V. I.   Lenin

Draft Theses on the Role and Functions of
The Trade Unions Under the New Economic Policy[2]

Written: Written December 30, 1921—January 4, 1922
Published: Published with amendments January 17, 1922 in Pravda No. 12. Printed from the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1971, Moscow, Volume 42, pages 374b-386a.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). 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.
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The Plenum of the C.C., R.C.P. on 28.XII.1921 considered the question of the role and functions of the trade unions under the New Economic Policy. The plenum heard the reports of Comrades Rudzutak, Andreyev and Shlyapnikov (the planned report by Comrade Lutovinov was not made owing to failure to call the reporter out in time). After an exchange of opinions it was decided to submit the original draft theses of Comrades Rudzutak and Andreyev to a committee of these two comrades with the addition of Lenin and to charge this committee with drafting theses for endorsement by the Politbureau.

(Several lines will be added to this after approval of the draft by the committee and then the Politbureau.)

1. The New Economic Policy and The Trade Unions

The New Economic Policy introduces a number of important changes in the position of the proletariat and, consequently, in that of the trade unions. These changes are due to the fact that in their entire policy of transition from capitalism to socialism the Communist Party and the Soviet government are now adopting special methods to implement this transition and in many respects are operating differently from the way they operated before: they are capturing a number of positions by a “new flanking movement”, so to speak; they are drawing back in order to make better preparations for a new offensive against capitalism. In particular, a free market and capitalism, both subject to state control, are now being permitted and are developing; on the other hand, the state enterprises are being put on what is called a profit basis, i.e., they are in effect being largely reorganised on commercial and capitalist lines.

2. State Capitalism in the Proletarian State and the Trade Unions

The proletarian state may, without changing its own nature, permit freedom of trade and the development of capitalism only within certain bounds, and only on the condition that the state regulates (supervises, controls, determines the forms and methods of, etc.) private trade and private capitalism. The success of such regulation will depend not only on the state authorities, but also, and to a larger extent, on the degree of maturity of the proletariat and of the masses of the working people generally, on their cultural level, etc. But even if this regulation is completely successful, the antagonism of class interests between labour and capital will certainly remain. Consequently, one of the main tasks that will henceforth confront the trade unions is to protect in every way the class interests of the proletariat in its struggle against capital. This task should be openly put in the forefront, and the machinery   of the trade unions must be reorganised, modified or supplemented accordingly; strike funds, and so on should be formed, or rather, built up.

3. The State Enterprises that Are Being Put on a Profit Basis and the Trade Unions

The conversion of state enterprises to what is called the profit basis is inevitably and inseparably connected with the New Economic Policy; in the near future this is bound to become the predominant, if not the sole, form of state enterprise. Actually, this means that with the free market now permitted and developing, the state enterprises, will to a large extent be put on a commercial, capitalist basis. This circumstance, in view of the urgent need to increase the productivity of labour and make every state enterprise pay its way and show a profit, and in view of the inevitable rise of narrow departmental interests and excessive departmental zeal, is bound to create a certain conflict of interests between the masses of workers and the directors and managers of the state enterprises, or the government departments in charge of them. Therefore, it is undoubtedly the duty of the trade unions, in regard to the state enterprises as well, to protect the class interests of the proletariat and the working masses against their employers.

4. The Essential Difference Between the Class Struggle of the Proletariat in a State which Recognises Private Ownership of the Land, Factories, etc., and where Political Power is in the Hands of the Capitalist Class, and the Class Struggle of the Proletariat in a State which Does Not Recognise Private Ownership of the Land and the Majority of the Large Enterprises and Where Political Power is in the Hands of the Proletariat

As long as classes exist, the class struggle is inevitable. In the period of transition from capitalism to socialism the existence of classes is inevitable; and the Programme of the   Russian Communist Party definitely states that we are taking only the first steps in the transition from capitalism to socialism. Hence, the Communist Party, the Soviet government and the trade unions must frankly admit the existence of a class struggle and its inevitability until the electrification of industry and agriculture is completed— at least in the main—and until small production and the supremacy of the market are thereby cut off at the roots. It follows from this that at the present moment we can under no circumstances abandon the idea of the strike struggle, we cannot, as a matter of principle, conceive the possibility of a law that makes compulsory state mediation take the place of strikes.

