Saturday, September 9, 2023

Answers to Correspondents. (1905)

Letters to the Editors from the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

T.H.S. (Redruth).The reply of Councillor J. Jones at the Meeting in the Camborne Division referred to is entirely misleading. The question put to him appears to have been to this effect: Was Mr. Lee, the secretary of the S.D.F., shown at the Shoreditch Conference of that body to have deliberately deceived the membership in connection with a certain matter of importance (the circumstances attending the withdrawal of Geo, Lansbury as S.D.F. candidate for Bow and Bromley to wit). If Mr. Jones replied “that is a lie,” Mr. Jones is himself only just within the confines of the truth. The actual fact is that Mr. Lee was shown to have been guilty of a fabrication at the 1902 Conference of the S.D.F. and at the Shoreditch Conference in the following year he admitted the truth of the accusation levelled against him and announced that he would be prepared to lie again in the interests of his organization. That is why we asked in the issue of the Socialist Standard quoted from at Mr. Jones’ meeting, whether Mr. Lee’s indignant repudiation of the charge that the officials of his organization had accepted Tory gold on certain terms, was to be regarded as the utterance of strict truth or whether this was another occasion on which he felt himself justified in lying in the interests of his party. Mr. Jones will not be silly enough to deny the accuracy of this statement because Mr. Lee’s confession was made in open Conference within the hearing of several score of delegates and others, including Mr. Jones himself.

R. Walmer (Stepney).—You must not expect too much from “Reynolds.” It is a Liberal newspaper although it angles for working-class support by the somewhat virulent championship of what it calls “Democracy.” Of course it isn’t democracy at all but simply capitalist radicalism or unofficial Liberalism. As you are doubtless aware, a capitalist state can swallow all the political reforms so strenuously advocated by “Reynolds” without discomfort and has done so. Certainly the working-class have not profited and will not. Capitalism has nothing to fear from “Reynolds.” On the contrary, it is all to the advantage of Capitalism that it should continue to exist because the paper is a powerful aid to working-class sectionalism and confusion. Regret we cannot find room for your letter. The S.S. is a small paper at present and we cannot hope to publish all communications received.

Penko Petrov (Tambol).—We have only received one card from you, and replied by letter on March 13 to your queries respecting the Countess of Warwick and the British Socialist Movement. If you have since sent us a letter it has miscarried. We are glad to learn of the successful Five-days Congress of the Bulgarian Socialists.

G. Foster (Stockbridge).—Letter too late for this issue. Sorry you are in difficulties, but that is doubtless due to your endeavour to weigh half-sentences. Only by taking the whole of the article, and considering all the arguments adduced can you get a fair idea of the writer’s meaning. Your random selections can hardly be called fair quotation, we suggest.

Blogger's Notes:
With regards to the business involving Jack Jones and the SDF in Cornwall, please see the article, 'The Truth about Camborne', from the July 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard. Please check out the editorial, 'A Challenge', from this month's issue of the Socialist Standard.

Tribunes of the People. (1905)

From the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

To those who follow the sequence of political events with anything like interest, the extraordinary mental muddle manifested by some of the men whom the L.R.C. are content to pay at the rate of £200 per annum (200 dirty pieces of gold as the chairman of their group, Mr. John Burns, has so amiably phrased it) in connection with the Unemployed Bill, cannot have escaped notice. Before it passed the Commons Mr. Keir Hardie rose to explain that he had no hope, personally, that the bill could be of any use whatever, but as Mr. Crooks was somewhat sanguine in the matter he would be prepared to support it.

After the Bill had passed, Mr. Crooks is reported as having given it as his opinion that he was afraid the Bill was of no practical utility. So that Mr. Hardie supported the Bill knowing that it was useless because Mr. Crooks thought it wasn’t, and Mr. Crooks supported the Bill because he thought it was of some use and only afterwards found it wasn’t. Of the two which laid himself open to the greater censure—Mr. Hardie for voting against his knowledge on the recommendation of a man who apparently had no knowledge, or Mr. Crooks for voting on a subject requiring knowledge before first of all obtaining that knowledge ?

Literary Curiosities. No. 1.—Mr. Keir Hardie’s Election Address. (1905)

From the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Merthyr Boroughs Parliamentary Election 1900




It is with pleasure that I accept the hearty invitation of the


to come forward in the Labour interest as a Candidate for the representation of the constituency in the House of Commons.

The confidence and friendship shown by this invitation is an honour which I value as being far above riches.


I was among you endeavouring to cheer, encourage and strengthen you in the dark days of your recent great Industrial struggle. Not many years ago, when during the Hauliers’ Strike, the Government sent soldiers into your District, it was MY VOICE THAT PROTESTED against this in Parliament, when others upon whom you had more claims were silent.

My Programme is the Programme of Labour. My Cause is Labour’s Cause—the cause of Humanity,—the Cause of God.

For twenty-four years I have been before my fellow-men as a Trade-Union Official and a Political Leader.

MY RECORD FOR THESE YEARS is the best pledge I can give of what my future course of action will be. Whether in Parliament or out of it, I always have been, and always shall be found on the side of the Workers. I know everything that is to be known about the life and work of a Miner.

Born and reared in a Collier’s cottage, and afterwards working for FOURTEEN YEARS IN THE PIT, I know only too well what such a life means, and I am not willing that any human being should continue in the life without further essential reforms.

I am a Democrat in Politics, aad a Socialist in Economics. I first learned my Socialism in the New Testament, where I still find my chief inspiration.

Our claim for one representative is moderate and reasonable enongh. In a constituency where we are in an overwhelming majority, we ask but for half the representation. Workers ! in being true to me, you will be TRUE TO YOURSELVES ! Let us, then, work hard for a great Labour Victory at the Polls on Tuesday next.

I am, Gentlemen, Respectfully Yours,
J. Keir Hardie.

Lochnorris, Cumnock, Scotland,
September, 1900.

From Our Branches. (1905)

Party News from the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Romford Division.

Now that the East Ham Branch has commenced its useful career we can no longer claim the title of the Romford Division Branch, and this may be our last report under this heading. We who have been responsible for the hard slogging work in this Division have every reason to congratulate ourselves upon the results of our labours. Not only have the East Hammers been helped upon their feet, but considerable additions have been made to the membership of the parent branch. Since March, by dint of sheer hard work we have nearly trebled our membership, likewise our speakers, so that to-day this branch possesses five speakers capable of defending the Socialist position against all comers. We have lately extended our sphere of propaganda to Barking with every prospect of forming a local branch there before the outdoor season is finished, after which the market town of Romford will receive our attention. Sympathisers in district are invited to club premises any evening after 8 o’clock, when wre shall be glad to make their acquaintance, and to put them in the way of becoming members of the only militant organisation in the district.


