Some anniversaries, like those marking the publication of a book, play or poem, are worthy of remembrance every five, ten, or twenty-five years. Other more world historic events like the remembrance of the Paris Commune of 1871, the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 1917, and, as here, the founding of the Communist International (also known as the Third International, Comintern, and CI) in 1919 are worthy of yearly attention. Why is that so in the case of the long departed (1943, by Stalin fiat) and, at the end unlamented, Comintern? That is what this year’s remembrance, through CI documentation and other commentary, will attempt to impart on those leftist militants who are serious about studying the lessons of our revolutionary, our communist revolutionary past.
No question that the old injunction of Marx and Engels as early as the Communist Manifesto that the workers of the world needed to unite would have been hollow, and reduced to hortatory holiday speechifying (there was enough of that, as it was) without an organization expression. And they, Marx and Engels, fitfully made their efforts with the all-encompassing pan-working class First International. Later the less all encompassing but still party of the whole class-oriented socialist Second International made important, if limited, contributions to fulfilling that slogan before the advent of world imperialism left its outlook wanting, very wanting.
The Third International thus was created, as mentioned in one of the commentaries in this series, to pick up the fallen banner of international socialism after the betrayals of the Second International. More importantly, it was the first international organization that took upon itself in its early, heroic revolutionary days, at least, the strategic question of how to make, and win, a revolution in the age of world imperialism. The Trotsky-led effort of creating a Fourth International in the 1930s, somewhat stillborn as it turned out to be, nevertheless based itself, correctly, on those early days of the Comintern. So in some of the specific details of the posts in this year’s series, highlighting the 90th anniversary of the Third World Congress this is “just” history, but right underneath, and not far underneath at that, are rich lessons for us to ponder today.
Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International
Zinoviev declares the session open and reads out the following telegram of greetings from the Working Group of Revolutionary Social Democrats of Austria:
To the Congress of the Communist International. The Working Group of Revolutionary Social Democrats of Austria, the majority at the last congress of workers’ councils, is fighting as the extreme left wing in the Party for the dictatorship of the workers’ councils and for affiliation to the Communist International. Closely linked to you in spirit, we hope to be with you at the next Congress. We enthusiastically greet the fighting proletariat of Soviet Russia and look forward longingly to the moment when, united, we will achieve the final victory of the world revolution. We wish all success to your conference. (Revolutionary greetings on behalf of the Working Group of Revolutionary Social Democrats of Austria: Franz Rothe, Josef Bencis, Ernst Fabri.)
[Reads out the reply:]Dear Comrades, the Congress of the Communist International is pleased to acknowledge your greetings. The parties of all countries affiliated to the Communist International have at this conference decided to realize the idea of the Soviets in every country through absolute discipline and solidarity in action. In German Austria this struggle is led by the Communist Party. If you are serious in your longing for the final victory of the world revolution, then you have the most serious and sacred duty to fulfil in German Austria: a war of extermination against that part of the social democracy of German Austria that is represented by the reformist leaders and social-traitors Renner, Bauer, Fritz Adler, Huber, Tomachik and Domes, to name only the best known; an unconditional break with the Social Democratic Party of German Austria and a struggle in the workers’ council for the realization of communist demands. Not lip-service, but ruthless revolutionary action will bring about the victory of the world revolution in a short period of time. [A vote is taken on the text of the reply proposed by the Bureau. It is adopted.]
Zinoviev: We will now proceed with the agenda, which is the trade union question. The reporter, Comrade Radek, has the floor.
Radek: Comrades, the question of the relationship between the Communist International and the trades unions is the most serious, most important question facing our movement. The trades unions are the biggest mass organisations of the working class; they play a decisive role in the economic struggles, the chief elements in the disintegration of capital, and after the victory of the revolution the trades unions will be in the forefront of those organisations called on to work at the economic construction of socialism. The very importance of the trades unions in the increasingly acute economic struggles and the construction of socialism forbids us to approach this problem other than by the most exact examination of the conditions within them, if what we want is to be guided, not by our own desires, but by an evaluation of the possibilities of objective development.
At the beginning of the war many of us thought that the trade union movement was finished. Many were of the opinion that the unions, which previously had fought capitalism in the main by using their funds, would have to collapse at the end of the war in the face of the great tasks that would be posed in front of them. No less a comrade than Rosa Luxemburg was, at the outbreak of the German Revolution, of the opinion that the trades unions were played out. It is typical that this question itself played no role in the debates at the founding conference of the KPD.
