1. How the Trade Unions are Organised Today.
The functions of the trade unions are two-fold. First of all, they have to defend the workers’ standard of life everywhere against the attacks of the capitalist forces, which have closed their ranks internationally, and are thus in a position to deliver smashing blows. This embodies an attempt to improve the condition of the working class “within the framework of capitalist society”. But the trade unions’ ultimate function is a greater one, and is therefore in a sense primary, namely to achieve the overthrow of the capitalist system, the deliverance of labour, the inauguration of socialism. How is the working-class army grouped to-day?
First of all, the workers are organised in unions peculiar to each country, centralised to a degree which varies according to the level of industrial development attained by the country under consideration. In some countries there is nothing more than a loose federal alliance of local unions, or the latter may remain completely independent.
When the unions are nationally centralised, the aim of the national centres is to defend the interests of the workers thus organised in the particular country (see ‘Note on Terminology’ at the end of the chapter).
But these national centres are likewise organised in international federations. Most of them belong to the International Federation of Trade Unions (I.F.T.U.) whose headquarters are in Amsterdam; a much smaller number adhere to the Red International of Labour Union (R.I.L.U.), or Profintern, centred in Moscow; the trade unions formed under religious auspices adhere to the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions (I.F.C.T.U.); and the anarchist-syndicalist organisations are grouped in the International Workmen’s Association (I.W.A.), whose headquarters are in Berlin. In addition the “free” unions and the “religious” unions of the various countries are internationally associated in the so-called International Trade Secretariats (I.T.S.). The organisations that look towards Moscow for inspiration, and the “revolutionary minorities,” secure international contact with one another through the instrumentality of International Propaganda Committees; but these (as their name implies) neither are nor aspire to be formal organisations. As far as the anarchist-syndicalist organisations are concerned, these do not as yet have any international ties connecting the organised workers of the various industries.
Nor does there exist any organisational tie between the different International Trade Secretariats. In another respect, moreover, their mutual interconnections are most inadequate. The relationships between them go no further than the exchange of publications and occasional items of information. Furthermore, they have no organisational connection with the international trade union federations. The link is a purely moral one. As far as broad lines are concerned, the I.T.S. follow the policy and the tactics of the special international trade union federation to which they feel most closely akin: thus, the modern T.S. follow the lead of the I.F.T.U.; the religious-minded follow the lead of the I.F.C.T.U. and the International Propaganda Committees follow the lead of the R.I.L.U.
This brief survey suffices to show that the increasingly compact international capitalist alliance is faced by a working class which, both economically and industrially, both nationally and internationally, is dispersed. The enemy forces are, substantially, all of one mind; but our working-class army lacks the first requisites for successful combat unity and resolution.
We have further to reckon with the fact that the organisations of other continents than the European, those of the Americas and Australia and Asia, are still outside any kind of international federation. This is a very serious matter, seeing that to an increasing extent the world proletariat is becoming the object of exploitation by combinations of the capitalists of all lands, by united world capital.
Thus the inadequacy of the workers’ organisation both nationally and internationally makes a vigorous campaign against the capitalists difficult and often impossible. In addition, this looseness of organisation has unfortunate reactions upon the mentality of the workers, and has repercussions upon tactics and strategy.
Indubitably the spirit of the trade-union movement, notwithstanding the reverses of recent years, is different from, and better than, that which prevailed before the war. Still, we must admit that in trade-union circles, both nationally and internationally, there is a trend towards reversion to the views of those earlier days, so that many are inclined to have the same limited conception of the function of trade unionism that was general in the period which closed with the outbreak of the war. We are told that our task is to secure an improvement of wages and working conditions “within the framework of capitalist society.” The acceptance of this narrowly conceived aim implies the ignoring of the experience garnered amid the horrors of the war period and amid those of the “peace” that has followed it, namely that the primary task of the trade-union movement must be to fight capitalism and all its works. These backsliders want to leave to the political parties all activities that do not belong to trade unionism as it was understood in those days before the war.
Should this trend gain the upper hand, we shall not only forfeit our fighting energy on the various national fields, but, and above all, we shall destroy the possibility of an international struggle with capitalism.
It is necessary to recognise that the trade-union movement must be something more than a mere machine for the raising of wages and the reduction of working hours, that international organisation must have other ends in view than that of being an automatic apparatus for the distribution of information, and that the workers must organise in order to fight capitalism and conquer it. The realisation of these things is an indispensable preliminary to the international struggle, and to the understanding of sound tactics and the elaboration of right methods for the campaign.
Immediately after the close of the war, the workers in almost every country were swept forward by a surge of revolutionary will. As a reaction against the exaggerated nationalism and jingoism of the war period, there was a revival of the sentiment of international solidarity. The demand of the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of all lands unite,” seemed, for a moment, near to fulfilment.
International ties, which had been severed during the war, were reformed; and the international organisations were revived, not only with a larger membership than they had had before the war, but animated with a new spirit. There was, however, no change in the structure of the international organisations, or in tactics or strategy. There was more insight, a more vigorous will to war, a livelier international class consciousness – but, as of old, the fight was still narrowly national. There was no attempt to organise the struggle internationally. There was nothing more than an exchange of programs, the joint discussion of problems, the formulation of directives, and, when, a conflict arose between workers and employers, the provision of financial support. In very few instances was the fight of the workers in one country aided by solidarity activity on the part of the workers in other countries. There were only two instances in which the trade unions took international action. I refer to the boycott of Hungary, and to the interference with the sending to Poland of munitions that were to be used against Soviet Russia. Now it is characteristic that both of these instances of international activity were purely political in scope; they were not instances of international co-operation on the part of fighting organisations to secure better wages and working conditions.
