A. Lozovsky
Marx and the Trade Unions

Chapter X
Marx, the Organiser of the Working Class

The usual conception of a scientist is that he is cut off from real life. He burrows in books, in historical documents, draws inspiration from his own spirit, allows his thoughts to take flights according to his fancy, unmindful of prosaic life, and creates systems that are destined to correct the blunders of nature. This divorcement from life was cited as proof of the impartiality and true nature of science and its priests who stood above classes. Marx with his scientific and political works shattered the conception of the class impartiality of science and the class neutrality of its bearers. He first of all proved that the highest altitudes of the spirit, barricaded behind exalted and learned words, reflect not only definite social relationships, but also the interests of a definite social class; while on the other hand he proved that the abandonment of the struggle is also a policy, but one favourable to the oppressors and unfavourable to the oppressed.

Marx was a scientist in the best and highest sense of the word. He did not write one line without having first thought it over and verified it dozens of times; he believed that science must serve the struggle, but must not serve to divert the masses from the struggle. He believed that science must sweep away all ideological and political barriers erected in the path of the working class towards its emancipation. Marx excellently understood the historical significance of his scientific work, but “he was a revolutionary first of all” (Engels). He realised that science without revolutionary deeds is as dead as a log. Marx, who discovered the historic mission of the working class, who raised the consciousness and faith of the working class in its own self, considered it necessary to help the working class concretely, to explain his theory to it, to help it organise; and, therefore, he did not stand aloof from the pettiest, day-to-day organisational work, so long as this work concerned the consolidation of the forces of the working class and the interests of socialism.

In 1846 Marx organised the “Committee of Communist Correspondence” and sent a number of letters to the most famous socialists of that period, requesting them to take part in the labours of this committee, hoping in this way to create a unifying centre. On May 5, 1846, Marx wrote to Proudhon:

The principal aim of our correspondence is meanwhile to set up contacts between the German socialists and the French and English socialists. Thus the social movement in its literary manifestations will advance a step forward to free itself from its national limitation. (1)

We see that this committee formally aimed at mutual information, but in reality there was much more to it. Mutual information exchanged on the level on which the socialist movement stood during the first half of the nineteenth century signified a certain amount of influence exercised by advanced socialism over more backward socialism. Struggle against national limitations—such was the aim of Marx and herein lies the political significance of the Committee of Communist Correspondence. In 1845-46 Marx gave lectures to the workers of Belgium. In 1847 he was the leader of the Communist League, and together with Engels, on the instructions of the League, he drafted the famous Manifesto of the Communist Party, which is the basic charter of international communism to this day. The Communist League rapidly developed and gained influence. But the defeat of the revolution in 1848 considerably weakened it. Marx exerted tremendous efforts to preserve and strengthen the organisation, and in a number of documents of an organisational and political character he mapped out a general line for all rank-and-file organisations. In this connection the circular letters of the Central Committee of the Communist League to its organisations are of major importance. In these circular letters we find not only appraisals of the situation but also a number of organisational and tactical instructions. The first appeal of the Central Committee of the Communist League, made in March, 1850, declared that the “former organisation of the League has been seriously shattered.” (2) The appeal, after comparing the position of the Workers’ Party with the democratic party of the petty bourgeoisie, comes to the conclusion that “while the party of the petty bourgeoisie extended its organisations, the Workers’ Party has lost its only strong footing.” (3) This first appeal also defines the attitude of the revolutionary Workers’ Party towards petty-bourgeois democracy.

The circumstances in which the revolutionary workers’ party finds itself, make it go hand in hand with the petty bourgeois democratic party against the faction which it proposes to overthrow, but the party of the workers assumes the attitude of opposition in all matters where the petty bourgeoisie wishes to secure its own position. (4)

This tactical rule goes far beyond the framework of the first half of the nineteenth century. For scores of years it defined the attitude of revolutionary Marxism towards the petty-bourgeois parties. This tactic can be explained by the fact that:

While the democratic petty bourgeoisie wishes to bring the revolution to as swift a conclusion as possible … it is in our interest and it is our task to make the revolution permanent.... With us it cannot be a mere matter of a change in the form of private property, but of destroying it as an institution; not in hushing up class antagonism, but in abolishing all classes; not in the improvement of present-day society, but in the foundation of a new society. (5)

