Monday, August 31, 2020

Normal Wisdom (2020)

A Short Story from the August 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reginald was fortunate to find gainful employment with the General Steam Navigation Company at Tower Hill, to which he bicycled the length of the Old Kent Road. In its way, it was a precursor of today’s call centre. Ranks of commuter captives processed bills of lading recording the movement of mysterious materials between unheard- of locations.

Most of Reg’s companions seemed reconciled to spending their working lives there and others were close to the end of servitude. A few could be spotted nodding off after discussion of last night’s television and football was exhausted; some of the ex-military managers sported trim moustaches and buttonholes, refreshed daily by their wives from suburban gardens. After the shocking novelty wore off, Reg, like the chained escapologist who entertained crowds outside in the lunch hour, began to plan how best to wriggle free from his confinement.

After deciding on his treble from Sporting Life he would make his way each day to the bookie, past religious zealots, tattooed freaks and an angry bloke shouting about the abolition of wages.

Years passed slowly and uneventfully and a fretting Reg began gingerly to embrace the Age of Aquarius, Lady Luck having kept her distance. An advert in Oz magazine for a lackey in a Chinatown laundry was redolent of Eastern promise and opportunities to let everything hang out. His new daily tasks remained humdrum but he didn’t let mangle  injuries deter him. Lunchtimes were spent at a theatre showing short plays, with sandwich, in St Martin’s Lane.

His first visit, a production of The Exception and the Rule, haunted him for some while. It told of a rich and cruel merchant crossing a desert to close a lucrative deal. As water begins to run out, his porter attempts to offer his master refreshment from his own bottle, which is mistaken for a sly attack and the porter is shot dead. Its message was that common humanity has become increasingly alien and the friendly man should be afraid. Reg, however, soon became distracted by less elevated matters and adept at pilfering sums from the laundry’s antique till, which he spent at Bunjies Folk Cellar, a haunt of bohemians and what were called ‘existentialists’. There he learned of the life of the poet-boxer, dandy and legendary provocateur, Arthur Cravan, who tangoed till dawn and had a penchant for pulling down his pants in public. By comparison, Reg felt a nonentity: he was notable only for ironing Rudolf Nureyev’s underwear.

Wishing his pockets could be well protected at last, Reg discovered that Mr Wang and the 1980s had other ideas. His lack of tonsorial and hygienic fastidiousness deterred prospective employers and he eventually settled for a part-time research operative job at Pussy Global, which operated from a Croydon basement.

His first assignment did not augur well. What did unsuspecting recipients of his phone calls ‘think of Barker’s cat food? Choices were: a) It’s meowtastic; b) I’m purring with pleasure; c) I’m quite pleased with it; d) I’m neither pleased nor displeased with it; e) I’m a smidgen displeased with it; f) It could have been a bit better, all things considered; g) I detest it. Once a respondent had calibrated their response, Reg would ask: ‘Would you recommend Barker’s to a friend?’

Since most purchasers immediately cut him off or yelled ‘I don’t give a stuff’, he began to wonder whether his time could be spent more fruitfully. Was he contributing in his small way to unrelenting civilisational progress or was he totally away with the fairies? Could it be that interest in human beings was essentially as consumers? As he understood that three-quarters of the population didn’t enjoy their work, Reg wondered if his spare-time pleasures — playing the ukulele and baking bread (not simultaneously) might somehow mutate into a new career.

A wizened philosopher at Bunjies claimed that no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. He boldly opted next to wet his feet in the hospitality business, lift attendant cum bellhop at the Great Eastern Hotel being advertised as ‘guaranteed to stimulate’.

There he rubbed shoulders with and was tipped by the rich or degenerate, lugged their Gucci suitcases, opened limousine and luxury suite doors, delivered champagne and smoked salmon, dealt expertly with soiled laundry, ran iffy errands and retired exhausted to a bedroom the size of a lift
but lacking muzak. Guests too mean to tip him should have been advised not to use their toothbrushes that night, or ever again.

Exasperated, he suggested that his strumming  talents might be displayed in the piano bar occasionally, but this merely resulted in an enforced spell of cleaning windows. Reg, sick of ups and downs, needed a change of direction.

A foray into left-wing politics was unfortunately no less disappointing. A brief encounter at a tube station enticed him into the heady world of day-to-day struggles and permanent revolution, which to an innocent’s delight looked just around the corner. He was briefly a Trotskyist among younger and much better-educated comrades, who foisted upon him an eternal and universal ‘truth’ capable of being known only by an elite. Barricades would be needed, ‘false consciousness’ and Roneo machines abounded and ends justified means. It was recommended that he read something called Grundrisse but he never got past page 6 (a wag at work remarked ‘Oh, yeah, read that – the butler did it’).

After a few years propositioning the passing general public, he began to sense his IQ slipping relentlessly into the gutter. He briefly flirted with groups of assorted anarchists but was struck by their refusal to abide by majority decisions unless they wanted to and a preference for small medieval-like networks with knobs on.

Reg, losing weight and feeling queasy, resorted to remedies at Speakers’ Corner, where Islamic fundamentalists, messianic vegans and a man expounding a world of free access vied for attention. His diet in the days before his wage packet was unappetising leftovers well past their sell-by dates. Big Macs began to look mouth-watering.

Uncertainty being ever-present, Reg took to the security business next. Muscles ‘R’ Us provided vigilant stewarding at a variety of venues, Lord’s Cricket Ground being our neophyte’s baptism. The domain of the rhubarb and custard tie was a place of strict protocol, with obligatory collared shirts, tailored blazers and trousers required to be tucked into Reg knew not precisely where. His confusion of debentures with dentures added to his problems and led to multiple fracas.

Sotheby’s, however, was an oasis of calm and orderliness. Russian oligarchs, Arab royalty and investment fund managers were no trouble at all and happily paid market price millions for pieces eminently suitable for storage in Swiss vaults or places well out of sight. Buyers refreshed themselves beforehand in the auction house restaurant, which served Lobster Club Sandwich, Tempura King Prawn, Lemon Beurre Blanc, Caviar and a bottle of Ch√Ęteau Haut-Mayne for not much more than three figures.

Reg slipped out for a quick break when he could: he was a proud supporter of the persecuted BLT community, although he usually took the lettuce out first.

The last episode in Reg’s working life saw him seek to bring some dignity and, he hoped, sunshine to the lives of the isolated and elderly housebound. Only the lonely knew the way he felt at night. Initial experience of the Care Time agency suggested he’d found his calling, but as the rota of domestic visits lengthened a limit of only 15 minutes was scheduled for each stay. To help wash, dress, feed, take out the bins and interact at break-neck speed was more an insult than a blessing. Rosy, who enjoyed telling saucy tales of her time cleaning betting shops, offered him coins from her purse to finish his tasks; Cyril, once something in the City, pledged to slip him a few quid to prolong the highlight of his day. Reg always refused money and completed what was necessary although this increased the length of his working day, to the extent that half of his duties – sometimes stretching to 17-hour periods – were unpaid.

He took care to avoid the spitting, vomiting, muggings and stabbings when returning home late at night. And he never did find time to read his carer’s guide and safety rules which, like the list of side-effects accompanying medications, were there chiefly to evade litigation and financial liability.

Reg’s suppressed desperation ended at Bognor Regis, a shelter from the storm offering semolina pudding on Friday and bingo as necessary. He knew he mustn’t grumble. Bouts of depression increased despite royalty’s constantly expressed concern and he looked back on his past with a sort of tender contempt. Shallow politicians, upright when creeping and dignified at their most stupid, extolled a better society; campaigners strove to eradicate persistent iniquities; and the almighty gods of science and technology were gradually to free humankind.

