J. T. Murphy

Report of Red Trade Union Congress

Source: The Communist Review, Vol. 1, October 1922, No. 5.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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.

Examination of Past Tactics

THE first Congress of the Red Trade Union International is ended. The delegates have left the Mecca of the proletarian revolutionists to carry out decisions of a far reaching character, after completing a very important stage in the development of the international working class movement.

When the Provisional Council of the Red Trade Union International was formed in 1920 it had three important tasks to accomplish. First: it had to open the fight against the Amsterdam International, which had become the rallying ground of the remnants of the Second International. Second: it had to rally the whole of the revolutionary industrial movement and give a new gravitation centre for trade unionism. Third: it had to provide a new policy for the union movement of the world.

That it has successfully carried out the first task the labour and capitalist press of the last twelve months can testify. In every country where the union movement exists, the message of the Red Trade Union International has been delivered until the issue, “Moscow or Amsterdam,” has become the order of the day. The first Congress has witnessed the successful accomplishment of the other tasks I have indicated. Indeed, it has shown that even more has been accomplished. It has also shown how far the undermining of the power of the Amsterdam leaders has gone on in the most important countries where the unions are affiliated to the Amsterdam International, viz., France, Germany, England and Italy. In France we have almost succeeded in wrenching away their leadership of the C.G.T. The German comrades claim that there are 3,000,000 supporters of the Red International in the unions of Germany, although the union movement has not yet been detached from Amsterdam. The British comrades claim a support of 300,000 workers in the union movement of Britain. In Italy the issue is undecided, although there is every reason to believe that when the issue is put to the membership of the Confederation of Labour they will vote in favour of detaching the 2,500,000 workers of the Confederation from Amsterdam and swing them over to Moscow. Steadily the Amsterdam International is breaking at its foundations. Another twelve months’ work and the leaders of the Amsterdam International will be looking for a new home if the same rate of progress is maintained.

The second task of rallying the revolutionary industrialists has been successfully carried through. Practically all the revolutionary syndicalists of the world along with the I.W.W. rallied to the Moscow Congress. With the ending of the Congress the third task has also been completed. The most important decisions of the Congress are as follows:

1.—This Congress resolves to take all the necessary steps for bringing together, in the most energetic manner, all the Trade Unions into one united fighting organisation with one international centre, the Red Trade Union International.

2.—To establish the closest possible contact with the Third (Communist) International, as the vanguard of the revolutionary labour movement in all parts of the world, on the basis of joint representation at both executive committees, joint conferences, etc.

3.—That the above connection should have an organic and business character, and be expressed in the joint preparation of revolutionary actions and in the concerted manner of their realisation, both on a national and international scale.

4.—That it is imperative for every country to strive to unite the revolutionary Trade Union organisations, and for the establishment of close every-day contact between the Red Trade Unions and the Communist Party, for the carrying out of the decisions of both Congresses.

5.—That revolutionists should not leave the Trade Unions but work within them to revolutionise them in preference to the policy of leaving the unions and attempting to build revolutionary competing organisations.

6.—To encourage organisation by industry as against old-fashioned unionism of organisation by craft.

To have successfully carried through these decisions and to have still retained the good will and membership of the syndicalists his certainly an achievement. They have made important concessions thereby. It is true they have issued a manifesto indicating that they will fight for their point of view in the International, but the struggle between the policy of the Communists and the syndicalists passes into a new, and far less dangerous stage. Both have agreed to unite in action. Hence experience and internal discussion in the International will solve the rest.

Having succeeded therefore in rallying what we may term the “left” industrial forces, it follows that the new incoming forces must come from the Amsterdam International, so far as Europe its concerned. The struggle accordingly takes on the character of a struggle against the “right” forces in the union movement. How this fight is to be conducted is of supreme importance, especially in view of the decision of the Executive Committee of the Red Trade Union International to dissolve the Bureaux in the Far East, England and America.

These Bureaux have during the last twelve months been the improvised machinery of propaganda for conducting the fight against Amsterdam and rallying the unions to the Moscow Congress. They have served their purpose very well, focussing the issues in the union movement in a very special manner. This was necessary and urgent, but it had big disadvantages for the Communist Parties, creating overlapping machinery of propaganda which was conducted mainly by the Communists and to some extent weakening the direct efforts of the Parties.

Whether the new Executive Committee of the R.T.U.I. had these points in mind when it reviewed the position of the Bureaux I do not know. The observations are, I believe, correct, and the decision to dissolve the Bureaux is a fact. The responsibility for the conduct of the agitation is accordingly thrust upon the Party, especially in the countries where there are no unions affiliated to the R.T.U.I. It becomes of importance, therefore, to view the R.T.U.I. Congress in the light of the development of the Communist International.

The Future Policy

MUCH has been made of the fact that the question of international trade union organisation was raised at the Third Congress of the All-Russian Trade Unions during the Kerensky period, and that nothing immediately followed the way of organisation on account of the blockade, etc. But the Communist International grew, in spite of the blockade.

The truth of the matter is that the leaders of the revolutionary movement did not recognise the importance of the unions, and what a conservative force they could be until after the experiences of the German revolutionary period. The idea was uppermost that the world revolution would develop so quickly that the union movement could be left alone until after the revolution. So much was this the case that the first Congress of the Communist International hardly referred to the union movement at all. It was not until the West failed to respond to the revolutionary appeals, and experience had shown what weighty forces were operating in the working class movement against a short revolutionary period, that the magnitude of the task of conquering the unions for Communism began to impress itself upon them.

