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Book Review: Violence and the Labour Movement


"Violence and the Labour Movement" by Robert Hunter, author of "Poverty," (George Routledge, London; The Macmillan Co., New York, 1916. 400 pp. cloth. 2s 6d. net.)

R, Hunter's Reform Bias Exposed.


 Every Socialist recognises the complete futility of individual or mob violence as a working-class weapon, in face of the overwhelming power of the State. The fact that the “propaganda of the deed,” so dear to the Anarchists or direct-actionists, has always played into the hands of reaction is a commonplace. The Labour movement in all lands passes through despairing stages of such activity; and it is only as its futility becomes thoroughly realised, and the true nature of the problem which faces the worker is understood, that the worship of mere disorder or violence is outgrown. Its very hopelessness shows it to be a gesture of despair. It is the expression of economic and political weakness, disorganisation, and ignorant passion.

 But this is not to say that the question of force has not an important part to play in the struggle for Socialism ; for when the need and time arrive the workers cannot hesitate to use force against force. It does mean, however, that the force to be used cannot be mere individual or mob violence. It must be the organised might of the whole working class, rooted in economic needs, and based on knowledge rather than on blind hate, and used because essential to complete the task of emancipation.

 In essence, moreover, the success of a revolution depends, not upon mere force, but upon economic necessity. The role of force is secondary to this. And it is only because the economic necessities of the capitalist system pave the way for the working class advance to power, that Socialists are enabled to use legality in their educational and organising work; it is only because they are the expression of economic needs and forces that the workers have the opportunity of advancing from strength to strength until their power is sufficient to finally wrest from their masters the major force of the State.

 This being the case, it is evident that any account of the role hitherto played by violence in the Labour movement must resolve itself into a record of the activities of men ignorant or doubtful of the economic trend, distrustful of the workers themselves, and filled with a conceit that foolishly credits miraculous powers to an “intellectual” few. And in a book just published by Messrs. Routledge entitled “Violence and the Labour Movement,” by R. Hunter, this fact is clearly shown. By far the most entertaining section of the book is that recounting the titanic struggle on the question of Anarchy that raged within and around the old International. Another section that is of particular interest is that on “The Oldest Anarchy,” dealing in particular with the lawlessness of American capitalists, and with that peculiarly American problem, the hire of armed bands of private detectives, such as the Pinkerton thugs. Apart from these interesting points there is little that is new to anyone who has digested Pleckanoff’s little masterpiece. “Anarchism and Socialism.”

 But that is not all that has to be said about the book. The Socialist has a bone to pick with the author. Mr. Hunter vitiates any usefulness his book may have by special pleading of the most insidious kind in favour of the attitude of reformist organisations such as that jelly-fish, The Socialist (!) Party of America, of which he is an ornament. And it is significant in this connection that he suppresses the undoubted fact—urged with great force by Liebknecht in “No Compromise"—that Anarchy is directly fostered by the anti-Socialist policy of compromise, confusion, and political charlatanry which renders worse than useless most of the so-called Socialist and Labour parties of the' world. Indeed, to make it appear that the pseudo-Socialism which he favours is in line with Marxian principles he is reduced to misrepresenting those principles and to distorting the words of Marx and Engels. A few instances may be given, not as appealing to the authority of Marx—which appears to be a cult mainly in evidence among those who distort his teaching—but on the ground of appeal to the demonstrable truth of the scientific principles of Socialism, which transcend any personality.

On page 130 the author refers to Marx and Engels outlining in the Communist Manifesto :

       Certain measures which, in their opinion, should stand foremost in the program of labour, all of them having to do with some modification of the institution of property. In order to achieve these reforms, and eventually to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, they urge the formation of labour parties as soon as proper preparations have been made and the time is ripe for effective class action.

 Now the truth regarding these measures is that, far from being those which, in the opinion of Marx and Engels, “should stand foremost in the program of labour,” they are expressly referred to in their joint preface to the Manifesto as being “antiquated” Owing to the vast changes that have taken place, and therefore

       no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of section II. That passage would, in many respects, be very differently worded to-day.

 Mr. Hunter’s first point, therefore, is definitely contradicted; but a far more important point remains to be dealt with. It will be observed that Marx and Engels speak of them not as being “reforms” at all, but as revolutionary measures. And so they are. They are suggested measures to be taken by the victorious workers only when the revolution is an accomplished fact. Mr. Hunter carefully conceals this truth. It brands his party as non-Socialist. But the facts are entirely beyond dispute. Marx and Engels say in the Manifesto regarding those very measures that:

    the First Step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of a ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.
       The Proletariat will use its political supremacy, to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as a ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.
         Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected excepted by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.
        These measures will, of course, be different in different countries.

