The IWW Reply to the Red Trade Union International

Executive Committee, R.I.L.U., Moscow, Russia.

Fellow Workers:

We are in receipt of a communication from Fellow Worker Krebe, in Berlin, Germany, with which was enclosed an "Appeal to the Rank and File of the I.W.W." This "appeal," which we have been requested to publish in our official organs, is signed by Lozovsky, on behalf of the Executive Committee of the R.I.L.U.

The reasons advanced why this statement ought to be given space in the official publications of the I.W.W. do not coincide with our knowledge of facts in connection with events and happenings relative to the intercourse between the I.W.W. and the R.I.L.U. If, as is alleged in the appeal, you desire to "state our views clearly and honestly," much that is only innuendo would be so "clearly and honestly" advanced and supported that sufficient evidence would be furnished, upon which the rank and file of the I.W.W. could base a clear and honest judgment.

We Want Proof, Not Assertions

The appeal to the rank and file of the I.W.W., to be really informative upon matters in controversy between Williams' report, as our delegate to the R.I.L.U. Congress, and you, cannot be covered clearly or satisfactorly by asserting, as you do, that "we have searched in vain for one correct statement in the report of Joe (George) Williams on the Red International of Labor Congress"; and "It is so full of lies that a complete reply to it would be useless." This latter statement seems to us to be significant of a peculiar state of mind, for, if a "complete reply to it would be useless," anything less than a complete reply is not only useless but extremely foolish as well. You offer the rank and file of the I.W.W. an alternative of selection between Williams' report and your statement, which, in the absence of full and complete knowledge, must be made entirely on faith. We, of the I.W.W., are much more thorough than you appear to regard us.

Then, again, when you undertake to disprove one statement by Williams, the result is not a happy one for your side of the contention. For instance, your "appeal" charges that "Williams asserts that we intend to force our theories and methods upon the American masses. Nothing of the kind." In this connection it is not out of place to quote from an article by Lozovsky, published in the International Communist No. 21, in which he states the R. I. L. D. position upon the relationship of the international to its national affiliations. Considering his position -- secretary of the R.I.L.U. -- and the medium through which his views are expressed, the International Communist, official organ of the R.I.L.U., it is logical to assume that this pronouncement is authoritative:

Real R.I.L.U. Intention

The Federalist International, of which these comrades (the French syndicalists) are dreaming, must not direct the sctivities of the individual organizations. It may only register whatevelo they may find to do. This dream reminds us of the past, for we have seen such internationals at work at the beginning of the war. The social revolution will not be advanced, even one step nearer to victory, if we put up one more letter box and paste upon it the label 'Federalist International.' The revolution will be successful, only when the International shall llecome a real, active force; when it shall unite all the growing movements of the masses, coordinate their actions; when it shall be able to set in motion the international movement; when the workers of one and the same calling shall be able to act simultaneously, in accord with one slogan. He who sets up a Federalist International, as opposed to such a real international, in fact rejects every kind of international, throws the labor movement back and closes his eyes to the real aims and problems of the labor movement.

We do not quote this to take issue with this conception of an international. We do so only to show that the policy of non-interference, as proclaimed in the appeal to the I.W.W. rank and file is not the real attitude of the R.I.L.U., as put forth by one of its foremost and most capable spokesmen, Lozovsky. Is it by accident or design that he assumes one attitude toward the European syndicalists and another, directly opposite, in the appeal to the I.W.W.? Why vote "Yes" in Europe and "No" in America upon the same proposition?

Our conception is also an international of action, proletarian action, and our concern is not allout coordination or national movements for international objectives, but about the domination of the proletarian (economic) forces by non-proletarian (political) ideology. Williams, in his report, points out the intention of the Communist politicians to dominate the economic movement. That Williams' report did not overstate is proven when, in the course of the same article which we have previously quoted from, we find Lozovsky saying, "But when they speak about independence from Communism our disagreement begins."

