Guido Baracchi July 1920
Source: "Reason in Revolt", Source documents of Australian Radicalism;
First Published: in The Proletarian Review, Editorial “Proletarian Comment” by the Editor (Guido Baracchi), July 1920;
Transcribed: by Chris Clayton.
IN 1919, during the course of the maritime strike, the secretary of the Seamen’s Union threatened that the working-class might throw the city of Melbourne in darkness. Barely a year later, the strikes of the factory engine-drivers and of the gas-workers have practically done so. During the cessation of work on the part of the engine-drivers whole districts of Melbourne were plunged each night in an Erebus-like gloom, and, even as we write, but a faint supply of gas is trickling through the pipes. We shall not readily forget the impression made upon us by the darkened streets. They brought home to us in a “striking” manner that it is only by grace of the proletariat that the world of capitalism continues to live. In the production of the necessities and comforts of life, the class that is brow-beaten and starved, exploited and oppressed and degraded is the only class that counts. And the meaning of the present strike is that, for the time at least, the workers in question have had enough of it. As the development of capitalism brings greater pressure to bear upon the workers in the basic industries, these will have had more than enough of it. And in the not distant future a crisis will finally ensue which will force the workers to rid themselves of capitalism for ever. On that day the proletariat will arise and fling its masters into the gutter, whence they may crawl into the factories that are no longer theirs and beg the victorious workers for a job. It is in its indication, however slight, of impending social revolution that the significance of the strike lies.
AS a practical success, the Gas-workers’ and Engine-drivers’s strike does not cut any ice. For this the sectionalism that the Trades Unions foster is chiefly to blame. Had the workers in the two essential industries concerned made common cause and taken proper advantage of the opportunities that offered, the strike might have been won in a few days. Had those conducting the strike been animated by the principle of solidarity which industrial unionism proclaims, they would not have sanctioned any section of the workers going back until the strike was settled. On the tactics employed, “Jaybes,” writing in the “One Big Union Herald,” is illuminating. “The two vital exemptions made may yet defeat the purpose of the strike.... Had the men refused to work the machinery at Angliss’ freezing works, they would have found in Angliss a powerful ally (forced by his material interests, i.e., the protection of his perishable goods) to fight his brother capitalists for a speedy termination of the strike.... Then again, the pumping at the sewerage works should have never commenced until all the demands were conceded.” Had these tactics been adopted, and organisation along the lines of industry ensured that the sections in question made common cause, then it seems to us that success would have been certain. But the bureaucracy of the trades unions will never understand these things. Slowly, ever so slowly, does the movement for industrial unionism progress. May the speedy liberation of the imprisoned I.W.W. men give a filip to the efforts of those who are fighting a hard fight against the blight of sectionalism.
A GREAT deal of nonsense has been talked about political and industrial action. It has been attempted to separate absolutely the one from the other. Dietzgen, however, teaches us that all differences are merely relative. Industrial and political action are no exceptions to this rule. As capitalism develops, strikes become both bigger and more constant and general. They become more constant and general due to the aggravated condition of prices outstripping wages. They become bigger due to the fact that the single employer lays down the conditions for more workers, and that all employers in a single industry tend to become more of a unit even where the industry is not in fact a monopoly. These bigger and more constant and more general strikes lead to government interference, in part against the success of the strikes, in part against the anarchy of the capitalist system. This State intervention makes it emphatic to the working-class that its fight is not against the employer as employer — that this is only a sort of feinting and sparring — but against all the employers in a heap operating through the governmental power. It thus becomes apparent not only that the Government has decisive power, but that this is the class power of the bourgeoisie — exercised dictatorially, whether the Government be called Nationalist or Labour, against the working-class. Moreover, however slowly industrial unionism progresses, the development of the machine process tends inevitably to the breakdown of craft lines. The class idea thus comes more insistently to the front, and at the same time it is seen that the class struggle centres around the State and its control. The net result is that the strike acquires political significance, and the workers, here as elsewhere, will use it more and more for political ends. This is the definite merger of industrial in political action.
IF the pure and simple industrialist needs to learn that it is essential for the workers to conquer political power, the pure and simple parliamentarian, on the contrary, must understand that parliamentary action is of secondary importance. “The tribune of Parliament can be exploited for revolutionary purposes,” Zinoviev tells us, but the centre of proletarian political gravity lies outside Parliament. Not without cause have Socialist parties been reproached with neglecting the actual proletarian struggle; we have ourselves been asked what advantage have Socialists taken of the present industrial upheaval. In this respect, the experience of the Communist Party of America offers us valuable guidance. This organisation, a political body, formed committees of the party in the workshops themselves. Here again is the merger of political and industrial action. It enabled the American Communists to do good work in the shops, and to flood them with their literature. The same plan should be adopted in Australia. In this way Communists here could broaden and deepen the understanding of their comrades, and, when opportunity offered, direct their action into revolutionary channels.
“It is lamentable,” says this precious judge, “that the supply of a public necessity such as gas should be dependent on the will of the majority of any union.” More especially if that union happens to be an association of capitalists, Mr. Injustice Higgins! it is to no other cause than this that the gas-workers’ strike is due.