Guido Baracchi June 1921

Proletarian Comment

Source: "Reason in Revolt", Source documents of Australian Radicalism;
First Published: in The Proletarian Review, Editorial “Proletarian Comment” by the Editor (Guido Baracchi), June 1921;
Transcribed: by Chris Clayton.


THE ranks of the unemployed continue to swell. It is true that the capitalist world is at present in the throes of an industrial crisis, but the workers need not flatter themselves that with the passing of this crisis unemployment will diminish in future; that it is attributable to mere transitory causes such as the change from war to peace conditions; or that the capitalist class will endeavour to remove it. Three points stand out clearly: (1) Unemployment increases with the development of capitalism; (2) Unemployment is not due to superficial causes, but is inherent in the system; (3) It is against the interests of the ruling class to attempt a solution of the problem of unemployment. That unemployment increases with the development of capitalism is proved by the statistics published from time to time by the capitalists themselves. That unemployment is not due to superficial causes, but is inherent in the system, is proved by logical deduction from the facts of capitalism. If industrial progress means that the number of workers required to produce a given quantity of wealth, is constantly diminishing, there can be, under capitalism, only one result: a progressive increase in the number of unemployed. And there can be no relief even for the workers of a country that might outstrip its competitors, because the capitalists of any such country would take steps to keep up the supply of labor power from countries which had a dangerous surplus. That it is against the interests of the ruling class to attempt a solution of the problem is proved by the fact that unemployment is necessary to capitalism. Capitalists want enough unemployment to compel the workers to submit to their terms and conditions, but not so much as will cause desperation and unrest, with its accompanying acceptance of Communist explanation and remedy. Capitalist experiments in unemployed insurance are attempts to ascertain this medium, and can only have a palliative effect of small value to the workers. These will finally be driven by the march of events to accept the above explanation of unemployment. They will turn to the Communist remedy. And then Revolution will be knocking at the door.

Revolutionary Methods.

IN “The Socialist” of May 6, Don Cameron sharply criticises Comrade Brodney, of the A.S.P. Communist Party, because Brodney insists on the unlimited class-struggle for the proletariat in general, and on strict party discipline for Communists in particular. Brodney is very well able to defend himself, but we ask Cameron not to confuse the proletarian objective of a Communist society with the methods of reaching it, which are dictated to the workers by the conditions of capitalist society; and not to imagine that it is impossible to attain a beautiful end by means which are “in themselves” unlovely. In this connection we wish to draw our readers’ attention to some words of one of the founders of modern Communism. Frederick Engels says: “Slavery first made the division of labor between agriculture and industry completely possible and brought into existence the flower of the old world, Greece. Without slavery there would have been no Grecian State, no Grecian art and science and no Roman Empire. There would have been no modern Europe without the foundation of Greece and Rome. We must not forget that our entire economic, political and intellectual development has is foundation in a state of society in which slavery was regarded as universally as necessary. In this sense we may say that without the ancient slavery there would have been no modern socialism. It is very easy to make preachments about slavery and to express our moral indignation at such a scandalous institution. Unfortunately, the whole significance of this is that it merely says that these old institutions do not correspond with our present conditions and the sentiments engendered by these conditions. We do not, however, in this way explain how these institutions came into existence, and the role which they played in history. And when we enter upon this matter we are obliged to say in spite of all contradiction and accusations of heresy that the introduction of slavery under the conditions of that time was a great step forward. It is a fact that man sprang from the lower animals and has had to employ barbaric and really bestial methods in order to rid himself of barbarism.” If our readers will ponder these words they will understand that even if the methods of the social revolution are not destined to be bestial, they will certainly partake far more of the character of capitalist society than of Communism.

Trade Unions.

IF the subject of Trade Unionism during the period anterior to the Revolution is elsewhere a burning question, in Russia on the other hand, the question of the role of the unions after the revolution is arousing no less animated debate. Heretofore, all Socialist thought in this matter has been, owing to the lack of actual experience from which to reason, only of the most abstract character. The First International, for example, adopted a resolution on July 20, 1869, at Geneva which opens with the following proposition: “The trade unions alone are the correct form for workingmen’s associations and on the whole offer the correct form for future society.” De Leon carried further the same idea in his development of the concept of industrial unionism, and spoke of the post-revolutionary role of this more advanced union with proud words: “Where the General Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World will sit there will be the nation’s capital. Like the flimsy card houses that children raise, the present political governments of counties, of States, aye, of the city on the Potomac herself, will tumble down, their places taken by the central and the subordinate administrative organs of the nation’s industrial forces.” Now, in Russia, the role of the unions in the Communist reconstruction of society is being worked out in practice, and is giving rise to discussion of a concrete character never possible before. This discussion centres about the question of the relations of the unions to production and the State. One group considers that the unions should immediately assume the control of industry; another that they should now sink their identity in the economic administrations of the State. Of the more influential groups, that of Trotsky and Bucharin holds that the unions must forthwith become more and more the masters of production, becoming at the same time more and more responsible to the State for industrial results, and that the democratic principle should be applied inside the unions. But the advice of Lenin, who has his head screwed on very much the right way, is to “hasten slowly.” The majority group which supports his view maintains that the chief function of the unions at present is to serve as schools of Communism for the unenlightened workers, and that in the domain of industrial control the unions must confine themselves to the enlargement of their existing role. No doubt Lenin is right; if it were not an un-Marxian thing to say, we should assert that he is always right. In any case we can learn from the discussion that the social relations of the unions after the revolution are far less simple and obvious than we had previously imagined.


WITH the completion of the present number of “The Proletarian” we lay down our editorial pen to serve the cause of Communism in other places and other ways. The magazine itself will continue to serve a useful purpose in the Labor movement. But, as its editor, this is our swan song. And the burthen of this song is the same as that with which we began “The Proletarian” thirteen months ago. We say now, as we said then, that the Marxist method of thought alone provides the key to understanding the nature of the social process; that this method alone will avail the proletariat anything in its class-struggle; that this method is, in very truth, the workers’ own. Let them but learn to know Marxism, let them but be true to Marxism, and all else will be added unto them. So much for the proletariat at large; for those already upon the Marxist track, this: In the knowledge of Australian Marxists there is a noticeable and unfortunate hiatus. Our Marxists are good philosophers, competent economists, but, almost to a man, the poorest possible historians. They understand very well the proper method of interpreting the facts of history; but of the facts themselves to which this method should be applied, they are woefully ignorant. This is a serious shortcoming and one that calls for rectification. How serviceable a weapon to Communism a knowledge of concrete historical facts can be is well shown in the columns of such a paper as “The Socialist Standard” of Great Britain. Among those who have been taking “The Proletarian” regularly during the past year, there must be at least some who have acquired a grip of the essential Marxist principles. These we exhort to make good the shortcoming of Australian Marxism by applying themselves to the diligent study of the facts of history. We assure them that than this study and the subsequent utilisation of its results for propaganda purposes they can do no better service to the cause of the proletariat. With which parting word we make our bow to our readers.