A letter by Monty Miller criticising the newspaper International Socialist for its support of the Australian Socialist Party electoral campaigns and its criticism of direct action.
As originally serialised in the Industral Workers of the World paper, Direct Action, in three parts between the 5th and the 27th of July in the year 1916. These articles by Monty Miller are his analysis of the State, and why parliamentary politics are counter revolutionary. In fact, Miller argues that participation within parliamentary politics is a corrupting process.
As an active participant in the labour movement, from the Eureka Miners Rebellion in 1854, to participation in early Labor Party organisation in Western Australia, his knowledge of the labour movement and the ealy Labor Party was extensive. His scathing criticisms of the Labor Party come from this experience.
Miller was active in the Australasian Secular Association in Melbourne in the 1880's and developed his interests in science, philosphy and political economy. He was a regular public speaker for the ASA. The Melbourne Anarchist Club was formed on May 1, 1886. Monty Miller frequently attended the meetings of this club and participated in debates. Joseph Symes labelled him as an anarchist, and as part of those in the ASA who challenged his authority, although there are no written references to Miller identifying himself as an anarchist.
These articles were written prior to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. There are claims by Mary Gilmore in the foreward to his book, Labor's Road to Freedom (1920), that Monty approved of the Bolsheviks. It is more likely, had he lived a little longer, he would have condemned the Bolshevik takeover of the Russian State and the suppression of independent workers organisation in the soviets. The Russian Revolution would provide even greater justification for his critique of the State, and of Parliamentary Representation, in this series of articles.
Takver - October 2001
By Montague Miller
I have observed in the columns of your contemporary International Socialist at various times, fairly severe criticism on the non-political attitude of the I. W.W. and in turn Direct Action (I am rejoiced to note) is willing to give and take blow for blow.
As a reader and student of both papers, and also as one who has participated in many attempts to widen the liberty of the masses I would like, out of my experience, to contribute a few reasons on the question, and endeavor to show why the working class should ignore politics and trust to the genuine power of deliverance that lies within themselves. Your contemporary, in branding the Sien Fein revolt as a failure for direct action, evinces a remarkable capacity for political guile - alias disingenuousness. Does the principle of direct action, as laid down and outlined in the organisation of the I.W.W. mean a recourse to violence and bloodshed whenever any issue is at stake ? It may be urged as a reply to this query, that the ultimate recourse to the capitalistic State - in conflict with labor - is to quell by violence and force the demand at issue. There will therefore be no alternative other than to resist this aggression by like means on the part of the workers who reject political action.
Surely even a superficial glance at the annals of quite recent disputes, in which the workers were in agreement with the political means of settlement, reveals the fact that the State ever relies upon force as the final answer to the malcontents, who are out for better conditions. Both Broken Hill and Lithgow furnish notable cases in point.
The State was founded and exists to foster and protect property; that is the one true function of the State, and while the State exists it must create and hold this fiction of property, is the negation of freedom in industry. The abolition of capitalism and its concomitant, wage slavery, is the one objective alike with class conscious Socialists and the I.W.W., and with the attainment of this common ideal in its full materialisation, the State will cease to exist. Hence Emerson: "The State exists to educate the wise man, and with the appearance of the wise man the State expires." The red- tape, slow-motion of the State in all things is lamentably deplorable; but it is evident that the Emersonian one is the reason for its existence; "to educate the wise man" is the slowest of all its processes.
The State - that is the embodiment of political institutions - must pass into decadence in ratio with the advance of individual rights as against property interests; this is only another phrasing of the class-conscious sentiment accepted by all intelligent workers: "The working class and the employing class have nothing in common."
The political machine, the State, like its authors the property and power monopolies is absolutely conservative, and every measure that is put into and sent through it, however radical, comes out conserving property interests. Hence the non-utility of all attempts by Labor to advantage itself by political methods, as Arbitration Courts, Wages Boards, Inspection of Mine factories, workshops, etc., etc., etc. Only by the workers becoming truly sceptical to the political faiths of their fathers, and rejecting the superstitious belief in the power of the State, is there any hope for moral, social and industrial progress on the high road of human emancipation.
That this much desired political infidelity is at its commencement is becoming apparent by the signs of the times. The Broken Hill miners' preference for direct action, in lieu of arbitration decrees, demonstrates their waning faith in politics; and at the Kalgoorlie Labor Congress, just concluded, there has been a shaking of the dry bones of the State enterprise methods which loom large in the eye of the sectional unionists ultimate rule of beneficence.
