From the January 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard
The above is the title of a series of articles in the widely read magazine, “Current History,” for October, 1928.
These articles comprise a discussion by three writers—Prof. Laski, Morris Hillquit, and Prof. Carver, who holds the Chair of Economics at Harvard University. With the threadbare apologies of arguments used by Prof. Carver against Marx we are not now concerned. Neither shall we deal with the theory of Hillquit that Marxism is “essentially evolutionary,” especially as “Father” Hillquit, of the Socialist Party of America, forgets to supply any evidence to support the title of his article.
The position held by Prof. Laski and the following he has among many workers may make it worth while to call attention to some of the Professor’s statements. The title of his contribution is "The Value and Defects of the Marxist Philosophy.” While he says something about the value of Marxian philosophy, he never once attempts to show the defects of the Marxian view. In other words, he used the name .of Marx to support a number of policies, but never attempts to show that Marx accepted them.
He says Marx developed the strategy of Communism, and this was it:—
"The Industrial Revolution brought with it the massing of the workers in the factories; trade unions developed in consequence to protect the interests of the workers. As these come to realise that their divorce from the means of production keeps them in subjection to the Capitalist regime, they become increasingly hostile to it.
“They develop accordingly a growing class consciousness. Their solidarity finds expression in a revolutionary party which becomes dissatisfied with small concessions and insists upon the seizure of the State.
“There then develops the final struggle with the Capitalists, who to retain power will stop at no means, however violent or brutal. The workers accordingly are driven to retort in kind. They seize in open warfare the institutions of the State and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat, which by its iron rigor controls the transition from a Capitalist to a Communist Society. The period admittedly is one of bloody conflict, since no class—witness the Civil Wars in England and the French and Russian Revolutions—will peacefully submit to its own suppression. Since, therefore, the master class cannot be persuaded to surrender by democratic means, the class-conscious workers are the spearhead of the proletariat who drive the latter to victory.”
Where does Prof. Laski get this from? What he has done, no doubt, in order to find some arguments against Marx, is to neglect Marx and Engels’ writings and simply borrow from the manifestoes and theses of the Bolsheviks and father the lot on to Marx.
Marx and Engels, after laying bare the evolution of class society, insisted, as long ago as 1848 in the "Communist Manifesto," that the emancipation of the working class could only be achieved by the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority. In the same manifesto the workers are told that their first step must be to win the battle of democracy.
Right through their writings they insist upon the need for political action to accomplish the Social Revolution. The belief in violence as the road to Revolution was denounced by Marx and Engels in their attacks on Bakunin and his general strike and insurrection mania. The Bolshevik dream of a minority winning power for the rest of the workers was scathingly answered by Engels in his article (printed in The Socialist Standard) on "The Programme of the Blanquist Fugitives from the Commune.”
Even if Prof. Laski attempted to use the fragmentary writings of Marx and Engels on the class struggles in France between 1848 and 1850, he would have to face the fact that both Marx and Engels recognised that conditions were the determining factor in laying down a policy. So that when these battles were over they recognised the need of a different policy. And their activity in favour of universal suffrage and the organisation of the workers is plain evidence of their realism. Read! Mr. Laski, Engels' striking preface of 1895 to Marx’s "Class Struggles in France,” and see there how he recognised that no minority action, no violent attack, no clever seizure of State, could ignore the need for Socialist education and organisation of the working class for political control of the State.
In no publication did Marx urge that the dictatorship of the proletariat was a necessary step under modern conditions for the world’s workers.
In semi-feudal countries with a large peasantry, where the wage workers were a minority two or three generations ago, the phrase dictatorship was used in outlining policy. But in most cases Marx preferred the phrase used in the Communist Manifesto and also in the Programme of the Communist League of 1848—"the Rule of the Proletariat.” And the dictatorship referred to was not, like in Russia, a dictatorship of a few, but, as Engels indicates in the preface to the "Commune of Paris”—a "dictatorship" which relied upon universal suffrage. Mr. Laski should know that in modern countries with a majority composed of wage workers, the phrase "dictatorship of proletariat” has lost its meaning. It is out of date. For if the workers are the majority, how can there be a dictatorship of the majority!
But Professors are always trying to put Marx right, and so next month we will see how Prof. Carver does it.