Friday, July 7, 2017

A Question of Policy. (1913)

Editorial from the February 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard

Several correspondents having recently asked questions with regard to the future revolutionary economic organisation, an attempt is made to deal generally with the matter in the following article.

In the first place the position of this party has always been, no matter whether it is the economic organisation or the Socialist Commonwealth that is in question, that all matters of detail most be left to those upon whom the necessity to consider and arrange them is imposed by social development. Social development does not impose this task upon the Socialist Party at the present day. In every walk of life the broad scheme comes first. No organiser ever proceeds from the particular to the general—from the detail to the whole.

That which has been placed before the working-class intelligence to-day is the need for the broad, undetailed social system based upon the common ownership of the means of life. We know that from that basis certain broad conditions must arise. Those conditions are of such vast importance as to dwarf all matters of detail into the elusive diminutive of “nothing,” just as the corresponding conditions which arise out of the present social basis (wage-slavery, for instance) are of such overwhelming moment, as to reduce all other matters to insignificance.

The Socialist, as the member of society upon whom the need for this change in the social base has been borne, accepts these broad conditions which he knows will arise as sufficient. He is aware that such changes may take place as will prevent the establishment of common ownership in the means of living (though he regards the contingency as so remote that it does not worry him), and in that case the whole and the detail would be equally vain. But he is convinced that, whatever changes may take place, or unforeseen circumstance arise, if such happenings are not of sufficient magnitude to prevent the social base being established, then all the effect of those changes must fall upon the details, and cannot affect the broad outline of the new social scheme.

In regard to the revolutionary eoonomic organisation the Socialist position is identical. That such an organisation will be called for as part of the organisation of the working class for the achievement of their emancipation must be admitted by every Socialist. That such organisation, since its aim is the organisation of the working class, must be upon class lines, is the simple logical implication of the facts. That such an organisation, since its object is revolutionary, must hare a revolutionary basis and be composed of revolutionaries admits of no dispute. But beyond certain general conclusions clearly arising from the given premises, and which no changes that do not first disestablish those premises can alter, the Socialist, and in an added degree the Socialist Party, is not called to pronounce.

The work the Socialist has before him is to make Socialists—to make adherents to the Socialist whole, not to any conglomeration of Socialist detail. The details can have no significance to the person who does not understand the whole, and to the person who does understand they do not matter. For the first thing that happens to the man who does understand—to the Socialist, that is—is that he perceives that his only hope lies in his class. If his class is not equal to taking every step necessary for their emancipation; if his class is not capable of considering and deciding every matter of detail when the necessity arises; if his class is not of sufficient mental calibre to lightly throw off the dead hand of any notions and determinations we might seek to impose upon them, then the working class is doomed.

Why, then, should we trouble ourselves with details that we are not called upon to face? We could only consider them in the light of our present environment, and that, we know, is changing every day. It is a very essential, a fundamental, part of our Socialist position that our environment is changing every day. Upon our conception of the broad tendency of that change we base our general policy, but it is the details of that environmental change that must affect and determine the details of the future policy, and as to the details of the change which will take place in the multitudinous conditions that surround us, we are supremely ignorant.

This, however, we do know: before we can have Socialism we must have, not merely Socialists, but a Socialist working class; and before we can have even the Socialist economic organisation we must have the Socialist material with which to form it. It is a significant fact that those who claim to be able to form a revolutionary economic organisation with non revolutionaries are the same who have succeeded in framing a Socialist (!) political organisation without Socialists.

In the knowledge, then, of what we do know; of what we are sure will be necessary in spite of all changes that are not of sufficient magnitude to touch the fundamentals of our position, we concern ourselves with the work that is at hand—the making of the material necessary to the establishment of Socialism. And we do this, whether that material is to be used in the economic field or the political—or both—without imposing on the future the dead hand of unripe judgments—unripe because they must necessarily be formed in an untimely environment.

But as for the specific questions put by one enquirer, we may hazard a reply. The questions are: “How could the economic organisation work in complete unison with the political party if it was kept separate and apart by non-affiliation?” and secondly : “If the economic organisation is to consist of the same units which compose the political organisation, what structure will it (the economic organisation) take so as to debar from membership the non-revolutionary?”

The question of affiliation, as was pointed out in a former answer, is largely a matter of definition. What is certain is that between the economic organisation of the working class and the political there must, since they each will exist for the same revolutionary purpose, and will each be necessary to that purpose, be such close co-operation as will secure the end in view. There is no mystery about this. Just as the capitalist on the economic field and on the political field, can take consistent action in his own interest without affiliating his economic self with his political person, so can the Socialist. Whatever form of words may be used to designate the organisations, since they will, after all, simply be the revolutionary working class organised on the industrial and the political fields for the same object, they will in effect be different sides of one organisation. Nothing can keep them apart, and if there is no definite act of affiliation it will be because none is needed. For example, the workers, in their economic organisation, will be anxiously waiting for the opportunity to go to work on the co-operative basis, but being Socialists, they will know that they cannot do so until, in their political organisation they have taken certain steps. It is hard to believe that, politically, they can take certain conscious steps and, economically, not know they have done it. 

Regarding the last point, it certainly seems that provision for sound membership might be made in the same way that the S.P. secures it: by a declaration of principles—and discipline.

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