Volume 6 Number 8 …………………….. December 1936
ROOSEVELT’S SOCIAL SECURITY
AMERICAN STRIKERS “SIT DOWN”
PARLIAMENTARISM AND DIRECT ACTION
FASCIST PROTOTYPES [I]
ALSO: INTERNATIONAL NOTES AND WORKERS CORRESPONDENCE
We have been denied second class mailing rights by the U.S. Government for refusing to turn over the names and addresses of our subscribers to the U.S. Postal Authorities
C L A S S S T R U G G L E
Official organ of the Communist League of Struggle (Internationalist-Communist)
P.O. Box 947 Chicago, Illinois Editor: ALBERT WEISBORD Associate Editor: VERA BUCH
ROOSEVELT’S SOCIAL SECURITY
It was the longing for security as much as any other factor that helped to re-elect Roosevelt. Security against sickness, against unemployment, against destitute old age. Roosevelt appeared to a great mass of people as one who was capable of bringing order out of chaos, of giving handouts to the needy and protection to the defenseless. The Social Security Act is the richest plum of New Deal legislation, embodying the best that Roosevelt can do to fulfill these hopes.
It may turn out to be a curious irony of history that the very Act that has helped most to make Roosevelt appear popular will be the first instrument to turn the tide of public sentiment against him. The provisions of the Social Security Act have been very little known. But now with the new year the special taxation it provides for will go into effect. There will be ample opportunity for every wage earner to find out exactly what “security” the Roosevelt administration has in store for him.
The Social Security Act covers old age and unemployment compensation, child and maternal welfare, public health, aid for crippled children and for the blind. Since the questions of old age and unemployment benefits are most important we shall take them up in some detail.
The old age benefit plan includes two branches: federal aid to states and direct federal old age compensation. The U.S. government agrees through the Social Security Act to pay half the total expenses of old age compensation for such states as enact old age compensation laws meeting the requirements of the Social Security Act. These requirements are: 1) The compensation cannot exceed $30 per individual per month; 2) The state cannot require more than five years residence in the nine years previous to the application for the compensation and not more than one year immediately previous; 3) The minimum age requirement may not be placed above 65 years up to Jan. 1, 1940, and after that not above 70 years; 4) No citizen of the United States may be excluded.
These requirements in themselves are worth looking at. Obviously, $30 will be the most any person may receive as a state benefit, and since $30 is the maximum requirement, we may be sure many states will give less. The five years residence qualification will bar many, but worse yet is the age requirement. In a period when the unskilled worker finds it difficult to get a job after 40, and when even the skilled worker can barely hold his own after 50, the age when old people may rest secure (on $30 a month!) is put off till 65 or even 70 years! This leaves a span of 20 to 30 years in which self-support becomes increasingly difficult before any help can be expected from the state. Already the dream of security grows a bit dim. One more point on these requirements: We notice that citizens may not be excluded from old age compensation, but nothing is said about the exclusion of non-citizens. The individual state may therefore discriminate at will against the foreign born, unnaturalized workers.
These provisions we have just discussed are merely requirements that the state must live up to in its old age compensation act before the U.S. Government will assist it with money. Whether the state actually does pass such legislation will depend upon its own initiative, or rather upon the amount of pressure the aged and needy sections of the population can bring to bear upon it. As a matter of fact, legislation in favor of the aged has increased rapidly within the last two years, although in 1934 it was estimated that only 180,000 old people were receiving public assistance, out of the 7,500,000 in the whole country over 65. At that time 30 states had old age pension laws on their books, not all functioning. At the present time 40 states have such laws. This advance is due not so much to the influence of the Social Security Act as to pressure for below. The Townsend Plan, foolish as it was in itself, probably contributed a great deal towards arousing the older sections of the population to the need for social legislation in their behalf.
For those old people not covered by state laws, the federal government undertakes to provide its own assistance to the aged. Here is where the supporters of Roosevelt can begin to open their eyes. The really astonishing provisions of this section must convince them that those who need help the least are to receive the most and for the really needy there is to be no help at all.
First, this federal compensation to the aged is based on employment between the ages of 60 and 65. In just these years when it is so difficult for a man to find a job, must he work. Not only must he work, but must earn $2,000 during this time and must work at least for one day each of the five years just previous to his application for the pension. Otherwise, Uncle Sam has nothing to do for him. Furthermore, this provision goes into effect only now, beginning Jan. 1, 1937. A man now 65, even if he has worked during the past five years, is not eligible. A ,an of 79 or 80, completely helpless, indigent and alone in the world, can get nothing under this Act. He cannot qualify for Roosevelt’s “social security” and if the state he lives in has enacted no old age benefit law, there is no hope for this man.
The amount to be given in this compensation varies according to the amount the person has earned. For those earning up to $3,000 a year, the monthly rate is to be 1/2 of 1% of that amount. From $3,000 to $45,000, there is added to this amount 1/12 of 1% of the amount earned, and over $45,000, 1/24 of 1%. This compensation therefore, will range from $10 to $85 a month. “What”, the innocent observer, guided by common sense, will exclaim, “A man earning over $45,000 a year needs a pension! Truly, to him who hath more shall be given. And the more he earns from 60 to 65 years, the more pension he will receive?”
It is plain that the dignity and security of old age compensation are reserved indeed for those of the working population who need it least , for the skilled and professional workers only. The unskilled, the majority of the workers, who cannot get jobs after 40, are excluded. For them, unless the state helps them with a measly pittance, there remains either the uncertainty and humiliation of relief or the poorhouse. This is Roosevelt’s “social security!”
When we come to the matter of unemployment benefit, the situation is even worse. Here there is no separate federal aid, only grants to the states which enact unemployment compensation laws. Such important industrial states as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are not among these. These laws vary very much in their specifications, but the variations are chiefly on the debit side of the balance sheet. Except in Wisconsin, which as a pioneer state in social legislation had an act which went into effect in July, 1936, these state acts will provide benefits only after Jan. 1, 1938. This kindly provided for in the Social Security Act itself as one of its minimum requirements. Of course, to get unemployment compensation in any state, one must have been recently employed. In case the logic of such a provision is not immediately apparent, we will remind the reader that those long unemployed can make no contribution to the fund for unemployment benefit. The unemployment record in the state act ranges from two months to six months within the year before applying for compensation. There is always a waiting period, too, of from two to six weeks after employment ceases (during which, of course, the last penny of the worker will be drained and he will probably get into debt.) Then there is the time limit to the duration of the compensation. Twenty weeks in one year is the highest any state allows and some have less than six weeks. The amount of money is limited in ten states to $15 a week maximum.
From these facts we see that even where state unemployment compensation exists the benefits gained are quite miserable. There is no “security” in these few dollars handed out for such a short period, and hedged in, too, with all sorts of limitations which will bar the majority of the workers. For the millions now unemployed there is little hope of obtaining such compensation, neither is there hope for the many W.P.A. workers. Unemployment compensation is a luxury to be obtained only by a very few. Even Mr. Green of the American Federation of Labor has remarked that “in times of depression or extended unemployment as high as 80% of the unemployed would fall outside of the benefit period. In average times 60% would be outside.” (testimony before the Senate Finance Commission.)
One really outrageous provision of the Social Security Act we have yet to mention which applies both to old age and unemployment benefit. In a purely arbitrary way the Act makes certain wholesale exclusions which at one stroke bar millions of workers. They are 1) agricultural labor; 2) domestic service in private homes; 3) “casual labor not in the course of the employer’s trade or business” (this, we take, to me “Odd jobs"); 4) service on board a registered shipping vessel; 5) civil service for the U.S. government; 6) civil service for a state or any subdivision of a state; 7) employment for any non-profit making concern, whether educational, religious, charitable, etc.
Here at one swoop are excluded 4,000,000 agricultural workers, 2,000,000 domestic workers, many thousands of sea-faring men, teachers and other cultural workers. We do not mention the civil service workers who may possibly receive a pension from other sources. Even without these specific exclusions, millions of house-wives, share-croppers, tenant farmers and poor owner-farmers are also excluded since they cannot classify as wage earners. It has been estimated that those excluded because of their occupation would alone amount to over 9 million.
But most of all these exclusions bar the Negroes. Notwithstanding the movement of the Negroes into industry since the World War, still the great bulk of them are either in agriculture or in domestic service or in “odd jobs”, exactly those fields which are not considered eligible to security. We recollect that the N.R.A. made similar exclusions in its provisions dealing with hours of labor and wages. This is nothing but an attempt deliberately to separate the Negroes from the white workers, to make them into a pariah class which can never escape from poverty and degradation.
If now we turn to the other sections of the Social Security Act dealing with maternal and child welfare, with health, with crippled children and the blind, we see only a few vague proposals with very small amounts of money promised to carry them out. For child welfare, $1,500,000 is allotted. Compare this with the hundreds of millions appropriated annually for increasing national armaments. Compare it also with the fact that juvenile delinquency and criminality are increasing, that 6,000,000 children are undernourished throughout the United States, and 9,000,000 children under 16 are on the relief. For maternal and child welfare less than $4,000,000 are allowed. Let us just recall in this connection that the U.S. has the highest maternity death rate of any advanced country, and connect this fact with the complete lack of legislation protecting the working women, nor prohibiting night work or work on unhealthy occupations. Similarly the section on public health says nothing about safeguarding the health of workers in factories or in dangerous trades, nor is any money appropriated to build rest homes and sanitariums for workers who break down on the job.
But very thoughtfully the Social Security Act provides for a Commission to be created to carry out its benefits, consisting of 3 members appointed by the President for 6 years. Their compensation will be a mere trifle of $10,000 a year each. (Perhaps it is to their “social security” that the Act refers?) This Board of three people is authorized to appoint and fix the salaries of such officers and employees as they need, and to make necessary expenditures. The appointments of attorneys and experts may be made without regard to civil service laws. So the ranks of the state bureaucracy are swelled with a few more sinecures.
When we inquire how the money is to be raised for carrying out the Social Security Act we come to the most outrageous provision. All employed workers, beginning Jan. 1, 1937, are to be taxed to provide the fund for compensation, whether they receive benefits from the Act or not. A tax of equal percentage is to be levied on wage earners and on employers of more than eight people. This tax amounts to 1% during 1937, 1938, and 1939, and increases up to 3% after 1948. Thus, the worker earning $25 a week will have to pay 25 cents a week during the next three years and an increasing amount after that. This amount will be deducted from his pay envelope, since the employer is authorized to collect it. The worker may never receive a single cent in benefit. This indeed is the most likely prospect for workers below middle age, unless they happen to live in one of the few states that have enacted unemployment benefits.
Enough has been said to prove what a miserable affair this Social Security Act is from the point of view of granting any real security to the workers. Outside of the field of old age pensions, where the states have been stimulated to take some action, although such action as actually to bar the overwhelming majority from the benefits, nothing is gained. A heavy tax will be levied on all employed workers throughout the whole country in return for which only a few workers in a few states who can meet numerous exacting conditions get a few dollars in unemployment benefit for a short time. That is all. The working class will pay heavily; the petty bourgeoisie will gain slightly; the immense advantage will be with the politicians and the state bureaucracy.
