The Communist International to the IWW
An appeal of the Executive Commitee of the Third International at Moscow
Comrades and fellow workers!—The Executive Committee of the Communist International in session at Moscow, the heart of the Russian Revolution, greets the revolutionary American proletariat in the ranks of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Capitalism, ruined by the World War, unable any longer to contain within itself the tremendous forces it has created, is breaking down.
The hour of the working class has struck. The social revolution has begun, and here, on the Russian plain, the first vanguard battle is being fought.
History does not ask whether we like it or not, whether the workers are ready or not. Here is the opportunity. Take it—and the world will belong to the workers; leave it—there may not be another for generations.
Now is no time to talk of “building the new society within the shell of the old.” The old society is cracking its shell. The workers must establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, which alone can build the new society.
An article in The One Big Union Monthly, your official organ, asks: “Why should we follow the Bolsheviks?” According to the writer, all that the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia has done is “to give the Russian people the vote.”
That is, of course, untrue. The Bolshevik Revolution has taken the factories, mills, mines, land and financial institutions out of the hands of the capitalists and transferred them to the whole working class.
We understand, and share with you, your disgust for the principles and tactics of the “yellow” Socialist politicians, who, all over the world, have discredited the very name of socialism. Our aim is the same as yours—a commonwealth without state, without government, without classes, in which the workers shall administer the means of production and distribution for the common benefit of all.
We address this letter to you, fellow workers of the IWW, in recognition of your long and heroic service in the class war, of which you have borne the brunt in your own country, so that you may clearly understand our Communist principles and programme.
We appeal to you, as revolutionists, to rally to the Communist International, born in the dawn of the world social revolution.
We call you to take the place to which your courage and revolutionary experience entitles you, in the front ranks of the proletarian Red Army, fighting under the banner of Communism.
Communism and the IWW
The American capitalist class is revealing itself in its true colours.
The constantly rising cost of living, the growing unemployment, the savage repression of all efforts of the workers to better their condition, the deportation and imprisonment of “Bolsheviks,” the series of anti-strike laws, “criminal syndicalist” laws, “red flag” laws, and laws against propaganda advocating the “forcible overthrow of government and the unlawful destruction of property”—all these measures can have but one meaning for every intelligent worker.
Industrial slavery is as old as capitalism itself, and before that there were other forms of slavery for the workers.
But now the capitalists of the world—the American capitalists as well as those of France, Italy, England, Germany, etc.—are planning to reduce the workers once for all to absolute and hopeless serfdom.
Either this, or the dictatorship of the working class—there is no other alternative. And the workers must choose now.
Capitalism is making desperate efforts to reconstruct its shattered world. The workers must seize by force the power of the state and reconstruct society in their own interests.
The coming slave state
Before the American Civil War the negro slaves of the South were bound to the land. The industrial capitalists of the North, who needed a floating population to operate their factories, declared slavery to be an outrage, and abolished it by force. Now the industrial capitalists are attempting to bind the workers to the factories.
In every country during the World War it was practically forbidden for the workers to strike, or even to stop work. You will remember the “Work, or Fight’’ laws in your own country.
And now that the war is over, what has happened? The cost of living has gone up and up, while the capitalists have actually tried to reduce wages. And when the workers, faced by starvation, are forced to strike, the whole power of the state is mobilised to drive them back to the machines. When the railway shop men walked out the United States Marshal of California threatened to bring in Federal troops to force them to work. When the Railroad Brotherhoods demanded higher wages or the rationalization of the railways, the President of the United States menaced them with the full-armed power of the government. When the United Mine Workers laid down their tools, thousands of soldiers occupied the mines, and the court issued the most sweeping injunction in history, forbidding the union leaders from sending out the strike order or in any way assisting in conducting the strike, and forcibly [halting] the payment of strike benefits. And, finally, the Attorney General of the United States declared officially that the government would not permit strikes in “industries necessary to the community.”
Judge Gary, head of the Steel Trust, can refuse the demand of the President of the United States to meet a committee of his steelworkers, but when the workers dare to go on a strike for a living wage and the elementary right to join a union, they are called Bolsheviks and shot down in the streets by the Pennsylvania Cossacks.
And you, fellow workers of the IWW, with your bitter memories of Everett, of Tulsa, of Wheatland, of Centralia, in which your comrades were butchered, with your thousands in prison—you who nevertheless must do the “dirty work” in the harvest fields, on the docks, in the forests—you must see plainly the process by which the capitalists, by means of their weapon, the state, are trying to inaugurate the slave society.
