Free Lunch cartoon from the September 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Saturday, September 2, 2017
From the June 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Socialist Party of America was always one of the most weird travesties of a Socialist organisation, among the many such, affiliated to the late “International.” A confusion of elements, seemingly as distant as the poles, found a haven in the S.P of A. Booze reformers, Municipalist and Nationalisation cranks, anti-corruptionists, trust-busters, Anarchists of the I. W. W.—all were held in its “embracing unity."' Its many journals—mostly privately owned— advocated a multitude of doctrines often directly contradictory. The really Socialist elements—before the war, at any rate, were few and were powerless in the organisation.
As was to be expected, the war split asunder the S.P. of A., as it did most of the pseudo-Socialist parties of the world. A pro-war and an anti-war section appeared, the latter again being divided into pacifists and revolutionists. Of course, many who were “pacifist” for the first two years became “pro-war” when the United States became a belligerent.
For over four years little news of the American labour movement has reached us here, but now, by piecing together that which is filtering through we are able to make a partial estimate of what these four years of world-ferment have done towards generating a true Socialist tendency.
Despite the fact that certain of the most notorious traitors to the working-class movement in the U.S.—Spargo, Russell, and others—together with a considerable patriotic element, left tbe party when tbe American Government declared war, tbe S.P. of A. is still dominated by reformism, and tbe majority of its members have as yet no real grip of Socialist principles. Its anti-war attitude was not consistently maintained. and where manifest was grounded, not on a clear understanding of internationalism, but, like that of the I.L.P. here, upon Liberal “pacifism,”
The discipline, as well as the “principles” of the party mar be judged horn the fact that its “lone Congressman," Meyer London, who has not only adopted an anti-Socialist attitude on practically every matter before Congress, bat has, while in office, repeatedly ignored, in the most contemptuous manner, the decisions and instructions of his own party, was re-nominated as party candidate in the recent elections.
The “Left Wing.”
Nevertheless the collapse of the late opportunist “International” together with the militaristic brutality of their “democratic” government appear to have done much, in conjunction with the spread of revolutionary education, to open the eyes of a growing section of the Party to the glaring defects in its policy and organisation. This so-called left wing is not by any means a united or nationally organised movement. The size of the country makes independent propaganda on a national basis extremely difficult. The “new outlook” has developed independently in several localities and, in accordance with local influences both of social environment and propaganda, has taken on different forms. The constitution of the Party, which admits of each State division forming its own platform, by fostering a concentration upon the State organisation, has hindered the formation, by sections with like views, of a common programme throughout the Party.
“Left Wing” factions are in practical control of the Party machinery in the States of Washington, Minnesota, Ohio, and Michigan, and in the city of Philadelphia. Journals expounding the different views of various groups were started usually by a few individuals, and later were in several cases adopted or endorsed by Locals and State Parties. They include the “Socialist News” (Cleveland, Ohio), “Revolutionary Age,” (Boston), “Class Struggle” (N.Y. City), and “The Proletarian” (Detroit, Mich.)
The variety and confusion of ideas represented by this movement of revolt against the official attitude of the Party may be estimated from the statement of one who ought to know, Karl Dannenberg, who, in his “Radical Review” (Oct.-Dec., 1918) says, “Amongst the left-wingers we will find reform-repudiating Socialists, Mass Actionists, Direct Actionists with Syndicalist tendencies, Socialist Industrial Unionists, American Bolshevists aspiring for an American Red Guard, even moderate reformers and, of course, the customary chronic kickers.” Such a conglomeration, if united in a separate party, would, it is obvious, form one in no way superior to the old body.
The fact is that in the so-called Left Wing there are not one but many currents, in numerous respects antagonistic. Much more Marxian educational work requires to be done before a sound, strong Socialist Party emerges from the present confusion. Nevertheless the fact that a considerable and growing section of the S.P. of A. have seen the folly of the old opportunist tactics is gratifying, and evidence is not wanting that in several quarters the need is strongly felt for disciplined organisation and for Socialist political action, revolutionary and uncompromising.
One of the most hopeful signs is that most, if not all, of the L.W. groups have definitely decided against the advocacy of palliatives and reforms—a stand which the S.P.G.B. was the first to take at its inception fifteen years ago. The Socialist Party of Michigan (incorporated in the S P. of A.) claim to have held this position since 1914. The S.P. Of Ohio have adopted as their “complete platform’’and “only demand,” “The World for the Workers.”
A considerable section of the “Left-Wing,” including those responsible for and endorsing the “Revolutionary Age” and the “Class Struggle,” are advocates of what they call Mass Action as a means of achieving the Revolution.
The exponents of this policy avoid definite criticism because of the indefiniteness of their proposals. Louis C. Fraina, editor of the two journals named above, tells us in his book “Revolutionary Socialism,” “Mass action is the instinctive action of the proletariat, gradually developing more conscious and organised forms and definite purposes.” Delightfully explicit! So Fraina and his school are going to rely upon the instincts of the working class to achieve Socialism. This is so much better than relying upon their reason and knowledge, for, whereas the latter needs developing by the tedious method of education, the former only requires directing. Quite the Hyndman touch !
Fraina, of course, does not explain it quite like this, but such is the logical outcome of his statement. The use of the term “instinctive” to explain the actions of social groups is objectionable; particularly the absurd statement that the proletariat are “instinctively revolutionary.” If there is one thing the workers would appear, to the superficial observer, to have a rooted, natural predisposition for it is capitalism. In a future article I may be allowed to enlarge on this.
The fact is, as the reader may have guessed, that the term “Mass Action” is a shibboleth used to cover a multitude of different forms of activity and as a convenient means of shelving the “problem” of Socialist tactics. Street meetings, demonstrations, strikes, insurrections, all those are forms of “Mass Action” as “soon as they acquire political significance,” say the exponents of the doctrine. What are we to understand by “political significance?” If the Government suppresses a strike this strike is obviously of political significance, even though the strikers had no conscious political end in view. The gate is open for the most un-revolutionary, palliating activity to be included in these “new revolutionary tactics." There is a division of opinion among the Mass Actionists as to whether parliamentary action can be Mass Action or not, even though it is obviously so on the above definition, for an election is mass demonstration of political significance.”
