Daniel De Leon, What Means This Strike?
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What Means This Strike?
by Daniel De Leon
An address delivered at
the City Hall, New Bedford, Mass.,
February 11, 1898
Workingmen and workingwomen of New Bedford:
Ye striking textile workers; and all of you others, who, though
not now on strike, have been on strike before this, and will be on
strike some other time:
It has been the habit in this country and in England that, when
a strike is on, "stars" in the labor movement are invited to appear on
the scene, and entertain the strikers; entertain them and keep them in
good spirits with rosy promises and prophesies, funny anecdotes,
bombastic recitations in prose and poetry; stuff them full of rhetoric
and wind - very much in the style that some generals do, who, by means
of bad whiskey, seek to keep up the courage of the soldiers whom they
are otherwise unable to beguile.
Such has been the habit in the past; to a great extent it
continues to be the habit in the present; it was so during the late
miners' strike; it has been so to some extent here in New Bedford; and
it is so everywhere, to the extent that ignorance of the social
To the extent, however, that Socialism gets a footing among the
working class such false and puerile tactics are thrown aside.
The Socialist workingmen of New Bedford, on whose invitation I
am here; all those of us who are members of that classconscious
revolutionary international organization of the working class, that
throughout the world stands out today as the leading and most
promiseful feature of the age - all such would consider it a crime on
the part of the men, whom our organization sends forth to preach the
gospel of labor, if they were to spend their platform time in
"tickling" the workers.
Our organization sends us out to teach the workers, to
enlighten them on the great issue before them, and the great historic
drama in which most of them are still unconscious actors.
Some of you, accustomed to a different diet, may find my speech
dry. If there be any such here, let him leave. He has not yet
graduated from that primary school reared by experience in which the
question of wages is forced upon the workers as a serious question,
and they are taught that it demands serious thought to grapple with,
and solve it.
If, however, you have graduated from that primary department,
and have come here with the requisite earnestness, then you will not
leave this hall without having, so to speak, caught firm hold of the
cable of the labor movement; then the last strike of this sort has
been seen in New Bedford; then, the strikes that may follow will be as
different from this as vigorous manhood is from toddling infancy; then
you will have entered upon that safe and sure path along which eternal
disaster will not, as heretofore, mark your tracks, but New Bedford,
Massachusetts, and the nation herself, will successively fall into
your hands, with freedom as the crowning fruit of your efforts.
Three years ago I was in your midst during another strike.
The superficial observer who looks back to your attitude during
that strike, who looks back to your attitude during the strikes that
preceded that one, who now turns his eyes to your attitude in the
present strike, and who discovers substantially no difference between
your attitude now and then, might say, "Why, it is a waste of time to
speak to such men; they learn nothing from experience; they will
eternally fight the same hopeless battle; the battle to establish
'safe relations' with the capitalist class, with the same hopeless
weapon: the 'pure and simple' organization of labor!"
But the Socialist does not take that view. There is one thing
about your conduct that enlists for and entitles you to the warm
sympathy of the Socialist, and that is that, despite your persistent
errors in fundamental principles, in aims and methods, despite the
illusions that you are chasing after, despite the increasing poverty
and cumulating failures that press upon you, despite all that, you
preserve manhood enough not to submit to oppression, but rise in the
rebellion that is implied in a strike.
The attitude of workingmen engaged in a bona fide strike is an
inspiring one. It is an earnest that slavery will not prevail. The
slave alone who will not rise against his master, who will meekly bend
his back to the lash, and turn his cheek to him who plucks his beard -
that slave alone is hopeless. But the slave, who, as you of New
Bedford, persists, despite failures and poverty, in rebelling, there
is always hope for.
This is the reason I have considered it worth my while to leave
my home and interrupt my work in New York, and come here, and spend a
few days with you. I bank my hopes wholly and build entirely upon
this sentiment of rebellion within you.
WHENCE DO WAGES COME, AND WHENCE PROFITS?
What you now stand in need of, aye, more than of bread, is the
knowledge of a few elemental principles of political economy and of
Be not frightened at the words. It is only the capitalist
professors who try to make them so difficult of understanding that the
very mentioning of them is expected to throw the workingman into a
palpitation of the heart. The subjects are easy of understanding.
The first point that a workingman should be clear upon is this:
What is the source of the wages he receives; what is the source of the
profits his employer lives on? The following dialogue is not
Workingman -- "Do I understand you rightly, that you Socialists
want to abolish the capitalist class?"
Socialist -- "That is what we are after."
Workingman -- "you are!? Then I don't want any of you. Why,
even now my wages are small; even now I can barely get along. If you
abolish the capitalist I'll have nothing; there will be nobody to
Who knows how many workingmen in this hall are typified by the
workingman in this dialogue!
When, on payday, you reach out your horny, "unwashed" hand it
is empty. When you take it back again, your wages are on it. Hence
the belief that the capitalist is the source of your living, that he
is your bread-giver, your supporter. Now that is an error, an optic
If early in the morning you go on top of some house and look
eastward, it will seem to you that the sun moves and that you are
standing still. Indeed, that was at one time the general and accepted
belief. But it was an error, based upon an optic illusion. So long
as that error prevailed the sciences could hardly make any progress.
Humanity virtually stood stock still. Not until the illusion was
discovered, and the error overthrown, not until it was ascertained
that things were just the other way, that the sun stood still, and
that it was our planet that moved at a breakneck rate of speed, was
any real progress possible.
So likewise with this illusion about the source of wages. You
cannot budge, you cannot move one step forward unless you discover
that, in this respect also, the fact is just the reverse of the
appearance: that, not the capitalist, but the workingman, is the
source of the worker's living; that it is not the capitalist who
supports the workingman, but the workingman who supports the
capitalist; that it is not the capitalist who gives bread to the
workingman, but the workingman who gives himself a dry crust, and
sumptuously stocks the table of the capitalist.