During the congress mutual recriminations about the efficiency of State enterprise were freely bandied between the Labor magnates of authority and the State capitalistic wage staves, the head serangs or ministers, stigmatising the slaves of the State concerns as loafers, and the parasite delegates of the slaves slinging back charges of incompetence at the Government management, who draw the "wages of ability." This discontent, and the evidence it furnishes, go to support the contention that the State exists "to put men wise," and despite the aphorism that "knowledge cometh but wisdom lingerith" many of the workers are becoming "wise" in recognising the failure of the State machine, operated by Labor Governments, to achieve the glorious results that were predicted by those who clamoured for the emoluments of office.
Will your contemporary, the "I.S." in its next reference to this question, state a few of the benefits derived from the use of political methods, whereby any permanent change of a truly revolutionary nature has been effected for the good of the working class ? Give even one such instance purely and solely derived from the political source and for my part I will demonstrate that whenever any need of liberty has come to the people it has been wrung from their oppressors. The real factor of every advance has been the growing moral sentiment of the mass; hence the time worm platitude "You can't legislate above the moral level of the community." "The only laws not ridiculous are those that men make for themselves, " and such laws are not inscribed in Statute Books, but by mutual consent of men are engraved on their hearts and brain: such laws will not serve the greed and injustice of capitalism, of which every form of government is but the executive committee and must perforce act in its interest or cease to continue. This conception and perception constitutes true and full class-consciousness; and should the A.S.P. attain its political desire, and constitute a government of its own nominees and an entire Parliament of A.S.P. members behind it to control and to help manipulate the political machine, they, like all their predecessors, would find that they were powerless to forge the freedom of the workers with the instrument that has made every chain that binds them. As well try with the appliances of a shoe factory to turn out material of cubic formation.
Every advantage gained by the people has been gained in defiance of government, never by its aid or as a gift. Under capitalism property writes the law. When capitalism as a means of production is forced by labor to the vanishing point, Government goes with it. With free land, free material, free labor, comes free society - minus a State - since the State is force, and where freedom is, force is unthinkable.
"Government Is the great blackmailer." - Buckle
"The good citizen must not obey the law too well." - Emerson
"in general the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one part of the citizens, and giving It to another." - Voitaire
"My thoughts are murder to the State and Involuntarily go plotting against her." - Thoreau
The endeavour to achieve the abolition of private ownership of the means of life through the agency of parliamentary action is a waste of energy and a prolonging of the date of release of the workers from the vicissitudes and hardships that are intensifying and hardening concurrently with the output of palliative measures from the political machinery that is supposed to bring the full redemption of the wage slaves. No measure has yet been evolved by Federal or State Labor Governments that throws the faintest ray of hope upon the future outlook of Labor in Australia. But your political fanatic never questions the efficiency of the State. He finds the defect is in all those who have run the machine in the past, and must perforce do so, or throw up the sponge and retire from his vain encounter in which all his effects can only result, at best, in making a change in the personnel of the controllers of the machine.
Humanity has had three colossal superstitions imposed upon it from above - that is, by the ruling class. The purpose of each of these superstitions is the same: the subordination of the mass to the will of the few in order to facilitate there exploitation by some form of slave labour. The basic superstition on which rests the other two, is the god idea; on this is founded the king-craft idea, with its monstrous divine right attribute. Next comes the State as the means of administration, and control of the many in the interests of the few - the old firm of priest-craft, king-craft and State-craft.
The dominating supremacy over the human mind by the god pestilence and its terrestrial corollary, the cancer of the Divine right of Kingship, have received their quietus, and the blessing of our present meed of mental liberty is purely the resulting effect of the Direct Action of such men as Mirabeau, Volncy, Bollingbroke, Paine, Robespiere, Marat, Danton, Desmoulines, Voltaire, and the long line of feebler, but equally valiant successors that thickly stud the line of glorious Rebeldom, down to our present day.
But there still remains the instrument of restraint and oppressive tyranny - the great political superstition. The inquisition, the Bastille, the right of the feudal lord to primus noctus, or to warm his feet in the bodies of ~ new- slaughtered slaves, are now matters of record on the page of ancient history. But the dregs of these horrors and barbarity still lurk and linger in the political ma- chine - the State.
If not so why our present wage slave production ? Why are the slaves on their cessation of toil deemed rebels and driven back to renewed slaving by armed henchmen of their tyrants ? Why free speech fights ? Why Tom Barker in a modern Bastille ? Why, oh ! why with damnable iteration urge all the possible whys when it is self-evident that the answer is: Because of the fraud, force and brutality in the political machine, the State.
