Qui était Friedrich Adolph Sorge ? Who Was Friedrich Adolph Sorge ?
mardi 16 février 2016, par
Qui était Friedrich Adolph Sorge ? Who Was Friedrich Adolph Sorge ?
SORGE Friedrich Adolf, 1828-1906 : communiste allemand, compagnon de lutte de Marx-Engels, participa au soulèvement de Bade et du Palatinat en 1849 ; émigré aux États-Unis, il y joua un grand rôle dans le mouvement ouvrier, organisant notamment les sections de l’A.I.T. ; membre du Club des communistes allemands de Cologne ; participa à la fondation de la section n° 1 de New York et environs ; après la dissolution de celle-ci, participa à la fondation de l’Association générale des ouvriers allemands de New York (1869) qui entra à la National Labor Union comme Labor Union n° 5 de New York ; participa à la fondation du comité central nord-américain de l’A.I.T. (1870) ; délégué au congrès de La Haye ; élu secrétaire général du Conseil général après son transfert à New York ; entretint une correspondance suivie avec Marx-Engels, dont il fut l’ami fidèle.
German Communist. He took part in the Baden rising of 1849. In the U.S.A., where he lived as an emigrant, he played a prominent part in the German and North American labour movement. Sorge, who was in constant correspondence with Marx and Engels, fought for the line of the General Council in the American sections of the First International. After the transference of the General Council to New York (1872) Sorge became General Secretary of the International.
The Marxists began to build the I.W.A. in the United States shortly after the Civil War, in 1867. Section No. 1, formed in 1869, was an amalgamation of the German General Workers Union and the Communist Club of New York. The combined group was called the Social Party of New York. Toward the end of 1870 two additional sections, French and Bohemian, were set up. These first three sections established the North American Federation of the I.W.A., with F. A. Sorge as corresponding secretary of the Central Committee. By 1872, the I.W.A. had 30 sections, with a membership of over 5,000, distributed in many parts of the country.
The I.W.A., a most important stage in the development of American Marxism, for the first time provided at least a loose national center for the groups of Marxists, and began to function during a most crucial era of American history. With the defeat of the slave-owners in the Civil War, the revolution had completed but its first phase, the freeing of the slaves. It was now necessary to confiscate the planters’ estates, to give land to the Negro ex-slaves, and also to prevent the return to power of the defeated slavocracy. These were the revolutionary tasks of the Reconstruction period.
The broad expansion of capitalism, the increase in the number of industrial workers, and the intensification of labor exploitation during the Civil War decade also brought about a rapid growth in the trade union movement. Thus, in 1863 there were 79 local unions in 20 crafts, and a year later the figure had jumped up to 270 locals in 53 crafts. With the end of the war the tempo of growth became still faster. The need for a general national organization of labor grew acute. After an ineffectual effort with the Industrial Assembly of America in 1864, success came with the setting up of the National Labor Union in Baltimore on August 26, 1866. Joseph Weydemeyer, the Marxist leader, who contributed greatly to its founding, died of cholera in St. Louis on the day the N.L.U. convention began.
Marxist influence was definitely a factor in this great stride forward of the working class, but the N.L.U. was not a Marxist organization. In all the industrial centers the socialists were active trade union builders, and they had a number of delegates at the Baltimore convention. William H. Sylvis3 of the Molders Union and leader of the National Labor Union, although not a Marxist, was a friend of Weydemeyer and Sorge and also a supporter of the I.W.A. He had a great talent for organization and was the first real national trade union leader. William J. Jessup, head of the New York Carpenters, was in direct communication with the General Council of the I.W.A. A. C. Cameron, editor of the Workingman’s Advocate, reprinted in full all the addresses of the I.W.A. General Council, as well as many articles by Marx, Wilhelm Liebknecht, and Sorge. Ira Steward, noted eight-hour day leader, read parts of Capital and was profoundly impressed by it. Even Samuel Gompers, then a young member of the labor movement and a friend of Sorge, was affected by the I.W.A. He said : “I became interested in the International, for its principles appealed to me as solid and practical.” Of this time Gompers declared : “Unquestionably, in these early days of the ‘seventies the International dominated the labor movement in New York City."
