From: Alexander Berkman, Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism, New York: Vanguard Press, 1929.
What Is Communist Anarchism?
Whose Is The Power?
People talk about the greatness of their country, about the strength of the government and the power of the capitalist class. Let us see what that power really consists of, wherein it lies, and who actually has it.
What is the government of a country? It is the King with his ministers, or the President with his cabinet, the Parliament or the Congress, and the officials of the various State and Federal departments. Altogether a small number of persons as compared with the entire population.
Now, when is that handful of men, called government, strong and in what does its strength consist?
It is strong when the people are with it. Then they supply the government with money, with an army and navy, obey it, and enable it to function. In other words, the strength of a government depends entirely on the support it receives.
But can any government exist if the people are actively opposed to it? Could even the strongest government carry out any undertaking without the aid of the populace, without the help of the masses, the workers of the country?
But can any government exist if the people are actively opposed to alone. It can do only what the people approve of or at least permit to be done.
Take the great World War, for instance. The American financiers wanted the United States to get into it, because they knew that they would rake in tremendous profits, as they actually did. But labor had nothing to gain from the war, for how can the toilers benefit by the slaughter of their fellows in some other land? The masses of America were not in favor of mixing in the European imbroglio. As previously mentioned, they had elected Woodrow Wilson President on a 'keep us out of war' platform. Had the American people persisted in this determination, could the government have gotten us into the carnage?
How was it managed, then, that the people of the United States were induced to go to war when they had voted against it by electing Wilson? I have already explained in a previous chapter. Those interested in entering the war started a great propaganda in favor of it. It was carried on in the press, in the schools and pulpit; by preparedness parades, patriotic spellbinders, and shouting for 'democracy' and 'war to end war.' It was a heinous way of fooling the people into believing that the war was for some 'ideal' instead of being just a capitalist war for profits, as all modem wars are. Millions of dollars were spent on that propaganda, the money of the people, of course, for in the end the people pay for everything. An artificial enthusiasm was worked up, with all kinds of promises to the workers of the wonderful things that would result for them from the war. It was the greatest fraud and humbug, but the people of the United States fell for it, and they went to war, though not voluntarily, but by conscription.
And the spokesmen of the workers, the labor leaders? As usual, they proved the best 'patriots', calling upon their union members to go and get themselves killed, for the greater glory of Mammon. What did the late Samuel Gompers, then President of the American Federation of Labor, do? He became the right-hand man of President Wilson, his chief recruiting lieutenant. He and his union officials fumed sergeants of capital in rounding up labor for the, slaughter. The labor leaders of the other countries did the same.
Every one knows that the 'war to end war' really ended nothing. On the contrary, it has caused more political complications than there have ever been before in Europe, and has prepared the field for a new and more terrible war than the last one. But that question does not belong here. I have referred to the matter merely to show you that without Gompers and the other labor leaders, without the consent and support of the toiling masses, the government of the United States would have been entirely unable to carry out the wishes of the lords of finance, industry, and commerce.
Or consider the case of Sacco and Vanzetti. Could Massachusetts have executed them if the organized workers of America had been against it, if they had taken action to prevent it? Suppose that Massachusetts labor had refused to support the State Government in its murderous intention: suppose the workers had boycotted the Governor and his agents, stopped supplying them with food, cut off their means of communication, and shut off the electric current in Boston and Charleston prison. The government would have been powerless to function.
If you look at this matter with clear, unprejudiced eyes, you will realize that it is not the people who are dependent on the government, as is generally believed, but just the other way about.
When the people withhold their aid from the government, when they refuse obedience and pay no taxes, what happens? The government cannot support its officials, cannot pay its police, cannot feed its army and navy. It remains without funds, without means to carry out its orders. It is paralyzed. The handful of persons calling themselves the government become helpless - they lose their power and authority. If they can gather enough men to aid them, they may try to fight the people. If they cannot, or lose the fight, they have to give it up. Their ''governing''is at an end.
That is to say, the power of even the strongest government rests entirely in the people, in their willing support and obedience. It follows that government in itself has no power at all. The moment the people refuse to bow to its authority, the government ceases to exist.
Now, what strength has capitalism? Does the power of the capitalists rest in themselves, or where does it come from?