This is a cardinal point in political economy; and this is the
point I wish first of all to establish in your minds. Now, to the
Say that I own $100,000. Don't ask me where I got it. If you
do, I would have to answer you in the language of all capitalists that
such a question is un-American. You must not look into the source of
this, my "original accumulation". It is un-American to pry into such
secrets. Presently I shall take you into my confidence. For the
present I shall draw down the blinds, and keep out your un-American
curiosity. I have $100,000, and am a capitalist.
Now I may not know much; no capitalist does; but know a few
things, and among them is a little plain arithmetic. I take a pencil
and put down on a sheet of paper, "$100,000." Having determined that I
shall need at least $5,000 a year to live with comfort, I divide the
$100,000 by $5,000; the quotient is 20. My hair then begins to stand
on end. The 20 tells me that, if I pull $5,000 annually out of
$100,000, these are exhausted during that term. At the beginning of
the 21st year I shall have nothing left.
"Heaven and earth, I would then have to go to work if I wanted
No capitalist relishes that thought. He will tell you, and pay
his politicians, professors and political parsons, to tell you, that
"labor is honorable." He is perfectly willing to let you have that
undivided honor, and will do all he can that you may not be deprived
of any part of it; but, as to himself, he has for work a
constitutional aversion. The capitalist runs away from work like the
man bitten by a mad dog runs away from water.
I want to live without work' on my $100,000 and yet keep my
capital untouched. If you ask any farmer, he will tell you that if he
invests in a Durham cow she will yield him a supply of 16 quarts a
day, but, after some years, the supply goes down; she will run dry;
and then a new cow must be got. But I, the capitalist, aim at making
my capital a sort of $ 100,000 cow, which I shall annually be able to
milk $5,000 out of, without her ever running dry.
I want, in short, to perform the proverbially impossible feat
of eating my cake, and yet having it. The capitalist system performs
that feat for me. How?
I go to a broker. I say, Mr. Broker, I have $100,000. I want
you to invest that for me. I don't tell him that I have a special
liking for New Bedford mills' stock; I don't tell him I have a special
fancy for railroad stock; I leave the choosing with him. The only
direction I give him is to get the stock in such a corporation as will
pay the highest dividend. Mr. Broker has a list of all of these
corporations, your New Bedford corporations among them, to the extent
that they may be listed. He makes the choice, say, of one of your
mills right here in this town.
I hire a vault in a safe deposit company, and I put my stock
into it. I lock it up, put the key in my pocket, and I go and have a
good time. If it is too cold in the north I go down to Florida. If
it is too hot there I go to the Adirondack Mountains. Occasionally I
take a spin across the Atlantic and run the gauntlet of all the
gambling dens in Europe. I spend my time with fast horses and faster
women. I never put my foot inside the factory that I hold stock in;
I don't even come to the town in which it is located, and yet, lo and
behold, a miracle takes place!
Those of you versed in Bible lore surely have read or heard
about the miracle that God performed when the Jews were in the desert
and about to die of hunger. The Lord opened the skies and let manna
come. But the Jews had to get up early in the morning, before the sun
rose; if they overslept themselves the sun would melt the manna, and
they would have nothing to eat. They had to get up early, and go out,
and stoop down and pick up the manna and put it in baskets and take it
to their tents and eat it.
With the appearance of the manna on earth the miracle ended.
But the miracles that happen in this capitalist system of production
are so wonderful that those recorded in the Bible don't hold a candle
to them. The Jews had to do some work, but I, stock-holding
capitalist, need do no work at all. I can turn night into day, and
day into night. I can lie flat on my back all day and all night; and
every three months my manna comes down to me in the shape of
dividends. Where does it come from? What does the dividend
In the factory of which my broker bought stock, workmen,
thousands of them, were at work; they have woven cloth that has been
put upon the market to the value of $7,000; out of the $7,000 that the
cloth is worth my wage workers receive $2,000 in wages, and I receive
the $5,000 as profits or dividends. Did I, who never put my foot
inside of the mill; did I, who never put my foot inside of New
Bedford; did I, who don't know how a loom looks; did I, who
contributed nothing whatever toward the weaving of that cloth; did I
do any work whatever toward producing those $5,000 that came to me?
No man with brains in his head instead of sawdust can deny that those
$7,000 are exclusively the product of the wage workers in that mill.
Out of the wealth thus produced by them alone, they get $2,000 in
wages, and I, who did nothing at all, I get the $5,000.
The wages these workers receive represent wealth that they have
themselves produced; the profits that the capitalist pockets represent
wealth that the wage workers produced, and that the capitalist, does
what? - let us call things by their names - that the capitalist
steals from them.
You may ask: But is that the rule, is not that illustration an
exception? Yes, it is the rule; the exception is the other thing.
The leading industries of the United States are today stock
concerns, and thither will all others worth mentioning move. An
increasing volume of capital in money is held in stocks and shares.
The individual capitalist holds stock in a score of concerns in
different trades, located in different towns, too many and too varied
for him even to attempt to run. By virtue of his stock, he draws his
income from them; which is the same as saying that he lives on what
the workingmen produce but are robbed of. Nor is the case at all
essentially different with the concerns that have not yet developed
into stock corporations.
Again, you may ask: The conclusion that what such stockholders
live on is stolen wealth because they evidently perform no manner of
work is irrefutable, but are all stockholders equally idle and
superfluous? Are there not some who do perform some work? Are there
There are "directors," but these gentlemen bear a title much
like those "generals" and "majors" and "colonels" who now go about,
and whose general ship, majorship and colonelship consisted in
securing substitutes during the war.
These "directors" are simply the largest stockholders, which is
the same as to say that they are the largest sponges; their
directorship consists only in directing conspiracies against rival
"directors," in bribing legislatures, executives and judiciaries, in
picking out and hiring men out of your midst to serve as bellwethers,
that will lead you, like cattle, to the capitalist shambles, and
tickle you into contentment and hopefulness while you are being
fleeced. The court decisions removing responsibility from the
"directors" are numerous and increasing; each such decision
establishes, from the capitalist government's own mouth, the idleness
and superfluousness of the capitalist class.
