A. Lozovsky
Marx and the Trade Unions

Chapter XI
For Marxism-Leninism in the Trade Union Movement

The creator of Marxism was as monolithic as his teachings. The British socialist Hyndman in his reminiscences of Marx relates the following: “I remember I once told Marx that as I grew older I became apparently more tolerant. ‘More tolerant!’ answered Marx—‘more tolerant?’ It was clear that he was not becoming more tolerant.” (1)

This philistine, who went over to the camp of British imperialism, correctly noted the chief feature of Marx. And this is also the chief feature of Marxism. Revolutionary Marxism cannot owing to “age” become more tolerant towards its ideological and political enemies. The power of revolutionary Marxism consists precisely in its irreconcilability. This ideological and political irreconcilability of Marxism was taken as the basis of the Bolshevik Party and was the guiding line in the theoretical and political activity of V. I. Lenin, the brilliant pupil of Marx.

Marx laid the foundation of the doctrine concerning trade unions. He defined the rôle of the trade unions in the capitalist State, he established a correct relationship between the economic and political struggle, he established the primacy of the political over the economic struggle. Marx indicated the limits and scope of activity of the trade unions, building his trade union tactics on the basis of the revolutionary class struggle, organically linking up the struggle for the workers’ immediate demands with the struggle for their ultimate goal. Marx proved that those trade unions which do not struggle against the bourgeoisie merely become a weapon in its hands against the interests of the working class. Marx defined the past, present and future of the trade unions in the capitalist countries.

But Marx could not define the rôle of the trade unions after the seizure of power by the working class; he could not state what place the trade unions would occupy under the dictatorship of the proletariat. This was done by the great pupil and follower of Marx, the founder and organiser of the Russian Bolshevik Party—Lenin. Lenin did this basing himself on the theory of Marx. Lenin enriched and developed Marxism on the basis of the experiences acquired in the world labour movement and in a number of revolutions. This is why we say that “Leninism is Marxism in the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution.” To be more exact—“Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular” (Stalin). Lenin theoretically and practically worked on all problems pertaining to the dictatorship of the proletariat and therefore he could not but touch on such an important pillar of the proletarian dictatorship as the trade unions. What is the central, the guiding idea of Lenin on the question of the trade unions? The idea was already formulated by Marx—that the trade unions are schools of communism. This formula, in spite of its brevity, is very rich in content. And, as a matter of fact, four principal ideas are included in this definition: (1) The trade unions are organisations that must embrace the whole class; (2) the trade unions politically educate the masses in the spirit of communism, raising them to the level of understanding their general class tasks; (3) the trade unions link up the Party with the masses, i.e., the vanguard with the class; (4) the trade unions wage the struggle against Capital under the leadership of the revolutionary party of the proletariat.

Some “theoreticians” are perplexed at the formula—“the trade unions are schools of communism,” for they take “schools” in the literal sense of the word. The difference between an ordinary school and a trade union is that the trade union is a class school. It collects scattered workers, carries on preliminary work to turn these workers into a class and they are turned into a class not by knowledge gained from text-books but knowledge gained in class battles. In the capitalist countries this instruction occurs in the battles against capitalism (strikes, demonstrations, revolts, or any other form of struggle); in the U.S.S.R.—in the active participation of the trade unions in the construction of socialism (participation in the management of national economy, socialist competition, shock brigades, labour discipline, raising the material and cultural level of the masses, etc.). Both in the one case as well as the other, this school is of a special type, and he who imagines that the trade unions are ordinary schools is no more than a schoolboy in the problems of Marxism-Leninism. The question of what the formula “the trade unions are schools of communism” means seems to be clear especially to the members of the C.P.S.U. But if we follow our trade union literature more attentively, we see that there is confusion in the minds of some “theoreticians.” Here, for example, is what V. Yarotsky writes, who under Comrade Tomsky was looked upon as a theoretician of the trade union movement:

The formula ‘Schools of Communism’ is incomplete. A scientific definition must differentiate the phenomenon defined from the chain of cognate phenomena. The formula must be so constructed that it covers only the given phenomenon. And this is precisely what is missing in the formula ‘The unions are schools of communism.’ Isn’t the Communist Party a school of communism? Doesn’t any workers’ club in actual fact fulfil the role of just such a school of communism? The methods of pedagogical influence over their members differ in all of these organisations. The composition of their membership also varies. But they are all schools of communism., to the same extent as the workers' co-operative is. Thus, the formula ‘the trade unions are schools of communism’ covers, during a certain stage of development of the working class, all organisations of the working class. It is quite evident that this formula, defining the functions of the unions, to a certain extent does not permit us to draw a sharp and clear-cut line between the trade unions and other proletarian organisations. Evidently, it is inadequate. (2)

