The Socialist Party, since its inception, has insisted upon the need for a comprehensive grasp of the evolution of society and its various social institutions. We have emphasised this need, not because it is our desire to breed a group of "intellectual" theorists in our midst, but rather because we are convinced that clear thinking must precede practical action. It is necessary to know the past in order to understand the present.
It has been customary for the wage-workers to be told that they must look to the State for salvation. For decades, prominent hot-air Labourites have assured us that the hope of the workers lay in State decrees. They have been responsible for the advocacy of what has been called “State Socialism” but should be more accurately termed “State Capitalism”. The Socialist Party has argued time and time again that state ownership never gives control to the workers but rather leaves them at the mercy of unsympathetic and irresponsible civil servants in government departments.
Capitalism is a social system based upon the private ownership of the means of wealth production. The means of production, while individually owned, are socially operated by the working class. Capitalism is solely a profit-making system. The great machinery of wealth production is utilised to produce commodities which are sold for profit. When profit is not forthcoming production ceases. The capitalist has no interest in the useful quality of the goods produced in his factory; the only thing that interests him is their potential to be sold because profit is only realised after commodities are sold. Thus it matters nothing to the capitalist what the nature is of the commodity his capital is producing, or in what part of the world it is produced. The first and last essential of modern production is profit. To attain profit, capitalists will adulterate or cheapen goods no matter how fatal such a procedure may be to the people who consume them or how shoddy the quality. Capitalism will be peaceful and warlike; it will encourage free trade or protectionism; it will privatise or nationalise undertakings; it will institute “welfare” schemes and inaugurate an era of “social benefits”; it will do anything and everything in order to perpetuate profit-making. Goods are destroyed and harvests have been burned to keep up profits.
The means of production are operated by the working class. This class owns nothing but its mental and physical energy, which it must sell on the labour market for wages. The labour-power of the worker is sold for a price (wages); it is, therefore, a commodity—i.e., something bought and sold. But the worker cannot detach himself from his labour-power. When he sells his energy for so many hours per day he himself is sold. Thus capitalism reduces the worker to objects and other merchandise to bought and sold in the world’s markets. The price of labour-power, are regulated by the same laws which regulate the prices of all commodities. That law is supply and demand. When commodities are scarce prices rise; when they are plentiful prices fall. When there is a glut of labourers in the Labour Market their price (wages) fall; when Labour is scarce wages rise. But the law of competition tends to reduce the prices of all commodities to their social cost of production. And likewise the competition among labourers tend to force their price (wages) to the cost of reproducing workers—i.e., their cost of subsistence. The law that wages are fundamentally determined by the cost of subsistence—or, as it is sometimes called, the cost of living. It will be seen that anything that Labour gets, so far as the wealth of the Empire is concerned, can only be wrenched from the grip of Capital by the power of organisation. This is due to the fact that the wage-worker is not a free unit living in a free society. He is a wage slave. He is a commodity; a piece of merchandise bought and sold; in the factory he is known by a pay-number; and he is generally referred to as a “hand”, a “human resource.”
When the worker enters the factory or an office he or she creates values and has no control over the wealth manufactured. The worker is paid the price of his or her labour power (wages), and the commodities produced belong to the capitalist class. The worker has no more share in the goods produced. What the worker creates for oneself are wages and wages are not determined by the price that the product realises when sold on the market. Indeed, the commodity produced may not be exchanged for months after he or she has received their pay. Here again, we observe that there is no direct connection between what labour receives in wages and the value of the commodities which labour creates.
The capitalist class, however, gets wealthier every year. The surplus which is annually created is not created in exchange as many economists assert. One capitalist may swindle another capitalist; what the one gains the other loses. But that does not add to the value of the wealth in society. Besides, the capitalist class, as a class, cannot swindle itself. Swindling does not produce wealth. The continually swelling volume of wealth can only proceed from the source of all economic wealth—the application of labour to the resources of nature. Labour alone creates value. All surplus value, from which comes rent, interest, and profit, represents the difference between what labour receives in wages and what labour actually produces. Every effort that the workers make to increase their wages means a decrease in the capitalist’s surplus value. And every effort that the capitalists make to lower wages, lengthen the working day, or speed up production, are attempts at lowering the relative wages of labour. The cheaper capital can buy labour the higher its profit; the higher labour can push its price (wages) the lower profits. Thus between profits and wages there is an antagonism which in its turn produces the class struggle between capital and labour.
