The Forum: History to suit

[To the editor.]
“In the ‘S.S.’ for December you say in reply to J. Sutherland (Australia):

“Since the armed force is controlled by Parliament it is necessary, above all, to capture Parliament.”

“Now, is the armed force controlled by Parlia­ment ? The burden of proof rests on the affirmer. Mere jeering at ‘weak-kneed I.W.W.ites’ is not argument. We want something more than wordy assumption and dogmatic assertion. Is not the armed force actually controlled and directed by representatives of the aristocratic and capitalist class, who are (incidentally) ex­perts in military science and organisation ? Is not every unit of that armed force trained and disciplined to be loyal and obedient to their officers ? Supposing the Socialist Parliament (say 400 members) instructed this armed force to dispossess a few dukes of their land, etc., do you seriously suggest that they would carry out the decree of the gallant 400 ? It would then be a question of disciplined and organised might against—’a sheet of parchment’ ! It is just possible they would simply arrest that ‘word-struck’ 400! And what then? The London mob would show its resentment by ‘throwing stones at the police.’ The rest of the vote casting revolutionists throughout the coun­try would be speedily bludgeoned and bayonetted into submission.
“Let us take an illustration from the 17th century. Cromwell was a ‘direct actionist,’ if ever there was one. He had a short way with mere babblers and ‘phrase-mongers.’ History tells how he captured the ‘executive and admini­strative powers.’ Did he trouble about getting a lot of crosses put on a certain number of bits of paper ? If history speaks correctly it would appear that he had more faith in the ‘direct action’ purgative. What part did the armed force play in the Civil War ? Did it rally to the support of the Parliamentarians ? Of course not. This armed force simply split into two sections, the more efficient supporting the King and landed aristocracy. Parliament had to raise and train a fresh army on its own account. Would this be possible in the case of a Parlia­ment representing the workers ? Don’t reply to this question with a flood of rhetoric. Let us have a douche of cold reason.
“Your sneers at industrial action recoil on your own vote-struck head. The workers must organise industrially, preach and practice anti-militarism, acquire the necessary knowledge of industrial methods, with a view to complete control of the whole social machinery, with each industry as the unit of organisation. As step­ping stones of the Great Revolt, the organised workers should (among other things) refuse en masse to pay rent or taxes, refuse to send their children to capitalist schools, or, better still, refuse to beget any more little wage-slaves for the capitalist class.
“Propaganda and still more propaganda ! It is even possible that these revolutionary actions may convert the ‘armed force’ itself. One thing seems certain : mere votes will never im­press the ‘mailed fist’ devotees. I would urge you to abandon your advocacy of what is merely the superficial unity of a geographical abstraction expressed through the ballot box.”


Although the above is presumably meant as a specimen “douche of cold reason,” it may seriously be questioned whether it contains anything more than “wordy assumption and dog­matic assertion.” If the letter means anything, indeed, it is an assertion that the armed forces are not in the least controlled by Parliament. An entirely unsupported statement in face of the fact that Parliament pays the armed forces, determines their form, their size, their general expenditure and equipment, and also controls through its chosen representatives the officering and ordering of those forces. Need more be said ?

It appears from Mr. Conroy’s letter that Oliver Cromwell is the latest recruit to the ranks of the “direct actionists” ! Since Cromwell was a Parliamentarian, and later a political and Mili­tary dictator, it may be supposed that “direct action,” now includes Parliamentarism and dictats torship, according to its latest champion !

In point of fact, our correspondent’s appeal to the Great Rebellion could hardly be more unfortunate for his argument. The bourgeoisie could not emancipate itself, in spite of its grow­ing economic importance, without conquering political power. It used control of the purse through Parliamen as the great lever, it obtained control thereby of the military and naval orga­nisation, and (in spite of the Royalist defection) of a considerable and effective portion of the fighting force. The bourgeoisie further utilised Parliament to raise funds, and to strengthen and reorganise the army to defeat the King. In all this Cromwell was their most efficient servant, and if this was “direct action,” then we are direct actionists. It is certain that Cromwell would be puzzled to say what economic organi­sation he represented !

Even when, through the development and perfection of the Puritan army, this became all-powerful in the State, Cromwell repeatedly attempted to act Parliamentarily. The military dictatorship became his only resort when it was made clear that his party could no longer com­mand a majority in the country. Even then he was compelled to ask Parliamentary sanction for his new powers. Thus the section in control of the armed forces was enabled to dominate for a time the rest of the nation, showing even here how essesntial is control of the fighting power for success. It must furthe be remembered that this happened at a time when Parliament was just emerging from its great birth-struggle with absolutism and the “divine right” of kings. It was planted firmly on its feet at what is called the revolution of 1688, when William and Mary obtained and acknowledged their title to the throne from Parliament alone. From that day onward the powers and privileges of Parlia­ment have grown. Thus history refutes our correspondent.

Another point. By the time 400 Socialists are elected to Parliament the whole country and administration will have been undermined by the workers, and the pro-slavery revolt of the capitalists, aided even by a defection of part of the army, will have scant chance of success in face of the armed forces, machinery, and orga­nisation controlled by the working class politi­cally victorious. The real danger lies in an unready, un-classconscious proletariat obtaining a premature majority with half baked or treach­erous leaders. This is a danger the Socialist Party recognises and fights. It is, however, fostered by the campaign of “hurrah” conducted by the Syndicalists.

The conquest of the political State by the workers organised as a class party is, therefore, the only way, and in this the trade unions as a section of that class party will and must aid.

But what does our correspondent suggest as an alternative method ? He puts forward as the means to be used in the great revolt, refusal en masse to pay rent or taxes, refusal of the workers to send their children to capitalist schools, or better still, refusal to beget any children at all !

Regarding the last point, would it not solve the social problem even more completely if the whole working class were to commit suicide immediately ?

Most of us, however, sympathise with our correspondent in his proposal to cease paying rent, and are ready to do so on the slightest provocation ; but few of us are in such a state of mental insolvency that we think that we can inaugurate the New Jerusalem by so doing.

And with regard to the further item of this refreshing program (the refusal to pay taxes) it may be asked, since the taxes that matter and which one might resist are levied on property, how will it help the propertyless to refuse to pay them ?


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