1920s >> 1920 >> no-188-april-1920

Correspondence. Many Questions, Chiefly Concerning “Economic Power.”

To the Editor.


Woodstock Rd.,




For the past couple of years I have been interested in the Socialist movement, and have been a constant reader of the official organs of the different parties, particularly the Socialist Standard and the “Socialist,” of the S.L.P.
I have not yet made up my mind which of the two parties (the S.P.G.B. or the S.L.P.) advocate the correct tactics to be adopted in order to usher in Socialism. There seems to be such a fog about the whole question of method that I will be much obliged if you will answer in a straight, clear, and satisfactory manner the following questions, taking each one separately.


  1. Is it true that the master class control the armed forces solely through having political
 supremacy ?
  2. If the working classes sent a majority of Socialists to the House of Commons would that in itself give them control of the armed forces unless at the same time they had an Industrial Union to back up their political majority ?
  3. If you agree that Industrial Unionism is necessary as well as political action why do you disagree with the S.L.P. ?
  4. Is it not due to their control of the means of life on the industrial field that the master class control armed force, and if so, what use would a political majority be to the workers as long as the masters held the means of production in their hands ?
  5. Is it true that the military council over-ride Parliament instead of vice-versa, as witness, for instance, Churchill’s expeditions, which were taken in hand without consulting the members of Parliament ?
  6. If class-conscious political action alone is necessary is it feasible to think that the master class are going to allow the workers to vote them out of power ?
  7. Is it necessary to wait for Socialism until the majority of people are class conscious ?
  8. What is your Party’s opinion of the Russian Revolution and why did Kautsky of Germany and the Marxists of Russia oppose the Bolsheviks ?
  9. Does your Party agree that Lenin is a Marxist, and if not, why not ?
  10. Is it not a historical truth that economic power always preceded political power, and why, therefore, does your Party not help on the advocacy of Industrial Unionism ?
  11. If through the big number of Socialists that may be returned to the House of Commons the masters suspend the Constitution, what can the workers do then unless they are industrially organised ?

Hoping, gentlemen, that you will answer the above questions each in turn as I have asked them and as soon as possible,

I am faithfully yours,


Samuel Smyth.


Our Reply.


Regular readers of this paper will see at once how careless Mr. Smyth has been in his reading of our columns, as most of the questions he asks have been answered therein during the period he mentions. Thus in the issues for January and February 1918 the front page articles cover a large portion of this ground. For the benefit of new readers it may be useful to deal with the points again.


