The Forum: Why the Working-Class Revolution cannot be compromised

R. Tone (New Zealand) propounds the follow­ing question :—

Since all previous revolutions have ended in compromises, what guarantee is there that the Socialist Revolution will not also end in a compromise ?


Without entering into a discussion upon the assertion contained in the first portion of Mr. Tone’s question, it may he pointed out that the two sets of conditions appertaining to the revolutions of the past and the revolution to come are entirely different.

Since the first revolution social systems have been based upon private property and have been class systems. No revolution of the past (I use the term revolution as meaning something very different to revolt) has ever demanded the abolition of the private property basis of society or the abolition of classes. The revolution to­ward which Socialists have set their faces must abolish both these (they hang togther, of course) and it is for this reason, directly or indirectly, that there can be no compromise about the Socialist revolution.

When the rising capitalist class were strug­gling for their emancipation, emancipation did not mean the same thing for them that it does for the working class to-day. They were not by any means enslaved, much as they suffered from vexatious restrictions. Their emancipation meant simply freedom from these restrictions. They wanted an environment which would permit of their development. They wanted the removal of legal restrictions on the one hand, and the divorcement of the workers from the soil on the other. Their victory, in spite of the so-called compromise, was complete, inasmuch as it gave them the conditions under which they could advance. The feudal class became, indeed, the most powerful agent in the expro­priation of the peasants, driving them from their lands and seizing them for themselves.

In such circumstances, the interests of both classes were in accord at one point. Both de­sired to see the peasants expropriated. One had need of their labour-power, and the other coveted their lands. Hence having obtained all the essentials of their development, the rising capitalist class found compromise the line of least resistance, and acted accordingly. They haven’t done badly on it.

The situation is entirely different with regard to the Socialist Revolution. There can be no emancipation of the working class except by the abolition of the whole institution of private property in the means of living. Compromise is impossible because only the whole can give the workers anything. They can get nothing until they have intelligence enough to realise that there is no half way house, and when they realise that they will act accordingly.

Compromise came easy to the capitalist class because it met their needs. It was obviously impossible for production for use under feudal conditions to give place at once to production for sale under capitalist conditions. Such a change had necessarily to wait upon the development of the means and methods of production, and was a comparatively slow process. A com­promise, therefore, conceding the essentials for the free development of the new system, was sufficient for the day. The feudal class could be left with many of their privileges without, appreciably affecting the manufacturing class, and indeed, the former became absorbed in the capitalist class finally.

The change from production for sale to pro­duction for use is not, however, a simple rever­sal of the former process. It is not a retracing of steps but a marching on. It is a return to the production of use-values, but under conditions which prevent such return taking place piece­meal. The advance from capitalist production to production for use does not, as did the reverse process, necessarily have to wait for great development of the means of production. These means have developed already, and the changed incentive or object of production does not call for auy change of methods. Capitalist development had to proceed through centralisation, division of labour, improvement of means, dis­cipline and training of a class of workers, and the slow growth of the demand for commodities in a world where most people produced all or practically all their requirements. Capitalism required a loosening of feudal bonds in order that this development might go on, and this loosening is spoken of as a compromise. But to-day all the essentials for production for use have been developed. Machinery has been suffi­ciently perfected, labour has been sufficiently sub-divided, the workers have been trained and disciplined, the original organisers have been rendered superfluous and organisation placed in working-class hands.

More than this, the whole world has been ho brought into the domain of capitalism, so knit and welded into the very flesh and bone and tissue of the prevailing system, that it is a solid whole, wherein it is impossible for any civilised community, scarcely possible even for a civilised individual, to escape from the bonds and laws of its being. Utopians have tried, individually and collectively, and have failed. They have tried, in communities on various bases, to reduce their needs to what they can produce themselves aad so re-create for themselves the environ­ment of production for use, and their ghastly failure stands as a warning, like an old gallows by the roadside, that laws are not to be lightly flouted. They found the shackles of the system pressing upon them everywhere, and proved for all time that capitalism must fall as a whole when it does fall, and that, notwithstanding the example of previous revolutions, the Socialist Revolution must usher in a complete system, unhampered by the grave-clothes of the present system as a compromise.

Compromise is quite understandable between feudal superiors who held one of the main, means of living—the land—and the rising class of merchants and manufacturers who held the other chief means of living—the instruments of labour. Between them existed all the conditions of possible unity as an exploiting class. This unity has since been achieved, thus justifying the compromise. But that was only because the feudal system and the capitalist system were successive steps in exploitation, Production for sale and for profit could develop to a consider­able extent under feudalism—indeed, it neces­sarily had to do so. Hence capitalism could develop under a compromise with feudalism.. But that was only because the feudal system and the capitalist system were successive steps in exploitation. Production for sale and for profit could develop to a considerable extent under feudalism—indeed, it neces­sarily had to do so. Hence capitalism could develop under a compromise with feudalism. But there can be no merging of capitalist and working-class interests. From feudalism to capitalism called for no change of ownership as regards the feudal rulers and the capitalists—it was a change of method of production. From capitalism to Socialism, on the other hand, calls for no change of method of production, but for a change of ownership. That this is bo voids every possibility of compromise. The capital­ists must be owners or not, expropriated or not. There can be no half-way house.

There is no analogy between the two cases. The true analogy is to be found between the expropriation of the peasant proprietors by the combined forces of the feudal aristocracy and the capitalist class, and the future expropriation of the present possessing class by the workers. As all know who have read the history of that monument of human bestiality, there was no question of compromise in the former case: there can be none either in the latter.

A. E. J.

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