Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Direct Action in South Africa. (1922)

From the April 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent attempts on the part of the Rand miners at Johannesburg to gain their ends by force of arms affords another striking instance of the futility of adopting such methods in the face of the organised, well-disciplined force of the governing class. Into the pros and cons of this particular case we do not propose to go. The broad facts of the case are sufficient for our purpose. In the mining districts of South Africa we find the masters organising for wage reductions; in fact, throughout the Capitalist world the same thing is going on all round. In England we had the coal mine owners making the first grand onslaught towards wage reductions. The Engineering industry at the present moment witnesses another great move on the part of the masters to force a reduction of wages.

In both instances the workers have been locked out. In all these contests we have the advocates of direct action on the industrial field proclaiming that this is the appointed time for the workers to use their “industrial power.” These people do not explain what this industrial power of the workers is. The reason is simple—there is no such thing as this so-called “industrial power” or “economic power,” as some prefer to call it; it is just a phrase, mouthed about by “revolutionary” Labour leaders, to impress their sheep-like followers with their “revolutionary heroism.” “Industrial power,” “ the power of industry,” “economic power,” are meaningless terms so far as advantage to the workers’ cause is concerned.

The fact that has to be solidly grasped is that, a ruling class exists to-day—the owners and controllers of the means of life. It matters not under what national banner or flag these captains of industry — the Capitalist class—are domiciled, whether it be in South Africa, Australia, America, the same force is used—the army, navy, and aerial contingents—to impose the masters’ will over the subject class, the working class. Therefore, while the workers of the world remain politically ignorant—i.e., vote their enemies into the seat of power—then it logically follows that that power, which gives them control of the forces of the State, be used whenever occasion demands, as witness on the Rand in South Africa.

As a writer in the Manchester Guardian, 17/3/22, says, commenting on the matter—
   “There certainly has been no indecision about General Smuts' way of taking up a clear challenge; not, of course, that the challenge from the rioters on the Rand was personal to him. He received it as the chosen head man of the European .Democracy in South Africa. It was no individual will, but the will of the majority—evidently a vast majority—of South African voters."
In this case the "vast majority” in their political ignorance voted for the return to the seat of power—the State Assembly—representatives of the owners of property in land, mines, railways, etc. Therefore, when this property is attacked by bands of rebel workers, it is naturally defended by the forces of the State.

Now listen to the champions of "industrial action"—"Workers' Dreadnought" (18/3/22) —commenting on the South African trouble :—
   “Labour will not be victorious whilst it merely strikes and starves. It must take control of production and distribution before it can achieve anything.”
We agree, but we are not told how the workers are to get control. Also same authority commenting on the Engineers' lock-out: -
  “They must show themselves able and ready to supply their own needs and those of the proletarian community as a whole.”
We agree, but how? And further same authority :—
   “The questions the locked-out workers have to ask themselves are just these :—
1. 'Why should we suffer want in a land of plenty? ’
2. 'How can we avoid doing so? ”
The answer to No. 1 is that the workers will continue to suffer want, so long as the means of life are owned by a few—the ruling Capitalist class.

The question as to how this state of things may be avoided is readily answered by the Socialist, who claims that the means of life must be made the common property of the people—i.e., by the establishment of Socialism, viz., "a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community." The Declaration of Principles on the back page of this issue sets out concisely but clearly how that object may be attained.

Revolutionary wind may be very relieving to people like the writer in the “Workers’ Dreadnought," quoted above; there’s been an epidemic of it since Bolshevism was discovered in Russia. What the workers need is Revolutionary knowledge. Study our position and then act.
B. I.

1 comment:

imposs1904 said...

There's a strong chance that the author of this article, 'B.I.' , was Billy Iles, who was on the editorial committee of the Standard in the early 20s. I can't be 100% certain because he usually signed his articles
as 'O.C.I.'