1920s >> 1926 >> no-263-july-1926

Democracy and the Class Struggle

Ever since the Bolshevik’s coup of 1917, the idea has been widely fostered by their would-be imitators that “democracy” is nothing but a bourgeois snare and a delusion. In the mouths of these so-called Communists, however, the term has meant nothing more than the sham article offered to the workers by the political parties which trade upon delusions.

Conservative, Liberal and “Labour” politicians have all paid lip-service to the popular will and have just as readily ignored it and resorted to the use of force whenever it has suited their purpose. The war of 1914-18 was a glaring example of the contempt which these leaders of the people entertain for their followers.

The Communists, however, while indulging in fiery denunciation of “sober,” “respectable,” “eminently practical,” “legal,” “Parliamentary,” opportunism, have not offered, as an alternative, anything more satisfying than a crazy and erratic opportunism which exaggerates the importance of industrial action, and regards a street-fight as a revolution. They invite the workers to jump out of the frying-pan into the fire.

The Socialist Party insists upon the necessity for the education and organisation of the workers on the basis of the class struggle and this involves a constant loyalty to democratic methods. This necessity follows logically from its object, i.e., “Socialism.”

The workers can only acquire possession in common of the means of life by conscious collective action, and they can only exercise control thereof when they are prepared to assert themselves as a class.

The Socialist Party, therefore, opposes, not only the orthodox capitalist parties (Liberal and Tory) but the so-called Right and Left Wings of the alleged “Labour” movement.

The “Right Wing” professes to be able to use the political machinery in the interests of the workers without first having laid the foundations of political triumph in a clear understanding of its objects and conditions.

Instead of imparting to the workers a sound knowledge of their position in capitalist society, it simply accepts the illusions already prevalent and plays up to them for the purpose of catching votes.

Thus the workers imagine themselves to be free citizens, payers of rates and taxes with an interest in the day-to-day administration of capitalist society; and the Labour politicians thereupon adopt programmes of reforms based upon the alleged necessity of “economy” or “wise expenditure.” Their policy presupposes the continued existence of capitalism, and they can, therefore, be nothing more than the tools of capitalist interests, no matter what their motives or intentions may be.

The Left Wing trades upon the repeated disappointment of the workers with their official political leaders. Every act of treachery, every blunder into the enemy’s hands is hailed by the Left as a reason for a change of leadership; yet, in practice, the leaders of the Left never fail to follow in the footsteps of those whom they displace. The industrial leader seizes the first opportunity to set his foot upon the loftier ladder of political ambition; the Left is thus continually melting into the Right.

This is inevitable, for the simple reason that the policy of “industrial action,” as such, is as barren of benefit to the workers as that of parliamentary reform. The existing Trade Unions are quite incapable of effectively meeting the continual encroachments of modern capitalism upon the workers’ standard of life. Nothing less than a complete change of outlook and re-organisation of the working class can convert a chaotic retreat into an orderly advance.

This, however, implies Socialist education; and the leaders of the Left are as loath as those of the Right to undertake this slow and arduous task. It is easier to make showy promises, to tickle the ears of the workers with flattery, and to occupy their attention with personalities rather than with principles.

The Socialist, however, knows and proclaims that conditions and not leaders give rise to movements. So long as the workers see no further than the effects of capitalism and aspire no higher than to battle with those effects, just so long will they trust in leaders to guide them. The underlying causes of poverty, however, become more obvious as time goes on. Increasing numbers of workers are beginning to realise that the ownership of the means of life is the central factor in their common problems, and the leaders of to-day have a less easy task than their predecessors had to arrest the onward march of working-class knowledge. That is the principal reason for the palpable divisions among those leaders, and the constant danger of internal break-up which is characteristic of the “Labour Movement.”

The industrial and political organisation of the workers does not arise from an idea fallen from the clouds. The Trades Unions originated in the first early struggles of the factory-hands to prevent themselves being reduced to a level from which they could never hope to rise. They were the instinctive defence against capitalist aggression; but these working-class pioneers were early forced to see that they were obliged to take into account a greater power than the individual capitalist. At every turn they were met by the actions of the Government, the agent of the master-class as a whole. For years they were engaged in a bitter struggle to secure their unions from legal extinction. Hence they saw the necessity for political power, and supported the Chartist Movement, which aimed at the obliteration of class-distinctions in the political field.

The original connection between democracy and the class struggle is thus plain. Just as bureaucracy in all its forms exists only to preserve capitalist interests, so democracy is the logical political expression of working-class interests.

This is in no way altered by the fact that the franchise was conceded by the master-class to serve their own ends. The concession merely indicates that at the present stage of industrial development power lies, in the last resort, at the disposal of the workers. So long as the workers lack the necessary organisation, the masters will utilise their support; but from the workers’ point of view, the franchise has only one meaning. It is the instrument of emancipation. As such, the most enlightened of the Chartists regarded it, and the Socialist merely preserves the lessons of experience, keeping in line with the historical development of the working-class.

The pioneers, who penned the “Communist Manifesto,” took the same view. “The bourgeoisie itself . . . furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie” (page 14). “All the previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the majority” (page 15).

“The first step in the revolution by the working-class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.” “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the working-class organised as the ruling class” (page 21).

Similarly, Marx, in “Value, Price and Profit,” refers to the fact that “This very necessity for general political action affords proof that in its merely economic action capital is the stronger side” (page 50), while Engels again, in “Socialism; Utopian and Scientific,” advances the proposition that “The proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the socialised means of production into public property.” To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and, thus, the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific Socialism” (pages 86-87).

To this task we of the Socialist Party have set our hands. Others may attempt to lead the half-awakening mass back into the camp of the enemy, or to lure them, unprepared, to the shambles. The Socialist Party avoids both the Scylla of the vote-catching reformer on the one hand, and the Charybdis of the minority movement fanatic on the other hand.

We seek to instil into the minds of the members of our class the facts that they are slaves needing emancipation, and that they may achieve it when they will by using the powers lying to their hands. Thus, for us, democracy is not something which resides all ready in a bourgeois Parliament. On  the contrary, it can spring into life only with the conscious self-assertion of the working-class majority having for its object the emancipation of all mankind through the abolition of the private ownership of the means of life.

Eric Boden

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