The British Road to Socialism - A Reply to Criticisms
by Nina Stead
The Communist , no 59. March 1973
NOTE: Square brackets indicate comments by the editor. Subheadings as in original. Apologies are perhaps due to C.K. Maisels and ‘the 3’ since a full dossier would include the writings to which Nina is replying. She does give some quite substantial extracts. C.K. Maisels went on to become editor of the New Edinburgh Review and has published several books on Middle Eastern archaeology.
There have been three replies to "The British Road to Socialism" (The Communist, November 1972), two of them by C.K. Maisels ("It's That Road Again", The Communist, December 1972, herein referred to as CKM 1; and "The Road to Class Collaboration", The Communist, January 1973, herein referred to as CKM II) and the third by Brian Girvin, Donal Flavin and Edmond Riordan ("More on the British Road", The Communist, January 1973, herein referred to as the 3). "The British Road" has also caused a tangible ripple from Communist readers, of hurt surprise and indignation. Hurt surprise that a journal which readers had hitherto thought the last bastion against revisionism could publish 'such a highly developed example of class collaboration' and indignation that their own views on the subject should receive such a rude start - i.e. they have had to question what they believed to be the Marxist position. The indignation ensues because if the 'correct Marxist position' does not in fact tally with history then their role in propagating that view as the true one is called into question.
It is significant that this rude awakening should have occurred as a result of my article "The British Road" - the one article which I have written in the last year which has not dealt with the class struggle as it is unfolding before our eyes, with history as it is occurring. None of my previous articles raised so much as a whimper. Yet in them is to be found every one of the political positions put forward in the British Road. E.g. "Parliament does not represent one class alone, rather it represents the bargain struck between the two. And it is crucial to remember that the bargaining process goes on mainly outside Parliament... The state stands for capitalist society, but within that society the bourgeoisie and the working class co-exist." (The Communist July 1972, p.4, "The Act in the Dock"). "At the present time it is a fact that the alternative to capitalism would be a break down of production and consequently of society. Until the working class is capable of organising production on a socialist basis and wielding political power in its own right, the bourgeoisie are correct in posing the choice as between capitalism and anarchy. The material basis for the working class organising production and administering their own state definitely exists: the fact that the Government and employers have had to climb down and meet wage demands which they can ill afford is evidence of that which is staring us in the face. It is the political consciousness of the working class which is insufficient, and the reason for that insufficiency lies in the conscious section of the working class, the 'left'." (The Communist, Oct 1972, pp.22-3, 'Tri-partite Talks').
Not only do the three written replies to the British Road not criticise my previous articles, they even praise them. "Cde Stead's economic analyses have hitherto been stimulating and refreshing..." (CKM I, p.9). "We feel that Cde Stead's analysis of these events (the present, NS) in previous issues of The Communist has been adequate and useful." (The 3, p.l4). Though it should be pointed out that C.K. Maisels having discovered my revisionism in the British Road found in my next article on the Talks that same revisionism (CKM II). The three replies to the British Road are the first written response to any of my articles, though the pages of The Communist are always open. I think this is important because it shows that readers of The Communist are more concerned with keeping Marxism pure than they are with applying that Marxism to the reality around them - the history which they are participating in, ostensibly as conscious Communists, explaining it to the working class. If my revisionism constitutes a threat to the working class which needs to be defeated then why was it not isolated and defeated months before? The answer must lie in the attitude of Communist readers to that material reality around them - it must be of lesser importance to them than "Marxism", because after all Marxism has explained it and its truth - armed with the truth, there is no need to take material reality seriously as a thing in itself because Marxism contains all. It is only necessary to propagate that truth unceasingly and of course unflinchingly until the working class recognises it as The Truth.
As materialists we know that material reality in all its bewildering complexity and awesome finality is indeed "a thing in itself". Marxism provides us with a basis for approaching it, nothing more, nothing less. Even if the working class had read Capital to a man and said "Yes, this is The Truth", it would still remain to transform society and Karl Marx gave us no blueprint for that. The reason is because Marx was a materialist and he did not therefore look to his analysis of the fundamental movement of the elements of society to provide him with blueprints - he knew that history would, as it worked itself out, present not "the answers" or a "blueprint", but events which would have a significance in the class struggle and for the future working out of history.
Material reality is after all the final arbiter of all views and demands ... it is a constantly changing material reality and therefore the need to constantly take it seriously if one wishes to live in the real world and not in some comfortable world of ideas where the only changes are wrought by one's will in changing one's views. Marxism enables us to take material reality seriously, i.e. explain it in all its motion and vicissitudes. If we do not use Marxism in this way it becomes merely "what we believe", our view of the world in the same way that every other member of British society has a highly developed and complex view of the world. The British Road was attacked because it attempted to use Marxism to explain British history, and in so doing brought into question parts of the 'Marxist litany' learned by us revolutionaries as The Truth. Now the impulse that made us revolutionary was a normal impulse for any conscious member of society, i.e. we were looking for something that would explain the world for us. What marked Marx and Engels off was not the impulse to see and react to the motor forces and results of those in society but their refusal to run away from the actual working out of those forces in history. Though I am fully prepared to do battle with my opponents on the ground of what Marx, Engels and Lenin said about history and classes and Britain, I am not prepared to let them off lightly. I shall insist on using Marxism to analyse the present, to deal with the history in which we are participating and if my opponents are to refute me they must also deal with the present and provide an alternate Marxist explanation of it.
Part I: THE ARGUMENT IS SET OUT AND THE REASONS WHY THERE IS AN ARGUMENT
What are the opposing positions?
(a) The 3: "Firstly Cde Stead's article puts forth the following theses. Society consists of classes, who have in her article no particular class interest. The classes of society share a common interest in the development of that society [...] The ruling class [...] has taken on itself full responsibility for the 'development of society'[...] for no material reason that Cde Stead wants to tell us [" ? - PB] Her (N. Stead's) view of the state apparatus is not that it is the instrument of rule of the dominant class over the others, but that it is a body composed of members of all classes "who have no class interest, and who use the state not in the interests of the ruling class but in the noble cause of 'developing society' [...] The basic Marxist theory is that each dominant class in the history of human society has been initially a revolutionary class, in that it can revolutionise production and move thereby the society to a new stage of advancement. However, the interests of that dominant class carry with them the seeds of their own displacement, for sooner or later the interests of the current ruling class come into conflict with further development of the productive forces, become reactionary, and call forth a further revolution giving rise to a new ruling class [...] Society as the totality of classes is impelled forward by the continual assertion of the material interests of a revolutionary class coming into bitter conflict with the material interests of the entrenched (ruling) class [...] why not go the whole hog and say that the present political backwardness of the working class makes them the villains of the piece [...] And in this at least Cde. Stead is consistent." (pp.l3-14)
(b) CKM II: "The wet left at least recognise the primacy of class struggle in their simplistic analysis - for Cde Stead however there is no quantum jump to socialism - merely a 'transition' from capitalism to socialism [...] So our job according to this 'Marxist' analysis is to develop sufficient theory to talk the bourgeoisie over into the ranks of labour, and that doubtless will be socialism. So really it's all down to moral suasion [...] Marxism says that the existing ruling class has outlived its historical function and must therefore be swept away, when its relations of production have come into antagonistic contradiction with the technique of production then existing. Hence when the socialised ownership of the means of production is instituted to balance the hitherto socialised productive methods, the bourgeoisie as the historical embodiments of capital and their servitors and intermediaries, the petit-bourgeoisie, are destroyed as classes - what then has become of 'existing society'? In fact it has become a qualitatively new entity, subsuming what went before. Cde Stead is trying to patch up a society whose time is fast running out." (pp.20-l)
(c) The British Road: "In Britain the Government and the ruling class have always kept their hold over the society to a minimum - they have concentrated on the essential functions of formalising and administering institutions which the society itself has already developed to ensure its survival and development. This amounts to holding the ring - i.e. doing the minimum necessary to ensure that anarchy does not break out while allowing the social forces room to develop themselves through conflict - indeed forcing them to do so by refusing to govern by lawgiving [...] No decisions are taken by the Government which do not reflect conscious developments in the society [...] This means that the forces in the society: the working class as the producers of wealth; the bourgeoisie as the owners and organisers of wealth; the production process itself; the ideology of the society interact with only the minimum of stability and order imposed by the state with the consent of the classes. Out of this interaction comes the institutions and evolution of the society [...] As long as the working class developed socialism within the British notions of stability and order, the British ruling class would not oppose it. And those British notions provide for the development of conscious conflict within the society between those forces representing progress and those representing reaction. It is assumed by the ruling class that the weaker and therefore inessential forces will lose in this conflict and the stronger and therefore essential ones will win and be capable of occupying the place of the reactionary forces in maintaining stability and order in the changed social circumstances [...] The only obstacles which the ruling class placed in the way of the working class in Britain to the development of socialism were practical ones: how could a society be organised on the basis of 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs' [...] They (the ruling class) have simply asked to be shown signs that an alternative means of ordering society is practical. It has been up to the working class to prove this." (pp.4-5 and p.7)
Far from positing a ruling class who themselves developed society by means of the state and the organs of government, a society devoid of classes and struggle between those classes, the British Road was at pains to point out that the history of Britain was in fact just that: classes conflicting with each other and being forced by the lack of a lawgiving state, the lack of a bureaucracy which met the needs of society by fiat and regulation, and a standing army to enforce the bureaucracy's decisions by physical violence to develop that struggle in a conscious way until the stronger class emerged. At this point and at this point only did the state enter the conflict and then merely to register and formalise the issue of the struggle.
Therefore, the British Road stated the problem for Communists was to make the working class conscious of the reasons why socialism was necessary and how it could be achieved in Britain, i.e. by putting forward socialist demands and enforcing those demands consciously on the bourgeoisie. The working class must take up the conscious role of the progressive element in British society and do battle with the bourgeoisie on the issue of which class could impel society forward, on the practical question of socialism vs. capitalism as a method of economic organisation, because, that was the only question on which the bourgeoisie in Britain would struggle.
The question must then be asked, why did the 3 and CKM view this description of British society as revisionist. I think the answer lies in their abstracting Marxism from history, thereby making it literally impossible to apply it to the material reality which confronts the working class. The 3 say that the proletarian revolution will come when "sooner or later the interests of the current ruling class come into conflict with the further development of the productive forces, become reactionary, and call forth a further revolution giving rise to a new ruling class" (emphasis mine). The trouble for the working class is that this gives no clue as to how the ruling class's interests become reactionary; how this reactionariness calls forth a further revolution and how this revolution gives rise to another ruling class. It will simply happen "sooner or later". This amounts to an inability to see that if the proletarian revolution is to occur it must be because the working class develop the ability to see beyond capitalism, to recognise that socialism is a superior and possible way of organising production - only then will capitalism become reactionary. The qualitative change occurs because the working class have both the power and the consciousness to make it occur - their force not only suppresses bourgeois resistance but also puts in the place of capitalist relations of production socialist ones.
There is nothing inherent or immanent about capitalist relations of production which makes them reactionary. Thus, there is no moment in the continuing development of the productive forces under capitalism which in and of itself will call forth the proletarian revolution. Capitalist relations of production become reactionary when the working class has the ability to change them, to replace them. As Marxists we know that the working class has had the power (arising from its place in the production process) to change them literally since the beginning of the development of capitalism. What the working class has lacked is the consciousness of its ability to do so. Until replaced, capitalism constitutes a progressive force, because in order to survive capitalism must constantly revolutionise the relations of production.
(This continuing development of the productive forces under capitalism makes the number of historical tasks the proletariat must undertake after taking power fewer and fewer. E.g., capitalism's development forces the disappearance of the petty bourgeoisie as a significant class. Thus, the working class need not make tactical alliances with it or concessions to it in order to overthrow capitalism.)
The 3 and C.K.Maisels called the British Road revisionist because it stated that there was indeed still movement in Britain and that the fact that that movement was still capitalist and not socialist was due to a lack of Communist leadership in the working class. They replied that this was unMarxist because Marx showed that capitalism was reactionary and how on earth could the revolution occur if capitalism wasn't reactionary. Engels wrote to Kautsky in 1891: "To my great astonishment I found unexpectedly cropping up in the Vorwarts text of your draft (programme of the German Social Democratic Party) the words 'one reactionary mass' [...] This agitational phrase spoils, like a shrill discordant note the whole harmonious array of briefly and forcibly couched scientific propositions. For it is an agitational and extremely one-sided phrase and hence entirely wrong in the apodictically absolute form in which it alone rings true. Wrong because it enunciates an historical tendency correct in itself as an accomplished fact. The moment the social revolution starts all other parties appear to be a reactionary mass vis a vis us. Possibly they already are such, have lost all capacity for progressive action whatsoever, although not necessarily. But at the present moment we cannot say so, at least not with the certainty with which we proclaim the other programmatic principles. Even in Germany conditions may arise under which the left parties, despite their miserableness, may be forced to sweep away part of the colossal anti-bourgeois, bureaucratic and feudal rubbish that is still lying there. And in that event they are simply no reactionary mass. So long as we are not strong enough to seize the helm of state ourselves and realise our principles there can be no talk, strictly speaking, of one reactionary mass vis a vis us. Otherwise the whole nation would be divided into a reactionary majority and an impotent minority. [...] The Englishmen belonging to either of the official parties, who have enormously extended the suffrage, quintupled the number of voters, equalised the election districts., introduced compulsory education, who at each session vote not only for bourgeois reforms but also for ever new concessions to the workers - they proceed slowly and drowsily, but nobody can condemn them offhand as 'one reactionary mass'. In brief, we have no right to represent a tendency gradually becoming a reality as an already accomplished fact, and particularly not since in England for instance this tendency will never become an absolutely complete fact. When the overturn comes here (England) the bourgeoisie will still be ever ready for every manner of reform in detail. Only there is no longer any sense in insisting on reforming in detail a system that is being overthrown". (Selected Correspondence, pp.432-3)
The historical tendency for the bourgeoisie to become reactionary is an historical tendency because first the working class possess the power to replace the capitalist system of production and second because its consciousness of the need to replace it and how it can be replaced is increasing. The organisation of production under capitalism ensures that the power of the working class is there but the consciousness is not determined by anything but the conscious action of Communists in confronting the working class with their ability to institute socialism.
It was possible, and certainly in Italy and France still remains possible (I know too little about Germany to comment) for the working class to take state power for purely political reasons. That is because in Italy the state is manifestly not even capable of meeting the present needs of the working class under capitalism (and it should also be added incapable of meeting the present needs of the bourgeoisie) and in France because the formal bourgeois democracy enshrined in the French national consciousness since 1789 is still flaunted in practice and a Third Empire type Government exists in fact. Therefore it may be possible for the working class in these countries to not understand why capitalism as a system of production should be overthrown and how socialism is to be instituted until after the transfer of political power has taken place. The British Road argued that in England that this not only might not happen, but in fact could not happen at the present and that therefore it was necessary to begin to develop the working class's understanding of the economic basis of socialism, precisely how it differs from capitalism and what the qualitative change from capitalism to communism will involve.
The 3 and CKM undoubtedly reacted to the total lack in my article of concern about the qualitative change from capitalism to socialism - and saw in this lack a belief on my part that no such change was involved - hence they concluded me revisionist. It is precisely because there is nothing inherent or immanent either in the capitalist relations of production or in Britain in the political structures which in and of themselves constitute an insuperable barrier to the working class taking political power. This does not mean that capitalism and bourgeois politics are not obstacles - indeed if they were not there would be no need for political struggle or action of any sort on the part of the working class.
The total lack of concern was because it seemed to me that at some point in the development of the working class consciousness of the limitations of capitalism and the possibility that a different mode of production could be established by themselves a qualitative change was bound to occur - if it were not bound so to occur Marx would indeed be wrong about the qualitative difference between the two modes of production. To be concerned with when the change would occur is crystal ball gazing and not granting history and the development of the class struggle in history its proper place - the primacy of material reality. To insist that it must occur is at best a tautology given the will of the working class to take political power.
The British Road defined the weapons of struggle of the bourgeoisie and of the working class and the way the state dealt with that struggle. If the working class are to force socialism against obstacles placed in its path by bourgeois politics and capitalist relations of production they must know what those obstacles are in order to find ways of dealing with them. Simply to define them as "capitalism" and "the bourgeois state" is no help. It leaves us as Marxists with a historical tendency and nothing whatsoever to say about the present situation the working class finds itself in.
The only way in which the qualitative change is bound to occur is if the working class takes every opportunity thrown up by the economic development of capitalism and the working out of the class struggle in politics to insist on a more progressive position than the bourgeoisie and capitalism are putting forward. How much more progressive that position is (we have been able to see from the summer 1972 dock strike that the working class does not spontaneously adopt a progressive position) depends on how well Communists can explain the potential of socialism and how accurately Communists can assess how far forward the working class is capable of impelling society at that point in the class struggle.
The British Road pointed out that in Britain the bourgeoisie were likely to accept progressive demands of the working class if put with the conscious force of the working class as a whole; that the bourgeoisie's weapons in Britain consisted of their ability to organise the status quo, to continue to administer capitalism and also to grant conscious demands of the working class. It therefore stated that the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the working class must be fought with the weapons of the working class's will and ability to organise production in a socialist manner. Qualitative change was seen as incidental precisely because when the working class have the ability and will, that change must occur.
The 3 and CKM undoubtedly also reacted to the statements in The British Road that the British state had always granted demands of the working class which the class had put with its whole organised and politically conscious force (e.g. the Ten Hours Act and l87l, l875 and 1906 TU Acts). To the 3 and CKM a bourgeois state does not grant demands of the working class precisely because it is bourgeois. Now all the term "bourgeois state" can mean is that that state exists in a society in which capitalist production is the dominant mode and that therefore capitalism constitutes the main progressive force in that society. However, to the extent that the working class are able to put forward demands which the bourgeoisie cannot resist with equal force those demands must be met or the state must dissolve and a working class state constituted. When a working class demand is met by a bourgeois state it does not signify (l) that the demand becomes tainted and of no use to the working class or (2) that the state has become a working class state. It means that capitalism as a mode of production must employ wage labour, and to the extent that that wage labour is conscious, its conscious demands must be met if capitalist production is to continue. To deny that this has become a normal occurrence in a capitalist state is to deny that the working class has become a conscious class with some understanding of politics and the class struggle. It is undoubtedly true that when the bourgeoisie in Europe and England were first faced with a conscious working class, they attempted to suppress its conscious expression. However, in England they learned that this suppression was not only unnecessary but dangerous. To the extent that it is the working class who are able to impel the society forward, to that extent will the bourgeoisie be superseded as a progressive class and proved reactionary by history, i.e. by the action of the working class.
Here is how Engels describes the "bourgeois state" both on the Continent and in England: "It seems a law of historical development that the bourgeoisie can in no European country get hold of political power - at least for any length of time - in the same exclusive way in which the feudal aristocracy kept hold of it during the Middle Ages. Even in France, where feudalism was completely extinguished, the bourgeoisie as a whole has held full possession of the Government for very short periods only. [...] And even in France and America, the successors of the bourgeoisie, the working people, are already knocking at the door. In England, the bourgeoisie never held undivided sway. Even the victory of l832 left the landed aristocracy in almost exclusive possession of all the leading Government offices [...] The fact was, the English middle-class of that time were, as a rule, quite uneducated upstarts, and could not help leaving to the aristocracy those superior Government places. [...] The industrial and commercial middle classes had, therefore, not yet succeeded in driving the landed aristocracy completely from political power when another competitor, the working class, appeared on the stage [...] But the English middle class - good men of business as they are - saw farther than the German professors. They had shared their power but reluctantly with the working class. They had learnt, during the Chartist years, what that puer robustus sed malitiosus, the people, is capable of. And since that time, they had been compelled to incorporate the better part of the People's Charter in the Statutes of the United Kingdom." (Special Introduction to 1892 English edition of Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, pp.38-43, Foreign Languages Pub House, 1954).
The only possible scientific meaning which "bourgeois state" can have is a state which meets the needs of a society engaged in capitalist production as the dominant mode. The term can tell us nothing about the substance of the class struggle, the consciousness of the classes, the form of government, the political abilities within that society. When, as the British Road did, these things begin to be dealt with and it is shown that the working class is an acknowledged and conscious power within the state, the rejoinder "it's a bourgeois state" in no way negates or invalidates that description. In Britain the working class is politically conscious and able to win demands from the bourgeois state. The problem is one of explaining to the working class why the substance of those demands is insufficient to do any more than force the bourgeoisie to take account of them, to explain that the "socialism" which exists for every politically conscious worker as an "ideal" can become a reality only if the working class uses its force to make it real - it is not a demand that Parliament can grant, because if the bourgeoisie are to be beaten as a class the working class must be able to enforce another mode of production.
The real and highly abstract essence of the political revolution - i.e. the qualitative change involved in the taking of political power by the working class from the bourgeoisie - will be that the working class become a conscious force in their own right. To say that after the proletarian revolution there will be a working class state, a dictatorship of the proletariat, tells us nothing about the actual material development of the productive forces, the extent to which the working class can do without the bourgeoisie as organisers of production, the form of government of the working class state. All these matters of substance are determined by the development of class struggle and capitalism at the point at which power is taken by the working class. The fact that concessions may be made to the bourgeoisie does not negate the fact that the working class has political power in a proletarian state - it simply shows that the working class has not yet developed to the point of superseding the bourgeoisie's economic functions. The fact of the bourgeoisie's continued existence as a distinct economic entity does not negate the fact that the class nature of the state has altered.
My refutation of the 3's and CKM's positions will be as follows:
(l) to show that Marx, Engels and Lenin were concerned with the working class's task in history - i.e. the working class developing the ability to replace capitalism as the dominant mode of production with socialism, a qualitatively [different? - PB] mode of production. That in order to accomplish this historic task it would be necessary for the working class to take and wield conscious political power.
(2) to show that for Marx, Engels and Lenin the significance of the working class taking political power was to enable it to develop the ability to replace capitalist relations of production, i.e. so that the working class could use political power to suppress the bourgeoisie when the bourgeoisie were organising to prevent the working class developing itself (as well as the state continuing to regulate society).
(3) to show that the description of the conditions of political struggle in the British Road was firstly accurate and secondly in accordance with Marx, Engels, and Lenin's descriptions.
(4) to show that the weapons of the bourgeoisie in Britain in the class struggle remain the same weapons as when Marx and Engels wrote and Lenin prior to 1917; and that the historical circumstances which produced a change in Lenin's opinion about the weapons of the bourgeoisie in Britain had changed by 1919 and that the conditions of struggle are now such that the main political obstacles which the working class must overcome are about the practicality of socialism and the ability of the working class to organise production in a socialist mode.
(5) to insist that if the working class are to develop the ability to replace capitalism, they must first acquire the will; and that this means beginning with the present situation in which the working class finds itself and explaining why the working class should put forward more progressive demands than the bourgeoisie.
PART II: THE HISTORIC TASKS OF THE WORKING CLASS
The Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank [...] Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other - bourgeoisie and proletariat [...]
"We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange. Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance [...] The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part." (Selected Works, vol 1, pp. 110-113)
"The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. [...] The bourgeoisie during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. [...] what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?
"Modern bourgeois society [...] is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeoisie and of its rule." (pp.113-116)
"But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons - the modern working class - the proletarians. In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e. capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class developed. [...] The proletariat goes through various stages of development. With its birth begins its struggle with the bourgeoisie. At first the contest is carried on by individual labourers, then by the workpeople of a factory, then by the operatives of one trade. [...] But with the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows and it feels that strength more. [...] Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. [...] This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves [...]
