The Socialist Party of Canada
and The Radical Review
A Discussion of the Source of
Proletarian Power in Particular
and Class Power in General

Radical Review
July 1918

The Socialist Party of Canada’s Position

When reviewing our Manifesto in the April number of his magazine, Karl Dannenberg expresses regret that we fail to

“appreciate and grasp the significance of Socialist Industrial Unionism in the organization of workers’ class-consciousness (economic power) on the industrial field; in the failure to understand and recognize the destructive and constructive function performed by Socialist Industrial Unionism (industrially organized proletarian class-consciousness) in the struggle for emancipation.”

We are invited to examine the position laid down in ‘Constructive Elements of Socialism’ and justify this serious defect in an otherwise “impregnable and unassailable position”; the columns of the Radical Review being placed at our disposal for that purpose.

The pleasant and earnest manner in which the criticism is offered is much to our liking; unity on the part of those who recognize the need for working class enlightenment is necessary now and will be imperative in the near future.

We will proceed to examine the points dealing with Socialist Industrial Unionism in ‘Constructive Elements of Socialism’. Huxley says in his Discourses that the slaying of a beautiful theory by an ugly fact is the great tragedy of science, and it seems to us that Comrade Dannenberg (in the Huxleian sense) is confronted with this monstrous duty and shirks the responsibility. We do not regard the slaughter of theories, though endowed with the most endearing young charms, as essentially tragic. We do, however, realize that certain ideas and theories are peculiar to certain social groups; that to question them engenders suspicion; to deny them means expulsion from the group. The more vitally do these ideas concern the interests of those holding them, the more extreme are the penalties visited upon the heterodox. Outrageous personal characteristics are discounted by harmony of vital views, but woe betide the heretic; the color of his hair, the cut of his shoes, are held up to derision. He is no good and never was. We might have no compunction about slaughtering a beautiful theory, but we cannot lightly regard severing connection from those with whom we habitually associate. That is why our thoughts gain in power as “we find them reflected in our fellow man”.

We are led to these considerations by the opening paragraphs of ‘The Constructive Elements of Socialism’, to which, however, barring the dual conception of “Socialist Science” and a mixed metaphor, we subscribe without reserve.

And without a sound knowledge of capitalist production, no effective Socialist activity, economic or political, is possible” (Emphasis original.) “ . . . the strength of the Socialist movement is necessarily to be found in a sound and comprehensive understanding of its principles and aims by the rank and file . . . familiarity with the fundamentals of the Socialist philosophy is an imperative prerequisite for a conception of party problems and also for a proper understanding of Socialist tactics” (Radical Review, pp. 302-303).

It is evidently the purpose of Comrade Dannenberg to impress this message upon his readers, for it occurs again and again in his articles, and properly so. The advocate, however, soon gains the ascendancy over the investigator, and at this point we part company.

“The survey of the economic, social and political position of the capitalist class reveals, that the basic power or influence of this class resides not, as is so often erroneously assumed, in its political domination or control of government, but in its economic rule over society. “History teaches and profusely illustrates: that the class in control of the economic resources of society in a given period has also been the class to exercise practical control over political society, i.e. – over society itself. “History vindicates the contention that the economic life of society, the form of ownership and method of production and exchange existing at a certain stage of social development, is the compelling factor, the preponderant form, which determines, influences and shapes all other ethical, moral, intellectual and political, in short – cultural phases of life” (Radical Review, page 304).

History vindicates the contention set down, but that vindication has nothing to do with the propositions contained in the preceding sentences. To conclude that two propositions, one demonstrable, the other hypothetical, are similar, to assume mutual connections between them, and then to establish the truth of the theory of the fact is a common logical error. Yet this is precisely what Comrade Dannenberg unconsciously does.