Unintentional Support of Williams

But, without quoting from Lozovsky's article in the International Communist, the "appeal," within itself, carries not one, but several propositions which support Williams' statement. With strange shortsightedness and incomprehensible inconsistency you corroborate the charge you would refute, or Lozovsky in his appeal does so in your name, by declaring":

(1) We only ask that the I.W.W. avoid the splitting of other organizations where they are well established, by starting a parallel organization of its own;
(2) that it confine itself to industries where it is already dominant, and
(3) that it cooperate with other revolutionary bodies towards the building of a united front against one of its most bloodthirsty opponents -- American Capitalism."

The Devil In Cowl and Cassock

With an assumption of frankness you are here imputing to us a purely destructive intention and purpose -­ the splitting of unions -- when you cannot help but be aware that our effects are constructive in aim and character. In these proposals, ingeniously intertwined, you submit to us the liquidation of the I.W.W. by asking it to forego every principle upon which it is founded and every policy to which its experience has taught it to commit itself.

Again, you assert that:

(4) "If the I.W.W. is to be a real factor in the Labor Movement, it must change its attitude towards other Labor Unions."

This is equivalent to saying that the I.W.W. must cease to be the I.W.W.

Evidently you have been misinformed about the I.W.W's "attitude" toward other organized workers, which is winning for it the respect of the rank and file of American Labor.

For your enlightenment we are enclosing clippings from our official English­ language paper, Industrial Solidarity, on

(A) The recent miners' strike
(B) and The I.W.W. in the R. R. and Other Strikes

We are likewise enclosing

(C) A circular letter addressed by the Agricultural Workers' Union No. 110 of the I.W.W. to the striking railroad shopmen; and a copy of the resolution adopted by the Spring Conference of the A.W.I.U. No. 110, held in Omaha, Neb., May 1, 1922, which makes provision for preferential treatment for striking coal miners in the grain harvest.

Budding Dictatorship.

If there is no truth in Williams' report, and if the R.I.L.U., as it professes, has no intention to dominate the I.W.W., why command that

(5) "it (the I.W.W.) must agree upon uniting with the Lumber Workers' Union of Canada"?

Frankly this mandatory suggestion savors of American rather than Russian origin; it sounds more like Fosterian propaganda than an unbiased and uninfluenced statement by an international body, which "understand(s) that methods and measures are determined by social and economic circumstances obtaining in each separate country"; and which has no ambition to dominate the affairs of workers in America -- "Nothing of the kind."

Would it be regarded as impertinent to inquire, whether the repudiation of Cascadden by the Canadian O. B. U. Lumber Workers; the affiliation of what remains of that body with the R.I.L.U. and its known inclination toward the Fosterian policy had any influence in the issuance of this ultimatum to the I.W.W.?

Still further along you admonish the I.W.W. with an imperative "must" that

(6) "you (the I.W.W.) must come in contact with other independent unions, and the various revolutionary minorities in the American­ Federation of Labor."

Why Whip Only One Horse?

Why not advise these independent labor unions and militant minorities in the A. F. of L., if they are amenable to suasion by the R.I.L.U., to come in contact with the I.W.W.?

As a statement of fact, and for your information, the contacts of the I.W.W. within the old, yellow unions of the craft system are far more numerous than you are aware, and much more effective than you have been permitted to learn. The militant minorities in the A. F. of L. consist, to a greater degree than is generally believed, of capable and active I.W.W. members. They are not so concerned about advertising as they are about results.

The Political "Negro In the Wood­pile"

When you offer such advice to the I.W.W. membership as is diplomatically and very adroitly given, where you say,

(7) "this is why we, too, want a united political and economical front with the workers' political party, the Workers' Party of America,"

you certainly and effectively disprove Williams' assertion that you "leave nothing to imagination," for, in this instance, everything is left to imagination. Even outside of the I.W.W., where American workers take political action with some seriousness, the "workers'" party is not known sufficiently well to be mentioned without explanation; and in those circles where people are aware of its existence it is regarded more or less as political light comedy -- the Holy Rollers of American "labor politics."

