Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. II, February 1922, No. 2
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Printer: The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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.
THE most important fact in modern history is the breakdown of Capitalism. This fact—which is pregnant with great possibilities—explains the number of convulsive social upheavals which have recently swept the world. As Capitalism becomes more unstable, as it becomes riven by the fangs of its own inherent contradictions, these upheavals are destined to increase both in number and severity and must inevitably create a series of intense revolutionary situations. In this development there exists the greatest possibility that the social revolution may take place in the immediate future. To-day no one views the social revolution as some Utopian phantasy; it is now being forced upon us as the only practical solution to the great social problem which history has placed before us.
The rapid approach of the social revolution and the coming struggle for proletarian power as the first decisive step towards Communism, have somewhat unsettled the sentimental dilettanti, who were always ready to assert their belief in Communism as an ideal. Now that history has imposed the task upon us to fight to obtain Communism, to translate the social ideal into a social reality, our high-minded friends, while not rejecting the ideal, are not anxious to participate in the relentless struggle inseparably bound up in the attainment of Communism. Some of them protest against class-strife; others dislike the iron hand of proletarian dictatorship, and many of them object to the use of force as one of the weapons in the revolutionary combat. So deeply engrossed are these people with their ideal and saccharine conception of Communism that they have neither faced the realities of the class struggle, the cruelties of Capitalism, nor the economic needs of the desperate masses. They do not seem to understand that any attack upon the political and economic privileges of the propertied interests will be resisted with desperate savagery, and that these interests may plunge the country into civil war. The idealists are thus able to pose as superior critics of the virulent and aggressive tactics of the Communist Party; they seem shocked that active revolutionaries, engaged in a hand-to-hand fight in the class-struggle trenches, do not display that sweet brotherliness which their ideal conception of Communism led them to expect; The real trouble with the Utopians is that, while they are sincerely eager to reach the end of their journey, they are not prepared to participate in the common, thankless, work-a-day struggle to prepare the necessary means to enable them to reach their objective. Perhaps the commonest objection put forward by the sentimental Utopians against the realist Communists is the latter’s insistence on the need for so planning the revolutionary movement that it will be able to overcome the violence of the reactionaries. To object to the organising of the Might of the disciplined masses seems strange, inasmuch as many of the idealists have been compelled to observe quite recently a series of desperate and bloody deeds which indicate that the propertied interests intend to defend their social system by measures at once violent and ruthless.
With the use of political society, which is based upon private property, force makes its appearance as the weapon of a ruling class. Within the old communistic clan system force was only used against those outside the clan. With the rise of private property, with the rise of. class differences and antagonisms, the organised political power of the dominant class—the State—was utilised to preserve its class interests against foreign aggressors and against the subject of enslaved classes at home. Since the rise of political society and the State, force has always been the ultima ratio of the ruling class confronted with any demands that threatened its political and economic interests. Surrounding itself with a series of legal and political defences, these are violently defended, during any social upheaval, as a “law and order.” To criticise “law and order” becomes an attack upon the Constitution which, in turn, is raised to the level of something more sacred than the holiest religion.
Many of our modern parliamentary Labourists see in the history of the masses, from chattel slavery to the wage-system, a series of magnificent and glorious upward steps towards freedom. In reality the average modern worker is exploited, relatively, upon a much greater scale than was the average ancient slave. The so-called political advantages of the masses to-day, which may be rendered inoperative at any moment of social crisis, have been gained at the expense of the comparative security which distinguishes the slave and the serf from the “free” wage-worker. The slave was brought in direct contact with force; the serf was also kept down by force and was mentally bull-dosed by the Catholic church; the modern “democratic” wage-worker is menaced by Emergency Acts, etc., by the dope Press—and, when these fail, by Black Friday specialists and the armed forces.
In the history of political society there have been several important revolutions. The lessons from these show that while history was on the side of the revolutionary elements that victory only came to them because their organised force was superior to that of the defenders of the old social system. A study of these revolutions shows that revolutionary groups were always anxious to achieve their aims in a peaceful manner. In most cases the revolution had been actually accomplished, and the work of reconstruction commenced, when the deposed interests hurled themselves upon the revolutionaries and precipitated a period of civil war. In England very few of the revolutionaries imagined that it would be necessary to defend the revolution by executing Charles I. as the leader of a rebellion against the Commonwealth. This is admitted by all the historians. Likewise, in France, the most extreme zealot on behalf of the revolution never dreamed for one moment that Louis would be guillotined as a plotter against it.
