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Marx and Trade Unions

B. T. Randive
WHEN Karl Marx entered on his political activities, the trade unions of the working class had
just started coming into existence. heir emergence was an anathema to the capitalist rulers, and
the! were "anned in man! countries.

hose who thought of socialism in those da!s# the utopian socialists, the pett! "ourgeois
socialists and others#did not understand the importance of this form of working class
organisation. $ome of them were openl! opposed to trade unions, considering them to "e useless
and harmful, while others demanded a "an on strikes for "eing harmful to social development
and interests.

%thers still saw in trade unions and strikes the exclusive instruments of social change. &ut the!
would not go "e!ond economic struggle and a"jured all politics on principle, as compromise
with the existing order. None of these viewpoints understood the link of the trade union struggle
with the struggle for the emancipation of the working class and societ! from capitalist "ondage
and with the struggle for the capture of political power "! the working class.

his was "ecause the! did not understand the content of the modern class struggle and the role of
the working class as the leading force of the socialist revolution.

'or Marx, the working class was the onl! revolutionar! class facing the capitalist class. (n the
Communist Manifesto he said) *%f all the classes that stand face to face with the "ourgeoisie
toda!, the proletariat alone is a reall! revolutionar! class. he other classes deca! and finall!
disappear in the face of modern industr!, the proletariat is its special and essential product.+

Ever! activit! of this class was therefore, important for Marx#activit! in which the class got
consciousness to move forward. he formation of trade unions and the trade union movement
were important steps in the formation of a class, a common class#consciousness. he superior
organisation# the political part! of the working class could not "e formed and expanded in
isolation from this practical struggle involving the large mass of workers.
(n the conduct of the historic (nternational Working Men,s -ssociation, as well as after its
dissolution, Marx continued to attach due importance to the trade unions in the revolutionar!
struggle of the working class and at the same time exposed the leadership which severed this
link.

he aim of the (nternational Working Men,s -ssociation, in the e!es of Marx, was not onl! to
unite the trade unions for dail! struggles and international cooperation. he trade unions, of
course, achieved primar! importance "ecause the! represented the direct class activit! of the
working class. he real aim was to work for the political unification of the international working
class movement in the struggle for social emancipation . political organisation of the working
class. (t was arrived at "! focusing on organisation which, in the words of Engels, *would
demonstrate "odil!, so to speak, the international character of the socialist movement, "oth to the
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workers themselves and to the "ourgeois and to the /overnments#for the encouragement and
strengthening of the proletariat, for striking fears into the hearts of its enemies.+ 0$elected
Works, vol. 1, page 234. o achieve this purpose it was necessar! to pa! close attention to the
trade union movement.

Marx had to unite the various manifestations of working class unrest# of which the trade union
movement was one# and "! continuous struggle teach the others of the vital importance of the
trade union movement in the struggle for socialism. (t was a prolonged "attle waged in the
(nternational Working Men,s -ssociation.

(t was a "attle, which was later continued against trade union reformism, which diverted the
working class from its final aims. hat "attle had to "e picked up "! 5enin and later on carried
on "! the 6ommunist (nternational and communist parties. his fight against "ourgeois influence
in the trade unions has had to "e carried on toda! also in almost all capitalist countries, including
the newl! li"erated countries.

his idea of united front can "e o"served in the following 7uote from Engels regarding the
(nternational Working Men,s -ssociation) *(ts aim was to weld together into one huge arm! all
the fighting forces of the working class of Europe and -merica8.

he (nternational was "ound to have a programme which would not shut the door on the English
trade unions, the 'rench, &elgian and (talian and $panish 8 and the /erman.+

(n his letter to &olte, Marx wrote, *he (nternational was founded for the purpose of putting the
real organisation of the working class in the place of the socialist and semi#socialist sects.+

he real and practical organisation of the working class was taking place in the shape of trade
unions, with the political part! !et far off.

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