Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International: Theses

Theses on the Trade Union Movement, Factory Committees and the Third International

1. The trades unions, created by the working class during the period of the peaceful development of capitalism, were organisations of the workers to increase the price of labour in the labour market, and for the improvement of labour conditions. The revolutionary Marxists endeavoured by their influence to unite them with the political party of the proletariat, the – Social Democracy, for a joint struggle for socialism. For the same reasons that international Social Democracy, with a few exceptions, proved to be not an instrument of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat for the overthrow of capitalism, but an organisation which held back the proletariat from revolution, in the interests of the bourgeoisie, the trades unions proved to be in most cases, during the war, a part of the military apparatus of the bourgeoisie, helping the latter to exploit the working class as much as possible in a more energetic struggle for profits. Containing chiefly the skilled workmen, better paid, limited by their craft narrowmindedness, fettered by a bureaucratic apparatus disconnected from the masses, demoralised by their opportunist leaders, the unions betrayed not only the cause of the social revolution, but even also the struggle for the improvement of the conditions of life of the workmen organised by them. They started from the point of view of the trade union struggle against the employers, and replaced it by the programme of an amicable arrangement with the capitalists at any cost. This policy was carried on not only by the Liberal unions of England and America, not only by the would-be ‘socialist’ trades unions in Germany and Austria, but by the syndicalist unions in France as well.

2. The economic consequences of the war, the complete disorganisation of world economy, the insane prices, the unlimited use of the labour of women and children, the worsening of the housing conditions, all these are forcing the large masses of the proletariat into the struggle against capitalism. This struggle is revolutionary warfare, by its proportions and the character that it is assuming more and more every day; a warfare destroying in fact the bases of the capitalist order. The increase of wages, obtained one day by the economic struggle of one or another category of workers, is the next day nullified by the high prices. The prices must continue to rise, because the capitalist class of the victorious countries, ruining Central and Eastern Europe by its policy of exploitation, is not only not in a position to organise the world economy, but is incessantly disorganising it. For the success of their economic struggle, the wider masses of workers, who until now have stood apart from the labour unions, are now flowing into their ranks in a powerful stream. In all capitalist countries a tremendous increase of the trades unions is to be noticed, which now become organisations of the chief masses of the proletariat, not only of its advanced elements. Flowing into the unions, these masses strive to make them their weapons of battle. The sharpening of class antagonism compels the trades unions to lead strikes, which flow in a broad wave over the entire capitalist world, constantly interrupting the process of capitalist production and exchange. Increasing their demands in proportion to the rising prices and their own exhaustion, the working classes undermine the bases of all capitalist calculations and the elementary premise of every well-organised economic management. The unions, which during the war had been organs of compulsion over the working masses, become in this way organs for the annihilation of capitalism.

3. The old trade union bureaucracy and the old forms of organisation of the trades unions are in every way opposing such a change in the nature of the trades unions. The old trade union bureaucracy is endeavouring in many places to maintain the trades unions as organisations of the workers’ aristocracy; it preserves the rules which make it impossible for the badly paid working classes to enter into the trade union organisations. The old trade union aristocracy is even now intensifying its efforts to replace the strike methods, which are ever more and more acquiring the character of revolutionary warfare between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, by the policy of arrangements with the capitalists, the policy of long term contracts, which have lost all sense simply in view of the constant insane rise in prices. It tries to force upon the workers the policy of ‘Joint Industrial Councils’, and to impede by law the leading of strikes, with the assistance of the capitalist state. At the most tense moments of the struggle this bureaucracy sows trouble and confusion among the struggling masses of the workers, impeding the fusion of the struggle of various categories of workmen into one general class struggle. In these attempts it is helped by the old organisations of the trades unions according to crafts, which breaks up the workmen of one branch of production into separate professional groups, notwithstanding their being bound together by the process of capitalist exploitation. It rests on the force of the tradition of the old labour aristocracy, which is now constantly being weakened by the process of suppression of the privilege of separate groups of the proletariat through the general decay of capitalism, the equalisation of the level of the working class and the growth of the poverty and precariousness of its livelihood. In this way the trade union bureaucracy breaks up the powerful stream of the labour movement into weak streamlets, substitutes partial reformist demands for the general revolutionary aims of the movement, and on the whole retards the transformation of the struggle of the proletariat into a revolutionary struggle for the annihilation of capitalism.

