A. Lozovsky
International Council of Trade & Industrial Unions

Trade Unions in the Epoch of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

Source: The Communist International, 1921, Nos. 16-17, pp. 107-110, (3,600 words).
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

During the course of their many years’ existence the trade unions did not set themselves the tasks which are now facing the trade unions of Russia. The reason for this was that they had to do with the system of capitalist exploitation, and the more revolutionary among them in all countries were compelled, in the process of self-defence to struggle not only against separate capitalists, but against the entire capitalist system as well. In studying the hundred-year-old history of the struggle of the trade unions, we find along the course of the nineteenth century embryonic organisations of mutual relief-guild-corporative unions, arising as elementary forms of association, as primeval organisations of self-defence, which, under the pressure of concentrated capital, gradually became united into wider and larger organisations, and in the separate countries developed into powerful industrial associations, embracing hundreds, thousands and millions of workers. The history of the labour movement is the history of the transformation of dispersed workers into organised links of a large machine, which has welded together the workers of various branches of labour into organs of mutual relief on the ground of every-day economic tasks, and into organs of direct self-defence.

During the course of their struggle with capitalism, the unions came into collision with the whole capitalist system and with the capitalist State itself. Collective agreements, which, in the beginning of the development of the Labour movement had been the ideal of the unions, very soon wore themselves out. They showed that the collective agreement, although in itself a step forward, was not at all capable of solving the fundamental inconsistencies of the capitalist regime. Under the blows of united capital, the unions were compelled to become transformed into organisations for the struggle against capital, into revolutionary organisations destined, together with the political parties, to blow up bourgeois society.

But not all of the Labour movements have reached this stage. The trade unions of the different countries are even at the present moment standing at the different stages of this long historical road. We even now have tremendous workers’ organisations whose point of view is that the tasks of the unions do not overstep the limits of a capitalist society, and that the whole activity of the unions must be adapted to capitalist relations, the stability of which they do not doubt. For the majority of these unions, in so far as they did not raise the question of a social revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, the future role of the unions did not present any interest. The unions of this type regarded the future in the light of a gradual development of the democratic masses on the basis of equal rights for labour and capital, and of a wide development of democracy. If the trade unions of the Anglo-Saxon countries never raised this question, the Social Democratic unions of Germany studied the future role of the unions, but, penetrated with the spirit of reformism and slow evolution, they approached the question of the tasks of the unions in the same way as the trade union organisations. The trade unions of Germany did not go further than the ideas of equal rights for labour and capital, collective agreements, their gradual absorption into the capitalist society and similar reformist principles; and when the war broke out the entire ideology of the German trade unions became exactly similar to that of the English trade unions: neither the German nor the English unions thought of their future role; they connected the very existence of the Labour movement with the victory of the national arms.

In contradiction to the German and English unions, the trade unions of France raised the question of the role they would have to sustain on the very day after the social revolution. The revolutionary Syndicalists of France even considered that the unions were the only organisations which would carry out the revolution and realise its tasks. The fundamental principles of revolutionary Syndicalism consist therein that the unions in the centre and the local branches should take upon themselves the administration of production, that there should be no other organisations beside those which would control production, because the social revolution is directly connected with the destruction of the State and the establishment of a form of commonwealth not based on force. True, the war has equalised the French Syndicalists with their German and English antagonists. The French Syndicalists, who had been the dire enemies of all State order, became the faithful servants of a bourgeois State and the bards of National unity.

Naturally, in this period there was no question for them of the future role of the unions; their present was bound up with the bourgeois society, and on this basis they drew practical conclusions for the future.

For the first time the question of the role of the trade unions in the transitional period was raised in Russia. The young unions, which had been formed in 1905 and crushed during the period of reaction, came to life in 1917, and eight months after the beginning of the Revolution they stood face to face with the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the necessity of laying their hands on the works and factories. The October revolution was first, and most of all, an economic revolution; the very form of the Soviet power, which had called forth the furious hatred of the international and Russian counter-revolution, was closely connected not only with the political, but also with the economic, suppression of the former ruling classes. With armed force the Russian proletariat drove the bourgeoisie from its positions. The overthrow of the coalition government was accompanied with the overthrow of the bourgeoisie in the factories, the expulsion of the factory owners, the seizure of the enterprises, and their conversion into collective property. The economic struggle, which had been started in the first days of the February revolution, led to the October revolution, because politics, as the programme of the Russian Communist Party says, are concentrated economics.

From the very first days of the October revolution, the unions were faced by the question of what they were to do and how they were to do it. They stood face to face with a huge mass Labour movement and a burst of revolutionary energy throughout the vast expanse of Russia. The workers in the works and factories settled accounts directly with the owners. “All power to the Soviets, all power to the working class” was understood, and quite rightly too, as the seizure of the citadels of bourgeois society—the works and factories—by the workers. But when the bourgeoisie was driven away, the Russian trade unions stood practically before the three following issues:—

1. The mutual relations of the factory committees and the trade unions.
2. The mutual relations of the Unions and the Soviets.
3. The place of the trade union in the general system of the Soviet State.

