Tom Mann, 1913
Source: Debate between Tom Mann and Arthur M. Lewis at the Garrick Theatre, Chicago, November 6, 1913
First published: Charles H. Kerr and Co, Chicago, 1914
Transcription and markup: Steve Painter
The writing of this brief preface gives me an opportunity to explain that my note and my esteemed opponent’s answer to it, which follow the debate in the form of an appendix, were added by mutual agreement to give greater completeness to the discussion. The occasion of the debate led, during the few days immediately following before my opponent left the city, to our becoming more closely acquainted. That closer acquaintance will always recall to me pleasant memories. Whatever those opposed to my opponent may think of his opinions there can be no question of his absolute fealty to the cause of the working class as he sees it. If all the disputes inside the socialist and labour movements could be carried on with the broad toleration displayed by my opponent in this discussion, and later in our conversations, the cause of the working class would move much more rapidly to its ultimate triumph.
Arthur M. Lewis
That economic organisation is sufficient and political action unnecessary to the emancipation of the working class. Affirmed by Tom Mann, denied by Arthur M. Lewis.
The chairman, Dr Joseph H. Greer, was introduced by Mr Lewis.
The chairman: Ladies and gentlemen and comrades, the subject of the debate this afternoon is: That economic organisation is sufficient and political action unnecessary to the emancipation of the working class.
Mr Tom Mann says yes; Mr Lewis says no.
Now, while in England last summer, I learned something about Tom Mann. I found out, when I went over there, that the church hated him; I found out that the aristocracy hated him, that the landlords hated him and that the capitalists hated him; and, therefore, I thought there must be something good about him.
Mr chairman, Mr Lewis and friends, I have special satisfaction in engaging in this debate this afternoon, because the subject is one that to me is of the most vital importance; and when I received the invitation — shall I say challenge — to take part in this debate, well, with some men I should have declined, but with my respected opponent I have the greatest possible pleasure in engaging in it.
May I just incidentally remark that although I have never spent much time in the presence and in the companionship of Mr Lewis, I have for years known what his work has been, and on many an occasion at meetings like unto this in Australia, I have not merely referred to the work in which he has been engaged, but approvingly quoted it, receiving hearty endorsement by the audience I have been addressing, because I knew of the valuable work in which he was engaged.
I have no hesitation, therefore, and no reluctance of any sort or kind in engaging in this discussion; because I know we shall not spend the time banging and slamming words at each other, but shall endeavour to get at the pith of the subject with a view to contributing as best we can to the elucidation of that which we are here to discuss.
There will be no necessity for me to spend any time going over preliminaries. As is understood, I believe. Mr Lewis and myself both agree that the sooner we get rid of the capitalist system, the better for everybody concerned. There is no doubt in our minds that the capitalist system is going, most certainly is going, and that it is our duty to help its departure; that it should be our pleasure to engage in the most effective work we know how with a view to transferring that power, now enjoyed and exercised by the capitalist class, transferring it from them to the working class, so that the workers will in the future exercise complete control over their industrial and social destiny.
I am, above all things, concerned to be as correct as possible in spending my energy in such fashion as will contribute to that end.
Now there are two agencies advocated by different schools whereby we may get to work to bring that about.
Supposing it were possible by those who are here in this theatre to realise the revolution simply by willing it, we should doubtless be only too ready to bring the revolution about. But we must work to that end, engage in the fight against the opposing forces, and it is important to know which is the right way in which to work.
I am among those who are glad to see a devoted, selfless, tireless energy used in the best direction, wasting none of it, yet not fearing how rough the work may be — certainly not fighting shy of it — quite ready to face any rough-and-tumble work that may be necessary to be done in order to enable us to get at grips with the existing faulty system, and to enable us to do all that is necessary to enable the true co-operative system to be ushered in.
Now there are those who declare quite as clearly that they are in entire accord with that desire and with that object; and they declare that they know exactly how they ought to proceed. They proceed by political action, frequently referred to by us as parliamentary action.
I don’t suppose that there will be any confusion in my using that term, parliamentary instead of legislative action. I am not opposed to all forms of political action; as there is much that could be covered by that term that I entirely approve of and am habitually engaged in. But that which is meant here in this discussion today, when it is declared that industrial economic organisation is essential and will prove sufficient to bring about the change, it is meant we need not resort to legislative action with a view to bring about this economic change; that it is not through and by means of legislative action that the revolution will be realised, but by some other means.
Now there are very many, as you will know, who believe most distinctly, and declare most emphatically, that the economic change will be made by means of the state, by means of the government, and by utilising the machinery of government, to nationalise industry. This is their hope; this is their belief. I do not share in that view; I do not think Mr Lewis does. I shall have to wait to learn that, of course, more definitely by-and-by. But I do not share in that view.
I am declaring, and this is the purport of my speech, that economic or industrial organisation, bringing about solidarity on the part of the workers, will prove to be quite sufficient to bring about the entire economic and social change desired.
I am declaring that to be so. I am declaring that to be so because I have diligently studied the subject over a considerable number of years; I have tried to understand the effect of economic or industrial organisation, and equally, the effect of political organisation and activity; and on the strength of that experience and having regard to that which is going on in the various countries of the world, I am making this declaration, and taking up this position: that economic or industrial organisation, resulting in bringing about industrial solidarity, will be entirely sufficient to bring about the economic change desired.
I am not declaring that there is nothing outside of economics that will require attention. But I am declaring that to me, at any rate, the economic situation is not only the vital one, but it is nineteen-twentieths of the whole problem; and when the economics of the case are adequately dealt with, then the other twentieth will flow into its proper place.
Therefore, to me — to use an Americanism — the economic situation is the “whole cheese” (laughter and applause). It “fills the bill” for me. And I am confining my attention all the time to the solution of the economic problem; and I am declaring that I am prepared to make use of every and any valuable means that may be essential and helpful to bring about the change.
Before you so heartily endorse that, listen to this next statement. Having carefully examined the respective values of the respective agencies before us, I am unable to attach any importance to any of them except the one, because the one agency will, in my judgment, entirely meet all requirements. What is it that is required?
That the dominant class shall cease to be the dominant class; that those who are now dominated shall themselves become the complete and entire controllers of the industries in which they are engaged; that we shall thereby resort to the co-operative system of production, producing for use and not for profit. That is the object. How do I get there?
Well, I contend that that which is known as the trades union movement, when it is properly broadened, properly idealised and intelligently utilised, which I believe it will be by-and-by, then I argue that that institution — the working class industrial organisation — known now as the trade-union movement — when that is made what it ought to be, we shall be quite equal to achieving the entire economic and social change. And, declaring that to be so, I now look at the other institution — the state, the government.
The way in which I shall use that term “the state” I shall mean the organised governing entity, which includes, in this and other countries, not merely the local governing bodies but the state and national governments also, with all the governmental forces which they control; the fighting forces of the army and navy, and all the civil service institutions. All these I declare need not be democratised by the working class in order that they may be able to cope with the evils which they are deploring.
I am contending that, solidarity on the industrial field, will entirely fill the bill and complete the whole work we have in view.
Now there are many who attach importance to the state, declaring that they are determined to capture and to democratise and to idealise it, and to make it exactly what it ought to be.
There are others who declare that the capitalist system is rapidly departing, relatively so, at any rate; that the organised state, the governmental institutions in each civilised country, forming part and parcel of that capitalist system, that is also in a state of decrepitude and decay; that these governmental agencies, each of them in turn, forming part of the decaying institution of capitalism, must of necessity take their departure.
And there are those, and I think, from what I have read, that my respected opponent, Mr Lewis, is one who declares, that we must first use the state, not in order to rehabilitate it, not to build it up, not to achieve the economic change by means of it, but in order to destroy it, because the power of the capitalists, wielded through the state, is so distinctly mischievous to the progress of the working class.
Now I am taking the view that the real power of the capitalist class is obtained not primarily through any governmental or legislative institution, but obtained primarily through and by means of their economic organisation. The trusts and combines are really economic in character, and not political in the sense in which we are using the term. It is by means of the trusts, by means of the combines that the capitalists of America, the capitalists of Europe and elsewhere now exercise dominion and control over the mass of the people. It is perfectly true that they also utilise the machinery of the government; they make use of the state, and control the fighting forces by their making use of the state machinery, and use these fighting forces, to distinctly and deliberately oppose the working class in their respective efforts to obtain redress and to obtain economic freedom.
And I can understand the argument when it is advanced, that seeing the capitalist class makes use of the institution of the state, and by means of this is enabled to draft in or to see that there shall be drafted in any number of troops, also the navy, if needed, and that these fighting forces maintained at the expense of the entire people shall be utilised for their distinct social and class advantage, and I can understand anybody saying: “Now it is for us to democratise that state or, at any rate, get hold of it and prevent their using that state machinery to our detriment.”
