Chapter 3 - The Economic Factor in Society
Individualism vs. Collectivism
To the vast majority of workers, the I. W. W. is something separate and apart from them and their problem. The influence of the capitalist propaganda, launched from several sources in which the people place a traditional confidence, has served to deaden the instinct of the working masses and blinds them to their own interests. The workers have been taught to think in individual terms, and only seldom rise above personal considerations. Each thinks of the job he or she holds as a personal quantity; of life as an individual problem, and even of eternal salvation, where there is what passes for religion, in terms of individual concern and achievement.
Against this individual conception, the I. W. W. contends with the collective idea of a class interest and class action. It discards the old capitalist ideas as outworn and dangerous to society. It refuses to pray for relief, and discourages the idea that the workers need, or should depend upon elements outside of themselves for relief in the present, or for emancipation finally. It sees the workers always as workers, and never in any other character, nor would it employ them in any other capacity. To the I. W. W. the worker, as a producer, is a far more important social factor than the worker his political character of citizen, where he or she is endowed with the attributes of citizenship.
We hold that the manner in which a people make their living determines the form of their society. The changes in social institutions which mark the history of the human race have always been due to previously occurring changes in the mode of production. Man, by his observation of natural laws, made discoveries that were condensed into tools and tool improvements and, within the past century, more particularly, the observations of the laboratory have re-enforced those of the workshop until man has surrounded himself with an economic environment which is reaching upon the present social structure and compelling a social readjustment that will conform to the existing system of production. The old social order and the new economic system are at odds, and threaten the existence of the race. For now as in all previous times, organized human society is dependent upon the wealth-producing element within it. As this element is made to suffer, society tends to decay. The magnificent social structure of our modern day cannot rest securely upon a proletarian foundation which misery and degradation are tormenting into restlessness. And, unless constructive progress is made, catastrophe must inevitably ensue.
What History Teaches
Similarly, in the past when the masters of the earth's resources so directed their control that human progress was hindered, they brought about the epochal changes that history records as revolutions. A careful study of conditions at these times will explain our contention that these revolutions were the result of a social adjustment to meet the new conditions. As Benjamin Franklin well expressed, "The history of the human race can be more correctly written in terms of tools, (means and methods of production) than in any other terms."
Violence and bloodshed upon a great scale marked the advent of every previous social change. Violence has been the midwife by which every revolution of the past has been successfully ushered in. So with the unthinking, who take things as a matter of course, and who accept terms as including, with out reservation, every detail pertaining to the events they describe, the fact that the I. W. W. is an avowed revolutionary organization is taken to mean that it proposes to use the weapons that have been used by all revolutionary organizations in the past. Therefore, when the term "direct action" was coined, the capitalist henchmen seized upon it to terrify the people with pictures borrowed from the bourgeois revolutions, which were marked by the greatest terrors and most inhuman atrocities.
The Economic Direct Action of the I. W. W.
Direct action, as used by the I. W. W., means that the workers shall act directly, as workers, where they are employed. It means, accordingly, direct economic action, where the workers decide upon, and apply the control of their labor power, which organization gives them, in the manner which they believe to be most effective. They may withdraw themselves entirely from the working places—declare a strike off the job. They may remain in their working places and diminish their efficiency by one means or other. In the selling of goods they may tell the purchasers the truth about the goods; in the manufacture of products they may make known the adulteration which the manufacturer employs. And there are other ways through which the workers can exert economic pressure.
But when the workers leave the working places they forfeit, for the time being, their productive character—cease to be workers. Far this reason, the I. W. W. prefers the strike on-the-job, to striking off the job.
Again, when the workers are misled into destroying property, they have abandoned their character of wealth producers and assumed a directly opposite character—that of wealth destroyers. To this, in principle and as a matter of sound policy, the I. W. W. is opposed.
Nor are the instruments of military warfare the weapons of industrial warfare, and the I. W. W. does everything in its power to discourage the idea that resort to physical force is an effective tactic for organized workers. We believe and teach—that all such means will be used only by the proletariat to its own disadvantage. The I. W. W. does not aim at the industry as a necessary social convenience, but at the employer as an unnecessary social encumbrance. The I. W. W. undertakes to deal with the employers conscious and directly, through the machinery of production which the workers use and by which the employers benefit. It proposes to act directly and not through leaders, political or otherwise. Conscious control of labor power is the reliance of the I. W. W.
The Price of Principle
If the I. W. W. were not avowedly committed to a revolutionary program, which it has steadily refused to compromise or forego, its enemies would [not] have found it very difficult to hamper its progress, by arraying the ignorant and fearful against it. But to have bought popularity at the cost of principle was too high a price for this genuine labor organization. To eliminate from its program its ultimate objective—the overthrow of capitalism—would have been to forfeit its claim to being a labor union, in the true sense of the term.