Everywhere the capitalists cry: “More production! More production!’’ In other words, the workers must do more work for less wages, so that their blood and sweat may be turned into gold to pay the war debts of the ruined capitalist world.
In order to accomplish this the workers must no longer have the right to leave their jobs; they must be forbidden to organise so that they may be able to wring concessions from the bosses, or profit by capitalist competition. At all costs the labour movement must be halted and broken.
To save the old system of exploitation the capitalists must unite and chain the workers to the machines of industry.
Or the social revolution
Will the capitalists be able to do this?
They will, unless the workers declare war on the whole capitalist system, overthrow the capitalist governments and set up a government of the working class, which shall destroy the institution of capitalist private property and make all wealth the property of all the workers in common.
This is what the Russian workers have done, and this is the only way for the workers of other countries to free themselves from industrial slavery, and to make over the world so that the worker shall get all he produces, and nobody shall be able to make money out of the labour of other men.
But unless the workers of other countries rise against their own capitalists the Russian Revolution cannot last. The capitalists of the entire world, realising the danger of the example of Soviet Russia, have united to crush it. The Allies have quickly forgotten their hatred for Germany and have invited the German capitalists to join them in the common cause.
And the workers of other countries are beginning to understand. In Italy, Germany, France and England the tide of revolution is rising. In America, too, even the Conservative members of the A.F. of L. are realising that strikes for higher wages and better conditions don’t mean anything, because the cost of living is always higher and higher. They have proposed all sorts of remedies, reforms, such as the Plumb Plan, nationalisation of mines, etc. They have founded a so-called “Labour Party,” which works for municipal and government ownership of industry, more democratic electoral machinery, etc.
But these reforms wouldn’t solve the problem, even if they could be achieved. So long as the capitalist system exists some men will be making money out of the labour of others. All reforms of the present system of society simply fool the worker into believing that he isn’t being robbed as much as he was before.
The social revolution has begun, and the first battle is on in Russia. It will not wait for the workers to experiment with reforms. The capitalists have already destroyed the Hungarian Soviet Republic. If they can dominate and break the labour movement in other countries, then will follow the industrial slave state.
Before it is too late the class-conscious workers of the world must prepare to meet the shock of the capitalist assault, to attack and destroy capitalism and root it out of the world.
The capitalist state
The war and its aftermath have revealed with startling clearness the real function of the capitalist state—with its legislatures, courts of justice, police, armies and bureaucrats.
The state is used to defend and strengthen the power of the capitalists and to oppress the workers. This is particularly true in the United States, whose constitution was framed by the great merchants, speculators and land owners, with the deliberate purpose of protecting their class interests against the majority of the people.
At the present time the government of the United States is openly acting as the weapon of the capitalists against the workers.
The IWW should realise this more clearly than any other body of workers, for it has been savagely persecuted by the government—its leaders imprisoned, its papers suppressed, its members deported, jailed on false charges, refused bail, tortured, its headquarters closed and its propaganda made illegal in many states.
Any worker can see this fact with his own eyes. All the people vote for governors, mayors, judges and sheriffs, but in time of strike the governor calls in the militia to protect the scabs, the mayor orders the police to beat up and arrest pickets, the judge imprisons the workers for “rioting,” or “disturbing the peace,” and the sheriff hires thugs as deputies, to break the strike.
Capitalist society altogether presents a solid front against the worker. The priest tells the worker to be contented; the press curses him for a “Bolshevik”; the policeman arrests him; the court sentences him to jail; the sheriff seizes his furniture for debt; and the poorhouse takes his wife and children.
In order to destroy capitalism the workers must first wrest the state power out of the hands of the capitalist class. They must not only seize this power, but abolish the old capitalist state apparatus entirely.
For the experience of revolutions has shown that the workers cannot take hold of the state machine and use it for their own purposes—such as the Yellow Socialist politicians propose to do. The capitalist state is built to serve capitalism, and that is all it can do, no matter who is running it.
And in place of the capitalist state the workers must build their own workers’ state, the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The dictatorship of the proletariat
Many members of the IWW do not agree with this. They are against “the state in general.” They propose to overthrow the capitalist state and to establish in its place immediately the industrial commonwealth.
The Communists are also opposed to the “State.” They also wish to abolish it—to substitute for the government of men the administration of things.
