Lucien Sanial 1896

An American View of the Congress

Source: Justice, August 22, 1896;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.
Proofread: by Andy Carloff 2010.

We return to America well pleased, upon the whole, with the work of the Congress. A great battle was fought and won by Socialism against the combined forces of Conservatism and Anarchism. The victory, which at no time was doubtful, proved in the end overwhelming.

It is against a combination of that sort, reinforced by dilettante sociologists, muddle-headed harmonisers, labour fakirs, and corrupt politicians, that we have had to fight our way in America since 1891. The eyes of that variegated gentry were riveted upon London. There the far-famed trade unionism of Great Britain was for the first time to appear in force at an international council of labour. What would its attitude be? What would its influence be on the Socialist delegations of other countries, and conversely?

This was indeed, for the Anarchists, a question of life or death. It took three days to answer it; but the answer was conclusive and final: – There is no room for Anarchy in the international labour movement.

The full effects of this congress may not be felt for some time to come; but they will be universal and deep reaching. In Great Britain and America, especially, the currents of thought and action in the proletarian masses will be profoundly affected by it. The English-speaking wage-workers on both sides of the Atlantic will have a clearer perception of their mutual dependence; and they will adopt tactics better fitted to modern conditions. Trade unionism will therefore, I dare say, undergo a great change; or, to put it more correctly, it will take a new step, a long step, in the natural direction marked out for it by the logical evolution of capitalism.

This new movement has already begun in the United States. It corresponds to the movement of capitalist concentration, through which it was developed, and from the acceleration of which it constantly receives additional impetus. It is a class-conscious movement, thoroughly Socialistic in its aims, international in its scope, and uncompromising in its course. Proceeding directly from the intelligent brains and honest hearts of thousands of active workers in the rank and file of organised labour, and passing over the heads of those “leaders” who refuse to follow it, it has in itself all the elements of indestructibility. Its progress may be quickened by economic or political events; it cannot be retarded by any such obstacles as ignorance, selfishness, or brute force will naturally attempt to throw in its way. By the time appointed for the next International Congress, the American labour forces will, I think, have been entirely reorganised, and the trade unions, arrayed in a solid body under the banner of Socialism, will be marching to the conquest of the public powers.

That a similar advance must soon take place in Great Britain I have some reason to believe. Of course, I do not claim for my opinion that it rests upon a perfect knowledge of your conditions, however industrious or fortunate I may have been in gathering reliable information concerning the various elements of your labour movement. Had I no other basis for my conclusions, I should certainly think twice before venturing upon a public expression of views that some might object to and even denounce as an act of foreign presumption. My belief is actually derived from what I know of economic developments in America, and their effects, sufficiently obvious, upon the economy of the whole world.

Of the perfection of machinery in the United States, of the large scale on which it is applied, of the intensity of labour in all employments; of its extreme subdivision, rendered possible by the magnitude of the industries, and of the consequent productivity of the American worker, it were here superfluous to give any illustration. It is generally admitted even by the most rabid McKinleyite, that, in proportion to the amount of product turned out wages are no higher in America than in England, and that in many branches are actually lower. Moreover, owing to the vast amount of enforced idleness, the actual earnings of many American workers are frequently less, for the whole year, than those of their over-worked and ill-paid fellows on the European Continent. Nowhere is the army of the unemployed such a marked feature of the capitalist system as in America, and with the concentration of industry this great body of surplus labour is steadily increasing. That is very plainly the reason why the old trade unionism of America, inherited from Great Britain, is going to pieces, while the old trade unionism of England is still occasionally able to fight British capital, which has not yet reached so high a degree of concentration but is fast getting there.

Now, under the extraordinary conditions that I have in part only enumerated what do we see?

1. An irresistible downward tendency of wages. Since 1890 the average fall has been fully 25 per cent.

2. A still greater downward tendency of actual earnings, consequently, an enormous curtailment of the purchasing power of the masses, and an actual decrease of the per capita consumption of necessaries, therefore a growing surplus of food stuffs, & c., that must be disposed of abroad, notwithstanding the fact that the area of land under cultivation, which formerly increased faster than population, is now remaining stationary.

3. An enormous increase of the production of those commodities which may be called “capitalistic” (because they are exclusively consumed or owned by capitalists), therefore, also, in the end, a surplus of such commodities, chiefly manufactures, for which a foreign market must be found.

International competition on a formidable scale thus becomes inevitable.

But we know the end of all competition. Domestic at first, that is, carried on between comparatively small establishments by pitting against each other working men of the same trade and nationality – it resulted in the formation of national trusts. Now, in international competition huge masses of national labour will be hurled by the trusts of one country against the similar masses of national labour marshalled by the trusts of another country, until the great amalgamation takes place and the final touch is given to the capitalist system by the formation of a few monster trusts, holding in their grasp the world’s markets.

We have entered this last period of industrial war. On one side stands English capitalism, with all its wide-spread possessions, which I need not describe. On the other side stands American capitalism, with a continuous empire extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, unlimited natural resources, enough unemployed labour to flood the world with its production, and a wealth increasing at the rate of three thousand million dollars a year notwithstanding its tremendous waste.

What figure can the old trade unionism cut in the impending conflict between those two giants? What will soon, in the melée, become of the sick benefit and ambulance service? Yet shall we, working men of England and America, allow ourselves to be ground to dust that a few mean plutocrats may say, “The world is ours”? Or shall we, fully equipped for the battle against all oppressors, appear arm in arm at the next International Congress, and say to our Socialist brothers of the European continent, “The proletarians of all countries are united, the world shall be free”?