4. Bearing in mind the rush of the enormous working masses into the trades unions, and also the objective revolutionary character of the economic struggle which those masses are carrying on in spite of the trade union bureaucracy, the Communists must join such unions in all countries, in order to make of them efficient organs of the struggle for the suppression of capitalism and for Communism. They must initiate the forming of trades unions where these do not exist. All voluntary withdrawals from the industrial movement, every artificial attempt to organise special unions, without being compelled thereto by exceptional acts of violence on the part of the trade union bureaucracy such as the expulsion of separate revolutionary local branches of the unions by the opportunist officials, or by their narrow-minded aristocratic policy, which prohibits the unskilled workers from entering into the organisation – represents a great danger to the Communist movement. It threatens to hand over the most advanced, the most conscious workers to the opportunist leaders, playing into the hands of the bourgeoisie. The luke-warmness of the working masses, their theoretical indecision, their tendency to yield to the arguments of opportunist leaders, can be overcome only during the process of the ever-growing struggle, by degrees, as the wider masses of the proletariat learn to understand, by experience, by their victories and defeats, that in fact it is already impossible to obtain human conditions of life on the basis of capitalist methods of management; and by degrees as the advanced Communist workmen learn through their economic struggle to be not only preachers of the ideas of communism, but also the most determined leaders of the economic struggle of the labour unions. Only in this way will it be possible to remove from the unions their opportunist leaders, only in this way will the communists be able to take the lead in the trade union movement and make of it an organ of the revolutionary struggle for communism. Only in this way can they prevent the break-up of the trades unions, and replace them by industrial unions – remove the old bureaucracy separated from the masses and replace it by the apparatus of factory-representatives, leaving only the most necessary functions to the centre.

5. Placing the object and the essence of labour organisations before them, the Communists ought not to hesitate before a split in such organisations, if a refusal to split would mean abandoning revolutionary work in the trades unions, and giving up the attempt to make of them an instrument of revolutionary struggle, the attempt to organise the most exploited section of the proletariat. But even if such a split should be necessary, it must be carried into effect only at a time when the Communists have succeeded by incessant warfare against the opportunist leaders and their tactics, in persuading the wider masses of workmen that the split is occurring not because of the remote and as yet incomprehensible aims of the revolution, but on account of the concrete, immediate interests of the working class in the development of its economic struggle. The Communists, in case a necessity for a split arises, must continuously and attentively discuss the question as to whether such a split might not lead to their isolation from the working masses.

6. Where a split between the opportunists and the revolutionary trade union movement has already taken place before, where, as in America, alongside of the opportunist trades unions, there are unions with revolutionary tendencies – although not communist ones – there the Communists are bound to support such revolutionary unions, to persuade them to abandon syndicalist prejudices and to place themselves on the platform Of communism, which alone is the platform for the economic struggle. Where within the trades unions or outside of them organisations are formed in the factories, such as shop stewards, factory committees, etc., for the purpose of fighting against the counter-revolutionary tendencies of the trade union bureaucracy, to support the spontaneous direct action of the proletariat, there, of course, the Communists must with all their energy give assistance to these organisations. But they must not fail to support the revolutionary trades unions, which are in a state of ferment and passing over to the class struggle. On the contrary, by approaching this evolution of the unions on their way to a revolutionary struggle, the Communists will be able to play the part of an element uniting the politically and industrially organised workmen in their struggle for the suppression of capitalism.

