The S.L.P. of America again
The “Weekly People” (New York) returns in its issue of October 16th to the controversy which has been carried on recently in its pages and those of the SOCIALIST STANDARD. Things are in a bad way, however, with the “Weekly People,” as is evidenced by the fact that it is forced to strain every nerve to keep its readers amused in order to hide the fact that it has nothing more to contribute to the discussion. It is humour of the first water, of course, to depict the “S.S.” as a band indulging “itself in the spoil of furnishing the ‘music'” which it told the Socialist Labour Party of America it would have to face sooner or later. That humour, however, is only the grimaces our antagonist is indulging in in the hope of detracting attention from the sorry figure it is dancing to the music supplied.
It may be remembered that in our September issue we took from the S.L.P. “Address to the Affiliated Parties of the International Socialist Bureau,” the following :
“Besides, we believe that after the war is over the political conditions will be so adjusted as to compel the European comrades to give their undivided attention to the question of industrial unionism.”
and that we adduced this as disproving our opponents’ claim that their Address made “NO attempt to keep the workers from turning their eyes to class-conscious political action.” Of course, they don’t like to have this brought up against them. This unfortunate utterance, which arises out of their rock-bottom contempt for SOCIALIST political action, they think we should have been blind to. That it appeared in an Address issued by the Executive of the S.L.P. to the International Movement is nothing. It should be ignored, regarded as a meaningless vapouring—or if it was referred to at all it should have been accompanied by its context with special annotation making clear that, though the authors of the Address said in this place that they thought that after the war the European comrades would have to abandon political action (“give their undivided attention to the question of industrial unionism”), other parts of their Address indicated that they didn’t think anything of the kind. If we had only done that we should have produced harmony that our opponents would have been delighted to dance to. Also it would have saved them the trouble of playing that dreamy waltz themselves.
For this is all they have been able to achieve. The statement in the Address that its authors thought that after the war political conditions will be so adjusted as to compel the European comrades to give their undivided attention to the question of industrial unionism is plain enough for anything. How this is to come about might, be open to astonishing explanation, it is true, but no explanation that does not demolish the statement can affect its definite pronouncement that its authors think that after the war the European comrades would be compelled to give their UNDIVIDED attention to the question of industrial unionism. The statement does not depend on its context. To insist on the context is simply to whine to be allowed to drop the statement out.
Now it is clear that the same adjustment of “political conditions” that the S.L.P. Executive conceive of as compelling “the European comrades to give their UNDIVIDED attention to the question of industrial unionism” must perforce compel them to cease bestowing any of that attention upon political action. No appeal to the “context” can alter this fact, nor can any sarcastic references to “ingenious logic-choppers who are more concerned with the twisting awry of words and the fitting together of phrases to a syllogistic subtlety than they are in gathering the meaning or extracting the essence of an argument or declaration.” There is a rich roll in all that, but it is so familiar. The illogical cornered usually raise the cry, “logic-choppers.” But if there is any other “meaning or essence” in the declaration than that which we have found, why do not our opponents “extract” it for us ?
They do not because at the very bottom they do not believe in the vital necessity for political action. In spite of the reiteration of the demands for political organisation this note of disbelief in the essential need for political action runs through the Address. The vagueness of this document makes it difficult to illustrate this by extracts (which also have the disadvantage of leaving behind a “context”), but the atmosphere of the Address has been translated in an answer to a correspondent in the “Weekly People” of Sept. 4th, in which it is said :
“If the Socialist forces of Europe had been industrially organised, and when we say “industrially organised” we mean revolutionarily industrially organised, they could with their present numbers, have PREVENTED THE OUTBREAK OF THE WAR.”
There it is, plain enough. In spite of the fact that the S.L.P. recognises that the “European comrades” are “so enmeshed in bourgeois politics” that they have lost sight of Socialism—in other words, they are politically rotten—yet there is no single word in the reply to their correspondent to indicate that that political rottenness is even a factor in the failure of the International in the face of the crisis of August 1914. This contempt for the political weapon, prevailing in the Address, belies all our opponents’ mouthings about being “committed to class-conscious political action.”
The fact is the S.L.P. have not grasped the true aim of Socialist political action—the real value of the political weapon. De Leon never grasped them, and those who still preach his absurdities, being mentally bound by the legacy of shallow thought he bestowed upon them, have no glimmering conception of the true function of the political weapon in Socialist hands.
