1) Introduction to Pouget's Sabotage - Arturo Giovannitti

Submitted by Ed on November 19, 2010

"Now that the bosses have succeeded in dealing an almost mortal blow to the boycott, now that picket duty is practically outlawed, free speech throttled, free assemblage prohibited and injunctions against labor are becoming epidemic; Sabotage, this dark, invincible, terrible Damocles' Sword that hangs over the head of the master class, will replace all the confiscated weapons and ammunition of the army of the toilers. And it will win, for it is the most redoubtable of all, except the general strike. In vain may the bosses get an injunction against the strikers' funds -- Sabotage will get a more powerful one against their machinery. In vain may they invoke old laws and make new ones against it-they will never discover it, never track it to its lair, never run it to the ground, for no laws will ever make a crime of the "clumsiness and lack of skill" of a "scab" who bungles his work or "puts on the bum" a machine he "does not know how to run."."

"Sabotage" Published 1913 by Charles H. Kerr & Company

Of all the words of a more or less esoteric taste which have been purposely denaturalized and twisted by the capitalist press in order to terrify and mystify a gullible public, "Direct Action" and "Sabotage" rank easily next to Anarchy, Nihilism, Free Love, Neo-Malthusianism, etc., in the hierarchy of infernal inventions.

To be sure, the capitalist class knows full well the exact meaning of these words and the doctrines and purposes behind them, but it is, of course, its most vital interest to throw suspicion on and raise popular contempt and hatred against them as soon as they begin to appear and before they are understood, for the purpose of creating an antagonistic environment to them, and thus check the growth of their propaganda.

American Capitalism having succeeded in making the word Anarchism synonymous with disorder, chaos, violence and murder in the popular mind -- with the complicity of the cowardly silence of so-called revolutionists -- it is now the turn of Syndicalism, Direct Action and Sabotage to be equally misrepresented, lied about and defamed.

This is of no surprise to us -- but what actually astounds and appalls us is that the Socialist Party, itself so much maligned and calumniated up to a few years ago, should now come come out to the aid of Capitalism in this ignoble work of prevarication, to the extent of actually taking the initiative in vilifying and discrediting these new theories.

Thus we find that whilst in the laws of no State in the Union is Sabotage classed amongst felonies or misdemeanors, the Socialist Party, first in its National Convention at Indianapolis and next by referendum vote, finger-printed and bertillioned Sabotage amongst "crimes" and made it a capital offense against its canon laws, punishable by immediate expulsion from the rank and file.

Therefore, whilst you cannot be fined or sent to jail for advocating Sabotage, nor do you risk being excommunicated for heresy by the Catholic Church, you can and will be expelled from the Socialist Party, which claims to be the political wing o the revolutionary labor movement.

This can have but two explanations. Either that the Socialist Party in its unbridled quest for votes and thirst for power wants to become respectable in the eyes of the bourgeoisie at at any price and risk, or that in utter ignorance of what it was judging and condemning it was induced to believe by a clique of unscrupulous politicians that Sabotage is the French translation of bomb throwing, assassination, incendiarsm and all around hell on earth.

We take the latter view and we are confirmed in our belief by the astounding fact that a committee of five has been selected by the Socialist Party to define Sabotage for the purpose of determining what it is ... after having damned it on general principles.

The aim of this pamphlet being precisely this, we shall make bold to offer our own definition whilst we wait for the response of the Solons aforesaid.

What, then, is Sabotage? Sabotage is

A. Any conscious and willful act on the part of one or more workers intended to slacken and reduce the output of production in the industrial field, or to restrict trade and reduce the profits in the commercial field, in order to secure from their employers better conditions or to enforce those promised or maintain those already prevailing, when no other way of redress is open.

B. Any skillful operation on the machinery of production intended not to destroy it or permanently render it defective, but only to temporarily disable it and to put it out of running condition in order to make impossible the work of scabs and thus to secure the complete and real stoppage of work during a strike.

