Communism and its Tactics : Part 1, Chapter 5 : January 28th 1922

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(1882 - 1960)
Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst (born 5 May 1882 in Manchester – died 27 September 1960 in Addis Ababa) was an English campaigner for the suffrage and suffragette movement, a socialist and later a prominent left communist and activist in the cause of anti-fascism and the international auxiliary language movement. She spent much of her later life campaigning on behalf of Ethiopia, where she eventually moved. (From :


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Part 1, Chapter 5

Workers Dreadnought January 28th 1922

Zinoviev, at the Second Congress of the Third International in Moscow, introduced a Thesis declaring that no attempt should be made to form Soviets prior to the outbreak of the revolutionary crisis. It was argued that, as such bodies would be powerless, or nearly so, their formation might bring the conception of the Soviets into proletarian contempt. The Thesis was adopted by the Congress, without discussion, and thereby became an axiom of the Third International.

The question as to whether the mere borrowed term, Soviet, shall be reserved for use in the actual crisis of revolution is of small importance though, if not used previously, it would probably miss being adopted as the slogan of the revolution.

The question of postponing the creation of the actual organization till the hour of a revolutionary crisis is, on the other hand, a fundamental one.

The idea expressed and insisted upon in that Thesis of Zinoviev’s was that the Soviet must be a great mass movement, coming together in the electrical excitement of the crisis; the correctness of its structure, its actual Sovietness (to coin an adjective), being considered of secondary importance. A progressive growth, gradually branching out till the hour of crisis; a strong and well-tried organization is not contemplated by the Thesis. The need for carefully conceived structure is ignored. Propaganda for the Soviets alone is recommended.

Russia’s dual Revolution was an affair of spontaneous outbursts, with no adequate organization behind it. The Trade Unions, always a feeble growth, were crushed by the Czardom at the outbreak of the great war of 1914. The Revolutionary political parties could call for a revolution; they could not carry it through: that was accomplished by the action of the revolutionary elements in the Army and Navy, in the workshops, on the railways, and on the land. That these revolutionaries at the point of production were mainly unorganized was a disability, not an advantage. In Russia the government first of the Czar, then of Kerensky, crumbled readily under the popular assault. The disability arising from the disorganized state of the workers was not felt in its full weightiness until after the Soviet Government had been established. Then it was realized that, though the Soviets were supposed to have taken power, the Soviet structure had yet to be created and made to function. The structure is still incomplete: it has functioned hardly at all. Administration has been largely by Government departments, working often without the active, ready cooperation, sometimes even with the hostility of groups of workers who ought to have been taking a responsible share in administration. To this cause must largely be attributed Soviet Russia’s defeat on the economic front.

It would be monstrous folly for workers in other countries, especially in highly industrialized countries where Capitalism is old, to imitate Russia’s unpreparedness. We in Britain have an infinitely stronger Capitalism to overturn: we have greater opportunities of creating the organization necessary to fight it.

This organization must be able both to attack and destroy Capitalism in the final struggle, and also to replace the administrative machinery of Capitalism. Moreover it must be animated by the will to these achievements.

We have at present no such organization in this country.

Our Trade Unions have neither the will, nor the capacity for the purpose. We are nearest industrial unionism in mining and transport and on the land, but even there we have several competing Unions in each industry. In the textile, metal, food preparing, wood-working, clothing, and building industries, we have a multiplicity of little-co-ordinated organizations. Moreover, the great mass of the workers is divided into two sections: the skilled and the unskilled: organized into quite separate Unions and divided by impassable barriers which have been jealously erected and maintained by the skilled workers.

The structure of the Trade Unions is antiquated and fruitful of delays. It is highly undemocratic, some Unions have first and second class members, the former, of ten or more years’ standing, alone being eligible for office; some elect their executive for eight years or some other long term; some hold no general congress of branch representatives. The rank and file members of the Unions have little or no voice in deciding the larger issues of policy. The executive usually determining the policy to be pursued at national conferences with other bodies. The rules, which are registered with the capitalist Government’s Registrar General, cannot be changed without long and hard effort. Under normal circumstances it must take many years to change them appreciably. The rules and structure of the Unions would place a handicap upon any serious attempt that might be made to remold the Unions in order that they might function with some sort of efficiency in the attack on Capitalism and in the administration of industry after Capitalism were overthrown.

The rules and structure are even a serious handicap in the daily struggle to palliate Capitalism, which is what the Unions exist for.

The Union officials who, almost to a man, desire the retention of the capitalist system, fear, above all things, any serious attack upon it, are aided and protected in their conservatism by the Union rules.

The reactionary officials have, however, a stronger buttress and protection in the backward masses, who vastly outnumber the awakened workers in the Trade Unions. It is only in the advanced stages of the Revolution that the great masses will discern the gulf between themselves and their reactionary leaders. This is one of the reasons why another organization is necessary. Such an organization must reveal to the masses the true character of their leaders, and offer them an alternative policy.

