Heinrich Brandler

The Fifth Anniversary of the
All-Russian Trade Union Federation
and the International Class Struggle

(17 July 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 57, 17 July 1922, pp. 424–425.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Up to the time of the overthrow of Czarism it was impossible to form trade unions in Russia. It was impossible to fight for a decent human existence for the proletariat within the Russian State. These facts compelled the Russian proletariat right from the outset to regard all measures absolutely necessary for securing living conditions for the proletariat from a revolutionary standpoint and to realize that the prerequisite for any bettering of the conditions of living of the proletariat must be the overthrow of the old state authority and the capture of State Power by the proletariat itself, before one could earnestly think of taking in hand the work of bettering in any positive sense the conditions of living of the proletariat with any reasonable prospect of success. For twenty-five years the best heads among the Russian proletariat busied themselves with the question of how to carry on this fight for power in the best and most rapid manner. At a time when in Western Europe the working classes were engaged in considering how they could glean a few miserable crumbs within the capitalist system and state power there were little groups in Russia, small indeed in numbers but nevertheless inspired by a boldness of thought and spirit of self-sacrifice unsurpassed up till now, who for decades carried on a struggle without apparently gaining any success until in 1905 in the first Russian Revolution it became manifest that under the particular conditions of development of Russia, there had built itself up a power which influenced the labor movements of all countries in an epoch-making and fructifying manner.

In the year 1905 there was held the first congress of the Russian trade unions. A small clear-sighted group embraced with unexampled intensity and skilfulness all spontaneous economic and political strikes and movements and thereby succeeded in winning within a few months of revolutionary struggle conditions of work and wages which were far better than those of the proletariat in the old capitalist countries. These facts had a stimulating effect upon the labor movement of Western Europe and became an impulse as a result of which in Western Europe also the best proletarian class fighters earnestly studied the forms of the Russian labor movement and gained the most fruitful stimulus to thought and action from the first Russian Revolution.

When the first Russian Revolution was defeated, the conquests of the first period of trade union activity were also lost. For the Philistines of the labor movement of Western Europe the defeat of the first Russian Revolution which had greatly frightened them, provided the argument they gladly adopted, that they had no need to worry their heads further and could calmly proceed in the old path of reformist and opportunist trade union activity of the pre-revolution period. Only a small group to see amidst the collapse of the old labor movement the formation of a new one and to begin again unwearingly the outbreak of the war the labor movement of the Second International and of the old trade union movement completely collapsed, it was the recollection of the deeds of the Russian proletariat in 1905 which gave heart and courage to a small group to see amidst the collapse of the old labor movement the formation of a new one and to begin again unwearingly the work of reconstruction of a revolutionary labor movement in the old capitalist countries as well. After the overthrow of Czarism in 1917 the Russian trade union representatives assembled for the Second Congress and although in the midst of the bloody world war very scanty and insufficient news reached the proletariat of the combatant countries, the fact of the Russian Revolution was of decisive importance for the. revolutionary class struggle throughout the whole world. Those who had been driven to despair during the war began to pluck up heart and courage. Those comrades who were steadfastly pursuing their work under extremely difficult conditions, received confirmation of the soundness of their policy which gave them fresh courage and power to brave all opposition. Therein lies the enormous importance of the revolutionary struggle of the Russian working class for the whole world. On the 3rd of July 1917, the Russian workers held their Third Trade Union Congress. At this congress the All-Russian Trade Union Federation was formed. What before its formation had spontaneously influenced and affected the working class movement of other countries was now after the formation of the All-Russian Trade Union Congress systematized and organized. It is impossible in the columns of a newspaper article to record everything that was done by the Russian trade unions for the world proletariat directly and indirectly. Only the future historians living under a system of society which gives them time and leisure to occupy themselves thoroughly with these problems will be able rightly to appraise this. What however is now clear to the whole world is the fact that the Russian proletariat, and in the foremost place alongside the Russian Communist Party the Russian trade unions, have broken through the line of the enemy’s front in the gigantic battle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. During these five years the All-Russian Trade Union Federation has achieved what up to now has been achieved by no other working class in the world. Clear insight into the relative strength and power of the different classes in society engaged in a life and death struggle with each other, unexampled boldness of thought and deed, and a self-sacrificing activity were the sources of strength for the hard struggle of the Russian proletariat against the Russian state power and the bourgeoisie. In Russia the working class is in a minority. The Russian Communist Party and the Russian trade unions have shown the world proletariat how a minority, clear in its aims and given to energetic action, can become the leader of the revolution under favorable objective conditions – the existence of a revolutionary-minded peasantry. The Russian proletariat has achieved great things under the lead of the All-Russian Trade Union Federation. But there is still more to be achieved. The capabilities for organization of the All-Russian Trade Union Federation enabled the Russian workers and peasants to emerge victoriously from the civil war and the hostile invasions. The All-Russian Trade Union Federation not only mobilized its members as soldiers of the Red Army, but organized transport and war industry by which alone the Soviet Power was enabled to cope with all its enemies.