On the other hand, it is obvious that under capitalism the ultimate object of the strike struggle is to break up the state machine and to overthrow the given class state power. Under the transitional type of proletarian state such as ours, however, the ultimate object of the strike struggle can only be to fortify the proletarian state and the state power of the proletarian class by combating the bureaucratic distortions, mistakes and flaws in this state, and by curbing the class appetites of the capitalists who try to evade its control, etc. Hence, the Communist Party, the Soviet government and the trade unions must never forget and must never conceal from the workers and the mass of the working people that the strike struggle in a state where the proletariat holds political power can be explained and justified only by the bureaucratic distortions of the proletarian state and by all sorts of survivals of the old capitalist system in the government offices on the one hand, and by the political immaturity and cultural backwardness of the mass of the working people on the other. When the law courts and all other organs of the state are built on a class basis, by the working people themselves, with the bourgeoisie excluded from the electorate, the normal method of settling conflicts between labour and capital, between employed and employers, will more and more often find expression in the working people turning directly to the state authorities.

5. Reversion to Voluntary Trade Union Membership

The compulsory wholesale signing up of all workers for membership in the trade unions is no longer consistent with the present degree of socialisation achieved in industry or with the level of development of the masses. Compulsory membership has moreover introduced a certain degree of bureaucratic distortion into the trade unions themselves. It is absolutely essential to revert for a fairly considerable length of time to the practice of voluntary membership in the trade unions. Under no circumstances must trade union members be required to subscribe to any specific political views; in this respect, as well as in respect of religion, the trade unions must be non-partisan. All that must be required of trade union members in the proletarian state is that they should understand comradely discipline and the necessity of uniting the workers’ forces for the purpose of protecting the interests of the working people, and that they should keep faith with the working people’s government, i.e., the Soviet government. The proletarian state must encourage the workers to organise in trade unions both for legal and material reasons; but the trade unions can have no rights without duties.

6. The Trade Unions and the Management of Industry

Following its seizure of political power, the principal and fundamental interest of the proletariat lies in securing an increase in output, an enormous increase in the productive forces of society. This task, which is clearly formulated in the Programme of the Russian Communist Party, is particularly urgent in our country today owing to post-war ruin, famine and economic dislocation. Hence, the speediest and most enduring success in restoring large-scale industry is a condition without which no success can be achieved in the general cause of emancipating labour from the yoke of capital and securing the victory of socialism. To achieve   this success in Russia, in the conditions at present obtaining in that country, it is absolutely essential that all authority in the factories be concentrated in the hands of the management. The factory management, usually built up on the principle of one-man responsibility, must have authority independently to fix and pay out wages, and also distribute rations, working clothes, and all other supplies; it must enjoy the utmost freedom to manoeuvre, exercise strict control of the actual successes achieved in increasing production, in making the factory pay its way and show a profit, and carefully select the most talented and capable administrative personnel, etc.

Under these circumstances, any direct interference by the trade unions in the management of the factories must be regarded as positively harmful and impermissible.

It would be absolutely wrong, however, to interpret this indisputable axiom to mean that the trade unions must play no part in the socialist organisation of industry and in the management of state industry. Their participation in this is necessary in the following strictly defined forms.

7. The Role and Functions of the Trade Unions in the Business and Administrative Organisations of the Proletarian State

The proletariat is the class foundation of the state making the transition from capitalism to socialism. In a country where the small peasantry is overwhelmingly predominant the proletariat can successfully fulfil this function if it very skilfully, cautiously and gradually establishes an alliance with the vast majority of the peasantry. The trade unions must collaborate closely and constantly with the government, all the political and economic activities of which are guided by the class-conscious vanguard of the working class—the Communist Party. Being a school of communism in general, the trade unions must, in particular, be a school for training the whole mass of workers, and eventually all working people, in the art of managing socialist industry (and gradually also agriculture).

Proceeding from these principles, the trade unions’ part in the activities connected with the business and administrative organisations of the proletarian state should take the following main forms:

(1) The trade unions should help staff all the business and administrative bodies connected with economics by nominating their candidates for them and casting a consultative vote; the trade unions take part in these bodies too, not directly, but through the members of the higher state bodies, the members of business boards, members of the factory managements (where collegiate management is practised), managers, their assistants, etc., nominated by them and endorsed by the Communist Party and the Soviet government.

