Editorial Notes

Strike “Strategy”

(June 1931)

Written: June 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 12, 15 June 1931, p. 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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Among the absurdities spawned during the third period of the Comintern’s mistakes, a prominent place belongs to the new inventions in the field of trade union policy relating to strikes, or as the generals say, “strike strategy”. During the past few years we heard plenty about these discoveries. Articles, resolutions, and pamphlets if not whole books – have poured forth in a steady stream as evidence that on this subject also the statesmen of Centrism have something new to say. As was to be expected, the new prescriptions have fared badly in the test of experience. Matters were bad enough before the deluge of theses on strike strategy; since then they have been worse.

The central feature of the new revelation – as nobody has been allowed to forget – is “independent strike leadership”. Under this formula the tasks of the Communists in strike situations are reduced to an ABC simplicity: they simply take over the direct leadership of the struggle, regardless of reformists reactionaries, fascists or “social-fascists” who may oppose the idea, and regardless also of the proportionate influence they may wield at the moment. But if the opponents of Communism control the union conducting the strike, what then? The answer is given in all the theses: form a new strike committee. And if the workers do not understand and support this action? That is their fault.

In the recent Duluth-Superior dock strike we have seen a brilliant exemplification of these tactics. In this strike, which was so ably reported in the last number of The Militant by Clem Forsen, the party confronted a situation in which the sentiments of the workers were divided between several groups. There were supporters of the Halonen group – the Finnish variant of the Loveston Right wing – among the strikers, and the I.W.W. had a strong influence over others. In this respect the strike does not present an exceptional picture. It is rather typical. In the coming wave of strike struggles the Communists will rarely find a situation in which they have no rivals. And in most cases they will be more serious rivals, and better organized. For that reason the Duluth experience should not be overlooked.

The logic of the Duluth situation pointed to only one policy for the Communists It was their task in the first place to raise the slogan of unity and solidarity for a common front against the employers in the strike. From that it would follow that they should demand a single strike committee, democratically elected by the strikers in which each of the contending factions would have the right to make its proposals and submit them to the decision of the majority. By this means the unity of the workers would be preserved, while they would have the opportunity, at the same time, to judge the proposals of the various groups, test them in action, and make their own free selection assisted by their own experience.

This applies to the question of union affiliation no less than to the other questions. Through their own experiences with the representatives of the rival unions in the strike, and the strike policies sponsored by them the workers would be in a better position to decide whether they want to join the I.W.W. or the Marine Workers Industrial Union. We have no right to demand that they answer this question beforehand if they are not willing to do so. And if they decide against us we have no right to split. Sooner or later the idea must enter the heads of the Communists – a small minority in the labor movement – that leadership of the workers cannot be secured without their knowledge and consent. We cannot order them to follow us. They will not obey, and we have no power to enforce the order.

These ideas are so elementary and obvious that there should be no need of argument about them. But the Communists at Duluth could not apply them. The “strategy” of “independent strike leadership” stood in the way. With what result? They left the slogan of unity to the I.W.W. – and “the Marine Workers Union and party speakers are chased from the lot.” The Communists lost the confidence of the workers, their speakers were isolated from the strike meetings, the strike was demoralized and ended in the acceptance of a wage cut. A defeat for the workers, a defeat for Communism. But what of that? The new strike “strategy”, like the whole policy of Centrism from the beginning to end, takes no account of such considerations.

Last updated on: 31.12.2012