«Marxism is the scientific expression of the interests of the working class. To destroy Marxism, one would have to destroy the working class. But to destroy the working class is impossible»
Clarifying remarks of the translator
With the purpose of averting undesirable interpretations of the text proposed to de reader it is convenient to comment on the specific background to the thesis proposed in the present material. It is necessary to remark the specific character of the class struggle in today's Russia. The outrageous conditions of exploitation are confronted, on the other hand, with the cowardice of the exploiting classes and their representatives, therefore, with their reticence to present themselves openly as a class of exploiters. As a result of the continued degradation of the standard of living of the working class and the deceitful and inconsistent stand of the Russian bourgeoisie, the working class is gradually becoming more confident of its own forces, is acquiring the will to propose a new way of development to replace a system that is collapsing to its foundations. As for today the seizure of plants by the worker collective, the replacement of the directors against the will of the managerial boards, etc. are no more isolated and occasional facts of the political life of the country, much on the contrary, it threatens to become a massive social phenomenon. The Russian working class is taking the first steps in the class struggle, acquiring experience and progressively breaking the narrow boundaries of the economist struggle towards more developed forms of organized struggle as an exploited class alienated from the means of production. The theses proposed in the text are a result of the generalization of the struggle of the Russian working class over the past few years, taken with its positive and negative aspects, above all impregnated with the tireless resolve to propose working formulae for the elevation of the spontaneous struggle of the workers movement towards forms of organized class struggle.
To conclude, it is convenient to touch on the relevance to the today's Russian workers movement of the struggle for the preservation and taking into effect of the collective contracts, against of the plans of the government to establish a system of individual contracting system. The new labor codex proposed by the government represents the liquidation of the system of collective contracting, that comes from long time ago, which rules, at least formally, the participation of the workers collective in the life of the factory, better conditions of labor, etc. The theses proposed are an appeal to the Russian working class to struggle in an organized manner against the implementation of the new labor codex and make effective fundamental points established by the collective contracts, always with the strategic purpose to grow a massive organized workers movement in the country.
FROM THE EXPERIENCE
OF THE WORKERS' STRUGGLES IN RUSSIA
The experience accumulated by the working class in the trade union and strike struggle is large and many-sided. This experience is enriched day by day. However, there are questions of a fundamental character raised by this experience. It is precisely these fundamental questions of the accumulated experience of the struggle that we will try to elucidate, formulate and make them worthy of the attention of the proletariat in struggle. This accumulated experience corresponds to the level of the economic struggle reached by the trade union movement in Russia. The conclusions reached in the present article will not be completely applicable to the conditions of small artisan workshops or businesses which only employ some dozens of workers.
1. The class trade union must be formed on the basis of class principle.
The class union in the enterprise must take pride in its working class character, that is, it must be made up of members of the working class, and must unconditionally defend its interests. This is the reason why the class union should not include representatives of the exploiting class and their allies.
To the category of representatives of the exploiting classes belong all the employees in the administration of the enterprise set up by the exploiting class, managers and supervisors of the productive process and of the regulation of the productive relations. At the level of production to this category belong foremen and all others engaged in the immediate control of production who have been assigned to their position by the administration, who have not been chosen directly by the collective of the workers. All these are conscious agents of the interests of the exploiting classes, that is, they are the representatives of the interests of the bourgeoisie. This category of employees, by their position in the socio-productive system of relations and by their material interests are opposed to the working class. The membership of this kind of representatives of the bourgeoisie in the workers' union is unnatural and is intrinsically dangerous for the workers' organization. Consequently, the admission to the ranks of the class union of members of the administration should be categorically prohibited.
In those cases in which members of the administration sympathize with the aspirations of the workers' collective, their admission should still be prevented, but for other reasons. These people, by their position, would be more vulnerable to repression on the part of the bourgeoisie. Therefore, it would be a serious error to leave these people exposed to arbitrary bourgeois repression.
Other categories of employees who do not belong to the working class, due to their conditions of work, their salary level and other similar circumstances, are differentiated in principle from the working class. These categories of employees are in a privileged position with regard to the working class.
On the one hand, these types of employees, since they are wage workers, are also exploited, they belong to the exploited working masses.
On the other hand, these types of employees, due to the nature of their professional activity, are directly enmeshed in the capitalist system of exploitation, in one form or another they serve it. Even if only indirectly they are often interested in the intensification of the exploitation of the working class, since the funds for their salaries and certain bonuses depend on the level of exploitation of the working class.
