1910s >> 1918 >> no-169-september-1918

Letter: Correspondence

Sirs,

—in your issue for June 1918 your contributor, S.H.S., in an article entitled “The Passing of the Barricade,” declares the futility of armed action by the workers, and advocates political action as “the only way to achieve the Social Revolution and establish Socialism.” Now in my opinion S.H.S. ends his article just when it becomes most interesting—at the very point where it should begin. Other of your writers do the same sort of thing. For instance, in your journal for April W. L. Wake writes on p. 59, col. 3, “The first step, therefore, towards their overthrow, is to secure political power.” In the same issue F.F. writes (p. 61, col. 3.) “they will organise with us to capture the machinery of government . . . ” In the issue for May A. E. J. writes (p. 67, col. 3) “For politics are the means which will give them control over the armed forces . . . ” And on p. 70, col. 1 J. Fitzgerald writes : “As they do this they will realise the. . . correctness of the teachings of Marx, Morgan, and Engels, and will organise to take control of political power.” I want you to note that each of the foregoing quotations is taken from about the end of the article, so that in effect the writer takes the reader along the road only as far as a certain point, labelled “Political Action,” and says: “There you are, Mr. Reader, you can go on or stick where you are, just as you like” ; after saying which he vanishes into thin air.

Now, let us see where the phrase “political action” leads to. When you use these words I understand you to infer that when you consider the time ripe and the conditions suitable you will put up candidates to “run” at every election that occurs, who will represent the workers’ interest in Parliament. And as each election is fought, so shall we see Socialists sailing merrily into the House of Commons to “collar” those seats.

But do you think that the capitalists or their agents will watch the tide of Socialists in Parliament rise higher and higher, growing ever stronger, whilst they (the capitalists) remain dumb and inactive? I am sure you don’t. It would be an insult to your super-intellects to even think it!

Equally I am sure that you are acquainted with political corruption, bribery, intrigue, and so forth. When governments or parties want a majority on their side they trot round offering official posts with fat salaries or “birthday honours” to as many members as will take them. And since bureaucratic government has grown largely recently, the opportunity to offer posts in the various departments has increased enormously.

So that if, at any time, Socialists in Parliament make such powerful, damaging, and brilliant speeches against the Government as to leave them dumb it won’t matter, for when voting time comes they can rest assured that their money will do its work.

Now, suppose a general election comes round and the number of Socialists returned to Parliament amounts to 90 per cent. of the whole membership. What then? The capitalists may re-organise Parliament, put it on an entirely new basis to enable them to retain a voting majority. But suppose, no matter how they scheme, wriggle, twist, or turn, that in a very short time they fail utterly. Again, what then?

They have still one card to play. They can close Parliament and say to the workers: “We’ve got the armed forces, you can go and hang yourselves. If you declare a general strike you’ll starve first. If you continue to work but ‘go slow’ we can send soldiers with bayonets to speed you up. Or if you become troublesome in any way we’ll give you an unrestricted diet of bullets, bombs, and gas—and see how you like that! Submit— or be damned! ”

So we arrive at the following position of the workers:

Political action is denied them; physical force is futile (because the capitalists control the armed forces); and passive resistance, that is, the strike, means starvation.

Now, I ask you, as guardians of the condensed cream of working-class knowledge, of what use would your “political action” be in such circumstances?

Yours sincerely,
“Slim.”

Reply:

First of all, do you really know what it is you want ? Our correspondent “S.H S.” saw that the “march of Time has left behind the barricade and established the truth of our contention that the working class can only emancipate themselves by capturing the political machinery” and he expressed himself thusly. He did not declare “the futility of armed action by the workers” but the hopelessness of opposing “overturned carts and piled paving stones and sniping from roofs”—the methods of the barricade—to the mighty forces controlled by the capitalists so long as they are in possession of the political machinery. That is one of your misstatements corrected.

As regards your point against E. L. Wake, you very conveniently overlook that the immediately preceding passage to that you quote is: “Since, therefore, the whole of the evil conditions of working-class existence spring from this property condition, the workers must make those things needed for the production and distribution of wealth the common property of society. The defenders of private property having, through their political power, control of the armed forces, use them to support their position.” Then follows your quotation: “The first step, therefore, towards their overthrow, is to secure political power.” Clearly, in this instance, at all events, it is incorrect to say that “ the writer takes the reader along the road only as far as a certain point, labelled ‘political action’ ” for the political action is plainly indicated as the means to a point further on—a point, indeed, which is the realisation of the object of Socialist organisation—the point of making the means of producing and distributing wealth the common property of society.

Exactly the same remark applies in the case of your quotation of our correspondent “F.F.,” for, far from carrying “the reader along the road only as far as a certain point, labelled ‘political action’ ” and then leaving him to “go on or stick where you are,” when he has said that the workers “will organise with us to capture the machinery of government,” proceeds to say that they will do this “in order that they may establish a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of all the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution—which is ‘Socialism.” Your statements, therefore, are incorrect.

We will endeavour to deal with your other points in our next issue.

Editorial Committee