A. Lozovsky
Marx and the Trade Unions

Chapter VIII
Marx and the Strike Movement

Fighting against the overestimation as well as underestimation of the economic struggle and the trade unions, Marx and Engels paid maximum attention to strikes and the economic struggle of the proletariat. Both Marx and Engels considered the strike a powerful weapon of struggle for the immediate and ultimate aims of the working class. The transformation of the scattered workers into a class which proceeded during the course of a desperate struggle is classically described in the Communist Manifesto—this vivid and unfading document of world communism. The Communist Manifesto graphically describes the birth of the bourgeoisie and its grave-digger—“the modem working class—a class of labourers who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital.” (1)

Here is what we read in the Communist Manifesto on the ways and means of “organising the proletariat into a class”:

The proletariat goes through various stages of development. With its birth begins its struggle with the bourgeoisie. At first the contest is carried on by individual labourers, then by the work people of a factory, then by the operatives of one trade, in one locality, against the individual bourgeois, who directly exploits them. They direct their attacks not against the bourgeois conditions of production, but against the instruments of production themselves; they destroy imported wares that compete with their labour, they smash to pieces machinery, they set factories ablaze, they seek to restore by force the vanished status of the workman of the Middle Ages.

At this stage the labourers still form an incoherent mass, scattered over the whole country, and broken up by their mutual competition....

But with the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more! … the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon the workers begin to form combinations (trades unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there the contest breaks out into riots.

Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battle lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever-expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that places the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes. But every class struggle is a political struggle.

This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier. (2)

In his book, Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, Engels devotes much space to the unceasing struggle of the British working class to improve its condition. He considers strikes a school of war, a necessary and compulsory weapon in the struggle for the emancipation of the working class. Engels studied the conditions and the struggle of the British proletariat in the first decades of the nineteenth century, when the workers’ struggles were to a considerable degree spontaneous in character. Strong revolutionary sensitiveness was required for anyone to find his way in the maze of events of that time and correctly to appraise the true character of the strike movement that went on while the workers were being vilified to the utmost by “impartial” bourgeois scientists. Here is what Engels writes:

In war the injury of one party is the benefit of the others, and since workingmen are on a war footing towards their employers, they do merely what great potentates do when they seize each other by the throat....

The incredible frequency of these strikes proves best of all to what extent the social war has broken out all over England.... These strikes, at first skirmishes, sometimes result in weighty struggles; they decide nothing, it is true, but they are the strongest proof that the decisive battle between bourgeoisie and proletariat is approaching. They are the school of war of the workingmen in which they prepare themselves for the great struggle which cannot be avoided; they are the pronunciamentos of single branches of industry that these too have joined the labour movement.... And as schools of war they are unexcelled. In them is developed the peculiar courage of the English....

It is in truth no trifle for a workingman, who knows want from experience, to face it with his wife and children, to ensure hunger and wretchedness for months together, and to stand firm and unshaken through it all. What is death, what the galleys which await the French revolutionist, in comparison with gradual starvation, with the daily sight of a starving family, with the certainty of future revenge on the part of the bourgeoisie, all of which the English workingman chooses in preference to subjection under the yoke of the property-holding class.... People who endure so much to bend one single bourgeois will be able to break the power of the whole bourgeoisie. (3)

Engels, as we see, emphasises that the strike is one of the varieties of social war, that strikes are indispensable as a school of war. He fights against the underestimation of strikes, against verbal revolutionism, against a haughty, disdainful attitude towards the economic struggle of the workers, he stresses that great stores of courage, self-sacrifice, devotion and firmness are necessary for strikes and that the army of the proletariat is created and forged precisely in these preliminary battles. This viewpoint of Engels was shared by Marx.

