From ABC of Anarchism
ORGANIZATION OF LABOR FOR THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION
Proper preparation, as suggested in the preceding pages, will greatly lighten the task of the social revolution and assure its healthy development and functioning.
Now, what will be the main functions of the revolution?
Every country has its specific conditions, its own psychology, habits, and traditions, and the process of revolution will naturally reflect the peculiarities of every land and its people. But fundamentally all countries are alike in their social (rather anti-social) character: whatever the political forms or economic conditions, they are all built on invasive authority, on monopoly, on the exploitation of labor. The main task of the social revolution is therefore essentially the same everywhere: the abolition of government and of economic inequality, and the socialization of the means of production and distribution.
Production, distribution, and communication are the basic sources of existence; upon them rests the power of coercive authority and capital. Deprived of that power, governors and rulers become just ordinary men, like you and me, common citizens among millions of others. To accomplish that is consequently the primal and most vital function of the social revolution.
We know that revolution begins with street disturbances and outbreaks: it is the initial phase which involves force and violence. But that is merely the spectacular prologue of the real revolution. The age long misery and indignity suffered by the masses burst into disorder and tumult, the humiliation and injustice meekly borne for decades find vent in acts of fury and destruction. That is inevitable, and it is solely the master class which is responsible for this preliminary character of revolution. For it is even more true socially than individually that "whoever sows the wind will reap the whirlwind": the greater the oppression and wretchedness to which the masses had been made to submit, the fiercer will rage the social storm. All history proves it, but the lords of life have never harkened to its warning voice.
This phase of the revolution is of short duration. It is usually followed by the more conscious, yet still spontaneous, destruction of the citadels of authority, the visible symbols of organized violence and brutality: jails, police stations, and other government buildings are attacked, the prisoners liberated, legal documents destroyed. It is the manifestation of instinctive popular justice. Thus one of the first gestures of the French Revolution was the demolition of the Bastille. Similarly in Russia prisons were stormed and the prisoners released at the very outset of the Revolution.1 The wholesome intuition of the people justly sees in prisoners social unfortunates, victims of conditions, and sympathizes with them as such. The masses regard the courts and their records as instruments of class injustice, and these are destroyed at the beginning of the revolution, and quite properly so.
But this stage passes quickly: the people's ire is soon spent. Simultaneously the revolution begins its constructive work.
"Do you really think that reconstruction could start so soon?" you ask.
My friend, it must begin immediately. In fact, the more enlightened the masses have become, the clearer the workers realize their aims, and the better they are prepared to carry them out, the less destructive the revolution will be, and the quicker and more effectively will begin the work of reconstruction.
"Are you not too hopeful?"
No, I don't think so. I am convinced that the social revolution will not "just happen." It will have to be prepared, organized. Yes, indeed, organized-just as a strike is organized. In truth, it will be a strike, the strike of the united workers of an entire country -- a general strike.
Let us pause and consider this.
How do you imagine a revolution could be fought in these days of armored tanks, poison gas, and military planes? Do you believe that the unarmed masses and their barricades could withstand high-power artillery and bombs thrown upon them from flying machines? Could labor fight the military forces of government and capital?
It's ridiculous on the face of it, isn't it? And no less ridiculous is the suggestion that the workers should form their own regiments, "shock troops," or a "red front," as the Communist parties advise you to do. Will such proletarian bodies ever be able to stand up against the trained armies of the government and the private troops of capital? Will they have the least chance?
Such a proposition needs only to be stated to be seen in all its impossible folly. It would simply mean sending thousands of workers to certain death.
It is time to have done with this obsolete idea of revolution. Nowadays government and capital are too well organized in a military way for the workers ever to be able to cope with them. It would be criminal to attempt it, insanity even to think of it.
The strength of labor is not on the field of battle. It is in the shop, in the mine and factory. There lies its power that no army in the world can defeat, no human agency conquer.
In other words, the social revolution can take place only by means of the General Strike. The General Strike, rightly understood and thoroughly carried out, is the social revolution. Of this the British Government became aware much quicker than the workers when the General Strike was declared in England in May, 1926. "It means revolution," the Government said, in effect, to the strike leaders. With all their armies and navies the authorities were powerless in the face of the situation. You can shoot people to death but you can't shoot them to work. The labor leaders themselves were frightened at the thought that the General Strike actually implied revolution.