The statement that Rome enslaved people solely by her “superior and well-organized economic resources and disciplined armies” is on par with the Irishman who had his neighbor arrested with the help of God and a couple of policemen. What about the tyrannies of “Antique Slavery” where one man, master of the well-disciplined armies, plundered and sapped the “superior and well-organized resources” at will? Sulla and his Proscription List, for instance, before which the wealthy Roman, through idle curiosity, stood, to see with panic-stricken amazement his own name inscribed thereon. What economic resources could withstand the master of forty legions? He accepts his fate with a muttered “My magnificent villa has signed my death warrant”! Carthage, a constant prey to her mercenary armies. Rome, herself, at the pinnacle of her dazzling pomp and military grandeur, following the age of the Antonine and The Pax Romana, plundered and outraged for almost a century by Praetorian Guards, eunuchs, madmen, and degenerates of all kinds, not reckoning some wealthy freed men, whose power and rapacity few emperors excelled.

To say “with the decay and fall of Slavery the marvelous splendor and the political and military power of Rome also collapsed” is to state a half truth, aside from the fact that political and military power go hand in hand. Had the successive waves of Barbarians not swept over Rome she would have lingered for centuries, as did Constantinople in all her majesty. It was not that Slavery had fallen, for it had not. It was that the fruits of slavery – poverty at one end and luxury at the other – had debauched Rome and rendered her the prey of those fearless and vigorous hosts, which her geographical position and great wealth invited. For centuries before Attila’s advent set the Barbarian world in motion Rome was notorious for childless men and women. The Roman satirists savagely expose the fawning homage heaped upon the childless rich. Abortion was rampant, while the proletariat, fed on free corn and oil, with the service of prostitutes costing but little more, passed up the state function of breeding for the army, whose soldiers again were forbidden to marry. The corruption which rendered Rome impotent made for Feudalism, which was really a state of disorganization – a marking time until society had recovered from the shock and manner of Rome’s fall.

We cannot do more here than point out that under Feudalism, ownership of land was not the source of power, any more than ownership of slaves in Rome was, but military might. When Clovis established some form of political state, patterned upon the Roman Empire, to him and his associates fell the fruits of what civilization remained. When social development made the Mayors of the Palace all powerful, it was military might which enabled them to depose the Merovingians and induce the Pope to bless and sanctify that act. The Pope required the military power of Pepin and an alliance was formed, from which arise the Papal Hierarchy. The Political State of Gaul, raised by Charlemagne, was seized by the Capets just before a new barbarian wave submerged the budding civilization. The Northern Vikings again proclaim the world’s dreaded arbiter – military might. All through history the right to rob and rule rests in the last analysis upon military might. In civilization that might is vested in the state. Comrade Dannenberg denies all this. He maintains that the right to rob and rule lies in ownership of the predominant producing factors, Chattel Slaves, Land, and Capital. Out of this postulate flow a number of premises, which, under the circumstances, we must pass over.

Taking up the thread of his argument, where he states that the workers must “meet the economic might of the plutocrats with the superior economic might of the workers” (page 306), which he declares lies in the

consciousness of the proletariat’s indispensability as a productive agent – in the consciousness of being the working class. This class-consciousness of the workers is the generator of the economic power of the proletariat” (Page 307, emphasis original).

The conclusion of the article in the January issue reiterates this assertion. We deny this entirely.

The worker becomes class-conscious, not by recognizing his indispensability to production, a fact of which no worker is ignorant, but in the knowledge of his enslavement as a class.

In the April number, page 392, we are again told that economic power conquers political power, a fact which history and sociology substantiates, and that a recognition of this fact by the workers will eventually compel them to organize and conduct their struggle against Capitalism accordingly. After this preliminary recapitulation, the investigator expels the advocate, and again we walk the same path.

No form of organization is of any value to the working class, we are told, unless it is Socialist in character.

“Class-conscious Socialist action can only be the product of a scientific conception of capitalist production, and can in consequence have only a certain meaning to the working class”. “The only demand worthy of unstinted working class support is the one which demands the unconditional surrender of the capitalist class – the Socialist Commonwealth.”