The great importance that Marx attached to the strike movement and the organisation of solidarity among the strikers, to the struggle against bringing the blacklegs from other countries, can be seen from the minutes of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association. These minutes, despite their brevity, clearly show how much attention Marx and the First International founded by him paid to the task of rallying the trade unions and getting them to render help to the strikers. Here are a few excerpts from these minutes:

On April 25, 1865, a letter was read from the compositors of Leipzig referring to their strike and expressing the hope that the London compositors would assist them. The General Council sends a delegation composed of Fox, Marx and Cremer to attend a meeting of the Compositors’ Society of London and to inform them of the letter from Leipzig. On May 9, 1865, Fox gave a report of the fact that the delegation had been to the meeting of the compositors, but that the London compositors declared that it was not possible to grant money for a period of three months, so that the delegation had therefore failed in its effort. On May 23, 1865, a letter was read from Lyons from the workers of the tulle factories, in connection with an attack upon their wages. On June 20, 1865, a report was heard to the effect that the Lille weavers’ society would most likely join the I.W.A. Then also a letter from Lyons was read where it was stated that the workers had to retreat as a result of the shortage of means for existence. On January 30, 1866, attention was called to the fact that the London trade union was discussing the question of Boards of Arbitration. On March 27 a report was made on the strike of the tailors in London and that in London they now intended to get men from the Continent to supplant those on strike. The General Council decided that the Continental Secretaries be informed, with the view to keep continental workmen away from London during the struggle. On April 4, 1866, a delegate from the wire-makers thanked the Council for its attempts to prevent the employers from getting workers from the Continent to take the place of the strikers. On May 22 a letter from Geneva was read on the outbreak of a strike among the bootmakers, and the request to inform all workers. The Geneva Strikers’ Committee requested that communications to this effect should be sent to other countries. A delegation was then elected to set up contacts with the Stratford Lodge of bricklayers and cabinetmakers, who “promised to join the Association” not in words but in deeds. On September 28, 1869, a letter was read from the paper-stainers of New York, asking the Council to use its influence to prevent the importation of men to defeat the workers now on strike. Then also a letter was read from the silk-printers and block-cutters of Hilden, asking help because of a strike, and also a letter from the basket-makers, in connection with a lockout. The Secretary was instructed to reply that there was no prospect of financial help. On October 12, 1869, a letter was read concerning the strike of the wool spinners in Elboeuf, the latter asking for help. The spinners insisted upon a list of fixed prices. On November 26, 1869, Marx communicated that he had received a letter from Hanover, where the engineers had been out on strike for six weeks against the lengthening of the working day and reduction in wages. On January 4, 1870, in reply to the request of the Executive of the Social-Democratic Party for loans for the miners of Waldenburg now on strike, the secretaries were instructed to reply that “there were no prospects of help from London.” On January 11, 1870, a letter was read from Nouveille-sur-Saône, asking for help for the cotton-printers on strike. The secretary was instructed to communicate with Manchester concerning this strike. On April 18, 1870, a letter from Varlin states that he had been to Lille to inaugurate a trade union organisation under the auspices of the Association. Then also Dupont called attention to the severe sentences passed upon the miners as a result of the strike. Dupont and Marx were appointed to draw up a special appeal. The meeting of the General Council on May 31, 1870, received a delegation from the striking ironfounders of Paris. On June 14, 1870, the secretary reported that the Amalgamated Engineers had proposed a levy of twopence throughout the Association for the ironfounders on strike in Paris. On June 21, 1870,the General Council discussed the Geneva lock-out. In connection with the lock-out Marx was appointed to draft an appeal to all working-class organisations and branches of the Association on the continent of Europe and the United States, calling for aid to strikers. On June 20, 1870, a communication was read to the effect that the Amalgamated Engineers had resolved to make a loan to the ironfounders of Paris. The Council resolved that the secretary of the Engineers bring the money to Paris not only to ensure its safe delivery, but because of the “good moral effects.” (4)

These few excerpts from the minutes of the General Council bear witness to the important rôle that questions of strikes and the struggle against strike-breaking, etc., play in the work of the First International. This does not mean that the General Council occupied itself only with such questions. The General Council of the First International occupied itself also with great political problems. But one of the specific traits of the First International consisted in the fact—and this is doubtless one of the great merits of Marx—that at meetings of the General Council problems of the strike struggles received much attention, and that there was no artificial dividing line between politics and economics—both were discussed, decisions were adopted on both questions and often “Dr. Marx” was very modestly instructed to go to some meeting of a trade union, to draw up a leaflet in connection with some strike, to write to some specific country and call upon its workers to wage a campaign against the sending of strike-breakers, etc. Marx very correctly considered this to be an integral part of his general political activity.

