Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Cause

Communist League

Reformism vs. Revolutionary Struggle in the Labor Movement

Report for the Labor Conference of the Communist League, April, 1971

The purpose of this report is to discuss the fundamental deviations from Marxism-Leninism in the labor movement. The report will concentrate on the deviations of reformism, revisionism, anarchism and syndicalism. It should be understood that reformism is the dominant deviation in the labor movement in the U.S. today. The other deviations must also be discussed, however, because of their close connection and inter-action with reformism. Revisionism, for instance, vulgarizes Marxism and compromises principles, thus allowing the dominance of reformism in the labor movement. Its lack of working class ideology and opportunist principles bolsters reformism and delivers the labor movement directly into the controlling paws of the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, anarchism and syndicalism arise as a reaction to this opportunism and also in a desperation struggle against extreme state repression of the labor movement. Of course, when discussing deviations, we cannot forget Trotskyism, the slippery, today opportunist, tomorrow sectarian, vacillating element.

The product of these deviations are the narrowing of the effect of the labor movement on society as a whole, the denial of revolutionary scientific theory in dealing with the labor movement, and the stifling of the political consciousness among the broad masses of the working class that is necessary to produce the real Marxist-Leninist objective, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.


Reformism regards socialism as a remote goal and nothing more, and actually repudiates the socialist revolution and aims at establishing socialism by peaceful means. Reformism advocates not class struggle, but class collaboration. (Anarchism or Socialism, J.V. Stalin)

This statement by Stalin exposes the nature of the reformists’ outlook. Reformism is a program of relying on gradual change and making things a little bit better, slowly. It develops out of faith in the fair mindedness of the bourgeoisie. This is a shaky foundation to build a program around, that is, dependence on the liberalness of monopoly capitalists.

The reformists feel that they can serve humanity and progress by getting up close to the most reactionary forces in society. With faulty logic like this it is no wonder that the labor movement is on rough ground.

Stalin said in Dialectical and Historical Materialism, “... In order not to err in policy, one must be a revolutionary, not a reformist.” What Stalin says here is very simple in appearance but very deep when realized in practice. It means the difference between moving a force of workers on an offensive drive for social change and just demands, educating them as to the nature of capitalism in the process, or sneaking around, dealing with the “liberal” and the “just” bosses, using the workers for a backstop (in other words, class collaboration). It means the difference between getting reforms by means of revolutionary action or getting reforms as a handout from the ruling class. When the revolutionary method is not applied, the reformist dealings give the boss a fine opportunity to buy off the opposition from the top, an opportunity which he readily accepts. The reformist method gives the ruling class free reign with the “carrot and the stick.” The reformists tell the workers about how reasonable the bosses are and warn them (the workers) not to cause trouble. (They’re getting the carrots and don’t feel like giving them up.) We know what that leaves for the workers. They get the stick!

In the U.S. there are three general types of reformists on the scene as trade union leaders. They are: 1) Business Unionists, 2) Social Democrat Reformists, 3) Revisionist, ex-communist trade union leaders. The first type, the business trade unionists, are exemplified by Gompers, the founder of the AFL, Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers and founder of the CIO, and Hoffa of the Teamsters. These business unionists are the “trade unionists pure and simple.” They have a program of big business and trade unions working together to make lots of money for all, or in other words, reformism through pure class collaboration and fighting for the “pork chop” issues (wages and fringe benefits). According to Foster, this trend was characterized during the twenties by the “rationalization of industry.” This was more of the Gompers style of trade unionism than the others, that is, the idea that the employers and employees had the same interests. This idea is still pushed today by the bosses as can be seen in this excerpt from a typical labor contract agreement: “It is the intent of the Union and the Company, in the mutual interest of the Company and all its employees, to foster and preserve harmonious relations between the Company and the employees, and to secure and sustain maximum productivity per employee.. . .”

Also during the period of the “rationalization of industry” the largest industries set up company unions. There was much stock ownership among the workers. The “worker-capitalist” concept was pushed on a large scale. “Incentive” and bonus systems were introduced as disguises for speedups. All of this collaborationist nonsense was made possible by the post World War I boom and the U.S.’s newly arrived at position as a world capitalist leader. This condition of prosperity did not last long, however. The Great Depression took a lot of the wind out of the sails of this particular reformist ideology.

