Dora B. Montefiore 1917

The Ferment Of Revolution


Source: The Call, 18 October 1917, p. 2
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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.


Lord Northcliffe’s Press, has, in its recently published series of articles, “The Ferment of Revolution,” succeeded in making the flesh of the British capitalist and of his Provisional Government creep! The writer of the articles (who evidently has sympathies with the small academic clique known to themselves as “Guild Socialists”) is described in the “Times” leader of September 25th as “wholly disinterested, except as a patriotic Englishman”; and the result of his inside studies of the “policy of action” which is going on at the present time in the Trades Union movement is fairly accurate and informing in its statements. Where he is absolutely and disingenuously wrong is in his attempt to divide the workers in their class struggle and class interests, by putting in one division of the nation “the intellectually inclined young men and women of the well-paid wage-earning class,” and in suggesting that there is a separation between their interests and those of the textile workers, agricultural labourers and masses of unskilled and too-often-unorganised workers, whom our “patriotic” writer places (as far as industrial and economic interests go) with the bourgeoisie and the millionaires. This is a very clumsy attempt to prop up the old capitalist axiom of “Divide and rule”; and its publication in this present form, in which every reactionary or non-class-conscious element is classed as “Old England,” will deceive no worker of ordinary intelligence.

The articles, in fact, are only of interest to the organised workers in so far as they are a weather-gauge showing the capitalists’ fear for the future safety and permanence of the existing capitalist form of production and distribution; while the wrigglings and writhings and futile attempts to hold on to anything which offers a momentary spasm of safety against the incoming tide of social appropriation of the means of life is grimly encouraging to those who are educating and organising to help the tide to flow with ever-increasing force and volume. As usual, in capitalist excursions into the propaganda of the working-class movement, we have diatribes about “State Socialism” (by which, we imagine, is meant “State capitalism”), Syndicalism and the Guild System—all hailed as constructive forces—the latter being introduced as “a cross between State Socialism and Syndicalism,” which we should therefore fear must be a defective, doomed from the moment of its birth. But, continues writer, “Where do the revolutionists stand to-day with reference to the constructive theories which we have described? . hey are irreconcilably opposed to them as the inventions of middle-class dreamers (as mostly they are), and as designed to introduce discord into the Labour movement;” Every class-conscious proletarian will agree that that is what for the last 20 or 30 years these “inventions of middle-class dreamers” have succeeded in doing. But now, driven by the super-exploitation of a world war, which they realise is but the reflection and expression of world-wide capitalist expansion, the workers of Britain armed, like their comrades in Russia and elsewhere, with the economic interpretation of their exploitation handed down to them by Karl Marx, have determined to make every workshop, where they suffer and sweat and swoon under the relentless strain of three years of intensified war output, a dynamic centre of the class struggle. “Demand upon demand, strike upon strike, blow upon blow, until the capitalist State is destroyed.” We thank thee, Northcliffe, for giving us this phrase.

It is true it occurs in the articles under notice, under the heading of “The Gospel of Disorder,” but no heading was ever more false or misleading. The Gospel of Disorder, forsooth! That is the Gospel that is not only being preached, practised wherever the orgy of militarism has sway! The Gospel of Disorder! And what sort of order is that, where in a great Midland town of England, where munition works belch forth night and day the smoke of capitalist fires, one-fourth of the workers live in condemned houses, where 1,600 families crowd in back-to-back hovels, and where (according to a woman organiser for the Workers’ Union) the average wage of the women workers is nine shillings a week? Is it not time there was, “Labour unrest,” though according to the Northcliffe Press this is “a meaningless and stupid term”? Is it not time the more powerful unions began to study the inner meaning of the capitalist phrases, “The Great Push” and “The Fight the Finish,” and to strive to apply them to that class war which never ceases, whether the militarists are having an innings or not?

In 1910, Mr. Hyndman, writing in the “English Review,” showed how Trade Union leaders, far from even fomenting a strike, “have been almost too anxious to secure permanent peace between, the wage-earners and their employers, and have been apt to forget that under existing conditions the capitalists always have the whip hand of the labourer, skilled and unskilled.” And he went on to give what he considered some of the main causes of the labour unrest which, even before the war, was causing what we in the workers’ movement may term “capitalist unrest.” A decrease in the purchasing power of wages, due to the depreciation of the value of gold, is what Mr. Hyndman set down as one of the most important factors in pre-war labour unrest. And if that was an important cause then—as we quite agree with Mr. Hyndman it was—why should it cause surprise that the unrest is now, after three years of the intensive exploitation of war profiteers, translating itself into class-conscious and efficient action? Wages have risen a bare 40 or so per cent., while the rise in food prices is, according to the finding of the Government Commission on the Causes of Industrial Unrest, 102 per cent.

A splendid band of educationists are interpreting to the people in all the great industrial centres what is the import of these facts, and giving an historical survey of the workers’ movement, pointing out both its dignity and its historic mission. It was for this spade-work economic teaching that John Maclean was cast into a capitalist prison and tortured with capitalist malignity. If the workers had then had real solidarity, if they had then learnt the full import of “demand upon demand, blow upon blow,” they would have at once demanded that their teacher and comrade should be restored to them. But the day is not far distant when their solidarity as wage-earners will have taught them their strength as conscripts in the great Labour army, which, led to victory by those who possess not only the theory but the practice of industrial tactics, shall realise in all its implications the great saying of Mazzini: “Without the help of the masses you cannot act; you may teach martyrdom, but not victory.”