Communism and its Tactics, Sylvia Pankhurst

John

The second version of this text, serialised in ‘Workers Dreadnought’ in 1923, outlying basic positions of the Communist Left in its early days, written by suffragette and communist Sylvia Pankhurst.

Read Time40 Minutes, 57 Seconds

Part One

Under Communism all shall satisfy their material needs without stint or measure, from the common storehouse, according to their desires. Everyone will be able to have what he or she desires in food, in clothing, books, music, education and travel facilities. The abundant production now possible, and which invention will constantly facilitate, will remove any need for rationing or limiting of consumption.

Every individual, relying on the great common production, will be secure from material want and anxiety.

There will be no class distinctions. These arise from differences in material possessions, education and social status. All such differences will be swept away.

There will be neither rich nor poor. Money will no longer exist, and none will desire to hoard commodities not in use, since a fresh supply may be obtained at will. There will be no selling, because there will be no buyers, since everyone will be able to obtain everything desired without payment.

The possession of private property, beyond that which is in actual personal use, will disappear.

There will be neither masters nor servants. Because all will be economically equal — no individual will be able to become the employer of another.

Children will be educated up to adult age, and adults will be able to make free, unstinted use of all educational facilities in their abundant leisure.

Stealing, forgery, burglary, and all economic crimes will disappear, with the vast and bjectionable apparatus which at present exists for preventing, detecting, and punishing crime.

Prostitution will become extinct; it is a commercial transaction, dependent upon the economic need of the prostitute and the customer’s power to pay.

Sexual union will no longer be based upon material conditions, but will be freely contracted on the basis of affection and mutual attraction. The marriage laws, having become obselete, will disappear. If people have ceased to be happy together they will part in freedom and without incurring the stigma of social disapproval.

The birth of children will cease to be prevented by reason of poverty.

Material anxiety being removed, and the race for wealth eliminated, other objects and ambitions will take the place of the individual struggle for existence and material wealth. Since all will benefit from the labour of all, praise will be given, not to the wealthy, as at present, but to those who prove skilful and zealous in the common service.

Emulation in work will take the place of emulation in wealth.

With the disappearance of the anxious struggle for existence, which saps the energy and cripples initiative, a new vigour, a new independence will develop. People will have more courage to desire freedom, greater determination to possess it. They will be more exacting as to their choice of a vocation. They will wish to work at what they enjoy, to order their lives as they desire. Work will be generally enjoyed as never before in the history of mankind.

The desire for freedom will be tempered by the sense of responsibility towards the commonweal, which will provide security for all.

Public opinion provides a stronger, more general compulsion than any penal code, and public opinion will strongly disapprove idleness and waste.

To secure the abundant production necessary to Communism, and to cope with the ever-growing complexity of modern life and requirements, large-scale production and co-operative effort is necessary. The people of today would not be willing to go back to producing everything by hand in domestic workshops; were they to do so, they could not maintain the population in comfort and with reasonable leisure. The people of today would be unwilling to abandon all the productive factories, the trains, the electric generating stations and so on. The retention of such things necessitates the working-together of large numbers of people. As soon as numbers of people are working together and supplying with their products numbers of other people, some sort of organisation of work and of distribution becomes inevitable. The work itself cannot be carried on without organisation. In each industry, either the workers concerned in the work must form and control the organisation, or they will be under the dominion of the organisers. The various industries are interlocked in interest and utility; therefore the industrial organisations must be interlocked.

When wages have disappeared, when all are upon a basis of economic equality, when to be manager, director, organiser, brings no material advantage, the desire to occupy such positions will be less widespread and less keen, and the danger of oppressive action by the management will be largely nullified. Nevertheless, management imposed on unwilling subordinates will not be tolerated; where the organiser has chosen the assistants, the assistants will be free to leave; where the assistants choose the organiser, they will be free to change him. Co-operation for the common good is necessary; but freedom, not domination, is the goal.

Since co-operative work and mutual reliance on mutual aid renders some kind of organisation necessary, the best possible form of organisation must be chosen: the test of its worth is its efficiency and the scope for freedom and initiative it allows to each of its units.

The Soviet structure of committees and delegates, built up from the base of the workshop and village assembly, presents the best form of organisation yet evolved; it arises naturally when the workers are thrown upon their own resources in the matter of government. The Soviet structure will undoubtedly be the organisational structure of Communism, at any rate, for some time to come. We live always, however, in a state of flux, and there is, and happily can be, no permanence about human institutions; there is always the possibility of something higher, as yet undiscovered.

The overthrow of Capitalism precedent to the establishment of Communism will be resisted by the possessors of wealth. Thus Capitalism will only be overthrown by revolution.

The revolution can only come when conditions are ripe for it; but opportunities may be missed: the rising may fail to take place at the opportune moment, or it may fail by mismanagement of the proletarian forces. A partial success may be achieved, and if Capitalism is not completely destroyed it may afterwards re-establish itself, as it speedily did in Hungary, as it is gradually doing in Russia.