In fact, we can see that in one way such a Social Security Act as this, which gives nothing itself, may become a positive handicap to the workers. Even now the people on relief have been made a football for various political groups. The State tries to shift the responsibility upon the federal government and vice versa. The county and the township similarly dodge the burden. Now we can see how the local authorities will try to pass the buck to the State where old people on relief are concerned, and may cut off many from relief who may be unable to obtain old age compensation.
Roosevelt, meanwhile, has made another open bid for labor support in this Act. Above all, it seeks to win the skilled workers and professional people and to separate them from the unskilled, at the same time as it separates the Negroes from the bulk of white labor. Nevertheless, the Social Security Act, poor as it is, gives a pretended dignity to labor in the abstract, at the same time that it tramples on the hopes of the majority of labor concretely. The fact, however, that a man must qualify as a wage earner in order to receive any benefits at all symbolizes an innovation in American life. The working class has always wanted to escape from its status, just as the employer has always boasted that he had been a worker and gloried in his “work". Roosevelt is simply taking cognizance of the fact that class divisions are beginning clearly to be felt, that labor is beginning to become a force to be reckoned with in its own right instead of being the tail to the petty bourgeoisie.
Roosevelt’s security act may have some peculiar results. It penalizes the domestic servant by depriving such toiler of the benefits of the act. This will tend to make the “servant problem” even more difficult and will put a further stigma upon those flunkies who waste their times serving the wealthy parasites. At the same time those who come within the purview of the act will be registered by the State and definitely fixed in a given class.
The United States is getting its social security very late. We do not here need to go into particulars to show that Germany began its social legislation as far back as 1883, and that England began unemployment insurance way back in 1909. Nor shall we go into the reasons why this country has been so backward in social legislation which are the same reasons for its not developing an independent labor political movement (the frontier, the big immigrations, the power of capitalism, etc.) What is interesting to us is the particular circumstances in which the U.S. centers upon its “reform” period and what are the perspectives for reformism here.
Social legislation was formerly a token of an advanced working class which had created Socialist and Labor parties concentrating chiefly on obtaining reforms. Today there is no longer the case (except indirectly) as the Fascist states hand out a list of social benefits by which they hope to make their workers forget the pinch of hunger and the stifling political oppression. In the U.S. we have something different again. Here, it was not a well organized working class, politically alert, which compelled such beginnings of social welfare legislation. As we have seen, 1930, 1931, and 1932 marked a very low ebb for the organized American labor movement. Hours were inhumanely long, wages had reached the lowest level of a long period. Such strikes as took place were to a great extent spontaneous and the American Federation of Labor membership had fallen very low.
It was Roosevelt’s policy to forestall the possible development of a strong militant labor movement which threatened in the great restlessness of the masses, in the big demonstrations of unemployed, hunger marchers, etc. It was his policy to bind the officialdom of the A.F. of L. securely to himself by making them part of his government apparatus, at the same time making gestures of being a protector and sponsor of unionism. (Incidentally, this gesture is still continued in the Social Security Act, see article 903 which provides that the worker has a right to refuse new work where there is a strike, or if less than prevailing wages are offered, or if he would be required to join a company union, etc.) The result of this is a labor movement pretty firmly tied to Roosevelt’s presidency, insofar as its official expressions are concerned.
In this scheme of things social legislation is but a by-product and the Social Security Act by no means indicates that the United States is now entering upon the same period which other capitalist nations went through long ago. Far from it, in the first place, intertwined with Roosevelt’s gestures of liberal reformism have been very definite developments paving the way for Fascism, as we have many times analyzed in the pages of the Class Struggle. Secondly, the present period of Fascism, world war and revolution will not permit of the long development of a reformist era.
None the less, the whole labor movement, thoroughly bought over to Roosevelt, evidently expects just this long period of reform. This explains the attempts of the A.F. of L. and the Communist Party to form a Labor Party, it explains the big vote for Roosevelt and the completely reformist tactics that prevail everywhere in labor’s political attempts. It explains that astonishing slogan of the Communist Party “Drive Roosevelt to the Left.” It explains the new slogan of the Daily Worker (minus the hammer and sickle) “For Peace, Progress and Prosperity.” More and better reforms is the motto today of labor’s leaders, at the same time as they go into convulsions of fear at the onslaughts of Fascism in Europe. The Social Security Act is good enough for them as a basis, although they would like to see it improved somewhat along the lines of their opportunist Lundeen Bills and similar measures. The labor movement and with it the Communist fringe suffers from the real illusion that social security can actually be obtained under capitalism (and even under Roosevelt and that without much revolutionary struggle.
The real lesson, however, of Roosevelt’s Act is that social security cannot be obtained under capitalism, that such wretched crumbs as Roosevelt hands out are the best that can be looked for. Today, more than ever, social reform becomes a mere by-product of the struggle of the proletariat for power. Social reform can only be won by social revolution--and then the reform will be unnecessary!
AMERICAN STRIKERS “SIT DOWN”
The recent wave of “sit-down” strikes is turning a brand new chapter in American labor history and marking an entirely new plane of struggle for the working class of this country. These “sit-down” strikes are occurring not in small petty industry where a few workers are involved, but in the heavy, basic industries and important plants of this country. We refer to the “sit-down” strikes in the Bendix plant in South Bend, in the Good Year Rubber and Tire Company of Akron, in the Midland Steel plant in Detroit, in the glass manufactory in Ottawa, Illinois, and elsewhere.
Daniel DeLeon must be turning in his grave. It was DeLeon who was constantly agitating for the workers not to walk out of the plant on strike but rather to take the plant over for themselves as the actual producers and lock out the employers. Not the general strike, but the general lock-out was his slogan as showing the road to power. The present situation, however, is not quite what DeLeon envisaged.
It might be considered that the practice of “sit-down” and the policy of strike are contradictory to each other. To strike implies activity, to give a blow; “sit-down”, on the contrary, connotes a certain passivity; and indeed both ideas may be realized in any given case. On the one hand it is a “strike” and not a lock-out; on the other hand it is a “sit-down” and not “knock-down.”
We cannot believe that in these “sit-down” strikes the American workers really “sit-down.” This would be totally foreign to American temperament. Rather, must the plant hum with the bustle of activity of all sorts. Committees for food, for sleeping accommodations, for sanitation, for negotiations, etc., all must be alive with activity. The men now eat, sleep and dream union and the strike. The strike becomes the essence of their lives. It puts the severest strain on all their ingenuity of action and initiative. It prepares them for much higher struggles in the future; it trains them for the American soviets.
The “sit-down” strikes gives the impression in more than one way, of being entirely different demonstrations than what they really are. One might think that they were strikes of the character of the recent manifestations in France where the workers stayed inside the plants and took possession of the productive processes. The situations in France and America, however, cannot be compared. If the French workers stayed inside the factories, this was no question of passivity or fear of going into the streets, but an ominous warning by the workers to the capitalists, that a revolutionary situation was brewing throughout the entire country, that they were not to be trifled with and that they were preparing themselves for the occupation of the factories permanently. The French workers were declaring in their own way that they understood full well that they had created these factories and that the factories would shortly belong to them.
Incidentally, the “sit-down” strikes in France were also effected with the old “folded arms” theory of opportunist syndicalism, in which they believed that they could topple over capitalism without violence and merely by folding their arms and stopping work. This theory was concocted in the period just after the Paris Commune when the workers were shy of going further into battle until they had completely recuperated and were taken over by the opportunists of stripes in the camp of trade unions. It is by means of these illusions of a defensive, legal and passive character, that often the workers are drawn into actions which are higher steps in the struggle for power and place them on the road for drastic illegal offensive actions.
It was for fear of stirring up terrific possibilities latent in the situation that the French gendarmerie did not dare to storm the factories to drive the workers out. This would only have precipitated barricade battles which far from transferring the struggle solely to the streets, would have but added the street struggles to the fight for the possession of the factories and would have raised the level of the struggle to the plane of civil war. By ignoring the occupation of the factories by the workers, the French government strove hard to keep the action in the realm of legal, economic struggle. Unlike old DeLeon, both sides understood that the general lock-out was not the prelude to Socialism but the introduction to the general strike raised to the heights of insurrection.
Of course, this is not the situation in the “sit-down” strikes in America. We have no immediate revolutionary situation here as in France. And yet, there is something distinctly ominous in the refusal of the workers to get out of the plants. It may be said that perhaps the workers are afraid to get out of the factories, that they fear the army of unemployed ready to get their jobs, that they desire to avoid the clash with the police, thugs and scabs of all types. Whatever truth there is in this, certain it is that the workers have learned their lesson from the French, that they are beginning to get an inkling of the idea that the forces of production, in truth, belong to the producers and not to the parasitic capitalists who legally own them. In this sense, the present “sit-down” strikes are on a higher political plane than previous strikes, since they challenge the existing set-up of property rights which the old-style strike never did.
There is no question but that the “sit-down” strike is a disruption of the old pattern of property relations. Hitherto the property of the boss was considered sacrosanct. No one conceived of taking over the plant, of shutting the gates against the owners’ will. The picket lines were carefully kept outside of the property lines of the capitalists. But now the factories are becoming considered as semi-public property. The workers do not hesitate to tell the employer just what to do, where to come into his own plant, and to close the door of the departments in his face. And this tendency, too, is quite in line with the present trends of the times, where the employer is being brought to realize on all sides that the days of rampant individualism have gone by and that he has certain social responsibilities to which he must live up. The “sit-down” strike is a form of social control in class form that supplements the activity of the workers in elections to obtain security and insurance of their jobs. The masses reinforce their ballots by their direct action.
On the other hand one must not get the impression that the “sit-down” strikes of America have anything in common with the passive resistance movements of Ghandi in India. Such an impression might readily be obtained from the tactics which the American Federation of Labor officials are carrying out in the present strike in the Berkshire Knitting Mills at Reading, Pennsylvania, where the pickets take to lying down in the roadway in front of the gates of the plant, to stop others from going in. Such tactics of picketing in this country are not tactics but antics, which only cowardly A.F. of L. officials could have concocted. Pickets that are passive and not active are no pickets at all. To lie down in the road to be stepped on is no American method, unless it is merely a stunt for publicity or to provoke others to step on them so as to start a real fight. Such picketing policies remind us strongly of the bizarre slogans of the Illinois Workers Alliance some time ago when that organization placarded the State House in Springfield with the demand to “Shoot Us or Feed Us.”
The traditions of struggle of the American workers and the general atmosphere of American tempo and direct action militate strongly against any oriental philosophy of quietism getting any foothold among the workers of this country. The “sit-down” strikes, then, have nothing whatever in them of the Ghandi spirit of passive resistance. On the surface, however, there is no denying that there exist certain elements of passivity in the form of struggle undertaken.
