First Published/Source: Jan 19, 1921 in Pravda, No. 12
Source: Works, J.V. Stalin, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1953, Volume 5, pp. 4-15
Transcription/HTML Markup: Charles Farrell
Online Version: Stalin Reference Archive (marxists.org) 2000
Our disagreements on the trade-union question are not disagreements in principle about appraisal of the trade unions. The well-known points of our programme on the role of the trade unions, and the resolution of the Ninth Party Congress on the trade unions, which Trotsky often quotes, remain (and will remain) in force. Nobody disputes that the trade unions and the economic organizations ought to and will permeate each other ("coalescence"). Nobody disputes that the present period of the country's economic revival dictates the necessity of gradually transforming the as yet nominal industrial unions into real industrial unions, capable of putting our basic industries on their feet. In short, our disagreements are not disagreements about matters of principle.
Nor do we disagree about the necessity of labor discipline in the trade unions and in the working class generally. The talk about a section of our Party "letting the reins slip out of its hands," and leaving the masses to the play of elemental forces, is foolish. The fact that Party elements play the leading role in the trade unions and that the trade unions play the leading role in the working class remains indisputable.
Still less do we disagree on the question of the quality of the membership of the Central Committees of the trade unions, and of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions. All agree that the membership of these institutions is far from ideal, that the ranks of the trade unions have been depleted by a number of military and other mobilizations, that the trade unions must get back their old officials and also get new ones, that they must be provided with technical resources, and so forth.
No, our disagreements are not in this sphere.
Our disagreements are about questions of the means by which to strengthen labor discipline in the working class, the methods of approach to the mass of the workers who are being drawn into the work of reviving industry, the ways of transforming the present weak trade unions into powerful, genuinely industrial unions, capable of reviving our industry.
There are two methods: the method of coercion (the military method), and the method of persuasion (the trade-union method). The first method by no means precludes elements of persuasion, but these are subordinate to the requirements of the coercion method and are auxiliary to the latter. The second method, in turn, does not preclude elements of coercion, but these are subordinate to the requirements of the persuasion method and are auxiliary to the latter. It is just as impermissible to confuse these two methods as it is to confuse the army with the working class.
A group of Party workers headed by Trotsky, intoxicated by the successes achieved by military methods in the army, supposes that those methods can, and must, be adopted among the workers, in the trade unions, in order to achieve similar successes in strengthening the unions and in reviving industry. But this group forgets that the army and the working class are two different spheres, that a method that is suitable for the army may prove to be unsuitable, harmful, for the working class and its trade unions.
The army is not a homogeneous mass; it consists of two main social groups, peasants and workers, the former being several times more numerous than the latter. In urging the necessity of employing chiefly methods of coercion in the army, the Eighth Party Congress based itself on the fact that our army consists mainly of peasants, that the peasants will not go to fight for socialism, that they can, and must, be compelled to fight for socialism by employing methods of coercion. This explains the rise of such purely military methods as the system of Commissars and Political Departments, Revolutionary Tribunals, disciplinary measures, appointment and not election to all posts, and so forth.
In contrast to the army, the working class is a homogeneous social sphere; its economic position disposes it towards socialism, it is easily influenced by communist agitation, it voluntarily organizes in trade unions and, as a consequence of all this, constitutes the foundation, the salt of the earth, of the Soviet state. It is not surprising, therefore, that the practical work of our industrial unions has been based chiefly on methods of persuasion. This explains the rise of such purely trade-union methods as explanation, mass propaganda, encouragement of initiative and independent activity among the mass of the workers, election of officials, and so forth.
The mistake Trotsky makes is that he underrates the difference between the army and the working class, he puts the trade unions on a par with the military organizations, and tries, evidently by inertia, to transfer military methods from the army into the trade unions, into the working class. Trotsky writes in one of his documents:
"The bare contrasting of military methods (orders, punishment) with trade-union methods (explanation, propaganda, independent activity) is a manifestation of Kautskian-Menshevik-Socialist-Revolutionary prejudices. . . . The very contrasting of labour organisations with military organisation in a workers' state is shameful surrender to Kautskyism."
That is what Trotsky says.
Disregarding the irrelevant talk about "Kautskyism," "Menshevism," and so forth, it is evident that Trotsky fails to understand the difference between labor organizations and military organizations, that he fails to understand that in the period of the termination of the war and the revival of industry it becomes necessary, inevitable, to contrast military with democratic (trade-union) methods, and that, therefore, to transfer military methods into the trade unions is a mistake, is harmful.
