What has been said about parties, party leaders and party tactics goes even more for the trade unions. In fact, they show us the typical petty-bourgeois tactics of compromise between capital and labour. The trade unions have never proclaimed the elimination of capitalism to be their goal and mission. Never have they engaged themselves in any practical way to this end. From the beginning the trade unions reckoned with the existence of capitalism as a given fact. Accepting this fact, they have engaged themselves within the framework of the capitalist economic order to fight for better wages and working conditions for the proletariat. Not, then, for abolition of the wage system, not for a fundamental rejection of the capitalist economy, not a struggle against the whole. That, said the trade unions with bourgeois logic, is the business of the political party. Therefore they declared themselves non-political; made a big thing of their neutrality, and rejected any party obligation. Their role was that of compromise, mediation, curing symptoms, prescribing palliatives. From the start their whole basic attitude was not only non-political but also non-revolutionary. They were reformist, opportunist, compromising auxiliary organs between bourgeoisie and proletariat. The trade unions grew out of the journeyman's associations of the old artisan guilds. They were filled with the spirit of the modern workers' movement when capitalism, through the great crisis of the 1860s, impressed with particular harshness on the consciousness of the proletariat the pitfalls and horrors of its system. Under this economic pressure, which greatly swelled the workers' movement throughout Europe, the first trade union congress was convened by Schweitzer and Fritzche in 1868. Fritzche characterised very aptly the trade union organisations and their duties when he explained: 'Strikes are not a means of changing the foundations of the capitalist mode of production; they are, however, a means of furthering the class consciousness of the workers, breaking through police domination and removing from today's society individual social abuses of an oppressive nature, like excessively long working time and Sunday work.' In the following period the activity of the trade unions consisted in agitating the proletariat, moving it towards co-ordination, winning it to the idea of class struggle, protecting it against the worst rigours of capitalist exploitation, and constantly grabbing momentary advantages whenever possible from the ever-changing situation between labour and capital. The entrepreneur, formerly all-powerful master of the house, soon had the strongly centralised power of the organisation against him. And the working class, heightened in consciousness of its value in the process of production by co-ordinated action, and schooled from strike to strike and conflict to conflict in the development of its fighting energy, soon constituted a factor with which capitalism had seriously to reckon in all calculations of profit.
We can never seriously think of denying the great value the trade unions have had for the proletariat as a means of struggle in the defence of workers' interests; no-one will dare to belittle or dispute the extraordinary services the trade unions have performed in advocating these interests. But all this is today, unfortunately, testimonials and claims to fame which belong to the past.
In the struggle between capital and labour the entrepreneurs, too, very soon recognised the value of organisation. To be able to confront the workers' combinations, they combined themselves into powerful associations, at first by trade categories or branches of industry. And as they had greater financial resources, had the protection and favour of public officials on their side, knew how to influence legislation and jurisdiction, and could apply the most rigorous methods of terror, harassment and contempt to any boss who did not grasp their class interests quickly enough and so did not take the required interest in the association their organisations were soon stronger, more effective and more powerful than those of the workers. The trade unions saw themselves pushed from the offensive to the defensive by the employers' associations. Struggles became more violent and bitter, were successful increasingly seldom, usually resulted in exhausting the central funds, and so needed more and more lengthy pauses for rest and recovery between the struggles. Finally it was recognised that the questionable half-successes were usually bought too dear, that the compromises (at best) resulting from the rounds of struggle could be won more cheaply if a readiness to negotiate was shown right from the start. So they approached further struggles with reduced demands, with readiness to negotiate, with the intention of making a deal. Instead of struggling openly, each side tried to out-manoeuvre the other. Offering to negotiate was no longer considered as a fault or as weakness. They were adjusted to compromise. As a rule, agreement not victory formed the conclusion of wage movements or conflicts over hours. Thus, in time, an alteration in tactics, in the method of struggle, came about all along the line.