The trend of business unionism persists today, however, and is characterized by its refusal to take up political issues. This trend can maintain strength during prosperity such as the working class has experienced under imperialism, but once again this prosperity is on the decline. The workers begin to realize the necessity of political issues and the importance of the struggle around these issues to lend backbone to their economic demands.

The Social Democrats are the second type of reformists we will deal with. The Social Democrats are characterized by leaders like Reuther and Woodcock of the UAW. These people are noted for their combining of a political stand of sorts with the economic struggle. An example of how the Social Democrats come to power is the case of Walter Reuther. The basic fact is that he came to power on the tail of a vigorous “left” led trade union struggle by making some “progressive” political gestures. He was allowed to slip into power largely due to the backdoor dealings of the leadership of the Communist Party of the U.S.A. (CPUSA), but we will go into this story in more detail later on.

The thing that stands out about the social democrat leadership in recent years is the contradiction between their militant talk and their collaborationist actions. For instance, Leonard Woodcock, now the International President of the UAW, while outspoken on the question of ending the war (a popular position these days) went right along with the ruling class’ line on inflation. He said he was ”concerned that constantly escalating wage increases could bring on a major recession or even a depression”; with this statement, laying the blame for the crisis of capitalism on the workers’ heads. With leaders like this who “reform” us into the poorhouse, we might as well have our trade union leadership coming straight from the White House. And that is entirely possible with the direction these ’leaders’ are giving us.

The third type of reformist trade union leaders are the lowest form of all. They are the no good rat revisionist trade unionists, the ones who were at one time communists or at least called themselves communists. These traitors came into power as a direct result of militant communist action enjoying broad support of the workers; and once in position they decided that they liked the social company at the top much more than among the rank and filers. This type of reformist is characterized by Bridges and Goldblat of the Longshoreman’s Union, and Mattles of the United Electrical Workers’ Union. These revisionists conveniently adopted the theory of socialism through evolution, the theory that revolutionary struggle was not necessary any more (after all, they got what they wanted).

All these various types of reformists very slyly serve the ruling class. In many ways they are much more efficient than the overt fascist labor leaders. They tend to cover for the bourgeoisie and offer the working class the hope of fair treatment at the hands of the bosses. As Lenin said:

The bourgeoisie in all countries inevitably evolve two systems of rule, two methods of fighting for their interests and of retaining their rule, and these two methods at times alternate and at times are interwoven one with another in various combinations. (Differences in the European Labor Movement)

The two methods that Lenin refers to are the methods of force and liberalism (the carrot and the stick mentioned earlier) and the reformists depend on the method of liberalism, thus leaving themselves wide open to and defenseless against the method of force. When the force is used, these do-gooders will have to choose sides and we can bet that they will support their “liberal” fascist friends if their nice comfortable jobs are at stake. They are in position to fit perfectly into a fascist labor front.


Revisionism, which is opportunism applied to Marxism-Leninism, finds the struggle around reforms in themselves to be a perfectly acceptable form of struggle. As Lenin says, “Opportunism is the sacrificing of the long term and vital interests of the Party to its momentary, passing, secondary interests.” (Chinese pamphlet, Leninism and the Struggle Against Revisionism, p. 11) With their opportunist outlook the revisionists can conveniently forget the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the interests of the revolution to go after the more easily obtainable reforms, the handouts of the bourgeoisie.

Reforms are regarded by the revisionists as a partial realization of socialism, not as a buffer between the classes or a tactic of the bourgeois ruling class. On this point Lenin was also quite clear:

Our reformists of 1905 could not understand that historic situations arise when reforms, and particularly mere promises of reforms, pursue exclusively one aim; to ally the unrest of the people, to force the revolutionary class to cease, or at least slacken its struggle. (Speech on the 1905 Revolution)

The CPUSA is a prime example of how revisionism plays into the hands of the ruling class. The struggle to build the industrial unions, the fight for the CIO, was a communist led fight, for the most part, and the struggle was seriously compromised, at great cost to the working class, due to the revisionist leadership of the Party.

