1920s >> 1921 >> no-204-august-1921
Letters: The “If” Man Again
As a regular reader of the Socialist Standard I read with interest the article “Parliamentary or Direct Action,” also “Where Russia Stands” in May issue. I fully recognise the importance of parliamentary action in the struggle to establish Socialism, but should like to ask a few questions. Any talk of armed rising in face of the up to-date bloody methods of warfare employed by capitalist States is mere madness. I agree there.
But what is to be done if the master class refused to allow the use of the ballot box when the workers understood their position? Again, why shouldn’t Socialists get into the Labour Party to convert its rank and file to Socialism as in the trade unions ?
The Labour Party is a working class party, its rank and file being anti-capitalists.
Do you favour Socialists working for the development of Socialism from craft and industrial basis? And concerning your article on Russia, suppose the SP.G.B. had been the S.P. of Russia, what would have been its position in 1917.? I believe the Communists of Russia to have done the only thing possible considering the time, country, and conditions. Our methods will be different, as our conditions will be different.
The master class can only refuse to allow the use of the ballot box at the expense of chaos. As pointed out in the article “Parliamentary or Direct Action,” capitalism has become far too complicated a system for the capitalists to manage personally? Hence the continued delegation of powers and functions to various and increasing bodies, as County Councils, Borough Councils, Town Councils, Boards of Trade, of Education, of Agriculture, of Asylums, etc., right down to the little Parish meeting.
These bodies carry on the normal and detail functions of society under the laws made in Parliament, and under the general control of that central body of power. The extension of capitalism and the concentration of wealth into fewer hands compels the ever-increasing delegation of these social functions with the necessary growth in the number of elected persons and the consequent extension of the Franchise. To attempt to hold up all this elaborate machinery would result in appalling chaos, far worse than anything described in the worst tales about Russia. If the capitalists ever dreamed of taking such a course it could only be as a last act of despair when the circumstances and conditions would render such an action too late to be effective.
Trade unions are organisations that the conditions of capitalism bring into existence. They arise out of the imperative necessity which the workers are under of debating the price and conditions under which they sell their labour power. Their essential work is confined to the industrial field. Socialists as workers, are faced with the necessity of joining trade unions for the purpose of carrying on this daily struggle, just as other workers are. Inside the unions they use the opportunities offered to carry on Socialist propaganda.
The Labour Party is a political party supporting capitalism—see, for instance, its actions on the War, and the other evidence in our Manifesto—while its rank and file are obviously not anti-capitalist, or they would have compelled their representatives to oppose instead of supporting capitalism. Hence for a Socialist to join the Labour Party means supporting a defender of capitalism and is in direct contradiction to Socialism.
The Socialist works inside the trade union as he does outside, to develop the workers’ knowledge of the slave position of their class. As their knowledge grows they will have their organisation on this class basis instead of on that of craft or industry.
It is easy to suppose all sorts of absurdities when endeavouring to place ideas developed from one set of conditions into an entirely different set. If the S P.G.B. had been the S.P. of Russia, clearly the S.P.G B would have had all the misunderstanding and ignorance of the European situation that the S.P. of Russia had, and would have acted as the latter did. If, however, our correspondent means if the S.P.G.B. with its knowledge and understanding of European conditions had been in Russia in 1917, then that party, at all events, would not have made the great mistake of the Russians— the mistake of thinking that the working class of Europe were ready to rise in revolt against capitalism and to establish Socialism in its place.
Whether the Communists did the only thing possible is a debatable question, as full knowledge of all the circumstances is not yet available. The position of the S.P.G.B. at the time of the upheaval in Russia was that conditions there made the establishment of Socialism impossible. The evidence and events since then have shown the correctness of our analysis.