Leon Trotsky

Platform of the Joint Opposition


Chapter 2
The Situation of the Working
Class and the Trade Unions

THE October Revolution, for the first time in history, transformed the proletariat into the ruling class of an immense state. Our nationalization of the means of production was a decisive step toward the socialist reconstruction of that whole social system which is founded upon the exploitation of man by man. Our introduction of the eight hour day was the first step towards a complete and all-sided change in the material and cultural conditions of existence of the working-class. In spite of the poverty of the country, our labour laws established for the workers – even the most backward who were deprived in the past of any group defence – legal guarantees such as the richest capitalist state never gave, and never will give. The trade unions, raised to the status of the most important social weapons in the hands of the ruling class, were given the opportunity, on the one hand, to organize masses completely inaccessible in other circumstances, and on the other, directly to influence the whole political course of the workers’ state.

The problem of the party is to guarantee the further development of these supreme historical conquests – that is the filling of them with a genuinely socialist content. Our success upon this road will be determined by objective conditions, domestic and international, and also by the correctness of our line and the practical skill of our leadership.

The decisive factor in appraising the movement of our country forward along the road of socialist reconstruction, must be the growth of our productive forces and the dominance of the socialist elements over the capitalist – together with an improvement of all the conditions of existence of the working class. This improvement ought to be evident in the material sphere (number of workers employed in industry, level of real wages, character of the workers’ budget, housing conditions, medical aid, etc.), in the political sphere (party, trade unions, soviets, communist youth organizations), and finally in the cultural sphere (schools, books, newspapers, theatres). The striving to push the vital interests of the worker into the background and, under the contemptuous epithet of “workshop narrowness, to contrast them with the general historic interest of the working class, is theoretically wrong and politically dangerous.

The appropriation of surplus value by a workers’ state is not, of course, exploitation. But in the first place, we have a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions. The swollen and privileged administrative apparatus devours a very considerable part of our surplus value. In the second place, the growing bourgeoisie, by means of trade and gambling on the abnormal disparity of prices, appropriates a part of the surplus value created by our state industry.

In general during this period of restoration, the numbers of the workers and the conditions of their existence have risen, not only absolutely but also relatively – that is, in comparison with the growth of other classes. However, in the recent period there has occurred a sharp change. The numerical growth of the working class and the improvement of its situation has almost stopped, while the growth of its enemies continues, and continues at an accelerated pace. This inevitably leads, not only to a worsening of the condition of the workers at factory level, but to a lowering of the relative weight of the proletariat in Soviet society.

The Mensheviks, agents of the bourgeoisie among the workers, point maliciously to the material wretchedness of our workers. They are trying to rouse the proletariat against the Soviet state, to induce our workers to accept the bourgeois Menshevik slogan, “Back to capitalism”. The self-satisfied official who sees “Menshevism” in the Opposition’s insistence upon improving the material condition of the workers is performing the best possible service to Menshevism. He is driving the workers under its yellow banner.

In order to conquer difficulties, it is necessary to know them. It is necessary justly and honestly to test our success and failure by the actual condition of the toiling masses.

The Condition of the Workers

Our period of restoration gave a sufficiently rapid increase of wages up to the autumn of 1925. But the considerable decrease of real wages which began in 1926 was overcome only at the beginning of 1927. Monthly wages in the first two quarters of the fiscal year 1926-1927 amounted on the average in large-scale industry,in Moscow rubles, to 30 rubles 67 kopeks, and 30 rubles 33 kopeks – as against 29 rubles 68 kopeks in the autumn of 1925. In the third quarter – according to preliminary calculations – the wages amounted to 31 rubles 62 kopeks. Thus real wages for the present year have stood still, approximately at the level of the autumn of 1925.

Of course the wages and the general material level of particular categories of workers, and particular regions – above all, Moscow and Leningrad – are undoubtedly higher than this average level. But on the other hand, the material level of other very broad working-class strata is considerably below these average figures.