The economic struggle of the proletariat becomes a political struggle during an epoch of the decline of capitalism much quicker than during an epoch of its peaceful development. Every serious economic clash may immediately place the workers face to face with the question of revolution. Therefore it is the duty of the Communists in all the phases of the economic struggle to point out to the workers that the success of the struggle is only possible if the working class conquers the capitalists in open fight, and by means of dictatorship proceeds to the organisation of a socialist order. Consequently, the Communist must strive to create as far as possible complete unity between the trades unions and the Communist Party, and to subordinate the unions to the practical leadership of the party, as the advanced guard of the workers’ revolution. For this purpose the Communists should have communist groups in all the trades unions and factory committees and acquire by their means an influence over the labour movement and direct it.


1. The economic struggle of the proletariat for the increase of wages and the improvement of the conditions of life of the masses, is getting more and more into a blind alley. The economic crisis, embracing one country after another in ever-increasing proportions, is showing to even unenlightened workmen that it is not enough to demand an increase of wages and a shortening of the working hours, but that the capitalist class is less capable every day of establishing the normal conditions of public economy and of guaranteeing to the workers at least those conditions of life which it gave them before the world war. Out of this growing conviction of the working masses are born their efforts to create organisations which will be able to commence a struggle for the alleviation of the situation by means of workers’ control over production, through the medium of the factory committees. This aspiration to create factory committees, which is more and more taking possession of the workmen of different countries, takes its origin from the most varied causes (struggle against the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy, discouragement after union defeats, striving to create an organisation embracing all workers), but at the end it results in the fight for control over industry, the special historic task of the factory committees. Therefore, it is a mistake to form the shop committees only out of workmen who are already struggling for the dictatorship of the proletariat; on the contrary, the duty of the Communist Party is to organise all the workers on the ground of the economic crisis, and to lead them towards the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat by developing the struggle for workers’ control over production, which they all understand.

2. The Communist Party will be able to accomplish this task if, taking part in the struggle in the factory committees, it will instil into the minds of the masses the consciousness that a systematic reconstruction of public economy on the basis of capitalism, which would mean its new enslavement by the government in favour of the industrial class, is now totally impossible. The organisation of economic management in the interests of the working masses, is possible only when the government is in the hands of the working class, when the strong hand of labour dictatorship will proceed to the suppression of capitalism and to the new socialist organisation.

3. The struggle of the factory committees against capitalism has for its immediate object workers’ control over production. The workers of every enterprise, every branch of industry, no matter what their trade, suffer from the ‘sabotage’ of production on the part of capitalists, who frequently consider it more profitable to stop production in order that it may be easier to compel the workers to agree to unsatisfactory labour conditions, or not to invest new capital in industry at a moment of a general rise in prices. The need to protect themselves against such a sabotage of production by the capitalists unites the workmen independently of their political opinions, and therefore the factory committees elected by the workers of a given enterprise are the broadest mass organisations of the proletariat. But the disorganisation of capitalist management is the result of not only the conscious will of the capitalists, but in a still greater degree an inevitable decline of capitalism. Therefore, in their struggle against the consequences of such a decline, the factory committees must go beyond the limits of control in separate factories. The factory committees of separate factories will soon be faced with the question of workers’ control over whole branches of industry and their combinations. And as any attempt on the part of workmen to exercise a control over the supplying of the factories with raw material, or to control the financial operations of the factory owners, will be met by the most energetic measures against the working class on the part of the bourgeoisie and the capitalist government, the struggle for workers’ control over production must lead to the struggle for a seizure of power by the working class.

4. The campaign in favour of factory committees must be conducted in such a way that into the minds of the popular masses, even those not directly belonging to the factory proletariat, there should he instilled the conviction that the bourgeoisie is responsible for the economic crisis, while the proletariat with the watchword of workers’ control of industry, is struggling for the organisation of production, for the suppression of speculation, disorganisation and high prices. The duty of the Communist Parties is to struggle for control over production on the ground of the most insistent questions of the day: the lack of fuel and the transport crisis, to unite the different groups of the proletariat and to attract wide circles of the petty bourgeoisie, which is becoming more and more proletarianised day by day, and is suffering extremely from the economic crisis.

