From The Samuel Gompers Papers Volume 1: The Making of a Union Leader 1850-86, pp. 23-44
(Translated from the German by Hannelore Jarausch)
Practical Suggestions for Emancipation (1873)
A Word toward the Advancement of Workingmen’s Associations
The members of the General German Workingmen’s Association are not the only ones who have been justly accused of not knowing how to deal with historical facts and human diversity; the Social Democratic Workingmen’s Party has met with similar criticism and, to some extent, rightly so. The political movement of the German working-class is still making one-sided and doctrinaire assertions. These must be completely abandoned if one wants to construct a new governmental edifice. Theory must be transformed into practice and the new basis and structure of society so organized that the rotten pillars of the old order in their collapse will not bury the young sprouts of the new society.
The following articles were composed with this viewpoint in mind. Their popular tone explains their purpose since they are intended for working people who are striving, with unprecedented energy, to found a state with ‘equal rights and equal duties’. I have expressed myself as briefly and clearly as possible, always keeping in mind the historical facts, the diversity of conditions, and the extensive evidence, which has been supplemented by my practical experience and my work with various workingmen’s and labor publications. Those in particular who have as their goal the healing of individual parts of the diseased body politic may learn from the following articles that in such an effort the entire constitution of society must be considered and an individual member cannot be healed without attending to the body as a whole.
One comment for those men involved in the emancipation of the working-class: I wrote the following articles in my spare time. May the whole be read and criticized with this in mind. The author has attempted to improve on his poor primary-school education in a small Saxon town by continuing self-education.
- The Historical and Natural Necessity of Workingmen’s Associations
In his Poverty of Philosophy, written in response to Proudhon in 1847, Karl Marx had already demonstrated conclusively that English workingmen’s associations have played the same role in the organization of the working-class as the formation of towns during the Middle Ages did for the middle classes of bourgeois society. Since then, other economists, such as Lujo Brentano in his Arbeitergilden der Gegenwart, have shown in great detail that contemporary workers’ organizations, the workingmen’s associations or workingmen’s assemblies, have the same importance for the solution of the social question as the craft guilds of the Middle Ages had for the rise of the bourgeois society. Even though Brentano vehemently denies the existence of social-democratic tendencies in his arguments, and even though this same economist blames all of Social Democracy and the ‘Internationals’ for failing to make either an intellectual, internal, or external distinction between the practical efforts of the English working-class and the social democratic movement, it is still worth noting that the most significant scholar of Social Democracy is in agreement on workingmen’s associations with an economist who teaches at the University of Breslau. Even Brentano states that although the workingmen’s associations in their early stages excluded purely political goals, as did the craft guilds, they can nonetheless exert strong pressure on the policies of governments and on the rule of the strong and powerful. It was in this way that the craft guilds of the Middle Ages were the unwitting instrument for the emancipation of bourgeois society. Similarly, a great number of English workingmen’s associations are today the instruments for the emancipation of the working-class. We must hold to both propositions all the more: not only because the English workingmen’s associations or workingmen’s assemblies, just like the old craft guilds, have survived every period of political reaction, all countermovements of the propertied and ruling classes, all periods of inflation and trade crises, but also because the above propositions prove to us once and for all that despite persecution, reaction, police, and militarism it is possible to promote the organization of the working-class and bring about its emancipation.
From the day of its inception, the International Workingmen’s Association has fully understood this, and even if the foaming waves of defamation, lies and delusion crash over it today, sunny days of greater conviction and recognition will follow upon the storm. The workingmen’s associations convened in Sheffield in 1866 not only granted full recognition to the endeavors of the International Workingmen’s Association to unite the workers of every nation in a common bond of brotherhood, they urged every organization represented there to enter into fraternal association with this body in the belief that this was of the utmost importance for the progress and prosperity of the entire working-class. The International Workingmen’s Association became the instrument through which was conveyed to the English workingmen’s associations the historical thesis that they were the natural, historically based organizations by means of which it would be possible to achieve political and social demands, and at the same time it brought this thesis to a conscious realization. In fact, the most advanced English workingmen’s associations have become fully aware that even in the pursuit of their immediate goals, they must not forget the political and social emancipation of the working-class as a whole.
At the Geneva congress of 1866, the International Workingmen’s Association adopted the following resolution: “The formation and advancement of workingmen’s associations must and should remain the primary task of the working-class in the near and distant future; apart from their efforts to counteract the encroachments of capitalism, they must learn to act consciously as the focus for the organization of the working-class, in the interest of its total emancipation;–they must support every social and political movement which strives for this goal and consider themselves the advocates and representatives of the entire class, concerning themselves attentively with the interests of the most poorly paid trades, for example, the agricultural workers who as a result of their exceptionally unfortunate circumstances, through their dispersion and low level of education, are not able to offer the slightest organized resistance.—This cannot fail to attract those outside the workingmen’s organizations and impress upon the mass of workers the conviction that their goal, far from being a limited, self-seeking one, is the universal emancipation of the oppressed millions.”
The Basel congress of 1869 resolved that the formation of workingmen’s assemblies (workingmen’s associations) should be actively promoted, that the different workingmen’s groups should unite in national organizations and confer jointly on the measures to be taken in order to eliminate the present wage system through cooperative labor, and that the General Council should work to bring about international ties.
At the conference of delegates in London, September 17 to 23, 1871, the importance of the trade union movement was once again emphasized, just as the last congress at The Hague had pointed out to the workingmen’s associations of all countries that the General Council is the mediator of international ties. In this connection, we must call attention to the Official Proclamation of the General Council in New York on January 26, 1873.