“The formula—the trade unions are schools of communism,” says our theoretician, “is incomplete and inadequate.” But Yarotsky himself, in his explanation of the formula “trade unions are schools of communism,” quotes the words of Lenin: “The trade unions are schools, schools for unification, schools of solidarity, schools for learning how to defend the interests of the workers, schools for learning administration and management.” But, it seems, these explanations also do not satisfy our severe “critic.” The formula of Lenin is “incomplete and inadequate.” Why? Because the “Party is also a school of communism,” and the “workers’ club” is another such (!) “school of communism,” and the “co-operative is a school of communism.” We never supposed that the party was—a “school.” We, together with Lenin and the Comintern, have been of the opinion up to now that the Russian Bolshevik Party was the vanguard of the working class.

Such anti-Leninist arguments are the result of the complete failure to understand what the Party is. Let us hear what the Second Congress of the Comintern said on this question in the resolution worked out and adopted with the direct participation of Lenin:

The Communist Party is part of the working class. Namely, its most advanced, intelligent and therefore most revolutionary part. The Communist Party is formed of the best, most intelligent and far-seeing workers. The Communist Party has no other interests than those of the working class. It differs from the general mass of the workers in that it takes a general view of the whole historical march of the working class and at all turns of the road it endeavours to defend the interests, not of separate groups or professions, but of the working class as a whole. The Communist Party is the organised political lever by means of which the more advanced section of the working class leads the whole proletarian and semi-proletarian mass. (3)

This does not sound at all like the childish prattle of Professor Yarotsky who says that the “Party is also a school of Communism.” Yarotsky, like all other “critics” of Marxism, confuses the major problems of Marxist-Leninism: the Party, the trade unions and the class.

V. Yarotsky, having stumbled over the formula, “the trade unions are schools of communism,” goes to great lengths to improve and to complete the definition of a trade union. But, of course, nothing comes of it. Nothing comes of it because his general line is wrong. Here is what Yarotsky recommends in place of the formula of Marx and Lenin:

The trade union organisation as such is always (?), at all times (?) and in all countries (?) the association of workers best suited to the changing and constantly rising level of class consciousness. (4)

Here we have it, the “universal” formula, “complete” (for all times) (!), all peoples and all countries. The formula is doubtless complete from the point of view of the number of words it contains, but as far as its essence is concerned it is nothing but piffle—thoughtless in content and “scientific” in form. And V. Yarotsky wants us to give up the “incomplete” and “inadequate” formula, “the trade unions are schools of communism,” for his high-flown rubbish. Indeed, we cannot accuse him of being too modest.... No, we prefer the “incomplete” and “inadequate” formula of Marx-Lenin to a formula replete with nonsense and pretensions (for all times, all peoples, all countries and all trade unions!) such as that of our professor of confusion Yarotsky.

Trotsky too, it will be remembered, began his race back to Social-Democracy with the trade union question. The trade union discussion showed that Trotsky did not and could not understand what the formula “the trade unions are schools of communism” meant, as he monstrously distorted the viewpoint of Marx and Lenin on the rôle of the trade unions, for which he was mercilessly assailed by Lenin, Stalin and the whole Party. In Volume VII of the Lenin Miscellany, a pamphlet by Trotsky is published entitled The Rôle and Tasks of the Trade Unions, with marginal notes by Lenin to almost every paragraph. Lenin accompanies the arguments given by Trotsky with words like: “Not true, syndicalist trash, blunder, nonsense, etc.” These blunders with regard to questions of the Party, trade unions and class have led Trotsky straight into the camp of the counter-revolution.

Marx and Lenin, when defining the trade unions, did not think that all trade unions, at all times and in all countries, were schools of communism. They spoke only about those unions which carry on the class struggle against the capitalists and the capitalist system. Marx and Lenin could not tolerate people who cover their own theoretical illiteracy with confused “scientific” arguments. We think we have the right to ask: “Is it possible that the trade union movement of the victorious Revolution, the trade union movement that grew out of the teachings of Marx and grew up under the leadership of Lenin, was even under Tomsky in need of such ‘theories’ and such ‘theoreticians’?”

