THE first period in the post-war development of the trade unions is marked by the influence of the Russian revolution. It is known that even the February revolution of 1917 brought in something new in the war itself, and mainly in the international labor movement, for it cut through the black cloud which covered up the whole so-called civilized world and brought in a ray of hope for the liberation of the exploited and down-trodden.
The fact of the Russian revolution in itself had an influence in strengthening those movements which had been forming themselves within the international labor movement, which were striving to end the war. We have to point out that the acceptance of the Russian revolution by the international socialist and even the trade union movement was different, depending on the territorial, geographical and diplomatic relations of the various countries.
For the leading Austrian and German trade unions the Russian revolution was the beginning of the disintegration of the Allies, and they from the sheer practical consideration, if they did not congratulate the revolution, anyway were glad that Russia ceased to be a danger to their “dear fatherland.” On the other hand, in the leading circles of the trade union movement of the Allied countries, the Russian revolution was looked upon as something that would strengthen the democratic front of the Allies against Germany. In this way, from the beginning of the Russian revolution, the attitude of the different trade union circles was dictated by the expected success in arms of one or the other military coalition.
This official view of the leaders of the trade union movement was met by something new which was brought by the Russian revolution. That new thing was the following:
We know that to the social patriots of central Europe including among them most of the leaders of the trade unions which played a leading role during the war, the struggle against Czarism was that triumph which had to play the biggest role in raising the military spirit of the masses. Czarism fell and, by that for the social-patriots of Central Europe, this monster against which they claimed to defend their “fatherland” no longer existed. On the other hand, the Russian revolution in its first period bettered the position of the social-patriots of the Allied countries, because they who fought for “culture and civilization” were
the Allies of Czarism and the mere possibility of alliance with Czarism for the high ideals of defending “democracy and culture” was very difficult to explain.
We should also point out that at the beginning the revolution appeared somewhat to help the Allies. By using the word “Allies” we do not mean the leaders of the government at that time, but the union leaders of the Allied countries. It seemed to the union leaders that they gained something as at present liberal friends will not be allied any more with Czarism but with not less but maybe more liberal Russia, with a republic under the leadership of Kerensky.
But these gains which they tried to realize were quickly evaporated. In the leading circles of labor, and especially in the trade union movement they began to look with great fear at the growing “anarchy,” as it is known, began to appear about June, 1917. We will not stop here, to explain how they sent to us their “socialist ambassadors,” how La Fon, Moute, and Cachin — at present Cachin is a Communist but at that time was not-were given the mission of bringing Russia into the folds of “democracy,” otherwise stated “to drag Russia back into the war.” We will not stop here to explain how the Belgians sent to us their wonderful speakers, and how the British and Americans worked to the same end. There were attempts from the labor movement, from the trade union organizations of the Allied countries to influence the Russian revolution, to bring it into the folds of the Allies by the promises that were made.
It is well to point out also that French imperialism — giving the devil his due — was very able in conducting agitation and propaganda for the purpose of fooling the masses. They prepared already the sending to us from France as a semi-official representative but with plenary powers, the leader of the Metal Workers, Merrheim, who was in the cabinet circles, and if it did not succeed it was our fault, the fault of the Russian workers, for we arranged suddenly for them the October Revolution. On the other hand, from the side of the labor circles of Europe they considered the revolution from the point of view of “What will the revolution give to conduct and continue the war?”
But the Russian revolution in its further October development, reflected on the laboring masses; it created an enthusiasm, a great encouragement, for the revolution itself. From the moment of the October revolution there begins a new epoch in the war itself as well as in the international labor movement. Therefore, in order to understand the shapes which the labor movement has taken in Western Europe it is necessary to understand the general relation of forces and that new force — the Russian revolution — and then we will be able to judge the influence of its post-October period.
The October revolution made such a great change in the picture of the labor movement that it brought to the foreground the question of ending the war. As this was the central question for the labor movement of all countries, the end of the war brought in a certain change in the trade union organizations of all countries.
How was the October upheaval accepted in the Western European trade union movement? Again, in different ways, depending on the diplomatic coalitions. The reformists were against the Bolshevik Bashibuzuhs (barbarians) who broke down all principles of “democracy,” “eternal rights” etc., but even this oposition was different in Central Europe than it was in the Allied countries. In Central Europe they looked upon the October revolution, and later on upon the Brest Litovsk Peace as a liquidation of the enemy’s power. Thus, the trade unions of Central Europe, although opposed to the October revolution, at the same time considered it as a somewhat unexpected aid and relief in the sense of liberating the necessary forces for the fight on the Western Front.
