On Trade Unions and Factory Committees

On Trade Unions and Factory Committees

Saturday 22 October 2005, by Maximoff G.P.

On Trade Unions and Factory Committees

Until now, despite four months of energetic organizational work, the proletariat has not yet made clear which functions must fall to the trade unions, which to the factory committees, and which to other organizations of the working class. Although the trade unions have existed since before the revolution and have well-defined functions and a well-defined range of activity, the revolution has called into being new forms of workers’ organization and lumped their functions together in one heap. Factory committees have appeared, the question has arisen of organizing labour exchanges, and now, under life’s mounting pressures, yet another new organization is projected in the form of control commissions, which will inevitably emerge in the near future. Thus the question naturally arises as
to what relations should exist among these forms of labour organization. Must they carry on the same work, operating parallel to one another? If so, what result will this parallel work have - positive or negative? Which of the present forms merits preference over the others in the task of organizing the proletariat and in its struggle for a better future? Or are they all of equal worth, so that the question of preference need not even be raised?

Political parties, above all the Social Democrats, have taken an active part in organizing the trade unions. As a result of this close cooperation between the unions and the parties, the unions have become a kind of affiliate of the parties, [which] have striven and continue to strive to establish a trusteeship over the unions, binding them to their ideas and aspirations. As a result, the unions tend to identify their interests with the interests of the parties. Indeed, the influence of the parties on the unions is so strong that the unions merely imitate the parties, without attempting to create something new of their own.

The factory committees, by contrast, are the product of the creativity of the working masses. In the short time of their existence, the factory committees have already played an enormous role in the organization of the workers and in the struggle against capitalism. In the future they may even play the decisive role in the final engagement between labour and capital. It is difficult to say at this point whether these two forms of workers’ organization will be able to coexist in peace: the one being revolutionary, militant, bold, energetic and powerful owing to its youth; the other older, cautious, inclined towards compromise, complacent, calling itself militant but in reality striving for class `harmony’.

Several speakers at conferences have declared that the weakness of the factory committees lies in their pursuit of narrow, local interests. But such strictures do not merit serious attention, and at the conferences they received a heated rebuttal from the workers. The factory committees must be the organizations to deal a mortal blow to the reign of capitalism. Control must belong to the workers and not to the state. In everyday life, the factory committees are militant economic organizations guiding the life of the enterprises and the course of production. In the factory committee there must reign a revolutionary spirit which will not allow any cooperation with the employers. The factory committees, in a word, must build the road towards future socialist production, yet without forgetting the needs of the present.

One of these two forms of workers’ organization must gain supremacy over the other, and the subordinate role, it seems to me, must fall to the trade unions.

G. P. Maksimov, `O professionalnykh soiuzakh i zavodskikh komitetakh, Golos Truda, August 1917, p. 4, abridged. (The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution,London, 1973, pp. 72-74)