The Lawrence strike has brought into public notice in this country a new type of labor union and a new philosophy of the labor movement. The strike at Lawrence was conducted by the Industrial Workers of the World, familiarly known as the I. W. W., whose principles go by the name of Syndicalism. The term has been popularized recently by events in England, where Mr. Tom Mann, a veteran labor leader and the exponent of the new movement in the British trade unions, has been put in prison for preaching sedition to the army in connection with the coal strike. Isolated theories and practices of Syndicalism have already become fairly familiar to the general reader. Such are the “general strike” which constitutes the basic principle of Syndicalism, and “direct action” which has achieved notoriety through the acts of the McNamara brothers. Even the French word sabotage has become acclimated in the newspapers. But a general account of the Syndicalist movement has been wanting till recently. The deficiency is now supplied by an admirable monograph, entitled “The Labor Movement in France,” from the hand of Mr. Louis Levine and published under the auspices of the Columbia University Department of Political Science.
Syndicalism in its latest phase has arisen out of peculiar conditions in the French labor movement. But the truth of Mr. Levine’s contention is quite apparent: Syndicalism is essentially a revival of conditions that prevailed at the beginning of the international labor movement fifty years ago. When the “Internationale” was founded in 1864, it was almost from the beginning torn between two conflicting tendencies, which in broad terms we may characterize as the revolutionary spirit and the evolutionary, the anarchistic and the Socialistic, the gospel of violence as preached by Michael Bakunin, and the gospel of gradual transformation under the laws of industrial development as set forth by Karl Marx. In other words, the labor movement is only human. Like all great social and political movements, it has had its moderates and extremists, its legalists and its revolutionaries. Labor and Socialism have witnessed the alternate ascendency of one faction or the other. In France, characteristically, this shifting of bases has always found its most vigorous expression. There, on the one hand, Socialists have consented to enter a bourgeois Cabinet and cooperate with the “exploiters” of the working classes. And there, on the other hand, the syndicalist theory has been most completely worked out.
Syndicalism or revolutionary trade-unionism is, in the first place, a sharp reaction against political or parliamentary Socialism. In theory it holds that the presence of Socialist or trade-union representatives in Parliament is useless or worse than useless. It not only repudiates individual representatives of the working class, such as Millerand, Briand, and Viviani, as traitors to their class; but it regards the parliamentary system in itself as conducive to the sacrifices of principles, the encouragement of petty intrigue, the fostering of cowardly conciliation, and thus to the weakening of the revolutionary spirit among the workingmen. Moreover, parliamentarianism leads to the domination of the working-classes by non-workingmen. It is the “intellectuals” who get themselves elected to Parliament; and such men, with all the good will in the world, cannot really enter into the feelings and the aspirations of the working-class. The “intellectuals” are necessarily inclined to take a philosophic view of the “war between the classes.” They are content to make gradual progress. They accept reforms. They cannot understand the real workingman’s passionate yearning for liberation, to be obtained in his own day and by any means.