Part 2: Discussion of Zinoviev's Report on the Trade Union Question

Intervention by delegates of the KAPD at the Third Congress of the Communist International in 1921 in response to Grigory Zinoviev's report on the trade union question.

Submitted by waslax on July 15, 2009

BERGMANN (MEYER): Comrades, yesterday, in his report, comrade Zinoviev insisted on the fact that the question of attitude vis-a-vis the trade unions has a preponder­ant importance for the development, for the progress of the revolution. We know that the conquest of political power must be on all fours with that of economic power, and, to tell the truth, its not solely a question of the acquisition of po­litical and economic power; we must, even now, prepare ourselves for the fact that with the conquest of power one has done nothing if one does not create the preliminary conditions to be in a position to next consolidate and preserve this power. Such is the problem to which we must find a solution. In the past phase of the revolution at the scale of different states, certain regions in certain coun­tries have often already come to take power; but, to some diverse degrees, these revolutions have not united to consolidate and build this power once conquered. And in most cases, one has failed, as in 1918 at the time of the eruption of the German revolution, because one has not united, once political power was conquered, to establish economic power. Comrades, it is necessary to test the dimensions of this cause. Communists must examine what is to be done in order to eliminate these errors and find the means by which such setbacks will not be reproduced in the future. We cannot and must not, in the highly developed capitalist countries, rely on occasional possibilities and yield to the illusion that all will be well. We must insofar as this is possible within capitalist society, concretely seek to create some organs that can appear at the instant they are called on to complete their tasks. In his report, yesterday comrade Heckert analysed the tasks that had been posed for the old trade unions, and he showed us how they tried to realise them within capitalist society. Likewise comrade Zinoviev clearly and distinctly outlined for us what the trade unions have to do in the revolution and how – just as I have already stated -- they must next aid in building and consolidating economic power.

When we consider the task and the structure of the trade unions of the capitalist period, we see, above all in the highly developed capitalist countries, that their task was to ameliorate the life of the working class within capitalist society. This task which was posed to the trade unions is no longer to be resolved today, no longer to be accomplished. On this subject, no difference of opinion can prevail among us. In spite of this, we see many trade unions still trying today to accomplish their old tasks, which was correct and good in the pre-revolutionary period, whereas they can no longer resolves them when actions are openly engaged. These trade unions have become the second weapon of the capitalist state.

Comrade Zinoviev told us yesterday that presently the capitalist states hold the working class in subjection, not only by the sword but by the lie. And this apparatus, this state apparatus of the lie that still lastingly maintains the working class in oppression is constituted today by the old trade unions.

Thus, they have become today, we see it above all in Germany, a direct instrument, a bastion of the capitalist state.

Comrades, you believe you are able, at the present time, to conquer such organisations, to transform them into instruments of the revolution. On this subject the opinion of the KAPD -- and not uniquely its opinion, as it appears here -- diverges from that of the majority of parties that have been admitted into the Communist In­ternational. I say that the KAPD is not alone in defending this point of view: the shop stewards In England, the IWW in the United States, the syndicalist organisa­tions In France, Spain and Italy show us that they are of the same opinion; with the aid of the counter-revolutionary trade unions, in undertaking their conquest, one cannot revolutionise the working masses; one cannot transform them into instru­ments of the revolution. We see this process unfolding and perfecting itself in Germany in an absolutely clear way. The comrades of the VKPD [United Communist Party of Germany] up till now stuck to the point of view of the conquest of the trade unions. Now yesterday we heard for the first time, in the speeches of comrades Zinoviev and Heckert, that it is neces­sary to destroy the trade unions, even if this was not explicitly said. If one speaks like that about this problem, if one speaks of destruction of the trade un­ions, it may be possible to find here some possibilities of unity between us and the majority. We are fundamentally of the opinion that it is necessary to break from the old trade unions. Not because we have a thirst for destruction, but because we see that these organisations have really become, in the worst sense of the term, organs of the capitalist state for suppressing the revolution. When, in 1918, with the collapse of the German army, it seemed the hour had come to conquer power, it was the German trade unions, their directing organs, that from the beginning to the end of the war had preached and put into action the die-hard poli­cy, it was the trade unions that at the instant when we had political power in our hands, put the collapsed state back on its feet. With the aid of the officers' camarilla, it was the union leaders, Noske and others, who united the routed gangs of the bourgeoisie and thus made an obstacle to the revolution in Germany.

