Third Congress of the Communist International
The Struggle Against the
Amsterdam (scab) Trade-Union International
12 July 1921
The bourgeoisie keeps the working class enslaved not only by means of naked force, but also by subtle deception. In the hands of the bourgeoisie, the school, the church, parliament, art, literature, the daily press — all become powerful means of duping the working masses and spreading the ideas of the bourgeoisie into the proletarian milieu.
One of the ideas which the ruling classes have succeeded in inculcating into the working masses is trade-union neutrality — the idea that trade unions are non-political organisations and should have no party affiliations.
Over recent decades and, in particular, since the end of the imperialist war, the trade unions in Europe and America have become the largest of the proletarian organisations, in some countries uniting the entire working class. The bourgeoisie is well aware that the future of the capitalist system in the next few years depends on the extent to which the trade unions free themselves from bourgeois influences. Hence the frantic efforts of the international bourgeoisie and its social-democratic hangers-on to maintain, at all costs, the hold of bourgeois social democratic ideology over the trade unions.
As the bourgeoisie cannot openly call on the workers’ trade unions to support the bourgeois parties, it urges the unions not to support any party, the revolutionary Communist Party included. The sole aim of the bourgeoisie, however, is to prevent the trade unions from supporting the Communist Party.
The idea that trade unions should be neutral and apolitical has a long history. For decades the trade unions of Great Britain, Germany, America and other countries have believed in this idea. The priest-ridden Christian trade unions, the leaders of the bourgeois Hirsch Duncker trade unions, the respectable and peace-loving British trade unions, the members of the free trade unions of Germany and many syndicalists — all have come to accept it. Legien, Gompers, Jouhaux, etc. have been preaching neutrality for years.
In reality the trade unions have never been and could never have been neutral, even had they tried. Not only is trade-union neutrality harmful to the working class, but it cannot possibly be maintained. In the struggle between capital and labour, no mass workers’ organisation can remain neutral. The trade unions cannot remain uncommitted in their relations with the bourgeois parties and the parties of the proletariat. The leaders of the bourgeoisie are perfectly aware of this. But, just as it is essential to the bourgeoisie that the masses believe in life after death, so is it essential that they also believe that trade unions can be apolitical organisations and neutral in their relations with the workers’ Communist Party. In order to maintain its rule and squeeze surplus value from the workers, the bourgeoisie needs not only the priest, the policeman, the general and the informer, but also the trade-union bureaucrat and the kind of ‘workers” leader that teaches trade-unionists the virtues of neutrality and non-participation in political struggle.
Even before the imperialist war broke out, the more politically educated workers in Europe and America had begun to see through the idea of neutrality. The inadequacy of this teaching became even more obvious as the class contradictions deepened. When the imperialist slaughter began, the old trade-union leaders were forced to drop their masks of neutrality and openly take sides, each with their own national bourgeoisie.
During the imperialist war the social democrats and syndicalists who had for years preached that trade unions were apolitical placed their organisations at the service of the murderous policy of the bourgeois parties; those who had yesterday preached trade-union ‘neutrality’ now became the undisguised agents of certain political parties, but parties of the bourgeoisie, not parties of the working class.
Now that the imperialist war has ended, these same social-democratic and syndicalist trade-union leaders are trying once more to hide behind the mask of trade-union neutrality. Now that the war emergency is over, these agents of the bourgeoisie are adapting themselves to the new situation; they are trying to divert the workers from the path of revolution onto a path that profits the bourgeoisie alone.
Economics and politics are inseparably linked. This connection is particularly close in epochs such as the present. All important questions of political life should interest not only the workers’ party, but also the proletarian trade unions, and, similarly, all important economic questions should interest both trade union and workers’ party. When the French imperialist government calls up certain age-groups in order to occupy the Ruhr basin and crush Germany, can the French proletarian and trade-union movement say that this is a purely political question which does not concern the trade unions? Can a revolutionary French trade-unionist remain neutral on such a question? Or, to take another example: if a purely economic movement develops in Britain such as the present coal-miners’ strike, can the Communist Party say that this is just a trade-union question that does not concern it? At a time when millions of unemployed are faced with the struggle against poverty and need, when the question of requisitioning the homes of the bourgeoisie to relieve the housing shortage has to be raised, when the broad masses of workers are forced by circumstances to consider the question of arming the proletariat, when, first in one country and then in another, the workers organise the seizure of factories — at such a time, to say that the trade unions must not interfere in the political struggle and must remain neutral in relation to political parties means in practice to serve the bourgeoisie.
