The Policies and Practices of the American Federation of Labor, 1900-1909 - Vol. 3

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
The Socialists, 1900-1905: "Boring from Within"

In many accounts of the American labor movement during the opening years of the 20th century, the role of the Socialists constitutes but a few stray footnotes to the history of the period. Too many labor historians have made little if any distinction between the different variety of Socialists, although they followed very different trade union policies. In general, this difference revolved about the tactics to be followed for the penetration of the American labor movement by Socialist views and doctrines. Popularly they were known by the expressions "boring from within" and "boring from without."


BORING FROM WITHIN" AND "BORING FROM WITHOUT

The theory of "boring from within" emphasized that the Socialists should work inside the existing unions, especially the A. F. of L. and its affiliates, helping the unions in their economic struggles, and in this way win support for the Socialist Party in its political struggles and gradually convert the trade unionists of America to socialism. As Job Harriman, Socialist Party leader, told the Socialists in a public debate with Daniel De Leon, leader of the Socialist Labor Party, on November 25, 1900:

"Go into your Union; when a strike comes on, espouse the cause of the Union, take up the fight of the Union, make their interests your interests, and when you do, you will find that they will open their ears to every argument that promises a benefit and a means to further their ends....

"I say to you men that the possibility of boring from within is infinite in scope. Because you work with the laborers in their struggles and in their strifes and when they are in their fight and the party backs them in their struggles, you open their ears not only to political action, but to the political philosophy that lies behind the political action that is taught;

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