Guido Baracchi May 1921
Source: "Reason in Revolt", Source documents of Australian Radicalism;
First Published: in The Proletarian Review, Editorial “Proletarian Comment” by the Editor (Guido Baracchi), May 1921;
Transcribed: by Chris Clayton.
IN 1889 the International Congress of Paris adopted May 1 as the International Socialist holiday, and each succeeding year, in every civilised country, workingmen and women demonstrated on that day to demand from a capitalist world greater political and industrial freedom and better conditions of livelihood. It was conceived particularly as an international demand for an 8-hour day, for social legislation, for equal suffrage for men and women, and as a protest against militarism and war. In most countries May Day was celebrated as a workers’ holiday. On this day the class conscious working men and women asserted, if only for a day, their freedom from capitalist domination. And by this token it signified to them the great international brotherhood of the working-class, fighting for liberation from capitalist oppression. Then came the war, and May 1 became a day of sorrow. May 1, 1915, was one of the most tragic days in the history of the International. Instead of brotherhood there was mass murder and hatred; in the place of anti-militarist propaganda there were war-credits; in the place of better industrial conditions had come industrial slavery; political freedom had made way for political oppression. But, since the advent of the Revolution in Europe, May 1 has become a day of hope reborn. Although the war of the classes against each other has set in with a bitterness and an insistence such as the world has never seen before, the gloom in the hearts of the class-conscious workers is no longer that of despair. For they know that at length the World Revolution is upon the wing; that it flies from city to city, from nation to nation, from heart to heart, devastating and destroying, creating and achieving. To-day they celebrate the old first of May with a new meaning. Demands that once loomed so large, have become a matter of course. The 8-hour day has become the standard of capitalist production; in every capitalist country universal suffrage is either realized or on the eve of its realization. On the other hand, international disarmament under capitalism has become a chimera, permanent peace an empty phrase, a dream that will not and cannot be fulfilled so long as capitalism with its greed for territories, markets and spheres of influence continues to exist. But arrayed against the harbingers of new wars that sit in Paris and in London, in Washington and in Tokio, is a working-class that comes to a truer understanding of proletarian brotherhood, that grows more desperately ready to give its devotion to a cause that has become tremendous, living reality. It is because of these facts that the class-conscious workers, leaving to the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class the stage-management of 8-hour day celebrations, demonstrate on May Day for revolution, and that on May 1 there rings round the world the deathless slogan: “All power to the workers!”
THE ruling class of Britain has reason to congratulate itself upon the clever strategy by means of which it has succeeded in averting, for the time being, the development of a situation fraught with serious danger to its economic and political supremacy. But without the active assistance of those “labor-lieutenants” of whom we have just spoken, and who are in fact nothing but the agents of the bourgeoisie inside the labor movement; without the assistance of such men as Mr. J. H. Thomas, secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen, member of the House of Commons, and pimp of Mr. Lloyd George, such strategy could never have been put into operation. The danger confronting the British bourgeoisie was of twofold character. On the one hand, the withdrawal of the pumpmen from the mines threatened the destruction of its property; on the other hand, a general strike, which appeared imminent, might easily develop revolutionary significance. The ruling class lost no time in employing the reactionary leaders of the Triple Alliance to avert both these possibilities. These “leaders” induced the miners to forego, as a means of ensuring the support of the other unions, the tactical advantage the withdrawal of the pumpmen gave them. Thus the property of the mine-owners was saved! The “leaders” then proceeded to destroy all solidarity of the Triple Alliance, so that, at the critical moment, support for the miners by the other unions was not forthcoming. Thus a general strike was averted, and the way cleared for compelling the divided workers to accept, section by section, a lowering of their standard of life. Well indeed have the “labor leaders” of Britain served their masters! But for Communists the lesson is clear, and De Leon states it thus: “As the Plebs Leader [in ancient Rome] was the strategic post of peculiar strength for the patriciate and of mischief for the proletariat, so and for like reasons is the Labor Leader of to-day nothing but a masked battery, from behind which the Capitalist Class can encompass what it could not without — the work of enslaving and slowly degrading the Working Class, and, along with that, the work of debasing and ruining the country.” It is in order to destroy the influence of the “Labor Leader” with the workers that it is above all necessary for Communists to work within the trade unions. It is in order to destroy his influence that they must also work within the Parliamentary arena. “There are compromises and compromises.” True, O. Lenin! and one of the compromises that Communists cannot afford to make is to be anything but unremitting in the task of exposing to the workers the true significance of the labor lieutenant of the capitalist class. For not otherwise can the workers be induced to forsake the paths of bourgeois democracy for proletarian dictatorship.