Despite the wide variety of names adopted by the political parties in Europe and in America, they can, on the whole, be divided into three groups: 1) parties of the bourgeoisie 2) parties of the petty bourgeoisie (mainly the social-democratic parties) and 3) parties of the proletariat (the Communists). Those trade unions which proclaim themselves neutral in relation to the three above-mentioned groups of parties in practice support the parties of the petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie.
The Amsterdam Trade-Union International is the organisation in which the Second International and the Two-and-a-Half International have met and joined hands. The bourgeoisie everywhere looks to this organisation with hope and trust. The neutrality of the trade unions is the fundamental principle of the IFTU. It is no accident that the bourgeoisie and its hangers-on — the social democrats and the right-wing syndicalists — are trying to rally the broad working masses in Western Europe and America under the slogan of trade-union neutrality. The Second International, which was more obviously political and openly went over to the side of the bourgeoisie, has completely collapsed, while the IFTU, which is attempting to hide its true colours once more behind the cover of neutrality, is having a certain success. Under the flag of neutrality, the IFTU carries out the dirtiest and most difficult missions of the bourgeoisie. The miners’ strike in Britain, for example, was crushed by the infamous J.H. Thomas, who is both chairman of the Second International and one of the best-known leaders of the IFTU. The IFTU is a party to the lowering of workers’ wages and to the organised robbery of the German workers as payment for the sins of the German imperialist bourgeoisie.
The workers’ leaders — Leipart, Grassman, Albert Thomas, Jouhaux, J.H. Thomas, Wissell, Bauer, and Robert Schmidt — have agreed on a division of labour. Some of them, who were previously leaders of the trade unions, have now entered bourgeois governments, serving as ministers, commissars, etc., while others, of the same flesh and blood, head the IFTU and preach neutrality in the political struggle to their trade-union members.
The IFTU is at the present time the main supporter of international capital. The struggle against capitalism cannot be waged successfully unless the need to fight this conception of the trade unions as apolitical and neutral is grasped. Before the most effective methods of struggle against the IFTU can be worked out, it is essential first and foremost to establish a clear and exact definition of the relations between the Party and the trade unions in each country.
The Communist Party is the vanguard of the proletariat. Its members have fully understood how the proletariat is to be liberated from capitalist oppression and have consciously accepted the Communist programme.
Trade unions are mass organisations of the proletariat. They are increasingly developed into organisations which unite all the workers of a given branch of industry; they include in their ranks not only dedicated Communists, but also workers who have little interest in politics and workers who are politically backward and who only gradually, through their own experience, come to understand what Communism means. In many respects the role of the trade union varies according to the stage the revolution has reached. But at every stage the trade unions are organisations which rally broader layers of the masses than does the Party. Their relation to the Party is to some extent like that of the provinces to the centre. In the period before the seizure of power, the truly revolutionary trade unions organise the workers, primarily on an economic basis, to fight for gains which can be won under capitalism. However, the main object of all their activity must be the organisation of the proletarian struggle to overthrow capitalism by proletarian revolution. At a time of revolution the genuinely revolutionary trade unions work closely with the Party; they organise the masses to attack capitalist strongholds and are responsible for laying the foundations of socialist production. After power has been won and consolidated, economic organisation becomes the central focus of trade-union work. The unions devote almost all their forces to the task of organising the economy on a socialist basis and are effectively transformed into a practical school of Communism. At all three stages of the struggle the trade unions must support the proletarian vanguard — the Communist Party — which leads the struggle of the proletariat. To achieve this end, the Communists and their sympathisers must organise cells within the trade unions; these cells are completely subordinate to the Communist Party as a whole.