Given the preceding historical data, resolutions and compilations, it should be sufficiently clear both what importance workingmen’s associations or workingmen’s assemblies must have for the labor movement as a whole, and how false and worthless is the opinion of those socialist and non-socialist workers who believe that the task of the trade unions can be accomplished merely through activity in resistance, protection, and other supportive measures, and that these bodies could ultimately be considered executive organizations that exist for negotiations with employer coalitions.
The full significance of the labor congress in Erfurt in June of last year, which was convened in order to found an “association of trade unions” independent of a purely political party movement, was not understood by most of our party members, nor did it achieve any practical results. Let us examine the reasons. Once we have found the cause for this phenomenon, we can try to do better in the future.
In his writings, Lassalle tries to make us understand that a lively, energetically conducted, purely political agitation would quickly help the working-class achieve its rights. This opinion is widespread even among our party members, not only because our party continuously recruited from among the followers of Lassalle, but also because our party program has a prominent political character. In it, social demands are emphasized sharply enough; only the individual points for political agitation are not sufficiently detailed. One must remember that the abuse to which workers have been subjected has frequently made them politically indifferent and has driven many of them to define their demands from the opposite direction, that is, purely socially. The causes for the misunderstanding of the trade union movement among many people are, on the one hand, Lassalle’s provocative phrase ‘purely political agitation’, and on the other, the workers’ suspicion of political parties. The former are rushing like a storm 10 years ahead of the movement which is supposed to include and unite all elements of the working-class; the latter do not understand that workingmen’s organizations with purely social programs have a tremendous impact on legislation, and thus on politics. These are two paths to the same goal. And now that we have discovered this, now that we have first of all learned that the trade union organization is the natural and historical instrument that will enable the workers to eliminate class rule, why then still argue about the proper form, name and appearance? We must hold fast to the heart, the soul, the essence of the thing. That is why it is exceedingly difficult to argue with people who cannot see the forest for the trees. While they smilingly and condescendingly look down upon a strike or a lockout, and they are pleased with any conflict that annihilates the phrases of the opposition and the rhetoricians, they refuse to admit that the trade union organization is destined to eliminate all party quarrels among the workers and is preparing them for social and political emancipation. On the contrary. Such purely theoretical skirmishers consider the practical and healthy trade union movement to be something flawed, reactionary and nostalgic, only retarding and dividing the whole labor movement and costing a great deal of money and energy that could be better spent in political agitation. And unfortunately it is often the case that these same party members work 12 to 13 hours a day in their shops, or submit to offensive shop regulations and even allow wife and child to work. A carpenter I know who called himself a good socialist told me one day he could not join the trade union because that was not allowed under the iron law of wages. He said there would first have to be government aid (credit from the state to the associations), then the situation would change. It is sad indeed to hear such words from a man who attends all mass meetings and who—according to him—can recite Lassalle’s responses from memory. This type of worker is the exact opposite of those who spit in Lassalle’s face at his first appearance. The phraseology of the Progressive Party has surrounded the workers’ brains with a thick slime that allows them to think independently only in rare cases. The purely theoretical elaboration of social, political and economic propositions by the dogmatic followers of Lassalle has driven them from one corner to another and unfortunately the devil has exorcised Beelzebub.
There are still a large number who prefer to think of the union movement as the tail of the political movement, but under the weight of overwhelming and unalterable facts they too will have to strike their sails.
It is obvious that anyone who wants to attain practical results must deal with all actual conditions and circumstances that impede the implementation of practical attempts to organize the working-class.
It has been commented upon before that by far the greatest majority of workers has no political sense, that is, they are not interested in the Reichstag or in legislation, in matters of tariffs, taxes, commerce, provinces, or princes, in republic or monarchy. It is difficult to rouse them to action. They are most easily reached through pay increases, shorter working hours, and travel and health benefits. This purely practical sense of the working-class must be used by those who have experienced and realized that the trade union organization is the natural and historically determined means for gradually bringing labor to power. It is a fact that certain trade unions such as the printers, hatmakers, and goldsmiths are making such rapid strides because they do not belong to any political movement and as a matter of principle refrain from all political disputes while not denying any member the right to join a purely political party outside the trade union. Matured through bitter experience in social struggles, these workers are confirmed pioneers in independent political organizations and representation, and these elements not only protect us from revolts and putches, they encourage more serious work, a sense of duty, and an acceleration of the solid organization of the working-class. They supply firm economic and social underpinnings for the political life in today’s state, without the development of which bloody dramas would become historical necessities. The party of the Fourth Estate must attempt to prevent the latter, despite the provocations of the ruling and propertied.
These remarks should demonstrate that it is a fatal error to subordinate the trade union movement directly to the purely political party movement. I will attempt to prove this while at the same time trying to explain the intellectual and inner nature of the workingmen’s associations with respect to the program of the Social Democratic Workingmen’s Party, concluding with suggestions for the development and propagation of workingmen’s organizations.
