Revolution’s Reply to Reform

The answer to “Arms for the Workers: A Defence of the Programme of the Social-Democratic Party.” (E. C. Fairchild, Lon. Organiser S.D.P.)

“By common consent, Socialists agree that the control of the National Executive by the working class must precede the use of land and the instruments of production for the common good. Conflicts between the classes in society are but struggles to secure possession of the central authority that decrees the law, which registers or changes the conditions of property holding. Control of politics means control of property.”

Thus Mr. Fairchild opens. But he is incorrect. Politics is the science of government, or, the contests for power of government. Our author means neither the control of the science nor of the contests, but the control of political power. Then Control of political power is political power. Henceforth we shall transcribe the sentence : “Political power means control of property.”

The palliator then deals with his subject under sectional headings. We will do the same, using his headings.

The Principle Common to Socialists

“We cannot escape restraints upon our freedom imposed by our life in the past. Custom and tradition weigh as heavily in politics as in other departments of human activity.”

Is this the language of regret ? It seems so, for as a consequence :

“The political party that appealed to electors upon a statement of object only, would soon find the average man so far rational that he wished to know the means by which the object would be realised.”

Exactly. Were it otherwise Socialists, optimists as they are, might deem the fight hopeless. But reformers dread the question, and for fear of it will not appeal to the electors upon a statement of object only. We read:

“For this reason, the Socialist Party in every country has formulated a number of proposals, variously known as palliatives, platforms, or stepping-stones.”

The object of Socialists, reduced to the utmost limits of brevity, is—Socialism. Not so sententiously, but with more information, the S.P.G.B. states its object as “The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.”

The “rational” man at once asks “Is present society so based ?” No. Then how is the property change to be effected ? Mr. Fairchild himself supplies our answer to the dread question.

“Control of the National Executive by the working class must precede the use of land and the instruments of production for the common good.” Then we must get control of the National Executive, or, to lift ourselves above the S.D.P. loose verbiage, must capture the political machinery. Why ? Because it is “the central authority that decrees the law, which registers or changes the conditions of property holding.” Because, to use a less questionable phrase, “control of the National Executive” means political power, and “political power means control of property.”

The answer is clear and easy. Why then, does the reformer try to put ‘”the electors” off asking the question by giving them “a number of proposals” which are not Socialism to think about?

Of course, the reform defender has the alternative that his language is as loose in this passage as elsewhere, that these “proposals” are not formulated to avoid the question, but to answer it—and the use of the term “vcc stepping-stones” would bear him out. But to submit these “palliatives” as the answer to the question “how is Socialism to be attained?” is to claim that they are indeed stepping-stones to Socialism ; that they are revolutionary, and undermine the capitalist basis of society. Perhaps we shall see later if he dare take up this position.

Concerning the proposals we read :

“While the private possession of land and capital continued, these proposals could be applied by a government representing the interests of the capitalist class, or by a government acting on behalf of the workers and having Socialism as its aim.”

So we are asked to imagine that the working class have obtained that “control of the National Executive” which “must precede the use of land .and the instruments of production for the common good” ; have captured that political power which means “control of property” ; are installed (in the persons of their “Socialist” representatives) as the “central authority that decrees the law, which registers or changes the conditions of property holding.” And this “Socialist” Government, with its control of property, its power of “changing the conditions of property holding”—what does it do? Does it announce the fructescence, the fruit-time longed for by the tired labourers of “myriad meetings” ? Does it, having attained all that is needful for the purpose—control of the armed forces and the other instruments of government—change the property condition from private to common ownership, and so establish Socialism and free humanity from the curse of wage labour and all its concomitant evils ? Oh no ! At the moment when exploitation should cease for ever it begins to dabble with Eight Hours Days and Minimum Wages !

But this seeming idiocy can be easily accounted for. The palliator puts forward “palliatives” in order to catch votes. When we are invited to suppose a government “having Socialism as its aim” installed at Westminster, we are really asked to imagine the most complete realisation of the “get there at any price” policy. The pseudo-Socialists have captured the seats, but, as our author knows well enough, they have not captured one shred or vestige of political power. As a matter of fact, as far as essentials go, the position remains unchanged. The working class have control of the “National Executive,” but only in the sense that they had it previously. Formerly, in their ignorance, they elected their masters ; now, in their ignorance, they elect men of their own class who are not honest enough, or intelligent enough, or brave enough, to come before them with the plain statement of Socialist object only, but have formulated a number of proposals which were perhaps intended to carry them into power, but have only carried them into place. The minds of those who elected these misleaders have undergone no change, and since it is the mind of the electorate which controls the National Executive, the control of this “central” authority means exactly what it did before—the perpetuation of capitalist control of property, decreed by working-class ignorance.

The “government having Socialism for its aim” occupies a false position. Seated on fraudulent pretensions, it is utterly impotent. The most honest of it members thought to snatch a victory for Socialism on the votes of those opposed to the revolutionary principle, and now they find that, true as it is that “political power means control of property,” it by no means follows that political power and political place are synonymous, or that property is controlled in the interests of those who have control of the “central authority.” That depends upon their consciousness of those interests.