It may be said that the “sit-down” strikes stem from the stoppages that strong unions used to call. In these stoppages the workers used to sit still at their machines, while the union officials negotiated with the employers over some question. Nevertheless, there is a vast difference between the ordinary stoppage on the job and the “sit-down” strike. In the stoppage, the shops affected were generally strongly unionized. Had the workers left the shop, the plant would have been effectively closed down. Often, however such an act would have meant the breaking of some contract that the union had made. The stoppage, therefore, was a means of stopping work and yet not striking. The union officials did all the negotiating, in many instances; the workers simply stayed on the job demonstrating their power and hoping the employer would soon settle. The shops affected were generally small shops of light industry such as needle trades. In the present “sit-down” strikes, however, the events are usually spontaneous, in unorganized plants belonging to big concerns where the men stay in the plants night and day, living and sleeping there. There can be no comparison between the two situations. It is true, however, as in the Akron strike, that the “sit-down” strike first broke out in certain departments of a plant and then spread to the whole works. But in this case of Akron, the “sit-down” strike had to be waged against every effort of the officials of the A.F. of L. to put an end to it.
Besides the precedents of the stoppages of strongly organized workers, there are cases where “sit-in” strikes have taken place in Europe under other conditions. In the instance of the miners of Hungary where they went down into the mine and refused to come up until their demands were met it was rather starve to death in the mine than outside. This act of desperation might be said to be more in the style of Ghandi than of the present French “sit-down” strikes. A more or less similar situation occurred in the mines of Wales. (There was a militant “sit-down” strike in the mines of Belgium) These examples, with the exception of the Belgian case, were rather of the variety of the “Shoot Us or Feed Us” category, than of the present type of struggle. They were acts of despair generated by the depths of the crisis, rather than signs of struggle for possession of the plants or mines or works.
It is significant that these “sit-down” strikes occur in industries where the employers are all-powerful and ruthless in their tactics against labor. To strike in such a plant as Midland Steel is to invite a terrific onslaught against those on the picket line by all the minions of the law and the private forces of the company. By staying inside, the strikers render helpless any scab element within their ranks who might desire to run the plant and train others to take the place of the strikers outside. In the “sit-down” strikes it is quite difficult to separate those, who, frightened by the array of might ready to crush all strikers, would want to stick with the employer, from those who are the most militant. The weak-kneed are now kept in sight, night and day, by the strong-willed and determined militants. Thus the ranks cannot be broken, the strikers cannot be separated and if the weaklings do quit, it is they who must leave the factory and quit their jobs. Thus all present an entirely new united front to the employer.
If the weak-kneed are kept in line, the scabs are kept out. There is now no opportunity for the army of thugs and strike-breakers to march into the plant. The doors are locked and barricaded; the plant is occupied by the strikers. Should the strike-breakers charge the plant, it would mean that the property of the employer would be destroyed or damaged. There is generally only just so much space per worker allotted in a plant; this allows no room for other workers, and the attempt to drive out those in the plant could only lead to smashing of the machinery and a great deal of violence. In such a case, too, the police and the strike breaking thugs must meet the workers on ground with which the latter are thoroughly familiar and where they can be massed together.
In the ordinary type of strike the cowardly or backward worker simply did not appear on the picket line where he did not actually scab. Thus, often picket line and strike activity was left to merely the advanced militant workers of the organization. Now, no one can desert. All eyes are fixed on everything. It becomes a shame and disgrace to leave the source of one’s wages and job and to quit the factory before the eyes of all one’s brothers in order to get home. Everything being open and before eyes of all, the situation can lead only to mutual encouragement and the heightening of the morale of the strikers, and all the sinister forces of capitalism that lead to capitulation and break-down of spirit of this or that section of the strikers, tend to vanish from the scene.
More than that, in the “sit-down” strike, where the employers are not actually kept out of the plant—and to our knowledge the capitalists and managers have been allowed in at all times, thus differing from the situation in France—they are always under close supervision. They must go elsewhere to concoct their dark plots against the workers. They are made to feel like fish out of water. If they leave their plants they recognize instinctively the fact that the workers are more at home in the factories than they are; that the factories are being looked at with different eyes by the masses than before.
The “sit-down” strikes not only keep all the workers together day and night and make it very difficult for the employer to break their ranks, but they also awaken the women and other members of the family as nothing else could. The wife feels keenly the fact that the bed is empty at night; the children miss the father at home. The atmosphere becomes one of siege and semi-civil war. The besieged awaken sympathy and support for their heroic actions from the whole neighborhood. The factory becomes the center of attention. The women cluster around the factory with sandwiches food and good cheer. They can no longer urge the men to scab and go back to work, since the men have never left their work and mean to stick to their jobs to the finish. The women, then, instead of having the possibility of weakening the men, as hitherto in strikes, can only strengthen them and urge them on to the battle harder.
It is noteworthy that in all the strikes the machinery is carefully preserved by the strikers. This is in line with the general tendency sharply displayed since the war and the depression—that it is the employers who destroy the forces of production, who sabotage nationally and in their own plants, who cut down production in a myriad of ways, while it is the workers who are doing their best to stimulate production and to keep the factories going.
This attitude of the workers can also be seen in the slogan of the unemployed organizations led by the opportunist Socialists and Communists of “We Want Work” and the line of the Communist Party in the last election campaign to the effect that the major demand upon the capitalists must be “Put the People Back to Work.” (This slogan, by the way, was stolen directly from Roosevelt’s Book “On Our Way.") That the workers should be demanding work bespeaks volumes of the servility of the so-called revolutionary organizations who have led the workers, but that the employers should be forced to fight such a slogan shows that it is the capitalists who have become the major destroyers and sabotagers of the 20th century.
With the slogan “We Want Work” on their lips, the Socialists and Communists, whether they know it or not, have idealized the system of jobs under capitalism and of wage-slavery. They have made a job under capitalism something beautiful and worthwhile. In this way, the unemployed appear as potential competitors to those at work. It is then no wonder that those at work refuse to leave their posts. It may be that the workers hold on to their places in the factory because they fear the unemployed with their slogans of “We Want Work” will seize the jobs from them, although it must be said that , in spite of this slogan, the unemployed workers have behaved, on the whole, very well, often acting in heroic solidarity with the strikers of various plants, helping them out.
But there is another consideration that may move the workers of these basic industries to hold on to their places. The huge corporations in American are geared up so that they are capable of enormous overproduction in relation to the solvent demand now existing. In the old days, depressions only made competition keener and the big business man drove out the little fellow. But in industries where there are monopolies or cartels, the shutting down of orders does not destroy—but simply results in the closing down of some particular plant and the curtailing of production generally. By staying inside the plant the workers prevent the capitalists from closing the plant down and shifting all their production to some other plant. This often necessitates the removal of certain parts from the plant and it is just this removal that is prevented.
The “sit-down” strikes must result in an entirely different sort of strike strategy. There is no longer the problem of renting halls, of getting all the strikers down to the meetings, of establishing food stations, of going to the homes of scabs, of organizing strong picket lines, etc. A far closer communion of all the workers is brought about than ever before.
Moreover, the “sit-down” strike greatly diminishes the role of the professional official or bureaucrat such as the walking delegate or business agent of the A. F. of L. The strikers allow only the workers in the shop to enter. As a general rule, it is the shop committee, the incipient form of soviets yet to be conceived and carried through by the workers in America, that runs the strike. The shop committee is not made up of professional bureaucrats from the central office of the union, but of men and women chosen from among the strikers themselves. The meeting of the shop committee with the bosses takes place under the eyes of all the workers in the plant.
The “sit-down” strike puts an end to the craft divisions in the plant and enforces industrial unionism in practice. Prior to this, often the A.F. of L. officials would force one set of men to scab on others and to continue working while picket lines were walking outside. Now all must stop work and it is not the multitudinous craft unions that control the situation but the men united all together. The skilled workers must stop work. Craft divisions are ended, bureaucrats are shown the door outside.
The “sit-down” strike offers a remarkable method to move a company union onto the tracks of genuine class struggle. The company unions have always feared picketing and open struggle. They would like to take the form of struggle where they could speak directly to “their” employer without the aid of outside agitators. They do not want collisions with outside elements. All this the “sit-down” strike accomplishes very nicely. The workers, dragooned into the company union, can very well use the new method of the “sit-down” strike as a traditional method on the road of struggle although starting with the idea of avoiding its traditional forms.
The “sit-down” strike is an offer to the employer to terminate the strike quickly. This is in line with the general tendency of strikes during the present depression. In 1935, one third of the strikes carried on terminated in less than a week, 57% terminated in less than two weeks, only 26% lasted over a month. Naturally, this quick settlement of the strike is stimulated by the fact that the workers by staying in the plant, have created an intolerable situation that must be solved in one way or the other in a short period of time.
The “sit-down” strike must be inspired partly by the fact that the workers have nowhere else to go. There are no jobs elsewhere. The skilled workers have no longer the opportunity to wander away to the plant of some competitor and get a job there. All must stick to the plant and stay there if they wish to continue working. The “sit-down” strike is a sign that the golden, ever-lasting opportunity for work has come to an end in America. The doors are shut to those who would like to escape from their work, from their locality, from their trade. They realize this themselves, when they shut the doors of the plant—and stay inside.
If the American workers can keep open by force, plants that would otherwise close, it is not a far step for them to consider the necessity of opening the factories to those locked out of those factories closed by the depression. The “sit-down” strikes partially realize the slogan: Open the Factories to the Workers, and form a transition to realizing the demand: Open the Factories to the Unemployed, which in turn is a transition to Workers Control Over Production.
In the light of the boldness of the American workers and the obvious successful features of the new steps taken in strike strategy and organization methods, the employers must carefully reconsider their own tactics and methods. It is clear that they have the force to starve the workers out or to drive them out if they wish. To drive out the workers in a big plant, however, would be a very costly process to the owners. The plant would be wrecked. The attack would have to be made, often, in a most hostile neighborhood. If it were attempted with private thugs and gunmen, a miniature civil war might result. If it were done by the regular police forces, a violent struggle could hardly be avoided, with the destruction of a good deal of property in the hands of men moved strongly by the passions of the struggle. The plant, so to speak, is kept as hostage by the men to see that the police do not use violence against them.
It is far easier to starve the men out by having the police keep the women and others carrying food away from the plant. Here is the Achilles heel of this particular form of strike struggle. The fact is that while the men within that particular plant are united as never before, they are isolated from other plants. And even if other plants in the same city or elsewhere were to strike in sympathy with them, each one of them would be isolated. Here is one great reason why the lock-out by the workers can never be so effective as the general strike, until after the workers have taken state power.
The workers can also be induced to come out of the plants if a reign of terror is launched against their homes, their wives and children. If bloody violence breaks out in the streets of the workers neighborhoods, started by hoodlums and thugs or by the regular police, then it would be silly and suicidal for the workers to sit down on the machinery while their relatives and dear ones were being hurt, thrown out of their homes or shot down. Such an event must drive the workers out into the streets again, but only to reunite their ranks and to make the struggle more bitter than ever before. In this case one can expect that the property of the employers will be much damaged before the workers leave the plant to defend their homes and the lives of their loved ones from the terror of the imported thugs brought in by the employers.