On the 10th July, 1905, Daniel De Leon delivered an address at Union Temple, Minneapolis, Minnesota. This address was published by the Socialist Labour Party of America under the title : “The Preamble of the Industrial Workers of the World.” On pp. 36-7 of that publication De Leon is reported as saying :
“The bourgeois shell in which the Social Revolution must partly shape its course dictates the setting up of a body that shall contest the possession of the political Robber Burg by the Capitalist Class. The reason for such initial tactics also dictates their ultimate goal—THE RAZING WITH THE GROUND THE ROBBER BURG OF CAPITALIST TYRANNY. The shops, the yards, the mills, in short, the mechanical establishments of production, now in the hands of the Capitalist Class—they are all to be “taken,” not for the purpose of being destroyed, but for the purpose of being “held”; . . . It is exactly the reverse with the “political power.” That is to be taken for the purpose of ABOLISHING IT. . . . Suppose that at some election the class-conscious political arm of Labor were to sweep the field ; suppose the sweeping were done in such a land-slide fashion that . . from President down to Congress and the rest of the political redoubts of the capitalist political Robber Burg, our candidates were installed ;—suppose that, what would there be for them to do ? What should there be for them to do ? Simply TO ADJOURN THEMSELVES, ON THE SPOT, SINE DIE.”
That is the conception De Leon had of the end of political conquest. His idea of “razing with the ground the robber burg of capitalist tyranny” was simply to capture the machinery of Government and instantly abandon it. His idea of a political organisation was a body so hide-bound that it could have no consciousness outside politics. It could not know that its economic counterpart purposed “taking and holding” the “plants of production and distribution,” therefore it could not continue to hold the “robber burg of capitalist tyranny,” in order that it might control the armed forces that the capitalists have provided against any attempt to take and hold their property. No, that (says De Leon) would be usurpation.” The elected representatives could only “adjourn themselves sine die.” They could not even stop to take away the policeman’s baton and disband the armed forces to make things easier for the economic arm in its task of taking and holding.
Where such a conception as this exists of the political triumph how can there be any fundamental belief in the essential necessity for political action or any respect for it ? If the political triumph means no more than the capture of the enemy’s guns and the immediate abandonment of them to the enemy again, then we also should say to blazes with political effort. If the political triumph would still leave the armed forces and other instruments of oppression in the capitalist control, then we also might pass as near enough the S.L.P. dictum that the “economic organisation [is] . . . the only conceivable force with which to hack up the ballot”—which wouldn’t then be worth backing up. If nothing more was to be gained by political conquest than the S.L.P. imagine, then we should have to find a sole reason for political endeavour in De Leon’s ingenious argument that the institution of the suffrage “is so bred in the bones of the people that . . . chimerical is the idea of expecting to conduct a great Movement, whose palpable aim is a Socialist Revolution, to the slogan of ‘Abstinence from the Ballot-box.’ ”
But we have other views regarding the political weapon—views which prevent us from harbouring even a thought of such shallow and cynical expediency, the mere expression of which reveals a contempt for the true function of Socialist political action which give the lie to our opponents’ claim to political integrity.
But there is more music to come on this phase of the discussion. The report of the First Convention of the Industrial Workers of the World quotes (p. 226) De Leon as saying :
“The situation in America . . . establishes the fact that the “taking and the holding” of the things that labor needs to be free can never depend upon a political party. (Applause.) If anything is clear in the American situation it is this : That if any individual is elected to office upon a revolutionary ballot, that individual is a suspicious character. (Applause.) Whoever is returned elected on a program of labour emancipation ; whoever is allowed to be filtered through by the political inspectors of the capitalist class ;—that man is a carefully selected tool, a traitor to the working people, selected by the capitalist class. (Applause.)”
These well-applauded but dismal sentiments lead to the logical conclusion that political endeavour is futile. Surely, in face of such a hopeless situation the only sensible thing to do is to foreclose on the political organisation and have done with it. Any talk of dismantling the capitalist “political Robber Burg,” if this is the position, is sheer rainbow-chewing. It does, however, throw an illuminating ray over that passage we are accused of having torn from its context, and justifies our reading of it. For if, as the S.L.P. Address tells us, the “country that is more developed industrially [America] only shows to the less developed the image of its own future,” then when, the political situation de¬scribed by De Leon as existing in America, develops in Europe, the “European comrades” will probably be forced into the non-political lines of action prophesied for them by the S.L.P. That, however, only substantiates what we said that the Address was a deliberate attempt to prevent the workers from turning their eyes to class-conscious political action.
