Socialism vs. Unionism ?
Source Henry C. K. Liu
Date 00/01/10/00:01

In politics, context is all.

The protracted war against historical capitalism has been waged on only one true front.
The aim of that front is focused on abolishing capitalism. That front has been known as
the struggle for socialism.
A second false front aims at adopting strategies of bargaining with
capitalists. This approach has led to the formation of labor unions,
known generally in history as unionism.

Unionism, over its long history, has evolved from guilds to trade unionism to industrial

The struggle for socialism aims at the extinction of the private employer.
Unionism aims at preserving the private employer with attractive profit in order that
collective bargaining may produce more benefits for workers.

The contradiction between the struggle for socialism and unionism is that the former is
progressive and the latter is regressive, if not
reactionary, in the historical process of human social organization.

The internal contradictions within this protracted war on capitalism are complex and
continually changing as the nature and structure of capitalism change over time.
The intellectuals of the movement behind socialism, represented by Marx, Engels, Blanc,
Lassalle, Lenin, Mao, and many others past and present, tend to focus on changing the
systemic structure of the economy in a time scale of historical epochs.
Unionists tend to focus on immediate gains in wages and benefits within the existing
Both foci are rational according to their separate perspectives. But
inevitably, these two foci are mutually neutralizing in its ultimate
purpose, despite apparent convergence of operational objectives.

After the failures of the Revolutions of 1848, socialist movements
diverged from unionist movements. Unionists drew comfort in the post-48 era of relative
fuller employment, rising wages and increasing prosperity for all classes in the
imperialist countries., while socialists adhered to the doctrine of revolution.
The rise of bourgeois liberalism in the 1850s sanitized all revolutionary zeal from
unionists through the repeal of the repressive anti labor Le Chapelier Act of 1791 in
France, and the Combination Act of 1799 in Britain, and by granting labor unions legal
The British unions received tacit recognition from the Liberal Tories in 1825, as a
tactic for repealing the Corn Law, and explicit recognition from Gladstones' Liberal
ministry in 1871.

French unions were recognized by Napoleon III during his "Liberal Empire" (1860-70), and
subsequently disbanded by the revolutionary Paris Commune in 1871, and finally legalized
fully in 1884, during the bourgeois Third Republic.

In Germany, Bismarck negotiated with labor leaders as a counter ploy to manage vested
conservative interests in his grand strategy of realpolitiks for a unified Germany as a
European power that eventually led to two world wars.

The prosperity of the 1850s favored the formation of unions. The trade unions organized
skilled workers, such as carpenters, as the first prototype. In 1851, the Amalgamated
Society of Engineers, machinists, was a new model of unionism with a non-political
agenda. It rejected the semi socialism of the Chartists and abandoned Robert Owen's
"one big union" for all workers, by concentrating on the advancement the exclusive
of each separate trade. The agenda aim at collaborating with employers, avoid strike
except as a threat of last resort, maximizing union funds and expanding monopolistic
representation by limiting new memberships.
English politics, reassured by the unexpected moderation of these new working class
representatives, gave the urban workers the right to vote in 1867.

Twenty years later, marked by the great London dock strike of 1889 which closed the port
of London for the first time since the French Revolution a century earlier, in which the
rank and file revolted against the union leaders, industrial unionism was born.
Industrial unionism brought together all workers in one industry, such as coal or
transportation, regardless of skills or job classification, into one unified union. The
leader of the powerful Transport and General Workers Union, Ernest Bevin, became the
representative of the trade union element in the Labour Party, served in Churchill's
coalition war cabinet as Labour Minister (1940-45) and subsequently as Labour Foreign
Minister (1945-51). As Foreign Secretary, Bevin followed a anti Soviet Cold War policy
that laid the foundation for NATO and formalized an alliance with rising US imperialism.

Trade unionism in Britain retarded British socialist politics. By the
1880s, when socialists were a political force in French, Belgian and
German parliaments, Britain only had half a dozen "Lib-Labs" labourites elected on the
Liberal ticket. While on the Continent, labor unions were controlled or brought into
existence by socialist political parties, British unions gave birth to and later led the
Labour Party which developed non socialist tradition than its Continental counterparts,
with regard to public ownership of the means of production, British Labour was busy
defending unions as respectable institutions of the establishment.
It was only when the very existence of unions was threatened by the
British courts' Taff Vale decision, which held unions financially
responsible for business losses incurred by employers during strikes, that the Labor
Party sent 29 members to Parliament to overturn the decision.
The Liberal Party, to retain the working class vote, put through a
spectacular program of social welfare, for which David Lloyd George was smeared with the
insulting label of "socialist" by his conservative

