G. Zinoviev

In Soviet Russia

The Strike in the Workers’ State

(14 March 1922)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 20, 14 March 1922, pp. 151–152.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, September 2019.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The renaissance of private capital and the regeneration of concession-capital give rise to groups of workers who work not directly for the proletarian state, but for private employers This category of workers is rather numerous. At the present time there are about 50,000 workers employed in private enterprises in Moscow alone. The number of workers employed by private employers in Petrograd reaches over 10,000. If we take into consideration the fact that the number of workers in general in the cities of Moscow and Petrograd has been greatly reduced we at once see that that part of the working class employed in private enterprises is already very large. The percentage of workers exploited by private capitalists will undoubtedly rise. The concession-capitalists will also employ a considerable number of workers.

It is the task of the trade-unions to represent and defend the interests of this category of workers to their utmost. The working conditions in the private enterprises during the transition period seem to be quite favorable to the officials, mechanics and workers, at any rate this seems to be the case in the first period. But in a short while the mechanics and workers employed in these private enterprises will begin to see and feel that without the protection of the proletarian state and the trade unions, they are subject to the mercy or mercilessness of the exploiter, against whom they alone are absolutely powerless.

Our trade-unions must once more create strike-funds and prepare themselves for the economic struggles which they are to direct and lead under the new economic conditions in defense of the interests of those workers who are employed by private and concessionaire capital. This does not mean that we shall always resort to the strike in the private and concessionaire enterprises. The trade unions that operate under a Soviet form of government and have the complete government machine solidly behind them should be in a position to check the private employer and the concessionaire even without a strike.

All this is clear and simple. But the more difficult question is the one of a strike in state, i.e., in Soviet enterprises. As every one knows, such strikes did break out during the four years of Soviet rule.

As long as we are still so poor, and as long as we are still made to feel how we were driven to ruin by the economic blockade, by the intervention of foreign imperialists and by the sabotage of the worst part of the technicians, so long will we have to count with the possibility of strikes within the government factories. At the time when the first strikes broke out under the Soviet regime, i.e., when we witnessed the first strike in the proletarian state, the Mensheviki and Social Revolutionaries simply overbubbled with joy, for they believed that these strikes would inevitably overthrow the Soviet power These fools calculated along the following lines:

“The workers struck against Czarism, and as a result Czarism went overboard, the workers are striking under the Soviet rule – ergo: the Soviet power must likewise fall.”

Of course, they completely failed to comprehend the character of the strikes in our proletarian state. They failed to see that our strikes were of a totally different subjective and objective character than the strikes under Czarism and under Kerensky. It must not be understood that we say all of the strikes that we have witnessed in our proletarian state during the past few years were of a purely idyllic and innocent character Not at all. These strikes were sometimes of a distinct counter-revolutionary nature. These strikes always caused untold damage to our economic administration, thereby also endangering the existence of the proletarian state.

In spite of all this, however, these strikes were in reality no class-struggles at all; they were mere household disputes. In times of exceptionally poor food conditions, and of unusually intense suffering under the financial and fuel difficulties, these groups of workers voiced their protest through the strike. But these were mostly “frictions and conflicts between single groups of the working class and single institutions or organs of the proletarian state”, as the resolution of the Central Committee of our Party rightly expresses it.

These “frictions and conflicts” have greatly hurt the proletarian state and consequently also the working class as a whole. But unfortunately there is no way of immediately eliminating such “friction and conflicts”. These disputes and conflicts have two primary causes:

  1. The general impoverished state of our country which was driven to ruin by world imperialism, and
  2. Serious errors committed by single institutions and organs of our proletarian state, the mistakes which the resolution of the Central Committee characterized as “bureaucratization”.

No one can determine with any degree of precision the extent to which the general poverty and the bureaucratization of these institutions are each responsible for the friction and conflicts arising.

It is the task of the trade-unions to practise timely intervention in preventing such “bureaucratized” strikes, and with the aid of our economic organs to attempt the complete elimination of the strikes caused by the general poverty.

