March 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard
At a period when the space in our last issue was already allotted, there came to hand from the Socialist Labor Party of America, a letter addressed to "the Affiliated Parties of the International Socialist Bureau.”
The fact that we are not one of the affiliated parties need not prevent us subjecting this very silly epistle, with all its wild claims and shallow assertions, to the test of Socialist criticism.
The general purpose of the letter we are criticising is to seize the opportunity provided by the wide spread discredit thrown upon Socialism by the pseudo Socialists of Europe for the purpose of attaching the confused and bewildered workers to the pseudo Socialism of America. In other words, it is a deliberate attempt to prevent the workers from seeing and understanding the real cause of the failure of working-class political organisation in the present crisis, and the break-down of the "International,” in order that the workers shall turn their wearied eyes, not to class conscious political action, but to that snare and delusion, Industrial Unionism, with its kibosh of “taking and holding” and “locking out the masters.”
We are told that: “The events in Europe are likewise a demonstration of the principle that a pure and simple political party of Socialism, however revolutionary it may be in its utterances, cannot be of real service to the proletariat, let alone accomplishing [sic] its emancipation." In a mass of vague statements and ambiguities this assertion and its implications are clear. If it means anything at all it means that a Socialist political party has been called upon to stand the test of the present crisis and has failed. Only thus could "the events in Europe” be a “demonstration of the principle that a pure and simple political party of Socialism . . cannot be of real service to the proletariat." This implication is nothing but a sophism intended to discredit the class conscious political organisation of the workers—the reason for it we shall see presently.
The authors of the letter indicate who they regard as the “pure and simple political party of Socialism” when they say in an earlier passage, “ the European Socialist movement—and that means largely the movement in Germany, France and Austria,” and go on to talk of the “vast numbers which the movement in general in Europe enlisted under the banner of Socialism, the great vote cast in the various countries,” and so forth. They leave no doubt at all that it is those gigantic parties on the Continent who take up a similar attitude to that adopted by the Labour Party in this country whom they hail as the “pure and simple political party of Socialism"—for no other purpose than to be able to claim that Socialist political organisation has failed.
Against such deliberate falsehood, such treacherous misrepresentation, we rise indignant to defend the Socialist position. We repudiate the implied statement that Socialist political organisation has failed. We claim, on the contrary, that in the only instance we know of where Socialist political organisation has been put to the test, it has emerged unshaken, unsullied, and triumphant.
What are the facts concerning the political organisation of the so called “European Socialist Movement” ? What is the true significance of the failure of the “vast numbers” and the “great vote” that movement attracted to itself to count as a force against the machinations of high anarchists who have drenched the lands and seas of the world with blood? These questions are easily answered.
The political organisation which has failed to stand the strain of recent events was not Socialist political organisation at all, and the significance of its failure is that working class political organisation is useless to the workers unless it is firmly grounded upon Socialist principles.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always held that the essential principle upon which the political party of the working class must be based is the principle of the class struggle. The implications of this are several. The first is that only the class conscious may be admitted to membership in the organisation, since only those who are conscious of the working-class position in society can understand the class struggle, and only those who understand the class struggle can intelligently prosecute it on the political field. The second implication of the principle of the class struggle is that the political party of the working class must be uncompromisingly hostile to all other parties, for the reason that political parties are the expression of class interests, and the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class.
We claim that only upon this basis of the class struggle is it possible for the “political party of Socialism” (to use the phrase of the S L.P. of A.) to be founded. Political organisation which is not based upon this principle, no matter by what name it goes or how many millions of votes it may succeed in capturing, if it pretends to be Socialist political organisation, is spurious and fraudulent.
Political organisation is not merely a matter of enrolled membership. It is much more than this. It is the organisation of the vote both inside and outside of the political organisation. While its strength for organising the vote to the ballot box lies in its organised membership, its strength for political conquest lies in its vote. It is through this vote that the class struggle is to be ultimately decided. But the vote is only an expression of opinion, and its only value lies in the opinion that it expresses.
The logic of this is clear enough. If it is important that the organised members of the “political party of Socialism” shall understand the working class position, it is equally important that the organised vote, upon which the political party must lean in its assault on the political supremacy of the master class, shall be the expression of opinion of class-conscious, revolutionaries.
We are now at the root of the whole matter of the failure of the “European Socialist Movement” to take up and maintain the Socialist position in the recent crisis. These gigantic political organisations which disposed of so many millions of votes were not Socialist organisations. They were not founded upon the principle of the class struggle. They had not done the work of politically educating their supporters. They had not built up their strength upon an electorate understanding the working-class position and desiring revolution. These millions of so-called Socialist voters did not understand the class division in society, and did not, therefore, realise the unity of interest of the workers the world over, and the clash between the interests of the working class and the master class, at every point, nationally and internationally. Their votes had been attracted by all manner of nostrums and side-issues, and simply expressed opinions thereon, and not on the vital matter of working-class emancipation.
That is how the matter stood at the time of the outbreak of the war. We had always foreseen that political organisation upon such a basis must fail the moment it should be put to the test, and that in the time of crisis it could only bring disaster upon the working-class movement. In innumerable articles in our official organ we have stated this clearly, and events have justified us to the full. The so-called Socialists did not understand the class struggle, with its clear call, "workers, unite!” They were of that school (to which the S.L.P. of A. belong) who (here we quote the letter before us) “recognise the fact that the Socialists of Europe have been confronted with many problems which had to be solved before the real issue, Socialism versus Capitalism, could be decided.” They lacked, indeed, every essential of the mental equipment necessary to enable them to take up the line of action which their interests demanded—in short, they were not Socialists.
