Fighting it out with the “Weekly People”

In the May issue of this journal the present scribe attacked the policy of the Socialist Labour Party of America, To this attack the organ of that party, the “Weekly People,” has offered a reply in two instalments. The spokesman of the S.L.P. of A. affects surprise at the charge which was levelled at his organisation, and, of course, resorts to his old wheeze—his critic has “his own conception of class-conscious organisation, according to which he tests the S.L.P, and finds it wanting,”
Unfortunately for the S.L.P. case, however, the “Weekly People” scribbler goes on to give the S.L.P. conception of class-conscious organisation, which is as follows :

“class-conscious organisation means that form of organisation which recognises and is based upon the fact that society is divided into two distinct economic [!] classes, with interests diametrically opposed. These two classes are the working class and the employing class ; or, the working class and the capitalist class. Between the two an irrepressible struggle goes on. There is, in the nature of things, no bridging of this struggle ; it can only, end by the working class’s abolishing the capitalist system, which is responsible for both classes, and by assuming control over the affairs of production in the interests [of] all the workers in the land. Class conscious organisation of labor means the recognition of these facts and acting in accordance therewith.”

Though, broadly speaking, this statement is correct, it is carefully worded so as to dodge the essential point that CLASS-CONSCIOUS ORGANISATION IS THE ORGANISATION OF THE CLASS-CONSCIOUS. The reason of this is that to insist upon class-consciousness in those they would organise means that the S.L.P. must educate those people, and this in turn means that the time for such organisation has not arrived, since the number of class-conscious workers is so small that if organised they would be utterly incompetent to carry on the functions of those organisations the Industrialists seek to displace—the trade unions, or as the S L.P. of A. will have it, craft unions.

But if the conception of class-conscious organisation quoted above is calculated to obscure the awkward and unwelcome point which abolishes all chance of mushroom-quick “success”—the point that that alone is class-conscious organisation which organises the class-conscious—it offers no ultimate loophole for escape from the position, since its very terms themselves lead inevitably to the same awkward conclusion.

‘”Class-conscious organisation,” we are told, ”means the recognition of these facts and acting in accordance therewith.” Can the S.LP. of A. spokesman tell us who but the class-conscious is going to recognise the facts he tabulates—the facts of the class division of society, the antagonism of interests between the master class and the working class, the class struggle, and the need for revolution ? And who, will he tell us, is capable of “acting in accordance therewith” save he who does recognise those facts ?

Our opponents’ definition of class conscious organisation, therefore, quite clearly commits them to the organisation of class-conscious workers only, whether upon the political or the economic plane— that is, of course, unless they are prepared to forswear class-conscious organisation, which, apparently, they are not.

When, therefore, the “Weekly People” asks : “Does our friend, A.E J., dispute this presentation of the case and deny that the Socialist Labour Party meets the test in this respect,” their friend A.E.J. answers no to the first portion of their query, and yes to the last.

For the Socialist Labour Party have organised an Industrial Union, and though they would doubtless claim that it is “based upon the fact that society is divided into two classes,” and so forth, they dare not contend that it is an organisation of the class-conscious, or that they have ever tried to make it such,

But it is not only according to their own “presentation of the case” that the S.L.P. of A. stands condemned. In dealing with a point in my previous article the “Weekly People” says: “Organisation upon lines of industry does not necessarily divide the workers as a class . . .” Whether it necessarily does so is not at all the point. In the silly circular which the S.L.P. of America sent to the parties affiliated to the International Socialist Bureau (which circular was the starting-point of the present discussion) it was claimed that “the correct form of economic organisation (industrial unionism) is the embryo, the undeveloped form of future society.” The circular then says, ”To illustrate.” That is a definite announcement that what follows is to illustrate the point that “industrial unionism is the undeveloped form of future society.” And in what follows is contained this statement :

“. . no one man can truly represent the many and varied interests of the different industries which are to be found within a given territory. To represent any one of these industries in the interests of those actively engaged and producing therein, one must himself be engaged therein, understanding the needs and requirements of such interests.”