While the rank and file communists served the interest of the working class exceptionally well at this time, it is important to note that the communist leadership, mainly the traitor Earl Browder, made and Jed the Party onto the road of revisionism. From the beginning of the CIO the communist leadership placed high hopes in the “progressive” nature of the CIO leadership. In order not to antagonize these labor bureaucrats of the “center” the party stopped recruiting in the basic industries, and ended its trade union fractions and shop newspapers. In other words, it ceased to do political work among the rank and file and instead chose to work with top union and political leaders. (Peoples’ Tribune, Vol. 2, No. 5)

In the Thirties, the industrial nuclei were considered the basic unit of the Party. There were whole networks of shop units tied to area committees which directed the local work and there were nation wide trade union fractions which coordinated work between the particular shops and the movement in general.

It was announced in 1938 that the Party general fractions in the trade unions and mass organizations would be abolished except ”where reactionary bureaucrats use their usurped power to prevent democratic participation of the workers in the affairs of the organization.” This announcement was made by Roy Hudson, a National Committee member of the Party. The announcement certainly smells of a deal to keep hands off of the unions that were running on a good liberal reformist policy. It indicates a complete denial of Lenin’s concept of communist influence in and control of organizations of the class. This depicts complete class collaboration. Hudson further tried to justify this announcement by saying:

Organized fraction work may build artificial barriers between Communists and non-Party workers since the holding of general fraction meetings to discuss problems coming before the union is bound to create the feeling among the non-Party workers that we have no confidence in them, that we are trying mechanically to influence and control the policies of the organization.

How can we accept such an obviously phony excuse for serving the ruling class instead of the needs of the masses’? This revisionist wants us to believe that during the high point of the party’s influence in the labor movement, when the class looked to communists for real organized leadership, that this was a time to completely dissasemble the conscious organization of revolutionaries and emasculate red strength in the unions. Hudson also directed that:

If we are to lead, not through organized fraction work, but through greater communist understanding, responsibility and work, then there will have to be greater emphasis on individual responsibility, ability, and knowledge.

Here we see the revisionists resorting to metaphysics to undermine communist work and justify turning the labor movement over to the reformists. He abstractly separates “communist understanding’, and “individual understanding” from their source, the collective, the basic decision-making unit. His backwards opinion towards the role of the individual sounds very much like the line of Liu Shao-chi, the revisionist traitor who was exposed in the Chinese Communist Party leadership. The theoretical foundation that Hudson gives here gives credence to the words and deeds of the revisionists today who, as open party members, tell us that everyone has to “do their own thing” (this phrase being one of the most open trademarks of bourgeois individualism today). This large scale destruction of Party organizations in the shops objectively served the purpose of condemning the working class to reformist leadership, that is collaborative bourgeois leadership. They gave the working class to the bosses. The results of the disorganizing of the communist collectives in the unions are exemplified by Reuther’s taking power in the UAW.

The fight to establish the UAW was a victory for the working class, a victory effected by communist leadership. During the Flint Strike nearly all of the seven member strike committee in the Fisher Body Plant No. 1 were communists. Three years after the strike, in 1938-39, the top leadership of the UAW was mainly progressive. The auto manufacturers had managed to get their man in as president of the union, however. This man was Homer Martin, who at the convention of 1939 was exposed as an agent of Ford and expelled from his post. The Communist-led “left” unity caucus had control of three-fourths of the convention’s delegates and could have elected a progressive leader or even a Communist like Wendel Mortimer, a leader of the Flint Strike. But, instead they made a deal (a deal to a center-left coalition instead of a left-center coalition, the difference being in who takes the initiative (and leadership in the joint action) and elected one R.J. Thomas. R.J. Thomas was a complete incompetent and his mis-leadership paved the way for Walter Reuther who looked revolutionary by comparison. Reuther, who had just returned to the country after a stretch of work in a Soviet tractor factory, was a phony, a pretend-Communist who eventually revealed himself as a social democrat reformer. Foster tries to explain this double dealing. He says, “The main weakness of the Communists and the real progressives in this struggle was that they did not develop a sufficiently independent line.” We cannot accept so glib and abstract an excuse in the light of the Roy Hudson 1938 statement. The Communist Party gave up militant left leadership to reformist leadership. It gave up the independent line! The UAW fraction, or what was left of it, was only complying with general Party policy, and the responsibility for this general Party policy can only be attributed to the Party’s national leadership – including Foster.

