1900s >> 1906 >> no-24-september-1906

The Socialist Party and Trade Unionism (continued)

[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 be published after the full Report of the Debate has appeared.]

[Continued from August issue.]

Fitzgerald said he was sorry Jackson had moved this amendment because the substance of it was contained in a resolution he intended to move. He opposed the resolution because it contained “terminological inexactitudes” and committed the movers of it to a position which he thought they perhaps did not understand. Because he contended that if the class principle was to be first it was contradictory to say the industrial was not non-sectional. The word “industrial” gave certain impressions in certain directions. The man in the street would have the idea that it was something different from the ordinary Trade Unions. But to the Socialist the word “industrial” conveyed something distinct. It conveyed I.W.W. The members of the Party who met to form an I.W.W. club during the week went there either to form a club to propagate Industrial Unionism or they went there as deliberate frauds. He would read the call:—

“LONDON NEXT.

“Following on the resolution passed at the S.L.P. Annual Conference, April 15th, endorsing Industrial Unionism and pledging our membership to set up clubs for the spread of Industrial Union principles, several members of the London S.L.P. and of the S.P.G.B. have decided to call together a meeting to the end of formally constituting such a club. The meeting will be held at the Communist Club, Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, W. on the evening of May the 16th at 8 p.m. Sympathisers of whatever political party are invited to attend and assist in the formation of a revolutionary economic organisation.”—Socialist, May, 1906.

The call fairly and squarely was to those who sympathised with the resolution of the Annual Conference of the S.L.P. on the I.W.W. The resolution referred to in the call was :—

“Considering that the task of emancipating the workers demands economic organisation as well as political, the Socialist Labour Party endorses the new international union known as the Industrial Workers of the World and urges the members arid adherents of the Party everywhere to set up clubs for the spread of Industrial Union principles as a preliminary to the definite establishment of the I.W.W. in Great Britain.”—Socialist, May, 1906.

Leigh, interposing, said that at the meeting at the Communist Club an entirely different resolution was put.

Fitzgerald said they had to examine their position in regard to the organisation known as the I.W.W. A certain preamble was laid down in the constitution of that organisation which they were told was revolutionary. The question was raised at the last meeting whether this preamble did not denote a revolutionary organisation. He said, no. What were the constituents of the I.W.W. ? First, the Western Federation of Miners. He read from the stenographic report of the Chicago Convention which said :—-

“I am … a member of the Western Federation of Miners, a revolutionary industrial labor organisation. We have not got an agreement existing with any mine manager, superintendent or operator at the present time.” (Page I54.)

But the I.W.W. had agreements with certain people : Haywood said, “We are a revolutionary organisation,” yet in the industrial war in Colorado the Western Federation of Miners asked its members to vote for capitalist candidates after lessons against which Featherstone was child’s play. And the W. F. of M. formed the backbone of the I.W.W. ! They therefore had a rank and file not understanding Socialism adopting a Socialist preamble. They claimed that the L.R.C., although it had certain members Socialist, and had passed a resolution in favour of the Socialisation of production, was to be opposed. They had again from the stenographic report the following statement by Delegate Klemensic:

“We must not overlook the fact that we are here as working men, and as such we do not recognise the Socialist, the Anarchist, or any other kind of ‘ist.'” (Page 232.)

At that conference De Leon and others, all members of the S.L.P. and the S.T. & L.A., were present, and not a single one got up to deny that statement. Another man, Delegate Murtagh, said, referring to a clause in the Preamble:

“I think that this clause is just exactly the thing, and is born of exactly the same need that the old live trade unions mean when they say ‘no politics in the union’ . . . It is useless for us here to attempt to disguise this fact that we have every shade of political opinion. We have the Socialists—I happen to be one of them who believe thai action in the political line is absolutely necessary. We have the Socialist on the other hand, who is so near the Anarchist that he is beginning to think as the Anarchist does, that action along the political line is absolutely harmful instead of being useless.” (Page 228.).

Now several people had made an attempt to explain that. They could not do it, but had to talk about something that might occur in the future. That is what Murtagh did. Another delegate, Clarence Smith, said :

“It seems to me that this paragraph of the Preamble particularly is intended, not to represent the Principles and purposes of Industrialism, but represents a toadyism to three different factions in this convention. (Applause.) … It seems to me that this paragraph could not have been more involved or more confusing if it had been written by the platform committee of the Republican or Democratic party. . . It seems to me that this paragraph is intended to be such that the supporter of this movement can point to it when talking to a pure and simple unionist and say ‘that is just what you want and expresses what you believe in.’ I believe it is intended to be such that a Socialist can be pointed to this platform with the statement that ‘this is Socialism.’ I believe it is intended to be such that an Anarchist can be confronted with this platform and told that ‘this means Anarchy as it is written right in this paragraph.’ … I am going to talk to individuals wherever I find them for this movement, and I cannot afford to have Bro. De Leon along with me every time I meet a man to explain what this paragraph means.” (Pages 220—230.)