Words could not state more definitely that in the ”future society” as conceived by the Industrial Unionists, there cannot be unity of interest in the community, but that those engaged in each industry will select their champions to struggle for their various interests— as, indeed, they must do so long as those interests are not in unity. On these grounds I repeat on industrial lines as outlined in the Socialist Labour Party’s circular, does divide the workers

The Socialist Labour Party’s claim that

“Industrial unionism, by organising the workers along the lines of industry, no more creates antagonism or destroys class solidarity than does the political organisation, which organises the workers along the lines of political sib-divisions, political districts, sections, branches, etc.”

is fatuous in face of the contradictory claim that the industries are to be represented in the interests of those actively engaged and producing therein (“To represent any one of these industries in the interests of those actively engaged and producing therein . .” S.L.P. circular to the Affiliated Parties of the International Socialist, Bureau. Italics mine.) It is quite clear that such representation is not founded upon a social phase in which we are alike, but one in which we are all different. Such organisation if it could exist, would be quite capable of carrying the strike into the new society. Its absurdity is revealed in the reflection that it would not embrace the whole of the people, for those who had not reached the age to be “actively engaged and producing therein,” and those who had passed that age, and those who were incapable, would have no representation and no rights. If this would not be dividing the workers teach me the meaning of the word.

No, organisation by industries as the “undeveloped form of future society” will not wash. Industries may be a transitory phase. Industries will never embrace all the people. The “needs and requirements of the industry are not a matter for the industry alone, but are a part of the social needs, and can in the last resort only be satisfied through the co-ordination provided by the control of social man.

On the other hand, the permanent feature of democratic society is common ownership of the
means of life, which gives equal (though conditional) rights to all, whether user or not. Control based upon this fact takes cognizance of every social need, including the ”needs and requirements of industries.” The representatives of society elected to control in the interest of society may be only the ”tailors, goldsmiths,, weavers, carpenters, shoemakers, potters, salesmen, glaziers, cigar-makers, and all manner of other workmen ” concerning whom the “Weekly People” ask (May 8, “Socialism for Beginners,”) “what on earth most of these know about the railroad industry ?” but they would know what society wanted of the railways, and would appoint or cause to be appointed men (or women) having the requisite technical knowledge, to achieve the desired result.

To take up for a moment the other side, of our opponents’ unhappy illustration, what would the representatives of the workers in the railway industry as such know of the higher question of the social demands upon the industry they represented—or what would they care ? To find an instance in current events, what do whose in the railway service know of the needs of the army which they are transporting supplies for ? The first thing the Government had to do when war broke out was to place the railways under the control, as far as was necessary, not of men who understood “the needs and requirements of the industry,” but of those who understood the “needs and requirements” of the military.

One other point before leaving this side of the question. The S L.P. of A. spokesman says :

“To contend as A.E.J. contends, is tantamount to saying that class-conscious political organisation is not founded upon the class struggle ‘because, instead of uniting the workers as a class, it divides them by political districts, branches,’ etc. The one form of reasoning would be as legitimate as the other, and both would be false.”

Since it is admitted that it is not a legitimate statement against territorial representation there is no need to prove it, while as for the other side of the argument, that ”Organisation on industrial lines does not necessarily divide the workers,” I have said my say. But this to show the shallow thinking of the S.L.P. of A.: they seem to think that they escape from geographical representation, but they by no means do so. We read in their circular to the European Movement that “local unions will be composed of all the actual wage workers in a given industry in a given locality . .

The ”Weekly People” scribe, in the third instalment, of his reply to the criticism of his party which has appeared in these columns, comes to the point of “How are you going to get behind the armed forces of the State ? ” He then asks if this is to be accomplished “By simple political ‘organisation’ ? By the method of the vote only ?”

It may clear the air to ask how the capitalist class “get behind” the armed forces. It is sheer moonshine to say that that class, “being in control of the industrial machinery of the land, . . uses the threats of a shut down of industry to brow-beat Labor into voting to the capitalists’ liking . .” That sort of thing is comparatively rare in this country yet the masters get behind the armed forces pretty effectually. They get there by the votes of the working class.

