1910s >> 1919 >> no-174-february-1919

Editorial: Where We Stand

If it was ever true that “all the world is a stage,” it was never more true than it is to-day. In Russia and Germany tragedy; here, at home, comedy that may become tragedy of the first water if certain mad-caps have their way. That an attempt is being made to establish proletarian domination in Eastern Europe and Western Asia on a scale without parallel in the world’s history seems to have turned the heads of a large number of proletarians in countries outside those in which the attempt is being made, and it is a matter upon which it is our duty to speak.

The January issue of the “Socialist,” the official organ of the Socialist Labour Party, carries a “Manifesto” which may form a convenient introduction to our subject. This manifesto is put forward as “A Plea for the Reconsideration of Socialist Tactics and Organisation.” In reality it is a proposal to imitate in this country the policy and tactics which, it is alleged, are being pursued in Russia, with, of course, such amendments and alterations as the “dead hand of the past,” that is, the claims and policy which the S.L.P. has put forward and followed with such conspicuous failure for some years now, suggest. But, be it said, there are important abandonments of positions and tactics also, of which we shall have more to say later on.

The manifesto urges all Socialists to “re-examine our previous attitude and activities;” it pleads: “Let us decide whether this policy does not bring our movement into line with the revolutionary working class of Russia and elsewhere.” And the leading article in the same paper, after much vapouring about the Bolshevik movement in Russia, and the revolutionary workers in Germany says: “Elsewhere in the ‘Socialist‘ we publish a manifesto which seeks to outline a new basis for the revolutionary movement, and which will enable the masses to act.” [Italics not ours.] And in another place says: “The revolutionary crisis is here now.” What the manifesto lacks in definite pronouncement as to its ends and aims is supplied by these statements, but if something still more definite is needed, then it is to be found in the assertion in the early part of the same leader that: ”At this time last year we, in conjunction with the German workers, pledged ourselves to support the Bolshevists in Russia with all our power. The German workers have carried out their pledge, but we have not.”

So, the moral is, that the Revolutionaries of this country are to copy the Spartacists, and the steps which certain prominent S.L.P. men are taking to organise meetings, and what transpires thereat, confirms the view that nothing less than the immediate challenging of the military might of the capitalist class in this country is the object the S.L.P. has in view in publishing this manifesto. Indeed, they say: “We are entering upon a year which is either going to make or unmake the immediate realisation of the International Socialist Republic.” What could be plainer?

Now, what is the actual situation? Events which are within the knowledge of most people to-day, found Russia in a peculiar state of chaos. The capitalist class of that country at the moment that should have been their hour of emancipation, discovered themselves an ill-organised, or perhaps one might better say unorganised social class faced with a situation calling for the highest effort in order to cope with it. If ever the revolutionary workers, imbued with the idea of seizing power without the formality of creating a class-conscious proletariat, had the ghost of a chance, it was then. They determined to take the opportunity, and as far as we know, and, indeed, from such indications as can hardly be discredited, they appear to have carried on their effort so far with great skill and success.

But to claim that their battle is won, or that eventual success is within reach of the Bolsheviks, is to claim that which there is no evidence to support. On what do the Bolshevist leaders depend for their strength? Certainly not on a class-conscious working class. To talk about the millions of Socialist books and pamphlets printed in Russia is beside the question, since 70 per cent. of the people will need to be taught to read them. The peasantry—the backbone of the country, on whom the fate of the movement must ultimately rest—cannot understand Socialism, for in the first place they are generally illiterate and cannot have read Socialist literature; in the second place they are so isolated and have been so under guardianship, that it is altogether unlikely that socialist propaganda has been carried on among them. How is it likely, then, that they can conceive any advantage arising from common ownership of land ? How is it possible that they can see sound reasoning in the proposal that they shall grow food for the whole people and receive in return such few products of the factories as they have need of? Their wants end with their few simple tools and their boots. All else, practically, they produce for themselves, after the manner of people in their stage of development; and the idea that they are going to give allegiance to the proposal that they shall feed Russia for boots and tools is ridiculous. At present they are, so far as our information goes, enamoured of the idea that each peasant may have as much land as he can till without hired labour ; but the natural corollary of this is that each will till as little as he can keep himself and his family upon, and the few calls he makes on the outside world, and pays for with his products, will not be sufficient to maintain the townspeople and the revolutionary armies. When the Bolsheviks try to square this matter the peasants will in all probability be ready to listen to the cry of the first capitalist party that promises land without restriction and the exchange of the capitalist world instead of the lopsided exchange of goods produced in commonly-owned factories for food produced on privately owned land.