Moreover, all the data testify that the growth of wages is lagging behind the growth of the productivity of labour. The intensity of labour increases – the bad conditions of labour remain the same.

The raising of wages is being more and more conditioned upon a demand for an increased intensity of labour. This new tendency, inconsistent with a socialist course of development. was reinforced by the Central Committee in its famous resolution on rationalization. [1] The Fourth Congress of the Soviets adopted this same resolution. Such a policy would mean that the increase of social wealth due to a developing technique (increased productivity of labour) does not in itself lead to an increase of wages.

The small numerical growth of the workers means a lowering of the number of working members in each family. In real rubles, the expense-budget of the worker’s family has decreased since 1924-1925. The increase in the cost of living-quarters has compelled the worker to rent out a part of his space. The unemployed, directly or indirectly, burden the budget of the worker. The swiftly growing consumption of alcoholic liquors burdens his budget. In the sum total we have an obvious lowering of his standard of life. The rationalization of production now being introduced will inevitably lower still more the condition of the working class, unless it is accompanied by an expansion of industry and transport sufficient to take in the discharged workers. In practice, “rationalization” often comes down to “throwing out” some workers and lowering the material conditions of others. This inevitably fills the mass of the workers with a distrust of rationalization itself,

When the conditions of labour are lowered, it is always the weakest group who suffer the most: unskilled workers, seasonal workers, women, and adolescents.

In 1926 there was an obvious lowering of the wages of women as compared with those of men, in almost all branches of industry. Among the unskilled in three different branches of industry, the earnings of women in March 1926 were 51.8 per cent, 61.7 per cent, and 83 per cent, of the earnings of men. Necessary measures have not been taken for improving the conditions of women’s work in such branches as the peat industry, loading and unloading, etc. The average earnings of adolescents, in comparison with the earnings of all the workers, are steadily declining. In 1923 they were 47.1 per cent, in 1924 45 per cent, in 1925 43.4 per cent, in 1926 40.5 per cent, in 1927 39.5 per cent. [2]

In March 1925 49.5 per cent of the adolescents received less than 20 rubles. [3] The abolition of the regulation providing for the employment of a certain number of adolescents to every given number of workers in an industrial establishment has been a heavy blow to the working youth and to the worker’s family. The number of unemployed adolescents is greatly increasing.

Farm Labour

Of the approximately three and a half million wage-workers in the country, one million 600 thousand are farmhands, men and women. Only 20 per cent of these farmhands are organized in unions. The registration of wage-contracts, often so bad as to mean practical slavery, is barely beginning. The wages of farmhands are customarily below the legal minimum – and this often even on the State farms. Real wages on the average are not over 63 per cent of the pre-war level. The working day is rarely less than ten hours. In the majority of cases it is, as a matter of fact, unlimited. Wages are irregularly paid, and paid after intolerable delays. This miserable situation of the hired labourer is not only a result of the difficulties of socialist construction in a backward, peasant country. It is also, and indubitably, a result of the false course which in practice – in the reality of life – gives predominant attention to the upper levels and not the lower levels of the village. We must have an all-sided, systematic defence of the hired labourer, not only against the kulak, but also against the so-called economically strong middle peasant.

The Housing Question

The normal dwelling-space for the workers is, as a rule, considerably smaller than the average space for the whole urban population. The workers of the great industrial cities are in this respect the least favoured part of the population. The distribution of dwelling-space according to social groups, in a series of investigated cities, was as follows:

Per industrial worker, 5.6 square metres; per clerical worker. 6.9; per handicraftsman, 7.6; per professional, 10.9; and for the non-working element, 7.1. The workers occupy the last place. Moreover, the dimension of the workers’ living-space is narrowing from year to year; that of the non-proletarian elements is widening. The general situation in the matter of dwelling-house construction threatens the further development of industry. In spite of this fact, the five-year plan of the Commission on State Planning offers a prospect in dwelling-house construction according to which the housing situation at the end of five years will be worse than it is now. This, according to the admission of the Commission itself. From 11.3 square arshins [4] at the end of 1926, the average norm will be lowered by the end of 1931, according to the five-year plan, to 10.6.