But unfortunately this cannot be done immediately. The destruction of the capitalist state does not mean that capitalism automatically and immediately disappears. The capitalists still have arms, which must be taken away from them; they are still supported by hordes of loyal bureaucrats, managers, superintendents, foremen and trained men of all sorts, who will sabotage industry—and these must be persuaded or compelled to serve the working class; they still have army officers who can betray the revolution, preachers who can raise superstitious fears against it, teachers and orators who can misrepresent it to the ignorant thugs [who] can be hired to discredit it by evil behaviour, newspaper editors who can deceive the people with floods [of] lies, and “yellow” Socialists and labour fakers [who] prefer capitalist “democracy” to the revolution. All these people must be sternly repressed.
To break down the capitalist state, to crush capitalist resistance and disarm the capitalist class, to confiscate capitalist property and turn it over to the whole working class in common—for all these tasks a government is necessary—a state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, in which the workers, through their soviets, can uproot the capitalist system with an iron hand.
This is exactly what exists in Soviet Russia today.
But this dictatorship of the proletariat is only temporary. We Communists also want to abolish the state. The state can only exist as long as there is class struggle. The function of the proletarian dictatorship is to abolish the capitalist class as a class; in fact, to do away with all class divisions of every kind. And when this condition is reached, then the proletarian dictatorship automatically disappears—to make way for an industrial administrative body, which will be something like the General Executive Board of the IWW
In a recent leaflet Mary Marcy argues that although the IWW does not theoretically recognise the necessity for the dictatorship of the proletariat, it will be forced to do so in fact at the time of the revolution, in order to suppress the capitalist counterrevolution.
This is true, but unless the IWW acknowledges beforehand the necessity of the workers’ state, and prepares for it, there will be confusion and weakness at a time when firmness and swift action are imperative.
The workers’ state
What will be the form of the workers’ state?
We have before us the example of the Russian Soviet Republic, whose structure, in view of the conflicting reports printed in other countries, it may be useful to describe briefly here.
The unit of government is the local Soviet, or Council, of Workers’, Red Army and Peasants’ Deputies.
The city Workers’ Soviet is made up as follows:
- Each factory elects one delegate for a certain number of workers, and each local union elects delegates. These delegates are elected according to political parties—or, if the workers wish it, as individual candidates.
- The Red Army delegates are chosen by military units.
- For the peasants, each village has its local Soviet, which sends delegates to the township Soviet, which in turn elects to the county Soviet, and this to the provincial Soviet.
- Nobody who employs labour for profit can vote.
- Every six months the city and provincial Soviets elect delegates to the All-Russia Congress of Soviets, which is the supreme governing body of the country. This Congress decides upon the policies which are to govern the country for six months and then elects a Central Executive Committee of two hundred, which is to carry out these policies. The Congress also elects the Cabinet, the Council of People’s Commissars, who are heads of government departments—or People’s Commissariats.
- The People’s Commissars can be recalled at any time by the Central Executive Committee. The members of all Soviets can be recalled very easily, and at any time, by their constituents.
These Soviets are not only legislative bodies, but also executive organs. Unlike your Congress, they do not make the laws and leave them to the president to carry out, but the members carry out the laws themselves; and there is no Supreme Court to say whether or not these laws are “constitutional.”
Between the All-Russia Congresses of Soviets the Central Executive Committee is the supreme power in Russia. It meets at least every two months, and in the meanwhile the Council of People’s Commissars directs the country, while the members of the Central Executive Committee go to work in the various government departments.
The organisation of production and distribution
In Russia the workers are organised in industrial unions, all the workers in each industry belonging to one union. For example, in a factory making metal products, even the carpenters and painters are members of the Metal Workers’ Union. Each factory is a Local Union, and the Shop Committee elected by the workers is its Executive Committee.
The All-Russia Central Executive Committee of the federated unions is elected by the annual Trade Union Convention. A Scale Committee elected by the Convention fixes the wages of all categories of workers, With very few exceptions, all important factories in Russia have been nationalised and are now the property of all the workers in common. The business of the unions is therefore no longer to fight the capitalist, but to run industry.
Hand in hand with the unions works the Department of Labour of the Soviet Government, whose chief is the People’s Commissar of Labour, elected by the Soviet Congress, with the approval of the unions.
In charge of the economic life of the country is the elected Supreme Council of People’s Economy, divided into departments, such as metal department, chemical department, etc., each one headed by experts and workers, appointed with the approval of the Union, by the Supreme Council of People’s Economy.
In each factory production is carried on by a committee consisting of three members: a representative of the Shop Committee, a representative of the Central Executive Committee of the Unions, and a representative of the Supreme Council of People’s Economy.
The Unions are thus a branch of the government—and this government is the most highly centralised government that exists.
