Class, trade unions and the workers' party

Submitted by Anon on 18 August, 2003 - 6:46

The trade unions are not only the bedrock of the labour movement. With the Blairite hijacking of the Labour Party, which had been founded at the beginning of the 20th century by the trade unions and socialist organisations such as Keir Hardie's Independent Labour Party to fight for working class interests, the trade unions are pretty much all that's left of the labour movement. Even though the number of trade unionists has fallen from its peak strength 25 years ago it is still a very powerful movement. There are twice as many trade unionists in Britain now as there were in France in 1968, when the working class seized the factories in a general strike. The work that Solidarity and Workers' Liberty does in the trade unions is the most important work we do.
Politically we argue that the trade unions must assert themselves against Blair and Blairism within the Labour Party, where they are still a great latent power. We call on them to attempt to take back the Labour Party from the hijackers, and, if this proves impossible, to break with Blair's party and found a new trade union based mass working class party. But how does it all fit together?

The following article by Sean Matgamna and John Bloxam is an attempt at a systematic presentation of Leon Trotsky's views on trade unions and politics, the unions in relation to the "working class as a whole", the unions and the revolutionary party, etc.

These questions are especially complex in Britain where Marxists such as Solidarity and Workers' Liberty work to build the revolutionary party and also advocate the recreation of a mass working class party, in one way or another, by the trade unions.

The French labour movement, with representatives of which Trotsky discussed these questions, had a number of peculiarities. Before the First World War, the trade union federation, the CGT, grew up in the Marxist Socialist Party and separate from it. The CGT was a select revolutionary layer of the working class, politically conscious but rejecting Parliamentary politics. They believed that socialist revolution would be made by way of the trade unions eventually seizing control of industry and the whole country. It was one of a number of anarcho-syndicalist movements that grew up before the First World War in recoil from the one-sided Parliamentarianism which dominated the workers' movement at that time. Trotsky later described the pre-1914 syndicalist movement in France as "a remarkable first draft of communism, which lacked the essential political dimension".

In 1914 the CGT, like the French Socialist Party, supported their "own" government in the war. Only a small minority, led by Pierre Monatte, opposed the war from the beginning. After the war the majority of both the SP and CGT gravitated towards the Russian Revolution and Communist International. But the revolutionary syndicalists retained many of their old ideas. Trotsky knew the syndicalist leaders Monatte, Alfred Rosmer and others well and had a very high regard for them. For two years before his deportation from France at the end of 1916 he had worked with them in Paris, part of a still anti-war minority. In the early 1920s as the CI became bureaucratised and Stalinised, Monatte and his friends reverted to their old limited syndicalist trade unionist outlook. The issues Trotsky discussed with them in 1923 and later go to the heart of the relationship of class, trade unions and party in Marxist theory.

We printed Trotsky's first article in full in Solidarity 3/34.

Trotsky argued, with Robert Louzon [one of the Monatte group] in March 1923, about, "the fundamental question of the relations between party and trade union". He summed up Louzon's views and the views of the syndicalist leaders in the French Communist Party (PCF), as follows:

"Comrade Louzon defends the complete and unqualified independence of the trade unions. Against what? Obviously against certain attacks. Whose? Against attacks ascribed to the party. Trade union autonomy, an indisputable necessity, is endowed with a certain absolute and almost mystical significanceÂ…"

Do the unions represent the working class as a whole?

Trotsky continues: "The trade unions, says Louzon, represent the 'working class as a whole.' The party, however, is only a party. The working class as a whole cannot be subordinated to the party. There is not even room for equality between them. 'The working class has its aim in itself'. The party, however, can only either serve the working class or be subordinated to it. Thus the party cannot 'annex' the working class."

For Trotsky the idea that the unions represent the working class as a whole, when judged in terms of fact, of the proportion of workers organised in trade unions, is simply untrue. Nowhere are the unions even a majority of the working class, and in France they are especially weak.

