From the January 1918 issue of the Socialist Standard
A good deal of importance has of late been attached to the question of the industrial organisation of the working class. It is now more than ever necessary to sound a note of warning. A lot has been written and said unduly emphasising this importance. While the present writer admits the necessity for some form of organisation on the industrial field, he realises that these, at best, have their limitations.
Syndicalism, Industrial Unionism, with the advocacy of their respective methods of “war” on the capitalist class, such as the rank and file movement of the metal trades, the general “down tools" policy, “direct action,” sabotage, etc.—all these have been brought to the front at various times, with claims that they represent the correct form of organisation for the workers to take up in order to free themselves from the domination of capitalism.
Now all these methods may be useful to the workers in their immediate and every-day struggle on the industrial field against the masters. But they all fall short, as they can never abolish the cause of their trouble; they can only deal with the effects of that cause.
There is no need to enter into details respecting the various industrial organisations and their different methods, as most readers will be already familiar with their activities. But it is sufficient to say that the general tendency of such bodies is either to ignore, or display indifference to, political action. Apart from defects in their method of industrial organisation, the casting aside or belittling of political action is where the Socialist is mainly concerned.
In order to arrive at a correct position it is necessary, first of all, to state shortly the position of the working class during that period covered by the rise of the capitalist class to power.
With the accession to power of the capitalists came the enclosing of the land, or taking from the mass their right to work on their plot of land — a right that had existed for centuries, so long as they recognised and rendered certain duties and services to the lord of the manor. When access to the land was denied them, the working people found their means of existence gone. Such a condition the rising capitalists found necessary to their economic development. They realised that so long as the people had a stake in the land (with the individual productive methods arising from it, which enabled them to provide their own needs), this would continue to operate against them and the development of their growing commercial enterprises. The one thing essential to their success was a class of workers who had no property. This was found in the people who were turned off the land, and whose ranks were continually increased by others who were crushed out by the cheapness of collective production. This period marked the complete severance of the worker from his tools and products; henceforward he is compelled to sell his power to labour to the class which owns the tools and the land.
This is exactly the position existing to-day— that is, the capitalist class own all the means of life on one hand, the workers own nothing but their power to labour on the other. From this condition springs all our troubles.
Every person, worker or capitalist, requires food, clothing and shelter, which, in the shape of raw material, must first of all be derived from the land. Now if one class owns the land and the tools of production, it follows that those who do not own cannot get food, clothing, and shelter except by permission of that class. The latter, having possession of those things the workers need, have the power to say on what terms those needs shall be satisfied. What are those terms?
They are that the workers shall work on the land, in the factories, etc., in such a way as will permit the masters to meet all expenses, such as rent, rates and taxes, cost of raw material, wages, out of the total wealth produced, and yet have a surplus left for themselves. This surplus is known as profit, the production of which is their sole object.
Whence does this profit arise? It arises through the workers applying their energies to natural objects in such a way as to produce in a given period more wealth than is necessary to sustain them during that period.
Profit, then, is robbery. Proof. We see that wealth is the result of the application of labour-power to natural objects —to change their form and position in order to meet the requirements of society. There is no other source of economic wealth.
It is the working class which, through the application of their energy produce all wealth, but it is easy to see that they do not consume all that they produce. There is another class, the capitalists, who live to consume wealth, but who produce none. Instead, they consume over two thirds of what the workers produce.
Assume a 9 hour working day—it means that for the whole 9 hours the worker only gets a value in wages equal to what he produces in 3, and the capitalist class, who do no work, get value equal to the product of 6 hours. Therefore the worker, out of 9 hours, works 6 hours for no return. This is how and where the worker is robbed; where the surplus-value is created.
It is this surplus-value that is troublesome to the working class. The capitalists not only wish to maintain it, but to increase it, either of which, through competition, means economy in production, improved machinery, speeding-up— all of which most re act upon the working class. The latest scheme along these lines was noticed in the “Manchester Guardian” (24.10.17), where it was shown that a plan was in definite shape to set up industrial councils all over the country whose business it would be to see that production was increased, any attempt at restriction prevented, greater economy exercised, both in men and machinery, and, above all, greater improvements in the methods of production.
