The Enlarged Executive: Seventh Day of Session

Report on the Trade Union Question

(19 June 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 23 No. 49, 12 July 1923, pp. 495–496.
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June 19, 1923

The decomposition of reformism has been going on for some time in the international trade union movement. It was aggravated by the constitution of the Communist International. The will of the workers to conduct class war gave rise to the slogan of the united front which was formulated by the Communist International and the Red International Trade Union and which gives concrete expression to the desires of the workers for unity of class action.

The organisers of the Peace Congress of The Hague did not suspect that this great demonstration would discredit them profoundly. But three weeks later the occupation of the Ruhr revealed the impotence and the duplicity of the reformist internationals. When the moment came for putting their resolutions into practice, they turned out to be absolutely impotent. Since then, the working masses have begun to understand the gravity of the international situation better. The Frankfurt Conference held in March already reflected certain definite changes of outlook. There one could observe Social-democratic and independent socialist fractions declaring their preference for a united front with the Communists to a united front with the bourgeoisie. A left tendency began to assert its influence within the Amsterdam International without the leaders perceiving it. The reformist leaders hoped to save the situation at Hamburg. The essential character of the Hamburg Congress is best expressed in the following sentence of the opening speech made by the German Social-Democrat, Wels: “The stronger we are against Communism, the stronger we shall be against reaction”.

The Congress had not yet ended before the International Congress of Transport Workers clearly demonstrated flip change of outlook that had been taking place amongst the reformists themselves.

If it is true that our tactic of the United Front has made access to the mass organisations possible, it follows that every Communist Party must apply and develop this tactic. The Congress of Transport Workers has already given a practical programme of action for the United Front. It decided to create an international committee of transport workers to fight against Fascism and war and to create commissions at the ports, at the frontier stations, and on the main railways, to control the movement of raw material. It also decided to summon an international congress of transport workers in which all the trade unions concerned should participate. We thus see that the creation of the United Front is the first step leading to the reconstruction of the Trade Union Movement.

When the reformist leaders enter into negotiations with us on the question pf a United Front, they impose on us conditions which we cannot accept, notably the demand for the cessation of our polemical attacks – as if we make them for pleasure. In certain communist circles the idea is prevalent that the United Front is equivalent to an armistice with the reformists. Nothing could be more incorrect. It is only an armistice for the purpose of action and when the reformists really serve the cause of the proletariat.

The Transport Workers' Congress showed how an agreement between the revolutionaries and the left wing of Amsterdam was possible. The agreement was reached upon the following program:

  1. The defence of Soviet Russia as the centre of the proletarian resistance to world reaction.
  2. The fight against the danger of war by means of mass action.
  3. The creation of an International Committee of Action consisting of equal representation from: both sides, to conduct action and propaganda against war and Fascism.
  4. The permanent control of transport of raw material.
  5. The summoning of a World Congress of Transport Workers for the purpose re-establishing national and international unity.
  6. The joint defence of the Transport workers of all countries who have suffered from Fascism. A common fund for giving assistance in such cases.
  7. A joint appeal from the International Federation of Transport Workers and the Russian Trade Unions to The railwaymen and seamen of all countries.
  8. An incessant propaganda against Fascism as the weapon of the bourgeois class.
  9. Utilisation of the parliamentary platform against Fascism.
  10. Armed resistance to Fascism.
  11. The supervision of the movements of Facisti.
  12. Contact and collaboration with all workers’ organisations interested in this matter.
  13. Educational work amongst Transport Workers to counteract reactionary influences.
  14. Recognition of the necessity for re-establishing Trade Union unity. An appeal to all international and national organisations inviting them to follow the example of the Transport Workers.
  15. Recognition of the principle that joint action is impossible except on the basis of the class war.

This agreement was made possible because the leaders of the International Federation of Transport Workers had lost faith in their former tactics and themselves decided that there was no issue except in a bloc with the left wing.

Of course, the German reformist leaders are working to destroy the effect of these resolutions. The French delegate, Bidegarray, is doing the same, but is meeting with the resistance of his own followers. Rivellie of the Seamens’ Union, in an article entitled With Fimmen expressed himself in favour of the Berlin resolutions. Even the Amsterdam International, in an extremely elastic resolution, stated that it was not bound by the Berlin agreements. This moderation is an indication of tear. It feels the blow but fears to attack its right wing. It would like to nullify the decisions of the Transport Workers’ Conference, but dares not, act openly, in order to achieve the United Front, we have displayed, a great spirit of conciliation. The programme of the Transport Workers must now be made to serve for the whole international trade union movement.

