Guido Baracchi March 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), March 1921;
Transcribed: by Chris Clayton.

The Paris Commune.

ON the morning of March 18, fifty years ago, Paris arose to the thunder burst of “Viva La Commune!” The Parisian workers, understanding that it was “their imperious duty and their absolute right to render themselves masters of their own destinies, by seizing upon the governmental power” inaugurated the first dictatorship of the proletariat, and, in the teeth of the embattled forces of the counter-revolution, maintained their rule for two full months. The first proletarian dictatorship has produced a powerful effect on the fight for emancipation in all countries, an effect which has been confirmed and supplemented by the second and third proletarian dictatorships, the Russian and the Hungarian. Since, however, in the Paris of 1871, “the small workshop of the patriarchal master” was still the rule and the large factory of the industrial capitalist the exception, the Commune could only make tentative approaches to the question of the Socialist organisation of industry. Yet even from this negative aspect of the Commune we may learn much. In his work on the Commune, Debreuilh, that great revolutionist, says: “The policy of methodic expropriation, quite apart from the opposition of the other classes, was impossible, for the reason that the day laborers in the mass had no idea of the constitution of society other than the traditional one, and because they had not developed any institutions or trade guilds, which are absolutely necessary to ensure the normal working of production and exchange after all capitalistic organisation has been removed. It is impossible to improvise a new regime, especially a Socialist regime, by means of decrees. Decrees and laws should rather make secure the relations already existing. If in this matter the Commune had attempted to act prematurely, probably the sole result would have been to cause a section of its own best powers to turn against it, without causing among the daily workers any appreciable disposition in their favour. They could not do otherwise than prepare the way for a general social provision, under the pretence of democratising the political machinery then in existence; and that is what they did.” Since 1871, half a century of the most powerful capitalist development has elapsed, and socialisation could proceed at a very different tempo to-day. Nevertheless, the lesson of the Commune holds: that in all our social life the economic conditions are decisive, that every act which would fly in the face of those conditions is foredoomed to failure. Let us therefore be constant in our study of economic development, that, everywhere and always, we may wage the class struggle in its light, neither leaping ahead of nor, particularly at the present day, lagging behind it.

The Politics of the Commune.

IN the determination of social development the economic factor is paramount. This factor Blanqui and his followers disregarded, and, in despite of the immaturity of the general social conditions, concluded, by the desperate dictatorship of a small minority, to remake the world. On the other hand, Proudhon and his successors, right down to the “pure and simple” industrialists of to-day, drew from a realisation of the fundamental importance of the economic factor, the conclusion that for the exploited classes politics were superfluous. The Marxist conception overcomes the one-sidedness of the theories of both the one and the other. For the Marxist the relation between economics and politics consists in studying the economic conditions and tendencies, and attempting to make political aims and methods fit in with them. “Marx recognised that the economic relations were of the first importance, that without some alteration of these relations no political change of whatever kind could emancipate the proletariat. But, none the less, he recognised that the possession of State power and authority was absolutely necessary in order to break the domination of capital, and in order to carry out the emancipation of the proletariat by economic changes.” For the Marxist economics make politics not superfluous, but necessary. History, in the guise of the Paris Commune, confirms this concept. For the Commune demonstrated in what the first step of the social revolution in fact consists, namely, in the conquest of political power by the proletariat. But the Commune did more than this. It not only showed that the workers must conquer political power, it also indicated the form that the political power of the workers, when conquered, must take. And that form is not the form of the bourgeois State. The Commune proceeded to the destruction of the executive and judicial arms of this State. As to the legislature — well, the Commune was to have been “not a parliamentary, but a working body.” In Russia, long before 1917, the Bolsheviki understood that they could not use the bourgeois forms of State to express proletarian power, but that they must destroy these and substitute proletarian forms. This knowledge, which they owed to the Commune, led them in 1917 to the establishment of the Soviet as its twentieth century and Russian equivalent. When the Australian workers also have learnt this lesson of the Commune, they will turn away from the Labor Party, which, using the bourgeois State machine, functions inevitably in the interest of the bourgeoisie, to an acceptance of the Communist program. And then they in their turn will have a successful revolution.