- The Purely Political Party Movement and Workingmen’s Associations
It need not be demonstrated here that today and always it is political power the working class must use in order to obtain full equality and the elimination of class rule. Whoever has only half observed the labor movement and has been in touch with the working class directly must and will admit (in whatever form or shape he has encountered the labor movement) that it is primarily or at secondarily a political movement. Furthermore, we do not need to prove that neither the immediate elimination of the present economic system (capitalist production) nor the rapid removal of the present governmental structure (the monarchical state) will allow the rise and liberation of the working class to become a reality. We know that the economic, social, political and spiritual liberation of the working class and the overcoming of race and class hatred, as well as the complete establishment of a free people’s state, cannot be accomplished in a decade. Furthermore, it is useless to put the masses off with the idea of social revolution, since it unfolds by itself through the superior power of capital and would be impossible without the total dominance of the propertied. We must above all rouse the consciousness of the people for the emancipation of the Fourth Estate. Everything depends on this.
The inner drive of the working class toward emancipation is no longer a dream; it is neither an idea, or an invention, nor anything forced: It is a fact which cannot be debated away. Whether this aspiration expresses itself only in purely political agitation, or in the desire for the elimination of oppressive factory regulations, for the shortening of the working day, for increasing demands, for regulating the labor market, etc., its goal is once and for all the achievement of independence. Herein lies the crux, the focal point, and the total essence of the social question.
Throughout history the external characteristic of the oppressed has been that they first roused themselves to action and began to fight at the point where the shoe pinched most. Thus, for example, the rebellious country folk fought on the side of Dr. Luther’s Reformation movement in the Peasants’ Revolt because they were under the illusion that the priests and papal officials were responsible for their serfdom, when in reality it was the feudal nobility with its privileges and absolute autocracy over the peasants who used the priests and religion to keep the peasants in bondage and stupidity.The petit-bourgeoisie thinks competition, free trade and the efforts of the working class are responsible for its decline, when it is an established fact that it is concentrated capital with its privileges and power over the labor force that expropriates the petit-bourgeoisie and forces the working class to defend and seize its rights. It is no wonder then that the working class first turns its attention to the elimination of oppressive factory regulations, obtaining shorter working hours, regulating wages, and a higher valuation of labor. Such means of defense are nothing but the elementary schooling and drill exercises of the proletariat which not only enrich its experience and keep it from straying onto false paths, but also establish the solid positions from which the workers will finally recognize and strive to eliminate the true source of their bondage. It is a matter and only a matter of encouraging this awareness in the masses so that they can consciously carry on the battle and learn to eliminate the source of social strife. By eliminating this source, the working class can achieve that independence which is the central issue in the solution of the social question.
The question arises: By what means can one most rapidly achieve, advance and hasten the conscious struggle for independence?
The answer to this question is implicit in the foregoing hints. We have seen that:
1) in the same way as the craft guilds of the Middle Ages were the unwitting means for the emancipation of bourgeois society, so the workingmen’s associations of today are the means of emancipating the working class;
2) the great mass of workers mistrusts all purely political parties because, on the one hand, they have often been abused and deceived by them, and on the other, their lack of information about the social movement prevents them from seeing the importance of the political side. Moreover, the workers show more understanding and practical sense for issues of immediate interest, such as shorter working hours, higher valuation of labor, elimination of repugnant factory regulations, etc.;
3) a purely trade oriented organization exerts continuous pressure on legislation and the government; consequently, this form of the labor movement is also political, even if only secondarily so;
4) the establishment of the free people’s state, that is, the economic, social, political, and spiritual liberation of the working class and the establishment of the freedom of the worker, requires preparatory development and training;
5) the activities of the workingmen’s associations ripen ideas leading to the emancipation of the working class, and therefore these natural organizations must be treated as equal to purely political agitation and must not be considered either a reactionary development or a tail of the political movement.
The preceding statements suggest the tactical position and approach which the Social Democratic Workingmen’s Party must adopt vis-a-vis the trade union movement. They must, as a matter of logical consistency, be the same as those acknowledged by the International Workingmen’s Association many years ago as the most appropriate, and which result in the promotion of the independent trade union movement and in bringing the conscious effort for emancipation to precise expression in and through these organizations.
This effort has already begun. The older associations of cigar and tobacco workers, printers, hatmakers, and gold- and silversmiths must be designated as organizations which, independent of political parties, have already tested their powers in vigorous struggles and have wrung respect from their opponents. In the case of the workingmen’s associations it is not a matter of deceitful phrases, but rather of a strong bastion and bulwark of defense against even further deterioration and degradation of the working class. They must fulfill not only this initial obligation but can also push wages at least to a level where it becomes possible to expand and increase demands; and since wages, according to the iron law of wages, adjust themselves according to the demands of a people, nothing can be more obvious than the necessity of increasing demands. Through an increase in demands one not only combats the plague of hunger, but also the worker learns to value shorter working hours. He not only gives the power of labor a higher value, he protects himself from overproduction and trade crises, thereby expanding his social, political and economic education without estranging himself from family life, but rather coming closer to it. Finally, the trade unions nurture those most awesome weapons in the hands of the proletariat–statistics and mass discipline–which, supported by political agitation and organization, will eventually shatter the bourgeois world and inaugurate the new society.
The sense for cooperative work awakened by the trade unions is of no less importance, and the very fact that excellent producer cooperatives have been founded in England and Germany in the spirit of the total liberation of the working class demonstrates the impact that workingmen’s associations have in the elimination of capitalist production.
