one consolation for the opponents of Fisher, nevertheless. Namely, that even in distant Australia it has come to an open break between Fisher and the genuine labor organizations, “Every cloud has its silver lining.” The present crisis has accentuated the situation tremendously and it will lead to a good and healthy “cleansing” of the democratic ranks.

The most far-sighted of the German reactionaries knew long before the war that the official organizations of the German social democracy had become thoroughly “bourgeoisified.” And they said quite openly that at the critical moment they would appeal to the leaders, to the heads of the social democratic party against the laboring masses, In this connection a well-known conservative politician and historian, Hans Delbreuck, the publisher of the influential Preussische Jahrbücher, offers us a striking example of candor. He is one of the most cultured, one of the shrewdest politicians of the German ruling class and has been pursuing for decades, with unrelenting attentiveness, the evolution of the social democracy. And it is precisely in the greatest electoral victory of the German social democracy, that of 1912, that this most foresighted of the conservative politicians sees the most gratifying results for the bourgeois and junkers.
Delbrueck has been giving public lectures on the subject of Spirit and Mass in History. In the course of his dissertation our honorable historian “proves” that the “mass” as such is incapable of action, and that only the organization, i.e., the spirit, makes the mass capable of action. (Hans Delbrueck, Regierung und Volkswille, Berlin 1914, p.80). Translated into simple language that means: We need not fear the victorious four million votes of the social democracy; for the “organization” and “spirit” of the German Social Democracy are drenched in bourgeois customs and habits. At the decisive moment the leaders will be with us and drag the masses behind our triumphal chariot.
Franz Mehring immediately (in a critical analysis of Delbrueck’s printed speech) unmasked the real significance of this speech: Delbrueck replied:
“Because I described how powerless the masses are when left to themselves, Mehring is of the opinion that I mean to convey the idea that we need not fear them since it is possible to reach agreement with the organization; that some sort of settlement can be made with the leaders in one way or another. I did not actually draw these conclusions, nor was I acquainted at the time with Michels’ book (the reference is to the Sociology of Party Structure by Michels, which deals with the German Social Democracy) but Mehring has, indeed, read my thoughts not half badly. (L.c., p.81.)
“How all the patriots paled when this election outcome became known in 1912! I can truly say that I did not permit myself to be thus deceived. I refer all those that wish, to look up the Preussische Jahrbuecher, where I wrote even at that time that the new Reichstag is more favorable in its composition than it has ever been before.” Can greater frankness be asked for? Who can deny that Delbrueck was right in regarding the official leaders of the Social Democracy as his people, when he evaluated the official organization of the German Social Democracy as a counter-revolutionary factor inimical to the workers?
Another example! In an article written in April, 1915, Professor Schmoller says:
“Since 1890 the educated and highly cultured leaders of the Social Democracy had given up one after the other the most important elements of the Marxist credo. Three-quarters of the total number of social democratic voters are not social democrats. The number of members of the Social Democratic Party is slightly more than one million; the free trades unions have three million members. The annual income of the Social Democratic Party amounts to about a million marks. The annual income of the free trade unions to some eighty to ninety million marks. In the political organization, an aristocracy and bureaucracy of from five to ten thousand well-paid leaders has been formed which, without wanting to and without being conscious of it, has reduced the ultra-democratic principle in the party ad absurdum. The normal development of the coöperatives likewise tends to make their members constantly more forgetful of the ideals of the class struggle. In short, the Marxist workers’ party in Germany has become involved in a process of bourgeois transformation – no matter how insistently it may deny this fact itself.” (Der Weltkrieg und die deutsche SocialdemokratieSchmollers Jahrbuch, 39 Jahrgang, III, p.7ff.)
Schmoller goes on to say:
“The party functionaries who joined the general mutual aid society increased from 433 in 1902 to 2,948 in 1911; among the latter are also many trade union officials, but the majority of them have not joined up. The core of the party has thus become, in a certain sense, a uniformly run functionaries’ machine. Their leaders are those who, by election and by their achievements in the party, have risen to the top, drawing constantly increasing salaries of from 2,500 to 8,000 marks ... (and) in part, become well-to-do and even wealthy people.
“Almost higher than the party leaders stand the leaders and higher ranking officials of the trade unions, as, for example, the directors of the larger federations, such as Schlicke, who heads the gigantic federation of metal workers, and Leipart, who heads that of the wood workers, They administer properties worth several dozen million marks, have some third or half million workers behind them and occupy an almost identical place. insofar as organizational talent, power and influence are concerned, as the heads of our great trusts and corporations.”
This is the evaluation made by the ideologists of the bourgeoisie – and from their point of view they are entirely correct.

