Source: Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/472-toward-the-united-front), pp. 529-561.
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.
Having taken up the task of determined and bitter struggle against reformism in all its manifestations, the Communist International could not avoid, from the first moment of its activity, running up against the strongest bulwark of reformism – the existing trade unions. That explains why the first declarations of the Communist International defined its attitude to the reformist trade unions and to the positions taken by the outstanding leaders of the international trade union movement in the postwar period. The Second Congress of the Communist International mapped out a platform for Communists in the trade union movement, rejecting the theory of splitting and splintering the unions that had arisen due to impatience and lack of understanding of the basic tasks of Communist politics.
The Third Congress renewed discussion of the trade union question. And that is not surprising, because the trade unions have become the last refuge of the international bourgeoisie and the main foundation of capitalist rule. The Third Congress again took up again the most important issues facing the international trade union movement, by elaborating detailed guidelines, in particular regarding the need to harness all our forces in struggle against the reformists, through winning the trade unions. Finally, the most recent session of the Communist International’s Expanded Executive considered it necessary to discuss in detail the desire expressed in some Communist circles to dissolve the Red International of Labour Unions [RILU]. This made it clear that although these liquidationist tendencies raised high-minded considerations, in reality they reflected a weakness and an inability to organise their own forces in struggle against reformism.
The Fourth Congress must take another step forward. The documents just mentioned established a general guideline for Communist work in the trade unions. Now we have to concretise a large number of tasks and again emphasise questions that have been thrust into the foreground by the reality of international class struggle. To examine these questions, we must above all consider the conditions in which the communists’ struggle to revolutionise the trade unions is now taking place.
A quick glance at the international union movement is enough to show that it is experiencing a profound crisis. This crisis results, firstly, from the powerful capitalist offensive and, secondly, from the barrenness of the theory and practice of international trade unionism’s leading core. The capitalist offensive took on a definite form in the final months of 1920, assuming a systematically organised character and pursuing the goal of reducing production expenses at all costs by paying less for labour power. The bourgeoisie wanted to remove the difficulties it faced after the war by exerting pressure on the working class. And the more the crisis intensified, the fiercer were the aggressive policies of the bourgeoisie. What was at issue for them was achieving the absurdly high profits to which they had become accustomed during the war. The form of this assault was different in the countries with a strong currency, compared to those with a weak currency, but overall it aimed to do away with the eight-hour day and to lower wages systematically. A campaign began against the mere existence of trade unions – in the United States, through the struggle for the ‘open shop’.
Apart from this purely economic offensive, during the last two years, the bourgeoisie has created special organisations with the task of destroying trade unions and wiping out their leaders. A classic example of this is provided by Italy, where recently the entire Communist movement was demolished. Italy has the dubious distinction of marching at the head of all ‘civilised’ powers on the road to destroying and annihilating the workers’ organisations. The entire fascist movement, like analogous movements in other countries, is neither more or less than a preventive counter-revolution, in which the Italian workers have to endure all the burdens and disadvantages of the counter-revolution without having enjoyed the benefits of social revolution.
These capitalist attacks, from all sides, have been met by only extremely weak resistance from the leading bodies of the international trade union movement. The Amsterdamers always seize every appropriate and inappropriate occasion to tell of their immense victories over capitalism and the great blessings bestowed upon mankind by the International Labour Office of the League of Nations. But from the very start of the capitalist attacks they assumed a wait-and-see stance. During the entire past period, never once did they take the initiative for a serious struggle. At best they have been driven forward only under the lash of the outraged working masses. Particularly characteristic in this regard is the most recent lockout in Britain, the coal miners’ strike in the United States, the metalworkers movement in France, and a number of strikes in Germany and Italy. Each time, in every location, the Amsterdam people played a passive role, seeking to put the conflict to rest as soon as possible, disorganising and causing demoralisation in the ranks of the working class, and thus acting only to thwart their struggle.
The trade unions’ inability to counter the capitalist attacks, and their leaders’ overt aversion to leading the working masses into struggle, provoked deep disappointment in broad circles of the working class. That is why we see entire groups of workers abandoning the unions. In 1921 and 1922, growth of unions was not only halted but converted into a rapid decline. Hundreds of thousands of workers left the unions. Unions crumbled away, losing strength and the capacity to counter the capitalist attacks. At the beginning of 1920, the CGT in France had more than two million members. Now its two successor organisations together have only six hundred thousand members. In Italy the number of union members has fallen from two million to seven hundred thousand. In Britain the number dropped by 1.3 million. In the United States unions have lost about 1.5 million members. We see a similar decline in membership in Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, and so on.
Only in Germany and Austria do the membership totals remain at approximately the former levels. But this results not so much from intensely revolutionary convictions of the trade union leaders in these countries, but from the tragic conditions afflicting the Austrian and German proletariat, and the fact that the workers of these countries are organised to a greater degree.
Apart from numerical decline, the trade unions are marked by a growing uncertainty and lack of confidence in their own strength. For many years the Amsterdamers proclaimed that great reforms would flow from the good graces of the International Labour Office; now they have fallen silent. The flowers have wilted and the fires have burned out. They themselves have lost confidence in the great social creativity of the organisations they have created. They continue to take part in the International Labour Office of the League of Nations, but this is only because they are solidly attached to it, like a convict labourer chained to his cart. They will share the fate of this altogether remarkable institution.
They cannot dispense with class collaboration, because all their activity is based on this principle. Indeed this collaboration becomes tighter every day, because a breakdown of class collaboration between the trade unions and the bourgeoisie would mean the end not only of the bourgeoisie but also of the Amsterdamers.
The leaders of the Amsterdam International displayed extreme modesty and passivity when it was a question of countering the capitalist offensive. By contrast, when it is a matter of struggling against revolutionary workers, they display unbridled energy and aggressiveness. The period between the Third and Fourth [Comintern] Congresses was marked by a campaign against the revolutionary wing of the workers’ movement. The Amsterdam leaders decided they would never accept being in a minority: better a split than handing over union leadership to the Communists. That is the stance of the Amsterdam International, one that flows from their overall policy. Otherwise it would be difficult for them to salvage capitalist society and the capitalist system.
In France, the Amsterdam forces succeeded in splitting the trade union movement, and we now have two labour confederations. In Czechoslovakia, when the Communists began to threaten the cosy little posts of the Amsterdam adherents, they followed the example of their French colleagues and brought about a split of the Czechoslovak trade unions.
In Spain, the reformist General Workers Federation carried through a split in its largest affiliate, the Federation of Miners, the moment the Communists and syndicalists won a majority in this federation. In Germany a systematic witch-hunt against Communists has been launched in the construction, railway, and transport workers unions. The German method is to expel a Communist who is elected to a post, and to refuse to recognise Communists who are candidates, in order to separate the revolutionary leaders from the revolutionary masses.
The Amsterdam forces in Germany are carrying out their policy unwaveringly and stubbornly, striving with might and main to drive the best fighting forces out of the labour federations.
‘To be strong, we must cleanse our ranks’, reads a cynical statement in Korrespondenzblatt, the official publication of the German General Workers Federation [ADGB], in an article entitled ‘The Enemy Is on Our Left’. The Amsterdam slogan is ‘Get out of the unions’, and they take this to its logical conclusion. The greater the Communist threat and the more revolutionary the masses’ class consciousness, the more blatant are the Amsterdamers’ efforts to split the unions, for they have no use for revolutionary unions. They prefer the Catholic and Yellow trade unions to those that are revolutionary. This is shown by any number of facts. For example, the reformist miners’ union is happy to sign accords with the Catholic federation or the Polish nationalist federation, but under no circumstances will they come to agreement with the Union of Manual and Intellectual Workers, labelling them unorganised workers. This union is a revolutionary organisation lead by Communists, and the worthy gentlemen of the German Miners’ Federation prefer Catholics to Communists.
