Why Socialists Oppose Anarchism: Part 3


[continued from October issue.]

One thing is plain : if you reject political action you are left only with individual action — “propaganda by deed.” The Anarchists have tried to find substitutes, and Syndicalism and the General Strike have held the stage — until they have been examined.

They point to France as an example of successful Syndicalism, but France is surely Syndicalism’s grave ! It is represented there by the Confederation Generale du Travail — composed of 300,000 members, a small number of whom are Anarchists, though, through lack of democracy, they set the official positions. The small unions have the same, voting power at Congresses as the large ones, and it is well said that


have the same voting power as a union of 10,000 members.

Owing to the tempestuous, excitable nature of the people of southern climes, they are more prone to display and impetuous action than other races. Hence the sudden strikes and the equally sudden and sad collapse of them. The majority of the organised French workers are outside the Confederation, and even the number of organised workers all told is far less than here. Yet with all the lack of organisation and the reactionary politics of the majority of unionists, the Syndicalists keep announcing a great general strike. But these strikes, ordered by the Anarchist minority at the helm, have turned out to be general fiascos.

Even a strike such as the first Paris Postal strike temporarily claimed a victory, but after Government preparations their succeeding strike collapsed amid dismissals and persecution. The Syndicalists preach direct action, but direct action for reform. The Union Label, the Eight Hour Day, the Reduction of High Food Prices—these are some of their ideals. And “sabotage” is their trump card. Known under the English name of ”rattening,” it consists of breaking and making useless machinery, and other such revolutionary (!) deeds.


follows, and it promotes wide-spread dissension and lack of sympathy with the strikers.

These methods indicate backward organisation and unscientific conceptions, and are reminiscent of early English trade unionism.

The Anarchists fiercely denounce authority, but they become officials of the trade unions and paid ones at that! They impeach reprsentation and delegation, but have to resort to them ! They condemn political action but vote for the politicians who promise Government subsidies for union premises !

But the criticism from their own side is, perhaps, the most damaging. Said Malatesta (at International Congress) : “He expected some comrades would be surprised to hear him speak against Syndicalism and the General Strike.” He would have nothing to say against it (Syndicalism) if he could believe that Syndicalism could alone, as was claimed for it, destroy Capitalism. But who could expect to overthrow Capitalism while remaining a servant of capitalist production? . . . The fact of the matter was that as the Syndicalist organisations grew nearer and nearer to perfection, the number of unemployed grew greater and greater . . . It is only too obvious that the Syndicalists make a


without harassing the capitalists.” Sighing for a “moral struggle” he said : “We may as well confess that the purely economic struggle is not sufficient.”

Ridiculing the success of French Syndicalism the same speaker said “he did not see why France should consider herself in a novel condition. English trade unionism began in just the same revolutionary way and look at it now . . . What he objected to was the idea freely propagated by some Syndicalists that the General Strike can replace insurrection. Some people fondly cherish the idea that we are going to starve the bourgeoisie. We should starve first. . . . He considered that some of the pamphlets published on the General Strike did nothing but harm. … He had read somewhere that we ought to go and smash the railway bridges ! He wondered whether the advocates of such foolishness ever realised that corn has to come the same way as the cannons come . . . We must face the cannons if we want the corn. … If the Government have perfected the arms of repression we must purfect those of revolution. We need more knowledge ” !

From their own ranks, then, the exposure has come. But we do not adopt the view of another of their delegates who asked : “What was the use of agitating for higher wages when the cost of living automatically rises in price ?” That is capitalist economics.

We recognise that the workers, having only their energy to sell, have to get the best price possible, and therefore must oppose any attempt to beat them down or make them work longer. The present trade unions are not Socialist, but mere alteration in the form is not the remedy.

The workers in and out of the unions must be taught the Socialist position, and when the members become Socialists, they will see that the unions take the class form.


how you like while the workers are not revolutionary, they will be misled still and will fail to see the limits of their powers and the remedy.

While we strongly sympathise with all real struggles against the employers’ attacks, we never cease to urge upon the workers the need for class-consciousness for ending this system of society altogether, by political control.