It may be argued that no analogy can be drawn between past revolutions and those which may corm in the future. Many people, particularly of the pacifist school, are under the impression that the political enfranchisement of the workers means that the coming social revolution will be peaceful. Every Communist desires, most fervently, that the new social order may be established with the minimum of social friction. But our desires and hopes do not settle historical problems. We have to reckon with the capitalist-imperialists; and their actions during the past few years give us no reason to assume that they intend voluntarily and peacefully to yield up their political and economic privileges. Every scrap of evidence, unfortunately, points the other way. A new factor enters info the proletarian revolution which was not present in any of the earlier revolutions in history. All previous revolutions, with the exception of the Soviet revolution, were struggles between propertied classes over property relations. In the Cromwellian revolution, as in the French revolution (1789), we see the political struggle engendered by the economic conflict between the landed and the bourgeois fortes of property. But in the coming proletarian revolution the directing force of the struggle is an attempt on the part of the propertyless masses to end the propertied system! It is this definite character of the proletarian revolution that makes it almost certain that the propertied interests will fight with unprecedented ferocity. It is this aspect of the proletarian revolution that explains why for over four years the power of world imperialism was directed against Russia.
Marx, viewing revolutions and with a great knowledge of history to guide him, contended that “force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.” Many superficial critics of the Communists point to this statement by Marx as indicating that the proletarian revolution will be an orgy of violence. It should be noted, as Daniel De Leon took pains to point out, that Marx does not sum up a revolution in the terms of force. The midwife force only intervenes at the critical moment of birth. The development leading up to the birth, its time and place, are factors outside the control of the midwife.
The critics of the Communists are very prone to confuse force with violence. No group in the Labour movement is more relentlessly opposed to deeds of individual violence than the Communist Party. Every political organisation in the world believes in force. Force is that social power derived from the organisation of individuals in such a manner as to enable them to enforce their will upon society. The real force of a revolutionary movement depends upon the way in which it is able to organise great masses of determined workers in every plane of social action, to setup new administrative organs to replace those of the old regime. This is the most important work of the revolution. Side by side with this constructive work its general agitational and destructive work will be of such a character as to under mine and loosen the props of the old institutions. The culmination of these tasks will be reached at the moment of social crisis when the revolutionary movement seeks to relegate to itself all political and industrial power. All this is peaceful work, and its success depends upon the organized force of the revolution. As these peaceful aims are directed against Capitalism and the propertied system, and as the final objective of the revolution is to uproot the economic and political power of the propertied interests, it would be sheer stupidity to expect the present ruling class to surrender voluntarily. Knowing what history teaches regarding the bitter conflict of past revolutionary periods; remembering the tigerish brutality of the imperialist forces against the Communists of Rumania, Hungary, Finland and now in Poland; seeing their policy at work in India, Egypt, and recently in Ireland, it would be worse than criminal treachery to suggest that the revolutionary movement should go forward without preparing itself to meet the civil war, which the proprietary class is determined to enforce upon this country when a revolutionary situation develops. It is when the reactionaries leave the civilised plane and descend to the field of brute force to smash the new organs of social administration, it is at that critical moment that the organised might of the proletariat upholds the right of the revolutionary movement by exerting part of its great force to sweep its enemies out of the way. It is at this moment of danger to the new rising social order that revolutionary force passes, briefly, into the sphere of violence. But even here the violence is controlled by the organised forces of the revolution. To neglect to prepare for such an emergency; to wait until the White Guards and the Black and Tans are sweeping over the movement, choking it in its own blood, is the best and surest way to invite inevitable disaster and bloody defeat.
The propertied interests respect neither religious texts, nor logical propositions. These are always moved to action to protect their interests. They hold the world by their power, and they only respect power. Thus, those who desire to see the social revolution carried out peacefully, and all of us desire that, should see to it that the revolutionary movement is prepared for every emergency by being able to wield such power that it will compel the propertied interests to behave themselves when history beckons us forward to the new social system.