From the April 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
"He who tells the people revolutionary legends, he who amuses them with sensational stories, is as criminal as the geographer who would draw up false charts for navigators.”
Lissagaray, who wrote the “History of the Commune,” is responsible for the above quotation. It carries a message as applicable to-day as when it was first written, over sixty years ago.
The proletariat are at present beset on all sides by those who would have them fight for what are designated as their liberties. The workers are led to believe that their forefathers fought for and won something the present generation must guard as a sacred treasure. The ruling class give it the name “Democracy,” and millions may shortly be worked up into a state of frenzy by the capitalist class and their aides, until they are prepared to fight and die for their "privileges” and their “freedom.”
What are the facts?
The history of the working class is one of sorrow and starvation, of slavery and of shame. There is nothing in it that would justify us in risking our lives to preserve; the theme song of Labour is one pregnant with sadness; “ the robber appropriates the results of our travail and what he has stolen calls upon us to defend.”
Marx could clearly see that the social revolution ”cannot draw its poetry from the past. It cannot start upon its work before it has stricken off all superstition concerning the past. Former revolutions required historic reminiscences in order to intoxicate themselves with their own issues . . . this revolution must let the dead bury their dead in order to reach its issue. With the former the phrase surpasses the substance, with this one the substance surpasses the phrase.”
The modern worker is a slave without the economic security of the chattel slave. He is free—from property in the means of life. He himself is the property, not of an individual, but of the whole capitalist class. His body is a machine for producing energy for the profitable use of the exploiting section of the community.
As Shelley puts it: —
“ 'Tis to work and have such pay
As keeps life from day to day
In your frame as in a cell
For the tyrant’s use to dwell.”
This is your real position, fellow yoke-mate, and was the position of your forbears 100 years ago, when the poet published his celebrated poem the “Masque of Anarchy.”
Slave of the wheel of labour; chained to the chariot of capital.
What then have you to fight for?
What have you to defend?
The Communists tell you to save Spain, and prattle to you about the honour of Britain. Major Attlee and Chamberlain stage a shadow-boxing contest about the recognition of Franco. What honour is there in the depressed areas or the glorious privilege of fighting your fellow wage-slave for the loan of a job?
Spain is safe for capitalism, whether under Franco or the Madrid Government, and those wearied Spanish workers who have survived are where you are—on the treadmill of the wages system. It is woe for the vanquished and woe for the victors—if they happen to be of our class—the prize at stake was not for them.
The Socialist considers it is foolish to support war for democracy and die for capitalism. He thinks it is best to fight against capitalism and live for Socialism.
The marionettes now strutting on the political stage—Chamberlain or Hitler, Mussolini, Daladier, Roosevelt, Stalin, Attlee, Eden or Cripps—are all moved by King Capital: he pulls the strings, they all dance at his command and step when and where he pleases.
The megaphones of Moscow blare, the trumpets of Nazism resound, the Press publishes its putrid lies, the radio speaker delivers his patriotic appeals, the bands play their military airs—all in order that the exploiter may remain enthroned—all in order, brother in toil, that a. parasitic class may continue to live by devouring the lives of you and yours.
If you realise the truth, of your position, you will refuse to be hoodwinked by any call to patriotism made to induce you to protect capitalist interests.
You will line up with those who have seen the light. You will voice the demand that the people in common shall commonly own and democratically control and operate all those things upon which they in common depend.
It is life we want, not death. When the means of life are “ours,” fellow worker—the life that is life shall be yours.