Part Two

Those who are well to do under the present system are apt to oppose Communism, from conservatism and lack of imagination, and from anxiety lest the disorganisations of the transition period may destroy their present comfort. Some even fear that under Communism the emancipated workers may revenge themselves upon those who were of the employing class in Capitalist society, by degrading them to a subject position; but Communism has no place for subject classes. It has neither economic nor social distinction. It will emancipate the entire humanity.

The hard toil of the business man and his manifold anxieties are continually cited as arguments against this or that amelioration of the lot of the workers to-day. Let the exacting toil, the stupendous financial commitments, the ceaseless stupefying anxieties be admitted: Communism will remove all these. It will emancipate the business man from his business: it will free him for useful, care-free work and pleasure, from the shackles of useless toil. Nevertheless, the Capitalists of to-day have shown themselves as ready as were the feudal lords of the eighteenth century to resist the processes of evolution by force of arms and to make war to prevent the coming of the equalitarian social order.

In the contemporary cycle of civil wars, that of Finland was an early example of this fact.

The Russian Revolution of March 1917 removed the Czarist domination from Finland. Kerensky’s provisional Government opposed the independence of Finland, dissolved the Finnish Parliament, which had passed a law making itself the supreme power in Finland, and ordered new elections. On one occasion it posted Hussars to prevent the assembling of the dissolved Parliament, but next time only “Kerensky’s seals” were on the door, and these were easily broken. Kerensky’s Provisional Government lacked the strength to keep Finland within the Russian Empire. The All-Russian Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council, which sat simultaneously with Kerensky’s Provisional Government and was steadily becoming the real power in Russia, had declared for Finnish independence. Finland at that time was considered the most democratic of countries. Its Parliament had only a single Chamber, it had a wide franchise and proportional representation, votes fort women, and women members of Parliament. In the Parliamentary elections of 1916 the Social Democratic Party had secured a majority, and a coalition had been formed. Finland had no army under the Czar: she had been policed by Russian troops, and now Finland was without an army. Finnish Capitalists had desired to retain the Russian domination and the Russian Army, but that hope had failed them. During the summer of 1917 an eight-hour working day law was enacted, and universal suffrage was extended to the field of local Government. Russia was moving towards the Bolshevist revolution, and would not interfere. There were only a few large Capitalists in Finland in the timber and paper industries, and the taking over of about ten large firms would have nationalised by industry. Already the forests belonged to the State; the Russian domination had checked the growth of powerful Finnish interests. Apparently there was nothing to prevent the country from passing on to Socialism by ordered Parliamentary stages. Yet Parliament seemed helpless. War conditions, including the British blockade, were causing a food shortage, and, though the Parliament passed a law to stop speculation in food supplies, the law failed to operate. The Coalition Government, swayed to and fro by its Social-Democratic and Capitalist members, remained inactive.

The workers were hungry: in Helsingfors, the capital, they began to seize and to distribute stocks of butter — a general strike broke out spontaneously. It lasted two days, and then was brought to an end by the efforts of the Trade Union leaders.

In October 1917 new elections were held. The Social-Democrats anticipated a clear Parliamentary majority. Instead, they lost the bare majority they had, and became a minority party. When the election figures were announced, it was found that some representatives of the bourgeois parties had obtained a greater number of votes than there were electors on the roll. Later on, when the revolution broke out, masses of voting papers made out for the Social-Democratic candidates were found locked away in the offices of presidents of electoral bureaux.

The elections had been falsified. Nevertheless, the Social-Democrats had also lost votes, because, in spite of their majority in the Coalition Government, they had been unable to safeguard the people’s food and thus lost the enthusiasm of the masses.

The Coalition Government was now no more. The bourgeois groups in the Parliament voted a resolution entrusting the supreme power to a triumverate, but dared not immediately put it into practice. At the same time, they entered into negotiations with the Russian Provisional Government with a view to sharing the power and obtaining military aid to quell the people.

Then the Russian Provisional Government fell: the Russian Soviets rose to power. Lenin, who had taken refuge in Finland for a time, in returning to Russia charged the Finnish comrades to set up the Soviets; but they did not; they were opposed to revolution.

The Finnish Capitalists were now getting arms from Germany and preparing an army.

There were divided Councils amongst the Social-Democrats: some desired a general strike to secure democratic government; others did not. The various Social-Democratic factions all wished to avoid revolution. Eventually a general strike was declared. It secured a vote from the Democratic majority in the Parliament that the Parliament itself, and not merely a Government bloc, should be the supreme power in the country. This was but camouflage. The Capitalists continued preparing the army which was to attack the workers.

At the end of January 1918 the Capitalists gave the word of command for its butchers to begin the onslaught upon the workers’ organisations. The Social-Democrats replied:

“The bourgeoisie is vioating and destroying democracy. To arms!”