Entirely different was the conception of the October revolution in the countries of the Allies. Here our exit from the war was considered an unheard of violation of all laws of god and man. They looked upon us almost as violators of a sworn promise, although you know we never gave any promises. All promises were made by Nicholas II, and after him by Kerensky. However, their relations to Soviet Russia in every country has been changing, according to the coalitions and new groupings, depending on the changes of relations of forces, etc. That is why we had new groupings and new alignments also in the trade union movement.
What were these new grouping of forces? I mentioned previously that the question of ending the war by Soviet Russia was presented not in a theoretical way, but in practice, and therefore in the consciousness of the masses this question was brought in, not in the form of an illegal proclamation, but as an historical occurence which cannot be covered up by the military censorship. It was impossible to hide from the masses the fact that Russia ended the war — was through with the war. And the problem of the reformists was that this end of the war which already was a fact of life, should be used for the further mobilization of the masses on one hand, and mobilization of these masses against the revolution itself on the other. That was their main problem.
At the time when the leading center of the reformist part of the trade union movement was trying to solve this problem, in the masses of France, Germany and England this ending of the war in fact brought to us a wave of sympathy and the desire to do the same thing. Thus, the end of the war changed the inner groupings, it made stronger the international groupings and that feeling which had not definite characterization during the war, and which was called “pacifism.” The Russian revolution itself, the ending of the war by us, strengthened the general desire for peace on one hand, and on the other — the labor pacifism, that is, the tendency of the workers also to end the war.
The Brest Litovsk Peace was the culminating point around which the struggle of the working masses of the world for peace concentrated. If you will take the trade union literature of the period of the Brest Litovsk Peace, the German, French and English literature, we will see that the fact in itself of making the Brest Litovsk Peace, the preparation for it, was discussed by this literature in a varied manner, depending on the coalition to which each belonged.
In 1920, while in Germany, I had to make a speech before the AllGerman Factory Committee Congress, where a majority were Social Democrats. We Russians have a habit in our greetings to Western Europe of saying many unpleasant truths, and at that Congress I quoted a few remarks from the Korrespondentzblatt (central organ of the German Federation of Trade Unions), in which the German trade unionists expressed themselves about the Brest Litovsk Peace. For instance, the following: “It is not in the interest of Germany to safeguard the unity of Russia,” This was stated by the central organ of the German trade union movement at the time when General Hoffman was knocking his fist on the table demanding the signing of the Brest Litovsk Peace without any changes as proposed by the German military staff. There is some more; there is a statement, for instance “Surely the Peace as signed is not entirely satisfactory to us, nevertheless it is a great move ahead on the way of establishing the principles of democracy in those countries which were formerly under the oppression of Czarism.”
I could quote much more from these exceptional articles, but when I quoted them in 1920, at that Congress where over a thousand people were present, three-fourths of whom were Social Democrats, I heard a remark behind me in the presidium, “Unheard of impudence!” That was a remark of Humbrecht, but the members of the Congress were sitting with lowered heads. After I quoted, I said: “You can now imagine, after your experience with the Versailles Peace which repreaents a worse edition of Brest Litovsk, how we Russian workers felt when reading such things at the time of Brest Litovsk.” The Brest Litovsk Peace, as well as the Russian revolution was considered by the reformists exclusively from the point of view of the “dear fatherland,” and the interests of the particular state.
If we will take the literature of the Allied countries we will see that all that has been written about the Blest Litovsk Peace by the leaders of the trade union movement of France, England, Belgium, etc. without mentioning the United States — Gompers is still writing such things, which proves absolutely his impaired mental capacity — we will see that they considered the Brest Litovsk Peace mainly as an injury to the interest of their “fatherland.”
The reasons for Brest Litovsk Peace are well known. However, I cannot deny myself the pleasure of mentioning an interesting moment from the struggle and quarrel within the Russian Communist Party on the question of the Brest Litovsk Peace. You know that the Party at that time almost split: For peace at any price was Ilyitch (Lenin) and in the C. E. C. there were about half and half. And here, Radek relates at one of the fiercest discussions, Ilyitch (Lenin) said: “The peasants have already voted for peace.” Radek asked, with a stare, “When?” “They voted with their feet” — answered Ilyitch — “because they are running away from the front and against this vote nothing can be done.”