The slow growth of industrialization nowhere reveals itself so morbidly as in the unemployment which has attacked the fundamental ranks of the industrial proletariat. The official number of registered unemployed in April 1927 was l,478,000. [5] The actual number of unemployed is about two million. The number of unemployed is growing incomparably faster than the total number of employed workers. The number of industrial workers is growing incomparably faster than the total number of employed workers. The number of industrial workers unemployed is growing rapidly. According to the five-year plan of the State Planning Commission, our industries will absorb during the whole five years a little more than 400,000 steadily employed workers. This means, with the continual influx of workers from the country, that the number of unemployed by the end of 1931 will have grown to no less than three million men and women. The consequence of that state of affairs will be a growth of the number of homeless children, beggars and prostitutes. The small unemployment insurance paid to those out of work is causing justifiable resentment. The average benefit is 11.9 rubles – that is, about 5 pre-war rubles. The trade union benefits average 6.5 to 7 rubles. And these benefits are paid, approximately, to only 20 per cent of the unemployed members of the union.

The Code of Labour Laws has undergone so many interpretations that these exceed by many times the number of articles in the Code. And they actually annul many of its.pro. Visions. Especially have the legal defences of temporary and seasonal workers been broken down.

The recent collective agreement campaign was characterized by an almost universal worsening of legal guarantees, and a downward pressure on standards and wage-scales. Giving the economic management the right to compulsory arbitration has reduced to nothing the collective agreement itself, changing it from a two-sided act of agreement to an administrative order. [6]

The contributions by industry toward workmen’s compensation are wholly inadequate. In 1925-1926, according to the data of the People’s Commissariat of Labour, there were in large-scale enterprises 97.6 accidents resulting in disability, for every thousand workers. Every tenth worker is injured every year.

Recent years have been characterized by a sharp increase in labour disputes, most of them being settled by compulsory rather than by conciliatory measures.

The regime in the factories has deteriorated. The administrative organs are striving more and more to establish their unlimited authority. The hiring and discharge of workers is actually in the hands of the administration alone. Pre-revolutionary relations between foremen and workmen are frequently found.

The production conferences are gradually being reduced to nothing. The majority of the practical proposals adopted by the workers are never carried out. Among many of the workers a distaste for these production conferences is nourished by the fact that the improvements whjch they do succeed in introducing often result in a reduction in the number of workers. As a result the production conferences are scantily attended.

In the cultural sphere, it is necessary to emphasize the problem of the schools. It is becoming harder and harder for the worker to give his children even an elementary education, to say nothing of vocational training. In almost all the working. class districts there is a continually increasing shortage of schools. The fees demanded of parents for school supplies are practically destroying the freedom of education. The shortage of schools and the inadequate provision of kindergartens are driving a considerable number of the workers’ children into the streets.

The Trade Unions and the Workers

That “conflict of interests on the question of conditions of labour in the factory” noted in a resolution of the Eleventh Congress of the party has grown very considerably of late years. Nevertheless, the entire recent party policy in relation to the trade union movement, and the practices of the trade union leaders, have had such an effect on the unions that, as the Fourteenth Congress confessed:

the trade unions often could not handle their work, showing one-sidedness, at times pushing into the background their principal and most important task – to defend the economic interests of the masses organized by them and to raise in every possible way their material and spiritual level.

The situation after the Fourteenth Congress did not become better, but worse. The bureaucratization of the trade unions took a further forward step.

In the staff of the elective executive organs of ten industrial unions, the percentage of workers from the bench and non-party militant workers is extremely small (12 to 13 per cent). The immense majority of the delegates to the trade union conferences are people entirely dissociated from industry. [7] Never before have the trade unions and the working mass stood so far from the management of socialist industry as now. The self-activity of the mass of workers organized in the trade unions is being replaced by agreements between the secretary of the party group, the factory director, and the chairman of the factory committee (the “Triangle”). The attitude of the workers to the factory and shop committees is one of distrust. Attendance at the general meetings is low.