Moreover, upon the question of political action, and affiliation with political parties, or with anti-political bodies, the I.W.W. is definitely and unequivocally recorded as refusing alliance with one or the other. So important has this matter been deemed, that the resolution which committed the I.W.W. to this decision is inscribed in the written Constitution and By-Laws of the organization as a continual reminder to the membership. You will find it on page 59 of that document, which reads as follows:

Political Parties and Discipline: Whereas, The primary object of the Industrial Workers of the World is to unite the workers on the industrial battlefield; and

Whereas, Organization in any sense implies discipline through the subordination of parts to the whole, and of the individual member to the body of which he is a part; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That to the end of promoting industrial unity and of securing necessary discipline within the organization, the I.W.W. refuses all alliances, direct and indirect, with existing political parties or anti-political sects, and disclaims responsibility for any individual opinion or act which may he at variance with the purposes here­in expressed.

Political action, to which the I.W.W. originally was committed, as one function of a working class union, was disposed of in the Fourth Annual Convention (1908) ,when it was decided to confine the activities of the organization to economic functions -- put it upon a strictly proletarian basis.

Since that time it has found its most unscrupulous slanderers and relentless enemies in the socialist parties, and amongst the socialist politicians.

Why Not Consult "Bill" Haywood?

William D. Haywood is in a position to inform you about the virulence and vindictiveness with which the Socialist and Socialist Labor parties pursued the I.W.W. as an organization, and its members as revolutionists and workmates. He will recount for your information the tactics and propaganda which culminated in the adoption of Article 2, Section 6, of the Socialist Party Constitution, that expelled him and the entire industrial socialist element from the party.

A cardinal tenet of I.W.W. policy is that politics be kept entirely out of the deliberations of the unions, and out of the columns of the official publications as well. This provision, of itself, would prevent our publishing your appeal, if there were no other reasons. But there are other reasons.

The circular which you request us to publish bears all the earmarks of a joint production by the Workers' Party and Trade Union Educational League, written in New York or Chicago, and mailed to the I.W.W. via Moscow and Berlin. The arguments and charges are those to which we have grown accustomed -- without deviation, diminution or addition.

Official Responsibility

As officials of the I.W.W., we would, indeed, be blind to the interests of the membership, and careless about our own responsibilities, if we were to assist the "borers from within" to "liquidate the I.W.W.", or permit them to create dissension in its ranks, and thus to distract it from the task upon which it is making gratifying headway.

Permit us to express the opinion of your request (to publish this appeal) that it is, outside of every other consideration, not only presumptuous, but inconsistent, coming, as it does, from Russia, where the government exercises its power to prevent open and free discussion, by those whom it regards as counter-revolutionists, as right, and requisite to the dictatorship. Why should the I.W.W., any more than the government of Russia, be expected to open its columns for the propagation of ideas that would imperil it, or impair its usefulness as an instrument of the revolutionary proletariat? Might we inquire, as seems to us pertinent, why you did not elect to use the organs of that party -- the Workers' Party, through which you expect "to rebuke President Harding" -- to carry your message to the rank and file of the I.W.W., and other American workers?

Haywood, and others now in Russia, will inform you that not even the prestige of the R.I.L.U. would suffice to excuse us for opening up the columns of our publications to Foster's boring and the W. P's. political propaganda. This attempt to furnish Foster's auger with a Russian handle will deceive no one in the I.W.W.

Face The Facts

The differences of opinion among the American schools of Labor thought are the logical fruit of American industrial development. Social, racial, and various other factors, as well as industrial influences, have played a part in shaping these opinions. These differences should not be regretted, though we are all prone to be dissatisfied with and about them. We may as well face the fact that they are deep-rooted and stubborn. They cannot be wished away, -- they must be fought out. They involve principles of philosophy, methods and strategy, and the merits and demerits of the various schools will only be proven by economic tests. But for us to deprive ourselves of the advantage that organization confers, and this is, in effect, what your communication suggests, would be to render ourselves helpless, and, as we see it, to betray the working class of the United States and the world.

We Are Open To Reason

It is not impossible to convince the I.W.W., if it can be proven, that its position is unsound economically, philosophically, tactically or otherwise. We are wide open for constructive criticism, helpful suggestions and education, but we cannot regard the repetition of old, worn out and refuted fallacies as having educational value.

