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

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Composition and Principles

"In considering such a movement as the I.W.W.," declared the St. Louis Republic in 1912, "there is no need to pause over its history.... Nor is it necessary to consider the philosophy. It has none. It is mere brute ferocity. The tiger which springs on the traveler in the jungle has no philosophy -- only a thirst for blood. He cannot be reasoned with -- he must be overcome."1 We have already seen that the I.W.W. had a history. We will now see that it also had a philosophy.

After the fourth convention in 1908, it was possible for the I.W.W. to begin organization again. The De Leon group had formed its own organization and the factional struggle that had torn the I.W.W. apart and held back organizational activities was laid to rest. This is not to say that doctrinal disputes had disappeared. For one thing, even in the relatively homogeneous I.W.W. that emerged from the schism of 1908, there was a continuing conflict as to whether the organization should be a functioning labor union, combining the struggle for higher wages and better working conditions with a program for revolutionary socialism, or a revolutionary cadre concentrating only on leading the working class to the revolution. The national headquarters stressed the first, while many of the more anarchical members emphasized the second, arguing that there was a contradiction between the goals of revolution and unionism, and that to concentrate on the latter would blind the workers to the final aim. Indeed, these members felt that the I.W.W. should abandon any pretense of being an economic organization and devote its energies exclusively to propaganda and agitation.2

In addition, hostility between eastern and western members often prevented unified action. "At every convention of our organization...," the official I.W.W. journal conceded in 1911, "more or less rivalry or misunderstanding has been manifest between delegates from the East and West." Nevertheless, by 1909 the I.W.W., having defined itself as a revolutionary industrial union devoted to economic activity, was suffi-

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