Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International
Serrati: The session is open. Comrade Radek has the floor on behalf of the Credentials Commission.
Radek: The Credentials Commission had to decide the question of the credentials of the American delegations. Both American parties, the Communist Party and the Communist Workers’ Party, are represented here. Meanwhile, a delegate from America, Comrade Flynn, arrived with the news that both parties had united into one party. But in the course of this unification, part of the communists declared they would not accept it and have placed themselves outside of the United Communist Party. The representatives of the Communist Party wanted therefore to retain their old credentials. Comrade Flynn moved the annulment of two credentials, that is to say those of Comrades Fraina and Stocklitski.
We decided to continue to recognise these comrades as delegates for the following reasons: The situation with which we have to deal in America at the moment is rapidly changing. In the concrete case we only have in front of us the reports of the now United Communist Party. We are not in a position to judge here how far there were compelling reasons which forced the minority of the Communist Party to remain outside the unified party. To refuse to recognise their credentials would mean declaring ourselves in solidarity in advance with the United Communist Party as the only Communist party. Perhaps that will be necessary when we have received more detailed reports. But we cannot disqualify a communist organisation on the basis of insufficient information.
We have therefore decided to recognise the credentials of both parties and since Comrade Fraina by no means denies that, according to his knowledge of the situation, the majority of the organised communists are to be found in the ranks of the United Communist Party, we have divided the credentials in such a way that the representatives of the United Communist Party received six and the representatives of the Communist Party received four votes. Comrade Fraina attempted, moreover, to prove that he and Comrade Stocklitski by no means supported the position of the split but that they could not simply join the United Communist Party without any further ado. On behalf of the Credentials Commission I ask the Congress to agree to this decision.
I have to make a further report on which the Ukrainian comrades insist. That is to say that the Credentials Commission has not recognised the credentials of the Ukrainian Communist Party. As comrades may know, a small group has formed which numbers between 100 and 500 members. It is clear that this is a very small group which has nothing to do with concrete communist work.
Flynn: I protest against the acceptance of the recognition of the credentials of the Communist Party of America and against the adoption of Comrade Radek’s proposal. As a result of various efforts a United Communist Party was finally formed in America of 30,000 members of the Communist Party and 20,000 members of the Communist Labour Party. This Party went over to illegal work and a kind of separation arose in the Party itself because only one part wanted illegal work. For this reason a part of the Communist Party has split from the United Party. Now, one could understand the credentials of the Communist Party being recognised here if the unification of the Party had taken place on the initiative of the American comrades. But this was not the case. A delegate from the Communist International was sent to America to bring about this fusion. Since this fusion has already taken place we cannot understand that the Communist International sanctions splitting by the recognition of the part that has split.
Fraina: I greatly regret that this point at issue between the two factions in the American communist movement has come before the full session here. Besides, the Credentials. Commission has already settled this question. I came to Russia about a month ago on behalf of my Party and have had, together with Comrade Stocklitski, the other delegate, two discussions with the delegates of the Communist Labour Party. Even before Comrade Flynn arrived here in Moscow as the delegate of the United Communist Party, I myself proposed that the representatives of both parties of the American movement should reach an agreement here, first of all to recognise that a united party of communists is absolutely necessary, secondly to appear here at this Congress as a united group, thirdly to call on the Executive Committee to carry on working to complete the unification of the communists in America, fourthly to take on the obligation to submit to the decisions of the Executive. Things are not as Flynn has tried to picture them here, that is to say that if the Congress continued to recognise the two comrades from the Communist Party it would be sanctioning the split.
On the contrary, if these two comrades are expelled from the Congress, this will serve to sharpen the bitterness. I think that I have the right to take part in the Congress as a delegate because my Party can, and must, and will, contribute a great deal for the common cause of the communist revolution. If Comrade Flynn’s point of view is adopted that will only be damaging. But if Stocklitski and myself remain as delegates that will have a calming effect on the dispute in America.
The question of how small or how large the portion of the former Communist Party is which refuses to join the United Communist Party is immaterial. It may be that the larger part has united with the Communist Labour Party but up to now, until official reports are available, I must insist that Stocklitski and I remain here.
The question of removing us could only arise either if the Communist Party itself decides to withdraw its representatives or if the Executive, having investigated the matter thoroughly, decides that the Communist Party must be removed from the International. But otherwise the representatives have the right to demand that they should remain here as delegates.
A proposal is made to take a vote on closing the discussion.
Reed: I am against closing the discussion because I should like to give a few reasons why Comrade Radek’s proposal should not be accepted.
The motion to close the discussion is accepted. The proposal of the Credentials Commission is than accepted by 19 votes to 9.
Zinoviev: Comrades, I hope that the conditions under which workers’ and soldiers’ councils can be created are known to you all, and I permit myself to express the hope that, by way of an exception, we may be even able to accept these Theses without discussion, since we have been able to establish from discussions with various delegates that unanimity exists on this question. The point about these Theses is that we must tell all our comrades that soviets can and should only be created when the historical conditions for them are present. Artificial creations which compromise the idea of soviets should not be created. We all know that the idea of soviets has won the support of the whole working class of Europe and perhaps of the whole world. The working class has grasped that in the next historical period political life will run its course in the form of soviets. It is very fortunate for the Communist International that these ideas have laid hold of the masses, for since these ideas have become the ideas of the masses of workers they have contained enormous strength. Now, however, we see that in various countries impotent groups are forming soviets, precisely in places where all the historical conditions for them are lacking. That was the case in France and also in other countries. We want now, on behalf of the whole Congress, to point out to the working class throughout the world that one must always carry out propaganda for soviets, that the time is always ripe for this propaganda. The historical conditions, however, for the formation of soviets are unfortunately not present everywhere and at every time.
In my Theses I briefly trace the history of this new idea.
