Source: The Communist International, No. 18, October 1922, pp. 177-186 (9,836 words). A number of typos have been corrected here but as far as possible the odd spellings, words and constructions have been left.—Note by transcriber ERC.
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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The first international Congress of the revolutionary trade unions met eleven months after the creation of its organisational nucleus in the form of a provisional International Council of Trade Unions, which had been formed for the purpose of rallying all the revolutionary forces. During this short period of time the world labour movement has undergone great changes. Even in such unions where Amsterdam had ruled undividedly, an opposition movement has arisen, acquired a certain form and developed, and it began to carry out in practice the principles that had been advanced by the provisional international central organisation. In spite of the fraternisation between the bourgeoisie and the leaders of the labour movement during the war and after it,—the growing acuteness of the class struggle raised the question of new methods of struggle before the wider masses. The bourgeoisie was giving daily objective lessons to the workers, who were all moving more or less rapidly towards the left, that is to say to Moscow, towards social revolution. The tasks of the Congress consisted not only of making a record of this frame of mind of the masses and registering our forces but also in elaborating the basis for the tactics of the revolutionary unions, in collecting all the positive and negative experiences of the struggle, in drawing up a single programme of action and in welding together organisationally the left wing of the international labour movement. The Congress accomplished these tasks brilliantly as we shall see. If we study attentively the whole work done by the Congress, as well as its stenograms and minutes, we shall see how all that is at the present moment constituting the life of and agitating the world labour movement has been reflected at the Congress, in the course of long and passionate debates. Our Congress has united about one half of the organised workers of all countries. Naturally we could not establish a thoroughly homogeneous normal representation at this first constituent congress—as this would have been the case on the principle of direct nomination by the national central organisations of the trade unions. This was impossible under the existing conditions. Our Congress brought together on the one hand the representatives of the national Trade Union centres, as for instance, of the Russian Trade Union movement, of Bulgaria, Yugo-Slavia and a number of other countries, and, on the other hand, the minorities within the movement, namely, such of them that are at present carrying on a serious struggle for their liberation and against the old ideology, the old customs, the old methods and theories, and the old practices of the labour union bureaucracy. Thus, the composition of the Congress was a two-fold one: on the one hand there were the official representatives of the national central organs and on the other—the representatives of the organised minorities. This unequal and heterogeneous representation induced the organisations which from the very first days of the Congress had felt themselves to be in the minority to raise the question of the validity of this Congress and to point out (rather timidly, it is true) that the Constituent congress of the International must be based on other principles.
The Congress was attended by 380 delegates, out of which 336 with a decisive vote and 44 with a consultative vote, from 41 countries. Thus, almost all the countries of the world were represented; besides the representatives from Russia and the sister republics we had representatives from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the United States of America, Argentine, Mexico; there were also representatives from Corea, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland and even some from the Dutch colonies—from Java. In respect to the number of countries represented at the Congress, the latter was even more numerous than all the former congresses of the old International. Very many countries, however, were represented only by revolutionary or opposition minorities or Communist groups, organised in various ways, according to various types and principles—depending on the local peculiarities of one or other country. But such a composition of the Congress—the presence of delegates from 41 countries representing the entire left wing of the labour movement—was bound from the very beginning to raise all the questions agitating the Trade Union movement of different countries.
In former times, when we used to say: “the left wing of the labour movement”, we defined thus the watershed dividing two different conceptions or two opposite views: on the one hand—the old reformist labour movement, advocating the cooperation of classes, and on the other—the revolutionary movement, voicing the social revolution and the revolutionary class struggle. It is only in this sense that we ever spoke of the left wing of the labour movement, but when we came up quite close to this left wing, when we tried to (“feel the pulse” of its representatives, we discovered that this pulse was beating in a different manner because the representatives of the different left wing groups have quite different views on the tasks of the labour organisation; they have different ways of estimating the given moment, they have different ways of defining the course of the movement and a different method of solving the concrete problems which are facing them. Thus, within the left wing of the labour movement, which is united by an unconditional and unreserved refutation of reformism and the collaboration of classes, we have all the shades of thought, all the colours of the rainbow. We have here the pure anarchists, staunch supporters of their ideology; further we have anarchists with certain reservations; the revolutionary syndicalists—the irreconcilable ones of the old type—and the syndicalists who have desisted lately from many of their syndicalist prejudices; further we have the Communists, and the ordinary left wing trade unionists,—who have not yet rid themselves of the survivals inherited by them from the reformist labour movement. Thus, with regard to the currents of ideas and internal tendencies represented, the Congress included all the shades of thought existing in the left revolutionary wing. In this respect its work is especially interesting. In studying attentively the minutes of the Congress, we see how on each question these two points of view frequently collided and how the different tendencies were reflected in the work of the congress.
The agenda of our Congress were rather voluminous. Besides the report, which was submitted by the Provisional International Council of Trade Unions, we had before us the question of the mutual relations between the Trade Union International and the Communist International. Further, we had the question of the tactics and tasks of the trade unions, the organisational question, the statutes, the question of unemployment, of workers’ control of the factory committees, of the cripples and victims of the war, of women in the industry and the trade unions, and a whole number of other questions, less important from the point of view of principle, but most essential in practical respects. The Congress had to give quite as much of its attention to these latter questions, in as much as its mission was to be not only a congress for the drawing up of appeals, manifestoes, declarations, but a congress of action pointing out definite firm tactics and giving to the world Trade Union movement definite directions for further militant operations.