That is understandable; and that must be done by some means or other.
What I declare is that the capitalists cannot function as controllers of capital, as controllers of industry, as controllers of the government, as controllers of the governmental machinery, as controllers of the fighting forces; they cannot function in any of these capacities unless the workers day by day and hour by hour render them the hourly services making it possible for them so to do. And what I am proposing is for the workers to refuse to make it possible for them so to do, resorting to the most drastic and effective method of preventing them from using any of these powers, simply by our refusing to render the services necessary to them.
We realise that the capitalists now control the judiciary. That is admitted. The capitalists now control the entire government. That is admitted. The capitalists control the industries. That is admitted. There is no minimising the evils thereof. By what means do they thus control?
Because every hour of every day the working class are rendering them the requisite services — feeding every one of them, clothing every one of them, transporting every one of them, functioning as agents and servants to enable them to exercise the power they use. They cannot exercise any of those powers, be they judicial in character or otherwise, governmental in character, or as controllers of the industrial system, or pouring out the respective forces — none of these powers can they exercise unless we every hour give them the chance by working for them.
I am saying let us use the most effective tools to achieve the work in hand. I say the most effective and entirely satisfactory tool, or agency, that we may resort to, is that of refusing to render them the essential services. The very hour we refuse to feed them, clothe them, transport them and keep every one of the agencies going through which they function, that hour they lose their power entirely.
I apprehend that my chief difficulty with the audience today will be this: the very simplicity of my case, the simplicity of my proposition. Yet I venture to believe that that percentage of the audience that will honour me and do justice to themselves by retaining the kernel of that which I am now advancing, will, as they ponder over it, realise how entirely it fills the bill for the object we are after. Because again I declare to you, that the policeman cannot come by the bidding of the authorities; the soldier cannot come by the bidding of the authorities; the naval man cannot come by the bidding of the authorities; the judiciary cannot sit and function by the bidding of the authorities, unless we, of the working class, every hour supply them with all the essentials thereto.
I am saying stop rendering them these services; just that, no more than that. I am declaring that that fills the bill completely. And I shall listen with very great attention indeed to find out where there is a weakness in that contention.
Now I am desirous also of understanding the attitude of Mr Lewis when he is declaring emphatically in favour of utilising the machinery of the state, when, at the same time, I understand him to be one who declares that capitalism is going, and going rapidly, and that the state must go, and we must make it go. And then when I here declare, which I am sure he will respectfully deal with, that if we workers — if the working class — refuse to function by refusing to render service to the capitalist class, the very hour we do that, we deprive the capitalist class of its power.
Now I submit to you this: that the success of the working class will depend, in some considerable measure, on the agency through which they will function as controllers of the industries that they are engaged in. Some say not the present capitalist system, but a democratised state. We are not saying that. I am saying that it should be the organisation of the workers, the industrial organisation of the workers, made exactly what it ought to be to fill requirements.
But suppose, it will be argued, that I am here defending an institution unnatural in growth and incapable of development! Well then, my case would go, would fall. Will any one attempt to argue that the trade union movement was not a perfectly natural growth? I think not. Will any one undertake to argue that the trade unions have fully expanded to their full extent and must now decay? I think not.
May I not, therefore, argue that the trade union movement really only in its infancy, will yet become genuinely industrial in character, comprehending the whole situation. Will any of those who now compose the movement, and others that may come into it, say that it is not a movement to build their effective agencies so completely that in every necessary fashion the workers will be able to function as complete controllers of the industries they engage in? To do this they must supply every necessary of life as now, without the wasteful conditions that go on now — must supply all the essentials. We are producing efficiently now, but the capitalists exploit the workers. That is so serious a fact that in this and other countries, they are taking about one-half of that produced by the working class.
Some of you will be wondering when I say I would encourage the workers to function through their industrial organisations and produce for use, not for profit. You will be wondering how to get at it, how to make a start.
I reply that as soon as we have agreed, as soon as we have an understanding with each other — remember that you can do nothing without an agreement, nothing without taking common action, be it in one direction or another — but as soon as we have arrived at an understanding that it is our duty to our economic and social interest, and the interest of every honest person, that we should now produce for use and not for profit. Assuming we are agreed upon that today, that tomorrow we start on that basis. What basis? Why, if we are working eight hours now, and one-half of it goes for exploitation, we will be willing to work four hours only, and work not at all for the exploiter.
The simplicity of that does not startle many of you. It may not have dawned upon you how efficacious it is. Now I am just saying that again. You agree that the capitalists take now about one-half of the total result of labour, more or less, it does not matter. You agree, and I agree, that it is better to produce for use, and not for profit.
I say don’t go on producing in the orthodox fashion at the dictation of the capitalist body, and then say it is wrong for them to take what we produce. Just produce for ourselves alone, and enjoy the results thereof; and let the capitalists take their departure where they please.
Of course I am aware of what is likely to be said with regard to their being the men in possession; they are the owners of the factories, the mills and the mines. At present I know that they are the virtual owners of the state machinery, and the virtual owners of the fighting forces. And it may be argued that they can use these against us, against the working class. I am declaring they could not do anything of the kind when class solidarity is once a fact. Given solidarity, the army cannot move. Given solidarity, the navy cannot move. Given solidarity, the judges cannot function in their particular grooves. Given solidarity, neither statesman, politician, church, nor others will be able to aid in supplying the daily bread.
Given solidarity, the entire necessaries of life will be cut off where it is desirable that this should be done.
Now it may be said “Ah ha, a very pretty policy that, for by the very same means that you will interfere with others you will also destroy yourselves.”
Please remember that the working class will be really the men in possession; there will be nobody else to fill the bill — there isn’t anybody else, as soon as solidarity is understood, as soon as solidarity is resorted to.
I therefore once more put the case in this wise: our troubles are economic in character. That means they arise in the places where we work, because it is there we create wealth, and the difficulty is that the capitalist, under whose instructions we now act, will, under the newer conditions, be unable to take the results of our labour and pay back a subsistence wage only.
Now how is the case here? We stand in this wise: we agree as to the desirability of getting rid of the capitalist system; we agree as to the decay of the capitalist system; we agree that the institution of government is also a decaying institution.
Now, how can we then — how can I, in the face of such a belief — how can I encourage men and women to have concern for political action of the legislative order when I am confident that we can meet all that we require, and achieve everything that we desire by means of economic or industrial organisation? How then can I turn and say: “But it is desirable that you should also work through the legislative institution,” though I declare that that legislative institution is decaying and will disappear entirely with the capitalist system, because it will not be there for the workers to function through to control their industrial forces. That is going for a certainty. I believe we both declare that. Therefore you must have something in its place.
I am not for any government. I am for that free co-operation of the workers, industry by industry, district by district, co-ordinated and co-related with and to each other so effectively that we shall know exactly what output of commodities will be required and what necessaries of life will be required, and what the productive capacity is. Therefore I rely upon perfect industrial organisation. And if any of you care to know what that means, it is exactly what is meant by the term syndicalism.
Syndicalism, some say they cannot understand. I am not here to bother about its definition at all; it happened to be in one of the advertisements; it is no concern of mine. I am not concerned about any ism; neither anarchism, syndicalism or socialism. I am concerned about the complete control of the working classes by themselves.
What I am advocating means nothing more than the perfected industrial organisation of the workers through which they propose to achieve their economic emancipation, and through which they propose to regulate and administer industrial affairs so far as its administration be required after the revolution has been achieved.
I hope there will be no misunderstanding, therefore, as to what we are after.
Now, then, a brief recapitulation. Understand I have no snacks to throw at syndicalism; I have no snacks to throw at socialism; I have no snacks to throw at anybody on earth. But I am vitally concerned about industrial organisation and agreement on the part of men themselves to control their own labour. And I have been through experiences in my own lifetime, not only once, or three or four, but many many hundreds of them in the last few years, that have given me some opportunity to know of the efficacy of resorting to direct action on the industrial field. I am out for more perfect organisation. Who will declare a limit to it? Who will declare it has reached its limit? I, no more than any man, will say we have reached the limit of organisation. Expansion, co-equal to and co-extensive with each industry in turn, each nationality in turn, until it shall be genuinely international in character, the effective organisation of the workers of the world, entirely controlling their own industrial and their own social affairs. Then the educational institutions will be as they ought to be; then all hygienic affairs will be as they should be, all housing problems will fall in their proper place as a result of our resorting to effective industrial organisation, and doing away with the exploitation and manipulation of the working class by the capitalists by means of controlling human labour.
Whatever I have said, I trust I have conveyed the right idea. What I then hold is the complete emancipation of the workers, and I believe that can be achieved by industrial and economic organisation without resorting to the legislative institution.
Mr Chairman, Mr Mann, comrades and friends, my opponent says: “Given solidarity, everything else follows.”