British capital and government won the strike-not by the strength of arms, but because of the lack of intelligence and courage on the part of the labor leaders and because the English workers were not prepared for the consequences of the General Strike. As a matter of fact, the idea was quite new to them. They had never before been interested in it, never studied its significance and potentialities. It is safe to say that a similar situation in France would have developed quite differently, because in that country the toilers have for years been familiar with the General Strike as a revolutionary proletarian weapon.
It is most important that we realize that the General Strike is the only possibility of social revolution. In the past the General Strike has been propagated in various countries without sufficient emphasis that its real meaning is revolution, that it is the only practical way to it. It is time for us to learn this, and when we do so the social revolution will cease to be a vague, unknown quantity. It will become an actuality, a definite method and aim, a program whose first step is the taking over of the industries by organized labor.
I understand now why you said that the social revolution means construction rather than destruction," your friend remarks.
I am glad you do. And if you have followed me so far, you will agree that the matter of taking over the industries is not something that can be left to chance, nor can it be carried out in a haphazard manner. It can be accomplished only in a well-planned, systematic, and organized way. You alone can't do it, nor I, nor any other man, be he worker Ford, or the Pope of Rome. There is no man nor any body of men that can manage it except the workers themselves, for it takes the workers to operate the industries. But even the workers can't do it unless they are organized and organized just for such an undertaking.
"But I thought you were an Anarchist," interrupts your friend.
"I've heard that Anarchists don't believe in organization."
I imagine you have, but that's an old argument. Any one who tells you that Anarchists don't believe in organization is talking nonsense. Organization is everything, and everything is organization. The whole of life is organization, conscious or unconscious. Every nation, every family, why, even every individual is an organization or organism. Every part of every living thing is organized in such a manner that the whole works in harmony. Otherwise the different organs could not function properly and life could not exist.
But there is organization and organization. Capitalist society is so badly organized that its various members suffer: just as when you have pain in some part of you, your whole body aches and you are ill.
There is organization that is painful because it is ill, and organization that is joyous because it means health and strength. An organization is ill or evil when it neglects or suppresses any of its organs or members. In the healthy organism all parts are equally valuable and none is discriminated against. The organization built on compulsion, which coerces and forces, is bad and unhealthy. The libertarian organization, formed voluntarily and in which every member is free and equal, is a sound body and can work well. Such an organization is a free union of equal parts. It is the kind of organization the Anarchists believe in.
Such must be the organization of the workers if labor is to have a healthy body, one that can operate effectively.
It means, first of all, that not a single member of the organization or union may with impunity be discriminated against, suppressed or ignored. To do so would be the same as to ignore an aching tooth: you would be sick all over.
In other words, the labor union must be built on the principle of the equal liberty of all its members.
Only when each is a free and independent unit, cooperating with the others from his own choice because of mutual interests, can the whole work successfully and become powerful.
This equality means that it makes no difference what or who the particular worker is: whether he is skilled or unskilled, whether he is mason, carpenter, engineer or day laborer, whether he earn much or little. The interests of all are the same; all belong together, and only by standing together can they accomplish their purpose.
It means that the workers in the factory, mill, or mine must be organized as one body; for it is not a question of what particular jobs they hold, what craft or trade they follow, but what their interests are. And their interests are identical, as against the employer and the system of exploitation.
Consider yourself how foolish and inefficient is the present form of labor organization in which one trade or craft may be on strike while the other branches of the same industry continue at work. Is it not ridiculous that when the street car workers of New York, for instance, quit work, the employees of the subway, the cab and omnibus drivers remain on the job? The main purpose of a strike is to bring about a situation that will compel the employer to give in to the demands of labor. Such a situation can be created only by a complete tie-up of the industry in question, so that a partial strike is merely a waste of labor's time and energy, not to speak of the harmful moral effect of the inevitable defeat.