Our Congress met, as has been said already, eleven months after we had created here in Moscow the Provisional International Council of Trade Unions, on July 15th 1920. This Provisional Council was constructed undoubtedly on the basis of mutual concessions and compromises and owing to objective conditions it could accomplish but very little during the first year of its activity. Nevertheless if became very popular. This is always the case when an organisation answers to the maturing demands of the epoch. In fact what was our Provisional International Council of Trade Unions in 1920? It was an organised centre around which such tendencies of the world labour movement as are in opposition to the old forms were becoming crystallised and acquiring certain forms. The world labour movement has grown in gigantic proportions during the post-war period. Before the war all the labour unions of the world counted 9½ million members. At the present moment there are 40 millions. This colossal army of labour, numbering 40 millions, is not of equal value in its composition. The members of the unions in the different countries do not look at the everyday tasks in the same way, they approach them differently. There are some people in this huge army who are completely permeated with the old spirit. The bourgeois world holds the working class in its hands not only by means of physical oppression and force, it holds it in spiritual bonds, fettering and cowing it by its conception of the world. If you take the working mass as a whole, you will see how many bourgeois prejudices and doctrinary survivals are still left in it from the bourgeois culture and the bourgeois trend of thought. This influence of the bourgeoisie on the labour movement is making itself felt in the most various tendencies of the international Trade Union movement. Out of the 40 millions about 17 have already defined their positions during the 11 months: they have begun to protest against the old tactics, and to oppose the Amsterdam International with its ideology and its philosophy of the collaboration of classes. They are protesting against the whole complex of ideas, which the Amsterdam International is promoting, against the theories and practice that its representatives are carrying out, and that all tend to show on the whole that the working class can find a way out of the blind alley into which the war has driven it only by means of peaceful development and compromise with the bourgeoisie. This point of view, which was advanced by the Amsterdam International of Trade Unions, met with a decided rebuff on the part of the workers in all countries, and a revolutionary movement against Amsterdam was created on this basis. Thus, during the whole period of those eleven months the struggle under these two flags: “Amsterdam or Moscow” was being carried on throughout the whole world Trade Union movement and the whole T.U. press, of course: “Moscow” and “Amsterdam” are not geographical conceptions in this case; they only stand for the complex of ideas advanced by the two groups that I have indicated above, on the one hand—the collaboration of classes, conciliation with the bourgeoisie, and on the other—a relentless class revolutionary struggle, the social revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. They were two systems, two worlds fighting within the industrial labour movement. Our Congress appeared as the logical conclusion of this development in the Trade Union movement during 11 months. We only summed up the results... And as history was in favour of us, that is to say, as the international labour movement developed in the post war period, backed by the great lesson of the war, the growing penury, closing of the works and factories, history again helped to drive the workers to the left, even when they did not know that they were drifting leftwards. Many of the workers spoke our language without knowing that it was the language of Moscow, like well-known hero of Molière who had been expressing himself in prose without suspecting that it was prose.
The fundamental question that agitated the Congress and ran as a red line through its work, the question that was cropping up all the time on the subject of the various items on the agenda and rendered the internal relations more acute—was that of the mutual relations between the International of the Trade Unions and the Communist International, or in other words between Communism and syndicalism. This question may appear at first sight as an abstract and purely theoretical one, because the syndicalists say that their task consists in overthrowing capitalism, and building a Communist society, and as far as they really set themselves this task one asks involuntarily: in what does the difference lie? Why such passionate discord? Why have we been defending our positions with such animosity, such warmth, which is inherent in the revolutionary temperament, during a whole fortnight and only at the end of that time have we been able to find a common language and pass resolutions in common? Where is the point?
There were three fundamental types in the world trade union movement before the war (at present the former sharply defined differences between them have become softened): pure Trade Unionism, revolutionary syndicalism and the social democratic reformism or German-Austrian Trade Unionism.
We did not meet with pure trade unionism at our Congress. The pure trade unionists are in Amsterdam. Neither did we have anything to do with pure reformism, because it is also closely connected with Amsterdam. But the third tendency was amply represented at the Congress, where we had genuine syndicalism with all its prejudices, all the turns and twists of its ideology and tactics.
The fundamental idea of revolutionary syndicalism so forcibly expressed in the celebrated Charter of Amiens, accepted in 1906 at the Congress of the General Confederation of labour, leads to the following: the labour union is the fundamental militant nucleus of the working class, the union itself will make the revolution, the union itself will construct the socialist society, and no political groups may or can interfere with the work of the union. The unions are autonomous, they are independent, they have nothing to do with any political sects, groups, philosophical systems and religious conceptions of the world or as the French say: “le syndicalisme se suffit lui-meme”, that is to say, syndicalism is sufficient in itself. No other organisations, no party grouping are necessary to carry out the revolution. Such is the fundamental idea of revolutionary syndicalism. And it is this ideology, this theory and this practice that we had mostly had to do at our Congress.
