War of the Classes
War of the Classes
War of the Classes
When I was a youngster I was looked upon as a weird sort of creature, because, forsooth, I was a socialist. Reporters from local papers interviewed me, and the interviews, when published, were pathological studies of a strange and abnormal specimen of man. At that time (nine or ten years ago), because I made a stand in my native town for municipal ownership of public utilities, I was branded a “red-shirt,” a “dynamiter,” and an “anarchist”; and really decent fellows, who liked me very well, drew the line at my appearing in public with their sisters.
But the times changed. There came a day when I heard, in my native town, a Republican mayor publicly proclaim that “municipal ownership was a fixed American policy.” And in that day I found myself picking up in the world. No longer did the pathologist study me, while the really decent fellows did not mind in the least the propinquity of myself and their sisters in the public eye. My political and sociological ideas were ascribed to the vagaries of youth, and good-natured elderly men patronized me and told me that I would grow up some day and become an unusually intelligent member of the community. Also they told me that my views were biassed by my empty pockets, and that some day, when I had gathered to me a few dollars, my views would be wholly different, – in short, that my views would be their views.
And then came the day when my socialism grew respectable, – still a vagary of youth, it was held, but romantically respectable. Romance, to the bourgeois mind, was respectable because it was not dangerous. As a “red-shirt,” with bombs in all his pockets, I was dangerous. As a youth with nothing more menacing than a few philosophical ideas, Germanic in their origin, I was an interesting and pleasing personality.
Through all this experience I noted one thing. It was not I that changed, but the community. In fact, my socialistic views grew solider and more pronounced. I repeat, it was the community that changed, and to my chagrin I discovered that the community changed to such purpose that it was not above stealing my thunder. The community branded me a “red-shirt” because I stood for municipal ownership; a little later it applauded its mayor when he proclaimed municipal ownership to be a fixed American policy. He stole my thunder, and the community applauded the theft. And today the community is able to come around and give me points on municipal ownership.
What happened to me has been in no wise different from what has happened to the socialist movement as a whole in the United States. In the bourgeois mind socialism has changed from a terrible disease to a youthful vagary, and later on had its thunder stolen by the two old parties, – socialism, like a meek and thrifty workingman, being exploited became respectable.
Only dangerous things are abhorrent. The thing that is not dangerous is always respectable. And so with socialism in the United States. For several years it has been very respectable, – a sweet and beautiful Utopian dream, in the bourgeois mind, yet a dream, only a dream. During this period, which has just ended, socialism was tolerated because it was impossible and non-menacing. Much of its thunder had been stolen, and the workingmen had been made happy with full dinner-pails. There was nothing to fear. The kind old world spun on, coupons were clipped, and larger profits than ever were extracted from the toilers. Coupon-clipping and profit-extracting would continue to the end of time. These were functions divine in origin and held by divine right. The newspapers, the preachers, and the college presidents said so, and what they say, of course, is so – to the bourgeois mind.
Then came the presidential election of 1904. Like a bolt out of a clear sky was the socialist vote of 435,000, – an increase of nearly 400 per cent in four years, the largest third-party vote, with one exception, since the Civil War. Socialism had shown that it was a very live and growing revolutionary force, and all its old menace revived. I am afraid that neither it nor I are any longer respectable. The capitalist press of the country confirms me in my opinion, and herewith I give a few post-election utterances of the capitalist press: —
“The Democratic party of the constitution is dead. The Social-Democratic party of continental Europe, preaching discontent and class hatred, assailing law, property, and personal rights, and insinuating confiscation and plunder, is here.” – Chicago Chronicle.
“That over forty thousand votes should have been cast in this city to make such a person as Eugene V. Debs the President of the United States is about the worst kind of advertising that Chicago could receive.” – Chicago Inter-Ocean.
“We cannot blink the fact that socialism is making rapid growth in this country, where, of all others, there would seem to be less inspiration for it.” – Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
“Upon the hands of the Republican party an awful responsibility was placed last Tuesday.. It knows that reforms – great, far-sweeping reforms – are necessary, and it has the power to make them. God help our civilization if it does not!.. It must repress the trusts or stand before the world responsible for our system of government being changed into a social republic. The arbitrary cutting down of wages must cease, or socialism will seize another lever to lift itself into power.” – The Chicago New World.
“Scarcely any phase of the election is more sinisterly interesting than the increase in the socialist vote. Before election we said that we could not afford to give aid and comfort to the socialists in any manner.. It (socialism) must be fought in all its phases, in its every manifestation.” – San Francisco Argonaut.
