October 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Struggle for Political Supremacy
The tremendous efforts made by the ruling class to retain control of the political machinery when seeking the suffrages supremacy of the workers in National and Local elections, is a most significant, though generally uurecognised fact; and the millions which are spent in parliamentary, and the thousands in municipal, contests should show to the thinking man or woman the immense importance the ruling class attach to this matter. An explanation is thus demanded from those who claim to represent the interests of the class that is ruled — the working class— as to why they also are in the political field and are fighting for the control of this machinery.
Let us at once point out that the term “Political Machinery” means all those methods and arrangements which the dominant class have found it necessary to collectively control in extending and maintaining their domination over the rest of Society. The National or Parliamentary section is. of course, the most important, although, due to geographic and social divisions, local and organic subdivisions of this machinery are formed and perpetuated in the shape of County, Borough, Town, and Parish Councils, Boards of Guardians, Asylum and Education Boards. It must, however, be noted that these are after all only subdivisions, and as such are ultimately under the control and domination of Parliament. This limitation of the powers of municipal bodies needs to be clearly understood by the working class, particularly as the various so-called “reform” and “labour” parties are either ignorant of, or else deliberately conceal the fact at election times, promising all sorts of measures quite without the power of a local body while the present system lasts.
The Necessity for Class Organisation
What must be clearly recognised by the workers is that to-day they are in the position class of articles of merchandise; they are quite cut off from any access to the means of living and wealth production (Land, Machinery, Mills, Railways, etc.) except by selling themselves for such price (termed wages) as they can get upon the Labour Market. All the means of living, and the wealth therewith produced, are owned by another section in Society (the capitalist class) who perform no useful function therein, but live in idleness and luxury upon the wealth they appropriate from the workers. Wealth in all societies being the matter of the globe converted to the use of mankind by human energy, it necessarily follows that if any able-bodied individuals are living in Society without doing useful work they do so by the robbery (direct or indirect, it matters little which) of the useful workers. Between the robber and robbed there is thus a direct and complete opposition of interests.
The capitalist class, however, are able to safeguard and preserve their position only by virtue of their control of the political machinery. They thus make and administer the laws, direct the police and judicial officers, and, above all, maintain the trained armed fighting forces in the country to keep the workers under control and to guard the capitalists' property. In other words the capitalist class know, or are conscious of, their position and interests, while the workers in the main are far from having clearly grasped the situation as it affects them. The first thing requisite on the workers’ behalf is a clear recognition of the deep gulf existing between the robbed working class and the robber capitalist class, and following thereupon the application of that fact to their action in the political field by taking up a position of uncompromising hostility to all supporters of capitalism in any shape or form.
Before the workers can better their position to any material extent, they must wrest the political machinery from the hands of the capitalist class. They should, therefore, ignore the shouting of "Progressive” and "Moderate" factious, admittedly capitalist as they are, as well as the so-called “Labour” or “Socialist” candidates who urge the saving of the rates, and who advocate the municipalization of the trams, gas, etc. for the purpose of providing safe investments for small middle-class capitals, to make sinecures for their friends and relatives, and to use the profit for reducing rates, all of which depend upon the continued exploitation of the workers.
The task of clearing the confusion created by these bogus “labour” parties is truly Herculean, and, were it not that the wage-slaves, municipal and other, are being forced to recognise that in municipal trading they only meet their old enemy capitalist exploitation in a new guise, the task would be well nigh hopeless. But the class antagonism cannot longer he masked. Whether engaged in sweeping the roads or running the trains, whether delivering letters or making army clothing, the fact is being brought home to the workers that to-day municipalization or nationalization is not Socialism, but that on the contrary the workers have to reckon with their must powerful enemy, to wit the capitalist class united in municipal and national government against any of the workers' demands.
The articles which have recently appeared in the columns of that Liberal advocate of municipal trading, the Daily Chronicle, on the strike of the Halifax municipal tramway employees are significant of much. They speak of the coming ‘"Labour Danger" in municipal exploitation, and evidence the determination of the ruling class that the workers shall not be any the less exploited because they happen to be employed by the municipality.
The Advantages of Municipalism Examined.
Upon closer inspection the boasted advantages of municipal or national employment are seen to dwindle: a "paper” ten hours day is in one instance found to cover sixteen hours in reality, and a few pence increase in wages is found to be really a reduction with the greater intensity of work involved. Neither does any greater security of employment exist, as the numerous "odd men" of the municipal services and the recent wholesale discharges from government works, eloquently testify, whilst sweating in government departments is a regularly recurring scandal.
The statement that municipalization and nationalization are object lessons in Socialism, is, then, an absurdity, whilst the assertion that they lead up to complete organisation of production is hardly more true of the municipal service than it is of the huge company or trust, since the officials are similar and the methods of exploitation the same. Indeed, the fact that tramway, lighting, and other services of the municipality cannot overstep the local boundaries. is evidence that, upon those fields at any rate, a huge company or trust would in reality present a greater economic advance by embracing larger areas. Moreover, the workers will have to fight as hard to gain control of municipal or national industries, as they will to gain control of the trusts.