The policy of signing labour contracts arose. On the basis of agreements and conciliation, contracts were signed in which the conditions of work were regulated in paragraphs. The contracts were binding for the whole organisation of both sides in the branch of industry for a longer or shorter period of time. In the form of a compromise, they represented a kind of truce until further notice. The boss gained significant advantages through the conclusion of labour contracts: he could make more accurate business calculations for the duration of the contract; he could sue in a bourgeois court for compliance with the terms of contract; could reckon with a certain stability in his management and rate of profit; and, above all, he could concentrate his strength in greater peace for years in order to put that much more pressure on the work-force when the next contract was being concluded. In contrast to the boss, the worker only got disadvantages from the labour contract: bound by the contract for long periods, he was unable to make the most of favourable opportunities as they arose to improve his position; his class consciousness and will to struggle were lulled with time, and he was conditioned to inactivity; so fell more and more into the atmosphere, fatal for the class struggle, of 'harmony between capital and labour' and 'community of interests between work-giver and work-taker'; thus succumbed completely to petty-bourgeois hopeless opportunism, which lives from hand to mouth and makes even the most practical reforms and 'positive achievements' more dubious and worthless the longer it goes on; and in the end becomes entirely the duped victim of a narrow-minded, circumscribed, and often unscrupulous clique of officials and leaders whose main interest has long since been not the good of the worker but the securing of their administrative positions. In fact, as the policy of labour contracts became predominant, the worker's participation in the life of the unions grew more dormant; meetings were sparsely attended, participation in elections fell off sharply, dues had to be collected almost by force, terror in the factories got the upper hand along with the bureaucratisation of the administrative apparatus both means to maintain the existence of the organisation, which had become an end in itself. The introduction of national contracts for large categories of workers effected an even greater increase in centralism and the power of officials and at the same time, too, an ever-growing split between leaders and masses, greater alienation of the organisation from its original character as a means of struggle, and from the objective of struggle, and deeper degradation of the workers into insignificant, will-less puppets, only paying dues and carrying out instructions, in the hands of the association's bureaucracy.
Another factor was added. In order to chain the worker to the organisation through all his interests, which derive from his permanent situation next to the bread line, the unions developed an extensive and complicated system of insurance, carrying out a sort of practical social policy. Apparently for the benefit of the worker, certainly as his expense. There is insurance against sickness, death, unemployment, moving and travelling to a new job; a whole social welfare apparatus with little plasters and powders and all sorts of palliatives for proletarian misery. The worker collects insurance policy after insurance policy, pays premium after premium, develops an interest in the liquidity of the union treasury, and waits for the opportunity to call on its help. Instead of thinking about the great struggle, he gets lost in calculations over pennies. He is strengthened and maintained in his petty-bourgeois way of thinking; he gets bogged down, to the disadvantage of his proletarian emancipation, in the constraints and narrow-mindedness of the petty-bourgeois concept of life, which cannot give anything without asking what is to be had in exchange; gets used to seeing the value of organisation in the random and paltry material advantages of the moment, instead of holding his sights on the great goal, freely willed and selflessly fought for the liberation of his class. In this way the class struggle character of the organisation is systematically undermined and the class consciousness of the proletarian irretrievably destroyed or devastated. Into the bargain the poor devil carries on his back the costs of a system of social benefits and welfare which basically the state should pay out of the wealth of society as a whole, lightening the burden on the financially weak.
Thus the trade unions have become, over time, organs of petty-bourgeois social quackery, whose value to the worker has shrunk to nothing anyway, since under pressure of the devaluation of money and the economic misery the solvency of all welfare funds has sunk to nil. But more than this: in logical consistency with their tendency toward community of interests between capital and labour, the trade unions have developed into auxiliary organs of bourgeois-capitalist economic interests, and so of exploitation and profitmaking. They have become the most loyal shield-bearers of the bourgeois class, the most reliable protective troops for the capitalist money-bag. At the outbreak of war they came out in favour of the duty of national defence without a moment's hesitation, made bourgeois war policy their own, recognised the civil peace, subscribed to the war loan, preached the imperative of endurance, helped to enact the law on auxiliary service, and frenziedly suppressed every movement of sabotage or revolt in the weapons and munitions industry. At the outbreak of the November Revolution they protected the Kaiser's government, flung themselves against the revolutionary masses, allied themselves with big business in a working association, let themselves be bribed with offices, honours and incomes in industry and in the state, clubbed down all strikes and uprisings in unity with police and military, and thus shamelessly and brutally betrayed the vital interests of the proletariat to its sworn enemy. In the building up of capitalism after the war, in the re-enslavement of the masses through capital organised in trusts and connected internationally, in the Stinnes-isation of the German economy, in the struggles over Upper Silesia and the Ruhr, in the retrenchment of the 8-hour day, the demobilization orders, the forced economy, in the elimination of the workers' councils, the factory committees, control commissions, etc., during the terror against syndicalists, unionists, anarchists always and everywhere they stood ready to help at the side of capital, as a praetorian guard ready for the lowest and most shameful deed. Always against the interests of the proletariat, against the progress of the revolution, the liberation and autonomy of the working class, they used and use the far greater part of all accretions to funds to secure and materially provide for their existence as boss-men and parasites, which as they well know stands and falls with the existence of the trade union organisation that they have falsified from a weapon for the workers into a weapon against the workers.
