Source: The Communist Review, September 1922, Vol. 3, No. 5.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
THE reactionaries in this country, with superb cunning, are aiming a powerful blow at the Parliamentary Labour Party by attempting to make it illegal for trade unions to use their funds for political purposes. We want the sentimental moderates of the Labour Party to note that the favourite argument advanced by the reactionaries to sustain their proposal is one based upon the “freedom of Labour.” With righteous indignation these gentlemen contend that it is both unfair and autocratic to compel Liberal and Tory trade unionists to financially support Labourists, to whom they are politically opposed. Every crime committed against the working class is carried out under the slogan of “Freedom of Labour.” When blacklegs are drafted into strike areas the capitalist Press hail them as “free” labourers. Strike pickets have always been denounced, by the upholders of capitalism, as an arrogant interference with the liberty of those “free” workers who desired to take the place of strikers. The fierce conflicts that often take place between strikers and the armed power of the State have generally occurred because the ruling class insisted upon defending the rights of the “free labourers” who were acting as scabs. In Italy the murderous brigands enrolled in the Fascisti are murdering communists and socialists, burning down their buildings and printing establishments, forcing town councillors and elected persons to resign, and are compelling the masses to leave their fighting unions and join reactionary organisations—all this is done in the name of justice, liberty, and democracy.
It must never be forgotten that freedom, liberty, and justice are class terms, and have never been anything else since the rise of private property and the beginning of political society, with its class struggles. Justice, democracy, and liberty are weapons used in the class conflict in propertied society by the ruling elements against the exploited slaves, serfs, and workers.
In Athens the wily Pericles could say:—“It is true we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few . . . The law secures equal justice to all alike in their private disputes.” When the famous Athenian delivered his celebrated oration, he never dreamt of including the slaves, who were in the majority, as members of society, or of extending the same justice to them which was the birthright of every property holding citizen. Even the middle class revolutionaries who drew up the famous American Declaration on the Rights of Man saw nothing inconsistent in its proud boasts of freedom and justice with the existence of slavery. The great democratic Constitution of America was drafted by a small clique, representing the propertied interests, which conspired to carry it through by means of a coup d’etat.
That magnificent monument of English “liberty,” Magna Charta, granted a series of “liberties” to the feudal landowners and the rising commercial interests. English historians, even of the Liberal school, seem to be more cognisant of the class concept hidden in such terms as “liberty” and “justice” than the superficial moderates of the Labour Party. Prof. A. F. Pollard frankly confesses that “the baron’s liberty consisted in the servitude of his velliens.” When we come to the capitalists’ great struggle for justice and liberty, during the Civil War, no less an authority than Bishop Stubbs bluntly contends—“Like every other struggle for liberty, it ended in being a struggle for supremacy”—or, as the communists would say, for class power.
It is necessary to understand the class basis of liberty and justice in order to appreciate the drivel and nonsense propagated by the moderates in the Labour Party against the method adopted by the Soviet government in defending itself against the murderous hirelings of the Social Revolutionary Party. Just as every State wields the weapon of justice to maintain the power of its ruling class, so in Russia, the Soviet government of workers and peasants metes out proletarian justice to its enemies.
When the Hendersons, MacDonalds, and Vanderveldes talk about justice, they mean the legal code based upon the class relationships within capitalism. To talk about pure justice is nonsense. Centuries ago a wise Greek aptly said that justice is the interest of the stronger. So long as class society exists, so long shall justice be of a class character. Those who declare otherwise do not understand one of the most elementary facts of historical development.
WE wish to return to the attempt of the reactionaries in this country to prevent the trade unions from financing the Labour Party. It must be admitted that this move has stirred even the moderate and sluggish Labourists into activity. Two months ago, in these pages, we showed that the Labour parliamentarians looked upon the trade unions as a glorified milch cow to sustain them in their political careers. This is the main reason why these parliamentarians are terrified that the unions should be prevented from financially maintaining the Labour Party. The attack of the politicians of the F.B.I. upon the Labour Party, by threatening to make it illegal for the unions to render it financial assistance, has suddenly brought home to the pure and simple Labour parliamentarians the Communist axiom that the true source of their political power is rooted in the industrial organisations of the masses. If the trade union support is taken away from the Labour Party, it would stand revealed in all its melancholy impotency. It is just because the unions are behind the Labour Party, and because it is the political expression of the best elements in the unions that the Communist Party desires to enter it. We know what Henderson, MacDonald, and Thomas are, but we do not wish to enter the Labour Party because of our admiration for them. Behind these careerists are the organised masses, who, for good or evil, believe that the Labour Party is the party of the working class. It is for their sake that we demand an entrance into the Labour Party. When these workers are on strike, or when they are locked out, we fight by their side and try to show them the real cause of their industrial struggle and the only way to end it. We do this because we are on the side of the masses in all their conflicts. We are not superior theoreticians seeking to create a sect apart from the masses. We are an integral part of the working class movement. We are neither above it nor below it, but of it. And we demand, not as a favour, but as a working class right, to enter and function within any Labour channels to which the organised masses respond. As we fight by their side during industrial conflict, we insist upon being alongside them in their political struggles.
