Sabotage (Pouget)

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Copyright 1913 By CHARLES H. KERR & COMPANY



The national convention of the Socialist Party of America in 1912 included in the party constitution the now famous "Section Six," providing that "any member who opposes political action or advocates crime, sabotage or other methods of violence as a weapon of the working class to aid in its emancipation, shall be expelled from membership in the party." By a referendum vote the party decided to strike out the clause in which the word "sabotage" appears. Unfortunately, the clause as presented by the convention was adopted at the same time. The meaning of this is simply that a majority of the membership was confused over the whole question and did not know how to vote.

The enforcement of the clause is in the hands of the separate locals, and the discussion of the subject is marked by heat rather than light. In view of this, the managers of this co-operative publishing house believe it will be a service to [6] the party to circulate a book which explains the actual meaning of sabotage as understood by those who advocate it. Our view of the attitude which the Socialist Party should maintain on this question is accurately expressed in a resolution unanimously adopted by the same convention which gave birth to "Section Six." It is this:

"That the party has neither the right nor the desire to interfere in any controversies which may exist within the labor union movement over questions of form of organization or technical methods of action in the industrial struggle, but trusts to the labor organizations themselves to solve these questions."

We might stop here. But one thing more needs to be said. Whether sabotage is advisable , is a comparatively unimportant question, and a question which each labor union must and will settle for itself. The big question is whether the Socialist Party is deliberately to attack the unions which aim at the overthrow of capitalism, and set itself to woo the officials of the reactionary unions whose confessed aim is to leave capitalism undisturbed provided only they can get good wages and safe jobs for their own members.

This is the issue within the Socialist Party. It is not yet clearly understood by a majority of [7] the membership. When it comes to be clearly understood, all who care for the principles of Socialism will take their stand with the revolutionary unions. If by any chance those who care more for public office than for Socialism should succeed in driving the revolutionists out of the party, its usefulness to the Socialist movement will be gone and its days will be numbered. A far more probable outcome is a union between our Socialist politicians and the Progressives. There lies an easy road to office for those to whom office-holding is an ideal. C. H. K.

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Of all the words of a more or less esoteric taste which have been purposely denaturalized and twisted by the capitalist press in order to terrify and mystify a gullible public, "Direct Action" and "Sabotage" rank easily next to Anarchy, Nihilism, Free Love, Neo-Malthusianism, etc., in the hierarchy of infernal inventions.

To be sure, the capitalist class knows full well the exact meaning of these words and the doctrines and purposes behind them, but it is, of course, its most vital interest to throw suspicion on and raise popular contempt and hatred against them as soon as they begin to appear and before they are understood, for the purpose of creating an antagonistic environment to them and thus check the growth of their propaganda.

American Capitalism having succeeded in making the word Anarchism synonymous with [12] disorder, chaos, violence and murder in the popular mind--with the complicity of the cowardly silence of so-called revolutionists--it is now the turn of Syndicalism, Direct Action and Sabotage to be equally misrepresented, lied about and defamed.

This is of no surprise to us--but what actually astounds and appals us is that the Socialist Party, itself so much maligned and calumniated up to a few years ago, should now come out to the aid of Capitalism in this ignoble work of prevarication, to the extent of actually taking the initiative in vilifying and discrediting these new theories.

Thus we find that whilst in the laws of no State in the Union is Sabotage classed amongst felonies or misdemeanors, the Socialist Party, first in its National Convention at Indianapolis and next by referendum vote, finger-printed and bertilloned Sabotage amongst "crimes" and made it a capital offense against its canon laws, punishable by immediate expulsion from the rank and file.

Therefore, whilst you cannot be fined or sent to jail for advocating Sabotage, nor do you risk being excommunicated for heresy by the Catholic Church, you can and will be expelled [13] from the Socialist Party, which claims to be the political wing of the revolutionary labor movement.

This can have but two explanations. Either that the Socialist Party in its unbridled quest for votes and thirst for power wants to become respectable in the eyes of the bourgeoisie at any price and risk, or that in utter ignorance of what it was judging and condemning it was induced to believe by a clique of unscrupulous politicians that Sabotage is the French translation. of bomb throwing, assassination, incendiarism and all around hell on earth.

We take the latter view and we are confirmed in our belief by the astounding fact that a committee of five has been selected by the Socialist Party to define Sabotage for the purpose of determining what it is . . . after having damned it on general principles. The aim of this pamphlet being precisely this, we shall make bold to offer our own definition whilst we wait for the response of the Solons aforesaid.

What, then, is Sabotage? Sabotage is:

A. Any conscious and wilful act on the part of one or more workers intended to slacken and reduce the output of production in the industrial [14] field, or to restrict trade and reduce the profits in the commercial field, in order to secure from their employers better conditions or to enforce those promised or maintain those already prevailing, when no other way of redress is open.

B. Any skillful operation on the machinery of production intended not to destroy it or permanently render it defective, but only to temporarily disable it and to put it out of running condition in order to make impossible the work of scabs and thus to secure the complete and real stoppage of work during a strike.

Whether you agree or not, Sabotage is this and nothing but this. It is not destructive. It has nothing to do with violence, neither to life' nor to property. It is nothing more or less than the chloroforming of the organism of production, the "knock-out drops" to put to sleep and out of harm's way the ogres of steel and fire that watch and multiply the treasures of King Capital.

Of course, at least in respect to the first part of this definition, Sabotage is not a novelty. As Pouget says and proves, it is as old as human exploitation, and with very little effort we can trace it as far back in America as the day when the first patriotic and pious [15] Puritan gentleman bought the first slave or mortgaged the body of the first redemptioner to the greater glory of his holy Bible and his holier pocketbook.

If so, why is it that only since the Lawrence Strike, Sabotage loomed up in such terrific light? It is easily explained.