The dissolution of the shop collectives by the Party leadership was objectively a desertion of the working class, but today Party members put the blame elsewhere. Recently a couple of league members were told by a notorious local Party revisionist that the militant communists in the trade unions were separated from and rooted out of the labor movement due to their “adventurism” and isolation from the class due to “leftishness.” Actually these militant communist fighters were set up by their revisionist leaders and picked off by the ruling class.

The Party’s relation to the labor movement today certainly reflects this policy of kow-towing to the bourgeoisie. Their whole Rank and File (National Continuation Committee for Trade Union Action and Democracy) program is one of center-left coalition which is a policy of on the one hand consciously dealing with the reformist mass labor movement. They are in full support of a reformist trade union movement; they don’t even care to question or criticize the trade unions as they now stand. The Rank and File movement under their guidance will act as nothing more than a labor arm of the Democratic Party.

We can see that the CP’s actions in the late thirties were just the beginning of a reformist trend and today they are reformist through and through, serving nobody but the US imperialists. We can understand their position today if we see what Earl Browder said about the new “enlightened” American monopolists in a 1944 speech that set the stage for post WWII revisionism:

Whatever may be the situation in other lands, in the United States this means a perspective in the immediate postwar period of expanded production and employment and the strengthening of democracy within the framework of the present system and not a perspective of the transition to socialism.

Here we have the “leader” of the CPUSA calling for the most feeble reformist stance. Anyone can see that statements of this nature are nothing but excuses laid for collaboration and denial of the class struggle. It is behind excuses like this that the Party has pursued a course of backing pure reformism; a course of delivering the working class to the bureaucracy of the trade union system, the system that controls the class for the bosses. This is how revisionism bolsters reformism.


When speaking of the “International Situation and Fundamental Tasks” of the Communist International, Lenin pointed towards the struggle against opportunism (the labor aristocracy and the revisionists) as the main task. In the following paragraph he said, “Compared with this task, the rectification of the errors of the “left” trend in communism will be an easy task.” But no task is easy unless we understand the problem and so now we must deal with the “left” tendency of the labor movement. By the “left” tendency we mean anarcho-syndicalism.

Webster’s Dictionary offers the adequate basic definitions for anarcho-syndicalism:

Anarchism; a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups. Syndicalism; a revolutionary doctrine by which workers seize control of the economy and government by the general strike and other direct means.

A synthesis of the two (anarcho-syndicalism) would bring us to understand: a belief in a loosely organized, federated revolutionary movement as a means of seizing state power and holding it. This theory is applied outside the labor movement also. There are groups today who advocate a “do your own thing” or federated approach to revolution where each set of oppressed and oppressor struggle. For instance, the workers fight the bosses, the prostitutes fight the pimps, the drug addicts fight the pushers, etc., thus projecting separation of the struggling forces in society, but mainly undermining the Marxist-Leninist theory of the proletariat being the leading force in all of society.

But, we should return to the labor movement and see how anarcho-syndicalism effects this part of society. The earliest signs of anarcho-syndicalism in the labor movement are explained by Lenin as being the primary reactions to the bourgeoisie’s use of the method of force in dealing with labor.[1]

When this method prevailed in Germany, a one-sided echo of this system, one of the systems of bourgeois government, was the growth in the labor movement of anarcho-syndicalism, or anarchism, as it was then called. (Lenin, Differences in the European Labor Movement)

In the US, the government, for the most part, used its other tactic, that of concessions and liberalism, and still a powerful anarcho-syndicalist movement arose. Why was this? For an answer, Foster gives his personal reasons for quitting the Socialist Party in the early 1900’s and joining the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), the organization which he considered to be the “fullest expression of American syndicalism.”