"Behind the ballot-box is concealed the bayonet and the bullet." That most true declaration was made by Emerson in or about the year 1835, and not withstanding all the alleged political progress of the Anglo-Saxon race, still concealed is the weapon of force behind the ballot box. Who so votes is cunningly betrayed into sanction of government and its use of force as a remedy of all the ills of its own special creation.
What would our friends of the A.S.P. do with full possession of the political machine ? Remodel it by exorcising the coercive element ? If so then it at once ceases to be government in any shape or form. If not then our friends would result to the compulsion under which they and we suffer disabilities and the com- munity at large unconsciously groans.
When Lloyd George went down to the coal-miners in Wales and endeavoured to conjole or threaten them into returning to work and they refused his political mediatorship between them and their �10 000 000 extra profiteering masters and insisted in a cut of the exploitage, that was a fine lesson in direct action, and a splendid evidence of the "passing of parliament."
When the same oily-tongued and unctuous politician tried the same dope on the Clyde ironworkers , under the presidency of David Kirkwood, that clear- headed and fearless Scot introduced the wily Welshman to the engineers in the following terse and brusque manner:
"This is Mr. Lloyd George, and from what we have seen and heard of him we are inclined to take him with a degree of suspicion," and at a later stage in the proceedings, when the politician had failed to dish the men of iron with appeals to their patriotism, Mr. Kirkwood remarked upon the capacity of the men before them to control the engineering industry off their own hat, and Lloyd George made a remark as to their lack of capacity to do so. He was immediately brought to book by the unflinching chairman telling him that the men he saw around him were doing all that was required every day of their lives, and further informed him that it was not a question for a lawyer to settle but for an engineer, and added: "One engineer is worth a hundred lawyers like Lloyd George."
Here was a splendid double lesson of direct action and the waning political faith of British workers, further conjoint evidence of the "Passing of Parliament."
Labour Premier Holman paid a visit recently to that glorious storm-centre of militant labor, Broken Hill. The advanced thinkers of the Barrior gave him a stormy time, and when a vote of thanks to the ruffled politician was put to the meeting, it was received with groans and boo-hoos, in which a large section of the craft-union men freely joined with the no-compromise rebel element of the meeting: and since his re- turn to Sydney he has failed to prejudice the resolute spirit of Labor Union men in their anti-conscription attitude.
If these signs of the times re politics are not sufficient from which to generalise a sound deduction as to the decadence of political influence with the workers, and fully sustain the contention that the passing of parliament is in full currency, there is an abundance of facts to further draw upon. At the present stage I can only think that men who can unceasingly denounce all past and present politicians as apostates to the true interests of the workers in every State in Australia, and yet nurse the delusive hope that they are the only possible group of incorruptible spirits, must already be under the strong lure of the guilded baits of ambition and profit that is, and ever has been, thickly spread over the traps and pitfalls of the great political superstition, that the machine that forges the chains of labor can be made to weave the soft girdle of liberty which will bind the world-workers into one unity of peace and harmony.
"Whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, these things do really govern Politics and save or destroy States.
"They save or destroy them by silent, inexorable fatality, whilst the politicians are making believe plausibly and noisily." - Matthew Arnold
Just as when the eminent man of letters wrote the above sweeping indictment of politics and politicians, so even at the present time does the "great inexorable fatality" of all the things enumerated in the quotation constitute the social, moral, mental and economic progress of the world - which would develop more rapidly were it not for the obstruction of the same valuable and garrulous politicians.
Surely if there were in history some instance of the great cult of the plausible and make-believe noisy, having saved the people in ~s from some one of the destroying influences referred to by Arnold, it could be adduced as a part defence of the cause of those who still clamour for politics and parliament as the one way out from the bondage prisons of darkest capitalism.
All the forces referred to in the above quotation, in toto, make up what is expressed throughout this article as "the moral sentiment of the community," which forms the basis and mainspring of all action. Direct action has been found in human experience to be the best form of all action because it results in the greatest measure of success.
It was the direct action of the "brave lads of Lexington" who fired the shot heard around the world, and it was the direct action embodied in Paine's "Common Sense" that acted like a stimulant or anolyne on the dropping spirit and flagging courage of the revolution armies, and that turned the tide of the war's fortune in their favour., till direct action stood behind the low redoubt at Bunkers Hill. It was direct action that melted the statue of King George iii into bullets and fired them at his troops. It was direct action in every instance that led to the culminating glory of the Colonists casting of the rule of England and building their temple of Freedom on the Declaration of Independence, and the great mistake was then made of entrusting the new horn young republic to the foster nursing of "make believe, plausible, and noisy politicians" and discarding the wiser faith in direct action spontaneously flowing out of the moral sentiment of the community.
