Sunday, March 31, 2024

Debate on Industrial Unionism. (continued) (1906)

From the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from the October issue.)

Geis in his second speech said that up to a certain point he agreed with Fitzgerald—indeed, Fitzgerald with his wider and more intimate knowledge of Trade Unionism, would make a better Advocate of Industrial Unionism than he (Geis) himself. The adoption of the Preamble was not sufficient of itself; if the material to support it were not present in the working class it was useless. The passing of pious resolutions, of course, did not signify ; but they had to recognise what was vital in the principle laid down.

The effort being made was honest ; and though the organisiation he was representing might fail the principle would live—the principle that would establish Socialism. The working class had evolved to a certain stage, and different degrees of class-consciousness were observable everywhere in its members. The theory of the Industrial Unionist was that Socialism had so penetrated the working-class mind that the elements were now ready to organise on the lines he proposed. Fitzgerald had urged that the I.W.W. should call itself Socialist if it were Socialist; but the I.W.W. had to be considered not for what it called itself but for what it actually was—a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. It had to be judged not by its name, but by its principles and action. With regard to the statements of Klemensic at the Chicago Convention, it was not at all unlikely that he was only in the position of a man who was for the time being rather puzzled by the clause under discussion. The I.W.W. included members of the Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party and others of no political affiliation whatsoever. Affiliation with either of the parties mentioned would only result in the promotion of discord. They were doing their best under the circumstances to unite the working-class politically by first uniting them industrially, in the firm belief that political disunity was the outcome of economic disorganisation. The existing political divisions in the working-class were clearly the shadow of their conflicting economic organisations. [This argument Geis illustrated thus : If in the sunlight, he held out his hand and extended his fingers, the shadow would show divisions ; but by closing up his fingers the shadow would be an undivided one.] That was why the I.W.W. refrained from affiliation with any existing political organisation. There were those who had not yet emancipated their minds from the metaphysical method of reasoning. [Here Geis read a very long extract from Engels’ “Socialism : Utopian and Scientific,” with the object of proving that Fitzgerald was a metaphysical reasoner.] The working-class was always in fluid motion its activities could not be frozen ; so sure as organic bodies grow, the working class would attain its emancipation through Industrial Unionism.

Fitzgerald emphatically denied that, he in any sense, or up to any point, had advocated mere Industrial Unionism, in which he had no faith. He had advocated Socialist Unionism, and no other. And in doing so he had dealt with facts ; his arguments were entirely along dialectical lines : not a single example had been adduced to show that his reasoning was dialectically incorrect. He also would refer to Engels’ “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific,” at p. 75 especially, where Engels indicates that the proletariat, will emancipate itself by seizing political power from the exploiting class and abolishing the class State. Although the I.W.W. was represented to be a single union it already showed a strong tendency to simulate the craft unions in its devolution into thirteen sub-divisions, quite regardless of the original seven-division “wheel” described by Hagerty. Thus the I.W.W. had obviously not themselves realised the class form of industrial organisation. He (Fitzgerald) was in favour of industrial organisation on a class basis, as opposed to the sectional basis, of the I.W.W. How was it possible to overthrow the Capitalist system, and “take and hold” the means of existence, merely by industrial organisation ? The seizure of land by the unemployed at West Ham afforded a miniature illustration of what would happen on a vast scale if the absurd attempt were made. In the one case the police and fire-hose sufficed to compel the unemployed to relinquish their hold on an acre of land : in the event of a greater attempt by Industrial Unionists they would be confronted by all the armed forces at the command of the dominant, class. The key to the position, as Engels had shown, was to obtain control of the fighting forces through the wresting of political authority from the possessing class. This was not a question of honesty, but of right and wrong; and the I.W.W., by its proposal to “take and hold” by economic action alone was simply misleading the working class. Political parties, moreover, were not a reflection of economic organisations, but the recognition and expression of economic interests. It was all very well to say in the Preamble that the I.W.W. did not countenance political affiliation ; it left political action out altogether. Why, if economic unity promoted political unity were such prominent advocates of Industrial Unionism as E. V. Debs and Daniel DeLeon still in political opposition ? why generally were its members at each other’s throats in the political field ? Only a clear understanding of their class position could bring about the political unity of the working class ; and so rapid was the development of economic conditions at the present time that all confusing and misleading proposals should be strenuously opposed, and the only way pointed out to the workers along the lines of Socialism and Socialism alone.

Geis observed that the members of The Socialist Party of Great Britain were obsessed with the idea of an armed Revolution ; they could not conceive the possibility of a peaceful revolution, and therefore they insisted on the necessity of the control by the workers of the armed forces of the nation. Their eyes were full of the blood of the French Revolution. Unless the workers were Industrially organised a bloody revolution would undoubtedly occur. He would point out that the soldiers engaged in the Featherstone shooting travelled by the aid of the craft unionists, who also supplied them with hats, boots, and clothes. If the workers were class-conscious the military would not be so supplied, nor with bayonets, bullets and “grub.” The armed force argument therefore fell to the ground. The whole working class would have to be industrially organised however, before it could complete its mission: but when that organisation was accomplished, the armed forces would not be able to move a hair’s breadth. The ballot-box method was a proved failure. The Russian revolutionaries were shot down notwithstanding the election of the Duma. With regard to the thirteen sub-divisions of the I.W.W., criticised by Fitzgerald, these did not constitute craft unions ; they were geographical divisions having local autonomy, but were subject to a central board. In this matter the I.W.W. submitted to circumstances they could not overcome, and Fitzgerald had elaborated no alternative scheme. Only by such industrial organisation as that he advocated would the workers accomplish the Social Revolution.

Fitzgerald replied that the emancipation of the working class was an impossibility until they were organised politically and economically. He had pointed out that although according to the Preamble of the I.W.W. the workers must come together on the political as on the economic field, two delegates at the Chicago convention of the I.W.W. had revealed the hopeless political confusion and class-unconsciousness of the members of that body, and the statements of those delegates were not repudiated. Neither had Geis made the least attempt to meet the question raised, which was essential. He (Fitzgerald) had every reason to desire a peaceful revolution, but the history of class-antagonisms and the circumstances of modern times provided him with but little hope in that direction. By repudiating the ballot-box method Geis had simply taken the Anarchist position ; and assuredly if the efforts of the I.W.W. were non-political they were also non-Socialist. Apparently Geis had never heard of soldiers being employed on railways, of the storage of seven years’ munitions of war and other such provisions. Finally he reasserted that a Socialist Preamble did not make a Socialist organisation, either in the case of a “pure and simple” craft union or the I.W.W. And his denial that that body was a Socialist Union implied also his opinion that it was not worthy the confidence and support, of the working class.

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

That's the November 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard done and dusted.