All had proved illusory and he scorned commerce’s sugared lies. Economists revised projections of their adjusted figures and concluded something more or less approaching ‘no idea’. Things, thought Reg, were either absurd or there was an order which we can aspire to and actually trust. Why had he not assumed greater responsibility for the course of his life and known his place on the global Monopoly board? He did, though, take some comfort that he was now well out of harm’s way.
MT

Debating Karl Kautsky (2020)



The Socialist Party has received an invitation to attend a virtual panel on “Kautsky in the 21st Century”
Here’s the link to join the panel discussion on Zoom:
https://zoom.us/j/91997023208
PANEL DESCRIPTION:
Known as the “pope of Marxism”, Karl Kautsky was a leading figure of the 2nd International and the mass socialist parties of the 19th century. He became an incredibly controversial figure in Marxism after 1914 largely as a result of his opposition to the 1917 revolution. In recent years, he has resurfaced on the Left as an important intellectual, though his legacy remains in dispute. What can we learn from Karl Kautsky’s Marxism today?
PANELISTS:
Chris Cutrone (School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Platypus Affiliated Society)
Ben Lewis (Communist Party of Great Britain, editor of Karl Kautsky on Democracy and Republicanism (Historical Materialism, 2019))
Jason Wright (Bolshevik Tendency, ex-International Bolshevik Tendency)

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

That Which Matters. (1919)

From the December 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is only one road that leads to Socialism: the workers have to learn, first, that they are slaves, second, how they are enslaved, third, the revolutionary changes necessary to achieve their freedom, and fourth, how to accomplish this revolution. A majority of the workers must understand these things, therefore the need of the day is for Socialists to spread the knowledge. If all the people who call themselves Socialists were so in reality the task of establishing Socialism would be well on the way. But unfortunately, there are many well-meaning people who, not understanding Socialism, do much to hinder the movement by stupid and ignorant misrepresentation. Usually, however, these are the dupes and victims of conscious frauds who are in the labour movement because it pays, and who call themselves Socialists for the same reason.

The Socialist is not much concerned with their reasons or their personal ambitions; before these frauds and their dupes can mislead the workers they must give utterance to some beliefs, ideas, or policies likely to influence them. The Socialist examines the proposals, and without troubling greatly to ascertain whether they emanate from the conscious fraud or the ignorant dupe, classifies them according to the degree of danger with which they threaten his movement. In his analysis of various manifestos he finds that the most dangerous are those bearing his label—Socialist—while fostering and proclaiming capitalist dogmas and and superstitions antagonistic to Socialism.

That parties built on such a contradiction should exist and flourish seems incredible, but it is only necessary to point to the attitude of the Labour Party in giving its support to the capitalist class during the war, and to their almost unanimous support of the demand for increased production. So far as the latter is concerned, the Labour Party has never given any evidence that they even understand it. The star turns of the I.L.P. have written columns of stuff on the question in the "Labour Leader," but in spite of unexampled opportunities for information, statistics, etc, the subject has never been handled from the Socialist point of view.

In the House of Commons the Premier has said "We must have greater production." The Labour Party have replied that they "will do their share," meaning that they will urge the workers to do it for them. No one would susspect that they were supposed to represent the workers if it were not for the plea they advance that "the slackening in production is not all the fault of the workers." Because they, the leaders, have neglected to master the elements of economics they are reduced to the position of defendants who can only plead that "it is not all their fault."

A knowledge of economics rightly used would give labour leaders the initiative, and the power to attack in the political arena; but, even if they possessed the knowledge, not being Socialists, elected by Socialists, they dare not use it. Labour leaders cannot move beyond the ideas of their supporters, who, educated along capitalist lines, think that it is in the administration of the system that their troubles lie. New administrators, sympathetic to them as workers, they think, will restore some of the balance to them. The leaders, recognising this ingrained dependence on capitalism, realise that they must help the workers as they want to be helped if they are to make their leadership pay. To attempt to put the workers right on their actual position as a slave class and to impress upon them the need for intelligent and organised action against the system, would only result in the alienation of capitalist support and their rejection at the polls. 

That the capitalist parties to-day can look—as they do—with equanimity on the possibility of a Labour Government, proves that there is nothing dangerous to capitalism in the movement, and therefore little, if anything, beneficial to the working class.

The general notion of Socialism as "State ownership of the means of wealth production," because it is a general notion, does not exonerate the leaders. Invented and disseminated by capitalist politicians and agents, this definition has been accepted by labour leaders and advocated as a sovereign remedy for working-class ills. Even the so-called extremists of the labour movement boost nationalisation as a step towards Socialism because under it, they say, the workers will have a measure of control. This is altogether false, as a glance at the Post Office and other State concerns will show—the workers in those concerns being more dependent and having less freedom, if anything, than those under private enterprise. Not only so, the the workers, instead of insisting on a measure of control, are more likely to be side-tracked, like all civil servants, into the belief that discipline and organisation is the necessary complement of State efficiency in the interests of the "general public."

To make of the workers State employees does not make them Socialists, and consequently does not help towards Socialism. On the contrary, it leads the workers up a blind alley, wasting their energies on something that does not materially change their conditions, and leaving them apathetic and ignorant as to the cause of their failure.

The first test of a Socialist party is does it make Socialists. Because the Labour Party advocates State ownership and either calls it Socialism or a step towards Socialism, they fail in the supreme test. Their failure to diagnose minor questions, therefore, becomes intelligible. When they engaged in recruiting during the war, taking up sides with one capitalist section, and persuading members of the working class to do likewise, they violated another great Socialist principle : that the working class of all lands, having no interests in common with any section of the master class, but all alike suffering under the same form of wage slavery, must unite internationally for the overthrow of capitalism.

With the so-called peace, capitalist statesmen launched their reconstruction policy, mainly composed of increased production. Here again the Labour Party were caught and carried along in the flood of capitalist propaganda. Some of them, like Brownlie, outpacing their masters in their efforts to deceive the workers, while all of them, agreeing with the capitalist determination to extend their markets, and utterly failing to show how this could benefit the workers, took up the parrot cry and repeated it—in some cases with mild reservations—because they feared the denunciation of the capitalist Press. 

Whatever decreased production might mean for the workers —if it were possible,—it is certain that increased production, per individual, means falling prices for the workers' only commodity : labour-power. But no section of the Labour Party has ever viewed it in this light. Instead, they advise economies in working, which, so far as the workers are concerned, has the same result: increased unemployment and competition, and reduced wages. An instance of this, which illustrates the point and at the same time explodes State ownership, is supplied by Sir Leo Chiozza Money in the "Labour Leader," Nov. 6th. While endeavouring to point out "The true path to a maximum output of real wealth," through "national control," . . "workers brought into the management, and the prices of output determined by proper costings," he declares that "capitalism disorganises production and devours the nation's substance with its army of non-producers." The latter are not merely the capitalists; they include all those workers catering for their luxury, or engaged in trade without assisting in production or distribution. As an instance Sir Leo mentions the Lever combine. He says: "It has a capital of about £20,000,000, but I venture to think that a nationalised soap trade could make more soap, and cheaper soap, with much less capital."

Here we see another issue raised which has nothing to do with the question from the workers' view-point. The over-capitalisation, so-called, of any concern merely means that instead of a large dividend on a small number of shares there is a smaller dividend on a larger number of shares—unless by an extension of the business (which must be at the expense of other firms) the old rate of dividend is maintained. As the workers do not share in dividends, whether they go up or down, or whether they are divided among forty or four hundred capitalists, is a matter of indifference to them.

But Sir Leo thinks differently ; he writes as though the workers did share in dividends. "Look at the monopolist," be says, "spreading his tentacles over the units of the trade. . . . He has to give an extravagant price for businesses. . . . That price ranks as capital of the combine and subscribers are promised a high rate of dividend."

The only way to increase dividends is by reducing wages, speeding up, or raising prices. As the capitalist cannot influence prices, which are determined by the cost of production in the main, though subject to fluctuations through the vagaries of the market, he turns his attention to wages and the quantitative production per worker. But here again he finds no new source of profit, because speeding up has long ago reached the high water mark, and wages are so low that any reduction would at once be followed by a reduced output, due entirely to the physical impossibility of maintaining the pace on a lower standard of living.

