Max Eastman 1921

Bill Haywood, Communist

Written: by Max Eastman;
Source: The Liberator, April, 1921;
Transcribed: for by Mitch Abidor.

The title of this article will be interesting news to those who have always loved the I.W.W., and felt that it is the only real contribution America has made to political history since 1789. We have been a little saddened of late years to see the rigidity and lethargy of age creeping over the I.W.W. It seems as though all organizations which do not achieve within ten or fifteen years the purpose for which they are formed begin to be more interested in themselves than they are in their purpose. That instinctive gregarious loyalty which made them possible in the beginning makes them stiff and complacent and useless in the end. Have a split and start a new organization every ten years, might almost be a universal rule — a 22nd point — for the guidance of revolutionary movements. And it seemed as though even the I.W.W. were not going to escape the application of this rule.

But something is happening. The long arm of the Moscow engineers is active in Chicago. Tired, discouraged, jail-worn and work-worn editors and organizers are talking about a new subject with a new enthusiasm — an enthusiasm that Bill Haywood describes as “quiet and warm.” The subject they are talking about is an endorsement of the International Council of Trade and Industrial Unions, affiliation with it, and the resolute fulfillment of its purposes in this country.

“I would like to see a unanimous vote for affiliation on the part of the I.W.W.,” Bill Haywood said to me. “I only want to live to see the dream of the Red Labor International come true. That’s all I want. That’s the I.W.W.”

He had in his pocket a leaflet written by an English delegate to the Council, J.T. Murphy. In that he showed me a footnote stating that the delegates had voted to draft an appeal to the I.W.W., and to other organizations of syndicalist tendency which had not yet declared for affiliation.

“That got me,” he said. “To think of the workers of several nations, including one nation of a hundred and eighty million, causing the draft of an appeal to the I.W.W.! That shows what has happened to the world. I don’t have to wait for their appeal. I've read their plans and their instructions, and I know this is something at last that we can work with. They are carrying out the original aims and purposes of the I.W.W., and you can say for me that I think every genuine labor union in the United States ought to affiliate with the International Council of Trade and Industrial Unions with its central bureau at Moscow.”

I asked him whether he though the IWW would affiliate with it at their convention in May, and he said, “I have not heard a word in opposition.”

Bill Haywood is not the IWW, of course, and he is not at present in a position to speak for its executive policies. But he represents, more than any other one man could, the memory and momentum of it. He was the chairman of the first conference that considered its formation, and the chairman of the first convention when it was called. He has never been absent from its counsels except when he was in jail. And even when the executive work was in other hands, he has always stood out in the public storm as the head of the IWW. He has stood out in the storm with something of the impassive grandeur of a monument. Slow-moving, but powerfully self-possessed and intelligent, Bill Haywood occupies a position of real influence in America among those who are not foolish enough to believe the newspapers. And I imagine that this present change, or development, of his judgement about the tactics of the revolution, is an indication, not only that the IWW is going to swing again into its place in advance of the front line, but that American industrial unionists in general are going to accept the larger political philosophy of Communism.

Bill Haywood is no more friendly to the idea of political campaigning, or what is called “parliamentary action,’ than he ever was — not a bit. But he fully accepts the necessity of a genuinely revolutionary party forming the vanguard of the movement of the revolution.

“I feel as if I'd always been there,” he said to me. “You remember that I used to say that all we needed was fifty thousand real IWWs, and then about a million members to back them up? Well, isn’t that a similar idea? At least I always realized that the essential thing was to have an organization of those who know. Don’t call them leaders. I call them engineers.”

I did remember Bill Haywood’s remark about the fifty thousand IWWs. I remember what a wild idea it seemed to me at the time. But I also remembered that in those days his fifty thousand engineers were to be pure industrial unionists, and he seemed to conceive the whole movement then as essentially a fight for the shops. I asked him what had produced the change.

“It is simply because they have done wonderful things over there that we have been dreaming about doing over here,” he said. “It is the fact, the example, that has caused any change in me that may seem contradictory. And even now I would hesitate to confirm such a movement if everything that emanated from Moscow did not show that they want to put the workers in control, and eventually eliminate the state.”

