VI. THE U.S. INDUSTRIAL PROLETARIAT
1. "The Communistic and Revolutionary Races"
The industrial system in the U.S. came into full stride at the turn of the century. In 1870 the U.S. steel industry was far behind that of England in both technology and size. From its small, still relatively backward mills came less than one-sixth of the pig iron produced in England. But by 1900 U.S. steel mills were the most highly mechanized, efficient and profitable in the world. Not only did they produce twice the tonnage that England did, but in that year even England - the pioneering center of the iron and steel industry - began to import cheaper Yankee steel. (1) That year the U.S. Empire became the world's leading industrial producer, starting to shoulder aside the factories of Old Europe. (2)
Such a tidal wave of production needed markets on a scale never seen before. The expansion of the U.S. Empire into a worldwide Power tried to provide those. Yet the new industrial Empire also needed something just as essential - an industrial proletariat. The key to the even greater army of wage-slaves was another flood of emigration from Old Europe. This time from Southern and Eastern Europe: Poles, Italians, Slovaks, Serbs, Hungarians, Finns, Jews, Russians, etc. From the 1880s to the beginning of the First World War some 15 millions of these new emigrants arrived looking for work. And they came in numbers which dwarfed the tempo of the old Irish, German and Scandinavian immigration of the mid-1800s (and that was 3 1/2 times as large as the Anglo-Saxon, German and Scandinavian immigration of the 1898-1914 period). (3)
They had a central role in the mass wage-labor of the new industrial Empire. The capitalists put together the raw materials and capital base extracted from the earlier colonial conquests, the labor of the Euro-Amerikan craftsman, and the new millions of industrial production workers from Southern and Eastern Europe.
In 1910 the U.S. Immigration Commission said:
A large portion of the Southern and Eastern immigrants of the past twenty-five years have entered the manufacturing and mining industries of the eastern and middle western states, mostly in the capacity of unskilled laborers. There is no basic industry in which they are not largely represented and in many cases they compose more than 50 per cent of the total numbers of persons employed in such industries. Coincident with the advent of these millions of unskilled laborers there has been an unprecedented expansion of the industries in which they have been employed. (4)
In the bottom layers of the Northern factory the role of the new, non-citizen immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe was dominant. A labor historian writes: "More than 30,000 were steelworkers by 1900. The newcomers soon filled the unskilled jobs in the Northern mills, forcing the natives and the earlier immigrants upward or out of the industry. In the Carnegie plants* of Allegheny County in March, 1907, 11,694 of 14,539 common laborers were Eastern Europeans." (5)
[*The Carnegie Steel Company was the leading firm in the industry. In 1901, under the guidance of J.P. Morgan, it became the main building block in the first of the giant trusts (which was named the U.S. Steel Corporation).]
This was not just the arithmetic, quantitative addition of more workers. The mechanization of industrial production qualitatively transformed labor relations, reshaping the masses themselves. Instead of skilled craftsmen using individual machines as tools to personally make a tin sheet or an iron rod, the new mass-production factory had gangs of unskilled workers tending semi-automatic machines and production lines, with the worker controlling neither the shape of the product nor the ever-increasing pace of production. This was the system, so well known to us, whose intense pressures remolded peasants and laborers into an industrial class.
This new industrial proletariat - the bottom, most exploited foundation of white wage-labor - was nationally distinct. That is, it was composed primarily of the immigrant national minorities from Southern and Eastern Europe. Robert Hunter's famous expose, Poverty, which in 1904 caused a public sensation in settler society, pointed this national distinction out in very stark terms:
In the poorest quarters of many great American cities and industrial communities one is struck by a most peculiar fact - the poor are almost entirely foreign born. Great colonies, foreign in language, customs, habits, and institutions, are separated from each other and from distinctly American groups on national and racial lines... These colonies often make up the main portion of our so-called 'slums'. In Baltimore 77 percent of the total population of the slums was, in the year 1894, of foreign birth or parentage. In Chicago the foreign element was 90 percent; in New York, 95 percent; and in Philadelphia, 91 percent... (6)
The 9th Special Report of the Federal Bureau of Labor revealed that immigrant Italian workers in Chicago had average earnings of less than $6 per week; 57% were unemployed part of the year, averaging 7 months out of work. (7) For the new mass-production system found it more profitable to run at top speed for long hours when orders were high, and then shut down the factory completely until orders built up again. In 1910, a year of high production for the steel industry, 22% of the labor force was unemployed for three months or longer, and over 60% were laid off for at least one month. (8)
Even in an industry such as steel (where the work week at that time was seven days on and on), the new immigrant workers could not earn enough to support a family. In 1910 the Pittsburgh Associated Charities proved that if an immigrant steel laborer worked for 365 straight days he still could "not provide a family of five with the barest necessities."
And these were men who earned $10-12 per week. In the textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts, the 15,000 immigrant youth from age 14 who worked there earned only 12 cents per hour. A physician, Dr. Elizabeth Shapleigh, wrote: "A considerable number of boys and girls die within the first two or three years after starting work ... 36 out of every 100 of all men and women who work in the mills die before reaching the age of 25." (9)
The proletarian immigrants did not see Amerika as a "Land of Freedom" as the propaganda says, but as a hell of Satanic cruelty. One historian reminds us:
"The newcomers harbored no illusions about America. "There in Pittsburgh, people say, the dear sun never shines brightly, the air is saturated with stench and gas," parents in Galicia wrote their children. A workman in the South Works* warned a prospective immigrant: "If he wants to come, he is not to complain about me for in America there are neither Sundays nor holidays; he must go to work." Letters emphasized that "here in America one must work for three horses." "There are different kinds of work, heavy and light," explained another, "but a man from our country cannot get the light." An Hungarian churchman inspecting Pittsburgh steel mills exclaimed bitterly: "Wherever the heat is most insupportable, the flames most scorching, the smoke and soot most choking, there we are certain to find compatriots bent and wasted with toil." Returned men, it was said, were worn out by their years in America. (10)
[*U.S. Steel South Works in Chicago, Illinois.]
In South Works nearly one-quarter of the new immigrant steelworkers were injured or killed on the job each year. (11)
In the steel mill communities - company towns - these laborers in the pre-World War I years were usually single, with even married men having been forced to leave their families in the "old country" until they could either return or become more successful. They lived crowded into squalid boarding houses, owned by "boarding-bosses" who were fellow countrymen and often as well the foremen who hired them (different nationalities often worked in separate gangs, so that they had a common language).
Sleeping three or four to a room, they spent much of their free time in the saloons that were their solace. As in all oppressed communities under capitalism, cheap drink was encouraged as a pacifier. Immigrant mill communities would fester with saloons - Gary, Indiana had more than one saloon for every one hundred inhabitants. Of course, the local police and courts preyed on these "foreigners" with both abuse and shakedowns. They had few democratic rights in the major urban centers, and in the steel or mining or rubber or textile company towns they had none.
In the U.S. Empire nationality differences have always been disguised as “racial” differences (so that the Euro-Amerikan settlers can maintain the fiction that theirs is the only real nation). The Eastern and Southern European national minorities were widely defined as non-white, as members of genetically different (and backward) races from the "white" race of Anglo-Saxons. This pseudo-scientific, racist categorizing only continued an ideological characteristic of European capitalist civilization. The Euro-Amerikans have always justified their conquest and exploitation of other nationalities by depicting them as racially different. This old tactic was here applied even to other Europeans.