But the Amsterdamers are not content to pressure the unions at the national level. At their last congress, held in Rome, the Amsterdam International, acting in common accord with the representatives of international secretariats of different branches of industry, again passed a resolution stating that revolutionary unions would not be admitted to these international secretariats. A quite specific policy was adopted on this point, because the Amsterdamers are always firm when it’s a matter of struggling against revolutionary trade unions. The list of bodies expelled from or refused admission to the international secretariats includes the Russian federations of metalworkers, miners, woodworkers, construction workers, textile workers, agricultural workers, clerks, post and telegraph employees, and so on. The formal grounds for their exclusion is that through the All-Russian Central Federation of Trade Unions they are affiliated to the Red International of Labour Unions. But in reality they have been excluded only because they have carried out a revolution, are linked with the Soviet state, are imbued with Communist spirit, and constitute the foundation of the Soviet state and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The international secretariats affiliated with the Amsterdam International would be pleased to admit counter-revolutionary unions. But they will not admit revolutionary unions that could disturb their peaceful life and upset their digestion.
What is the meaning of this campaign against the revolutionary trade unions? In essence it is nothing other than a reflection of the international capitalist campaign against the working class and of the social struggles being fought out between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The Amsterdam International stands on the opposite side of the barricades and fires upon the international workers’ movement with the cannon now at its disposal. The leaders of the trade union movement today understand full well that if this movement remains united, it will slowly but surely shift to the left. And when the Communists take control of the trade union movement, that marks the end, not only for the bourgeoisie but for the reformists. That is why they pursue a conscious policy of split and expulsion. They want to exhaust the working class, render it incapable of taking power, disorganising and demoralising the workers to the point where they are unable to lay their hands on the means of production and exchange. The Amsterdam International seeks to rescue modern civilisation by every means and in every way possible.
The Amsterdam federation does not stand alone in its struggle against the Communists; they have allies among the anarchists. During the last two years we have seen the anarchists’ struggle against communism sharpen considerably. Since 1920 these hostilities have grown ever more acute, and in the recent period they have no longer been different in character from those of the reformists. Of course the rationale is different, and the attackers themselves carry a different banner. But the political content is the same: the anarchists marshal all their forces to restrict Communist work in the unions, to slander them and even to deny them the right to work in the unions. Attacks of this nature have been carried out in recent years by the American IWW, the Italian syndicalists, the anarcho-syndicalists in Spain, and some syndicalist groupings in France.
They utilise the slogan of the struggle against politics, counterposing the trade union international to the Communist International and the Communist parties. As you know, the anarchists employ the concepts of politics, party, and state as a sort of Beast of the Apocalypse, paying no regard to what policy or party or state they are talking about. Their metaphysical manner of thinking lumps everything together, and they are accustomed to thinking in terms of the eternal and absolute. We find in them a plain and categorical rejection of any political struggle and of any relations between trade unions and the Communist parties. The anarchists call this otherworldly manner of thinking ‘independent’, and during the last year they carried out attacks under this banner against the Communist International and the RILU. Trade unions and parties must be completely separate from each other – that is the core of all their declarations. In a succession of decisions and appeals, the Anarchists have belaboured this elementary notion, which has not grown any clearer or more revolutionary by being dressed up in purely trade union garb.
But the anarchist elements do not limit themselves only to a struggle against the Communists on the plane of ideas. In the last year a number of events indicated that the anarchists are not letting the Amsterdamers rest on their laurels. Some anarchist organisations have begun expelling members who are RILU supporters and who speak out for contact between the two revolutionary Internationals. Expulsions of this kind have taken place in the Italian syndicalist federation. In the Netherlands too, the syndicalists threaten the Communists with scorpions, and anarcho-syndicalist groups in other countries are following their example. All these actions seek to achieve the separation of the trade union movement from the political movement. They aim to tear away revolutionary unions from the RILU and construct their own little International off to one side. In this regard the anarchist groups are carrying out the directives of their international conference, which took place in December 1921 and called for the constitution of a new, independent, self-sufficient, revolutionary-syndicalist International. An attempt in this direction was made last June, and the initiators succeeded in pulling together representatives of a few organisations. To characterise this new International, it is enough to point out that it is led by the German localists, who are typical Tolstoyans and political vegetarians.
Why is it that the struggle of the anarchists against the Communist International and the RILU is growing more acute? In the initial period after the October revolution, the anarchist and especially the anarcho-syndicalist organisations were actually affiliated to the Communist International. The National Workers Confederation of Spain joined, as did the syndicalist federation in Italy, and so forth. Why are these groups now leaving not only the Communist International but the RILU as well?
The anarchists’ stand against the Communist International, the RILU, and the Russian revolution is explained by the overall situation of the international workers’ movement. The anarchist attacks are only a reflection of those carried out by international capitalism and by Amsterdam. They are a link in the same chain. Despite their revolutionary phraseology, the anarchists have always been imbued with petty-bourgeois ideas. And when bourgeois society gathered together its forces for the struggle against communism, and a united front took shape of all forces that saw the bourgeois state as a defence against the communist danger, it was natural for the anarchists to take their appropriate place in this front.
They often explain their attacks upon the Communist International and the RILU by pointing to the conditions in which anarchists find themselves in Soviet Russia, and to their principled opposition to any state and any dictatorship. But what concerns us is not what the anarchists say but what they do. And here is what they do. As the Communist movement was going through its most difficult days, when the state apparatus of international capitalism assailed it with all of its brute force and severity, when the entire powerful apparatus of the old trade unions was brought to bear against communism and the Communist movement, along came the anarchists with their anti-Communist programme and their struggle for the supposed independence of the trade union movement.
An anarcho-reformist front was created, which fell into line with the bourgeois front. The anti-Communist alliance found its culmination in anarchist petty-bourgeois demagogy. Anarchism stood revealed here as an ally of reformism. And that is hardly astonishing, for they are simply two sides of the same petty-bourgeois coin.
The anarchists and the revolutionary syndicalists are especially fond of stressing the trade unions’ neutrality with regard to political parties. They define this as their particular contribution and as a characteristic of the revolutionary-syndicalist trade union movement. Rather than speaking of neutralism, they use the term ‘independence’, which is basically the same thing.
What is neutralism? It is a current in the trade union movement that advances the concept that all political parties should be treated in exactly the same way, that is, complete and absolute independence of the trade union movement from politics. Of course, politics is the bête noire of the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, who confuse politics with parliamentarism and political activity; political struggle with parliamentary elections and the associated commerce in votes. Neutralism is the slogan of the most extreme reformists and also of the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists.
One of the most respected leaders of the American labour movement, John Mitchell, brought this neutralism into sharp relief in his book, Organized Labor. He advanced the notion that the modern social order is comprised of three elements: capital, labour, and society. What this worthy leader meant by ‘society’ is hard to guess – probably the liberal social reformers, with whom he took part in various leagues and associations whose goal is to chat about social legislation and about improving the conditions of the working class. The independence and neutrality of this gentleman can be gauged by the fact that when he died, he left an estate of no less than half a million dollars. He earned all that as a leader of the American trade union movement. This neutralism is the worst form of bourgeois influence on the proletariat and of ideological subordination of proletarian interests to those of the ruling classes.
The theory of independence is built essentially on the same foundations. True, it sets goals to which the neutralist politicians are opposed. The independence preached by the anarcho-syndicalists and anarchists maintains that the trade union movement is exclusive, reigning over all other expressions of the workers’ movement. It denies not only the political parties’ right to leadership of the unions but their very right to existence. This ideology of independence found particular expression during the past year in the polemic of the anarcho-syndicalists of all stripes against the RILU. The French, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, and American syndicalists, whose pretentions are inversely proportional to their specific weight in the workers’ movement, constantly play themselves off against the Communist parties, declaring that the trade unions can carry out the revolution on their own and will harvest the fruits of this victory. To this, Communists can answer, ‘Please, demonstrate the correctness of your theory through facts’. Particularly in the present time of severe struggles, we are justified in asking of leaders of the workers’ movement that they not only issue declarations and make promises to carry out a revolution, but also that they translate these promises into reality. The best theory is one that has been confirmed by reality. Our Communist theory has been confirmed not only by the Russian revolution but by others as well.
The anarchist and syndicalist theory has not been confirmed in this way. On the contrary, to the degree that anarchism was actively involved in the Russian revolution, it was the vehicle of a petty-bourgeois anti-proletarian ideology. The Makhno movement was the highest expression of anarchism at war, and it provided proof that anarchism in practice is an anti-proletarian petty-bourgeois force that stands allied with the kulaks [peasant exploiters]. Thus our attitude to the anti-Communist theory of independence is more than sceptical and suspicious. We view this theory as highly dangerous and damaging for the workers’ movement of the country where it exerts influence and gains predominance.
