A. Lozovsky


The Tasks off the Communists
in the Trade Union Movement

(December 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 116, 22 December 1922, pp. 973–975.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Comrades, The discussion which took place yesterday following my report proves to us above all, that we agree in substance and principle. However, certain differences present themselves as regards form and method of practical work of the Communists in the trade unions. In this respect, it seems to me, that some of the comrades expressed themselves incorrectly, I shall begin with Comrade Heckert’s objection.

I pointed out in my speech that in Germany certain incidents occurred when our comrades acted unwisely and the results of their actions had a detrimental effect upon the Communist movement. I will give two examples. The Union of Hand and Brain Workers and the Union of Agricultural Workers.

We fully agree with our comrades, the members of the German Communist Party, that all is not well in the Union. What is the Union of Hand and Brain Workers? It is an organisation embracing various Syndicalist, Communist, and non-Party elements: it contains also a great many backward workers who lack a clear and definite understanding of both the theoretical and practical side of Communism, but who are at the same time, excellent fighting revolutionists. It is evident then, that our forms and methods of action as regards this organisation should differ from methods applied to an organisation directly connected with the Communist Party.

When we have muddle and confusion within the Communist Party we take very decisive Party measures against it of a disciplinary and a political character. When we have confusion in a non-Party organisation then it becomes necessary for us to conduct an educational political, and organisational work so as to raise these non-Party masses to the Communist class consciousness.

Our difference with Comrade Heckert is not whether the work to raise the consciousness of the proletarian masses to the Communist level is necessary or not, but merely as to forms and methods of action. The criticism of our German communists directed against the Union is in the main correct – the Union, in fact, is a confused organization, but the steps taken by our German comrades in connection with the Union were incorrect because they tended to drive away the best revolutionary elements from the Communist Party. A conference of the Party and Trade Union workers which took place in Berlin is quite characteristic of this very fact.

In the Ruhr District during the conflict between the miners and the employers, the old Union proposed to warn the former of the coming strike two weeks ahead. Each individual worker had to hand in notice of the strike. This was a round-about way of acting, but it was possible to bring some pressure thereby upon the employers. Acting in this manner the Reformist Union calculated that the threat of the strike would have a quieting influence upon the employers, who were getting ready to advance upon the masses. But the Unionists declared that these tactics were unacceptable to them. Such tactics are opportunist they declared, we recognise exclusively, revolutionary methods of struggle and refuse to send notices to the employers.

The Party declared itself against the tactics of the Unionists, stating that the Reformists are making a certain definite step, and advising them to do the same, at the same time making it clear to the workers that this step is insufficient; more radical and revolutionary measures of struggle against capital are necessary – at the same time, if you refuse to give notice as the Union of Mine Workers propose, the reformist workers will say that you are merely revolutionary phrase-mongers, and refuse to cooperate in the struggle. The union was wrong in the given case, its action being governed by abstract and internal principles, and not by realities.

We held a conference in Berlin in which Comrade Kolnig, Secretary of the Rhine Westphalian Communist organization, also participated. At this conference I asked Comrade Kolnig the following question: How many members of the Union are in the Rhine Westphalian Organization, and received the answer: 70,000 – and to the question as to the number of members in the Party (he answer was 29,000. And in answer to my last question: How is it possible, having 29,000 members in the party you are unable to influence the Union, Comrade Kolnig frankly stated to me “Confusion reigns among the communists.” My reply was: “If confusion was so great within the party, then it was necessary to clear your own ranks before attempting to eradicate confusion amongst the non-party members of the Union.”

Although in comparison with the general workers’ movement of Germany the strength of the Union is not very great, counting 150,000 members only however, 120,000 of these are mine workers of the Ruhr Basin, a force not to be ignored, but which should be reckoned with, the Profintern and the Comintern was successful in solving the conflict which has just arisen between the Communist Party of Germany and the Union. All the resolutions introduced by the Profintern were finally adopted by the Congress of the Union.

Comrade Heckert puts the following question: How can we organize the workers who are leaving the trade unions? If we took up this work, this fact alone would have caused a split. I think that this question needs careful consideration. Take for example the Union of Agricultural Workers of Germany. This Union comprises perhaps more than 500,000 members. During the course of two years it lost from 200,000 to 300,000 members. The following alternative confronts us: Either we remain passive, or the Communist Party of Germany should take upon itself the task of organizing the workers who have left the Union. Are we to be reproached for splitting the Trade Union movement upon the fact that we are organizing those elements which are leaving the Trade Unions? Of course not. If we fail to organize these workers we cannot be called communists.

