Frank Bohn

Tom Mann, Industrial Unionism and Social Democracy

Source: The Social-Democrat, Vol. XV No. 9 September 15, 1911, pp.420-422, (1,075 words);
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

We cannot but offer a tribute to our old comrade Tom Mann for the courage, determination, and generalship he has displayed in the recent strike. That makes us regret the more keenly his withdrawal from our ranks and his failure to draw the obvious moral from the strike—i.e., the need for more united class-conscious political action on the part of the working-class. There is no necessary antagonism between industrial action and political action. On the contrary, the latter is essential to give full effect to the former and to prevent it being defrauded of the fruits of victory.

Recent events give point to the following, which we have received from the Editor of the “International Socialist Review,” Chicago:—

Dear Comrade,—It is with profound regret that revolutionary members of the Socialist Party of the United States note the resignation of comrade Tom Mann from the Social-Democratic Party. His letter has been printed in several papers here. We seem to face a general movement in this direction in all Anglo-Saxon countries. A similar movement occurred here six years ago, when the Industrial Workers of the World was first organised. It is entirely wrong, and must not be permitted to develop without the strongest opposition on our part. It injures revolutionary unionism no less than revolutionary political action. Enclosed you will find a copy of a manuscript which has been sent to several of our papers here. Perhaps you can use it.

I am, with fraternal greetings,
Yours for the Revolution,



Comrade Tom Mann has resigned from the British Social-Democratic Party. His reasons for so doing are set forth in a letter to the organiser of Central Branch of the S.D.P., comrade H.W. Lee. The letter, with comments interjected, follows:—

“Dear Sir and Comrades,—I hereby tender my resignation as member of the S.D.P.

“I do so partly because of the endorsement by the recent Conference of the official attitude of the party on the issue of war, but more because, since rejoining the party a year ago on my return to this country, I find myself not in agreement with the party on the important matter of Parliamentary action.

“My experiences have driven me more and more into the non-Parliamentary position; and this, I find, is most unwelcome to some members of the party. After the most careful reflection I am driven to the belief that the real reason why the trade unionist movement of this country is in such a deplorable state of inefficiency is to be found in the fictitious importance which the workers have been encouraged to attach to Parliamentary action.”

It has always been our opinion, and we thought that comrade Mann shared our view, that the “deplorable state of inefficiency” which marks the craft union movement of Great Britain and America has resulted from the fact that these unions are craft divided, and devote themselves whole-heartedly to the defence and protection of capitalism on the economic field. We have been guileless enough to believe that the defence and protection which capitalism receives from them on the political field followed rather than preceded their economic weakness. What was the situation, Tom Mann, before the craft unions went into politics? Were they free from error until despoiled of their virtue in the House of Commons?

“I find nearly all the serious-minded young men in the Labour and Socialist movement have their minds centred upon obtaining some position in public life—such as municipal or county councillorship or filling some Government office, or aspiring to become a member of Parliament.”

This has been due to the Labour Party, which has grounded its work upon a false faith in office-holding, instead of like the Social-Democratic Party, emphasising the need of revolutionary Socialist education.

“I am driven to the belief that this is entirely wrong, and that economic liberty will never be realised by such means. So I declare in favour of direct industrial organisation; not as a means, but as THE means whereby the workers can ultimately overthrow the capitalist system and become the actual controllers of their own industrial and social destiny.”

Perhaps we are not sufficiently familiar with conditions in Great Britain. Will you, comrade Tom Mann, be good enough to point out to us how the Social-Democratic Party is interfering, or can interfere, with direct industrial organisation or direct industrial action?

Almost all revolutionary Socialists are now agreeing that economic freedom will never be realised by an unaided Socialist Party. As a member of the I.W.W. since the day of its organisation, the writer has been constantly emphasising this view. Comrades Haywood, Debs, and many others whose opinions may have some weight in Great Britain, and specifically with you, Tom Mann, hold this view, and are loyal members of .the Socialist Party of the United States. Economic freedom cannot be realised through political action alone any more than a duck can be brought down by the use of powder without shot. Now you are going to try shot without powder.

“I am of opinion that the workers’ fight must be carried out on the industrial plane, free from entanglements with a plutocratic enemy.”

Debates with the enemy are a necessary evil. Every time a Labour union committee demands higher wages or shorter hours from the masters, they get into “entanglements with the plutocratic enemy.” The facts may not be so distressing in Great Britain, but here in America for every political office-seeker there is in the Labour Movement there are ten anti-political craft union job-holders who could not be severed from their salaries and graft with an axe.

“I do not forget that it was in the ranks of the Social-Democratic Federation I first learned the principles of Revolutionary Socialism, and I believe that I am entirely loyal to those principles in resigning my membership for the reasons given.

“Yours fraternally,


Around the whole world the industrial union movement is growing. It is growing side by side with the political organisation of the Socialists. Try anti-politics awhile, if you please, Tom Mann. But I am afraid, very much afraid, that it will soon lead to—it is hard to say it—advocacy of the British Labour Party. And supporting the British Labour Party will end, like a ball rolling down hill, in your surrender of revolutionary industrial unionism.