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 The Impossibilists by Larry Gambone (continued)

Selected articles from the press of the
Socialist Party of Canada and the One Big Union, 1906-1938

[Return to Part One]

What Did They Want?
What We Want, Emiliano Zapata and A Business Without A Boss, explain what the Impossibilists would have liked to see as an alternative.

What We Want, Red Flag, June 21 1919

A lot of make-believe capitalist sympathy has been slobbered over the working class recently as a result of the revelations of some of the horrors of working class existence. That the capitalist may make a genuine effort to improve these conditions is quite possible. But even if they do improve the workers conditions; if they stable them in palaces and harness them in “Workmen’s Charters;” if Lord Leverem finds that he can exhaust his men in six hours and does it, and Mr. Ford discovers anew that high wages, as the Dutch say of paint, cost nothing—what then?

Such things, realized far beyond the realms of possibility, would leave us unmoved. We are out for a LIFE for the workers. The world is beautiful, life is glorious. Even work is a joy if man may, as Morris said, “rejoice in the work of his hand.” Evolution has given us the possibility of producing by work, as distinct from toil, wealth in such abundance that the amenities of civilization shall be the portion of all, without stint.

A place in the sun, a draught of sweet air of the meadow, the tranquillity of the country sunset, relieved of the shadow of our slavery—are they not worth fighting for? Are the workers forever to be content with the mentality that can raise a singer to fame and fortune on such a song as “Champagne Charlie?” The earth sings a song after rain, but how many of us have heard it? The World with all its beauty is for the Workers, if they will but take it.


Emiliano Zapata, OBU Bulletin, October 1919

Emiliano Zapata is dead and before he died he saw crumbling beneath the water his Atlantis of Industry, the Paradise of the workers which he had erected upon the sunny plains of the state of Morelos in Southern Mexico. At the height of his power the experiment was flourishing on a gigantic scale—there were three and a half million human beings populating this Eden of the proletariat in the Twentieth Century.

It was probably the largest, happiest and most thorough trial of communism which the world has ever seen. In comparison, Socialism is reactionary and Bolshevism conservative. Let us look upon this one astounding fact: in all of Morelos, during the Zapata regime, there was not a single coin or bill of money in circulation. Money was completely abolished, save that at the capital some sacks of gold were stored for dealing with the capitalistic systems of other countries in the transactions of import and export.

Instead of money each member of the community wore about his neck a disc of brass the size of dollar and about twice as thick. On it was inscribed: “The bearer of this—Manuel Garcia for example—is a member of the Industrial Union of North and South America. Who shows him favour shows favour to all the members of this union.” Armed with this disc, Manuel and his family could present themselves on a train and ride free of charge. He could shop at the stores, put up at hotels, attend the theatre, opera or picture show, without price. In return Manuel was expected and compelled, if he desired to avail himself of all these advantages, to put in a certain amount of labour on behalf of the commonwealth. If he would consume, he must produce. But his toil was not irksome, Morelos and the adjoining states of Chiapas and Tabasco, to which the experiment eventually spread, enjoy a tropical climate and bounteous soil. Between the upland pastures and the hot lowlands almost every variety of fruit and vegetable can be grown in abundance, with a slight expenditure of labour. If Manuel was a farmer, he could put in an hour or so a day with his crops; then after his own table was supplied, he would take his surplus to the market and leave it there for his fellow communists to help themselves at will. There could be no haggling over prices, for everything was free.

Or, supposing that Manuel worked in a factory. Strange to say, in a society so idyllic, there were factories. The sugar industry was highly organized, from cane to finished product: one refinery alone employed 25,000 persons. The shoe industry, from grazing cattle to finished boot and sandal, was equally flourishing, though on not so large a scale. One shoe factory employed more than 3000. The cotton industry was also considerable.

Under the previous management, Manuel would have worked 14 hours a day and received in return 50 cents. The factories still ran 14 hours a day under Zapata, but in seven shifts of two hours each—and the pay was the freedom of the union, from cabbage basket to opera house!