For we Marxists, organization is not the end, but a means to achieve our end. We are fighting for unity in the trade union movement, but we cannot sacrifice the organization of hundreds of thousands of workers for the sake of abstract principles.

I shall pass on to France now. Some of the comrades will say that Comrade Lauridan’s speech is a call to arms against syndicalism. I do not share this point of view. His speech is worthy of a communist. Comrade Lauridan related to us common ordinary things, but things that every communist should know. We agree with him that communists should remain communists, at all times, whether in trade unions, Co-operatives – and not act separately as individuals, but should be guided by a united collected communist will. First of all, did the Communist Party of France have a Trade Union policy? It had resolutions upon the Trade Union questions, but it had no Trade Union policy whatsoever, for the reason that it lacked collective influence and will to carry out this Trade Union policy. Our desire is that our practical slogans, our decisions as to methods of class struggle, be accepted by Communists.

And for this purpose there must be unanimity among them even if there are only three of them together. When I arrived at St. Etienne I put the following question to our Communist comrades: How can the fact be explained that three or four thousand anarchists can exert a greater influence in the trade union movement than the Communist Party numbering 100,000 members. Does it signify that one anarchist is worth 50 communists? This is only possible when Communists refuse to carry on communist work and when each individual communist considers himself independent of his Party. If a Communist fails to be aggressive, then he is not a Communist. I do not mean aggression in words, but aggression in deeds, in actual struggle against the bourgeoisie. A Communist should always be in the vanguard. To be a Communist does not signify to merely have a party ticket – it signifies having a firm conviction in the correctness of the Communist programme and tactics.

It is true, that in the organs of the Communist Party, anarcho-syndicalists published articles directed against the Comintern, Profintern, and even against the Communist Party of France? You will admit that it was so. Is it true, that the anarcho-syndicalists conducted their propaganda through the organs of the French Communist Party? Yes, it is true. I could cite hundreds of examples. Is it true that a bloc existed between some of the anarcho-syndicalist and members of the Communist Party? (Lauriden: A secret “agreement” was signed.) Yes, it is true. The Communists, together with the Anarcho-Syndicalists, signed a secret agreement. How did the Communists react to the publication of this agreement? In what manner was this agreement made public? The Central Executive Committee of the Party failed to take any measures to hold those Communists responsible who secretly concluded an agreement directed against Communism and the Communist Party.

Neither the Trade Union Commission nor the Central Committee took any measures against those members of the Party who had signed the anti-Communist agreement. I emphasize the fact that this is abnormal. It is immaterial whether Left or Right or any other comrades fail to fulfill their obligations – the responsibility falls upon all.

One can state the fact, at the present time, that the Party as a whole does not exert the influence in the Trade Union movement of France, corresponding to its strength. If unity of action existed in the Communist Party then its influence would have been ten times as great.

I wish to refer to another, perhaps a delicate question. Prior to the St. Etienne Congress I read an article written by Comrade Frossard, in which he wrote among other things, that “In the Trade Union Movement we follow the fine tradition of Jean Jaurès.” We all deeply honour the memory of Jean Jaurès – but his traditions, nevertheless, are not Communist traditions. One can say this without dishonouring his memory. Jaurès was one of the most prominent leaders of the Second International. He paid with his life for his convictions. But our respect for him should not compel us to assert that all that he did was praiseworthy. No. The tactics of Jaurès are absolutely inapplicable to the Communists, to the Communists Party. If the Communist Parties were to be guided by traditions – then very little would have been accomplished. There are useful traditions which should be reckoned with and foolish traditions which should be cast aside.

The French Trade Union movement has various traditions. The traditions of the industrial proletariat of northern France are quite different from those of the small artisans of Paris. The strength of the industrial districts consists in the fact that the Trade Union movement is interconnected with the political movement. And if one is to consider traditions then I would give the preference to the traditions of northern France.

In conclusion, The Communist Party of France during the whole of its latter period, has not taken a definite stand of its own, but all the time appeared do be overborne by the syndicalists. But the French communists, while admitting the autonomy of the syndicalists, should keep in mind that they themselves are autonomous and independent, and should have the courage to express their own ideas without regard to the syndicalists.

