J. Walcher

The Labor Movement

The Congress of the Trade Union
Opposition in Czecho-Slovakia

(November 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 99, 16 November 1922, p. 800.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). 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.

From the 26th to the 29th of October a Congress of the utmost importance for the whole international proletariat was held in Prague. Since the 26th of October the schism in the Czecho-Slovakian trade unions is an accomplished fact. On one side stand the followers of the Red Labor Union International, on the firm ground of the class struggle; on the other side stand the followers of Amsterdam, in the morass of national opportunism and reformism. This state of affairs has not been brought about by the congress; the reverse is the case; this state of affairs made the congress necessary as a last attempt to bridge the schism in the Czecho-Slovakian proletariat organized in trade unions, a schism much to be regretted and most harmful in its effects on the proletariat.

A proclamation addressed by the congress to all the workers begins with the words:

“The unions and groups excluded from the trade union centrals convene the all-trades-union congress of class conscious workers, for the purpose of again attempting to renew tire unity of the trade union movement and the alliance of the class forces of the whole proletariat.”

The sentence gives a sharp outline of the high and single aim of the congress: restoration of unity! This was the goal of all participators in the congress, and all were prepared to make the greatest sacrifices for the attainment of this goal. Although the Czech and German reformists of this state have proved on innumerable occasions that they would rather see the trade unions transformed into a heap of ruins than permit the trade unions to take up a revolutionary attitude in accordance with the will of the majority of the members, although such experience has deprived the class-conscious workers of all faith in the Amsterdam trade union alliance in Czecho-Slovakia, their confidential representatives applied again and again – for the last time on October 25, to their centrals with the demand for negotiations on the terms of a re-alliance. This last attempt shared the fate of all earlier ones. Too cowardly to confess openly to the nature of their action, the central of the reformist trade union alliance enveloped the rejection of this last request in a deluge of offensive phraseology. The heads of the trade union alliance were well aware of what was at stake. They had been informed that if this attempt should fail, the delegates from all parts of Czecho-Slovakia would definitely decide the question of the restoration of unity in the Czecho-Slovakian trade union movement at the Extraordinary All-Trades-Union Congress, without – and if necessary against those who would not even at the last moment respect the wishes of the overwhelming majority of organized workers.

If the last attempt has failed, and the schism in the Czecho-Slovakian trade unions remains for the present, the course taken by the All Trades-Union Congress has shown the Czecho-Slovakian proletariat, and the workers of the whole world, that the class-conscious workers are still willing – despite bitter experiences – to take up arms at any time, and to fight in unison with all proletarians prepared to make war on capitalism, and against want and misery. This was once more solemnly and formally declared by the congress in a resolution on the “united front”, and in the proclamation to the workers of Czecho-Slovakia, already mentioned. This declaration is by no means the propagandist declaration of principles by a minority. This Extraordinary Congress showed the majority of the organized workers of Czecho-Slovakia to be already gathered around the banner of the opposition. 261 delegates, representing 318,000 members, were present at the congress. The most powerful organization is the Chemical Union with 75,000 members; then comes the Agricultural Laborers’ Union with 61,000 members, and the Building Workers’ Union with 31,000 members! Among the other unions and groups may be mentioned: the wood workers with 18,000 members, the railwaymen with 20,000 and the metal workers with 12,000. The unions named, and a large number of smaller ones, are already standing outside of the trade union alliance. Besides these delegates, 47 other delegates were present at the congress, representing about 40,000 trade union members belonging to unions still allied to the Amsterdam trade union alliance.

After all attempts to come to an understanding with the Amsterdam fraction had proved impossible, the opposition in the Czecho-Slovakian trade union movement was compelled to create for itself a firm organization basis. In Czecho-Slovakia the trade union movement has always been much split up into factions, and the natural reaction of this fact is an extra, ordinarily lively conception of united organization among the masses, a wish to bring all workers and clerks standing on the common ground of class war – without differentiation of profession or nation into one organization. This idea was predominant that, despite all objections raised, an International All. Trades-Union Alliance was created, which, though formed of industrial sections, fairly approaches the united organization in the sense of the One Big Union. The All-Trades-Union Alliance possesses for instance only one newspaper, the Worker; this has, however, technical supplements for different vocations. All pre-paid to a central treasury, and the committee of the All-Trades-Union Alliance possesses exclusive administrative rights, and its sanction is required before strikes are entered upon.

The principle of the united union, and of full power for its committee, was recognized by all participators in the congress. The opposition, (less than one tenth of the congress), demanded that the dues be collected by the industrial section; the opposition was however willing to have a fair percentage paid in to the central fighting fund. The opposition further advocated the principle that as a rule the industrial sections should be under the obligation to finance their economic struggles out of their own means, and that the central fighting funds should only be drawn upon in aid of particularly weak industrial sections, or in cases where an industrial section fought not only for its own particular interests, but for demands of fundamental significance touching the collective interests of the working class. The opposition also held it to be essential that the industrial sections be granted the right of themselves choosing their officials. But just in this point the majority was not prepared to make any concession, as it considered the new arrangement to possess essential advantages as compared with the conditions hitherto obtaining.

At the congress the minority declared that they would of course loyally submit to the resolutions of the majority, but that they reserved the right of laying this question before the II. Congress of R.I.L.U. for decision; the majority was in agreement with this. Both sides declared that they would recognise the decisions of the congress without reservation. The decisions that will be reached by the congress in Moscow is of far-reaching significance for the whole International. Without intending to anticipate the decision of the congress, it may be observed that the Red Labor Union International, in its program of action, declares itself in favor of industrial organization, a view which is also expressed in the greeting written by Comrade Lozowsky.

The delegates of the oppositional unions which are not yet members of the Amsterdam Bureau have pledged themselves to formally join the All-Trade-Union Alliance within a rear. In the meanwhile these unions have a superstructure in common with the All-Trade-Unions Alliance.

On the third day the conference of the Chemical Union was held. This conference declared itself unreservedly in agreement with the resolutions adopted by the All-Trade Union Congress.

The special conference of the former trade union opposition closed a chapter in the history of the Czecho-Slovakian trade union movement and a new epoch was begun, an epoch of struggle and sacrifice, but also of great promise. The class-conscious trade union members of Czecho-Slovakia are blinded by no illusions; they are well aware that they are surrounded by enemies. They are aware that they have not only to fight against the overwhelming depression of a disastrous economic crisis, but against a brutal capitalism; they are aware that the heroes of Amsterdam will continue, to take sides with the capitalists, and not with the proletariat, in great questions and in small everyday matters alike. But the Czecho-Slovakian comrades judge the situation clearly and calmly; they are today able to speak in the name of the majority of the Czecho-Slovakian proletariat, and the banner of the All-Trade-Union Alliance is already surrounded by all that is class-conscious by all that is willing for sacrifice and struggle.

Despite all obstacles in the road, despite difficulties and enemies, it will be the All Trade Union Alliance which will lead the Czecho-Slovakian proletariat to battle and victory.

Last updated on 5 May 2021