Red International of Labor Unions

Problems of Strike Strategy

Decisions of the International Conference on Strike Strategy

Held in Strassburg, Germany, January, 1929


A European conference to study the experiences of the recent economic struggles, called by the Executive Buro of the Red International of Labor Unions (R.I.L.U.), was held in Strassburg, Germany, in the latter part of January, of this year. This conference will be of the greatest importance in determining the direction of the whole revolutionary trade union movement, and the fact that the participants were themselves in direct leadership of these struggles, and were, so to speak, on the very field of action, is very significant.

Altho several important conflicts (Lodz and Ruhr) have already ended, we have on the other hand, a whole series of new conflicts, ,and a review of even the preliminary results is of the utmost importance to all those interested in the complex questions of strike strategy and tactics. It is, of course, possible generally to avoid examining these questions, or to consider them from the viewpoint of the former members of the German Communist Party (the expelled Right Wing—Trans.) to whom the very idea of independent leadership of economic struggles seems monstrous. They, having learned from childhood, that economic struggles should be led by the trade unions, repeat these acquired laws, completely ignoring the peculiarities in the situation, the condition of the trade unions and generally the facts in the case. For these provincial politicians there is nothing new in the world, and that is why their conception of Communist tactics takes on the form of a refrain to the melodies of the left social democrats.

We cannot limit ourselves to our forefathers’ wisdom; we, as revolutionary dialecticians, must direct our attention to new factors, new situations, and base ourselves on these factors in analyzing these problems. Facts themselves have proven that the reformist trade union bureaucracy has become a part of the bourgeois government, having the special function of breaking strikes. This being so, we must seek ways and means of carrying on the economic struggle without and despite the reformist trade union bureaucracy. And it was on this premise that the Profintern (R.I.L.U.) called the conference on the question of strike strategy and tactics.

Representatives from England, Germany, Hungary, France, Austria, Belgium and Poland participated in the conference. Every participant told of his own recent experiences. Inasmuch as the conference was not called for mutual eulogies, but for the study of positive and negative experiences, the reports on strikes and on the difficulties arising in the process of the struggle were accompanied by sharp criticism of our weaknesses and shortcomings. And our weaknesses and shortcomings in Northern France, in the Ruhr and in Lodz, were not few.

But this was not criticism for criticism’s sake, nor malicious rejoicing by some expelled members of the German Communist Party over failures, but healthy self-criticism for the purpose of overcoming our weaknesses and mistakes. Altho the “Vorwarts” and its allies from “Against the Current” take advantage of this self-criticism for their right and left social democratic purposes, this shall not deter us from continuing the line of self-criticism in the future, and especially when we are faced with concrete tactical problems.

Arrayed against the adherents of the Red International of Labor Unions is a united front of employers, bourgeois governments, social democrats, Amsterdamites, and former members of the Comintern (Communist International) who are now against any attempts of the revolutionary opposition to independently lead the economic struggles of the proletariat. The difficulties in this task are enormous, and therefore mistakes and shortcomings are inevitable, but these will be corrected not in moans of distress, but thru the fires of struggle and severe self-criticism. This is the opinion of all revolutionary workers—of all those who recognize that there is no other way of overcoming these difficulties than that pointed out by the IV Congress of the R.I.L.U.

What problems did the conference have under consideration? This will be seen from the resolution which follows. Here we find the question of preparation for the struggle, of the instruments to be employed, the forms and methods of leadership, the participation of the various strata and categories of workers, questions of relief, information, communications, self-defense, etc. The questions considered at this conference embrace all phases of the economic struggle. Taking as its base the decisions of the III and IV Congresses of the R.I.L.U. the conference approached the strike as a form of warfare, and therefore attempted to outline methods of offense and defense for the militant working class army, enabling it to secure a maximum degree of success in battle. Social-democratic strategists and their understudies, gathered around the journal “Against the Current” will, of course, say that such attempts are doomed to failure. It is impossible, they will say, to foresee all that might happen. This certainly is correct. It is impossible to foresee all. Yet, if we were to accept this point of view, we would simply have to deny the very possibility of a military science. Yet, military schools, notwithstanding, are teaching strategy and tactics. A critical analysis of the experiences of previous wars and of each battle separately is given as the basic source material for the study of military science in every country. Why, then, cannot an analysis and study of the gigantic economic battles render us instructive material? It is only reformist narrow-mindedness which cannot see the use and necessity of drawing lessons from defeats as well as from victories in the working class struggles.