So Francis A. Walker, President of M.I.T. (and the "Dr. Strangelove" figure who as U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs developed the Indian reservation system), popularized the Social Darwinistic theory that the new immigrants were "beaten men from beaten races; representing the worst failures in the struggle for existence..." Thus, as double failures in the "survival of the fittest," these new European immigrants were only capable of being industrial slaves.
The wildest assertions of "racial" identity were common. Some Euro-Amerikans claimed that these "swarthy" Europeans were really "Arabs" or "Syrians." U.S. Senator Simmons of North Carolina claimed that the Southern Italians were 'the degenerate progeny of the Asiatic hordes which, long centuries ago, overran the shores of the Mediterranean..." (12)
The St. Paul, Minnesota District Attorney argued in Federal court that Finns shouldn't receive citizenship papers since "a Finn ... is a Mongolian and not a 'white person'." Scientists were prominent in the new campaign. Professor E.A. Hooton of Harvard University claimed that there were actually nine different "races" in Europe, each with different mental abilities and habits. As late as 1946, in the widely-used textbook, New Horizons In Criminology, Prof. Hooton's pseudo-science was quoted by police to "prove" how Southern Italians tended to "crimes of violence," how Slavs "show a preference for sex offenses," and so on. (13)
A widely-read Saturday Evening Post series of 1920 on the new immigrants warned that unless they were restricted and kept segregated the result would be "a hybrid race of people as worthless and futile as the good-for-nothing mongrels of Central America and Southeastern Europe." (14) On the street level, newspapers and common talk sharply distinguished between "white Americans" and the "Dago" and "Hunky" - who were not considered "white" at all.
The bourgeoisie had a dual attitude of fearing these new proletarians during moments of unrest and eagerly encouraging their influx when the economy was booming. It was often stated that these "races" were prone to extreme and violent political behavior that the calm, business-like Anglo-Saxon had long since outgrown. One writer in a business journal said: "I am no race worshipper, but... if the master race of this continent is subordinated to or overrun with the communistic and revolutionary races it will be in grave danger of social disaster." (15)
One answer - and one that became extremely important - was to "Americanize" the new laboring masses, to tame them by absorbing them into settler Amerika, to remake them into citizens of Empire. The Big Bourgeoisie, which very much needed this labor, was interested in this solution. In November, 1918 a private dinner meeting of some fifty of the largest employers of immigrant labor discussed Americanization (this was the phrase used at the time). Previous social work and employer indoctrination campaigns directed at the immigrants had not had much success.
It was agreed by those capitalists that the spread of "Bolshevism" among the industrial immigrants was a real danger, and that big business should undercut this trend and "Break up the nationalistic, racial groups by combining their members for America." (16) It was thus well understood by the bourgeoisie that these European workers' consciousness of themselves as oppressed national minorities made them open to revolutionary ideas - and, on the other hand, their possible corruption into Amerikan citizens would make them more loyal to the U.S. Imperialism.
The meeting formed the Inter-Racial Council, with corporate representatives and a tactical window-dressing of conservative, bourgeois "leaders" from the immigrant communities. T. Coleman DuPont became the chairman. Francis Keller, the well-known social worker and reformer became the paid coordinator of the Council's programs. It sounded just like so many of the establishment pacify-the- ghetto committees of the 1960s - only the "races" being "uplifted" were all European.
The Council's main efforts were directed at propaganda. The American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers (in actuality a private company that placed Amerikan big business advertising in the many foreign language community newspapers) was purchased. With total control over the all-important major advertising, the Council began to dictate the political line of many of those newspapers. Anti-communist and anti-union articles were pushed.
The Council also, in concert with government agencies and private capitalist charities, promoted Americanization "education" programs (i.e. political indoctrination): "adult education" night schools for immigrants, state laws requiring them to attend Americanization classes, laws prohibiting the use of any language except English in schools, etc., etc. The Americanization movement had a lasting effect on the Empire. The Inter-Racial Council was dropped by the capitalists in 1921, since by then Americanization had its own momentum. (17)
At the same time, national chauvinism and the specific class interests of the Euro-Amerikan petit-bourgeoisie and labor aristocracy led to campaigns against the new immigrants. State licensing acts in New York, Connecticut, Michigan, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico barred non-citizen immigrants from competing with the settler professionals in medicine, pharmacy, architecture, engineering, and so on. (18) Under the banner of anti-Catholicism, various right-wing organizations attempted to mobilize the settler masses against the new immigrants. One such group, the Guardians of Liberty, was headed by retired U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Nelson Miles (who had commanded the military repressions at both Wounded Knee and later in the invasion of Puerto Rico). The Loyal Legion, the Ku Klux Klan and other secret paramilitary groups were also heavily involved in attacks on immigrants, particularly when they became active in socialist organizations or went out on strikes. (19)
Most significantly, the settler trade-unions themselves started picturing these new proletarians as the enemy. The unions of the American Federation of Labor (A.F.L.) were heavily imbued with the labor aristocracy viewpoint of the "native-born" settlers. This was true even though an earlier wave of German and Irish immigrants had played such a large role in founding those unions. Now they fought to bar the "Dago" and "Hunky" from the better-paid work, from union membership, and even from entering the U.S. In New York, the Bricklayers Union got Italians fired from public works projects. A.F.L. President Samuel Gompers united with right-wing U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in campaigning to extend the anti-Asian immigration bars to the "nonwhite" Eastern and Southern Europeans as well. (20)
This process was very visible in the steel mills. It became socially unacceptable for "white" settlers to work with the Slavs and the Italians on the labor gangs. Increasingly they left the hard work to the European national minorities and either moved up to foreman, skilled positions - or out of the mills. The companies pushed the separation. Euro-Amerikans applying for ordinary labor jobs were told: "only Hunkies work on those jobs, they're too damn dirty and too damn hot for a 'white' man ... No white American works in steel-plant labor gang unless he's nuts or booze-fighter." A steel labor history tells us:
The English-speaking workman was in general content to ignore the immigrants. Outside the mill he rarely encountered them or entered their crowded streets. But indifference often edged into animosity... Disdain could be read also in the stereotyped Dago and Hunky in the short stories that appeared in labor papers, and in the frankly hostile remarks of native workers.
Eager to dissociate himself from the Hunky, the skilled man identified with the middling group of small shopkeepers and artisans, and with them came to regard the merchants and managers as his models. Whatever his interests may have been, the English-speaking steelworker had a psychological commitment in favor of his employer. (21)
So the imperialist era had begun with Euro-Amerikan wage-labor still a privileged, upper stratum dominated by a petit-bourgeois viewpoint. And although the new industrial proletariat was overwhelmingly European in origin, it was primarily made up of the oppressed national minorities from Eastern and Southern Europe - "foreigners" widely considered "nonwhite" by the settlers. The U.S. Empire's policy of relegating the work of "supporting society," of carrying out the tasks of the proletariat, to oppressed workers of other nationalities, was thus continued in a more complex way into the 20th century. At the same time the capitalists were raising the possibility of buying off political discontent by offering these proletarians Americanization into settler society.
2. Industrial Unionism
As U.S. imperialism stumbles faster and faster into its permanent decline, once again we hear the theory expressed that some poverty and the resulting mass economic struggles will create revolutionary consciousness in Euro-Amerikan workers. The fact is that such social pressures are not new to White Amerika. For three decades - from 1890 to 1920 - the new white industrial proletariat increasingly organized itself into larger and larger struggles with the capitalists.