Then, tardily, the workers took arms and met force with force. They might have been victorious; but the Capitalists procured aid from Germany. Thus Capitalism maintained its rule and revenged itself by scourging Finland with a ruthless and prolonged White Terror, in which the lives of many thousand Socialists and workers were sacrificed.

In Hungary the Liberal Minister, Count Karolyi, who had come into power through the bourgeois revolution of November 1918, surrendered his office, and called the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council, the Soviets of Hungary, to take the power. He did so because Hungary had been made economically bankrupt as a result of the European War and the dismemberment to which the Allied victors had subjected her. The Soviets were soon deposed by the armed forces of foreign Capitalism.

The bloody civil strife which has taken place in Germany since the war, and the invasion of Soviet Russia by the Allied Powers, are further exampls proving that the Capitalists will fight against the introduction of Communism. Italy provides a more recent, and in some respects an even more striking example.

In Italy the Socialists were making steady progress towards a Parliamentary majority. A large number of local governing bodies already possessed Socialist majorities. The masses, through their industrial and political organisations, as well as by some local mass uprisings, were manifesting a strong desire for Socialism. In 1920 the employers in the metal industries attempted to lock out the workers. The workers were organised in the workshop committee movement, which they had formed and organised independently of the Trade Unions, without surrendering their membership of the Unions. The workshop organisations now seized the factories, protected them with barbed wire, and placed machine-guns on the roofs. Workers in other industries and on the land began to take similar action. The army was sympathetic towards the movement, the Government was powerless to intervene.

The Socialist Party and the Trade Unionists, on the other hand, were either opposed to revolution, or unprepared for it. The Communists and the Anarchists did not find themselves strong enough to take the lead. The Socialist Party decided that the affair must be left to the Trade Unions. The Trade Unions persuaded the workers to surrender the factories and to become once more obedient to the Capitalist Government and to their employers.

The Capitalists showed no gratitude for the assistance they had received from Trade Union and Socialist leaders; their main concern was to take steps to prevent the workers rising again. The great industrial Capitalists of Italy, therefore, provided the funds for Mussolini to create his Fascist Army, which attacked the Trade Union, Co-operative, Socialist, Communist and Anarchist organisations of Italy, destroying their offices and plant, breaking up their meetings, wounding, or even killing, their members and officials. The Fascisti did not stop at the Labour organisations; they resorted to violence to influence the elections, and raided the local governing bodies which had a Socialist, or even a Liberal membership, assaulting, or even murdering, the members and officials who stood for progress. Finally they took arms against the Government and established a dictatorship in Italy. In their every step the masters of the Fascisti have been the greater Capitalists of Italy, whose intention has been to prevent the emancipation of the workers and the establishment of Communism the equalitarian social order which shall establish plenty and security for all.

Many British people cling to the belief that such manifestations of militant Capitalism are unlikely to occur here. Yet there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. It is notorious that certain organisations financed by the great Capitalists have constantly employed violent rowdies to combat reform agitations. The Suffragettes, the Socialists, and the opponents of war have had to run the gauntlet of such rowdyism. The Germans, Austrians, and others suffered from it during the war-time “intern-them-all” agitation. The Curragh incident, in which officers of the British Army announced they would take sides with Ulster, in preventing the application of the Irish Home Rule Act, showed that in Britain, as elsewhere, the class in power will not stop at mere rowdyism, but will proceed to civil war in defence of its priviliges. The terrible Ulster pogroms, which were organised and approved by the rich and powerful, though carried out by hired subordinates and poor and ignorant mobs, are another proof of the fact that the British Capitalist, like any other, would be quite prepared to cast aside legality, if the law should cease to protect his priviliged position.

Part Three

Nationalist struggles, though largely economic and bound up with the might of Empire, which assures to Big Business its control of markets, are less vital to the upholders of Capitalism, than the direct contest for the overthrow of the system itself.

When the established order is in danger its beneficiaries arm to protect it; its supporters and opponents come to blows, civil war breaks out, and, for the time being, peace is no more.

Is that as it should be? It is as it is. The inevitable must be recognised and prepared for. A determined struggle for supremacy inevitably accompanies the overthrow of Capitalism.

Experience shows that the crisis arises suddenly: the old relationship has been growing more and more strained, and suddenly the bonds are snapped and the storm bursts. We do not say that a Parliamentary crisis, could not be the last straw that would precipitate the conflict, but in none of the contemporary revolutions has this been so. We have now the recent experience of Russia, Austria, Hungary, and Italy to guide our conclusions.

Great economic pressure, and a great spiritual rebellion against the actions and ideology of those who have been in power, are the factors which produce the proletarian revolution.

Parliament must be overthrown, as part of the Capitalist system, which must be altogether destroyed, if the proletarian revolution is to succeed. There must be a clean break with the old methods of supplying the needs of the community and with the old institutions of Government; the revolution must create its own instrument.

