A. Lozovsky
Marx and the Trade Unions

Chapter VI
Marx and the United States

If we were minded to build up an ideal country for capitalist development basing ourselves upon the environment of a capitalist economic system, that country would in no wise differ from the United States in its special features and dimensions. (1)

This is how Werner Sombart characterises this promised land of monopolist capitalism. During the period when Marx appeared on the political arena, the United States swallowed up tremendous masses of emigrants from Europe. The powerful immigration torrent was rapidly absorbed in this gigantic country, but it did not subside, it constantly grew, attracting ever new nationalities and social strata: artisans ruined by the introduction of the machine, unemployed who had been forced out of the infant industries, and proletarianised peasants, as well as numerous elements from the urban petty-bourgeoisie. Emigration reached enormous proportions after the defeat of the revolution in Germany, Austria and France in 1848. Thus, from 1790 to 1845, 1,000,000 persons settled in the United States, while from 1845 to 1855, 3,000,000; the overwhelming majority of settlers, however, went to the United States after 1848. (2) This unceasing structure of American economics—pure capitalism, based on “free” labour in the North and slavery in the South—laid a special imprint on the labour movement in the United States.

Marx in his The Eighteenth Brumaire characterises the specific situation and the undeveloped class relationships in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century:

The country where the classes already constituted but not yet fixed modify and constantly replace, on the other hand, their constituent elements; where the modem means of production, instead of corresponding to a stagnant overpopulation, compensate rather for the relative lack of heads and arms; and where, finally, the young movement throbs with material production which has a new world to conquer, has had neither time nor occasion for destroying the ancient spiritual world. (3)

These undifferentiated class relationships were a favourable ground for those who were “seeking to attain the emancipation of the proletariat, so to speak, behind the back of society, privately, within the restricted bounds of its conditions of existence.” (4)

Vast territories of virgin soil attracted the attention of European utopians, who hoped to organise their communities on the promised land. In 1824 Robert Owen himself went to the United States, bought a considerable tract of land and began to organise ideal societies, where the workers and the capitalists, who recanted past sins and greed, were expected to live peacefully side by side and help one another. With the aid of philanthropists he organised the Yellow Spring Community in 1825, then the “New Harmony,” the “Nashoba,” “Kendel” and other communities.

During the first half of the nineteenth century Fourier societies sprang up in the states of Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The organisers of these communities—Albert Brisbane, Horace Greeley, and others, built special phalanxes according to the Fourier plan; however, just as in the case of the communities built by the adherents of Robert Owen, nothing came of it. The best of the communities, as, for example, the North-American phalanx known as Brook Farm, the Wisconsin phalanx, the Pennsylvania group, the New York group and others, merely vegetated and finally disintegrated. The same was the fate of the Icarian Communities, organised by followers of the utopian Communist Etienne Cabet. (5) The United States proved to be a promised land for capitalism and a harsh land for all the noble social experiments of utopian socialism.

Who were the initiators and pioneers of the building of socialist communities on American soil, so free and clear of all feudalism? The European adherents of the utopian socialists who had become disappointed in revolutions and were in search of ways for solving the social problem outside the class struggle. Marx highly valued the utopian socialists, not for their utopianism but for their socialism. He considered them forerunners of critico-materialist socialism. But Marx was merciless towards the utopian communists of the type of Weitling who attempted to resurrect utopian socialism some dozens of years after it had been buried. Weitling, who at first had followed Marx, began to call himself a prophet and the founder of a special school. The chief work of Weitling, The Guaranties of Harmony and Freedom, was a sentimental communist appeal not to live as of old but to begin a new life. Alter arriving in the United States in the ’forties, he began to do organisational work, chiefly among German immigrants, and to set himself and his teaching up against Marx and Marxism. The years 1850-60 saw Weitling’s activities at their peak. He succeeded in rallying considerable sections of the German workers around him; however, his endeavour to create his own school and his confused philosophy led not only to his breaking with Marx, but also with workers who had followed him for several years. Marx, in his letter to Sorge, dated October 19, 1877, characterised Weitling’s utopian socialism and utopian communism in the following way:

That of which we have swept clean the heads of the workers for decades with so much labour and effort, and which gave them the theoretical (and consequently also the practical) preponderance over the French and the British—utopian socialism, the play of fancy in the realm of the future structure of society—is rampant again in much inferior form [Italics mine.—A. L.], not to be compared with the great French and British Utopians but with Weitling. It is natural that utopianism, which prematurely harboured materialist-critical socialism (in embryo) can now, when it arrives post festum [after its time.—Ed.] be only silly, tiresome, and at bottom reactionary. (6)

We see how Marx establishes the relationship between scientific socialism and utopian socialism, and how severely he criticises those who to their old age flaunt about in the children’s clothes of utopian socialism, who try to drag back the labour movement in the United States.

