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This Day in Labor History: June 27, 1905

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On June 27, 1905, at a convention in Chicago, the Industrial Workers of the World was founded. The IWW would play a major role in the industrial warfare of the early twentieth century, scare the employer class, and capture the imaginations of late 20th century and early 21st century radicals.

The IWW had many roots. Socialists and anarchists looked to form a broad-based labor organization. The Western Federation of Miners, a radical union with strongholds in the Rocky Mountains, wanted to expand their form of industrial unionism nationwide. Radicals of various stripes came to Chicago in late June to form this union. Among them was WFM leader Big Bill Haywood, who would become the union’s leader, although it was always a decentralized organization, especially when compared to both the American Federation of Labor and its constituent unions that were quite top-down, even in this era. Eugene Debs, former head of the American Railway Union and socialist candidate for president attended. The legendary matron saint of the United Mine Workers, Mary “Mother” Jones was there. Socialist leader Daniel DeLeon played a major role. Lucy Parsons, leading anarchist, African-American pioneer in American radicalism, and widow of one of the Haymarket martyrs attended. Haywood was the clear leader of this motley crew. The radical western miner stated the goal of the IWW was to form “a working class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism.”

While most of the people at the convention were independent operators, representatives of small groups, or famous radicals, the most important constituency was the Western Federation of Miners, who had faced significant repression from mine owners throughout the Rockies and who had found out firsthand how bad the AFL was with industrial solidarity. The radicals controlling the WFM realized that only industrial unionism could fight the aggressive and repressive tactics of American corporations, which included martial law and the murder of union organizers. The WFM formed after the 1892 Coeur d’Alene strike, brutally repressed by the mine companies. This led to the belief among radical miners that only organizing throughout the West could bring the mine companies to heel. Taking this idea nationwide was the next logical step in 1905. In 1902, it named Haywood its Secretary-Treasurer, aligning it with the Socialist Party.

The IWW called for direct action, putting power in workers’ hands to make their own battle against capitalism. Ultimately, for many this might mean full workers’ control over the means of production or revolution, although in 1905 this was less clear. While Wobbly organizing could be pragmatic and its ideology flexible depending on the campaign (my own interpretation after a long time studying Wobblies in the Pacific Northwest forests is that they were really quite opportunistic and thus frequently contradicted themselves over time, a situation exacerbated by the union’s decentralized nature and multiplicity of voices), it became most known for its version of anarcho-syndicalism where workers would win power not through violent revolution but a general strike that would ground the economy to a halt and allow them to take over. Yet the IWW never defined itself as an anarcho-syndicalist organization, rather focusing on the One Big Union concept that focused on democratic control over the union rather than ideology. I’d argue that historians have overstated the importance of Wobbly ideology and understated the importance of pragmatic action; there is a significantly above zero chance this is the topic of my third book.

Outside of ideology, the IWW filled a necessary void in the American labor movement. Since the decline of the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor had come to define American unionism. The AFL genuinely represented the workers of its affiliate unions, but those workers saw themselves as working-class elites, white, male, Anglo-Saxons. They were uncomfortable with the changing American workforce (and larger society) that included millions of immigrants, women, children, African-Americans, and Asians. They also longed for an era of skilled labor in a society where mass production had taken over. This meant that the AFL and its constituent unions had little interest in organizing most American workers. Outside of a belief or lack thereof in radical Wobbly ideology, there was a huge demand for organization by millions of workers. The IWW had its limitations, but did more than anyone else to provide an avenue for American workers to attempt to improve their lives.

The IWW directly rejected craft unionism at its founding convention, noting:

The directory of unions of Chicago shows in 1903 a total of 56 different unions in the packing houses, divided up still more in 14 different national trades unions of the American Federation of Labor.

What a horrible example of an army divided against itself in the face of a strong combination of employers

Such a critique of craft unionism would continue among industrial unionists for decades.

The IWW got off to a pretty rocky start as many of the founding figures peeled off in the inevitable infighting and destructive focus on personalities that has always plagued the American Left and continues to do so today. By 1908, the Western Federation of Miners had left their national project behind as moderates gained control over that union and returned to the Rockies. Daniel DeLeon was expelled, trying briefly to operate an alternative One Big Union from Detroit. The reformist socialists split with the revolutionary socialists in 1906. Some of the radicals believed the union’s political goal should have focused on mobilizing a working-class vote; others felt American democracy worthless for workers to take part in. Yet the IWW slowly gained credibility with real workers, with it leading a silver mine strike in Goldfied, Nevada in 1906 and sawmill worker strike in Portland in 1907; the latter made the AFL realize what a real threat the Wobblies could be and it worked with employers to bust the strike. in 1908, the IWW reorganized and became a tighter organization, dedicated explicitly to organizing the industrial masses into the One Big Union and focusing on direct worker action to take control of the means of production.

