Guido Baracchi February 1921
Source: "Reason in Revolt", Source documents of Australian Radicalism;
First Published: in The Proletarian Review, Editorial “Proletarian Comment” by the Editor (Guido Baracchi), February 1921;
Transcribed: by Chris Clayton.
HIGHLY instructive for the working class is the present industrial situation. A section of the marine transport workers, the stewards struck against their conditions during a period of trade depression. This afforded the capitalists an opportunity to shuffle off upon the strikers the “responsibility” for the great amount of unemployment existing quite apart from the strike. Moreover, business being slack, it suited the purpose of the ship-owners, and indeed of the whole capitalist class, to resist the demand for even such insignificant reforms as those claimed by the stewards. In these conditions the cause of the strikers was hopeless, and they were compelled to accept defeat. But the stewards’ strike had, owing to the interdependence of modern industry, of necessity added to the ranks of the unemployed a large number of shore, as well as sea, workers. Business, however, being slack, the capitalists were in no desperate hurry for these to resume work, and the ship-owners accordingly locked out another section of the marine transport workers, the seamen. The ship-owners will now graciously permit part of the great mass of unemployed to work the means of production created by their class but appropriated by the capitalists only after the seamen have been taught a “lesson,” only after they have dropped all idea of “controlling” their jobs, only after they have submitted to an actual reduction of their numbers previously employed as crews. The result is so serous for the workers that, having begun by acting in sections, they are now compelled to move in the direction of class or political action, and call an all-Australian conference of labor organisations. We do not know upon what particular line of action this conference will decide; but we do know that, in a period of trade depression, no mere withdrawal of labor-power, be it from the key industries or even in the general, is sufficient to bring the capitalists to terms. The capitalists can simply sit back and let the workers starve. And should these, in desperation, attempt to take from the possession of those who did not produce them, the stores of food, they will meet directly what is the final answer of the capitalist class to the revolted workers — the naked force of the bourgeois State.
THE development of the present economic struggle with the ship-owners is an unmistakable illustration of the necessity for general political action on the part of the working class. Adam smith showed long ago that in wage-conflicts, taken on the whole the master is always the master; Marx also has pointed out that in its merely economic action capital is the stronger side. When trade is brisk, clear realisation of this is apt to be blurred, since, in order to end as quickly as possible a strike in such conditions, the capitalists may at an early stage call the State-power to their assistance, or, on the other hand, it may pay them to yield some slight concessions to the strikers. But when trade is slack, as at present, then is the economic position of the capitalists as against the workers disclosed in its full strength, then it becomes painfully apparent that they can wait at ease until the striking or locked-out workers come crawling back to them on empty stomachs, then it is manifest that they require the assistance of the State power only as a last resort. Yet, in the last resort, when the workers have been goaded beyond endurance, the capitalists do not need this power, it is this power which finally imposes the will of the bourgeoisie upon the proletariat, and if the proletariat would alter that, it is this power which it must take into account. In connection with the existing dispute, E. J. Holloway is reported to have said: “In my opinion the industrial movement has remained on the defensive long enough, and the time has arrived when we have to consider the question of adopting a similar attitude to that of the ship-owners.” We may generalise these words. Facing bad times, the capitalist class the world over is launching an offensive against the already pitiful economic position of the workers. There can be but one reply for these: To prepare a counter-offensive without delay. But in order that this may succeed, the preparation for it must aim steadily at the destruction of the bourgeois Sate, at razing to the ground the robber burg of capitalism and erecting in its stead the citadel of the workers’ power, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Only when the political power of the workers is established will their economic liberation begin. That is the undoubted lesson of the present dispute, and it is the message of the Communists to the workers as a whole.
IN our last issue we made the comment that the Communist movement in Australia had not been able to avoid the example of some other countries in the matter of splits; we make the comment in this issue that the movement ere, as elsewhere, also shows signs of developing a disorder termed by Lenin the “infantile sickness of Left Communism.” This is a distemper intimately connected with and at the same time precisely contrary to the “senile decay of social democracy,” a disease of vigorous early life and not of withered old age, nevertheless a disease, a deviation from the normal life of Communism, and, as such, to be duly diagnosed and corrected. Two forms of this disorder manifest themselves in the anti-Parliamentarist attitude of Left Communists and in their refusal to work in the conservative Trades Unions. We have dealt at length with the question of Communist Parliamentarianism in previous issues, and we shall return to this subject in the future. As to the voluntary withdrawal of Communists from Trades Unions, we publish this month a severe criticism by Lenin of this procedure. In the next issue we propose to publish an article demonstrating that Communists must be prepared, when they have cultivated a following and wield an influence in the Trades Unions, to accept the further responsibility of executive positions in the interest of the proletarian revolution. An immediate practical task for Communists in the Trades Unions is to persuade these organisations to affiliate with Labor Colleges at the head of whose classes are Communist instructors. In this way the Communist education of the economic movement will be advanced. Communists in the Trades Unions must also work for Industrial Unionism. This more efficient form of organisation will shorten and lessen the birth pangs of the Communist society. Further, the Trades Unions automatically take control of every strike, lock-out and industrial dispute, and, particularly at a time when dispute is following dispute with almost breathless rapidity, it is rank treason to the working class for Communists to remain inactive in these bodies. Our left Communists are fond of saying: “Wait until Bucharin replies to Lenin!” Well, the These on Parliamentarism and Trades Unionism adopted at the Second Congress of the Communist International were prepared by Zinoviev, Radek and — Bucharin!
WE hope that we shall not be accused of “wantonly pandering” to the A.S.P. Communist Party when we say that it will be doing a considerable service to us all in immediately republishing a booklet by Lenin, of which it is in possession of probably the only copy obtainable in Australia. This booklet, which is in our opinion the most valuable of Lenin’s writings since “The State and Revolution,” was written last year, and covers various aspects of the infantile sickness of Left Communism. But however many of these it may cover, Lenin’s notice seems at least to have been spared one Left Communist phantasy to which we have recently been treated in Melbourne. This is nothing other than the argument that there is no need for a Workers’ International at all! We are not yet aware of the detailed “reasoning” of this very brilliant and powerful idea, but it is plainly in antagonism to the international character of capitalist economy and to the political necessities of the proletariat to which this economy gives rise. Only a lack of appreciation of the tremendous results organisation is capable of achieving, could lead a Left Communist, above all at a time when in the final stage of capitalist development we are approaching the world revolution, to deny the efficacy of working class organisation in the international sphere. The whole idea of “no International” is surely an anarchic conception to which we may well apply some words once used against Bakunin by Marx: “It proclaims anarchy in the ranks of the proletariat as the most infallible means of defeating the powerful concentration of social and political forces in the hands of the exploiters. On this pretext it requires the International at the moment when the old world seeks to crush it, to replace its organisation by anarchy. The international police asks no more.” On their part, the more enlightened leaders of the bourgeoisie understand very well the importance of international organisation, political and economic, to the preservation of their system from disintegrating effects. And, if the League of Nations and other recent results of their efforts in this direction are in a rather decrepit conditions, whereas the condition of the Third International appears on the other hand, thriving and full of life, that is only because, as even Kautsky admits, we are confronting the world revolution, and because the future is in the hands of the world proletariat.