If one admits that this fundamental idea of the syndicalists is correct, if the trade union can really be sufficient by itself and no other organisation may interfere in the struggle which the industrially organised proletariat is carrying on against the bourgeoisie; if the union is in a position to carry out alone, without any other assistance, the demands of the working class,—then the relations between the unions and the political parties, including also the Communist party are quite clear, because insofar as the union is doing it all by itself, the Communist party is quite superfluous and totally unnecessary. The debates in the Congress were carried on in this sense and along these lines. And it must be noted as one of the achievements of the Congress, that in these discussions the revolutionary syndicalists made considerable concessions; they have desisted considerably from the completeness and harmony of their ideology. The latter had in general left the old traditional regulations far behind it, because during the last ten years certain important events have occurred which could not but bring some enlightenment, or in other words certain modifications in the theoretical and practical system of revolutionary syndicalism. The world war and the Russian Revolution have taken place. These two facts have placed on the order of business the question of the world social revolution and its practical realisation. And in so far as this question had become a practical one it was no longer possible to content oneself with phrases such as “syndicalism is sufficient in itself”; it became necessary to give a clear answer to the question regarding the dictatorship of the proletariat, the proletarian state, the Communist party—which had carried out the revolution in Russia, in spite of the syndicalist theory—and in general to a number of questions raised by the Russian revolution.
Naturally, our entire Russian experience, so contradictory to the syndicalist theories, is not an agreeable fact, but nevertheless it is one, and facts, as the English say, are stubborn things. And this has led very many syndicalists to quite new ideas. They came to the conclusion that although formerly they had been against the dictatorship of the proletariat and against the state, the Russian Revolution had proved that in the struggle with the bourgeoisie and the forces hostile to the working class the dictatorship is indispensable. But if the dictatorship of the proletariat has to be recognised, then the whole system of syndicalism comes crumbling down, properly speaking; their entire established world outlook shows a crack. This crevice, this incompleteness of their world point of view showed itself clearly at the Congress; moreover a number of syndicalists proclaimed definitely from the tribune: we acknowledge that our point of view on such and such a point was incorrect; and only an insignificant group of them remained “irreconcilable”.
In order to show what these “irreconcilable” ones imagine social revolution to be, we shall quote some extracts from the speeches held by the representatives of this group at the Congress: “Our system of syndicates—said one of the French syndicalists—can, owing to its organisational forms, its administrative apparatus and its construction on the territorial basis, at once establish a proletarian regime in our country by means of its industrial federations and local branches; the syndicalist organisation will become the ruling power, it will consolidate its victory and find in itself all the physical and moral forces which will be able to ensure the possibility of its further development”.
Hence you may see that from this point of view modern France possesses a ready organisation which is capable of establishing a proletarian regime. It is already adapted to the future order throughout its whole structure. Only a “trifle” is necessary—a revolution—and all will go well. With such an opinion on our labour organisations, naturally the question regarding the necessity of a political party becomes superfluous—if the organisation is ready, then why do we want the Communists or their political party?
The partisans of this point of view, forming as I have said already, an insignificant group among the syndicalists attending the Congress, continued to develop this idea during the whole time of the Congress. They tried to prove that Trade Unionism is “independent of politics”; it is multi-faceted; it embraces all the sides of the worker’s life, and therefore it has to be independent; that a Trade Union is the only bona fide union of the proletariat because it is a union of producers, whereas a political party is a mixture of representatives of different classes. This determines the supremacy of economics over politics, that is to say, of the trade unions over the political parties.
The fundamental, so to say, theoretical and practical defect of this group of syndicalists consists in the fact that they establish such a sharp division between politics and economics. And it was very characteristic that each time when the debates were concentrated on this question, on the mutual relation between politics and economics and we tried to compel them to give us a definition of economics, they gave us very eloquent, excellently constructed but meaningless formulas; nothing else was to be expected because no one on earth can separate politics from economics unless, indeed, by politics one understands politicastering and parliamentary cookery, as the syndicalists, do.
Parliamentary elections to which they refer so often, when “denouncing” politics, are one of the moments of the political struggle, one of the manifestations of this struggle, but in no wise politics themselves. Politics are a definite opposition of one class against another, a definite line of struggle, an organisation of the masses, enabling one class to overthrow the other. This is what is called politics. All the rest is not politics, only trifles, outward manifestations, passing forms of the political struggle. What are economics? We asked the syndicalists: “Very well, you, are in favour of the predominance of the union over the party, you are for the priority of economics. But with regard to the miner’s strike in England, what is it, a case of economics or politics? Is it only an economic struggle, or are we witnessing a great political struggle, of proportions as yet unseen in England either by the bourgeoisie, or the working class?” They were unable to give a satisfactory answer to this question, because as Marx has said long ago, every economic struggle is at the same time a political one. Whereever the workers enter into a struggle as an organised mass, although it be only on the question of wages, wherever they set themselves against the state and the organised employers, it is a political demonstration, because it a class one. The whole world conception of the syndicalists, all their ideology, all their theories are based on this separation of politics from economics, and so long as they will continue to insist on this separation, so long will they certainly not succeed in making the two ends meet.