"Altogether, collisions between the classes of the old society further, in many ways, the course of development of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle. At first with the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry [...] In all these battles it sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for its help, and thus to drag the proletariat into the political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education, in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie." (pp.116-9)
"Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie." (p.l2l)
"The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat [...] Capital is therefore not a personal, it is a social power. When, therefore, capital is converted into common property, into the property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. It is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its class character." (pp.123-4)
"We have seen above that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e. of the proletariat organised as the ruling class [* - see end of paragraph] and to increase the total of productive forces, as rapidly as possible. Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production. [...] When in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character." (pp.129-3l)
[*] Lenin makes the following emphatic comment on this passage of The Communist Manifesto: "The state,i.e. the proletariat organised as the ruling class, is precisely the dictatorship of the proletariat."- Marxism on the State.
1872 Preface to German edition of the Manifesto by Marx and Engels: "The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing." (p.98)
Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (Lenin): "Here is Marx's 'little word': 'Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.' (Critique of the Gotha Programme)" (p.9, Chinese edition)
"Another truth: there can be no real, actual equality until all possibility of the exploitation of one class by another has been totally destroyed. The exploiters can be defeated at one stroke in the event of a successful uprising at the centre, or of a revolt in the army. But except in very rare and special cases, the exploiters cannot be destroyed at one stroke. It is impossible to expropriate all the landlords and capitalists of a country of any size at one stroke. Furthermore, expropriation alone, as a legal or political act does not settle the matter by a long way because it is necessary to depose the landlords and capitalists in actual fact, to replace their management of the factories and estates by a different management, workers' management in actual fact. [...] For a long time after the revolution the exploiters inevitably continue to enjoy a number of great practical advantages; they still have money (since it is impossible to abolish money all at once [...] and so on and so forth [...] Never - except in the sentimental fantasies of the sentimental fool Kautsky - will the exploiters submit to the decision of the exploited majority without trying to make use of their advantages in a last desperate battle, or series of battles. The transition from capitalism to Communism represents an entire historical epoch." (pp.33-6)
Civil War in France (Engels's introduction): "From the outset the Commune was compelled to recognise that the working class, once come to power, could not manage with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against it itself [...] What had been the characteristic attribute of the former state? Society had created its own organs to look after its common interests, originally through simple division of labour. But these organs, at whose head was the state power, had in the course of time, in pursuance of their own special interests, transformed themselves from the servants of society into the masters of society, as can be seen for example, not only in the hereditary monarchy, but equally also in the democratic republic [...]" (pp.458-9, Selected Works, Vol II, New York International Publishers, pp 458-9)
(from Civil War in France by Marx): "But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes. The centralised state power, with its ubiquitous organs of standing army, police, bureaucracy clergy and judicature - organs wrought after the plan of a systematic and hierarchic division of labour - originates from the days of absolute monarchy, serving nascent middle class society as a mighty weapon in its struggles against feudalism. [...] In reality it (the 2nd Empire) was the only form of government possible at a time when the bourgeoisie had already lost and the working class not yet acquired, the faculty of ruling the nation [...] Under its sway, bourgeois society, freed from political cares, attained a development unexpected even by itself." (pp.494-7)
"It (the Commune) was essentially a working class government, the produce of the struggle between the producing against the appropriating class, the political form (my emphasis - NS) at last discovered under which to work out (my emphasis - NS) the economical emancipation of labour. [...] The Commune was therefore to serve as a lever for uprooting the economical foundations upon which rests the existence of classes, and therefore of class rule [...] The working class did not expect miracles from the Commune. They have no ready-made Utopias to introduce par decret du peuple. They know that in order to work out their own emancipation, and along with it that higher form to which present society is irresistibly tending by its own economical agencies, they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men. They have no ideals to realise, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant." (pp.502-4)
State and Revolution (Lenin): "Hence Marx excluded England, where a revolution, even a people's revolution, could be conceived of, and was then possible, without the condition of first destroying the 'ready-made state machine'." (p.42, Chinese edition)
I conclude from the above:
(1) the smashing of the state machine and the taking of state power by the working class is a political task - it does not alter one jot the economic relation of bourgeoisie to proletariat. As Marx states in Civil War in France, it sets free the elements of the new society (Marx uses those 'dangerously abstract' terms 'elements' and 'society') so that the working class can work out its own emancipation.
(2) the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot pass laws decreeing this emancipation. It must be a series of struggles in which the bourgeoisie and capitalist relations of production will be the antagonists of the working class. (If Marx, Engels and Lenin had no liberal aversion to the use of force, as CKM I and II show so well, why did they not just recommend to the working class that it kill every factory owner and stock-jobber and have done with it? Lenin points out that the bourgeoisie continue to be necessary after state power had been taken. As the working class developed its relation in the production process to be able to replace capitalist relations of production and exchange by socialist ones, so would the bourgeoisie become redundant economically.)
(3) It is of course possible that the bourgeoisie could try to organise a purely political resistance to the proletarian state, attempt to win back state power. They have the chance to do this because they are still an economically distinct class, if they were not they would have no political ambitions. Then the fight would be between two political forces, the workers state and the bourgeoisie, and would be a test of the loyalty of each class to its own political expression and the organised political force of each (and of course of physical force if used).
(4) A Marxist litanist may well ask: Surely this 'historic epoch' will only be using the power of the working class state? This is true only if one is a bureaucratic trotskyist believing that 'leadership' can do all. The developing working class ability to use its place in the production process to transform society will of course have a social expression. That expression will continue to be registered and formalised by the state as long as the state exists. The state will wither away when that social expression has become "a habit" (Lenin). Then the consciousness of society will be so developed that it will no longer need a special institution to register and formalise its own movements. This epoch is not merely a question of pure economics (planning machinery and conquering scarcity); it is a social and political question of developing the relation between the producers of society and what they produce and how they produce it. Marx in the Manifesto does not explain how the epoch will occur, because it depends on the concrete circumstances of history (e.g. class consciousness, level of preparedness of the working class at the revolution). The bourgeoisie appear in this epoch as the personification of the existing production relations. They have no political power to keep the relations of production stuck where they are, that power they have been denied and will continue to be denied should they attempt to retake it. They are a passive social and political force replaced as the working class is able.
(5) Marx, Engels and Lenin recorded the fact that the existence of a standing army and bureaucracy which ruled in their own right for the bourgeoisie presented the working class with obstacles to the wielding of conscious political power. (Indeed Engels states that the bourgeoisie may be forced to remove these obstacles in Germany: Letter to Kautsky, p.5) Marx, Engels and Lenin concluded from the existence of these obstacles that the working class would have to remove them before it could wield conscious political power. Up to 1917 Lenin did not consider that these obstacles existed in Britain (Marx and Engels never considered they did in Britain). Therefore, the working class would not have to remove things which did not exist in order to take power. Kautsky's error, according to Lenin, was to refuse to see these obstacles when they existed before his eyes in Europe. Lenin insisted they were real and had a real function, and that the working class must remove them. This means that the form of government in Britain did not constitute an obstacle in and of itself which the working class must deal with before moving against the more historically substantial obstacle of the bourgeoisie and capitalism in their own right. In Britain the form of government did not function independently of class interests arising out of the relations of production.
(6) But a Marxist litanist could retort that in 1870-1917 the House of Lords and a civil service composed of the landed aristocracy and bourgeoisie existed, and two bourgeois political parties. Surely the working class will have to remove these first before being able to take and wield political power in its own right. Marx, Engels and Lenin replied that this was not necessary because these political forms would either reflect the working class's moving forward or atrophy. "During the second revision of the Programme of the Social Democratic Party, Plekhanov wrote: 'I recommend that the words - "we must spread the idea that only under a Republic can the decisive battle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie take place" - be deleted (I request that this be put to the vote. I am not at all convinced that in England, for instance, political development must proceed through a republic. The monarchy hardly interferes with the workers there and therefore its abolition may be not a condition precedent to, but a consequence of the triumph of socialism).' Lenin replied to Plekhanov's proposal with the following remark: 'The example of England is out of place precisely because of its exceptional position [...] The remarks of Marx (1875) and of Engels (l89l) concerning the demand for a republic in Germany point precisely to the 'necessity' of a republic, but exceptions are possible everywhere." (Lenin Miscellany, Vol II, summer 1902, quoted in Lenin on Britain, pub Martin Lawrence, 1934, p.47)
If the forms do not constitute a barrier to the working class in and of themselves they should not be attacked as things in and of themselves, i.e. the civil service should not be attacked because it contains members of the bourgeoisie, nor should a law be attacked because it comes from a bourgeois Parliament. These things need explaining as political expressions of the bourgeoisie's ability to administer the society or to legally alter the administration of society. This ability does not originate from the institution or a position above the society but from within it. It merely expresses the fact that the working class have not used their organised force as a class to replace the bourgeoisie. What remains then of the struggle between the working class and the bourgeoisie? Precisely that process which Marx, Engels and Lenin describe, the working class working out its own emancipation, developing its ability to replace capitalism (see quote above in the present article from Civil War in France). How can you begin on this historical epoch in which the working class are the protagonists when none of the working class are in Parliament or, as in l870, the two main political parties are bourgeois? Communists cannot exhort the working class to smash Parliament as such - it is necessary to give the working class a reason for creating its own political party, for electing it to Parliament as a potential majority, i.e. governing party. That reason cannot be purely political, because the other political parties have not actively obstructed anything, it must explain the real obstacle, the source of the exploitation of the working class, capitalist relations of production and the fact that only the working class can replace those relations, i.e. has the power to do so.
PART III: LENIN IN 1917 ON BRITAIN AND WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE THEN
"The proletarian revolution is impossible without the forcible destruction of the bourgeois state machine and the substitution for it of a new one. [...] If Kautsky had wanted to argue in a serious and honest manner he would have asked himself; are there historical laws relating to revolution which know of no exception? And the reply would have been; no, there are no such laws. Such taws only apply to the typical, to what Marx once termed the 'ideal', meaning average, normal, typical capitalism. Further, was there in the 70s anything which made England and America exceptional in regard to what we are now discussing? It will be obvious to anyone at all familiar with the requirements of science in regard to the problems of history that this question must be put [...] And the question having been put, there can be no doubt as to the reply: the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is violence against the bourgeoisie; and the necessity of such violence is particularly created, as Marx and Engels have repeatedly explained in detail (especially in The Civil War in France and in the preface to it), by the existence of a military clique and a bureaucracy. But it is precisely these institutions that were non-existent precisely in England and America and precisely in the l870s, when Marx made his observations (they do exist in England and America now!)"(Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, pp.11-14)
What are my refuters' positions on this question in Britain today. C.K. Maisels is limited to a categorical imperative. "Our slogan is 'peacefully if possible, violently if necessary', and all historical experience to date shows it to be vitally necessary." (CKM I, p.19) "For no ruling class in history has ever given up the reins of power voluntarily. I challenge Cde Stead to name just one. Any instance where they have handed over to another class peacefully, as in the case of the World War I shattered Hungary of 1919 to Bela Kun and his 'communists' - it was merely to regroup for an offensive." (CKM I, p.20) The first statement shows that though CKM is willing to admit the hypothetical possibility of a peaceful road it remains for him a completely abstract possibility, i.e. he refuses to take it seriously. Thus it is immaterial for him whether we are dealing with history pre 1917 or post 1917. Indeed CKM cannot believe that Marx, Engels and Lenin ever held that in Britain there could be a comparatively peaceful transfer of political power. "Cde Stead mocks, misrepresents and stands on their heads Marx,Engels and Lenin who were supposed to have 'felt that a peaceful transition was possible [...] in states like Britain'. The B&ICO itself has published a document by Engels on the Erfut Programme, with an introduction (by C.K. Maisels - NS) making it abundantly clear that these were the words of revisionists and not those to whom it was attributed." (CKM I, p.21, my emphasis)
C.K. Maisels equates a peaceful road with a voluntary road, with the free will and choice of the ruling class in surrendering power. This denies that any form of struggle other than physical violence is in fact struggle. For if CKM believed that Parliamentary debate, newspaper articles, demonstrations and meetings were struggle and class struggle, he would not view a 'peaceful transition' as a voluntary act of the ruling class but instead as the outcome of real historic struggle.
His view that 'peaceful transition' must indeed be the ruling class's free will is well illustrated when he tries to envision what is in my head when I talk about 'peaceful transition'. "It (NS's view) posits either a classless society, or one where classes and their mutual struggle have been subsumed in some supra-class institution or series of institutions. Hence the fetishing of 'institutions and mechanisms' at best resulting in a mechanical materialist view whereby a few experts (classless of course) administer, (i.e. oil) some all-serving machine called society. In reality, it is simply a Philistine, paternalistic, mystifying, castrating doctrine for the working class, undermining their class struggle by turning reality inside out." (CKM I, p.19)
To him I must mean a transition devoid of classes, administered from without by an institution above society staffed by Orwellian experts, i.e. there can be no struggle and no forces for change can develop within the working class but must come from above. The choice for him is either military violence or the Hegelian, Orwellian absolutist state of 'order'. There can be no other way. He carries this inability to see a comparatively peaceful transition as necessarily involving struggle and force to its logical conclusion. He states that the working class in this country will not become revolutionary until they have been provoked violently by the ruling class.
The concluding paragraph of CKM I is a quote from a letter of Marx to Engels of l866: "'One thing is certain, these thick-headed John Bulls, whose brain pans seem to have been specially manufactured for the constables' bludgeons, will never get anywhere without a really bloody encounter with the ruling powers.'" His penultimate paragraph has explained that the ruling class did not use violence in the General Strike because they had no need, even though they wanted to. "Winston Churchill, who was in control at the time, was just waiting for a chance to have a go at the working class." (p.23). As CKM makes no comment about the Marx letter, it is necessary to conclude that he supports its statement and so is waiting for the ruling class to make a mistake, i.e. use violence when they don't have to. The logical place for CKM is with those anarchists who are seeking to precipitate the ruling class into making just that mistake.
I should add here that the Marx letter quoted is not surprising for the reaction it expresses (I am presuming it is a reaction to events, for if Marx had some concrete historical analysis behind the statement I would expect CKM to quote it. In fact the letter was written just after a demonstration in London for political reform, and in it Marx describes the demonstration to Engels and concludes with the sentence CKM quotes.) In l866 the English working class was politically quiescent and most under the sway of bourgeois politics. Far from the 1867 Reform Act being as CKM asserts (CKM, p.19) [sic-PB. Perhaps 'Far from the 1867 Reform Act being as CKM asserts, an expression of working class hatred' (CKM, p.19)], it was precipitated as Engels states (see Part V of this article) by the ruling class. In l864 Gladstone had suggested to a delegation from the London Trades Council that they should take up the reform question; this they did in l866 whereas in l86l and l862 when Reform Bills had been before Parliament and defeated, the trade unions had not actively supported them. Those Reform Bills failed - Parliament had no need to pass them when there was no pressure from below. The Hammonds describe how in May l864 Gladstone spoke in the House in Paine-like tones of "the vote" and told the story of the deputation. Palmerston told Gladstone that in his opinion, Gladstone was delivering an exhortation to agitate. Disraeli's l867 measure was amended by Gladstone and Bright to include one million more men to the electorate. Marx's reaction to the l866 demonstration was not strong enough for him to develop it into an analysis. Engels wrote after l866 that Marx believed 'peaceful transition' possible, without the proviso of the ruling class violently challenging the working class to a show of physical force first.
The 3's view is "It is true that Marx and Engels held this position (possible 'peaceful transition' in Britain) but it is utterly dishonest to claim that Lenin held it....In support of her argument Cde Stead points out that a large section of the British Army is engaged in N. Ireland in opposition to only 1.5 million people. We assume that the lesson that she draws from this is that the bourgeoisie rather than destroy themselves in open conflict with the working class would hand over power. This argument is a good one as far as it goes, but does it hold water in reality? In the first place the British Army is not in an all out war in N. Ireland. If it was, it could mop up the IRA and any other elements in 48 hours. Because of the political situation there, 'softly, softly' tactics are in order. [...] The above does not mean that we dogmatically reject the idea of a peaceful transition to socialism in Britain [...] we think that the discussion of details is futile at the present stage of development of the working class movement. We believe that Cde Stead's argument would effectively disarm the workers in the event of a revolutionary situation arising; further we believe that the working class should organise on the assumption that state power will have to be attained by force, and take precautions to that end. If the working class takes power in a peaceful manner after this, it will be as a result of having equalled with their own armed might the armed blackmail of the bourgeoisie."(p.6) "We should point out that nowhere in her treatise on the transition from capitalism to socialism has Cde Stead acknowledged that the interests of the capitalist ruling class lie with a continuation of capitalism, no matter how democratic, liberalised, co-producing worker-controlled and well-oiled that capitalism might be, it will not be socialism." (p.l3)
The 3, unlike CKM, agree that Marx and Engels saw peaceful transition as possible in England, they do not know that Lenin also did and changed his view in 1917. However, the 3, like CKM, conceive of peaceful transition as being a purely hypothetical possibility, an abstract one. Their view is that the working class should organise militarily and then if another form of struggle for political power occurs, it will presumably occur. But, this is making the occurrence of other weapons (demonstrations, meetings, strikes, use of Parliament) a contingent event depending on no circumstances arising out of class politics or class struggle but instead out of random chance or "fate". If it were not contingent, but instead arising out of historical circumstance, then the 3 would presumably advise the working class to prepare for it, i.e. to take it seriously.
The 3 do not see any struggle other than military struggle as real struggle. They conclude from my statement that the ruling class does not have enough army to use against the working class that I must therefore mean: "We assume that the lesson she draws [...] is the bourgeoisie rather than destroy themselves in open conflict with the working class would hand over power." I.e. if the bourgeoisie do not have enough army to win in "open conflict" they would "hand over power". For them "open conflict" must be military; therefore if the bourgeoisie have no standing army they must be defenceless and would surrender. They cannot see that the bourgeoisie might have other, equally potent weapons against the working class; they cannot see that against these other weapons a militarily armed working class would have no defense, i.e. that guns would be of no use.
The 3's views on why the British Army are not waging "all out war" in N. Ireland are equally instructive. Only because they say "because of the political situation there 'softly, softly' tactics are in order". That is really refusing to take politics seriously as a form of struggle, i.e. that the British Army's refusal to wage all-out war is a better defence against the Catholic Nationalist forces than a shoot out. It implies that if the working class concluded, "If we kill all the property owning classes tomorrow we will have won; all we need is the fire-power" it would have a correct strategy. I would remind the 3 that hypothetically Britain and France both have the power to destroy the revolutionary threat of the working class completely, i.e. nuclear weapons. Under the 3's view the ruling class should definitely do this because this would remove the possibility of revolution. The trouble is of course there would be no one to produce surplus value afterwards. And that is precisely what Engels meant when he wrote in Labour Standard: "There is no power in the world which could for a day resist the British working class organised as a body."
It is hypothetically possible that before the working class here was organised as a body with a Communist position the British ruling class might try to pick off an isolated section by force. But, it is highly unlikely since the ruling class has learned by trying to do so that the use of force on an isolated section does not terrorise the working class, it simply unites them as an active force (with arms if felt necessary) against the ruling class. There is every evidence from history for this conclusion. At Tonypandy, in 1910, the police and the military were not unmolested or unchallenged by the working class; the working class physically escalated the confrontation (refusing to fight in straight battle at a disadvantage but instead in a guerrilla fashion on their own terrain). Equally there was substantial political pressure for the whole duration of the troops and police occupation from the Miners Union, from the Labour Party, from the Liberal Party, from public opinion which clearly limited the possibility for manoeuvre of the Government forces. The coal-owners had been confident that by calling in troops and police they would be able to use those troops and police to physically put down the striking miners. Instead the troops and police were used sparingly to try to preserve order - not offensively - and the coal-owners were forced to deal with the strikers politically, the coal-owners' hopes of the military force of state backing up their property rights by suppressing the working class were frustrated by the political force of the working class as a class and the physical force of the working class at Tonypandy. Even then, the fact that the troops and police were brought in at the coal-owners' behest remains a vivid and living part of the British working class's consciousness. They are unlikely to forget how it happened and what it as a class did about it. The working class held then and continues to hold that the use of physical force by the state was a flagrant violation of trade union rights.
In the 1972 Miners Strike, the miners, decided it was necessary that the Saltleigh Gas Works in Birmingham should be closed. Accordingly they set about accumulating the physical force to close it: peaceful picketing consisted of a thousand miners massed in front of the entrance "peacefully persuading" the lorries from entering. When the lorry drivers decided they would not be "peacefully persuaded", this was "violence" which was unprovoked and unjustified. When the police were called in to enforce the entrance to the Gas Works, what did they do? First, they took the peaceful picket of 100 massed miners at its word and made no arrests. Second, they eventually assisted the miners in bringing their peaceful persuasion to its just end, the Chief Constable helping conduct negotiations between the miners and the Gas Works which ended in closing Saltleigh. Why? Because the situation, was a threat to public order. Furthermore, when the rest of the working class in Birmingham saw that the miners needed physical reinforcement to conduct "peaceful persuasion" properly, those reinforcements came (unasked by the miners) in the shape of 5000 engineers who called a one day strike and came in full battle dress - i.e. with their 19th century trade union banners, over the hill down to Saltleigh to stand with the miners.
How did the Chief Constable justify his conduct to those Tories who in Parliament were shouting for the blood of "trade union wreckers and anarchists"? There was nothing else he could do. There was no point in mass arrests as that would only worsen the situation. Make no mistake, he may have wanted to make arrests and to use tear gas and riot gear, but if he had this subjective personal inclination he was prevented from doing so. By whom? By the state. No less an MP than Roy Jenkins had been called on by the local miners leaders to make a protest, a formal protest at the "police arbitrariness and high-handed, unjust methods against the peacefully picketing miners". The miners' leaders told Jenkins they wanted the protest made; he made it. And if the Government by some accident had not understood the situation, Roy Jenkins made sure they could not misinterpret it. Jenkins and the miners were stronger forces in the state than Tory backbenchers. The police acted so that the force of the miners met the force of the Gas Works management and the Gas Works closed. The police acted in this way so that the situation did not escalate to the point where not only Birmingham engineers, but Coventry engineers and Sheffield engineers would come streaming down the hill to enable the process of peaceful persuasion to proceed properly. The words in which the above episode has been told are the ones used by the actors in the event. Used publicly and openly, by habit, they are the words in which the working class has described its class struggle in Britain for 200 years - "peaceful". The only challengers to those words and therefore the class's consciousness of what is happening have been backbench Tories. They, in this case, registered their protest in Parliament and did nothing more. How is that for a violent obstacle and White Terror.
But, protest the Marxist litanists, Saltleigh was not a threat to state power, the ruling class are waiting for the real thing before they unleash the holocaust. The answer must be; the real thing will also be seen by the working class in terms of its own historically determined consciousness, "peaceful". Its substance will be clearly and tangibly backed by the use of force, a force which is a passive force, held in readiness, which does not need to be actively exercised because the ruling class has the consciousness to recognise the "peaceful exercise of the rights of Englishmen" as indeed force. The ruling class will be well aware (unless their class consciousness suffers amnesia, a historical category that Marx, Engels and Lenin did not admit) that if they resort to force, the working class will certainly answer in kind and it would therefore be a case of having to wipe the whole class out (and lose their producers of surplus value) or nothing. If the working class is unwilling as a class to let even a section of themselves go undefended, then what evidence have the ruling class (or we Communists) that they will let their class as a whole go undefended? "Peaceful" transition is possible precisely because each class has a realistic estimation of the other's potential strength in the society itself, i.e. its ability or inability (in the ruling class' case) to find forces within the society to defend its interests. Thus, in Britain when the working class as a class make a demand of the ruling class, it is very clear to each class that the working class are willing to back that demand up with the use of their force as a class if necessary. Indeed, the evidence that the class as a whole is backing the demand comes from the use of class force - mass demonstrations by the working class, meetings at which "just demands" are argued for and supported. These represent in the working class's consciousness the exercise of their political rights; they are the clear use of force and the clear evidence that more active force will follow if Parliament does not deal with the demand.