Separating politics and economics off into two parallel and self-sufficient segments basically means cutting the unified proletarian workers’ movement into two halves. The workers’ movement can take different forms. Depending on the conditions, on place and time, on the political situation, and on the relationship of forces, this or that form and method of struggle may work better than others. But one thing is fully clear: the moment we separate the political and economic workers’ movement from each other or, even worse, counterpose them, we are tearing apart what becomes organically linked in the process of struggle. We are weakening the proletariat and depriving it of any chance for a successful struggle against the superbly united and excellently organised class enemy.
The bourgeoisie takes no note of such theories. It does not separate politics from the economy. It is superbly capable of utilising everything created by its apparatus. State power, literature, science, art, the church, and the employers’ economic organisations – all of this forms a solid, unified alliance, always blocking the efforts of the proletariat for liberation from the capitalist yoke. The programme of the Communist Party of Russia states that politics is concentrated economics. This seems to me to be the most expressive and accurate formulation of the interrelationship between politics and economics. By politics we Communists mean the working-class movement for liberation and working-class opposition to bourgeois society as a whole. Sharpening this antagonism, deepening the gulf between the classes, unifying the proletariat to achieve its goals, achieving a correct relationship among the masses in their millions – all this activity, taken as a whole, constitutes politics. Only those whose thinking is backward can confuse political struggle with parliamentarism, which is one of the numerous varieties of proletarian political activity.
The fact that these theories of neutralism and independence counterpose politics and economics expresses the desire of anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists to bring the Communist Party into conflict with the trade unions and to conduct the struggle against the Communist Party with the support of non-party organisations. The essence of the theory of independence is directed not only against the party but against communism. For communism is not incorporeal. It cannot exist outside of time and place and without a specific organisation. It exists only to the extent that a vehicle for communism is present. Of course the working class as a whole constitutes such a vehicle, but the working masses whose instincts are communist embody their communist consciousness in a specific organisation, the Communist Party. That is why efforts to counterpose the trade unions to the Communist parties and to provoke a struggle between them, under the banner of independence, are directed not only against the party as such but also against communism, the working class, and the social revolution.
In the struggle against ‘politics’, the anarcho-syndicalists counterpose communism to syndicalism. But what is syndicalism? The word is used to refer above all to the entire trade union movement, taken as a whole – that is, the sum total of the unions of a given country. In that sense, counterposing syndicalism and communism loses all meaning, since to the extent that the trade unions encompass all organised workers, they also include their Communist component. To counterpose the trade unions to the Communist Party means counterposing the Communist workers to themselves.
Clearly, the term syndicalism has another meaning. In fact, syndicalism refers to a specific ideological current within the workers’ movement and the trade unions. This current’s distinctive feature is that it is based above all on the trade unions. But what are the basic features of syndicalism? In the form that its different branches have taken over the course of the last two decades, syndicalism is the theory that the trade union movement has priority over other forms of the workers’ movement.
Thus we see that underlying syndicalism is an anarchist, anti-party, and anti-political tendency. Syndicalism holds that the working class creates its vanguard in the unions, and will accomplish its tasks through the unions. Instructive in this regard is the polemic that arose between syndicalists and Communists in France over the resolution on the trade union movement adopted by the Communist Party’s Marseilles convention. When the convention very cautiously expressed the concept that the Communist Party is the vanguard of the proletariat, this met with sharp condemnation from the syndicalists.
As a current within the trade unions, syndicalism strives to elaborate its own programme, tactics, and distinctive forms and methods of struggle, and to unite the working masses in class action. Communism sets itself the same goal. So what we have in countries with a syndicalist workers’ movement is not an opposition between trade unions and a party, however vehemently this may be asserted by the different shadings of syndicalism. Rather we have fundamentally an opposition between two parties, one called Communist and the other syndicalist. Of course the syndicalists may well be horrified by the mere idea that they essentially represent a party, because from their point of view the party is something extremely negative. In this sense they are successors to the anarchists.
This negative conception of the party arose in these countries out of the corrupt parliamentary traditions and the extreme flexibility of the consciences and backbones of the leaders, not only those of bourgeois but of the so-called socialist movement in the West European countries. Such reformist conduct and parliamentary cretinism provides the seedbed for this confusion of politics with vote-trading. Unfortunately, the syndicalists do not recognise the real source and roots of their theory. They therefore see syndicalism as something that has grown up organically from the proletarian mass movement, while the Communist movement, in their eyes, has been implanted artificially, something dragged in from outside by some suspicious ‘politicians’, who are obviously hostile to the working class as a whole.
As an ideological movement and in its healthy and most realistic form, syndicalism is close to communism in many ways. It not only sets the same goals – overthrow of capitalism, and so on – but also proposes the same principal method, namely the dictatorship of the proletariat. What mutual relations ought to be established between syndicalists and communists?
Above all, as previously mentioned, syndicalism does not represent a unified current. Instead, several currents can be distinguished within it. The claim of syndicalism to constitute an alternative to communism is therefore all the stranger. First we have the anarcho-syndicalists, who are practically indistinguishable from the anarchists. Then there are the revolutionary syndicalists, who have already succeeded in differentiating themselves somewhat from anarchism. And finally there are the communist syndicalists, who are closer to communism. Syndicalism is thus not something finished, as if poured into a mould, but rather the sum of a whole number of ideological currents located between anarchism and communism.
This naturally clarifies the Communists’ tasks in countries where there is a revolutionary syndicalist trade union movement. Above all the Communists must take the initiative for unity of the left wing of the workers’ movement. The communist syndicalists stand closest to us. This is the current within syndicalism today that has actually learned a great deal from the war and the Russian revolution. They understand what the dictatorship of the proletariat is and they grasp that it is necessary and inevitable during the transitional period. They approach it not from the point of view of an abstract anarchist booklet on the problems of revolution, but from that of experience, as people who really want to apprentice themselves to real life. The most typical of this is the Workers’ Life [La Vie ouvrière] group in France, which we can term a non-party Communist group. Its entire character is Communist, and it includes quite a few members of the Communist Party. But there is no scope for its activity in the framework of the Communist Party. And in France that is certainly not surprising, because the Communist Party of France is not an organisation that carries political authority in the eyes of all revolutionary workers of the country. The party is still in its formative period. It is marked by ideological differences of opinion and is not yet unified and solid enough to establish dominance over the mass movement in France, although the objective conditions for a serious Communist Party are exceptionally favourable.
There is not the slightest doubt that communism and syndicalism represent two different theories, two different ways of approaching the problems of the workers’ movement and the methods of carrying out the tasks before the working class. And to the degree that we have differences of opinion with those with syndicalist views, Communists must carry out a determined ideological struggle against all anti-Communist tendencies of syndicalism. Communists cannot in any way condone a theory and practice that leads to the denial of political parties, regardless of who it is that defends and implements this view. That is why a systematic, stubborn, and methodical ideological struggle is necessary against every anarchist tendency that now exists in the workers’ movement. But that must not in any way hinder a convergence in action, common activity, and close collaboration between Communists and syndicalists in the struggle against not only the capitalist offensive but also against reformism.
How can this be achieved? Only through revolutionary activity. The weaker and clumsier the Communist Party is politically, the stronger and more aggressive is syndicalism. Where the Communist Party has the leadership in every event, where it seizes the initiative at the right moment, where it succeeds in discovering the weak points of our class enemy and striking out against them in time – in such conditions, even where syndicalists represent a real force, they will be compelled to go together with the Communists. On the other hand, where the party is constantly torn by inner frictions, where it is not sure of itself as a Communist current, where it fears to take the initiative, where it is constantly looking to see what others are saying about it – in such conditions normal mutual relations between Communists and syndicalists will not be possible. Indeed the Communists will themselves begin to elaborate a theory of independence, making a virtue of necessity.
For Communists, the problem of mutual relations between trade unions and parties is really no problem at all. The Communists’ tasks consist of imbuing all workers’ organisations with a consistent Communist spirit and will. The Communist Party only has a reason for being when it carries out this task methodically and systematically. A party is really and truly Communist only if it carries out the winning over of the trade unions not only in theory but in practice, since that is a precondition for the social revolution.