After the failures of 1848, socialism went into abeyance for two decades. Marx
published his "Das Kapital" in 1867 (first English trans. in 1887, 4 years after his
death, with Volume II and III, ed. by Engels 1884-94, Eng. trans 1907-9). The manuscript
for the fourth volume was edited by Karl Kautsky and published as Theroien uber den
Mehrwert (3 parts, 1905-10). The English translation of the 1st part , A History of
Economic Theroies, was not published until 1952! Selected translations were published
as Theories of Surplus Value in 1951.

Marx rejected utopian socialism and introduced scientific socialism.
Louis Blanc (1811-82), in his Organization du Trvail, published 1840, from which sprung
the famous "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs",
advocated workers cooperatives supported by the state, provided a link between utopian
and scientific socialism.
Breaking with the tradition of natural rights as a basis for reform, Marx invoked
"inevitable" laws of historical premises.
Through dialectic materialism, which presumes the primacy of economic determinants in
history, the premise of class struggle holds that a specific class can rule only as long
as it represents the productive forces of society, and from this historical process, a
classless society would eventually emerge.

Class struggle has nothing to do with promoting hatred between classes, as capitalist
propaganda fear mongering would have us believe.
Class struggle leads to the demise of capitalism out of a scientific
historical process by the nature of economic concepts such as the labor theory of value
and the idea of surplus value.
These concepts argue that the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labor
required for its manufacture. The value of the
commodities purchasable by the worker's wage is less than the value of the commodities
he produces, the difference, called surplus value, is the profit for the capitalist who
owns the capital.

As productivity improves through industrialization, the fruits of
production are kept from the workers who contribute most to its
production, through the exploitation of labor by capital via the
capitalistic structures in the economy. If and when these exploitative
features are removed, capitalism will be replaced by socialism as
feudalism had once been replaced by capitalism.

It is when the capitalist class employs armed resistance to this natural
development that makes revolution by the working class necessary.
Socialist revolutionaries seeks to destroy only the political structure
that seeks to foil the natural evolutionary dysfunction of capitalism.
Capitalism itself has already outlasted its socio-economic function in

During more than three decades in London, Marx had little contact with British labour
leaders. The International Workers Men Association, known as the First International,
Marx denounced the German Lassalleans for their collaboration with Bismarck, arguing
that socialist should seize the state rather than cooperating with a bourgeois one.
Marx also denounced Bakunin's anarchism, arguing that the state is a tool in class
struggle and that the immediate enemy was the capitalistic economic system and that the
withering away of the state can come only after a classless society has been

The collapse of the Paris Commune of 1871, suppressed with bloody ferocity by the French
bourgeoisie that resulted in the execution of 17,000 people, including women and
children, instead of drawing outrage from labor unionists, created a reactionary
backlash that dissipated the First International.

Marx praised the Paris Commune and introduced the concept of the
dictatorship of the proletariat as a defensive counter measure against
future reactionary barbarism.
Considering the high political stakes, the aftermath of the Tiananmen
incident in 1989 was pale by comparison to bourgeois brutality in France in 1871.

In 1875, at the Gotha conference, a coalition of Marxist and Lassalean socialists found
the German Social Democratic Party. It was followed by a Belgian Socialist Party, and a
French Partie socialiste, led by Jules Guesde(1845-1922), a Cummunard Marxist who
advocated a policy of no compromise with the existent regime, who serve as a deputy
(1893-1921) and in the cabinet during WWI. In 1883, two Russian exiles in Switzerland,
Plekhanov and Axelrod, founded the Russian Social Democratic Party, from which the the
Russia Communist Party was eventually derived.

These socialist parties constituted the Second International. They tended to flourish
in countries that were industrialized, that enjoyed universal suffrage and that were
without a strong system of unions.
Thus unionism was a preventive against even mild social democratic
programs, let alone socialist revolution.
In Britain, the Fabians, named after Roman general Fabius Cunctator, famed strategist
for gradual methods, who satirized their own alleged commitment to socialism by claiming
municipal ownership of waterworks as steps towards a socialist society, joined with the
unions to form the Labour Party.

The workers under these regimes, and their union officials, deluded
themselves in theory as being locked in an heroic and protracted struggle with
capitalism, but in practice they were merely aiming to get a little more for themselves
out of their employers' business in exchange for their docile complicity. They mouthed
internationalism of workers interests, but in practice they worked only for narrow
legislation for domestic workers. Above all they were fervent, chauvinistic supporters
of imperialism. This approach was condemned by Marx as opportunism.