Those litanists who insist that the socialist revolution will be suppression are quite right. They are wrong to fetishise the form of that suppression and that authoritarianness, and insist that it must be the manning of barricades and guns. They will be left, when the confrontation takes another form, "true" to their own ideas and subjective preference and inclination for "a bit of blood". They will be left in the position of the Kronstadt mutineers or intellectuals in the Soviet Union who turned against the dictatorship of the proletariat because they did not believe in it.
When the 3 and C.K. Maisels see a peaceful transition as a situation where the bourgeoisie are not looking after their own interests and give the working class power of their freely willed choice, they fail to understand what the sum total of the bourgeoisie's weapons of defense in Britain are. Their weapons are precisely those of order and stability (change must be conscious) and practicality and Parliament. Nothing more, nothing less. They will certainly wield those weapons and wield them well as they have done now for 100 years, since the working class has been a political and social force. But once those weapons have been deployed and failed, they have no more, they are disarmed - able to go away and attempt to regroup and fight another day, of course, as this struggle will last a whole historical epoch. But to fight with the same weapons. If military confrontation, could alter the balance of forces in their favour, they would of course use it. But first, they would have to develop it from materials available in the society. And second, the ruling class have found that it will not alter the balance of forces. There is no element of choice here, nor is there any lack of looking after their own interests. The ruling class's behaviour is determined by their consciousness arising out of their historical experience, and by their force arising out of their place in the production process and relations of production. The 3 and CKM can argue "choice" only if another choice was open to the ruling class and was not taken.
Though the use of military force is a course hypothetically open to the British ruling class, it is at present a metaphysical possibility since there has been nothing in the ruling class's experience of class struggle against the working class to show it that military confrontation is an effective weapon against the working class. Its use becomes open to the "fate" or random vicissitudes of history. If history produces such a situation then both classes will assimilate this change and act accordingly, but only then.
If the historically determined behaviour of both classes in Britain has determined that the forms of political struggle will be argument, propaganda, debate, demonstration, polemic, Parliament, "peaceful persuasion", "exercise of democratic rights", "moral suasion", who are we to fly in the face of historically determined material reality and tell the working class and the ruling class: your consciousness is fantastical and what you think has happened is just sham. Marx, Engels and Lenin certainly had the audacity to take British history and class struggle in Britain as involving struggle and the use by both classes of their class force. If violence per se, if smashing the state machine constitute the only signs of class struggle and construction arising out of destruction, then there has been no movement or change or class struggle in Britain since the 17th century.
Interestingly, this inability to see political struggle as being anything other than Red or White Terror or suppression as being anything other than physical destruction is mirrored in the Fabians' view of society. Because the Fabians took the forms of government seriously as things in themselves they believed that the necessary changes in society could be wrought simply by manipulating the forms - dealing with the forms as if they had no connection with the classes who make up society. The Fabians set about to do this and had spectacular success on their own terms. They took the ideological leadership of the Labour Party with nary a challenger, wrote its programme and furnished the meat of every Labour Cabinet from 1923 to the present. But though the forms proved extremely responsive to this adept manipulation, nothing happened outside the forms ... not quite ... both classes in society reacted against or were passive towards the Parliamentary Acts which the Fabians stage-managed through Parliament, because neither class had come to terms with them, with what they meant for the society and how they were to be implemented by the working class. The working class reacted against [them] insofar as they saw the Acts as attacking their interests (e.g. the TUC against wage restraint in 1950); they were passive when they did not understand (i.e. had not been presented with an explanation of the significance and what the working class would have to do to enforce [it]). This was true of the nationalisation in the 1945-50 Labour Government. The result has been that the society has not changed as the Fabians saw clearly it would have to. In Britain there is no bureaucracy above the society which can impose Acts of Government on society, as the German civil service imposed its Government's regulation and sponsorship of capitalism or the French civil service enforced collective bargaining and minimum wages.
In May 1899 Lenin wrote a review of Hobson's Evolution of Modern Capitalism. He wrote: "Like the well-known writers Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Hobson is a representative of one of the advanced trends of English social thought. His attitude towards 'modern capitalism' is critical, he fully admits the necessity for substituting a higher form of social economy for it and adopts an attitude towards the question of this substitution with typically English reformist practicality. He arrives at the necessity for reform more or less empirically, under the influence of the modern history of English factory legislation, of the English labour movement, of the activities of the English municipalities [...] At best, he comes close to the solutions already given by Marx; at the worst, he borrows erroneous views that are in sharp contradiction to his own attitude towards 'modern capitalism' [...] the author proves by a number of very apt arguments the necessity for the reform of the modern industrial system in the direction of increasing 'public control' and the 'socialisation of industry'. In estimating Hobson's somewhat optimistic views regarding the methods by which these 'reforms' can be brought about, the special features of English history and English life must be borne in mind: the high development of democracy, the absence of militarism, the enormous strength of the organised trade unions....In regard to Hobson's book we can say that under pressure of the demands of life, which is more [and - PB] more corroborating Marx's 'diagnosis', English writers are beginning to realise the unsoundness of traditional bourgeois political economy, are freeing themselves from its prejudices and are 'involuntarily approaching' Marxism." (Lenin on Britain, pp.23-5)
Lenin here equates the Fabians' "freeing themselves" from prejudices and "involuntarily approaching" Marxism. I.e. one is "free" to act according to material reality or to flaunt it [...] however the act of flaunting it does not release one from its consequences, these remain in substance the same as if one had admitted it. The "free choice" lies in choosing to admit, to be conscious of what is happening or not choosing to be conscious. The British ruling class depend for their weapons against the working class on consciousness of what is happening. Their historically determined consciousness meant that when the working class appeared as a social, political force, the ruling class developed a conscious, political way of dealing with it. This way has involved refusing to enact reforms under capitalism unless the working class backed those reforms with its class force; and posing the question of practicality at every turn. The Fabians represented a section of the bourgeoisie who defected to the side of the working class, but who proved incapable of leading the working class because they did not understand that it was classes and class struggle who forced change in a society. In this, the Fabians proved themselves less conscious than the capitalist ruling class, than Gladstone, Palmerston and Lloyd George.
1917 and Lenin
It is my contention that in 1917 it was possible for Lenin to state that the working class would need to remove the obstacles of a standing army and a bureaucracy in order to take state power. It is also my contention that as early as 1919 it could be seen that the bourgeoisie in Britain had not developed these new weapons of struggle, indeed that these obstacles had ceased to exist.
Marx showed us in Civil War in France just why the French bourgeoisie had a state machine which truly existed as a thing in itself outside the society with its own interests apart from those of the classes it served. They were historically determined in,their "choice" of a state machine. (l) The institution itself already existed, having developed "from the days of absolute monarchy, serving nascent middle class society as a mighty weapon in its struggles against feudalism". (2) "During subsequent regimes, the government, [...] placed under the direct control of the propertied classes, became not only a hotbed of huge national debts and crushing taxes; with its irresistible allurements of place, pelf and, patronage, it became not only the bone of contention between the rival factions and adventurers of the ruling classes; but its political character changed simultaneously with the economic changes of society. [...] the state power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public force organised for social enslavement [...] The proper form of their (l848 bourgeois republicans) joint-stock government was the parliamentary republic, with Louis Bonaparte for its president. [...] If the parliamentary republic, as M Theirs said, 'divided them (the different fractions of the ruling class) least', it opened an abyss between that class and the whole body of society outside their spare ranks. The restraints by which their own divisions had under former regimes still checked the state power, were removed by their union; and in view of the threatening upheaval of the proletariat, they now used that state power mercilessly and ostentatiously as the national war engine of capital against labour. In their uninterrupted crusade against the producing masses they were however, bound not only to invest the executive with continually increased powers of repression, but at the same time to divest their own parliamentary stronghold - the National Assembly - one by one, of all its own means of defence against the Executive. The Executive, in the person of Louis Bonaparte, turned them out. The natural offspring of the 'Party of Order' republic was the Second Empire. [...] it was the only form of government possible at a time when the bourgeoisie had already lost, and the working class had not yet acquired the faculty of ruling the nation." (Selected Works, pp.495-6)
At a time when the bourgeoisie did not need the state in its form above the society they nevertheless perpetuated it by precisely treating it as a thing in itself to be manipulated and profited from (pelf and place, bone of contention between rival factions and adventurers). When the economic development of capitalism intensified class antagonisms, the bourgeoisie continued to make use of this form of government rather than developing their own political ability to deal with the class struggle. This in turn led to the complete surrender of political power by the bourgeoisie to the Second Empire. They came to rely on it, thus determining its sway.
Thus, if Lenin was correct in 1917 we must look at the situation of the class struggle in 1917 to see why it was determined that a new institution should arise in Britain (Marx, Engels and Lenin are clear that it had not existed before then). We must then go on to find out if that new institution continued to develop and be increasingly useful, relied on, in the class struggle by the bourgeoisie from 1917 to the present. It is only then that it is possible for Marxists to maintain that Lenin's 1917 statement is still correct. Otherwise we really do take Lenin as the basis for a catechism which circumscribes a static world.
Since the l870s Marx and Engels had shown that the development of the productive forces had determined that production and the accumulation of capital were becoming more and more centralised. In Britain this process had gone farther than in Europe. The petty bourgeoisie had lost any social and political significance, while the expression of the working class in the production process, the Trade Unions, had won unfettered freedom to struggle against the employing class. It had been won in proportion to its power in the production process and ability to translate that power into political action.
We have seen that Marx and Engels were not the only people conscious of these changes. Lenin and Engels both saw the development of the Fabians as being determined by these changes. (In the Labour Standard of 23 July l88l, Engels states "Enlightened men of other classes (while they are not so plentiful as people would make us believe) might join that party and even represent it in Parliament after having given pledges of their sincerity." That party was the party of the working class).
Equally other sections of the bourgeoisie went the other way and demanded that the society go backwards to where it had been before. These sections were also well aware of the changes.
The working class had become conscious of its power in the production process. The 1880s saw the first generation of socialist propaganda in Britain and from the 1880s to the First World War the question of socialism was the central question of concern for the conscious members (whose numbers were ever growing) of the working class.
If you read the biographies of any trade union leader of this period you will find him spending his Sundays - not in church - but in the local park speaking or listening to the socialist speakers addressing the working class and giving the Salvation Army very stiff competition. These meetings occurred not for the tourists in Hyde Park. Speakers Corner then (and continually through the 1950s) was the gathering place for all interested trade unionists. Not only Speakers Corner but virtually every public park in industrial cities and towns and villages up and down Britain. In Manchester the town council in the l890s tried to ban such meetings and provoked the bourgeois liberals into making a united front with the socialists to defend the Englishman's right to free speech.
A new generation of trade union leaders (Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, Will Thorn, John Burns) had the great satisfaction of watching the old Lib-Labs, and even the Conservative Lancashire union leaders, swallow the pro-socialist resolutions passed at the TUC at this time. The older leaders preferred to retain their leadership positions and hold their own private opinions privately; thus when their members' views changed they tried to make sense of this change as best they could and so voiced the new ideas as being the opinions of the working man. Along with this propaganda and discussion inside the working class, there was also the growing desire to have members of their own class represent them in Parliament, just as the industrial bourgeoisie had acquired this desire as they became conscious of their economic power culminating in l832. It was a desire arising from the understanding that Parliament had the power to redress the grievances of the working class. The l847 Ten Hours Act had benefited the working class; the l87l and l875 Trade Union Bills had suppressed the bourgeoisie's attempt to defeat the trade unions politically.
The formation of the Labour Representation Committee in l899 had as its purpose "the representation of the working class in Parliament". It was to become the political party of the working class. It became that party because it had the support of the Trade Union leaders, i.e. the working class had recognised the need for a political party independent of the bourgeoisie.
The main political force in the formation of the Labour Representation Committee was the Independent Labour Party. Founded in 1893, Engels wrote to Sorge about its first conference: "The SDF on the one hand and the Fabians on the other have not been able, with their sectarian attitude, to absorb the rush towards Socialism in the provinces, so the formation of a third party was quite a good thing. But the rush now has become so great, especially in the industrial areas of the North, that the new party came out already at this first Congress stronger than the SDF or the Fabians, if not stronger than both put together. And as the mass of the membership is certainly very good, as the centre of gravity lies in the provinces and not in London, the home of cliques, and as the main point of the programme is the same as ours, Aveling was right in joining and accepting a seat on the Executive." (Selected Correspondence, p.453)
This development of socialism in the working class is reflected in Keir Hardie's speech to the first Congress of the ILP: "The Labour Movement, however, was not an organisation. It was neither a programme nor a constitution, but the expression of a great principle - the determination of the workers to be the arbiters of their own destiny. There were not in that meeting any of the great ones nor the learned ones amongst the sons of men, and therein lay the hope of the Labour Movement. We are here, continued Mr Hardie, such as we are, such as circumstances have created us, the expression of an inborn, an undying determination on the part of the democracy of this land to assert itself in its own spirit and through its own methods. [...] The demand of the Labour Party is for economic freedom. It is the natural outcome of political enfranchisement." (Conference Report, p6)
"With Mr Gladstone's disappearance from politics there would be a scramble amongst different sections of the party (Liberals) for supremacy in the councils of the party. When that scramble came many would be driven in disgust into the Tory Party, but more would be attracted to any organisation which stood for righteousness in the state, and the faulty [fault? - PB] would be the fault of the ILP if the opportunity was not seized to make the party the dominant factor in the politics of the nation [...] He believed the ILP had a great opportunity if only, discarding all minor issues, it remembered that it was created for the purpose of realising Socialism - that that was the one item in its programme (hear, hear) [...] The danger was that the men who might be got in by minimising their demands would prove a source of weakness to them when the hour of trial came." (Conference Report, pp 4-5)
How did the bourgeoisie react to this change in the political consciousness of the working class? Engels wrote Lafargue in Feb. l893: "The only country where the bourgeois still has a little common sense is England. Here the formation of the Independent Labour Party (though still in embryo) and its conduct in the Lancashire and Yorkshire elections have put a match to the government's backside; it is stirring itself, doing things unheard-of for a Liberal Government. The Registration Bill (l) unified the suffrage for all parliamentary, municipal etc elections, (2) adds at least 20 to 30 per cent to the working class vote, (3) removes the cost of election expenses from the candidates' shoulders and places it on those of the government [...] In short, the Liberals recognise that, to make sure of governing at the present time, there is nothing for it but to increase the political power of the working class who will naturally kick them out afterwards [...] once Home Rule is on the Statute Book, they (the Tories) will realise that there is nothing for it but to enter the lists to gain power, and to that end there remains but one means: to win the working class vote by political or economic concessions; thus the Liberals and Conservatives cannot help extending the power of the working class, and hastening the time which will eliminate both the one and the other. Amongst the workers here, things are going well. They begin to realise their strength more and more, and there is only one way of using it, namely, by forming an independent party." (Selected Correspondence, pp 456-7)
Engels's statement that the working class was not being led back into the bourgeoisie's political fold by the Liberals' concessions is borne out by the ILP Congress of 1895. Pete Curran of the Gasworkers gave the Chairman's address; "He said that the difference between the new ILP programme and the Liberals' Newcastle Programme was that 'the men-who drafted it (the ILP's) were sincere men; and the other point of difference was that it contained points and principles which inspired and would in future inspire to the realisation of its objects.'" (Conference Report, p.6)
The National Administrative Committee of the ILP in its Report for the 1895 Conference stated; "Even a Liberal Plutocrat, of the type of the Rt Hon J. Stansfield MP, felt it necessary a few days ago to declare; 'That we are on the verge of a possible catastrophe, such as the world has never seen'. The plutocracy having no faith in the power of democracy to undertake the entire responsibility of regulating the whole of the industrial forces, may view with alarm, the rapidly coming great and mighty changes. To us, who know the necessity for these changes, it is a matter for great rejoicing that we are entering upon the period that is bringing the complete break up of the capitalist system and our present hope and desire is, that we may be found worthy to rightly fulfil our position in contributing to the complete demolition of competitive chaos and to the establishing of the Industrial Commonwealth." (Conference Report, p 20)
The ILP's accession of strength from l893 to l899 was the major factor in the trade unions' support for the Labour Representation Committee. The ILP was willing to "compromise its principles" by limiting the LRC's objects to the representation of the working class in Parliament because it rightly viewed the unification of the working class politically as being of more substance than a principled position. The ILP viewed the triumph of its socialist views as inevitable within a working class party, i.e. that the will of the working class for working class politics could not be rejected because it was not pure enough. The Labour Party's first political programme in 1918 showed that the ILP had been correct. Its own object: "The collective ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange" was a cornerstone of that programme. The ILP and other socialist organisations in the years between 1899 and 1918 had explained to the working class that its independent political expression necessarily implied socialism.
In its attitude to World War I, the British working class showed that it was no more capable of separating itself from the national aspirations of its bourgeoisie than the European working class. There were no mass movement against the war once it had been declared (though literally the day before Ramsay Macdonald had addressed a monster meeting in Trafalgar Square about how the working class would resist the war). However, unlike the European working class it not only proved able during the war to defend its interests economically, it also extended its control over the production process. It was also able to assert and win the demand that its level of subsistence should not be subject to the vagaries of the market (rents and food prices). The shop steward movement in the engineering industry was a reaction to the increased need for working class representation on the shop floor; arising from the need for increased production (a need which seemed never-ending even to those captains of industry called upon to provide the increase). This need had to be met by introducing greater division of labour, substitution of unskilled labour, and new production techniques. The engineers demanded and received a promise from the Government and employers (not without a series of strikes) that these changes would be wiped out at the end of the war and that production would continue after the war as if the new techniques had never happened. The employers were as good as their word and G.D.H. Cole records in 1921 this fact with not a little wonder. It was only when the force of the world market compelled British employers to reintroduce these techniques that the bitter economic struggles of the late 20s and 30s ensued.
The demands of waging a full scale European war on Britain created a standing army in Britain for the first time since the Civil War. The need for increased production, controlled distribution, and the working class's demands against profiteering (i.e. the increased production and Government orders allowing capitalists to operate unfettered in "hothouse" conditions) created the need for centralised organisation. (I use "standing army" here in the sense that Marx, Engels and Lenin must have meant it if they excepted Britain from the Continent pre-1917. Britain had a regular army at the time they were writing. The difference between British and Continental Armies lay a) in their sizes b) the Army in Britain had no political force whereas in Europe it definitely had. In 1831 at the height of the rioting and disturbances surrounding the Reform Bill, Britain had an army of 8l,000 men to deal with 10 million people. The only time since Oliver Cromwell that Britain has ever had a military leader as a politician was the Duke of Wellington. Rather than using the army against the people, his role was to assuage the landed bourgeoisie over firstly the passage of the Reform Bill and secondly the Repeal of the Corn Laws. His house was among those sacked in London in the agitation around the Reform Bill and he, like all the other opponents of the Bill, is described by the Annual Register for l83l as not attempting to say or do anything publicly against the agitation because he recognised that he would not redress the balance but only intensify the conflict.)
Unlike the Continent, the British Army in 1917 had no peasants. Its members were working class and many of them had come from organised trades in the first flush of the recruiting campaigns of 1914 when the Government had not yet understood the need for keeping its skilled labour down the pits and on the shop floor. Whatever hopes the bourgeoisie may have had about being able to use this standing army against the working class (and on this point I cannot comment because I have not found any evidence) would have been dashed when the Government was forced to speed up demobilisation early in 1919 because it was faced with outbreaks of mutiny in its standing army in camps distant from one another, as well as its elite navy. The mutinies had no co-ordination or coherent politics; they were rather a straight refusal of the working class to remain in the army any more now that the war had finished. So quickly did the demobilisation take place that many soldiers left without handing in their equipment and the Government had to offer a cash bounty to try and recall some of the guns that had been dispersed. The Government did not bring to trial or hang anyone for treason as a result of these mutinies. Its actions show that it accepted that "making an example" in this way would have no effect (and perhaps the opposite effect) in returning discipline to the ranks.
The need for more centralised organisation in Britain did not result in the creation of a European bureaucracy, whose power came from its own institution and which [was? - PB] regulated from above. The need was met by the application of the voluntary principle, i.e. those who needed the regulating did it themselves, guided by the needs and demands of "public opinion" as expressed in Parliament, the newspapers, the trade unions etc, and were put on "their honour" to do what was expected. In the case of the economic struggle, the working class refused to deal with the employers; and the Government was forced to provide "fair and honest brokers" to regulate production. The working class refused to let the employers be self-regulating because they did not trust "their honour".
Lloyd George went to Glasgow in 1915 as Minister for Munitions boasting that he would be able to make the workers see sense, and accept dilution, pegged wages and more effort. Instead he found himself confronted with a unanimous refusal by the workers to be addressed by him and the demand that he should meet their "self-appointed" leaders, the shop stewards committee. His silver-tongued rhetoric never had a chance. He had to meet the shop stewards who put a demand for workers control. The shop stewards committee accepted the Government's concession of taking collective bargaining out of the employers' hands altogether and its substitution of dilution commissioners appointed by the Government who could agree bargains with shop stewards to increase production. This was the case in the engineering industry throughout Britain.
I conclude that although Lenin was correct to see the existence of a standing army and increased centralised organisation as constituting a "state machine", the ruling class was unable to maintain the standing army after early 1919 and the centralised organisation was a voluntary, self-regulating one except where the working class forced the state to regulate the employers' in the working class's interests. Further research by Communists into this period of British history will uncover for Communists exactly what attitude the ruling class had to its new standing army and greater centralised organisation. Without the benefit of this information (which neither C.K. Maisels or the 3 presented) it is possible only to recognise what occurrence, what development in Britain made Lenin change his mind. We have seen that it was the demands of a European war which determined the occurrence of a standing army and centralised organisation. That standing army had been demobilised by 1919. The centralised organisation was dismantled largely by the mid 20s. Since the organisation had been largely in the interests of the working class and had not behaved like a European bureaucracy, rather was merely a reflection of the class political struggle, the fact that it was dismantled rather than developed in the working class's interests by working class politics shows an inability in the working class to impel society forward. The bourgeoisie for their part were opposed to this new centralised organisation and in the absence of working class pressure exerted their own political pressure for a return to unfettered capitalism.
In 1917 Lenin also showed that there was an international revolutionary situation. The first precondition for a revolutionary situation is that the ruling class are unable to continue ruling in the old way. To assume that the fact of there being no proletarian revolution except in Russia means that the bourgeoisie in all other countries were able to resume power and continue ruling in the old way as if the revolutionary situation had never happened is incorrect. It invests the bourgeoisie with a deus ex machina very like Hegel's idealist state which is capable of imposing order on the society from without.