This task is not an easy one. Such work requires officials who as the above-cited resolution of the Central Committee already states, live in the midst of the masses, men who know the worker’s life thoroughly, who at every moment, in any arising question can, without the least idealization give a correct estimate of the mood and temper of the mass, its real thoughts, needs and desires, the degree of its class-consciousness, and of the strength of the influence of the prejudices and remainders of old times, men, who through their good-fellowship and through their energetic and sincere attempts to satisfy all the needs of the mass, should be able to win its unlimited confidence.

During the period of “War Communism” just past, our trade-union functionaries had only one answer to every strike:

“You have no right to strike, you have no right to demand that the trade-unions represent your interests as sellers of the commodity, labor-power. The Soviet state is a workers’ state. Under a Soviet government the workers need no special protection for their economic interests.”

This answer was essentially correct. It is essentially correct even at the present moment. But there is a danger in its mere repetition, in its becoming a stereotyped formula, trade-union officials are not themselves in the midst of the workers’ life, if they do not know and understand it thoroughly, if they do not step in in time to prevent the bureaucratization of some of our government organs, and particularly if they do not succeed in convincing every worker that everything that can possibly be done under the circumstances is being done for him. The border line is very narrow, it should therefore not be transgressed. The correct treatment of the question becomes a stale catch-word which only repulses the workers if the trade- union officials get out of touch with the workers, and if they fail to achieve the maximum improvement possible under the circumstances. Of course, we all know how limited our means are, and how little we are at present in a position to increase wages in our government enterprises, or to improve working conditions in general. But let us be frank and outspoken. Have we really done everything in our power to improve the miserable sanitary and hygienic conditions in our government enterprises? Again, have we really done our best to improve the working conditions, even in the most important of our government enterprises, and even if we take full account of the miserable state of our finances? No, a thousand times no!

The resolution of our Central Committee reads as follows:

“The best and most important estimate of the success of the trade-unions’ work, is the degree to which it succeeds in preventing mass-conflicts in the government enterprises and in instituting a policy that will offer an all-around and effective representation and defense of the workers’ interests, thereby eliminating all causes leading to friction and conflict.”

This is of course correct. In the capitalist state, all other things being equal, we may safely aay that that trade union which has carried out the greatest number of strikes is the best and most militant one. In the Soviet State, the contrary is true. The careful policy which must offer thorough and effective protection to the strike weapon, which weighed so heavily upon the Soviet power in times of great stress.

A proletarian state which, like our Soviet state, is in the transition-stage cannot at present pass a law which is to prohibit alt strikes in the government enterprises, although the danger, the insanity and the reactionary, sometimes even counter revolutionary, character of these strikes is an axiom for all advanced workers. At the same time, however, our proletarian state cannot proclaim the unlimited right to strike in the government enterprises, as the Mensheviki and Social Revolutionaries demand in the interest of the bourgeoisie. It is no contradiction in our tactics but a contradiction arising from the actuality of the transition period.

The stronger our Soviet state becomes, and the more successful we are in improving our economic administration, the quicker will our wounds that were caused by the war and the counter-revolution heal, the more radically we proceed in cutting away the tumors of Menshevism and counter-revolution from our social structure, the sooner our trade unions increase their role as arbitrators in the settling of disputes and conflicts, the higher the cultural degree to which the workers reach and the lesser the bureaucratization of our individual government and economic organs becomes, the sooner will this contradiction disappear. This new assignment of trade-union tasks gives the trade unions considerable rights, but it also assigns to them certain considerable duties. The campaign provided by the resolution of our Central Committee will require months of work. This resolution treats not only of the immediate questions of the trade-union movement in the narrower sense of the word, but it also deals with the general situation of the working-class at the present time.

Our trade-unions must transform themselves. In the immediate future a considerable revival of trade-union activity will take place. The party must be “on the spot” and ready for action. An immense amount of work is before us. The trade unions must at all costs be equal to their new, very important and very complicated problems.

Last updated: 8 September 2019