In the "New Statesman" (27.9.19) a prominent capitalist writer says that the production of commodities, and services, is greater than in 1913 and greater than ever before ; and far from production having fallen, it has increased enormously in agriculture, shipping, wool, cotton, motor-cars, clothes, and in export trade generally. But Sir Leo, although recognised as one of the best statisticians on production, seems totally ignorant of these facts and, consequently, incapable of taking up the correct attitude in the interests of the workers. Instead of denying the calumnies of lying capitalist agents he feebly protests that : "Just before the war I published one or two works in which I endeavoured to point out to the nation at large that its material output, as revealed by the census of production, was miserably inadequate," and again he says: "I hope no word of this will be interpreted as deprecating the duty of producing as much as possible." Thus at the very outset he ranges himself alongside the agents of the master class by falsely admitting their charges.

Like all capitalist economists, Sir Leo has no conception of price apart from the fluctuations of the market due to supply and demand. In reply to the statement often made, that "if British workmen will only produce more, prices will come down," he claims that British prices are determined by world production, in other words, by competition. Instead of showing that the only result of increased production on the part of the worker is an earlier date for the sack, he dogmatises on the capitalist price list, a purely capitalist concern, which does not affect the workers because wages, approximating to the cost of living, always rise or fall in accordance with the prices of necessaries. Of course the adjustment of wages to the changing prices of necessaries causes friction; but friction is just as inevitable under the capitalist system as fluctuations of prices. Why, then, does Sir Leo complicate the issue by dragging in the question of prices at all ?

For the same reason that all the self-styled labour leaders fail to present the true working-class position in opposition to avowed capitalist defenders—because it would not pay—Sir Leo, like the rest of the labour gang, advocates reform of the capitalist system in various ways. His chief palliative is "national control," but, "even then," he says, "our own wealth and our own prices would largely depend upon world causation," thus showing that his "national control" means capitalist control, and the retention of wage-slavery. To talk of "our own wealth and our own prices," therefore, is mockery so far as the workers are concerned. Like the rest of the labour gang, too, he demands a share in the management for the workers, but while the capitalists own— whether through the company, the combine, or the State—they will never allow the workers to interfere in this way unless their participation in management makes for greater individual production. The labour leaders all know that it is only along this line that workshop representation willl be encouraged, and it will then only mean increased efficiency with its inevitable results, more unemployment and reduced wages.

Ownership of the means of wealth production alone gives control; that is why the Socialist Party declares that until the workers organise politically to gain possession of the means of wealth production all the schemes of labour leaders to give them a share of control are impossibilist dreams.

The capitalist class own the means of life, to-day, and consequently, all the wealth produced by the working class. What the workers can buy back with their wages just enables them to maintain themselves as a slave class. As they must have this minimum quantity of wealth, wages have to be adjusted to prices. It is in this adjustment process that the antagonism of interests between the two classes manifests itself. The workers have yet to learn that this antagonism is not only destructive of schemes of share in control, but is the germ of a conscious antagonism that can never be abolished until the means of life are the common property of society—not the common property of the capitalist class through State ownership, nationalisation, or national control—controlled by the people through a democratic administration of production and distribution for use instead of for profit.

It is to obscure these facts that the labour gang actively propagate their absurd nostrums. The enlightenment of the workers would lose them their jobs; they could then no longer strut across the stage of life puffed up with exaggerated notions of their own importance, because no one would look at them, except with scorn. The ignorance of the workers makes them leaders. The acquirement of the knowledge of Socialism by the workers will unmake them. Our message is to the worker, and exposes the labour fraud at the same time that it declares the real enemy of the worker to be the capitalist class.
F. Foan

Wages and Prices. The Socialist View. (1919)

From the November 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ever since the armistice gave the signal for the reopening of industrial warfare we have been met on all hands with the cry "High wages mean high prices."

The Tale they Tell Us. 
Editors and politicians have they tried to outdo one another in the attempt to convince the workers that they have reached the limit in "bettering" their financial position. To listen to their arguments one would imagine that profits had ceased to exist, that wages were the only charge on industry, and that the capitalist employers' only aim in life was to find work for the workless.

The facts—that prices soared mountains high before wages commenced to move, that wages have not generally managed to catch up with prices, and that an excess profits tax has been good business for the State—are carefully kept in the background. The workers fail to make both ends meet and are told that they themselves are responsible for the failure.

Put Them to the Test. 
We are further warned of the loss of foreign trade, just as though no other country had labour troubles, and as though the workers were responsible for the war which gave America and Japan their opportunity for filching Europe's markets. But the best joke of the lot is the way in which our teachers deplore the workers' ignorance of economics ! Every fragment of the truth which the latter get into their heads is ferociously assaulted as a fallacy. Let the workers, however, do a little more thinking and then see what becomes of newspaper economics.

The first thing that strikes one about the wages question is that if the employers can so easily pass on any rise to the consumer in the form of an increased price why their strenuous opposition to these rises ? The obvious answer is that the thing cannot be done; that if it is possible to raise prices in a given state of the market the capitalist takes advantage of the fact quite independently of any advance in wages. On the other hand, no rise in wages can enable a seller of commodities to get higher prices out of an unfavourable market. He has to put up with less profits ! There's the rub ! And since profits, like wages, have to come out of prices, we might as well argue that high profits are the cause of high prices.

Where the Shoe Pinches.
As a matter of fact, however, neither wages nor profits nor both together form the basis of prices. Prices express value, a state of equality between two commodities; thus £2 = 1 pair of boots or two chairs, etc. Before we can understand value or prices, wages or profits we have to know in what sense money is equal to the things it buys, and further, in what sense these things, being equal to money, are, therefore, equal to one another.

What is value?—that is the question which knocks the stuffing out of any newspaper economist who has the pluck to tackle it—and there are not many that have, despite their desire to teach others.

Your Eye Skinned.
If we take a sovereign and any commodity it will buy (say a looking glass) and compare the two we are at first baffled to find any similarity between them. Size, shape, smell, colour, taste, weight —in every physical or chemical quality they differ. Yet men will exchange the one for the other. Their equality, therefore, must have something to do with their relationship to mankind. It is, in other words, a social relationship. Something that human society does with, money and mirrors gives them value before the exchange takes place. What does society do ? It produces them ! All commodities are the products of social labour. It is the act of labouring which puts value into them, and the quantity of labour, measured by the necessary time it takes, is the substance of value and the basis of prices.

The enormous increase in prices since the commencement of the war is therefore due in the main to the upheaval in the conditions of production. Millions of producers cannot, it is obvious, be pitch-forked into the arena of destruction without upsetting the established ease and rapidity with which wealth is produced.

To the workers, at any rate, it should be clear that their demands for higher wages are based upon this same preceding rise in prices, and that unless these demands are conceded it will be impossible for them to retain their efficiency as producers. That is to say that, unless the price of their commodity keeps pace with the prices of other commodities, of which it is a product, there will be less of that commodity available.

At the same time they must further realise that on the average nothing more than the value of their commodity can be obtained. The capitalists can and will successfully resist any encroachments upon their profits. Wage-saving machinery on the one hand, and the unemployed on the other, exist to keep in check any efforts after a wage which represents more than the cost of producing labour-power.

