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Joseph Carter

A Trade Union Balance Sheet in Germany

(March 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 20, 25 March 1933, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The failure of the German Communist Party to arouse the working class against Fascism is to a large extent explainable by its false trade union policies. When von Papen put through his coup d’état, on July 20th of last year, the party’s call for a general strike met little response in the ranks of the workers. Similarly, on the occasion of the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor of the German Reich on January 30, the call of the Communist party for a general strike found all but the most advanced revolutionary workers, as the Hamburg dock workers, staying on their jobs. A revolutionary party which was able to rally over five millions to its parliamentary banner, could get tens or at best several hundred thousands to respond to its extra-parliamentary action, the general strike.

To understand this one must examine the party’s trade union policies in the past few year’s and its relation to the general trade union movement.

The Third Period Policy

At the height of the “third period”, when the social democracy and the reformist trade unions were called “social Fascist” and an integral part of the capitalist state apparatus, the German party organized its own trade union center. (It may be remarked that our American party was instructed to do likewise in the same period – the Trade Union Unity League was formed). On November 15 and 16 at Berlin, the Revolutionary Trade Union Opposition as a center of Red trade unions and opposition groups in the reformists trade unions (which would try to split off locals for the red unions) was formed. The old policy of the Leftist Communist Labor Party, condemned by the Comintern and Red International of Labor Unions under Lenin and Trotsky of forming the General Labor Union which would try to destroy all reformist unions, withdraw the revolutionary and militant elements from the reformist unions, and organize “pure and simple” revolutionary unions – was revived.

The reformist trade union leaders did not at all dislike this policy. The need for struggling with the militants within the trade unions was obviated. Instead of expulsions being necessary, withdrawal of Communist workers took place. Nevertheless the reformist unions did not have any easy sailing.

The General Federation of Labor, affiliated to the reformist Amsterdam International showed a growth of membership up to January 1st 1930.

End of 1928:



July 1, 1929:


Jan. 1, 1930:


However, with the intensification of the economic crisis in Germany, the growing unemployment and the failure of the reformist unions to struggle for the workers’ – jobless and employed – interests, hundred of thousands left the unions. In 1930 over two hundred thousand (233,068) workers quit the unions. In the following year, the unions lost 582,000 workers.

Despite this process, the reformist unions succeeded in maintaining their hold over the employed. The unemployed flocked in large numbers to the Communist party and its auxiliaries; the employed and organized remained under the control of the social democrats.

This is substantiated by an article in the Communist International of Feb. 1, 1933:

“In the factories the reformist trade unions have not only not become relatively less powerful, but according to many indications their strength has even grown.” (Page 69)

The Twelfth Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International held in September of last year was compelled to record the practical futility of the party trade union course.

Admission of Failure

“In Germany, the red trade unions (metal workers, miners) have failed to organize the struggle against the capitalist offensive and have now stagnated.” (Capitalist Stabilization Has Ended, page 30)

But mere admission of shortcomings is hardly sufficient. The policy of small Red trade unions combined with the slogans of “independent leadership”, that is, leadership in strikes which in practise is independent of the union organizations and the workers themselves and “united front from below” divorced the revolutionary worker’s from the mass of organized labor.

Out of 13,129 local branches of the General Federation about 250 are led by Communist and Left wing groups. Even in branches controlled by the party the workers could not be aroused to the calls for “united front from below”.

“Thus, in the district of Hessen-Frankfurt, the leaders of a number of local T.U. branches controlled by us refused to issue a call for strikes against Fascist terror because, they maintained, ‘as organizations affiliated to the All-German Federation of Trade Unions they must await a strike call from the federation.’” (Communist International, Vol. X No. 2, February 1, 1933, page 73)

The same author, one S. Perevosnikov, give some interesting information which throws light on the present situation.

“At the last Berlin District Conference of the party, it was reveal ed that about 250 delegates (nearly a quarter of the total) voluntarily quit the unions. At a district conference of the party in Elsnitz ninety-nine of 170 delegates were neither in trade unions nor the trade union opposition. In Saxony, of 4,000 party members, only 250 members of the revolutionary opposition.’’ (Page 74)

“Altogether, according to the figures of the National Committee of the revolutionary trade union opposition, 34,000 new members joined and 48,000 left the Opposition during the past nine months.” (Page 78)

Are such conditions due to a “wrong application of the correct line”? Hardly. They are the legitimate fruits of the Stalinist policies.

A decisive turn has to be made. The ultimatist slogan of “united front from below under revolutionary leadership” has to be thrown overboard. The several hundred thousand members of the Red trade unions must return, as a group, to the reformist unions and struggle for the workers’ economic needs and fight for the revolutionary program of the united front of workers’ organizations against Fascism.

Such a change of policy is especially imperative today when according to news reports (New York Times – 3-13-33) thousands of workers are returning to industry. This lays the basis for broad strike movements. The worker’s will struggle for the positions lost in the past period; against worsening of economic conditions, wage cuts, etc. At such a time the revolutionary workers functioning militantly within the reformist unions can further the interests, both economic and political, of the entire class, and a cement a unity of the proletariat that can defeat Fascism and go over the struggle for a Soviet Germany.

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