Louis C. Fraina

Revolutionary Socialism

Unionism and Mass Action

THE working class, as every revolutionary class, passes through a process of material and ideological development, in which its purposes and tactics, determined by the prevailing historical conditions, are transformed and adapted to new circumstances as they arise. This development, roughly, consists of three phases:

  1. Isolated economic action, through craft unions and sporadic strikes, with a gradual development of the idea of independent political action as a revolutionary means of struggle.
  2. Political action, in its parliamentary sense, dominant in the proletarian class movement, becomes conservative and incompatible with the development of the proletariat, does not adapt itself to this development; and revolutionary movements arise, industrial in character, that repudiate all politics.
  3. The third phase, the phase into which we are now emerging, adjusts itself to new circumstances and the increasing development of the proletariat, recognizing industrial and political action as synthetic factors in the general mass action of the proletariat as phases of the dynamic struggles of the new social revolutionary era.

The proletariat steps upon the stage of history as a revolutionary class. It was the still immature class of workers that saved the French Revolution, that established a bourgeois revolution in spite of the cowardly hesitancy and compromise of the bourgeoisie. In all subsequent revolutions in France – and France is the classical exemplar of this period in the development of the proletariat – the workers were a dynamic factor; they made the revolution, but they could not retain control because of the immaturity of their class development. The great struggle of the Paris Commune was the final heroic act of this period, and at the same time a projection of what was to come. In the historical sense, these revolts were not revolution but insurrections, revivals of the action of the bourgeois revolution and dominated largely by its ideology. With the downfall of the Commune and the collapse of the social-revolutionary First International, the workers enter upon a new period, the period of systematic, peaceful organization and struggle, along national and moderate lines, and not international and revolutionary. The value of these early revolts lay in impressing the workers with a sense of their own class immaturity and driving out of their consciousness the surviving ideology of the bourgeois revolution.

The workers, when they organize against Capitalism, organize into unions to carry on a struggle for more wages and better conditions of work generally. Largely because their skill is still an important factor, (and these early movements are dominantly movements of skilled labor), the workers win certain concessions. But because they are skilled workers, and equally because Capitalism has not yet integrated industry and the proletariat, these movements do not assume revolutionary proportions, nor do they actually conquer material concessions. The economic action is isolated; there is no general contact of the working class with the capitalist class, and the conception of a more general class struggle arises, developing into politics and parliamentary activity. Through the action of politics, the workers oppose a general struggle to Capitalism, a struggle that cannot develop out of isolated economic action. At this period the concept of the workers engaging in independent class politics is revolutionary, as it develops the consciousness of class and establishes class contact with the ruling class.

Socialism, with its program of class politics, offers the workers a class conception and class activity that are historically revolutionary. This development marks an epoch in the proletarian movement. It arouses, ideologically and potentially at least, the workers’ consciousness of class; and without this consciousness of class the proletariat is doomed either to futile insurrection or being an instrument for the promotion of rival bourgeois interests.

Accordingly, Socialism develops along the lines of politics, in the parliamentary sense. But a means of action may be revolutionary or conservative according to historical conditions and requirements. At one period, a particular means may be revolutionary; at another, considering new conditions which require new or supplementary means of action, it may become conservative, even reactionary. This is precisely what happens to Socialism in its parliamentary phase, which is its dominant phase. Where previously Socialism developed the consciousness of class and potential revolution in the proletariat, within the limits of its maturity, it now becomes a force that hampers this development.