The idea of workers’ councils was born, as you all know very well, in the year 1905, so it is only 15 years old. In 1905, during the first Russian Revolution, the Petrograd Soviet was created as the first temporary structure and its history shows us that special historical conditions are necessary for soviets. The soviets of 1905 were immediately destroyed. They died after Tsarism had won the victory over the Revolution. When it became apparent that the revolutionary flood had given way to an ebb it was clear that the soviets could no longer survive. Even then the clever idea was expressed, which nowadays is defended by the Mensheviks and the right wing Independents, that the soviets are merely class organisations but cannot form state organisations. ‘Soviets should operate as a class organisation of the proletariat, but not as a state organisation'; that is what Kautsky and many of his supporters spread during the German Revolution.
The history of the last 15 years has shown that the soviets only have significance when they are not simply everyday class organisations like the trade unions but when they become state organisations, a form of the proletarian dictatorship. This is shown by our first Russian Revolution, the first period of our new revolution, the first eight historic months of the Kerensky government and also the history of the German and Austrian Revolutions, but particularly the German Revolution. When, in November 1918, the working class in Germany won a victory, the workers’ and soldiers’ councils arose spontaneously. But when the Social Democracy betrayed the cause of the working class and the bourgeoisie together with counter-revolutionary social democracy defeated the workers, the soviets immediately began to die out. The soviets showed their last spark of life during the days of the Kapp Putsch.
That is only a very short historical episode, but the fate of the soviets is reflected here as in a tiny drop of water. When the workers were on the road to victory the soviets, once more, showed a tendency to revive. But when the booted foot of reaction was victorious, the soviets immediately died out. This latest episode shows us that the Soviets only have significance when they are really sustained by a big mass movement which is on the road to transforming the soviets into state power. In the beginning of 1917, when we were still in exile, when the revolutionary movement in Russia was already at a high point and our comrades had already begun to form councils of workers’ deputies, we told our comrades from abroad that this idea could not survive. We should carry out propaganda for the idea of soviets, but the slogan of the formation of soviets should only be issued when we are convinced that the pre-conditions are there, that the masses themselves are in favour and that they will fight for this cause.
Therefore we are against those attempts that our comrades are now making in France, where they are forming small groups and giving out a paper where they emerge as a soviet in name of some hundred members and pretend that this is a soviet movement. I have read many of our Swiss comrades’ leaflets in the election campaign in Switzerland. While everybody is going to the elections, our Party comes along with the slogan: ‘We demand soviets’. Here therefore soviets are being demanded of the bourgeoisie, of the government. But one does not demand soviets, one forms them where the working class is ready to carry out a revolution. Is it communist to raise such a demand? One must organise the working class, stir it up, prepare it and then when the moment has come, one does not need to demand.
That is why I think that now the moment has come when the question of the struggle for power and the revolution becomes acute, and when the idea of soviets has won over the working class in the various countries, it can no longer be a question for the Communist International as it still was for the First and Second Internationals, of popularising this idea. That has already been done. The idea is popular enough. The question now is something much bigger. The question now is to hammer home to the working class throughout the world what conditions are necessary in order to form soviets. That is the second step that we must take. The Theses have the purpose of forming a basis for that. We should tell the working class clearly under what conditions we can, and must, form such soviets, for if we form artificial soviets we will serve only the opponents of this idea. We will be laughed to scorn as has already happened in many countries. In this case we could compromise this great idea. We should not play with words. We should clearly show the working class the way and explain to it under what conditions soviets can be formed.
We have tried in these Theses to analyse the experiences of various parties. The position in Austria is somewhat peculiar, more or less as it was here during the first period of Kerensky’s government. There is quite a strong workers’ council there. The social patriots and the Centre have the majority in it. The Communists are in the minority but are growing daily. The soviets represent a certain force there rivals of the legitimate government of Messrs. Renner and company The soviets are a sort of rival government in a different historical situation. We had the same thing in this country during the first eight months of the Revolution. Such a movement is serious and our comrades must participate in it. They must fight for power within the soviets and attempt to make their influence felt there.
There is another example in Germany where there are soviets. A number of good and bad books about the soviet system have been written there. Our German comrades are always going on about the ‘system’. Well, they have one but they haven’t got any soviets. We could wish that they had a worse system but better soviets. All plans to adapt the soviet system to the bourgeois, social-democratic, counter-revolutionary republic are artificial and therefore they often act, taken objectively, in a counter-revolutionary way for the working class are not told under what conditions alone it is possible to set up soviets.
In the Theses we have tried to take up the experiences in Germany and of course above all experiences in Russia where the idea of soviets was born. On the basis of these examples of the Russian Revolution of 1917, of the two Revolutions of 1918 in Germany and in Austria we want to show the working class under what conditions we can build soviets. I am convinced that the Second Congress of the Communist International will be the precursor of an International Congress of Soviet Republics. Those of us who are not yet too old will live to see the day where we have such an International Congress of Soviet Republics. But in order to bring this about faster we must clearly see the way, keep the idea pure and pose concretely to the working class by what paths we can really arrive at an International Soviet Republic.
The vote on the Theses. The Theses are adopted.
Radek: Comrades, the Commission on the trade union question, in accordance with the decision of the full session, took the Executive Committee’s Theses as a basis and filled them out with a number of amendments. Before I proceed with these I should like to point out that the Commission failed to reach a common decision in one decisive point and that therefore a representative of the minority of the Commission will have the floor here. What is at stake is that the American comrades proposed in fact to cancel the main content of the Theses in the form of an amendment.
The attitude of the Congress as expressed in the vote consists first of all in this, that we make work within the trade unions a duty for all comrades and for all Communist Parties. The minority on the Commission, above all the American comrades, have in form accepted this decision. It is not that they have put forward a motion which, in words, cancels out this decision. They have, however, proposed amendments that, in fact, do cancel out this decision of the Congress.
