Has the Hour Come ?
What we have just said points irresistibly to the conclusion that there is an " appointed hour " for revolution, in the sense that it must fail if it is attempted before the general conditions are ripe. Be it now our task to show that these general conditions, with the exception of that single factor, working-class education, are ripe for the change.
What are the essentials that make the conditions fit and favourable for the establishment of society upon a new basis? First, the industrial processes or methods of wealth production and distribution must have developed as far as they can under the prevailing system without injury to the social organism. Secondly, they must have reached such a stage as will allow the revolutionary class to assume control of them and operate them.
That the first condition has been reached is shown by the spread of capitalism over the earth. It is a characteristic of the present system of production that ever-increasing markets must be found to absorb the growing volume of surplus products which its wage-workers produce. It is natural and inevitable when capitalist groups come into violent conflict through their competition for markets, that they should seek a way out which leads to war — as in 1914. This, the true cause of modern wars, was bluntly exposed by a French General, Marshal Lyauty, speaking at a banquet of the National Congress of Councillors of Foreign Trade, at Marseilles in October, 1922. — (Star, October 31st, 1922.)
French soldiers are fighting in Morocco to acquire territory in which rise rivers capable of supplying power for electrification schemes which will prove of great advantage to French trade. When we have acquired the last zone of cultivatable. territory, when we have nothing hut mountains in front of us, we shall stop.
Our object is commercial and economic. The military expedition in Morocco is a means, not an end. Our object is the extension of foreign trade.
Similarly Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, in a speech to the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, 1896, stated that
All the great offices of state are occupied with commercial affairs. The Foreign Office and the Colonial Office are chiefly engaged in finding new markets and in defending old ones. The War Office and the Admiralty are mostly occupied in preparations for the defence of those markets and for the protection of our commerce. — (Quoted in Empire and Commerce in Africa. L. S. Woolf, page 7.)
There remain now no considerable tracts of country to be thrown open to commerce. On the other hand, nations which until lately had been the safety-valves of the great manufacturing countries, are now fast becoming the competitors of these latter. There is no British colony of any importance that has not industrial aspirations. When, for example, the Canadians proposed to furnish ships for the "Empire's " navy, they were to be Canadian built. The entry of Japan into capitalist manufacture is getting to be an old story, but the case of Turkey, Persia, and other Eastern countries is a tale of to-day. When, some years ago, an East London jute factory closed down, and hundreds of girls were thrown into the streets, the explanation of the owner was that he could not continue in the face of foreign competition. The foreign competition was a factory established by the London jute manufacturer in India!
India now has an industrial population at least equal to that of France, and greater than that of either Italy or Japan.
But the crowning act is the capture by capitalism of the mighty Chinese Empire. The conversion of this immense and densely populated quarter of the globe from a feudal monarchy into a capitalist republic shows what power oapitalism has attained in the, flowery land.
As these newer capitalist countries develop their manufacturing powers, and more and more supply their own requirements, and then throw their surplus on the world market, the industrial crisis and period of stagnation caused by over-production and congested markets, must assume such a violent character as to threaten the very existence of society.
Nor is this all. The mad pitch to which production is being screwed up to-day is producing disastrous results upon the race. The physical deterioration which is taking place among the most advanced capitalist nations is a source of anxiety to those who are hard put to it to find men equalling the original standard set for the bearing of arms, while the steady but striking increase of lunacy is eloquent of the danger humanity is in from further development along present lines.
It was disclosed during the war. when recruits were being examined by the National Service Boards, that only 36 per cent, were of " full normal standard of health and strength." Two out of every three were unfit. (Command 504, 1917.)
The development of the means of production has also made it possible for the working class to carry on all productive operations for themselves by the simple process of removing the master class from production and distribution and leaving the workers to it. The joint stock company is the type of the exploiting organisation to-day. The vast bulk of the world's capital is owned by these concerns. This form of organisation effectually separates the owners from all connection with wealth production. The shareholder cannot even pretend that he takes any part in it. He has not even, legally, any right to set foot in the factory in whose possession he shares. He may not, and probably does not, know where and how the profit is produced which his shares bring him. (It will be remembered that in the course of the enquiry into the Putumayo rubber atrocities the defence of the British directors of one rubber company was that tbey were utterly ignorant of the manner in which the rubber was obtained.) The board of directors which the shareholders elect are not appointed even to supervise production, but only to secure the profits. All the necessary work of production and distribution, the organisation no less than the operation, is performed by members of the working class — by men and women who, however high their position or their pay, have to sell their labour-power for wages or salary in order to live.
Thus it is seen that the development of industry has rendered the master class quite superfluous. Whatever useful function they may at one time have fulfilled, there is in typical cases no shred of it left to-day. We know, then, that the working class can carry on the work of the world without the assistance of the master class because they are already doing so. They have become the only useful class in society, and for this reason the only thing that is needed to make the conditions ripe for the establishment of the Socialist system of society is that economic and political education of the working class which will alone enable them to establish it.
