Book Review from the August 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard
"How to Make a Revolution," by Raymond Postgate, (Hogarth Press), 5s.
It is difficult to recommend this volume to anyone seriously thinking of taking up revolution-making either as a hobby or as a full-time occupation. The author does not know how to make a revolution, and takes up the major portion of his book discussing methods which have failed.
Unlike the making of a Christmas pudding or a wireless set, the making of a revolution cannot be arranged beforehand, according to a recipe or blue-print. It can occur only as a result of certain conditions, and the author adds nothing to our knowledge and understanding of those conditions. On the contrary, he endeavours to belittle the value of those ideas of Marx which express a definite advance in knowledge and understanding. After a couple of pages of obscure verbiage, he concludes comfortably, “We have, then, to abandon the dialectic," and then goes on, “With slightly more hesitation we may reject also the whole system of Marxian economics" (p. 21). In other words, we are invited to revert to metaphysics once more (under the label of "psychology") and discard Marx for G. D. H. Cole.
Discussing the concentration of capital and the exploitation of the workers, he says: " These two facts are so obvious that Marxists economics are not required to prove them." (Italics mine.) This phrase illustrates Mr. Postgate's clumsiness of thought. Marx's economic theories are not intended to prove facts, but to explain them. Only understanding can enable us to deal with society as with nature in general. The importance of the theory of surplus-value to the workers lies in the fact that it alone explains how their exploitation takes place, and traces it to its source, i.e., the capitalist ownership of the means of production.
It is because the mass of the workers are still far from clear on these points that they continue to look to politicians for the supposed benefits of "prosperity" coupled with illusory “reforms."
Mr. Postgate rakes up afresh the bogy of the “middle-class" vote, and attributes the compromising tactics of the Labour Party to the inevitable necessity of conciliating this vote. On page 48 he makes the ridiculous statement that, “Wherever a Socialist (?) Party has approached near to office in an advanced industrial country the same thing has happened—in Italy,. Germany, France, and Britain. In each country the Party has progressed a certain way with a genuinely Socialist or revolutionary programme, only to find that its further progress depended on a gradual abandonment of that programme." Anyone acquainted with the early history of the Labour Party knows that its principal Parliamentary leaders openly gained their “safe" seats on a Liberal programme, with Liberal support. The failure of the Labour Party from the Socialist view-point is due, not to their inability to “convert” Acton and Ealing (as Mr. Postgate contends), but to their failure to educate the workers in predominantly industrial areas, Sheffield, for example, in the rudiments of Socialism. The significance of such an area returning the full complement of supporters of the National Government is obviously lost upon Mr. Postgate. The fact is that there are no safe Labour seats. All of them, having been won by compromising tactics, are liable to be swept bade into the openly reactionary fold when a period of Labour Government has resulted in inevitable disillusion.
Failing to understand history in his own country it is, of course, too much to expect the author to grasp the meaning of events abroad. Hence, on page 50, he lets fall another fatuous remark: “The more realist Socialists of Italy and Germany will admit, to-day, that the Socialist Parties of those two countries had their opportunity to make a Socialist revolution; that they failed to take it and for that reason are extinct."
Were the representatives of these Parties ever sent to the seats of Government in order to establish Socialism? Nowhere does Mr Postgate face up to this vital question. He thoughtlessly accepts the totally unwarranted assumption that parties elected for the purpose of achieving certain very limited reforms, can use their power to accomplish a social revolution. The Continental parties in the Second International have paid the penalty for having at the outset succumbed to the fatal delusion that it is the business of Socialists to play the paltry game of vote-catching in order to be able to assist the master-class in the administration of the present system.
In his concluding chapter, the author suggests the formation of yet one more organisation to reform (or should it be to “ Bolshevise"?) the Labour Party. He considers that the next Labour Government should hold on to office till it has “made Socialism." He does not tell us what is going to happen when it fails to balance its Budget. He evinces an uncomfortable feeling that the Labour Party, like its brother Parties in Italy and Germany, is hardly likely to escape from the chain of its own history, and lugubriously asks his fellow Labourites how they would like to be beaten into a state of unconsciousness with a rubber baton.
It is amusing and instructive to reflect that this is the same Mr. Postgate who, a dozen years or so ago, was cheerfully editing the official organ of the Communist Party, encouraging the workers to adopt violent and unconstitutional methods.
For a person who rejects dialectics, Mr. Postgate has certainly done his best to illustrate in his own person the negation of negation. The part of his book dealing with Communist tactics is, as a consequence, the most entertaining. His summary of the slogans of the Daily Worker could hardly be improved upon: “Come out on strike! If you do, your leaders will instantly sell you out!”
Nevertheless, Mr. Postgate has merely exchanged one form of futility for another. He is by no means optimistic about the prospects of his proposed new organisation.
He “will not even permit himself to say with certainty that such an organisation will lead to a successful revolution.” Apparently, he and others put the idea before the Socialist League two years ago without success. So that the “reform" of the Labour Party appears almost as remote as Socialism. And what is this, after all, but a reappearance of the original idea of the I.L.P. in joining the Labour Party a generation back?
Experience answers Mr. Postgate. No group, however well-intentioned, can save a Party which adopts vote-catching as one of its methods; for the group must participate in the methods of the Party and, eventually, in its fate.