Editorial: The Coming Slavery. A Warning
The words, the coming slavery, may provoke a smile, and indeed, it does require an effort to conceive a slavery more effective than this under which we now labour. Nevertheless, the hand writing on the wall is unmistakable. Each fresh governmental act is a new act of tyranny, a step toward a greater slavery. All the hypocritical shibboleths of Manchesterism have been openly torn down. Free Trade, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Contract, Freedom of Conscience, Freedom of Domicile, Freedom of Travel, Free Competition, Habeas Corpus, Free Speech; even the freedom of private conversation is put at the mercy of the disgusting informer, whose bare word suffices to throw honest men into prison.
Conscript the people for labour or for slaughter ! That is the motto of the ruling class. They hold that the masses, in mind, body, and energy, are theirs to use or destroy as they please. They plead their “military necessity” as their reason ; but where have they proved even this ? And does any intelligent being believe that all these stolen remnants of liberty will be restored after the war ?
Long before the war, indeed, the policy of progressive enslavement was being pursued. Under milder forms of insurance and labour regulation the process of regimentation was begun. If the ruling class did not proceed faster in this it was largely because they dared not. When the Government plunged the country into war the ruling class were in a state of panic as to what the workers would do ; and when they found that the latter blindly swallowed the patriotic dope, their sighs of contented relief found expression in speeches and leading articles blessing the loyal workers.
But not for long. The fear remained. The pretext of “military necessity” was thenceforth utilised cautiously, cunningly, a little at a time, to clip the claws of the heavy-limbed and dull-eyed lion of labour, and draw tho toils more completely around him. The process is by no means complete, yet even now the organisations of the workers are rendered helpless, and the slowly awakening intelligence and discontent that results from twenty-one months of capitalist war is forcibly denied pubic expression. Journals are seized, offices raided, and men are imprisoned until one ceases to count them. Ever more ruthless becomes the mailed fist of the capitalist class. Nor is that all. The so-called Labour movement to which many workers mistakenly pinned their faith, and which, as we have long since shown, was destined by its very nature to become a bulwark of capitalism rather than a defence of Labour, has been utilised to the full by the powers that be to buttress their position. Labour “leaders” have willingly accepted fat jobs in the service of the enemies of the working class. Largely with the aid of these shepherds of Labour the organised toilers have been kept dumb and docile. The workers have been duped, as was, indeed, inevitable in view of their failure to grasp the nature of their malady and its remedy, and in view also of their trust in quacks.
Nothing, however, could be a more conclusive proof of the correctness of our attitude toward the Labour Party. But will the workers see it ? Surely they cannot fail to do so. We were told by some who wished, for pelf and place, to support various reformist parties, that these parties represented stages in the evolution of the class-consciousness, of the workers, and would evolve with that awakening intelligence into the true position and full usefulness. But as we knew, this could not be, and has in no case occurred. Such organisations, not accepting the policy of the class struggle as the basis of their activity, instead of evolving with the growth of the knowledge of Socialism among the Workers, have gone from bad to worse, and end, completely discredited from every proletarian stand-point, in the camps of the enemy.
Indeed, this Labour Party, with its Cabinet Ministers, has made itself responsible for some of the worst measures ever inflicted upon the working class. With regard to the Munitions Act in particular, Mr. Lloyd Ceorge’s statement that Mr. Henderson and his colleagues were the authors of this act stands ubcontraducted. Yet they still dare to speak in the name of Labour ! Some among them even claim that their measures are instalments of Socialism, applications of the Socialist principle ! According to them the capitalist government control of industry is Socialism ! It is true that in this they do not differ from the I.L.P. and the B.S.P., who are both affiliated to the Labour Party. But what does government control mean ? It means, under capitalist control, greater power for oppression and exploitation in the hands of that class. The founders of the scientific Socialist movement have persistently flagellated this bastard governmental “Socialism.” Frederick Engels says in “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” :
“But of late, since Bismarck went in for State-ownership of industrial establishments, a kind of spurious Socialism has arisen, degenerating now and again into something of flunkeyism, that without more ado declares all State-Ownership, even of the Bismarckuan sort, to be Socialistic. Certainly, if the taking over by the State of the tobacco industry is Socialistic, then Napoleon and Metternich must be numbered among the founders of Socialism. If the Belgian State, for quite ordinary political and financial reason , itself conslructed its chief railway lines ; if Bismarck, not under any economic compulsion, took over for the State the chief Prussianlines, simply to be better able to have them in hand in case of war, to bring up the railway employees as voting cattle for the government, and especially to create for himself a new source of income independent of parliamentary votes—this was, in no sense, a Socialistic measure, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously. Otherwise, the Royal Maritime Company, the Royal Porcelain manufacture, and even the regimental tailor of the army would also be Socialistic institutions, or even, as was seriously proposed by a sly dog in Frederick William III’s reign, the taking over by the State of the brothels.”
