Revolution and its opponents
It has often been necessary to deal in these columns with misrepresentations that have been made on the subject of revolution, and to explain what Socialists mean when referring to the social revolution.
The matter may be discussed again, however, in view of the recent references to it in the Press and in Parliament.
By the term “revolution” is meant that complete change in the relationship between the classes in society, and the fundamental change in the institutions of society that are brought about by the rise to power of a class that has hitherto been held in subjection. And the Socialist, when he speaks of the social revolution, refers to those changes in society which will be brought about when the working class, holding political supremacy, is the dominant class in society, and takes possession of the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution.
This object and this method are, of course, in the strongest contrast to the object and policy of the Labour Party.
The Labour Party is a reformist organisation engaged in advocating the patching up of the present system of society. Although some of its leaders are termed Socialists, and at times have claimed that title, they have time and time again made it quite clear that they are nothing other.than reformers, and, as such, are to be ranked with the reformers of the Liberal, Tory, and other parties.
Mr. MacDonald’s concern for the maintenance of the capitalist system is by no means new. In the course of a debate with Mr. J. St. Leo Strachev on the 11th May, 1908, Mr. MacDonald said :
“Moreover you must not imagine that the Socialist simply stands for labour. That is the profound mistake so many of you make. We are the greatest friends the capitalist has got. The Socialist, properly understood, is a better friend of the capitalist than anybody else.”
Mr. Philip Snowden, recently Chancelier of the Exchequer, wrote an article in 1922 entitled “How Far is the British Labour Party Socialist?” (Manchester Guardian Commercial. Reconstruction in Europe, Section 9, October 26th, 1922). In the course of this article Mr. Snowden says :
“The British Labour Party is certainly not Socialist in the sense in which Socialism is understood upon the Continent. It is not based upon the recognition of the class struggle; ...”
Further on he observes that the Labour Party “emphatically repudiates such absurdities as the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’” After touching upon the Labour Party’s Constitution, Mr. Snowden continues :
“In view of the foregoing, it may now be said that while the British Labour Party has the Socialist aim in its constitution, while carefully avoiding describing it as Socialism, in fact, its programme is limited to the nationalisation, with democratic management, of the land, the mines, the railways, and other services, which are of the nature of monopolies.”
In 1922 “its programme is limited.” Decidedly. And in 1924, it may be remarked, the Labour Government’s actions are still further limited. They are limited by the requirements of the capitalist class. An excellent idea of the limitations that would operate on Labour Party policy was given some years ago by one of “the greatest friends the capitalist has got”—as the Prime Minister described himself. On May 5th, 1911, Mr. MacDonald spoke as follows in the course of a debate with Mr. Hilaire Belloc :
“Says Mr. Belloc, we have never confiscated anything yet, and therefore we are no good. Well, we have confiscated a good many things. I will tell you what we have confiscated. We have confiscated a shilling in the £ of Belloc’s income. And if he’s fortunate enough to have any of his income invested in the funds, we have confiscated a little bit more.”
In the same debate Mr. Belloc asked :
“What step have you taken, MacDonald—you and yours—in the direction of transferring the means of production from those who own into the hands of those who do not own, individually or collectively?”
Mr. MacDonald replied : “Income Tax.”
The Labour Party, then, in spite of what Mr. Snowden calls “the Socialist aim in its constitution,” is seen to be merely a social reform party. The utterances of its leaders, as well as the actions of the Labour Government, show that it is quite as firm in its support of the capitalist system as are any of the other reformist parties.
The real cause of the slavery of the working class is not touched by any of the reforms advocated by any of these parties. The cause of that slavery, with its poverty and insecurity, is the private ownership of the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution. It is true that the capitalist mode of production, with its property basis, was necessary for the development of the instruments of production to their present stage of efficiency. But the development of the machinery of production has long since reached the stage necessary for the production of the means of life in abundance for the whole of society. The present system is based, however, upon production of commodities for profit. The struggle for markets wherein to sell these commodities becomes keener and keener, especially as the capitalist mode of production, with its more and more efficient machinery, extends in the one-time backward countries. Wars, commercial crises extending over long periods of years, unemployment, and the reduction in the workers’ standards of living—these are some of the consequences of this struggle for markets. More commodities are produced than can be sold for a profit. Therefore restrictions are deliberately put upon production itself. This is not always done openly, but cases occur, and have been restored to in order to promote an artificial scarcity.
The essential facts of the situation cannot be disputed by the reformist apologists of capitalism. Natural material exists in plenty, but must not be used. At the same time vast numbers of people capable of useful work will either be engaged on useless tasks or remain unemployed. The capitalist ownership is seen clearly to be a hindrance to production.
While capitalism lasts, therefore, the working class must remain in their present condition of slavery, always faced with the prospect of unemployment and forced to struggle continuously against reductions in their standard pf living. On the one hand the worker is told by the MacDonalds that his conditions are gradually improving—that he is receiving dose after dose of “Socialism.” On the other hand he is told by the Sir Allan Smiths that competition in the world market renders necessary a smaller cost of production with a lower wage for the worker. As for those workers whose masters cater for the home, market, they also are frankly told that their wages are much too high in comparison with those of the more skilled workers.
Socialism, the remedy for the workers’ slavery, cannot be brought about gradually, as the reformers would try to persuade their dupes. It can only be brought about by dispossessing the master class of the means of wealth production, and that cannot take place until the working class has made itself the ruling class in society. To accomplish this the proletariat must win political power, which means the control of the armed forces of the State. By this revolutionary method alone will it be possible to abolish private property in the means and instruments of wealth production and to substitute production for use for production for profit.
A. C. A.
(Socialist Standard, May 1925)