Even today, the entire line of the old trade unions is on this position. Comrades,you seek to replace the open struggle of the working masses by a semblance of com­bat. Thus, in 1918 the German workers, taking as their model the Russian revolution created workers' councils; the council idea more and more asserted itself in the German proletarian masses and did not allow itself to be either buried or trampled then, that is to say, up till April-May 1919, the trade unions practiced a weather vane policy. From the very first, they sharply fought the idea of workers' councils, suppressed it in a most brutal fashion, by force of bayonets. But then this idea emerged again. It was then with the aid of these trade unionist satellites of the state that the law on the councils was created which had to supposedly assure the working masses influence over production, consumption, above all the economic movement in general. In this epoch broad working masses allow themselves to be deluded, they truly believe that such a law gives them an influence over later development. But it has been demonstrated little by little that this law is so finely constructed that it signifies, in the worst sense of the term, the gagging of the revolu­tion. Today we see the working masses who in days past through [threw?] themselves onto this hook, now completely freeing themselves.

It is not necessary to hear thereby that all the workers have already seen through this patent fraud. But we see today broad layers of revolutionary workers starting to struggle against this apparently revolutionary, in reality re­actionary law. The councils that were elected and formed then are not instruments of the masses' revolution, but only instruments of reaction, in the worst sense of the word. We observe it at the time of each struggle, great or small. One example only: when, in March of this year, in central Germany, the struggle began in the Leuna factories, the faith in these councils had so declined that the first action of the 25,000 Leuna workers consisted of deposing the legal council and electing a revolutionary action committee in its place.

HECKERT: That's an absurdity:

BERGMANN: Come now, comrade Heckert, I know better than you the facts of Leuna, and I know how they unfolded. It was a comrade of the VKPD and a comrade of the KAPD who revoked the council after a fight, and Tuesday morning a revolutionary action committed was elected by the workers in the enterprise.