I can conceive that if every single member of the working class knew just exactly what was needed, and had his mind made up, and was determined to get it, that there are a variety of ways by which it could be done. I think it might be done by economic organisation alone; and I think it could be done by political action alone.
The problem before us is not “given solidarity” but how to get solidarity. Given solidarity, good night to the capitalist class! But how is this solidarity to be obtained? Is it to be obtained solely by economic organisation?
I find it a pleasure to debate with a man who knows how to debate, who knows how to state his case and give me something to talk about. As my worthy opponent remarked, we are agreed on our goal, the abolition of the capitalist system. My opponent believes in syndicalism and I believe in socialism, as those two words are commonly used in this country.
Now, fortunately for this debate, both these methods have been submitted to an experimental test, which covers a number of years. There are two great nations in Europe which have tried them out. In France they have tried syndicalism; in Germany, revolutionary socialism. And I am willing to abide by the results of historical experience.
I don’t say “given this” or “given that” — if you give me what I want, I could take the rest.
But given things as they are, and given the experience of labour movements as they have been in the immediate past, what is the wisest judgment of the present situation?
If I believed that the French labour movement, which has followed the syndicalist policy, was better equipped today to take possession of French society in the name of the French working class, than is the case in Germany, I would be a syndicalist at this moment, and tear up my red card of the Socialist Party.
If, on the contrary, I were a syndicalist now, but believed as a result of the experience of the last decade, or two decades, or quarter of a century, that Germany at this moment is best equipped to seize the German empire and the economic property of the capitalist class, and make it the property of the working class, I hope that in such circumstances I should have enough of the scientific spirit to lay down my syndicalism and become a Marxian socialist.
The Germans and the French have competed about the flying machine. The Germans believe in the dirigible; the Frenchmen in the heavier-than-air machine. As things look now, the French are on top; and I am obliged, as a man with some scientific spirit, to award the prise to the French.
Marxian socialism seeks to build a labour movement which believes in political action and also in economic organisation. Let it be clearly understood that no intelligent socialist has the slightest objection to the most perfect economic organisation of the working class that can be devised or managed or built up in the brain of any man, be he syndicalist or socialist. And in Germany both these methods go side by side.
The French labour movement as represented by the General Confederation of Labor, has discarded political action.
In Germany, the thinking of Karl Marx is dominant; in France the thinking of Proudhon, the anarchist. And you have before you, in Germany and France, the results of the two policies of the labour movements of those two countries: in Germany, the socialism of Marx; in France the anarchism of Proudhon. In Germany it is Liebknecht, Adler, Bebel and Kautsky. In France it is Pouget, Sorel, Pelloutier and Herve.
The American Socialist Party has, wisely or unwisely, decided to follow the German method as far as that is possible. Of course it is not possible to any great extent, unfortunately. The labour unions of Germany are socialist unions. It does not require a socialist qualification to be a member; but, as an actual matter of fact, the majority of the members of the German unions are socialists; they are kept in line with the German social democracy and the two movements always stand together.
That is, unfortunately, not possible in this country. It is not possible because of the density and ignorance of the labour unions of the United States. Neither in France, nor in Germany, nor in Austria, nor Denmark, nor in any of the countries of Europe, could you find a labour movement that would submit to the leadership of Samuel Gompers.
But, mark you, while the labour unions of this country are fifty years behind those of Europe, no matter what country in Europe you name, they are no more in favour of syndicalism, the syndicalism advocated by my opponent, than they are of socialism as advocated by myself.
It was one of the best unions in this city, the Painters Union, that arranged a meeting for my opponent, in the German Turner Hall; and while they have a membership to fill that hall half a dozen times over, they arranged a meeting and left my opponent to talk to a handful of socialists, a sprinkling of anarchists, and a sea of empty chairs.
Now, the German labour movement is a bird with two wings — my friend has a bird with one wing that flies around in a circle and gets nowhere. One wing is the Socialist Party. It is a close organisation. You are not invited or urged to become a member of the political organisation of Germany, the Socialist Party. In fact, you are kept out until it is absolutely certain that you may be depended upon.
One of the first things I learned in Milwaukee was that that was the rule there; when they had vacancies for legal offices in Milwaukee, and not enough lawyers in the party membership to fill them, they were keeping lawyers who were socialists, or said they were, outside, because they proposed to put them on probation until they could be trusted.
That is how they do it in Germany. It is partly the result of the Bismarck laws, which made it necessary for the socialists to know who they were accepting inside their ranks. And it is the reason why, while the socialist movement in France has been betrayed by its Briands and Millerands, and the English movement has been betrayed by its Burns, there has been no betrayal of the German Social Democracy.
The unions, on the contrary, are free organisations. Any man who works at the trade can join the union without having to declare himself a revolutionist or socialist.
In France, on the contrary, you have the General Confederation of Labour, which is composed of syndicats. The word syndicalism in France merely means the same thing as our word unionism. It does not in France have any revolutionary meaning. Its revolutionary meaning is the result of the fact that the French Confederation of Labor has committed itself to a revolutionary policy. But that is not contained in the word syndicalism as it is used in the French. The members in that organisation are far from being unanimous as to its policy.
For example, the textile workers” and railway workers’ unions and the Typographical Union are, in the main, opposed to syndicalism as taught by my opponent; and they claim that if they had representation in proportion to membership, they would be able to change the policy of the confederation.
At the congress in Amiens in 1906 they were complaining bitterly, as they had complained before, that the confederation is not based on proportional representation, that it is run by anarchists — libertarians, as they call themselves.
The railway syndicat had 24,000 members and only 36 votes, while the metalworkers, who are syndicalists, in our American sense of the term, had only 14,000, but they were on the side of the anarchist leaders of the confederation, and they had 84 votes in the congress; 84 votes for 14,000, whereas, for 24,000 the Railway Workers Union had only 36 votes. And the motion to abolish the minority rule of the confederation, which was made in 1904 at Bourges, was voted down.
The machinists, railway workers and textile unions all complained that the confederation is ruled by a minority, which is controlled by the anarchist officials of the organisation.
In Amsterdam in 1904, the International Socialist Congress told the two French socialist parties to get together and unite in one socialist party.
In the following year, in the Congress at Paris, they united. And in 1906, the year following, in Amiens, the General Confederation of Labor met, and Renard, the general delegate of the Textile Workers, proposed that now the socialists were united, they should follow the example of the labour movement in Germany, and they should relate and unite themselves in a friendly relation to the Socialist Party of France. That was voted down through the influence of the anarchist leaders.
So the condition of things is that in Germany you have the kind of labour movement that I believe in and in France a labour movement of the type advocated by my opponent. Now who shall decide what is the best and which is the most effective? Of course, it would not do for me to try and decide that question. I am prejudiced, of course. And I don’t believe I would accept my opponent’s decision after listening to what he has advocated. He is as prejudiced one way as I am the other.
And so I propose to have you listen to the testimony of a man who is certainly not on my side of the house, at least, ought not to be. My friend, my opponent, is probably the greatest syndicalist in the English-speaking world. But there is a greater than he in Europe. France is the home of syndicalism. It is a native product in France. In this country it is a French importation. The same is true in England, in much the sense, of course, that socialism is a foreign importation here. I have never denied that socialism came from other countries.
I want you to listen to Gustave Herve, who had the honour of going to jail for his activities, an honour which we recognise as due also to our friend, Tom Mann. I think in this country we are willing to do honour to any man who is willing to spend his time in a stinking jail because of the faith that is in him and because of the principles he holds dearer than life.
Herve resigned from the Socialist Party because he came to believe in direct action and sabotage and all that goes with syndicalism. He is the editor of a magazine called La Guerre Sociale, (The Social War). When the railway workers were on strike, and sabotage was practised on the railroads, when they were sending cargoes to the wrong destination, a package that was sent by express to Herve’s paper was addressed to the editor of La Guerre Sociale, and it had this note on it: “Sabotagers, please take note of the address.”
That package did not go to the wrong address, but went post-haste; it got better service than anything that had ever been mailed or expressed in France. And the other shippers found out, so when they were shipping goods they put on “La Guerre Sociale — please note the address”. They also got good service.
And then La Guerre Sociale turned around and tried to invoke the law and threatened legal suits against people who misused its name. They were a nice crowd of law-abiding citizens.
Now this is what Herve has to say. Herve has observed seven years of syndicalism in France, and now he thinks the time has come to take stock, and see if it is the French who ought to learn from the Germans, or the Germans from the French. And I am going to read you some of the things he says in his editorials translated from the editorial page of La Guerre Sociale:
While we may consider the vote as of only secondary importance [you see the syndicalism in him] as a revolutionary weapon, we cannot deny the importance of four million and a quarter of suffrages, cast at the last German election.
I have formerly myself jeered at the German socialists somewhat. I believe that I even said once to its face — to be sure it was only for the purpose of spurring it on — that it was only a machine for gathering votes and dues.