This, in a general way, was the reason for the Brest Litovsk Peace. And this reason was not noticeable even to all of us, so much the less of course, to the working masses of Europe. We have to say that the Brest Litovsk Peace, and the period of great difficulty in which the revolution was after the Brest Litovsk Peace, was used during a long period as a strong weapon in the hands of our opponents, the reformists, against Communism. But, on the other hand, the fact of peace in itself brought in something entirely new into the world’s labor movement for the rank and file worker, be he a member of a trade union, or be he in Australia or Alaska, and even not knowing anything at all of what was going on in Russia; the fact in itself that the press of the whole world was against us, was cursing us, because we were confiscating banks, factories, etc., all that created a stimulation in him, a somewhat uncertain sympathy for us.
In this way we can say in a somewhat paradoxical way, that the first agitator for Bolshevism was the bourgeois press itself — for we had no Communist press in the different countries; and the more the bourgeois press was cursing us, the more sympathy it created for us. And all that, taken together, influenced the creation of that uncertain movement which, although very slowly, was growing as a left wing in the international labor movement, which at the proper moment joined with the revolutionary trade union movement and created world wide organization known by the names of Comintern (The Communist International) and Profintern (the Red International of Labor Unions). We should consider these moments, as I have already said, in order to understand the further development of the international labor movement.
There was another very important occurence which brought in a change in the picture of the world trade union movement. That was the appearance, formation, and development of the trade union movement in Russia. While I have been picturing the trade union movement of the world, Russia was not even mentioned. It is true that there were some unions in Russia, but they were so insignificant that they did not play any role at all within Russia, and so much less outside of Russia. The trade unions which were organized by us in 1905, and those developed in I9o6, had been destroyed by the victory of Stolypin (a reactionary premier). They appeared again in the period of economic revival in 1912-13 but were entirely destroyed at the beginning of the war
But in the post-war period, we see something entirely different. Together with the February revolution, with the appearance of trade unions in Russia, and especially with the October revolution, there appeared on the scene also a fourth factor in the world labor movement, one which we may call the heart of the revolutionary trade union movement, which, in short, may be characterized as the “Communist trade union movement,” which includes the best there is in the unions of the world.
Above we gave the characteristics of the three types of the trade union movement, which we marked according to their geographical lines, as the Anglo-Saxon, the Latin and the German; but if we will use the political terminology we will have: Trade Unionism, Anarcho-Syndicalism, and the Reformist or Social-Democratic trade movements.
What are the characteristics of the fourth type of the trade union movement? We characterized it as “Communist.” But, doesn’t that mean that the trade union movement is the same as the Party movement? — It is first of all Communist by its contents, by its tactics, aims and methods of struggle, although it officially is not a part of one or another party. The party is supposed to have only an ideological leadership of the trade union movement.
The fourth type of the trade union movement, which we may without exaggeration call the “Russian type” (to apply to it also a geographical term), is different from the other trade union movements in that it has never been a purely economic or purely co-operative movement. Our trade union movement was always a deeply class movement, even when it had before itself the everyday problems, it would consider them from the point of view of the general interests of the class struggle.
The fourth type of the trade union movement is different from the reformist trade union movement in that it never had as its aim the gradual transition from capitalism to socialism. Our movement is different from the anarcho-syndicalist in that it has never been anti-state in the metaphysical sense, in the abstract. The Russian trade union movement, if it is anti-state, is so only in that sense that it is against the bourgeois state. We consider the state from the following point of view: What kind of a state is it? Which class does it represent? Which class does it oppress? And from this concrete, historical point of view we consider the given, particular state. In other words, for the fourth type of the trade union movement, the decisive factor in its attitude toward the state is not the form of the state, but its social contents.
From this we can see that this type of the trade union movement has definite principles which differentiates it from all other types of the trade union movement. We will not dwell upon it in detail. Otherwise we would have to touch the structure of our trade unions and the work of the trade unions of Russia in the different spheres. We will take only the more important things which differentiate our trade union movement from all other forms of trade union organization.