One of the markworthy results of this system was that women immediately became free. Every woman was as wealthy as every man. Therefore no woman could be bought, not even by the glitter of a wealthy marriage.

As to religion, the population is nominally Roman Catholic, but the last priest fled across the border slightly in advance of the last dollar. So, quaintly, the churches were turned into motion picture houses, schools and poultry exhibitions. As for government, the republic as such, had no affairs to settle, unless it was the management of the export and import trade, which was purely a business proposition conducted by a few skilled men at the “head office”. The countryside settled its own questions, the village its own and the city its own.

Whenever there was a question in dispute, the people interested would gather in the plaza of the nearest town. The band would play “La Paloma” and those who were not nervous about public speaking would make arguments for and against. The majority carried the day. But often the minority won as well as the majority. An instance is related concerning the building of a road in which 70% of the farmers agreed upon a route which left the remaining 30% in no better case than they were before. The minority submitted with good grace and loyally helped build the new road. This proved too much for the victors, who, when their own road was finished, went across the valley and built another road for the special use of the vanquished.

Zapata’s Industrial Union has been called “The Republic of Play”. For the light-hearted peons having so much leisure on their hands, employed it in merriment. They boasted no intellectual joys, for 95% of the population of Indians could neither read nor write. And Zapata had the caring to say that “this did not matter, since civilization has not yet produced and cannot naturally produce anything worthy of a free people’s perusal.” But the country teamed with merry and waggish revolutionary songs and charming ballads in which the people were producing for themselves a literature suited to their enjoyment.

Some months ago it was announced that Carranza’s troops had “pacified” Morelos; whether, despite the death of its leader, the land will stay “pacified” is in question. The state is impregnated with rebel seed. One hundred years ago, a humble priest named Morelos, kept in the field a revolutionary army of 60,000 until he was betrayed and assassinated. When his followers wished to salute him as Generalissimo, he replied “I would rather be remembered as the serf of the people”. He bequeathed his spirit and name to the territory. Since his death there have been eight uprisings in Morelos, like the others the eighth, that of Zapata, is wrecked. It was announced that he was killed by “strategy” and his body was produced to prove that he was at last dead. His slayer, Col. Guajardo, has been promoted to General in reward for his feat.


A Business Without A Boss, by Mark Starr, OBU Bulletin, March 20, 1930

That is what they call the Columbia Conserve Company in its home town of Indianapolis. For twelve years in this land boasting of “rugged individualism” a canning factory has been run by the collective effort of its workers. There in the home of Big Business, workers’ control is being consciously developed by the assistance of the Hapgood brothers, the former proprietors. The workers are buying out the shareholders.

Canning tomatoes, beans, chili and such is a hazardous, highly competitive industry. However, the regular staff of about 150 by their workers’ council; are running the business successfully. The council literally controls the hiring and firing and the disposal of produce and the general policies of the concern. In a trip through the plant it is the workers themselves who proudly explain the sorting and canning of the beans, the spices and flavours that go to make the various concoctions.

The minimum wage for the five day week [six being the norm at this time, eds.] is based on needs and each single worker under 20 gets $19.00, those older get $22.00, while a married man gets $33.00 regardless of the work he does. At the weekly council meeting, the girl who sticks on the labels has just the same right of decisions as the manager or salesmen who go on the road persuading the jobbers to purchase the “socialized soup”. What was a losing concern under the old ways of management has been made to earn profits by the cooperation of the workers. About 1932 the expanded business will be wholly the possession of the workers. In addition to a fixed wage, payment for lost time and a month holiday each year, all the workers and their dependents enjoy free and unlimited dental and medical care. A special credit union assists to get better housing accommodation to tide over any difficult period. If a worker leaves he is given a fortnights pay as recognition of his services, and a pension if unable to work anymore.

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