The Political Organisation of the Working-Class

Parliament has reassembled. The forces of Toryism and Liberalism have mustered at Westminster. The old farce is carried merrily on. But in this reassembling how are the wiseacres of the Press falsified ! Have they not told us that dissolution was imminent—that probably the Tories, suffering from senility and torn by inward dissension, would not dare to come forward again with a programme for another session. And the Tory government comes forward gaily—as a Liberal government would do in its place—determined to hold on to office as long as it can.

The Tory programme, too, seems cleverly arranged for the double purpose of dishing the Liberals and of catching votes. How else is it possible to account for the expressed intention to pass measures for the appointment of authorities to deal with the unemployed, for amending and extending the Workmen’s Compensation Acts, for the establishing of a ministry of commerce and industry, for the notification of industrial accidents ?

“Ah! but it depends on what these measures will mean in practice,” we hear an indignant Liberal muttering. That is, of course, very true and we Socialists know full well that the Tory government is not likely to take much trouble in the direction of adequately redressing the grievances of the workers. But neither are the Liberals. And the Liberals know, when they prate about “giving redress to the conditions prevailing among the working classes” (they mean the working-class), about free breakfast tables, about taxation of land values, about old age pensions, and a thousand and one other things, that they have no intention of passing measures for the benefit of the working-class. “Dealing with the unemployed” means something very different when used by Tory, Liberal, and Socialist, and so with other reforms.

What we have to recognise is that no matter what professions they may make, the Liberals and Tories in the House of Commons represent, in the first place, the interests of property. So long as they can maintain the rights of private property, and the privileges and vested interests which have twined themselves round private property, they are content.

But in conserving the rights of private property they occasionally find the vested interests of one section of property-holders conflict with those of another section. When the machine industry was in its infancy the conflict between the machine or factory-owner and the landowner—the commercial and the landed interest—crystallised itself into two great political parties, the Whig and the Tory. And so to-day we find that the divisions in political life are but the reflex of property relations and the conflict of interests between property-owners.

Again, whenever the development of industry, the opening up of new countries to commerce, the abolition or adoption of prohibitive tariffs, or the introduction of a fresh motive-power in production brings about changes in the world of commerce and thence creates new industrial interests, we find new lines of demarcation among the political factions. A Tory government which would impose an additional duty of 2/- on every barrel of beer would convert every brewer to Liberalism. A Liberal government which refused to renew the Agricultural dole would force large numbers of the “landed gentry” into the Tory camp.

But why should we labour this point ? Every section of the community except the working-class has known and admitted it any time this last fifty years. And the worker must one day wake to it and to the fact that as each other section of the community looks after its own sectional interest he, too, must look after his class interest and achieve his class emancipation.

Why cannot the worker learn this lesson? Every day some action of the political factions cries it out to him. Every time the public Press—as much the slave of privilege and vested interest as the political faction—takes up some question of interest to the worker it is for objects other than his benefit. Questions of unemploymenl and distress afford good copy when Parliament is not sitting and are entirely neglected when parliamentary reports are forthcoming.

The worker has then to learn that the Liberal and the Tory are alike indifferent to his welfare. That however much they may coquet with him at election times when his vote is useful, they will do nothing which endangers the property rights of their class. That though they may resent the tyrannical actions of a Penrhyn, it is but because such actions endanger their existence as a class when the workers recognise that they are all potential Penrhyns.

When the worker has learnt his lesson ; when he knows he must rely upon himself and upon his fellows what is he to do ? How is he to apply his knowledge to matters of everyday importance to him? It is evidently futile for him to assert his independence of the other politicals factions if he is independently to strive for measures which those factions advocate. It is also useless for him to organise himself into a party which is unable to agree upon a working programme and a common line of action. To us as Socialists it is clear that, the Liberals and the Tories having been thrown over as parties, the principles for which they work must also be thrown over, and that, therefore, anyone holding the opinions either of Liberalism or of Toryism must be left outside the workers’ party. The party of the workers has interests which have no common bond with Liberalism or Toryism, and the party of the workers must, therefore, steer clear of anything which is in any way allied with these parties.

The political party of the workers must be the reflex of the economic interests of the workers who are the propertyless class, in the same way as the other parties reflect the economic interests of the propertied class. We are then driven to the necessity of searching for the economic interest of the worker. And this we find in the principle that the working-class having created all the wealth of society are the rightful owners of that wealth. Every man should receive the product of his own labour, but as in modern society it is impossible to determine the portion which any individual adds to the value of the articles he helps to create, we must be content to let all those who labour remain joint owners of the aggregate product.

This, however, is not what obtains in modern society where the reverse is the case. In modern society to-day the non-producers of wealth are the joint owners of the aggregate amount of wealth produced. In this fact we have surely the true differentiation of the party of the workers from the party of the property-owners. And the first object of the political party of the workers, therefore, should be the securing for workers as a class the fruits of their own labour.

If they can only secure this they will have no need to worry about limiting the hours of work, securing a legal law of minimum, or returning to the status quo ante Taff Vale. These trifling matters will soon adjust themselves when the workers take as their own the product of their own labour. And resulting from this would come the necessity of the present property-owners, unable longer to live on the fruits of other men’s labour, working so as to secure their own livelihood.

This means the establishment of a system of society in which the livelihood of the people is duly considered as one of the primal ends of the society’s existence, and that as each member of the society obtains a livelihood, so each such member must do his share in its necessary work.

When this is secured it will follow that the usefulness of every article produced will be considered before it is made, and that all work done for the manufacture and exchange of useless or inferior articles will be eliminated. This will permit of a thorough organisation of industry, all forms of useless labour being dispensed with and everyone sharing in the performance of the resulting necessary work.

Such a system of society would allow the development of everyone’s individuality which is to-day too often crushed out in mine, factory, or workshop, and would mean freedom, comfort, and happiness, each in their fullest measure, to the mass of mankind.

Such a social regime would be a Socialist society—the Socialist Republic—and the party which must achieve it is the working-class, politically organised as a Socialist party, the nucleus of which is to be found in The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, March 1905)

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