The Question of the Trade Unions
Having brought forward the general theoretical bases, I will now proceed to prove, also by practice, that the Left Wing in Germany and England is right in general principles – on the questions of the Trade Unions and of parliamentarism.
First we will take the question of the Trade Unions.
As parliamentarism embodies the spiritual, thus the Trade Union movement embodies the material power of the leaders over the masses of the workers. Under capitalism the Trade Unions constitute the natural organisations for uniting the proletariat, and as such Marx, already from the very beginning, has demonstrated their importance. Under a more developed capitalism, and to a greater extent even in the age of imperialism, the Trade Unions have ever more become gigantic unions, with a trend of development, equal to that of the bourgeois State bodies themselves. The Trade Unions can be compared to the State and its bureaucracy, also in this: that, notwithstanding the democracy that is supposed to reign there, the members are unable to enforce their will against the bureaucracy; In the last few years, before and after the war, in England, Germany, and America, this often gave rise to rebellions of the members, who started strikes on their own account, against the will of the leaders, or the decrees of the union itself. and the workers do not control their union, but that the union is placed over them as an outside power against which they can rebel – a power which, all the same, has its origin in themselves: again, therefore, an analogy with the State. In spite of the hatred and impotent exasperation of the masses, this domination manages to maintain itself, owing to the indifference and lack of clear insight, and of a united, indomitable will in the masses, and upheld as it is by the inner need for the Trade Unions, the only means the workers have to gain strength through unity, in their struggle against capital.
Warning of TU Influence
Fighting against capital, in a constant opposition against its tendency of increasing misery, and enabling the working class, through the restriction of these tendencies, to keep the existence the Trade Union movement, has played its part under capitalism, and has thus become itself a member of capitalist society. It is only at the beginning of the revolution, when the proletariat, from a member of capitalist society, is turned into the annihilator of this society, that the Trade Union finds itself in opposition to the proletariat.
That which Marx and Lenin demonstrated for the State: that its organisation, in spite of formal democracy, makes it impossible to turn it into an Instrument of the proletarian revolution, must also hold good therefore for the Trade Union organisations. Their counter-revolutionary power cannot be destroyed or weakened through a change of staff, through the replacing of reactionary leaders by radical or revolutionary elements.
It is the form of organisation that renders the masses as good as powerless, and prevents them from turning the Trade Unions into the organs of their will. The Soviet system, the construction from within, is not only able to uproot and abolish the State, but also the Trade Union bureaucracy: it will constitute not only the new political organs of the proletariat as opposed to capitalism, but likewise the foundation for the new Trade Unions. However, if the most important part of the revolution consists in the masses conducting their own concerns – the control of society and production – then every form of organisation that does not allow the masses to rule and to guide for themselves, must needs be counter-revolutionary and harmful, and as such it must be replaced by another form, which is revolutionary in so far as it allows the workers to decide matters for themselves.
Through their very nature the Trade Unions are useless arms for the West-European revolution! Apart from the fact that they have become tools of capitalism, and that they are in the hands of traitors, apart from the fact that through their nature they are bound to make slaves of the members, no matter what the leaders may be, they are also unfit for use generally.
The Harder Task of Europe.
The Trade Unions are too weak in the contest against the most highly-organised capital in Western-European States. To a great extent the Trade Unions are Professional Unions as yet, which cannot make a revolution, if it were for that fact alone. And in so far as they are industrial unions, they are not founded on the factories, on the workshops themselves, and are consequently weak. Even if the revolution should not succeed right away, and we had once more to revert to peaceful action for a while, the Trade Unions would have to be destroyed and replaced by industrial unions, on a basis of industrial or workshop organisation. And with these miserable Trade Unions, that must be done away with in any case, they want to make the revolution! The other countries must have them as soon as possible, as soon as we can build them.
It is no good at all, Comrade Lenin, your saying: in Russia we did it in such and such a way, for in the first place you had no organisations that were so inadequate for the struggle as many of the Trade Unions are here. The Trade Unions, the far too weak but only means, were entirely in the hands of the leaders, who used them as dead machines on behalf of capitalism. The Trade Unions were used by the leaders and the masses of members as a weapon against the revolution. The Communists saw their own brothers being shot with the cooperation of the Trade Unions. Do you hold it possible, Comrade, that under such conditions revolutionary workers should remain in these unions? You will reply:
this was a political party, it is different in the case of a Trade Union. In the revolution, during the revolution, every Trade Union, every workers’ union even, is a political party – either pro- or counterrevolutionary.