Failure to understand that lies at the bottom of the recently published polemical pamphlets of Trotsky on the trade unions.
Failure to understand that is the source of Trotsky's mistakes.
Some think that talk about democracy in the trade unions is mere declamation, a fashion, called forth by certain phenomena in internal Party life, that, in time, people will get tired of "chatter" about democracy and everything will go on in the "old way."
Others believe that democracy in the trade unions is, essentially, a concession, a forced concession, to the workers' demands, that it is diplomacy rather than real, serious business.
Needless to say, both groups of comrades are profoundly mistaken. Democracy in the trade unions, i.e., what is usually called "normal methods of proletarian democracy in the unions," is the conscious democracy characteristic of mass working-class organizations, which presupposes consciousness of the necessity and utility of systematically employing methods of persuasion among the millions of workers organized in the trade unions. If that consciousness is absent, democracy be comes an empty sound.
While war was raging and danger stood at the gates, the appeals to "aid the front" that were issued by our organizations met with a ready response from the workers, for the mortal danger we were in was only too palpable, for that danger had assumed a very concrete form evident to everyone in the shape of the armies of Kolchak, Yudenich, Denikin, Pilsudski and Wrangel, which were advancing and restoring the power of the landlords and capitalists. It was not difficult to rouse the masses at that time. But today, when the war danger has been overcome and the new, economic danger (economic ruin) is far from being so palpable to the masses, the broad masses cannot be roused merely by appeals. Of course, everybody feels the shortage of bread and textiles; but firstly, people do contrive to obtain both bread and textiles in one way or another and, consequently, the danger of a food and goods famine does not spur the masses to the same extent as the war danger did; secondly, nobody will assert that the masses are as conscious of the reality of the economic danger (shortage of locomotives and of machines for agriculture, for textile mills and iron and steel plants, shortage of equipment for electric power stations, and so forth) as they were of the war danger in the recent past. To rouse the millions of the working class for the struggle against economic ruin it is necessary to heighten their initiative, consciousness and independent activity; it is necessary by means of concrete facts to convince them that economic ruin is just as real and mortal a danger as the war danger was yesterday; it is necessary to draw millions of workers into the work of reviving industry through the medium of trade unions built on democratic lines. Only in this way is it possible to make the entire working class vitally interested in the struggle which the economic organizations are waging against economic ruin. If this is not done, victory on the economic front cannot be achieved.
In short, conscious democracy, the method of proletarian democracy in the unions, is the only correct method for the industrial unions.
Forced "democracy" has nothing in common with this democracy.
Reading Trotsky's pamphlet The Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions, one might think that he, in essence, is "also" in favor of the "democratic" method. This has caused some comrades to think that we do not disagree about the methods of work in the trade unions. But that is absolutely wrong, for Trotsky's "democracy" is forced, half-hearted and unprincipled, and, as such, merely supplements the military-bureaucratic method, which is unsuitable for the trade unions.
Judge for yourselves.
At the beginning of November 1920, the Central Committee adopted, and the Communist group at the Fifth All-Russian Conference of Trade Unions carried through, a resolution stating that the "most vigorous and systematic struggle must be waged against the degeneration of centralism and militarized forms of work into bureaucracy, tyranny, officialdom and petty tutelage over the trade unions. . . that also for the Tsektran (the Central Committee of the Transport Workers Union, led by Trotsky) the time for the specific methods of administration for which the Central Political Administration of the Railways was set up, owing to special circumstances, is beginning to pass away," that, in view of this, the Communist group at the conference "advises the Tsektran to strengthen and develop normal methods of proletarian democracy in the union," and instructs the Tsektran "to take an active part in the general work of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions and to be represented in it on an equal footing with other trade-union associations" (see Pravda, No. 255). In spite of that decision, however, during the whole of November, Trotsky and the Tsektran continued to pursue the old, semi-bureaucratic and semi-military line, continued to rely on the Central Political Administration of the Railways and the Central Political Administration of Water Transport, strove to "shake up," to blow up, the A.R.C.C.T.U. and upheld the privileged position of the Tsektran compared with other trade union associations. More than that. In a letter "to the members of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee," dated November 30, Trotsky, just as "unexpectedly," stated that "the Central Political Administration of Water Transport . . . cannot possibly be dissolved within the next two or three months." But what happened? Six days after that letter was written (on December 7), the same Trotsky, just as "unexpectedly," voted in the Central Committee for "the immediate abolition of the Central Political Administration of the Railways and the Central Political Administration of Water Transport, and the transfer of all their staffs and funds to the trade-union organization on the basis of normal democracy." And he was one of the eight members of the Central Committee who voted for this against the seven who considered that the abolition of these institutions was no longer enough, and who demanded, in addition, that the existing composition of the Tsektran be changed. To save the existing composition of the Tsektran, Trotsky voted for the abolition of the Central Political Administrations in the Tsektran.