In my speech I have already pointed out that the Theses we have proposed are, in a certain sense, too narrowly conceived. They do not take into account the fact that in America 80 per cent of the workers are not organised, that the American Federation of Labour not only does nothing to organise these unskilled workers but that through its very high subscriptions it makes entry into the trades unions impossible for them. For this reason we propose that, besides those cases where we give the suppression of revolutionary agitation in the trades unions as a reason for leaving the old trades unions and forming new trades unions, we also mention a second case, that is, the necessity of forming new trades unions in those cases where the old craft organisations, for aristocratic reasons, do not organise unskilled workers. The American comrades propose another wording which amounts to enabling the American Communists to sabotage the decisions of the Congress. I do not want to read out here the whole amendment that is to replace three points in our resolution, but only the point in question. It reads as follows: [Reads out from ‘The new trades unions’ up to ‘represent’.]
Any case in which one should leave the old trades unions and form new trades unions can be included under these three headings. Communists who do not want to work in the trades unions, who think it is much more communist to cover a lot of paper with articles about the shortcomings of the trade union bureaucracy and remain outside the trades unions, can always pretend either that the structure of the trades unions makes it impossible to change them or that such strong, revolutionary feelings have accumulated in the proletariat that there is no longer any room for them in the trades unions.
The fact that we are not seeing things here, but that what we are dealing with here is an outright call for a boycott on principle of the great American trades unions, is proved best of all by the resolution of the United Communist Party of America. We have just received the issue of the Communist Party’s newspaper with its resolution on the trades unions. This resolution reads as follows. ['Craft Unionism’ is read out.] Now comes the decisive point. [The section from ‘Tactics’ to ‘will be carried out’ is read out.] We have therefore in this resolution the outright negation of the resolution that we have adopted which obliges communists to fight for the conquest of the trades unions from inside.
What we are dealing with here, therefore, is not simply the question of whether one should go into the trades unions in order to destroy them. The boring away from inside, the struggle inside the trade unions in general is rejected. This standpoint stands in contradiction to the standpoint of our Theses, and what the comrades of the United Communist Party represent here signifies nothing other than a manifest negation of our standpoint. In order to save their position the comrades try to go over from the defensive to the offensive. They point out that the standpoint which the United Communist Party has now adopted was only a few months ago the standpoint of the Executive. They refer to a letter from the Executive to the American Party which said: [The letter is read out.] I make no bones about saying openly that this letter from the Executive, which was by no means adopted by the whole of the Executive, was wrong and that although the comrades can refer formally to this standpoint, it is not at all identical with their own, for what was established in this appeal was precisely that the target was the Federation of Labour.
But it is not a question here of whether the Executive defended a false standpoint in a letter in the past. What we are dealing with at the moment is whether or not the representatives of the United Communist Party are openly defending their Party’s position here. They had the opportunity to defend their Party’s position here and they did not do so. They claimed that they were against splits on principle. They are trying to smuggle a Trojan Horse into our resolution. I believe that it will be in the interests of the Congress, not only to reject this amendment but to emphasise in a special resolution that the standpoint of the American comrades is in contradiction to the standpoint of the Communist International. The Congress must deal with this question with all possible sharpness because it is not a question of whether we concede to the American comrades the right to destroy this counter-revolutionary organisation if they can do so, but it is a question of whether they will destroy themselves or not.
We must say a few words more about this point since it was echoed to a certain extent by Comrade Bombacci too. Comrade Bombacci’s standpoint is distinguished from the standpoint of the American comrades by the fact that it is just frivolous and not revolutionary. On the one hand, the Americans say: ‘Down with the Federation of Labour’, on the other hand they cry: ‘Long Live the IWW! We want to form new trades unions!’ But not Comrade Bombacci. He nonchalantly declares: ‘I don’t give two hoots for the trades unions. They are condemned always to be counter-revolutionary.'
But if he starts from the fact that the trades unions in Italy are in the hands of reformists with very respectable beards or in the hands of syndicalists, then we tell him openly he is playing games with us and this is not communist politics. If Bombacci stands up for the Marxist point of view then he should fight for it in the Italian Party and not come here to say that the trades unions have no significance and that they will always be counter-revolutionary. We object to such a treatment of the most serious *question in the workers’ movement and we think it particularly important that the Congress should make its position completely clear on this question.
I said earlier that I would be prepared to accept further amendments but in the present situation, after this resolution from the United Communist Party, any compromise or retreat is impossible. We must bring communism to the point where communist work starts and where the intrigues and games of communist sects come to an end.
The further questions up for debate are as follows: There is the question of our attitude towards the factory committees. We propose an amendment that says the following: [The passage from ‘as the communists’ to ‘support'] And then we say [the passage from ‘only to the extent’ to ‘to support’.] This last passage means that in those countries where the trade union bureaucracy has control, the communists have the duty to support the struggle of the factory committees and all similar organisations for their own independent existence. The communists will only be able to succeed in gaining control of the trades unions if they turn these factory organisations in the plant into the germs of the new trades unions and of their communist factory organisations.
I would like to make two remarks to complete these amendments. First of all where it says [the passage from ‘in the framework’ to ‘support'] the question is posed: ‘If you are opposed to the formation of small, revolutionary trades unions in opposition to the big ones, the necessity for whose separate existence does not exist, how can you then demand support for all these factory organisations?’ I should like to draw your attention to the fact that we say here: ‘which are formed within the framework of the trades unions or outside them but not against them’. The factory committees in Germany are by no means organisations intended to take the wind out of the sails of the trades unions. They are organisations which in part have independent functions, in part, however, are intended to drive the trade union bureaucracy forward. They are not aimed against the existence of the trades unions as far as the organisation is concerned. We do not support organisations which are against the trades unions since we have said in the Theses in what cases we think the formation of special trades unions is expedient.
