The IWW, the state, and international affiliations

RILU, IWW, IWA

A brief article exploring the relationship between state-centered politics and the IWW's considerations in international relations.

“As for the author of “Solidarity Forever”, he is not at all unhappy to have been associated with the very first indigenous anti-statist, anti-totalitarian labor organization that Moscow saw fit to liquidate – and for good and sufficient reasons.” - Ralph Chaplin

In my last article on the IWW, I looked at the union around the time of its founding. I focused in particular on Thomas Hagerty, who wrote the first draft of the IWW Preamble, and Hagerty’s rejection of the state and electoral politics. In this article I look at how the IWW related to two international bodies of unions, the anarchist International Workers Association, and the statist Profintern, which was affiliated with the Soviet Union. In my view, the IWW today should have a discussion clarifying our orientation toward the state and our analysis of the role of state in capitalist society. I believe these historical examples can enrich that discussion.

In the 1920s and 30s, the IWW came into conflict with the Communist Party which emerged as a proponent of an electoral approach to bringing about a workers’ government. While the Communists accepted the importance of industrial unionism, they also believed in the Leninist concept of a revolutionary “vanguard party.” The IWW, committed as it was to democracy proceeding from the bottom up, was out of step with the Communist notion of democratic centralism. Furthermore, the IWW believed in a very different vision of how to create working class revolution. Over the years, the IWW has continued to oppose support for electoral political action and distanced itself from state-centered political solutions as a whole, continuing to stress action at the point of production.

During the 1920s the IWW was asked to join the Red International of Trade Unions, more commonly known as the Profintern. The Profintern was set up by the Third International Communist Parties under the leadership of the Bolsheviks in Russia. The IWW’s response to this request is telling about the organization’s commitment to smashing the State. In the IWW’s response to the Profintern there is a section titled Why IWW Is Not Political. A few quotes should make the IWW’s position on the State at that time clear:

“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 IWW is cognizant of the fact that it is trying to destroy a social relationship.”

“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.”

I could imagine people with a state-oriented perspective saying “what about a “workers’ state”? These quotes don’t reject a “workers’ state!” Maybe. But it seems more likely that these quotes reject the state all together, than that they imply friendliness toward some (supposedly) worker-run state. In any case, it is clear from these quotes that the IWW was for an economic organization of the working class more powerful than the repressive forces of the State, an organization that would be capable of wiping away the old social relationships under capitalism.

After rejecting the Profintern, the IWW went on to flirt with adhering to the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers’ Association (IWA). In The IWW Its First 100 Years by Fred Thomson and Jon Bekken, we learn that in 1934 a referendum carried to affiliate with the IWA. This affiliation was never officially implemented and was later rebuked by the organization because of conditions of affiliation being placed on religious beliefs.

Some IWWs have had critiques of those in the IWA. For example, in 1937, A. Shapiro a member of the IWW wrote for the One Big Union Monthly a critique of the famous Spanish IWA section the CNT’s class collaboration and entry into the government and statist turn. He accused the CNT of “entering the Council of Ministry (government); with it you act merely as a political party desirous of participation in an existing government; setting forth your conditions of participation, and these conditions are so bureaucratic in character that they are far from weakening in the least the bourgeois capitalist regime, on the contrary they are tending to strengthen capitalism and stabilize it.”

Despite these criticisms and the failure to follow through on affiliation, the IWW has had and continues to have friendly relations with the IWA to this day. If we look at the basic politics of the IWA from its Statutes on Revolutionary Unionism it is plain to see why the IWW was and still is close to such an organization. The IWA is against all forms of state-centered politics, including those currents which seek to propagate the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat. Instead the IWA sees the goal of the revolutionary union movement much like that of the Preamble, where the workers must:

“…prepare themselves in their economic organizations to take possession of the land and the factories and enable themselves to administer them jointly, in such a way that they will be able to continue production and social life.”

