Version One, Communism and its Tactics by Sylvia Pankhurst
As we have seen, the main purpose of the Soviets is to minister to the needs of the people, in clothing, housing, education, recreation, transport and so on. The workers who are responsible for these services are linked together in their Soviets for the purposes of their work. The Soviet structure is efficient, because it is formed on the lines necessitated by the work; also because it gives every worker a responsible share in the common effort, and thereby encourages the co-operative impulse. Even under Capitalism the merits of the workshop council, which is the germ of the Soviet, have been discovered, not only by the workers, but by the capitalist himself. During the war, when the Shop Stewards’ Movement flourished, employers actually initiated the formation of shop councils and the election of workers’ stewards.
The employers did so, not merely to forestall the rebel elements, but rather because, in the great stress of war-time and with a tremendous influx of new workers, the shop council organisation would minimise the cost of management, reduce the number of paid supervisors required, and the difficulty of maintaining discipline, and increase the output by producing a spirit of willingness amongst the workers who were responsive to the patriotic appeals to produce more.
Mr. Charles Reynold, of the big engineering firm of that name, recently gave an address on workshop committees and the control of industry: he described how the works committee at his firm holds monthly meetings with the management to discuss wages and conditions of labour, and all questions of management. He declared that the confidential financial information presented to the directors is communicated to the works committee, and the result is the creation of a sense of responsibility, an understanding of the management point of view, and the acceptance of changes with comparatively little friction.
From the class-war standpoint this information does not gratify us, and presumably the scheme is part of some profit-sharing arrangement. It is nevertheless testimony to the value of the workshop council from the administrative efficiency standpoint, although under Capitalism the shop council has, of course, no real power, and only a leading-strings share of responsibility. Reynold’s is but one of many capitalist firms which are endeavouring, in the interests of efficiency, to secure the co-operation of their workers, though capitalist conditions prevent the co-operation from being genuine on either side. The growth of Whitleyism shows that the intelligent British capitalists are beginning to understand that men and women only give their best when they give of their free will, feeling that they are responsible entities. This truth is too often forgotten by those who once preached it, when they attain to official positions, whether in Russia, or in Britain.
The trend of the times supports the view that the Soviet Government made a serious blunder when it decided (and put into practice its decision) that “workers’ control of industry” is only a slogan useful for securing the overthrow of the capitalist, and must be discarded, once the workers have turned out the capitalist, in favour of management by an individual or committee appointed by some centralised authority.
A careful and candid survey of the Russian attempt to establish Communism will some day reveal, more clearly than at present, the proportional weight of the causes which have led to its failure. That it has failed for the present, and that only a powerful new impetus can stop the present retrogression in Russia we are compelled to admit.
Such a candid survey will provide evidence as to how far the Russian failure has been due to the capitalist resistance to Communism; how far to the unreadiness of the population; how far to the mistakes of the Communists, and especially to the mistakes of the Soviet Government.
The question of workers’ control of industry will bulk largely in this connection.
Viewed from the standpoint of efficiency as a fighting force, it is notorious that never were strikes so swiftly, solidly and successfully effected in this country as those of the war-time Shop Stewards’ movement. A rank and file chorus complaining of the inefficiency, inactivity and lack of class solidarity shown by the reactionary Trade Union leaders is constantly rising and falling. During the Dublin Lock-Out of 1912, during the railway strike of 1919 and the coal strike of 1921, it swelled with indignation, but only the workers organised in the workshop committees have taken large-scale action, except at the bidding of the Union officials. This is not unnatural: until both the individual workers and the workers in each individual firm feel that others will act with them, they shrink from taking action which, if not supported, will lead to their victimisation.
To recapitulate: the Soviets, or workers’ occupational councils, will form the administrative machinery for supplying the needs of the people in Communist society; they will also make the revolution by seizing control of all the industries and services of the community.
Though in Russia the revolution was accomplished by Soviets which sprang up spontaneously in some places and by unorganised mob risings, this was only possible, because the government of Russia had broken down, Capitalism was weak and of limited extent, and the entire country in a state of chaotic disorder.
Here in Britain the machinery of the Soviets must be prepared in advance. In all the industries and services, revolutionary workers, who are habitually at work there and know the ropes, must be prepared to seize and maintain control.
The Trade Unions do not provide this machinery: they are not competent, either to seize, control, or to administer industry. They are not structurally fitted to administer industry, because their organisations do not combine all the workers in any industry, and they are not efficiently co-ordinated. Their branches are constructed according to the district in which the worker resides, not according to where he works.
The Trade Unions are, moreover opposed to revolutionary action: their object is to secure palliations of the capitalist system, not to abolish it.
British experience has shown that the workers’ council system is efficient both as an engine for fighting the employer, and as a means of administrating the industry. Experience has also shown that under favourable conditions it can be built up with remarkable rapidity.
Experience in those European countries where the workers and their organisations have been tested in the revolutionary fight, has shown that the workers’ council is always the organ of the workers’ struggle. The Trade Unions, having tried unsuccessfully to avert the contest, in each case threw the weight of their influence on to the side of preserving the established order, and opposed every effort of the workers and their councils to overpower the employing class.
The evidence given by J.H. Thomas in his libel case against the Communist and its officials reveals the attitude which he will adopt in the event of any struggles for Proletarian power in this country. J.H. Thomas must not be regarded as an exception: the British Trade Union officials will all adopt the same attitude. Some will denounce the revolutionary workers on platforms, openly proclaiming their allegiance to the Crown, the Government and the employing class; others will merely hold aloof from the revolutionaries and in the Trade Union conferences will vote against the Unions joining the revolutionaries in the struggle. If they do not advise Trade Union members to give actual assistance to the Government in coercing the revolutionaries, they will at least advise their members to assist the cause of re-establishing the disturbed capitalist order by remaining quietly at work — the obedient servants of the capitalist employer, or of the capitalist Government.
This is the part which the Trade Unions and their officials have played in every one of the many recent proletarian uprisings in other countries: this is the part which J.H. Thomas and his colleagues will play here. J.H. Thomas differs only in degree from his colleagues who belong to the Reformist School. The British Trade Union movement and its officials belong to the same school as the Trade Unions and Trade Union officials of Europe and America.
The Trade Unions have too loose and uncoordinated a structure to make the revolution: they are ideologically opposed to it: therefore they will fight it.
The workers’ councils, co-ordinated industrially and nationally along the lines of production and distribution, are the organs which are structurally fitted to give the workers greatest power in the control of industry. If that power is to be used to overthrow the present system, the councils, which together will form a “One Big Union” of workers’ committees in all industries, should be built, from the first, with the object of taking control.
In Germany, where the methods necessary for waging the proletarian struggle are being forged during the struggle, the Revolutionary Workers’ Union, the A.A.U., is a fighting force which has had to be reckoned with. Its growth has been accelerated by the fact that the reactionary Trade Unions have expelled their revolutionary members.