Over the next 15 years, the IWW would go on to be involved in many of the era’s most important and famous labor conflicts, including at Paterson and Lawrence. Organizers like Frank Little and Joe Hill would be murdered. Police and corporations would take extra legal action against them at Bisbee and Everett. When they fought back, such at Centralia and Wheatland, they would be railroaded into prison and even lynched. The Red Scare made the IWW largely irrelevant by the 1920s, but part of that was also the Bolshevik Revolution. The success of a leftist movement overseas meant that most radicals became communists in the 1920s and 1930s and the IWW was an irrelevant rump of just a few workers scattered here and there.

The literature on the IWW is tremendously large. For an overview, I still recommend Melvyn Dubofsky’s 1969 book (there are more recent editions and an abridged edition as well) We Shall Be All, in no small part because too many writers for the IWW are openly cheerleading for them, even the professional historians, and Dubofsky does a good job of maintaining a more even treatment of their failures and successes.

This is the 111th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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  • Stranger Danger

    I think it’s important to cheer on communist/socialist movements of days gone by.

    • DrDick

      And to note that they are in large part at least indirectly responsible for every right and benefit that workers enjoy today. As well as the fact that they had to literally fight and die to gain those rights over the violent and often lethal opposition of capital and management.

      • Linnaeus

        History. Who’da thunk it?

      • Stranger Danger

        The Third Reich made cars affordable.

        • Malaclypse

          It is sadly true that Ford was a nazi sympathizer. Your point, Jennie dear?

          • Stranger Danger

            Yes and Ford like his waffles crispy with a side of IDIOT.

        • DrDick

          I am afraid that it was your beloved plutocrats who sided with the Nazis, not labor unions or socialists (whom Hitler interred and slaughtered).

  • Murc

    I would totally buy a coffee table book that was just 365 pages of “this date in in labor history.” You’d have one page with the history, and opposite it would be a photo spread, or one big photo.

    Yeah. That would really tie the living room together.

    • Yes yes yes.

      I also wonder if there’s someplace online [obvious answer: yes – but where?] to buy Wobbly merchandise?

      If not, we’re all going to be rich, rich I tells ya…

    • toberdog

      Just don’t let anyone pee on the book.

    • toberdog

      Seriously, I would totally buy this book, too.

    • DrDick

      Definitely and I might buy extras to send to my son and grandson.

  • DrDick

    Thanks for this, as it is yet another bit of actively suppressed history. The IWW is demonized here in Montana, even though it was instrumental, indirectly at least, in improving the lives of miners here. My students are shocked to hear about what happened here and that both Mother Jones and Joe Hill were here. Even students from Butte, whose are descended from those miners are ignorant of their own history.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      one of my favorite bits of writing comes from Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest”, that was set in your general area. the wobblies have organized the miners, and against the advice of the old-style union man from Chicago, decided to strike and make history:

      ‘both sides bled plenty. the wobblies did their own bleeding. old Elihu (mine owner) hired strikebreakers, Pinkertons, the local law, the state national guard and parts of the regular army to do his’

      (from memory, probably botched)

      • DrDick

        I have recommended that book to Montana students to get the flavor of the era from the perspective of a participant in the events (as a Pinkerton strikebreaker).

      • I found a collection of all of Hammett’s novels in Legon and started reading it in the chronological order it was arranged in. I liked Red Harvest, but I could not finish the Dain Curse. I don’t know what it is about his second book, but I could not finish it. I think when I get back to Ghana I will just start again with the Maltese Falcon.

        • Christians, liberals and conservatives everywhere

          For me The Dain Curse is his weakest. Too much melodrama and bizarrerie.

          • Hogan

            I agree with all of those folks.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    always thought the wobblies were supposed to be the wild-eyed unrealistic idealists. apparently they were willing to cut deals once in a while?

    always wonder if the left is really more prone to personality-driven infighting or if it just seems that way because i’m more familiar with the history of the left

    • UserGoogol

      Pro-establishment political movements are probably inherently more unified, but when conservatives get more radical I think they’re perfectly capable of being divided by petty personality-driven issues. Off the top of my head, libertarianism has had some noisy schisms similar in dynamics to the left. Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, the Libertarian Party, the Cato Institute, lots of different organizations which hate each other.