In the same way the working class will get there. Our opponents need not be afraid of the “well known methods of counting out, stuffing ballot boxes, etc.” All the cases which violent palpitation of the imagination brings to the S. L.P. mind do not alter the fact that a more or less free ballot is a necessity of the capitalist class. As our opponents show, so far it is chiefly capitalist candidates themselves who have suffered from these practices, and there is little doubt that the frozen out sections of the ruling class will not always be content to be frozen out. They will, in the course of time, fight the matter of the freedom of the ballot box to a finish—with the aid of the workers of course—as they have in this country. Though it is true that : “The country that is more developed industrially only shows to the less developed the image of its own future,” the S.L.P. must not run away with the idea that in every detail America holds a mirror to the rest of the world. Brow-beating at the ballot box is a phase we have passed through in this country.

Our opponents, hereafter at a loss for honest argument, descend to filthy lies. We read :

“How are you going to capture these armed forces if you are prevented from doing so politically ?”

And then our opponents answer for us with lies and slander, thus :

” ‘by revolution,’ is the only answer which these political actionists can give. We see them giving it through Socialist Party organs in endorsing a citizen soldiery.”

The record of our opposition to the “citizen army” idea is sufficiently well known to throw back this lie in the teeth of those who utter it. Never has any publication of ours ever endorsed a citizen soldiery. To ask how we are going to capture the armed forces of the State if we are prevented from doing so politically is fatuous at this period. We might as well ask how the industrial unionists are going to get possession of the means of production if they are prevented from doing so by the method of “taking and holding.” We claim that the political means is the essential means.

In an endeavour to support the claim that ”the worker’s industrial power is the one source of power whereby they can back up their ballot” the writer in the “Weekly” People asks :

“What about the workers’ POWER to paralyze capitalist machinations, as they did unwittingly in this country in the great coal strike of 1902 ? What about their POWER to paralyze capitalist machinations as they did in England in the great industrial strike there only about six years ago ? Were those occasions not manifestations of the workers’ POWER OVER INDUSTRY, even if asserted in a NEGATIVE fashion ?”

If these instances are manifestations of what the S.L.P. conceive as power over industry, so much the worse for them. If, when they resort to their extremes, and the result is that industry ceases to exist—if that is power over industry, then I am astonished. It is negative enough, in all conscience. But there are these two curious things about it—it does not need industrial unionism to give it articulation, and it has within it the germ of that instrument with which the S L.P. professes to have “neither patience nor sympathy”—the general strike. Why be out of sympathy with any manifestation of “the workers’ power over industry” ?

The truth is that there is a vast difference between the “negative” and the “positive.” In a developed capitalist country the workers are the free owners of their commodity, labour-power, and can withdraw it under certain conditions (though, as was shown in the case of the Postal strike in France a few years ago, and of the railway shrike in Great Britain in 1911, the ruling class are quite prepared to use the military to put a limit to this “right” when it suits them) without running counter to the law. But to make the slightest attempt, in any capitalist country, to take the “positive” action of “taking and holding” is to commit the very crime to prevent which is the chief reason for the maintenance of the armed forces. That is the answer to the question : “What about the same power when organised for positive action ?”

If the workers can “take and hold” in face of the armed forces why do the S.L.P. trouble about political action at all ? That is an interesting question that will remain unanswered. To attempt to answer it would be to place both feet in a quagmire from which there would be no escape.

The workers must prepare themselves for their emancipation by class-conscious organisation on both the political and the economic fields, the first to gain control of the forces with which the masters maintain their dominance, the second to carry on production in the new order of things. The economic organisation, however, must be upon a basis higher and having a wider view than the industrial base. It must be organised upon the basis of the working class, which become—what the basis of industries never can—a social basis as soon as the idle class is abolished and society becomes a society of workers.

A. E. J.

Leave a Reply