On the Role and Tasks of Trade Unions

16 March 1921


1. The overall tasks and role of the trade unions in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat are set forth with complete correctness in a number of decisions by previous congresses and conferences of both the party and the trade unions...

These decisions retain their full force and are not in need of any sort of modification. The X Congress is confronted not with the task of finding some sort of new theoretical formulations for the role of the trade unions in the period of the dictatorship, but of determining the paths for carrying out those that have already been adopted ....

The trade unions as a support for the proletarian dictatorship

3. The Russian Communist Party has to implement a dictatorship of the proletariat in a country with an immense peasant majority. Today, when we are already past the point where the peasantry was directly threatened by a restoration of the landowners' power, the matter of implementing a proletarian dictatorship is encountering new difficulties. The successful implementation of the dictatorship is possible only with the existence of powerful trade unions imbued with unity of will and common strivings trade unions in the form of mass organizations open to all proletarians at whatever stage of development of their class consciousness.

The trade unions as a school of communism

4. The most important role of the trade unions in Soviet Russia remains their role as schools of communism.

Only a trade union that shows regular concern for all aspects of the life and everyday conditions of the worker, both inside and outside of the plant, can be a primary school to provide organizational skills and political training for the broadest - and even the backward - masses of the working people.

The basic mass of trade union members (6,970,000. members, of which only about 500,000. are party members) are non-party members. Communism is being built with the human materials left us as the legacy of capitalism. The trade unions in Soviet Russia are gradually becoming organizations that embrace all workers to a man. The trade unions organize those elements of labour that under capitalism were, in the main, often strangers to the proletarian family (former workers in trade, hospital staff, those employed in the field of art, etc.). Remaking all these elements, bringing them closer to the leading strata of the proletariat, and adapting them to the task of building a communist society is one of the most important tasks of the trade unions as schools of communism.

For the successful fulfilment of these tasks, the trade unions must above all become organizations in which each individual member is a conscious and active participant in the overall life of his union. The trade unions, as schools of communism, must serve all aspects of the day-to-day life of the labouring masses, gradually enlisting the very broadest strata of the working people in the cause of state construction, constantly illuminating the way for them with the ideas of our programme, leading them from the particular to the general, and gradually lifting them from non-party status to communism.

The trade unions will in fact accomplish their roles as schools of communism in the present period to precisely the extent that they prove to be leaders of the proletarian masses in the matter of communist practice, i.e., in the practical reorganization and building of the economy on communist principles. In Soviet Russia, only that trade union is a true school of communism that is able gradually to enlist the most backward strata of the working people in the work of consciously improving Soviet economy.

The X Party Congress directs the particular attention of all party members to precisely this role of the trade unions. A communist is to win recognition and authority in the trade union movement only and exclusively through long and tireless daily work in the trade union, such that the masses themselves put him in a position of leadership. The task of the half million members of our party who are members of trade unions at the present time, is - through long, patient, and consistent educational work, through personal example, organizational ability, business acumen and concern for the material and spiritual interests of the working masses - to win over completely to the side of our party those millions of non-party workers who predominate at the present time in the trade union movement.

The question of making the trade unions state institutions

5. Rapid conversion of the trade unions to state institutions would be a major political mistake, precisely because at the present stage of development this would be a potent factor in impeding the fulfilment by the trade unions of the tasks indicated above.

The present situation of the trade unions in Soviet Russia is unusual as concerns their relations to the state. At the present moment, the trade unions are already fulfilling certain functions of purely state agencies (the working out of pay scales, the distribution of work clothing, etc.). In the Soviet state, these state functions of the trade unions will gradually be increased. But the Congress points out that any attempt whatsoever artificially to accelerate the conversion of the trade unions to state institutions, would in no sense improve the economic situation of the republic, but would merely result in making more difficult the role of the trade unions as schools of communism. The task is increasingly to win over, in fact, to the Soviet state these mass non-party organizations, while leaving them their character as organizations that are open to workers of various political views and attitudes, to party as well as non-party workers, to the literate and illiterate, religious and non-religious, etc ....

The party and the unions

7. The Russian Communist Party in the person of its central and local organizations unquestionably directs, as before, the entire ideological side of the work of the trade unions. The communist fractions in the trade unions are completely subordinate to the party organizations, in accordance with the special regulation formulating these relationships that was confirmed by the IX Party Congress. But in addition to this, the X Party Congress insistently and categorically warns all party organizations and all individual comrades against any sort of niggling custodianship over, and excessive interference in, the current work of the trade unions. The selection of the executive personnel of the trade union movement should be made, of course, under the directing control of the party. But party organizations must exercise particular care in applying the normal methods of proletarian democracy precisely in the trade unions, which are the one place more than any other where the selection of leaders should be done by the organized masses themselves.

In this way, conditions will be created whereby the party organizations, while fully maintaining overall control in their hands, will not have to interfere directly and repeatedly in the internal activities of the trade unions, and the trade union bodies, under the leadership of the communist fractions, will be able to exercise much more planning and be much more independent and systematic in assessing and utilizing their personnel and in assigning them to one or another post in the economy with due attention to the necessary continuity in work by means of taking into consideration their work experience, by operating a system of work certification, etc., etc.

In promoting staff organizers and economic managers who are imbued with an understanding of the particular importance of production tasks, to leading positions in the trade union movement, the party must see to it that these qualities in the candidates exist in combination with a devotion to communism, with habits of discipline and, in particular, with a familiarity with working among the broad working masses and skill in dealing with them. One must not forget for a single moment that all the practical work of the trade unions demands particularly great attentiveness and sensitivity, at times to the most minor - but at the same time, urgent questions of the everyday life of the labouring masses....

This abridged version was the best we could find. The full version is certainly desired!

Resolved: 16 March 1921
First Published: Spravochnik partiinogo rabotnika 2. (7-19)
Source: KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh 2, 206-66
Transcription/Markup: Brian Baggins
Copyleft: Soviet History Archive (marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.