Is the position of the workers without remedy, then ? By no means. Let us invert the logic of our masters. If high wages mean high prices, then no wages should mean no prices. In other words, if the workers agreed to work for nothing they should be able to receive the fruits of their labour for nothing likewise. Oar newspaper editors have probably never thought of this outcome of their reasoning. If the workers took them and their ideas in deadly earnest a curious situation would arise Who or what would decide which belonged to the workers and which to the capitalists ? Only the naked force of the State ! The truth would then be revealed that the capitalists are robbers, that the wages system is a blind, and that might is right. The workers might then listen to the Socialist Party, and, spurred on by the knowledge they would thus acquire, commence to organise in real earnest for Socialism.
Eric Boden

"If Only — !" (1919)

From the November 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

That organ of capitalist interests, "The Star," in a recent editorial (14.10.19) sheds its rays on some of the bestial products of our vaunted civilisation. It shows some of the streams from the overflowing cesspool of capitalism, but, being what it is, it takes care not to reveal the source—the actual cesspool!

The most characteristic feature of capitalistic journalism, it seems, is its supremely cunning evasion of basic truths. All kinds of fine phrases, lies, half-truths, pathos, and camouflage are good material wherewith to erect buttresses to prop up a decrepit, damned, and doomed system of society.

The "Star" heads its editorial "If Only––."

It pronounces its benedictions on the League of Nations Union and refers to it as ''the greatest hope of mankind." It says: "The King's message pleases us. He says that 'millions of British men and women, poignantly conscious of all the ruin and suffering caused by the brutal havoc of war, stand ready to help if only they be shown the way.'" (Italics mine.)

The "Star" takes its cue from the King's Message. It deplores the bitter results of the war with as much fervour as it aided and abetted its prosecution when the "Honour and Liberty" of capitalist thieves was at stake.

Speaking of war it says : "We all hate it. We all passionately desire to make it impossible in our time or in our children's time. Why, then, is the universal will of mankind defied or evaded? " And it querously asks: "Why can't we get on with the building of the League of Nations."

It proceeds : 
  "Mr. Asquith in his lucid and laconic speech says that all is not going well with the League. Old and new wars are being waged. Men are being slaughtered. Wealth is being wasted. From Riga to Fiume there are baleful omens. A pallid impotence paralyses statesmen. A year has slipped away since the Armistice, and with every month the chance of wiping out war is ebbing. Mr. Asquith tells the doomed world that if the nations for another generation go on cherishing animosities, hatching rival ambitions, manoeuvring by some new system of groups and alliances for international positions, and in the meantime husbanding their resources for that purpose, there is an end—a tragic and decisive end—to all the the best hopes of humanity. War as we have endured it is horrible, but war in the future will be immeasurably more horrible."
Ay ! Millions of men and women were deluded by the capitalist battle-cry of "A War to End War." Millions of workers doubtless cherished hopes that the Great War would mark the beginning of a warless future when it was brought to a ''glorious conclusion." But it has not.

Their hopes have been torn from them, and trampled on in this "period ot reconstruction." The "beautiful new world" spoken of by that arch-deceiver of the working class, Mr. Lloyd George, is as sordid and hellish a world as ever the old one was.

Having successfully essayed the inequitous task of starving the German people into supine surrender and smashing them militarily, the Allies are now engaged in the biggest political crime against a whole race ever engineered. Russia, with its teeming millions of inhabitants, is being slowly but surely starved to death by a blockade of the most infamous character, in order to make it safe for—CAPITALISM I

All and every naval and military means in conjunction are being employed in a sanguinary struggle ostensibly to crush out Bolshevism—a purely working-class movement. Seemingly no sacrifice of workers' has been too great to seat Capitalism firmly in the Russian saddle and possibly to re-establish Czardom. The present writer remembers having seen the cover of a magazine on which appeared in glaring letters, "Russia—England's opportunity." Exploiters, thieves, and all the plutocratic scoundrels of the world have feasted their greedy eyes in imagination on the vast virgin wealth of the Russia they desire to exploit.

"The chance of wiping out war is ebbing," wails the "Star." And if that paper spoke the truth that it knows so well it would admit that there never has been a "chance of wiping out war." Under capitalism war is a "cert." Sooner or later, whenever capitalist interests in conflict cannot be adjusted in the political field, they are fought out on the battlefield by masses of the working class pitted against each other in groups by their callous masters, and compelled to commit wholesale fratricide for the sake of financial interests and sordid commerce.

The capitalist spokesman, Asquith, in his "lucid and laconic speech," practically admits the menace of a great eruption of the war volcano in the not distant future. None knows better than he that it is capitalism alone that caused the Great War, and that will again set the war machines in motion whenever and wherever is pursued a relentless search for markets and control of trade routes.

None knows better than he that a league of nations is no preventative of future wars. Under capitalism war is the final method of settling the claims of opposing interests: "Victory" its arbitrament—for which the workers pay in agony and death.

The social atmosphere is electrical with discontent, suspicion, and mistrust: the deluded people are beginning to see the inability of their rulers and exploiters to make of Earth anything other than Inferno. The failure of the present system is apparent. Its inevitable turmoil is snaking the whole structure of society; its bankruptcy is palpable. Even in "peace" time its civilisation is a piggery gaudily painted to camouflage its essential slime and filth.

To continue the quotations from the "Star":
 "Mr. Asquith says that the world is still bristling with the machinery of destruction. The mills of murder are still working full time. The war budgets of all the Powers are still on an appalling scale. We are worse than the worst. We set the pace for our allies. It is a hot and hellish pace. Why are we wasting hundreds of millions on armaments that cannot possibly be used if we mean what we say? Is it to fill the pockets of the armaments firms? Is it to support parasites in khaki ? Is it to supply an instrument for insensate ambition? Or is it sheer pure stupidity?"
Is not this an admission of the inability of our masters to create a "beautiful new world" ? And what of this ?—
  "The chemists are only lisping the "alphabet of destruction." In a few years they may invent horrors, that will torture and slay us in our beds, not by tens but by hundreds of thousands.
  We all know this. We all foresee the inevitable agony that is being prepared. And yet we are helpless. We cannot coerce the fools or chain the lunatics. We are the victims of a nameless evil. . . . We lack the courage to impose our will upon the pygmies who mismanage our affairs. The bitter truth is that the people in every land are giants who are caught in the toils of cunning and crafty miscreants who are coldly cruel in their selfishness, pitiless in their arrogance, merciless in their vanity."
The bemoaning fatalism evinced in the above reflects the fact that the capitalist class are unable to check the mighty forces they make use of. The proletariat the world over are learning by bitter experience that Capitalism alone is their enemy, and that if the world is to be free they themselves must set it free. The anarchy and chaos caused by the present system is such that we are rapidly approaching the time when it will become unworkable. Crisis will follow crisis, and the world's wage slaves will have the truth of their position forced upon them as their misery increases.

Workers, for your own sakes and for humanity's sake study Socialism ! Then, when yon understand it, you will organise to establish it and so emancipate yourselves from the shackles of wage-slavery on the one hand, and rid yourselves for ever from that awful and doubtless true menace of war which butcher Asquith, for sordid ends of his own, so vividly depicts but can find no reasonable remedy for.
Graham May

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Life Under Socialism. (1919)

From the November 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

Before Marx and Engels placed Socialism on a scientific basis those who believed that capitalism was only a passing phase in the history of the human race often endeavoured to sketch plans for a future State. To-day we know that all such plans were Utopian dreams. We know it because the progress that has been made in the means and methods of production has left those plans—based on the then existing means —far behind. We know, too, that any such pictures of the future we might sketch to-day, if based on our present methods of production, would be idle dreams, because all the time we are hovering on the brink of new discoveries that, at any moment, may fundamentally change our method of living. Beyond the elementary facts that we, as human beings, shall continue to need food, clothing, and shelter, and shall be obliged to obtain them by some labour process, the future is unknown, and all efforts to lift the veil, or plan details of the future, are waste of time and energy.

The Socialist does not pretend to foretell the future. All that he claims is that he understands the present, with its class ownership of the means of life and the consequent enslavement of his class. The defenders and agents of the ruling class deny this enslavement and claim that Socialism would result in loss of liberty to the individual. It is evident, however, that class ownership and control implies a class that is subjugated and therefore without liberty.