The Tendency of Labor Bureaucratism

Naturally, the socialists long ago recognized the reactionary role of the labor bureaucracy, but not quite so clearly as they did after the salient lesson of August 4, 1914. One of the leaders of the German trade union movement, the chairman of the bookbinders’ union, once declared quite openly and honestly before a conference of the trade union leadership, not so much as a complaint but rather as a self-evident fact, that he must say that all those present were much more interested in the establishment of a new system of society when they were still on the workbench and had to be content with low wages, than they were now. The minutes carry a notation on this point, that the speaker was interrupted with numerous heckles directed against the opinion he expressed. But one particular heckler called out from his seat: “That is even far more true of the party functionaries.”
Wilhelm Liebknecht was fully conscious of the fact that the labor aristocracy predominated among the party leaders. “You who sit here,” he once turned to say to the delegates at a party convention, “are also, most of you, aristocrats, to a certain extent, among the workers – I mean in so far as incomes are concerned. The laboring population in the mining regions of Saxony and the weavers in Silesia would regard such earnings as yours as the income of a veritable Croesus.” (Protokoll des Berliner Parteitags, 1892, p.122.) August Bebel often underscored the change of mentality among the leaders once they have attained the living standard of the bureaucracy, of the officialdom, of the aristocrats of labor. At the Dresden convention of the party Bebel said that the majority of the party functionaries were people who considered the positions attained by them as, in some way, the culmination points of their careers.
The honest revisionists also openly pointed out the dangers threatening orthodox socialism from these quarters. None other than Wolfgang Heine wrote in connection with the case of the Reverend Goehre: “Here is revealed the inception of a danger which unfortunately relates to all public administrations, namely, that in place of genuine popular sovereignty, an omnipotence of committees develops.” (Wolfgang Heine Demokratische Randbemerkungen zum Fall GöhreSozialistische Monatshefte, VIII Jahrgang 1904, Vol.I, p.284.) Actually Germany has long known the phenomenon of a constantly greater number of functions, previously discharged by the electoral associations, i.e., by large organizational units, being turned over to much narrower committees. But for the leaders even that is too democratic. Even several of the leaders of the “radical” wing of the social democracy were of the opinion, before, that democratic procedure must not be extended too far. (See, for example, the article by Hans Block, Überspannung der DemokratieNeue Zeit, Vol.XXVI, No.8, p.264. On the role of the bureaucracy in the German workers’ movement see also: Ed. Bernstein, Die Demokratie in der SozialdemokratieSozialistische Monotshefte 1908, 18/19, l909.)

Bureaucracy and the Mass

In 1911 Robert Michels, a former member of the Social Democracy and today a “socialist” professor in Turin, published. a book under the title The Sociology of the Party Structure in Modern Democracies. His investigation is confined mainly to facts in the life of the German Social Democracy. The author has no uniform view of his own. He vacillates back and forth between vulgar reformism and quasi-revolutionary syndicalism. Many of his generalizations are often premature and cannot stand up even against feeble criticism. Thus, for instance, the author tends to hold the absolutely false conception that the emergence of a putrified upper bureaucratic stratum is an inevitable phenomenon in every democracy. The author believes, in his fatalism, that this phenomenon is inherent in the essence of democracy itself. But his observations, and the material which the author has collected, are of great interest.
Michels has graphically described the rule of the upper bureaucratic stratum over the entire mass of members and followers of the German Social Democracy in the following manner.
Attendance at membership meetings
Party members
The base of this pyramid is formed by the mass of four million social democratic voters. Then follows the still quite numerous stratum of party members, numbering close to a million. After that, those who attend the membership meetings, a considerably smaller number. Above them stands a small group of party functionaries and the top of the pyramid is constituted finally, by the narrow caste of the most important party functionaries – the committees. (Die Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der modernen Demokratie. Untersuchungen über die obligatorischen Tendenzen des Gruppenlebens, by Robert Michels, Leipzig 1911, p.53.)
Thus the powerful apparatus that exerts such a tremendous influence on the course of affairs in the German Social Democracy lands in the hands of the committees, i.e., stands uncontrollably at the disposal of an oligarchic group of a few thousand officials.