If it is necessary to separate economics from politics, then the economic organisation of the proletariat must be separated from the political one and the International of Trade Unions has nothing in common with the Communist International. We were debating almost three whole days on the subject of the mutual relations between these two Internationals. There were no less than 30 orators. All the different tendencies, all shades of thought were discussed; any one who had anything to say on the subject was allowed to speak out, and now, summarising all those views, attentively reading all these debates, we notice how the French syndicalists, the representatives of the American “Industrial Workers of the World”, the representatives of the Dutch syndicalists and those of the left wing Communist groups of Germany, all came to the same final conclusion, although in different words and from different starting points. “It is necessary to separate the T.U. movement from the political one; we must build our own house, so that there should be no cohabitation with the Communist International”—such is the fundamental idea and leitmotiv of all the syndicalist speeches held at the Congress. At one of the sessions the author of these lines asked one of the syndicalists the following questions: “You affirm that the object of syndicalism is Communism, that it is marching towards Communism?” “Yes, he replied, we are Communists as to our aim”.—“The Communist International and the Communist party are also tending towards Communism?”—“Yes”.—“But if both these organisations are marching towards Communism, towards the same aim, then their roads cannot be parallel, they must cross. On the other hand, if you, syndicalists, recognise that the Communist International is also struggling against capitalism, it is necessary to establish a contact between these two tendencies, even if we admit that they are parallel ones. We must build a bridge between them”—“What kind of a bridge?—“If we wish to use this bridge, it must be an iron one”—“No replied the syndicalist, I am not in favour of a bridge, we only want a thin plank”.—“But if it will only be a only a thin plank, it will be difficult to walk on it”. This conversation on the subject of the bridge and the thin plank is extremely characteristic for the frame of mind of the syndicalists, their manner of approaching the questions that are facing us. “Independence and autonomy”—this is the slogan that they defended with the greatest insistence at the Congress. “We are independent. We shall not allow any organisation whatever to make any attempt against our independence and our autonomy”. And this is how they explained to us from the tribune what they understand by independence: “The peculiarity of revolutionary syndicalism consists in that it propose to liberate the working class without any open or hidden tutelage of those who priority of politics over economics. We cannot admit that the bourgeois intellectuals should always think for the working class, always be its spiritual shepherd or chief.” I think that the above extract is quite sufficient to give one an idea of the ideology of syndicalism. I shall quote another place from the declaration of another representative of revolutionary syndicalism, the representative of the French organisation which bears a rather high sounding name: “International Conference of Workers” but which numbers in the entire France only about 800 or 900 members. This representative of a very small organisation with a big name said: “After the revolution any state, even a socialist one will remain a centralised force of oppression. In order to guard themselves from it, the workers who cherish their liberty must preserve the autonomy of their organisation.” This was said by delegate Boisson. All those who remember our own discussions in Russia regarding the independence of the Trade Union movement will recognise the menshevist ideas which we have heard already in Russia. What is the basis of a political party? asks Boisson and he answers: A mixture of interests. It mixes up systematically in its ranks workers and employers, professional classes and tradesmen, producers and those who live by their revenues without working. It is incapable therefore of conducting a consequential struggle and can only maintain itself by means of lies and ambiguities. Hence, a political party is a depositary of all the vices. It can exist only on lies, whereas the syndicates and unions are a home of all the virtues, and this vessel of purity is the only instrument of the social revolution first and the construction of a socialist society next. Such speeches are but the echo of the former revolutionary syndicalism, which had fallen asleep and slept calmly for 15 years, missing thereby the world war and the Russian Revolution. And inasmuch as the revolutionary syndicalists of this type had missed these two important events, it is not surprising that they are picking up an old theory and bringing it forward now, after four years of revolution, during the discussion of the relations between the Communist International and the Revolutionary Trade Unions as something new and capable of determining all mutual relations in the world of struggle we are living in.
Another part of the syndicalists—headed by the Spanish delegates—took up a different point of view. Their representative said: “We, Spanish syndicalists, are followers of Bakunin—we are pure anarchists; we have stood on this platform for many decades, but life has taught us that the dictatorship of the proletariat is absolutely indispensable”. Whoever accepts the dictatorship of the proletariat accepts everything, because that dictatorship means a definite complete system from which no single link may be eliminated.
The dictatorship of the proletariat is the pseudonym of the proletarian state. An anarchist cannot agree to a “proletarian state” because according to the anarchists a state, be if bourgeois or proletarian, can only be an apparatus for the oppression of the workers. At the same time these anarcho-syndicalists accept the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and say: “in so far as we have recognised the dictatorship of the proletariat, we are in favour of a close contact with the Communist International, but we wish to keep our independence and our autonomy” Thus, they have in their ranks adherents of independence and autonomy without reservations and of “independence and autonomy” with reservations. Besides these there is a third tendency among the syndicalists, who have learnt still more and, therefore deem it necessary to revise the whole syndicalist point of view and the syndicalist theories on the basis of the amendments introduced by the Russian Revolution and to draw up a new program for the new conditions of life. Such are the three tendencies in revolutionary syndicalism that now stand revealed, and in so far as they are struggling against one another, their struggle was reflected in the debates and declarations of the Congress. After sharp and heated debate the Congress passed a resolution to the effect that the International of Trade Unions, while remaining an autonomous independent organisation, shall coordinate its actions with those of the Communist International, endeavouring to join the latter in all its demonstrations, so that in the defensive and offensive struggle the whole revolutionary energy of the working class be concentrated into one single firmly clinched powerful fist.