Parliament would have to be sacrificed with the overthrow of Capitalism, even were it conceivable that an Act of Parliament will formally declare the abolition of Capitalism. The Capitalists would resist by force the first attempt to put the Act into practice; and Parliament is not the body that could carry t.e proletarian revolution through to success in face of Capitalist revolt, which would be one of both armed and passive resistance.

The workers would be compelled to meet such a revolt with all the forces at their disposal; their most characteristic weapon is their industrial power, for the effective wielding of which they would have to be co-ordinated industrially. Every industry would be divided against itself; the owners and part of the management would take the Capitalist side; the mass of the workers the side of the working class. As in all the countries where the revolutionary crisis has appeared, the naval and military forces would be divided in the same way, though the old training and discipline might cause a larger proportion of the working-class rank and file to support the side of the master class in the Army than in industry. The final events leading up to the revolution would determine this question. If an unpopular war were the ultimate incentive to revolt, the soldiers might be the leaders of the revolution.

A little consideration of the situation arising on the outbreak of revolution, will show that Parliament and the local governing bodies, the county and borough councils, the boards of guardians, and so on, could not be the guiding and co-ordinating machinery of such a struggle; that the machinery of the struggle could take no other form than that of the Soviets.

Even in a war between rival Capitalist Governments Parliament becomes a cipher. In wartime the Cabinet more than ever ignores Parliament and assumes responsibility for conducting the war, announcing that it is “not in the public interest” for Parliament to be told much of what is going on. The Cabinet, remember, is composed of the heads of the various Departments of State, all very much controlled by the expert managers of those departments. On the military side the political and military heads of the War Office work in contact with a machine which is composed of all the officers from the highest to the lowest in the Army, and the men under their command. On the industrial side the political and technical heads of the departments work through a machine which is composed of the owners, managers and workers in all industries, factories, workshops. Great sections of industry are said to be placed under Government control, but are actually handed over to the management of the big industrial magnates. The Members of Parliament, as such, have nothing to do but make speeches. In reality they count for nothing.

The proletarian revolution is the struggle for the overthrow of the system which allows private management for private profit to monopolise the supply of the community’s needs. Still more, therefore, than in the case of war between Capitalist States the struggle must assume a practical utilitarian character, and be carried out by a practical, utilitarian machinery. Since the struggle for the overthrow of Capitalism is a struggle for the emancipation of the masses from the rule of the propertied class, the officers and managers on the proletarian side will naturally be leaders chosen by their fellows. Contact with the rank and file will also naturally be by delegates and mass meetings: The services of the rank and file in the struggle will not be based upon compulsion and wagery, but on consent and enthusiasm, and a share in deciding aims and policies.

During the great world war of 1914-19, even Capitalism found that shop stewards were of use in securing output and in maintaining discipline. Though Workers’ Committees were formed to protect the interests of the workers, yet in most cases, because the workers supported the war the committees increased production and greatly reduced the work of the employers’ managing staff. The employers disliked and feared the Workers’ Committee Movement. Yet, under the great stress of war orders, they encouraged the election of shop stewards by the women munition makers, who were largely, new-comers to industry, and were shepherded into the Unions, as a condition of their employment, by an arrangement between the engineering unions and the Government. Committees of employers and Trade Union representatives sitting outside the factories were also formed, in the effort to secure increased production, by enlisting the co-operation and goodwill of the men and women who were doing the actual work. These committees, though acting under Government auspices, had much less power to influence production than the workers’ own Councils in the factories themselves.

The Workers’ Committees in the factories and workshops form the basis of the Workers’ Council or Soviet system, which will manage the industries under Communism.

It is sometimes contended that, though the Soviets would spring up as a necessary instrument of the struggle, should the fall of Capitalism be accompanied by civil war; yet Parliamentary Government could be reverted to, and the Soviets disbanded after the crisis were passed. Therefore, those who hold this view, and also hope that Capitalism may be abolished without a serious struggle, refuse to interest themselves in the question of Soviets.

Nevertheless, even assuming that it should be possible to pass from Capitalism to Communism without strife, the disappearance of Parliament is inevitable, whilst the complex character of modern industry, the varied needs of the people to-day, and the confusion of the transition would render the Soviets a necessary means of co-ordination, at least for some time after the overthrow of Capitalism.

Consider the situation which would arise in London, or any large city, if Capitalism were suddenly brought to an end. Consider the vast population crowded into a relatively small area, the elaborate network of tubes, trams and buses, the main-line stations, the docks, the waterworks, the gasworks, the electric generating stations, the dairies, bakeries and restaurants, the food preserving, clothing, furnishing, and other factories, the slaughter-houses, butchers’, grocers’ and greengrocers’ and coal merchants, the markets and wholesale and retail dealers of all kinds. All these would be facing the end of the system that maintained them in their accustomed state; but millions of people would still be needing the daily supply of milk and bread to be delivered at their doors or lying ready for them at the nearest shop; they would still be needing their accustomed supply of food, fuel and means of transport. If there is a halt in the supply of the main necessities, some people at least will fail to present themselves to do their part in the daily task; the needs of masses of others may thus go unsupplied. Perhaps at the overthrow of Capitalism the workers are in the throes of a general strike, or from other causes, the wheels of industry are already dislocated, and everyone is already living a hungry, makeshift existence.

