F. Heckert


The Tasks off the Communists
in the Trade Union Movement

(December 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 116, 22 December 1922, pp. 965–966.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). 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.

Comrades, Comrade Lozovsky told us this morning we must adopt a clear, unequivocal policy on the trade union question; he warned us especially against precipitate policy and advised us to reject any tactics which might lead to a split in the trade unions. He stated this very clearly. He said: If we had accepted the slogan of splitting the trade unions, or in anyway acquiesced in it, it would have meant destruction for the whole Communist movement. I also believe that we communists would have been guilty of the greatest error if we had propagated the splitting of the trade unions, or made any concessions to those elements that want to bring about such a split. I hope that this Congress will express clearly that every splitting tendency must be fought ruthlessly. It is absolutely necessary to show to the working class that we are for unity of the trade unions, if we are to carry on any serious propaganda for the United Front. We would make ourselves ridiculous before, yea, despised by the whole working class if we were to fight for the United Front and sympathise at the same time with the splitters.

However, in many countries, the trade unions have already been split, not only just now by the Amsterdamers, but because parallel organizations existed in those trades before and during the war. At the last Congress we had put before our comrades that it was their task to work in those dual organizations for union. Our communist comrades have not done all they could in this line. In fact, in all countries where the trade unions are split, the communists, instead of fighting for one common goal, have often opposed one another. I would therefore like to say this: every communist who does not support other communists, who are active in some other organizations, helps the reformists and those who want to break up the trade union movement. It is therefore our first duty as communists to eliminate all our little differences and to work together for a common goal. I absolutely admire our Italian comrades who have brought it about in their organization that their members understand that they must be active even in Fascist organizations, that even there we must create our cells.

The policy of cell formation has been much attacked even after the Third World Congress. In the German Party, for instance, there was quite a conflict on this point. There was a whole group of comrades who declared that cells were bad, and there developed among those comrades a liquidating tendency which purposed to destroy the whole trade union work of the Comintern and the whole international communist trade union movement. We have opposed these elements. This tendency was the cause of the Friesland crisis. We have expelled those people from our organizations and conducted a decisive fight to realise the unity of all revolutionary comrades. Naturally there have been unnecessary conflicts in this struggle; many a communist did not speak or act wisely enough: But it does not suffice to deal with the opposition to so-called revolutionary unions in our Party with a few words, as Comrade Lozovsky did when he declared that Comrade Masloff had acted very foolishly and written an idiotic article against the communists, and that Comrade Heckert and Brandler saved the situation.

Comrades, I will not agree to have this order of the Salvation of the Unions pinned on my breast; I will not accept to characterise Masloff’s action as criminal and damnable without first saying that the unionists are partly responsible lor it. We must divide the blame between both sides, if we wish to be just. The fault of the Party is that it did not realise that this policy would make for conflicts if we did not carry on sufficient preparatory work in the unions. We relied upon it that the Communists in the union would to the work. What happened was that our Unionist friends fought against the formation of factions and our Party comrades let the thing drag without any work. That is why it came to such conflicts with the union. Luckily, we were able to reach an agreement at the union Congress at the beginning of October and to create a basis for harmonious cooperation in the future. But many other Communist Parties have followed this bad example of not forming cells within the Unions.

I would like to mention especially two parties that have been guilty of this omission. First the French Party which in spite of its promises of last year to become active in the C.G.T.U., to build cells within that Federation, did nothing till the events came to a. point when the split was accomplished and the French Trade Union movement became a perfect muddle. At its Congress in Marseilles, the French Party had the opportunity of gaining the leadership of the revolutionary movement in France if it had followed the advice which had been given it, namely, to create a program which would unite all revolutionary forces. The French Party did not do this; nothing was said at the Congress as to what the Communists should do in the Trade Unions; Comrade Magoux who has since been expelled is not a little responsible for the crisis in the French Party. This should be a lesson to us for the future. When a Party takes a stand on all questions before the working class, it will be possible to create closer connections between the leaders of the Unions and the Party as a result of which such people as Monmousseau and Monatte will become members of our Party, our Party will become a real proletarian organization and no one who does not base the policy of the Party on the proletariat will get the leadership. The old dissentions must be put an end to. The Comintern must use all its influence on the leaders of the Party and the C.G.T.U. to co-operate in the interests of the working class of France.