In any case, international trade-union activity has been quite exceptional. The trade-union movement, in its struggle with capitalism, is practically content with the methods that were employed before the war.
In each country, the trade unionists fight the employers of their own land, if such a fight seems necessary or possible, and is supposed to be in the interest of the workers of that country. As far as international action is concerned, trade unionists are more inclined to trust in God than to put their own shoulders to the wheel!
In every fight it is self-evident that the combatants must take into account one another’s strength, equipment, and strategy, and must modify plans of attack and defense accordingly. A change of front on one side must immediately be followed by a change of front on the other. If more powerful weapons of attack are used by one combatant, the other must improve the means of defense and conversely.
These considerations are obvious. A child can understand them. If the commander-in-chief and the general staff of an army should fail to watch the enemy’s movements closely, if they should neglect to note with the utmost care every improvement in technique or armaments made by the other side, if they should omit to learn by such experience and to take prompt and suitable measures on their own side to meet the changes on the other, then their army would have to pay terribly for their criminal neglect.
What is taken as a matter of course in ordinary warfare seems to be ignored in the class war. The adaptation of the tactics and strategy of one party to changes in the tactics and strategy of the other party, is deplorably slow. At any rate, it is desperately slow as far as the exploited, the workers, are concerned. So hesitating, so tardy, so reluctant, have been the workers to take into account the changes in the enemy’s plan of campaign, that one position after another has had to be abandoned in face of the capitalist onslaught, which, for its part, is directed by persons who are fully conscious of their aim and are internationally organised.
MEMBERSHIP OF THE ORGANISATIONS AFFILIATED TO THE INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF TRADE UNIONS (AMSTERDAM).
Country 1 July, 1921-31 December, 1923
Great Britain 6,600,000-4,369,268
Greece 170,000 –
Norway 150,000 –
Rumania – 36,000
South Africa 60,000-10,000
THE SAME DECLINE IN MEMBERSHIP IS SHOWN IN THE CASE OF THE INTERNATIONAL TRADE UNION SECRETARIATS THAT TAKE THEIR DIRECTIVES FROM THE I.F.T.U.
Membership of International 1921-31 December, 1923
Agricultural Workers 2,097,033-690,996
Building Workers 804,194-942,991
Clothing Workers 590,500-375,801*
Commercial & Office Employees 843,000-806,818
Diamond Workers 24,500-19,358
Factory Workers 2,409,300-1,786,893*
Food Workers 306,000-510,000
Glass Workers 147,500-134,973*
Hairdresser’s Assistants 18,500-10,096
Hat Makers 46,859-57,003
Leather Workers 343,507-330,000
Metalworkers & Engineers 3,500,000-2,530,868
Musical Instrument Makers 52,550-51,650
Postal Telegraph & Telephone Workers 522,250-486,100
Public Services 473,142-405,931
Restaurant & Hotel Employees 245,950-148,538*
Textile Workers 1,604,000-1,547,289
Tobacco Workers 152,300-159,803
Transport Workers 2,713,403-2,041,824
The Membership of the R.I.L.U. (Moscow) shows a similar decline.
There are, of course, economic causes which account, in part for the fact that the workers throughout the world have been forced back upon the defensive causes upon which the proletariat can exert no influence, or as yet very little. But an additional factor is unquestionably the attitude of the workers themselves, and bad leadership here plays a very important part. The bravest troops, if they are poorly equipped and if their leaders are short-sighted, will inevitably be repulsed when they attack an enemy which, though small, is well armed and admirably led.
It is true that (after a brief period during which the number of the organised workers increased) there has been a general decline in the activity of the labour movement, evidenced by a falling off in the membership of the trade unions (see the Tables above). But, quite apart from this, the main cause of the defeats which the working class has repeatedly sustained during recent years is to be found in the failure of the workers to note the post-war developments of capitalism and to draw there from the requisite theoretical and practical inferences.
The capitalists possess no International, as far as any organised institution is concerned; they do not hold congresses; they do not pass pious resolutions about international class solidarity. Nevertheless, they think and act internationally, for they are well aware that their interests can best be promoted in this way. The workers have international organisations; hold international congresses; pass numerous and high-sounding resolutions. None the less, they continue to restrict their activities to the national arenas. They are terribly alarmed lest any international corporation, even though created by themselves, should become equipped with sufficient power to have a word to say about their national questions or a finger to thrust into their national pies.
2. FROM LOCAL ORGANISATIONS TO NATIONAL ORGANISATIONS
Until a comparatively recent date, the worker knew quite well who his employer was. I am thinking of the early days of capitalist production, when there were independent capitalist entrepreneurs and no others, persons who managed their own business and employed only a small number of hands. An undertaking with twenty to thirty workers was then regarded as a fairly large one, and one where as many as fifty hands were employed belonged to the domain of great industry. The worker was personally acquainted with the employer, and was usually inclined to look upon the employer as a benefactor, a kindly individual who was good enough to provide a subsistence for the worker and the worker’s family.
When the first breach in this patriarchal relationship was effected, when the workers began to realise that an employer is not a benefactor but an exploiter, and when the recognition of this led the workers to combine in order to protect their joint interests against the employer, local organisations sufficed.
For my present purpose there is no need to describe these first local labour organisations, and their development from benefit societies into fighting organisations. Enough to reiterate that they were purely local in character, and that there was at that time no reason why they should be anything more, seeing that working conditions were but little influenced by outside competition. Wages, the hours of labour, and the other conditions prevailing in a particular trade and a particular place, were little if at all affected by the conditions prevailing in the same trade elsewhere. They were determined primarily and mainly by the general conditions that obtained in the locality.
