Unity in the United States

Once again the Unity cry has been filling the organs of the S.P. of A. and the S.L.P. of A. The latter party through a decreasing membership and vote has given a more willing ear to unity than it once did. But the spectacle of that party negotiating on unity with the organisation they are ever bitterly denouncing is a most ridiculous one.

A vote was taken in the S.P. of A. as to whether they should appoint delegates to meet the Socialist Labour Party’s delegates in conference on terms of unity, and it resulted in favour by 20,000 to 5,000. The Conference sat in New York City on January 6 & 7, 1917. The delegates for the Socialist Party were Louis B. Boudin, Geo. H. Goebel, Chas. H. Maurer, James Oneal and Samuel Beardsley. The Socialist Labour Party delegates: Arthur E. Reimer, Rudolph Katz, Boris Reinstein, Caleb Harrison and Arnold Peterson.

After coming to an agreement on the question of aim and reform policies the question of the attitude towards economic organisation came forward.

The Socialist Labour Party insisted on the following statement being adopted to bind the unified body to Industrial Unionism:

       Recognition and declaration in favor of the fact that the emancipation of the working class from wage slavery cannot be achieved by political action only; and therefore the unqualified acceptance of the fact that it s absolutely indispensable for that purpose to have the working class organised in the economic arena on the lines of what is known in this country as pro-political or Socialist Industrial Unionism; and that consequently, it is the duty of the party of Socialism to teach the essential principles of Industrial Unionism in order to enable the membership to advocate these principles both inside of the existing craft unions—to the extent as it may still be possible—and outside of the same, and thus carry on that educational propaganda which will sooner or later crystallise in a world-wide army of industrially organised workers.
       Declaration to the effect that the proposed united Party condemns the principle of craft unionism which defeats the very objects that the workers, consciously or otherwise, strive to attain.
       Declaration to the effect that the Socialists, while reserving their right to criticise and expose all wrongfully constructed and conducted labor organisations, owe it as a duty to stand on the side of the workmen whenever a bona fide strike or other conflict for improved conditions of labor occurs, either as spontaneous action of the workers or as a result of action taken by any labor organisation whatever.

These resolutions, of course, are unsound. Industrial Unionism is not essential or even useful to working-class emancipation. To call it “Socialist” is misleading as it is not necessary to be a Socialist to join. Styling it pro-political is untrue, as the S.L.U. holds “that the economic arm is the more important, first, because it is indispensable to the revolutionary act and next because it is the frame of the government of the Co-operative Commonwealth.” (“Unity,” by DeLeon. Page 23.) The resolutions advocate boring from within—in the craft unions, a line of action which the S.L.P. never tire of condemning on paper. The Socialist Party delegates refused to accept the whole thing. They offered in its place the complete resolution on economic organisation adopted by the Stuttgart International Congress in 1907. This resolution reads as follows:

      To emancipate the proletariat completely from the bonds of intellectual, political and economic serfdom; the political and economic struggle are alike necessary. If the activity of the Socialist Party is exercised more particularly in the domain of the political struggle of the proletariat, that of the unions displays itself in the domain of the economic struggle of the workers. The Unions and the Party have therefore an equally important task to perform in the struggle for political emancipation. Each of the two organisations has its distinct domain, defined by its nature and within whose borders it should enjoy independent control of its line of action, but there is an ever-widening domain in the proletarian struggle of the classes in which they can reap advantages only by concerted action and by co-operation between the Party and the trade unions. As a consequence the proletarian struggle would be carried on more successfully and with more important results if the relations between the unions and the Party are strengthened without infringing the necessary unity of the trade unions.
      The Congress declares that it is to the interest of the working class in every country that close and permanent relations should be established between the unions and the Party.
       It is the duty of the Party and of the trade unions to render moral support the one to the other and to make use only of those means which may help forward the emancipation of the proletariat. When divergent opinions arise between the two organisations as to the effectiveness of certain tactics they should arrive by discussion at an agreement.
      The unions will not fully perform their duty in the struggle for the emancipation of the workers unless a thoroughly Socialist spirit inspires their policy. It is the duty of the Party to help the unions in their work of raising the workers and of ameliorating their social conditions. In its parliamentary action, the Party must vigorously support the demands of the unions.
       The Congress declares that the development of the capitalist system of production, the increased concentration of the means of production, the growing alliance of the employers, the increasing dependence of particular trades upon the totality of bourgeois society would reduce trade unions to impotency if, concerning themselves about nothing more than trade interests, they took their stand on corporate selfishness and admitted the theory of harmony of interests between labour and capital.
       The Congress is of opinion that the unions will be able to more successfully carry on their struggle against exploitation and oppression, in proportion as their organisations are more unified, as their benefit system is improved, as the funds necessary for their struggle are better supplied, as their members gain a clearer conception of economic relations and are inspired by the Socialist ideal with greater enthusiasm and devotion.

The S.L.P. delegation wished a clause added to this Stuttgart resolution as follows:

       In line with the above resolution and carrying out the spirit and applying the general principles expressed therein, the United Party declared that the proper application of it to American conditions calls for the Party’s pointing out the fallacies and shortcomings of the craft union form of organisation and the necessity for adopting the Socialist industrial onion form of economic organisation.

Around this resolution much discussion took place. The S.P. delegates claimed that the Stuttgart resolution did not mean industrial unionism. The S.L.P. delegates claimed that it was against craft unionism. “The thing to be done'” said Boris Reinstein (S.L.P. delegate), was to urge the workers to accept class unionism.” In spite of this, however, he and other delegates of his party advocated industrial unionism—not class unionism.

“History shows,’’Said Reinstein (S.L.P.), “that no ruled class ever overthrew a ruling class without first gaining economic power, a power which the working class could only develop through industrial unionism.”

Such a statement shows how little the Socialist Labour Party understand history. Economic power depends for its full and complete exercise upon the possession of political sovereignty. And how little the working class could develop economic power by means of industrial unionism is another of “the secrets of the underworld.”

A deadlock was reached on both the S.L.P. and Stuttgart resolutions, 4 votes being given in favour and 4 against.

When they discussed the form of the united organisation the federative plan offered by the S.L.P. and also organic unity of the S.P. of A. was rejected. When Boudin finally drew up a basis for common electoral action the S.L.P. delegates commenced “bargaining” by offering to accept it if the S.P. delegates would accept the S.L.P. resolution on economic action.

On the second day of the Conference the end came. The S.L.P. “bargaining” failed and the S.P. idea of swallowing up the S.L.P. also died. In the editorial of the “Weekly People” (Jan. 13,1917) from which issue all the resolutions quoted have been taken, the S.L.P. claim that rock upon which the Unity Conference went to pieces was industrial unionism. Thereby showing conclusively that the thing which keeps the two parties apart is nothing to do with Socialist policy or Socialist aims—Industrial Unionism being a side issue of no value to working-class emancipation.

The attitude taken by our Party years ago still bolds good—that only by having a Socialist membership, and therefore a Socialist policy, can a real Socialist Party be secured. Neither the S.P. or S.L.P. of America fill the requirements.

Adolph Kohn

Leave a Reply