It can be said without exaggeration, that the trade union movement of the fourth type, that is, the Russian trade union movement, has absorbed all that which makes for strength and revolutionary spirit in all other separate types of the trade union movement of different countries. Thus, for instande, we have a close similarity to the syndicalists in the sense of bringing forward the class problem, the revolutionary struggle and the direct action of one class against the other. But we also have some points which are similar to those of the reformists of Germany — in the sense of centralization, in the sense of striving for the maximum concentration of forces. We have less in common with the Trade Unionists’ movement, although we do agree with them in the way they conduct their stubborn economic struggle. But the difference between us is that they are concentrating their struggle and stubborness exclusively on the everyday problem, without passing the borders of that problem, at a time when we are using these qualities for wider aims and problems.
T1nis, we see that a fourth type of the trade union movement has accepted all that is really revolutionary, which could be taken from the trade union movement of the world.
The first characteristic of the post-war trade union movement, is its stormy growth. I believe there is no historical parallel of such a rapid development in the trade union movement and also in the labor organizations in general. We will take a few figures and then we will consider the reasons for such phenomenal increase. We will take the figures of 1919 and later those of 1920, etc.
According to official statistics of 1913, Great Britain had 4,000,000 members, in 1919, after the end of the war, there were 8,000,000 members. In Germany, in 1913, there were 3,500,000 members, and in 1920, they had 12,000,000 members. In the United States, where the changes were not so stormy as in other countries, in 1913, there were 2,700,000, and in 1919 5,000,000. In France the official statistics for 1913 shows 1,000,000, and in 1919, 2,500,000 members of trade unions. Such growth of membership we have also in the unions of Italy, Belgium, and which is more characteristic, even in the neutral countries. We see that the workers joined the trade union organizations in great masses.
What are the reasons for such unprecedented growth? First of all the uncertainty created in the ranks of the workers right after the end of the war as to the future. The beginning of demobilization created before the working class an array of very important problems, and before the wide masses arose the question of how to retain and safeguard their interests. Individual workers, during the war, felt themselves somewhat independent, although of course the more conscious part joined the unions. But the masses, the millions, did not go to the unions. At the end of the war the general uncertainty, the threat of loss of war-time gains, created an atmosphere which stimulated the joining of any organization where they might collectively decide their problems.
After the war, individual workers felt less independent than during the war. The colossal world events which they lived through, participants of which they had been, forced them to think matters over.
We know that the war itself which resulted from the imperialist contradictions, had as one of its main aims the killing of the socialist movement (at least many of the bourgeoisie were of that opinion), but in fact, although the first year it seemed did kill all the revolution that had been in the working class yet — at the end of the war — notwithstanding the colossal blood-letting which they had just lived through — in the masses had grown up a great discontent that had to find some organized expression. This uncertainty of the tomorrow, the general social dissatisfaction, forced the individual workers to seek a shelter, a collective family, called forth the attraction to the trade unions.
The masses went into unions looking for a better life, for better conditions of work, looking for answers to those cursed questions that were placed before them by the war. In this colossal stream into the unions went class conscious and also less conscious elements: Those who had already found answers to the questions placed before them by the war, and those who were looking for these answers. The working class went to the unions, and that is the most characteristic feature of the post-war period.
During the war and previously we had in the trade unions the more conscious part of the proletariat; but right after its end we see how the workers joined the unions in masses. This peculiarity of the post-war period of the trade union movement, we should remember in order to understand our tactics of winning the unions, our opposition to the splits, our desire to win over the organization as a whole, for we consider the trade union organizations not as a union of privileged, individuals, but as an organization which unites if not the majority, at least a great part of the workers of a given industry.
But, alongside this development of the trade union movement, we have in the post-war period also the development of what we may call “the reformist illusions.” The development of these illusions is the second peculiarity of the post-war trade union movement. Above, we gave the characteristic of reformism, and we pointed out its special features, but in the post-war period it seems that the reformists had the opportunity to demonstrate the practicability of their ideals and by reforms to show the correctness of their point of view as against the viewpoint of the revolutionary left wing element of the labor movement. How did the development of these reformist illusions appear? What are their peculiar characteristics?
It is known that the end of the war was coincident with revolution in the Central Powers. The revolution in Germany which is officially dated “the 9th of November,” has shown that in the moment of the social impact of the revolutionary collision of the class forces, the only organized forces were the working class and the employers. The old military regime, the old structure of Junkers’ Germany had fallen apart under the pressure of military defeats. The insurrection started and the strongest organized force was the proletariat; and, as in Germany, the specific gravity of the proletariat was much stronger than in other countries the role of the proletariat in the revolution could be understood.
