1920s >> 1924 >> no-241-september-1924

Policy and Tactics of Socialism

Suggested Lessons for Study Classes in Socialism.


The Futility of Reform.

Social Reform Explained.

14. The basis of the present system is class ownership of the means of producing wealth. The class that rules has always maintained that basis, as no other foundation for their system is possible.

15, Various changes are made, however, in the manner of conducting the system and in the detail conditions under which the people live. These changes do not affect the basis of the system and are therefore called reforms as contrasted with revolutions. The policy of altering the social conditions within a system is called Social Reform. These reforms are mainly carried out by means of legislation.

Its Purpose and Results.

16. The growth or evolution of modern industry affects the conditions under which the masses work and live. Our masters therefore are continually using their political power to “reform” industrial, social and political conditions. They do this to patch up and perpetuate the social system which benefits them, as it is against their interests to allow it to decay.

17. The rapid development of industry makes a complete change of social system more and more possible and necessary. The growing competition for jobs with the increasing uncertainty of a living tends to make the workers oppose the present system. Hence the master class tries to content the workers by promising, and often establishing reforms in the hope that the victims of the system will turn away from revolutionary policies. The purpose of reform is to cover up some of the worst features of the system; to adjust conditions so as to obtain more profits from industry, and to secure and strengthen capitalist domination.

18. The result of reform is a more efficient working of capitalism. The employing class learns by experience what detail changes will benefit them and introduces the reforms upon the plea that they are improving the lot of the worker. The other result of reform follows from this, namely, that they secure the support of the workers and cloud the class issue in their minds. Arthur James Balfour, the Tory prime minister well said : “Social Reform is the antidote to Socialism.”

Historical Survey of Influence of Reform.

19. The factory system in its early years sank the workers into the most miserable conditions possible. It drove them from their cottage industries amid green fields and fresh air into the insanitary buildings of smoke-poisoned and over-crowded cities. The women and children of both sexes were also recruited for the busy machinery. They worked fourteen and sixteen hours per day and often by night. In factory, shop or mine, they worked under brutal conditions for starvation wages. Individualism was celebrating its victory and the manufacturers accumulated fortunes in a few years. There was no factory legislation restricting the conditions of labour, and attempts to form workmen’s combinations resulted in merciless repression.

20. The terrible conditions of life and labour had a disastrous effect on the health of the population and the workers died off rapidly. Some of the far-seeing employers demanded legislation to compel the manufacturers to improve the state of their victims. Workers in their misery destroyed machinery, but it was mainly due to the antagonism between landowners and manufacturers that factory legislation came to be passed.

21. These factory reforms undoubtedly improved conditions for a time. It was because the workers had sunk to such utter degradation and inefficiency that the masters eventually enacted laws to prevent the workers from being killed off. The reforms were necessary to the preservation of the system and only improved the workers’ conditions compared with the depths to which they had previously sunk.

22. Since that time nearly all reforms have left the condition of the workers untouched, except where they made them worse. Political reforms, factory laws, pensions for the aged and allowances to the unemployed and sick; such legislation has been enacted in most capitalist countries without making any permanent improvement in working-class conditions. Bismarck, in Germany, heaped up reforms to win the workers away from Socialism and make them good fighting material, but the general condition of the workers remained the same. British capitalists have been ingenious in their reform policy, for it has built up the strength of the masters and kept the workers interested in their masters’ affairs to the exclusion of the working-class issues.

In spite of a century of reform Lloyd George admitted in 1911 that there was greater slavery, more poverty and deeper hardship amongst the workers than ever before. In the United States, technical education and other reforms have been instituted to better compete with Germany and other countries, but the early exhaustion, insecurity, lack of property, and poverty of the workers has been testified to by the report of the Committee on Industrial Relations of the U.S.A. Senate.

The Economic Barrier to Beneficial Legislation.

23. The operation of reform legislation brings in its train counter effects due to the economic laws of capitalism. A shorter working day is a desirable thing, but anything which makes labour power more expensive drives the employers to adopt some method to cheapen the cost of production. The hours are made less, but the energy and output remain the same as during the longer working day. Greater division of labour, more efficient superintendence, the elimination of the unfit, more scientific methods, better machinery and the introduction of women into the factory are some of the after-effects inevitably resulting from an increase in the price of labour power. The unemployment and insecurity of the worker are thereby continued and grow with the economic development.

24. Henry Ford testified that the output was greater in eight hours than during ten hours, and profits increased enormously. The evidence of Lord Leverhulme, the advocate of a six-hour day, is, that in his great soap factory profits multiplied with the reduction of hours.

So-Called Revolutionary Reforms.

25. Many well-known reformers call themselves Socialists of the revisionist school. They claim to have revised the teachings of Marx and Engels and made the theory up-to-date. They say we must go a step at a time. They argue that their reforms are revolutionary.

These men simply act as agents of capitalism in teaching the workers to fight for reforms. The time thus spent is lost to the teaching of socialism. The difficult details of the million and one reforms would take as much time for the average worker to understand as the real teachings of socialism. If the reforms advocated were likely to aid the workers in their struggle, the capitalists in control would not yield them, and to go before the workers with a reform programme is therefore a fraud, for it can only be carried into legislating with the consent of the employing class in power. The reforms advocated by Kautsky in The Erfurter Programme would not improve the workers’ conditions, and even to get them we would have to engage in the anti-socialist tactics of the German party.

Arguments of Reformers.

26. All the leading capitalist reformers, from Lloyd George to the leaders of the Labour Party, argue that if the workers will give them the power they will help the workers. The whole history of capitalist legislation is against them. The reform policy of capitalism is carried out to deceive the workers, to make them more efficient wage-slaves and to bind the workers more securely to allegiance to capitalism.

