Leon Trotsky

The Trade Union Question [1]

(August 1938)

Written: August 1938.
Publisher: From Revolutionary History, Vol.7 No.1.
Translated: Ted Crawford.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive, 2002.
Transcribed: Ted Crawford.
HTML Markup: David Walters.

31 August 1938

Dear comrade Dauge,

I reply to you, moreover in great haste, only on the single point of your letter, the most important point, that which concerns union activity. You say, “Unhappily in this affair we come up against a reformist union bureaucracy absolutely incapable of understanding the virtues of trade union unity for the working class. That is without doubt the greatest obstacle.” This characterisation worries me a little. You say that the scum who lead the unions are incapable of understanding the virtues of trade union unity. For my part I fear that they understand their interests much better than many revolutionaries understand theirs. To tolerate revolutionary activity in the unions, in the name of the abstract principle of unity, signifies suicide for the reformist bosses. Well, they wish to live and dominate. That is why they expel you. From their point of view and that of their bosses, the capitalists, they are right. You say that it is “the greatest obstacle” to our activity. That is the same as saying that the greatest obstacle to our activity among the masses is the existence of the bourgeoisie and its labour lieutenants in working class organisations. The trade union bureaucracy is capital’s policeman, much more effective that the official police. We never alleged that the ill-will of the Tsar’s police excused our separation from the masses. We tried clandestine and conspiratorial methods to fool the police. We must do the same thing to the reformist police in the unions. It is the only really serious work. There cannot be obstacles which can prevent us accomplishing it. I await with great interest the decisions of your conference.

P.S. Vereeken has sent me a big pamphlet containing his address to the conference. The good man, so in love with himself, imagines that I am going to read his prose now that his resignation has freed us from such boring obligations. [2] Henceforth I believe the best method to treat him is to ignore him totally.


1. Letter to Dauge, Houghton Library Harvard (7669). Dictated in French.

2. Remember that Vereeken had walked out on the 8th June.

Trotsky on Belgium

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Last updated on: 22.2.2007