Letter: Organisation—Industrial or Political?

he Socialist Standard

  In our October issue we published and replied to  a letter from John Robertson, Edinburgh. We have received a further letter. 

Edinburgh 6.

The Editorial Committee.

Dear Sirs,—

In your reply to my letter on industrial organisation you falsely infer that my position is the outcome of six years of “Labour Government.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The position stated by me originated during the decade preceding the first World War, and advocates industrial and political organisation, and the urgent necessity for both.

If the strike were the only weapon which the working class have on the industrial field, then such an event as the Social Revolution would be impossible. The strike pays homage to the right of the capitalist class to own and control the workshops and the right to exploit the labour-power of the workers. Their slogans, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” and “ Defence, not Defiance,” are but admissions of loyalty to the system that enslaves and degrades the workers.

With regard to the quotation from Marx, i.e., “Only the economic organisation can set on foot a true political party of labour, and thus raise a bulwark against the power of capital,” this is a typically Marxian observation. None but a Marx could have made it. The bona fide Trade Union of Marx’s day is far removed from the reactionary Craft Unions of to-day, which are a deadly menace to working-class emancipation. Far from the political party of Socialism, “winding up and waiting in the hope that class organisation on the industrial field will come into being,” my letter expressly stales that “Without the political organisation, the class-conscious economic organisation cannot be forged.” The true political party of labour recognises the necessity for a class-conscious economic organisation as a powerful lever of emancipation. There is no “waiting” to be done.

My letter also states that “economic unity . . .  is the only solid fact from which political unity can be reflected.” It is puerile reasoning to deny the truth of the statement by saying that there is no such economic unity to-day. The same puerile reasoning would deny the truth of Marx’s statement that “the proletariat alone is a truly revolutionary class” (Communist Manifesto), by saying that the proletariat today does not adopt a revolutionary posture.


With regard to the quotation from “Value, Price and Profit,” it is quite true that Marx stated that the economic organisation is “a lever for final emancipation,” and the word the should not have been used in connection with the quotation. But the S.P.G.B. do not even admit that the economic organisation can be used as “ a lever for final emancipation.”


Ownership of the means of life, that is, the means of wealth production, is the source of all social power, and the capitalist political State reflects the capitalist ownership in the means of life. Marx observes this fundamental truth when he states, “In the middle ages the contest ended with the ruin of the feudal debtors, who lost their political power together with the economic basis on which it was established.” (“Capital,” p. 112, Swan Sonnenchein Edition.) The S.P.G.B. mistake the shadow for the substance when they organise only for political action.


To destroy the State machine, the capitalist class must be dislodged from ownership of the industrial plants of the land. Only the working class, organised into a class-conscious economic organisation to take and hold that which they produce by their labour, can achieve this and establish the socialist system of society, based on the social ownership of all the means of wealth production.


It is not the function of the political party to take and hold the means of wealth production.


Its function is to raise a bulwark against the power of capital.


Yours fraternally,


John Robertson.





Our correspondent has misread our reply to his earlier letter. We gave an introductory paragraph stating that a revival of the advocacy of industrial action may be expected to follow the end of Labour government. This was followed by a paragraph explaining the attitude of the S.P.G.B., and then by a detailed answer to our correspondent’s lettter. There was no statement that his attitude was the outcome of six years of Labour government.


As we called it a “revival” it should have been clear also that we recognised that the attitude itself is older than Labour government.


Our correspondent repeats the statement alleged to have been made by Marx to Haman in 1869 and ignores the reasons we gave for refusing to accept as authentic Hainan’s version of words alleged to have been spoken by Marx at an interview. In any event, as we pointed out, there is no possibility now of deciding what Marx actually did say.


When we are told that the bona fide trade unions in those days were “far removed from the reactionary craft unions of to-day,” we need only refer our correspondent to the pamphlet from which he quoted, Marx’s “Value, Price and Profit,” for it was in that pamphlet that Marx had to urge the unions of his day to abandon what he. described as their “conservative motto, ‘a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.’ ”


Our correspondent repeats his statement that “economic unity . . .  is the only solid fact from which political unity can be reflected,” and he objects that our comment on this was “puerile.” He has failed to see the point of our comment! If his statement is correct and if it is correct as he also claims, that “only the economic organisation can set on foot a true political party of labour,” then it surely follows that there cannot be a true political party of labour in advance of “economic unity.”


As there are in existence political parties of socialists but there is not “economic unity,” i.e., industrial organisation on a class, socialist, basis, then there appears to be something wrong with his contention.


We note that our correspondent admits to having misquoted from “Value, Price and Profit.


When he chides the S.P.G.B. with not even admitting that the economic organisation can be used as a lever for final emancipation, we reply that we have no quarrel with Marx’s statement that the trade unions “fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organised forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system.”


This is, however, very different from our correspondent’s version that the economic organisation is the lever for the final emancipation of the working class.


We would add that it is only with the spread of socialist understanding that the workers, whether in trade unions or not, will want to achieve emancipation, and when they do they will have to use political organisation and action to obtain control of the machinery of government.


Our correspondent then goes on to imply that political power is the shadow and the economic forces is the substance. If he really believes this we ask why he states (at the beginning of his letter) that there is urgent necessity for political organisation. There can be no necessity, urgent or otherwise, to pursue shadows.


Our correspondent then tells us that it is only through working-class economic organisation that the capitalist class can be dislodged from ownership. But here, as in his earlier letter, he fails to tell us by what means the economic organisation is going to do this.


We repeat that only by political organisation and action to gain control of the machinery of government can the capitalists be deprived of their ownership. It is not capitalist ownership that keeps the working class a subject class, but the control by the capitalists of the machinery of government, including the armed forces, which alone enables the capitalists to continue owning.

Editorial Committee