Fritz Heckert

The Labor Movement

The Union Congress at Essen

(7 October 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 89, 17 October 1922, pp. 673–674.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The Union of Hand and Brain Workers of Germany convened its 2nd congress at Essen from the 1st to 5th October, in order to consider the work accomplished in the past year and to define its attitude to the tasks which as a revolutionary workers’ movement are to be fulfilled by it in the coming months.

The congress was an exceedingly instructive one, for it showed that the workers of this organization have learnt much since their first congress in Halle in the year 1921, and that they are minded to draw the necessary conclusions from these lessons. At the first congress of the R.I.L.U. the representatives of the unions now united in the Union of Hand and Brain Workers adopted a position which was sharply in opposition to the principles and the tactics of the R.I.L.U.

The first congress of the R.I.L.U. was thus compelled to submit some questions to the members of the Union at their congress in Halle to which clear, unequivocal replies were demanded. The Union had to decide whether it would work on the basis of the decisions reached at the first world congress of the R.I.L.U. in Moscow in order thereby to become affiliated to the R.I.L.U., or to reject the principles and decisions of the first world congress and place itself outside this world union of the revolutionary proletariat.

The Halle congress disavowed the attitude of the Union’s delegates at the Moscow congress and declared in favor of affiliation to the R.I.L.U. The resolution however, in which this declaration was embodied did not signify unconditional acceptance of the conditions, but was in its content a concession to the syndicalist and federalist tendencies prevalent in the union. The ambiguous character of the resolution rendered it possible for a number of members of the Union, in the course of the following months to undertake to correct the decisions of the first world congress and to aver again and again that the principles and tactics of the R.I.L.U. did not correspond to the experiences and necessities of the class struggle; that a correction of the decisions of the first world congress in the direction of the opinions represented by the Union delegates at this congress, must be undertaken at the 2nd world congress, otherwise the union would have no interest in membership of the R.I.L.U.

This attitude of a number of comrades in the Union led to continuous differences with the comrades of the German trade union opposition, and instead of dose cooperation-between the Union and the latter there were often lively disputes injurious to their common aims.

The second congress of the Union at Essen, therefore had to test whether the majority of the members would call for a re-examination of the decisions reached in Halle, or whether, from the experiences won in practical struggle, they had drawn the knowledge to set aside the deficiencies of the organization, and to make out of the union a trade union, which, standing entirely on the basis of the R.I.L.U., shall strive firmly and steadfastly side by side with the trade union opposition for the common objective. The congress has made this thing clear and it can be joyfully recorded that the result of the congress means an essential step forward compared with the previous conditions in the Union.

The chief differences still alive in the Union were: 1. The attitude towards the individual struggles of trade unions. 2. The question whether the union shall be a universal organization embracing workers of all categories and conducting not only the economic, but also the political struggle. 3. In what relation the Union shall stand to the reformist unions and their actions. 4. The question of the structure of the organization, the nature of the contributions and of the fighting fund of the Union. 5. The relation of the Union to the opposition within the old trade unions.

In order that these questions should not be passed over, the Executive Committee of the R.I.L.U. wrote a letter to the congress of the Union of Hand and Brain Workers, in which it dealt exhaustively with these disputed questions and required from the congress that it should plainly and clearly define its attitude upon these points.

Many an old unionist disliked the idea that it should so formulate its opinions that they could be taken as a dear avowal either for or against the principles of the R.I.L.U. The spirit, however, which dominated the overwhelming majority of the congress delegates, was, under all circumstances, to create clarity and under no circumstances to break connections with the R.I.L.U. They desired nothing more eagerly than the consolidation of the organization and the setting up of good relations for united activity with the trade union opposition. It was therefore easy to submit all problems to the congress and to formulate dear answers to these questions. The representative of the Communist Party, whose remarks were followed with the greatest attention, was therefore able to expound io the congress what deficiencies were to be noted in the tactics of the Union and in the structure of the organization, in what way these were to be removed, the Union itself rendered more fit for the struggle, and friendly and comradely relations established with the trade union opposition.

On the first item of the agenda an attitude was adopted towards the trade union situation and to the tasks of the union in the revolutionary movement of the proletariat Upon these questions it was unanimously agreed that every attempt to separate the political from the economic struggle of the worker means a weakening of the working class and is counter revolutionary; that the proletariat must strive to concentrate its fight against the well-organized bourgeoisie, and that only the concentrated class power of the proletariat is capable of overcoming the bourgeoisie.