A certain simple thing which is more or less generally practiced and thought very plain and natural, as for instance, a negro picking less cotton when receiving less grub, becomes a monstrous thing, a crime and a blasphemy when it is openly advocated and advised.

It is simply because there is no danger in any act in itself when it is determined by natural instinctive impulse and is quite unconscious and unpremeditated--it only becomes dangerous when it becomes the translated practical expression of an idea even though, or rather because, this idea has originated from the act itself.

It is so of Sabotage as of a good many other things. Take, for instance, the question of divorce. To be divorced and marry again is quite a decent, legal and respectable thing to do in the eyes of the church, the state and the third power, which is public opinion. [16]

Now, a rich man having grown tired of his wife (or vice versa, or both ways), he properly puts her away through the kind intervention of a solemn-faced, black-robed judge, and marries a chorus girl through the same kind help of a very venerable and holy bishop. Nobody is shocked--on the contrary, the papers are full of this grand affair and everybody is well pleased, except some old maids and the regular town gossips.

The rich man may stop here if he is properly mated, and may go further if he thinks he is not. He can repeat this wonderful performance as many times as he likes-there is no limit to it and it is done quite often.

But, if you should-say at the third or fourth repetition of these public solemnities, find out that they are all quite unnecessary and that the aforesaid rich man could and should more properly keep his bedroom affairs to himself, if you should venture that he could as well dispense with judge and priest, you would be howled at that you are a filthy free lover, a defiler of the sanctity of the home, and so on How do you explain that? It is because the fact that a rich man (he may be a poor one at that) puts away three or four or ten wives [17] is of little importance in itself, it is only when out of this plain everyday phenomenon YOU draw the theory of the freedom of the sexes that the bourgeois jumps up and screams, for though free love be and has always been a fact) it is only when it becomes an Idea that it becomes a dynamic and disintegrating force of bourgeois society, in so far as it wrests from the political state one of its cardinal faculties.

Again, it is a well-known and established fact that, since Bible days, the practice of preventing generation has been more or less in general use. Over a hundred years ago an English clergyman, Malthus, came out with the astounding doctrine that humanity was reproducing itself too swiftly and in such alarming proportions as to impair the lives and welfare of the whole race, which some day would have to devour itself for lack of food. Immediately there was loud and jubilant praise from the bourgeois camp, where the new doctrine was heralded as a condemnation of Socialism in so far as it put the blame of poverty, not on the evil distribution of wealth, but on the excessive numbers of its consumers.

Malthus justified and even considered as a blessing, wars) famines) pestilences, earthquakes, [18] everything that would tend to check the growth of population, and the bourgeois cheered himself hoarse. Then) suddenly the neo-Malthusian came out. He noticed how the bourgeois families throughout the world have an average of two or three children at the most and proceeded to advise the working class to do the same. Malthus was right) said his successor, but) instead of slaughtering the living, let us reduce the number of those that are to come,

The bourgeoisie had been doing that already for years in France, as in America. Statistics show that the lower classes were innocent of race suicide) yet as soon as the idea came out of the undeniable facts) a chorus of condemnation rose against it; its preachers were condemned as immoral and criminals, laws were made against them, and the subject was tabooed as a filthy and indecent one.

We might go on with examples, but we must confine ourselves to our subject. The idea we wanted to convey is that a sin is absolvable only when it is confessed as such, but becomes a damnable one when an explanation is found for it) in the same way as a simple act of general practice becomes a crime when [19] a justification is found for it and it is advocated as a good thing.

The fact is that modem society rests only on appearances and illusions, and derives its raison d'etre not from the existence or nonexistence of certain things, but on the general accepted credence that these things do or do not exist. Truth becomes a menace to society and hence a crime, not when it is seen and felt by personal experience, though everybody see and feel it, but only when it is told and exposed, for then only it becomes subversive by being discussed and reasoned over.

This is especially true of the conditions of the working classes. Every working man is poor and miserable, but only when he hears his woes described from the speaker's platform or sees his tragedy re-enacted on the stage does he become conscious of it, and there fore dangerous to the digestion of his masters. Hence, the necessity of agitators and "fanatics" and the frantic efforts of the master class to keep tightly the cover on the Pandora jar. That Sabotage has been practiced more or less generally for centuries they unmistakingly know, but that it should be now told, explained, justified and perfected into a veritable [20] weapon of attack and defense they cannot for one second countenance. For these gentlemen, there are no classes in America. There was no Socialism in America up to four years ago, when it yelled so loud that they had to jump up and bow to it.

Now there is no Syndicalism, and, of course, there never was and never shall be any Sabotage except in the vaporings of some frothy-mouthed foreign agitators.

It is the wisdom of the ostrich, say you. No, by no means-it is the wisdom of Argus who sees everything with his hundred eyes and knows that the only thing that can oppose the spreading of a truth is the spreading of a lie.


This booklet is not written for capitalists nor for the upholders of the capitalist system, therefore it does not purpose to justify or excuse Sabotage before the capitalist mind and morals.

Its avowed aim is to explain and expound Sabotage to the working class, especially to that part of it which is revolutionary in aim if not in method, and as this ever-growing fraction of the proletariat has a special mentality [21] and hence a special morality of its own, this introduction purports to prove that Sabotage is fully in accordance with the same.

