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

Society and Morals

Part IX. — Socialism, its economic and theoretical basis

Among the many factors which are to-day preparing and disciplining the workers for the revolutionary struggle of the future is the struggle on the industrial field carried on by the organised labour unions. Trade union organisation gathers large numbers of workers together for concerted action and shows the immense superiority of co-operative over individual effort. The struggle promotes the sense of solidarity, which, as “sympathetic” strikes have shown, can transcend, even to-day, immediate and sectional interests. Union meetings being purely working-class gatherings, become centres of discussion, where political, social and economic theories can be thrashed out, and they can therefore become fertile fields for revolutionary propaganda. On the other hand the failure even of “successful” strikes to materially or permanently improve the economic position of the workers will reveal the economic limitations of the economic struggle and will show to the workers the titanic forces they are up against; while the solidarity of their employers in their associations, especially when made manifest, as has recently been done, throughout entire groups of industries, will make the conflict more and more obviously a class struggle. In this latter connection the ready use by the ruling class of the armed forces of the State to defeat the striking workers will be of significance also in showing that the basic power upon which the bourgeoisie relies is in the last resort political.

With the constant application of science to production, not only in the shape of ever more perfect mechanical instruments of production, but also, as has been increasingly done in recent years, in the more efficient management and organisation of the labour process, the exploitation of the workers is correspondingly intensified. In proportion to the total wealth produced, the share produced in wages by the proletariat grows less and less. The rapid growth thus caused in the wealth of the exploiting class, with its concomitant increase in ostentatious display, throws into ever more glaring contrast the gay, luxurious living of the idlers on the one hand, and the drab, monotonous, toiling lives of the working class on the other. At the same time the rise of trusts and of the multi-millionaire has made more obvious than ever the colossal social power wielded by those who control the means of production, whilst (and this applies with ever greater force to industrial concerns under government control) it has also demonstrated to all the absolute uselessness of the capitalist class in the field of production.

Thus every development makes for a deeper cleavage between the classes, the growth of the antagonism between them, and an intensification of the class struggle. We have already seen how prior to the war there had already been for years a growing volume of proletarian discontent which manifested itself primarily in an unprecedented industrial strife, both in the number and the bitterness of the disputes. The war itself, while temporarily acting as a soporific bringing a lull in the storm of the class struggle, has nevertheless only served to force on those very economic developments which make the struggle increasingly severe. The simplification of processes which has taken place, the “dilution” of “skilled” by “unskilled ” labour and the rapid influx into the ranks of the wage-earners of millions of females, while tending towards an increased exploitation, will also make for the breaking down of craft and sex prejudices among the workers and the fuller recognition of the uniformity of their interests.

Now that the age of Imperialism is upon us there will be, as we have previously pointed out, a growing community of interests among the capitalists of each rival national (or quasi-national) group; strikes will more and more be regarded as “national” calamities, no longer the private affairs of individual firms but matters of vital interest to the whole capitalist class. We may therefore expect that forcible suppression will become more frequent and ruthless, and thus the class nature of the State, and the mercilessness of the bourgeoisie will be unmasked.

Among the developments which tend to prepare the worker’s mind for revolutionary concepts we may therefore place the ever more glaring contradictions presented by existing society, and the intensification of the antagonism and severity of the conflict between the capitalist class and the working class. But other factors are not without importance.

For the first time in history there exists a working class among which reading is universal. The application of science to industry has led to a widespread knowledge of natural forces among the workers. A growing interest in natural science has stimulated the demand for popular, cheap books upon its several branches. Not only has this scientific popularisation led to a decline in superstition and religious belief, and also to a closer acquaintance with scientific methods of reasoning, but with the growing acuteness of social problems, to a wider interest in social science.

True, this interest is to-day fed on every hand by the apologists of capitalism, advocating manifold schemes of social reform and regeneration. But in so far as these various palliatives are tried and found wanting (as they assuredly will be) leaving the fundamental basis of capitalism untouched, to that extent will they be discredited in the eyes of the workers.

The growth of huge reformist or pseudo-Socialist parties which has been one of the features of modern politics, while giving little guide to the actual amount of sound Socialist knowledge among the workers who have flocked to them, are certainly a proof of the fact that millions of the world’s producers are profoundly dissatisfied with capitalist conditions. Marxian writings are to-day read and discussed wherever capitalism has established itself, and to an ever-increasing extent. In proportion as this influence gains ground will the workers obtain a dear grip of social realities and economic phenomena. As the general level of sociological knowledge is raised the working class will be enabled to take the control of their industrial organisations completely into their own hands, and to dispense with leaders, and thus will be fitted for a more definite and uncompromising attitude toward the employing class. At the same time we may expect, with the growing perception of the futility of palliatives within the structure of capitalism, the increasing acceptance of the true Socialist position and the gradual growth around the nuclei which already exist in most countries, of those political parties which have for their avowed aim the waging of the class struggle to a successful revolutionary conclusion—the expropriation of the capitalist class and the institution of the co-operative commonwealth.

It is evident that this final struggle must be international in its span and primarily political in character. The class struggle between the capitalists and the workers is necessarily as world-wide as is the capitalist system itself. That the bourgeoisie of all nations are prepared to sink their differences in the face of working-class rebellion and to join hands in the work of suppression we have already ample evidence. Recent events in Russia and Finland have brought further proof to that provided by the notorious repression of the Paris Commune. As the consciousness of the proletariat grows and is translated into action we may dearly expect further manifestation of the international solidarity of the capitalists in defence of their mutual interests. Moreover, the international character of modern scientific production demands a correspondingly wide social organisation and therefore the society of the future must be world-embracing and its establishment will mean the obliteration of national divisions.

Apart from the evidence of history the necessity for the political organisation and action of the class-conscious proletariat is shown by the fact that the capitalist class to-day are only able to dominate society because of their control over the political machinery.

Representatives of the bourgeoisie are elected to power by the votes of the politically ignorant workers, and will continue to be so long as this ignorance remains. Once it is dissipated, however, the workers can just as easily gain control over the complex organisation of government (which is not as the Anarchists think, a mere arbitrarily imposed power, but has grown through centuries of evolution, step by step with economic development, and is firmly rooted in the social and intellectual life) for themselves.

After constituting themselves the ruling class the working class can. proceed with the work of socialisation, and of levelling to the ground the old, tottering edifice of class rule and class subjugation. But to speculate on the manner of doing this is to-day futile. Both the tactics of the revolutionary struggle and the actions taken in the event of victory will be determined by the precise conditions which obtain at the time. It is not for us to dictate to, or even to advise, the men of the future. We who live in the present have our own duty to perform—incessant agitation, persistent education, so that we may build up our organisations strong in principle and discipline, without compromise or falter, and armed at every point to withstand the assaults, either open or covert, of the enemy without, or perchance within.

R. W. Housley.

Link to Part X