It was chiefly disgust with the petty-bourgeois leaders and policies of the SP that made me join the IWW. It was an easy step for me to conclude from the paralyzing reformism of the SP that political action in general was fruitless and that the way to working class emancipation was through militant trade union action, culminating in the general strike. (American Trade Unionism, Foster)

Foster’s feelings can be considered representative of the syndicalist tendency of that period because of the fact that the IWW was formed out of the Socialist Labor Party and the left wing of the Socialist Party, that is, by workers who, like Foster, were tired of fooling around at parlimentarianism and concilliationist reformism; workers who mistakenly considered the “politics” of these organizations to be what was meant by class politics. It was generally a very anti-political movement.

There were, of course, many objective factors that caused the syndicalist trend to catch on in the US; factors that hindered the growth of class consciousness and restricted the struggle of workers to the economic field. For instance, there was free land, or an escape valve for most workers. They could make a go of it as pioneers and farmers if they didn’t like the work in the factories. They couldn’t yet be pushed up against the wall and forced to organize and struggle like-the European workers. For the immigrant workers, there was the fact that the wages were generally higher and the living standards better than the countries where they came from. Then, of course, the labor aristocracy was totally corrupt, lending little faith in unions. Also there were widespread bourgeois-democratic illusions which kept American workers unaware of the “burning political questions.” There were many other factors.

The subjective factor that laid the basis for syndicalism was the lack of theory. As Foster pointed out, “The class didn’t have the key with which to open the door to theory; for the American workers there was no Lenin.” At this time the American left had no idea of Lenin’s work. Because of this, their theoretical weaknesses were greatest around the role of the party. The socialist leader De Leon underestimated and played down the role of the party and IWW leader, Haywood, repudiated the party altogether.

Syndicalism was marked by an exaggeration of the role of the trade union; the projection of the trade union as the organ of the revolution. Also, the theory of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat was rejected in favor of a socialist state run on a trade union basis.

Needless to say, with the success of the Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent popularization of Lenin’s writings, the syndicalist movement shriveled up.

The importance of giving this history of the syndicalist movement is realized when we see the syndicalist tendency popping up again. The trend is indicated today by many organizations, mostly of young workers, that are springing up around the country. (Some of which we met at the Rank and File conference last summer).

Just as the syndicalist movement of the early 1900’s had an objective basis, so does the syndicalist trend today. The budding syndicalists see on one hand the importance of the working class and its position as the only class capable of changing and remoulding society. They can also see the offensive being waged against the trade union movement by the ruling class and the trade unions, consequently, crumbling under this offensive. They can look with disgust to the reformist if not outright fascist politics of virtually all of the present day labor bureaucrats; the policies that have driven many workers out of their unions altogether. Then, of course, there is the revolting example of the revisionist CPUSA and its sell-out all down the line of the revolutionary working class fighters as we cited earlier.

Of all the factors, the CPUSA traitors bear the responsibility for the biggest turn from Lenin, turn from the need for a proletarian party, thinking that it would end up like the CPUSA, not realizing that even in its finest moments, despite the presence of outstanding Bolshevik cadre, the CPUSA was never a Leninist party due to the revisionism of its leadership. The crime of the CPUSA not only offers an excuse for backwardness in theory and practice (syndicalism) but it also gives credence to and opens the door to the working class movement for petty-bourgeois individualism in general and Trotskyism in particular.

Unfortunately, the rejection of a political party and political struggle can only lead these people in various wrong directions. One, they can enter the trade union movement fighting and finally capitulate to the pressures and temptations and become trade union bureaucrats themselves, commanding ”soft berths” in the labor movement. They can arrive at the pure syndicalist concept of the trade union, that is, as the revolutionary vehicle with the strategy of the general strike. Three, syndicalism getting them nowhere, they can turn to the strategy of dual unionism in their frustration. Four, they can leave the trade union movement altogether, ending up who knows where. Any one of these courses would certainly be a waste of some potentially good class fighters.

Just as in the early 1900’s, there is a subjective reason for syndicalist ideas. The problem is the lack of theory. Solving this problem calls for the same solution that did the job back then, that is, winning these people over to Leninism. We must conduct this struggle as we do everywhere else among potential revolutionaries to put Marxism-Leninism in its proper place–first and foremost.