The N.L.U. during its six years of existence led important struggles and developed much correct basic labor policy. One of its main activities was campaigning for the eight-hour day. As a result of these efforts, Congress, on June 25, 1868, passed a law according the eight-hour day to laborers, mechanics, and all other workers in Federal employ.
The N.L.U. was also active in defending the unemployed. And it was the first trade union movement in the world to advocate equal pay for women and men doing equal work. Kate Mullaney, an outstanding union fighter, was appointed by Sylvis in 1868 as assistant secretary and organizer of women.6 The N.L.U. also campaigned against child labor and for the organization of the unorganized in all crafts and industries. The founders of the N.L.U. understood the need for independent political action. This led to the formation of the Labor Reform Party in 1871. The N.L.U. and the Labor Reform Party, however, fell into the hands of opportunists and reformers, who finally ran both of them into the ground. This trend was hastened by the sudden death of Sylvis in July 1869.
The Marxists took an active part in all N.L.U. activities. They were militant builders of the trade unions and advocates of independent political action. They participated in all the strikes and other struggles of the period. They helped to organize the historic eight-hour day parade in New York in 1871. In this parade a large I.W.A. contingent marched with the 20,000 workers, carrying through the streets of the city for the first time a red banner inscribed with the slogan, "Workingmen of all countries, unite !” As the I.W.A. section entered the City Hall plaza, it was greeted with lusty cheers from the 5,000 assembled, who shouted, “Vive la Commune.” The Marxists were also a leading factor in the great Tompkins Square, New York, demonstration of the unemployed
During this period of activity one of the big achievements of the I.W.A. was to secure the affiliation of the United Irish Workers, a group of Irish laborers. They were led by J. P. McDonnell, an able Marxist, a Fenian, and co-worker of Marx in the First International congresses. McDonnell, a capable and active trade unionist, was very effective in organizing the unorganized. For many years he was the editor of the Labor Standard, the leading trade union journal of the period. Gompers called him “the Nestor of trade union editors.”
During these years the question of Negro labor was a burning issue for the labor movement. The bosses were systematically playing the white workers against the newly-freed Negro workers, and were trying to use Negro workers to keep down the wages of all workers—even as strikebreakers. The more advanced leaders of the N.L.U., especially the Marxists, had some conception of the necessity of Negro and white labor solidarity and of the N.L.U. undertaking the organization of the freedmen. But, despite Sylvis, Richard Trevellick, and others, nothing much was done about it. Strong Jim Crow practices existed in many of the unions, and consequently the body of Negro workers were not organized nor their interests protected.
As a result, the Negro workers launched their own organization. In December 1869, after failure of the N.L.U. to give the Negro workers consideration at its convention a few months earlier, they called together a convention of 156 delegates, mostly from the South, and organized the National Colored Labor Union, with Isaac Myers as president. Trevellick was present, representing the N.L.U. The convention elected five delegates to attend the next convention of the N.L.U. The N.C.L.U. also set up, as headquarters, the National Bureau of Labor in Washington. Its paper was the New National Era.
“In February, 1870, the Bureau issued a prospectus containing the chief demands of the Negro people ; it called for a legislative body to fight for legislation which would gain equality before the law for Negroes ; it proposed an educational campaign to overcome the opposition of white mechanics to Negroes in the trades ; it recommended cooperatives and homesteads to the Negro people."
Relations between the N.L.U. and N.C.L.U. became strained over a number of questions. They reached the breaking point on the formation of the National Land Reform Party. That this first great effort to establish unity between Negro and white workers failed was to be ascribed chiefly to the short-sighted policies of the white leaders of the N.L.U. They never understood the burning problems of the Negro people during the reconstruction period, some of them holding ideas pretty much akin to those of President Johnson. The N.C.L.U. soon disappeared under the fierce pressure of the mounting reaction in the South.
