1920s >> 1920 >> no-196-december-1920

A New Programme of Confusion

The National Administrative Council are submitting a draft programme for adoption by the Independent Labour Party. The ”Labour Leader” (Nov. 11th) in publishing the programme ask for discussion and are setting apart two columns weekly for the purpose. In order to assist the rank and file who may wish to take part in this discussion a few of the most glaring absurdities are pointed out in the following lines.


Clause one states that the object of the I.L.P. is “to end the present capitalist system.” Clause two states that “the industrial organisation of society in the Socialist Commonwealth must be based upon the communal ownership of land and capital.” Some hitherto obscure member might gain the limelight by asking how it is possible to end the capitalist system while retaining the thing that makes it a capitalist system, i.e., capital.


The capitalist system did not exist until wealth was used generally as capital, which obviously gave it its name. Wealth is not always capital : it only becomes capital when it is used for the production of profit, in other words, for the purpose of exploitation. When society is organised on the basis of production for use wealth can no longer be used as capital, either by individuals or collectively by the State. It remains for the N.A.C. to explain how it is possible to abolish a system while retaining the principles that form the basis of that system.


It is this absurd notion, that a totally different social system can be built up on the basis of the present system, that is responsible for the next absurdity, that under Socialism there must be two separate organisations, one to represent the interests of the consumers and the other to represent the interests of the producers. If this were true it would at once dispose of one of the strongest points in favour of Socialism. The need for two organisations to represent opposing interests would reveal the fact that society was not based on principles that made the interests of each identical with those of the whole, but that antagonism of interests between classes or sections still remained.


Under a sane system of society, where the whole of the people took part in the labour necessary to satisfy their wants, each individual would be both producer and consumer, and only a marionette showman would think of setting him up in two separate organisations in order that he might oppose and support himself alternately in each. But even this unnecessary duplication of organisations is not enough. Clause four lays it down that there must be a co-ordinating authority made up of representatives of producers and consumers.


Clause five assumes a “transition period” during the existence of the present system, saying—


  “Before the final stage is reached, the Socialist movement must accept as intermediate systems only those which promote its ultimate aim : for instance, any scheme of nationalisation or municipalisation (a) must give the workers in the industry an effective control over and responsibility for its administration, (b) must tend to eliminate capitalism and prevent, the creation of new means of financial exploitation, etc. “


The N.A.C. are evidently much confused with regard to the meaning of the word system. The fact that the capitalists of a country may decide to buy out the capitalists of a given industry or service and run it collectively through the State, does not constitute a new system. It does not even disguise the old one, as anybody can see by examining the position of the workers in the Post Office and other institutions that have been either nationalised, or municipalised.


Exploitation is effected to-day by capitalists organised in companies, trusts, combines, and groups. The individual capitalist owns shares in a company or a number of companies and draws dividends according to his holding. When his company becomes amalgamated with others the tendency is to increase the security of his shares ; consequently the bigger the amalgamation the greater the security, and the biggest amalgamation is the State itself. The capitalist, however, in order that he may be assured of his dividends, must be able to control his capital, which is, for the time being, incorporated in the machinery and buildings of the company. The management of the concern is, therefore, placed in the hands of those who will run it in the interest of shareholders like himself. But whether the concern is small or large, the management must be free to run it solely in the interests of the owners; it is therefore ridiculous to suppose that the workers will be granted “effective control” over the administration of any industry. The capitalist class control because they own, but what enables them to own and control is the physical force at their command because they dominate the political machinery of the State.


The N.A.C. lays it down that the Socialist movement must only accept intermediate systems that give the workers effective control or tend to eliminate capitalism. If they wait until the ruling class offer them such systems they will wait till the crack of doom. On the other hand, if the ruling class find it to their advantage to nationalise any industry or service, the workers will be unable to prevent them doing so while they control the machinery of government.


Clause six is entitled “immediate objects” : and provides for “(a) the co-ordination and development of Trade Union organisation with a view to the securing of full working class solidarity and the obtaining of control over industry.” Working-class solidarity on these lines must always be elusive because of the ever-increasing competition among the workers for jobs. But even if complete solidarity were possible control would still be beyond the reach of the workers for reasons already given.


And “(b) the strengthening and expansion of the Co-operative movement, with a view to making it the effective representative of the domestic consumer in the future Socialist Commonwealth.”


Thus the number of interests that will have to be represented under Socialism continues to grow according to I.L.P notions, because the party dare not frighten away possible supporters by exposing the futility of their freak ideas—or does a freak party attract freaks?— ideas embodied in movements that can only flourish during the present system because they promise some slight measure of relief from its hardships and poverty ; though always promised without fulfilment.


Thus the N.A.C. prophesy a system made up of consumers, domestic consumers, producers and co-operators, organisations (local and national), and administrative councils representing each interest. They have not the faintest notion that when the workers have the necessary knowledge to establish Socialism, they will know how to arrange their intercourse with each other for the purpose of satisfying their material needs on the most simple and direct lines.


Production for profit is just as much the principle of the co-operative movement as it is of the capitalist system itself. The co-operative movement has been in the hands of the small capitalists for many years. But even if the ideas of its founders had been strictly followed out, and all the profits shared among working-class members, it would none the less be a system in which the producers were exploited by the members. And the fact that the producers might be members themselves would not enable them to get back anything but the smallest fraction of the results of their robbery.


The proposed international policy of the I.L.P. is embodied in clause seven, which reads as follows:


  “Realising that imperialism and war waged by capitalist governments constitute the greatest hindrances to the attainment of Socialism, the I.L.P believes that it is incumbent upon Socialists to destroy imperialism and render war impossible ; it therefore aims at the fullest development of the international working-class movement, at the most effective action by that movement for the prevention of war and the liberation of subject peoples, and at aiding by every means in its power, the victory of the working class in all lands. “


This clause proves that the N.A.C. does not yet realise that “capitalist imperialism and war” cannot be abolished until capitalism itself is abolished. This is evidenced by their reference to subject peoples. The Socialist is only concerned with the subjection of the working class, and not at all with the subjection of one capitalist State by another. Once the workers of any country have been robbed of the results of their labour it does not matter a tinker’s anathema to them whether the robbers retain their plunder, or are compelled to share it with other members of the robber class.


Clause eight is entitled “Method,” and is a good example of the I.L.P. method of becoming all things to all men. It reads :


  “In pursuance of these objects, the I.L.P. realises that, owing to the fact that elections under the existing British Parliamentary system frequently result in false and inadequate representation, and enables governments to manipulate and thwart the national will, it may be necessary on specific occasions for the organised workers to use extra-political means, such as direct action. “


The first part of this statement is altogether misleading. Under the British electoral system the workers have only to obtain a majority for Socialism over other parties and it is impossible to thwart them in their determination to establish it.


Then, without committing themselves to any “specific occasions,” the N.A.C. angle for the Direct Actionists’ support. If this clause is accepted by the workers, then a minority of labour members in the House of Commons, unable to enforce any measure of little or much importance, could cause endless suffering to the workers by a call for Direct Action.


In conclusion, this latest attempt to draw up a programme that makes clear the working-class position in modern society, together with the way to emancipation, is another miserable failure. It does not even show the common ground upon which the workers of all lands must unite. While prating about the exploitation of the workers, it neglects to show how this exploitation is effected, or on what basis society must be organised in order to end it.


If the rank and file of the I.L.P. intend to consider this new programme seriously, let them compare it with the Object and principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, when its absurdities and shortcomings will become apparent to them, and they will be fully equipped to take part in the proposed discussion.


F. Foan