Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 719-726
Translation: Translation team organized by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission
Comrades, I am not a revolutionary syndicalist and regret that I cannot present their view. Regarding the question of revolutionary syndicalism that Comrade Brand has just raised, we can refer to a document that was printed in L’Humanité of 21 May, the declaration of the Central Committee of the revolutionary trade-union council1 The statement begins as follows: ‘The Revolutionary Trade-Union Committee declares categorically that French unionism is fully independent and autonomous.’
Here we have the philosophy of syndicalism in its entirety: complete independence and autonomy.
Our task is then to inquire: independent of whom? Autonomous from whom? One wonders what this term ‘independent’ refers to and how the concept of autonomy is to be understood. What is at issue is to compare the concept that excludes Communists from common work to the concept that strives for collaboration of Communists and syndicalists in seeking their common goal. What is at issue is to compare the principles of the Communist movement to another concept, namely that which holds revolutionary syndicalism to be sufficient in itself to carry out the social revolution and construct the future society. That is the essence of revolutionary syndicalism.
So we must know whether it is sufficient for the struggle we are carrying out in Britain, Germany, and France to have a workers’ movement independent of communism. Is this possible or not? I will present facts that show the formula stemming from the revered Amiens Charter of 1906 to have become rather obsolete. The time has come for a thorough overhaul. When we announce that the trade-union movement is independent and autonomous, we are saying that there are two movements that are proceeding parallel to each other but do not seek the same goal. We are saying that there is a syndicalism that aims to replace communism and another syndicalism that runs parallel to communism – two movements advancing together, which maintain neighbourly relations and exchange greetings, only then to go their separate ways.
But is it possible in the social struggle for the proletariat to be divided into two organisms, to have two souls, one of which is syndicalist and the other Communist? Is it possible that any organisation imbued with communism can be truly autonomous? I have asked our syndicalist comrades why is it, if we have two parallel organisations, that we cannot build a bridge between them? They reply, not a bridge, but only a catwalk, a very weak one so that no one can walk across. If they conceive of a close alliance as nothing more than a catwalk, syndicalism will be defeated, and communism too. The bourgeoisie can be repulsed only if the preconditions for victory and unity – unity in goals, in deeds, in convictions, and in the struggle – are present. The ideas defended by our syndicalist comrades, however, all run counter to the victory of the working class.
The syndicalist comrades are on the wrong road. Within a few months they will see that those who are for the Amiens Charter are against us and are allying in a bloc with people who are reformists. But the Amiens Charter is not just the slogan of the CSR; Merrheim, Jouhaux, and the like also proclaim on every street corner that they are for the Amiens Charter. The syndicalist Communists also ride the same hobby horse. You are well aware that these two currents, reformist syndicalism and revolutionary syndicalism, are counterposed in the workers’ movement as class enemies. It is remarkable that the trade-union leaders always talk about the Amiens Charter and do not notice that their enemies, waving the same banner of the Amiens Charter, are trying to strangle the syndicalist movement, while beseeching God to bless the sacred Amiens Charter.
Comrades, in this bitter struggle communism and syndicalism must go hand in hand. If they do not go together, they will clash against each other. That is the choice before us, as you will come to recognise in your own country.
In order to demonstrate that one cannot swing back and forth in international politics between the Second and Third Internationals, I will tell you of a small episode in the negotiations between the Italian Confederation of Labour and the official representative of the Amsterdam trade-union bureau, Oudegeest. Oudegeest travelled to Milan and was given a warm reception by the Confederation of Labour. Oudegeest says that he was greatly moved by the warm reception prepared by the representatives of the Italian Confederation of Labour. Comrades, he said, we must not allow ourselves to be divided by theoretical discrepancies. We must come to agreement in the arena of practice. So Oudegeest was deeply moved. I submit this example to demonstrate that the Italian Confederation of Labour and the Amsterdam trade-union bureau are separated only by differences on theory.