  1. Yes. There is no other way in which the capitalist class can control the armed forces. It is significant that those who try to belittle this important fact never attempt to show in what other way the capitalist class could exercise this control.
  2. As it is by their majority in the House of Commons that the capitalists control these forces now, obviously a Socialist majority would control the same forces then. The Industrial Union— if it existed (and there is no ground for supposing that it will)—could not “back up” a political majority. On the contrary, the greatest efforts any union, industrial or other, could put forth could easily be crushed by that majority.
  3. That any reader of the “S.S.” should not be aware that we have opposed Industrial Unionism from its inception in 1905 seems almost impossible. Both the articles mentioned above and one given below answer this question.
  4. What this question suggests is exactly the reverse of the truth. The masters are only able to retain their possession of the means of life because they control the armed forces through their political power. What is the first action of the masters when a big industrial dispute occurs ? Is it to use their “economic power”? Not at all. The political machinery is set in motion and the armed forces are sent to protect the masters’ property from being damaged, or taken hold of by the workers. Without this political power the capitalists’ control of the means of life would vanish at the first move of the workers.
  5. No. The Army Council derives all its authority from Parliament through the channel of the Cabinet. No expedition can take place without instructions from the Cabinet. This Cabinet is the executive committee of the majority in Parliament and can be turned out of office at any moment the majority decide to do so. In the present Parliament the majority have always agreed with these expeditions, and it is only a few individual members who have protested, and they have been outvoted each time by the majority.
  6. It is quite possible to think that the master class will “allow” what they cannot prevent. When a sufficient number of workers decide to vote for Socialist candidates there will be a majority of those candidates returned to power. By this action the master class will be voted out, whether they like it or not.
  7. “People” includes both classes in society—the capitalist class and the working class. It is only the latter class who are interested in establishing Socialism. A certain portion of this class are always more or less apathetic, and accept the actions of the active sections. A majority of this active section must be converted to Socialism—must become class-conscious—before the Revolution can take place.
  8. Our opinion of the Russian “revolution” is to be found in the “S.S.” for August, 1918 and February, 1919. In the latter issue is the article referred to above in answer to question 3, which gives complete proof of the anti-Socialist character and actions of the S.L.P.  When Kautsky and the “Russian Marxists,” whoever they may be, publish their reasons for opposing Bolshevism we shall know why they did it.
  9. Really, this is too thin, even from a Belfast man. It does not lie with us to prove a negative. Let those who assert that Lenin is a Marxist give their reasons for such assertion and we will deal with their case.
  10. Economic “power” does not and cannot exist until political power is in the hands of the class concerned. Only when they have conquered this power are they able to control the means of life and the labour-power of others. As Industrial Unionism can neither supply this political power to the workers, nor defeat it when it is in the hands of the masters, to advocate it would be idiotic.
  11. If the masters suspend the Constitution the workers may take one or more of the follow
ing courses:
  • Start peaceful agitations and demonstrations against the suspension.
  • Indulge in strikes to try to enforce the re-establishment of the Constitution.
  • Form secret societies for the purpose of using physical force against the masters.


 The success or otherwise of the first two courses depends entirely upon the divisions in the ranks of the master class. If the minority of the masters against the suspension of the Constitution was fairly strong, either or both of these methods would stand a good chance of success. If the minority was small, then both methods would be useless. The masters could easily ignore the peaceful demonstrations—or forbid them being held—and crush any strike that might occur.


In these circumstances the workers could not be “industrially organised,” because with the suspension of the Constitution the legal right of the workers to form combinations would be abolished.


There remains the method of secret societies. A small group, organised for a special, limited object, such as the assassination of a crowned head, may sometimes be successful, but it would be utterly impossible to organise the mass, or even the majority, of the workers into a secret society. Even the small groups are often failures, and the actual perpetrator hardly ever escapes.


Thus it is easily seen that this method is as useless as the other two.


But all this is based upon the IF. A serious student would not have asked such a question, but would first have inquired : “Can the master class suspend the Constitution ?” This would have led to an examination of the Constitution, and then it would have been seen that the master class could only suspend the Constitution at the cost of the collapse of capitalism and the bringing in of chaos.


Capitalism has long outgrown the power of the capitalist class to manage all its activities. In production the capitalist has to employ special wage-slaves to organise his business, known as foremen and managers. In social affairs the complexity and area of the operations make it quite impossible for the capitalist class to manage the business, or even fill the offices required.


Hence thousands of functions have to be delegated to subsidiary bodies, as County Councils, Town Councils, etc., down to the little Parish Meeting. But this delegation of activities is necessarily based upon representation. Year by year the area of these delegated activities increases, and this increase compels an increase in the basis of representation—the Franchise. In every capitalist country this increase of the Franchise is steadily progressing, owing to the necessities of the system. In this country there has lately taken place a huge increase in the number entitled to use the Franchise.


Thus while persuading the workers to place the centre of power—the Parliament—in the hands of the masters, these masters are compelled to place administration into the hands of elected bodies. To stop the activities of these bodies, while unable to carry them on themselves, would mean chaos and the collapse of capitalism.


The suspension of the Constitution would be a last act of despair on the part of that section of the master class who, Samson like, would endeavour to involve all in a common destruction. Even then it would fail of its ultimate purpose as the workers could, sooner or later, build up order out of chaos, though vast suffering and misery would ensue until that order had been accomplished.


Editorial Committee.