Leon Trotsky

Strike Strategy

(January 1932)

Written: 27 January 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 24 (whole No. 120), 11 June 1932, p. 4.
Extract from What Next – Vital Questions for the German proletariat.
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.

In the sphere of the trade unions the Communist leadership has entirely confused the party. The common course of the “third period” was directed toward parallel trade unions. The presupposition was that the mass movement would surge over the old organizations and that the organs of the R.G.O. (The Red Trade Union Opposition) would become the initiative committees of the economic struggle. A mere trifle was lacking for the realization of this plan: the mass movement. During floods in springtime, the waters carry away many a fence. Let us try removing the fence, decided Lozovsky, perhaps the floods of spring will then rise!

The reformist trade unions have survived. The Communist party succeeded in getting itself thrown out of the factories. Thereupon partial corrections began to be introduced into the trade union policy. The Communist party has refused to call upon the unorganized workers to join reformist unions. But it likewise has taken a stand against workers leaving the trade unions. While creating parallel organizations it has engendered the slogans of a battle for influence within the reformist unions. The whole mechanism represents an ideal self-sabotage.

Die Rote Fahne complains that many Communists consider meaningless the participation in reformist unions. “Why should we revive the old push-cart?”, they declare. And as a matter of fact, why? If one intends seriously to fight for the control of the old unions, one should appeal to the unorganized that they enter them; it is precisely the new strata that can supply the backing for the backing for the Left wing. But in that case one cannot build parallel unions, i.e., create a competitive agency to enroll the workers.

The policy that is recommended from above for work within the reformist unions rests on the same heights with all the other hodge-podge. Die Rote Fahne on January 28, laced it into the Communist members of the Metal Workers Union of Duesseldorf because they issued the slogan “War without mercy against the participation of trade union leaders” in the support of the Bruening government. Such “opportunistic” demands are disallowed because they presuppose (!) that the reformists are capable of refusing to support Bruening and his emergency decrees. Truly, this smacks of vicious horse-play! Die Rote Fahne deems it sufficient to call the leaders names but disallows their being subjected to a political test by the masses.

And all the while, it is precisely within the trade unions that an exceptionally fruitful field is now open for action. While the social democratic party still has the wherewithal to fool the workers by political hullaballoo, the trade unions are confronted by the impasse of capitalism as by a hopeless prison wall. The 200,000–300,000 workers who are now organized in independent Red unions, could serve as a priceless leaven within the reformist brotherhoods.

Criticism and Self-Criticism

Towards the end of January there was held in Berlin a Communist conference of the factory committees from the entire country. Die Rote Fahne printed the report, “The factory committees are welding the Red Workers Front.” (February 2, 1932). But you would seek in vain for information regards the composition of the conference, the number of industries and workers represented. In contradistinction to Bolshevism, which painstakingly and openly marked every change in the correlation of forces within the working class, the German Stalinists, following in the footsteps of the Russian, play hide and seek. They are loth to admit that the Communist factory committees compromised less than 4 per cent as against 84 per cent of the social democracy! In this correlation is summed up the balance of the “third period.” Suppose one does call the isolation of Communists in industry, the “Red United Front”, will this really help further the matter?

The prolonged crisis of capitalism induces within the proletariat the most virulent and dangerous line of demarcation: between the employed and the unemployed. Through the circumstance that the reformists control the industrial centers while the Communists control the unemployed, both sections of the proletariat are being paralyzed. The employed are in a position to bide a while longer. The unemployed are more impatient. At present their impatience bears a revolutionary character. But should the Communist party fail to find such forms and slogans for the struggle as would unite the employed and the unemployed and thereby open the perspective of a revolutionary solution, the impatience of the unemployed will inevitably react against the Communist party.

In 1917, despite the correct policy of the Bolshevik party and the rapid development of the revolution, the more badly off and the more impatient strata of the proletariat, even in Petrograd, began between September and October, to look away from the Bolsheviks towards the syndicalists and anarchists. Had not the October overturn broken out in time, the disintegration within the proletariat would have become acute and would have led to the decay of the revolution. In Germany there is no need for anarchists; their place can be taken by the National-Socialists who have wedded anarchist demagogy with conscious reactionary aims.

The workers are by no means immunized once for all against the influence of Fascism. The proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie represent coupled receptacles, especially under the present conditions, when the reserve army of workers cannot but effuse petty traders and hawkers, etc., while the bankrupt petty bourgeoisie effuses proletarians and lumpen-proletarians.