Posted By

klas batalo
Jan 8 2014 19:47

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  • the IWW was for an economic organization of the working class more powerful than the repressive forces of the State, an organization that would be capable of wiping away the old social relationships under capitalism.

    Klas Batalo

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syndicalist
Jan 8 2014 21:03
Quote:
"Some IWWs have had critiques of those in the IWA. For example, in 1937, A. Shapiro a member of the IWW wrote for the One Big Union Monthly a critique of the famous Spanish IWA section the CNT’s class collaboration and entry into the government..."

I believe this was a non-IWW member, Alexander Schapiro, formally of the IWMA (IWA) Secretariat.

OliverTwister
Jan 8 2014 21:07
Quote:
In The IWW Its First 100 Years by Fred Thomson and Jon Bekken, we learn that in 1934 a referendum carried to affiliate with the IWA. This affiliation was never officially implemented and was later rebuked by the organization because of conditions of affiliation being placed on religious beliefs.

What conditions of affiliation does the IWA place on religious beliefs?

When did "the organization" (as opposed to Fred Thompson and the GEB) rebuke this affiliation on those grounds?

Who is this piece written for?

syndicalist
Jan 8 2014 21:55

Some of this we have gone over a bazillion times on Libcom...I can find all of the stuff which I copied and pasted on some of the stuff OT asks above, however, I did find this. I highlighted the question on religion.

Quote:
syndicalist wrote:

x357997 wrote:

Just some information.
The IWA at its last congress voted to have friendly relations with the IWW. Before this they had friendly relations with the IWW on a unofficial level section by section. There were and still are tensions between the IWW and IWA.
....
Back in the 20's (?) the IWW had a union wide debate about joining the IWA and it even went to referendum I believe. The IWW decided against affiliating because the IWA has a strong line against religion, something the IWW believes should be left to individual members.

hope this helps and if someone could give an exact date on the IWW/IWA affiliation debate that would be great.

The tension between the IWA and the IWW is basically over the IWW's use of, in the US, the labor board, collective agreements and the more traditional trade union stuff. There's also some huff and puff about there being a whole connection with the Socialist Party USA, etc.

I believe the first vote was in 1934 to affiliate with the IWA. (The IWA was organized in 1922). The 1934 referendum sought to explore affiliation, but there was never real clarity of opinion.

Ok history geeks (myself included) here comes the dope straight from the horse’s mouth........

"IWW Resolution Committee Recommendations (21st Convention, Chicago, 11/34) Regarding Affiliation to the IWMA:

Committee recommends that the IWMA pamphlet: "The IWMA -- Its Purpose, Aims & Principles" * be published in three installments in the GOB and that 30 days after the 3rd installment is published that a General Ref. Ballot with the following question: "Shall the IWW affiliate with the IWMA?" Also that we instruct the editor of the Industrial Worker to call attention of the membership to the importance of the GOB & urge them to read it".

[The Report Committee voted to:]

"That the vote on the committees report regarding the IWMA signified that the majority of the convention delegates favor putting the question on the ballot and does not involve the question of affiliation."

Industrial Union Vote:

Jarvis #110 (Ag. workers) -- Yes Edwards #120 (Lumber) -- Yes
Anderson #310 (Gen. Construct. wrkers)) --- No Lowes #310 -- No Tarasuk #330 (Bdlg/Const) ---- No Haiman #510 (MTW) Hanson #510 --- No Kazciban GRU --- Yes Thompson GRU --- Yes Mahler GRU ---Yes Chair. Dahl #210 - Yes. Motion carries

Haiman, Hansen, Tarasuk, Anderson, Lowes wish to be recorded as in favor of affiliation."

By 1936 (under the direction of Fred Thompson) the IWW chose not to affiliate with the IWA.

