Wm. Paul

State Control or Industrial Unionism

Source: The Socialist, November 1917
Transcription: Adam Buick
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Industrial Unionism is not only a means of improving the immediate conditions of Labour. It has a greater object than that; it aims at controlling the means of wealth production on behalf of the workers. We contend that only those working in the industries have the requisite knowledge whereby these industries can be controlled. Only the industrial workers know the needs and demands of the processes of wealth production. We further affirm that industrial unionism, representing the workers along the lines by means of which wealth is created, is the only democratic solution to the social problem. Industrial Unionism is, therefore, not only the best means by which to wage the class struggle, it is also the best and safest method whereby the workers can achieve their emancipation.

It has been customary for the wage-workers to be told that they must look to the State for salvation. For the last twenty years and more, prominent hot-air Labourists have assured us that the hope of the workers lay in State control. The largest section of the working class movement in its political activity has been responsible for the advocacy of what they called “State Socialism.” As Industrial Unionists we have argued that State ownership takes all control away from the workers and leaves them at the mercy of unsympathetic and irresponsible ministers. We have stated time and again that it is impossible for State officials to understand the nature of the problems arising in the industries, or to appreciate the grievances of the workers. The reports issued by the Industrial Unrest Commissioners clearly prove that the State bureaucrats are unable to realise the problems which arise, in every workshop. But of even greater importance were the charges made against State Control at a meeting recently held in the London Polytechnic. Alluding to the blunders being made by the State officials in the Industrial Research Department, Professor Pope said that these political administrators were hopelessly ignorant of the industries they were appointed to supervise. Professor Pope declared that—

“The administrator being generally chosen because he is available, because he is politically available, and because he knows nothing about the subject which is to be administered. That process of appointing someone who knows nothing to supervise the work of someone who does know the job seems to have been at the bottom of a great many of our misfortunes in the past.” (“Manchester Guardian,” 8th October, 1917.)

The speaker further charged the Government with attempting to organise the coal tar industry, “in which all the people in control were men who knew nothing whatever about chemistry or science.”

At the same meeting Professor Armstrong attacked the Government for its stupidity in its methods of conducting the chemical industries. This was due in great measure, he said, “because of the profound ignorance and indifference of the politician to the requirements of the situation.”

We have quoted the above speeches to prove how impossible it is for State Control to confer any benefits on Labour, and to prove that the bureaucratic officials, because of their ignorance of the industry they are alleged to supervise, tend to become despots. If Professors, like Pope and Armstrong, are compelled to complain at the lack of sympathy shewn by the State officials, then what must the rank and file of the workers expect at the hands of the administrators of the State?

The reason why the State cannot supervise industry is due to the fact that it is a geographically elected institution attempting to control an industrial institution. The political official is elected to Parliament, not because of his knowledge of industry but because he represents constituents who are organised within a certain territorial area—a constituency. On the other hand, the voters do not vote because of their knowledge of industry; they have a vote because they reside in a certain territorial area. Neither the voter nor the elected representative have any organic connection with industry, in so far as they are politically organised. How, then, can we expect that political or State officials can control industry? These officials, when appointed, simply act as rulers appointed above the heads of the people who do understand the industrial processes. State Control can never be democratic control; hence it becomes a bureaucratic autocracy.

We are now able to understand how simple is the conception of industrial unionism. Who can better manage the affairs of an industry than those who run the industry—i.e., the workers themselves? Who are better able to supply the wants of society than the workers who at present carry the world of industry upon its shoulders? These are points which bring into prominence one of the great features of industrial unionism.

Trade unionism has never propounded a solution for the social problem; it has at the most never aimed higher than getting a few crumbs for Labour. On the other hand, Industrial Unionism outlines a method of organising the workers as a class, not only to win immediate concessions, but whereby the worker can solve the social problem and enter into control of the means of production.

We therefore beseech the various workshop movements up and down the country to realise that their committees must come into line with the Industrial Unionists of Great Britain. In so far as the workshop committees have demonstrated the futility of craft and sectional unionism, they have performed good work. But they must take another step. They must define their aims and objects. They must be aware that class organisation along industrial lines is the only way they can now travel, unless they mean to fall back again into the mire of disorganised sectionalism. We would like to see them declare for the abolition of the wages system and strain their activity in the workshop to that end.

The events of the past few years have shewn the despotic, degrading, and servile tendencies of State Control. From the capitalist standpoint, it has been a great success. We are going to have more of it in a greater intensified form. The industrial organisation of the workers with the view of attaining control of the industries themselves is the only sane and practical proposal at present before Labour.

Let, therefore, the various forces moving towards class solidarity declare boldly for Industrial Unionism. That will be the first step towards the destruction of wage-slavery.

W. P.