For instance, the possibility of getting better conditions in any trade from one or several Sheffield firms, would be mainly dependent upon the conditions of this particular occupation in Sheffield, and secondarily upon the general working conditions in other occupations in that town or its immediate neighbourhood. The working condition that might prevail in the occupation at that time in Glasgow, Birmingham, Bristol, or elsewhere, were of very little importance to the Sheffield workers.
In proportion as the workers gained more insight into the real circumstances of their lives, and in proportion as they came to realise that they had common interests as against the employers, they developed a feeling of solidarity, but this did not extend beyond the locality. The workers of one trade in a particular town were more closely united in sentiment with the workers at other trades in the same town than with workers at the same trade in other towns.
But all this was changed when capitalism underwent a national development, and when first the lesser and subsequently the greater independent employers disappeared. Small undertakings grew into large ones; joint-stock companies replaced independent employers; the local attachments of capital were severed. This meant that the members of the possessing class were no longer content with exploiting the dispossessed of the region where they themselves lived; and that the dispossessed, though of course they continued to produce surplus value, were not now doing this for an employer who was a personal acquaintance, but for dozens or hundreds of nameless shareholders dispersed throughout the country. The worker knows the name of the factory or other enterprise at which he is employed; he knows the name, and perhaps the personality, of the manager, and may regard the manager as his employer, as the man who exploits his labour power and annexes the surplus value he produces; but the worker does not know the real (manager and exploiter, any more than the latter has any knowledge of the personality of the workers from whom the dividend are extracted.
Labour organisations had to adapt themselves to this development from local to national capitalism. The working conditions in a particular trade in a particular town were no longer uninfluenced by the working conditions in the same trade in other parts of the country. Improved means of communication served to facilitate the transport, not only of products, but also of producers, of workers; and perforce, therefore, to facilitate the transference of enterprises. Of course the general conditions prevailing in a particular place, the wages paid in other trades, the general standard of life, continue to affect wages and working conditions in a particular trade in that place; but a much greater influence is now exercised by the wages and working conditions that prevail in the same industry in other parts of the country. The wages and working conditions of the metalworker, of Glasgow are no longer mainly determined by the wages and working conditions of the factory hands, the compositors, the tailors, or the bakers, of that town; they are mainly determined by the wages and working conditions of the metalworkers in Newcastle, Sheffield, Dowlais or Birmingham.
It thus became imperative that the workers at the same trade throughout a country should collaborate, should coalesce into a single organisation. Local organisations had become ineffective in the struggle against the employer, and had to give place to national unions, more and more vigorously centralised. A local trade-union meeting or a local trade-union executive could no longer decide whether and under what conditions there was to be a fight with the local employers; the decision upon such matters had to be left to the central executive, or to a congress representing all the workers in the affected trade throughout the country.
Just as, in an army, only the general staff is able to survey the whole fighting field, and to decide whether, when, where, and in what way, a particular body of troops is to be used on the fighting front, or is to retreat, or must sacrifice itself for the general interest – so capitalist development has made it essential that in the industrial struggle against the nationally concentrated power of the capitalist employers in a particular trade or industry, a general staff shall be in command. None but the supreme executive of a trade union is competent (it, at least, ought to be competent !) to survey the whole industrial field, to examine all the prospects and possibilities of struggle, to decide whether, where, when, and in what way, a particular section of the workers’ forces under its command should assume the offensive. Only the supreme executive can judge (it, at least, should be able to judge !) whether the time and the circumstances are favourable either for a defensive fight or for a fight to secure better conditions. The executive alone can decide how much should be risked on the fight; whether it should be localised or generalised; whether, for the sake of all those working at the affected industry throughout the country, the struggle should be conducted upon the general front or only in a few centres of industry; or whether, in particular cases, it is necessary to avoid a strike, and even to call off a strike when one has already been begun.
The fullest sense of solidarity, and the realisation that the direct interests of the workers at the trade throughout the country form an indissoluble whole, are indispensable if a national trade union is to fulfill its mission adequately.
3. The Need for International Trade Union Consolidation and International Guidance of the Struggle
In the foregoing chapter I endeavoured to show that the war and the subsequent “peace” have led to a general change in the structure and trends of capitalism.
To-day, capital is no longer national. Even before the war, a tendency towards the internationalisation of capital was manifest; to-day, the internationalisation is obvious. Whereas a hundred years ago, and in many countries as little as fifty years ago or less, the worker was still exploited by, and produced surplus value for, an independent employer; and whereas shortly before the war the worker was exploited by, and produced surplus value for, the capitalist of “his own” country or of the and in which he happened to live; to-day he is exploited by and produces surplus value for, internationally associated capital. No doubt the firm for which he works is named in the language he himself speaks; the factory, the mine, the mill, or other enterprise in which he toils and sweats, bears a German name in Germany and Austria, an English name in England, French in France, Polish in Poland, Czech in Czecho-Slovakia. Thus he is encouraged to believe that he is working for a “national” enterprise. But in reality he is being exploited by an international combine of capitalists, and is creating surplus value for shareholders belonging to a plurality of nations. The name of the undertaking may still be ‘national’ and its manager may still be a ‘fellow-countryman’ But the real owners, those who really wield power, those who control the welfare or the ill fare of thousands and hundreds of thousands of workers, are the associated capitaliste of various lands.
Just as, before the war, one and the same ‘national’ combine of capitalists would run several undertakings in different parts of the country, and would play off the workers employed in one of these against the workers employed in the others, so, to-day, the international combines run countless factories, mills, and mines in various places and various lands, and play off the workers and working conditions of one country against those of other countries. The general aim of the manoeuvre, an aim in which the associated capitaliste are as a rule only too successful, is to lower the standard of life of the workers of all lands.
