Max Bedacht


Source: The Communist, Vol. VI, No. 1, March 1927, pp. 1-6.
Publisher: Workers (Communist) Party of America
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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 seemingly irresistible onward march for the conquest of their own country by the nationalist revolutionary forces in China have aroused the big imperialist powers. China is a tremendous country. It is rich in unexploited national resources, rich in fruitful soil, rich in cheap labor power. It is rich in everything that promises golden fruits of profit to investment of surplus capital which cannot find a market in the homeland of the imperialist capitalists. No wonder that China was considered for a long time with covetus eyes by all capitalist powers. No wonder, therefore, that all of these powers attempted to get a firm foothold in China. First England hoped to extend its conquest of India over the territory of all Asia. The infamous opium war was one of the means applied to this end. But young and vigorous imperialism of America, of Germany, of France, and of Russia spoiled the plan of imperialist Great Britain. The policy of the open door was the sign that Great Britain would have to share China with other Imperialist powers. At least for a time, until the final division of the world, when the contest for world power will be settled and when one victorious and all powerful group of imperialist capitalists will have all the world under its heels.

This would be the ordinary course of events, if capitalism could proceed uninterruptedly on its natural course. However, it can’t do that. The world which is subject to the exploitation of capitalism is not an inanimate substance but consists of classes of people and of nations. And these classes and nations, which are the objects of capitalist exploitation, are a tremendous force which lack nothing to become irresistible except a consciousness of their social and political position as objects of exploitation, and a consciousness of their power. It is the fate of capitalism that its oppressive exploitation produces this consciousness. And the result is resistance of the oppressed, rebellions of exploited nations, revolution of the exploited classes.

In China today international capital faces the rebellion of an exploited nation. If victorious this rebellion will not merely spoil one of the plans of the involved imperialist nations, but it will interfere with imperialism as a whole.

Only if we understand this can we judge the meaning of all the statements and pronunciamentos of the different governments on the Chinese situation.

Our own Secretary of State is flowing over with assurances of friendship for the Chinese people and with assertions of good will. For a while all public statements of Washington were outright pacifist. But at the same time preparations were made to send armed forces to China. American capital, as little as British capital, does not intend to loosen whatever grip it has on China. It intends to hold on and use the foothold it has for further aggression. If it speaks a pacifist language, it is not because American imperialism has no designs on China. Its designs are to swallow it. But it is not yet decided on the methods.

It may swallow it by means of strategy—it may get it by means of conquest through mercenaries a la Chang Tso-lin—it may have to conquer it itself by its own armed forces. It will try all methods to achieve its aim. To believe in the pacifist assurances of Mr. Kellogg would be a betrayal of the Chinese masses struggling against foreign oppression. Our slogan must remain: HANDS OFF CHINA!

M. B.

* * *

CORRUPTION as a means of control over branches of state power has been brought very forcefully to the attention of the American workers in the case of U. S. senator-elect and appointed Frank L. Smith of Illinois, and Senator-elect Wm. S. Vare of Pennsylvania. The sums of money which changed hands in their election were so unusually great that the attention of the masses is aroused and the blind belief of these masses in democracy is endangered. A remedy is needed. Therefore: Clean elections! cry the liberals. Clean elections! ape the gentlemen of the U. S. Senate, many of whom have only to their credit that they have not been caught.

Let us analyze for a moment this “great” battle for clean elections.

Corruption is not an invention of “degenerate” democracy of the 20th century, but is an integral part of democracy.

“A very little study of long forgotten politics will suffice to show that in filibustering and gerrymandering, in stealing governorships and legislatures, in using force at the polls, in colonizing and in distributing patronage to whom patronage is due, in all the frauds and tricks that go to make up the worst form of practical politics, the men who founded our state and national governments were always our equals, and often our masters.” This is the characterization of “our country’s fathers” made not by a bolshevik, but by the bourgeois professor, McMaster.

Corruption appears in many different forms: opposition to it appears only in one form—that of moral indignation. But an analysis of the many forms of corruption show that such moral indignation is mostly a mere front behind which is hidden an immediate interest.

With the political ascendancy of capitalism in democratic England the political party which was representative of industrial capitalist interests fought against the political supremacy of the landed aristocracy with slogans of honesty in election. It did that, as Marx pointed out very aptly, because at that time the industrial capitalists did represent historic progress and they could win mass adherence by presenting their political aims, while the politically antiquated aristocracy could no longer retain power by the attract1veness of its political platforms, but only by mass corruption. All moral indignation of the English Whigs against corruption of the Tory’s in those days was play acting, designed to win the house (of parliament).

