Frank Girard, reply to the remarks about the IWW

Frank Girard, editor of the Discussion Bulletin
Reply to the the De Leonist Socety of Canada
Reprinted from the Discussion Bulletin
Nov-Dec 1999 #98, pages 26-29

Reply to the De Leonist Society of Canada

This exchange with the De Leonist Society of Canada began with my questioning the DLS's characterization of the Industrial Workers of the World as an anarchist organization on the grounds that at the 1908 Convention it had removed the so-called political clause from the Preamble to its constitution. I argued that most of the 1WW faction that opposed De Leon and the SLP members of the IWW did so for practical, not ideological reasons. They perceived the influence of the SLP and De Leon as a deterrent to the IWWs growth. By 1908 it had become clear that the IWW was not gaining members at the expected rate. Except for the Western Federation of Miners, already existing radical industrial unions like the Brewery Workers had not affiliated, nor had the needle trades. Also significant part of the leadership of the Western Federation of Miners, which comprised over half the IWW membership, favored disaffiliating.

The source of some of the opposition to De Leon and the SLP clearly originated among a small vocal anarchist faction in the IWW Anarchists -- Lucy Parsons, for example -- had been in the IWW from its founding. To understand De Leon's relationship with the real anarchists in the IWW, read the discussion published in the SLP's Daily People from November 1906 to February 1907. This was collected and published in 1907 by the SLP as a pamphlet, As to Politics. These anarchists were ideologically anti-political. They did not include the organizational opportunists like Ben Williams, Vincent St John, and William Trautmann who engineered the action that packed the 1908 convention, deprived De Leon of his seat as a delegate, and provoked the walkout of the DeLeonist delegates.

I believe another source of the anti-De Leon/SLP opposition was hostility inherited from the split in the SLP that produced the reformist Socialist Party in 1900. A case in point provides evidence for this view and illustrates what I regard as a flaw in SLP historiography and partisan political history in general:

Briefly, IWW member Fred Thompson in his official history, The I.W.W.: Its First Fifty Years, asserts that a personal feud between De Leon and James Connolly of the SP over economic theory resulted in De Leon's filing charges against Connolly at an IWW General Executive Board Meeting in New York in 1907. Because of the delays caused by these charges the IWW supposedly lost 12,000 longshoremen at the port of New York who had been all but organized by Connolly. An author of the SLP symposium, Daniel De Leon: The Man and His Work, mentions the same incident except that there is nothing about charges against Connolly nor the 12,000 longshoremen, De Leon just appearing before the GEB to "enlighten those who needed enlightenment." Strangely enough, neither Paul Brissenden nor Melvyn Dubofsky, two academic historians, mention this incident involving the loss of 12,000 potential members who would have more than doubled the size of the IWW at the time. I'm not an expert on official accounts of IWW history nor on the objectivity of Brissenden and Dubofsky, but I can cite further examples of questionable SLP history including a pamphlet on "early efforts toward socialist unity" which manages to avoid mention of De Leon's speech " Unity" as well as the 1917 Unity Conference with the SP. The fact is that partisan history is always questionable.

Now back to the main question: Did the elimination of the political clause transform the IWW into an anarchist organization as the DLS argues? To prove their case, it seems to me that they have to show evidence that the IWW advocates anarchy. To my knowledge no IWW literature or journals advocate anything more anarchistic than the stateless industrial union social organization that DŽl,eonists advocate. Both the DeLeonist and the IWW brands of revolutionary industrial unionism propose that working class build a stateless post-revolutionary society on the basis of industrial constituencies which will organize production and distribution. Certainly there is no anarchy here beyond what De Leon himself advocated in Socialist Reconstruction of Society.

Furthermore, the SLP's official stance regarding legality and the niceties of the democratic process was not a matter of great concern to many members, at least at the local level. I can remember back in the 1940s and 50s when, as a young member, I asked my mentors in the Detroit section what the SLP wouid do if our class decided to take over the industries on a day other than the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and being assured that the party would favor such action -- presumably without concern for where that placed us in the relation to the "orbit of civilization.".

As to my statement that the IWW "just no longer endorsed a political strategy for revolution," I'd like to point out that there is a great difference between not endorsing a political strategy and opposing a political strategy. The fact is that the IWW did not oppose political action by its members. IWW members continued to be SP members, including Bill Haywood among others.

Consider the IWW preamble as it exists today without the political clause:


"The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

"Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a ciass, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

"We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever-growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing ciass to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

"These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an Injury to all.

"Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair days wage for a fair days work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."

"It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to cany on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old Knowing, therefore, that such an organization is absolutely necessary for emancipation, we unite under the following constitution:"

I don't see anything here that a DeLeonist can't agree with.

As to the idea that elimination of the political clause put the IWW "outside the orbitof civilization" because it replaced the civilized method of the ballot to accomplish the revolution by "its anarchist arsenal," I would suggest that this is simply the factional rhetoric produced by DeLeonists during the split just as the Chicago IWW used Socialist Party rhetoric to demonize De Leon as a would-be dictator etc. The fact is that there is no evidence that the IWW officially advocated violence. Unfortunately, as we all know, our rulers are only too eager to smear labor unions and revolutionary organizations with such accusations and use them as an excuse to use violent means of repression. The active organizing of the IWW, especially in agriculture and logging, during the first world war made them the target of both police violence and political repression -- the so-called "criminal syndicalism" laws. The imprisonment of IWW members, the police and employer-organized violence and murder they endured did not result from the IWW's anarchism but from the lawlessness of the ruling class that obeys laws only when it is convenient to do so.

Now to the sources you quote: It would be interesting to know what Herreshoff means by a "Marxist" union and how, in his opinion, a "Marxist" revolutionary union differs from an anarcho-syndicalist union. As to Ben Perry's and my book, I don't see any difference between the position the two of us took at the time we wrote it and the ideas I have been expressing in this debate with one exception. During the intervening years I have done some further reading on the subject and feel I have a better understanding of the motives of Trautmann, St John, and some of the SLP's other opponents. Certainly Ben and I didn't have any hostile feelings toward the IWW in 1991 -- nor do I now. In fact, last January when nine people here-most of them members of the local ecumenical anti-capitalism group I helped to organize a few years ago -- needed a tenth to qualify as a general membership branch of the IWW, I joined them. So far as I am concerned the IWW has the same objective as the SLP. Both are essentially propaganda groups and I'm willing to help them or the SLP or the New Unionists or the De Leonist Society of Canada in their efforts to help working people to understand the class struggle.

-- Frank Girard