The Only Way for Clerks
Mr. Herbert H. Elvin is a hard-shelled Baptist—or so it would seem from his biographical notes, which appear (with portrait) in the March issue of The Clerk. He is also the General Secretary of the National Union of Clerks. In the capacity of Baptist he is after souls, and is still, we learn, “in great demand as a local preacher.” As the secretary of the N.U.C. he is concerned with the salvation of bodies. In both departments his methods are the same. He builds temples to Ignorance and invites the unregenerate to come in and worship in order that they may be saved. His success as a Baptist church-builder may be unquestionable—I neither know nor care. But we of the S.P.G.B. are concerned with the measure of his success in the politico-economic sphere—meaning by success in this connection, the extent to which he may be able to induce clerical workers to regard his economic and political temple as a sanctuary from the deep damnation of their servitude.
Clerks have generally been regarded, not without reason, as amongst
THE MOST DESPERATE OF ALL THE DULLARDS
of the working class. The pathetic intensity of their passion for respectability, and the affectation of aloofness from the “corduroy brigade” which, as members of a “profession,” they have, in the past particularly, displayed, have made their organisation a distinctly difficult task. Not even such an eminently respectable society as the N.U.C. seems to be, could have inspired in them any other than a feeling of lofty disdain had it not been that the operations of a highly organised capitalist system, ruthless in its working, and certainly entirely regardless of any suppositious differences between owners of stovepipe hats and smokers of the black cutty, have crushed the clerk into some sort of recognition of the fact that, in common with all other working-class members, he is no more than a commodity in the labour market—and a very redundant commodity at that. Having, however, reached the point where he is beginning to see that his interests are, after all, bound up with those of the horny-handed sons of labour, it is of all things undesirable that he should have his devolopment warped by being put upon a polltico-economic dietry which, while it may be good enough for the sustenance of crustacean Baptists, is absolutely starvation fare for a healthy member of the working class.
Of course, Mr. Elvin cannot help being merely silly in the position of advisor to the clerks,
HIS BIBLICAL EXEMPLARS
and his contemporary religious mentors are hardly likely to guide him in the path that is economically right; and when a young man has been brought up to regard these as the embodiment of all the virtues, it is not surprising if he gives off “views” that are only notable for their, shall we say, absurdity. I sympathise with him in his unhappy position, but I must, all the same, baste his precious views. This one, for an example—
“We should not allow our branches to become mere debating societies to discuss the good and the ill of Toryism, Liberalism, Socialism, or any other ism outside trade unionism. To effect any great reform in the condition of the clerk we must first of all weld all clerks into a powerful organisation, and, knowing what I do of the temperament of the clerk, I am fully satisfied that we shall never be able to accomplish this if members try to bring the Union under the control of some political party, rather than work disinterestedly for the benefit of clerks as a whole.”
Now I will defy Ramsay MacDonald, Robert Blatchford, Bruce Glasier, or any other accepted exponent of the art, to crowd more undiluted piffle into so small a compass. Toryism, Liberalism, and Socialism are taboo in the Union. The clerks are to regard Socialism as on a par with Toryism and Liberalism so far as the realisation of their “great reform” is concerned. It is of no consequence that Liberalism and Toryism are the political expressions of the interests of the master class against which the clerks are to organise themselves. It is of no account that these masters are in politics simply in order to maintain their economic supremacy and the continued enslavement of the clerk. It does not matter that the Socialist Party stands in irreconcilable antagonism to the capitalist parties and is the only party through which the clerks and other workers may achieve any material improvement in their conditions. This is outside the purview of the trade-unionised clerk. He may come in, be he Tory or Liberal or nothing. He is to
KEEP MUM UPON EVERYTHING
except the increase of the strength of the trade union, the payment of his dues, and other matters appertaining to the union, until there is a sufficient body “organised” to warrant a move being made toward that “great reform” and then—well, we will make a move !
I wonder whether Mr. Elvin has any definite notion of what that move must be toward, and how the N.U.C. is to proceed. I understand he does not favour strikes. He is opposed to discussion that may have the effect of opening the eyes of the politically blind. Does he, then, hope to peacefully persuade the masters to concede the “great reform”—whatever that may be ? Surely even a Baptist is sufficiently awake to know the futility of that hope. How then ?
Mr. Elvin seems to see, rather mistily, that he is up against a dead wall. And he takes refuge in “pothry.” It’s an old dodge, and rather a favourite with those who are faced at the end of their argumentative tether with an irrepressible note of interrogation. Mr. Elvin’s refuge is Whittier, who exhorts the reader thus—
Strike together while ye can.
As the heart of one.
which is all doubtless very nice and inspiriting, but doseu’t get us much “forrarder,” seeing that we don’t know yet what we are to strike at, or how we are to strike. We cannot strike economically because strikes are taboo. We cannot hope to induce the masters to give us our “great reform.” Much more powerful organisations of much more highly skilled workers, e.g., the engineers, have failed dismally in that direction. And we cannot strike politically because, being at
POLITICAL SIXES AND SEVENS
(owing, in part, probably, to political discussion being barred in the Union) we cannot “strike together” as exhorted by the poet. On the whole it would seem easier to “Let our hearts together beat as the heart of one” !