Whether you agree or not, Sabotage is this and nothing but this. It is not destructive. It has nothing to do with violence, neither to life nor to property. It is nothing more or less than the chloroforming of the organism of production, the "knock-out drops" to put to sleep and out of harm's way the ogres of steel and fire that watch and multiply the treasures of King Capital.
Of course, at least in respect to the first part of this definition, Sabotage is not a novelty. As Pouget says and proves, it is as old as human exploitation, and with very little effort we can trace it as far back in America as the day when the first patriotic and pious Puritan gentleman bought the first slave or mortgaged the body of the first redemptioner to the greater glory of his holy Bible and his holier pocketbook.

If so, why is it that only since the Lawrence Strike, Sabotage loomed up in such terrific Light? It is easily explained.

A certain simple thing which is more or less generally practiced and thought very plain and natural, as for instance, a negro picking less cotton when receiving less grub, becomes a monstrous thing, a crime and a blasphemy when it is openly advocated and advised.

It is simply because there is no danger in any art in itself when it is determined by natural instinctive impulse and is quite uncon- scious and unpremeditated -- it only becomes dangerous when it becomes the translated practical expression of an idea even though, or rather because, this idea has originated from the act itself.

It is so of Sabotage as of a good many other things. Take, for instance, the question of divorce. To be divorced and marry again is quite a decent, legal and respectable thing to do in the eyes of the church, the state and the ' third power, which is public opinion.

Now, a rich man having grown tired of his wife (or vice versa, or both ways), he properly puts her away through the kind intervention of a solemn-faced, black-robed judge, and marries a chorus girl through the same kind help of a very venerable and holy bishop. Nobody is shocked -- on the contrary, the papers are full of this grand affair and everybody is well pleased, except some old maids and the regular town gossips.

The rich man may stop here if he is properly mated, and may go further if he thinks he is not. He can repeat this wonderful performance as many times as he likes - there is no limit to it and it is done quite often.

But, if you should -- say at the third or fourth repetition of these public solemnities, find out that they are all quite unnecessary and that the aforesaid rich man could and should more properly keep his bedroom affairs to himself, if you should venture that he could as well dispense with judge and priest, you would be howled at that you are a filthy free lover, a defiler of the sanctIty of the home, and so on.

How do you explain that? It is because, the fact that a rich man (he may be a poor one at that) puts away three or four or ten wives is of little importance in itself, it is only when out of this plain everyday phenomenon you draw the theory of the freedom of the sexes that the bourgeois jumps up and screams, for though free love be and has always been a fact, it is only when it becomes an idea that it becomes a dynamic and disintegrating force of bourgeois society, in so far as it wrests from the political state one of its cardinal faculties

Again, it is a well-known and established fact that since Bible days, the practice of preventing generation has been more or less In general use. Over a hundred years ago an English clergyman, Malthus, came out with the astounding doctrine that humanity was reproducing itself too swiftly and in such alarming proportions as to impair the lives and welfare of the whole race, which some day would have to devour itself for lack of food. Immediately there was loud and jubilant praise from the bourgeois camp, where the new doctrine was heralded as a condemnation of Socialism in so far as it put the blame of poverty, not an the evil distribution of wealth, but on the excessive numbers of its consumers.

Malthus justified and even considered as a blessing, wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, everything that would tend to check the growth of population, and the bourgeois cheered himself hoarse. Then, suddenly the neo-Malthusian came out. He noticed how the bourgeois families throughout the world have an average of two or three children at the most and proceeded to advise the working class to do the same. Malthus was right, said his successor, but, instead of slaughtering the living, let us - reduce the number of those that are to come.

The bourgeoisie had been doing that already for years in France, as in America. Statistics show that the lower classes were innocent of race suicide, yet as soon as the idea came out of the undeniable facts, a chorus of condemnation rose against it; its preachers were condemned as immoral and criminals, laws were made against them, and the subject was tabooed as a filthy and indecent one.

We might go on with examples, but we must confine ourselves to our subject. The idea we wanted to convey is that a sin is absolvable only when it is confessed as such, but becomes a damnable one when an explanation is found for it in the same way as a simple act of general practice becomes a crime when a justification is found for it and it is advocated as a good thing.