What, then, must the workers do when a revolution begins? What demands must they raise and what organisational measures must they undertake in order to direct the course of events in favour of the toilers? In the first place, revolutionaries “must not decry so-called excesses, manifestations of national vengeance, but must assume the leadership of these.” Parallel with the demands of bourgeois democracy, the workers must put forward their own demands. They must demand guarantees and compel the new rulers to make “as many concessions and pledges as possible. The surest way is to force them to compromise themselves.” (6) Marx wrote:

They must simultaneously erect their own revolutionary workers’ government hard by the new official government whether it be in the form of executive committees, community councils, workers’ clubs or workers’ committees, so that the bourgeois-democratic government not only will lose its immediate restraint over the workers, but, on the contrary, must at once feel themselves watched over and threatened by an authority behind which stand the mass of the workers. In a word: from the first moment of the victory, and after it, the distrust of the workers must not be directed any more against the conquered reactionary party, but against their previous ally, the petty-bourgeois Democrats, who desire to exploit the common victory only for themselves. (7)

This splendid definition of the tactic to which the workers’ party must adhere during a revolution was carried out in practice and verified by experiences during the Russian revolution, where dual power served as the starting-point and the lever for organising the masses and overthrowing the power of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties.

Furthermore, the appeal advises that in case revolutionary events develop, it would become necessary to begin to organise proletarian guards, which must be put at the disposal of the unions of revolutionary councils (Cf. “Soviet”—Ed.) elected by the workers: special attention must be paid to organising the agricultural proletariat. Most important here is “independent position of the party, independent organisation of the party of the proletariat.” (8)

These instructions, written over eighty years ago, are astounding because they are still applicable even to-day. This organisational-tactical advice contained the germ of all the subsequent tactics of Bolshevism in three revolutions.

The second appeal of the Central Committee of the Communist League in 1850 gives some information regarding the situation in the Communist League in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, France, and England, and again brings up before the weakened local organisations a number of organisational tasks, the principal one of which was work within industrial and agricultural workers’ organisations that are under the leadership of hostile elements, for the purpose of winning over the bulk of the members to the side of the revolutionary class struggle. In this same second appeal Marx raised the question of setting up auxiliary non-party organisations:

With the aid of these broader connections it will be possible to organise our influence very firmly, chiefly our influence upon the peasant unions and the sports societies.

All these instructions aim at rapidly gaining firm ground among the working masses.

How must work be carried on under conditions of permanent repression? Wherever possible—legally; wherever impossible—illegally. Such was the invariable advice given by Marx to his adherents. While being a supporter of illegal Party work, Marx was against hatching conspiracies. Marx strictly differentiated between the one and the other. Marx’s reviews of A. Chenu’s Conspirators, and of L. de la Hodde’s Birth of the Republic in February 1848 (9) are very interesting indeed. Both of these books were published in Paris in 1850. Marx came out strongly against the “alchemists of the revolution” who “improvise revolutions when there are no prerequisites for revolution.” (10) These alchemists of the revolution “have a deep contempt for the theoretical education of the workers and for the need to explain to them their class interests.” This extreme isolation from the masses leads to the circumstance that the short leap from professional conspirator to the category of paid police spy is such a frequent occurrence.

This characteristic of the alchemists of the revolution was excellently confirmed by the experiences of the Russian anarchists, Maximalists, Social-Revolutionaries and all other parties and groups, which tried to replace mass action by individual acts of a handful of conspirators.

When after the suppression of the revolution of 1848 reaction throttled the revolutionary movement in all countries, Karl Marx persistently continued to work on his Capital and published a number of political articles in the British, American and German Press on all problems of current politics, maintaining contact at the same time with all of his adherents and doing his best to help in word and in deed. As soon as the labour movement began to show signs of revival after this period of depression, when the workers of various countries again began to express the desire to set up mutual contacts, Marx actively participated in this matter. As a result of trips made by French workers to England, and the consequent fraternisation of French and English workers, the International Workingmen’s Association was set up in 1864 and became the prototype of the Third Communist International.