The tactic formulated by the Second Congress of the Communist International of setting up Communist cells in each trade union has over the past year proved itself to be correct. Significant results have been achieved in Germany, Britain, France and Italy and in a number of other countries. The fact that considerable numbers of the less experienced workers have recently been leaving the free unions in Germany, out of disappointment at not receiving any direct advantages, should not alter the principled position taken by the Communist International on the participation of Communists in the trade-union movement. Communists must explain to the proletariat that their problems can be answered not by leaving the old trade unions for new ones, or by staying outside the unions, but by revolutionising the trade unions, ridding them of reformist influence and the treacherous reformist leaders, and transforming them into a genuine stronghold of the revolutionary proletariat.
The principal task of all Communists over the next period, is to wage a firm and vigorous struggle to win the majority of the workers organised in the trade unions. The Communist must not be discouraged by the present reactionary mood of the labour unions, but must try to overcome all resistance and by actively participating in their day-to-day struggle, win the unions to Communism. The true measure of the strength of a Communist Party is the influence it has on the mass of trade-unionists. The Party must learn how to influence the unions without being tempted to put itself forward as their guardian. Only the Communist cells of the union are subject to Party control; the union as such is independent of any control. The Communists have to rely on the persistent, selfless and intelligent work on the part of the Communist trade-union cells in order to make the trade unions as a whole willing and eager to follow their advice.
In France the trade unions are at present going through a period of healthy ferment. The working class is gradually beginning to recover strength after the crisis in its ranks, and is learning to recognise the treachery of the social-reformists and syndicalists for what it is.
Some of the revolutionary syndicalists in France are still prejudiced against the idea of political struggle and a proletarian political party. They still subscribe to the principle of neutrality as expressed in the well-known Amiens Charter of 1906. This incorrect and vulnerable position held by a wing of the revolutionary syndicalists is potentially dangerous for the movement. If this wing were to gain the majority in the unions, it would not know how to act and would be helpless against the agents of capital, the Jouhauxs, the Dumoulins, etc.
The revolutionary syndicalists will lack a firm line until the Communist Party itself develops a consistent policy. The French Communist Party must seek to co-operate in a friendly fashion with the most politically advanced of the revolutionary syndicalists. It is, however, essential that the Party rely primarily on its own members, forming Communist cells wherever it has two or three members. The Party must initiate an immediate agitational campaign against the concept of neutrality. It must explain in a friendly but firm way the incorrect aspects of revolutionary syndicalism. This is the only approach that can revolutionise the French trade-union movement and bring about the close co-operation of the Party and the movement.
In Italy the situation has certain specific aspects. The rank-and-file members of the trade unions are revolutionary, but the leadership of the Confederazione del Lavoro is in the hands of out-and-out reformists and centrists whose sympathies are with the IFTU. The first task of the Italian Communists is therefore to organise a firm struggle within the trade unions around day-to-day issues to expose systematically and patiently the treachery and indecision of the leaders, thereby wresting the trade unions from their control.
The Italian Communists should adopt the same attitude towards the revolutionary syndicalists as the French Communists.
In Spain the trade-union movement is very revolutionary in outlook, but has no clearly defined goal. The Communist Party is young and relatively weak. The Communists must do everything possible to secure a firm footing in the trade unions, giving active support and advice, conducting a vigorous campaign of agitation within the unions and establishing firm links between their party and the unions as a first step towards co-ordinating the struggle.
Important developments are taking place within the British trade-union movement. The unions are rapidly adopting a revolutionary orientation. The mass movement is growing, and the old trade-union leaders are being thrust aside. The Party must do its utmost to establish itself firmly in the largest unions (the miners’ unions etc.). Party members must be active in their unions and must work consistently and hard to extend Communist influence. Every effort must be made to forge closer contacts with the masses.
The same revolutionary process is occurring in America, though more slowly. Communists must on no account leave the ranks of the reactionary Federation of Labour [composed in the main of skilled workers]. On the contrary, they should seek to gain a foothold in the old trade unions with the aim of revolutionising them. It is vital that they work with the IWW members most sympathetic to the Party; this does not, however, preclude arguing against the IWW’s political positions.
In Japan abroad trade-union movement is developing spontaneously, but so far no clear leadership has emerged. Japanese Communists must support this movement and exert a Marxist influence upon it.
In Czechoslovakia our Party has the support of the majority of the working class, but the trade-union movement is still largely in the hands of the social-patriots, and is furthermore split along ethnic lines. This is the result of poor organisation and indecisive policies on our part. The Party must make a great effort to improve the situation and win the leadership of the trade-union movement. The formation of Communist cells in the unions and of a central trade-union body for Communists of all nationalities is absolutely essential. Every effort must also be made to unite the various politically divided unions.