Now the second question. We say that we will only support the efforts of the trades unions to dominate the Factory Committees to the extent that the trades unions are revolutionary organisations. Reference was then made to the situation in Germany, to the fact that in Germany, in the first place, legal factory committees exist in which the communists have the task of extending their functions beyond the framework of the law, but that these factory committees are already subordinated to the trades unions. On the basis of the material available I claim that that is not the case. The struggle of the trade union bureaucracy to dominate these factory committees and to bring them into line has only started. We say that it is the duty of the communists, even if it emerges later that we do not have enough strength to carry on the fight against Legien’s efforts to gain control of these committees, nevertheless to support the fight for the predominance of the factory committees.
I think it would be wrong to relinquish this fight from the very start since it decides not simply a formal question but the whole future attitude of the communists in the Factory Committees. Even if the great majority of the Factory Committees voluntarily subordinate themselves to the trades unions and it is inexpedient to tie the revolutionary factory committees to the others it is clear that our present struggle, in which we warn the masses against Legien and his aims, will have its results in strengthening our position in future in the factory committees dominated by the trades unions.
Whether or not, if the struggle turns out to be hopeless, we should obstinately cling to the isolation of small groups is a different question. If the struggle does not lead immediately to victory, would we then fight on the basis of the factory committees dominated by the trade unions? But the question is not at the moment posed in that way. The struggle is raging in great areas of central Germany and in Berlin and if the German communists say that the great fight against the Legiens should not be transformed into a fight about the form, then we say it is your business to make sure that this struggle is fought out as a principled struggle and not as a struggle on the question of who should dominate the factory committees. The matter at issue here is principles – the strengthening of the spirit of resistance against the trade union bureaucracy.
Finally we proposed an amendment which brings together the various remarks on the future role of the trades unions previously scattered throughout the resolution into a special paragraph. This reads: [the passage from ‘as the communists’ to ‘carry out is read out].
I should only like to say a few words to point out what a difference exists between this conception of the functions of the trades unions after the conquest of political power, by the proletariat and the syndicalist conception. The syndicalists have conceived the development of socialism in this way: that after the proletariat has overthrown the bourgeoisie through general strikes it organises itself in the great trades unions into a federation of trades unions and that this federation would lead economic fife by free agreement with the communists, without a proletarian state. We think this conception is wrong. First of, all the proletariat cannot take power without setting up the proletarian state as an organ with whose help the proletariat is to break the resistance of the bourgeoisie. And secondly the running of economic life is neither a thing that every trade union can sort out for itself, nor is it a thing that can be regulated by free agreement between the trades unions.
Individual sections of the working class play a predominant role in the industrial process, and these sections of workers create an aristocratic privileged position in the whole economic process for their members, and are able, by exploiting this situation, to impose privileges for themselves against the more weakly developed, less important groups in the working class. The working class must run the economy in such a way in the proletarian state that besides the organisations which bring together the workers from individual branches of industry, the workers in these branches of industry also have a further great task. Besides the organisations that consider their tasks from the standpoint of one branch of industry the working class must defend the interests of the whole of the proletariat in the form of its proletarian state. The economic plan and its execution must be forcibly subjected to the pressure of the interests of the whole of the proletariat. For this reason we see here how, besides the predominant, decisive role of the trades unions, the regulative side of the state organisations has taken the form predominantly of soviets; that is to say that the trades unions participate in running the economy through the general organs of the state.
Those, then, are the main amendments to be added to the Theses. We have to take into account, much more than we did in the first draft, the fact that in many countries the trades unions follow aristocratic policies. We have made it obligatory for communists to take independent steps in these cases for the organisation of the masses into trades unions. Secondly we made it obligatory for communists to support the new economic formations of the proletariat, the factory committees, which are now arising spontaneously. The communists must defend the independence of the factory committees against the trade union bureaucracy but must regard them as a part of the trades unions, in which the trades unions are revolutionised.
The third amendment defines the tasks of the trades unions after the conquest of political power.
The fourth question is the question of the International Association of Trades Unions.
We were content for the moment, in the Commission, to accept Point 3 as already printed in our Theses. But this did not talk about the concrete current situation on the formation of the International Revolutionary Council of Trades Unions, which was formed here in Moscow by the representatives of the Italian, of a part of the British, of the Russian and of the Bulgarian trades unions. On the one hand, we have the standpoint that was put forward here by the American and English comrades, who think that this formation in its present form is wrong and premature. On the other hand, we have the standpoint of the Russian Party comrades who have presented a resolution. Since such a resolution has been rejected by individual members of the Executive and since this took place at 4 o'clock yesterday morning, I refuse to take up any position on this. Comrade Zinoviev will defend his standpoint here.
There are deep-going differences of opinion on the trade union question. They did not at the Congress take on the character of conflicts on principle, but we should not close our eyes to the fact that the ferment in which the working class finds itself has led in every country to attempts to form new trades unions and that many members of every communist party adopt this standpoint. We should be under no illusions about the dangers that lie in this. The Congress must look these dangers squarely in the eye and give the Communist Parties a clear line of march.
The second question that can claim the attention of the Congress, and in future that of the International to a much greater degree, is the question of Factory Committees, all the new organisations, shop stewards’ committees and so forth. We are not saying that the question has not been sufficiently clarified, but that it is in the course of development. We must keep an eye on the possibility that the development of the revolution will create something completely new, and that Communists should not adopt an attitude of rigidly rejecting these new phenomena. We have tried to set down in the Theses whatever can be said so far, but each one of us has the feeling that this cannot be the last word, that these organisations are developing, and will face us with completely new questions, and that when we approach these questions we must be prepared to take new facts into account. The Communist International was founded in a period of revolutionary ferment, where many things which give the impression of chaos later become firm and valuable structures. I quite intentionally underline the formative character of these phenomena, so that the Communist International is ready for these phenomena, so that we do not fall into the role of old trade union pedants and reject everything that is new.
