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I have already described the development of socialist ideas in the most conscious section of the working class. We have seen an understanding that the old epoch had come to an end and that the working class would be the actors in founding a new epoch.

Within the working class there were two views on how its power would express itself. The ILP held that socialism could only be achieved by parliamentary means. The syndicalists argued that Parliament was meaningless and could do nothing. In any event what was promised by politicians was never enacted. The real power lay in the production process and working class control of production must bring socialism. They did not actively oppose the ILP and Parliamentarism; they refused to support and work for it.

It is not at all surprising to find these two views of how to win socialism, as each reflects an aspect of the reality of the class struggle. The ILP never stopped to consider why Parliament enacted what it did. It took Parliament as sovereign in itself and saw the connection between Parliament, lawmaking and society as being confined to its most formal appearances: elections and the task of piloting a bill through the House. Once an election had been won and once a bill was through Parliament the ILP assumed that its effect on society would be as it, the ILP intended. After all they were the members of the party offering themselves for election and they had written the bills.

The syndicalists were the working class's reaction to having spent nearly a century in industrial production; they were a reflection of the fact that the class was coming to terms with this new situation (i.e. rather than wishing to go back to the old production process of isolated artisans and small producers). The working class was coming to some conclusions about its place in production. In August 1912, Sidney and Beatrice Webb analysed syndicalism. As parliamentarians, they were implacably hostile to politically developed expressions of syndicalism in the Labour Party; but they understood it and knew it had to be reckoned with: 

"The manual working wage earner has lost faith in the necessity, let alone the righteousness, of the social arrangement to which he finds himself subject. [...] To all wage earners who think about this matter (the inequality in distribution of wealth), to all who are in fact 'class conscious', the explanation seems simple. Whilst they and their fellows are contributing the whole of the physical toil involved in the production, distribution and exchange of commodities, they are excluded from the ownership both of the instruments of production and the products of labour. But this is not all [...] The manual working wage earner finds himself spending his whole life in subjection to the arbitrary orders, even to the irresponsible caprices of the employers and their agents. [...] To a man who has taken literally the rhetorical advocacy of trade unionism as a remedy, the result seems painfully disappointing. Meanwhile the employer has often recouped himself by increasing the speed of the work, or by otherwise adding to the intensity of the toil [...] The trade union, in fact, of the orthodox type, assumes and accepts as permanent the very organisation of industry against which the 'class conscious' wage earner is now revolting [...] (The) next step (for a class conscious worker) has always seemed a mere application to industry of the principles of democracy [...] why should not the same body of manual workers (who are in Trade Unions), who form in every business organisation the immense majority, elect the general manager and the foreman, the buyer and the salesman, who are now appointed by the capitalist private owner of the enterprise [...] All that stands in the way seems to be the private ownership of the instruments of production, entailing as it does, the ownership of the whole product." (The Crusade, pp 137-8) 

Syndicalism as a political tendency disappeared in Britain after the early 1920s. The reason lies in the fact that while the period up to World War I and directly after it had been one of full employment, expansion of production and the consequent increase in immediate bargaining power and strength of the working class, the interwar period was one where the working class was concerned to defend and enforce the current relations of production (to maintain employment and real wages), thus the work sharing and voluntary limitation of piece work. The 'left' has attempted to resuscitate syndicalism in the '60s as giving adequate expression to the working class's consciousness.

The Webbs' objection to syndicalism was that it assumed that abstract democracy was enough to regulate and organise production, distribution and exchange. Just as the ILP believed that forms were all, the syndicalists held that 'will was all' that was needed to bring about a transformation in the relations of production. 

The Trade Unions are the oldest and strongest organisation of the working class. Their development belongs to a history of the 18th and early 19th centuries. By 1917 they had fought for and won an acknowledged place in society as a working class organisation with the job of seeing that the working class obtained the full value of its labour power and that conditions of work were regulated in their members' interests. The Labour Party was organised by trade unions to make their political leverage more effective. To this day it remains essentially a party to speak for the trade unions in Parliament.

The position of the Fabians has been already dealt with; it remains to speak of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The three political constituents of the CPGB in 1920 were the British Socialist Party (BSP), the syndicalist shop stewards and the ultra-leftist Workers Dreadnought (Sylvia Pankhurst). Numerically the BSP provided the most members though the only constituent which had any relation to the working class were the shop stewards. The BSP was a Marxist sect who took Marxism as a dogma. Consequently they had never had any permanent influence on the working class, though it must be said that the politically conscious members of the working class always attempted to make common cause with them - the purity lay wholly with the BSP. I have already shown that the shop stewards derived their power as agents of the working class in the economic struggle. When the working class, due to the interwar slump, could no longer dictate the conditions of production, the syndicalism of the shop stewards gave way to the defensive trade unionism for which they had previously twitted the older generation of trade union leaders. The shop stewards retained their power because they were useful in the defensive economic struggle, but the CPGB shop stewards remained nothing more nor less than the most skilled and determined and co-ordinated practitioners of trade unionism in the working class. The ultra-leftists influenced the politics of the CPGB far more than their numbers warranted. This was because the political situation was one of flux such as Britain had not seen since the beginning of the nineteenth century and because the CPGB could not explain that flux using Marxism (it had no elements capable of doing so) it had to use the ultra-left's extremism and voluntarism. Precisely because the shop steward element was the only point of the CP's connection to the working class, it was at this point only that the CPGB had an impact on the British working class. The CP's organisation, determination and co-ordination within trade unions ensured that the unions remained the most vital organisation of the working class. Politically, the CP proved incapable of explaining Marxism and the USSR to the working class and also incapable of going beyond the BSP's dogmatism to taking the history before its very eyes seriously.

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