50 Years Ago: Socialist Ideas and Empty Phrases

There are some people who have neither the patience to acquire knowledge nor the self-control to follow the only course (slow though it may be) open to the class-conscious worker. Those to whom the writer alludes are the emotional, red-flag-waving individuals.

People of this type have cut a figure in past movements and exist in profusion to day. They Live in the limelight, mouthing all sorts of handy phrases — in fact empty phrases echoing from empty heads largely constitute their stock-in-trade and take the place of ideas and knowledge.

The phrase-wizards, with an inflated estimate of their own puny accomplishments, flourish in all the pseudo working-class parties of the present. They strive to play upon emotion and attract a large following by voicing their particular pet phrases and hazy notions, hurrying a bewildered group of supporters along with them to some misty land of promise — they don’t know exactly where.

In the Chartist Movement in England the ‘revolutionary’ raved and ranted, gained applause — and the movement suddenly collapsed. The inexorable laws of capitalism ground the Chartist Movement to powder, and swept the popular leaders’ away.

About twenty years ago the IWW was ushered in with a great flourish of trumpets, and all the would-be ‘revolutionists’ hurried to the front, panting with excitement and gasping their fervid and frenzied phrases. The real facts of the situation, however, and the unsurmountable obstacles to ‘taking and holding the means of production’ through so called industrial action (or inaction) soon shattered the movement into warring fragments.

At the present moment we have the same bogey and crowd-gathering business cropping up again. The new catch-cry is ‘government by the Soviets’ and again all the phrase-mongers and ‘revolutionaries’ are to the fore. Again they are trying to force the pace by appeals to emotion. But unfortunately for those soft-hearted, soft headed and excited hurricanes neither fine phrases nor good intentions will take the place of knowledge. Appeals to emotion may bring a bloody shambles, but they cannot bring Socialism . . . another disillusionment is in store, and ‘all power to the Soviets’ will run its course and collapse as all similar schemes have done before.

(From an article ‘Phrase Magic‘ by G. McClatchie. Socialist Standard, January 1920.)