(2) One of the most important functions of the trade unions is to promote and train factory managers from among the workers and the masses of the working people generally. At the present time we have scores of such factory managers who are quite satisfactory, and hundreds who are more or less satisfactory, but very soon, however, we must have hundreds of the former and thousands of the latter. The trade unions must much more carefully and persistently than hitherto keep a systematic register of all workers and peasants capable of holding posts of this kind, and thoroughly, efficiently and from every aspect verify the progress they make in learning the art of management.

(3) No less important is the participation of the trade unions in all the planning bodies of the proletarian state. In addition to participating in all cultural and educational activities and in production propaganda, the trade unions must also, on an increasing scale, enlist the working class and the masses of the working people generally for all branches of the work of building up the state economy; they must make them familiar with all aspects of economic life and with all details of industrial operations—from the procurement of raw materials to the marketing of the product; give them a more and more concrete understanding of the single state plan of socialist economy and the worker’s and peasant’s practical interest in its implementation.

(4) The drawing up of wage rates and scales of supplies, etc., is one of the essential functions of the trade unions in the building of socialism and in their participation in the management of industry. In particular, disciplinary courts should steadily improve labour discipline and proper ways of promoting it and achieving increased productivity; but they must not interfere with the functions of the People’s Courts in general or with the functions of factory managements.

This list of the major functions of the trade unions in the work of building up socialist economy, should, of course, be drawn up in greater detail by the competent trade union and government bodies. The most important thing is that the trade unions should consciously and resolutely avoid direct, inexpert, incompetent and irresponsible interference in administrative matters, which has caused no little harm, and should start persistent, practical activities calculated to extend over a long period of years and designed to give the workers and all the working people generally practical training in the art of managing the economy of the whole country.

8. Contact with the Masses—The Fundamental Condition for all Trade Union Activity

Contact with the masses, i.e., with the overwhelming majority of the workers (and eventually of all the working people), is the most important and most fundamental condition for the success of all trade union activity. In all the trade union organisations and their machinery, from bottom up, there should be instituted, and tested in practice over a period of many years, a system of responsible comrades—who must not all be Communists—who should live right among the workers, study their lives in every detail, and be able unerringly, on any question, and at any time, to judge the mood, the real needs, aspirations, and thoughts of the masses. They must be able without a shadow of false idealisation to define the degree of their class-consciousness and the extent to which they are influenced by various prejudices and survivals of the past; and they must be able   to win the boundless confidence of the, masses by a comradely attitude and concern for their needs. One of the greatest and most serious dangers that confront the numerically small Communist Party, which, as the vanguard of the working class, is guiding a vast country in the process of transition to socialism (for the time being without the direct support of the more advanced countries), is isolation from the masses, the danger that the vanguard may run too far ahead and fail to “straighten out the line”, fail to maintain firm contact with the whole army of labour, i.e., with the overwhelming majority of workers and peas ants. Just as the very best factory, with the very best motors and first-class machines, will be forced to remain idle if the transmission belts from the motors to the machines are damaged, so our work of socialist construction must meet with inevitable disaster if the trade unions—the transmission belts from the Communist Party to the masses—are badly fitted or function badly. It is not sufficient to explain, to reiterate and corroborate this truth; it must be backed up organisationally by the whole structure of the trade unions and by their everyday activities.

9. The Contradictions in the Status of the Trade Unions Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

From all the foregoing it is evident that there are a number of contradictions in the various functions of the trade unions. On the one hand, their principal method of operation is that of persuasion and education; on the other hand, as participants in the exercise of state power they cannot refuse to share in coercion. On the one hand, their main function is to protect the interests of the masses of the working people in the most direct and immediate sense of the term; on the other hand, as participants in the exercise of state power and builders of the economy as a whole they cannot refuse to resort to pressure. On the one hand, they must operate in military fashion, for the dictatorship of the proletariat is the fiercest, most dogged and most desperate class war; on the other hand, specifically military methods of operation   are least of all applicable to the trade unions. On the one hand, they must be able to adapt themselves to the masses, to their level; on the other hand, they must never pander to the prejudices and backwardness of the masses, but steadily raise them to a higher and higher level, etc., etc.

These contradictions are no accident, and they will persist for several decades. For one thing, these contradictions are inherent in every school. And the trade unions are a school of communism. We cannot count, until the lapse of several decades, on the majority of the workers achieving the highest level of development and discarding all traces and memories of the “school” for adults. Secondly, as long as survivals of capitalism and small production remain, contradictions between them and the young shoots of socialism are inevitable throughout the social system.

