Shortly before the founding of the Socialist Party of Great Britain , the Socialist Labour Party also broke away from the Social Democratic Federation and they too were described as "Impossibilists".
Springing from similar roots , it is understandable , that there was an overlap of our respective critiques of society . This pamphlet by William Paul has much in it , which we in the Socialist Party , would happily concur . We share the same analysis that raises the importance of political action in addition to industrial action to achieve our socialist objective - one of the defining factors that separates us from the anarchists and syndicalists and led to the SLP leaving the early Industrial Workers of the World .
" The constructive element in the social revolution will be the the action of the Industrial Unions seizing the means of production in order to administer the wants of the community ...Thus Industrial Unionism is the constructive weapon in the coming social revolution...In order to facilitate the work of industrial organisation it is absolutely imperative for the workers to disarm the capitalist class by wrenching from it its power over the political State ...by destroying the capitalist control of the State , makes possible a peaceful social revolution...the work of the political weapon is purely destructive , to destroy the capitalist system. " William Paul , The State . Its Origins and Function ,1917 .
Although we may have reservations on the actual economic organisation ie industrial unions , William Paul was much in accord with the SPGB views.
"...The Socialist Party, in aiming for the control of the State, is a political party in the immediate sense, but we have an economic purpose in view, namely, the conversion of the means of living into the common property of society. Therefore, the question necessarily arises whether an economic organisation acting in conjunction with the political is vital to our task. We have on more than one occasion pronounced ourselves in agreement with the need for such an organisation, and in so doing have flatly denied the charge that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is "nothing but a pure and simple political party of Socialism." The Socialist Party and economic organisation , Socialist Standard , 1937
It is regrettable that Paul was caught up with the hype of the Russian Revolution and took the road of Bolshevism .
REVOLUTIONARY POLITICAL ACTION
ITS DESTRUCTIVE FUNCTION
I. THE ATTITUDE OF THE S.L.P. DEFINED
THE Socialist Labour Party is a revolutionary political organisation which seeks to educate the workers in order that they may organise to combat Capitalism in every field of its activity. Capitalism is the most cunningly organised social system ever known, and the capitalist class is the most powerfully enthroned ruling power known to history. Therefore, the S.L.P. declares, Capitalism must be fought in every avenue of social action. In keeping with that attitude we have outlined a policy regarding the press, education, industrial organisation, and political action. Our policy is distinguished in so far as we have given a lead to Labour to control its press and its educational activities ; and our tactics demonstrate the need for industrial unionism which covers the economic sphere of Labour's activity. But we also emphatically insist that Capitalism's control of the political machine—i.e., the State and the armed Force of the Nation—must be challenged at the ballot box.
Capitalism is a social system which breeds conflicts. It is a seething jungle of struggles wherein individuals, classes, nations, and empires fight against each other. Individual wage-earners vie with each other for jobs ; capitalists outbid one another for markets ; classes struggle against each other in the economic and political arenas ; and nations are prepared to wipe each other off the map for the sake of imperial conquest. But the struggle, international in its extent, which looms larger than all others, is the conflict between Capital and Labour. In this struggle the former fights with ability and consciousness of aim, while the latter fights with great confusion and without a knowledge of its own strength.
We intend to examine one phase of the class struggle here— the great weapon which the masters wield through their control of the political State. The capitalist class clearly understands that, in addition to its economic dominion over Labour—through its ownership of the means of life—it is necessary to be able to crush the workers should they dare revolt or refuse to produce profits. In order, therefore, to strengthen its economic power, the rulers have left no stone unturned to capture political power—the State—which gives it control over the armed force of society. With this political power in its hand Capital is able to enforce its domination over Labour. In other words, the capitalist class looks upon political power as an important weapon to be used in its conflict with the working class. The political power of the masters is one of its chief fortresses against the rebellious workers. Thus Capital has used its political supremacy to intimidate and to murder those wage-earners who endangered its profits. The use of troops at Featherstone, Tonypandy, Belfast, and Dublin are only a few instances. And Asquith, a few years ago, warned the railwaymen that if they struck work the powers of the State would be placed at the disposal of the railroad magnates. The political power of Capital was energetically used in 1914 by enforcing new laws which sought to smash the rights of industrial organisation and the possibility of Labour striking for higher wages. Deportations, imprisonments, munition tribunals, and industrial conscription are vivid illustrations of how Capital strengthened its economic power by its political control of the machinery of Government.