Socialism, on the other hand, being a system of society where the means of life are owned in common and democratically controlled, must give the maximum freedom to the individual because there is equality of ownership and control.

Under capitalism the worker is subjected to restrictions and rules, and subjugated to a discipline which would be hard to beat. It is only the master class that possesses liberty, and their liberty means working class slavery.

The Materialist Conception of History, discovered by Marx, Engels, and Morgan, besides assisting to place Socialism on a scientific basis and explaining past history, also explains the present and makes it clear to us why we cannot foretell the future. The intellectual life and institutions of society are the result of—and can only be explained by—the means and methods of producing and distributing wealth. As we cannot foretell the future development of the means of life, the institutions, intellectual life, and general conditions must remain hidden.

Of what does the intellectual life of society consist ? After the commercial and technical sides (which are obviously determined in their nature by the means and methods of production) comes politics. Analyse politics and we find, first, international relations, treaties, diplomacy, and all the quarrels and agreements between the ruling class of different nations. This is the territorial side and divides the working class by boundaries for the purpose of arranging exploitation. Secondly, the legal changes and social reforms made necessary by the continual changes in the means and methods of production and distribution. The poverty of the working class increases because the social system is out of harmony with the means and methods of production; and this causes numerous disputes between capitalists and workers. The settlement or prevention of these disputes is a constant theme for discussion in Parliament and in the Press. Every debate in the House of Commons is, in one form or another, the outcome of social conditions in process of change. Social relationships, the relations between man and man, or between class and class, do not stand still; and the cause of their change is the evolution of the material things—tools, machinery, etc.,—on which man depends for his subsistence.

The political history of the past has been a succession of struggles 'twixt subject and ruling classes for the control of power. With the necessary physical force on its side to dominate society, each class has in its turn secured its position as far as possible, and settled down to enjoy the fruits of its victory. No previous class in history, risng to power, has ever doubted its ability to use it—why should the working class ?

The forerunners of the modern capitalist class in the sixteenth century were themselves a subject class. They threw off the yoke of the lords and monarchy, and commenced their rule with no settled policy beyond the determination to be masters of society. Their policy has never been any different down to the present day. The executive government deals with every situation as it arises. They cannot tell what problems will call for settlement in a year's time. Not knowing what the conditions will be, the problems that result from them cannot be known, consequently every act of government can only be an expedient to prevent friction, to avert a crisis, or to restore a balance that has been upset by changes in the means of producing wealth, and so preserve the even continuity of capitalist rule.

In short, history and experience tell us that it is impossible to foretell the future. Why should we try to do so? What we are concerned with is the present—how to make the best of life now. How do the ruling class achieve that ? By using the power conceded to them by the bulk of society, the working class. While the workers are asking questions about the details of a system which they can only arrange in accordance with the stage of development reached by the means of production, they are neglecting to understand and grasp their opportunities to-day. Is it not sufficient for the workers that they should be free from the domination of the capitalist class, and, controlling their own destinies, shape their lives in accordance with their knowledge of nature ? What have they to fear when free ? What must they suffer when not free ?

But "who is to do the dirty work?" a capitalist agent asks. And the half-starved wage-slave who has never done anything else all his life says "Ah! that's it, who indeed?" The absurdity of all such questions is apparent when we remember that man in the most critical period of his life's history, in the morning of time, when beset with enemies and dangers on every hand, treasured his freedom above everything else, and associating with his fellows on a basis of equality, controlled his social actions democratically.

Man's confidence in, and adherance to, these two principles, carried him safely through the age of savagery. His abandonment of these principles was the beginning of the long class rule, in which successive ruling classes have robbed the workers of the results of their toil.

Society has passed through the different stages from savagery to civilisation and machine industry. In the process those who have produced the world's wealth have submitted to various forms of slavery, each more oppressive than the preceding. From chattel slavery—its crudest form—to wage slavery—where the slave condition is veiled by the so-called freedom of contract. At first the incongruities of class ownership of the means of life and the commodity character of human labour-power are not recognised by either class. But as the system develops and poverty and squalor on the one hand, and enormous wealth and power on the other, become more pronounced men seek to know the cause ; and finding it in the fundamental principles that constitute the basis of the social system, they seek, according to their class, either to abolish the system or discredit the truths discovered.

Actuated by self-interest the ruling class hurries on the development the consumation of which threatens their extinction, while at the same time they do their utmost to retard any conscious action on the part of the working class to place society in harmony with the means and methods of production. Their first line of action drives the workers into worse poverty, while their second is aimed to prevent them seeing the cause of, or the remedy for, their poverty. Thus the task of harmonising the social system with the more highly developed means of production is wholly that of the working class, and must be carried through against the conscious antagonism of the master class.

To overcome this antagonism appears, at first sight, a stupendous task, but the means for its achievement are within reach. The knowledge is available and scientifically arranged. Communication is easy. The workers have the bulk of the votes and can acquire political power when they are ready. All that is wanted is for men and women to attain the knowledge, rouse their fellows from their apathy, and pass on the knowledge to them. Socialism can be established as soon as there is a majority of Socialists. The first step, therefore, is to make Socialists. With a clear majority Socialists can secure a majority in the executive councils, and through them control the armed forces. The possibility of the master class using these against the workers is thereby removed, and the workers can proceed at once to the second step—the restoration to the people of the land and all the means of production and distribution. The next step will be the organisation of production in such a manner that the workers have complete control—not a share in management, such as labour leaders plead for.

First must come ownership: until that is effected the workers can have no control, either over the means or methods of production, or over their own conditions of employment.

There is no question of morality or justice about this expropriation of the capitalist class. The wonder is that the workers have tolerated the system so long. A small class in society owns all those things required by man to produce for himself the necessaries of life. This small class imposes slavery on those who do not own. To free themselves from slavery must be the desire and the aim of the working class. But they must have confidence, based on knowledge, in their associated power to arrange the details of production and distribution for use. On such a basis they can tread the future without fear, because science has destroyed the superstitious terrors of the dark ages and given us a clearer understanding of the laws of nature. The days of oracles are past; the workers to-day, producing all wealth, understand all the secrets of production. It is they who discover all improvements in means and methods. Without a ruling class they can still carry on, producing wealth for their own use and consumption. Let them, first, understand ; second, take possession, and exercising full control, face the future determined to use nature's gifts for the well-being and happiness of society free, at last, from the withering blight of class rule.
F. Foan

By The Way. (1919)

The By The Way column from the November 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

One has grown accustomed of late to hear it asserted in various quarters that the working class has entered upon an era of untold "prosperity." This being so I am at a loss to understand why it is that throughout the length and breadth of the land vast numbers of little children labour long hours for very little monetary reward. To me this seems to suggest the opposite of "prosperity." Why do parents of working-class children send their offspring of tender years out to toil? Though Cabinet Ministers repeatedly tell us that the panacea for all our ills is increased production, we never read of their children or grandchildren, as the case may be, going in early years (or any other) to labour in mill, mine, or factory, or to deliver the morning milk or papers. Why, then, is this phenomenon reserved for the workers' children? It therefore appears that the poverty position of the parents forces them to send out their young in order to swell the family exchequer. With the ever-increasing cost of living the struggle to make ends meet becomes ever more keen.