The fact is that modern society rests only on appearances and illusions, and derives its raison d'etre not from the existence or nonexistence of certain things, but on the general accepted credence that these things do or do not exist. Truth becomes a menace to society and hence a crime, not when it is seen and felt by personal experience, though everybody see and feel it, but only when it is told and exposed, for then only it becomes subversive by -' being discussed and reasoned over.

This is especially true of the conditions of the working classes. Every working man is poor and miserable, but only when he hears his woes described from the speaker's platform or sees his tragedy re-enacted on the stage does he become conscious of it, and therefore dangerous to the digestion of his masters.

Hence, the necessity of agitators and "fanatics" and the frantic efforts of the master class to keep tightly the cover on the Pandora jar. That Sabotage has been practiced more or less generally. for centuries they unmistakingly know, but that it should be now told, explained, justified and perfected into a veritable weapon of attack and defense they cannot for one second countenance. For these gentlemen, there are no classes in America. There was no Socialism in America up to four years ago, when it yelled so loud that they had to jump up and bow to it.

Now there is no Syndicalism, and, of course, there never was and never shall be any Sabotage except in the vaporings of some frothy- mouthed foreign agitators.

It is the wisdom of the ostrich, say you. No, by no means --lt is the wisdom of Argus who sees everything with his hundred eyes and knows that the only thing that can oppose the spreading of a truth is the spreading of a lie.


This booklet is not written for capitalists nor for the upholders of the capitalist system, therefore it does not purpose to justify or excuse Sabotage before the capitalist mind and morals.

Its avowed aim is to explain and expound Sabotage to the working class, especially to that part of it which is revolutionary in aim not in method, and as this ever-growing fraction of the proletariat has a special mentality and hence a special morality of its own, this introduction purports to prove that Sabotage is fully in accordance with the same.

We shall endeavor to prove that it is not incompatible with proletarian ethics,- either as represented by the tenets of conservative unionism or as codified by political Socialism, as Sabotage, in our opinion, can equally stand the test of Mr. Gompers' Pentateuch and Mr. Berger's Papdects, if it only be given a fair trial by a jury of its peers and no ex post facto laws be made against it, as was done at the Indianapolis Convention of the Socialist Party.

The first bona fide admission we ask from its opponents is that Sabotage, whether a good or a bad thing, has an honest purpose-that is to say that whether it injure or not the capitalist or be just or unjust, wise or unwise, its sole aim is to benefit the working class. This cannot be denied. The only injury to the cause of the workers that has been laid at its doors is that it discredits their cause before the public mind and that it debases the moral value of those who practice it, by making them sneaks and liars. These charges we shall examine later-just now we want to be granted, in all fairness, the admission that we are prompted by an honest desire to benefit our class. The fact that it is upheld and advocated by the most fearless champions of the workers' cause throughout the world, such as Pouget, Yvetot, Herve, Labriola, DeAmbris, Mann, Haywood etc., all men who have proven by personal sacrifice their staunch and firm loyalty to there class, takes away from Sabotage all shadows of suspicion that it is the theory of disrupters and agents provocateurs. It then remains to prove that the means as such is "ethically justifiable," and this Mr. Pouget does in a clear concise and masterful way. However, it may not be amiss to add a few remarks in relation to American conditions and the American labor movement.

Let us therefore consider Sabotage under its two aspects first as a personal relaxation ot work when wages and conditions are not satisfactory, and next as a mischievous tampering with machinery to secure its complete immobilization during a strike. It must be said with especial emphasis that Sabotage is not and must not be made a systematic hampering of production, that it is not meant as a perpetual clogging of the workings of industry, but that it is a simple expedient of war, to be used only in time of actual warfare with sobriety and moderation, and to be laid by when the truce intervenes. Its own limitations will be self-evident after this book has been read, and need not be explained here.

The first form of Sabotage, which was formerly known as Go Cannie, as Mr. Pouget tells us, consists purely and simply in "going slow" and "taking it easy" when the bosses do the same in regard to wages.

