REVOLUTION AND TRADE UNIONISM. [COMMUNICATED.] A POWERFUL appeal has been made
to the Trade Unionists of this country by describing the recent attempt to bring about a general strike as a " fight for Trade Unionism," but, as -certain extremists concerned in the movement have openly declared themselves to be in favour of revolution, it may be worth while to notice how Trade Unions have fared under previous Revolutionary yegimes, notably those of France and Russia. During the early stages of the great French Revolution we find that " corporations of workmen " continued to exist as they had done under the Old Rigime, and reaped no benefit from the changed conditions of the government. The members of the National Assembly, whilst loudly proclaiming theinselves to be the " representatives of the people," remained singularly oblivious of all questions connected with Labour, and in April, 1791, the working men, who had vainly waited during the two years the Revolution had lasted for the millennium promised them, ended by taking the law into their own hands, and organized meetings at which they agreed only to work for an increased rate of payment. When, however, the " coalition of working carpenters " went out into the workshops and yards of Paris and forcibly enlisted their fellow-workmen in the movement, the master carpenters found themselves obliged to appeal for help to the Municipality. The working carpenters retaliated with an address to the National Assembly, but failed to obtain satisfaction ; accordingly on June 8th a further band of working men, to the number of 560, sent an appeal to Marat formulating their complaints against their oppressors. Amongst these the most tyrannical are described as men who had once been " day-labourers," " carters," &c., but who " now inhabit palaces, drink the most delicate wines, sleep on eiderdown, and are drawn about in gilded coaches." Marat, whilst sympathizing with the grievances of the workmen, used them merely as a ground of complaint against the Royalists and counter-revolutionaries, who, as the aforesaid description proves, were not the cause of the trouble. Six days later the Assembly, alarmed at the insubordination of the workmen, launched the famous law of June 14th, 1791.
It was Chapelier, one of the most ardent revolutionaries of 1789, who came forward in the name of the " Committee of the Constitution " to protest against the meetings held by the `• coalitions of workmen."
" The object of these assemblies, which are being propagated throughout the Kingdom, and which are already in •correspondence with each other," Chapelier declared to the Assembly, 'is to force the employers of labeur, the former masters, to increase the price of the day's work, to prevent workmen and those who employ them in their workshops from making amicable compacts, to make them sign in registers their undertaking to submit to the price of the day's work fixed by these assemblies and to the other regulations they take upon themselves to make. They even resort to violence in order to carry out these regulations ; they force the workmen to leave their workshops even when they are contented with the wages they are receiving. They wish to depopulate the workshops ; already several workshops have risen, and different disorders have been committed. . . . . We have the strongest reasons for believing that the institution of these assemblies has been encouraged in the minds of the workmen less with the object of increasing by their coalition the salary for the day's work than with the secret intention of fomenting trouble."
In response to Chapelier's speech, the Assembly unanimously passed a decree' suppressing Trade Unions : " I. The annihilation of all kinds of corporations of •citizens belonging to the same class orprofession being one of the fundamental bases of the French Constitution (i.e., the Constitution then in process of completion], it is forbidden to re-establish them under any pretext or any form whatsoever.
H. The citizens of the same class or profession . . . cannot, when they are together, name presidents or secretaries, keep registers, draw up decrees or resolutions, or make regulations on their pretended common interests. HI. It is forbidden to all administrative and municipal bodies to receive any address or petition in the name of any class or profession or to reply to one. . . . IV. If, contrary to the principles of liberty and of the Constitution, citizens attached to the same professions, arts, or trades draw up resolutions, make compacts between themselves to refuse by mutual consent or to accord only at 'a fixed price the assistance of their industry and their work, the aforesaid resolutions and compacts, whether accompanied by an oath or not, are declared to be unconstitutional and an infringement of liberty and of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and as null and void ; the administrative and municipal bodies are obliged to consider them as such ; the authors, leaders and instigators who have provoked them, drawn up resolutions, or presided shall be summoned before the tribunal of the police . . . and condemned to a fine of 600 livres and suspended for a year from exercising their rights as ' active citizens ' and from the right of admittance to the assemblies."
Further, any threats directed against contractors or against workmen who continued to work for a lower wage than that decreed by the coalitions were to be punished by a fine of 1,000 livres and three months' imprisonment.
