J. Walcher


The Congress of the German Metal Workers Union

(The Greatest Trade-Union in the World)

(1 October 1921)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. I No. 1, 1 October 1921, pp. 7–8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2018). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The 15th general congress of the Gentian Metal Workers Union was held in Jena from the 12th to 18th of September. 780 delegates, representing 1.6 million members participated in the congress. This gigantic number alone shows the outstanding importance of this greatest Trade-Union in the world, a fact which was proudly and repeatedly emphasised by the delegates at Jena.

The regular general conferences of the G.M.W.U. are held every two years. At the conference two years ago, which was held in Stuttgart, the opposition had a decided majority, though lack of unity, insight and consistency rendered it incapable of attaining victory. A new executive was then elected but apart from that, everything remained as before. Taking all in all, the new “radical” executive treated the problems of the day after the manner of the old executive. This resulted in an ever growing discontent. The new executive, in order to protect itself against the attacks of the opposition, sought for and obtained, under the leadership of Dissmann, a rapprochement with the Majority Socialists. Dissmann was one of the loudest shouters for Amsterdam in the contest for the latter or Moscow. He was one of the leading trade-unionists in the battle against the Communists. The Majority Socialists though they had reason to be satisfied with the activities of the new executive, remained coolly aloof, bearing in mind the defeat they had suffered at Stuttgart. The Communists were unitedly in the opposition.

The basis of the Executive which was to a large extent composed of Independents had little by little become very small. The Majority Socialists were industriously labouring at strengthening and widening their influence, a policy which had also been adopted by the Communists. The election to the District Administration of Berlin, held in December 1920, showed that the Communists influence had rapidly gained ground, the Communists receiving 36,000 of a total of 61,000 votes. The effects of the March action which in many places resulted in the dismissal of Communists from the shops, have for a time weakened our influence in the G.M.W.U. Our influence was still strong enough, however, to fill the Executive, located in Stuttgart, with misgivings.

For time the foremost care of the Executive was the question how they could manage to secure the appointment to the conference of delegates, who would be favourable for them. Three groups were endeavouring to win for themselves the favour of the electors. The election regulations, decided upon by the executive then in power, should have taken account of this fact and allowed every group to nominate its own candidates. At this juncture however, the shrewdness of the Executive became apparent. They decided that only a majority and a minority list would be permitted. The result of this was that the Independents, being the middle group, reaped the benefit sometimes of the left and sometimes of the right minority. These election tricks have been especially harmful to the Communists. This can be exemplified by the fact that we polled 65,733 votes against the 124,530 votes of the Majority Socialists and Independents in the elections for delegates in the six districts Hagen, Essen (Rhineland-Westphalia), Hamburg, Koenigsberg, Berlin and Stuttgart. The 124,530 votes of the united followers of Amsterdam elected 203 delegates while the Communists with their 65,733 votes had to be satisfied with 48 delegates, or, in other words, 25 votes were necessary for one Amsterdam delegate while 1,369 votes were needed for a Communists delegate.

The 114 Communists delegates who were elected in spite of these manoeuvres and who formed a Communists fraction in Jena did not in the least express the extent of the confidence enjoyed by the Communists among the membership of the G.M.W.U. The faction of the Majority Socialists which numbered 420 members had a decided majority.

The Communists fraction, though it was numerically not in position to effectively influence the decisions of the session, has nevertheless had a far greater influence upon the progress of the deliberations than most of the participants suspected. In a speech lasting four hours, Dissmann reported on the activities of the Executive. The speaker carefully avoided a discussion on the problems of the class struggle and instead attacked the Communists whenever deficiencies or the insufficiency of trade-unionist tactics became too apparent. A resolution moved by the Communists, which provided that a discussion of the economic situation and the resulting trade-unionist tactics be put on the agenda was rejected by the majority. In the discussion following Dissmann’s speech, the Communists then endeavoured to make the metal workers see the necessity for a change in trade- unionist tactics, because of the complete change of the economic basis resulting front the War and its effects. The Executive as well as the Majority Socialists and Independent fractions stubbornly avoided this problem. In this, the decisive point, the general congress has therefore proved a complete failure. All that resulted was an ambiguous resolution, the wording of which finds an explanation in the endeavour to make it acceptable to both the Majority Socialists and Independents. The attempt succeeded. Dissmann tried his best to gain the favour of the Majority Socialists. In their servility towards the Majority Socialists the Independents did not stop at sacrificing their principles; they even helped to defeat the Communists resolution against a participation of the G.M.W.U. in the collaboration of employers and employees. Previously to the general conference Dissmann had maintained in the metal workers’ organ that in trade-union policy there was hardly anything dividing the Independents from the Majority Socialists. If the Independent fraction at Jena wished to prove that Dissmann was correct in that respect, We must readily admit that it has indeed succeeded in doing so.