We do not yet know what will become of the British shop stewards. They are as yet only in the process of formation. We do not know what will become of the German Factory Committees. They are at the moment still the product of the receding revolutionary wave. They were formed when the workers firmly supported the idea of councils without forming political councils. We do not yet know how much new life the new revolutionary wave that is undoubtedly being prepared will breathe into these organisations. We do not even know whether these organisations will emerge in the trades unions as completely revolutionised elements. But one thing we must say: As things are today, the task of the communists is to explain to the workers that they cannot drop the trades unions, that they are the biggest mass organisations of the proletariat. The second thing that we can say is that we are approaching the task of the Factory Committees in an exploratory way, and we are trying to establish what their tasks are and what the tasks of the trades unions are, that we are trying to clarify ourselves as to the mutual relations of the two organisations.
But that is not our last word. If the revolution in Western Europe hangs back, if the disruption of capitalism proceeds, and the proletariat does not seize power with swift blows, then a new field of work can lie before the masses whom we have prepared in this area. We do not approach these things with rigid formulae but with critical understanding and the will to shape the new phenomena.
I shall not now speak at length about the tasks of communists in the trades unions. What is essential is the unerring consciousness that what we can have in the mass movement of the proletariat and its organisations is indeed communist propaganda but not a fighting communist party. If we give the communists this line of march, then we are acting on the basis of the simple consideration that organisations which bring together millions of workers are not crystals that have to be smashed. The comparison between the bourgeois state and the trades unions is lame in both feet. Whatever scum the trade union bureaucracy are, however much they are the lackeys of the bourgeoisie, they can only determine the character of the trades unions as long as there is no strong flux of development. Should this happen, then it is the working class that will determine the character of its trades unions.
Gorter, who is now the theoretician of left-wing communism, says in his pamphlet that ‘the strength of the trade union bureaucracy consists in the lack of independence of the masses’. And at the same time he claims that we cannot win the trades unions. That means that this comrade, who sees the world revolution coming in 24 hours, for whom nothing is radical enough, is convinced that he can carry out the revolution despite the present servility and lack of independence of the masses. For if he counts on this lack of independence being overcome, he cannot formulate the proposition that the trades unions are condemned to be and to remain germ-cells of capitalist society. We anticipate developments with the healthy revolutionary optimism on which a revolutionary movement must be built. We are convinced that the masses will come into motion, that they will cast off their slave-like servility. If we call in this conviction for a fight against the trade union bureaucracy, then that only happens because we know that history does not take place outside of our will, but that we ourselves must be factors in that development. In this sense we are firmly convinced that the great field of action for the Communist Parties lies in the trades unions, where they must win the main masses of workers for communism, not only by means of propaganda, not by handing out leaflets, but by participating in the struggle. In this sense we ask the Congress not only to adopt these Theses, but to turn them into the guidelines for their activities in the trades unions.
Reed: I protest against the claim that we tried here to sabotage the proposals of the Commission. It is not a question of sabotage but of an inner difference and contradiction. It is not that the British and American comrades think that the trades unions as such should be abandoned. It is a question of wanting to change their spirit and structure as much as possible. Radek does not go to the roots of these proposals for change. What he proposes means that we continue to cultivate the old reactionary spirit in the trades unions. The difference consists in this, that the amendments seek to transform the old spirit in the trades unions, whereas Comrade Radek does not bother about destroying this old spirit. On the one hand it is a question of a change in principle, on the other hand, however, only of a formal change. The emphasis of the whole discussion must be placed upon this difference. I pointed out, on the basis of a series of documents, that Radek contradicts himself in the various Theses. Above all there is a contradiction to the Theses in those letters that were sent by the Communist International to the IWW and American workers in general.
I do not think that Comrade Radek’s Theses contain the communist conception of this whole matter. There is nothing in them to say that the trades unions, as such must be transformed in spirit. I refer here to point two of the amendments before you and should like to see points 4, 5, 6, and 7 excluded completely from the Theses, because some are not clear enough, some are not precise, and still others do not go far enough. The only comrade who really reflected the opinion of the Western European labour movement on this question was Comrade Bombacci. He openly took up a position. Some were silent, and others have adopted the wrong position. I shall leave it to other speakers who may wish to express the opinion of the minority on this question, to speak about the Red Trade Union International.
Finally, do not forget that we are dealing with a difference in principle between Radek’s position and that of the minority. I shall read out the amendments that have been presented, and particularly those that say under what conditions individual communists can be conceded the right to leave the old trades unions. It is a series of conditions. Radek has said that they can be applied to all situations and that it is too easy for any communist, on the basis of these conditions, to find himself an excuse to leave the trades unions. I deny that it is so. Precisely those that are intended to make it possible to put our point of view into practice in a principled way prove the contrary.
Finally I think that the question, which I think is a question of principle, must be discussed here. I should like to point out that there are many contradictions in Comrade Radek’s Theses and in his position and in the position of the Communist International, so that it can rightly be asked what their attitude towards the parliamentary struggle and the labour movement in general is. No clear picture of this position emerges from these Theses. The Communist International must express itself with absolute clarity on this question. What was decisive on the part of the Anglo-American minority was not the wish to indulge in a dispute, but the wish to get its point of view adopted, and moreover through amendments that should not be new to Comrade Radek.
All that the Anglo-American delegation is worried about is putting a new spirit into the old trades unions. There can be no question of that under the conditions created by adopting the Theses. But communists must start on this transformation. If they do not do so, the communists will remain alone, will shrink to merely a small party, and will be an officer corps without soldiers, for the soldiers will be outside their influence.