The teachings of Lenin on the trade unions actually signify, under new conditions, the application and development of the basic principles of Marx. Lenin (more deeply and better than anyone else) understood the essence and method of Marx and that is why he paid so much attention to the trade union question. Lenin not only continued to develop the theory of the trade union movement (about this we shall speak in a special publication), but he mapped out and defined the strategy and tactics before, during and after the proletarian revolution. What are the strategy and tactics of Leninism? “The strategy and tactics of Leninism,” writes Comrade Stalin, “constitute the science of leadership of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat.” (5) And we know that the revolutionary struggle is the principal task of the trade unions. Lenin was the greatest strategist and tactician of the class struggle, precisely because he had completely mastered the method of Marx. Let me give but one example of many that might be cited. In the article intended for Granat’s encyclopedia, Lenin writes on the tactics of the proletariat according to Marx:

The fundamental task of proletarian tactics was defined by Marx in strict conformity with the general principles of his materialist-dialectical outlook. Nothing but an objective account of the sum total of all the mutual relationships of all the classes of a given society without exception, and consequently an account of the objective stage of the development of this society as well as an account of the mutual relationships between it and other societies, can serve as the basis for the correct tactics of the class that forms the vanguard. All classes and all countries are at the same time looked upon not statically, but dynamically; i.e., not as motionless, but as in motion (the laws of their motion being determined by the economic conditions of existence of each class). The motion in its turn is looked upon not only from the point of view of the past, but also from the point of view of the future; and moreover not only in accordance with the vulgar conception of the ‘evolutionists’ who see only slow changes—but dialectically: ‘In such great developments—twenty years are as but one day—and there may come days which are the concentrated essence of twenty years,’ wrote Marx to Engels (Briefwechsel, Vol. III, p. 127). At each stage of development, at each moment, proletarian tactics must take account of these objectively unavoidable dialectics of human history, utilising, on the one hand, the phases of political stagnation, when things are moving at a snail’s pace along the road of the so-called ‘peaceful’ development to increase the class-consciousness, strength and fighting capacity of the most advanced class; on the other hand, conducting this work in the direction of the ‘final aim’ of the movement of this class, cultivating in it the faculty for the practical performance of great tasks in great days that are the ‘concentrated essence of twenty years.’ (6)

Only the greatest pupil of Marx and the great master of the proletarian revolution could have defined the tactics of the proletariat as he did here. Lenin proved in practice how it is necessary to act when the “decisive days come, in each of which twenty years may be concentrated.”

But Lenin, like Marx, could not foresee everything. Lenin did not and could not give a reply to the question of the rôle and the tasks of the trade unions during the reconstruction period. This problem has been worked out and solved by the best pupil of Marx and Lenin, Comrade Stalin. This once more proves that Marxism is not a dogma, is not something set, something fixed once for all time. Marx never understood his teachings and his method metaphysically. Marxism is a live revolutionary science which makes it possible for us to understand the society in which we live and to alter it. It is the “theory and programme of the workers of all countries” (Lenin). Marxism is hostile in the extreme to the theory and practice of “Class Harmony”; it has nothing in common with opportunism, which represents “the alliance of a section of the workers with the bourgeoisie against the interests of the proletarian masses” (Lenin). Hence, it follows that only those trade unions which wage the class struggle against the bourgeoisie and its ideological apologists and political helpers and allies have the right to raise aloft the banner of Marxism-Leninism.

The International Workingmen’s Association included in its ranks both political parties and trade unions. Marx’s opponents of that day attacked him on two fronts. Some thought that the International Association should accept only trade unions, while others were of the opinion that only political parties should be affiliated to it. But these critics did not understand the significance in principle of such a structure of the International Workingmen’s Association.

The First International, both in structure and in theory and tactics, stood, thanks to Marx, considerably higher than its constituent parts. It fell apart owing to irreconcilable ideological and political differences and owing to the crushing of the Commune. G. Saidel, an historian of the Second International, thinks otherwise. He writes that the “theoretical dispute between Marx and Bakunin, chiefly on organisational questions (emphasis by G. Saidel), served as the direct cause for the split and demise of the First International.” (7) This is not correct. The organisational differences were the result of the political differences, and therefore the organisational clashes were not the cause, but the occasion for the split. The fall of the Paris Commune dealt an irreparable blow to the First International; “it was an attempt which after the fall of the Paris Commune was no longer feasible in its first historical form.” (8)