At the special congress of the I.F.T.U. held in London during November 1920, at a time, that is to say, when the trade-union movement was still on the up grade both nationally and internationally, in a report upon “The World Situation and the International Trade-Union Movement” I already sounded a warning note. Referring to the imminent dangers, I spoke of the necessity for a revision of our tactics. I cannot do better than quote my own words:
“Trade unionists must prepare for battle. They must close their ranks, must prepare in every way for a national and international struggle, must make full use of the industrial power they can command. Should they fail to do this, the reaction will not merely succeed in checking the advance of the workers towards the goal of their desires: it will wrest from them all in the way of freedom and influence they have gained since the war, and will drive them back into a position much worse than that of pre-war days.
“The fight for higher wages and better working conditions is and will remain essential. We must see to it that the workers’ standard of life is not depressed.
“But it would be a mistake to pay more attention and allot more energy to this feature of the struggle than is absolutely indispensable. One of the most important tasks of the International Federations of Trade Unions and the affiliated organisations is to bring home to the minds of the workers that fights for higher wages and better working conditions can never have anything more than a relative value in the contemporary capitalist regime. One of our most important tasks is to make the workers of all lands realise the truth that it is incumbent on them to devote their energies, their financial resources, their organisation, their industrial power, both nationally and internationally, to the great struggle against militarism, capitalism, and imperialism.
“The I. F. T.S. and the affiliated organisations must make the workers of all lands understand how essential it is that the trade-union movement should now adopt internationally the tactics that were adopted on a national scale twenty or twenty-five years ago. It then became plain that a local struggle for the improvement of wages and working conditions was not only a matter of little moment, but might often react unfavourably on the course of the general struggle which the workers at a particular trade throughout the country had to conduct. The workers have learned to subordinate, whenever necessary, their partial interests to the general interests of the members of the same craft throughout the country, and, in case of need, to the general interests of the working class throughout the country.
‘What the workers have, to realise to-day is that in case of need those of a particular country, whether it be the members of one craft or all the workers of one land, may have, for the furtherance of the general struggle, to subordinate their own interests, either to those of all who follow the same craft in other lands or to those of the whole international proletariat. Such must be the tactics of the trade-union movement to-day.
“It is a deplorable error of tactics that the transport workers, the miners, the seamen, of particular countries should fight independently, and should in separate groups and at separate times fight for higher wages or a shorter working day. But it is worse than a blunder, it is a crime, that groups of workers, without consulting their comrades at home and abroad, should enter into a fight for some trifling increase in wages at a moment when the working class needs to, concentrate its energies and prepare its equipment nationally and internationally in order to avert the dangers which threaten the very life of the labour movement, or in order to carry on the campaign for the realisation of the workers’ supreme ideals.”
The reader will perceive that I am not now for the first time insisting on the need for a reorganisation of our fighting front; that I am not now for the first time declaring that the struggle conducted within national limits is becoming more and more inadequate, is tending more and more to dissipate our energies fruitlessly; that international direct action has become indispensable in the industrial field as well as in others; and that to this end the first aim of the workers must be to unite under International Trade Secretariats, which for their part must be closely linked one with another.
For today the wages and working conditions of the workers in a particular country are far less dependent upon the wages and working conditions of those engaged in other crafts and other industries in the same country, than upon the wages and working conditions of those following the same industry in other lands. For instance, the miners of any country might easily secure a six-hour day at a time when their fellow-countrymen engaged in other industries were still working eight hours a day or even longer; but the miners of that country would hardly be able to maintain their favoured position unless the miners of other lands had likewise been able to enforce a reduction of the working day to six hours.
Recently the Hamburg dockers, despite a fierce onslaught on the part of the employers, were able to maintain the eight-hour day, although for the workers at almost all other occupations throughout Germany the eight-hour day is now a thing of the past, and the hours of labour are nine, ten, or more. But the Hamburg dockers would find it very difficult to maintain this eight-hour day if their foreign comrades, the dockers of Rotterdam and Antwerp (ports which compete with Hamburg) were to submit to a nine-hour or a ten-hour day.
An additional proof of the increasing interdependence, as far as wages and working conditions are concerned, of the workers at any one industry in various lands, is to be found in the seamen’s fight to raise wages to the same level in all countries. This struggle is continually securing new expression, and economic necessity is speedily effacing the memory of war-time conflicts.
Thus the old tactic, that of independent action on the part of a particular group of workers in a particular country without previous consultation and cooperation with comrades pursuing the same industry in other lands, oftentimes results in futile dissipation of energy. Nay more, and worse than this, such isolated action is apt to play into the employers’ hands. Let me give an example.
In the spring of 1921, the British mine owners made a savage attack on the standard of life of the British coal miners. The coal barons considered that the wages which a favourable concatenation of circumstances had enabled the miners to secure during the war were too high, and must be reduced. The British miners resisted the proposed reduction, and fought stubbornly for many weeks.
But while the British coal stoppage continued, while the British miners were holding out against a reduction in their standard of life, and while at the instigation and under the leadership of the International Transport-workers’ Federation the dockers in the foreign ports were doing their utmost to prevent the shipping of coal to England from the Continent,* the miners in France, Germany, Belgium, and other countries in Europe and America were working as if coal mining in such circumstances were a merry sport. It was indeed, a merry sport for the British mine owners and for the international capitalists, but it was death and destruction for the British coal miners and for the proletarians of all lands.
The British coal miners had the worst of it, and were forced to submit to the reduction. They went back to the pits as beaten men.