Louzon, says Trotsky, "is obviously, consciously and determinedly, shutting his eyes to what is actually going on in France. One might think that the article had been written from the star Sirius. How else is it possible to understand the assertion that the trade unions represent the 'working class as a whole'? Of what country is Louzon talking? If he means France, the trade unions there, so far as we are informed, do not unfortunately, include even half of the working class."

Of the union federations in France, the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) is linked to the reformist Socialist Party, led by the wartime patriot, Leon Jouhaux. The other, the Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire (CGTU), is under the leadership of the French Communist Party (PCF).

Trotsky: "Neither of the two trade union confederations embraces more than 300,000 workers. Neither singly nor together are they entitled to identify themselves with the whole of the French proletariat of which they form only a modest part. Moreover, each trade union organisation pursues a different policy. The reformist trade union confederation [CGT] works in cooperation with the bourgeoisie; the [CGTU] is, fortunately, revolutionary. In the latter organisation, Louzon represents but one tendency."

Does the working class bear its own "aim" in itself?

Louzon had asserted "that the working class, which he obviously regards as synonymous with the trade union organisation, bears its own aim in itself."

Trotsky regards this idea as mystification and nonsense. It is meaningless to speak of "the working class as a whole" if one is discussing social movements and politics and how the working class becomes, in Karl Marx's words, "a class for itself".

Trotsky asks what is for him the key question: "With whose help, and how, does the French working class express this aim? With the help of Jouhaux's organisation? Certainly not. With the help of the CGTU?Â… Unfortunately it is not yet the whole working class."

For Trotsky it is meaningless to cite the mere existence of trade unions, as Louzon does, without reference to the politics of their leaders. He recalls for Louzon and the reader the fact that it was not so long ago that the CGTU was led by a secretly organised group of anti-Communist anarcho-syndicalists. For Trotsky the CGTU is, but also is not quite, the same organisation under the different leaderships: one cannot talk of the working class or the trade unions having their "aim" "in themselves" when in fact the different successive leaderships, the anti-communist syndicalists and then the PCF, pursue different aims, and lead the Federation broadly with these aims in mind.

Trotsky asks: "In which of these two periods has the CGTU best represented the interests of the working class?"

How does one assess this? "Who is to judge?"

It cannot but be a matter of political judgement-and then the question is: whose political judgment?

"If we now attempt, with the aid of the international experience of our party, to answer this question, then, in Louzon's opinion, we commit a mortal sin, for we then demand that the party judge what policy is most beneficial to the working class. That is, we place the party above the working class."

If such a thing is defined as a "usurpation" of the function of the working class or of the union as the embodiment of the working class, to work out its own "aim", what alternative approach is there? The working class as a whole?

Trotsky: "But if we were to turn to the working class as a whole, we would unfortunately find it divided, impotent, and mute. The different parts of the class organised into different confederations, even different trade unions in the same confederation, and even different groups in the same trade union, would all give us different replies Â…the overwhelming majority of the proletariat, standing outside both trade union confederations, would, at the present time, give us no reply at all."

"Â…'The proletariat has its aim within itself.' If we strip this sentence of its mystical trappings, its obvious meaning is that the historical tasks of the proletariat are determined by its social position as a class and by its role in production, in society, and in the state. This is beyond dispute. But this truth does not help us answer the question with which we are concerned, namely: How is the proletariat to arrive at subjective insight into the historical task posed by its objective position? Were the proletariat as a whole capable of grasping its historical task immediately, it would need neither party nor trade union. Revolution would be born simultaneously with the proletariat. ButÂ… the process by which the proletariat gains an insight into its historic mission is very long and painful, and full of internal contradictions.

"It is only in the course of long struggles, severe trials, many vacillations, and extensive experience, that insight as to the right ways and methods dawns upon the minds of the best elements of [emphasis added] the working class, the vanguard of the masses. This applies equally to party and trade union."


Trotsky: "Where and by whom are these tactics consciously, carefully, and critically prepared? Who suggests them to the working class? Certainly they do not fall from heaven. And the working class as a whole, as a 'thing in itself,' does not teach us these tactics either. It seems to us that Comrade Louzon has not faced this question."