Think over the strikes in which you yourself have taken part and of others you know of. Did your union ever win a fight unless it was able to compel the employer to give in? But when was it able to do so? Only when the boss knew that the workers meant business, that there was no dissent among them, that there was no hesitation and dallying, that they were determined to win, at whatever cost. But particularly when the employer felt himself at the mercy of the union, when he could not operate his factory or mine in the face of the workers' resolute stand, when he could not get scabs or strikebreakers, and when he saw that his interests would suffer more by defying his employees than by granting their demands.
It is clear, then, that you can compel compliance only when you are determined, when your union is strong, when you are well organized, when you are united in such a manner that the boss cannot run his factory against your will. But the employer is usually some big manufacturer or a company that has mills or mines in various places. Suppose it is a coal combine. If it cannot operate its mines in Pennsylvania because of a strike, it will try to make good its losses by continuing mining in Virginia or Colorado and increasing production there. Now, if the miners in those States keep on working while you in Pennsylvania are on strike, the company loses nothing. It may even welcome the strike in order to raise the price of coal on the ground that the supply is short because of your strike. In that way the company not only breaks your strike, but it also influences public opinion against you, because the people foolishly believe that the higher price of coal is really the result of your strike while in fact it is due to the greed of the mine owners. You will lose your strike, and for some time to come you and the workers everywhere will have to pay more for coal, and not only for coal but for all the other necessities of life, because together with the price of coal the general cost of living will go up.
Reflect, then, how stupid is the present union policy to permit the other mines to operate while your mine is on strike. The others remain at work and give financial support to your strike, but don't you see that their aid only helps to break your strike, because they have to keep on working, really scabbing on you, in order to contribute to your strike fund? Can anything be more senseless and criminal?
This holds true of every industry and every strike. Can you wonder that most strikes are lost? That is the case in America as well as in other countries. I have before me the Blue Book just published in England under the title of Labor Statistics. The data prove that strikes do not lead to labor victories. The figures for the last eight years are as follows:
Results in Favor of:
Working People Employers
1920 390 507
1921 152 315
1922 111 222
1923 187 183
1924 162 235
1925 154 189
1926 67 126
1927 61 118
Actually, then, almost 60% of the strikes were lost. Incidentally, consider also the loss of working days resulting from strikes, which means no wages. The total number of workdays lost by English labor in 1912 was 40,890,000, which is almost equal to the lives of 2,000 men, allotting to each 60 years. In 1919 the number of workdays lost was 34,969,000; in 1920, 26,568,000; in 1921, 85,872,000; in 1926, as a result of the general strike, 162,233,000 days. These figures do not include time and wages lost through unemployment.
It doesn't take much arithmetic to see that strikes as at present conducted don't pay, that the labor unions are not the winners in industrial disputes.
This does not mean, however, that strikes serve no purpose. On the contrary, they are of great value: they teach the worker the vital need of coöperation, of standing shoulder to shoulder with his fellows and unitedly fighting in the common cause. Strikes train him in the class struggle and develop his spirit of joint effort, of resistance to the masters, of solidarity ant responsibility. In this sense even an unsuccessful strike is not a complete loss. Through it the toilers learn that "an injury to one is the concern of all," the practical wisdom that embodies the deepest meaning of the proletarian struggle. This does not relate only to the daily battle for material betterment, but equally so to everything pertaining to the worker and his existence, and particularly to matters where justice and liberty are involved.
It is one of the most inspiring things to see the masses roused in behalf of social justice, whomever the case at issue may concern. For, indeed, it is the concern of all of us, in the truest and deepest sense. The more labor becomes enlightened and aware of its larger interests, the broader and more universal grow its sympathies, the more world-wide its defense of justice and liberty. It was a manifestation of this understanding when the workers in every country protested against the judicial murder of Sacco and Vanzetti in Massachusetts. Instinctively and consciously the masses throughout the world felt, as did all decent men and women, that it is their concern when such a crime is being perpetrated. Unfortunately that protest, as many similar ones, contented itself with mere resolutions. Had organized labor resorted to action, such as a general strike, its demands would not have been ignored, and two of the workers' best friends and noblest of men would not have been sacrificed to the forces of reaction.
