Editorial: Ourselves and the S. L. P. of America
It will be remembered that, in recent issues of this journal, we have had occasion to defend, with such vigour as we have at command, the Socialist position against the insidious attack of a certain organisation in America which is seeking to exploit the break-down of the “International” in the present European crisis as a weapon to use against Socialist organisation.
In the “Weekly People” (New York) dated May 1st appears a so-called answer to our criticism. As on the previous occasion when the organ of the Socialist Labour Party of America was moved to defend itself against our attack, it does so by dodging every point brought against it, and by trying to hide under a mere repetition of its threadbare assertions and a cloud of cheap ridicule. Not one of the several arguments directed against the S.L.P. of A. is fairly and squarely met. They are dismissed in three lines as “misquotations, misrepresentations, and misinterpretations,” thus being conveniently vanquished by a trio of lies.
It is not to be wondered at that those who speak for the S.L P. of A. are afraid to tackle our arguments, afraid to correct our “misquotations,” to smash our “misrepresentations,” to expose our “misinterpretations.” To attempt to do so would promptly land them on the “tanglefoot.” An “argument” like the following (“Weekly People,” May 1st) is the highest they can rise to :
“1.—Socialism means industrial government.
“2.—Industrial government implies . . the wiping out of the Political State.
“3.—The wiping out of the Political State implies the wiping out of … political departments and sub departments.
“4.—The wiping out of political departments implies the coming into existence of industrial departments. . . industrial government comes into being.”
Their fourth, it is seen brings them back to their second, and then they are forced to go the round again and again till the moon turns green, and without ever getting any “forrarder.” May we be saved from all such giddy whirligigs !
We have not the slightest intention here to go over the old ground again. The “Weekly People,” as befits the organ of weakly people, shirk our arguments under cover of charges which they cannot substantiate with even the merest trace of evidence. But it is they who are forced to descend to misrepresentation, as we shall show.
Those who know the history of our party, or who have studied our literature, know very well that we have always insisted that the working class must organise both politically and economically. We have never shifted our ground upon that point. Yet the “Weekly People” persist in raising against us the argument that a movement is, “if organised politically only, in no position to put through the demands of Socialism,” and complete their misrepresentation by declaring after this : “We meet the ‘Standard’s’ issue squarely.”
The S.L.P. of A. can raise no issue with us on that point. If they or their spokesmen wish to meet us squarely they have got to support Industrial Unionism against economic organisation on class lines on the one hand, and un-class-conscious organisation against class-conscious organisation on the other. That is the position if our American opponents wish to come to grips—which they do not.
Now let us take the “Weekly People’s” latest statements and see what they amount to. The first of the numbered assertions they fling at our heads is :
“1. — Socialism means industrial government—the working class to manage the industries, in its own behalf, of course.”
What interpretation are we to place upon this which will not draw down upon us the charge of misinterpretation ? We can only see that “industrial government” means control by industries, while the “working class to manage the industries” means just what it says. This brings us to the topsy-turvy position that the industries (or those engaged in them) are to govern the class—the parts are to govern the whole ! This is curious, but that it is the only possible interpretation is shown by the fact that it fits in with the whole S.L.P. case. For instance, their resolution to the Stuttgart International Congress declared that “the correct form of the economic organisation (industrial unionism) is the embryo, the undeveloped form of future society.” So future society is not to take the form of one organic whole, with a single interest, and for whose well-being industries exist. On the contrary its unit is to be the industry, society is to exist for the industry, the industry is to govern. “The parliament of the land consists of the representatives of the useful occupations of the land” (“Weekly People,” May 7th) because “no one man can represent the varied interests of the different industries which are found within a given territory” (S.L.P. of A.’s Address on the European War). Everywhere confirmation of the interpretation we have put upon our opponent’s declaration that “Socialism means industrial government.”
