The American Socialist Party, 1912, on ‘A Yoke of Bondage’

The fact that Bernie Sanders, the self-styled Socialist and most liberal member of the Democrat Party, got so far in the Democratic presidential nominations shows that there is a real desire amongst many American for a genuinely left-wing alternative to the corrupt corporativism represented by Trump and Shrillary. America does have a Socialist tradition. I’ve put up here a film by an American women’s film group on the I.W.W., the ‘Wobblies’, the extreme left-wing American trade union, founded at the beginning of the 20th century, and which wanted the workers to own and control the means of production. There was also a Socialist party, strongly identified with the career of Eugene V. Debs, who at the height of his career polled 900,000 votes in his election campaign against Wilson, Roosevelt and Taft. I found this piece by his party, ‘A Yoke of Bondage’, in The Penguin Book of 20th Century Protest, edited by Brian MacArthur (London: Penguin 1998).

A Yoke of Bondage

The Socialist Party declares that the capitalist system has outgrown its historical function, and has become utterly incapable of meeting the problems now confronting society. We denounce this outgrown system as incompetent and corrupt and the source of unspeakable misery and suffering to the whole working class.

Under this system the industrial equipment of the nation has passed into the absolute control of a plutocracy which exacts an annual tribute of hundreds of millions of dollars from the producers. Unafraid of any organised resistance, it stretches out its greedy hands over the still undeveloped resources of the nation – the land, the mines, the forests and the water powers of every state of the Union.

In spite of the multiplication of labour-saving machines and improved methods in industry which cheapen the cost of the production, the share of the producers grows ever less, and the prices of all the necessities of life steadily increase. The boasted prosperity of this nation is for the owning class alone. To the rest it means only greater hardship and misery. The high cost of living is felt in every home. Millions of wage-workers have seen the purchasing power of their wages decrease until life has become a desperate battle for mere existence.

Multitudes of unemployed walk the streets of our cities or trudge from state to state awaiting the will of the masters to move the wheels of industry.

The farmers in every state are plundered by the increasing prices exacted for tools and machinery and by extortionate rents, freight rates and storage charges.

Capitalist concentration is mercilessly crushing the class of small businessmen and driving its members into the ranks of propertyless wage-workers. The overwhelming majority of the people of America are being forced under a yoke of bondage by this soulless industrial despotism.

It is this capitalist system that is responsible for the increasing burden of armaments, the poverty, slums, child labour, most of the insanity, crime and prostitution, and much of the disease that afflicts mankind.

Under this system the working class is exposed to poisonous conditions, to frightful and needless perils t life and limb, is walled around with court decisions, injunctions and unjust laws, and is preyed upon incessantly for the benefit of the controlling oligarchy of wealth. Under it also, the children of the working class are doomed to ignorance, drudging toil and darkened lives.

We declare, therefore, that the longer sufferance of these conditions is impossible, and we purpose to end them all. We declare them to be the product of the present system in which industry is carried on for private greed, instead of for the welfare of society. We declare, furthermore, that for these evils there will be and can be no remedy and no substantial relief except through Socialism under which industry will be carried on for the common good and every worker receive the full social value of the wealth he creates.

Society is divided into warring groups and classes, based upon material interests. Fundamentally, the struggle is a conflict between the two main classes, one of which, the capitalist class, owns the means of production, and the other, the working class, must use these means of production, on terms dictated by the owners.

The capitalist class, though few in numbers, absolutely controls the government, legislative, executive and judicial. This class owns the machinery of gathering and disseminating news through the organised press. It subsidizes seats of learning – the colleges and schools – and even religious and moral agencies. It has also the added prestige which established customs give to any order of society, right or wrong.

The working class, which includes all those who are forced to work for a living whether by hand or brain, in shop, mine or on the soil, vastly outnumbers the capitalist class. Lacking effective organisation and class solidarity, this class is unable to enforce its will. Given such a class solidarity and effective organisation, the workers will have the power to make all laws and control all industry in their own interest. All political parties are the expression of economic class interests. All other parties than the Socialist Party represent one or another group of the ruling capitalist class. Their political conflicts reflect merely superficial rivalries between competing capitalist groups. However, they result, these conflicts have no issue of real value to the workers. Whether the Democrats or Republicans win politically, it is the capitalist class that is victorious economically.

The Socialist Party is the political expression of the economic interests of the workers. Its defeats have been their defeats and its victories their victories. It is a party founded on the science and laws of social development. It proposes that, since all social necessities today are socially produced, the means of their production and distribution shall be socially owned and democratically controlled.

In the face of the economic and political aggressions of the capitalist class, the only reliance left the workers is that of their economic organisations and their political power. By the intelligent and class conscious use of these, they may resist successfully the capitalist class, break the fetters of wage slavery, and fit themselves for the future society, which is to displace the capitalist system. The Socialist Party appreciates the full significance of class organisation and urges the wage-earners, the working farmers and all other useful workers to organise for economic and political action, and we pledge ourselves to support the toilers of the fields as well as those in the shops, factories and mines of the nation in their struggles for economic justice.

In the defeat or victory of the working-class party in this new struggle for freedom lies the defeat or triumph of the common people of all economic groups, as well as the failure or triumph of popular government. Thus the Socialist Party is the party of the present-day revolution which makes the transition from economic individual to Socialism, from wage slavery to free co-operation, from capitalist oligarchy to industrial democracy. (pp. 41-44).

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