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Leon Trotsky 19350318 From the CGT's Plan to the Conquest of Power

Leon Trotsky: From the CGT's Plan to the Conquest of Power

Delivered March 18-19, 1935

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 7, 1934-1935, New York 1971, p. 220-232]


The CGT sets as its aim the "intensification of propaganda” in support of the plan. We can only congratulate ourselves on this. The best plan is only a scrap of paper if it does not have the militant masses behind it It is to be regretted that in the year that has passed since the adoption of the plan, so little has been done to present it to the masses and to win their support

The notes "for the use of propagandists" that we received from the CGT some months ago stress the necessity for a "vigorous oral propaganda effort to be carried out even to the small, rural centers." I am sure that the departmental unions could mobilize sufficient cadres of loyal propagandists. But for their efforts to be really vigorous and, above all, effective, the unions themselves must have a clear position on this question.

I must, however, acknowledge that the discussions on the plan, even in fairly limited circles, reveal a certain confusion. Perhaps we who come from the provinces are not sufficiently informed. In that case, the center must help us. For my part, I want to take advantage of this session of the CCN to ask some questions, express some doubts, indicate some weaknesses and demand some supplementary clarifications.

Many comrades in this room are too experienced in how the masses respond — certainly, much more than I am — for me to need to stress the idea that propaganda can strike home only when it is clear and concrete. That is why we propagandists ask you for a little more clarity and a little more precision about the plan.

In the different texts of the CGT, we often read that what is involved is a renovation of the national economy, sometimes counterposed to "economic and social reorganization," but sometimes also identified with it Comrades, it is very difficult to say to the workers or the peasants, "We want to renovate the national economy," when everybody now uses the same expression: the Patriotic Youth, the Popular Democrats, the Peasant Front, sometimes even the Radicals, but above all M. Flandin — all of them proclaiming and promising the renovation and even the reorganization of the national economy. Our plan must be distinguished from those of the class enemy through the precise definition of its goal. All the renovations and reorganizations that I have just spoken of seek to remain on a capitalist base, that is, to safeguard private property in the means of production. And the CGT's plan? Does it aim to renovate capitalist economy or to replace that economy by another? I confess to not having found an exact reply to this question. Sometimes we read in the same texts that what is involved is not a transformation of the present system but only emergency measures to alleviate the crisis. However, we also find it stated that the emergency measures must open the way to more profound transformations.

Perhaps all that is correct, but we never find the exact definition of the system we want to end up with. What sort of so-called profound transformations should there be? Is it only a question — I am just speaking hypothetically — of transforming a section of private capitalism into state capitalism? Or do we want to replace the whole capitalist system by another social regime? Which one? What is our final goal? It is astonishing, comrades, but all the statements and even the "notes for the use of propagandists" say absolutely nothing about it. Do we want to replace capitalism by socialism, by communism or by anarchy a la Proudhon? Or do we simply want to rejuvenate capitalism by reforming and modernizing it? When I want to travel a distance of one or two stations only, I still must know where the train is going. Even for emergency measures we need a general orientation. What is the social ideal of the CGT? Is it socialism? Yes or no? We must be told — otherwise, as propagandists, we remain completely disarmed before the masses.

The difficulties are increased by the fact that we are only partially acquainted with the CGT doctrine and its program and that the "notes for the use of propagandists" do not indicate to us the literature that could enlighten us. The only doctrinal authority cited in the statements of the CGT is Proudhon, the theoretician of anarchy. It is he who said that the "workshop must replace the government" Do we aspire to anarchy? Do we want to replace capitalist anarchy by pure anarchy? It seems not, since the plan speaks of nationalization of the key industries. In practical terms, nationalization signifies statization. Now, if we have recourse to the state to centralize and direct the economy, how can we invoke Proudhon, who demanded only one thing of the state: that it leave him alone! And in truth, modern industry, the trusts, cartels, consortiums, banks, all that totally surpasses the Proudhonist vision of equal exchanges between independent producers. Why, then, invoke Proudhon? That can only increase the confusion.