Finally, one should consider how tremendously influential the workingmen’s associations have been on the politics of England’s government. One might recall the great results they achieved under the banner of the “Anti-Corn League” against the landed gentry of England. Even though the workers were shamefully deceived by the Liberal party to gain their cooperation–and cleverly used by the Conservative party for its own efforts and goals, the English workers alone, through their own energy and politics, are responsible for the ten-hour day and the restrictions placed on female and child labor. When, during the American war, it appeared that the war-minded London cabinet would intervene in that murderous affair, the workers forced the cabinet to remain neutral by threatening agitation. Since it is still fresh in our memories, we scarcely need to remind anyone of the great demonstrations of our own times, in Newcastle and London in April and May of this year, drawing a crowd of more than 200,000 people in support of universal suffrage.
In contrast to such successes how insignificant appear our popular assemblies in which we still argue about concocted socialist systems of earlier epochs, authoritarian dogmas, articles of faith, and infallible means and cures for a solution to the social question. How naive and narrow-minded sounds the argument that the workingmen’s associations have no political influence and are to be considered only a necessary evil! And yet the Newcastle workers carry out a demonstration which would be impossible in a German context because German workers lack an organization essential for winning the respect of governments, legislators and employers. Also consider this: English workers began their struggle in the face of the opposition of the entire European bourgeoisie, in the face of the raging cry of a one-sided class government from which every concession had to be wrested step by step over the last 50 years.
There it was a sound idea for the trade union congress in Erfurt in June 1872 to support the independence of the trade union movement from political party machinery. Whoever builds a house must build it on solid ground. The workingmen’s associations are the bedrock and the strong foundations upon which and with which alone it is possible to give solid support, steadiness, and weight to political agitation. Therefore the trade union movement cannot harm but only benefit the political consciousness of the working class and it would be a disastrous and almost unforgivable mistake to give the workingmen’s associations the veneer of political agitation from the outset. It is a crime to want to tear down in the name of “universal, equal and direct suffrage” these purely natural organizations that have arisen from actual conditions, and, like the last congress of the General German Workingmen’s Association in Berlin, to pass resolutions whose aim it is to transform the trade unions into purely political associations as quickly as possible. Let the workers keep their eyes open!–Unfortunately even the Social Democratic Workingmen’s party is not completely devoid of elements that negate and destroy the workingmen’s associations, and therefore I saw it as my duty to demonstrate clearly the full significance of these historically determined and naturally developing organizations in order to shield them from evil hands and fanatical dogmatists.
Let us finally rid ourselves of the unfortunate error which suggests that the bourgeoisie and the legislators do not recognize, observe, and study the importance of the trade union movement for the liberation of the working class. Today it is a tooth and nail fight and every effort is made to annihilate and destroy the movement, while tomorrow a pact is made with it in hopes of discovering its weaknesses and lulling the workers into a sense of security in order to test the dagger of treachery and deceit anew. Building on the ignorance and forgetfulness of the masses, they play the young organizations false in order to stab them in the back. The form and organization of the unions will grow such a tough and solid hide in the process of the struggle that the unnatural tyrants in uniforms and white ties will become hollow as reeds that break in the wind!
III. The Nature of Workingmen’s Associations and the Program of the Social Democratic Workingmen’s Party
First of all a laurel wreath for the annointed head of Max Hirsch, the wonder doctor, who, because of his devotion to the organization of the working class and the establishment of workingmen’s associations, is a friend of the emancipation of the working class, and therefore our friend and my friend. Because of our friendship for this great wonder doctor we have not infrequently been thrown into the same pot with professional “social demagogues” on the grounds that Mr. Wonder Doctor has not been able to make plausible that lovely phrase about the harmony between labor and capital. Even though every edition of Dr. Max Hirsch’s Gewerkverein brings new proof of the ridiculousness of this theory–no matter–they continue to harmonize. Together with other learned gentlemen, Dr. Max Hirsch, the lawyer of the Federation of German Workingmen’s Associations, strictly denies the political tendency of the workingmen’s associations. Now of course the trade unions are not political clubs in the sense that they argue over republic or monarchy, imperial glory and the advantages or disadvantages of particularism, or over heroic military deeds and beautiful cavalry charges. But by denying the political tendency of the workingmen’s associations Dr. Max Hirsch has deceived himself and this was demonstrated by the second meeting of the Federation of German Workingmen’s Associations on April 17. The 25 delegates of the harmonious German Workingmen’s Associations passed a resolution in favor of participating in the Reichstag and Landtag elections. The resolution calls for the naming of a slate of their own candidates and rejects any compromise with parties hostile to the workingmen’s associations. At the same time they held fast to the declaration that workingmen’s associations have no inherently political character.– First harmony between labor and capital, then rejection of any compromise with elements hostile to workingmen’s associations,the latter, an equivalent to a declaration of war! So the workingmen’s associations have no political character, yet their representatives pass ex officio a resolution in favor of participation in the Reichstag and Landtag elections. But in order to avoid the suspicion of “social demagoguery” a final passage explains that workingmen’s associations are not inherently political! We can see that those learned men who consciously or unconsciously refuse to draw logical consequences and practical applications from a certain thing will always find themselves in conflict with their own actions and historical facts.