The main stream of emigrants came from Germany, and therefore socialism was imported from there, but during the early years it could not take firm root on American soil because pre-Marxian German socialism had been rather helpless on German soil, and with its transplantation to American soil became weaker still. The immigrants brought along from Europe not only utopian ideas, but also the European forms of organisation of that period. The structure of the working class in the United States was very peculiar and variegated at that time and has remained so till now. This made it more difficult to bring socialist ideas to the masses. Two factors played a decisive rôle in forming the ideology of the working class of that period—slavery and immigration. In his first volume of Capital Marx writes:

In the United States of North America every independent movement of the workers was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded. (7)

If we add to this black brand the masses of immigrants who were ready to work for a pittance, if only to earn a crust of bread, we see wherein lay the cause for the special state of the labour movement in the United States at that time. Immigration fixed its special imprint on the working class of the United States, creating various strata and groups in the midst of the working class, according to nationality, degree of knowledge of the English language, etc. In 1893 Engels wrote to Sorge:

…immigration … divides the workers into two groups—native- and foreign-born, and the latter into: (1) Irish, (2) German, and (3) many small groups, the members of each of which can only understand one another, namely, Czechs, Poles, Italians, Scandinavians, etc. And then we must add the Negroes. Particularly favourable conditions are needed to form a single party out of this. Sometimes there is a powerful élan; however, the bourgeoisie need merely hold out passively for the heterogeneous elements of the working masses to fall apart again. (8)

In 1895 Engels returned again to the question of the specific traits of the labour movement in the United States, where tremendously intensive economic battles had occurred during the nineteenth century, while the political movement of the proletariat developed in an extremely zig-zag manner, never reaching a high peak of exceptional sharpness or intensity. This resulted in the ideological-political lagging behind of the labour movement in the United States. How does Engels explain this lagging behind? In his letter to Sorge of January 16, 1895, Engels wrote:

America is the youngest but also the oldest country in the world. Just as you in your country have ancient Frankonian furniture alongside of that which you have yourselves invented, just as in Boston there are carriages such as I saw for the last time in London in 1838; and in the mountains you have stage-coaches dating back to the seventeenth century, alongside of Pullman cars; so, in the same way, you preserve all old discarded spiritual costumes of Europe. All that has gone out of existence here can continue to live in America for two generations more. [Italics mine.—A. L.] Thus in your country the old Lassalleans continue to exist, while people of the type of Sanial, who would to-day be considered antiquated in France, can still play some part in your country. This is due on the one hand to the fact that in America after worrying about material production and acquisition of wealth, they only now have time for independent spiritual activities and the requisite education; on the other hand, because of the dual character of America’s development, which, for one thing, is still working on the first task—clearing off the vast virgin territories, and, for another, is already compelled to compete for supremacy in industrial production.

This is what causes the ups and downs in the movement, depending upon whether the industrial worker or the farmer tilling virgin soil preponderates in the average mind. (9)

This letter of Engels explains the singularity of the labour movement in the United States, particularly during the epoch of Marx.

Contact between the American workers and communism, also with its famous founder, Marx, was first established by the worker-immigrants from Germany.

