Fourth Congress of the Communist International - Resolutions 1922

Theses on Communist Activity in the Trade Unions

Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (, pp. 1199-1206.
Translation: Translations by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.

I. The state of the trade-union movement

1. During the last two years, which have seen a general capitalist offensive, the trade union movement lost considerable strength in all countries. With a few exceptions (Germany, Austria), the trade unions lost a large portion of their members. This decline was caused by the vigorous bourgeois offensive and, simultaneously, by the inability of the reformist unions to mount serious opposition to the capitalist attack and defend the most elementary interests of the workers.

2. This capitalist offensive, combined with continued class collaboration, have more and more disillusioned the working masses. This explains both their attempts to create new organisations and also the dispersal of a large number of workers who are less class-conscious and have left the unions. For many, the trade union is no longer attractive because it has not succeeded – and in many cases did not even try – to halt the capitalist attack and to defend positions already won. Events have graphically demonstrated the barrenness of reformism.

3. The trade union movement internationally is marked by internal instability. Significant groups of workers continue to leave it, while the reformists eagerly pursue their policy of collaboration, claiming to be ‘utilising capitalism to benefit the workers’. In reality, however, capitalism has constantly used the reformist organisations in its own interests, making them its accomplices in reducing the living standards of the masses. In the recent period, the bond between the governments and the reformist leaders has grown stronger, in pace with the growing subordination of the interests of the working class to those of the ruling layers.

II. The Amsterdam International’s attack on revolutionary trade unions

4. At the same moment that reformist leaders were yielding to bourgeois pressure all down the line, they began their attack on the revolutionary workers. They recognised that their unwillingness to organise resistance against capitalism had aroused deep anger among the working masses. Determined to cleanse their organisations of the seeds of revolution, they launched an organised attack on the revolutionary trade union movement. Its goal was to undermine and demoralise the revolutionary minorities by every means at their disposal, thus strengthening the shaken rule of the bourgeoisie.

5. In order to maintain their authority, the leaders of the Amsterdam International did not hesitate to expel not only individuals or groups but entire organisations. Under no conditions would the Amsterdamers consent to be placed in a minority. When threatened by revolutionary forces who support the RILU [Red International of Labour Unions] and the Communist International, they are determined to drive through a split, provided that they are able in the process to keep control of the administrative apparatus and material resources. That is what was done by leaders of the French CGT. The reformists in Czechoslovakia and the leaders of the German ADGB [General Federation of Trade Unions of Germany] are headed down the same road. The interests of the bourgeoisie demand splitting the trade union movement.

6. Simultaneously with the reformist attack on revolutionary workers in individual countries, the same offensive began on an international level. The international federations that support Amsterdam systematically expelled revolutionary federations on a national level or refused to admit them. This was done by international congresses of miners, textile workers, clerks, leather workers, wood workers, construction workers, and postal and telegraph workers, all of which refused to admit the revolutionary trade unions of Russia and other countries because they belonged to the RILU.

7. This campaign by the Amsterdamers against the revolutionary trade unions is an expression of the campaign of international capitalism against the working class. It pursues the same goals: reinforcing the capitalist system at the expense of the working masses. Reformism is nearing its end. Through these expulsions and by driving out the militant working-class forces, it wants to weaken the working class as much as possible and render it incapable of winning power and taking over the means of production.

III. The anarchists and communism

8. At the same time an ‘offensive’ quite similar to that of the Amsterdamers was launched by the anarchist wing of the workers’ movement against the Communist International, the Communist parties, and Communist cells in the trade unions. A number of anarcho-syndicalist organisations proclaimed themselves openly to be enemies of the Communist International and the Russian revolution, despite their solemn adherence to the Communist International in 1920 and their declarations of support for the Russian proletariat and the October revolution. This was the case with the Italian syndicalists, the German ‘localists’,[1] the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, and various anarcho-syndicalist groups in France, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

9. Certain syndicalist organisations (the National Workers’ Secretariat of the Netherlands, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Italian Syndicalist Federation, and so on) expelled supporters of the RILU in general and Communists in particular. So the slogan of trade-union independence, which was once super-revolutionary, has become anti-Communist, that is, counter-revolutionary. It now matches that of the Amsterdam leaders, who carry out the same policy under the banner of independence, although in their case it is no longer a secret to anyone that they are completely dependent on the national and international bourgeoisie.

10. The anarchist campaign against the Communist International, the RILU, and the Russian revolution has resulted in division and confusion in their own ranks. The best working-class forces have protested against such ideas. Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism have split into many groups and currents, which are conducting a bitter fight for or against the RILU, for or against proletarian dictatorship, for or against the Russian revolution.