The program of the Social Democratic Workingmen’s party can be summarized in one sentence: Equal rights and equal duties! This is why our program stresses in Point II, paragraph 2: “The struggle for the liberation of the working classes is not a struggle for class privileges and prerogatives, but for equal rights and equal duties and for the elimination of all class rule.”– Let us compare this point with the ideal goal of the workingmen’s associations or workingmen’s assemblies that intend to put organization in place of disorganization of society and–as K. Marx and L. Brentano have explained– let us further remember that in the same way as the craft guilds in the Middle Ages were the unwitting means for the emancipation of bourgeois society, so today workingmen’s associations are the means for the emancipation of the working class. Consequently, just as the feudal state had to agree to recognize the organization of the guilds and extend their laws and provisions to communal, state and police governments, so the state will sooner or later have to recognize the workingmen’s associations or workingmen’s assemblies: not only recognize them but eventually have to extend the organizational form of the trade unions to all of political and communal life. Now any trade union member knows that the unions maintain, even in the smallest detail, the principle “Equal rights, equal duties,” which means the same dues, no special privileges for individuals, as equal an administration as possible, the same enjoyment of rights! If we imagine this system developed, matured, and extended to the state and community in almost the same way in which inequality between master, journeyman, and apprentice established the pattern for the privileges of the master and the triumph of the grande bourgeoisie, we have before us the ideal of social democracy: The state of equal rights and equal duties, a free people’s state.
“The worker’s economic dependence on the capitalist is the basis for servitude in every form and therefore the Social Democratic party seeks the full labor value for each worker through an elimination of the present mode of production (wage system) and its replacement with cooperative labor.”– The workingmen’s associations or trade unions pursue the material betterment and spiritual elevation of their members and since, in their specific and general goals they advocate the independence of the entire working class, they struggle against the capitalists with all available means; and almost all statutes which provide rich material and extensive subject matter for the preparation of these articles, even those of the Hirsch-Duncker Workingmen’s Associations, emphatically endorse “cooperative labor”–even if the more radical workingmen’s associations call for this to be achieved by “any means whatever” including state subvention.–Simple logic tells us that from the day on which the organizational regulations of the trade unions are accepted as legislation, the trade union movement has become a political one. This demonstrates the validity of that further proposition of our party program which states that the social question is inseparable from the political and that the trade unions, since they are social organizations, also have political goals. Here again we can see how the nature of the trade unions accords with the political party program.
“The solution of the social question is only possible in the democratic state,” continues our party program. When we once more examine the nature of the workingmen’s organizations, we will find that they are the most profoundly popularly ruled (democratic) organizations that can be conceived. Their administrative officials are entrusted only with executive and not with legislative power, their only authority resides in the general will. The legislative authorities are the general assemblies, the congresses, in special cases a committee or control commission, and the strike ballot of the members. These are at the same time the basic features of direct legislation through the people, the necessary elementary schooling through which the people can exercise and develop their right of initiative and veto.
All of those workingmen’s associations or workingmen’s assemblies that have passed beyond the embryonic stage, however, have given their organizations a strongly unified character that grew in part out of the struggle against the bourgeoisie, in part from economizing on administrative costs, etc., and, finally, on its own for practical reasons. This further demonstrates the correctness of the statement in the Social Democratic Workingmen’s party program, according to which “the political and economic liberation of the working class is possible only if it conducts its struggle in a united and uniform manner and provides itself with a unified organization.” The unified organization of the individual trades is the prerequisite and foundation for the achievement of such a unified general organization as exists already in England and for which we are striving in Germany where many believe it can be achieved by storm, which is contrary to the natural development of the trade union movement. The international organization of trade unions is inconceivable without a unified national organization. The former depends on the latter and the workers of different nationalities will not be restrained by anything in the world from forming international ties as soon as unified national organizations have been formed. In fact the most advanced workingmen’s associations in Germany, which have no external political party affiliation, are far closer to an international trade union organization that is based particularly on reciprocity of association statutes concerning rights and duties of members, than those who have adopted the innocent little word “international” for their titles, a little word that regularly provides politicians and policemen with the opportunity to test the vitality of the trade union movement. The nature of the trade unions and the solidarity of interests of the workers of all nations drives them, as well as the coalitions of capitalists, toward international association. This is further proof of the vitality of the International Workingmen’s Association whose sole task is to show the workers how to strive consciously and independently toward this goal.
At this point it is hardly necessary to compare the next 10 demands of Social Democracy with the character of the workingmen’s associations. The principle of the workingmen’s associations, “Equal rights and equal duties,” has not only abolished the privileges of master and journeyman estates but also transformed the capital and property of the trade unions into the common property of all members; Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, and religious as well as social sectarians are united in them, without exceptions and without preferences.–Universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage is practiced, as is the remuneration of representatives and delegates, as well as direct legislation (initiative and veto rights) through the people. The creation of a people’s army instead of a standing army is, to be sure, not mentioned in any trade union statutes, nor is the separation of church and state or of school and church,–but all organized trade union members, regardless of where they work, are so unenthusiastic about standing armies and Bible study in the schools that there is a general effort to demonstrate to the workers the necessity of these old customs. Compulsory primary education and free instruction in all public schools are contained in the trade unions’ goals of materially and spiritually elevating their members.–Furthermore, since the trade unions fight for the independence of the working class in general, they struggle in particular for the independence (democratization) of the courts, the introduction of juries and industrial arbitration courts, public and oral court proceedings, and free administration of justice; here English models have offered many positive examples, especially since the arbitration boards can be viewed as forerunners of industrial arbitration courts and the simplification of judicial procedures.–Police and government persecution of the independent labor press awakens the desire to abolish all press laws. The disciplining and suppression of associations and coalitions heightens the desire to eliminate association laws. The normal working day, the restriction of female and child labor, and the elimination of competition from prison and workhouse labor are self-evident goals of the trade unions. The trade unions’ social demands are far more specialized and developed; they include, for example, the regulation of wages, working hours, night and Sunday labor, apprentice and benefit systems, and statistical inquiries about wages, working hours, food prices, illnesses, and fatalities, etc.–Concerning taxes, trade unions reject the indirect system and some have even imposed progressive voluntary income taxes on their members (for instance, the organization of printers’ helpers in Berlin and Hamburg-Altona during their fight with the master printers).–Finally, as far as the last point in the party program is concerned, “governmental promotion of the cooperative system and state credits for free producer cooperatives with democratic guarantees,” nothing more need be said since this has already been discussed.