What position, did the majority of the Congress take in the question of the mutual relations between the Red International of Trade Unions and the Communist International? On this point there were also differences of opinion, but in quite a different department. The author of these lines defended the point of view that there can be only one International, because the International is not a mechanical sum-total of political parties and groups, in so far as under the name of International we understand a world union for militant defensive and offensive actions. The International must include the entire revolutionary energy of the masses, in whatever form such energy be expressed—whether in the form of a party, or in that of unions or cooperative organisations. This point of view had been adopted by the 4th Congress of the Labour Unions of Russia, and it had been proclaimed in the name of the entire Russian Trade Union movement that our ideal is the formation of a single International embodying all forms and views of the revolutionary labour movement. On the other hand we had some Communists at the International Congress who were in favour of a definite separation between the Trade Union and the Communist movements. The representatives of the French Communists and the Communists of some of the other countries where the Communist party is weak and Trade Unionism pretty strong—were especially obdurate on this point of view. In general one must say that the solution of this problem at the Congress was rendered more difficult by the fact that it took a different aspect in almost each country, according to the relations between the Trade Unions and the local Communist party, the relative forces of the one and the other, etc. Thus, for instance, this question does not exist at all for the Norwegian workers, because almost all the members of the Trade Unions are also members of the party and vice-versa. Neither does this problem exist for the worker’s of Czecho-Slovakia, where the relations between the party and the unions are also closely intertwined. This occurrence is to be noted in many reformist unions which were not represented at the Congress: and chiefly in England where the Trade Unions have created the Labour Party, whose members they now all are. Thus, if the question of a split between the political and the industrial movements were placed before the English Trade Unions, the British workers would not consent to it because an organic bond exists between their unions and the party. On the contrary, relations of a quite different nature prevail in France and Spain. In Spain the question, of the mutual relations between the Communist party and the unions has not been raised as yet. The syndicalist movement has always been strong in Spain. In the end of 1919 and the beginning of 1920 it numbered up to one million members. The Communist party was born only six months ago and numbers only 10,000 members. Can the old revolutionary movement raise the question of its relations with a small, recently created Communist party in the same forms, in which it stands in the countries where there is an old Communist party and a young T.U. movement? The difficulty of this question is explained by the difference in the national conditions and the mutual relations between the party and industrial organisations in the different countries. We all saw perfectly well that it is necessary to establish a close collaboration with the Third International, and even the most extreme syndicalists did not refuse to meet with the Communist International from time to time; only they looked upon such meetings as a “casual flirt”, not as permanent mutual business relations. After three days’ debates, an acute struggle, a number of ultimatums etc. etc. the Congress at last found a middle line. If did not adopt the point of view of the latest Russian Congress of Trade Unions, nor that of the extreme syndicalists, but declared itself in favour of independent existence of the Red International of Trade Unions in the field of organisation, of a close collaboration and of a mutual representation, while preserving the complete independence of the internal life of both Internationals. The solution of the question of the mutual relations between the Internationals predetermined the decision of a number of other more complicated but practically more easily soluble problems. As a matter of fact, in so far as the syndicalists advanced against us the idea of independence, in so far as they had declared it to be an ultimative condition (the French delegation had even received an imperative mandate not to join the Red International of Trade Unions so long as this question were not decided in the sense desired by the French comrades) after the passing of the resolution with regard to the mutual relations with the Communist International we felt that the ground was cleared up before us in principle and we could move forward with confidence.
The second question which agitated most the Congress was that of the Italian Trade Unions and the Red International. On July 15th 1920 together with the Italian Confederation of Labour we had signed the agreement regarding the formation of the Provisional Council of Trade Unions. The Red International was thus born, but since that moment, instead of taking a step forward, the leaders of the Italian Confederation have stepped backwards. It is characterisic that after the Italian Socialist Party had split at the Congress of Livorno, the reformists, who belonged to, the right wing of the Italian labour movement had insisted on their point of view that in the question of “Moscow or Amsterdam” it was necessary to remain at the same time in both Internationals. Moreover, it is necessary to note that in April 1920 the Italian Confederation of Labour appealed to the Amsterdam International with a protest against the murders and pogroms committed by the Fascisti. In reply to this appeal Amsterdam sent 50,000 lire; the ltalian Confederation of Labour answered by an amiable letter and thus the mutual relations were resumed and the Italian Confederation of Labour settled itself finally in two Internationals.
There are over 2,000,000 organised workers in the Italian General Confederation of Labour; besides this, there are two independent unions, of the seamen and the railwaymen, uniting about 600,000 workers, and the Union of Syndicalists with a membership of 400,000 workers.
On the eve of the Congress we received a telegram from the General Confederation of Labour in which they proposed to us to transfer our Congress to Revel or Stockholm under the pretext that it would be easier to exercise a control over the mandates etc. We received this proposal ten days before the opening of the Congress and replied that it was a matter of indifference to us where the Congress would be held, provided of course that the General Confederation of Labour ensure a free passage to all the delegates, but that we did not intend to adjourn the Congress. They sent their delegates for information purposes and these representatives—Arcimondi and Bianchi—made a statement regarding the stand of the Italian Confederation of Labour at the Congress. Comrade Bianchi defended the simultaneous affiliation to two Internationals, asserting that they were remaining in the Amsterdam International only for the purpose of carrying on a revolutionary agitation, of organising a left wing and of rallying around themselves all the elements which are discontented with the activities of the Amsterdam International, etc. And as far as it could be understood they intended to continue their double citizenship in spite of the direct resolution of the Livorno Congress, regarding the affiliation to the Red International under the condition of preserving the existing agreement about the relations between the Confederation of Labour and the Socialist Party. It would take too much time to give all the discussions on this subject. Their substance may be given in the declaration of the Congress: “Eleven months you have adhered to both Internationals, now you must state definitely and clearly—whether or not you are with us, because it is impossible to join in both of them”, or, as the author of these lines said to Bianchi at the Congress: “We see by your declarations that you desire to live in lawful wedlock with Amsterdam and in illegal concubinage with Moscow. We cannot agree to such a “menage a trois”. The Congress was unanimous on this question and decided to appeal to the workers of Italy; “We shall create a university in Italy which will make the workers give up their dreams of uprisings and red banners, and look upon life with a cool mind and common sense. When one of the delegates asked Arcimondi during his speech, “Are you a reformist?”, he replied, “Yes, I am a reformist but during the September days when I was mayor of the town and received the order from the party to prepare for an armed demonstration, I immediately armed the workers and would moved out as soon as the signal would have been given”. However, his comrades dispute the correctness of this assertion. But, be this as it may, the Congress proposed to the Italian comrades to pronounce themselves definitively for Moscow or for Amsterdam?