In order to maintain its profits, and thus safeguard its best interests, the capitalist class has organised itself economically in richly endowed masters’ federations; it has control of the political machine and dominates the State, thus having the armed force of the nation at its service in order to keep the workers in subjection. Through its press and its educational institutions, the capitalist class seeks to mould the opinions of the workers and to implant in their minds ideas which will make for the perpetuation of wage slavery and exploitation. The workers must organise in order to combat the power of the capitalist class.
The Socialist Party, realising that labour creates all economic wealth, contends that the only solution for the social problem is to be found in the reorganisation of society upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of wealth production. This plan is neither based on emotion nor sentiment. It is based upon economic necessity. Since wealth is socially created it must be socially owned and controlled. Until that is done capitalism will stagger from one contradiction to another; from one crisis to a worse one; from one conflict to an ever fiercer one. Labour as the creator of all economic wealth demands the control of its product. To facilitate this end, the Socialist Party has outlined the ways and means whereby the worldwide cooperative commonwealth may be inaugurated.
The Socialist Party is a political organisation which seeks to educate the workers in order that they may organise to combat capitalism in every field of its activity. Capitalism is the most cunningly organised social system ever known, and the capitalist class is the most powerfully enthroned ruling power known to history. Therefore, the Socialist Party declares, capitalism must be fought in every avenue of social action. We, however, emphatically insist that capitalism’s control of the political machine—i.e., the State and the armed forces must be challenged at the ballot box. The capitalist class clearly understands that in addition to its economic dominance over the working class—through its ownership of the means of life—it is necessary to be able to suppress the workers should they dare rebel and refuse to produce profits. In order, therefore, to strengthen its economic power, the rulers have left no stone unturned to capture political power—the State—which gives it control over the police and armed forces of society. With this political power in its hand Capital is able to enforce its domination over Labour. In other words, the capitalist class looks upon political power as an important weapon to be used in its conflict with the working class. The political power of the masters is one of its chief defences against militant workers. Thus capitalists has used their political supremacy to intimidate and to defeat those wage-earners who endangered its profits.
Because the political weapon is used by the capitalist class against the people, and because the political State is a coercive machine to maintain class rule, there are many who contend that working-class political action is futile, if not dangerous. The Socialist Party declares that as political power is used by employers to enforce their economic power, for that very reason the workers must meet capital on the political battlefield. In the class war, the workers dare not allow the capitalists to hold any strongholds without laying siege to it with a view to capturing it. We may ignore the political citadel, as our anarchist friends would have us do, but neither the class war, nor any kind of war, can be waged successfully by ignoring where the enemy is strongest. To ignore the insuperable advantage which the political machine gives to the capitalist class would be tantamount to closing our eyes when the enemy engages us with its most potent weapon. Sanity demands that we must tear the weapon from the grasp of the foe.
But, argues the anarchist, what is the use of returning members to Parliament—they always betray their class interests? What the critic of political action has in his mind are the betrayals of past Labour Party leaders. Let it be noted that the Socialist Party have exposed the treacheries of these political tricksters time after time. We deny that these men ever represented the interests of the working class. We further assert that these Labour traitors learned the art of treachery long before they entered Parliament; they were often educated in that art of deceit on the industrial field as trade union bureaucrats. Syndicalists wish us to devote our energies to the industrial arena because they imagine that the workers are sold out when they enter politics. But the workers can be and usually are double-crossed industrially as well as politically. The history of the trade union leaders indicates this point.
