1920s >> 1926 >> no-259-march-1926

Socialism and parliamentary action

The following letter from a correspon¬dent in Glasgow is printed in full and our reply follows :—
To S.P.G.B.
The S.P.G.B., holds that supreme power in present day society is political, and is centred in Parliament, owing to the fact that Parliament controls the armed forces.
As proof of this, it is stated that Parliament votes the necessary money for maintaining the armed forces, from year to year. The S.P.G.B. say that to get control of the armed forces is to get control of political power; and logically deduce from this that when a class-conscious majority of the electorate sends Socialists to Parliament they will control the armed. forces. That, from that day forward, “everything in the garden will be lovely,” and that Capitalism will die a sudden death.
But I am afraid that there are one or two things the S.P.G.B. has forgotten, such as, that Parliament only controls the armed forces when the Capitalist class have a majority there; that, as a Socialist majority will not take away their (the Capitalists’) money, the latter will still be able to pay (and handsomely at that) for the maintenance of the armed forces. This, the more easily, since the officers are all members of the Capitalist class. For proof of this it has only to be stated that it takes more than the pay or salary of an officer to maintain his position, as such. As everybody knows, most of the wartime “officers” are to-day on the bureau, or begging on the streets. That the Capitalist class are preparing for “the day” is surely obvious to anyone who “has eyes to see,” when organisations such as the Secret Service, O.M.S., Fascisti, etc., are already in existence and for a purpose which they do not seek to hide.
Also we should not lose sight of the fact that “specials” and other auxiliary forces (Black and Tans) were organised at short notice when occasion demanded, in the past.
The Logic of this is that Capitalism will be abolished like all past systems of society, not through the method of capturing Parliament, but at the barricades. Further does the S.P.G. B. deny that Finance Capital through the medium of the cabinet, dictates the policy of Parliament?
Hoping that this communication is published in full when answered.
Yours for Revolution,


The above letter contains the usual anarchist objections to political action which have been answered continually in the “Socialist Standard.”

In the first place, we must correct some crude mis-statements of our critic. We do not say that “everything in the garden will be lovely” when a class-conscious working class controls Parliament. The capture of the political machinery is, as Marx says in the Communist manifesto, the first step which must be taken to obtain emancipation. The succeeding conditions may be quite unlovely, depending upon the circumstances of the time and the degree of counter-revolution attempted.

The statement that Parliament only controls the armed forces whilst Capitalists are in the majority in Parliament is pure bunkum. Parliament is a machine which arose and evolved long before Capitalism. The tremendous outlay of finance and effort on the part of Capitalists to assure that the workers vote for Capitalist candidates and their lackeys shows how important control of Parliament is. Then we are told that Socialist control of Parliament will allow Capitalists to have the money to pay for the upkeep of the armed forces for their own use.

The actual fact is that the armed forces are maintained out of funds voted by Parliament. These huge sums are obtained from taxation paid by the employers out of the surplus extracted from the result of the workers’ labour. This exploitation will stop when the workers control political power and hence the funds out of which Capitalists can pay armies will cease.

The Capitalist system could not be run by bodies of employers hiring some armed bands to attack the whole working class. Capitalism depends, upon the regular and smooth conduct of affairs under which the wheels of industry can turn, commerce be carried on and profits be obtained. Therefore a constitution with delegated functions and a Parliament controlling nationally the forces of repression is an essential thing to the life of Capitalism in all “advanced” countries.

Therefore, the resolute efforts of all those aiming at conquest of the social powers to control the political machine.

Mussolini in Italy or Lenin in Russia, or the worldwide struggles of rising Capitalists—each had to first of all conquer political power as represented in the political machinery of each country.

Our policy is framed for the country in which we live, and according to existing conditions.

Parliament being the central machine of the present constitution, we are compelled to control it in our own interests as a working class.

Should the Capitalists destroy the constitution, the situation would be changed and the detail policy of the workers would be different. But this assumption of destruction of Parliamentary institutions reckons without the facts of economic life. In destroying the constitution the Capitalists would cripple their system. Capitalism in advanced countries depends upon government by elected authority, local and national and the disruption of these bodies would result in chaos, not in a system. The incitement to open warfare resulting from the abolition of Parliament would prevent that ordered working of affairs upon which Capitalism depends.

After denying the power of Parliament, our critic admits its importance and its power by pointing out that finance capital dictates the policy of Parliament.

It is obvious, then, even to our confused critic, that not merely content with having the finance, the financiers find it essential to influence the policy of Parliament. That they can do so is due to the fact that it is in the interest of their fellow Capitalists in Parliament to carry out the wishes of the bankers, etc. A Socialist working class intent upon abolishing Capitalism would have a policy directly in conflict with the interests of Capitalists—financial or industrial, and the day of Parliament carrying out the wishes of the Capitalists would be over.

While “Anti-Parley” states that the army is officered by the Capitalists, he also tells us that there is a large number of officers on the dole. Does that show that officers belong to the Capitalist class? Actually it shows that when Parliament votes no funds for them they are sacked—then they are on the dole. Officers in the main are not Capitalists. The Capitalists being few, are compelled to hire the workers to run the system, and also the civil and military forces to control it. Further, officers are helpless without an army and the army acts not according to its officers but according to instructions which are given by those in charge of political power.

If the officers do not carry out these instructions they are liable to severe punishment apart from losing their position. Our critic’s reference to the large number of officers on the dole shows how rapidly they can be trained and how many are available. If our critic studied history, recent history, he would know that officers, to maintain themselves, are compelled to transfer their allegiance to those who control political power and who can give them jobs. Look at the huge number of German officers who took well paid jobs to organise the famous Red Army of Russia. Look at the helpless state of the Czarist officers in March, 1917, when the rank and file revolted.

We are next told that the capitalists are preparing for “the day” by forming the O.M.S., Fascists, etc. These bodies depend for success upon recruiting the workers to their ranks and while they can obtain a large measure of working class support it shows the need for Socialist propaganda, for until the mass of the workers understand their class interests, they cannot be expected to act in the interests of their class.

The dangerous and misleading alternative to Parliamentary action offered by our critic is—the barricades. What, then, becomes of his argument about the officers of the Capitalist class being in command of the Army? How can unarmed workers fight the army?

In these days of powerful instruments of death dealing and after the experiences of the World War—we are told by our anarchist opponent to throw up some barricades ! The lessons of the Paris Commune, of the Rand, of Munich, of Hungary, etc., are all lost on our “anti-parley” friend. Read Engels’s introduction to Marx’s “Class Struggles in France” (1895) on the insanity of barricades in face of modern developments !

Apparently our critic has been listening to the anarchist element denouncing Parliament and as neither the anarchists nor he falls back upon the policy that reactionaries everywhere have tried to get the workers to adopt so that they can drown them in blood.

Barricade or bombs, chemical parcel post or street fights—our opponents advocate everything except the one policy—Socialist knowledge, Socialist organisation and Socialist political action by the mass of the working class.

As seen in our opponents’ alternative, the enemies of political action become dangerous to the working class.


(Socialist Standard, March 1926)

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