Eugene V. Debs

Labor’s Struggle For Supremacy

Source: International Socialist Review, Vol. XII, No. 3. September 1911
Online Version: E.V. Debs Internet Archive, 2006
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Robert Bills for the Socialist Labor Party of America and David Walters, December, 2006

IN THE struggle of the working class to free itself from wage slavery it cannot be repeated too often that everything depends upon the working class itself. The simple question is, can the workers fit themselves, by education, organization, co-operation and self-imposed discipline, to take control of the productive forces and manage industry in the interest of the people and for the benefit of society? That is all there is to it.

The capitalist theory is that labor is, always has been, and always will be, “hands” merely; that it needs a “head,” the head of a capitalist, to hire it, set it to work, boss it, drive it and exploit it, and that without the capitalist “head” labor would be unemployed, helpless, and starve; and, sad to say, a great majority of wage-workers, in their ignorance, still share in that opinion. They use their hands only to produce wealth for the capitalist who uses his head only, scarcely conscious that they have heads of their own and that if they only used their heads as well as their hands the capitalist would have to use his hands as well as his head, and then there would be no “bosses” and no “hands,” but men instead—free men, employing themselves co-operatively under regulations of their own, taking to themselves all the products of their labor and shortening the work day as machinery increased their productive capacity.

Such a change would be marvelously beneficial all around. The idle capitalists and brutal bosses would disappear; all would be useful workers, have steady employment, fit houses to live in, plenty to eat and wear, and leisure time enough to enjoy life.

That is the Socialist theory and what Socialists are fighting for and are ready to live and die for.

But this is not a mere fanciful theory with Socialists. It is a vital force in society that is at work like gravity, steadily, unceasingly, transforming society and at the same time preparing the workers for the change. All the workers have to do is to recognize this force, get in harmony with it, and fit themselves by self-training and co-operative self-control for industrial mastery and social freedom.

This seems simple enough and so it is, yet simple as it is it involves the greatest struggle in history. The idle capitalists who now rule the civilized world and rob the workers of the fruit of their labor will fight to the last ditch and they have numberless hirelings, mercenaries and lickspittles in the form of lawyers, politicians, legislators, judges, office-holders, professors, priests, editors, writers, “labor leaders” (?), soldiers, detectives, etc., etc., to fight their battles for them.

All this vast army serves as retainers of and apologists for the idle capitalists by whose grace they hold their jobs, and the entire brood is set solidly against socialism.

These servile sneerers and prostituted puppets all insist that working men and women are “hands” to be worked by capitalists, that they can never be anything else and that Socialism is but the devil’s lure which they must shun as they would a deadly viper, and this they are dinning into the ears of the slaves early and late through their newspapers and magazines, their pulpits and confessionals, their civic federations and charity balls, and seeking in a thousand other ways, secret and subtle, covert and treacherous, to thwart the efforts of the Socialists to open the eyes of the workers that they may see the light and find their way to freedom.

This task on the part of Socialists, who are almost wholly wage-slaves with their brains in working order, is a herculean one and Socialists are the very last to underestimate its magnitude. They realize fully what they have undertaken, and how crucially they are to be tested in the struggle, and this has been the making of them and they are today the most fearless, persistent and successful agitators and the most self-possessed and optimistic people in the world.

They are not waiting for some so-called “great man” or “good man” to do something for them, but they are preparing to do all things for themselves.

The workers are in a great majority and without them every wheel would stop, industry would drop dead, and society would be paralyzed.

All they have to do is to unite, think together, act together, strike together, vote together, never for an instant forgetting that they are one, and then the world is theirs. They have but to stretch out their millions of brawny arms and trained co-operative hands and take possession.

But to reach this point requires education and organization—these are the essentials to emancipation.

The industrial organization of the workers is of the supremest necessity. In this vital requirement they are still far behind. The trade union is almost half a century out of date. It keeps them divided and they fall an easy prey to their masters. The industrial union, reaching out and bringing them all into active, intelligent and harmonious co-operation with each other, is the union and the only union that develops revolutionary power and leads to victory.

The trade union of the workers has lagged behind and has been distanced by the trust of the capitalists. It has not kept pace with the march of industry and is now almost obsolete and in some respects even worse than useless.

The stage coach has become a locomotive, the dugout a steamboat, but the trade union is still the trade union.

The tools of the workers have been marvelously enlarged and improved and so has their product, but their old craft unions remain in the same narrow grooves, without a change or improvement to mark their progress.

There ought to be the same improvement and enlargement, the same high modern efficiency in the labor union that there is in machinery and production.

The industrial union corresponds to the locomotive, the steamship, the railway and telegraph, and the trust which controls them.

If the workers were rightly organized their union would show the same relative degree of improvement upon the craft union of a century ago that a steam engine does upon a wheelbarrow, and also the same relative improvement in capacity and performance.

The workers must organize their emancipation to achieve it and to control its illimitable opportunities and possibilities.

They must unite in one and the same industrial union and one and the same political party. And the union and the party must be managed and directed by themselves, not from the top down, but from the bottom up.

When the head of a “boss” appears it is only to disappear if the workers know their book. Brains are wanted, but not bosses. The workers do not want to be patronized any longer by intellectual “superiors.” They are organized upon the basis of mutual service and the superiority of all, and all are welcome to join upon that basis, the brainier they are the better.

But no bosses! Labor has been bossed for centuries unnumbered and from now on it is going to boss itself. Labor has had all it wants of the “great man,” who condescendingly smiles upon it to have himself lifted up on its shoulders and boosted into prominence, luxury and office.

The workers and producers, the builders and delvers, the sowers and reapers, the weavers and spinners, the mechanics, artisans and laborers of every kind and sort are the creators of society and the conservators of civilization, and when they come to realize it they will conquer in the struggle for supremacy and people the earth with a race of free men.