The world proletariat gazes with admiration upon the heroic struggle fought by the Russian proletariat. The best and most clear-sighted part of the world proletariat however, is not content to look on passively but is – doing all it can in order to follow suit. The strength of the bourgeoisie in the capitalist countries is greater than was the power of Czarism in 1917. The power of the proletariat in the capitalist countries is more limited in spite of its great numbers and its decisive importance in the process of production, because it has not succeeded in applying the experiences of the Russian Revolution. The greatest power of the bourgeoisie in those countries is its ideological influence upon the working class. The century-long traditions of capitalism have developed bourgeois ideas within the proletariat of these countries and the betrayal by the workers’ leaders in the preliminary epoch of the proletarian class struggle strengthens the bourgeois ideology in the proletariat and deprives it of that boldness of thought and deed which has carried the Russian proletariat to victory.

In Western Europe however, capitalism has entered upon that period when the security of proletarian existence, as was the case in Czarist Russia, is only possible if the proletariat seizes State Power and organizes economic life according to Communist principles. The tactics of the proletarian united front are rallying round the nucleus of the Communist Party in those countries greater and greater masses of the proletariat in spite of all the sabotage of the Amsterdam International. At the same time when the leaders of the Second, 2½ and Amsterdam Internationals openly associate with the accused Social Revolutionaries, with the most dangerous enemies of the Russian Revolution, the German counter-revolution, the same active militarist camarilla which murdered our best proletarian leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, is killing off the best leaders of the bourgeoisie. These facts will shorten the process and accelerate the rallying of the masses. The attempt upon the life of the social traitor Scheidemann and the assassination of Rathenau will open the eyes of the German proletariat and convince it that the only road to its emancipation is that of revolution. The gigantic task involved in the new economic policy is but the consequence of the backwardness and weakness of the leadership of the revolutionary struggles in the old capitalist countries. International relationships which in the labor movement of the pre-war period were nothing but a meaningless gesture have been rightly appreciated by the Russian workers from the very beginning. Their appeal to revolutionize the trade unions has not fallen upon deaf ears. The Red Trade Union International which was set up on their initiative is in spite of all obstacles which it has to overcome, already today a powerful factor; the struggles which the whole proletariat carries on in all capitalist countries and which nearly always end in defeat, because they are carried on with the inefficient methods of the Trade Union struggle of the pre-revolutionary epoch, are preparing the conditions which will ring about the understanding of international relationships for those proletarians who up to now have been prejudiced by petty bourgeois and national ideas. Such events as the strengthening of the counter-revolution in Germany, the defeats of the English and American proletariat, the defeats of the workers in Czechoslovakia and in the Scandinavian countries compel the workers to join with the Russians in the struggle against the bourgeoisie.

If on the fifth anniversary of the formation of the All-Russian Trade Union Federation one looks back and reckons up what has been achieved, it may be asserted with confidence that the Russian workers have acted correctly, that their way was the right way, because it was the only possible one. This confirmation is not only derived from the successes in Russia, but this experience is corroborated by the development of capitalism and the struggle of the workers throughout the world.

If the Russian workers have had to live for five years undergoing enormous sacrifices and hard conditions of life, these sacrifices have not been in vain. This was clearly revealed to the whole, world at the Genoa Conference. The Russian workers have made a sacrifice in order to create the foundations for a new epoch whose dawn will realise the age-long yearnings of humanity, which will issue in an economic order in which a new type of humanity will carry on production freed from exploitation and oppression and the possibilities in the development of which can only be conjectured.

In the old capitalist states the proletarian masses are suffering more and more each day, and out of this misery must be born the struggle which the Russian workers have already victoriously fought out. The day on which this struggle will begin in the most important countries is approaching more rapidly than disappointed and discouraged workers are disposed to believe. This to a great extent is the result of the five years work of the All-Russian Trade Union Federation.

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