These "directors," and the capitalist class in general, may
perform some "work," they do perform some "work," but that "work" is
not of a sort that directly or indirectly aids production, any more
than the intense mental strain and activity of the "work" done by the
pickpocket is directly or indirectly productive.
Finally, you may ask: No doubt the stockholder does no work,
and hence lives on the wealth we produce; no doubt these "directors"
have a title that only emphasizes their idleness by a swindle, and,
consequently, neither they are other than sponges on the working
class; but did not your own illustration start with the supposition
that the capitalist in question had $100,000, is not his original
capital entitled to some returns?
This question opens an important one; and now I shall, as I
promised you, take you into my confidence; I shall raise the curtain
which I pulled down before the question, Where did I get it? I shall
now let you pry into my secret.
Whence does this original capital, or "original accumulation,"
come? Does it grow on the capitalist like hair on his face, or nails
on his fingers and toes? Does he secrete it as he secretes sweat from
his body? Let me take one illustration of many.
Before our present Governor, the Governor of New York was Levi
Parsons Morton. The gentleman must be known to all of you. Besides
having been Governor of the Empire State, he was once Vice President
of the nation, and also at one time our Minister to France. Mr.
Morton is a leading "gentleman"; he wears the best of broadcloth; his
shirt bosom is of spotless white; his nails are trimmed by
manicurists; he uses the elitest language; he has front pews in a
number of churches; he is a pattern of morality, law and order; and he
is a multimillionaire capitalist. How did he get his start
millionaire-ward? Mr. Morton being a Republican, I shall refer you
to a Republican journal, the New York Tribune, for the answer of this
interesting question. The Tribune of the day after Mr. Morton's
nomination for Governor in 1894 gave his biography.
There we are informed that Mr. Morton was born in New
Hampshire of poor parents; he was industrious, he was clever, he was
pushing, and he settled, a poor young man, in New York City, where in
1860, mark the date, he started a clothing establishment; then, in
rapid succession, we are informed that he failed, and started a
A man may start almost any kind of a shop without a cent. If
the landlord gave him credit for the rent, and the brewer, the shoe
manufacturer, the cigar manufacturer, etc., etc., give him credit for
the truck, he may start a saloon, a shoe shop, a cigar shop, etc.,
etc., without any cash, do business and pay off his debt with the
proceeds of his sales. But there is one shop that he cannot start in
that way. That shop is the banking shop. For that he must have cash
on hand. He can no more shave notes without money than he can shave
whiskers without razors.
Now, then, the man who just previously stood up before a notary
public and swore "So help him, God," he had no money to pay his
creditors, immediately after, without having in the meantime married
an heiress, has money enough to start a bank on! Where did he get it?
Read the biographies of any of our founders of capitalist
concerns by the torchlight of this biography, and you will find them
all to be essentially the same, or suggestively silent upon the doings
of our man during the period that he gathers his "original
accumulation." You will find that "original capital" to be the child
of fraudulent failures and fires, of high-handed crime of some sort or
other, or of the sneaking crime of appropriating trust funds, etc.
With such "original capital" - gotten by dint of such "cleverness,"
"push" and "industry" as a weapon, the "original" capitalist proceeds
to fleece the working class that has been less "industrious,"
"pushing" and "clever" than he. If he consumes all his fleecings, his
capital remains of its original size in his hands, unless some other
gentleman of the road, gifted with greater "industry," "push" and
"cleverness" than he, comes around and relieves him of it; if he
consume not the whole of his fleecings, his capital moves upward,
The case is proved. Labor alone produces all wealth. Wages
are that part of labor's own product that the workingman is allowed to
keep. Profits are the present and running stealings perpetrated by
the capitalist upon the workingman from day to day, from week to week,
from month to month, from year to year. Capital is the accumulated
past stealings of the capitalist, cornerstoned upon his "original
Who of you before me fails now to understand, or would still
deny that, not the capitalist supports the workingman, but the
workingman supports the capitalist; or still holds that the workingman
could not exist without the capitalist? If any there be, let him
raise his hand and speak up now. None? Then I may consider this
point settled, and shall move on.
THE CLASS STRUGGLE
The second point, on which it is absolutely necessary that you
be clear, is the nature of your relation, as working people, to the
capitalist in this capitalist system of production. This point is an
inevitable consequence of the first.
You have seen that the wages you live on and the profits the
capitalist riots in are the two parts into which is divided the wealth
that you produce. The workingman wants a larger and larger share. So
does the capitalist. A thing cannot be divided into two shares so as
to increase the share of each.
If the workingman produces, say, $4 worth of wealth a day, and
the capitalist keeps 2, there are only 2 left for the workingman. If
the capitalist keeps 3, there is only 1 left for the workingman. If
the capitalist keeps 3 1/2, there is only 1/2 left for the workingman.
Inversely, if the workingman pushes up his share from 1/2 to 1, there
are only 3 left to the capitalist. If the workingman secures 2, the
capitalist will be reduced to 2. If the workingman push still onward
and keep 3, the capitalist will have to put up with 1.
And if the workingman makes up his mind to enjoy all that he
produces, and keep all the 4, the capitalist will have to go to work.
These plain figures upset the theory about the workingman and
the capitalist being brothers.
Capital - meaning the capitalist class - and labor have been
portrayed by capitalist illustrated papers as Chang and Eng. This, I
remember, was done notably by Harper's Weekly, the property of one of
the precious "Seeley Diners" - you remember that "dinner." The
Siamese Twins were held together by a piece of flesh. Wherever Chang
went, Eng was sure to go. If Chang was happy, Eng's pulse throbbed
harder. If Chang caught cold, Eng sneezed in chorus with him. When
Chang died, Eng followed suit within five minutes.