While not desiring to overburden the reader with tedious statistics, I cannot refrain from reproducing some interesting details on the question of employment of school children. Here they are:
  "The Medical Sub-Committee of the Warrington Education Committee has published some striking figures as to child labour in that town. Several hundreds of children under eleven years are employed out of school hours. One girl of seven works 7½ hours weekly, another works 21 hours for 6d., and a girl of nine is employed 14 hours for the same wage.
  A boy of eight years works 2¼ hours every day and 8 hours on Saturday for 2s.; another, aged nine, works 28 hours a week in a bakehouse. A lad of ten works 25 hours a week, of which 13 are on a Saturday. A girl, aged ten, washes, peels and chips potatoes for 20 hours a week for the sum of 1s. Not one of the 721 cases investigated got proper remuneration with the exception of the boys who sell and deliver newspapers."
Sir George Newman gives the following instances in his report to the Board of Education:
  "Errand boy, aged twelve, works an hour before breakfast, 1 hour at mid-day, 4 hours after school, and 13 hours on Saturday. His wages are 1s. 9d. a week, and his teacher reports him inattentive in school, overtired and nervous.
  Boy of eleven worked 2¼ hours before school, 2¼ after school, and 13 hours on Saturday. Teacher reports he often fell asleep at school.
  Boy of eleven works in and about stables for 8 hours a day, and 14 hours on Saturdays. Wages 6d. a week and his food. Teacher reports that he is dull and languid in school."
Then Mr. Spurley Hey, Director of Education in Manchester, says that—

"in that city there are 6,000 children of school age employed for profit, some of whom work for 40 hours a week in addition to their time in school."

The last quotation which I shall give is by no means the least. It states—
  "In Birmingham there are 9,000 school children similarly employed, several hundreds of whom work over 40 hours a week, and one poor little child who works over 70 hours a week".—Quotations from the "Daily Chronicle," October 7th, 1919.
Thus in Christian England nineteen centuries after Christ is supposed to have said "Suffer little children to come unto me," we find those who "call upon His name" re-echoing his words in their endeavour to obtain cheap labour and enhanced profits. Well may our contemporary refer to it as a "Child Labour Scandal."

--0--

More prosperity ! "The Barking Education Authorities are to spend £50 on providing boots and shoes for necessitous children," runs an announcement in the "Daily Herald" (15.10.19). This step is being taken, so we are informed, owing to the number of cases in which want of boots is given as an excuse for non-attendance at school.

--0--

Strong comment was made at the London Sessions by the Deputy-Chairman on the niggardliness of "our grateful country" to its heroes when a case was before them of an ex-soldier charged with shop-breaking. Here is what the Deputy-Chairman said :
  "I understand you have been so severely wounded that you are incapable of doing any work, and a grateful country gives you 11s. a week to live upon. In those circumstances I do not know what on earth you could do except commit crime for a living. I shall take all steps in my power to see that this matter gets attention. It is perfectly scandalous, and the prisons of this country will be filled if that sort of pittance is given to people rendered incapable of doing any work."—"Reynolds's," October 26th, 1919.
--0--

In that entertaining column, ''The Office Window," which graces the pages of the "Daily Chronicle," there recently appeared a jingle of rhyme which, like the straw, shows how the wind blows. The writer of the verses ("Sleet in Picadilly') inquiring why the vagaries of the weather, concludes that it is because—

"Jove has been dealing in sealskins and muffs."

God as a profiteer! That any writer in one of the great English dailies should dare suggest such a thing is pretty significant of the trend of current ideas.
The Scout.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Our £1,000 Fund. (1919)

Party News from the November 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

The burning desire for Socialism is reflected below. It to two months since we published our last list, and in that time nearly £7 has been subscribed to our Thousand year—pardon, Thousand Pound Fund. Five guineas of that stun, be it observed; are from branches. leaving something less than £2 from individuals—£1 a month (nearly); 5 bob a week (nearly). In two months eight (8) individuals have “cast their bread upon the waters”—what a shock this must be to our trembling masters!

Now we are not going to beat about the bush. We have s desire. We have an ambition. We will out with it, yes swelpuschrist we will.

And this is what we have set our heart upon —that the revolutionary proletarians of this country seal their faith in sacrifice. It can be done. How about a Self Denial Week? How about sending a Tank round ? How about a Victory Loan and Premium Bonds?

Well, tot will not be put off. Whatever the means you have got to raise that fund to— 5 bob a week clear of branch donations.





Correspondence. Concerning Russia Again. (1919)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

Continued from the October 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

When our correspondent "digresses," to use ills own term, "to discuss the class-consciousness of the Russian masses," he does not really digress at all, but gets back to the point at issue. "I deny that ability to discuss the Marxian theory is essential to a feeling of 'class-consciousness,'" says "A.P.L." That one sentence makes clear the different standpoints from which we are respectively arguing. To the Socialist class-consciousness is not a "feeling" but a knowing. A hatred of the master class does not of itself make a class-conscious proletarian. To be such one must know more than that one is oppressed. To say that : "Owing to the Government opposition to workers' organisations for self-protection the Russian industrial worker could feel his 'oppressed' position better than most as his wages were scandalously low," is fatuous, since other races of workers have passed through the same stage of "oppression" and scandalous wages without exhibiting any clear knowledge of their class position and the course of action dictated by that position.

If class-consciousness were no more than a "feeling," no more than a realisation by the workers that there is "something rotten in the State of Denmark" because they were oppressed and their wages were scandalously low, then indeed would class-consciousness be of so little use to the workers as to be unworthy of serious thought.

As to how far a proletarian must be able to "discuss the Marxian theory" before he can properly be termed class-conscious is quite beside the point. The minimum that is essential to class-consciousness is that it shall be useful in the struggle of the working class for their emancipation. It must, therefore, not only comprise a knowledge of the existence of classes in society—that is not very helpful. It must comprise a knowledge of the "Marxian theory" of the class struggle (i.e., that all written history is a history of class struggles), as only that knowledge can raise the worker's strivings to the class struggle basis, and prevent him being trapped into fatal alliances with his inveterate and historic enemies, the master class.

Class-consciousness must also include a knowledge of that other "Marxian theory," the Materialist Conception of History, which shows that the roots of social change lie in the development of the means and methods by which mankind gain their livelihood, and indicates that the whole social structure rests upon its economic foundation. This knowledge teaches that the basis of the social system is the private ownership of the means of living, that wage slavery must necessarily (chattel slavery being out of the question) be the life condition of those who produce the wealth, because while a section of the community own all the means of living, those who do not own must sell to the others their labour power for wages.

This theory leads logically, also, to the conclusion that, since the social system rests upon its economic foundation (which is the private ownership of the land, factories, machinery and other means of living), and since this in turn in the long run depends upon the development of the instruments of production, the present social base must, given the continued development of those instruments (which nobody doubts), give place sooner or later to another, with the result that the whole social system must undergo a change.

It is needless to go further. Let us compare the actions of A.P.L.'s Russian "peasant-labourer," whose "class-consciousness" rests on the fact that he "saw his landlord, i.e. his immediate oppressor, every day," with the actions of the truly class-conscious worker.

The latter, from the study which has brought him to the acceptance of the Materialist Concept, realises that the only property condition in harmony with that stage of development of the means of production wherein those means can only be operated by social labour is social ownership, proceeds to institute social ownership. The Russian "peasant-labourer," on the other hand, "A.P.L." tells us, elected "Maria Spirodonova, the 'extremist,' chairman of this All-Russian Congress,. . . as was only natural, she being the great apostle of the communal system of land ownership, also favoured by Lenin, on the lines of the ancient Mir."

Of course this is "only natural." The Russian "peasant-labourer" understands nothing of Marxian theories, so he is anxious to get back to the "good old days" of the Mir—under which the land was not the propetry of the whole of society, but only of the Mir group.

But "A.P.L." may be assured that as surely as "direct ownership" may, as he says, transfer the peasant back to his old position of landless agricultural labourer, so will the return of the land to the Mir carry him back to the semi-barbarism of that ancient system.—Ed. Com.