Socialism in its early activity as a general organized movement was compelled to emphasize the action of politics because of the immaturity of the proletariat. The workers are scattered, and their strugles are largely directed against the individual emloyer; large scale industry has not developed sufficiently to make large masses of workers engage in a general industrial class struggle against Capitalism and the state. The workers, subjectively and objectively, find it difficult to establish general class contact with each other industrially; it could be, and it was, done through political contact of isolated workers. Socialism, the dominant parliamentary Socialism, sees in the unions simply a transitory phase which may be necessary under given conditions, but which are unimportant in comparison with politics, as is mass action and extra-parliamentary action generally. The unions are conceived as conservative instruments, as organizations that in fact retard the revolutionary development of the workers, – which is true, in the period under consideration, but not as an ultimate proposition. Socialism makes a fetish of politics; parliamentarism is emphasized as the instrument with which the proletariat may emancipate itself. But that happens which differs from the earlier Socialist politics; under the impulse of the national bias, social-reformism and an opportunism that refuses to adapt itself to new requirements, the parliamentary, as well as the general, activity of Socialism becomes conservative, hesitant, compromising. The dominant Socialism becomes a fetter upon the emancipation of the proletariat. [1]

This result does not arise out of any one fact, but out of a series of facts, previously considered; the central fact is that Socialism did not adjust itself to the development of the proletariat, nor to the social-revolutionary era objectively introduced by Imperialism and the war; and this failure to adjust purposes and tactics to the new proletarian and social conditions conservatizes Socialism, turns it into a reactionary force, – temporarily, to be sure, but still reactionary.

The concentration of industry and technological development generally have during the past twenty years revolutionized the material existence of the proletariat. On the one hand has been produced the typical proletarian of average unskilled labor; on the other, the integration of industry in mammoth proportions has developed the conditions for general class action of the workers through inidustrial means directed against the capitalist, not as an individual but as a class, and against the whole bourgeois regime and its state. The proletariat has been centralized into large industrial groupings, and its revolts and action cinstitute a general action against Capitalism, the tremors of which are felt throughout the whole industrial and social system. This development, coincident, it must be emphasized, with the rise of Imperialism, arouses discontent and revolts in the craft unions, which are unable to cope with the new developments, and in which the unskilled become a more and more influential factor. But even more significant are the great strikes involving large masses of unorganized unskilled workers, strikes that shake the very fabric of capitalist society, and the influence of which stimulate revolutionary currents within thfe Socialist organizations. Instead of recognizing the revolutionary vitality of these new developments, the dominant Socialism tries to compress and stultify them within the limits of the old tactics, tries to maintain the ascendancy of a Socialism expressing the non-revolutionary elements of skilled labor and the petty bourgeoisie. In its struggles against Capitalism and the dominant Socialism the unskilled industrial proletariat turns to mass action, a mass action that emphasizes the futility and reactionary character of pure and simple parliamentarism. [2]

The reactionary character of the dominant Socialism is expressed not simply in the failure to accept the new developments, but in the fact that it has frequently condemned and opposed manifestations of the new proletarian action, occassionally even actively betrayed the unskilled proletariat while it was in the midst of gigantic struggles against Capitalism.

The dominant Socialism maintains its influence because of prestige, the conservatism of organization, and the insufficiently developed consciousness of the unskilled proletariat; but it is gradually undermined by industrial development and its new requirements. The industrial proletariat is “organized by the very mechanism of capitalist production itself;” industry becomes co-ordinated, integrated, and the strikes of the unskilled workers assume revolutionary significance, antagonizing the dominant craft unions and parliamentary Socialism, and striking directly at Capitalism through the industrial source of capitalist .supremacy. While antagonisms between the bloc of skilled labor and the petite bourgeoisie as against the capitalist class are softened, the antagonisms between le industrial proletariat and Capitalism are sharpened. Industrial struggles become more and more general, larger in scope and intensity; a new epoch of class war emerges, relentless in spirit and aggressive in purpose, – a class war having as its driving orce the mass action of the industrial proletariat of average labor.

