Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Theses on Communist Work in the Trade Unions

(Date of adoption unknown)

1. The State of the Trade-Union Movement

1 Over the last two years, which have seen a world-wide capitalist offensive, the trade-union movement everywhere has lost considerable strength. In all but a few countries (Germany and Austria) the trade unions have declined; they have lost the mass of their members. This decline in membership can be explained on the one hand by the powerful bourgeois offensive, and on the other hand by the inability of the reformist unions to put up any serious opposition to the capitalist attack and to defend the basic interests of the workers.

2 The capitalist offensive and the continuation of class collaboration have both added to working-class disillusionment. In the eyes of many workers the union organisations have lost their credibility because they failed to resist the capitalist offensive and were unable or even unwilling to maintain the positions already won. Events have clearly highlighted the barrenness of reformism.

3 The international trade-union movement is characterised by a lack of inner cohesion, by the steady rate at which quite important sections of the proletariat are leaving the unions, and by the policy, stubbornly held to by the reformists, of class collaboration “with the aim of using capital in the interests of labour”. In reality, however, capital has always used the reformist organisations for its own ends by involving and implicating them in the reduction of the living standards of the working masses.

The recent period has seen the existence of extremely close links between the bourgeois governments and the reformist leaders and an even greater subordination of the interests of the working masses to the interests of the ruling classes.

II. The Amsterdam International’s Attack on the Revolutionary Trade Unions

4 The reformist leaders, yielding to bourgeois pressure all along the line, have also begun an attack on the revolutionary workers. Since there has been serious concern among the working masses over the reluctance of the trade unions to organise opposition to the capitalist offensive, the reformist leaders are trying to rid the workers’ organisations of revolutionary ideas by launching an organised offensive against the revolutionary trade-union movement. Their aim is to use all the means at their disposal to demoralise and disrupt the revolutionary minority and so strengthen the shaken position of the bourgeoisie.

5 To maintain their power in the future, the leaders of the Amsterdam International have even gone so far as to expel not just separate groups or individuals, but entire organisations. They have firmly decided to stay always in the majority, to keep the organisation in their own hands and to resist in particular any threat from the revolutionary elements adhering to the Comintern or the Profintern. In this way they hope at least to keep control of the apparatus and all the financial resources of the workers’ organisations. The leaders of the French General Confederation of Labour have acted in this way. Heading in the same direction are the reformist leaders in Czechoslovakia, and following them the leaders of the All-German Federation of Trade Unions. The interests of the bourgeoisie require a split in the trade-union movement.

6 Simultaneously with the reformists’ attack on the revolutionary workers in each country, a similar offensive was launched at the international level; the various international trade unions adhering to the Amsterdam International systematically expelled the revolutionary unions and refused to readmit them. So, for example, the world congresses of the miners, textile workers, white-collar workers, agricultural workers, woodworkers, building workers and communications workers have refused to admit the Russian and several other trade unions simply because they belong to the Profintern.

7 This reformist campaign against the revolutionary trade unions is an exact reflection of the international capitalist campaign against the working class, and pursues the same aims: the strengthening of capitalism at the expense of the working masses, the consolidation of reformism in the trade unions and the weakening of the militant elements by expelling them and depriving them of any possibility of seizing the means of production and, at the same time, power.

III. Anarchism and Communism

8 At the same time as the Amsterdam reformists were conducting their offensive against the Communist trade-union movement, the anarchists began a similar ‘offensive’ against the Communist International, the Communist Parties and the Communist cells in the unions. Some anarcho-syndicalist organisations came out openly against the Communist International and the Russian revolution, despite their solemn adherence to the Communist International in 1920 and their declarations of full support for the Russian proletariat and the October revolution. A similar process can be observed in the Italian syndicalist union, among the German localists and the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, and likewise in the various syndicalist groups in France, Holland and Sweden.

9 Under the slogan of the independence of the trade unions from the Communist. Parties, many syndicalist organisations (National Workers’ Proletariat* in Holland, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Italian syndicalist union, etc.) have begun to exclude supporters of the Red International of Labour Unions, particularly when they are Communists. The slogan of trade-union independence has turned into an anti-Communist, i.e., a counter-revolutionary, slogan. Furthermore, it echoes the slogan used by the reformists, who also stress independence in their politics, though their dependence on the national and international bourgeoisie is no secret.

10 The attacks by the anarchists on the Communist International, the Profintern and the Russian revolution have led to confusion and division in their own ranks. The most advanced workers have protested against such ideas. Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism have split into a number of tendencies and groups, which have been waging a bitter fight amongst themselves for and against the Profintern, for and against the dictatorship of the proletariat.