To the present capitalist system, which has survived for a long time, we can counterpose only socialism. As propagandist for our trade-union organization, I believe I am expressing the idea of many militants in demanding that the plan for economic renewal be renamed the plan of measures for the transition from capitalism to socialism.

Then, before taking his place in the railway car, each worker and peasant will know where the CGT train is heading.

Comrades, for our propaganda to be effective, this clarification is absolutely indispensable.

The CGT plan stresses, above all, the fact that credit is the guiding lever of the economy. Comrades, I am far from being a specialist in questions of banking and credit I mainly want to educate myself in order to be able to explain the issue to the workers. But I confess again that I have not found the clarifications that I need in the documents of the CGT. They speak of "nationalization of credit," and "control of the banks." It's more by way of exception that the same document speaks of "nationalization of the banks." Can you control credit without having nationalized the banks? You can control only what you hold firmly in your hands. Do we want to nationalize the banks or not? I suppose yes. Then it must be said openly and clearly. Unfortunately, instead of this being the case, we find vague formulations, for example: "The bank must be at the service of the economy, and not the economy at the service of the bank" (p. 6 of the statement). A worker asked me to explain that nebulous phrase to him. Seeing my perplexity, he remarked: "But the bank always remains in the service of the economy, like the trusts, the railways, etc. … They all serve capitalist economy in robbing the people." This harsh remark seemed to me much more correct than the formulation that I cited above. The capitalist bank serves the capitalist economy. We should say therefore: We now want to seize the bank out of the hands of the capitalist exploiters in order to make it a lever of social transformation, that is, of socialist construction. I would very much like to see this clear formulation in the text of the plan.

The nationalization of the banks could naturally be carried out only to the detriment of high finance. As for small investors, their interests must be not just spared, but protected. We must choose between the interests of the financial sharks and the interests of the middle classes. Our choice is carried out by the expropriation of the former. We will create for the latter conditions much more favorable than at present.

But nationalization of the banks is not enough. After nationalizing the banks, we must proceed to their complete unification. All individual banks must be transformed into branches of the national bank. Only this unification can transform the nationalized banking system into a system of bookkeeping and direction for the national economy.

In the "notes for the use of propagandists," I find some very valuable statistics concerning the organization of the dictatorship of finance capital in our country. Basing themselves on a 1932 investigation, the notes state the following: "In practical terms we can say that ninety persons own and control the economy of our country." There is a statement that is precise and overwhelming in its precision. The welfare or misery of a hundred million human beings — for we cannot forget our unfortunate colonies, which the ninety sharks bleed even more than the metropolis — the fate of a hundred million people depends on the wave of the hand of ninety all-powerful magnates. It is they who are making a mess of the national economy to preserve their miserable, bloody privileges and power. Unfortunately neither the text of the plan nor the commentaries on it indicate what must be done with these ninety monarchs who control us. The response should be clear: we must expropriate them, unseat them, to return to the plundered people what belongs to them. This would be a good beginning toward accomplishing the plan. I move, in the name of the departmental union of Isère, to inscribe this measure in the text of the plan. Our propaganda will then become more vigorous and much more effective.

In the text of the plan, we find an important paragraph under the heading "Industrialized Nationalizations." This heading appears very strange. We understand what nationalized industry means, but industrialized nationalization leaves us in a quandary. Permit me to say that such contrived terminology complicates the task of the propagandist by obscuring the most simple things. The "notes for the use of propagandists" don't even mention the nationalization of industry. Perhaps these notes preceded the last editing of the statement Unfortunately, we seldom find dates on CGT documents, an important weakness that must be overcome if our work is to be facilitated.

