Aphorisms of Socialism VI


As the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

The machinery of government is composed of the governing bodies, from Parliament down to the Parish Councillor the Board of Guardians; the instruments of the law, from the Lord Chief Justice down to the “Labour” J. P. and the armed forces, from the army and navy, down to the policeman, the jailor, and the common hangman.

To say that all these exist merely to conserve to the master class the plunder they wrest from the workers, looks, to the man who views things through the glasses the masters provide for him, very much like “drawing the long bow,” but it is nothing of the kind.

It is often argued that the hangman is necessary to square accounts with the murderer of the working-man’s daughter, that the policeman is the sweet little cherub who sits up aloft and keeps watch and ward over the teapot the prosperous proletarian banks his surplus money in.

Well, what if he does? What if the hangman is the only protection of sweet and innocent seventeen? It does not follow, by any means, that this is anything more than an incidental – that is why these appendages of the present social system exist.

As a matter of fact it is in the very nature of the “State” to wear a mask – to assume a physiognomy that is not, in reality, its own. It exists to maintain “order.” That is the fundamental hypocrisy of its existence. It exists in a false atmosphere of impartiality, as something above the division of class interests, and therefore as competent to deal impartially with petty class squabbles.

But first of all it postulates a social condition which is entirely in favour of the class whose instrument it is, and the basis of that social condition in the present day is the private ownership of wealth.

The “order” which the State maintains must be in harmony with that property condition. Anything which is out of harmony with that basis is disorder, and must be suppressed. Therefore, of course, “order” must include the robbery of the working class.

Under that condition the State and its machinery pretends to be the servant of the whole of the people, but it is ridiculous, on the face of it. The fact that some working men have a little money in a teapot, or that the system breeds a certain number of maniacs or desperate beings against whom society at large needs protection, only serves to obscure the real reason for the maintenance of armed forces.

It is not the private property of the workers that the armed forces of the nation exist to protect. It is not even the private property of the master class that it is primarily maintained to conserved. It is the central point, the pivot, of the present social system – the private property institution which is to be protected.

It is this private property institution that is the vital spark of the capitalist organism, hence its preservation unruptured is of incomparably greater importance than the protection of present property from petty pilferers.

As a matter of fact the State is itself an instrument for the violation of private property, as witness the “Death Duties.” One section of the ruling class may use the machinery of the State to plunder another section, and that without straining a joint of it. But every atom of its composition is formed to resist any attack upon the private property institution.

It was shown in an earlier chapter that the basis of society as at present constituted is the ownership by the master class of the means of living. At the time society was placed upon this basis the machinery of production was in a very different stage of development from that to which it has attained to-day. The steam engine was not invented, and machinery was practically unknown.

The vast strides made by the development of the means and instruments of production have brought about a veritable industrial revolution, but the basis of the social system has not shifted one jot. It was ownership by a section of society of the land, material, factories, and implements of production in the beginning of the capitalist system – it is the same to-day.

How could it be otherwise? The very working of the system itself precludes the broadening of the private ownership so as to include all the people, for the steady tendency of competition has been and is to narrow that base by crushing successive circles out.

The only way in which the base can alter is in the direction of common ownership, and in this direction there is no halfway house. Bits of common ownership cannot exist in a world of private ownership by a class. The case is not the same where, even though private ownership is the rule, it takes the form of ownership of the means of production by those who use them instead of by those who do not. In such a system certain portions of the woods and pastures, for instance, might be commonly owned, as indeed they were under feudalism, and people owning their own products would derive benefit from them.

But where the workers have to sell their labour-power in a competitive market in order to live, the benefit of all property, whatever the legal form of property may be, will accrue to the master class. However it may be called, they have control through their system, which determines that the wealth produced by the working class shall surrender the whole of their labour-power to them at the cost of its production.

If there were any possible way in which the social base could be gradually changed from private ownership to common, it is doubtful if all the armed force could prevent that gradual change taking place – but we should have seen a commencement made long ere this. As a matter of fact not one shred of commonly-owned wealth can be pointed to. Our Post Office is under the control of the master class, who use it to sweat profit out of the workers for the relief of the taxpayer, and to provide fat sinecures for their own sons. Even the “nation’s pictures,” and the public parks, are under the control of the capitalist class, who decide how they shall be conducted, and when they shall be opened or closed. The people have nothing at all to say on these matters.

It is quite impossible, therefore, for the base of present-day society to undergo any process of evolution. Society itself does, but the present base of society cannot. It started in the same form that it now possesses, and it must retain that form until it finishes its career. It came in as private ownership by a class, and as private ownership by a class it must go out.

While it is true that in the long run the social system is determined by the stage of development of the means of producing wealth, the social system and this stage of development may, nevertheless, at a given period be totally out of harmony. Indeed, at recurring periods it must be, at least so long as society is divided into classes. The reason is that while the development of the means of production is not under men’s control, the social system, within certain limits, is. The industrial development, which men cannot arrest, is ever shifting the social centre of gravity, changing dominating values. Thus, at one time, whoever controlled the land controlled society. As industry developed, however, the implements and machinery became of greater importance. This change of values brought another class to the surface – the owners of the factories, machinery, and raw materials. But the industrial development which brought to light this new class did not arrange a social system under which they could reach their highest pinnacle of power; it gave them strength by altering the values of the sources of wealth it gave them education by making the stage of development of industry incongruous with the social base. It prepared the way for a social change but the actual work of bringing the social basis into line with the method of producticon was left to the initiative of the class whose interests demanded it.

