Utopists New and Old. Where They All Fail

Just now it is the fashion to prophesy or construct milleniums. Airy futures for society are everywhere in the air. When the taxi-cabs were carrying round appeals to the manhood of Britain to fight for King and Country, the capitalist Press, recapitulating the wrongs of the workers, printed in bold type and in italics, not once but a thousand times, “Never again.” And the weak minded, blind leaders of the blind, thinking it a genuine repentance, a sincere resolve of the exploiting class to render a long-delayed justice to the class they had unconsciously wronged, thought the time had come for them to speak.

All the reformers of pre-war days—whether they realised the existence of the class war or not—were deceived, or made pretence of being deceived, by the “nevei again” cry. Had not Ministers—of State and of religion—editors of great newspapers, and big captains of industry, said that the war had broken down class barriers, destroyed class antagonism, and made us one people, united and resolved on a common object ?

The innocent, unsuspecting reformer, bleeding inwardly for the toiling, suffering poor, took them literally, and out of the chaos of a million suggestions and a few hundred thousand policies for “lifting up the working classes,” extracted half-a-dozen or so, and built up his Utopia, his dream of a social reconstruction. Every newspaper was inundated with letters containing suggestions for the re-organisation of industry on such a basis that antagonism and discord would be eliminated once and for ever.

So genuine were the editors in their “never again” determination that they even went so far as to encourage them by publication, thus giving to the whole discussion of re-organisation—for the time—a serious nature.

Which attitude still further deceived, or encouraged, the simple Simons of the labour movement who, while they hurled their thunder | at the “profiteers,” proclaimed the millennium (after the war) because the “public” had recognised the wrongs of the workers and were determined to right them. They never stopped to ask themselves who or what was the “public.” That question had been answered for them by the captains and agents of the “profiteers” (exploiters disguised as robbers of the consumer). Classes no longer existed, but the capitalists, some of whom were “profiteers” and some just capitalists, under the stress of military conditions, were prepared to discuss any wild-cat scheme if its discussion would convince the workers of their sincerity to reform. Because just then it was necessary that capital’s intolerant and brutal past should be replaced in the mind of the workers by the promise of a golden future.

For over a century—ever since the days of Fourier—the workers had been regaled with smoothly-working, ready-made Utopias that were full of promise and nothing else. They had learned to scoff at them, so much so that when Socialism was first placed upon a scientific basis and presented to them, they mistook it for another reformer’s dream, and where they took any interest in it at all, tried to subject it to ridicule, only to find that, boomerang-like, it came back and settled on themselves.

We know from experience and history that the capitalist in his relations with the workers, studies no interests but his own ; that the capitalist class, in itself, presents an impassable barrier to all experiments in social re-construc­tion. Consequently both capitalist and reformer are discredited, and suggestions, like that of Lord Leverhulme for a six hours day, where they do not provoke a smile, are regarded by us as deep-laid plots to further enslave the workers.

Those who have read Fourier’s Utopia, with its beautiful gardens and its costumes of cloth and gold, will recognise the genus Utopia whenever they meet it. Robert Owen’s well-intentioned efforts, the exchange of products by labour tickets that followed it, and the dream of co-operators to gradually absorb industry are Utopias that have had their day—though the last-named, snowed under and insignificant in comparison with the forces they set out to absorb, can still boast a number of members prepared to play the role of fanatic in a movement long ago captured by the capitalists.

The more modern Utopias, like the “New Theology,” lack the wealth of detail that charac­terised their predecessors. Their founders can only escape ridicule and preserve a semblance of dignity by the utterance of highly embellished phrases and vague abstractions that seem to convey a solemn portent, but, when analysed, are found to contain nothing but wind—or ink. Thus the National Guilds’ League says :

“Therefore if the control of industry is in any measure and in any real sense to pass to Labour, it must be, not by any impossible endeavour to co-operate with employers on joint bodies, but by the transference of powers absolutely to bodies exclusively representative of Labour. The right and only path to such control is for Labour to demand and secure exclusive control, first within the sphere of the workshop, and then increasingly over a wider and wider domain.”

Of course, everybody knows that, to get control—or anything else—all that is necessary is to “demand and secure it.” Many would dispense with the “demand” and proceed straightway to the securing, if the road were clear and there were no police. But the road is not clear. The police are there, and they take their orders from the class that is jealous of every threatened encroachment or advance by the workers. With physical force arrayed against them, and a bitter competitive struggle, always intensifying, frustrating all their efforts on the industrial field, it is not surprising that the best organised workers not only fail to make any advance, but on the contrary, find themselves drifting from bad to worse, while the feeling of impotence grows on them.

