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An essay by Morley Roberts

An International Socialist Congress

Title:     An International Socialist Congress
Author: Morley Roberts [More Titles by Roberts]

All Zurich turned out to see the procession that was a mile long and overlapped, and went past double, going opposite ways, and the skies were blue as amethyst, and the lake was like the heavens, while underfoot the white dust lay thick until the growing, hurrying crowd sent it flying. All trades, with banners and bands and emblems, were represented; there were iron workers, tin workers, gardeners, women and children. One beautiful young girl in a cap of liberty waved a red banner to Freedom among the applause of thousands. For there were eight thousand in the procession, and the spectators were the half of this busy Canton making Sunday holiday. At the end of the procession we rested in the Cantonal Schulplatz, and Grealig spoke, and then Volders, the violent, strong-voiced Belgian, who called for _la lutte_, and looked most capable of fighting. He is now dead.

And on the morrow, at the opening of the many-tongued Congress, the fighting and confusion began and lasted a long, long time. For after some usual business and congratulations the usual fight about the Anarchists commenced. It all turned on the invitation, which was worded in a broad way, so broad as to catch the English Trades Unions, who fear Socialism as they do the devil, and thus let in Anarchists claiming to represent trades become corporate by union.

The long hall, decorated by Saint Marx and many flags, quickly filled with an incongruous mass of four hundred delegates, and the gallery were soon yelling. Bebel, who kept in the background and pulled the strings, proposed a limiting amendment about "political action" which the Anarchists maintained includes revolutionary force. This was the signal for the fight. Landauer, a German, young, long, thin and enthusiastic, made a fine speech in defence of the Anarchists. Then Mowbray of the English backed him up. I was then in the gallery and saw the mass surge here and there. Adler of the Austrians strove for peace with outstretched arms among the crowd, dividing angry and bitter men. But he was overborne and blows were struck. The Anarchists were expelled. Only one man was seriously hurt, but those thrown out were bitter at their expulsion, and on the morrow the row began again.

On the platform were the president and vice-president, and the interpreters and others. These interpreters are mostly violent partisans and don't conceal it. A speech they like they deliver with real energy, rasping in the points. They are not above private interpretations; they were as liberal as Sir Thomas Urquhart when he translated Rabelais not in the interests of decency. When they hated a speaker they mangled and compressed him. There was a great uproar when Gillies, a German, but one of the English deputation, insisted on translating his first speech into German. The interpreters and others vowed he would make another and different one, but he stuck to his point and raised the very devil among the Germans of the Parliamentary Socialist party who wanted to dispute the Anarchist delegates' credentials and have them definitely "chucked." They howled and roared and shook their fists, and the French president shrieked for order. But at times his bell was a faint tinkle, like a far sheep-bell on distant hills. He shouted unheard and looked in vain for a break. For the Germans were accused of meanness; it was simply a desire to keep out the younger, more open, most alive of the workers, those who admired not their methods and looked on them as they did on Eugene Richter.

Then at last the English delegation, who as a body were in favour of turning the Anarchists out, rose and yelled for the closure, vowing they would leave until real business was reached if some decision wasn't come to; and that had some effect. The yells of "_Cloture, cloture!_" dominated all else, and it was finally voted among frantic disorder, the French and Dutch standing uproarious against eighteen nationalities. For on important points they vote so. And in this there is great cunning, for the organisers hold pocket boroughs among the Swiss, and Bulgarians, and Servians and other European kidlings of the Balkans. So one delegate may equal a hundred; Servia and Bulgaria may outvote France; a solitary Russian hold ninety-two Germans in check.

Before this they turned out a Polish girl with unsigned credentials. She made a good speech and was gallantly supported, but in the end failed. And when all the putting out was done there was an appeal for unanimity. No one laughed, however, and then Bebel came from behind with a proposal that seeing so much time had been wasted the articles of the agenda should be submitted to the various committees first. So this morning is a morning off and there is peace at anyrate among the mass of the delegates.

In all this it is excessively easy to be unjust, to misjudge and to go wrong. The man who is ready with _a priori_ opinions about all forms and means and ends of Socialism will smile if he be kindly and sneer if he be not. But most of these people are in earnest. If they represent nothing else, and however they disagree and quarrel, they do represent an enormous amount of real discontent. "I protest" is often in their mouths; as the president yells "Monsieur, vous n'avez pas la parole" they stand in the benches and protest again in acute screams. It is under extraordinary difficulties that the movement is being carried forward. Marx, when he started this internationalism, can hardly have recognised the supreme difficulties that the differing tongues alone offer to united action. In many a large assembly there is frequent misconception, but here are three main languages, and many of the delegates understand neither English, German nor French.

And under the broad top currents of jealousy are the secret unmeasured tendencies of enmity or rivalry of ancient jealousy. To explain one man's vote we must remember that So-and-so threw a glass of absinthe in his face ten years ago in a Paris restaurant; that another was kicked in Soho; that another got work over the head of a friend.

So the thing goes on, but whether their outlook be wide or narrow, personal or impersonal, they work in their way and something is really done.

But for deadly earnestness commend me to the party with the unfortunate name of Anarchists. The party headed by Landauer and Werner issued invitations in the Tonhalle to the delegates and others, to come to the Kasino Aussersehl, where they would protest against the non-reception of their mandates. I went there with an English delegate. We entered a long hall with a stage and scenery at the end. All the tables were full of a very quiet crowd drinking most harmless red wine. I sat near Landauer. He is a very nervous, keen, eager young fellow, with the thin, well-marked eyebrows in a curve which perhaps show the revolutionary or at the least the man in revolt. But his general aspect and that of his immediate friends and colleagues is extremely gentle and mild; this no one can help marking.

The proceedings began with a long speech by Werner and were continued by a Dutch journalist, who took the contrary side but was listened to with exemplary patience. He was controverted by Domela Niewenhuis, the leader of the Dutch, who looks a mediaeval saint but speaks with great vigour and some humour.

The most noticeable feature of this revolutionary meeting was its extreme peace and the great firmness with which every attempt at noise or interruption was put down. The only really violent speech made during the evening was by a fair Italian, who called the German Parliamentary Socialist "Borghesi" and recommended their immediate extinction by all means within the power of those who objected to their methods. Landauer, their revolutionary leader, spoke after him, and though greatly excited was not particularly violent. I talked with him the morning after and endeavoured to explain to him why the English workers were more conservative and more ready to trust to constitutional methods of enforcing their views. For it is the triple combination of long hours, low wages and militarism that makes the German violent and impatient of the slow order of change recommended by the Parliamentarians, who, so far, have done nothing.

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Morley Roberts's essay: International Socialist Congress