From the "Resolution on the IWMA Affiliation (22nd Convention, Chicago, 11/36) Regarding to the:

"Even though. The IWW did not affiliate with the IWMA; we hope that continuous cooperation and harmony will exist between these two organizations. It is also hope that this Convention will devise additional ways and means of aiding our fellow workers in Spain who are in the death grips with the fascists there. The present [IWW] administration has done what it could through giving the struggle proper publicity and pushing the sale of CNT Stamps which were sent to us by the IWMA".

Fred Thompson writes in the "IWW: its First 70 Years, 1905-1975"
that joining the IWA would declare "for its members their religious and political attitudes which it [IWW] always left to the individual" (Pg 177)

The IWA Statutes declared:

"Revolutionary syndicalism is opposed to every centralist tendency and organization, which is but borrowed from the State and the Church." **

The Statutes further declared:

"Only in the economic and revolutionary organizations of the working class are there forces capable of bringing about its liberation and the necessary creative energy for the reorganization of society on the basis of free communism."**

1990 saw the IWW pass another resolution (71 in favor, 44 against) to affiliate. This lingered and was revived in 1992.

The 10/92 issue of the IW published the 1992 Convention "Resolution on IWW International Policy".

The resolution stated, in part, "It is the policy of the IWW to establish contacts with all revolutionary unions around the world." The resolution listed a number of actions to be taken. The aim of these action would be towards “exploring affiliation with the AIT".

"A standing Interl Commission shall be established to coordinate international relations, including affiliation with the AIT."

The matter of IWA affiliation lingered again for another few years and was voted down in a 1996 referendum.

That seems to be it ... hope this is helpful

* "The International Working Men's Association. I.W.M.A., its policy, its aim, its principles." Publisher N.pl. : International Working Men's Association, 1933. 19 p. Photocopy on file at WSA office.

** (Adopted at 1st Congress, 1922 and 2nd Congress, 1925. Verbatim from "The IWMA" pamphlet

*** The current IWA Statues say “libertarian communism”.

Additional footnote on the 1933 IWMA pamphlet. In Section II, the “Fundamental principles of the IWMA, the IWA declares the following.

“Each country has its own traditions, its own methods of work. Its own outlook upon events. Yet the fundamental guiding lines remain the same for all. And if some revolutionary labor movements are not yet represented in all the councils of the IWMA, this is due to the fact that either certain misunderstandings have not, as of yet, been entirely dissipated, or that wanton misrepresentation of the aims, policy and principles of the IWMA have not been permitted the rank-and-file to obtain straight forward and frank statement of the case.

“An outstanding of the undefined relations with the IWMA are the Industrial Workers of the World of America.

“The IWMA has repeatedly appealed to the IWW to clear up the matter as to its stand on international revolutionary labor problems and on international affiliation.

“The whole case, on the side of the IWW rested finally upon two cardinal points: First, that the IWW were, in themselves, an international organization – its very name suggestion it --- and that there was, therefore, no necessity of affiliating to another International body. Secondly, that the system of organization of the IWW --- in industrial unions --- was opposed to the system of organization of the Syndicalists – in trade and craft unions.

“Let us examine these two arguments.”

Comment #8 http://libcom.org/forums/history-culture/history-iwa-28092009

OliverTwister
Jan 9 2014 15:19

So what conditions of affiliation does the IWA place on religious beliefs?

I don't want to be a jerk. I'm predisposed to like Klas since his username is in Esperanto. But there are several things in this article that are unsourced, and which I don't think are correct. I know that Thompson and his crew claimed that IWA affiliation would force the IWW to take an active stand against religious belief. But I've never seen anything showing that there was anything to that other than Thompson grasping at straws to support his own sectarianism.

syndicalist
Jan 9 2014 15:32

I'm obviously not the author of the article. But I have some historical knowledge on the points OT is making. And I would like to specifically address them.

On the IWA and religion, having been in the IWA for more then 20 years, there was nothing more then: "Revolutionary syndicalism is opposed to every centralist tendency and organization, which is but borrowed from the State and the Church." Nothing prohibitng anyone from practicing (or not) their faith.