A word on Czecho-Slovakia. We found the same tendencies in the Czecho-Slovakian Party. It was primarily the Trade Union leaders in the Party who opposed the formation of cells. Many comrades said quite openly: Why cells? That only leads to trouble; it suffices when the leaders of the Trade Unions are Communists. But it must have become apparent to our Czechoslovakian comrades that tins did not suffice. Had they formed strong cells in the Unions a year ago, Tayerle would not hold today such a position as he does.

I believe that our bad experience in Germany, and the example of France and Czecho-Slovakia, will teach us in the future to pay more attention to the resolutions of previous Congresses.

A few words more on the German situation. We will not say that all our attempts to win the Trade Unions were good attempts. Comrade Lozowsky said this morning that tens of thousands of member; are leaving the agricultural organizations without the Party taking any action. There are other causes for this, however, than those Comrade Lozovsky advanced.

It is true that the German movement of the agricultural workers has lost hundreds of thousands of members. But the reason is that these organizations are led by a bureaucracy which does nothing but make “Socialist" politics, and the interests of the workers are subordinate to the interests of the social-democratic politicians. Since no one interested himself in the agricultural workers, these workers rebelled. Unorganized before the war, the agricultural workers in Germany had an organization of 800,000 workers after the revolution. At the highest period of its existence, the “Deutsche Landarbeiterverband” numbered 27,000 members; during the war this number fell to 3,000. This post-war organization was therefore something quite new, and the bureaucracy of the Federation made use of the organization to further its own interest.

We had already attempted to approach the agricultural workers in 1919. We formed a so-called Communist agricultural union. This was a complete failure. If the revolution had proceeded further, had we been able to do something in the interest of the agricultural workers, it would have been a different story. Since this was not the case, the Social Democrats kept the control of the agricultural workers organization in their own hands.

In the following years, hundreds of thousands left the organization. Our comrades were faced with the problem: should they reunite these working masses into a new organization led by Communists, but which would not be capable of fighting, or should we not be afraid that the Amsterdamers would use this as a new excuse for an offensive against the Communists, and would say, here you have another proof that the Communists are trying to split the Labor Unions.

Had we attempted to form a new organization at the time when we were not masters of the situation, the task would simply have been too great for us. I will not deny that we might have been more active in some questions. But our lack of strength on the one side, and the tremendous apparatus of the Amsterdamers on the other, makes it hard for us to undertake any action: there have been many cases when we have prevented a foolish action on the part of some impatient comrade only with difficulty.

At a time when class differences have become so great, when our problems are so difficult, it is inadvisable to undertake any action tor which the working class is unprepared. To gain influence over the working class we must possess a well organized apparatus, and not only that, but also the confidence of the large masses of the working class in our communist policy. I believe that I can say in the name of the Party that we will be letter prepared lor a fight in the next month because our Party is gaining the confidence of ever larger masses of the proletariat. The Party can undertake greater actions now, because it has the broad masses which sympathise with it, and possesses an apparatus capable of leading a movement.

But we can offer no panacea. I wish to underline what Comrade Lozovsky said this morning, for every country we need a Trade Union programme which corresponds with the peculiar conditions of that country; we must state our task clearly so that the masses will understand us. We also need a different policy for every industrial group, often for every union, and if Comrade Carr allows, I will take two more minutes to explain this.

In Germany, for instance, we can organize the building trades for action. When we control a whole section, we can defeat the employers who are not yet strongly entrenched, not yet organized all over the country; the situation is quite different among the railroad workers. There are over a million workers among the railroad employers. But we are opposed by all the powers of the State. It has created laws to suppress the workers. We could tell the Building Trade workers: Break off with Päplow; we will build our own organization and fight the employers for better conditions.

If we attempt the same with the railways, we will surely be defeated because we shall be opposed by the whole power of the State. The State can defeat us and throw all the revolution elements at once out of employment. In this way, we lost almost 2,000 of our best comrades last year.

And just as we require different tactics for the building workers than for the railroad workers, so we require different methods for the other organizations. Among the metal workers, for instance, we have progressed so far, that the Dissmanites do not dare any longer to expel us as a body, because we posses almost half the membership and the opposition would be too great. Among the agricultural workers, we do not know the policy of the Amsterdamers. It seems as if we should proceed with the formation of a new organization, because we cannot tolerate that the gulf be widened.

In closing my speech, allow me to make the following recommendations: First, that all Communist Parties must proceed to the creation of cells and carry out the decisions of the Second and Third World Congresses; second, to create a program of action for every group of industry which will permit us conduct our struggle as the circumstances require; third, to forbid our comrades, in the various revolutionary organizations or in dual Trade Union organizations, to fight each other and thereby afford great joy to our enemies.

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