The immigrant European proletarians wanted industrial unionism and the most advanced among them wanted socialism. A mass movement was built for both. These were the most heavily exploited, most proletarian, and most militant European workers Amerika has ever produced. Yet, in the end, they were unable to go beyond desiring the mere reform of imperialism.
The mass industrial struggles of that period were important in that they represented the highest level of class consciousness any major stratum of European workers in the U.S. has yet reached. And even in this exceptional period - a period of the most aggressive and openly anticapitalist labor organizing - European workers were unable to produce an adequate revolutionary leadership, unable to defeat the settler labor aristocracy, unable to oppose U.S. imperialism, and unable to unite with the anticolonial movements of the oppressed nations. We can sum up the shortcomings by saying that they flirted with socialism - but in the end preferred settlerism.
The Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) was the most important single organization of this period. From its founding in 1905 (the year of the first Russian Revolution) until 1920, the I.W.W. was the center of industrial unionism in the U.S. It was the form in which the Northern and Western white industrial proletariat first emerged into mass political consciousness. Unlike the restrictive craft unions of the A.F.L.., the I.W.W. organized on a class basis. That is, it organized and tried to unite all sections of the white working class (copper miners, auto workers, cowboys, hotel workers, farm laborers, and even the unemployed). It was based on the European immigrant proletarians and the bottom stratum - usually migrant - of "native-born" Euro-Amerikan workers.
The I.W.W. saw itself as not only winning better wages, but eventually overthrowing capitalism. It was a syndicalist union (the "One Big Union") meant to combine workers of all trades and nationalities literally around the world. This was a period in the development of the world proletariat where these revolutionary syndicalist ideas had wide appeal. The immature belief that workers needed no revolutionary party or leadership, but merely had to gather into industrial unions and bring down capitalism by larger and larger strikes, was a passing phase. In 1900 these revolutionary syndicalist unions were popular in Spain, France, Italy - as well as briefly in the U.S. Empire.
While the I.W.W. was backward in many respects, in others it displayed great strengths. It was genuinely proletarian. As an effective mass labor organization, it showed a fighting spirit long since vanished from white workers. We are referring to an open anti-Amerikanism. The I.W.W. urged workers to reject any loyalty to the U.S. Unlike the majority of Euro-Amerikan "Socialists," the I.W.W. linked "American" nationalism with the bourgeois culture of lynch mob patriotism. Just as the I.W.W. was the last white union movement to be socialist, it also represented the last stratum of white workers to be in any way internationalist.
Great boldness relative to the usual settler trade-unionism characterized the I.W.W. First, it promoted unity on the broadest scale then attempted, in the U.S. including not only the "Dago" and "Hunky" but also explicitly declaring that industrial unionism meant the inclusion of Mexicanos, Asians, Afrikans, Indians and all nationalities. Second, it undertook the most militant campaigns of union organization and struggle, expressing the desperate needs of the most exploited white workers. Third, the I.W.W. was able to advance industrial unionism here by learning from the more advanced and experienced immigrants from Old Europe.
Because of this, the I.W.W. was able to launch strikes and unionization drives on a scale never seen before in the U.S. In the years after 1905 the "Wobblies" led an escalating explosion of union struggles: Hotel workers in Arizona, lumberjacks in Washington, textile workers in Massachusetts, seamen in ports from Chile to Canada, auto workers in Detroit, and so on. And there were many notable victories, many successful strikes. It must be emphasized that to workers used to seeing only defeats, the I.W.W's ability to help them win strikes was no small matter.
For example, in 1909 the I.W.W. helped the immigrant workers at the McKees Rocks, Pa. plant of the Pressed Steel Car Co. (a subsidiary of the U.S. Steel trust) win their strike. This was of national importance, since it was the first time that workers had won a strike against the mammoth Steel Trust. That strike, which taught so much to union militants here, was led by an underground "Unknown Committee" representing both the I.W.W. and the various European nationalities. The "Unknown Committee" had the knowledge of veterans of the 1905 Russian Revolution, the Italian labor resistance, the German Metal Workers Union, and the Swiss and Hungarian railway strikes. It is clear that through the I.W.W. the more experienced and politically educated European workers taught their backward Amerikan cousins how to look out after their class interests. (22)
In 1914 the I.W.W.'s Agricultural Workers Organization (A.W.O.) pulled off an organizing feat unequalled for fifty years. They established the "world's longest picket line," running 800 miles from Kansas up to Rapid City, South Dakota. In distant railroad yards I.W.W. strongarm squads maintained a blockade, in which non-union workers were kept out. Confronted with a critical labor shortage at harvest time, the growers had to give in. This was the biggest agricultural labor drive in the U.S. until the 1960s. The A.W.O. itself grew to almost 70,000 members, becoming the largest single union within the I.W.W. In fact, at the 1916 I.W.W. Convention the A.W.O. actually had a majority of the votes (252 out of 335 votes). (23)
But by 1920 the I.W.W. had declined sharply. Not from failure in an organizational sense, but from both it and the strata that it represented having reached the limits of their political consciousness. The I.W.W. was able to build industrial unions of the most exploited white workers and to win many strikes, but past that it was unable to advance. Its local unions usually fell apart quickly, and many of its victories were soon reversed. The landmark 1909 steel industry victories at McKees Rocks and Hammond, Indiana were reversed within a year. The 1912 Lawrence, Mass. textile strike - the single most famous strike in U.S. trade union history - was also a great victory, and the I.W.W. also crushed there by the next year. This was the general pattern.
The external difficulties faced by the I.W.W. were far greater than just the straight-forward opposition of the factory owners. The Euro-Amerikan aristocracy of labor and its A.F.L. unions viciously fought this upsurge from below. During the great 1912 Lawrence, Mass. textile strike, the A.F.L.'s United Textile Workers Union scabbed throughout the strike. The A.F.L. officially backed the mill owners. In McKees Rocks, Pa. the skilled workers of the A.F.L. Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers used guns to break a second I.W.W. strike.
And the factories and mines were not isolated, but were part of settler Amerika, where the masses of petit-bourgeois farmers, small merchants and professionals joined the foremen, skilled craftsmen and supervisors in backing up the bosses. The European immigrants represented perhaps only one-seventh of the white population, and were greatly outnumbered.
The I.W.W.'s weaknesses, however, primarily reflected its inner contradictions. The syndicalist outlook, while sincerely taken by many, was also a convenient cover to avoid dealing with the question of settlerism. Using the ultra-revolutionary sounding syndicalist philosophy the I.W.W. could avoid any actual revolutionary work. In fact, despite its anti-capitalist enthusiasm the I.W.W. never even made any plans to oppose the U.S. Government - and never did. Similarly, its Marxist vision of all nations and peoples being merged into "One Big Union" covering the globe only covered up the fact that it had no intention of fighting colonialism and national oppression.
If the I.W.W. had fought colonialism and national oppression, it would have lost most of its white support. What it did instead - laying out a path that the CIO would follow in the 1930s - was to convince some white workers that their immediate self-interest called for a limited, tactical cooperation with the colonial proletariats. Underneath all the fancy talk that "In the I.W.W. the colored worker, man or woman, is on an equal footing with every other worker," was the reality that the I.W.W. was a white organization for whites.