Let us suppose that one hundred men have an agreement with the boss that they should work eight hours a day and get $4.00 in return for a certain amount of work. The American Federation of Labor is very particular -- and wisely so -- that the amount of work to be done during a day be clearly stipulated and agreed upon by the two contracting parties -- the workers and their employers, this for the purpose of preventing any "speeding up."

Now, to exemplify, let us suppose that these one hundred workers are bricklayers, get fifty cents an hour, work eight hours and, as agreed, lay fourteen hundred bricks a day. Now, one good day the boss comes up and tells them he can't pay them $4.00 a day but they must be satisfied with $3.50. It is a slack season, there are plenty of idle men and moreover, the job is in the country where the workers cannot very well quit and return home. A strike, for some reason or another, is out of the question. Such things do happen. What are they to do? Yield to the boss sheepishly and supinely? But here comes the Syndicalist who tells them, "Boys, the boss reduced fifty cents on your pay -- why not do the same and reduce two hundred bricks on your day's work? And if the boss notices it and remonstrates, well, lay the usual number of bricks, but see that the mortar does not stick so well, so that the top part of the wall will have to be made over in the morning; or else after laying the real number of bricks you are actually paid for, build up the rest of the plumb line or use broken bricks or recur to any of the many tricks of the trade. The important thing is not what you do, but simply that it be of no danger or detriment to the third parties and that the boss gets exactly his money's worth and not one whit more."

The same may be said of the other trades. Sweatshop girls when their wages ar reduced, instead of sewing one hundred pairs of pants, can sew, say, seventy; of, if they must return the same number, sew the other thirty imperfectly -- with crooked seams or use bad thread or doctor the thread with cheap chemicals so that the seams rip a few hours after the sewing, or be not so careful about the oil on the machines and so on. But examines are not lacking and we shall not indulge in them. Is this truly and honestly criminal?

The American Federation of Labor has for its motto: "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work." Let us reverse the equation and we find this motto also means "An unfair day's work for an unfair day's wages." If it is not so, then we must believe that the motto should be more appropriately changed as to read "A fair day's work for any kind of wages whatever."

We would like to know what Mr. Gompers and some of his Socialist confreres would advise their adepts to do when they have their wages reduced, and have all means of redress precluded except such a retaliation as this, which, it must be remembered is not intended to be a more spiteful revenge, but a direct attempt to obtain redress. Would they advise them to keep on producing just the same amount as before, regardless of their changed conditions? If so, what becomes of the fairness of the former and the class struggle of the later? They would both become the preachers of passive non-resistance and abject resignation and take away from the workers not only their natural impulse of rebellion, which is the original germ of self-emancipation, but also the very dignity of their labor and manhood. Sabotage, in this case, is just the expression of this dignity and this manhood. It is a logical as a punch in the jaw in answer to a kick in the shins. If anything, it is more manly and more just because it is done under provocation and it does not hit the boss below the belt, as it does not take away from him anything, robs him of nothing, and has no sinister reverberation in his famiilv as a cut in wages has in the family of the toiler. This form of Sabotage is too much like human nature to need any further comment.

This is not the case with the other kind of sabotage. Here we are confronting a real and deliberate trespassing into the bourgeois sanctum-a direct interference with the boss's own property. It is only under this latter form that Sabotage becomes essentially revolutionary; therefore, to justify itself, it must either create its own ethics (which will be the case when it is generally practiced), Or borrow it from the Socialist philosophy. Mr. Pouget extensively dwells on this subject, therefore I leave it to him to explain the importance of Sabotage during a strike. I only want to ethically justify it before the tribunal of respectable Socialists. Now, it is the avowed intentions of both Socialists and industrial Unionists alike to expropriate the bourgeoisie of all its property, to make it social property.

Now may we ask if this is right? Is this moral and just? Of course, if it be true that labor produces everything, it is both moral and just that it should own everything. But this is only an affirmation-it must be proven. We Industrial Unionists care nothing about proving it. We are going to take over the industries some day, for three very good reasons: Because we need them, because we want them, and because we have the power to get them. Whether we are "ethically justified" or not is not our concern. We will lose no time proving title to them beforehand ; but we may. if it is necessary, after the thing is done. hire a couple of lawyers and judges to fix up the deed and make the transfer perfectly legal and respectable. Also, if necessary, we ,will, have a couple of learned bishops to sprinkle holy water on it and make it sacred. Such things can always be fixed-anything that is powerful becomes in due course of time righteous, therefore we Industrial Unionists claim that the Social revolution is not a matter of necessity plus justice but simply necessity plus strength.