Here Bill Haywood delivered a short eulogy of the Bolshevik revolution, and what he said would astonish a great many people who know him only as the terrible bad Man of America with one eye and a great big Black hat.

“Max,” he said, clenching one of his exceedingly small hands in a gesture firm but not very ferocious, “to say nothing of the expropriation of industry, the thing of greatest importance, they've already accomplished three other things over there, any one of which would justify such a revolution there, or here, or anywhere else. Shall I tell you what they are?

“The first is the education of the children. I Russia every child gets food and clothing and books and amusement and a real education. And, by God, for that one thing alone I'd favor a revolution in this country!

“And the second is the relief that has been given to women in motherhood. In this country we do it for thoroughbred horses and pedigreed cattle. In Russia every woman is supported for eight weeks after confinement. That is the work of Alexandra Kollontay — a good friend of mine — and that again is enough all by itself to justify a revolution.

“The third thing is the transfer of land to the peasants. The peasants have control of the land, and of course that is a more fundamental thing.”

I asked him for the reason why American labor is so much behind the labor movements of Europe in following the lead of the Russians, and he said, “The principal reason is the A.F. of L.”

“Do you think it is possible for the revolutionists to capture the A.F. of L.?” I asked.

“Some parts of it,” he answered. “Only I would not say capture them, I would say educate them.”

I asked him what parts he referred to, and he said after a moment of hesitation:

“The United Mine workers. That is already an industrial union, and it is the body of the A.F. of L. the craft unions are its arms and tentacles. The craft unions are what enable the A.F. of L. to strangle any germs of life or inspiration that may come to American labor.

“To the general way of thinking it is the official bureaucracy that is responsible for this. It isn’t. It is the craft unions with their high initiation fees, and their policies of excluding the unskilled workers, and even excluding skilled workers who have not served a long conventional apprenticeship. A further thing that outsiders do not understand about these unions is that they are absolutely controlled by the Lodges — Masons, Moose. Knights of Columbus and so forth — working through organized groups within them. It is these Lodges that elect their officials and direct their policies, and it is from these groups within them rather than from the unions themselves that the workers receive what benefits they do receive.

“But if you say that the United Mine Workers are the body of the A.F. of L.,” I said, “and that it is possible to bring the United Mine Workers to a revolutionary attitude, isn’t that practically saying that it is possible for the revolutionists to capture the A.F. of L.”

Bill Haywood’s answer to this question was immediate and brief. “if the United Mine Workers do anything,” he said, “then the A.F. of L. is no more.”

“Do you mean,” I asked, “that the organization would transform itself into something entirely new, or that the United Mine Workers would withdraw and leave nothing?”

He smiled at my word, transformation. “I don’t know what kind of a bug it would germinate into. It certainly wouldn’t be a butterfly that would come out of that chrysalis.”

“No,” he continued, “you don’t realize what the A.F. of L. is. The A.F. of L. is nothing but an executive Board, receiving a small per capita tax from a large membership — a tax sufficient to maintain their office, and pay their salaries, and keep up a lobby at Washington — an executive Board that in thirty-nine years of its existence has never done a single thing fro the American working-class.

“That is what the A.F. of L. is. And if the unions that form the body of that membership acquire a revolutionary understanding the A.F. of L. will cease to exist. That is the only answer there is to this question.”

“Do you believe,” I asked, “that in such a case the United Mine Workers would associate themselves with the I.W.W.?”

“Perhaps not,” he said. “If the United Mine Workers become revolutionary and don’t want to become part of the IWW, the IWW can become a part of them, or whatever they form.”

It was that statement — which like practically all the statements in the interview, is quoted verbatim — that made me feel most vividly the magnanimous practicalness of mature communism in Bill Haywood’s attitude.

“The IWW reached out and grabbed an armful,” he said. “It tried to grab the whole world, and a part of the world has jumped ahead of it.”