In the United States we have witnessed again and again, how a thoroughly corrupt political machine was ousted from office with the battle cry of honesty. A term or two later we found the ousted corruptionists return for an attack with flying banners upon which was inscribed the slogan—honesty. And the attack was directed against the then ruling machine which had won office with the slogan of honesty.

Democracy is still politically safe for American capitalism. There is no danger of a use of democracy against capitalist rule. Therefore, the contention of liberals and socialists that corruption is used by the capitalists as a corrective for revolts of the democratic masses against capitalism, is incorrect. Capitalism cannot be attacked by means of the democracy. When the danger for capitalism really arises, because of a political revolt of the masses, then it does not rise because of a possible use of democracy against capitalism, but it rises in form of a realization of the masses that democracy is a paste board sword in the political battle against capitalism. With the arrival of this moment corruption as a corrective of democracy has outlived its usefulness—together with democracy itself.

In the meantime, however, particular capitalist individual and group interests exert themselves politically by means of corruption—alongside the general political interests of the whole capitalist class. In this respect corruption plays an important part.

Mr. Smith was corrupted—not by capitalism, as the liberals and socialists infer by their theory of purification of democracy but by the particular interests of Chicago traction capital. He was and is quite safe to represent the general interests of capitalism, even without special reward. But he needs a retainer to look out for the particular interests of Chicago traction capital.

The struggle against corruption, therefore, is not a fight to make democracy a sharper weapon for the political struggle of the masses, but it is a method of opening the eyes of the masses to the real character of democracy.

M. B.

* * *

In the “American Federationist” of February, 1927, we find an article by W. B. Rubin about ten years of operation of the Clayton act. (The Clayton act was passed by Congress in 1914, that is 13 years ago.) The article is remarkable especially because of an absence of any conclusion. All the article does it to point out that the courts negated an alleged legislative achievements. But it gives no direction for the prevention of such procedure in the future. On the contrary: By the facts presented the article says that the present political policies of the A. F. of L. have proven no good. And by the slogans it proposes the article says: Continue to apply the present political policies of the A. F. of L.

The article points out that at the time of the passage of the Clayton act this piece of legislation was hailed as a signal success of the policies of the A. F. of L. These policies consisted in “punishing enemies and rewarding friends” at the polls. But now, after years of operation of the act, American labor has to start all over again. Its victory disappeared. Conditions are as bad as they ever were. And all that is left is disappointment.

It might be remarked here that the “signal success” of the political policies of the A. F. of L. in 1924 turned out to be such a dud that the convention of the A. F. of L. in Portland in 1923 raised the demand of the repeal of this law.

It is important for American labor to compare this action of the A. F. of L. in Portland with the report of Gompers to the convention of the A. F. of L in 1914. In Portland, 1923, Gompers declared: Down with the Clayton act. In 1914 he declared: “The American Federation of Labor won a remarkable victory (the Clayton act) during the past year. It has brought to a successful culmination the political campaign inaugurated in 1906. The purpose of this campaign was to establish industrial freedom for the working people that they might have the right to organize and the right to activities necessary to make organization effective in human welfare. “The law (Clayton act) that accords the workers of America these rights contains the most fundamental, the most comprehensive, enunciation of freedom found in any legislative act in the history of the world.”

And four years later Gompers jubilantly declared in a speech, again referring to the Clayton act: “We have changed the control of our government from the old time interests of corporate power and judicial usurpation.”

Now let us listen to Mr. Rubin’s “Ten Years Later.” He centers the criticism of his article on the application of the Clayton act made by the courts. After long considerations he comes to the conclusion that there is something wrong somewhere in our “democracy.” “Verily, verily, we must say, we are a government by the courts,” he laments.

