Economic and Political organisation

The Socialist Party hold that both economic and political organisation of labour are necessary. The class struggle is neither purely political nor purely economic, but involves both lines of action. That follows from the nature of the class struggle which arises from the conflict of interests between the working class and the employing class.

Economic organisation is a part of the inevitable defence of workers’ interests in selling their working power to the employers. The class position of the workers naturally compels them to organise to protect their interests. The class struggle arises on the economic field, and is seen in the conflicts always going on between the workers and their masters.

The necessary fights over hours and wages are inseparable from the wages system. The efforts to raise wages and shorten hours, and the employers’ opposition cannot be abolished while there is one class selling its labour power and another class who buy it.

The rapid development of modern industry with its improved machinery and methods steadily tends to throw an increasing number out of work to compete for jobs. The combination and trustification of employers into huge firms and alliances is another of the great factors in defeating the workers’ struggle in industry. It is clearly seen to-day that Karl Marx was right when he pointed out that “in its merely economic action capital is the stronger side.” (“Value, Price and Profit.”)

The weakness of all economic action by the workers lies in the fact that they have no power over production and no control of the means and instruments by which production is carried on. The economic struggles are limited to efforts within this economic system to better their daily working conditions as wage-slaves. After even the most successful strike, the workers have to go back to work for the employers and depend upon the employers’ consent and power to employ them. No matter what wages and working conditions may be gained, the workers will never be free from the necessity of finding masters and being exploited, while the masters are left in possession of the resources of production.

The essential thing, therefore, is for the workers to enter into possession of the means and instruments of production and distribution of wealth—the land, railways, factories, machinery, etc. The common ownership of these by the entire society of workers is the only remedy for the workers’ slave condition.

Economic action can never enable the workers to take control of the means of life because economic organisation has neither the power nor the machinery to take and maintain possession.

The employers do not rely upon their ownership alone, but their ownership is backed up and maintained by the forces of the State. These State forces are controlled by the employers through their possession of political power. In all countries with constitutions like Great Britain those who control a majority in Parliament control the State, and have charge of all the armed forces of repression and the legal machinery of the country. The employing class to-day are put into political control by the votes of the workers, who with their majority of votes elect Conservative, Liberal or Labour agents of Capitalism. This economic system is kept in existence because in their ignorance the working class use their, political power to make the employing class masters of the State machine.

In the last “General Strike,” and even in smaller struggles, the property and wealth of the employers were protected by all the armed forces of the State. Economic or industrial organisations of the workers are, therefore, rendered unable to take possession of the factories, etc.—they are faced with the fact that the political machine dominates the entire situation and that the State forces are used to defend capitalist ownership against the workers.

Strike action—local or general, industrial or craft—does not enable the workers to become the owning class and end the system. Strikes, however general they are, leave the employers in possession. They may dislocate industry, and even paralyse it—but paralysis of industry is not the object of the Socialist, and does not mean the control of production. To establish Socialism the workers must be able to continue production and produce the everyday requirements of the workers.

The slogan—lock out the bosses—which is used sometimes, is similar in its futility to a general strike. It may, for the time being, leave the workers in charge of a factory, but does not give them power over the entire economic system of production and distribution without which the workers are helpless.

Factory workers in Italy who tried the “lock out the boss” policy to enforce wage demands found that they could not eat the products of their factory—automobiles, etc. They had to either sell them or get into contact with the other producers, in order to live. The armed forces of the Italian State were able both to eject the “stay in strikers” and make it impossible for them to organise production and distribution in common with the rest of the workers of Italy.

The lesson, then, is for the working class to understand their class interests and organise as a class into a political party of Socialists to control political power, and thus control the armed forces of the State.

Having obtained control of these forces the workers can continue production for themselves—socialise the means of production and distribution, and secure themselves against aggression.

Strikes and other economic action may win temporary concessions, but no economic action can establish common ownership. That is the function of political action.

The common objections against political action, and some of the arguments in favour of economic action will be considered in another article.


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