Do we find that to be the relation of the workingman and the
capitalist? Do you find that the fatter the capitalist, the fatter
also grows the workingmen? Is not your experience rather that the
wealthier the capitalist, the poorer are the workingmen? That the
more magnificent and prouder the residences of the capitalist, the
dingier and humbler become those of the workingmen? That the happier
the life of the capitalist's wife, the greater the opportunities of
his children for enjoyment and education, the heavier becomes the
cross borne by the workingmen's wives, while their children are
crowded more and more from the schools and deprived of the pleasures
of childhood? Is that your experience, or is it not?
The pregnant point that underlies these pregnant facts is that:
Between the working class and the capitalist class, there is an
irrepressible conflict, a class struggle for life. No glib-tongued
politician can vault over it, no capitalist professor or official
statistician can argue it away; no capitalist parson can veil it; no
labor faker can straddle it; no "reform" architect can bridge it over.
It crops up in all manner of ways, like in this strike, in ways that
disconcert all the plans and all the schemes of those who would deny
or ignore it. It is a struggle that will not down, and must be ended,
only by either the total subjugation of the working class, or the
abolition of the capitalist class.
Thus you perceive that the theory on which your "pure and
simple" trade organizations are grounded, and on which you went into
this strike, is false. There being no "common interests," but only
hostile interests, between the capitalist class and the working class,
the battle you are waging to establish "safe relations" between the
two is a hopeless one.
Put to the touchstone of these undeniable principles the theory
upon which your "pure and simple" trade organizations are built, and
you will find it to be false; examined by the light of these
undeniable principles the road that your false theory makes you travel
and the failures that have marked your career must strike you as its
inevitable result. How are we to organize and proceed? you may ask.
Before answering the question, let me take up another branch of the
subject. Its presentation will sweep aside another series of
illusions that beset the mind of the working class, and will, with
what has been said, give us a sufficient sweep over the ground to lead
us to the right answer.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF CAPITALIST SOCIETY
Let us take a condensed page of the country's history. For the
sake of plainness, and forced to it by the exigency of condensation, I
shall assume small figures.
Place yourselves back a sufficient number of years with but 10
competing weaving concerns in the community. How the individual 10
owners came by the "original accumulations" that enabled them to start
as capitalists you now know. Say that each of the 10 capitalists
employs 10 men; that each man receives $2 a day, and that the product
of each of the 10 sets of men in each of the 10 establishments is
worth $40 a day. You know now also that it is out of these $40 worth
of wealth, produced by the men, that each of the 10 competing
capitalists takes the $20 that he pays the 10 men in wages, and that
out of that same $40 worth of wealth he takes the $20 that he pockets
as profits. Each of these 10 capitalists makes, accordingly, $120 a
This amount of profits, one should think, should satisfy our 10
capitalists. It is a goodly sum to pocket without work. Indeed, it
may satisfy some, say most of them. But if for any of many reasons it
does not satisfy any one of them, the whole string of them is set in
"Individuality" is a deity at whose shrine the capitalist
worships, or affects to worship. In point of fact, capitalism robs of
individuality, not only the working class, but capitalists themselves.
The action of any one of the lot compels action by all; like a row of
bricks, the dropping of one makes all the others drop successively.
Let us take No. 1. He is not satisfied with $120 a week. Of
the many reasons he may have for that, let's take this: He has a
little daughter; eventually, she will be of marriageable age; whom is
he planning to marry her to? Before the public, particularly before
the workers, he will declaim on the "sovereignty" of our citizens, and
declare the country is stocked with nothing but "peers." In his heart,
though, he feels otherwise. He looks even upon his fellow capitalists
as plebeians; he aspires at a prince, a duke, or at least a count for
a son-in-law; and in visions truly reflecting the vulgarity of his
mind he beholds himself the grandfather of prince, duke or count
grandbrats. To realize this dream he must have money; princes, etc.,
are expensive luxuries. His present income, $120 a week, will not buy
the luxury. He must have some more.
To his employees he will recommend reliance on heaven; he
himself knows that if he wants more money it will not come from
heaven, but must come from the sweat of his employees' brows.
As all the wealth produced in his shop is $40 a day, he knows
that, if he increases his share of $20 to $30, there will be only $10
left for wages. He tries this. He announces a wage reduction of 50
His men spontaneously draw themselves together and refuse to
work; they go on strike.
What is the situation? In those days it needed skill, acquired
by long training, to do the work; there may have been corner loafers
out of work, but not weavers; possibly at some great distance there
may have been weavers actually obtainable, but in those days there was
neither telegraph nor railroad to communicate with them; finally, the
nine competitors of No. 1, having no strike on hand, continued to
produce, and thus threatened to crowd No. 1 out of the market. Thus
circumstanced, No. 1 caves in. He withdraws his order of wage
"Come in," he says to his striking workmen, "let's make up;
labor and capital are brothers; the most loving of brothers sometimes
fall out; we have had such a falling out; it was a slip; you have
organized yourselves in a union with a $2 a day wage scale; I shall
never fight the union; l love it, come back to Work." And the men
did. Thus ended the first strike.
The victory won by the men made many of them feel bold. At
their first next meeting they argued: "The employer wanted to reduce
our wages and got left; why may not we take the hint and reduce his
profits by demanding higher wages; why should we not lick him in an
attempt to resist our demand for more pay?"
But the labor movement is democratic. No one man can run
things. At that union meeting the motion to demand higher pay is made
by one member, another must second it; amendments, and amendments to
the amendments, are put with the requisite seconders; debate follows;
points of order are raised, ruled on, appealed from and settled; in
the meantime it grows late, the men must be at work early the next
morning, the hour to adjourn arrives, and the whole matter is left
pending. Thus much for the men.
Now for the employer. He locks himself up in his closet. With
clenched fists and scowl on brow, he gnashes his teeth at the victory
of his "brother" labor, its union and its union regulations. And he
ponders. More money he must have and is determined to have. This
resolution is arrived at with the swiftness and directness which
capitalists are capable of.