Flushed by temporary successes, the workers may feel that the “sit-down” strike is a infallible weapon in their hands. They will soon be disillusioned about its potency. But this much must be said: It will bring the workers face to face with new forms of struggle that will unite them more than ever. Already we see in the present crisis the workers rising to new levels in their fights. We have seen, for the first time, national general strikes in industries which had never felt such strikes before; we have seen local general strikes covering very important cities and a tendency for these strikes to spread to a number of centers at once. Even threats of a national general strike have been made from time to time. Now we are treated to a wave of “sit-down” strikes that marks the handwriting on the wall that the property rights of the employers themselves are soon to be brought into grave question. The restiveness of the American workers is working out new forms of struggle that are leading towards the question of workers control over production, to the for of industrial unions and soviets, to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Fascist regime is a symbol of the hardening of the arteries of the social system which is now completely losing its flexibility. Any sudden great effort and rush of rich warm blood can burst its blood vessels. Fascism thus has much in common with the political schemes with which the ruling classes tried to prevent the rise of a progressive capitalist system of society. Fascism in Germany and elsewhere turns back to the Middle Ages where it finds its prototypes.
In the 13th century, the morality of the merchant capitalists was beginning to challenge that of the aristocratic ruling classes. In reply the intellectuals speaking for the feudalists of the time did their best to denounce the immorality of these nascent capitalists. To the old landed order, finance, if not immoral, was at best sordid and disreputable. Merchants who tried to organize a ring to raise prices were considered monsters of iniquity and were placed in a pillory in the square with the approval of all Christians. Labor was considered the common lot of all mankind and the ideal was approved that one should eat only that which he produced from the sweat of his brow.
The nobility of labor was one of the theses at the very base of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. According to the school men, “The owner is a trustee, whose rights are derived from the function which he performs and should lapse if he repudiates it. They are limited by his duty to the State; they are limited no less by the rights of his tenants against him… He is, in short, not a rentier, but an officer, and it is for the Church to rebuke him when he sacrifices the duties of his charge to the greed of personal gain.” (R.H. Tawney: Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, pp 149-150)
Prior to the time when nascent capitalism had grown sufficiently to challenge the old order, morality and politics had been fused under the leadership of the church. Later, as the struggle grew fiercely, the State took the lead and the church became its arm. This, however, did not destroy the conception of a single society of which church and State were different aspects, and of the necessity to fuse law and morals. In Queen Elizabeth’s day in England, ecclesiastics were public officers; the Bishop was normally also the justice of the peace and relied on secular machinery to enforce not only religious conformity but Christian morality, because both were elements in a society in which secular and spiritual interests had not yet been completely disentangled from each other.
In their first successful struggles, by no means did the capitalists adopt a position of laissez-faire individualism. Quite the contrary. They were scrupulous to maintain the theories of social responsibility and mutual dependence of groups, each to be of service to the other. They insisted, too, on a complete authoritarianism of the State, just as they had previously supported the rise of an Absolute Monarchy. The business man merely tried to prove that only under his guidance would there be the greatest benefit to the whole. Under Calvin the early capitalists established an iron collectivism, an almost military discipline to whose remorseless and violent rigors Geneva was subjected. As both the teaching of Calvin himself and the practice of some Calvinist communities suggest, the social ethics of Calvinism savored more of collectivist dictatorship than of individualism.
“In the plan for the reorganization of poor relief at Zuerich, which was drafted by Zwingli in 1525, all mendicancy was strictly forbidden; travelers were to be relieved on condition that they left the town the next day; provision was to be made for the sick and aged in special institutions; no inhabitant was to be entitled to relief who wore ornaments or luxurious clothes, who failed to attend church, or who played cards or was otherwise disreputable. The basis of his whole scheme was the duty of industry and the danger or relaxing the incentive to work.” (R.H. Tawney: work cited, p 114)
We might say in passing that the economic justification of these laws was the same that led to the economic theory of mercantilism. The fact, is, the business of Middle and Northern Europe which had been embraced in the Hanseatic League was steadily deteriorating with the opening up of the New World and the shift of the trade routes to the Atlantic. The pressure of superior economic competition was reducing these towns to secondary positions. To control and prevent this competition, each town was forced to make a whole series of rules to put foreign merchants and travelers at a disadvantage.
The views of Luther also called for an omnipotent and omnipresent State to which the church was to be entirely subordinate, although church and State were to be united. He furiously denounced the spirit of revolt then prevailing in Germany and demanded complete and absolute obedience to the rulers, or the princes. Against the Anabaptists he could write: “Therefore strike, throttle, thrust, each man who can, secretly or openly—and bear in mind that there exists nothing more poisonous, more harmful, more devilish than a rebellious man. As one must slaughter a mad dog …” (See R. Pascal: The Social Basis of the German Reformation, p. 146)
As with Calvin, so with Luther, the State was an absolute authority because it was ordained by God and was God’s law. To Luther, the prince was the father of the land, and he was never weary of thundering at the masses that to honor was more imperative than to love, that the prime virtues were modesty, humility, reverence. Christian love was subordinate to reverence or the order of society. Luther, like Calvin, confidently believed that “even an individual of the worst character, one most unworthy of all honor, if invested with public authority receives that illustrious divine power which the Lord has, by his Word, developed on the ministers of his justice …” (See J. Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion: book IV, Ch XX par. 25)
In all this we see that early capitalism strove for power with an attitude of extreme conservatism. Neither Luther nor Calvin believed in free inquiry or toleration and from their writings one may as easily reach Fascism as individualism. If the Reformation utilized the writings of these men gradually to reinterpret them and to build a philosophy of individualism, this was simply owning to the fact that the business man no longer needed theories of State control and social dependence, but just the opposite.
The early views of the Reformation were reflections of the prevailing Catholic opinion that the State was a holy institution and that the monarch ruled by divine law. He who opposed the State sinned against God. However, as the capitalists grew more powerful they constructed their own gods violently opposed to the State of the old order and as they overthrew the ancient regime, the old aristocratic classes and Catholic apologists also had to change their position now that it was their turn to be rebels. (Among both the Spanish Catholic theologians and the French Huguenots there was often expressed the view that subjects were not bound to obey a prince who enjoined what was contrary to the law of God, since kings do not rule according divine right. Tyrannicide was thus justifiable.) Theories of divine right and divine law, therefore, had to be modified and an objective science of political science was created among the reactionary elements. The chief exponents were Machiavelli and Hobbes.
In Italy, the feudal order had long ago dissolved in the currents of Mediterranean trade, and large city States had been established under the control of the merchant princes. It was here that the ruling class learned to have the greatest contempt for the Pope and the Catholic Church, which they controlled for their own purposes and whose mechanism they thoroughly understood. Machiavelli, for example, could write, “We Italians then owe to the Church of Rome and to her priests our having become irreligious and bad; but we owe her a still greater debt, and one that will be the cause of our ruin, namely, that the Church has kept and still keeps our country divided.” (See his Discourses, Book I, Ch XII) Naturally, then, in Italy was enunciated most clearly the statist policy of making the church secondary to the State, which was the chief goal of society.
To Machiavelli, the State was an end in itself whose excellence was to be tested solely by its ability to expand. The necessities of the State could brook no scruples in its leaders and he who brought morals into politics could only drag the State to disaster. Machiavelli thus took a completely unmoral point of view and was the first to separate ethics from politics. He looked at the State with the eyes of an experienced practical politician. Man was selfish. Materialist prosperity was the chief conscious basis of political life among men. The struggle for wealth resulted in a clash of interests between the wealthy and the people. The State was a product of this clash. It must be flexible enough to move with the changing relation of forces. To attain this liability the Prince who represented the State must use all means in his power. Everything was to be made subordinate to the stability of the State which should exploit even religious sentiment as an instrument of State policies.
The city State, however, could remain stable only if it increased the population of the city, established colonies in conquered territory, turned all booty into the treasury, carried on war actively rather than passively, and if the Prince locked to it that the State was rich and the individual poor, and took the utmost care to maintain a well trained army. The Prince was to be feared, but not hated. He was to keep the people busy with great enterprises, encourage the useful arts, tax as lightly as possible, keep his hands off the property and women of his subjects, engage in a vigorous foreign policy. In this way he would be able to unite the people and to prevent the struggle of classes from destroying the State. These dictates of Machiavelli, Mussolini no doubt has learned by heart.
Particularly interesting was Machiavelli’s views that: Men of real distinction and marked ability are always looked upon with suspicion by the masses. In times of peace and quiet they are wholly neglected in politics and the leadership falls into the hands of the rich and well connected. An escape from the perils of such a tendency was found by Rome, he thought, in the policy of incessant war through which the best of her citizens were kept always to the front.
Machiavelli’s object in strengthening the State was not so much to prevent its overthrow—there was no fear of a capitalist revolution—but in order to secure the unification of Italy and the eradication of all rival powers to the Italian State. It was otherwise with Hobbes, who learned much from Machiavelli and who applied his knowledge to the entirely different situation in England where the capitalists had beheaded the King, overthrown the old order and established the hegemony of parliament, in the course of which they were adopting such theories of individual Liberalism and Utilitarianism as were expressed in Locke’s writings. Hobbes looked with dismay upon the gradual unfolding of the British civil wars in which the lower orders were gradually asserting their rights. He feared that these lower orders had been only temporarily put down and that the Great Rebellion had opened the road towards complete anarchy and chaos.
Hobbes was convinced that the only way liberty could be secured was by the establishment of a complete and all-powerful State to which all individuals were to be entirely subordinate. Typical English product of the 17th century, Hobbes reached this conclusion, moreover, from the same basis as the Liberals; like Locke he started from individualist, sensationalist premises and from the doctrines of natural law and social contract.
Individual man operated according to the pressure on his senses. He was completely egotistic and materialistic. In the beginning, before society was formed, each man fought against the other. “To this war of every man, against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power there is no law; where no law, no injustice.” (Leviathan) The State rises with private property: “It is consequent also to the same condition, that there can be no property no dominion, no Mine and Thine distinct; but only that to be every man’s, that he can get; and for so long, as he can keep it.”
Hobbes strictly separated natural RIGHT from natural LAW. The natural right of a man was the liberty each man possessed to use his own power as he will for the preservation and advancement of himself. Natural law, like all law, meant restriction on right or liberty. When law was established the liberty and power accruing to each man were transferred to the State. The State had arisen to create private property and once the natural right and liberty of each individual was transferred to the State, all liberty and power now belonged to it. This transfer was made by means of an unbreakable social contract of which, however, the sovereign or king was not a part.
In all this argumentative scaffolding, Hobbes carefully rejected theological disputations. The king did not rule by Divine Right, but only because he represented the State, which was the mechanism of power and liberty for all. The State undertook to guarantee that the original covenant was kept valid and did so by means of force. All law was essentially a command. Since the liberty of the individual was fused with the liberty of the State, fear and liberty or necessity and liberty were not incompatible terms. To ensure obedience through fear of punishment was only another way to compel a man to be free. To sum up, Hobbes declared, that the civil law was part of the law of nature and restricted natural rights and transferred all of them to the State, except those which the State desired the individual to keep. This was the best way to guarantee the greatest good to the greatest member and to advance prosperity and liberty for all.