AT the end of a well worked-out article in the “One Big Union Herald” for April occur some words of which we wish to offer a friendly criticism, the more so as we understand they have by no means met with the unanimous approval of members of the W.I.I.U. The words in question are: “The state must be abolished. No form of political State, even a Proletarian State, built on the ruins of the present Sate, is necessary or desirable for an industrial democracy. And more, the proletarian dictatorship ... in Western democracies ... would only be necessary ... failing the support of the majority of the industrial workers, who are 88 per cent. of the population.” It is true that in the full-fledged Communist society every form of State becomes superfluous and will inevitably cease to exist. But to say that the State must be abolished is a slip from scientific Socialism into Anarchism. Remember Engels’ words: “The State is not ‘abolished.’ It dies out. This gives the measure of the value of ... the demands of the so-called anarchists for the abolition of the State out of hand.” The State which dies out will be the Proletarian State, and of the form of this State Marx tells us: “Between capitalist society and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Correspondent with this there will be a period of political transition during which the State can be nothing other than the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” Even if 88 per cent. of the population stand behind the proletarian State, this State must nevertheless assume the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels tells us that the socialisation of the means of production “can be effected save by despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production.” Of the situation in Western democracies, even the “Two-and-a-half,” Kautskian, International says: “The proletariat will be able to gain power through democratic channels only in those lands where the bourgeoisie does not adequately control the military forces. But there Capitalism will sabotage the threatening supremacy of the workers with the economic weapon. And so, even where the bourgeoisie does not enjoy military domination, the proletariat will be compelled to adopt dictatorial methods. And the very Mensheviks of Russia proclaim that it is precisely in those countries where the proletariat is in a majority that its dictatorship is both requisite and legitimate. Scientific Socialists differ from Anarchists in their conception of the role of the State not only before, but immediately after, the proletarian revolution. Members of the W.I.I.U. have done much to combat anarchist errors (concerning parliamentary action, etc.) in the one case; it is to be hoped that they will do no less in the other. If so, they will accept the Marxist position that after the revolution the State is not abolished but dies out; and that the form of its dying out can be “nothing other” than the dictatorship of the proletariat.
MARXISM offers to the proletariat the only safe guidance past the shoals not merely of opportunism and anarchism, but also of petty bourgeois pacifism. The imperialist rivalries of America, Japan and England, becoming manifest in American opposition in the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese alliance, in the controversy over the inland of Yap, and, generally, in the tendency of the storm centre of the nations to shift to the Pacific, render the question of “the next war” one of the very closest concern to the workers of Australia. It is therefore essential that these should be thoroughly informed upon the Marxist or Communist attitude towards war. There are, in our day, four varieties of war possible. There is, in the first place, the war of a colonial country against the imperialist power that oppresses it. There is the civil war between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat of a given country. There is the defensive war of a Socialist country against the capitalist nations around it. And, lastly, there is the war of plunder between two groups of imperialist powers. Now the Communist, since he cannot be opposed to all varieties of war without ceasing to be a Communist, tells the proletariat that there are wars and wars. In its own ultimate interest, it cannot be opposed to the war of independence of a colonial people against an imperialist oppressor. Still less can it be opposed to the carrying of a civil war to victory over the bourgeoisie or to the defensive war of a Socialist country. But there is one type of war against which the proletariat must pit all its strength; and that is the monstrous war between imperialist powers. Nevertheless, even this war it must oppose by methods very different to those of petty bourgeois pacificism, which is “all cackle and no ’osses.” Sweet words butter no parsnips. Lenin, on the other hand, writes: “If the war is a reactionary Imperialist war, that is, is being waged by two world-coalitions of the Imperialist predatory bourgeoisie, then every bourgeoisie, even of the smallest country, becomes a participant in the brigandage, and my duty as a representative of the revolutionary proletariat is to prepare the world-proletarian revolution as the only escape from the horrors of the world-war. In other words, I must reason, not from the point of view of ‘my’ country (for this is the reasoning of a poor, stupid nationalist Philistine, who does not realise that he is only a play-thing in the hands of the Imperialist bourgeoisie), but from the point of view of my share in the preparation, in the propaganda, and in the acceleration of a world-proletarian revolution.” These words, which are by no means sweet, yet give the measure of its duty to the Australian proletariat. Should war between America, Japan and England break out, its proper answer is Revolution.