 Consequently. Mr. Hunter has distinctly falsified the Socialist position. Such measures are in no sense of the word “reforms." They give no possible basis for any reform program. They give no support whatever to the long lists of vote-catching reform nostrums professedly realisable while the capitalist class are in power. And they would be “very differently worded to-day."

 The measures necessary when the workers have won their class battle can, indeed, only be definitely decided upon when that moment arrives. The only possible program for a Socialist party is Socialism ; and its only “immediate aim” is the straight fight for the conquest of the Stale in order to begin the transformation of capitalist society into Socialism. As the founders of scientific Socialism state in the Manifesto itself, their “immediate aim" is the “formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.” Any party, indeed, whose immediate aim is less than this, is, by that same token, not a Socialist party.

In some instances the author’s attempt to graft his reform twaddle upon the authority of Marx and Engels is distinctly amusing, as when he says :

      Marx considered the chief work of the International to be the building up of a working-class political movement to obtain laws favourable to labour. Furthermore, he was of the opinion that such work was of a revolutionary nature.

 Seeing that, as Marx said, the conquest of political power by the workers is the first step, it is obvious that the obtaining of “laws favourable to labour” must be “work of a revolutionary nature.” But that is not what Mr. Hunter wants his readers to understand: and on page 150 he says regarding the attitude of Marx toward the co-operative movement :

      Arguing that co-operative labour should be developed to national dimensions and be fostered by State funds, he urges working-class political action as the means to achieve this end.

Then he quotes Marx’s own words on this :

        To conquer political power has therefore become the great duty of the working class.

 Marx's own comment is a sufficient reply to Mr. Hunter's insidious attempt to misrepresent him. So far is it from being true that Marx, as Mr. Hunter implies, favoured the working class diverting their energies to the development of co-operation to national dimensions within capitalism with the aid of State funds, that he distinctly stated the contrary. In his letter on Unity sent to Bracke on the eve of the Gotha Congress Marx said on this very' matter:

       The workers seek to establish on a footing of social production, and in the first place, in so far as it concerns them, on a footing of national production, the conditions of collective production ; but what does this mean other than that they work for 'the overthrow of present conditions of production ? And this has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with the aid of the State.
       Regarding existing co-operative societies, they have value only in so far as they are the creation of the workers themselves, to which neither governments nor capitalists come in aid.

Let Mr. Hunter twist that if he can!

 For the rest, it is obvious that where the the political elements of the class struggle are lacking these must first be obtained in order that the revolutionary struggle may proceed, and because the immediate aim of the Socialist Party must be the conquest of political power. In no sense do the pro-capitalist proclivities of Mr. Hunter and his kind obtain support from the founders of scientific Socialism. From the principles themselves it is clear that a Socialist party cannot be a reform party. It must devote its energies to organising the workers as a class for the capture of the citadel of the State. Only when that is accomplished can the workere pass any measures at all.—Until then all reforms are “gifts” from, and in the interest of, the ruling class. Consequently the Socialist Party must be revolutionary first and last.

*  *  *

 If the early chapters of Mr. Hunter’s book, dealing with the struggles around the International, are, as has been said, interesting, it must at the same time be confessed that while the author had the material and opportunity for the production of a Socialist classic, he has failed to do more than produce what can only be characterised as a "red-herring.” The last chapter, indeed, contains elements of broad farce. It is the reductio ad absurdum of his so-called -Socialist standpoint. He lumps together the votes cast for the Labour Party of Great Britain, the Labour Party of Australia, the Social Democrats of Germany, and the other reform parties of the world in a grand total of eleven million votes for Socialism! It has no significance for him that over one half the world most of this vast army for "Socialism” vanished into the "dug-outs” of patriotism at a single blare of the bugle, and that the other half is getting ready to follow suit! His rhetoric is proof against unpleasant truth. He continues:

       Where shall we find in all history another instance of the organisation in less than half a century of eleven million people into a compact force for the avowed purpose of peacefully and legally taking possession of the world? They have refused to hurry; they have declined all short cuts . . .  they have declined the way of compromise, of fusions, of alliances .    .  .

And so on in a dithyramhic crescendo of hysterical absurdity until at the end one sets down the book in a burst of laughter.

Indeed, the pitiful reality is so tragically different to the author's gaudy imagery that one hastens to laugh in order to avoid tears.

F. C. Watts