Three essential points of the trade union movement have been brought out: first, the natural and historical necessity of trade unions; then, the demonstration of their independence from and equality with political agitation; finally, the identification of the political program of the Social Democratic Workingmen’s party with the trade union movement.
There is nothing new in what has been said up to now. It is not only the bourgeoisie that hates and persecutes the trade union movement, and seeks to suppress it because it knows its political character and significance in both practical and theoretical terms. Even scholars and high government officials keep it under close observation and attempt to divide the workers, true to the principles of Jesuitry, exploiting the weaknesses and passions of the individuals and the masses for the advantage of the ruling classes and the disadvantage of the oppressed. We can no longer turn back. The workers’ freedom of association and assembly can be abridged but no longer takenaway. Were a class government to attempt this, a permanent state of war and siege would be declared, since pressure produces counterpressure , and the working class would be drawn to the barricades, ready for a revolution. However, the workers will learn to resist such temptations through organization, and since no government can exist in a state of siege with its people for long, only two things remain: Either the governments themselves must help the people to organize in order to avoid catastrophes and put social-democratic principles into practice,–or: The people will fight for their rights through organizations such as the world has never before seen! Both paths, in their final objectives, lead to the solution of the social question and thereby to the elimination of class rule, the victory of the social-democratic or labor movement, and the collapse of old traditions and the cult of personal authority, as well as an end to the exploitation of the masses.
These are not utopian dreams!
- The Organization of the Trade Unions
After the preceding observations there need be no more argument about the significance or insignificance of the trade union organization. It is not only determined by natural and historical necessity rather than being the creation of individual instigators or agitators, but it is also of a political nature, if only secondarily, and the essence of the trade unions is in agreement with the program of the Social Democratic Workingmen’s party. It has been mentioned previously that for all of these reasons the equality of the trade union movement with the purely political party movement is not only useful but even essential.
There remains for me only to make some observations about workingmen’s organizations themselves, but these should not be considered exhaustive or definitive.
Everyone who has observed the social movement is aware of the fact that it is especially the educated workers and those in better positions who took the initiative in the founding of workingmen’s organizations. Despite the worse laws of an earlier day and the restrictive influence of the guilds that held sway in Germany longer than anywhere else, it was the hatmakers, shipbuilders, printers and typesetters, masons and carpenters, machinists and iron workers who had, in part, freed themselves from their masters in the old guilds and formed journeymen’s and fraternal associations among themselves, whose purpose it was to resist the oppression of the masters who had attained comfort and wealth. Most of these were local organizations that only rarely extended beyond city boundaries. They usually communicated through passwords and codes, in quarterly assemblies, financial subscriptions, and meetings in journeymen’s hostels. When it was essential to stand up to a brutal master, a few words in the hostel room were enough to make this clear to everyone. The journeymen sought to avoid the house of such a tyrant. Forcing such masters to use inferior workers and depriving them of new ones brought even them to a better understanding of the demands of living, thinking, feeling, and acting “goods.”–Following the internal demoralization and final dissolution of the old guilds through freedom of trade and movement, the local journeymen’s associations took the opportunity to further expand their scope by means of the freedom to form associations. A great number of masters, who had withdrawn from guild life and resentfully and peevishly shut the door on the spirit of the times, and yet were beginning to revel in the eternal realm of free competition, were divested of control of the benefit system and of health and death benefit funds by those journeymen who understood the importance of freedom of association; these institutions were then administered independently. Unfortunately, most of the trades let the opportunity slip by to put the control of these funds into the hands of the workers who had earlier contributed by far the greatest amount to them. Only a very few cities and a few trades shook off the tutelage of the masters.–These journeymen’s associations, with the support of health benefits, are the predecessors and foundations for a national workingmen’s organization. Those trades that have until now failed to build further on these foundations must above all take care to strengthen local organizations in each city and, where they do not exist, to form new associations. Here, however, it is the duty of educated and enlightened workers not to inquire into the political or religious creeds of people. They should above all try to attract members through popular lectures, pamphlets and informative leaflets. They must attempt to establish contact with their colleagues in other cities and arouse those sunk into lethargy. If possible, their goal should be to attract every fellow worker in a trade through suitable means such as certificates of employment, travel support, etc.– Bad experience has taught us how foolish it is to give such organizations names that have a political sounding appearance for the uninitiated worker. We have earlier explained how suspicious the workers are of such appearances. Call them simply shoemakers;, carpenters’, coopers’, tinsmiths’, etc. associations or trade unions. Since these organizations will always been secondarily political, and since the social cannot be separated from the political, a paragraph of the statutes may very well state: religion and politics are to be kept out. Common interests unite the workers. Those who jointly pursue and protect their interests already practice politics. No ironclad paragraphs can suppress politics and its consequences, or keep it at a distance. As soon as these local organizations unite in a national federation, the political tendency will come more to the fore. And we will already be dealing with laws concerning shorter working hours, female, child and prison labor, etc. At that moment the workingmen’s associations or workingmen’s assemblies transcend the embryonic phase and make themselves felt in all sorts of movements that find their expression in convulsive strikes and lockouts. The persecutions that the workers experience at the hands of the police and government officials, the abuses that the daily press heaps upon them, finally the “wisdom” makes them feel more than ever the subservience in which the present government, in league with the bourgeoisie, seeks to hold them. Through independent newspapers, people’s assemblies, and elections, trade union members will realize that their endeavors are identical with those of the Social Democrats. The ice of suspicion will melt with better understanding loyalty to the conviction that people’s organizations need only be developed and cultivated in order to replace the dying organism of the contemporary state with a new one. This new organism contains all the prerequisites for prosperous growth and the solution of the social question. The more the worker accustoms himself to this, the more are revealed to him the treasures of an economy based on the social interdependence of all men, and laws based on the governmental unity of all public institutions. He will abandon the well-meaning but unrealistic proposals of Fourier  and Cabet  in favor of the real business of the day; rendered wise by his own experiences and by the visible, and complete or developing achievements of the labor movement in all civilized nations, he will be convinced that socialization or socialism is an historical necessity which needs only to be systematically promoted. Firm in this conviction, he will carefully nurture and protect this young growth in order to avoid a premature birth, yet helping to hasten the delivery of the new society at the correct time as painlessly as possible.