Peter Kropotkin, the apostle of anarchism and patriotic defender of his fatherland during the World War, wrote that the “International was founded without Marx’s participation.” Kropotkin had reference to the letter which Marx had written to Engels in which he said that he had attended the meeting in the Albert Hall on September 28, 1864, but had merely been a “silent spectator.” (11) From this Kropotkin draws the conclusion that Marx had nothing to do with the founding of the International. Peter Kropotkin clearly distorts history, for he concealed from his readers the fact that only thanks to Marx’s preliminary and subsequent work for many years did it become possible for the International to be organised and develop into a powerful force. Furthermore, Marx, in this same letter, relates in detail how he had participated in drafting the Inaugural Address and the Statutes, the basic documents of the First International, and how he had succeeded in giving the Address and the statutes a theoretically and politically consistent character.

In his letter to Engels dated November 4, 1864, Marx describes in detail the conditions under which the International Workingmen’s Association was organised and explains why he went to the meeting in the Albert Hall:

I knew that this time real “powers” were in motion both on the part of Paris as well as London, and therefore I decided to set aside my otherwise standing rule of declining any such invitations. (12)

At this meeting a committee was elected, which in turn elected a sub-committee for drafting a declaration of principles. “Major Wolf” Marx wrote, “proposed that the new Association utilise the statutes of the Italian Workers’ societies. This was evidently the work of Mazzini, Weston and Baston. Furthermore, Weston drafted a programme which is full of extraordinary confusion and is indescribably long.” These drafts were handed over to Le Lubez, after which a plenary session of the committee was called.

“Inasmuch as Eccarius has written to me that pericula in mora (there was danger in delay),” Marx wrote, “I came and was really horrified to hear an abominably phrased, poorly written and absolutely immature preamble read by that chap Le Lubez, pretending to be a declaration of principles. Mazzini could be seen peeping through everywhere, incrustated with the vaguest fragments of French socialism. Besides, it contained the sum and substance of the Italian statutes, which, aside from all the other shortcomings, actually aimed at something totally impossible, a sort of central government (naturally, with Mazzini in the background) of the working class of Europe. I began to oppose gently and after a long talk back and forth, Eccarius proposed that the sub-committee once more re-edit the matter.” (13)

Marx firmly resolved not to retain any word of these drafts and when the documents were turned over to him to familiarise himself with them, he deleted all of the old text and composed a Manifesto to the working class, “a sort of review of the adventures of the working class since 1845.” (14)

He changed the introduction, dropped the declaration of principles and instead of forty paragraphs in the statutes, he drafted ten.

“All of my proposals,” Marx wrote, “were adopted by the sub-committee. I was only charged to incorporate in the preamble to the statutes two ‘duty’ and ‘right’ phrases, i.e., ‘truth, morality and justice.’ This, however, is placed so that it cannot do any harm.” (15)

These facts concerning the origin of the first, basic documents of the International were not even denied by the anarchists. They prove that if Marx had not interfered in the matter, Tolen, Weston and others would have adopted a declaration without socialist content and would have directed the International Workingmen’s Association into other channels.

Here we see that Marx manifested great organisational ability, forcing all blunderers to renounce their confused programmes and theses. What should be considered more important in founding the International? Solemn speeches delivered at meetings, or the drafting of the basic document which actually created this international organisation? Heretofore we had always thought that Marx, who was formally standing aside, but who had taken the whole matter into his hands, was the real founder of the International; the anarchists, however, will not have it so, for they are more interested in form than in substance.

Were we to follow Kropotkin, we would conclude that Marx, generally speaking, had nothing at all to do with the First International, because he was neither its president nor its secretary. Marx did not attend some of the congresses because he was busy with his major works. In April 1866, he wrote to Bolte that he would not go to the congress in Geneva owing to the fact that he was about to complete his Capital. Marx also failed to attend a number of other congresses, but in spite of this all basic documents, all basic lines, were mapped out by Marx, although in some cases non-Marxian formulations found their way into these documents. Marx believed that if on any subject the congress adopted the document that had been drafted by him, this was politically much more important than if he had made a dozen grandiloquent speeches.