The earliest German forerunner of Marx—-writes John R. Commons, historian of the labour movement in the United States—was the Communist Club in New York, a Marxian organisation, based on the Communist Manifesto, established on October 25, 1857. The programme of the club was the Communist Manifesto. The membership was not large, but it comprised many who subsequently made themselves prominent in the American International, such as F. A. Sorge, Conrad Carl, Siegfried Meyer, etc. The club kept up connections with the communist movement abroad, and among its correspondents we find men like Karl Marx, Johann Philip Becker of Geneva, Joseph Weydemeyer.... (10)

Simultaneously with the organisation of Marxist clubs in the United States, various Lassallean organisations also sprang up, of which the largest was the General Union of German Workers, founded in New York in October 1865 by fourteen Lassalle adherents. They brought from the other side of the ocean their confused ideas, which can be seen from the following clause in their statutes:

While in Europe only a general revolution can form the means of uplifting the working people, in America the education of the masses will instil into them the degree of self-confidence as is indispensable to the effective and intelligent .use of the ballot and will eventually lead to the emancipation of the working people from the yoke of capitalism. (11)

In all the main cities of the United States workers’ clubs, unions and all kinds of societies were organised; these tried to set up contacts with the spiritual-political centre of that time—with London, where Marx and Engels lived. The emigrant organisations thoroughly studied Marxist literature, primarily the works of Marx himself. Sorge vividly describes how the German workers followed up Marxian literature and studied it carefully. Sorge wrote:

These proletarians … compete with one another in acquiring economic and philosophical problems. Among the hundreds of members who belonged to the society from 1869 to 1874 there was barely anyone who had not read his Marx (Capital) and there were, of course, more than a dozen of them who had assimilated and mastered the most difficult phrases and definitions, and were thus equipped against any attacks by the big bourgeoisie or petty bourgeois, by radicals or reformers. It was indeed a pleasure to attend meetings of the society. (12)

Simultaneously with the growth and development of immigrant, chiefly German, unions, clubs, groups, etc., the ’fifties and ’sixties of the nineteenth century can be characterised also by the growth of the trade unions, the sharpening of the struggle for shorter working hours, for labour legislation, for the protection of female and child labour, etc. A number of local and international trade union organisations sprang up—of metal workers, miners, founders, shipbuilding workers, etc. The trade union leaders of that time conceived the idea of establishing a national labour union. The initiator and organiser of this union was William H. Sylvis, the moulder, first secretary and afterwards president of the International Moulders’ Union. The International Engineers’ and Blacksmiths’ Union already in 1863 advanced the idea of creating a national trade union organisation. In 1864 the International Moulders’ Union also supported this idea. On March 26, 1866, the officials of a number of unions in various cities arrived in New York and issued an appeal to convene a National Labour Congress in Baltimore on August 20, 1868. The aims of the Congress were defined by its initiators in the following way:

The first and greatest need of the present, if labour in this country is to be liberated from capitalist slavery, is the passing of a law which will provide that eight hours shall constitute a normal working day in all the states of the Union. We are determined to do everything in our power to attain this result.

The decision adopted at the Labour Congress in Baltimore was joyfully welcomed by Marx. In his letter to Kugelmann dated October 9, 1866, Marx wrote:

I was very pleased with the American Workers’ Congress at Baltimore [which was convened simultaneously with the Geneva Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association.—A. L.]. The slogan there was organisation for the struggle against capital, and curiously enough most of the demands which I drew up for Geneva were also put forward by the correct instinct of the workers. (13)

It is not surprising that the demands drawn up by Marx for the Geneva Congress (see chapter on Partial Demands) coincided with the demands of the advanced workers in the United States. Marx knew the international labour movement better than any one else, and the programme of demands worked out by him was a generalisation of the demands of the workers in all capitalist countries and was based on the experiences acquired in the class struggle and the communist attitude towards the “true instinct of the workers.”

Two years later Marx again referred to this Congress; in his letter to Kugelmann, dated December 12, 1868, he wrote:

Joking aside, great progress was evident in the last Congress of the American ‘Labour Union’ in that, among other things, it treated working women with complete equality. While in this respect the English, and still more the gallant French, are burdened with a spirit of narrow-mindedness. Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex (the ugly ones included).

This letter once again proves that Marx knew just what he wanted in all problems of social movements, excellently bearing in mind that limiting the rights of women workers in working-class organisations means political self-limitation of the working class.

This Congress, which adopted a decision on the struggle for the eight-hour working day, was noted by Marx in his first volume of Capital, where he emphasised that:

Out of the death of slavery a new life at once arose. The first fruit of the Civil War was the eight-hours’ agitation, that ran with the seven-league boots of the locomotive from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New England to California. (14)

This National Labour Union, the initiator and organiser of which was William Sylvis, held a number of other congresses (in 1867, 1868, 1869, 1870 and 1871). It set up contacts with the International Workingmen’s Association, and although the best leaders of that time, as for example Sylvis, were not particularly firm on questions of socialist programmes and tactics, Marx followed this movement very attentively and highly esteemed its militant activity for shorter working hours, for higher wages, etc.