      • Murc

        Their mutual hatred matters little if they’re all voting and voting the same way.

        • UserGoogol

          Well, as my mention of the Libertarian Party implies, there’s a segment of libertarianism which considers voting for the Republican Party to be apostasy. They’re a very small niche compared to all the nominal libertarians who vote Republican every time, but it’s not like the Green Party is all that popular either.

          And of course, moving more into the mainstream, a lot of the “Tea Party” controversy is less about concrete policy stances and more about a vague sense that politicians aren’t showing sufficient deference to conservative values. That’s not really the same thing, but it can get pretty personal.

  • Nick

    I’m curious if the One Big Union idea can be traced back to Looking Backwards, or if it was just a more pragmatic plan to increase influence? It’s been a long time since I’ve read Looking Backwards, but those words ring a bell.

    • That’s a good question. I’m a lot more knowledgeable about IWW actions than their intellectual vagaries, but given how hugely influential Bellamy was with American workers, I would not be surprised at all.

  • heckblazer

    Stephen King named his eldest son after Joe Hill, which I think is rather cool.

  • Big Bill Haywood

    How do I get “Big” appended to the beginning of my name? Because that’s nice.

    • toberdog

      When I think of Big Bob, I think of this.

    • Hogan

      It helps to be really, really big (that’s Haywood in the middle).

      • Hogan

        One of Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegle is named No’-As-Big-As-Medium-Sized-Jock-But-Bigger-than-Wee-Jock Jock.

      • Ah. Well. Never mind, then.

        Wow.

  • NS

    When reading stuff like this, about “workers fighting capitalism” it’s worth keeping in mind that workers have done much better under actually existing capitalism than actually existing socialism.

    • Nick

      And it’s worth remembering as well that the capitalism they’ve done better under was the capitalism that was punched in the face over and over and over again by labour until it moderated its rapacity and developed a (minimal) set of pro-worker pracitces.

      I’m curious, if you’d been a worker back in 1920, if you would have seen the point of the IWW?

    • Murc

      So what?

      If you offer me a choice between a guy who wants to steal my labor to enrich himself, and a guy who wants to murder me and dump my body on a bonfire, I’m going to pick the former guy, but that doesn’t make him NOT an evil shitstain.

      • So-in-so

        It appears through most of history that it is one guy, his need for #1 temp king his desire (or wlingness) to do #2.

      • Nick

        This is an excellent point — and to expand it, ‘socialism’ includes not only the evil bastards but many of the architects of the modern welfare state. It’s possible to take the socialism without the Stalin.

        • Margaret Thatcher

          The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.

          • Groover Norquizzt

            The beauty of Capitalism is that when you have enough money, you can buy politicians who say and act upon such adolescent views of the world.

          • The great thing about capitalism is you never run out of people to exploit.

        • This has been an historical debate and it appears that a successful socialist state does require the same type of primitive capital accumulation as capitalist industrial societies. That accumulation was pretty brutal in England, and in the USSR it was more so because it was compressed into a much shorter time frame. In the US the land was taken from Natives and labor from slaves for much of the accumulated capital. The USSR had no overseas colonies to exploit so the entire weight of the violent transfer and extraction of wealth fell upon its own rural population to finance industrialization. Without a Stalin it is very doubtful that the industrialization and massive improvement in living standards in the USSR could have been achieved nearly as fast as it was. It would have probably taken many decades more to reach the level it did by the 1950s and 60s without the forced industrialization of the 30s and 40s. The only example of a socialist state successfully moving a society from a low level of development to a high one without the mass use of terror is Cuba and it managed to acquire its capital from the USSR.

    • Linnaeus

      The socialist critique of capitalism contributed to improvements in workers’ lives under capitalism.

    • The Nation and People of Sweden

      Much like Canada, we don’t actually exist.

      • DrDick

        Or Britain under the Labour Party before 1990.

      • UserGoogol

        Social democracy and “socialism” seem different enough that it seems misleading to conflate them, even if for historical reasons social democrats like to call themselves socialist sometimes. In Sweden, the means of production are for the most part privately owned. Government is a larger percentage of the economy and unions are vastly more powerful than in the US, but the market-based economy is still firmly in effect.

        But yes, Nordic-style social democracy is awesome.