It was like that wherever the workers marched into combat. Comrades we must now carefully examine whether this development can and must continue. If we see that the workers can have no confidence in these factory councils created by the law on councils, we must then force ourselves to otherwise regroup the workers, we must give them some other councils which, then, when the revolution triumphs, will effectively enjoy the confidence of the broad masses of the industrial proletariat. How can this be brought about? Is it possible or not within the old trade unions, which have shown us, through their action, that they have become a part, and truly a very strong part, of the capitalist state. We see everywhere, not only in Germany that the trade unions have developed in this sense. We see it in America with the large Gomper[s] trade unions [of the American Federation of Labor], we see it quite recently in England in the course of the last weeks past, in Italy at the time of the great strikes that were beaten with the aid of the reactionary socialist party. Thus we see everywhere the old trade unions and the old social-democratic parties holding hands. They work hand in hand to smooth the class contradictions where we, as communists, have the task -- which we must fulfill -- of exploding the class contradictions with more sharp­ness. The old trade unions, in their constitution and according to their structure were organs that worked within capitalist society and that adapted themselves to it. The initiative, the will of individuals or strong minorities could not exist in these trade unions. It was impossible for any strong minorities to break their way, against the will of the leaders, through the fine links of the statutes and paragraphs proper to each trade union federation We see everywhere that they have done violence even to the great majority of active members organised in the trade unions; these must still today bow, against their will, to the dictatorship of the leaders because the leaders have the threads of the organisation firmly in hand; they have the totality of its ap­paratus as well as its financial apparatus. That is why these great masses of militants resolutely cannot affirm themselves in a revolutionary sense, they are condemned to inactivity and will be forced to work against their will for the maintenance of the present capitalist trade unions. We are of the opinion that it is impossible to revolutionise such trade unions. Some attempts in this sense have already been undertaken many times. The most significant in this connection we see being developed now in Germany. The comrades of the VKPD undertake to revo­lutionise the trade unions by erecting some cells there, communist cells, which must meanwhile bring in a logical way a decomposition and a ruin of the trade un­ions. One can refute this if one would want to, but everywhere the constitution of cells has been undertaken, we see that what is undertaken in reality is the de­struction of the organism itself by the central trade unions. We see that every­where, through the foundation of cells, one has not broken the character of the trade unions, one has not broken the charm that the leaders exercise over the basic trade unionist militants. We see, on the contrary, that as the masses are organisationally united to these leaders, they incline more towards the orders of their yellow counter-revolutionary trade unionist leaders than towards the slogans of the communist parties. In cen­tral Germany we have witnessed some typical examples: some great masses of members of the VKPD did not follow the slogans of struggle of their party because they were at the same time members of trade unions and they followed the anti-strike orders. It is like that wherever one casts a glance. The trade unions -- said com­rade Zinoviev yesterday -- must be organs that must proceed to the construction of the coming society, that must have, as much as possible, a great influence at the time of the construction of communist society. When we consider the past of the trade unions, the tasks that they were posed in times past and their present struggle for the revolution, we see then the opposite by which they must be used at the time of the revolution and by which they are used at this very day. Already during-the war a strong aversion for the trade unions by a great part of the workers appeared; even more, they deserted them en masse. At the beginning of the revolution, in the first weeks, we did not believe that the trade unions question would be the most burning one. At the time of the formation of the Spartacus League it was not resolved as it must be today. We believed then (and we were not the only ones to have this belief -- some others, including the Russian comrades, were them­selves also deluded about the speed of the revolution) that the revolutionary wave would be more rapid, that the speed of the revolution in Germany and in the other countries would have a more rapid rhythm and that the trade union question would not play the preponderant role that it has played at the time of the revolution. Already during the war, I have said, great fractions of the workers broke from these trade unions, because treason of these old trade unions, already effective before the war, was then brought out in an even clearer fashion. From there comes, as far back as the first months of the revolution, the slogan of the Spartacus League to the working masses: out of the trade unions. This slogan first of all-found a powerful echo in the working masses of the Ruhr; there, the fraud had been demonstrated in so evident a manner that a great part of the miners picked up this slogan and founded their own organisations, factory organizations. Next, it is true, after the best proletarian leaders of the revolution, like Rosa Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Leo Jogisches, and thousands and thousands of anonymous proletarians had fallen in the dust, Levi and his clique took the upper hand. This slogan was then transformed, reversed, because they feared the fight, because they wanted to avoid the fight against the reaction of the trade union bureaucracy. They launched the slogan of entering the trade unions, of revolutionising them from within, of conquering them.

In the course of the revolution they, have begun then to constitute cells which, when they showed themselves, were very quickly brought to report that the trade unions, taken in all their elements, could not remain one whole, but that some Ger­man federations were expelled, not only some cell members, but even some entire organisational bureaus. To have today some places where all the members who belong­ed to these cells have been expelled. Better yet some entire organisations, solidly united, were also; what is thus realised is in fact the destruction of the trade unions. When one side of the old trade union bureaucracy [… affirms?] what I said here, that is to say that the trade unions are destroyed and dispersed by this kind of activity, the comrades of the VKPD affirm then that this is not the case, that they construct cells with a view to maintaining the trade unions. They believe that you can animate with a revolutionary spirit the unions that have become the solid bas­tions of the reaction.

Comrades, it has already been said yesterday that the oppression of the Class is realised thanks to the sword and the revolver and thanks to deceit, that is to say on one side the army, on the other the trade union bureaucracy; we have likewise seen-- and on this subject there can exist no difference of opinion—that one cannot animate the standing army with a communist spirit. No more than one can make the standing army a tool of the revolution, can one make the organs of deceit -- the trade unions -- instruments of the revolution. Everywhere we see things developing like that; everywhere the development arises in this way and, because of this, the slogan of communists must not be: conquest of the trade unions, but destruction of the trade unions, and, at the same time, construction of new organisations.