When we talk about the petty-bourgeois elements who are entering the working class movement we mean, for the most part, the student activists who are discovering the working class. These people certainly seem to want to help but the help should be on the terms of the working class, not on the terms of the campuses. We must meet the influx of their petty-bourgeois bodies with proletarian ideology. The forces can come from anywhere, but the ideology must come from the working class.

However we must be wary around the students who approach the working class, as many are strongly influenced by Trotskyism, the ideology of vacillating opportunism with a history of selling out the revolution and the working class for petty-bourgeois individualism which is marked with a general lack of principles of communist methods and morality. We must have a word on Trotskyism.


We have to differentiate between anarcho-syndicalism which is a trend of backwardness, and Trotskyism which is a conscious opportunist movement as a shortcut to individual revolutionary status.

Lenin defined Trotskyism as a petty-bourgeois deviation from Marxism, as an expression of ’left’ opportunism–of capitulation to the class enemy under a cloak of revolutionary phrase-mongering.” (League School Report, Trotskyism[2])

Lenin says, concerning Trotsky’s political principles:

One day Trotsky plagerizes from the ideological stock in trade of one faction; the next day he plagerizes from that of another and therefore declares himself to be standing above both factions. (Collected Wks., Vol. 16, p. 391)

With this quote in mind we can assume, and correctly so, that it is difficult to pin the Trotskyites down to a political position or a particular set of tactics. Therefore we must expose them in regards to their actions and our concrete experience with them.

Fortunately for the working class, the Trotskyites are confining most of their activities to the campuses these days. However, there are some who have been gathering dust in the shops over the last ten or twenty years, and there is some motion towards the work places by a few of the younger ones.

One of the older Trotskyites, a steel worker, has been hanging around his union and the left for over twenty years. His relation to the movement changes now and then from that of active participation to that of monitoring the situation and then back again, all at will, and completely independent of the requirements of the objective circumstances. His low regards for the working class have led him to a role of almost non-participation in his own union.

Another Trotskyite, a UAW member, is a more active participant in his Local’s affairs. He is jockeying for high position in the union as an individual type of goal. He does have a base, though it is largely due to his long tenure in the union, not due to particularly conscious revolutionary organizing.

More trouble has been encountered from the younger Trotskyites. One, a hospital worker, has added to his jumbling style of work in general the fine police tactic of exposing communists who he has worked with quite openly and at the most unexpected times. He also has to his credit threats of physical violence against fellow women workers, not to mention just all around degeneracy (his practice includes pushing dope to other hospital workers).

Another young Trot, a UAW worker, is also known to take progressive workers and turn them on to pot. Besides this, there is his general lack of interest in organizing the workers politically (he doesn’t trust anybody over thirty) and he seems to have a greater interest in the student movement where he receives much applause for his bold sacrifice of joining the working class.

Characteristic of Trotskyism is its personal politics–fragmented over the many years into innumerable small grouplets rallying around individual leaders. Each tries to infiltrate and affiliate itself into the revolutionary movement, diverting our attention from the main task and encouraging splits wherever possible. Lenin remarked on these groupings, ’they are impotent little groups angry at their own impotence.’ (League School Report, Trotskyism)

Besides the admitted Trotskyite groupings, there are some groups and organizations who do not consider themselves adherents to the views of Trotsky, nevertheless their actions are the embodiment of Trotskyite principles. For instance, one group we know -Strives for purity of Marxist theory. In pursuing this purity they conveniently forget the dialectical unity of theory and practice and choose to develop their theory in isolation from the working class, repudiating practice.

Another organization considers itself to be a “Marxist-Leninist party, but their practice is that of descending on the trade unions in the most ridiculous Kamakazi manner, completely isolating themselves by renouncing the trade union movement as reformist, sell-out, etc. and devoid of any good; adding to this a complete lack of faith in the working class’ ability to understand why the trade unions are reformist, oversimplifying their position to the point of insulting the worker’s intelligence.

Fortunately, both of these groups seem to be moving away from the shops and onto the campuses and the movement where they can find a social base for their ridiculous ideas.

Trotskyism, outside of its instances of participation in the labor movement, considers the trade unions reformist and useless to the revolutionary struggle and not deserving of our attention. For the correct solution to this problem we must turn to the real Marxist-Leninists to answer the question; why do communists work in the trade union movement?


