Editorial Notes

The Trade Union Turn

(April 1931)

Written: April 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 7, 1 April 1931, p. 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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It has been demonstrated many times that apparatus Centrism, which dominates the Comintern and the party today, is not a stable political tendency and is not capable of carrying out a consistent line of policy on any question. The thesis of the Right wing, which characterizes the regime as “sectarian” and attributes all evils to that, is superficial and incorrect. “Sectarianism”, even in the worst sense, implies a certain constancy and conduct that unprincipled Centrism cannot even dream of. Just the contrary. The statesmen of Stalinism are distinguished above all by the ability to jump from one position to its opposite; and by the readiness to denounce on one day what they advocated on the day before. Witness the liquidation of the “third period” and the tactics flowing from it. Witness, in the realm of tactics, the right-about-face in trade union policy. The Right wing is obliged to deny obvious facts in order to maintain its thesis. That is why their insistence on “ultra-Left sectarianism” is losing all point, and consequently all power to influence the party members. On several occasions, and particularly in the statement issued by our group in the needle trades, the Opposition has called attention to the manifest signs of the turn in [line missing] would be changed and that our criticism would be a factor in hastening it.

Events have already confirmed this prediction, and unavoidably so. The party does not and cannot operate in a vacuum. It is an organ of the class struggle and lives constantly under its pressure. In the trade union field, the field of the basic and elementary organization of the masses, an arbitrary and unsound policy cannot fail to bring violent repercussions. Errors, especially a system of errors, on the trade union question brings swift and inevitable punishment. That is what has happened.

And already we find the party leaders admitting in the Daily Worker for February 28th that “our party has not yet learned the proper way to carry on trade union work.” Of course it is somewhat dishonest to blame “our party”, because it is the leaders who are responsible for the policy. But even in this they do not disappoint us. To demand honesty from Foster and Stachel would be to convict oneself of utopianism; of asking for things which are not attainable.

When we establish the fact that the party leadership is attempting to make a turn in trade union policy we do not mean thereby to express any confidence in them for the future. And our distrust is in no way diminished by the fact that they repeat now, with literal precision, phrases and formulae taken from the Opposition’s platform. We have seen that happen before. They climb out of one ditch only to fall into another. Centrism has no ideas of its own; it must borrow from the Right or from the Left as occasion demands.

In this article they say:

“No systematic and persistent work is carried on for winning over the workers who are members of reformist and other reactionary trade unions”. (Yesterday they were “company unions”.)


“Bring into the revolutionary trade unions ALL WORKERS IRRESPECTIVE OF THEIR POLITICAL VIEWS, INCLUDING THOSE WHO DO NOT AGREE WITH THE COMMUNIST PARTY.” (The emphasis is in the original to call special attention to a truth which they have just discovered.)

A third quotation:

“In no case should they permit the directions of the party leaders on the fundamental questions of trade union activity to be carried out mechanically.” (This is said by the people who called the Illinois miners out on strike without even the formality of a strike vote.)

In this article in the Daily Worker, which is prefaced with a note about its “extreme importance,” a clear change of policy is indicated. The bureaucrats have been compelled to lay aside their counterfeit Leftism in the trade union movement. Their pseudo-radical policy was proved by events to be completely bankrupt. They could no longer conceal the fact that the position of the party in the trade union movement was undermined by it.

The danger now is a big swing to the Right in the characteristic manner of Centrism. In cooperating with the party’s effort to extricate itself from the evil consequences of the “third period” tactics we must warn the Communist workers against this danger.

Last updated on: 14.12.2012