Jack Fitzgerald

An "Industrialist" Rout

Source: Socialist Standard, July 1909.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2016). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

On Thursday, May 27th, at the Latchmere Baths, Battersea, J. Fitzgerald and E. J. B. Allen debated as to the correctness of the position taken up by their respective organisations in compassing the end to which both are pledged, viz., the abolition of the present system of society and the substitution of the Socialist Commonwealth.

The debate was conducted in a splendid spirit, and followed by a large audience with an attention which demonstrated their recognition of the importance of the issue raised.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain feels more than justified in giving the above title to the following short account of the debate, where the representative of the Industrialist League cleverly defended a position which, under the stern bombardment of Fitzgerald became hopelessly untenable, ultimately presenting a picture of "looped and windowed raggedness" which must have been apparent even to the adherents of, and sympathisers with, that organisation.

Mr. H. B. Rogers was in the chair. After a few opening remarks he called upon Allen to hold the fort for half an hour.

E. J. B. ALLEN acknowledged the oneness of aim of the two organisations. The question was:


On the political field we saw the waste of time and energy in the quarrels between the various political parties, while in those places where revolutionary unionism existed you had a revolutionary working class. The class struggle was manifested mainly in the factory, field and workshop. There the revolutionary organisation must be built up. Street-corner propaganda was useless, unless backed up by revolutionary tactics in every-day life. In the political field you had your Burns's, Vivianis, Millerands, and Briands taking sides with the capitalists because they had been placed in a false position through political action. The franchise can, it has been, it may be, monkeyed with. What weapon then, had the S.P.G.B. to fall back upon? The "political" Socialist was quick to point out failures of strikes ; he seemed to shut his eyes to electorial failures with the consequent waste of time, money and energy. The Revolutionary Union would be prepared to take political action to dispossess the capitalist of power. They would use the weapon of the Strike up to the partial and complete General Strike. The French Postal workers had used this weapon with success. It looked as though after all the S.P.G.B. would have to follow the methods it denounced as impracticable, viz., the nationalisation of industries piecemeal. To-day the Parliament did not control the Army, for the Army Council was not under the control of any elected body. Along with Industrial Unionism there must be an


There are not wanting signs that the times are ripe for such a movement. The soldiers at Featherstone killed three. Had they shot as ordered they could have killed three hundred. The capitalist class had built up their economic power before they overthrew the absolute monarchy. The recent Postal strike in Paris illustrated the fact that a worker of whatever political colour could act solid with his class in the workshop. A Radical operator held up wires from Rome which would have facilitated work of the masters. Therefore he answered, "Yes," his organisation would accept even members of the I.L.P. It would accept anyone willing to act solid with his class. Once in the organisation the lesson of Socialism could be driven home by the Socialist already in the ranks. Besides a man would act straight as a worker who may be hopelessly befogged as a politician. The S.P.G.B. had run municipal candidates. They did not bar Parliamentary candidature. What would their representative do if elected ? He could but


as the elected representatives of the I.L.P. etc. did.

J. FITZGERALD in his all too brief half hour's reply, said that he intended, before answering his adversary's points directly, to state briefly, the position of his Party. A mere statement of that position would refute much that had been said in opposition. What were the main obstacles to the goal ? Two. The first corporeal, measurable, gross to sight, viz., the armed forces and other political machinery ; the second, alas ! incorporeal, immeasurable, unseen but real, vague but potent, heavy with the heaviness of Death—


That ignorance it is the duty of every Socialist to dispel. With regard to the first obstacle he noticed that the Industrialist League had added a new item to its programme since the inception of Industrial Unionism, when they argued they could "lock out the capitalist class," viz., Anti-Militarism. Not that he attached much importance to that particular form of propaganda, except that it clearly demonstrated that the Industrialist League had learnt from the S.P.G.B. the imperative necessity of reckoning with the armed forces instead of ignoring, Anarchist fashion, the political machinery. Did not this fact of itself show, however, that the "neutral," telescope-to-the-blind-eye attitude of the Industrial Leagists as far as "politics" were concerned, was officially capable of expression as a pious belief, but ludicrously impossible as practical tactics?