If we accept the version of Kropotkin and his pupils, Marx and Engels did nothing at all. Cherkezov declared, and this was repeated by Kropotkin, that Marx and Engels had copied the Communist Manifesto from Considerant. This same Cherkezov—and he is echoed by Kropotkin—went so far as to say that Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England was plagiarised from Bureau, a French journalist. Such is the “objectivism” of the anarchist historians. In their helplessness they vilify Marx, who obdurately and fiercely fought against all verbal revolutionariness and anarchist chatter.

While occupied with his principal works, Marx day after day observed all that was going on throughout the world. In the correspondence between Marx and Engels we find vast material, which bears witness to the exceptionally great and important work done by Marx. He wrote leaflets and appeals, corrected the mistakes of his friends and criticised his allies. He bitterly attacked his enemies, gave advice on how to act in each particular case, dependent upon the situation. Sometimes he was blunt and direct; at other times he expressed his views in a friendly letter. In certain cases he acted through the medium of third persons. Marx always adhered to one major thought—to set up a party of the proletariat on the basis of a revolutionary programme, to clear the minds of at least the vanguard from all ideological confusion which had its roots in the historical past but which hindered the development of the labour movement. Frequently, when Marx had no opportunity to write, Engels would do so upon his advice, in agreement with him or at his, Marx’s, initiative. Each day would bring new problems to Marx and Engels; to-day a strike breaks out in Belgium, England or France, to-morrow members of the International are persecuted in France; the day after to-morrow a campaign of vilification is launched against the First International; or they learn of attempts in the United States to form illegal unions, of the refusal of the British trade unions to take part in political struggles, of Proudhonists’ and Bakuninists’ misdoings, which served to undermine the political and organisational unity of the International; the penetration of alien elements into the workers’ organizations; in one place manifestations of “Right” opportunism; elsewhere “Left” sectarianism, etc. Beginning with the organisation of the First International, the labour movement rapidly developed all over the world. Not only correct theoretical lines but also political instructions and organisational advice were necessary. Marx and Engels occupied such an authoritative position in the developing of the labour movement that even had they wanted to they could not have turned a deaf ear to current organisational and tactical problems. In view of the fact that Marx never had any such intention of divorcing himself from the pulsating questions concerning labour, but, on the contrary, took a hand in all programmes, all tactical and organisational problems of the international labour movement, the day-to-day activities of Marx represent a remarkable example of the practical application of revolutionary theory.

Marx could recognise at a distance corruption and hypocrisy in the socialist movement and would not rest until he had achieved some definite results. On October 19, 1877, he wrote to Sorge:

In Germany a corrupt spirit is raising its ugly head in the ranks of our Party—not so much among the masses as among their leaders. (16)

Marx mercilessly flayed the corrupt spirit in the field of theory, politics and tactics. In the middle of April, 1879, Marx and Engels wrote a circular letter to Bebel, Liebknecht, Bracke and others. This document, aimed at the Zurich trio (Höchberg, Bernstein and Schramm), is a fierce indictment of all forms of opportunism. This trio preached a cautious, prudent attitude towards the bourgeoisie, proposed that Social-Democracy carry on energetic propaganda among the upper strata of society, etc. Here is what Marx and Engels write about these outpourings:

They are the representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, who make themselves heard and are full of apprehension that the proletariat, constrained by its revolutionary position, might go too far. Instead of determined political opposition—general mediation; instead of struggle against the government and the bourgeoisie—an attempt to win them over and persuade them; instead of stubborn resistance to maltreatment from above, humble submission and the admission that the punishment is deserved. (17)

Who are they, these capitulators, what is their political origin? To this question there is an answer in this same circular letter:

They are the same people who, while giving themselves the appearance of working busily without stop, not only do nothing themselves but seek to prevent anything at all from being done besides chattering; the self-same people who in 1848 and 1849 through their fear of any action hindered the movement at every step and finally caused it to fail; the same people who see a reaction and then are quite astonished to find themselves at last in a blind alley, where neither resistance nor flight is possible; the same people who want to compress history into the scope of their narrow philistine horizon and past whom history proceeds each time to consider the questions on the order of the day. (18)