Differently from his men, he is not many, but one. He makes
the motion, seconds it himself, puts it, and carries it unanimously.
More profits he shall have. But how? Aid comes to him through the
mail. The letter carrier brings him a circular from a machine shop.
Such circulars are frequent even today. It reads like this:
"Mr. No. 1, you are employing 10 men. I have in my machine
shop a beautiful machine with which you can produce, with five men,
twice as much as now with 10. This machine does not chew tobacco. it
does not smoke. Some of these circulars are cruel and add: This
machine has no wife who gets sick and keeps it home to attend to her.
It has no children who die, and whom to bury it must stay away from
work. It never goes on strike. It works and grumbles not. Come and
Right here let me lock a switch at which not a few people are
apt to switch off and be banked. Some may think, "Well, at least that
machine capitalist is entitled to his profits; he surely is an
A grave error. Look into the history of our inventors, and you
will see that those who really profited by their genius are so few
that you can count them on the fingers of your hands, and have fingers
The capitalists either take advantage of the inventor's stress
and buy his invention for a song; the inventor believes he can make
his haul with his next invention; but before that is perfected, he is
as poor as before, and the same advantage is again taken of him; until
finally, his brain power being exhausted, he sinks into a pauper's
grave, leaving the fruit of his genius for private capitalists to grow
rich on; or the capitalist simply steals the invention and gets his
courts to decide against the inventor.
From Eli Whitney down, that is the treatment the inventor, as a
rule, receives from the capitalist class.
Such a case, illustrative of the whole situation, happened
recently. The Bonsack Machine Co. discovered that its employees made
numerous inventions, and it decided to appropriate them wholesale. To
this end, it locked out its men, and demanded of all applicants for
work that they sign a contract whereby, in "consideration of
employment" they assign to the company all their rights in whatever
invention they may make during the term of their employment.
One of these employees, who had signed such a contract,
informed the company one day that he thought he could invent a machine
by which cigarettes could be held closed by crimping at the ends,
instead of pasting. This was a valuable idea; and he was told to go
ahead. For six months he worked at this invention and perfected it;
and, having during all that time received not a cent in wages or
otherwise from the company, he patented his invention himself.
The company immediately brought suit against him in the federal
courts, claiming that the invention was its property; and the federal
court decided in favor of the company, thus robbing the inventor of
his time, his money, of the fruit of his genius, and of his
"Shame?" Say not "Shame!" He who himself applies the torch to
his own house has no cause to cry "Shame!" when the flames consume it.
Say rather, "Natural!", and smiting your own breasts, say, "Ours the
fault!" Having elected into power the Democratic, Republican, Free
Trade, Protection, Silver or Gold platforms of the capitalist class,
the working class has none but itself to blame if the official lackeys
of that class turn against the working class the public powers put
into their hands.
The capitalist owner of the machine shop that sends the
circular did not make the invention.
THE SCREWS BEGIN TO TURN
To return to No. 1. He goes and sees the machine; finds it to
be as represented; buys it; puts it up in his shop; picks out of his
10 men the five least active in the late strike; sets them to work at
$2 a day as before; and full of bows and smirks, addresses the other
five thus: "I am sorry I have no places for you; I believe in union
principles and am paying the union scale to the five men I need; I
don't need you now; good bye. I hope I'll see you again." And he
means this last as you will presently perceive.
What is the situation now? No. 1 pays, as before, $2 a day,
but to only five men; these, with the aid of the machine, now produce
twice as much as the 10 did before; their product is now $80 worth of
wealth; as only $10 of this goes in wages, the capitalist has a profit
of $70 a day, or 250 per cent more. He is moving fast toward his
prince, duke or count son-in-law.
Now watch the men whom his machine displaced; their career
throws quite some light on the whole question. Are they not "American
citizens"? Is not this a "Republic with a Constitution"? Is anything
else wanted to get a living? Watch them!
They go to No. 2 for a job; before they quite reach the place,
the doors open and five of that concern are likewise thrown out upon
the street. What happened there? The "individuality" of No. 2
yielded to the pressure of capitalist development. The purchase of
the machine by No. 1 enabled him to produce so much more plentifully
and cheaply; if No. 2 did not do likewise, he would be crowded out of
the market by No. 1. No. 2, accordingly, also invested in a
machine, with the result that five of his men are also thrown out.
These 10 unemployed proceed to No. 3, hoping for better luck
there. But what sight is that that meets their astonished eyes? Not
five men, as walked out of Nos. 1 and 2, but all No. 3's 10 have
landed on the street; and, what is more surprising yet to them, No. 3
himself is on the street, now reduced to the condition of a workingman
along with his former employees. What is it that happened there? In
this instance the "individuality" of No. 3 was crushed by capitalist
development. The same reason that drove No. 2 to procure the machine
rendered the machine indispensable to No. 3. But having, differently
from his competitors Nos. 1 and 2, spent all his stealings from the
workingmen, instead of saving up some, he is now unable to make the
purchase; is, consequently, unable to produce as cheaply as they; is,
consequently, driven into bankruptcy, and lands in the class of the
proletariat, whose ranks are thus increased.
The now 21 unemployed proceed in their hunt for work, and make
the round of the other mills. The previous experiences are repeated.
Not only are there no jobs to be had, but everywhere workers are
thrown out, if the employer got the machine; and if he did not,
workers with their former employers, now ruined, join the army of the
What happened in that industry happened in all others. Thus
the ranks of the capitalist class are thinned out, and the class is
made more powerful, while the ranks of the working class are swelled,
and the class is made weaker. This is the process that explains how,
on the one hand, your New Bedford mills become the property of ever
fewer men; how, according to the census, their aggregate capital runs
up to over $14,000,000; how, despite "bad times," their profits run up
to upwards of $1,300,000; how, on the other hand, your position
becomes steadily more precarious.
