Sunday, September 27, 2015

What We Mean By Revolution (1927)

Editorial from the April 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

When we say that Socialism means revolution and that we are revolutionaries, experience leads us to expect that we shall be misunderstood unless we take care to make our meaning plain. On the one side it will be assumed that we are advocating violence and anti-democratic methods, and on the other side, as we are frequently told by those who do advocate these things, our refusal to do the same stamps us as non-revolutionary. What then do we mean by revolution?

Our aim is to abolish working-class poverty and subjection to the owners of the means of living. We see that the workers are poor as a class because as a class they do not own the machinery of wealth production and distribution. Those who live by owning are living at our expense, and are effectively hindering the most economical use and development of the productive forces. Nothing will serve to secure the desired end, except the abolition of the private ownership of these instruments. But private property is the corner-stone of the existing laws and the very foundation of capitalist society. So that, in order to abolish private ownership, we, the workers, must obtain control of society. Revolution consists in using the power we shall then possess, for the purpose of destroying the present property rights and refashioning society on the basis of common ownership. As our aim, Socialism, can be accomplished only by this revolutionary change, we are revolutionaries and our method is revolution.

It will be observed that no mention has been made of the use of violence. We need to control society but we believe that this can be done through the existing political machinery. We believe that the working class can, when they so desire, use constitutional methods to make themselves masters of the situation, and can use their power for the purpose of instituting socialism just as easily as they use it at present for the purpose of returning the Conservative or the Labour Party, whose only difference is an inability to agree as to the best method of administering capitalism. The workers are the overwhelming majority of the electors and can, when they wish, use their votes for Socialism.

We do not intend to use violent methods because under existing conditions in this country they would not help us to obtain socialism. The presence or absence of rioting and bloodshed is merely incidental. A revolutionary end, that is, the displacement of a ruling class, may take place in an orderly fashion, but it is none the less revolutionary for that. The Socialist differs from the supporter of the Labour Party in this respect that the latter seeks to gain control of the political machinery for non-revolutionary purposes, while we are aiming at gaining control in an equally constitutional way, but for a fundamentally different object.

And just as revolution may be free any show of violence, so violence may frequently does occur where is no revolutionary object being sought and resisted.

The pre-war suffrage agitation was marked by the completest disregard for laws and property rights, but its aim was in no sense revolutionary. Strikes and lock-outs are often accompanied by conflicts with the police and even with the armed forces, without there ever being at issue more than some trifling question of wages or hours which could be settled by the employers entirely giving way, without in the least endangering their position as a privileged class.

We avoid these things deliberately, not only because they are chiefly a source of danger to those who practice them, but also because they would mislead the workers and obscure our larger aim. If we preach violence we should first have to devote time to explaining that violence cannot gain power for a minority and a majority can gain power without it. Secondly, we would be allowing our opponents the opportunity of side-tracking the main issue. If we advocated unconstitutional methods our energies would be taken up in debating the issue of constitutionalism, whereas we want to preach Socialism.

The Socialist Movement to-day is weak for one reason only, that is because of the small number of Socialists. There is no lack of believers in violence and opponents of it and no lack of friends and enemies of constitutionalism. If we added unnecessary confusion to the Socialist case by delving into these other less-important controversial questions, we might add to the numbers of muddled hangers-on to the fringes of the Socialist Movement, but that is not our aim. How true this is can be seen from the recent experiences of the Communist Party. Forgetting that their prime object should have been the  furtherance of Communist propaganda, their energies have been absorbed in fruitless endeavours to combat the misrepresentation to which they were subjected immediately they associated themselves with illegal and anti-constitutionalist activities. Had they stuck to the essentials of their case they could have argued it on its merits. As it is, their case has almost disappeared under a mass of almost irrelevant charge and counter-charge relating to side issues.

Everyone has heard of the Communist Party through the capitalist press, but hardly anyone now knows what the party really stands for. It is opposed by people who learn what Communism is from the Daily Mail, and it is supported by others who are not much better informed on the points that really matter.

We then are revolutionaries because Socialism involves a revolutionary transformation. Violence cannot assist us, and we therefore reject violence.

The great need of the moment is more Socialists. Socialist can be won only by the steady propagation of Socialist knowledge. This is dull, plodding work, but it is the only way. In carrying on that work in spite of all temptation to aim at cheap and fleeting popularity , we are performing a task which is an indispensable prelude to revolutionary action.

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