I shall pass on to Italy – to the speech of Comrade Tasca. Comrade Tasca drew a very sad picture and referred even to Bernstein and his Reformism. What facts in my report served as material for the mournful picture as drawn by Comrade Tasca? What frightened him? Is it my expression that it is impossible to bend life to theses, but that one must write theses in conformity with life? This sounded like Bernstein to him; but there is nothing in common between my words and the principles of Bernstein.

The reformists state that it is possible to reach the goal without a revolution, we say however, that in the basis of the daily struggle we shall succeed in organizing a fighting army which will gain victory over the bourgeoisie and will achieve our final aim: Communism. How can we achieve this ideal? This ideal will be achieved differently in the various countries, for the development of the working class is not the same in every country, and we are guided by the various stages of development of each country in the tactics we adopt to reach our final goal. The special development of each country should be taken into account and corresponding tactics applied.

Putting the question thus, is not equivalent to Bernstein’s refusal to attain the final aim. Therefore the tears of Comrade Tasca are unfounded. At the given moment we have strong reformist unions which are in need of great educational work in order to change the ideology of the working masses. Before we attain our goal we must overcome obstacles and historical difficulties.

These difficulties consist in the abnormal relations between some of the Communist Parties and the Trade unions arising on the basis of the traditions of Parliamentary Socialism etc.

What is the essence of the 20th paragraph of my theses? It is stated there that in the countries where the Party is not sufficiently strong and where internal struggle exists, it is essential to establish such relations between the trade unions and the Party which would correspond to the situation at the given moment.

In France, as is well known, a Syndicalist Party was formed within the Trade Unions. Our task is to unite the best elements of the present Communist Party and the Trade Unions.

On the basis of co-operation the best elements of both organizations will get into closer contact, and a real fighting unified Communist Party will arise which will be the actual undisputed vanguard of the French proletariat.

Both the Syndicalist and Communist Parties do not develop along parallel lines; their lines will intersect each other, and when that happens the Communist Party of France will be finally formed.

When we determine the principles of our work for one country or another, we must base ourselves on the existing relation of forces and on the existing relations between the trade union organizations and the party. For this reason we included in our theses clause 20. By inserting it we followed the advice of Lassalle: to state the real facts and speak the truth under all circumstances.

Comrade Tasca said in his speech that the Profintern is no more than a bureau for propaganda and if it should desire to become a centre for the unification of the International revolutionary trade union movement, it will thereby precipitate a split in the world trade union movement. This is an untrue assertion. Of course, we are also a bureau of propaganda, but at the same time we are an organization, and the distinctive feature of the Profintern consists in that it unites revolutionary organizations directly allied to it as well as revolutionary minorities remaining within the Amsterdam trade unions. The Profintern represents a real international organization enjoying immense moral and political influence among the working masses. If we would have decided to separate the working masses which are sympathetic to us from the Amsterdam trade unions and attach them directly and exclusively to the Profintern, we could be working for a split. Not wishing to bring about a split, however, we said: Notwithstanding the greatest obstacles, we shall remain within the Amsterdam trade unions and work there in favour of the Profintern.

Comrade Tasca referred to the Factory Council. This question was discussed at the II. Congress and to my mind there is no need to take up this question now. The Factory Council movement in Germany represents at present a tremendous mass movement. We shall not take up this question now, however, as it will be dealt with in the theses on the general tactics of the Comintern.

Further, when should the national organizations declare their affiliation with the Profintern? This is a question of tactics. When we find in some countries that the general Trade Union centre is on our aide, we tell them: “You must now join the Profintern.” I should like, for the sake of clarifying this question, to cite an example. We proposed to the Italian Confederation of Labour through its official representatives to join the Profintern. These representatives signed with us a formal agreement which they later renounced. But whether the official organization is for us or against us, we are against a split. One thing is clear, we must carry on revolutionary work within the Trade Unions. We must arouse the reformist organizations to action. In every country forms and methods should be devised for ideologically attracting to our side the broad working masses and thus preserve the unity of the Trade Union movement.