It is also the most democratic government in history. For all the organs of government are in constant touch with the worker masses and constantly sensitive to their will. Moreover, the local Soviet—all over Russia have complete autonomy to manage their own local affairs, provided they carry out the national policies laid down by the Soviet Congress. Also, the Soviet Government represents only the workers, and cannot help but act in the workers’ interest.
Many members of the IWW are opposed to centralisation, because they do not think it can be democratic. But where there are great masses of people it is impossible to register the will of individuals; only the will of majorities can be registered, and in Soviet Russia the government is administered only for the common good of the working class.
The private property of the capitalist class, in order to become the social property of the workers, cannot be turned over to individuals or groups of individuals. It must become the property of all in common, and a centralised authority is necessary to accomplish this change.
The industries, too, which supply the needs of all the people, are not the concern only of the workers in each industry, but of all in common, and must be administered for the benefit of all. Moreover, modern industry is so complicated and interdependent that in order to operate most economically and with the greatest production it must be subject to one, general scheme and one central management.
The revolution must be defended against the formidable assaults of the combined forces of capitalism. Vast armies must be raised, drilled, equipped and directed. This means centralisation. Soviet Russia has for two years almost alone fought off the attacks of the capitalist world. How could the Red Army, more than two million strong, have been formed without central directing authority?
The capitalist class has a strongly centralised organisation, which permits its full strength to be hurled against the scattered and divided sections of the working class. The war is war. To overthrow capitalism the workers must be a military force, with its general staff —but this general staff elected and controlled by the workers.
In time of strike every worker knows that there must be a strike committee—a centralised organ to conduct the strike, whose orders must be obeyed—although this committee is elected and controlled by the rank and file. Soviet Russia is on strike against the whole capitalist world. The social revolution is a general strike against the whole capitalist system. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the strike committee of the social revolution.
Probably the coming proletarian revolutions in America and other countries will develop new forms of organisation. The Bolsheviks do not pretend that they have said the final word in the social revolution. But the experience of two years of workers’ government in Russia is naturally of the greatest importance, and should be closely studied by the workers of other countries.
The word “politics” is to many members of the I.WW. like a red flag to a bull—or a capitalist. Politics, to them, means simply politicians—usually “yellow” Socialist candidates trying to catch votes to elect them to some comfortable office, where they can comfortably forget all about the workers.
These “anti-political” fellow workers oppose the Communists because they call themselves a “political party,” and sometimes take part in political campaigns.
This is using the word “politics” in too narrow a sense. One of the principles upon which the IWW was founded is expressed in the saying of Karl Marx: “Every class struggle is a political struggle.” That is to say, every struggle of the workers against the capitalists is a struggle of the workers for the political power—the state power.
This is the sense in which we Communists also use the word “politics.”
The “yellow” Socialists believe that they can gradually gain this political power by using the political machinery of the capitalist state to win reforms, and when they have elected a majority of the members of Congress and the Legislatures, and the president, governors, mayors and sheriffs, they can proceed to use the state power to legislate capitalism peacefully out and the industrial commonwealth in.
This leads the “yellow” Socialists to preach all sorts of reforms of the capitalist system, draws to their ranks small capitalists—and political adventurers of all kinds, and finally causes them to make deals and compromises with the capitalist class.
The IWW does not believe in this and neither do the Communists.
We Communists do not think that it is possible to capture the state power by using the political machinery of the capitalist state. The state being the particular weapon of the capitalist class, its machinery is naturally constructed so as to defend and strengthen the power of capitalism. Capitalist control of all agencies molding public opinion—press, schools, churches and labour fakers, capitalist control of the workers’ political conduct through control of their means of living, make it extremely improbable that the workers under the present capitalist “democracy” could ever legally elect a government devoted to their interests.
And at this time, when the capitalist class the world over is launching a desperate campaign of repression against all conscious working-class organisation, it is unthinkable.
But even if it were possible for the workers to win the state power by means of the political machinery, the capitalist state could never be used to introduce the industrial commonwealth. The real source of capitalist power lies in capitalist ownership and control of the means of production. The capitalist state exists for the purpose of protecting and extending this ownership and control—it cannot therefore be used to destroy it.
So far the Communists and the IWW are in accord. The capitalist state must be attacked by direct action. This, in the correct meaning of the word, is also political action, for it has a political aim—the seizure of state power.
The IWW proposes to attain this end by the general strike. The Communists go farther. History indicates clearly that the general strike is not enough. The capitalists have arms—and the experience with White Guards in Russia, Finland and Germany proves that they have sufficient organisation and training to use these arms against the workers. Moreover, the capitalists possess stores of food, which enable them to hold out longer than the workers, always on the verge of actual want.