II. OBJECTIONS TO POLITICAL ACTION.
Because the political weapon is used by the capitalist class against Labour, and because the political State is a machine to maintain class rule, there are many workers who contend that working class political action is futile, if not dangerous. The S.L.P, declares that as political power is used by Capital to enforce its economic power, for that very reason the workers must meet Capital on the political field. In the class war the workers dare not allow the capitalists to hold any fortress without laying siege to it with a view to capturing it. We may ignore the political fortress, as our anti-political friends would have us do, but neither the class war, nor any kind of war, can be waged successfully by ignoring any stronghold of the enemy. To ignore the insuperable advantage which the political machine gives to Capital would be tantamount to closing our eyes when the enemy aimed a blow at us with a dangerous weapon. Sanity demands that we must tear the weapon from the grasp of the foe.
But, argues the anti-political, what is the use of returning members to Parliament—they always betray their class interests ? What the critic of political action has in his mind are the betrayals of Labour by such creatures as Hodge, Thorne, Barnes, Henderson, etc. Let it be noted that we have exposed the treacheries of these political tricksters time after time. Nevertheless, we deny most emphatically that these men ever represented the interests of the working class. And we further assert that these betrayers of Labour learned the art of treachery before they entered Parliament ; they were educated in that art on the industrial field. Our anti-political friends wish us to devote our energies to the industrial arena because they imagine that the workers are sold when they enter politics. But the workers can be betrayed industrially as well as politically. The history of the trade union leaders since the war began indicates this point. Until the working class is conscious of its own interests—until it clearly realises what it wants and how to get it—then they are the tools of the Labour fakir and the political charlatan. The moment that the wage-earners understand their class interests they will not be betrayed either industrially or politically. Because "leaders" are only able to act treacherously when the rank and file is ignorant and confused.
It is argued that the workers are easily misled on the political field. Here again we beg to point out the fact that Labour can only be misled politically so long as it can be betrayed industrially. The political field is where the conflicts of economic interests are fought out. If the working class does not realise its economic interests it will be sold in Parliament; and if it does not realise its class interests it will be sold out in the workshop. Thus every argument which can be urged against political action can be used against industrial action. They react upon each other. There is nothing inherently dangerous in political action. All the arguments brought against it prove that the Socialist movement has neglected its educational work ; it has paid insufficient attention to the creation of a revolutionary press ; it has not sought to industrially organise Labour as a class ; and the result is that these weaknesses are glaringly reflected on the political field. When our anti-political friends contend that the political field makes for the confusion of Labour they are unconsciously passing censure on every other field of Socialist activity. The critic of political action, unable to perceive the law of causation, which links together the various weaknesses operating in the different channels of the Labour movement, places all the blame on the political field. He therefore decides to ignore political faction. But by doing so he ignores the whole problem.
III. PARLIAMENTARY ACTION.
Many of the arguments against revolutionary political action are in reality criticisms of parliamentary action. The two spheres of activity must not be confused. Parliamentary action believes that by placing a series of reforms upon the Statute Book— " steps at a time " they are called—the economic position of the workers can be improved, and that they will be finally emancipated by such State measures. Such a line of activity is the aim of the " reformers" (who, since recent events in Russia, have mouthed revolutionary phrases) or State Socialists. This course of action is best represented by the pre-war literature of the I.L.P., although a healthy minority of the younger element is now in revolt against it. The attitude of the reform party means that it can throw open its ranks to those who do not believe in Socialism—but in " something now." (See " Labour Leader "—27th September, 1917—which admits this regarding the entrance of Mr Dunstand to the I.L.P.) In brief, the logical outcome of parliamentary action, by seeking to show Chancellors of the Exchequer how to bring in Budgets, etc., is State Socialism. The S.L.P.—as the columns of the " Socialist " can testify—repudiates parliamentary action. We deny' that it is the political function of the Socialist movement to show the capitalist class how to legislate for Capitalism or administer its laws. The S.L.P. does not aim at trying to outdo the capitalist politicians in the sinister game of Statesmanship. We hold that the purpose of political action is the destruction of the capitalist State. It would be the duty of revolutionary Socialists in Parliament to criticise every measure that came before the House of Commons, and to seek, by every means, to undermine the prestige of the capitalist class by exposing every one of its political manoeuvres. Thus the debate on the credits would furnish the fearless S.L.P.-er with an opportunity of demonstrating his uncompromising antagonism to militarism by voting against them. We are aware that the pacifist I.L.P. members of Parliament refuse to vote against the war credits because, as Mr. Brace Glaiser has explained, they represent voters who are not Socialists. This, of course, is simply a damning admission that I.L.P. candidates do not make Socialism the only issue during electoral contests. If anyone cares to look up the election addresses of any of the I.L.P. members of Parliament, it will be found that the voters were asked to vote for Free Trade, and other capitalist patches, but not for Socialism alone. The consequence of such an attitude is that these members dare not and cannot act as Socialists once they are returned to Parliament.