Civil laws, of course, must never be against reason, but what counted was the reason of the sovereign to whom the care was entrusted of making good laws. And by a “good law” Hobbes meant not a just law, for no law could be unjust, since justice was synonymous with law, but a law which was needful and for the good of the people. While it was true that subjects could not owe to the sovereign obediance in things repugnant to the laws of god, only the soverign was the authority as to what actually was the law of God.
Hobbes was not recognized by the deposed pretenders to the throne of England as the theoretician because he specifically denied the theory of rule by Divine Right, but placed the institution of Royalty entirely upon rationalist and scientific grounds. It was only in the 19th century in England that Hobbes began to come into his own, when the bourgeoisie had need for theories of absolute control by the State. And indeed we may say, “In fact, Hobbes’ Leviathan represents what is called ‘the modern State.’” (Leslie Stephens: Hobbes, p 204) To Hobbes, the chief end in social life was the creation of power. Power was at the end of the search for truth and the purpose of worship among men. Power was identical to liberty and was embodied in the State of which the chief feature was organized force for the good of all.
The 17th century produced not only Hobbes, but also his political companion, Spinoza. Spinoza, too, believed that to be free one had to act in accordance with the laws of nature. Both God and man were controlled by immutable laws which compelled mankind to realize his union with nature. Thus, a study of metaphysics led Spinoza to the study of ethics and politics. In his ethics Spinoza agreed with Hobbes, that the good is that which we know to be beneficial to ourselves. Virtue meant a development of well being. One should love oneself and pursue one’s interests. Spinoza did not believe in humility, repentance and pity, but held none the less, that such traits could be properly propagandized by statesmen, so as to make the people docile since “the mob becomes dangerous when it knows no fear” (Spinoza, Ethics Book IV, 54)
In his political view Spinoza was in accord with Hobbes that property came into existence only with law and he ridiculed the idea of inalienable and natural rights. States should recognize treaties only in their interests. Patriotism was the highest virtue; the safety of the State was the supreme consideration; might was the wisest criterion of right; not wisdom, but authority, made a law and the secular State in turn decided what was virtue. Like Machiavelli, Spinoza believed it proper to use religious rituals in behalf of the state, although he himself was a metaphysical pantheist.
During this period when the bourgeoisie was engaged in revolutionary action to seize political power, it had developed a theory of popular sovereignty as against the absolute monarchy. We have already remarked that the anti monarchical Huguenots and Catholics who wrote in the 16th century justified tyranicide by theories of popular sovereignty. But to them, “people” did not mean the “mob”, but merely the magistrate controlled by the wealthy oppositionists.
Even when popular sovereignty was no longer so narrowly constructed, such a concept was not necessarily incompatible with theories stressing action and the omnipotence of the State. This combination was particularly marked among the French. It is seen in the works of Jean Bodin, as later in Rousseau and others. The idea of the supremacy of the general will of the people and the erection of a republican form of government were quite easily linked to the establishment of a dictatorial administration of the State.
The various Communist groups in this country like to prattle of the wonderful revolutionary heritage that we have here in America. There is the American Revolution, the American Civil War, the Committees of Correspondence, the Declaration of Independence; then there is Jefferson, Lincoln and all the founding father, etc., etc. It is significant that these pseudo-revolutionary groups select for their forbears not the real revolutionists such as the Shays, the Veseys, the John Browns, but the men who bitterly hated these genuine champions of the people of their time and who today are praised in the most reactionary circles of the land. The heroes of the Communist Party and similar groups were the slave-holders and lynchers of the people of their day.
The Communist League of Struggle also believes that America is rich with revolutionary traditions, but we pick for our forbears not the idols of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion, but the leaders of the rebellions of the slaves, of the oppressed farmers and toilers of the land who gave their lives that the toilers might be free. And ace-high among all the champions of the enslaved and oppressed in this country stands John Brown. His life is a tremendous inspiration for every American of the 20th century who wants to free the wage-slaves of his time.
The American people have not given birth to many John Browns. Among the Negroes there have been many leaders of slave rebellions who have covered themselves with glory and have provided the traditions upon which the Communist movement must rest. But the white people have produced very few such heroes. It is true that there were considerable number of people who wanted to see the slave freed, but for the most part they did nothing about it, or if they did act, it was with the motive of sending the Negroes back to Africa, or of ending miscegenation among the white and black races, or of removing a competitor whose work was destroying free labor, and so on. Very few of those who argued for the freeing of the slaves did so because they considered the Negroes their brothers, equal to them in every respect and worthy of their love and loyalty, John Brown stands head and shoulders above all of them in this respect.
Contrast John Brown with Abraham Lincoln, for example. Lincoln declared he would like to see slavery ended but he refused to criticize his “southern brothers” (the plantation owners) for being so slow to waking up to their own true interests. Lincoln was the bitter enemy of all of the abolitionists, and especially for the type represented by John Brown. The desire to end slavery was a mere platonic sentiment with Lincoln and nothing else. It was only after the Dred Scott Decision, when slavery was permitted to thrive everywhere even in the North, that Lincoln felt some action should be taken gradually to curb the extension of slavery.
Lincoln was an ardent advocate of shipping all the freed Negroes out of the country and back to Africa. He was opposed to the extension of slavery because this would mean the extension of illicit sexual intercourse between white and black,—in his eyes, a deadly sin against nature. If such were the reactionary views of a Lincoln one can imagine the character of the ideals of the other moderate liberals of the day, who now and then thought it fashionable to express views against slavery and to sigh against its extension.
Even within the Abolitionist ranks, there were few that were of the caliber of John Brown. Most were petty-bourgeois religionists of the type of Garrison. Garrison was violently opposed to using any violence in freeing the slaves and denounced John Brown as an insane criminal after the Harper’s Ferry Raid. On the other hand, when John Brown was in Boston he never went to the Liberator office and in after years, now and then, he dropped words of contempt for the “non-resistants".
John Brown represented the extreme left wing of the actionists of the abolitionist movement. He was one of the leaders in the physical resistance of Kansas to the hooligans of slavery who came in to capture the territory for the chivalrous institution of the South. But even among the men of action who took guns in their hands to drive out the slave holders, John Brown stood apart. In his letters to his wife, Brown points out clearly that the Northerners of Kansas had absolutely no interest of the Negro at heart and hated him as much, in their way, as the Southern whites did. The Northerners of Kansas were fighting not to free the slaves but to drive the Negroes out of Kansas and to restrict slavery to the South; they had no special quarrel with Southern slavery. They were interested in barring slave competition; they were not interested in the slave. None of them would call the Negro his brother.
It is well to bear in mind, in this connection, that even today in the ranks of labor and among the fake Communists, even when they take the Negroes into their ranks and smile and touch them with their fingers, it is not in the sense that they can learn from the Negro, that the Negro is truly their comrade; but rather from the narrow point of view that the Negro, if he is not taken in, will scab on the others. Or, to use the phraseology of the Stalinists: “There is a race between the proletarian forces and the bourgeoisie as to who will win the Negro. That proletariat must do so for otherwise it will be unable to overthrow capitalism. At all costs the Negro must be wrenched away from the capitalist class.” In all this argumentation, the basis is always the welfare of the white workers and the reasons why the Negro should be won are negative. Never is the plain basic truth given that the Negroes are brothers of the white and all must stick together as closely as possible, that they must live together, sleep together, intermarry together as brothers all of one kind. This is too much for the chauvinist white workers of the camp of the fake Communists.
John Brown was the only white leader ever to give his life for the Negro people in physical struggle for their liberation from slavery. All the others either merely talked, or when they fought, it was for themselves and only incidentally for solidarity with the Negro slaves. Nor need we stop with the days of slavery. We can go further and say that up to this day John Brown stands alone in this respect. More glory to his name.
Once having determined to give his live to free the slaves, John Brown seriously devoted himself to his task. He became a man with one purpose. From 1839 to 1859, for twenty solid years, he prepared himself for his work. He became the first professional revolutionist this country had ever seen and remains today the leading insurrectionist of America.
There is a silly idea that John Brown hastily concocted his raid on the U.S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry and that his whole plan was but the fantastic vagary of a cracked adventurer. This is the slander of the bourgeoisie who defame Brown in proportion as they inflate Lincoln. And this line has been followed by the speakers of the Communist Party who only recently at a forum in Chicago declared that “John Brown did more harm than good!”
John Brown was no bewildered youth or intellectual of the stripe that fills the Communist Party today, who enter for a year or two and then disappear. John Brown was a mature man, the father of a large family, all the members of which rallied closely around him in his battle. The plans of Brown were solid and carried out over a long period of years.
The first thing he did was to study the census returns and work out a complete map of the distribution of the Negroes and the routes of the underground railway. His close friend that wonderfully heroic Negro woman, Harriet Tubman, who supported his plan, had personally led over three hundred blacks to freedom, not one of who was ever lost while in her charge. A reward of $10,000 for her, dead or alive, was offered, but she was never taken. Repeatedly John Brown went into the work himself and delivered Negro slaves from bondage of their Southern masters. He was no bureaucrat who like the Stalinists today is always telling the workers what to do while doing nothing himself. In this respect, John Brown was a model revolutionist and genuine leader; he never told others to do what he himself had not done and would not do again. He became thoroughly tested in the course of many years of physical struggle with the institution of slavery.
John Brown went about his work of aiding slaves to freedom with a cool head and brave heart. He trained the men under him to kill all who would arrest them and urged the slaves to fight to a finish any one who would lay hands on them to bring them back to slavery. He went so far as to work out a manual of rules of action in this respect and when in 1850 he organized his League of Gileadites to aid in the freeing of the fugitive slaves, he made the members take a pledge to live up to these rules. It was plain that John Brown meant business.
All this, however, was but a dress rehearsal for larger plans that would lead to a great slave uprising. John Brown was thoroughly familiar with the Negro slave revolts that had taken place. The insurrections of Issac, of Denmark Vesey, of Nat Turner and those that had taken place in the Cumberland region in South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee were well known to him. He had also gone into the history of the organized insurrections in Haiti and Jamaica. In fact, in order to perfect himself in the art of fighting, he went abroad to Europe to study the art of guerrilla fighting on its own terrain and brought back with him a comrade, one Forbes, who was to write out for him a complete manual of guerrilla warfare and civil war fighting.
The plans of John Brown were audacious enough. They included the invasion of the South by a band of men who would arm the slaves, kill all slaveholders who resisted and literally burn up the institution of slavery forever. It may be imagined that this was a totally crack-brained idea, but after all it was not John Brown who first conceived of the idea of a slave rebellion, but the Negroes themselves. They had repeatedly made very serious threats to the ruling class of the South. Brown felt deeply that were he to get even a small victory over the reactionary forces in the beginning that large numbers of slaves would rally to his cause. And as we shall see at the Harper’s Ferry raid itself, this was no illusion. The Negroes of the South were desperate enough to take part in any rebellion that offered any hope whatever to them. Brown’s rebellion in his opinion did not have to be successful in itself; all that it had to do was to demonstrate that the slaves meant to fight for their freedom to the death and at the first opportunity would tear their masters to pieces. This would have been enough to set in motion a train of events that would put an end to slavery. There was needed some pioneer to show the way. John Brown was that pioneer.