The Fourth Congress does not need to concern itself with the theoretical side of this question, because that was resolved long ago. Nonetheless, we must take up this question again, not to establish new principles, but to see how our fine old principles are being put into effect. And here we must say frankly that many Communists are doing this extremely poorly.
Above all, the mutual relations between the party and the unions cannot be entirely similar in all countries. Although we have theoretical agreement on this question, it is nonetheless obvious to all that in practice there is an extraordinary diversity in this area. The mutual relations between the party and the trade unions change depending on the nature of the workers’ movement, the special features of its environment, the entire political and social situation, the traditions, the role played by the socialist parties in the country in question, and much more.
In countries with an old labour union movement and new Communist parties, such as Britain and the United States, the relationship between the party and the unions is much different than in countries that have an old political movement and a young union movement (Russia and other countries). We have correctly set our goal as winning all the unions to communism, imbuing them with a Communist spirit, and striving to have them follow Communist policy. But the pursuit of this goal does not imply that it can be achieved in every country all at once, let alone with the same means.
Take Britain, for example. This country has a mighty trade union movement whose traditions have long been hostile to politics and socialism, and a small Communist Party with a few thousand members. In this case we cannot really speak of mutual relations between the unions and the party in the true sense of the term. The trade unions are hostile to the party. In such a country the mutual relationship must run not between the party and the unions in general but between the party and a segment – the revolutionary unions – as well as the opposition that is arising inside the unions, based on the development of the class struggle.
The tasks in each country are vastly different. Clearly it would be quite harmful if in Britain the party limited its attention to its small party cells. Here the effort must be made to create a broad oppositional movement within the unions. Our Communist groups must be centres around which the oppositional forces gather and crystallise. The entire opposition must be called into being and given form, with all its parts gathered together. With the growth of this opposition, the Communist Party itself will grow. By its very nature, the opposition is diverse, made up of differing forces. Mutual relations between the party and the opposition must therefore be established in a fashion that ensures the Communists will not be charged with seeking to mechanically subordinate the entire oppositional movement to themselves. Under these circumstances, the goal of winning the working masses for communism must be achieved with the greatest care, clarity, and perseverance.
In the United States our task is essentially similar. We have a small Communist Party there and a rather large oppositional trade union movement, which has found its expression in the Trade Union Educational League. What is then the task of Communists in the United States? They must carry out their work in the trade union movement on the basis of this league’s programme. And what is this programme? That of the Red International of Labour Unions. Of course it is not formulated as clearly and definitely as that of the Communist International. The Trade Union Educational League’s programme is not as expressive, definite, and pointed as that of the Communist Party of the United States. It cannot have the same character, because it unites the entire opposition.
Our task in the United States is to unite the entire opposition to Gompers. And the party must display the greatest patience toward the League, all the more given that the League has achieved such tremendous organisational and educational gains in a very short time. Our task in the United States consists of supporting the League in the development of its forces. We should call on all sympathisers of communism to rally actively around the League. We should seek to bring all our resources into play to support its struggle against the Gompers ideology that infects the American workers’ movement.
Of course the party faces the question of how to gain influence. Influence in the labour movement is not gained through resolutions, or by some fortunate decisions of the Central Committee, but through the work that Communists carry out in their respective labour organisations. That is why the question of supervising the League’s activity must be raised as little as possible – or not at all. That kind of talk leads to a mechanical control or, more accurately, to interfering mechanically in work that basically the party can neither carry out nor accomplish. Winning influence in the unions is a task primarily for the party organisation. Above all, we must build a solid and serious political party. We must draw to our organisation as many workers as possible from different branches of the workers’ movement. Party members must be welded together through inner discipline. If this is done, our influence in the trade unions will grow uninterruptedly.
The party’s influence in the trade unions is directly proportional to its work among the masses and the response it receives there. The task here is to consolidate this influence organisationally. It must be stressed that our organisational work in the unions always lags behind our political work. Germany provides the best example of this. In Germany we have a very strong Communist movement, and the Communist Party has influence over, roughly speaking, a third of the members of Amsterdam trade unions. But if you try to count our forces, in organisational terms, you will immediately see that this powerful mass is very weak in its organisational links. The masses following us do not have sufficient cohesion among themselves. We have not been able to consolidate our political successes organisationally.
This contrast between the rapid growth of our political influence and the extremely slow organisational consolidation of this growth of revolutionary ideas stands as a threatening and dangerous aspect of the German workers’ movement. It means that, at certain moments of intense political struggle, the party can find itself in a situation where it does not possess the number of organisational points of support that is required to draw together all the revolutionary energy and lead it with greater effectiveness.
Of course the question of party-union relations has been and is posed differently in Germany than in Britain or the United States. In Germany the issue has come to a head with regard to the mutual relations between the party and the Union of Manual and Intellectual Workers [UHK]. As you know, the UHK was established some time ago on the initiative of the Spartacists. Later the Communist Party changed its policy toward the trade unions, and the UHK, which embraces 150,000 workers, is viewed by many Communist trade unionists in Germany as a hindrance to the Communist movement in their country.
What we see here is a somewhat abstract approach to a practical question and an incorrect approach to our slogan of winning the trade unions. In the opinion of some Communists, since our policy is not to split the trade unions but to win them over, the UHK has therefore lost all justification for its existence. But that is pure metaphysics. The UHK exists, and given the concrete situation in Germany, it will continue to exist in the coming years. And since it exists, it naturally seeks to increase its membership total. There will never be an organisation that does not try to recruit new members. Otherwise, if recruitment died away, the UHK would soon have no members at all.
The party must oblige its members to promote Communist politics. All the debates on this question and the entire controversy during recent months should have been fought out on just this basis. But the question was not posed in terms of the need for Communist Party members to promote Communist politics. Rather the focus was on the mutual relations between the party and the UHK, which made the whole business complicated and unclear. Fortunately, the recent congress of the Union of Manual and Intellectual Workers largely resolved the question. The incorrect viewpoint had originated in the attempt to work exclusively in the old trade unions and the desire to put an end to all independent organisations, whatever the cost.
In Italy, the trade union movement is closely linked with the political movement. The example of the syndicalist movement proves nothing, since this organisation does not have the slightest influence in the workers’ movement. The most significant forces are the trade union federation [CGL] and the Communist Party. As regards Italy, any discussion of mutual relations between the party and the trade unions is superfluous and redundant.
In France the question of mutual relations between the party and the trade unions has a very particular character. Here we have an old, syndicalist union movement and a young Communist Party, with the party advocating autonomy and independence of the unions no less passionately than the syndicalists themselves. As you know, the French syndicalists took a particularly decisive stand against the resolutions of the first RILU congress , which established a link between the two Internationals and resolved that the revolutionary trade unions and the Communist parties in every country should work together in all campaigns, whether advancing or retreating. It is significant that this resolution met with resistance not only among the syndicalists but also inside the Communist Party. Members of the Communist Party posed the need for independence and autonomy with particular sharpness, referring mainly to the traditions of the French workers’ movement.
If we are to speak of traditions, we must say that this is a bad one. It arose because of the opportunism of the Socialist Party of France, which was understandable and natural during the period in which this party was reformist. At that time, independence from this party signified simply independence from opportunism and reformism. Every Communist has to struggle for that kind of independence. But now we have a Communist Party, which should not be afflicted with all the illnesses of its Socialist predecessors. The theory of independence has therefore lost its meaning. Historical tradition is quite irrelevant here.
The Amiens Charter was useful in 1906 as a means of countering an opportunist party suffering from parliamentary cretinism. Then it was timely. But to apply the Amiens programme to all countries, to attribute to it an international importance without considering the transformation carried out by the Russian revolution and the Communist International, leads unavoidably to dead formulas that ignore reality. You run the danger of spending your whole life inside these formulas.
In this regard, France is a land of marvels. The Communist Party there demands [union] independence from the party. Together with the syndicalists, the Communists put through a resolution in the leading committee of the CGTU [United General Confederation of Labour] that brands the expulsion of a trade union leader from the party as a hostile action toward the CGTU.