The core of this was the reactionary role the Chruch played in most countries. And the IWMA (IWA) merely was pointing this out.

Fast forward, this has to be placed in the context of the late 19 and 20th century roles of nearlly all church institutions as a whole. There was no "liberation theology". And even here, there is room for debate amongst libertarians.

But this is what is is. A mere statment by the IWMA (IWA) on "the Church". One could argue the political line that Thompson did, that because the goal of the IWMA(IWA) is "libertarian communism" (or libertraian socialism, depending on the aruthor), that affiliation would commit the IWW to that end goal. The Church thing seems much moe like a ruse then anything else..

OliverTwister
Jan 9 2014 19:10

Syndicalist I think we are misunderstanding each other.

Klas' original post takes the Fred Thompson line at face value, look at the part I quoted in my first post. I'm taking issue with this.

syndicalist
Jan 9 2014 20:47

Yeah, well, I'll let the author take it for here. I am not grasping what you are seeking. And as I do not have access to the IWW's GOBs of that time, I can not be more specific then I have been.
Perhaps KB is being a bit liberal in emphasis, but "religion" and "politics" were clearly the issues of contention.

FWIW, the late Sam Dolgoff basically verbally confirmed same many times over the years (which I heard him repeat many times). I will have to look at Sam's "Fragments" book to see if he says anything specific.

syndicalistcat
Jan 9 2014 22:04

I think the bit about "trade & craft unions" was a ruse as well. The CNT & other syndicalist unions had also shifted to industrial unionism. Actually revolutionary syndicalism, and the IWW, are more accurately described as class unions, not CIO-style industrial unionist organizations. It seems that by the '30s the IWW had fallen into a kind of self-referential sectarianism...you see this in Ralph Chaplin's 1930 pamphlet "The General Strike for Industrial Freedom" as well where he also tries to differentiate the IWW from European anarcho-syndicalism.

According to Theodore Draper's Roots of American Communism, when Williams was the delegate for IWW at the founding congress of RILU, he objected to the "dictatorship of the proletariat." Thus he objected to the "workers state" formula. He also objected to the unions being transmission belts for the Communist parties. These were in fact the general objections of the syndicalist delegates at that congress, and led to the formation of the IWA. Williams wrote a negative review of the RILU congress for the IWW when he returned to USA. I think it was after this that IWW voted by referendum to revoke its provisional affiliation to RILU (Profintern).

AES
Jan 10 2014 00:42
syndicalistcat wrote:
... According to Theodore Draper's Roots of American Communism, when Williams was the delegate for IWW at the founding congress of RILU, he objected to the "dictatorship of the proletariat." Thus he objected to the "workers state" formula. He also objected to the unions being transmission belts for the Communist parties. These were in fact the general objections of the syndicalist delegates at that congress, and led to the formation of the IWA. Williams wrote a negative review of the RILU congress for the IWW when he returned to USA. I think it was after this that IWW voted by referendum to revoke its provisional affiliation to RILU (Profintern).

See the full report - The first Congress of the Red Trade Union International at Moscow, 1921. A report of the Proceedings by George Williams, delegate of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World)

see also "Revolutionary syndicalist internationalism, 1913-1923: the origins of the International Working Men’s Association" by Wayne Thorpe ( pdf page 225)

Quote:
Before 1921 ended the IWW had similarly repudiated the RILU. After studying Williams' report and examining the documents of the Moscow congress, the IWW Executive declared in December that it regarded affiliation "with this so-called International as not only undesirable but absolutely impossible. "In enumerating the reasons for its decision, the Executive included the unrepresentative nature of the RILU congress; its express condemnation of IWW policy and tactics; its approval of 'boring within' tactics ; the political character of the RILU, which was "in fact the Communist Party, thinly disguised;" and the impossibility that the IWW could work together with the domestic communist party. Though it rejected the RILU, the Executive nonetheless affirmed the international interests of the IWW, declaring itself prepared to "welcome proposals for the international affiliation that are not in conflict with our principles and policy, and do not call upon us to sacrifice our autonomy."
klas batalo
Jan 10 2014 19:58

@Oliver

if i am taking that line I am doing so because it was what i had available to me, via the IWW the first 100 years on the matter...

i am always interested in more sources, etc!!!

grin

OliverTwister
Jan 11 2014 23:30

The point I was trying to make is that the IWA never put restrictions on religious belief, and that would not have been a condition of the IWW joining.