The whole conception is loose and capable of all manner of interpretations. Such confusion is just what it is essential to avoid in Socialist propaganda. “The Proletarian” (March 1919) hits the nail on the head when it says : “Is it [Mass Action] just our old friend Direct Action come back with a new suit of clothes on? We will do well to enquire into the meaning of the phrase before accepting it. At present it seems to be a rallying cry for all the elements who have repudiated the old parliamentarism. But we have had rallying cries before as a substitute for education, and they have only proved to be a snare and a delusion.”
A New York Programme.
Only two “official” declarations of principles and policy by the above-mentioned groups have been received by the.present writer.. Of. these one is that adopted by a convention of the I.W. section of the New York locals on Feb. 16th this year. This group has a central committee which represents about twenty sections in the State of New York. It endorses the “Revolutionary Age,” published in Boston, and is now merged with the original “Mass Action”group, the “Socialist Propaganda League.”
The programme opens well:
- We stand for a uniform declaration of principles in all party platforms, both local and national, and the abolition of all social reform planks now contained in them.
- The party must teach, propagate, and agitate exclusively for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism through a Proletarian Dictatorship.
- The Socialist candidates elected to office shall adhere strictly to the above provisions.
It then goes on to endorse “revolutionary industrial unionism” and demands a party-owned Press, the repudiation of the old “International,” and the affiliation to that recently formed in Moscow about which so little is really known in this country.
As we have repeatedly pointed out, no form of industrial organisation can be revolutionary at the present stage of the mental development of the working class, and at the same time be strong enough in numbers to function effectively in the immediate struggles of the workers on the industrial field. A union cannot be correctly described as revolutionary unless the majority of its members are conscious revolutionists. As Socialist education is the only deliberate means of hastening the formation of the latter, it is a waste of valuable time to advocate now the formation of revolutionary unions before the ground has been adequately prepared, as the New York Left Wing suggest doing.
In addition to this positive error the programme commits an error of omission in failing to point out the necessity for political action in order to obtain control of the armed force of the State. The programme bears a strong family resemblance to that of the American S.L.P., the mistakes of which have at last been partly realised by its British namesake.
“Good Stuff" in Michigan.
The platform of the Socialist Party in Michigan is a much more satisfactory declaration. I append it in full:
We, the Socialist Party of Michigan, in Convention assembled at Grand Rapids, February 24th 1919, reaffirm our allegiance to the uncompromising principles of international Socialism.
We declare that the capitalist system has outgrown its historic function and become utterly incapable of meeting the problems now confronting society.
In spite of the multiplicity of labour-saving machinery and the improved methods of industry, the position of the workers becomes ever more insecure, and the class straggle between the exploited. and the exploiters becomes ever more acute. The boasted prosperity of this nation is only for the owners of the means of production and distribution; to the proletariat it means only hardship and misery.
It is the capitalist system that is responsible for the increasing burden of armaments, wars, poverty, slums, child labour, much of the crime and insanity, disease, and the commercialised prostitution. These being some of the manifestations of the present mode of production they can only be eliminated by the removal of the cause—the capitalist system. The method adopted by the Socialist Party of Michigan for the abolition of the present social order is that of political action.
The politics of the working class are comprised within the confines of the class struggle; and conversely the class struggle is necessarily waged on the political field.
By this statement we do not imply that the political action of the working class is always confined within the bounds of parliamentary procedure; nor that the means employed in waging the class struggle must everywhere be the same. Political action we define as any action taken by the exploited against the exploiters to obtain control of the powers of State; or by the master class to retain control, using these powers to secure the means of life.
The Socialist Party of Michigan, recognises the full significance of working-class organisation for the capture of the political State, and we call upon the workers in this State to unite with us to the end that we may socialise and democratically manage the means of production and distribution, and eliminate for all time the exploitation of the working class.
The basic principles outlined in the above declaration are essentially correct, though there are in it one or two errors in detail and faulty statements.
Exception must be taken to the reference in par. 4 to the “burden of armaments.” The growing cost of armaments does not decrease either the price or the value of labour power. The wages of the workers are not appreciably affected. The expense of armaments is borne by the propertied class, and by some of these it is certainly considered a burden. It is also true that, viewed from the standpoint of an “ideal” distribution of production armaments are a sheer waste of labour; but so, from this point of view, is more than half the activity of the workers. The statement shows signs of improperly digested economics, and it is calculated to sidetrack the workers into the reformist camp.
The fifth paragraph, though well-intentioned, is weak. The “politics of the working class” are mainly Liberal and Tory or Republican and Democrat, and. if “within the confines of the class struggle” at all, are on the side of the capitalists. It is hardly true to say that the class struggle is “necessarily waged on the political field.” It will culminate, be decided, and largely end there, although it may partly revert to the economic field if the capitalists resist the process of expropriation upon the Socialist workers achieving political supremacy.
The Convention at which the above platform was adopted, and at which the Socialist element was dominant, took steps to eliminate reformist elements from within the party, in Michigan, or at all events to suppress their activities, by amending the State constitution as follows:
“Any member, Local, or Branch of a Local, advocating legislative reforms or support organisations formed for the purpose of advocating such reforms, shall be expelled from the Socialist Party. The State Executive Committee is authorised to revoke the charter of any Local that does not conform to this amendment.”
An attitude upon religion identical with that of the S.P.G.B was adopted and enforced by the constitution of the following clause: “It shall be the duty of all agitators and organisers, upon all occasions, to avail themselves of the opportunity of explaining religion on the basis of the materialist conception of history as a social phenomenon.” The Convention unanimously endorsed as its literary expression “The Proletarian,” though that paper as yet remains in private hands.
A resolution was carried condemning the national E C. and demanding the convening of a special national conference of the party to determine the vital and urgent matters of principles and policy. That this attempt to reconstitute the entire party upon sound lines will fail is a foregone conclusion. Probably the authors have no very great hopes in this direction. What will be the attitude of its Michigan organisation if the national party adheres to the old opportunist tactics? Probably, almost certainly, the question of separation will arise. To one over here it would seem that secession would be followed by unity with the already existing Workers’ Socialist Party of the United States, the principles and tactics of which are closely similar to those of the Michigan body, and which has its centre in the same locality—Detroit.
