This is an examination of the revolutionary tradition of Syndicalism as an alternative to Socialism which has led in practical effect to the totalitarian regime of Communism on the Continent, and bureaucracy, direction of labour and the denial of freedom in this country. A return to syndical methods of combating capitalism offers new hope of emancipating the British workers and preserving their hard won liberties.
WELL, now you have had quite a considerable dose of socialism from a Labour Government with a working majority in the House of Commons. What do you really think of it? Has it fulfilled your hopes or are you sadly disappointed? Do you think the nationalization of certain key industries has brought any advantage to the nation or to the workers in those industries? On the other hand can we expect no real progress until all industries are nationalized, as the Communists insist?
The answers to these questions are becoming ever more clear as the experiment in socialism proceeds. To begin with, the real motive of the British workers in giving their support to a Socialist party was to get rid of the capitalist “boss-class” and thus escape from exploitation. Bitter is their disappointment to find that they have merely exchanged masters. In place of individual “bosses” who were, at least, susceptible to the threat of strikes, they have now one universal “boss” against whom a strike is rapidly becoming regarded as at the least an unpatriotic, if not treasonable, action. Far from getting rid of a privileged “boss-class” of owners, they now find themselves saddled with an army of black-coated, pinstripe-trousered, bureaucrats, many of whom are quartered in the very country houses from which the former “capitalist” owners have been ejected.
Does this involve any progress for the workers? Many are beginning to doubt it. Nationalization has placed any real control over the conditions of their industry far further beyond their reach than in the “bad old days” when they could often bring effective pressure to bear upon bad employers by strike action. Now grievances have to pass through a cumbersome bureaucratic machine where each department attempts to shelve responsibility for decisions from one clerk to another. Hence the ridiculous “stint” dispute in Durham which could have been settled in a fraction of the time under private ownership without involving dozens of other pits and wasting hundreds of thousands of tons of coal.
What is Capitalism ? What has gone wrong?
Can it be that we have all been led astray by a false definition? Is Dr. Joad right, that it does matter what we mean by “Capitalism”? Socialists tell us this means the private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and all will be well if all these are brought under public ownership by nationalization. But private ownership has existed since time immemorial, yet we only speak of the last two hundred years or so as the “Capitalist Era.” Would it not be more true to say that “Capitalism” is a state of society in which the owners of capital form the ruling class, as they are permitted complete power to use their property to exploit their fellowmen? Is not the evil of our age the power given to wealth to dominate the nation?
It was not always so. In earlier times the King and his Government ruled the state and no man, however wealthy, could defy the King’s law and the ordinances of his ministers. Indeed, we now realize, despite the version of history taught us at school, that, when King Charles defied Parliament, he was, as he said at his trial, fighting for the freedom of the common people of England against the tyrannous demands of the purse-proud merchants of the City of London. Unfortunately, the national authority of Tudor England was broken on his scaffold, and ever since wealth has gained ever greater power over the people.
The real enemy If we agree that it is the political power of wealth, in its modern form of capital, which is the enemy enslaving the British people, then we can see at a glance where we have gone wrong. The only escape from such a tyranny is not to transfer wealth from one group to another, but to divest wealth of its political power, and restore the authority of Government to rule in the interests not of the wealthy but of the whole people. Nationalization does not deprive wealth of its political power. Socialists accept the very basic evil against which the workers of Britain have been struggling for generations past.
They do not challenge the right of the private owner to do what he likes with his own, as Tudor England did by many administrative measures. On the contrary they hold that the only way to avoid the evils of private ownership is to vest all ownership in the State thus giving to the Government all the political power which has long since been conceded to the owners of wealth. As sole owner the Government will thus acquire absolute power.
Unfortunately, the great majority of the British workers had become so incensed by their exploitation under private enterprise and the inefficiency which led to unemployment, that they sought revenge against their employers in supporting a socialist creed which would expropriate those they had come to regard as their enemies. Now, however, they see the nemesis of attacking “Capitalists” rather than “Capitalism,” for their freedom is rapidly disappearing before the new and far graver tyranny of “State Capitalism” masquerading as “Socialism” which they had only understood in its idealist sense of “Mutual Service.” When they complain that this was not what they had expected, the extremists retort that they must not expect the full benefits of Socialism until the full programme of nationalization has been completed. Grumbling, the workers submit to direction and personal hardship while they await the promised millennium.
What is this millennium? It is no less than the final achievement of the complete totalitarian Communist State which owns all wealth, is the sole employer, and hence, under modern materialist concepts, possesses absolute political power. In Soviet Russia, such a state already exists and it is no coincidence that it has taken the form of the most reactionary and tyrannical government of modern times, threatening its neighbours with oppression and keeping the whole world from peace by its aggressive policy. What else are we to expect when we take all wealth out of the hands of private individuals and vest that vast power in the hands of a small, highly disciplined group of political adventurers?
