1920s >> 1920 >> no-193-september-1920

A Brief Exposition of Socialist Theory (Continued)

(Continued from here.)

In the last article we pointed out that the modern class struggle has been fought out for years in a vague sort of way. The bulk of those who took part in it aimed merely at higher wages and improved conditions of labour, but, in spite of their activities in the struggle, there has been a steady downward tendency in the life conditions of the workers. In other words the workers have steadily lost ground in the fight.

Poverty is more wide-spread now than formerly : the dividing line between capitalist and wage-worker is more clearly defined; the former class is narrowing while the latter is broadening ; and finally there is almost as much chance now-a-days for a worker to push his way into the ranks of the capitalists as there is for the biblical camel to get through the eye of the biblical needle. Even the status of the self-styled Intellectuals (technical experts, managers, writers, and so on) is declining and they are becoming as plentiful as potatoes—and commanding a corresponding price.

In spite of continual defeats, however, the economic struggle over working conditions has been fruitful. It is steadily driving the mass of the workers nearer and nearer to recognising that the way out of their troubles lies in abolishing the cause of wage slavery instead of tinkering with effects ; and that way lies on the political field in the struggle for the possession of political power.

From the point of view of fighting economically the workers possess no power except that of causing temporary dislocation of production. Any dislocation in production that lasted long enough to be serious would compel the workers to succumb first as they would feel the pinch first and most acutely. They only way they could win would be to carry the matter to its uttermost extremity by starving to death— committing suicide.

The long history of trade union activity is accompanied by the history of the steady worsening of the lot of the worker. This does not mean that the worker should abandon the fight to sell his labour-power to the best advantage. As Marx has so clearly demonstrated in Value, Price and Profit,” such inaction would be suicidal. The tendency of capitalism is to reduce the worker to the state of a coolie, and though, in the economic struggle, this downward tendency cannot be prevented, the speed of the process is retarded—the standard of living is lowered less rapidly. Above all, the worker who is not prepared to fight for the best bread and margarine he can obtain makes poor material to fight for Socialism.

As the workers get nearer to a knowledge of their position they recognise more clearly the extent and the limitations of economic action, and consequently wage this part of the struggle more effectively.

To understand the class struggle it is necessary to distinguish clearly between the two forms in which it is manifested : the narrow, limited (though necessary) fight about the conditions under which labour-power is sold, and the revolutionary political fight for the abolition of the wages system.

All historical classes that have attained social supremacy (including the Bolsheviks) have done so by virtue of the fact that they have obtained control of the political power at the disposal of society.

In the past, before the State power had undergone the development that made it such an admirable repressive weapon, it was essential for the would-be dominant class to obtain possession of the political power before such class could become the ruling class. Now that the State has reached such perfection it is even more essential than ever to obtain control of the powers of government.

In his study of the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War entitled “The Civil War in France,” Marx gives a picture of the development of the State since the revolutions that raised the capitalists to power. The following from this description is illuminating :

“At the same pace at which the progress of modern industry developed, widened, intensified the class-antagonism between capital and labour, the State power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public force organised for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism. After every revolution marking a progressive phase in the class struggle, the purely repressive character of of the State power stands out in bolder and bolder relief.” (P. 40, Kerr edition.)

This State power (represented by the army, police, judicial machinery, etc.), now in the hands of the employing class, is used to crush any attempts on the part of the workers to secure better conditions by means of violence, and also to bring the easy-going natives in non-developed countries abroad within the pale of wage-slavery. It is the power that renders futile any attempt of the workers to disrupt present society or obtain any radical alteration in their conditions unless, as a preliminary step, they obtain control of it. So long as this power is monopolised by the master class they hold the key to the position, and can keep the chains of wage slavery firmly rivetted on the workers,

Hence the revolutionary side of the workers’ activities must take the line of removing this repressive power from the hands of the masters. The means to accomplish this end lie to hand.

Unfortunately for our rulers, as they become further and further removed from active participation in productive operations, abdicating from one after another of their useful functions and cultivating an inveterate idleness, so they become less and less able to keep their society in working order without conceding a greater and greater measure of participation in political action to the workers. As capitalist society became more complicated and unwieldy, the capitalist class had to ascertain the social needs by conceding to the mass of society a greater opportunity to express itself. But this was, at the same time, digging the grave of capitalism. The franchise was not extended to the workers merely because they struggled for it; in reality the capitalists needed the aid of the workers to save their system from chaos.

To-day the State power is controlled directly by and through Parliament. Parliamentary candidates are elected and the workers form the great majority of the electors. Consequently when they wish to do so they can obtain control of the state power by sending delegates to Parliament for that specific purpose.

Apropos of Lenin and his would-be imitators it is well to note that the workers could not “smash up” the State without first obtaining control of it. Guns can’t be smashed with bladders of wind !

The line of action to be taken by the workers in the struggle for emancipation is to organise for the purpose of conquering political power. In this struggle it must be borne in mind that, as the aim of the working class party is directly antagonistic to capitalism, no help (except what is given unintentionally) will be forthcoming from the enemy—the capitalists. Consequently the working-class party must avoid compromise and political bargains as it would the plague. It must be a revolutionary, and not a reform, party.

To take part in compromise is to admit that there is a common standing ground between the opposing hosts, in other words, that capitalists can. go some of the way with us. Capitalism, however, has reached its highest point of progress in the development of the productive powers to their present extraordinary pitch. It has now become a fetter upon production and is in the crumbling stage as the growing misery of the mass of the population testify. It has ceased to be revolutionary and is now reactionary. This point will be developed further in another part of this investigation.

A party that advocates reforms leads the workers, in the first place, to waste time and energy chasing shadows, and, in the second place, to place reliance upon, and power in the hands of one or other leading personality interested either in some particular type of reform or in feathering his nest.

The only method of fighting the class struggle politically with any hope of success is to aim straight at the control of political power for the purpose of ushering in Socialism, organising solely for that purpose, avoiding all blind alleys and compromises, no matter in what fine raiment of glowing phraseology they may be clothed. ”Compromise is virtual death.” “Expediency,” happy word ! has been used from early days to cover the blackest acts of treachery and trickery recorded in history, and is the corner stone of the parties of so-called “practical politicians” who are fishing for working-class support at the present time.

In the political arena at the present day there moves an individual who owes his position to a political bargain around which much discussion rage a number of years ago. We refer to M. Millerand, the French Premier and very useful tool of the French capitalists. His entrance into a capitalist government (where he sat as an “honourable friend” beside Gallifet, the butcher of the Communards) was greeted as a great victory by the Labour Movement of the time. His subsequent activities have illustrated how hollow are the “victories” obtained by compromise.

To sum up, the class struggle between the working class and the capitalist class intensifies year by year. Its only solution lies in the political victory of the working class, the overthrow of the foundations of existing society and the introduction of Socialism. This victory can only be secured by the workers understanding their class position and organising into an uncompromising, class-conscious political organisation for the purpose of taking out of the hands of the capitalists the power with which they hold the mass of society in subjection.


(Socialist Standard, September 1920)

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