Strictly speaking, in France we have two parties. Not two Communist parties, one of the Left and one of the Centre, but rather one party called the French section of the Communist International, and one that is known as syndicalist. We should not hide the situation: the syndicalists are a party that does not call itself a party. In the Communist Party there are four tendencies, more or less; in the syndicalist party there are four or five.
If you tell the anarcho-syndicalists that they constitute a party, they rear up on their hind legs, astonished. ‘Us, a party? Certainly not. We are just workers’. As the syndicalists see things, parties are formed by forces that are outside the proletariat, while their party has developed organically within the organised workers movement.
What, then, characterises the Communist Party of France, and particularly its relationship to the trade union movement? To shed light on this question, we will provide a few examples.
Above all we want to say what characterises the Communist Party. Each of its members is conscious of the need to work inside the proletariat, to establish an organic link between the party and the class, and is aware that the party is the vanguard of the workers’ movement. The syndicalists can think what they will of this. But if you belong to the party, you adhere to this goal and none other.
Before the Paris convention of the Communist Party of France, there was a very interesting debate on the theses proposed by Comrade Rosmer. A bloc against these theses was formed by some of our friends who belong to the Communist International and the anarcho-syndicalists, who also opposed these theses. When we see a bloc between Communists and people who are outside the Communist Party, this is a symptom of a disease that must be cured at all costs. Some members of the French Communist Party were so alarmed by these theses that, after they had been rejected by the Central Committee, l'Internationale wrote, ‘The Central Committee has saved the party, because the proposed theses were extremely dangerous’. And after the convention, the Bulletin communiste published an article by the party’s administrative secretary, Comrade Soutif, who recounted the history of these theses in terms that deserve to be repeated here:
At one point the Lefts presented a resolution to the Central Committee that proposed a completely inacceptable trade union policy. The resolution read, ‘The Communist Party holds that it provides the most precise expression of the aspirations of the working class and is in the best position to achieve its liberation’.
A Communist, who is administrative director of the French party, protests because a resolution holds that the Communist Party best expresses the aspirations of the working class. Syndicalists may well protest in these terms; that is their right. We can debate with these comrades. But a protest of this kind by a member of a Communist Party, its director no less, is incomprehensible to us. If the party does not express the workers’ strivings, what does it do? Busy itself with parliamentary activity and the writing of newspaper articles? The Communist International has a different view of the party’s tasks.
Every party member must be firmly convinced that its party expresses the strivings of the working class better than any other party. Without this conviction we will achieve nothing; we will be compelled to remain forever passive. A party that does not have this firm conviction is no Communist party. And if even the party’s secretary shrinks back from this concept, clearly the party is sick.
Soutif goes on to say:
It is particularly significant that these theses claim the right to form a sort of communist CGT within the CGTU.
That is incorrect. The resolution says that Communists must join forces not only on a geographical basis, in sections and districts, but also in federations, and so forth.
There are members of the Communist Party of France who, when they begin working in the trade unions, leave their membership book at the door. When they join a union, they forget that they are Communists. At their party meetings they are Communists, but outside the meetings they reserve the right to do whatever they please, and they sometimes act as the most eager supporters of trade union independence and autonomy.
The Communist International does not aim to subordinate the unions. A Communist Party that declared it wished to subordinate the unions to itself would show it had not the slightest idea of the Communist International’s policies. But the Communist Party must work towards the goal that all its members remain Communist in all their activity. We must seek to fill the trade union movement with a Communist spirit and to ensure that every party member who belongs to a union acts as a member of the Communist Party. A Communist Party is not created by mobilising the troops. No one joins because they are told to do so. You join willingly, but in so doing you assume obligations that are voluntary but also firm. It is quite impermissible for a party member to say that we are entirely independent in our trade union policy.
Now here is another clear example. In the most recently received issue of Lutte des classes [Class Struggle], there is an article, or more precisely a declaration, signed by Comrades Monatte, Chambelland, [Yvonne] Orlianges, Charbit, and others. Among these six comrades, only Monatte is not a member of the Communist Party. In the declaration, we read:
Some of us are party members; some are not. But we are all revolutionary syndicalists, that is, we assign to the trade unions the main role in the revolutionary struggle for liberation of the proletariat. The party’s role should be one of support, not leadership.
It must be asked why these revolutionary syndicalists are members of the party. We completely fail to understand why party members who know why they are in the party and cannot be accused of seeking seats in parliament would stay in this party, if it is assigned only a secondary role. This question must be answered historically. The Communist Party of France is heterogeneous in composition. It is formed from a variety of ideological currents. Each current’s old ideology came with it into the party and struck roots there.
In the theses proposed to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, there is a point that reads as follows: ‘If in a given country there is both a genuinely revolutionary syndicalist movement and also a party that has insufficient forces and influence in the trade union movement, clearly the mutual relationship of party and trade unions must be shaped within the framework of this relationship of forces’. Such a relationship must be established because without a working partnership between the trade union and Communist Internationals, the revolutionary workers’ movement will be overwhelmed by the capitalist offensive.
Be that as it may, in France we have, first, a Communist Party that itself stands for the autonomy and independence of the trade unions, and, second, trade unions that contend even more energetically for this autonomy and independence. The Communist International is of course convinced that there is no foundation whatsoever for the anarcho-syndicalist claim that the trade unions will make the revolution by themselves. We also doubt the feasibility of the slogan, ‘All power to the trade unions’. But in each country the relations between the political party and the union are what the Communist Party deserves. The real struggle, the intensification of antagonisms in France, and the bitter offensive of the bourgeoisie – all this is forcing the French workers, not only syndicalists but Communists as well, to change their outlook regarding party-union relations. However much they may strive to establish that their mutual relationships are based on autonomy, life will teach them and show them that victory is not found under the banner of ‘trade union autonomy and independence’ but through infusing every expression of the workers’ movement with a unified spirit, a unified Communist will.
The sharper the struggle between the revolutionary workers and the bourgeoisie, the clearer becomes the connection and unity between reformism and modern bourgeois society. I have already spoken of the fact that the intensity of the Amsterdamers’ assault on revolutionary trade unions has grown in pace with the capitalist offensive. This tie becomes all the more plain with regard to the question of trade union unity. We are not the only ones interested in this question. We know that the trade union movement will achieve, if slowly, an understanding of the need for struggle against capitalist rule. The bourgeoisie’s aggressive actions can only achieve success if the trade unions are conclusively defeated or broken apart into several hostile segments. The salvation of the bourgeoisie lies in disorganising the workers’ movement, subverting it, and tearing to pieces the organisations created in struggle. The unity of the trade union movement thus threatens capitalist rule. The pressure of communism is forcing these mighty reformist organisations to shift to the left, and the more that they do so, the greater the prospects for a working-class victory. It is therefore quite logical that the bourgeoisie wants the trade unions to split, to break into splinters, so as then to smash them one by one as they feud among themselves.
It must be noted that the Amsterdamers are chasing after their masters here. The past year was particularly rich in expulsions of revolutionary trade unions. Thus, as you know, the split in the French CGT took place, by and large, under the ‘ideological’ influence of the French bourgeoisie and its agents. It is no less well known that the splitting activity of the Amsterdam supporters in Czechoslovakia took place at a time of overwhelming economic depression and capitalist pressure on the working class. The more difficult the workers’ conditions in Germany, the louder the Amsterdamers shout about the danger on the left. They openly propose cleansing their ranks in order to banish this danger. Unfortunately, the question has been posed of a split in the international union movement. It is not up to us. It is not the Communists who have called for this split. We have attempted in recent years to struggle inside the trade unions, to lead them along a new path, and to revolutionise the workers’ organisations. But we have always systematically and methodically advocated winning over the unions, not destroying them. It is not us who placed this split on the agenda.
What are our tasks today? What must the Communists do in face of these grave threats against all the conquests of the working class? Communists must strengthen their work tenfold and oppose this split with all the means at their disposal. We will not permit this split: that must be the slogan of the Communists. We will not permit the split, because it weakens the workers’ movement of every country. We will not permit the split, because at the present moment it will throw the working class back many years, weakening its capacity for resistance and giving the employers a new weapon against the working class, a new opening to consolidate their rule. We will not allow a split. That should be not just a slogan but the focus of all our practical activity.
