1920s >> 1920 >> no-186-february-1920

Government by Labour

A question which has recently aroused considerable controversy is, “Can Labour Govern?”

Socialists are not so much concerned with the question of whether Labour can govern as whether it should, or, to put it in a better way, whether Labour need govern. And on examination of the facts the only possible conclusion we can arrive at is that it need not—and should not.

It is significant that neither of those who have hitherto contributed to the discussion have defined their terms. In this they are quite consistent with their past record. For when apologists of capitalism and their henchmen—the self-styled “labour leaders”—are discussing a given subject, they never attempt to define the terms which they use; the only apparent reason for this is that they know that to do so would be to remove the blinkers from the eyes of those to whom they are appealing.

However, I will rectify the omission.

The word “Govern” means (according to Blackie’s “Concise English Dictionary”): “To direct and control; to regulate by authority; to keep within the limits prescribed by law or a sovereign will; to influence; to direct; to restrain; to keep in due subjection; GRAM., to cause to be in a particular case, or to require a particular case.—v.i. To exercise authority.”

The italics are mine.

There is no need to worry over the question: “Who does Churchill (who started the controversy) and his gang want to govern?” We all know that. But seeing that the spokesmen of the Labour Party are all so greatly concerned to maintain their ability and their right to govern (when they get the chance) it is natural to ask “Who is it that the Labour Party wish to ‘keep in subjection?'” Seeing that the Labour Party, both officially and in the utterances of its representatives, has no conception of politics other than the capitalist view, and seeing, further, that there is no class beneath the working class to be oppressed, obviously it can only be the workers themselves that the Labour Party desires to “keep in due subjection.”

Now, in asserting that Labour need not govern it is necessary to submit an alternative. That alternative is Administration.

But before describing this let us state the facts referred to above. They have been already stated numberless times, but it is essential that they be restated, even to the point of weariness, until such time as the workers take the action shown to be necessary by these facts.

    Society is, broadly speaking, divided into two classes, the slave class and the slave-owning class.

    Between these two classes there is a conflict of interests—centred around the sale and purchase of labour-power—which can be ended only by the abolition of the slave-owners, i.e., the capitalist class.

    No one but the slaves themselves can abolish the capitalist class, and so doing achieve the freedom of the workers.

    As the slave class, i.e., the working class, is the last class to be emancipated, there is no other class to be exploited, hence the need for government automatically disappears.

Now for our alternative proposal—Administration.

The same dictionary says that to administer is “to manage or conduct as chief agent . . . ” and states that the word is derived from the Latin ministro, to serve.

The difference, then, between Administration and Government is that the first serves the people and the other represses them. A good example of Administration is to be found in the Constitution of the S.P.G.B.

The control of the affairs of the Party is vested entirely in the membership of the Party. We have certain officials who are responsible for the execution of the instructions given them by the Party. If they fail in this work, or do it to an unsatisfactory manner, they can be removed from office at any time the Party thinks fit.

Apply this principle to the affairs of society, and the point of this article is perceptible at once. While we do not dispute the ability of the master class to govern, we do affirm that they cannot administer, for such a function must necessarily be performed in the interests of the workers, and hence can only be carried out by the workers themselves.

It is self-evident—in view of the state of affairs in “pre-war” times, of the Sidney Street fiasco, of the innumerable war scandals, of the gambles of Mesopotamia and Gallipoli, and the post-war position in which society is plunged, that the real Administration can be born only when the proletariat, having seized political power, use it for the purpose of making the means of production the common property of the whole of society, and proceed to administer them for the common welfare of all. Then the need for the State, for government—”Labour” or otherwise—and the “keeping in due subjection,” will vanish, and mankind will at last be free.


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