Trotsky notes that in working class history, the trade union too, like the revolutionary party, begins as a small group of active workers. It grows as it learns from experience. Like the revolutionary organisation, whose members are selected not, as with the union, by the fact of working for an employer and needing self-protection, but by way of political programme, the union is normally a minority.

So "Â…while the revolutionary organisations are struggling to gain influence in the working class, the bourgeois ideologists counter-pose the 'working class as a whole' not only against the party of the working class but against its trade unions, which these ideologists accuse of wanting to 'annex' the working class. [The then leading bourgeois newspaper] Le Temps writes this whenever there is a strike. In other words, the bourgeois ideologists counterpose the working class as object to the working class as conscious subject. For it is only through its class conscious minority that the working class gradually becomes a factor in history."

Trotsky rebukes Louzon, who has accused the party of which he is a member, the PCF, of wanting to "annex" the working class: "It is wrong for Louzon to employ the terminology customarily used by our opponents in their fight against the revolution-it is a question of winning the confidence of the proletariat. And it is only possible to do this with correct tactics, tested by experience."

Trotsky nails down his central point: "For it is only through its class-conscious minority that the working class becomes a factor in historyÂ… the criticism levelled by Comrade Louzon against the 'unwarranted claims' of the party applies equally well to the 'unwarranted claims' of the trade unions. Above all in FranceÂ…"

This is why pre-1914 French syndicalist theory "arrived, during its classic period (1905-07), at the theory of the 'active minority,' and not at the theory of the 'collective proletariat'. For what else is an active minority, held together by the unity of their ideas, if not a party?"

This was unavoidable and inevitable, and a necessary precondition of the working class being able to effectively fight the class struggle. For emphasis and clarity, Trotsky puts it very sharply: "Â…would not a trade union mass organisation, not containing a class-conscious active minority, be a purely formal and meaningless organisation?"

A hybrid of union and party

But, Trotsky knows, the working class had paid a price for the character which pre-war trade unionism had taken. French syndicalism, by being a party, "but without openly becoming a partyÂ… prevented the trade unions from becoming if not an organisation of the whole working class (which is not possible in a capitalist system), at least of its broad masses."

The Communists want the unity of the trade union movement-of the reformist CGT and the Communist CGTU, Trotsky insists. Why?

"The main consideration of the Communist International has been the historical task of the working class as a whole, and the enormous independent significance of the trade union organisation for solving the tasks of the proletariat. In this respect, the Communist International has from its very inception defended the real and living independence of the trade unions, in the spirit of Marxism."

"The Communists are not afraid of the word 'party', for their party has nothing in common, and will have nothing in common, with the other parties. Their party is not one of the political parties of the bourgeois system; it is the active, class-conscious minority of the proletariat, its revolutionary vanguard. Hence the Communists have no reason, either in their ideology or their organisation, to hide themselves behind the trade unions. They do not misuse the trade unions for machinations behind the scenes. They do not split the trade unions when they are a minority in them."

The right wing had split the French union federation in 1920. But the Communist Party wants the broadest possible unity and development of the trade unions: "They do not in any way disturb the independent development of the trade unions, and they support trade union struggles with all their strength."

The party pursues 'its own' goals

Yet the Party pursues its own goals. It is not defined by the narrower goals of trade unionism, and, politically, it is entirely independent of the unions: "Â…the Communist Party reserves the right of expressing its opinion on all questions in the working-class movement, including the trade union question, to criticise trade union tactics, and to make definite proposals to the trade unions, which, on their part, are at liberty to accept or reject these proposals."

Trotsky is not thinking of a passive Communist Party, which "presents" its proposals to the unions, as a waiter presents a menu to a diner. The Communists are an organised formation fighting for their policies against other political currents in the unions, and against the trade union bureaucracy: "The party strives to win the confidence of the working class, above all, of that section organised in the trade unions."

Robert Louzon, basing himself on opinions of Karl Marx about the British trade unions, had argued that the unions were in their fundamental nature more important than the Communist Party. Trotsky applies the historical method of Marx to what Marx had said decades earlier. He measured the general significance of what Marx had said about the British trade unions against the broad subsequent experience of the working class.