In order to get his band together John Brown next decided to spend all the time possible among the Negroes and those abolitionists who would follow him in his action. To get close to the Negro people, he moved his family to the far northern part of New York State in the wilds of the Adirondacks where a philanthropist had offered free land to the Negroes who wanted to rehabilitate themselves there. Brown thought that by living among these Negroes he could win a few of them for his cause. So he sold out his wares and moved to the far reaches of North Elba, he and his family. John Brown, you see, was ready to back up his opinions with his life. And his family bravely followed him everywhere.
In the meantime, the sharpening of events in the United States itself compelled Brown to modify his plans. The U.S. Congress decided to adopt the policy of “squatter sovereignty” regarding the territory west of the Mississippi River and thus there began a great race between the North and the South as to who would populate Kansas and Nebraska the most. It had been planned originally that Nebraska would go to the North and Kansas to the South. But the Abolitionists began to bestir themselves to send in large bodies of farmers into the State to win it against slavery. On the appeal of the abolitionists, John Brown “Osawatomie Brown”, became the most feared and hated man the South knew.
It was now time for Brown to carry out his grand plan. First he had to try to win as many Negroes as possible to enter his ranks. This was an extremely difficult thing to accomplish. The center of the freed Negroes was in Canada and there he went to hold a secret convention with the freedmen and to win them over to invade the South. He needed them not so much as fighters, as to train the slaves, to organize them and win their confidence for the desperate struggles ahead. In Canada he was able to win the sympathy of the leading Negroes. They organized a Black Phalanx and pledged themselves to go with him. Unfortunately the plans miscarried that year and they became discouraged. The actual raid finally took place too suddenly for them to join Brown; some of the leaders like Frederick Douglass backed down; others like Harriet Tubman became ill at the crucial moment and so John Brown had to start his invasion with the small band of twenty two persons.
The plans for the raid on Harper’s Ferry were carefully laid. Arms and pikes were hid in a farm house near by and the men spent some months scouting around and preparing for the event. Among the twenty two men, seven were Negroes: Osborne P. Anderson, Shields Green, Dangerfield Newby, John A. Copeland, Lewis S. Beary, John Anderson and Jeremiah Anderson. Others were on the way or had promised to be there. These Negroes were all tested men; some of them, like Shields Green, were of the stuff heroes are made of. Dangerfield Newby was to be the first to give his life for the cause.
The place had been carefully selected. It was at the foothills of the Cumberland mountains, the mountains which furnished the road deep into the slave territory of the South, which was the center of fugitive slave activity and where guerrilla warfare could be best carried out. For it was not the intention of Brown to win the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry and then turn North,—no, it was his intention to strike deeper and deeper into the South like Spartecus of Rome, winning and training his army as he went. He would cut a wide swarthe through the south and that would tear its heart out. Here was the plan. But for this arms were needed and Harper’s Ferry was the place to get them.
How well Brown calculated on the support of the Negroes can been seen after the raid took place and his men had gone to the neighboring plantations to free the slaves. The slaves were immediately given arms and in the course of the fighting with the crack troops of the U.S. government under Robert E. Lee, these Negro slaves gave a very good account of themselves.
At his trial John Brown behaved like a model revolutionist. Not for one moment did he allow his accusers to take the offensive, but constantly charged them with being the murderers and thieves that they were and warned them that their time was nigh and that the toilers of America meant to deal with the institution of slavery with an ax that would cost the lives of the tiny handful of slave holders of the country. To hush him up, the authorities rushed through the trial as fast as they could and hung him together with the others they caught. But the deed was done. The way had been shown. With a great cry of rage, frantic with fear, the southern slave holders now feverishly hastened to break from the union. The die was cast, the civil war was on and despite Abraham Lincoln’s express orders, the famous song “John Brown’s body lies a moldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on” became the song of inspiration for the Grand Army of the Republic.
Such is the glorious story of John Brown. What lessons can we learn of his life and work? John Brown won his leadership not by bureaucratic means but by his sober work in the field. Like a true American, he was a man of direct action. His talk was straight and to the point. He was honest through and through.
Second, John Brown made his life work the profession of insurrection. He studied all that was available on the subject of actual fighting. This the leaders of the Communist movement should do today. John Brown was no sniveling legalist. He had no illusion about the nature of civil war and what he began he meant to carry through to the end. Today, however, the profession of proletarian revolutionist is far more complex than in Brown’s day. Different methods have to be used. Today it is not necessity to organize the iron battalions of a new class, a class that John Brown did not well know, the modern proletariat. There is now needed not only a knowledge of military science, but a social science as well. And yet John Brown’s knowledge of American society was by no means to be underestimated. The fact that the Civil War broke out so soon after his raid shows how close he was to the hub of things. He did what the proletarian revolutionist has yet to do—live closely in touch with the American Negro. He understood better than anyone that the Negro problem was the heart of the social problem in this country. His whole life was one of flaming solidarity and brotherhood with the Negro toilers. Here is a lesson for all of us to learn today.
Third, the story of John Brown teaches us that the real fighters will come from the native stock of practical bent and not from the foreign born theoreticians who stand aloof from the struggle. In Brown’s day there were German socialist immigrants who pretended to know all about revolution, social science and even Marxism, and yet who stood aloof from the fight to free the slaves on the pretense that the proletarians were also slaves, wage-slaves, and their duty was to the proletariat first of all, and they had not time with “Niggers". What a pitiful role the immigrant “communists” of that day actually played in America! We have to learn this lesson, too, from the social struggles of their times.
Finally, Brown’s life shows us that the way to begin is—to begin. Once the social relations have reached an extraordinary intensity and are on the verge of breaking, once the problems have reached such acuteness that they can only be solved by armed struggle on the order of the day, then even a small group of determined men can precipitate the events that will shake society to its foundations. That is then the time to change the weapon of criticism, the polemic and debate, for the criticism of weapons, the ax, the pike, the gun. John Brown is the great American Blanquist of his time; he is the spiritual father of genuine revolutionary Communism today.
When we come to look back upon the history of this country just prior to the Civil War and ask ourselves what should a revolutionist have done, we must answer that in spite of his mistakes, John Brown and only John Brown, was right.
PARLIAMENTARISM AND DIRECT ACTION
Parliamentarism in the narrow sense refers to the activity of legal political parties of the working class which run candidates in elections, send their elected officials to sit in the capitalist legislative bodies and through them attempt to put through a program of immediate reforms for the benefit of the working-class. Of such parties the working-class has a long historical experience in many countries. Bound up with this activity of the workers’ parties in parliament, is the conception of the movement in other fields (trade union, cooperative, etc.) as concentrating upon the gaining of small benefits to make the workers lot more tolerable under capitalism, and as operating wholly within the legal framework of the capitalist state.
Such activities as these constituted the whole concern of the Second International. Of the First International it can be said that it comprised a mixture of uncompromising struggle such as is embodied in its programmatic statement of the Communist Manifesto and in the concrete struggle of the Pris Commune, combined with activity among legalistic and parliamentary lines. The Third International had included many forms of activity within its various parties; ranging from an adventurous calling for the struggle for power at entirely unsuitable moments to the completely reformist tendency of the present day.
All these movements have been chiefly dominated by skilled workers and intellectuals (with the influence of the peasantry and of the colonial countries as a factor in the Third International.) It is only when the unskilled masses have had an opportunity to break out in open struggle that we have seen methods of mass fighting, of direct action. The instinct of the unskilled has always been to fight directly against the power that oppresses them, and against the system which cannot possibly benefit them. The Fourth International will have to base itself upon the interests of this section of the international working class, which already is the great majority, and with the leveling of privileges that goes with Fascism, more and more becomes the working-class universally. It is not our purpose here to go into this subject historically, but rather to study present day tactics. We include with parliamentarism the tactics which accompany it of concentrating on actions of a legal nature to obtain reforms from the capitalist state.
The present era of the advent of Fascism with its destruction of working-class parties and its conversion of parliaments into hand-picked bodies supporting the dictator like so many rubber stamps, points the way to direct action as the major tactic of the working-class. If the labor movement in the democratic countries has not yet realized this and is still operating wholly along the lines which the Second International best typifies, this is simply an indication of the historical doom of these movements. The few revolutionary elements now existing must agitate for direct action with all that this implies in revolutionary tactics, confident that their conception represents the interests of the unskilled masses which eventually must take the leadership in the struggle against capitalism.
We do not, however, ally ourselves with the point of view of a small grouping which calls itself “anti-parliamentarian”, which includes a boycott of all reformist organizations of the working-class and a refusal to resort to any sort of parliamentary activity or to a struggle for immediate demands. It is true that in a certain sense one can draw a dividing line in the working-class political movement today on the basis of parliamentarism vs. direct action. Groups relying upon parliamentary methods only can be considered as a reformist while the advocacy of direct action in general becomes the test of a revolutionary group.
Yet the matter is not quite so simple if we look at it more closely. If we consider the actions and movement of any working-class in the course of its revolution (for example either the Russian or the Spanish revolution) we see that parliamentary, legalistic methods and objectives remain closely bound up with the methods of direct action, even when the revolution has reached the stage of struggle to overthrow the capitalist state. Nor can this be avoided. Those groups which want only pure revolutionary methods can only become hopelessly sectarian and isolated from the struggle. Perhaps they will take a gun and shoot it off on the barricades when the time comes, but this shot is for the real revolutionist just one step of all the innumerable steps which must be elaborated with the proper slogans and with various working-class organizations built up.
What is most necessary today when labor movement is so swamped with reformism is to see to it not that we have Simon pure methods viewed from some abstract criterion but rather than concretely the revolutionary goal is held up before the masses in all propaganda and that the methods used to obtain any concrete immediate goal are such as to move the working-class forward. Direct action of any sort must be connected with some immediate objective to be realized by the working-class, whether it be the winning of a strike, the seizure of food by the unemployed, or the storming of a fortress. Where it seems necessary due to concrete circumstances or to the prevailing attitude of mind of the workers to engage in parliamentary or legalistic active, this must be done in such a way as to disillusion the workers with the gains they may hope to obtain by such actions, and at the same time to move them from that point into direct action for obtaining the same end. An immediate reform must be fought for by such militant mass methods as will unite the working class for struggle and throw it against the employing class either directly or through its representatives and state powers. This method is the key to tactics in the United States at the present time.
