IWW Preamble

THE PEOPLE
JULY-AUGUST 2005
VOL. 115 NO. 2

IWW PREAMBLE

THE POLITICAL CLAUSE

INTRODUCTION:

One important debate at the IWW's first convention in June 1905 centered on the "political clause" proposed for the Preamble to the new organization's Constitution. Although that clause was consistent with a principle long held by the Socialist Labor Party and its union affiliate, the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance, the necessity for it was developed independently by the November 1904 and January 1905 conferences that preceded the convention. Indeed, the recognition of that necessity in the Chicago Manifesto was instrumental in the ST&LA's decision to accept an invitation to attend the convention.

Most of the debate over the political clause did not occur on the floor of the convention, but in the Committee on Constitution. The original committee consisted of 15 men, one of whom was Thomas J. Powers of the ST&LA.

Daniel De Leon was not a member of the committee as originally composed, but when Powers was taken ill and stepped aside the chairman of the convention, William D. Haywood, asked the ST&LA delegation to propose a substitute. It chose De Leon.

After 1908, De Leon had frequent occasion to return to some of the events that occurred at the first four conventions of the IWW. In a "Letter Box" response to a Chicago correspondent printed in the "Daily People" of Oct. 24, 1909, for example, De Leon recalled the circumstances leading up to the debate on the "political clause" at the 1905 convention.

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"E.P.J., CHICAGO, ILL. -- Who the Anarchists were, and who the craft unionists, who, 'in committee and on the floor of the first I.W.W. convention maneuvered hard against the word "political" getting into the Preamble?' The Anarchist who did so in the Committee was the otherwise estimable and talented ex-Father [Thomas J.] Hagerty; the craft-Unionists who did so in the Committee were Chas. H. Moyer, and another member of the Western Federation of Miners, [John C.] Sullivan by name. On the floor of the convention, Hagerty, Moyer and Sullivan did not oppose the word 'political' in the Preamble. Their arguments had been beaten to a standstill in the Committee. The Manifesto, which had called the Convention together, was produced before them, and the passage was pointed out which, in the enumeration of the evils to be redressed and which resulted from craft unionism, was the scattered forces of the proletariat on the political field. They were told that, to leave the word 'political' out of the platform as one of the fields on which the workers had to be united, would be to break faith with the men whom the Preamble invited; and they were told quite clearly that, in that case, the S.T.&L.A. delegation would be under the painful duty to leave the convention. The Preamble was finally adopted; it was demanded that all the members of the Committee sign it. Thus neither Moyer, nor Sullivan[,] nor Hagerty spoke against it in the Convention. In the Convention, the leading craft Unionist who raised objection to the being united 'on the political as well as on the economic field' was David C. Coates of the Typographical Union, and his voice was echoed by the Socialist Party man A.M. [Algie Martin] Simons."

Accordingly, when Hagerty, secretary of the Committee on Constitution, presented the proposed Preamble to the convention there was no need for De Leon or any other member of that committee to address the arguments that Hagerty, Moyer and Sullivan had raised against the political clause in committee. Coates took no part in the floor debate on that clause, but several other delegates raised questions about it.

Here we reproduce from the published proceedings of the convention the questions raised by two delegates, A.M. Simons and Clarence Smith, and the answers De Leon gave to both.

DE LEON ON THE IWW PREAMBLE:

Secretary Hagerty then read the second clause of the Preamble, as follows: "Between these two classes a struggle must go on until all the toilers come together on the political as well as on the industrial field, and take and hold that which they produce by their labor, through an economic organization of the working class without affiliation with any political party."

A motion was made and seconded that the paragraph be adopted as read.

The Chairman: It has been regularly moved and seconded that paragraph two be adopted.

Del. Simons: It seems to me we are trying to adopt something that is almost ridiculous in statement. If you will analyze that as it stands, it says that we are in favor of political action without any political party. I am absolutely in favor of no endorsement whatever of any political party. At the same time the wording of that is contradictory and confusing, and there ought to be something done to straighten that out. It either ought to be split into two sentences, or else it ought to state more clearly what it does mean. As it stands now it practically says no political action, without a political party. I object to that. I have not a copy here, and so cannot make an intelligent amendment.