What had changed during those six days? Perhaps the railway and water transport workers had matured so much during those six days that they no longer needed the Central Political Administration of the Railways and the Central Political Administration of Water Transport? Or, perhaps, an important change in the internal or external political situation had taken place in that short period? Of course not. The fact is that the water transport workers were vigorously demanding that the Tsektran should dissolve the Central Political Administrations and that the composition of the Tsektran itself should be changed; and Trotsky's group, fearing defeat and wishing at least to retain the existing composition of the Tsektran, was compelled to retreat, to make partial concessions, which, however, satisfied nobody.
Such are the facts.
It scarcely needs proof that this forced, half-hearted, unprincipled "democracy" has nothing in common with the "normal methods of proletarian democracy in the unions," which the Central Committee of the Party had recommended already at the beginning of November, and which are so essential for the revival of our industrial trade unions.
In his reply to the discussion at the meeting of the Communist group at the Congress of Soviets, Trotsky protested against the introduction of a political element into the controversy about the trade unions, on the ground that politics had nothing to do with the matter. It must be said that in this Trotsky is quite wrong. It scarcely needs proof that in a workers' and peasants' state, not a single important decision affecting the whole country, and especially if it directly concerns the working class, can be carried through without in one way or another affecting the political condition of the country. And, in general, it is ridiculous and shallow to separate politics from economics. For that very reason every such decision must be weighed up in advance also from the political point of view.
Judge for yourselves.
It can be now taken as proved that the methods of the Tsektran, which is led by Trotsky, have been condemned by the practical experience of the Tsektran itself. Trotsky's aim in directing the Tsektran and influencing the other unions through it was to reanimate and revive the unions, to draw the workers into the task of reviving industry. But what has he actually achieved? A conflict with the majority of the Communists in the trade unions, a conflict between the majority of the trade unions and the Tsektran, a virtual split in the Tsektran, the resentment of the rank-and-file workers organised in trade unions against the "Commissars." In other words, far from a revival of the unions taking place, the Tsektran itself is disintegrating. There can be no doubt that if the methods of the Tsektran were introduced in the other unions, we would get the same picture of conflict, splits and disintegration. And the result would be that we would have dissension and a split in the working class.
Can the political party of the working class ignore these facts? Can it be asserted that it makes no difference to the political condition of the country whether we have a working class solidly united in integral trade unions, or whether it is split up into different, mutually hostile groups? Can it be said that the political factor ought not to play any role in appraising the methods of approach to the masses, that politics have nothing to do with the matter?
The R.S.F.S.R. and its associated republics now have a population of about 140,000,000. Of this population, 80 per cent are peasants. To be able to govern such a country, the Soviet power must enjoy the firm confidence of the working class, for such a country can be directed only through the medium of the working class and with the forces of the working class. But in order to retain and strengthen the confidence of the majority of the workers, it is necessary systematically to develop the consciousness, independent activity and initiative of the working class, systematically to educate it in the spirit of communism by organizing it in trade unions and drawing it into the work of building a communist economy.
Obviously, it is impossible to do this by coercive methods and by "shaking up" the unions from above, for such methods split the working class (the Tsektran!) and engender distrust of the Soviet power. Moreover, it is not difficult to understand that, speaking generally, it is inconceivable that either the consciousness of the masses or their confidence in the Soviet power can be developed by coercive methods.
Obviously, only "normal methods of proletarian democracy in the unions," only methods of persuasion, can make it possible to unite the working class, to stimulate its independent activity and strengthen its confidence in the Soviet power, the confidence that is needed so much now in order to rouse the country for the struggle against economic ruin.
As you see, politics also speak in favor of methods of persuasion.
January 5, 1921