        • Also unlike Soviet style socialism agriculture remained private rather than forcibly collectivized to finance industrialization. The means of production in Sweden not only remained mostly privately owned, but there was never any nationalization and collectivization of land and farming the way there was in every actually socialist state at one time and still is in Uzbekistan. When somebody can show me that the state owns all the land in Sweden and controls what farmers can plant like currently exists in Uzbekistan then I will accept that Sweden is socialist. But, no dekulakization is pretty much an indicator that the state is not and never has been socialist.

          • Hogan

            But, no dekulakization is pretty much an indicator that the state is not and never has been socialist.

            You have an idiosyncratic definition of “socialism” if you equate it to “forcible collectivization of agriculture.” You might want to keep that in mind when discussing socialism with people who might have more mainstream definitions.

            • DrDick

              That has always been ragingly obvious. If it is not Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, or North Korea, it cannot be socialist in JOtto World.

            • Socialism is the collective which in large scale practice has meant state ownership of the means of production. If agriculture remains private like it has in Scandinavia that means there is no collective ownership of the most important sector of the economy. Farmers can do without industrial goods, but workers still have to eat. States where agriculture and usually retail have remained private have been much closer to more purely capitalist states than have those with collectivized agriculture even if there are a lot of state owned industries. There is clearly a difference between a state like Ghana under Nkrumah where agriculture and retail all remained private despite lots of state industries and Ethiopia under Mengistu where the agrarian base of the economy and those responsible for marketing that produce were nationalized and collectivized. The first looked a lot like the capitalist UK and the second like the socialist USSR.

              • Hogan

                Socialism is the collective which in large scale practice has meant state ownership of the means of production.

                As I said.

                • DrDick

                  Speaking as a syndicalist socialist, I concur.

                • To be fair, he’s correct in one way. These are the only forms of socialism that have existed on a state level.

                  There are no states organized under syndicalist principles, and never have been. States like the early USSR, PRC and Cuba are actually the only real examples we have…

                  BUT to imply that these represent the totality of socialism is kind of silly.

    • Baby Needs-A-Nym

      Everyone has already trotted out the pat answers to this, but it’s probably worth adding that it isn’t at all clear that this talking point is backed up by empirical evidence. Yes, workers in the US received higher wages than their counterparts in the Soviet Union, at least on average. But that doesn’t hold globally–many socialist “third-world” countries out-performed neighboring capitalist countries, although not uniformly–and it doesn’t take into account relative economic starting points.

      • It depends on time frame. But, certainly by the mid-70s South Korea was doing better than North Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, better than Mainland China, Thailand better than Cambodia, and the poorest state in Africa by the mid-80 so much so it was starving to death was Ethiopia, the one African state that most fully copied the Soviet model. I will grant that at that time Cuba was doing better than Haiti, but in Asia capitalist states were doing much better than their socialist neighbors by this time.

    • solidcitizen

      Bullshit.

      What does “socialism” mean when comparing how workers have done? Where? When? What does “capitalism” mean? Are workers in the US in 1905 doing better than workers in 2014 Sweden (or 1950s USSR?) Were workers in Cuba doing better under Batista than Castro? How the fuck do you measure?

      Why not just write “USA! USA! USA!” repeatedly, since this is all this comment means.

      • DrDick

        Actually, I think this comment is just a reflexive “Capitalism good! Sociamalism BAD!”

        • 100 million killed by Communism

          Yeah, nothing to be reflexive about here! Gotta be nuanced, see.

          • Nick

            If nuanced means looking at facts instead of words, then I guess you do gotta be nuanced. How many of those hundred million died in Scandinavia, Western Europe, Costa Rica, Canada, the United States, Australia, NZ, etc., all of which adopted policies that would have been considered socialist or communist in the early 20th century?

            • Anonymous

              None of those nations are Communist.

              • DrDick

                Nor did I or anyone else mention “communism”. You have no idea what you are talking about.

            • Anonymous

              Socialism is rooted in Marxism, which inevitably leads to Leninism (Communism). There’s no way around it.

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                ooh, fresh dumbprints

              • DrDick

                Actually, socialism predates Marx, who was inspired by earlier socialist movements. AS for Leninism, Mondragon would like a word with you. By your logic, capitalism inevitably leads to fascism.

              • wengler

                This comment inevitably leads to stupidity.

          • fossil fuel industry

            Don’t worry about it, man. We’re going to make that 100 mil look like *nothing* before we’re through.