The Trade Unions are composed of masses of workers who did not become members of the Unions with the object of changing the social system, but merely to palliate it. Latterly men and women have even been forced into the Unions, because Trade Unions had become strong enough to insure that those who refused to join would have difficulty in obtaining employment. With such a membership, the Trade Unions are naturally timid, conservative bodies, apt to oppose drastic change and unready to take any bold initiative.

We believe that such Trade Unions can never deliberately precipitate a revolution. In this matter, theory is supported by experience. In Russia the revolution was not made by the hardly-existing Trade Unions. After the first revolution the Central Council of Soviets labored to form Trade Unions. Some of the Unions it had formed then opposed retention of power by the Soviets, worked against all tendencies towards Communism, and gave their support to the demand for a bourgeois republic, with Capitalism reestablished in power.

In Germany, the Trade Unions, so far from leading the various proletarian uprisings, took no official part except to oppose them.

To administer in place of Capitalism, as well as to overthrow it, the workers should be organized with all, and more than all, the efficiency and coherence of Capitalism. In this country, Capitalism itself, though tremendously better equipped than in Russia under the Czardom, still lacks co-ordination. As a medium for supplying the people’s needs, it suffers on the one hand from the competition and overlapping of private interests; and, on the other, from shortage and lack in districts where the small means of the people do not render it profitable to supply them efficiently. Every day British Capitalism is remedying some of its organizational defects, at least, some of those due to its own internal capitalist rivalries.

From banking, where we have nearly arrived at a single trust, to tea-shops, where Lyons is absorbing competitor after competitor, co-ordination and the elimination of competition is going on constantly. Trustification has not yet developed nearly so far in Britain as in Germany, where the combination of the powerful capitalist, Stinnes, links up coal and ore mining, smelting, and the manufacture, shipping and marketing of all sorts of metal goods; forestry, wood-working, paper-making, printing and publishing; tram, train, and sea travel, and the provision of hotel accommodation; the production and supply of electricity in all its branches, and a host of other activities.

British Capitalist organization will rapidly become more closely knit under pressure of the competition which is rising up against it all over the world: in Britain’s own colonies and dominions, in America, in the growing industrialism of Poland, Italy, and other European countries, above all in Germany, whose Capitalism, still more since the war that was meant to crush it, is Britain’s keenest rival.

We should welcome the trustification of industry, in so far as it is a co-ordination along the lines of convenience and utility in producing and distributing what is needed by the populace. We should welcome it also because it provides the means of linking up the workers into a closely-knit fighting organization; an organization which can step in and displace the capitalist, and, having done so, shall be able to carry on production and distribution.

Such an organization may be built up by organizing the workers in the co-ordinated centers of production and distribution along the lines of the Trust itself. The Trade Unions are not thus organized.

Although Trustification has not yet developed very far in Britain, British employers of labor are much better organized than British workers. Employers’ Associations and Trade Journals bind the employers together in all industries, and a much greater degree of solidarity is shown by the employing class than by the working class when a trade dispute arises. In this country Trade Unionism has never achieved the general strike: it has even shrunk from attempting any large-scale sympathetic strike. In this respect British Trade Unionism is behind that of most European countries. Both ideologically and structurally it is distinctly outdistanced by its continental contemporaries. Indeed, it is solely on the size of its membership that the British Trade Union movement has claimed to be the strongest in the world. As a body of action it would gain in strength if it could be ruthlessly pruned of its more backward members.

The trustification and co-ordination of industry under Capitalism has for many years been causing a perpetual discussion upon industrial unionism to be carried on in the Labor movement; but the result in actual improvements in the Union structure has been surprisingly small.

That rapid wartime growth, the Shop Stewards’ organization, in a few months co-ordinated the workers in the munition factories and shipyards with an efficient completeness the Trade Unions had never approached, and made the Stewards’ movement a coherent acting force, such as the Trade Unions had never been. This development shows that the task of organizing the workers in accordance with Capitalist organization, in which the Trade Unions have hitherto failed, may readily be accomplished by building upon a new basis, unhindered by the trammels of the old machinery and the prejudices and vested interests of the old officials.

It may, perhaps, be objected that since the Shop Stewards’ organization dwindled at the close of the war and has all but passed away, there are elements of permanency in the Trade Unions which the Shop Stewards did not possess. That is true. The Trade Unions remained in possession of their accumulated funds, and were adding to these funds week by week, for the workers continued paying their Trade Union dues week by week; although the Trade Unions were functioning only as benefit societies, whilst the rank and file workers themselves were doing, through their shop committees and their elected stewards, the work for which the Unions were created. The Unions retained possession of the funds and the friendly benefits. When the boom in production passed and unemployment became rife in the land, the workers unready for the time being to safeguard their status in the workshop, were glad to fall back on the friendly benefits of the Union.

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March 04, 2021 16:37:27 :
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