It is a matter of common occurrence in Ireland when a perfervid orator works himself and his hearers into a fever of enthusiasm to see some of the auditory spring to their feet and exclaim, "'Tis a great day for Ireland!" I fancy some such sentiment must have been in the mind of the unemotional Englishman on the day the French President, M Loubet, visited London. A great day for England! Aye, and, we are told, a portent of peace and goodwill amongst the nations, as well as a proof of the growth of democratic feeling amongst all classes in this country. Certainly, looked at from the standpoint of a superficial observer, such as the writers on London Justice, Reynolds' Newspaper, Labour Leader, as well as the other organs of the classes, it did seem to be a proof of the spread of democracy when we saw the head of a republican government feted and fawned upon by the representatives of the power which a little over a hundred years ago financed every tyrant in Europe to make war upon the republican principles then first espoused by his nation.
But trite as the truth is it is best to recall to our minds the fact it embodies - we are not living under the conditions of a hundred years ago, and our friends who wrote such glowing passages about the significance of the visit had better awaken to that fact and to the necessity of discussing political happenings in the terms of to-day and not of a past epoch. Since the era of the French Revolution the world has changed in many things, and not the least in the economic conditions which mould politics and diplomacy. When the governments of England and monarchical Europe made war upon France they made war upon a country in the grasp of a revolutionary capitalist class; the development of a hundred years has transformed that French capitalist class from being the rejuvenating agency of revolution and a menace to established order, into a bulwark of economic conservatism and an ally of the most brutal reaction. We have but to recall the history of the French Republic since the overthrow of the Third Empire to realise that fact. That history is but one long record of merciless repression of the working-class, and of increasing intrigue against and war upon labour. A republic which saved itself from the hands of the Parisian workers by the aid of the soldiers of the German Empire, and celebrated its baptismal rites with the blood of 30,000 butchered members of our class. A republic which, within the past two years, under the rule of this "messenger of peace", M Loubet, has broken nearly a score of strikes by military force; which at Martinique and Chalons has slaughtered French workmen for taking part in strike processions; and at Marseilles ordered the sailors of its navy to act the scab upon the merchant sailors on strike. It only required the visit to Russia last year and to London this to emphasise the fact that the revolutionary tradition has departed from France, and that her rulers have finally merged themselves in the ruck of European exploiters.
The visit is however not without its uses. It serves once more to illustrate the insincerity and hypocrisy of the leaders of the London SDF. When we remember that that body has for the past few months been endeavouring to cover up the tracks of their treachery in voting for M Millerand, by denouncing his continued presence in the French Cabinet, and then see them shouting aloud to the people of England to welcome M Loubet, the French President, we cannot but believe that the spectacle will compel the more honest of their following to inquire, Why all this denunciation of the servant, and such effusive praise of the master?
Our readers will know how to treat the sentimental slop of Belfort Bax in Reynolds' Newspaper, and the inanities of Hyndman and the Justice writers when they understand what really is the purport of the visit so much eulogised. To the thinking mind the purport of that visit is clear. It was to ratify the formation of a new secret alliance between Russia, France and England. This is at once apparent when we remember what has happened in international politics within the past few months. We had the visit of M Loubet to Russia, the visit of King Edward to Paris, the silence of both France and England over the question of the continued occupation of Manchuria by Russia in spite of all treaties to the contrary, the open threat to Germany by Mr Chamberlain when introducing his protectionist proposals, and the present visit of the President to King Edward. And now at the time of writing we have in all the press the statement that the Tsar intends visiting London, but has been advised by the diplomacy of this country to postpone his visit until the King first visits Russia, which visit would help to hide the real significance of his projected journey. This hastiness of the Tsar was, in fact, nearly "giving the game away", as his more lowly brothers in crime would phrase it.
It is really amusing to see how such a blatant Russophobist as Mr Hyndman joins with the pack in halloaing in favour of this latest move of the Muscovite; how Mr Belfort Bax, who in his own felicitous phraseology, has wasted "gallons of good ink" in demonstrating the utter imbecility of the theories of the noble-minded political republicans of the 1848 period, now calls upon the democracy to worship at the shrine of the head of a bastard republicanism; how, in short, the truculent declamation of the "Class War" has given way to a shout of "Vive l'entente cordiale" between the national heads of capitalist society. The Tsar - whose Cossacks brutally murdered hundreds of working-class men, women and children in the factory towns of Russia last year; the President - whose soldiery are hurled at every strike, whose prefects, as at Carmaux, override the benificent proposals of every Socialist city council; the King - whose class legislation has made trade-unionism a farce or a fraud, and whose police at that very moment in Dublin were breaking the heads of a peaceful procession, yea, surely these are fit objects for the reverential admiration of the SDF. When we contemplate the antics of these men, our erstwhile "leaders", the wonder is not that the Socialist movement in these countries has made so little headway, but that it has made any headway at all.