The Islington Branch is well maintaining its stronghold in Finsbury Park, and we are steadily and surely convincing our audiences that we are the only party out for the entire abolition of the capitalist-class. Without in any way drawing the “long bow,” I can report that our Sunday meetings have been among the largest meetings held in the Park for some time past. The great interest shown by the audiences, and their inquiring attitude, foreshadow a large influx of class-conscious workers into our ranks in the near future. Within one month of the issuing of the Party Manifesto we sold 310 copies—we will soon have sold 500. The Party Organ is selling well. We sold 65 copies of No. 12 at our first Sunday meeting in August. We assure our comrades, especially the Paddington stalwarts, that they will have to look to their laurels as we intend to head the list in sales of Party literature.

Our comrades have successfully repelled the attacks of every other political faction who week by week congregate here. We have had a Mr. Wilson (Cobdenite) in opposition to Comrade Fitzgerald, while Comrade Lehane has knocked holes in Mr. Sansom’s (Tariff Reform League) facts and figures. Representatives of every party have an opportunity at these meetings of taking the platform against us and of showing where we fail to lay before the working-class a clear and logical position. Yet we still breathe !

At the corner of Highbury Fields, where we hold first-class meetings every Wednesday evening, there has just been erected a statue “In loving memory” of ninety-eight Islingtonians who died for their country in the last South African butchery. What of the memory of their widows and orphans ? Does the sight of this piece of cold statuary relieve their pangs of hunger ? Do their pinched and haggard faces light up with a “holy joy” when, instead of their bread-winner, they find a mass of comfortless bronze ? The little children cry for bread and are given a stone !

It is our mission to do what men may to usher in the glorious days of Socialism, in which oppression and butchery shall find no place, but a joyous existence for all shall be assured.
C. Thorp


Fellow members of the Watford Working-Class,

We put it to you that the organization which, claiming to be democratic and to have a free platform, declines to answer questions relating to its political attitude and refuses to defend in public discussion the position it has taken up (although it is quite willing to discuss that position in private) is an organization that has something to conceal.

The S.D.F. is such an organization. What it has to conceal may be clearly seen by a reference to the Manifesto of The Socialist Party of Great Britain (price 1d.) obtainable at the Sunday evening meetings of the Party in the Market Place, or from the local secretary.

Can an organization be “democratic” and refuse to answer questions directly relative to its existence ?

And what is the value of its claim to the possession of a “free” platform if it closes that platform to discussion ?

What is the value of its claim that it educates the working-class when it refuses to use one of the best educational weapons it has—public debate ?

What is the value of its claim that it organizes the working-class upon the basis of its class interests in opposition to the capitalist class when time and again it gives its support to the capitalist interest ?

Can an organization support the capitalist interest and the labour interest when, on its own showing, those interests are absolutely opposed ?

Can any organisation, except it lack wisdom or honesty, hold that it is serving working-class interests by supporting avowed representatives of capitalism ?

An honest organization lacking only wisdom would readily champion its attitude in public discussion; but what of the organization which, having the evidences of its stupidity brought under its notice, refuses to discuss those evidences? Is it lacking wisdom or honesty ?

The local Branch of the S.D.F. was formed regardless of the existence of the local I.L.P., yet no member of the Watford S.D.F. can show a single point of material difference between the two bodies. What then is the value of the S.D.F. protestation in favour of what it calls “Socialist” unity?

These are a few of the questions we ask you to answer for yourselves and to insist upon the members of the local S.D.F. answering. They will doubtless endeavour to stave off your interrogations by irrelevant talk of “abuse,” “misrepresentation,” “vilification” and so forth. When we ask these questions they call it abuse ; when we ask you to note their replies they call it misrepresentation.

Do not, however, allow them to put you off the scent. Read the Manifesto of The Socialist Party of Great Britain and satisfy yourselves that we have sound ground for our impeachment of the S.D.F. as a working-class organization and then call upon them to justify their position or go.
The Watford Branch.

Damning quotes. (1905)

From the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Practical Socialism is so simple that a child may understand it. It is a kind of National Scheme of Co-operation managed by the State. . . . The postal and telegraph service is the standing proof of the capacity of the State to manage the public business with economy and success". (!!!) Labour Leader Leaflet.

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"Major General Franklyn has been appointed chairman of the committee at the War Office to consider and report on the arrangements for the reception at home of invalids from the seat of hostilities in case of war. As a matter of fact, the existing arrangements are admirable. Our wounded are always received with enthusiasm by a grateful nation, and when the enthusiasm wears off there is always the workhouse." Evening News.

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"Our criminals, our lunatics, our paupers, our confirmed inebriates, are all living under better hygienic conditions than millions of the sane, the sober, the self-helpful and the honest who inhabit the more crowded quarters of our cities. . . In plain English, the law of life is a hundredfold better applied in our prisons, our asylums, and our workhouses, than it is in the quarters in which our honest poor do congregate".—Referee.

#    #    #    #

"I attribute this great growth of semi-insanity to the horrible conditions under which so many people are born and live. A class is being produced that is devoid of moral fibre and of intellectual force. These people lead aimless and hopeless lives. And what, I ask, can you expect from the progeny of such as these ?" T. Holmes, Police-court Missionary.

Books and Booklets. The Philosophy of a Farceur. (1905)

GBS in 1905.
Book Review from the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw.

Said my friend of the Civil Service, “You should read Shaw. He will broaden your outlook. You are too narrow and bigoted and pedantic. Marxists always are. Shaw faces facts, he doesn’t blink them. His philosophy embraces them all. Read him !” Then came Mr. Bettany in the Bookman to say “Bernard Shaw … is a profoundly and persistently earnest person.” So that I began to feel that perhaps Shaw had not been fairly treated. It occurred to me that the gorgeous buffoonery of certain of his contributions to newspapers and magazines, or the desperate nonsense of “Fabianism and Empire” which represented the sum total of my knowledge of Shaw’s work, were probably not fair material upon which to base an estimate of a man’s position. Alternatively it was suggested to me that if his position was as faulty as I then thought it, it might have happened that Shaw had considered the error, not to say the silliness, of his ways. How else could the opéra bouffe Shaw become the profoundly earnest Shaw ?

Therefore I have recently read the book specially commended to me as an example of the profoundly earnest Shaw, the Shaw of the great and all embracing philosophy, the incisive logician, Shaw. I have read “Man and Superman” and I’m glad I obtained the copy from the free library and risked none of my hardly earned siller in a purchase. 

