Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Labor Movement and Socialism (1908)

By Anton Pannekoek
International Socialist Review
July 1908

The relation of labor unions to the Socialist movement is in many countries the subject of sharp differences of opinion, even of bitter strife. The situation is by no means everywhere the same. In England, for example, after the break-up of the Chartist political movement in 1848 the union movement increased greatly and became a mighty organization of the workingmen. But this great body of workers remained indifferent to Socialism, or even inimical to it, and the Socialist party remained a small sect. In America the labor movement developed according to the English pattern. In Germany and Belgium, on the contrary, the situation is exactly reversed. There the Socialist party grew mightily in the first place; then the workers, who had learned how to conduct the fight on the political field, began to struggle for better conditions against individual employers. On this account the unions remained in these countries closely connected with the Socialist party; in Belgium, in fact, they are an organic part of the Socialist movement. Here they are, however, comparatively weak, and it is to be expected that as they increase in strength they will make themselves more independent.

This division is imposed by the different objects of the political and labor union struggles. The Socialist party holds to a great and far-reaching purpose; a purpose not immediately understood by everyone; a purpose which, in fact, is often misunderstood and therefore has to meet opposition, prejudice and hatred which can be overcome only through extended educational propaganda. The objective of the unions, on the other hand, is an immediate one, the securing of higher wages and shorter hours. This is instantly intelligible to everyone; does not demand deep convictions, but appeals rather to immediate interest. On this account quite undeveloped workers must not be hindered from joining the unions because of their prejudice against a world-overturning force like Socialism. As soon as the unions attempt to take in the great mass of the workers they must be absolutely independent. Of course a friendly relation to the Socialist party can still be maintained.

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