While this new immigrant industrial proletariat was thrown together from many different European nations, speaking different languages and having different cultures and class backgrounds, they were united by two things: their exploited state as "foreign" proletarians and their desire to achieve a better life in Amerika. The resolution of these pressures was in their Americanization, in them becoming finally integrated into settler citizens of the Empire. In changing Amerika they themselves were decisively changed. Some one-third of the immigrant workers went back to Europe, with many of the most militant being deported or forced to flee.
Looking back this underlying trend can be seen in the life of the I.W.W. While the I.W.W. fancied itself as a dangerous revolutionary organization, in reality it was nothing more nor less than the best industrial union that class conscious white workers could build to "improve their condition." It was a public, fully legal union open to all. It was, therefore, just as dependent upon bourgeois legality and government toleration as the A.F.L. The I.W.W. could be very strong against local employers or even the municipal government; against the imperialist state it dared only to submit in unhappy confusion. The national I.W.W. leadership understood this unpleasant fact in an unscientific, pragmatic way.
As the Great Powers were drawn into World War I the central issue in the European oppressor nation socialist movements was the opposition to imperialist war. Not primarily because of the mass bloodshed, but because in a war for expanding empires it was the absolute duty of all oppressor nation revolutionaries to oppose the aggression of their own empire, to work for the defeat of their own bourgeoisie, and for the liberation of the oppressed nations. This is the issue that created the international communist movement of the 20th century.
On this most important struggle the I.W.W. was revealed as being immature and lacking as a revolutionary organization. It was simply unwilling to directly oppose U.S. imperialism. The I.W.W. verbally criticised the war many times. At the 1914 convention they said: "We, as members of the industrial army, will refuse to fight for any purpose except for the realization of industrial freedom." (24) But when U.S. imperialism entered the war to grab more markets and colonies, the I.W.W. became frantic to prove to the bourgeoisie that they wouldn't oppose them in any way.
The surface problem was that since the I.W.W. was a totally legal and public union, it was totally unable to withstand any major government repression. Therefore, the leadership said, regardless of every class-conscious worker's opposition to the war the I.W.W. dare not fight it. Walter Nef, head of the I.W.W. Agricultural Workers Organization, said: "We are against the war, but not organized and can do nothing." (25) Imagine, a revolutionary organization that built for twelve years, with a membership of over 100,000, but was "not organized" to oppose its own bourgeoisie.
The many requests from I.W.W. members for guidance as to how to fight the imperialist war went unanswered. Even "Big Bill" Haywood, the angry and militant I.W.W. leader, had to back off: "I am at a loss as to definite steps to be taken against the War." (26) Finally, the I.W.W. decided to duck the issue as much as possible. The word went out to white workers to stick to local economic issues of higher wages, etc. and not oppose the government. "Organize now... for the postwar struggle should be the watchword." (27) This surface political retreat only revealed the growing settler sickness at the heart of the I.W.W., and sabotaged the most advanced and revolutionary-minded white proletarians within their ranks.
They never organized to oppose U.S. imperialism because that's not what even the immigrant proletarian masses wanted - they wanted militant struggle to reach some "social justice" for themselves. During the July, 1915 A.F.L. strike at the Connecticut munitions plants, the charge was made that the whole strike was a plot by German agents - with the strike secretly subsidised by the Kaiser's treasury. In a lead editorial in its national journal, Solidarity, the I.W.W. hurried to put itself on record as not opposing the war effort. While admitting that they had no proof that the strike was a German conspiracy, the I.W.W. urged the strikers to "settle quickly." The editorial angrily suggested that the strike leaders might move to Germany. Then they came to the main point, which was undermining the anti-imperialist sentiment among the workers, and urging them to think only of getting more money for themselves:
The owners of these factories are making millions out of the murderfest in Europe - their slaves should likewise improve the opportunity to get a little something for themselves.
The point may be made here, that we should all be interested in stopping the production of war munitions. Yes, of course, but that's only a dream ... so the only thing the workers in these factories can do is to try to improve their condition... (28)
The line was very clear. Far from fighting U.S. imperialism, the I.W.W. was spreading defeatism among the workers and urging them to concentrate only on getting a bigger bribe out of the imperialist super-profits. The I.W.W. is often praised by the settler "left" as very "American," very "grass roots." We can say that their cynical, individualistic slant that workers can "only get a little something for themselves" out of the slaughter of millions does represent the essence of Amerikan settler degeneracy. In Russia the Bolsheviks were telling the Russian workers to "Turn the Imperialist War into a Revolutionary War" and overthrow the Imperialists - which they did.
The I.W.W.'s pathetic efforts to avoid antagonizing the Bourgeoisie did them little good. The U.S. Empire tired of these pests, viewing the militant organization of immigrant labor as dangerous. Finally cranking its police machinery up, the imperialist state proceeded to smash the defenseless I.W.W. clear into virtual non-existence. It wasn't even very difficult, since throughout the West vigilante mobs of settlers declared an open reign of terror against the I.W.W. In Arizona some 1,300 miners suspected of I.W.W. involvement were driven from the state at gunpoint.
In July 1918, 101 I.W.W. leaders past and present were convicted in Chicago Federal Court of sabotaging the Imperialist War effort in a rigged trial that dwarfed the "Chicago Conspiracy Trial" of the Vietnam War era. The political verdict was certain even though the prosecution was unable to prove that the I.W.W. had obstructed the war in any way! Only one defendant out of 101 had violated the draft registration laws. While the I.W.W. unions had led strikes that disrupted war production in Western copper and timber, the government was forced to admit that of the 521 disruptive strikes that had taken place since the U.S. Empire entered the war, only 3 were by the I.W.W. (while 519 were by the pro-government A.F.L. unions). (29)
Federal raids on the I.W.W. took place from coast-to-coast. Immigration agents held mass round-ups which resulted in long jail stays while undergoing deportation hearings. In 1917 the Federal agents arrested 34 I.W.W. organizers in Kansas, who eventually got prison terms of up to nine years. In Omaha, Nebraska, the 64 I.W.W. delegates at the Agricultural Workers Organization Convention were arrested and held 18 months without trial. In 21 states "criminal syndicalism" laws were passed, directed at the I.W.W., under which thousands were arrested. In California alone between 1919-1924 some 500 I.W.W. members were indicted, 128 of whom ended up serving prison terms of up to 14 years. (30) The I.W.W. never recovered from these blows, and from 1917 on quickly declined.
Such an unwillingness to fight U.S. imperialism could hardly come from those with anti-imperialist politics. The reason we have to underline this is that for obvious ends the settler "Left" has been emphasizing how the I.W.W. was a mass example of anti-racist labor unity. This poisoned bait has been naively picked up by a number of Third-World revolutionary organizations, and used as one more small justification to move towards revisionist-integrationist ideology.
There is no doubt that much of the I.W.W. genuinely despised the open, white-supremacist persecution of the colonial peoples. Unlike the smug, privileged A.F.L. aristocracy of labor, the I.W.W. represented the voice of those white workers who had suffered deeply and thus could sympathize with the persecuted. But their inability to confront the settleristic ambitions within themselves reduced these sparks of real class consciousness to vague sentiments and limited economic deals.
