1910s >> 1919 >> no-179-july-1919

A Matter of Definition. A Capitalist Apologist Tackled.

The Clever Dodgers.

Some capitalist writers, in their philosophical peregrinations around and about such questions as “Democracy,” “Revolution,” etc., display an amazing ability at handling abstract principles, connected therewith, true in themselves, and utterly opposed to the fundamental principles of capitalism, not only without revealing their antagonism to the system, but, until their premises are closely examined, actually to support the capitalist State.

Thus A. M. Drysdale in a series of articles in the “Daily Chronicle” tries to prove that revolution, instead of being a socially organic necessity at certain intervals in human history, is always a reactionary movement of minorities. His reflections, in themselves rather more interesting than the usual capitalist drivel on such subjects, are, however, based upon a total misconception of the thing he makes the centre of his discourse, i.e., revolution. In this respect it is rather unfortunate for him that he insists on the vital importance of definition and classification, because he makes a complete hash of the only definition he attempts—the definition of revolution.

A Revolution Defined.

A revolution is anything accomplished, or possible of accomplishment. Attempts do not count. In mechanics a complete turn of a wheel along a plane bringing it to rest at a fresh spot is a revolution. A revolution in industry is not accomplished until the chief means and methods of production have been changed in form and character, as from handicraft to machine production, while a social revolution has not been effected until the class that is dominant has been supplanted by the class beneath it in the social scale.

The Capitalists’ Victory.

Such a revolution was achieved by the capitalist class when they finally overturned the rule of the feudal lords and monarchy, and made the Commons supreme. In that revolution feudalism was subverted and the manufacturing and merchant class became the rulers of society. From that time onward there were but two classes in society : the victorious capitalist class and the working class. The latter being an enslaved class, must seek its emancipation from the dominance of capitalism through revolution, which can only mean the conscious application by the working class of principles that will change the basis of society from class ownership in the means of life to common ownership with democratic control.

Anything less than this is not revolution, and only those who make this their object can be correctly termed revolutionaries.

To Mr. Drysdale, however, everything that is “unconstitutional or anti-Parl amentary” is revolutionary. He says—

“The essence of the British Constitution is the unanimous acceptance of the majority opinion of the time, after, by all the processes of debate and discussion—public meetings, leading articles, elections, first readings, second readings, committee stages, third readings, royal assents—such opinion has been given the definite form we call Act of Parliament. Conduct (not criticism or agitation) opposed to that presentation of the national will is revolutionary.”

Some Curious Samples.

These processes, necessary for the manufacture of opinion among the workers that coincide with capitalist interests, are universally admired by the capitalist class, and, of course, by Mr. Drysdale, for that reason. Their fraudulent pretension to be democratic has been exposed before ; we leave them to examine some concrete examples of revolution according to Mr. Drysdale.

“The Ulster Unionists, The Conscientious Objectors”—-(this latter is, of course, a glaring inconsistency, seeing that Parliament made provision for them in the Act)—”The gentlemen who refused the use of the Albert Hall for a labour demonstration, together with the electricians who retorted with the threat to cut off the light. The Firemen’s and Seamen’s Union when they refused to carry pacifists to Stockholm.”

These are Mr. Drysdale’s examples of revolution, and they lead him to the final remark—which takes away the chief factor in a revolution—”but it is a truism of revolution, especially in Great Britain, that its characteristic mark is minority.”

Mr. Drysdale objects to these revolutionaries of his imagination because they neglect the constitutional weapon and employ, or threaten to employ, force. But although the employment of force may be necessary to effect a revolution, something else is equally necessary. In the first place, the force at the disposal of his fancied revolutionaries is altogether inadequate to effect their objects if the capitalist State is opposed to them. Secondly, the objects themselves are not revolutionary, consequently the actions, conduct, or threats are not, therefore, revolutionary either.

Having given instances in the present, Mr. Drysdale appeals to history to support his definition. He says:

 “Majorities always use the high road; the short cut, with its risks of damage by trespass, is, as the Irish say, the contraption of the minority impatient. Both the British revolutions in the Stuart period, the great French revolution, the Russian revolution, were all minority short cuts, and whatever their net ultimate gain may be they were, and have been, attended by penalties which the majority way would have escaped.”

If the Bolshevik movement is meant by Mr. Drysdale, he is mistaken in calling it a revolution, because up to the present no evidence is forthcoming to prove either that a revolution has been accomplished, or that the workers of Russia have a revolutionary object. All the evidence so far goes to prove the contrary.

With regard to the English revolution of the Stuart period, the evidence is complete and convincing to those who read history. The forerunners of the modern capitalist class took no short cuts. Their fight against feudalism and monarchy extended over several centuries, and was only victorious when they made themselves masters of the political machine, and consequently the paymasters and directors of the Parliamentary forces.

The French revolution is, if possible, an even better example of the stupendous forces that have to be developed before a social revolution is accomplished. In his “History of the French Revolution” H. Morse Stephens shows that for nearly a century the bourgeoisie of France were planting the seeds, educating and organising for the day when they should, through the “States General,” gain their victory over monarchy and feudalism.

Changes of dynasty, monarchs, or even the abolition of monarchies and the establishment of republics merely amount to changes of rulers. Only such great social changes as from feudalism to capitalism can be correctly termed revolutions. Transformations that affect society from top to bottom, that, in short, change the fundamental principles that form the basis of society. Such changes as these cannot be effected by short cuts or coups ; they rely for their success upon the conscious action of an entire class. A long process of evolution in the means of production causes incongruities in the apportionment of burdens or in the distribution of wealth. The class that suffers can only find relief by intelligent and conscious action, directed toward the establishment of relations in harmony with the changed means and methods of production.

The working class to-day suffer poverty in the midst of plenty because the means of life are owned by a class in society, production being based on the commodity character of human labour-power. The working class can only reap the advantage of the new methods of production when they establish a system where the means of life are owned in common and the commodity character of labour-power is abolished.

Mr. Drysdale falls into a fresh error when he imagines that the opposing interests of the two classes in society can be reconciled, and such a revolution rendered unnecessary. In a future article his suggestions will be examined.

F. Foan.

Link to Part 2

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