1920s >> 1928 >> no-286-june-1928

Ballot or Barricade Again: Mr. Chapman Tries Once More

East Street, S.E.17.

To the Editors of the “Socialist Standard.”

(1) I am writing again to the S.S., in the first place to admit that I made a mistake re Engels’ work, “Revolutionary Tactics.” I was quoting from memory, and in doing so I realise that I was “skating on very thin ice.” How­ever, Engels does give the support I claim in another of his works, which I will quote.

(2) H. says (page 139 of May issue, S.S.) “That after 1848 neither Marx nor Engels then or thereafter drew such a conclusion as he (I) fastens on them” (Column 1, page 139). This is not true! Engels in his article “Con­cerning Authority,” written in 1873, and pub­lished in “Plebs,” Jan., 1923, writes as fol­lows (page 27) :—”It (a revolution) is an act whereby a part of the population enforces its will upon the rest of the population—enforces its will by rifles, bayonets and big guns.” Also Engels says : “The party that gains the vic­tory must maintain its dominion by virtue of the terror which its weapons inspire in the hearts of the reactionaries.”

(3) The phrase I claim to be in Marx’s Address to the Communist League, was slightly altered, but really means the same thing. I hope H. will not quibble over a word. Here is Marx’s phrase, verbatim, from “The Labour Monthly,” Sept., 1922 (page 142) : It is a matter of course that in the future sanguinary conflicts, as in all previous ones, the working men by their courage, resolution and self-sacri­fice will form the main force in the attainment of victory.” Further on (same page) Marx says : “Far from opposing so-called excesses and making examples of hated individuals, or public buildings to which hateful memories are attached, by sacrificing them to popular revenge, such deeds must not only be tolerated, but their direction must also be taken in hand.” It is obvious that Marx himself took “violence” to mean “revolution.” I now challenge H. to state if he has any knowledge of any revolution that involved the total transformation of property- relations, that has taken place without violence ?

(4) Re Marx and the Franchise. Marx says : “The universal suffrage had served its historic purpose. The majority of the people had passed through an instructive stage of development to which the suffrage, in a revolutionary epoch, had supplied the materials. It had to be ended either by revolution on reaction” (“Inquiry into Dictatorship,” Max Beer, “Labour Monthly,” August, 1922, page 118). Max Beer (same page, next paragraph) says : “Marx particularly points out that universal suffrage ‘weakened the energy of the French people by habituating them to legal triumphs instead of revolutionary ones.

(5) Re the early dates of those works of both Marx and Engels, are they, together with their economic writings, out of date, or is this a non-sequitur? I should like to be enlightened on this point.

(6) As to the constitution: Does H. imagine it to be some mediaeval parchment like Magna Charta, hidden away in some museum or the Record Office, or is it only the “mode of government” in vogue to-day, which all “So­cialists” regard as a sham “democracy”? If H. means a tertium-quid by constitution, will he condescend to explain?

(7) Regarding the vagueness of my final ques­tion : In view of Marx’s declaration given above that “Universal suffrage has served its historic purpose,” then why waste time in opening election funds, and electing candidates into an utterly useless institution?

(8) According to the Logical Law of the Ex­cluded Middle, the S.P.G.B. is either Marxian or non-Marxian. Now ! (1) Marx advocated Violence. (2) The S.P.G.B. does not advocate violence, therefore (3) the S.P.G.B. is a non-Marxian party.

(9) Finally, to use an apologue, I am not like the man who lived in a garret, and whilst play­ing with an eighteenpenny box of chemicals, thought he had solved the “riddle of the universe.” I am ready to learn and study the “new Socialism” if the Socialism of Marx and Engels is out of date.

I now close, thanking H. of the S.S. for his answer to my first letter, and for keeping the discussion free from abuse.