In connection with the strained relations between England and the United States in 1869, the General Council issued an appeal to the National Labour Union in which it called on the working class of the United States to fight determinedly against war, which brings nothing to the working class of Europe and America but disaster. This appeal written by Marx is so characteristic of the whole position of the First International and Marx himself, that we give here quite substantial quotations from it:

In the inaugural programme of our Association we stated: “It was not the wisdom of the ruling classes, but the heroic resistance to their criminal folly by the working class of England that saved the West of Europe from plunging headlong into an infamous crusade for the perpetuation and propagation of slavery on the other side of the Atlantic.” Your turn has now come to stop a war, the clearest result of which would be for an indefinite period to hurl back the ascendent movement of the working class on both sides of the Atlantic....

Quite apart from the particular interests of this or that government, is it not the general interest of our common oppressors to turn our fast-growing international co-operation into an internecine war? … In our address to Mr. Lincoln, on his re-election as President, we expressed our conviction that the American Civil War would prove of as great importance to the advancement of the working class, as the American War of Independence had proved to that of the middle class. And, in point of fact, the victorious termination of the anti-slavery war has opened a new epoch in the annals of the working class. In the United States an independent working-class movement, looked upon with a jealous eye by your old parties and their professional politicians, has since that date sprung into being. It requires years of peace before this movement will bear fruit. To crush it a war between the United States and England is needed.

The aggravation of the position of the American worker, was certainly the immediate and tangible result of the Civil War. Moreover, the sufferings of the working class are set off by the insolent luxury of financial aristocracy, shoddy aristocrats and similar vermin bred by war like parasites. Yet, for all this, the Civil War did compensate by freeing the slaves and the consequent moral impetus it gave to our own class movement. A second war, not hallowed by a sublime purpose and a great social necessity, but a war after the fashion of the Old World would only forge chains for the worker, instead of tearing asunder those of the slave. The aggravation of the misery left in its track would afford your capitalists at once the motive and means to divorce the working class from its bold and just aspirations by the soulless sword of a standing army.

On you then depends the glorious task to prove to the world that now at last the working classes are bestriding the scene of history no longer as the servile retainers but as independent factors conscious of their own responsibility and able to command peace where their would-be masters shout war. (15)

This appeal raises a number of very important problems, first and foremost the problem of the attitude of the working-class organisations generally and the Trade Unions in particular, towards war. Marx does not come out against war “generally,” but puts the question concretely. He emphasises the good sides of the Civil War for the workers and the disadvantages of the impending Anglo-American war. This appeal did not remain without a reply from the President of the National Labour Union, Sylvis. In his report to the Basle Congress Marx wrote:

The sudden death of Mr. Sylvis, that valiant champion of our cause, will justify us in concluding this report by appending his reply to our letter as a homage to his memory:

“Your favour of the 12th instant, with address enclosed, reached me yesterday. I am very happy to receive such kindly words from our fellow-working men across the water; our cause is a common one. It is war between poverty and wealth: labour occupies the same low condition and capital is the same tyrant in all parts of the world. Therefore, I say our cause is a common one. I, on behalf of the working people of the United States, extend to you and through you to those you represent and to all the downtrodden and oppressed sons and daughters of toil in Europe, the right hand of fellowship. Go ahead in the good work you have undertaken, until the most glorious success crowns your efforts. This is our determination. Our late war resulted in the building up of the most infamous monied aristocracy on the face of the earth. This monied power is fast eating up the substance of the people. We have made war upon it and we mean to win. If we can, we will win through the ballot box; if not, then we will resort to sterner means. A little blood-letting is something necessary in desperate cases.” (16)

This letter is very characteristic of the leader of the young American trade union movement and shows that it was no accident when Marx in his report called Sylvis a “valiant fighter.”

From the minutes of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association it can be seen that problems concerning the American labour movement were repeatedly placed on the agenda. Thus, in the minutes of the General Council of April 8, 1869, we read:

A letter was read from the newspaper printers of New York in which they request the Council to exercise its influence in order to prevent the import of labour power, which aims at defeating the workers who are now out on strike. The secretary was charged with writing to all newspapers abroad controlled by the International Workingmen’s Association.