In spite of this formal agreement which was easily noticeable from the very beginning, the open conflict between Majority Socialists and Independents was only avoided by means of sustained efforts behind the scenes. The mere presence of Communists compelled the quarreling brothers to reach an understanding. In order to lessen the influence of the Communists in the Executive, a change in the statutes was necessary which, however, could only be effected by a two thirds majority. This made it necessary for the Majority Socialists and Independent to vote together in order to effect the change in the statutes. In return the Independent members of the Executive were to be allowed to remain at their posts.. The agreement was duly concluded and thus the Executive is henceforth composed of 11 salaried members of whom 5 are Independents and the others Majority Socialists.

This however was not the only price the Communists had ‘to pay for the agreement of Majority Socialists and Independents. At first the Majority Socialists had been disinclined to sanction the old Executive’s activities in expelling Communists. The second speaker put forward by their fraction declared that they would consider every case on its own merits and then decide accordingly. The Independents, however, stubbornly insisted upon a paragraph being accepted in the common resolution expressly approving of the measures directed against the Communists. This the Independents finally succeeded in carrying through, thereby deciding the fate of the expelled Communists.

The formalities gone through afterwards by the Commission for the redress of grievances were nothing but badly masked comedy, which will tend to rouse the resentment of the opposition all the more, because it was generally expected that the exclusions would be cancelled, because of the agreement concluded shortly before at Halle. The gentlemen who labour under the delusion that by keeping out of the G.M.W.U. prominent Communists representatives they can damage the Communists cause, will very soon wake up to the fast that the opposite will take place.

The Communists fraction had hardly any influence in the decisions over the 750 motions put before the congress. Only in one case did the initiative of the Communists succeed in having a motion carried contrary to the wishes of the Executive. In accordance with the decisions adopted at the London Congress of the Amsterdam Trade Union International and those adopted by the International Congress of Metal Workers held in Luzern, a motion was moved, empowering the Executive to prevent the manufacture of munitions. The representative of the Executive remarked on this point that through the motion deserved high praise, it would be quite sufficient to allow the Executive to act in this respect on its own discretion. A Communists representative opposed this settlement and demanded that on this occasion it should be proved that the decisions of Amsterdam were worth more than the paper they were printed on. The majority thought it necessary to prove this and accordingly seconded the motion. The rest of the motions had to be hurried through because the first two days had absolutely been wasted. On the first day foreign representations amongst whom were Merrheim-France arid Kruppa-Hungary misused the hospitality and basely attacked the Communists and the Third International. This was more so, because the Executive had not thought it necessary to invite representatives of the Russian Metal Workers Union.

One word more on the outward proceedings of the congress. It has been as far as we know the first congress where all the participants were organised in three rigidly disciplined fractions. Every fraction took a stand on the various problems and appointed speakers who were granted the floor alternately according to the numerical strength of their fraction. An unprejudiced spectator must agree that this arrangement had a very benevolent influence upon the deliberations of the congress. A number of small matters which otherwise would have occupied the time of the congress were thus settled within the fraction. These debates within the fractions furthermore did much towards bringing about a certain clearness and understanding, which greatly, facilitated a business-like exchange of opinion. Another advantage of the forming of fractions is that the alternation of speakers tended to keep the interest in the proceedings awake till the end. In his concluding speech, the chairman justly maintained that a congress attended by nearly 1,000 delegates had heretofore only very seldom practised such a discipline and endurance. Though the daily sessions at times lasted ten hours and more, the delegates remained in their places and attentively listened to the proceedings. After this first great test it can safely be said that the forming of fractions is certain to improve the Trade-Union Movement as a whole.

The progress of the congress justifies the Communists fraction in expecting much in the future; it did not entertain any illusion whatsoever, which cannot be said of the Independent opposition of two years ago. The fraction was characterised by an imposing unity; it knew its aim and is certain to reach it. The German proletariat whose situation is steadily growing worse is approaching heavy struggles. Prices of foodstuffs are increasing on one hand, while on the other the value of the money is decreasing rapidly. The Government is making preparations for a gigantic pillaging expedition in the form of taxes. The employers once more believe themselves to be masters of the situation.

A continued gigantic concentration of capital is taking place. The gigantic formations of capitalism already in existence and still growing up cannot under the present circumstances be combatted with the old tactics of the Trade-Unions. The metal workers will be the first to feel this and will clearly comprehend the correctness of the Communist point of view and then rally round the Communist flags.

We will again see each other at the next congress – if we do not meet before that.

Last updated on 5 May 2021