5. The factory committees cannot be substituted for the trades unions. During the process of struggle they may form unions outside the limits of single factories and trades, according to the branches of production, and create a general apparatus for the direction of the struggle. The trades unions are already now centralised fighting organs, although they do not embrace such wide masses of workers as the factory committees can, these latter being loose organisations which are accessible to all the workers of a given enterprise. The division of tasks between the shop committees and the industrial unions is the result of the historical development of the social revolution. The industrial unions organise the working masses for the struggle for the increase of wages and shortening of hours on a national scale. The factory committees are organised for workers’ control over production, for the struggle against the crisis, and embrace all the workers of the enterprise, but their struggle can only gradually assume the character of a national, one. The Communists must endeavour to render the factory committees the nuclei of the trades unions and to support them in proportion as the unions overcome the counter-revolutionary tendencies of their bureaucracy, as they consciously become organs of the revolution.

6. The duty of the Communists consists in inspiring the trades unions and factory committees with a spirit of determined struggle, and the consciousness and knowledge of the best methods of such a struggle – the spirit of communism. In carrying out this duty the Communists must in practice subordinate the factory committees and the unions to the Communist Party, and thus create a proletarian mass organ, a basis for a powerful centralised party of the proletariat, embracing all the organisations of the workers’ struggle, leading them all to one aim, to the victory of the working class, through the dictatorship of the proletariat to communism. The Communists, by converting the trades unions and factory committees into powerful weapons of the revolution, prepare these mass organisations for the great task which they will have after the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat – the task of being the instrument of the reorganisation of economic life on a socialist basis. The trades unions, developed as industrial unions and supported by the factory committees as their factory organisations will then make the working masses acquainted with their tasks of production. They will educate the most experienced workers to become leaders of the factories, to control the technical specialists, and, together with the representatives of the workers’ state, lay down the plan of the socialist economic policy, and carry it out.


The trades unions tried to form international unions even in peacetime, because during strikes the capitalists used to invite workers from other countries as strike-breakers. But the Trade Union International had only a secondary importance before the war. It made one union support another when needful, it organised social statistics, but it did nothing for the organisation of a joint struggle, because the trades unions, under the leadership of opportunists, strove to avoid all revolutionary collisions on an international scale.

The opportunist leaders of the trades unions, who each in his own country during the war was a flunkey of his bourgeoisie, are now striving to revive the Trade Union International, attempting to make it a weapon for the direct struggle of the international world capital against the proletariat. Under the direction of Legien, Jouhaux and Gompers they are creating a Labour Bureau of the League of Nations, that organisation of international capitalist robbery. In all countries they are attempting to crush the strike movement by means of laws, and so compel the workers to submit to the arbitration of representatives of the capitalist state.

They are endeavouring to obtain concessions for the skilled workers by means of agreements with the capitalists, in order to break in this way the growing unity of the working class. The Amsterdam Trade Union International is thus a substitute for the bankrupt Second International of Brussels.

The Communist workers who are members of the trades unions in all countries must on the contrary strive to create an international battle-front of trades unions. The question now is not financial relief in case of strikes; but when danger is threatening the working class of one country, the trades unions of the others, being organisations of the larger masses, should all come to its defence; they should make it impossible for the bourgeoisie of their respective countries to render assistance to the bourgeoisie of the country engaged in the struggle against the working class. The economic struggle of the proletariat in all countries is daily becoming more and more a revolutionary struggle. Therefore, the trades unions must consciously use their forces for the support of all revolutionary struggles in their own and in other countries. For this purpose they must not only, in their own countries, strive to attain as great as possible centralisation of their struggle but they must do so on an international scale by joining the Communist International, and uniting in one army, the different parts of which shall carry on the struggle jointly, supporting one another.