Socialism and the Labour Movement
A CRITIC ANSWERED.
15, Grenville Street,
As a member of the working class, I am very interested in your party and the Socialist Standard. Some months ago a member of your party was in this town and he left a few of us thinking. For myself I must say that the Socialist Party of Great Britain has very little chance of ever making the working-class Socialists. First, because they do not definitely take their place among the workers and engage in the struggle between the workers and the capitalist class which is unceasing, rather do they preach that nothing except the political battle matter, forgetting that without the economic and the defence forces of the working class movement parliaments, or political institutions are valueless as the capitalist could afford to laugh at the attempts of a band of politicians trying to control the implements that are in his hands. The only hope that Socialism may be achieved is in a combination of all the industrial workers organised as a class together with the defence forces that it will have to fashion in its own defence, and lastly the use, if necessary, as a supplement political action. Propaganda for political action will be helped as the struggle of the class conscious and organised workers goes on.
My chief idea in writing was to urge that sectarianism inside the working class should cease and that small bodies like the S.P.G.B. ought to get into the Labour movement and put their influence on the side of unity, otherwise there will be doubts as to their sincerity. In this town the S.P.G.B. has one individual as a member, and there are intelligent young men calling themselves Communists. He and they are a group who unite in their refusal to assist the mass of the workers who are out for the Workers’ Republic. Why do such people, Communists and Socialists, anger the working class by their hair-splitting differences? Why is it that capitalists whom we are trying to down manage to keep united while we are divided, yet we are all out for working class control of the means and instruments of production and distribution? Therefore I would urge that inside the working class is your place.
Your letter has been passed on to me for reply, but I find reply difficult because your letter contains only baseless assertions and muddled ideas.
In the first place, capitalist conditions make socialists; we only assist the educational work of conditions.
You say that we do not take our place among the workers in the struggle. I don’t know where you get your information from, but you are evidently badly misinformed. The members of the S.P.G.B. are working men and working women. They work in factories, mills and workshops, and take part with their fellow workers in the daily and weekly struggle for the best conditions of labour that can be obtained. But while doing so they point out the limits of this struggle and the impossibility of overthrowing capitalism by industrial methods. They therefore agitate among their fellows for political action. In the S.P.G.B. they are organised for the political struggle; class-conscious revolutionary action for the establishment of Socialism.
What do you mean by “the economic and the defence forces of the working-class movement”? There is only one force that is worthy of a moment’s consideration—the force that operates as powder and shot, bombs, poison gas, and so forth; the force that is bottled up in aeroplanes, battleships, and tanks; the murderous force that can blow thousands of us to bits and spread ruin and desolation over large territories in the wink of an eye. Have the experiences of war, of strikes, and of battering of native populations taught you nothing? And this mighty death-dealing machine is operated from parliament—in Britain, from the House of Commons. They can crush any working-class uprising almost before the workers have begun to move, as many a man, eating his heart out in prison, has learnt to his sorrow.
Now what can the workers bring to combat this political machine? Nothing but empty stomachs and brickbats. Their wages are not sufficient to enable them to purchase anything beyond a few rifles, and any attempt to manufacture munitions (which could only be done on such a small scale as to be valueless) or to tamper with the soldiers or sailors would, and has been, rapidly met with a term of imprisonment. Up against the political machinery the workers are helpless, and yet, the irony of it, they can obtain control of this machinery as soon as they wish.
On the industrial field the workers are faced with the misery and demoralisation produced by repeated failures. On the political field they are faced with complete success as soon as they are clear about the objective and the way to obtain it. It is easier to organise workers effectively for sound political action than it is to organise them for industrial action alone, because in the one direction complete success is within their grasp, whilst in the other ultimate defeat is certain. The two positions can easily be demonstrated by illustrations that will satisfy the average worker, who is not either a blind worshipper of idols or empty phrases, or whose head is not filled with the fatal delusions of the communist.
To take another of your points. The implements of production are in the possession of the capitalist because he can resist by force any attempt made by the workers to take them. That is why the capitalist laughs. But when the workers, through delegates they control, take possession of the force the laugh will disappear, as it disappeared from the faces of the people composing each class that in the past lost political power and with it economic ownership. Space is too limited for me to give illustrations of this fact here, but you have only to ask and you will receive plenty of illustrations in a future number of this paper.
You ask us to unite with others in “the Labour movement.” But for what are we to unite? Mere unity is meaningless by itself. Are we to unite with the Labour Party to help the capitalists to obtain more profits and the workers to become more docile slaves? Are we to unite with people like J. R. Clynes? He is president of the League of the British Commonwealth that has issued a leaflet stating :
“The ‘League of the British Commonwealth’ demands, therefore, the nationalisation of our principal banks as the only permanent remedy for unemployment ; but this does not imply or involve the nationalisation of land, industry, or anything else.”
Masses of workers are Liberals, masses are Conservatives; do you want us to unite with either or both of these? You see, unity depends upon the objective and the means to obtain the objective. But I am forgetting, you consider political action to be useless, therefore I presume you are not in favour of uniting with bodies that urge the workers to action you consider useless?
If this is so, take care you are not throwing a boomerang. Take care some members of the Labour Party may not be accusing you of “splitting the ranks.”
From your letter it would appear that the fraction you favour is that rapidly diminishing quantity going under the name of Communist. But it is difficult to find out on what policy one could unite with the Communists, except on the policy of finding out that one is constantly making mistakes and must start again with a new shibboleth—rather a barren outlook you must admit.
You say the mass of the workers are out for the Workers’ Republic. Wake up, friend, your blissful dreams are far, far away from the truth. The mass of the workers are, alas, supporters of capitalism, and your foolish statement suggests to me that you mix very little with your fellow workers. Come down from your attic ot dreams and learn the realities of life before tendering advice to those who are engaged in the struggle for Socialism.
You wind up with the absurd statement that “we are all out for working-class control of the means and instruments of production and distribution.” If this is so, why all the fuss and propaganda? And why, above all, isn’t Socialism here now? Anyhow who are the “we” to whom you refer?
Finally people may be “out for” many things but the point is are they acting in a way that will obtain for them the object of their desires? I might be “out” to visit France but if I started from the North of England to swim there via Greenland there would not be much likelihood of my arrival. The means cannot be separated from the end. There are many people who claim to be “out for” Socialism, but their actions give the lie to the claim and push farther into the future the wished-for objective. The Labour Party, for instance, who urged the workers to take part in the late war, and who engage the attention of workers upon a multitude of questions that are of no value. Then there are also the Communists, who change their minds every few weeks; continually find out that they have been making mistakes; ask the workers to trust them completely, and then work might and main to drive the workers into the shambles.
We are of the working class, inside the working class, and working our hardest to assist our fellow workers to understand that in Socialism lies their only salvation; and that the only way to obtain Socialism, once understanding and desiring it, is to capture the political machinery from the capitalist so that we can dispossess them of the power they wield and the wealth they have stolen.
(Socialist Standard, October 1924)