Whichever way it happens, everything has to be reorganised and built up on a new basis; a basis of production for use, not for profit. Undoubtedly a large proportion of those who used to manage the big concerns under Capitalism would refuse to fulfill such offices any more, even if asked. Undoubtedly many of them could not be trusted to occupy their old positions. Their hostility will be clearly apparant; they may already have taken to sabotage.

Meanwhile the people, the hungry millions of all sorts, will be clamouring to have their wants attended to; all with their peculiarities, their likes and dislikes, their reasonable and unreasonable prejudices; crowds of them will be ready to start looting, if they are kept waiting too long, or denied what they believe is their due.

Everyone, both as worker and consumer, has new hopes and desires, new claims upon life and the community, for has not the Workers’ Revolution come? Everyone demands more clothes, more pleasure, more leisure, and more congenial employment. Only the patient people are willing to wait. Everyone, too, is demanding a new, independent status and a share in deciding how things shall be done. Many people, moreover, are finding their accustomed work quite dislocated — even supposing they should be contented to continue doing it just as before.

Parliament is structurally unfitted to deal with such a situation; even a Parliament of Trade Union officials would find the difficulties insoluble. It would be compelled to appeal to the workers organised where they work. If the Soviets were not in being, it would appeal to the existing Trade Unions for assistance in establishing that essential machinery. Though Messrs. Ramsay MacDonald, J.H.Thomas and Will Thorne are Labour representatives, their position would be highly unenviable in face of such a crisis were no other machinery than that of Parliament available, should the structure of private enterprise be suddenly broken down. Imagine Mr. Thorne beseiged by the housewives of West Ham, whose supplies of food and fuel are cut off; and Mr. Ramsay MacDonald receiving wireless messages from Wales that his mining constituents are starving because the transport system is dislocated. The Labour Party members could attempt to deal with these things as representatives of their Unions, not as representatives of their constituents. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald could do nothing. He could only appeal to Mr. Thomas.

As to the borough councils, they would be only less incapable of dealing with the situation than Parliament itself. We remember the dislocations in the comparatively simple matter of war food rationing, and the groups of housewives here and there, who, through the muddling of the local Food Committee and the Ministry of Food, found themselves as “outlanders” prohibited from buying at the shops where they had hitherto dealt, and unable to procure commodities anywhere else. How should the Ministry of Food in Westminster be familiar with the shopping places of the women in Poplar? How should the Members of Parliament, or the Borough Councillors, suddenly become experts in the intricacies of a multitude of industries of which they hitherto knew nothing at all?

The only people who could deal with the great change and its new requirements are the people, all interlocked as they are, who are actually engaged in the making and transport of each product and the people who use it. The Soviets, built up according to the needs of each and all industries, would be the only solution of the new problem.

Had the factory been thrown into a turmoil of dislocation, then the workers in the factory would come together to produce order: each in the emergency would respond to the need that he should perform the task for which he had been equipped by training and for which workers were required, but some would be spared from accustomed tasks to fill the positions which had become vacant, to take stock and discover deficiencies, to acquaint absentees with the fact that work had begun again. These workers drafted to new work would be chosen for their fitness as far as could be discerned by themselves and their fellows. Each factory, each centre of work, would shoulder its own comparatively small difficulties, and thus by the co-operative effort of countless eager units the great tasks of the community, otherwise overwhelming, would be accomplished. Gradually the whole mechanism of industry would be transformed.

If the housewives had their Soviets when the great change came, they would not be found rushing frantically about the streets in search of supplies and threatening to break into the shops and storehouses because their children were hungry. If, however, they were disorganised as now, and hence terrified and distracted, it would be necessary for any who remained calm to call them together to enumerate their wants and transmit them not to a body of lawyers, journalists, and persons of all sorts at Westminster, but to the workers responsible for production, distribution and transport, in order that all might be supplied.

Part Four

The Soviets.

The function of the Workers’ Councils, or Soviets, is to administer and co-ordinate production, transport and distribution.

The functional units of the Soviets are the groups of workers of all grades, including those who are doing organising or managerial work, in the engineering, textile, or boot factory, the dockyard, the mine, the farm, the warehouse, the distributive centre, the printery, the laundry, the restaurant, and the domestic workers, whether engaged in the hotel or communal house or the individual dwellings — so long as individual dwellings continue to exist.

The Soviet Structure.

The generally accepted theoretical structure of the Soviets is as follows :

Industrial Co-ordination.

