Tom Mann’s Memoirs, 1923

Book two: Southern skies

XXII. Conclusion and farewell

First published: 1923
Publisher: The Labour Publishing Company Limited, 38 Great Ormond Street, London WC I
Transcription, mark-up: Steve Painter

Ten years have passed since the incidents just related. No detailed account of my life during this period will be attempted in the present volume. Someday, perhaps, I shall write a sequel. Meanwhile I shall close with a brief sketch of the intervening decade and a summary of present outlooks. First of all, and in this connection, I want (subject to certain reservations to be explained towards the close of this chapter) to reiterate my belief in the general truth of the syndicalist theory of ten or twelve years ago.

Notwithstanding the eclipse of the term syndicalism, the theories and methods advocated by the Industrial Syndicalist Education League (confirmed by the experience of the great strikes of ten years back, and further substantiated by the results of the railwaymen’s strike and the coal stoppage since the war), still hold the field as against the theories and methods of the Labour parliamentarians. I cannot today express my outlook more forcibly than it was expressed in an article I wrote when under remand in Strangeways Prison. It appeared in The Syndicalist for March- April 1912. I reproduce it in full.

The exceptional trade-union activity, the increase in volume and variety of the various phases of labour unrest, and the recent application of syndicalist principles and methods in the industrial world, is simply so much evidence that the efforts of the working class to obtain improved conditions are not flagging, but multiplying; and all who recognise the existence of the social problem have cause for satisfaction that this stimulating force is apparently in the ascendant and destined to produce great results in the near future.

Syndicalism means the control of industry by syndicates, or unions of workers, in the interest of the entire community; this necessarily presupposes the relatively perfect industrial organisation of all who work, and the right relationship to each other of every section. Robert Owen, over eighty years ago, advocated the necessity for such a method of organisation, and made a very good start at putting it into practice; but, as it proved, the workers were not equal to resorting to such relatively highly-trained methods; and they have had to spend twice forty years in the industrial wilderness because they were neither mentally nor physically qualified to enter the Promised Land. Since Owen’s time, several other methods have been resorted to by the workers to escape from their industrial bondage, but none of them have proved really effective, parliamentary action least of all.

In Robert Owen’s vigorous days the workers of England had no political rights, and it would appear that Owen set small store by the possession of any such “rights”. He saw and taught that the workers’ difficulties arose as a consequence of their industrial subjugation to the capitalist class — in other words, that the members of the employing class had no concern for the members of the working class, except to control and exploit their labour force for the specific purpose of using them as profit-making machines for themselves.

The syndicalist of today has learned that all-important fact, and so refuses to play at attempts at social reform through and by means of parliaments, these institutions being entirely under the control of the plutocracy, and never tolerating any modification of conditions in the interest of the working class, save with the ulterior motive of more firmly entrenching themselves as the ruling class.

All this is admitted by most socialists as regards the motive and object of the capitalist class, but the typical socialist retains an abiding faith in the “wisdom and power” of parliament, and seeks to achieve revolutionary changes by means of parliament. And yet he also fully admits that all the really serious grievances of the workers are economic or industrial and not political in character. Many of them can also see clearly enough that parliament cannot manage or control an industry or really rectify industrial wrongs; but still the glamour of this imposing bourgeois institution commands their obeisance and subjection.

The syndicalist, that is, the trade and labour unionist of the revolutionary type, recognises not only that all changes favourable to the workers must be brought about by the workers, but also that the only correct method of doing this is through and by the workers’ own industrial organisations. Organised labour means the control of labour power by the labourers organised, and this means the control of wealth production to the extent to which Labour is organised.

It is only while Labour is partly organised that recourse to strikes is necessary; not even the general strike will be necessary when Labour is universally organised. Universal organisation must carry with it industrial solidarity, ie universal agreement upon the object to be attained, for otherwise the capitalists will still triumph. With solidarity on the industrial field the workers become all-powerful.

There is nothing but a little reflection wanted to enable anyone to see that such is really the case. All students of social economics, who recognise the operation of the law of wages, know that, irrespective of what the worker produces, all that the worker on the average receives is a subsistence wage; but we also know that, in order to get that subsistence wage, there are some who work but six hours a day, whilst others work twice and even three times as long. The most effective means of securing social betterment is by reducing the working hours. It is better to get the subsistence wage for relatively few hours than for many hours of work.

Syndicalism will do this, and by so doing will solve the problem of unemployment, and by the same means will kill excessive working hours; and by the same methods will wipe out all low wages. A further application of the same principle will secure to the workers the full reward of their labour. All will come in a perfectly natural manner as the direct outcome of industrial solidarity guided intelligently and applied courageously.

