Version Two, Communism and its Tactics by Sylvia Pankhurst
Nationalist struggles, though largely economic and bound up with the might of Empire, which assures to Big Business its control of markets, are less vital to the upholders of Capitalism, than the direct contest for the overthrow of the system itself.
When the established order is in danger its beneficiaries arm to protect it; its supporters and opponents come to blows, civil war breaks out, and, for the time being, peace is no more.
Is that as it should be? It is as it is. The inevitable must be recognised and prepared for. A determined struggle for supremacy inevitably accompanies the overthrow of Capitalism.
Experience shows that the crisis arises suddenly: the old relationship has been growing more and more strained, and suddenly the bonds are snapped and the storm bursts. We do not say that a Parliamentary crisis, could not be the last straw that would precipitate the conflict, but in none of the contemporary revolutions has this been so. We have now the recent experience of Russia, Austria, Hungary, and Italy to guide our conclusions.
Great economic pressure, and a great spiritual rebellion against the actions and ideology of those who have been in power, are the factors which produce the proletarian revolution.
Parliament must be overthrown, as part of the Capitalist system, which must be altogether destroyed, if the proletarian revolution is to succeed. There must be a clean break with the old methods of supplying the needs of the community and with the old institutions of Government; the revolution must create its own instrument.
Parliament would have to be sacrificed with the overthrow of Capitalism, even were it conceivable that an Act of Parliament will formally declare the abolition of Capitalism. The Capitalists would resist by force the first attempt to put the Act into practice; and Parliament is not the body that could carry t.e proletarian revolution through to success in face of Capitalist revolt, which would be one of both armed and passive resistance.
The workers would be compelled to meet such a revolt with all the forces at their disposal; their most characteristic weapon is their industrial power, for the effective wielding of which they would have to be co-ordinated industrially. Every industry would be divided against itself; the owners and part of the management would take the Capitalist side; the mass of the workers the side of the working class. As in all the countries where the revolutionary crisis has appeared, the naval and military forces would be divided in the same way, though the old training and discipline might cause a larger proportion of the working-class rank and file to support the side of the master class in the Army than in industry. The final events leading up to the revolution would determine this question. If an unpopular war were the ultimate incentive to revolt, the soldiers might be the leaders of the revolution.
A little consideration of the situation arising on the outbreak of revolution, will show that Parliament and the local governing bodies, the county and borough councils, the boards of guardians, and so on, could not be the guiding and co-ordinating machinery of such a struggle; that the machinery of the struggle could take no other form than that of the Soviets.
Even in a war between rival Capitalist Governments Parliament becomes a cipher. In wartime the Cabinet more than ever ignores Parliament and assumes responsibility for conducting the war, announcing that it is “not in the public interest” for Parliament to be told much of what is going on. The Cabinet, remember, is composed of the heads of the various Departments of State, all very much controlled by the expert managers of those departments. On the military side the political and military heads of the War Office work in contact with a machine which is composed of all the officers from the highest to the lowest in the Army, and the men under their command. On the industrial side the political and technical heads of the departments work through a machine which is composed of the owners, managers and workers in all industries, factories, workshops. Great sections of industry are said to be placed under Government control, but are actually handed over to the management of the big industrial magnates. The Members of Parliament, as such, have nothing to do but make speeches. In reality they count for nothing.
The proletarian revolution is the struggle for the overthrow of the system which allows private management for private profit to monopolise the supply of the community’s needs. Still more, therefore, than in the case of war between Capitalist States the struggle must assume a practical utilitarian character, and be carried out by a practical, utilitarian machinery. Since the struggle for the overthrow of Capitalism is a struggle for the emancipation of the masses from the rule of the propertied class, the officers and managers on the proletarian side will naturally be leaders chosen by their fellows. Contact with the rank and file will also naturally be by delegates and mass meetings: The services of the rank and file in the struggle will not be based upon compulsion and wagery, but on consent and enthusiasm, and a share in deciding aims and policies.
During the great world war of 1914-19, even Capitalism found that shop stewards were of use in securing output and in maintaining discipline. Though Workers’ Committees were formed to protect the interests of the workers, yet in most cases, because the workers supported the war the committees increased production and greatly reduced the work of the employers’ managing staff. The employers disliked and feared the Workers’ Committee Movement. Yet, under the great stress of war orders, they encouraged the election of shop stewards by the women munition makers, who were largely, new-comers to industry, and were shepherded into the Unions, as a condition of their employment, by an arrangement between the engineering unions and the Government. Committees of employers and Trade Union representatives sitting outside the factories were also formed, in the effort to secure increased production, by enlisting the co-operation and goodwill of the men and women who were doing the actual work. These committees, though acting under Government auspices, had much less power to influence production than the workers’ own Councils in the factories themselves.
The Workers’ Committees in the factories and workshops form the basis of the Workers’ Council or Soviet system, which will manage the industries under Communism.
It is sometimes contended that, though the Soviets would spring up as a necessary instrument of the struggle, should the fall of Capitalism be accompanied by civil war; yet Parliamentary Government could be reverted to, and the Soviets disbanded after the crisis were passed. Therefore, those who hold this view, and also hope that Capitalism may be abolished without a serious struggle, refuse to interest themselves in the question of Soviets.
