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The Struggle Against Unemployment
in Europe and Its Conduct

(February 1930)

Throughout the World of Labor, The Militant, Vol. III no. 11, 15 March 1930, p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The bureau of the C.I. for western Europe – the organization created for action on a set date and on a world scale – has launched an appeal for “powerful demonstrations” which will bring together workers, employed and unemployed, in all countries. Certainly we should rejoice over the fact that the strategists of the new line have, in these last months, discovered the problem of unemployment. But what is less heartening is that they do not consider the problem of unemployment in its relation to the concrete situation in each country, but handle it in that ridiculously mechanical fashion, the failure of which we have already seen on August 1st, the first day of international struggle.

Since the Sixth World Congress it has become customary with the C.I. to discover from time to time a “central problem” which, to conform to the “revolutionary rise” in the entire planet, is thereupon proclaimed a “central problem” for all countries.

Last summer and fall it was the international strike movement being transformed into political mass strikes – if not in actuality, at least in the theses of the Executive; now it is from the supposed revolutionary movement among the unemployed the whole world over that the E.C.C.I. awaits the destruction of the very foundations of capitalism.

Tomorrow it will doubtlessly be the revolutionary peasants who will embark on a revolutionary movement in honor of the international peasant congress which will be held about March 15. It seems that the bureau for western Europe with its wise foresight of this “next higher step in the revolutionary rise”, has advanced the day for the world-wide struggle against unemployment from February 26 to March 6 – no doubt in order that there may be a somewhat greater interval from one step to the other.

That kind of display, with “great days of struggle”, has clearly nothing in common with the need for bringing the mass of unemployed to the general front of working class struggle. Some of the slogans given out by the bureau for western Europe for the day of struggle, such as “creation of organizations of unemployed”, are, as a matter of fact dangerous.

If there is any sense to this slogan – that is, if it is less stupid than the one, “unemployment aid equivalent to full wages” – it can mean only the creation of organizations of unemployed, or unions of unemployed.

This slogan alone, reveals the complete lack of seriousness and the extreme ignorance of the phrase-slinging bureaucrats who are now discrediting communism.

What can be the significance of unions of unemployed? At most, to strengthen, in organized form, the isolation from the factory workers which already characterizes the unemployed. This means that they will be playing the game of the trade union bureaucrats; since the latter in most countries lend support to this isolation (which is, to a certain extent, the inevitable result of the removal of the worker from the productive process) by expelling unemployed members from the unions.

The formula of separate unions for unemployed takes for its point of departure the dangerous delusion that organized masses of unemployed can better their miserable conditions without the aid of the workers in the factories and trade unions. Of all the delusions of the third period that are growing with such speed, there is none as dangerous as this one. Unemployment and the Workers’ Morale Permanent unemployment, such as exists in Germany, Austria, England, Poland, etc., places upon the Communists in these countries the task of preventing, with all their power, the artificial stirring up of tension and disputes between unemployed and employed workers which the reformists are systematically attempting. Unemployment is not, in general, a factor which strengthens the revolutionary current in the working class movement. On the contrary, it allows reformism to reinforce its position in the factories – the fear of unemployment being one of its best allies. In addition, it makes it possible for reformism to throw out of the factories the most conscientious and revolutionary elements. And lastly, there is no doubt that the longer unemployment lasts, the more it demoralizes and paralyzes the workers.

In order that the great dangers which are created by unemployment are not entirely ruinous, all separation between employed and unemployed workers, as far as organization is concerned, must be avoided; therefore: no separate union for unemployed but active struggle in the unions against the exclusion of unemployed and for recognition of the unemployed by the union.

But we have not yet come to the essential question. It is not the form of organization of the movement of unemployed that is decisive, but the methods of struggle against unemployment. On this depends the question of organization. If the purely union struggle is extremely restricted in the present period, the struggle for serious reforms in favor of the unemployed has absolutely no chance of succeeding. Only great mass actions can wrest temporarily certain concessions from capitalism; only struggles of determined masses, including unemployed and employed workers can teach them that they will achieve lasting betterment of their situation only by overthrowing the existing capitalist regime.

Is there anyone in the C.I. who questions this elementary truth? Even the bureau for western Europe calls for “united revolutionary action of unemployed and employed workers”.

Now we come to the point. The appeal for solidarity will never get the mass of employed workers into the streets beside the unemployed. And neither will this appeal for solidarity prevent the masses of desperate unemployed from countenancing wage reductions. The art of a revolutionary party consists, not in launching these appeals with an abundance of gigantic posters and noisy speeches, but in the act of concentrating the struggle on the questions which affect the self-interest of employed and unemployed workers equally. But this plainly goes beyond the limits of a schema valid for five continents, and it would be necessary for the different parties to adapt the struggle to the concrete circumstances of their own countries. The situation in Germany is special: there the party should direct all its action on the basis of the struggle against the Young plan; with which, as the central action, should be connected the struggle of employed workers against the financial, tariff and social policies of the government. The situation in Austria is again different: here the party should turn the struggle of the unemployed into a central action against fascism, for a proletarian program of immediate demands.

One thing only is valid in a general way for all countries: the struggle cannot be conducted in the manner imagined by the bureaucrats of the Stalin apparatus – by means of big displays and high-sounding articles and speeches.

Berlin, February 14


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