When last summer our German comrades made their splendid manifestation against war, and when, in France we had shown so little of brilliancy — we who are usually too noisy — then it was that I recognised that this formidable machine for the gathering of votes and dues might transform itself, if the Kaiser became too brutal, into a formidable machine with which to smash him and his supporters. Then I began to wish that we had such a machine in France.
Again he says:
The heavy battalions of the socialists march methodically forward, making no mistakes, no false movements but occupying one by one the cities, investing one by one even the villages.
They are preparing a new imperial Sedan — a new republic, which will be a German republic.
Do we in France know enough to draw from the victory of our friends in Germany the lesson of organisation, of method, of discipline, of harmony that we need?
Now, here is a newspaper one week old, containing a translated editorial by Herve, the direct actionist, one of the most brilliant men in the French labour movement; he says:
But to be frank, I, for one, maintain that it was not only the position that was wrong; the very weapon adopted at the Congress of Amiens proved a failure — that is, the economic weapon to the exclusion of political action — experience tells us that this weapon is inferior to the old firelock used by the working class in Germany.
What is the weapon used by the German proletariat? In Germany, the socialists, who, as everywhere, organised the first unions, said: “We are going to gather into one socialist political party all the workingmen who want the abolition of the capitalist order; we shall admit into that party the peasant proprietor, the well-to-do middle-class man, the cultured intellectual who joins not from economic necessity, but from idealistic motives, and because of this, are even better soldiers than the others; and besides, the money and the culture they bring with them play an important part. Over this party we shall raise the red banner of the Internationale, the political and social ideal of Socialism.”
0n the other hand, as in the socialist state, labour shall be supreme and the social capital used for production by the industrial federations of workers, we are going to develop side by side with our political organisation, trade unions, who, in the day of our triumph will step in and take hold of the machinery of production. In order to get the greatest number of workers into our unions, we are going to attract them by an appeal to their mutual interests; we shall refrain from our revolutionary declamations; we shall not demand from every new recruit to recite a creed, not even our own creed of the expropriation of capitalistic society. These shall be free unions, and we socialists will take good care to direct these masses without noise, without smoke — smokeless powder — toward our socialist end.
The result is: we have now in Germany two organisations, one political, the other economic, marching hand in hand, supporting one another, and gradually absorbing all the live elements of the German nation.
The Social Democratic party, the political wing, has a million adherents, 4,300,000 votes; the unions, 2,400,000 members. Both organisations have millions in their treasuries and hundreds of influential papers. And this is the German syndical-socialist weapon.
What is the weapon we have in France, which boasts of two political organisations, has no economic organisations. The biggest unions, those of the metalworkers and the building trades, are on the decline; and it is only by counting the ”green” and ”yellow” syndicates that the Bataille Syndicaliste could speak about the growth of the syndicates and boast of a million organised workers, while, in fact, the General Confederation embraces hardly half a million. Terrified by the blood-curdling of the General Confederation of Labor, the timid stop on the threshold and turn away in fright.
Another result is that, while a capitalist press continues to poison the nation, all that the two organisations can show is two struggling dailies in Paris; and even here, instead of uniting their meagre means into one powerful organisation, they prefer to waste their money on two papers, both in eternal deficit.
This is the French weapon.
“Why not, then, admit openly”, says Herve, a man who has been one of the leading advocates of sabotage, whose La Guerre Sociale has been recognised as the most revolutionary paper, even in revolutionary France, in his leading editorial in his paper a couple of weeks ago: ”Why, then, not admit openly and honestly the self-evident truth that the weapon used by our German brothers is far superior to ours; that, given our temperament and revolutionary traditions this weapon would have proved yet more powerful in our hands had we used it.
And with the experience of seven years demonstrating that with all the good intentions and the fire of idealism which inspired the initiators of the movement, syndicalism as conceived by the Amiens Congress proved mere sabotage upon both the political and economical organisations of the French proletariat.
So that I am obliged, as a man of some scientific leaning, to come to the conclusion that the syndicalism of France is a self-confessed failure, while the Social Democracy of Germany is marching onward to its ultimate goal.
My opponent says the state as it is now — I have only five minutes more, I have taken a good deal of time for that historical demonstration — the state as it is now does not need to be democratised. Of course not; I am not anxious to democratise it. But it does need to be overcome; it does need to be conquered.
When Aristide Briand made his famous speech in 1899, when the railway workers were thinking of striking, it was said: “What if the state immobilises the workers themselves and puts arms in their hands and instructs them to fight the strikers”. Briand waved that difficulty aside. “Nothing at all; a bourgeois state will think twice before putting rifles and cartridges in the hands of the individual strikers.” After that, in 1910, ten years later, Briand had proven himself a deserter. And he was the premier of France — the prime minister. And the railway workers went on strike.
What did Briand do? They had an almost perfect economic organisation, and they had the support of all the syndicates in France. But Briand took the individual workers — the individual strikers — and put guns in their hands. He said: “Now what are you? Are you members of the union, or are you citizens of France!” And they were citizens of France. And the strikers either had to be citizens of France or be court-martialed and shot.
And you wave aside the power of the state &mash; it does not amount to anything, and yet the same could be done, thanks to the Dick military law, right in the United States.
What the workers need is political education. You will ignore the state. If every single workingman were thoroughly educated and class conscious and, given absolute class solidarity, yes. But with the working class as it is, what are you going to do? Pooh-pooh the state — a thing that has evolved and become more powerful and perfect through the evolution of the hundreds of generations? Ignore the machinegun? Yes, but the machinegun will not ignore you. The machinegun will bore holes through you.
When it comes to a showdown between the working class and the capitalist class, you can’t afford to ignore anything. Yon must count the cost. Measure the forces that are against you. That is why the German Social Democrats never go recklessly into general strikes, or into any battle, until they see some security of victory ahead. They know that every defeat means to go further back and back and back, weakened, discouraged and disheartened; and it is a movement that is discouraged and disheartened and in despair that resorts to direct action and sabotage.
The courage that ignores the power of the armed state, and waves it aside in a few sentences, is very much like the courage of the mouse that I heard of, that got into a cellar where there was a cask of wine; it noticed the moisture dripping from the spiggot and got its nose under until it got full of wine. Then it got up on top of the barrel, and it felt courageous. It folded its arms and said: “Where in hell is that cat that was looking for me?”
That is a kind of courage that won’t go very far. We need a courage that has measured the forces arrayed against it, and the armed forces of the state are among those forces. And if you want a revolution that will not be drowned in seas of the blood of the working class, there is only one safeguard, and that is for the proletariat to sit in the high places of social and political power and issue those mandates which soldiers alone know how to obey.
I would have been glad if Mr Lewis had been good enough to have dealt with that which I asked him to deal with, and which he perhaps will deal with sufficiently exhaustively in his next speech.
The concluding remarks that he made concerning the dear little mouse and its wonderful attitude were very entertaining, and I congratulate him upon being a good story-teller.
He says that which I am advocating is to him much like unto it — equally silly; because it is claimed that if you will ignore the state, the state has its machinegun, etc.
In the plainest of English language, which neither man nor woman here could misunderstand, I commented upon the existence of that power. I also made the straightest possible reference to the means whereby I would deprive them of that power. Isn’t that so?
I said: functioning on the industrial field by the exhibition of solidarity, which I declare to be possible, that in itself would entirely deprive the government of the present power it has, and it could no longer control those who would make use of the guns to pop holes through you.
I asked him what his view was on the future of the state; if not in so many words, at least I said I understood that his position was that capitalism was a decaying institution, and it deserved our assistance to make it clear out. I said further, and I believe that he shares the same view, that the government — the state, as we now know it, as he uses the term, and as I use the term — is part and parcel of the capitalist system and must disappear with it; therefore, we want something through which we shall function for the new society.
Does he believe that the state is going? I presume I am warranted in concluding that he does, for he himself handed to me — he was very kind in doing so — he handed me a little volume, being a report of a previous debate, in which I find this statement from Mr Lewis himself: “The state as a class instrument must be wrested from the hands of its users, not to be used by its new owners to oppress others, but in order that it may be abolished.”
That it may be abolished. Is that the same “state” that Mr Lewis is now proposing we shall spend our energy in capturing? And what will be the good of it when we have got it? What will we do with it when we have it? If it is to be abolished, and I say it is to be abolished, what is the good of spending time over it trying now to get hold of it, when here I have shown — and he has not refuted it or attempted to — I have shown that by refusing to function at the bidding of the bosses we thereby deprive the state entirely of its present power. I request him to be good enough to deal with that.
Regarding France, one would have thought, judging by the time spent by my opponent on France and Germany, that it was their particular methods that we were vitally concerned about.