In Austria and Belgium the social-patriots have skilfully managed to achieve a firm influence on the trade unions. In these two countries the trade-union movement is the main arena of struggle, and therefore the Communists should direct all their attention to this area of work.
In Norway the Party has the support of the majority of workers and must now strengthen its position in the trade unions and rid the leadership of its centrist elements.
In Sweden the Party has to contend not only with reformism, but also with petty-bourgeois currents in the socialist movement.
In Germany the Party is on the right road to winning over the trade unions gradually. On no account should concessions be made to those who advocate withdrawal from the trade unions. This would play into the hands of the social-patriots. All attempts to exclude Communists from the unions must be stubbornly resisted, and every effort must be made to win the majority of the organised workers.
These considerations determine the relations to be established between the Communist International on the one hand and the Red Trade-Union International on the other.
It is the task of the Communist International to direct not only the political struggle of the proletariat in the narrow sense of the word, but the general struggle for liberation, whatever forms it may take. The Communist International must be more than the arithmetical total of the Central Committees of the Communist Parties of the various countries. The Communist International must inspire and unite the work and struggle of all proletarian organisations, both the purely political and the trade-union, co-operative, Soviet and cultural organisations, etc.
The RILU, unlike the scab Amsterdam International, can in no circumstances stand above politics or adopt an attitude of neutrality. Any organisation that wanted to be neutral in relation to the II, the “Two-and-a-Half” and III Internationals would inevitably become a pawn in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The programme of action of the International Council of the Red Trade Unions which is outlined below, and which the Third World Congress of the Communist International is to present to the first Congress of the Red Trade Unions, will be defended in practice by the Communist Parties and the Communist International alone. For this reason, if for no other, the Red trade unions that wish to revolutionise the trade-union movement in every country and honestly and firmly carry out the movement’s new tasks will have to work in close contact with the Communist Party, and the International Council of Red Trade Unions will have to co-ordinate all its work with that of the Communist International.
The respect for neutrality, independence, apoliticism and non-partisanship that some honest revolutionary syndicalists in France, Spain, Italy and certain other countries harbour is nothing other than a concession to bourgeois ideology. The Red trade unions will be incapable of defeating the scab Amsterdam International or of overthrowing capitalism unless they repudiate once and for all the bourgeois ideas of independence and neutrality.
In order to conserve strength and concentrate striking power, the ideal solution would be the formation of a single proletarian International, uniting in its ranks both political parties and other forms of working-class organisation. Undoubtedly this is the organisation of the future. However, in the present transitional period, given the diverse types of trade union that actually exist, the essential need is for an independent international association of Red trade unions which supports the general outline of the platform of the Communist International, but sets less strict conditions for membership than the Communist International can allow.
The Third Congress of the Communist International pledges wholehearted support to the International Council of Red Trade Unions which is to be organised along these lines. To ensure closer contact between the Communist International and the RILU, the Third Congress of the Communist International proposes that it should be permanently represented by three members on the International Council of Red Trade Unions and vice versa.
The programme of action which the Communist International would like to see accepted by the Constituent World Congress of the Red Trade Unions is along the following lines:
Programme of Action
The acute world economic crisis, the catastrophic fall of wholesale prices, the overproduction of goods coupled with their actual scarcity, the aggressive anti-working-class policy pursued by the bourgeoisie, which aims at lowering wages and throwing the workers back decades — all this has led to discontent among the masses on the one hand and to the bankruptcy of the old trade unions and their methods of struggle on the other. The revolutionary, class-conscious trade unions the world over are confronted with new tasks. In this period of capitalist disintegration new forms of economic struggle have to be adopted and the trade unions have to pursue an aggressive economic policy in order to counter the capitalist attack and go over to the offensive.