(a) An epistle dedicatory to A. B. Walkley.
(b) The play “Man and Superman.”
(c) The Revolutionist’s Handbook.
(d) Maxims for Revolutionists.
With regard to (a) there is nothing to be said except that I’m sorry for Mr. Walkley and hope he knows what Mr. Shaw is talking about. If he does—and as Mr. Shaw claims him for something in the nature of a kindred spirit he may—he is probably the only one, apart from Mr. Shaw (although I am inclined to make no exception of Mr. Shaw even), in that happy (or is it unhappy ?) position, he is the Superman !

(b) Is of so much importance to the elaboration and explanation of Mr. Shaw’s theme that it can he taken out of the book entirely as extraneous matter ! The play, with the exception of an interlude in Hell, in which Don Juan holds prosy converse with the devil upon various philosophic issues greatly to the discomfort of the latter has no material connection with the conservation of the Life Force which Mr. Shaw is concerned to expound, and seems to have been introduced to fill the book out and to give the writer an opportunity for the manufacture of a few grotesque situations, a few flouts at what is known as respectability, a few gibes at convention and a few sneers at Socialists of the type that Mr. Shaw has specially created for his own amusement, a type that exists only in the perverted imagination of Mr. Shaw and the imaginations of those who swear by him—like my civil servant—and who, although they heroically assume the label “Socialist” for certain genteel and cultured functions at which they can pose effectively as personifications of heterodoxy and advanced thought, know so little of Socialism and its champions that they are unaware that their leader has, to utilise a useful colloquialism, “sold them a pup.”

Mr. Shaw’s method in this, as in his other efforts, is the method of the iconoclast run mad. Every conception of good, every aspiration to the higher and nobler, is, in common with the expressions of convention and orthodoxy, transformed into idols only to be knocked down and danced npon. The false and the true, the just and the unjust, meet an identical fate. Why not ? Mr. Shaw has a reputation to maintain. He is expected to do these things. And he will continue to do them until the “intellectuals” whom he patronises and who patronise him, have found another god to break the idol, Shaw.

The play consists in great part of a tilt against the marriage convention. The man (Tanner) who is aware of the operation of the Life Force which makes man the quarry and woman the eternal hunter, has fled from the woman (Ann) who, animated by the same force, has marked him out as the predestined father of the child she is to bear. She has overtaken him, and their courtship, so sacred a proceeding to orthodoxy, finds expression thus—
Tanner—And do you care for me ?
Ann—Now, Jack, behave yourself.
Tanner—Infamous, abandoned woman ! Devil !
Ann—Boa-constrictor ! Elephant!
After which they marry ! Their offspring might easily have been Councillor McAllen if heredity can transmit a predisposition to the use of similar language.

However, the play in this case is not the thing. The thing is

(c) The Revolutionist’s Handbook. In it Mr. Shaw sets out his gospel and his philosophy. To him nothing matters except the production of the mentally fit. Physical fitness is subservient to, although he is obliged to concede that is necessary to the mental. And Mr. Shaw, the facile and the incisive, works to his conclusions by the extraordinary process of swallowing the propositions of those whose opinions he derides as unsound and unscientific, although he endeavours to cover the weakness of his position with a profusion of “flashy” words and pseudo-cynical comments sufficient to gladden the hearts of the shallow pates who hail him genius.

We learn that although revolutionists make too much of the obstacles set up by property, the very first condition to the production of the Superman is that every person should be trained and nourished as a possible parent; which implies the abrogation of property because property in the hands of a class means the subjugation and enslavement of the propertyless, and produces the very conditions that constitute the problem, creates the very obstacles to the effectual handling of it.

Again, the practical abrogation of property and marriage, the two institutions having the greatest hold upon the mass of the people, yet the two which must be broken down before it is possible to successfully experiment in the procreation of the mentally fit, will, we are assured, occur without being much noticed, and this notwithstanding that “God himself cannot raise a people above its own level.” On the one hand one of the greatest changes of all is to be effected without the people knowing anything about it, and on the other no change worth talking about can be wrought except by the consent of these same people, a consent that is dependent upon understanding, as Mr. Shaw is at pains to emphasize with predictions of catastrophe, unless we can have a democracy of Supermen ! Which seems as intelligent a presentation as the Keir Hardie idea of Socialism coming as a thief in the night.

From whence then will the superfine mental mechanism of mankind come, and how ? Mr. Shaw apparently doesn’t know, but he is sure it must be born of a woman (which isn’t exactly profound) and must be the result of careful investigation and experiment (which isn’t exceedingly helpful).

He talks of possible human stud farms, either privately or State controlled and the like, but he does not deal with the question of first importance in this connection, viz., how every person is to be properly trained and nourished as a possible parent.

The whole of his argument elaborately evades this point. We are treated to page after page of the usual fantastic and irrelevant flummery that will doubtless satisfy an “intellectual,” but will hardly mislead a serious student even of elementary political economy.

The fact is of course, that only by the removal of the obstacles set up by the present form of property ownership can the conditions favourable to the birth of super-witted men aud women be secured. And those obstacles can only be removed, as it would seem Mr. Shaw is obliged to allow, by an intelligent democracy understanding the underlying causes of the present property relationship and ready to apply the remedy.

And what are those underlying causes ?

They consist of the private possession of the machinery of production and the consequent oppression and exploitation of the non-possessors of that machinery. And the remedy ? Clearly the public ownership and control of the machinery from which alone the property owner derives his power, and the exercise of which results in the creation and aggravation of the problem Mr. Shaw set out to deal with.

We cannot move a step without being forcibly brought up against the obstacles raised by property. Mr. Shaw may squirm and wriggle and throw off a cloud of words in his endeavour to escape facing the results of the contention which his desire to score off the low-bred Marxists has led him to make. But he will have to come back in the last resort to their position, and although he will no doubt carry off his own humiliation by a display of rhetorical fireworks of super brilliancy, he must eat his leek, nevertheless.

I read Shaw for the improvement of my mind, but Shaw has no material wherewith to broaden it. His wonderful philosophy based upon a recognition of the persistence of the Life Force is absorbed with the first milk of every student of biology. His indictment of convention and orthodoxy has no merit of originality. His pessimistic estimate of the possibilities of the working-class population is no more than the outcome of a superficial survey of industrial evolution, a survey that takes no serious cognizance of the dependency of all expressions of human activity upon methods of production, and that therefore neither appreciates the fact that the stupidity and apathy of the working-class are directly tracable to their centuries old subjugation, nor that the removal of the forces that keep them in subjection (the obstacles set up by property) will ensure their rehabilitation as—if Mr. Shaw pleases—potential supermen. Mr. Shaw has no message for the earnest enquirer after the truth. He has built his reputation upon an extensive vocabulary, a literary smartness that serves only to lead him into impossible positions, and a certain ability to lampoon. With sublime and characteristic conceit he has repeatedly asserted his capacity to bury the reputation of Marx. It would be wiser if he first of all took the trouble to read him.

