May 01 2012

Socialism Militant, Socialism Triumphant: thoughts on communism and the workplace inspired by William Morris and the IWW

 

An important topic for discussion by the Left today is labor  organization as we know it under capitalism, and as it could be under socialism and communism. Below are statements from our radical history, and one that is an outgrowth of that history. Taken together, they offer guidance.

In the conclusion to his commentary on Socialism Triumphant (Commonweal, 1888), William Morris provides the context for such a discussion: namely, the goals, values, visionary perspective, and determination that motivate our actions as revolutionaries living and working within a reactionary and powerful capitalist system. In ’60’s  lingo, we keep our eyes on the prize.

Within a decade after Morris’s death in 1896, the IWW was founded on the same dictums, presented succinctly in the preamble to its constitution: stay true to the principles and lessons of class struggle, and carry on the fight until our class overthrows capitalism and takes control of production and the wealth we create, however long that may take. For both Morris and the IWW, this requires vision, education, organization, agitation, and perseverance.

Today, increasing numbers of people have arrived at the gateway of communist consciousness. Through the vast range of horrendous and joyous experiences of the 20th Century, up to the present day, most of us realize that global injustice and inequality run rampant. An example of this is the successful effort of a health care worker in the U.S. to make links between health care workers, health care center management, the state, mainstream media, the business unions, and global capitalism.

The writer’s analysis is put forward in an article written in response to an IWW discussion paper on the theory and practice of direct unionism, a statement from which is quoted below. In it, the writer calls for a definition of workplace organizing that includes the interpersonal, social, and cultural facets involved. This would not only reaffirm the beauty and certainty of the views of Morris and the IWW founders, but also deepen them. As now and in the past, workers in the future will no doubt have differences of opinion and find themselves in conflict, at times, over personal, political, and management issues. Workplaces, like families, are microcosms of society, and even when communism is achieved, certain personal and political matters will continue to get played-out there.

As we try to live our lives as socialist militants helping pave the way for the triumph of communism, we should give attention, as the IWW writer suggests, to replacing destructive and exploitative structures and systems simultaneously at our workplaces and within our families and communities– and by extension to, and between, our countries and regions. With an eye to a future communist society, and through collective effort, we should experiment with forms of social organization that assume people’s desire and capacity to support, show compassion toward, and get along with each other, while creating mechanisms designed to enable us to do so.

As in the past and the present, this process relies on education, solidarity networks, street actions, and the creation of alternative means of political and cultural expression and new forms of organization in our workplaces and homes– all springing from resistance to existing power structures and directives.

Capitalism has perfected and continually reinforces the compartmentalizing of our lives. By doing all we can to reintegrate ourselves as workers, family members, and carers of the community, we can come to appreciate how an injury to one part of ourselves and our lives is an injury to the entire organism- personal and social. In this way, we’ll be taking a big step from individual and social militancy toward collective triumph for our species and the earth.

 

From William Morris’s commentary Socialism Triumphant (Part 2), in the 19 May 1888 issue of Commonweal, the publication of the Socialist League

“We may be asked, since we have been putting forward the doctrine of evolution throughout these chapters, what Socialism in its turn will evolve. We can only answer that Socialism denies the finality of human progress, and that any system of which we can now conceive of as Socialism must necessarily give way to a new development of society.But that development is necessarily hidden from us by the unfinished struggle in which we live, in which for us the supreme goal is the Socialism we have been putting forward. Nor do we repine at this limitation of our insight; that goal is sublime and beautiful enough which promises to us the elevation of the whole of the people to a level of intelligent happiness and pleasurable energy, which at present is reached, if at all, only by a chosen few at the expense of the misery and degradation of the greater part of mankind; and even by those few, is held on such a precarious tenure that it is to them little better than a pleasant dream disturbed by fantastic fears which have their birth from the terribly real sufferings of the ordinary life of the masses on whom they live.”

 

From the Preamble to the Constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World (founded 1905)

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

“Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the earth… Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

“… It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalism, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing  industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.”

 

From Direct Unionism and Beyond, by healthcare worker Jomo, in April 2012 issue of Industrial Worker, the monthly publication of the IWW

“We need to have a discussion [within the IWW] about how our organizing, over the long run, can prepare for a qualitative shift from a capitalist mode of production to a new form of society – one that is not a transitional state controlled by bureaucrats. This qualitative shift is a process that involves changing capitalist social relations. Even though this process can only take place during revolution, we need to agitate and educate around it now as we fight.

Our demands should be directed not only at the necessity of better working conditions and wages, but also at breaking down the division between mental and manual labor, between gendered and racial divisions at the workplace and the like… Direct unionism as an activity is only the beginning. We have much more, in theory and in practice, that we need to discuss and work on.”

 

Susan Dorazio, May Day, 2012

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