1920s >> 1927 >> no-270-february-1927

Editorial: The Class Struggle. A lesson from Germany

There are large numbers of people who believe that discontent and social upheavals are caused by the propaganda of “agitators,” and conversely that they can be prevented by counter propaganda. For them Czarism was overthrown by Lenin, the miners’ strike was the work of Cook and the class struggle was created by Marx. They are unable to distinguish between the observation of facts and their causation. Marx did not preach the class war in the crude sense of desiring class hatred, either for its own sake or for any other purpose. What he did was to observe that in society as it existed before his eyes there was an employing, property-owning class and a propertyless employed class. No-one disputes this as the statement of an obvious truth, but for Marx it was not only interesting but also historically important. And having observed and examined the class division and consequent class struggle Marx rightly urged the need to apply this knowledge to current political movements. The workers must, he said, recognise that at bottom their movement, like the preceding movement by capitalists to establish and promote capitalism, is a class movement. It must eventually define clearly its class aim of transferring the means of production from private hands to the community. Marx never supposed that he, or other Socialists, “invented” the class struggle or the idea of Socialism. Socialism is the product of Capitalism in that the facts of the existing system gradually force themselves upon the notice of the workers. The task of the Socialist propagandist is to hasten recognition of the facts of social development by directing the workers’ attention to them.

The Socialist could not hope to propagate Socialist ideas outside of capitalist conditions or before the existence of capitalism. The propagandist with the Socialist idea is himself only the product of those conditions. A handful of Bolsheviks, intelligent and devoted though they may be, cannot build Socialist society in a country—Russia— which is overwhelmingly peasant in composition and organisation. They can and are doing the good work of speeding up development on modern industrial capitalist lines. Similarly unlimited capitalist propaganda in industrial Germany and England cannot prevent, it can only delay, the growth of Socialist ideas in the minds of the workers. It is with great pleasure that we read of an enquiry undertaken by the International Catholic Labour Unions “into the sentiments of those German workmen who are organised in the Roman Catholic ‘Christian Trade Unions’ which have a total membership of more than 600,000.” The enquiry is reported fully in the Manchester Guardian (January 1st, 1927) from which the following is reproduced :—

Views of Catholic Trade Unionists.
(From our Berlin Correspondent).

“The idea of “industrial peace” and of “reconciliation between workmen and employers” has been promoted with as great energy, skill and sincerity in Germany as in any other country. Leading German industrialists, even when they themselves are Conservative, have publicly declared that Germany cannot be governed without the help of the working class, and that Germany should have a coalition Cabinet in which the Socialist party is represented.

What German workmen themselves think of “industrial peace” has been rather a mystery, to which the Labour Press has given no satisfactory clue. But members of the Roman Catholic Centre party have, on behalf of the International Catholic Labour Unions, made an inquiry into the sentiments of those German workmen who are organised in the Roman Catholic “Christian trade unions,” which have a total membership of more than 600,000.

The result is of extraordinary and universal interest. The Christian trade union, which have been criticised as “unrevolutionary,” as subservient to the Church, and as hostile to the class war, form the moderate right wing of the German Labour movement.

The inquiry has been conducted with that complete honesty which the German Centre party always shows when it tries to establish facts that are important to itself. Questionnaires were circulated amongst the Roman Catholic clergy throughout the industrial districts of Germany as well as amongst the officials of the Christian trade unions. The following is a brief summary of the main subjects of the questions, as well as of the answers that were returned. Many of the answers are detailed enough to fill a book, and many were after long discussions with the workmen. In every case the questions relate to Roman Catholic workmen organised in the Christian trade unions.

The general tendency of the answers is to record growing enmity. The mildest expression used is “cold neutrality.” Other answers mention “estrangement,” “distrust,” “opposition,” “tension,” or speak of downright hostility. One answer says that the employers “have no soul and no conscience,” and another that “the purely capitalist attitude of most employers does not allow trustful co-operation to grow up. . . . In the factory the workman feels that he is not treated like a human being. … In public and political life he sees that the employers are, for the most part, on the side of reaction, and hostile to democracy.” The possibility of any improvement is denied. Some of the answers show that the industrial peace overtures made by German employers have aroused nothing but suspicion. Those employers who are themselves Roman Catholics are criticised with special severity. One answer says that “there is bitterness over the fact that Roman Catholic employers limit their Catholic ethics to their private lives and are anxiously concerned not to allow these ethics to appear in their business activities.” Many complaints are made about the “soullessness” of the big industrial concerns. Complaints from smaller factories and workshops, where a more personal relationship between employer and employed is still possible, are, on the whole, less acrimonious.

Intellectually and as a Christian the Roman Catholic workman condemns the class war. But, as many of the answers show, hostility towards the possessing classes has a deep emotional influence upon him. Workmen who have no property of their own and are entirely dependent on their wages are filled with a sense of insecurity and dependence. They feel an ever-deepening resentment, “especially when wealth is displayed before their eyes by the propertied classes. It is their daily experience that the propertied treat the non-propertied classes as beings of a lower order — nothing, indeed, embitters a workman more than this.”

A common fate in the years of revolution and inflation created some fellow-feeling between workmen and intellectuals, but almost all traces of this have vanished. It is only “in an occasional priest or an occasional physician that the workman sees a true friend nowadays.” Generally speaking he likes and respects the clergy who are engaged in welfare work, but the clergy and the Roman Catholic Church as a whole are losing their hold upon him. An answer from the Rhineland states that “one must be blind in both eyes not to see that the authority of the clergy is dwindling.”

There has been a great change; for whereas Roman Catholic workmen in Germany used to be hostile to Socialism, they are now no longer so, except in a purely theoretical manner. Almost all the answers agree on this point, although they vary in their attempts to explain it. In the economic struggle there is practically no difference between Socialist and Roman Catholic workmen. If the Church were to wage war on the Socialist movement, it could not, so the answers emphasise, expect the Roman Catholic workmen in Germany to show the slightest enthusiasm for such a war.

On the whole the prestige and the persuasive power of the Communist movement have diminished. It still takes a hold on those who think that Socialism is not coming quickly enough. Its influence on young and undeveloped workmen is considerable. The attempt to make Communism attractive to Roman Catholics by representing it as a kind of primitive Christianity has met with some success.

Youthful Roman Catholic workmen on the whole show great mental independence and an inclination towards Radicalism. They observe the formalities of the Catholic faith but without religious enthusiasm. There is a broad tendency amongst them to strive for a united trade union movement, irrespective of faith. Considerable numbers are attracted by the semi-military organisations of Fascist Right and Communist Left.”

Here we have extraordinary evidence of the truth of the materialist view of history. The highly organised, richly financed and skilful propaganda of the Roman Catholic Church is helpless against the educational effect of the actual conditions of working class life. Marx truly described religion as the “Opium of the People,” but to misquote a Biblical saying, “Man cannot live by opium alone.” In the long run he demands material comforts, and rejects the social system with the religious apologists for it, because they offer him the opium of religion when what he needs is bread.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, February 1927)

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