Version One, Communism and its Tactics by Sylvia Pankhurst
The great task of the Communist revolution is ideologic. Communism entails the creation of an altogether new attitude of mind towards all social relationships, and the development of a host of new habits and impulses. In discarding our purse and our financial anxieties and calculations, in removing the dependence of the propertiless upon the propertied, we shall change the entire configuration of life. Communism will create for us a great fraternity, a great trustfulness, arising from a great security, an abundant enthusiasm for productive labour, because such labour will benefit all, and all will share responsibility for it.
Communism necessitates the creation of a great initiative, which shall animate the entire people.
Under Capitalism the masses are as a flock of sheep driven by their owners. Under Communism, on the contrary, they will be free co-operators, producing, inventing, studying, not under the compulsion of law, or poverty, or the incentive of individual gain, but from deliberate choice and with an eager zest for achievement. Communism will provide the material and spiritual conditions which will make voluntary co-operative labour possible. Only by willing service and intelligent initiative can true Communism develop.
The establishment of the Communist life entails a complete breach, both in practice and in ideas, with Capitalism and its machinery. The Parliamentary system is the characteristic machinery of the capitalist State; it has grown up with great similarity in all the countries which have built up their own capitalism. In countries where an alien Capitalism dominates the native populace, the Parliamentary system of the dominant aliens extends the tentacles of its power to the subject country. It sends its officials overseas to rule the natives, entirely discarding its pretended dependence on the consent of the governed and its boasted representative character.
Parliament has been in large measure the co-operative society of the landlords and capitalists through which they have policed the proletariat at home and maintained their power abroad.
The great landlords originally used lawless force and violence for seizing their estates. In the latter half of the fifteenth century they, as feudal lords, drove the peasants, who had the same feudal right to the land as they, from their holdings. The feudal lords usurped the lands which were held and used in common. These things they did in defiance of law and custom, and without waiting to obtain the assent or assistance of Parliament.
Later on, however, the feudal lords found it convenient to give Parliamentary sanction to their robbery of the peasants, and to enact legislation to complete their usurpation of the land. Sitting in Parliament, the lords proceeded thereafter to abolish their own merely feudal tenure of the land, and by creating the modern right of private property in land, they made themselves its absolute owners.
Before they had legalised the expropriation of the peasants, the lords in Parliament enacted legislation to force the peasants they were driving from the land to become their wage-slaves. From the reign of Henry VII, legislation began for the coercion of the dispossessed. We all know that for begging, or wandering without means of subsistence, the landless people were whipped and branded, their ears were sliced, and on a third arrest they were executed. An Act of Edward VI condemned the idler to be the slave of whoever denounced him. He could be sold, bequeathed, or hired as a slave. Any-one might make slaves of his children. Vagabonds, as the dispossessed were called, might be made into parish slaves, condemned to labour for the inhabitants. Only in the reign of Anne, when an industrial proletariat sufficient for the needs of farmers and manufacturers had been developed, were such statutes repealed. So long ago as 1349, Parliament, in the Statute of Labourers, fixed maximum wages to prevent the proletariat from asserting itself to the inconvenience of the employing classes. Maximum wage legislation was maintained thereafter as long as any serious tendency to labour scarcity could give the workers a powerful lever in forcing up their wages.
Parliament has remained the employers’ co-operative society for dragooning the workers, in spite of all the extensions of the franchise which have taken place. When a serious labour scarcity arose in our time, during the great European war of 1914-19, Parliament enacted the Munitions Act, to prevent the workers taking advantage of the situation.
Neither in this present period of great unemployment, nor at any other time in history, has Parliament fixed maximum wages to protect the workers when the employers have been taking advantage of a Labour surplus to depress the wages of their employees below the subsistence level. The rates of wages fixed by the Agricultural Wages Boards during the war, were, in reality, a method of attaining by subtle means, the object which the Munitions Act achieved in other industries: namely a check on the bargaining power of Labour during a period of unexampled labour scarcity.
