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Newspaper Page Text
SATURDAY, NOV. 6, 1930.
thesis on the subject of trade unionism, which
was adopted by the second congress, and open the
symposium with an argument from tiat point of
view ; a point of view, it seems to me, that takes
into account all the factors we have to deal with
and that indicates the proper tactic.
. "All voluntary withdrawal", says the thesis,
"from the industrial movement, every artificial
attempt to organize special unions, without being
compelled thereto by exceptional acts of violence
on the part of the trade union bureaucracy, such
as expulsions of separate revolutionary local
branches of the unions by the opportunist officials
or by their narrow-minded aristocratic policy,
which prohibits the unskilled workers from enter
ing the organization, represents a grave danger.
It threatens to hand over the most advanced, the
most conscious workers, to the opportunist lead
ers, playing into the hands of the bourgeoisie."
Adopt An Elastic Program.
You will note that this quotation, in which
the essence of the position is set forth, while
stating a general policy, carefully refrains from
laying down a binding, iron-clad rule to be applied
in all cases. The Communist International ap
proaches this complex problem of trade unionism
not with rigid formulas, but with an elastic pro
grom adapted to change when conditions change
and to conform always to the condition.
Our failure to adopt this attitude has been
the fatal weakness of the American revolutionary
labor movement. Instead of dealing with concrete
situations in a realistic fashion, we have had too
much of a tendency to encase ourselves in an ar
mor of sterile, hardshell dogmatism. Instead of
striving always to be with the masses of the
workers, it has been our habit to take an im
practical and often impossible position and then to
blame the workers because they do not follow us.
I am in favor of making a thorough inspection of
all of our old ideas and phrases to see whether
they fit the conditions which now confront us.
"Capturing" The Trade Unions.
One of the phrases which have been accepted
as Gospel by most of us for these many years is:
"The A. F. of L. cannot be captured." Those
dogmatists who have abandoned all work in the
trade unions on that ground have made the
mistake of looking at Gompers' cabinet instead of
at the local unions which are the real point of
attack. He would be a Utopian indeed who would
say that the executive officers of the A. F. of L.
or of the International Unions will give up their
control merely because the majority of the
membership demand it; but they are no less im
practical who apply the same logic to the local
units. That is where the members are, and there
a totally different set of circumstances prevails.
The bureaucracy at the top consists of a set of
parasites who have special interests of their own
as labor brokers ; you can't hope to convert them
to revolutionary principles, and you can't "cap
ture" them either. But the local units are made up
of wage workers who have a common class in
terest; they can be appealed to, and they can be
Another factor of great importance to be con
sidered in connection with the trade unions is their
enormous increase in membership since the out
break of the war. Under the pressure of unbear
able conditions, the masses of the workers are
driven into action; and they turn instinctively to
the trade unions, seeking to make them their
fighting instruments. The argument that the A.
F. of L. consists only of highly skilled craftsmen
no longer holds good. It is safe to say that the
bulk of the membership today consists of unskiH
1 and semi-skilled workers.
A Fertile Field For Agitation.
This unprecedented increase of membership
has created an entirely new set of conditions to be
dealt with. These new and healthy elements offer
a fertile field for revolutionary propaganda, and
they are blind indeed who cannot see. it. The
nation-wide war for the open shop which has
been inaugurated by the Chamber of Commerce,
and the utter incapacity of the outworn mechanism
of craft unionism to cope with it, opens up an
inparalleled opportunity for agitation in behalf
of the industrial form of organization and for re
volutionary methods of waging the class war.
When I insist that it is the duty of revolu
tionary workers to carry on an active, organized
propaganda and agitation within every trade union
to which they have access, I have in mind the
fact that the labor movement is not a casting
that is crystallized into a certain shape forever,
once it cools in the mold. On the contrary it is a
living organism that is constantly changing and
which is capable of much greater change by the
efforts of an organized body of revolutionists who