In your article, however, you say, and you will do so now: these emotional impulses must be conquered, for the sake of unity and Communist propaganda. Now a new league against old unions, even if the workers remain in the old ones, is a split already; The German workers who left the Trade Unions, that wished to destroy them, that created the industrial organisations and workers’ unions, stood IN THE REVOLUTION. The Trade Unions refused to fight. What is the good then of saying: remain in the Trade Unions, propagate your ideas, you will grow stronger, and become the majority. And it is still going on!
IN THE REVOLUTION (mind, Comrade, it was in the revolution that the German workers split the Party, and created their Workers’ Union) the revolutionary workers will always separate themselves from the social-patriots. No matter what you, and the Moscow Executive, and the International Congress say, and no matter how much you dislike a split in the Party, it will always take place, on psychological and material grounds, because the workers cannot in the long run tolerate the Trade Unions shooting them, and because there has to be fighting.
That is why the Left Wing has created the Workers’ Unions; And is there anything more opposed than revolution and counter-revolution?
For this reason again the KAPD and the General Workers’ Unions are quite right.
And, Comrade, have not these secessions, these clearances always been a blessing for the proletariat? If the revolution in Germany lasts, there is a fair hope that the importance and the influence of the workers’ unions will surpass all the others. Smaller groups than these have become the strongest – the Bolshevists, among others!
The industrial unions and workshop organisations, and the Workers’ Unions that are based on them and formed from them, why are they such excellent weapons for the revolution in Western Europe, the best weapons even together with the Communist Party? Because the workers act for themselves, infinitely more so than they did in the old Trade Unions, because now they control their leaders, and thereby the entire leadership, and because they have the supervision of the industrial organisation, and thereby of the entire union.
Every trade, every workshop is one whole, where the workers elect their representatives. And the districts in turn elect the general board for the entire State.
All the industrial organisations together, no matter to what trade they belong, constitute the one Workers’ Union.
This, as we see, is an organisation altogether directed towards the revolution.
If an interval of comparatively peaceful fighting should follow, this organisation might moreover be easily adapted. It is the same in the Trade Unions. If in the old Trade Unions you replace the bureaucracy by other persons, you will see that before long these also have the same character; It is the very nature of the organisation that makes them so.
Your tactics strive to leave the Trade Unions as they are, “down below,” and only to give them other leaders somewhat more of the Left trend, is therefore purely a change “up above.” And the Trade Unions remain in the power of leaders. And to this end the old Trade Unions must be destroyed.
Industrial Workers Decide.
More, infinitely more so, than was ever possible in the old Trade Unions, reformist as well as syndicalist (1).
The industrial unions and workers’ unions that make the individuals themselves, and consequently the masses themselves, the direct fighters, those that really wage the war, are for that very reason the best weapons for the revolution, the weapons we need here in Western Europe, if ever we shall be able without help to overthrow the most powerful capitalism of the world.
But, Comrade, these are only the weaker grounds yet, as compared to the last, main actual reason, which hangs closely together with the principles I have indicated at the beginning. I know none other.
In the Labour movement, and especially, I imagine, in the revolution, there is but one way to prove the example – the example itself, the DEED.
The comrades of the Left Wing believe that this small group, in its fight against the Trade Unions and against Capitalism, will win the Trade Unions to its side, or, which is also possible, that gradually the Trade Unions will be directed towards a better course.
This can be attained only through the example. For the raising of the German worker to a higher level, therefore, these new organisations are absolutely indispensable.
The new formation, the Workers’ Union, must act against the Trade Unions, in exactly the same way as the Communist parties act against the Socialist parties (2).
The servile, reformist, social-patriotic masses can be converted only through example.
Next I come to England: to the English Left Wing.
After Germany, England is nearest to a revolution, not because in that country the situation is revolutionary already, but because the proletariat there is so numerous, and the capitalist and economic conditions most favourable. This is felt, this is almost instinctively known by the most advanced workers of England (as we all feel it), and because they feel this, they have founded a new movement, which, whilst manifesting itself in various directions, and searching as yet, just as in Germany – is in general the rank and file movement, the movement of the masses themselves, without, or practically without leaders (3).
Their movement is very much like the German Workers’ Union and its industrial organisations.
Did you observe, Comrade, that this movement has arisen in two of the most advanced countries only? This proves already in itself that it is of natural growth, and not to be stopped!