The social class essence of this type of employee is ambivalent, their participation in the class struggle is, therefore, unstable and inconsistent. Thus, the formation of a strong union organization which contains in its ranks both workers and other categories of employees should be avoided. In practice it is better to create two types of union structures, one of workers and another that encompasses other categories of employees.
However, the proletariat is interested not in the fragmentation and dissipation of progressive forces, but on the contrary, in the consolidation of forces against a common exploiter. The working class not only has to form an army ready for battle, but must also weaken as much as possible the forces of the adversary.
In this respect it is necessary to unite all the proletarian and semi-proletarian elements as more or less temporary allies. In the worst case it would serve to neutralize the indecisive forces in the ranks of the bourgeoisie, as well as to win over those forces as passive sympathizers and thus to weaken the fighting capacity of the exploiting classes.
How is it possible to achieve positive results in this respect?
The unionization of this type of employee is necessary for them to become long-term allies, without weakening the monolithic character of the workers' union. For this purpose it is necessary to create organic links among these distinct union structures on the basis of a joint strategy, while at the same time maintaining the independent character of each of them. An example of this type of unified structure is the class union «Defense» in Russia.
2. The immediate principal objective of the activity of the workers' union in Russia must be centered on its fight for control of key positions for the control of the factory.
The system of administration and management of the factory in essence forms a model of the structure of state power. In this respect, the most favorable conditions exist when, even in a formal way, the productive process is regulated by a collective contract between the employer or group of employers and the employees. The collective contract between the employers and the employees is adopted by a corresponding elected organ. When such elected organs exist, they serve for the arbitration of labor disputes between the employer and the work collective. In this case the conditions exist (even only formally!) to acquire influence on the judicial, executive, and legislative activity within the factory. From the strategic viewpoint, the workers' union should focus its energies on acquiring a decisive influence on the life of the factory.
In case of the non-existence of these favorable conditions, it is necessary to fight decisively so that they should exist in the future.
Regarding the legislative power in the factory, the collective contract is a type of constitution in the factory which serves to establish a framework for the exercise of work activity, the operation of the factory: the conditions of employment, wage rates, work conditions, social guarantees, etc. up to the formation of funds for maintaining the work collective in case of a strike.
When a collective contract is lacking, the employer has a free hand to act in an indiscriminate and arbitrary way against the interests of the workers. Under these conditions the demands of the workers become an jumble of individual problems and are not the result of the unity of action of the workers; on the contrary, in these cases labor conflicts end with insignificant concessions on the part of the employer and with the defeat of the struggles of the work collective.
If the collective contract is dictated by the terms of the employer, the factory usually becomes an area of fascist concentration, a paradise of inhuman exploitation and abject outrages.
If the workers' union is able to exercise its influence on the creation of the collective contract, the workers have the possibility of exercising a real weight on the activity of the factory, they have the opportunity to «legalize» their interests and work demands at the factory level. However only by means of trade union struggle can this type of concession be obtained. The road that leads to this can be outlined in a simplified form: This struggle in its diverse phases of development has distinct forms, from peaceful agreements with the employer on particular questions to forms of physical pressure by the work collective, etc. The possible forms of struggle and tactics must be determined on the basis of the concrete situation and the study of the correlation of forces. On the basis of legal victories won through earlier struggles, it is necessary to struggle in a continuous and tenacious manner for the extension of the rights of the workers' union. The least relaxation in the fight can have catastrophic consequences that can lead to the invariable loss of the workers' gains.
Regarding the executive power in the factory, even the most ideal collective contract in reality is nothing more than a piece of paper if the work collective does not fight constantly for the fulfillment of the main points of the contract.
The workers' union, through a dynamic body of workers' committees and commissions, should establish scrupulous control over the fulfillment of the main points of the contract which reflect the interests of the workers. It is necessary to inform the work collective in a regular and effective manner about the fulfillment or lack of fulfillment of the terms of the contract, and about the actions taken in this respect.
In the case of the complete lack of fulfillment by any employer of the points of the collective contract, it is imperative to react decisively: from the calling of a strike for certain demands to the physical seizure of the factory by the work collective.
In that case, the actions for their demands carried out by the work collective are both legal and legitimate, because under these circumstances the employer has violated the collective contract, becomes delinquent and the work collective is acting in self-defense.
This type of conflict must be resolved in favor of the work collective. Otherwise the work collective will lose its influence over the executive power in the factory and the contract will become a mere piece of paper which is no longer respected by the employer. This would lead to the complete defeat of the work collective.