A cursory knowledge of the developments in France, Germany and Italy in the interwar period will show that this indeed was not the case. To describe any of these countries as having a stable period of bourgeois rule is plainly incorrect. In France the bourgeoisie proved once again incapable of ruling politically in their own right and the formation of another Second Empire type state was prevented by an alliance between the progressive bourgeoisie and the working class (similarly the working class proved incapable of ruling politically in its own right). In Italy the postwar government of radical, progressive bourgeoisie recognised that the working class was a conscious political force in its own right to be accounted to and given a place in the state and the organisation and administration of production which corresponded to its class consciousness. This Government was unable to pull the bourgeoisie behind it and gave way to Mussolini's Fascism (which owed much to working class syndicalism in its initial conception). It is well to remember that in World War II the British bourgeoisie in Europe who proved capable of fighting a national war of self-defense. [? 'the British bourgeoisie in Europe proved capable of fighting '? Though one might question the phrase 'war of self defense' - PB.] Marx says in Civil War in France that the bourgeoisie can no longer fight a national war because it involves handing the social initiative to the working class (as the only class capable of furnishing the resources and men to fight the war).
I know too little of European history in this period to analyse the actual working out of the class struggle. What is certain, however, is that a politically conscious working class constituted a major threat to the political ability of the bourgeoisie to enforce capitalist relations of production. The continuing development of the working class revolution in the USSR against formidable obstacles meant that the consciousness of the working class in capitalist Europe was continually confronted with the material fact that another system of production, a qualitatively new way of organising production and exchange to meet social needs was possible. While in capitalist Europe the inability of capitalism to meet social needs (not just inefficient or indirect meeting of those needs through the market, but the forcing of large sections of the working class outside the labour market - i.e. unemployment) meant that the need for a different system was an inescapable conclusion.
The interwar period in Britain
The bourgeoisie's consciousness:
In his biography of Disraeli written in 1890, the Tory Christian historian J.A. Froude comments on the change in the bourgeoisie's consciousness: "From the Restoration downwards the owners of land began to surround themselves with luxuries, and the employers of labour to buy it at the cheapest rate. Selfishness became first a practice and then developed boldly into a theory [...] Every man was to be set free and do the best which he could for himself. [...] Competition became the sole rule of trade [...] artisans and labourers were taught to believe that they would gain as largely as the capitalists. They had been bondsmen; they were all now free, and all would benefit alike. Yet somehow all did not benefit alike [...] Discontent broke out in ugly forms [...] They were told they must keep the peace and help themselves. Their labour was an article which they had to sell, and the value of it was fixed by relations between supply and demand. Man could not alter the laws of nature, which political economists had finally discovered. Political economy has since been banished to the exterior planets; but fifty years ago to doubt was heresy, to deny was a crime to be censured in all the newspapers." (pp.77-8) "The remedy of the economists (50 years ago to working class distress, NS) was to heat the furnace still hotter, to abolish every lingering remnant of restraint, and stifle complaint by admitting the working men to political power. The enlightened amongst the rich were not afraid for they were entrenched, as they believed, behind their law of nature. In its contracts with labour, capital must always have the advantage; for capital could wait and hungry stomachs could not wait." (p.79)
In 1973 the bourgeoisie recognise that capitalist relations are no natural law; that they have to be defended and accounted for to the working class, because that working class is politically conscious. By 1890 we see that the bourgeoisie no longer had any natural law which ordered society. This disappearance of capitalism's natural laws underlies the disintegration of the Liberal Party. The ideology of the Liberal Party stemmed from these natural laws; individualism, Free Trade and antipathy to social control of any kind was no longer tenable and in its place remained nothing progressive except socialism.
Engels wrote to Laura Lafargue in l886: "The bourgeoisie, from the moment it is faced by a conscious and organised proletariat, becomes entangled in hopeless contradictions between its liberal and general tendencies here, and the repressive necessities of its defensive struggle against the proletariat there. A cowardly bourgeoisie, like the German and Russian, sacrifices its general class tendencies to the momentary advantages of brutal repression. But a bourgeoisie with a revolutionary history of its own, such as the English and particularly the French, cannot do that so easily. Hence that struggle within the bourgeoisie itself, which in spite of occasional fits of violence and oppression, on the whole drives it forward - see the various electoral reforms of Gladstone in England, and the advance of radicalism in France. This verdict (an acquittal in France) is a new étape (stage). And so the bourgeoisie, in doing its own work, is doing ours." (Selected Correspondence, pp.394-5)
Some members of the Liberal Party adopted socialism as the new natural law; there were many defections from the Parliamentary Party on down to the Labour Party. By 1922 the Labour vote exceeded the Liberals' and the Liberals were never again to retake the lost votes.
The progressives who left the Liberals had been unable to convert the party to the necessary changes and the Liberal Party's demise marked the demise of the bourgeoisie as a conscious political power capable of forcing political changes which were exclusively in their own interest (e.g. Free Trade). The working class, on whose support the Liberal Party had had to depend to force changes in the direction of capitalism's natural laws, had recognised that their class interests were different from those of the bourgeoisie and consequently organised independently.
Why then did the Conservative Party survive? Precisely because the Tory Party's function in British Parliamentary politics as it had developed in the 19th century had been to maintain that the status quo was the most desirable state of affairs and any change would not only damage the social fabric but also be hypocritical for a Conservative Party to uphold (Disraeli was able to win the Tory's heart when Peel supported the repeal of the Corn Laws by appealing to this sense of principle). This Tory stance has the effect of forcing the progressive social forces to develop and argue their case for change thoroughly within the society as a whole before any change is enacted. It is the "minimum of stability and order" referred to in the British Road. By the time the forces for change have influenced "public opinion" enough to get a serious Parliamentary hearing the forces of reaction have fought and lost all the battles except the last; their strength and ability to resist have been defeated. The Parliamentary battle is the last; in it a 'principled protest' is registered and the change then goes forward.
The Conservative Party developed this ability to resist change and yet be able to enact and implement change when necessary because it has always had a radical wing who have recognised that progressive forces are inevitably bound to force change. Amongst the radical wing have been the Pitts and Disraeli (to an extent), and also Peel and the Peelites while they remained within the Party (Gladstone as Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer not only tore down duties and protective tariffs but also delivered a straight challenge to the House of Lords about their right to tamper with the Commons). When the working class became politically conscious, the Liberal Unionists (notably Chamberlain and Dilke) brought forward measures which Keir Hardie was forced to take seriously and call "Bismarckian socialism".
In the interwar period this radical wing was composed of Boothby, Macmillan and Butler amongst others. Because these Tory Radicals always [act? - PB] strictly within the bounds of party discipline and propriety they are not looked on as Reds Under the Bed or hostile; they merely hold their own opinions, which, when society is stable and not forcing change, they keep to themselves as their own opinions. However, when progressive change is forced up to Parliament, it is the Radical wing which enable the Tories to cope with the change and remain a coherent political body capable of survival because it can not only accept but understand and be able to administer the change.
"In attempting to analyse the principles of Conservatism, we must at least avoid the error of too close an approximation to precision or to dogma. The historical continuity of any party appears to the modern reader to be of the most slender description." (Industry and the State, a Conservative View, by Boothby, Macmillan, John de V. Loder, MP and Hon Oliver Stanley, MP.)
"The Conservative point of view may be defined as being made up of four ingredients; symbolism, empiricism, continuity and realism [...] We have, as a nation, a particular predilection for inductive as opposed to deductive reasoning [...] The fact that we always have responded to necessary changes in our political or social organisation has confirmed us in the view that the imposition of a theoretical system is both wasteful of the evolutionary possibility of existing institutions and a positive bar to further progress. This belief leads us at once to recognise the necessity for continuity, for using fully existing materials in any scheme of further building [...] thus avoiding the dangerous interregnum between total demolition and the completion of reconstruction. Finally, we rely on reality; we take the world as we find it today and not as we think it ought to be, not as we hope it will be in time to come, believing that only thus is it possible for each succeeding generation to leave it, in fact, a little better. It is an obstinate blindness to reality and a pathetic faith that it is possible to make human nature approximate to their ideal simply by wishing, and thus to dispense with the slow and painful process of evolution, which waste the noble enthusiasm and generous sympathy of so many Socialists today." (pp.11-12. The book advocates an industrial syndicalist and planning organisation.)
In 1925, Ernest J.P. Benn, whose father had been a progressive Radical, wrote Confessions of a Capitalist. In chapter 1 he states: "But the political agitation against my class is not to me so serious as the greater mass of middle class opinion which [...] adopts with unanimity an attitude of mind definitely unsympathetic to commerce [...] There seems, in, fact, to be little doubt in the mind of anybody that the accumulation of big fortunes in individual hands is bad for society. Public opinion has accepted almost without question the fallacious theory that riches are made at the expense of others [...] It is not necessary in England to declare oneself a Socialist to adopt the view that there is something wrong with the system, for Socialist agitators and Christian preachers vie with one another in denunciation of the existing scheme of things. Socialism has grafted itself on to our public opinion so completely that even at a Tory meeting it is possible to raise a laugh at the expense of a man like myself with £10,000 a year [...] In case it may be thought that I am unduly sensitive, or am exaggerating in this matter of public opinion and wealth, I quote an answer which was given in the House of Commons as recently as February, 1924, by the then Lord Privy Seal, Mr J.R. Clynes (Labour); 'I should have thought [...] it was the aim of all political parties to effect by means of social legislation a more equitable distribution of wealth.' [...] That reply was received by the House with general agreement, and shows how completely we have accepted the notion that it is the duty of our legislators to effect this 'more equitable distribution of wealth'. [...] I venture the opinion that there were not more than a score of persons present in the House of Commons (and I do not forget the whole of the Conservative Party) who felt that this statement of Mr Clynes was a tragedy instead of a pious expression of the opinion of all parties [...] Unlike the ordinary anti-Socialist agitator, I blame quite definitely the business community for the state of mind into which the public has been allowed to drift." (pp.12-14)
Samuel Brittan made the same comment recently in the FT (quoted in December Communist, 'Tripartite Talks') and like Benn had no idea where capitalism's defenders would come from. Peter Walker, Minister for Trade and Industry in the Heath Government spoke on 19th January 1973: "The purist arguments for capitalism no longer apply. Capitalism has a contribution to make, but in a changed form. Those of us who seek for our society advantages of a free-enterprise system must examine objectively a number of major spheres and eradicate the disadvantages. We simply cannot allow our economic growth to flag with consequent effects on the quality of our lives while we stand on ceremony and bow towards nineteenth century views of the proper division of responsibility between management, labour and government." (Sunday Times, 21.1.73, p.60)
If we hold that ideas and "public opinion" do not simply come into people's heads, that consciousness is indeed a matter of reflection of material reality and not metaphysics, then, we can understand the significance of the volte face which British society has gone through since the development of the political consciousness of the working class. From the time when the ideology of bourgeois political economy was a natural law which gave rise to political and social change to 1890 when no one could be found to defend it anywhere. For those of us who have given up in the time when that "dogma" was already indefensible it will be difficult to understand the change which Froude records and which Engels also lived to see and register.
The Working Class Consciousness:
I have already described the development of socialist ideas in the most conscious section of the working class. We have seen an understanding that the old epoch had come to an end and that the working class would be the actors in founding a new epoch.
Within the working class there were two views on how its power would express itself. The ILP held that socialism could only be achieved by parliamentary means. The syndicalists argued that Parliament was meaningless and could do nothing. In any event what was promised by politicians was never enacted. The real power lay in the production process and working class control of production must bring socialism. They did not actively oppose the ILP and Parliamentarism; they refused to support and work for it.
It is not at all surprising to find these two views of how to win socialism, as each reflects an aspect of the reality of the class struggle. The ILP never stopped to consider why Parliament enacted what it did. It took Parliament as sovereign in itself and saw the connection between Parliament, lawmaking and society as being confined to its most formal appearances: elections and the task of piloting a bill through the House. Once an election had been won and once a bill was through Parliament the ILP assumed that its effect on society would be as it, the ILP intended. After all they were the members of the party offering themselves for election and they had written the bills.
The syndicalists were the working class's reaction to having spent nearly a century in industrial production; they were a reflection of the fact that the class was coming to terms with this new situation (i.e. rather than wishing to go back to the old production process of isolated artisans and small producers). The working class was coming to some conclusions about its place in production. In August 1912, Sidney and Beatrice Webb analysed syndicalism. As parliamentarians, they were implacably hostile to politically developed expressions of syndicalism in the Labour Party; but they understood it and knew it had to be reckoned with. "The manual working wage earner has lost faith in the necessity, let alone the righteousness, of the social arrangement to which he finds himself subject. [...] To all wage earners who think about this matter (the inequality in distribution of wealth), to all who are in fact 'class conscious', the explanation seems simple. Whilst they and their fellows are contributing the whole of the physical toil involved in the production, distribution and exchange of commodities, they are excluded from the ownership both of the instruments of production and the products of labour. But this is not all [...] The manual working wage earner finds himself spending his whole life in subjection to the arbitrary orders, even to the irresponsible caprices of the employers and their agents. [...] To a man who has taken literally the rhetorical advocacy of trade unionism as a remedy, the result seems painfully disappointing. Meanwhile the employer has often recouped himself by increasing the speed of the work, or by otherwise adding to the intensity of the toil [...] The trade union, in fact, of the orthodox type, assumes and accepts as permanent the very organisation of industry against which the 'class conscious' wage earner is now revolting [...] (The) next step (for a class conscious worker) has always seemed a mere application to industry of the principles of democracy [...] why should not the same body of manual workers (who are in Trade Unions), who form in every business organisation the immense majority, elect the general manager and the foreman, the buyer and the salesman, who are now appointed by the capitalist private owner of the enterprise [...] All that stands in the way seems to be the private ownership of the instruments of production, entailing as it does, the ownership of the whole product." (The Crusade, pp 137-8)
Syndicalism as a political tendency disappeared in Britain after the early 1920s. The reason lies in the fact that while the period up to World War I and directly after it had been one of full employment, expansion of production and the consequent increase in immediate bargaining power and strength of the working class, the interwar period was one where the working class was concerned to defend and enforce the current relations of production (to maintain employment and real wages), thus the work sharing and voluntary limitation of piece work. The 'left' has attempted to resuscitate syndicalism in the '60s as giving adequate expression to the working class's consciousness.
The Webbs' objection to syndicalism was that it assumed that abstract democracy was enough to regulate and organise production, distribution and exchange. Just as the ILP believed that forms were all, the syndicalists held that 'will was all' that was needed to bring about a transformation in the relations of production.
The Trade Unions are the oldest and strongest organisation of the working class. Their development belongs to a history of the 18th and early 19th centuries. By 1917 they had fought for and won an acknowledged place in society as a working class organisation with the job of seeing that the working class obtained the full value of its labour power and that conditions of work were regulated in their members' interests. The Labour Party was organised by trade unions to make their political leverage more effective. To this day it remains essentially a party to speak for the trade unions in Parliament.
The position of the Fabians has been already dealt with; it remains to speak of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The three political constituents of the CPGB in 1920 were the British Socialist Party (BSP), the syndicalist shop stewards and the ultra-leftist Workers Dreadnought (Sylvia Pankhurst). Numerically the BSP provided the most members though the only constituent which had any relation to the working class were the shop stewards. The BSP was a Marxist sect who took Marxism as a dogma. Consequently they had never had any permanent influence on the working class, though it must be said that the politically conscious members of the working class always attempted to make common cause with them - the purity lay wholly with the BSP. I have already shown that the shop stewards derived their power as agents of the working class in the economic struggle. When the working class, due to the interwar slump, could no longer dictate the conditions of production, the syndicalism of the shop stewards gave way to the defensive trade unionism for which they had previously twitted the older generation of trade union leaders. The shop stewards retained their power because they were useful in the defensive economic struggle, but the CPGB shop stewards remained nothing more nor less than the most skilled and determined and co-ordinated practitioners of trade unionism in the working class. The ultra-leftists influenced the politics of the CPGB far more than their numbers warranted. This was because the political situation was one of flux such as Britain had not seen since the beginning of the nineteenth century and because the CPGB could not explain that flux using Marxism (it had no elements capable of doing so) it had to use the ultra-left's extremism and voluntarism. Precisely because the shop steward element was the only point of the CP's connection to the working class, it was at this point only that the CPGB had an impact on the British working class. The CP's organisation, determination and co-ordination within trade unions ensured that the unions remained the most vital organisation of the working class. Politically, the CP proved incapable of explaining Marxism and the USSR to the working class and also incapable of going beyond the BSP's dogmatism to taking the history before its very eyes seriously.
The Class Struggle in Britain in the Interwar Years:
Because the 3 and C.K. Maisels do not make their case for themselves, I take them seriously as Marxists and am setting out to present the counter-evidence that the bourgeoisie did not develop a standing army or bureaucracy which the working class would have to deal with before being able to take political power in its own right.
The General Strike of 1926 is generally viewed by 'left' historians as the culmination of the revolutionary situation which Lenin analysed in 1917. These historians hold that the working class was defeated mercilessly by the bourgeoisie, but acted heroically throughout. It was the power of the bourgeoisie and the working class's lack of revolutionary consciousness which ensured this defeat (if the historian is a bureaucratic Trot, he adds that the TU leaders also turned traitor and contributed to the defeat materially. This position was held by the CPGB at the time.)
The fact that 1926 was an open confrontation outside Parliament between the working class and the bourgeoisie was determined by the fact that the working class refused to take socialism seriously.
The miners' demand which precipitated the Lock-Out at the beginning of May 1926 was that there should be no reduction in wages (even though the market had turned against coal producers and coal prices were falling) and that the coal owner & should negotiate with the miners as a National Union and not by district, and that there should be no increase in hours.
The miners had supported demands by their Union for higher pay and lower hours since the end of World War I. While the market conditions favoured coal and while the Government continued to "control" the coal industry (through the Coal Controller, a system arrived at because of the need for centralised organisation and the demands of the working class) and operated a pooling scheme whereby the more profitable districts subsidised the less profitable ones, there could be higher pay, lower hours and national standardisation of wages.
In 1919, the coalition Government faced probably the most serious threat from the working class that it would ever encounter. The Miners Federation of Great Britain (MFGB, the miners' union) made a demand for higher wages, shorter hours, and the nationalisation of the coalmining industry. (Because the mines were still controlled by the Government, the demand was put to the state and not to the coal owners who could wield no power except their political power - they had no economic power).
What is more, the MFGB made that demand after a full membership ballot which gave the Executive the power to call a strike if the demands were not met in full. Far from negotiating and conciliating, this amounted to the MFGB making a demand and expecting that demand to be met.
The Government replied by appointing the Sankey Commission to examine whether the MFGB demands were practical, i.e. what basis there was in the society for granting the demands. It replied very swiftly indeed because it understood that the miners were in dead earnest. The MFGB agreed to give evidence only on the condition that it was allowed to nominate one half of the Commission's members.
The Sankey Commission had 12 members. 4 were the direct representatives of the MFGB, openly and formally acknowledged as such by all involved (they included the President, Vice-President and Secretary of the MFGB); two were formally nominated by the Government but agreed between it and the MFGB as 'independent men' supporting the miners (Sidney Webb and R.H.Tawney); three were direct Government nominees who were 'independent men' representing 'stability' and 'technical expertise'; and three were the direct representatives of the employers organisation of the coalowners. (The technical expert was Sir Arthur Duckham)
The Sankey Commission had been created by an Act of Parliament (not executive or bureaucratic fiat or machinery) and had to report back to Parliament so that Parliament could decide about what to do about its findings. The MFGB leaders had declared that the decision on wages and hours must be put before the union with no delays i.e. they separated the demand for nationalisation from the wage claim and judged the wage claim to be the more urgent.
Accordingly a fortnight after its creation, the Commission reported after taking evidence and cross-questioning witnesses before the nation. Its proceedings were not only front page news in every paper, the conclusions to be drawn from the witnesses' evidence were the subject of consideration and polemic everywhere. The Commission was unable to issue a unanimous report. The six MFGB representatives issued a report which accorded the wage and hours claim in full and supported nationalisation in principle: "We find justified the miners' claim for a more efficient organisation of their industry - the individual ownership of collieries being officially declared to be 'wasteful and extravagant'[...] and in view of the impossibility of tolerating any unification of all the mines in the hands of a capitalist trust we think that, in the interest of the consumers as much as in that of the miners, nationalisation ought to be, in principle, at once determined on." The Chairman, Lord Sankey (a Tory judge who made the 13th of the Commission) and the three Government 'independent men' issued a report which granted the hours claim in full and went more than half way towards the wage claim. It said: "Even upon the evidence already given, the present system of ownership and working in the coal industry stands condemned, and some other system must be substituted for it, either nationalisation or a method of unification by national purchase and/or joint control."
The coalowners report said nothing about nationalisation (did not put a case for private ownership to Parliament) and granted the hours demand without the wages demand.
The Coalition Government accepted the independent report "in spirit and in letter" (Bonar Law for the Government in the Commons, quoted in Page Arnot: The Miners, Vol.2, p.201. The Commission quotes are also from Arnot). The MFGB agreed to put the interim recommendations to a ballot. The ballot paper not only detailed the wages and hours offer but also added: "In view of the statement in the report of the Chairman of the Commission that the 'present system of ownership stands condemned' and that 'the colliery worker shall in future have an effective voice in the direction of the mine', the Government have decided that the Commission must report on the question of nationalisation of the mining industry on May 20, 1919." (quoted in Arnot, p.202) The ballot showed overwhelming acceptance for the Sankey terms and the strike notices were withdrawn.
The Sankey Commission continued to take evidence for all the nation to hear and consider. Indeed the interim report had said, "We are not prepared to report one way or the other upon evidence which is at present insufficient [...] nor are we prepared to give now a momentous decision upon a point which affects every citizen in this country [...] We are prepared, however, to report now that it is in the interests of the country that the colliery workers shall in the future have an effective voice in the direction of the mine. For a generation the colliery worker has been educated socially and technically. The result is a great national asset. Why not use it?" (Arnot, pp.203-4)
The MFGB view of nationalisation (which the Miners' MPs had already drawn up as a draft parliamentary bill) was put before the Commission: "It was based on vesting all powers in a National Mining Council, ten appointed by the Government and ten by the Miners' Federation." (Arnot, p.205). There were to be District Councils, and Pit Councils with powers delegated from the Mining Council and on which half the members were to be working miners. The MFGB counsel presenting the scheme said: "Any administration of the mines under nationalisation must not leave the mineworkers in the position of a mere wage earner whose whole energies are directed by the will of another. He must have a share in the management of the industry in which he is engaged, and understand all about the purpose and destination of the product he is producing; he must know both the productive and the commercial side of the industry. He must feel that the industry is being run by him in order to produce coal for the use of the community, instead of profit for a few people. [...] This ideal cannot be reached all at once owing to the way in which private ownership has deliberately kept the worker in ignorance regarding the industry [...] The mere granting of the 30% (wage demand) and the shorter hours demanded, will not prevent unrest, neither will nationalisation with bureaucratic administration." (Arnot, p.206) The coal owners representatives did not question the MFGB counsel on the principle of the appropriation of private property but whether in fact the workers could organise and administer the mines.
Now, the accepted 'left' convention about the final Sankey report is that it retreated from its original support for public ownership with workers' control and thus the working class were not only defeated, but defeated by the trickery of false promises about accepting the "spirit" of the report. In fact the spirit of the final report was perfectly consistent with the interim report.
What in fact permitted the Government (indeed forced the Government) not to nationalise the mines and institute schemes of local administration was the complete absence of political pressure (both Parliamentary and extra-Parliamentary) by the working class. The miners' withdrawn strike notices were not again tendered as a clear indication to the Government that all the techniques of "peaceful persuasion" in pursuit of "just demands" would be used by the working class.