The Workshop Council, comprising all the workers in the shop.
The Factory Council, comprising delegates from the Workshop Council.
The Sub-District Council, comprising ll the delegates from the District Councils.
The District Council, comprising delegates from the Sub-District Councils.

Inter-Industrial Organisation.

The National Council, comprising delegates from the District Councils.
Inter-Industrial Sub-District Councils, comprising delegates from the Sub-District Councils of each industry.
Inter-Industrial District Councils, comprising delegates from the Inter-Industrial District Councils.
National Inter-Industrial Council, comprising delegates from the Inter-Industrial District Councils, or in part, from the Industrial District Councils, in part from the National Industry Councils, and in part from delegates elected by sub-district mass meetings or Shop Councils.

There is thus a dual machinery :

1. For the organisation and co-ordination of each industry and service.

2. For the linking together of all industries and services.

The Soviet organisation must be tested and judged by its efficiency in supplying the needs of the people and in enabling the work itself to be healthy and enjoyable to those who take part in it.

The Workshop Councils, the councils of actual producers, must preserve complete autonomy and power of initiative, sense of responsibility and pride in the adequacy of their work. Their business and their object would be to serve the community by supplying what the people need and desire, as and when it is required.

We speak of the Workshop Councils, but under a normal state of Communism the Councils will meet only when new arrangements, plans, and ideas are to be considered and elaborated. At other times the members of the Works Council will apply themselves to their respective tasks. The managerial function will almost cease to exist in a community where all the workers in an enterprise are educated, willing co-operators in a common plan, but such managerial or directive work as may be needed will be done by those who have been chosen by their co-workers, not as a manager in the present sense, but as a leader in skill, a teacher and guide.

The Sub-District, District, and National Industrial Councils, and the various Inter-Industrial Councils, will also only meet when there are new arrangements to make, and for periodical consultation and report. Their function will be to to establish co-ordinating machinery, bureaux, telephone exchanges, as it were, between the sources of raw material and the workshops on the one hand, and the consumers of the product of the workshops on the other. The national bureaux will be responsible for import and distribution to the main supply stores of the larger areas, the sub-district bureaux will be the agencies to which the workshops will apply for their requirements.

It will not be the business of the national, district and sub-district Councils to command and direct the Workshops’ Councils. The latter will be master of their craft, and fully competent to exercise it. Dictation from the so-called “higher Councils” will neither be needed, nor would it be accepted. There will be no conflict of class interest; all will be working towards a common end. The co-ordinating Councils, however — for it is as co-ordinating links that the District, Sub-District and National Councils will function — will, however, collect and distribute information amongst the districts. New discoveries will be notified to their bureaux. They will preserve technical data for reference as it may be required by any of the workshops. They will estimate and procure the supplies of raw material and finished products required.

In considering the Soviet organisation under Communism, it must always be born in mind that the social classes will have disappeared, that the economic interests of the people will be identical, and that therefore the clash of interests which keeps the members of the present legislative and administrative bodies interminably wrangling and speechifying will be no more.

Under Communism the arguments which will arise in the Soviets will be as to the efficacy of this or that technical process, as to whether this or that proposed innovation will increase or improve production — an end desired by all.

The network of committees of delegates which makes up the framework of the Soviets and links the many productive groups, and also individual producers, should not be regarded as a rigid cast-iron machinery, but as a convenient means of transacting necessary business, a practical method of organisation which gives everyone the opportunity of a voice in social management.

The various members of a community are dependent upon each other. The cotton spinning mill is operated by a number of groups of workers in the spinning mill who are dependent for the execution of their work on the cotton growers, the railwaymen, the mariners, the dockers, who provide them with the raw material of their trade. They are dependent on machine-makers, miners, electricians and others for the machinery of spinning and the power to run it, and on the weaver, the bleacher, the dyer, the printer, the garment worker and upholsterer to complete the work they have begun. In order that the spinners may do their work they are also dependent on builders, decorators, furniture makers, food producers, garment makers, and innumerable others.

The Soviets will supply an efficiency that is impossible in an industry which, on the one hand, is maintained solely from the motive of making money, competition being the only check to the supply of inferior goods and the desire to make profits a constant incentive thereto; and which, on the other hand, is carried on by wage workers, who work only to win their wages, and whose poor up-bringing, low wages, and extended hours of labour do not permit them to possess either complete health or an adequate education. The will to work, in the workers, the sense of mutuality between the producer and those for whom the goods are produced, which the Capitalist vainly seeks today in Whitley Councils, profit sharing, bonuses, and so on, will be a matter of course under Communism and the Soviets.