From the early laws against the industrial combination of the workers (maintained by the coercive power of the state as long as the ruling classes considered them necessary) down to our modern D.O.R.A. and E.P.A. and the strike-breaking machinery employed by the government in the last railway and mining strikes, Parliamentary Government has never failed to protect the possessions of the landlords and capitalists, and to employ whatever coercive measures have been necessary to provide the landlords and capitalists with disciplined workers.
Parliament and its accessories have been fashioned by the ruling classes for their service. The Courts of Law are strongholds of tradition and privilege, and appointment to the judicial Bench is made obscurely and arbitrarily by the Government.
In case of dispute, the Government-appointed irremovable judges interpret the Parliament-made law. The Government-hired prosecutor — who may even be a member of the Government, is leagued with the Government-appointed judge against the accused. All the force of the Government police assists the prosecution. In political trials, acquittals are remarkably rare. The judges, drawn from the privileged class, almost invariably decide against the popular cause.
The local governing bodies have no power to legislate or initiate: they merely administer the Acts of Parliament under the cramping supervision of Government Departments, which make rules interpreting the Acts of Parliament. Either with, or without Parliamentary sanction, Government departments determine what the local authorities shall spend, by limiting their power to levy Rates and to contract loans, and by prohibiting them from trading, except by special permission of the Government.
As to Parliament itself, its powers have been almost all annexed by the Cabinet.
The King, who is supposed to obey the Government, decides when Parliament shall assemble. The Government decides what subjects Parliament shall discuss, and on what it shall legislate. The Government drafts the legislation. If a measure be amended in a manner displeasing to the Government, the Government withdraws the measure, and either drops it altogether, or re-introduces it in another form. Parliament cannot proceed with any measure unless the Government desire it.
The Speaker and Chairman of Committee appointed by the Government, control the debate and interpret the rules of procedure. Parliamentary discipline is exceedingly strict. No one may speak until called upon by the Speaker, or Chairman of Committee, and the Speaker, or Chairman, may stop any speech, and even prevent the asking of a question, on the ground, either that it is out of order or “it is not in the public interest” that a reply be given. There is no appeal from the ruling of the Chair, which is enforced by the officials of the House, who at once eject any Member failing to obey the Chair.
The Government must have a majority in the House of Commons, or it cannot remain in power. That majority is composed of Party hacks with no chance of being returned to Parliament, except by the aid of the Party machinery and funds. They will not vote against the Government, because to do so would be to incur the ostracism of the Party leaders, and consequently of the Party; such ostracism would inevitably mean the loss of their Parliamentary seats at the next election. The Party man who disobeys his Party must either retire from politics, or become a candidate of the opposite Party (if it will have him, which may not be the case). Many years have passed since a Government was turned out by a hostile Parliamentary vote of its supporters. Even its political opponents are apt to shrink from defeating a Government on a critical issue, which would mean its resignation, for that in most cases entails a General Election. A General Election is of all things that which is most detested by the average Member of Parliament. It means for him an election campaign of tremendous exertion, in which he is compelled to speak at an extraordinary number of meetings, besides canvassing voters and calling on people of influence. Moreover, he may lose his seat, and thus suffer the defeat of many of his ambitions, as well as the loss of an income of four hundred pounds a year. The Member of Parliament prepared to take a line independent of his Party on any subject of importance is exceedingly rare. He is soon eliminated from Parliament.
The Prime Minister is chosen by the Sovereign from amongst the most prominent leaders of the Party which gains the majority of the Parliamentary seats in the General Election. Persons of powerful influence, of course, make representations to the Sovereign, and the Party caucus and its rival big-wigs all put in their word. What private understandings and guarantees are exacted the people do not know. The Sovereign appoints the rest of the Cabinet on the advice of the Prime Minister, who is influenced, of course, by the powerful personages who provide Party funds, who control Party newspapers, and who are powerful in banking and other circles able to sabotage the Government activities. The wire-pulling and intrigue that surround the making of Cabinets have only been slightly revealed in the memoirs of some of the privileged few who have been behind the scenes.
