1900s >> 1908 >> no-48-august-1908

Getting Socialism

There is much misunderstanding as to the meaning of the phrase “The coming Social Revolution” as used by Socialists. Many inquiring workers, befogged by the teaching of the I.L.P. and of other reforming bodies, complain that they cannot conceive of a comparatively sudden or “catastrophic” change carrying society from Capitalism into Socialism. Hence, it seems, some of the attempted justification of a “palliative” program—a means of sliding into Socialism while the masters are not looking, you know. (Socialism to come upon us “as a thief in the night,” was Mr. Keir Hardie’s felicitous phrase, I believe.)

This misunderstanding would appear to arise largely from an over-consumption of Blatchfordian “rational Socialism,” and of “Looking Backward”-” News from Nowhere” Utopianism —though these, perhaps, are the least noxious of I.L.P. teachings. Certainly, to wake up one morning in Capitalism, do a barricade “turn” and go to sleep that night in Morris’s blissful “Nowhere” is not what the Socialist means by “the coming Social Revolution.”

Say Marx and Engels in the “Communist Manifesto,”

“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 (italics mine); and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.
“Of course in the beginning, this cannot be effected except 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.”

Also in recent years Kautsky has said in his work “The Social Revolution” :

“It is therefore, the conquest of the powers of State by a hitherto oppressed class—in other words, the political revolution, which is an essential characteristic of the social revolution in its narrower sense, as opposed to social reform.”

Now to “raise the proletariat to the position of a ruling class”—”the conquest of the powers of State,” is conceivable.

That by dint of economic pressure and of Socialist propaganda and organisation the workers can vote themselves into “the position of a ruling class,” is conceivable.

That, given an organised, prepared, Socialist proletariat become the ruling class, its delegates can proceed to the enactment of transition measures (necessarily temporary) which in the aggregate will knock from under class-divided society its basis—private ownership and control of the means and instruments of production and distribution, thus causing the disappearance of classes, is, we hold, conceivable.

Given the common ownership and control of the means of production, the consequent disappearance of classes, dominant and subject, and the time necessary to get things working smoothly, and Socialism (Industrial Democracy; the Co-operative Commonwealth) is here: the Revolution is accomplished.

Now how about the other alleged practical and “common-sense” method described by Keir Hardie and Co. ? Is it conceivable that the workers’ emancipation can be gained by an accumulation of reforms ? Let us see.

Noisily trumpeted, apparently palliative reforms are at present dispensed—old age pensions on the cheap and devil-take-the-weak-and-old workmen’s compensation—and are pointed to as proof of the triumphant policy of our I.L.P., S.D.P., etc., etc. reformers. But we point out that a million such reforms, with a little municipalisation and nationalisation of capital thrown in, will still leave the workers poor, subject to competition and unemployment—still a subject class. The bridge that can alone span the chasm between Capitalism and Socialism remains as ever—the acquisition of the control of industry by the working class.

Now the present controllers of industry are certainly not less aware of this fact than are the Socialists ; and since they find domination sweet, and since history records not an instance of a dominant class voluntarily and of sweet reasonableness abdicating its controlling position, it follows that our capitalist masters will defend their control of the means and instruments of production by every device at their command, from reform dispensing to massacre. Long established privilege is not to be so easily abolished. Certainly, that our masters will kindly vote us, and hand over, one after another, the different industries, thus committing suicide as a class, is not conceivable.

The advocacy of reforms is mischievous because it does not prepare the workers for the tremendous task of beating the master class out of power, but rather teaches them to look to the masters for crumbs and, on Keir Hardie lines, for the piecemeal concession of Socialism.

No ! we cannot reform into Socialism because the capitalist class will not abolish itself, while if we gain the power to take reforms we should indeed be foolish to halt on the road and try patching up capitalism. Our clear duty would be to expropriate the capitalist class and re-organise production and distribution as the common interest dictates. That is to say, establish Socialism.

J. H. H.

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