1920s >> 1921 >> no-201-may-1921

Parliamentary or Direct Action?

Echoes are heard daily of the various so-called Socialist groups that are repudiating Parliamentary action. They proclaim Direct Action to be the only means of bringing about a speedy and effective revolution. One of their favourite arguments is that “it may sound very plausible to state that the course of evolution will gradually bring the working class to a consciousness of their slavery, but the workers cannot afford to wait. Their immediate needs are too great.” Very convincing and humane, but in common with most statements of its kind, it will not bear examination.

It is perfectly true that the working class are in immediate need of having their sufferings alleviated, but, unfortunately, the sad fact of their suffering is not enough to bring about the change. The only way to understand this is to examine present conditions.

On one side one discovers that in England 5 per cent. of the population receives 95 per cent. of the total wealth produced. On the other side 95 per cent. of the population receives the remaining 5 per cent. The strange part of it is that the 95 per cent. of the people by their energy produce the wealth that is appropriated by the 5 per cent. There must be something wrong somewhere.

There is ; but not with this statement. The 95 per cent. of society would probably be interested to know how they are robbed—yes, robbed!—of the wealth which they have produced.

There is a class in society called the “capitalist class”, which has control of the necessaries of life. This class consists of the fortunate 5 per cent. Its members say to the 95 per cent., “We possess the means for producing all you need ; if you will work for us we will return to you sufficient out of what you produce to enable you to go on working for us.” Of course, they do not exactly use these words. Stating facts would not coincide with their interests.

Most workers are probably not aware that the means of production, i.e., machinery, raw material, etc., are absolutely worthless to the capitalists until their labour power has been applied to them. But even if they do not know this, the fear of having their jobs taken from them by others of the 95 per cent. forces them to accept the terms of the capitalists.

The majority of “unskilled” labourers work for a miserable subsistence wage. On the average they are paid according to the cost of their production and maintenance. The small number who do receive a better scale of living are being paid for the higher cost of their production, i.e., training. This does not alter the fact that they also are exploited by their employers. The workers’ wages, whatever they be, are paid out of the results of their labour. The surplus goes to supply the capitalists with their profits. Now comes the rub. The reason the working class are deprived or robbed of the surplus produced is that they do not OWN and CONTROL the means of production so therefore must submit to those who do.

Does it not appear incredible that such a small percentage of the population—the 5 per cent.—should be able to subject the 95 per cent. to such a palpable form of robbery ?

An examination of the working of the system will soon show the source of their power. Capitalism has become a very complicated affair, far too complicated to allow of the personal management of the capitalists. Hence various institutions necessary to their maintenance have come into being. The most important of these institutions is Parliament, through which all the other institutions are controlled—for example, education, the Press, and the armed forces. The capitalists propose certain representatives for Parliament, and the workers, carefully educated by the capitalist Press to believe that they really represent working-class interests, obediently vote them in. These capitalist henchmen—Liberal, Tory, or Labour, it makes not the slightest difference—proceed to pass laws for the safeguarding of their employers’ interests.

In the face of these facts, the dauntless Direct Actionists exclaim “Parliamentary action is futile ! We will make a revolution whether the time be ripe or not. Since the workers are so desperately in need of some change. We will educate them when the revolution is an accomplished fact.”

They propose to set about this “revolution” by bringing what they term the economic factor to the fore. By this they mean a General Strike. Of course it is a glaring inconsistency to imagine for one moment that a spontaneous General Strike could be brought about, since the Direct Actionists have already recognised that the time is not yet ripe for a political revolution. The workers have not at present reached the essential state of class-consciousness.

But suppose for a moment that conditions do tend favourably to such an upheaval, note what would surely result. The strike would cause the stoppage of all transport; foodstuffs would diminish in a very short time. The capitalist class would not suffer from the shortage : they could quite easily recruit volunteers from their own ranks, or conscripts from the Army, to be in a position to satisfy their own needs. For keep in mind that they still own the means of production and distribution. Finally, if the strikers would persist for a prolonged period, the armed forces of the nation, which are controlled through Parliament, would prove the deciding factor. All the heroism and martyrdom in the world would avail nothing against the ruthless machine-guns and other instruments of civilised warfare, which undoubtedly would be brought forward to induce the working class to realise the futility of rebelling against such a power. An uprising of this description can only add to the misery of the workers without advancing their cause in the least.

It should be quite obvious that the whole power of the capitalists lies in a government that can summon the inevitable deciding factor, force, when needed. Therefore the only logical thing for the workers to do is to capture that government, and so in a constitutional manner gain control of the armed forces.

This can only be accomplished when the majority of the working class have reached class-consciousness—in other words, when the bulk of the workers have arrived at a complete understanding of their position as wage-slaves under the existing system of society.

They will then utilise their powers of voting to further their own interests instead of the interests of a class that has always ruthlessly oppressed them.

J. C.