Let us consider first the movement of the unemployed workers. The Communist League of Struggle for several years have been advocating a consistent program of direct action on the unemployed field including the general strike to compel adequate unemployment insurance, seizure of food, militant demonstrations in the workers neighborhoods, etc. Our members have been and are members of unemployed organizations whose policies are in the main quite reformist. We do not leave these organizations on that account, but rather patiently work and as we work advocate the line of mass struggle, of militant direct action. This line generally meets with a ready response from the rank and file members who instinctively turn to such methods. Of course the leadership, divided between the C.P. and S.P., cannot be sympathetic to our tactics. However on a local scale it is possible to put some actions into effect.
What we are interested in here is, what shall be our attitude towards the legalistic routine upon which the organization is chiefly based. Simply to declare a boycott of this work would not convince anyone that our methods are correct. Nor is this activity entirely useless. Rather let us see if the prevailing activities do not offer some possibility of drawing the workers into struggle. Take the “grievance” work, the adjusting of grievances of those on relief through the intervention of the unemployed organization at the relief stations. Members of the organization complain: “We settle the grievances of the unemployed for them and then we never see them again. We can’t get them to stick to the organization.” The real reason for this failure of the unemployed to stick is that the grievance work is the principle work of the organization instead of a very minor phase of its work. The organization thus appears as a semi-charitable outfit whose purpose is to help along the most defenseless elements of the unemployed rather than as a militant organization based on the class struggle. If the organization appears to exist chiefly to settle grievances, and if the relief client’s grievance is settled, why then should he continue to come to the meetings?
On the other hand it would be incorrect to advocate the giving up of the grievance work, not merely because it enables the organization to reach many backward workers with a little class conscious propaganda, but also because it is the duty of any worker’s organization to fight for the daily bread of the workers, until such time as the workers are able to take the state power and the system of production into their own hands. This fight for daily bread is a means to an end to the revolutionist and not the end in itself. Without this day to day fight no revolution will ever be made, but the objection lies in the fact that there is no perspective beyond this day to day fight.
More than that, the fight on the day to day question such as the adjustment of grievances must be made in a more militant way instead of telephoning or writing the relief station it would be much better to send committees there to make the complaint in person and thus compel the unemployed to be active on their own behalf. Of course the relief stations prefer the quiet methods of writing and telephoning, but the unemployed organization must see to it that their quiet routine is frequently disturbed not merely by visits of committees but by neighborhood demonstrations against the mass grievances such as non-payment of rent, lack of shoes and clothes for school children, insufficient fuel, stoppage of relief, etc.
In such demonstrations, police will be called out, there will be arrests and jail sentences, and thus the backward workers of the neighborhood are drawn into the class struggle and their political education begins. From the point of view of obtaining the demands of the workers, mass action has proven to be the only effectual way. From the point of view of the revolutionist, it is the only way to teach the workers to be active on a class basis in their own interests. It gives the rudiments of solidarity, of fighting together as workers (even though unemployed) against the capitalist state which is seen here just as in the strike of factory workers as the watchdog of property, standing between the workers and the things they need. In this way an immediate demand becomes the starting point for working class action that may become very deep and violent.
Visits to Aldermen and Assemblymen and petitions to legislatures are another pet activity. Nor are these things wholly useless. Even the visit of the committee to the Aldermen may open up the eyes of the backward worker as to the tricks and hypocrisy of the officials and their evasion of the problems of the unemployed. The trouble with the leaders of the unemployed organization is that they fail to conceive of the state officials in their role as agents of the capitalist class. They see these people as a power in themselves. The parliamentary ambitions of the C.P. and S.P. have something to do with this illusion. They want to discredit the particular Democratic or Republican official in order to say: “Vote for our party (or the Labor Party) and everything will be all right.”
When the relief commissioner, the mayor, the governor plead they have no money to remedy the sufferings of the relief clients, these working-class leaders accept the excuse, and even look for ways and means to help the officials dodge their responsibilities (Such as a plan recently proposed by them that the city take over unoccupied dwellings—decayed, tumble-down tenements for the most part—and move the unemployed into them instead of paying rent for those on relief.)
What should be done, on the contrary, is to agitate for a tax on wealth and profit, including a fight against the infamous sales tax which compels the unemployed to pay for their own relief. What should be done is to urge the workers to help themselves, to move themselves back into the homes they are evicted from, to seize the food and goods which their class has created and which are withheld from them. The hunger marches and visits to the legislatures may also serve a purpose if they are carried with plenty of militancy, with a spirit of serving demands rather than of begging for favors, with mass picketing at the state House or City Hall, with preparatory demonstrations in the workers neighborhoods and with the proper effort made to draw in the trade unions to give support to the struggle. It is possible in this way on the peg of a parliamentary objective to hang an action which will really arouse the working class, unite it and move it forward.
We pass now to the question of defense of class war prisoners, matter which must continue to occupy the working class so long as there is a capitalist state with all its repressive forces. How important this work is we may judge by the fact that the demonstrations in favor of Sacco and Vanzetti were the largest this country has ever seen.
The direct action method to fight defense cases would be to storm the jails and break open the prisons and free the political defendants and prisoners. This will be done in all probability only when the actual stage of civil war has been reached. (However, we do remember that in 1929 when the trial of the Gastonia defendants was going on and when it became plain the trial would have an unfavorable outcome, a plan was afoot among the local textile workers to break the jail and take back their organizer and fellow workers. Needless to say, the plan was frowned upon by the C.P. which was even afraid of selling the Daily Worker in front of the courthouse for fear of “antagonizing the prosecution".
Defense work has been carried on in such a thoroughly legalistic way with the working-class organizations capitulating to the lawyers they hire, that we have to throw our emphasis on the need for arousing mass action by the working-class in favor of the defendant, especially at the scene of the trial and while the trial is going on, and at the jail where the defendant is confined. However, to say that we rely upon mass pressure alone is a form of ultra-leftism. The fellow-worker caught in the toils of the law is compelled to go through the form of a legal trial, upon the outcome of which his life or liberty literally hang. The living, pulsing organizer or agitator is worth more generally speaking than a name and a memory of one incarcerated for a long period, and therefore the working-class must provide a good legal defense and must fight his trial very carefully. The class aspect of his case must be emphasized and he must be made to appear as the symbol of millions of workers for whose freedom he is fighting.
To sum up this subject in the light of what we are discussing, in defense work it is impossible to avoid legal action, but this must be conducted always in an uncompromising way, and must be buttressed by wide-spread mobilization of the masses in militant demonstrations. As the class struggle grows sharper it will become possible to turn such demonstrations into an actual storming of the jails and releasing of the class war prisoners.
As the class struggle grows sharper, the possibilities of direct action on a broader and broader scale come into play. This brings us to the question of how to struggle against Fascism. This is the particular form the proletarian revolution takes today, a struggle against Fascism. Here we have to fight the fatal conception of the People’s Front, of the fight of Democracy vs. Fascism, which takes the place of the fight to destroy capitalism, in the eyes of the Stalinists. In reality it is not a question of first defeating Fascism and then making the proletarian revolution. These two processes are simultaneous and interdependent one upon the other. This the Spanish revolution admirably illustrates, but we reserve an extended discussion of this subject for an article on the People’s Front. Here let us consider just a few events which illustrate the intertwining of tactics of direct action and parliamentary methods which still cling to such tactics.
In Spain last February, the working-class and poor peasant forces rallied themselves and united as they had not been united before. What brought about this new-found unity was actually a parliamentary campaign. It had become plain that the Fascist and reactionary forces were preparing themselves for an electoral victory, on the basis of which without a doubt they would proceed to operate a la Hitler to crush the working class. By a broad mobilization the working class defeated this intention and won the electoral victory for a People’s Front in which the working-class parties were strong. In this electoral campaign even the Anarchists took part, casting aside all Anarchist tradition under the pressure of events and revealing themselves to be no longer Anarchists in any accepted sense of the term. This electoral victory marks one of the forward steps of the Spanish revolution.
And yet this victory in itself could mean nothing. For the past five years the Spanish workers and poor peasants have fought whenever they could in a number of ways. Their own methods, the methods of the masses, have always been those of direct action. Thus, peasants have seized the land and the decrees of the government to socialize the land have become reality only through such action by the peasants. Industrial workers similarly have carried on strikes to win their demands, villagers have driven out priests and nuns, workers in the cities have massed around the jails and freed the political prisoners. Thus the election of the People’s Front government is seen as just a step buttressed by the actions of the masses on their own behalf in destroying capitalism.
The masses, always ahead of the particular government, soon find their progress impeded by the People’s Front and replace it by a Socialist government. The next step along the way is the organization of shop committees, defense committees and soviets into whose hands responsibilities may be confided. In this fabric of life we see that the formalistic distinction of direct action as completely opposed to parliamentarism and separated from it is not possible. So long as parliamentary forms remain revolutionists must make use of them to turn the proletariat toward its destruction and to the building up of new social relations.
In France, we see a working class on the verge of civil war, with a Fascist organization lying in wait for the appropriate moment. Here, the key to the working-class strategy is embodied in the slogan “Break the discipline of parties” linked up with the slogan for a new revolutionary party. In defiance of the discipline of their parties and unions as well as of the People’s Front government the workers have occupied the factories and have continued to occupy them at intervals for six months. In defiance of the People’s Front the workers are now seizing arms and marching into Spain to defeat Fascism there.
The methods of direct action have been seen to be effective in the folded arms strikes, occupying the factories. It was these strikes that forced concessions from the Blum government, —reforms which in turn are not carried, thus disillusioning with the parties it has supported and urging them to further direct action on their own behalf. Revolutionists in France must urge the workers to make more and more demands upon the Blum government—not because they have confidence in that government, but because the making of such demands, and the granting of such demands, will constantly demonstrate to the workers the futility of relying upon the present State. At the beginning no doubt the People’s Front appeared to large numbers of French workers as though their class were taking power. Progressively it is becoming plain that this has not been the case, that the agents of the capitalist class in power have simply changed their name. The masses are then driven to take matters into their own hands and to get rid of this People’s Front government.
To use one more illustration on this question: In Germany before Hitler took power a plebiscite was taken as to whether the Prussian parliament should be retained or not. Here the Communists committed a terrible blunder in making a united front with the Fascists to vote against the retention of parliament. The parliament was an organ of the bourgeois state and certainly it was not sitting for the benefit of the workers. Yet, in the face of the menace of Fascism, it was the duty of the Communists to fight to retain the parliament, since the abolition of it would have played directly into the hands of the Fascists, would have facilitated their intention of destroying existing legislation bodies in order to set up their own puppet assemblies. Of course, such a parliamentary fight could have value only if linked up with a physical mass fight against the Fascists and against capitalism. In that case both were lacking, both the direct action of the masses and the correct parliamentary fight on the part of the parties. The correct tactic is to use parliament and the whole apparatus of the bourgeois State in order to arouse the workers against that state and to destroy it. Democracy cannot defeat Fascism, yet the fight for democracy may be one of may necessary struggles to be made to defeat Fascism.
We do not deny that we have been all agog like the rest of the world over the Wally affair. And we expect to have in our subsequent issue a complete analysis of all that lies behind this romance and the unprecedented ……. it has caused. Naturally, we refer to its political implications.