The Commission's final reports were presented on June 20th to Parliament. Chairman Sankey's conclusions were supported by the six MFGB representatives who however issued in addition their own report sticking to the MFGB position in full. Sankey recommended that the principle of state ownership be accepted and that there should be a scheme of local administration of the mines, with the miners having one third of the representatives. Duckham issued a highly eccentric blueprint plan for solving the economic problems of the industry without addressing himself to the political issue, while the other two 'independent men' did nothing. The coal owners came out against nationalisation in any form and conceded only consultative pit committees with no power (Arnot, a CPGB member who lived through it, says, "Their (the coal owners) views were perhaps best expressed [not? - PB] in their own words (the report), but in those of one of the coal owners, Lord Gainford, who, speaking as a witness, said: 'I am authorised to say on behalf of the Mining Association that if owners are not to be left complete executive control, they will decline to accept the responsibility of carrying on the industry, and, though they regard nationalisation as disastrous to the country, they feel they would in such an event be driven to the only alternative - nationalisation on fair terms'." p.208).
It is here, however, that the political representatives of the working class refused to take their case any further. Having succeeded in forcing the nation, "public opinion" and Parliament to listen, argue out and come to terms with the working class's case, they stopped. The MFGB Conference in mid-July agreed "reluctantly" (G.D.H. Cole, History of the Labour Party 1914-1949) to Sankey and ... did nothing to make sure it was implemented.
Now it is quite wrong to say that the MFGB leaders did not understand that extra- Parliamentary pressure would not only be needed right up to the point when the Bill was enacted, but if anything would need to be intensified during this time. The Miners had had long experience of conducting campaigns for Parliamentary action on regulating their working conditions and hours and understood very well just how pledges are extracted from MPs and governments and how "peaceful persuasion" is used. The answer must lie in the MFGB Executive's decision (l) to separate the nationalisation demand from the wages/hours one, (2) their inability to get their members' backing for the threat of strike action if nationalisation was not enacted, (3) their inability to organise a political campaign of the working class as a whole for Sankey (on the lines of the bourgeoisie's brilliantly successful "The Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill" in 1831). Precisely because (2) and (3) were absent was (l) a fatal mistake. It should be restated here that this inability is not the MFGB leaders alone - it is true of the whole of the leaders of the working class. Those in the "Labour Movement" who understood the necessity for such change (the Fabians) did not tackle the question of explaining this to the working class or their leaders. The ILP continued to talk about principle.
Faced with the working class's refusal to support the public opinion for nationalisation with substance, i.e. with their power as a class, the bourgeoisie set about to try to change public opinion. It should be noted that they only did so after the working class had stopped insisting on its case (like the landed aristocracy in 1831 it accepted that to try to argue its case and organise social force in support would inflame the situation and provoke a more organised reaction from the working class). Before the end of June many coalition MPs had announced publicly that they would fight against Sankey and vote against the Government if it supported Sankey. Meetings were organised and the counter case to Sankey put for the first time.
Not surprisingly, the Government reacted to this pressure, in the absence of any pressure from the working class, by beginning to renege on the "spirit" of Sankey. Or rather it is more accurate to say that the spirit of Sankey began to change; since it was neither more nor less than what the politics of the nation decided it was to be (this explains the conventional 'left' view of final Sankey being milksop after interim Sankey. The actual face value of the final report is forgotten as the working class did not enforce it).
In mid-August the Government proposed a variant of Duckham's report. The MFGB decided against holding a strike after consultations with the Triple Alliance, and instead went to the TUC supported by the Alliance. The TUC supported the MFGB in full; but, not surprisingly in view of the MFGB's own decision not to strike and the absence of political pressure, decided (in December at its special Congress - no sense of tactical urgency was felt so pure democracy was observed to its letter) on a Mines for the Nation propaganda campaign "to which all sections of the labour movement were invited to give the fullest support. This campaign was designed to educate public opinion,which had been found to be somewhat apathetic about the nationalisation issue." (Cole, p.95)
In May 1919 public opinion had been compelled by the working class to examine the mining industry, to put its capitalist foundations in question. And on the terms of that public opinion (i.e. the consciousness of each class and the political force used by each class) the status quo had been proved indefensible on June 20 1919. It had been proved on the basis of practicality that the coalowners had not administered the mining industry in the interests of the nation, and that the miners would do it better.
By December 1919, public opinion "had become" apathetic. Arnot states, "At this critical stage (after June 1919) they (the MFGB) made the tactical error which they tried to correct later, of simply awaiting the decision of the Government." (my emphasis)
It cannot be overemphasised that these seasoned veterans of Parliamentary campaigns simply do not make "tactical errors"; they were far too experienced to make a random mistake and far too successful at winning concessions to misread Government and Parliamentary behaviour. Unless we accept the "class traitor" theory which explains every defeat by treachery at the top, we must conclude that the campaign for nationalisation was not continued and won because the leaders did not understand the necessity for doing so, in the same way that they did indeed understand the necessity for winning a wage/hours demand, or enforcement of safety at work or defence of trade union rights. The understanding of this necessity could not come from the working class itself (Communist consciousness after all is not mechanically created in reaction to events). It would have to come from an understanding of the working class's tasks in the development of socialism as a system of production to replace capitalism. And that understanding is precisely what the Fabians, the ILP and the CPGB had not given either the working class or its leaders.
The Government rejected the nationalisation in the Sankey Report only when it was clear that it was the verdict of the nation that they should. It did not act before it was very sure just precisely what that verdict was. The Government's proposal to adopt Duckham's report was accepted by Parliament in December 1919.
The coal industry was de-controlled by the Government in 1921. The coalowners, having been presented with a mandate to run the mines by the nation, proceeded to do just that. The coal mines were no longer owned by individual hardy entrepreneurs in the main. The centralisation of production meant that "monopolists" like Alfred Mond (founder of ICI) had substantial coalmining interests. Nevertheless, the individual entrepreneur still survived in some places and interestingly it was these reactionaries (used in the correct sense of having a philosophy and way of doing things out of line with changed reality) who controlled the employers' organisation which did all the negotiating with the MFGB. Their control was so strong that the big bourgeoisie were unable to challenge the small owners' ideas about how the struggle with the miners should be conducted.
After 1919, relations between miners and owners were confined to traditional trade unionism. And though it should be remembered that the coalowners took the most reactionary course open to them (refusing all Government attempts at capitalist reorganisation which had been enacted by Parliament), the fact that they were able to do so was because the working class had taken the owners to the brink and failed to push them over. Left in the ownership of their pits, the owners proceeded to act as if they and only they knew what was best (having little regard for the material requirements of the industry or its most progressive practitioners like Mond). When the MFGB had to try and defend its concessions and conditions won during the war in 1921, 1925 and 1926, they had to contend not only with a worsening in the terms of trade for English coal and the increasing substitution of oil, but also a reactionary employers' organisation which could not be coerced by the more realistic members of its class because these reactionaries had won their case in the open struggle of public opinion. The progressive members of the bourgeoisie can coerce the reactionary members of their own class only when the working class provides the force and conscious demand for them to do so. In this case the working class had provided the force, but had drawn back at the crucial moment, so the reactionaries had won and were perfectly entitled to take the fact of property ownership seriously (i.e. to flaunt the developments in the productive forces). But we should not forget that even with the most progressive employers, miners would have had to take a cut in their wages, because the market was producing conditions which even the most progressive bourgeoisie at that time could not alter. The best it would have been possible to expect was that the cut should have been agreed by the MFGB and employers as necessary, made as small as possible, and shared between districts on a national basis; and that the cut should be redressed as soon as market conditions made this possible. Meanwhile, a progressive bourgeoisie would presumably have managed better as capitalists, exploiting the chances the market threw up better than the reactionaries.
In the meantime the bourgeoisie as a class had gained great sustenance from the coal owners' victory and began to believe for the first time since the l890s that a new epoch might indeed not have begun and that their traditional privileges and rights might indeed again be assertable. From 1919 to 1926 they try to assert these ... and fail. The coalowners and the bourgeoisie won the General Strike formally; the miners were forced to go back to work on the owners' conditions and other employers were able to sack their militants and the 1927 Trades Union Act was passed, which Baldwin had prevented even being introduced in the House as a Private Members Bill in 1924 and 1925, and had prevented backbenchers from passing in one day through Parliament during the General Strike (Parliament can indeed act quickly if the situation outside it requires it) in order to make the working class knuckle under. The Act, for which the bourgeoisie had held out such hopes, was never implemented! (The Government had to observe form in requiring the Civil Service unions to disaffiliate from the TUC. The Act's provisions requiring contracting in and not contracting out did not reduce the Labour Party's coffers at all. In about four years the trade unions were contributing as much to the Party as if they had been still contracting out. The other provisions of the Act which were never used were similar to the Industrial Relations Act. The Act was repealed by the 1945 Labour Government.)
In 1926 the bourgeoisie had to abandon their hopes borne out of the coalowners' victory in 1919. The General Strike taught the bourgeoisie that the working class could run society perfectly well without them! The ruling class were unanimous in saying that the General Strike was unconstitutional and that the working class was acting without any authority from law or order. Similarly, the TUC had withdrawn its members from the vital public services. This made the situation one where if society were to continue to tick over, i.e. if production, distribution and exchange were to continue, 'it would be because (1) the working class organised these essential public services for society; or (2) because the bourgeoisie organised them. There was no longer any agreed agency running them for the benefit of society (The first line which the TUC withdrew included transport of all kinds, newspapers and dockers).
The bourgeoisie had begun to prepare for the General Strike in 1925 (when the fact that it would occur was obvious to both classes and the Government) by organising itself into voluntary groups to maintain these essential services and thus stability and order (The Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, OMS, was begun as a result of a letter to The Times from a retired Brigadier). The Government, realising that it could not prevent such organisation by the bourgeoisie (it had no power to do so) did the next best thing by attempting to informally influence and thus control it. The OMS formally offered its services to the Government which the Government formally accepted. The bourgeoisie used their trump card - their knowledge of what had to be done and how things should be organised - to divide Britain into regions, and the Government created a chain of command in those regions extending downwards to ensure that civilised life and production could continue.
In the event, the much vaunted OMS (called by the CPGB 'fascist'!) and the Government organisation were forced into redundancy by the working class. Not only did the working class prove capable of administering and organising the essential services that permit life to be civilised - they refused to let the bourgeoisie strikebreak (see Emile Burns: Trades Councils in Action).
The TUC, unlike the Government, had not been prepared to anticipate what its rank and file would do in a General Strike. The Trades Councils provided the central organisation in each town and village and took decisions about how the Strike should be run. The working class (not the General Council) decided that the bourgeoisie would not be allowed to scab, and by the end of the 10 days, the forces of law and order and the bourgeoisie had come to terms with the Trade Councils: food convoys sent by the bourgeoisie got permission to embark and thus were able to enter their destination by showing a trade union permit. There was no Red Terror because the working class were concerned only to show that there could be a General Strike without a breakdown of society.
While it is true that Churchill entered into the spirit of the General Strike as a most enthusiastic member of the bourgeoisie, it is also true that the Government and civil servants were well aware of the need to subdue him and he was given menial tasks to perform well out of the way. It is also true that when the bourgeoisie's mood had changed to conciliation in Summer 1926, Baldwin put Churchill in charge of the negotiations with the MFGB while Baldwin went on holiday. Churchill again got carried away with the spirit of the moment and succeeded in agreeing a settlement with the MFGB which he confidently and airily promised them would be enforced over and above the coalowners' opposition by Parliamentary coercion if necessary. Baldwin came back just in time and the MFGB pulled back; otherwise history might very probably [have - PB] been treated to Winston Churchill changing parties once again to the Labour Party, or at least leading a revolt of Tory young Turks like Macmillan (see Thomas Jones, Whitehall Diaries, Vol.2).
During the General Strike, the Government did the only thing possible if there was to be a continuation of the "British Constitution" - it waited. It did not use the troops, it did not use the OMS to impose an order and regulation on society's [sic - PB] at the Government's behest; it did not insist on its prerogative to administer when the working class withdrew its consent. It did not try to establish a state machine; it prevented those members of the bourgeoisie who had the inclination from doing so by keeping them firmly under Government control.
The Government let the working class get on with the business of running society while continuing to remind the class that there would have to be a return to normality sometime: stability and order in the old way would have to be reasserted sooner or later ... in the absence of the working class's will to change them. The point at issue was not whether there would be physical violence from the working class or not, it was rather whether the working class could administer society. Therefore the troops' function was to prove that "the forces of law and order' were necessary for society to keep on ticking over (thus the military use of the troops was not in question).
The working class won the point at issue. "Peaceful picketing" amounted to active sabotage of the troops and OMS's efforts to run trains, trams and food distribution. The de facto arrangements which the "forces of law and order" had to conclude with the Trades Councils showed that the troops had been sent into battle ... and lost.
But because the working class had not continued the fight in 1919 on the formal political battle of which class would administer society, its victory in substance in 1926 could not have any formal political effect. The Government had no choice: it had to wait for the old stability and order to be reasserted. It is this situation of the two classes that explains the end of the General Strike.
The position of the coal industry meant that the Strike could not end with the miners gaining their demands (If the money had been there, it is certain that the Government would have tried to settle the dispute by applying the coercion of public opinion. Indeed, the progressive owners like Mond were attempting to do just this right up to the very end. Every time Mond had a confidential chat with a Cabinet Minister about what to do, the employers organisation would find out, and haul him back into line.).
The working class forced the TUC to declare the General Strike because it believed that the miners' trade union demands could be won by trade union means, i.e. that the owners had the resources and only needed the pressure of the organised working class to compel them to concede.
The working class also took seriously the bourgeoisie's challenge that a General Strike would constitute a threat to society, that it was not "peaceful picketing" within the law, but lawbreaking. Burns records the reaction of workers at every meeting up and down the country during the ten days being "this strike is against the Tory Government". The working class set about to show [sic - PB] the bourgeoisie that it was possible to conduct a General Strike which was intended to enforce the working class's power to halt society while continuing to have society function "as normal". The class had recognised that it would have to use its full active force to win the strike for the miners.
When the TUC called off the General Strike after ten days without the miners demands being won, the working class could not understand the decision, because it seemed as if the working class was winning. And what is more the second line of defense (engineers, shipbuilders, textile workers) were only just about to [be - PB] called out to give further substance to "peaceful picketing". There was no question of a will to permanently displace the Government or employers in the working class. It was simply that the class had decided to fight for its just demands and did not understand why it should give up when it was winning.
The reason the TUC leaders called off the strike was the same as why they had done all they could to avoid beginning it - not that they did not subjectively as members of the working class want the miners to win - but because they were not equipped by the political consciousness of the working class or by their mandate from the class to help the miners win, to continue to run the country indefinitely. And that was precisely the Government's main line of defense.
After four or five days' confusion about whether to uphold the General Council's decision (i.e. whether to continue an unofficial General Strike), the working class went back and the TUC gained a formal face-saver at a Special Congress called to decide whether the miners had been betrayed.
It remains to say a word about the political leaders of the working class. The Labour Party tried to pretend that the General Strike was not happening, i.e. they supported the miners but did not defend the working class in Parliament against the attacks on the unconstitutionality of the strike: they refused to lead the working class and took their place at the tail of the TUC. It was left to the local actions of the working class to prove that attack wrong in practice. The CPGB took up a position as the most consistent militants from the very beginning (Red Friday, May 1925). They acted as the most conscious members of the working class within the limits of the already existing class consciousness. Their only contribution to the political 'advance' of the class was the slogan "All Power to the General Council". Nowhere did they explain the significance of the constitutional argument or the action of the working class to the class except in terms which were identical to the General Council (support of the miners) or the reaction of the class itself (making sure there were no blacklegs).
The 'left' historians' view of working class heroism in the General Strike is undoubtedly correct, except that the working class were not heroic because their spirit had decisively and suddenly altered. They acted heroically because the development of the class struggle from 1919 had determined that a General Strike would have to take place, while the political consciousness of the working class determined that it could indeed run society. The "spirit" had been there all the time; but it needed the vicissitudes of the economic struggle to determine a situation in which the working class would use its ability to be the dominant force in society.
After the General Strike the working class accepted that the material conditions of production had changed and that they could not gain concessions from employers (i.e. that the employers were not withholding them because of private greed). Up to World War II, there were few strikes because the working class could see no point to striking. This was not a loss of spirit, but common sense. However, the real wage level of those employed members of the class did not fall. The employers did not attempt to arbitrarily reduce the level of subsistence. They accepted that level already gained in the economic struggle and did not attempt a retrial of strength on the issue. They did not use the 1927 Act nor did they try judge-made law against the Trade Unions. The bourgeoisie as a class had learned to take account of the working class as a conscious class equipped with political weapons.
The demand that the unemployed should also not experience a reduction in their level of subsistence had been put forward by the working class since the 1890s. In the interwar period it was a central issue in the class struggle. That demand was not met because no one knew how to meet it. Keynes's solution was not only common knowledge to the ruling class by the mid 20s, it was a public issue in the 1929 General Election campaign for which Keynes wrote the "Yellow Book" for Lloyd George. Oswald Mosley's break with the Labour Party came when the Labour Cabinet refused to take Keynes's solution seriously as an alternative to present economic policies.
There is no doubt that a Keynesian solution (essentially deficit financing by Government) in the interwar period would have caused much unrest amongst traditionalists in the Treasury, the Bank of England and the City. But it is equally true that this unrest could have been quelled with pressure from the working class. Lloyd George had used the "Yellow Book" to try and resuscitate the Liberals, knowing that they must win the working class and that the working class demands required Keynesianism.
The Labour Party's reaction to Keynesianism was incomprehension. The Free Trade principles which the Labour leaders had learned from the Liberal Party proved an insurmountable obstacle to common sense; and the party insisted in seeing the issues as Free Trade vs. Protection. The Left*s response was typified in George Lansbury when he told the 1930 Conference that he was too old a socialist to believe that capitalism could cure unemployment (from 1929-31 Mosley made this a main question for the Labour Party). No member of the Labour Party, including Ramsay MacDonald and Ernest Bevin, could challenge Philip Snowden's highly orthodox liberalism which assumed capitalism as a natural law only replaceable by a moral apocalypse.
The Development of Politics in the Inter-war Years; the War and After
The Labour Party was forced to develop its plans for socialism into an electoral programme which it could put to the working class and defend on the hustings. It changed from being merely a representative of the trade unions' interest in Parliament to a political party capable of governing. It was a change determined by the increasing working class support for the Labour Party and its ideas, and the use by the British bourgeoisie of its own weapons, i.e. giving Labour a chance to prove what it was capable of.
The major difference between British Parliamentary democracy and the democracy of Europe and the US is that Parliament (since l832 the House of Commons) is not a talking shop. The executive government is gathered from within Parliament and remains part of Parliament, not just formally accountable to it. Executive action is subordinate to Parliament and the Government's ability to get Parliamentary assent. Not only does Executive prerogative and administrative fiat not exist; but the Government is unable to legislate without a full airing of issues and considerable compromise on what it thinks ought be the law and what in fact ends up being the law. Lenin's description of the advantages for the working class of the Soviet form of government points out the same features as exist in British parliamentarism. Parliamentary democracy as a form of government was not created as a result of ruling class theorising or foresight, but was rather determined by the historical working out of the class struggle. A Tory speaking in the 1831 Reform debate reminded MPs that the British Constitution was not the result of the wisdom of their ancestors, but the accident of circumstance.
If the British ruling class had attempted during this period to develop a state machine, they would necessarily have had to undermine Parliamentary authority and innovate in the Constitution to provide for the emergence of an independent Executive. In fact the ruling class staked their fortunes on Parliament as the only instrument at their disposal. They gave the working class their crack of the whip at Parliamentary power, at governing. If the working class objected to the way the Tories ran the country, let them have a go at running it better.
In 1920 the Coalition Government tried to use its initiative in foreign policy. Foreign policy is perhaps the easiest place for a Government to attempt to act without the nation's or Parliament's sanction. Here, Government sources of information and communication lines are at an advantage. However, when there has been a vigourous opposition case put on an issue of foreign policy, e.g. Gladstone on the Bulgarian atrocities in the l870s and Gladstone's alliance with Palmerston on Italy, the Government of the day has been forced to defend itself and then change course or fall from power. The pressure exerted is not from Parliament or Party politics alone, it has been public campaigns, demonstrations and meetings. Gladstone's Midlothian campaign marked a real advance in politics because it was the first time a major politician had "gone to the nation" in between elections.
The 1920 attempt by the Coalition Government to prosecute a war against Russia was successfully opposed by working class politics. The working class forced the Government to alter its course. The Hands Off Russia Campaign undertaken by the Labour Party and the TUC was backed by the threat of a General Strike and a well-organised network of Councils of Action. The Councils of Action were given authority by the LP and the TUC to organise a withdrawal of labour if the central Council of Action felt it necessary "in order to sweep away secret bargaining and diplomacy and to ensure that the foreign policy of Great Britain may be in accord with the well-known desires of the people for an end to war and interminable threats of war." (quoted in Cole, p.l06) The Coalition Government did not suppress the Hands off Russia meetings and demonstrations; it altered its course. The difference between this campaign and Gladstone's was that this time the working class took the initiative in its own right and backed its demand with the threat of withdrawal of labour. Otherwise, this pattern of campaign was well-established as being necessary when Governments tried to use initiative without the nation's consent.
In 1924 the Labour Party took office as the governing party. The second General Election in twelve months had made the Labour Party the second largest party in Parliament while the Tories were the largest, but short of an absolute majority (Tories, 258; Liberals, 158; Labour 191). The two bourgeois parties' decision not to govern meant that they took the Labour Party seriously and expected it to continue as a serious political force. The inescapable logic of this conclusion was that the Labour Party must learn how to govern.
"Party Government in England is the least promising of all methods yet adopted for a reasonable management of human affairs. In form it is a disguised civil war, and a civil war which can never end, because the strength of the antagonists is periodically recruited at the enchanted fountain of a general election. [...] No nation could endure such a system if it was uncontrolled by modifying influences. The rule [...] has been to suspend the antagonism in matters of Imperial moment, and to abstain from factious resistance when resistance cannot be effectual in the transaction of ordinary business. [...] That both sides still take their turn at the helm is essential if the system is to continue [...] The art of administration can be learnt only by practice; young Tories as well as young Whigs must have their chance of acquiring their lessons [...] Thus the functions of an Opposition chief are at once delicate and difficult [...] As a member of a short-lived administration once bluntly expressed to me, 'you must blood the noses of your hounds', but you must not for a party advantage embarrass a Government to the general injury of the Empire." (Froude, pp.l53-4) If the working class were strong enough to wield political power in their own right (as the Labour Party's growing support showed the two bourgeois parties) then the Labour Party must gain the knowledge of how to use the political forms. This knowledge could only be acquired through experience of governing in a country which has no abstract law or order of things. The only other choice open to the two bourgeois parties was to alter the Parliamentary form of government so as to prevent the Labour Party from governing when it had the clear strength gained by election to do so. That the 2 bourgeois parties did not destroy Parliamentary democracy, but rather chose to accept Labour's power as a fact well before they were forced to by an absolute Labour majority, shows that they took Parliamentarism very seriously indeed and were reckoning on having to accept Labour Government as a normal course of events.
