William Paul

Power or Persuasion?

Source: The Communist Review, May 1921, Vol. 1, No. 1.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription: Adam Buick
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
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.

We believe in revolution by persuasion.”— (J. Ramsay Macdonald at Southport).

I. What are the Facts?

During the month of April two Conferences, representing the political opinions of Labour, were held. The one met at Southport and the other one at Manchester. At Southport, where the I.L.P. met, the cry was a demand for the masses to obtain their objective by using Persuasion. At Manchester, where the Communists met, a call was made to the workers to urge them to consolidate their political and industrial forces in order to build up their class Power and use it to destroy the capitalist system.

Never was the international policy of the Labour movement more clearly symbolised than in the difference of tactics which separates persuasion from power. The Soviet revolution was only possible in Russia, and elsewhere, because the Communists urged the workers to depend upon Might as an instrument of revolution. There is no record in history of a ruling class being persuaded to destroy its own economic and political supremacy.

Which section is correct? Is it the I.L.P. with its policy of sweet reasonableness and persuasion, or is it the Communists who rely upon the mass power of the workers? Before we can answer this question we must first ascertain the nature of the capitalist class to which the Labour movement is opposed. We must make this examination because all tactics, political or otherwise, are based not upon what we wish or desire, but based upon the attitude adopted by the enemy.

How, then, does the capitalist class act? Does it believe in the policy of persuasion? Has it ever shown any relaxation in any of its demands when the masses have demonstrated that their case was unanswerable both from the standpoint of logic and social necessity? To answer this question it is not necessary to study any philosophical volumes on the democratic pretensions of the modern propertied interests. They, themselves, have given the reply. And their evidence is of greater importance than any emotional gesture made either by the sentimental Mr. Snowden, or by the righteous Mr. Macdonald—the evidence of the capitalist class is the most valuable of all because it is the weighty evidence of the culprit against himself. What are the facts?

The imperialists of Britain made a startling discovery during the war. They suddenly realised that the maw of war was devouring the very elements in the working class upon whom they had always depended as being safe and reliable upholders of capitalism. Prior to 1914 all the trouble in the industrial world came from the well organised workers in the engineering, mining, transport and railroad unions. But outside of these unions there were great numbers of shop assistants, clerks, commercial travellers, workers in luxury trades, etc. These wage-earners, the black-coated salariat, were not at all rebellious and were always ready to rally to the side of “law and order” against the masses during any industrial upheaval. When the war started, the imperialists would have liked very much to have sent the miners, railwaymen, engineers, and the other disgruntled elements in the working class into the firing line. The technique of war, however, compelled the imperialists to build up their army mainly from the very sections of the workers who were outside of the best organised unions. The war killed or maimed great numbers of the “high-collared” wage-earners who were wont to think of themselves as superior to the black squads who operated the mines, foundries, mills, railroads, etc. Thus, when the war was over, it found the best fighting regiments in the industrial field better organised than ever; it found a decrease in the number of the black-coated brigade, who had been killed; and it found many of the one-time tame and conservative clerks, etc., turned into disillusioned and rebellious discharged soldiers. Thus the war, which had been waged to consolidate the power of the imperialists, actually created an increase in the number of the workers who were discontented with the conditions of capitalist society. This is one reason why the working class has moved rapidly to the Left during the past three years.

II. The International Division of Labour

But the imperialists received a further blow when the Russian masses, refusing to be duped by the Labour-Coalition Government led by Kerensky, rose and established the Soviet Republic. Not only did the Soviet revolution mean the triumph of the Russian working class—it meant that a certain revolutionary tactic had been tested and had proven successful, and that success stood forth as an example and as a provocation to the dissatisfied proletariat in all capitalist countries to follow suit. The Russian Revolution reacted against the propertied interests in another way. They had looked to Russia with its great mineral resources and with its large labouring population—brought up on the lowest standard of subsistence of any country in Europe—as the one great avenue to exploit in order to restore the financial ravages and inroads of the war. If only they could use Russia as they desired, then they would soon tame the restless proletariat in Britain. By exploiting the famous Donetz coal basin, and by compelling the Russian miners to work for a few kopecks per day, it would be possible to produce coal at such a price that the Russian miners could be used as a lever to lower the wages of the British miners. Here was a subtle attempt to split the international workers against themselves. And why was the Federation of British Industries unable to carry out this project? Did the Russian Soviet Republic persuade it to give up the idea? Not at all the Russians argued and pleaded without avail. Not until they organised their Red Army—their Power—and smashed every White army brought against them did they succeed in defeating the imperialistic projects of the Federation of British Industries which had looked upon Russia—as their private minute book declares—as “the greatest prize offered to civilisation since the discovery of the Americas.”