If we review the development of the unions in the most important countries for the period before and during the war and during the revolution, we obtain approximately the following figures: In Germany the trades unions were 2 1/4 million strong before the outbreak of war. During the war the graph fell considerably and the number was lower. Since the end of the war, since December 1918, when the unions had less than 2 million members, the number has risen to 8 million. In Britain they have grown from 41/2 million at the beginning of the war to 6V2 million. In France the number of organised workers has grown from 400,000 to 2 million, in Italy from 450,000 to 2 million. Even in America the trades unions have grown from about 2 million at the outbreak of the war to 4 million. One of the leaders of the KAPD, Schröder, said about these figures in his pamphlet on the factory committees that they express not a healthy process of growth but an unhealthy tumour. If it were simply a matter of rejecting on the grounds of ill health all the historical phenomena that do not suit us, then one could be satisfied with regarding the trades unions as a tumour on the corpse of capitalism. But since it is a different matter altogether we must take the following facts into account:
It is true that in the war the mass of workers saw the betrayal of the union leaders, and to a great extent they are full of bitterness against the union bureaucracy. But at the same time they learned during the war to proceed in an organised manner, in battalions, in Army Corps. Now that they are faced by the greatest economic struggles, when they are under attack from enormous price increases, all the difficulties of the housing question, and economic chaos, they seek to extend and strengthen their power in struggle. In this they have nowhere to go but the trades unions, to turn them into a great mass formation. And that is where the masses go.
It is a characteristic sign that in all those countries where we see no particular increase in the revolutionary trades unions, the masses are going directly into the big trades unions. For example, the IWW in America or the syndicalists in Germany, who have, it is true, grown in number, but only very little proportionately.
Naturally this does not solve the question of what the trades unions are and what their functions are, and in assessing our attitude towards the unions we must start from an analysis of the ways and means of communist struggle. We have to answer the question: is there any other path to the liberation of the working class than that which the trades unions are taking by the intensification of their previous methods of fighting? Rewarding this as a political formula, one could pose the question in this way: What can the tasks of revolutionary trades unions consist of?
We often hear a contrast drawn between revolutionary trades unions and trades unions in general. Let us ask ourselves: what does the decay of capitalism consist of, what are the means of struggle of the working class and what can the trades unions accomplish if they want to carry out this fight? First of all we know that the trade union bureaucracy, in line with its counter-revolutionary outlook, always seeks to do away with any economic struggle at all, as a way out of the situation. After the victory of the revolution, the German trades unions began extending the Working Parties, that is to say organisations for lasting agreements with the capitalists in which, of course, the working class is the subordinate part. In Britain the Whitley Councils grew into the joint Industrial Councils, which thoroughly correspond to the idea of the Working Party – the attempt to create a permanent agreement between workers and capitalists as an organisation for the purpose of settling disputes.
These tactics of the trade union leaders are tactics of demolishing the class struggle, and I need not dwell on this any longer, since we can have nothing in common with it, but must be in the sharpest struggle against these attempts. But this fight does not need to be carried out under the slogan of a new trade union tactic, for on the contrary what is new here is on the side of the trade union leaders. As far as new trade union tactics and the possibility of the existence of specifically revolutionary trade union tactics are concerned, we have the following to say: The process of capitalist decay consists in the disruption of the continuity of the economic process. Anglo-Saxon capital attempts to exclude one half of the European continent from the economic process, at the same time throwing the greatest mass of industrial products onto the world market. Turning these countries into its slaves, it leads to an interruption of the process of the division of labour of the whole world economy. This is an undertaking that can have no other end result than the collapse of the capitalist system in America and Britain too. The disruption of production and high unemployment leave us in no doubt that these countries are in a big economic crisis.
In America there are now studies, like Sparge’s book, which present Russia as the ‘American affair’, and which try to prove that America is faced with a crisis. This interruption of the economic process on a world scale is accompanied by a quite insane increase in prices. We have experienced the colossal growth of all prices on the world market, which is made more acute by the difference between the exchange rates of the defeated and ‘victor’ nations. Now we are beginning to experience the fall in prices, and while the growth in prices meant on the one hand a kind of false boom and on the other hand the squeezing dry of the Central Powers, the fall in prices now means a new crisis in production.
The general condition of the working class is such that any thought of reformist tactics, of a gradual increase in the real wages of the working class, in their standard of living, is a completely opportunist illusion. The possibility of a gradual improvement in the condition Of the working class is a reactionary Utopia. If one looks at Kuczynski’s statistical data, he comes to the conclusion that a family of four in Germany, to achieve the absolute minimum standard of living, lower than before the war, needs 16,000 marks a year. At the same time he calculates that only about 10 per cent of the population earn such wages. If, on the other hand, you take the figures for America – on the one hand, therefore, taking the most highly developed of the defeated capitalist nations, and on the other the victor in the war then this statement is absolutely confirmed.
In an article carried by the Washington Nation (of June 19, 1920) entitled ‘The High Cost of Labour’, the following figures are quoted: According to the statistical tables for the year 1919 the minimum level of subsistence for a family of husband, wife and three children was $2,500 per annum, and it is noted that this is not the American standard of living, but a level ‘below which the family is considered to be in danger of physical and moral degeneration’. Other statistics quoted in the article arrive at a figure of $2,180, and the paper then calculates the wages for 103 occupations and comes to the conclusion that a daily wage of between $6.50 and $8.50, which would correspond to this annual budget, is being drawn by only 10 per cent of all metal workers. So according at least to the calculations of the Nation, 90 per cent live under conditions which, according to American statisticians, expose them to the danger of physical and moral degeneration.
