Marxism and United Fronts
Socialists recognise the need for working class unity; we are enthusiastic supporters of a united front. But we cannot, and will not, support unity at all costs. It is true to state that a real united front of the working class can only come into being when it is based on the solid foundation of Socialist knowledge. We are, therefore, according to our Socialist principles, obliged to oppose united fronts of the character so often presented, because the object which is aimed at is not of a Socialist character, nor is the basis of the suggested unity Socialist knowledge. Our battle-cry is, therefore, not unity at all costs, but unity on Socialist principles, the unity of an intelligent, politically organised, and determined working class for the overthrow of class society.
Some people may think that this is a very nice ideal, but it is not practical—it is not possible to get a majority of the working class to act along the lines indicated; therefore, it is essential, in order to stimulate activity, to seize upon some issue on which temporary agreement can be obtained between the various parties. In order to justify this form of activity our opponents often quote the Communist Manifesto (wrongly, in the sense that the Communist Manifesto never referred to the modern united front). “The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties . . .” (page 21, M. Lawrence edition). This section of the Manifesto is assumed to provide the justification for all kinds of absurdities in connection with the class struggle in general and unity in particular. It is put forward as the Marxian basis of action in the form of an unchanging truth, a dogma. It is inferred that, were Marx alive to-day, he would urge affiliation to the Labour Party and united fronts for everything and anything, as do our misguided friends, the C.P. and I.L.P. In passing, it might be to the point to add that it seems strange that people who are continually changing policy and tactics on the ground of being dialectical should fail to see (or is it refuse to see ?) that, by virtue of the dialectic, that which was applicable during 1848, and even remained so until 1870, is no longer suited to meet the needs of 1938 (so far as advanced countries are concerned).
If one reads the Communist Manifesto care¬fully that is made clear, e.g., the joint preface by Marx and Engels, 1872, states (Section 4): —
“… Although in principle still correct, yet in practice are antiquated, because the political situation has been entirely changed, and the progress of history has swept from off the earth the greater portion of the political parties therein enumerated.”
Since Section 2 deals with the same matter, it is also included in the joint remarks of Marx and Engels.
We accept the Marxian case, not because of any blind homage to either Marx or Engels, but because they discovered social truths the correctness of which history has proved up to the hilt. The Marxian approach to the social problems places a key, or tool, in the hands of the working class, by which they can understand past social history, the present, and from this glean valuable knowledge to guide their future revolutionary actions, and thereby accomplish the task of overthrow more quickly.
When Marxism is applied, not as a dogma, but as a beacon light to illumine the proletarian highway, then it will be realised that no fixed and unalterable tactics are possible, and also that the particular conditions in any given situation will determine the details of the course to be pursued. Sections 2 and 4 were, and still are, suited to meet the requirements of the infant proletariat in their struggles in countries which have still to overthrow feudalism and establish capitalism. If we view past history we find that man’s development socially was in proportion to the development of his tools. At the stage where private property became established classes were born and class struggles commenced. The ruling class were always the most important class economically. The rise of the modern capitalist :class made them economically the most important class. But they, in order to perform their function, i.e., carry social development a stage further, were compelled to establish their political supremacy in order to permit the breaking down of the feudal fetters which restricted further social progress. In other words, the historic mission of capitalism is to create a great proletariat, eliminate the peasant, establish social production, and centralise control. To accomplish this task the capitalist class had to carry out the revolutionary overthrow of feudalism. If we keep in mind the fact that under the feudal system there were several classes, e.g., aristocracy, peasants, capitalists, and the then developing proletariat, we will see that the class struggle assumed a fourfold aspect. Further, it would not have been possible for the modern master class to have fought its battle with the feudal aristocracy without the aid of both peasants and workers. Again, capitalism was a necessary phase of social development; it therefore represented progress. In addition, so long as the class struggles were of a many-sided character, the issue between the capitalist class and the working class could not become really clear. By way of indicating that this was the view of Marx, a quotation from “Revolution and Counter-Revolution” may serve : —
“The working class movement itself never is independent, never of an exclusively proletarian character, until all the different factions of the middle class, and particularly its most progressive faction, the large manufacturers, have conquered political power, and remodelled the state according to their wants. It is then that the inevitable conflict between the employer and employed becomes imminent and cannot be adjourned any longer . . .” (page 8).
When the capitalist class have attained their political supremacy, then the class conflict is speedily reduced to the clear issue between the two great classes, the last two classes to appear in social history. When one considers that the Communists then in existence were merely a handful, and also that the establishment of capitalism would provide the social, economic, and political conditions which would make the Socialist proposition understandable to the working class; then the correctness of the urge to the Communists to assist their enemies, the capitalist class, in the destruction of their enemies, the feudal aristocracy, to put it in the words of Marx : “In short, the Communists everywhere support all revolutionary movements against the existing social and political order of things” (i.e., the abolition of feudalism). The Manifesto also makes it clear that the Communists should not conceal their aims, i.e., the abolition of capitalism; also that their independence should be preserved.
