Leon Trotsky

A Letter to Comrades

The Question of
Workers’ Control of Production

(August 1931)

Written: 20 August 1931.
Source: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 28 (Whole No. 87), 24 October 1931, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

(Continued from Last Issue)

The epigones have purely mechanically accepted the idea that workers’ control of production, like Soviets, can only be carried out under revolutionary conditions. Were the Stalinists to attempt to bring their prejudices into a definite system, they would probably argue as follows: Workers’ control as a sort of economic dual power is inconceivable without political dual power in the country, which in turn, is inconceivable without the Soviets being counterpoised to the bourgeois power; consequently – the Stalinists would conclude – the slogan of workers’ control of production is admissible only simultaneously with the slogan of Soviets.

From all that has been said above, it proceeds clearly how false, schematic, and how lifeless is such a construction. In practise, it results in the unique ultimatum which the party puts to the workers: I, the party, will allow you to fight for workers’ control only in the event that you are prepared simultaneously to build up Soviets. But this is precisely what is involved – that these two processes must in no case run absolutely parallel and simultaneously. Under the influence of crises, unemployment and predatory manipulations of the capitalists, the working class in its majority may be prepared to fight for the abolition of business secrecy and for control over banks, commerce and production even before they have reached an understanding of the revolutionary conquest of power.

Two Ways Out

Taking the path of control of production, the proletariat will inevitably have to advance further in the direction of the seizure of power and of the means of production. Questions of credits, of raw materials, of markets alternately lead the control beyond the walls of the isolated enterprise. In a country as highly developed industrially as Germany, the questions of exports and imports alone suffice to elevate workers’ control immediately to the level of state tasks and to counterpose the central organs of workers’ control to the official organs of the bourgeois state. The essentially irreconcilable contradictions of the regime of workers’ control will have to be accentuated to the degree that its sphere of influence and its tasks are extended, thereupon to show themselves promptly as intolerable. A way out of these contradictions can be found either in the capture of power by the proletariat (Russia) or in the Fascist counter-revolution, which establishes the naked dictatorship of capital (Italy). It is precisely in Germany, with its strong social democracy, that the struggle for the workers’ control of production will in all probability be the first stake of the revolutionary united front of the workers, which precedes the open struggle for power.

Should the slogan of workers’ control, however, be raised right now? Is the revolutionary situation “ripe” for it? This question is hard to answer. There is no measuring instrument which would permit the determination, once and for all, of the degree of the revolutionary situation. One is compelled to check it up by deeds, in struggle, with the aid of the most variegated measuring instruments. One of these instruments, under the given conditions perhaps one of the most important, is precisely the slogan of the workers’ control of production.

The significance of this slogan lies primarily in the fact that on the basis of it, the united front of the Communist workers with the social democratic, non-party, Christian and other workers, can be prepared. The attitude of the social democratic workers is decisive. The revolutionary united front of the Communists with the social democrats – that is the fundamental political condition which is lacking in Germany for the immediate revolutionary situation. The presence of a strong Fascism is surely a serious obstacle on the road to victory. Yet, Fascism can retain its power of attraction only because the proletariat is split up and weak, and because it lacks the possibility of leading the German people on the road to the victorious revolution. The revolutionary united front of the working class already signifies, in itself, the political death blow for Fascism.

For this reason, be it said in passing, the policy of the Communist Party of Germany leadership in the question of the referendum bears an all the more criminal character. The most rabid foe could not have thought up a surer way of inciting the social democratic workers against the Communist party and of holding up the progress of the policy of the revolutionary united front.

Necessary Preparations

Now this mistake must be made good again. The slogan of workers’ control can be of extraordinary aid in this regard.

However, it must be approached correctly. Advanced without the necessary preparation, as a bureaucratic command, the slogan of workers’ control may not only prove to be a blank shot, but discredit the party even more strongly in the eyes of the working masses and undermine the confidence in it also of those workers who still vote for it today. Before this highly responsible fighting slogan is raised, the situation must be read well and the ground for it prepared.

We must begin from below, from the factory, from the workshop. The questions must be scrutinized and adapted to certain typical industrial, banking and commercial enterprises. Especially crass cases of speculation must be taken as a point of departure, veiled lock-outs, mendacious diminution of profits aimed at reductions of wages or mendacious exaggeration of production costs for the same purpose, and so forth. In the factory which has fallen victim to such machinations, the Communist workers must be the ones through whom are felt the moods of the rest of the working masses, above all, of the social democratic workers: to what extent they would be ready to accept the demand to abrogate business secrecy and to establish workers’ control of production. Using the occasion of particularly crass individual cases, we must begin to conduct propaganda persistently with a purely positive way of putting the question, and in this way measure the power of resistance of social democratic conservatism. This would be one of the best ways of establishing to what degree the revolutionary situation has “ripened.”

The preliminary feeling out of the ground assumes a simultaneous theoretical and propagandistic elaboration of the question of the party, a serious and objective instructing of the advanced workers, in the first place, of the factory councils members, of the prominent trade union workers, etc. Only the course of this preparatory work, that is, the degree of its success, can show at what moment the party can pass over from propaganda to further agitation and to direct practical action under the slogan of workers’ control.

The policy of the Left Opposition in this question follows clearly enough from what has been presented, at least in its essential features. It is a question in the first period of propaganda for the correct principled way of putting the question and at the same time of the study of the concrete conditions of the struggle for workers’ control. The Opposition, on a small scale and to a modest degree corresponding to its forces, must take up the preparatory work which was characterized above as the next task of the party. On the basis of this task, the Opposition must seek contact with the Communists who are working in the factory councils and in the trade unions explain to them our views of the situation as a whole, and learn from them how our correct views on the development of the revolution are to be adopted to the relationships in the factory and the workshop.

* * * *

P.S. I wanted to close with this, only it occurs to me that the Stalinists might make the following objection: you are prepared to “dismiss” the slogan of Soviets for Germany; but you criticized us bitterly and branded us because at one time we refused to proclaim the slogan of Soviets in China. In reality, such an “objection” is only base sophism, which is founded on the same organizational fetishism, that is, upon the identification of the class essence with the organizational form. Had the Stalinists declared at that time that there were reasons in China which hindered the application of the Soviet form, and had they recommended some other organizational form of the revolutionary united front of the masses, one more adaptable to Chinese conditions, we would naturally have met such a proposal with the greatest attention. But we were recommended to replace the Soviets with the Kuo Min Tang, that is, by the enslavement of the workers to the capitalists. The dispute was over the class content of an organization and not over its organizational “technique”. But we must promptly add to this that precisely in China there were no subjective obstacles at all for the Soviets, if we take into consideration the consciousness of the masses, and not that of Stalin’s allies of that time, Chiang Kai-Shek and Wang Chin Wei. The Chinese workers have no social democratic, conservative traditions. The enthusiasm for the Soviet Union was truly universal. Even the present-day peasants’ movement in China strives to adopt Soviet forms. All the more general was the striving of the masses for Soviets in the years 1925–1927.

August 20, 1931

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