The Socialist Party and Trade Unionism

[All Resolutions adopted during the course of this discussion have to be referred to the Party
Membership through the Branches for ratification or otherwise. The. decision of the Party will he published after the full Report of the Debate has appeared.

(Continued from July issue)

R. A. V. Morris moved the following resolution on behalf of the Bexley Branch :

“Whereas the S.P.G.B. in its Manifesto recognises the necessity of Trade Unions under capitalism,
And Whereas Trade Unions, as at present organised on sectional or craft lines, serve only to disunite the workers, and to give power and influence to a class of so-called labour leaders who betray and mislead the working class on both the political and economic fields.
And Whereas the only sound form of economic organisation is a union that shall (1) unite all sections of the working class on an industrial or non-sectional basis, and (2) organise them on the economic field for the complete overthrow of capitalism and the taking possession of all the instruments of production and distribution, as a necessary adjunct to the action of The Socialist Party on the political field,
Resolved that The Socialist Party of Great Britain hereby declares war on all Trade Unions as at present organised, and calls on its members to carry on an active propaganda as a preliminary to the establishment of a Socialist Union.”

Morris said that Trade Unions organised on craft lines had the dual effect of misleading and dividing the working class and giving power to so-called labour leaders. The S.P.G.B. had beea attacking the leaders on the political field, but it was from the economic organisation that they derived their power. We had to choose between the present Trade Unions and a union which would unite the workers on the basis of the class struggle. The idea that we should support the unions at times and oppose them at others was the famous S.D.F. position.

F. Leigh seconded the resolution. He said it appeared that the only party which could take any definite Trade Union action was that which advocated a revolutionary industrial organisation without affiliation to a political party. The economic condition was the basis of all working-class action. The L.R.C. was merely the reflex of the pure and simple Trade Unions which had put its men into power. The pure and simple Unions were playing into the hands of the capitalist, and were based on the perpetuation of the wages system. If the Trade Union is class-unconscious on the economic field the only logical attitude was to come out and fight them. The idea of domination by a political party was putting the cart before the horse. If you once create a revolutionary organisation on the economic field then you would have a united revolutionary political party. Political unity would follow. The economic organisation was in the forefront of the battle. We should be prepared to sacrifice a little against present unions.

Jackson said the people who had formed the I.W.W. were very fond of saying that the labour leaders were in the pay of the capitalist class. The following was the latest:

“The striking silk weavers of Kaltenback and Stevens’ shop have won the fight. Yesterday afternoon a committee had a conference with the employers, the result of which was the sanction of all the demands. The bosses granted the demands under the provisions that the weavers should try to organise all other silk mills also and bring them to the same scale of wages as Kaltenback and Stevens’ shop.”

The capitalists granted their demands on condition that they should organise the others. Would the capitalist class be prepared to support a union which was organising to fight it ? The only way was to bring into existence an organisation based on class consciousness and it was only possible to make sound class-consciousness by a sound political party.

The meeting adjourned until the following Saturday.


Discussion on Bexley Resolution—Continued.

Jackson moved the following amendment:

“Delete all after “Manifesto” and substitute Affirms that the basis of the action of the Trade Unions must be a clear recognition of the position of the workers under capitalism and the class-struggle necessarily resulting therefrom.
This General Meetingof membersof the S.P.G.B., in view of the fact that, “as the machinery of government (including the armed forces of the Nation) exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the workers must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery (including these forces) may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation,” calls upon Trade Unionists to recognise that the class-struggle is thus in its full development necessarily a struggle for political power, and that until they have understood this they cannot act rightly.
And furthermore warns the workers of this land against those so-called Revolutionists who, advocating the Anarchist theory of the General Strike (more or less artfully disguised) neglect thus the above-cited, essentially political nature of the class-struggle, and neglecting it, ignore the truth.”

Jackson said this conception of industrialism was either the old Trade Union idea or the Anarchist idea of the General Strike. All through the history of Socialism we had had this difference cropping up. What was the difference in the old International Workingman’s Association between Marx and Bokounine ? Simply that Marx said that the fight of the workers for their emancipation was chiefly a political one whilst the Bokouninists were clamouring for the General Strike which really ended in street riots. In this country then cropped up this new Trade Union movement. The Socialist League and members of the S.D.F. in their time formed what was practically an I.W.W., and laid it down that the struggle of the workers was to be fought on the economic field. And the Socialist League became Anarchist,. In France practically the same thing was going on. He had with him the Manifesto of the General Confederation of Labour. In it was said :

“The French Trades Unions unite the workers on an essentially economic basis, and endeavour to carry out as much as possible the following points: (1) They occupy themselves with ameliorating constantly the existing conditions of the workers by reduction in hours, increase of salary, the sanitary condition of factories and workshops, the moral independence of the workers, etc. They do not forget that the reforms obtained from the employers cannot be a final aim, but only a step towards more radical amelioration. Also in order to be effective all reforms must be accompanied by a curtailment of capitalist privileges. (2) They do not limit their activity to partial and immediate reforms ; convinced that only in the abolition of the wage system is the definite remedy of exploitation and human misery. They prepared the way for the capitalist expropriation, which making the Trades Unions and Trades Councils the centres of the new social life, will give to all the opportunity for integral development.”

That was precisely the argument in favour of Industrial Unionism—that the Trades Unions formed the basis of the future Society. As regards the General Strike they said :

“The General Strike reveals itself under two aspects which complete themselves mutually and both have in a high degree a revolutionary character. The General Strike can have as its aim the immediate conquest of partial ameliorations ; or it may be the equivalent of the proletarian revolution and imply the taking in possession of the whole social organism by the working class.”

And again

“Trades Unions will take as their mission the inauguration of communist property on the ruins of individual property.
“They will take possession of factories and workshops, and the Trades Unions in each industry, putting themselves in connection with their Federation, will regulate the amount of production.”

That was precisely the position of the I.W.W.

The essential aim of the revolutionary working-class party was the capture of the political machinery.

Anderson seconded the amendment. Certain political opponents of ours were ready to sidetrack our Party by this economic fake, and certain members of the S.P.G.B. were trying to do the same thing. Until all the members of the organisation were Socialist you would not have a sound economic organisation at all.

Leigh said he wished to oppose the amendment. He had had conversation with members of the S.L.P., and they had told him that they were ready to send out the men in their party who were keeping the two organisations apart. Jackson’s amendment was purely a declaration against Anarchism, where the political organisation of the working class was condemned. To admit the necessity of an economic organisation of the working class and then to tie them down to a political party was to make the success of the economic organisation impossible. The theory of the economic organisation alone was the Anarchist theory purely and simply, but the resolution advocated a sound economic organisation to work in conjunction with a political party. It was untrue to say that he was being used by another party to break up this party. He had pointed out to Jackson that he was in favour of political action, yet Jackson was accusing him of advocating Anarchy.

Neumann said when we found our men had backed up the S.L.P. position as far as Industrial Unionism was concerned, he thought he was justified in saying that their action had been detrimental to the Party. It behoved members of the Party to set a firm face against this. It had been said by a speaker that some of the people of this hostile organisation were prepared to dispense with their leaders. Well, we had not yet seen much evidence of it. If they would have nothing to do with us politically we could have nothing to do with them economically. If, by any miracle, their new economic organisation should be compelled to take political action, it would be reform action due to the men who formed its membership. If the S.L.P. was as good a political party as the S.P.G.B.; if it had in the eyes of certain members a better industrial organisation, why did they remain in the S.P.G.B.?

[To be Continued.]

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