When we arranged the discussion, the language was perfectly clear “that economic organisation is sufficient, and political action unnecessary, to realise the economic change”.
Now, if all that could have been said concerning syndicalism was as faulty as that which he has declared it to be, and ten times more so, I am still here to discuss and defend that which I submitted, irrespective of what Germany or France may have done.
It is remarkable how nice and soothing and pleasing one tale is until another is told (laughter). Now, Mr Lewis claims not to have very much intimate knowledge. He says: who shall judge if Germany has followed one course and France another, and who shall judge?
Well, then, I will turn to one of their own — he says — a leader of syndicalism, one who has spent years in the movement, and therefore can speak authoritatively. My dear Mr Lewis and audience generally, that gentleman was never a syndicalist. Gustave Herve was the man referred to. Gustave Herve was never a syndicalist. He was a medical man, he was an army man, he was an intellectual and sentimentalist. He was a very fine man, indeed, a very fine man. He has spoken on two occasions in London. On both of those occasions I was the chairman of the committee that invited him. But there was a difference in that committee — because it was a syndicalist committee — as to the wisdom of inviting him, because he was not a syndicalist but simply an anti-militarist. “We shall create a wrong impression,” they said, “as to what we are here for if we ask him to come under our auspices.” But others said: “Never mind; he is doing excellent service. Let us ask him to come.” And he was good enough to respond; and I was the chairman of both meetings. One was at Shoreditch Town Hall, London, and the other in the neighbourhood of Tottenham Court Road.
I know what Mr Herve is; I know what his work has been. I respect him very, very highly. I admire his sincerity. With regard to his sentimentalism, it is not such that I care to share in.
Now, why did Herve offer to be identified with the syndicalist movement? Simply because he is an anti-militarist. That was his forte; that was his particular work; that was the work which brought him into prominence and that he has been identified with right through. As an advocate of this, he was not a syndicalist; not at all, not at all.
But issuing a paper and publishing a paper — the one referred to as La Guerre Sociale — he found that those who supported his ideas were the syndicalists, they being anti-militarists.
In time he was incarcerated for his ideas and, exhibiting fine behaviour, he was allowed to conduct his paper. He continued it on the anti-militarist line; and he had many good words to say for those trade union friends, the syndicalists, who were also backing him in his fight, until it was generally believed by many that he, too, was a syndicalist.
He has never been an industrialist, and he never claimed to have industrial knowledge; that is, he never was a syndicalist, never a member of a union, was never identified with the unionist movement.
What I am saying, I know. The man you have referred to, my dear opponent, is no syndicalist at all, and never has been.
Would they accept of him, would they accept of him as an exponent of his views in the CGT (the General Confederation of Labour)? That means those syndicalists who are revolutionary in character. These never accepted of him as a spokesman. They admired him as an anti-militarist; they support his anti-militarist attitude. That is a different thing.
What weight has that, all that rigmarole that was read about Gustave Herve? When confined in jail, Herve found that the German Social Democratic movement also declared in favour of anti-militarism, and, naturally, he was delighted. He had to fight them before that. He went to the congress for the express purpose of fighting them, the Socialist Congress; and he did fight them very well; he fought his own countrymen very well. And he stood forth on the ground of anti-militarism in magnificent style; and none admired him more highly than I for the magnificent work that he did. As soon as he found that they were in favour of anti-militarism, then he was only too glad to fraternise with them, bless them and fight with them. Quite understandable!
Then he urges, speaking of France again, why should we not have a similar movement there? And the French replied, “No, no.” From the standpoint of anti-militarism, yes; but not from the standpoint of the political attitude of the Social Democratic Party!
Judging from what my opponent has said, one in the audience might be disposed to conclude that as a result of the political organisation of the German social democracy, and the recording of so many votes — over four million for that party — and the return of a large number of candidates to the Reichstag, that they were achieving economic changes as a consequence (laughter.) Have they achieved them? And if they have, will my opponent be good enough to recite them to us?
Why, until 1889 they were questioning even the advisability of being identified with the trade union movement at all — the Germans were, many of them were; and the question came up in 1896, at the International Socialist Congress, held in Queens Hall, London; and I was one of the organising committee of that congress, and a committee was appointed, two from each union, with a view to threshing out the question: What should be the attitude of the socialist movement towards the trade union movement? Our two were H.M. Hyndman and myself. I remember the two Germans. These, with those of other nationalities, threshed the question out, and gave such hearty endorsement that every socialist since that time has declared he admits and approves of industrial organisation; and from that time only.
Now I have to remind you that the Germans are working — how? Very hard and very long as compared to America. Says my opponent, the industrial movement is so puny, our industrial movement so contemptible. What then have the Germans achieved better than the Americans have? Have they? Where are the high wages in Germany or in America?
Now that is the standard of test; and if anybody should say. Ah, it was not due to political action, nor to trade union action that the rates of wages were relatively high here, I will declare, and I admit I am a foreigner and stranger, but I dare declare here that the direct and specific cause of the relatively high wages in Chicago, the city we are now in, is the direct outcome of the sturdy fight conducted by the trade unions in this district. And it is not traceable to political action nor to any other outside agency.
I declare that the country in Europe that has resorted most like unto the methods endorsed here is Britain; and we have sent fewer to parliament than elsewhere. I declare and challenge it, but will state that the working hours are fewer in England than anywhere else on earth.
I submit that the Saturday half-holiday is more general there than anywhere else outside of the colonies, like Australia, and so on. I say, as a result of trade union action, non-political action, in Britain, the Saturday half-holiday was established there long before anywhere else in any other country. I say that they have maintained and extended the reduction-of-hours movement there more completely than in any other country. I declare that they have fought battles there and raised their standard of wages directly in consequence of not dabbling in politics to the extent that they have in Germany.
I venture now to express the opinion that instead of it being a detriment to the movement, that is, to the industrial movement, here in the United States, it is a direct and positive advantage to them that they are not tied up in all the mummifications of the political system of this country. And those that have attempted it the other way will have to unlearn it. We are in the beginning already.
In Germany, too, the classic land that my opponent loves to quote, what are they doing there? Switching off from the political movement, not in very large numbers, I admit, but there are groups by the score, and three papers are brought into existence for the advocacy of the syndicalist policy and principle as against the social democratic principle. And that is going on in Germany now. It will be equally fair for my opponent to ask: and have they all the Saturday half-holiday in France? I say no, they have not. Why haven’t they? It is because — so they declare — they spent such a long time dabbling in political action. That is their statement. I know the CGT well. I have been there personally to study their movement. I know the individuals who compose it — the workers in that movement. I know of what I speak. Twelve years ago, many of them were ardent, enthusiastic political actionists. They are not now. Why? Because they said they spent so long in the movement, and obtained so little, or no return, that they decided to give it the “go-by” entirely. From that time they have resorted to economic organisation; and in proportion as they have done so, they say they have achieved results in the way of reduction of hours and increase in pay.
It is true they have never had a large percentage organised; that is certainly true. Each nationality has its own methods, its own characteristics, and own temperament. The Germans have had a larger percentage organised; they have four millions organised on political lines, and they have two and a half millions on industrial lines.
With regard to France, with a smaller population — forty-five million — as you are probably aware, they have had less than a million organised; and it was only during the last ten or twelve years that they have discarded the actual political action business and have resorted to syndicalist principles and methods. It was actually started fifteen years ago, but only came into general existence and became an influence some twelve years ago. From that time it has continued to grow, until now, at this hour — I say it as one who had the opportunity of fraternising with them quite repeatedly during the past three and a half years, and who, prior to my going to Australia some twelve years ago, was frequently fraternising with the comrades on the other side of the channel. I declare that they are the most virile, the most energetic, and the most effective workers that can be named on the whole continent. I say that they are the inspirers of the labour movement. But I am not here specially to eulogise the French nor to minimise from the earnest efforts put forth by the Germans. I am here now to ask for a definite statement from my opponent as to the value he attaches to the state — what use he is going to make of it? Is he going to abolish it; or is he encouraging you to give up industrial organisation and to rely effectively upon the state, the governing entity of the state through which you are to achieve economic emancipation? (Applause.)
Mr Lewis: First of all, we will dispose of Herve. Herve never was a member of a labor union. He was a very nice gentleman and a medical man and so forth, but not a syndicalist.
What I say is that Herve renounced his socialist views and adopted syndicalist opinions. I did not say he joined a union. He was not eligible to join a union. I did not say he was not sentimental, from my opponent’s point of view; just as the men he believes in are sentimental from my point of view.
But Herve was once a member of the Socialist Party, and believed in political action, and did not believe in direct action. He changed his opinion; he came to believe in direct action, which is the central principle of syndicalism; and when he came to be a thorough advocate of direct action, he resigned from the Socialist Party. Here in this very same paper I read from is the statement of his resignation. Now that makes him a syndicalist as I see the case.