And far be it from me to deny that socialism is a menace. It is its purpose to wipe out, root and branch, all capitalistic institutions of present-day society. It is distinctly revolutionary, and in scope and depth is vastly more tremendous than any revolution that has ever occurred in the history of the world. It presents a new spectacle to the astonished world, – that of an organized, international, revolutionary movement. In the bourgeois mind a class struggle is a terrible and hateful thing, and yet that is precisely what socialism is, – a world-wide class struggle between the propertyless workers and the propertied masters of workers. It is the prime preachment of socialism that the struggle is a class struggle. The working class, in the process of social evolution, (in the very nature of things), is bound to revolt from the sway of the capitalist class and to overthrow the capitalist class. This is the menace of socialism, and in affirming it and in tallying myself an adherent of it, I accept my own consequent unrespectability.
As yet, to the average bourgeois mind, socialism is merely a menace, vague and formless. The average member of the capitalist class, when he discusses socialism, is condemned an ignoramus out of his own mouth. He does not know the literature of socialism, its philosophy, nor its politics. He wags his head sagely and rattles the dry bones of dead and buried ideas. His lips mumble mouldy phrases, such as, “Men are not born equal and never can be;” “It is Utopian and impossible;” “Abstinence should be rewarded;” “Man will first have to be born again;” “Coöperative colonies have always failed;” and “What if we do divide up? in ten years there would be rich and poor men such as there are today.”
It surely is time that the capitalists knew something about this socialism that they feel menaces them. And it is the hope of the writer that the socialistic studies in this volume may in some slight degree enlighten a few capitalistic minds. The capitalist must learn, first and for always, that socialism is based, not upon the equality, but upon the inequality, of men. Next, he must learn that no new birth into spiritual purity is necessary before socialism becomes possible. He must learn that socialism deals with what is, not with what ought to be; and that the material with which it deals is the “clay of the common road,” the warm human, fallible and frail, sordid and petty, absurd and contradictory, even grotesque, and yet, withal, shot through with flashes and glimmerings of something finer and God-like, with here and there sweetnesses of service and unselfishness, desires for goodness, for renunciation and sacrifice, and with conscience, stern and awful, at times blazingly imperious, demanding the right, – the right, nothing more nor less than the right.
January 12, 1905.
THE CLASS STRUGGLE
Unfortunately or otherwise, people are prone to believe in the reality of the things they think ought to be so. This comes of the cheery optimism which is innate with life itself; and, while it may sometimes be deplored, it must never be censured, for, as a rule, it is productive of more good than harm, and of about all the achievement there is in the world. There are cases where this optimism has been disastrous, as with the people who lived in Pompeii during its last quivering days; or with the aristocrats of the time of Louis XVI, who confidently expected the Deluge to overwhelm their children, or their children’s children, but never themselves. But there is small likelihood that the case of perverse optimism here to be considered will end in such disaster, while there is every reason to believe that the great change now manifesting itself in society will be as peaceful and orderly in its culmination as it is in its present development.
Out of their constitutional optimism, and because a class struggle is an abhorred and dangerous thing, the great American people are unanimous in asserting that there is no class struggle. And by “American people” is meant the recognized and authoritative mouth-pieces of the American people, which are the press, the pulpit, and the university. The journalists, the preachers, and the professors are practically of one voice in declaring that there is no such thing as a class struggle now going on, much less that a class struggle will ever go on, in the United States. And this declaration they continually make in the face of a multitude of facts which impeach, not so much their sincerity, as affirm, rather, their optimism.
There are two ways of approaching the subject of the class struggle. The existence of this struggle can be shown theoretically, and it can be shown actually. For a class struggle to exist in society there must be, first, a class inequality, a superior class and an inferior class (as measured by power); and, second, the outlets must be closed whereby the strength and ferment of the inferior class have been permitted to escape.
That there are even classes in the United States is vigorously denied by many; but it is incontrovertible, when a group of individuals is formed, wherein the members are bound together by common interests which are peculiarly their interests and not the interests of individuals outside the group, that such a group is a class. The owners of capital, with their dependents, form a class of this nature in the United States; the working people form a similar class. The interest of the capitalist class, say, in the matter of income tax, is quite contrary to the interest of the laboring class; and, vice versa, in the matter of poll-tax.