Before the Board of Pardons, he said: "I don't want a pardon, or a commutation. I want a new trial or nothing. If my life will help some other workingman to a fair trial, I am ready to give it. If by living my life I can aid others to the fairness denied me, I have not lived in vain." To the press he wrote: "I am going to have a new trial or die trying. I have lived like an Artist and I shall die like an Artist." -Joseph Hillstrom
The I.W.W. never attempted to educate the most exploited white workers to unite with the national liberation struggles. Instead, it argued that "racial" unity on the job to raise wages was all that mattered. This is the approach used by the AFL-CIO today; obviously, it's a way of building a union in which white-supremacist workers tolerate colonial workers. This was the narrow, economic self-interest pitch underneath all the syndicalist talk. The I.W.W. warned white workers: "Leaving the Negro outside of your union makes him a potential, if not an actual, scab, dangerous to the organized workers..." (31) These words reveal that the I.W.W.'s goal was to control colonial labor for the benefit of white workers - and that Afrikans were viewed as "dangerous" if not controlled.
So that even in 1919, after two years of severe "race riots" in the North (armed attacks by white workers on Afrikan exile communities), the I.W.W. kept insisting that there was: "...no race problem. There is only a class problem. The economic interests of all workers, be they white, black, brown or yellow, are identical, and all are included in the I.W.W. It has one program for the entire working class - "the abolition of the wage system." (32) The I.W.W.'s firm position of not fighting the lynch mobs, of not opposing the colonial system, allowed them to unite with the racist element in the factories - and helped prepare the immigrant proletariat for becoming loyal citizens of the Empire. It must never be forgotten that the I.W.W. contained genuinely proletarian forces, some of whom could have been led forward towards revolution.
We can see this supposed unity actually at work in the I.W.W.'s relationship to the Japanese workers on the West Coast. In the Western region of the Empire the settler masses were deeply infected with anti-Asian hatred. Much of this at that time was directed at the new trickle of Japanese immigrant laborers, who were working mainly in agriculture, timber and railroads.
These Japanese laborers were subjected to the most vicious persecution and exploitation, with the bourgeois politicians and press stirring up mob terror against them constantly. Both the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs and the A.F.L. unions helped lead the anti-Asian campaign among the settler masses. In April 1903, one thousand Japanese and Mexicano sugar beet workers struck near Oxnard, California. They formed the Sugar Beet & Farm Laborers Union, and wrote the A.F.L. asking for a union charter of affiliation.
A.F.L. President Samuel Gompers, in his usual treacherous style, tried in his reply to split the ranks of the oppressed: "Your union must guarantee that it will under no circumstances accept membership of any Chinese or Japanese."
The union's Mexicano secretary (the President was Japanese) answered Gompers for his people: "In the past we have counseled, fought and lived on very short rations with our Japanese brothers, and toiled with them in the fields, and they have been uniformly kind and considerate. We would be false to them, and to ourselves and to the cause of unionism if we now accepted privileges for ourselves which are not accorded to them. We are going to stand by men who stood by us in the long, hard fight which ended in victory over the enemy." (33)
Japanese workers were not only unable to find unity with the settler unions, but had to deal with them as part of the oppressor forces. There was a high level of organization among us, expressed usually in small, local, Japanese national minority associations of our own. The news, therefore, that the new I.W.W. was accepting Asian workers as members was quite welcome to us.
In 1907 two white I.W.W. organizers went to the office of the North American Times, a Japanese-language newspaper in Seattle. They asked the newspaper to publish an announcement of a forthcoming meeting. As the newspaper happily informed its readers: "...every worker, no matter whether he is Japanese or Chinese, is invited ... This new organization does not exclude you as others do, but they heartily welcome you to join. Don't lose this chance." (34)
The I.W.W. publicly criticised those "socialists" who were part of the anti-Asian campaign. In a special pamphlet they appealed to white workers to see that Asians were good union men, who would be helpful in winning higher wages: "They are as anxious as you, to get as much as possible. This is proven by the fact that they have come to this country." (35)
But while scattered Japanese workers joined the I.W.W., in the main we did not. The reason, quite simply, is that while the I.W.W. wanted our cooperation, they did not want the hated Japanese workers inside the I.W.W. In order to keep amicable relations with the mass of white-supremacist settlers in the West, the I.W.W. limited their relationship to us. Some Asians would be acceptable, but any conspicuous mass recruitment of Japanese was too controversial. A sympathetic writer about the I.W.W. at the time noted:
At the Third Convention, George Speed, a delegate from California, quite accurately expressed the sentiment of the organization in regard to the Japanese Question. "The whole fight against the Japanese," he said, "is the fight of the middle class of California, in which they employ the labor faker to back it up." He added, however, that he considered it "practically useless ... under present conditions for the I.W.W. to take any steps" to organize the Japanese... (36)
This position was seen in action at the 1914 Hop Pickers Strike near Maryville, California; which was the well-publicized struggle that launched the I.W.W.'s farm worker organizing drive in that state. That year the Durst Ranch hired 2,800 migrant workers at below-market wages, and forced them to toil in isolated near-slavery. I.W.W. organizers soon started a strike in which the Japanese, Mexicano, Greek, Syrian, Puerto Rican and other nationalities were strongly united. The strike led to a national defense campaign when the sheriff, after shooting two striking workers, arrested the two main I.W.W. organizers as the alleged murderers.
Although the strike was victorious - and led to bigger organizing drives - the Japanese workers had disappeared. We were persuaded to withdraw (while still honoring the picket lines) in order to help the I.W.W., since "...the feeling of the working class against the Japanese was so general throughout the state that the association of the Japanese with the strikers would in all probability be detrimental to the latter." The I.W.W. tried to justify everything by saying that move was on the initiative of the Japanese workers - and then praising it as an act of "solidarity." Notice that while the Japanese laborers lived, and worked, and went out on strike with the others, that the I.W.W. statement separates "the Japanese" from "the strikers."
The I.W.W. considered it "solidarity" for oppressed Asian workers to be excluded from their own struggle, so that the I.W.W. could get together with the open racists. It should be clear that while the I.W.W. hoped to establish the "unity of all workers" as a principle, they were willing to sacrifice the interests of colonial and oppressed workers in order to gain their real goal - the unity of all white workers.
While it was advantageous for the I.W.W. to keep Asians at arm’s length, in occupied New Afrika there was literally no way to build industrial unions without winning the cooperation of Afrikan workers. In the South the Afrikan proletariat was the bed-rock of everything. The I.W.W. experience there highlights the strategic limitations of its political line.
In 1910 an independent union, the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, was formed in Louisiana and Mississippi. This was to become the main part of the I.W.W.'s Deep South organizing. These Southern settler workers were on the very bottom of the settler world. They were forced to labor for $7-9 per week - and that mostly not in cash, but in "scrip" usable only at the company stores. Their very exploited lives were comparable to that of the "Hunky" and "Dago" of the Northern industrial towns. In other words, they lived a whole level below the norm of settler society.
For that reason the settler timberworkers were driven to build themselves a union. And because half of the workforce in the industry was Afrikan, they had to recruit Afrikans as well. Half of the 35,000 BTW members were Afrikan - organized into "seg" lodges and not admitted to the settler union meetings, of course. It was not a case of radicalism or idealism: the settler worker was literally forced by practical necessity to gain the cooperation of Afrikan workers. In a major pamphlet in which he calls on settler timberworkers to join up with the I.W.W., the BTW's secretary, Jay Smith, reminds them that the controversial policy of integrating the union existed solely to keep Afrikans under control:
"As far as the 'negro question' goes, it means simply this: Either the whites organize with the negroes, or the bosses will organize the negroes against the whites..." (38)
In 1912 the BTW joined the I.W.W., after integrating its union meetings at the demand of "Big Bill" Haywood. The I.W.W. now had a major labor drive going in the Deep South. But a few months later the BTW was totally crushed in the Merryville, La. strike of 1912. In a four-day reign of terror the local sheriff and company thugs beat, kidnapped and "deported" the strike activists. The BTW was dissolved by terror as hundreds of members had to flee the State and many more were white-listed and could no longer find work in that industry.
