From the June 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Battlefield of the Struggle.
In a previous issue we outlined the policy of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. We showed that the class struggle arises on the economic field, but that the workers can only be victorious in that struggle by becoming conscious of their class interests and controlling political power. The objection is often raised that the worker is "robbed” in the process of production, and that it is on the industrial field that he must fight for emancipation. These objectors do not realise the truth pointed out by Marx, that economic systems are controlled politically. Marx showed that material conditions give rise to political institutions by means of which ruling classes dominate the economic world. The materialist view of history shows that the material conditions of production, etc., make necessary political machinery to govern or control the economic life of society.
Every class struggling for control of the economic basis of society has to become politically supreme in order to maintain or obtain economic possession.
We are often told that "economic power” is the key to the situation. The working class, however, have no economic power. The working class cannot live except by being employed by the masters. The instruments of production as well as the products belong to the employers, which leaves the workers in the position of constantly struggling for a job and wages in order to exist.
It has been claimed that because the ,workers are necessary to production, their "indispensability" is an economic power. But the workers can’t live on their quality of being necessary to industry. And as soon as they enter into production, they do so on the employers’ terms. If “economic power” depends upon possession, as in the employers’ case, then it at once rules the workers out from “economic power. ” The employing class have to "back up” their economic possession by controlling the political machine.
Is Parliament A Capitalist Machine?
One objection to the use of Parliament is that it is a capitalist machine. Parliaments, however, grew up long before the modern capitalist era, and they evolved along with the changes in the conditions of production. The fact that Parliament was used to bolster up the landowners and monarchy did not prevent the rising merchant class wresting it from the hands of their opponents and using it to legalise and defend their interests. The age-long efforts to prevent the workers having a vote, and the huge funds and resources used to maintain a capitalist majority, show how important a machine Parliament is for the ruling class. It is the seat of power. It is the main machine of the modern State, through which the armed forces are raised, maintained, controlled and moved. Before the workers can do anything with the State machinery, they first of all must win possession of it. Lenin is accepted by many critics as an authority, and he admits the truth of our position when he tells us,.in his "State and Revolution,” that the workers must make use of the present State.
Lessons From Our Masters.
Our critics themselves point to the efforts to try to keep a revolutionary out of Parliament. Does that not show that Parliament is an important machine with tremendous power? Why, otherwise, should they try to keep a revolutionary out? All the talk about the employing class abolishing Parliament if the workers became Socialists in large numbers indicates how anxious the ruling class are to prevent such a powerful weapon falling into workers’ hands.
In no modern capitalist country have the ruling class been able to abolish Parliament. Countries that are backward and where the population have not yet developed a modern outlook are the only examples where attempts have been made with any success. The general tendency is in the other direction, that is, to widen the suffrage and to promote Parliamentary constitutions.
Light From India and Russia.
The merchant class of India to-day want their own Parliament, as that will establish their political supremacy and give them real control over their wealth and industry. The modern struggle in India is an example proving that possession of wealth alone is not the real power, but that it is necessary for the owners to protect and maintain their possession by political and legal domination. Rival owners of wealth, national or foreign, enter the contest for political power because Parliamentary control is essential to run society their way.
In the backward Empire of Russia the Czar was driven to adopt a constitution and establish a Parliament (Duma), but finding it filled by many opponents, he thought the safe thing was to abolish it. He abolished it three times at least. But the ensuing disorder and chaos ended in the rout of the Czar and his oligarchy. The Constitution was too late. Even in those carefully devised Parliaments of Russia we found Bolshevik parties and Terrorist organisations representing workers and peasants.
The Dilemma of Direct Action.
What is the alternative to the use of Parliament in modern constitutional countries? Political organisation is essential both to carry on the propaganda of Socialism as well as to win power. The only suggestion of those who criticise Parliament is that direct economic action offers a better way. The political machine, however, is the instrument controlling the armed forces, and if that Parliamentary control is left in the hands of our enemies, the workers are without any means of taking possession of the machinery of wealth production, etc..
Even regarded as a means of education, political action is superior to economic. On the political field the class struggle can be explained and driven home far more effectively than in the workshop, where the trade or industrial rivalry between workers obscures the class line.
Lenin on the Economic Field.
Lenin waged war for many years against the large Russian body known as Economists,” who stood for economic against political organisation.
In a recent Labour Monthly was reproduced an article, written by Lenin on "The Working Class as Champions of Democracy.” Lenin refers to the "fundamental fallacies of all economists," namely, that it is possible to develop the political consciousness of the workers from within, so to say, out of the economic struggle, that is, starting solely or chiefly, from this struggle."
Lenin answers the fallacy thus: “Political class-consciousness can be imparted only from outside, that is, outside the economic struggle, outside the sphere of the relation of the workers to employers" (italics Lenin’s).
We hold that Lenin has carried his point too far and that there is a large field for education within the daily economic struggle, but Lenin’s insistence upon the political as the chief field of Socialist education is correct and has been proved up to the hilt by all past experience. Practically all those direct action agitators who talk about Socialism gained their ideas about the nature of Socialism outside the field of industry and in political agitation.
Some of the other objections to our position will be dealt with in a further article.'