Mary E. Marcy


Mass Action: Where We Stand

(December 1916)

From International Socialist Review, Vol. 17 No. 6, December 1916.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We hope you have been reading the series of articles running in The Review by Dr. S.J. Rutgers. Comrade Rutgers has tried to show us what knowledge the Left Wing members of European Socialist parties have gained through the breakdown of the International and the great war.

An article translated by Dr. Rutgers from one of the leading German socialist papers, and printed elsewhere in this number, will add to the information already printed.

To sum up briefly the most important decision these European socialists have reached is that mass action is today the only remaining form of democracy left open to the workers. And they advocate mass action as a means to prevent war and as a weapon of protest and force to execute the will of the working class toward emancipation.

These Left Wing socialists advocate industrial strikes, to be broadened into class strikes whenever possible, as the best means to enforce better conditions, shorter hours, higher wages, legislation in favor of the workers, and for furthering the revolutionary movement of the workers in any field. They urge that all industrial strikes be broadened into political strikes wherever possible. And by “political” strikes they do not mean parliamentary strikes, but class struggles.

In spite of the fact that real socialists everywhere agree that all nationalist wars are waged in the interests of the capitalist classes, both offensive wars and so-called defensive wars, we have, here in America, as well as in the warring nations of Europe, so-called socialists who vote for war appropriations, for armies, who write editorials saying that the Socialist Party ought to assent to the invasion of Mexico; we are burdened with a so-called socialist mayor in Milwaukee who marched at the head of a preparedness parade; we have so-called socialists endorsing plans for universal military service.

On the other hand, in the Socialist Party Platform of 1916, we have the members of the American Socialist Party taking a stand for mass action and the general strike as a means to prevent war:

“The proletariat of the world has but one enemy, the capitalist class, whether at home or abroad. We must refuse to put into the hands of this enemy an armed force even under the guise of a ‘democratic army’ as the workers of Australia and Switzerland have done.

“Therefore the Socialist Party stands opposed to military preparedness, to any appropriations of men or money for war or militarism ... The Socialist Party stands committed to the class war, and urges upon the workers in the mines and forests, on the railways and ships, in factories and fields, the use of their economic and industrial power, by refusing to mine the coal, to transport soldiers, to furnish food or other supplies for military purposes, and thus keep out of the hands of the ruling class the control of armed forces and economic power, necessary for aggression abroad and industrial despotism at home.”

So we have the Socialist Party of America advocating mass action and the general strike to prevent war, as the Left Wing European socialists are doing. It remains for us now to utilize this weapon at every opportunity as a means of class protest, class revolt against the degrading conditions imposed by wage slavery, and as a weapon to further the revolutionary movement.

It was the Belgian socialists a few years ago who inaugurated the general strike for the ballot; but Left Wing socialists urge that we also educate the working class to employ mass action as a means for serving their interests today and working out their emancipation from the profit system as soon as they shall have become sufficiently educated and organized.

It is obvious to any revolutionist that socialist parties which restrict themselves to legislative contests alone are in no position to rally to the support of the working class in any sudden emergency. Left Wing European and American socialists expect that we American revolutionists will follow the lead of our comrades across the water, who have seen the suicidal folly of the old party tactics in the presence of a declaration of war of one nation upon another nation.

Furthermore, mass action is bound to become, is already in this country becoming the best school for revolutionary activity. As Marx taught, ideas do not fall from heaven, but spring from the actual, material needs of human beings. The same rule applies to tactics in a revolutionary movement; they follow in response to an obvious need. Furthermore, we have seen among the old so-called Marxian socialists of Europe how futile are mere ideas in the minds of leaders and of privates when they have not grown step by step with revolutionary activity.

The day of the leader in the revolutionary movement is past, for capitalist governments have everywhere discovered that where a constituency merely follows the dictates of socialists in office, or socialists editing periodicals, it is an easy matter to suppress the offensive press and imprison the leaders and check any incipient revolt. Mass action develops initiative in the rank and file and renders the working class independent of leaders.

The working class, schooled in Mass Action, cannot be suppressed or imprisoned, sold out or led astray. Further, Mass Action will develop new tactics, new weapons, new means for waging the class war for the abolition of the profit system.