Every step by the Communists in the trade unions must focus on the creation and consolidation of unity of our organisations. Where a split has already taken place, and a parallel organisation has been created against our will, the Communists must undertake a most serious and systematic struggle to reunite the movement. The struggle must be waged on two fronts. It must be waged against the reformists, the agents of the bourgeoisie who wish to split the workers’ movement at all costs in order to weaken it. And it must also be conducted resolutely and seriously against the so-called Lefts, who believe that splitting the trade unions is the salvation of the working class. This radicalism has nothing in common with our revolutionary Marxist point of view.
In France we have had radicals who gladly fell for the reformists’ provocations. They wanted to waste no time in getting down to a little group of just themselves. We had radicals in Czechoslovakia who believed that the best thing for workers’ organisations was to be isolated from other workers’ organisations. That is the viewpoint of the leader of the farmworkers’ federation, who a year ago was doing everything possible to stay outside the unified trade union movement of Czechoslovakia. Our slogan is for a unified trade union movement, and Communists therefore must not pull their members out of the reformist unions. For if we pull them out and form them up into revolutionary trade unions, we cannot have the necessary influence on the reformist organisations and force them into unity with the revolutionary organisations. In such cases the Communists must turn their earnest attention toward applying the united front tactic.
It is now obvious that the capitalist attack on the most elementary conquests of the working class cannot be beaten off without an agreement between the parallel trade unions. The Communists must explain to the masses the necessity of such an understanding between the trade unions for common defence to protect wage levels and improve living conditions. The leaders of the parallel trade unions must be compelled to come to an agreement on a common course of action. This must become the programme of practical action for the Communist Party itself. We must not let ourselves be confused by the attacks of the reformists or the anarcho-syndicalists, who display more zeal than understanding, or even by attacks from Communists. This policy must be carried out systematically with tremendous effort and tenacity. It will lead in action, in practice, to the unification of the parallel, rival organisations.
The struggle for a united front of the trade union movement is the most important issue before the Communist parties of every country. We know why the reformists want to split the trade union movement. They want not only to free themselves from ongoing criticism and revolutionary ferment but also, through the split, to make social revolution itself impossible.
Once they had decided never to accept being placed in a minority, the Amsterdam forces logically had to proceed to a split of the trade union movement all around the world. That is all the more necessary for them as the confidence of workers in their reformist promises diminishes day by day. Every day the capitalist offensive drives a new nail in the coffin of international reformism, whose strength was derived from the bourgeoisie’s concessions. Even then, the bourgeoisie gave way only because it feared the revolutionary movement, but, at least in the immediate postwar period, the reformists, playing a mediating role, were able to refer the workers to successes of their policy. The ordinary worker did not notice that these reforms were granted not because of reformist policies but despite them. The reformist acts of the bourgeoisie went hand in hand with a rise in revolutionary discontent and revolutionary outbreaks.
As the revolutionary tide receded, the bourgeoisie went over from defence to attack. Today it is clear to the most ordinary worker that reformism is bankrupt. It has been shown to be powerless to maintain what was achieved in the first postwar years. The International Labour Office and the League of Nations and all the splendid promises of the Versailles Peace Treaty – all of them now appear in their true and naked form.
Reformism in its decline, sensing that its downfall is near, aims at all costs to disorganise the working class to such an extent that it is unable to replace the collapsing bourgeoisie. In response to the systematic split of the trade union movement, we – Communists as a whole and each Communist party – must declare that we will take every measure to prevent the split.
Day by day it becomes more difficult to block the split. The Amsterdam forces, having decided to liberate themselves from the workers, are taking all measures necessary towards this end. Expulsion of Communists has become an everyday, normal occurrence. And the Communist International, along with the individual Communist parties, must decide how these expulsions are to be resisted.
What are the Amsterdamers aiming at with these expulsions? They want to isolate the Communist leaders from a working class that is sympathetic to communism. They want to cut off the best revolutionary forces from the working masses, in order to maintain Amsterdam’s ideological and organisational influence on the union membership. Clearly the Communist International cannot accept a policy of isolating Communists from the workers’ movement. Communists are for unity, but they cannot sacrifice communism on the altar of that unity. And the immediate task is to carefully weigh a series of serious, practical countermeasures against this epidemic of expulsions.
As you know, the expulsions are aimed above all at the leaders. In Germany they use a system of expelling all Communists who have been elected to union posts. In Czechoslovakia it is more straightforward: the labour confederation has ordered the expulsion of the chemical and wood workers, in which a total of 110,000 workers are organised. Each country has its own method of persecuting Communists. The Communist parties must therefore develop their own methods of struggle against the reformists’ destruction of the unions.
Nonetheless, there are some general questions that apply to every country. Above all it must be stressed that our Communist parties are not making sufficient use of the constitutional means of struggle against the expulsions. All union statutes talk of the expulsion of members for specific offences. But as far as I know, the statutes do not provide for the expulsion of Communists merely because they are Communists. Yet in a number of cases, expulsions have taken place and elected union staffers have been refused certification solely for this reason. Is it possible to wage a struggle on the basis of the union statutes? It seems to us that such a struggle is possible in many countries.
The trade union statutes offer ample opportunity for such a struggle. If we made reference only to our formal rights, this will make not the slightest impression on the Amsterdamers. We would be naïve in the extreme to imagine that for a moment. And utilisation of the legal rights enjoyed by every union member should not be understood in this sense. Extensive agitation and propaganda should be developed around the expulsions question among the union members, at every general meeting, every delegates’ meeting, wherever that the workers gather from the branch of industry where expulsions have taken place. In some countries our comrades limit themselves to one or two newspaper articles and then drop the matter. In reality the expulsion from the union of even a single Communist must touch off ongoing political agitation among the members of this union in favour of readmission. A broad campaign must be carried out in the factories against the expulsions. It is always possible to raise the issue of expulsions. Especially now, when the capitalist offensive has created a very critical situation for the entire working class, every worker understands that these expulsions have an unambiguously traitorous character.
The task of Communist agitation and propaganda is to reveal the true cause of these expulsions and make these hidden motivations clear to every worker. The trade union bureaucrats should not be able to get away with such things unpunished. It must be made plain to them that such an incident will the object of constant accusations against them, not for a few days but for years. Only then will they think twice before deciding to exclude or expel the Communists from the unions.
There is more involved. Say, for example, a given local union elects its executive, and the central leadership then refuses certification. There have been cases like this in Germany. What should be done then? New elections? But the new elections will lead to the same political result. Usually, when certification is denied, the elected members are also expelled. So what should we do? Should we limit ourselves here as well to agitation, or should we try to take matters further? Obviously, we cannot limit ourselves here to a mere protest. When a union local has elected Communists, and the elections have been conducted according to the statutes, expulsion or non-certification is a shameless denial of the members’ elementary democratic rights. Assuming that the link between the members and their elected leaders is not accidental – that is, Communists were elected because they are Communists – the local must act to save its union and preserve the unity of the workers’ movement by refusing to carry out the orders of the centre. This Amsterdam high-handedness must be called to a halt. Of course this can lead to a serious conflict. The central leaders may expel the entire local for indiscipline. But no local is obligated to carry out unlawful commands of the centre. We are not for a split, but that by no means implies that we can permit the reformists to refashion the union as they see fit.
However much we may struggle against a split, the reformists’ attacks will still always target us. So Communists have a most important task in ensuring that those expelled from the unions are not left dispersed for a single moment. The task of uniting the expelled is extremely important. There are some Communist comrades who suffer from organisational fetishism and therefore believe that gathering and uniting the expelled contradicts the unity of the union movement. That point of view is absolutely false and extremely damaging. Those who gather the expelled and unite the forces scattered by reformist politics are actually working to restore the unity that has been destroyed. This creates the preconditions for the reunification of the divided and splintered pieces. Depending on the situation, the conditions of struggle, and the peculiarities of the union in question, different types of organisations will be needed. In Germany, for example, in some cases forces can be united in leagues of the expelled; in others, in the Union of Manual and Intellectual Workers.
There is no single method or form of struggle against the policy of split. Each step must be individually weighed, and this or that means of action chosen, according to the circumstances. And if the central leadership expels the elected leadership of a local, the local can withhold payment of membership dues until the matter is finally resolved. In fact, in some cases it has to do this.