The new conditions of proletarian struggle develop new conceptions and organization, or ideas of organization. The facts of industrial concentration, the decreasing importance of skilled labor, the massing of industrial control in a centralized capitalist autocracy, gender more and more futile the economic struggles of the craft unions, which now engage largely in industrial and political bargaining. But a new and militant force arises in the unions, composed of the unskilled and those whose skill has been expropriated by the machine process; revolutionary currents develop, and the problem of industrial unionism becomes an issue. Industrial unionism, however, is incompatible with the dominant forces in the craft unions; the unskilled are a minority, and industrial unionism is turned into a compromise, a grotesque compromise in the form of “amalgamations.” The concept of industrial unity and solidarity of action cannot break through the pride and prestige of craft and property; industrial unionism founders on the rocks of craft disputes and jurisdictional squabbles, which absorb so much of craft union activity. The craft unions are completly destroyed, as in the steel industry, or they become, largely, mere “job trusts” and instruments of peaceful bargaining and compromise with the employers, supplemented by betrayals of the unskilled.

Industrial unionism becomes an expression of, and develops real strength and influence among, the unskilled workers, in whom common conditions of labor; absence of craft distinctions and the discipline of machine industry develop the necessity and potentiality of the industria1 form of organization. [3] The power of this proletariat lies in its mass and numbers, in its lack of artificial distinctions of skill and craft. Being a product of the massing of workers in a particular industry, the unskilled strike en masse, act through mass action; being united and disciplined by concentrated industry and its machine process, the unskilled proletariat organizes its unions industrially, in accord with the facts of industry, in accord with the conditions of its work and existence. Industrial unionism in form is an expression of the integration of industry and the proletariat by the mechanism of capitalist production itself, and it becomes peculiarly the unionism of the revolutionary proletariat. All groups of workers in an industry are organized and unified into one union, “cast in the mold of the industry in which they work, artifcial differences of occupational divisions being swept aside. Strikes become general and acquire political significance, action becomes the action of the mass, the integrated action of an integrated proletariat. Where the craft unions initiated the strike of a single group of workers in an industry, the industrial union initiates a strike of all the workers. The ideology of solidarity becoes the practice of solidarity.

Industrial unionism, as the expression of unskilled workers impelled by objective conditions to subjectively accept class action, acquires a revolutionary concept, consciousness and activity. Instead of the craft union motto of “A fair day’s pay for a fail day’s work,” industrial unionism inscribes upon its banners the revolutionary motto, “Abolition of the wages system.” The ultimate purpose of industrial. unionism is the organization of all the workers in accord with the facts of production, constructing in this way the structure of the new society within the old, as a necessary phase in the overthrow of Capitalism and the establishment of a new society which shall function through the industrially organized producers. Not the state, but the industrial union is the instrument of revolution, – equally the might for the revolutionary act and the norm of the new society. Industrial unionism is not simply a means, a more effective means than any previously used, to carry on the every-day struggle against the employing class: it is Socialism in action and Socialism in the making. [4]

But the dominant conservative Socialism refuses to accept, it cannot accept unless transforming itself, the revolutionary implications of industrial unionism. Organized Socialism persists in rendering stultifying homage to the fetish of parliamentarism. The general defects of parliamentarism are emphasized and multiplied by the conditions of State Capitalism and the developing requirements of the proletariat of average labor: it cannot express the requirements of this proletariat, nor can it successfully wage the struggle against State Capitalism, which means an intensification of class antagonisms and struggles and the development of an emerging proletarian state through industrial unions as against the state of imperialistic State Capitalism. The new movements of the industrial proletariat engage in a struggle to revolutionize the dominant Socialism; the struggle fails and is relinquished, developing the idea that Socialist politics as such are not and never can become revolutionary; the trend becomes one of severing relations with Socialism, and the revolutionary movements of the proletariat acquire an active or passive non-political bias. This development emphasizes the vital defects of the parliamentary policy of Socialism. [5]

This non-political policy is temporary, being the product of transitory conditions. As industrial unionism engages more and more in the general class fight against Capitalism, as parliamentary Socialism weakens under the pressure of revolutionary events, each in itself and even jointly are considered incomplete, and the two means of action become merged in the general action of the proletariat, centralized, dominated and energized by revolutionary mass action.