In conclusion, let me state that there is every reason to believe that not the least of the factors which hare contributed to the forward movement in Michigan and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere in the U.S.A. has been the far-reaching educational influence of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Editorial from the July 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
The comic element for the month has undoubtedly been supplied by the scuttling of the interned German fleet at Scapa Flow. One’s first thoughts, naturally, upon hearing the news, were to congratulate the naval authorities upon the arrangements they had made for the safe-keeping of the “enemy” ships. It seemed so child like to leave the vessels in the hands of German crews, under the command of German officers, without any sort of a guard on board — so like the simple sailor of tradition!
But the simple sailor won’t have it. He with eager promptitude reminds the world at large that he never had the opportunity of preventing the scuttling, that the German war-ships were not surrendered, but interned, and as such had certain rights under international law which precluded the proper safe-guarding of them, and he throws the blame on the statesmen who failed to secure the surrender instead of the internment of the “enemy” fleet.
The incident and its sequel reveals again the sordid reality behind the mask of undying and fervid loyalty with which the Allies have endeavoured to hide their countenances, must as, all through the war, or at least until their prospects of getting licked properly “put the wind up ’em,” the Allied nations have been grasping each at its own coveted share of the spoils, striving to occupy “enemy” territory on the principle that possession is nine points of the international law, and because they could not trust each other, in spite of all the secret treaties —secret because they were too foul with filthy traffiking to stand the light of day—so they could not trust each other with the German ships. All the talk of the “honour of our gallant Allies” has been so much tosh. They have known each other for the thieves they are, and that is why they choose rather to trust the German fleet to German crews than have them surrendered, with the prospect that those to whom they were surrendered might find it too painful to part with them again.
And that is why the German ships lie at the bottom of the ocean.
From the August 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
The capitalist Press has been busy explaining to Simple Simon that the action of the police in "breaking their oath" is not only mutiny, but "a crime." Of course, it is always a crime when the bulldog turns and rends its master's hand, notwithstanding that that hand was doing things with a stick. But there is another side to the question.
During the long period when the workers were more somnolent than they are now, and that condition was reflected in a far more incomplete organisation and a far greater trust in and submission to their union officials, the bosses were not so much afraid of the "labour unrest" as they are to-day. Consequently they did not attach the same importance to the bobby as they do now, and they made the mistake of paying him accordingly.
The result was inevitable. Notwithstanding his oath, the policeman was forced to struggle for a betterment of his miserable condition. More even than in other trades—if that were possible—this necessarily meant organisation. A union was formed, and as the aspect of industrial affairs became darker, a police trade union, affiliated possibly with other trade unions, deriving a certain amount of its strength from those unions, was regarded as an extremely sinister thing.
The bosses got a bit nervous. They made panic concessions, and then they started to cut out the "cancer" - in other words, to smash the union.
Now it is quite clear that the men owed every jot and tittle of the improvement in their condition to the union. Their oath availed them nothing. It was only intended to bind them to vile conditions of pay and tyrannical discipline. They might have stood meekly by it till doomsday, nothing would have been done for them. Only when they seriously threatened to commit the "crime" of leaving their oath to look after itself, as butcher Asquith did his registration and other pledges, and Lloyd George did his pledge concerning sending young boys to the "front," did the masters deign to give them some measure of alleviation.
It is quite plain, then, where the crime comes in. It is certainly not in breaking their oath, which they had been driven to do by the callous indifference of the bosses to their claims, but in their desertion of the instrument which had gained them so much. To allow that to be crushed out, and those who had undertaken the task of organising them for the struggle, to go down in the hour of victory is both a mean and cowardly crime.
Writers in this paper have previously pointed out how extremely unlikely it was that any sort of union that could be any good to the men would secure official recognition. The forecast seems to be pretty correct. Had the police, however, behaved with sufficient courage and intelligence as to force the question of recognition to a successful issue, the simple and inevitable result must have been the increased use of bayonets instead of batons in industrial disputes. The masters have more strings than one to their bow.
A. E. Jacomb
Editorial from the September 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
The capitalists are very much concerned just now to teach the workers something of economics—of the capitalist variety, of course. We have before us as we write a whole pile of effusions which have recently appeared in the capitalist Press, or have been let loose upon the workers in the form of capitalist leaflets, to which, in most cases, those who issue them have not the courage to put their names.
Of the latter—the cowardly (cowardly because the issuers shirk the obligation of publicly defending their lying statements)—two of the most ludicrous are entitled “Does Capital Rob Labour?” and ‘‘The Soldier’s Return.” respectively. A series of articles from the pen of a Canadian professor now appearing in the “Sunday Express” is a further case in point, while that fine old capitalist servant, Frederic Harrison, issues a touching appeal to labour “leaders” to “make those who look to you for guidance see it [capitalist economics as expounded by F.H.] as clearly as yourselves.”
Most of the literary efforts have one specific object — to induce the workers to produce at a cheaper rate. Thus Frederic Harrison tells us that “slack work releases capital, to go elsewhere,” and also that “higher wages mean rise of prices to the millions,” while the “Star” (September 8th) says “we have got to fill up the pint-pot to the brim before we can get a pint out of it.”
It appears that it is Lord Wrenbury who provides the “pint-pot” simile in a letter to the “Times,” and the “Star” quotes his lordship as saying “If the labourer says he must have a pint-and-a-half [out of a pint pot] he cannot have it because it is not there to have. If he says he will have a pint he will not get it because the beer will never be brewed if the master brewer is to get no return.” The “Star’s” assertion was thus effectively answered in advance.
Of course ca’canny drops in for it all round. The unfortunate thing about the argument that the less the workers produce the better it is for them is that pushed to extremes it brings us to the proposition that if nobody produced anything the labourer would be in his second Golden Age. The “Star” adopts this line under disguise when it argues that “if each of us leaves; say, half of his work to be done by others, the total wealth of the country will be half what it might be.” Of course our contemporary fails to see that this depends upon whether or not the work left is done by the others—a point of peculiar interest to those thousands who are unable to get work to do.