Regarding the judicial power in the factory, there is the committee for arbitration of labor conflicts. This commission acts on the bases created by the collective contract and other relevant documents which regulate the labor relations in the factory, which arbitrate labor conflicts, administrative penalties, lay-offs, etc. rulings which are accepted both by the work collective and the factory administration.
Having influence on the activity of the commission for labor conflicts, the workers' union acquires the legal and effective possibility:
- to defend the workers from the arbitrariness of the administration. This will lead, among others things, to protecting worker activists from the repression and reprisals of the employer;
- to obtain punishment by the employer himself of some of his representatives who have made themselves infamous by their violation of the terms of the collective contract.
The victories of the workers will permit them to defend themselves from the arbitrariness of the representatives of the bourgeoisie. Moreover, this situation is favorable for energizing the militant actions of the working class. At the same time, it puts a brake on the belligerent and repressive attitude of the representatives of the bourgeoisie.
Once the workers' union has gained a decisive degree of influence on the activity of the labor conflicts commission it is necessary to continue this work, to extend the authority of this body, through the collective contract. It is necessary that the workers' union gain influence on questions such as the distribution of social funds, hiring of new workers, determination of the conditions of work, measures of job security, pension funds, etc.
3. The duty and the fundamental objective of the workers' union consists in organizing and raising the level of struggle of the mass of workers. The struggle for their social rights must be carried out by the masses of workers themselves.
The trade union struggle can only become successful when, above all, a substantial part of the masses of workers are discontented with their condition of exploitation. But this by itself is not sufficient. It is necessary that a group of activists, even if it is relatively small, take the initiative to organize the masses of workers in the workers' union. At present, a rich experience, both positive and negative, has been accumulated in the trade union struggle.
In regard to negative elements of this fighting experience one can outline the following.
In the work collective there is always a group of workers who are the most conscious and active in the struggle. The work collective is discontented with the work conditions, but this discontent is expressed in a concealed, rough form, from the political and social point of view, in an inconsistent and weak manner. From this point view the masses see themselves as a group of slaves who, although they are conscious of the fact that they are exploited and discontented with it, they are not yet prepared to express their discontent openly, they are not yet prepared not only for the struggle for the liquidation of the system of exploitation, but even for improving their conditions of exploitation. This is only a mass dissatisfaction with strong elements of petty-bourgeois psychology, tending to take advantage of the struggle of their «leaders» or a group of activists.
The group of prominent worker activists begins the process of the formal creation of the union organization. The worker activists, the trade union committee, agitating among the masses of workers, begin to confront management and its representatives. In many cases this agitation takes a hasty form, based on superficial promises of a «better future». The struggle is begun in the name of the trade union masses but is only carried out by the union committee. The fact that the union organization in reality does not yet exist as such is ignored. At this time the union is an association of discontented, dispossessed, humiliated, resigned exploited people. At times the employer makes insignificant concessions on specific issues. This disorients the activists, creating false illusions of victory. The enterprise work committee throws itself with only its own strength against the forces of the employer. Having previously assessed the situation, the class enemy, who has more experience, launches a counterattack. The union masses passively watch the conflict and actually betray their own «leaders» and their own dream of a better world.
In this case the attempt at creating a union in the factory leads to defeat. In the worse case the trade union committee, under pressure, sells out to the employer, and basing themselves on the formal union structure they engage in trading with the interests of the working masses.
This concrete example generalizes the experience of struggle of many factories in our country.
The main reason for the defeats that have taken place is the mistaken tactic chosen by the union activists, due to their lack of political preparation. These activists have not taken into account a general rule of the class struggle: The class struggle is the cause of the working class, and not only of its leaders or party.
This rule is applicable to all kinds of social-class conflicts. It is applicable in particular to the union struggle in the factory.
The union committee in essence is a professional organ. Therefore ist main function consists in the organization of work among the masses, the many-sided preparation of the conditions for the struggle, coordination of actions, to organize the struggle against the employer.
The practical work among the masses in all phases of the fight for their just demands should be strengthened by the rank-and-file activists. They should solve all the questions and problems. They should establish contacts with management in all situations.
The union committee should assist in this, it should participate in this process. The union masses should lead the activity and actions of the union organs, should actively support their representatives with practical actions.
The struggle for their interests should be undertaken by the union masses themselves, and not only by the union committee and the activists. Only in this way can the conditions for victory be found.