The Position of The Review

We wish to send this message to our Left Wing comrades in war-torn France, and Belgium, in Germany, Russia and England, and to those loyal comrades in Holland fighting so valiantly for international working class solidarity:

We, too, in this class-war-torn Land of “Liberty,” will do our small part in the great work you are doing to build up a true working class International that shall have for its aim the joining of the hands and hearts and heads and aims of the revolutionary workers of all lands for the overthrow of the Capitalist System of society.

We hereby wish to repudiate all so-called socialists, those traitors to the working class, whether they be at home or abroad, who march at the heads of military preparedness parades, who vote war appropriations, who advocate aggression on weaker nations, and sing the siren song of Nationalism as opposed to Internationalism.

The interests of the Mexican workers, the American, German, French, English, Belgian, Austrian workers, of all those who are exploited by the capitalist owners of the means of production – the interests of these people are one. These workers have no national flag, no country. They must unite against the capitalists of all nations and take back the world for those who labor and those who produce. They must unite to make the whole world the country of the workers of the world.

Left Wing socialists in Europe are urging that every industrial struggle of the workers be broadened from craft to industrial groups, and further into class (or, as they say, political) struggles wherever possible.

This has always been the sort of propaganda work The Review has tried to carry on. Left Wing socialists everywhere find themselves gaining new revolutionary recruits because they throw themselves into every labor struggle, showing how much more effective these struggles may become if made a struggle of all the workers in an industry than when they represent only the interests of a small group m an industry, and how ultimately, when the workers more and more learn to fight and to organize as a class, they may overthrow the present system of exploitation.

The Review stands for Political Action in its broadest sense, Mass Action, Industrial Unionism, Class Unionism and for International Socialism, of which these are the strongest weapons. We oppose Imperialism in all its forms.

We are for such reforms as shorter hours and higher wages only for the reason that the struggles of the workers for these things are one of the best means of education in the class struggle. No reforms can materially benefit the working class as long as the present system of product-taking continues.

What We Need

We received a telegram today stating that six members of the I.W.W. were killed and forty injured when a machine gun was turned upon them as they advanced to disembark from a boat docking at Everett, Washington, to organize the timber workers at that point. The business interests of Everett decided they would throw law to the winds and merely kill on sight men whom they knew to be intent on uniting their exploited wage slaves to put up a fight for better conditions – and Industrial Democracy later on.

Such things are happening every week in this great privately owned capitalistic America today. We have had more strikes in America during the past year than in any previous five years.

Every true Left Wing socialist ought to be on the job during those strikes to teach the workers how to win, to propagate industrial, or class, unionism, and teach the workers what Socialism, or Industrial Democracy, is.

The simple vote-once-in-four-years “socialist,” who does not know that labor power is a commodity and who believes the working class pays the taxes, does not know how to fight. Like Public Ownership politicians they don’t understand Marx; they imagine they ought to lower taxes or work for penny telephones. They do not know that low prices mean low wages. And they fear to see any man get higher wages for fear his product will cost them more.

If you don’t know anything about Socialism, of course you will always be shooting in the dark, or advocating Public Ownership or some other thing that is beneficial to your enemies, the capitalist class.

And so, the first thing you want to do is to find out what Socialism is, if you do not know already. And if you do know, we want you to hunt up the old-timers who may have left the party in disgust because they thought it was being steered into the bogs of penny reforms, or who were expelled because they advocated the general strike or industrial unionism, and tell them to subscribe to The Review.

We are overwhelmed with work to be done. We are getting our friends and readers to help by jumping in to aid the workers win strikes, by teaching what Socialism is and re-educating some of our friends who have been taught by our misinformation departments that the main plank of Socialism is public ownership of railroads, and similar rot.

If you are sitting around with your hands folded wondering how you can work for the revolutionary movement, just write us and we will put you to work right where you are.

Tell the good old guard that there is a lot of work to be done. There are thousands of new people who have just voted the socialist ticket – and probably not one in a hundred knows what real Socialism is. Show them.

There is money to be raised to save our old comrade, Tom Mooney, and his friends – all splendid Reds who have worked for class-conscious unionism for years, and who are on trial for their lives on a framed-up charge of bomb planting in San Francisco. Help is needed for the boys who were arrested for planning to organize the workers in Everett, against the wishes of the Everett capitalist class.

And next month we hope to start a simple, scientific course in Socialism in which you will want to interest all your friends. Left Wing Comrades – all together now!


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Last updated on 27 January 2023