The personal aspect of the affair, however, has an importance that cannot be overlooked. It is interesting to see that the mass of “common people”—i.e. of workers, have expressed themselves as wholeheartedly in support of the king’s romance. Not merely have they broke away from stiff-necked Anglican prejudice against a divorced woman, but they are willing for their king to marry a “commoner” and on top of that an American. Indeed it must offer immense satisfaction to the masses to see some one outside the royalty so honored, and as for America, the demonstrators for the king in London are but expressing the great admiration for this country which is felt by all Britishers who come in contact with it. After their stuffy, restricted, narrow atmosphere of their native island there is something inspiring to them in the great spaces and the multifarious living of this continent.
If the king actually abdicates in order to keep his lady, he will go down in history in a contemptible role as a mere play boy, scion of a worn out class for whom responsibility is too much. If he remains on his throne, the struggle between the king and parliament and Stanley Baldwin will just begin. For the Simpson affair was simply a scratch on the surface which brought forth all the contradictions surging underneath. For Edward, whether a play boy or not, is at least modern. His airplane flight upon his father’s death, replace the old time ride in the roal carriage was typical. Furthermore, he is appealing to the people directly over the heads of Parliament and Prime Minister. It was against their wishes that he made the recent trip to Wales, where he is already not a newcomer, and directly interviewed one of the local people to get the real facts on the miners’ starvation. Such demonstrations as this have not merely made the king immensely popular, but they indicate his personal conduct of affairs. Indeed, the only line such a king can take is toward Fascism, thrusting aside Parliament as an out worn institution. The attitude of the Labor Party which declared itself unwilling to set up a new ministry should the king abdicate, is another aspect which will be dealt with more fully in a coming article.
SPANISH WORKERS TAKE THE OFFENSIVE
It was plain from the beginning that on their mere internal strength the Spanish Fascists did not stand a show. Not merely have they failed to take Madrid, which they had boasted would fall like an over ripe plum into their hands, but now the workers’ forces have been able better to concentrate their activities, they have gained reinforcements both within and without Spain, and are now launching a general offensive. If the workers’ revolutionary struggle there is to be defeated, it will be only a higher plane of international intervention. Which gain throws the fat into the fire in more ways than one, and may bring reinforcements to the Spanish struggle in the shape of a general revolutionary upheaval in Western Europe.
The French position of non-intervention has proved so intolerable to the French workers that they are breaking the discipline of the People’s Front here as they did on the question of occupying the factories. Thousands of French workers, armed and ready to fight, are now pouring into Spain to fight side by side with their Spanish brothers. Not only that, they are taking arms with them which they have seized from the factories at home. Pilots are defying the government and are taking over planes which they are flying into Spain (See article by John McNair in the New Leader of Nov. 27th) It is reported as we go to press that the Communist Party has yielded to the pressure of the People’s Front and is taking a stand also against intervention. Cachin goes Blum one better and is for preventing the passage of French workers into Spain.
Not merely French workers are present in the International Brigades which come to hearten the Spanish workers and stiffen their struggle. Germans, Italians, Belgians and many others are found there. The same is true of the squads of nurses and doctors who have gone there for service. As far away as New York and Canada new International Brigades are being recruited and trained for service. Munitions from Mexico and tanks and other armaments from Russia have been contributed. The Spanish workers fight is creating a solidarity of labor which has not existed since the early days of the Russian revolution.
At the same time the misinformation, or rather misinterpretation, of the Spanish civil war that is being spread is appalling. We do not refer to capitalist misinformation which is to be expected, but to the distortions of the working-class movement. A recent meeting of the C.P. in Chicago was advertised under the caption “Spanish People are being slaughtered. Are we next?” Here we see the influence of the People’s Front doing its work of confusion. Another meeting held under the auspices of the North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy, a united front in which the C.P. and S.P. predominate, the civil war was pictured as a fight of “Christian Spain against the black barbarians (The latter being no doubt the Moors). Not a word was mentioned of workers or working class.
Within Spain, the welding of the whole population into one fighting army to resist the Fascists is making rapid progress. It is estimated that 70% of the youth of Madrid between 16 and 25 years are organized and are being trained if not actually in service (see Juventud) Reinforcements from Catalonia and the renewal of the struggle in the north and at other points outside Madrid are responsible for the new successes of the people. Refugee children from the war-torn places are being shipped by hundreds into Catalonia where families contend with each other for the honor of receiving and caring for one of these little ones.
The civil war has been fought with a ferocity unheard of. We quote the following from a circular of the College of Lawyers of Madrid: “In the territories occupied by the rebel forces all workers holding union membership cards have been systematically shot. Their bodies dumped on the streets, or forming sinister piles in the cemeteries, are tagged with their union cards tied to legs or arms as proof and conviction for which they were executed. “When the Fascist forces entered Badajoz, 1,500 workers were herded into the stables of the bull-ring. Machine guns were placed in the seats of the stadium and the workers driven into the arena, where they were machine-gunned unmercifully. The bodies were left in a terrible pile in the middle of the ring. Some workers were still alive but no one heeded their anguished cries.”
“In the city of Seville alone more than 9,000 workers and peasants, non-combatants, have been shot by the rebels. The Moorish troops and Foreign Legionnaires marched up and down the streets lined with modest one-story houses, throwing hand grenades into windows, destroying the homes and blowing to bits its innocent women and children.
“In Daena (Cordova) according to the testimony of Antonio M. Benavente, a member of the Socialist organization, who made his escape shortly after the Fascists took the town, they seized the card files of the workers’ organizations and proceeded to execute anyone whose name appeared on them.
“The rebels’ dastardly cruelty went as far as to make their victims dig their own graves. The presidents of the Socialist Organization and the Socialist Youth, Gregorio Lonzo and Manuel Sevillano, and the Secretary of the last group, were tied together and shot. Their families were compelled to witness this crime.
“Of the 375 members belonging to these organizations, 296 of them had been shot by the 29th of the past month (August). On August 9th thirty workers were forced at hard labor to fortify the town’s historic castle. After 48 hours of continuous toil without any rest, they were driven out with a whip and thrown in the moat. Three of them went insane before undergoing this torture.
“In El Carpio six militant members of F.A.I. were locked up in a hut, soaked with gasoline and set on fire, all of them roasting alive.”
We can counterpoise against this story of horror the more heartening news of the unity which has been achieved in Madrid among the anti-Fascist elements. A Youth Front Brigade has recently been organized including young people of all shades of opinion, Socialist, Communist, Anarchist and Republican. A large number of organizations is thus brought together. Manifestoes are distributed, trucks with loud speakers go through the city, speeches are delivered and thus the youth is mobilized. They spend their nights in digging trenches and otherwise fortifying the city, and their days in training in special schools set up for the purpose. Hundreds of thousands of youth are joining hands in this fight enthusiastically, ready at any moment to give their lives.
In support of the united Spanish working class, the workers of the world must unite, for the Spanish workers on the firing line are fighting the fight of all.
SWEATED LABOR IN GOLDBLATT’S
(A Letter from a Chicago Department Store Worker)
Goldblatt Bros. stores in Chicago have realized a phenomenal growth in the late depression period. This company operates a chain of ten department stores in Chicago and vicinity. It now has approximately 10,000 employees, including salespeople, stock workers, truck drivers and a staff of circular distributors who give out the “Goldblatt Shopping News.” This is a newspaper size sheet distributed house to house several times weekly, advertising the perennial bargains and periodic sales which are pulled out of the hat with monotonous regularity.
Interwoven in the history of this outfit is the wholesale exploitation of labor which is the real key to its growth. Until recently wages of $5 and $6 weekly for selling employees were not uncommon. During the N.R.A. period Goldblatt’s did not live up to even its meager provisions, and finally the N.R.A. authorities were compelled to revoke Goldblatt’s Blue Eagle.
Women sales employees are discriminated against by being paid 4% commission while the men are paid 5%. One might suppose the women were inferior in their work, but on the contrary, they work hard and conscientiously. The reason is that Goldblatt is a firm that takes advantage of every loophole to increase profits by many and various forms of increasing exploitation.
Recently a $14 minimum wage was introduced for selling employees working on commission. A rigid check, however is kept on the amount of sales the clerk books each week. When the amount falls below $14, the difference is advanced to the clerk as a loan. If the clerk exceeds the minimum in the following week, the amount of the debt is deducted from his earnings. If the accumulated debt rises too high that clerk is fired.
Goldblatt is known for its sales, and much ingenuity is spent on thinking up different sorts of sales so that the thing can be kept going and yet make the impression of something new to attract plenty of customers. There are sales named after members of the famous Goldblatt family; then there are store managers sales, department managers’ sales (in which the portraits of the department managers are published in the Shopping News and other circulars), buyers sales, etc. Last summer Goldblatt staged a circus, elephants walked through the streets to entice people into Goldblatt’s and Tom Mix the cowboy was brought to Chicago under contract for the same purpose. All these sales offer a pretext for frequent overtime work, after hours of during the week and on Sundays, with no extra pay, of course. Add to this the long store hours (9 to 6 every day except 9 to 9 twice a week) and it will be seen the Goldblatt worker has little time to himself.
Not only is all the time of the worker taken up with Goldblatt’s so that he cannot keep up with any other interest in life, but a system of soft soap combined with coercion keeps him bound body and soul to Goldblatt’s. There is the idea of the one “big family”, there are constant pep talks to put over this idea, there is the flattery of printing the managers’ pictures in the paper, there is the hope held out of being department managers some day at $25 a week, etc. In order to save overhead the stores are terribly crowded with merchandise, counters are placed close together and piled high with goods, all of which adds to the nervous strain and close atmosphere in which the clerks must work.
Once a year each of the Goldblatt stores has a banquet at some ritzy club where the employees are rewarded with a dollar dinner and the privilege for glimpsing the Goldblatt Family seated on the dais. This is a sight that provides more entertainment than the floor show that follows. At the center of the table sits Mama Goldblatt. At the proper moment each of the Goldblatt brothers comes marching down the aisle, kisses Mama on the cheek and takes a bow to his “big family” (the employees). Here we have Nathan Goldblatt, who took time off from buying cloaks and suits to purchase the Marshall Field million dollar mansion on the North Shore with its many objects of art. Then there is Morris Goldblatt who paid his wife a million dollars for a divorce (with a discount for cash undoubtedly). Also a sprinkling of top executives, whose function is to inform the audience that the only concern of Goldblatt’s “who have all the money they want, is to open more stores so that they can make more executives.”
Rather astonishing at first sight is the hiring of a former U.S. army general, (Major General Frank Parker) as general manager and executive vice president of the Goldblatt system. Nothing could be more incongruous than to see such a person among the Goldblatt newly-rich family, most members of which can hardly speak English. But Goldblatt’s are coming up in the world in more ways than one. They are on State St. now that they have bought the Davis store, and they need an American face. But more than that, this army general is no doubt expected to introduce army discipline among the 10,000 stepchildren of the Goldblatt “family.” In this tactic Goldblatt appears to be an innovator, but one thoroughly in accord with the drift of the times towards regimentation and strict discipline of labor.