The challenge which the ruling class had thrown down to the working class was that the working class's political party should prove its ability to carry out its programme. This ability clearly involves the use of force. The fact that the 1924 Labour Government was a minority government was not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle. In 1831 the Whig Government had found that the Reform Bill would not be passed through Parliament. The moment this became clear, they dissolved Parliament telling the country that they had been forced to dissolve because the Bill, which represented the wishes of the people, was being obstructed. The General Election, held with an unreformed electorate, produced a spectacular turnabout in Parliament. A vast Whig majority was elected for "The Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill". Organised political and physical pressure by the working class throughout the election campaign and at the actual vote by the unreformed electors ensured that the people's wishes were upheld.
An unwilling Parliament was forced to pass the Ten Hours Act of l847, the 1832 Reform Bill, the l867 Reform Act, the l87l, l875 and 1906 TU Acts because of organised political pressure from the working class, from without. The ability to enact change through Parliament has always depended on the organisation of conscious political pressure outside Parliament, conscious because it is pressure that is applied with immense tactical skill and has great determination and discipline in the working class. It is not. blind, unthinking revolt or reaction to events, but disciplined force used for the attainment of a definite political end. The Labour Party's ability to enact its socialist programme depended on the party's relation to the working class. It would have to set into motion the organised force of the class for definite socialist measures (not vague rhetoric); nothing more and nothing less would move Parliament.
It would only be possible for the Labour Party to call on the active, conscious and disciplined force of the working class if it had explained to the working class the necessity for socialist measures. The Labour Party had been elected as a Party which stood for socialism as a principle; it would now be necessary to take that principle seriously. All previous changes enacted by Parliament had involved the curtailment of the political power of a section of the bourgeoisie which no longer had the economic power to sustain its political importance. They had involved the change in "the people's will", in the consciousness of the classes. The Labour Party would have to translate its principles into the working class's consciousness.
The working class and its leaders had learned to use the political forms of Parliament well enough, i.e. they had understood that law depended on the use of organised force. The Ten Hours Act, passed against the resistance of the bourgeoisie, shows this as do the TU Acts. But, this understanding had not extended to the experience of governing or embarking on changes in the relations of production. It had been developed for occasional grievances or demands which the working class saw as its just interests within a consciousness determined by bourgeois democratic politics.
The socialists of the 1890s-1914 had been telling the working class that there were no obstacles capable of stopping the working class in its assertion of socialism, that the socialistic principle was right and ought to be acknowledged by the nation. They had spoken with the first flush of enthusiasm of a class just becoming conscious of its own power. They had not understood and therefore not explained to the working class that a whole epoch of struggle was necessary to bring to fruition the socialistic principle. They had not explained that it was a struggle between the capitalist mode of production and the communist mode of production which constituted the reality of socialism. The ILP (and at this time the ILP meant literally every conscious member of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions) believed that it was the force of ideas which would establish socialism. Once a Labour Government was elected, it was a simple process of getting the bills through Parliament.
The 1924 Labour Government took a conscious decision not to enact socialist measures. The Parliamentary Labour Party saw the obstacles of the political forms (minority government, the necessity for another General Election the moment a socialist measure was introduced) as being insurmountable and therefore did not attempt the "feat" (see G.D.H. Cole's History of the Labour Party. Cole sets out very clearly the choices open to this Government and states that the Party was well aware of these choices).
The obstacles in the political forms can be surmounted only when (l) there is organised, conscious political pressure from without Parliament, and (2) within Parliament, the proposers of change can sustain their measure through full-scale Parliamentary battle. It is important to understand the utility of such battle, i.e. debate and discussion. It forces the proposers to make a case for change, to prove why the change is just, right and possible. The opponents may not be convinced; but because the MPs take this struggle seriously, i.e. not just a rubber stamp or talking shop, it ensures that the change must be thoroughly understood by its proposers and not just approved on principle or for party loyalty. It is a real and sustained attack by the Opposition which the proposers must be capable of repulsing on the merits of their case. Tory opposition is on the basis "there is no necessity for change" and "change is not practical". These arguments must be answered.
The 1929 Labour Government also did not enact socialist measures. The 1945 Labour Government, which took office with a clear majority of 150, used its majority to enact those socialist measures which had been accepted by the working class in the l890s-19l4 in principle. It enacted them without the need for a struggle either in or outside Parliament because the bourgeoisie had long ago come to terms with the inevitability of these measures. After all they had had some fifty years to do so. These measures could have been forced through Parliament by the working class at any time during these fifty years; and it was a case of the working class's political leaders waiting until they could no longer avoid enacting them, waiting until the political forms no longer put any obstacles in their way. However, the 1945 Labour Government did no more than this. The Fabian analysis which had provided the basis for these measures was taken no further, i.e. the changes in capitalist relations of production since the l890s-l9l4 were not analysed and therefore it was impossible to work out the way forward for the working class in asserting force in these changed relations of production. To be able to replace capitalism with socialism, the working class must be able to replace the forms of the relations of production which the bourgeoisie must constantly revolutionise in order to survive. The Labour Party programme today remains the same programme of concrete demands as 19l8. This assumes that capitalism has stood still. The "left" has been unable to argue that the Labour Party's programme should be any different in concrete measures, only that it is not "truly socialist". The "left" has not analysed the reality staring it in the face to be able to do any more than take a stand in principle.
The Labour Party in power in 1945-51 and again in 1964-1970 did not betray their principles because they quite simply never set out to put them into practice. Labour MPs basked in their position as the majority party within Parliament by settling old scores, by Tory-bashing, and upholding socialist principles by singing the Red Flag in the Commons. These MPs did not understand that it was possible, indeed necessary, to do anything else for socialism. Therefore, when socialism did not emerge from Labour Governments there was (l) cynicism and (2) disillusion. The ILP spent most of the interwar period until its demise as a political force in the mid-30s trying to fight this disillusion, this loss of will, by trying to figure out how to enact a full socialist programme in one Parliamentary session, believing the "pragmatists" that if Labour ever did enact a socialist programme it would be bound to lose the next General Election. Therefore if only one could be enacted in one session, the working class would somehow defend it against the next Tory Government. A third feeling also set in: reaction, blaming the "failure of the Labour Government" on the power of the bourgeoisie and the obstruction of the ruling class. The Fabian element in the Labour Party was responsible for many bureaucratic measures for "regulating the market" and "planning". Because the Fabians did not recognise class struggle and the use of force as a necessary element of change, these measures remained masterful bureaucratic schemes and can be said to constitute the evidence, if any indeed exists, for the development of a state machine in Britain. The total inefficacy of these schemes makes this evidence very flimsy.
The working class's reaction to Labour Governments which have stood for socialist principles and not enacted them is determined by the working class's experience of a parliamentary form which enacts only when the need for enactment has been shown by conscious debate and the use of conscious force. The Fabians' bureaucratic schemes have not been taken up and developed by the force of the working class because that class was never told it had anything to do with these "socialist schemes". The working class has not acted on those schemes as the law of the land because the working class has not been treated as a conscious force making the law of the land (as it indeed has been since 1867).
Two examples of "socialist schemes" should be cited here. The first is the nationalist [sic. - PB. Presumably 'nationalised'] industries. The working class in 1946 saw the nationalisation of the mines and railways as being the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. In this they were correct; that this was expropriation had been explained by socialists in 1890-1914. The class did not see that there was another process to be undertaken after legal expropriation. That was the making managers redundant and also of replacing the market as the means by which society called the products of those nationalised industries into use. Consequently, nothing further happened. Thus, when the Conservative Government in the early 60s appointed a Parliamentary Committee to examine precisely what nationalised industries were, the committee did nothing but register the actual situation when it reported that they were industries like any other (run on a profit and loss basis for a market and with managers, just happening to be publicly owned for the public good). Second is the Labour Government's attempts to implement regulation of wages (begun in 1945). This has been rejected by the working class every time it is tried because the Labour Government gives the class no other reason than it is the loyal support of their own party by the working class. It has not explained why regulation of wages was necessary in an economy where production was regulated to the extent of ensuring full employment, i.e. why the advance in the relations of production of capitalism made it necessary and how the working class could force this capitalist regulation into socialist regulation. (To be able to explain how necessarily involves facing the reality before our eyes, analysing it and then being able to know what to do. Otherwise how remains at the purely abstract level of "capitalism is capitalism". It means being able to see that there is a way for the working class to wield its power.)
The working class has refused to accept a wages freeze because it means a change in the economic struggle and the class has not been told how it can defend its interests when that economic struggle has become more advanced, more conscious. Its refusal is a conservative one because it has not seen the necessity for change. Barbara Castle was the only member of the Labour Party who showed in practice that she understood this need to explain what was happening to the working class. She was following political instincts without reflecting that the result of those British parliamentary instincts would be great flux and debate and discussion within the working class. She was pulled up short by trade union conservatism and then instinctively stood up for her ideas, was not frightened into retreat and set about doing battle with TU leaders and the working class. The result has been her meteoric fall from popularity in the Parliamentary Labour Party and shelving to the backbenches. Her mistake was taking the working class seriously as a politically conscious class whose objections had to be answered with reason. Though her attack on the present collective bargaining in the economic struggle was Fabian, it was at least an attack and as such could hold out the prospect of some development of consciousness.
As a politically conscious class, the working class has understood the need for its own political party, independent of the political expressions of the bourgeoisie. The disillusion which has set in amongst the most conscious members of the working class who believed that socialism was possible and that a socialist political party was a precondition for that has not resulted in anything more than a loss of heart. There has not been a retreat into religion; rather the socialism in which this section of the working class believed has become an ideal to be upheld in rhetoric and not something that can be done by the working class. At present the only function of the Labour Party is to defend the interests of the Trade Unions in Parliament. That is the only use the working class can see in the Labour Party now because its other purpose, that of enacting socialism, has never been taken seriously by the party. Thus, the fact that the Labour Party is sometimes the governing party is purely accidental as far as the working class is concerned. It is purely accidental because the working class has learned from its historical experience that bourgeois parties and Parliament will bend to the working class's will exerted consciously (with a definite object) and with force. The only reason for Labour winning an election is on the wave of a defensive demand of the working class (which has arisen out of the trade unions) or, when the bourgeoisie have not acted against the working class's interest, blind and obedient and loyal party feeling. Now, the demands of British parliamentarism mean that this state of affairs is highly demoralising for the Labour MPs and the Labour Party. Because Parliament is not just a talking shop, the Labour MPs have suffered a great loss of dignity and sense of purpose because they have nothing to say! Thus the task of defending the working class has become a "holy war" for these MPs with nothing else to do. It is easy to see that in this situation the bourgeoisie are literally forced to advance capitalism because the "progressive" force in Parliament, the political representatives of the working class, will not begin enacting socialism. The working class still believes in socialism in principle, the inability of the Labour right wing to change the Labour programme to remove socialism as a principle and the continuing existence of a strong Labour "left" reflect this fact. What is lacking is the understanding of what socialism requires in the working class. Once the working class understands that socialism is achieved only when as a class the proletariat force change in society, then its leaders will have to use the political forms to produce that change or give way to other leaders who will.
In bringing this understanding to the working class, there will undoubtedly be discussion and debate. The British working class is a conscious class and for too long the conservative elements in its consciousness have gone unchallenged. To change, it must be given reasons for change; it cannot be coerced into change by "left" manoeuvring or accusations of selling out to the bourgeoisie. It does not believe it has sold its birthright simply because it is piously told so in righteous tones. The conservative elements in the working class's consciousness will resist change as much as the bourgeoisie. And in the present situation where the bourgeoisie are determined in their political behaviour by having only the weapons of practicality and "stability and order" to defend themselves, the conservative elements in the working class's consciousness are a more real obstacle to the dictatorship of the proletariat than the bourgeoisie.
Discussion and debate within the working class is unlikely to produce a political reaction under bourgeois leadership (the old ploy of the "left" when "awkward questions" are raised is that the questioners are attempting to divide the unity hard won of the working class). The need for class solidarity and the distrust of the bourgeoisie are not things which I would expect the working class to unlearn. The bourgeoisie will certainly present an obstacle. But it will be an obstacle which coincides with their place in society, as the organisers of production and the regulators of production. It is an obstacle which the working class will only overcome by a development of its own ability to do these things - not by an increase in its class solidarity, wariness of the bourgeoisie or ability to defend itself.
PART IV: FORMS OF GOVERNMENT AND THE CLASS NATURE OF THE STATE
"If we are not to mock at common sense and history, it is obvious that we cannot speak of 'pure democracy' so long as different classes exist; we can only speak of class democracy. (Be it said in parenthesis, that 'pure democracy' is not only an ignorant phrase, revealing a lack of understanding both of the class struggle and of the nature of the state, but also a thrice-empty phrase, since in communist society democracy will wither away in the process of changing and becoming a habit, but will never be 'pure' democracy.)" (p.19)
"Only a liberal can forget the historical limitations and conditional character of bourgeois parliamentarism as Kautsky. Even in the most democratic bourgeois state the oppressed masses at every step encounter the crying contradiction between the formal equality proclaimed by the 'democracy' of the capitalists and the thousands of real limitations and subterfuges which turn the proletarians into wage slaves." (p 24)
Proletarian democracy, of which Soviet government is one of the forms, has brought a development and expansion of democracy hitherto unprecedented in the world precisely for the vast majority of the population [...] Take foreign policy. In no bourgeois state, not even in the most democratic, is it conducted openly [...] Take the organisation of the state [...] Under bourgeois democracy the capitalists, by thousands of tricks [...] push the masses away from the work of administration, from freedom of the press, the right of assembly etc." (pp.25-6)
"Infatuated with the 'purity of democracy', Kautsky inadvertently commits the same little error that all bourgeois democrats always commit, namely he takes formal equality (which is nothing but a fraud and hypocrisy under capitalism) for actual equality! Quite a trifle! The exploiter and exploited cannot be equal." (p.33)
"The indispensable characteristic, the necessary condition of dictatorship, is the forcible suppression of the exploiters as a class, and consequently, the infringement of 'pure democracy', i.e. of equality and freedom in regard to that class." (p.38)
"Incidentally, the Soviets represent an immensely higher form and type of democracy just because, by uniting and drawing the masses of workers and peasants into political life, they serve as a most sensitive barometer, the one closest to the "people" (in the sense in which Marx in 1871, spoke of a real people's revolution), of the growth and development of the political, class maturity of the masses. The Soviet Constitution was not drawn up according to some "plan"; it was not drawn up in a study [...] No this constitution grew up in the course of the development of the class struggle in proportion as class antagonisms matured." (p.98. All the above quotes from Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky)
C.K. Maisels says, "So a democratic state, by its openness, rationality and explicitness enables the proletariat to move forward as far as they can in terms of consciousness within and up to the limits imposed by bourgeois production relations themselves, i.e. up to the point where social progress demands not another type of bourgeois state (e.g. autocracy to democracy, from liberal democracy to social democracy) but a wholly new type of state. What we must never do is fetishise bourgeois democracy because thereby we only exalt the most subtle and stable form of the bourgeois dictatorship." (CKM I, emphasis mine)
C.K. Maisels commits precisely the error that forced Lenin to write Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky; he confuses the form of government with the class nature of the state.
We have seen in earlier parts of this article that the only "limits" to bourgeois production relations are those placed on them by the lack of consciousness of the working class. Therefore CKM's statement when examined for how it works, tells us the following: the working class will use bourgeois democracy until they can supersede capitalism with socialism; at that point there will be proletarian democracy. CKM cannot tell us anything about how the form of government in proletarian democracy will be different from bourgeois democracy. In fact the change must come from a change of consciousness in the working class, something which CKM omitted to tell us.
"To attempt to raise an artificial Chinese Wall between the first (bourgeois) and second (proletarian) revolutions, to separate them by anything else than the degree of preparedness of the proletariat and the degree of its unity with the poor peasants, means monstrously to distort Marxism, to vulgarise it, to substitute liberalism in its place." (Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, p.98)
The real wall between bourgeois democracy and proletarian democracy Lenin tells us is the degree of preparedness, the consciousness of the working class, and Communists can tear it down. The "freedom" which CKM sees in bourgeois democracy is precisely that "freedom" for Communists to tear the wall down. There is no element of free will or choice about the necessity for Communists to use that freedom. They simply must, are forced to, if socialism, if the proletarian revolution is to become a reality. It is a "freedom" won by the bourgeoisie first, and then conceded by them to the working class's demands to organise politically and develop consciously. It is "meaningless" and a "sham" if Communists refuse to use it. However, Communists' refusal does not alter the reality which makes socialism possible, i.e. the continuing existence of the working class in capitalism.
C.K. Maisels states that the form of government, bourgeois democracy, must give way to "not another type of bourgeois state" but "a wholly new type of state". What he means is not another "wholly new type of state" but a working class state, i.e. not a state whose class nature is bourgeois but a state whose class nature is working class. But he writes "wholly new type" because he wants to demarcate the "new type of state" from "bourgeois democracy". He knows and states that bourgeois democracy is a "type", therefore it must be replaced by a wholly "new type". He forgets however that as a form of government "bourgeois democracy" means nothing in and of itself. There is nothing in the form of government that makes bourgeois democracy a limit to the working class: after all, it is bourgeois production relations which necessitate bourgeois democracy. The form of government is bourgeois democracy because capitalism is the dominant mode of production within the society.
The proletarian revolution, the conscious wielding of political power by the working class in order to replace the bourgeoisie as the organisers of production, will undoubtedly involve formal changes, and a great many formal changes, in government. If it did not, politics and ideology would have no relation whatsoever to the mode of production, they would indeed exist as things in themselves.
CKM's mistake lies in seeing the change in production relations as mechanical and given, in believing that the limits of the production relations can be reached by some mechanism within themselves. It is an inability to see that those relations are social and must be changed by the action of the working class if there is to be qualitative change. It is of course true that "once those limits have been reached", the political forms will change. But "The British Road" was concerned with how to give those production relations limits, i.e. with how to develop the consciousness of the working class.
The Soviets as a political form were developed by the working class in the 1905 bourgeois revolution in Russia. They were the expression of the working class in a society which was not yet predominantly capitalist, but feudal. Using CKM's argument, the Soviets would have had to change in form in order to become the proletarian democracy appropriate to a proletarian state. Because they had arisen under (at best) bourgeois production relations, they were bourgeois democratic and must be replaced by a new type, appropriate to socialist production relations.
There was certainly nothing in the form of the Soviets which necessarily presupposes a working class state; the working class used the Soviets in 1905 to put forward uncompromising democratic demands, which in substance were bourgeois democratic demands because the working class did not have the consciousness to wield political power progressively for socialism then.
In 1917 the class nature of the Russian state changed. It did not change because Soviets replaced the Provisional Government as the political form of government. It changed because in October 1917 the Bolsheviks were a majority in the Soviets. The usefulness of the Soviets lay in the fact that the working class had come through its action in history to regard the Soviets as an instrument to express its will, in which to enact its political development, nothing more, nothing less. The Bolsheviks merely used the political form of the Soviets, because it was the form in which the working class worked out its politics. The Bolshevik majority determined that there would be a proletarian revolution.
Even when the Bolsheviks were in a minority in the Soviets, they supported the Soviets against the Provisional Government; not because the Soviets were a socialist institution, but because it was the Soviets and not the Provisional Government which expressed the political will of the working class.
The working class in Britain has learned by action that Parliament is a political form which will express the working class's political will, in which they can act as a class. Until Parliament refuses to enact a conscious demand of the working class put with all its organised force (it has not yet done so), it cannot be argued that the British working class is wrong.
If Parliament ever does obstruct the working class, then it will be necessary to remove the obstacle it presents. Until then, far from the "parliamentarism" of the British working class being reactionary, it is both realistic and a progressive development in its consciousness. Progressive because political expression is a necessary step in any class's development.
What about the fact that the bourgeoisie are in Parliament too, retort our litanists. How can there be proletarian democracy if the bourgeoisie are still politically represented. Lenin had no objection in principle to the bourgeoisie being represented in the Soviets. He pointed out to Kautsky when Kautsky said the bourgeoisie had been deprived of the vote, that they had brought it on themselves. "When the Mensheviks (who compromised with the bourgeoisie) still ruled the Soviets, the bourgeoisie severed itself from the Soviets of its own accord, boycotted them, put itself up in opposition to them and intrigued against them [...] the fury of the bourgeoisie against this independent and omnipotent (because all-embracing) organisation of the oppressed [...] and, lastly, the overt participation of the bourgeoisie [...] in the Kornilov mutiny, - all this paved the way for the formal exclusion of the bourgeoisie from the Soviets." (pp.60-1)
And, Lenin, in Thesis 13 on the Constituent Assembly, even states that there "was a chance" of settling matters in "a formally democratic way". "Lastly, the civil war which was started by Cadet-Kaledin counter-revolutionary revolt against the Soviet authorities, against the workers' and peasants' government, has finally brought the class struggle to a head and has destroyed every chance of settling in a formally democratic way, the very acute problems with which history has confronted the peoples of Russia, and in the first place her working class and peasantry" (quoted by Lenin in Proletarian Revolution etc, p.124). The bourgeoisie in Russia reacted against the working class impelling society forward. Because they did so, they had to be suppressed. The working class did not initiate the political exclusion of the bourgeoisie. They simply removed an obstacle when it was put in their way forward.
We have seen that the bourgeoisie will continue to be necessary economically after the proletarian revolution. "Theoretically, there can be no doubt that between capitalism and communism there lies a definite transition period. It cannot but combine the features and properties of both these forms of social economy. This transition period has to be a period of struggle between dying capitalism and nascent communism - or, in other words, between capitalism which has not been defeated [sic - PB. 'which has been defeated'?] but not destroyed and communism which has been born but which is still very feeble. [...] In Russia, the dictatorship of the proletariat must inevitably differ in certain particulars from what it would be in advanced countries, owing to the very great backwardness and petty-bourgeois character of our country. But the basic forces - and the basic forms of social economy - are the same in Russia as in any capitalist country. [...] These basic forms of social economy are capitalism, petty commodity production, and communism. The basic forces are the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie (the peasantry in particular) and the proletariat. The economic system of Russia in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat represents the struggle of labour, united on communist principles on the scale of a single vast state and making its first steps - the struggle against petty commodity production and against the capitalism which still persists..." (Lenin: 'Economics and Politics under Dictatorship of the Proletariat', 1919. in Questions of the Socialist Organisation of the Economy, pp.229-30).
The state will act to politically or militarily suppress the bourgeoisie when the economic contradiction between capitalism and communism described by Lenin above breaks out into political or military struggle. It cannot be predicted when and if it will. The working class can only hold itself in readiness to deal with it. Thus, if the Conservative Party opposed in Parliament the enacting of a socialist measure, their opposition would be dealt with, i.e. argued against. As and when that opposition became obstruction, it would be suppressed in an authoritarian way (and Parliament already contains adequate machinery for authoritarian suppression if necessary).
If a section of the working class opposed a socialist measure (e.g. ASTMS defense of their members' right to work at their specific job when foremen and line management were being abolished), it would be necessary to meet their opposition in kind. If they opposed with pamphlets and leaflets, it would be necessary to produce counter-pamphlets and leaflets arguing the case for the measure. If they obstructed by a strike, it would be necessary to break the strike, just as the Bolsheviks had to put down the Kronstadt Mutiny.
