Version One, Communism and its Tactics by Sylvia Pankhurst

Part Two
Workers Dreadnought, December 3rd 1921

Since the overthrow of capitalism would be resisted by the possessors of wealth, whether this were effected by Act of Parliament or by a sudden revolt of the people, it is absolutely necessary for the Communists to prepare the working class for such resistance. Many people still doubt that capitalist resistance to the overthrow of capitalism will go to the length of civil war, yet there is abundant contemporary evidence to prove that such resistance will be made.

Here in Britain we have the Ulster capitalists’ preparations for armed resistance to the Asquith Home Rule Act. The civil war threats and preparations by Ulster Capitalism were and are supported by British Toryism. That is why it succeeds. Since British and Ulster landlords and capitalists have thought it worthwhile to resort to the extreme of civil war on the Irish question how absolutely certain it is that they would do so to prevent the establishment of Communism and proletarian rule!

In Finland, in Central Europe, in Russia, the same thing has been seen; when capitalism is in danger capitalism resorts to force of arms to protect itself. In Italy too, the fascisti, with their armed attacks on Communists, Socialists, Trade Unionists, and Co-operators; attacks organised by the Capitalists who use these disorderly bands as their tools, are but another evidence of the same fact: when the established order is in danger its beneficiaries arm to protect it; its supporters and opponents come to blows, civil war breaks out and for the time being peace is no more.

Is that as it should be? It is as it is. The inevitable must be recognised and prepared for. A determined struggle for supremacy inevitably accompanies the overthrow of capitalism.

Experience shows that the crisis arises suddenly: the old relationship has been growing more and more strained, and suddenly the bonds are snapped and the storm bursts. We do not say that a Parliamentary crisis could not be the last straw that would precipitate the revolution, but in none of the contemporary revolutions has this been so. We have now the experience of Russia, Finland, Germany (where there have been a revolution and several attempts at further revolution), in Austria and Hungary to look to.

Great economic pressure, fired by a great rebellion against the actions and ideology of those who have been in power, is the factor which produces the proletarian revolution. Parliament must be overthrown with the capitalist system if the proletarian revolution is to succeed there must be a clean break with the old institutions of Government; the revolution must create its own instrument.

Parliament would have to be sacrificed with the overthrow of capitalism, even were it conceivable that an Act of Parliament will formally abolish the capitalist system. The capitalists would resist by force the first attempt to put the Act into practice, and Parliament is not the body that could carry the proletarian revolution through to success in face of capitalist revolt, which would be one of both armed and passive resistance.

The workers would be compelled to meet such a revolt with all the forces at their disposal; their most characteristic weapon is their industrial power, for the effective wielding of which they would have to be co-ordinated industrially. Every industry would be divided against itself; the owners and part of the management would take the capitalist side, the mass of the workers the side of the working class. As in all the countries where the revolutionary crisis has appeared, the naval and military forces would be divided in the same way, though the old training and discipline would probably cause a larger proportion of the working class rank-and-file to support the side of the master class than would be the case in industry.

A little consideration of such a situation must reveal to anyone who thinks seriously that Parliament and the local governing bodies; the county and borough councils, the boards of guardians, and so on, could not be the guiding and co-ordinating machinery of such a struggle; that such machinery could take no other form than that of the Soviets.

Even in a war between rival capitalist governments Parliament becomes a cipher in the struggle; the machinery that carries out the war is the Cabinet composed of the heads of the various Departments of State, all very much controlled by the expert managers of those departments. On the military side the political and military heads of the War Office work in contact with a machine which is composed of all the officers from the highest to the lowest in the army, and the men under their command. On the industrial side the political and technical heads of the departments work through a machine which is composed of the owners, managers and workers in all industries, factories, workshops.

So it will be in the proletarian revolution, but this being a struggle between the workers and their masters, the officers and the managers will be proletarian leaders chosen by their fellows. And contact with the rank and file will be by delegates and mass meetings. The services of the rank [and] file will not be based on compulsion and wagery, but on consent and enthusiasm and a voice in responsibility for aims and policies.

War experience will show us that even capitalism found that shop stewards and councils on which Trade Union officials co-operated with the management were helpful in securing greater output, which was necessary to their success in war.

Some people may say that the Soviets could be abandoned and Parliament reverted to after the clash of civil war had passed; and that, as they hope there may be no such clash, they will not interest themselves in the question of Soviets. Further consideration should show them, however, that even were hope of avoiding a struggle with capitalism justified, Parliament would have to go and the Soviets would become necessary at least for some time after the overthrow of capitalism.

Consider the position here in London with capitalism abolished; the tubes, trams and buses, the main line stations, the docks, the reservoirs, the gas works, the electric generating stations, the bakeries, food preserving, clothing and other factories, the slaughter-houses, butchers, bakers, greengrocers, grocers and other wholesale and retail shops and the markets. Millions of people are waiting for their daily supply of milk and bread to be brought round to them, to find their daily supply of provender in the shops where they deal, their habitual means of transport. If any of these things stop, then at least some people will not arrive at their daily work, and masses of others may thus be deprived of accustomed necessaries. Perhaps the workers are already engaged in a general strike; perhaps the wheels of industry and transport are already dislocated, and everyone is already living a hungry, makeshift existence.

Whichever way it be, everything has to be reorganised and built up on a new basis; production for use, not for profit, and capitalism is overthrown. Undoubtedly some of those who used to manage the big concerns under the old system have refused to function any more; undoubtedly many others can not be trusted to occupy such important positions of trust; already they have shown their hostility and have taken to sabotage. And there are the people, the hungering millions of all sorts, clamouring to have their wants supplied, each with their peculiarities, their likes and dislikes, their reasonable and unreasonable prejudices, and crowds of them ready to start looting if they are kept waiting or denied what they are accustomed to have and what they think is their due. Everyone, both as worker and consumer, has new hopes and desires and new claims upon life, for has not the Workers’ Revolution come? Everyone demands more leisure and more congenial labour, more food, more clothes, more pleasure; only the patient people are prepared to wait, and everyone is finding his daily work, assuming he is prepared to do it as of old, quite dislocated. Everyone, too, is demanding a new independent status, and a share in deciding how things shall be done.

Imagine bringing unfortunate Parliament into such a dilemma. Frank Hodges and T.C. Cramp besieged by a mob of Westminster housewives who cannot obtain either fish or butter. Will Thorne, who is told the electricity supply is cut off in all the suburbs. Ramsay Macdonald, some of whose constituents are tramping to London to tell him that Leicester can get no coal.

The only chance for that Parliament would be to call the Industrial Soviets into being!

As to the borough councils: we remember the little matter of the food rationing, and the groups of housewives here and there who, through the muddles of the local food committee and the Ministry of Food, found themselves as “outlanders” prohibited from buying at the shops where they had hitherto dealt, and unable to procure commodities anywhere else.

The only people who could deal with the great new situation would be the people who do the work and the people who use the produce. All interlocked as they are in this busy hive of overcrowded life the Soviets would be the only solution. The workers in the factory in a turmoil of dislocation would come together and talk the matter over; appoint one of their number to answer the telephone, another to fetch supplies; others to take stock; others, according to their capacities, to mind the various machines, others to acquaint the absentees that the factory is at work again, others as organisers and instructors. They would send to the workers in other factories for more supplies and organise exchanges.

The women rushing frantically about in search of supplies, and threatening to start looting and rioting because their children are hungry, would be called together by the more level-headed, would enumerate their wants and place their demands before the workers responsible for production and transport.