We may congratulate ourselves in any case on the fact that the latest edition of the plan poses the following thesis: the nationalization of certain key industries is necessary. However the word "certain" seems superfluous. Naturally we cannot hope to nationalize with one blow all industries, small, middle and big. On the contrary, the regime that we want to establish must show the greatest indulgence toward small manufacturers and artisans, as well as small merchants and peasants. But the text speaks explicitly of the key industries, that is, the powerful trusts and cartels, the combines like the Comité des Forges [Association of Heavy Industries], the Comité des Houillères [Association of Coal Industries], the Compagnies des Chemin de Fer [railway companies], etc., etc. As key industries, they must all be nationalized, and not only "certain" ones. It even seems to us in Isère that we should add to the plan the list of these key industries with some precise statistics on their capitalization, their dividends, the number of workers they exploit and the number of unemployed they throw on the scrap heap.

To speak to the people, it is necessary to be concrete, to call things by their name and to give exact figures. Otherwise, the worker and even more so the peasant will say, "This is not a plan, but the platonic dream of some bureaucrat"

Under the heading "Conditions of Acquisition," the text of the plan speaks of the conditions for nationalizing the key industries and obviously the banks also. We are accustomed to thinking that nationalization should take place by expropriating the exploiters. However, the plan speaks not of expropriation but of acquisition. Does that mean that the state must simply buy from the capitalists the firms created by the workers' labor? Manifestly so. At what price? The statement replies: the price will be calculated "according to the real value at the time of purchase." We learn later that "the amortization will be calculated over a period of forty or fifty years." There, comrades, is a financial deal that will hardly appeal to the workers or peasants. What is this? We want to transform society, and we begin by total and complete recognition that capitalist property is sacrosanct!

The chairman of the council, M. Flandin, was correct when he said in parliament recently, "Capital is accumulated labor." And all the capitalists in parliament applauded this formulation. Unfortunately, it is not complete. To express the truth, it would be necessary to say: "Capital is the labor of the workers accumulated by their exploiter." Here is the time to cite Proudhon on capitalist property. You are acquainted with the formulation: "Property is theft" In this sense it could be said: "The property of the ninety magnates who control France is accumulated theft" No, we don’t want to buy back what has been stolen from the working people; we don't want the new regime to be burdened with debts from its first day when it will have many tasks to resolve and many difficulties to surmount Capitalism is bankrupt It has ruined the nation. The capitalists' debts to the people exceed by far the real value of their enterprises. No! No buying back! No new slavery! Expropriation pure and simple or, if you wish, confiscation.

I really hope that in this assembly, which represents the oppressed, the exploited, no one is moved by sympathy for the tycoons threatened with unemployment and poverty. In any case, they are farsighted enough to cover themselves on all sides. And if one of them really found himself without resources, the state would provide him the same pension as retired workers. We have enough of sick and poverty-stricken elderly people and youth, permanent unemployed and women condemned to prostitution. To put an end to all this human misery, we will greatly need the amounts that the plan is all too generously prepared to confer on the exploiters and their descendants over a half century. That provision of the plan, comrades, would have us bringing up two new generations of sluggards! No, that paragraph alone is enough to compromise the entire plan irreparably in the eyes of the starving masses. Comrades, strike out that paragraph as soon as possible. That is another proposal from our departmental union.

The "notes for the use of propagandists" inform us, "Fiscal fraud is raised to an institutional level." Very well said. This is correct and clear. But it is not just fiscal fraud. The Oustric and Stavisky affairs reminded us that the whole capitalist economy is based not just on legalized exploitation but also on general cheating. To hide the cheating from the eyes of the people, there exists a magnificent method called business secrecy — necessary, they claim, for competition. This is a monstrous lie. Flandin's Industrial Agreements Act demonstrates that the capitalists no longer have secrets among themselves. So-called business secrets are nothing but the conspiracy of the big capitalists against the producers and consumers. The abolition of business secrets must be the first demand of the proletariat as it prepares to direct the national economy.