This note of Marx concerning the influence of wars and revolutions, over the fate of international organisations, has been confirmed by history itself. The fall of the Paris Commune led to the falling apart of the First International. The war of 1914-18 led to the ideological and political bankruptcy of the Socialist and Trade Union Internationals. The October Revolution of 1917 was the impetus for the creation of the Communist International and the Red International of Labour Unions. The First International fell apart in spite of the fact that it had occupied a correct position with regard to war and revolution. The Second International fell apart because it adhered to the platform of class collaboration, which, when the war began, could not but lead to its disintegration. The Comintern developed and grew and has turned into a great world force on the basis of continuing the revolutionary line of Marx under new conditions, in the epoch of wars and social revolutions. The First International fell apart because its integral parts (the Bakuninists, Blanquists, Proudhonists, trade unionists), were petty-bourgeois socialists and dragged the International from a proletarian policy down to a petty-bourgeois policy.

In spite of the unceasing political and organisational struggle in the ranks of the International Workingmen’s Association, the First International was correct in its position that the trade unions must be affiliated to the International Workingmen’s Association. At that time it was a necessary prerequisite for the purpose of emphasising the political significance of the trade unions and the necessity of organising them on an international scale.

At the fourth Congress of the First International held in Basle (1869) the following decision was adopted:

Holding that the international character of labour and capital requires an international organisation of the trade unions, the Congress charges the General Council to bring about an international association of the trade unions. (9)

The First International did not have the opportunity to carry out this decision. When the Second International was established in 1889, the trade unions participated in its congresses, and only a long time afterwards (in 1901) the International Trade Union Secretariat was founded, which became an organisation with equal rights, demonstrating in this way the political bifurcation of the social-democratic international labour movement. This external bifurcation alongside of internal political unity aimed at rallying the non-Social-Democratic workers behind the bourgeoisie under the banner of “neutrality” and “independence.”

The Communist International from the very first days of its existence followed in the footsteps of the International Workingmen’s Association with regard to this question. At the Second Congress of the Communist International representatives of the revolutionary trade unions were present, including the Anarcho-Syndicalist Confederation of Labour of Spain. The statutes adopted by the Second Congress of the Communist International read:

The trade unions who have accepted the Communist platform and are united on an international scale under the control of the Executive Committee of the Communist International form Trade Union Sections of the Communist International. The Communist Trade Unions send their representatives to the World Congresses of the Communist International through the medium of the Communist Parties of their respective countries. The Trade Union Sections of the Communist International delegate a representative with a decisive vote to the Executive Committee of the Communist International. The Executive Committee of the Communist International enjoys the right of sending a representative with a decisive vote to the Trade Union Section of the Communist International. (10)

This viewpoint of the Comintern, exhibited in a number of documents even before the Second Congress, served as the beginning of political differentiation in the revolutionary trade unions. Those trade unions that had been firmly won by the Communists passed on to the organisational crystallisation of their communist ideas. Thus, the Third Trade Union Congress of the R.S.F.S.R. (March, 1930), adopted the following resolution on the report concerning the international trade union movement:

The struggle of the international proletariat is being waged not for reforming capitalism, but for overthrowing it. In this revolutionary struggle all class-conscious revolutionary elements are rallying more and more determinedly to the ranks of the Third International, as the organisation embodying the world proletarian revolution.

The trade unions of Russia, which side by side with the Communist Party fought for the overthrow of capitalism in Russia, cannot remain outside the ranks of the Third International, and therefore the Third Trade Union Congress herewith resolves:

To join the Third Communist International, and to call upon the revolutionary trade unions of all countries to follow the example set by the Russian proletariat organised in trade unions. (11)

Such a decision could have been adopted only by the most advanced trade union movement, led and guided by the tested Bolshevik Party. Among the revolutionary trade unions of the capitalist countries, which then only began to crystallise out of the reformist and anarcho-syndicalist trade union movement, the decision of the Second Congress was looked upon as belittling the rôle of the trade unions. The anarcho-syndicalists, who during that period came to us, began to experience difficulties under the blows of the anarchists, who interpreted the decision of the Comintern as the abolition of the organisational independence of the trade unions, etc. It was quite evident that the decision on the direct affiliation of the trade unions to the Comintern, which was correct in principle and corresponded to the traditions of the First International, was premature, and might have delayed for some time the development of the trade union movement in the capitalist countries towards the Communist International. When the Unitary Confederation of Labour of France in 1922 made it a condition of its affiliation to the R.I.L.U. that the mutual representation between the Executive of the Comintern and the R.I.L.U. be abolished, we, on the advice of Lenin, made this concession, emphasising in our declaration that we adhered to the position of the leading rôle of the Comintern with regard to the Red International of Labour Unions.