The main tactic of the trade unions has to be the direct action of the revolutionary masses and their organisations against the capitalist system. The gains the workers make are in direct proportion to the degree of direct action taken and of revolutionary pressure exerted by the masses. By direct action is meant all forms of direct pressure on the employers and the state — boycotts, strikes, street demonstrations, the seizure of factories, armed insurrection and other revolutionary activities which unite the working class in the struggle for socialism. The aim of the revolutionary class trade unions is therefore to make direct action an instrument in the education and military training of the working masses for the social revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The most recent years of struggle have shown especially clearly the weakness of the trade-union organisations. The fact that workers in the same enterprise belong to several different unions reduces their ability to struggle. An unremitting fight therefore has to be fought to restructure the unions so that each union represents a whole branch of industry instead of a single trade. “Only one union in a factory” — this is the organisational slogan. The fusion of unions should be carried out in a revolutionary way — the question should be discussed directly by the members of the unions at the factories and subsequently by district and regional conferences and national congresses.
Each factory must become a stronghold of the revolution. The traditional forms of contact between rank-and-file members of the unions (through dues collectors, representatives, delegates) must be superseded by the formation of factory committees. All workers, whatever their political convictions, should participate in the election of the factory committees. RILU supporters should strive to involve all the workers of the factory in the elections of their representative body. Any attempt to elect exclusively like-minded comrades to the factory committees, thus excluding the broad masses who remain outside the Party, should be sharply condemned. This would be a Party cell rather than a factory committee. The revolutionary workers must influence the general meeting and the factory committee through the Party cells, the committees of action and the work of their rank-and-file members.
The first question which needs to be put before the workers and the factory committees is the issue of maintenance money that employers should pay workers made redundant. In no circumstance should factory owners be allowed to throw workers out onto the streets without bearing any of the consequences. They ought to pay full redundancy pay. The unemployed and, to an even greater extent, the employed workers should be organised around this question. They should be shown that the problem of unemployment cannot be solved as long as capitalist relations exist and that the best method of beating unemployment is to fight for social revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
At the present time the closure of factories and the reduction of the working day are two of the most important weapons used by the bourgeoisie to force the workers to accept lower wages, longer hours and the ending of factory agreements. The lock-out is increasingly becoming the form of ‘direct action’ used by the organised employers against the organised working masses. The unions must fight the closure of factories and demand that the workers have the right to investigate the reasons behind the closure. Special control commissions to deal with raw materials, fuel and orders must be established to carry out on-the-spot checks of the raw materials in stock, the materials essential to production and the bank balance of the factory or institution.
Specially elected control committees must undertake a thorough investigation of financial relations between the concern in question and other concerns — this raises in a practical way the need to open the books.
Factory occupations and work-ins are also forms of struggle against the mass closure of factories and wage cuts. In view of the prevailing lack of consumer goods, it is particularly important that production be maintained and unions should not permit the deliberate closure of factories. Other methods of putting pressure on capital can and must be used, in accordance with local conditions, the industrial and political situation, and the intensity of the social struggle. The administration of factories occupied by workers should be placed in the hands of factory committees and union representatives specially picked for the purpose.
The economic struggle should be fought around the slogan of raising wages and working conditions far above pre-war levels. Attempts to reintroduce pre-war working conditions must be resisted in a determined and revolutionary manner. The working class must be compensated for the privations of war-time by an increase in wages and an improvement in labour conditions. Capitalist arguments about foreign competition should always be disregarded: the revolutionary trade unions must approach the question of wages and labour conditions from the standpoint of the protection and the welfare of the labour force and not from the standpoint of competition between the exploiters of different nations.
If capitalist policy, as a result of the economic crisis, is leading to wage cuts, the revolutionary trade unions should make sure that their forces are not divided by wages being lowered first in one factory then in another. The workers in the socially useful branches of the economy (miners, railway workers, electricity and gas workers) must struggle from the start so that the resistance to the capitalist attack affects the key centres of the country’s economic life. All types of resistance, from guerrilla actions to general national strikes of individual basic industries, can be used.
The trade unions must consider in practical terms the question of preparing and organising industrial strike action in particular industries on an international scale. The temporary standstill on an international scale of transport or coal-mining is a powerful weapon against the reactionary intentions of the bourgeoisie. The trade unions must follow world events closely in order to choose the most appropriate moment for economic struggle. They must not for a moment forget that international action of any kind is only possible with the formation of international trade unions that are genuinely revolutionary and have nothing in common with the scab Amsterdam International.
