1920s >> 1920 >> no-195-november-1920

Correspondence: Mr. Dight Says This Is “The Kybosh.”

To the Editors.

Dear Sirs,

Your correspondent’s reply to my letter is, like the flowers that bloom in the spring, nothing to do with it. I could not for the life of me grasp what he was driving at till I came to that part of it where he says—

“How the quotation from the twelfth paragraph describing the Commune as ‘the political form at last discovered,’ etc., helps Mr. Dight, who is opposed to political action and policy, I fail to see.”

I can only conclude that J.F. was sick when he read and replied to my letter, am I certainly do not believe that he would wilfully misrepresent, and the other alternative of stupidity on J.F.’s part is very far from being manifest. If he had read my letter carefully he would not have wasted, what must be to you, your valuable space, in replying, at such great length, to something that doesn’t exist, except in his own heated imagination. If he had paid more attention to my letter he would have seen that I was NOT “opposed to political action and policy,” but that I was concerned with advocating ”the political form at last discovered, under which labour could work out its own economic emancipation” as opposed to your parliamentarism. To utterly ignore and dismiss the above quotation from Marx with the remark that it doesn’t help me, “who is opposed to political action and policy” (J.F. says that, I don’t) is on a par with the rest of his reply, namely, a shuffle.

Even though I were opposed to political action, the above quotation from Marx does not help your party, or J.F., but diametrically opposes your position, when in your Declaration of Principles you refer to “THE machinery of government” and the need for utilising “THIS machinery” as a means for achieving working-class emancipation. The British parliamentary political machine existed at the time when Marx wrote in reference to the Commune that “its true secret was this. It was essentially the government of the working class—it was the political form at last discovered, under which labour could work out its own economic emancipation.” (Italics mine.) Note the words “at last discovered.” For the purpose of emancipation, therefore, .Marx had apparently been seeking to discover “the political form,” etc., and in spite of the existing British parliamentary political machinery, “the political form” was only “at last discovered” with the advent of the Paris Commune.

Another instance in J.F.’s reply which may be cited as one in which he attempts to set up an Aunt Sally before proceeding to knock it down, is the one in which he quotes Lenin in “contradiction” to my “attempt at a case” (as if in my letter I was in any way concerned with supporting or opposing Lenin). And how does Lenin “so flatly contradict” etc. To show how J.F. quotes as follows : “The exploited classes need political supremacy in order to abolish all exploitation,” etc. Seeing that I advocate this political supremacy, I fail to see how it contradicts my position. As I have already inferred, J.F. could not have read my letter with any great care, else he would have noted my statement that “during a proletarian revolution the bourgeois State machine will not be utilised but broken and in its stead another State erected—the dictatorship of the proletariat.” What J.F. fails to see (among other numerous things) is that there is a vast difference between attaining to “political supremacy” and the politically unsound attempt at capturing “the machinery of government” and utilising it as “the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege.” (Your Declaration of Principles.)

With reference to the charge levelled against me of having lifted a sentence from its context and so subjecting that sentence to a different interpretation than was originally intended, I am fully aware that that has been attempted by Anarchists in the past, and I have had occasion to frustrate the attempt and to point out that Marx and Engels were not “opposed to political action and policy.” But then I quoted the sentence from its context in the sense that implied the existence of the context in the same way as Marx and Engels have seen fit to do, for in the preface to the “Communist Manifesto” Marx and Engels have found it quite sufficient to quote the sentence only as being all-important in itself.

I note that my letter has been given the title of “Those Misrepresentations of Marx Turn Up Again.” Now I am very much concerned about “those misrepresentations,” and I contend that you are the party that has been indulging in them on the one hand, and the Anarchists on the other : for, while on the one hand the Anarchists have sought to establish the claim that Marx and Engels were opposed to any political activities on the part of the workers, you, on the other hand, claim that the working class can “simply lay hold of the ready made State machinery and wield it for its own purposes.” If J.F. read my letter as he should have done, he will see it to have been an endeavour to turn those “misrepresentations” down rather than up.

