1920s >> 1922 >> no-220-december-1922

“What We Want and Why.”

The above is the title of an attempt on the part of six leading lights of the Trade Union world to hide their lack of any common definite object, save that of misleading the workers from the road to emancipation. We are obliged to tell the publishers frankly that they have issued a rather expensive 7s. 6d. article. None of the contributors are particularly clear as to what they want, while as to why they want it, they are vaguer still.

The ambitions of Mr. J. H. Thomas would, apparently, be satisfied with an efficient railway service, to be secured, presumably, by “nationalisation.” He is very keen on convincing his readers that he is not out for “aggression.” “Peace and economy” are his watchwords. The interests of the railway servants take second place with him, even if they can be said to have a place at all. He shows the waste going on under such relics of the competitive system as exist, but fails to show how the elimination of that waste would assist the employee ; and keeps dark the fact that economy under capitalism simply means getting the same amount of work done with fewer men. The concentration of the railways in the hands of a capitalist State is only a means to the accomplishment of that end. For this reason it is somewhat difficult to follow Mr. Thomas when he asserts that, “with State ownership we could see a possibility of improving the general condition of the worker” (p. 17). As he himself points out (p. 24), where State ownership exists, as in several countries on the Continent, the chief beneficiaries are the business firms who obtain concessions.

Mr. Thomas attaches very great importance to the machinery of conciliation between the workers and the bosses, yet on page 26 we are told that “no machinery can have the slightest value unless it is operated with good-will on the part of both interests.” Why should good-will obtain between parties whose interests are diametrically opposed to one another? To that question Mr. Thomas provides no answer.

He shows that the workers by strict observance of the companies’ rules could practically “stop the service” (p. 28), but “I should personally never favour such action.” He leaves it to his colleague Bromley to point out that the companies are not so squeamish. They have no hesitation in using their rules to send a man to prison if it suits their purpose (p. 176). It is the old story. The workers are advised to be peaceful and to leave their case to their leaders what time the bosses do as they like. And this is the gentleman who poses, and is accepted by the workers, as their champion !

Robert Williams, of the Transport Workers’ Federation, would have us believe that he is a Socialist, yet does not condescend in the space afforded by fifty pages to give us a clear definition of Socialism, nor any hint as to how it is to be brought about. He appears to be much more concerned to excuse and justify the treacherous activity of the leaders of the Triple Alliance, on the ground of trade depression and increasing unemployment. Although the workers were organised in much greater numbers than ever before, and he admits that the need for militancy was just as great as it ever had been, he pretends that the rout has been nothing more than an inevitable retreat carried out in an orderly manner. He fails to show that the real cause .of the trouble has been the lack of understanding and mental solidarity on the part of the workers themselves; for which he, Robert Williams, and his colleagues are, in view of their opportunities, largely responsible by default. Williams advances some timid criticism of the Labour Party’s association with the Coalition during the war, and attributes their defeat at the General Election (1918) to this cause. The logical process by which he arrives at this conclusion is somewhat obscure. In any case, the Labour Party’s policy from the date of its inception has never been guided by any intelligible principle, so that Mr. Williams has only himself to blame if he has been disappointed in it. If he really wanted Socialism he would abandon the Labour Party to its inevitable fate, dishonour and disruption !

Tom Mann, in “The Case for the Engineers,” provides a little variety, inasmuch as he makes some pretence at analysing the existing order and offering an alternative ; yet here, again, the alternative is not defined with any degree of clarity. “Economic change” is mentioned, but its precise character is not stated; while as to the means whereby it is to be accomplished, we are referred vaguely to “industrial action.”

“The Politicians,” by whom, presumably, Mann means the Labour Party, are superficially criticised. Their faith in Parliament and constitutional methods is attacked, but their political treachery and duplicity are not mentioned. Mann appears to be utterly oblivious of the fact that Parliament controls the armed forces of the nation and is not likely to stand meekly by while the “men in the workshop” do as they like. The political machine is the only means whereby the workers can give public and effective expression to any common aim and purpose which they may develop as a class. For that reason the Socialist advocates its use. To leave it in the hands of the masters is sheer criminal stupidity !