It is ridiculous to try and imagine Socialist productive conditions in the towns and the productive conditions of feudal communism in the country. The first is the child of highly fertile labour due to technical advance. The second is the result, and its reaction the cause, of low productive capacity. The first gives men leisure through social effort and the conquest of nature, the second fixes on them the toil of individual labour and poor technical resources. The first responds to social needs; the second only to private. The first has no idea of any other value than that of utility in satisfying social needs ; the second none but that of satisfying private needs. There can be, therefore, no satisfactory basis for exchange. The incongruous property conditions divides society two classes, of whom the vast majority are peasants “each owning as much land as he can till without hired assistance,” and interested in producing as little as possible beyond his own requirements, and demanding the utmost return for what he has to sell. In the absence of the appraisement of values through competition as under capitalism the rate of exchange between the communal products of the towns and the individual products of the country must the subject of arrangement. It hence is removed to the realm of politics. A class struggle, therefore, arises, expressing itself as a political struggle for supremacy in the adjustment of antagonistic interests.

Yet the Bolsheviks are powerless to place the land on any more satisfactory footing. The wants of the Russian peasantry are not sufficiently great, nor their agricultural means and methods sufficiently fertile, to enable them to carry the Socialist Revolution on their backs. Just as Socialism must be international because the world is necessary to Socialism, so no section of Society can be ripe for Socialism until its needs extend beyond its own confines—until the whole world is necessary to it. Nor, while the average corn yield is only four times the amount of grain sown can Socialism offer a peasantry the equality it must afford to all. Only when they need more of the amenities of life, and their means of culture have been brought to such a level as will leave them leisure after producing the social food, will they be in a position to welcome Socialism—and even then they must understand it.

That the Bolshevists realise this is quite possible. But as long as they are faced with this difficulty it is madness for the revolutionary element in other countries to talk as though the Russian rebels had established Socialism, or even overthrown capitalism, in Russia. As a matter of fact it appears that the Russian capitalists have their nucleii in many districts, gathered under the protection of the internationalist capitalists. The result of the recent German elections will give these reactionaries a further opportunity of safeguarding the capitalist institutions in those places where they are threatened. Therefore it is madness to proceed as though Bolshevism had established the foundation of the International Socialist Commonwealth.

But even had they succeeded in establishing a Socialist Republic (and there is no evidence that they have even attempted to do so yet) there is still to be considered the different conditions prevailing in other countries. In England the workers do not find the capitalist class disorganised, nor in France, or America, or any of the Allied countries. Even in Germany, with all the odium of military failure upon them, there is no sign that the capitalists have not a grip upon the situation that will pull them through. To say in the face of this that ”We are entering upon a year which is either going to make or unmake the immediate realisation of the International Socialist Republic” is to utter balderdash.

Four short years after even “The Socialist” was advocating the prosecution of the capitalist war, the madcaps of the S.L.P. think that British soldiers, with four years of iron discipline upon them, flushed with victory and the flattery that is showered on victors, would fail to support against a mob of rioters, that system they have fought so valiantly for. “We need a movement of active men and women who are not afraid to live dangerously,” they cry, who so late as 1915 were urging men and women of the working class to “live dangerously” in their masters’ war service. If they think that, four years of war having brought them round to OUR view of the purely capitalist nature of the war, the rest of the working class have made a like mental advance, they have their answer in the last General Election.

The “Manifesto,” in imitation of a prominent capitalist politician, lays down a programme of ”14 points,” the third of which runs :

  The defence of the National Socialist Republic may be necessary to prevent any Imperialist Capitalist State attempting to crush the freedom of the workers in any land, consequently the Army and Navy shall be democratically controlled.

This presupposes that when “men and women who are not afraid to live dangerously” have established the “National Socialist Republic” in this country, there may be existing “Imperialist Capitalist States” in other countries. Here enters a factor which knocks the bottom clean out of the S.L.P.’s “Plea for the Reconsideration of Socialist Tactics and Organisation.” For, granted that the fullest possible success attended the efforts of the rebels, they would then be up against the fact that, under conditions which must even then prevail, the country cannot feed itself. No army or navy could avail. The “Imperialist Capitalist States” could simply starve the “National Socialist Republic” into surrender. Even Germany, with a few paltry U boats, nearly accomplished this trick against capitalist Britain and the mighty navies of the world.