But to do Mr. Elvin justice, he is not quite done yet. He seems to be, although he does not say so directly, in favour of the move toward the “great reform” being made if all else fails, through the medium of the Labour Party. After all the “no politics in the Union” ukase, this seems to be a little confusing. Therefore Mr. Elvin hastens to assure us that the Labour Party is not a political party “in the general usage of the term.” It is only a party taking political action. If that also is not clear perhaps this will be. “It” (the Labour Party) “is a conglomeration of the political parties. It is a union of those who are divided on questions like Home Rule, Education (sectarian or secular), Disestablishment of the Church; but are of one mind on matters affecting the interests of the workers.”
Accept this for the fact it is not. Apparently Mr. Elvin believes that political parties “in the general usage of the term,” are only concerned with questions like Home Rule, Disestablishment, etc. He doesn’t seem to have an inkling of the truth that just as (according to him) the Labour Party is of one mind on matters affecting the interests of the workers, so the other parties are of one mind on matters affecting the interests of the capitalists. If the Labour Party was of one mind on questions of real working-class interest, if it was a political party “in the general usage of the term,” it would not be the conglomeration of pettifogging palliative-mongers purveying preposterous pills for economic earthquakes that it is. It is as hopeless as the poet, as futile as Mr. Elvin’s creed. It cannot effect any material improvement in the position of the working class.
But even if it could, how is it possible to secure the adhesion of Liberal and Tory clerks in the N.U.C. to the Labour Party if discussion of party politics is not allowed ? To talk as Mr. Elvin talks about the difference between politics and party politics is simply more piffle. Political questions are broadly associated with political parties. Essential working-class politics are the politics of the party that is in irreconcilable opposition to the political parties of the capitalist class. That working-class party is not the Labour Party. It is the Socialist Party. Yet Mr. Elvin puts
SOCIALISM IN THE CART
with Liberalism and Toryism and hauls them all outside his precious Union.
All this “baffle-headedness” and positively paralysing stupidity may come of being a Baptist, or it may not. We of the Socialist Party of Great Britain are not concerned with the Baptist or greatly with Mr. Elvin. But when Mr. Elvin the Baptist, takes up the position of an instructor of the working class and pours out the vials of his drivel upon the heads of those of our class who have in their ignorance elected him to their chieftainship, we step in to show the folly of the position and the disastrous results that must accrue. If Mr. Elvin is honest (and we have no reason for the present for supposing him otherwise), let him reconsider himself and see if he cannot fit himself adequately for the post of working-class advisor—if that is what he desires to be. If, however, his union members prefer to follow his present lead ; if their action is not guided in the future by a clearer apprehension of the position they occupy as clerks in the working-class movement than their secretary seems to possess, they are in for some extremely painful experiences. But if they will take every opportunity of discussing the political situation in the light of the information the Socialist has; if they will study Socialism and let their actions be guided by Socialist science, they will go out to the fight—it will be a fight, sure enough—with no delusions about the capitulation of the opposing forces, with no misapprehensions on the score of the advantages to be derived from this or that big or little reform. They will know that there is no reform worth much more than a tinker’s anathema from the working-class point of view. They will know that the only thing worth organising for, striving for, if needs be, dying for, is the control of the means by which they live. Without this control they have no voice in the disposal of the product of labour. They are slaves without the security that the chattel slave possessed. Their position is always precarious, always one of unhappy struggle ; a position which is not, nor can be, altered in any single important aspect by any reform whatever. But given ownership and control of the means of living, and they have the guarantee of all the material things of life.
THE SLAVE HAS CEASED ;
the master of slaves has ceased. One hundred per cent. of the produce goes to the producer. The struggle for bread is done.
How may this control be secured ? Through organisation on class-conscious lines in the workshop and office and factory ; and in the political party (in the common usage of that term) that is out specifically to wrest political power from the representatives of the capitalist class in the legislature, in order that control of the machinery of production may be secured by the working class without danger of being blown to the Baptists’ devil by the armed forces, which are, of course, under the direction of the dominant power in Parliament.
The Socialist economic organisation has yet to be evolved. But the political party that answers all requirements, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, is here. The Socialist Party is the political party that the stupidity of Mr. Elvin places outside the union in company with the Liberal and Tory Parties, yet it is none the less the party the clerical workers must join sooner or later. Therefore it behoves them to treat as cavalierly as they think fit their secretarial exhortation, and discuss political action— party politics—to the top of their bent, particularly the politics of the Socialist Party.
If they require further information or literature a line to the office of the Party will bring it. Or if Mr. Elvin would like to defend his position or attack ours, we will give him all the rope he wants. And if the worst happens, his blood be on his own head !