1930s >> 1930 >> no-315-november-1930

Marx, Lenin and Industrial Unionism


Armley, Leeds.

Dear Comrades,

In your review of Clausen's book in June S.S. you scale that Clausen does not show how the economic organisation can "take and hold" ; nor did De Leon. How did De Leon come to epitomize that statement which you point out Marx never made about the economic organisation, as being '' typically Marxian"? (p. 37 "Industrial Unionism”).

In ''The Revolutionary Act" Engels says (p. 20), "History has proved us wrong," and advocated political supremacy rather than armed insurrection. '

He also says, "The irony of history turns everything upside down."

This implies change of opinion, and if Engels could change from advocating barricade tactics to that of the ballot, might he not change his opinion again if alive to-day, and give same countenance to Industrial organisation?

Did De Leon "forge" the "link" between Marx and Engels and present Industrial development ?

The backwardness of Russian Industrial development precluded Lenin from applying Industrial Unionism, which, it is reported he said was "the Basic thing," and that "De Leon first formulated the idea of a Soviet Government which grew from his idea."

Will you please give your opinion as to why Lenin thought Industrial Unionism was the "Basic thing"?

Yours fraternally,




The above letter illustrates how easily critics dodge the question at issue. Neither our critic nor De Leon, nor anybody else, has been able to show that Marx held that the workers could only win possession by economic action. We have once again to remind critics that Marx's essential point was that the workers must first of all win political supremacy. Both Marx and Engels waged continuous war against Bakunin, who advocated economic action as the only way.


Daniel De Leon, however, held quite a number of conflicting ideas as to the nature of the Marxian method. De Leon's and the S.L.P. 's first economic child—the Socialist Trade and Labour Alliance—laid it down in their Declaration of Principles that "the economic power of the capitalist class, used by that class for the oppression of labour, rests upon institutions essentially political."

Explaining the policy of that body, De Leon in What Means this Strike

declared : —

“Shop organisation alone, unbacked by that political force that threatens the capitalist class with extinction, the working-class being the overwhelming majority, leaves the workers wholly unprotected.”

In his " Two Pages from Roman History," De Leon said: —

“Obviously, independent class conscious action is the head of Labour's lance. Useful as any other weapon may be, that weapon is the determining factor.

Entrenched in the public powers, the capitalist class command the field. None but the political weapon can dislodge the usurpers and enthrone the working-class : that is to say, emancipate the workers and rear the Socialist Republic.” (Italics ours.)

When, however, De Leon and Co.'s next economic child was born he discovered another alleged "typically Marxian" position which is completely opposed to the statements just quoted. The Industrial Workers of the World, formed in 1905, had a platform which stated that the taking and holding of the means of life must be done by an economic organisation without affiliation to any political party.

De Leon, in his address "The Preamble of the I.W.W.," said:—

“It does not lie in a political organisation, that is. a party, " to take and hold " the machinery of production ; “

And he tells us in the same work : —

“In the act, however, of taking and holding the nation's plants of production the political organisation of the working-class can give no help.”

The anti-political views of De Leon were made clear at the first convention of the I.W.W. in his speech : —

“The situation in America . . . establishes the fact that ‘the taking and holding’ of the things that labour needs to be free can never depend upon a political party. If anything is clear in the American situation it is this : That if any individual is elected to office upon a revolutionary ballot, that individual is a suspicious character. Whoever is returned elected upon a programme of labour emancipation ; whoever is allowed to be filtered through the political inspectors of the capitalist class : that man is a carefully selected tool, a traitor to the working people, selected by the capitalist class. (Report, p. 226.)

A favourite phrase of De Leon's was that the day of political victory was the day of defeat unless the workers had the economic might to enforce their political victory.


Our critic asks if De Leon forged a link between Marx and Engels and present industrial development.

If, as our critic claims, De Leon's position was "typically Marxian," why forge a link to put it right? Modern industrial development has shown the overwhelming-importance of political power and the weakness of the workers on the economic field. Riddles such as what opinions Engels would hold if he were alive to-day may provide amusement but it is for our critic and those agreeing with him to show that the views of Engels in 1895 (See " Class Struggles in France ") are out-of-date to-day.


The S.L.P. position led logically to Anarchism, for if politics was a shadow and a reflex only, as they claimed, and if the real power lay on the industrial field, why bother with shadows, and why not go in for the substance of economic action? And that is what happened. The Industrial Workers of the World took De Leon at his word and concentrated on industrial organisation.

Then De Leon and the S.L.P. gave birth to a third economic child (in 1908) made up of the minority of the I.W.W., which was called the Workers' International Industrial Union, but after a flicker of life it went the same way. Like all industrial organisations it was compelled to enrol workers of all political opinions, and so the members who were united industrially were fighting each other politically.

After its organisers, etc., had supported the freak parties called Socialist, the Industrial Union refused to endorse its parent— the S.L.P., and so the third economic child was buried quietly by the S.L.P.


Our correspondent asks why did Lenin say that Industrial Unionism is the basic thing?

The only information on the point is the reference by two journalists to Lenin's remark to them about De Leon after he had seen some of De Leon's writings in 1919, Did Lenin make use of or actually support Industrial Unionism? There is not a scrap of evidence to prove that. The Socialist Labour Party pointed out that the workers of Russia were not organised in industrial unions and their National Secretary, Arnold Peterson, after pointing that out, concluded in the following words : '' So long as the Bolsheviki were in opposition it was doing excellent agitational work. Now that it is in power it faces failure. The day of its victory was the day of its defeat." (Weekly People, Nov. 24th, 1917.)

The "basic thing" that Lenin referred to was the organization by industry instead of by territory. Nowhere did Lenin support the chief idea of the Industrial Unionists that they could take and hold by economic means alone, and nowhere did he embody it in Third International policy.

On the contrary, in his "Open letter to the I.W.W.," Lenin attacks their Anarchist idea of relying upon economic action.

In actual practice Russia's government was not an industrial government chosen from the industries but simply an ordinary party government—that of the Communist Party.

Lenin and the Third International advocated many policies from open violence and insurrection to support of a Labour government. From minority action to going with the "Labour" masses. Certainly industrial unionism was not one of them. Lenin found that Russian workers organised in trades and economic bodies were using their organisation in hostility to the wider interests of society as a whole (see "Soviets at Work" and Phillips Price "Capitalist Europe v. Soviet Russia"), and he had to curb their narrow industrial actions.

Soviets or councils were old in the history of Russia and did not need De Leon or Lenin to invent them.

Lenin had to teach the same lesson that Marx taught, that the control of the State power was the essential thing. So neither Marx nor Lenin nor Engels assists our critic in his support of industrial unionism.

Why do our critics not attempt to show how unionism of any kind is the might that can take and hold the means of life?

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