The Syndicalist and the Industrial Unionist are examples of the modern Utopians. They sketch the plan of a future State and pretend to trace its consummation from such ordinary trade union actions as the strike, with a long series of stepping-stones between. Every stepping-stone is a new kind of drill invented by the economic quacks to educate and perfect the workers in the art of striking, which they tell us will, more often than not, mean only the threat to strike. Even when the workers have learned the whole series, of striking by companies, battalions, industries, and nationally and internationally ; when they have learned all the things which they are told they must demand, and organised themselves according to the doctrine of “direct action,” they must still go through with the whole senseless performance, still practice the goose step, till the signal goes forth from their economic leaders to “take and hold.” In that supreme moment the bubble, pricked by the State sword, bursts, and the millenium is postponed sine die.

But long before the economic quacks can “take and hold” the workers the latter will wake to the absurdity of such methods. Their propaganda only meets with success where they continually denounce the “politicians.” They would have us think that it is only the political labour leader that turns Judas. But what would the ruling class not give, in the coming years of market fluctuations, of alternate periods of feverish production and stagnation, to have under their control working-class leaders who could persuade or command their wage-hungry legions to cease work or re-commence, just as the markets dictated. Thus treachery dogs the footsteps of the workers, whether they chase the industrial will-o’-the-wisp or follow the politi­cian. For the leaders on both fields can and do betray the workers into actions and policies that run counter to their own interests. Their glittering Utopias, plausible policies, and subtle arguments, sway the worker to his own undoing because he is ignorant of the very elements of political economy.

If this were not so “The Herald” could not impose upon many the “New Charter for the Workers,” which is claimed to be “thorough, bold, practical.” Those who have read Fourier and St. Simon will acknowledge they were thorough and bold, though they were not practical. Those who read the “New Charter” will find absurdities, contradictions, and fruitless, demands, but they will Reek in vain for the qualities with which they describe their own programme.

Their first item, “Conscription of wealth and £1 a day,” may be bold as demands go, but it is not thorough because it still leaves the workers wage-slaves. Neither is it practical, because the New Chartists, like the old ones, are relying on a capitalist government to inaugurate it. The second item, “Ownership by the State, management by the workers,” has the same objections, while in addition it preserves the capitalist State and perpetuates the working class, making it responsible for production. It is neither thorough nor bold, because it is not even suggested that the means of production should be owned in common and democratically controlled.

Their third, “An Industrial Chamber : Abolition of the Lords,” links them up in its latter part, with the B.S.P. and the Liberal Party, while its first part acquits them of collusion with the working class, because they say “Labour and Professional bodies [would] thus become a constituent part of the country’s government,” thus reaffirming their intention that the workers must remain a governed class, instead of becoming a co-operative commonwealth producing for use and administrating through assemblies in their own interests.

Their fourth, “Self-Government and a Living Wage for Soldiers,” is evidently a bait for the Army, though why soldiers should be content with a mere living wage when civilians would have their pound a day does not transpire.

Self-government is evidently gleaned from the Council of Soldiers and Workmen, and the extreme simplicity of the New Chartists becomes apparent when we read further the demand for “Democratisation of the Army and Navy (so long as they exist) by the effective representation of the rank and file in all military and naval administrations not dealing with strategy.” Blind leaders are the New Chartists who would hand over their blind followers to be massacred wholesale on the plea of strategy !

But this is not all. After anticipating the conceding of the vote to women by baiting for that vote with number five—”Payment of Wives”—they urge as their sixth and last, “The Workers Organised Against War.”

In number four they would strengthen the Army and increase its efficiency, while in six they would organise to make it useless.

Such are the glittering beads with which this Utopian necklace is strung. Taken separately they seem to be either culled from other capitalist programmes or impracticable and futile absurdities. A jumble of pre-war reformist plans, faked and modified as a lure to the workers and a demand to the master class. Because these Chartists fail to understand the economic basis of capitalist society they can only build their policies and programmes in accordance with capitalist notions and within the ring of capitalist ethics and standards. With every change in capitalist methods reforms become obsolete, and capitalist agents are not slow to invent new ones to dangle before the noses of the patient masses. Thus reformers and dreamers sheltered from the maelstrom of capitalist production and blind to all indications of a class war increasing in bitterness, pick and choose here and there the materials to build their Utopias, as children build a house of cards that tumbles into ruins with the approach of something real and solid.

Fourier’s coloured panorama, Shaw’s “State Socialism,” “The Guild Idea,” and the “New Charter for the Workers,” are the fantastic bubbles thrown to the surface by the forces that contend in the depths of capitalist anarchy. Ephemeral productions of impractical dreamers, they dissolve with a touch of ridicule, or burst and scatter before the ever-broadening stream of science. Their glory is only for a day—the day while the workers believe that all is gold that glitters.

Bat their eyes will weary of watching empty bubbles. They will not always gaze where the finger of the charlatan points to the milleniam coming to meet them. Their faith in leaders, already straining to breaking-point, will one day snap, and, seeing themselves for what they are, the victims of a ruling class, they will recognise with us that they alone can work out their destiny. Then will they learn with astonishment that for over seventy years their class position and the road to emancipation has been clearly defined and within their reach.

F. F.

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