One of the most complicated questions was that of the tasks and tactics of the unions, because it was naturally not a question of the old slogans, such as “down with the bourgeoisie” etc., but of a detailed indication of the means and ways, the methods and forms of approaching the various sides of the struggle called forth by the social peculiarities of the different countries affected by the world movement. We were compelled to work out the general lines for the world movement. It is not surprising that this took up much time and that all the debates were concentrated on a few fundamental questions.
The first one that faced us on this subject was—what is to be done with the “old” mass unions; were they to be destroyed or won over? There were two irreconcilably opposite points of view on the matter at the Congress. One group, consisting of the representatives of the general Workers’ Union, the Free Union of Helsenkirchen, the delegates of the syndicalists of Germany, and of the Industrial Workers of the World of America were of the opinion that the old unions should be destroyed, that they were counter-revolutionary organisations and that any attempt to revolutionise them would be only a waste of forces and energy, by which the union bureaucracy would profit. “But what do you think we mean by a union?” we asked them. “Is it the leaders, the bureaucracy, the house, the cashbox, the books, the tickets? Or, when we speak of a union, do we mean the millions of organised workers, constituting it? What to you wish to destroy? The form or something else? Do not forget that the workers who have created the union, look upon it as their home. True, these unions contain also many people who have betrayed them, but is this a reason for burning down the house? If you think that it will be impossible to revolutionise the unions, that they are incapable of any active demonstrations, that tens of millions of organised workers, let us say in Germany, will always follow the lead of the T.U. bureaucracy—then there can be no revolution in general. We must win over the unions at whatever cost, not avoid them, like repositories of evil”. On the whole, all talk about the impossibility of winning over the unions met with most serious objections on the part of an overwhelming majority of the Congress. Even a considerable part of the syndicalists refused to accept this point of view. As I have said already, this question called forth the most prolonged debates, it was the cause of the split in Germany, and even now it is causing a struggle within the left wing of the labour movement.
This does not of course exhaust all the questions of tactics. It was necessary to elaborate the fundamental methods and ways for the struggle. There were certain comrades at the Congress who seriously thought that the whole task consists in organising strikes as often as possible. As a counter weight to this “simple” method, the Congress specially underlined the necessity of seriously discussing each demonstration, and attentively and precisely considering the surrounding circumstances, the general conditions, the forces of the enemy, etc. It pointed out that it is necessary to know how to retreat; as in some cases a retreat in good order is as great a merit as a successful offensive.
As regards the practical slogans and tasks, the Congress formulated the same in the following program of action:
1. The method of “direct action” must be accepted as a basis for the industrial labour movement, that is to say, a sharply defined militant counter-opposition of the working class to the bourgeoisie.
2. The old trade unions are to be reorganised on the industrial principle. For us this method has been solved long ago, but it has not yet been approached by the majority of the European countries, and the reconstruction of the union organisations according to the industries is a genuine revolution.
Further, the Congress advanced the slogan of the workers’ control and a series of problems that must be considered as the practical tasks of the day. On the whole, the Congress accepted unanimously the general lines and general program of action; the unanimity on this question is to be specially noted, as certainly it had been arrived at owing to mutual concessions, in the sense that the contesting groups had tried not to render the points dividing us more acute but to soften them and to find a common line of conduct. This internal spirit of conciliation may be explained by the fact that all the delegates recognised equally that the creation of a single revolutionary front is an absolute necessity: it is not in vain that in the name of establishing such a front the members of the Congress had travelled many thousand miles to Moscow. Read this program of action and you will see how minutely it embraces all the forms and aspects of the class struggle, setting before the unions all the practical problems that cannot avoid leading to a collision with the bourgeois state. The question of the workers’ control, which is the leading axle in the program of action, did not call forth any great dissension at our Congress. This was due to the fact that the Russian labour unions had been able to propose a number of concrete and practical measures founded on the experience of Russia. The embryo forms of workers’ control which are now being exercised in Western Europe are all based on agreements with the bourgeoisie and with the absolute predominancy of the interests of the employers over those of the workers. The projects for the workers’ control advanced by the Italian government after the epoch of the seizure of the factories in Italy, the English projects and those drawn up by the French Federation of Metal Workers do not represent a bona fide control exercised by the workers; they are something like the state control with the participation of the workers, that had been advocated by the Russian mensheviks at the Third Conference of the Russian Labour Unions (June 20th-28th 1917), when they proposed to invite all the producing classes of the population to the restoration of national economy. The detailed resolution on the worker control gives not only a picture of the existing forms of workers’ control, the origin of the very idea of such control, but also concrete instructions as to how the workers must carry on the struggle for the introduction of a real control of the workers over the production as a counterweight to the reformist idea that it is possible to carry out such control by means of a coalition with the bourgeoisie. It is shown here clearly and distinctly that the workers’ control can be introduced only as a result of a stubborn and relentless struggle against the will of the employers and, as far as it will be introduced against the ruling classes, it will in the interests of the workers.
