T. A. Jackson

What Communism Means

Part V

Source: The Communist, May 06, 1922.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THAT things as they are can no longer be borne is agreed on all hands. That the World must undergo some process of economic re-adjustment is admitted, even by the statesmen responsible for the upkeep of the existing order. That, somehow or other, the world process of producing goods must be brought under control and direction, lest the group and national rivalries and antagonisms developed by that “order” bring the whole world to a state of collapse accompanied by universal misery—this, too, is generally admitted.

Communism—a system of society in which production would be controlled and directed by the workers in the interest of the workers—is a conceivable alternative to the existing system. Apart from tolerating this existing system in the hope that by patching and mending, wangling and contriving it can later on be made somehow or other to work—apart from a surrender to the evils that are, in the hope that somehow or other they will become less and less unbearable—apart from this, Communism is the only alternative before the workers. And (as we saw) Capitalism by its nature has engendered and is engendering in the workers a will to its overthrow—and by its exactions is driving the workers to make an attempt thereat.


The concrete forms in which this Will of the Workers is made manifest are (a) the trade unions and their transformation (of late) more and more into industrial unions and finally One Big Union for the (ultimately) united Working-Class—One Class, One Foe, One Fight and One Victory (b) the entry of the workers first as individuals, then as groups (trade union and other) finally as a mass into political action designed, more or less consciously, to bring the direction of public affairs and the exercise of public authority under their control.

In a word—in the growth of a vigorous trade unionism and of militant workers’ politics, each growing more and more revolutionary in spirit and in aim we see before our eyes in this and in every other land the growth of the Workers’ Will to establish a New Order—a state of Communism.

* * *

Now, I may be told at this point that only a tiny minority of these workers call themselves Communists. That a majority of them are not even Socialists. That a good many of them won’t even vote for a Labour Candidate, let alone strike, strive, or fight for a Communist Republic.

This is true but it makes (as you will see) little difference. It matters little that the workers refuse to call themselves Communists—it matters much that every day they are either driven to do the things that the Communist says they should and must do, or suffer defeat and hardship from refusing to take that course.

The essential thing is the direction in which things are moving, and that clearly is towards a Workers’ Revolution.

* * *

What is a Revolution?

When the power and authority—the ability to give orders and get them obeyed: the responsibility for: public policy and the power to carry that policy into effect: the ability to decide that in this or that country such things shall be done and such and such things not done, with the power to see that things are done as has been decided—when this “State” power and authority passes from the hands of one class into those of another which up to that time has been a subject and ruled class, then a “Revolution” has been accomplished.

A Revolution is a capture of the means and authority of Government by a subject class from a ruling class—the subjected becoming rulers and the rules subjected.

* * *

Note.—A Revolution does not depend upon the amount of blood spilled—any more than upon the number of windows broken. Much blood could be shed—as in war—and there be no Revolution: contrarywise there might be a great Revolution with no blood shed at all. The amount of noise, anger, damage, and violence does not decide whether a given social change is to be classed as a revolution or not. What does decide is the nature of the alteration effected in the relations between classes.

* * *

A word as to our use of that term “classes.”

All men are, in some, few respects, alike. All in, some other respects differ. In some respects men can be separated into groups having same quality or characteristic in common which distinguishes them from the rest of their community. Mankind can, for example, be classified according to religion, race, language, nationality, and habitation; according to the shape of their heads, the colour of their skin, their matrimonial habits, and their political prejudices.

These classifications are all of them purely mental things convenient for the purposes of an argument or a particular scientific inquiry. They are of little or no importance in every-day life and practice. A man’s income, for instance, does not vary because his head is long or broad. Religion, of itself, has a different bearing upon a man’s material interest from place to place and time to time, and most important of all, men separated by either of these classifications are in practice united to one another by their community of interest, and separated from the rest of the community by an antagonism of interests.

When we speak of “classes” we mean those sections into which a nation falls under pressure of divergent and antagonistic economic interest—sections which tend to possess a common mentality prompted by a likeness in their mode of life, a freedom of intercourse arising from this likeness, and a need to support each other against the encroachments of other classes.

The old feudal aristocracy, for instance, were bound together by their titled status and their special privileges, material and moral, as against the Crown, the burghers, the free tenants, and the serfs.

In modern times the capitalist class—originally regarded with contempt by the aristocracy—has after centuries of struggle displaced them from their position of rulers and stripped them of those material privileges which made them function as a distinct class. We have in Britain now no aristocrat class. What we have masquerading in their titles and uniforms is a section of the Bourgeois or Capitalist Class with a taste for the ritual and mummery of antiquity.

* * *

The capitalist class rules. Their rule is effected through instruments which (having a long history) look as though they were something quite different from what they are. We have laws, Statute and Commons, we have Houses of Lords and Commons, King, a Prime Minister (i.e., “First Servant”) of the King and a number of His Majesty’s Secretaries of State, and Presidents of Boards, who, together with the Prime Minister, constitute His Majesty’s Government and (in theory) administer His Majesty’s affairs. They raise His Majesty’s Revenue in the form of taxes, and imposts. They (theoretically) control His Army, His Navy, His Air Force, His Civil and Consular Service, His Ambassadors, and His Prisons.

