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. 621-630.
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.
Comrades, the debate that unfolded yesterday following my report shows above all that we are in agreement regarding the essence of this question and the principles at stake here. But some differences of opinion exist among us regarding the form and methods of practical Communist work in the trade unions. In my opinion, some comrades have expressed ideas that are incorrect. I will begin with the objections of Comrade Heckert.
I referred in my talk to the fact that certain cases have arisen in Germany where our comrades did not act with sufficient skill, leading to unfavourable results for the Communist movement. I will cite only two examples: that of the Federation of Manual and Intellectual Workers [UHK] and that of the Federation of Farm Workers.
We agree entirely with our KPD comrades that all is not well with the UHK. What is the Federation of Manual and Intellectual Workers? It is an organisation encompassing various syndicalist, Communist, and unaffiliated forces. It includes many backward workers who do not yet have a clear and defined understanding of communism in either theoretical or practical terms, but who are good, battle-ready revolutionaries. It is natural that our influence with such an organisation will be different in its forms and methods than it is with an organisation directly affiliated to the Communist Party.
When we encounter confusion in the Communist Party, we take decisive measures against it, the nature of which can be organisational, broadly political, or related to party politics. But when we face confusion of this sort in a non-party organisation, we must develop comprehensive educational, political, and organisational activity in order to instil communist class consciousness in non-party masses.
The disagreement between me and Comrade Heckert does not relate to whether this activity to raise the communist consciousness of the proletarian masses should be carried out, but to the way it is conducted. The criticisms that our German comrades are now energetically raising with regard to the UHK are of course fundamentally correct. The UHK is a confusionist organisation. But a number of measures that the German comrades took against the UHK were incorrect, because these actions could drive good revolutionary forces away from the Communist Party.
A conference of party and trade union staffers held in Berlin illustrates this problem. In a conflict between the employers and miners in the Ruhr district, the miners planned to launch a strike in two weeks. The old miners’ union proposed to inform the employers about the strike in advance. Every worker had to sign an individual notification regarding the strike. That was an extremely unusual roundabout approach, but it could possibly have exerted some pressure on the employers. The reformist union took this decision in the hope that it would reassure the working masses who had been aroused by the employers’ offensive. But the UHK declared that this tactic was inacceptable. They said that it was an opportunist procedure, and they recognised only revolutionary methods of struggle, and they would not sign and send off any such notifications to the employers.
The party opposed the UHK’s policy. It told the UHKers that if the reformists are taking a certain step, they should do so likewise, while explaining to the workers: ‘This step is insufficient. More radical, revolutionary methods of struggle are needed against capitalism. But if you do not sign the declaration proposed by the old miners’ union, revolutionary workers will say that you are just playing with words, while you reject united struggle’. The UHK was in the wrong in this case, acting on the basis of abstract ‘eternal’ principles rather than the requirements of reality.
We held a conference in Berlin, in which the secretary of the Communist organisation in Rhineland-Westphalia took part. In this meeting I asked Comrade König, ‘How many members are there in the UHK of Rhineland-Westphalia?’ He told me there were 70,000.
And how many members in the party? His answer was 29,000.
So I asked a final question, ‘How is it possible that with 29,000 members in the party you are not able to influence the UHK?’
Comrade König told me frankly, ‘Even among the Communists there is much confusion’.
At which I said, ‘If confusion is so widespread in the ranks of the party, it must cure itself, before it undertakes to stamp out confusionism among the non-party UHK members’.
Certainly, compared to the German workers’ movement as a whole, the UHK is an insignificant force, with only 150,000 members. But among them are 120,000 miners in the Ruhr district, and that is a force that can by no means be ignored or remain unnoticed.
The RILU [Red International of Labour Unions] and the Communist International succeeded in resolving the conflict that was brewing between the KPD and the UHK. All of the RILU’s proposals were ultimately adopted by the UHK’s last congress.
Comrade Heckert has asked how we can organise the workers who are leaving the trade unions, and whether this activity will promote a policy of splitting the unions. In my opinion, we have to consider this question thoroughly. Let us take for example the German farm workers’ federation. This union had 500,000 members or more. In two years it has lost 200,000 to 300,000 members. We have a choice. Either we remain inactive and say, ‘Good, you can go’, or the KPD takes on the task to organise the workers who are leaving this union.
Do we run the risk of being accused of splitting the trade unions because we organise these forces who have left the unions? Of course not. If we do not organise these workers, we are not Communists. For us, as Marxists, the organisation is not a goal but a means of achieving our goal. We are fighting for the unity of the trade union movement, but we cannot sacrifice to an abstract principle the organisation of hundreds of thousands of workers.