Salaried employees, the technical and administrative personnel and certain strata of the functionaries composed in the past one of the most important supports of the social democracy. At present, these elements have gone or are going over to the National Socialists. They are capable of drawing in their wake, if they haven’t already begun to do so, a stratum of the labor aristocracy. In this direction, National Socialism is penetrating into the proletariat from above.

Considerably more dangerous, however, is its possible penetration from below, through the unemployed. No class can long exist without perspectives and hopes. The unemployed do not represent a class, but they already compose a very compact and substantial layer, which is vainly striving to tear itself away from intolerable conditions. If it is true in general that only the proletarian revolution can save Germany from disintegration and decay, this is especially true as regards the millions of unemployed.

Alongside of the impotence of the Communist party in the factories and in trade unions, the numerical growth of the party resolves nothing. Within a tottering nation shot through by crisis and contradictions, an extreme left party can find new supporters in tens of thousands, especially if its entire apparatus is directed to the sole purpose of capturing members, in the line “of competition”. Everything depends upon the interrelation between the party and the class. A single employed Communist who is elected to the Factory Committee or to the administration of a trade union bears a greater significance than a thousand new members, picked up here and there, who enter the party today in order to leave it tomorrow.

But the individual influx of members into the party will not at all continue indefinitely. If the Communist party continues any longer to delay the struggle until that moment when it shall have entirely pushed out the reformists, then it will learn for certain that after a given point the social democracy will cease losing its influence to the Communist party, while the Fascists will begin disintegrating the unemployed who are the chief support of the Communist party. Failure to utilize its forces for the tasks that spring from the entire environment never passes scot-free for a political party.

What Is A “Red United Front”

In order to clear the road for the mass struggle, the Communist party strives to stimulate sectional strikes. The successes in this sphere have not been great. As ever, the Stalinists devote themselves to self-criticism, “We are as yet incapable of organizing” ... “We haven’t yet learned how to attract” ... “We haven’t as yet learned how to capture” ... What has “we” got to do with it, it unfailingly means “you”. The theory of the March days in 1921, of blessed memory, is being resurrected, which proposed to “electrify” the proletariat by means of the offensive activities of the minority. But the workers are in no need whatever of being “electrified”. What they want is that they be given a clear perspective, and be aided in creating the bases for a mass movement.

In its strike strategy the Communist party is obviously motivated by isolated citations from Lenin as interpreted by Manuilsky or Lozosky. As a matter of fact, there had been periods wherein the mensheviks fought against the “strike frenzy”, while the Bolsheviks, on the contrary, took their place at the head of every new strike, drawing into the movement ever increasing masses. This was in response to the period of the awakening of new class strata. Such was the tactic of the Bolsheviks in 1905; and during the industrial upward trend in the years preceding the war; and during the first months of the February revolution.

But in the period directly preceding October, beginning with the July clash of 1917, the tactic of the Bolsheviks assumed another character; they held back strikes, they applied the brake to them, because every large strike had the tendency to turn into a decisive battle, while the political postulates for it had not. as yet matured.

However, during those months the Bolsheviks continued to place themselves at the head of all strikes which flared up, despite their measures of precaution, chiefly in the more backward branches of industry (among textile workers, leather workers, etc.).

While under some conditions the Bolsheviks boldly stimulated strikes in the interests of the revolution, under other conditions, they, on the contrary, restrained from strikes in the interests of the revolution. In this sphere as well as in others, there is no ready made formula. But in every given period, the strike tactics of the Bolsheviks always composed a part of the general tactics, and to the advanced workers the connection between the part and the whole was always clear.

How do matters stand now in Germany? The employed workers do not resist wage cuts because they are in fear of the unemployed. Small wonder; in the face of several million unemployed, the ordinary trade-union strike, so organized, is obviously futile. It is doubly futile in the face of political antagonism between the employed and unemployed. This does not exclude sectional strikes, especially in the more backward and less centralized branches of industry. But it is just the workers of the more important branches of industry who, in such an environment evince a leaning toward heeding the voices of the reformist leaders. The attempts of the Communist party to unleash a strike struggle, without changing the general situation within the proletariat, lead only to minor guerrilla operations, which, even if successful, are left without a sequel.


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