Nevertheless, even assuming that it should be possible to pass from Capitalism to Communism without strife, the disappearance of Parliament is inevitable, whilst the complex character of modern industry, the varied needs of the people to-day, and the confusion of the transition would render the Soviets a necessary means of co-ordination, at least for some time after the overthrow of Capitalism.
Consider the situation which would arise in London, or any large city, if Capitalism were suddenly brought to an end. Consider the vast population crowded into a relatively small area, the elaborate network of tubes, trams and buses, the main-line stations, the docks, the waterworks, the gasworks, the electric generating stations, the dairies, bakeries and restaurants, the food preserving, clothing, furnishing, and other factories, the slaughter-houses, butchers’, grocers’ and greengrocers’ and coal merchants, the markets and wholesale and retail dealers of all kinds. All these would be facing the end of the system that maintained them in their accustomed state; but millions of people would still be needing the daily supply of milk and bread to be delivered at their doors or lying ready for them at the nearest shop; they would still be needing their accustomed supply of food, fuel and means of transport. If there is a halt in the supply of the main necessities, some people at least will fail to present themselves to do their part in the daily task; the needs of masses of others may thus go unsupplied. Perhaps at the overthrow of Capitalism the workers are in the throes of a general strike, or from other causes, the wheels of industry are already dislocated, and everyone is already living a hungry, makeshift existence.
Whichever way it happens, everything has to be reorganised and built up on a new basis; a basis of production for use, not for profit. Undoubtedly a large proportion of those who used to manage the big concerns under Capitalism would refuse to fulfill such offices any more, even if asked. Undoubtedly many of them could not be trusted to occupy their old positions. Their hostility will be clearly apparant; they may already have taken to sabotage.
Meanwhile the people, the hungry millions of all sorts, will be clamouring to have their wants attended to; all with their peculiarities, their likes and dislikes, their reasonable and unreasonable prejudices; crowds of them will be ready to start looting, if they are kept waiting too long, or denied what they believe is their due.
Everyone, both as worker and consumer, has new hopes and desires, new claims upon life and the community, for has not the Workers’ Revolution come? Everyone demands more clothes, more pleasure, more leisure, and more congenial employment. Only the patient people are willing to wait. Everyone, too, is demanding a new, independent status and a share in deciding how things shall be done. Many people, moreover, are finding their accustomed work quite dislocated — even supposing they should be contented to continue doing it just as before.
Parliament is structurally unfitted to deal with such a situation; even a Parliament of Trade Union officials would find the difficulties insoluble. It would be compelled to appeal to the workers organised where they work. If the Soviets were not in being, it would appeal to the existing Trade Unions for assistance in establishing that essential machinery. Though Messrs. Ramsay MacDonald, J.H.Thomas and Will Thorne are Labour representatives, their position would be highly unenviable in face of such a crisis were no other machinery than that of Parliament available, should the structure of private enterprise be suddenly broken down. Imagine Mr. Thorne beseiged by the housewives of West Ham, whose supplies of food and fuel are cut off; and Mr. Ramsay MacDonald receiving wireless messages from Wales that his mining constituents are starving because the transport system is dislocated. The Labour Party members could attempt to deal with these things as representatives of their Unions, not as representatives of their constituents. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald could do nothing. He could only appeal to Mr. Thomas.
As to the borough councils, they would be only less incapable of dealing with the situation than Parliament itself. We remember the dislocations in the comparatively simple matter of war food rationing, and the groups of housewives here and there, who, through the muddling of the local Food Committee and the Ministry of Food, found themselves as “outlanders" prohibited from buying at the shops where they had hitherto dealt, and unable to procure commodities anywhere else. How should the Ministry of Food in Westminster be familiar with the shopping places of the women in Poplar? How should the Members of Parliament, or the Borough Councillors, suddenly become experts in the intricacies of a multitude of industries of which they hitherto knew nothing at all?
The only people who could deal with the great change and its new requirements are the people, all interlocked as they are, who are actually engaged in the making and transport of each product and the people who use it. The Soviets, built up according to the needs of each and all industries, would be the only solution of the new problem.
Had the factory been thrown into a turmoil of dislocation, then the workers in the factory would come together to produce order: each in the emergency would respond to the need that he should perform the task for which he had been equipped by training and for which workers were required, but some would be spared from accustomed tasks to fill the positions which had become vacant, to take stock and discover deficiencies, to acquaint absentees with the fact that work had begun again. These workers drafted to new work would be chosen for their fitness as far as could be discerned by themselves and their fellows. Each factory, each centre of work, would shoulder its own comparatively small difficulties, and thus by the co-operative effort of countless eager units the great tasks of the community, otherwise overwhelming, would be accomplished. Gradually the whole mechanism of industry would be transformed.
If the housewives had their Soviets when the great change came, they would not be found rushing frantically about the streets in search of supplies and threatening to break into the shops and storehouses because their children were hungry. If, however, they were disorganised as now, and hence terrified and distracted, it would be necessary for any who remained calm to call them together to enumerate their wants and transmit them not to a body of lawyers, journalists, and persons of all sorts at Westminster, but to the workers responsible for production, distribution and transport, in order that all might be supplied.