          • solidcitizen

            Yes, communism – an economic theory and a political ideology – killed 100 million people. This makes sense.

            How ’bout this? Capitalism killed 300 million. I like you, pulled that figure out of my ass, but let’s say that I am holding “capitalism” responsible for all the deaths caused by imperialism, including mass die-offs from disease brought over by capitalists looking for new trade routes. My figure may be way off, others will surely help me here.

            • Baby Needs-A-Nym

              It sounds low to me.

              • DrDick

                Way low if you count every European or American war since 1800.

            • wengler

              A lot of people killed in Communist Party states were caused by crash industrialization. Communism was an organizing principle by which the Soviet Union and China created the infrastructure of a modern state.

              The slower 19th century industrialization of capitalist states also killed a lot of people, though much more spread out. The dislocation and extermination policies of the European powers and their breakaway colonies in the Americas also killed an incredible amount of people.

              • DrDick

                But those do not count, because FREEDUMB!(TM)

              • Hogan

                Well, sure, bot nobody nowadays honors Andrew Jackson or Queen Victoria or Winston Churchill.

                • DrDick

                  Or the Butcher of Hispanola, single-handedly responsible for the genocide of half a million Taino.

              • Yes, because as I mentioned earlier it is impossible to industrialize without such forced accumulation of capital. Using the state to boot strap the process speeds it up and increases the short term dislocation. But, my point is that socialism in practice hasn’t been any less brutal than capitalism. All this emphasis centuries of capitalist crimes also shows that socialism as it actually existed in the USSR was not sustainable. It did not even last a single century. Yet in that single century it managed to make a lot of headway in catching up to several centuries of capitalism in terms of body count as well as economic development. Using a coercive centralized state command economy to compress the industrial revolution into a single generation regardless of its sustainability and human costs is not something everybody agrees is a good idea. It is an extreme utilitarianism that says Stalinism was completely justified because the vast majority of the Soviet population in 1960 was better off than in 1916.

          • Turkle

            As someone once remarked, every death by starvation in a communist country is communism’s fault and the left has to answer for it forever, but every death by starvation in a capitalist country is the lazy bastard’s own fault – should have worked harder.

            • Malaclypse

              I seem to recall that Stalin once retorted that, while there were indeed starving peasants in Russia, they, unlike the US, were at least not burning crops to keep prices high.

              • But, they did burn crops and were often accused of it even when they weren’t as a way of resisting collectivization.

            • The death of large numbers of people rapidly from lack of sufficient food or famine is different than long term steady deaths from malnutrition. It turns out that famine can only exist in non-democratic societies such as dictatorships or under colonial rule. So post-independence India has never had a famine even though a large number of people have died from malnutrition during these decades. Since famine can be stopped by governments if by no other means than soliciting relief aid it makes sense to note the political responsibility of states for famine. Hence the Soviet government is generally held liable for the 32-33 famine in which they removed all the food from Ukraine, exported grain abroad, refused to release stockpiles of grain to feed people, sealed internal borders to prevent people from fleeing famine areas to find food, and publicly denied that a famine existed. If you wish to claim the Stalin regime’s actions did not contribute to excess deaths you need to make a better argument.

              In the case of famines in colonial situations, I have never seen anybody deny that the British government did not in fact bear responsibility for both the famine in Ireland in 1845-1852 and the one in Bengal in 1943. So yes the same people who point to Soviet responsibility for the Holodomor also note the British government’s responsibility for colonial famines. Nobody pointing to the Holodomor I know claims that people in Bengal starved in 1943 because they did not work hard enough. They claim they starved because of British government policies.

              • Hogan

                So yes the same people who point to Soviet responsibility for the Holodomor also note the British government’s responsibility for colonial famines. Nobody pointing to the Holodomor I know claims that people in Bengal starved in 1943 because they did not work hard enough.

                You lie down with trolls, you get up with fleas or worse. You’re taking the side of internet morons who don’t even know there was a famine in Bengal in 1943, they just pop out with their “100 million dead” every time the word “socialism” comes up. Just like you, come to think of it. So don’t give me this “nobody I know” crap. Look around you in this thread. Check out the people you’re agreeing with. And consider the possibility that “socialism” might for some of us be a set of values against which to test existing and possible social and economic arrangements, and that Stalinism might fail that test as thoroughly as laissez-faire capitalism.