Struggle in England Essential.
And in England this movement, this struggle against the Trade Unions, is needed more almost than in Germany, for the English Trade Unions are not only a tool in the hands of the leaders, for the maintenance of capitalism, but they are at the same time far more inefficient as a means for the revolution than those of Germany. England not only has industries where 25 Trade Unions exist, but most of the unions fight one another to the death for members!! Do you also wish to retain these Trade Unions, Comrade Lenin?
Must not these be opposed, split up, and destroyed? If you are against the Workers’ Unions you must also be against the Shop Committees, the Shop Stewards, and the Industrial Unions. For the Communists in either aim at the same things.
The English Communists of the Left Wing wish to use this new trend in the Trade Union movement to destroy the English Trade Unions in their present shape, to alter them, to replace them by new instruments in the class struggle, which can be applied for the revolution. And these IWW need not join the American Trade Unions! this latter must join the Trade Unions, although it is communist, and works in cooperation with the political party.
And you, Comrade Lenin, are in favour of the rank and file movement in England (although this often causes a split, and although many of its members want the destruction of the Trade Unions!) and against the Workers’ Unions in Germany.
Executive Committee’s Opportunism.
I can explain your attitude and that of the Executive Committee only by opportunism; And as soon as the revolution comes, the great masses of workers will leave the old Trade Unions as unserviceable for the revolution, and will join the industrial organisations.
And as the Left Communist Wing penetrates everywhere into this movement, seeking to spread the Communist ideas, it raises the workers by means of its example on to a higher level, also there, and already now. And, as in Germany, that is its real aim (5).
The General Workers’ Unions, and the rank and file movement, which are both founded on the factories, the workshops, and on these alone, are the forerunners of the Workers’ Councils, the Soviets. As the revolution in Western Europe will be very difficult and consequently of probably very long duration, there will be a long period of transition, in which the Trade Unions are no longer any good, and in which there are no Soviets as yet. This period of transition will be filled out with the struggle against the Trade Unions, their re-forming, their replacing by better organisations. The revolution cannot triumph without them.
Hail the Rank and File Movement.
All hail, therefore, the rank and file movement in England, and the Workers’ Unions in Germany, first forerunners of the Soviets in Europe. Good luck to you, the first organisations that, with the Communist parties, will bring the revolution in Western Europe.
You, Comrade Lenin, wish to compel us to use bad weapons here in Western Europe, where we stand alone, without a single ally, against an as yet extremely powerful, extremely organised and armed capitalism, and where we stand in need of the very best of weapons, the very strongest. Where we want to organise the revolution on the shop floor, and on a shop floor basis, you wish to force the miserable Trade Unions on us. The revolution in Western Europe can and must be organised only on the shop floor and on a shop floor basis, because here capitalism has attained such a high economic and political organisation (in all directions) and because the workers (except for the Communist Party) have no other strong weapons. And then YOU recommend the Trade Unions! From psychological, as well as from material grounds, in the midst of the revolution, we MUST fight these Trade Unions, and you try to hinder us in this fight. We wish to raise the proletariat of Europe to a higher level, and you throw stones in our path.
You do not wish them then: the splitting up, the new formations, the higher stage of development!
And why not?
Because you want to have the big parties, and the big Trade Unions, in the Third International.
To us this looks like opportunism, opportunism of the very worst kind (6).
Today, in the International, your actions differ widely from what they were in the Maximalist party. All elements are now to be affiliated: the Trade Unions, the Independents, the French Centre, parts of the Labour Party. It was such in the revolution of the Netherlands against Spain, in the English revolution, in that of France, in the Commune, and in the two Russian revolutions.
In accordance with the development of the Labour movement, there are two trends here in the West-European revolution: the radical and the opportunist trend. But the proletariat will be the victim.
Counter-revolutionary Trade Unions.
You, Comrade, and the Executive in Moscow, know that the Trade Unions in Western Europe are counter-revolutionary forces. You also know that the Workers’ Union, the rank and file movement, are revolutionary organisations. Thus you strive to bring the Trade Unions in your power, in the power of the Third International.
Why is it you wish to do so? Here the evil the leadership-policy, must be seized by the root
Through these your tactics on the Trade Union question you and the Moscow Executive have proved, to my mind, that UNLESS YOU ALTER THESE TACTICS, YOU CANNOT CONDUCT THE REVOLUTION IN WESTERN EUROPE.
You say that the Left Wing, in following its tactics, can only talk.