Until the working class is conscious of its own interests—until it clearly realises what it wants and how to get it—then they are the tools of the trade union careerists and political charlatans. The moment that the wage-earners understand their class interests they will not be betrayed either industrially or politically. Because “leaders” are only able to act treacherously when the “rank and file” is ignorant and confused.
The political field is where the conflicts of economic interests are fought out. If the working class does not realise its economic interests it will be sold out in Parliament, and if it does not realise its class interests it will be sold out on the shop-floor. Thus every argument which can be urged against political action can be used against industrial action. They react upon each other. There is nothing inherently dangerous in political action. All the arguments brought against it proves only that the workers' movement has neglected its educational work and that it has not sought to industrially organise workers as a class, and the result is that these weaknesses are glaringly reflected on the political field. When anarchists contend that the political field makes for the confusion of our fellow-workers they are unconsciously passing censure on every other field of socialist activity. The critic of political action, unable to perceive the law of causation, which links together the various weaknesses operating in the different channels of the labour movement, places all the blame on the political field. They, therefore, decides to ignore political faction. But by doing so, they ignore the whole problem.
Revolutionary political action and parliamentary action must not be confused. Parliamentary action believes that by placing a series of reforms upon the Statute Book— “steps at a time” they are called—the economic position of the workers can gradually be improved, and that they will be finally emancipated by such palliative measures. Such a line of activity is the aim of the “reformers.” The attitude of the reform party means that it can throw open its ranks to those who do not believe in socialism—but in “something now.” The Socialist Party repudiates parliamentary action. We deny that it is the political function of the socialist movement to show the capitalist class how to legislate for capitalism or administer it to make capitalism run better. We hold that the purpose of political action is the destruction of the capitalist State. It would be the duty of revolutionary Socialists in Parliament to criticise every measure that came before the House of Commons, and to seek, by every means, to undermine the prestige of the capitalist class by exposing every one of its political manoeuvres.
The Socialist Party takes the political field with one plank upon its platform—Socialism. It emphasises that only socialists must vote for its candidates. It realises that its candidates may not get returned to Parliament yet for a long while. But it knows that if there are only 200 class-conscious socialists in any constituency, that must be the extent of its poll. Every other vote is useless and dangerous. Alliances, compromises, and electoral arrangements with other parties may easily mean the return of a candidate, but not of a socialist candidate. We are convinced that socialists are only strong by themselves. Our political declaration is to aim at the capture of the political machine in order to tear the State, with its repressive coercive forces, out of the hands of the capitalist class, thus removing the murderous power which capitalism looks to in its final conflict with labour. In a word, the revolutionary value of political action lies in its being the instrument specially fashioned to destroy capitalism. But political action is further necessary in so far as it is its work to demand the right of free speech and of the press. It must be used to combat the capitalist class in its attempt to filch away the rights of industrial action and other civil liberties. Political action, too, brings the propaganda of socialism into the daylight and lifts the revolutionary movement beyond that of being a secret conspiracy. Political action, by insisting on free speech, prevents the capitalist class from forcing the movement underground—because once there the State would crush it. And, above all, the political method by bringing revolutionary socialism upon the political field places it on that ground of social action where all conflicts tend to be settled peacefully. If socialism is ushered in by violent means it will be because the capitalist class repudiated the civilised or political method, or because the socialist movement failed to wrench the armed force of the State away from the control of the masters.
Can our fellow-workers, therefore, neglect the political field, which is at present one of capitalism strongest defences? The Socialist Party says no. The Socialist Party believes in the political weapon as the instrument by means of which the workers can capture the State in order to uproot it. The Socialist Party advocates political action because it is the weapon of the working class which can overthrow capitalism. And for these reasons the Socialist Party permits only those who believe in the efficacy of political action to enter our organisation. We dare not leave our class enemy entrenched behind any bulwark from which it can threaten Labour. Revolutionary political action has not failed for the simple reason that it has never been used. There has been plenty of Labour Party electioneering and parliamentary reformism, but that is not revolutionary political action. The time has now arrived for the workers' movement in this country to define clearly its attitude towards political action. Many are opposed to political action for no other reason than that they have not realised all that it means.