The Communists also advocate the general strike, but they add that it must turn into armed insurrection. Both the general strike and the insurrection are forms of political action.
If this is so, if the Communists do not believe in capturing state power by means of the ballot box, why do the Communist parties participate in elections, and nominate candidates for office?
The question of whether or not Communists should participate in elections is of secondary importance. Some Communist organisations do, others do not. But those who do act on the political field do so only for propaganda. Political campaigns give an opportunity for revolutionists to speak to the working class, pointing out the class character of the state and their class interests as workers. They enable them to show the futility of reforms, to demonstrate the real interests which dominate the capitalist—and “yellow” Socialist—political parties, and to point out why the entire capitalist system must be overthrown.
Communists elected to Congress or the legislatures have as their function to make propaganda; to ceaselessly expose the real nature of the capitalist state, to obstruct the operations of capitalist government and show their class character, to explain the futility of all capitalist reform measures, etc. In the halls of the legislative assembly, against the sounding board of the nation, the Communist can show up capitalist brutality and call the workers to revolt.
The most common objection to electing candidates to capitalist legislatures is that, no matter how good revolutionists they are, they will invariably be corrupted by their environment and will betray the workers.
This belief is born of long experience, chiefly with Socialist politicians and labour fakers. But we Communists say that a really revolutionary party will elect real revolutionists, and will know how to keep them under its control.
Many members of the IWW are bitterly opposed to making any use of legislatures and other government institutions for purposes of propaganda. But the IWW as an organisation has often used them. In the Lawrence Strike of 1912 the IWW made good use even of Victor Berger, the Socialist Congressman, who advertised the strike and the IWW on the floor of the House of Representatives. William D. Haywood, Vincent St. John and many other IWW leaders voluntarily testified before the Industrial Relations Commission of the United States Government, using this method to make propaganda for their organisation. But the most striking example of using the political machinery of the state for purposes of propaganda occurred in 1918, when the Federal Court in Chicago was turned into a three-months-long IWW agitation meeting—extremely valuable for us—by the one hundred IWW leaders on trial there.
These are all cases of using the political machinery of the capitalist state to make revolutionary propaganda among the masses. This method of propaganda should be used as circumstances dictate—as should parliamentary action. No weapon should be totally condemned.
The special and particular business of the IWW is to train the workers for the seizure and management of industry. The special function of the Communist political party is to train the workers for the capture of political power and the administration of the proletarian dictatorship. All workers should at the same time be of the revolutionary industrial union of their industry, and of the political party which advocates communism.
The social revolution and the future society
The aim of the IWW is “to build the new society within the shell of the old.” [This] means, to organise the workers so thoroughly, that at a given time the capitalist system be burst asunder and the industrial commonwealth, fully developed, shall take its place.
Such an act requires the organisation and discipline of the great majority of the workers. Before the war there was reason to believe that this might be feasible—although in the fourteen years of its history the IWW had been able to organise comparatively only a small fraction of the American workers.
But at the present time such a plan is utopian. Capitalism is breaking down, the social revolution is upon us and history will not wait until the majority of the workers are organised 100 percent according to the plan of the IWW or any other organisation. There is no longer before us the prospect of normal industrial development which would alone allow the carrying out of such a plan. The war has hurled the peoples of the world into the great cataclysm and they must plan for immediate action—not for the working out of schemes which would take years to accomplish.
The new society is not to be built as we thought, within shell of the capitalist system. We cannot wait for that. The social revolution is here. And when the workers have overthrown capitalism and have crushed all attempts to re-establish it, then, at their leisure, through their Soviet state, they can build the new society in freedom.
In the face of the social revolution, what is the immediate important work of the Industrial Workers of the World?
They, as the most important organisation based on revolutionary industrial unionism in America, should take the initiative in trying to establish a basis for the uniting in one organisation of all unions which have a class-conscious revolutionary character, of all workers who accept the class struggle, such as the W.I.I.U., the One Big Union and certain insurgent Unions in the A.F. of L. This is no time to quibble about a name, or minor questions of organisation. The essential task is to draw together all workers capable of revolutionary mass action in time of crisis.
They, as revolutionists, should not repel the attempts of the American Communists to come to an agreement with them, for common revolutionary action. The political party and the economic organisation must go forward—shoulder-to-shoulder toward the common goal—the abolition of capitalism by means of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the formation of Soviets and the disappearance of classes and the state.
The Communist International holds out to the IWW the hand of brotherhood.