This does not mean that the conference could prescribe a recipe applicable to all emergencies. The conference could give attention to some particular questions, study the mistakes in order to avoid them in the future, emphasize those methods which have been advantageously applied, so as to again utilize them against our enemies—in a word, out of the experiences of our last struggles learn the proper lessons for the coming struggles. This is not only possible, but absolutely necessary. If the reformists do not do this, it is only because they wish to avoid the struggle, because they are not preparing for class war, and therefore are not in the least interested in learning lessons of class wars.

With the class struggle sharpening, all prattle about class colaboration, peace in industry, economic democracy, etc., is nothing more nor less than a smoke screen behind which reformist strategy is hiding. This is the form and method of disrupting the proletarian front and the proletarian rear in the interests of our class enemies. That is why, in studying the experiences of strike strategy, it is necessary also at the same time to give our serious attention to the question of how to expose the manouvers of the united front of the bourgeoisie with the reformists against the fighting proletarian army.

As the resolution is very detailed and speaks for itself, we shall make no comments here. Every class conscious worker must study it carefully, point by point. It. would be an exaggeration to say that the following resolution has taken into account every emergency, but there is no doubt at all of the fact that many important experiences have been acquired. It is the duty of all the adherents of the R.I.L.U. to supplement these experiences, to add to them, to test them in the coming struggles, and upon the basis of the strictest check-up and self-criticism continue further along the path of independent leadership in economic struggles.

Such politicians will be found (there are many writing in the organ “Against the Current”) who will say that the attempts to work out tactics for the economic struggle is anarcho-syndicalism (see the phenominal discovery of Walcher in No. 3 of “Against the Current”). This is anarcho-syndicalism, they say, because here is a rupture between the economic and political struggles of the proletariat. But Walcher will not be successful in evading a serious question merely by calling it anarcho-syndicalism. Walcher, like all opportunists, evinces a, great desire to count the Communist International (hereafter abreviated C.I.—Ed.) and the Red International of Labor Unions anarcho-syndicalist institutions; but this is nothing more than attempting assault by foul means. In these decisions there cannot be found the slightest indication of a rupture between the economic and political phases, nor any attempt to place the economic battle above the political battle. The existence of the inter-relationship between economic and political battles has been established by the R.I.L.U. from the very day of its inception and by no means can or should this prevent the examination of any questions arising out of economic clashes. Today every economic conflict is inherently political in character, and to try to find mistakes in the R.I.L.U. along this line, is simply a waste of time. A review of experiences is a most important step towards effective leadership in the coming struggles.

This is what the conference held at Strassburg proclaimed, and this is what every adherent of the R.I.L.U. must devote his attention to.

* * *

The conference made no decisions on the question of the unorganized, considering, and correctly so, that this question is yet to be given special attention by the R.I.L.U.and the C.I. This question is a new one. Recent struggles have proven the militancy of the unorganized, and therefore the problem of organizing the unorganized, the forms and methods of organizing the unorganized, must be carefully studied. The fact that during the process of struggle, the question of the unorganized has reached the center of attention, that this question has become one of the points of diversion for the groups leaving the Communist International; that former Communists are attacking the Comintern (C.I.) and Profintern (R.I.L.U.) especially on this point; that on this question they are in complete agreement with the social-democrats—all this is evidence of the fact that the Communist International and the Profintern have touched upon the sore spot of international reformism.

The most important thing here is experience, studying the extent of organization, the form and character of the unorganized participation in struggles, the means of maintaining influence over the unorganized masses after the termination of strikes, etc. This question is new, this question is complex and requires an exhaustive discussion. Therefore, the conference acted correctly in making no decision on this question.

It is the duty of all the adherents of the R.I.L.U. to make a thoro study of the experiences in all countries, to draw broad circles of revolutionary trade union leaders, as well as rank and file members of the trade unions, into the discussion, in order to facilitate a. final decision on the basis of collective experiences and detailed discussion. We are convinced that the decisions made by the Comintern and Profintern will be reached in such a manner, and not in accordance with the views indicated by groups expelled from the Comintern.

As we have already stated, the decisions accepted by the conference are so detailed that they require no comment. We request that all of you, readers of the revolutionary labor press, express your views upon the questions dealt with by the conference. The more workers participating in this discussion, the more experiences taken into account, the better will it be for the revolutionary trade union movement. Every adherent of the R.I.L.U. will understand the reason for working out such detailed resolutions. The workers must not be frightened by a series of new problems. Our adherents must understand that we will have to travel new paths, and establish new landmarks, while under the fire of our class enemies, of social reformism and capitalist class supporters. An open discussion of all these questions will be of great assistance to the whole revolutionary trade union movement. Herein lies the significance and importance of the International Conference on Problems of Strike Strategy and Tactics.

A. Lozovsky, 1929.

Next: Introduction