By what means the revolutionary working class are to proceed to their task of overthrowing the present social system and establishing a system of society based upon the common ownership of the means of living, is the next question that demands our attention. It is a question of vital importance.
The means by which the ruling class maintain their social system and their dominance long after it ceases to meet the requirements of society are mainly coercive. The police, military, naval and air forces — the armed forces of the State — are the chief bulwark by which they protect their social edifice against the assaults of those who would overthrow it.
It needs very little thought to convince one that it would bo the height of folly to expect or to attempt to dispossess the possessing class so long as they have under their control such mighty forces of repression as these. What the result would be is indicated by many tragic episodes, both at home and abroad, but in particular by the ferocious suppression of the Commune of Paris in 1871, when the master class of France, with the approval of the master class of the whole world, butchered over 30,000 working men, women and children after resistance had ceased.
The workers must therefore, as the first essential step in the dethroning of the capitalist class, gain control of the armed forces of the State.
Those armed forces are controlled by the House of Commons. There is voted the money that supports them. There is decided whether they shall be extended or reduced, whether they shall be voluntary or compulsory, and in the ultimate, whether they shall be launched against any object of capitalist fear or malice.
The course the workers have to follow, then, is plain to view. They must capture the political machinery through which the armed forces and other means of repression are controlled — Parliament, where the naval and military forces are controlled and the laws are made; the local councils and governing bodies, which administer the laws and control the " civil " forces.
This political machinery must be captured by the workers organising themselves into a political party, having for its object the overthrow of the present social system and the establishment of a system of society based upon common ownership of the means of living. Thus organised they must wrest control of the political machinery from the ruling class by means of the ballot, and having achieved this control, must use it to strip the capitalist class of their possessions, and consequently of their privileges.
The vote is to be the weapon. Let us inquire, therefore, what is the real nature of the vote.
At one time men supported their interests by force of arms. Gradually it was recognised that, other things being equal, power rests with numbers. From this to the idea that those who possess militant power can express it just as effectually and much more conveniently by a vote than by a blow, is but a step. Thus we find the vote in existence at the very dawn of authentic history.
A vote, it is thus seen, is something more than a cross in a scrap of paper. In this respect it is very similar to a bank-note. A bank-note of itself is practically valueless. It derives its "bank-note value" entirely from the public-confidence that it has gold at the back of it. Where any doubt exists as to this the fact is indicated in the depreciation of the " value " of the paper money. Exactly so with the vote. No section of society obtains voting power until it proves by struggle that its demands cannot be ignored. It then becomes to the advantage of the dominant class to permit these demands to be expressed through the ballot rather than through the disruptive and wasteful channel of open struggle.
The value of the vote is measured by the man behind the vote.
That being so, then, it is clear that it is not the elected representative who is the all-important factor, but the quality of the vote which puts him into place.
What, then, must be the quality of the vote? Surely the quality that will enable it to effect its purpose. The revolutionary purpose being revolution, the votes cast for the revolutionary representative must be revolutionary votes. They must be the votes of those who understand
the need for revolution, desire it, and are determined to achieve it.
What are the respective positions of men returned to Parliament or other elected public bodies by votes of this quality and those elected by votes of the politically ignorant, who do not clearly understand what it is they want?
The former is the servant of his constituents. Understanding the position, they are able to direct his course of action, hence they are his masters. If he plays them false, if he departs from the revolutionary path, they know it at once, and seize the first opportunity of dealing with him. On the other hand, such a representative knows that in all sound, revolutionary action he has the full support of those whose delegate he is, and hence becomes the strong and efficient servant of a strong master.
The representative of the politically ignorant is in an entirely different position. As he gets his votes on all manner of vague pretexts and promises, the only safe course for him is a vague wobble. A definite course in any direction would result in the alienation of support. He therefore dares not attempt to take a revolutionary course, whatever his views may be, for he has all sorts and conditions of persons in his following except revolutionists — the revolutionist does not follow.
Such a representative is in a position to sell his electors. Depending upon confusion for his place, his best chance of maintaining it is to preserve that confusion. This suits the masters' hook very well, for their chief concern is that the workers shall not know who their enemies are. Therefore the political parties of the master class welcome such representatives of Labour — they know there is no revolutionary force behind them.
The first essential, then, of having a vote of revolutionary quality is to have a working class that thoroughly understands its position in society, that thoroughly realises the hopelessness of any endeavour to improve materially that position under the present social scheme, and that therefore is thoroughly resolved to abolish the system and establish Socialism. The crying need, then, is education.
The first thing that the workers must learn is that there is only one working class and that their interests are one and the same the wide world over. Then they must learn that, just as the workers are made one by common interest, so a common interest binds the capitalists of the world into a solid class. The realisation of this teaches the lesson that the interests of the workers and the capitalists are diametrically opposed, for this follows from the fact that it is interests that divide the people into classes. The logical implication of this is that the workers must proceed to work out their emancipation as a class. This means organisation — the closest, the highest, most perfect organisation possible — organisation on class lines.