As labor organizations go, the I. W, W. has survived over a longer-than-­usual period and has won for itself a definite place in the labor movement of America. It would seem to have passed, or at least to be approaching the end of its experimental period. It is getting itself accepted. A fact that is being demonstrated to the regret of its enemies and the discomfiture of those who have slandered it and are, even now, vilifying and misrepresenting it at home and abroad.

There is not in the history of labor organizations another union that has encountered and withstood a tithe of the persecution that has been visited upon the I.W.W. Its dead are numbered by hundreds -- fallen in the front rank of the class war fighting; its ranks are generously sprinkled with maimed and bruised and battered victims of the class struggle; it has met every challenge of the American ruling class and given of its best that the spirit of labor be kept alive; it has aggressively defended established rights of the workers and is leading in the fight to conquer new rights for them. The jails have overflowed with its membership -- undaunted victims of the class war. Its ringing challenge to American capitalist property has sent the sluggish blood of thousands of American workers coursing through their veins and fired them with the aspiration to be free men and women. At such times it has succeeded in riveting the attention of millions upon industrial conditions that victimize the manhood, womanhood, and childhood that labor in the mills and factories of this country.

Do Not Know The I.W.W.

Yet, you intimate that the I.W.W. exists in vain, and "unless it changes its attitude to other labor unions" that it will cease to be a factor in the labor movement. How little, after all, you know about the I.W.W. You predict a blank future for it unless, forsooth; it consents to be guided by your council.

For seventeen years its demise has been predicted annually, and at shorter intervals; and its obituary is written and ready in the "morgues" of every reactionary sheet in the United States, including those who speak in the name of a communism to which they are strangers. But, like the report of Mark Twain's death, these predictions have always proved to be "greatly exaggerated" -- and premature. The I.W.W. has persistently refused to die and establish reputations for the dilettante labor generals who have the progress of the revolution mapped and charted, and who alone are "competent" to lead the proletariat to victory. They are especially endowed and (self) selected to thrust salvation upon the working class. They will tell you that themselves. We have listened to them for, lo, these many years. However, we seem to have an inherent preference for organizing and depending upon ourselves. The I.W.W., for seventeen bitter and bloody years, has struggled to teach organization to us. It has made mistakes, and it has learned from its mistakes. Perhaps it is still making mistakes, but it can be depended upon to remedy them. If not today, then tomorrow, or when experience qualifies it.

Two Questions

Now, fellow workers, we ask these questions in all seriousness: Do you believe that the R.I.L.U. has so great an experience, more particularly an American experience, as has the I.W.W.? Do you consider yourselves better qualified to deal with, or less liable to be fallible in your judgment about American labor affairs than the I.W.W.?

You see the American labor movement from afar off, and you base your opinions about the I. W. W's. part in it from information furnished by observers. whose partisanship disqualifies them for reporting impartially. Upon such information, and superinduced perhaps by resentment over Williams' report, you justify your "appeal to the rank and file of the I.W.W."

We do not question your sincerity at all. However, we are satisfied that this appeal, based upon misinformation, would not serve the end at which you aim; nor would it be of assistance in mollifying the antagonism that exists between the element whose doctrine it carries, and the I.W.W.

General Defense Committee, An Achievement

Your reference to the sphere and activities of the General Defense Committee as "political" can only be founded upon a conception that anything which is intended to influence opinion about a governmental act is political in character. Our conception of the G.D.C. and its work is that both are devoted to publicity and propaganda, in an effort to surround the I.W.W. and its membership with such protection as a general opinion will provide.

Through the G.D.C., the membership of many labor organizations outside of the I.W.W., has been aroused to the danger of a growing evil which selects militant and talented labor personalities for its victims. Besides arousing the working people, this agency has been instrumental in enlisting liberals of all kinds, even including church organizations. It is thus functioning to bring to new and hitherto hostile or indifferent elements a knowledge of the I.W.W., its membership, program and methods; and interest in the problem of the workers is thus created. With whether this committee and its work, or the results of that work are designated political, or otherwise, we are not in the least concerned. To us the General Defense Committee is an extra-functioning body, designed for a particular work and operating in a sphere -- outside of the work places -- where the I.W.W., by its very nature, is not qualified to function.