How the long quotation from “The Civil War in France” goes to show “the workers’ position after they have seized this power (political supremacy) I cannot see. Nor is it very clear what is meant by “the workers’ position after they have seized this power.” We get an inkling, however, from another source, as instance, the statement of Gilmac in this month’s SOCIALIST STANDARD, Says Gilmac :

“The 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.”

The quotation by Gilmac from Engels as well as from Marx is very unfortunate for your party and supports my contention. But how does Gilmac quote Engels in support of your Declaration of Principles that the “instrument of oppression” (the State) can be “converted into the agent of emancipation”? Here is the quotation from Engels:

“From the very outset the Commune had to recognise that the working class having once obtained supremacy in the State, could not work with the old machinery o/ government.” (Italics mine.)

And here is his quotation from Marx :

“The worker must, sometime, get the political power into his own hands in order to lay the foundations of a new organisation of labour. He must overthrow the old political system that upholds the old institutions, etc.” (Italics mine.)

Marx here clearly shows my contention in my letter to have been correct, namely, that “during a proletarian revolution the bourgeois State machine will not be utilised but broken,” etc. Your party is not out for the “overthrow” of the “old political system,” etc., but to “convert” it “into the agent of emancipation.” The position when Socialism is established is such, of course, that the State will not be needed, because of the abolition of classes, and Engels has told us that in the process of this abolition “the State will wither away.” What State did Engels refer to? Did he refer to the bourgeois or the proletarian State? The Communards “overthrew the old political system” (it did not “wither away”) because “they could not work with the old machinery of government,” and Marx says that the workers “must overthrow the old political system.” Obviously it is the proletarian State to “which Engels refers—the erection of which you should advocate if you are Marxians. I said in my letter that I was opposed to your parliamentarism and in justification of this parliamentarism J.F. quotes as follows; “The Commune was to have been a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.”

Well, of course, the proletarian State will be parliamentary in the broad sense of its meaning, and so are the Russian Soviets; but then I used the term in the limited sense, as you did some months ago when you had an article on “Parliament or Soviets,” and when you advocated for Parliament as opposed to the other.

Referring to my statement that there can be no such thing as a constitutional social revolution J.F. says that in that way I have shown my “ignorance of even modern history, for Japan carried through a constitutional social revolution in 1871 when feudalism was abolished.” I do not deny that Japan carried through a social revolution, but is J.F. sure that it was constitutional? I take it from his remarks on this point that he has read the constitution of feudal Japan and that he hasn’t in any way found it in conflict with the political aspirations of the Japanese bourgeoisie of that time. If that is so, then I am astounded at J.F.’s merit in the analytical sense—or the lack of it. All I know is that it runs counter to the Marxian theory of the Materialist Conception of History. Fancy, a constitutional social revolution when “the economic structure of society is the real basis on which the juridical and political superstructure is raised, and to which definite social forms of thought correspond : in short, the mode of production determines the character of the social, political, and intellectual life generally.” (Marx,” Capital.”) And again:

“In every historical epoch the prevailing mode of production and exchange, and the social organisation necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch.” (Engels, second preface to the “Communist Manifesto.”)

In conclusion, I am convinced that if Marx and Engels were living to-day, and providing you had any influence with the working class, they would ask to be saved from their “friends.” Apart from commenting upon the fact that I have noticed one or two minor distortions of my letter, I think I have given you enough to ponder over.

The statement by J.F. that I haven’t read the works I quoted from is not true. This is the result of his knowledge that I did not quote from the actual works which I read years ago, but which I did not possess at the time of writing my letter. I note that J.F. calls his reply “The Socks.” Will you kindly permit me to call this rejoinder “The Kybosh”?

Yours faithfully,

H. Dight


One can easily agree with Mr. Dight when he complains that he does not understand my reply to his first letter. The lack of understanding is certainly not limited to that reply. It extends to Marx’s writings, and even to several of his (Mr. Dight’s) own statements.

