From the January 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard
“No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed ; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society. Therefore mankind always takes up only such problems as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, we will always find that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.”—Marx.
The above remarks were the outcome of years of patient historical investigation by one of the greatest thinkers of modern times.
One of the conditions necessary for the disappearance of the present social order (capitalism) is the understanding of certain basic principles on the part of the working class. Until the workers as a whole understand the position they occupy in modern society and the only way out of that position (i.e.. by class conscious political action) another social order will not give place to the present one—in spite of fuming and foaming, wild words and empty phrases.
In our Declaration of Principles we lay down the few simple essential principles it is necessary to understand and act upon in order to achieve emancipation from wage slavery.
Briefly summed up these principles are as follows:
All social wealth is produced by the working class and owned by the master class. Between these two classes there is a class struggle which can only be abolished by the emancipation of the workers from wage-slavery ; i.e., by the supplanting of capitalist private ownership by social ownership. This emancipation must be the work of the working class itself, and, as the capitalist class retains its position by the control of the machinery of government, the working class must organise to capture the political machinery in order to use it as the agent of emancipation. Finally, as all political parties represent class interests, the working-class political party must be hostile to all other parties.
These are the broadest principles that can be adopted by the working class to work out its emancipation. If action is taken outside these elementary principles the working class movement is plunged into a morass.
But these principles are too simple, open and definite to please those who like to walk about with theatrical expressions on their lips, and to move on waves of emotion. Nor do they prefer the henchmen of the master clams, who prefer the diffusion of confusion as such methods hinder the spread of Socialism.
Our position does not lend itself to highly coloured phrases or empty diatribes, hence the wild “Revolutionaries” (the dangerous livers of the S.L.P.) and popularity chasers steer clear of our party.
There are some people who have neither the patience to acquire knowledge nor the self control to follow the only course (slow though it may be) open to the class-conscious worker. Those to whom the writer alludes are the emotional, red-flag-waving individuals.
People of this type have cut a figure in past movements and exist in profusion to-day, They live in the limelight, mouthing all sorts of handy phrases—in fact empty phrases echoing from empty heads largely constitute their stock-in-trade and take the place of ideas and knowledge. So effective in stirring up emotion are these phrases that their users seldom attempt to get behind them to ascertain their true meaning.
The phrase wizards, with an inflated estimate of their own puny accomplishments, flourish in all the pseudo working-class parties of the present. They strive to play upon emotion and attract a large following by voicing their particular pet phrases and hazy notions, hurrying a bewildered group of supporters along with them to some misty land of promise—they don’t know exactly where.
In the Chartist movement in England the “Revolutionary” raved and ranted, gained applause—and the movement suddenly collapsed. The inexorable laws of capitalism ground the Chartist movement to powder, and swept the popular “leaders” away.
About twenty years ago the I.W.W. was ushered in with a great flourish of trumpets, and all the would-be “revolutionists” hurried to the front, panting with excitement and gasping their fervid and frenzied phrases. The real facts of the situation, however, and the unsurmountable obstacles to “taking and holding the means of production” through so-called industrial action (or inaction !) soon shattered the movement into warring fragments.
At the present moment we have the same bogey and crowd-gathering business cropping up again. The new catch-cry is “government by the Soviets.” And again all the phrasemongers and “revolutionaries” are to the fore. Again they are trying to force the pace by appeals to emotion. But unfortunately for these soft-hearted, soft-headed, and excited hurricanes neither fine phrases nor good intentions will take the place of knowledge. Appeals to emotion may bring a bloody shambles, but they cannot bring Socialism.
People of this kind imagine they can produce results with a wizard’s wand. Although the mass of the workers are not prepared to accept Socialism at present, these people imagine that the magic word “Soviet” is going to perform miracles. One is reminded of the whimsical jokers who are going to sweep all obstacles aside with the ponderous word "Ergatocracy” !
Even if we assumed, for the sake of argument, that the Soviet system were applicable in the particular case of Russia, owing to Russia’s historical development, would this prove that it was suitable to other countries where social development had been somewhat different? As a matter of fact, however, the “Soviet” wave is a striking example of how phrases are used to smother facts. ” Soviet” means “council,” but if this plain English word were used everybody would understand its significance—and the movement would be stripped of its glamour.
The emancipation of the working class must be accomplished by the working class itself; the working class will not emancipate itself until it desires Socialism ; the working class will not desire Socialism until it has gained an understanding of the necessary principles. In other words, Socialism is impossible until the necessary knowledge is acquired by the workers. Therefore the work for Socialists to do is to diffuse knowledge as much as possible in the shape of an explanation of their principles.
The result of the recent elections throughout Europe is a crushing retort to the “get there quick” merchants. Had the majority of the workers desired Socialism there would have been a sweeping rejection of capitalist candidates, instead of which exactly the opposite has taken place.
Faced with these facts the “revolutionaries” strive to “get there” round the back way some how—to land the workers in a new society strictly on the q. t.!
However, another disillusionment is in store, and “all power to the Soviets” will run its course and collapse as all similar schemes have done before.
Working for Socialism is, by its very nature, steady, plodding, uphill work, strictly in accordance with the principle of the class struggle. Just as inexorably and inevitably as the capitalist system approaches the breaking point, the Socialist position gains ground among the workers, and at the proper historical time (when the workers want it) Socialism will succeed capitalism. As has already been pointed out, we cannot force the pace—we must work and wait.
In England, as a result of a long historical development, we find certain means at hand with which the Social Revolution can be accomplished, but we also find that the workers have not yet reached the stage when they are prepared to utilise these means to their own advantage. No amount of misguided emotion can obscure this fact. The workers possess the weapon, in the political machinery, with which they can usher in Socialism—when they desire it.
In conclusion, the writer emphasises the fact that artfully worded and high-sounding phrases have always been used to mislead the workers and rally them to the support of the masters. In the English, French, and American revolutions the mass of the people fought out the battles to the cries of “Eternal Freedom,” “The Inalienable Rights of Man,” “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,” and such phrases, but all these “rights” were eventually fused in the right of the privileged few to exploit the toiling masses. The masses gave their lives without question at the call to arms. No further back than the recent war a striking illustration was given, when, with the catch-cry of ”The protection of small nationalities” the “heroes” of Amritsar and Lahore fame set a wave going that swept thousands of workers into the shambles. It is, therefore, essential to shun empty phrases as the plague.
A year ago a miserable attempt was made to bring about unity among those who had, year in year out, swindled and betrayed the working class. The basis of the attempt was phrases borrowed from Russia, the plan miscarried, but it illustrated the rottenness that permeates those groups that throw overboard the principle of the class struggle in order to engage in compromise.
Between the workers and the masters there is no common meeting ground, no half-way house. To be successful we must hold to the ground of the class struggle and fight the battle out to its ultimate conclusion on this solid ground. As George Meredith pithily put it; in “The Tragic Comedians”: “Compromise is virtual death : it is the pact between cowardice and comfort under the title of expediency.”