Revolutionary Marxist Group
By Gerry Downing
We begin with two long quotes from Trotsky on the trade unions and syndicalism. It seems to us to that this is the central problem of the RMG, manifest in its attitude to the split in the NUM and its political relationship to the opposition current within Cosatu, its attitude to the question of the aristocracy of labour, Imperialism and its failure to see the revolutionary party in the Trotskyist sense as the national section of the world party of socialist revolution. The first quote sets out the central importance of the trade union bureaucracy for the maintenance of capitalism. Of course Trotsky speaks only of Imperialist countries and the colonies. But it is clear that a powerful trade union movement has emerged in many advanced semi-colonies in the last three decades and these have now became heavily bureaucratised and the central prop of the capitalist state representing the interests of global Imperialism. Central to this in South Africa is the alliance of Cosatu, the ANC and SACP, the ‘Tripartite Alliance’. Another example is the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers Party) in Brazil with its CUT labor federation.
Opposed to these are ‘left oppositionist’ federations in both South Africa and Brazil, also bureaucratised and serving as defence of the left flank of the central bureaucracy, often in conflict with them but heavily influenced by centrist groups, some of Trotskyist origins. Their centrism, revolutionary in words in some domestic issues but almost always social-Imperialist in foreign conflicts and wars, serve all the better to defend the capitalist state in conjunction with the trade union bureaucracy ‘from the left’.
The first quote is from Trotsky’s The Errors in Principle of Syndicalism (1929):
In the capitalist states, the most monstrous forms of bureaucratism are to be observed precisely in the trade unions. It is enough to look at America, England and Germany. Amsterdam is the most powerful international organisation of the trade union bureaucracy. It is thanks to it that the whole structure of capitalism now stands upright above all in Europe and especially in England. If there were not a bureaucracy of the trade unions, then the police, the army, the courts, the lords, the monarchy would appear before the proletarian masses as nothing but pitiful and ridiculous playthings. The bureaucracy of the trade unions is the backbone of British imperialism. It is by means of this bureaucracy that the bourgeoisie exists, not only in the metropolis, but in India, in Egypt, and in the other colonies. One would have to be completely blind to say to the English workers: “Be on guard against the conquest of power and always remember that your trade unions are the antidote to the dangers of the state.” The Marxist will say to the English workers: “The trade union bureaucracy is the chief Instrument, for your oppression by the bourgeois state. Power must be wrested from the hands of the bourgeoisie, and for that its principal agent, the trade union bureaucracy, must be overthrown.” Prenthetically, it is especially for this reason that the bloc of Stalin with the strikebreakers was so criminal. 
The second quote is from Communism and Syndicalism, also 1929 in the same collection. The sentence below seems to us to be the most relevant thesis to the differences in the RMG: The correctly understood task of the Communist Party..:
1. The Communist Party is the fundamental weapon of revolutionary action of the proletariat the combat organisation of its vanguard that must raise itself to the role of leader of the working class in all the spheres of its struggle without exception, and consequently, in the trade union field.
2. Those who, in principle, counterpose trade union autonomy to the leadership of the Communist Party, counterpose thereby – whether they want to or not – the most backward proletarian section to the vanguard of the working class, the struggle for immediate demands to the struggle for the complete liberation of the workers, reformism to Communism, opportunism to revolutionary Marxism.
25. The correctly understood task of the Communist Party does not consist solely of gaining influence over the trade unions, such as they are, but in winning, through the trade unions, an influence over the majority of the working class. This is possible only if the methods employed by the party in the trade unions correspond to the nature and the tasks of the latter. The struggle for influence of the party in the trade unions finds its objective verification in the fact that they do or do not thrive, and in the fact that the number of their members increases, as well as in their relations with the broadest masses. If the party buys its influence in the trade unions only at the price of a narrowing down and a factionalising of the latter – converting them into auxiliaries of the party for momentary aims and preventing them from becoming genuine mass organisations – the relations between the party and the class are wrong. It is not necessary for us to dwell here on the causes for such a situation. We have done it more than once and we do it every day. The changeability of the official Communist policy reflects its adventurist tendency to make itself master of the working class in the briefest time, by means of stage-play, inventions, superficial agitation, etc. The way out of this situation does not, however, lie in counterposing the trade unions to the party (or to the faction) but in the irreconcilable struggle to change the whole policy of the party as well as that of the trade unions.
26. The Left Opposition must place the questions of the trade union movement in indissoluble connection with the questions of the political struggle of the proletariat. It must give a concrete analysis of the present stage of development of the French labour movement. It must give an evaluation, quantitative as well as qualitative, of the present strike movement and its perspectives in relation to the perspectives of the economic development of France. It is needless to say that it completely rejects the perspective of capitalist stabilisation and pacifism for decades. It proceeds from an estimation of our epoch as a revolutionary one. It springs from the necessity of a timely preparation of the vanguard proletariat in face of the abrupt turns which are not only probable but inevitable. The firmer and more implacable is its action against the supposedly revolutionary ranting of the centrist bureaucracy, against political hysteria which does not take conditions into account which confuses today with yesterday or with tomorrow, the more firmly and resolutely must it set itself against the elements of the right that take up its criticism and conceal themselves under it in order to introduce their tendencies into revolutionary Marxism. 
 Leon Trotsky, The Errors in Principle of Syndicalism, in Communism and Syndicalismhttp://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/unions/index.htm
 Leon Trotsky, Communism and Syndicalism, in Communism and Syndicalismhttp://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/unions/index.htm