Letter to the Editors from the July 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
A Correspondent’s Letter and Our Reply.
I am an interested, though at present unaffiliated sympathiser, in fact an adherent to the principles and programme of your party, and have been in the recent past aligned with small study groups both in Detroit and in New York, patterned very much along the same line as your organisation in point of principles.
The question I am about to ask may or may not be fatuous, or ambiguous, it may even have been already gone over in your columns several times in the past year. I have not been able to get copies of your paper in a long time, but now that I live adjacent to San Francisco, I can get the “Standard” at McDonald’s book store as often as it comes, hoping that my query is given an airing in an early issue.
The Kautskian position is, as I understand it, fully endorsed by the S.P. of G.B., particularly where it emphasises the prime importance above all things of political action in the form of parliamentary representation, and by using the constitutional camouflage of the bourgeois state, as a means to attain power. All schemes, such as military coups de etat, are in that case foredoomed, and in the final analysis Socialism as Marx has it, must come about only through the efforts by and for the immense majority. Otherwise, it is not Socialism. Agreed.
Is the editor able to answer a question that only has to do with America? If so how would he deal with a political situation at present, such as it now exists in the United States, that on the surface of it, and as far as the interests of the proletarian revolutionary movement is concerned, is well-nigh hopeless? I have run across this continent time and again over a decade, and have conversed with countless numbers of workers everywhere, besides reading contemporary periodical literature, giving a more or less accurate expression to the prevailing psychology of the American people. The popular notion is growing, and by now has become well-nigh universal, that political campaigns, election promises and programmes, ballots and everything else that goes with it, is hopelessly corrupt, and the very mention of Socialists, as a trial proposition, in way of political power, elicits no response.
The power of big business and the seemingly impregnable position of finance and industrial capital has, as it were, completely cowed and rendered tame the immense majority of the people in the United States. In the face of all this, what is there to be hoped for, if we are to go by what Kautsky tells us, and assuming that American “prosperity” breaks down in a year or two and renders living almost insupportable for millions who are now employed, and are living in a fools' paradise, to hear them talk, how is that condition going to bring about a swing towards anything that resembles intelligent co-operation in the working-class?
Can the inhibitions and ingrained superstitions of an idiotically ignorant and proud people such as the average Anglo-Saxon and Celtic, native American, be overcome and give way to a change of sentiment from that of extreme egotistic individualism to that of a class-consciousness in its correct sense in anything less than another generation? Does biology, and several other sciences, that deal with man, his physical and mental make-up, give us any hopes for a possibility of any much to be hoped for, sudden change, or at least a mental condition that will even listen to Socialist propaganda ?
I am not in the habit of transcribing articles, or writing anything, and you can condense this as you see fit, and answer it as far as you are capable of doing, living as you do, so far away from these conditions as they appear to me. In short, will Kautsky’s premise fit this country. I close hoping that you will give this due consideration and I remain,
Yours in revolt,
The above letter sets out by associating us with Kautsky’s attitude, and as the latter has continually shifted his ground politically, we must decline to be identified with such an anti-Socialist as Kautsky has shown himself to be.
Kautsky has, however, offered unanswerable criticisms of Lenin’s views on democracy and dictatorship, and no doubt our Californian correspondent has these points in mind.
The main question in the above letter deals with the application of Marx’s (and therefore the S.P.G.B.’s) policy to the United States. Socialist policy naturally depends for its application upon the conditions prevailing in a country, but those who argue that conditions in any country warrant an entirely different policy to ours, generally fail to deal with the so-called-differences in conditions between this and other countries.
The widespread ignorance of class interests among workers in U.S.A. offers no permanent hindrance to our Socialist policy. That ignorance is due to certain causes, and the lack of interest in revolutionary ideas amongst the masses is a phase which is true of every country for a time.
Economic development has rapidly converted the United States from a prairie into a nation of vast companies, where the largest and latest plant and machinery is in use, each employing many thousands under one roof.