All this machinery of Government you see is (leaving aside for the moment the Houses of Commons and Lords—except as constituting His Majesty’s Parliament—the “Chief Council of the State”) nominally a machine subject to the may and direction of THE KING.

In theory every single man, woman, and child in this country is “subject” to the King and His Laws. In practice, if the King were to start, King-ing in earnest—like a King in a fairy tale, he would lose his job because he would be “unconstitutional.”

There are, you see, certain rules that have been laid down from time to time saying that the King must not do this and must do what he does do in such a way and no other.

He may, and in theory does, pick out whom he pleases to be his “First Servant.” In practice he always picks out the accepted leader of the Party having a majority in the House of Commons. He does this because although the taxes and customs duties are levied in the King’s name and by the King’s authority he can only give this authority when the House of Commons says he may. The Prime Minister is, therefore, for all practical purposes, nominated by the Party having a majority in the House of Commons. And the King is little else than an instrument in the hands of that majority.

The “Democratic” Fallacy

This has led to the rise of the theory that if we want to alter the Government we need only take the course required to attain the necessary Parliamentary majority, with the counter-part of that theory—the claim that this country is ruled in accordance with the will of the electors.

During the period (which lasted till quite recently) in which only a very few people had votes all discontent among the poor, the working and the lower middle classes was diverted, sooner or later, into a demand for a vote at Parliamentary elections. So much so that the extension to the “common people” of the right to vote seemed to be the one thing necessary to make possible a heaven upon earth. And the first sorts of Socialism grew up as an extension or qualification of this “Democratic” theory.

Elect a majority of Socialists—said these people—and you will have a Government which will be able to establish Socialism. Because they have not elected a majority of Socialists (said the friends of the existing order) it is clear that they do not want it. And, as they must be supposed to understand their own business, because they do not want it, they do not need it either.

* * *

This “Democratic” superstition made several great assumptions which actual experience has shown to be not only unwarranted but positively false. It supposed that a mere Government decree was all powerful—so that the House of Commons majority had but to issue an order and the thing was settled—and it supposed that at an election every elector would vote in the calm of a dispassionate logical conclusion from all the relevant facts. It also supposed that the difference between things as they are and things as the workers need them to be is only one of detail administration—capable of introduction without any drastic interference with the normal habits of the mass of the population.

On all these points the “Democratic” and “Reform” Socialist theory has proved false. Not only is a Government decree not all-powerful: a Capitalist Government, however big its majority, cannot carry on for a week without the active support of the financiers. It cannot enforce a single law without a whole hierarchy of coercion—police, military and naval—and even then its success requires at least the passive consent of the mass whose life conduct is affected by the decree.

The extent to which Governments can rely upon the automatic obedience even of their coercive agents is again (as was shown in 1914, by the officers at the Curragh) sharply limited. When the change contemplated is one that involves the loss of privileges and possessions by a class that hitherto has had a full and free enjoyment of all the best that life has to offer, and a class, too, that has access to the chief departments of State and the chief materials of warfare, it stands plain to sense and reason that such a decree, however big the Parliamentary majority giving it sanction, will be resisted in such a way and by such a favourably placed class as would make civil war an inevitable preliminary to the re-establishment of Government authority and the effecting of the desired alteration.

Let it be remembered that in the change contemplated by the Communist is involved the complete alteration of the object of wealth production, the spirit of workshop management, the nature of the Government machinery, and the practical social relations within the community. That the workers as a class will come to desire this change is easily supposed—in fact, the surprising thing is that they have not done so sooner. But that they will be allowed to come to that decision in peace and quietness and to express it in the form of a parliamentary majority with the class whose privileges are threatened doing nothing to obscure the issue, or to obstruct and stifle the propaganda in favour of Communism, can be supposed only by those totally ignorant of real life and actual experience.

Counter Revolution

In short—apart from anything else—the Boss class who now rule can be trusted to delay the day of their dispossession (a) by the spreading of misinformation tending their glory and the discredit of the Communists; (b) by active legal and social coercion of the Communists—aimed at the extinction of their propaganda; (c) by faking the election issues in such a way as to stall off a clear mandate; (d) by the cessation of elections—as during the war; (e) and, when all else fails, by every sort of sabotage culminating in civil war.

* * *

Such is the state of the world: so great and widespread the misery, so complete seems the economic collapse of Europe that no man can be sure that a crisis may not be upon us in which millions literally starving clamour for the satisfaction of their needs.

Already strikes and lock-outs bring masses of workers within sight of conflict with the armed forces of the State—reinforced by armed volunteer bands of upper and middle-class enemies of the workers’ class aspirations. Even now it is with difficulty that conflicts are avoided between the unemployed and the police.

Nothing is more certain than that any alleviation of the workers’ lot involves the capture of the State Power and authority by the Working Masses (or by some organised party acting in their name and with their backing) determined upon the suppression of all rights and privileges that block the way to the enjoyment by the workers of life, security, and happiness.

A Class War culminating in the establishment of a Workers’ State is inevitable.

Next: Part VI