We shall endeavor to prove that it is not incompatible with proletarian ethics, either as represented by the tenets of conservative unionism or as codified by political Socialism, as Sabotage, in our opinion, can equally stand the test of Mr. Gompers' Pentateuch and Mr. Berger's Pandects, if it only be given a fair trial by a jury of its peers and no ex post facto laws be made against it, as was done at the Indianapolis Convention of the Socialist Party. T he first bona fide admission we ask from its opponents is that Sabotage, whether a good or a bad thing, has an honest purpose-that is to say, that whether it injure or not the capitalist or be just or unjust, wise or unwise, its sole aim is to benefit the working class. This cannot 'be denied. The only injury to the cause of the workers that has been laid at its doors is that it discredits their cause before the public mind and that it debases the moral value of those who practice it, by making them sneaks and liars. These charges we shall examine later-just now we want to be granted, in all fairness, the admission that we are [22] prompted by an honest desire to benefit our class. The fact that it is upheld and advocated by the most fearless champions of the workers' cause throughout the world, such as Pouget, Yvetot, Hervé, Labriola, De Ambris, Mann, Haywood, etc., all men who have proven by personal sacrifice their staunch and firm loyalty to their class, takes away from Sabotage all shadows of suspicion that it is the theory of disrupters and agents provocateurs. It then remains to prove that the means as such is "ethically justifiable," and this Mr. Pouget does in a clear, concise and masterful way. However, it may not be amiss to add a few remarks in relation to American conditions and the American labor movement.

Let us therefore consider Sabotage under its two aspects,, first as a personal relaxation of work when wages and conditions are not satisfactory, and next as a mischievous tampering with machinery to secure its complete immobilization during a strike. It must be said with especial emphasis that Sabotage is not and must not be made a systematic hampering of production, that it is not meant as a perpetual clogging of the workings of industry, but that it is a simple expedient of war, [23] to be used only in time of actual warfare with sobriety and moderation, and to be laid by when the truce intervenes. Its own limitations will be self-evident after this book has been read, and need not be explained here.

The first form of Sabotage, which was formerly known as Go Cannie, as Mr. Pouget tells us, consists purely and simply in "going slow" and "taking it easy" when the bosses do the same in regard to wages.

Let us suppose that one hundred men have an agreement with the boss that they should work eight hours a day and get $4.00 in return for a certain amount of work. The American Federation of Labor is very particular--and wisely so--that the amount of work to be done during a day be clearly stipulated and agreed upon by the two contracting parties--the workers and their employers, this for the purpose of preventing any "speeding up."

Now, to exemplify, let us suppose that these one hundred workers are bricklayers, get fifty cents an hour, work eight hours and, as agreed, lay fourteen hundred bricks a day. Now, one good day the boss comes up and tells them he can't pay them $4.00 a day but they must be satisfied with $3.50. It is a slack season, there [24] are plenty of idle men and, moreover, the job is in the country where the workers cannot very well quit and return home. A strike, for some reason or another, is out of the question. Such things do happen. What are they to do? Yield to the boss sheepishly and supinely? But here comes the Syndicalist who tells them, "Boys, the boss reduced fifty cents on your pay--why not do the same and reduce two hundred bricks on your day's work? And if the boss notices it and remonstrates, well, lay the usual number of bricks, but see that the mortar does not stick so well, so that the top part of the wall will have to be made over again in the morning; or else after laying the real number of bricks you are actually paid for, build up the rest out of the plumb line or use broken bricks or recur to any of the many tricks of the trade. The important thing is not what you do, but simply that it be of no danger or detriment to the third parties and that the boss gets exactly his money's worth and not one whit more."

The same may be said of the other trades. Sweatshop girls when their wages are reduced, instead of sewing one hundred pairs of pants, can sew, say, seventy; or, if they must return [25] the same number, sew the other thirty imperfectly-- with crooked seams or use bad thread or doctor the thread with cheap chemicals so that the seams rip a few hours after' the sewing, or be not so careful about the oil on the machines and so on. But examples are not lacking and we shall not indulge in them. Is this truly and honestly criminal?

The American Federation of Labor has for its motto: "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work." Let us reverse the equation and we find that this motto also means: "An unfair day's work for an unfair day's wages." If it is not so, then we must believe that the motto should be more appropriately changed as to read: "A fair day's work for any kind of wages whatever."

We would like to know what Mr. Gompers and some of his Socialist confreres would advise their adepts to do when they have their wages reduced and have all means of redress precluded except such a retaliation as this, which, it must be remembered is not intended to be a mere spiteful revenge, but a direct attempt to obtain redress.

Would they advise them to keep on producing just the same amount as before, regardless [26] of their changed conditions? If so, what becomes of the fairness of the former and the class struggle of the latter? They would both become the preachers of passive non-resistance and abject resignation and take away from the workers not only their natural impulse of rebellion, which is the original germ of self-emancipation, but also the very dignity of their labor and manhood. Sabotage, in this case, is just the expression of this dignity and this manhood. It is as logical as a punch in the jaw in answer to a kick in the shins. If anything, it is more manly and more just because it is done under provocation and it does not hit the boss below the belt, as it does not take away from him anything, robs him of nothing and has no sinister reverberation in his family as a cut in wages has in the family of the toiler. This form of Sabotage is too much like human nature to need any further comment.

This is not the case with the other kind of Sabotage. Here we are confronting a real and deliberate trespassing into the bourgeois sanctum--direct interference with the boss's own property. It is only under this latter form that Sabotage becomes essentially revolutionary; [27] therefore, to justify itself, it must either create its own ethics (which will be the case when it is generally practiced), or borrow it from the Socialist philosophy. Mr. Pouget extensively dwells on this subject, therefore I leave it to him to explain the importance of Sabotage during a strike. I want only to ethically justify it before the tribunal of respectable Socialists. Now it is the avowed intentions of both Socialists and Industrial Unionists alike to expropriate the bourgeoisie of all its property, to make it social property.