The state socialist, confronted with the unemployed problem, admits the necessity for trying to cure the evil, and proposes a “right to work” bill. This proposal has been in the forefront of the state socialists’ program for fully twenty years, and it has never yet reached the stage of serious discussion — that is, it has not yet been considered of sufficiently urgent importance to be classed by the average parliamentarian as being within the region of practical politics. Nor is there any valid reason for supposing it is likely to be seriously dealt with by those who claim to attach importance to it.

The syndicalist says: “Apply direct action and reduce working hours up to the point of absorbing all available workers in the ranks of the actively employed, and quite as rapidly as labour-saving devices are applied still further reduce working hours, so that there will never be any unemployed.”

“But,” says the parliamentarian, “in order to reduce hours we must have an act of parliament”. The syndicalist says: “Such reduction of working hours can be far better brought about by industrial organisation. Nothing is wanted but the organisation of the workers, and agreement to use the organisation for such a purpose.”

The trade unionists themselves, having had their minds so fully occupied with the idea that parliament is the all-important institution, and never having even hoped to see all workers organised industrially, have failed to realise what enormous power lies in industrial solidarity.

The nearest approach to any one industry exhibiting solidarity was that of the late great strike of the miners in March 1912; but even here it was not complete, for many colliery enginemen and others did not give in their notices at the same time as the colliers, and no arrangement at all was made with other organised workers to secure their co-operation in an active and warlike manner.

The armchair discussions that took place for several weeks before the miners’ notices expired, and the ready acceptance of the intervention of the government, showed how childishly simple were many of those responsible on the men’s side. They did not view it as a national battle to be fought by the organised workers engaged in the class struggle. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the “miners’ leaders” had no conception that there was or that there is a “class struggle”; and, indeed, they had done their utmost to prevent the national claim for a minimum wage coming along as forcefully as it did.

Some of the capitalist papers charged these same leaders with being syndicalists. The fact is that many of them had never pronounced the word in their lives, and not five per cent of them knew what the term meant. But they made an excellent fight, and were truer syndicalists in fact than in theory. Nevertheless, if the syndicalist principle of brotherly solidarity in all industries had been understood and resorted to, the whole pressure of the transport workers, including railwaymen, would have been applied at the end of the first week, and no power on earth could have prevailed against them.

Once again, the object aimed at by the syndicalists is the control of each industry by those engaged in it in the interests of the entire community. This will be followed by the ownership of the tools and other means of production and transportation jointly by the industrial community. Strikes are mere incidents in the march towards control of industry and ownership of the tools of production. “Sabotage”, “Ca’ Canny”, and irritation strikes are mere incidentals in the progress onwards. The master-key to the entire problem is industrial solidarity.

Naturally, much absurd criticism has been directed against syndicalism, and quite a host of Labour men have hastened to declare not only that they are not syndicalists, but, indeed, that they have pronounced opinions against it — which, upon analysis, amounts to this: they are obsessed with the plutocratic institution of parliament and are also fearful lest identification with the workers’ real movement should debar them from sharing the contents of the Egyptian fleshpots. But they need not fear, timid souls! They may still propitiate plutocratic opinion by disclaiming identification with the virile fighting force that is already lifting the working class out of the bogs and quagmires of mugwumpish parliamentarism.

The watchwords are industrial solidarity and direct action. By these means we can and will solve unemployment, cure poverty, and secure to the worker the full reward of his labour.

Now, before presenting a brief statement of my present outlook on the matters discussed in the foregoing article, it will be well to give a summary account of my doings since it was written.

In 1913, I went to the United States on a lecturing tour, traveling from Boston in the east to San Francisco in the west. I visited seventy cities and lectured under various auspices. For instance, some of the meetings I addressed were organised by the Industrial Workers of the World, others by the American Federation of Labour, others by the Socialist Party of America and by various trade unions. The editorial committee of Justice, the socialist paper of Pittsburg and district, arranged meetings for me. I also lectured to the economic section of Chicago University, and gave addresses in Seattle, and at the Labour Temples of various cities. It was an intensely interesting experience, giving me opportunities of coming into contact with all kinds of working-class organisations, more particularly the trade unions, and also enabling me to learn essential facts concerning conditions of labour, rates of wages, and the workers’ standard of life. Of great value to me personally were the opportunities I had of meeting representative persons engaged in public work, and of learning from them at first hand their views and methods.