IV. Neutrality and Independence

11 The influence of the bourgeoisie on the proletariat is reflected in the theory of the neutrality of the trade-union movement. The implication of this theory is that the trade unions should restrict themselves to purely craft and economic matters, and should not try to put forward any general class aims. Neutrality has always been a bourgeois theory, and revolutionary Marxism has resolutely opposed it. Trade unions which have no general class aims, i.e., aims directed at the overthrow of the capitalist system, are, despite their proletarian composition, the best defenders of the bourgeois order and bourgeois society.

12 From time immemorial the theory of neutrality has been based on the assertion that the trade unions must concern themselves only with economic questions and in no circumstances interfere in politics. The bourgeoisie has always endeavoured to separate politics and economics, for it is well aware that no serious danger will threaten its rule while it manages to keep the working class within the narrow confines of pure trade unionism.

13 The separation of politics and economics is also upheld by the Fanarchist elements who are working in the trade unions and trying to divert the workers’ movement from any involvement in political questions on the grounds that all politics is harmful to the working class. This theory, in essence purely bourgeois, is presented as a defence of independence; this independence is then taken to imply a state of hostility between the trade unions and the proletarian Communist Parties and a declaration of war on the Communist workers’ movement in the name of that same glorious independence and autonomy.

14 Hostility to politics tends to weaken the militancy of the working masses and leads to a fight against Communist ideas, the embodiment of Communist class consciousness among the workers. Independence in its purely anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist forms is an anti-Communist theory. As such, it must be most resolutely opposed, or it will lead, at best, to isolation from Communist ideas and the polarisation of the trade unions and the Communist Parties and, at worst, to a bitter fight by the union organisations against the Communist Parties, Communism and social revolution.

15 The theory of independence, as it is propagated by the French, Italian and Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, is in effect the battle-cry of anarchism in its fight against Communism. Communists must initiate a determined battle of ideas within the trade-union movement to counter any attempt to spread anarchist theories under the flag of independence and bring about a split in the united workers’ movement, especially if the attempt is being made in a way that would hamper and delay the victory of the working class.

V. Syndicalism and Communism

16 The anarcho-syndicalists confuse trade unions (syndicates) with syndicalism and declare their anarcho-syndicalist party to be the only genuinely revolutionary organisation capable of achieving the overall aims of the proletariat. A trade union is nothing more nor less than a non-partisan mass organisation uniting workers of all political tendencies, while syndicalism is simply one of the political tendencies existing at the base of these organisations. Although syndicalism, in comparison with the world-outlook of trade-unionism, [meant in the sense of an exclusive concern with bread-and-butter issues of wages and conditions] is a major step forward, many of its characteristics and tendencies are very dangerous and must be vigorously argued against.

17 Communists cannot and must not, for the sake of abstract anarcho-syndicalist principles, give up their right to organise cells and groups among the rank and file of any trade union, regardless of its tendency. No one can take this right from them. Naturally, Communists will co-ordinate their work in the syndicalist organisations with the work of those syndicalists who have learnt something from the war and the revolution.

18 Communists in the trade-union movement must take the initiative in forming a bloc with the revolutionary workers of other tendencies. Those closest to the Communists in the union movement are the Communist-syndicalists who accept the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat and in debate with other anarcho-syndicalists defend the need to establish a workers’ government. Joint action presupposes the existence of a certain degree of organisation among the Communists. When Communists are scattered and act in isolation they cannot represent a serious force and are deprived of the opportunity to coordinate their work with that of others.

19 Communists must firmly and consistently defend their Communist principles and oppose the anarchists’ anti-Communist theories, which do great harm to the working class by insisting on the independence of the trade-union movement and the separation of economics and politics. Within the trade unions that support these theories, Communists must endeavour to co-ordinate their own work against reformism and anarcho-syndicalist verbalism with the work of all those revolutionary elements who are for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

20 In countries where the revolutionary-syndicalist unions are reasonably significant (France) and where, for a whole series of historical reasons, a definite distrust with regard to political parties has been created and still exists among certain circles of revolutionary workers, the local Communists may reach an agreement with the syndicalists to establish methods of joint work and practical co-operation in both defence and attack. Obviously local conditions and the state of the workers’ movement will determine whether this is carried out.

VI. The Struggle for Trade-Union Unity

21 Despite the fierce anti-Communist witch-hunts being stirred up everywhere by the reformists, we must continue to fight for the slogan of the Communist International – against the splitting of the trade unions – with the same militancy with which we have fought for it up till now. The reformists are trying to use expulsions to provoke a split. Their aim in systematically driving the best elements out of the unions is to make the Communists lose their patience and nerve, so that instead of completing their carefully thought-out plan to win the trade unions from within the Communists will leave the unions and come out in favour of a split. The reformists, however, will not succeed.

22 The splitting of the trade unions, especially in present conditions, is a major threat to the entire workers’ movement. The split would set the working class back many years, for the bourgeoisie would have the opportunity to destroy even the most elementary gains of the proletariat unopposed. There is no question but that Communists must, using all the means and all the forces at the disposal of their organisations, prevent a split in the trade unions and oppose these criminal attempts to split the united trade-union movement.