Some Trade Union organizations, however, put a wrong construction upon our cautions tactics in the question of affiliation with the Profintern. Thus, in Norway 80% of the organized workers are sympathetic towards us. Twice the central organization of the Norway Trade Unions adopted a resolution calling for affiliation with us, but it still hesitates to take actual steps towards affiliation on account of the 20% of the membership who cling to Amsterdam. Will there be a split, if a Trade Union organization in whose ranks we find only 10% or 20% of reformistically inclined members wishes to formally affiliate with us? Undoubtedly not. We declare: the minority should remain and submit to the majority and we apply this principle when we are in the minority, but the majority should by no means submit to the minority. When our adherents constitute a majority in a given Trade Union organization, it is their duty to bring about a formal affiliation with the Profintern.

Now we shall consider the question of the International Federations. No-one will deny to the International Propaganda Committee the right to conduct propaganda on a National or International scale. Any Trade Union, joining a propaganda organization still remains a member of a corresponding International Federation. It continues its work in the International Federation, endeavouring to alienate as large as possible a number of organizations from its ideological influence and to imbue them with our political views. We have no desire to split the International Federations. When the Russian and Bulgarian Trade Unions asked to be admitted to the International Federations, they were shown the door. They returned and were driven out once more. They returned for the sake of avoiding a split. However, when the Amsterdamers represent only the Trade Union officialdom and the working masses are solidly behind us, we shall not abstain from creating our own international organizations.

The last question we shall deal with is the question of Czecho-Slovakia. In Czecho-Slovakia we have at the present time two types of Trade Union organizations, the split in Czechoslovakia occurred approximately in the same manner as in France. Here too, mass expulsions of revolutionary workers were used, and then the minority organised and convened a congress for the restoration of unity.

At the present time we are confronted with an accomplished fact. We have there two parallel organizations. I shall emphasize one characteristic feature of the activity of our comrades in Czechoslovakia. About 10 months ago the communists had the opportunity to elect a majority for the Congress of the central trade union organizations in Czecho-Slovakia. What happened? In Czecho-Slovakia, though less than in France, there is a considerable number of communists who want to be independent of the Party. There is in Czecho-Slovakia a large federation of agricultural workers; it is headed by comrade Bohn. Shortly before the Congress this federation suspended the payment of membership dues to the Amsterdam International, and continued so for six months, with the result that its representatives were not admitted to the Congress. What did the Party do? Nothing. It should be emphasised that comrade Bohn, head of the Federation of Agricultural Workers, is also a member of the Central Executive of the Communist Party. The Communists would have had as strong a delegation as the reformists, if 50 of our comrades would not have remained outside the Congress, as a result of the refusal to nay membership dues. But at the time the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was afraid to obtain a majority at the Congress, for it would have been faced with many difficulties. What was the final result? The reformists expelled the revolutionary unions and brought about a split in the Trade Union movement under conditions much less favourable for our comrades than would have existed before.

On my way back from St. Etienne I had a consultation with the Comrades of Czecho-Slovakia and we worked out certain ways and means to forestall this split. We adopted a number of methods and clearly stated that we did not want a split.

There is still one question which I want to dwell upon. At their Congress, our Czecho-Slovakian comrades decided to create a united organisation i.e., to do away with separate federations (similar to what has been done in France in the department of Moselle; different industrial federations were to become sections of a united trade union organisation of the entire country). When the comrades set out this plan to us, we said to them: “Be careful, this is your future organisation, and not the present.” At the present time we still find among the communistically inclined workers many who are imbued with craft prejudices which are hard to overcome, and the attempt to create at once a completely unified organisation will undoubtedly arouse opposition within our own ranks.

We shall discuss this question at greater length at the Congress of the Profintern where the organisation questions and the questions of the inter-relationship between the local sections and the centre will be dealt with most exhaustively. We should state, however, that the Comintern and the Profintern warned the comrades to be careful for they will encounter many difficulties, because resistance will be met even in their own ranks.

My conclusion will be extraordinarily simple International communism at the present time represents a very great force. It is the only revolutionary power in the world. We discuss questions pertaining to a single country in such death, only because incorrect tactics in one country affect other countries. The vacillations of our ranks in one country weaken our united communist front and retard the movement of International communism. We want to have our work organised in all countries in such a manner as to assure the growth of our influence from day to day. We do not care to have a French communism, a Dutch or German communism, as was the case in the Second International, where socialism has a national character. We differ from the other Internationals in that the Comintern and the Profintern are real world organisations in which international interests supersede national interests.

By mutual criticism and by collective work and collective deliberation upon our lines of policy in each country we shall enable the Comintern to grow stronger and lead the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism forward to final victory.

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