This bourgeois newspaper goes on to say that a quarter of the working class is already suffering from actual malnutrition and lack of adequate clothing. That was the situation in America before the crisis began. It is clear in this situation that the tactics of the trades unions, the objectives of communist struggle, cannot consist in repairing the capitalist edifice, but in working consciously for the overthrow of capital. In what way can we lead this struggle? This is where we so often meet, on our ‘left’ wing, the following conception: Since it is impossible to improve the condition of the working class by increasing wages, it is useless to fight for this. Economic struggles are futile, we must wait until resentment has piled up so much that the working class will finish off capitalism in one blow. On the other hand we hear the propaganda for sabotage (of labour, of industry) as the way that will lead to the speedy collapse of capital.
One conception is as false as the other. Even though the working class is not able to save itself by means of improving wages, there are still valid reasons why it must not remain indifferent to the struggle to improve wages. Thus there is no doubt that if, for example, the Berlin metal workers are not able to improve their wages in line with price increases, they will be worse off in March than they are in January. So even if increasing wages is not a means to solve the question, it is a means of maintaining the fighting fitness of the workers. Moreover, an immediate collapse of capitalism is as inconceivable, for mechanical reasons, as the immediate collapse of a house whose foundations have been removed. Capitalism could survive the greatest poverty in the world for years if its decay did not release forces opposed to it. The working class can only be convinced that the capitalist situation is beyond hope when, driven by necessity, they enter into struggle and convince themselves in the course of this struggle that there is no salvation for them on the basis of capitalism. Wages struggles, whose results are only momentary, have great importance in mobilizing the great masses of workers for revolutionary struggle.
On the other hand the slogan of sabotage, so far as the sabotage of technical resources is concerned, is a downright counter-revolutionary slogan. We will inherit little enough as it is, since civil war brings in its wake the destruction of the values and means of production. So it is the task of the working class only to destroy these technical resources in the case of absolute necessity. Sabotage is no slogan in the fight. There is of course no doubt that it is not our duty to tell the worker to exert himself particularly for the capitalist, but passive resistance is not a method that can lead to the collapse of capital. The methods of struggle of the working class, are active methods: the extension of the fighting front by enlisting millions of fighting workers, the sharpening and prolonging of the fight and the unification of the fighting masses.
The problem is this: partial struggles will finally lead the masses of workers to a general onslaught on capitalism. There is no ‘new method’ in this struggle. If we wipe out the counter-revolutionary tendencies of the bureaucracy in the great mass formations, the trades unions, if we depose them, then these mass organisations of the working class are the organs best able to lead the struggle of the working class on a broad front.
Now we come to the question of the practical possibility of transforming the reactionary trades unions into institutions of the revolution. In our Theses submitted to the Congress we issue the following slogan as a general rule for Communists: join the trades unions and struggle in the big trades unions to win them. But if we lay down this general rule we should not close our eyes to the difficulties that became clear to us particularly in the long deliberations on our Commission. The difficulties arise from the fact that in drawing up the Theses we perhaps had the Russian and German experience too much in mind. The German unions with their 8 million organised workers encompass the great mass of German workers, a good half of the German proletariat, and for this reason they are no longer simply organs of the labour aristocracy. We have over 600,000 agricultural workers in the trades unions, and the very fact that the great masses belong to the trades unions opens up the best perspectives.
But when we take into account that in America we have only four million workers organised into trades unions and that they are split into craft associations, then we have to face the fact that in America firstly the organised labour movement represents the labour aristocracy, secondly it is cut off from the great mass of the workers, and thirdly this labour aristocracy is dispersed among a large number of small organisations of the old type. In America and Britain there are trade union organisations where the trade union bureaucracy is elected for life. So while preserving the general line of our Theses we must call on the Communists in America and Britain to take into account the possibility and necessity of the formation of new trades unions in all the great organisations of America. In this we have a wide field open to us in those occupations where the aristocracy of labour has voluntarily renounced the role of organiser, that is the many occupations of the unskilled, undeveloped workers. Where in our Theses we only gave one example of the oppression of members of an organisation by the trade union bureaucracy, we have to say clearly to the Communists in relation to America: you have the duty to take upon yourselves the foundation of new organisations. We have there in the IWW an organisation which is setting to work on this task. Not for nothing is it the most persecuted organisation, which has borne the brunt of all the attacks of American capitalism. So we do not wish to take offence at the revolutionary romanticism of the IWW, but we say to our comrades, you should support these organisations with all your might in order to organise the masses. The only possibility of unified tactics is to harmonize our endeavours for the organisation of the broad masses of unskilled workers with those of the IWW.
