Reed, John. “The I. W. W. and Bolshevism.” The New York Communist, May 31, 1919, p 3-4.

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The I. W. W. and Bolshevism

By John Reed

THE May number of One Big Union, the I. W. W. monthly magazine, contains a number of surprising statements about Bolshevism, and the Bolsheviki, which show a complete misconception of the revolutionary Socialism and of what has happened in Russia.

For example, this:

They (the Bolsheviks), captured the Government by force and put Bolsheviks into office in place of the officials of the old regime. The typical Bolshevik revolution is political revolution by force. The exterior changes they make in the Government may be ever so conspicuous, but still they are not fundamental These changes all fall within the outlines of the institution we call ‘the state.’”

This is just what Bolshevik revolutions do not do—they do not merely “put Bolsheviks into office in place of the officials of the old regime.” Their chief peculiarity [sic]—the essence of Bolshevism-lies in the fact that they hold, with Marx, that “the proletariat cannot lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and use it for its own purposes” They must destroy the capitalist state, and in order to eradicate it permanently—to destroy its roots —they must set up temporarily a Proletarian Dictatorship, to clear the path for the Industrial Commonwealth which is the aim of the I. W. W. The nature of the new “state” is entirely different from the old one. Its purpose is to abolish the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. How then can anyone say that the “changes” are not “fundamental?” Does not the I. W. W. hold that the capitalist state is merely the instrument by which the capitalist ownership of property is perpetuated and strengthened? Is not the proletarian conquest and destruction of the state a “fundamental change?”

It appears that the I. W. W. is still enamored of the idea that it can organize the workers 100% under capitalism. Apparently the Fellow Workers believe, in spite of what is happening to them now, that they can build up their “new society within the shell of the old” in the teeth of a hostile government. Can’t they yet see that by some means the capitalist State must be destroyed, to make way for the building up of their new society?

Marxian Socialism demonstrates that the state—i. e. the institutions and class distinctions of society —are dictated by economic conditions; in other words, the capitalist state is the expression of the property relations of modern society. In order to alter these property relations, some power of the workers must be set up. When private property is abolished, the new economic conditions will give birth to the new social order, and the state will automatically cease to exist.

An illustration of this is to be seen in the new form of strikes—Seattle, Butte, Winnipeg—where the workers in control of industry find themselves threatened by the capitalist state, and are themselves compelled to set up their own rudimentary government, which undertakes policing, feeding, etc. This is Proletarian Dictatorship in embryo.

But the writer in One Big Union seems to believe that the Bolsheviki intend that the Proletarian Dictatorship shall endure indefinitely. This, in the face of constant reiteration of Lenin and other Bolshevik spokesmen, that as soon as capitalism is destroyed the Proletarian Dictatorship also vanishes, and gives way to’ the Industrial Order! How, in this

day, after all the lessons of the Russian Revolution, can anyone be so ignorant as to talk this Anarcho-Menshevik twaddle!

Again we quote:

The Bolshevik revolution is the culmination of political socialism. The program of political socialism is a very general one. It is “the abolition of classes,” “the abolition of capitalism,” “the socialization of the means of production,” “the establishment of a socialist republic,” etc., expressions which we ourselves use. But the program of the political socialists is not well worked out on these most important points. They have left the details to chance at the last moment. As a consequence they find themselves without the proper industrial organs for taking over production, at the moment when they have captured political power. The Russians made a hasty experiment with soviets, but as late news inform us, these organs were unequal to the task of taking over production and distribution. The scheme is falling apart, and as a result Russia is partly returning to private ownership and control, partly turning over the work to the co-operative movement, partly resorting to direct government control, only a small part of production and distribution apparently being in control of the workers direct through their industrial organization, as we would have it. In short, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia has not resulted in Industrial Democracy, but in a makeshift or temporary arrangement without stability, without any pretense of a final solution. The limitations of political socialism have become plainly discernible. There are various other movements in Russia, each with their economic programs, but none of them would, as far as we can see, result in Industrial Democracy. With the experience of Bolshevism in Russia, we can again upon a basis of tangible facts reiterate our standpoint which we have so persistently repeated in years gone by, namely, that economic reconstruction of society cannot be accomplished by a government trying to order things with a high hand through laws and regulations, but has to be an organic growth from the bottom, through the industrial organization of the workers at the place of work. Russia will yet have to tackle the immense task of organizing the workers industrially, in order to obtain the necessary organs for taking over production… .”

Had the political Socialists not been so persistent in ignoring industrial organization, had they not insisted on monopolizing the thought of the workers for their parliamentary schemes, the workers of their countries would now be in such a terrible plight; they would not now be standing helpless, but would be able to carry on production without interruption.”

Let us admit at the outset that there is a gust deal of truth in the general accusation. It is valid to say that the Socialists generally have paid only too little attention to organizing on the industrial field, so that the workers can take over production. We will admit that we American Socialists have a great deal to learn from the I. W. W.; but the Russian Bolsheviki have not.

