Fifth Congress of the Communist International

Theses on tactics in
the trade unions


This resolution was presented to the 5th Congress of the Communist International in the context of a split in the trade union movement internationally, and in many countries, which led many communists to conclude that the reformist unions could not be won to revolution, and that communists should join or form revolutionary unions only. The leaders of the CI argued that the communists must fight for working class unity, making it clear that the reformists were the splitters, in order to win over the masses in the unions. The resolution advocates that communists pursue a policy of a united front from below, all the while fighting for clear communist policies;
First Published: in Inprekor, iv, 119, p. 1577, 16 September 1924. These extracts were published in The Communist International: 1919-1943, documents/ selected and edited by Jane Degras. 3 vols. Vol. 2, 1923-1928, pp.127-134;

I. The struggle for unity

...By fighting inside the unions for unity, communists extend the sphere of influence of the communist parties and the Communist International without for a momnet losing contact with the massses. The fight for unity inside the trade union movement is the best way of winning the masses...The old Comintern slogans of winning, not destroying hte unions, of oposing flight from the unions, of fighting for the re-entry of those who have left, of fighting for unity - these slogans remain in force and must be carried through with resolution and energy...

II. The Amsterdam International and its left wing

Our attitude to the Amsterdam International as defined by previous congresses remains in force. In its top ranks the Amsterdam International is a bulwark of international imperialsim, an organization expressing particularly blatantly the conservatism, backwardness, national narrow-mindedness, bourgeois-imperialist sentiments of the workers most corrupted by the bourgeoisie. The fight against the Amsterdam International remains the most important task of the Comintern and its sections ...In our fight there are two things we must remember: (a) that there are millions of workers in the Amsterdam unions; (b) that a left wing has arisen there, still formless and politically vacillating... These workers will be emancipated from the reformist illusions to the extent that communists manage to take the lead in the industrial struggles of the working class. Industrial disputesa re particularly favourable occasions for the application of united front tactis for exposing the fascitst strike-breaking role of the leaders. The left wing of the Amsterdam International has no clear program and tactics... A beginning has been made on the question of the attitude to the Russian unions, but on the fundamental political questions (reparations, Dawes plan, colonial policy, coalitions with the bourgeoisie, etc), the left wing does not yet differ in essentials from the right. The fundamental and cardincal defect of this left wing is that it wishes to 'reconcile' reformaism and communism, and cherishes the hope that it can find a middle way between these two deadly enemies...The Comintern and the communist parties support the left wing in so far as it really fights against the programme and tactics of the Amsterdam International. To oversetimate the left wing, to ignore its timidity and inconsistency would be a grave error. Communists and the trade union organizations they control must propose to the left wing of the Amsterdam International the formation of joint committess of action... Communists must demand that the left wing in the Amsterdam International, who say that an understasnding with the revolutionary unions is desirable, that they put these proposals into action in every country in the daily struggle...

III. The struggle for the unity of the world trade union movement

The four years work of the Red International of Labour Unions has brought together and united all the revolutionary elements in teh world trade union movement into a single world organisation. The Amsterdam International has long lost its monopoly. It is the task of the Comintern and its parties to fight energetically for the for the further unification of the revolutionary unions, for their organisation in the RILU, and for the xtension of communist influence and communist leadership inthe red unions of all countries. These tasks can be accomplished only if the fight for the unity of the trade union movement is carried through with all consistency...Unity could be re-established by convening an itnerantional unity congress at which all unions affiliated to AMsterdam and the RILU are represented on a proportional basis. Such an international unity congress, at which all unions thoroughout the world would have to be represented, could lay the foundations for a new united trade union international ... The creation of a united international on the basis of freedom of agitation and the strictest discipline in all actions agaisnt the bourgeoisie would naturally lead to the dissolution of the existing parallel internationals (RILU and IFTU). But so long as we do not succeeed in re-establishing the international unity of the trade union movement, the Communist International and teh communist parties must ocntinue to give support and assistanc eto the RILU and all organisations affiliated to it.

IV. The weakness in our work

...The weaknesses in our trade union work are in general the following:
1. Inmany countries there are no communist fractions' where they exist they have been created from above.
2. The failure to form fractions in organisations led by communists or communist sympathisers.
3. The failure to form fractions in reformist unions when there are parallel revolutionary unions (france).
4. Inadequate discipline applied to party members who follow their own line, leading to flight from the unions and the pursuit of their own independent trade union policy, regardless of the decisions of the parties and the Comintern (Germany).
5. The paries pay too little attention to the revolutionary unions which have been formed alongside the reformist unions (America, Belgium, Holland); they should systematically guide these revolutionary workers and train them in the use of communist tactics.
6. Propaganda in unions is too abstract...
7. With few exceptions (Germany), work in the factory committeees lack s care and thoroughness; inability ot exploit mass industrial struggles to build up factory committees.
8. Craft traditions and prejudices, still deeply rooted even among revolutionary workers, are not combated strongly enough.
9. Preparatiosn for trade union and trade union federation congresses and conferences are extremely bad from the political and party angles; speeches by communists at such meetings are quite casual.
10. excessive nervousness in regard to reformist splitting measures, inadequate exploitation of individual and particulalry mass expulsions from the unions.
11. Understimation of the fact that the factory, factory committee, and the trade union are the natural field for organising the workers united front.
12. Undersetimation of the importance of trade union work...
All these weaknesses exist in different degrees in almost all countries. The basic defect, and the origin of all weaknesses in our trdae union work, is the abscence of party cells in the factories...

V. Our immediate tasks

1. The central task of all communist parties is to build fighting fractionsbeginning with the factory...and to strengthen the control of party organisations over the activities of individual members and particuarly trade union fractions.
2. Work must be concentrated on the masses and factories. Hence the necessity of forming factory committees where they do not yet exist, and of revolutionising and intensifying the work of those already in existence....
4. All independent revolutionary unions, and the unions of those expelled by the reformists, must be unbtied in every country and brought together with the opposition in the reformist unions through committees of action...
6. Where the trade union movement is split, systematic work must be carried on among the masses for the re-establishment of unity by the calling of a unity congress on the basis of proportional representation and freedom of the ideological struggle..
7. .... Unrelenting struggle must be waged against communists leaving the unions. The slogan must be 'Back to the unions'...
9. Particular attention must be paid to the organisation of workers in those industries which may play a decisisve part in the working-class struggle for power (transport, mining, engineering, chemicals, electrical power stations, and gas-works). Teh success of communist party work in the unions will be measured by its success in uniting and organising these most important branches of the national economy.
10. A start must be made on the formation of mixed committees (French-German, German-Polish, German-Czech, English-Russian, Russian-Polish, etc) to organise joint parallel actions on both sides of the frontier....
11. The communist parties in countries where the bourgeoisie exploit colonial and semi-colonial peoples must pay particular attention to the growing trade union movement in the colonies...
13. It is a condition of success inthe struggle that we shoudl know our enemies. Therefore the communist parties and the unions musst make a thorough study of employers' organisations, their structure, their agencies, and the means they use to corrupt and disintegrate the workers' organisations...
14. All communist parties should establish close contacts between the unions and the members of the unions doing military service...In particular we must try to establish close contact between the merchant seamen's organisations and the sailors in the navy.

VI. Conclusion

The fifth Comintern congress endorses all decisiosn of previous congresses on the taks of communists in the trade union movement, and directs the attention of all communistpartiues to the extreme importance of this work...This is a question of life an death for the social revolution. That is why the fifth congress summons all its sectiosn not to depart by one hair's breadth from the decisions, and to carry through to the end the winning of the unions, that is, the winning of the masses.