Gallacher: When I came to Russia and was given, in Petrograd, Comrade Lenin’s pamphlet Left-Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder to read, I found my name and my activities also portrayed in the pamphlet. I accepted this criticism as a child accepts the criticism of its father. Now Comrade Radek comes along and also tries to educate us. But he will not succeed. If he insists on the standpoint that he has adopted here, he will see that the task will not be so easy to solve. It is simply nonsense and ridiculous to talk of conquering the old trades unions with their ossified bureaucracy. One can bring the masses into motion through agitation under the flag of a left-wing trade union organisation not only inside but also outside these trades unions. We have been active in the British trades unions for 25 years without ever having succeeded in revolutionising the trades unions from inside. Every time we succeeded in making one of our own comrades an official of the trades unions, it turned out that then, instead of a change of tactics taking place, the trades unions corrupted our own comrades too. We have often made our comrades into big trade union officials, but we have seen that nothing can be achieved for communism and the revolution through such work. There are not really any masses in the trades unions. For example, in a trade union with 500 members, there are normally only thirty members at the trade union meeting, and the latter is under the control of the bureaucracy. But one can approach the masses in the workshops and the factories.
I have been active in the trades unions for many years, and I was myself a trade union official. The conclusions that I have drawn are therefore the result of my own experience. I would like to quote the following case as an example. When Lloyd George was supposed to come to Glasgow the officials wanted to prepare him a splendid reception. 1, who was at that time one of the officials, fought against it. And it emerged that while we succeeded in the official committee in preventing any reception from being prepared for Lloyd George, an unofficial committee still got on with the work of carrying out the reception. We then agitated and fought in the workshops and factories, and now Glasgow is a town which Lloyd George does not dare to visit. For the workers are in a revolutionary mood as a result of the agitation in the workshops. If Comrade Radek’s Theses are adopted, and accordingly the masses are told they must remain loyal to the old trades unions and their officials, then we will be laughed to shame. It is nonsensical to talk of winning the trades unions as it is to talk of winning the capitalist state. The revolutionaries from Britain and America must be given the opportunity of fighting for communist ideas outside of the trades unions.
Zinoviev: We propose to take one speaker for the Theses and one against alternately.
The proposal is adopted.
Zinoviev: Comrades, we absolutely must clarify this question. And I start from the fact that we will not make a single concession to the British comrades here. For what they want is the destruction of the Communist International. If we adopt their standpoint the result will be, not that we destroy the trades unions, but that we destroy communism. The British and American comrades are on the one hand very optimistic. The social revolution will take place at the drop of a hat; we have the victory of the social revolution in our pockets, and so forth. Now, however, when it is a question of the trades unions, we suddenly see an unheard of pessimism in relation to the working class. They say: ‘We will abolish the Morgans and the Rockefellers, we will abolish capitalism, but we will never be able to abolish the bureaucracy in the trades unions. We will always have reactionary rules.’ But that will not help them. The working class will take them by the scruff of the neck, just as it will the bourgeoisie.
It appears to the British and American comrades that the trade union bureaucracy is the worst thing that there is. This is not the case. There are much worse animals than Gompers, whose teeth are already rotten, and whose last teeth we can knock out without the benefit of surgical instruments. Of course the rules are reactionary, that is true, and the contributions are high. But what do you think? Day by day the working class is revolutionised. It wants to destroy the whole of capitalism, and it will also do with union rules what it has to do. It will throw them out of the window. You cannot talk out of existence the fact that the trades unions have millions of workers organised in them. Our slogan is: ‘To the masses!’ And this slogan is truest of all for our British and American parties. They must go to the masses, because they are not yet in the masses.
Comrades, when you hear the speeches of the British and American comrades, you can draw up a law of inverse proportion. The fewer organised workers one has, the more radical one is. One says: ‘We do not need the old trades unions, we will set up new ones’. In Britain and America you have a giant working class counting millions, and strongly developed large-scale capitalism that oppresses the workers. You have a working class there that is becoming more and more revolutionary with each day. But the masses we have organised up to now almost do not count. The United Communist Party of America has around twelve thousand members. That is simply ridiculous. Our comrades have not even started. They ought to be in these trades unions in which millions of workers are organised.
And what do we have in Britain? In Britain we have a couple of communist parties, each of which has a couple of hundred members. We have an enormous working class there which is becoming more and more revolutionary. Our task is to be with the masses, to go in front of them, to show them the way, wherever they are in movement and development. Should we not participate in the trades unions when millions of workers are organised in them? I have read the resolution of the unification congress of the American comrades. I cannot imagine any greater confusion than the passage which speaks of the necessity of destroying America’s trades unions.
Comrade Gallacher has stated that we should proceed against the trades unions in exactly the same way that we proceed against the bourgeois state. That is ridiculous. The trades unions are made up of workers. The state is made up of the bourgeoisie. And now you come along and tell us that they are the same. Where will this actually lead us? Are you trying to make a laughing stock out of the International? We do not need to destroy trades unions in which millions of workers are organised. But we must revolutionise them and lead them onto our path. We will not make a proletarian revolution if the millions organised in trades unions are against us. Comrade Gallacher says we will be laughed to shame if we continue to work in the old trades unions. I reply: ‘You should make the trades unions revolutionary. You did well not to want Lloyd George to have a reception. You should form illegal groups inside the trades unions, in order to fight not only with words but also with weapons.'
In Germany they are already fighting with weapons in their hands. Our comrades in the Communist Party have on many occasions fought against the yellow trades unions with arms in hand. But if we want to leave the trades unions, that would be the nicest present we could make to Legien and company. They would say: ‘The communists are stupid, they have abandoned the workers to us.’ That is precisely what the Gompers and the Legiens need. But we will never do that. We are not a sect. We want to be a real Communist International which will he victorious, and in order to be victorious we need the millions of the working class. There are difficulties enough. It is easy to say: ‘We will go forward, we will have nothing to do with these people. We want to build a pure workers’ union.’ Perhaps there will be 20,000 workers in this union, and in Legien’s eight million. That is what the KAPD did. It formed a workers’ union against Legien’s eight million supporters. That is childish.