Now may we ask if this is, right? Is this Moral and just? Of course, if it be true that labor everything, it is both moral and just that it should own everything. But this is only an affirmation--it must be proven. We Industrial Unionists care nothing about proving it. We are going to take over the industries some day, for three very good reasons: Because we need them, because we want them, and because we have the power to get them. Whether we are "ethically justified" or not is not our concern. We will lose no time proving title to them beforehand; but we may, if it is necessary, after the thing is done, hire a couple of lawyers and judges to [28] fix up the deed and make the transfer perfectly legal and respectable. Also, if necessary, we will have a couple of learned bishops to sprinkle holy water on it and make it sacred. Such things can always be fixed--anything that is powerful becomes in due course of time righteous, therefore we Industrial Unionists claim that the Social revolution is not a matter of necessity plus justice but simply necessity plus strength.

Such, however, is not the case with our respectable comrades, the pure and simple political Socialists. They claim, and are very loud in their protests, that the workers are really entitled by all sorts of laws, natural, human and divine, to the mastership of the world and all that is in it, and in justice to them we must admit that they prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Now, we say this: If the instruments of production rightfully belong to the workers, it means that they have been pilfered from them, and that the capitalist class detains them in an immoral way. It is legal for the bourgeoisie to keep them in accordance to its own laws, but surely it is not "ethically justifiable" from the point of view of our aforesaid comrades. [29] If these instruments of production are ours, they are so as much now as they will be a hundred years hence. Also, being our property, we can do with it whatever we best please-we can run them for our own good, as we surely will; but, if so we choose, we can also smash them to pieces. It may be stupid but it is not dishonest. The fact that the burglars have them in their temporary possession does not in the least impeach our clear title of ownership. We are not strong enough to get them back, just now, but we cannot forego any chances of getting something out of them.

Suppose a band of brigands swoops down on a family and carries away all its belongings. Suppose amongst these belongings there is a powerful Gatling gun. Suppose the only man who can operate this gun is a member of the said family and that he is forced by the band to do so during the ensuing scuffle. Has he not the right to break a spring or do something or other to the gun so as to make it useless? By all means--he has a double right to do so-- first, because the gun is his whether the bandits have it or not; second, because he is not supposed to leave such a dangerous machine in [30] the hands of the enemy when it can be used against himself and his own kin.

Now, if the workers are the original owners of a factory which is fraudulently held by a gang of pirates, in their struggles to regain control of it they are fully and undoubtedly justified in spiking there whatever guns can be aimed at them.

If it is just and right to force the capitalist to grant us certain concessions by withdrawing our labor and remaining inactive, why is it not equally just to render equally inactive our own machines, made by our own selves, especially when they are operated not by the capitalists but by the traitors of our own ranks, the scabs?

If tomorrow we shall be fully justified to take away from the master class all of its industries, why shouldn't we, when it is a question of life and death to us to win or lose a strike, be entitled to mislay or hide for a short while, a bolt, a wheel or any other small fraction of its machinery?

We admit that our attitude is indefensible before the capitalist code of ethics, but we fail to see how it can be consistently condemned by those who claim the capitalist system to be [31] a system of exploitation, robbery and murder.

We can't possibly understand how it is possible that we are fully entitled to all we produce and then are not entitled to a part of it.


Having disposed of the moral objections to Sabotage, we must now face those of different type of critics, that is, of such eminent and world-renowned theorists of Syndicalism as Sorel, Leone, Michels and others.

It is claimed that Sabotage would injure the cause of the workers before the public and that it would degrade the moral value of those that practice it. As to the first objection we may answer that if 'by public opinion we mean the people at large, these are and always will be favorable to the cause of any class of workers, whatever their actions, simply because they are workers themselves. If, on the other hand, we mean by public opinion that part of the public which comes under the daily influence of the press, we are willing to say that little we care for it. The capitalist press will never champion the workers' cause; it will never tell the truth about them, no matter how nice and gentlemanly they may behave [32] and, Sabotage or no Sabotage, it will continue persistently to lie about them. It is, indeed, to be expected that it will lie still more and more and distort and falsify facts ever and ever on a larger scale as fast as the workers become more revolutionary in their attitude, and the labor movement more conscious of its destined end, which is the overthrow of the capitalist system. The workers must get used to consider themselves absolutely isolated in their struggles (they were ever so in their real ones) and the sooner they cease to believe in the myth of the omnipotence of public opinion, the more will they rely on their own strength exclusively and the nearer will they be to their emancipation, which can be brought about only by themselves.

The other objection, that Sabotage is repugnant to the dignity of the workers and it makes them cheats and sneaks by making them fight in a devious and underhanded way is absolutely without foundation, as Pouget proves. It were well, however, to add that Sabotage can be practiced only by the most intelligent and the most skillful workers who know thoroughly the technique of their trade, as Sabotage does not consist in a clumsy and stupid [33] destruction of the instruments of production, but in a delicate and highly skillful operation which puts the machine out of commission only for a temporary period. The worker that undertakes such a task must know thoroughly the anatomy of the machine which he is going to vivisect and, by this fact alone, puts himself above suspicion.

Moreover, it is obvious that he must be prompted by a desire to help his brothers, that is by unselfish motives, and this added to the fact that he risks more than the others, develops a spirit of self-abnegation and individual daring which makes him quite the opposite of the sneaks our opponents love to describe.

The saboteur, to illustrate, is exactly like a spy in disguise in the camp of the enemy.

There is in the City Hall Square at New York a monument to Nathan Hale, a young American revolutionist who went to spy in the English camp, was found and executed. He is considered a great hero and held up as an example to school children.

On the 2nd of October, 1780, the American Revolutionists hung at Tappan on the Hudson, Major John Andre, a British spy who was captured under similar circumstances. Today, on [34] the same spot, where he was captured there is a monument erected to him--not by the British--by the Americans, by his own capturers and executioners.