We can, for instance, bring the following examples of the comparative importance of the German and the Russian proletariats: In Germany with a population of 65,000,000, the sick-benefit societies have insured about 22,000,000 people who are living by wage labor. In Russia, the maximum number of proletarians of all kinds, if we will include also the agricultural proletariat, is only between 8,000,000 and 9,000,000, and that is to a population of 150,000,000. By comparing these figures the specific gravity of the German proletariat will be seen.
Here another assumption appears; that in this revolution the German proletariat should have played the leading role. If the Russian proletariat in a peasant country, with a small city population, played such a leading and distinct role, so much more should the German proletariat have played such a role. But it did not conduct itself as it should have done, and up to now this is the real cause of the tragedy of the German revolution.
A few days before the revolution a conference started between the representatives of the German trade unions and the employers which ended November 15th with an agreement known in history by the name of Arbeitsgemeinschaft. This is very difficult to translate from the German, but in a general way it means “class collaboration.” Under such a name was created an organization of employers and workers for the regulation of all social questions. It was a commission which in the moment of the dissolution of the German empire had to save the basis of this empire.
The reformists themselves considered this agreement of unusual importance and, as it is natural in the German manner, tried to give it a philosophical interpretation. A philosophy was created of collaboration in all the economic and political life of the country, philosophy of equal participation by the workers and employers in the administration of things. But philosophy is one thing and life is quite another: To run industry in collaboration is impossible. As long as these collaborative commissions have been the political expressions of the shifting powers within the labor masses, as happened the moment the revolution began, so much did they play, from the start, a conservative role.
They were conservative because they selected one moment out of the revolutionary process and made it permanent, without giving the revolution opportunity to develop. And what were the essentials of the revolution. Let us take the Russian revolution. The course of the Russian revolution was the swift changes of the relation of class forces, the sharpening of struggle, the growth of class consciousness going forward in forced tempo, like a falling stone, which, the closer it comes to earth the faster it falls. It was what we may call a rapid movement in the sense of growing class unity. The growth of these class forces created a shifting between the struggling classes, and if we would take as a culminating point the relation of forces in the first period of the revolution and will stop at that it will only mean to mark time.
That is why this program of marking time by the reformists was executed by them in such a brilliant way that the working class of Germany up to now cannot get out of that “brilliant” situation.
These collaborative commissions received the approval of the employers and one of the leading employers of Rhenish Westphalian province in the coal and iron syndicate, Dr. Reichardt, explaining at a meeting of the employers the reason why that collaborative agreement was signed said, literally, the following: “If we would not sign this agreement, all foundations would collapse; we succeeded with this agreement to stop these elementary forces which surely would bring about the destruction of industry and the destruction of all order.”
We think we need no de-coding of these words. What do these words mean from the lips of a leader of the employers’ organization? Let us remind ourselves of the similar expression by the leaders of the textile, iron and metal syndicates of Russia just previous to the October revolution and let us come to the necessary conclusion. We may say, and that was the belief also of the employers, that the trade unionists saved the order, production and margin of profit, and the whole old capitalist system.
But the leaders of the reformist trade union movement accepted all this as a victory of the working class. Of course, in comparison with that which had been up till the 9th of November when the iron fist of Ludendorf and Hindenburg crushed all resistance of the workers, here, perhaps, could be seen a victory; but in comparison with those objective possibilities which have been hidden in the powerful class, this agreement was the fixing of a certain moment and the holding up since that moment the labor movement as a whole.
It is known that the German revolution started with a workers’ government, the same which we are demanding at present in all countries. Immediately a government was created of Social-Democrats and Independents and the bourgeois parties stepped out.
However, this government “governed” so well that in a very short time it turned over the power to the bourgeoisie and at present is only an addition to the bourgeois parties. The reformist trade union and political movements of Germany expected that by strengthening itself with an array of reforms it would be able to use the organizing and other forces of the bourgeoisie in order to raise the political and economic structure of the country to a higher level, and then to make another step ahead, etc. And in this is contained the illusion of German trade union and political movements. It imagined the change of society, we will say, in the form of gradual steps. They stopped, in the sphere of economics — at the collaborative commissions and, in politics — at the coalition government.
