Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Organisation of the Working Class (1925)

Editorial from the January 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC.
Ever since the existing social order originated in the downfall of feudalism, there has been going on a struggle between the two classes of which it is composed, i.e., the capitalist or master-class and the wage-slave or working-class. As a result of this struggle, ever increasing in its intensity and ever widening in its scope, there has arisen a certain degree of organisation on the part of both classes. Up to the present the initiative in the struggle has lain with the masters and the efficiency of their organisation is correspondingly greater than that of the workers, whose lot has in the main consisted of a series of defeats resulting in increased poverty and exploitation. There is urgent need for improvement in the workers’ organisation, hence the propaganda of the Socialist Party.

Socialist theory is the result of scientific effort to explain the class struggle, i.e., to discover its cause, the line of its development and its eventual outcome. Socialists, therefore, are essentially and directly involved in this struggle, and have a distinct point of view to express regarding the organisation of their class.

A glance over the field of battle reveals at once the fact that the workers’ organisation at present is a conglomeration of fragments rather than an organic whole. It consists of innumerable unions professing to function in the interests of different sections, overlapping to an appallingly wasteful degree and confusing the workers by their various “programmes.” It is realised by some of the workers that one union for one class is essential if defeat is ever to be converted into victory. What is not so clearly recognised is that such a union must be a Socialist union.

To exist at all a union of the entire working-class must at least have a common object, and one looks around in vain for any other object but Socialism which is capable of becoming common to all sections. Unity is impossible so long as the mass of the workers see no further than the immediate struggle over wages and hours, etc., which necessarily vary in different localities and occupations. This is not saying that such struggle can or should be abandoned while capitalism lasts. On the contrary, no one is more determined in the prosecution of the defensive fight than the Socialist since those who cannot defend will make poor material for conducting an attack. What does, however, need emphasising is that victory cannot be obtained within the limits of the wage system. So long as the master-class possess the means of life so long will the workers be condemned to poverty and slavery.

The first essential then is a change in the outlook of the workers, in the goal of their struggle. They must become class conscious and take the initiative. They must determine to attack the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour.

The next point to become agreed upon is the line of action or policy to be adopted in conducting this attack. This can only be determined by the nature of the conditions existing. In points of detail these conditions are constantly changing. It is, therefore, impossible to lay down in advance a detailed programme to be adopted in the hour of the social revolution. Certain fundamental features of the existing order make it both possible and necessary, to outline the general character of the policy to be pursued.

In the first place it is important to realise that the existing order is maintained by political means, i.e., by the machinery of government in the hands of organisations of the master-class. A consideration of industrial conditions soon reveals why this must be so. To-day the occupiers or users of the various industrial plants are not the owners; if they were, there would be no social problem, i.e., no class struggle.

Ownership to-day consists not in occupation but in mere legal title, meaningless, unless recognised and upheld by the forces of the State. The overthrow of capitalist ownership, therefore, and the establishment of common ownership, involves the capture of the State by the working-class. Dispossession necessitates disarmament. The organisation of the working-class must, therefore, be a political organisation, i.e., a Socialist Party.

The nature of its object and the circumstances of its origin compel a Socialist party to oppose all other parties at all times and without exception, since these parties can exist only to preserve in some shape or form the system which the Socialist Party is out to abolish.

The existing confusion among the workers organised in the Trade Unions has enabled a crowd of professional politicians drawn from the ranks of both classes, to form a party claiming to have special regard for the interests of the workers. This party is, financially, nothing but a parasite upon the Trade Unions, depriving them of strength (which could be used for fighting against the masters) in order to further a political policy very little different from that of Liberal capitalists. Such difference as exists between them is of no consequence to the workers. In spite of this fact, however, numerous critics of the Labour Party profess to believe that the Trade Unions are part of it. The Labour Party, is allowed to claim that it is the political organisation of the Trade Unions as such.

The Socialist Party disputes this claim. A Trade Unionist as such has no particular political creed. He may be a Liberal or a Conservative, a Socialist or an Anarchist, or alternatively, utterly indifferent to political matters. The essential concern of a Trade Union is obviously the industrial conditions, particularly affecting its members ; it is a sectional organisation and thus cannot form the basis of a political party whose concern is class interest.

What, then, is the attitude of the Socialist Party towards the Trade Unions? Necessarily it is one of propaganda. To the extent that the Trade Unions defend the immediate interest of the workers, the Socialist Party supports them. It combats, however, every action on their part, political or otherwise, which assists the master-class. For the rest it advocates the obliteration of sectional and financial restrictions on membership. The organisation of the workers must be based upon class interests.

Much valuable time is wasted by some otherwise intelligent workers in advocating detailed plans of organisation. “Industrialists" of various shades endeavour to map out in advance the structure of the revolutionary embryo. They forget that society is an organism and not a piece of architecture; that organs only develop as the need for them arises. The function of industrial administration in the fullest sense cannot pass into the hands of the.workers until they have secured possession of the means of life in the manner indicated above.

The task of a revolutionary-body is, therefore, the accumulation of revolutionary material, i.e.. Socialists. The elaboration of this material into organic shape will depend upon the development of the conditions of its existence, the details of which, not being prophets, we cannot foresee. For us it is enough to proclaim the revolutionary slogan, “The world for the workers,” and to organise and act in accordance therewith.

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