Now, why should glory in real warfare be considered a disgrace in the nobler and greater battle for bread and liberty? Suppose that during the Spanish-American War a regular of the United States Army, disguised as a Spanish sailor, had boarded the Spanish flagship, succeeded in getting into a signal tower and then proceeded to so change and derange the signals as to disorganize and confuse all the movements of the enemy's fleet so that it would result in a great victory for his country? Wouldn't you go wild with enthusiasm and pride?

Well, now, for argument's sake, why should'nt you admire a striker who went as a scab, say, to work in the subway, and then by putting a red lantern in the wrong place (or rather in the right place), disarranges and demoralizes the whole system? If a single, ' humble red lantern can stop an express train and all the trains coming behind it, and thus tie up the whole traffic for hours, isn't the man who dies this as much of a benefactor to his striking [35] brothers as the soldier mentioned above to his army? Surely this is "ethically justifiable" even before the Capitalist morality, if you only admit that there is a state of belligerency between the working class and the capitalist class.

Saboteurs are the éclaireurs, the scouts of the class struggle, they are the "sentinelles perdues" at the outposts, the spies in the enemy's own ranks. They can be executed if they are caught (and this is almost impossible), but they cannot be disgraced, for the enemy himself, if it be gallant and brave, must honor and respect bravery and daring.

Now that the bosses have succeeded in dealing an almost mortal blow to the boycott, now that picket duty is practically outlawed, free speech throttled, free assemblage prohibited and injunctions against labor are becoming epidemic; Sabotage, this dark, invincible, terrible Damocles' Sword that hangs over the head of the master class,, will replace all the confiscated weapons and ammunition of the army of the toilers. And it will win, for it is the most redoubtable of all, except the general strike. In vain may the bosses get an injunction againt the strikers' funds—Sabotage [36] will get a more powerful one against their machinery. In vain may they invoke old laws and make new ones against it-they will never discover it, never track it to its lair, never run it to the ground, for no laws will ever make a crime of the "clumsiness and lack of skill" of a "scab" who bungles his work or "puts on the bum" a machine he "does not know how to run."

There can be no injunction against it. No policeman's club. No rifle diet. No prison bars. It cannot be starved into submission. It cannot be discharged. It cannot be blacklisted. It is present everywhere and everywhere invisible, like the airship that soars high above the clouds in the dead of night, beyond the reach of the cannon and the searchlight, and drops the deadliest bombs into the enemy's own encampment.

Sabotage is the most formidable weapon of economic warfare, which will eventually open to the workers the great iron gate of capitalist exploitation and lead them out of the house of bondage into the free land of the future.


Essex Co. Jail, Lawrence, Mass.

August, 1912.


Origin of Sabotage. Its Early Appearance. Balzac on Sabotage. The English "Go Canny." Bad Wages, Bad Work. New Horizons. Panic Amongst The Bosses. An Impressive Declaration. An Epoch-Making Discussion at the Congress of the C. G. T. Triumphant Entrance of Sabotage in France.

Up to fifteen years ago the term Sabotage was nothing but a slang word, not meaning "to make wooden shoes" as it may be imagined but, in a figurative way, to work clumsily as if by sabot blows.<ref>Sabot means a wooden shoe .</ref> Since then the word was transformed into a new form of social warfare and at the Congress of Toulouse of the General Confederation of Labor in 1897 received at last its syndical baptism. The new term was not at first accepted by the working class with the warmest enthusiasm--some even saw it with mistrust, reproaching it, [38] not only for its humble origin but also its immorality. Nevertheless, despite all these prejudices which seemed almost hostilities, Sabotage went steadily on its way around the world. It has now the full sympathy of the workers. More still, it has secured its rights of citizenship in the Larousse<ref> The standard dictionary of the French language. The word is not registered in any English dictionary, but it surely will be in the near future .</ref> and there is no doubt that the Academy (unless it is itself "saboted" before arriving at the letter S of its dictionary) will have to bow to the word Sabotage its most ceremonious curtsey and open to it the pages of its official sanctum.

However, it would be a mistake to believe that the working class waited to apply sabotage until this new weapon of economic action had been consecrated by the confederation congress.

Sabotage as a form of revolt is as old as human exploitation.

Since the day a man had the criminal ability to profit by another man's labor, since that very same day the exploited toiler has instinctively tried to give to his master less than was demanded from him. In this wise the worker was [39] unconsciously doing Sabotage, demonstrating in an indirect way the irrepressible antagonism that arrays Capital and Labor one against the other.

This unavoidable consequence of the conflict that divides society was brought to light threequarters of a century ago by Balzac in his "Maison Nucingen," apropos of the bloody riots of Lyons in 1831. He has given us a clear and' incisive definition of Sabotage.

"Much has been said," writes Balzac, "of the Lyons revolt and of ,the Republic shot down in the streets, but nobody has said the truth. The Republic had seized the movement just as a rebel seizes a gun. The commerce of Lyons is a commerce without courage—it does not manufacture an ounce of silk without its being demanded and promptly paid for. When the demand is low the worker starves--when he works he has barely enough to live on. The galley slaves are happier than he is.

"After the July revolution, poverty had reached such a stage that the workers raised a flag with this motto: Bread or Death--a flag which the government should have seriously considered. Instead of that, Lyons wanted to build theatres to become a capital--hence a senseless squandering of money.

"The republicans smelled through the increasing misery the coming revolt and organized the spinners who fought a double battle. Lyons had [40] its three days, then order prevailed again and the, beggar went back to his kennel.

"The spinner who had up to then transformed into threads the silk that was weighed to him in cocoons, put fairness out of the door and began to oil his fingers. Of course, he gave back with fastidious scrupulosity the exact weight-but the silk was all stained with oil and the silk market was thus infested with defective merchandise which could have caused the ruin of Lyons and the loss of a goodly share of the French commerce. * * *"

Balzac had been careful to bring out that the spinners' sabotage was nothing but a reprisal of victims. By putting oil in the spindles the workers were getting even with the heartless manufacturers who had promised them bayonets to eat instead of bread and had so lavishly kept their promise.

