A couple of years ago it seemed that the question of industrial as against political action by the working class had been settled. The Industrialists then were for the most part convinced that, however useful and necessary economic action may be in the struggle for an existence against the downward tendency of conditions following upon the development of capitalist exploitation, it was practically useless on the positive side of the working-class movement— the effort toward the establishment of Socialism.
For this purpose the capture of the social, through the political, machinery was an essential of success, and could, moreover, only be achieved along the conscious, distinct lines of the prosecution of the class struggle. Hence the necessity for the Socialist Party and its clear-cut policy of Socialist propaganda for political purposes.
Now we find a wave of “direct action”—a retrogressive revival of obsolete Anarchist doctrine—taking place, and we have to fight again the question: Is the working-class movement toward Socialism to be industrial or political ?
That question is complicated by the objective of the newest phase (Syndicalism) being fundamentally different from the objective of the Socialist, and even from the objective of the old industrial unionist. While the two latter were united as to the ownership and control of the means of living being in the hands of the whole of the workers, the Syndicalists aim at the machinery of each industry being owned and controlled by the workers of that industry. This is not Socialism, but social insanity. The very confusion that existed and exists among the “craft” unions and formed the basis of the complaints of the “industrial” unionists, is by this means to be extended from their action as trade unions to their activities as organisers of industry. The difficulties along that line, however, are their own, and may be left for their treatment: our complaint as Socialists against both sections is their non-political method.
Society has evolved beyond the stage where the conquering war-chief of an alien tribe imposed his autocratic rule over a vanquished people : beyond the stage where the chieftainship became hereditary and the control of the community devolved into the possession of his family : beyond, too, the stage where the owners of the soil were the only members of the community who counted, and the non-possessors were socially voiceless and powerless. We have reached the stage where the society is nominally democratic ; where the individual—who can afford £10 a year for rent—is an active member of the social whole, to be consulted on social questions. That the ignorance of the workers allows the power of capital, the influence of economic forces, to render that nominal democracy a farce can be granted as common ground, but the fact remains that the vote has grown to be the recognised medium through which the democracy expresses its opinion— when it happens to have one—on the course of social development. It is within the power of a Socialist working class to register, through the vote, its disagreement with capitalism and the capitalist system of society : within its power to register its belief in the superiority of a Socialist system, and through this means, of using social forces on behalf of the movement clearly indicated by the trend of economic development, and opposed only to the extent of the power of the ruling class. The power of the ruling class to day is in the main that lent it by the votes of the workers who, in their class unconsciousness, vote on one or other of the pretexts skilfully put before them by the politicians of the masters.
The pressure of ever-worsening economic conditions has resulted in a restlessness among the workers, who, in their blind groping after improvement, strike through their trade organisations. The result, is disastrous. Nobly as they may struggle, meritorious as their aim may be, it is doomed to end in the maintenance of the conditions whose development had led to the restlessness and the strike. The hands of the clock may have been put back, but the wheels of capitalism grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small. The recurrence of such troubles as are agitating the labour world to-day is as certain as any other effect in a long chain of causation.
The futility of the strike is manifest since it does not and cannot alter the fundamental relationship between employer and employed. That relationship is socially confirmed and sanctioned by the community through the vote, and in the event of an industrialist general strike trying to take and hold the means of production, the retention by the master class of the political power, with its concomitant control of the legal and coercive forces of society, would only lead to an upheaval significantly described by our American cousins as a “blood bath.”
The political party standing for Socialism and Socialism alone is already in existence ; the economic organisation is not yet born. It may be that the framework of existing organisations will be clothed anew with the spread of Socialist ideas among their ranks ; certain it is that the economic organisation, if separate, must work in complete unison with the political party, since their membership must necessarily consist, in the main, of the same individuals, and their objective be identical.
To argue that because we are sold and belied by the alleged representatives of Labour in Parliament at present, Socialist representation is impossible, is to talk nonsense. To be afraid of the corruption that has grown up with the political chicanery in the past, is to play into the hands of the masters. They would wish for nothing better than to be left in the quiet possession of the strings controlling society, while the workers run their heads against the bayonets they hold—or have held by others—to receive them.
There is yet a long row to hoe before the successful revolution comes, and it is up to the Socialist Party to see that the necessity for political action is clearly put forward, and that in the chaos and turmoil of industrial conflict the essentials are not forgotten. The workers’ representatives’ temptations will then be very real and it is conceivable that for a time even our men might be bought to prostitute their charge ; but given the social consciousness of the rank and file and the maintenance of Party discipline, the enemy would soon discover that our representatives had no power to sell anything, and the principle will be safe. Then at last we shall see Socialist representatives acting and speaking on behalf of the Socialists they represent, carrying the war into the enemy’s country, and meeting their sophistries with the stern realities of working-class existence.
That any essential improvement will accrue within the capitalist system it is impossible to imagine, but the way will be prepared for the final overthrow of capitalism and the inauguration of the Socialist Co-operative Commonwealth.
(Socialist Standard, August 1912)