In order to have obtained political power for working-class interests it was necessary for the working-class representatives to draw their strength from an electorate cognisant of those interests, instead of which, in the case we are invited to imagine, they are upheld by a working-class electorate with the capitalist mind, who have given them no mandate for revolution, no authority for changing “the conditions of property holding.” If it is true, then, that “conflicts between the classes in society are but struggles to secure possession of the central authority that decrees the law which changes the conditions of property holding,” then the recognition that this “Socialist” government which has become the “central authority,” is powerless to interfere with the property condition of present society is a confession that the palliator’s vote-catching policy is fighting the battle on wrong lines.

Without political power, and therefore without control of property, our “government having Socialism as its aim,” is reduced to its Minimum Wage bill, its Eight Hour act, and so on. But whether these things are “applied by a government representing the interests of the capitalist class, or by a government acting on behalf of the workers,” the result must be the same. “Political power means control of property,” but, given the property conditions, the economic laws which arise out of them are beyond its reach. Political power may sweep away private ownership of the means of production, but so long as that property condition continues, the exact degree of misery of the workers as a class will be determined by industrial development, and will be unamenable to palliatives.

Concerning the central idea of the section, that “the principle common to Socialists” which our palliator observes “beneath, or running through,” the various proposals, is “the extension of collective or communal action for the general well-being, in place of the use of national resources for private gain,” this implies “control of property,” which only political power can give the workers. To say that they have this political power is to say that they have the power to abolish private property in the means of life and to establish Socialism; to say that they have it not is to say, on our opponent’s own showing, that they cannot extend “collective or communal action for the general well-being,” or, as he earlier put it, use “land and the instruments of production for the common good.” To maintain that they have that political power which should accompany political place (and which is only important to the workers because it confers the power to change the property conditions of society) and yet allow “the private possession of land and capital” to continue while they apply their “palliative” is to rebuke the lie that they have Socialism as their aim, and expose themselves as willful perpetuators of capitalism.

Further, so far from true is it that there is any “principle common to Socialists” running through these proposals, that the principle common to capitalists—exploitation—is implied by and writ large over most of them, for example the Eight Hours Day and the Minimum Wage.

The Socialist in Politics

There is little in this section that Mr. Fairchild has not touched upon in the previous one. He claims that “the items of the Socialist (!) programme are a recognition that the claims of society are greater than the rights of private property in land and capital.”

Are they, indeed ! It seems to the present penman that if anything could have denoted the utter abandonment of all and any rights, claims or hopes by the workers, it is to hear “Socialists” talking of the application by “a government acting on behalf of the workers, and having Socialism as its aim,” of Eight Hour Days, Minimum Wages, feeding necessitous children, and (p. 2) “public control of those agencies which supply public needs, on lines that will secure release from the burdens imposed by the payment of interest to idle money-lenders.”

What touching solicitude for the property owners’ welfare !

“The Socialist in politics,” it seems, is bound to formulate a palliative programme. We take the opposite view.

We hold that only by the change of the property basis of society from private to common ownership can the workers’ position be improved. “Political power means control of property.” To have political power we must have political place, but we may have political place without having political power. But since it is not political place which controls property, that alone is useless to us, and its attainment would prove calamitous for working-class interests. For in such a case the “Socialist” government must be on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand they would be pushed in the direction of revolution (the direction of changing the property conditions of society) by the “Social-Democrats” and others who believed they had won power for Socialism, on the other hand they would be expected by the vast majority of their constituents, who had elected them upon reforms and for reforms, to institute those reforms they had promised.

Mr. Fairchild’s statement that, “while the private possession of land and capital continued” the reforms “could be applied by a government having Socialism as its aim” indicates the direction he anticipates they would be forced to move in. But we shall show presently that these “palliatives” will not palliate, that all the economic laws which govern commodities are against the “palliatives,” and must inevitably render them powerless to affect the economic condition, of working-class existence. If we are correct in this; if, being applied the “palliatives” prove to be inoperative, what will be the result ? They will be detected for the misleaders they are and incontinently thrown overboard. Should they, on the other hand, attempt the revolutionary property change, they will quickly find out what it means to be without political power. Their political castle, built upon the rotten foundation of a non-Socialist electorate, will collapse at the first blast of their own trumpets, crumble beneath the tramp of their own feet.

Whichever course the “government having Socialism as its aim” should follow, the result must be the utter waste of all the precious working-class enthusiasm and weary effort—blood and treasure in the very essence—and consequent apathy and loss of confidence in themselves among the workers.

In order to avoid this misfortune, the Socialist Party of Great Britain takes the field without palliatives or other vote-catching devices. Holding that the duty of “the Socialist in politics” is to build up a position upon a thoroughly sound, revolutionary foundation, it discourages support from those who do not hold its principles. It is with this object it has framed a rule (31) to the effect that all or none of the vacant seats in any particular ward or constituency must be contested and that all must be elected or none allowed to take their seats. Our political place must be the measure of our political power.


To be Continued.

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