What are the limitations of industrial unionism and parliamentary action in their particularized activity?

Parliamentary action in and of itself cannot realize the militant independence of the proletariat, marshal its forces and organize its revolutionary action. Parliamentary activity is an expression of the proletarian struggle, not the struggle itself; it is a form of expression of class power., but not a fundamental factor in developing this class power. Parliamentarism in itself cannot alter the actual bases of power in the class struggle, nor develop that force without which the aspirations of the Revolution are unrealizable. All propaganda, all electoral and parliamentary activity are insufficient for the overthrow of Capitalism,impotent when the ultimate test of the class struggle turnes into a test of power. The power for the Social Revolution issues out of the actual struggles of the proletariat, out of its strikes, its industrial unions and mass action. The peaceful parliamentary conquest of the state is either sheer utopia or reaction; this conception forgets two important things: the actual power of government resides in industry and in an administrative autocracy, not in parliaments, and this power, must he overthrown by extraparliamentary action; while it is utterly inconceivable that revolutionary Socialism should ever secure power through an electoral majority under the forms of bourgeois democracy. Parliamentarism is actually counter-revolutionary, as it strengthens the fetish of democracy: bourgeois democracy must be annihilated before the proletarian revolution may function. The revolution is an act of a minority, at first; of the most class conscious section of the industrial proletariat, which, in a test of electoral strength, would be a minority, but which, being a solid, industrially indispensable class, can disperse and defeat all other classes through the annihilation of the fraudulent democracy of the parliamentary system implied in the dictatorship of the proletariat, imposed upon society by means of revolutionary mass action.

State capitalism, through it weakening of parliamentary control and its centralized administrative autocracy, emphasizes the insufficiency of parliamentarism. But yet the proletarian, movement cannot reject politics. Paradoxical though it may appear, State Capitalism, while it emphasizes the futility of parliamentarism in and of itself, broadens the scope and necessity of politics. In unifying ruling class interests and imposing a drastic regulation upon industry, State Capitalism makes the state a vital issue of the class struggle in its general aspects. More and more the state concerns itself directly in industrial disputes: the class struggle becomes intensely political. Politics is the field in which all issues of the class struggle are in action. It is not a single issue, but the totality of issues arising out of the antagonisms of bourgeois society that the proletariat must struggle against. It is not through ownership of industry alone that the capitalist maintains his rule; the simple fact of ownership is itself maintained by a large number of means, a large number of issues, social, political, international, – all of which are centralized in State Capitalism. The proletariat must interest itself in all these issues, engage in the parliamentary struggle through which capitalist society as a whole stands forth naked and unashamed.

The parliamentary struggle, waged in a revolutionary spirit and as a phase of the general action of the proletariat, issues a challenge to capitalist supremacy in every issue that comes up for discussion, the totality ofjssues which insures bourgeois supremacy. It is not through securing better wages and better conditions of labor that the proletariat conquers social power, but by weakening Capitalism in all the issues that maintain its ascendancy. Parliamentary action centers attention on all these issues; if revolutionary, parliamentary action realizes the futility, however, of solving these issues through politics alone, and it therefore calls to the struggle the industrial and mass action of the proletariat in class political strikes. This unity of means and action develops class consciousness and class power. By concentrating on all issues that are vital to Capitalism, revolutionary Socialist parliamentarism emphasizes and intensifies the antagonism between proletariat and bourgeoisie, and in this sense awakens the consciousness and general action of the proletariat. At one moment, politics develop into industrial and mass action; at another moment, these develop into politics: the two are inseparable phases of the same dynamic process of class action, each dependent upon and developing the other. Socialist parliamentarism, accordingly, should not be an empty means of protest or a futile means of “democratizing” the state and “growing into” Socialism, but a dynamic phase of proletarian action; and, recognizing its limitations and utility, becomes a supreme method of developing revolutionary and class consciousness ideologically, which is transformed into class power by industrial and mass action.