The General Strike as a means of emancipation must surely fail, for the working class are propertyless, and if they cease work even the “short commons” that “work” means cease too. Starvation stares them in the face. All acquainted with proletarian life know the terrible privation that strikes entail; the suffering writ large on the faces of the helpless babes, the toddling children and the struggling wives. Such agonising scenes as were to be witnessed on the hillsides and in the valleys of South Wales during the year-long Cambrian Strike. The stripped homes; the crammed pawnshops; the rising mortality: these remind us that


us well as the masters. This is but a sectional strike; a strike with those at work helping those who are out. But when all the workers strike even that help fails, for they are all in the same boat. Even in sectional strikes we have seen how the workers often appeal to the bourgeoisie for aid for their wives and little ones, and soup kitchens, etc., are opened. Their purchasing power also grows worse as strikes continue, for prices rise.

The masters, strongly entrenched in the economic field, also control the political machine, and when they think the aims of the strikers important enough they use the armed forces to butcher, baton, and cow the strikers. Though always at their command, they do not use the armed forces wantonly. They weigh the pros and cons. “Is massacre necessary?” they ask themselves. “Can’t we arbitrate their demands out of existence? Won’t a Royal Commission do? Shall we give their leaders jobs?” Just as they bought Briand, the pioneer of the General Strike. Only when these other means fail do they risk inflaming the populace by resorting to open and


But other means generally do not fail.

True, a general strike can paralyse industry. A prolonged General Strike can destroy society. For we depend upon continued production and cessation means death. But death snatches its first victims from the toilers : they are most vulnerable—they have no stores, no reserves. Our masters have.

The General Strike figured largely in speeches 30 years ago, and found its chief exponent in Michael Bakunine. The greater part of his life he was a prominent figure in the reactionary pan-Slavist crusade. He turned his attention to the International founded by Marx, Engels, and others, and in the Latin countries and Switzerland he carried on a bitter campaign against Marx and other members of the London General Council of the International.

Marx believed in effective organisation, strong and well knit, and political action as against street fights. The unscrupulous methods Bakunine used to smash the International from within, together with his past, often laid him under suspicion of being a spy, but against his intrigues the sturdy Socialist pioneer proved too strong.

From the days of the International onward Marx and Engels continued to press the need for the conquest of political supremacy by the workers. Engels incurred the especial hatred of the Anarchists for his condemnation of their General Strike tactics. The Anarchist rising in Spain in 1873 served as an occasion for his pamphlet against them entitled “The Bakunist on Labour,” and he afterwards carried the war into


with his “Social Conditions in Russia,” a polemic against the Bakunists circulated widely in Russia. W. Tcherkesoff, the Anarchist, bitterly denounces Engels for these pamphlets in his falsified “Pages from Socialist History” and elsewhere.

The last work from Engels’ pen was the introduction he wrote a few months before he died (1895) to Marx’s “The Class Struggles in France.” Of it the writer of the “Life of Engels” says: “With merciless criticism he destroyed the fanciful representation of the all-powerful barricade and destroyed the hope of the European reaction that the labourers could be provoked to a street-fight in which they could be repulsed with decimated ranks. He showed how the revolution in the art of warfare had made the old form of struggle impossible, while a new weapon had been provided for the labouring class in the new political right of suffrage against which the ruling class were helpless. ‘The irony of the world’s history,’ says Engels, ‘ places everything on its head. We, the “revolutionaries,” the “overturners,” we succeed better with the legal means than with illegality and force. The self-named “Party of Order” goes to pieces on the legal conditions created by itself. They despairingly cry with Odillon Barrot


while we from the same legality gain strong muscles, ruddy cheeks, and the appearance of eternal life. If we are not so foolish as to please them by allowing ourselves to be led into street fights there remains nothing for them but to be broken to pieces upon this fatal legality.’ “

Just as Engels shows, we, the revolutionists, are prepared to use legal means in so far as they can be used in the workers’ interest, and ignore them when they cannot. When legal means fail illegal means are justifiable and commendable. Therefore we have no qualms about using the suffrage, enacted by the capitalists. We know that just as the bourgeoisie before us had to be enfranchised for the free and easy development of society an ever wider and more extended suffrage is imperative.