Coming back to the engineers, Mann endeavours to illustrate the power of industrial action by instancing the hopelessness of asking for a rise in wages from Parliament. He fails to see that the same workers who are asking for a rise have sent their enemies to the seat of government. Are people in such a mental condition ready to emancipate themselves by any action, industrial or otherwise? Further, how can struggles on the industrial field over wages, hours, etc., lead to freedom from wage-slavery? Mann appears to hold that the industrial organisations will gradually assume control of the worshops and pay all wages, etc. Are the masters, therefore, going to surrender their profits. And, if not, what advantage will the worker obtain by drawing the price of slavery through his branch secretary?

Real control centres in the possession of the means of production, and the fight for that possession must take the form of political action. Capitalist property will exist just so long as the capitalist class are left in control of forces which protect that property.

Mr. Noah Ablett illustrates from details of his own experiences the destructive conditions under which the miners toil. When, however, he deals with remedies he becomes extremely confused. He condemns private ownership on account of the antagonism of interests which it involves, and yet advocates a programme of reforms which will become meaningless as soon as private ownership is dispensed with. One is thus driven to the conclusion that by the elimination of private ownership he simply means “nationalisation,” which, for reasons already stated, can offer no gain to the workers. In order to make this clearer, let us proceed to Mr. Bromley’s article.

Mr. Bromley covers much the same ground as J. H. Thomas, but gives a more definite description of what “nationalisation” amounts to. On pages 186-7 we read, “two unions very carefully drafted a Bill for the complete nationalisation of the railways. … It proposes the purchase of railways stocks and shares through the medium of Government Stock . . charged on the State railway undertaking and the Consolidated Fund, which shall bear such a rate of interest as would enable it at the time of issue to be realised at par.” Thus “nationalisation” simply transforms the capitalists ..concerned from shareholders in a private concern into Government Stock holders still living on the workers by means of the rate of interest !

Mrs. P. Snowden deals with the competition existing between the sexes in the working class. Her “ultimate ideal” is the “payment for work, irrespective of sex, of such a wage as no man or woman would be afraid or ashamed to accept” (p. 214). Albeit, she has previously pointed out that the existing “industrial system does not scruple to play off women against men in attempts to lesser, the costs of production by reducing the wages bill” (p. 212). She wants the capitalist system minus one of its principal and essential features, the subsistence level of wages. Curiously enough, on page 261, discussing the necessity of finding work for an ever-increasing number of women, she says that “This can only be done satisfactorily when the social system of the present has given place to a new order, in which all the instruments of labour are in the hands of the community as a whole.” The force and significance of this admission do not appear to strike her, however, as she proceeds on the next page to propose all sorts of ameliorations in the worker’s lot without the slightest hint as to how they are to be accomplished. Further, she advocates the technical education of women and girls, apparently blind to the fact that hundreds of technically trained men are at the present moment searching in vain for a purchaser of their labour power. She fails to point out that the women, no less than the men, of the working class need to realise that they are slaves. This is the essential preliminary to any improvement.

So long as the capitalist class control the means of life, every economy and every improvement in the education, health, and technical ability of the workers, male and female, only results in their becoming more productive slaves. The fruits of their increased productivity go to the masters and not to themselves. This is the central fact ignored or obscured by these so-called leaders of labour.

Whether the workers follow the Labour Party “to nationalisation” plus reforms, or the Industrialist leaders to “workshop control” plus reforms, they are doomed to disappointment. The only road to emancipation is the conversion of the means of life into the property of the whole people. To this end we call upon the workers to organise consciously, and politically for the capture of the machinery of government.

Socialism, undiluted and unadulterated, is what the Socialist Party wants. As to why we want it, only look around you. Millions of willing producers are compelled to be idle while they need food, clothing, housing, etc., and the means exist ready to hand whereby they can produce them !

Generations of workers have put their faith in legislative reforms and strikes, but we are as far away as ever from economic security. The Social Revolution offers the only way out. Muster, then, under our banner, with a view to its speedy accomplishment.

E. B.

(Socialist Standard, December 1922)

Leave a Reply