No. 1's men return to where they started from. Scab they will
not. Uninformed upon the mechanism of capitalism, they know not what
struck them; and they expect "better times," just as so many equally
uninformed workingmen are expecting today; in the meantime, thinking
thereby to hasten the advent of the good times, No. 1's men turn out
the Republican' party and turn in the Democratic, turn out the
Democratic and turn in the Republican, just as our misled workingmen
are now doing, not understanding that, whether they put in or out
Republicans, Democrats, Protectionists or Free Traders, Goldbugs or
Silverbugs, they are every time putting in the capitalist platform,
upholding the social principle that throws them out of work or reduces
But endurance has its limits. The superintendent of the
Pennsylvania Railroad for the Indiana Division, speaking, of course,
from the capitalist standpoint, recently said: "Many solutions are
being offered for the labor question; but there is just one and no
more. It is this: Lay a silver dollar on the shelf, and at the end
of a year you have a silver dollar left; lay a workingman on the
shelf, and at the end of a month you have a skeleton left."
"This," said he, "is the solution of the labor problem." In
short, starve out the workers.
No. 1's men finally reach that point. Finally that happens
that few if any can resist. A man may stand starvation and resist the
sight of starving wife and children; but if he has nor wherewith to
buy medicine to save the life of a sick wife or clild, he loses all
control. On the heels of starvation, sickness follow, and No. 1's
men throw to the wind all union principles. They are now ready to do
anything to save their dear ones. Cap in hand, they appear before No.
1, the starch taken clean out of them during the period they "lay on
the shelf." They ask for work. They themselves offer to work for $1
And No. 1, the brother of labor, who but recently expressed
devotion to the union, what of him? His eyes sparkle at "seeing
again" the men he had thrown out, at their offer to work for less than
the men now employed. His chest expands, and, grabbing them by the
hand in a delirium of patriotic ecstasy, he says: "Welcome, my noble
American citizens. I am proud to see you ready to work and earn an
honest penny for your dear wives and darling children. I am delighted
to notice that you are not, like so many others, too lazy to work.
Let the American eagle screech in honor of your emancipation from the
slavery of a rascally union. Let the American eagle wag his tail an
extra wag in honor of your freedom from a dictatorial walking
delegate. You are my long lost brothers. Go in, my $1-a-day
brothers!" -- and he throws his former $2-a-day brothers heels over
head upon the sidewalk.
When the late $2-a-day men have recovered from their surprise,
they determine on war. But what sort of war? Watch them closely, and
you may detect many a feature of your own in that mirror. "Have we
not struck," argue they, "and beaten this employer once before? If we
strike again, we shall again beat him." But the conditions have
In the first place, there were no unemployed skilled workers
during that first strike; now there are; plenty of them, dumped upon
the country, not out of the steerage of vessels from Europe, but by
the native-born machine.
In the second place, that very machine has to such an extent
eliminated skill that, while formerly only the unemployed in a certain
trade could endanger the jobs of those at work in that trade, now the
unemployed of all trades, virtually the whole army of the unemployed,
bear down upon the employed in each. We know of quondam shoemakers
taking the jobs of hatters, quondam hatters tailing the jobs of
weavers, quondam weavers taking the jobs of cigarmakers, quondam
cigarmakers taking the jobs of machinists, quondam farmhands taking
the jobs of factory hands, etc., etc., so easy has it become to learn
what now needs to be known of a trade.
In the third place, telegraph and railroad have made all of the
unemployed easily accessible to the employer.
Finally, different from former days, the competitors have to a
great extent consolidated. Here in New Bedford, for instance, the
false appearance of competition between the mill owners is punctured
by the fact that to a great extent seemingly "independent" mills are
owned by one family, as is the case with the Pierce family.
Not, as at the first strike, with their flanks protected, but
now wholly exposed through the existence of a vast army of hungry
unemployed; not, as before, facing a divided enemy, but now faced by a
consolidated mass of capitalist concerns, how different is now the
situation of the strikers! The changed conditions brought about
changed results; instead of victory, there is defeat; and we have had
a long series of them. Either hunger drove the men back to work; or
the unemployed took their places; or, if the capitalist was in a
hurry, he fetched in the help of the strong arm of the government, now
PRINCIPLES OF SOUND ORGANIZATION
We now have a sufficient survey of the field to enable us to
answer the question, How shall we organize so as not to fight the same
old hopeless battle?
Proceeding from the knowledge that labor alone produces all
wealth; that less and less of this, wealth comes to the working class.
and more and more of it is plundered by the idle class or capitalist;
that this is the result of the working class being stripped of the
tool, machine, without which it cannot earn a living; and, finally,
that the machine or tool has reached such a state of development that
it can no longer be operated by the individual but needs the
collective effort of many; proceeding from this knowledge, it is clear
that the aim of all intelligent classconscious workingmen must be the
overthrow of the system of private ownership in the tools of
production because that system keeps them in wage slavery.
Proceeding from the further knowledge of the use made of the
government by the capitalist class, and of the necessity that class is
under to own the government, so as to enable it to uphold and prop up
the capitalist system; proceeding from that knowledge, it is clear
that the aim of all intelligent, classconscious workingmen must be to
bring the government under the control of their own class, by joining
and electing the American wing of the international Socialist party -
the Socialist Labor Party of America, and thus establishing the
Socialist Cooperative Republic.
But in the meantime, while moving toward that ideal, though
necessary, goal, what to do? The thing cannot be accomplished in a
day, nor does election come around every twenty-four hours. Is there
nothing that we can do for ourselves between election and election?
Yes -- plenty.
When crowded, in argument, to the wall by us New Trade
Unionists, by us of the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance, your
present, or old and "pure and simple" organizations, yield the point
of ultimate aims; they grant the ultimate necessity of establishing
Socialism; but they claim "the times are not yet ripe" for that; and,
not yet being ripe, they lay emphasis upon the claim that the "pure
and simple" union does the workers some good NOW by getting something
NOW from the employers and from the capitalist parties. We are not
"practical" they tell us; they are.