Does the workers' party emerge from the trade unions?

Trotsky: "It is a fact that Marx wrote in 1868 that the workers' party would emerge from the trade unionÂ… Historical experience has in general confirmed Marx's prophecies insofar as England is concerned. The English Labour Party has actually been built up on the foundation of the trade unions."

According to what Louzon had written that would, logically, make the British Labour Party especially, quintessentially, proletarian.

"But does Comrade Louzon really think that the English Labour Party, as it is today, led by Henderson and Clynes, can be looked upon as representative of the interests of the proletariat as a whole? Most decidedly not. The Labour Party in Great Britain betrays the cause of the proletariat just as the trade union bureaucracy betrays it, although in England the trade unions come closer to comprising the working class as a whole than anywhere else."

At that time there were perhaps four million trade unionists in Britain. Trotsky had the perspective-which he would outline further in his 1925 book, Where is Britain Going?-that the Communist Party would assume the leading role, replacing the Independent Labour Party in the role it had hitherto played, within the political structures of the British labour movement.

"Â…we cannot doubt but that our Communist influence will grow in this English Labour Party which emerged from the trade unions, and that this will contribute to render more acute the struggle between the masses and leaders within the trade unions until the treacherous bureaucrats are ultimately driven forth and the Labour Party is completely transformed and regenerated."

It will not happen. The 1925 Liverpool Conference will end the practice of allowing Communist Party members to be trade union delegates at Labour Party Conference. The Stalinists' "Third Period" ultra-left turn after 1928 will destroy the CP's influence in both the Labour Party and the trade unions. When, in the mid-30s, the CP emerges from its crazed sectarianism it will be to the right of the right-wing leaders of the Labour Party, advocating a "popular front" with Liberals, "progressive Tories" and others. (See The Labour Party in Perspective, by John O'Mahony in Workers' Liberty no 27, February 1996.)

Trotsky recalled that the history of the labour movement showed that in most countries the Party did not emerge from the unions. In most countries-Russia and Germany, for instance-the unions had been founded by the proletarian party.

Trade union independence from the party?

Trotsky argues that the independence of the trade unions is no supra-historical goal. It can only be properly assessed in terms of historical and social context: "When the English trade unions alternately supported the Conservatives and the Liberals and represented to a certain extent a labour appendage to these partiesÂ… Marx demanded the independence of the trade unions from all parties."

Trotsky's summary of Marx's position has perhaps a special relevance for us now, faced with the hijacking of the Labour Party and the consequent historical regression of the party which the unions founded, and still fund, into something, in class alignment, akin to what the Liberal Party was in the 1890s.

"This formula [trade union independence] was dictated by the desire to counterpose the labour organisations to all bourgeois parties, and to prevent their being too closely bound up with socialist sects. ButÂ… MarxÂ… founded the First InternationalÂ… the object of which was to guide the labour movement in all countries, in every respect, and to render it fruitfulÂ… the International created by Marx was a party. Marx refused to wait until the international party of the working class formed itself in some way out of the trade unions. He did his utmost to strengthen, within the trade unions, the influence of the ideas of scientific socialismÂ…"

Today, in the era of Blair, "independence of the trade unions", and whether or not that should be a slogan for us, is by no means an irrelevant idea when the unions are an appendage of the Blair Party; when their relationship to Blair's Labour Party, despite their, in practice notional, formal weight within its structures, has come to resemble the unions' relationship with the Liberals 100 and more years ago.

The central point in this discussion, as it is also the most important event in British politics for many decades, is that the relationship between the trade unions and "their" party has undergone a dialectical change within those elements of the old forms of the Labour Party-trade union relationship that have survived the Blair counter revolution.

Trotsky: "When Marx demanded for the trade unions complete independence from all existing parties and sects, that is, from all the bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties and sects, he did this in order to make it easier for scientific socialism to gain dominance in the trade unions. Marx never saw in the party of scientific socialism one of the existing political parties (parliamentary, democratic, etc.) For Marx the International was the class-conscious working class, represented at that time by a still very small vanguard."