I will now speak of France. Many comrades will say that the speech by Comrade Lauridan was a call to battle against syndicalism. I do not agree. It is an appeal for Communist dignity. Lauridan talked to us about the most ordinary things, which are nonetheless the most essential for every Communist. What he wants is also what we want. We want Communists in the trade unions and cooperatives always to remain Communists. They must act as Communists everywhere – not isolated, disconnected, but unified by a collective Communist will. We pose the question above all whether the Communist Party of France had its own trade union policy. It had resolutions on the trade union question but no trade union policy, because it enjoyed no collective influence and because there was no will to carry out such a trade union policy. We want Communists to apply our practical slogans, our ideas and points of view, our decisions and class-struggle methods. And it must be added that wherever Communists are together, even if there are only three of them, they must always, when required, come to agreement.
When I came to Saint-Étienne, I asked our Communist comrades how it is possible for two or three thousand anarchists to exert more influence in the trade unions than the Communist Party with its hundred thousand members? Is that because one anarchist is worth fifty Communists? That can only happen if the Communists do not want to carry out communist work and hold themselves aloof from their party. A Communist who is not aggressive is not a Communist. I mean aggressiveness not verbally but in reality, in active struggle against the bourgeoisie, in which Communists must always take the lead. To be a Communist does not just mean having a membership card. It means being deeply convinced of the correctness of the Communist programme and tactics.
Is it true, I ask, that anarcho-syndicalists print articles in the Communist Party’s publications that are directed against the Communist International, the RILU, and the Communist Party itself? You will concede that this was actually the case. Is it true that anarcho-syndicalists develop their propaganda in the French Communist Party’s publications? Yes, it is true. I could provide hundreds of examples. Is it true that there was a bloc between some anarcho-syndicalists and members of the Communist Party?
Lauridan: They signed a secret agreement.
Lozovsky: Yes, certainly! Communists signed a secret agreement with anarcho-syndicalists.
How did the Communist Party respond to the publication of this agreement? When the agreement was published, the Central Committee of the party took no measures to call to order the Communists and Communist supporters who had signed this agreement in secret.
Cachin: With your permission, there was a trade union commission, assigned responsibility for work in the unions. The chairman of this commission was Comrade Tommasi of the left wing. He did not make a single report on these matters to the Central Committee. Responsibility must be precisely determined, and not just always blamed on the same people.
Paquereaux: That is an accusation directed against the other current.
Lozovsky (continuing): Please be assured that at this point I am not trying to blame anyone. I believe that you and I agree that the chairman of a commission, regardless of the current he belongs to – left, right, or centre – should be removed from the party if he does not carry out his responsibilities. (Applause. Interjection by Lauridan: ‘Very true’.)
Neither the trade union commission nor the Central Committee took any action against the party members who signed an anti-Communist agreement. In my view, that is an abnormal occurrence. Whether it is left, right, or other comrades who fail in their duty, responsibility rests on the party in its totality.
We can determine that at present the party as a whole does not have an influence in the French trade union movement corresponding to its numbers. If the Communist Party was cohesive and united in its actions, its influence would be ten times as great.
Now I would like to raise another question that is perhaps a bit awkward. After the Saint-Étienne congress, I read an article of Comrade Frossard, in which he writes, in part, ‘In the trade union movement we are followers of the glorious tradition of Jean Jaurès’. We have the deepest respect for the memory of Jaurès. But his traditions are not communist in character. We can say that without any fear of dishonouring his memory. Jaurès was one of the outstanding leaders of the Second International. He gave his life for his deep convictions. But our respect for him should not lead us to hold that everything he did was right. No, Jaurès’s policies are unacceptable for the Communist Party. If the Communist parties lived from tradition, they would not achieve much. There are useful traditions that we have to take into account, and also bad traditions that we must reject.
There is also another kind of tradition in the French trade union movement. The traditions of the industrial proletariat of northern France are different from those of the small craftsmen of Paris. The strength of the industrial regions lies in the linkage of the trade unions with the political movement. And if we are to take traditions into account, I prefer the superior traditions of northern France.
Finally, I have something more to say on France. The Communist Party of France has during the entire recent period lacked a defined and clear position on the trade union question. Indeed, they feared taking such a position and were constantly sneaking a look at the syndicalists. But with all due regard to the syndicalists’ autonomy, the French Communists should not forget that they themselves are just as autonomous and independent, and they must have the courage not always to heed the syndicalists but to express their own point of view.
I will now move on to Italy, to the remarks of Comrade Tasca. He portrayed a sorrowful picture, in which even Bernstein and reformism gained mention. What was it in my report that provided the basis for the dreary picture portrayed by Comrade Tasca? What did he find shocking? It was my statement that life cannot be adapted to theses, but rather that theses must be adapted to the requirements of life. He believes he has seen something in these words that is reminiscent of Bernstein. Of course what I said had nothing in common with Bernstein’s principles.