The program of action of the Congress of the Red International of Trade Unions is the same as that of the Third Congress of the Communist International. This is a better proof than any resolution of the genuine unity existing between these two international organisations. For anyone but slightly acquainted with the international labour movement and the conditions of struggle it is quite evident that the Communist parties and their international general staff, the Communist International, are the only organisational force which the revolutionary trade unions may depend upon in carrying out their program of action. This coinciding of the program of action of the two Internationals is not casual; if bears witness to the fact that the revolutionary political and economic organisations of the working class are not hostile and rival powers, but a single organic body.
In conclusion, a few words on the question of organisation. It would seem that this question is the logical conclusion of the question of tactics and in so far as our tactical line had been firmly established by the preceding resolutions, the organisational problems could be solved easily and promptly. Nevertheless, their solution took up a considerable amount of time. When the author of these lines began to expound the organisational tasks in England, Germany, Italy, America, etc. he met with the following retorts: the representative of England said: I agree with the theses in general, but not with what they say of our country; the representative of America said: I agree with the theses on the whole, but not with what they say of America. This proves that in every country there is a number of outstanding questions demanding a separate special solution. Let us take America, for instance. There we have the American Federation of Labour, the independent industrial associations, the small organisation of the Industrial Workers of the World, and this latter small organisation claims to be the only representative of revolutionary Trade Unionism in America.
When we tried to conform the work of the I. W. W. with that of the local branches of the American Federation of Labour affiliated to the Red International of Trade Unions, the Industrialists raised a hue and cry, because they considered it beneath their dignity to conform their actions with those who belong to the American Federation of Labour, which finds that even Amsterdam is too left Wing.
Vainly we tried to prove that the organisations in question had already broken doctrinarily with the American Federation of Labour, that they only belong to it formally. They would not change their mind. By this example one may judge of the complexity and intricacy of the organisational question facing us.
Another instance—Spain. In Spain the anarchists-syndicalists, who oppose centralisation, abolished all the Central Committees in the industries declaring that central committees only engender bureaucracy and therefore they must be abolished. When they came to Moscow we questioned them on the state of affairs in Spain and their organisational principles. They replied: “We are in favour of federalism and therefore we are against all central committees”.—“But how is the struggle going on?” They answered that in the towns they have unions which belong to the general organisation, the councils,—and the latter are united in the General Confederation of Labour. “How do you carry on the struggle? The separate parts cannot be equal to one another”.—“Yes, we have noticed lately that this is not very convenient and we have created committees for the purpose of bringing conformity into the struggle in the different districts of Spain”. Therefore in the theses for Spain we introduced a paragraph on the restoration of the central committees accoriding to the industries. And if the Spanish Confederation of Labour has been compelled to retire underground at present, the abolition of the central national industrial and labour organisations has undoubtedly diminished the power of resistance of the organised workers. All these national central organisations are of great importance. A third instance which is deserving of attention relates also to Spain. That country has a National Confederation of Labour adhering to us and a reformist General Union of Workers. Within the reformist unions there are Communist nuclei unifying the revolutionarily inclined workers. Besides this, a number of a number of separate syndicates have withdrawn from the reformist unions, and are now neither in the reformist nor in the syndicalist union. All these separate independent unions are headed by Communists. We passed a resolution by which syndicalists who had separated from the reformists have to join the National Confederation of Labour adhering to us, while the Communist nuclei are to remain in the reformist unions and coordinate their actions with those of the syndicalists. Maybe these details seem trifling, but these questions determine the fate of the labour movement in each country; and it is not surprising that the question of organisation took up very much of our time. When we came to the question of Germany we spent nearly two whole days in discussing German affairs because in Germany there are free unions and within the latter there are Communist groups, nuclei, and a revolutionary opposition in general. Moreover, there are syndicalist organisations, the Free Union of Workers, the Unions of Helsenkirchen and a whole number of other separate associations. Besides all this, there are unions which have been excluded from the general labour movement. And we proposed that when such unions are excluded they should be united and organised into a special federation of excluded unions. Some of the German delegates raised a protest: “Why should we create another organisation”, when we have five already.
The question of Italy is no less complicated; there are three types of organisation. It is less complicated in France and England. But in all countries, wherever we raised any question, we saw the great diversity of the labour movement—how various are its forms, how fantastically intermingled are all its principles, which in general and on the whole are accepted by all and with what zigzags the labour movement is moving throughout the whole world.
