>> >> no-128-april-1915

A Bit To Go On With

In our February issue appeared a pronouncement by the Executive Committee of the S.P.G.B. under the beading : “Socialism and the European ‘Socialists, ‘” in the course of which some reference was made to a circular sent out by the Socialist Labour Party of America. As usual, the S.P.G.B. Executive did not mince matters, and the result is that they have felt a jolt on the other side of the herring-pond. In the issue of the “Weekly People” (New York, the organ of the S.L.P. of A.) dated March 6th appears the following:

   “The Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in an article on ‘Socialism and the European “Socialists,”—published in that party’s official organ for February, 1915, disagrees with the Socialist Labour Party’s declaration that a pure and simple Socialist political organisation cannot be of adequate service to the working class emancipation. The Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Great Britain states its disagreement with our party in this language:

 “’We have before us at the moment a circular issued by the Socialist Labor Party of America in which they state : “The events in Europe are likewise a demonstration of the principle that a pure and simple political party of Socialism, however revolutionary it may be in its utterances, cannot be of real service to the proletariat . . .” This is another example of the opportunity the compromising policy of the pseudo-Socialists has provided for other enemies of class-conscious organisation. The statement is false. It is not for the reason that it is a “pure and simple political party of Socialism” that the “International Movement” has failed the workers in this crisis, but because its politics were impure. Its foundation had the cardinal fault which, among others, attaches to the pet obsession of the S.L.P.: it was not grounded upon the principle of the Class Struggle.’

   “It is amusing to be told in all seriousness that ‘the cardinal fault’ of the ‘pet obsession’ of the S.L.P. is that it is ‘not grounded upon the principle of the Class Struggle.’ We presume that this Executive Committee of the S.P.G.B. refers to the Socialist Labor Party’s insistance upon revolutionary political and revolutionary industrial action when it mentions that’ pet obsession.’ And such action, we are told, is not founded upon the principle of the Class Struggle! Well, perhaps this Executive Committee of the S.P.G.B. has its ‘own’ conception of the principle of the Class Struggle. That would be its own business, if it had. But in such case it should say that the ‘pet obsession’ of the S.L.P. is not founded upon its OWN [S.P.G.B.’s] principle of the Class Struggle.’ That would be nearer the mark.

    “To say that the S.L.P. is an enemy of class conscious organisation, as the Executive Committee of the S.P.G.B. does, is another of those weird statements that betray a twisted mind, unless, again, such a mind has its OWN conception of class conscious organisation. In that case both the conception and the mind would be twisted.

    “But to say, as this Executive Committee does, that ‘it is not for the reason that it is a “pure and simple political party of Socialism” that the “International Movement” has failed the workers in this crisis, but because its politics were impure’ is to say that ‘ pure “pure and simple” Socialist politics would have rescued die workers’— which is pure rot. Pure and simple politics fail and always will fail the workers because they fail to attend to the ONE SOURCE OF POWER which the workers possess, the economic power, that is, that power which the workers daily have in their hands when they are in the workshops—the power over industry. Pure and simple Socialist politics, no matter how pure, neglect to attend [to] that vital power of the working class : to organise which would be a “pet obsession,” and if there is anything that the S.P.G.B. hates, it hates to have a pet obsession.

  “We are not of the class that call the politics of the continental European Socialists impure. That their politics were not as revolutionary as they might have been is granted; crudities existed ; but that can be explained and allowances made. That, however, is one thing, and impurity is another. Laughable indeed, though, is the principle of ‘class struggle politics’ and no physical power to back them up ; laughable indeed the purpose to take and hold the industries and no industrial organisation to do it! But then, perhaps the S.P.G.B. doesn’t intend to take and hold the industries,—which again would indicate its own peculiar brand of ‘Socialism.’”

We have reproduced this windy attempt at humour for the specific purpose of showing how utterly unable the S.L.P. of A. are to erect any serious and adequate defence against the grave charge we brought against them in our February issue. It is more than barely probable that what we had to say about their bumptious circular in our March issue may lead the S.L.P. of A to further windy efforts, so we need not waste a great deal of time and space upon the effusion already to hand. We desire, however, to point out that, so far, the S.L.P. of A. have offered nothing but a bare denial, together with a little ditch-watery sarcasm, to the charges we voiced against them, namely, that they are enemies of the class-conscious organisation of the workers, and that their “pet obsession” has not the Class Struggle foundation.

Of course, the S.L.P. of A. would retort that a denial was all that was called for by the assertion that they are enemies of the class-conscious organisation of the workers, and proceed upon unsound lines. They may claim that they are waiting for us to support our charges with arguments. In that case well and good—we have given them both opportunity and provocation in our March issue.