                • The reference was meant to be to scholars like Sen who has done a lot of scholarship on famines, particularly Bengal. Famines are not the result of merely bad weather. They result in large part from political decisions. Many of the famines in the 20th century in the USSR, China, Vietnam, and Ethiopia were the result of agricultural collectivization which was the basis of providing capital for industrialization under the Soviet model. I suppose these famines could be defended on an extreme utilitarian basis. But, claiming that world capitalism killed more people than the Holodmor is a very, very, very poor defense of Stalinism.

                • Hogan

                  It’s not intended as a defense of Stalinism; it’s a riposte to the charge that Stalinism (toward which all socialism inevitably tends) is uniquely murderous. That’s the conversation you’re entering here, and you’re not on the side of the people who know stuff.

                • I don’t think Stalinism is uniquely murderous just not overall a significant improvement upon the capitalist mode of development that it mirrors. In reality I don’t think there could have been a completely humane path to industrialization. I do think compressing what took centuries in England into a couple of decades in the USSR made things considerably worse than they might have been otherwise. Also due to the size of the USSR and China they do tend to overshadow a lot of smaller states in the 20th century regarding sheer numbers. I also think that unlike their highly critical approach to capitalist development that US scholars especially have given the USSR a free ride on things like racial discrimination against groups like the Russian-Germans and Crimean Tatars.

                  I have mentioned Cuba as an exception to the use of mass terror here. If people were explicitly advocating that model rather than implying that we should take the Soviet model without Stalinism I wouldn’t have the same objections. But, all of the positive accomplishments of the USSR were a direct result of Stalinism so it is historically impossible to separate the two. Just as it is historically impossible to separate the economic success of the US from slavery. Oddly enough regarding agricultural collectivization, North Korea also avoided the use of mass terror for the same reasons as Cuba. But, development in Cuba managed to get access to Soviet foreign aid to substitute for extracting capital from its own population. So all indications are that the Cuban model was not really exportable in a way the Soviet one was. Squeezing your own peasantry like China, North Vietnam, and Ethiopia did was a more readily available option than trying to get huge amounts of unconditional development funds. Had there not been a Cold War perhaps Nicaragua or Mozambique might have come close. Although Mozambique is doing pretty well now, especially compared to Angola. So the flexibility of FRELIMO might actually be the most important factor in its successes both under socialism and capitalism.

      • Well individually your questions are pretty easy to answer. On an international scale workers in the USSR were doing pretty well in the 1950s. But, they were the descendants of the 90% of the population that survived the extreme brutality of the 30s and 40s which was aimed at forcibly creating a working class out of a largely rural population. For the 10% that died from dekulakization, artificial famine, GULag labor, being deported to special settlements because they were the wrong natsional’nost, or being shot in 37-38 things were not so good. Likewise US workers were doing pretty well in the 1950s and there was no comparable mass terror during the 20th century. Yes Cuban workers were generally better under Castro than Batista. But, Cuba is an outlier as a socialist state. Unlike the USSR, China, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Ethiopia there was no use of mass terror to collectivize agriculture in Cuba. It managed like North Korea to nationalize land abandoned by land owners who had fled the country and therefore did not need or have the opportunity to kill them.

        • DrDick

          Much like American workers in the 21st century are the survivors of the extreme brutality of the 19th and early 20th centuries. A sense of proportion and the loss of ideological blinders would do you a world of good.

          • Yeah, if you include the victims of slavery and the Native American genocide, and to create a fair comparison you have to include them, the body count of capitalism starts looking embarrassingly large.

            • DrDick

              Not to mention what happened in Africa and Asia under colonialism. Remember that modern European colonial empires pretty much coincide with the rise of capitalism. Capitalism owes its success to slavery and colonial exploitation.

              • Actually colonialism in most of Africa coincides with the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. West Africa was already integrated into the world capitalist economy through the trade first in gold then in slaves centuries before formal colonialism in the region. The Gold Coast only became a British colony in 1874. The Berlin Conference which finally divided up the continent among European powers was in 1884-1885.

                • DrDick

                  Yes it does and nothing in my statement implies otherwise. Colonialism in the Americas and India, however, occurred much earlier and drove the slave trade. Both of these were the foundations of modern capitalism which was built on the deaths and suffering of millions of Native Americans, Africans, and Indians, not to mention white European farmers and workers.