The well known Dutch Marxist, Anton Pannekoek, who was active for a long time in the ranks of the German Social Democracy, has characterized the present situation of the party as follows:
“The German social democracy ... is a firmly established, gigantic organization, which exists almost as a state within the state, with its own officials, with its own finances, its own press; within a certain spiritual sphere of its own, with an ideology all its own ... The entire character of this organization is suited to the peaceful pre-imperialist epoch; the human agents of this character are the functionaries, the secretaries, the agitators, the parliamentarians, the theoreticians, form a caste of their own, a group with separate interests which dominates the organizations both materially and ideologically. It is no accident that all of them, with Kautsky at their head, wanted to have nothing to do with a real struggle against imperialism. Their whole interest in life is of a nature inimical to the new tactic, a tactic which endangers their existence as functionaries. Their quiet work in the offices and in the editorial chambers, in conferences and in councillor committee meetings, in the writing of erudite and not so erudite articles against the bourgeoisie and against one another – all this peacefully business-like activity is being threatened by the storms of the imperialist epoch ... The whole bureaucratically scholarly apparatus ... can only be saved by being removed outside the bounds of this boiling pot, outside of the revolutionary struggle, outside of the real the main stream of life (and consequently into the service of its own bourgeoisie – G.Z.). If the party and the leadership were to adopt the tactic of mass action, the state power would immediately swoop down upon the organizations – the basis of their entire existence and of all their activity in life – and perhaps destroy them, confiscate their treasuries, arrest the leaders, etc. Naturally, it would be an illusion to believe that the power of the proletariat can thus be broken: the organizational power of the workers resides not in the form of their corporative associations, but in the spirit of solidarity, in discipline, in unity; by these means the workers could create better forms of organization. But for the functionaries that would mean the end, for the particular organization form in their entire world, without which they could not exist or function. The urge toward self-preservation, the group interests of their craft, must of necessity force upon them the tactic of avoiding a struggle with, and of giving way to, imperialism.” (Anton Pannekoek, Der Imperialismus und die Aufgaben des Proletariats, in Vorbote, Internationale Marxistische Rundschau, January 1916.)
Of course, all this must not be over-simplified. Objectively, the labor bureaucracy – the so-called leaders – betrayed the cause of the workers in Germany on August 4th. And not only in Germany. But that must not be taken to mean that every one of these leaders said to himself at the decisive moment: I had better go over to the side of the bourgeoisie, else I am going to lose my bread and butter, my position in public life, etc. Not at all! Subjectively, many members of this caste are still convinced to this day that they have been acting exclusively in the interests of the working class, that their conduct was dictated by their better understanding of the proletarian interests. When we speak of the “treachery of the leaders” we do not means to say by this that it was all a deep-laid plot, that it was a consciously perpetrated sell-out of the workers’ interests. Far from it. But consciousness is conditioned by existence, not vice versa. The entire social essence of this caste of labor bureaucrats led inevitably, through the outmoded pace set for the movement in the “peaceful” pre-war period, to complete bourgeoisiefication of their “consciousness.” The entire position into which this numerically strong caste of leaders had climbed over the backs of the working class made of them a social group which objectively must be regarded as an agency of the imperialist bourgeoisie.

