1920s >> 1928 >> no-288-august-1928

Correspondence: Ballot or Barricade? Mr. Chapman’s Last Word

To the Editor of the socialist standard.

(1) “H,” in his reply to my second letter in the June issue of the “S.S.,” tries to make enormous capital from my slightly altered quota­tion from Marx, so will you kindly state the fact that it merely consisted of substituting bloody struggles” for Marx’s “sanguinary conflicts.”

(2) Against the two letters that “H” quotes in the May issue of the “S.S.,” re Marx to Kugelman on the Franchise (both are dated 1866), 1 will quote the one of April, 1871, re the policy of smashing instead of conquering the political machine : “If you look again in the last chapter of my ’18th Brumaire’ you will find my (Marx’s) opinion that the next French Revolution will no more attempt to transfer the bureau­cratic military state machinery from one hand to another, but will try to break it in pieces.” (Published in the “Labour Monthly,” August, 1922.) Again Marx in his work, “Revolution and Counter Revolution,” Chapter 9, page 68, writes: “When Radetzky, in his camp beyond the Adige, received the first orders from the responsible ministers at Vienna, he exclaimed : Who are these ministers? They are not the government of Austria ! Austria is now nowhere but in my camp; I and my army, we are Austria; and when we shall have beaten the
Italians, we shall reconquer the Empire for the Emperor !’ And old Radetzky was right—but
the imbecile ‘responsible ministers’ at Vienna heeded him not.

(3) “H” says (page 150, June “S.S.”), that conditions were different in 1850, etc., and that a policy fit for those times no longer applies. I say that the conditions of the workers were the same in 1850 (in a general sense) as they are now, and that the proletariat at that time were faced with the same fundamental problem as they are now, viz., the forcible overthrow of the bourgeoisie.

(4) “H” says (in the May issue of the “S.S.,” page 141) : “If the workers are com­pelled (in the event of a revolution) to make use of their economic organisation to bring indus­try to a standstill, and to appeal to the armed forces for support,” etc. This has been tried and found wanting in the General Strike of 1926, and with what result? That the present sham democratic government was revealed in its true colours, viz., that it is a bourgeoise military dic­tatorship—Stratocracy !

(5) I should like an academic party like the S.P.G.B. to explain to me the following:—If universal suffrage could emancipate the workers, the tyrants in power would have abolished it years ago !

I remain, Yours faithfully,

Robert Chapman.

N.B.—The onus of explaining how the workers are to be armed, trained, etc., does not rest on me, but on the S.P.G.B., who talk so lightly of conquering the political machinery, and estab­lishing Socialism. I cannot believe that the bourgeoisie would give up their property with­ out a blood-bath.

p.s.—Brevity owing to Editor’s note :—The position that the S.P.G.B. takes up with regard to the Vote is extraordinary in its childish sim­plicity, and amounts, in effect, to this :—Before a General Election S.P.G.B.’s will say: “Dear Comrades, Just put an X on a card (of so great a value) and everything in the garden will be lovely.” What a revolutionary party ! The Party, in my opinion, fails to realise the enor­mous obstacles in our path to Socialism.

Robert Chapman.


(1) The important point was to know whether Mr. Chapman’s alleged quotation came from the section of the address to the Communist League which dealt with the tactics to be pursued in helping the capi­talist class to power, or from the section which dealt with the ensuing period after the capitalists had gained control. Until I had from Mr. Chapman the correct wording it was impossible to tell from which section he was quoting. As I have twice pointed out, Marx does not urge the use of armed force for the latter period.