The comparatively recent industrial growth and commercial expansion of the U.S.A. offers one reason for the so-called “better conditions" of labour. This is partly responsible for the lack of interest in social change amongst the workers there. This lack of interest, however, is not simply a reflex of “better” conditions, but a result of capitalist propaganda by press, priest and schoolmaster, which is more powerfully and carefully used in American life than perhaps any other country, to mould the working millions to capitalist views. The extremely careful selection of and control over teachers in school and college to avoid any advanced political views being taught, is notorious. Then we have the intense campaigns always subsidised to naturalise the immigrant arid “educate” him into worship of American institutions. The unexampled dominion of a vast newspaper and magazine press pouring out lies to cloud the “popular” mind is an immense factor in working-class ignorance there.
The primitive and highly-organised and well-financed religious bodies of America still have a remarkably large influence in U.S.A. These agencies of propaganda employed to keep the workers submissive, are effective because temporarily the conditions in the United States have not caused deep and lasting discontent. If a collapse of conditions causes vast discontent, can anything be hoped for if the working-class are ignorant of Socialism?
Such is the question asked by our correspondent.
Discontent in itself is not sufficient. We had 6 or 7 millions out of work in America in 1921 and 1922, but they were largely seeking charity or temporary relief whilst hoping for better times. They did not revolt though the Communists there told them the factories would never re-open, and that the revolution was on the way.
The insecurity of work in a country so highly productive and so scientifically organised in production as America is a very important element in the workers' life, and the growing experience of this in recent years does play a part in the workers' education. The apparent slowness of change in ideas amongst the workers there is evidently one of our questioner’s stumbling-blocks.
If he expects vast and rapid changes amongst the majority in a few years he is likely to be disillusioned. America has profited by European decline since the war, and has captured many of their markets, especially those on the American continent, and so for a while she will be able to keep the wheels turning. Apart from that aspect however, there is the fact to be faced that conditions in so vast and so recently developed a country as the U.S.A. cannot change the individualist outlook to a Socialist one overnight.
The conditions for generations bred an optimism and an individualism amongst the migrating settlers, and only continual experience of the insecurity and suffering of capitalist development can be effective in turning them to Socialist education for enlightenment.
Our experience and general information shows that interest in Socialist ideas and desire for social change does grow in the United States. The vast literature, even of Marx and Engels (apart from the more popular) which has been sold in America is an example that all is not as black as our questioner thinks. One large factor in their backwardness is the deliberate use of the labour leader over there as well as here, to confuse and mislead the worker. From Gompers down to the Communists parading as left-wing labour leaders, these have all been well used to side-track the worker. And as recent revelations and many “raids" and trials have shown, prominent Communists over there have been used by the authorities to preach violence by minorities, and so frighten wage-workers away from even the name of Socialism and Communism.
That conditions are likely to develop anti-capitalist views amongst the workers in U.S.A. is so well-known to the capitalists there that they have spent fabulous sums in controlling almost every agency of education and opinion, including the labour leader.
The open and constant use of the wealth of the few to control affairs by so-called corruption is inevitable, especially in the U.S.A., where the relatively few large owners do not enter into politics themselves, but hire the lawyers and professors to run affairs in their interest. Politics in America are as corrupt possibly as trade union officialism there. This, however, will not prevent or influence the awakened worker once be realises that economic and political action are essential for him, and that neither political or economic action are in themselves corrupt or need ever be corrupt once the workers understand and control the economic and political organisations for themselves and in their own interest.
With the overwhelming mass of the population in America being workers and possessing the majority of the votes as they do, there is no hindrance to them controlling the State machine in America for themselves once they want to and know what to do with it. There is no other way but control of political power in U.S.A., and the stupendous economic development of that country cannot but quicken what has already commenced—the ripening of the working-class mind, and the eventual acceptance of the Socialist position.