In regard to the factory committees, it was clear from the beginning that the revolutionary unions had to be formed on the basis of the factory committees. In truth, what were the factory committees? They were organs of struggle, created by all the workers of a given enterprise in order to overcome the assault of the capitalists during the first period, and, in order to drive away the capitalists and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat during the second period. If there should be two organisations in one enterprise—factory committee and trade union—then the result would be mutual collision, rivalry, parallelism and waste of force. This might have had its historical justification if we had been on the eve of a social revolution; in that case the factory committees would have seen the centre of gravity of their work in the control of production, and the trade unions would have seen theirs in the organisation of Labour. But the October revolution placed the same tasks before the factory committees and the trade unions.

The logic of development would lead to a collision between these two organisations, and on the eve of the First Congress of Trade Unions the latter were faced by the question of reconstruction of the Russian Labour movement, of a passage from the system of delegates and delegates’ meetings to the system of factory committee conferences and to the construction of the entire union apparatus on the basis of factory committees.

In this way the factory committees are the smallest nuclei of the trade unions.

The sum total of factory committees is a supreme organ which elects the board of the unions. Parallelism and rivalry have disappeared, and the question was solved without special friction by the resolution of the First Russian Congress of Trade Unions, which took place in the beginning of January, 1918.

The question of the mutual relations between the trade unions and the Soviets is much more difficult and complicated. What do the workers’ Soviets represent? They are the organs of the dictatorship of the proletariat which realise the fundamental demands of the working class on a general State scale and in the order of compulsion. The Soviet, whose constituent is the factory, is the new form of State formation which is most suitable for the transition period from capitalism to Communism.

But what does the development of the Soviets lead to? It leads to the fact that by degrees, as the power of the working class becomes consolidated, and by degrees as the social revolution itself develops further, the Soviets as organs of the State power undergo a transformation. The State function falls away, whereas the economic functions are increased, engulfing all the other administrative-technical functions of the Soviet apparatus. If the Soviets represent the recognised form of the proletarian dictatorship, what role do the trade unions play under the existence of the Soviets? After the social revolution the trade unions have no capitalism before them.

From organs of struggle against capitalism they become organs of economic construction, but the economic construction itself and the totality of the functions which lie on the unions are intermingled with the economic functions which lie on the Soviets.

In a State where the power is in the hands of the working class, every labour organisation must, on the one hand, take upon itself State functions, and, on the other hand, State functions cannot but take upon themselves the functions which lie on the trade unions.

In this way the very process of development of all the forms of the Labour movement after the social revolution leads to a close intermingling of the existing labour organisations and to the fact that the trade unions penetrated with the Communist spirit, become more and more intermingled, and at a definite stage of this intermingling a single organ is created which realises both the direction of production itself and the organisation of labour.

The process of intermingling is a lasting one; it is a whole historical period. The very pace of the intermingling and growing together of the trade unions with the corresponding economic organisations depends, on the one hand, on the development of the international revolution and the specific gravity of industry in the general economics of the country and, on the other hand, this line of development of the labour organisations after the social revolution gives a practical indication of the role of the trade unions in a workers’ State, and the key to the establishment of the normal mutual relations between the unions and the Soviets.

The Soviets carry out the general class interests of the proletariat in a State order; the unions carry out the same general class interests of the proletariat by their own methods, in the order of a revolutionary association of workers. The proletarian dictatorship and the very existence of the Soviets is impossible without powerful unions, penetrated with the Communist spirit.

The unions organise labour in production and for production. Considering production from the point of view of the class-proprietor, from the point of view of the class to which production on the given territory belongs, the trade unions serve as a foundation of the proletarian dictatorship. The very development and consolidation of the proletarian dictatorship places ever wider tasks before the unions, and the moment that the State functions of the Soviets cease leads to the concentration of all the economic and industrial functions in the hands of the trade unions.

Thus already in the transitional period the unions serve as the fundamental elements to which the apparatus of administration of production and the apparatus of registration and distribution are entrusted in the newly developing society.

It follows therefore that close collaboration between the unions and the Soviets, a constant joint action, and a joint discussion and carrying out of different measures, the undertaking of the general State functions by the unions, etc., are the necessary premises for the victorious development, of the revolution and the necessary condition of the proletarian dictatorship. This shows clearly what place the trade unions are occupying in the general system of the Soviet construction. The unions are not State organs; they are free associations of producers, but as the unions are the organs of the same producers who elect the Soviets, they unite the same working class for the special tasks which are not solved by the Soviets.

The unions supplement the Soviets and make the Soviet system itself more stable, because not only are the workers united as citizens of their country, realising their dictatorship over another class, but the union brings them together as producers and makes of them a social unit which is creating definite industrial, socially necessary values.

This is why the unions are a support and an annex to the Soviets. This peculiar specific form of uniting the workers has its basis in the construction of the unions and Soviets.

The Soviets are formed by the working class on a horizontal line, by regions: from the factories to the districts, from the districts to the governments, from the governments to the whole of Russia.