(2) Mr. Chapman quotes from the “Labour Monthly” what purports to be a letter from Marx to Kugelmann. This letter, says Mr. Chapman, is about “the policy of smashing instead of conquering the Political Machine.” He then quotes from the letter and fails to observe that Marx does not even mention the ” political machinery.” Mr. Chapman evidently did not trouble to look up the last chapter in the “18th Brumaire” to which Marx refers. If he will refer to page 142 (Kerr’s edition, 1914), he will see that Marx describes the “tremendous bureaucratic and military organisation” of the then French Govern­ment. It is this which must be destroyed, not the political machinery itself. In the last chapter of the “18th Brumaire,” as in all the other passages and works referred to by Mr. Chapman in this and previous
letters, there is no statement made by Marx which will support Mr. Chapman’s policy of
fighting the armed forces of the State, as distinct from gaining control of the politi­cal machinery.

Mr. Chapman instances Radetzky to prove that the workers need not obtain con­trol of the political machinery, and of the armed forces of the capitalist state. As usual, Mr. Chapman ignores most of the deciding factors of the situation. He for­gets that the revolutionaries failed; and that Radetzky was in command of the only effective army in Austria; that the Austrian Emperor had never relinquished power, and had only made certain concessions to the Viennese revolutionaries (including the dismissal of Metternich) expressly at Radetzky’s instruction because the latter rightly considered that the Viennese were not worth serious consideration and could be dealt with at leisure ; that Radetzky’s troops were fully engaged in the much more serious business of the war with Piedmont; and that the revolutionary committee repre­sented no one outside Vienna and only a minority of the Viennese. As soon as the Italian war was settled, the Viennese revolutionaries were dealt with without the least difficulty.

Thus, the Emperor who controlled the political machinery of the Empire (except temporarily in Vienna itself) and the only effective armed forces, defeated the rebels. This, says Mr. Chapman, proves that the workers can use armed force against the capitalist class who control the political machinery and the only armed force. We fail to follow Mr. Chapman’s reasoning.

(3) The proletariat in Germany in 1850 were not faced with the same problem as faces the workers in Great Britain now. They were a small minority and their task was to aid the capitalists to destroy the feudal monarchy. How could they “‘over­throw the bourgeoisie” when the bourgeoisie were not yet in power? The workers here are the great majority, and their task is to destroy capitalism, not to put the capitalists into power.

(4) In 1926 there was no “general strike” of a Socialist working-class. The working-class were then and are now over­whelmingly anti-Socialist; only a small minority (about 25 per cent.) were orga­nised in trade unions, and only a minority of these were on strike. The workers had not voted Socialist and been faced with the revolt of a capitalist minority. On the con­trary, they had in 1924 placed the capitalist class in possession of the political machinery and the armed forces. There is no “sham” at all about the support given by the great majority of the workers to capi­talist candidates. It is an unfortunate fact.

I do not know what is meant by “a Bourgeoise Military Dictatorship Strato­cracy/’ and cannot therefore say whether Baldwin’s Government is one or not.

(5) The capitalist class do not abolish the suffrage because the problems of the capitalist system compel them to adopt repre­sentative government as a basis for the administration of capitalism.

We might retort with an equally silly “poser” : “If arms could emancipate the workers, the tyrants in power would have abolished them years ago.”

The truth is that the capitalists cannot disregard the needs of their own system. Armed forces and the franchise are equally necessary to the administration of capi­talism.

(6) As Mr. Chapman denies that the control of the political machinery can be obtained by the vote, the onus certainly is on him to show how it can be done; or how Socialism can be achieved without it.

(7) It is our aim to make our position “childishly simple,” so that it may be understood by every worker. We have certainly failed to make it understandable to Mr. Chapman. We do not say to the workers, “all you have to do is just put a cross on a ballot paper.” We say that
the workers must first understand Soci­alism, then organise politically, and then use the vote to gain control of the political machinery. After securing control, “every­thing in the garden will not be lovely.” Only then, in fact, will the real and enor­mous task of changing the economic basis of Society begin.

We do not underestimate the enormous obstacles in the path to Socialism. The greatest obstacle is to get the workers to understand and want Socialism. If we were ever likely to forget how difficult a work that is, we always have the Mr. Chapmans to remind us.


(Socialist Standard, August 1928

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