Now for a second example. As you know, comrades, Spain is ravaged by white terror. A few days ago we learned that a number of syndicalists in Spain had been murdered. Every day revolutionary workers there are brutally assassinated on order of the government. Even this was too much for the Amsterdam trade-union bureau, which wrote a letter to the Spanish government, which read, and I quote:
The International Trade-Union Bureau wishes to draw to the attention of the Madrid government that it has subscribed to point 13 of the Versailles Treaty, which solemnly recognises trade-union organisations. Your government was represented at the international conference in Washington and, through your representative, the Viscount de Eza, signed the agreement, which ratified and enacted the principles of the rights and freedom of labour established by the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations. The Spanish government has a representative – Viscount de Eza – in the administrative council of the Labour Office. The main function of this office is to see to it that the rights of workers are respected and the international agreement is carried out.
This is the cordial tone in which the Amsterdam organisation converses with the Spanish government, which has committed such atrocities. They are told: You have after all signed the celebrated Versailles Treaty, in which the freedom of workers is mentioned. And having addressed such sweet words to the Spanish government, their representative goes to Italy and says to the Italian workers: Let us be done with theoretical disputation; we must come to agreement on economic and other issues.
Let us consider another example. The American Federation of Labour is fully satisfied by the revolutionary conduct of the Amsterdam trade-union bureau. But no, for Gompers even the Amsterdam International is too revolutionary. He reproaches it for having issued a manifesto in which it is stated that this revolutionary International no longer has confidence in Appleton.2 Jouhaux, Martens, and others write to Gompers: ‘But my dear Gompers, how did you come upon the idea that we are revolutionary?’ And as to the question of Appleton, they say, ‘But please listen, we are really not responsible for the fact that Appleton had to go. He had a little mishap at the Portsmouth Congress.’ The British trade unionists put it this way: ‘This did not happen because we are too revolutionary, but because the eight million trade-union members represented in the trade-union assembly of their country withdrew their confidence from him.’ So you see, it is only abstract theoretical disagreements that separate Amsterdam from Moscow!
The representatives of Amsterdam went to the Italian Confederation of Labour, where they were received with more than fine speeches of welcome, because Oudegeest surely did not go to Milan only for the sake of the speeches. He went there in order to come to agreement with the Confederation of Labour over questions of practical collaboration. In a word, what we have here is a second edition of the Washington story.3 The representatives of the Italian Federation of Labour say: ‘We want to await the return of our delegates from Moscow.’ They do not yet know whether they will stay with Moscow or with Amsterdam. They are suspended between two bales of hay: Moscow and Amsterdam. They do not yet know where their steps will lead them. They send delegates to Moscow while they wait for the door to open so they can negotiate with Oudegeest.
Now I ask you, comrades, does this policy of neutrality represent one of independence, of autonomy? No, of course not. Were the revolutionary syndicalists independent and autonomous in their communist actions? Let us consider the celebrated Amiens Charter, which was drafted in 1906. I now ask the old syndicalists, members of the Italian party: Was the Italian Confederation of Labour acting neutrally, in the spirit of the Amiens Charter and all the supporters of autonomy? No, it followed the anarchists. The anarchist leaders write for all the papers of the Confederation of Labour, which even invited the anarchists to be editors. Do you doubt that? Just look at the Grido del popolo, publication of the Confederation of Labour. Look at all the literature of the Italian Confederation of Labour since 1906. I tell you, they have never been neutral, because neutrality is impossible; it simply does not exist. It exists only in the heads of the leaders, who use it to conceal their real opposition to neutrality, against certain concepts, and against true communism. That is the real meaning we discover in this theory of independence and autonomy.
As for the Amiens Charter, the comrades reproach us for falling behind. This surprises me. I ask the revolutionary syndicalists, who want to make the revolution: During the years from 1906 to 1921, apart from the Amiens Charter, did anything else happen? There was the World War, and we have called into being the social revolution. Did it not change the whole world? But the Amiens Charter stands unshaken for all time! This is inconceivable. There is a policy hiding behind autonomy and independence, a policy consisting simply of fear that some outside force might occupy territory that the trade-union movement has claimed and might destroy the workers’ organisation. This shows a lack of confidence in your own strength, in yourselves. And that is the basis of the entire theory.