Before proceeding farther let us turn for a moment to another aide of the matter. The S L.P. of A. claim in their letter that had their views been adopted “certain measures could have been taken at least to minimise this terrible catastrophe ” ; indeed, they go further, and say that they believe that, “had the various brother-parties listened to our voice and adopted our suggestions, the present catastrophe now crushing the proletariat, might—if it had happened at all—have been turned to the defeat of the capitalist class, the overthrow of this barbarous system, and caused the ushering in of the Co-operative Commonwealth, the Industrial Republic of Labour.”
The real significance of this extravagant claim is that the S.L.P. of A. believe that the Co-operative Commonwealth can be established by an unclass conscious proletariat— a point to be farther dealt with.
We know that whether our teachings or those of the S.L.P. of A. had been propagated in Europe the course of events as far as the war and its conduct are concerned would have been very much the same. It may be noted in how many ways the mentality of the Socialist Party differs from that of the quasi-Socialist Party, and how this difference is revealed at every turn. The S.L.P.'s lament is that the European “Socialist” Movement failed to prevent or moderate “this awful catastrophe”; our complaint is not this at all for the reasons we have given. What we regret is the spectacle of what so many regard as the “great Socialist Movement” failing to make audible protest against the butchery of millions of the working class on the battlefield in capitalist interests. Nor is this all—these exploiters of our sacred cause have everywhere identified themselves with the war, and urged the workers to take up arms against their fellow wage slaves. To us this is the great injury inflicted upon the workers’ cause because we know how much this great betrayal will impede the work of spreading class-consciousness among our follow workers. Such education is not necessary in the minds of the S.L.P. of A., hence they are not concerned with this point.
We now come back to the matter of the contempt of the S.L.P of A. for the class-conscious political organisation of the workers. They assert that "the correct form of the economic organisation (industrial unionism) is the embryo, the undeveloped form of future society.” And what is this “industrial unionism”? The following quoted from the letter before us helps us here : “ . . . no one man can represent the varied interests of the different industries which are found within a given territory.” So industrial unionism, the undeveloped form of future society, is based, not upon the unity of the interest of all, but upon antagonism of interests by industries! It is quite clear that it is utterly hopeless to try to make this idea and class-consciousness — the very essence of which is the recognition of the unity of the class interest— run in harness together.
A moment’s consideration will show how little justification any organisation can have for describing itself as a Socialist body, that holds that “industrial unionism is the embryo, the undeveloped form of future society.” The idea is anti-social and anti-democratic. It is anarchistic to the very marrow. It is founded upon antagonism of interests; it presupposes that the means and instruments of production and distribution are to be controlled, not by the whole community, but by the industry! Just as it is the abnegation of working-class unity before the Revolution, so it is conceivable only as the antithesis of social unity after the revolution. It has, however, the same advantage from the point of view of those who want to shirk the arduous but necessary work of educating the working class that the compromising policy of the European “Socialists” has; i.e., it does not demand a class-conscious proletariat —indeed, it can only thrive on working-class ignorance.
The S.L.P. of A. talks as if it were the only body claiming the Socialist title who realises the necessity for the workers to organise on the economic as well as on the political field. This is far from the truth. The S.P.G.B. has always maintained the need for economic organisation, but has ever insisted that such organisition must be on class lines, and must be thoroughly class-conscious. Granted these essentials, it is quite clear that Socialist political organisation must, in point of time, proceed Socialist economic organisation. For both the political and the economic organisation must draw their adherents from the same general body of class-conscious workers, and the direction in which organisation can be maintained with the smallest numbers is the direction in which organisation will take place first. Economic organisation brings the workers into direct conflict with their employers who hold their livelihood in their hands It brings them also into direct conflict with the present trade unions. For these reasons it is sheer folly to talk about organising Socialists on the economic field until there are vast numbers of Socialists to organise, for the class-conscious few would be quickly starved out between the masters and their fellow workers.
How mad is the statement in S.L.P. of A. resolution to the Stuttgart Congress that the "economic organisation of Labor" (and by that they mean industrial organisation) is "the only conceivable force with which to back up the ballot”! Only the "take and hold” cranks, whose brain cannot get away from the idea that what is to be done on the day of the Revolution is to nip round to the workshop early and turn the key on the master, could harbour such a suggestion. As a matter of fact it is just as conceivable that political organisation could provide the force with which to back up the ballot as that economic organisation could do so. There are innumerable instances of political organisations backing their objects with force, and in capitalist society the supreme force is politically controlled.
Economic organisation of the working class is necessary for other reasons than the shallow one set forth by the S.L.P. of A. It is necessary for the fighting of the workers’ battle on the industrial field under capitalism; it is necessary for the maintenance of industrial order in the new-born Socialist Commonwealth. In order that it may perform the first function it must be organisation on a class basis; in order that it may perform the second function it must know nothing of any division of interest within itself, whether along the lines of crafts, industries, sex, nationalities, color, or whatnot. Obviously, then, Industrial Unionism cannot fill the bill.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain calls the attention of the workers of this and other lands to the fact that, founded as a political organisation upon Socialist, principles, it has maintained the true working-class position in relation to the war without difficulty. We cannot boast of the support of millions of voters at the polls, but no one can point to a single word or deed of ours, in this time of crisis, which has been a betrayal of the cause of the proletariat. Well for Socialism, well for the stricken workers, well for the great cause of humanity, if, when the present riot of anarchy is over, and those who have to pay for it in blood and tears come to count the cost and apportion tho blame, they realise that the political party of Socialism, weak though it was in numbers, was strong enough to denounce the war on all sides, strong enough to expose the misleaders of Labour and their purchased “patriotism,” strong enough to avow and maintain, in the face of a frenzy of insane nationalism, the unity of interest of the Workers of all countries, strong enough to remain Socialists and keep the flag of Socialism flying.