Allen had stated that Revolutionary Industrial organisations had made the French, Spanish, and Italian workers "more revolutionary." Had they ? Is that why they continue to send representatives of the master class to their exploiters' grand committees for the conservation of class privilege and the preservation of class oppression ?

With regard to the second obstacle—working-class ignorance—Allen and himself were both agreed as to the vital need of teaching. It was alleged that such teaching would be most effective on the spot where the worker found himself face to face with class exploitation. As a matter of fact the workers are more split on the economic field, where they have over 1,000 organisations, than on the political, where they have less than 100. Must he bring his opponent back to the solid ground of fact by reminding him that the present system


for a job ? Political leaders "sell out! " Do economic leaders never do so ? "Strikesmasher" Barnes, "Arbitration" Bell, "Mabon," etc., never "sell out" ! Oh no ! He would remind him of Frank Rose's sinister declaration in the Clarion of 18th September, 1908 : "They (the masters) bribe away the best and most knowing of the operatives' officials by giving them better jobs and bigger salaries, and the internal working of the operatives' unions are open books lo them.


Regarding the General Strike, the ablest writer on the subject, Arnold Roller, showed the absurdity of the Industrialists' statement that the workers could continue to carry on production for themselves and starve out the capitalists, for he says : "It is evident in such a struggle the ruling class would pay no sentimental regard to law and would simply seize the provisions of the proletariat for themselves and their army."

What became of the talk about "taking and holding" ? Moreover, the statement completely knocked the bottom out of the case for the General Strike. What had the French Postal workers got by this weapon ? Six hundred had got— the sack !

It was not true that the Army Council was not under the control of any elected body, for it was appointed by the Cabinet, that was in its turn appointed by Parliament, which was an elected body and had ultimate control. With regard to Anti-Militarism, it were wise, especially while the Party was small, to direct their energies to most likely material for conversion. His opponent could judge of the relative accessibility to Socialist thought of soldiers and civilians, hedged in as the former were by every influence, positive and negative, tending to stupifaction of the thinking faculties. The gist of Hervé's teaching consisted of calling upon the workers to resist conscription and to be shot rather than join the army ! We had been told, as an instance of the success of Herve's propaganda, that the 71st Regiment of the line in France had mutinied when called on to fire upon the wine growers in the South, but the truth was this regiment was recruited from that very district, and it was this very fact of being called upon to fire at their own relatives—in some cases their own fathers and mothers—that caused the mutiny, and not the propaganda of Anti Militarism.

In answer to the question as to the attitude of elected representatives on public bodies, his reply was, no! they will not bolster up palliatives; they will be there to speak from the wider platform as revolutionary propagandists; essentially they can but continue the propaganda while in the minority

. ALLEN in his 20 minutes reply reiterated several of his former points. He said that Marx himself had declared (in his "Eighteenth Brumaire" ) that politicians would mar any movement. Suppose a majority of Socialists elected to the House. Would reactionary army officers etc. yield at the word of a majority ? No ! The means of production must be made ready for seizing by previous revolutionary work in the factories, etc. As far as education was concerned, contesting elections simply meant educating the worker in the divineness of capitalist "law and order" ; whereas


implies the contrary. The political movement is not a class movement, for capitalists and "intellectuals" may join, while the I.U. only admitting workers, was a class movement. In Warsaw during the late troubles, the workers struck and drove out the capitalists, who had to ask to be allowed to come back and take the works again. He again asked how the S.P.G.B. intended "seizing the political machinery" without the necessary force to seize it.

FITZGERALD in his 20 minutes reply pointed out that "revolutionary" speeches and actions born of more excitable temperaments, easily carried on waves of enthusiasm and as easily correspondingly depressed, did not constitute revolutionary tactics. The Confederation General du Travail (C.G.T.) had been referred to. Let it be clearly understood that that body was a loose conglomeration, controlled by a small body of Anarchists, who showed their individualistic proclivities with their accompanying thimble-rigging and wire-pulling, by insisting upon "one group, one vote," which means that a precious "group" of about six carried equal weight with a genuine association of a thousand. Truly, this showed the close relationship and connection of the I.U. with the avowed Anarchists.