At the same meeting of the General Council a report was made by a committee on the question of the immigration bureau, and the following decision was adopted:

(1) The immigration bureau was established in co-operation with the National Labour Union.

(2) In case of strikes the Council will have to strain all efforts to prevent the American employers from recruiting workers in Europe. (17)

Again, just as it had done with regard to the British trade unions, the General Council, under the leadership of Marx, raised questions of the economic struggle (struggle against strike-breakers, etc.) for the purpose of setting up strong contacts with the trade unions in the United States. This is borne out by the minutes of April 19, 1870, in which we read:

A letter is read from Hume, New York correspondent, who pointed out that the trade union movement tended to assume the form of secret societies in the United States. This was confirmed by a letter from the German correspondents in New York, who appealed to the Council to interfere by trying to dissuade Hume and Jessup from taking part in it. It was agreed that the Council, under present circumstances, was not in a position to decide upon the merits of this question. The secretary should write and ask what was the cause that necessitated secret societies in America. (18)

The communication from New York and the decision of the General Council show that Marx and the International Workingmen’s Association went into all details of the movement, and in those cases when they did not adopt immediate decisions, they collected necessary information and maintained permanent contacts with their section and adherents. These permanent contacts and this political aid to the movement can especially be seen from the correspondence of Marx and Engels with Sorge and others during that period, when sections of the International Workingmen’s Association began to spring up in New York and many other cities and political and organisational differences arose in the ranks of these sections.

Marx, in his letter to Sorge dated September 1, 1870, writes about the distribution of functions in the General Council, and that the secretary for the United States should be Eccarius; on September 21, 1871, Marx advised Sorge to call the newly-elected leading body “Central Committee” instead of “Central Council,” and to let him know what literature had been forwarded to America; on September 12, 1871, Marx wrote to Sorge about the circulars and the statutes of the International Workingmen’s Association sent to him. On November 6, 1871, Marx again wrote about pamphlets, literature and the famous Section 12 in New York, which was composed of journalists and intellectuals who aspired to take over the leadership of the movement. On November 9, Marx advised Sorge to convene a congress after preliminary organisational and political work, and to set up a federal committee; he tried to persuade Sorge not to leave the committee; on November 10, 1871, Marx wrote to Speyer, one of the members of the Central Committee:

(1) According to the statutes, the General Council in the land of the Yankees had first of all to keep its eyes on the Yankees....

(2) You must try at all costs to win over the trade unions. (19)

In this letter Marx replies in detail to a number of reproaches and suspicions in regard to the General Council, trying to convince his correspondent that the General Council will not be able to forbid its members to carry on private correspondence; on November 23, Marx in a letter to Bolte explained why the International Workingmen’s Association was compelled “in the beginning to entrust powers to private persons in the United States and to make them its correspondents.”

In the same letter to Bolte Marx wrote:

The International was formed for the purpose of putting the real organisation of the working class for the struggle in the place of the socialist and semi-socialist sects. The original rules as well as the Inaugural Address show this at first glance. On the other hand the adherents of the International could not have maintained their position if the course of history had not already had sectarianism. The development of socialist sectarianism and that of the real labour movement are constantly in inverse proportion to each other. As long as sects are justified (historically), the working class is not yet sufficiently mature for an independent historical movement. As soon as it reaches this degree of maturity, all sects are essentially reactionary. Meanwhile the history of the adherents of the International repeated what history everywhere shows. The obsolete seeks to renovate and maintain itself within the newly won forms. (20)

This remarkable passage in Marx’s letter explains his tactics with regard to the trade unions, with regard to the different socialist and semi-socialist organisations, the principles underlying his attitude towards sectarianism and his methods of struggle for a correct communist policy.