Industrial unionism, in itself , and even if it recognizes and accepts the Socialist parliamentary struggle, has its own limitations. Industrial unionism, in its dogmatic expression, assumes a general organization of the proletariat before Socialism can be established, the construction of a general industrial organization that may seize and operate industry. In terms of infinity, it may be conceivable that some day, some how, toe majority of the proletariat, or an overwhelming minority, may become organized into industrial unions under Capitalism. In terms of actual practice, this is inconceivable. The proletariat of unskilled labor, which alone may accept industrial unionism, is a class difficult to organize; its conditions of labor discourage organization and make it move and act under the impulse of mass action. The conditions of Capitalism, its violent upheavals and stress of struggle, exclude the probability of an all-inclusive proletarian organization; moreover, should we hestitate to act until this general organization materializes [6], Capitalism may turn in on itself and establish a new form of slavery. In its dogmatic expression, industrial unionism has much in common with the parliamentary Socialist conception of the peaceful “growing into” Socialism; it evades the dynamic problems of the Revolution, substituting theory for reality and formula for action. It is fantastic as a general proposition, it is particularly fantastic considering the period of violent upheavals and struggle into which the world is now emerging, to consider that the proletariat under Capitalism can through industrialism organize the structure of the new society. The structure of industrialism, the form of the new communist society, can be organized only during the transition period from Capitalism to Socialism acting through the dictatorship of the proletariat; all that can be done in the meanwhile is to develop a measure of industrial organization and its ideology of the industrial state, which may constitute the starting point for a proletarian dictatorship in its task of introducing the industrial state of communist Socialism.

The supremacy of the proletariat is determined by its action, and not by its organization. The proletariat acts even where there is no organization, through mass action; organization is a means to action, and not a substitute for action. The function of an organization, in the revolutionary sense, is that it may serve as the centre for action of the unorganized proletarian masses, rally and integrate the general mass action of the proletariat, organizing and directing it for the conquest of power. Socialism hastens the overthrow of Capitalism through revolutionary action. In this sense, parliamentarism and industrial unionism become integral phases of mass action.

Mass action is not a form of action as much as it is a process and synthesis of action. [7] It is the unity of all forms of proletarian action, a means of throwing the proletariat, organized and unorganized, in a general struggle against Capitalism and the capitalist state. It is the sharp, definite expression of the revolt of the workers under the impact of the antagonisms and repressions of Capitalism, of the recurring crises and revolutionary situations produced by the violent era of Imperialism. Mass action is the instinctive action of the proletariat, gradually developing more conscious and organized forms and definite purposes. It is extra-parliamentary in method, although political;in purpose and result, may develop into and be itself developed by the parliamentary struggle.

Organizations, political and economic, have a tendency to become conservative; a tendency emphasized, moreover, by the fact that they largely represent the more favored groups of workers. These organizations must be swept out of their conservatism by the elemental impact of mass action, functioning through organized and unorganized workers acting instinctively under the pressure of events and in disregard of bureaucratic discipline. The great expressions of mass action in recent years, the New Zealand General Strike, the Lawrence strike, the great strike of the British miners under which capitalist society reeled on the verge of collapse, – all were mass actions organized and carried through in spite of the passive and active hostility of the dominant Socialist and labor organizations, under the impulse of mass action, the industrial proletariat senses its own power and acquires the force to act equally against Capitalism and the conservatism of organizations. Indeed, a vital feature of mass action is precisely that it places in the hands of the proletariat the power to overcome the fetters of these organizations, to act in spite of their conservatism, and through proletarian mass action emphasize antagonisms between workers and capitalists, and conquer power. A determining phase of the proletarian revolution in Russia was its acting against the dominant Socialist organization, sweeping these aside through its mass action before it could seize social supremacy. And the great strikes and demonstrations in Germany and Austria during February 1918, potentially revolutionary in character, were a form of mass action that broke loose against the open opposition of the dominant Socialist and union organizations, and that were crushed by this opposition. Mass action is the proletariat itself in action, dispensing with bureaucrats and intellectuals acting through its own initiative; and it is precisely this circumstance that horrifies the soul of petty bourgeois Socialism. The masses are to act upon their own initiative and the impulse of their own struggles; it is the function of the revolutionary Socialist to provide the program and the course for this elemental action, to adapt himself to the new proletarian modes of struggle.