The Press may call it a poisonous doctrine, that the lees work anyone does the more work there is far others to do, but the fact remains. The workers are only paid while they are filing the pint pot. The harder they work, therefore, the sooner it is filled and the fewer are required to fill it. The capitalists would like the analogy of the pint pot to be abandoned at this point, but it is just here that it becomes most interesting to the worker.
John Stuart Mill, the beloved economist of the banking profession, holds that it is capital which presents the limit to production. The pint pot is formed of capital arid increases or decreases according as capital is added to or subtracted from its walls. This is a very comfortable theory for bankers, who like to believe that it is capital that makes the world go round. But capital itself is tied up in filling the pint pot—in other words, the master brewer’s pot gets smaller as it gets fuller; he must sell his beer or he will find the put full. And when the pot is full the worker ceases to get anything out of it because he is no longer required to put anything into it. It behoves the worker, therefore, to see that the pot does not get full, by putting into it as little as he can and taking out of it as much as he can.
Nevertheless, it is not in this direction that the worker must expend his main energy. He must see to it that the pot and all he puts into it are his. Then only can he quaff the full pot.
From the October 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
"What has the Socialist Party done during the fifteen years of its existence?” This is a query that Socialist lecturers frequently meet with at propaganda meetings. The answer is quite a simple one, in fact, so simple as to appear flippant: “The Socialist Party has remained in existence!” But, as I have said, because of its seeming flippancy, I will go further and explain my meaning.
Fifteen years ago what was the position of the working class? There were strikes, "industrial unrest,” unemployment, poverty, and misery, just as there are to-day. The worker was forced upon the labour market to debate the price of his labour power and go to the wall when his usefulness to the capitalist had ceased. This sounds very much as if I am decrying the Socialist Party, as if I am arguing from your side that the Socialist Party has done nothing to justify its existence. You come to that conclusion because you do not know what the Socialist Party is and what it stands for. I cannot blame you for your ignorance. You live in a world of benefit clubs, slate clubs, goose clubs, Liberal, Tory, and Labour parties anti profiteering associations, and others equally ephemeral and useless. It is, therefore, quite apparent that you would imagine we had something to offer. You are used to the election posters: "Vote for Bloggs and cheap workmen’s fares,” "Vote for Horatio Bunkum, the people’s friend,” "Hands off the people’s beer," and so on. And thus, when at the end of fifteen years the Socialist Party has not manufactured a slogan of that ilk or joined issue with any of the popular reform movements, you naturally would think that it had not done much if anything.
Now what are the facts ?
The Socialist Party is simply another name for the class-conscious workers organised in one body for the overthrow of the capitalist system and the consequent emancipation of the toilers from the thralldom of wage-slavery. Knowing and understanding that you will realise that until the working class desires its emancipation the Socialist Party can serve no other purpose than to keep propagating Socialism until the consummation of that desire. Thus it is we work patiently, tolerantly, ever pointing out the right path while the workers chase up and down the side streets of Reform and beat themselves stupid upon the walls of cul-de-sac strikes and direct action. We know, as Marx has pointed out, that the working class will try every road before it finds the right one, and that eventually we shall be rewarded for our long and arduous fight.
For fifteen years strike after strike has occupied the industrial arena, reform after reform has been enacted on the political field, and still the proletariat is the slave class in society. But we see that on all hands more and more attention is being given to the doctrine we teach and the philosophy we expound. At every propaganda meeting held now thoughtful interest and a desire to understand is manifested, while intending members come forward in larger numbers than before. And we tell the working class, as we told them fifteen years ago when first we challenged capitalism, that only in our ranks will they achieve their victory.
Thus when pseudo-Socialist organisations waver and foil, when politicians have so turned the workers from this stunt to that that they do not know where they stand and are an easy prey to the political harpies who batten upon their ignorance, we can repeat: "We have remained in existence! ” Our clarion call has not wavered one semi-tone. We challenge all traducers; we flaunt our principles pennon-wise, stainless and unrent, and call to the straggling proletariat to come with us out of the blood and tears and agony of Capitalism into the joyous, sun-litten new world of Socialism.
Stanley H. Steele
|1919 Boni & Liveright first edition.|
Book Review from the November 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
FROM A CORRESPONDENT IN AMERICA.
Under the above title John Reed has written his experience in Russia during the Bolshevist rise to power in November, 1917. It is to be followed by another called “From Kornilov to Brest-Litovsk,” covering a later period.
We are flooded with books on the Russian uprising, but still lack a story of the events in Russia written by a Socialist. In other words, we have no book written with an understanding of the relation of actions and movements in Russia to the principles and policy of Socialism.
Apart from a number of war correspondents’ pictures of the rise of Kerensky, we have several so-called radical works on the subject. John wife, a Suffragette (Louise Bryant), went to Russia for a capitalist Press syndicate and wrote a series of articles which appeared in all the leading newspapers of America. These are now reprinted under the title of “Six Red Months in Russia." It is a typical journalistic effort, being some descriptive sketches of people she met and things she encountered. There is no appreciation of the economic or historical value of the actions she describes, and her fulsome praise of Bolshevism is based upon enthusiasm unlit by understanding. Although the lady knows nothing of Socialism she is routed all over the States at high fees and worshipped by every Bolshevik.
Bessie Beatty, of the “San Francisco Bulletin,” a capitalist daily, also took a journalist's trip into Russia. She wrote a series of articles for the magazines now published as “The Red Heart of Russia.” Like Louise Bryant she was toured all through the country by the Socialist Party and others. Her book adds little to our knowledge, giving the usual story of the coup d' etat of Bolshevism and the break-up of the Constituent Assembly. There is no examination of the strength of Bolshevism compared with other parties, no enquiry into the truth of so-called reasons for abolishing the Constituent Assembly and the volte-face of Lenin and Trotsky on this subject, and we miss any study of the state of Socialist knowledge in Russia in the alleged Bolshevist book.
Now we come to the present book. John Reed is beat known as a war correspondent and the author of a book on the Eastern Front. He has been connected with “The Masses” and “The Liberator”—Max Eastman’s weeklies.