The significance that Marx attached to these questions can be seen from the following instance. On April 23, 1866, Marx wrote to Engels:

The situation in the International is as follows: Since my return discipline has been completely restored. Besides, the successful interference by the International in the tailors strike (by means of letters of the secretaries for France, Belgium, etc.) caused a sensation among the local trade unions. (5)

This interference of the International in strikes made it extremely popular. The workers from all countries began to write to the International whenever they discovered difficulties. On March 22, 1867, Marx was happy to write to Engels:

Our International celebrated a great victory. We secured monetary aid for the striking bronze workers of Paris from the British trade unions. As soon as the bosses saw this they gave in. This business has caused a great deal of noise in the French papers, and we are now an established force in France. (6)

In some sections of the employers, legendary rumours began to spread about the force and power of the International Workingmen’s Association. Marx attached great importance to giving practical aid in the struggle of the workers against capitalism.

At the Geneva Congress of the International, in 1866, he submitted the following resolution:

One of the special functions of the Association, which has already been executed on different occasions with great success, is to oppose the intrigues of the capitalists, who are always ready in case of stoppage or lock-out to misuse workers of foreign lands as instruments for frustrating the demands of the native workers.... This is one of the major aims of the Association … that the workers of the different countries should not only feel like brothers but also know how to act as united parts of the army of emancipation. (Resolution on International Mutual Aid in the Struggle of Labour Against Capital.) (7)

The significance attached by Marx to the question of strikes and practical solidarity in connection with strikes can be gathered, for example, from his letter to Engels of August 18, 1869. In this letter he expressed his pleasure because the Paris bronze workers had returned the forty-five pounds that they had borrowed. Further on he writes:

In Posen, as Zabicky informs us, the Polish workers (carpenters, etc.) have emerged victorious from their strike through the aid rendered them by their Berlin fellow workers. This struggle against Monsieur le Capital—even in the subordinate form of a strike—disposes of national prejudices in a manner quite different from the bourgeoisie ranting about peace. (8)

We have read a number of appeals, written by Marx upon the instructions of the General Council, in connection with large-scale strikes of that period. Thus, for example, Marx drafted the appeal to the workers of Europe and the United States concerning the mass murders in 1869; the striking puddlers and miners in St. Etienne and Fremeriés (Belgium): Marx pillories the “heroic impetuousness” of the Belgian cavalry at St. Etienne and the “unshakable driving power” of the Belgian infantry in Fremeriés; he writes that “some politicians trace these incredible deeds to motives of sublime patriotism,” that the Belgian capitalist is famous for his eccentric passion for what he calls “liberty of labour.” Marx ridiculed the fact that the members of the International in Belgium had been arrested on the charge of “belonging to an Association founded for the purpose of attacking the lives and property of individuals....” He characterises the Belgian Constitutionalists as follows:

There is but one small country in the civilised world where the war power exists solely to butcher striking workers, where every strike is eagerly and with malicious joy turned into an official pretext for massacring the workers. That country of single blessedness is Belgium, the model state of continental constitutionalism, the smug, well-hedged paradise of the landlord, the capitalist and the priest.

The earth is not more certain to perform its annual revolution than the Belgian government its yearly massacre of workers. This year’s massacre does not differ from that of last year except in the ghastly number of its holocaust, the more hideous atrocities of an otherwise ridiculous military, the noisier jubilation of the clerical and capitalist press and the more insolent frivolousness of the pretext advanced by the government’s butchers. (9)

This brilliant leaflet ends with a call to collect funds to help the families of the strikers and to defray “the expenses incident upon the legal defence of the arrested workmen and the inquiry proposed by the Brussels Committee.”

This is not the only leaflet written by Marx. Marx wrote a leaflet in connection with the lockout of the building workers in Geneva in 1870, calling on the building trades workers of all countries to “render moral and material aid in their struggle against capitalist despotism.” The appeal exhorts all workers not to permit blacklegging and to realise the fact that the “labour problem is not a temporary and local problem, but a problem of world historic significance.”