This decree, described by Jaure.s as " a terrible law " which " crushed the workers of France for seventy-five years "—for not until the reign of Napoleon III. was the right to form Trade Unions and to strike restored to the people—met with not a word of protest from Robespierre or any of the so-called democrats of the Assembly ; on the contrary, under the Terror, when Robespierre had achieved the supreme power, we find it confirmed by fresh decrees. If Robespierre, says M. Aulard, " concerned himself with feeding the people in order to prevent riots, he 'applied inflexibly the really kurgeois laws against coalitions of workmen. All attempts to strike were severely repressed. On the 22nd of Frimaire, Year H., when organizing workshops for the manufacturing of arms, the Comae de Salut Public published an ultra-severe regulation to prevent the workmen conferring together. All coalitions,' it says, or assemblings of workmen are forbidden ; the communications that work renders necessary or useful between the workers in the different workshops can only take place 'by the mediation or the express permission of the administration on which each workshop depends.' And further on : In no cage may the workmen meet together to formulate complaints ; any such assemblings will be dispersed, the authors and the instigators will be arrested and punished according to the laws.' " On the 2nd of Prairial the Comite published a further decree that workmen and day labourers who coalesced to demand an increase of wages should be summoned before the Revolutionary Tribunal. How are we to understand the attitude of so-called democracy towards rights that we to-day regard as essential to the liberty of the people I Marx, Aulard, and Jaures have each in turn. commented on this anomaly, and Whilst Aulard finds the explanation of Robespierre's policy in his love of domination, Marx accounts for " the sanguinary law " of June 14th, 1791, by the theory of antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It is undoubtedly true, as Socialists declare, that the great French Revolution proved in the end a triumph of the bourgeoisie over the people, but, as Jaures points out, at the time this law was passed the antagonism between the two classes was " only faintly Indicated," and he goes on to show that neither in Robespierre nor in Chapelier can any such antagonism be found. It is therefore in their theories of government that the solution of the problem must be sought : " The individuals and the State—no intermediate groups— that is the social conception of Chapelier. It undoubtedly served the interests of the bourgeoisie, but I see no proof that it was particularly to disarm the proletariat that Chapelier proposed the law of June 14th. In any case, how can we explain the complete silence of Robespierre ? [Jaures omits to mention that the decree was confirmed by Robespierre later.] I quite understand that he was not a Socialist, but he was a democrat, and he found support more in the artisans and workmen than in the industrial bourgeoisie."—(Histoire Socialiete, I., 608.) This is surely to understate the case. Had not Robespierre throughout the Revolution shown himself the most implacable enemy of the bourgeoisie? Had he not consistently advocated the sovereignty of the people, or, as it is called to-day, the " dictators-hip of the proletariat " —a dictatorship to be exercised, of course, by himself ? Robespierre may then surely be regarded as a rudimentary Socialist, and here perhaps lies the explanation of his policy in confirming the decrees of June 14th. Believing himself to be the incarnation of the people's will, he held, like Louis XIV., that "L'Etat c'est moi ! " Therefore any attempt to challenge his supremacy by forming corporations in the State was an attack on the sovereignty of the people and must be severely repressed.
The present rulers of Russia have also recognized that Trade Unions, as we understand them, are incompatible with Socialism. " Trade Unions," writes the English lithographer Mr. Keeling in his graphic description of Bolshevik Russia, " were formed soon after the March revolution "; but after the accession of the Bolsheviks to power, " if a Trade Union did not please the higher Soviet it was fined and suppressed and a new Union formed in its place by the Bolsheviks themselves. Entry to this new Union was only open to members of the new Union, who signed a form declaring themselves entirely in agreement with and prepared completely to support in every detail the policy of the Soviet Government. . . . With regard to our own Union, the printers', our books were declared invalid about the end of October, and red cards were issued to all those who signed a new form declaring themselves Bolsheviks. Without one of these red cards no one was considered a member of the Union. . . . It will be asked, as I often asked, ' Why did they sign the forms ? ' The answer is simple. Unless the forms were signed the individual who refused would lose his ration card, and if a number stood out the factory was closed."
Mr. Keeling adds : " I suppose I can claim to know something of Trade Unions I can most emphatically state that no Trade Union which would be looked at in England exists in Soviet Russia other than the Union of Railwaymen ; all the others are creatures of the Bolsheviks, and dare not call their souls their own except at the price of being starved to death."
That Socialism as interpreted by Lenin is simply Prussianism under another form was shown by a writer to the Economist on October 4th : " All over Soviet Russia the system of ' State Capitalism,' i.e., forced production by the old capitalistic methods in the interest of the State finances, is making rapid way. The advanced Communists complain of despotism by factory managers, fines, unreasonably long hours, penalties for inciting to strikes, and of certain abuses and injustices alleged to arise out of the new system of premium payments, piece payment, minimum output rule, and espionage against adherents of ca' cannyism. Most of these methods were recommended by Lenin in his last pamphlet, New Problems of Soviet Power, and they are now daily eulogized in the Leninite Press as industrial Russia's salvation."
Strikes have been crushed by Lenin as ruthlessly as by Robespierre.
" The Bolsheviks, who call themselves a Workman's Government," a correspondent in Petrograd wrote to the Russian Liberation Committee last May, "very soon lay their hands on the workmen as soon as the latter do not submit to them. During the March strikes in Petrograd a score or so of workmen were shot at the works which had struck, an order being likewise issued to discharge all workmen who did not wish to resume work. In connection with this the Petrograd Soviet of Workmen's Delegates, and also the Soviet of Petrograd Trade Unions, passed a resolution that in a State with such a Socialistic regime as Soviet Russia workmen have no right to strike."
In the light of these experiments we may well ask ourselves how far revolution is likely to aid the cause of Trade Unionism in this country. N. H. W.