In the interests of the British and American labour movement, we must avoid the isolation of the revolutionary trades unions. We must not only attack capitalism through the new organisations, we must also go into the Federation of Labor. The American comrades answer that they have been trying to transform the AF of L for decades; but this argument is scarcely convincing. As far as the AF of L is concerned people went into the trades unions with the good intention of taking up arms immediately; but not only revolutionary elements were involved here, and we must not forget that all these efforts were made during a period of peaceful development. Now the AF of L is itself in a process of change. I have reliable witnesses for this, such as the London Times, which writes in its jubilee Issue of last year:
During the war, and presumably as its result, unionism greatly increased, strikes became far more numerous than in normal times, and dissatisfaction with Mr. Gompers, if not formally and publicly expressed, was at least loudly proclaimed in private.... The existence of a strong socialist group in the Federation has manifested itself for a considerable period, and has found expression in repeated efforts to replace Mr. Gompers as president. Furthermore it is the opinion of expert observers that this group is far stronger than the acts of the Conventions, its resolutions and the votes for president and Executive Council would indicate. Furthermore, there have occurred a number of instances of able and experienced presidents of craft unions being defeated for re-election and their places filled with men of the extreme Socialist type.
This was written on July 4 last year. I have a report of the last Congress of the AF of L which took place in January of this year. In this report, which appeared in Sidney Webb’s organ New Statesman, it is said that a proposal was carried by 29,000 votes to 8,000 calling not only for the nationalization of the American railways but also for them to be placed under the control of a mixed commission, a proposal of revolutionary significance, which, however reformist it is in itself, represents a breakthrough in the American trade union movement. The New Statesman writes about the outcome of the discussion as follows: ‘Mr. Gompers was elected President for a further period. For the first time in his career he expressed the wish to lay down the sceptre. He feels that his throne is shaking and that his day is past. The radicals departed rejoicing. They had gained their first decisive victory at a conference of the AF of L and, as a delegate remarked, have shown “how to throw a spanner in the works”.'
I by no means wish to identify myself with this optimistic verdict. It is quite possible that development will take a different course, but in any case these things show that the AF of L is no longer a uniform block. There are cracks in it, and it is the duty of the American communists to widen them. When the American communists ask me by what means it will be possible to transform the bureaucracy in the AF of L or to render it harmless, I reply that if the communists go into the AF of L from the very start with the slogan of destroying it, they will destroy their own work. However, if it emerges from their struggle that it is necessary to destroy the AF of L they should do so. But there is no tactical interest that requires us to be obstinate and refuse to go into the AF of L. The task is to work there and to operate as the factor that unifies all those forces that operate from outside, with the forces of the American workers who are organised in the AF of L and whose aristocratic arrogance will be broken by all the suffering that the collapse of capitalism will bring to them too in America.
We are therefore laying down the fight to conquer the trades unions as a general rule. The other problem that faces us is the question of the spontaneous organisations that begin to form in the process of the struggle both during the war and now. They come from various origins, but, as new phenomena, they require the greatest attention on our part. These are organisations like the shop stewards and the factory committees in Britain and in Germany. In their first stages they represented chaos as far as their composition was concerned, but a chaos from which new life arises, and one would have to be the most wooden-headed German trade unionist not to see new life in this movement. We saw how the shop stewards arose when the trade union bureaucracy renounced even the strike weapon during the war. The workers themselves formed the committees that led the strikes.
We further saw how after the war these shop committees became the centre of the most active part of the British working class which once more gets on with the organisation of strikes without the help of the tilde union bureaucracy, and how it now sets itself the task of working consciously to make the trade union bureaucracy harmless and to drive them back, so that in this way the shop stewards are an organisation for renewing British trade union life.
The more the struggle develops and this movement becomes a consciously revolutionary one, the more the shop stewards see themselves as leaders of political revolutionary activity too. They become the centre of direct action in Britain. If we move to Germany, we see that the rise of the factory committees is to be ascribed in the main to disappointment with the unions. While new, unorganised masses are streaming into the trades unions, we see how the main body of thinking workers feels that the unions are not enough because they are dominated by a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy, because they are craft organisations, because they cut up and divide the masses. In many cases this recognition leads the workers to turn away completely from these trades unions. We see how, under the yoke of capitalism, under the rule of Noske, the factory committee movement tries to create the foundations of the future socialist economic order.
We are now faced with the principled question of how to judge and evaluate the possibilities of work in the trades unions in the capitalist countries. We do not need to emphasise particularly that we are obliged to support every emergent factory organisation of the proletariat which has the purpose of breaking the omnipotence of the trade union bureaucracy, not only in Britain but also in Germany and France and in every other country. When we consider the question of the relationship of the factory committees to the trades unions in Germany, and when we see that not only the Legiens, but also right-wing Independents like Dissmann etc., try to box these organisations up in the trade union apparatus and justify this by the economy of the revolution – ‘we must lead the struggles in a more unified way’ – then we know these twisters too well not to see through their plans. If it really was the case that the Legiens and the Dissmanns were going to be the leaders of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, we would tell the factory committees to join their ranks. But that is not the case. The Legiens are the leaders of the German counter-revolution, and if one considers the practice of the right-wing Independents, if one takes a look at Dissmann’s policies in the Metal Workers’ Union, one cannot find the slightest valid difference between his policies and those of the Legiens.