Actually it is simply a question of serving the working class, but this is made clear by the great Marxist-Leninists. Answering Trotsky’s position of 1926, that communists should withdraw from the reactionary, reformist trade union movement, Stalin said:

Is this a correct policy? It is incorrect in its very essence. It is basically incorrect because it is in conflict with the Leninist concept of leadership of the masses. It is incorrect because the trade unions of the West despite their reactionary character are the most elementary, the most comprehensive organizations of the most backward workers, hence they are the widest mass organizations of the proletariat. We cannot go to the masses, we cannot win over the masses, if we bypass the unions. To accept Trotsky’s viewpoint would mean to hand over the masses of workers to be devoured. . . (Collected Works, Vol. 8, p. 185)

And Lenin says, dealing with the same question:

To refuse to work in the reactionary trade unions means leaving the under developed or backward masses of workers under the influence of the reactionary leaders, the agents of the bourgeoisie, the labor aristocrats, or the workers who have become completely bourgeois.

If we were to leave the trade unions in this country, we would be leaving the workers to the likes of Meany, Reuther and Bridges who we know are traitors to the class.

Lenin said that we can guide and educate the trade unions, and at the same time, the trade unions become a “school of communism,” which prepares our ranks for the bitter struggle towards socialism.

Dimitrov, on the question of the trade unions added:

We must openly declare that work in the trade unions is the sorest spot in the work of all Communist Parties. We must bring about a real change for the better in trade union work and make the question of struggle for trade union unity the central issue!

And trade union work can be a sore spot in different ways. First, if it is not done at all it is a sore spot. Second, if it is done, but done in a reformist, economist manner it is also a sore spot. We must remember that we are in the labor movement not to build trade unions but to build a revolution and fight for socialism. There is a very fine line dividing the correct and the incorrect styles of work. Our duty as communists in the labor movement is not easy. We must constantly be vigilant in the interest of the class and raise political demands at every opportunity along with the demands for reforms. We must also take struggle to the masses, to the rank and filers, where the labor bureaucrats and agents of the bourgeoisie don’t like to show their faces.


Now the question is what course do communists pursue in the labor movement and the trade unions and how do we keep away from reformism and stay revolutionary? How do we defeat the wrong ideologies and the negative examples that have been laid out?

First, we must draw a clear line of distinction between ourselves and the enemy, i.e. the bosses, the revisionists, the Trotskyites, the persistent syndicalists, and the labor aristocracy, the bureaucrats. And dialectically opposed to dividing ourselves from the enemy is our task of uniting all the way with the working class, the only honest judges of the actions and programs of the revolutionaries and the so-called revolutionaries. Whether known openly as a communist or not we should be able to walk through our shops with the workers thinking, “That person is different. That person really works for my benefit and that of my brothers and sisters. That person is one of us and is a leader.”

We must draw the line of distinction between ourselves and the enemy through struggle and practice. We cannot expect the working class to know the difference between reform and revolution except by comparison. This means getting in the ring with the enemy and “bayonet fighting” as it is put in the Chinese book “Mao Tsetung’s Thought Is The Invincible Weapon.” Our experience shows that this method is correct. For instance, when we decided to enter the National Rank and File Movement, a movement initiated and controlled by the CPUSA, many comrades and friends did not understand this decision. Many felt that getting up next to the Party would either make us revisionists or turn honest workers away from us. Quite the contrary was true. Our members who participated got first hand experience in dealing with some of the most obnoxious of the working classes enemies. We learned our own line through the struggle involved in projecting it in mass meetings. The increase in our ideological development and in our determination to smash revisionism was astonishing. And most of all the line of distinction was drawn quite openly and clearly not by mouthing phrases, but by actual practice and comparison. The League was firm, united and correct while the Party was disunited, wishy-washy and miserably bourgeois. The honest middle elements sided with us on every issue. Let these phony communists make gestures towards the working class, let them attempt to provide false leadership. We know that our job is to go with them before the workers and expose them as phonies and agents. May we always successfully “terrorize” these traitors.