Comrades, we must recognise and demonstrate from, this day on, by making a rigourous outline, the forms the proletariat needs to hold well and affirm its power after having carried off the victory. For this it is necessary, above all in the highly developed western European countries, that, from this day on and as broadly as possible, we bring the masses of proletarians to create for themselves the organs that will then be sole to direct production. Heckert said here yesterday: the cells that must cover the enterprises must be developed outside of the enterprises in organisations of industry; this goal, outlined, it is true, in a most rigourous fashion, is the goal of primary importance pursued by the associations of different tendencies that were born in the course of the revolution in Germany.

The old workers’ association of the miners, which alluded to a little while ago, showed, in its nature and the entirety of its tendency, another direction than that of the old organs of the previous period. It found itself in clear-cut struggle with reaction, with Amsterdam, and showed that it created the organs that are called on to take production into their hands. At the present time, it is true, these organs are not irreproachable, but they will become, in the course of the revolution, more pure and more solid. In these miners' associations one considered again, for example, the legal councils as revolutionary instruments. But the factory organisation of the miners also came in the course of the revolution to understand that this law on the factory councils signified the surest means to deceive them.

The General Workers’ Union of Germany which, since its origin, worked in close connection with the KAPD, has explained and recognised that the unions are taking another road today, that they must be constructed differently, that they must struggle and fight with other means. The General Workers' Union consistently opposes the means of struggle that were adopted by the trade unions in the past, in the point of its statutes that concerns adherence to the factory organisation, one finds, in the first place, as preliminary condition, the demand that members be partisans of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In these statutes it is further indicated that members must oppose the old rusty weapon of the political domain: participation in elections to parliament. It creates in its ranks, be­ginning with its organisation in the factory, the councils that must be the organs exercising power the day of the struggle and behind which the proletarian masses will stand. These councils, comrades, are not councils in the style of the counter­feit councils that we saw born in Germany at the beginning of 1919, after the revo­lution. These are not councils legalised by the capitalist state, elected on the basis of the law on factory councils and standing behind it; these are not councils that, in conformity with this law, have to look after the increase of production in the enterprises, according to which calm and order reign in the enterprise; but these are councils that are in the working masses themselves, who work themselves at the bench-vice, who fight in the front rank of the workers in the daily struggle in the factory, who express the will of the active comrades in the enterprise. These are councils that are taking root in the masses, that are showing them the road of struggle. These councils, these organs will become the organs that will really have the working masses behind them. It is necessary to create the preliminary condition so that what we saw in Germany when the working masses and the soldiers created some-councils does not happen again. In that period the proletariat did not understand the council idea, they knew nothing outside of some driblets received from Russia. And if, today, in the revolutionary epoch in which we find ourselves, we do not already prepare the councils, if we do not show the masses, in practice, the road that they must take, then there is imminent danger according to which, at the time of the corning revolutionary wave, will once again be betrayed, that the proletariat will see ­once again that we do not have the organs necessary for the consolidation of victory. That is why, comrades, we are everywhere forced to create these organs. It is not only in Germany that we see the development happening thus, we see it also in differ­ent highly developed capitalist countries. In England we see to date, the “shop stewards" lead the struggle in a relentless fashion against the trade union bureaucracy, but at the same time against the entire governmental power. Because the trade unions of the old school have become in almost every country organs of the government. They largely enjoy its protection. After the struggles in central Germany we see that in the gigantic enterprises the workers are obliged to enter the old trade union organisations; the contractor exerts pressure on the trade unions when they want to again become active within the enterprise. We see then things happen everywhere in this way. When comrades state that it will be possible to conquer these trade unions, from within, to fill them with a communist spirit, it is a heresy to which we cannot yield. We believe, and see this belief confirmed by practice, that these things are not possible. From this day on we must create organs that might enter into the fight against the bastions that support the capitalist state.