I remain, Yours faithfully,


(10) N.B.—As to the letter H. quotes from Marx to Kugleman of Jan. 15, 1866, it was published long after Marx’s death. Marx hated the “Social Democracy,” and in his “Criticism of the (Gotha) Socialist Programme” of 1875 (pub­lished in the “Neue Zeit,” No. 18, 1890-1), Engels in his introductory notes (pages 3 and 4 of “Socialist Programme”) admits that he has deleted several harsh and acrimonious phrases used by Marx. This criticism teems with Marx’s scorn for “Democracy,” and on page 12, he says : “May we not, from the mere fact that the representatives of our Party have been capable of so gross a departure from the view generally accepted by the Party, deduce with how much levity they have set to work upon drafting this compromise programme !” All this shows that Marx had a strong bias against the ballot.


Mr. Chapman, abandoning several of his quotations, presents some more. Before dealing with them, it seems to be necessary to remind our correspondent that a policy is not proved to be sound because Marx or someone else said so. It is sound only if it is appropriate to the object in view, the obstacles to be overcome and the means available for overcoming them. Therefore, while it is necessary to correct Mr. Chapman’s misquotations “from memory,” it would be much more useful if discussion were confined to the important question of the proper policy to be applied by the workers here and now.

In paragraph 2 Mr. Chapman quotes pas­sages from Engels’ writings showing that Engels advocated violence. These pas­sages (he says, prove that what I wrote (in the May S.S.) “is not true.” Those who do not refer to what I did write will suppose that I denied that Engels advo­cated violence. Mr. Chapman takes half of a sentence of mine, puts a full-stop where I had a semi-colon and omits entirely my words indicating what was the conclusion that Marx and Engels “never drew.” The words Mr. Chapman omits follow directly on those he quotes, and were as follows : They never omitted to stress the import­ance of gaining control of the machinery of government, as distinct from destroying it.” Mr. Chapman’s quotations about vio­lence have nothing whatever to do with this policy of destroying the machinery of government as opposed to the policy advo­cated by Marx and Engels and ourselves of gaining control of it.

(3) Our correspondent blandly admits that he “slightly altered” the quotation from Marx. I can only say that quotations ought not to be “slightly altered.” Mr. Chapman completely ignores the fact, pointed out in my reply to his first letter, that the passage referred to is not Marx’s advice to the workers in the struggle for Socialism, but in the struggle alongside the capitalists to raise the capitalist class to power. Marx, writing about Germany in 1850, puts his statement under three headings :—

(i) During the continuation of the present conditions in which the petty bourgeoise democracy is also oppressed ” ;

(ii) In the ensuing revolutionary struggles which would give them momentary ascend­ancy “; and

(iii) “After those struggles, during the time of their ascendancy over the defeated classes and the proletariat.”

In Germany in 1850, before the rise of the capitalists to power, there was no vote for workers or capitalists, and Marx, in common with many of the revolutionary capitalists themselves, advocated an armed rising. Mr. Chapman quotes from Section (i) without mentioning the heading under which the passage appears. In section (iii), which deals with the period after the capitalists have attained power and after the vote has been won, Marx does not mention an armed struggle. He deals instead with the necessity of fighting elec­tions. Mr. Chapman does not quote from this section. Mr. Chapman ignores com­pletely the fact that the capitalist class in England achieved their victory over their feudal aggressors long before 1850. A policy which was appropriate under those, conditions is not appropriate under funda­mentally different conditions which exist here now. We are not fighting to raise the capitalist class to power, but to raise the working class to power. (The final part of this paragraph of Mr. Chapman’s letter is dealt with under paragraph 8.)


(4) Mr. Chapman here quotes two pas­sages about the struggles in France between 1848 and 1850, but he does not even men­tion that the passages refer to those par­ticular struggles. He fails to see that a statement made in 1850 about certain con­ditions which existed in France at that time, even if they correctly interpreted those conditions, cannot be lifted out of their context and applied to a quite differ­ent set of circumstances such as exist here to-day. In order to back up his misuse of the first passage, Mr. Chapman resorts to his apparently usual practice of “slightly altering” the words. Marx, referring to France in 1850, wrote, “The universal suffrage had served its historic purpose.” Mr. Chapman wants to give this particular statement a general application and repeats the quotation in paragraph (7) of his letter, but calmly altered ‘had’ into ‘has,’ in order to give the impression that Marx was writing about the suffrage in general. Mr.
Chapman’s view that Marx in 1850 con­sidered it impossible to be revolutionary and yet make use of Parliament is shown to be incorrect by the Address to the Communist League which was written at the same time as the passage Mr. Chapman misquotes. Marx wrote in the Addressas follows : Even in constituencies where there is no prospect of our candidate being elected, the workers must nevertheless put up candidates in order to maintain their independence, to steel their forces and to bring their revolutionary attitude and party views before the public. “


