The collapse of “direct action”

Industrial Unionism” is merely a pleasant name for Anarchism and  “Direct Action.” It is one of those almost inevitable elements of confusion and disorganisation which beset the working class in its advance. Every dog has its day, and every freak idea its boom, as though the workers were prepared to traverse every avenue of error before keeping steadily to the right road. The freak idea that the workers can, without the conquest of political power and by means of an industrial organisation alone, “take and hold” the means of life from the capitalists, is one that has just enjoyed its brief boom; but its hollowness has been quickly seen, and its followers have in consequence been rapidly dropping away.

The Industrial Unionists of this country being entirely unable to think out for themselves the adaptation of means to end that would be suitable to the situation here, have hitherto blindly followed in the unsteady footsteps of that peculiarly American organisation, the Industrial Workers of the World, and have added to the gaiety of life by their ludicrous attempt at copying that organisation, from its structure even down to its slang. As things are going however, the British Industrialists seem likely to be hard put to it for something to imitate; and what will their “Union” do then, poor thing?

The Industrial Workers of the World, of Chicago and elsewhere goes from bad to worse. It still continues to propagate – by fission, for while the total number of members in all the I.W.W.s grows less and less, the number of distinct and warring I.W.W.s multiplies apace. This suggests the not impossible outcome that in the near future the few remaining adherents of that idea will be each a separate I.W.W. unto himself.
The General Confederation of Labour of France has also until now been a source of joy and inspiration to the Industrialists because of the theatrical policy of the Anarchist section which has hitherto controlled it. The English Industrialists, indeed, are fond of speaking of the Conféderation Générale du Travail as though it were a homogeneous body, when, in reality, it is, as its name implies, a heterogeneous agglomeration of unions and federations, each with its own rules, scales of subscription, and the like and comprising almost all shades of political opinion. But with that fine contempt for democracy which characterises the Anarchists, they have, until recently, bossed the French labour organisation, notwithstanding that they are a minority of the membership. The “blessed word” of the Anarchists is “liberty,” but not the liberty of the greatest number, for that would be democracy, and therefore accursed. Thus in the General Confederation of Labour the voting for the administrators is by group, and not per member, and since the Anarchists are divided into many small groups, and the Socialists united into fewer large ones, the Anarchist minority has been able to govern the majority.

But now there are tears and curses in the Anarchist camp. Their candidates have been beaten, and by a majority which, though it appears small, represents in reality two-thirds of the membership. Niel, an opponent of the Anarchistic “Direct Action,” has been elected secretary of the Confederation. The Guesdist organ, Le Socialisme, is naturally jubilant about it, and says:

“The Anarchist-Syndicalists, beaten twice by the election of Niel and of Thil, are again furious. The Confederal organisation was theirs. They thought it would endure so for ever, but they did not notice that their brutal authoritarianism had ended by disgusting even their friends. They believed that their electoral system would ensure their preponderance for ever, but they have been compelled to admit that even such a fantastic system may turn against them. And their chagrin equals their fury. The coarse abuse which their organ, the Revolution, pours out upon the ‘blacklegs’ and ‘traitors’ who have elected Niel will complete their discredit in trade union circles”.
It will be seen that with the decline of the “Direct Action” movement in France and America, the British Industrialists are in a sad plight. They are likely to be left entirely to their own mental resources, and the worst is to be feared for them. It is, indeed, inevitable that the neo-Anarchist movement should, in every country in which it appears, soon begin to fall to pieces of its own unsoundness and futility; while it is equally inevitable that the sound Socialist movement should, in every country on the globe, advance steadily and surely, even if slowly, step by step nearer to its triumph.

(Socialist Standard, April 1909)

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