John Reed voted for President Wilson in 1916 and his articles betrayed no Socialist knowledge. Since his return from “Bolshevist Russia," however, he has been connected with the left wing of the Socialist Party, but his work for Socialism is nil. Like his fellow war correspondent, Arthur Rhys Williams, he capitalised his Bolshevism by speaking everywhere to enormous crowds at enormous fees.
His book purports to be a detailed account of the November Revolution. In a fragmentary fashion he tells the story of the starvation and chaos of the armies at the front and the delegations of soldiers coming to Petrograd in October 1917 demanding something to be done for them. Kerensky's Government were demanding that Russia should stick to the Allies, but internal disorder was drawing the Provisional Government to its fall. Peasants, tired of waiting for the promised land, were burning manor houses and massacring landholders. Korniloff's advance on Petrograd and his capture by loyal forces cemented the union for the time being against counter revolution. Kaledine's Don Cossacks were plotting against the capital, and on October 23rd a naval battle took place with a German squadron in the Gulf of Riga.
On the pretense that the capital was in danger plans were drawn up to evacuate Petrograd.
The Bolshevists saw in this move a plan to kill rising by removing the Government from the Red centre.
The Bolsheviks called a National Congress of Soviets far November 2nd. This was opposed by the supporters of the Government as being too near the date for the convening of a Constituent Assembly. In the midst of chaotic local election conditions the delegates came to the National Soviets. Judging from the inevitably unsettled conditions it is difficult to know who they represented and what support they had. But this was the Soviet Congress which captured the Government for Bolshevism.
Before the Congress met, Reed tells us, the Bolsheviks in Petrograd were considering an insurrection. Lenin and Trotsky alone favoured it, but their scheme was defeated. Then a “rough workman" and a few soldiers appealed for insurrection and Lenin and Trotsky won. In such a sentimental fashion were the Bolshevik Executive Committee swayed to change their attitude in a few minutes.
The right wing of the Bolsheviki continued to campaign against an armed rising. These were led by Kameniev and Zinoviev. The success of Bolshevik propaganda drove the Kerensky Government to formulate laws for giving the land temporarily to the peasants and for pushing a foreign policy of peace.
In the meantime the question of withdrawing the “Red" troops from Petrograd and sending them to the front had caused the Petrograd soldiers' soviet to appoint a military revolutionary committee, and this acted as the instrument of insurrection and organised the coup which took control of the Government
On the fateful day—November 7—the Ministry of War and other Government offices were seized by the soldiers and many Ministers ware arrested. Kerensky escaped.
The All Russian Congress of Soviets at Petrograd on November 7th, 1917, controlled by Lenin and Trotsky, issued an appeal to the working people of Russia claiming that it would “ensure the convocation of the Constituent Assembly at the proper date."
The first decree read by Lenin was one on land ownership transferring it to the township land committees and district soviets to be dealt with "until the Constituent Assembly meets."
"The peasant delegates wild with joy" is Reed's description of the result of the enactment of the decree.
A further decree was on the Constitution of Power:
"Until the meeting of the Constituent Assembly, a provisional Workers’ and Peasants' Government is formed, which shall be named the Council of People's Commissars."
Within a few days Moscow Red Guards took charge of the Kremlin and controlled the city for the Bolsheviki The battle between the Committee of Public Safety and the soldiers under the military revolutionary committee lasted six days. In a scrappy fashion Reed tells the story of the control of the cities by the Bolshevik faction, and it reads more like a conspiracy than a proletarian revolution.
On the night of November 17th, 1917, opposition to Lenin's policy grew.
“Larin (Bolshevik) declared that the moment of elections to the Constituent Assembly approached, and it was time to do away with 'political terrorism.'
“The measures taken against the freedom of the Press should be modified. They had their reason during the struggle, but now they had no further excuse. The Press should be free, except for appeals to riot and insurrection." (Page 267.)
Contradictory statements in opposition to this ware made by Trotsky and Lenin. Oh the one hand they said “The victory over our enemies is not yet achieved, and the newspapers are arms in their hands" (p. 269), and they further said that the bourgeois parties “are in the minority." But how can we explain Lenin’s statement (p. 271) that “the immense majority of the people is with us" if they were forced to close down all opposition papers to prevent the workers being influenced.
The vast majority claimed by the Bolsheviks must have been very wavering to be influenced by the anti-Government Press.
Five members of the Council of People’s Commissars resigned declaring:
We are in favour of a Socialist Government composed of all the parties in the Soviets. We consider that only the creation of such a Government can possibly guarantee the results of the heroic, struggle of the working class and the revolutionary army. Outside of that, there remains only one way: the constitution of a purely Bolshevik Government by means of political terrorism. This last is the road taken by the Council of People's Commissars. We cannot and will not follow it. We see that this leads directly to the elimination from political life of many proletarian organisations, to the establishment of an irresponsible regime, and to the destruction of the revolution and the country. We cannot take the responsibility for such a policy, and we renounce before the Tsay-ee-kah (Central Executive Committee of National Congress of Soviets) our function of People's Commissars.
Five others signed without resigning. At the same time Kameniev, Rykov, Miliutin, Zinoviev and Nogin resigned from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party making public their reasons:
The constitution of such a Government (composed of all the parties of the Soviets) is indispensable to prevent a new flow of blood, the coming famine, the destruction of the revolution by the Kaledinists, to assure the convocation of the Constituent Assembly at the proper time, and to apply effectively the programme adopted by the Congress of Soviets.
We cannot accept the responsibility for the disastrous policy of the Central Committee, carried on against the will of an enormous majority of the proletariat and the soldiers, who are eager to see the rapid end of the bloodshed between the different political parties of the democracy. . . . We renounce our title as members of the Central Committee, in order to be able to say openly our opinion to the masses of workers and soldiers. . . . We leave the Central Committee at the moment of victory; we cannot calmly look on while the policy of the chiefs of the Central Committee leads towards the loss of the fruits of victory and the crushing of the proletariat. . . .
The old officials continued to sabotage the Government and strikes of technical functionaries took place, especially in halting the transportation of food. Banks, railroads, posts and telegraphs were jeopardised by this walk out. The armies at the front were dying of hunger.