The evils in society that compel organization by the wage workers are inherent in the capitalist system. They are its logical fruit. Therefore the I. W. W. cannot do less than declare its revolutionary purpose, even though by doing so it provided opportunity for its enemies to misrepresent and defame it, which they did not fail to grasp and make the most of. They ransacked the graveyard of history and rattled the bones of the historic dead to drive terror into the workers whom the I. W. W. is seeking to reach to educate and to organize.
The Capitalist Revolution
The history of past revolutions is a record of physical struggle in which the contest for class mastery was determined by the power of the sword. Conspiracy, which sought secrecy as one of the conditions necessary to successful preparation, marked all previous revolutions. Men and women who were parties to such revolutionary conspiracies carried their lives in their hands. They were severely dealt with when apprehended and they, too, dealt severely with traitors. Death was the penalty for treason. When these contests entered the stage of open revolution, blood flowed freely, and, hitherto every epochal social development has had a sanguinary baptism.
In the history of social revolutions the sea of blood upon which the capitalist class rode to power was greater than that of all preceding revolutions put together. This was in great part due to the development of the death-dealing instruments of warfare, but there is also the marked tendency of the capitalist class to be more relentless and unmoral than any other class which aspired to and gained social damnation.
The history and rise of the capitalist class to a ruling position in society, as told by Karl Marx (Capital, Vol 1. Chapters XXVI. to XXXIII.) and other writers, goes to prove that no other ruling class in the long history of the human race has been so completely without a sense of human responsibility, so filled with bloodlust, or so devoid of the principles of honor. Chivalry is impossible in capitalist society, and compassion is regarded by the bourgeoisie as unpardonable weakness. It depends upon power and respects only power.
Rigging Up a Scarecrow
The term "direct action" the industrial and political rulers of the United States seized upon and associated with past historical events. Direct action was associated with the deeds of terror in the French revolutions, and even [. . . ] *) of the Communards (1871) by the Thiers (capitalist) government was put upon those who were its victims in the Pere Lachaise cemetery and in the streets of Paris.
Direct action was distorted in the hands of capitalist propagandists from the meaning intended by the I. W. W., to convey the impression that the I. W. W. proposed to use the knife, the gun and the bomb to carry forward its designs. Such are the manner and the methods of the capitalist class; such were its own weapons and its own idea of the term direct action. It would hang its own reputation upon the I. W. W., and upon others who are inimical to its interests. It lives by cheating and robbery, and it only runs true to form when it would rob the I. W. W. of its reputation; and cheats opinion when it misrepresents the facts in connection with the I. W. W. mission, actions and methods.
Control of Labor Power
Let us repeat that by direct action, the I. W. W. means action by the workers in the working places. The workers, as members of the I. W. W. always preserve their character as workers, and their direct action is always in their working capacity. The policy of direct action in this sense, which is the sense in which the I. W. W. uses the term, takes the form which the organized judgement of the workers deems most effective. They may use their organized control of their labor power (1) to suspend production by walking out of the working places; (2) by remaining an the job but consciously withdrawing their productive efficiency; or they may strike intermittently. But, in whatever way they exercise their organized central, they never entirely abandon their industrial character. This threatens seriously to embarrass the capitalists in the operation of their establishments and they will not stop at anything to prevent the growth of an organization endowed with such potentialities. Hence their hatred of the I. W. W. in which they find inspiration for the multitudinous falsehoods they have circulated about it.
The Lever Labor's Weapon
We believe that the peculiar characteristic of the wage worker is that of wealth producer or potential wealth producer, that is, that of being the indispensable social element. Our aim is to cultivate this consciousness in the wage workers and to organize it far effective expression. It is our purpose to teach the workers that they can act only to imperil the cause of labor by attempting to abandon this character and adopt any other. The worker can only function in his own behalf by exercising his power over wealth-production and in no other character or capacity. The lever in the workshop we hold to be mare powerful and reliable than a paper in the ballot box. Politics is the weapon of the ruling class, and its use will serve only to protect their rulership, and to perpetuate the wage relationship. And, as long as the wage relationship is continued, the evils which naturally flow from it will still continue to afflict the wage earning class.
To abandon the industrial field and attempt to further the cause of labor by physical violence, either in connection with a strike situation, or a military revolution, would be, for the organized workers, to abandon their entrenched position, and to deprive themselves of the shelter which their industrial position gives them. Organized to control their power as a class, they occupy an impregnable position, and would be qualified to exert an irresistible force.
What the I. W. W. Teaches
The philosophy of the I. W. W. is not the philosophy of salvation through armed physical force, but the philosophy of freedom through organized industrial power. It does not teach the doctrine of blood-letting and wide-spread misery, but the doctrine of human conservation and the abolition of misery. It is not advancing mere theory, but dealing with a demonstrated fact—that the working class constitutes the all-sufficient element for social upkeep and security.