On the instructions of the General Council Marx drafted a leaflet on behalf of the striking German tailors in London, addressed to their colleagues in Germany. In this leaflet Marx, among other things, defines “collective agreement,” a definition that characterises Marx’s attitude towards questions of the economic struggle. “The agreement proposed by the employers has been accepted by the workers,” Marx writes, “but this agreement of April 6 can be considered only a truce.” (10)

Of exceptional interest, from the point of view of Marx’s appraisal of the strike movement, is the report written by him for the Fourth Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association held in Basle in 1869:

The report of your General Council [writes Marx] will mainly relate to the guerilla fights between Capital and Labour—we mean the strikes which, during the last year, have perturbed the continent of Europe and were said to have sprung neither from the misery of the labourer nor from the despotism of the capitalist, but from secret intrigues of our Association. (11)

Further on Marx speaks about the “economic revolt” of the Basle workers and about the fact that the “Norman weavers rose against the encroachment of Capital,” in spite of the fact that they had not had any organisation. Thanks to the intervention of the International Association the London workers responded to this strike. “It gave rise to the birth of trade unions at Rouen, Elboeuf and Doriatal and their environs and it sealed anew the bond of fraternity between the English and French working-class.”

Further on Marx continues:

The dance of economic revolts was opened at Lyons by the silk winders, most of them females. In their distress they appealed to the International which, mainly by the aid of its members, helped them to carry the day.... At Lyons, as before at Rouen, the female workers played a noble and prominent part in the movement.... Other Lyons trades have since followed in the track of the silk winders. Since ten thousand new members were thus gained by us in a few weeks from among that heroic population, which more than thirty years ago inscribed upon its banner the watchword of the modem proletariat: “Vivre en travaillant, ou mourir en combattant” (Either live and work or die fighting). (12)

Marx further describes the struggle and persecution of the workers in Austria, Prussia and Hungary and gives an interesting example of how the Hungarian Minister for Home Affairs, von Wenckheim, “puffing and blowing at his cigar,” questioned the workers’ delegation which came to him to get permission to open a club:

Are you a workman? Do you work hard? For nothing else you have to care. You do not want public clubs and if you dabble in politics, we shall know what measure to take against you. I shall do nothing for you. Let the workmen grumble to their hearts’ content. (13)

Passing over to England Marx wrote:

No wonder, then, that England also had this year to boast of its own workmen’s massacre [among the Welsh coal miners.—A. L.]. The Welsh jury were a narrowly prejudiced class jury, and brought in a verdict of justifiable homicide. (14)

This report to the Basle Congress is of great interest, for here Marx gathered many facts not only concerning the strike movement of the period, but also concerning the repressions against the members of the International Workingmen’s Association.

The interference of the First International in the strike movement caused alarm among the bourgeoisie of all countries: the Geneva employers growled that the local members of the International were ruining the Canton of Geneva by submitting to decrees sent from London. In Basle the capitalists “transformed at once their private feuds with their men into a State crusade against the International Workingmen’s Association.” They dispatched a special messenger with the fantastic commission of ascertaining the dimensions of the general “treasury box” of the International. We read in the report to the Basle Congress that an official Brussels investigator thought it hidden in a certain strongbox kept in a secret place. He got at it, opened it forcibly and lo! it contained only some pieces of coal. Marx ironically adds: “Perhaps touched by the hand of the police the pure gold of the International turns at once into coal.”

The government Press of France, “paid as it is to mis-state and misinterpret unpleasant facts,” reported that the strikes were called on the secret orders of the central Council and its emissaries, and hinted broadly that the International was in the service of a foreign government, while the strike was the result of some foreign Machiavelli, who had known how to win the good graces of this all-powerful Association. (15)

After the Commune and the famous appeal of the International Workingmen’s Association, the slanders multiplied. In the report to the Hague Congress, in 1872, Marx quoted dozens of facts, illustrating the fury and malice against the International Workingmen’s Association. Jules Favre, immediately after the suppression of the Commune, sent a note to all the governments recommending joint action against the International. Bismarck and the Pope of Rome immediately responded and a meeting took place between the Emperors of Austria and Germany in Salzburg to draw up measures against the International Workingmen’s Association.

