Leon Trotsky’s Writings on Britain
Volume 2

The Anglo-Russian Committee

Errors of Syndicalism

2. ... In the capitalist states, the most monstrous forms of bureaucratism. are to be observed precisely in the trade unions. It is enough to look at America, Britain and Germany. Amsterdam [1] is a powerful international organization of the trade union bureaucracy. It is thanks to it that the whole structure of capitalism now stands upright, above all in Europe and especially in Britain. If there were not a bureaucracy of the trade unions, then the police, the army, the courts, the lords, the monarchy would appear before the proletarian masses as nothing but pitiful ridiculous playthings. The bureaucracy of the trade unions is the backbone of British imperialism. It is by means of this bureaucracy that the bourgeoisie exists, not only in the metropolis, but in India, in Egypt and in the other colonies. One would have to be completely blind to say to the British workers: “Be on guard against the conquest of power and always remember that your trade unions are the antidote to the dangers of the state”. The Marxist will say to the British workers: “The trade union bureaucracy is the chief instrument for your oppression by the bourgeois state. Power must be wrested from the hands of the bourgeoisie and for that its principal agent, the trade union bureaucracy, must be overthrown”. Parenthetically, it is especially for this reason that the bloc of Stalin with the strike-breaker Purcell [2] was so criminal.

From the example of Britain, one sees very clearly how absurd it is to counterpose in principle trade union organization to state organization. In Britain, more than anywhere else, the state rests upon the back of the working class which constitutes the overwhelming majority of the population of the country. The mechanism is such that the bureaucracy is based directly on the workers, and the state indirectly, through the intermediarv of the trade union bureaucracy.

Up to now, we have not mentioned the Labour Party which, in Britain, the classic country of trade unions, is only a political transposition of the same trade union bureaucracy. The same leaders guide the trade unions, betray the General Strike, lead the electoral campaign and later on sit in the ministries. The Labour Party and the trade unions – these are not two principles, they are only a technical division of labour. Together they axe the fundamental support of the domination of the British bourgeoisie. The latter cannot be overthrown without overthrowing the Labourite bureaucracy. And that cannot be attained by opposing the trade union as such to the state as such, but by the active opposition of the Communist Party to the Labourite bureaucracy in all fields of social life. In the trade unions, in strikes, in the electoral campaign, in parliament and in power. The principal task of a real party of the proletariat consists of putting itself at the head of the working masses, organized in trade unions and unorganized, to wrest power from the bourgeoisie and to strike a death-blow to the “dangers of state-ism”.

From The Errors in Principle of Syndicalism,
Byulleten Oppozitsii, November-December 1929

Volume 2, Chapter 2 Index


1. The Amsterdam International (International Federation of Trade Unions): founded in 1913, it became a focus for the reformist trade unions after the October Revolution.

2. Alfred Purcell, left-wing member of the General Council of the TUC; president of the TUC 1924.

Volume 2 Index

Trotsky’s Writings on Britain

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Last updated on: 2.7.2007