From the September 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialists are often accused by Direct Actionists and others of that ilk of being content with "talk, talk, everlasting talk." They say we are continually uttering all sorts of dire threats against the capitalist class, but that we stop at that. When it comes to action, according to them, we are non-starters.
Now what action can the workers take ?
They can with advantage take no action other than talking—with tongue and pen and print—and organising, and using the vote, until such time as they have obtained control of the political machinery, for without that control they are helpless.
There are what are known as "constitutional action" and "direct action," The meaning of the first is obviously action in accord with the Constitution.
There are various organisations—political and others alleged to be non-political—who conduct their propaganda mainly by the use of Press and platform, as a means of "peacefully persuading those who pay attention to their case to join them." That is constitutional action.
Good, so far! but another aspect of the matter now presents itself.
Two or more governments have a dispute concerning some question of detail arising out of the administration of territories under their control—usually a question of commerce. What happens ?
The disputants endeavour to settle the matter by negotiation. Failing that, one side or the other takes direct action That is to say, they declare war against the other side.
Vast masses of men with the latest equipment are hurried to the scene of action ; new inventions are brought out, and production in general is intensified. That is direct action in practice !
When the workers take direct action that is a crime, because it is unconstitutional, inasmuch as it is action against the ruling class.
But what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander ! If it be constitutional for a government to take direct action in the form of a declaration of war, it is also constitutional for the workers to take direct action on the same lines when they obtain that control of political power which is necessary to enable them to do so.
However, our critics must remember that until the workers get that control they, like us, are helpless, and we can do nothing but talk, educate, and organise.
Those who favour "direct action" appear to be unable to conceive any other form of action. When we start action of any kind other than what we are doing at present, it will be constitutional action expressed in terms of guns and bombs and bayonets. We shall use these instruments of warfare safe in the knowledge that we were backed by a Socialist working class.
We do not wish to kill anyone, and if we can accomplish our aims in a peaceful manner well and good. But if the enemy—the capitalist class —resist, then we must use all the forces of the State to enforce our will.
The issue then will not be merely a sectional squabble between national groups of the capitalist class, but it will be a question of the complete abolition of that class itself.
Direct action, as advocated by those of the anti-political school, means political suicide for the workers because it ignores the only factor which can be effective.
When the day of our direct action arrives the ranks of the conscientious objector will be considerably depleted because, whereas on the last occasion those ranks were largely made up of Socialists, in the struggle to come there will be no Socialists amongst the "C.O.'s." Instead they will be found in the revolutionary army, fighting in order to achieve "THE WORLD FOR THE WORKERS."
H. E. Hutchins