We hold that Socialism means nothing of the kind. To say that “industrial unionism is the embryo, the undeveloped form of future society” is to make a statement that in itself is unintelligible. One has to interpret it. If it means that future society is to shape itself upon or grow out of industrial unionism (and if it does not mean this it is mere chaotic babbling) then it is easily shown to be wrong. It denies the fundamental basis of Socialism, which is common ownership of the means of production and distribution. It is from this common ownership that future society will shape itself, and therefore it will shape itself on social lines, not on industrial lines. Common ownership is the stable condition of democratic society ; industrial division is not necessarily so. There is no direct evidence that, with the improvement in the means of production, the “artificial barriers” of industry—division of the people into workers in specific industries—will not be wiped out. Be this as it may, man will take his place in future society as a social cell—as he does in present society—not as an industrial unit. His position as an equal with the other social cells will be vouchsafed by his right in common ownership, not his standing as an industrial unit—he might be incapable of taking any part in industry, and what would be his standing under “industrial government” then ? His needs as a social cell will be of paramount importance—not his needs as an industrial unit. This must necessarily translate itself into social needs—the needs of society.
What, then, becomes of the statement that “Socialism means industrial government” ? What, indeed, becomes of the whole Industrial Unionist argument ?—for it all rests upon the fallacy that the society of the future will be subservient to the industries—that industrial man will be superior to social man—that the means will be greater than the end.
For industrial division can only be a means to an end. That end under common ownership will be the utmost efficiency in the satisfaction of the social needs When, therefore, the S. L.P. of A. say that the “parliament of the land consists of the representatives of the useful occupations of the land,” presumably because, as they say elsewhere, “no one man can represent the varied interests of the different industries which are found in a given territory,” they are in effect declaring that in the future society industries will not exist in the social interest, but in the interest of those occupied in them !
As being closely connected with the same train of argument we may take the statement numbered 4 in a different section of the reply to our attack
“As political units, furthermore, the working class is not conversant with the needs of industry,—’citizens’ as such do not understand the problems of industry ; as industrial units the working class is thoroughly at home in those affairs.”
The truth is, of course, that future society will demand that the highest consideration be the needs of society, not of industry. It is as social units that the people will understand the social needs. The industrial unit, whatever he may know, as such, of the problems of industry, knows nothing of the needs of society. Society will therefore set him to solve the “problems of industry,” but it will be society that will control.
Another point. Our opponents say : “Such is the Socialist Party of Great Britain, with its piping for ‘class-conscious’ organisation only, and laying its all upon the political Movement.” Apart from the lie that the S.P.G.B lays its all on the political Movement, the statement contains a sneer at class-conscious organisation that definitely reveals its anti-Socialist character. Earlier in the same article we are told : “And yet class-consciousness by no means teaches the working class anything about the facts of industrial organisation as here outlined.” This is a plea or a justification for un-classconscious organisation on the economic plane. But class-consciousness—the knowledge of the working-class position in society and the working-class mission—does teach that it is just as necessary for the class moving toward their object on the economic field to do so intelligently and with understanding—class consciously, that is—as it is for them to be so fitted and equipped on the political field.
Now to get back to the original point—the reason of the collapse of the International. Our American opponents say in their leading article of May 1st, that such a movement should have presented the ruling “classes,” when war was threatened, with “scores to settle at home with the working classes instead of being permitted to send those working classes abroad against each other.”
We have pointed out before now that part of the programme of the International was to take just such action as that indicated above. Without prejudice to our right to criticise such policy we ask, why was no attempt made to carry it out ? Something was lacking. What was it ? Let the “Weekly People” answer.
“To allow of a movement doing that, however, it must be educated and organised upon a different basis from that which the European Movement was educated and organised upon. None of the false doctrine of nationalism must be allowed to permeate its ranks . .”
We thank our opponents for that statement. It is so much more satisfactory for them to be condemned out of their own mouths than out of ours. The Movement is to be organised both politically and economically, and, mark this: “None of the false doctrine of nationalism must be allowed to permeate its ranks.” That means that we were quite right when we stated that the International collapsed because it was not founded on class-consciousness—for only class-consciousness can banish the “false doctrine of nationalism,” by teaching the workers the world-wide unity of interest of their class. It means, moreover, that the un-classconscious industrial organisation which the S L.P. of A. are attempting (the “Weekly People” itself tells us “class-consciousness by no means teaches the working class anything about the facts of industrial organisation as here outlined “) must reveal its fatal weakness in a collapse as complete as that which has overtaken the Inter¬national Movement. In face of this demand of the S.L.P. of A., we may still go on with our “piping for class-conscious organisation only,” as the only kind of organisation, on the political or the economic plane, that can ever be of any use in the struggle for the emancipation of the working class.