The Value of Principle

It is curious to note how large a number of ordinarily lucid thinkers go wool-gathering upon the question of the value of the State recognition of principle. So long as the State admits the correctness of the principle involved in any agitation, although it may cover years, although it may necessitate the expenditure of tremendous effort and demand no inconsiderable sacrifice, although it may occur that all the work has not beneficially affected a single individual of the many thousands they probably set out to benefit, these good people are satisfied that their participation in such agitation was entirely justified.

In connection with the recent unemployed agitation (which has culminated in the unusually useless Act already referred to in these columns) for example, the participants, undoubtedly comprising many honest and earnest men, profess to find occasion for congratulation in that the State has recognised that it has a responsibility to the unemployed—meaning that the State, through its Parliamentary mouthpiece, has admitted that its duty is to provide work for the workless. As a matter of fact the mouthpiece specifically repudiated any such responsibility, but assuming that the State had just as specifically accepted the responsibility, would that be a good and satisfactory thing in itself ? Our friends say, yes, without hesitation, and argue that having admitted the principle it is practically impossible for the State to refuse to translate its acceptance thereof into action.

Those who take this line are probably unaware that it involves the admission that the capitalist-class who, because they are the dominant class in the State are dominant in the legislature—are unconscious of the fact that they are rioting through life upon wealth they have never produced. Because if the capitalist-class are aware that they live by the proceeds of the robbery of labour, they know themselves as frauds. And if they know themselves as frauds they concede the principle that Labour is poor because it is robbed, and that they are the robbers. They are in the uncomfortable position, that is to say, which our friends seem to think will preclude their continuance in the robber role.

This, although the logical deduction from the proposition advanced, will probably not be accepted for the very sufficient reason that the capitalist-class have not abdicated. The only other alternative, therefore, is that they do not understand that they are robbers.

It is questionable indeed whether many of our principle-mongers (to coin a phrase) will acquiesce in that alternative. It is admitted, of course, that some members of the capitalist-class will not be aware of their position. It is also admitted that most of the members of the capitalist-class will not think the term “robbery” as applied to their method of getting a living, justified. But speaking of the capitalist-class as such, and having regard to the fact that they are generally possessed of good educations, it is a fair assumption, and moreover in strict accord with the evidence, that they know the wealth they live upon is wealth they have never produced. And how else can the individual who does not produce find the wherewithal to exist—and exist luxuriously at that except by—robbery ?

If this is so we may take it that the capitalist-class have already recognised the principle that they live at the expense of others, and every indication available goes to show that they will only vacate their position as a result of forcible ejection. Now why is this if the recognition of the principle is the important thing that the principle-mongers would have us believe ? What is the use of the recognition of principle if it does not effect a betterment in the condition of those on whose behalf the recognition is contended for ? Is it not the fact that the right of every needy person to sustenance has been recognised in the British Constitution for several hundred years ? Is it not true that the principle of equity before the law has been admitted for any length of time ? Then why is it that needy persons cry aloud for sustenance and cry in vain ? Why is it that we have palpable administration of law in the interests of the dominant class ? The fact is that there is as wide a gulf between the State recognition of a principle and its application as there is between recognition and non-recognition. Any principle can be admitted without danger to the dominant class—indeed, this class stands to gain by their concession, because they are thereby enabled to lull unrest by an affectation of concern for the triumph of Right—unless the power that enforces the admission is sufficiently strong to compel its practical application. And what power is it that can enforce the application of the principle of the right of every man to work and to the full result of his labour, except an educated, class-conscious, thoroughly organised working-class ?

To this power and to this power alone will the capitalist-class finally submit, and not then until they have exhausted all the resources of force and fraud by the exercise of which they have hitherto been enabled to maintain their ascendancy. In the last resort it is not ethical considerations that will weigh as our friends seem to suppose. These have failed as they must always fail before the fundamental and all prevailing motive of material well-being. If it were otherwise the capitalist-class, already convicted of sin, already well knowing that their position is built up upon the exploitation and misery of the many, would have abdicated long ago. It is force, organised and intelligently directed, that will achieve the victory, and it is The Socialist Party of Great Britain that in this country is educating and organising the working-class to that end.

Therefore it is not the State recognition of a principle that matters when that State is capitalist. It is the recognition of principle by the working-class, and the intelligent organisation of that class into a power that can enforce the principle’s application that matters.

Let our friends consider themselves. They are wasting a lot of time.


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