From the April 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard
We often hear the above remark indiscriminately used by people claiming to be teachers in certain branches of knowledge. To the Socialist, however, accustomed as he is to viewing things according to their relative value to his class, the above phrase taken alone would not be likely to arouse much enthusiasm; for the first question he would probably ask would be, What kind of knowledge? One has to watch the roadway of a great bridge rise and fall, to stand beneath a mammoth ocean liner slowly creeping away from the quay, to see the wheels of production and distribution in motion in any large manufactory, to realise that the worker, who alone operates and makes possible this fabulous wealth, MUST POSSESS KNOWLEDGE, and of many distinctive and technical kinds, too, and yet he is a slave—cap in hand, often begging permission to be allowed to bring into being these very things. Obviously, there is some other knowledge he requires, for to what purpose is his knowledge if it but fetters him with chains of slavery? As William Morris wrote :—
"Faster and faster our iron master,
The thing we make for ever drives,
Bids us grind treasure and fashion pleasure,
For other hopes and other lives."
The knowledge necessary to set in motion or harness Nature's most terrible forces, merely obtains for the worker, upon the average, subsistence for wife and children, and not always that. The power such knowledge confers upon him is the power to produce and distribute the wherewithal upon which society has its being; luxury and affluence for a set of parasitic idlers; want, anxiety, and premature death for millions of his own class. NO ! there is yet one part of his mental equipment that is lacking, and that is the knowledge that he is a slave. The fact that he is no longer a bonded, but a wage or salaried one, does not make his servitude any the less real and complete, and honest introspection would compel admittance of this fact. It may or may not be true that "a little learning is a dangerous thing"—certainly as far as the Socialist is concerned, if that knowledge be CORRECT, he sees anything but danger to the working class, especially when it is consciously directed towards their ultimate goal—Socialism.
Every member of the Party commenced with a relatively small amount of knowledge, usually dearly bought in the hard school of working-class experience; but he knows that such a step inevitably leads to the desire to study and enlarge that knowledge. Unfortunately, the convert to Socialism is often inclined to enthuse over anything that is supposed to call for working-class activity and support; he is fired with zeal and interest in matters which, a later and clearer perception will teach, are about as much to do with the Socialist objective as the programme of the Labour Party or the constitution of the I.L.P. is. It by no means follows that he should not endeavour to understand each and every phase of political activity, but a clear understanding of his Socialist position IS FIRST NECESSARY to enable him to analyse and explain the uselessness of such and such a movement to his class. No member of the Labour Party could show that even the realisation of the whole of their programme would confer the slightest permanent benefit upon the workers; they can only impress and delude the politically ignorant. Mere eagerness to do something without an objective, which is the result of scientific deduction, may even be in a direct line to perpetuate decadent capitalism. All reforms are a standing example of such waste of effort as far as Socialism is concerned. The writer well remembers his association with the working-class movement before coming in contact with the principles of the S.P.G.B., and his support then of the Suffragette movement and certain reformist parties. He remembers wasting much time, and with great patience atttempting to assimilate the spurious economics of Marshall, Jevons, Shaw, etc., with other voluminous works not of first importance to student of Socialism, without, at the time, being fortunate enough to have had put in his way pamphlets and writings of Marx and Marxian Socialists.
It is often easier to instruct and help members of the working class in obtaining real Socialist knowledge who have NOT imbibed some half-baked unscientific notions of the so-called "Communist" and other organisations, seeking the support of the workers, than it is with those who, though professing Socialists, are confused, and, in reality, unconsciously enemies of the working class. Before one can lay any claim to the name of Socialist, it is essential that an understanding be based upon a scientifically drawn-up foundation; only then can the worker discard false conceptions and avoid the errors so common to the pseudo and the sentimental reformer.
That foundation is to be found in the principles of the Socialist Party. There, in simple, working-class language, is the guide to action. Once understood, no matter how brilliant the oratory or rhetoric, or how touching the appeal may be that is. made by people who claim that their heart bleeds for the worker—he will know that there is one way, and ONE WAY ONLY, to working-class emancipation, and that is. the way of class-conscious concerted action by the workers themselves. That is the knowledge that will enable the workers to obtain the power to wrest, by their political supremacy, the means to the glorious heritage that awaits them. Without that knowledge, however much skill and dexterity they may possess as workers, they remain slaves, by reason of the ignorance of their position in society. Once a majority obtain that knowledge, the advent of ibe Socialist Commonwealth is at hand. Fellow-workers, join with us; the smallest effort helps to speed the day.
W. E. MacHaffie