“THERE were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”
Occasionally you see socialists accommodating to pacifist tendencies in the working class by implying that a revolution is probably just like a really big demo, or maybe a general strike, and then the government collapses and then the working class forms a new government. They question of force sometimes is referred to only in the fact that there might be some clashes with the police perhaps.
In the Syrian revolution some people got squeamish when it turned into a civil war, preferring the mass pro-democracy protests at the start and then becoming all shy and moderate about it when Assad sent in the security forces to start killing people.
Trotsky makes the comment during the Russian civil war after 1917 that; “The international proletariat put before itself as its problem the conquest of power. Independently of whether civil war, “generally,” belongs to the inevitable attributes of revolution, “generally,” this fact remains unquestioned – that the advance of the proletariat, at any rate in Russia, Germany, and parts of former Austro-Hungary, took the form of an intense civil war not only on internal but also on external fronts. If the waging of war is not the strong side of the proletariat, while the workers’ International is suited only for peaceful epochs, then we may as well erect a cross over the revolution and over socialism; for the waging of war is a fairly strong side of the capitalist State, which without a war will not admit the workers to supremacy.”
The fact if you cannot point to a revolution that does not turn into some kind of civil war – the same is true of the English Revolution between 1642–1651 of course. Ultimately in any significant social struggle between the classes the question of force decides. But the question of politics is also decisive. In any struggle for political power, the insurgent forces have to be able to articulate a programme that encompasses the needs of the broadest masses and offers incentives and gains for why people should support the revolution. Likewise the forces of the status quo fight to win in the field of politics, to convince the people that the way things are should ultimately be preserved, while usually offering wild concessions that they later ignore and tear up.
Anyone who says there is a completely peaceful road to socialism is either wilfully naive about the levels of violence that the capitalist class will inflict to stay in power, or they hugely over estimate the democratic sensibilities of those who currently run society, as if they would give up everything because they lost an election?
But revolutionaries know that winning political hegemony is crucial to winning power. The more you can win over the working class and popular progressive forces then the more the revolution itself will be a relatively bloodless affair. But the greater the forces of reaction, the forces of bourgeois order… the more difficult the road ahead.
In 1879 Carlo Cafiero did a summary of Capital and Marx’s ideas for Italian readers. In the conclusion he wrote a brilliant and evocative account of the nature of revolution and why the capitalist class invokes it but then pulls back and turns on the very workers it whipped up for its cause. Worth reading and thinking on.
The disease is sweeping. It’s been a long time that the workers of the civilized world have known it; certainly not all, but a great number, and these are already preparing the means of action to destroy it.
They have considered these:
I. That the first source of every human oppression and exploitation is private property;
II. That the emancipation of workers (human emancipation) will not be founded upon a new class rule, but upon the end of all class privileges and monopolies and upon the equality of rights and duties;
III. That the cause of labor, the cause of humanity, does not have borders;
IV. That the emancipation of workers must be done at the hands of the workers themselves.
And so a mighty voice has shouted: “Workers of the world, unite! No more rights without duties, no more duties without rights! Revolution!”
But the revolution demanded by the workers is not a revolution of pretext, it is not the practical method of a moment to reach a given aim. Even the bourgeoisie, like so many others, demanded the revolution one day; but only to supplant the nobility, and to substitute for the feudal system of serfdom that more refined and cruel system of wage-work. And they call this progress and civility! In fact every day we help the ridiculous show of the bourgeoisie, who go babbling the word revolution, with the sole aim of being able to jump up onto the maypole tree, and to grab power. The workers’ revolution is the revolution for the revolution.
The word “Revolution”, taken in its largest and truest sense, means turning, transformation, change. As such, revolution is the soul of all infinite mass. In fact, all in nature changes, but nothing is created and nothing is destroyed, as chemistry shows us. Mass, remaining always in the same quantity, can change form in infinite ways. When mass loses its old form and acquires a new one, it passes from the old life, in which it dies, to the new life, in which it is born. When our spinner, using a familiar example for us, transformed the 10 kilos of cotton into 10 kilos of thread, what else came about if not the death of 10 kilos of mass in the form of cotton, and at their birth in the form of thread? And when the weaver transforms the thread into cloth, what else will come about if not the matter passing from a life of string unto a life of cloth, as it has passed already before from a life of cotton unto a life of thread? Mass, therefore, passing from one turn of life to another, lives ever-changing, transforming, revolutionizing.