Marx, in his report to the Hague Congress, wrote:

However, all measures of repression which the ingenuity of various European governments could devise, pale before the campaign of slander which was launched by the lying power of the civilised world. Apocryphal stories and secrets of the International, shameless forgery of public documents and private letters, sensational telegrams, etc., follow one upon another: all the floodgates of calumny which the mercenary bourgeois press had at its disposal were suddenly thrown open and let loose a cataclysm of defamation designed to engulf the hated foe. This campaign of calumny does not possess its match in history, so truly international is the scene on which it is enacted, and so complete is the agreement with which the most various party organs of the ruling classes conduct it. After the great fire in Chicago, the news was sent round the world by telegram that this fire was the hellish act of the International, and indeed it is to be wondered at that the hurricane which devastated the West Indies was not likewise attributed to this same satanic influence. (16)

“Instructions” from London, secret emissaries, heaps of gold, forgery of documents and streams of slander and vilification—how modem it all is and how this same struggle, only on a broader scale, is being carried on by the international bourgeoisie against the Comintern to-day! To the ravings of international capital, their correspondents from the secret service departments and their spies, Marx replied: “It is not the International that threw the workers into strikes, but on the contrary, the strikes threw the workmen into the arms of the International.” (17)

The Proudhonists and Bakuninists, as is known, had originally been against the trade unions and against strikes, but afterwards they turned through 180 degrees and became energetic defenders of the trade unions, considering them the only form for workers’ associations, and strikes as the only form of struggle. On the question of strikes, Bakunin based himself on the premise that “economic demands form the sum and substance of the International” and that “resistance funds and trade unions form the only effective means of struggle, which at the present time the workers can have at their disposal against the bourgeoisie.” Adhering to this absolute basis—Bakunin always thought in the absolute and did not understand dialectics—he announced his formulation of the significance and development of the strike movement. Here is what Bakunin wrote:

The strike is the beginning of the social war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, so far still within the framework of the law. Strikes represent a valuable method of struggle from two angles: first of all, they electrify the masses, steel their moral energy and rouse in their hearts the consciousness of the deep antagonism between their interests and the interests of the bourgeoisie: every day they come to see more and more vividly the precipice that separates them from this class: and, secondly, they greatly facilitate the awakening of the consciousness and the establishment of solidarity between the workers of all trades, of all localities and all countries—such is the dual effect, on the one hand negative and on the other hand positive, which aims directly at creating a new proletarian world, placing it almost completely in opposition to the bourgeois world.

Who does not know how much the workmen are obliged to suffer and sacrifice in each and every strike? However, strikes are necessary; so necessary that without them it would be impossible either to rouse the masses of the people for the social struggle or to organise them. The strike is a war, and the masses organise only during times of war and by means of war, which wrests every workman away from his usual, senseless, desolate and hopeless solitude; war suddenly united him with all other workmen in the name of the same desire, the same purpose, and convinces all in a most graphic and tangible way of the necessity to organise on a solid basis if they want to emerge victorious. The indignant masses are as molten metal which is poured and fused into one solid mass and can be formed more easily than cold metal, provided good masters are found who can fuse it according to the properties and laws inherent in the given metal, in accordance with the demands and instincts of the masses.

Strikes awaken all social-revolutionary instincts in the masses, which are concealed in the inner recesses of every workman; as a matter of fact they form his historical social-psychological being; however, in usual times, under the yoke of slave habits and general humility, he confesses to only very few of them. But when these instincts, roused by the economic struggle, awaken in the midst of the working masses, the propagation of social-revolutionary ideas among them becomes extremely easy. For these ideas are nothing but the purest and truest expression of the instincts of the people....

Every strike is all the more valuable since it extends and deepens the gulf between the bourgeois class and the masses, for it proves to the workmen in the plainest way the absolute incompatibility of their interests with the interests of the capitalists and owners.... As a matter of fact, there is no better means of wresting the workmen away from the political influence of the bourgeoisie than a strike....

Yes, the strike is a great weapon; it creates, multiplies, organises and forms the workers’ troops—troops that will have to conquer and smash the bourgeois state power and prepare a broad and free soil for a new world. (18)