The writer says, “The Russians made a hasty experiment with Soviets… ” He apparently thinks that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies were organs created to take over production. After a year of almost incessant explanation about the Soviets and their functions, this Fellow Worker seems not to know that the Soviets are political organ., and have nothing to do with the management of production, which is left to the Councils of Workers’ Control, based upon the Industrial Unions (of which five at least have adopted the I. W. W. preamble intact) and upon the Factory Shop Committees—Sydicalist organizations springing from the rank and file of the workers.

Already within the shell of the Soviet Government is being created (with the help and encouragement of the Government itself) the new Industrial Society. This consists of the Unions, the Councils of Workers’ Control, the Peasants’ Agricultural Committees, and is united in one central body, the Supreme Council of People’s Economy—the frame-work of the pure Industrial Commonwealth, toward which, as Lenin points out, the Russian Revolution is irresistibly moving.

The writer points out that the organs of the Soviet Government “as late news inform us… were unequal to the task of taking over production and distribution.” In the first place, where does the Fellow-worker get his “late news”? From the capitalist press? And in the second place, does he really imagine that Russian industry is backward because the Russian workers were unequal to the task of taking over production? Russian industry, he should know, was wrecked by the War—by the Tsarist and the Kerensky Governments; it was a bankrupt industry which the Bolsheviki took over. And since that time does he not understand that there has been war—both civil and foreign war—a desperate war of defense by a people starving and exhausted? Read the report recently published in THE COMMUNIST, entitled, “The Productivity of Russian Labor”, by the Acting Commissar of Labor, and then say that the Russian workers’ organizations were unfit to manage industry—with most of their fuel cut off, with most of their raw materials lacking, with decrepit machinery unrenewed for more than three years! And by the way, after years of propaganda in a politically democratic country, how large a section of the American working class has the I. W .W. organized?

The Fellow-Worker blames the Bolsheviki for not having built up the workers’ economic organizations properly years before. Does he not know that all Unions were illegal under the Tsar, that propaganda and organization in Russia up to 1917 were punished most cruelly, that the workers were deliberately kept in the blackest ignorance? How could the Bolsheviki build up labor organizations before the Revolution?

But when the Revolution finally broke, it was the Bolsheviki who encouraged and forced Labor organizations. It was the Bolsheviki who introduced a carefully worked-out plan of Industrial Unionism into Russia, which, within three months, had more than two million dues-paying members—many more than the I. W. W.—and today has twelve million. However, when the Syndicalistist Factory Shop Committees turned out to be the best form of revolutionary labor organization for the taking over of production, the Bolsheviki welcomed the Syndicalist form of organization. Bill Shatov was one of the leading builders of the Factory Shop Committee form of organization (although he was not, as one writer in One Big Union has it, the originator of Workers’ Control).

We agree with the Fellow-Worker that Syndicalism has supplied the missing link in the problem of labor organization for the mass action of the united working class. But we want to call his attention to the fact that the Syndicalists of Russia—and among them Shatov, Nelson and other former I. W. W. members in this country—are cooperating with the Bolsheviki, and have accepted the principle of Proletarian Dictatorship as the necessary characteristic of the transition-period between Capitalism and the Industrial Commonwealth. We want to point out that the Syndicalists of Europe have been profoundly influenced by the Russian Revolution, and that in Italy, for example. they are working hand in hand with the revolutionary Socialists.

If these articles in One Big Union are the real expression of the thought of the I. W. W. upon Bolshevism, then the I. W. W. has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. It cannot see any difference between the Bolsheviki and the Scheidemann Socialists. It will not face the fact that the period of Social Revolution has come, and that the collapse of Capitalism will not wait until the working class is entirely organised according to the I. W. W. chart.

The final gem of the collection is this:

Economic reconstruction of society cannot be accomplished by a government trying to order things with high hand through laws and regulations, but has to be an organic growth from the bottom, through the industrial organization of the workers at the place of work.”

If the Fellow-Worker by this time has not discovered the essential characteristic of the RussianRevolution—its economic as well as its political side—namely, that it is “an organic growth from the bottom”, then we don’t know what to do with him. While the Fellow-worker is criticising the Proletarian Revolution in full swing, from the lofty point of view of an organization professedly not ready for revolution, Russia is tackling “the immense tank of organizing the workers Industrially, in order to obtain the necessary organs for taking over production.” In Russia the workers are taking over production, and there is no return to the capitalist system of ownership and control, however much of a halt may be necessary in the process.

We of the Left Wing have learned our lessons from the War and the European Revolutions. We humbly admit our mistakes, and the fallacies inherent in political Socialism. We turn with more and more intense interest toward the industrial field, where the I. W. W. has gained priceless experience in a dramatic labor struggle lasting more than a decade. We are reaching toward you, Fellow-Workers.

But we demand that you, too, shall learn your lessons from events, and cease to repeat formulas which date back to the old world—before the War.

Created by Patrick Golden .
Last edited by Patrick Golden .