Whilst all this is going on, the workers feel the pinch. They realise that in order to meet it individual action is useless. They unite in crafts and still find that as a class they are gradually getting more and more enslaved. Bargaining on the political field has been tried,. but its only result is to show that Liberals and Tories alike are opposed to them. Even when members of their own class were elected to voice their interests they found they were no better off in the matter of representation. Men who could lead them astray on the industrial field, lost no time in doing ditto on the political field. Proof is not wanting that they have lent themselves to the dirtiest work of the capitalists. As if to make matters more confusing than ever, along comes the Anarchist, the Syndicalist, and Industrialist, prating about political action being useless. “Let us form one or several big unions, all affiliated, then when we wish we can say : ‘To hell with the bosses! We are in possession of the tools of production; let us lock them out and produce for ourselves! ’ ”
This sounds all right, but it leaves out of account a serious factor, viz, the power held by the capitalists over the armed forces. This power is political, and though the capitalist is in a minority of 1 to 7, it is by virtue of its possession they are able to wield the military in any direction they choose. The importance of this power to the capitalists is shown by the amount of energy and money they are prepared to expend, especially at election times, in order to gull the workers into supporting them. They realise that mere ownership is not sufficient— they must have power to keep their ownership effective. They know that a notice "Trespassers will be prosecuted” is useless unless there is a power to back it up. The power behind the notice consists of police, magistrates, and in the last resort, the military. Crimes against private property, such as damage and theft, are dealt with by the civil authorises generally. But suppose such damage or theft was carried out by masses of people too large for the civil authorities to handle, as in cases of strikes or aggravated poverty, through unemployment, what happens then ? The Home Office sends troops or naval forces to the affected area, and brings them into active use if necessary to protect the masters’ property.
The Home Office is part and parcel of the political machine The capitalists, having control of the political machinery, appoint one of their own class or a hireling, as Home Secretary, who is head of the Home Office, and who is held responsible to the Government for the conduct of his department, as instance Asquith when he stated that he accepted full responsibility for the use of troops at Featherstone in 1893, and later, when Winston Churchill, during the railway dispute said “the railways must be run at all costs,” and when, according to the Chairman of the S.E. Ry., 30,000 troops were moved from Aldershot with equipment and supplies for three months in the short space of six-and-a half hours, to operate in the strike area.
These troops, in "peace” as well as in war time, are equipped and maintained from the National Exchequer, the head of which is responsible to the Government for the efficient carrying out of the work of his department.
One could go on detailing the functions of the various Government departments. The point is, however, that all the means of power, whether for making laws for the workers to observe, or for oppressing them forcibly, are in the hands of Liberal and Tory capitalists, and they are ably assisted in exploiting them by their decoy ducks, the “Labour representatives.” In other words, it is the capitalist class who make the laws, who vote the supplies and means for the maintenance of the naval, military, and civil forces, the ultimate use of which is to keep the workers in subjection. It is here that the power of the capitalist class resides.
This need not continue. It is the business of the Socialist Party to educate the workers to the understanding that their interests of necessity must be absolutely opposed to those of the masters, and to organise them on the basis of class to the point of seizing political power from the oppressors, and so getting control of the armed forces, which can, if necessary, be used for the purpose of establishing freedom, instead of, as at present, being used as instruments of oppression.
It might be asked, does this mean that it is unnecessary for the workers to organise on the industrial field? Of course not. Under present industrial conditions such organisation is necessary in order to protect themselves against the worsening of their conditions. But industrial organisation at its best can only be a means of defence. It cannot attack because in order to be effective in its function as an industrial weapon it must, so long as there exists no widespread class-consciousness among the workers, of necessity take all shades of thought into its ranks. It must take in all workers, even those who support capitalism as a system, and who are only concerned with the question of wages and hours, as well as Socialists, who realise that these same questions must be faced as a disagreeable necessity, but who are out for the abolition of the wages system altogether. Thus, to be effective in the fullest sense, a working-class organisation must be based on class-consciousness, that is, the recognition of its class interest as against the interests of the capitalist class.
As pointed out before, in order to completely defeat the capitalist class, whose power is political, the workers must organise into a revolutionary political party. Such a party is the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Its guiding principles can be found on the last page of the Socialist Standard. It is sufficient to say that it is the only political organisation of the workers in this country. It consists of Socialists, and there is no room inside it for wire-pullers, go-betweens, or parasites of any description, such as infest other organisations. It keeps itself clean by shedding its bad elements — when there are any. It does not depend to-day upon its numbers, but on its understanding. It believes that if the workers are educated to the point of intelligent rebellion on the political field, their action on the industrial field is bound to be in conformity. It is not the business of a Socialist party to assist in the patching up of a rotten system based upon exploitation and blood, but to bring about its abolition—the sooner the better. But this cannot be done until the workers, whether they are industrially organised or not, realise their class position, their subjection to capital.
To sum up: Socialism is international— its principles apply to every country under the sun where capitalism exists. Socialism is the only form of society that can bring freedom. To attain this the capture of political power is necessary the world over. This means, then, that the workers must organise into a worldwide movement before Socialism can be established. Not so with industrial organisations. Whatever form they may take, their activity is necessarily conditioned by the pace set by the capitalists in a particular manufacturing area. It is true that the reasons for their existence lie in the conditions created by capitalism, yet it is equally true they deal only with effects and not with causes. While this is quite legitimate as far as it goes, it cannot be denied that all the industrial organisation in the world will not emancipate the workers so long as they leave the capitalist class in possession of the political machinery, with which they control the economic powers. Industrial organisation has changed, and must change, with the development of capitalism, whereas the object of the Socialist party is ever the same—the abolition of private ownership in the means of life and the establishment of a system of society based on common ownership.
We have pointed the way; read our literature and get busy.