We, however, no more wish to hinder the advance of municipal or national undertakings than to arrest the growth of the trust or combine: but to have them bailed as instalments of Socialism is utterly misleading when they are, in reality, only more efficient means of exploiting the working class for the benefit of property owners.
Let those who regard such things as Socialism ponder the meaning of the use of nationalization by Napoleon, by Bismarck. and even by the Tsar of all the Russia, for the purposes of the ruling class. In truth, it is to be feared that just as a splendid weapon may be powerful for good in just hands but quite as powerful for harm when in the hands of an unscrupulous enemy, so national or municipal industry, however powerful an agent for good when controlled by the workers, may nevertheless be an instrument of fearful economic tyranny when used by the capitalist class for its own ends
The Bogey of the Rates
The present municipalization movement, however, appears to regard the condition of the workers as quite a minor consideration. Its great concern is, in fact, to save the rates. But where the shoe really, pinches may have been learnt during the past year from the great outcry raised by London property owners and their agents over the rising rates, which, they averred, caused residents and manufacturers to migrate to the outlying to the outlying districts. Their cry was that the high rates depreciated the value of their property. In several districts, as has already been pointed out in the Socialist Standard, there has been decrease in rents owing to the diminished demand for accommodation following on high rates. Obviously, also, anything which increases the advantages of any district or town, increases the competition for house room in the favoured district and forces up the rents.
If through the profits on municipal capitalism rates were abolished anywhere, neither the lodgers nor the tenant ratepayers would in the long run be one penny the better off, for the landlords would, through the increased number of people attracted by the absence of rates, be enabled to raise the rent until it absorbed the whole of what was formerly paid as rates. Indeed, in all probability the landlords would increase the rent immediately by the amount of rates saved, Judge, then, in whose interests the rate-saving munipalizers are working.
Even the Fabian Society realise the futility of grants in aid of rates, although, as might be expected of that middle-class body. their acts belie them. In Fabian Tract No. 107 they say: “You cannot relieve the ratepayer by reducing, or even abolishing, his rates, since freeing a house of rates simply raises the rent. In fact, the ratepayer is only a foolish catspaw for the landlord. At Tonbridge, Bedford, and certain other places, pious founders have endowed the schools so splendidly that education is nobly cheap there. But rents are equivalently high; so that the landlords reap the whole pecuniary value of the endowment. . . . Suppose a misguided billionaire were to take on himself the cost of paving and lighting some London parish, and set on foot a free supply of bread and milk! All that would happen would be that the competition for houses and shops in that parish would rage until it had brought rents up to a point at which there would be no advantage in living in it more than in any other parish. Even parks and open spaces raise rents in London, though, strange to say, London statues do not diminish them.”
The Only Way For The Workers,
Clearly, then, to save the rates is not to benefit the working class, nor is the matter mended if tram fares are reduced and municipal services made cheaper, for a precisely similar thing occurs. An improvement in means of transit, or a reduction of fares, immediately causes a proportionate rise in rents in the districts favoured, as numerous instances have shown during the past few years.
The workers, therefore, must beware of those who would lure them from the path of emancipation with the red herring of municipalization.
Neither municipal nor State capitalism can ease the worker of his oppressive burden. To improve his lot he must organise with his fellows for the control of industry whether municipal or national, whether under company or trust. And the workers cannot gain control of industry unless they first wrest political power from the hands of the master class in national as well as in local government.
But these facts also explain the extensive and untiring efforts of the capitalist class to retain control of the political machinery, often, it is true, masquerading in local elections as "Independent” or "Non-political” candidates: as though candidates for political power could be non-political! The capitalist class are untiring in their efforts to retain supreme political power, because their continued existence absolutely depends upon their control of that power.
The candidates of the S.P.G.B., therefore, whilst quite prepared to use the local powers for such small temporary benefits as may be forced from the capitalists' hands for the workers in those districts, nevertheless do not seek suffrages for this, which can only be a secondary business of the political party of the workers. The fact, pointed out above, must be strongly reiterated, that the powers of the local bodies are strictly limited and are controlled by the Government.
The Limitations of Local Authorities
The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters into municipal contests as a step in the work of capturing the whole political machinery. Fully realising, and pointing out to the workers, the strict limitations of the power of local bodies, making no promises that are beyond our power to fulfil, we ask the members of our class, when (but not before) they have studied these facts and realised their correctness, to cast their votes for the candidates of the S.P.G.B. who alone stand on the above basis/
In those districts, however, where there are no S.P.G.B. candidates in the field, the workers are asked to abstain from voting altogether, since any votes cast under such circumstances can only assist the enemies of the working class.