No, England, of all countries, is not the one to lead the way in the matter of overthrowing capitalist domination. At the quickest a year must elapse before the home-grown food supply could be increased sufficiently to support the nation. It is hardly conceivable that it could be accomplished in that time, but long before that time every man, woman, and child in the “National Socialist Republic” would have “lived hungrily” and died of starvation.

Before leaving the “Manifesto” it may be noted that the S.L.P. have abandoned the old I.W,W. position of organisation by industries. Locality, now, is the very keystone to the arch of social organisation. They say:

 In order to find the social needs, some machinery is required that reflects the social side of life as apart from the time spent in production. . . In the present geographical allocation of wards, there exists a basis upon which such machinery could be erected. . . Each ward would also be entitled to have a delegate upon the local Federal Council of the district, which latter body would be composed of one delegate from each ward and one delegate from each shop, yard, or similar area of production. [Italics ours,]

How long it does take some people to discover the absurdity of their sophistries ! We pointed out the idiocy of organisation by industries years ago.

There are many other points in the ”Plea” calling for criticism, but we have only space for this last. We are told that

  Given the necessary desires and social requirements of the people, our duty is to propagate and establish the means of their fulfilment. . . all factories and plants of production should be organised in such a way that each would have its complete committees of delegates drawn directly from the various departments, each separately delegated to carry out the instructions of the workers engaged therein . . .

So it is not the workers as a whole who are to control production, but the industrial groups. This necessarily means that the social requirements are subservient to the industrial side of the system, which is absurd. It is hardly for us here and now to concern ourselves deeply with the details of a| social system which is still some distance ahead. But it is obvious that the body responsible for the social liabilities must control production. The responsible body is the community, not the workshop groups. Supervisors must carry out the instructions of the community, as expressed through their elected administrators. It is easy to see why the S.L P. take the opposite view. They are, and always have been, opportunists of the first water. At the moment they are anxious to exploit the Shop Steward movement. So they commit themselves to the statement that the new society must be built up within the old, “using the existing organisations for the same end.” They thus find a useful function for the Shop Steward movement —they to whom well within living memory anything savouring of the “pure and simple” trade union was anathema !

In an attack no doubt directed against us, though no names are mentioned, the “Socialist” says:.,

  Historic and political development is an ever-changing process, and no political organisation, particularly a revolutionary organisation, can draw up a code of tactics which will last, “not for an age, but for all time.” The hide-bound, inactive, and intolerant doctrinaire can always be detected by the claim that he devotedly and unswervingly follows the tactics which he embraced 15 years ago.

Well, strangely enough, 15 years ago WE drew up declaration of Principles, and “embraced” a line of policy and tactics based thereon. We had followed that line for 11 years when the war broke out. It was a testing time for all. The S.L.P. went into the test, as we did. How did the ramping, flexible, “damn-the-rudder-trim-the-sails” party and the “hide-bound, inactive, and intolerant doctrinaire” respectively emerge from the ordeal? We give here extracts from the official organs of both parties:

  . . no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working-class blood. . . Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, . . —(“The War and the Socialist Position.” “Socialist Standard,” Sept. 1914.)
I cannot say definitely what the official attitude of the Party is.—(The Editor, “The Socialist,” Nov. 1914.)
SHALL I FIGHT?
I cannot understand the stand being taken by some Socialists of refusing to kill. . . I do not regard this question as a test of one’s sincerity as a Socialist. . . So long as the other fellow remains armed and sets out to make mincemeat of me I reserve the right to retaliate. —(The Editor, “The Socialist,” Dec. 1914.)

As now, the S.L.P. organ wanted men and women to “live dangerously,” but then it was to be in butchering their German fellow workers. For months the columns of “The Socialist” presented every capitalist argument in support of the war, and the Party which speak with such authority on the details of the future society were lost in face of a simple situation that had long threatened them. The “hide-bound doctrinaires” can still reiterate the words with which they met the outbreak of the great butchery—can the S.L.P. ? We can stand unashamed before those Russian revolutionaries who reproached the “International” and charged it with treachery—can the S.L.P. ?

It is not at all remarkable that the S L.P., which have pretty well boxed the political compass in their 17 years or so of life, ever finding themselves on the wrong track, should desire to reconsider their position. As for us, we are satisfied to go on in the direction we have always followed, more convinced than ever that the emancipation of the working class can only be the work of a class-conscious proletariat organised for their task, and that therefore our mission is first to educate, then to organise.

The workers must make rebels of the masters before resorting to armed force.

Leave a Reply