When a correspondent misquotes, misinterprets, and opposes the works of an author he claims to agree with, there are two explanations possible of his action. One is that he has not read that author, the other is that he is deliberately misquoting him. I gave the long quotations from Marx to show the inaccuracy of Mr. Dight’s statements, and gave the charitable interpretation that he had not read Marx. Now, while claiming that he has read Marx, he states that it “was years ago,” and admits that he had not the works by him when writing, thus confirming my case. But he makes a far more important admission. In quoting from Lenin’s book he had omitted certain words that I pointed out altered the whole sense of the paragraph. He now admits that he omitted those words, and then says “Well, of course, the proletarian State will be parliamentary in the broad sense of its meaning.” This latter statement not only shatters his whole position, but is another illustration of the lack of understanding referred to above.

Mr. Dight tries to contend that his first letter showed that he “was not opposed to political action and policy,” and in support of this contention says he was “concerned with advocating ‘the political form at last discovered under which labour could work out its own emancipation’ as opposed to your parliamentarism.” This is another case of failure to understand his own terms. Although I had, in my previous answer, given a short account of political and parliamentary actions, Mr. Dight makes not the slightest attempt to deal with that account, nor even to state what he means by “parliamentarism.”

There are two, and only two, general methods of political action open to the working class. One is to use their political weapons to place the master class in Parliament—the citadel of power—and the other is to use those weapons to drive the master class out of that citadel. We, being Marxists, advocate the latter method.

Mr. Dight opposes this policy. But he does not advocate the former policy. Therefore the only attitude left open to him by his antagonism to our policy is opposition to political action.

Mr. Dight says that he “cannot see” how the long quotation from “The Civil War in France” says what it states. Most of our readers will agree as to his blindness when they are reminded of a phrase in the Manifesto of the Central Committee given in the earlier part of the quotation: “They” (the proletarians of Paris) “have understood that it is in their imperious and their absolute right to render themselves masters of their own destinies, by seizing upon the governmental power.” Marx gloried in their action, which is the policy laid down in our Declaration of Principles. When I said that the quotation in full showed that the much abused phrase of Marx was referring to the workers’ position after this seizure Mr. Dight retorts that I am answered by Gilmac when quoting Engels in the same issue. Doubtless it surprises Mr. Dight to find two writers in such close agreement, a crime of which our writers and speakers are commonly guilty. Gilmac’s quotation says: ” From the very start 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.” Here, in language simple enough for a child to understand, Marx and Engels state that the workers must first seize political power to achieve emancipation. It is as clear as daylight that before the workers can construct a State in harmony with the common ownership of the means of life, they must have reached power, must have “attained supremacy,” must have “laid hold of the State machinery,” must have captured Parliament. Not until they have carried out this political action can they control the armed forces and use them as the agent of emancipation to drive the capitalist class out of possession.. Obviously those who oppose this policy are anti-Marxians, whether they call themselves Anarchists or Communists.

Mr. Dight asks if I found “the constitution of feudal Japan in conflict with the political aspirations of the Japanese bourgeoisie of that time? ” And then he says: “All I know is that it runs counter to the Marxian theory of the Materialist Conception of History.” Of course, he does not know anything of the sort. His statement shows first the confusion existing in his mind, secondly the lack of knowledge of the conditions by his reference to the “political aspirations” of the Japanese bourgeoisie, and thirdly his entire ignorance of the Materialist Conception of History.

That theory points out that when economic development reaches a certain stage, a more or less rapid change must take place in the superstructure of society, but, of course, says nothing at all of the change being brought about “constitutionally” or “unconstitutionally.” as, clearly, this factor depends upon the circumstances prevailing at the time. In accordance with the powers given them by the constitution, the ruling class in Japan (partly capitalist partly feudal) carried through a social revolution. All Mr. Dight’s “fancies” cannot touch these facts. Another illustration of what can be done “constitutionally” occurred in this country in 1914. When war broke out the Parliament—the central organ of Political Power—wiped out the whole legal basis of Private Property and Personal Right by giving the Government power to take any property and any person it desired under the notorious Defence of the Realm Acts. And this was quite “constitutional” and not in the least “Fancy,” as so many found to their cost.

There is one other inaccuracy. Mr. Dight wishes to call his rejoinder “The Kybosh.” Its proper title would be “The Boomerang.”

J. F.

(Socialist Standard,November 1920)