The Peasant’s Congress on November 27th was a stormy affair ending in the Bolsheviks adopting the land platform of their opponents, the Social Revolutionaries. At the outset of the Convention, Kolchinsky, for the left Social Revolutionaries pointed out (p. 302)
the Council of People's Commissars abolished private property in land, but the regulations drawn up by the land Committee are based on private property. . . . However, no harm has been done by that, for the Land Committee are paying no attention to the Soviet decrees, but are putting into operation their own practical decisions—decisions based on the will of the vast majority of the peasants. . . .
Reed promises to tell us in his coming book why the Constituent Assembly was destroyed by the Bolsheviks. In the meantime it may be well to note that in his “Letter to the Comrades” (326) written a few days before the insurrection of November 7th 1917, Lenin says:
Since September the Bolshevik party has been discussing the question of insurrection. Refusing to rise means to trust our hopes in the faith of the Bourgeoisie, who have “promised" to call the Constituent Assembly. When the Soviets have all power, the calling of the Constituent is guaranteed, and its success assured.
From the December 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
The unflagging interest in Russian conditions is forcing a wider discussion of the implications of Socialism. On the one hand the 100 per cent. Bolsheviks, as they style themselves, accept everything done by the Soviet Government as the best of all policies, and invite the rest of workers of the world to follow out the same policy. On the other hand, the open enemies of the workers, together with the more insidious agents bought by the master class, claim that everything the Bolsheviks have done is wrong and opposed to progress, liberty, and the rest of the cant phrases of our masters.
The leaders and supporters of Bolshevism, however, are attempting to defend in discussion many of their methods which cannot be justified from the Socialist standpoint. These methods, viewed in the light of what limited knowledge the “freedom of the Press” allows us, seem to to be due to—
- Capitalist intervention and counter-revolution.
- Backward economic development.
- Lack of Socialist knowledge and organisation among the majority.
- Seizure of power by the vigorous Bolshevist minority.
The backward economic development was pointed out by Trotsky in 1916 (“Our Revolution,” p. 87.):
Our industrial development, though, marked in times of prosperity by leaps and bounds of an “American” character, is in reality miserably small in comparison with the industry of the United States. Five million persons, forming 16.6 per cent, of the population engaged in economic pursuits, are employed in the industry of Russia; six millions and 22 2 percent., are corresponding figures for the United States. To have a clear idea as to the real dimensions of industry in both countries, we must remember that the population of Russia is twice as large as the population of the United States, and that the output of American industries in 1900 amounted to 25 billions of rubles whereas the output of Russian industries for the same year hardly reached 2.5 billions.
There is no doubt that the number of the proletariat, the degree of its concentration, its cultural level, and its political importance depend upon the degree of the industrial development in each country.
The actual barrier to the adoption of Socialist ideas among the majority of the population is indicated by Trotsky:
The strong adherence of the peasants to private ownership, the primitiveness of their political conceptions, the limitations of the village horizon, its distance from world-wide political connections and interdependencies, are terrific obstacles in the way of proletarian rule. (P.105.)
On the question of socialising the land Trotsky writes:
One must not forget that the peasants have for decades made redemption payments in order to turn their land into private property; many prosperous peasants have made great sacrifices to secure a large portion of land as their private possession. Should all this land become State property, the most bitter resistance would be offered by the members of the committees and by private owners.
Starting out with a reform of this kind the Government would make itself the most unpopular among the peasants.
And why should we confiscate the land of the committees and the land of small private owners? . . . there would be no economic gain in such a confiscation and redistribution. Politically, it would be a great blunder on the part of the labour government as it would make the masses of peasants hostile to the proletarian leadership of the revolution.
The significance of the peasantry and the dependence of the working class success in Russia on the world's workers is told in these words:
Left to its own resources, the Russian working class must necessarily be crushed the moment it loses the aid of the peasants. Nothing remains for it but to link the fate of its political supremacy and the fate of the Russian Revolution with the fate of a Socialist Revolution in Europe. (Page 144.)
Without direct political aid from the European proletariat the working class of Russia will not be able to retain its power and to turn its temporary supremacy into a permanent Socialist Dictatorship. (Page 137.)
A few weeks before the Bolsheviki assumed power Trotsky wrote of the unripeness of the peasants in “What has Happened”:
“The Russian Revolution is a direct product of the war. The war created for it the necessary form of a nation-wide organisation, the army. The greater part of the population, the peasantry, had been forced into a condition of organisation. The Soviets of Soldiers’ Delegates called upon the army to send its political representatives, thereupon the peasant masses automatically sent in to the Soviets the same liberal intellectuals, who translated the indefiniteness of their hopes and aspirations into the language of the most contemptible quibbling and hairsplitting opportunism. The petit bourgeois intelligentsia, which was in every way dependent upon the greater bourgeoisie, obtained the leadership over the peasantry. The Soviets of soldier peasant representatives obtained a distinct majority over the representatives of the workers. The Petrograd advance-guard was declared to be an ignorant mass. The flower of the Revolution was revealed in the persons of the March Social Revolutionists and Mensheviki of the 'provincial’ intellectuals, leaning on the peasants.” “The Proletarian Revolution in Russia,” p. 264.
In defending the Brest-Litvosk peace Lenin said:
“Finally the task of Socialist reorganisation in Russia Is so great, so difficult, both because of .the petit bourgeois elements who are taking part in the Revolution, and because of the unsatisfactory level of the proletariat, that its solution still requires some time.” (“Why Soviet Russia Made Peace.”)
In May, 1917 Lenin wrote of the prospects in “Letters from Abroad, Number One:
“Historic conditions have made the Russian workers, perhaps for a short period, the leaders of the international proletariat, but Socialism cannot now prevail in Russia. We can only expect an agrarian revolution, which will help to create more favourable conditions for working-class development. The main result of the present Revolutions will have to be the creation of forces for more revolutionary activity, and to influence the more highly developed European countries into action.” —“Proletarian Revolution in Russia,” p. 30.