If we compare these lyrics, which include also some correct points, with what Marx writes in his first volume of Capital, we shall at once see the difference between the dialectician and the metaphysician. Marx writes about concrete strikes, gives dozens of examples of workers’ actions, describes what influence these had on working hours, wages, labour legislation, etc. Bakunin is not interested in factory laws, for he does not see the connection between partial demands and the final goal. He thinks that every strike may develop into a revolution. Marx is interested in the scope within which the trade union can act, Bakunin does not bother about this. Bakunin treated the question of strikes the same as all the anarchists treated the question of the State, about which Lenin writes in his State and Revolution. The points that are correct in the anarchist programme concerning the question of the State—the final aim, a society with neither classes nor State—the anarchists mixed with so much metaphysical syrup that they drowned the very possibility of ever reaching this stage in the development of humanity. The same with regard to the strike—they ascribed so many miraculous virtues to it—the anarchists fairly rave about the strike as “the redeemer”—that it is hard to define its character and scope, its limits, its consequences and its relation to other forms of struggle. What then is the scope of action of the trade unions and of strikes? Marx replied to this exhaustively in his dispute with Weston:

At the same time and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never-ceasing encroachments of Capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economic reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wages system!” (19)

Here we have come to one of the central points in the teachings of Marx on strikes. We have already seen that Marx and Engels referred to strikes as “social war,” as “economic revolt,” “real civil war,” “guerilla war,” “school of war,” “advance guard collisions,” that they wrote about strikes being dangerous for the régime, etc., and now Marx writes that the economic strike is a “struggle against effects and not against causes, that it is a palliative, but not a cure.” Is there not some contradiction here, or perhaps Marx changed his original viewpoint? No, neither the one nor the other. The fact is that on the question of strikes, Marx had to deal blows to the “Right” and “Left” Among the British trade unions at that time the opinion crystallised that strikes were disadvantageous to the workers. “We believe,” said Allan, one of the leaders of the trade unions, to the Royal Commission in 1867, “that strikes are a senseless, ridiculous waste of money not only for the workers, but also for the employer.” (20)

Marx energetically fought against the bourgeois theory that strikes were simply a waste of forces and means, proving the vast significance of strikes for turning the proletariat into a class. On the other hand, anarcho-syndicalist ideas began to spread in the ranks of the First International to the effect that the economic strike was the only means of struggle. This is why Marx sharply raised that question, saying that the task was to direct the energy of the masses to struggle against the causes of exploitation, though recognising at the same time the importance of the struggle against the effects of exploitation.

In the letter to Bolte which we quoted above, Marx indicated how individual economic demands of the workers develop into political movements, i.e., into the movement of a class. Here more than ever before quantity rapidly changes into quality. From all the teachings of Marx and Engels we see that economic collisions are of great political significance; however, the point is the degree, the proportion of this significance. If an economic strike bears the nature of a spontaneous outburst, it does not lose its political significance because of this—“spontaneity is the primitive form of consciousness” (Lenin). The political significance of this strike depends upon the size and scope of the movement. Even where the strike is on a broad scale, if the leaders from the very outset lead it into narrow craft channels the political edge of the strike is blunted and it is immediately deprived of its chief content—it can no longer yield the political results which it could have yielded originally; if a strike which has purely economic demands as its point of departure is from the very beginning consciously directed along the line of combining it with the political struggle, it yields maximum effects. Marx knew that the economic strike was an important weapon in the hands of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, since everything that deals a blow to the capitalists deals a blow also to the capitalist system. He considered it necessary and important to emphasise that a narrow and limited economic struggle “cannot change the direction of capitalist development.”

From this conception of Marx, that a purely economic struggle is a struggle against effect, but not against causes, some attempted to create the theory that before the war all economic strikes had been of a defensive character and only since the beginning of the general crisis of capitalism have all strikes acquired an offensive character. This idea can be found in the book of Fritz David, Bankruptcy of Reformism, rich in facts and statistics, but containing a number of incorrect formulations. Such a classification of economic strikes into defensive and offensive strikes is incorrect and politically harmful, for it is not based on real life; for real life tells us that prior to the war there had been offensive strikes (strikes for higher wages, shorter working hours), while to-day also defensive strikes are waged. It is wrong to divide defensive and offensive movements according to periods of time; they must be classified according to the analysis of every concrete strike, the action of the trade union and the rôle of the workers in that strike. It is possible to fight against the effects of capitalism by defensive as well as offensive means.

The viewpoint of Marx must be considered in connection with what he said in his Poverty of Philosophy, that:

In this struggle—a veritable civil war—are united and developed all these elements necessary for a future battle; once having reached this point, association takes on a political character.

