Written: Written before December 7 (20), 1912
Published: First published in 1954 in the journal Kommunist No. 6. Printed from the original.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1971, Moscow, Volume 36, pages 214-215.
Translated: Andrew Rothstein
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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The 32nd Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labour, as the association of trade unions is called, has come to a close in Rochester. Alongside the rapidly growing Socialist Party, this association is a living relic of the past: of the old craft-union, liberal-bourgeois traditions that hang full weight over America’s working-class aristocracy.
On August 31, 1911, the Federation had 1,841,268 members. Samuel Gompers, a strong opponent of socialism, was re-elected President. But Max Hayes, the socialist workers’ candidate, received 5,074 votes against Gompers’s 11,974, whereas previously Gompers used to be elected unanimously. The struggle of the socialists against the “trade unionists ” in the American trade union movement is slowly but surely leading to the victory of the former over the latter.
Gompers not only fully accepts the bourgeois myth of “harmony between labour and capital”, but carries on a downright bourgeois policy in the Federation against the socialist one, although he professes to stand for the complete political “neutrality” of the trade unions! During the recent presidential elections in America, Gompers reprinted in the Federation’s official publication the programmes and platforms of all three bourgeois parties (Democrats, Republicans and Progressists) but did not reprint the programme of the Socialist Party!
Protests against this mode of action were voiced at the Rochester Convention even by Gompers’s own followers.
The slate of affairs in the American labour movement shows us, as it does in Britain, the remarkably clear-cut division between purely trade unionist and socialist strivings, the split between bourgeois labour policy and socialist labour policy. For, strange as it may seem, in capitalist society even the working class can carry on a bourgeois policy, if it forgets about its emancipatory aims, puts up with wage-slavery and confines itself to seeking alliances now with one bourgeois party, now with another, for the sake of imaginary “improvements” in its indentured condition.
The principal historical cause of the particular prominence and (temporary) strength of bourgeois labour policy in Britain and America is the long-standing political liberty and the exceptionally favourable conditions, in comparison with other countries, for the deep-going and widespread development of capitalism. These conditions have tended to produce within the working class an aristocracy that has trailed behind the bourgeoisie, betraying its own class.
In the twentieth century, this peculiar situation in Britain and America is rapidly disappearing. Other countries are catching up with Anglo-Saxon capitalism, and the mass of workers are learning about socialism at first hand. The faster the growth of world capitalism, the sooner will socialism triumph in America and Britain.