This brilliant characterisation of the German opportunists bristles with facts of importance for the present. It seems as if it were specially written to characterise German Social-Democracy during the period of Hitler’s “Third Reich.” This remarkable letter by Marx and Engels ends with the statement that the Party must not keep such gentlemen in its ranks:

During the course of almost forty years we have stressed the class struggle as the immediate driving force in history, especially the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, as the powerful level of the modern social transformation: therefore we cannot go hand in hand with people who want to delete this class struggle from the movement. On forming the International, we expressly formulated the battle cry: the liberation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself. We consequently cannot go hand in hand with people who openly declare that the workers are too uneducated to liberate themselves, and must be liberated from above at the hands of philanthropic big and petty bourgeois. (19)

This is how the founders of scientific communism taught the leaders of the German Social-Democratic Party. Marx also drew conclusions from his theoretical arguments and therefore this circular letter is a most outstanding organisational and political document of international communism. In this letter we see the great tactical genius of Marx. Step by step he analyses what opportunism is: he tells us how to struggle against it and draws the corresponding organisational conclusions. Marx, who with great skill drafted the Inaugural Address of the First International for the purpose of uniting all the various elements of the labour movement, and who during the foundation of the Workers’ Party of France came out in favour of non-Marxian elements joining this Party, was decidedly for a split when he saw that the time for doing so was ripe, when he realised that staying together in one and the same organisation threatened to distort the political line.

“Unity is an excellent thing,” wrote Engels to Bebel on October 28, 1882, “as long as it can be maintained, but there are some things of even greater importance than unity.” (20)

Marx lashed opportunism, adaptability, subordination of the interests of the working class to those of the bourgeois parties. He attacked alien elements who found their way into socialism, but simultaneously and with no less vigour and passion did he come to grips with “Left” phrasemongers, who dissemble this same opportunism. When the German Communists in the United States, after the International had fallen apart, began to isolate themselves into narrow, sectarian groups, considering it below their dignity to work in reactionary organisations, Engels wrote a letter to Mrs. Wishnevetski, in which he explained that the principal task was to struggle against sectarianism; that work must be carried on in workers’ mass organisations and that to isolate ourselves from these labour organisations meant self-isolation from the working class.

“I, therefore,” Engels wrote to Mrs. Wishnevetski, “consider the Knights of Labour a very important factor in the movement, which ought not to be pooh-poohed from without but to be revolutionised from within.... To expect the Americans to start with the full consciousness of the theory worked out in older industrial countries is to expect the impossible … do not make the inevitable confusion of the first start worse confounded by forcing down people’s throats things which at present they cannot understand but which they soon will learn.” (21)

Several months later Engels again returned to this question and in his letter of January 27, 1887, he wrote to this same Mrs. Wishnevetski:

All our practice has shown that it is indeed possible to collaborate with the general movement of the working class at every one of its stages without giving up or hiding our own distinct position or even organisation, and I am afraid that if the German-Americans choose a different line they will commit a great mistake. (22)

These tactical instructions of Engels are not out of date even at the present time. They are of live and vital interest and the more one studies the inheritance of Marx and Engels the more one finds organisational and tactical instructions suitable for the present day labour movement.

Marx was at the head of international communism for scores of years. Marx was the mortal enemy of capitalism and therefore he “was the best hated and most calumniated man of his time” (Engels). But this bothered him least of all. He pursued his chosen path, knowing that this was the path of the best elements of the working class, the path of millions. On October 25, 1881, Engels wrote to Bernstein:

By his theoretical and practical (23) work Marx won such a position for himself that the best elements of all the labour movements in the various countries have full confidence in him. They come to him for advice in decisive moments and as a rule find that his advice is the best.... Thus it is not Marx who foists his opinion, not to speak of his will, upon people, but these people themselves come to him of their own accord. It is precisely upon this that Marx’s peculiar influence, so extremely important for the movement, is based. (24)

It did not fall to Marx’s lot to live and see the triumph of Marxism on one-sixth of the globe’s surface, but he knew that the victory of the working class was bound to come and he tirelessly, without a moment’s rest, prepared the working class politically and organisationally for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. It is therefore ludicrous to observe the attempts of the social-fascist theoreticians to prove that Marx would have sided with them. Of all such attempts, perhaps the most ridiculous was the article written by Woodbum, one of the theoreticians of the British Labour Party. It was entitled, Would Marx have joined the Labour Party? Mr. Woodburn replies to this question in the affirmative, for the Communist Manifesto coincides with the present programme of the Labour Party. (25) Marx—a Labourist? Indeed, there is no limit to social-fascist cynicism.