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Del. De Leon: The paragraph, if you will let me read it over again, says: "Between these two classes a struggle must go on until all the toilers come together on the political as well as the industrial field and take and hold that which they produce by their labor, through an economic organization of the working class without affiliation with any political party." That is the language as offered. I wish to speak for the clause as a member of that committee, and against the proposed substitute. The argument has been made by Delegate Simons that that is contradictory; that this clause proposes political action without a political party. Now, let me invite your attention to the Manifesto, to the promise and invitation under which this convention is gathered, and under the terms of which it is convened. You will find on page four of this issue of this form of the Manifesto (holding up a copy), this passage: "Craft divisions foster political ignorance among the workers, thus DIVIDING THAT CLASS AT THE BALLOT BOX as well as in shop, mine and factory"; and on the next page of the Manifesto you find this clause: "It (this organization) should be established as the economic organization of the working class WITHOUT AFFILIATION WITH ANY POLITICAL PARTY." If to recognize the necessity of uniting the working people on the political field, and in the same breath to say that the taking and the holding of the things that the people produce can be done without affiliation with any political party -- if that is a contradiction; if it can be said that these two clauses in this proposed paragraph are contradictory, then the contradiction was advocated by Delegate Simons himself, who was one of the signers of this Manifesto. (Applause) Here you have his signature (holding up the page of the Manifesto with Simon's signature).

But, delegates, there is no contradiction, none whatever; and I consider that these two passages in the Manifesto, if any one thing was to be picked out more prominent than any other, are indeed significant of the stage of development, genuine capitalistic development in America. This Manifesto enumerates a series of evils that result from the present craft division: -- it shatters the ranks of the workers and renders industrial and financial solidarity impossible; union men scab it upon one another; jealousy is created, and prohibitive initiation fees are adopted; "craft divisions foster political ignorance among the working class, thus dividing them at the ballot box."

If this, the division of the working class on the political field, is an evil, then it follows that unity of the working people on the political field is a thing to be desired. And so it is; and this clause in the Preamble correctly so states it. That being so, does this other sentence sound contradictory, the sentence that provides that the new organization shall be without affiliation with any political party?

The situation in America, as presented by the thousand and one causes that go to create present conditions, removes the seeming contradiction. That situation establishes the fact that the "taking and the holding" of the things that labor needs to be free can never depend upon a political party. (Applause) If anything is clear in the American situation it is this: That if any individual is elected to office upon a revolutionary ballot, that individual is a suspicious character. (Applause) Whoever is returned elected to office on a program of labor emancipation; whoever is allowed to be filtered through by the political election inspectors of the capitalistic class; -- that man is a carefully selected tool, a traitor of the working people, selected by the capitalist class. (Applause)

It is out of the question that here in America -- I am speaking of America and not Europe -- that here in America a political party can accomplish that which this clause demands, the "taking and the holding." I know not a single exception of any party candidate, ever elected upon a political platform of the emancipation of the working class, who did not sell them out as fast as elected. (Applause) Now, it may be asked, "that being so, why not abolish altogether the political movement? Why, at all, unite the workers on the political field?" The aspiration to unite the workers upon the political field is an aspiration in line and in step with civilization. Civilized man, when he argues with an adversary, does not start with clenching his fist and telling him, "smell this bunch of bones." He does not start by telling him, "feel my biceps." He begins with arguing; physical force by arms is the last resort. That is the method of the civilized man, and the method of civilized man is the method of civilized organization. The barbarian begins with physical force; the civilized man ends with that, when physical force is necessary. (Applause) Civilized man will always here in America give a chance to peace; he will, accordingly, proceed along the lines that make peace possible. But civilized man, unless he is a visionary, will know that unless there is Might behind your Right, your Right is something to laugh at. And the thing to do, consequently, is to gather behind that ballot, behind that united political movement, the Might which is alone able, when necessary, to "take and hold." Without the working people are united on the political field; without the delusion has been removed from their minds that any of the issues of the capitalist class can do for them anything permanently, or even temporarily; without the working people have been removed altogether from the mental thraldom of the capitalist class, from its insidious influence, there is no possibility of your having those conditions under which they can really organize themselves economically in such a way as to "take and hold." And after those mental conditions are generally established, there needs something more than the statement to "take and hold"; something more than a political declaration, something more than the permission of the capitalist political inspectors to allow this or that candidate to filter through. You then need the industrial organization of the working class, so that, if the capitalist should be foolish enough in America to defeat, to thwart the will of the workers expressed by the ballot -- I do not say "the will of the workers, as returned by the capitalist election inspectors," but the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box -- then there will be a condition of things by which the working class can absolutely cease production, and thereby starve out the capitalist class, and render their present economic means and all their preparations for war absolutely useless. (Applause) Then, the clause "between these two classes a struggle must go on until all the toilers come together on the political as well as industrial field, and TAKE AND HOLD that which they produce by their labor" -- through what? THROUGH AN ECONOMIC ORGANIZATION OF THE WORKING CLASS, "without affiliation with any political party," stands out in all the clearness of its solid foundation and challenging soundness. That clause is a condensation, I should say, of hundreds of volumes now in the libraries of the country, and of many more volumes that have not yet been written, but the facts upon which they are based are coming forward. One of the facts, a fact of great importance is that curious apparition -- the visionary politician, the man who imagines that by going to the ballot box, and taking a piece of paper, and looking about to see if anybody is watching, and throwing it in and then rubbing his hands and jollying himself with the expectation that through that process, through some mystic alchemy, the ballot will terminate capitalism, and the Socialist Commonwealth will arise like a fairy out of the ballot box. That is not only visionary; it is the product of that cowardice which we find very generally in the politics of some men who claim to represent the working class (applause), on account of which we find that such politics in nine cases out of ten degenerate into what is called "possibilism." It brings about a repetition of the methods of the Christian church, which raises a fine, magnificent ideal in the remote future, to be arrived at some time, sooner or later -- rather later than sooner -- eventually if not later -- and in the meantime practices all "possible," "practical" wrong. (Applause) I maintain that this clause, consequently, is not contradictory, but states the four-squared fact. (Applause)

