THESES

ON THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT,

FACTORY COUNCILS, AND THE COMMUNIST INTERNATIONAL

ADOPTED BY THE SECOND COMINTERN

CONGRESS

 

July 1920

Protokoll, ii, p. 526

 

EXTRACTS



 


I

 

1.

 

. . . The trade unions, which catered primarily for the skilled and best-paid workers, who were limited by their craft narrowness, bound by the bureaucratic machinery which cut them off from the masses, and misled by their opportunist

leaders, have betrayed not only the cause of social revolution, but even the cause of the struggle for an improvement in the

conditions of life of their own members. They deserted the platform of trade union struggle against the employers and adopted in its place a programme of peaceful agreement with the capitalists at any price. This policy has been followed not only by the liberal unions in England and America, and by the allegedly 'socialist' free trade unions in Germany and Austria, but also by the syndicalist unions in France....

 

 

2.

 

In order to wage their economic struggles successfully, the broad working masses are now streaming into the ranks of the trade unions. In all capitalist countries the membership of the trade unions is increasing by leaps and bounds; the unions no longer organize only the advanced sections, but the great mass of the proletariat, who are trying to turn them into their own fighting weapon. The greater acuteness of class contradictions forces the unions to lead the strikes which are spreading in a broad wave over the entire capitalist world and constantly interrupting the process of capitalist production and exchange. As prices rise and their own exhaustion grows, the working masses raise their demands and thus destroy the basis of all capitalist calculations, which are the essential prerequisite of any orderly economy. The trade unions, which during the war became channels for influencing the working masses in the interests of the bourgeoisie, are now becoming organs for

the destruction of capitalism.

 

 

3.

 

This change in the character of trade unions is being hampered in every way by the old trade union bureaucracy and the old organizational forms of the trade unions. The old union bureaucracy is trying to maintain the unions as organizations

of the labour aristocracy; it retains the rules and regulations which make it impossible for the badly paid working masses to join the unions. Even now the old trade union bureaucracy is trying to substitute for the strike struggle of the workers,

which with every day takes on more and more the character of a revolutionary struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie, a policy of agreement with the capitalists, a policy of long-term agreements which, with the uninterrupted mad rise in prices, are utterly meaningless. It is trying to force on the workers the policy of collaboration with the employers, of joint industrial councils, and to make the conduct of strikes more difficult from the legal point of view, with the help of the capitalist State. . . .

 

 

4.

 

Since powerful working masses are streaming into the unions, and since the economic fight which these masses are waging, in opposition to the trade union bureaucracy, has an objectively revolutionary character, communists in all countries must join the trade unions, in order to turn them into conscious fighting organs for the overthrow of capitalism and for communism. They must take the initiative in forming trade unions where these do not exist.

All voluntary abstention from the unions, all artificial attempts to create separate trade unions, unless compelled thereto either by extraordinary acts of violence on the part of the trade union bureaucracy (such as the dissolution of revolutionary branches of the unions by the opportunist union headquarters), or by their narrow policy of serving only the labour aristocracy which makes it impossible for the masses of less skilled workers to join the union, are extremely dangerous for the communist movement. They involve the danger that the masses, who are on the road to communism, will be separated from the most advanced and class-conscious workers and surrendered to the opportunist leaders who work hand in glove with the bourgeoisie. The indecision of the working masses, their intellectual irresolution, their susceptibility to the specious arguments of the opportunist leaders, can be overcome only in the course of the sharpening struggle, to the extent that the broadest strata of the proletariat learn from their own experience, from their victories and defeats, that it is no longer possible within a capitalist economic system to get human conditions of life, to the extent that the advanced communist workers learn to act, in the economic struggle, not only as heralds of the ideas of communism, but as the most determined leaders of the struggle and of the trade unions. Only in this way will it be possible to get rid of the opportunist union leaders. Only in this way can the communists get at the head of the trade union movement and make of it an organ of revolutionary struggle for communism. . . .

 

 

5.

 

Since communists attach more importance to the goal and nature of trade unions than to their form, they should not shrink from a split in the union organizations if the refusal to split would be tantamount to abandoning revolutionary work in the unions, abandoning the attempt to make them instruments of revolutionary struggle and to organize the most exploited sections of the proletariat.

But even if such a split should prove to be necessary, it should be effected only if the communists succeed in convincing the broad working masses, by constant struggle against the opportunist leaders and their tactics, by the most vigorous participation in the economic struggle of the broad working masses, that the split is to be made not for the sake of distant revolutionary aims which they do not yet understand, but

for the sake of the most immediate practical interests of the working class in the development of their economic struggle. . . .

 

 

6.

