Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

Workers and the H-Bomb

(April 1959)

From The Newsletter, 25 April 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

Those who express concern because the anti-H-bomb movement has so far mobilized mainly middle-class people, and who emphasize the need to find ways of drawing in the industrial workers – are they not worrying over something which has no importance?

This was suggested by a speaker from the floor at a recent Socialist Labour League meeting.

If all the clergymen in Britain, of every denomination, were to march from London to Aldermaston and back again in protest against nuclear warfare, that would reflect great credit on them.

But such a demonstration would bring nearer the achievement of its object only in so far as it impressed enough engineers, electricians, building workers and so on to take industrial action against producing the means of nuclear warfare.

In the last analysis it is the extent to which key sections of the working class – in the strict sense of that expression – are mobilized, and not merely in demonstrations either, that will decide the issue.

The axe to the root

This is all the more important a fact to grasp once we recognize that the drive towards nuclear warfare, like the drive towards fascism and reaction generally, has its roots in capitalism.

A radical solution of the problem just has to take the form of a social revolution.

The capitalists need the bomb. Only the workers can take power away from the capitalists and replace their domination by a new social order which will not need the bomb.

It’s as simple as that, and no amount of would-be clever ‘tactical’ approaches will help us if we let this basic truth be obscured.

Which way for the professionals?

A good deal of the discussion that goes on around these matters shows the influence of the ‘broad alliance’ conception which guided Communist Party thinking in the popular from period before the war and has been revived in recent years, in connexion with the British Road to Socialism.

I suggest that experience has shown that no substantial section of the middle class can be won to the cause of socialism except through a convincing demonstration of the power of the working class effectively to challenge capitalism.

Furthermore I suggest that the bulk of professional people – who are really what is meant by ‘the middle class’ in these discussions, as a rule, rather than the small shopkeepers, farmers and so on – cannot be expected to come over to socialism until after the revolution.

Students hardly provide a true indicator in this matter, for the student years of a middle-class person’s life are unique.

So long as the State machine and all the private apparatus of patronage remain under capitalist control, so long, it seems to me, will all but a minority of professional people hold back from the struggle for socialism.

Once they are convinced, however, that the workers have replaced, the capitalists as the ruling class, they will serve them as loyally as they served their previous employers – more so, probably.

‘Increasing misery’

Standing outside the Simms Motor Units factory the other day with The Newsletter I reflected, as the workers drove up in their cars, on the much-misunderstood ‘theory of increasing misery’.

For this factory is part of a concern in which, as readers know, redundancy has appeared and a struggle over threatened dismissals is impending.

When Engels received the draft of the German Social-Democratic Party’s programme which was to be discussed at the party’s Erfurt congress in 1891, one of the points he criticized was the mechanical treatment of ‘increasing misery’.

What was ‘certainly increasing’, he commented, was ‘the uncertainty of life’. Marx’s theory was not one of declining real wages, as his actual words show:

‘In proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.’

The able American Marxist Louis Boudin, in his book The Theoretical System of Karl Marx (1907), interpreted ‘increasing misery’ in terms of ‘the insecurity of the labourer’s employment’.

That, he considered, was ‘the secret of the power of the capitalist class over the “free” working man’, the ‘source of the mental and moral degradation of the working class’.

And that, he pointed out, was why the employers were prepared to make enormous financial sacrifices (whether in ‘welfare’ schemes or in lock-out expenses) to hinder or smash the growth of trade unionism, which counteracts the employer’s freedom to hire and fire – the key to the capitalists’ security and the workers’ insecurity.

Last updated on 12.10.2011