If between these two classes there be a clear and vital conflict of interest, all the factors are present which make a class struggle; but this struggle will lie dormant if the strong and capable members of the inferior class be permitted to leave that class and join the ranks of the superior class. The capitalist class and the working class have existed side by side and for a long time in the United States; but hitherto all the strong, energetic members of the working class have been able to rise out of their class and become owners of capital. They were enabled to do this because an undeveloped country with an expanding frontier gave equality of opportunity to all. In the almost lottery-like scramble for the ownership of vast unowned natural resources, and in the exploitation of which there was little or no competition of capital, (the capital itself rising out of the exploitation), the capable, intelligent member of the working class found a field in which to use his brains to his own advancement. Instead of being discontented in direct ratio with his intelligence and ambitions, and of radiating amongst his fellows a spirit of revolt as capable as he was capable, he left them to their fate and carved his own way to a place in the superior class.
But the day of an expanding frontier, of a lottery-like scramble for the ownership of natural resources, and of the upbuilding of new industries, is past. Farthest West has been reached, and an immense volume of surplus capital roams for investment and nips in the bud the patient efforts of the embryo capitalist to rise through slow increment from small beginnings. The gateway of opportunity after opportunity has been closed, and closed for all time. Rockefeller has shut the door on oil, the American Tobacco Company on tobacco, and Carnegie on steel. After Carnegie came Morgan, who triple-locked the door. These doors will not open again, and before them pause thousands of ambitious young men to read the placard: No Thorough-fare.
And day by day more doors are shut, while the ambitious young men continue to be born. It is they, denied the opportunity to rise from the working class, who preach revolt to the working class. Had he been born fifty years later, Andrew Carnegie, the poor Scotch boy, might have risen to be president of his union, or of a federation of unions; but that he would never have become the builder of Homestead and the founder of multitudinous libraries, is as certain as it is certain that some other man would have developed the steel industry had Andrew Carnegie never been born.
Theoretically, then, there exist in the United States all the factors which go to make a class struggle. There are the capitalists and working classes, the interests of which conflict, while the working class is no longer being emasculated to the extent it was in the past by having drawn off from it its best blood and brains. Its more capable members are no longer able to rise out of it and leave the great mass leaderless and helpless. They remain to be its leaders.
But the optimistic mouthpieces of the great American people, who are themselves deft theoreticians, are not to be convinced by mere theoretics. So it remains to demonstrate the existence of the class struggle by a marshalling of the facts.
When nearly two millions of men, finding themselves knit together by certain interests peculiarly their own, band together in a strong organization for the aggressive pursuit of those interests, it is evident that society has within it a hostile and warring class. But when the interests which this class aggressively pursues conflict sharply and vitally with the interests of another class, class antagonism arises and a class struggle is the inevitable result. One great organization of labor alone has a membership of 1,700,000 in the United States. This is the American Federation of Labor, and outside of it are many other large organizations. All these men are banded together for the frank purpose of bettering their condition, regardless of the harm worked thereby upon all other classes. They are in open antagonism with the capitalist class, while the manifestos of their leaders state that the struggle is one which can never end until the capitalist class is exterminated.
Their leaders will largely deny this last statement, but an examination of their utterances, their actions, and the situation will forestall such denial. In the first place, the conflict between labor and capital is over the division of the join product. Capital and labor apply themselves to raw material and make it into a finished product. The difference between the value of the raw material and the value of the finished product is the value they have added to it by their joint effort. This added value is, therefore, their joint product, and it is over the division of this joint product that the struggle between labor and capital takes place. Labor takes its share in wages; capital takes its share in profits. It is patent, if capital took in profits the whole joint product, that labor would perish. And it is equally patent, if labor took in wages the whole joint product, that capital would perish. Yet this last is the very thing labor aspires to do, and that it will never be content with anything less than the whole joint product is evidenced by the words of its leaders.
Mr. Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, has said: “The workers want more wages; more of the comforts of life; more leisure; more chance for self-improvement as men, as trade-unionists, as citizens. These were the wants of yesterday; they are the wants of today; they will be the wants of tomorrow, and of tomorrow’s morrow. The struggle may assume new forms, but the issue is the immemorial one, – an effort of the producers to obtain an increasing measure of the wealth that flows from their production.”
