Source: The Socialist, November 1918
Transcription: Adam Buick
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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.
There seems to be a Nemesis operating in history which fatally haunts the every footstep of reactionary classes. Towards the end of the feudal system the ruling monarchical power could do nothing but the wrong thing. And the end of Capitalism is assured by the fact that our modern rulers can do everything but the right thing.
History has been striving hard during the past four years. It has been relentlessly operating in a manner favourable to the working class. It has created an epoch destined to prove to be the most important era in the history of humanity. The immediate problems confronting us are pregnant with tremendous possibilities. But we must act with an energy and heroism in keeping with the great task before us.
For what has the past four years meant? It has been the melting pot of capitalism. Within the brief span of four years old empires, old social classes, old monarchies, old governments have been melted down. They have been transmuted into a new social system, as in Russia and Germany, where new institutions have been called into being by the sheer force of historic necessity working hand in hand with a band of workers as glorious in their energy as they are superb in their courage.
But what have these four years meant to us? Within that period there has taken place an unheard of development without any parallel in the history of industry. The great machine process, whereby wealth is mainly created, has sprung forward with greater speed during these four years than during the previous forty years of so-called peace. It has swept away all superficial sex barriers in industry. It has thrust aside the stupid, narrow, haughty pride of the craft unionist. It has made possible the organisation of the workers as a class upon class lines instead of craft lines. It has taught them more regarding their enslaved position in society than forty years of pre-war Socialist agitation. International Labour is no longer merely discontented. From Russia, from Austria, from Italy, from Germany, and from all parts of the Continent revolutionary Labour is not begging but is acting. And small wonder! Four years of war has seen the toiling millions of the industrial world forced and hounded by servile laws to expend their labour upon transforming billions of pounds worth of wealth into millions of death-dealing instruments of human murder. Four years of war has witnessed an even greater number of workers clawed into the military machine in order to perform the terrible acts of war. Four years of war has seen the proletariat torn from their families in every other village, town, city, and nation in Europe and America. Four years of war has destroyed millions of homes wherein sadness and desolation accompany misery and poverty. Modern Capitalism has gone on murdering the flower of the nation’s manhood until now their dead bodies threaten to devastate the world with plague. Wounded and broken men are now returning from the wars to learn that some governmental promises are worthless scraps of paper, their pent-up wrath, coupled with the discontent of industrial Labour, portends little good for the present ruling class. In four intense years of war society has rapidly rushed through a whole epoch of history. Not only have these four years witnessed great sweeping revolutions in many phases of industry and of life, but within that period the outlook of the working class has also undergone a revolution. Socialism, which for thirty years has contented itself with passing resolutions about the social revolution, now asks for resoluteness. Deeds, not words, are now demanded. The organised will of Labour must be made inexorable.
The British Government knows what peril confronts it from the soldiers of the trenches and of the factories now that peace is at hand. This, presumably, is why the country is being stampeded into a khaki election. The minds of the workers are to be confused by shouts of “Victory!” as an election cry. The Government hopes to seduce the electorate into returning it back again to political power where it is able to pass such acts as D.O.R.A., Munition Acts, Conscription, and orders in council, all of which empowers the masters and which gags and weakens the worker. These enslaving enactments are necessary to the ruling class in order to keep the working class in subjection. The more the wage-workers threaten to revolt, the more does the capitalist class seek to hold them down. For, it is in the factories, in the mills and workshops, where all wealth is created. It is there where profits and wages are produced. It is there, on the industrial field, that Labour and Capital struggle to increase their respective shares of the social product. Each class wishes to get as much of the wealth produced as it can. Consequently there is a struggle between wages and profits. The more Labour gets the less there ns is for Capital. The more Capital gets the less there is for Labour. This clash of interests provokes the class struggle. Each side desires to get as much power as possible in order to overcome its class opponent. .Thus, the control of the government, which includes the power over the armed forces, civil, and legal powers of the nation, is one way by means of which the capitalist class is able to hold the workers in subjection. With the power of government in its hands the ruling class can send the army against strikers; can stamp out the working class press; can put its opponents in prison without trial; can prevent strikes against profits by passing Munitions Acts and D.O.R.A., and by industrial conscription; can protect profits by protecting profiteers, and can prevent criticism by destroying the rights of free speech. By its control of the government the ruling class can plunge the country into war without asking permission; can float war loans which pay high dividends; and can inaugurate moratoriums in order to protect high finance. These are only a few of the reasons why the capitalist class strains its every source in order to control the powers of State. Thus, the class struggle in the factory and on the industrial field must also be fought out at the ballot box. Within the next few days the political aspect of the class struggle will be waged at the ballot box. What is the issue? It is whether Capital or Labour is going to control the destinies of humanity.