Equally important, it would have served as a valuable demonstration of the tremendous power of the proletariat, the power that always conquers when it is unified and resolute. This has been proven on numerous occasions in the past when the determined stand of labor prevented planned legal outrages, as in the case of Haywood, Moyer, and Pettibone, officials of the Western Federation of Miners, whom the coal barons of the State of Idaho had conspired to send to the gallows during the miners' strike of 1905. Again, in 1917, it was the solidarity of the toilers which thwarted the execution of Tom Mooney, in California. The sympathetic attitude of organized labor in America toward Mexico has also till now been an obstacle to the military occupation of that country by the United States Government in behalf of the American oil interests. Similarly in Europe united action by the workers has been successful in repeatedly forcing the authorities to grant amnesty to political prisoners. The Government of England so feared the expressed sympathy of British labor for the Russian Revolution that it was compelled to pretend neutrality. It did not dare openly to aid the counterrevolution in Russia. When the dock workers refused to load food and ammunition intended for the White armies, the English Government resorted to deception. It solemnly assured the workers that the shipments were intended for France. In the course of my work collecting historic material in Russia, in 1920 and 1921, I came into possession of official British documents proving that the shipments had been immediately forwarded from France, by direct orders of the British Government, to the counter-revolutionary generals in the North of Russia who had established there the so-called Tchaikovsky-Miller Government. This incident -- one out of many -- demonstrates the wholesome fear the powers that be have of the awakening class-consciousness and solidarity of the international proletariat.
The stronger the workers grow in this spirit the more effective will be their struggle for emancipation. Class consciousness and solidarity must assume national and international proportions before labor can attain its full strength. Wherever there is injustice, wherever persecution and suppression-be it the subjugation of the Philippines, the invasion of Nicaragua, the enslavement of the toilers in the Congo by Belgian exploiters, the oppression of the masses in Egypt, China, Morocco, or India-it is the business of the workers everywhere to raise their voice against all such outrages and demonstrate their solidarity in the common cause of the despoiled and disinherited throughout the world.
Labor is slowly advancing to this social consciousness: strikes and other sympathetic expressions are a valuable manifestation of this spirit. If the greater number of strikes are lost at present, it is because the proletariat is not yet fully aware of its national and international interests, is not organized on the right principles, and does not sufficiently realize the need of world-wide coöperation.
Your daily struggles for better conditions would quickly assume a different character if you were organized in such a manner that when your factory or mine goes on strike, the whole industry should quit work; not gradually but at once, all at the same time. Then the employer would be at your mercy, for what could he do when not a wheel turns in the whole industry? He can get enough strikebreakers for one or a few mills, but an entire industry cannot be supplied with them, nor would he consider it safe or advisable. Moreover, suspension of work in any one industry would immediately affect a large number of others, because modern industry is interwoven. The situation would become the direct concern of the whole country, the public would be aroused and demand a settlement. (At present, when your single factory strikes, no one cares and you may starve as long as you remain quiet.) That settlement would again depend on yourself, on the strength of your organization. When the bosses would see that you know your power and that you are determined, they'd give in quickly enough or seek a compromise. They would be losing millions every day, the strikers might even sabotage the works and machinery, and the employers would be only too anxious to "settle," while in a strike of one factory or district they usually welcome the situation, knowing as they do that the chances are all against you.
Reflect therefore how important it is in what manner, on what principles your union is built, and how vital labor solitarily and cooperation are in your every-day struggle for better conditions. In unity is your strength, but that unity is non-existent and impossible as long as you are organized on craft lines instead of by industries.
There is nothing more important and urgent than that you and your fellow workers see to it immediately that you change the form of your organization.
But it is not only the form that must be changed. Your union must become clear about its aims and purposes. The worker should most earnestly consider what he really wants, how he means to achieve it, by what methods. He must learn what his union should be, how it should function, and what it should try to accomplish.
Now, what is the union to accomplish? What should be the arms of a real labor union?