The Marxists, both within and without the N.L.U., were active on the Negro question, primarily in a trade union sense. They demanded the repeal of all laws discriminating against Negroes. Section No. 1 of the I-W.A. set up a special committee to organize Negro workers into trade unions. Consequently, the Negro people looked upon the Socialists as trustworthy friends to whom they could turn for co-operation. In the big New York eight-hour day parade Negro union groups participated wine the I.W.A. contingent. And in the parade against the execution of the Communards a company of Negro militia, the Skidmore guards, Marched under the banner of the First International.
From its beginning, the National Labor Union had a strong international spirit. This was largely due to German Marxist and English Chartist influences within its ranks. It maintained friendly relations with the International Workingmen’s Association. Marx was highly gratified at the founding of the new national labor center in the United States. The question of affiliation to the I.W.A. occupied a prominent place at all N.L.U. conventions. Sylvis especially appreciated the importance of the international solidarity of the workers.
At the 1867 convention of the N.L.U. President W. J. Jessup moved to affiliate with the I.W.A., with the backing of Sylvis. The convention did not vote for affiliation, however, but it did agree to send Richard F. Trevellick to the next I.W.A. congress. Lack of funds, however, prevented his going. Good co-operative relations always existed between the two organizations, Karl Marx paying special attention to the promising N.L.U. Finally, late in 1869, A. C. Cameron attended the I.W.A. congress at Basle, as the representative of the N.L.U. There he presented several proposals, providing for co-operation between European and American labor to regulate immigration and to prevent the shipping of scabs to break strikes in the United States. The 1870 convention of the N.L.U., while not actually voting affiliation to the I.W.A., nevertheless adopted a resolution which endorsed the principles of the International Workingmen’s Association and expressed the intention of affiliating with it "at no distant date."
The death of Sylvis in 1869 was a heavy blow to the growing international labor solidarity. Commons says, "Had it not been for this loss of its leader, the alliance of the National Labor Union with the International, judging from Sylvis’ correspondence, would have been speedily brought about."11 The General Council of the I.W.A. sent a letter to the N.L.U., signed by Karl Marx, mourning the loss of Sylvis. It said that his death, by removing "a loyal, persevering, and indefatigable worker in the good cause from among you, has filled us with great grief and sorrow.”
The N.L.U. reached its high point, with an estimated 600,000 members, in 1869. After that date it began to decline, and its decay was rapid. At its 1871 convention there were only 22 delegates, and these mostly agrarian reformers. The American Section of the I.W.A., which was affiliated, quit in discontent at the way the organization was being run. The 1872 convention brought forth only seven delegates, old-time leaders. This was the end of the N.L.U. Attempts were made to call conventions to revive it, in 1873 and 1874 at Columbus and Rochester, but these efforts were fruitless, the organization being dead beyond recall.
Numerous reasons combined to bring about the end of the once-promising National Labor Union. Among these was the fact that the organization was not definitely a trade union body. From the outset it was composed of “trade unions, workers’ associations, and eight-hour leagues,” and in the end it had been invaded by numerous preachers, editors, lawyers, and other careerists, who cultivated petty-bourgeois illusions among the workers. Moreover, the organization was poorly financed, and it was too decentralized. It had no dues system, nor any paid, continuous leadership. Its main activity was the holding of national conventions, with the follow-up work being done by its affiliated organizations. Last and most important of its weaknesses, the organization, under the influence of Lassalleans, finally deprecated trade union action and turned its major attention to the currency question and to other petty-bourgeois reformist political activities. This alienated the trade unions, which quit the organization, and it fell a prey to all sorts of non-working class elements.
As early as 1870, Sorge wrote a letter to Karl Marx in which he clearly foresaw the course of events : “The National Labor Union, which had such brilliant prospects in the beginning of its career, was poisoned by Greenbackism and is slowly but surely dying." The influence of the Marxists upon the N.L.U. was much too limited to counteract these disintegrating influences.