I happened, at the time of the Frankfort conference in March of this year (1923) in a discussion with the Social-Democrats, to compare the tactics of the Communists and the reformists and mainly in the example of the German Social-Democracy, where I approached the question from the national point of view, from the point of view of the interests of these same Social-Democrats. I asked them: “Imagine for one moment, that the Social-Democracy of Germany at the beginning of the war would have taken an international position — what would be the results from the national point of view?” Let’s forget for a while the international point of view. If the war would have begun it would have been liquidated very quickly, for against the will of the trade unions Wilhelm would not have been able to conduct the war. There would have been no war, and of course, there would have been no Versailles Treaty. This way, from the viewpoint of expedience, your international position would, on one hand have saved millions of lives, and on the other — would exclude the very possibility for Germany of the Versailles Treaty. “The second example again is taken from the national point of view: If, at the time of the Brest Litovsk Peace, the German Social-Democracy, the German trade unions, would have acted not as the slaves of Hindenburg and Ludendorf, but in a decisive way, with strikes against the forcing upon Soviet Russia of a robber’s peace, and would have forced its government to conclude a really democratic peace, you would have split the whole Allied front, and again, Germany would not have come to the Versailles Treaty.”
So the social patriots in the final analysis are the worst enemies of their “fatherland.” Even from the purely practical point of view, the tactics of the reformists not only does not give the results which they strive for, but gives just the opposite results, destroying the country and production and leading the working class into poverty.
An attempt to use the reformist tactics we have also in the countries of the Allies, but there it was proceeding on different lines. It is known that the Allies conducted the struggle for “eternal principle,” for “eternal peace,” at least that is what they are always speaking and writing about. What kind of an “eternal peace” was achieved? At least the ten million killed in the war did receive, in fact, “eternal peace.” Just after the end of the war with this same “eternal peace” begins a new, curious and most interesting phase of Allied reformism. The reformist trade unions, as we already have mentioned, have been the foundation, the basis of the war itself, and it is clear that they were very anxiously awaiting the end of it, expecting: “The war will end and we will get everything.” The war came to an end and it was necessary to begin making the peace treaty. When the leaders of the trade unions dared to mention that they would like to participate in the working out of the treaties, they were given to understand that the time when they used to come in through the front door had passed; now they can come up the back stairs.
Above we have already characterized the feelings prevalent in the laboring masses. In the period of two years the reformist “quadrille” in which participated on one hand the leaders of the trade unions and, on the other, the political leaders of the Allied nations, never stopped; although the latter clearly saw the danger which the growth of the trade union movement represented to them. As a result of the activities of the reformists, a new institution was created which was supposed to attain all the expectations and hopes of the reformists.
During the war there was much talk of the necessity of creating a league of nations, a real league of nations. In his time Wilson proclaimed the fourteen points, which became somewhat similar to “Fourteen Commandments” for all pacifist and reformist simpletons. They were given the possibility, if not to participate in the diplomatic conferences, in conjunction with them to work on some parts of this treaty. Such leaders of the trade unions as Gompers, Jouhaux, Appleton, have been invited into the commission to work out that part of the Versailles Treaty which deals with the problems of labor on an international scale and also the creation of that institution which was supposed to regulate the questions of labor.
In the Versailles Treaty which is the most curious document ever created by human fantasy, there is a thirteenth paragraph which begins literally as follows: “Labor should not be a commodity.” You will probably be surprised to find such a clearly socialist point in the Versailles Treaty, and that Clemenceau and Lloyd-George and Orlando could have signed it.
But we should remember that the government leaders of Europe are not afraid of words, they will sign any words. They put in such a formula but Lloyd-George and Clemenceau, as practical men, understood that the center of gravity is not in this formula, that the Versailles Treaty will be enforced by the one with the biggest army.
At the time of signing the Versailles Treaty, Clemenceau, the inspirer of it, made a curious remark which Poincare is even now trying to accomplish: “In Europe there is a surplus of twenty million Germans.” This means that instead of 6$,000,000 population there should be left only 45,000,000, and there are enough means to do that. The Versailles Treaty which had for its purpose to reduce the population of Germany by 20,000,000, at the same time proclaimed such “eternal principles” as “Labor should not be a commodity,” and “Justice should triumph.”
As a result of this thirteenth paragraph, “this best part of the Versailles Treaty,” — as one reformist remarked — we have the League of Nations’ International Labor Bureau. The League of Nations is a trust of the victorious countries in which the strongest have the greater influence. In international politics the wording doesn’t mean much:
Force plays the role and this trust of the victors found it necessary to create an International Labor Bureau whose purpose was to bring about “justice” between capital and labor.