But Mr. Rubin is evidently wrong. He mistakes the effect for the cause—and that is primarily why he does not draw the conclusion which ordinary logic would suggest. Ours is not a government by the courts, but by the capitalists. The courts are merely incidental to the capitalist government. It is true that the courts do some dirty work for capitalism. But in doing it they do not usurp any powers or functions to which they are not entitled, but they merely exercise the powers and the functions assigned to them in the scheme of capitalist democracy. Because of the position of the courts in the scheme of capitalist democracy, because of the powers given to them, because of the method of appointment of the members of the higher courts, which remove them from control by the people, the ruling capitalist class can permit its servants in the legislatures once in a while to appease public demands with a gesture of passing a popular law. Such gestures, now and then, preserve the illusionary belief of the masses in the value of democracy. Instead of learning quickly and in a direct way that the whole institution of democracy is no good and belongs on the scrapheap, the masses are misled into the belief that all is well. Instead of learning that the courts are an integral and inseparable part of democracy they are made to think that the courts are an outside force which arbitrarily spoil or steal the sweet fruits from the sacred tree of democracy. Punish the thief and preserve the tree, that is Mr. Rubin’s implied remedy.

This, however, is not the conclusion to be drawn from the experience of American labor with the Clayton act. The “signal victory” of American labor’s political policy in the achievement of the Clayton act turned out to be a miserable miscarriage. The policy proved a failure mainly because it did not (and does not) fit the situation to which it was and is applied. The struggle of American labor must not merely be directed against bad influences in democracy, but against the whole machinery of democracy. The capitalist government is synonymus with democracy. Labor’s political forces must be mobilized not merely to correct occasional governmental injustices to labor, but to raise against the inherently anti-labor capitalist government the standard of an inherently anti-capitalist government of labor.

It is not lamentations about injustices of the courts against labor, which American labor needs, but a political party of labor which challenges the political rule of capital against labor.

M. B.

* * *

THE victory of the fur workers in their recent strike in New York, and that of the garment workers in the same city established for tens of thousands of workers the 40-hour five-day work week. The garment workers of Chicago established the same principle in their new contract recently signed with the bosses. These victories raised the issue of the 5-day work week for the whole American labor movement. The A. F. of L. recognized this at least in words, and consequently took a stand for the 5-day work week in its recent convention in Detroit. Up to this time arguments put forth against the 5-day work week have come exclusively from the bosses. These arguments ranged from the contention that five days’ work a week interfere with profits, to the assertion that five days’ work a week is opposed to god’s own law, which commands that a work week must have six days.

But now we are able to present an American labor leader, who publicly agitates against the 5-day work week. The New York Times of February 6th contains an article by George L. Berry, President of the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants’ Union of North America. Mr. Berry argues against the workers fighting for a 5-day work week. Berry also argues with Henry Ford that the latter had no business to establish the 5-day work week.

First, Mr. Berry says to Ford—either your workers shirked in the past and you hope to eliminate that on the basis of a 5-day week. That is absolutely wrong, Mr. Berry urges Ford. “If your workers shirked you are entitled to speed them up to the limit for six days,” says Mr. Berry to Mr. Ford. Or, second, Mr. Ford intends to instal new devices which will guarantee a 6-day productivity for five days. But since Mr. Ford has not notified Mr. Berry of such new instalments, the latter disapproves thoroughly of Ford’s 5-day week. The innocent Mr. Berry never heard that the whole story of the development of Ford’s factories is one continuous instalment of new devices and methods to guarantee a 6-day productivity in one day.

Mr. Berry declares that he “does not consider the time very propitious eon to think about a further reduction in the work week.” The reason for Mr. Berry’s opposition is that he thinks “that our time and attention can best be given in promoting the spirit of co-operation” (with the bosses). Mr. Berry is “anxious to increase productivity.” But he is frank in disclaiming any anxiety for a reduction of the work week of the workers.

Mr. Berry says that “You can’t put money out unless money is made as a result of work.” There is more truth in that than even Mr. Berry suspects. The big question is, however, that if work is the only source of money (value) why should not those that do the work, the workers, be the only beneficiaries of this money (value)? Mr. Berry insists that the workers must share the product of their labor with the employer. And an “unduly” reduced work day week would interfere with the just share of the boss in the fruit of the worker’s labor.

Mr. Berry is following the example of Frank Farrington and the whole bureaucracy of the A. F. of L. is following both. Their final aim is to make the labor unions insurance companies for the protection of the profits of the bosses; insurance companies which collect the premium out of the sweat and misery of the masses and pay the benefits to the parasitic capitalists and their retainers, the Berrys and their kind. Mr. Berry would make an exemplary secretary of the American Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Association. But as a labor leader he is merely an agent of capital in the ranks of labor.

M. B.