The reformists say that the final goal can be achieved through reforms, without any exertion. We on the other hand say that on the foundations of daily struggle we will organise an army, ready for battle, to defeat the bourgeoisie and achieve our final goal, communism.
Communism is our final goal. How will we achieve it? In different ways, because in each country the condition of the working class has its unique features, and each country is at a different stage, a different point on the road leading to our goal. We must take these peculiarities of each country into account and apply the corresponding policies. Such a conception is in no way equivalent to Bernstein’s rejection of the final goal. The fears of Comrade Tasca are therefore without foundation.
We are today confronted with strong reformist unions in which a vast educational effort must be carried out in order to alter the ideology of the working masses. We are rather far removed from that goal, because we have to overcome a large number of historical difficulties. These difficulties consist of the abnormal relationships of many Communist parties to the trade unions that arose on the basis of parliamentary socialist traditions.
What is the essence of Point 20 of my theses? This point states that in the countries where the party is not yet strong enough and where an internal struggle is still taking place, such reciprocal relationships between trade unions and the party must be created in a form corresponding to the current situation. In France, as you know, a distinct party grew up inside the trade unions that was known as syndicalism. Our task is to unite the best forces in the present Communist Party and the unions. On the basis of common action, the best forces of both organisations will come closer and closer to each other. Out of this process a true and unified Communist Party will take shape, a true vanguard of the French proletariat. The two parties, syndicalist and communist, are not developing along parallel lines that never meet. No, their lines will come together, and the Communist Party of France will then finally be organised.
When we determine the principles of our work in this or that country, we must start with the real relationship of forces and the current relationships that have evolved in each country between the trade unions and the party. That is why we included Point 20 in the theses. In doing this, we followed the advice of Lassalle: Say what is; say the truth, whatever it may be.
Comrade Tasca told us that the RILU is no more than a propaganda bureau and that if it wished to be more, if it wished to become a centre unifying the international revolutionary trade union movement, this would cause a split in the world trade union movement. That assertion is incorrect. Of course we are a centre for propaganda, but at the same time we are an organisation. The RILU’s specific character consists of the fact that it includes not only the revolutionary organisations affiliated to it directly but also the revolutionary minorities in the trade union federations that belong to Amsterdam. The RILU is a true international organisation, enjoying great moral and political authority among the working masses. If we were to decide to withdraw from the Amsterdam trade unions all the working masses sympathetic to us in all countries, and establish immediate and exclusive relations between them and the RILU, this would mean a split. But because we do not desire a split, we say that despite all the difficulties we will remain inside the Amsterdam trade unions and work there in the interests of the RILU.
Comrade Tasca spoke of the factory councils. This question was taken up at the Second Congress, and I do not believe we need to go into it here. The factory council movement in Germany at present is an enormous mass movement. But I repeat that we will not take up this question here, since it is dealt with in the theses on the Communist International’s overall tactics.
Then there is the question of when the national organisations should declare their affiliation to the RILU. That is a tactical question. If a country’s trade union confederation is with us, we say: You must affiliate to the RILU. In the interests of clarity, I would like to illustrate this point with an example. We proposed to the official representatives of the Italian workers’ confederation that they join the RILU. They signed a document with us, which they then themselves tore up. Whether the official organisation joins us or not, we are still against a split. One thing is clear: we must develop revolutionary communist activity in the trade unions. We must spur the reformist organisations to action. Forms and methods of work must be found in each country that bring to us the broad working masses in their full extent and thus safeguard the unity of the trade union movement.
The policy we are recommending regarding affiliation to the RILU is however considered incorrect by many trade union organisations. In Norway, for example, 80% of the working class sympathise with us. Twice already the national organisation of Norwegian trade unions has decided to join us. Their hesitations however arose from the fact that 20% of the members of Norwegian unions sympathise with Amsterdam. Is this a split, when a union organisation where only 10% or 20% of the members are reformist in outlook joins us? Certainly not! We declare that the minority must stay in the trade union and subordinate itself to the majority. That is what we do, when we are in the minority. Certainly the majority should not be subordinate to the minority. In a situation where our supporters are a majority in a union organisation, their duty is to affiliate officially to the RILU.
Now I will speak of the international federations [in each industry]. No one can question the right of the international propaganda committees to carry out propaganda on a national and international level. A union that joins an organisation carrying out propagandistic activity still remains a member of its international federation. It continues its work in the international federation, seeking to win as large as possible a proportion of its organisations away from the federation’s ideological influence and toward our political beliefs.
We do not wish to carry out a split in the international industry federations. When the Russian and Bulgarian trade unions requested to become members of the international federations, they were thrown out. They went back again and were once again shown the door. They went back yet again, because they do not want a split. But at the point where the Amsterdamers represent only the trade union leadership and the workers are ready to follow us, we will not hesitate to create our own international organisation.