Trotsky spells out the logic of Louzon's position: "If comrade Louzon were consistent in his trade union metaphysic and in his interpretation of Marx, he would say, 'Let us renounce the Communist Party and wait till this party arises out of the trade unions.'"

And this would mean for the trade unions? "That kind of logic would be fatal, not only for the party but for the union. Actually, the present French trade unions can only regain their unity and win decisive influence over the masses if their best elements are constituted in the class-conscious revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat, that is, in a Communist Party. Marx gave no final answer to the question of the relations between party and trade unions, and indeed he could not do so. For these relations are dependent on the varying circumstances in each separate caseÂ… The forms of organisation may alter, but the fundamental role of the party remains constant."

Party is not union; union is not party

Trotsky ends his discussion of Louzon's views by spelling out the difference between trade unions and the party of the working class: "The party, if it be worthy of the name, includes the whole vanguard of the working class and uses its ideological influence for rendering every branch of the labour movement fruitful, especially the trade union movement. But if the trade unions are worthy of their name, they include an ever growing mass of workers, many backward elements among them. But they can only fulfil their task when consciously guided on firmly established principles. And they can only have this leadership when their best elements are united in the party of proletarian revolution."

Unions more proletarian than party

Replying to Trotsky, Robert Louzon adjusted his "position" in order to take into account the realities of relations between the French working class and the unions, admitting that the unions were not "the working class as a whole". Trotsky summed up Louzon's reply, in an article, "The Anarcho-Syndicalist Prejudice Again!", dated May 8, 1923.

[Louzon says that] "the French trade unions are not actually the working class as a whole, but only the active minority of the working class."

But Louzon still asserts a modified version of the idea that the trade unions are identical with the working class: the unions are not the working class as a whole, but, still, they are more proletarian than the party. Here Louzon harks back to the old distinction between the unions and the pre-war socialist party. Trotsky:

[Thus] "Comrade Louzon acknowledges that the trade unions form a sort of revolutionary party. But this syndicalist party is distinguished by being purely proletarian in its constituents; here lies its tremendous advantage over the Communist PartyÂ…

"Â…[Louzon] systematically ignores that 'national' question put to him in our former article: What about the role played by the CGT during the war? The role played by [CGT leader, Leon] Jouhaux was by no means less treacherous and despicable than that played by [Socialist Party leader, Pierre] Renaudel."

Trotsky once more restates the importance of the distinction between trade unions and political parties: the union, which strives to unite as much of the proletariat as possible around trade union concerns, should not try to be a political party; the members of a party, as distinct from a union, are selected on the basis of political programme. The union will, if it tries to be a political party, hinder itself as a trade union.

Trade union unity?

Trotsky poses the question of trade union unity:

"And how is it today? Does Louzon desire the union of the two confederations? We desire it. The International deems it necessary. We should not be alarmed even if the union were to give Jouhaux the majority."

Jouhaux had been the central leader of the pre-war CGT. Trotsky here uses "syndicalism" to mean both the pre-1914 CGT, the quasi party-what Trotsky insists was a party in fact if not by name-and also to mean trade unionism as distinct from the overt political party.

"Naturally we would not say-as does Comrade Louzon-that syndicalism, although headed by JouhauxÂ…, is the purest form of proletarian organisation, that it embodies 'the working class as a whole,' etc., etc.-for such a phrase would be a travesty of the facts."

But the bigger the trade union, the better it could hope to fulfil its tasks as a trade union:

"Â…we should consider the formation of a larger trade union organisation, that is, the concentration of greater proletarian masses, forming a wider battlefield for the struggle for the ideas and tactics of Communism, to be a greater gain for the cause of revolution. But for this the first necessity is that the ideas and tactics of Communism do not remain in midair, but are organised in the form of a party."