Part Five

Those who have been students at a school of art and craft, which has been fortunate enough to be entrusted with some piece of work destined for actual use, will realise something of what industry will be under Communism. They will remember with pleasure the zealous fervour with which the students threw themselves into the effort, the friendly emulation in efficiency, the general determination to achieve as fine a result as possible in the collective work. Everyone was enthused by the thought that this was no mere exercise, but an object needed and desired. The finest and most difficult parts of the work were done by the teachers and more accomplished students, the easier and more mechanical tasks were willingly performed by those who were least advanced, who, nevertheless, felt that their turn to execute something ambitious would come with the acquisition of further skill. In the tasks set merely for their training, the students had already learnt that their own stage of progress determined the sort of exercises their teachers set them, and now when engaged in this joint enterprise, for which all had set the highest posible standard of efficiency, they realised that for the sake of the whole work no one should be allotted a part that was beyond his skill. Every student, however, even the dullest, firmly believed in his own capacity for progress — otherwise he would have given up this sort of study and turned to something else. Moreover, every student was encouraged to design, to invent, to learn, to do things that were at present beyond the range of his capacities. Every one of them spent a considerable part of his time in doing something of his own choosing, something which was to be his own creation and the expression of his own ideas. These last are the merits of the school; its demerits are that its students rarely take part in or come in contact with constructive work that is to be put to use. The acquisition of technical efficiency is undoubtedly retarded thereby, and much of the zest necessary to the highest accomplishment is also lost.

In commercial industry the profit to the employer and the wage to the worker are placed, both by employer and by worker, before mastery of the craft and the production of useful and beautiful objects. The latter are apt to be regarded as only necessary in so far as they minister to the former. Mechanical efficiency is acquired in the practice of industry with a rapidity uncommon in the schools. Girls and boys who have worked a few months in the potteries learn to paint more accurately on slippery cups and saucers than students who have studied an equal time in the schools of art do on the paper nicely strained on their drawing-boards, using the finest sable brushes and water colours.

But the boys and girls in all but a few branches of industry soon reach the end of their progress. Their creative faculties are stultified, or altogether unawakened, because they are kept to the production of a few stereotyped objects.

Only in rare instances does commercial industry supply scope to the creative faculties. Therefore, in commercial industry there is almost no living creative art. The Wedgewood pottery is but a dead copying of a beautiful art that was once alive. The productions of the famous Copenhagen porcelain factory, though tainted by commercialism, have yet something of living and developing art in them, because the workers there are encouraged to make designs on their own account without being compelled to turn out designs continually in order to assure their living. Those workers display an interest and pleasure in their work which, in heightened measure, will obtain thoughout industry under Communism.

The craft guilds of the past were somewhat vitiated by production for profit, but they gave to their members the opportunities for enjoyable work and craft development which modern industry absolutely denies to the vast majority.

The Soviets under Communism will bring industry to all the best features of the school and unite them to practical work. When profit making is eliminated, the young students will be able to gain technical experience in the actual workshop without losing the opportunities for study and experiment which the school provides: the industry will have its own school departments.

To-day the opponents of Communism turn to Russia for evidence against Communism and to prove the failure of the Soviets. It cannot be stated too emphatically that the Russian Revolution has not succeeded in establishing Communism, and that the Soviet Constitution has only been very partially applied. Moreover, the Russian Soviets are not regularly constituted, since they include representatives of political parties, representatives of political groups of foreigners living in Russia, representatives of Trade Unions, Trades Councils, and Co-oprative Societies, as well as representatives of the workshops.

Pravda of April 18th, 1918, published the following regulations for the Moscow Soviet elections:—

“Regulations for Representation. 
“Establishments employing 200 to 500 workers, one representative; those employing over 500, send one representative for every 500 men. Establishments employing less than 200 workers, combine for purpose of representation with other small establishments. 
“Ward Soviets send two deputies, elected at a plenary session. 
“Trade Unions with a membership not exceeding 2,000, send one deputy; not exceeding 5,000, two deputies; above 5,000, one for every 5,000 workers, but not more than ten deputies for any one union. 
“The Moscow Trades’ Council sends five deputies. 
“Political parties send 30 deputies to the Soviet: the seats are allotted to the parties in proportion to their membership, providing the parties include four representatives of industrial establishments and organised workers. 
“Representatives of the following National non-Russian Socialist parties, one representative per party, are allotted seats:— 
(a) “Bund” (Jewish). 
(b) Polish Socialist Party (Left). 
(c) Polish and Lithuanian Social Democratic Parties. 
(d) Lettish Social Democratic Party. 
(e) Jewish Social Democratic Party.”

The intention in giving representation to these various interests was, of course, to disarm their antagonism to the Soviet power and to secure their co-operation instead; but the essential administrative character of the Soviets was thereby sacrificed. Constituted thus they must inevitably discuss political antagonisms rather than the production and distribution of social utilities and amenities.

The Russian Soviets sprang into life in the crisis of the revolution of March 1917. They had not been created beforehand in preparation for it. They had arisen in the revolution of 1905, but had died away at its fall.