In this, in fact, as in every phase of working-class political activity, the class cleavage is the deciding line. The class struggle, indeed, however hateful it may sound to some, is a living fact : it is no mere “blessed word” to be mouthed and forgotten. The capitalist class practice it all the time, but make it a crime for the workers to do so ; and the pseudo-Socialists, following the lead of their masters, try to persuade the working class that the class war is immoral ! It is immoral, forsooth, to hit back at the tyrant, and to fight, in the only effective way, for the liberation of humankind from poverty and enslavement.
So in this matter of the nationalisation of this, that and the other thing, which is advocated by the parties already mentioned as Socialistic. The denial of the class issue makes these parties the catspaws of capitalist tyranny. While the exploiters control the State, every such measure, far from benefitting the workers as a whole, increases the grip, the power, and the profit of the class that rules. Conscription is but a step in this. The many measures of government control and centralisation that are adopted increase the power for tyranny of the masters, and make worse and weaker the position of the workers. Thieves, when they operate in association, do not rob less nor act less ruthlessly than when acting singly. So it is with all measures of nationalisation until the class which controls the State is changed. They are not Socialism, nor are they instalments of Socialism, any more than the trusts or the State prisons. Socialists have other work to do than the entirely superfluous task of trying to hasten the inevitable economic development. That is already proceeding faster than the intelligent, class-interest of the workers is being awakened. Such a policy is to do the work of the enemy. It is to neglect the only thing that can help the workers- the struggle for the control of political power. It is to encourage the inevitable worsening of conditions under capitalism, without preparing the workers for their real task of ending capitalist rule and thus controlling their own lives and conditions. It is to put State capitalism in the place of Socialism.
This nationalised capitalism is the “coming slavery” of which. Herbert Spencer raved. It is the same “Red Peril” against which the “Daily Express” and other journals and organisations fulminated, but which they now acclaim, guided by their Labour flunkeys, as the solution of all their difficulties.
It is quite obvious that, so long as the workers are not in control, the nationalisation of anything or everything is in no sense Socialism. Such things could only become of advantage to the workers, or be transformed into Socialism, when the workers as a class are masters of the State. That is why we brand the Labour leaders, the reformist humbugs, and the pseudo-Socialists, as enemies of the working class in that they ignore or deny this class issue. They spread false economics and false morality, and prate idiotically of the bait which the ruling class throws to the gudgeons as “concessions” and “victories.” It is they who hasten the “coming slavery” in the name of “Socialism.” and lead the workers ever further into the toils of their enemies, the while strenuously opposing every attempt to get the workers to organise as a class to put a term to the system of robbery.
Practically alone in this country the Socialist Parly insists on the real clanger of this “coming slavery.” Alone it has consistently and persistently dwelt, on the paramount need there is for the workers to understand their class position, and to organise as a class party for the control of the machinery of government, before any good at all come to them. The interests of the workers and of the capitalists cannot, be reconciled. The breach grows ever wider. The class antagonism is only occasionally masked because, the workers’ interests are misrepresented, sacrificed, and betrayed ; and because of the ignorance among the workers fostered by the Labour flunkeys. What, should one say if the staff of an army at war not only neglected to prepare their own army to overthrow the enemy, but also used that army to promote the organisation and centralisation of power in the hands of the enemy ? There is but one name for them. And all who do not insist on the fundamental importance of the class cleavage, all who do not devote themselves to the organisation of the class army for victory, all who advocate measures of capitalist control that consolidate the enemy, all who compromise or enlist with the enemy, all these, whether they act through ignorance or corruption, are traitors.
The class struggle is no shibboleth. It is urgent. It is vital. It is the only solid ground for successful working-class action. Without it there is no help and no hope; and only in the degree that the working class recognise this and take their stand upon this ground, only in that degree is the freedom of humanity from State tyranny, from wage slavery, and from all the evils that these imply, made in any way possible.
Our one hope for the future lies in this awakening of the intelligence of labour to its class interests, and it will not, we believe, be falsified ; but the danger is real and the need of warning is urgent. And when, as we hope, the scales will fall from the eyes of millions of our fellows as the truth regarding capitalism and its wars is brought home to them, then, in the stormy times to come, let the traitors who have sold the workers into deeper bondage to the capitalist class be made to feel, together with their masters, the greater strength that clear-sighted knowledge gives to workers at last conscious of their social mission and resolved to wage the last great class struggle to a victorious conclusion.