The policies of Government Departments are supposed to be controlled in general outline by the Cabinet as a whole, and in fuller detail by the Minister at the head of each Department who is appointed by the Prime Minister. The Departments are vast and deal with vast work; the Cabinet of party hacks and political adventurers knows little of the Departments. The responsible Minister, who usually remains in a particular Department no more than a year or two at most, and often no more than a few months, rarely learns much about his work; the permanent officials are the real masters of the administrative detail, and their policy is broadly that of the prevailing capitalist opinion current at the time. Lavish extravagance on Departmental expenditure, and ruthless parsimony towards the people, the great unofficial, unprivileged masses, who are treated as tiresome mendicants, is the outstanding characteristic of administration by Government Departments.
Members of Parliament know little of the doings of Government Departments. The debates, held twice or thrice a year, and the questions, to which cursory answers are given and on which no discussion is permitted, are the only opportunities by which Members may acquire information. Ministers in charge of Departments report once or twice a year what they choose of what their Departments have done.
Members of Parliament may move to reduce the amount Parliament is to vote for the Department in question, as a protest against something that displeases them, or as a matter of political form. Such motions are usually defeated or withdrawn. If, however such a motion be carried, the Government may resign, if the question involved be important. Generally, in such rare cases, the Government brings the vote up again another day, and, by rallying its supporters, it defeats the motion. Perhaps as a result of the incident the Minister whose Department has been criticised, moves on to another Department. His old place is taken by one whose policy differs but little from his own.
The House of Commons has no effective check on the doings of the Cabinet: it knows very little of what the Cabinet is actually about; the Press is given more information on questions of State than are the ordinary Members of Parliament.
The House of Lords, with its hereditary members, can check and thwart the doings of the Government more effectively than can the House of Commons, although its power is specifically limited. Its Members are not dependent on the machinery of the Party to secure their election. Their Parliamentary seats are theirs for life: no-one can dislodge them. The older Lords, at least, are probably no longer seeking the favour of Party leaders and Members of the Government to assist their personal fortunes. Though, perhaps, less open to personal corruption than the ambitious political hacks of the House of Commons, the Members of the House of Lords are, of course, even more surely lined up as one man against the emancipation of the proletariat and in defence of the present system.
In all this the electors are remote outsiders. They have no hold on the Members of the House of Commons who are supposed to represent them. They must decide for which candidate to vote on the general programme of the Party promoting the candidature, for, if returned, the Member will have no power except through his Party. No item of the Party programme is binding, no pledge given by the candidate or his Party can be relied on. The programme is enunciated during the election in vaguely-worded speeches and manifestos, every point in which will probably be discarded. Not until the next election will the voter have another chance to pass judgement on the actions of the candidate who won the seat in his local constituency, or on those of the Government in power. The Member, meanwhile, has probably been merely a cipher in Parliament; the Government has done nothing pleasing to the elector; but the opposing Party, in the vague compound of catch-cries called its programme, offers nothing that promises satisfaction. The constituency is vast: the electors have no personal knowledge of either candidate. The election is decided by such questions as which Party machine has most systematically traced the absent voters and made the best arrangements to bring them to the poll, which Party has the most motor cars lent to it for taking voters on free rides to the polling booth, which Party is served by the local paper having the largest circulation in the district.
Even were it possible to democratise the machinery of Parliament, its inherently anti-Communist character would still remain. The King might be replaced by a President, or all trace of the office abolished. The House of Lords might disappear, or be transformed into a Senate. The Prime Minister might be chosen by a majority vote of Parliament, or elected by referendum of the people. The Cabinet might be chosen by referendum, or become an Executive Committee elected by Parliament. The doings of Parliament might be checked by referendum.
Nevertheless, Parliament would still be a non-Communist institution. Under Communism we shall have no such machinery of legislation and coercion. The business of the Soviets will be to organise the production and supply of the common services; they can have no other lasting function.