Under these conditions the attempt to incorporate the factory committees in the trade union apparatus means an attempt to destroy these revolutionary organisations which can, at the moment of the struggle, emerge as organs of the revolution. As to the endeavour to make a systematic organisation out of these factory committees which would be able to facilitate the transition to socialism – and the endeavour belongs to a transitional period – it was an illusion; I think that the comrades who worked for this must also see that. It is impossible under the lash of capitalism and of the state of emergency to build an organisation capable of representing the apparatus of the future socialist economic order. The thing is that the movement is growing, and for a variety of reasons. It embraces the most active sections of the proletariat, it fights against the lead weight of the trade union bureaucracy, and the further it goes the more it will become the organisation of struggle and of control over production.
As the process of the decay of the capitalist mode of production proceeds, not only the conscious workers, but every last worker in the factory will be faced with the question: Where are coal, raw materials, etc., to be obtained? From all these surmises a fight develops which grows into the factory and which is carried out by the masses. The trades unions alone cannot carry it out; they do not embrace the whole mass of workers in the plant, they are still craft organisations. Here a revolutionary organisation is necessary that emerges as a revolutionary force, which, in such a question, makes it the main task to set the masses in motion, to lead them into struggle.
If we said that it is the task of the communists to march at the head of the trades unions, not to be satisfied with communist propaganda, but to try to be the leading section of the movement, then it goes without saying that, on the question of the factory committees and the shop stewards, the initiative falls to the communists. When the question is posed as to whether new organisations should be created alongside the trades unions, and what their mutual relations should be, we reply that as long as the unions are dominated by the bureaucracy these new organisations are our bases of support against the trade union bureaucracy. But when communists have become the leaders of the movement, the time has come to let the two streams flow together and to turn the factory committees into trade union organs.
Every attempt to hand the Committees over to the trades unions now, however, is reactionary.
There is one more question on which we must take up a position, and that is the question of industrialism and industrial unions. When we hear how the question of industrialism is propagated on various sides, we feel that what we are dealing with is a new fetish. It is claimed that the old craft unions can no longer serve the revolution, that industrial unions are the highest and most perfect thing. That is a completely metaphysical position. It has already been proved in practice that reactionary industrialism is possible. If the workers organise themselves in industrial unions in order to reach agreements with the capitalists, then there is nothing revolutionary in that, while it is on the other hand possible that trade union organisations that are even more backward than the craft trades unions will unite in revolutionary struggles if they are filled by revolutionary spirit.
The ideology of these industrial unions can really be reduced to one quite simple fact, that is to say that it is better to organise workers by industry than by trade. Our attitude towards industrial unions is progressive. We want to support them, but we cannot make a shibboleth out of them, for otherwise we would not be preventing splits, but we would be setting up, alongside 20 craft unions, the 21st industrial union, which in its turn would box up one hundredth of the mass. The path to industrial unionism should be followed through our fight in the trades unions. Should we carry out a split in the trades unions in order to found a union, the result would not at all be what we desired. We can see that in the example of America, after the rise of the workers’ industrial unions, which were supposed to unite all workers, the trades unions remained exactly as split as they had been previously. The question of industrialism is connected with the question of syndicalism. If many of our comrades are constantly talking about it, I see in this a tendency to try to lean towards a syndicalist movement that is opposed to the proletarian state and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The fight against this current is very difficult in the Anglo-Saxon countries where the workers have neither had a really revolutionary party nor seen a revolutionary struggle. We should not make it even more difficult for them by adopting the syndicalist ideology.
The attitude of the Communist International towards the syndicalist currents is shown by the decision of the Congress admitting syndicalist organisations into the Communist International. By this the Communist International has shown that it is a complete stranger to the spirit of the old social democracy. Because we see in syndicalism a transitional disease of the revolutionary workers’ movement, we try to come close to the syndicalists, in order to form a bloc with them and to fight shoulder to shoulder with them whenever possible. But at the same time we must show them all that is confused about the road as they see it. Remember that the great mass of workers in the trade union movement are not in the camp of syndicalism. We must take that into account and our organisational efforts must be aimed at getting close to the masses.
We are coming to the end. The task of communism in relation to the trades unions is very difficult and very thankless. Here in the trades unions we see the flowing together of millions of workers who are called upon by history to become the main army of the revolution. They come with all their prejudices, all their ponderousness, all their changing moods. Nevertheless, it is these masses that will carry out the decisive struggle, and for this reason the task of the communists is not only to look at the Legiens in the leadership but also to keep the masses themselves in mind, and to work in the trades unions for as long as is necessary. Comrades say: ‘Yes, if we only had time to work in the unions for a few years we could win these organisations.’ Nobody can determine how long it will take until the social revolution places its victorious foot on the neck of capitalism; to win the masses for the idea of communism takes no less time than is needed for the winning of the trades unions.
One thing is necessary: not to flinch from any difficulties and to go into the organisations and carry out the fight. I say to my German Party comrades: to this day you have not even founded a weekly trade union paper that can lead the fight systematically. Where are there united factions of Communists and Independents in the unions? Where has the attempt been made to breach the organisations of the trades union bureaucracy from below? We are only at the beginning of our systematic struggle, and have no right to complain at the small results. As far as conditions in the Anglo-Saxon countries are concerned we must say that less despair and more communist optimism would be of service to you.