Such, however, is not the case with our respectable comrades, the pure and simple political Socialists. They claim, and are very loud in their protests, that the workers are really entitled by all sorts of laws, natural, human and divine, to the mastership of the world and all that is in it, and in justice to them we must admit that they prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Now, we say this: If the instruments of production rightfully belong to the workers, It means that they have been pilfered from them, and that the capitalist class detains them in an immoral way. It is legal for the bourgeoisie to keep them in accordance to its own laws, but surely it is not "ethically justifiable" from the point of view of our aforesaid comrades. If these instruments of production are ours, they are so as much now as they will be a hundred years hence. Also, being our property, we can do with it whatever we best please-we can run them for our own good, as we surely will; but, if so we choose, we can also smash them to pieces. It may be stupid but it is not dishonest. The fact that the burglars have them in their temporary possession does not in the least impeach our clear title of ownership. We are not strong enough to get them back, just now, but we cannot forego any chances of getting something out of them.

Suppose a band of brigands swoops down on a family and carries away all its belongings. Suppose amongst these belongings there is a powerful Gatling gun. Suppose the only man who can operate this gun is a member of the said family and that he is forced by the band to do so during the ensuing schedule. Has he not the right to break a spring or do something or other to the gun so as to make it useless? By all means-he has a double right to do so -- first, because the gun is his whether the bandits have it or not; second, because he is not supposed to leave such a dangerous machine in the hands of the enemy when it can be used against himself and his own kin.

Now if the workers are the original owners of a factory which is fraudulently held by a gang of pirates, in their struggles to regain control of it they are truly and undoubtedly justified in spiking there whatever guns can be aimed at them.

If it is just and right to force the capitalist to grant us certain concessions by withdrawing our labor and remaining inactive, why is it not equally just to render equally inactive our own machines, made by our own selves, especially when they are operated not by the capitalists but by the traitors of our own ranks, the scabs?

If tomorrow we shall be fully justified to take away from the master class all of its industries, why shouldn't we, when it is a question of life and death to us to win or lose a strike, be entitled to mislay or hide for a short while a bolt, a wheel or any other small fraction of its machinery?

We admit that our attitude is indefensible before the capitalist code of ethics, but we fail to see how it can be consistently condemned by those who claim the capitalist system to be a system of exploitation, robbery and murder.

We can't possibly understand how it is possible that we are fully entitled to all we produce and then are not entitled to a part of it.


Having disposed of the moral objections to Sabotage, we must now face those of different type of critics, that is, of such eminent and world-renowned theorists of Syndicalism as Sorel, Leone, Michels and others.

It is claimed that Sabotage would injure the cause of the workers before the public and that it would degrade the moral value of those that practice it. As to the first objection we may answer that if by public opinion we mean the people at large, these are and always will be favorable to the cause of any class of workers. whatever their actions, simply because they are workers themselves. If, on the other hand, we mean by public opinion that part of the public which comes under the daily influence of the press, we are willing to say that little we care for it. The capitalist press will never champion the workers' cause; it will never tell the truth about them, no matter how nice and gentlemanly they may behave and, Sabotage or no Sabotage, it will continue persistently to lie about them. It is, indeed, to be expected that it will lie still more and more and distort and falsify facts ever and ever on a larger scale as fast as the workers become more revolutionary in their attitude, and the labor movement more conscious of its destined end, which is the overthrow of the capitalist system. The workers must get used to consider themselves absolutely isolated in their struggles (they were ever so in their real ones) and the sooner they cease to believe in the myth of the omnipotence of public opinion, the more will they rely on their own strength exclusively and the nearer will they be to their emancipation, which can be brought about only by themselves.