With these happy thoughts the worker will hasten to greet his brothers who have been degraded to pariahs through the division of labor by capitalists and exploiters, and whose children and wives have been brutalized at the loom, in the mines, in the fields and snatched by death in their earlier years by leagues, hunger and war. He will ask them to join the great cultural movement and point to the English agricultural, mine and manual laborers who rush ahead of their brothers on the Continent toward the day of decision as in a great storm cloud.
The rancor which has been spread among the combatants and the bitterness evoked by senseless slogans and polemics will yield to the recognition of the common goal of all, which can be reached all the more quickly as historical facts and embryonic organizations are used as the means best suited to awaken and further in the workers the class consciousness that is longing for fulfillment. Another proven means of agitation is the indication that modern society more and more hinders the journeyman from gaining his independence as a master and allows only few exceptions to the rule: “Whoever is a wage earner (proletarian) shall remain a proletarian.”
The following points must be especially emphasized in the organization of trade unions:
1) Local journeymen’s associations must be respected and the associations of an earlier day that are now almost completely ruled in a dictatorial and absolute fashion by senior journeymen must be organized democratically. The principle “equal rights, equal duties” must be maintained under all circumstances. Even the chairman must not have any privileges. He must be considered an executive only and not a policymaker. The executive committee must assist the chairman and must, to a certain degree, be granted authority in subordinate and administrative matters. Health, death and travel benefits must, if not already in existence, be connected with the workingmen’s associations. In all these matters, no importance should be given to names, appearances, and forms; one should adhere to the spirit and content of a phrase in deliberations about statutes.–In local associations a control or revision committee must be provided for, representing the members independently of the executive committee, accepting complaints concerning the administration, and auditing account statements, etc.
2) Before one proceeds to national unification of a trade, one must be concerned with establishing the greatest possible uniformity of regulations in the local associations; therefore the local associations must exchange statutes, issue receipts to arriving and departing members for contributions made, and at the same time indicate the place, time and name of the local association in which the concerned party was a member. If there are insufficient fellow workers in one place to form an association, the different localities of a county or district must join together. One should pay close attention to the integrity of members, and tolerate no arrogance, pretensions or coarse acts of violence. Arbitration courts must be entrusted with the task of settling disputes among members. Changes in the local organization may only be undertaken with a 2/3 majority and all the members of a local organization must be responsible for every action.
3) When these spiritual prerequisites for a national organization have been achieved in the local associations, one can continue to build on this firm foundation. A congress or an assembly of representatives from the various local assemblies can unite the individual member groups through a central statute to which all associations must be subject. In order to confirm and maintain equality with and independence from political parties, the larger bodies must attempt to create their own journals and publications (as, for example, the cigarmakers, printers, hatmakers, and goldsmiths have already done). Smaller and related trades can work hand in hand. When every trade has a publication, then, just as the national organization is formed on the basis of the local, the international on the national, a central trade publication will rise over the publications of the individual trades. The resolution passed by the trade union congress in Erfurt did the proper thing in this respect. Unfortunately there are still too few good local and national associations to support such an undertaking. In this case as well the independent workingmen’s organizations have to do the preliminary work.
When all these preconditions are fulfilled, the trade union organization will get into the full swing and international agreements and cooperative institutions will materialize. When a house is built one must start from the bottom and made every effort to dig out the foundation carefully. Whoever fails to do this, and instead considers the trade union movement a game, should not be surprised when despite all efforts everything collapses at the first opportunity.
The author of these articles is a trade union member of longstanding and has lived through the developmental stages of the workingmen’s organization without ignoring political movements. He has acquired this conviction: Without social groundwork there can be no lasting political organization or agitation, and therefore there should be no political tinge to young organizations that will, according to their nature and essence once they have matured, make their mark on politics as noteworthy members of society. It is a fruitless effort, a Sisyphean task, to want to skip developmental stages in the history of civilization. Whoever attempts to do so in spite of this fact should not be surprised when he is disillusioned. Detours will bring even him to the insight that the young sprouts of society must be carefully tended and nurtured so that with their growth and development they can eventually fully replace the rotten and outmoded conditions.
