Communist, November 5, 1921
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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 modern function of government, under capitalism, consists in putting forward a series of futile expedients to stave off a revolutionary crisis. The world war, the Soviet revolution and the critical international situation have let loose a series of forces which are, by a cumulative process, rapidly undermining capitalism. The critical condition of the economic situation was partly obscured, and cleverly camouflaged, by the British capitalist class during the short- lived boom in trade that took place after the Armistice. To-day we know that capitalism is very weak and is insolent. The knowledge of these facts must make the revolutionary movement carefully scrutinize its tactics and line of action.
Up until quite recently the economic system in this country was powerful and vigorous. We, had every reason to believe that the time for daring revolutionary action and strategy had not arrived, and consequently our work, as revolutionary socialists, was mainly of an educational, theoretical, and propagandist character. The masses were indifferent, and heedless regarding the difficult times that were looming up. Our problems and tactics as revolutionary propagandists, consisted in getting the workers to listen to our message. But now that capitalism has been weakened by a series of shattering blows; now that crisis after crisis have shaken up the masses and made them responsive to action directly connected with their immediate grievances, the whole tactical policy of the revolutionary movement must be radically transformed to fit in with new problems which have been brought forward by capitalism in its decadent period.
We must relentlessly oppose the mechanical theory that every revolutionary crisis inevitably carries the working class towards Communism. This is only true if the Communists are sufficiently active, by precept and example, to point out the lessons of these crises. The Communists and the Marxists do not believe in the automatic theory that capitalism must collapse and that Communism must emerge from the ruin. Such a fool’s conception of history and revolutionary movement would render the Communist Party, and its numerous activities unnecessary. Capitalism is manifold and complex, there are many little side avenues which it can travel along and in which it can drag out a slow and painful existence. It could even use, enfeebled as it is, to some great international effort of international war and transform the whole world into a universal battlefield; such an eventuality could easily end in the complete rending of the social fabric and in the extinction of society itself. History does not solve its own problems and contradictions. It is precisely at the most critical moments in history that human will-power and initiative comes forward as vital factors in social development. Modern history is presenting us with problems which we must solve. It is because the Communists alone hold the solution to the present historical problems that history is on our side and is thus playing a revolutionary rôle. Historical problems being of a social character are responsive to human will-power and endeavour. Any day a revolutionary crisis may develop in this country. The ultimate development of that crisis will depend upon whether the reactionaries or Communists have the best organized forces to utilize it for a definite purpose. The Marxians and the Communists recognize the reaction of the human factor upon history, and it is this that compels us to pay so much attention to revolutionary strategy. Marx, after examining capitalism and foretelling its decadence, concluded the famous Communist Manifesto by appealing to human effort in the now historic slogan: “Workers of all lands unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains; you have a world to win.” Victories during revolutionary situations, as Marx says, are not thrust upon us, they have to be won.
The recognition of these points brings to the front the whole problem of revolutionary action, that is, tactics as opposed to fundamental principles, the means which we intend to use to gain our end. Principles are rigid, tactics are flexible; the final aim is constant but it demands mobility of movement to reach it. Basing our viewpoint upon these reasons we must ask ourselves: What must we do to attain our objective? We see around us, at the present moment, workers faced with terrific problems which are cruelly oppressing them and which they desire to solve. The masses, however, are confused regarding the solving of these problems because the two most influential groups in the working class movement are advocating two entirely opposed solutions. The Labour Party, on the one hand, throws all the blame for these crises upon the Government and contends that it could permanently improve the material comfort of the masses if its members were returned, in power, to Parliament; the Labour Party occupies a most important and strategical position in appealing to the workers because it is the most important and only real influential opposition to the present government. On the other hand there is the young Communist Party which is struggling to attain the leadership of the proletariat, and it points out to the working class that the present and future capitalist crises cannot be solved within capitalism, even if the Labour Party controlled the government to-morrow. The advocacy of these two opposing policies, by the two main groups in the Labour movement, makes the social problem even more complex to the bewildered workers. Our duty, therefore, as Communists, is to simplify the problem and make it clear and distinct for the workers. Faced with direct, concrete, elementary issues, the masses can be moved to decisive, and aggressive action. How, then, can we assist the workers to understand the problem and win their confidence? One way is for us to use our influence to remove the Labour Party as an opposition group to the present government. We can do this most effectively, by making the Labour Party the government by holding it responsible for the maintenance of the masses. This would leave the proletarian political arena clear for the Communist Party which would step forward as the unchallenged leaders of the working class revolt against capitalism which would then be politically symbolised in the Labour Party. By such a policy we would drive the Labour Party into revealing itself as the defender of capitalism and profit, and as the oppressors of the working class. As Communists we know that the Labour Party cannot solve any single important economic problem at present bearing upon the working class. We know that their servile acceptance of the parliamentary system and entire legal, legislative and administrative machinery of the propertied interests can only result in the perpetuation of capitalism and its many problems. We know that the modern system has passed into its decadent period and that instead of problems becoming fewer they are giving to increase and become more fierce. Thus the Labour Party as a government will not only prove as helpless as the present one, but it will become identified as the Party of Capitalism. By its own governmental policy the Labour Party in power will drive the masses under the banner of the Communist Party. This will mean that the political problem of the proletariat will be a simple one—that of sweeping the Labour Party, now become a prop of capitalism, and the political machinery of the proprietary class out of the way.
Why should we be afraid to test this policy?
The very structure of the Labour Party unfits it to successfully maintain power amidst the surging problems of insolent capitalism. Built up, as it is, from a medley of conflicting opinions and policies, it must stultify itself as a creative force. Take, for example, such a simple question as of indemnities. The Labour Party on this vital issue is as reactionary as the most fervent jingo. While far seeing capitalists and bankers, liberals and even conservatives, are realising that to extract indemnities from Germany is the most direct road to a speedy economic collapse in this country, we find the I.L.P., like Mr. J. Ramsay Macdonald, pinning their faith to the exploitation of the German masses for imperialistic purposes. If Labour Party enthusiasts tell us that some of their members, like Norman Angell, Wedgewood, etc., are opposed to MacDonald on this point; if they read out to us the brilliant, crushing criticism in the Forward of MacDonald’s advocacy of indemnities, they only adorn the moral of our tale that the Labour Party is so split up that the only real useful purpose it can now serve is for it to finally expose itself by being forced into taking office.
In the event of revolutionary crisis coming along it will be much better for us if the Labour Party is in power. Were such an eventuality to take place to-morrow the Labour Party, as the leading opposition group, would immediately confuse the issue by rushing forward with some futile policy of reconstruction. Indeed, cunning capitalist politicians might expedite its return to power. Once in charge of the government the timidity and hesitancy of the Labour Party would give capitalism a breathing space to recover. This is what happened in Russia during the Kerensky regime; this is what happened in Germany where the Majority Socialists (the German counterpart of our Labour Party) enable the plutocrats like Stinnes to consolidate the power of the capitalist class. If, however, the Labour Party was the government during some revolutionary situation the problem for us, and the masses, would be much simplified. The Communist Party, as the sole leaders of the proletarian opposition, would have a straight and clear path in its attack upon capitalism symbolized in its political government—the Labour Party.
For the reasons advanced alone, and for many others that might be suggested, the Communist Party must seriously consider the advisability of using its influence to get the Labour Party into power at the earliest possible moment.
This week we are celebrating the anniversary of the triumph of the Russian masses led by the Communist Party. It would be well worth our while to carefully study the brilliant revolutionary strategy adopted by our comrades in Russia in the struggle which enabled them to seize all power for the workers.