The Needs and Dangers of an Apparatus

In his dispute with the leader of the opportunists, von Vollmar, Bebel repeatedly pointed out that the social position of the former (von Vollmar belonged to the upper strata and was fabulously rich) prevented him from understanding the, griefs of the working class and therefore made him into an opportunist tending toward a nationalistic, liberal policy. Although this may not always be true in the case of an individiual person (an individual can raise himself above the milieu of his class, above his social group), it is absolutely true for the entire social stratum of the labor bureaucracy.
The rise of an entire, numerically strong stratum of labor bureaucrats – as well as the mass influx of electoral camp-followers – is, at one and the same time, a symptom of strength as well as of weakness in the labor movement. Of strength because it testifies to the numerical growth of the movement. An organization with only a few thousand members can get along without paid functionaries. When it begins to have hundreds of thousands and millions of members it necessarily needs a big and complex organizational apparatus. But the rise of this stratum becomes a symptom of weakness in the movement when the leaders of the workers’ organizations degenerate into officials in the worse sense of the word, when it begins to lack the broad proletarian impetus necessary to the given stage of development. Every people. so the saying goes, have the kind of government it deserves. This can be amplified by adding that every labor movement also has the kind of leadership it deserves.
At the time of the crisis on the eve of the war, the labor bureaucracy played the rôle of a reactionary factor. That is undoubtedly correct. But that does not mean that the labor movement will be able to get along in the future without a big organizational apparatus, without an entire stratum of people devoted especially to the service of the proletarian organization. We do not want to go back to the time when the labor movement was so weak that it could get along without its own employees and functionaries, but to go forward to the time in which the labor movement itself will be something different, in which the stormy movement of the proletariat will subordinate the stratum of functionaries to itself, in which routine will be destroyed. bureaucratic corrosion wiped out; which will bring new men to the surface, infuse them with fighting courage, fill them with a new spirit.
The corporation of the “leaders” has dealt a heavy blow to the cause of the workers. Not only those labor leaders who hail from the bourgeoisie but also those who hail from the working class, who were elected by the workers and who owe their positions to working class democracy. That is undoubtedly true. But that does not mean that the idea of democracy has therefore collapsed – as the German conservative, Delbrueck, seeks to prove, convinced as he is that the solution for all evils lies in the Prussian monarchist principle. That does not mean that the vacillations of the semi-reformist, semi-syndicalist, Robert Michels, are justified; he also tends to ascribe the entire collapse of the German social democracy to causes which are inherent in every organization built upon a democratic basis. The poisonous weed of labor bureaucracy grew on the soil of the “peaceful” epoch, not because of, but despite the democratic organization. Only opportunism – a form of expression corresponding to this epoch – and not the democratic organizational principle, has suffered bankruptcy. New times will come and we shall hear new songs. As soon as the masses themselves enter the historical arena they will put an end to the uncontrollable labor bureaucracy. The coming new epoch will bring forth a new generation of leaders and new forms of control on the part of the working masses over their deputies and plenipotentiaries.

The Opportunist Caste

We do not at all wish to contend that the entire crisis can be explained by the treachery of the leaders. The treachery of the leaders in itself can only be explained by more profound causes inherent in the epoch. But not everything can be unshouldered on this epoch. The fact of the betrayal by the leaders must not be passed over in silence. Treachery has been committed. It is necessary to call things by their name. It is our task not only to explain the causes of opportunism but also to combat opportunism. It is our duty not only to trace down the causes of the “treachery,” but also to unmask the traitors and to render them harmless. The betrayal by the official leaders of the German Social Democracy, the counter-revolutionary role of the party and trade union bureaucracy during the war, was so infamous that in the periodical of the people forming the Social Democratic “center,” in the Neue Zeit of 1916, may be found such lines as the following, the pen products of Kautsky’s co-thinker, the lately deceased Gustave Eckstein:
The leaders were constrained to remain radical in words, in order to hold the masses behind them. In actuality, however, they aimed in the immediate period to obtain petty reforms which, however, could not be gotten without great struggles. Out of habit the leaders developed an oracular smile: The organization became more and more of an end in itself, which ever more and more dislodged the thought of achieving the final goal from their heads and from their hearts.”
After two years of war the honest representatives of the “center” also had to admit that the present official organization of the German Social Democracy hart become a counter-revolutionary factor, that the leaders had become “oracles.” That is exactly what Rosa Luxemburg had said in her polemics against Kautsky as far back as 1912.
Robespierre in his time attempted to differentiate between representatives of the people (“représentants du peuple”) and plenipotentiaries of the people (“mandataires du peuple”). Representation of the people, according to his opinion, cannot be realized: “Will cannot be represented (la volonté ne peut se représenter).” Robespierre recognized only plenipotentiaries of the people. The plenipotentiaries of the people carry out the mandate given them by the people.
The caste of opportunist leaders of the labor movement still consists today, unfortunately, of formally recognized “representatives” of the working class. But in its essence this caste has become the tool of an enemy class. The members of this caste who formally possessed full power in the working class are in reality the emissaries of bourgeois society in the camp of the proletariat.