          • I am failing to see how compressing all of the brutality of capitalist development during the 18th and 19th centuries into the 1930s and 1940s as was done in the USSR creates a successful and humane alternative. I suppose it depends upon which part of the population one comes from. Obviously Russian white collar workers in Moscow of working class background in the 1930s were better off in many ways than poor African-American sharecroppers in the Deep South during the same time. But, even in the 19th and early 20th centuries most US citizens were infinitely better off than Kazakh nomads in 1930-1933, Ukrainian peasants in 1932-33, Chechens, Ingush, Karachais, Balkars, or Crimean Tatars in 1944-1956, or any of the other groups deliberately targeted for persecution by the the Soviet regime due to their ancestry. Millions of people in the US did not starve to death in the 1930s despite severe economic hardship.

        • wengler

          I think black people and American Indians lived in something close to constant terror. There’s a difference in degree with the Soviet experiment, but that’s mostly because the US was done with the project of deportations and concentration of the native peoples by that time.

          • DrDick

            Don’t tell the Filipinos about that.

          • Sure, capital has to be accumulated from somewhere. In the US Native land and African labor did much of it. But, allocating development to a centrally planned state directed economy does not eliminate the inhumane extraction of capital. It just displaces it elsewhere and sometimes it isn’t even all that different. Indigenous peoples in the Caucasus, Crimea, and Kalmyk Steppe suffered treatment under Stalin similar in many ways to US policy towards Native Americans. Instead of Cherokee and Navajos being forcibly resettled you have Kalmyks, Chechens, and Crimean Tatars internally deported. There were no African slaves, but most of the adult Soviet citizens of German nationality were conscripted for forced labor from 1942-1948. Given the unsustainable nature of the system, the awful mess that exists in the wake of its collapse, and the fact that its human cost included excesses that resembled some of the worst crimes of capitalist states I don’t think we can say that it was infinitely better than actually existing capitalism.

            • DrDick

              I like how you think butchery and brutality in the service of capitalism is OK, but is a monstrosity in communist countries. You are an idiological idiot, They are exactly the same thing. You cannot condemn Stalin or Mao, as I do, without doing the same to capitalism, whose toll was far higher.

              • There isn’t anything here defending any butchery by capitalists. Just pointing out that the USSR under Stalin did not present a humane alternative path to development. It too committed racist genocide (something you deny) against indigenous peoples and made extensive use of slave labor. This article is from today. They now estimate that the number of native Kazakhs to starve to death as a direct result of Soviet policy in the 1930s to be half rather than a quarter of the population. That is comparable or worse not far less than the worst crimes of capitalism during the same decade.

                http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1079304.html

                • DrDick

                  Nobody ever said the Soviets did. Comparing an already developed industrial capitalism of the 1930s with the rapidly industrializing Soviet Union at the same time is disingenuous at best. The proper comparison is the one I made and capitalism comes off much worse. The only difference is that the Soviets compressed into a few decades what took capitalism a couple of centuries.

                • It is not at all apparent that the USSR is much better. The compression is a qualitative difference that makes the percentage of those that suffered in the much less populated USSR much higher. Starving to death half of the entire Kazakh population in only three years in the 1930s does not seem to be a whole lot better than anything the US did in the 19th century.

    • UserGoogol

      Setting aside the question of what’s socialist and what isn’t, I don’t think “fighting capitalism” is the same as promoting socialism. It doesn’t even necessarily mean trying to abolish capitalism, although the Wobblies did both those things from time to time. It just means pushing against “capitalism” in the sense of the social and political power of capital owners. Capitalism in the broad sense of an economy where firms operating within a marketplace provide much of the goods and services is probably the best economic system yet devised, but those feisty capitalists don’t always do it justice.

      The words capitalism and socialism should probably be stricken from the English language for being used too often in wildly contradictory ways.

      • Christians, liberals and conservatives everywhere

        Hey, if you start pulling on that thread our whole world will come unraveled.

    • wengler

      Examples? The problem with your premise is that most modern economies are mixed with features of capitalism and socialism.

  • Happy Jack

    The legendary matron saint of the United Mine Workers, Mary “Mother” Jones was there.

    Who could have imagined that her legacy would end up as the masthead for the musings of Kevin Drum.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know anything about Kevin Drum, but while watching MSNBC I often wonder what Mother Jones would make of David Korn. I suspect she’d want to take him behind the outhouse and give him a good thrashing.

  • Comrade Lenin

    Nice to see liberals still make excises for me I used to call the, “useful idiots” in my day and nothing has seemed to change…

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      you’re like one of those japanese soldiers that stayed holed up on south pacific islands after ww2

      • So-in-so

        Only if the island had Internet access… Those Japanese soldiers didn’t much bother anyone during their 20 year “war”.