Two practical conclusions must be drawn from this. First, for the successful conduct of trade union activities it is not enough to understand their functions correctly, it is not enough to organise them properly. In addition, special tact is required, ability to approach the masses in a special way in each individual case for the purpose of raising these masses to a higher cultural, economic and political stage with the minimum of friction.

Second, the aforementioned contradictions will inevitably give rise to disputes, disagreements, friction, etc. A higher body is required with sufficient authority to settle these at once. This higher body is the Communist Party and the international federation of the Communist Parties of all countries—the Communist International.

10. The Trade Unions and the Specialists

The main principles on this question are set forth in the Programme of the Russian Communist Party; but these will remain paper principles unless constant attention is paid to the facts which indicate the degree to which they are put into practice. Recent facts of this kind are: first, cases of the murder of engineers by workers in socialised mines not only in the Urals, but also in the Donets Basin;   second, the suicide of V. V. Oldenborger, chief engineer of the Moscow Waterworks.[1]

The Communist Party and the Soviet government as a whole bear a far greater share of the blame for cases of this kind than the trade unions. It is not a question now of establishing the degree of political guilt, but of drawing certain political conclusions. Unless our leading bodies, i.e., the Communist Party, the Soviet government and the trade unions, guard as the apple of their eye every specialist who does his work conscientiously and knows and loves it—even though the ideas of communism are totally alien to him—it will be useless to expect any serious progress in socialist construction. We may not be able to achieve it soon, but we must at all costs achieve a situation in which specialists—as a separate social stratum, which will persist until we have reached the highest stage of development of communist society—can enjoy better conditions of life under socialism than they enjoyed under capitalism insofar as concerns their material and legal status, comradely collaboration with the workers and peasants, and in the intellectual plane, i.e., finding satisfaction in their work, realising that it is socially useful and independent of the sordid interests of the capitalist class. Nobody will regard a government department as being tolerably well organised if it does not take systematic measures to provide for all the needs of the specialists, to reward the best of them, to safeguard and protect their interests, etc., and does not secure practical results in this. The trade unions must conduct all the activities of the type indicated (or systematically collaborate in the activities of all the government departments concerned) not from the point of view of the interests of the given department, but from the point of view of the interests of labour and of the economy as a whole. With regard to the specialists, on the trade unions devolves the very arduous duty of daily exercising influence on the broad masses of the working people in order to create proper relations between them and the specialists. Only such activities can produce really important practical results.

11. The Trade Unions and Petty-Bourgeois Influences on the Working Class

Trade unions are really effective only when they unite very broad strata of the non-Party workers. This must give rise—particularly in a country in which the peasantry largely predominates—to relative stability, specifically among the trade unions, of those political influences that serve as the superstructure over the remnants of capitalism and over small production. These influences are petty-bourgeois, i.e., Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik (the Russian variety of the parties of the II and II 1/2 Internationals) on the one hand, and anarchist on the other. Only among these trends has any considerable number of people remained who defend capitalism ideologically and not from selfish class motives, and continue to believe in the non-class nature of the “democracy”, “equality” and “liberty” in general that they preach.

It is to this socio-economic cause and not to the role of individual groups, still less of individual persons, that we must attribute the survivals (sometimes even the revival) in our country of such petty-bourgeois ideas among the trade unions. The Communist Party, the Soviet bodies that conduct cultural and educational activities and all Communist members of trade unions must therefore devote far more attention to the ideological struggle against petty-bourgeois influences, trends and deviations among the trade unions, especially because the New Economic Policy is bound to lead to a certain strengthening of capitalism. It is urgently necessary to counteract this by intensifying the struggle against petty-bourgeois influences upon the working class.

The End

Discuss together with the theses.

Give this to Comrade Molotov without rewriting.

This is the end of the publishable theses, i.e., the draft of them that is being submitted to the commission and then the Politbureau.