The enemies of revolutionary Marxism, desiring to undermine the authority of Marx among the masses, have time and again maliciously emphasised the mistakes made by Marx and Engels in defining the degree of maturity of the revolutionary process. As early as 1907 Lenin replied to all of these wiseacres and prophets:

Yes, Marx and Engels did err quite often in determining the proximity of the revolution and in their hopes for the victory of the revolution.... But such mistakes of these giants of revolutionary thought, who were raising and did raise the proletariat of the whole world above the level of petty, everyday, penny-by-penny tasks, are a thousand times more thankful, more magnificent and historically more valuable, more just, than the vulgar wisdom of official liberalism, singing, shouting, invoking, vociferating about the fussiness of revolutionary fuss, about the futility of the revolutionary struggle and the charms of counter-revolutionary ‘constitutional’ nonsense. (26)

This is how a man could write who knew the spirit, the essence of Marx’s teachings: this is how Lenin could write, he who long before the October Revolution saw the victorious path of Marxism. And if after the bankruptcy of the opportunist “Marxists,” Marxism has revived with new force, if Marxism to-day rules one-sixth of the globe and shakes the whole of the capitalist world to its very foundations, if the spirit of Marx inspires strikes, armed collisions, the struggle of the unemployed and mass movements of the workers in all capitalist countries, the revolts of the downtrodden and oppressed masses of Indo-China, India and the Black Continent—if the banner of Marxism flutters over Soviet China—it can be explained by the fact that Marx combined revolutionary theory with revolutionary practice. Marx knew and included in the armoury of international communism the principle that “without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement” (Lenin); that “theory out of touch with revolutionary practice is like a mill without any grist, just as practice gropes in the dark unless revolutionary theory throws a light on the path.” (27)

This is why Marx is recorded in the history of the world labour movement not only as a highly gifted theoretician, but as a highly gifted leader and organiser of the working class; this is why we have the right to say that without revolutionary Marxian theory and without revolutionary practice there neither is nor can there be any revolutionary trade union movement.



1. Marx to Proudhon, Die Gesellschaft, Dietz, Berlin, fourth year, 1927, Vol. II, p. 259.

2. Marx, Appendix to Engels’ Germany: Revolution and Counter-Revolution, Martin Lawrence, p. 135.

3. Ibid., p. 135.

4. Ibid., p. 138.

5. Ibid., p. 139.

6. Ibid., p. 141.

7. Ibid., p. 142.

8. Ibid., p. 146.

9. Literary Inheritance, Vol. Ill, Dietz, Berlin-Stuttgart, 1923, p. 426.

10. Ibid., p. 30.

11. Marx and Engels, Complete Works (German ed.), Part III, Vol. 3, p. 146.

12. Ibid., p. 196.

13. Ibid., pp. 197-98.

14. Ibid., p. 198—Original phrase in English—Ed.

15. Marx and Engels, Complete Works (German edition), Part III, Vol. 3, pp. 197-98.

16. Letters from Becker, Dietzgen, Engels and Marx to Sorge—Stuttgart, 1921, Dietz, p. 159.

17. Marx-Engels, Selected Letters (German edition) p. 306.

18. Ibid., p. 307.

19. Ibid., p. 309.

20. Marx and Engels, Selected Letters (German edition) p. 328.

21. Engels to Mrs. Wishnevetski, Dec. 28, 1886. Marx-Engels, Selected Letters, Moscow, 1933, p. 360.

22. Engels to Mrs. Wishnevetski, Jan. 27, 1887, Ibid., p. 361.

23. Italics mine.—A. L.

24. Letters from Engels to E. Bernstein—Berlin, Dietz (German edition), 1925, pp. 34-5.

25. Vorwārts, September 3, 1932.

26. Lenin, Preface to Correspondence of F. A. Sorge, Collected Works (Russian edition), p. 178.

27. Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, III, “Theory.”


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