All this blundering on the part of the SDF leaders, to whom political blundering has become a second nature (we all remember how Hyndman blundered over the South African war and patted Chamberlain on the back, until the restiveness of the rank and file brought him to his senses), all this blundering will have a good effect if it is instrumental in causing Socialists to revise their theories on France and the French revolutionary tradition. Personally the writer believes that the influence which that tradition exerts upon the minds of Socialists is disastrous to our movement. The theatrical splendour and gorgeousness of that outburst has hypnotised the Socialist mind, and even when theoretically clear upon its economic character we find many of our writers and speakers still thinking and acting politically in terms of that past revolution. As a result we find imported into our movement, and in too many instances overlaying it, a whole host of theories of political action, tactics, and strategy which are foreign to our principles and destructive of our class spirit. This is not only the case in this country, it is so in the United States also, as well as in continental European countries. The sneaking fondness for any man who "talks physical force", even when he does it to cloak semi-reactionary principles, the concession of "honesty of purpose" to every man who mouths radical phraseology, the idea (the fruitful mother of treason) of building a Socialist Party upon the working "people", instead of upon the working class, the vague but harmful belief that irreligion is necessarily linked with social revolution, and religious orthodoxy with capitalism, the tendency to rush off into all manner of speculations about the future, and the desire to exclude all who do not agree with the speculation upon the tendency resultant from the economic change, in short, all those wrong tendencies which spring from the habit of regarding revolution mainly from the standpoint of destruction, instead of from the standpoint of building and construction, are our baneful inheritance from the first French Revolution. It is because of that mental inheritance, those wrong tendencies, that we so often find in the socialist movement men whose whole conception of duty is that of the iconoclast - the image-breaker - and who, having such a conception, naturally tend to regard as socialistic everything which wages war upon present institutions. Such was perforce the nature of the French Revolution, which, being capitalist and therefore individualist, found the "logical centre" of the universe in each man's brain, and worked outward to shape the world.
Such is not the nature of the impending Social Revolution which must seek the logical centre of society in the tool of industry, and is only concerned with those institutions or principles which are based upon its development. The capitalist French revolutionist had to fight to destroy the institution of his enemy; the social revolutionist has to fight in order to give the economic institutions of his enemy room to grow; the capitalist revolutionist of France dreaded the development of feudalism, the Socialist revolutionist hails with delight every fresh development of capitalism. This point of difference places our revolution at the very extremities of the poles of thought and tactics from that of the men of 1789 in France, yet the fact that these men killed a king and queen, ie, destroyed something, is often sufficient to blind men to-day to the utter inapplicability of their tactics to present day requirements.
We have to remember that the French Revolution was an uprising of the capitalist class, that their tactics may not be our tactics, and that their victory added another to the list of our enemies in power.
Then we will understand the visit of Loubet - and other things.
Platform of the Socialist Labour Party
The Socialist Labour Party is a political organisation seeking to establish political and social freedom for all, and seeing in the conquest by the Socialist Working Class of all the governmental and administrative powers of the nation the means to the attainment of that end.
It affirms its belief that political and social freedom are not two separate and unrelated ideas, but are two sides of the one great principle, each being incomplete without the other.
The course of society politically has been from warring but democratic tribes within each nation to a united government under an absolutely undemocratic monarchy. Within this monarchy again developed revolts against its power, revolts at first seeking to limit its prerogatives only, then demanding the inclusion of certain classes in the governing power, then demanding the right of the subject to criticise and control the power of the monarch, and finally, in the most advanced countries this movement culminated in the total abolition of the monarchical institution, and the transformation of the subject into the citizen.
In industry a corresponding development has taken place. The independent producer, owning his own tools and knowing no master, has given way before the more effective productive powers of huge capital, concentrated in the hands of the great capitalist. The latter, recognising no rights in his workers, ruled as an absolute monarch in his factory. But within the realm of capital developed a revolt against the power of the capitalist. This revolt, taking the form of trade unionism, has pursued in the industrial field the same line of development as the movement for political freedom has pursued in the sphere of national government. It first contented itself with protests against excessive exactions, against all undue stretchings of the power of the capitalist; then its efforts broadened out to demands for restrictions upon the absolute character of such power, ie, by claiming for trade unions the right to make rules for the workers in the workshop; then it sought to still further curb the capitalist's power by shortening the working day, and so limiting the period during which the labourer may be exploited. Finally, it seeks by Boards of Arbitration to establish an equivalent in the industrial world for that compromise in the political world by which, in constitutional countries, the monarch retains his position by granting a parliament to divide with him the duties of governing, and so hides while securing his power. And as in the political history of the race the logical development of progress was found in the abolition of the institution of monarchy, and not in its mere restriction, so in industrial history the culminating point to which all efforts must at last converge lies in the abolition of the capitalist class, and not in the mere restriction of its powers.
The Socialist Labour Party, recognising these two phases of human development, unites them in its programme, and seeks to give them a concrete embodiment by its demand for a Socialist Republic.
It recognises in all past history a preparation for this achievement, and in the industrial tendencies of to-day it hails the workings out of those laws of human progress which bring that object within our reach.
The concentration of capital in the form of trusts at the same time as it simplifies the operations of capital and increases the effectiveness of human labour, also simplifies the task we propose that society shall undertake, viz: the dispossession of the capitalist class, and the administration of all land and instruments of industry as social property, of which all shall be co-heirs and owners.
As to-day the organised power of the State theoretically guarantees to every individual his political rights, so in the Socialist Republic the power and productive forces of organised society will stand between every individual and want, guaranteeing that right to life without which all other rights are but mockery. Short of the complete dispossession of the capitalist class which this implies there is no hope for the workers, but in the hands of men who recognise that fact all proposals which maintain against the claims of capital the rights of the community, when coupled with the assertion of the interests of labour as the superior interests of the community, may serve as a good agitational basis for such preliminary skirmishing as will necessarily precede the final overthrow of the capitalist system.
Of such a character are the following proposals:-
The Class War
1. The legal restriction of the hours of labour to eight per day or less, according to the development of labour-saving machinery.
1. Right of all national and municipal employees to elect their immediate superiors and to be represented upon all public departments directing their industry.
1. The abolition of all hereditary authority.
But we must again warn the working class that all these measures are in themselves economically insufficient, and are but the temporary expedients of the passing moment. As the struggle between the workers and their exploiters develops all programmes will tend to become superfluous, and in the final issue the watchword of either side in the conflict will find expression in fidelity to a principle rather than in measures which are but details of administration.
Speed the Day
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.