Economic Direct Action and Self-Reliance
When the workers use direct action they depend upon themselves instead of depending upon go-betweens as they have been accustomed to do. In this sense, direct action means self-reliance. Heretofore, the workers have depended upon representatives to meet and bicker with employers. Direct action eliminates these labor leaders, by refusing to employ them. Likewise, by refusing to embark upon a political career, the I. W. W. concentrates the activities of the organized workers upon the job. Instead of seeking redress for grievances in Washington, or one of the State Capitals, the organized workers will demand it from the employer directly, and be in a position to command it.
From the foregoing, it will be seen that the I. W. W. does not teach reliance upon, nor can it consistently advocate physical violence. It proposes more effective action, in which the workers depend upon their control over wealth production. Because the I. W. W. does this, the capitalist class and its hangers-on regard it as the most dangerous of all labor organizations, and work industriously and unscrupulously to give it a reputation which will render it obnoxious to those who are ignorant of its real purposes, methods, and objects. But "Truth crushed to earth will rise again" and the I.W. W. is winning recognition. Through the mists of a vicious propaganda, the workers are beginning to know the I. W. W. for a labor organization in which they can place reliance and dependence.
The Political Shadow
We know that political institutions do not make economic conditions, but are themselves developed out of, and by economic circumstances. The politician does not dictate to industry, but receives and records the dictation of industry. Senator Pettigrew will help corroborate our contention in this regard. In his book, "Imperial Washington," he says:
It is fifty years since I began to take an interest in public affairs. During those years I have been participating, more or less actively, in public life—first as a government surveyor, then as a member of the Legislature of North Dakota; as a member of the House of Representatives, and, finally as a member of the United States Senate. Since 1880 I have known the important men in both the Republican and Democratic corps; I have known personally the leading business men who backed the political parties and who made and unmade presidents. For half a century I have known public men and have been on the inside of business and politics. Through all of that time I have lived and worked with the rulers of America.
"When I entered the arena of public affairs in 1870, the United States, with a population of thirty-eight millions, was just recovering from the effects of the Civil War. The economic life of the old slave-holding South lay in ruins. Even in the North, the panic of 1873 swept over the business world, taking its toll in commercial failures and unemployment and an increase in the number of tenant farmers. The policy of sending carpetbagging rascals into the embittered South hindered reconciliation, and sectional differences prevented any effective cooperation between the two portions of the country. The result was a heavy loss in productive power and in political position. Through this period the United States was an inconsequential factor in international affairs.
"The transformation from that day to this is complete. With three times the population; with sectionalism practically eliminated; with the South recovered economically and the economic power of the North vastly increased; with more wealth than any other five nations of the world combined; with the credit of the world in her hands; with large undeveloped, or only slightly developed resources; with a unified population, and a new idea of world importance, the United States stands as probably the richest and most influential among the great nations.
I witnessed the momentous changes and participated in them. While they were occurring 1 saw something else that filled me with dread. 1 saw the government of the United States enter into a struggle with the trusts, the railroads, and the banks, and I watched while the business forces won the contest. I saw the forms of republican (political) government decay through disuse, and I saw them betrayed by the very men who were sworn to preserve and uphold them. I saw the empire of business, with its innumerable ramifications, grow up around and above the structure of government. I watched the power over public affairs shift from the weakened structure of republican machinery to the vigorous new business empire. Strong men who saw what was occurring no longer went into politics. Instead, they entered the field of industry, and with them the seat of government of the United States was shifted from Washington to Wall Street. With this shift, there disappeared from active public life those principles of republican government that I had learned to believe were the means of safeguarding liberty. After the authority over public affairs had been transferred to the men of business, I saw the machinery of business pass from the hands of individuals into the hands of corporations—artificial persons—created in the imagination of lawyers and given efficacy by sanction of the courts of law. I discovered that these things had been going on from the beginning of our government, that they had grown up with it, and were an essential part of its structure. From surprise and disgust I turned to analysis and reason and for the past twenty years, I have been watching the public life of the United States with an understanding mind. For a long time I have known what was going on in the United States. Today I think I know why it is going on.
Senator Looks Backward
When I look back over the half century that has passed since I first entered public life, I can hardly realize that the America, which I knew and believed in as a young man in the twenties would have changed so completely in so short time. Even when I know the reason for the change, it is hard to accept it as a reality.
Many of the public men who have lived and worked in the United States during the past century have written their impressions of public affairs. Benton, Blaine, Grant and Sherman discussed the public life of the middle of the last century. Since then, there have been many autobiographies and memoirs. I have read these books carefully, and it seems to me that not one of the writers is at the same time a student and, a realist.
First of all, they have written about politics, with very little or no attention to the economic forces that were shaping politics. In the second place, too many of them have written the agreeable things and left the disagreeable ones unsaid. In the third place, they have written what they believed should have happened, rather than what actually did happen. Fourth, and by far the most important, each of these men has written as a member of a ruling class, pleased with himself and satisfied that rule by his class was the best thing for the community. The pictures that these men give are like the decision of our courts—-built on precedents rather than realities." (Emphasis ours.)