Hardly had the British miners lost the fight, than the French mine owners followed the load of the British capitalists. On the ground that wages had been lowered in Britain, they insisted that the French miners must accept a reduction. The workers retaliated by a strike.
Thereupon, while the French miners were withholding labour, their British comrades, who had been fighting and suffering for weeks, set themselves strenuously to work, hewing coal with all their might in order to make up as far as possible for the loss of wages during the strike. And, of course, the miners in the German, Belgian, and other European and American pits went on working as usual.
The natural result was that the French miners were beaten just as their British comrades had been beaten a few weeks earlier.
As soon as the French miners had gone back into the pits to work for lower wages, the Belgian mine owners pointed out to the Belgian miners that lower wages were being accepted in the British and French mining industry, and that if the Belgian miners were to continue working, a like reduction must be accepted there.
The Belgian miners refused to work for lower wages, and withheld their labour. The old game was played once more, with the inevitable result.
Now that the miners’ wages had been lowered in Britain, France, and Belgium, the turn of the other countries came. Everywhere, with a fight or without, wages were reduced.
I am not absolutely certain whether there had or had not been any consultations among the miners of different lands, through the instrumentality of the miners’ international, before the British coal stoppage, and, subsequently, before the French and Belgian strikes. As far as I know, there had been no international contact. In any case, there was no central leadership, no international tactic or co-operation, and that is why the successive struggles were conducted in isolation and were foredoomed to failure.
I did not choose this example in order that I might draw special attention to the defects of tactics and strategy of which the miners’ international was guilty. It would be easy to adduce similar examples in the case of the other leading industries. But the miners’ defeat was worthy of special mention because it was so amazingly typical, and because there is no other industry in which international co-operation, a united and simultaneous international struggle, can be undertaken with so little difficulty as in coal mining.
Let me give another concrete instance which furnishes the plainest possible proof of the need for international co-operation.
On the right and the left banks of the Rhine, in the Ruhr area. and in the Saar basin on the one hand, and in the Briey basin on the other—now that the so-called Ruhr struggle is over and has ended in a complete understanding between the German and French capitalists—the German and French miners and the German and French metalworkers are being exploited by the same combines of German, French, and other capitalists. In all the area, the capitalists are equally interested in keeping the workers’ standard of life as low as possible, and one of the means they employ in pursuit of this aim is to make urgent appeals to the “national” sentiment of the workers and in favour of the “national” industry. On the right bank of the Rhine, the appeal is to ‘German’ national sentiment, and on the left bank to ‘French’ Thus the lowered standard of life of each set of workers is used to depress the standard of the other set of workers.
No one who has the first elements of an understanding as to the nature of the struggle between the working class and its oppressors can fail to perceive that the workers on both sides of the Rhine, the German and the French miners and metalworkers, will have no chance of resisting the employers’ attacks and avoiding an even greater reduction in the standard of life, unless by close collaboration. Just as, in former days, the wages and working conditions of the metalworkers in Essen, Dortmund, Bochum, and Gelsenkirchen were intimately and indissolubly interconnected, so at the present time are similarly interconnected the wages and working conditions of workers who dwell in different lands and speak different tongues.
Just as, in former days, the workers in Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen, Essen, and Bochum could not take independent action, just as the local committees of the metalworkers’ or the miners’ unions could not embark upon a struggle without mutual consultation, so in the future it will become less and less possible for the German metalworkers or miners, or the French metalworkers or miners, to take the field separately and independently against the united employers. This means that, in the respective industries, the trade unions on both sides of the Rhine, the German and the French, must collaborate closely, and that action must not be initiated on either side of the frontier unless the comrades upon the other side have been consulted. Ultimately, it means that it will no longer be either the German Metalworkers’ Union or the French Metalworkers’ Union, no longer either the German Miners’ Union or the French Miners’ Union, which will decide whether the struggle is to assume an active form and will determine the way in which it is to be conducted. These decisions will be left to a supreme authority, the Metalworkers’ International or the Miners’ International.
Therewith the I.T.S., which will have to conduct these international struggles, will acquire increasing importance as compared with the national centres. In the period when capitalism was expanding in the direction of national organisation, the conduct of the industrial struggle passed from the control of local trade unions to that of national trade unions. So now, in the period of struggle which has begun with the word war and its sequel, the leadership must pass from the national organisations to the International Trade Secretariats. Just as, during the former period, the importance of the concentration of local organisations (the trades councils) became small as, compared with the importance of the national trade unions, so to-day the influence of the national centres as concentrations of the trade unions of a particular country will grow less than the influence of the I.T.S., and the task of the national centres will tend to become restricted to administrative (though national) duties similar to those administrative duties which arc to-day performed by the trades councils.
We are still far short of this point. Several years are likely to elapse before the International Trade-Union Secretariats (which are still in the very earliest stages of their activity, and most of which are as yet devoid of substantial importance#) will have won, practically as well as theoretically, to the leadership in industrial struggles. Still, however weak and imperfect in respect of organisation the I.T.S. may be, however devoid of influence, however little international, none the less the development of capitalism will compel them to take up the task that is incumbent on them unless the proletariat is to lapse internationally into a condition of more hopeless dependence and enslavement than that of the working class in its national subdivisions today. Just as the development of capitalism has always determined the organisational form of its opponents, has given rise first of all to local and subsequently to national trade unions, so to-day capitalism will become, if not the originator, at least the furtherer of the international organisation of the industrial workers.
This implies that in the new time the I.T.S. must do internationally what the trade unions have done nationally by the formation of a joint national council they must form an international trade-union council. In other words, the existing international trade-union federations, formed out of the national unions of the separate trades and industries, must be superseded by an international of the I.T.S. From the organisational standpoint the present I.F.T.U. is out of date.~ The question arises whether, side by side with the I.F.T.U. and the R.I.L.U.,§ it is necessary to establish a new international out of the International Trade Secretariats.
