Socialism and Violence

An interesting question has been put to in by a reader; a question we have dealt with repeatedly during the past 25 years. He says, quite correctly, that we ”advocate getting to power by means of the vote and condemn the use of physical forced”. He asks what are our grounds for condemn the use of force : “Is it because you believe it to be morally wrong, or do you condemn it because you realise it to be futile ?”

Let us first deal with the question of morals. Any reader of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD who stops to compare our articles with those in the propaganda papers of other organizations must have been struck by the complete absence of articles based upon the accepted moral principles of present capitalist society. That absence is not accidental but deliberate and follows naturally from our Socialist view of economics and politics. Our approach to the problems of life is a scientific one based so far as is possible upon observed facts and verifiable general statements. We know what we want; we want something which is practicable and possible; and our methods are determined by the aim we have in view and the material watch is available for getting there. We have no need ourselves to gloss over our aims and actions with a “moral” justification based upon our opponent’s beliefs and prejudices. We are satisfied that nothing is to be gained in the long run by trying to get support for Socialism by appealing to the moral sentiments of people who do not understand and accept Socialism.

To get Socialism the working class must gain power, that is the control of the machinery of government. Our correspondent will perhaps be surprised to learn that we do not condemn the use of force. On the contrary we seek control of the machinery of government which (in the words of our Declaration of Principles) includes “the argued forces of the nation.” It is because the control of the armed forces of the nation is so important that we wish to control them. The vote is the method of attaining control of the machinery of government in the developed capitalist countries. The policy of bringing the unarmed workers out on to the streets against the armed forces controlled by the capitalist state is not condemned by us as a less effective method of gaining political control; we condemn it because it is not a method of gaining political control at all. It is just dangerous silliness (except when it is deliberately engineered by the ruling powers themselves).

Suppose the capitalists abolished the vote

Then our correspondent puts a further question. He asks if it has never occurred to us that the capitalists might one day abolish the vote.

In reply we must point out that the possibility of such action is a further reason for following the policy laid down by the Socialist Party. When the Socialists have shown, by means of the vote, that they are within short reach of becoming the majority, the abolition of the vote by the capitalists would do infinite harm, not to us, but to them.

For the “Constitutionalists” and “Democrats,” as the capitalist parties always boast of being, to destroy those two strong planks in their propaganda platform, would enormously weaken their hold on the allegiance of those workers still not convinced of the soundness of the Socialist case. A party which abandoned the claim to represent the majority would be committing political suicide. The capitalists (including the self-styled dictators, Mussolini and the rest) tenaciously cling to the forms of democracy and constitutionalism because (apart from other reasons) they realise their propaganda value, even if our correspondent does not. It would be absurd for the working class to weaken their own position by adopting unconstitutional methods when those methods brought no gain whatever.

But the more important point has been missed by our correspondent. He has not asked himself what would happen next after the abolition of the vote. He has not realised that the capitalist class have to do something else besides govern the working class—they have to administer the capitalist system. The workings of capitalist trade and finance, the production and distribution of wealth, the elaborate machinery for educating the workers and for adjusting the thousand and one social frictions incidental to capitalism, all of this complex, enormous, and growing machinery, has necessitated the system of representative government. No other means has yet been devised which will give the stability which is indispensable to the smooth running of capitalism. Our correspondent writes of “dictatorship” replacing the vote, as if it were a simple operation bringing no consequences of importance. So far is this from being true that none of the “dictators” in various European countries have been able to do any such thing. Rather they have extended the number of voters.

It has also to be remembered that capitalists are human beings, most of them more interested in living than in dying heroically for the sake of a theory. A few of the hotheads may prefer to wreck society, including themselves, rather than give way to the Socialist majority; but will their own capitalist friends back them up? Most capitalists will prefer to accept Socialism’ rather than stand by a minority who might wish to attempt the task of running capitalism without representative machinery, and against the organised majority. They might think it fine to fight (and starve) in the last ditch in defence of capitalism, but more pleasant, if less heroic, to go on living. Further, our correspondent must have overlooked the fact that by that time the armed forces—drawn from working class homes—would be mainly sympathetic to the Socialist viewpoint. Given the abandonment of democratic methods by the Government of the day after the Socialist Party had at an election received a majority of the votes, the armed forces would no longer be a dependable instrument for the capitalist minority, and would, in fact, help, not hinder, the majority in their endeavours to secure control of the machinery of Government. But that eventuality—the armed forces helping the Socialist working class to gain control—is quite different from the Communist Party policy of a minority fighting the armed forces.

The situation under those hypothetical conditions is widely different from the situation now. Socialists are now in a small minority ; the ruling class is backed by the majority, including the majority of the workers; the capitalist state is in full control of disciplined armed forces, and the members of these forces are not yet affected by Socialist ideas.

Physical force against the armed forces is lunacy. Those who advocate it never tell us how they propose to get arms and equipment, tanks, battle planes, cruisers, poison gas plant, etc., and how they are going to train their forces to use such things. They do not tell us because, when faced with those questions, they know that there is no answer.

In conclusion, let us put the whole matter in proper perspective by pointing out that the really important and difficult problem is not the problem of action after the working class have been won over to Socialism, but the present problem of winning them over. Even if there were an alternative method of gaining control of the political machinery, it would be useless for the purpose of running society on a Socialist basis if the working class did not want and understand Socialism.

Ed. Comm.

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