IV. Neutrality and independence

11. The bourgeoisie’s influence on the proletariat finds expression in the theory of neutrality: the trade unions must stick exclusively to purely craft and narrowly economic goals and not concern themselves with class objectives. Neutrality has always been a purely bourgeois teaching, against which revolutionary Marxism has waged a resolute struggle. Trade unions that do not adopt class objectives, that is, objectives aiming at the overthrow of the capitalist system, are – despite their proletarian composition – the best defenders of the bourgeois social order.

12. This theory of neutrality has always relied on the argument that the unions should concern themselves only with economic issues without getting involved in politics. The bourgeoisie always tends to divide politics from economics because it fully understands that if it can succeed in walling up the working class in the limits of its craft interests, no serious danger will threaten its rule.

13. The same separation of economics from politics is also upheld by anarchist forces in the trade union movement, who wish to divert the workers’ movement away from a political course on the pretext that politics of any kind will be directed against the workers. Fundamentally, this theory is purely bourgeois. It is offered to the workers as representing trade union independence, which is understood to mean the opposition of trade unions to the Communist parties and a declaration of war against the Communist workers’ movement – all in the name of the infamous independence and autonomy.

14. This struggle against ‘politics’ and the political parties of the working class leads to a weakening of the workers’ movement and workers’ organisations, along with a campaign against communism, the concentrated expression of proletarian class consciousness. Independence in all its forms, whether anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist, is an anti-communist teaching that must be resolutely opposed. For even in the best of cases, it leads to independence from communism and antagonism between the trade unions and the Communist parties, if not to a bitter struggle of the unions against the Communist parties, communism, and social revolution.

15. The theory of autonomy, as presented by the French, Italian, and Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, is essentially a slogan of anarchist struggle against communism. Communists must carry out a determined campaign within the unions against this attempt to smuggle in anarchist theory under the banner of autonomy and to split the workers’ movement into mutually hostile segments. This will delay and prevent the triumph of the working class.

V. Syndicalism and communism

16. The anarcho-syndicalists confuse trade unions [’syndicats'] with syndicalism by presenting their anarcho-syndicalist party as the only organisation that is truly revolutionary and capable of leading the actions of the proletariat through to their culmination. Although syndicalism represents an enormous advance over ‘trade-unionism’,[2] it nonetheless includes numerous errors and negative sides that must be vigorously resisted.

17. Communists cannot and should not give up, in the name of abstract anarcho-syndicalist principles, their right to organise cells in the trade unions, regardless of their orientation. No one can take this right away from them. Obviously, Communists active in the unions must link their activity with that of syndicalists who have learned from the lessons of war and revolution.

18. Communists must take the initiative to form an alliance inside the unions with revolutionary workers of other currents. The current closest to communism is that of the syndicalist-communists, who recognise the need for a proletarian dictatorship and defend the principle of a workers’ state against the anarcho-syndicalists. But in order to make unity in action possible, the Communists must be organised. Unorganised Communists, acting as individuals, will not be capable of working together with anyone, whoever it may be, simply because they do not represent a serious force.

19. Communists must vigorously and consistently defend their principles in combating the anti-Communist theories of independence and the separation of politics and economics, conceptions so harmful to the revolutionary advance of the working class. At the same time, Communists inside the unions, whatever their orientation, must endeavour to coordinate their activity, in the day-to-day struggle against reformism and anarcho-syndicalist shadow-boxing, with all revolutionary forces that are working for the overthrow of capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

20. In countries where there is a major syndicalist-revolutionary trade union organisation (France), as a result of a number of historical factors, mistrust against the political parties still exists among some layers of revolutionary workers. Here the Communists must reach agreement with the syndicalists, corresponding to the particular features of the country and the workers’ movement in question, on forms and methods of common struggle and collaboration in all offensive and defensive campaigns against capitalism.

VI. The struggle for trade union unity

21. Despite the fierce persecution waged against the Communists by reformists of every country, the Communist International must continue with undiminished energy its struggle against a split in the trade unions. The reformists seek to bring about a split through expulsions. By systematically driving the best forces out of the unions, they hope that Communists will lose their heads, quit the unions, give up their carefully considered project of winning the unions from within, and come out for a split. But the reformists will not achieve this goal.

22. A split of the trade union movement, especially under current circumstances, poses a severe threat to the entire workers’ movement. A split in the unions would throw the working class back many years, by enabling the bourgeois to readily eliminate even the most basic gains of the working class. Communists must urgently oppose a split in the unions by every means and with all the strength of their organisations. They must put an end to the criminal foolishness with which the reformists are fragmenting trade union unity.