Mr Mann: Oh, no.
Mr Lewis: I will admit he was not a member of a labour union.
We are not accustomed to interrupting each other in this country, Mr Mann. I recognise that there are some customs in England not in vogue here; and I will forgive my opponent on the ground of his English training. I got rid of mine about fifteen years ago. Here we talk in our turn.
So this is what I mean by Herve being a syndicalist. If any man in this city resigned from the Socialist Party in order to advocate the chief principle of the syndicalist movement, we would call him a syndicalist. And that is why I claim the right to so name Herve.
In order to refute my position, it would be necessary for my opponent to deny that Herve did resign from the Socialist Party because of his views on direct action; in which case I shall produce this paper containing the statement that he did.
Unfortunately for my opponent, I once lived in England; and when I hear that story about the Saturday half-holiday, I remember something that ought to go with it, but that did not go with it when he told it. And that is that five mornings a week in order to get that Saturday half-holiday the English workingman gets up about half-past four, and he goes to work at six o’clock, while the American workingman is still in bed; and he works until eight o’clock. He works one shift until eight o’clock; then he takes half an hour for breakfast and he works another shift until noon; then he takes half an hour or hour for noonday meal and then he works a third shift until evening. That is, in order to get the half-holiday on Saturday, he works five extra shifts in the early dark during the week. For myself, as far as I am concerned, and I have worked in both countries in the workshops, I would rather work Saturday afternoons and work only two shifts during the week. But I think it strikes a fair balance. I am answering the argument that the English workman is better off because of his Saturday half-day holiday.
“Where have they achieved high wages: in this country or in Germany?”
Does Mr Mann know anything about the difference in the cost of living between this country and Germany?
Now let it be understood, I am not concerned about the mere question of wages. I do not believe that the efficiency of the proletarian organisation is to be tested merely by what it has achieved in the way of present advantages. I think it is the business of the working class, in all of its organisations, to achieve all it can, to secure every advantage possible, and to make these advantages stepping stones to its ultimate goal. But the question of the efficiency of the revolutionary movement, in my judgment, is not to be tested simply by what it achieves in the way of present and temporary advantages. If I were to accept that test, I should become a reformer I should become purely an opportunist.
I think the test of the qualification of any organisation to emancipate the working classes is not what it is doing for you now in the way of more wages or other advantages, but how far it has prepared you to take possession of society.
We may talk all day and all day tomorrow, and all of every day next week, about the advantages the Americans have over the Germans, and the Germans over the French, and the English over the Americans, and so forth, and never get anywhere.
You will find, as a matter of fact, that all over the capitalist world, the rate of wages and the cost of living just about balance each other, and that they are all living in the same hell.
I should like to ask my opponent when did it become the test of the revolutionary propaganda that certain things are achieved in capitalist society? The Marxian philosophy has not yet penetrated Australia, and it has had little effect on England; and the Englishman and Australian have to come to this country to get in touch with the teachings of Germany and continental Europe. I am telling my opponent what may be information: that the socialist movement proceeds on the assumption that it is impossible to gain any material advantage for the proletariat inside of the structure of capitalist society.
Let me illustrate what I mean. You take the abolitionist movement, which sprang up in the northern states of this country. It sought the abolition of chattel slavery. It began in the last days of the eighteenth century and came over into the nineteenth. In 1830 it was thoroughly organised for the first time. It secured its goal in 1860-61.
Supposing you were to say to the abolitionists in 1850, “What have you done for the chattel slaves? Where is your emancipatory work? Have you emancipated a single slave? Have you improved the condition of the slaves? You have been talking and organising and preaching, going into politics and organising parties. What have you done? Is the slave any nearer his emancipation today than when you began wasting your time with political advocacy?” The abolitionists could not point to a single slave that had been emancipated; he could not point to any material improvement in the conditions of chattel slaves. But he knew — he knew that as the result of those labours and forces in society that were harmonious to those labours, that chattel slaves were nearer their emancipation.
When they began their advocacy, when they began their propaganda, a man like Lloyd Garrison could be dragged naked through the streets of Boston; other men could be burned and killed, because they protested against chattel slavery. Murders and lynchings and all sorts of brutality were in order.
As the result of their advocacy they transformed the public mind; and by the time that 1860 arrived, the abolitionists could speak in public, could be reported in the newspapers — they had so thoroughly impressed the public mind. They had made no material improvement in the condition of the slave, had emancipated not a single one of them; but they had brought the abolitionist movement to the point where in twelve months every chattel slave in the United States would see his shackles fall. Of course I know that the shackles that he got in their place were not much better.
So I refuse to accept my opponent’s test, that the German socialist movement or any other socialist movement is to be judged by what it has achieved in this sense. I think I should have no difficulty in showing, however, that the political activities of the German socialists and economic activities of the German socialists’ unions, have put the German proletariat in as good a position as any proletariat in the world; and in a much better position in all that relates to sanitation or economic security than any other proletariat in the world.
In England, which is so glorious a country, where they have already reached the step next to the entrance to Paradise — where they have solved their labour problem — they sent, while I was in that country, a government commission to Germany to find out the condition of the German working class, so that they could come back and point out the miserable condition of the German workers to the English workingmen, so that they would be content with their condition and quit striking and making trouble.
That royal commission went to Germany, and they saw the condition, the sanitary condition of the workshops and the general living conditions of the German working class; and they came back to England and suppressed their report. The Germans were so much better off than the English workers that they were afraid to tell what they found there.
Now my opponent wants to know what I think about the state; and I will tell him. This is what I think about it: The state I regard as a political institution, and I believe, because it is a political institution, it must be overcome by political methods. I shall perhaps myself be willing to give up political methods when I see the enemy willing to do the same thing. But so long as I see the enemy using political methods, and using them effectively to browbeat the working class into subjection, I am suspicious of any advocacy of giving up a weapon that is so useful on the other side.
The Danbury hatters won a strike on the economic field. Immediately the political powers of the state were turned against them, and, by a decision of the judiciary, their victory was turned into a crushing defeat.
In the state of Massachusetts a few weeks ago the members of the Railway Workers Union complained that the railroads were not promoting the members of the union according to seniority, and unless seniority rule was followed so that the men would get a fair chance according to the time of their service, they would have a strike on the railroad. And they were getting ready to strike, but the railroad went to the governor, and the governor said: “If these men strike against young men going over the heads of the older men, then, in the name of public safety, I will call a special session of the legislature and see that we have enacted a law which will make it illegal to enforce the seniority rule.”
And the railroad workers realised that, with the governor and political powers of the state against them, their fight would be hopeless; and they abandoned their idea of a strike, on the statement of the governor.
The capitalist class owns capitalist property. It is that property we desire to abolish. But the capitalist class is shrewd. In order to prevent the abolition of its property, it has safeguarded it. It has taken the title deeds to its property and placed them in the hands of the state; and it is the business of the state to safeguard those title deeds. They are in the state’s safekeeping, guarded by the judiciary, guarded by the police, and the army and the navy. And until you can break down that citadel, until you can throw down the walls of that fortress, there is no way to abolish capitalist property. And for that reason, as wise a general and strategist as Karl Marx saw that it would be necessary to attack the capitalist system in the instrument of its state organisation.
And until you break down the power of the state, nothing else can be accomplished. And when you proclaim the abolition of the capitalists’ property and the establishment of working class property, or social property, that in itself is a political act. And the socialists believe that it is necessary, as a matter of strategy, to attack the capitalist at his only accessible point.
This proposition to have a purely trades union organisation, with nothing but members of the working class to carry on the affair, is a proposition that in my opinion is altogether utopian. It is a thing we might like to have, but there is not any probability or possibility of its coming into existence.
There are other classes in society besides the working class. The middle class is not a class to be sneered at. Karl Marx thought the middle class was going to disappear. As an actual matter of fact, the middle class is at this moment increasing; and it was the anarchists that pointed out that fact to us. Nobody has done more than the anarchists, who are leaders in the syndicalist movement, to show that the proletariat, the wage-working class itself, is not equal to the working of the social structure, not equal to all its functions. I know they can make loaves of bread, I know that they can build houses, I know they can carry on the work of production and distribution; but there are other things to be done. There is art and music and science; and these things must be taken care of. And the men who follow these professions are influential men in society; and a great proportion of them will have to be converted to the proletarian philosophy.
The political organisation does not limit its appeal to men who are inside the ranks of the labour unions. It makes its appeal to all society. It invites any man, no matter what his class, no matter what his calling, to take sides with the proletariat. And the proletariat needs all the help it can get. It needs every honest man, every sincere man, whose ideality and whose aspirations are genuine and honest, and who is in favour of the progress of the human race, no matter from what class he comes; no matter what his occupation is, he should be welcomed as a soldier in the revolutionary army. And the socialist movement is growing, and is becoming more formidable and powerful because it is being recruited from all classes in society, while the working class is its basic source — the necessities of the working class are the source of its dynamic and kinetic energy. This political social organisation appeals to all, and any movement that does not make its appeal to society as a whole can never expect to succeed.
