1920s >> 1928 >> no-281-january-1928

Socialism and Anti-Parliamentarism

Held at Friars Hall, Blackfriars, 20/11/27.

Comrade Fitzgerald commenced his lecture by pointing out the erroneous definitions of Socialism which were being spread about by Capitalist agents in order to breed confusion in the minds of the Working Class. For that reason, he went on to say, it was especially necessary to define Socialism. Two false definitions were (1) that Socialism meant a system of sharing-out; (2) that Socialism was a system of rationing. The word “Socialism” was taken from the word “Society.” The Economic League denied there was any system in society; they claimed that there had always been one method of “getting things done” and that was the present one, which had always existed. They allowed only for changes in the details of the management of society. The Socialist, however, took the evidence in front of him and held that changes in the system had taken place. When the Socialist laid down that he was out for Socialism, he wanted a system of society where those things necessary for the maintenance of life itself would be owned by society as a whole. Socialism meant the social ownership of the things necessary to maintain life—land, railways, machinery, plant, etc. The products would be individually owned and consumed. That definition should be kept clearly in mind. The idea that we would all use the same toothbrush was sheer nonsense. Another bogey put forward was that Socialism would restrict individuality. Individuality was already restricted when it entered Society.

In capitalist society we had the contradiction of over-production with the majority of the people lacking the necessities of life. To-day the present system was known as capitalism, and the troublesome task with which it was faced was the finding of markets for its products. This was due to the fact that the things made were produced for SALE and not to satisfy the needs of society. The things necessary to maintain life were privately owned by a small section in society, a section which took no part in production. The working class changed the raw material into the finished articles. The working class received money—a medium of exchange—for their services, but they could only purchase a small portion of the things produced with that money. The rest of the products which the working class could not buy because their purchasing power was so limited, had to be exported into other countries after the capitalist class had consumed as much as it could. Even the capitalist consumption was limited and so the capitalists were still faced with the problem of over-production. The basic factor of wars was the struggle of the capitalists to find markets and routes for their products. There was no economic solution and the capitalists could only meet the difficulty for the time being by maintaining, as they are doing to-day, but in still greater proportions, those members of the working class who were unemployed. It was a fault in the working of the system. The only solution was to harmonise production and ownership by society taking control of the means of production and the instruments for the converting of the raw material into the articles we require, and owning socially, product socially—i.e., for the needs of Society and not for the profits of a class, The question was how was this to be done—there was only one manner of doing it and that was by the members of society desiring it should be so—it was not going to happen behind one’s back as some people fondly imagined. The human factor was necessary to change the present conditions. The only class interested in that change was the working class—it was to their interest that the capitalist system should be wiped out. How’, then, to bring about Socialism? In the ultimate—it was power. The workers had, therefore, to examine the situation and decide how they could get that necessary power into their hands. Political power was the essential for bringing about the change. There was a great deal of confusion about the meaning of political power, and a great deal of superstition. Some thought the vote was merely a bauble to amuse the working class. Others that since politics were corrupted, the workers should not dabble in them, but should devote themselves to the pure, dean, atmosphere of economic action. That action did not look so pure now—with its Black Friday of the Triple Alliance and its blacker Wednesday of the so-called General Strike. These notions, whether springing from personal experience or manufactured by people whose interest it was to spread confusion, were due to a misunderstanding of what politics meant. The working class had not grasped the historical side of the matter. They join a political party and they see underhand trickery going on that they sicken of the whole business because they do not understand politics. The ordinary dictionary told you that the word “Politics” was the name given to the “Science of the State”—that was not sufficient. Politics had their basis in the organisation of society itself and in the early days when arrangements had to be made for common purposes, those restrictions, arrangements, etc., were the politics of that time.

