Analysis of Society. III. Actions

The fundamental activities of society are economic ; that is to say they are concerned with the production and appropriation of useful objects.

In primitive society production and appropriation were identical. The producers owned their own industrial implements and consequently needed no special act to convert their products into their own property. At the present day one class, the wage labourers, produce, but their products are appropriated by another class, the capitalists. There is, then, a distinction between two forms of economic action which we may style respectively industrial actions or acts of production and legal actions or acts of appropriation.

The reason for applying the term legal to the latter will soon become apparent. We have already seen (Article IV., Analysis of Wealth) that the appropriation of surplus-value by the capitalist class is only possible as a result of the existence of a non-property-owning class, and that this latter class was produced by acts of force on the part of individuals and of the State. Therefore the act of appropriation to-day is not merely a relation between property owners and property, but between individuals as purchasers and vendors of labour-power. When the capitalist appropriates surplus-value in the shape of commodities he also excludes the producer from such appropriation.

The mode of appropriation is not in harmony with the mode of production. Hence the antagonism between classes which calls forth a special form of action, warfare, either open or disguised, which we term political action.

Every ruling class in history has been compelled to protect its acts of appropriation by force, and has organised its particular form of State, or political power, to this end. The State in all ages has kept its supremacy by the use of arms which are as essential to the effective exercise of physical force in the pursuit of class interests as are the means of production in the sphere of industrial activity. Arms are, in fact, a specially developed means of appropriation ; and it is interesting to notice that in the original form they were identical with means of production. In the hunting epoch and the earlier pastoral and agricultural stages bows and arrows, spears and even the primitive sword served the dual purpose of providing food and a means of attack or defence against human enemies.

The writer has observed that among certain African barbarians to-day a double-edged blade of some length is used for cutting down sugar. It is suspended by a belt from the waist ready for use as a weapon in case of need.

With the rise of class society the enslaved portion of mankind were deprived simultaneously of means of production and arms. Freemen owned the former and were alone allowed to carry the latter. The city States were bodies of armed citizens organised for the purposes of acquiring slaves and holding them in subjection when so acquired.

By contrast the feudal lords relied largely on the military services of their subordinates in the social scale to protect the territory in whose exploitation they were interested. The endeavour to extend their territory formed the chief cause of their political activities.

The supremacy of the capitalist class introduced a novel distribution of the task of defending property. Chattel-slave owners and feudal lords were actually military men; in their own interests they risked their own skins. Our modern masters, however, are great believers in the principle of sacrifice—of other people. Rather than appear brutally selfish they graciously let others fight for them. Just as the working class manipulate the means of production, so they wield the giant mechanical forces of modem States. The function of the capitalists is, of course, to direct—at a safe distance—by means of officials who are controlled by the power of the purse.

The function of the modern bureaucratic state is two-fold. Externally it exists to extend markets and protect trade routes for the commodities of its masters ; internally it protects these commodities and the sources of their production against those who do not share their ownership.

Its origin affords an interesting study of capitalist methods. When the feudal aristocracy was on its last legs, its head, the monarchy, showed an increasing disposition to assume independence and absolute control. This, however, was a costly business and invariably landed the monarchs in the hands of the rising financiers, who were not slow to use their power for their own class. All attempts on the part of the aristocrats to regain control simply precipitated revolution. Not that the bourgeois fought ; they have always been to fly for that. In the discontented relics of the peasantry and the newly forming and desperate wage-slave class they found material for insurrectionary armies led by glib spokesmen from the ranks of needy intellectuals. Feudal privileges once abolished and the object of the capitalists achieved, they did not hesitate to establish military dictatorships based on a professional army, which prevented on the one hand any real restoration of the old state of affairs, and on the other kept the workers at bay. Lacking any organisation or definite independent objective, the latter could in the end only succumb after the failure of mob action. Thus by duplicity and subterfuge the capitalist class bought and wormed their way into a constitution which reflected in its rival parties the competitive greedy interests of which this said class is composed.

With the advance of industrial evolution and the concentration of capital, the class issue overshadows the sectional conflicts of the masters. Ever and anon, as in the case of large strikes, masses of workers present a menace to some part of the social capital, and to guard against their introducing a new mode of appropriation of their own the armed forces of society are continually called in. This increasing danger to the stability of the capitalist regime leads the masters to seek every means of deadening the class-consciousness of the workers.

In the section on ideas we dealt with two of the most potent of such, i.e., religion and morality, but in order to blur the sharp, suggestive line of political demarcation between the classes the rival parties of the ruling class have each in turn assisted in “enfranchising” the workers and giving them a nominal interest in the acts of the State.

