Leon Trotzky

Polemics and Discussions

A Necessary Discussion with
our Syndicalist Comrades

(3 May 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 35 [17], 3 May 1923, pp. 315–317.
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This article was written as a reply to the expositions of comrade Louzon, immediately after the IV world congress of the Communist International. But at that time, more attention was being devoted to the struggle against the socialist Right, against the dissidents, Verfeuil, Frossard, etc. In this struggle our efforts were united with those of the syndicalists, and I preferred to postpone the publication of this article. We are firmly convinced that our excellent understanding with the syndicalists will not cease to exist. The entry of our old friend Monatte into the Communist Party was as source of great joy to us. The revolution needs men of this kind. But it would be wrong to pay for a rapprochement with a confusion of ideas. In the course of recent months the Communist Party of France has been purified and firmly established; hence we can enter into a tranquil and friendly discussion with our syndicalist comrades, along with whom we have still many joint struggles to go through.

Comrade Louzon, in a series of articles and personal explanations, represented views with regard to the fundamental question of the relations between party and trade union, which differ radically from the opinions of the Communist International and from Marxism. French Comrades, whose opinion I am accustomed to respect, speak with great respect of comrades Louzon and his devotion to the proletariat. It is all the more necessary therefore, to correct the errors made by him in such an important question. Comrade Louzon defends the complete and unqualified independence of the trade unions. Against what? Obviously against certain attacks. Whose? Against attacks ascribed to the Party. Trade union autonomy, an indisputable necessity, is endowed with a certain almost mystical significance by Louzon. And our comrade here appeals, quite wrongly, to Marx. The trade unions, says Louzon, represent the “working class as a whole”. The Party, however, is only a Party. The working class as a whole cannot be subordinate to the Party. There is not even room for equality between them. The working class has its object in itself, the Party however, can either serve the working class or itself. The Party cannot annex the working class. The Moscow congresses, and the mutual representation of the Communist International and the Red International of Labor Unions signified, according to Louzon, the actual equalization of Party and class. This mutual representation has now been done away with. The Party thereby resumes its role of servant again. Comrade Louzon approves of this. According to him, this was also the standpoint of Marx. The end of the mutual representation of the political and the trade union internationals in each other is, to Louzon, the rejection of the errors of Lassalle (!) and of the social democrats (!), and the return to the principles of Marxism.

This is the essence of an article published in the Vie Ouvrière of December 15. The most astonishing thing in this and other similar articles is, that the writer is obviously, consciously and determinedly shutting his eves to what is actually going on in France. One might think that the article had been written on Sirius. How else is it possible to understand the assertion that the trade unions represent the working class as a whole? Of what country is Louzon talking? If he means France, the trade unions there, so far as we are informed, do not, unfortunately, include even half of the working class. The criminal manoeuvre of the reformist trade unionists, supported on the Left by some few anarchists, has split the French trade union organization. Neither of the two trade union federations comprises more than 300,000 workers. Neither singly nor together, are they entitled to identify themselves with the whole of that French proletariat of which they form only a modest part. Moreover, each trade union organization pursues a different policy. The reformist trade union federation works in co-operation with the bourgeoisie; the Unitarian Trade Union Federation, (C.G.T.U.) is fortunately revolutionary. In the latter organization, Louzon represents but one tendency. What does he then mean by the assertion that the working class, which he obviously regards as synonymous with the trade union organization, bears its own object in itself? With whose help, and how, docs the French working class express this object? With the help of the C.G.T.U.? The C.G.T.U. has rendered excellent service. But unfortunately it is not the whole working class. The C.G.T.U. was originally under the leadership of the anarcho-syndicalists of the “pact”. At the present time its leaders are syndicalist communists. During which of these two periods has the C.G.T.U. best represented the interests of the working class? Who shall judge of this? If we now attempt, with the aid of the international experience of our Party, to reply to this question, then, in Louzon’s opinion, we place ourselves in a dangerous dilemma, for we then demand that the Party judge what policy is most beneficial to the working class. That is, we place the Party above the working class. But if we appeal to the working class as a whole, we should uuhappily find it scattered, impotent, and mule. The various trade union federations, their separate trade unions, mid the separate groups within the trade unions, would give us varying replies. But the overwhelming majority of the proletariat, standing outside of both trade union federations, would, at the present time, give us no reply at all.