The final few pages of the book are made up of (d) Maxims for Revolutionists, some of which are smart enough. But they suffer from the Shavian lack of discrimination already referred to. The method is easy enough. We take an accepted maxim, such as, say, “Honour thy father and thy mother and thy days shall be long in the land,” and we change it into “Don’t worry about the honour due to your father and mother or your days are not likely to be very lengthy.” It would be no difficult task for a man with some skill with the pen to manufacture a few such “maxims.” Set among some of the genuine articles it would, I doubt not, puzzle many of the most enthusiastic disciples of Mr. Shaw to divide the sheep from the goats.

However, the book will, I expect, find lodgement in the flats of the faithful and on the shelves of “culture.” It is by G.B.S., and G.B.S. happens to be the thing just now.
A. J. M. Gray

Now Ready: Volume 1 of the Socialist Standard. (1905)

Party News from the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

The S.P.G.B. Lecture List September. (1905)

Party News from the September 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

Majority Understanding V. Direct Action (1972)

From the September 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The various public opinion polls are not always a precise guide to what people think and feel, but one thing they establish beyond any question is the very large proportion of the workers who are actively discontented with their conditions of life. No pollster wastes time asking “Are you happy?”; always it is in the form “Which of your many hardships and frustrations upsets you most?” And we welcome the fact that at least the discontented are not generally passive; on the contrary they are impatient to have something done as quickly as possible.

They divide roughly into two groups, the ones who are content to try to change, from within, the leadership and policies of the large political parties and the others, including the so-called left-wing organizations of all kinds, who want to do it themselves and have a go at direct action.

Some of the discontented and disillusioned take a passing glance at the Socialist Party of Great Britain, only — as regards most of them — to write us off as too slow, too theoretical, too narrow, too “unrevolutionary”. Why, they ask, don’t we unite with “the other socialist bodies” to speed the revolution by political strikes, demos, riots, bomb-throwing or guerrilla action, whichever happens to be their favourite tactic? Why, they ask, does the Socialist Party of Great Britain refuse to recognize the achievement of Socialism in Russia, China, Cuba, etc. and stand aside theorizing, while the real battle is being fought by the “revolutionaries”?

The first point to get clear is what constitutes being revolutionary. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is a revolutionary organization because its object is to bring about a complete, revolutionary, change in the structure of society, to replace capitalism by Socialism. Action to bring about changes of the law within capitalism, or to get higher wages, is not revolutionary, and trying to achieve these changes by violence or lawbreaking does not thereby become revolutionary. It is not true that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is just one of a number of organizations having Socialism as their aim, and that what divides us from them is the question of method. Our aim of a socialist system is not their aim. This is not any the less true because some of them carry as a mere piece of decoration the aim of an ultimate socialist objective, which however in no way guides their policies and tactics and will never be achieved by the activities they carry on. Our aim is Socialism, not state capitalism or the reform of capitalism; and we do not want, either in the long or the short term, to see workers wasting time and energy on electing Labour governments to run capitalism or Communist governments to pursue the dead end of a Russian state capitalist system.

Our case is that the problems of the working class — poverty, exploitation, unemployment, wars, etc. — from which the working class suffers in all countries in the world without exception, cannot be solved either by peaceful reformism or by violent direct action, and that the revolutionary principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain are the only way to achieve the socialist solution.

For us the end and the means are in harmony. The future socialist system of society embodying common ownership and democratic control, and operating in the interests of the whole community, will require the understanding and co-operation of the great mass of the population: Socialism cannot be imposed from above. Even if therefore it were theoretically possible for a minority favouring Socialism to come to power, it would be quite unable to introduce Socialism.

It follows therefore that the paramount need before Socialism becomes a practical possibility is that the great majority of the working class must be won over to an understanding of capitalism and Socialism. This is the task facing the socialist movement, a task totally ignored by the reformist and direct-action movements. Their defence has always been that propagating Socialism is useless because the working class cannot understand it. How would they know — for they have never tried? In greater or less degree they all share Lenin’s contemptuous attitude towards the workers’ ability to understand, as reported by John Reed:
If socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see socialism for at least five hundred years.
In place of working-class understanding they offer inspired guidance by the leader of the "intellectual minority”, which in practice degenerates into wrangling and feuding about who is the proper leader and how to counteract betrayal by the chosen ones. Their demand is for "good leaders”: ours is for the understanding in which leaders play no part.

When the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed it was recognized that, as Engels wrote in the Preface to Marx’s Class Struggles in France, "So that the masses may understand what is to be done, long and persistent work is required”. It has been a longer task than Engels or the Socialist Party anticipated, but there is no other way, there are no short cuts. When that task has been completed the socialist working class needs to gain control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces, in order to take away from the capitalist class and their agents the power to dominate society, and thus to clear the way for Socialism.

Having said this, we meet the argument of the defeatists who say: Suppose the capitalists or some minority of them or some military group refused to relinquish their hold — would this not prove the weakness of the Socialist Party argument? In their support they point to examples of ruling-class groups who have in fact defied civil authorities and parliamentary majorities. Their supposed evidence is utterly irrelevant. We are relying on an internationally united working class, something which has never yet been in the world or any part of the world. When the world working class is overwhelmingly socialist, socialists will predominate or at least be in a position of strength throughout capitalist production, distribution and administration, not excluding the armed forces — in the factories and workshops, in transport and communications, in the trade unions, in the government and local-government services. In such a situation any attempt to thwart the will of society would at worst be a nuisance, a futile gesture, not a serious impediment.

It is not the Socialist who is being foolish in seeking to gain democratic control of the machinery of government and the armed forces, but the advocates of direct action. They first tell the workers to place in power political parties like the Labour Party which use their governmental position to perpetuate capitalism, and then tell the workers to take direct action against that government and the armed forces it controls. Even within the narrow framework of their reformist aims the "left wingers” who advocate violence and direct action are short-sighted. History is full of examples of reactionary governments capitalizing on violence and disorder (even on occasion using agents provocateurs to promote it) by proclaiming themselves the protectors of “law and order” and thereby winning the support of sections of the electorate which would otherwise not give much support.

One last word on the discontent about the hardships and evils of modern capitalism. Efforts to improve capitalism either by peaceful reform or by direct action are not new. The present discontents come after a hundred years of such activities. These activities were supposed to remove the evils — from war to unemployment, from poverty to bad housing, from overwork to high prices. Hundreds of struggles have been fought, hundreds of reform measures have been put in the statute books, hundreds of demonstrations for peace and disarmament conferences have been held — and not one of the evils has been removed. In effect we are being asked to waste another hundred years on more of the same.