The USPD press, finally, took up the same position towards the trade union bureaucracy as we now adopt. Here we come to the final question on the trade union movement, which is, of course, the question of Communism. The abyss that lies between us and the theory and practice of the USPD on this question is not so much one of form as of deeds. It is not simply a question of whether we go into the trades unions or not, but of what we do in these trades unions. The USPD’s entry into the trades unions merely meant Schlicke being replaced by Dissmann. It is not a question of going into the trades unions, but, at the risk of a split, which we do not fear if it comes as the result of a fight, of taking up a fight against the old trade union bureaucracy and its spirit.. If the USPD people rest content with the victory at the metal-workers’ congress and immediately weigh themselves down with a lead weigh t by leaving the old bureaucracy in the leadership, if as members of the Allgemeine Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund, they are in practice tied to the Arbeitergmeinschaft, if they always look over their shoulders at every step, then that is of course not winning over the trades unions. It means nothing other than taking the place of the Legiens in the trades unions, and carrying on Legien’s policies.
[The Allgemeine Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund was the German trade union federation; the Arbeitsgemeinschaft was the corporatist, class-collaboration body linking this federation with the employers’ organisations and the state.]
We are in favour of going into parliament; the Independents too are in favour of it. We, however, go into parliament in order to carry out revolutionary agitation and propaganda there, to bring about confrontations. If it comes to that, we will even go into the parliamentary committees, since that is the best place to gather information. The Independents, however, act differently. I can give you an example. During the war Comrade Haase was on the foreign affairs committee. But he avoided revealing this committee’s secrets in parliament even when they were directed against the German people. For him the protection of government secrets was very important. I think that if our members join the committees they will arrange their behaviour very differently. It is the same question with the trades unions. We go into the trades unions in order to overthrow the bureaucracy there and, if necessary, to split the trades unions. We go into the trades unions in order to turn them into a fighting instrument. The outcome of the work of the USPD in the first few years in the trades unions was to try and bring the factory committees, the revolutionary organisations of the proletariat, under the rod of the trade union bureaucracy. The difference is a difference of spirit, of the will to act and to fight, the will to make the trades unions into an instrument of the revolution.
The Communist Party bases its policies on the elements that are left out by bourgeois society. We will attempt to transform the trades unions into fighting organisations. Should the resistance of the bureaucracy prove to be stronger than we assume, we shall not be afraid to smash it, for we know that what is important is not the form, but the workers’ ability to organise and their will to organise the revolutionary struggle. We shall go into the trades unions and attempt to win them with all our strength, without tying ourselves to them. We shall not permit ourselves to be beaten down by the trade union bureaucracy, and where they struggle to limit the possibility of our revolutionary fight, we shall, at the head of the masses, drive them out of these trades unions. We go into the unions, not to preserve them, but to create cohesion among the workers, on which alone the great industrial unions of the social revolution can be formed. The most important thing is to unite two things: to be with the masses and go with the masses, but also not to fall behind the masses. That is the line of communist policy in the trades unions. In the factory committees it sees the spontaneous organisation of the proletariat, and as long as the trades unions fail, as long as the trade union bureaucracy is a wall against the revolution, we want to preserve the independence of the committees, help them, in order, together with them, to lead the masses in struggle. That is what I have to say.
Just a couple more formal things. The Commission that was elected by the Congress had big difficulties to overcome. They lay precisely in the fact that the resolutions had been conceived too narrowly. Our Theses did not take conditions in Britain and America sufficiently into account, and I admit that for a long time I found it very difficult to discover what the comrades wanted. We finally managed to see that there were no differences in principle between our positions. All were agreed that they had the duty of working in the trades unions. Only one American comrade proposed in his Theses that the Communists should remain outside the AF of L. Then came the question of establishing in what cases they must work outside the trades unions. One case was already mentioned in our Theses, that is to say if revolutionary agitation was suppressed by the trade union bureaucracy. We established the second case when we discovered that 80 per cent of the workers in America are not organised and that the AF of L consciously abandons the organisation of big masses by demanding high membership subscriptions. Here it is clear that the Communists have the task of organising these masses.
The final difficulty, which we could not resolve in the Commission, consisted in this, that the American comrades claim that a whole number of trade union statutes make it impossible for them to work in the trades unions, that the bureaucracy there was unassailable, that congresses are not convened for years on end, etc. We accept the possibility of such cases theoretically, but I told the comrades openly that I feel they have a tendency to make it too easy for themselves and to run away from the trades unions. So I take no responsibility for this motion. The American comrades should specify this case here.
Should conditions really be as comrades report them, then we cannot deny that in such cases they should form separate trades unions.
The other question concerned the factory committees. The resolution shows the factory committees in their last phase , when they go into the fight on the task of the control of production. This passage gives the impression of a perspective that has yet to come. Therefore we agreed also to take the previous stages in the development of the factory committees into account in the resolution.