As for the Trotskyites, they are still conspicuous to the labor movement by their absence, but we can be certain that as the movement of workers grows these people will concentrate more effort leeching to it and distorting it. It seems that the course to follow with these people is to force them to act as big as their left phrases, and at every public meeting demand that they “put up or shut up,” to use a well known phrase. We certainly will not be able to shake them off of the labor movement. We must maintain full confidence in the honesty of the workers to recognize and brand these wreckers as enemies.

As has already been mentioned about anarcho-syndicalism, the only thing that eliminates this trend is theory, revolutionary theory. And the people who uphold syndicalist theory are the only ones who can make the choice as to which path they will follow. We must give them every opportunity to make the correct choice.

The question of the labor aristocracy, the trade union bureaucrats, is one that causes much confusion on the left. The revisionists extol them, the more sectarian people on the left use them as a reason for condemning the trade unions in general and the workers distrust them and are helplessly battered by them. The job of the communist is to get in and expose them, or more accurately, to point it out when they expose themselves, something that they do’ constantly. We cannot just stand off to the side of the trade unions and chuck stones at them as is the practice of many people on the left. For instance, one grouping raises the slogan “Smash The Trade Unions.” Our job is to deliver this slogan from its abstraction. That is, we must smash the trade unions in the sense of ridding them of the anti-revolutionary bureaucrat and reformist leadership that prevails today, while on the other hand we build working class unity and revolutionary consciousness, things that can be realized within the trade unions as well as outside of them. Will not impotent stones from the outside smash the bureaucracy? Certainly not. Only the actions of the workers themselves led by Marxist-Leninists can unseat these bourgeois mis-leaders. What is needed for this job is a real rank and file movement led by real communists whose objective is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat; not like the phony rank and file movement of the CPUSA that is nothing but the loyal opposition to the imperialists.

We have to organize the kind of activity in the shops that will build a communist party and lead the workers on the revolutionary path. We have to practice and perfect the communist method of mass work that demands that we elevate the advanced workers, use the advanced to elevate the intermediate and use the intermediate to elevate the backwards. This idea is laid out in our formula for evaluating and analysing our contacts in the shops and the general situation in our work places. That is, seeing the categories of 1) cadre, 2) revolutionary committee, 3) rank and file caucuses, 4) the union itself. Looking at our shops in this manner would allow us to demand the correct type and amount of activity according to the particular category.

Our main task at the present is the building of the revolutionary committees. These are the groups that are made up of the advanced workers with a revolutionary stand who want to learn Marxism-Leninism and are perspective recruits. These committees must have study and practice. They are leadership committees. The rank and file caucuses are those bodies of progressive elements that will unite to keep “left” pressure on the union itself, or in the case of an unorganized shop this body might take the form of an organizing committee. The last level is the union itself, the workers in general, where there has to be exposure to progressive ideas.

Through analyzing our areas of work in this way we can easily see our strengths and weaknesses and figure our direction more clearly. We can build our bases in the shops and extend our influence according to the strength of our base. Only through this method, applied with diligence and energy can we realize Lenin’s demand that every factory be our fortress.

As far as the Rank and File and other movements are concerned, we should certainly participate in any event that will attract workers, but we should realize that these movements will not get us closer to socialism until we have a real Communist Party leading them, whose objectives are more than just helping the bosses to pacify the working class.

The goal of building a party is the key to determining whether the working class movement will be revolutionary or reformist. Only through super-organization, the type that the CPUSA dismantled in the late thirties, can we successfully build a labor movement that will be a driving force that moves to smash capitalism and spit on the measly reforms that are nothing but handouts from the bourgeois rulers. The choice of reform or revolution is ours. We are leaders and the caliber of our leadership is up to us.

Chairman Mao says:

Every revolutionary party and every revolutionary comrade will be put to the test, to be accepted or rejected by the masses. There are three alternatives; 1) to march at their head and lead them 2) to trail behind them gesticulating and criticizing 3) Or to stand in their way and oppose them.


[1] Here, refer to the quote from “Differences in the European Labor Movement” by Lenin used earlier in the report dealing with the two tactics of the rulinq class for dealing with the working class.

[2] For a more complete summary on Trotskyism refer to the report to the League School on Trotskyism.