Mass action organizes and develops into the political strike and demonstration, in which a general political issue is the source of the action. Political mass action is determined not by the struggle for wages, but by general issues of prime political importance, in which the proletariat centralizes and integrates its forces, in which organized and unorganized workers may act together in a general struggle against Capitalism. This concentration of forces through mass action is an indispensable condition for the general revolutionary struggles in the days to come.

Mass action may consist of a spontaneous strike of organized workers in revolt against the union bureaucracy; or, as is most usually the case, of the strikes and action of unorganized, juiskilled workers. These are primitive forms of mass action, although they constitute the genesis of the general mass action which may include workers, organized and unorganized, in various industrial groupings, in a sweeping struggle against Capitalism on general class issues. An important fact, a fact that disposes of the cheap sneers of petty bourgeois Socialism stigmatizing these manifestations as “anarchistic” and “slum proletarian,” is that these mass actions are an expression of the industrial proletariat against the centralized industry of dominant Capitalism. The mass that functions through mass action is the industrial proletarian mass, the cohesive action of which may attract other social groups to the great struggle.

As an historic process, mass action is an expression and recognition of the fact that the new era is an era of violent struggles, of an acute crisis of antagonisms, of the impact of the proletariat ina revolutionary situation against Capitalism for the definite revolutionary conquest of power.

Imperialistic State Capitalism, while trying to and temporarily succeeding in softening antagonisms, actually and fundamentally multiplies the antagonisms and contradictions inherent in Capitalism. These antagonisms assume a violent form, equally between nations, and between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This crisis in antagonisms constitutes the social-revolutionary era, in which the proletariat is driven to violent struggles against Capitalism through mass action. The social-revolutionary era finds its expression and its tactic in mass action: this is the great fact of contemporary proletarian development.

The process of revolution consists in a weakening of the class power of the bourgeoisie as against a strengthening of the class power of the proletariat. The class power of the proletariat arises out of the intensity of its struggles and revolutionary energy. It consists, moreover, of undermining the bases of the power and morale of the capitalist state, a process that requires extra-parliamentary activity through mass action. Capitalism trembles when it meets the impact of a strike in a basic industry; Capitalism will more than tremble, it will actually verge on a collapse, when it meets the impact of a general mass action involving a number of correlated industries, and developing into revolutionary mass action against the whole capitalist regime. The value of this mass action is that it shows the proletariat its power, weakens Capitalism, and compels the state largely to depend upon the use of brutal force in the struggle, either the physical force of the military or the force of legal terrorism; this emphasizes antagonisms between proletarian and capitalist, widening the scope and deepening the intensity of the proletarian struggle against Capitalism. General mass action, moreover, a product of the industrial proletariat, will, by the impulse and psychology of events and the emphasizing of antagonisms, draw within the orbit of the struggle workers still under the control of the craft unions. Mass action, being the proletariat itself in action, loosens its energy, develops enthusiasm, and unifies the action of the workers to its utmost measure.

It is this concentration of proletarian forces that makes mass action the method of the proletarian revolution. It is this dynamic quality of mass action that makes it the expression of an era in which the proletariat throws itself in violent struggles against Capitalism. The proletarian revolution is a test of power, a process of forcible struggles, an epoch in which the proletariat requires a flexible method of action, a method of action that will not only concentrate all its available forces, but which will develop its initiative and consciousness, allowing it to seize and use any particular means of struggle in accord with a prevailing situation and necessary under the conditions.