I suggest that the resolution contained in Comrade Rudzutak’s draft be adopted by a special decision of the Politbureau in the following wording:

Not for publication The Politbureau directs the Orgbureau to set up under the Orgbureau of the Central Committee a special commission to check and replace some of the leading officials (and if possible all communist functionaries) in the trade union movement for the purpose of intensifying the struggle against petty-bourgeois, S.R., Menshevik and anarchist influences and deviations. This commission to complete its work (or most of it) by the next, Eleventh, congress of the R.C.P. and submit its report to the Party congress.[3]




[1] Here is the report about this in Pravda for 3.I. 1922: ((quote the full text on p. 4)).[4]Lenin

[2] Lenin started writing the Draft Theses on the Role and Functions of the Trade Unions Under the New Economic Policy soon after the plenum of the C.C., R.C.P.(B.) on December 28, 1921. The draft theses were discussed by members of the commission (A. A. Andreyev and Y. E. Rudzutak) and members of the Politbureau; in the course of the discussion amendments and addenda were introduced. On January 12, 1922, the draft was discussed at a meeting of the Politbureau, which resolved that “the text of the theses proposed by Lenin be adopted as a basis.... The theses with all the amendments to be referred to an editorial committee consisting of Comrades Lenin, Zinoviev, Andreyev and Bukharin for final endorsement and publication in the name of the Central Committee with mention that the theses are   supported by the Bureau of the Party group at the A.C.C.T.U. (Central Party Archives, Institute of Marxism-Leninism).

The final text of the theses was published on January 17, 1922, in Pravda as a decision of the Central Committee, R.C.P., representing the C.C.’s draft theses on the question of the trade unions for the Eleventh Congress of the Party. The congress adopted the C.C.’s theses as a basis; during their discussion in the committee several amendments were introduced (see The C.P.S. U. in the Resolutions and Decisions of Congresses, Conferences and Plenary Meetings of the Central Committee, Part I, 1954, pp. 603-12).

Volume 33 of this edition gives the final text of the Central Committee’s decision on “The Role and Functions of the Trade Unions Under the New Economic Policy”. The present volume gives Lenin’s draft of the theses.

[4] Pravda for January 3, 1922, published a news-item reporting the “Suicide of Engineer Oldenborger” which stated: “The Moscow Soviet, in agreement with the Moscow Committee of the R.C.P., appointed a special commission to investigate the causes of the suicide of V. V. Oldenborger, Chief Engineer of the Moscow Municipal Waterworks. The Commission found that the deceased was not only a highly skilled employee, but a man utterly devoted to his work. The cause of suicide were the difficult conditions, which interfered with the daily routine of Oldenborger’s work. Some of the members of the Waterworks Special Trio, instead of trying to improve things at Moscow’s Waterworks, made them more difficult and complicated than ever; Engineer Semyonov, Chief Inspector of the People’s Commissariat for Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, who is a member of this Trio, was rude, cavilling and bureaucratic in his relations with Oldenborger; Makarov-Zemlyansky, Chief Inspector of the same commissariat and a former clerk at the Waterworks, carried on a ceaseless persecution of Oldenborger; and Yelagin and Merkulov, workers of the Alexeyevsk Pump-House, accused Oldenborger groundlessly of technical disorganisation of the Waterworks and of an attitude of disrespect towards the communist group on the part of the employees. All this was bound to have its effect on the emotional state of the deceased. The commission considers the continued employment of Makarov-Zemlyansky impermissible not only in the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, but in Soviet service generally, as being a person who is alien to the spirit of Soviet service, an intrigant who has earned among the employees of the Waterworks the reputation of being a dishonest man. The commission also found that engineer Semyonov of the W.P.I. should not be allowed to continue work at the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection or to have anything to do with the Moscow Municipal Waterworks, and likewise considers it necessary that Yelagin and Merkulov should be dismissed from the Waterworks and transferred to some other enterprise."

See also pp. 386-87 of this volume.

[3] Lenin’s proposal that a commission be set up to check and replace some of the leading personnel in the trade unions was based on the fact that the trade unions were honeycombed with former Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries and that it was necessary to fix a longer record of Communist Party membership for leading trade union officials in keeping with the resolution of the Eleventh All-Russia Conference of the R.C.P. “On the Question of Strengthening the Party as a Result of the Verification of Its Membership” (see “The C.P.S.U. in the Resolutions and Decisions of Congresses, Conferences and Plenary Meetings of the Central Committee”, Part I, 1954, p. 596).

Lenin’s motion was adopted by the Politbureau. On January 20, 1922, a commission was set up consisting of M. P. Tomsky, A. A. Andreyev and S. I. Syrtsov. The commission reported its findings to the Eleventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) (see The Eleventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) Verbatim Report., 1961, pp. 246–52).

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