The I.W.W.'s refusal to recognize colonial oppression or the exact nature of the imperialist dictatorship over the occupied South, meant that it completely misled the strike. Industrial struggle in the Deep South could not develop separate from the tense, continuous relationship between the settler garrison and the occupied Afrikan nation. The I.W.W. in the South swiftly fell apart. They were unable to cope with the violent, terroristic situation.
The I.W.W. had a use for oppressed colonial workers, and it certainly didn't conduct campaigns of mob terror against us. It publicly reminded white workers of the supposed rights of the colonial peoples; but as a white workers union it had no political program, no practical answers for the problems of the colonial proletariat. And insofar as it tried to convince everyone that there was a solution for the problems of colonial workers separate from liberation for their oppressed nations, it did a positive disservice.*
[*It is interesting to note that even on the Philadelphia waterfront, where the Afrikan-led I.W.W. Marine Transport Workers Union No. 8 was the most stable local in the entire I.W.W., the Afrikan workers eventually felt forced to leave the I.W.W. due to "slander, baseless charges and race-baiting."]
The I.W.W. lived, rose and fell, at the same time as the great Mexican Revolution of 1910 just across the artificial "border." For this syndicalist organization to have reached out and made common cause with the anticolonial revolutions would have been quite easy. On November 27, 1911 the Zapatistas proclaimed the Plan of Ayala, setting forth the agrarian revolution. It was from the U.S.-occupied territory of El Paso that Francisco Villa and seven others began the guerrilla struggle in Chihuahua on March 6, 1913. Hundreds of thousands of peasants joined Zapata's Liberator Army of the South and Villa's Division of the North. Even the Villistas, less politically developed than their Southern compatriots, were social revolutionaries. Villa, a rebel who had taught himself to read while in prison, was openly anti-clerical at a time when Roman Catholicism was the official religion of Mexico. He called the Church "the greatest superstition the world has ever known." The Villista government in Chihuahua founded fifty new schools and divided the land up among the peasants.
This popular uprising spread the spirit of rebellion across the artificial "border" into the U.S.-occupied zone. One California historian writes: The dislocation caused by the Mexican Revolution of 1912-1917 led to an increasingly militant political attitude in Los Angeles. This led to a Chicano movement to boycott the draft. Vicente Carillo led a drive to protest the draft and to use mass meetings to focus attention upon Mexican-American economic problems." Again, it is easy to see that the I.W.W. didn't have far to look if they wanted alliances against the U.S. Empire.
Proposals were even made that the I.W.W. and Mexicano workers join in armed uprisings in the Southwest. Ricardo Flores Magon, the revolutionary syndicalist who was the first major leader of Mexicano workers, had ties to the I.W.W. during his long years of exile in the U.S. His organization, the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM), led thousands of Mexicano miners in strikes on both sides of the artificial "border." Magon was imprisoned four times by the U.S. Empire, finally being murdered by guards to prevent his scheduled release from Ft. Leavenworth. His proposal for the I.W.W. to join forces with the Mexicano proletariat in armed struggle fell on deaf ears. Although some "Wobblies" (such as Joe Hill) went to Mexico on an individual basis for periods of time, the I.W.W. as a whole rejected such cooperation.
Magon once angrily wrote his brother from prison: "The norteamericanos are incapable of feeling enthusiasm or indignation. This is truly a country of pigs ... If the norteamericanos do not agitate against their own domestic miseries, can we hope they will concern themselves with ours?" (39)
In outlining these things we are, of course, not just discussing the I.W.W. Primarily we are looking at the forming consciousness and leadership of a new class: the white industrial proletariat. The same general weaknesses of this class can be seen outside the I.W.W. even more sharply: lack of revolutionary leadership, inability to withstand the sabotage of the labor aristocrats of the "native-born" Euro-Amerikan workers, opposition to the anti-colonial struggles. The great industrial battles in steel at the end of this period show not only these weaknesses, but emphasize the significance of what this meant.
This was evident in the 1919 steel strike, for example, in which for the first time fifteen A.F.L. unions called an industry-wide strike. On Sept. 22, 1919 some 365,000 steelworkers walked out. But while the mass of nonunionized, immigrant European laborers held firm, the unionized Euro-Amerikan skilled workers were a weak element. Capitalist repression had an effect - most notably in Gary, Indiana, where a division of U.S. Army troops broke the strike - but the defeat was due to the incredibly bad leadership and the betrayal by the better-paid settler workers. The disaster of the strike shows why even the inadequate politics of the I.W.W. looked so good to the proletarians of that day.
Many of the skilled Euro-Amerikan workers never joined the strike at all in places like Pittsburgh. And many who had struck started trickling back to work, afraid of losing their good jobs. In early November their union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, broke from the strike and started ordering its members back to work. By late November the mills had 75-80% of their workforce back. On January 2, 1920, the strike was officially declared over. Some of the most determined militants had to leave the industry or return to Europe. (40)
While the treachery of the labor aristocracy was very evident in this defeat, the most important event took place after the strike. During the strike some 30,000 Afrikan workers from the South had been imported by the steel companies. There was a strong tendency among the white steelworkers to blame the defeat of the strike on Afrikan "scabs" or "strikebreakers." And all the more so because the 10% of the Northern steel workforce that was Afrikan refused to join the strike. The bourgeoisie was guiding the white workers in this. Company officials passed the word that: "Niggers did it." In Pittsburgh one mill boss announced: "The Nigger saved the day for us." (41)
In fact, although this was widely accepted, it was clearly untrue. To begin with, 30,000 Afrikan workers fresh from the South could hardly have replaced 365,000 strikers. There also was by all accounts a tremendous turnover and desire to quit by those Afrikan workers, and within a few months supposedly few if any of them remained.
The reason is that most of them were not "strikebreakers", but workers who had been systematically deceived and brought to the mills by force. That's why they left as soon as they could. The testimony during the strike of 19 year-old Eugene Steward of Baltimore illustrates this. He was recruited along with 200 others (including whites) to work in Philadelphia for $4 per day. But once inside the railroad car they found the doors locked and guarded by armed company police. They were taken without food or water to Pittsburgh, unloaded under guard behind barbed wire, and told that they were to work at the mills. Seeing that a strike was going on, many of them wanted to quit. The guards told them that any Afrikans attempting to leave would be shot down. Steward did succeed in escaping, but was found and forcibly returned by the guards. It was only after a second attempt that he managed to get free. It is obvious that the Afrikan "strikebreakers" were deliberate propaganda set up by the capitalists - and swallowed wholesale by the white workers.
In regard to the Afrikan steelworkers already at work in the North (and who declined to join the strike), it should be remembered that this was a white strike. Many of the striking A.F.L. unions did not admit Afrikans; those that did so (solely to get Afrikans to honor their strikes) usually kept Afrikans in "seg" locals. The Euro-Amerikan leadership of the strike had promised Afrikans nothing, and plainly meant to keep their promise. That is, this strike had a definite oppressor nation character to it and was wholely white-supremacist.