From this standpoint the Union declared that political neutrality is not permissible for a revolutionary worker, that the union should therefore support every revolutionary action and shall take active put in the struggle for the realization of all demands in the interests of the workers. The Union declared that its immediate and most pressing tasks were: the building up and extension of its organization, based upon workshop organizations according to the branch of industry and economic area; increased struggle against indifference; the publication of clearly written revolutionary trade union literature; the formation of a strong fighting fund; support of the revolutionary opposition in the Amsterdam unions; struggle against the policy of cooperation with the employers; increasing of real wages; defence of the eight hour day; extension of the rights of the workshop councils; struggle against high prices, and for the control of production, etc.

Another resolution determined the relationship between the party and the union, and a sharp distinction was made against the syndicalist and anarchist elements. This resolution declares: that the proletarian class struggle has an international character and that international action can only be carried out provided there is international discipline, Autonomy of individual organizations or countries within an International means the bankruptcy of every workers’ movement; this is proved by the yellow Amsterdam international. In a revolutionary trade union organization the struggle must be conducted without regard to the interests of the capitalists. It can only be carried out successfully in connection with the revolutionary political organization of the proletariat The conquest of political power, i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat, is the prerequisite for the final victory of the proletariat in the fight for its emancipation from economic slavery.

The Union recognized that the Communist Party points out the aim in this struggle and that it must take the lead in the whole struggle for the achievement of this aim. It therefore becomes necessary to establish close contact between the revolutionary trade unions and the Communist Party.

The Union expressly declares it to be its duty as a member of the Red international of Labor Unions, 1. to subordinate itself to international discipline, 2. to carry out the congress decisions of the R.I.L.U. and 3. to proceed unitedly in all actions with the revolutionary organizations as well as with the Communist Party.

In order to render possible and to facilitate this common action, the union proposes the formation of Revolutionary Workers’ Committees of all revolutionary proletarian organizations throughout the country. The purpose of these revolutionary committees shall be to take a stand on all economic and political questions which interest the proletariat, and to establish close contact between these organizations.

An attempt is made in the newly drawn-up statute to create an organizatory basis corresponding to the decisions of the congress relating to principles and tactics which will facilitate the fulfilment of the tasks laid down. In future the Union will organize the workers affiliated to it into industrial groups according to the principle of one industry, one union. The industrial groups retain the right of independent management, conducting of wage struggles, conclusion of collective agreements and establishing of international connections.

In order to simplify the managing apparatus, a unified system of contributions will be introduced for industrial groups. In order to conduct struggles unitedly and energetically a central fighting fund will be created.

It must be noted that the overwhelming majority of the congress recognized that the future tasks of the organization can only be fulfilled provided the members make greater financial sacrifices. The minimum weekly contribution was therefore fixed at the amount of half an hours wages.

At the conclusion of the congress, the chairman summarized the results of the congress and said among other things: “We recognize the decisions of the R.I.L.U. upon the tactics of revolutionizing the trade unions as binding for us. We shall offer the most determined struggle against all reformist and anarcho-syndicalist tendencies. We will support the revolutionary opposition in the reformist trade unions in their hard struggle with all our power, and shall establish fraternal relationships with them.”

All the decisions of the congress were essentially influenced by the intensive work of the representative of the Red International of Labor Unious which was gratefully welcomed by the delegates. Through its assistance in clearing up many questions of the proletarian class struggle and by its assistance in the improvement of the management of the organization the Red International of Labor Unions has shown itself as an organization adequate for the international revolutionary tasks.

In six days of strenuous labor an enormous amount of work was accomplished and it can be recorded with joy that the delegates present at the congress fulfilled the duties entrusted to them with close attention and admirable devotion. This cannot be said of most of the trade union conferences which have taken place this year in Germany.

The results of the congress are a great advance compared with the results of the congress at Halle. The experience of the 12 months which separate the two congresses have shown to the Union that many old views must, in the interest of the revolutionary movement, be thrown overboard, and that it is necessary to root out relentlessly all failings in the organisation.

The congress at Essen has rendered the Union capable of carrying out the greater tasks of the coming months.

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Last updated on 2 January 2021