The point is that once the working class has begun to wield power so as to replace capitalism, it is hardly likely to develop a petty bourgeois aversion to necessary violence. Nor is it likely to become "purely democratic" when it has seen that democracy is nothing more than a form for the expression of the interests of classes. Precisely what social and political institutions are forcibly removed (because they are being used by the bourgeoisie to obstruct) and which ones will simply wither away because they have outlived their usefulness can only be determined by the working out of history. Thus the House of Lords remained in Britain formally long after the power of the landed aristocracy had disappeared. The existence of the Lords represented no threat to the bourgeoisie or the working class because the landed aristocracy realised they could not use the Lords in their own interests; if they had tried, the Lords would have been abolished. The Economist pointed out some weeks ago that this Tory Government would, if present behaviour was continued, effectively consign the Lords to the scrap-heap of history because no hereditary peerages had been created for some fifteen years while Heath had created no life-peers either. For long useful to British politics because it was an outward sign of merit and leadership (the new peers of each government), it seems that British society may have developed past the stage where such forms of recognition are useful.
Suffice it to finish with F. Engels on the ability of religion to drug the masses insensate and law to hold them back. "Tradition is a great retarding force, is the vis inertiae of history, but being merely passive, is sure to be broken down; and thus religion will be no lasting safeguard to capitalist society. [...] It (the English working class) moves, like all things in England, with a slow and measured step, with hesitation here, with more or less unfruitful, tentative attempts there; it moves now and then with an over-cautious mistrust of the name of socialism, while it gradually absorbs the substance; and the movement spreads and seizes one layer of the workers after another [...] And if the pace of the movement is not up to the impatience of some people, let them not forget that it is the working class which keeps alive the finest qualities of the English character, and that, if a step in advance is once gained in England, it is, as a rule, never lost afterwards." (pp.350-l)
"In France, the Revolution constituted a complete breach with the traditions of the past [...] Let us, however, not forget that if English law continues to express in that barbarous feudal language which corresponds to the thing expressed, just as English spelling corresponds to English pronunciation - vous ecrivez Londres and vous prononcez Constantinople, said a Frenchman - that same English law is the only one that has preserved through ages and transmitted to America and the Colonies the best part of that old Germanic personal freedom, local self-government and independence from all interference but that of the law courts, which on the Continent has been lost during the period of absolute monarchy, and has nowhere been as yet fully recovered." (p.344. Both immediately preceding quotations from l892 Introduction to Socialism Utopian and Scientific.)
The British Ruling Class and Democracy
Marx, Engels and Lenin's objections to bourgeois democracy were not mainly about the forms of government which democracy took, but rather to the claims made on democracy's behalf by the bourgeoisie, i.e. to the bourgeoisie's consciousness of what democracy was and the fact that the bourgeoisie had infected the working class with that consciousness. Marx, Engels and Lenin state that the bourgeoisie take the formal equality of democracy to signify equality in substance: that because the political form has it that men are equal, therefore they must be equal in the mode of production also and there is no basis for class struggle since in the mode of production all are equal and the same. It is this consciousness that Marx, Engels and Lenin state must be rooted out of the working class. The proletariat must understand that democracy was a political form to be used in its own interests; then it would be possible to have proletarian democracy.
The development of politics in France after 1789 presents us with a good picture of what happens when a society takes formal equality seriously. As Marx, Engels and Lenin point out, formal equality is always formal inequality in practice. When therefore formal equality is taken seriously, the struggle for supremacy in the state (between sections of the bourgeoisie from 1789 to l870 after that between the bourgeoisie and the working class) is a continual one. The continual political contentiousness arises because each section of the bourgeoisie refuse to take the substantial inequality arising out of the relations of production as existing in fact; they see instead equality, that they have an equal right to wield state power in their interests alone - and continually attempt to reassert that right against whatever section has managed to scramble to temporary ascendancy. Precisely because there must be state political power, does the formal democratic struggle proceed indefinitely. Because it is possible for each contending section to develop its political artifices out of all proportion to its actual economic power.
The legislative body, in having to judge what to enact, in whose interests to govern, can be guided by no admission of substantial reality (real inequality arising out of the relations of production and stage of development of the productive forces) but can appeal only to abstract formal equal right to guide it. How it arrives at its decision is therefore a mystery in terms of the facts of the society and explicable only in terms of the greater skills at political manoeuvre and slickness of one section over another.
It is not to be wondered at that (l) the state machine was kept functioning in France to aid first one section then another in keeping ascendancy because there was no possibility of dealing with questions of governing on the basis of real social relations. (2) the absolutist state was necessary to provide stability for the economic development of inequality, because the bourgeoisie could not do this form ['from'? 'by'? 'create this form'? - PB] themselves (Napoleon, Second Empire and now Gaullism). It was necessary to suspend politics because they were not being conducted on a realistic basis.
In Britain we find that the old bourgeoisie (pre 1832) never held an abstract, formal conception of democracy. It was never "pure democracy" for them. During the Civil War that bourgeoisie had looked at the political institutions which history had presented them with and saw that they had permitted the development of their own class. They understood that equality before the law simply permitted the strongest force to claim their right to be upheld and that freedom of the press, of assembly and Parliament allowed a mutually agreed and understood political position for their own class to be worked out and decided.
The only upholders of "pure democracy" in Britain have been the small commodity producers and artisans from the 17th century to the mid 19th century. From the end of the l8th century, the new bourgeoisie (who had been small commodity producers and artisans and still retained most of the aspects of the old consciousness reflecting their old economic place) argued their claim for political power on the basis of abstract right and formal equality.
In 1831-2, the industrial bourgeoisie insisted on their "people's right" to enfranchisement, while the old bourgeoisie (Palmerston and Peel are the best examples in the debates) insisted that they were being enfranchised because they had "earned their right" to be so. After l832 the newly initiated bourgeoisie quickly adopted the old bourgeoisie's view of democracy because it made sense. After Chartism, the working class did also, because it found that abstract formal equal rights could not be asserted without the use of force. It was forced into this recognition because it did not have the necessary political organisation, discipline or consciousness to assert its force.
The point at which the working class were forced to abandon the formal, petty bourgeois view of democracy represents a step forward in their consciousness. It coincides with their proletarianisation, their being forced into a class unity and organisation by the changes in the relations of production and the development of the productive forces. They also adopted the old bourgeoisie's view of democracy (as Marx states in the Manifesto, the proletariat learn their first political lessons from the bourgeoisie). Thus, in 1867 we find the working class arguing for their right to vote on the basis of being ready to accept the "responsibility" of voting and seeing their enfranchisement as a class and not as the "people". They understood that it was the working class which had gained the vote (the bourgeoisie also said so) because they "had earned it".
The British ruling class has always taken great care to tell the nation exactly what they were doing and why. In 1831 it was the Conservatives who insisted on describing the Reform Bill as enfranchising the middle classes and no more (Palmerston in the Whig coalition also did so). It was the representatives of the industrial bourgeoisie, the Whigs and Radicals, who saw and described the change as one for the "people" against the "aristocracy". The Tories argued that this description was dangerous, because it created illusions that the "people" were being given political power. No Tory in 1831 opposed reform on principle; they opposed the Whigs' tendency to justify the measure in terms of "pure democracy". It is necessary to understand that the Whigs couched their crusade in these terms because they were forced to enlist the working class on the bourgeoisie's behalf to force the political change. The landed aristocracy in Parliament and without it would not budge until this organised political force outside Parliament was used (progressive members of the old bourgeoisie had put reform measures before Parliament regularly since the 1790s. They had been unable to convince their fellow MPs with reason; therefore reason backed by force was necessary).
Marx, Engels and Lenin also complain of bourgeois democracy's fetishisation of elections and the vote. Marx, Engels and Lenin view the vote as an index of the working class's maturity, nothing more or less. They complain that the bourgeoisie view elections as the supreme exercise of the people's will and therefore the vote becomes a tangible proof of the people's sovereignty. Such fetishisation has never characterised the British ruling class. The vote was seen by that class as an index and nothing more. As for elections, the fact that elections are not a fixed occurrence, happening from some preordained law that the people's will must be exercised every x years, shows that they are subordinated to Parliamentary politics and exist to be used by the Government of the day to increase support for its measures (either of change or stability and order). The election occurs as part of an ongoing political process and is only one of the many ways that the relation between Parliament and the classes is expressed (the others being newspapers, meetings, demonstrations). This is why the annual Parliament demand of the Chartists was never enacted (or ever seriously put forward by the working class after l848). It would have been a positive hindrance to politics because it would have placed the form of election above the other political forms and institutions, i.e. it would have fetishised it as the supreme expression of the people's will. One of the present sources of cynicism in the working class for the Labour Party is that since 1945 it has had to take elections very seriously as things in themselves; it has been able to give the working class no other reason for voting than that the Labour Party ought to win. The working class is reacting to this fetishisation. It should also be noted that Harold Wilson's attempts to found "pure democracy" in Britain have failed dismally. Wilson's support for the law "because it is the law", for the "little man" crushed by the "mega-corporation" etc. etc. is taken seriously by neither the Tories nor the working class.
International Socialism's and the "left's" demand for workers control also is seen by the working class as unnecessary insistence on "pure democracy". The working class has won for itself through 200 years of economic struggle, substantial democracy on all issues connected with production which it views as important (wages, right of hiring and firing, maintenance of established practices). Managers and the bourgeoisie still exist because its leaders have never given the working class any concrete reasons for replacing them in practice. When the working class sees the need to replace the manager as the organiser of production and the bourgeoisie as the regulators of production, then workers' control will be pursued and won by the working class.
C.K. Maisels's use of J.S. Mill's letter to Mazzini of 1858 (CKM II, pp.18-19) is characteristic of seeing democracy as being abstract equality. CKM quotes it to prove his case that the working class did not deserve the vote because they were not going to use it in the cause of new order and revolution. Mill is complaining to Mazzini of precisely that lack of abstract democracy and belief in abstract equality which had swept Europe since 1789. Mill had not seen in 1858 that the working class had been using their "rights as freeborn Englishmen" in their interests as a class, [with? - PB] the l847 Ten Hours Act. He had also not seen that the English habit of seeing people not as abstract human beings, but as occupying a definite and determined place in society by virtue of their place in production and ability, did not in any way preclude those same Englishmen acting cohesively as classes when the class struggle required it. I can see nothing to repudiate in this English habit because I can see no evidence that it held up the actions of the working class as a class. What has held up the working class is viewing that material differentiation as immutable and not dependent on the stage of development of the productive forces or of the will of its own class (i.e. the maintenance of craft differentials in shipyards and the support of the right to work in one particular job). But this conservative element will not be disposed of by asserting the formal equality of all workers within the production process because at present formal equality does not exist.
C.K. Maisels believes that the British ruling class cannot possibly be conscious of what they are in fact doing: "(to say) that they (the British ruling class) did this (holding the ring and refusing to govern by lawgiving) consciously rather than empirically, is to make a mockery of historical materialism, for what in their social being would have given rise to such a profound and far-sighted social consciousness?" (CKM I, p.l3) He believes that what happened was rather "The British ruling class ruled by experience, accumulated empiricism, a "feel" for what needed to be done and what was best left alone, without synthesising its experience and world outlook into a body of theory to inform its practice in advance of events." (CKM I, p.10) This seems to me to be indeed a departure from Marxism. CKM clearly makes "consciousness" and "empiricism" into direct and mutually exclusive opposites and then says that the British ruling class had no consciousness only empiricism. I understand Marxism to posit consciousness as being a necessary part of the existence of all men; i.e. it is an involuntary occurrence in human behaviour. I also posit Marxism to posit consciousness as existing at the level of classes. Consciousness is always and necessarily an inaccurate reflection of reality, i.e. it cannot have a one-to-one relation with material reality so that it becomes the reality. Indeed if this were the case, the instant Marx had written the Communist Manifesto, there would have been world revolution. Consciousness explains reality to us; it can do nothing more. It can explain reality more or less accurately, and according to its accuracy we will act more or less according to material reality.
A "feel" for what has to be done and "common sense" are consciousness every bit as much as Hegel is. It seems almost as if CKM is worried because he feels that Marx, Engels and Lenin have a monopoly of true consciousness and the fact that the British ruling class have ruled according to their consciousness and also according to the actual movement of history brings this monopoly into question. The fact that the British ruling class have not suppressed struggle, but forced it to develop by their refusal to lawgive shows that the ruling class understand that their own consciousness is but a reflection of reality, and that reality must have its proper place, i.e. of primacy. This is in fact a materialist position. Engels is very clear that the British ruling class have been materialist since Bacon (l892 Introduction to Socialism Utopian and Scientific, p.333). Engels is careful to identify the "aristocratic, esoteric doctrine" and "new deistic" form of materialism under Bolingbroke and Shaftesbury (p.334) and then to recognise its materialist content. The theorists of the English ruling class (Burke, J.S. Mill, Gladstone, Milton, Locke) have also been active members of that class, interested in participating in history as well as theorising about it.
C.K. Maisels accuses the British ruling class of being empiricist. I have always understood that the Marxist criticism of empiricism is that it takes phenomenal events to be the sum total of reality and will not admit that anything is real that cannot be measured and quantified. Thus, it cannot see the laws of motion in history, that quantitative change becomes qualitative change, and thus is useless as a guide to action. If C.K. Maisels accepts this view of empiricism, he cannot also claim that it stood the British ruling class in good stead. Because Macaulay, Gladstone, Froude etc are not Marxists, they cannot explain the movement in history and the substance of that motion behind phenomenal events with Marxism. They explain them by the use of idealism and Calvinist determinism. Thus they talk about "spirit" and the working out of Christian morality and justice and liberty in history. But they do not use these idealist concepts as the only truth of the history which they write. Instead they are in practice necessary terms to make their writing accurately reflect motion and determined events. This is why it is possible to use these writers. If C.K. Maisels doubts this, he should quarrel with Engels's assessment of Bolingbroke and Shaftesbury.
There was no element of free will about the fact that the political institutions which the British bourgeoisie faced in the fifteenth century determined that the epoch of the bourgeoisie as a progressive class could be worked out politically through those institutions. Nor was there any element of free will about the fact that the bourgeoisie would become materialists. To have to explain away these two things is to refuse to face the fact that history has occurred in the way in which it has. And it is also giving a more important place (in fact primacy) to consciousness than it in fact has in the determination of history. It is almost saying "If only the British bourgeoisie had known what they were doing, surely they would not have done it." It is precisely materialism which makes it possible to understand the necessity to act according to material reality; that has enabled the ruling class to understand that nothing they could do would make the problem of the existence of the working class disappear. The British ruling class's weapon has been of practicality; so far "the left" has not equipped the working class with weapons to defeat them.
PART V: F. ENGELS AND C.K. MAISELS ON THE BRITISH WORKING CLASS
In l88l Engels was asked to write a series of articles for the Labour Standard, a trade union weekly.
"Now in a political struggle of class against class, organisation is the most important weapon. And in the same measure as the merely political or Chartist Organisation fell to pieces, in the same measure the Trades Union Organisation grew stronger and stronger, until at present it has reached a degree of strength unequalled by any working class organisation abroad. A few large Trade Unions, comprising between them one and two millions of working men, and backed by the smaller or local Unions, represent a power which has to be taken into account by any Government of the ruling class, be it Whig or Tory. According to the traditions of their origin and development in this country, these powerful organisations have hitherto limited themselves almost strictly to their function of sharing in the regulation of wages and working hours, and enforcing the repeal of laws openly hostile to the workmen. As stated before, they have done so with quite as much effect as they had a right to expect. But they have attained more than that - the ruling class, which knows their strength better than they themselves do, has volunteered to them concessions beyond that. Disraeli's Household Suffrage gave the vote to at least the greater portion of the organised working class. Would he have proposed it unless he supposed that these new votes would show a will of their own - would cease to be led by middle class Liberal politicians? Would he have been able to carry it if the working people, in the management of their colossal Trade Societies, had not proved themselves fit for administrative and political work? That very measure opened out a new prospect to the working class. It gave them the majority in London and in all manufacturing towns, and thus enabled them to enter into the struggle against capital with new weapons, by sending men of their own class to Parliament. And here, we are sorry to say, the Trade Unions forgot their duty as the advanced guard of the working class. The new weapon has been in their hands for more than ten years, but they scarcely ever unsheathed it. They ought not to forget that they cannot continue to hold the position they now occupy unless they really march in the van of the working class. [...] there are plenty of symptoms that the working class of this country is awakening to the consciousness that it has for some time been moving in the wrong groove; that the present movements for higher wages and shorter hours exclusively, keep it in a vicious circle out of which there is no issue; that it is not the lowness of wages which forms the fundamental evil, but the wages system itself. This knowledge once generally spread amongst the working class, the position of Trade Unions must change considerably. They will no longer enjoy the privilege of being the only organisations of the working class. At the side of, or above, the Unions of special trades there must spring up a general Union, a political organisation of the working class as a whole. [...] For the full representation of labour in Parliament as well as for the preparation of the abolition of the wages system, organisations will become necessary, not of separate Trades, but of the working class as a body. And the sooner this is done the better. There is no power in the world which could for a day resist the British working class organised as a body." (June 4 1881, pp.l6-l8 of Foreign Language Pub House pamphlet: Articles from the Labour Standard)
"The English working class, with its old and powerful organisation, its immemorial political liberties, and its long experience of political action, has immense advantages over those of any continental country. Yet the Germans could carry twelve working class representatives for Parliament, and they as well as the French have the majority in numerous Town Councils. True, the suffrage in England is restricted; but even now the working class has a majority in all large towns and manufacturing districts. They have only to will it, and that potential majority becomes at once an effective one, a power in the State, a power in all localities where working people are concentrated." (June 25th, pp.26-27)
"And yet there never was a more widespread feeling in England than now, that the old parties are doomed, that the shibboleths have become meaningless, that the old watchwords are exploded, that the old panaceas will not act any longer. Thinking men of all classes begin to see that a new line must be struck out, and that this line can only be in the direction of democracy. But in England, where the industrial and agricultural working class forms the immense majority of the people, democracy means the dominion of the working class, neither more nor less. Let, then, the working class prepare itself for the task in store for it - the ruling of this great empire; let them understand the responsibilities which inevitably fall to their share. And the best way to do this is to use the power already in their hands, the actual majority they possess in every large town in the kingdom, to send to Parliament men of their own order. With only that number of working men in Parliament, [...] it would be impossible to resist the demand for a redistribution of seats [...] etc [...] Of Radical shams there has been unfortunately enough since the breakup of the first working men's party which the world ever produced -- the Chartist party. Yes, but the Chartists were broken up and attained nothing. Did they, indeed? Of the six points of the People's Charter, two, vote by ballot and no property qualification, are now the law of the land. A third, universal suffrage, is at least approximately carried in the shape of household suffrage; a fourth, equal electoral districts, is distinctly in sight, a promised reform of the present Government. So that the break-down of the Chartist movement has resulted in the realisation of fully one-half of the Chartist programme. And if the mere recollection of a past political organisation of the working class could effect these political reforms, and a series of social reforms besides, what will the actual presence of a working men's political party do, backed by forty or fifty representatives in Parliament? We live in a world where everybody is bound to take care of himself. Yet the English working class allows the landlord, capitalist, and retail trading classes, with their tail of lawyers, newspaper writers, etc. to take care of its interests. No wonder reforms in the interest of the workman come so slow and in such miserable dribbles. The workpeople of England have but to will, and they are the masters to carry every reform, social and political which their situation requires. Then why not make that effort?" (July 23rd, pp.36-7)
The above were written ten years after the Paris Commune had shown Marx and Engels that on the Continent the state machine constituted an obstacle which the working class would have to remove before being able to wield political power.
But Engels tells the British working class that all they have to do is "make the effort" to "have the will" and direct political power will be theirs. Could it be that Engels got taken in by bourgeois democracy? Furthermore he takes Parliament seriously. He says that in Britain "democracy means the dominion of the working class, neither more nor less." That must mean that the political form through which the organised working class can act to abolish the wages system is present.
We all know that Engels was not a voluntarist and did not believe in free will. Therefore if he speaks to the British working class about only having to will something or make the effort, that must mean that material reality requires it of them, i.e. it is necessary for them to do so and that "spreading the knowledge" of this fact amongst the class only gives the working class the "will" to "make the effort".
But, where is the qualitative change from a bourgeois state to a workers' state? Engels does not even tell the working class that the two bourgeois parties [need to be? - PB] smashed or the trade unions displaced before the preparation of the abolition of the wages system can take place. Engels says that the qualitative change must take place in the working class. That the working class have to acquire the "will" to set about abolishing the wages system. He says that they will first have to have the knowledge spread amongst them that the working class has been moving in the wrong groove, that it is not the lowness of wages which constitutes the fundamental evil, but the wages system itself. He states that the Trade Unions are a strong organisation of the working class and that the working class in England has had long political experience. What is necessary is a political party of the working class; the spreading of the knowledge that the fundamental evil is the wages system; and then finding the will to make the effort.
C.K. Maisels' analysis is complex, because it is highly contradictory. On the one hand he shows himself very aware that the British ruling class have not behaved like their Continental counterpart and have acted as I described in the British Road. But because this behaviour is at variance with the ruling class which Marx, Engels and Lenin describe in their writings about Europe; and because C.K. Maisels rests his case on just those writings, therefore he must pretend that the British ruling class have behaved differently from the Continent because they have never been seriously challenged - Mr Hyde has not appeared because the working class have never given him cause to.
This lands C.K. Maisels into a highly contradictory state of affairs, as he insists that the working class are the main force in history and yet in Britain they have refused to be that force, hence the kid glove of the ruling class. He in fact lands squarely in the camp of the bourgeois working class; the British ruling class were able to sneak the development of society through right under the working class's noses because they did it gradually and because the British were so "bourgeoisified" (CKM, p.17, 3rd full para) that they didn't understand its significance. That is why in Britain "the factors of social development have been able to arise and develop smoothly, gradually and empirically, without the necessity of having to generate theory in the face of great obstacles in order to find a way over or round them." (CKM I, pp.9-10)
But because this view of the working class never having presented a great obstacle to the bourgeoisie does not tally with a Marxist view of the working class as the revolutionary force for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, C.K. Maisels is forced back (l) into idealism and (2) further contradiction. The idealism is that the working class has advanced in isolation from the bourgeoisie: "British bourgeois democracy developed by pressure from below which the ruling class were flexible enough to recognise the necessity of accommodating [...] But the consciousness had to come from the working class itself, educated by its own economic struggles, political collisions with authority and such book knowledge as it could gain." (CKM I, p.15) "The proletariat are now realising just this (that it is the labour power of the working class that constitutes the force keeping capitalism and society ticking over)" (CKM II, p.23). "Nina Stead [...] shows that what she wants is no revolution at all, but mere 'transition' to a more refined, planned sort of capitalism [...] Well, it's not on - the working class is now waking up, though slowly and unsurely, and its class experience and instinct, so despised by Cde N. Stead, will have nothing to do with her FT nostrums." (CKM II, p.25)
One would expect that this great change in the working class from being bourgeoisified and thoroughly under the sway of the ruling class (C.K. Maisels quotes J.S. Mill with approval that "English of all ranks and classes, are at bottom, in all their feelings, aristocrats", CKM II, p.l8) to now awakening to what they have been doing all the time, developing and struggling with only their own introspection for a guide. CKM neglects to explain to us what historical experience wrought this change and indeed it never occurs to him that it should have an "outward sign", i.e. take place in history.