Every sectional issue is now disguised as a popular question, and each party proclaims equally vociferously that it and it alone is the friend of the people. This serves to confuse the workers’ minds and hinders them from developing an independent political organisation capable of wresting the control of the armed forces from the parties of the ruling class. It also enables the capitalists to use these forces in the name of the people, and every sectional uprising of the workers is thus crushed by the workers themselves through the support which, as a whole, they give to the State. Thus the workers remain in the grip of the present mode of appropriation. Every attempt on their part to appropriate directly the fruits of their labour is met by a superior force behind the owners who are quite incapable of defending their property themselves. Yet this force is none other than a creature of their own making. The actual mechanical weapons are their own products and the men who wield them are drawn from their own class. Obviously, then, there is but one thing essential to their control thereof, i.e., conscious class organisation ; a unity based on the mutual recognition of common interests ; in short, a Socialist party. With such a party embracing the mass of the workers, no tricks on the part of the capitalist parties could preserve their supremacy, political or economic.

On the one hand such a revolutionary body will be prepared to manipulate the armed forces against any attempt of the masters to purchase support amongst traitors to the working class ; on the other it will automatically destroy the only guarantee of capitalist property, and along with the common ownership of the instruments of production will follow the direct social appropriation of the products of social labour and an organised system of distribution according to social requirements.

Thus the antagonism between the acts of production and appropriation will come to an end. They will in fact become identical, for as fast as society produces it will simultaneously appropriate, and since all will be included alike in production and appropriation, there will cease to be any necessity for a special guarantee of property in the shape of an armed force. The State, which is simply the organ of class rule, will atrophy with the disappearance of classes. Its place will be taken by the organisation of society for using the resources of man and nature for the common-weal.

With the abolition of all forms of economic dependence and servitude as between classes or individuals, the contract of extra-economic powers will likewise vanish. Marriage and the family as legal relations will give place to free association based on affection, which will give the death-blow also to prostitution. Freed from the degrading influence of economic coercion, the scientific and artistic capacities of the race will find regeneration in the possibilities of social usefulness and pleasure. In short, all forms of human action will burst the bonds of class convention when they cease to be exploited by capital. Secure in the control of the basis of its existence, humanity as a whole will expand and develop to its utmost natural limit.

Such is the Socialist view of the coming revolution and its effects, but we have still left untouched illusions concerning political action. which bear on the task before the workers. The individual who has not grasped the scientific explanation of events is ever a prey to dangerous confusion, and many members of the working class, although they have abandoned hope in the orthodox parties of the ruling class, yet wander in a mirage-haunted wilderness politically speaking. Their notions may be classed respectively as constitutional and anarchistic, albeit in practice they often become very much mixed, which is the natural result of an illusion common to both points of view. They both ignore the fact that the essential factor in political action is consciously directed physical force.

The constitutionalists we may describe as all those who proclaim representation (indepen­dently of the opinions and organisation of those represented), to be the means of working-class salvation. They are doomed at the outset to become the tools or supporters of the orthodox parties; for their programmes, which generally consist of technical alterations in the capitalist administration more likely to harm than to assist the working class, can only be put into practice by the capitalist administration itself ; in fact, they only become practicable when the said government is ready to adopt them. All that the orthodox parties need to do, then in order to secure the support of workers with these reformist ideas, is to take over their programme by instalments, an occupation naively described as reaching “Socialism” step by step. Lacking both the will and the power to carry through a revolution, constitutional reformers leave the armed forces in control ol the capitalists and thus betray the workers’ interests.

The utter inefficiency of this policy gives rise to the opposite illusion that any dealing with things political is both useless and treacherous We are advised to take “direct action” but what with we are left to guess. Working-class experience, however, does not encourage us to “take and hold” either the means of production or the finished products with our bare hands . The despised State, on the contrary, is maintained by the masters to prevent that. Unarmed physical force is worse than useless. The arms of society are in the control of the most highly organised class; therefore counter class-organi­sation is essential to supremacy, and such organisation must express itself through the agency of a central representative body

“But the vote,” we are told, “is only a piece ol paper”. So is a bank-note or a police summons. Does any anarchist regard these as ineffective ? Were there no gold in the bank or no police force truly they would be ; and so is every vote which does not represent a determined revolutionist prepared to act with his class when the occasion arises. For a revolutionary party to abstain from voting itself into power if possible, however, would be the height of lunacy. It would be equivalent to the stupid constitutional policy which leaves the capitalists to control the forces of the State.

As for the so-called “economic action” or the general strike, it is simply not action at all ; it is industrial inaction and as such is social suicide, passive resistance, anything but positive power.

To rally the workers for the final political act of history is the task of the Socialist Party. We work for the day when all flags will be struck but the Red Flag, and all national States give way to the International Republic.

E. B.

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