Now for another point. We challenged our opponents upon their implication that the action of those who “have become so enmeshed in bourgeois politics that they have lost sight of the ultimate goal of the Socialist Movement can be Socialist action. “Ha,” laughs the “Weekly People,” “how the challenge rings . . . calling upon us to prove—if we maintain it—that the action of those” and so on. If they maintain it ! What caution ! To confirm our view of the matter we quote the Address as follows :
“We recognise the fact that the Socialists of Europe have been confronted with many problems which had to be solved before the real issue, Socialism versus Capitalism, could be decided. These problems have been largely of a political nature Politically, Europe as a whole is far behind the United States. Here the issue is clip and clear, Socialism versus full-grown Capitalism. Not so in Europe. There large remnants of feudalism remained, blocking the path of Socialist revolutionary progress, and the attention of the European, comrades has therefore been given almost exclusively to these problems, with the result that they have become so enmeshed in bourgeois politics that they have apparently lost sight, for the moment at least, of the ultimate goal of the Socialist movement.”
And now this from the “Weekly People” of .Dec. 12, 1908 :
“The enlightened conduct of the German Social Democracy will be misunderstood only by the pure and simple Socialist politician of America, for the identical reason that the German Social Democracy deserves applause for temporarily suspending its Socialist work and assisting the bourgeois Radicals, such a policy in America deserves condemnation, As an applauder of the German Social Democracy, the S.L.P. of America rejects, for America, the tactics that German conditions demand.”
The S.L.P., then, applauded those tactics of the German Social Democratic Party which led to the latter “becoming so enmeshed in bourgeois politics that they have apparently lost sight, for the moment at least, of the ultimate goal of the Socialist movement.” They praised that “enlightened conduct” which culminated in the vote of credit for the war. In face of that endorsement of action which has had so sad a result one might expect a little caution in replying to the question whether the actions of such people can be Socialist action. If they maintain it, indeed ! Let them deny that they maintain, it and they are up a tree ; let them admit it and they concede the point.
And we are here up against the whole crux of the matter, which is that it is this building of the political organisation on an unsound basis and with unsound material, the following of that corrupt and rotten path of political opportunism so vigorously applauded by the S.L.P., which is responsible for the failure of the International in the present crisis (and that failure is not that it did not prevent the war [which was beyond its power in any event], but that it did not maintain the Socialist position).
As we have said, it was in order to hide this result of the political obscurantism they had applauded, and to turn the workers from the political means to industrial unionism that the S.L.P. Address was issued. It is clear that the S.L.P. could hardly denounce conduct they had themselves applauded—and practised. In 1907 the mine-owners in Goldfield issued scrip, and demanded that their wage-workers should accept it as payment for wages. This led the “Weekly People” (Dec. 21, 1907) to issue a touching, cap-in-hand “Open Letter” to the “Robber Burg of capitalist tyranny” in America (Congress) identifying the interest of the occupants of that “Robber Burg” and the workers in the following words :
“An issue has arisen in which Labor and intelligent Capital, Capitalists (if intelligent) and Socialists alike have a common cause—THE CAUSE OF AVERTING SOCIAL CALAMITY.”
That is how they “reject, for America, the tactics German conditions demand.”
Now then, let us see where this brings us out. The so-called Socialists of Germany, the so-called Socialists of France, the so-called Socialists of Britain, have all acted under the same specious plea as the S.L.P. The threat of the “foreign foe” was in their idea a threat of “social calamity,” and like the S.L.P., they made “common cause” with the capitalists to avert it. Thus the American pseudo-Socialists who say that the “capitalists and the Socialists alike have a com¬mon cause—the cause of averting social calamity,” and the pseudo-Socialists of Europe who say (as the German “Socialists” are reported to have told their Belgian comrades at the Maison du Peuple in Brussels) “as the development of the proletariat was bound up with the development and economic prosperity of the nation, German Socialists were bound to side with the Government,” are tarred with the same brush, and may be feathered with the same feathers.
Which is why the S.L.P. still claim that those in Europe who have lost sight of Socialism are “still the Socialist movement of Europe.”
There are one or two other points in our opponents’ latest screed which may be dealt with at a future date ; but meanwhile, would the S.L.P. spokesman like to confirm and explain that champion idiocy propounded in the Address—that industrial unionism is the embryo, the undeveloped fcrm of future society ? Or has he not the courage ?
A. E. J.