First of all, the purpose of the union is to serve the interests of its members. That is its primary duty. There is no quarrel about that; every workingman understands it. If some refuse to join a labor body it is because they are too ignorant to appreciate its great value, in which case they must be enlightened. But generally they decline to belong to the union because they have no faith or are disappointed in it. Most of those who remain away from the union do so because they hear much boasting about the strength of organized labor while they know, often from bitter experience, that it is defeated in almost every important struggle. "Oh, the union," they say scornfully, "it don't amount to anything." To speak quite truthfully, to a certain extent they are right. They see organized capital proclaim the open shop policy and defeat the unions; they see labor leaders sell out strikes and betray the workers; they see the membership, the rank and file, helpless in the political machinations in and out of the union. To be sure, they don't understand why it is so; but they do see the facts, and they turn against the union.
Some again refuse to have anything to do with the union I because they had at one time belonged to it, and they know what an insignificant role the individual member, the average worker, plays in the affairs of the organization. The local leaders, the district and central bodies, the national and international officers, and the chiefs of the American Federation of Labor, in the United States, "run the whole show," they will tell you; "you have nothing to do but vote, and if you object you'll fly out."
Unfortunately they are right. You know how the union is managed. The rank and file have little to say. They have delegated the whole power to the leaders, and these have become the bosses, just as in the larger life of society the people are made to submit to the orders of those who were originally meant to serve them-the government and its agents. Once you do that, the power you have delegated will be used against you and your own interests every time. And then you complain that your leaders "misuse their power." No, my friend, they don't misuse it; they only use it, for it is the use of power which is itself the worst misuse.
All this has to be changed if you really want to achieve results. In society it has to be changed by taking political power away from your governors, abolishing it altogether. I have shown that political power means authority, oppression, and tyranny, and that it is not political government that we need but rational management of our collective affairs.
Just so m your union you need sensible administration of your business. We know what tremendous power labor has as the creator of all wealth and the supporter of the world. If properly organized and united, the workers could control the situation, be the masters of it. But the strength of the worker is not in the union meeting-hall; it is in the shop and factory, in the mill and mine. It is there that he must organize; there, on the job. There he knows what he wants, what his needs are, and it is there that he must concentrate his efforts and his will. Every shop and factory should have its special committee to attend to the wants and requirements of the men, not leaders, but members of the rank and file, from the bench and furnace, to look after the demands and complaints of their fellow employees. Such a committee, being on the spot and constantly under the direction and supervision of the workers, wields no power: it merely carries out instructions. Its members are recalled at will and others selected in their place, according to the need of the moment and the ability required for the task in hand. It is the workers who decide the matters at issue and carry their decisions out through the shop committees.
That is the character and form of organization that labor needs. Only this form can express its real purpose and will, be its adequate spokesman, and serve its true interests.
These shop and factory committees, combined with similar bodies in other mills and mines, associated locally, regionally, and nationally, would constitute a new type of labor organization which would be the virile voice of toil and its effective agency. It would have the whole weight and energy of the united workers back of it and would represent a power tremendous in its scope and potentialities.
In the daily struggle of the proletariat such an organization would be able to achieve victories about which the conservative union, as at present built, cannot even dream. It would enjoy the respect and confidence of the masses, would attract the unorganized and unite the labor forces on the basis of the equality of all workers and their joint interests and aims. It would face the masters with the whole might of the working class back of it, in a new attitude of consciousness and strength. Only then would labor acquire unity and the expression of it assume real significance.
Such a union would soon become something more than a mere defender and protector of the worker. It would gain a vital realization of the meaning of unity and consequent power, of labor solidarity. The factory and shop would serve as a training camp to develop the worker's understanding of his proper role in life, to cultivate his self-reliance and independence, teach him mutual help and coöperation, and make him conscious of his responsibility. He will learn to decide and act on his own judgment, not leaving it to leaders or politicians to attend to his affairs and look out for his welfare. It will be he who will determine, together with his fellows at the bench, what they want and what methods will best serve their aims, and his committee on the spot would merely carry out instructions. The shop and factory would become the worker's school and college. There he will learn his place in society, his function in industry, and his purpose in life. He will mature as a workingman and as a man, and the giant of labor will attain his full stature. He will know and be strong thereby.
Not long will he then be satisfied to remain a wage slave, an employee and dependent on the good will of his master whom his toil supports. He will grow to understand that present economic and social arrangements are wrong and criminal, and he will determine to change them. The shop committee and union will become the field of preparation for a new economic system, for a new social life.
ABC of Anarchism Chapter 27 - Part 2