Fascism and other things
Whilst I cannot claim to be a new reader of your periodical, The Socialist Standard, I generally peruse it from the front page to the back page in the hope of gleaning some information or enlightenment on current economic problems. Therefore, I read with some trepidation the article by one styled “Gilmac” in your April issue entitled “To a New Reader.” After giving a short discourse on the present-day position of the worker, and informing him, indisputably, that “wealth is produced by means of privately-owned means of production ” etc., etc., etc., he proceeds, “to emulate the prophets (?) and to indulge in a little idle surmise,” as he so aptly puts it. Having assumed that we have elected the requisite number of delegates to Parliament, we then proceed on three main lines of investigation.
1. Ascertain the needs of the population. (A matter of compiling statistics.)
2. The means available to satisfy these needs. (A matter of compiling statistics.)
3. The labour required to do the necessary work. (A matter of compiling statistics.)
In fact, all that we have to do is to “sit tight” and compile statistics, a relatively simple matter, as he states (although he does not say what it is relevant to).
It appears to me that our comrade has, to use an aphorism, started to build the roof of his house before he has laid its foundations.
Firstly, by what means does he propose to get the necessary delegates (Socialist) into Parliament?
Tentatively, I will answer this question by stating, presumably by education on lines laid down by the S.P.G.B.
Then what will happen when this educational policy becomes a serious menace to the Capitalist class : which means its ultimate extinction? Naturally that section of the community will immediately protect itself to its utmost resources, employing the whole forces of the Capitalist State to this end. The Facisti will come out of its lair with an abundance of cans of castor oil and other relics of the Inquisition, and the S.P.G.B. will be driven underground. Far be it from me to cast cold water upon the rosy prospect of endless statistics which our comrade pictures in his endeavour to emulate the prophets, but if I were a new reader I could not derive much inspiration or information from his article.
May I prevail upon you, Comrade Editor, to enlarge upon this fundamental and vital matter of policy, without being referred to the issue of the “Standard” for the year 1849? Yours fraternally,
W. R. SAUNDERS.
The Editorial Committee has passed your letter on to me for reply.
Really, friend, I must protest. You certainly did not peruse the article in question from the first line to the last with thoroughness. Had you done so you would not have aimed such criticism at it. You will, I am sure, forgive me for pointing out that before the foundations of a house are laid the architect must consider the nature of the roof.
I was showing that the roof would be quite alright. I did not pretend to deal with the method of overthrowing capitalism. My object was simply to show that the evils existing were evils of Capitalism, and that once the workers were in a position to establish Socialism the method of procedure would be comparatively simple.
I will not refer you to the “Standard” for the year 1849 (you have doubtless read numerous articles in previous issues dealing fully and completely with “this fundamental and vital matter of policy”) but I will refer you to the article criticised. In it you will notice that I point out how simple it will be to so arrange production and distribution as to satisfy the needs of the population. Now you say this conveys nothing to you. If you are an old reader of the “Standard” then the points mentioned are well known to you and, therefore, perhaps of no immediate interest. But you must not forget that the article was addressed to a new reader, and he, presumably, knows nothing of Socialism. He cannot conceive of production and distribution being carried on without capital, trading, taxation, wages boards and the like. The new viewpoint put before such a reader may lead him to see that there are other ways of producing and distributing wealth than the present way, and may, therefore, convey much to him. After all, the constant argument of the average worker is “You cannot do without the Capitalist.” “Who is to pay our wages”? You see, the average worker is concerned a good deal with the “roof.” I set out to show him that the roof would be quite sound.
And now you will pardon me again for reminding you that whatever methods you consider will have to be adopted to overthrow Capitalism, you will still have to carry out the aforesaid investigations on the morrow of the Revolution, i.e.,
1. Ascertain the needs of the population.
2. The means available to satisfy those needs.
3. The labour required to do the necessary work,
It is no good, you cannot escape the statistics friend. The Russian Bolsheviks learnt to their cost the tremendous importance of statistics in their reorganisation.
It is so simple friend, isn’t it? Yet it is “information” to many people, if not to you.
Now for the questions you ask, neither of which were dealt with in the article as they were outside the particular subject.
You wish to know how we propose getting the necessary Socialist delegates into Parliament ? Briefly, stated, we propose doing so by convincing a majority of the working class electorate of the slave position they occupy to-day ; that their interests and the interests of their masters are opposed and can not be reconciled ; that their only hope of obtaining permanent improvement in their condition is by establishing Socialism ; that in order to establish Socialism they must take the State power out of the hands of the Capitalists, and the only way they can do that is by sending a majority of delegates to the seat of power (Parliament) with instructions to take from the Capitalists this power that they wield ; once having obtained control of the State power it will then be necessary to set about establishing Socialism.