By the time of the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, it had become of great importance. Negotiations had been opened with several trade union leaders and conversations carried on with the “left” industrialists who had arrived in Moscow in response to the call of the Communist International The E.C. had sent out the call to revolutionary industrial organisations as well as revolutionary political parties. The Congress thrashed out a policy for the parties in relation to the unions, but as yet were quite unclear as to whether the unions which rallied to the call, which had been sent out, should become a section the Communist International or be the basis for a new industrial international. I well remember the controversy led by Radek and Zinovieff last year. Radek was against accepting industrial organisations into the C.I. and Zinovieff in favour. But neither was clear as to the future of the industrial organisations in relation to the C.I. or in the C.I. Even after the Provisional International Council had been established after the Second Congress, the situation was not clear. A struggle was proceeding between those who visualised the Communist International as inclusive of all revolutionary working class organisations, and those who thought in terms of an international party of struggle independent of, but connected with the other working class organisations, such as trade unions, co-operatives, etc. As a matter of fact, both conceptions, are correct and the real question is one of precedence. History has already answered. The practical task of rallying the revolutionary industrialists and of overcoming the neutralism of the unions as politics, pushed the Provisional Council more and more into the position of an independent organisation, and the idea of the trade unions becoming a section of the Communist International receded. By this process, however, the Trade Unions have come nearer to the Communist International than ever before. How near the decisions of the Red Trade Union Congress make manifest. Meanwhile, other important developments were taking place, which it is necessary to indicate in order to measure the full significance of the R.T.U.I. decisions.

The Communist International at its inception was composed of a number of small parties, one of which was leading the proletarian revolution. This latter was rapidly becoming a large party. It had been forced out of its position as a mere agitational party to that of a mass party of struggle, controlling and directing the work of other organisations than itself. The impetus given to the revolutionary movement of the world was enormous. Other large mass parties were affected and the process of transforming them by splits and other means was begun.

The Second Congress, however, was engaged principally in a struggle with the “left,” shaking up sectarianism and demanding of all sections that they pass out of the agitational stage as quickly as possible and become organs of revolutionary struggle. The following twelve months witnessed the influx of large parties and a great fight of the E.C. of the Communist International with all its sections in its effort to make the new International into a party of international insurrection. So intense became the fight along these lines that the Third Congress was called much earlier than was generally expected. The revolution demanded and compelled the Communist International, led by the Russian Communist Party, to face the realities of the revolutionary struggle. The problems of the International were not problems of abstract Marxism, but problems of “applied Marxism.” The International had to do things, and to do them it needed the masses. The masses came and the test which had to be applied to them, and which will have to be rigorously applied to them in the future, is not the test of belief in ultimate Communism in some distant future, but the test of action, practical towards the dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus, the practical requirements of revolution struck blows left and right. At the left, for the retention of sectarianism, which prevented the masses from rallying to the party; at the right, for its avoidance of struggle and drift towards reformism. Almost all the time of the Third Congress was taken up with this work, criticising the actions of the sections, perfecting he International as an organ of struggle.

The Role of the Mass Party

IMMEDIATELY this transition of the International from a collection of small groups to a large international party waging a terrific fight, leading the world proletariat through the succeeding stages of the world revolution, is realized, every decision becomes of the utmost importance. The more the International develops along these lines the more important becomes the task of winning the support and leadership of the unions and other working class organisations, especially in those countries where capitalism is highly developed. To win through to the leadership of the labour organisations the sections or parties of the international must win the masses and recruit its best elements into its ranks. This in turn involves each party in becoming a party of the masses as a means of becoming a mass party capable of manifold tasks thrust upon it in the struggle with capitalism. I mean by a party of the masses, a party which actually interprets the needs of the masses in the daily struggle, that knows how to make the fullest possible use of every incident of conflict, to show to the workers what they must do now and relates revolutionary principles to the immediate needs of to-day as well as to-morrow. The mass party does not necessarily do that, but the mass parties of the Communist International must do that and more. They must be organised in a way which will bring every member of the party into action, testing leaders and rank and file alike by what they do to forward the working class towards the conquest of power. To carry out its work it must have numbers sufficient to function as a vanguard. But numerical strength is not the fundamental test. It is of relative importance. If the party becomes a party of the masses it will win numbers. If it is a party of action it will clean the party of “undesirables.” Good leadership, a rank and file of action, and a party organisation which by its activity brings its best revolutionists into the leading positions and pushes out all sleeping passengers, are the demands of the Third Congress.

Intermediary organisations between the masses and the party have obviously disadvantages as well as advantages. They demand a great deal of extra work on the part of the members of the party and do not always ensure that the party shall receive the full return for the labour expended. The passing of the Bureaux of the Red Trade Union International is the passing of an intermediary organisation between the party and the unions. It is significant that this decision coincides with the party developments I have indicated. It thrusts back upon the party the task of waging the fight in the unions for the conquest of the “right.”

The significance of the Congress proceedings as a whole can be summed up briefly as follows:—

The establishment of the R.T.U.I. as an independent organisation made clear the line of development of the mass organisation of the workers as they move towards the Communist International and rally to it as the leader of the proletarian revolution. It marks an important stage in the passing of sectionalism and sharp antagonism among the revolutionary forces by the drawing close to the Communist International of the syndicalists and “left” revolutionary industrialists. It has prevented the setting up of an oppositional revolutionary industrial international and transformed the struggle with the “left” to an internal discussion, but agreed upon unity and discipline in action. It has established a new centre of gravitation for the union movement of the world and sharpened the conflict between the revolutionary workers and the Amsterdam International of reaction. Having drawn the “left” forces closer to the Communist International than ever before, it demands of the Communists and the parties, greater direct efforts in the conquest of the unions for Communism. Hence, whilst serving as a rallying centre for the broad revolutionary masses, it; assists the process of perfecting the Communist International as the vanguard organisation of the proletarian struggle.

Thus the revolutionary army of the working class grows and grows, creates and perfects its organisations in the furnace of conflict, and marches on to the conquest of capitalism.