23 In countries which have two parallel trade-union organisations (Spain, France, Czechoslovakia, etc.), Communists must begin a systematic fight for their unification. Since the aim is to unite the trade-union organisations that have already split, it would be self-defeating to tear individual Communists and workers away from the reformist unions and bring them into their own revolutionary unions. Every reformist union should have its share of ferment, its Communist yeast. Greater Communist activity in both organisations is the basic prerequisite for restoring the unity that has been lost.

24 The preservation as well as the restoration of trade-union unity is possible only if the Communists have a practical action programme that can be applied in each individual country and in every branch of production. By using the practical experience of everyday struggle, the disparate elements of the workers’ movement can be gathered together and united and, where the trade unions are split, the necessary preconditions for organisational unification can be created. Every Communist must remember that a split in the trade-union movement is not only a distinct threat to the gains of the working class but also an immense danger to the social revolution. The reformists’ efforts to split the trade unions must be crushed at the outset, but this can be achieved only by serious organisational and political work among the working masses.

VII. The Fight Against the Expulsion of Communists

25 The expulsion of Communists has one aim: to confuse the revolutionary movement by separating the working masses from their leaders. This is why Communists can on no account restrict themselves to the forms and methods of struggle they have used up to now. An extremely critical moment for the international trade-union movement has arrived. The reformists have greatly stepped up their pressure for a split. The Communists’ desire to preserve trade-union unity has been repeatedly confirmed by a whole series of facts. We must continue to prove in practice how highly we value the unity of the trade-union movement.

26 The more obvious the splitting tactics of our opponents become, the more sharply must we emphasise the need for unity in the trade-union movement. Every factory and enterprise, every workers’ meeting must speak out in protest against the tactics of the Amsterdam reformists. The danger of a split in the trade-union movement must be forcefully raised; this should be done not just when a split is imminent, but when it becomes clear that a split is being prepared. The attempts to remove Communists from the trade unions must be put before the whole trade-union movement for discussion. The Communists are strong enough not to allow themselves to be stifled without a murmur. The working class must know who is for a split and who is for unity.

If Communists have been elected to leading posts by local organisations, they must not only protest against such a violation of their electors’ will, but must also propose specific measures of an organisational character.

27 It is most important that the Communist Party should not allow expelled members to become scattered and isolated. They must be organised into special “unions of the expelled”, a really concrete programme for their activity must be worked out, and the main thrust of all their political work must be their re-admission to the trade unions.

28 The fight against expulsions is essentially a fight for trade-union unity, and in this fight any method that advances the restoration of lost unity is a good one. Members who have been expelled should remain in contact with the opposition still within the unions and with the independent revolutionary trade unions in their particular country. Expelled groups should immediately establish close contact with the revolutionary organisations in their own countries in order to organise a joint fight against the expulsions and to co-ordinate their actions in the struggle against capital.

29 Practical measures of struggle must be extended and varied to suit the particular local conditions and circumstances. It is important that Communist groups take a clearly defined agitational position, declaring their readiness to fight, and that they do all they can to combat the danger of expulsions from the trade unions, a danger that has considerably increased as a result of the rapprochement of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals. There are no universal and definitive methods or means of fighting’ against expulsions. In this context all Communist Parties have the opportunity to use the methods they consider most effective for achieving the given end, i.e., the winning of the trade unions and the restoration of trade-union unity.

30 Communists must wage a militant fight against the exclusion of revolutionary unions from the international trade-union organisations. Communist Parties cannot and must not remain passive observers of the systematic expulsion of revolutionary unions on the sole grounds that these unions are revolutionary. The international propaganda committees set up in the different industries by the Red International of Labour Unions must be given the most active support by the Communist Parties if they are to concentrate all the available revolutionary forces and establish united international trade-union organisations. The whole campaign must be conducted under the slogan of the adherence of all unions, whatever their basic tendency and political complexion, to one international trade-union federation.

IX. Conclusion

31 The Fourth Congress of the Communist International, in steadily pursuing its aim of winning the trade unions whilst opposing the reformists’ splitting tactics, solemnly declares: wherever the Amsterdam supporters do not resort to expulsions, wherever they give Communists the opportunity to wage an ideological fight for their principles within the trade unions, Communists will struggle in a disciplined manner in the ranks of a united organisation, and will be in the front line in all conflicts and clashes with the bourgeoisie.

32 The Fourth Congress of the Communist International makes it the duty of every Communist Party to do its utmost to prevent a split in the trade unions; it makes it their duty to do everything possible to restore the unity of the trade-union movement in countries where it has been destroyed, and to persuade trade unions to adhere to the Red International of Labour Unions.