The Council of Action.

THE results of the all-Australian conference of labor organisations held to consider the serious predicament in which the workers of this country found themselves, has been to produce a plan for the immediate organisation of councils of action. These councils are to be based upon the unions, grouped in twelve divisions, whence a council is to be elected in every State; the Sate councils, in their turn, are to elect a Commonwealth council of action with power to order a general strike “or any action deemed necessary.” The significance of such workers’ councils is not hard to fathom. Conceived at a time of stress, they are the first reaching out in this country towards that form of organisation which ultimately will supply the mechanism of the dictatorship of the Australian proletariat. The Soviets developed in Russia and elsewhere present a strong analogy to the Paris Commune; the proposed Australian councils of action, though based upon the union rather than the place of work, bear a still more striking resemblance to the Soviets. From the experience of a number of European countries, however, Communists have learnt that, save in a revolutionary situation, Soviets cannot flourish. In a non-revolutionary situation, they either decline rapidly or, what is worse, have their revolutionary significance perverted by the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class. Revolutionary situations without doubt produce Soviets; Soviets, on the other hand, cannot produce revolutionary situations. The situation in Australia at present is not exactly revolutionary, and the most urgent need of the Australian proletariat is not workers’ councils but a strong Communist party. Is that to say that Communists should hold themselves aloof from the proposed councils of action? By no means. The constitution of these councils in any event proceeds. Communists should use their appearance on the Australian political stage to make propaganda among the workers for the Soviet idea, for the workers’ council as the historically elaborated form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Moreover, Communists elected to the councils of action have an opportunity to work therein ready to hand. If the Commonwealth council is to have the power to order a cessation of work, let them induce this council to call a one day’s general strike for the first of May.

Red Union International Congress.

AT Moscow, on May 1, opens the Red International Congress of Trade and Industrial Unions. In connection therewith, the first direct communication to them from the Communist International has reached the workers of Australia. It comes in the form of a Manifesto (signed by Tomsky, Rossmer and Murphy, of Russia, France and England respectively) from the Provisional International Council of Trade ad Industrial Unions at Moscow to the Trade and Industrial Unions of Australia, together with a covering letter addressed to Comrade P. Lamb, of Broken Hill. The Provisional Council sends out an urgent call to the unions here to despatch delegates immediately to Moscow, in order that they may participate in the Red Union International Congress. Every militant worker must realise the importance of this Congress. The time has come for the union movement here to decide whether it will continue to allow the capitalist class to walk upon its neck. If so, if it would continue in the old way, then it will follow in the wake of the fakirs who lead it ever deeper into the morass of exploitation, and it will adhere to the Yellow International Federation of Trade Unions at Amsterdam. If, on the contrary, it would march out of the capitalist morass, if it would begin at length a whole-hearted struggle for its emancipation, then it will break with the Yellow Union International and link up with the Red International at Moscow. In that case, it is essential that its delegates should participate in the forthcoming Congress, and, if they are to do so, the matter must be brought before the unions without delay. Failure to despatch a delegation will not only mean the loss of a golden opportunity to serve the cause of the international proletariat, it will involve a positive disgrace upon the labor movement of Australia. This disgrace the militants in the unions must at all costs strive to avert. It may interest them to know that the man entrusted by the Provisional Council with writing the letter which contains the invitation to attend the Congress, regrets his inability to carry this invitation to Australia in person, and that, by the irony of history, the man is Paul Freeman. When the Australian Government deported Freeman, it imagined it was serving the capitalist class. What it has actually done is to enable Freeman, who is now in Moscow, to put the Australian workers in communication with their Russian brothers, and thereby drive a nail in the capitalist class’s coffin.