It just so happens that Fred Thompson, the main author of First 100 Years, was head of the organization when the question and was one of the most vociferous opponents of affiliation, pushing the erroneous idea that joining the IWA would force the IWW to argue against religious belief among workers.

The way you write it he is not only left off the hook, his story is legitimated.

klas batalo
Jan 12 2014 05:07

Makes a lot of sense to me, thanks for pointing this out!

syndicalist
Jan 13 2014 16:57
OliverTwister wrote:
The point I was trying to make is that the IWA never put restrictions on religious belief, and that would not have been a condition of the IWW joining.

It just so happens that Fred Thompson, the main author of First 100 Years, was head of the organization when the question and was one of the most vociferous opponents of affiliation, pushing the erroneous idea that joining the IWA would force the IWW to argue against religious belief among workers.

The way you write it he is not only left off the hook, his story is legitimated.

I must be a really dull light and losing my ability to comprehend. But you both clearly have me confused. And I really feel like I wasted my time trying to explain something OT already knew to be
a reality.

My own advice to self: bud out out. Let others do their own explaining.

Juan Conatz
Sep 26 2014 02:36

In some very preliminary talks with other Wobs about trying to get every GOB ever produced digitized and available for membership. I already had several, mostly from other people sending/sharing them with me. Anyway, was looking though this time period (1935-1936) and there's a lot of mention of the IWA affliation question.

I don't have a complete sense of what's going on, because I don't have all the relevant GOBs, but a couple things that are apparent is that the MTWIU1, IU 4402 and possibly some other bodies wanted a revote, not sure because of what.

The arguments about the anti-political and anti-religious clauses of the IWA constitution are mentioned, but are from previous issues I don't have.

Fred Thompson appears in the January 1936 GOB, arguing against IWA affiliation. He disputes MTWIU's claim that international solidarity is impossible without affiliation, argues that it's perfectly democratic to reconsider a decision made by the organization and then claims the IWW will have to change its propaganda to U.S. workers. Says IWA principles are endorsements for "destruction and violence" that will make for easy repression against the IWW.

Another letter in the January 1936 issue accuses the opposition of using technicalities to halt the process. A letter from a Branch Secretery in Sweden wonders if the IWA even knows anything about the IWW and advocates sort of a reciprocal period of education.

The February 1936 issue has a pro-IWA letter that the IWW shouldn't dictate to other places what form of organization to have. Evidently some of the things the anti-IWA people said was that IWA unions weren't industrial. The letter also mentions the issue of farmers, there might have been a difference at that time on how farmers were viewed by both organizations?

  • 1. Marine Transport Workers' Industrial Union. It actually did affiliate with the IWA.[/i] was advocating affiliation because they said international solidarity was impossible if they didn't. But some of the GRUsGeneral Recruiting Unions - I think these were like General Membership Brances?
  • 2. I'm assuming this is Cleveland?
OliverTwister
Sep 26 2014 20:45

You ask about the GRU in footnote 1, this is a bit off the IWA question but I'll clarify as much as I've been able to get about it.

The General Recruiting Union was a placeholder Industrial Union when the organization was actually structured as a combination of IUs. Prior to the 50s, delegates to Convention were elected from the separate IU conventions, members of the Board were elected by the most numerous IUs, and there were no at-large members except for general officers - all members were members of branches and Industrial Unions.