 

Where splits between opportunist and revolutionary trade union leadership have already occurred, where, as in America, there are, in addition to the opportunist unions, unions with revolutionary if not communist tendencies, communists are

obliged to support these revolutionary unions, to help them free themselves of syndicalist prejudices and adopt a communist standpoint, which can alone serve as a reliable compass in the perplexities of the economic struggle. Where there are factory organizations, whether part of or outside the trade unions, such as shop stewards and factory committees, whose object is to fight the counter-revolutionary tendencies of the trade union bureaucracy and support the spontaneous direct actions of the proletariat, communists must of course support these organizations with the utmost energy. But support for revolutionary unions should not mean that communists leave the opportunist unions which are in a state of ferment and are

moving towards advocacy of the class struggle. On the contrary, in seeking to accelerate this development of the mass unions which are on the road to revolutionary struggle, communists will be able to play the part of an element uniting the workers in the unions, theoretically and organizationally, for the common struggle for the abolition of capitalism.

 

 

7.

 

In the epoch of capitalist decay the economic struggle is transformed into a political struggle far more quickly than could have happened in the age of peaceful capitalist development. Any large-scale economic conflict may confront the workers with the question of revolution. It is therefore the duty of communists, at all stages of the economic struggle, to point out to the workers that the struggle can be successful only if the working class defeats the capitalist class in open battle and embarks on the work of socialist construction by means of dictatorship. With this in mind, the communists must try to establish complete unity as widely as possible between the trade unions and the communist party, subordinating the unions to the leadership of the party as the vanguard of the workers' revolution. For this purpose communists must form communist party fractions in all trade unions and factory

committees and with their help take over and lead the trade union movement.

 

 

 

II

 

1.

 

The economic struggle of the proletariat for higher wages and better living conditions generally for the working masses is getting deeper into a blind alley every day. The economic disorder which is enveloping one country after another shows

even the backward workers that it is not enough to fight for higher wages and a shorter working day, that with every day the capitalist class is less and less able to restore economic life and to ensure for the workers even the standard of life they

enjoyed before the war. From this growing recognition arise the efforts of the working masses to create organizations which can take up the struggle to rescue economic life by workers' control, exercised through the control of production by

the factory committees. . . .

It is therefore a mistake to want to organize factory

committees only of those workers who have already adopted the programme of proletarian dictatorship. On the contrary, because of this economic disorder, it is the duty of the communist party to organize all workers, and to arm them for the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship by extending and deepening the struggle, which they all understand, for workers' control over production.

 

 

2.

 

The communist party will be able to accomplish this task if, in the struggle of the factory committees, it intensifies the awareness of the masses that the planned restoration of economy on a capitalist basis, which would mean the further

subjugation of the workers by the State for the benefit of the capitalist class, is now impossible. The organization of economic life in the interests of the working masses is possible only when the State is in the hands of the workers, when the strong hand of the workers' dictatorship starts on the abolition of capitalism and on socialist reconstruction.

 

 

3.

 

The struggle of the factory committees against capitalism has as its immediate general object workers' control over production. . . .

The committees in the different factories will soon be faced with the question of workers' control over entire branches of industry and industry as a whole. But since any attempt by the workers to supervise the supply of raw materials and the financial operations of the factory owners will be met by the bourgeoisie and the capitalist government with the most

vigorous measures against the working class, the fight for workers' control of production leads to the fight for the seizure of power by the working class. . . .

 

 

5.

 

Factory committees cannot replace the trade unions. Only in the course of the struggle can the committees step outside the limits of the individual factory orworkshop and unite on the basis of an entire industry, establishing machinery for the

conduct of the struggle as a whole. The trade unions are already centralized fighting organs, although they do not include such great working masses as the factory committees can, which are looser organizations accessible to all the workers in an undertaking. This division of function between factory committee and trade union is a result of the historical development of the social revolution. Trade unions organize

the working masses for struggle on the basis of the demands for higher wages and a shorter working day throughout the country. Factory committees are organized for workers' control over production, for the fight against economic chaos; they cover all the workers in the factory, but their struggle can only gradually assume a nationwide character. Only in so far as the trade unions overcome the counterrevolutionary tendencies of their bureaucracy, deliberately become organs of revolution, should communists support the effort to turn factory committees into factory branches of the trade union. . . .

 

 

 

III

 

 

. . . The opportunist trade union leaders, who during the war acted as lackeys of the bourgeoisie, are now trying to re -establish the trade union international and make

of it a weapon for international world capital in its fight against the proletariat. Led by Legien, Jouhaux, and Gompers,

they are forming a 'labour office' attached to the League of Nations, that organization of the international system of capitalist robbery. In all countries they are trying to throttle the strike movement by legislation which will compel the

workers to submit to courts of arbitration composed of representatives of the capitalist State. Everywhere they are trying to reach agreement with the capitalists on granting concessions to the skilled workers, seeking in this way to shatter the growing unity of the working class.

With every day the economic struggle of the proletariat in every country is becoming more revolutionary. Therefore the trade unions must consciously use all their power to support every revolutionary struggle, in other countries as well as their own. For this purpose they must not only strive to bring about the greatest possible centralization of the struggle in their country, but they must do this on an international scale by entering the Communist International, uniting with it into an

army whose various parts carry on the struggle in common by reciprocal support.


 

 

Comintern

III. International