The C.G.T. had cal1ed a "general strike" every May Day for the last three years, and the Industrialist said they were promised one this year. All of them had been miserable fiascos and the only "revolutionary" action that took place this year was the singing of "L'Internationale " by some men while marching


The whole tenor of C.G.T. thought is "leadership," and "leadership" had meant, and will mean, a shambles for the workers. Organisers charged to carry out intelligently the democratic will? Yes! The S.P.G.B. stands by that. "Leaders," in the sense of the bourgeoisie, of the I.L.P., of the S.D.P., looking meekly for direction and guidance to their middle-class tin gods ? A thousand times No !


for the "middle"-class "intellectual" on the make, if the movement was truly democratic and therefore clean. On the "Industrialist" basis Marx and Engels would have been kept out of the movement. Marx had been quoted to bolster up the "non-political" character of Industrialism. Let his opponent read that brilliant monograph and cease to drag the lustrous name of Marx in the mire. "Parliamentary idiotcy" was a disease attaching to the "pure and simple" politician. In the case of the coup-d'état of 1851, it refers more particularly to the action of the fatuous "Party of Order" in calling Napoleon the Little to "concentrate the whole executive power in his own person" (pp. 50-51). Reference by any fair-minded person to the Declaration of Principles of the S.P.G.B. would dispel any illusion to the effect that his Party could be charged with such "idiotcy," as it distinctly states that the workers must obtain control of the fighting forces. And then as to Warsaw. What a specimen of "revolutionary" education ! When the capitalists "asked " they were allowed to go back and recommence exploiting those who had turned them out!

ALLEN in his ten minutes round averred that the strong minority must lead the majority. History proved his contention. As for Parliamentary action, did not "Pride's Purge" demonstrate the uselessness of that ? Members were expelled ruthlessly by the soldiers. The Parliament did not control the militia, for when Charles went to Nottingham the majority of the trained bands followed him. As to the C.G.T., could it be denied that an organisation claiming to be out for the expropriation of the capitalist class was revolutionary ? The General Strike implied a revolutionary upheaval, animated by sheer unconstitutionalism, ignoring individual safety in looking for the salvation of the whole. It was minorities made all movements. They started the idea and dinned it into the heads of the others.

FITZGERALD, reviewing the whole situation in his last ten minutes, rammed home by apt quotation and scathing humour several points previously touched upon. The mention of "Pride's Purge " by Allen was peculiarly unfortunate. Above all things that event showed the enormous leverage which the seizure of political power gave. In the struggle between sections of the bourgeosie which "Pride's Purge" illustrated, the victory was to that section effectively controlling the army as part of the political machinery. The North v. South slave struggle of 1861 in America illustrated the same point. Temporary and brilliant successes of Southern generals were bound to be rendered nugatory in the long run by the political force wielded by the North. As for the trained bands going to Charles, according to Gardiner, when the first call was made by Parliament in London, 40,000 fully armed and 100,000 lesser armed men responded—a splendid start for the Parliament. A final word as to "agitation in the workshop," which is claimed to be so educationally efficient. Why ? In these days of speeding up, when is this propaganda to go forward? From a sheer common-sense point of view, surely, in his hours of leisure, however scant, the workman is more accessible to Socialist thought and teaching. At any rate the task-master won't be immediately present.

The General Strike and minorities being right—well, let us see again what Roller has to say. Judge for yourselves the discrepancy between Roller's picture and that drawn by Allen. "The immense advantage of the General Strike is that it begins


and without any danger to the workers, and for this reason thousands will take part who would never have thought of taking part in a revolution, but would have stayed at home behind the grate." What sort of "revolutionaries" are these ? Directly action in revolutionary lines was needed they would disappear and leave the others to be crushed. Is the " General Strike " the last word of "Industrial Leagism" ? It stands self condemned.

A few harmless humourosities from the chairman closed the proceedings. That some "Industrialists" went away sadder if not wiser men is the firm hope, not to say conviction, of