Trotsky, Cárdenas and Chávez (8) - unions

Posted in PaulHampton's blog on Wed, 14/02/2007 - 16:30,

Trotsky and the unions in Mexico

Trotsky began to write about developments in the unions in mid-1938. Before the Stalinist-organised pan-American trade union congress in Mexico City on 6-8 September 1938, which set up the Confederation of Latin American Workers (CTAL), he denounced (in the name of Diego Rivera) Toledano’s links with Stalin. He wrote that Lombardo was “a ‘pure’ politician, foreign to the working class, and pursuing his own aims”. His ambition was “to climb to the Mexican presidency on the backs of the workers” and in pursuit if that aim had “closely intertwined his fate with the fate of the Kremlin oligarchy”. (Trade union congress staged by the CP, 27 August 1938 in Writings 1937-38 p.426)

He also denounced in public (through Rivera and the US SWP) the apparent visit of Mexican Communist Party (PCM) leader Hernan Laborde to the USSR, when in fact he had been in New York receiving orders from the CPUSA. Trotsky had in on good authority that Laborde had been briefed to create an atmosphere in Mexico “for the physical liquidation of Trotsky and some of his friends”. (Another Stalinist Ploy, 4 September 1938, Writings 1937-38 p.441)

His attitude seems to have hardened after the CTAL conference, when Trotskyists such as Mateo Fossa from Argentina were excluded for their politics. He was also prompted by the increased attacks on him by the Stalinist bureaucrats in the unions. After Lombardo Toledano presented a dossier to the CTM congress on 25 February 1938, it voted “unanimously” for the expulsion of Trotsky from Mexico. (Gall 1991 p.238)

Then the August 1938 issue of the CTM magazine Futuro carried an attack on him by Lombardo, accusing him of organising a general strike against Cárdenas during the oil expropriations. (The Totalitarian ‘Right of Asylum’, 19 September 1938, Writings 1938-39 p.22)

Trotsky distinguished between leaders and the unions: “Toledano of course will repeat that we are ‘attacking’ the CTM. No reasonable worker will believe this rubbish. The CTM, as a mass organisation, as a mass organisation, has every right to our respect and support. But just as the democratic state is not identical with its minister at any given time, so a trade union organisation is not identical with its secretary.” (ibid p.22)

Other attacks followed. The PCM leader Laborde accused him of links with General Cedillo. Lombardo also claimed that Trotsky had met with fascists during a summer holiday trip. Trotsky’s response was to offer to participate in a public investigation into Lombardo’s charges. (What is the meaning of the struggle against ‘Trotskyism’?, 9 October 1938, Writings 1938-39 p.50)

Trotsky also sought to galvanise an opposition to the Stalinists and the bureaucrats in CTAL, drafting a statement intended for publication. It stated: “[In Mexico] the unions, unfortunately, are directly dependent on the state” and “posts in the union bureaucracy are frequently filled from the ranks of the bourgeois intelligentsia, attorneys, engineers etc”.

He described the way these bureaucrats gave themselves a left cover by becoming “friends of the USSR”. He described how they kept control of the unions: “they ferociously trample on workers’ democracy and stifle any voice of criticism, acting as outright gangsters towards organisations that fight for the revolutionary independence of the proletariat from the bourgeois state and from foreign imperialism.” (Tasks of the trade union movement in Latin America, 11 October 1938, Writings 1938-39 p.83)

Trotsky argued that the trade unions in Mexico were “constitutionally statified”. He told his closest collaborators in November 1938 that, “they incorporate the workers, the trade unions, which are already stratified. They incorporate them in the management of the railroad, the oil industry, and so on, in order to transform the trade union leadership into government representatives… In that sense, when we say the control of production by the workers it cannot mean control of production by the stratified bureaucrats of the trade unions, but control by the workers of their own bureaucracy and to fight for the independence of the trade unions from the state.” (Latin American problems: a transcript, Writings supplement 1934-40, p.791)

In an article, Problems of the Mexican section, on 5 December 1938 Trotsky wrote that “in Mexico, more than anywhere, the struggle against the bourgeoisie and the government consists above all in freeing the trade unions from dependence on the government… the class struggle in Mexico must be directed towards winning the independence of the trade unions from the bourgeois state.”

He made it clear that revolutionaries would continue to work in the unions, including the teachers’ union (STERM) and the CTM. (Writings 1938-39 p.146)

He reiterated this in his critique of the anarchist CGT leaders, who decided to support the “centrist” candidate from the ruling party in the presidential election. He wrote on 31 December 1938, “The elementary duty of the revolutionary Marxist consists in carrying out systematic work in the mass proletarian organisations and above all in the trade unions. This duty includes the CTM, the CGT, and trade unions in general.” (To the Pillory, Writings 1938-39 p.172)

He criticised the second six-year plan in March 1939 for a participation proposal which “threatens to incorporate a bureaucratic hierarchy of the unions etc, without precise delimitation, into the bureaucratic hierarchy of the state”. He went as far as to characterise the unions as “totalitarian”. (Writings 1938-39 p.222, p.227)

This attitude of intervention in even the most reactionary unions remained in all Trotsky’s articles until the end of his life. For example Clave carried articles in 1940 on the first congress of the STERM teachers’ union and on the 7th national council of the CTM, both characterised by little democracy. (Escritos Latinamercianos 1999 p.256, p.262)

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