To this and what follows in the next paragraph respecting the need of keeping the issue clear, we heartily agree. But when we make deductions from the conclusions, we differ fundamentally.

We conclude that the function of a Socialist organization is to make Socialists. Comrade Dannenberg finds it necessary to have two wings. A political and an industrial. Speaking of the function of politics in the Class Struggle, he states our view exactly, until he assumes that “the political victory of the workers will naturally be synonymous with the abolition of politics”. We must ask him to go slowly. Society does not move in that fashion. We believe political government will die out, we know it cannot be abolished. If we have read history aright, and have understood science correctly, social forces are at the mercy of economic conditions. It is beyond the power of man to abolish them. It is for this reason we refuse to entangle ourselves with Industrial Unionism. Now the Industrial Unionism advanced in ‘Constructive Elements of Socialism’ is not like any that was on sea or land. It is Socialist Industrial Unionism. It is based upon the workers’ economic power, and that, alas, is neither economic, nor power. It is in fact the recognition of the workers’ entire lack of economic resource.

Other contenders in other class struggles had tangible forms of wealth over which they fought. The patrician and plebeian of ancient Rome; the free cities and the liege lord of feudalism; the industrial capitalist and the feudal state of early capitalism; and all of these contending parties used their wealth to seduce, organize and instruct the proletarians to fight their battles. Now these same slaves stand before the last victors in a final struggle for supremacy. We cannot see any reason for creating two organizations to perform the same task. The class-conscious workers who capture the political state will be the same workers who must solve the problem of reorganizing society. And if Comrade Dannenberg insists that the form of organization is of no importance, and an understanding of Socialist aims and Marxian knowledge upon the part of its members is of supreme importance, we concur. The only quarrel we have with him is his dual conception of things in general and the Marxian theoretical system in particular.

We know that when a sufficient number of our class realize their position, they will no longer serve as turnkeys of their own economic bondage, and the day of slavery will have passed, we trust, for ever. Unions, industrial or craft, have their roots in the economic conditions of Capitalism, to gain a footing and continue to expand they must fulfill a requirement within capitalism and function therein. This, no union, which meets the requirement of Comrade Dannenberg’s Socialist Industrial Union can do. We consider Comrade Dannenberg is guilty of a grave offense against his own intelligence when he makes the workers’ lack of economic resource synonymous with the masters’ economic resources, by symbolizing them both a economic power. We disapprove of the latter term anyway. Words are symbols which we apply as tags to the thoughts we seek to express relating to the phenomenon of our existence. Comrade Dannenberg tells us on page 305:

“The title of private ownership in the means of production is the cornerstone of capitalist social influence – the generator of every form of capitalist power” (Emphasis original).

What, then, is this capitalist’s power of manifold form? Obviously the powers of state. Granted the influence exerted upon society by its control of the industrial plant is sufficient to maintain the capitalist class in control of the state powers. This means that through its economic resources the capitalist class can influence the educational, juridicial and political machinery of society. Its economic power, therefore, appears to rest in its ability to purchase other powers. The source of all power, however, rests in the state. Apart from the fact that the capitalist method of production is proving itself totally inadequate to the task if maintaining society, and must, if civilization remains, give place to a new social order. Apart from that fact, in the last analysis, the capitalist class remains in control of “every form of capitalist power” through the ignorance of the oppressed class. For it is folly to suppose any class of men endowed with enlightened class interest and fully conscious of its tremendous strength would submit to the conditions under which the modern wage workers live. They being supreme in every department of real power exerted by the modern state it seems to us, therefore, that the dispelling of working class ignorance and the making of class-conscious Socialists is the task appointed to the revolutionary proletariat. For the rest we are content not only to let the dead past bury its dead but to led the unborn future procure its own midwife.

Official Representative of the
Socialist Party of Canada.