Trotsky too wants to improve the class composition of the PCF, and of its leadership. He thinks it has been greatly improved by the secession of the last of the unteachable pre-war leaders. But that is not the same thing, the same idea, as that of Louzon and his co-thinkers:

"Â…[Louzon] does not pursue his thoughts to the end, but his logical conclusion would be the substitution of the trade union organisation of the 'active minority' for the party."

It is plain that Trotsky thinks that, despite all their great merits, Monatte, Louzon and their friends, with their hybrid notion of a union-Party, harm both the trade unions and the Communist Party by not properly distinguishing between them.
"The inevitable result of this would be a substitute party and substitute trade union, for those trade unions required by Comrade Louzon are too indefinite for the role of a party, and too small for the role of a trade union."

Communism and syndicalism

In fact the reunification of the two French trade union federations, the revolutionary-led CGTU and the reformist-led CGT of Jouhaux, would never happen in the way Trotsky hoped. The two trade union organisations did unite in the mid-30s. That is, in Trotsky's terms, the two trade union "apparatuses" united (see below). But by then the Stalinists had consolidated their hold on the once-revolutionary sections of the French labour movement, and pursued cross-class Popular Front policies.

The trade union organisation would split again after World War Two, when an anti-Stalinist minority split off to form a new federation, Force Ouvrière.

Monatte and his comrades would be early victims of the Zinoviev-Stalin bureaucratic coup in the Communist International. Late in 1924, at the height of the Stalinist bureaucracy's campaign against Trotsky, most of the leaders of the PCF criticised the Russian leaders for that campaign.

The idea that they thereby sided with Trotsky politically is a myth. Explicitly, they did not. Their attitude might be summed up as a demand for "fair play" for the senior surviving leader of the October revolution. The leaders of the Polish Party who were evolving into supporters of the emerging Bukharin right wing of the Comintern, passed an almost identical pro-Trotsky resolution.

Indeed, even the most political of the old syndicalist grouping, Alfred Rosmer, was so disoriented by events in Russia that in 1926 he welcomed Stalin's victory over his erstwhile partner, Zinoviev.

Making a fetish of trade union unity, they disagreed with Trotsky's condemnation of the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee, even after it had helped wreck the 1926 British General Strike.

After their expulsion-break (it was both) from the PCF at the end of 1924, the Monatte syndicalists were a small propaganda group around a monthly magazine, La Révolution Prolétarienne, which they would publish for decades. They formed the Syndicalist League, a small quasi party.

In October 1929, Trotsky, trying after his deportation from Russia to organise the International Left Opposition, returned to the disputes of 1923. There he dealt in systematic thesis form with the points in dispute. It was published as "Communism and Syndicalism".

The party is the fundamental weapon

Trotsky: "The Communist Party is the fundamental weapon of revolutionary action of the proletariat, the combat organisation of its vanguard that must raise itself to the role of leader of the working class in all the spheres of its struggle without exception, and consequently, in the trade union field. [Thesis 1]

"Those who, in principle, counterpose trade union autonomy to the leadership of the Communist Party, counterpose thereby-whether they want to or not-the most backward proletarian section to the vanguard of the working classÂ… [Thesis 2]"

The trade unions, though they are of central importance in the class struggle, are, in comparison with the revolutionary Marxist organisation, "backward". The trade unions have a built-in tendency to limit the concerns of the workers, counterposing "Â…the struggle for immediate demands to the struggle for the complete liberation of the workers, reformism to Communism, opportunism to revolutionary Marxism. [Thesis 2]"

Working class political independence is not something which, once won, is thereafter a stable condition. The struggle on the front of ideas, politics and organisation is in class society an endless struggle. Working class political independence can be won, and then lost. The struggle, on the conscious level, for class-political independence is a prime concern and central role of the revolutionary party.

"Independence from the influence of the bourgeoisie cannot be a passive state. It can express itself only by political acts, that is, by the struggle against the bourgeoisie. This struggle must be inspired by a distinct program which requires organisation and tactics for its application. It is the union of program, organisation, and tactics that constitutes the party. In this way, the real independence of the proletariat from the bourgeois government cannot be realised unless the proletariat conducts its struggle under the leadership of a revolutionary and not an opportunist party. [Thesis 8]"

Trade unions not sufficient

The idea that the trade unions, wherein the struggle for working class independence from the bourgeoisie has to be waged, by way of the struggle of political tendencies, are enough for the proletariat, makes no sense.