Moreover, mass action means the repudiation of bourgeois democracy. Socialism will come not through the peaceful, democratic parliamentary conquest of the state, but through the determined and revolutionary mass action of a proletarian minority. The fetish of democracy is a fetter upon the proletarian revolution; mass action smashes the fetish, emphasizing that the proletariat recognizes no limits to its action except the limits of its own power. The proletariat will never conquer unless it proceeds to struggle after struggle; its power is developed and its energy let loose only through action. Parliamentarism, in and of itself, fetters proletarian action; organizations are often equally fetters upon action; the proletariat must act and always act: through action it conquers. The great merit and necessity of mass action is that it frees the energy, while it co-ordinates the forces, of the proletariat, compels the proletariat to act uncompromisingly and reject the “rights” of any other class; and action destroys hesitancy and a paltering with the revolutionary task. [8]

The great war has objectively brought Europe to the verge of revolt. Capitalist society at any moment may be thrust into the air by an upheaval of the proletariat, – as in Russia. Whence will the impulse for the revolutionary struggle come? Surely not from the moderate Socialism and unionism, which are united solidly in favor of an imperialistic war; surely not from futile parliamentary rhetoric, even should it be revolutionary rhetoric. The impulse will come out of the mass action of the proletariat, and it is this mass action alone that can sweep aside the hesitancy and the risks, that can topple over the repressions and power of the bourgeois state. Mass action is the dynamic impulse of the revolutionary proletarian struggle, whatever the specific form it may assume; in the actual revolutionary period, mass action unites all forms of struggle in one sweeping action against Capitalism, each contributing its share as integral phases of the general mass action, – as in the proletarian revolution in Russia. In a crisis, the state rigidly controls all the available forces of normal action; parliaments become impotent, and a “state of siege” prevails that can be broken through only by revolutionary mass action, – equally during war and in any revolutionary situation.

Mass action is dynamic, pliable, creative; the proletariat through mass action instinctively adapts itself to the means and tactics necessary in a prevailing situation. The forms of activity of the proletariat are not limited and stultified by mass action, they are broadened, deepened and co-ordinated. Mass action is, equally a process of revolution and the Revolution itself in operation.


1. Just as the national states became an obstacle to the development of the forces of production, so the Socialist parties became the chief obstacle to the development of the revolutionary movements of the working class. – Leon Trotzky, The War and the International.

2. “The caute of the new tactical differences,” says Anton Pannekoek, “arises from the fact that under the influence of the modern form of capitalism the labor movement lias taken on a new form of action, to wit, mass action;” and in criticizing Kautsky, to whom the new tactics appear as anarchistic, Pannekoek says, “for Kautsky mass action is an act of revolution, for us it is a process of revolution.”

3. In this country, the history of the Industrial Workers of the World proves conclusively that industrial unionism is a movement of the proletariat of unskilled labor. The convention that organized the IWW in 1905 consisted of skilled and unskilled, but the skilled workers gradually deserted the organization; and the real history and significance of the IWW has been precisely its expressing the developing consciousness and action of the unskilled workers. It is this circumstance that made the IWW a revolutionary portent in the labor movement. The non-recognition of this fact was largely responsible for the violent attacks made upon the IWW as organized after 1908, by Daniel De Leon and the Socialist Labor Party; and this fact also is responsible for the antagonism and often open warfare between the IWW and the dominant forces in the Socialist Party.

4. Karl Kautsky, who usually sees clearly in theory but hesitates and compromises miserably in practice, an attitude typical of the “centrist,” said in an article in the International Socialist Review, April 1901: “The trades unions ... will constitute the most energetic factors in surmounting the present mode of production and they will be pillars on which the edifice of the Socialist commonwealth will be erected.” This is a recognition of the revolutionary mission of unionism. But the trades unions are not working for the revolution; they are working for a place in the governing system of things, – making for State Capitalism, and not Socialism. Nor does the structure of the trades unions admit of their waging a revolutionary struggle against Capitalism or of assuming management of concentrated industry.