Wanting to revolutionise these trade unions is a ludicrous undertaking, because quite impossible to carry out and hopeless. This 'revolutionising' amounts to either a simple change of personnel, changing absolutely nothing in the system but maximally extending the centre of infection, or else it must consist in removing from the trade unions centralism, contract-signing, the professional leadership, the insurance funds, the spirit of compromise. . . .What is left then? A hollow nothing!
As long as the trade unions still exist, they will remain what they are: the most genuine and efficient of all the White Guards of the bosses, to whom German capital in particular owes a greater debt of gratitude than to all the guards of Noske and Hitler put together.
Such generally harmful, counter-revolutionary institutions, inimical to the workers, can only be destroyed, annihilated, exterminated.
6 THE LAST PHASE OF EUROPEAN CAPITALISM
The German working class, caught in the chains of its counter-revolutionary organisations and blinded by the phraseology of the petty-bourgeois way of thinking, has once again rescued the bourgeoisie of its country in situations where its existence was at stake; it has brought it to safety on its strong shoulders, out of the dangers of the World War and the November Revolution.
Then the bourgeoisie installed itself in the saddle again, to ride more boldly and brutally than ever over the bodies and heads of its rescuers. Although laden with unheard-of wealth, which it looted meanwhile, it is still gripped by anxiety and terror: it has looked death in the face and stood close to the abyss of its destruction.
Thus the German bourgeoisie in 1924 is no longer the one it was in 1914. For even German capitalism has become another. It has left the national phase of its development and has entered the international phase. This change and progression is connected with the outcome of the World War.
If the World War originated in the drive to expansion of all the capitalist states and had the aim of placing the whole world under the dictatorship of one of these capitalist states or combination of states, so the result of the World War was, for the power of German capital, the miscarrying of this plan and the painful price of renouncing for the future its independent existence and letting itself be incorporated into the association of interests of the conquering combine.
The forces of German capital are represented in the first place by heavy industry. Germany is rich in coal but lacking in ore. On this account, the daily morning and evening prayer of the Stinnes and their like was already, decades ago: Dear God, give us a victorious war with France so that we can gain possession of the rich ore deposits of Briey and Longuy. As, on the other side, the French capitalists implore their Lord God, in view of the scarcity of coal in their country, for the rich coal treasures of the Ruhr region. Ore and coal, then, also acted in the determining role in the World War, especially in the struggle between France and Germany after world domination had showed itself to both as an illusion.
The treaty of Versailles brought the French capitalists the Saar region; but they remained discontented, for they claim the Ruhr region as before. The mining industry, massively strengthened in the Comite de Forges, asserts that it cannot fulfil its economic task without the Ruhr, especially as many of its plants and factories in Northern France had been destroyed by the German warfare and rendered useless for years to come. Since 1918 it has pressed the French government into the military invasion of the Ruhr and finally achieved its occupation. German heavy industry was desperate. Indeed their slogan also ran: Ore and coal belong together. But they wanted the fulfilling of the slogan in their favour. Now that it was happening in favour of the Comit de Forges, they summoned the German government, the German nation, the whole seething spirit of the German people to resistance. It was useless; German heavy industry had to surrender to French capital through treaties, for coal will gravitate to iron, and the greater right is with the stronger.
But still another economic power stands in the wings of the world political theatre: petroleum.
The victory of the Entente in the World War was in the last analysis a victory of the superior war technology of America. For the first time oil triumphed over coal for the heating of the submarines and ships, of the aircraft, motors, tanks, etc., was accomplished with oil and by a technology which had undergone especially high development in America and opposite which the German technology was backward. After the ending of the World War, the most pressing imperative for America, if it did not want to lose again the hegemony won over world economic domains, was to bring the oil production of the world into its hands in order to thus monopolise the guarantees of its ascendancy.