Until very recently the question of the labor aristocracy and its conservative role in the labor movement has been treated as a problem almost unique to the British labor movement. The epoch of the latest form of imperialism, the events in the labor movement of the entire world in connection with the Worid War, have posed this question on a much wider scale. It has become one of the most basic questions of the labor movement in general. The victory of opportunism and social chauvinism in Germany – and not in Germany alone – is intimately bound up with the victory of the narrow, corporate interests of the relatively small group of labor aristocrats over the genuine interests of the many millions strong laboring mass, which constitutes the working class.
For many years England was the Promised Land of bourgeois influence upon the proletariat and consequently the Promised Land of the opportunists. It has become commonplace in socialist literature to recognize this circumstance as being conditioned by the monopolistic position of England on the world market. The surplus profit which the British bourgeoisie has derived, thanks to this monopolistic position, has enabled it to bribe “its” workers and thereby to tear them loose from the socialist movement. But it would be false to believe that the magnanimity of the British capitalists was extended in equal measure to the entire working class. No, with these crumbs they bought off mainly the upper stratum of the working class – the labor aristocracy. That sufficed in order – under otherwise favorable conditions for the bourgeoisie – to demoralize the British labor movement.
Among the great masses of the unskilled proletariat undescribable poverty prevails even in England. Their condition has not been much better than the condition of their brothers in other countries. Even in the heyday of British capitalism there were in England considerable strata of unskilled workers who lived in circumstances not much better than those described by Frederick Engels in his Condition of the Working Class in England.
In one of his well-known works, published in 1902 (Die soziale Revolution und Am Tage nach der sozialen Revolution), Kautsky deals with the economic conditions of the working class in England in the second half of the nineteenth century. He distinguishes clearly between the minority of the skilled, and the majority of the unskilled, workers. Kautsky analyzes the tables compiled by the bourgeois economist. E.L. Bowley, who contends that in the 30 years between 1860 and 1891 the wages of the British workers rose by 40 per cent (the reference is to nominal wages) and he comes to the conclusion that this 40 per cent rise in wages in. the period from 1860 to 1891, which Bowley assumes to hold true for the entire working class of England, does not even hold true for all the strata of the labor aristocracy. Kautsky contends that the author simply assumes that the average general condition of the working class improved to the same extent as the condition of the workers organized in the trade unions; the latter, however, do not constitute more than a fifth of all the workers. Kautsky proves that Bowley’s figures are greatly exaggerated, that even the wages of the excellently organized workers in the British iron industry rose only by 25 per cent in the period of time mentioned.
That is undoubtedly what really happened. The great mass of the unskilled workers led a lamentable existence. But the minority of the aristocrats of labor were bribed with small crumbs. Thus the bourgeoisie beheaded the movement of the British proletariat, so to speak. In England organized workers and skilled workers for a long time were synonymous. In the epoch of the old trade unionism the better situated skilled workers constituted the main mass of the trade union membership. But even in the epoch of the new trade unionism this state of affairs has remained the same by and large. The British trade unions still do not embrace more than a fifth of all the workers today. Many millions of women workers and of the most poorly paid unskilled workers are still unorganized, still outside the trade unions.
In 1902 Kautsky wrote, in characterizing the “upper strata of the British working class” (i.e., the labor aristocracy), that these workers are today hardly anything else but little bourgeois who differ from the others only by a somewhat greater lack of culture, and whose most exalted ideal consists in aping their masters, in imitating their hypocritical respectability, in admiring wealth no matter how attained, in their lifeless manner of killing time. The emancipation of their class is only a foolhardy dream in so far as they are concerned. On the other hand, football, boxing, horse racing, wagering of all sorts are matters which stir them profoundly and occupy all their free time, all their mental powers, all their material means (Kautsky: Die soziale Revolution, Berlin 1907, p.63).