One friend in particular gave me much assistance in arranging meetings. This was William Z. Foster, of Chicago, who shortly afterwards took so prominent a part in the successful organisation of the stockyard workers of Chicago. A description of the conditions under which, prior to their organisation, these workers carried on their occupations, was one of the main themes of Upton Sinclair’s famous book The Jungle.

To return for a moment, before quitting the US, to Comrade Foster, I should mention his close connection with two recent and notable developments in the American labour movement.

In the first place he is the historian of the great steelworkers’ strike. In the close of 1919, more than 365,000 steelworkers put up a spirited fight against the Steel Trust, but were defeated after the stoppage had lasted three-and-a-half months.

The workers were beaten by the Iron Heel, by the organised forces of capitalism assisted by all the repressive powers at the disposal of the State and Federal authorities. I cannot recommend too highly, to earnest students of the contemporary Labour movement, William Z. Foster’s account of the affair in his book The Great Steel Strike and its Lessons, published by Huebsch, New York, 1920.

Secondly, in August 1922, Foster became closely identified with one of the most promising of recent developments in the US, the Trade Union Educational League. This is a remarkably live body, which aims at exercising a revolutionary influence within the AFL. It is destined, I think, to help greatly in lifting the reproach that the United States is the most backward land in the world as regards labour organisation.

Early in 1914 the South African government deported to England nine men who had been actively connected with the trade-union movement on the Rand in the Transvaal. I was sent to South Africa to endeavour to weld working-class forces together, and was enthusiastically received by the miners, the railwaymen and others. To my pleasurable surprise the foremost contingent in a procession of ten thousand people who met me at Johannesburg station was a couple of hundred young Dutchmen with their trade-union banner. This was a great advance on anything I had seen when I was in the same district in 1910. At that date, very few of the Dutch Africanders were working in the mines, and those few would have no truck with the Britishers. In the interval between my two visits, economic pressure and fraternisation had brought the young Dutchmen into the industrial field, and they had learned the necessity for industrial organisation.

At the present time eighty per cent, of the white workers at the gold mines on the Rand are Dutchmen. The recent labour dispute on the Rand has helped to consolidate working-class feeling yet further. In the 1922 strike, the forces of capitalist and governmental repression were ruthlessly used. Large numbers of the workers were shot down, and there is ample evidence to show that some of those who were killed had no direct connection with the dispute. Upwards of five thousand arrests were made, and fourteen hundred persons were prosecuted. A number of the strikers have been sentenced to death.

At the date when I pen this concluding chapter of my memoirs I have received an urgent invitation from the trade unionists and communists of South Africa to revisit that country at once. The heavy sentences inflicted upon the strikers have had a depressing effect, and the unions need to be reorganised. I have agreed to put my hand to this work, and am to sail by the next boat, on September 15, 1922.

Thus we see, in the new and the old countries alike, the same domination of the ruling class, and the fight to the death by that class when resistance is shown by the workers. The class struggle is being waged in every country; and, since the great World War, more fiercely than before.

In recent years all my reflections and my experience have led me to recognise more clearly than ever the correctness of the revolutionary attitude. By this I mean that there is no possible hope of establishing a satisfactory condition of society so long as ownership of the means of production and the control of industry remain vested in the capitalist class. There is no possibility of abolishing wage slavery so long as the wages system obtains. There is no hope of abolishing the wages system, and therefore the profit-making system, through friendly collaboration with the capitalist class, or through relying upon the institutions of that class. The capitalists are savagely fighting the workers in every country. All the recent inventions and the most perfected methods of warfare are utilised against the workers. They are used without scruple in Western Europe, America, and throughout the British Empire.

Trade unionism is of no value unless the members of the unions are clear as to their objective —the overthrow of the capitalist system — and are prepared to use the unions for that purpose. Political action is of no value unless all political effort is used definitely and avowedly for the same end, the abolition of the profit-making system.

Last year I was sent to Moscow by London trade unionists, as their delegate to the first congress of the Red Trade Union International (now named the Red International of Labour Unions). In Russia I had the opportunity of conferring with the delegates of over forty nationalities. I was confirmed in the conviction that the Russian Revolution has taught us many things. Perhaps the most important of these is that the administration or management of industry must be by councils of workers and not by parliaments. Whilst it may possible by parliamentary action to prevent the capitalist class from using force to block the workers’ movement, this negative advantage is the utmost we can hope to achieve by parliamentary methods. Parliament can never become the instrument through which the workers can secure and exercise the control of industry. I am, therefore, strongly in favour of the universal establishment of workers’ councils, and the universal formation of shop committees. These institutions are indispensable instruments for achieving the complete overthrow of capitalism and the full control of all forms of industry by the workers. Such control will be secured, and the administration of industry will be effected, through industrial organisations, through our present trade unions when they have shed their narrowness and absurdities, have broadened their bases, and have welded themselves together so as to become equal to all industrial requirements.