Strictly speaking, the CGT plan is not yet a plan; it contains only general directives and not very precise ones at that A real economic plan requires concrete statistics, figures, diagrams. Naturally we are very far from that The first condition for a first outline of the plan consists in setting forth everything that the nation possesses in productive, material and human forces, in raw materials, etc. We must be acquainted with the real costs of production like the "incidental expenses" of capitalist fraud and for that we must abolish once and for all the fraudulent plot that goes under the name of business secrecy.

The plan speaks, albeit rather briefly, of workers' control (see "Administrative Council"). In Isère, we are staunch advocates of workers' control. We often meet this objection: "Control is not enough. We want nationalization and workers' management" However we do not in any way counterpose the two slogans. For the workers to take over the administration of industry — which is absolutely necessary, and as soon as possible, for the well-being of civilization — we must immediately demand workers' control, as well as peasant control over certain banks, the fertilizer trusts, the milling industry, etc.

For nationalization to operate in a revolutionary way, not bureaucratically, the workers must participate at every stage. They must prepare themselves for it, beginning now. They must intervene, beginning now, in the management of industry and the entire economy in the form of workers' control, beginning with their factory. The plan envisages this control in a class-collaborationist form, by subjecting the workers' representatives to the majority control of the bourgeoisie (see "Industrial Councils"). Moreover, it stipulates that the delegate from each category of producers must be nominated by the "professional organization." We cannot accept that proposition. Our trade unions, unfortunately, encompass only a twelfth or a fifteenth of the wage force; the union is not an end in itself; its mission is, on the contrary, to draw the mass of workers into the administration of public affairs.

The strike will benefit the workers, organized or not, only on condition that the trade-union vanguard draws the entire mass into action. For workers' control to be effective, the same condition is fundamental. That is why the control committee in each plant must not be composed only of delegates from the trade union, that is, from a fifteenth of the workers. No, it must be elected by all the workers in the plant, under the leadership of the union. That would be the real beginning of free and honest workers' democracy, in contrast to bourgeois democracy, which is corrupt to the core.

The plan calls for the application of the forty-hour week with no reduction in wages. There can be no debate about that slogan. But we know only too well that the ruling class and its state are turning in the other direction, that is, they want to lower wages without reducing the number of hours of work. What means, then, can we use to achieve the forty-hour week? The "notes for the use of propagandists" inform us that "an action has been undertaken for the materialization of an international agreement," and they continue: "It may materialize soon." It may … This is not very precise, and, given the international economic and political situation, we are rather more inclined to conclude: it may not If we are mistaken, our representative at Geneva will correct our pessimism. Until something new happens, the unemployed of Grenoble — and we have some! — don't expect much from the Geneva agreements.

And what is proposed to us, apart from the hope of an early materialization of a diplomatic agreement? The "notes" continue: "Propaganda must be carried out throughout the country to explain the social significance of this workers' demand." Simply to "explain"? But all workers, even the most simple-minded, understand very well the advantage of the forty-hour week with no reduction in wages. What they are waiting for from the CGT is its indication of the means by which this slogan can be implemented. But it is precisely here that the great weakness of the plan begins: it makes proposals; it offers suggestions; it formulates slogans; but it is completely silent on the means of fulfilling them.

However, before passing on to the question of how to fulfill the plan, we must pause on a particularly serious question: the peasant question. Everyone talks about it, everyone proclaims the necessity of improving the situation of the peasants, but there are lots of rogues who would like to prepare an omelet for the peasants without breaking the eggs of big business. This method cannot be ours.

Commenting on the plan, the "notes for the use of propagandists" say: "Hie peasants must be freed from the dual grip of the fertilizer trusts at the point of production and the consortium of big mills and the milling trade at the distribution end.”

It is all very well to say: "The peasants must be freed," but you know very well that the peasant does not like vague and platonic formulations. And he is damned well right "Must be freed." But how? Here is the only possible reply: We must expropriate and nationalize the fertilizer and milling trusts and put them truly at the service of the farmers and the consumers. The peasants cannot be aided without going counter to the interests of big business.