Where there were not enough members in a specific industry to charter IU branches, they could charter a GRU branch. I believe that industrial branches also fell under the GRU if there were not enough branches in the same industry to support a full industrial union. There were also a few administrative IUs which combined branches of multiple industries such as 310-330 (general and industrial construction). The GRU administration basically became the General Administration by default in the 1950s. That is why so many things in the union are still named "General", because they come from a time when those positions or organs had to be distinguished from the positions of other component bodies.

This history, by the way, is why I prefer not to refer to people by IU, and especially not by the number of the IU. The Industrial Unions were once actually existing organizing and administrative bodies, but since no Industrial Unions currently exist it just seems weird. I think we'd be much better off saying someone works in the Construction or Foodservice Industry, rather than continue to say they are 330 or 460.

akai
Sep 27 2014 07:53

I would really like to see Thompson's exact arguments. I know of a lot of them second-hand, from people like Sam Dolgoff, etc. But, even without looking at them, I would have to say that people were manipulating in this process.

Knowing Thompson's inclinations, it is easy to see why he would do this.

It is very interesting that all these years later, IWW people keep repeating Thompson's arguments, which are at best exaggerated. For example about "anti-religious clauses". The IWA statutes never had any such thing, but as I understand, there was a lot of attention paid to this issue.

What the IWA statutes did refer to was an opposition to the centralism of the church, in a paragraph related to centralism. It refers to tendencies inspired by the centralism of the church.

"Revolutionary unionism is opposed to all organizational tendencies inspired by the centralism of State and Church, because these can only serve to prolong the survival of the State and authority and to systematically stifle the spirit of initiative and the independence of thought. Centralism is and artificial organization that subjects the so-called lower classes to those who claim to be superior, and that leaves in the hands of the few the affairs of the whole community - the individual being turned into a robot with controlled gestures and movements. In the centralized organization, society’s good is subordinated to the interests of the few, variety is replaced by uniformity and personal responsibility is replaced by rigid discipline. Consequently, revolutionary unionism bases its social vision on a broad federalist organization; i.e., an organization stemming from the bottom up, the uniting of all forces in the defense of common ideas and interests."

Besides this, the IWA is against working through the Parliament, State or political parties:

"Revolutionary unionism is the staunch enemy of all social and economic monopoly, and aims at its abolition by the establishment of economic communities and administrative organs run by the workers in the field and factories, forming a system of free councils without subordination to any authority or political party, bar none. As an alternative to the politics of State and parties, revolutionary unionism posits the economic reorganization of production, replacing the rule of man over man with the administrative management of things. "

or

"Revolutionary unionism rejects all parliamentary activity and all collaboration with legislative bodies; because it knows that even the freest voting system cannot bring about the disappearance of the clear contradictions at the core of present-day society and because the parliamentary system has only one goal: to lend a pretense of legitimacy to the reign of falsehood and social injustice."

The interesting thing is that the IWW also says it is against political parties.

"IWW General Bylaws, ARTICLE IV, Political Alliances Prohibited - To the end of promoting industrial unity and of securing necessary discipline within the organisation, the IWW refuses all alliances, direct or indirect, with any political parties or anti-political sects, and disclaims responsibility for any individual opinion or act which may be at variance with the purposes herein expressed."

If you read this, it becomes clear that the problem is not really with anti-political clauses. The problem for the IWW may have been their ideological construct of "anti-political sects", which I can assume only refers to anarchism.

Chilli Sauce
Sep 27 2014 08:42
Quote:
This history, by the way, is why I prefer not to refer to people by IU, and especially not by the number of the IU. The Industrial Unions were once actually existing organizing and administrative bodies, but since no Industrial Unions currently exist it just seems weird. I think we'd be much better off saying someone works in the Construction or Foodservice Industry, rather than continue to say they are 330 or 460.

Hear, hear!

syndicalist
Sep 28 2014 03:01

There are some folks who have I-o-U's outstanding