Contrast this with the programmes of the Labour Party, I.L.P., and so-called Communist Party, who, if they ever had any Communist aims, disdain to reveal them. Their aims are, and always have been, such as any Conservative or Liberal could, at a pinch, vote for. To take a few of the more prominent issues : Work for the workless, 40-hour week, defend Austria, Czechoslovakia, democracy, etc. These are issues which the modern master class are interested in from time to time; there is nothing revolutionary about any of them.
Suppose we put the question: Was feudalism abolished here? The answer is yes. Were the social and political conditions necessary for working class emancipation created ? Again, yes. Then it follows that the possibility for the organisation of the working class on an independent basis, and of an exclusively proletarian character, have been in existence for many years. Our task is, therefore, clear: to organise the working class for overthrow, to create proletarian organisation based upon Socialist knowledge for the purpose of social revolution. Instead of doing this our united fronters are even fanatical in their avoidance of revolutionary activity. They squander the courage, enthusiasm, and generosity of the working class in the advocacy of Labour programmes which are essentially Liberal in character; then, on special occasions, become the brazen defenders of British capitalism. It is interesting to note that Engels, in a letter to Bebel, expressed strong views on the question of unit)? at all costs: — “Unity is quite a good thing so long as it is possible, but there are things which stand higher than unity. And when, like Marx and myself, one has fought harder all one’s life long against the alleged Socialists than against any¬one else, one cannot greatly grieve that the struggle has broken out” (this refers to the party split) (page 402, Correspondence).
The letter dealing with immediate claims, by Marx and Engels jointly, to Liebknecht, Bracke and others, deals scornfully with the suggestion of dropping the issue of Socialism in order to attract the workers with a programme of immediate aims. Quoting the German S.D. programme as follows, “Let no one misunderstand us. We do not want to give up our party and our programme, but we think that for years hence we shall have enough to do if we concentrate our whole strength and energy upon the attainment of certain immediate aims which must in any case be achieved before the realisation of the more far-reaching ends can be thought of . . .” Engels replies as follows, “The programme is not to be given up but only postponed — to an indefinite period. One accepts it, though not really for one’s self and one’s own lifetime, but posthumously as an heirloom to be handed down to one’s children and grandhildren. In the meantime one devotes one’s ‘whole strength and energy’ to all sorts of petty rubbish and the patching up of the capitalist order of society, in order, at least to produce the appearance of something happening without at the same time scaring the bourgeois.”
How that fits exactly the so-called Communists to-day is self-evident. The Socialist Party refuses to be drawn into this campaign of peddling rubbish; our opponents, who are bankrupt of a case against us, can only resort to abuse and such absurd assertions as: “The S.P.G.B. do not take part in the day-to-day struggle,” etc.
When the question of the day-to-day struggle is examined, it is evident that no member of society, irrespective of whether worker or master, can escape the day-to-day struggle; it is the class struggle, in its non-revolutionary aspect. We, as members of the working class, are very much concerned about such things as the means test, slums, poverty, etc. We realise that, even within capitalist society, our poverty can be aggravated, hence the reason why we endorse the need for the working class to struggle against the encroachments of capitalism where possible. We also know that even the most diehard Tory Government must introduce reforms from time to time; and that, even were all that which has been promised to the workers by Tories, Liberals, Labourites, or so-called Communists (even in their wildest days prior to their extreme Conservatism), granted, we would have poverty, slums, unemployment, etc. As Socialists we want much more than they will ever give, viz., Socialism; consequently we logically concentrate on the quickest means of obtaining it. It is not our job to assist the master class in running society; in the course of doing so, national and local legislation and administration is essential. It is true to state that to-day possibly 99.9 per cent. of the time of Parliament and town councils are concerned with affairs of no interest or concern to the working class; this is so, irrespective of the personnel who form the Government.
We are Socialists, not careerists; therefore, we take our stand on the need for spreading Socialist knowledge. Keeping this in mind, we know that, in proportion to the growth of Socialist knowledge, the working class will find that they will be even more successful on the question of conditions of labour, etc. Try and visualise a May-day demonstration of Socialists, one hundred thousand strong; their banners bearing revolutionary slogans, their ranks the living manifestation of solid unity based upon Socialist knowledge, their action indicative of determination to abolish capitalism. Because you are intelligent, strong and united, you are feared, therefore respected; meantime you are politically ignorant, disorganised and weak; consequently you are not feared, but despised. When the working class are so organised then the words of Marx, “Let the ruling class tremble at a Com¬munist revolution,” will be fully realised. The ruling class, in their panic, will be ever more ready to concede your demands; you will be in a position to demand. Now, in most cases, you only beg. The remedy for all the ills, unemplo3anent, slums, poverty, war, etc., is Socialism; it should be established at the earliest opportunity. To accomplish this it is essential that a majority of the workers become Socialists. We, of the S.P.G.B., are doing our utmost to convince the workers of the need for Socialism; our task is made more difficult by the propaganda of confusionists who call themselves Socialists; however, we will win in the end. The importance of this task should not be under-rated. As Engels said (“Socialism, Utopian and Scientific”): “To accomplish this act of universal emancipation is the historic mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions, and thus the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific Socialism.” In other words, make Socialism first, then the rest (unity) will follow, and the working class will soon get rid of capitalism.