1920s >> 1920 >> no-189-may-1920

A Useful Book

A Primer of Socialism,” by Thomas Kirkup Third Edition. Revised and partly re-written by Edward R. Pease. London : A. & C. Black, Ltd., Soho Square, W.1.

In a prefatory note to this volume Mr. Pease informs the reader that the first nine chapters are reprinted from the second edition (July 1910) without material alteration, the remaining six chapters, which brings the story up to August 1919, being written by himself.

The volume, although somewhat scrappy, is interesting in two respects. First, it contains brief but clear descriptions of the most important working-class movements of the earlier period, together with items of biological interest about the leaders connected with them. Its second and most interesting feature is its arrangement. Economic changes in the past and the rise of the present system are lightly dealt with in the first and second chapters. Then follow four chapters dealing with the aspirations and efforts of the early reformers and Utopians. The story of their efforts is closed by Kirkup with a brief but fairly accurate survey of the “Marxian Philosophy,” and the founding of the First International. Mr. Pease takes up the thread and, in the same brief but clear manner, recounts the history of the working-class movement since that time.

Kirkup tells of the blind groping of the early reformers after the truth and its final discovery by Marx. Mr. Pease tells of the blind groping away from the truth and the deliberate enthronement of confusion by the agents of the master class.
Necessarily brief, the chapter allotted to Marx merely gives a short summary of the meaning of surplus-value, the antagonism of interests between the working class and the capitalist class, and the necessity of working-class organisation for political supremacy with the object of taking possession of the means of wealth production. After this outspoken declaration the following chapters read like a betrayal of the working class by its leaders. The reformism of the British Labour Party—including the so-called Socialist parties that accept its electoral programmes for parliamentary seats—the suicidal nonsense of the Anarchists and Syndicalists, and the Utopian absurdities of the Guild Socialists are inexcusable. Once the position of the working class has been scientifically determined and the knowledge made available, those who pose as leaders and ignore it are guilty of treachery to the working class. Mr. Pease writes in full sympathy with the labour movement, but the discriminating reader will be at once struck by the inconsistency of a working class movement based on reform after the discovery by Marx that the working class must be revolutionary.

Kirkup is rather severe on the “Communist Manifesto,” which he says gives “in a violent and exaggerated form, the views which Marx afterwards elaborated in his large work on Capital.” But his previous summary of the Marxian philosophy takes the sting out of his own adjectives. Whether expressed in the cold, lofty terms of the critic or the forceful eloquence of Marx himself, the philosophy is always convincing, and as a Manifesto issued to the workers of all lands, the “Communist Manifesto” has never been surpassed.

On pages 69 and 70 Mr. Pease falls into a common error when he writes about “Marxian Socialism” not being the type of Socialism to make any progress in this country. This is the paltry excuse of the labour leaders who “know all about Socialism” but see nothing profitable in the work of propagating it. They try to throw the blame for their own treachery on the workers—but the workers look to them for the truth, expecting, in their simplicity, to get it because of the expressed sympathy of those leaders. They thus add meanness to their treachery, because it is impossible for them to know what the workers will accept until they try them.

On page 92 Mr. Pease tells the truth about the attitude of the Labour Party towards the war, and members of that party should cease to boast about their opposition. Our author is very emphatic. “The Labour Party,” he says, “supported the Government in the prosecution of the war from first to last ” The I.L.P., he states, was, however, split into two sections, supporters of the Government and pacifists, who worked loyally together in spite of what would appear to be a vital difference of principle. This is easily explained when we remember that the pacifists were merely in opposition on humanitarian grounds against war in general as a method of settling capitalist disputes. Their two main contentions were that peace should be obtained by negotiation, and that the conscientious objector should be released from the obligation to serve. All the so-called Socialist parties supported the Government in its prosecution of the war, and issued manifestoes declaring their loyalty. Even the prominent pacifists of the I.L.P. asserted that it was the duty of every man to assist the Government in carrying out its objects.

A rather curious slip is made on page 78 that the publishers might note. The organisation known as the I.W.W. is said to be the “Independent Workers of the World.”

To those members of the English Labour Party who blame the Social Democrats of Germany for their support of the war an interesting statement is made by Mr. Pease. He says: “During the few days when war was still in doubt the German Social Democrats held big meetings all over the country to protest against it. But their action was in vain. Similar efforts on a smaller scale were made by Socialists in England and elsewhere.” If this comparison is true, neither the English nor any other labour party have any grounds for accusing the German Social Democrats of giving support to their government, seeing that their own efforts to prevent the war were the feeblest.

Mr. Pease is optimistic about the near future of the labour movement. He says, “unless therefore, the course of events takes altogether a fresh turn, a few years hence will see the Socialist parties in control of stable governments, ruling some of the largest and most highly developed countries of the world.”

Does this mean that in a few years Socialism will be established ? Not according to Mr. Pease, who has already told us that these “Socialist parties” are not built on Socialist principles. But what does government by these so-called Socialist parties mean ? We can best answer that question by an examination of their election programmes. When we do this we find that none of these parties run candidates pledged to the abolition of the capitalist system and the establishment of Socialism. The leaders of these parties who may be elected to the national assemblies have no mandate except for the reform of the present system. Before they can have such a mandate the workers must be educated to that degree of knowledge that will enable them to consciously give it; but the leaders do not educate the workers in that direction at all, they simply take advantage of their ignorance to persuade them to support capitalist governments. This is proved by their own statement that they can provide an alternative government to the present coalition. Some of the extremists of the movement talk of State ownership, guild Socialism, and even of common ownership, but the wiseheads of the movement, who interpret correctly the degree of working-class knowledge, are seldom mistaken. The so-called Socialist and Labour parties do not educate tho workers at all, they simply frame their own utterances on the superstitions engendered in the minds of the workers by other capitalist agents.

If the Marxian philosophy is correct, the workers cannot emancipate themselves until they understand it. The leaders of the various working-class parties in this country have not yet commenced to teach it; from any point of view, therefore, they have made no progress whatever. Real progress can only be measured by the numbers in the Socialist ranks, by the votes they register for Socialism, and by the strength and breadth of the movement. Any other sort of progress, such as obtaining parliamentary seats by compromise with Liberals, or on programmes identical with the Liberals, is merely progress for the leaders toward the goal of their ambitions—a share of the plunder and a place in the sun.

As a short history of working-class movements both Kirkup and Pease have given us something that is reliable, though that portion of the work that has been undertaken by Mr. Pease is a record of error and confusion spread by self-appointed leaders. To the intelligent worker this will be plain if he but recognises the significance of the chapters dealing with the Marxian philosophy.

F. Foan