With what masses will we carry out the proletarian revolution in Germany? With this workers’ union which is not at all centralised or organised? We must go into the trades unions. We often see you doing homage to the experience of the Russian Revolution, but we also ask you to study it. We also had trades unions here that were treacherous. But after a few months, after the victory of the Bolshevik revolution, we were in the majority. We fought for it for decades and we won the trades unions. But if we had run away the Mensheviks would have had what they wanted.
The British and American comrades say: ‘We will not go into the trades unions. We are pure and good communists. But the masses of the workers are following the traitors.’ Now, comrades, does that not mean being an instrument of the opportunists? What Comrade Reed proposes is money in the bank for Gompers. He does not need more than that. If we had done that, then the Huysmans and the Vanderveldes would have rubbed their hands and said: ‘These people have done the job for us’. Our slogan is: ‘Always with the masses!’ But that does not mean that we always praise the masses. We tell them: ‘You are wrong, but we are not going away. We are staying here in order to be with you, in order to lead you step by step’. The Communist International must not commit the mistake of walking away. If it does that, we are lost. Socialism, it is true, will conquer even then, but perhaps only after ten years, and our task consists precisely in accelerating the victory. Therefore we must tell the British and American comrades: ‘If you want to belong to the Communist International, then you cannot abandon the trades unions. You must go into the trades unions, fight there, revolutionise the masses, show them the way and build a strong Communist Party which revolutionises the trades unions and will lead the proletarian masses on to revolution.'
Fraina: I am surprised that Comrades Radek and Zinoviev are so excited. They insist on the fact that work in the trades unions is necessary, but that is only an argument against the representative of the United Communist Party of America, who spoke out against work in the old trades unions. The attitude of the United Communist Party is by no means that of those comrades who criticised Comrade Radek’s Theses. In my opening speech I emphasised that we are in favour of work inside the old trades unions, not only because of the arguments that have been advanced here, but because the entire experience of the American movement imposes this policy on us. The shop stewards, are they against work in the old trades unions? It would be stupid to tell us that. The shop stewards and similar organisations are part of the old trades unions, the most appropriate expression of the policies of Radek and Zinoviev of working in the old trades unions.
I have said that, as far as the United States are concerned, approximately 80 per cent of the workers are not organised. But nevertheless, it is impossible to abandon the old reactionary trades unions, and if there are no other reasons for this, there is one particular reason: the majority of the unorganised workers are foreigners and the majority of the organised workers are American. We must make contact with these American workers, since they will, necessarily, form the leadership in the revolution, not in theory, but in revolutionary action.
But how will you work in the old trades unions? That is the decisive question, the question of methods and of means. If you say: ‘Work in the old trades unions’, you tell us a great deal – and nothing. It is necessary to have communist groups in the old trades unions. But what must these groups do? Must they simply preach abstract communism? Radek answers: ‘No. They must become the leaders in the economic struggles of the workers.’ Very good: but that requires means. And we claim that the means do not consist in the peaceful penetration of the trades unions, in the attempt to elect new officials in place of the old, making a fetish out of the old trades unions and trade union forms. The means consist in an aggressive struggle in the trades unions, mobilising the masses against the bureaucracy and liberating them from it; in agitation for special organisations and industrial unions, and building them. Comrade Radek recognises and accepts this. But he does not make it a living and real part of his Theses.
Radek has been led so far astray by the problems in Germany where certain people have issued the slogan of ‘leaving the trades unions’, that he has exaggerated the opposite policy. And again because of his concentration on Germany, Radek deals very gently with the question of organising new and separate trades unions. Under certain conditions a split is necessary. It must not be forced, but at the same time we must not let it be forced on us. We must not be like lambs. We must have a policy of new trades unions that puts the initiative into our hands in this matter, and not into the hands of our enemies. A split is, after all, to a certain extent a revolutionary act. It can drive the masses further forward than months and years of normal agitation. Often it can even be necessary to force a split. It is action that we are demanding. Splits must take place on the basis of action, and not of theoretical deviations.
We further demand the recognition of the new forms that are developing in the trades unions. This development is of extreme importance, particularly in Britain and America. We must study this development objectively, learn from it, and adapt our theories to the specific diversities and the countless forms of life itself. That is revolutionary practice. That is what is particularly necessary in the problems of the trades unions. We must liberate the masses in the trades unions for action. Through their economic struggle, through our understanding of and adaptation to the diverse developments within the forms of their organisations, we mobilise the masses for the revolution. We must not be abstract or doctrinaire. We must always be conscious that it is the action of the masses that shapes the means and the forms of the final revolutionary struggle.
I repeat once more: our differences with Comrade Radek are not differences of principle but of emphasis. But our Russian comrades must recognise the new, diverse trade union forms that are developing. They must recognise that in our countries the trades unions form a much livelier factor in the revolution than they did in their revolution. I feel that, at the next Congress, we will be in agreement.
A motion to dose the discussion is adopted. Reed moves that a vote should be taken on the minorities’ proposal as well, starting with the amendments.
Vote on Radek’s Theses, which are adopted. There follow personal declarations.