The last point refers to the question of the international organisation of the trades unions. We have two versions. The Russian trade union Commission proposed one version in which it takes its starting point from the declaration of the British, Italian, Russian and Bulgarian trades unions, who have called a conference. The Russian resolution points out that the trades unions must become a part of the Communist International. The American comrades are opposed to the appeal of the Italian, Russian and British trades unions. They have raised a great number of objections to it. The comrades will put forward these difficulties themselves here, and we will leave it to the Congress to decide on them.
I shall not read out the individual amendments for the simple reason that they must first be edited in the Commission. I shall therefore merely repeat that they deal with the cases where separate organisations are to be built, that is to say the cases where the revolutionary organisation of the trades unions is suppressed. Then they state the necessity of supporting the shop stewards and the factory committees as fighting organisations which must remain independent as long as the counter-revolutionary trade union bureaucracy dominates the trades unions, and, finally, of concerning themselves with the still undecided question of the trade union international.
Fraina: After our discussion in the trade union Commission it turned out that we are in agreement beyond all expectation. The questions that are still at issue relate to the importance of the individual points and how to carry them out, but not to principles.
The differences first emerged in the declaration on the calling of a conference for the organisation of revolutionary workers’ unions. Some of the most essential stipulations of this declaration were completely unacceptable to us. For example the condemnation of revolutionaries who left the unions was worded in such a form that the formation of a new workers’ organisation would have been excluded, which would have paralysed the American movements, for in our country, where 80 per cent of the workers are not organised, and the trades unions are dominated by the labour aristocracy, a new revolutionary workers’ movement absolutely must be created. Further, the participation of individual separate industrial unions in the conference is made dependent on the agreement of the central workers’ organisation of the country in question. And furthermore we find no stipulation there on the admission of one representative each of the Organising Committees of the IWW and of the shop stewards, two organisations that are of exceptional importance for the revolutionary mass struggle.
Our objections to Comrade Radek’s Theses, some of which have been settled by the acceptance of several of our amendments, concern above all his conception of the nature of unions. Radek deals with the problem exclusively from the standpoint that the masses in the unions must be won for Communism. It goes without saying that this must be the main point. But it is just as important to consider the unions as organs for our task of the revolutionary struggle and as factors in the economic construction of society after the conquest of political power. The conditions, too, under which new workers’ unions can be formed are conceived of all too narrowly and artificially by Radek. Finally, one could draw the conclusion from Radek’s Theses that what we have to do is capture the trade union bureaucracy. We do not find there any indication or instructions on the formation of special organisations (for example trade committees, shop stewards, etc.) as instruments in the struggle against the bureaucracy and to mobilise the masses for action.
In the United States, revolutionary ideas were spread by the revolutionary trade union movement. These ideas were the necessity of extra-parliamentary action for the purpose of conquering political power, and the necessity of destroying the bourgeois state machine and the organisation of the proletarian state, not on a geographical basis, but on the basis of the industrial factory organisation. These demands made it easy for us to understand the fundamental tactic of the Russian Revolution. At the same time, however, we were obliged to wage a sharp theoretical fight against the conception of the IWW, who were of the opinion that it is possible to fight capitalism merely through the industrial unions without soviets and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Communist Party of America has fulfilled a great task by bringing the old revolutionary conceptions of industrial unionism into harmony with the new conceptions of Bolshevism. It is a necessary part of our work to secure the revolutionary functions of the workers’ unions.
The IWW in the United States was a really revolutionary force, not because they agitated for industrial unionism, nor because they tried to boycott and destroy the AF of L – they had no great success in either of these things – but the IWW was an enormous force because in it was expressed the growth of class consciousness and the strength to act of the unorganised and unskilled workers excluded from the AF of L. None of the movements that fought the AF of L by leaving the old unions had any success. During the war, when the old unions went into partnership with the government, the members of the IWW were forced to unite with the old unions, and the members of the IWW developed a mighty revolutionary movement through their agitation within these unions. The necessity of work (in a revolutionary sense) within the old unions is therefore emphasised by experiences in America. But these experiences also confirm the necessity of forming new unions (in correspondence with the objective conditions) in order to combine revolutionary work in the old unions with work from outside.
There is no division of opinion between us on the necessity of work in the unions. We all agree on that. If the American communist movement rejected work in the old unions and adopted the slogan ‘destroy the AF of L’, it would be the communist movement that would thus be destroyed, and not the old, reactionary labour unions.
Our objections refer to the methods and aims of work in the old unions. We are of the opinion that it is not the tying-down of the bureaucracy that must be emphasised but the liberation of the masses to proceed independently of the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy is practically unassailable in the old unions. It is based on the masses and is an obstacle to all action. In the United States the bureaucracy uses, apart from constitutional means, long terms of office, parliamentary tricks and armed soldiers to break resistance in the unions. I do not quote this as an argument against work in the unions but as an argument against the idea of tying down the bureaucracy. We must fight this bureaucracy in the unions; it will only be possible to tie them down or finish them off during the revolution or after it.