(5) I did not say that Marx and Engels were out of date. It is not a question of date but of widely differing conditions. As I point out above, a policy which was correct in the struggle by capitalists and workers to crush feudalism and introduce representative government, is not correct in the struggle to establish Socialism. Where Marx dealt with the policy for the latter struggle his views were extraordinarily sound, considering the relatively unde­veloped conditions of capitalism on which his observations were based.

(6) The constitution is, as Mr. Chapman remarks, the mode of government in vogue. Its strength and importance do not rest on any written document, but on the needs of the existing system of society. The capitalists cannot with impunity ignore the needs of their own economic system. Mr. Chapman does not explain what he means by “sham” democracy. The fact of importance is that the voters, at least 85 per cent. of whom are members of the working-class, vote overwhelmingly and voluntarily for capitalism at each election. They do this because they still believe that capitalism is the only possible system.

(7) I have already pointed out, in dealing with paragraph (4) of Mr. Chapman’s letter, that this alleged quotation is not as Marx wrote it, but as it appears after Mr. Chapman has “slightly altered” it.

(8) Mr. Chapman tries to present a simple argument in logical form, and by omitting two essential points, “proves” that the S.P.G.B. is a non-Marxian Party. He says : “Marx advocated violence” and “The S.P.G.B. does not advocate vio­lence.” These are two half-truths. Marx advocated an armed struggle to help the capitalist movement of 1850, but he also advocated a Parliamentary struggle for the period after the capitalists had come to power. (See Address to Communist League.) The S.P.G.B. advocates captur­ing the machinery of government by means of the vote in order, among other things, to control “the armed forces.” We wish to gain control of the forces which alone will make our “violence” effective should capitalist rebels use violent methods against the Socialist majority. Control of the machinery of government is the deciding factor. The violence is incidental. The lesson to be learned from the Fascist episode in Italy is not in the use of violence, but in the circumstance so often overlooked— that the Fascists became the rulers of Italy only because governments which had been democratically elected deliberately used their control of the political machinery and the regular armed forces to place Mussolini in power.

Mr. Chapman tells us that the workers must appeal to “force of arms” against the organised forces of the State while these are still controlled by the capitalist class. He ignores my question as to how he pro­poses to gather, train and equip his armed forces. That doctrine is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense.

(9) It is curious that Mr. Chapman, who finds it necessary to improve upon Marx and Engels by “slightly altering” their words, should accuse us of regarding them as out of date.

(10) If our correspondent questions the accuracy of the quoted text of the letters from Marx to Kugelman, it is up to him to give what he regards as the correct text and some evidence that his version is correct. Does he deny that Marx took an active part in the campaign for universal
suffrage ?

Mr. Chapman says that Marx’s comment on the Gotha Programme “teems” with his “scorn for Democracy,” but instead of quoting one of these “teeming” passages in which Marx “showed his scorn for Democracy,” Mr. Chapman quotes a pas­sage in which Marx denounces the programme as a “compromise.” “All this,” says Mr. Chapman with delicious lack of logic, “shows that Marx had a strong bias against the ballot.”

So that if I say that the programme of the I.L.P. is a compromising programme, this, according to Mr. Chapman, would prove that I “scorn Democracy” and that I “have a strong bias against the ballot.” Really, Mr. Chapman !


[EDITORIAL NOTE. —Correspondents must keep their letters short in view of the many questions continually needing reply in our limited space.]

(Socialist Standard, June 1928)

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