Indeed, when isn't an act of sabotage the equivalent and consequence of a suffered wrong?

Isn't perhaps in the origin and causes of each act of sabotage revealed the capitalist exploitation which often reaches to cruelty?

And this reaction against exploitation, in whatever condition it manifests itself, isn't it even too an attitude or action of revolt-whatever form it may take? And here we are brought back [41] to our affirmation that sabotage is as old as human exploitation.

Neither must it be believed that sabotage is a product with a Parisian trade mark. It is, indeed, if anything, a theory of English importation and it has been practiced across the Channel for a long time under the name of "Go cannie"--a Scotch expression which means literally "Go slow."

An example of the persuasive efficiency of the "Go cannie" is given by the periodical, "The social Museum" :

"In 1889 the Glasgow dockers went on strike asking an increase of two cents an hour.

"The contractors and stevedores flatly refused and imported at great expense a considerable number of farm hands to take the place of the strikers, with the conclusion that the dockers had to give up the fight and return to work on the same conditions.

"Just before resuming work their general secretary gathered them once again and said : 'Boys, you must go back today on the same scale of wages prevailing before.

"'The contractors have expressed and repeated all their satisfaction for the work done by the farmers who have scabbed on us during these last weeks. We have seen them at work and know full well what kind of satisfactory [42] work was theirs--we saw indeed that they could not even keep their balance on the bridges and saw how they dropped in the sea half the cargo they loaded and unloaded. In one word, we have seen that two of them could not do as much work as one of us. Nevertheless, the bosses said they were satisfied with their labor, therefore, we have one thing left yet; let us give them the same kind of labor. Work then just like the farm hands did-they often pushed their incapacity to the point of falling overboard, but it is not necessary for you to do this, of course.' "

These instructions were scrupulously followed and the dockers applied the "Go cannie" theory to the point. After a few days the contractors called the general secretary of the longshoremen and begged him to induce the dockers to work the same as before, declaring themselves ready to grant the two cents increase.

Passing from a practical to a theoretical example, it is interesting to quote a few pages from an English pamphlet published in 1895 for the purpose of popularizing the "Go cannie."

"If you want to buy a hat worth $2.00 you must pay $2.00. If you want to spend only $1.50 you must be satisfied with an inferior quality. A hat is a commodity. If you want to buy half a dozen of shirts at fifty cents each you must pay $3.00. If you want to spend only $2.50 you can only have five shirts. [43]

"Now the bosses declare that labor and skill are nothing but commodities, like hats and shirts.

"Very well--we answer--we'll take you at your word. If labor and skill are commodities, their owners have a right to sell them like the hatter sells hats and the haberdasher sells shirts. These merchants give a certain value in exchange for an equivalent value. For the lower price you will have an article of either a lower quality or a smaller quantity. Give the worker a fair wage and he will furnish you his best labor at its highest skill.

"On the other hand, give the worker an insufficient wage and you forfeit your right to demand the best and the most of his labor, any more than you can demand a two dollar hat for one dollar."

The "Go cannie" consists then in systematically applying the formula: "Bad wages, bad labor." Not only that. From this formula there are derived, as a logical consequence, various manifestations of the proletarian will in conflict with the capitalist.

This tactic, which is today widely diffused--in England, where it has been advocated and practiced by the labor organizations, could not delay long to cross the Channel and establish itself in France-as it cannot delay to cross the Alps and expand from France to Italy. Accordingly, [44] shortly after 1889 we find its first manifestation in France.

The National Railwaymen's Union was at the time engaged in a campaign against the Merlin- Trarieux Railway bill which aimed at depriving the railway workers of their right to unite.

The question of answering with the general strike to the passing of the ,bill was being discussed. Gubrard, secretary of the Railwaymen's Union, delivered a categorical and precise speech. He affirmed that the Railwaymen would not stop at. any means to defend their syndical liberty and made allusion to an ingenious and cheap method of combat.

"With two cents worth of a certain ingredient utilized in a peculiar way"--he declared--will be easy for the Railwaymen to put the locomotives in such a condition as to make it impossible to run them. * * * "

This clear and blunt affirmation, which was opening new and unforeseen fields of struggle, raised a great roar and a deep commotion in the ranks of the employers and the government, which were already perceiving, not without terror, the consequences of a general strike of the railway workers. [45]

If, however, with the declaration of Guerard, the question of Sabotage was openly confronted, it would not be exact to assume that it had been practiced in France before then.

To prove this it suffices to recall the typical example of a "trick" which has remained famous in telegraphic centers. Towards 1881, the operators of the central office, dissatisfied with the wage scale for night overtime, sent up a petition to the minister of Post and Telegraphs of that time, M. Cochery, asking for ten francs instead of five which they were then paid for work ranging from six p. m. to seven a. m.

They vainly waited a few days for an answer from the administration, and having been informed that it would never come, a sullen agitation and anger began to circulate amongst them.

A strike being impossible, they resorted to a trick.

One fine morning Paris awoke to find out that all telegraphic connections were cut off. (Telephones had not yet been installed.) This continued for four or five days.

The higher personnel of the administration, with engineers and numerous squads of foremen and mechanics invaded the central office to inspect minutely every apparatus, battery wire, [46] etc., from the front door to the cellar, but, strange enough, they could not find the cause of the trouble.

Five days after this memorable and wonderful "accident," a notice from the administration informed the operators that from that day on the night service would be paid ten francs instead of five.

