The futility of violence
From a member of the Socialist Party of Canada
At a Party meeting a while ago a member of the audience asked what the Socialist Party of Canada would do if the capitalists established a dictatorship and banned Socialist activity.
The questioner often thinks that the workers must be ready to pit their strength against the strength of the state; they must build a military as well as a political organisation.
The thought has had tragic results. When the Communists sent their followers to the Berlin barricades during the hungry thirties, the brutal destruction of the “revolt” featured no situation to the advantage of any but the authorities, some of the virility being skimmed from the ranks of the rebels in death and imprisonment. Again, when the rise of Hitler brought the joyous cry, “After Hitler, Thaelman!” the joy ended with the disappearance of the misguided into Hitler’s prisons and ovens. Castor oil was one of Mussolini’s contemptuous answers to his opponents. And these two dictators held fast to their powers until destroyed in a capitalist upheaval.
Class conflict has taken forms other than “military” ones, and just as disastrous, as the old time Wobblies in America found during the sabotage days, when mysterious stickers appeared in a fruit belt hostile to the IWW, “Don’t put copper tacks in fruit trees, it hurts them,” and when experiments occurred in the lubricant properties of sand in journal boxes, the effects of stink bombs in theatres and the serviceability of spanners in moving machinery.
The Communists, who presently give little service to the violent revolution theme, did most to pave the way for its acceptance among current radical groups. At one time violence was basic to Communist thought and anyone who did not talk violence could not talk revolution. Communists turned in all possible ways in search of the precise situation, the “psychological moment”, that would bring their rise to power.
Some experimenting was done even with the unemployed. When the factory doors closed behind huge armies of workers during the depression years, the cry went up, “The factory of the unemployed is on the streets!” and the workers without jobs were guided in large numbers into parades and demonstrations, ostensibly to bring their plight to the attention of the authorities, actually to bring the policeman’s club onto their heads. But the great hatred for oppression intended to be generated in this way became more often a hatred for those who had led them to the shambles.
This experimenting had its ludicrous moments, as when a widely-distributed mimeographed call for the unemployed to brave the clubs and horses of the cossacks and assert their ability to assemble in defiance of a police ban, concluded with the reminder that in the event of rain the gathering would be postponed until the following day.
But the lessons of violence and invitations to violence in the workers’ movements have been mostly harsh, bringing tragedy and apathy without compensation. Like the heroes of false causes, spread under acres of white crosses, who “died bravely”, the advocates of violence see themselves also martyred, but to a worthy cause, and they fail to see the world move undisturbed over their broken bodies.
The Socialist Party of Canada and its Companion Parties do not advocate violence as a means of gaining Socialism. It cannot be gained this way. “Revolutionary situations” and “psychological moments” may bring changes in governments but not a transformation in society. This can come only from a conscious effort by the majority of society’s members.
To the question, What will we do if the capitalists set up a dictatorship? the Socialists of earlier days said “We will know what to do when that time comes!” The answer is a good one today. If the capitalists bring dictatorship when they have majority support, they will be in the driver’s seat and the Socialist minority will have to use what means are available to restore their freedom to work for Socialism. If the dictatorship is attempted in the face of a Socialist majority, the capitalists will be engaging in dangerous lunacy, for it must be clear that if all their powers could not prevent the rise of Socialist Consciousness, they have lost their power to destroy it.
And while there will be violence between today and the day of the Socialist victory, we believe that the shedding of blood will not bring that day a moment closer and cannot be more than an unhappy product of class conflict.