Sunday, May 31, 2015

Are We Practical? (1932)

From the March 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Certain critics have asked why we do not organise a mass resistance of the workers against the wage-cuts of the National Government. Socialist propaganda is all very well, they say, but what are we doing in the meantime whilst workers' standard of living is being mercilessly attacked?

The question is a curious one. Which workers are we to organise? The workers who voted the National Government into power, or the workers who supported the equally non-Socialistic Labour Party? And how are we to organise politically uninstructed workers who can easily be stampeded into a panic by the capitalist press?

In the first place, we are a political party with a definite political object. As workers and members of trade unions we must be opposed to all wage-cuts, but as Socialists and members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain we go further. We are opposed to the biggest cut of all—the profit cut—which robs the workers all the time of the bulk of the wealth they produce. This meantime question sounds quite sensible till you look at it closely. It depends entirely upon the workers whether there shall be a meantime and how long that meantime will be. In the meantime the capitalist class hold political power and they are therefore masters of the situation. Moreover, if it is possible to reform the present system of society in the interests of the working class, there is no need for Socialism. But experience has proven that to be impossible. In spite of all the reforms of the three biggest parties, the conditions of the workers steadily worsen.

Thirty years ago we were told the same story by the Labour Party, the I.L.P., S.D.P., and other bodies. Our method of achieving Socialism by educating the workers in Socialist principles would, they said, take centuries. They had a better and quicker way. They would give the workers reforms and higher wages, and win their support in that way. Socialism would be with us in no time. Perhaps! The Labour Party can now number its adherents by the million, but is it truly a menace to the existing order of society? Are the workers beginning to take an intelligent interest in Socialism as a result of all these years of the Labour Party's political activity? No. They are still struggling blindly and vainly. They are still being led like sheep down the blind alley of social reform and "direct action," by the "intelligent minorities" who pose as their saviours. One can understand from the following the reasons for the Labour Party collapse.

In a letter to the New Leader (October 12th, 1928), Dr. Alfred Salter, Labour M.P. and member of the I.L.P., frankly admitted that there is not a single constituency in the country where there a majority of convinced Socialist electors. He said :-
We have plenty of districts, such as Bermondsey, where there is an overwhelming Labour majority, but it is a sheer delusion to think that the greater number of these people understand what we mean by Socialism. They neither understand it nor want it. (Our Italics.)
Labour majorities are not so "overwhelming" now, and the electors in these constituencies who return Labour candidates to Parliament are not, and cannot be, Socialists, for the self-evident reason that the Labour Party has never advocated Socialism. MacDonald, Henderson and Co. have in practice served the interest of the Master Class by confusing the minds of the workers. They have made them believe that Socialism is State charity, more doles, more pensions, better prisons, health insurance and family allowances, Lansbury Lidos, and, of course, we must not forget to mention Mr. Lansbury's proposed tarpaulin doss-houses in the parks. These things are not Socialism. Socialism is a system of society in which the means of life are owned in common. Socialism implies the social ownership of all the things necessary to maintain life, the land, railways, factories, etc., to be democratically controlled and used in the interest of the whole of society. Now, you workers who voted for the Labour Party and imagined you were voting for Socialism, what have you to say? You are disillusioned and bewildered, but remember that all the time you were voting for the retention of capitalism—and your poverty. The Labour Government failed, but the Object and Declaration of Principles on the back page of The Socialist Standard still hold good. The Labour Government failed because it tried to solve working-class problems within the existing framework of society. They quickly discovered that it was not possible to administer capitalism in the interests of the working class. They boasted before taking office that they had in hand schemes of development which would provide work for tens of thousands of workers. These schemes were put into operation, but at the same time capitalism was displacing hundreds of thousands of workers, due to worsening trade depression and wage-saving machinery. During the life of the last Labour Government unemployment mounted to a record figure.

Yet the solution to the "problem" of unemployment is really quite simple. After all, what is unemployment? It is the inability of the worker to sell the only thing he possesses—his working energies, his labour-power. Unemployment is, therefore, the outcome of wage-slavery. Wage-slavery can only exist in a society where there are two classes, employers and employed; an owning class that produces nothing, and a propertyless class that produces wealth. Once the necessity to seek an employer is abolished, this so-called problem vanishes into thin air. In order to achieve this, we must first abolish the private property basis of society, and there will no longer be any classes; no capitalist class and no working class, no employers and no employed, no profits and no wages; hence, no unemployment, because there will be no employment.

This private ownership of the means of life is the cause not merely of unemployment, but of the general poverty condition of the workers, whether in work or out of work, and the fruits of poverty, disease, prostitution and crime.

Neither the Labour Party nor any other reform party can protect you against the evils of the capitalist system, because they do not understand and are not prepared to remove the fundamental cause of these evils—capitalism. They will promise you the sun, the moon and the stars, but they do not give you the only remedy for your poverty—Socialism. Their reforms are useless to solve the main poverty problem, because you cannot have capitalism without its effects. You cannot have a commercial system without the laws of commerce. You cannot have capitalism without the inevitable concentration of wealth into a few hands and the formation of huge international trusts and combines. You cannot have capitalism without a propertyless class of wealth-producers and the accumulation of misery and degradation for them. No reform can prevent the present system from developing according to the laws governing its existence.

At this point, fellow-workers, you will perhaps ask if we consider all reforms to be bad in their effects. Is there no room for improvement in working-class conditions within the present system? The answer is that the capitalists have power, and it is they who decide to give or to withhold reforms, not in your interest, but in their own. We are opposed to the policy of devoting energies to the struggle for reforms, instead of devoting them to the struggle for Socialism. In any event the growth of a strong Socialist movement would do more to make the capitalists yield concessions than all the efforts of the reformers.

When the workers become Socialists and have won political power from the hands of their masters, they will not use it merely to modify a few of the effects of their slavery, but to end it. Questions such as Free Trade or Protection are of no concern to the workers. They are faced with exactly the same problems all over the capitalist world. Their misery and poverty are international. Protection does not safeguard their jobs or their wages. Whether it is in tariff countries like Germany and the United States, or Free Trade countries such as England has been, the same features of capitalism exist. Increased power to make goods alongside unemployment. Side by side with the developing power to produce wealth there is more intense poverty. The application of science to industry is not used to make the lives of the workers more comfortable, but to increase the profits of the capitalist owners. Every new machine is a weapon against the workers. So long as the worker's labour-power is an article of merchandise like cheese or tin—that is, so long as he remains a wage-earner—no reform can give him security and comfort. So long as the means of life are in private hands and the motive for production is profit, the more wealth the workers are able to produce, the less will be their portion, and the harder they work, the sooner they will be out of work.

If all the time, money and trouble spent on the advocacy of reforms had been devoted to Socialist propaganda, the workers would now occupy a much stronger position. Capitalism cannot be reformed without at the same time being strengthened. The reform parties are but deluding the workers with the foolish and futile hope that their problems can be solved inside the present system of society. They serve the interest of the capitalist class by hiding from the workers the cause of their poverty. Every reform in the programmes of these parties that is likely to be put into operation would not materially alter the condition of the workers or endanger the capitalists. Not one of them touches the fundamental cause of working-class poverty. They can be safely supported by non-Socialists and anti-Socialists. The support won by these parties is not support for Socialism, and must be essentially limited by the limited nature of their programmes.

Study Socialism, organise in the Socialist Party to abolish the system that enslaves you, and establish a new system of society in which the men and women who produce and distribute wealth shall have free and equal access to the means of life.

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