Each Soviet is an assembly of the workers of all the industries. The unions unite the workers not only on horizontal lines (district bureaux, government Soviets, and All-Russian Soviets of trade unions), but on vertical lines also, according to the industries (metal, wood-workers, transport workers, etc.). This vertical uniting of the workers is called forth by the requirements of production itself.

It is possible to direct and manage the general State work through the regional and governmental organisations of the Soviets, but it is impossible to manage production through the horizontal organisations alone; in this case vertical organisations according to the industries are necessary.

The very system of public economic management and the requirements of its organisation lead to the peculiar organisational forms in which the unions take shape. If, before the revolution, the unions used to organise according to the industries in order to struggle against capitalism which was organised in the same way; if each union, in proportion to the growth of the class-consciousness of the worker, embraced an ever greater number of categories of labour in order to set them against united capitalism, which was the chief reason for the formation of industrial unions—then after the proletarian revolution the creation of industrial unions and their consolidation was called forth by the requirements of public economic management and the impossibility of regularly organising it without the trade unions. One question arises on this point, the answer to which may be obtained from the very first steps of the revolution. If public economic management cannot be organised without the trade unions, then the best course of all might be that each union should undertake the organisation of one, whole industry, in other words, that the management of branches, of industry should be transferred to the corresponding unions.

This would solve the fundamental question of the forms and methods for the management of production. Some people consider this to be the role of the unions in the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They think that the unions will begin by this: that, together with the political party, they will defeat capitalism, and that as soon as the proletarian dictatorship is established, they will take upon themselves the management of production.

This proposition is unacceptable in such an absolute form; first of all because an organisation of production according to the unions would lead to its dispersion. It is true that for the co-ordination of production and its regulation there are inter-union organisations, like the Soviets of unions and general national organisations, but nevertheless such a transfer of the management of production into separate unions would lead to a vertical cut-up of the whole production, to the development of a trade union egoism and to the competition of the separate branches of production among themselves.

In the first period of construction it is necessary that the regulation of production should be a general class one, that the Soviets should do away with the frictions which are inevitably created between the different categories of labour, if the total management of the corresponding branches of public economy is transferred to them.

How is this to be effected? It will be attained by the creation, during the transitional period, of organs of management of the separate branches of industry in which both the Soviets and the unions will be represented. On the basis of joint, constant, everyday work of the Soviets and unions, a contact is formed between them.

The economic organs, together with the unions on the one hand, organise production, and on the other hand they approach all the questions concerning production, not from a narrow corporation or guild point of view, but from a general class point of view, considering not only the technique of administration, but the organisation of labour as well. In proportion to the development of the revolution itself, its embracing of new countries and the disappearance of the class of exploiters and the class of vacillating elements connected with it, the intermingling of the economic organs and the unions becomes ever stronger; and at a definite stage of development, together with the dying of the Soviets as State organs, the economics organs become fused with the unions. The unions proceed to concentrate in their hands the entire public economy as a single whole unit, as stated in the programme of the Russian Communist Party. This is a lasting process, and, therefore, there can be no thought of an immediate transfer of the entire management of the corresponding branches of industry to the unions. Public economy, especially Socialist public economy, cannot be any other than a centralised economic management.

The plan of the entire public economic management, the conformity of its different parts, a careful registration of all the productive forces, including labour forces, a scientific record of requirements—all this presupposes a scientific apparatus, organised on a national and a world scale, which is incompatible with the transfer of the management of production into the hands of separate unions. It must be further borne in mind that public economy is not industry alone; it includes also agriculture, which plays a tremendous part in the general economics of a country, especially in countries of an agrarian type, like Russia, Italy, etc. The transfer of the management of each branch of industry into the hands of the corresponding unions presupposes the transformation of separate industrial unions into sections of a general national association of trade unions, which again may only be the result of a lasting process of the organisation of the masses on the one hand, and the organisation of the administrative-technical and economic apparatus on the other.

Thus, in answer to the question, “What part must the trade unions play during the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat?" we can answer not only on the basis of purely theoretical inferences, but also on the basis of the Russian experience: (1) The trade unions are the foundation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, because they organise labour in the process of production, and production itself in its connection with labour. (2) The unions are the necessary annexes of the Soviets, which are realising through the unions and together with them the class tasks of the proletariat. (3) The trade unions are the most important weapon of the social revolution itself; together with and under the leadership of the Communist Party they expropriate the expropriators, and seize the means of production. (4) At the moment of the social revolution the trade unions and their local branches, the factory committees, are the only organisations whose duty it is to ensure the uninterrupted process of production and the subordination of the guild and corporation tendencies to the general class tasks of the proletariat. (5) Embracing wide circles of non-party masses, the trade unions educate the working class as a whole for the practice of Socialist construction, serving thus as a school of Communism.

From the above schematic description of the role of the trade unions in the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat the following simple, but extremely practical, conclusion may and must be drawn: the conquest of the trade unions is a preliminary condition of the social revolution and of the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.