The Amiens Charter reads, in part:
The congress assures to all union members the right to take part, outside the union framework, in any form of struggle that corresponds to their philosophic or political conceptions, reserving only the right to ask, in return, that they not introduce within the union the opinions that they profess on the outside.
Comrades, this is idiotic. It is an idiotic trifle, as a great Russian writer said.4 Can you really ask of people that they not bring their opinions along with them? Can you perhaps have two opinions, one outside the trade unions and another inside them; one in the party and one in the trade unions? You have two bags, one to carry your communist opinions, and the other for your socialist ones. If you are in the trade union, you pull the appropriate opinions out of one of the bags, as if you were taking a product off the appropriate shelf. Comrades, to me this is incomprehensible. I wonder how it is that this great syndicalist movement, in the fifteen years of its existence, has not learned from this great revolution that it is impossible to carry on such a double life. Because you cannot tell someone to leave their own opinions outside. Dear God, I cannot go into the unions without opinions. What is that supposed to mean?
In my view, instead of always referring to the Amiens Charter, it is high time to draw up a new charter. We have the documents needed for this, we have the facts, we have revolutions; in a word, we possess all the material necessary to construct a new building.
We cannot draw our nourishment forever from this little Amiens Charter. A new building must be constructed, corresponding to today’s requirements. That is why the slogan of the Amiens Charter is in itself erroneous and will not bring about the desired results. The mass movement will compel you to draw up a different charter – not the Amiens Charter, but one that corresponds to today’s requirements.
And now we come to the final paragraph of the celebrated, sacred Amiens Charter:
As for the organisations, the congress declares that, in order to achieve the maximum success, the trade-union movement must carry out action directly against the employers. The confederal organisations, as union bodies, should not concern themselves with parties and sects that, outside and on the side, strive in full freedom for social transformation.
Certain groups are accorded the right to be freely active. How accommodating of the Amiens Charter!
Comrades, is the issue here perhaps whether these groups can be active, or want to be active? No. The issue is the need to unify the efforts of organisations that share the same goal. If you in France now adopt ‘independence and autonomy’ as the foundation for your organisation, I must tell you that you are taking a step backwards. In chasing out the reformists, throwing them out the windows and doors, you are taking a step forwards. But in proclaiming autonomy and independence, you are taking two steps backwards, because your point of view is erroneous. Jouhaux and his colleagues say to those championing independence and autonomy, ‘We already agree regarding the Amiens Charter.’
This reminds me of the time I spent in Germany.5 When I arrived, I was told of when the government was made up of Independents [USPD] and Majority Socialists [SPD]. For a whole week the Independent and Majority forces cudgelled their brains trying to somehow patch together a programme. Finally they decided, ‘Let us form a government with five members on the basis of the [Erfurt] programme of 1891.’.6 I am afraid, comrades, that to continue brooding over the Amiens Charter at this point is an extremely dangerous policy. I tell you as a friend that we recognise all the difficulties that exist in France: the mood of the workers, the betrayal by the [Socialist] party leadership. The party leaders who have betrayed the workers maintain warm relations with the leaders of syndicalism, as if thrown in the same sack. But what is at issue here is not the leaders but the direction the movement is taking. This congress, this initiative that we are leading in every single country, must promote powerful, direct action. Your slogans are unsuitable. What you are saying leads only to confusion, which we find expressed in the Amiens Charter.
I am now finished with the Amiens Charter, and I hope that you will be finished with it too, quite soon.