    • solidcitizen

      Which libera passed the useful idiot tax? Must have been Clinton.

    • DrDick

      For a definition of “useful idiot”, I suggest you look in the mirror. The Kochs and Waltons would like to thank you for all your free labor in their behalf, but they will never reward you for it.

    • wengler

      Did your boss thank you for all the money you made him last year? No? Well maybe next year.

  • I may have offered a thank you for this ongoing series before, but if not:

    THANK YOU.

  • Scott P.

    What a horrible example of an army divided against itself in the face of a strong combination of employers

    The IWW got off to a pretty rocky start as many of the founding figures peeled off in the inevitable infighting and destructive focus on personalities that has always plagued the American Left and continues to do so today. By 1908, the Western Federation of Miners had left their national project behind as moderates gained control over that union and returned to the Rockies. Daniel DeLeon was expelled, trying briefly to operate an alternative One Big Union from Detroit. The reformist socialists split with the revolutionary socialists in 1906.

    Oh, the irony.

  • jkay

    The word for total socialism is COMMUNISM.

    The word for partial socialism is SOCIALISM.

    It’s been obscured by OTT GOP propaganda.

    • Soviet and other literature refer to the actually existing systems as socialism. Communism was an aspiration and a goal. Hence the use of the word in the names of the ruling parties. But, according to Marx for communism to replace socialism the state had to wither away and the state in the USSR never did.

    • DrDick

      This highlights a central problem with this whole debate, which is the insistence that there is one true definition of socialism (or capitalism for that matter). Socialism is not unitary and has always been diverse. As I mentioned upthread, it predates Marx and there are still non-Marxist forms around (such as anarcho-syndicalism). Most modern socialism has certainly been influenced by Marx, however. JOtto stupidly insists that Societ style Leninist (these systems derive their distinctive featuyres more from Lenin than from Marx himself) state socialism is the only true form, but there are others in existence as well. Mondragon Corporation is a highly successful and long standing example of syndicalist socialism in action and the European social democracies are classic examples of Fuabian (gradualist) socialism in practice. The British Labour Party was explicitly socialist until fairly recently, as were several European Social-Democratic parties.

  • Anonymous

    The IWW continue to inspire new generations of leftists decade after decade. It may be their greatest contribution to the labor movement.

    • DrDick

      You really are deranged, aren’t you?

      • Anonymous

        Hm? I meant that as a compliment to the IWW?

      • Anonymous

        I think you may be confusing me with another ‘Anonymous”

        I usually post comments under my own name but am using a borrowed laptop today.

        I find much to admire in the IWW and was inspired myself as a youngster by the stories of its struggles. I think the 60s generation in particular was able to find a spiritual ancestor in the IWW.

        • DrDick

          Sorry about that. Your comment was in line with some posted by our trolls. While there are a few things I like about the IWW, as Erik keeps pointing out they were generally rather disorganized and ineffective over the longer term.

          • Anonymous

            Yes, that was what I was trying to get at in a rather roundabout why. The legacy of the IWW is not any concrete achievement for the working class, but rather a romantic vision of a new kind of working-class movement that continues to inspire (some of us) to this day.

            • I’d argue this is actually a problem. After all, it was the CIO that accomplished actual concrete gains for the American worker. There’s probably a lot more to learn from it than the IWW.

              • Anonymous

                Yes, and there is probably even more to learn from the Hod Carriers or the Carpenters, which have proven to be durable organizations that have actually put bread on the table for countless workers over the last century or so.

                But the Hod Carriers never gave us “Rebel Girl” Elizabeth Gurley Flynn….

  • David T

    On the IWW, I would just say that nothing annoys me more than to see people–sometimes otherwise literate people–refer to the IWW as the “International Workers of the World.” Even the most *wobbly* intellect should see the redundancy there. (“International workers of all nations, unite?”) Not to mention that the word Industrial was an important part of the title–it signified their support of industrial, as distinguished from craft, unionism.

    As usual, some people just have to drag in the Soviet Union whenever any anti-capitalist organization is mentioned. But what does One Big Union have to do with the Soviet Union? True, some ex-Wobblies eventually joined the Communist Party and even became Stalinists (like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn). But that is like saying that because some Trotskyists became neoconservatives, Trotskyism and neoconservatism are identical. Wobblies who remained true to the IWW always rejected Soviet state socialism.

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