To others than those who are hostile to the I.W.W. the General Defense Committee is an achievement, typical of the resourcefulness of this organization. It is not evidence of wrong principle, but of a weak condition. Its function is not politics, but publicity as one means of defense.

Of those portions of the "appeal" which dealt with the officials and the press, you will appreciate that these are matters to be dealt with by the general convention, which is scheduled to convene in Chicago, November 13, 1922. Until then, we, very naturally, shall refrain from commenting upon the things you avow and intimate about us and the papers.

There is evident, in your comment upon European syndicalism, a failure to appreciate that the I.W.W. is not a syndicalist organization. It is an economic working-class organization, in which the unit is the industrial union; and in which jurisdiction is industrially determined instead of territorially. It teaches that the power of the working class lies in its ability to control its labor power. This, in turn, depends upon such an organization as the I.W.W. proposes to the workers, and is teaching and assisting them to build up. It places reliance upon ec­onomic action and waits only upon opportunity to demonstrate the correctness of its contention. It is an economically militant organization, which acts upon the theory that the workers learn to fight by fighting. It places no reliance upon political action, nor does it teach reliance upon physical force. It organizes the wage-earners as workers -- the social element upon which, and whose productive efforts, society depends.

Why I.W.W. Is Not Political

The I.W.W. believes that the time devoted to politics is misspent, and that the energy so expended is misdirected and wasted. We believe that the class character of the state will not permit that institution to aid the proletariat in its class struggle. Therefore, we teach the workers that what they really require is not to influence the state favorably toward them, but to put themselves in such position, through an economic class organization, that they will be enabled to pro­tect themselves against the hostility of the capitalist state.

The I.W.W. is cognizant of the fact that it is trying to destroy a social relationship, and that the accomplishment of this aim will involve strikes and demand agitational, edu­cational and organizing efforts with all that this implies in a capitalist state, jealous of its power and fearful of economic action by the workers. We are not unaware, as you seem to infer, that as the organization grows, and the workers -- impelled by a growing consciousness of power -- become more and more assertive that clashes will occur between the workers and the forces of the state. Our perspective shows us that such conflicts are inevitable, and we are satisfied that our economic preparation will enable us to deal with these phenomena when we are confronted with them. These probable occurrences are not outside our calculations, we assure you.

The capitalist class relies upon the state as its agency and instrument for holding the workers in subjection, and to preserve its rights to exploit their labor-power. The workers must provide themselves with an instrument more powerful than the repressive forces of the state -- an organization for the control of their labor-power. The workers must make use of the every day struggle to provide the material out, of which this agency is to be fashioned. Progress is naturally slow and tedious, as is the evolutionary process. As the idea of industrial unionism takes root and is nourished by the workings of the capitalist system existing nuclei in the industries develop, gradually, but surely and significantly.

Keeping Abreast Of The Revolution

To us the revolution is primarily a process rather than an event. With capitalist development driving the workers every day in a revolutionary direction, and at an ever-increasing pace, our concern is to take step with the revolution and keep abreast of it. The final act of the revolution, to us, means the birth of a new society. With this viewpoint, our conception of the labor movement is necessarily monistic. To us the workers are producers; and industry is the social function in which the labor-power of the workers is expended. It is in this capacity that the workers are aggrieved, and it is in this capacity that they are qualified to exert the maximum of social influence -- as economic factors. Moreover, as this recognition spreads among the workers the industrial unions will become the expression of it -- the workers will construct the organism of the new society within the shell of the old society. We design to organize the consciousness of the workers, as capitalism has arranged them in the industries and, being thus enabled to control their labor-power, the workers will be irresistible, and competent to carry on the social functions.

I.W.W. Born Of American Labor Experience

This theory, of which the I.W.W. is the only tangible expression in the world, is being accepted by ever-in­creasing numbers of the consciously revolutionary workers in the American proletariat. The I.W.W., by its tactics, is consciously constructing the revolutionary organism which will overthrow and replace the capitalist system. Such an idea has nothing in common with political socialism or communism. Neither has it anything in common with syndicalism, as we understand the term. The ultimate objective -- a society free from the wage slavery -- we do share with both of them. Upon the means and methods by which it is to be achieved we are at variance.