Now, if revolution is the law of nature, which is all, it must necessarily also be the law of humanity, which is a part of nature. But you have a few men upon the Earth who do not think this is so, or, rather, who close their eyes so as not to see and their ears so as not to hear.
“Yes, it is true,” I hear shouting from a bourgeois, “the natural law, the revolution that you claim, is the absolute regulator of human relations. The fault of all the oppressions, of all the exploitations, of all the tears and all of the massacres they are caused by, one must justly attribute to this inexorable law that imposes revolution upon us, that is, continuous transformation, the struggle for existence, the absorption of the weaker made stronger, the sacrifice of the less perfect types for the development of the more perfect types. If hundreds of workers are burned up for the wellbeing of only one bourgeois, that happens without the slightest fault of this, that is indeed sad and dreary, but only by the decree of natural law, of revolution.”
If one speaks in such a way, the workers ask nothing better, who wish for transformation, the struggle for existence, revolution, under the same natural law, the ones indeed preparing themselves to be stronger, to sacrifice all monstrous and parasitic plants for the complete and flourishing development of the most beautiful human tree, whole and perfect, which it must be, in all of the wholeness of its human character.
But the bourgeoisie are too fearful and pious to be able to appeal to the natural law of revolution. They have been able to invoke it in a moment of drunkenness; but, afterwards back to their normal selves, their accounts done, and having found that their doings were nice and pleasing, they gave themselves to shouting until they couldn’t anymore: “Order, religion, family, property, conservation!” It is so that, after having arrived at conquering, with massacre, fire and robbery, the role of the dominators and exploiters of the human race, they believe that they can stop the course of revolution; without realizing, in their stupidity, that they can do nothing else, with their efforts, than to make horrible troubles for humanity, and as a consequence for themselves, with the sudden explosions of the revolutionary force they madly repress.
The revolution, the material obstacles that oppose it shot down, and left free in its path, will by itself be enough to create the most perfect balance, order, peace, and the most complete happiness between people, because people, in their free development, will not proceed in the manner of wild animals but in the manner of human beings, eminently reasonable and civil, who understand that no person can be truly free and happy if they are not within the common liberty and happiness of all of humanity. No more rights without duties, no more duties without right. Therefore no more struggle for existence between people, but struggle for existence of all people with nature, by appropriating from the great sum of natural forces for the benefit of all of humanity.
The disease known, it is easy to know the remedy: revolution for the revolution.
But how will the workers be able to restore the course of the revolution?
This is not the place for a revolutionary program, already elaborated and published long ago elsewhere in other books; I confine myself to conclude, replying with the words taken from the lips of a worker and placed in epigraph to this volume: “The worker has made everything; and the worker can destroy everything, because he can rebuild everything
When I was interviewed on R4 about the LP conference they had some vox pops from ex miners in Yorkshire saying they are going to vote Tory. The point was to terrify the left – oh my god, ex miners are voting for Johnson! But what does it mean to be an ‘ex-miner’? Many of them are older men who probably aren’t in unionised workplaces and have decided sticking it to the EU is the best way forward for them and their communities. They have no real organisation or perspective to challenge that. The old culture of ‘brothers’ and the union meeting hall are long gone in some places.
This fits in with a wider collapse in socialist conciousness since the 1980s – in Britain the twin defeats of the union movement and the collapse of “actually existing socialism” all made a huge impression on people. It culminated in the ‘there is no alternative’ thesis of Thatcher and Blair. The end of history, liberal democracy had won.
Now we can see that this was not the case, there is a global rivival of far right, authoritarian and fascistic views taking place, sadly we are not quite seeing the resurgence of socialist conciousness yet.
What does this mean for Britain? The problem is that for generations Labour relied on the implantation of trade unions in a lot of these communities to turn out the vote for the party. With the massive rolling back of unions and the closure of industries that used to be well organised, these people have no living, day to day connection with the organised working class. The union meetings, the banners the organisers, the union socials and regular contact with various communists and socialists from that movement means that people are left to their own devices, this means they are increasingly prey to the bourgeois media and its anti working class agenda.
What trade unions we have in this country are based largely in the public sector. The private sector has trade unions but they lack density and face vicious anti union managment culture who have the full weight of the law behind them to stop strikes and other independent actions by workers.
You might look at the 2017 election vote and say – “well it doesn’t really matter because we can still get 40% of the vote if we need to anyway.” Fair point. But I am talking about building a solid, working class movement which can not just a deliver a stable vote when the time comes but identifies with the goals and socialist aspirations of the movement. In other words an organised working class.