The March 1917 revolution only created Soviets in a few centres. Their number grew, and was added to by the October Bolshevik revolution; but five years later the Soviet Government admitted that the network of Soviets necessary to cover Russia was not complete. Kamenev, reporting on the question to the seventh all-Russian Congress of Soviets in 1920, stated that even where Soviets existed their general assemblies were often rare, and when held, frequently only listened to a few speeches and dispersed without transacting any real business. The Soviets were never able to cope with the productive needs.

The so-called “New Economic Policy” inaugurated by the Soviet Government in 1921; a policy that is really a reversion to Capitalism, of course, inevitably struck at the root of the Soviet idea. It has robbed the Soviets of their essential function — the administration of industry — and has transformed them into political, and to a large extent powerless, bodies.

The introduction of the New Economic Policy came as the climax of a retrogressive cycle. At the height of the revolutionary wave had come the call, partially responded to, for the management of industry by the Workshop Councils: then, with the ebbing of the tide and with the growth of reactionary tendencies in the bodies possessing coercive authority, the Workshop Councils were superseded. Management boards were established, consisting of representatives of the Factory Committees, the Trade Unions, and the Council of National Economy, a body created jointly by the Trade Unions and the Soviets. Then followed management by a single person, the Workshop Councils being deprived of all right to interfere in the management of the factories, save indirectly, through their minor share in the election of officials and boards of management. Thus by reducing the functions of the Workshop Councils, the return to private ownership and management of industrial enterprises was facilitated.

The Russian Soviets do not administer production, distribution and transport. They merely elect a proportion of those who have a share in administering certain industries.

The Workshop Council, the basis upon which the Soviet structure is theoretically supposed to be built; the local soviet, often in Russia a diversely mixed body, has but little autonomy. It is dominated by the Councils of delegates from wide areas, or the representatives who are endowed with an increasing measure of coercive authority the further they are removed from the workshop.

Part Six

C. Zinoviev, at the Second Congress of the Third International in Moscow, introduced a Thesis, declaring that no attempt should be made to form Soviets prior to the outbreak of the revolutionary crisis. It was argued that, as such bodies would be powerless, or nearly so, their formation might bring the conception of the Soviets into proletarian contempt. The Thesis was adopted by the Congress, without discussion, and thereby became an axiom of the Third International.

This decision was of far-reaching significance: it meant that the Third International would no longer support the formation of Workshop Councils; and the building of an organisation upon the foundation of the Workshop Councils, taking in all workers in all industries with the revolutionary purpose of taking over and managing industry. At its inception the Third International had made much of the British Shop Stewards’ Movement, of wartime growth, believing it, on the strength of Government and Press denunciations, to be a genuinely revolutionary force. Now that the Third International had set its face against pre-revolutionary Soviets, it sought to damp down Workshop Council Movements in all countries. This was a logical part of the changed policy of the Third International, which has veered round from the attempt to create new industrial revolutionary organisations, to acceptance of the existing craft unions.

The question as to whether the mere borrowed term, Soviet, shall be reserved for use in the actual crisis of revolution is of small importance, though if not used previously it would probably miss being adopted as the slogan of the revolution.

The question of postponing the creation of the actual organisation till the hour of revolutionary crisis is, on the other hand, a fundamental one.

The idea expressed and insisted upon in the thesis of Zinoviev was that the Soviet must be a great mass movement, coming together in the electrical excitement of the crisis; the correctness of its structure; its actual Sovietness (to coin an adjective) being considered of secondary importance. A progressive growth, gradually branching out till the hour of crisis; a strong and well-tried organisation is not contemplated by the thesis. The need for a carefully conceived structure is ignored. Not organisation, but only propaganda for the Soviets is recommended.

Russia’s dual Revolution was an affair of spontaneous outbursts, with no adequate organisation behind it. The Trade Unions, always a feeble growth, were crushed by the Czardom at the outbreak of the Great War of 1914. The Revolutionary political parties could call for a revolution; but they could not carry it through; that was accomplished by the action of the revolutionary elements in the Army and Navy, in the workshops, on the railways, and on the land. That these revolutionaries at the point of production were mainly unorganised was a disability, not an advantage. In Russia the government, first of the Czar, then of Kerensky, crumbled readily under the popular assault. The disability arising from the disorganised state of the workers was not felt in its full weightiness until after the Soviet Government had been established. Then it was realised that, though the Soviets were supposed to have taken power, the Soviet structure had yet to be created and made to function. The structure is still incomplete: it has functioned hardly at all. Administration has largely been by Government departments, working often without the active, ready co-operation, sometimes even with the hostility of groups of workers who ought to have been taking a responsible share in administration. To this cause must largely be attributed Soviet Russia’s defeat on the economic front.

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The Democratic Mystification, Jacques Camatte

An article published in the journal 'Invariance' in 1969, outlining the left-communist opposition to bourgeois democracy. Originally intended to be part of a much larger work, which was never completed.