We have received copies of letters that have passed between the Socialist Labour Press
, of 50, Renfrew Street, Glasgow, and Mr. G. N. Barnes
on the subject of the closing down of that press, and have been asked for some comment on the matter.
Briefly, the facts are as follows. Over three months ago the police raided the premises of the Socialist Labour Press, dismantled the machinery, confiscated necessary parts of it, and so effectually prevented the carrying on of the firm’s printing business, the chief part of which was the printing of the “Socialist.”
After protests in certain official quarters, Mr. Barnes was written to. His two replies show first an ignorance of the case, and second, inaccurate information resulting from his inquiries. On these points the S.L.P. answers completely disprove Barnes’ assertions that the “identity had been concealed” of the persons responsible for certain publications printed by the Socialist Labour Press. Two out of the three men had been prosecuted, though in one case the prosecution was dropped, while the police had paid visits to the house and held interviews with the third person. Such inaccuracies and mis-statements are common with Ministers and officials, and simply show that Barnes is no exception to the rule.
There is, however, one assumption upon which both Mr. Barnes and the S.L.P. agree. This is the notion that government by a ruling class can be other than “despotic” in dealing with its slaves. Thus Mr. Barnes in his first letter says: —
I must say that your statement as to a despotic Government preventing free expression of opinion on the part of working-class movements doesn’t carry conviction.
And in the second letter he states:—
There is no question of the Government preventing free expression of opinion on the part of working-class movements
The Government merely took the only course open to it to check the activities of persons who were working against the interests of the Nation.
In the covering letter accompanying the copies of the correspondence, the secretary of the S.L.P. states:—
Quite apart from the fact that we are at a great disadvantage, and suffering considerable loss . . . the Principle of a Free Press is at stake.
That Mr. Barnes should take up the attitude given above is quite understandable. He is a member of the working class who has been given a position and a salary to mislead and deceive the workers with the stale lies about “Freedom,” “Democracy,” “Liberty,” and the rest.
But the S.L.P. claims to be clear and sound in its knowledge of the slave position of the working class. Anyone armed with this knowledge would easily understand that the slaves of society are completely under the control of the master class, whose rule is only modified by the needs of the system as it develops and the benefit to be derived from a smooth working of production, often obtained by giving certain concessions to deluded workers. But the ruling class have the decision in their hands whenever they fancy their interests will be served by any particular action.
“Freedom of Speech,” “Free Press,” “Freedom of Assembly,” etc., are hypocritical phrases successfully used to muddle working-class minds. Under capitalism there is not, nor has there ever been, any of these things.
Before the war meetings could only beheld either by direct permission or on the sufferance of the police. Whenever the authorities, or even subordinate officials, wished, the meetings were stopped, and the Commissioner of Police could legally refuse to give any reason for his action. Printers’ offices could be, and were, raided and publications suppressed at the discretion of the authorities. After the raid other action—such as prosecution on some legal point—might be taken, but this was not necessary, and often was not done.
When the war started the passing of the Defence of the Realm Act brought these powers to a focus and enabled action to be taken rapidly and without the formalities that had been usual in certain cases. The so-called great English charter of personal liberty—the Habeas Corpus Act—is overridden by it, and scores of men and women have been arrested, thrown into jail and left there, without trial and even without any charge being preferred against them, and inquiries are met with the curt answer —when one is given—that it is under D.O.R.A. Often they will refuse to state under which regulation even the action is being taken.
This vast engine of power is at the disposal not only of the Government and Ministers, but also of a large number of lesser officials who can use it in any case they wish.
With this simple glaring fact before us, how shallow and foolish it sounds to claim that there is any “Principle of a Free Press” or “Freedom of Speech ” for the wage-slaves! They have them not and never have had. The S.L.P. claim to the contrary gives large support to the mouth-pieces of the master class—from G. N. Barnes and Sam Gompers to the “Daily Mail” and “Daily News”— that we are a “Free People” fighting to make the world “Safe for Democracy.”
The reasons for this misunderstanding is to be found in the ignorance and incorrect conception of the S.L.P. in the matters of political and economic power and organisation. They have glorified the latter and belittled the former in spite of the facts around them.
Never have, modern wage slaves been so favourably placed for fighting by economic methods as during this war. The demand for labour-power has for exceeded the available supply; the orders given firms have been extremely urgent, and in most cases prices have been whatever the capitalists liked to ask. With no unemployed army outside the factory gates, and therefore no blacklegs available, the “economic power” of the masters has been reduced to its lowest limits under the system, yet they have won every battle they decided to fight.
The Clyde engineers were beaten and their leaders deported. The Barrow engineers were defeated. The Coventry engineers and the air-craft workers lost their struggle. The more general strike of the engineers throughout the country was a failure. The Clyde shipwrights were driven back in about a week, and the London air-craft strike failed to save Rock, the shop-steward.
How came the masters to win so easily under conditions so vastly favourable to the workers? By their “economic power” or “organisation” ? No! It was by their control of POLITICAL POWER, and that alone, that they were able to dictate to their slaves the terms: “Either work on our conditions or face death in the firing line.” It was by their control of the political machinery that they extended and consolidated their power in the form of D.O.R.A.
While the masters have this control it is quite misleading to urge the workers to fight for the “Principle of a Free Press” or “Freedom of Speech.” No such principles exist under this system.
The only way to obtain these “Freedoms” is the Socialist way. That is by organising to take control of the political powers for the purpose of entering into possession of the means of life—the land and instruments for producing and distributing wealth.
In this greatest of all class struggles the workers are quite correct in seizing every vantage point and every opportunity for spreading their propaganda and organisation; but they will be utterly mistaken and will only add to their own confusion by confounding these necessary detail struggles with the central object of the battle, or raising them into “Principles” that have no existence in reality.
It is above all necessary to keep clear the great central fact that the workers are wage-slaves to the master class, that therefore they are existing in slave conditions, and that they will only obtain their freedom by capturing political power for the purpose of abolishing their slavery.