Now for your second point—and, by the way, it is a prophecy! You assert that “the Facisti will come out of its lair.” Would it not have been better to have examined the conditions out of which the Facisti arose, and see if similar conditions were likely to exist in England?
Before dealing with the Facisti, I wilt make a few preliminary remarks.
When the Socialist Party has grown sufficiently to become a serious menace to the Capitalists and inspires the latter with alarm, they will undoubtedly use all available methods to extinguish Socialist propaganda and hinder the development of the Party. But there are certain limitations to the methods that can be employed. Methods that would bring chaos into the system will be avoided, as the Capitalists themselves would go down in the ruin. They dare not make any serious permanent alteration in the method of carrying on the system, with the object of hindering the worker from giving expression to his wishes. The main social functions are not carried out by Capitalists, but by officials elected to various bodies; among which are the Parliamentary, County and Local Bodies. An important interference with the method of appointing officials to such bodies, operating for any considerable length of time, would put the system out of gear and the Capitalists out of their present position. Anarchy will not suit the Capitalists. This fact is forcing Mussolini to modify his methods now he is in power.
Italy is a comparatively young nation and the nationalist spirit is still strong there. Alter the War, work in the industries that had catered for war fell off and, as in other countries, unemployment suddenly grew to tremendous proportions. The organisation of tile large corporations had improved ; waste was cut down to an extent never attained before; machinery and mass production methods had undergone a hot-house development; and these corporations had obtained such a firm control over industry that many of the smaller fry had been ruined and thrown into the ranks of the working class though still retaining a vivid recollection of and hankering after their former privileged position.
Immediately after the War, the workers flocked into the trade unions under the influence of the war-time promises of the Capitalists and the peace-time promises of the “men-of-action.” But they were very soon disillusioned of their hopes. The industrial movement that culminated in the occupation of the factories had a disastrous ending, and the “land for the peasants movement” collapsed.
The Fascisti, at first a small and insignificant group, promised the Italian workers a classless state, a state above parties, which would consolidate Italy’s war gains. It further promised a new electoral law, equal suffrage for women, the eight-hour day, progressive income-tax, and demanded an enquiry into war profits. It also organised a trade union with the object of harmonising the interests of employers and employed.
This policy attracted to its support employers, disbanded soldiers still suffering from patriotic fever and lack of employment, ex-officers, disappointed town workers of all kinds, peasants, and ruined small masters who thought they saw in the new movement a chance of re-establishment. The growth of the Fascisti was assisted by the compromising and barren policy of the Italian parties that laid claim to the intellectual leadership of the workers, and by the clandestine assistance of the Government. In the main, the movement represented, as far as the workers were concerned, a clutching at straws. Intimidation of workers, of course, was resorted to, but the support obtained by this means was small compared with that freely given.
There were other important factors in the situation, but space will not permit me going further into the matter.
The fascisti movement then, was composed of a mixture of opposing elements, and it flourished by Governmental favour. Since success has come to it the internal opposition is becoming more and more insistent in spite of the recent victory at the polls. It is made up mainly of workers and it lias been unable to fulfil the promises made to its poorer adherents.
In due course Fascism will break down of its own weight and the class antagonism between master and worker, employer and employed, will become more clearly demonstrated than ever. Even the military force it has organised contains the seeds of collapse, and will soon prove a broken reed in the day of trial. Fascism, therefore, far from stopping the growth of Socialism, is only a momentary halt—like the Communist movement—before a leap forward. Mussolini has been compelled by conditions to modify more and more his dictatorship, and though he may for a time interfere with electoral methods, conditions will force him to allow more opportunity for the carrying out of the wishes of the mass of the population or pay the penalty—involve himself, and the class he represents, in ruin.
Now for your question as to what the Socialist Party would do if the Facisti comes “out of its lair,” etc., etc. The Socialist Party would do the same as it did during the War, assuming its support were comparatively small—put the Socialist position at every reasonable opportunity, and wait for the inevitable receding of the wave. No working-class party could do more.
But be very careful to note the “if.” Conditions in England are not so favourable to the growth of Fascism as they are abroad. And further by the time the Socialist Party had become sufficiently strong to menace the Capitalists’ position and move them to the action you suggest there would be a very strong body of class-conscious workers in this country who would have no reason for disillusionment, and a still larger mass of workers who would be nearing the Socialist position—conditions which were not present in Italy. At such a time then the development of Fascism in England would be very unlikely.
(Socialist Standard, June 1924)