"[The syndicalists] would have one believe that the trade unions are sufficient by themselves. Theoretically, this means nothing, but in practice it means the dissolution of the revolutionary vanguard into the backward masses, that is, the trade unions. [Thesis 9]"

Trotsky reiterates the idea that the criteria for the union and the revolutionary working class party are fundamentally different: "The larger the mass the trade unions embrace, the better they are able to fulfil their mission. A proletarian party, on the contrary, merits its name only if it is ideologically homogeneous, bound by unity of action and organisation. To represent the trade unions as self-sufficient because the proletariat has already attained its 'majority', is to flatter the proletariat, is to picture it other than it is and can be under capitalism, which keeps enormous masses of workers in ignorance and backwardness, leaving only the vanguard of the proletariat the possibility of breaking through all the difficulties and arriving at a clear comprehension of the tasks of its class as a whole. [Thesis 9]"

But doesn't that imply substituting the revolutionary party for the unions? Doesn't the Communist drive for leadership inevitably mean that the Communists must to some extent come into conflict with trade unions as trade unions, and with the proper day-to-day trade unionist work of the unions?

No, insists Trotsky: "The conquest of the majority by the Communists in the directing organs [of the trade unions and, implicitly, in Trotsky's perspective then, of the trade union-based Labour Party in Britain?] takes place quite in accordance with the principles of autonomy, that is, the self-administration of the trade unions. On the other hand, no trade union statute can prevent or prohibit the party from electing the general secretary of the Confederation of Labour to its central committee, for here we are entirely in the domain of the autonomy of the party. [Thesis 10]"

Trade union or party discipline?

Trotsky assumes-he spells it out-that Communist victory in the unions, the victory of Communists openly acting as Communists, will be a product of working class upsurge and therefore of mass participation. But he does not contemplate an appeal to the "backward" mere trade union "masses" against the revolutionaries!

"It is clear that the influence of the Communist Party in general, including the trade unions, will grow, the more revolutionary the situation becomes.

"These conditions permit an appreciation of the degree and the form of the true, real and not the metaphysical autonomy of the trade unionsÂ… [Thesis 13]"

But which discipline do Communists operate under in the trade unions? Are they bound by trade union discipline? Won't the 'discipline of the Party' and the discipline of the trade unions make conflicting demands on the Communist militants? Trotsky's answer is both "yes" and "no": "In the trade unions, the Communists, of course, submit to the discipline of the party, no matter what posts they occupy. This does not exclude but presupposes their submission to trade union discipline. In other words, the party does not impose upon them any line of conduct that contradicts the state of mind or the opinions of the majority of the members of trade unions. [Thesis 11]"

Trotsky has already defined the relationship of the Communist Party to the union as one of "putting forward" proposals and suggestions-that is, the Communist Party will eternally submit the union to its own assessment and judgement and tell the workers exactly what it thinks. He knows that there will be times when the Communists put their own Party discipline before the discipline of the union: "In entirely exceptional cases, when the party considers impossible the submission of its members to some reactionary decision of the trade union, it points out openly to its members the consequences that flow from it, that is, removals from the trade union posts, expulsions, and so forth. [Thesis 11]"

But there are times when the Party just "goes along" with what the union does, recognising a primary division of labour between union and Marxist party.

"In times of 'peace,' when the most militant forms of trade union action are isolated economic strikes, the direct role of the party in trade union action falls back to second place. As a general rule, the party does not make a decision on every isolated strike. [Thesis 13]"

Party calculations help unions

The party "helps" the union. How?

"It helps the trade union to decide the question of knowing if the strike is opportune, by means of its political and economic information and by its advice. It serves the strike with its agitation, etc. First place in the strike belongs, of course to the trade union. [Thesis 13]"

But first place, even in "union affairs" does not always belong to the union: "The situation changes radically

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