The richest oil field lie in Asia Minor (Mossul) and belong to the zone of the English protectorate; the way to them leads over Europe. American oil capital began very quickly to secure this path for itself. Starting from France it pressed on by courtesy of the gesture of the French statesman or the bayonet of the French military towards Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, as far as Turkey. The war between Greece and Turkey, the revolution in Bulgaria, the Lausanne talks, the Balkan incidents, the military convention between France and the little Entente, etc., are more or less connected to the perpetual striving of American oil capital to procure for itself a large base of operations for the confrontation which must follow sooner or later in the interest of world monopoly over oil with the competitors, England and Russia. Just as the oil trust has been at work for decades in Mexico to obtain dominion over the Mexican oil fields through a chain of political shocks, putsches, revolts and revolutions, so it also leaves no stone unturned in Europe in order to take possession of the approaches to the oil districts of Asia Minor, against every competitor and every opposition. Germany represented the only gap in the path. As the endeavours to detach South Germany from North Germany and bring it under French overlordship did not lead to the goal in spite of the enormous sums made ready for the financing of the Bavarian fascist movement and anti-state conspiracy and because the interests of New York clashed here with the interests of Rome, oil capital applied other tactics. Supported by the depreciation of money consequent on inflation and certain stock-exchange manoeuvres, it bought up one economic combine after another and thus gradually brought the entire power of German capital under its control. When the Stinnes combine, for which the proffered quota of shared profits was not high enough, offered resistance and opposed its conversion into the mere appendage of an international community of exploitative interests, force was resorted to. The military occupation of the Ruhr meant the fulfilment of long-cherished wishes of oil capital just as much as it was a deed after the heart of the French mining industrialists.
Meanwhile the German capitalist class has recognised that it too was able to benefit considerably from its dependence on Entente and world capital. Certainly it was pledged by treaties to high payments which would severely curtail its rate of profit, but in return the German proletariat was handed over to it, completely defenceless, for unrestrained exploitation. It enjoys the advantages of tax concessions under the favour of a plutocratic fiscal legislature; has thrown away all the burdens and fetters which, however insignificant they might be, had been put into practice in recent years to lessen social conflict in the interest of the proletariat; above all it is again in full possession of the reactionary power, as in its best times under the Wilhelmite regime. It has secured its position with the 10-hour day, starvation wages, the gold standard swindle, martial law, and military dictatorship.
Germany has become a colony of the Entente. The German workers are the enslaved natives. The German entrepreneurs represent the privileged caste of slave-owners, who take so great a part in the extorted and ill-gotten gains which they have to pay over to foreign high finance that a sumptuous life-style is possible for them. As the economic, so also the political power has gone over completely into the hands of big capital. The 'shop stewards' and delegates of the leading industry sit in the government, manage high public office or hold in their hands the strings on which the current party and government puppets hang. When in November 1923 the establishing of a Directory was planned, Herr Minoux, the right hand of Stinnes, was considered quite generally and as a matter of course (as already mentioned) as the coming man. Whether in the end Minoux or Stresemann or Schlacht, a representative of big capital, of the industrial and banking world, will always stand at the head and have the reins of government in his hands. The parliament is barred from co-determination by Enabling Acts or is faced with accomplished facts; its only remaining value is as a decorative exhibition which is necessary to the appearance of a republic. The preponderance of all the big decisions lies not with it, not with the government, but with the banks and employers' combines, the state economic council, the small circle of influential pillars of the economy. It becomes increasingly obvious in society as a whole that as the economic factor stands in the foreground, the political moves more and more into the second line.
This phenomenon can perhaps be designated as an Americanisation of politics, because it first arose in the country of the greatest lords of capital and is typical of the way in which the trust magnates and bank potentates are accustomed to making their politics. The undisguised domination of the money-bag, veiled with no romance, excused by no ethic, sanctioned by no diplomacy, justified by no parliamentary phrase the whole direct, brutal power-politics of the economic dictators, the Stinnes-isation of politics that is the characteristic sign of the last phase into which German capitalism of the post-war period has been hurled, the phase of inter-nationality.
From The Bourgois To The Proletarian Revolution 3
Back to Index