For my own part, at this juncture, I am definitely opposed to anything of the kind. The creation of a third trade-union international side by side with the I.F.T.U. and the R.I.L.U. (the religious and the anarchist-syndicalist trade-union international may be ignored) would only make confusion worse confounded. The question whether, soon or late, a more closely compacted and permanent fusion of the International Trade Secretariats will come into existence apart from the extant trade-union internationals, depends in large measure upon the attitude assumed by these two bodies.
The most obvious way, and on the whole the best way, would be for the International Trade Secretariats to become organisationally associated with the existing I.F.T.U., so that this would henceforward be based both on the national trade-union councils and upon the International Trade Secretariats. The I.F.T.U. would then represent both the national and the international fusions of the national trade unions. This would be a form of organisation comparable to that which exists to-day in France, where the national trade-union amalgamations, both the General Confederation of Labour (C.G.T.) and the Unitary General Confederation of Labour (C.G.T.U.) are formed out of both the national unions and the departmental unions; and in Italy, where the General Confederation of Labour (C.G.L.) is formed out of the national unions and the Chambers of Labour (Camere del Lavoro —akin to the British Trades Councils). This presupposes that the I.T.S. shall be placed on an equal footing with the national trade-union councils, and shall have equal rights.
This seems to be the only way of transforming the extant trade-union internationals, without internal dissensions, into a body fitted for the international struggle of the new time. It would seem to be the only way of avoiding the need for the creation of yet another trade-union international. Otherwise, an entirely new trade-union international can hardly fail to come into existence, not because of rivalry between the extant organisations, but simply as an outcome of economic necessity.
If reorganised as I suggest, the I.F.T.U. (or whatever this body may come to be called) will be forced by the increasing intensity of the struggle which the various trade and industrial unions—at first isolated, but ere long combined¤—will have to face on the international field, to lay the stress where it properly belongs: upon the International Trade Secretariats or Industrial Internationals.
It is obviously essential that these International Trade Secretariats should as far as possible represent the organisation of all the workers in a particular industry throughout all lands, for nothing but the utmost compactness of organisation will enable them to play their part in the modern industrial struggle. The more effectively capital extends its dominion over the world and presses every human being into its service, the more essential will it be to the international proletarian army that no fragment of land whose population is being exploited or seems likely to be exploited by world capital shall lie beyond the workers’ sphere of influence.
Thus will spontaneously arise the question whether certain organisations which to-day still remain outside the international organisation of labour can be absorbed into the Industrial Internationals. Two categories of organisations have especially to be considered in this connection.
First of all, there are the organisations which, for various reasons, have not hitherto sought admission to the International Trade Secretariats. Secondly, there are the organisations which have been refused admission for various reasons.
To the former category belong the numerous organisations, for the most part non-European, whose members have not yet realised the need for international fusion and international struggle, and who believe themselves able to get along very well without adhering to any kind of international organisation.
To the latter category belong, for the most part, the organisations that look towards Moscow for inspiration.
These, as previously explained, maintain contact one with another through the instrumentality of the International Propaganda Committees. Inasmuch as they acknowledge the leadership of the R.I.L.U., they are, by an express decision of the International Federation of Trade Unions, excluded from participation in the International Trade Secretariats (which follow the lead of Amsterdam).
The organisations belonging to the former category must be made the objects of a more intensive and more intelligent propaganda than that to which they have hitherto been subjected, and must in this way be won over to internationalism. As already explained, the extra-European trade unions (with few exceptions) – belong neither to the International Federation of Trade Unions nor to the International Trade Secretariats. For practical purposes, the “international” organisations are as yet purely European in scope.
Lack of energy, lack of time, and also lack of funds—these are the main reasons for the failure, down to the present time, to get into direct touch with the trade unions of America, Australia, and Asia. Seeing that only a few of the Industrial Internationals, the International Trade-Union Secretariats, are strong enough financially speaking to send delegates across the seas, they must combine to dispatch representatives to North and South America, to Australia, to South Africa, to Japan and China, to India, and to Egypt, in order to arouse interest in the idea of the international organisation of the forces of labour. Capital extends its tentacles into the utmost ends of the earth, and is to an increasing extent devoting itself to the industrialisation of the colonies. The response of the Trade-Union International must be to bring about the international organisation of all the workers of the world, be they white, brown, black, or yellow.
Difficulties of another kind face us in the matter of the organisations of the second category. These want to affiliate to the International Trade Secretariats, but the door is shut in their faces because, ideologically at least, they adhere to the Red International of Labour Unions, which is at war with the International Federation of Trade Unions. Here is not the place for the discussion of the matters at issue in a dispute which has been conducted on both sides with a good deal of acrimony. But this much is certain, that, as far as the immediate future is concerned, the linking-up of the European trade unions that look towards Amsterdam with those that look towards Moscow for inspiration, is of far more importance than the adhesion of the extra-European organisations to the appropriate International Trade Secretariats. For, first of all, this will in each land form a united fighting front against the capitalists in their national subdivisions; and, secondly, the incorporation of these organisations (especially the Russian trade unions) into unified Trade-Union International is of supreme importance to the international conduct of the struggle.
But important as this question is to the national trade-union centres, it is still more important to the International Trade Secretariats. The tasks of the national centres are, first and foremost, national, and these tasks can perhaps be fulfilled even when the unions in question are still outside the framework of international organisation. To take a concrete example, we may well conceive that the national trade-union centres in Luxemburg or Spain or Switzerland or Canada or Peru might successfully carry out their duties as centres of the trade-union movement in these respective lands even though the Russian trade unions were still outside the International Federation of Trade Unions. The exclusion of the Russians might be deplored upon idealistic or ideological grounds, but from this particular viewpoint it would have little practical significance.