The Development of Politics.—In the regulations of the tribal communities we have the first stages of the development of the political machine. The technical term for a meeting of the tribes was “the Phratry.” Tribes would be organised according to their conditions of obtaining a living. Some would live by plunder and others by agriculture. Beyond the Tweed, we find the terms “Highlander” and “Lowlander” still surviving. They had their origin in the two methods of organisation, i.e.. The Highlanders for plunder, and the Lowlanders for agriculture. We have remnants of this type of tribal organisation in India on the North-West Frontier.
In this country we can go back to the days of the Anglo-Saxon invasion when the Anglo-Saxon tribes divided the land between them, probably, into the different “shires” that exist to this day. A unit of division was very often one hundred soldiers, one of these divisions in use to-day is “The Chiltern Hundreds.” It was interesting to remark that the only way for an M.P. to resign from Parliament to-day was by applying for the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds which are non-existent, otherwise he was technically unable to resign.
The first form of National Council was the Witenagemote composed of representatives of the different shires. In the 13th Century Simon de Montfort summonsed together the first “Parliament” for the consideration of ways and means of carrying on wars. It was then too that the towns were first represented. In King John’s time we found the Barons holding a council and refusing to suffer the despotic John to tax as he pleased, and at Runnymede the Magna Charter was signed, which provided among other things that no man should be sent abroad without his consent.
The Position with Regard to Kings.— Foreign writers were apt to point to the instance of the deposition and beheading of Charles the First as unique in English History, but this king had a predecessor in King Richard II, who was deposed during the year 1399, and superseded by Henry IV, who was crowned by a “general election” of the barons. So the Right of Kings was not only challenged, but brought to its logical conclusion. The 16th century marked intense development in politics. The merchant class was rising; the New World had been discovered; enormous markets were opened for produce and commerce and enormous areas were found for plunder. Trouble began to brew over the demands of King Charles I that finally led to a rupture between the King and Parliament. It is interesting to note here that Charles had formed stores of ammunition near the Border in preparation for a war with Scotland. When the clash between the King and Parliament came, the Parliament sent its officials to seize those stores, which was promptly done. Colonel Hutchinson in his “Memoirs,” has reported an amusing incident where the authority of Parliament set the authority of the King at naught, and the official sent to take the supplies for the King was denied by the officer in charge who wanted Parliament’s authority first. The King was beheaded.
The rigid rule of the Puritans led to a temporary reaction, and then the Restoration of Charles II. But the Stuarts had learnt little and James II tried to restore the “Divine Right of Kings.” This led to the Rebellion of 1688, and the placing of William of Orange—as William III—on the Throne. But William was only made King on condition that he accepted the Constitution that kept the real power in the hands of Parliament, and he signed a declaration to that effect. This illustrated the power of Parliament and the importance of political power.
In 1832 the Reform Bill was passed, which completed the control of power by the capitalist class. Political machinery, is, therefore, the method of managing the affairs of any given society. It is not a bauble—it is a factor grown out of the development of society itself.
To-day, the workers perform all the useful functions in society. Occasionally a capitalist may amuse himself by going into the office to dabble in business, but as a class, the capitalists preferred to spend their time at the gambling tables of Monte Carlo or yachting in the Mediterranean, etc. Some people said that it was the capitalist class who provided the brains. What, then, happened when a capitalist died? Surely in such a case the business must die with him —but what did we find?—more often than not the business went on better than during his life, at all events it did not immediately die. The truth was that brains were bought, and the brains were supplied by the working class. Since the capitalist performed no useful function, the logical deduction was that those who did all the work should enjoy the results. Why didn’t they? It was not a question of numbers—the workers were in the majority. Why didn’t they take control of the means of production for themselves? Simply because if they had attempted to do so they would have had to meet the forces of the Nation—the army, the aircraft, etc. The army, however, is composed of working men, and even the officers, bar the fashionable regiments like the Guards, are working men—they sell their “professional services” for their livelihood. How, then, did the capitalist control the Army? It was a question of supplies. First, the law sanctioning the Army, etc., is passed by Parliament. Then the supplies necessary to maintain and increase these Forces are voted in the Annual Budget. Lastly, the instructions and general orders are sanctioned by Parliament before they can be put into operation, The control of the Fighting Forces is therefore in the hands of those controlling the political machinery.
Another point, not so well known, is that a Standing Army—for more than a year—is illegal in this country. How then does this Army continue in existence ? By the following method. Every year a Bill called the Renewal of Expiring Acts Bill is passed in the House of Commons. One of the items in that Bill is the renewal of the Army. So that even to continue the Army the control of Parliament is necessary. Since 1867, when the Ten Pound Franchise Bill was passed, the workers have had the majority of votes. The workers, therefore, have ample means to get control of that machine politically. The anarchist says Parliament is no good.
The Anarchists.—There are two sets of Anarchist Groups, one believes that an individual should be entirely free and that action should be confined to economic lines —i.e.. striking, etc. That a General Strike would wipe out capitalism. They ignore the fact that the first people to suffer are the working class, who have the smallest supplies. A General Strike, therefore, means General Starvation.
Moreover they are quite unable to show how unarmed workers could face the fighting forces, particularly with the latter’s powerful modern weapons of destruction.
The other set believes that syndicates should be organised by the workers in the industries for the purpose of taking over these industries and that each section should be confined to its own trade, i.e., the bakers—the bakery, the miners—the mines, etc. This was known as Syndicalism. It was absurd to isolate the workers in that manner—to put the miners in charge of the mines, the sewermen in charge of the sewers, and the lunatics, presumably, in charge of the asylums. (Laughter.) Production was social, the miner depended on the baker for his bread, and the baker depended on the miner for his coal, etc.
About 1905 a scheme was formulated in Chicago that had for its method the “taking and holding” of the means of production without a political party. The body then formed was called the Industrial Workers of the World. When asked how they could hold the means of production the answer usually given was “by locking out the capitalist.” As the capitalist is hardly ever in the factory this did not seem a very hopeful procedure. When asked what power the workers could bring against the armed forces they had no answer, though later on they developed the notion of physical force— a piece of sheer lunacy while the capitalist control political power. The Anti-Parliamentarists, such as Guy Aldred, who ranted about the uselessness of the political machine, were unable to find a substitute. The Socialist Society, in its first stages, may have to maintain a standing army, and it will be the workers then who will determine that question. Having this control, through the political machine, the workers will be able to obtain and distribute what they require.