Correcting Lenin we may say that unless the working class throw overboard their faith in reforms, with or without direct action, and their trust in leadership, and turn their minds to understanding Socialism, capitalism and its discontents will still be with us in five hundred years — unless before then war pushes us back into a new dark age.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Five Jailed Dockers (1972)

From the September 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The dockers are worried about their jobs, or rather about the drop in standard of living they will suffer if they lose them. Since 1967 the number of dockers has fallen by a third, from 60,000 to 40,000, mainly as a result of the so-called container revolution. One aspect of this problem has been that much container work, even in dock areas, has been done by workers other than dockers, some non-union, some members of other unions, but all generally at lower wages.

It is the policy of the dockers’ unions, the Transport and General Workers Union and the rival National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers (expelled from the TUC in 1959 for “poaching” TGWU members), that the work should be done by dockers, at dockers’ wages. To this end, the dockers have taken various forms of industrial action, official and unofficial, legal and illegal, from blacking container firms to a national docks strike.

A number of the blacked container firms took the TGWU and some of the shop stewards (from both unions) to the National Industrial Relations Court complaining that the blacking was an “unfair industrial practice”. The Court agreed : the TGWU was fined at least £55,000 and, eventually, five dockers sent to prison for “contempt of Court”.

The reaction to the jailings shows that working-class, or at least trade-union, solidarity still exists. Besides other dockers, thousands of newspaper workers, miners, train drivers and others (including those at the blacked Midland Cold Storage depot) stopped work. Such was the pressure that even the TUC would have called a one-day general strike of all its ten million members if the five dockers hadn’t been released, an unprecedentedly during move from the Knights of Congress House. And of course they were released, obviously as a result of this working-class resistance. The government itself may not have directly influenced the Courts, but the workers on strike did. The House of Lords and NIRC were left with no alternative but to hurriedly concoct some legal excuse for letting the men out.

This was a successful defensive action by the working class and one which the Socialist Party of Great Britain welcomes just as we would have supported the one-day TUC general strike. Not of course that we share the romantic illusions of those who thought that such a strike might have been the beginning of “the revolution”, but because experience has shown that, on occasions such as this was, a general strike can be a useful weapon to defend the interests of the working class within capitalism. The Industrial Relations Act was designed to make working-class industrial action in defence of wages and working conditions less effective, so it is in the interest of the working class to try to make the Act itself ineffective.

This said, there is one reservation we must make, from a Socialist and working-class point of view, about the dockers’ activities. Their struggle had a sectional aspect in that they were pushing their interests as one section of the working class not just against employers but against another section of the working class. For their demand that container work should be done by dockers is a demand that it should not be done by those now doing it. This at least was how it was seen by the workers at Midland Cold Storage, all members of the TUC-affiliated Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW). In a leaflet dated 10 July and issued to lorry drivers they declared:
“We are entitled to defend jobs that are ours. The dockers want our jobs and with your help are prepared to close down our firm. Why? The work we do is no different to that done in the many Cold Stores throughout the country.. We are not blacklegs — we are ordinary working men and we want our jobs. Dockers who picket our Depot have no greater claim to work available in a community. If they have, is your job really safe?”
It is because we as Socialists stand for the interests of the working class as a whole that we cannot take sides in such inter-union or inter-worker disputes and cannot endorse the dockers’ campaign.

Their action in picketing places such as Midland Cold Storage, though understandable (as is the reaction of the USDAW members employed there), illustrates one of the limitations of trade unionism. Trade unions, as the very word suggests, represent not the working class but just sections of it, their members, and in pursuit of the legitimate aim of protecting their members’ standard of living often emphasise, and exaggerate, the sectional divisions within the working class. This the Socialist Party does not support.

Needless to say, the concern expressed for the other workers by their employers and Mr. Heath was so much hypocrisy. The former were concerned rather with not having to pay dockers’ wage rates and Mr. Heath with saving his anti-working class Industrial Relations Act. Some of the older dockers may also have seen as hypocritical too the support expressed by the Labour Party for the five jailed men. They may have recalled the occasion in 1951 when a Labour Attorney General, acting on the instructions of a Labour cabinet which included Mr. Wilson, prosecuted some dockers for breaking an anti-strike order, also unsuccessfully as it turned out.

So, while the solidarity strikes to get the dockers released demonstrated the usefulness of trade unionism for the working class, the pickets and counter-pickets at the docks demonstrated the opposite: its tendency to divide the working class by sections rather than to unite them as a class. Working class unity, which is indispensable if capitalism is to be ended and replaced by Socialism, is a task for a political, not the industrial, organisation of the working class. To this end the Socialist Party of Great Britain exists and we appeal to all workers to join our struggle so that the system which forces them to engage in these degrading squabbles for jobs can be quickly abolished.

Background to Northern Ireland: "A Protestant Government" (1972)

From the September 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Ulster Unionists weren’t too happy about the 1920 Government of Ireland Act for, although it provided for Partition, it clearly intended that this should be only temporary. Fortunately for them the Republicans in the South didn’t think much of it either and stood by their January 1919 Declaration of Independence under which an all-Ireland Republican government had purportedly been set up. The 1921 Treaty which ended the resulting Anglo-Irish War made Partition likely to be much more permanent than originally intended and the Ulster Unionists settled down to govern their own six-county statelet.

The Belfast parliament was not just a glorified county council. It had some real political power since it had at its disposal armed force: the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), a para-military police force along the lines of the old Royal Irish Constabulary which had been set up in the 19th Century to help hold down the Irish peasantry. This was soon supplemented by a much larger force of part-time auxiliary policemen, also armed and all Protestants (the RUC at least had some Catholic members), called B Specials.

The Belfast parliament also had the power to legislate on law and order in the six counties and one of their first measures was to pass the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act of 1922. This notorious Act, which was renewed annually for some years before being made permanent, allowed the government to detain people and intern them without trial, to ban meetings and newspapers and — the clause one South African Prime Minister said he’d scrap all his own repressive legislation for — arrest a person who does anything “calculated to be prejudicial to the preservation of peace or maintenance of order in Northern Ireland and not specifically provided for in the regulations”. The immediate political problem which faced the new Unionist government was that a third of its subjects — the Nationalist, Catholic minority — were opposed, sometimes violently, to its very existence and would have preferred to be governed by the newly-established Southern Irish ruling class in Dublin. They had to be subdued — by terror and intimidation. Already in 1920 there had been a vicious anti-Catholic pogrom in Belfast, when Catholic workers were driven out of the shipyards, their homes burned and their wives and children sent fleeing South. In other parts too of the about-to-be-established “Northern Ireland” Catholics were driven across what was soon to be the Border. After Partition the B Specials and the Special Powers Act were to be the permanent weapons of anti-Nationalist, anti-Catholic intimidation.