IV. REVOLUTIONARY POLITICAL ACTION.
The S.L.P. takes the political field with one plank upon its programme—Socialism. It emphasises that only Socialists must vote for its candidates. It realises that its candidates may not get returned to Parliament yet awhile. But it knows that if there are only 200 class-conscious Socialists in any constituency, that must be the extent of its poll. Every other vote is useless and dangerous. Alliances, compromises, and arrangements with the Liberal Party may easily mean the return of a candidate, but not of a Socialist candidate. We are convinced that Socialists are only strong by themselves. Our political declaration is to aim at the capture of the political machine in order to tear the State, with its armed force, out of the hands of the capitalist class, thus removing the murderous power which Capitalism looks to in its final conflict with Labour. In a word, the revolutionary value of political action lies in its being the instrument specially fashioned to destroy Capitalism. Just as industrial unionism is necessary to construct Socialism.
But political action is further necessary in so far as it is its work to demand the right of free speech and of press. It must be used to combat the capitalist class in its attempt to filch away the rights of industrial action and other civil liberties. Political action, too, brings the propaganda of Socialism into the daylight and lifts the revolutionary movement beyond that of being a secret conspiracy. Political action, by insisting on free speech, prevents the capitalist class from forcing the movement underground—because once there the State would crush it. And, above all, the political method by bringing revolutionary Socialism upon the political field places it on that ground of social action where all conflicts tend to be settled peacefully. If Socialism is ushered in by violent means it will be because the capitalist class repudiated the civilised or political method, or because the Socialist movement failed to wrench the armed force of the State away from the control of the masters.
V. THE IMPERIALIST STATE.
The war has shewn an additional need for revolutionary political action. Since 1914 the tendency of Capitalism is towards an intensified concentration of Capital. This need has been urged upon each national capitalist class in order to promote its economic security and profit. But with the concentration of Capital there has also sprung up closer, and sinister, relations between the State and Capital. The advent of modern Imperialism has made this necessary for two reasons—(1) the necessity for economic expansion abroad, and (2) the need for the better control of Labour at home. These two tendencies will appear in the form of an intensified Nationalism which will be the will be the sentimental lever to force the workers to increase output and to hate the foreign workers. Plans are now being prepared by the State to further speed up production in order to satisfy the British imperialists' lust for profits. The capitalists, in conjunction with the State, have their schemes already organised. These will be put in operation immediately peace is declared. We see, therefore, that the capitalist class realises the value of controlling the political State.
The British capitalist class understands the need of political action. It intends to be prepared in order to crush the attempts of awakening Labour seeking to organise its forces. The workers will be confronted by the whole economic force of Capital in alliance with its political force—the State.
Can Socialists, therefore, neglect the political field, which is at present one of Capital's strongest forts ? The S.L.P. says no. We dare not leave the enemy entrenched in any position from which it can threaten Labour. Revolutionary political action has not failed for the simple reason that it has never been used. There has been plenty of Labour electioneering and parliamentary reformism, but that is not revolutionary political action. The time has now arrived for the Labour movement . in this country to define clearly its attitude towards political action. Many are opposed to political action for no other reason than that they have not realised all that it means.
The S.L.P. believes in the political weapon as the instrument by means of which the workers can capture the State in order to uproot it. The S.L.P. advocates political action because it is the destructive arm of Labour which will overthrow Capitalism. And for these reasons the S.L.P. permits only those who believe in the efficacy of political action to enter its ranks.
(Chapter 4 of Scientific Socialism. Its Revolutionary Aims and Methods by William Paul, 1918)
Transcribed by A Buick