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The Revolution Mislaid: Socialism and the Trade Unions Revisited William M. Dick, Labor and Socialism in America: the Gompers Era Kennikat Press, 1972, pp. 211 GILMAN M. OSTRANDER Both Marx and Engels were convinced that America, in the Gilded Age, was riper for socialism than any European nation. Marx wrote in 1879 that the United States "have at present overtaken England in the rapidity of economical progress ... the masses are quicker, and have greater political means in their hands, to resent the form of a progress accomplished at their expense." Engels wrote in 1886 that 11 • •• the advancing waves are becoming more powerful, the set-backs less paralyzing. . . . Once the Americans get started it will be with an energy and volume compared with which we in Europe shall be mere children." Had socialism triumphed first in America, the causes would have been obvious. As Engels explained, America was a nation "where no medieval ruins bar the way, where history begins with the elements of modern bourgeois society," and where the enfranchised workers were in a position to progress rapidly through the trade union movement to the formation of a labor party to the conquest of the state. In the year that Engels wrote of the impending socialist victory in America, the American Federation of Labor was organized under the leadership of Samuel Gompers, who was well versed in Marxist doctrine and hopeful of a future America effectively controlled by the working classes. However., Gompers believed that power was to be won through economic pressure by the trade union movement rather than through a labor party. During the 1890's Gompers fought the efforts of Daniel Deleon's doctrinaire Socialist Labor Party to assume control of the American labor movement., and., by the time the revisionist Socialist Party of America was formed in 1901, Gompers had become an uncompromising enemy of the socialist movement as a whole. In 1902, Gompers joined with leading finance capitalists such as J. P. Morgan and August Belmont to organize the National Civic Federation, initiating the "honeymoon" era of labor-business relations that lasted for the next few years of massive consolidation and expansion of business and organized labor alike. Gompers had by then associated himself with THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. IV, NO. 1, SPRING 1973 what came to be called 0 business unionism," without, however, rejecting his earlier hopes for general social progress through the labor movement. It became his credo that "Unions, pure and simple, are the natural organization of wage workers to secure their present material and practical improvement and to achieve their final emancipation. . . . The way out of the wage system is through higher wages." With the notable exceptions of the Brewery and United Mine Workers, the AFL's member unions were organized on craft lines. In 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World was organized by a coalition of socialists and other radicals who hoped to approach the revolution through mass industrial unionism. The alternative failed to gain power to match its fame., however, and the Socialists found it impossible to control the protean Wobbliesj they therefore continued to woo the AFL. From the unions' perspective, however, the Socialist Party seemed to have little to offer. The Party was a collection of uncongenial elements, chronically divided over whether to advocate piecemeal reforms of the existing capitalist system or to strive singlemindedly toward the goal of full socialism. The reformist wing tended to gain the upper hand at conventions , so that party platforms resembled the catchall programs offered since the 1870's by the Prohibitionist and other reform parties. The Socialist Party drew some members from the labor movement, but also attracted reformers from the Social Gospel movement who, as Christian socialists, rejected Marxian materialism even while accepting the worldly milennium of socialism. It attracted Bellamyites and SingleTaxers , whose doctrines had been repudiated by Marx. It attracted urban reformers whose socialism was of the O gas-and-water" brand, confined in many cases to municipal ownership of streetcars and waterworks. Its most concentrated support came on the one hand from agrarians, survivors of the Populist crusade, and on the other from European immigrants , who were organized into seven separate...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 107-112
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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