We have complained, not without justification, of the aggressive profit seeking of the former “capitalist class” which led to a struggle for power ending in war. How much more must we expect “State-Capitalism” to incorporate all these evils, and exploit the masses in a last desperate bid for world domination?
The Communist answer is that their administration is a “dictatorship of the proletariat” exercised on behalf of the whole of the people. The whole self-governing instinct of the British people rises in revolt against such hypocrisy. We have not forgotten the White Tsar, Alexander, who after the defeat of Napoleon, united all the forces of reaction in Europe to suppress the democratic ideas of the French Revolution under the Christian banner of the “Holy Alliance.” This new Red Tsar, Stalin, is no less a reactionary when he uses the same methods of military occupation and a secret police under the Marxist banner of the “Communist International.”
The fact remains that wherever Communism has power the people are deprived of all political and economic rights and must submit to the absolute authority of a small group of “party comrades,” who possess complete power over all property and even over the bodies of those they have enslaved to their omnipotent state.
Must We Go Back ? Is the whole dream of progress through socialism a mere illusion, which has led the British workers into a hopeless impasse? Have we no alternative but to reel back from the abyss of totalitarianism yawning ahead, and to submit to the restoration of private ownership and all the evils of unrestricted individual capitalism? The Conservatives would like us to think so, but are finding it hard to convince the electors that they must retrace their steps.
The workers of Britain are not prepared to throw away all their hard won privileges merely because they have been led astray by false social and political theories. They are not so wedded to alien Marxism as to forget all they have gained by the application of British methods of team work and social solidarity. These are assets which can be turned to practical effect under any political or social system. The British people have ever been hard realists rather than woolly idealists, concerned with practical results more than logical systems. This realism may now stand the British worker in good stead.
Let us go back in history and realize that the real tragedy for the industrial worker was the loss of his tools, in medieval times he began as an apprentice, learned his craft and became in due course a journeyman possessing his own tools, travelling as a free man through the length and breadth of not only his own country but often of the whole of Europe. Wherever he went he was in a position to exercise his craft and maintain himself, until he had acquired sufficient experience to settle down himself as a master-craftsman employing his own apprentices and journeymen. The next step was to take his place as one of the burgesses ruling his own walled town defying the robber barons of the countryside, with every possibility of becoming the burgomaster of a community of craftsmen, such as formed the Hanscatic League and other groups of the free cities of Europe.
Unhappily wealth in alliance with landowning interests destroyed this healthy development of honest craftsmanship. Soon the worker lost his political powers and even ownership of his tools passed away, as home industries succumbed within living memory to the competition of power driven machinery owned by big capitalists. From a free man controlling his own destiny the worker declined to a mere member of the proletariat dependant upon the capitalist for access to the machines through which alone he could earn his livelihood. This was a major catastrophe to the industrial worker from which socialism offers him no redress, as State ownership of the means of production merely removes the control over the tools of his trade further from his ken. The bureaucratic officials who now direct him to labour are certainly not drawn from the working class, being in fact for the most part the privileged younger sons of the very capitalist-class he has sought to destroy.
Alternative Revolutionary Creed
There is, however, no need to despair, for side by side with the teaching of socialist revolution, there has been in Europe a second revolutionary creed calling for a return to the natural system of trade guilds of earlier times. Names as great as those of Engels and Marx are associated with this alternative revolution, and they are the names of true idealistic Europeans and not merely of materialist minded aliens.
Russia produced Prince Kropotkin and Bakunin who taught the philosophy of natural social co-operation through “Mutual Aid” condemning government and advocating anarcho-syndicalism. Sorrel followed in France with his creed of the “General Strike” by which the workers should recover control over industry and the means of production. Nor was Mazzini slow in Italy to follow a similar course leading ultimately to the idea of the Corporate State to which even the dictator Mussolini was compelled to give at least lip service.
Northern Europe may have accepted Socialism which owed much to the co-operation of Bismarck and the Jew Lasalle in Germany; but Southern Europe remained true to Syndicalism which modified the Fascist dictatorships and even fought under anarcho-syndicalist leadership the Communist endeavour to dominate Barcelona during the Spanish civil war. Franco to this day has found it necessary to concede much to the national-syndicalist organizations of his revolutionary allies in the blue-shirted Phalanx.
We in Britain cannot regard this clash of ideas on the Continent as something beyond our concern, for we too have played our part in its development. Our early leadership in the formation of trade unions and co-operative societies was certainly not socialist in intention, but pure syndicalism in practice. Nor was revolutionary theory lacking even in this land of hard practicality, when such men as Orage, Penty and G.D.H. Cole, developed the ideal of “Guild Socialism” early in the century, which had much in common with the National Syndicalism of Southern Europe in tvpical compromise with the National Socialism of the North which ultimately led to the rise of Hitler in Germany and Stalin in Russia. Indeed, the General Strike of 1926 was a great, if unconscious effort, to achieve the industrial revolution to workers control advocated by Sorrel, and it was only following upon its dramatic failure that the workers drifted towards political action on the Marxist model.