At the same time a struggle flared up among the adherents of the International Workingmen’s Association in the U.S.A. This struggle found its expression in the appeal which the Federal Council, consisting of a few dozen sections and Section 12 of New York, sent to the General Council in London, requesting it to settle their dispute. The General Council, under the leadership of Marx, came out against Section 12, in which petty-bourgeois politicians tried to domineer, and backed the Federal Council, around which the workers were grouped. On March 8, 1872, Marx wrote to Sorge:

As the General Council instructed me to make a report on the split in America (owing to the conflicts in the ranks of the European sections of the International, the matter had to be postponed from meeting to meeting), I carefully examined all of the correspondence from New York and everything published in the newspapers on the subject, and came to the conclusion that we had not at all been informed in time as to the elements which caused the rupture. The part of the resolution which I proposed has already been adopted; the rest will be passed next Tuesday, after which the final decision will be forwarded to New York. (21)

On March 15, 1872, Marx sent to Sorge a copy of the resolution, which he had drafted and which had been adopted by the General Council. As this resolution splendidly characterises both Marx and the International Workingmen’s Association, we quote it in full:

(1) Both councils shall combine to form one provisional Federal Council;

(1a) New and small sections shall combine in sending delegates;

(2) A general congress of the American members of the International must be convened on July 1;

(2a) This congress shall elect a Federal Council authorised to co-opt members;

(2b) and also work out the rules and statutes of the Federal Council;

(3) Section 12 (in view of its pretensions and quackery) shall be suspended until the next general congress;

(3a) At least two-thirds of every section must consist of wage workers. (22)

The Hague Congress of the First International resolved to transfer the headquarters of the International Workingmen’s Association to the U.S.A. The attack of the Bakuninists had thus been warded off; however, this marked the beginning of the end of the First International as an international working-class organisation. But whilst this signified a backward step for Europe, for the United States it acted as an impetus to rally all Marxian elements around the General Council. On the other hand, the enemies of Marxism also closed their ranks. Marx and Engels knew that the New York General Council, the International Workingmen’s Association and the London General Council were not the same by far. They did everything in their power politically and organisationally to support the General Council; however, the struggle around it sharpened and splits occurred. Thanks to Sorge and others the General Council tried to act in the spirit of Marx and Engels. But one of the weakest spots was the attitude of the sections of the International towards the trade unions. On June 3, 1874, the General Council sent the following letter to Section 3 in Chicago:

It appears strange that we should have to point out to a section of the International the usefulness and extraordinary importance of the trade union movement. Nevertheless, we shall remind Section 3 that each of the congresses of the I.W.A., from the first to the last, diligently occupied itself with the trade union movement and sought to devise means of furthering it. The trade union is the cradle of the labour movement, for working people naturally turn first to that which affects their daily life, and they consequently combine first with their fellows by trade. It therefore becomes the duty of the members of the International not merely to assist the existing trade unions, and, before all, to lead them to the right path, i.e., to internationalise them, but also to establish new ones wherever possible. The economic conditions are driving the trade unions with irresistible force from the economic to the political struggle, against the propertied classes—a truth which is known to all those who observe the labour movement with open eyes. (23)

This real Marxist policy, correct in principle, was, however, crossed by all sorts of other influences and the American General Council began to slip more and more from the Marxist position.

In 1876 the last of the Mohicans who supported the General Council were forced to dissolve the International Workingmen’s Association. Thus, the International Workingmen’s Association, this political and organisational creation of Marx, went out of existence—the international labour movement made a new sharp turn.

Karl Marx followed the various phases of the labour movement in the United States more closely than anyone else. He saw its specific traits, its various dark sides and difficulties. What, then, were the instructions that Marx gave to his adherents in the United States? Marx called upon them to pay maximum attention to the trade unions, to merge with the working class and to eradicate all “narrow, moss-grown sectarian tendencies out of the organisations.” Marx demanded amalgamation with the mass movement, seeing in this the best guarantee against sectarianism and opportunism; however, his demands were not fulfilled. The Labour and trade union movement in the U.S.A. travelled along a special path; the flourishing of American capitalism meant the simultaneous bourgeoisification of American trade unionism. Its theoretician and leader for many years, Samuel Gompers, was the enemy of socialism, a mere politician and money-maker. Marxism for many years was driven back by Gompersism, by the policy and practice of imperialist corruption and demoralisation. The trade unions began to be headed by outright business men, whose slogan was—not a labour policy, but a businesslike, capitalist policy.

In order to characterise reactionary trade unionism, let us quote some of the evidence given in 1883 (the year of Marx’s death) to the Senate Commission by Strasser, President of the International Cigar-Makers’ Union, of which Gompers was secretary:

Question: You are seeking to improve home matters first?