The dissatisfaction of the worker, finding no outlet in the trade union, is driven inwards. “We mustn’t be too active – if you want a bite of bread, don’t talk so much.” Such sayings are very common. [8] In these circumstances, attempts on the part of the workers to better their situation by action outside the trade union organization inevitably become more frequent. This alone imperatively dictates a radical change in the present trade union regime.

The Most Important Practical Proposals

A. In the Sphere of Material Conditions

(1) Strike at the root every inclination to lengthen the eight-hour day. Permit Overtime only when absolutely unavoidable. Allow no abuses in the employment of occasional workers, no treating of full-time workers as “seasonal”. Annul every lengthening of the work-day in unhealthy trades where it has been introduced in violation of earlier rules.

(2) The most immediate task is the raising of wages at least to correspond to the achieved increase in the productivity of labour. The future course should be a systematic elevation of real wages to correspond to every growth in the productivity of labour. It Fs necessary to achieve an increasing equalization in the wages of different groups of workers, by way of a systematic raising of the lower-paid groups; in no case by a lowering of the higher-paid.

(3) We must stop all bureaucratic abuse of rationalization measures. Rationalization ought to be closely bound up with a consistent development of industry, with a planned distribution of labour power, and with a struggle against waste of the productive forces of the working class – particularly dissipation of the cadre of skilled workers.

(4) To relieve the evil effects of unemployment:

  1. Unemployment benefits must be adjusted in accordance with the average wage in a given locality.
  2. In view of the duration of unemployment, the benefit period must be extended from one year to one and a half.
  3. No further reduction in the contributions from industry for social insurance must be tolerated, and a real fight must be waged against the actual non-payment of them.
  4. The spending of insurance funds upon measures of general public health and sanitation must be stopped.
  5. We must energetically combat the disposition to make “economies on the insured”.
  6. We must annul all regulations that under various pretences deprive really unemployed workers of their right to benefits and to registration at the employment bureauu.
  7. The course must be towards an increase of the benefits of the unemployed, beginning with the industrial workers.

We must have broadly conceived and carefully worked-out plans for long-term public works upon which the unemployed can be used with the greatest advantage to the economic and cultural growth of the country.

(5) A systematic improvement of housing conditions for the workers. Firm carrying out of a class policy in all housing questions. No betterment of the housing conditions of non-proletarian elements at the expense of the workers. No eviction of discharged workers and workers on short time.

Energetic measures must be taken for the healthier development of the housing co-operatives. They must be made accessible to the lower-paid workers. The upper stratum of clerical workers must not be permitted to grab the apartments intended for industrial workers.

The housing plan of the State Planning Commission must be rejected as flatly opposed to a socialist policy. Business enterprises must be obliged to increase their housing expenditures and their budget allotments and credits for this purpose sufficiently so that the next five years will see a definite improvement in workmen’s homes.

(6) Collective agreements should be made after real and not fictitious discussion at workers’ meetings. The coming party congress would annul the decision of the Fourteenth Congress. giving factory managements the right to compulsory arbitration. The Labour Code must be looked upon as the minimum and not the maximum of what labour has a right to demand. Collective agreements must Contain guarantees against cutting down the number of workers and clerks throughout the duration of the agreements (permissible exceptions to be expressly provided for). Standards of production must be calculated on the basis of the average, not the exceptional worker and for the whole duration of the wage contract. In any case, all changes in the collective agreements which lower the conditions of the workers in comparison with previous agreements should be declared impermissible.

(7) The Bureau of Wages and Standards must be brought under more effective control by the workers and the trade unions, and the constant changing of wages and standards of work must be stopped.

(8) Appropriations for safety appliances and better factory conditions must be increased. Greater penalties must be imposed for failure to carry Out regulations for the protection of labour.

(9) All interpretations of the Labour Code must be reexamined and those which resulted in a lowering of the conditions of labour annulled.