And at the same time the old ruling class, whose interest lay in maintaining the system under which they were paramount, opposed the attack upon that system to the utmost,

The social system, then, is within certain limits under the control of men, Each system that permits of class distinctions favours a given class, and that class naturally employs every means to prevent the system from falling.

It is for this purpose that the present ruling class maintain their army, navy, and police. By means of these they hold back social change until the social basis of sectional private ownership has got to be quite out of harmony with the means of producing wealth by social effort. It follows, therefore, that the revolutionary class must dispossess the capitalists of these armed forces before they can change the social basis.

The machinery of government is controlled through Parliament. Parliament provides the money without which no army or navy can be equipped or maintained. Parliament, which pays the piper, calls the tune to which Jack Tar and Bill Adams must dance. The moral is plain : the working class must organise for the capture of Parliament.

When they have possession of this instrument they will have control of the armed forces, and will be in a position to proceed to the abolition of private property in the means of living and the organisation of industry on the basis of common ownership of the machinery of production and of the product.

The organisation must be consciously for this purpose. That is to say, the organised workers must understand thoroughly the object for which they are organising. The strength of the revolutionary party does not depend, in the time of crisis, upon the number who have been voting for fragments “they believe in,” but upon the number who understand what the Revolution means, and whose adherence is founded upon this understanding.

What is the position of the man who has voted with the Socialist party because he thought they stood for, say, nationalisation of the land, which he believes in, when he finds that they do not stand merely for that by itself, but for the abolition of private property in every social necessary ? He withdraws, and discouragement is bred of his defection. But suppose large numbers have been induced to give support to an object that they do not understand, and therefore cannot believe in, what is the position of a party attempting to take revolutionary action on such a miscalculation of strength? The result might very well be disaster.

Even if it were no worse than a fluctuation of strength at the polls, that would be sufficiently disastrous to condemn such pandering to ignorance, for Socialism must have no backwash, but must clearly indicate, in every trial of strength, the steady advance which is inevitable to it.

But there is another and vastly more momentous reason why the Socialist organisation must be free from political ignorance.

One of the most fruitful causes of working-class apathy in political matters in the past few years has been the way in which so-called Labour leaders have neen bought over by the master class.

A sort of wholesale instance of this is the present Labour (!) Party in the House of Commons. In order to attach to themselves the vote of “organised Labour,” which was raising a cry for a party representing working class interests as the “organised workers” understood them, the Liberals assisted certain “Labour” candidates to scrape into Parliament in divisions where a split vote between “Labourites” and Liberals would let in the Tory.

The result is that “organised Labour” is treated to the spectacle of a “Labour” party putting down amendments that they dare not move for fear the Tories should side with them and defeat the Liberal Government.

There is only one safeguard against this sort of treachery. The working-class party must build-up its strength only on the votes of those who understand the working-class position and working class politics. If this is done the master class will realise that they are up against democracy: that the representative is only the representative; that the “rank and file” crule the roost, and that as the elected person cannot switch votes to one side or another he has nothing to sell. In such case they will realise that all there is left for them to do is to fight him.

All the reasons here set forth demand the utmost clarity of issue. Only the revolutionary is a fit instrument to work for Revolution. It would be placing the Socialist Party in a false position to have them occupying seats to which they had been elected by the votes of those who were not revolutionists , for in the first place they would have to pander to these un-c1assconscious voters in order to retain their seats; secondly they would be unable to obey the commandments of their revolutionary coadjutors, for if they did it would involve the alienation of those who did not stand for revolution.

The revolutionary and the reformer are as far as the poles are asunder. The one stands for the abolition of what the other clings to. It is folly, then, to attempt to unite the two in one political organisation. Each must fight for his interest as he understands it – therefore they must fight each other. The place for the reformer is in the master’s camp, for however they may differ as to matters of detail, they do agree to the fundamental point – the necessity for the maintenance of the present system.

It is the duty, then, of Socialists to see that the workers organise consciously for the revolution. To this end they must keep the issue clear. They must do all they can to discourage those who do not understand the meaning of revolutionary politics from attaching themselves to them, either through the political party or through the ballot. They must at all times clearly put forward the principles of Socialism, asking only for the acceptance of those principles. Anyone who intelligently accepts those principles will need no inducement in the way of vaporous promises of reform and palliation. He becomes part of the revolutionary movement, an atom of vital force helping to push it along, instead of an addition to the dead-weight of ignorance and apathy which retards the progress of any forward movement.

Let us stand for Socialism alone, then, without obscuring our teaching and our object with other issues, and therefore without lumbering our backs with paralytics who cannot walk and who won’t be carried. Thus only can we build up a political organisation composed of the sound, healthy material necessary for our purpose. Thus only can we base our actions upon exact knowledge of our strength.


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