The large proportion of small property holders to workers in Russia was pointed out by Lenin and Zinoviev in 1915:
“The ruling class of Russia comprises only 43 per cent. of its population, namely, less than one half.”—“Socialism and War.”
Karl Radek, the Bolshevik leader (“Class Struggle,” Aug. 1919) justifies the dictatorship of the Bolsheviks in Russia on the ground that Russia “possesses a proletarian minority.” He says that in countries with a capitalist minority a dictatorship would be unnecessary owing to weak resistance.
The Bolsheviks and Democracy.
Prior to seizing power the Bolshevik leaders demanded a Constituent Assembly.
Writing in the “Novy Mir” (New York) of March 19th last, Trotsky said :
“Only a revolutionary labour government will have the desire and ability to give the country a thorough democratic cleansing during the work preparatory to the Constituent Assembly, to reconstruct the army from top to bottom, to. turn it into a revolutionary militia, and to show the poorer peanuts a practice that their only salvation is in support of a revolutionary Labour regime. A Constituent Assembly convoked after such preparatory work will truly reflect the revolutionary creative forces of the country and become a powerful factor in the further development of the Revolution.” — “Our Revolution,” p. 204.
During Kerensky’s Provisional Government the Bolsheviks frequently denounced them for delaying the election of the Constituent Assembly. As soon, however, as it was elected the Bolshevik minority withdrew and Lenin's Government dispersed it on the ground that it was elected on old lists and was not representative. They claimed that events moved so rapidly that the population had become Bolshevik since the nominations and voting took place. Trotsky says (“October to Brest-Litvosk," p. 80), “democratic institutions become a still less perfect medium for the expression of the class struggle under revolutionary circumstances.” Ever since the abolition of the Constituent Assembly Lenin and Trotsky have attacked the idea of democracy. Lenin has gone so far as to say: “Democracy is only a form of authority. We Marxists are opposed to every form of authority,” —“Proletarian Revolution in Russia,” p. 104. “The word democracy cannot be scientifically applied to the Communist Party. Since March 1917 the word democracy is simply a shackle fastened upon the revolutionary nation and preventing it from establishing boldly, freely, and regardless of all obstacles a new form of power: the Council of Workers', Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Delegates, harbinger of the abolition of every form of authority.” (P. 155.)
This anarchistic objection to authority recalls Engels' reply to the Italian followers of Bakunin, published in the “Neue Zeit” in 1873, on “The Principle of Authority,” in which he said: “Either the Anti-authoritarians do not themselves know what they are talking about, and in that case they are only creating confusion, or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the cause of the proletariat. In either case they are only serving the reaction,”
Lenin compares the Soviet form of government to the Paris Commune. The Paris Commune, however, was elected by universal suffrage, and had it not used its authority it would not have lasted more than a day, as Engels’ clearly shows.
In his book "From October to Brest-Litvosk” Trotsky had agreed to the democratic principle which they afterwards condemned. "If,” he wrote, “in the final analysis, it is to the advantage of the proletariat to introduce its class struggle, and even its dictatorship, through the channels of democratic institutions, it does not follow that history always affords it the opportunity for attaining this happy consummation.”
Writing in July 1917 (“Constitutional Illusions”) Lenin denounced the Provisional Government as being afraid to call the Constituent Assembly—which was doubtless true. ‘Lenin said:
“The Constituent Assembly in Russia at present would give a large majority to the peasants, who are more left than the Social Revolutionists. The bourgeoisie knows this. Knowing this, it cannot help but struggle against an early convocation of the Constituent Assembly.”
When Lenin’s prophesy was fulfilled and the peasants' delegates were the majority, the Bolsheviks abolished the Assembly “by the bayonets of the Red Guard,” to use Lenin's wards.
Originally the Bolsheviks demanded complete power for the Soviet executive “until the meeting of the Constituent Assembly." After the Bolsheviks had assumed power for three months, they announced the elections for the Assembly (Nov. 25, 1917), and dispersed it when it showed the Bolsheviks in a minority. The so-called reasons for abolishing the Assembly still lack evidence in their support for the Bolsheviks permitted the elections to be held.
Dictatorship and the Soviets.
The Bolsheviki have often defended their dictatorship by quoting Marx’s criticism of the. Gotha Program (1875) where he refers to the transition from Capitalism to Socialism as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat pending the abolition of classes altogether. Marx, however, refers to a dictatorship asserted by a working-class majority over the capitalist few, and not to the dictatorship of a minority attacked by Engels in his Criticism of the Blanquist Program.
Lenin has admitted the Blanquist character of the November 1917 seizure of power—
"Just as 150,000 lordly landowners under Czarism dominated the 130,000,000 Russian peasants, so 200,000 members of the Bolshevik party are imposing their proletarian will on the mass, but this time in the interest of the latter.” — “The New International,” New York, April, 1918, Bolshevik paper.
Lenin’s defence of this as due to the lack of knowledge among the masses is in these words:
“If Socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least 500 years. The Socialist political party, this is the vanguard of the working class, must not allow itself to be baited by the lack of education of the mass average, but must lead the masses, using the Soviets as organs of revolutionary initiative.’’—Lenin at Peasants’ Congress. "Ten days that Shook the World.” P. 303.
Here we get a possible reason for the objection to democracy. The argument that the Bolshevik action is justified because it brings desired results is not true, because Russia is feeling the effects of the backward majority and lack of mental training. Lenin admits this in his “Soviets at Work.” No democratic society can advance beyond the general mental level of its members, and the internal conflict of various sections of the workers bears adequate witness of this. Socialist society more than any other would require the active, enthusiastic, and intelligent support and interest of the majority to co-operate in conducting affairs. While political democracy is but a part, and incomplete without industrial democracy, we have to use even the semi-democratic forms of modem capitalism in order to organise the workers for the capture of political power. Democracy is not a bourgeois idea—it flourished in the ancient gens—and even complete political democracy is feared by the capitalists because of the growing interest of the workers in Socialism.
