Marx-Engels Correspondence 1890
Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence;
Publisher: International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Gestamtausgabe;
Translated: Donna Torr;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan in 2000;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.
The stormy tide of the movement last summer has somewhat abated. And the best of it is that the unthinking sympathy of the bourgeois gang for the workers' movement, which broke out in the dock strike, has also abated, and is beginning to make way for the far more natural feeling of suspicion and nervousness. In the South London gas strike, which was forcibly imposed on the workers by the gas company, the workers are once more standing entirely deserted by all the philistines. This is very good and I only hope Burns will some time go through this experience himself, in a strike led by himself – he cherishes all sorts of illusions in that respect.
Meanwhile there is all kinds of friction, as was only to be expected, between the gas workers and the dockers, for instance. But despite it all the masses are on the move and there is no holding them any more. The longer the stream is dammed up the more powerfully will it break through when the moment comes. And these unskilled are very different chaps from the fossilised brothers of the old trade unions; not a trace of the old formalist spirit, of the craft exclusiveness of the engineers, for instance; on the contrary, a general cry for the organisation of all trade unions in one fraternity and for a direct struggle against capital. In the dock strike, for instance, there were three engineers at the Commercial Dock who kept the steam engine going. Burns and Mann, both engineers themselves and Burns a member of the Amalgamated Eng. Trade Union Executive, were summoned to persuade these men to go away, as then none of the cranes would have worked and the dock company would have had to climb down. The three engineers refused, the Engineers' Executive did not intervene and hence the length of the strike! At the Silvertown Rubber Works, moreover, where there was a twelve-weeks' strike, the strike was broken by the engineers, who did not join in and even did labourers' work against their own union rules! And why? These fools, in order to keep the supply of workers low, have a rule that nobody who has not been through the correct period of apprenticeship may be admitted to their union. By this means they have created an army of rivals, so-called blacklegs, who are just as skilled as they are themselves and who would gladly come into the union, but who are forced to remain blacklegs because they are kept outside by this pedantry which has no sense at all nowadays. And because they knew that both in the Commercial Dock and in Silvertown these blacklegs would immediately have stepped into their place, they stayed in and so became blacklegs themselves against the strikers. There you see the difference: the new unions hold together; in the present gas strike, sailors (steamer) and firemen, lightermen and coal carters are all together, but of course not the engineers again, they are still working!
However, these arrogant old great trade unions will soon be made to look small; their chief support, the London Trades Council, is being more and more subjugated by the new ones, and in two or three years at most the Trade Union Congress will also be revolutionised. Even at the next Congress the Broadhursts will get the shock of their lives.
The fact that you have got rid of Rosenberg and Co. is the main point about the revolution in your American socialist teacup. The German party over there must be smashed up as such, it is the worst obstacle. The American workers are coming along already, but just like the English they go their own way. One cannot drum the theory into them beforehand, but their own experience and their own blunders and the evil consequences of them will soon bump their noses up against theory – and then all right. Independent nations go their own way, and of them all the English and their offspring are surely the most independent. Their insular stiff-necked obstinacy annoys one often enough, but it also guarantees that once a thing gets started what is begun will be carried out.