(10) For the women workers, “equal pay for equal work”. Raising of the skill of female labour.

(11) Unpaid apprentice work shall be forbidden. Likewise the attempt to reduce the wages of adolescents. Measures must be taken to improve the conditions of their work.

(12) The regime of economy must in no case be carried out at the expense of the standard of living of the worker. We must restore to the workers the “trifles” which have been taken away from them (day nurseries, tram tickets, longer holidays, etc.)

(13) The trade unions must pay increased attention to the problems of seasonal workers.

(14) Medical aid for the worker in the factory must be increased (dispensaries, first aid departments, hospitals, etc.)

(15) In working-class districts the number of schools for workers’ children must be increased.

(16) A series of state measures must be adopted to strengthen the workers’ co-operatives.

B. In the Trade Unions

(1) The work of the trade unions should be judged primarily by the degree in which it defends the economic and cultural interests of the workers, within the existing economic limitations.

(2) The party organizations, in deciding about measures touching the economic and cultural interests of the working mass, must take into serious consideration the findings of the Communist fractions in the trade unions.

(3) Real elections, publicity, accountability and responsibility to the membership at all levels must be the foundation of the trade union work.

(4) All the administrative organs in industry should be formed in real and not fictitious agreement with the corresponding trade union organs.

(5) At every trade union congress (including the All-Union congress) and in all the elective organs of the trade unions (including the All-Russian Council of Trade Unions), there must be a majority of workers directly engaged in industry. The percentage of non-party workers in these organs must be raised to at least one-third.

At regular intervals, a certain number of the officials of the trade union apparatus must be returned to industrial work.

More utilization of voluntary work in trade union activities, a broader application of the principle of voluntary work, nThre encouragement to the workers in the factories to engage in it.

(6) The removal of elected Communist members of trade union bodies because of inner-party disagreements shall not be permitted.

(7) The absolute independence of the shop committees and local trade union committees from the organs of management must be guaranteed. The employment and discharge of workers and the transfer of workers from one kind of work to another, for periods exceeding two weeks – all this must be carried out only after the factory committee has been informed. The factory committee, in struggling against abuses in this sphere, shall employ its right of appeal from the decisions of the management to the corresponding trade union and to the grievance commissions.

(8) Definite rights must be guaranteed to workers’ press correspondents, and those who persecute the correspondents for making exposures must be strictly punished.

An article should be introduced into the Criminal Code punishing as a serious crime against the state every direct or indirect, overt or concealed persecution of a worker for criticizing, for making independent proposals, and for voting.

(9) The functions of the control commissions of the production councils must be extended to include supervising the execution of their decisions and investigating their success in protecting the workers’ interests.

(10) On the question of strikes in the state industries the decision of the Eleventh Party Congress, proposed by Lenin, remains in force.

As regards strikes in the concession industries, the latter shall be regarded as private industries.

(11) A re-examination of the whole system of labour statistics, which in its present form gives a false and obviously coloured view of the economic and cultural situation of the working class, and thus greatly hinders any work in defence of its economic and cultural interests.

The hard situation of the working class on the Tenth Anniversary of the October Revolution, is of course explained in the last analysis by the poverty of the country, the results of intervention and blockade, the unceasing struggle of the capitalist environment against the first proletarian state. That situation cannot be changed at a single blow. But it can and must be changed by a correct policy. The task of Bolsheviks is not to boast and draw complacent pictures of their achievements – which of course are very real – but to raise firmly and clearly the question of what remains to be done, of what must be done, and what can be done with a correct policy.


1. Pravda, March 25, 1927.

2. Review of the Economic Situation of the Youth in 1924-1925 and in 1925-1926.

3. Central Bureau of Labour Statistics.

4. An arshin is about 28 inches – Tr.

5. Trud, August 27, 1927.

6. Trud, August 4, 1927.

7. Pravda, July 23, 1927.

8. See material of the Moscow Committee, Reports of the General Workers’ Conferences, Informational Review, p.30, etc.

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Last updated on: 22.2.2007