Bombacci: I am surprised that it has been said of me that I am playing games with the trades unions. On the contrary, it is Comrade Radek who is playing games with the trade union question. Lenin declares that he has neither heard nor read my speech. I emphasise that I have been in the trade union movement for fifteen years, that I have been secretary of a worker’s trade union for ten years, and that I have a clear position towards the trades unions. It never occurred to me to say that the communists should not interest themselves in the trade union question. I remind you that the Italian communists have made efforts since 1914 to tear the trade union federation away from the reformists and to bring it into the hands of the communists. I have defended a clear fine in this direction in Italy, and also frequently said that the trades unions represent a mine from which gold can be mined for the revolution, and that parliament represents a small platform compared with the trades unions. But trades unions are not revolutionary and will not be revolutionary.
Radek: The last thing that Comrade Bombacci uttered confirms what I have already said of him. He declares that the trades unions were never, are not, and will never be revolutionary organisations. So Comrade Bombacci has confirmed what I said: ‘Our relationship with the trades unions must be the same as it is to parliament. We must utilise the trades unions in order to carry out communist propaganda there, but they will never be revolutionary organisations for the purpose of winning the dictatorship.’ Comrade Bombacci says the same thing according to a detailed report in Izvestia. The contradiction is all the more incomprehensible to me for the fact that it is not only his opponents who have understood his speech in this way. All the Italian delegates whom I have asked about Bombacci’s speech confirmed the contents of the speech.
If Comrade Bombacci has worked in the trades unions for fifteen years, then what were his motives? If he considers the trades unions to be counter-revolutionary institutions, without at the same time working with a party for their destruction, then he represents a point of view which, in a revolutionary, cannot be taken seriously.
Reed proposes a vote on the amendments to the Theses. Vote.
Zinoviev: In his speech, Comrade Radek dealt with the question of the Red Trade Union International. I propose to add: ‘It is the task . .
The passage is read out.
Two words of explanation. You know that here in Moscow on July 15 an international association of those trades unions that adopt the standpoint of the Communist International was set up, and that a number of trades unions joined, Comrade Rosmer for the minority of the French trades unions, all the Russian and the Italian trades unions, and so forth. A statement was written which is not satisfactory as a platform, but which, as a first step, deserves our support and the quickest possible organisation of the International Congress of Red Trades Unions. I propose to take that as an independent motion. We will continue this work so that we can bring the trades unions together.
Secondly I propose to leave it to the Executive to address an appeal to all the trades unions in the world in which we explain the significance of the yellow Amsterdam international and call on them to enter the new trade union international. [Tanner asks for the floor in order to explain the relations between the yellow and the red trade union internationals.]
Zinoviev: Comrades, the Red Trade Union International which is being organised embraces five million members of the Russian trades unions, two million revolutionary Italians, although D'Aragona is a reformist, the minority of the French syndicats, represented here by Rosmer, who are revolutionary and number several million members, the Bulgarian trades unions, which have several hundred thousand members, and a few more, altogether some eight million workers organised in trades unions. We now want to unite these eight million organised workers as a trade union international. Comrades, I ask you, is that bad?
D'Aragona signed because the Italian workers support us, are for the soviets and for the dictatorship of the proletariat. And we hope that if, finally, after a seven-year break, a congress of the Italian trades unions is convened, then not a reformist but a revolutionary Marxist will stand at its head. We have almost ten million workers here who stand on the basis of the Communist International, and then people say that we should not organise them. Tanner says: ‘We have contact with the masses’. How many members does the Shop Stewards organisation have? 250.000. We also invited them in, for we said it is a mass organisation which we must support. But if they say that they have sufficient contact with the masses in a country like Britain, then that is really very modest. We should not be satisfied with that, but we should emerge as an international organisation. The main enemy is Amsterdam, and not Brussels.
People are always talking about the trade union bureaucracy.
D'Aragona is a bureaucrat. Should we therefore not build an International?
Amsterdam is a force. Many millions of workers are represented there who are, however, led by Messrs. the Social Democrats, and are therefore reactionary. We must split them and bring them over to us. That is the main task, and our first step is a big step forwards. We can now tell every trades union: ‘You should leave the Amsterdam International. You have an International of Red Trades Unions, and you should join it. Perhaps this is only a Zimmerwald, but from there you must march to Kienthal and Moscow. Nevertheless, it is still a step forwards.'
We have invited the shop stewards, but they did not want to sign the manifesto, because it talked about the dictatorship of the proletariat. Now they have accepted what we said. But you should not come to us and say: ‘Why did you not build it up on a free basis?’ We have built it up on this basis because we have ten million members, and every trade union will come to this International. Tanner says there is a contradiction. On a national scale we have to stay inside the trades unions, on an international scale we want an independent organ. We want to stay inside the national trades unions so that we can attract people to us, and not leave the trades unions in the Amsterdam International, but organise them together and place them under the leadership of the Communist International. We want to win the trades unions by all possible ways and means, on the national scale if necessary. One would have to be doctrinaire from head to foot to stand aside now, when we have on the one side the yellow international and on the other side the Moscow association. Some people do want to stand aside.
Should I not reach an agreement with Robert Williams against Henderson? Of course. But he stands at the head of the Triple Alliance. Why then do not the comrades in the Shop Stewards movement stand at the head of this million-strong trade union? In this way they show that they are sectarians and not revolutionaries. A revolutionary must throw Williams Out and place himself at the head. People form little groups, and when movements of millions grow up, they stand aside. But that is not the way to fight, by standing aside. You fight by taking the leadership, by going with the masses. I believe that it is a great step forward that we have the nucleus of a trade union International. That is the most important blow that we have struck against the bourgeoisie. Even if D'Aragona is an opportunist, it does
not matter. He will go, but the Italian workers will remain. We win push the trade union bureaucracy aside, and millions will march with us against capitalism and against the yellow trade union international.
Rudnyansky proposes the closure of the discussion.
The proposal is adopted. A vote is taken on the motion of comrades Tanner and Reed to refer this question back to the Commission for consideration. 13 votes are in favour of this motion, but the majority, with one abstention, are in favour of Zinoviev’s proposal. End of the session.