Soviet government is not the highest form of democracy, for the Executive is several times removed from the actual voters. The fear of peasant dominance is seen in the Constitution, which gives 125,000 city voters five times the representation of the rurals.
|A Face in the Crowd.|
It was a crowd scene which absorbed half an inner page of that popular national newspaper. A split-second record of the Wilderness Festival, a musical event near the Oxfordshire village of Charlbury. And whose was that particular face, shimmering and unsmiling and well groomed among the hair and the beards, gazing across to his left at a woman dressed expensively and fashionably absorbed in the performers?
He is resident locally in a grandly assertive house (Wilderness is unusual for being an expensive event in the world of pop music). And he is David Cameron, so recently the ex-Etonian Honourable Member of Parliament for the local constituency of Witney and then Her Majesty’s Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury. His presence that day at the Wilderness was an example of his attempts to justify his assurances that he is one of us so that we would all share in the prosperity which he would bring into our lives. For example immediately after his victory in the 2015 election, which swept away that cumbersome Coalition with Nick Clegg and his LibDems, Cameron spoke to us all from the open air in Downing Street
‘I truly believe we are on the brink of something special in our country; we can make Britain a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing . . . As we conduct this vital work we must ensure that we bring our country together . . . we will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom. That means ensuring this recovery reaches all parts of our country, from north to south, from east to west’.
These brave words did not act as one of those historic pledges because soon afterwards Cameron was swept from his post as Prime Minister by the power-ravenous Theresa May taking full advantage of the result of the EU referendum which in many cases persuaded voters in the more impoverished constituencies to express their anxieties and frustration by opting for Brexit.
For example a report from the Child Poverty Action Group gave an idea of what had actually happened to child poverty, which Cameron was promising to eliminate, during his time as Prime Minister: In the UK in 2014-5 there were 3.9 million children – 28 percent – living in poverty. Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Two-thirds (66 per cent} of children growing up in poverty live in a family where at least one member works . . . Child poverty blights childhoods. In addition the Institute of Fiscal Studies has stated that child poverty will rise by 400,000 overall during 2020: ‘Ministers have to face up to the reality that we’re on course for the biggest rise in child poverty in a generation’.
In the event Cameron did not have to face up to whether this forecast was accurate -- and what he might offer as a remedy for the problem -- by the simple ruse of reacting to the result of the EU referendum by throwing up his much-prized job as Prime Minister. Pretty soon afterwards he also resigned from being an MP, which left him even more freedom from chasing through any promises about solving some social problems while making an appearance at events like the Wilderness.
His successor had run a lengthy, subtle campaign to win the top job herself so that when the day came she could reflect on the procession of defeated opponents with her own version of the same style of promises we had grown to expect from Cameron. She could even spell out her thoughts in the open, on that very same doorstep before that same shiny black door:
‘The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. When we take the big calls we will think not of the powerful but of you. When we pass new laws we will listen not to the mighty but to you’.
Those words can be interpreted as May’s salute to one of her predecessors who came into Ten Downing Street in the nineteen twenties. Stanley Baldwin was the Conservative MP for Bewdley in Worcestershire from 1908 until May 1937. During that time he was three times Prime Minster, from 1923 until 1937. He came from a wealthy family who owned Baldwins Ltd – a huge complexity of coal, iron and steel work in Bewdley. His time in government was marked by some crises in national and international events, such as the General Strike, the abdication of Edward VIII and the widespread unemployment during the slump of the Thirties. Abroad there was the rise of dictatorships in Italy and Germany and the outbreak of war in 1939. During all this time Baldwin displayed a ruthless manipulative style in managing British capitalism and its appendages, which earned him a varying reputation. He originated some enduring descriptions of some of the people he dealt with; for example there were the press barons Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook and their enjoyment of ‘power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages’ and his sketch of his party in 1918 as ‘a lot of hard-faced men who look as if they have done very well out of the war’. On the other side there was Winston Churchill telling us that ‘I wish Baldwin no ill but it would have been much better had he never lived’. The mixed feelings about Baldwin were expressed in the delay to raise a typical monument to him after his death in 1947, apart from a blue plaque in Westminster and a stone seat beside a minor road at The Burf Worcestershire. But recently there has been a successful scheme to produce a life size bronze statue for display in Bewdley Guildhall. A keen supporter of this was Theresa May who declared to the organisers ‘Stanley Baldwin should be recognised as one of the most significant figures of twentieth-century British politics. It was he who coined the phrase ‘One Nation’ to describe that fundamental aspect of the Conservative approach to politics’. So the statue was made and stands now for everyone to see and admire. Perhaps at the same time they will also reflect on the extravagant wealth personified by Baldwin and his class.
From the January 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard
How the children of the favoured section of society view the bitter struggles the workers wage for improved conditions is illustrated by the following extract. It is taken from Scott’s “Gino Watkins.” Watkins was the fearless Polar explorer who was drowned, while still under thirty, when exploring alone off Iceland in a canoe.
The General Strike referred to was in 1926.
“He went back to Cambridge for what promised to be a busy summer term. . . . But now another interest came to distract him—the wild rumours and real disturbances in England which culminated in the General Strike. Gino’s delight in the experiences that it brought him was an example of the spirit in which the Prime Minister’s appeal to carry on as if nothing serious had happened was so naturally and successfully obeyed.
“'We are having a simply wonderful time in the strike,’ he wrote to his father, who was in Switzerland. 'The first day I became a railway porter and then an engine stoker; it was great fun on the engine, people booing, hissing and throwing stones. At last, to-day, I have been given a definite job, a special constable in the Scotland Yard Flying Squad. Three hundred of us leave to-morrow morning by convoy at 6 o’clock. We are supplied with batons and helmets. Our duty is to sit in large cars and wait till a riot is reported in any part of London, and then we are rushed to the scene. It ought to be simply ripping. I am luckily in a section with all my friends, and a lot of them are coming to sleep on the floor at home. I do wish you were in England; you would enjoy it so much and would probably get great fun in the Army.'
“And from 1, Onslow Crescent, on May 14th: —
“ ' The next day we had to go at 5 o’clock in the morning to guard the docks in Limehouse, but we did not get a proper fight. We are all going back to Cambridge to-morrow; it will be dreadful, as we none of us feel that we shall be able to settle down for the rest of the term. But I expect there will be some good rags.’ ” (Pages 45 and 46.)