1900s >> 1908 >> no-45-may-1908

American Parties and the Unity Question

For the information of readers whose knowledge of the “Socialist movement” is limited, a few explanations may be helpful before dealing with the subject under discussion.

 

The Weekly People is the organ of the Socialist Labour Party of America—an organisation claiming to be “a bona fide strictly revolutionary party of Socialism.” Until its unfortunate “endorsement” of the “Industrial Workers of the World,” such a claim could be well sustained.

 

The latter organisation (I.W.W.) declares as its object “the propagation of the principles of Industrial Unionism with a view to the establishment of an organisation based on the ‘class struggle’ and aiming at the overthrow of the Capitalist system and the establishment of a Socialist Republic.”

 

The “Socialist Party” of America is a curiously motley conglomeration of “Socialists” of all shades and hues. Like the Social Democratic Party and the Independent Labour Party of Great Britain, it is dominated by “leaders,” whose main concern is to gain seats—anyhow, on any kind of vote—in the Parliamentary body which they affect to believe will be induced eventually to “legislate” away the privileges of the class which maintain army, navy, and police to conserve such privileges; the S.L.P. of America had hitherto consistently opposed the S.P. of America in that vigourously picturesque style which their British comrades (the S.L.P.) seek vainly to imitate.

 

But the S.L.P. of America has recently clamoured for “Unity.” Its National Executive Committee resolved, among other things, “That if conference succeeds in agreeing on conditions for uniting the two parties, steps be immediately taken that one joint National Convention be held to adopt a platform, constitution and resolutions, to nominate candidates, etc.”

 

The S.P. of America has unceremoniously— through their Executive, without consulting the rank and file on such a momentous issue, quite in the style of the secret junta which “guides” the S.D.P. of England, rejected the overtures.

 

The Weekly People of March 28th contains an article entitled “Unity” from the pen of its editor, the veteran fighter, De Leon.

 

It is significant of much that the editor of the ofiicial organ of a party which—rightly enough —urges the necessity of “discipline” should in that organ, through seven good fat columns, assert that his contribution is “independent.” “I speak from this independent platform as one of the many people active in the Socialist movement. I do not here represent the S.L.P.”

 

It is unnecessary to do more than quote from the report of a meeting held “under the auspices of the S.L.P.” on the 11th March in New York, to show the utter confusion that reigns since the birth of the S.L.P’s unfortunate offspring— the parentage of which it now vainly endeavours to repudiate. The lecturer stated “De Leon showed an absolute lack of knowledge of Industrial Unionism.” De Leon—unwittingly endorsing our declaration in the Manifesto with regard to “Industrial Unionism,”—charged the lecturer with using the language of “veiled dynamitism,” that is, of enunciating the principles of Anarchy.

 

Now what bearing have these things on the “Unity” question? They constitute the very germ and essence of the question as it affects the S.L.P. De Leon bases his argument for “unity” on the ground, mainly, that the Stutgart International Congress has “thrown a bridge across the chasm” which separated the warring American factions (the trophe, an you please, is De Leon’s). The declaration was “seriously defective,” nevertheless, in a new-found fervour of loyalty to a Congress which includes “Socialistic” freaks of all descriptions—including the “Rudimentary Zionist-Socialists,” he sees the hope of uniting for common action, “Militant Socialism to-day sees in Unionism a fact of greater moment to the Revolution than the conquest of a few seats in the political parliaments.” “Therefore, walk into my I.W.W. parlour (it isn’t really my parlour, you know) and we can compose all our little differences. “Nay, my pretty little flies, I will e’en merge my personality into your political reflex, which you shall project when in the web.” The succulent lamb is merged into the commanding personality of the lion, but subsequent investigation fails to discover traces of lamb.

 

The plea put forward in the article on “Unity” that before the day of revolution, simultaneously with the action of straight, revolutionary bodies, “just so necessary may be the looser methods” of parties — which the S.L.P. is still prepared to “clear the decks” for — the suggestion that it may be found to be but “a matter of the practical distribution of functions” marks perhaps the lowest point to which the S.L.P. has fallen through its dallying with Anarchy, and its impatience to gain adherents to “Socialism” by the offering of palliatives in the shape of bettered conditions for the worker. “See if you do not believe that the life of the lumber worker may be improved, shorter hours established, etc.” (Weekly People, 21/3/08.) “If a union could step into the field that could weld the whole of the workers of the building industry into a solid mass it would soon attract members, and by winning strikes, organise far more men than are organised to-day.” (Industrial Unionist, March ’08.)

 

The fundamental error underlying Industrial Unionism as understood by its advocates has been well exposed by Comrade Fitzgerald (Socialist Standard, Oct. ’06), who, debating the question of Industrial Unionism with a representative of the British S.L.P. said, “The mere adoption of a Socialist preamble does not constitute a union a Socialist union.” The declaration on paper of a Revolutionary object, it should hardly be necessary to remind the S.L.P., is no guarantee of its aiming at genuine performance. Fitzgerald clinched that matter once and for all by quoting the words of a delegate to the first Convention of the I.W.W. at Chicago. “We are here as working men, and as such we do not recognise the Socialist or any other ‘ist.”

 

Further, it will usually be found that a “common purpose ” is almost certain to be followed by common action. The “Fabian” and “Clarion” school of “Socialist” for instance is sometimes thoughtlessly credited with the “purpose” of establishing a Socialist Republic. An acquaintance with “A Modern Utopia” “The Sorcery Shop” and other Utopian twaddle of that description will reveal the gulf that separates the “purpose” of Utopists from that of genuine Socialists.

 

Unity is only possible on the lines laid down by the S.P.G.B. in the January number of the Socialist Standard, 1906, in a communication addressed to the International Socialist Bureau. “That admission to future International Socialist Congresses shall be open only to all avowed Socialist bodies that accept the essential principles of Socialism, i.e., Socialisation of the means of production and distribution, union and international action of workers, Socialist conquest of the public powers by the proletariat organised as a class party recognising and proclaiming the class war. adopting an attitude of hostility under all circumstances to all sections of the capitalist party.”

 

No one recognises the signal services that De Leon has rendered to the proletariat more than the S.P.G.B., no one so ready to recognise the sterling worth of the rank and file of both English and American S.L.P. The more urgent becomes our duty to seek the destruction of organisations which will inevitably commit their members to a sojourn in the dreary wilderness of Reform, or land them in the slimy bog of Anarchy.

 

A. Reginald