Now for the points in the S.L.P.’s first reply. They say that they “presume that this Executive Committee of the S.P.G.B. refers to the Socialist Labor Party’s insistence upon revolutionary political and revolutionary industrial action when it mentions that ‘pet obsession.’” The presumption is wrong. It was not ACTION we were talking about, but ORGANISATION. The S.L.P. may bawl and squall for “revolutionary action,” but the action must necessarily partake of the nature of the organisation for the action. Our first business, therefore, was with the organisation onto which the S.L.P. are trying to switch the workers.

The “pet obsession” we were refering to is “Industrial Unionism,” which (as is pointed out in our last issue) is not founded on the Class Struggle because, instead of uniting the workers as a class, it divides them by industries. There are other reasons also, but this is sufficient on this point for the time being.

The second point, that the S.L.P. of A. is an enemy of class-conscious organisation, is easily dealt with. Insomuch that they advocate organisation upon lines of industries they oppose organisation upon lines of class. The reflection of this is found in that realisation of their “pet obsession,” the I.W.W., which is clearly not an organisation of class-conscious workers. If the S.L.P. has any other conception of class conscious organisation than that which begins and ends with the organisation of the class-conscious, let them save themselves with it now.

Our American opponents’ remark anent our declaration that the “International Movement” failed the workers because its politics were impure is as shallow as the rest of their statements. Our assertion will not hear the interpretation which they try to put upon it, viz., that it is equal to saying that pure Socialist politics would have rescued the workers. The “International Movement” did not fail the workers in the sense of not preventing the war, for it was never in its power, whatever policy it adopted, to do so. It failed the workers in neglecting to take up the Socialist position in reference to the war, and it did this because its politics, its policy, and its organisation were not sound. The S.L.P. of A.’s circular itself says that the “European Comrades” became ‘‘enmeshed in bourgeois politics.” This, from the Socialist standpoint, is impurity, and must always mean the betrayal of working class interests.

The “pure rot” is provided by the S.L.P. in the form of the statement that the workers possess power over industry. Anything more absurd could hardly be conceived. Who has power over industry is seen immediately the workers enter into a dispute with the masters. The former, if the quarrel assumes sufficient importance, very soon find themselves out in the street, and if they attempt to force their way into the factories or workshops, the masters quickly show them whether “economic organisation” is (to quote the S L P.’s resolution to the Stuttgart Conference) “the only conceivable force with which to back up tho ballot,” or the strike, or the lock-out, or any other activity.

The idea that the workers have “power over industry” is exquisite foolery. What “conceivable force” gives them any such power? That is a question the Industrial Unionists cannot answer. The most they can do is to come out on strike, which, instead of controlling industry, is mere cessation of industry. Let them attempt to carry on production against the will of the owners of the means of production and they soon find the “power which the workers daily have in their hands while in the workshops” is not much of a protection against the policeman’s baton, or the soldier’s bullet. That “vital power of the working class” which looms so large in the Industrial Unionist mind, as objects do in a fog, is simply the power of the slave over the instruments of his slavery. What a force with which to “back up the ballot ” !

A little sarcasm goes a long way—with those who are not prepared to do much thinking. And if the sarcasm is accompanied with a little hysterical laughter, it goes all the further. The S.L.P. having found this out seems to imagine that it has found a substitute for argument. This need not, however, prevent us pointing out again, without prejudice to our demand for working-class organisation (on class lines) on the economic field, that “laughable indeed” as it may appear to the S.L.P. of A., “class struggle politics” may derive from political organisation the “physical power to back them up.”

Human physical power is resident in the bodies of mankind. For collective economic purposes it requires organising on the economic plane; for collective political purposes it must be politically organised. But for military purposes it must be organised on military lines. Now the master class have organise this “physical force” on all three planes—for their own ends. Their economic organisation exists only to produce their profits; their political organisation exists to maintain their position and their interests; their military organisation exists as the supreme instrument for maintaining their privileged position. If the “captains of industry” believe their interests to be seriously threatened they have to apply to the political powers to set the military instrument in motion. It is clear enough, then, that the military instrument is part of the political machinery, and is controlled by those who control that political machinery. It is the force with which the masters, in the last resort, back up the ballot.

The talk about the power of the workers in the workshops being the “one source of power”—physical power—with which to back up the ballot is more than a little bit wild, but its essential fault is that it loses sight of the fact that it is precisely to prevent the workers getting or exercising power in the field of industry (which they can only do by seizing the instruments of labour) that the armed forces of the nation primarily exist. It is for this reason that the workers cannot look to economic organisation to supply the “physical force to back up the ballot.” The armed forces of the State are not to be opposed, but are to be controlled, through the conquest of the machinery of government, and used for the overthrow of the capitalist system. So far from true is it that the “only conceivable source of power” with which the workers can back up the ballot is that to be found in economic organisation, that it is the economic organisation which will need the backing of the organised military force—controlled by the politically triumphant proletariat—to enable it to perform its penultimate function, the placing of the instruments of labour upon a social foundation.

A. E. Jacomb