The Many Forms of Bribery

These “little bourgeois” – the labor aristocracy – served the big bourgeoisie as the best means of introducing bourgeois ideas into the laboring mass. By throwing down to these “little bourgeois” a few crumbs from their richly decked imperialist table, the big bourgeoisie made of them faithful watchdogs of the capitalist system. With the aid of a thin golden thread it bound them firmly to the bandwagon of imperialism, made them into agents of the bourgeoisie, destined to demoralize systematically the labor movement and to inculcate it with the virus of opportunism. The “little bourgeois” became the most reliable advance guards of the imperialist bourgeoisie in the camp of the working class.
When Kautsky speaks of the bourgeois “respectability” of these “little bourgeois,” he is only continuing in the tradition of Marx and Engels. Both of the founders of scientific socialism, who lived in England for a long time and therefore had the opportunity of acquainting themselves at first hand with the reactionary role of the labor aristocrats, advised their disciples continually to make just such an evaluation of the “little bourgeois” as we have found in Kautsky’s passage above.
“What is most repulsive here (in England) is that bourgeois ‘respectability’ which has grown deep into the skin of the workers. Socially, the dissection of society into innumerable, indisputably recognized gradations, of which each has its own pride but also its own innate respect before its ‘betters’ and ‘superiors’ is so time-honored and firmly established that the bourgeois still make use of all this as easy bait. I am by no means certain that John Burns, for instance, is not much prouder of his popularity with Cardinal Manning, the Lord Mayor, and the bourgeoisie in general, than of his popularity with his own class. Champion – an ex-lieutenant – years ago rubbed shoulders with the conservative element, preached socialism at a parish church congress, etc. And even Tom Mann, whom I regard as the best of them, likes to tell people that he is going to lunch with the Lord Mayor.”
This is what Fredrick Engels wrote as far back as 1889. (Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen von J.P. Becher, Jos. Dietzgen, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx, u.a. an F.A. Sorge, etc., p.324.)
Even earlier, in 1883, Engels wrote in a letter to Kautsky, which is devoted especially to the question of the attitude of the British workers toward colonial policy, as follows:
“You asked me what the British worker thinks of colonial policy? Well, just about what he thinks of politics in general. There is no ‘workers’ party here. There are only conservatives and liberal radicals, and the workers partake light-heartedly of their share in England’s monopoly on the world market and in the colonies.”
Here we see a direct indication of the fact that the bourgeoisie bribes the workers by leaving them little tidbits from among the multitude of benefits which the British monopoly on the world market and in the colonies nets them. (K. Kautsky: Sozialismus und Kolonialpolitik, 1907, p.79.) In 1877 Marx speaks of the “shameful trade union congress at Leicester .… where the bourgeois played the patron saints, among them a certain Mr. Th. Brassey, a multimillionaire ... and the son of the notorious Brassey of the railroads, whose ‘enterprise’ is Europe and Asia.” (Briefe an Sorge, p.156.)
In 1893 Engels upbraids the “socialist” Fabians in the following words:
“The Fabians here in London are a brand of careerists, who have sufficient sense to be able to foresee the inevitability of the social upheaval, but who nevertheless find it impossible to entrust this gigantic work to the raw proletariat and are therefore disposed to place themselves at its head. Fear of the revolution is their fundamental principle ... their tactic: not to combat the liberals resolutely as opponents but to impel them forward to socialist conclusions; ergo, to maneuver with them, to permeate liberalism with socialism ... These people naturally have a large bourgeois following and therefore, money …. It is a critical period for the movement here ... For a moment it was close to landing .... under Champion’s wings ... the latter works, consciously or unconsciously, just as much for the Tories, as the Fabians do for the Liberals. But ... socialism has penetrated the masses in the industrial regions enormously of late, and I count upon the masses holding their leaders in check.”
These were the views of Marx and Engels on the “little bourgeois,” the labor aristocracy. They stigmatized the anti-revolutionary position of these strata unsparingly, whether it expressed itself in the policies of trade unionism or in the socialist organization of the Fabians. From every word uttered by Marx and Engels on this question, it is clearly evident how fatal for the cause of the workers, how disastrous for the socialist struggle of the proletariat, they considered the specific point of view of the labor aristocracy.

