From early 1920s until its last congress in 1936, the Comintern never backed down from its insistence on Bolshevization and organization on the basis of workplace cells as a major element of it. Many written and practical works on this subject were produced.
The Congress in which the issue became central approved the “Motion for a Resolution on the Organization of Factory Cells” drafted by the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) a few months ago.
“The organization of the party must be adapted to the conditions and purposes of its activity. (…) The final goal of our party is the overthrow of bourgeois rule, the conquest of power by the working class, the attainment of communism. Its immediate task is to win over the majority of the working class by active participation in the daily struggle of the working masses and the leadership of that struggle. This can be accomplished only by the closest association of our party organization with the working masses in the factories.”
The goal was quite straightforward: ensuring the party to establish the closest connections possible with, and to penetrate into and increase its influence among the working class. The Comintern did not design a model, but rather proposed the parties to reorganize themselves according to this goal.
As a matter of fact, the same motion for resolution also stated that even though the decision to render workplace cells the fundamental structure of communist parties had been made in the Third Congress, the decision could not be put into effect in most of the sections. Furthermore, the reason why German Revolution suffered a blow in 1923 once again after the defeat of 1918 was mainly associated with this fact:
“The experience of the German revolution (end of 1923) has, however, shown most clearly that, in the absence of cells based on the factories and of close connections with the working masses, the latter cannot be drawn into the struggle and led, their moods cannot be rightly appraised, the moment most favourable to us cannot be exploited, nor victory won over the bourgeoisie.”
I already mentioned that the Bolsheviks had been there, within the social class that they would lead. The Comintern advised communist parties to do what communists in Russia had done, to seep into, to settle within the class:
“13. The primary organization of the party, its foundation, is the factory cell (in factory, mine, workshop, office, etc.), to which all party members working at that place must belong.... It must have at least three members.
14. In factories in which there are only one or two party members, they shall be attached to the nearest factory cell…. Note: Party members who do not work in a factory, etc. shall, as a rule, be attached to factory cells in their neighbourhood; otherwise they form street cells.
15. The cell is the organization which connects the party with the workers and small peasants. The functions of the cell are to carry out party work among the nonparty working masses by means of systematic communist agitation and propaganda: to recruit new members, distribute party literature, issue a factory newspaper, conduct cultural and educational work among the party members and workers in the factory, to work persistently and uninterruptedly to win all official positions in the factory, to intervene in all industrial conflicts and demands by the employees, to explain them from the standpoint of the revolutionary class struggle, to win the leadership in all struggles of the employees by persistent and unflagging work.
16. To conduct its current work the cell elects a committee, consisting of three to five members…. The committee is responsible for the work of the cell.”
The decisions cited above were drafted by the Organization Department of the ECCI in January 1925, immediately after the Fifth Congress which reiterated the call for Bolshevization. They were approved in April and published a month later. In the report drawn up to be submitted to the Sixth Congress, we read the following note on the implementation of these decisions:
“The ECCI report to the sixth Comintern congress stated that from the middle of 1925 the sections had begun to revise their statutes under the guidance of the organization department. A great deal of resistance had been encountered, but for most European countries the work had been completed. In the colonial and Latin American countries, it had only just begun.”
Apparently, it was not easy. They have maintained their efforts persistently and patiently.
After the Fifth Congress, the Comintern have made assessments on the organization of communist parties on the basis of workplace cells for several times. They tried to identify the achievements, shortcomings and requirements. An assessment made at the Tenth ECCI meeting held in 1929 provided striking findings on the point where communist parties had reached in terms of forming workplace cells at a time when capitalism was going through a deep economic and political crisis. Along with proposals on remedies to be pursued, these findings provided the basis of a circular which was published in December 1930. The circular listed the most important shortcomings in the workplace-cell work as follows:
“1. There are very few factory cells….
2. The majority of existing factory cells are concentrated in small-scale plants. There are very few in large plants, and these are as a rule numerically weak and politically with little influence.
3. Existing factory cells are as a rule not active enough and have no contact with the daily life of the factories.
4. Among the workers who are party members there is a strong tendency to evade factory-cell work, and consequently not all of them belong to the factory cell. The Czechoslovak CP, for example, stated that on 1 July 1930, 57 per cent of its members were industrial workers, but only 14 per cent were organized in factory cells. (…)
6. The work of the factory cells is very bad, and frequently completely disconnected from the work of the party as a whole, in consequence of the inadequate attention paid to factory-cell work by the leading party bodies.”