*****

Del. Clarence Smith: I confess frankly that I am unable to say whether I agree with the ideas of the Committee on Constitution or not, simply because the Preamble does not express clearly to me any idea or any principle. It seems to me that this paragraph of the Preamble particularly is intended, not to represent the principles and purposes of industrialism, but represents a toadyism to three different factions in this convention (applause), and I am opposed to this organization toadying to any man or any faction of men. Let this convention state the principles of industrialism, and if the factions see fit to fall in line and support then, well and good. It seems to me that this paragraph could not have been more involved or more confusing if it had been written by the platform committee of the Republican or Democratic party. It seems to me as if the paragraph is intended to be toadying to the man who does not believe in politics at all, the pure and simple trade unionist as we have come to call him; that it means a toadying to the Socialist, and also to the anarchist, if you please. It seems to me that this paragraph is intended to be such that the supporter of this movement can point to it when talking to a pure and simple unionist and say, "that is just what you want, and expresses what you believe in." I believe it is intended to be such that a Socialist can be pointed to this platform with the statement that "this is Socialism." I believe it is intended to be such that an anarchist can be confronted with this platform and told that "this means anarchy as it is written right in this paragraph." I believe that is what this paragraph is intended to be, and I am opposed to that sort of fad myself. I may be wrong, Mr. Chairman. This paragraph may be entirely clear to every other person in this convention, but I confess it is not clear to me. I expect to do some talking for this movement after this convention. I am going to talk to individuals wherever I find them for this movement, and I cannot afford to have Brother De Leon along with me every time I meet a man, to explain what this paragraph means. (Applause) I move you that this paragraph and the balance of this Preamble be referred back to the Committee on Constitution for a clearer paragraph and a Preamble that represents more clearly the principles and purposes of industrialism. (Seconded)

*****

Del. De Leon: I am talking here to the motion of Delegate Smith. Delegate Smith's statement was that this paragraph is a toadying to three distinct ideas; the pure and simple idea, the Socialist political action idea, and the anarchist idea. Do I understand you correctly?

Del. Clarence Smith: Yes.

Del. De Leon: That was the substance. Now, he certainly is mistaken when he says that there is any toadying here to the pure and simple idea, because the pure and simpler states that politics are exactly like religion, and that a man can go his own way upon it. I do not know a single instance of a pure and simpler who will say that the working people must be united on the political field; so that so far as toadying to the pure and simpler is concerned, I fail to see it. There remains what is loosely called the Socialist political and the anarchist idea, understanding by the latter the recognition of the mission of physical force. Are they toadied to? If it is believed that there is any toadying done towards either, it must proceed from the opinion that any one of them has, exclusive of the other, the whole truth; it must proceed from the idea that one or the other is absolutely wrong. The truth is that they are both but a fraction of the truth. I do not believe that when you state that two bones belong to a body you are toadying to either bone. If you scratch a political Socialist you will find a man who says that the trade union is going to die out and there is no use bothering about it. They don't want any economic organization; they don't want any industrial organization; hence they are mooncalves, ballot maniacs. On the other hand, if you look at the anarchist, he, disgusted at the political mooncalves, flies to the other extreme, and says: "political action is wholly useless," and you think of physical force instantly and alone. The position of the Committee was accordingly one, not of toadying towards either of the two, but of recognizing the truth in both camps: the truth in the Socialist political camp, that political action and the means of civilization must be given an opportunity; and recognizing at the same time the fact that in this country, for one, it is out of the question to imagine that a political party can "take and hold." Consequently there are two distinct ideas that run into each other, and the opinion of Delegate Smith upon the subject proceeds from the notion that the two camps, anarchist, so-called, and Socialist, are divided by an unbridgeable chasm; otherwise there cannot be any toadying. For if there is something that you hold is right, and something that I hold is right, and we join the two and eliminate what is wrong in both, that surely cannot be called "toadying." This clause consequently is a constructive clause with the feature of toadying absolutely excluded. As far as the pure and simpler is concerned, he is knocked on the head -- do you call that toadying? I guess he does not -- because his attitude is that politics are simply like religion and should be excluded absolutely.