This mistake was recognised by Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration, when in his later years of experience he wrote:
"I am convinced that those primitive societies, such as our Red Skins, which live without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under European governments. Among the former public opinion is in the place of law, and restrains as powerfully as well as laws ever did anywhere. Whereas, among the latter, under the pretence of government they have divided their nations into two classes - wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate: this is a true picture of Europe today. "
Thus Jefferson: and in his America today, after the long efforts of its citizens, inspired by such men as Bryant, Emerson, Thoreau, Henry Clay, Patrick Henry, Whittier, Whitman, Lowell, Holmes, Wendell Phillips, and many thousands of other Truth, Justice, and Liberty loving spirits, there are wolves, more fierce and voracious than the feudal hordes of the same genus, ravening and devouring the sheep - on a scale of proportion beside which the Europe of Jefferson's day shrink to insignificance. The political White Hope of the Nations - the young republic - that rose like a star out of crimson seas of Revolutionary Wars is today the worlds greatest citadel of capitalistic greed, fraud and corruption.
Well might Emerson write, "The conditions of the feudal age survive and exist in the steep inequality of our times."
And now for the alleged failure of the late premature insurrection in Ireland. Who can say what the effects of any act of resistance or aggression of any section of radical malcontents might be ? All we can do is judge by a parity of effects of like causes in the past, that is, reasoning by history.
Ireland got very little redress of her wrongs during her six to seven centuries of despotic government by England - until she turned her energies into the channel, direct action.
All the political efforts of her brightest and most ardent sons were painfully slow and met with but little success. But when cattle were maimed and killed, hay- stacks and farm buildings burnt, bailiffs, proctors, evictors, rent-rackers, and land- lords were maltreated, and in many cases shot, then the rulers were roused to enquire what it all meant. What was the cause of it ?
The Gladstone got busy with tongue and pen, wrote to The Times and Nineteenth Century such diatribes against British government atrocities on the unhappy Irish people as stirred even the sluggish blood of plausible and noisy politicians, raised up the "uncrowned King of Ireland" - Charles Stuart Parnell - and then under the political mid-whifery of Gladstone, the Westminster mountain laboured and brought forth a Home Rule mouse, which after being licked into better shape, is again being held out to Ireland by the present utility man of British politics Mr. Lloyd George - who has been hurried up by the insurrection, on which your I.S. scribe stamps the name of Failure. Any one who denies this as a true interpretation of the later facts of Irish history has but little chance of successfully indicating the probable results of this last (admittedly premature) attempt to gain redress for the long arear of English injustice to Ireland.
But apart altogether from this latest phase in Ireland's contest for liberty, the direct action of the I.W.W. organisation is of the order that is guided by intelligence, and not essentially on the plane of physical force, though there are times when government tyranny reaches its limitations in force that reprisals in like kind have been justified by the oppressed. History is thickly studded with such cases.
But assuming that our A.S.P. fellow workers were to succeed during the currency of the 20th century, in their romantic ideal of capturing the Federal political machine at the top of Bourke Street, they, like every party which has preceded them, would soon find that the machine had captured them and would further realise that all their good and virtuous intentions (with which let them be credited), like those of all their predecessors, would be frustrated and set a nought like those of Watson, Fisher, Hughes, Pearce, and that ilk. If they, superior to all other men, overcome the machine by reconstructing it to their hearts desire, and passed laws to abolish capital- ism, private ownership, and wage slavery, they would still have to organise with the I. W.W. (or like them) to take possession of the economic field. Why ? Because the wrong of humanity is not a political one, it is not in the domain of lawyers: it is an economic wrong, it lies in the field of production, and the fight must be waged in the industrial arena. With David Kirkwood the I.W.W. says: 'It is not a job for a lawyer: it is a job for workers."
We Industrial Workers of the World tell you would be Socialist politicians to remain workers, because as a worker (if a true man) each of you is a power, a fighting factor: you go into politics, and the machine gains a victim to corruption, a traitor to labor, and the great human cause for Right, Truth, and Working Class Liberty loses a Man.
Forward the I.W.W. Brigade.
Down with Capitalism and Politicians, and up with the One Big Union.