The real unrest

Apart from the many leading articles in Liberal newspapers deploring the “wasteful conflicts” between Capital and Labour, many politicians, would-be sociologists, and clergymen have written articles and taken part in controversies in the columns of tbe capitalist Press. The continual strikes and agitation of large sections of the workers appear to our rulers as indications of the existence of some potential force that may at any moment become active and destructive.

The loose utterances of irresponsible trade-union leaders seem to connect the intensified industrial struggles of late years with Syndicalism, which most writers deem revolutionary. The real unrest is therefore among the capitalists, who, unable to ascertain the extent of revolutionary feeling among the working class, become uneasy as strikes spread and involve large sections of the workers, who make no secret of their hatred of the capitalist class.

Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, in a series of letters to the “Daily Chronicle,” hastens to reassure the ruling class of the insignificance of Syndicalism. He denies the existence of the class struggle, yet uses all his rhetoric to prove that the Labour Party methods are more effective in that struggle than Syndicalism. First an emphatic denial of its existence, then advice to the workers to adopt their method in fighting it out.

He next informs us that “no one who believes in the class struggle has any refuge to protect himself from Syndicalism. Given the class war, Syndicalism is its necessary corollary.” The working class consciously using the political machine does not seem to strike him as an alternative to Syndicalism—as a course of action perfectly consistent with a belief in, or recognition of, the class struggle.

Like Mr. Macdonald, Mr. and Mrs. Webb only succeed in exposing the absurdity of their claim to call themselves Socialists. To assert that trade unions “will still be necessary under Socialism, and will only then attain their highest development,” proves that they do not understand Socialism to be a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of living. If they did they could not conceive of the necessity for organisations whose function is to struggle for improved conditions against another class in society.

Mr. and Mrs. Webb entirely shirk the problem of to-day by jumping into the future—a future where the most important details will be, superior persons with large brains—Fabianesque brains—on whom society will depend for guidance.

Russel Smart, too, evades the question we are concerned with here : how to abolish the present system and establish some other—in his case Syndicalism. He ignores the class war by taking refuge in Utopia. He says of Syndicalism : “Its true function is to undertake the production and exchange of tangible commodities—that is, all those forms of wealth which people can handle, use, and consume.” Thereby assuming in academic fashion, the existence of Syndicalism, and shirking the problem of its establishment.

Incidentally he sets out to define a commodity, but only succeeds in displaying his ignorance. Clearly, things that we handle, use, and consume, are merely forms of wealth. It does not occur to him that only wealth produced for exchange has the commodity character. A course of economics might make Russel Smarter.

Mr. H. G. Wells complains that Socialists contribute nothing in the shape of details with regard to the future organisation of society. He dismisses the Socialist object as “A Socialism featureless as smoke.” He forgets that capitalism was featureless in its “embryonic” stages, that its growth and development have given rise to the absolutely repulsive features that characterise it to-day, and make it abhorrent to the mass of the people and ripe for destruction.

Pym, Hampden, and Cromwell, with their contemporaries, did not discuss or predict the modern factories, sweating dens, slums, adulterated food, unemployment, trusts and combines. These features appeared with the growth of their system.

They, as a class, never troubled themselves about the details. They were feeling their way to power, and having achieved their object, they used their power to oppress the class beneath them—the working class, which in its turn is revolutionary.

Mr. Wells understands something of all this, for he speaks of revolutionary tendencies. He first hopes they may be turned, but then is “afraid that it is too late.” After having shown quite clearly that his sympathies are with the ruling class he affects a sublime disregard for all such vulgar things as the class war. He says tbe Socialist “has to realise the enormous moral difficulty there is in bringing people who have been prosperous all their lives, to the pitch of even contemplating a social re-organisation that may minimise or destroy their precedence.” The Socialist, of course, does not expect the ruling class to re-organise society, so the “moral difficulty” is outside the question. Imagine a docker, however intelligent, trying moral persuasion on Lord Devonport !

The Socialist is alive to the fact that those who are prosperous to-day will resent what they call confiscation ; but he regards the means of life as the common inheritance of the human race. When the working class are sufficiently powerful to take them they will do so—and call it restitution.

To sum up, Mr. Wells pooh-poohs the class war, because to him the working class is a mere sullen mob, incapable of intelligent and concerted action directed toward their freedom. The Webbs, together with Russel Smart, are deeply engrossed in their Utopias, building Syndicalist and Fabian commonwealths out of capitalist ideals, and believing implicitly in their own seriousness. Ramsay Macdonald denies the existence of the class struggle because it is part of his duty as a capitalist agent to gloss over the conflicting interests between the two classes. He favoured contributions by the workers under the Insurance scheme, because it “made the Bill communal and not class,” thereby encouraging the belief that the two classes were jointly organising a scheme for the benefit of the sick and unemployed.

In Parliament Mr. Macdonald is invariably constitutional. If he supports a measure it is, he says, because it will strengthen the Constitution. He says: “To-day our Labour Party stands approved by the experience of every constitutionally governed State, and by comparison with any other Socialist and Labour Party on the globe.” In other words, it has the approval of the capitalist class, because they can rely on it to mislead the workers.

Those who have attempted to explain the so-called unrest have failed because the elementary fact, without which any discussion is incomplete, has been omitted. Any reference to the merchandise character of human labour-power has been excluded, not by oversight or accident, but by design. Its inclusion would make apparent the antagonism of interests between , buyers and sellers. Disputes and strikes, however violent or widespread, merely show the efforts of the opponents to fix the price of labour-power. Economic laws and development have been on the side of the buyers, hence the workers have suffered reduction in price, or in wages. This reduction they resist—and this is the secret of their “unrest.” And while the commodity nature continues impressed on the workers, the struggle will flourish with more or less violence.

The irony of the situation lies in the fact that the workers should continue to waste their energies struggling for sops or palliatives, when the votes they possess and their freedom to organise in a political party would ensure their triumph over their oppressors When the franchise was granted to the workers, the course of action for the latter was obvious—it was to organise themselves in a political party to get control of the political machine, and of the forces that keep them in subjection while they are plundered.

This is still the only practical method before the workers, and the S.P.G.B. is the only genuine working-class party because it alone points to this method.

F. F.

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