We are faced with two forms of resistance: that of the reformist secessionists and that of the revolutionaries who wish to remain in the independent groups which necessity has caused to be created. In our opinion the fight for unity must be engaged in by everybody.

The factory councils arc at one and the same time a product and a weapon of revolution. They grow with revolution and fade when the revolution slackens. In the period of intense mass activity which is about to commence, an energetic campaign must be carried on in the Factory Councils, or to create Factory Councils where they do not exist. Certain militants wish to replace the Trade Union by the Factory Council. We, on the contrary, think that the Factory Council will be the basis of the Trade Union. That has been the experience of the Russian Revolution.

The fundamental principle of the Trade Union Movement is organisation on the basis of class and not on the basis of the nation. We are resolutely opposed to all divisions of the trade unions on a national basis, more so than on a political basis. This gives rise to certain real difficulties.

Our Parties and Trade Unions have done too little for the Trade Unions Movement in the Colonies. While the British Trade Unions and the Labor Party are cleverly instituting themselves into India in order to govern, our British Communist Party is doing nothing of the kind. It is however certain that we shall not be victorious before having to appeal to the activity and the initiative of the British workers.

In Spain there are two parallel confederations, the one reformist and Ihe other revolutionary. The former has excluded the revolutionary groups, and this faces us with an important practical problem. Should those excluded from the Union of Workers go into the National Confederation? Our Spanish comrades of the R.I.L.U. have decided that they should, while our comrades of the Spanish Communist Party have decided for the formation of new autonomous groups. I|t is necessary to fight for the re-inclusion of the excluded members, but if we are faced with two parallel organisations, the existence of isolated autonomous trade unions is just as rational. In Germany there are, in the free trade unions, powerful bodies of militant members of the R.I.L.U. and of the Communist Party. Here the maintenance of the excluded Trade Unions fighting for their reinclusion is far more important than their organic fusion with the union of manual and intellectual workers.

In America the struggle between the Trade Union Educational League and the small independent Trade Unions is continuing. The merit of the League is that it has overcome the pernicious custom of parallel Trade Union organisations. The League is performing a great work. The best method would be to create committees of action, or commissions for co-ordinating the action of the different groups. In a word, the important thing is to concentrate the opposition movement everywhere, to put an end to division and to pass from the unity of the revolutionary movement to the unity of the Trade Union movement.

The speaker went on to point out how great was the mistake of those who wished to wind up the R.I.L.U. The successes achieved by the R.I.L.U. are incontestable. He criticised the attitude of the British Communist Party on the Trade Union question. It is paying too little attention to the question and is not assisting the work of the British Bureau of the R.I.L.U. In Norway, the question of affiliating with the R.I.L.U. has been discussed for three years without result. We believed for some time that our Norwegian comrades were in agreement on fundamentals and only postponed formal affiliation for tactical reasons. But it appears that this is not the case. They have left Amsterdam, but do not desire to send a delegate, even in the capacity of consultant and reporter, to the forthcoming session or the General Council of the R.I.L.U.

In other words, the Norwegian Labor Party is advancing backwards. We have the greatest concern for unity. When in Holland, as a result of the referendum, the partisans of the R.I.L.U. received 7,300 votes as against 6,400, we advised the Dutch Secretariat not to affiliate to the R.I.L.U. in order to avoid a split. But would the unity of the Norwegian Trade Union Movement suffer if a Norwegian delegate were at the present moment in Moscow? No. The Norwegian Labor Party is committing a great error in not working systematically for the R.I.L.U.

In a word, the R.I.L.U. has become a great force. It must however be recognised that the successes obtained by the Communist Parties in the Trade Union movement are far from corresponding with the relation of forces within the working class. It may be said in general that the Communist Parties are not sufficiently active inside the trade union Movement. Every communist should understand that our most important and immediate task is to conquer the trade unions.

The prospects are excellent. The failure of the reformist Internationals has caused the international working class movements to gravitate towards the Communist International and the R.I.L.U? Many years will not pass before the reformists are dislodged from all their positions. What is necessary is work, work, work!

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