They had not asked for more. "The next day all the lines were again buzzing as by magic. The authors of the miraculous trick were never found out by the administration which, if it guessed the motive, was never able to guess the means employed!"<ref> Le Travailleur des P. P. T., Sept., 1895.</ref>

The die was now cast

"Sabotage," which up to that time had been applied unconsciously and instinctively by the workers, with the popular name which has remained attached to it begins in 1895 to receive its baptism, its theoretical consecration and to take its place amongst the other means of social warfare, recognized, approved, advocated and practiced by the labor unions.

In 1897 the Confederation Congress was held at Toulouse. The Prefect of the Seine had refused [47] to the delegates of the Municipal Workers' Union the leave they were asking in order to attend the Congress. The federated unions of the Seine justly protested, qualifying this denial as an open attack on the right to organize.

The impeachment of the Prefect was called for during a session of the Congress and a vote of censure against him was immediately and unanimously taken. One of the delegates (who was none other than Emile Pouget), remarked that the Prefect would not care a fig for the censure and protest of the workers and added :

"Instead of protesting, it were much better to resort to action. Instead of bending our heads to the orders and injunctions of the ruling classes, it would be much more effective to retaliate. Why not answer a slap with a kick?"

And Emile Pouget added that his remarks were derived from a tactic of combat which the Congress would be called to pass on in a short while. He cited on this score the emotion and fright with which the capitalist world had been stricken when Comrade Guerard had declared that the ridiculous sum of two cents, intelligently spent, would have been sufficient to enable a railway man to stop and put out of running condition a [48] whole train propelled by powerful engines-and concluded with this proposition :

"The Congress, considering as superfluous any blame to the Government, which merely exercises its natural functions, invites the municipal workers to produce one hundred thousand francs of damage to the service in order to reward the Prefect for his veto."

This declaration of Pouget exploded like a bomb. At first there was a great stupefaction amongst the delegates themselves, who did not immediately grasp the purposely fearless and challenging meaning of the proposition--then many protested. A pure and simple resolution buried the proposition.

But what did it matter? Its aim had been reached; the attention of the Congress had been called to this subject, discussion was opened and reflection sharpened.

Thus the report that the committee on Boycott and Sabotage submitted some days later to the Assembly was received with the greatest and most helpful sympathy. In the said report, after having defined and explained Sabotage the Committee added: "Up to now the workers have confirmed their revolutionary attitude, but most of the time they [49] have remained on purely theoretical ground. They have worked for the diffusion of the idea of emancipation and elaborated a plan of future society from which human exploitation is eliminated. But why, along with this educational and unquestionably necessary propaganda, was nothing done or tried to resist the counter attacks of the capitalists, so as to render less hard to the workers the greedy demands of their employers? Our meetings always adjourn with the cry of 'Long live the Social Revolution'--a cry that is very far from materializing in any way whatever. It is indeed to be deplored that our congresses, while they always reaffirm their revolutionary standing, have not yet elaborated any practical revolutionary means and methods out of the orbit of words, and entered the field of action. Of things revolutionary, so far, we have as yet found and applied only the strike--and it is the strike alone that we continually resort to. Now this committee believes that there are other means besides the strike whereby we can checkmate the capitalists."

One of these means is the boycott--only the committee argued that it was insufficient against the manufacturer. It was necessary, therefore, [50] to find something else. And here sabotage appears.

We quote from the same report that "this tactic comes from England, where it has rendered a great service in the struggle of the English workers against their masters."

And here the committee, after having quoted from the pamphlet for the popularization of the "Go cannie," which' we have referred to above, continued :

"It is left to define under what aspects we can recommend Sabotage to the French workers and how they can ultimately put it in practice. We all know that the employing manufacturers in order to increase our slavery always select those moments in which it is most difficult for us to resist their compulsion. Being unable to strike under conditions of extreme misery and disorganization the workers must often bow their heads and submit. With sabotage, instead, they are no longer at the mercy of their bosses-they are no more a heap of nerveless flesh to be trampled upon with impunity. They have found a means whereby they can affirm their own virility and prove to their oppressors that even the toilers are men.

"On the other hand sabotage is not as new as it would appear at first sight.

"Since the world began the workers have applied it individually, in spite of a lack of method. [51] By sheer instinct they have always slackened their output, when the employer augmented his requirements. Without even being conscious of it, every worker more or less realizes the watchword of sabotage: 'For bad wages, bad work.' It can be said that in many industries that the substitution of piece work for day work is principally due to sabotage. If this tactic has already brought practical results, what will it not bring the day when it shall have become an organized , menace?

"Nor must it be assumed that the bosses, by substituting piece work for day work, have; insured themselves against sabotage. This tactic is by no means limited to work by the day--it can, in fact, be equally applied to piece work. Only in this case, the line of action is different.

"To reduce the output would, of course, mean to reduce the wages--therefore, sabotage must be applied to the quality rather than the quantity of products.

"In this way the worker not only does not return to the employer a labor effort greater than the wages he gets, but will also strike at his trade (customers), which is the only thing that allows the employer to indefinitely enlarge his capital-the basis of exploitation of the working class.

"By this method the exploiter will be forced to capitulate and either grant the demand of the workers or surrender the instruments of production into the hands of their sole legitimate {p|52}} owners. Two instances of piece work we are generally confronted with: the case in which work is done at home with tools supplied by the worker himself, and the other when work is performed in the employer's shop where the tools and machines belong to the boss himself.

"In the latter case, to sabotage on the goods can be added sabotage on the instruments of production.

"And herein is explained the tremendous emotion that shook the capitalist class at the first announcement of sabotage.

"It is necessary for the capitalists to know that the worker will not respect the machine until it has become his friend that will reduce his physical labor instead of being, as it is today, the enemy that steals his bread and shortens his life."