23. In countries where two trade union confederations exist side by side (Spain, France, Czechoslovakia, and so on), Communists must fight for the fusion of the two parallel organisations. Given that the goal is fusion of the divided unions, it makes no sense to pull individual Communists and revolutionary workers out of the reformist unions in order to bring them into revolutionary unions. None of the reformist unions should be robbed of their Communist yeast. Effective work by Communists in both organisations is a precondition for restoration of the unity that has been lost.

24. The preservation of trade union unity and the restoration of unity where it has been destroyed is only possible if the Communists have an action programme for each country and each branch of industry. Day-to-day work and struggle provides a basis on which to gather the dispersed forces of the workers’ movement. Where there has been a split in the unions, it creates the preconditions for organisational reunification. Every Communist must keep in mind that the split of the unions threatens not only the current gains of the working class but the social revolution itself. The attempts of reformists to split the unions must be nipped in the bud. But this can be achieved only through vigorous organisational and political work among the working masses.

VII. The struggle against the expulsion of Communists

25. The expulsion of Communists has the goal of confusing the revolutionary movement by separating the leaders from the working masses. Communists therefore cannot limit themselves any more to the forms and methods of struggle they have employed in the past. The world’s trade union movement has reached a critical moment. The reformists’ desire for a split has grown; our desire for unity of the unions has been confirmed by many events. In the future, Communists must show in practice the value they place on unity of the trade union movement.

26. As our enemies’ drive toward split becomes more evident, we must emphasise more energetically the problem of unity of the trade union movement. Not a single factory, mill, or workers’ meeting should be overlooked: protest must be raised everywhere against the Amsterdam policies. The problem of splits in the unions must be placed before every unionist, not only when the split is imminent but when it is being prepared. The question of expelling Communists from the trade union movement must be placed on the agenda of the entire union movement of all countries. The Communists are strong enough not to allow themselves to be strangled without a murmur. The working class must know who is for the split and who is for unity.

27. The expulsion of Communists elected to posts by their union locals should not only arouse protests against the violation of the voters’ desires, it must also lead to a determined and well-organised resistance. The expelled must not become dispersed. The most important task of the Communist Party is to prevent the expelled forces from becoming dispersed. It must organise unions of the expelled and make the main thrust of their political work their readmission into the unions.

28. The struggle against expulsion is, in fact, a struggle for unity in the trade union movement, and it must be waged with all measures that promote re-establishment of unity. The expelled should not remain isolated and cut off from the opposition as a whole and from the existing independent revolutionary organisations. The expelled groups should immediately join with the union opposition and the revolutionary organisations that exist in their country in order to carry out a common struggle against the expulsion and for united action in struggle against capitalism.

29. Practical measures for the struggle can and should be elaborated and modified in accord with local conditions and circumstances. It is important that the Communist parties take a clear position against the split and do everything possible to halt the surge of expulsions, which has tangibly intensified as a result of the incipient fusion of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals. There is no universal and definitive method for combating expulsions. In this framework, all Communist parties can struggle with the means that seem to them the most appropriate in order to advance towards the goal: winning the trade unions and restoring trade union unity.

30. Communists should wage an energetic struggle against the expulsion of revolutionary trade unions from the international industrial federations. The Communist parties cannot and do not want to be idle spectators to the systematic expulsion of revolutionary trade unions simply because they are revolutionary. The international committees for factory propaganda, created by the RILU, must receive vigorous support from the Communist parties, such that all available revolutionary forces are committed for the goal of struggling to create unified international industrial federations.

This entire struggle must be conducted around the slogan of admitting all trade unions, whatever their orientation and political association, to one single industrial organisation.


31. In pursuing its course toward winning the trade unions and in struggling against the reformists’ policy of split, the Fourth Congress of the Communist International solemnly declares that, whenever the Amsterdamers do not take refuge in expulsions, whenever the Communists are given the opportunity to wage an ideological struggle for their beliefs inside the unions, they will work as disciplined members in the ranks of their union, standing in its front ranks in all clashes and conflicts with the bourgeoisie.

The Fourth Congress makes it the duty of every Communist party to do all in its power to prevent a split in the unions, and, where unity has been disrupted, to restore it, and to achieve the affiliation of the union movement in its country to the Red International of Labour Unions.


1. Localists were members of locally organised craft unions, who rejected national federations and the accumulation of strike funds. After the November 1918 revolution, they favoured a workers’ council republic and formed the FAUD (Free Workers Union of Germany), anarchist in orientation, which claimed 150,000 members. A wing of the FAUD joined the UHK, in which Communists held influence, in 1921.

2.Trade-Unionismus’ in the German original. The English expression was used in German and Russian to refer to the ideology that urged workers to limit themselves to a struggle for economic gains.