Reversion to Syndicalism
Is it too late to revert from Socialism to Syndicalism? We do not believe it. Socialism leads either on the National or International front to one form of tyranny or another – either to a British Hitler or to the universal sway of Stalin. Syndicalism on the other hand can restore the long lost freedom of the British worker by restoring his control over the tools of his craft and the means of his livelihood. The British workers already repudiate Communism, as they realise that national ownership means the end of hard won liberties extorted at great sacrifice from exploiting capitalist employers through loyal comradeship and social solidarity. This is not the time to lay down the weapons of trade union organization, but to demand that the whole trade union movement attains its ultimate objective of effective control over the conditions of employment and the development of industry.
How is this to be achieved?
Surely it is time to reverse the whole tendency of working class activity since 1926? We must cease to support the advance of political gangsters, climbing, like Jimmy Thomas, on the backs of the workers to political power, for we now realise we will no more be able to remove them from the saddle than can the Russian people get rid of Joe Stalin and his pals. We must return to industrial trade unionism, holding firmly to the powers we have already won over the conduct and administration of our own industries. There we have something real to show for the efforts of generations of British workers, something we will not lightly barter away for the most rosy-hued theory of national ownership administered by State Capitalists.
Self-government of Industry Syndicalism is practical business. It means the self-government of industry on the lines of the “working parties” which were so effective a means of increasing pro-duction during the war. It means the abandonment of the mere illusion of political control through corrupt, power-crazed delegates in favour of the effective reality of industrial control through direct contact with the facts of occupational problems.
Syndicalism is a reality which is in large measure already achieved through working class action to curb capitalist exploitation. Socialism remains a theory without effective result, unless it be carried to that point of Communist slate tyranny which the real British workers abhor. Let us, therefore, as workers give our support to every trend and every political idea which advocates the retention of workers’ control of industry and repudiates bureaucratic direction.
The British Revolution need not come to a standstill. Conservatism need never again recover power because of the failure of Socialism. All that is needed is a deliberate change in the direction of revolutionary action away from political intrigue back to the normal British method of direct industrial activity. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, especially when new political bosses have the full disposal of available poultry—and we do not only mean Mr. Strachey in this connection. Freedom is too valuable a birthright to sell for such a problematic mess of pottage.
We are too practical a people to fall into the errors of anarcho-syndicalism. We realise that if we choose the reality of industrial self-government in place of the illusion of political self-government through an effete parliamentary system, there must nevertheless be some central government-authority to safeguard the interests of the nation as a whole and co-ordinate the efforts of the various industries and occupations. While clinging to our fundamental rights to control and ultimately to own the means of our own industrial and occupational livelihood, let us be prepared to concede power to central government to administer national affairs provided such a government submits itself at regular intervals to a vote of the whole people to confirm it in office! Thus may we still progress along the lines of our traditional revolt against capitalism and the rule of wealth.
Let us be quite clear that there is no short cut to the liquidation of Capitalism. We must aim at the transfer of control over industry from existing financial and absentee shareholding interests to those responsible for the actual conduct of the industry whether in a managerial, technical or operative capacity. This must then be followed up by the liquidation of all mere paper claims upon the industry for interest and profit in no way justified by service. Ultimately all industries must pass not into the ownership of the State but into the hands of those actually engaged in running the industry. In fact, ownership must be for use and not for profit, and every industry must eventually possess its own tools, machinery and other capital as its means of giving service to the national welfare.
THE END OF CAPITALISM
This is the syndicalist remedy for Capitalism, and all workers must fit themselves, whatever their capacity, to undertake the responsibility for co-operating in the management and direction of their own industries. This requires a reorientation of Trade Unionism away from politics and back to the original industrial purposes for which they were formed. Only when the workers have fitted themselves to undertake such tasks can they hope to end the rule of Capitalism, either in its individual or state aspect, as the domination of wealth over society. Let the craftsman assert once again his right over the tools of his craft, if not as an individual then as a member of his organized industrial guild, forgetting class prejudices in favour of the loyal co-operation of all factors contributing to the welfare of his industry.
Finally, let the workers of this country realise in which direction their real well-being lies. Let them give full support to any political movement or tendency which moves in the direction of real syndical values and away from the delusion of socialist theories. Political action to support industrial progress will be necessary; but let us be certain that such political action is honestly directed towards curbing the power of Capitalism not usurping it as a means of tyrannizing over the nation, workers and employers alike. Let us be true to our heritage of industrial struggle and show both Capitalist America and Communist Russia that we have a characteristic British method of setting our own house in order, and achieving a new form of society, in which the worker with hand and with brain will possess the power to protect his own interests and thus serve the national welfare.
FORWARD TO SYNDICAL REVOLUTION