People are frequently met with who assure us that though they agree with our principles they regard our tactics as “too theoretical” ! Apparently, in their minds, tactics are something to be guided or determined, not by the theories or principles, but exclusively by outside “conditions,” though our opponents are seldom clear as to what they mean by “conditions.”
They will admit that present-day society involves the enslavement of the working-class and, consequently, a struggle between that class and its masters; they will accept the statement that the workers must free themselves by converting the means of life into common property and that they must seize political power for that purpose; yet, they will boggle at the last jump and decline to admit that we are right in opposing all other political parties.
The particular brand of opponent to whom I refer usually calls himself a “Communist” nowadays. Not many years ago the term “British Socialist” or “Socialist Labour” man was good enough for him and previous to that “Social Democrat” was fashionable.
The so-called Revolution in Russia, however, induced him to change his name again without altering to any appreciable extent his mental outlook. He still continued to attach more importance to names than to things, and was more concerned with advocating Soviets than Socialism. Indeed, he habitually expresses profound scepticism regarding the possibility of interesting the workers in the latter proposition. He does not consider them capable of rising to his own lofty intellectual level; nor does, he hesitate to deride those of us who have greater trust in our class.
The alleged “Communist” believes in his ability to capture the Labour Party and “lead” it. So he alternately condemns that Party’s present “leaders” and supports them at election times.
He endeavours to justify this attitude by referring to a phrase in the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, to. wit:— “The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties.” In this he shows his lack of logic and historical knowledge.
In the first place the present-day “Communists” do form a separate party and the alleged “Labour” Party has opposed their admission into its ranks. Secondly, the phrase quoted above is, in its practical application, “antiquated, because,” in Engels’ own words, “the political situation has been entirely changed and the progress of history has swept from off the earth” the working-class parties referred to. (See Engels’ preface, “Communist Manifesto,” Reeves Edition, 1888.)
What was the political situation at the time Marx and Engels penned their historical document? Briefly, the open political. arena was confined to the representatives of. the various sections of the master-class. The workers were not enfranchised and were reduced to a fight for political elbow room. Under such conditions it was practically impossible for the Communists to form an independent political party.
They stood for the conquest of political power by the workers as the means of achieving the social revolution, but the technical means of this conquest, i.e., the franchise, had yet to be acquired, Hence the Communists supported, in England, the Chartists and similar bodies on the Continent. This in itself is a significant fact which the workers would do well to bear in mind when latter-day “Communists” pretend to ridicule the franchise as a political weapon, what time they are not urging the workers to use it to put in office the traitors of the Labour Party.
Conditions broke up the Chartist Movement, but the ruling class could not stop the advance of industry and the increase of the working-class. Neither could they dispense with the assistance of their slaves in the political field. Hence in the long run they were compelled to furnish the workers with the very political weapon which will serve as the instrument of emancipation. The masters enfranchised their slaves not because they loved them but because they could no longer hold back the wheel of development.
Since that day the modern Socialist tactics have been both a possibility and a necessity. Nothing now prevents a revolutionary party openly proclaiming its objective and calling upon the workers to organise for its establishment. While, on the other hand, every political party seeks the support of the workers only one party can represent their interests. That party is the Socialist Party. No other party can use the political machinery except as an instrument of oppression. Parties which stand for Capitalism in any shape or form, no matter what superficial changes they propose, can only maintain the system by force against the workers.
The Socialist Party, standing as it does for a social revolution, can only achieve its object by means of a political revolution.
The legislative, and administrative powers must be torn from the hands of the agents of the master-class by the working-class consciously organised in a political party for the purpose. Only then can the means of life become the property of all.
If the foregoing outline is correct (and we challenge our opponents to point out an error) the Socialist Party has no alternative but to oppose all other parties. There can be no compromise between the robbers and the robbed, the rulers and the oppressed.
Hence we carry on our work of Socialist propaganda, confident that with further economic development our task will become easier, that the workers will see the lights and organise for Socialism.