Let us test this theory on the spot. Here in New Bedford there
is not yet a single New Trade Unionist organization in existence. The
"pure and simple" trade union has had the field all to itself. All of
you, whose wages are now HIGHER than they were five years ago, kindly
raise a hand. All of you whose wages are now LOWER than five years
ago, please raise a hand. The proof of the pudding lies in the
eating. Not only does "pure and simpledom" shut off your hope of
emancipation by affecting to think such a state of things is
unreachable now, but in the meantime and RIGHT NOW, the "good" it does
to you, the "something" it secures for you "from the employers and
from the politicians" is lower wages.
That is what their "practicalness" amounts to in point of fact.
Presently I shall show you that they prove "practical" only to the
labor fakers who run them, and whom they put up with. No, no; years
ago, before capitalism had reached its present development, a trade
organization of labor could and did afford protection to the workers,
even if, as the "pure and simple" union, it was wholly in the dark on
the issue. That time is no more.
The New Trade Unionist knows that no one or two, or even half a
dozen elections will place in the hands of the working class the
government of the land; and New Trade Unionism, not only wishes to do
something now for the workers, but it knows that the thing can be
done, and how to do it.
"Pure and simple" or British trade unionism has done a double
mischief to the workers. Besides leaving them in their present
pitiable plight, it has caused many to fly off the handle and lose all
trust in the power of trade organization. The best of these, those
who have not become pessimistic and have not been wholly demoralized,
see nothing to be done but voting right on election day - casting
their vote straight for the SLP. This is a serious error. By thus
giving over all participation in the industrial movement, they wholly
disconnect themselves from the class struggle that is going on every
day; and by putting off their whole activity to a single day in the
year, election day, they become floaters in the air. I know several
such. Without exception they are dreamy and flightly and unbalanced
in their methods.
The utter impotence of "pure and simple" unionism today is born
of causes that may be divided under two main heads.
One is the contempt in which the capitalist and ruling class
holds the working people. In 1886, when instinct was, unconsciously
to myself, leading me to look into the social problem, when as yet it
was to me a confused and blurred interrogation mark, I associated
wholly with capitalists. Expressions of contempt for the workers were
common. One day I asked a set of then why they treated their men so
hard, and had so poor an opinion of them. "They are ignorant, stupid
and corrupt," was the answer, almost in chorus.
"What makes you think so?" I asked. "Have you met them all?"
"No," was the reply, "we have not met them all individually,
but we have had to deal with their leaders, and they are ignorant,
stupid and corrupt. Surely these leaders must be the best among them,
or they would not choose them."
Now, let me illustrate. I understand that two days ago, in
this city, Mr. Gompers went off at a tangent and shot off his mouth
about me. What he said was too ridiculous for me to answer. You will
have noticed that he simply gave what he wishes you to consider as his
opinion; he furnished you no facts from which he drew it, so that you
could judge for yourselves. He expected you to take him on faith. I
shall not insult you by treating you likewise. Here are the facts on
which my conclusion is based:
In the State of New York we have a labor law forbidding the
working of railroad men more than 10 hours. The railroad companies
disregarded the law. In Buffalo, the switchmen struck in 1892 to
enforce the law; thereupon the Democratic governor, Mr. Flower, who
had himself signed the law, sent the whole militia of the state into
Buffalo to help the railroad capitalists break the law, incidentally
to commit assault and battery with intent to kill, as they acflially
did, upon the workingmen. Among our state Senators is one Jacob
Cantor. This gentleman hastened to applaud Gov. Flower's brutal
violation of his oath of office to uphold the Constitution and the
laws. Cantor applauded the act as a patriotic one in the defense of
"law and order."
At a subsequent campaign, this Cantor being a candidate for
reelection, the New York Daily News, a capitalist paper of Cantor's
political complexion, published an autograph letter addressed to him
and intended to be an endorsement of him by labor. This letter
contained this passage among others: "If any one says you are not a
friend of labor, he says what is not true."
By whom was this letter written and by whom signed ? -- by
Mr. Samuel Gompers, "President of the American Federation of Labor."
Whom are you hissing, Gompers or me?
Do you imagine that the consideration for that letter was
merely the "love and affection" of Senator Cantor?
Again: The Republican party, likewise the Democratic, is a
parry of the capitalist class; every mam who is posted knows that; the
conduct of its presidents, governors, judges, congresses and
legislatures can leave no doubt upon the subject. Likewise the free
coinage of silver, or Populist party, was, while it lived, well known
to be a party of capital; the conduct of its runners, the silver mine
barons, who skin and then shoot down their miners, leaves no doubt
upon that subject. But the two were deadly opposed: one wanted gold,
the other silver. Notwithstanding these facts, a "labor leader" in
New York City appeared at a recent campaign standing, not upon the
Republican capitalist party platform only, not upon the Free-Silver
capitalist party platform only, but on both; he performed the
acrobatic feat of being simultaneously for gold and against silver,
for silver against gold.
Who was that "labor leader" ? Mr. Samuel Gompers, "President
of the American Federation of Labor."
Again: In Washington there is a son of a certain labor leader
with a government job. He is truly "non- partisan."' Democrats may go
and Republicans may come, Republicans may go and Democrats may come,
but he goeth not; the Democratic and the Republican capitalists may
fight like cats and dogs, but on one thing they fraternize like cooing
doves, to wit, to keep that son of a labor leader in office.
Who is the father of that son ? Mr. Samuel Gompers,
"President of the A.F. of L."
Again: You have here a "labor leader," named Ross.
Unhappy men! Unhappy men! As well might you applaud the name
of your executioner.