It goes without saying of course that I believe that the building of such a movement comes first, the votes are a by product of the fight to establish strong unions, co-operatives in struggle against capitalism.
This is why I also think abolishing the anti union laws is the most important startegic gain that could be made under a Labour government, it frees up our class to organise, to fight, to build up its own strength again.
There is a nationalist sickness in our movement… Continue reading Our movement has opposed racism and nationalism – why Paul Embery is wrong
The Stuttgart Congress of 1907 saw socialists from across the world gather for a week to debate issues from war to the economy to migration. They were members of the Socialist International — at that time including the Labour Party — and the issue of immigration at the turn of the 20th century was being debated in similar ways to today.
For the actual debate between the delegates — which is quite spicy in some places, especially between the US and Japanese comrades — click here.
This is the text of the motion that was adopted by those socialists on the subject of migration
Stuttgart Congress motion on migration 
The immigration and emigration of workers are phenomena that are just as inseparable from the essence of capitalism as unemployment, overproduction and workers’ underconsumption. They are often a way of reducing the workers’ participation in the production process and on occasion assume abnormal proportions as a result of political, religious and national persecution.
The congress does not seek a remedy to the potentially impending consequences for the workers from immigration and emigration in any economic or political exclusionary rules, because these are fruitless and reactionary by nature. This is particularly true of a restriction on the movement and the exclusion of foreign nationalities or races.
Instead, the congress declares it to be the duty of organised labour to resist the depression of its living standards that often occurs in the wake of the mass import of unorganised labour. In addition the congress declares it to be the duty of organised labour to prevent the import and export of strike-breakers. The congress recognises the difficulties which in many cases fall upon the proletariat in a country that is at a higher stage of capitalist development, as a result of the mass immigration of unorganised workers accustomed to lower living standards and from countries with a predominantly agrarian and agricultural culture, as well as the dangers that arise for it as a result of a specific form of immigration. However, congress does not believe that preventing particular nations or races from immigrating — something that is also reprehensible from the point of view of proletarian solidarity — is a suitable means of fighting these problems. It therefore recommends the following measures:
I. For the country of immigration
1. A ban on the export and import of those workers who have agreed on a contract that deprives them of the free disposal over their labour-power and wages.
2. Statutory protection of workers by shortening the working day, introducing a minimum wage rate, abolishing the sweat system and regulating home working
3. Abolition of all restrictions which prevent certain nationalities or races from staying in a country or which exclude them from the social, political and economic rights of the natives or impede them in exercising those rights. Extensive measures to facilitate naturalisation.
4. In so doing, the following principles should generally apply in the trade unions of all countries:
(a) unrestricted access of immigrant workers to the trade unions of all countries
(b) facilitating access by setting reasonable admission fees
© the ability to change from the trade union of one country to another for free, upon the fulfilment of all liabilities in the previous union
(d) striving to establish an international trade union cartel, which will make it possible to implement these principles and needs internationally.
5. Support for trade union organisations in those countries from which immigration primarily stems.
II. For the country of origin
1. The liveliest trade union agitation.
2. Education of the workers and the public on the true state of the working conditions in the country of origin.
3. An active agreement of the trade unions with the unions in the country of immigration for the purpose of a common approach towards the matter of immigration and emigration.
4. Since the emigration of labour is often artificially stimulated by railway and steamship companies, by land speculators and other bogus outfits, and by issuing false and scurrilous promises to the workers, the congress demands:
l The monitoring of the shipping agencies, the emigration bureaus, and potentially legal or administrative measures against them to prevent emigration being abused in the interests of such capitalist enterprises.
Reorganisation of the transport sector, especially ships; the appointment of inspectors with disciplinary powers, recruited from the ranks of unionised workers in the country of origin and the country of immigration, to oversee regulations; welfare for newly arrived immigrants, so that they do not fall prey to exploitation by the parasites of capital from the outset.
Since the transport of migrants can only be statutorily regulated on an international level, the congress commissions the International Socialist Bureau to develop proposals to reorganise these matters, in which the furnishings and the equipment of ships must be standardised, as well as the minimum amount of airspace for every migrant. Particular emphasis should be placed on individual migrants arranging their passage directly with the company, without the intervention of any intermediate contractor.
These proposals shall be passed on to the party leaderships for the purposes of legislative application and for propaganda.
One of the worst aspects of Labourism is the tendency to use political categories and labels interchangeably. Tom Watson’s latest attack on Corbyn is no different