27. We see how bitterly the employers fight the workers’ demands for higher wages and how brutally they subdue them. Can we expect these same employers to pass beneficial legislation? Their claim to have improved our conditions by reforms is flatly contradicted by every inquiry into industrial conditions. The unceasing unrest and strike fever in the ranks of labour show that all the reforms have failed to stop the decline in labour’s conditions. All the arguments of reformers fail to show how it is possible to reduce the economic insecurity of the workers or to strengthen the producers’ position against the employer by reforms.

Waste of Effort in Fighting for Reforms.

28. The time spent on preaching reforms is wasted because it does not enlighten the worker on the causes of his conditions and the remedy. It simply leads him to expect benefits from the ruling class and the present system. All the reform campaigns of the past have resulted in some kind of legislation which eventually worked out to our disadvantage. Reformers forget that the very growth and evolution of the industrial system is quicker than the passing of legislation, and the actual development of the system causes more evils than are temporarily reformed. As soon as one evil is reformed twenty more arise. If the workers devoted one tenth of the attention and energy to Socialism that they give to reform advocacy—Socialism would be here.

Confusion of Issue in Worker’s Mind.

29. The advocate of Socialism finds his work hampered at every step by the confusion created in the worker’s mind by reformists. The workers are taught to believe that they have a common cause with non-socialists in fighting for amelioration. Instead of explaining to the workers the class character of modern society with the resulting enslavement and poverty that will always be the workers’ portion, the reformers create false hopes in the worker’s mind. The great majority therefore follow the policy of exhausting every possible error before coming to the right conclusion. They usually grow apathetic and sickened qf politics altogether before the right stage is reached. Socialist activity by the workers requires a clear recognition of tne class conflict, and as the belief in Reforms obscures this, reform advocacy is injurious to the workers’ interests.

8ome Reform Organisations of To-day.

30. The societies advocating reforms are countless. They range from nationalisation Societies to Currency Reform Leagues. Shopkeepers, professional men, manufacturers, bankers and brewers, all vie with each other in seeking some reform to benefit their particular interests. Business men wanting more credit advocate currency reforms, but they fail to show how any alteration of banking laws will alter the relative positions of employer and employees. Labour Parties and Communist bodies have reform programmes and enlist their membership by this means. Their reforms, however, are either of the same variety as we have had for decades from Liberal and Tory or they are reforms which are impossible under capitalism, such as the demand to “absorb the unemployed.” Capitalism needs an unemployed army to keep down wages, and this industrial reserve is continually reinforced by those thrown out of work by machinery and speeding, up methods.

The Anti-Sweating League has been loud in its demands for Trade Boards to be established in “sweated trades.” They rejoiced when the Trade Boards Act was passed, and reformers are busy demanding its application to more trades. The fraud of reform is clearly shown by the admissions of labour leaders concerning these Trade Boards. Mr. J. Beard, President of the Workers’ Union, says (Daily Herald, Aug. 19): “Trade Boards stabilised low wages and servile conditions and weakened trade

Social Reform Leaves Causes Untouched.

31. An examination of modern society shows that the poverty and degradation of the workers is due to the capitalist system itself. The only remedy, therefore, is to remove the cause of the social condition—to abolish the present system and replace it by a social system in which the means of production are owned in common, and in which exploitation will not exist.

32. Socialists are scientific and therefore seek to remove the causes instead of tinkering with effects. Social reform is like charity—it perpetuates the misery and does not prevent its continual reappearance. The reformer fights tuberculosis, whilst the workers’ conditions cause the disease to flourish. “Criminals” are hounded while poverty and unemployment drive men and women to recruit the army of “criminals.”

Evolution and Revolution.

33. Reformers claim that they believe in evolution as opposed to revolution. They preach “going gradually,” or “a step at a time,” and they attempt to justify their ideas on scientific grounds. Revolution, however, is a fact common to natural and human history alike. Revolution is the more or less rapid change made necessary by the previous evolution of the organism. Each system of society evolves up to the point where a complete change is required, and that complete change is a Revolution. The present system evolves, but no amount of evolution of private property produces common ownership. The common ownership for which Socialists strive can only be established by the rise of the working class to political power and the use of that power to transform the economic basis of society. That is a social revolution. No accumulation of reforms or steps can alter the economic foundations of capitalism.

Evolution and Revolution are not opposed to each other. The evolution of capitalism with all its reforms produces those conditions making a revolution inevitable if society is to progress. Socialists hold that conditions are ripe for revolution. Conditions are beyond reform.

Rationalisation and Municipalisation.

34. Government ownership is not Socialism. The transfer of industries from private firms to State ownership is simply a policy dictated by capitalist needs and for capitalist advantage. The most open enemies of Socialism have nationalised railways and other businesses in various countries without in any way benefiting the working class. Under Government ownership “sweating” is quite common, as can be seen from complaints about conditions in the Post Office, Mint, etc. In France and Canada, strikes on the nationalised railways have been frequent and ruthlessly suppressed, and active workers victimised.

The saving of waste resulting from abolishing competition means a reduction in the number of workers needed. That is the effect of Government ownership. The control of an industry by one employer—the Capitalist State—means a stronger force against the workers if they strike against their conditions, and the victimised workers have no other employer in the industry to employ them when they are dismissed. It is like a Trust.

The profits made in Government services are used to benefit the property owners—the taxpayers.

All these arguments apply against municipal ownership.


(Socialist Standard, September 1924)

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