The I.W.W. is not a "freak" organization. It is the natural outgrowth of American labor experience with politics, and with the defeatist maneuvering of labor politicians.

The "Black International," of the Eighties, which bore some resemblance to syndicalism, is another influence that directed American workers in the development of a purely economic organization like the I.W.W.

Political labor movements, in America anyhow, can only take root in the labor unions, where they find the machinery ready to hand with which to reach large masses of the people. Union funds are made available for political purposes and the organizing and publicity factors are converted to political functions. Politicians in this country have invariably used the union movement as a stepping stone to influence and power for themselves. It is in the nature of politics that this should be so.

The history of American unionism testifies to the destructive influence of labor politics and labor politicians. Experience has proven that, when politics moves into a union, economic effectiveness moves out, and hope for the workers moves out with it.

The political inclination of European labor we believe to be responsible for the unreadiness of your continental movements to rally to the support of the Russian revolution. Without such support the Russian workers were condemned to realize less than they set out to achieve. From the American labor movement, under reactionary leadership and influences, nothing less than the antagonism which was experienced was to be expected.

Revolutionary Russia has always had a sincere friend in the I.W.W. Unfortunately, those who speak in America for Russia are listed among the most pronounced enemies of the I.W.W. When, with a shortsightedness unworthy an international labor body, and apparently responding to influences hostile to this organization, the R.I.L.U. discriminated against the I.W.W. in the matter of representation at the Moscow congress, a breach was opened out of which has grown an antagonism which the I.W.W. can but regret, and for which responsibilities lies with the R.I.L.U.

Opening The Breach

The delegate from the I.W.W. to the congress represented a real tangible membership, while others seated as American delegates represented nothing but undetermined and undeterminable minorities ideals and hopes, rather than the qualifications generally demanded of delegates to such assemblies.

You will pardon us for remarking that your credentials committee made a bad and a sad mess of things and, in the acceptance of its report -- in that portion covering American representation -- the congress condoned its offense and aligned the R.I.L.U. with the enemies of the I.W.W.

The mistaken policy adopted by your body, dictated no doubt by a misconception derived from misrepresentative and deceitful declarations, we can only regard as your responsibility.

Using R.I.L.U. As Bait

When you, now again, permit yourselves to be used by those who are much more interested in destroying the I.W.W. than they are in overthrowing capitalism we must refuse to aid them by refusing to allow you to use us. We do not believe that you, of the R.I.L.U., conceived this disruptive scheme. We are satisfied that your eagerness to serve labor is being exploited, and your credulity has been imposed upon. You are once again being deceived.

Even before we received your communication we had been informed of its existence by some of our "contacts" in "the militant minorities," and of the use that it was proposed to make of it in this country.

I.W.W. Essentially International

The importance of international connection is well understood. and fully appreciated by the I.W.W. No one who reads its preamble and literature can doubt that the I.W.W. realizes that necessity more than any other existing labor organization. The I.W.W. is an international rather than a national movement. It has often been referred to as "the first real international of the proletariat." Industrial Workers of the World -­ not of the United States, or America.

We have faith in the ultimate realization for a world-wide united front of the proletariat, for which we have worked, and shall continue to. work without ceasing.

Your invitation to the I.W.W. to be represented at the Second Congress will be referred to the Convention.

We remain,
Yours for Industrial Solidarity of the workers of the world, General Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Arthur Boose, H. G. Clarke, J.Johnson, Joe Miller, T. C. Smith, Norman Weir, and E. W. Latchem, Chair


Aug 20 2011 03:03

The date of this document is apparently November 15 1922 (see although it mentions the general convention which started November 13 1922 as an event in the future.

The Argentine FORA also received an invitation from the Profintern around the same time. Its reply was more sharply worded than the IWW’s, at least according to excerpts published in Vadim Damier’s The Forgotten International (Vol. 1, pp. 162-163). Damier refers to a document from the Russian archive RGASPI and I don’t know if this has been published elsewhere.

Lozovsky’s 1924 classic Anarcho-syndicalism and Communism was recently re-issued in Russia.