There is no country in which the trade union organization includes the whole working class. But in some countries it at least comprises a wide section of the workers. This is, however, not the case in France, if, as Louzon opines, the Party must not “annex” the working class (but what is the term actually intended to mean?), for what reason does comrade Louzon accord this right to syndicalism? He may reply: “Our trade union organization is still weak. But we do not doubt its future and its final victory”. To this we should reply: “Certainly; we share this conviction as well. But we have as little doubt but that the Party will gain the unqualified confidence of the great majority of the working class.” Neither for the Party nor the trade unions is it a question of “annexing” the proletariat – Louzon does wrong in employing an expression used by our opponents who are fighting the revolution – it is a question of winning the confidence of the proletariat. And it is only possible to do this with the aid of correct tactics, based on the test of experience. Where and by whom are these tactics consciously, carefully, and critically prepared? Who suggests them to the working class? Certainly they do not fall from the sky. And the working class as a whole, as “a thing in itself”, does not teach us these tactics either. It seems as if comrade Louzon has not faced this question. “The proletariat has its object within itself.” If we strip this sentence of its mystic wrappings, its obvious meaning is, that the historical tasks of the proletariat are determined by the social position of the class, and by its role in production, in society, and in the state This is beyond dispute. But this truth does not help us to answer the question with which we are concerned. Namely: how is the proletariat to arrive at subjective insight regarding the historical task set it by its objective position? Were the proletariat as a whole capable of grasping its historic role, it would stand in need of neither Party nor trade union. Revolution would be born simultaneously with the proletariat But in actuality the process required to impart to the proletariat an insight into its historic mission is very long and painful, and full of inner contradictions.

It is only in the course of lang struggles, severe trials, many vacillations, and wide experience, that insight as to the right ways and methods, dawns upon the minds of the beet dements of the working class, the vanguard of the masses. This applies equally to Party and trade union. The trade union also begins as a small group of active workers, and grows gradually as its experience enables it to gain the confidence of the masses. But while the revolutionary organizations are struggling to gain influence in the working class, the bourgeois ideologists oppose them, and set up the “working class as a whole” against the Party and the trade unions, accusing these of wanting to “annex” the working class. The Temps writes this whenever there is a strike. In other words, the bourgeois ideologists oppose the working class as object to the working class as conscious subject For it is only through its class-conscious minority that the working class gradually becomes a factor in history. We thus see that the criticism brought by comrade Louzon against the “unwarranted claims” of the Party, applies equally well to the “unwarranted claims” of the trade unions. Above all in France; for French syndicalism – we must repeat this – was and is, in its organization and theory, a party. It is fothis reason that it arrived, during its classic period, 1905–1907, at the theory of the active minority, and not at the theory of the “collective proletariat”. For what is an active minority, held together by unity of outlook, if it is not a party? And on the other hand: would not a trade unionist mass organization, not containing a class-conscious minority, be a purely formal and meaningless organization?

The fact that French syndicalism was a party was fully confirmed by the schism which took place as soon as deviations in political viewpoints appeared in its ranks. But the party of revolutionary syndicalism fears the aversion felt by the French working masses for parties as such. Therefore it has not assumed the name of party, and has remained incomplete as regards organization. The party attempted to have its membership coincide with that of the trade unions, or at least to find cover in the trade unions. The actual subordination of the trade unions to certain tendencies, fractions, and even cliques of syndicalism, is thus explained. This is the explanation of the “pact” with its caricature of freemasonry, intended to hold a party organization together within the fold of trade union organization. And vice versa: The Communist International has most determinedly combatted the split in the trade union movement its France, that is its actual transformation into a syndicalist party. The main consideration of the Communist International has been the historical task of the working class as a whole, and the enormous independent significance of trade union organization for solving the tasks of the proletariat. ln this respect the Communist International has defended, as long as it has been in existence, the real and living independence of the trade unions, in the spirit of Marxism.

Revolutionary syndicalism, which was in France in many respects the forerunner of the communist of today, has acknowledged the theory of the active minority, that is, of the party, but without openly becoming a party. It has thereby prevented the trade unions from becoming, if not an organization of the whole working class (which is not possible in a capitalist system), at least of its broad masses. The communists are not afraid of the word “party”, for their party has nothing in common, and will have nothing in common, with the other parties. Their party is not one of the political parties of the bourgeois system, it is the active, class-conscious minority of the proletariat and its revolutionary vanguard. Hence the communists have no reason to hide themselves behind the trade unions, who for their part are at liberty to accept or reject do not misuse the trade unions for changing the scenery. They do not split the trade unions if they are in the minority in them. They do not in any way disturb the independent development of the trade unions, and support their action in every respect But at the same time the Communist Party reserves the right of expressing its opinion on all questions in the labor movement, including the trade union question, to criticize trade union tactics, and to make definite propositions to the trade unions, which for their part are at liberty to accept or reject the propositions. The party strives to win the confidence of the working class, above all, of that section organized in the trade unions.