Bureaucracy as a World Phenomenon

Marx and Engels derived their generalizations regarding the role of the labor bureaucracy mainly from their observations of the process of development of the working class in England. It was in England, moreover, that Marx made his studies of capitalism in general. In his Capital, also, Marx cites above all else, from the experiences of British capitalism. But a great deal of water has passed under the bridge since then. The conservative role of the labor aristocracy may be observed today, not only in England, but in a large number of other countries. Let us take Holland, for example. Here is a small country that does not dream today of dominating the world market. But in this country there is a bourgeoisie bursting with wealth, whose few remnants of past colonial grandeur still bring it annually a golden shower of irrationally big profits. Of these unheard-of profits of the Dutch imperialist bourgeoisie, only the “upper” strata of the workers enjoy a crumb or two, but that suffices to constitute them into a labor aristocracy, which becomes, in turn, a conservative, counter-revolutionary element.
And in America? Do we not witness the spectacle there of a tiny group of labor aristocrats rising on the backs of a millions – strong mass of oppressed workers – particularly of immigrants and Negroes – and bought out and nurtured by the financial oligarchy? Are not Gompers and Co. agents of the bourgeoisie in the circles of the “aristocrats of labor,” and are not the latter, in turn, agents of Gompers in the camp of the working class? On the one hand, workers are shot down in the course of purely economic strikes; on the other, Gompers and the other “stainless knights of labor” are decorated with ever greater honors, almost with titular decorations.
Or in Australia. The social-liberals treasure Australia as the Promised Land, in which a coal miner can become a minister. But what has actually happened? Here too, a small parasitic band of labor leaders – the Messrs. Fisher, Hughes and Co. – rise upon the shoulders of the oppressed mass of unskilled workers and brought to the surface by a little group of labor aristocrats, are betraying the interests of the working class with a cynicism unprecedented in history. The crisis created by the outbreak of the World War has thrown a particularly strong light upon this despicable treachery of the “labor leaders.”
This self-same sort of bribery took place among the “upper strata” of the workers in Germany as well. Under different conditions, in a somewhat different form, it ran its course in the land of the “classic Social Democracy.” But the historic sense of the transformation undergone by the heads of the German working class, in the persons of the leaders of their trade unions and of their so-called social democratic party, is the same. There is no serious difference between Legien, Gompers, Fisher and Henderson. Legien is not a Minister as yet, but for reasons entirely independent of his own person. In the period immediately ahead of us he may not get any further than the ministerial antechamber. The Prussian Junkers will continue to extend only one finger at a time to him. But he is, nevertheless, only a “labor lieutenant of the capitalist class.” And not only Legien, but naturally also Scheidemann and Suedekum, as well as all their carbon copies, whose manner of speech, alone, differs from the former’s ...