The circular also established that workplace cells were not associated sufficiently with the central political agenda of the party and highlighted the potential problems this may create:
“In the big political campaigns conducted by the party, the factory cells as a rule take only a very minor part, sometimes none at all. Usually political campaigns are run in the old way, repeatedly condemned by the Communist International, inherited from the social-democratic parties—general agitation, popular meetings, participation by members in their home area but not where they work; the driving forces in the campaign are still the central party press and agitators sent out by the party centre. ... It is said that the weakness of the factory cells makes it impossible to organize campaigns around them. … This means that in practice nothing is done to reorganize the party on a factory-cell basis, and that the party is not in a position to bring our slogans to the masses of workers and to expose the treacherous and counter-revolutionary work of the social-democrats, the reformists, and the fascists....”
The Comintern underlined that not only the establishment of workplace cells, but also their ability to take part in the political work of the party was essential. Besides, the hostile forces were not simply sitting back and doing nothing; fascism was propagating within the working class like a tumor. In fact, the Comintern was echoing a simple rule: “if you are not organized, the opposite party is.” It was evident that time was running out and the Comintern urged the party central committees to take measures:
“The central committees of the communist parties must take every measure to see that the entire system of party leadership must be turned to face the factories. Above all the entire party press must be recast for this purpose. … Articles must be written in simple language, so that the average workman, including the non-political workman, still unaccustomed to specific political expressions and formulations, can understand them. ... In addition to articles of a general character, party newspapers must carry a great many letters from different districts and factories.”
It was underlined that cells must be supported in order to achieve the desired effectiveness at their respective workplaces. In this respect, the Comintern summoned the party committees to take the lead within the party organization:
“Factory cells can grow stronger and become the decisive party units only if the party committees which guide their work give them constant daily help. … Instead of the present bureaucratic contact, maintained by circulars, the party committees must establish direct and lively contact with the factories and factory cells.”
The Comintern also pointed to the difficulties encountered in forming workplace cells. It stated that, in practice, the gravest difficulties were experienced at workplaces where no party members or only one or two members exist, and put forward various proposals to overcome these problems:
“Help in forming factory cells should be given by the street cells in the neighbourhood of the factory concerned. The street-cell members should make contact with the factory workers, wait for them when they leave the factory, or catch them on their way to work, make their acquaintance in the local public-houses, or call on them in their homes. […]
Once contact has been established, by these or other means, with three to five workers in the factory, they must be immediately organized into a factory cell. However weak numerically the cell may be, it must at once set energetically about establishing further contacts and recruiting new members into the ranks of the communist party, and do its best to establish connections with departments of the factory where there are not yet party members. The party committee must pay most careful attention to this work and must give unceasing help to the comrades in correcting their mistakes and if necessary sending in some officials to help them in their work…”
Several methods to spread through the workplace were also addressed. The Comintern’s proposals in this respect are actually nothing short of a course in organization:
“A party member cannot be active in the factory as a whole, but only in one shift in one shop. … He must first find out all about the workers in his shift, whether there are any party members or sympathizers there . . . and with them create the core of the workshop party cell. With this basis established, they must ascertain the political colouring of their workmates, which of them are members of reformist unions, of the social-democratic party, of fascist organizations, etc. This knowledge is absolutely essential for every party member. When they are doing their party work in the shop, party members must first of all, naturally, establish contact with revolutionary-minded non-party workers, and also try to approach revolutionary-minded members of reformist unions and of the social-democratic party, and also individual fascist workers…”
Risks that may arise while carrying out organizational work were called to attention. Recommendations pertaining to the persistence and security of the organization were made:
“In all capitalist countries the factory cell can operate only as a conspirative organization. Consequently, its work, and the work of each member, must be conducted in such a way that the various police agents in the factory should as far as possible be unable to find out which of the workers are communists, and should in no case learn about the practical work done by the communist party, about its political propaganda and agitation among the factory workers, and the organizational consolidation of its influence in the factory. In its work, therefore, the factory cell must strictly observe the primary conspirative rules. This applies both to illegal and to legal communist parties.”
However, it was reminded that security concerns would never be allowed to lead to a break from the workers at the workplace:
“When instructing the cells in conspirative methods, party committees must at the same time explain that these rules should in no circumstances be applied in a way that cuts the cell off from the masses in the factory; that, while adopting conspiratorial methods in regard to the police and their agents, they must always make the workers aware of their existence, employing such means as leaflets and factory news-sheets, holding meetings, etc. The most important duty of a factory cell is to react immediately to every event in the factory and in the country, to issue appropriate slogans in the name of the party for organizing and conducting the struggle for working-class interests...”
After this circular was issued in 1930, workplace cells were again on the main agenda of the eleventh meeting of the ECCI held in 1931. Not only recommendations, but also methods to overcome these difficulties were discussed and the resulting practices were evaluated.
The Comintern did not become disinterested on the issue in subsequent years; it always maintained its determination that communist parties should be organized on the basis of workplace cells. As of late 1920s, many communist parties have made significant organizational achievements among the working class due to the Comintern’s persistence. Throughout Europe, tens of thousands of workers at thousands of workplaces have become acquainted with communist parties.