Fritz Heckert

The Election of Delegates to the
German Metal Workers’ Conference

(30 August 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 58 [36], 30 August 1923, pp. 630–631.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2022). 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.

Up to the time of writing, the following results have been published of. the elections of the Metal Workers’ Union which took place on July 22 and 23, 239 delegates have been elected so far. Of these 116 belong to the opposition and 123 to the reformists. As the Union Conference will consist of a total of 400 delegates, this result is still only partial. But even this partial result already shows two things. Firstly, that the workers are beginning to take an ever growing interest in the conferences of their organizations. Never before has there been such extensive participation in the elections, either in the history of the metal workers’ organization or in that of the other trade union organizations of Germany. Almost everywhere there has been a 50% participation in the elections, and in many cases, even more than 50% of the members took part. At former elections to the Metal Workers’ Conference and to other trade union congresses only very small numbers of members could be induced to approach the ballot box. It was no rarity for only 5 to 10 per cent of the members to take part in the elections. At the election to the Trade Union Congress in the year 1919, a considerable number of the delegates were elected by the votes of onlv 2% and less of the members. The enormous participation of this year is due to the tremendous work of enlightenment which the communist fractious have performed of recent years. The German worker has thus been given a greater interest in the life of his organization, and even the Amsterdamers have found it necessary to occupy themselves somewhat energetically with the mobilization of the trade union members, in order to maintain their position. This rousing of the masses of members is regarded with extreme disfavor by the reformist trade union leaders. The workers now taking part in the active life of the meetings, and casting their votes against the reformist policy, are designated by the Amsterdamers as cranks, grumblers, fools, chatterboxes, etc. The reformists do not observe that they are lowering the whole trade union movement in the eves of the public by such railing against their members. And there is no doubt that the reformists would be delighted to witness this mass participation of the trade union members in the meetings, etc., if these masses would give unanimous assent to reformist methods. But in this respect the reformists have become unassuming. The fewer the members taking part in trade union activities, the better they are pleased. Indeed, a leading German trade union organ informed its readers, in the spring of this year, that the extremely poor attendance at the trade union meetings convened by the reform st officialdom was “no sign of mistrust of reformism on the part of the members, but a manifestation of confidence. The absent members show by their absence that they possess full confidence in the reformist leaders.”

Secondly, the results of the elections to the Metal Workers’ Union Conference show an enormous increase in the opposition votes, cast for the communist lists. Although the reformists have not everywhere met with such annihilating defeat as in Berlin (here the opposition list received 54,000 votes, while the reformists, though controlling the whole union apparatus, only managed to obtain 22,000) and in Westphalia, the advance made by the opposition is none the less so mighty that every reformist must give it his serious consideration.

Even though the number of opposition mandates will probably fall short of half the total of 400 mandates composing the Union Conference, it is even now almost certain that the majority of all the votes cast will fall to the opposition. In any case this is very largely true of the results already reported. How can we explain this? The ruling union officialdom has contrived to introduce a geometry of electorates and such methods of arranging the candidates, that the bosses of the union gain the majorities, even when the overwhelming majority of their members’ votes is registered against them. The candidates are generally nominated at delegate meetings; these delegates have the right to set up two lists, a majority and a minority list. The minority list must unite at least 10% of the votes of the delegates present at the meeting. On the face of it, this seems an extremely democratic arrangement, but as soon as we observe the constitution of the delegate meetings, we see that it is a most ingenious artifice for killing off the opposition from the very beginning. Let us take an example in the administrative headquarters at Dortmund, in Westphalia. The delegate meeting was elected in the spring of 1923 by a number of district meetings, as a matter of fact after a list election. (The Executive of the German Metal Workers’ Union has rejected proportional representation on principle.) At this election it turned out that the communists united in their lists 40% of the votes cast everywhere, but nowhere 50%. The whole of the mandates to the delegate meeting therefore fell to the social democrats. Thus when the candidates were being nominated at the delegate meeting, no communist list could be submitted. The result was that the four delegates to be elected for Dortmund were nominated and elected by the United Social Democratic Party of Germany only, while a communist list, had one existed, would have received the overwhelming majority of votes, as was the case in the other Rhenish-Westphalian towns. Another example of electorate geometry. The Union constitution enacts that there shall be one delegate to every 4,000 members. Several administrative head quarters can be amalgamated to form one electoral district. In order to ensure a favorable result for the reformists, the administrations of Altenburg with 3,223 members, Jena with 3,225, and Schmalkaden with 3,533, were combined in Thuringia into one electoral district entitled to 3 delegates. The reformists speculated on the fact that Altenburg is a stronghold oi reformism, and was likely to yield such a surplus of rrformist votes that the victory over Jena and Schmalkaden would be assured, whereas, had each administration elected its own delegate, Jena and Schmalkaden would have fallen to the opposition And a third example will show how still other means may be employed to manufacture favorable results for reformism. In Pforzheim 6 delegates have to be elected. The reformist local administration called the meeting at which the candidates were to be nominated, but not till the day before, and without stating the business of the meeting. (This is against the constitution, but the constitution is only valid for the reformists when it can be used against the communists.) The reformists set the whole of their official machinery to work before this meeting, settled the candidates, and took the members completely by surprise by suddenly placing the nomination of candidates to the Union Conference on the agenda. This manoeuvre enabled them to prevent an opposition list from being submitted.

But however cunning the artifices with which reformism strives to save its position, in the German Metal Workers’ Union as everywhere else, the election results show that these methods will not work for ever, and that these artifices, this ignoring of all democracy in the organization, will end in such tremendous defeats as that of Berlin. The reformists feel that their position is threatened, and therefore they are doing their utmost to hide their defeat, or to cover it by savage agitation against the opposition. They declare quite openly that they would not submit to an opposition majority, and are adopting means for stemming the advance of the opposition. They refuse to grasp the fact that the results of the elections are a condemnation of their polity, and continue their efforts to suppress the opinions of others – even at the risk of destroying the organization – by setting up a ruthless bureaucratic dictatorship. To those who have eyes to see, the results, of the elections in the metal workers’ organization show that no artifice and no dictatorship on the part of reformist trade union officialdom can hinder the advance and the victory of the revolutionary idea.

Top of the page

Last updated on 28 April 2023