Nor did the white steel strike develop separate from the continuous struggle between oppressor and oppressed nations. During the two previous years there had arisen a national movement of settler workers to bar Afrikans from Northern industry by terroristic attacks. Between 1917-19 there had been twenty major campaigns by settler mobs against Afrikan exile communities in the North. The July, 1917, East St. Louis "race riot" was organized by that steel city's A.F.L. Central Trades Council, which had called for "violence" to remove the "growing menace" of the Afrikan exile community. In two days of attacks some 39 Afrikans were killed and hundreds injured. The hand of the capitalists was evident when the Chicago Tribune editorially praised the white attackers, and told its readers that Afrikans were "happiest when the white race asserts its superiority." (43) Again, we see the organized Euro-Amerikan workers as the social troops of one faction or another of the imperialists.
As the steel campaign was gathering steam throughout 1919 the terroristic attacks on Afrikans increased as well. In Chicago this was to climax in the infamous July 1919 "race riot," just two months before the strike began. Spear's Black Chicago recounts:
Between 1917 and 1919, white 'athletic clubs' assaulted Negroes on the streets and 'neighborhood improvement societies' bombed Negro homes. During the Summer of 1919, the guerilla warfare in turn gave way to open armed conflict - the South Side of Chicago became a battleground for racial war... the bombing of Negro homes and assaults on Negroes in the streets and parks became almost everyday occurrences. (44)
On July 27, 1919, an Afrikan teenager was stoned to death on the 29th St. beach, and after Afrikans attacked his murderers generalized fighting broke out. It lasted six days, until the Illinois National Guard was called in. 23 Afrikans were killed and 342 wounded, with over 1,000 homeless after arson attacks (white losses were 15 killed and 178 wounded). Afrikans were temporarily trapped in the "Black Belt," unable to go to work or obtain food. Assisted by the police, Irish, Italian and other white workers would make night raids into the "Black Belt;" homes were often attacked. When Afrikans gathered, police would begin firing into the crowds.
The authorities did not move to "restore order," incidentally, until after Afrikan World War I vets broke into the 8th Illinois Infantry Armory, and armed themselves with rifles to take care of the white mobs. (45)
This was the vigorous "warm-up" for the steel strike. It was not surprising that the Afrikan exile communities were less than enthusiastic about supporting the strike of the same people who had spent the past two years attacking them. Given the history of the A.F.L. it was possible that an outright triumph of the A.F.L. unions might have meant renewed efforts to drive Afrikan labor out of the mills altogether. It was typical settleristic thinking to make Afrikans responsible for the failure of a white strike, which was never theirs in the first place.
Both the strike leadership and the bourgeoisie cleverly promoted this hatred, encouraging the European immigrant and "native-born" settler alike to turn all their anger and bitterness onto the Afrikan nation. Perhaps the most interesting role was played by William Z. Foster, the chief leader of the strike. He was one of the leading "socialist" trade-unionists of the period, and in 1920 would become a leader in the new Communist Party USA. From then on until his death he would be a leading figure of settler "communism." Even today young recruits in the CPUSA and Mao Zedong Thought organizations are often told to "study" Foster's writings in order to learn about labor organizing.
William Z. Foster had, as the saying goes, "pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory." Foster based the strike on the A.F.L. unions, despite their proven record of treachery and hostility towards the proletarian masses. That alone guaranteed defeat. He encouraged white supremacist feeling and thus united the honest elements with the most reactionary. Despite the great popular support for a nation-wide strike and the angry sentiments of the most exploited steelworkers, Foster and the other A.F.L. leaders so sabotaged the strike that it went down to defeat. The one "smart" thing he did was to cover up his opportunistic policies by following the capitalists in using Afrikans as the scapegoats.
In his 1920 history of the strike, Foster (the supposed "communist") repeated the lie that Afrikan workers had "lined up with the bosses." In fact, Foster even said that in resolving the differences between Euro-Amerikan and Afrikan labor "The negro has the more difficult part" since the Afrikan worker was becoming "a professional strike-breaker." And militant white workers knew what they were supposed to do to a "professional strike-breaker."
Foster's lynch mob oratory was only restrained by the formality expected of a Euro-Amerikan "communist" leader. His white-supremacist message was identical to but more politely clothed than the crude rants of the Ku Klux Klan. He warned that the capitalists were grooming Afrikans as "as race of strike-breakers, with whom to hold the white workers in check; on much the same principle as the Czars used the Cossacks to keep in subjugation the balance of the Russian people." It's easy to see how Foster became such a popular leader among the settler workers.
No longer was it just a question of some Afrikans not following the orders of the white labor. Now Foster was openly saying that the entire Afrikan "race" was the enemy. Could the imperialists have asked for more, than to have the leading "communist" trade-union leader help them whip up the oppressor nation masses to repress the Afrikan nation?
The Cossacks were the hated and feared special military of the Russian Czar, used in bloody repressions against the people. Only the most twisted, Klan-like mentality would have so explicitly compared the oppressed Afrikan nation to those infamous oppressors. And was this message not an incitement to mob terror and genocide? For the poor immigrants from Eastern Europe (much of which was under the lash of Czarist tyranny) to kill a Cossack was an act of justice, of retribution. The threat was easy to read.
In case Afrikans didn't get Foster's threat (which was also being delivered in the streets, as we know), Foster made it even more plain. He said that if Afrikans failed to obey the decisions of settler labor: "It would make our industrial disputes take on more and more the character of race wars, a consummation that would be highlv injurious to the white workers and eventually ruinous to the blacks." (46)
(During the 1919 race riots, a white mob chases a Negro into his homeand then stones him to death with bricks. He is dead by the time the police arrive.)
The threat of a genocidal "race war" against Afrikans unless they followed the orders of settler labor makes it very clear just what kind of "unity" Foster and his associates had in mind. We should say that once Foster started dealing with the problem of how to build the Euro-Amerikan "Left," he discovered that it was much more effective to pose as an anti-racist and use "soft-sell" in promoting a semi-colonial mentality in oppressed nationalities. Foster the "communist" declared himself an expert on Civil Rights, poverty in Puerto Rico, Afrikan history, and so on.
The tragic failure of the new white industrial proletariat to take up its revolutionary tasks, its inability to rise above the level of reform, is not just a negative. The failure was an aspect of a growing phenomenon - the Americanization of the "foreign" proletariat from Eastern and Southern Europe. By the later part of World War I it was possible to see that these immigrants were starting the climb upwards towards becoming settlers. Revolutionary fervor, as distinct from economic activity, declines sharply among them from this point on.
This was not a smooth process. The sharp repression of 1917-1924, in which not only government forces but also the unleashed settler mob terror struck out across the U.S. Empire, was a clean-up campaign directed at the European national minorities. Thousands were forced out or returned home, many were imprisoned, killed or terrorized. Historians talk of this campaign as a "Red Scare," but it was also the next-to-final step in purifying these "foreigners" so that Amerika could adopt them.