Comrades, the international workers' movement, the international communist move­ment, will have to have this principally in view, it will have to if it doesn't want to commit an error, if it sees clearly how things happen, enters upon this course, if it must be possible to hold the pow­er conquered in the capitalist countries. We see that the task of the old trade unions consists more today in disguising the contradictions that arise, in smoothing them over, in lying to the workers, in defeating them. We have doubly so the task of showing the workers in practice that it is possible to create now the practical organs that show the working masses the other road, that show what a council system means, what their task is, how they must be made. This cannot be the case within the old unions. The trade unions, as we envisage them, are structured by factory organisations in the enterprises, at the source of production, where the working masses find themselves united, where they form a great whole; there, each worker has the most chance of being involved, on the basis of the same labour, in the constitution of some workers' organisations, in such a way that he has a interest in the general development, to the body of labour itself. Comrades, this cannot happen if we create some trade unions in which there is a central dictatorship of the high towards the low. On the contrary, it is necessary that the will of the highly developed industrial working masses succeeds in echoing from the bottom to the top. The source of this force is in the enterprise itself. It is there, in the process of production, that we must lift up and train the worker, so that he becomes himself an instrument of the revo­lution. In these conditions, centralism from the top cannot be the principle of construction of the trade unions; development must happen in the reverse. We guide the body of the workers into the factory organisations. In the enterprises the workers elect their councils, their organs that represent their interests. Comrade Heckert said yesterday that we, the communist workers party, refuse to 'intervene in the questions of daily struggle, that we always have only the great goal in sight, straight off. We have the task, as communists, not of launching slogans for daily struggle amongst the working masses, but these slogans must be laid down not […?] the working masses in the factories. We always have to indicate to these working masses that the solution of these daily questions will not ease their si­tuation and that in any case it can not lead to the decline of capitalist society. As communists we have the task of always putting before the broadest masses the great goal, the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of communist so­ciety. We have, we communists, [the task?] of participating in this everyday struggle, of marching at the head of these struggles. In this way, comrades, we oppose the daily fight, but in this daily fight we place ourselves in the forefront of the masses, we always show them the path, the great goal of communism.

Such is the task of the communist party, of the communist organisations, in these workers organisations.

We know, however, that these economic organisations can easily fall into opportun­ism. We see everywhere the danger that they do not recognise the goal. We do not only see it in the German trade unions, but also in the trade unions which have al­ready broken from the central federations and struggle with some revolutionary means. We have seen it in Italy at the time of the factory occupations and in part in the IWW which fundamentally opposes the political struggle. Everywhere we see these organisations become insipid because of this, it is the task of communists to fill these trade unions with a revolutionary spirit, with the spirit of commun­ism, so that they don't fall into the road of opportunism. We also take part in all these struggles; wherever they occur, communists have the necessity and the respon­sibility of putting themselves at the head of the fight. Comrades, if we build these factory organisations, we must above all not forget to unite them in a great whole in a bloc that is constituted in a decided totality. Once these organisa­tions are unified through the country by localities and by districts, then we see the basis of the council system developing itself within capitalist society, it is possible to have the council system in its fundamental traits and to familiarize the workers with this idea in action. If we take up the struggle in this way, if we train and improve the working class in order that it may become the organ for the demolition of the capitalist state, then, comrades, we have already created the preliminary conditions in capitalist society. Then, the day of the revolution, we do not find ourselves really empty-handed, we will have familiarised the working class with the idea that we must absolutely carry to it. We must accelerate the de­velopment of these organisations, aid them in their construction and fill them with the communist spirit.

SCHULZ: What percentage of Dittman hides in these thoughts?

BERGMANN: I do not un­derstand, comrade Schulz, how we can compare this with Dittmann. When we see the organisations of different countries, united today at the international congress of red trade unions, penetrated by the same idea: force the revolution in the world, fill the masses with revolutionary spirit, destroy capitalist society, then we must find the means to assemble the most possible of these masses on a fundamental unitary line, and in such a way that it leaves the broadest margin of action in each country, conforming to its different structure. The movement is not identical in all countries, we do not observe the same tendencies or the same pos­sibilities of development. We see that the American IWW finds itself in the old trade unions; it is possible that perhaps it cannot do otherwise in America today; if they enter these trade unions, they have at the same time an organisation at their side, and this is the core of their movement.