But not even this was a sufficient guarantee to the Belfast capitalists and their politicians in the Unionist party that some day by some means the Northern Nationalists might not succeed in re-uniting Ireland — behind the dreaded tariff walls. The normal rules of political democracy had to be set aside. Before Partition the British government had introduced proportional representation in Ireland, first for local and then for general elections. The Ulster Unionists never liked this for the very reason that it would give the Northern Nationalists representation in proportion to their numbers! They resolved to abolish it at the first opportunity, and did — in 1923 for local elections and in 1929 for general elections. This paved the way for the further gerrymandering of local council boundaries, particularly in areas with Nationalist majorities such as the town of Londonderry and the counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone. Derry was the most notorious example: here a two-thirds Nationalist majority among the electorate was turned into a two-thirds Unionist majority on the council. This was not only because Derry had an important role in Orange mythology, but also — and more importantly — because it was the centre of the Ulster shirt-making industry which, like Belfast heavy industry, was geared to Britain and its export markets. In fact at the time of the 1924 Boundary Commission the Derry shirt manufacturers specifically argued against being transferred to the Free State on the grounds that this would cut them off from markets behind possible Irish tariff walls.

From some points of view Northern Ireland itself was one big gerrymander. The Belfast capitalists were primarily concerned with keeping the link between industrialized East Ulster and Britain, but were prepared to take in other areas so long as they had a Unionist, Protestant majority. The full nine counties of Ulster had a slight Nationalist, Catholic majority which was obviously unacceptable. But once Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan had been conceded to the Free State the Unionists had a two-thirds majority in the remaining six counties, despite the fact that Fermanagh and Tyrone too had Nationalist majorities.

So, right from the start, Northern Ireland was corrupt from a democratic point of view. Not that the Unionist politicians who ruled continuously from 1921 ever bothered to pretend otherwise until a few years ago. Lord Craigavon, its first Prime Minister (who as James Craig had before the war been a leader of the planned Ulster Provisional Government with its armed UVF), openly declared in 1932, “Ours is a Protestant government”, and in July 1934 told the Belfast parliament, “We are a Protestant parliament and a Protestant State” (quoted in Divided Ulster by Liam De Paor).

Such sentiments were repeated by subsequent Northern Ireland Prime Ministers including Lord Brookeborough, the man who once boasted that he did not “have a Roman Catholic about my own place” and who remained Prime Minister until 1963.

One of the reforms introduced in Britain after the second world war was “one man, one vote” in local council elections. Previously only ratepayers and their wives had been able to vote while under certain circumstances a businessman could have more than one vote. The Ulster Unionist government in Northern Ireland chose not to implement this reform for the crude reason that it would have enfranchised more Nationalists than Unionists. It was estimated that this left at least a quarter of adult men and women without a vote in local elections.

Local councils also had other opportunities to discriminate against Nationalists and Catholics. Certain jobs and houses were reserved for Protestants and particularly for supporters of the Unionist party.

The Catholic minority gave its political support to the reactionary and clerical-dominated Nationalist party who were often known as “Green Tories” and, in Belfast and one or two other towns, to various Labour parties — “Irish Labour”, “Republican Labour” and even on occasions “Northern Ireland Labour”. The Nationalist party lost much of its support at the 1969 Northern Ireland general election to various Civil Rights and Labour candidates who later formed the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), at the moment the main political party supported by the Catholic minority.

The Unionists retained the support of the Protestant workers and small farmers by continuing to stir up sectarian hatreds and fears. It was a measure of the backwardness of politics there that “REMEMBER 1690”, "NOT AN INCH", "NO SURRENDER” and the like were, and still are, powerful political slogans. The Unionists successfully tricked the Protestant workers into believing that there was some special advantage for them in Northern Ireland being part of Britain rather than of Ireland. The Protestant worker came to believe that he was privileged as compared with his Catholic fellow worker and that any extension of civil rights to the Catholics would be a threat to his supposed privileges. This was a great illusion, but one which has retained mass Protestant working class support for the Unionist party, the Northern Ireland counterpart of the British Tories. The average Protestant worker has never even advanced to the limited-enough trade union and reformist consciousness represented by support for a Labour party. The Northern Ireland Labour Party, despite protestations of loyalty to the Crown and even of support for the Special Powers Act, has always remained a small minority party.

The Protestant worker never has been in any privileged position. He has always suffered from the working-class problems of poverty, slums and unemployment. And indeed it was only because of this that Unionist local councils were able to bribe a few of them with the occasional job or house in preference to a Catholic worker. One of the more pathetic Northern Ireland scenes has always been to see on the twelfth of July the Protestant slums of Belfast adorned with the unintentionally ironic banner, “THIS WE WILL MAINTAIN”.

The trade union movement in Northern Ireland is largely an extension of that of the rest of Britain and is the one mass organisation which unites both Protestants and Catholics, though there are two “transport and general workers’ unions” in the docks, one Protestant, the other Catholic. As in the South trade unions suffered more legal restrictions than in Britain, at least until the recent Industrial Relations Act. This Act does not apply to Northern Ireland (so making here, somewhat ironically, the part of the whole British Isles with the least restrictive trade union laws), but the 1927 Trades Disputes Act passed as a punitive measure after the British General Strike still applies and on one occasion the Special Powers Act was used against trade unionists. The main effect of this Act has been to make trade unionists who want to pay the political levy to finance the pro-capitalist Labour Party “contract in” (but Socialists don’t object to this since it is more democratic than the British system whereby those who don’t want to finance the Labour Party have to “contract out”).

This situation — where a corrupt Unionist clique ruled continuously by lies and threats and, despite having majority support, undemocratic practices — was accepted by successive Westminster governments, Labour as well as Conservative, until the whole system began to break down in 1968 and 1969.