The attitude of the S.L.P. is clear and definite. It claims that the wealth of society is created by the workers. It claims that the workers, through their industrial and administrative councils, must own and control all the processes of wealth production. It seeks, through industrial unionism, to build up, in the workshops and on the land, the organisation capable of waging the immediate struggle with the masters over questions of hours, and of working conditions. But it also looks to the industrial union to build up the committees which will take over industry and agriculture and operate these in the interests of the community. In a word, the S.L.P strives to build up the Soviet Republic in this country. We carry this struggle on to the political field in order to challenge the power which the present ruling class wields through its domination of the State which it wins at the ballot box. By its victory at the ballot box, and its consequent political domination, the capitalists are able to enslave Labour by creating State departments which control industrial conditions. These State departments are in the hands of unsympathetic bureaucrats who are appointed by our masters. The bureaucrats have no organic connection with industry and are unable to understand working-class problems. Being appointed by the master class, who control the State, the bureaucrats can only maintain their jobs by serving those who control them. Here, again, is another industrial problem, the destruction of bureaucracy, which can be solved if the revolutionary industrially organised workers defeat their masters at the ballot box. This problem brings into prominence the S.L.P. position regarding political institutions. Let us explain.
We are convinced that the present political State, with most of its attendant institutions, must be swept away. The political State is not and cannot be a true democracy. It is not elected according to the industrial and social wants of the community. It is elected because the wealthiest section of society can suppress all facts through its power over the press. By its money the capitalists can buy up large newspapers and these trump up false election issues. The electorate is not asked to vote upon facts but only upon such topics as the press, representing Capital, puts before the workers. Not only is that true, but when Labour elects candidates to power these represent geographical areas, i.e., constituencies, which are in no way connected with the industrial functions of society. Political representation, therefore, cannot solve the real problem of society, which is the industrial organisation of the community. The S.L.P. contends that the industrial problems of society will never be solved until the industrially organised workers, representing every phase of industrial and agricultural activity, band themselves together into a class union and elect their own local and national industrial administrative councils. These councils will be organically and functionally adapted to organise and control industry on behalf of every worker in the community. Around such a social structure would spring up committees which would serve the social and cultural wants of every individual in society. Such would be the basis of the Soviet Republic.
But we cannot build up our Soviets and leave political control in the hands of the ruling class. We have seen what power the conquest of the State gives to Capital in its struggle with Labour. It is through its political strength that the capitalists can deprive us of every shred of civil liberty the loss of which makes the peaceful agitation for the revolution impossible. The maintenance of civil liberty is part of the political struggle of revolutionary Labour. And in the measure that the industrial movement becomes more powerful so in the same measure Capital will resort to the use of the armed forces and other violent methods of suppression. The control of these forces flow directly from Capital’s control of the State which it secures at the ballot box. Therefore, in order to achieve a peaceful revolution. Labour must capture the powers of the State at the ballot box and prevent the capitalist class from using the nation’s trained forces against the emerging Soviet Republic. This destructive function is the revolutionary role of political action. But this destructive political function is necessary in order that the industrial constructive element in the revolution (the Soviets) may not be thwarted.
Thus, the political issue confronting the working class is the preservation of civil liberties and the destruction of the political State. All other questions, such as the League of Nations, social reconstruction, free trade, or tariff reform—these things which are agitating the minds of Tory, Liberal, and Labour parties—are merely traps to catch the unwary workers and to persuade them to vote to preserve Capitalism.
The Labour Party has no message for the working class in this election. Its constitution, which must be accepted by all its candidates, whether they are Radicals, I.L.P.ers, or B.S.P.ers, outlines no method whereby the workers may destroy Capitalism and construct Socialism. The S.L.P. alone puts forward such a position.
The S.L.P. is a revolutionary political organisation and therefore believes in revolutionary political action. It urges the workers to use their ballots to capture political power—not to play at politicians or pose as statesmen, but to use their votes to uproot the political State and to hand to the Soviets the constructive task of building up the administrative councils of the Socialist Republic. To think that Parliament can be used as the means of permanently improving the conditions of Labour, by passing a series of acts, is to believe in parliamentarism. The S.L.P. is not a parliamentary party. It believes in entering Parliament only as a means of sweeping away all antiquated institutions which stand in the way of the industrial union owning and controlling the means of production.
Russia and Germany, with their Soviets, have lifted Socialism beyond the mere conjectures of theoretical speculation. The social revolution is on now. It is for us in this country to bring it to its consummation. The general election affords the workers the opportunity of overthrowing all political institutions standing in the way of their emancipation, and the industrial union afford them the means whereby the Soviets may be established and the triumph of Labour, carrying out its historic mission, assured.