Quoting this excerpt from The Poverty of Philosophy, Lenin added:

Here we have the programme and the tactics of the economic struggle and the trade union movement for several decades to come, for the whole long period in which the workers are preparing for a “future battle.” (21)

Marx, basing himself on the subordination of the economic struggle to the political struggle of the working class, came to the conclusion that the strike was one of the important and effective forms of the struggle. Bakunin, starting from his theory of rejecting politics, drew the conclusion that the strike was the only form of struggle. And what Bakunin mapped out, his adherents afterwards developed into a confused theory and tactic, the catastrophic consequences of which particularly affected, and still affect, the labour movement in the Latin countries. With Marx there was complete unity between theory and practice. With Bakunin and his adherents, theory and practice were independent of one another in all fields including the field of the strike movement. On this point the pamphlet written by Engels. The Bakuninists at Work, is very interesting and of value even to-day.

Engels’ pamphlet is devoted to the tactics of the Bakuninists in the Spanish revolution of 1873. With regard to the slogan raised by the adherents of Bakunin calling for the general strike, Engels wrote that as far back as 1839 the Chartists had preached the “holy month,” i.e., a strike of the workers all over England. Analysing step by step the tactics of the Bakuninists in that Spanish revolution, Engels finds that:

(1) The Bakuninists in Barcelona had recourse to the general strike in order to refrain from a revolt on this pretext. (2) Instead of overthrowing the state, they attempted to create numerous small states. (3) The Bakuninists rejected their principle that the workers must not take part in any revolution that does not aim at the immediate and complete emancipation of the working class. (4) By joining the government committees formed in the different towns they violated their dogma that a revolutionary government is a new betrayal. (5) Being opposed, in words, to politics, they, in deeds, supported the bourgeois party, which politically exploited the workers and kicked them into the bargain.

Engels concludes: “In a word, the Bakuninists set an excellent example of how revolutions ought not to be made.”

What Engels wrote about 1874 was repeated on a broader scale during the Spanish revolution of 1931-32. Bakuninism hinders and sabotages the development of the revolution in Spain.

From the theory, policy and tactics of Marx and Bakunin, we see that strike tactics are not something divorced from general lines of principle. It means that the revolutionary Marxists have their own strike tactics—differing radically from the strike tactics of the anarchists and reformists. The economic and political battles developing in the capitalist countries have reproduced and enlightened anew the chief differences of the past under present conditions. Life and struggle have confirmed the correctness of the Marxian positions concerning the organic connection and close interweaving of the economic and the political struggle of the working class.

Life has shown that he who does not link up the struggle for the workers’ demands with the final goal, and vice versa, sabotages the struggle for the liberation of the working class, whether he wants to do so or not, and plays into the hands of the bourgeoisie.



1. Communist Manifesto, p. 22.

2. Ibid., pp. 14-18.

3. Engels, Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.

4. Archives of Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute. Minutes of the General Council.

5. Marx and Engels, Complete Works (German edition), Part III, Vol. 3, p. 327.

6. Ibid., p. 378.

7. Stegmann, Handbuch des Sozialismus, p. 344.

8. Marx and Engels, Complete Works (German ed.), Part III, Vol. 4, p. 224.

9. Leaflet issued by the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association entitled Belgian Massacre. See Vorbote, 1869, pp. 87-91.

10. Archives, Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, Moscow.

11. Marx, Report of General Council of the I.W.A. to its Fourth General Congress in Basle. Reprinted in Communist International No. 5/6, 1933, p. 156. Vorbote, 1869, p. 133.

12. Vorbote, 1869, p. 140, Marx’s Report to the Basle Congress.

13. Ibid., p. 161.

14. Ibid., p. 142.

15. C.I., 5/6, 1933, p. 159.

16. Archives, Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute. Reprinted in C.I. 5-6, 1933, p. 165.

17. Vorbote, 1869, p. 138. Reprinted in C.I. 5-6, 1933.

18. Quotation from G. M. Stekloff, Bakunin (Russian ed.), Vol. III, pp. 287-91.

19. Marx, Value, Price and Profit, pp. 92-8.

20. Gustav Jaeckh, Die Internationale, Leipzig, 1904.

21. Lenin, “Karl Marx,” Collected Works, Vol. XVIII, p. 44. (Italics mine.—A. L.). The Teachings of Karl Marx, No. 1 Little Lenin Library, p. 34.


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