The International Trade Secretariats, the Industrial Internationals, on the other hand, are essentially and exclusively international in scope. As far as they are concerned, practical reasons no less than idealistic or ideological reasons, make it vitally important that international unity should be established in the trade-union movement. Above all, collaboration with the Russian trade unions and the incorporation of these into the international organisations is indispensable to the proper functioning of the Industrial Internationals.
Whether we like it or not, the fact remains that Russia, for the purposes of her economic reconstruction, is compelled to invoke the “aid” of the great capitalists of Europe and America. This implies that in the course of time, and probably soon, the Russian workers will be exploited by the international capitalists just as much as the proletariat of other lands is exploited.
I have already shown how the internationally organised capitalists play off working conditions in one land against working conditions in another, how they depress the standard of life in one land and make this a reason for depressing the standard of life in all others. They will apply the same methods in Russia. They will endeavour to make the working conditions in their Russian enterprises a menace and a danger to the proletariat of other lands.
For this extremely practical reason, and quite apart from idealistic and ideological considerations, the workers who are organised in the International Trade-Union Secretariats—the metalworkers, the factory workers, the miners, the textile workers, the food workers, the transport workers, the seamen, and the dockers of various lands—have a great and growing interest in getting into touch and remaining in touch with their Russian comrades.
An additional advantage, and a very great advantage, would be the economising of energy that would result from the full and all-embracing organisation of the workers into Industrial Internationals, and the coalescence of these to form one united International Trade-Union Federation. Such a centralised body would have enhanced facilities for the study of the economic and industrial changes that take place in the various countries, and would be able to place its information and experience at the disposal of all the affiliated organisations. At present, this is a very weak spot in our armour, for an international information department, keeping watch on all economic and industrial developments, is essential to the successful conduct of industrial struggles under contemporary conditions – and as yet practically nothing of the kind exists.
4. INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION OF THE STRUGGLE WILL LEAD TO VICTORY.
Now that capital has been internationalised, there is only one way in which the workers can offer an effective resistance to the capitalist onslaught, namely by the compact international organisation of their own forces, and by an uncompromising struggle conducted with the massed strength of the internationally unified proletariat. This applies to the everyday trade-union struggle to safeguard the present working conditions, to repulse attacks on the eight-hour day, to maintain and improve the standard of life and to preserve the scanty minimum of political and industrial freedom secured by the workers through incredible sacrifices and years of arduous toil.
But international organisation, the fight on an international front, is still more essential with a view to the loftier aims of the working class. I refer to the ultimate purpose of the contemporary trade-union movement – the destruction of capitalism, the world revolution, the inauguration of socialism. If we think merely of the economic transformation, we see that this grows ever more unattainable by action within the confines of this country or of that. Merely through class instinct, the bourgeois in every land are inclined to come to the help of their classmates all over the world whenever bourgeois privileges are threatened. But now, thanks to the international mingling of capital, an additional motive has come into play. Even apart from class instinct and the general working of class interest, the immediate interest of a proprietary caste makes it impossible for the bourgeoisie to tolerate an economic revolution even within the boundaries of a single land. A successful proletarian ‘revolution’ leads to the expropriation by the revolutionary proletariat, not only of the bourgeoisie in the land where the revolution has occurred, but also of the international bourgeoisie. An embargo is laid upon mines, factories, shipping, railways, and dock-yards, and these are the property of capitalists belonging to a plurality of countries. Every economic revolution, therefore, will summon into the arena the capitalists and the governments of all bourgeois States throughout the world. Unless the workers have a firmly established international organisation, unless they are animated with a spirit of class solidarity which can vie with that of their bourgeois opponents, unless they are ready for any and every sacrifice, the bourgeoisie of the world internationally united, will rally to the support of the proprietary class in the country where the interests of ownership have been successfully challenged, and the proletarian revolution will be drowned in blood.
The International Federation of Trade Unions and its affiliated organisations have repeatedly declared their intention to avert a threatened war by calling a general strike. The I.F.T.U. may utter the watchword, but it will devolve upon the Industrial Internationals, the International Trade Secretariats, to transform word into deed. What applies, in this respect, to a war between nations or States, applies even more forcibly to the class war – the war which nothing can avert. When, in any country, the workers throw off the capitalist yoke, when they revolt against their oppressors, the workers of other lands must be ready, by the general withholding of labour, to prevent the international capitalists from aiding their capitalist classmates in the revolutionary country.
In the foregoing pages I have outlined the reasons for my conviction that this proletarian mutual aid must be primarily organised by the International Trade Secretariats. Now, it is obvious that the Industrial Internationals can only perform this task if they are genuinely international, if they really incorporate all those engaged in a particular industry throughout the world. It is no less obvious that these organisations will be more and more compelled to adopt the platform of an uncompromising fight with capitalism.
In no other way than this can the working class prevent Europe from becoming one enormous ‘joint-stock company’ for the exploitation of all the means of production, dead and living. Failing this, the workers will be reduced to a yet more dreadful slavery. In no other way can the working class put an end to capitalism with all its horrors of poverty, hunger, prostitution, bodily and mental degradation; in no other way can the workers ensure that Europe shall become, not “Europe Limited,” but a free union of free proletarian republics.
NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY.