May this insight finally come to life among German workers!
1.Carl Hillmann, a journalist, was active in trade union and socialist affairs.
2.Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein (ADAV). The socialist General German Workingmen’s Association was organized in May 1863 under the leadership of Ferdinand Lassalle who served as its first president. Johann Baptist von Schweitzer became its leader after Lassalle’s death in 1864. The ADAV advocated suffrage for all workers and the formation of an autonomous working-class party. It favored state-supported cooperatives but otherwise had no clear cut economic program.
3.Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei (SDAP). The Social Democratic Workingmen’s Party was founded in 1869 by Wilhelm Leibknecht and August Bebel. The group’s political and social aims were closer to Marx’s than Lassalle’s. It favored the abolition of wage labor and sought to build up a political party as well as trade unions to further that goal. The SDAP’s main difference with the ADAV, however, was its hostility to German unification under Prussian hegemony and its adherence to a radical republican federalism. After these divisions were rendered irrelevant by German unification in 1871, the two parties moved closer to each other, finally uniting at the Gotha congress in 1875 to form the Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands (Socialist Labor Party of Germany).
4.Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-65), a French political theorist, proposed the reinvigoration of the instutition of private property, particularly through a new credit system, in order to transform the peasants and workers into small-scale owners. He envisioned the workers organizing cooperative societies for production, consumption, mutual aid, and insurance. Marx wrote Misere de la philosophie (1847) in rebuttal of Proudhon’s Systeme des contradictions economiques, ou philosophie de la misere (1846). Marx argued that Proudhon’s theories left no room for the development of modern industrial society.
5.Karl Marx (1818-83), a revolutionary political economist, sociologist, philosopher, and journalist, played a critical role in the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA). He was the author of the Manifest der kommunistischen Partei (The Communist Manifesto; 1848) with Friedrich Engels, and of Das Kapital (3 vols., 1867-94). His belief that working-class politics should result in autonomous organizations independent of bourgeois parties and movements influenced Gompers’ conception of the labor movement.
6.Lujo Brentano (1844-1931), a German academician, liberal social reformer, and pacifist. His two-volume Arbeitergilden der Gegenwart (Workers’ Guilds of the Present Day), published in 1871-72, is a study of English trade unions.
7.The 1866 trade union conference held at Sheffield, England, adopted a resolution urging the unions represented to join the IWA.
8.The first general congress of the IWA convened in Geneva in September 1866.
9.The IWA congress met in Basel in September 1869.
10.The General Council was the executive body of the IWA, elected by the International’s annual congresses. Its duties included carrying out the decisions of the congresses, linking the member organizations by correspondence, collecting information concerning the condition of workers, and issuing regular reports to the members. The 1872 Hague congress of the IWA transferred the General Council from London to New York to prevent an anarchist takeover.
11.The beginning of the Franco-Prussian War prevented the IWA from holding a congress in 1870, but delegates attended a private conference in London in September 1871.
12.Ferinand Lassalle (1823-64), a German socialist labor leader and a founder of the ADAV, sought to achieve working-class control of the state through universal suffrage and to have the state finance producer cooperatives in which workers could secure the full value of their labor.
13.The ‘”iron law” or subsistence theory of wages holds that if wages rise above the subsistence level, competition resulting from the ensuing increase in the number of workers will drive wages down to the subsistence level again. Conversely, a wage rate below the subsistence level has the effect of reducing the work force, thereby leading to an increase in wages. David Ricardo was one of the principal exponents of this theory, which was taken up by Lassalle to support his claim that trade unions could not ameliorate the workers’ condition and that only a political change and a radical restructuring of society could better their lot. While it was no longer a central belief for most members of the ADAV after the mid-1860’s, it nevertheless proved to be an impediment to the development of trade union support within the Lassallean movement.
14.Fortschrittspartei. The liberal Progressive party, founded in 1861, represented large sections of the middle class. Its influence was strongest in Berlin and the towns of East Prussia.
15.The workingmen’s estate (Arbeiterstand) was analogous to the pre-industrial craftsmen’s estate (Handwerkerstand), which, together with the other three estates (nobility, bourgeoisie, peasantry), made up medieval society. In many cases German socialists used the term workingmen’s estate instead of the Marxist term proletariat.
16.The Anti-Corn Law League, founded under middle-class leadership in Manchester, England, in 1839, pressed for repeal of the Corn Laws passed by Parliament in 1815 to protect British grain prices from foreign competition. Prompted by the Irish famine, Parliament repealed the laws in 1846.
17.Max Hirsch (1832-1905), with Progressive party leaders Franz Duncker and Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch, founded the Verband der deutschen Gewerkvereine (Federation of German Workingmen’s Associations) in 1869 in Berlin and served as its counsel. The federation, also referred to as the Hirsch-Duncker Workingmen’s Associations, was established to counteract socialism, and its program emphasized sick and disability benefits and freedom from politics. Its journal was Der Gewerkverein. Hirsch later served in the Reichstag as a representative of the Progressive party.
18.Francois Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837), a French social scientist and reformer, wrote a series of volumes on the rebuilding of society around communities, called phalansteries, to be established by voluntary action.
19.Etienne Cabet (1788-1856), a prominent utopian socialist and organizer of urban workers in France, published his novel Voyage en Icarie in 1840 describing ab ideal communist society achieved through the elimination of private property and the establishment of absolute equality. Cabet hoped to achieve his utopia through a political movement cutting across class lines.