I don’t believe an underground movement, confined to any class of society, and leaving out of consideration all other classes, would ever be able to transform society. I believe the proletariat needs, by political propaganda, to draw to its standard all men who believe in the progress of the human race.
First, with regard to the little cynicism indulged in by Mr Lewis concerning the good conditions of England, “where they have solved the labour problem”. I made no such nonsensical statement; and I hope that Mr Lewis will please remember that.
I am not here to champion England, nor any other country. But any country that has taken definite action of a character that has resulted in some change of conditions for the better, it is not only permissible, but my duty to remind him of; and I have said what Karl Marx said: it is right and necessary, and perfectly in accord with the best traditions of all revolutionary activity that you should aim at reducing the working hours.
My opponent had the effrontery to say that unfortunately for me, he knew England. Unfortunately! “What, in the devil’s name, do you make it unfortunate for me for? He tried to create the impression that when they reduced the hours in the evening in England, they added to them in the morning. Do you believe that nonsense! You know you do not. You know it was not true, absolutely untrue. They did not start earlier in the morning; they simply knocked off earlier in the evening.
I was one of the kids that was affected by it forty years ago. It is true we started at six and knocked off at six. Then the change came; and instead of averaging sixty hours, it was one hour per night less — therefore fifty-four hours. What is the good of saying: “You lose it at one end if you get it at the other.” Entirely untrue.
Karl Marx, to whom my opponent so frequently appeals, at all times declared that the reduction of hours should receive the utmost possible attention; and he was amongst the first to compliment and congratulate those in England who took the requisite action to establish the ten-hour bill. I admit it was a bill after the trade unionists had educated the volume of opinion favourable to one thing or another — revolution or shorter hours.
Now, then, with regard to the state. I must have it a bit more definite, please, from my opponent: I want to know what he proposes to do with that old state when he captures it? I can see he is trying to dodge it. He is, in effect, saying: “Damn the old state. I wish it were out of the road!” That is where he would like it to be. Own up!
We will have to turn to the workers to function effectively. Now I will ask: are the workers to function as controllers of the industries through a perfected state, or is that state to be abolished, as per his own statement as before made? Which?
If they are not to use the state, then through what agency, by what agency will those who are to control industry exercise that control?
Now I am reminded that my opponent cannot endorse any “underground” method; and an underground method I am to understand by his remarks is such a method as that of the industrially organised workers. And we are to cater for all. I am not catering for all. I want to throw the devils out of it entirely — those who don’t work. No, sir, I am not catering for the capitalist. I am not catering for the intellectual. Let him cater for himself. He will be there all right in a sound industrial system, and have part in the functioning.
It is not my concern, as a workman, one of the class whose children are starving, etc. It is not my concern to try and say we will have nothing done until we are satisfied that the musician and the artist shall be all right. I am confident that they can never be all right until all the working class is all right. (Applause.) And then, when the economic situation is what it should be, then the workers themselves will produce the artists and the musicians from the ranks of the workers — they themselves will become the artists.
But to declare that he is not prepared to endorse any system to bring about economic change that does not adequately recognise and cater for every section of the community, that is practically giving up the ghost with the social revolutionary. My opponent is quite ready to retain all the sections we are now familiar with. If that is not so, why should he wish a condition of affairs not that those who produce should control what they produce, but where all the other sections shall have a voice and decision in deciding what should happen. All must be there to function through some polyglot agency, which, beyond question, will dictate to those who toil.
No. It is at the bottom — the man and woman who works — those who render service. These are the ones in whose names I speak, and only in their names.
My time is getting short. And, having made that quite clear, I must give this in the remainder.
When you talk, as my opponent has, of the standard being the same everywhere, it is not so; no, it is not so. There is a difference between the earning capacity and the spending capacity of a mechanic in Chicago and a mechanic in Milwaukee; and that difference is in favour of the trade union city and against the political socialist city. The standard of life here in Chicago is eighty per cent higher than for the mechanic that comes from Berlin or any other city in Germany, as it is equally for the mechanic that comes from London, or any other city in England, and that after allowing for all the increased expenditure.
He is good enough to remind me of my lack of knowledge concerning this country. I know enough to know this: that after allowing for the increased expenditure for food and clothing and every household requisite, it leaves it a solid fact what I am declaring, that the mechanics, and a large percentage of the labourers here and in other cities like unto this city of Chicago, where the trade union has been at work — I say that after allowing fully for that increased expenditure — the standard is higher by eighty per cent — eighty per cent, and not the slightest question about it. And again I say it is directly traceable to the industrial organisations.
The organisations are far from being what they ought to be, but I, for my part, am very cheerful indeed to do all I can to encourage others to do their share to amalgamate all sections of society in a given industry to line up on the basis of industrial organisation; to co-relate each industrial organisation one with the other, and then to function as controllers of our own energies by ourselves deciding the conditions under which we will work. All else will fall into its proper place from my standpoint.
From my opponent’s standpoint, he does not want that. He wants the intellectual to come in; he wants the artist to come in; he wants the bourgeoisie to come in. If you wipe out bourgeoisdom, where are the other sections?
A voice: What about the others?
Mr Mann: It is with this gentleman (Mr Lewis) I am debating, not you.
Now I ask you what are the contentions? Here I put it as a plain matter of fact, plain logic, so that every woman can understand, every man can understand.
I say the capitalist system is going. We are to help it go, every one of us that is revolutionary in character.
The state, the government is part of that system; and they will go too. It is a decrepit, dying institution. And we are to build a new society. Where and how? I will say here is where and how: those connected with the building industry, in conjunction with their fellows, will be able to decide the conditions under which work will be done there; those in other industries the same way. It will be the application of the general principle of co-operation through all the industrial ramifications. That I declare holds the field — holding it entirely, as against any attack made upon it by anything said by my opponent.
I submit again if he has anything to trot out in his next speech, trot it out. Let us know what he relies on. If he says the state, we will know where he is at. Perhaps it will be permissible, if not quite fair, if he tells us how he departs from that quotation I gave him, which he does not deny, and which I believe he is prepared to endorse, I would like to know if he is in that position now, or if he has modified that; because I am at present in the dark to know where he is to bring about a better state for the future.
Finally, this is what I am asking Brother Lewis for: please come down pat. What is the agency that you will rely upon for the reconstructed, co-operative society. Tell us that precisely, or let it go.
In this ten minutes I want to deal seriously with some of these problems raised.
When I spoke about England having solved the problem, I wasn’t thinking of what my opponent said about it now, but of his two lectures I heard in Turner Hall, where it seemed to me that the English had about solved everything in sight. And when I referred to “underground methods”, I had also in mind, and should have expressed, the principle called sabotage, which is a part of the syndicalist proposition. I regard sabotage as an underground proposition. I believe that sabotage would destroy the efficiency of the working class. Things that have to be done in secret, the destruction of property, which dare not be faced in the open, bring into the ranks of the proletariat the agent provocateur and Pinkerton detective, until finally no working man can trust the man side by side with him, and the economic movement is utterly demoralised and destroyed.
As to the workers producing their own artists and musicians, I think that most artists and musicians have come from that working class.
As to the question of food cost here in Chicago as compared with wages and the state of things at home in the old country, from which we both hail, I think my friend Mann has not been long enough in this country to get over the habit which attacks all newcomers to this country when they first arrive. For a week’s work they get twenty-five dollars in American money. The first thing they do is to translate that into English shillings or German marks, or French francs; and they think they have suddenly become millionaires. But when they have been here five or ten years that impression vanishes.
A voice; What about the state that is what we want to know.
Mr Lewis: You arrange a debate of your own, my friend.
There is a difference between Milwaukee and Chicago; but from his point of view …
The voice: What about …
Mr Lewis: Now, if my friend Tom Mann can’t answer me, it is sure that you can’t do it. You should have confidence enough in the man on the other side. He will take care of it, and he will take care of it much better than you can.
Please, Mr. Chairman, allow me my time for those interruptions!
The chairman: Yes.
Mr Lewis: There is a difference between Milwaukee and Chicago. In my humble opinion it is in favour of Milwaukee. And I can tell you one of the tricks by which the unionists of Chicago keep up the wages. I came across an exhibition of it only the other week, where the business agent of the union said, “Now, look here, this is what we want” — he was talking to the boss. “You give us that, or we will give you what the workers in Milwaukee gave Milwaukee: we will give you a socialist mayor.” And with the threat of what the workers had done in Milwaukee, they browbeat Chicago employers.
The workers in Milwaukee at any rate equipped themselves for a social revolution. The organised workers of the city of Chicago, the majority of them, never heard of a social revolution.