When I was here about three years ago I met him. He was all
aglow with the project of a bill that he was going to see through your
legislature, of which he was and is now a member. It was the
anti-fines bill; that, thought he, was going to put an end to an
infamous practice of the mill owners. I argued with him that it does
not matter what the law is; the all important thing was, which is the
class charged with enforcing it? So long as the capitalist class held
the government, all such labor laws as he was straining for, were a
snare and a delusion. What I said seemed to be Greek to him. He went
ahead and the bill passed. And what happened? You continued to be
fined after, as before; and when one of you sought to enforce the law,
was he not arrested and imprisoned? And when another brought the
lawbreaking mill owner, who continued to fine him, into court, did not
the capitalist court decide in favor of the capitalist, and thus
virtually annulled the law? And where was Mr. Ross all this time?
In the Massachusetts Legislature. Do you imagine that his ignorance
of what a capitalist government means, and of what its "labor laws"
amount to, did not throw its shadow upon and color you in the
capitalist's estimation? Do you, furthermore, imagine that his
sitting there in that legislature, a member of the majority party at
that, and never once demanding the prompt impeachment of the court
that rendered null that very law that he had worked to pass, do you
imagine that while he plays such a complaisant role he is a credit to
the working class?
No need of further illustrations. The ignorance, stupidity and
corruption of the "pure and simple" labor leaders is such that the
capitalist class despises you. The first prerequisite for success in
a struggle is the respect of the enemy.
The other main cause of the present impotence of "pure and
simple" unionism is that, through its ignoring the existing class
distinctions, and its ignoring the close connection there is between
wages and politics, it splits up at the ballot box among the parties
of capital, and thus unites in upholding the system of capitalist
Look at the recent miners' strike; the men were shot down and
the strike was lost; this happened in the very midst of a political
campaign; and these miners, who could at any election capture the
government, or at least, by polling a big vote against capitalism,
announce their advance toward freedom, are seen to turn right around
and vote back into power the very class that had just trampled upon
What prospect is there, in sight of such conduct, of the
capitalists becoming gentler? Or of the union gaining for the men
anything NOW except more wage reductions, enforced by bullets? None!
The prospect of the miners and other workers doing the same thing over
again, a prospect that is made all the surer if they allow themselves
to be further led by the labor fakers whom the capitalists keep in
pay, renders sure that capitalist outrages will be repeated, and
further capitalist encroachments will follow.
Otherwise were it if the union, identifying politics and wages,
voted against capitalism; if it struck at the ballot box against the
wage system with the same solidarity that it demands for the strike in
Protected once a year by the guns of an increasing
classconscious party of labor, the union could be a valuable
fortification behind which to conduct the daily class struggle in the
The increasing Socialist Labor Party vote alone would not quite
give that temporary protection in the shop that such an increasing
vote would afford if, in the shop also, the workers were intelligently
organized, and honestly, because intelligently, led.
Without organization in the shop, the capitalist could outrage
at least individuals.
Shop organization alone, unbacked by that political force that
threatens the capitalist class with extinction, the working class,
being the overwhelming majority, leaves the workers wholly
But the shop organization that combines in its warfare the
annually recurring cIassconscious ballot can stem capitalist
encroachment from day to day.
The trade organization is impotent if built and conducted upon
the impotent lines of ignorance and corruption. The trade
organization is NOT impotent if built and conducted upon the lines of
knowledge and honesty; if it understands the issue and steps into the
arena fully equipped, not with the shield of the trade union only, but
also with the sword of the Socialist ballot.
The essential principles of sound organization are,
1st -- A trade organization must be clear upon the fact that,
not until it has overthrown the capitalist system of private ownership
in the machinery of production, and made this the joint property of
the people, thereby compelling everyone to work if he wants to live,
is it at all possible for the workers to be safe.
2nd -- A labor organization must be perfectly clear upon the
fact that it cannot reach safety until it has wrenched the government
from the clutches of the capitalist class; and that it cannot do that
unless it votes, not for men but for principles, unless it votes into
power its own class platform and program: the abolition of the wages
system of slavery.
3rd -- A labor organization must be perfectly clear upon the
fact that politics are not, like religion, a private concern, any more
than the wages and the hours of a workingman are his private concern.
For the same reason that his wages and hours are the concern of his
class, so is his politics. Politics is not separable from wages. For
the same reason that the organization of labor dictates wages, hours,
etc:, in the interest of the working class, for that same reason must
it dictate politics also; and for the same reason that it execrates
the scab in the shop, it must execrate the scab at the hustings.
THE SOCIALIST TRADE AND LABOR ALLIANCE
Long did the Socialist Labor Party and New Trade Unionists seek
to deliver this important message to the broad masses of the American
proletariat, the rank and file of our working class. But we could not
reach, we could not get at them. Between us and them there stood a
solid wall of ignorant, stupid and corrupt labor fakers. Like men
groping in a dark room for an exit, we moved along the wall, bumping
our heads, feeling ever onwards for a door; we made the circuit and no
passage was found. The wall was solid. This discovery once made,
there was no way other than to batter a breach through that wall.
With the battering ram of the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance we
effected a passage; the wall now crumbles; at last we stand face to
face with the rank and file of the American proletariat; and we are
delivering our message, as you may judge from the howl that goes up
from that fakers' wall that we have broken through.
I shall not consider my time well spent with you if I see no
fruit of my labors; if I leave not behind me in New Bedford Local
Alliances of your trades organized in the Socialist Trade and Labor
Alliance. That will be my best contribution toward your strike, as
they will serve as centers of enlightenment to strengthen you in your
conflict, to the extent that it may now be possible.
In conclusion, my best advice to you for immediate action, is
to step out boldly upon the streets, as soon as you can; organize a
monster parade of the strikers and of all the other working people in
the town; and let the parade be headed by a banner bearing the
announcement to your employers:
"We will fight you in this strike to the bitter end; your money
bag may beat us now; but whether it does or not, that is not the end,
it is only the beginning of the song; in November we will meet again
at Philippi, and the strike shall not end until, with the falchion of
the Socialist Labor Party ballot, we shall have laid you low for all
This is the message that it has been my agreeable privilege to
deliver to you in the name of the Socialist Labor Party, and of the
New Trade Unionists or Alliance men of the land.