The plan speaks of the "general reorganization of agricultural production," but it does not specify the direction or the methods of this reorganization. The idea of expropriating the peasants or violently forcing them to take the road of socialist production is so absurd that it is scarcely worth the trouble of criticizing; no one, moreover, is proposing any such measures. The peasantry itself must choose the road of its salvation. Whatever the peasants decide, the proletariat will promise its sincere and effective support The peasant cooperatives are the most important means to allow the freeing of agricultural economy from the excessively narrow partitions of the agricultural plot The commentaries on the plan say: "Peasant cooperatives for production, stockpiling and sales must be encouraged and helped." Unfortunately, we are not told by whom and how they must be encouraged and helped. At every stage we find the same failing. The demands of the plan often have the appearance of dead letters.

Who is it who will nationalize the banks and the key industries? Who will come to the aid of the peasants and introduce the forty-hour week? In one word, who will apply the program of the CGT? Who and how? This question, comrades, is decisive. If it remains unanswered, the whole plan remains hanging in the air.

In the paragraph on "Industrialized Nationalizations," we find in passing an indirect and completely astonishing reply to the question at hand. Here is how the very objective of the plan is defined in that paragraph: "It is a question of establishing … the technical details of a program that can be applied independently of the political regime." One can't help rubbing his eyes once or twice on reading this unreal formulation. So, the plan that is to be directed against the bankers, the magnates of the trusts, against the ninety dictators of France and the colonies — the plan that is to save the workers, peasants, artisans, small businessmen, employees and civil servants — this plan would be independent of the political regime? To put it otherwise, the rudder of the state can remain, as it is presently, in the hands of the exploiters, the oppressors, those who starve the people — no matter, the CGT presents this government with its plan of economic renewal? Let us say it frankly and openly, this supposed independence of the plan with respect to the political regime totally destroys its real worth by placing it outside the social reality.

Naturally, at this moment we are not concerned with the constitutional or bureaucratic forms of the state regime. But one question dominates all others: which class holds the power? To transform feudal society into capitalist society, the bourgeoisie had to seize the power violently from the hands of the monarchy, the nobility and the clergy. The Third Estate understood very well that its plan for "economic and social renovation" required an equivalent regime. And just as the conscious bourgeoisie did not give Louis Capet the task of abolishing the medieval regime, so the proletariat cannot put Flandin or Herriot or other leaders of the bourgeoisie in charge of carrying out the plan that is to lead to the expropriation of the bourgeoisie itself. He who holds the power decides the forms of property, and all reform reduces itself in the last analysis to the abolition of private property and the establishment of collective or socialist property in the means of production. He who believes that the bourgeoisie is capable of expropriating itself is perhaps an excellent poet But, for my part, I would not entrust him with the funds of the smallest trade union, because he is living in a dream world while we want to remain in the real world.

It must be said in no uncertain terms: only a revolutionary government of the workers and peasants, prepared for implacable struggle against all the exploiters, can apply the plan, complete it, develop it and go beyond it along the socialist road. For the proletariat, that means to conquer power.

Who is the plan addressed to? To the rulers, to soften them up, or to the dispossessed to direct them against their oppression? We propagandists have to know whom we are addressing and in what tone. Neither the plan nor the commentaries teach us anything in this connection. The official statement tells us that the plan launched by the CGT must be "met favorably by the general public." I ask you, comrades, and I ask myself: what does that mean, the general public? It is not, I suppose, the public of the great boulevards. In the trade-union movement and the social struggle, we are used to first seeking out classes: the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, the different layers of the petty bourgeoisie. We are certainly hopeful that the proletariat and the lower layers of the petty bourgeoisie will accept the plan favorably, provided it is elaborated carefully, purged of equivocation and presented to the masses as a program of struggle. But the workers and poor peasants are not the general public. Do we mean, for example, that it is the big bourgeoisie who must accept the plan of the CGT? Obviously not, we don't want to make fun of ourselves. Consult Le Temps. Some weeks ago, this newspaper, which represents well the ninety business magnates, that is, the ruling oligarchy, was protesting vehemently against any participation of the trade unions in the industrial commissions. I quote you two sentences which speak volumes: "The banning of all workers' associations was the price for obtaining social peace under the ancien régime.” Behold the big bourgeoisie, its back to the wall, now seeking its inspiration in the ancien régime! And then the same article says: "Corporatism [special economic-interest groups] here signifies trade unionism." Le Temps is, in this way, demonstrating to us each day that the ruling class is not only not preparing to make concessions along the lines of the CGT plan but, on the contrary, envisages the possibility of crushing the CGT itself.