Experience has shown that it is better to carry out a correct policy through a Communist fraction than through the mutual representation as provided for in the statutes. However, the question of principle which had been raised by the structure and principles of the International Workingmen’s Association remained: Shall the revolutionary trade unions in future affiliate to the Communist International, or is this inadmissible on principle? To this question there can be but one answer: emphatically yes.

Building a revolutionary International of such a type does not mean fusing the Party and the trade unions, nor does it mean the merger of the Party and the trade unions, but only the synthesis of these two forms of the labour movement in a single International. I emphasise—two and not all forms of the labour movement, because with the victory of the October Revolution the old “classical” division of the labour movement into three forms (the Party, trade unions and the co-operatives) had clearly outlived its day.

“The proletarian revolution in Russia has brought forward the fundamental form of the workers’ dictatorship—the soviets. The new divisions which are now everywhere forming are: (1) Party, (2) Soviet, and (3) Industrial Union.” (12) The victory of the proletarian revolution does not do away with the old problem—the Party, the trade unions and the class—but raises this problem in a new light. Whereas the trade unions must unite “every single member of the proletariat” (Lenin), the Party during the whole of the transition period unites in its ranks only the vanguard, i.e., its most advanced and most class-conscious section. To raise during the transition period the question of fusing the Party and the trade unions would mean to raise the question of fusing the Party and the class, i.e., of merging the Party in the class, would mean the disappearance of the Party, which is absolutely inconceivable without the abolition of classes and the establishment of complete communism throughout the whole world. This same resolution of the Second Congress of the Comintern, a resolution amended and supplemented by Lenin, says the following on the subject:

The necessity of a political party for the proletariat can cease only with the complete abolition of classes. On the way to this final victory of communism it is possible that the relative importance of the three fundamental proletarian organisations of modern times (Party, Soviets and Industrial Union) may undergo some change; and that gradually a single type of workers’ organisation will be formed. The Communist Party, however, will become absorbed in the working class only when Communism ceases to be the object of struggle, and the whole working class shall have become Communist. (13)

For this reason the question of fusing the Party and the trade unions must not be raised now, while at a definite stage the question of forming a single International will be raised.

The Communist International grew parallel with the growth of the U.S.S.R. and the development of the revolutionary international labour movement. In proportion as the Comintern and the R.I.L.U. will wrest the masses away from international reformism, as the forces of the international proletariat will continue to rally under the banner of communism, the contacts between the Comintern and the international revolutionary trade union movement will grow and strengthen. Thereby the conditions for the existence of one revolutionary International will be created. In this way, at a certain stage of the struggle, the R.I.L.U. can become also organisationally a part of the Communist International.

These prospects are not simply figments of the imagination but are based on the general tendencies of development of world politics, world economics and the world labour movement. They are based on our firm and unshakable scientific conviction that the final and permanent victory of Marxism-Leninism the world over will come.

Our entire policy, strategy and tactics proceed from the following thesis of Lenin as their point of departure: The doctrine of Marx is all-powerful because it is correct.



1. Lenin, Hyndman on Marx, Collected Works (Russian edition) Vol. XV, p. 268.

2. V. Yarotsky, History, Theory and Practice of the Trade Union Movement (Russian edition), Part I. “Nature of Trade Union Movement.” A.U.C.C.T.U. edition, 1925, pp. 31-32.

3. Second Congress of the Comintern, stenographic report (Russian ed.), pp. 368-69. Reprinted as “The Rôle of the Communist Party,” Marston Co., London.

4. V. Yarotsky, p. 41.

5. Stalin, Problems of Leninism, “Strategy and Tactics.

6. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. XX, Part I. “Teachings of Karl Marx,” pp. 42-3. Little Lenin Library No. 1, pp. 32-33.

7. G. Saidel, Essay on the History of the Second International (Russian edition), p. 105.

8. K. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme.

9. Handbuch des Sozialismus, Karl Stegmann & Go., Zurich, 1879, p. 36.

10. Second Congress of the Communist International, Stenographic Report (Russian edition), p. 624.

11. Resolutions and Decisions of the Third All-Russian Trade Union Congress (Russian edition), 1920, p. 47.

12. Resolution on The Role of the Communist Party in the Proletarian Revolution. Stenographic Report of the Second Congress of the Communist International, 1920 edition, p. 42.

13. Resolution on The Rôle of the Communist Party in the Proletarian Revolution, Stenographic Report of the Second Congress of the Communist International, 1920 edition, p. 44.


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