Perhaps it would not be out of place here to refer briefly to two statements made by the advocates of industrial action as arguments against political action.
The first is the statement that Parliamentary leaders always betray the workers and a Socialist delegate would do the same.
In the first place “leaders” almost invariably betray, and those who trust in “leaders” deserve to be betrayed. But, apart from that, is it only Parliamentary “leaders” that have betrayed the workers? Have the latter never been betrayed on the industrial field ? A cursory examination of the multitude of strikes that have taken place during even recent years will provide myriads of examples of betrayal on the part of those “leaders” whom the workers were foolish enough to entrust with power to make settlements (behind closed doors!) in industrial disputes. How often and how regularly are the workers sold in the agreements the trade union leaders make with the employers! The last railway and coal disputes are cases in point, and another illustration will be provided in the fresh coal dispute that, at the time of writing, is looming on the horizon.
When the workers get out of their heads the demoralising idea of leadership there will be less room for the betrayer and less heard of betrayal.
The main point of the matter is that Socialist Parliamentary delegates will have no means of betraying those who appoint them. They will be given their instructions and if the instructions are not carried out their career will be ended, and they will have betrayed none but themselves. Delegates will be selected according to their capacity to carry out the instructions of those who appoint them, and a loud voice or truculent demeanour will carry little weight with a class-conscious electorate.
The second point we wish to refer to is that claiming that Marx and Engels were not in favour of the workers striving to obtain control of the political machinery. The basis of this contention is a sentence in “The Civil War in France” that has been torn from its context. The sentence is:
“The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made machinery and wield it for its own purposes.”
This statement appears before Marx’s summary of the development of the State, and he then goes on to show why the working class cannot wield it for its own purposes. The reason is that the State is a repressive power used against a subject class. As there will be no subject class in the new society there will be no use for a repressive power. In other words, that capitalist State machinery will not be applicable to Socialism, as the place of a repressive power will be taken by administrative machinery. Marx nowhere suggests that the workers should abstain from laying hold of the State machinery. On the contrary, the argument that follows the above quotation makes it clear that the workers must take this power out of the hands of the capitalists, and illustrates how the Communards accomplished this end and then set about constructing administrative machinery to suit the new economic conditions where State power was unnecessary.
As a matter of fact, Engels, in his introduction to the German edition of Marx’s work, places the matter beyond doubt when he says :
“From the very outset the Commune had to recognise that the working class, having once attained supremacy in the State, could not work with the old machinery of government.”
Engels concludes his introduction with the following pregnant remarks:
“But in reality the State is nothing else than a machine for the oppression of one class by another class, and that no less so in the democratic republic than under the monarchy. At the very best it is an inheritance of evil, bound to be transmitted to the proletariat when it has become victorious in its struggle for class supremacy, and the worst features of which it will have to lop off at once, as the Communards did, until a new race, grown up under new, free social conditions, will be in a position to shake off from itself this State rubbish in its entirety”.—”The Paris Commune,” New York Labor News Co., 1919.
After the Hague Congress of September 1872 Marx addressed a meeting in Amsterdam, when he said:
“A group had arisen in our midst which proclaimed working-class abstinence from political work.
We deemed it our duty to declare how dangerous and how threatening such opinions may become to our cause.
The worker must, sometime, get the political power into his own hands, in order to lay the foundation of a new organisation of labour. He must overthrow the old political system that upholds the old institutions, unless he is ready, like the old Christians — to sacrifice the ‘Kingdom of this world.’”—Quoted from “Socialist Documents.” Appeal Socialist Classics (America).