What is the meaning of the quotations from Marx adduced by comrade Louzon? It is a fact that Marx wrote, in 1868, that the labor party would originate in the trade union. When writing this he was thinking mainly of England, at that time the sole developed capitalist country already possessing extensive labor organizations. Half a century has passed since that time. Historical experience has in general confirmed Marx’s prophecies in so far as England is concerned. The English Labor Party has actually been built up on the foundation of the trade union. But does comrade Louzon really think that the English Labor Party as it is today, led by Henderson and Clynes, can be looked upon as representative of the interests of the proletariat as a whole? Most decidedly not The English Labor Party betrays the cause of the proletariat just as the trade union bureaucracy betrays it, although in England the trade unions approach nearer to comprising the working class as a whole than m any other country. On the other hand we cannot doubt but that our communist influence will grow in this English Labor Party which has grown out of the trade unions, and that this will contribute to render more acute the struggle of masses and leaders within the trade unions, until the treacherous bureaucrats will ultimately be driven forth, and the party will be completely re-formed and renewed. And we, like comrade Louzon, belong to an International which includes the little communist party of England, but which combats the Second International supported by the English Labor Party which emerged out of the trade unions.

In Russia – and in the law of capitalist development Russia is precisely the antipole of England – the Communist Party, the former social democratic party, is older than the trade unions, and has created the trade unions. Today the trade unions and the workers’ state in Russia are completely under the influence of the Communist Party, which by no means has its origin tn the trade unions, but on the contrary created and trained these. Will comrade Louzon maintain that Russia has evolved in contradiction to Marxism? Is it not simpler to say that Marx’s judgment on the origin of the party in the trade union has been proved by experience to have oeen correct, if not 100% correct, at any rate in the case of England? But that Marx never lad the least intention of laying down what he himself once scornfully designated as “a super-historical law?” All the other countries of Europe, including France, stand between England and Russia in this question. In some countries the trade unions are older than the party, in others the contrary has been the case; but nowhere, except in England and partially in Belgium, has the party of the proletariat taken its origin in the trade unions. But are we to deduce from this that the Communist International has originated wrongly?

When the English trade unions alternately supported the Conservatives and the Literals and represented a mere labor appendage to these parties, when the political organization of the German workers was nothing more than a left wing of the democratic pariy, when the followers of Lassalle and Eisenach were quarrelling among themselves, – Marx demanded the independence of the trade unions from all parties. This formula was dictated by the wish to oppose the labor organizations to all bourgeois parties, and to prevent their being too closely bound up with socialist sects. But comrade Louzon may perhaps remember that it was Marx who founded the First International as well, the object of which was to guide the labor movement in all countries in every respect, and to render it fruitful. This was in 1864, and the International created by Marx was a party. Marx refused to wait until the international party oi the working class formed itself in some way out of the trade unions. He did his utmost to strengthen the influence of scientific socialism in the trade unions – scientific socialism as first laid down in 1847 in the manifesto issued by the Communist Party. When Marx demanded for the trade unions complete independence from the parties and sects of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie, he did this in order to make it easier for scientific socialism to gain dominance in the trade unions. Marx never saw in the party of scientific socialism one of the ordinary parliamentary democratic political parties. For Marx the International was the class-conscious working class, represented at that time by a truly very small vanguard.

If comrade Louzon would be consistent in his trade union metaphysics and in his interpretation of Marx, he would say: “Let us renounce the Communist Party, and wait till this party arises out of the trade unions? But such consistency would be equally fatal to party and trade union. For the present French trade unions can only regain their unity, and win decisive influence over the masses, if their best elements are combined in Ute class-conscious revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat, that is, in a communist Party. Marx gave no final answer to the question of the relations between party and trade unions, and indeed he could not do so. For these relations are dependent on the varying circumstances in each separate case. whether the party and the trade union federation are mutually represented on their central committees, or whether they form joint committees of action in case of need, is not a question of prime importance. The forms of organization may alter, but the decisive role played by the party is unalterable. The party, if it be worthy of the name, includes the whole vanguard of the working class, and uses its ideological influence for rendering every branch of the labor movement fruitful, especially the trade union movement. But if the trade unions are worthy of their name, they include an ever growing mass of workers, many backward elements among them. But they can only fulfil their task when consciously guided on firmly established principles. And they can only have this leadership when their best elements are united in the party of proletarian revolution.

The purification of the Communist Party of France, which rid it on the one hand of whining petty bourgeois, of drawing-room heroes, of political Hamlets, and sickly career hunters, and on the other hand actuated the rapprochement of communists and revolutionary syndicalists, implies a great stride towards the creation of suitable relations between trade union organisations and the political organization; which in turn means a great advance for the revolution.

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