The Election – Sylvia Pankhurst
Anti-parliamentary article published in Workers’ Dreadnought on the day of the 1918 British general election.
‘No, I’m not going to vote’, said a poor woman in a ‘bus, ‘the British Government would take the blood from your heart’. In those bitter words she summed up her attitude towards the empty political balderdash, which now issues in prolific streams from the mouths of Parliamentary candidates and their supporters, and all but fills the newspapers. We hope nothing from this election, save that it may serve to spur the workers on to abolish Parliament, the product and instrument of the capitalist system, and to establish in its place Councils of Workers’ Delegates, which shall be the executive instruments for creating and maintaining the Socialist community. The Parliament which is now being elected cannot possibly be fitted to cope with the great and important changes that are impending. The Coalition is the Party of Capitalist reaction, the Liberal Party is but a weaker embodiment of the same thing. As for the Labour Party — if all, and more than all, its candidates were elected, even if, by reason of their numbers, it could capture the reins of Government, it would give us nothing more than a wishy-washy Reformist Government, which, when all the big issues that really matter came to be decided, would be swept along in the wake of capitalist policy. The list of Labour Party candidates presents a curious medley of ex- Liberals, ex-Tories, Jingo Trade Unionists of narrow outlook, middle-class pacifists, with a small sprinkling of Socialists. It would be impossible to secure decisive action from such an assemblage on any really vital question. Mr Sidney Webb, whose ideas, long discarded by the awakened rank and file in the workshops, still holds the executive in thrall, has foisted upon the Party the tame, middle-class reformism embodied in that document, ridiculous as coming from a workers’ party, which is called ‘Labour and the New Social Order.’ The pettifogging reforms there laid down will change nothing; they will leave the poor still poor, the rich still rich. When every one of those resolutions has been enacted, still we shall have with us men and women dwarfed in every faculty by chronic want: the class that is lectured and patronised, written about and legislated for, and for whom charities are arranged, the parents, whose children it is said to be necessary to ‘protect’ from their ‘ignorance’. The acceptance of Webb’s new social order will neither empty the prisons, which are filled by poverty’s crimes, nor deprive the rich Theosophists of the opportunity to develop the gentler side of their natures by visiting the slums. Webb and the majority of the Executive, the Parliamentary candidates, and the prominent personages in the Labour Party, are struggling hard against a philosophy, growing fast amongst the rank and file — a philosophy which it is found convenient to call Bolshevism; but which, of course, is simply Socialism. Says Webb in The Daily News of December 10th:- “The essence of Bolshevism is a contempt for Parliamentary institutions; the loss of faith in Democracy as we understand it; reliance on ‘direct action’ by the wage-earners themselves; the supersession of the House of Commons by ‘Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Councils,’ from which all but the manual workers are excluded; and the dictatorship of the Proletariat.’ This is the revolutionary epidemic which is now spreading westward over Europe. (…)” Webb for a political generation has been called a Socialist. Was he really a Socialist in his youth? If he has ever had a glimmering of the vision of Socialism he must surely realise that, under Socialism, we shall all be the proletariat, that there will be but one class. In the transition stage, when people who employ others and live on incomes they have not earned still remain, surely it is but wise to concentrate the voting strength in the hands of those who are workers. It is right to do this, if only as a symbol that honour is due to the worker, not to those who live as parasites on the wealth produced by others. If in the transition stages the Webbs, as well as the Northcliffes and Rockefellers, should be deprived of votes surely their practice in wielding the pen still gives them more than their share of influence. The tide of Socialism, bringing all power to the workers, is sweeping over Europe and waves of Socialist thought, of working-class longing, are rising to meet it in this country; Webb and those who are holding the reins of power in the Labour Party shrink from it, fearfully trembling. Unconscious lackeys of the capitalist system, instinctively they fear that system’s fall. Is there no spirit in their souls to answer to the call of Socialist fraternity? It seems not.
Published in Workers’ Dreadnought, 14 December 1918.