Guido Baracchi April 1921
Source: "Reason in Revolt", Source documents of Australian Radicalism;
First Published: in The Proletarian Review, Editorial “Proletarian Comment” by the Editor (Guido Baracchi), April 1921;
Transcribed: by Chris Clayton.
THE prospects of the workers of this country for the forthcoming winter are not rosy. Unemployment is increasing, and the spectre of reduced wages has already made its appearance. Marx has said that the workers are absolutely right in not abandoning “their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement.” But we ask our readers to note well the words “occasional” and “temporary.” It is only upon occasions of great industrial prosperity, and consequent brisk demand for labor-power, that the everyday struggle of the unions over the terms of the sale of this labor-power, may temporarily bear meagre fruit. No such occasion is the present. The workers now lie in the slough of a great industrial depression, slack is the demand for their labor-power, and, in these conditions, vain the hope of an improvement in their lot by the methods of the everyday struggle. But in the very fact that the economic struggle no longer “cuts ice” lies the excellent opportunity of the Communist Party, the political party of the proletariat. The conditions are now ripe for the workers to pass beyond the narrow confines of the everyday struggle to the broad field of revolutionary political action. Herein may be obtained results of a vastly different order to the meagre and temporary achievements of the economic struggle, results great and permanent and culminating in the emancipation of labor. But the unions will not of themselves come to the Communists; on the contrary, the Communists must go persistently to the unions and lead their membership to revolutionary politics. To be called the “Trades Hall” Communist Party at the present juncture is not an insult; it is a compliment to deserve which is no small part of the duty of the Communists in the coming time.
RECENT intercourse in Sydney between the A.W.U. and unions adhering to the W.I.U. of A. has, in relation to the membership of the proposed new O.B.U, given birth to a monstrosity. The membership clause agreed upon provides for admission to the organisation of “an unlimited number of wage workers,” and the proceeds to limit the unlimited by excluding all colored “aliens” save Maoris, American negroes and “issue of mixed parentage born in Australia.” Further, if fresh “mixed” Australian applicants do not happen to have a birth certificate about them, the clause in question; with a wisdom more profound than Voltaire’s dictum that a man is not his father, declares their fitness for membership in this exclusive all-inclusive organisation definitely disproved. But, stay! the excluded may still be included “in special circmstances,” provided their puny colored minds can grasp the policy of the union (which bears at present a suspicious resemblance to opportunism), provided also their admission do not prejudice the interests of the members (which the founders of the union seem to identify with sectionalism). Despite these pettifogging provisos, the rule remains that while the union may serve as a happy hunting-ground for the white labor faker, a Buddha or a Confucius can stop outside. Communists in any way connected with the new outfit must do their damnedest to putthe boot into this disgraceful clause, which reads as if it had emanated straight from the Yellow Trade Union International at Amsterdam. Workers of the world unite! except Asiatics, Africans, Kanakas and Australian mixed issue without birth certificate — an inspiring slogan this for the latest O.B.U.!
IT was certainly very indiscreet of members of the A.R.U. to get themselves mixed up with a resolution in which some of the “Black and Tans” are said to have been referred to as “hired assassins,” a resolution which the capitalist press subsequently blazoned forth, and which has finally resulted in dismissal from the Railways of two A.R. unionists. Railwaymen must know His Majesty’s forces are not “hired” on the contrary, they “serve” they must understand that His Majesty’s forces merely sometimes “kill.” But, putting on one side the failure to grasp these important distinctions, it was perfectly in accord both with proletarian ethics and with proletarian interests from which these ethics spring, to proclaim an injury to railwaymen in Ireland the concern of railwaymen in Australia. Nor can we leave the matter at that. For a member of the A.R.U. has asked us rather doubtfully whether the working class here has anything to gain by supporting a “bourgeois nationalist movement like Sinn Fein” in its fight against the Imperial Government. We answer emphatically “Yes.” The great Imperialist Powers, the ruling class of Britain among them, have become the super-oppressors who take toll of the whole world; without their overthrow the emancipation of the world-proletariat is impossible. The Australian bourgeoisie is finally dominated by the British imperialist bourgeoisie; the interests of the Australian proletariat therefore demand the overthrow not merely of “its own” bourgeoisie, but of British imperialism also. Realisation of the disintegrating influence brought to bear upon this imperialism by the bourgeois nationalist movements of Ireland, India and other colonies of Britain, accordingly brings home to us in unmistakable fashion what is the only consistent attitude for the workers of this country to adopt towards Sinn Fein. When it comes to the struggle of the Irish proletariat against the Irish bourgeoisie, the Australian proletariat must also array itself with this bourgeoisie; but the Australian proletariat should, as any Irish proletariat does, support the same bourgeoisie to the extent of its nationalist struggle against the imperialist bourgeoisie of Britain. For the downfall of British imperialism is a condition of the secure establishment of Australian Communism.
A QUEENSLAND comrade, who is concerned about the fitness of the name of our paper, writes asking us to clear up the meaning of the word “proletariat.” He says that he has “been assured on several occasions that Webster defines the term as meaning the lowest of the working class masses,” and that the inference is drawn from this “the proletariat is the most vicious, immoral and disreputable section of the working-class.” Such a definition and the accompanying inference apply to the word “proletariat” only in its original significance. In ancient Rome it was used a contemptuous designation of the lowest dregs of Roman society. There is a section of modern society corresponding to the human dregs of Rome, and it is this section which Marx and Engels have in mind when they say: “the ‘dangerous class,’ the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of ... society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.” This section of modern society is never designated by Communists as the “proletariat,” but as the “slum-proletariat.” By the modern proletariat Communists always mean that social class which, possessing its labor-power as its only property, lives by the sale of this labor-power to the capitalists for the price of its means of subsistence. There is in this connection another point upon which it is necessary to be clear. We quote Boudin: “There were poor men before, so were there working men. But they were not proletarians. So there may be poor now, and even poor working men, who are not proletarians. The modern proletarian is not merely a poor man, nor is he necessarily a poor man in the ordinary sense of the word. Nor is he merely a working man, although he necessarily is one. He is a workingman — usually poor at that — under peculiar historical conditions. Those conditions are that he is not possessed of any property, that is, the only property that counts socially — means of production.” He is, once more in the words of Marx, the “free” laborer, “free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labor-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for the realisation of his labor-power.” And he is the bearer of the social revolution. ... But Webster, we may be reminded. To the devil with him! We warn our readers against a too ready acceptance of the statements of such people upon what are in fact questions of the terminology of scientific Communism. In these matters bourgeois lexicographers are not a trustworthy guide. A Communist dictionary of terms is badly wanted, but, so far as we know, it has still to be written.