Really revolutionary activity in the trades unions pursues the following important aims:
1. The organisation of communist groups (which must be present in every workers’ organisation).
2. The formation of special trade union organisations (shop stewards, shop committees, etc.). That is to say the workers’ organisations inside the unions, which express the demands of the direct economic struggle of the workers and also take up the struggle against the bureaucracy and against the limitations of the trades unions’ organisational form. If we form these special union organisations, it does not mean that the workers should leave the old unions. On the contrary, the workers remain in the unions, but they organise their opposition in a different way. These special union organisations operate inside and outside the unions, and if they cannot move the union to act in a crisis, these special union organisations proceed independently of the union and the bureaucracy. They are the most appropriate organs for developing revolutionary activity and for mobilising the masses for the fight against capitalism. In Britain and the United States these special union organisations grew from the practice itself, from the experience of the workers in struggle. The communists have become the leaders in the immediate economic struggle of the working class through the creation of these special union organisations.
We do not demand withdrawal from the old unions, but the organisation of an energetic and decisive struggle within the unions against the bureaucracy.
It is just as necessary to continue the fight outside the old unions. That is made possible by the organisation of new, independent unions. It is absolutely necessary for the organisation of such unions and continued work in the old unions to be based on objective conditions and to express the mass struggle itself. But it is just as necessary not to be afraid of these new organisations. It is just as harmful to be opposed in general to splits and new unions as it is to insist on splits and new unions as theoretical demands. A split is, after all, a decisive offensive act that means more revolutionary agitation than years of peaceful work in the unions. But if we unify the industrial unions we will win a force that will work from outside and inside and which, influenced and led by the communists, will form a mighty factor in mobilising the masses for action. We live in an epoch of revolution, and our basic task consists of liberating the masses for action. We cannot be dependent on the peaceful, protracted process of taking the bureaucracy prisoner.
Besides this problem of the special union organisations there is the problem of the industrial unions as an obstacle to the guild form of trades associations. This problem has a three-fold form.
1. Industrial unionism is the organisational expression of the unorganised, unskilled workers who form the majority of the industrial proletariat in the United States. The formation of new unions usually means adaptation to industrial unionism. Industrial unionism is the basis of revolutionary unionism.
2. Agitation for industrial unionism is a necessary part of our work in the old unions. These unions, which in the main are based on the old guilds, are incapable, under the pressure of concentrated industry, of really uniting the workers in the unions and continuing the offensive fight. The workers in the old unions oppose the limitations of the craft forms and also the instructions of the unions, and we must bring them to accept the organisational form of industrial unions – an inevitable phase in our fight to transform and revolutionise the old unions.
3. After the conquest of political power, the unions will become organs for the administration of industry of the proletarian state. Craft organisations are not in a position to do this because of their organisational form. Industrial unions are necessary, as the Russian experience proves. The greater the industrial unions are, and the greater is the understanding of industrial unionism, the easier will be the task of economic construction after the revolutionary conquest of power.
That is the conception of. unionism developed and formulated by the American movement, and we are convinced that this unionism is an inevitable phase in communist tactics.
Tanner: After Comrade Radek’s speech it is quite clear that there can be no question of differences on principle. The main thing is to establish the relations between the Communists and the Shop Stewards and the newly-arising revolutionary organisations. It has been mentioned that there must be relations between the Communists and all revolutionary organisations. During the war, after the rise of the shop stewards, many people claimed that their role would be played out at the end of the war. But that does not correspond to the truth. They are called upon to play a revolutionary role now, too. As far as the aims of all such organisations are concerned, one of their most difficult tasks is to fight the terrible bureaucratism in the trades unions. Although this is very difficult, one must strive to make progress in this respect.
What, then, is the attitude of the shop stewards to the question raised here? The structure of the trades unions is not democratic, and yet we are very far from saying that one cannot, under any circumstances belong to them. Comrades, you are in favour of the point of ‘view that one should withdraw from them. But you understand that this position must be decided in every individual case. We place the main emphasis on the revolutionary class struggle which must also be waged against the bureaucracy of the old trades unions. It has been said that we should emphasise once more our position and tactics towards the soviet movement. The aim of our fight is to overcome capitalism and exterminate the wages system. In view of the fact that the revolution can only be realised by the mass action of the workers, I must emphasise that the attitude of the shop stewards towards the already existing organisations is not hostile; but one can say that the shop steward and factory committee movement wishes to transform the trades unions in a revolutionary manner and change their form of organisation. The realisation of this revolutionary aim can only be brought about if forceful propaganda is carried on within the old trades unions, and through much livelier participation in the inner life of these organisations.
What I mean by this is that the shop stewards by no means adopt the position that one absolutely cannot work in the trades unions. But they are opposed to participating in the Red Trade Union International. The attitude expressed in the appeal in question is unacceptable to the shop stewards, since it is established there that one may not leave the old trades unions. The shop stewards cannot accept the proposal under these conditions. The fact that such a passage has been adopted proves that no account has been taken of the conditions in the individual countries. I am of the view that this appeal must be subjected to criticism by the Congress and handed over to the Commission. The comrades who have worked in the Commission have proved that they do not share the point of view of this appeal.
End of the session.