Mr. Henry White, secretary of the United Garment Workers of America and a member of the Industrial Committee of the National Civic Federation, speaking of the National Civic Federation soon after its inception, said: “To fall into one another’s arms, to avow friendship, to express regret at the injury which has been done, would not alter the facts of the situation. Workingmen will continue to demand more pay, and the employer will naturally oppose them. The readiness and ability of the workmen to fight will, as usual, largely determine the amount of their wages or their share in the product.. But when it comes to dividing the proceeds, there is the rub. We can also agree that the larger the product through the employment of labor-saving methods the better, as there will be more to be divided, but again the question of the division… A Conciliation Committee, having the confidence of the community, and composed of men possessing practical knowledge of industrial affairs, can therefore aid in mitigating this antagonism, in preventing avoidable conflicts, in bringing about a truce; I use the word ‘truce’ because understandings can only be temporary.”
Here is a man who might have owned cattle on a thousand hills, been a lumber baron or a railroad king, had he been born a few years sooner. As it is, he remains in his class, is secretary of the United Garment Workers of America, and is so thoroughly saturated with the class struggle that he speaks of the dispute between capital and labor in terms of war, – workmen fight with employers; it is possible to avoid some conflicts; in certain cases truces may be, for the time being, effected.
Man being man and a great deal short of the angels, the quarrel over the division of the joint product is irreconcilable. For the last twenty years in the United States, there has been an average of over a thousand strikes per year; and year by year these strikes increase in magnitude, and the front of the labor army grows more imposing. And it is a class struggle, pure and simple. Labor as a class is fighting with capital as a class.
Workingmen will continue to demand more pay, and employers will continue to oppose them. This is the key-note to laissez faire, – everybody for himself and devil take the hindmost. It is upon this that the rampant individualist bases his individualism. It is the let-alone policy, the struggle for existence, which strengthens the strong, destroys the weak, and makes a finer and more capable breed of men. But the individual has passed away and the group has come, for better or worse, and the struggle has become, not a struggle between individuals, but a struggle between groups. So the query rises: Has the individualist never speculated upon the labor group becoming strong enough to destroy the capitalist group, and take to itself and run for itself the machinery of industry? And, further, has the individualist never speculated upon this being still a triumphant expression of individualism, – of group individualism, – if the confusion of terms may be permitted?
But the facts of the class struggle are deeper and more significant than have so far been presented. A million or so of workmen may organize for the pursuit of interests which engender class antagonism and strife, and at the same time be unconscious of what is engendered. But when a million or so of workmen show unmistakable signs of being conscious of their class, – of being, in short, class conscious, – then the situation grows serious. The uncompromising and terrible hatred of the trade-unionist for a scab is the hatred of a class for a traitor to that class, – while the hatred of a trade-unionist for the militia is the hatred of a class for a weapon wielded by the class with which it is fighting. No workman can be true to his class and at the same time be a member of the militia: this is the dictum of the labor leaders.
In the town of the writer, the good citizens, when they get up a Fourth of July parade and invite the labor unions to participate, are informed by the unions that they will not march in the parade if the militia marches. Article 8 of the constitution of the Painters’ and Decorators’ Union of Schenectady provides that a member must not be a “militiaman, special police officer, or deputy marshal in the employ of corporations or individuals during strikes, lockouts, or other labor difficulties, and any member occupying any of the above positions will be debarred from membership.” Mr. William Potter was a member of this union and a member of the National Guard. As a result, because he obeyed the order of the Governor when his company was ordered out to suppress rioting, he was expelled from his union. Also his union demanded his employers, Shafer & Barry, to discharge him from their service. This they complied with, rather than face the threatened strike.
Mr. Robert L. Walker, first lieutenant of the Light Guards, a New Haven militia company, recently resigned. His reason was, that he was a member of the Car Builders’ Union, and that the two organizations were antagonistic to each other. During a New Orleans street-car strike not long ago, a whole company of militia, called out to protect non-union men, resigned in a body. Mr. John Mulholland, president of the International Association of Allied Metal Mechanics, has stated that he does not want the members to join the militia. The Local Trades’ Assembly of Syracuse, New York, has passed a resolution, by unanimous vote, requiring union men who are members of the National Guard to resign, under pain of expulsion, from the unions. The Amalgamated Sheet Metal Workers’ Association has incorporated in its constitution an amendment excluding from membership in its organization “any person a member of the regular army, or of the State militia or naval reserve.” The Illinois State Federation of Labor, at a recent convention, passed without a dissenting vote a resolution declaring that membership in military organizations is a violation of labor union obligations, and requesting all union men to withdraw from the militia. The president of the Federation, Mr. Albert Young, declared that the militia was a menace not only to unions, but to all workers throughout the country.