Jaurès rightly said that Le Temps is the bourgeoisie in the form of a newspaper. Is collaboration possible with this bourgeoisie that now, taking inspiration from the ancien régime, prepares to outlaw any workers’ association? To pose this question is to reply to it Nothing remains but implacable struggle, and to the very end.

The observations, criticisms and suggestions that I am presenting here in the name of our departmental union are already quite extensive, and I am, unfortunately, far from having exhausted even the most important questions. It's all the more necessary, therefore, to indicate the fundamental defect of the plan: its authors wish to place themselves above classes, that is, outside reality. Where they want to win over everyone, they speak of the general public. They want to nationalize the banks, but without prejudice to high finance, and to nationalize the trusts, while luxuriously guaranteeing the big bourgeoisie three more generations of parasitism. They want to come to the aid of the peasants without violating the interests of the landlords, the fertilizer trusts and the big milling companies. They evidently also want to win over all possible political regimes since they state that their plan is neutral with respect to political parties and even regimes. It even seems to me that such labored and incomprehensible expressions as "industrialized nationalizations," etc., are chosen in order not to shock the delicate ears of the magnates of the trusts.

This procedure is not only useless, it is dangerous; it is not only dangerous, it is pernicious. He who seeks to embrace too much grasps poorly or carries away little. We will not win over the bourgeoisie — it has an unshakable class consciousness; it makes fun of our advice; it is preparing to crush us. The more gentle, conciliating and obsequious we are toward the bourgeoisie, the less it respects us and the more intransigent and arrogant it becomes. This lesson, it seems to me, emerges from the entire history of the class struggle.

On the other hand, by running after the supposed general public with our entreaties and by making concession after concession to appease the capitalist idol, we risk displeasing the underprivileged who are already beginning to say to themselves: "These are advisers of the ruling classes and not the leaders of the oppressed classes." We will never win the heart of the class enemy, but we risk losing permanently the confidence of our own class. The misunderstanding of this fundamental rule constitutes the main weakness of the plan. We must reshape it We must address ourselves directly to the wage earners and the exploited. We must use clear and firm language. We must transform the plan into an action program for the entire proletariat

The "notes for propagandists" enjoin us to "crystallize all those of goodwill." This is vague. Where are they to be found? We are acquainted with classes and class organizations, but above all we know the bad will of the bourgeoisie. To smash it we must counterpose the revolutionary will of the working class. As for the middle classes, they will put their confidence in the proletariat only if the latter demonstrates in action its confidence in itself.

It is absurd and even criminal to look for goodwill in the bourgeoisie by breaking down and paralyzing the revolutionary goodwill of the proletariat The united front of our class is necessary at any cost: unity of action of all the workers, trade-union, political, cooperative, educational and sports organizations and, in the first place, trade-union unity, with a specific goal — the application of the plan for nationalization and socialization through the conquest of power.

We must mobilize all the real worker militants for a vigorous campaign throughout the country. The peasants in the most distant hamlets must be convinced that the proletariat is this time seriously getting ready to overthrow the bourgeoisie, to take the power into its hands to transform our country, to make it habitable at last for the working people.

Either the plan is transformed into a plan for the conquest of power by the proletariat, for the establishment of a workers' and peasants' government, or the people will put it down as null and unworkable. The departmental union of Isère is for revolutionary action. If you call on us in that sense, we will respond: Present!