A Retrospect. Lessons drawn from the Socialist Movement from 1848 to 1895. by Frederick Engels. (1919)

From the November 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
  [The reprint given below of the last of the published writings of Frederick Engels is of especial value to-day in its application to the conditions prevailing in Europe. If events have so strongly falsified his views as to the strength and soundness of the rank and file of the German Social-Democratic Party, it should be remembered that when that organisation was formed by the fusion of the two previously existing parties — the Lassalleans and the Marxists—both Marx and Engels opposed the fusion, and only accepted the situation some time after, when the steady growth of the party seemed to justify its formation. The war has shown completely that the original views of Marx and Engels were right, while those of Bebel, Leibnecht, and the others were wrong, though many Marxian students proclaimed the unsoundness of the German party long before the war. In other words, the principles which Marx and Engels did so much to establish have proved to be correct even in the case where Engels was persuaded that a modification was required. A firm grip of those principles is the only safe guide for the workers to-day.—ed. com.]
As the February revolution of 1848 broke out we were all, as regards our views of the conditions and course of revolutionary movements, under the influence of previous historical experience, especially that of France. It was just this latter which had controlled all European history since 1689, and from which once more the signal for a general upheaval had gone out. Hence it was natural and inevitable that our ideas of the nature and course of the "social" revolution proclaimed at Paris in February, 1848, the revolution of the proletariat, were strongly coloured by recollections of the prototypes of 1789 to 1830. And particularly as the Paris revolt found its echo in the victorious uprisings at Vienna, Milan, Berlin; as all Europe up to the Russian border was swept into the movement; as then in June at Paris the first great battle for supremacy was fought between proletariat and bourgeoisie ; as even the victory of their own class so convulsed the bourgeoisie of all countries that they flew back again into the arms of the monarchic-feudal reactionists whom they had just overthrown : under all these circumstances there could be no doubt in our minds that the great decisive conflict had begun, and that it would have to be fought out in a single long revolutionary period with varying success, but that it could only end in the final victory of the proletariat.

After the defeats of 1849 we did not by any means share in the illusions of the pseudo-democracy which was grouped around the outskirts of the provisional governments. This was counting on an early, once for all, decisive victory of the "people" over the "oppressors"; we were counting on a long struggle after the removal of the oppressors, a struggle between the antagonistic elements hidden in this very "people" itself. The pseudo-democracy was expecting from day to day a renewed outbreak; we declared as early as in autumn 1850 that at least the first chapter of the revolutionary period was closed, and that nothing more was to be expected until the outbreak of a new economic world crisis. And for this very reason, too, we were excommunicated as traitors to the revolution by the very same people who afterwards almost without exception made their peace with Bismarck—so far as Bismarck found them worth having.

But history has shown that we, too, were wrong, and has exposed our opinion at that time as an illusion ; it has done more: it has not only demolished our error, it has totally recast the conditions under which the proletariat has to fight. The 1848 method of warfare is to-day antiquated in every particular, and that is a point which at this opportunity deserves to be closely examined.

All previous revolutions resulted in the displacement of one class government by another. All previous ruling classes were, however, only small minorities compared with the subject mass of the common people. A ruling minority was overthrown, in its stead another minority seized the helm of state, and remodelled the political institutions according to its own interests. In every case this new minority group was one which the progress of economic development had trained for and called to rulership, and for that very reason and only for that reason it happened that at the time of the revolution the subject majority either took sides with it or at any rate acquiesced in it. But ignoring the concrete details of each particular case, the common form of all these revolutions was this, that they were minority revolutions. Even when the majority assisted it was, consciously or unconsciously, only working in the interest of a minority. This fact, or even the passive non-resistance of the majority, gave to the minority the appearance of being the representative of the whole people. 

After the first great victory the successful minority as a rule became divided ; half was satisfied with what was already won, the other half wished to go farther yet and made new demands, which at least in part were in the real or apparent interest of the great mass of the people. These more radical demands were in particular instances carried through, but for the most part only temporarily : the more moderate party again got the upper hand, the latest gains were wholly or partly lost again. The radicals then raised the cry of "treason," or attributed their defeat to accident. In fact, however, matters stood about so :—the results of the first victory were made secure only by another victory over the more radical party. This done, and thereby the immediate demands of the moderates being attained, the radicals and their following disappeared again from the stage.

All the revolutions of modern times, beginning with the great English revolution of the seventeenth century, showed these features, which seemed inseparable from every revolutionary struggle. They appeared to be also applicable to the struggles of the proletariat for its emancipation ; all the more applicable as in 1842 the few people could be counted who understood even in a general way the direction in which this emancipation was to be sought. The proletarian masses themselves even in Paris after the victory were still absolutely in the dark as to the course to pursue. And yet the movement was there, instinctive, spontaneous, irrepressible. Was not that exactly the condition in which a revolution was bound to succeed, though led, it is true, by a minority, but this time not in the interest of a minority, but in the truest interest of the majority? If in all the more prolonged revolutionary periods the great masses of the people had been so easily won over by the merely plausible inducements of ambitious minorities, how could they be less accessible to ideas which were the purest reflex of their economic situation, which were nothing else but the clear, intelligent expression of their own wants, wants as yet not understood by themselves and only indistinctly felt ? It is true this revolutionary temper of the masses had nearly always, and generally very soon, given way to lassitude or even to a reaction into the opposite attitude, as soon as the illusion had vanished and undeception had taken place.

Here, however, it was not a question of promoting the most vital interests of the great majority itself—interests which, it is true, at that time were by no means clearly seen by that great majority, but which in the course of practical enforcement were bound soon enough to become clear to it by the convincing force of experience. And now when in the spring of 1850 the development of the bourgeois republic which arose out of the "social" revolution of 1848 had concentrated all actual power in the hands of the great bourgeoisie, and this having monarchical inclinations, too; and when on the other hand this same development had grouped all other classes of society, both peasants and small-bourgeoisie, around the proletariat in such a way that in and after the joint victory the controlling factor would be, not those others, but the proletariat itself, grown sharp-witted through experience—was there not every prospect at hand for turning a minority revolution into a majority revolution ?

History has shown that we, and all who thought like us, were wrong. It has made plain that the condition of economic development on the Continent at that time was not yet ripe enough by far for the abolition of capitalist production ; it has proved this by the economic revolution which since 1848 has transformed the whole Continent and has for the first time effectively naturalised large-scale industry in France, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and, more recently, in Russia, while out of Germany it has actually made an industrial State of the first rank—all on a capitalist, basis, which system therefore in 1848 was still capable of great expansion. Moreover, it is just this industrial revolution which first brought about clearness everywhere in class relations ; which shoved aside a lot of middle men who had come down from the early manufacturing period and in Eastern Europe even from the guild system ; which created a genuine bourgeoisie and a genuine factory proletariat and pushed them to the front place in the social development. Thereby, however, the struggle of these two great classes, a struggle which in 1848 existed outside of England only in Paris, and at most in some few great industrial centres, has spread for the first time over all Europe and reached an intensity which in 1848 was inconceivable. Then there were many confused sectarian gospels with their different panaceas ; to-day the single, transparently clear and universally recognised theory of Marx, which sharply formulates the ultimate aims of the struggle ; then, massed, separated, and differentiated by locality and nationality, bound together only by a feeling of common suffering, undeveloped, tossed helplessly back and forth between enthusiasm and despair; to-day one great international army of Socialists, unceasingly advancing, daily growing in numbers, organisation, discipline, intelligence and certainty of victory. If even this mighty army of the proletariat has not yet attained its object, if far from wresting victory at one grand stroke, it has to press slowly forward from one position to another in a hard, tenacious struggle, this proves once for all how impossible it was in 1848 to effect the transformation of society by a mere sudden onslaught.

A bourgeoisie, split into two dynastic monarchical factions, but which demanded before everything else peace and security for its financial transactions ; confronting it a proletariat, conquered but still threatening, and around which the small tradesmen and peasants were grouping themselves more and more ; the constant threatening of a violent outbreak, which after all offered no prospect of a final solution— that was the situation, fitted as if made to order, for the forcible usurpation of the pseudo-democratic pretender, Louis Bonaparte, yclept the Third. On December 2, 1851, with the aid of the army, he put an end to the strained situation, and secured internal peace for Europe in order to beautify it with new wars. The period of revolutions from the bottom up was for the time being closed ; there followed a period of revolution from the top down.