The Chairman of the Iowa Council of Defense said: "We are going to love every foreigner who really becomes an American, and all the others we are going to ship back home." A leader of the Native Sons of the Golden West said that immigrants "must live for the United States and grow an American soul inside of him or get out of the country." (47)
The offer was on the table. The "Hunky" and "Dago" could become "white" (though barely) through Americanization if they pledged their loyalty to the U.S. Empire. In the steel mills World War I meant wholesale Americanization campaigns. "Hungarian Hollow," the immigrant slum quarter in Granite City, Ill. was renamed "Lincoln Place" at the prompting of the steel companies (with festive ceremonies and speeches). By 1918 the Gary, Ind. U.S. Steel Works had over 1,000 men enrolled in evening citizenship classes. Liberty Bond drives and Army enlistment offices in the plants were common. Immigrants were encouraged by their employers to join the U.S. Army and prove their loyalty to imperialism. (48)
Americanization was not just a mental process. To become a settler was meaningless unless it was based on the promise of privileges and the willingness to become parasitic. As "nativeborn" Euro-Amerikans continued to leave the factories, the immigrant Europeans could now advance. And the importation of hundreds of thousands (soon to be millions) of Mexicano, Afrikan, Puerto Rican and other colonial workers into Northern industry gave the Americanized Europeans someone to step up on in his climb into settlerism.
In the steel mills, Mexicanos and Afrikans made up perhaps 25% of the workers in Indiana and Illinois by 1925. They were the bottom of the labor there, making up for the immigrant European who had moved up or left for better things. A steel labor history notes:
Meanwhile, the Eastern Europeans were occupying the lesser positions once held by the 'English-speaking' workmen. As they rose, the numbers of Slavs in the mills shrank. At one time 58 percent of the Jones and Laughlin labor force, the immigrants comprised only 31 per cent in 1930. There were 30 per cent fewer Eastern Europeans in Illinois Steel Company mills in 1928 than in 1912. Now largely the immediate bosses of the Negroes and Mexicans, the immigrants disdained their inferiors much as the natives had once disliked them.
The bad feeling generated by the Red Scare abated only gradually. In Gary, the Ku Klux Klan flourished. But the respectable solidity of the immigrant communities in time put to rest unreasoning fear. The children were passing through the schools and into business and higher jobs in the mills. Each year the number of homeowners increased, the business prospered, and the churches and societies became more substantial. The immigrants were assuming a middling social and economic position in the steel towns. (49)
The U.S. Empire could afford gradually expanding the privileged strata because it had emerged as the big winner in the First Imperialist World War. Scott Nearing pointed out how in 1870 the U.S. was the fourth ranked capitalist economy; by 1922 the U.S. had climbed to No. 1 position: "...more than equal to the wealth of Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Belgium and Japan combined." (50) Successful imperialist war was the key to Americanization.
Throughout the Empire this movement of the immigrant proletarians into the settler ranks was evident. A history of Mexican labor importation notes: "In the beet fields of Colorado, as elsewhere in the West, other immigrant groups, such as the Italians, Slavs, Russians, or Irish, found that they could move up from worker or tenant to owner and employer through the use of Mexican migrants." (51)
This point marks a historic change. Never again would white labor be anti-Amerikan and anti-capitalist. Although it would organize itself millions strong into giant unions and wage militant economic campaigns, white labor from that time on would be branded by its servile patriotism to the U.S. Empire. As confused as the I.W.W. might have been about revolution, its contempt for U.S. national chauvinism was genuine and healthy. It was only natural for an organization so strongly based on immigrant labor - many of whose best organizers were not U.S. Citizens and who often spoke little or no English - to feel no sympathy for the U.S. Empire. It was a tragedy that this strength was overturned, that this socialist possibility faded into a reinforcement for settlerism. And yet the contradiction between the reality of exploitation in the factories and the privileges of settlerism still remained. The immigrant masses could not be both settler and proletarian. This was the historic challenge of the CIO and New Deal.
1. DAVID BRODY, Steelworkers in America, the Nonunion Era N.Y. 1969, p. 1
2. ROBERT W. DUNN, The Americanization of Labor N.Y., 1975 p. 9
3. JOHN HIGHAM, Strangers in the Land N.Y., 1975 p. 159
4. U.S. IMMIGRATION COMMISSION, Reports, 61st Congress, 3rd Session, Senate Document No. 747, I. p. 37-39
5. BRODY op. cit., p. 96
6. ROBERT HUNTER, Poverty N.Y., 1912 p. 261
7. ibid., p. 33
8. BRODY, op. cit., p. 40
8. ibid., p. 98: IRVING WERSTEIN, Pie in the Sky N.Y., 1969 p. 67-68
10. ibid., p. 99
11. ibid., p. 101
12. HIGHAM, op. cit., p. 143, 164
13. VICTOR PAANANEN, "Rebels All: the Finns in America" In These Times Apr. 5-11 1978; HARRY ELMER BARNES & NEGLEY K. TEETERS, New Horizons in Criminology, N.Y., 1946 p. 184
14. HIGHAM, op. cit., p. 273
15. ibid., p. 138
16. ibid., p. 257
17. ibid., p. 259-262
18. ibid., p. 301
19. ibid., p. 182
20. ibid., p. 163-164, 183
21. BRODY, op. cit., p. 120-121
22. LEN DE CAUX, The Living Spirit of the Wobblies, N.Y., 1978 p. 60
23. PATRICK RENSHAW, The Wobblies, Garden City, 1967 p. 178
24. PAUL BRISSENDEN The I.W.W.: A Study of American Syndicalism N.Y., 1919 p. 329
25. RENSHAW, op. cit., p. 329
26. ibid., p. 217
27. PHILLIP S. FONER, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Vol. IV, N.Y. 1965 p. 554-559
28. Solidarity, July 24, 1915
29. RENSHAW, op. cit., p. 220-230
30. DE CAUX, op. cit., p. 134-135
31. FONER, Vol. IV, p. 124
32. ibid., p. 127
33. PHILLIP S. FONER, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Vol. IV, N.Y. 1964 p. 276-277
34. FONER, Vol. IV, p. 70
35. ibid., p. 82
36. BRISSENDEN, op. cit., p. 208-209
37. Solidarity, July 24, 1915
38. FONER, Vol. IV, p. 243
39. JOHN REED, Insurgent Mexico, N.Y., 1974 p. 13-15, 125-140; HOWARD A. DEWITT, Images of Ethnic and Radical Violence in California Politics, 1917-1930: A Survey S.F., 1975 p. 11; RENSHAW, op. cit., p. 249, 289; ACUNA, op. cit., p. 156-157; BEN FLETCHER, "Philadelphia Waterfront Unionism", Messenger, June 1923 p. 740-741
40. BRODY op. cit., p. 231-262
41. ibid., p. 255; SPERO & HARRIS op. cit., p. 251
42. WILLIAM Z. FOSTER, The Great Steel Strike and its Lessons N.Y., 1920 p. 207
43. PHILLIP S. FONER, Organized Labor and the Black Worker, 1619-1973, N.Y., 1974 p. 137; ALLAN H. SPEAR, Black Chicago, Chicago, 1967 p. 202
44. SPEAR, op. cit., p. 201, 212
45. ibid., p. 215-216
46. FOSTER, op. cit., p. 205-212
47. HIGHAM, op. cit., p. 221
48. BRODY, op. cit., p. 188-196
49. ibid., p. 266-268
50. DUNN, op. cit.
51. ARTHUR CORWIN & LAWRENCE CARDOSO, "Vamos Al Norte", in CORWIN, Ed., Immigrants - and Immigrants, S.F., 1972 p. 47