Things are not presented in the same way in Germany today. If today the comrades of the VKPD recognise -- and according to us it will have to recognise it — that the conquest of the unions is an absurdity, that one must not go to conquer them, then it would be necessary to recognise that it is necessary to engage oneself in some other roads. If three million or two and a half million trade union members have today decided on union with Moscow, with the red trade union international, this means nothing for us, if we do not at the same time free ourselves from the hold of their leaders. This programmatic declaration, this sympathy in favour of Moscow, means nothing at all. If one does not stand today for breaking them from the old trade unions one will see the members who have decided themselves for Moscow – it’s true, by means of ballot-papers or raised hands — follow the call of the trade un­ion monks and their leaders the day of the fight. This is what we see, comrade Heckert, at Chemnitz where you live, and if you are of another opinion, give some supporting evidence. Comrades, things are being developed rapidly. If we are of the opinion that the revolution is unfolding, we must, without reservation, take up the action. In the contrary case the revolution will surprise us. The simple declaration of a part of the members of the trade unions for union is no evidence for us that the masses have been revolutionised by the cell tactic. You must still give us other evidence.

The revolutionisation of the trade unions in the countries where they have become the firm support of capitalism is today an absurdity. To believe that one could accomplish this is to miss at the first throw. The 9 to 10 millions trade unionized Germans could, if they were revolutionised, if they constituted the organ of the revolution, effectively take power today; they could, if we had them on our side, profit by the situation, each day, at each hour, in order to destroy capital­ist society in Germany, to fire the revolution there and, thereby, to push the world revolution forward. We see these organs fail everywhere, and they must fail, and because of this, in the interest and service of the revolution, we must, call for their destruction. As we have had to destroy, to crush the political parties of the pre-revolutionary period, so we must destroy the organs of economic organisa­tion, the trade unions, before coming to the victory of the revolution.

Comrades, if the destruction of the trade unions, if the struggle in the trade un­ions in the highly developed capitalist countries has not shown enough violence up to now, if today on our side the accent is not placed enough on that, it is be­cause the beginning of the revolution took more of a political than economic character. We see at the present time that the economic question is placed a little more on the primary plane, that the economic basis of the struggle arises in a sharper way, and because of this decomposition and destruction more take the upper hand in the trade unions. In England and in Germany, although the trade union bureaucrats may be covered at least in proportion to their sins as the political parties of the pre-revolutionary period, we see that the decomposition of the trade unions has not progressed as quickly, because the demand for their destruction has not been put forward in as strong a way. Comrades, I do not want to put forward that thereby the political organizations have already fulfilled their tasks. I would not want it to seem like that. But we see everywhere, as I said be­fore, that the economic question attains a more elevated degree, that it pushes it­self onto the primary level. The trade unions of the pre-revolutionary epoch cannot resolve the tasks of the revolution, whence their destruction.

Comrades, we find ourselves, on the subject of the trade union question, in open disagreement with the majority of comrades present or represent­ed here. If we have arrived at this conception, if we hold on strongly to this thought, it is not because it is an idea that has no basis for us, but because through the march of the revolution in German and also in other countries -- pre­sently in England —- we have seen that we must create, even now, organs that will be called to take charge of production. We find ourselves on this terrain: in the service of the revolution, for its continued development; and we must regain there, we must persevere in this viewpoint if we do not want the revolution to regress in these countries. From the given economic situation of a country we recognise things such as they occur; we draw our conclusions and we act in conformity with them. If we see the situation in such a precise way, if we recognise it and organise our­selves in this manner, we can really render some revolutionary service, really create the organs that on the day of the revolution will be the bastion on which the dictatorship of the proletariat can be erected. It will not be otherwise; this is not leaving the old counter-revolutionary organisations in existence and seeking to decomposing them from within, but in creating new organs for the destruction of capitalism and, at the same time, of construction of communism that the victory of the revolution will have assured.

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