The other objection, that Sabotage is repugnant to the dignity of the workers and it makes them cheats and sneaks by making them fight in a devious and underhanded way is absolutely without foundation, as Pouget proves.

It were well, however, to add that Sabotage can be practiced only by the most intelligent and the most skillful workers who know thoroughly the technique of their trade, as Sabotage does not consist in a clumsy and stupid destruction of the instruments of production, but in a delicate and highly skillful operation which puts the machine out of commission only for a temporary period. The worker that undertakes such a task must know thoroughly - the anatomy of the machine which he is going to vivisect and, by this fact alone, puts himself above suspicion.

Moreover, it is obvious that he must be prompted by a desire to help his brothers, that is by unselfish motives, and this added to the fact that he risks more than the others, develops a spirit of self-abnegation and individual daring which makes him quite the opposite of the sneaks our opponents love to describe.

The saboteur, to illustrate, is exactly like a spy in disguise in the camp of the enemy.

There is in the City Hall Square at New York a monument to Nathan Hale, a young American revolutionist who went to spy in the English camp, was found and executed. He is considered a great hero and held up as an example to school children.

On the 2nd of October, 1780, the American Revolutionists hung at Tappan on the Hudson, Major John Andre, a British spy who was captured under similar circumstances. Today, on the same spot, where he was captured there is a monument erected to him-not by the British-by the Americans, by his own capturers and executioners.

Now, why should glory in real warfare be considered a disgrace in the nobler and greater battle for bread and liberty? Suppose that during the Spanish-American War a regular of the United States Army, disguised as a Spanish sailor, had boarded the Spanish flagship, succeeded in getting into a signal tower and then proceeded to so change and derange the signals as to disorganize and confuse all the movements of the enemy's fleet so that it would result in a great victory for his country? Wouldn't you go wild with enthusiasm and pride?

Well, now, for argument's sake, why shouldn't you admire a striker who went as a scab, say, to work in the subway, and then by putting a red lantern in the wrong place (or rather in the right place), disarranges and demoralizes the whole system? If a single, humble red lantern can stop an express train and all the trains coming behind it, and thus tie up the whole traffic for hours, isn't the man who does this as much of a benefactor to his striking brothers as the soldier mentioned above to his army? Surely this is "ethically justifiable" even before the Capitalist morality, if you only admit that there is a state of belligerency between the working class and the capitalist class.

Saboteurs are the eclaireurs, the scouts of the class struggle, they are the "sentinelles perdues" at the outposts, the spies in the enemy's own ranks. They can be executed if they are caught (and this is almost impossible- ), but they cannot be disgraced, for the enemy himself, if it be gallant and brave, must honor and respect bravery and daring.

Now that the bosses have succeeded in dealing an almost mortal blow to the boycott, now that picket duty is practically outlawed, free speech throttled, free assemblage prohibited and injunctions against labor are becoming epidemic; Sabotage, this dark, invincible, terrible Damocles' Sword that hangs over the head of the master class, will replace all the confiscated weapons and ammunition of the army of the toilers. And it will win, for it is the most redoubtable of all, except the general strike. In vain may the bosses get an injunction against the strikers' funds -- Sabotage will get a more powerful one against their machinery. In vain may they invoke old laws and make new ones against it-they will never discover it, never track it to its lair, never run it to the ground, for no laws will ever make a crime of the "clumsiness and lack of skill" of a "scab" who bungles his work or "puts on the bum" a machine he "does not know how to run."

There can be no injunction against it. No policeman's club. No rifle diet. No prison bars. It cannot be starved into submission. It cannot be discharged. It cannot be blacklisted. It is present everywhere and everywhere invisible, like the airship that soars high above the clouds in the dead of night, beyond the reach of the cannon and the searchlight, and drops the deadliest bombs into the enemy's own encampment. Sabotage is the most formidable weapon of economic warfare, which will eventually open to the workers the great iron gate of capitalist exploitation and lead them out of the house of bondage into the free land of the future.

Arturo M. Giovannitti.
Essex Co. Jail, Lawrence, Mass., USA
August, 1912.