That does not mean that we should advocate refusal to pay dues to the union. Every union member should continue to pay their dues, which will remain in the local’s treasury, and the amounts set by the statutes are debited, but they are not sent off until the conflict has been resolved. Does this method of struggle apply universally? Of course not. It serves as a method of struggle only in a particular situation, under specific conditions.
In general, this struggle will only lead to positive results if it has a mass character. Of course every single Communist must for his part do everything possible to prevent these expulsions. But all local and central sympathising organisations must be involved in the protest. What is the right form for the protest by those sympathetic with the expelled? The forms of such protests are very hard to determine. But there is not the slightest doubt that such a protest is necessary, that a common, collective form of action is absolutely required to put an end to the expulsion mania. Whether these organisations should express their protest in an organisational, financial, or some other form is once again a concrete question. There is not the slightest doubt that every country will find a hundred practical ways of protesting against the expulsions, depending on local conditions. It is important that the parties not limit themselves to resolutions. They must be fully aware of the central fact that if we do not overcome this tide of expulsions, if we do not succeeded in beating back the Amsterdam attacks, then the international workers’ movement will be split and the moment of victory over the bourgeoisie will be postponed.
We must note that the expulsions epidemic has gathered force since the unification of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, embracing not only individual countries but also the international associations of different branches of industry. During the last year a large number of revolutionary trade unions have been expelled from or refused admission to the corresponding international secretariats. Among those denied admission were the Russian federations of metalworkers, textile workers, clerks, woodworkers, leather workers, transport workers, postal and telegraph clerks, and so on. The only federation admitted to its international association was the food workers’ union, and even then only conditionally.
The revolutionary unions of all countries now find themselves facing the question how they should be unified. Until now there have been international propaganda committees for each branch of industry. But the systematic expulsion of entire unions from the international associations may compel the revolutionary trade unions to shift from propaganda committees to the creation of bureaus to organise new international federations. This is an immediate question, not one posed in the distant future.
What should Communists do in this arena? We must note that even the few Communists who are members of the international committees of the industry associations conduct themselves rather cold-bloodedly with regard to the expulsion of their revolutionary colleagues. That speaks above all for the fact that not all those who call themselves Communists are Communists in fact. In the near future the revolutionary unions in every country will have to unite into industry associations in order to fight with united forces for the creation of a unified international association in every branch of industry. And Communists must support in every way possible these organisations, which are carrying out the same work on an international scale as the revolutionary workers in each country.
However harsh the struggle of communists in the trade union movement may be, we will nonetheless continue to fight for the slogan raised as early as the Second Congress of the Communist International: Not the destruction but the winning of the unions. The years since then have shown this policy to be correct. The theory of destroying the unions flowed from the impatience of many Communists and often also their inability to initiate the struggle against the reformist bureaucracy. Where would the Communist International be now if it had made this viewpoint its own? It would not have been able to carry out even a tenth of the work that it has accomplished inside the trade unions of every country. There, in the stronghold of reformism; there, where the broad masses are – that is where the Communists work without rest. Let reformism persecute us, for the pleasure of the bourgeoisie. Let it try to eradicate the Communist infection at the root. Let it ally with the bourgeoisie in efforts to destroy an opposition that grows ever stronger. All will be in vain. Communism is not something that came in out of nowhere, not something brought in from the outside. It grows organically out of the womb of the working masses. It is the form of what is ripening and fermenting among the productive masses.
The Communist International is the conscious expression of an unconscious historical process, and it would therefore be insanity to abandon consistent, stubborn, systematic work in the trade unions and to raise the slogan of leaving the mass organisations in order to create our own little dwarf federations. No, it is others who are destroying the unions. It is the bourgeoisie that is destroying them. Reformist policies are destroying and weakening the workers’ trade unions. Communists will not involve themselves in that.
There are now very few people who have not learned something from the experiences of recent years. You can still find such eccentric figures in the United States, in Germany, and in some syndicalist currents. They believe that the workers’ movement will grow if the Communist sheep are separated from the reformist goats through the formation of their own, pure, dwarf trade unions. In reality the workers’ movement as a whole can only lose from that. It will lose, because Communist ferment, class consciousness, energy, and initiative will thus be cut off from their natural surroundings. That would artificially turn off the motor of revolution, dealing a very severe blow at the working class and communism.
From this flows the Communists’ slogan of winning the trade unions. But what does that mean? And here we come to the weak side of our Communist work in many countries. There are countries where winning the trade unions is understood to mean winning their leading posts. If the secretaries and chairpersons of the trade unions are Communists, many Communist parties relax – until the first shock, the first conflict. And when the conflict begins, they suddenly see that the masses have not yet been won – because winning the leading posts does not mean winning the trade unions. We have had such experiences in Czechoslovakia, in Germany, and in many other countries. What does such a policy signify? It means that our Communist parties have not yet seen the necessity of transforming a communist mood into communist consciousness. It means that they have not built Communist cells, linked by firm discipline inside a single trade union. It means that they submit the fate of the mass organisations to chance currents or the mood of this or that leader. In many countries, the great Communist work of educating the masses is not carried through. For what winning the trade unions means is winning the masses, their communist education, communist organising of the most developed layers, so that the entire society in all its ramifications from top to bottom is imbued with a communist spirit and consciousness.
Only when the Communists themselves are organised, only when they themselves are united and know what they want – only then can and should they take the initiative to unite the opposition as a whole. This must not be restricted to the unification of our own ranks. At present the trade union movement encompasses tens of millions of people. The trade unions are definitely mass organisations. Therefore the question of reciprocal relations of the party to its cells and of the cells to the opposition as a whole is the most important issue in our Communist trade union policy.
Our Communist cells and groups are the transmission mechanism, the connecting link between the Communist Party and the trade unions. How should these relationships be established? The best way to organise the work among these components can be sketched out in each country through the elaboration of an action programme. During the first period of Communist work in the trade unions, our agitation had a purely abstract character. It consisted of proclaiming Communist slogans and popularising the need for social revolution and struggle against the bourgeoisie. But this agitation did not always arise out of the specific, real needs of the country in question. The confrontation between Moscow and Amsterdam was very often quite abstract in character. That is why we have advanced so slowly and why it has taken so long for us to feel our way into the mass organisations.
Communists have the task of giving their propaganda a more specific and practical form and of adapting it to the needs of the moment. The overall demands must be drawn from the specific conditions of the workers of the given country and the given branch of industry. Propaganda must proceed from the immediate struggle to the overall tasks of the working class, and the consciousness of the masses must be raised by practical struggle. That is the only type of work that can lead us to the necessary result. Proceeding in this fashion is the best way to win the trade unions. Winning the unions consists of bringing them to apply in life our practical programme and to carry out our proposals, even when their leaders do not want to do this. This is the way – the only way – to achieve the winning of the trade unions. Of course, carrying through this policy of penetrating all the workers’ organisations, and making our slogans the focus of attention for working people, requires not just living, organised, methodical work but also an effective press. Unfortunately, Communist parties pay too little attention to our trade union press. The trade union movement gets little space in our general party publications. Not every party publishes a trade union paper, and those that exist often suffer from financial difficulties. It is as if the trade union movement were a minor question, and the trade union press could be cut back if necessary.
Without the winning of the trade unions, the social revolution is impossible. And to win the trade unions, we must devote special attention in the coming period to our trade union press. It must be developed and given a much more practical focus. The agitation and propaganda of our press must be expanded. Our press must take up not only overall political and international questions (although these are extremely important and must absolutely be examined), but also questions of specific, practical struggle, questions of tariffs, of organisational development activity, of social insurance, and so on. In a word, all issues that interest and arouse the working masses must always find a place in the columns of our trade union press. Our party press as a whole must be aware that without conquering this fortress of the reformists, we will not be able move a single step forward.
But it would not be good for us to confine ourselves solely to agitation and propaganda. Each Communist party must give prominence to determining the organisational results of our political work. Otherwise the discrepancy between the masses’ political development and organisational consolidation can lead to a whole series of defeats. Winning the trade unions is a prolonged, obstinate, systematic, and specific organisational task that does not offer immediate results but assures communism of a firm proletarian foundation for the construction of the great edifice of communism. And that task, already set by the Second Congress of the Communist International, will be carried through all the more quickly if there is less abstraction and more practical experience in the way the issues before the union movement are posed and in our approach to the winning of the masses and the unions.