Second, there is the further contradiction that the defeats and backwardness of the working class are due completely to the ruling class: "Anyone studying Victorian society must soon come to know in no uncertain terms that its official ideology was militant Christianity (i.e. various brands of metaphysics) [...] Thereafter it (Methodism) quickly became the single most powerful ideology amongst the mushrooming industrial working class of the 19th century [...] a force with such strength as to remain powerful well into this century. In fact only since World War II has it ceased to exercise a dominant and debilitating influence on the thinking of skilled labour, especially in heavy industrial areas, i.e. where the labour-capital conflict was potentially the most explosive." (CKM I, p.l6) I find it a strange omission that we are not told quite how the working class threw off this influence which was so debilitating when they were fighting and winning throughout the 19th century those battles for bourgeois democracy and trade union rights which CKM acknowledges. Thus we are confronted with a bourgeoisified and ideologically drugged working class which nevertheless has struggled and matured to the point of revolution.
C.K. Maisels tries to maintain both positions and we are therefore left with a working class that is always pure and always moving to revolution but constantly thwarted by ... the ruling class. He thus invests the ruling class with a superhuman power ... that is the power to hold back the social and political development of the dominant material force in society when that force is consciously used.
It remains to note the difference between Engels and Maisels on the 1867 Reform Act. Engels viewed the Reform Act as the conscious decision of the bourgeoisie to give the organised working class direct political power in its own right, i.e. the bourgeoisie expected the working class to organise independently and "granted" or "gave" the power because it had no choice if capitalism were to continue. Maisels insists that the Act was of no consequence (l) because the extension of the suffrage was paltry (Engels shows that if the working class had used its vote it could become the balance between the two bourgeois parties as the Nationalists had been) and (2) because the working class would not use it because they were "bourgeoisified" (Engels points to a growing will to political independence in the working class).
PART VII THE CIVILE WAR
The 3 and C.K. Maisels challenge my view of the civil war. The 3 take up the following position: "This (NS's view) we may remind readers is in contradiction with the usual Marxist position as also with the positions of Marx and Engels, who saw the English Revolution of 1640 to 1688 as being a social upheaval to overthrow the feudal monarchy and establish a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie [...] Cde Stead seems to be looking at the period from 1485 to l688 in an abstract fashion and not as related to the class forces in existence at the time. It is our belief that in 1485 feudalism still existed in England and the only change there was one of form within that system. Henry VII and those who followed him were set on establishing an absolute monarchy probably along the lines that arose in Russia, France and Spain. The absolute monarchy was required to stabilise the class forces within Feudal society. For a long period, i.e. from Henry VII to James I (1603) there was a successful alliance between the rising bourgeoisie and the feudal kings. The bourgeoisie were allowed to exist as long as they operated within the confines of feudalism [...] the king attempted to establish the absolutism which became prevalent in Europe after this [...] But by the accession of James I things had changed considerably [...] The confines set up by the monarchy were stifling. Capitalism was restricted on all sides by the bounds on the market. Briefly, then, the alliance broke up, and the two classes faced one another in open battle during the reigns of James I and Charles I." (The 3, pp.2-3)
A few things should be noted before proceeding to CKM. (l) The 3 do not state whether or not an absolute monarchy ever existed in England or not. They state it was required to stabilise class forces; that the King attempted to establish it; but that by James I the conflict between feudalism and capitalism had begun. (2) The quotes from Communist Review given to support their case state clearly that the "'exploitation of the people by the feudal landlords (together with their merchant and financial hangers-on) was in the England of the seventeenth century carried on to a very great extent through the central Government'" (the 3, p.4). But the 3 also hold that the absolute monarchy was developing on the basis of a successful alliance with the rising bourgeoisie. This would mean that both of the contending classes were having their needs met through the development of absolute monarchy. Given the fact that the 3 state there was a conflict of economic interests between those classes before the Civil War, it is strange that the 3 also say the same institution should be able to meet both's [sic - PB] needs simultaneously without any friction or conflict, i.e. it assumes that the interests of feudalism and capitalism were not antagonistic before l603. This accords with the 3's view that the only changes from 1485-1603 were ones of form within feudalism. Presumably they see the development of capitalism at this time proceeding within feudal forms; for they also clearly say that capitalism is developing.
C.K. Maisels states: "This misrepresentation (of the Civil War) is the outcome of Cde Stead being unable to see that, because the bourgeoisie had managed to make themselves the dominant economic force within feudal society, they had of necessity left the centre of political power and feudal production relations essentially intact, as the Tudors had served them well. So what the Civil Wars were about, (and everything up to the Act of Settlement of 1701) were the very material efforts of the bourgeoisie to conquer and consolidate political hegemony. [...] The outcome of the struggle was that feudal landowners had to institute thoroughgoing bourgeois relationships in and on the land. Their head and keystone, the monarch, when restored, was restored a bourgeois monarch, the cornerstone of their new, stable social order of feudalists being transformed or swept away, while the bourgeoisie themselves became conservative, i.e. old forms of King and Parliament were retained for the usefulness of their historical inertia, while the content was thoroughly transformed." (CKM I, pp.10-11) It should be noted here that (l) C.K. Maisels like the 3 states that the monarchy was the head and keystone of the feudal landowners and that the bourgeoisie had been served so well by the Tudors that they had no need to develop themselves politically, (2) that the bourgeoisie "of necessity" left the centre of political power and feudal production relations intact, while at the same time achieving economic dominance. Logically therefore the bourgeoisie must only have affected the forces of production since the relations of production and political forms were "of necessity" left intact. C.K. Maisels quotes Christopher Hill writing in 1949 to support this view; he does not state an opinion on Marx's views.
Below are what writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin I have been able to find on the Civil War.
Marx writes in review of Guizot's book on the English Civil War: "Whereas the first step of the French Revolution was the resurrection of the States General, which had been dormant since Henry IV and Louis XIII, no fact of equal classical conservatism had been revealed by the English Revolution. According to M. Guizot the main result of the English Revolution was that the King was put in a position where he could not possibly rule against the will of Parliament, particularly the House of Commons [...] M. Guizot deems it superfluous to mention that the subordination of the kingship to Parliament was its subordination to the rule of a class. He need not, therefore go into details of how this class acquired the power necessary to make the crown at last its servant [...] The only explanation M Guizot is able to offer of what to him is a great puzzle, the puzzle of why the English Revolution was conservative in character, is that it was due to the superior intelligence of the English, whereas its conservatism is to be attributed to the permanent alliance between the bourgeoisie and the greater part of the big landlords, an alliance which essentially differentiates the English Revolution from the French - the revolution that abolished big landownership by parcellation. Unlike the French feudal landowners of l789, this class of big landed proprietors, which had allied itself with the bourgeoisie and which, incidentally, had arisen already under Henry VIII, was not antagonistic to but rather in complete accord with the conditions of life of the bourgeoisie. In actual fact their landed estates were not feudal but bourgeois property. On the one hand, the landed proprietors placed at the disposal of the industrial bourgeoisie the people necessary to operate its manufactories, and, on the other, were in a position to develop agriculture in accordance with the state of industry and trade. Hence their common interests with the bourgeoisie; hence their alliance with it." (Marx and Engels on Britain, pp.347-9, Foreign Languages Pub House, 1962)
Marx at no time in his review disagrees with Guizot's description of events, i.e. that the point at issue was the political prerogative of the King, rather he objects to Guizot's not explaining what it was that caused this conflict about political prerogative. Marx is clear that it was the fact that Charles I had been acting against the interests of the landed proprietors and the industrial bourgeoisie, and that their alliance determined the conservatism which Guizot describes.
Lenin writes in the 'Agrarian Question in Russia in the 19th Century" (May-June 1908): "In the paragraph on the historical conditions of the Ricardian theory of rent (in Theories of Surplus Value) Marx says that Ricardo and Anderson 'start from a viewpoint, which is regarded as very strange on the Continent', viz, they assume that 'landed property as an obstacle to all application of capital to the land, does not exist at all.' At first sight, this would seem to be contradictory because it is precisely in England that feudal landed property is considered to have been completely preserved. But Marx explains that 'nowhere else in the world has capital so ruthlessly crushed the traditional agricultural relations' as it has in England. In this respect, England 'is the most revolutionary country in the world'. 'All the historically inherited systems there, where they contradicted the conditions of capitalist production in agriculture, or where they did not correspond to these conditions, were ruthlessly swept away, but the very population was swept away; not only were the ancient economic centres swept away, but the very economy was swept away.' In Germany, continues Marx, the economic system was determined by the traditional relationships of common land (Feldmarken), by the disposition of economic centres, by certain localities where the population was concentrated. In England, however, the historical agricultural system was gradually created by capital, beginning from the fifteenth century. The English technical expression, 'clearing of estates' is not met with in any country on the Continent. And what does clearing of estates mean? It means that no consideration whatever was given to the settled population - they were simply driven away; nor to the existing villages - they were levelled to the ground; nor to farm buildings - they were torn down; nor to the prevailing forms of agriculture - they were changed at one stroke, for example, tilled land was converted into pasture for cattle; in a word the conditions of production were not accepted in the form in which they were handed down by tradition; they were created in a form that would correspond in each separate case to the requirements of the most profitable investment of capital. To that extent, therefore, private property in land does not really exist, because that private property allows the capitalist - the farmer - to operate freely and to interest himself exclusively in securing a money income. [...] In England the clearing of the land proceeded in revolutionary forms, accompanied by the violent breaking up of peasant land ownership (Lenin here refers to the rights of feudal tenure of the villeins, NS)." (Lenin on Britain, pp.14-15)
Engels in his English introduction to Socialism Utopian and Scientific: "The new starting point (of the Glorious Revolution of l688) was a compromise between the rising middle class and the ex-feudal landowners. The latter, though called, as now, the aristocracy, had been long since on the way which led them to become what Louis Phillippe in France became at a much later period, 'the first bourgeois of the kingdom'. Fortunately for England, the old feudal barons had killed one another during the Wars of the Roses. Their successors, though mostly scions of the old families, had been so much out of the direct line of descent that they constituted quite a new body, with habits and tendencies far more bourgeois than feudal. They fully understood the value of money, and at once began to increase their rents by turning hundreds of small farmers out and replacing them with sheep. Henry VIII, while squandering the Church lands, created fresh bourgeois landlords by wholesale; the innumerable confiscations of estates, regranted to absolute or relative upstarts, and continued during the whole of the seventeenth century, had the same result. Consequently, ever since Henry VII, the English 'aristocracy', far from counteracting the development of industrial production, had, on the contrary, sought to indirectly profit thereby; and there had always been a section of the great landowners willing from economical or political reasons to co-operate with the leading men of the financial and industrial bourgeoisie [...] There might be squabbles about matters of detail, but on the whole, the aristocratic oligarchy knew too well that its own economic prosperity was irretrievably bound up with that of the industrial and commercial middle class." (Selected Works, pp.342-3)
Christopher Hill's book From the Reformation to the Industrial Revolution is a masterpiece of academic urbanity and epigram. Therefore it is necessary to deduce his analysis from his wittiness. "In the century and a quarter after 1530 land was more freely bought and sold in England than ever before [...] In addition there were landowners great and small who were unable to adjust their management processes or who sold to reorganise. There was relatively cheap land to be bought by anyone who had capital to invest and social aspirations to satisfy. The mobility of land naturally upset conservatives." (p.64) "The Tudor peace, and the lack of a standing army in England, meant that taxation was relatively light by the standards of the Continent, where crown and aristocracy combined to lay crushing burdens on the peasantry. The flourishing of trade, industry and yeoman farming in England in the century before 1640 owed much to this relatively light incidence of taxation [...]" (p.101) "But there was no successful national agrarian revolt in seventeenth century England - not successful even in the sense that 1381, 1450 and 1549 (peasant revolts in England, NS) were successful, still less in the sense that agrarian revolt succeeded in the French and Russian Revolutions. One reason was that the English peasantry had already ceased to be a homogenous class. Many yeomen and better-off husbandmen were producing food or wool for the market, themselves employing wage-labour, and shared the outlook and interests of gentlemen and merchants rather than of landless labourers and subsistence husbandmen." (p.70) It is true that there are many places in the book where Hill speaks of the Middle Ages ending with the Civil War. He is careful not to commit himself as to what economic system if any the Middle Ages ended, for nowhere in the book does he speak of feudalism ending or capitalism beginning. The terms Middle Ages or Medieval which he uses, simply denote a chronological time period, roughly at that. The facts he gives for the ending at the Civil War are the abolition of legal forms; he neglects to tell us whether these forms had fallen into desuetude or not at the time of their abolition. The actual economic events he describes support Marx, Engels and Lenin rather than CKM and the 3. Lipson, author of a standard British economic history from the 11th-18th centuries written in the 1890s-1920s, places the beginning of the break-up of feudal economic relations earlier than Marx or Engels. (Lipson is able to draw on the considerable research done in the l890s and after that Marx and Engels did not have.) He places the beginning of enclosure and of capitalism in agriculture (the letting of the desmesne by the lord to tenant farmers; the differentiation in the holdings of villeins) to before the Black Death (l349).
The developing bourgeoisie both on the land and in the towns were able to make use of the already existing form of Parliament as a political vehicle; therefore they had no cause to cede their power to an absolute monarchy. A Parliament existed for them to use because it had been one of the elements of the truce between the Normans and the Saxons, part of the basis on which the Normans were able to consolidate their power not over the Saxons, but in alliance with them. The history of this development of Parliament (which is a continuous one from the 11th-17th century) belongs to another article. It is sufficient to note that the absence of an absolute monarchy in England is historically determined, and not from anyone's choice.
The Crown made attempts to deal with the social unrest brought about by the destruction of the old feudal society which Marx describes in Theories of Surplus Value. But, those attempts were made by the Crown in the 14th and 15th centuries against the landed proprietors (the nobility) and were unsuccessful. Thomas More and Wolsey represent the last attempts of the Crown and the Church to hold back the development of capitalism by imposing centralised authority on the society. It was on the land that the changes were greatest at this period and it was the displacement of the peasant population that provided the labour for the later advances of industry. By the time of the Stuarts the Crown had no basis for its power in its own right in the society (the peasants whom it might have tried to organise against the new landed regime had already been uprooted and displaced). Thus, the Stuarts' recourse to the Crown's patronage and prerogatives for revenue and power, these were all they had left. We can see now why the 3 and C.K. Maisels are forced into self-contradictory explanations of the Civil War - they must invest feudal political forms (e.g. the name of "aristocracy") with power in themselves as forms to show a conflict between capitalism and feudalism. They must also not explain the identity of interests of feudal lords and bourgeoisie in the monarchy which they say exists up to the Stuarts, but merely record it without comment or as needing explanation.
The Stuarts impeded the development of both Industrial and landed bourgeoisie; and, the Stuarts were also attempting innovations: the creation of an absolute monarchy which the Tudors had never even contemplated. James I had long esoteric disputes with Parliament about the kingly prerogative and divine right. Parliament allowed James to save his face in these disputes; but, they insisted on asserting their rights and having those acknowledged. It is undoubtedly true that the initial source of trouble with the Stuarts was that James I had been King of Scotland, where an absolute monarchy on the Continental model had existed and where Parliament was a mere appendage as on the Continent which had never had power in its own right. Charles I was schooled in his father's ideas.
C.K. Maisels cannot comprehend how the Civil War could mean that "the British ruling classes at great cost in life, limb and treasure, fought so long over marginal forms" (CKM I, p.11). The fight was not over marginal forms but between the large capitalists (both landed and merchant) and the small commodity producers and artisans of the New Model Army. C.K. Maisels cannot give the Civil War this explanation because he has given it a different class content: because he can conceive of no other possible class content, to admit my explanation is to make the fight over marginal forms. And this despite the fact that he quotes a treatise on the Levellers with approval stating that they had great support in the Army and society. It was indeed a struggle about political forms, which forms would best develop capitalism in Britain at that time. Cromwell's importance for the bourgeoisie and the reason he continues to be revered and studied by them is that he saw that no section in Britain had the political ability to weld power within the democratic schemes of the Levellers. He was able (no one else could) to hold the New Model Army in check while himself governing Britain in the old way, trying even to use the old forms. The bourgeoisie refused to co-operate with Cromwell actively; but they at no time moved to sabotage him.
The fact that the English ruling class had faced the demand for democracy in the Civil War from a populace which had been exposed to all the rigours of political propaganda and development (pamphleteering was rife and the Church was freed from specific political direction from the outbreak of the Civil War until Cromwell's dictatorship) enables us to understand why they could deal with democratic movements in the l780s-l9th century with more intelligence than their Continental counterparts. They had had time to understand with what they were dealing. Every British statesman and thinker who deals with the French Revolution, with democratic demands in Britain, has recourse to the Civil War and to the Glorious Revolution before he draws any conclusions. These events enable him to draw conclusions.
The bourgeoisie are only necessary as long as the working class permit them to be necessary. While capitalism is the dominant mode of production in a society, the bourgeoisie play a progressive part in that society because the very condition of their existence is a constant revolutionising of the relations of production. For the working class to adopt a political position of opposing capitalism without recognising the need to replace it as a system of production and distribution with communism would indeed end in the "common ruin of classes" of which Marx speaks in the Manifesto.
As long as the working class remain unconscious of the power which their place in production gives them, their opposition to capitalism confronts the bourgeoisie as nothing more than a natural disaster, like an earthquake or flood, which the bourgeoisie must overcome to again move forward.
To the extent that the working class are conscious, the bourgeoisie (if they are to continue to maintain capitalism) must take account of the working class's consciousness politically by making concessions which substantially curtail the dominance of the bourgeoisie. In Britain, the working class as a class was using political power at the beginning of the nineteenth century. By the end of that century, the working class had developed its own independent political party.
However, unless the consciousness of the working class continues to develop and demands are put by the class which progressively curtail capitalism, the advances against capitalism as a system of production and distribution which have already been made will be lost, because capitalism propelled forward by the bourgeoisie and by the need to revolutionise the relations of production will encroach on these advances. Because the needs of society do not stand still, must continually be met and are continually changing, the working class consciousness must take account of these changes in material reality.
Engels wrote his articles in the Labour Standard in 188l. From that time up to World War I, the socialist elements of the British working class's consciousness, and their consequent ability to replace the bourgeoisie economically, grew by leaps and bounds. The demands of the working class met by the state since World War I were ones for which the ground (i.e. the working class's consciousness and consequent will to force change) had been prepared by the socialists and communists from the 1880s-1914. Since that time, socialists and communists have not explained to the working class why further advances had to be made or what those advances should be. Capitalism has continued to develop while socialist consciousness has not (a good example in Britain has been housing. Because the working class did not demand the total socialisation of all housing, there have continued to be housing shortages met by the market's ability through higher rents to call forth more housing. Simply resisting rent increases does not solve the problem of how the housing shortage is to be dealt with: through the market or outside it. From the 1890s municipal socialism and later John Wheatley's 1924 Housing Act up through Bevan's tenure as Cabinet Minister for housing, a substantial section of the working class's housing needs were met outside of the market. Because that advance was not followed by a further advance, capitalism is necessary to meet the continuing need. The working class supported every advance towards socialisation of housing.)
It is not the power of the working class which has ceased to develop. On the contrary, that power grows as capitalism develops and continues to eliminate the remnants of other modes of production and as it progressively concentrates production, makes it more directly social. What has stood still is the elements of socialism in the working class's consciousness. Capitalism appears to the "left" as strong as ever if not stronger because the "left" refuse to work out or explain to the working class how capitalism can be replaced.
Thus, capitalism must be invested with metaphysical and mystical properties (must in fact become a "natural law" whose existence cannot therefore be questioned) in order to explain its power to subjugate the working class. The "left" cannot explain that this power arises out of social relations and capitalism's ability to meet social needs, because then the working class would see that these could be changed, and that political forms like Parliament could be used to force that change.
And let us be quite clear that while the socialist element of the working class's consciousness has not moved forward, its political understanding and ability to defend itself and gain concessions has certainly not atrophied or been forgotten or disused. Both on the Continent and in England the working class has learned through history how to organise and force concessions from the bourgeoisie. The working class know that social relations can be changed and that they have the power to change them.
The bourgeoisie are indeed caught in a cleft stick, between the horns of a dilemma. The working class are necessary for the continuation of capitalism; if the working class is abolished, so is capitalism. Therefore the working class's demands must be taken account of if production is to continue. Production is impossible if the working class refuse to produce. The bourgeoisie can starve the working class back only if the working class cannot replace the bourgeoisie as organisers of production.
On the Continent demands from the working class have resulted in the bourgeoisie attempting to awe the working class back to work by physical coercion and the regulation of an Executive power. This has worked in the short run; but it has also taught the working class how to defend themselves against these weapons (e.g. May 1968 in France).
In Britain, the bourgeoisie have developed "the old habit of the well- organised English capitalists of settling political and economic questions by compromise" (Lenin: 'Left Wing Communism and Petty Bourgeois Mentality', Selected Works, p.366) They have seen no point in resisting conscious demands since those demands represent a conscious force in society which cannot be ignored or stamped out. When the British bourgeoisie are met with opposition from the working class, their reply has been "suggest another practical alternative". And it must be admitted that this weapon has served the British bourgeoisie equally well if not better than the Continent's armies. The reason it has served so well is that the "left" has not armed the working class to meet that weapon. When the Cabinet met the General Council of the TUC during the General Strike, it made no attempt to awe or coerce them, it merely reminded them that if the General Strike continued indefinitely, it would be the General Council's responsibility to run the country.
For too long, the "left" in Britain and on the Continent have been able to avoid dealing with the history happening before their eyes (the class struggle, politics and the development of the productive forces). No one has challenged the "left's" catechism; as long as capitalism is capitalism and the bourgeois state is the bourgeois state there is not socialism and the working class does not have state power. The tangible proof the working class are given of this tautology (for it is nothing more than tautology) is that there has been no storming of a Winter Palace (or House of Commons) or not enough barricades or heroism. In support of this proof, Marx, Engels and Lenin are quoted as recording the fact that the suppression of the bourgeoisie by violence was necessary and would continue to be necessary in Europe as long as there was a standing army.
Now, the fact that Marx, Engels and Lenin saw and recorded this fact as being necessary on the way to taking political power in their own right by the working class, means nothing more nor less than it was a fact. It does not mean that Marx, Engels and Lenin saw this occurrence as the quintessence of the transfer of political power. For, if they had done so, the Communist Manifesto and Lenin's writings would have been military tracts and treatises on political forms to substitute for "bourgeois" ones. The programme of a communist party would consist of preparing for war and learning about "communications system" to replace the "state machine". Indeed, military preparation would replace the need for a Communist party.
But the fact that even on the Continent Marx, Engels and Lenin found it not only necessary but essential to formulate political programmes for the working class which dealt with the next steps forward from where the productive forces were at that time (see Critique of the Gotha Programme) and where those next steps would lead (i.e. a description of communism) should show us that far more is involved.
The "left's" insistence on seeing the military aspects and such sweeping away of political forms as is necessary (i.e. as they are indeed obstacles) as the "qualitative change" to socialism has been disastrous for the working class. The "left" has ceased to think about how the "qualitative change" can occur and merely fetishises the fact that it will occur in this manner (if the bourgeois weapons are a standing army and bureaucracy). Since there will be no choice open to a working class armed with Communist consciousness but to beat the bourgeoisie with their own weapons, there seems little point to me on insisting merely that "it" must occur in this way. Indeed, there is abundant evidence that the "left" have nothing to teach the European working class about its bourgeoisie's weapons. There is abundant evidence in the behaviour of the working class in Italy and France and Germany since l871 that they well understand how to take state power.
This fetishisation has meant that the development of the working class's consciousness and the political struggle that must go on both before and after this qualitative change have been ignored, indeed do not exist for "the left". In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that socialism for the working class has become a matter of "belief" or "conviction" which is not explicable or even possible.