Now I would like to take up the question of the trade unions, the Communist International, and the KAPD. The KAPD comrades have their own Amiens Charter. It consists of the demand that all the trade unions should be destroyed. Yes, these trade unions! They are led by bandits, reformists. The house must be burned down and abandoned, so that a new little house can be built, which will be inhabited only by upright folk. It is true that we will then no longer have ten million, but 50,000 will come with us, and they, together with us, will make the revolution.
This point of view is not only wrong but flatly counterrevolutionary. Why is that? Because by their very nature trade unions are mass organisations. In Germany there are ten million workers in the trade unions. And there are honest revolutionary workers now who say, ‘We do not want to have anything to do with these ten million. We do not want to have them, because we are better than they are.’ Our response to them is, ‘You will never make the revolution, because you do not smell the gunpowder of revolution. You have no feel for how it must be carried out, and you will never pull it off, because one must be where the workers are. If there are moneychangers in the workers’ temple, they must be driven out. But to respond by burning the temple down would be the stupidest thing you could do.’
It is we who created the trade unions. In saying now that we want to win over the unions, our concern is not for the cashboxes or the building but for the masses of workers and their world of thought. So long as you do not have masses in your organisation, you will not carry out the revolution.
In this regard, our French comrades have demonstrated that the programme of the KAPD is completely wrong. Our French comrades now have the support of almost half the organised workers; in a few months, they will have the majority. And this has been possible only because they go with the workers. If they have the workers’ support, then they have the unions’ support as well, because the unions are made up of the working class.
We must firmly condemn the point of view raised against us. They tell us, ‘How can this be? Through many years of effort we have created the trade unions. We sacrificed for decades to construct them. And now bandits have crept in.’ Well, we must win the support of the organised masses, drive out the bandits, and thus make an end of the matter.
If the revolutionary masses in Germany were to take up the slogan of destroying the trade unions, this would only prolong Germany’s present convulsive evolution. It would cause a tremendous disruption. The split of left forces would be perpetuated, and the revolution would be delayed, not only in Germany but in the world as a whole.
Reviewing our present structures, methods, and goals, we must say: no comrades, we must not have two parallel columns, like in school or on the parade ground. We must advance with our ranks closed up, so that we can achieve our goal more quickly. We must tighten our unity and come to agreement on ideas and policies. Only then will we be able to carry the social revolution through to the end. Autonomy and independence, on the other hand, run counter to the interests of the working class and of revolutionary policy. They delay achieving the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
1. A reference to the Revolutionary Syndicalist Committee (CSR), a grouping of twenty-six left-wing minority unions within the CGT formed in October 1919 with Pierre Monatte as secretary. The CSR was the nucleus around which the future CGTU was organised.
2. William A. Appleton, secretary of the British General Federation of Trade Unions and closely linked to right-wing US labour leader Samuel Gompers, was elected president of the International Federation of Trade Unions (Amsterdam International) in July 1920. Facing growing criticism within the Amsterdam International and the Trades Union Congress in Britain, Appleton resigned as IFTU president in November 1920. He was replaced by J. H. Thomas.
3. A reference to the 29 October–29 November 1919 Washington conference of the International Labour Organisation, which was set up by the League of Nations. Attended by government representatives and leaders of the Amsterdam International, the meeting formulated draft conventions on the eight-hour day, unemployment, employment of women and children, and workers’ safety. The Amsterdam leaders hailed the conference as a victory for organised labour.
4. Bukharin may have been referring to Anton Chekhov, who wrote a short story whose title, translated into German, is ‘A Trifle’ (Eine Bagatelle).
5. Lozovsky attended the October 1920 USPD congress in Halle, Germany, together with Zinoviev.
6. In the days after the overthrow of the Hohenzollern monarchy in November 1918, a government was established composed of six members (not five): Friedrich Ebert, Philipp Scheidemann, and Otto Landsberg from the SPD; and Wilhelm Dittmann, Hugo Haase, and Emil Barth from the USPD.
The Erfurt Programme, adopted by the SPD in 1891, was viewed as a model for parties of the Second International. For the text, see: http://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/1891/erfurt-program.htm