Book excerpt, Paul F. Brissenden, The IWW : A Study of American Syndicalism, 1920


An excerpt from the book
Paul F. Brissenden
The IWW : A Study of American Syndicalism
Published by Russell and Russell, 1920, pages 253-255

Eugene Debs, who was one of the leading spirits in the organization of the I.W.W. in 1905, and who thought that the elimination of the political clause by the Chicago faction in 1908 was a monstrous blunder, endorsed the position of the DeLeonites on political action. "This faction," said Debs, "is corner-stoned in the true principles of unionism in reference to political action." (A Plea for Solidarity, International Socialist Review, March, 1914, vol. xiv, p. 536, col. 2) He thought that there was "no essential difference between the Chicago and Detroit factions of the I.W.W." "If I am right in believing that a majority of the rank and file of the Chicago faction favor political action," he said, "then there is no reason why this majority should not consolidate with the Detroit faction and thus put an end to the division of these forces." (Ibid., p. 537, col. 1.) Debs was of the opinion that, if the I.W.W. had continued as it began, "a revolutionary industrial union, recognizing the need of political as well as industrial action, instead of being hamstrung by its own leaders and converted ... into an anti-political machine, it would today be the most formidable labor organization in America, if not the world." The end of the bifurcated era of I.W.W. history came in September, 1915, when the DeLeonites at their national convention (called the "Eighth I.W.W. Convention") changed their name to the Workers' International Industrial Union, and the Weekly People (October 9, 1915, p. 1.) announced: "The Industrial Workers of the World as founded at Chicago in 1905 is no more." The reason given by the Detroiters for the change was virtually that the "Bummery" had disgraced the letters "I.W.W." "The name I.W.W.," declared Fellow Worker Crawford, "has come to be associated with petty larceny and other slum tactics. It is up to us to choose a new name so as to escape the odium attached to the one we now bear." (Report of the convention, Industrial Union News, October, 1915, p. 2.) Their attitude was more fully explained in an announcement by the General Secretary-Treasurer in their official journal.

While the principles, methods and form of organization adopted in 1905 have stood the test of time [the announcement runs] a new element has asserted itself under the name of I.W.W. whose practices and beliefs are different and opposed to socialist Industrial Unionism. The capitalists and their hirelings, quick to exploit any condition that serves their in terests, boosted along the shouters of "sabotage" and "direct action" with such success since 1906 that today "I.W.W." stands for lunatics on a rampage, in the public mind and a large portion of the workers. (H. Richter, "The Workers' International Industrial Union," Industrial Union News, January, 1916, p. 1.)

The name Socialist Labor Union, originally proposed in 1908, was again discussed and considered very seriously be cause their desire was appropriately to label an organization which claimed to stand for "socialist class unionism." Finally, however, the name, Workers' International Industrial Union, was decided upon "as most appropriate for the designation of the economic wing of the Socialist movement."( H. Richter. ibid.)

The W.I.I.U. soon issued a "Manifesto of Socialist Industrial Unionism" which explained the principles of the newly-christened organization. The W.I.I.U., declares the Manifesto, refuses to conduct the class struggle on the lines of a dog fight. It does not sanction lawlessness on the part of employers, the capitalists and their hirelings by doing likewise. It condemns "sabotage" and all such childish practices by any one as useless for the working class and harmful to real progress.( W.I.I.U. leaflet No. 1, "Principles of the W.I.I.U.")