Foiled in Russia, the imperialists had to look elsewhere. They then conceived the Versailles Treaty which enslaved the Ruhr miners. No question of persuasion entered here. Naked, brutal force was the instrument used. The entrance of Ruhr Valley coal into the world’s market cut into the immediate profits of the British mineowners. But capitalism, in its imperialist period, is prepared to sacrifice some of its present profits if that shall mean the preservation of the capitalist system. Finance-capital deliberately creates commercial panics in order to ruin thousands of small capitalists whose doom means augmented financial power to the handful of magnates who are now ruling the world, and who now carry every “democratic” government in the world in their purse. Thus, when the Ruhr Valley coal was placed on the market the first effect in Britain was a fall in the earnings of the miners, who were only able to secure a few hours employment each week. When it is understood that the miners have no union funds worth speaking about, this fact, coupled with the widespread unemployment in the mining industry for several months, shows that they were not in a position to resist any onslaught by the mineowners upon their rate of wages. Here we may observe that the enslavement of the Ruhr Valley miners presents itself in a new and sinister light. The Communists among the Ruhr miners complained that the Versailles Treaty was a blacklegging policy aimed at the British miners. And they were right.

III. The Division at Home

Contrast what happened two years ago. Then the miners in this country were powerful. They had emerged from the war, during which they had been in steady employment, and had been able to accumulate a large fighting fund. Two years ago the mineowners were exploiting the world’s coal markets and were receiving fabulous profits. Thus everything tended to make the situation most favourable for the miners to demand an increase in wages. Two years ago they had power on their side. The mineowners knew it and the Government feared it. They tricked the miners’ leaders into a commission. All the moderate Labour elements congratulated the miners on the ability they displayed in presenting their case. What did the miners receive by their peaceful and persuasive tactics? They were given the Sankey Report, which the Government repudiated! The dead sea fruit of persuasion!

Two years ago the mineowners were afraid of the power of the men; that is why they proposed to talk nicely about the point under dispute. To-day, it is the mineowners who are in the powerful position, and they insist upon reducing wages to a level which is at once alarming and degrading. And they follow up their threat by locking out the men, thus throwing them into the scrap heap. Behind the cruel demand of the mineowners stands the capitalist State organised as it has never been since 1914. Armies with tanks, and all the mechanism of war, are set in motion against the miners. Sailors of the fleet, with machine guns, are drafted into mining centres. Proclamations, appealing to all loyal citizens able “to bear arms” are placarded all over the country. Speeches delivered by the officers of the State denounce the miners, and the rebel working class, as being “worse than the Huns.” And all this because the miners resisted a decrease in the number of the crumbs which they receive from their masters.

IV. The Test of Reality

If such powers of organised violence are resorted to by the propertied class to enforce workers to accept a reduction in wages, then, in the name of all that is sacred, to what depths of savage butchery will not these interests sink to defend their social system when the revolutionary masses think the time has arrived to uproot private property?

The events of the past few weeks have stripped capitalism of all its pretentious and specious claims of being a democracy. The “free” Press speaks only for the mineowners. “Free” speech is smothered by Emergency Acts. Capitalism, in its attack upon Labour, has shown us how brutally loathsome it is. But it will become even more cruel and tigerish when organised Labour turns round to attack it. And Labour, in its class interest, must attack it.

Sentimental fools may hope to persuade the propertied classes to stand politely aside. But sane people, who test their social theories in the actual realm of concrete experiences, have been taught by the ruling classes themselves that they will respect only one thing—and that is a power—and a power more mightily wielded than anything which they possess.

The Communists repeat that power is the driving force of the class-struggle. Mr. Macdonald believes in persuasion. The armed force and tanks of the capitalist State is the reply to the emotional gibberish of Southport, and it is the proof of the wisdom of the Communist Party with its cry—

All POWER to the Workers.