5. The conquest of political supremacy becomes a peaceful process, which so far as the masses are concerned consists only of propaganda and elections. It is the work of the Social Democracy as a political party; other working class organizations, even the labor unions, are unnecessary ... The defect of pure and simple parliamentarism lies in the fact that it considers the form of suffrage as something absolute and independent. But precisely like the entire constitution the suffrage is merely an expression of the actual relations of power in society ... The peaceful parliamentary conquest of power ... pre-supposes universal suffrage, and universal suffrage can simply be abolished by a parliament. – Anton Pannekoek, Socialism and Labor Unionism, in The New Review, July 1913.

6. A general organization of the workers will always remain impossible under Capitalism because of its continuous state of development. – H. Lauffenberg, The Political Strike, 1914.

7. Rosa Luxemburg has called the mass strike the dynamic method of the proletarian masses, the characteristic form of the proletarian struggle in the Revolution. She considers mass action, and its most important feature, the mass strike, as the sum total of a period in the class struggle that may last for years and tens of years until victory comes to the proletariat. In permanent change, it comprises all phases of the political and economic struggle, all phases of the. Revolution. Mass action, in its highest form of political strike, means the unity of political and economic action, means the proletarian revolution as a historic process” ... If industrial action is the most efficient form of mass action, why bother about minor issues? Why not concentrate all our efforts and thought in building our industrial unions so strong as to overcome the capitalist employer and the capitalist state? Such an objection overlooks the complexity of real conditions. We are not free to choose our methods in accordance with certain theoretical constructions, but have to build on the solid ground of actual facts in the light of historical developments ... Industrial organization has its historical limits beyond which we cannot rise at the given moment of our action. Large groups of workers will continue for a certain length of time to organize in craft unions, and although we will tell them they are wrong, and fight them where injurious to their class, still they will be a factor in our revolutionary struggle, either for or against ... We are convinced that the technical development of the capitalist world makes conditions ripe for the Socialist commonwealth at this very moment, that only our lack of power stands in the way of the realization of our hopes. What we want above all is a unity and concentration of the forces already existing in a latent form, a combination and further development of these forces towards our revolutionary aims. – S.J. Rutgers, Mass Action and Socialism, The New International, February 1918.

8. The Council [of Workers and Soldiers, during the earlier period of the Russian Revolution, when the Menshevik and Social-Revolutionist moderates were in control] hesitates; and out of hesitancy conies compromise. It imagines that the course of the Revolution may be determined by interminable discussions among the intellectuals: it acts only under pressure of the revolutionary masses. It talks revolution, while the government acts reaction. It takes refuge in proclamations, in discussion, in appeals to a pseudo-theory, in everything save the revolutionary action of the masses directed aggressively to a solution of the pressing problems of the day ... Where revolutions do not act immediately, particularly the proletarian revolution, reaction appears and controls the situation; and the formerly revolutionary representatives of the masses accept and strengthen this reaction. Once revolutionary ardor cools, the force of bourgeois institutions and control of industry weights the balance in favor of the ruling class. Revolutions march from action to action : action, more action, again action, supplemented by an audacity that shrinks at nothing, – these are the tactics of the proletarian revolution ... The Council hampers and tries to control the instincts and action of the masses, instead of directing them in a way that leaves the initiative to the masses – developing that action of the masses out of which class power arises ... Instead of action – phrases; instead of Revolution – a paltering with the revolutionary task ... Its failure to act accordingly marked the decline of its power and influence as then constituted: the task of the Council now became that of revolutionizing itself, of discarding its old policy and personnel. And this revolutionary process could develop only out of the masses, not out of the Council’s intellectual representatives: these representatives had to be thrust aside, brutally and contemptuously. – Louis C. Fraina, The Proletarian Revolution in Russia, The Class Struggle, January-February 1918.


Last updated on 14.10.2007