Having before it a great purpose, the International Labor Bureau was organized in the following way: In October 1919 a conference was called at Washington to which were invited the representatives of trade unions, employers’ organizations and representatives of governments which, as it is known, are “neutrals.” The bourgeoisie and the reformists liked very much to talk about the non-class rule of government, spreading widely_ the legend of the “neutrality” of government. In the report of the Amsterdam International there are many pages telling of victories the Amsterdamers attained at the Washington Conference. These victories consisted in the adoption by the Washington Conference of a program of social reform, and especially the endorsement of the eight-hour day.
It is interesting that the representatives of the governments neutral in the war voted for that program. The organizations of those countries where the eight-hour day was already won by the workers, insisted that it should be spread all over; and, of course, they declared their motives to be humanitarian, as it is well known that these are the main considerations of the employers and the governments.
The question of competition and the price of commodities also played a big role at the Conference. There were long discussions with representatives of the Japanese government which tried to prove that Japan has its peculiarities thanks to which the workers there must work twelve hours a day. But here the greatest defenders of the eight-hour day were not only the representatives of the workers organizations but also the employers of England and France, which, of course, are not interested in the principle of the eight-hour day but in the question of competition.
Finally, the program of social reforms has been adopted and as a result of the Washington Conference the International Labor Bureau was created. It is composed of six representatives of the workers, six representatives of the employers’ organizations which, we may mention, at the Washington Conference also created their international, and twelve representatives of governments: England, France, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, etc. Thus, we see that the reformists had a “brilliant victory:” Out of twenty-four representatives they have six. The director of this wonderful institution, the choice of the reformists, was Albert Thomas. The working class all over the world can now calm itself, the International Labor Bureau will do for it absolutely everything, for, at the head of it, stands such an experienced fighter as Albert Thomas.
Two questions arise in connection with the International Labor Bureau. First, why did the bourgeoisie bother itself with such a plaything? Second, what was the attitude of the working masses to this “revolutionary” creation? The bourgeoisie bothered itself with the plaything of the reformists in order to release the safety valve. Experienced engineers know that it is necessary sometimes to open the valves in order to save the engine from bursting, and the bourgeoisie also perfectly understood that directly after the end of the war it was necessary to open a few of such social valves; otherwise, the energy which accumulated in the working class would explode the whole bourgeois capitalist system. Moreover an explosion had already happened in the East and the Russian revolution represented in itself a definite fact which they had to consider while marking their strategic lines.
For such reasons, the bourgeoisie in order to open a few valves, was willing to go along the road of compromise. This gave to the reformists the possibility to say to the workers; “Now, you see, thanks to our tactics, they are giving in. We are now able to get that which would cost us under other conditions, great sacrifices.”
The bourgeoisie was consciously compromising, figuring correctly that it was better to give something than to lose all. They also calculated correctly that if they would continue to have the economic and political power in their hands, they would be able to end their compromises as soon as the masses become calm. We must point out that this same Clemenceau in a very quick manner in a few months put through the French parliament the eight-hour law in order to show that victorious France is giving something real to the working class for its colossal losses in the war.
How did this reformist activity reflect upon the mass? And why did they, in the first post-war period, follow these reformists? With the end of the war although there was enough energy and hatred accumulated within the working class, there was no willingness to fight. The war brought about a great fatigue, a tiredness, and a revolution would, in effect, mean a new civil war, a new demand for expenditure of energy, a new and bloody period. This frightened the wide masses, who still lived in hope of getting all promised them during the war, without new colossal sacrifices, to get something real.
All this taken together created more sympathy among the masses for forms of solving the social conflicts proposed by the bourgeoisie and the reformists.
Thus, in a certain historical moment, directly after the war, it was to the benefit of the bourgeoisie to keep up the illusions among the masses, and in the masses was a desire to put off the final moment of conflict. “Remove this cup from us,” prayed the labor reformists, pointing to Russia, where, together with the revolution, came great suffering, fighting on all fronts, etc.
These are the causes which led to the development of the reformists’ policies, these are the causes which created the sympathy among the bourgeoisie masses for those institutions which have been created by the ourgeoisie together with the leaders of the reformist political and trade union movement.
1. Since this lecture was delivered the whole German working class has been delivered up to the tender mercies of the Fascist General von Seeckt, agent of German capitalism, by vote of the German Social Democratic members of the Reichstag.
Next: III. The International Federation of Trade Unions