As Smith said, it meant all things to all men. He hoped a lot of them had read “What Means this Strike.” In that you had one of the clearest expositions of the Socialist attitude to an economic strike. Moreover, some of them had heard De Leon in London. He knew of no man who could put the Socialist principle simpler than De Leon. It could not be said he did not understand the position. Then why did he attempt to wangle round the Preamble of the I.W.W. when he said :

“I know not a single exception of any party candidate ever elected upon a political platform of the emancipation of the working class who did not sell them out as fast as elected (Applause). Now it may be asked, ‘that being so, why not abolish altogether the political movement ? Why at all unite the workers on the political field ?’ The aspiration to unite the workers upon the political field is an aspiration in line and step with civilisation. Civilised man, when he argues with an adversary, does not start with clenching his fist and telling him, ‘smell this bunch of bones.’ . . . He begins by arguing ; physical force by arms is the last resort. Civilised man . . . will always give a chance to peace. But civilised man, unless he is a visionary, will know that unless there is Might behind your Right, your Right is something to laugh at. And the thing to do, consequently, is to gather behind that ballot, behind that united political movement, the Might which is alone able when necessary to ‘take and hold.’ Without the working people are united on the political field; without the delusion has been removed from their minds that any of the issues of the capitalist class can do for them anything permanently, or even temporarily; without the working people have been removed altogether from the mental thraldom of the capitalist class, from its insidious influence, there is no possibility of your having those conditions under which they can really organise themselves economically in such a way as to ‘take and hold'”. (Page 227.)

For sixteen years the S.L.P. had been endeavouring to get on all the ballots on a revolutionary basis. Now we come to the statement that any man elected on that basis would be a suspicious character. That was the fact of the situation.

He said :

“If any individual is elected upon a revolutionary ballot, that individual is a suspicious character. (Applause). Whoever is returned elected to office on a program of labour emancipation ; whoever is allowed to be filtered through by the political election inspectors of the capitalist class, that man is a carefully selected tool, a traitor of the working people, selected by the capitalist class.” (page 226)

In other words he used the same argument as Jack Williams used to E. J. B. Allen in connection with the unemployed that it was necessary to go to the Government and ask for something to find that you would not get it ! We fight for control of political power because the armed forces of the capitalist class were controlled by the political party. It was a fallacy that an industrial organisation could take and hold anything which the capitalist would not allow you. They could blow you out of existence when they liked while they controlled those forces. He opposed the resolution.

Phillips said he rose to oppose both the resolution and the amendment. He thought Fitzgerald was wrong when he said that the man who went to the I.W.W. meeting and did not take a part in it was a fraud. He (Phillips) went with the idea of seeing that the organisation had a sound political basis and a sound economic expression. He took up the same position with regard to the resolution as he took up towards the I.W.W. They were bound to fight existing Trade Unions and organise the workers on the economic field but he did not think the Bexley resolution good enough because it would allow the members of the economic organisation proposed, to ‘monkey’ on the political field. Upon the political as well as on the economic they should have sound organisations supporting one another, and they should not allow any members to in any way support Capitalism on either field. He did not think a case had been made out for the doctrine of ‘permeation.’ Therefore they had to organise the workers in an economic organisation to which they could point the members of the political party. He believed, however, that the rank and file of the S.L.P. and of the S.P.G.B. were honest and consistent Socialists and that neither organisation had departed from the principles of revolutionary Socialism. The only point was that the S.L.P. had endorsed an organisation which would allow its members to take any action they liked on the political field. He claimed that when members of the S.P.G.B. joined with members of the S.L.P. to form an economic organisation without a clear political expression they were not holding correctly to their principles. But while the S.P.G.B. allowed its members to belong to unsound economic organisations like Trade Unions the Party itself was unsound.