As a conclusion to this report the committee proposed to the congress the following resolution:

"Whenever an open conflict breaks out between employers and workers, whether determined by the exigencies of the former or the demands of the latter, in case the strike be recognized as insufficient and inadequate, the workers are advised and recommended to apply boycott and sabotage-both simultaneously-regulating themselves according to the aforesaid considerations."

The reading of this report was received with [53] the applause of the Convention. More than an approval, it met with veritable enthusiasm. All the delegates were conquered--not a single discordant voice was raised to criticize or make a single objection, or observation whatever.

The delegate of the Federation of Printing Trades was not amongst the less enthusiastic. He approved unreservedly the proposed tactics and made it plain in precise terms, of which we have but this cold record in the minutes of the Congress:

"All means are good in order to win. I may add that there are quite a number of them whereby we can reach our goal--easy to apply, provided it is done with care and ability. I mean to say with these words that there are things that must be done but not spoken of. You understand me.

"I know that if I were more explicit I would be asked whether I have the right to do this or that thing-but if we continue to do only what we are allowed to do, we will never come to anything.

"Once a revolutionary method is adopted it is necessary to have courage. And when the head has gone through, the whole body must also be pulled through."

The warmest applause underscored the speech of the delegate of the Printing Trades, and after [54] several commending remarks by various speakers the following motion was introduced and carried unanimously:

"The Syndicate of Commercial Employes invites the Congress to vote by acclamation the conclusions of the committee's report on sabotage and to put them in practice on the first occasion that presents itself."

The christening of Sabotage could not have been more propitious. And it was not a momentary success or a fire of straw, in consequence of a passing enthusiasm, for the unanimous sympathy with which sabotage was received, was never again denied to it.

In the succeeding congress of Rennes, in 1898, these tactics were, in fact, again unanimously endorsed.

Amongst the various speakers that, in the course of the debate, sustained sabotage, we cite the mechanic Lanche, today a deputy from Paris. He expressed the happy satisfaction of the Mechanics' Union of the Seine which he represented at the resolutions passed at the Toulouse Congress in favor of boycott and Sabotage.

The delegate of the Cooks' Federation made quite a big hit when he humorously related the following case of sabotage: [55]

"The cooks of a great Parisian cafe, having some unsettled grievances with their employers, remained the whole day at their places before the red hot stoves-but in the rush hours when clients were swarming the dining rooms, nothing was found in the pots but stones that had been boiling for hours, together with the * * * restaurant clock."

We believe it opportune to quote the following passages from the report that closed the discussion and which was unanimously adopted:

"The Committee wishes to emphasize that sabotage is not a new tactic. The capitalists practice it any time they find that it pays. "It is sufficient to mention the private and public contractors, who never keep their agreement to furnish first class material. Besides, are not the reductions of wages that the bosses front time to time impose on their employes a sabotage on the stomachs of the workers?

"We have already demonstrated how the worker instinctively answers to the heartless capitalist by reducing production, that is, rendering a work proportionate to the scarcity of wages.

"It is well that the workers realize that sabotage, in order to become a powerful weapon, must be practiced with method and intelligence.

"It is often sufficient to merely threaten it to obtain useful results.

This Congress cannot enter into particulars [56] as to its application. These particulars must issue from the temperament and initiative of each one of you and are subordinate to the various industries. We can only lay down the principle and wish that sabotage enter the arsenal of proletarian warfare against capitalism alongside of the strike; and that the attitude of the social movement assume am increasing tendency towards individual and collective direct action and realize a greater consciousness of its own personality."

For a third and last time sabotage met the battle fire of a Congress--in 1900 at the Confederation Convention at Paris.

It was then an agitated and troubled period. Under the influence of Millerand, Minister of Commerce, a deviation had taken place which had its origin in the allurement of political power. Many militants had been lured by the corrupting fascination of ministerialism and several labor organizations had been swerved towards a policy of "social peace" which, had it gained the upper hand, would have proved fatal to the syndicalist movement. The open antagonism of the revolutionary syndicalists was daily becoming more pronounced. Of this internecine struggle, the discussion and vote on sabotage were one of the first embryonic manifestations. [57]

The debate was short. After several speakers all in favor of sabotage, a voice was raised to condemn it. It was the chairman of the Congress himself. He declared that if he "did not have the honor of presiding he would have opposed sabotage, which he considered more harmful than useful to the workers and repugnant to the dignity of many of them." To justly value this condemnation it is sufficient to note that some weeks later it did not offend the "dignity" of this immaculate moralist to accept, thanks to the good office of Minister Millerand, a fat governmental sinecure.<ref> We refer to Mr. Treich, then secretary of the Bourse du Travail (Central Union) of Limoges and a fiery Guesdist, since appointed a Receiver of the Register (County Clerk) at Borieaux .</ref>

The chairman of the Committee on Sabotage was an adversary. He expressed himself in these terms :

"I must make a statement about sabotage. It will be frank and Mean cut. I admire those who have the courage to sabot an exploiter. I must, indeed, add that I have often laughed at the merry tales that are told about sabotage. But, I, for my part, could not dare do what our friends have often done.

"The conclusion is that if I have not the courage to carry out a certain thing, it would be [58] cowardice to incite others to do it. And I confess that in the act of deteriorating or disabling a tool or other things confided to my care, it is not the fear of God that paralyzes my courage, but the fear of the policeman. Therefore, I abandon to you the destinies of Sabotage.

The Congress, however, gave Sabotagea different reception than had been advised. A vote was taken, which gave the following result:

This clean cut vote closed the gestatory period of the theoretical infiltration of Sabotage. Since then Sabotage, unquestionably accepted, recognized and advocated, was no more invoked in the labor congresses and took a definite place in the number of means of war devised and practiced by the toilers against Capitalism.