As long as the Southern Ireland government pursued a protectionist policy the demand for a United Ireland, which most Catholics in the North supported, really was a threat to the material interests of the Belfast capitalists. Accordingly, those interests demanded that the Unionists continue to stir up sectarianism as a means of retaining mass support for Union with the British market. But when, from about 1960 onwards, the Southern Ireland government finally abandoned protection and sought, and eventually got, free trade with Britain (including Northern Ireland), the Irish Nationalism of the Catholic minority was not such a threat and the way was open for more friendly relations between Belfast and Dublin. This change was symbolized by the resignation in 1959 of De Valera as Prime Minister and his later election as figure-head President of the Irish Republic and the resignation in 1963 of Lord Brookeborough as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

De Valera’s successor, Lemass, began to speak of the North as “Northern Ireland” instead of the previously obligatory “Six Counties”, thus conceding it a certain amount of legitimacy. In the North the Nationalist MPs agreed to become “her majesty’s” official opposition and Brookeborough’s successor, O’Neill, authorised flags on official buildings to fly at half-mast on the death of Pope John in June 1963, a startling sight in a city like Belfast where the slum walls were daubed with the slogan “NO POPE HERE”. In January 1965 Lemass travelled secretly to meet O’Neill in Belfast; the following month O’Neill slipped off to Dublin. In December the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement was signed. It appeared that the future held out the gradual disappearance of the sectarian bitterness which had been a feature of Northern Ireland political life since the 1880’s, a hope seemingly confirmed by the failure of the 1956-62 IRA campaign against the North because of lack of support from the Catholic minority.

But this was not to be. The Unionist government could now without danger have abandoned its corrupt and undemocratic practices and O’Neill — the first Northern Ireland Prime Minister not to claim to be governing a Protestant State for a Protestant People — did urge this. But it was no easy task for the Unionist political machine to suddenly turn off the hatreds it had assiduously cultivated for the previous eighty years. In fact nearly every prominent figure in Northern Ireland life — judges and Church leaders as well as politicians — is on record as saying, not so very long ago, what the Rev. Ian Paisley now says.

When a Civil Rights movement arose to demand the end of the various corrupt and undemocratic practices — the gerrymandering, the restricted franchise, discrimination over housing and jobs, the B Specials and the Special Powers Act — the Unionist government, with present Ulster Vanguard leader William Craig as Home Affairs Minister, reacted as it had done towards all previous opposition movements supported by Catholics: it saw it as a threat to the existence of the Unionist statelet, as a Republican plot to be ruthlessly crushed. It was a fatal mistake which within four years led to the overthrow, by a British Tory government, of fifty years of Unionist rule in Northern Ireland. In any event, almost the whole Civil Rights programme — with the exception of the repeal of the Special Powers Act, but even this would probably have been replaced by something less comprehensive but just as effective had not war broken out between the Provisional IRA and the British Army in February 1971 — had already been conceded. In fact the franchise in Northern Ireland is now wider than in the Republic: it gives votes at 18 while the South still sticks to 21.

So Northern Ireland too is now back where it was before the first world war: ruled directly from Britain. The fifty-year stretch of Ulster Unionist rule over the six counties of North-East Ireland stands out as an episode in the development of capitalism in Ireland, as a means of preventing the Belfast capitalists from having been cut off from the rest of industrial Britain behind the tariff walls of an agricultural Ireland. The fear of the effect this would have had on profits has been the material basis of Belfast’s steadfast Unionism and "Loyalty”. The Unionists, as the saying puts it, were basically more loyal to the half-crown than the Crown.
Adam Buick

For an exposure of the Southern Irish Capitalist Republic see last month’s issue.

Make-Believe Revolutionaries: Two Case-Histories of Direct Action (1972)

From the September 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

A commonplace response to the Socialist case, by people who find it unanswerable, is that it is “all right in theory”. The implication is that there is something separate from and superior to theories, called Practice. This is, to start with, a misunderstanding of the nature of theory. Theory does not precede or stand apart from practice: on the contrary, it is the conclusion from practice — from what has happened and what is observed.

The sort of Practice implied, therefore, is action which does not give a hang for the known facts. The practitioners never state it like that, of course; they are Getting Things Done, and Striking a Blow for this or that. In recent years its special manifestation has been Direct Action, the doctrine of people taking things into their own hands and launching themselves against the system. Looking at some well-known instances, it is possible to see Practice in practice. Does direct action work?

The squatter movement began in 1968, as a venture by the East London Libertarian Group. “Venture” is an accurate enough term: it was preceded by agitations over housing conditions at Coventry Cross, conditions in an unmarried mothers’ home in Walthamstow, and claimants’ grievances at the local Social Security office. For several weeks the squatter campaign consisted of Sunday afternoon visits to examples of inequality in housing. Invited groups of libertarians met without knowing where they would be taken — mystery tours, as a delighted anarchist described them without qualms over the leadership principle.

The general history of the squatter battles at Ilford and derivative episodes elsewhere, when the occupation of empty property began, is well enough known. Demonstration about homelessness became an infection in the Left; the north-west anarchist federation’s bulletin described it as “the highest form of revolutionary activity possible in Britain today”. But in fact the campaign’s first casualty was the proclaimed revolutionary content, the deadest mortality the anarchist slogan “Do it yourself”. For the avowed purpose was to promote direct action among the working class, and it never happened. The families which squatted in empty houses were taken to, installed and defended in them by the libertarian groups. No one did it himself.

Scalps & Souls
The Ilford episode ended in a treaty with the Council, which undertook — on certain conditions — to make condemned houses available for homeless families. The terms re-invoked the original presumption of the mystery tours: they were made not by the house-seekers or by collective decision of the agitators, but by the East London Libertarians’ leader Ron Bailey. Among the conditions was one that the houses where the siege had raged were to be given up, including a house in which a group of libertarians had made their own commune. On their eviction Freedom had a bitter, passionate article headed “The Soul of a Movement”. It was, they felt, as if the Redskin chief had started trading his own braves’ scalps to the white man.

Freedom Press was enthusiastic for squatting, and for the London hippies who occupied buildings in the Drury Lane-Piccadilly area: the “commune of the streets”. In 1969, after successive evictions, some of the hippies went to Freedom, cited the paper’s persistent encouragement of them and pointed out that the Freedom/Express Printers building in Angel Alley, Whitechapel, had empty rooms galore. The building had been acquired and renovated in the previous two years. The Freedom group felt a moral compulsion — they had supported, vindicated, egged-on; so they let the army of hippy squatters in. In the next two weeks, the building was turned to a shambles. Hell’s Angels stood guard, demanding subscriptions from anarchists who went there. The culminating incident was lead-stripping — from the roof above, from the printing works below. Describing it all in an article, the Freedom group asked unhappily: “What were we to do?” The movement’s soul was certainly a soul in torment.

Uncritical Support
At its height, squatting had a great deal of public sympathy. It had the Left and libertarian groups working together; and it illustrated succinctly all their misdirections and failings. “Direct action” failed, in circumstances most favourable to it. Indeed, the term “squatting” was a misnomer, implying people spontaneously taking possession. As has been said, that never happened: “installation” would have been more accurate. Nor is this mere carping. What has to be seen is that the do-it-yourself revolution was a myth, and the reality was a series of simple charitable acts. And today the energy and good intentions of the squatter movement appear to have made useful auxiliaries for local councils in their housing administration and welfare services.