The setback of 1851 towards Imperialism gave new proof of the unripeness of the proletarian aspirations of that time. But it was itself destined to create the conditions under which they must ripen. Internal peace secured the full development of the new industrial life; the necessity of keeping the army busy and of turning the revolutionary activities away from home engendered wars in which Bonaparte, under the pretense of giving effect to the "nationality principle," sought to rake up annexations to France. His imitator, Bismarck, adopted the same policy for Prussia ; he played his political grab-game, his revolution from the top, in 1866 against the German confederation and Austria, and not less against the recalcitrant Chamber of Deputies in Prussia. But Europe was too small for two Bonapartes, and so the irony of history would have it that Bismarck should overthrow Bonaparte and that King William should restore not only the small German empire, but also the French Republic. The general result, however, was this, that in Europe the autonomy and inner unity of the large nations, with the exception of Poland, had become a reality ; true, it was only within relatively modest limits, but yet far enough so that the developing process of the working class was no longer materially hindered by national complications. The gravediggers of the revolution of 1848 had become executors of its will; and beside them arose the proletariat, the heir of 1848, already threatening, in the new International.

After the war of 1870-1871, Bonaparte disappears from the stage and Bismarck's mission is completed, so that he can now subside again to the level of an ordinary country squire. But the closing act of this period is formed by the Paris Commune. A treacherous attempt by Thiers to steal the cannons of the Paris National Guard called forth a successful revolt. It was again demonstrated that in Paris no other revolution is possible any more, except a proletarian one. After the victory the leadership fell uncontested into the lap of the working class, just as a matter of course. And again it was shown how impossible it was even then, twenty years after the former effort, for the leadership of the working class to be successful. On one hand France left Paris in the lurch and stood by looking on while it was bleeding under the bullets of McMahon; on the other hand the Commune wasted its strength in a barren quarrel of the two disagreeing factions, the Blanquists, who formed the majority, and the Proudhonists, who formed the minority, neither of which knew what to do. The victory of 1871, which came as a gift, proved just as barren as the forcible overthrow of 1848.

With the fall of the Paris Commune it was thought that the militant proletariat was ever lastingly buried past resurrection. But quite to the contrary, its most vigorous growth dates from the Commune and the Franco-Prussian war. The complete transformation of the whole military system by bringing the entire able-bodied population into the armies, now running into millions, and by the introduction of firearms, cannon and explosives of hitherto unheard-of power, put a sudden end to the Napoleonic war era, and assured a peaceful industrial development by making impossible any war other than a world-war of unprecedented gruesomeness and of absolutely incalculable consequences. On the other hand, the increase of the army budget in a geometrical progression forced the taxes up to an uncollectable point, and thereby drove the poorer classes into the hands of Socialism. The annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, which was the immediate cause of the mad competition in preparations for war, might goad the French and German bourgeoisie into chauvinism towards each other, but for the workingmen of both countries it was only a new bond of unity. And the anniversary of the Paris Commune became the first general holiday of the entire proletariat.

The war of 1870-1871 and the overthrow of the Commune had, as Marx foretold, shifted the centre of gravity of the European labour movement from France to Germany. In France it took, of course, years to recover from the blood letting of May, 1871. In Germany, on the contrary, where industry was developing faster and faster, forced on in hothouse fashion by the providential milliards from France, the social democracy was growing faster and yet more enduring. Thanks to the intelligence with which the German workingmen made use of the universal suffrage, introduced in 1866, the astounding growth of the party is revealed to all in incontestable figures. In 1871, 102,000 social democratic votes; in 1874, 352,000 ; in 1877, 493,000, Then came the high official recognition of the gains in the shape of the anti-Socialist law. The party was for a moment demoralised ; the number of votes in 1881 fell to 312,000. But the relapse was soon overcome, and then under the pressure of the anti-Socialist law, and without a Press, without a recognised organisation, without the right of association or of assembly, the growth began to increase more rapidly than ever. In 1884, 550,000 ; in 1887, 763,000; in 1890, 1,427,000. Then the hand of the State was palsied. Then anti-Socialist law disappeared ; the number of Socialist votes rose to 1,787,000, over a quarter of the total votes cast. The Government and the ruling classes had exhausted all their expedients; they were useless, aimless, resultless. The tangible proofs of their impotence which the authorities, from the night watchman to the imperial chancellor, got shoved under their noses, and that, too, from the despised working-men, were numbered by millions. The State had got to the end of its Latin, the workingmen were only at the beginning of theirs.

Moreover, in addition to this, the German workingmen had done their cause a second great service, besides the first one, consisting merely in their existence as the strongest, best disciplined, and most rapidly growing Socialist party; they had shown their comrades of all countries a new weapon, and one of the keenest, in showing them how to use the ballot.

Universal suffrage had long existed in France, but had come into disrepute through the misuse which the Napoleonic government had made of it. After the Commune there was no labour party in existence to make use of it. In Spain, too, it had existed since the republic, but in Spain it was always the custom of all the real opposition parties to refrain from voting. And in Switzerland, too, the experiences with universal suffrage were anything but encouraging for a labour party. The revolutionary working-men of the Romance countries had become accustomed to look upon the ballot as a snare, as an instrument of oppression manipulated by the government.

In Germany it was different. The Communist Manifesto had already proclaimed the winning of universal suffrage, of democracy, as one of the first and most important tasks of the militant proletariat, and Lassalle had taken up the point again. And when Bismarck saw that he was forced to introduce this franchise as the only means of getting the masses interested in his plans, our workingmen at once took the matter seriously and sent August Bebel into the constitutional convention. And from that day on they have used the ballot in a manner that has repaid them a thousand fold and has served as an example to the workingmen of all countries. They have transformed the ballot, in the words of the French Marxians, "de moyen de duperie, qu'il a ete jusqu'ici, en instrument d'emancipation" ; from a means of jugglery, which it has been heretofore, into an instrument of emancipation. And if universal suffrage had offered no other advantage than to allow us to count ourselves every three years, and by a regularly certified and unexpectedly rapid increase of votes to raise in equal degree the confidence of the workers and the terror of their opponents, and thus to become our best means of propaganda ; and to inform us exactly as to our own strength and as to that of all opposing parties, and thereby give us a standard for apportioning our activity such as could not be equalled ; and to save us both from untimely hesitation and untimely rashness: if that were the only benefit derived from the franchise, even then it would be enough and more than enough. But it has done far more. It gave us in election campaigns an unequalled opportunity to come in contact with the masses where they still stood aloof from us, and to force all parties to defend their views and actions before all the people against our attacks ; and it also opened to our representatives in Parliament, a forum from which they could talk to their opponents in Parliament as well as to the masses outside, with an entirely different tone of authority and freedom from what they could use in the press and in meetings. What good did the anti-Socialist law do the government and the bourgeoisie so long as the election campaigns and the Socialist speeches in Parliament were continually nullifying it ?


Note from ALB on the English translation of this text:

First published in English in an abridged form under the heading “Revolutionary Tactics” in The Plebs, London, 1921, Vol. 13, No. 1, January, pp. 12-15; No. 2, February, pp. 48-50; No. 3, March, pp. 71-74; No. 4, April, pp. 112-14. Published in full in English for the first time in: The Revolutionary Act, New York city, New York Labor News Company, 1922.

Apparently from MECW.

This link refers to an earlier translation:

“Excerpts from The Class Struggles in France were first published in English in the journal The Marxian, New York, 1921, Vol. 1, No. 2, and it appeared in full as a separate edition by Labour News Company, New York, 1924.”

Either there was an earlier American translation (the one in the Standard is American, see spellings of defense and pretense ) or the date of the one from the Marxian is wrong. Later quotes from Engels’ introduction are from the Plebs one.

I have the 1922 SLP edition and the one in the Standard is not the same as that. In fact I’ve sent it to the MIA and it is now up here.