It is not any pleasure to me to express these opinions on the workers of Chicago; but my opinions I think will be borne out by the facts.
Now my opponent wants to know whether the socialists will operate through the state or not. The socialist view of the state is sufficiently familiar to my opponent not to require any further enlightenment on it. I think my opponent was a socialist for a long time; and if he does not know what the socialist view of the state is, it is because he is not a very thorough student, and I will therefore inform him. We socialists have no secrets about what we propose to do when we have taken possession of the state. We propose to destroy it. We regard the state as a machinegun that is directed on us, a very efficient weapon in the hands of the ruling class. Until that gun is taken and spiked, no attempt at a social revolution will be safe for the working class either in this country or in any other country.
With the armed power of the state out of the way, with the soldier and policeman and sailor, the battleship and machinegun all abolished, then we shall be in a position to inaugurate a co-operative society, and we shall be ready to set it in motion. And when that time comes, it will be done, if you please, Mr Mann, through the activities of the economic organisation of the working class.
Every socialist that I know of in Germany or in America stands for that position. I recant nothing, I take back nothing, until I am convinced. This is the attitude of the international socialist movement.
But in getting rid of the state, especially in view of the fact that so large a proportion of the actual proletariat is still in the dark as to its class interests and its needs, I still think we are justified in calling upon all men in all ranks of society to espouse the cause of the proletariat. I have some regard for the scientist; I want to preserve the scientist; I believe that social progress depends a good deal upon the scientist. And I am not willing to endorse any propaganda which proposes to abolish everything except the actual wage worker; such a propaganda is one that invites social disaster.
What I want to abolish is the capitalist, and I did not mention that we were going to keep the lawyer — let the lawyer go with him; he will go anyway. Most of those I know would be glad of a chance to make an honest living. But the musician, the artist, and, above all, the scientist — the working class must never be prejudiced against these, or it will fulfill the prophecy of some of its enemies, that the social revolution which it creates will be a step backward and not forward. And I believe that the working class ought not to limit its activities to its trade organisations. It should be interested in education, it should be interested in learning, it should be interested in science and philosophy, and it should develop in all directions; it should know something about the body politic; it should develop its political intelligence and sagacity; it should be functioning in every department of the state which is useful for social progress. I have no faith in any working class that limits its activities to only a single field, and leaves the rest of social progress to somebody else. I want to see the workingman an all-round man, a man who can run a society, a man who can run a city, a man who can engineer a social organisation, a man who will make provision for education, science, learning and art, a man who will produce a society such as the world has never seen.
I am very glad that Mr Lewis has been quite definite with regard to his attitude towards the question. I shall not throw any snack now; there is no necessity for it at all.
He admits that the object that they have in view — that of capturing the state, is to destroy it.
I dealt with that in my opening statement in perfectly clear and understandable language, and I directed my thoughts and I thought my opponent’s, too, to the fact that by refusing to function for them, we can destroy it immediately, or any hour we are ready to take that common action.
That is met primarily by my opponent’s saying: “Ah, if we could have solidarity, if we could have solidarity!”
Without solidarity on the other side, does my friend expect to capture the state! Certainly not. Certainly not. Where are the chances best of getting solidarity: on the political field or on the industrial! Beyond any question, on the industrial; there is no earthly chance on the political. They have tried and failed, and failed a thousand times over already; because it is so easy for the capitalist to disintegrate and to demoralise.
On the other hand, on the industrial field, it is being exhibited in every country. No need to trouble and try to recite all the details. But those who are observant will know that on the industrial field we can get rid of these silly sectional animosities, not so easy, but easier than we can on the political field.
Then your ultimate goal, by your political action, is to get hold of the institution and smash it! Where are you then!
I go further than that in saying we are now to build up the new society, to build it up now, to take action now, to resort to a different principle.
Now, therefore, if you build up through industrial organisation, then you are an industrial community, and you are not a community out for the higher education, but you will get your higher education when you have settled the economic basis all right.
Therefore, I really believe that the argument holds the field: that the industrial organisations, resorting to solidarity, will enable the worker to manifest, and to demonstrate, his power in any and every department: political, social and juridical, the army, the navy, capitalistic in every way, the working class will be able to checkmate all the opposing forces.
A last word concerning the cosmopolitan character of my opponent’s attitude. I told you that all the people should have life, and have life more abundantly, but not under the conditions in which they now get it. It is for each economic organisation to have economic control whether yon approve or disapprove — if this is remembered at any time; it was advanced by the first speaker. This is it, and with which I close: effective industrial organisation taking common action on the part of the workers in their respective industries. This is stipulating the conditions under which they will work. And then when the time is ready, absolutely refusing to function as workers in the interests of the profit-making class; to produce for use, and not for profit, the workers therefore to become the controllers of and the owners of all the machinery of production, the agencies of transportation and distribution, and make for the highest form of society.
If we endeavour now to agree upon some special phraseology, there wouldn’t be one atom of difference between us with regard to the ideal state of society that we desire to see; of that I am perfectly sure.
I trust the two methods have been fairly stated. I do not think anybody has lost his temper. I do not think the audience will be any the worse, and I trust we are a little nearer with regard to the relative understanding of the two methods that have been discussed.
Now it falls to me to propose a hearty and sincere vote of thanks to Mr Greer, the able gentleman who occupies the chair. It is the first time that I have had the pleasure of meeting him. I hope his duties have not been exceedingly heavy. The one interruption that took place — I was the delinquent — I think I said “0h, no”, or something as wicked as that. For all this wickedness, my opponent and the chairman graciously forgive me, I am sure. I thank you all for your reception; I thank you all for the hearty comradelike behaviour that has characterised this meeting; and again I propose a hearty vote of thanks to the chair.
Mr Lewis: Just remember that for the moment you are in an English meeting, and this is the English method of closing a meeting; and as my opponent has had the honour of moving this vote of thanks to our chairman, Dr Greer, it is my honour now to second the motion. And as I am, in duty bound, and in agreement with my own pleasure, the seconder of this motion, I am also at liberty to make a speech in seconding the motion. But my speech, of course, must not bear on any of the questions under dispute. And so I shall limit it altogether to thanking my friend and comrade, Tom Mann, for the courteous manner in which he has conducted the debate. What I said about his interruption was not intended to be taken seriously. It was a joking reference to the English method as against our own.
I have enjoyed the debate thoroughly. I always have found it a pleasure to debate with a man who knows how to debate.
I want to thank the audience, as my opponent has already done, for being fair and impartial in listening to the arguments on both sides; and to close by seconding very heartily the vote of thanks to the chair asked by my esteemed opponent, in behalf of the audience and ourselves.
Mr Mann: Couldn’t we have three cheers for the revolution!
Whatever your views may be, let us go now for solidarity, never mind whether one kind or the other. We are comprehensive in this solidarity and realisation of the revolution.
Hats off, men. Let us have three cheers! (Loud and prolonged applause and cheers.)
Additional statement by Lewis
I regard economic action and economic organisation as eminently suited for two purposes; first to obtain concessions in the economic field at present and, secondly, for the management of production and distribution in the future co-operative society; but I consider it unequal to the task of taking possession of society on behalf of the workers. This supreme act of social revolution must be achieved, in my opinion, through a political organisation of the workers, attracting to its support all those in other classes who are favourable to the change. I believe that direct action of the economic organisations has succeeded and will continue in a measure to succeed in wringing concessions which leave the existing order unchanged, but that any attempt by means of direct action to abolish capitalist property would cause the ruling classes to bring forth every power it controls with a result that would be disastrous to the workers. In this event I believe the only safety of the workers lies in seizing the powers of the state by means of a political organisation. These powers can only be wrested from the ruling class by political action and, the new society being established economic organisation could take charge of production and distribution of commodities under the new regime, and the state, as I define it, could be relegated to the scrapheap.
Reply to the above by Mann
Mr Lewis says he regards economic organisation as being of value under present conditions to enable workers to secure concessions, but only such as will still leave the existing capitalist order unchanged: the actual change must be the work of legislative action, after that the state can go. To this I reply that if it must be a legislative act to achieve the revolution, it will require the same coercive legislation to maintain the new order, for if economic action cannot achieve the revolution, neither could it prevent a change back again to the old order; and the state, similar in all essentials to that we have now, would be a necessity. My contention is that the simple decision of the workers collectively to work under capitalist dictation and supervision would in itself be decisively powerful to the complete breakdown of the capitalist system; and the workers would at every stage of development be in possession of the field, and able to completely frustrate any possible attempt at restoring old conditions, because their weapons. Solidarity and mass action would be always ready to hand, and there is absolutely no limit to their efficacy in securing and maintaining the new economic regime based on co-operation. I respectfully submit that it is illogical to deny the power of economic action to overthrow the present system, and to rely upon economic action to maintain and develop the new system.