The Communist Party, therefore, most emphatically opposes the move of the political touts of the F.B.I. who are seeking to dictate how the trade unions shall spend their money. Our opposition is not based upon any undue eagerness to help the moderate Labour parliamentarians, who hate us a thousand times more than the do the imperialist jingoes who are seeking to destroy them. We oppose the attack of the F.B.I. upon trade union political levies for the simple reason that it is an attempt to further strengthen the dictatorship of Capital over Labour. We have our differences with certain elements within the Labour movement, but we shall settle these within the orbit of that movement. To capitalist reactionaries who desire to exploit our internal dissensions we say: “Hands off the working class movement.”
At the same time we desire to rebuff a lying suggestion that has been put forward, by some of our Labour critics, to the effect that the Communists are advocating amongst that unions that no payments should be made to the Labour Party. The Communists are not petty minded infantile idiots. The people in the working class movement who have always attempted to stop the unions paying the political levy have been the old die-hards of the “no-politics-in-the-union type.” As fervent enthusiasts of the industrial masses utilising every expedient to participate in political action, we cannot be opposed to the working class paying for its political activities. We believe in the unions being levied for the education of their members. We believe in the unions financially maintaining their own Press and their own daily and weekly journals. We believe in the working class doing everything for itself, because the Communists are the only people in the Labour movement who declare that the emancipation of the working class is the special task of the working class.
Last month we drew attention to the German crisis, and showed how it had proven, up to the hilt, the policy and tactics of the Communist International. While events in Germany were exposing the stupidity of the political methods of the Second International, very important things were happening in Italy.
Three years ago the Italian workers were sweeping everything before them; that they did not succeed in conquering the political power of the State was due to the timidity and treachery of the social-democratic leaders. While the workers were pressing forward, the Communist International appealed to the most virile elements in the Italian socialist movement to clear out the treacherous Second International leaders, like Turati, and to lead the masses in the struggle for all power. The most courageous group in the Italian socialist party joined, the Communist International, but a great number of splendid fighters held back because of the vacillating policy of the Centrists, led by Serrati, who refused to throw aside the timid moderates. While the Centrists were hesitating, the capitalists and reactionaries seized the opportunity to arm the middle-class youth of Italy, who appeared upon the scene as the Fascisti. These have been ravaging Italy for two years. They have demonstrated to the whole world the contempt of the capitalist class for constitutional and democratic tactics. With bombs and dynamite they have tried to blow the Italian Labour movement to hell. They have murdered thousands of the best socialist fighters in Italy. They have chased democratically elected town councillors, who were socialists, out of the towns. They have destroyed hundreds of Labour institutes up and down the country, and have burned down the most important printing establishments of the socialists. They showed to those, who are slow to learn lessons, that the workers cannot control the political State without a terrific struggle against the forces of capitalism.
Three years ago, when the Communist International appealed to the Italian socialists to link up the real revolutionaries in the movement into a united fighting party, it pointed out that hesitation and timidity would only give the demoralised capitalists an opportunity to reorganise their forces and to crush the masses by violence. Serrati, the most powerful influence among the Centrists, imagined that time was on the side of the workers, and that delayed action would mean revolutionary strength. Time is only on the side of the masses when they wield power; so long as the propertied class dominate the State, the chief factors in the tactics of the workers are initiative, courage, and speed of action. The events of the past few months have demonstrated that Serrati was wrong, and that the Communist International was correct in its analysis of the Italian situation. It is possible that Serrati, who must not be compared with such people as MacDonald and Henderson, may now see his errors and seek to redeem them by taking his stand alongside of the Communist International.