The final question that we wish to take up here is that of Czechoslovakia. There are at present two trade union organisations in Czechoslovakia. The split in Czechoslovakia took place in much the same manner as in France. Here too there were mass expulsions of revolutionary workers from the trade unions, and the minority then organised and called a congress to re-establish unity.
At the present moment we face the accomplished fact. We have to deal with two parallel organisations. I would like to refer to a characteristic aspect of the activity of our comrades in Czechoslovakia. About ten months ago, in March, the Communists were in a position to obtain a majority at the congress of the trade union confederation. What then happened? Many Communists in Czechoslovakia want to be ‘independent’ of the party – fewer than in France, but nonetheless a quite considerable number. The large federation of farmworkers, led by Comrade Bolen, refused before the congress to pay its membership dues. It stuck to this position for six months and succeeded in getting its representatives excluded from the congress.
How did the party respond to this? I must add that Comrade Bolen, who leads the farmworkers federation, is also a member of the party Central Committee. It did nothing at all. The reformists would have had exactly the same number of votes as the Communists, if fifty comrades had not remained outside the congress solely because of the money question. But at that time the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia feared gaining a majority at the congress, which would have landed it in many subsequent difficulties. And what was the final outcome? The reformists expelled the revolutionary unions and carried out a split that took place under conditions that were very difficult for our comrades.
After I returned from Saint-Étienne, I conducted negotiations with the comrades from Czechoslovakia, and we worked out ways to counter the split. We settled on a number of methods of struggle and made it clear that we did not want a split.
I would now like to direct your attention to a different question. Our Czechoslovak comrades decided at their congress to create a unified [trade union] organisation, abolishing the individual independent federations. (That is what has happened in France in the Moselle department.) The individual industrial federations were to become divisions of a unified national trade union organisation. When the comrades sent us this plan, we told them: Be careful! That is the future of the organisation, not its present. Right now many workers sympathetic to communism are still influenced by corporatist prejudices, which are difficult to overcome. The attempt to create a completely unified organisation in a single stroke will surely provoke internal opposition.
We will deal with this question in more detail at the RILU congress, which will fully examine organisational issues and relationships between the local sections and the centre. But it must be stressed that the Communist International and the RILU told these comrades: Be careful. You will have difficulties on this road, because you will encounter resistance, and the resistance will come from your own ranks.
Lauridan: You are quite right. The same difficulties arose when the unions were fused in Moselle department.
Lozovsky: My conclusion is straightforward. International communism now represents a powerful force. We can say that it is the only revolutionary force in the entire world. When we discuss the issues in each country with such passion, fervour, and sometimes also in a sharp tone, this is because an incorrect policy in one country impinges on other countries. Irresolution and vacillation in one country disrupts the unified Communist front and drives back international communism as a whole. We want our work in every country to be organised in a way that expands our influence from day to day. We do not want a French, Dutch, and German communism, as we had in the Second International, where socialism had a national character. We are distinguished from the other Internationals by the fact that the Communist International and the RILU are genuine world organisations, in which international interests outweigh national interests.
Through mutual criticism, collective work, and collective improvement of our activity in each country, we will make it possible for the Communist International to carry through its task – the overthrow of capitalism – to a victorious conclusion. (Applause)
20. The Saint-Étienne congress of the CGTU (25 June – 1 July 1922) was marked by a struggle between the revolutionary syndicalists of La Vie ouvrière, in which some CP members were active, and an anarchist current. A Communist motion for affiliation to the RILU did not win wide support. The Vie ouvrière group proposed affiliation on the condition that the principle of syndicalist autonomy was preserved, and this passed by a two-thirds majority.
21. François Mayoux, with his wife Marie and about a dozen others, submitted a statement in November 1921, on the eve of the Marseilles congress, maintaining that unions should not in any way be influenced by the party or drawn into support of electoral struggles. ‘We belong to the party in order not to omit any form of action’, the statement said, but ‘the revolutionary direct action of the unions can be promoted only by the work of unionists’, and not by the influence of non-union communists. François and Marie Mayoux were expelled at the October 1922 Paris congress of the French CP as ‘unrepentant syndicalists’. Mayoux’s name is given as ‘Magoux’ in the German text.
22. See ‘Theses on the Trade Union Movement, Factory Committees, and the Communist International’, Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! vol. 2, pp. 625 – 34.
23. 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.
24. Lozovsky is referring to the division in Czechoslovakia between the Social Democratic-led unions and the revolutionary unions they expelled during 1922. A congress of the Red unions 26 – 29 October formed the International All-Trade Union Federation, with a membership of more than 300,000, by its own estimation, or 89,941, according to the State Statistical Office.