This is the essence of syndicalism. The outlook for the future is not that of a centralised official bureaucracy giving instructions and commands to servile subordinates; I look for the coming of associations of equals, working co-operatively to produce with the highest efficiency, and simultaneously to care for the physical and mental wellbeing of all. This is precisely what we advocated as syndicalists. But we are undoubtedly approaching the day when we must be ready to avail ourselves of any and every opportunity. With the experience of Russia to guide us, I entirely agree that there will be a period, short or long, when the dictatorship of the proletariat must be resorted to. The effective working of such a dictatorship would not be promoted by ignoring the existence of the plutocratic state machine, or by indifference to its functioning in a manner hostile to the workers. Reluctantly, therefore, I differ from the syndicalists in various countries who do not recognise the desirability and necessity of collaborating with the Third International. I know full well that to rely upon parliamentary action to achieve our emancipation is futile; but I admit that, when the hour is approaching for getting to grips with essentials, it would be impolitic to leave the forces of the state machine in the hands of our plutocratic enemies.

As far back as 1886, I took an active part in celebrating the Commune of 1871, and have continued to participate in the anniversary celebration down to the present time. I gladly accepted the name of Communist from the date of my first reading of The Communist Manifesto, and have ever since been favourable to communist ideals and principles.

I find that the yearnings and strivings of earlier years, becoming more and more definite and precise in later years, are in accord with the elemental urge of the working class towards real freedom. All the activities of my adult life have been a participation in the revolutionary working class movement — that movement which, though at times unconsciously, makes ever for the one true goal. The philosophy of all this is clearly set forth in what I regard as an invaluable book, Creative Revolution, by Eden and Cedar Paul. In my judgment, if this volume could be broadcasted amongst the workers, it would do inestimable service. Such a book could not have been written a dozen years ago, when I was an enthusiastic advocate of syndicalism. The experiences of the World War and the Russian Revolution were essential to the clarification of our ideas. As a result of that clarification, we have drawn much nearer to the real thing than was possible before. No longer do we “see men as trees walking”, for now we “see every man clearly”. Or at least we have gained a clear vision of the next step and the next, to carry us to the desired goal. I make an excerpt from Creative Revolution as summing up one phase of the situation.

In so far as socialist propaganda has been truly effective, it has not — such is our contention, based on our reading of modern psychological science quite as much as on our adhesion to Marxist economics and sociology — been effective mainly because it has, wittingly or unwittingly, pursued the tactic of the class struggle: because it has, designedly or undesignedly, aroused a revolutionary impulse among the mass of the workers to secure improved conditions of life and labour; among a large number, to achieve self-government in industry; and, among the peculiarly intelligent minority, to throw off forever the yoke of capitalism, to abolish wage slavery and to make an end of ownership rule.

If those who are animated with this revolutionary will, endeavour to achieve their ends through direct action, if they are convinced that to reach the land of Canaan they must take a short cut out of the parliamentary desert in which they have been wandering for forty years, it is not for would-be leaders to gainsay them. That is their vision, and they will follow it to the end, undismayed by the fact that many of those who have helped them thus far on the road now shrink back with horror from the contemplation of the forms which the final struggle is assuming.

Marx and Engels, seventy years ago, had Pisgah-sights of the promised land. Today Lenin, Trotsky, and the Russian proletariat and poorer peasantry occupy the outlying regions. Here, we shall not follow blindly in their footsteps, for in Britain, in France, in Italy, in Germany, in America, each proletariat has its own peculiar problems to face. But, broadly speaking, the left-wing socialists in all lands are agreed upon two points at least. They hold that parliament is outworn and that the growing economic power of the workers must fashion new forms of political expression. And they are confident that the main impetus of advance must be the vital impetus of the class struggle.

I am aware that numerous books upon the coming revolution have recently issued from the press, but amongst many really good books the one I would advise the student to turn to without delay is Creative Revolution. Because I appreciate it so highly, I have asked the authors to allow me to include their photographs in Tom Mann’s Memoirs.

Here, for the time being, I must bring my memoirs to a close. When I resume my pen, it will not merely be to give a more detailed account of my experiences during the last ten years, but also (I hope), to relate some further activities worth recording as the outcome of the unceasing urge towards the one thing worth working for at this juncture in the history of mankind — the social revolution.