By “national centre” the author denotes what in Germany is termed “Landeszentrale“, that is to say such a body as the Trade-Union Congress in Britain, the General Confederation of Labour in France, or the Allgemeiner-Deutscher-Gewerkschaftsbund in Germany. These bodies differ, to some extend, both in constitution and functions, but they have one point in common: they are the national representatives of the combined trade unions of their respective countries, and affiliate as such to the International Federation of Trade Unions. The “national centre” is the organisation itself, and not its governing body or executive committee. – E. & C.P.
Since the opening chapters of this book were penned, the tendencies they describe have been accentuated. Alike nationally and internationally, new concentrations of capital have been formed, and old concentrations have undergone expansion. It is true that the death of Hugo Stinnes has removed the individual who during recent years has been the most active and the most boldly speculative among the creators of concerns and among the international purchasers of enterprises; but we should make a grave mistake if we were to expect the result of his disappearance to be an arrest of the movement towards the concentration of capital or a pause in the internationalisation of economic life. I am far from being inclined to underestimate the power of individuals who are persistent, ruthless, and (like the recently deceased capitalist magnate) brutal, in the pursuit of their aims; or to ignore the extent of the influence which such persons can exert upon their environment.
But I am no less convinced that the urge towards the process of capitalist concentration does not originate from any individual or individuals. As I have shown, we have to do here with an imperious necessity arising out of the very nature of capital. Only in the newer organisational forms can capital now maintain its existence; only in these forms can its power secure that ambivalent condensation and expansion which have to-day become essential to its perpetuation.
I believe myself to have given overwhelming proof that the workers have good reason to regard these new developments with alarm. Nevertheless, even in the socialist press, whose general aim it is to arouse the workers to activity, we find that there is an inclination to speak of the capitalists who are concentrating their forces as “involuntary socialists,” and to refer to giant trusts and titanic concerns as “harbingers of socialism. My object, therefore, has been to warn my readers against such interpretations of the contemporary economic trend, interpretations which I regard as the most mischievous of illusions.
I would fain also utter a warning against the optimistic expectations which to-day are aroused in the minds even of the workers by the report of the international committee of experts (the Dawes Report). I do not deny that its tendency is to clear away much of the haze in which the reparations problem has hitherto been enwrapped. But international experts’ opinions and international agreements among the rulers will not remove the colossal war burdens or expunge the bloated figures of the war debts. The debts remain, and the creditors will insist upon being paid. But the money for interest and sinking fund will not be drawn from the bulging pockets of the war profiteers and reconstruction profiteers; it will be extorted from the workers of all lands.
The reason for the inclination to overlook the real significance of the Dawes Report is obvious enough. People saw how lively an interest the representatives of the United States were taking in the matter; and consciously or unconsciously, openly or secretly, hopes were cherished that sooner or later the arch-creditor of Europe would relent. In an access of unselfishness, it is assumed, the Americans will be so good as to forego the tribute altogether, or will at least write off the greater part of the liabilities. This view is the outcome of a complete misunderstanding of present trends in the Land of the Almighty Dollar. With her entry into modern industry, and modern capitalism, America lies broken with the old traditions of liberty and humanity, and the star-spangled banner has become the symbol of corruption, falseness, brutality, unfreedom, the world trust, and world-wide imperialism. If the aim of the United States to-day is to restore order in Europe, it is in the interest of the States that the ordering of Europe is desired – and “the interest of the United States” does not mean the interest of the people, but that of large-scale capital, that of the trust magnates.
In the eyes of the Morgans, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, and their associates, Europe is merely a continental enterprise over which they wish to extend their influence. The United States needs Europe as a market for her surplus products; and above all as a field of investment for her surplus capital, for which at the moment no lucrative investment offers in the homeland. Allowance for this necessity is made in the opinion of the international experts, and had perforce to be made there, seeing that a need with a lesser power behind it had to bow to a need with a greater power behind it, and in view of the fact that to-day European capital is subordinate to American. But we can already see the foreshadowing a further stage of development. It is not the aim of American capitalists to wage war on their rivals and to ruin them by ruthless competition. They desire, rather, to adopt “peaceful” measures, to present themselves in the guise of benefactors. Thus the European capitalists will become the tax-gatherers for the Americans. Assuredly it is plain enough that such a development can only signify an increase in the strength of the bourgeoisie and a further intensification of the struggle between labour and capital in Europe.
3. The Need for International Trade Union Consolidation and International Guidance of the Struggle
*For several days the loading and shipping of coal was completely arrested in the port of Antwerp.
# In the jubilee number of the Metallarbeiterzeitung, Konrad Ilg of Berne, the Secretary of the International Metalworkers Federation, writes: “When we take a general view of the International Metalworkers’ Federation and its affiliated organisations, we see two very different pictures. With few exceptions, the national organisations are large and powerful, and from the organisational standpoint most of them are worthy of admiration. Nevertheless, strange as it may seem, these organisations and fighters still lack genuinely international thoughts and feelings ! They still pay little more than lip-service to the internationalist idea. That is why the Iron International has failed during the last twenty years to undergo any notable change as far as spirit is concerned, although numerically it has expanded greatly, so that, in round figures, its membership is now 3,000,000”.
~ Per se, an international formed out of organisations which pursue particularist national aims, and desire to promote the special interests of the workers in particular countries, is a somewhat illogical creation. Nationally, the trade-union centres are not formed out of the trades councils, out of a fusion of the local organisations, or of sections of the national organisations; they are directly constituted as national bodies.
§ As an international organisation, the R.I.L.U. counts for much less than the I.F.T.U., and represents a very different trend. But my point is that the organisational basis of the R.I.L.U. is identical with that of the I.F.T.U. In this respect both organisations are out of date, are unsuited to present and future needs.
¤ Joint action, or action with vigorous mutual support on the part of the internationally organised miners, transport workers, metal workers, factory workers, etc.