It is evident that their strength lies in their capital, in their wealth. They own the industries, the shops, factories, and land. But those possessions would do them no good but for the willingness of the people to work for them and pay tribute to them. Suppose the workers should say to the capitalists: 'We are tired of making profits for you. We won't slave for you any more. You didn't create the land, you didn't build the factories, nor the mills or shops. We built them and from now on we will use them to work in, and what we produce will not be yours but will belong to the people. You will get nothing, and we won't even give you any food for your money. You'll be just like ourselves, and you will work like the rest of us.'
What would happen? Why, the capitalists would appeal to the government for aid. They would demand protection for their interests and possessions. But if the people refuse to recognize the authority of the government, the latter itself would be helpless.
You might say that is revolution. Maybe it is. But whatever you call it, it would amount to this: the government and the capitalists- the political and financial rulers - would find out that all their boasted power and strength disappear when the people refuse to acknowledge them as masters, refuse to let them lord it over them.
Can this happen, you wonder. Well, it has happened many times before, and not so very long ago again in Russia, in Germany, in Austria. In Germany that mighty war lord, the Kaiser, had to flee for his life, because the masses had decided they did not want him any more. In Austria the monarchy was driven out because the people got tired of its tyranny and corruption. In Russia the most powerful Tsar was glad to give up his throne to save his head, and failed even in that. In his own capital he could not find a single regiment to protect him, and all his great authority went up in smoke when the populace refused to bow to it. Just so the capitalists of Russia were made helpless when the people stopped working for them and took the land, the factories, the mines and mills for themselves. All the money and 'power' of the bourgeoisie in Russia could not get them a pound of bread when the masses declined to supply it unless they did honest work.
What does it all prove?
It proves that so-called political, industrial, and financial power, all the authority of government and capitalism is really in the hands of the people. It proves that only the people, the masses, have power.
This power, the people's power, is actual: it cannot be taken away, as the power of the ruler, of the politician, or of the capitalist can be. It cannot be taken away because it does not consist in possessions but in ability. It is the ability to create, to produce; the power that feeds and clothes the world, that gives us life, health and comfort, joy and pleasure.
How great this power is you will realize when you ask yourself:
Would life be possible at all if the workers did not toil? Would the cities not starve if the farmers failed to supply them food?
Could the railroads run if the railroad men suspended work? Could any factory, shop, or mill continue operations but for the coal miners?
Could trade or commerce go on if the transport workers went on strike?
Would the theaters and movies, your office and house have light if the electricians would not supply the current?
Truly has the poet spoken:
'All the wheels stand still
When your strong arms so will.
That is the productive,industrial power of labor.
It does not depend on any politics, nor on king, president, parliament, or congress. It depends neither on the police, nor on the army and navy - for these only consume and destroy, they create nothing. Nor does it depend on laws and rules, on legislators or courts, on politician or plutocrat. It resides entirely and exclusively in the ability of the workers in factory and field, in the brain and brawn of the industrial and agricultural proletariat to labor, to create, to produce.
It is the productive power of the workers - of the man with the plow and with the hammer, of the man of mind and muscle, of the masses, of the entire working class.
It follows, therefore, that the working class, in every country, is the most important part of the population. In fact, it is the only vital part. The rest of the people help in the social life, but if need be we could do without them, while we could not live even a single day without the man of labor. His is the all-important economic power.
The strength of government and capital is external, outside of themselves.
The strength of labor is not external. It lies in itself, in its ability to work and create. It is the only real power.
Yet labor is held lowest in the social scale.
Is it not a topsy-turvy world, this world of capitalism and government? The workers, who as a class are the most essential part of society, who alone have real power, are powerless under present conditions. They are the poorest class, the least influential and least respected. They are looked down upon, the victims of every kind of oppression and exploitation, the least appreciated and least honored. They live wretchedly in ugly and unhealthy tenements, the death rate is greatest among them, the prisons are filled with them, the gallows and electric chair are for them.
This is the reward of labor in our society of government and capitalism; that is what you get from the 'law and order' system.
Does such law and order deserve to live? Should such a social system be permitted to continue? Should it not be changed for something else, something better, and is not the worker interested more than any one else in seeing to it? Should not his own organization, built especially for his interests - the union - help him do it?
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