These instances may be multiplied a thousand fold. The union workmen are becoming conscious of their class, and of the struggle their class is waging with the capitalist class. To be a member of the militia is to be a traitor to the union, for the militia is a weapon wielded by the employers to crush the workers in the struggle between the warring groups.
Another interesting, and even more pregnant, phase of the class struggle is the political aspect of it as displayed by the socialists. Five men, standing together, may perform prodigies; 500 men, marching as marched the historic Five Hundred of Marseilles, may sack a palace and destroy a king; while 500,000 men, passionately preaching the propaganda of a class struggle, waging a class struggle along political lines, and backed by the moral and intellectual support of 10,000,000 more men of like convictions throughout the world, may come pretty close to realizing a class struggle in these United States of ours.
In 1900 these men cast 150,000 votes; two years later, in 1902, they cast 300,000 votes; and in 1904 they cast 450,000. They have behind them a most imposing philosophic and scientific literature; they own illustrated magazines and reviews, high in quality, dignity, and restraint; they possess countless daily and weekly papers which circulate throughout the land, and single papers which have subscribers by the hundreds of thousands; and they literally swamp the working classes in a vast sea of tracts and pamphlets. No political party in the United States, no church organization nor mission effort, has as indefatigable workers as has the socialist party. They multiply themselves, know of no effort nor sacrifice too great to make for the Cause; and “Cause,” with them, is spelled out in capitals. They work for it with a religious zeal, and would die for it with a willingness similar to that of the Christian martyrs.
These men are preaching an uncompromising and deadly class struggle. In fact, they are organized upon the basis of a class struggle. “The history of society,” they say, “is a history of class struggles. Patrician struggled with plebeian in early Rome; the king and the burghers, with the nobles in the Middle Ages; later on, the king and the nobles with the bourgeoisie; and today the struggle is on between the triumphant bourgeoisie and the rising proletariat. By ‘proletariat’ is meant the class of people without capital which sells its labor for a living.
“That the proletariat shall conquer,” (mark the note of fatalism), “is as certain as the rising sun. Just as the bourgeoisie of the eighteenth century wanted democracy applied to politics, so the proletariat of the twentieth century wants democracy applied to industry. As the bourgeoisie complained against the government being run by and for the nobles, so the proletariat complains against the government and industry being run by and for the bourgeoisie; and so, following in the footsteps of its predecessor, the proletariat will possess itself of the government, apply democracy to industry, abolish wages, which are merely legalized robbery, and run the business of the country in its own interest.”
“Their aim,” they say, “is to organize the working class, and those in sympathy with it, into a political party, with the object of conquering the powers of government and of using them for the purpose of transforming the present system of private ownership of the means of production and distribution into collective ownership by the entire people.”
Briefly stated, this is the battle plan of these 450,000 men who call themselves “socialists.” And, in the face of the existence of such an aggressive group of men, a class struggle cannot very well be denied by the optimistic Americans who say: “A class struggle is monstrous. Sir, there is no class struggle.” The class struggle is here, and the optimistic American had better gird himself for the fray and put a stop to it, rather than sit idly declaiming that what ought not to be is not, and never will be.
But the socialists, fanatics and dreamers though they may well be, betray a foresight and insight, and a genius for organization, which put to shame the class with which they are openly at war. Failing of rapid success in waging a sheer political propaganda, and finding that they were alienating the most intelligent and most easily organized portion of the voters, the socialists lessoned from the experience and turned their energies upon the trade-union movement. To win the trade unions was well-nigh to win the war, and recent events show that they have done far more winning in this direction than have the capitalists.
Instead of antagonizing the unions, which had been their previous policy, the socialists proceeded to conciliate the unions. “Let every good socialist join the union of his trade,” the edict went forth. “Bore from within and capture the trade-union movement.” And this policy, only several years old, has reaped fruits far beyond their fondest expectations. Today the great labor unions are honeycombed with socialists, “boring from within,” as they picturesquely term their undermining labor. At work and at play, at business meeting and council, their insidious propaganda goes on. At the shoulder of the trade-unionist is the socialist, sympathizing with him, aiding him with head and hand, suggesting – perpetually suggesting – the necessity for political action. As the Journal, of Lansing, Michigan, a republican paper, has remarked: “The socialists in the labor unions are tireless workers. They are sincere, energetic, and self-sacrificing… They stick to the union and work all the while, thus making a showing which, reckoned by ordinary standards, is out of all proportion to their numbers. Their cause is growing among union laborers, and their long fight, intended to turn the Federation into a political organization, is likely to win.”