We shall now touch slightly on the remaining question examined by the Congress. The latter passed a resolution on the question of women in industry and in the trade unions. For us, Russians, this question does not exist, but for many unions in the other countries it is a very acute one. It is sufficient to say that when the economic crisis broke out after the war in England, the unions took upon themselves the initiative of the expulsion of the women from the works and factories. Many hundred thousands of women were turned out of the works and factories of England with the assistance of the unions themselves. Thus, the workers of the “old” unions have a peculiar idea of a “normal” membership of a union. They divide the workers not according to their qualification, not according to the industries, but according to their sex. If you are a man, you may remain and work, if you are a woman, you will be expulsed from the factory. This old feudal view on woman’s labour could not but meet with a decisive repulse at such a Congress as ours, and we passed a special resolution proposing to all revolutionary unions to carry on the struggle against such views which degrade the workers, both men and women and against such a distinction with regard to the sex. The Congress passed a resolution on the subject of unemployment also, and on the concrete form of struggle against it. After enumerating a few palliative measures we proclaimed distinctly and definitely that the only effective, the only genuine remedy against unemployment is Socialism, a remedy that the bourgeois society be scarcely be willing to try voluntarily; but it is necessary compel it to do so because there are no other remedies for unemployment, and all attempts to find others are doomed to failure from the outset. Unemployment is a normal occurrence, not to be done away with under the capitalist regime.
The Congress gave its attention to one other question, namely that of the labour movement in the Eastern and the colonial countries. It must be noted that during these last years the labour movement has attained a tremendous development and growth in the most backward countries of the Far East. If we take Japan, for instance, we may see with what a feverish rapidity the labour movement is growing in this country. In India we see workers’ strikes in which hundreds of thousands take part. There is not a single Eastern country where the revolutionary and labour movement has not yet arisen. The most curious side of this occurrence lies in the fact that the revolutionary movement is intermingled at moments with a purely nationalist movement directed towards the liberation of the home country from foreign rule; this movement is revolutionary because if is directed against the oppressors. But this awakening national consciousness in many places, India, the Malay Islands, Java, etc. often sets the yellow race against the white one and thus becomes a racial question. Its motive power is racial hatred, engendered by exploitation because the representatives of the latter are the white capitalists, who have brought over the white instructors and the white engineers. This racial hatred is undoubtedly a reactionary feature, but the very uprising against the white plunderers bears the embryos of a revolutionary class hatred. The representative of the workers of Java, a Malay, pointed out in his speech at the Congress that our task must consist in transforming this racial hatred, which is now growing in the consciousness of the yellow masses of the population, into a class hatred. One cannot but agree with his point of view, because no revolutionary workers will adopt the point of view of racial hatred; he will always take up the standpoint of the class struggle, setting the worker as a class, against the employer as a class.
In connection with this question it is necessary to point out also that the Congress passed a resolution respecting the unions organised according to nationalities or races. Such unions are still existing in many countries. Thus, in Czecho-Slovakia there are, unions in which the Czechs and the Germans are organised separately; in Poland the Poles have their own organisations, and the Jews have theirs; in America there are unions of white men and unions of the coloured races, because the white American workers do not wish to receive the coloured men into their unions, it being considered as an insult to their “aristocratic” feelings. Our Congress could not pass this result of the bourgeois ideology under silence, and we passed a decisively sharp resolution on the subject.
In conclusion I would like to note the following: the work of the Congress was so various, that it embraced all the sides and the branches of the labour movement; it showed up all the shades of thought, and if one reads the minutes with attention one may see a whole historical epoch pass before one’s eyes. One sees the past, the present and the future. The old prejudices found their theoretical expression in a whole number of declarations on the part of the separate groups attending the Congress. All that we have passed through of this Congress, all these speeches, resolutions, appeals, regulations, etc., have a great historical importance. We have among us delegates from all parts of the or even from Australia; the representatives of 40 countries had come together inspired with one desire: to bring nearer the social revolution, to indicate the right course, to study by the light of the Russian experience and that of other countries how to carry out the revolution. And our regulations are the conclusion, the extract, the synthesis of the experience that we have collected from the representatives of the different countries. Each one had brought the limited experience of his own country, and when one takes therefore all the positive qualities, rejecting all the negative ones, then one must come to the same synthesis, the same conclusion as the Congress. The fundamental resolution on tactics was passed by 33 votes against 11 and 5 who had refrained from voting. There were no victors and no vanquished at this Congress. Those who were in the minority did not consider themselves vanquished because our general aim was not to crush mechanically such or other tendency, but to unite the maximum quantity of elements of the working class on the same formulas and the same practical tasks... Then was one victor, however, namely: Communism.
Our Congress is the starting point for the revolutionary struggle in all countries. Its regulations will emerge from it in circles and begin to agitate the wider working masses. The Congress will compel them to answer: Whom they wish to follow, Moscow or Amsterdam? The merit of the Congress consists therein, that if raised all the insistent questions of the current moment that not a single question had remained unexamined by the Congress of the Red International of Trade Unions. But the Congress not only gave answers to the questions that are agitating the working masses—it gave Communist answers. It censured neutralism and the independence of trade unions with regard to Communism; it pronounced itself in favour of a single Communist-Syndicalist front; it gave a solid support to the left unions in their struggle; it drew up a firm and revolutionary—flexible line of conduct; lastly, it created and shaped the Red International of Trade Unions giving the world labour movement a new powerful weapon for the abolishment of capitalism. Herein lies the great historical importance of the Congress.
We shall speak separately of the hue and cry that has been raised against the Red International of Trade Unions by our class foes and of the opposition against the resolutions of the Congress that has sprung up among the revolutionary syndicalists on the fertile soil of France. We shall deal with these questions in our following issue.