The revolutionary movement must strongly criticise the absolute faith in the value of collective agreements preached by opportunists everywhere. The collective agreement is nothing more than an armistice. The owners always violate these agreements at the earliest opportunity. This religious attitude towards collective agreements is evidence that bourgeois ideology is firmly rooted in the minds of the leaders of the working class. Revolutionary trade unions must not reject collective agreements, but they must understand that their value is limited, and must be prepared to break the agreements when this benefits the working class.
The struggle of the workers’ organisations against the individual employer or groups of employers should, while adapting itself to national and local conditions, also draw on all the experience acquired in previous struggles for working-class emancipation. Every important strike, for example, needs to be thoroughly prepared. Furthermore, from the outset the workers must form special groups to fight the strike-breakers and combat the provocative action of the various kinds of right-wing organisation which are encouraged by the bourgeois governments. The Fascists in Italy, the German technical emergency relief, the civilian organisations in France and Britain whose membership is composed of former officers and N.C.O.s — all these organisations have as their object the destruction and suppression of all working-class activity, not only by providing scab labour, but by smashing the working-class organisations and getting rid of their leaders. In such situations the organisation of special strike militias and special self-defence groups is a matter of life and death.
These defence organisations should not only resist the factory owners and the strike-breaking organisations — they should take the initiative in stopping the dispatch of goods to and from the factory where the strike is in progress. The transport workers’ union should play a particularly prominent role in such activity: it is its responsibility to hold up goods in transit, which can only be done, however, with the full support of all the workers in the area.
In the coming period the entire economic struggle of the working class must be conducted around the slogan of workers’ control over production. The workers should fight for the immediate introduction of workers’ control and not wait for the government and the ruling classes to think up some alternative. An uncompromising struggle has to be waged against all attempts by the ruling classes and the reformists to create intermediary labour associations and control commissions. Only when strict control over production is introduced can results be achieved. The revolutionary trade unions must resolutely fight against the way the leaders of the traditional unions, aided and abetted by the ruling class, use the idea of ‘nationalisation’ to blackmail and swindle the workers.
These gentlemen talk about peaceful socialisation only to divert the workers from revolutionary activity and social revolution.
Ideas of profit-sharing are put forward in order to play on the petty-bourgeois aspirations of the workers, diverting their attention from their long-term goals. Profit-sharing means that workers receive an insignificant part of the surplus value they produce, and the idea should therefore be subjected to harsh and rigorous criticism. “Not profit-sharing, but an end to capitalist profit” should be the slogan of the revolutionary unions.
In order to reduce or break the fighting power of the working class, the bourgeois states have resorted, under the pretence of protecting vital industries, to the temporary militarisation of industrial factories and whole branches of industry. Compulsory arbitration and conciliation commissions have been introduced, allegedly to prevent economic crises, but in actual fact to defend capital. In the interests of capital, direct taxation has been introduced, which places the burden of the war expenditure entirely on the shoulders of the workers and turns the employer into a tax-collector. The trade unions must put up a fierce fight against these state measures that serve only the interests of the capitalist class.
When they struggle for better labour conditions and living standards for the masses and the introduction of workers’ control, the Red unions should remember that these problems cannot be lastingly settled within the framework of capitalist relations. As the revolutionary trade unions win concessions from the ruling classes, step by step, forcing them to pass social legislation, they must make it clear to the working masses that only the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat can solve the social question. They must use every action, every local strike, every conflict, however minor, to argue their point. They must draw the lessons from the experience of struggle, raising the consciousness of the rank and file and preparing the workers for the time when it will be necessary and possible to achieve the social revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Every economic struggle is a political struggle, i.e., a struggle that concerns the class as a whole. However great working-class participation, the struggle can only be revolutionary and bring the proletariat maximum benefit if the revolutionary trade unions work in a close and unified fashion with the Communist Party of the country in question. The theory and practice of dividing the working-class struggle into two independent halves is extremely harmful, particularly in the present revolutionary situation. Every action requires the greatest possible concentration of forces, which can only be achieved if the working class, and all its Communist and revolutionary elements, give their utmost to the revolutionary struggle. If the Communist Parties and the revolutionary class-conscious trade unions work separately, their action is doomed to failure and defeat. It is for this reason that unity of action and close contact between the Communist Parties and the trade unions are prerequisites for success in the struggle against capitalism.