The process of the transition of the German labor aristocracy to the side of the bourgeoisie naturally did not begin yesterday. The corruption of the labor aristocracy began with the entrance of German imperialism into the world arena. The more far-sighted of the ideologists of the German bourgeoisie have given (and still give) an excellent account of this social phenomenon, so all-important for the bourgeoisie. Professor Schmoller tells us that the German bourgeoisie had made peaceful overtures to the “fatherlandish labor movement” as far back as the beginning of the nineties. The Social Democracy, he says, did not, however, take the extended hand at once. “Only a wise politician like Herr von Vollmar was ready at that time to make the turn and thus to lend an impulse to revisionism.” (Schmollers Jahrbuch, 1915. Vol.3: Der Weltkrieg und die deutsche Sozialdemokratie, by G. Schmoller.)
It was not the social democrats alone who did not want to make peace, however, The extremists among the ruling classes, the Junkers, the bitterest reactionaries, also resisted. They saw in the German Social Democracy a revolutionary danger and relied more and more on exterminating it by means of reprisals. The voices of the more sensible bourgeois were drowned out by the howls of the reactionaries. “The voices of the non-partisans, who .... denied .... the alleged danger of revolution .... were not given a hearing.” Professor Schmoller today complains against the irreconcilables.
In any case, the conflict inside of the ruling classes has now been settled. There isn’t a single Purishkevitch (notorious reactionary deputy in the Russian Duma – trans.) in Germany today who doesn’t understand that it is necessary to make certain “concessions” to well-meaning workers. The danger of revolution has proved to be an “alleged” danger. The system of “bribery” has withstood the test brilliantly.
Speaking in retrospect, the well known bourgeois professor, Dr. Herkner, the author of Labor Problems, writes:
“Only in the course of the last ten to fifteen years, views have gradually come forward, in the columns of the revisionist Sozialistische Monatshefte, to be precise, which herald a distinct return to more forceful nationalistic political ideas . Considerable strata of labor have achieved such a remarkable improvement in their social conditions and have found the advantages accruing also to them, due to the powerful boom in German economic life, of such immediate promise, that they themselves have displayed a most intense interest in this boom. The old slogans of internationalism, such as that the workers had no fatherland or that they had nothing to lose but their chains, are no longer taken seriously by even the most rabid of the comrades.” (Dr. Heinrich Herkner, Sozialdemokratie and AuslandspolitikPreussische Jahrbücher, September, 1915, p.397.)
However, this question has been dealt with in similar fashion by the most influential representatives of German imperialism, not only at the present time, after 1914, but long before the war. In the very scholarly work of the prominent German conservative, Freiherr von Walterhausen, devoted to the question of capital exports, a number of pages deal especially with the problem of the extent to which workers are “interested” in the imperialism of their country. “Both capital and labor are equally concerned about territorial and maritime defenses,” writes this erudite Freiherr, “... the laboring population is, moreover, participating directly in the dividends derived. In so far as that serves for the consumption of those benefiting therefrom, it brings about a substantial demand for goods and services on the internal market and thus helps raise the wages of workers and servants. If the dividends accrue to the domestic enterprises in the form of a greater accumulation of capital, then the latter also experience the need to employ more labor power.” (A. Sartorius, Freiherr v. Walterhausen: Das volkwirtschaftliche System der Kapitalanlage in Auslande, p.439.) These few words – although the expressions used are rather unusual – contain the entire theory of social chauvinism.
Regarding the situation in England, Sartorius von Walterhausen writes as follows:
“The immense national wealth accumulated in England in the course of the last century has become – although industry itself has retrogressed – a protection for the class of skilled workers.”
And he quotes Schulze-Gaevernitz approvingly:
“The skilled and well-paid force of British heavy industry has realized today that the high standard of living it has achieved with such difficulty, stands and falls with England’s political power.”
This is plain talk. The British imperialists bribe a part of their labor aristocracy. We, the German imperialists, must also learn to buyout “our” labor aristocracy. The learned representative of German Junkerdom sees very clearly the connection between “labor” opportunism and “labor” imperialism, between imperialist victories and the transition of the labor aristocracy to the side of the bourgeoisie. Regarding England, he maintains that no social democracy could arise there as long as the British imperialists had the means of bribing their workers. The example of Germany proves, however, that this is not entirely correct: a social democracy can exist also under such conditions; not a revolutionary, but rather a counter-revolutionary social democracy a la Suedekum. There is one more thing that Mr. Sartorius von Walterhausen has forgotten; namely, that a genuine social democracy aims to be, not the party of the labor aristocracy, but rather the party of the working class as a whole. He has overlooked the fact that the skilled and better-paid workers form only a minority of the working class – a minority which, when it goes over to the side of the imperialists at the critical moment, can deal the socialist movement quite a blow, to be sure, but never uproot it.

1. R. Michels, Zur Sociologie des Parteiwessens in der deutschen Demokratie, Leipzig, 1911. p.270ff. We speak of saloonkeepers, restaurant owners, etc.
2. Even In Austria, where industry is markedly less developed than in Germany, the social democracy received, in the 1911 elections, 36.2 per cent of the total vote cast in the cities, and only 17 per cent of the total cast in the rural sections.
3. A – Agriculture, gardening, forestry, grazing, fishing; B – Mining, foundries, building and construction; C – Commerce, transport, hostelry, refreshments.
4. Among these the better situated worker’s, the so-called “labor aristocracy”, play a big role.
5. The German trade unions were designated as “free” in contradistinction to the “yellow” company unions and the Catholic unions. – Trans.
6. We received this rare material on the situation on the German social democracy through the gracious aid of Comrade Julian Borchardt to whom we express our thanks here.
7. The rôle of the latter has a special sub-chapter devoted to it.
8. We take these figures from the interesting article, Bureaucratie und Selbstverwaltung, published in the magazine Die Jugend Internationale, no.5, December 1916.
9. This sum was calculated on the basis of tables printed in the Jubilee book of the secretary of the General Commission of the Trade Unions, P. Umbreit, 25 Jahre deutscher Gewerkschaftsbewegung; 1890 bis 1915, 1915, pp.164-169.

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