As for the hippy squatters, it may sound ungracious but is true to say they were not homeless people at all. In general, they had homes but chose to be away from them; perhaps with reasons, but that is a different question. Their being on the streets was due chiefly to the demise of the Drury Lane Arts Laboratory, where anyone and everyone kipped. But the Freedom Press dilemma — “What were we to do?” — originated in uncritical support for any semblance of direct action. Otherwise, it would be hard to account for the presence on Freedom’s doorstep of Hell’s Angels, who are the nearest thing to pre-war Fascist youth in Britain today.

Bombs & Bullets
The most recent demonstration of direct action has been the “Angry Brigade” bombings. There is, no doubt, a division between those who would actually have done this kind of thing and those who would not; but there is no doubt either that it had the sympathy of practically all direct-actionists. A pamphlet published shortly before the Old Bailey trial, by the “Stoke Newington Eight Defence Group”, tries hard to suggest that bombs and firearms are now the method of radical activists at large:
The state is also alleging that bombings and shootings claimed by the First of May Group, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Wild Bunch and Lotta Continua are also part of this conspiracy. In fact just about every single guerrilla action undertaken by groups from very different political areas within the movement over the past four years has been put down to them. The prosecution is attempting to create falsely the image that the political offensive carried out by the movement in the past four years is the work of a very small isolated gang of madmen.
Grand Delusion
What is a “political offensive” in these terms supposed to achieve? The authors of the pamphlet, which is called A Political Statement, assert that the Angry Brigade’s terrorism was an integral part of a working-class uprising:
Being part of their revolution they are sensitive to the needs and desires of that revolution. On January 12th we had a one day strike, we went on huge marches all over the country, we planned strategies for the future and we bombed Robert Carr.
The implication intended is of a massive number of workers united in all those activities. But one has only to ask who are the “we” of the dramatically italicized sentence, and its meaningless ranting is immediately exposed. On January 12, 1971, some trade unionists demonstrated against the Industrial Relations Bill; Left-wing groups distributed leaflets and had euphoric syndicalist dreams; and, in complete dissociation from all of that, a secret handful planted bombs which caused outrage but little harm.

The absurd delusion of a grand “political offensive” is further emphasized in a photograph of Carr’s front door, under the heading “The Minister’s Palace Destroyed”: which is quite untrue. Indeed, if the object of the “bombing and shooting” has been to kill representatives of the State, its incompetence is almost comical. The pamphlet claims at least 107 bombing episodes: not one person was hurt by them, it seems. If, on the other hand, the aim was not to kill but to alarm, that is even more ludicrous. It is reminiscent of the old yarn about the man who, finding his wife in bed with the milkman, went outside and kicked the milkman’s horse. What sort of “offensive” is that?

Serious Questions
Nevertheless, behind the puerile fantasy lie serious political considerations. At a simple everyday level, those most likely to be killed and injured by bombing are not establishment-figures but working men and women; Northern Ireland, to which the pamphlet refers repeatedly, demonstrates this only too well. For all the cant about “we” and “the movement”, bomb-planting is the negation of class-consciousness and democratic practice. Anarchists and direct-actionists may approve of the faits-accomplis, but that does not alter the fact that at the time they had no knowledge or control of what was being done in their name. Early in 1971 when publicity for the Angry Brigade explosions was at its height, the libertarian gossip and speculation were that the bombs were the work of agents-provocateurs with the object of raising public opinion against the Left. So much for “we”!

The knowledge that opinion — and repressive measures — are thus raised is another reason why terrorist tactics should not be supported. The State and the newspapers do not distinguish between “pretend” revolutionaries and real ones: direct action has done great harm to the growth of the Socialist movement. The “political statement” pamphlet complains of these consequences of the actions it is acclaiming:
This is a long hard struggle . . . It will be even more difficult in face of attacks from the political police which have grown enormously in organisation and number in the past year. The fact that there have been so many raids, the fact that they now habitually seize all political documents that they come across in their raids. The fact that innocent brothers and sisters arc locked up, some of them for many years.
Up to recent times anarchists were wont to respond to the traditional accusation of bomb-throwing by saying they had given it up because they had learned that governments did it better. That was at least a realistic view. The “urban guerrilla” and the saboteur may be problems to the state, but there is no question of their being able to match or weaken its armed power. Engels was able to point this out in military detail to would-be insurrectionists in 1895, in his preface to Marx’s Class Struggles in France. Speaking of the German bourgeoisie’s readiness to let rebels engage in physical battle with them, he said: “We are not so stupid.”

The State
The most important question of all, however, is: who are the enemy? Against whom is the “offensive”? The Angry Brigade’s targets were representatives of the State. The “political statement” of their supporters has not a single reference to capitalism, but insists on the state as adversary:
It began when it became clear that the state can and will smash the movement if it feels it can win. The bombings started.

And when he [Heath] talks of civil war, he is talking of a military/political offensive against all who oppose the corporate state.

The Stoke Newington Eight are . . . militants who have been active in the resistance to the corporate state and in the revolutionary movement.
Six years ago anarchists were wearing badges and carrying banners which said: “The state is your enemy”. And it is wrong, wrong, wrong. The deprivations, conflicts and miseries of the world we live in are caused not just by governments but by capitalism. The State’s rôle is to enforce them with the coercive machinery against which direct-actionists stub their toes and knock their heads. What the working class has to do is organize to abolish capitalism — by gaining control of the state machine with conscious intent to that end.

Socialists have no sympathy with those who believe bombs contribute to a social revolution. Of course rage and the desire for reprisal are emotions we have all experienced — who has not felt something like the poet’s “Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough/It isn’t fit for humans now”, or wished to kick-in the huge grinning teeth of some inflated politician? But the futility and self-destructiveness are clear. Indignation becomes constructive only when it is translated to consciousness. The direct-actionist asserts that consciousness can be a result of the act, that to cajole or push people into being hammered by capitalism’s force is to spread comprehension of what it is all about. There is not a shred of evidence that this has ever happened. On the other hand, the evidence provided by case-histories of direct action and terrorism is that they are at least fatuous and at worst horrifyingly pernicious, and always anti-working-class.

The means to change society exist and wait to be used, as Engels went on to say:
The irony of world history turns everything upside down. We, the 'revolutionaries’, the 'rebels’—we are thriving far better on legal methods than on illegal methods and revolt . . . we, under this legality, get firm muscles and rosy cheeks and look like eternal life.
Robert Barltrop