History of the Labor Movement in the United States - Vol. 4

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 18
The Debate over "Boring-from-Within"

Although the major issues in the conflict between the I.W.W. and the Socialist Party revolved about direct versus political action, and especially sabotage, many Socialists had criticized the I.W.W. for "dual unionism" since its birth. Socialist theorists regularly predicted that this policy, along with the I.W.W.'s opposition to political action and reliance on "direct action," would prevent the organization from growing and stabilizing itself. Unless this policy was reversed and replaced by the policy of "boring- from-within," the I.W.W. would pass into oblivion like the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance. A number of these critics acknowledged the sincerity of the I.W.W. and admired the courage and militancy of those associated with the organization who adhered to their convictions in the face of imprisonment, terror, and death. But they criticized the I.W.W. for withdrawing the revolutionary blood from the old trade unions at a time when it was most needed, contending that the abandonment of the old unions by the militants amounted to a complete surrender to the conservative labor bureaucracy, and that this was a mortal blow to all revolutionary sentiments of organized labor in the United States.

The Wobblies had always heaped scorn on these arguments, and, as relations between the Socialist Party and the I.W.W. became increasingly bitter, this was reflected in the bitterness with which the case for "boring-; from-;within" was greeted in I.W.W. circles. In 1910, the I.W.W. dismissed the Socialist call for the Wobblies to use their energy "inside the A.F. of L. to gradually transform said organization into an industrial or. ganization" with the/statement that the A.F. of L. "is not a labor organization," and that even if its leadership "is succeeded by 'Socialists' of the S.P. type the A.F. of L. would be almost as yellow as it is today. The S.P. proves this itself, as it is becoming more reactionary every year."1 In December 1910, Haywood thought he had clinched the argument against "boring-from-within" by quoting Eugene V. Debs as having told him:

"' Bill, there is no other thing than this: there is nothing but industrial

-415-

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