Answer: Yes, sir, I look first to the trade I represent; I look first to cigars, to the interests of men who employ me to represent their interests.

Question: I was only asking you in regard to your ultimate aims.

Answer: We have no ultimate aims. We are going on from day to day. We are fighting, only for immediate objects, objects that can be realised in a few years.

Question: You want something better to eat and to wear and better houses to live in?

Answer: Yes, we want to dress better, and to live better, and to become better citizens, generally.

Chairman of Commission: I see that you are a little sensitive lest it should be thought that you are a mere theoriser. I do not look upon you in that light.

Witness: Well, we say in our constitution that we are opposed to theorists and I have to represent the organisation here. We are all practical men. (24)

What Strasser left unsaid was said by Gompers, by John Mitchel, author of Organised Labour, and all others who in theory and practice betrayed the interests of the working class, who brought to a logical conclusion their policy of ideologically, politically and organisationally subordinating the trade unions to the trusts.

What are the reasons for the historically temporary setback given to Marxism by Gompersism? The basic cause was the victorious progressive development of American capitalism which in consequence enabled the bourgeoisie to bribe and corrupt some sections of the better-paid workers, whilst the standard of living of the majority of the working class, diverse in its composition, remained below minimum.

It seems to us that of late, servile, reactionary Gompersism is visibly rolling down the slope together with capitalism. The Marxian spirit can be sensed in demonstrations, in bloody strikes and hunger marches of the unemployed in the U.S.A. Revolutionary Marxism is winning one position after another.

The American bourgeoisie is unable to check the process of disintegration of its national economy, and to a still smaller degree are the hirelings of the trusts, the trade union inheritors of Gompers, able to do so. Who, then, has proved to be historically right? In whose favour is history working? Evidently in favour of revolutionary Marxism and not Gompersism.



1. Werner Sombart, Outline of History of Development of the North American Proletariat.

2. A. Bimba, History of the American Labour Movement (1930).

3. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (French edition), Paris, 1928, p. 33.

4. Ibid., p. 32.

5. Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States, Funk & Wagnails, 1906.

6. Marx, Letters to Sorge, 1907.

7. Capital, Vol. I, p. 329, Kerr edition.

8. Letters to Sorge, 1907.

9. Ibid.

10. J. R. Commons, History of the Labour Movement in the United States, Vol. II., Macmillan, 1921.

11. Ibid.

12. F. Sorge, Labour Movement in the United States, 1907.

13. Marx, Letters to Kugelmann, p. 83.

14. Capital, Vol. I, p. 329, Kerr edition.

15. This appeal was signed by the following, on behalf of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association:

British Nation: R. Applegarth, carpenter; M. J. Boon, engineer; J. Backley, painter; J. Hales, weaver; Harriet Law; B. Lucraft, chairmaker; D. Milner, tailor; Odger, shoemaker; J. Ross, bootcloser; B. Shaw, painter; Cowell Stepney; J. Warren, trunkmaker; J. Weston, hand-rail maker.

French Nation: Dupont, instrument maker; Jules Johannard, lithographer; Paul Lafargue.

German Nation: D. Eccarius, tailor; F. Lessner, tailor; W. Limburg, shoemaker; Karl Marx.

Swedish Nation: H. Jung, watchmaker; A. Muller, watchmaker.

Belgian Nation: P. Bernard, painter.

Danish Nation: D. Cohn, cigar-maker.

Polish Nation: Zabicky, compositor.

E. Lucraft, chairman; Cowell Stepney, treasurer; George Eccarius, General Secretary.

Quotations taken from text at Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute.—Ed.

16. Report of the General Council to Basle Congress, Archives, M.-E.-L.-I.

17. Minutes of General Council of I.W.A.

18. Minutes of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association, Archives, Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute.

19. Letters from Becker, Dietzgen, Engels and Marx, etc. to Sorge and others, p. 38.

20. Ibid.

21. Letters to Sorge, 1907.

22. Ibid., See Note 1 to letter of Marx to Sorge, March 15, 1872.

23. Commons, History of Labour in the U.S.A., Vol. II, p. 229 (Macmillan, 1921).

24. S. Perelman, History of Trade Unionism in the United States, 1923, p. 79.


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