A. W. Pearson said during the week he had picked up a copy of the Weekly People in which De Leon points out that the S.L.P. in America should dominate the S.T. and L.A., or the economic organisation. The economic organisation should now, however, dominate the S.L.P., yet the I.W.W. will accept any brand of politics. He supposed a member of the working class would come to an I.W.W. meeting and ask what political party he should join. Then they would have the members of all the political parties shouting at once and claiming that their party was the only one. Leigh was speaking about members of the S.L.P. being quite willing to throw over their leaders. The S.D.F. and I.L.P. members were also saying they only needed unity conventions of the rank and file to effect unity. The S.L.P. only existed in Scotland because the S.P.G.B. was not there. It was already dead in London. If they were going to have a Trade Union let them have one affiliated to the Party. They did not want men in a Trade Union under false pretences—men who would accept a preamble said to be Socialism but who were class-unconscious. At the bottom of the I.W.W. business was merely the old anarchist principle.

E. J. B. Allen said he noticed Fitzgerald laid great stress on what the I.W.W. delegates had said at its convention. If they were going to take the speeches of any individual delegate they could make a great deal out of any convention. Trouble had been made because there had been an economic organisation established without affiliation to a political party and he maintained that the Socialist organisation could be formed without affiliation. The l.W.W. Propagation Society was formed to propagate what they believed to be correct. Let them look at the so called contradictory statement of the I.W.W. Preamble. The party that stated “until they come together on the political field” could not be an anarchist organisation. He had never said that it was not necessary to capture the political machinery. How were they going to take and hold the means of production ? He had always held that it was impossible until the political power of the capitalist class was smashed. When the political power of the capitalist class was smashed they would no longer have use for it. Last Wednesday five-and-twenty men decided to start a propagandist organisation. Did that look like seeking after big numbers ? When at the first conference of the S.P.G.B. he moved the resolution to establish a Socialist Union when sufficient members had joined he did not get a seconder. There were men who saw that a political party not the expression of a sound economic organisation could never make any progress. The workers had to be drilled with an understanding of their economic position, and the best way of getting them to recognise their class interest was to organise them on that field where they came every day in direct conflict with the capitalist class. The propertyless class interest of the worker could only be reflected in the politics of Socialism. Till the workers were united on the economic field as a whole they would have several types of so-called Socialist parties. The organisation of the present political State was a direct negation of the organisation which would prevail under Socialism. Therefore it was necessary to organise them on that basis. Men who may come into an industrial organisation, even if they were ignorant, could not but come to have a clear expression of their economic class interest. Educational work could be done effectively from an economic organisation. A political party not backed up by an economic organisation was trying to rush ahead faster than the rest of the working class. If they had these various political parties fighting one another and claiming to be Socialist they could do nothing until they had a sound economic organisation of the working class. The Socialist Republic had got to live on its economic foundation, and until they had a political party representing an economic organisation their efforts would be futile. While claiming that they should continue their political propaganda, they should have a sound industrial organisation. He claimed they had a Socialist union even if it was not affiliated to the S.P.G.B. Whilst the S.P.G.B. may be claimed to be the only sound organisation it was another thing to claim that there were no sound Socialists outside that organisaton. There were men in the S.D.F. to-day still trying to pull the S.D.F. straight. Had we the greater interest of the S.P.G.B. before us or the interest of the working class ? If there were S.D.F. members saying and advocating that the only sound principle was that of uncompromising hostility to the whole of the capitalist class at all times there was no reason why they should not work with them. He would say to these men, are you in favour of an economic organisation based on the class struggle and aiming at the overthrow of the capitalist system ? And there were such men. He was willing to unite on that basis with any man with honest principles, believing that men in a straight economic organisation could not but take straight political action. If they said the unions must take up the Socialist position what organisation must be offered to them instead of the present unions ?

Anderson asked whether Allen knew that the only parts on the Continent where the Socialist Party had been successful was where the political party had dominated the trade unions.

Allen said the political parties, as far as he knew, never ran a trade union.

Jackson in reply said Allen thought it was necessary that an economic organisation should be formed for taking and holding the means of production. An economic organisation alone could take and hold nothing. The question was one of class consciousness. He did not accuse anyone of dishonesty. The point was were they mistaken or were they not ? When the working class became class-conscious then such a modification of their economic organisation would take place that the necessary correct action on both fields would be taken. The logical conclusion of the principle of the I.W.W. was Anarchism, the General Strike, and street riots. Only when the mass of the workers had been organised in a political party of the workers could sound progress be possible.

The amendment was carried by 25 to 18 and became a substantive resolution.

Here A. J. M. Gray had to leave and W. Gifford was elected to the chair.

Anderson moved to amend by substituting the words “wage workers” for “trade unionists,” which was carried.

The substantive resolution as amended was then put and defeated by 20 to 13.

The discussion was adjourned.

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