Repeatedly the Second International warned its component parties against wholesale
collaboration with capitalism, identified as revisionism as led by Jean Jaures
(1859-1914) in France and Eduard Berstein (1850-1932) in Germany.

Even within the unionist movement, radical Syndicalism led by George Sorel (1847-1922),
through the use of the general strike, made headway only in Italy, Spain and France
where unionism were weak. Karl Kautsky (1954-1938) attacked the revisionists as
compromisers who betrayed Marxism for petty bourgeois ends and Lenin (1870-1924)
demanded that revisionists be expelled from the Russian Social Democratic Party at the
1903 congress in London.

In America, the early labor unions were guilds for skill craftsmen rather than factory
workers who had pitifully little bargaining power due to their easy replacability.
Labor solidarity, lacking a strong tradition due to the American heritage of
individualism and general disdain for socialist values, was impeded further by racial,
ethnic, linguistic and religious differences among workers, and by the prejudices
harbored by native-born American workers against blacks and new immigrants.

In 1865, William H. Sylvis organized the National Labor Union which claimed a membership
of 600,000 by 1868, but disbanded within 4 years due to external pressure and internal
dispute over the correctness of pushing for political reforms without sufficient sense
for realism.
A year later, in 1869, Uriah Stephens organized the Knights of Labor (KOL), with
agrarian idealism and Jacksonian individualism under the slogan: "Every man his own
master and employer". Membership was universal, excluding only lawyers, bankers,
stockbrokers, liquor dealers, and professional gamblers. It sought to achieve its goal
by organizing cooperatives and through legislation rather than conflict with the
employing class.
Despite being buoyant by a period of rising labor militancy, with a member up to 700,000
by 1886 under the leadership of Terence Powderly, the KOL floundered by failing to
support strikes, in preference for producer's cooperatives that eventually failed as a
result of mismanagement or business hostility.

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was organized in 1881 under the leadership of
Samuel Gompers, with salaried professional officials, strict discipline, regular dues
and strike funds and insurance. The Sherman Act was at times used by the court to issue
injunctions against strikes based on a "restraint of trade" argument. The Fourteenth
Amendment was used to declare labor laws unconstitutional until the 1935 Wagner Act
which legalized the right to collective bargaining.

Eugene Debs, the Railway Union leader, emerged from a 6-month prison term for contempt
of court, became the leader of the Socialist Party, but received little labor support
even for its mild program of peaceful and democratic methods.
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was formed in 1893 with one million members,
known as "Wobblies", organized by William D. Haywood, a mine workers leader. It offered
a radical program calling for the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalistic system.
It was crushed during the wave of anti radical hysteria following WWI.

The New Deal was a continuation of the Progressive Movement. Its main purpose was to
save capitalism by bringing about recovery. It sought through government public works
programs and deficit financing to stop the process of deflation and unemployment.
In 1935, a group of militant union leaders, including John L. Lewis of the United Mine
Workers, Sidlney Hillman of the amalgamated Clothing workers and Dvid Dubinsky of the
International Ladies Garment Workers, noting the failure of the AFL to respond to the
demand for industrial unionism, broke away and set up a Committee for industrial
Organization (CIO). Under the leadership of Lewis, CIO expanded rapidly and won notable
successes in steel and automobiles.
By 1940, total union membership reached 9 million, although still only 25% of the work
force, but unions was strongly entrenched in all basic industries.

The New Deal failed in its primary objective of full employment through revival of
production. There was no attempt to make structural changes in the ownership and control
of basic economic enterprises. In fact, American corporations were bigger and more
concentrated in 1940 than in 1929. It did provide an extensive social safety net
program and increased government responsibility in the regulation of commerce.

The forces of global labor abuse reside in the core and not the periphery of the global
economic system.
Globalization, as promoted by neo-liberalism through the ideology of
deregulation and free markets, effectively undercuts the bargaining power of unions in
advanced economies.
These unions misguidedly attack socialist governments in the emerging economies rather
than capitalist governments of advance economies which its regards as allies rather than

Industrial unionism was a appendix of industrial capitalism. In its
failure to response to the emergence of finance capitalism, it turns its
frustration on China and other low wage targets of neo-liberal
Attacking socialist repression of unionism is comparable to attacking
penicillin for it curative power against infection.

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