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I'm posting this comment on behalf of Peter Drucker:

"William Smaldone's article on "The Shattering of European Socialism" raises some interesting and important issues about divisions among socialists over the last century and more. I'd like to go more deeply into a few of the questions he raises.

I agree with Smaldone that for most socialist leaders before 1914, "quitting the party was never a serious choice." But there were events that anticipated the later division between social democrats and communists, like the splits in Russia, Bulgaria and the Netherlands. Hardly anyone saw those splits at the time as forerunners of a worldwide divide, but neither did every international socialist leader see them as the greatest possible evil. Rosa Luxemburg may have stayed in the German Social Democratic Party until 1917 and initially opposed the Bolshevik split in Russia, but she viewed the 1911 split by the Dutch left-wing Tribunist group as justified; in fact she criticized her Dutch friend and ally Henriette Roland-Holst for not joining in it. And of course in retrospect most left-wingers saw the Bolshevik split as crucial in making the overthrow of capitalism possible in Russia.

Smaldone is also right that the rift between social democrats and communists "smoothed fascism's path to power." But many independent and dissident socialists and communists in the 1920s and '30s believed that social democrats and communists could and should unite to stop fascism without necessarily reuniting into a single party.

Finally, I'm intrigued by Smaldone's conclusion that since the end of the Cold War, "overcoming the division [has] become a real, though still unrealized, possibility." Like many revolutionary socialists, I believe that socialist revolutions are not likely in the near future and that it makes sense at this time in many countries for reformists, revolutionaries and agnostics to work together in broad socialist parties. But that doesn't mean that unity across the divide can ever be free of problems. Broad parties to the left of social democracy in countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and others still have fierce debates about the permissibility and desirability of joining or supporting coalition governments, for example, about foreign military interventions, and about the risks of being too onesidedly invested in parliamentary institutions. In this sense, the bitter lessons learned from the collapse of social democracy in 1914 are still as timely as ever.

Peter Drucker"


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