One section or another had sooner or later to pass the Franchise Bill, and it was the Tories who actually did it—to dish the Liberals was their immediate aim. It is with the enlightened use of this weapon they were forced to give us that their graves will be dug. Marx well says : “The capitalists are their own gravediggers.” Enactments they pass to conserve their own interests often have effects they little dream of at the time. They made “education” compulsory the better to compete with other nations, but with even that miserable education the worker’s child may afterwards read the message of Socialism and be converted into a fighter in


Anarchists and their allies say “Look how the suffrage has been tampered with abroad,” but they forget that even in semi-feudal Prussia, despite stifling of the vote, the candidates it was intended to keep out have still increased, to the dismay of their enemies. In the same way, should a headstrong Government suspend the suffrage, they meet disaster in the resentment they inflame in the masses.

But the Anarchists’ point really shows the value of Parliamentary action, for if the House of Commons is useless against the capitalists, why do they attempt to manipulate the suffrage to prevent the Socialists getting in? Just as their plea that real revolutionists will never be allowed in Parliament brings its fitting answer, if it is the futile institution the Anarchists pretend, why should they raise barriers to prevent their election?

No ! the Anarchists ought to see, just as we do, that the millions spent on elections by our masters to get their nominees returned; the money spent on agents to teach the workers the “virtues” of capitalism and the “vices” of Socialism, signify much. They spent millions to prevent the workers getting the vote, and for forty years brutally illtreated, massacred and persecuted the Chartists fighting for mere manhood suffrage. They evidently know its portent and its value.

While Socialists are in the minority in Parliament they can but use its platform to oppose capitalist villainy; to point the lesson of its daily deeds; to examine the measures brought before them and show their failure and their fraud, and in the long run, by the continued work and criticism of the revolutionists, and the growing number of the Socialists they represent, they will doubtless witness the passing of measures intended to


but any grains of good they may contain will be used but as a further foothold in the fight for Socialism, the fight against all the enemies of the Red Flag.

I believe sufficient has been said in this article to show the firm, scientific attitude of the Socialists toward the fallacies and dangers of Anarchism. One by one their so called arguments have been exposed in the light of history and of science. In the area of theory as well as of practice their “case” is seen to be Utopian and futile. Their “direct action” turns out to be direct reaction, for to ignore the political machinery is to play the game of the ruling class.

The final plea of the Anarchists usually is that politicians always have sold out and always will sell, but this cannot apply to our movement, for informed Socialist men and women are not material for the man on-the make. But what is true is that on the economic field the betrayals of the toilers have been frequent and many. From the pioneer of the General Strike in France—Aristide Briand—to John Mitchell and Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labour, they illustrate the puerility of the Anarchist view.

Have we not in Britain a whole tribe of tricksters from the industrial field ? What of Isaac Mitchell, David Cummings, Richard Bell, and David Shackleton? Trade union leaders all! And the Anarchist reliance upon an intelligent minority as against the Socialist policy of an enlightened whole will give these tricksters


We appeal to the men and women of our class to take their place in the only revolutionary party in this country—the Socialist Party of Great Britain. All around us are signs of the “fret and fever” of our fellows under the lash of capitalist oppression. Governments are marshalling their forces for attacks upon our class. Surely here is the need for a strong, revolutionary, disciplined movement inspired by the Socialist ideal to battle against the influence of false friends and foul foes. Cease your fruitless wanderings in the desert of Anarchism ere your enthusiasm dies away. Guided by the beacon lit by Marx and Engels and the landmarks on the road travelled by our class, enlist in the only Socialist Party and lift your voice and use your pen to dispel the moonshine of the missionaries of capitalism and help to bring nearer the sunshine of Socialism—the fruitfulness of the co-operative Commonweal.



(Socialist Standard, November 1911)