Our union work, based on a practical and specific action programme, must aim at uniting the trade union movement in all countries in the Red International of Labour Unions. It must be said that between the Third and Fourth Congresses, liquidationist moods regarding the RILU surfaced in some parties. There are people who have the opinion that because we are for the united front, for the unity of the trade union movement, for the winning rather than the destruction of the trade unions, therefore the RILU must be dissolved. They think the true unity of the trade union movement would then be achieved and the task of the Communists with regard to winning the trade unions made much easier. This concept was raised in the past by Paul Levi and his supporters in Germany. There is a glimmer of this view among some Communists in other countries as well.
At first many comrades did not perceive the essence of this liquidationist position. It seemed to many that the difference concerned not principle but merely expediency. But these comrades were wrong. Liquidationist attitudes toward the RILU fundamentally implied liquidation of the Communist International. What, in fact, does liquidation of the RILU mean? It means abandoning the task of gathering the revolutionary trade union movement around an international focus; it means leaving the revolutionary forces of the international trade union movement dispersed and divided. If it were merely a question of the Communist fractions and cells in the trade unions, the matter would be very simple, because Communist forces in the union movement do not need a new International. The Communist International has carried out the task of leading and unifying the Communist movement in every country, and done this well.
The RILU is a unification of the revolutionary trade union movement in all its many forms, in all its diversity. Communists belong here, as do syndicalists of every tendency, and all left-revolutionary workers, all those who want not class peace but proletarian struggle against capitalism and its agents. That is why liquidating the RILU would substantially narrow the basis of international Communist action, which would logically lead to the liquidation of Communist organisations.
The Expanded Executive plenum put an end to these liquidationist moods. Now there is scarcely a party in which liquidationist moods of this type are of any importance. But even if no liquidationist mood exists, there is still a passive attitude to the RILU. Many Communists believe that the RILU question, while interesting, is secondary. For the Communist workers’ movement, that is a very damaging error. The revolutionary trade union movement must have a focus; otherwise the link between the Communist International and revolutionary workers of every tendency will break. Strengthening the RILU means strengthening the Communist International. The Communist parties work for themselves and the Communist International, and therefore their entire trade union work, their entire politics in the trade union movement must keep in mind this very important task of the international Communist movement.
During the brief period of its existence, the RILU has already become very powerful. There is no corner of the world where a stubborn struggle is not being waged for our programme and RILU policies. Its close ties to the Communist International have come under especially heavy fire. For that very reason, the full energy of Communist parties is needed in order to widen and deepen the work to win the trade unions and draw them toward the international centre of the revolutionary trade union movement. This process does not split the trade union movement but unifies it. We do not propose to tear separate groups of workers loose and affiliate them to the RILU. We propose – and no one can dispute our right to do this – to draw the trade unions toward the programme and policies of the RILU. Not organisational breakaways, not destruction of the trade unions, but ideological conquest of these proletarian organisations and their unification, with a revolutionary programme and policies.
Let me express the firm conviction that we will succeed in overcoming the great difficulties that the Communist International faces in the trade union field. And soon the day will come when all expressions of the workers’ movement will come together in a unified alliance, and our magnificent Communist banner will wave over all workers organisations.
1. When the Comintern was formed in 1919 its supporters were divided regarding whether Communists should work in existing reformist-dominated trade unions, and the First Congress took no position on this question. For the Second Congress debate and resolution, see Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991), vol. 2, pp. 589 – 634.
2. In June 1921, Paul Levi proposed that given the decline of the revolutionary movement in Europe, the Comintern should now consider working within traditional union structures on an international level, just as it was doing nationally. This signified dissolving the RILU. Levi was no longer a KPD member, but some trade unionists in the German party were sympathetic to his view. The trade union report by Lozovsky and Brandler at the February – March 1922 Expanded Executive conference reaffirmed the need to build the RILU, as did a March 1922 RILU resolution. The question is not mentioned in published records of the June ECCI conference.
3. The International Labour Office in Geneva was the coordinating body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), created as an arm of the League of Nations by the Paris Peace Conference in April 1919. The ILO’s governing council was made up of labour, employer, and government delegates from all League member countries. The ILO’s authority was limited to submitting recommendations to the League and its members.
4. The international secretariats were autonomous federations of trade unions in different industries, politically aligned with the International Federation of Trade Unions (Amsterdam International). From early 1920 the Comintern favoured taking part in congresses of the secretariats, while continuing to oppose the Amsterdam confederation. After the founding of the Red International of Labour Unions, pro-Amsterdam officials pushed through a policy of excluding from the secretariats all bodies affiliated to the RILU.
5. Lozovsky draws here on a biblical passage (1 Kings 12:11): ‘My father has disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions’.
6. A conference of anarcho-syndicalist unions in Berlin in June 1922 founded the International Workers Association, which claimed more than a million adherents in close to twenty countries. Its strongest components were the CNT in Spain (which did not affiliate until 1923) and the USI in Italy, each with half a million or more members. Membership of French and German affiliates was about 100,000.
7. The resolution of the founding conference of the RILU in July 1921 that established organisational ties with the Comintern had met with strong objections from many revolutionary syndicalists, who insisted on the principle of trade union ‘independence’. The dispute was resolved at the second RILU congress in November 1922, which rescinded the 1921 resolution.
8. Lozovsky is referring to the meaning of syndicalisme and its equivalents in French and other Romanic languages.
9. The Marseilles convention was held 25 – 30 December 1921.
10. The Trade Union Educational League (TUEL) was founded by W.Z. Foster in November 1920 to unite revolutionary forces working in the American Federation of Labor. When Foster joined the CP in 1921, the RILU adopted the TUEL as its U.S. section.
11. The Union der Hand- und Kopfarbeiter (UHK) was formed in September 1921 through the fusion of three revolutionary unions, with a combined membership of about one hundred thousand, concentrated in the Ruhr district. It included both Communist and non-Communist currents. Some of its components dated back to 1919, when the German Communists, then known as Spartacists, had been favourable to building independent revolutionary unions as an alternative to the ADGB. It was not until its October 1919 Heidelberg congress that the KPD adopted a policy of working in ADGB unions. After the workers’ defeat in October 1923, the UHK declined rapidly, and it merged into the ADGB in 1925.
12. Lozovsky appears to be referring to the close historical relations between the CGL and the Italian SP, which contrasted to the traditional separation between party and union in France. However, the working relations between party and union leaderships had disintegrated since 1920, as a result of the CGL leaders’ rightist course and, just before the Fourth Congress, their attempt to reach a modus vivendi with Italy’s new fascist rulers.
13. Adopted by the CGT in 1906, the Amiens Charter was a programmatic platform for revolutionary syndicalism. See www.marxists.org/history/france/cgt/charter-amiens.htm.
14. The concept of an ‘organic link’ between the RILU and the Comintern was the nub of objections by French revolutionary syndicalists at the first RILU congress in July 1921.
15. Rosmer’s theses on the trade unions were amended and approved by a parity committee of representatives of the French CP’s Left and Centre in September 1922, as part of an ECCI-sponsored effort to forge a united leadership. In early October, however, the unity process disintegrated, and Rosmer’s text was sharply attacked by leaders of the Centre.
16. See ‘Le Congrès national et la crise du parti’, in Bulletin communiste, 43, 19 – 26 October 1922.
17. The declaration by Monatte et al., published 9 November 1922 in Bulletin communiste, stated that the signatories ‘attribute to the trade unions an essential role in the revolutionary struggle for proletarian emancipation, and assign to the party a supportive rather than directing role’.
18. Beginning in November 1920, the agricultural workers union, headed by Václav Bolen, refused to pay dues to the Social Democratic-led trade union federation. Bolen persisted in this stance despite strong objections of the Communist leadership, causing his union to be excluded from the federation’s congress in November 1921.
19. Responding to suggestions within the Comintern that the RILU be disbanded, the Expanded ECCI conference of 24 February – 4 March 1922 declared that the united front tactic did not imply any retreat from the RILU’s principles, programme, or policies and ‘strongly and categorically condemned’ impulses in some parties to dissolve the RILU.