J. T. Murphy
Source: The Communist Review, March 1923, Vol. 3, No. 11.
Publisher: The Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Dave Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
IN the midst of unexampled enthusiasm on the part of the masses of Petrograd and Moscow the Fourth Congress of the Communist International began its work on the fifth anniversary of the Proletarian Revolution in Russia. The Second and Third Congresses had been wonderfully popular, but the Fourth Congress was accompanied by scenes which surprised friend and foe.
The Narodin Dom of Petrograd was crowded. Our veteran comrade, Clara Zetkin speaks: “Comrades, in the name of the Executive Committee of the Communist International I declare the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International open. The Congress is opened on the fifth anniversary of the greatest historic event of our time, on the day of the fifth anniversary of the decisive and victorious attack of the world proletarian revolution, which, through the Russian Revolution, inflicted the first defeat upon the international bourgeoisie. I declare the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International open.”
Thus our work began.
Comrade Zinovief was then elected chairman of the Congress. The delegations nominated their members to the Presidium. The Presidium was elected and the machinery of the Congress prepared for the four weeks’ hard work ahead. Then we passed from Red Petrograd to old Moscow and its Kremlin.
It is necessary in order to appraise the full significance and importance of this congress to determine first of all its place historically. The First Congress of the Communist International came forth from the flames of the Russian Revolution. The revolutionary wave throughout Europe was in the ascendant. Its organisational tasks were therefore elementary and simple. It was principally a rallying centre for the revolutionary forces of the working class movement of the world. Its rôle was declamatory; to scare the fearful, to trumpet the rallying cry of the revolution throughout the world, to draw together the new vanguard of the working class. The Second Congress met some sixteen months later on the crest of the revolutionary wave, but with all the signs that the highest point had passed. A wonderful response to the calls of the First Congress had now to be assimilated. Old parties and new parties had rallied to the call. The fabric of the old international was in ruins. Even the so-called centre parties were affected, and threw up, as camouflage, the skeleton of another international. The bourgeoisie were rallying, and the old social democratic leaders were coming to their aid. It was a stupendous situation. This congress had to lay the foundations of the Communist International as an organisation, and to hammer out its policy, to guard itself from the Utopias of the “revolutionary left,” to ensure itself as an instrument of revolution from the vagaries of reformism from the “right,” and to pave the way to an International Mass Party of Revolution—the International Communist Party.
The succeeding twelve months revealed how thoroughly this work was tackled. It was a year of splits in the old parties and the rallying of new masses to the Communist International. It was a year wherein “leftism” received heavy defeats in the struggles of the masses in Europe, and wherein the Levism of the “right” received its mortal blow within the ranks of the International. The Third Congress met with large mass parties affiliated to our International, with another year’s revolutionary experience in Europe and a deep depression looming close ahead. The fight with “leftism” was over. The period of splits in the old parties; which had been shaken to their foundations by the revolution, was for the moment at an end. The special problems of the Third Congress were problems of self-examination and the consolidation of the organisation, plus the great task of appraising the international situation correctly and indicating the means of action throughout the depression. The following months were to prove the testing-time of the International. An unprecedented period of economic depression had started throughout the world, and the capitalist class had begun its savage offensive. If the Communist International could survive this period and prove to have a policy commensurate with the objective demands of the slump, as well as one applicable to periods of revolutionary fervour, its future was assured.
The Fourth Congress met, only to reveal the International more powerful and influential than at any time since its birth. It had stood the test of a defensive struggle, and again began to take the measure of its experience in order to the more ably fulfil its historic rôle in the liberation war of the working class against capitalism.
The work of the Congress can be most conveniently divided into five divisions, as follows:—(1) Executive Committee’s report surveying the experiences of the year and indicating the next steps to be taken. (2) Perspectives of the world revolution, five years of the Russian Revolution, the decline of capitalism, the capitalist offensive, the struggle against the Versailles Treaty, etc. (3) Tactical problems, work within the unions, the Red International of Labour Unions, the agrarian problems, the Oriental question, etc. (4) An examination of the parties of the International in action. (5) Progress towards the International Communist Party (a) Organisational developments, (b) the programme of the International.
The organisational growth and work of the central organs of the International reveal the magnitude of the task of building an international party. The problem is not simply one of counting heads and proclaiming the figures of membership. Without a centralised international party acting in unison throughout all its organs the working class cannot hope to conquer. Numbers have flocked to the Communist International, but they have come trailing the democratic traditions of the Second International and the Amsterdam Trades Unions across the path of the internal progress of the Third International as it grows into a centralised party. Nevertheless, the leaders of the International have made it clear in word and deed that the central authority in the International of revolution has no intention of operating simply as a recording instrument of the national parties.
The International now consists of more than fifty parties. Within the last fifteen months the Executive Committee has held thirty meetings. One hundred and forty-four questions have been discussed, ninety-seven being political questions and forty-seven organisational and administrative. The attendance at these meetings has totalled 1,032. Thirty-one commissions consisting of seven to nine members have dealt with special questions. In addition, the Presidium has met 75 times and discussed 735 questions. There have been two sessions of the enlarged Executive Committee wherein each party had double representation. Fifty-four delegates have been sent to various countries, and 129 commissions appointed according to the decisions of the Presidium and the Executive Committee. During the year, parties have been established in Japan, India, China, Turkey and Persia.
In addition, the Executive Committee has been working closely with the Red International of Labour Unions, the Young Communist International, the Co-operatives and the Women’s Secretariat. So much for the organisational aspects of the work done.
The outstanding political events of the last fifteen months have provided severe tests from which we can say with confidence we have emerged successfully. The capitalist offensive has been severe; the diagnosis of the condition of capitalism throughout the world made at the Third Congress has proven correct, and we see no reason to depart from the conclusions arrived at in the Trotsky-Varga thesis on the world’s economic crisis. Indeed, this condition of capitalism is likely to intensify the offensive for some time rather than to modify it. We can say more definitely than ever that we are now in the epoch of the decline of capitalism. Only Russia moves upward. All other countries are suffering the economic and social defections of a dying system.
No one can deny the advance of the Soviet Republic to the position of a great power in world politics. Contrary to all the predictions and desires of her enemies, month by month she has advanced. The introduction of what is known as the new economic policy marks an important stage in the development of the revolution. We are now able to measure the importance and significance of this policy. The problems of the proletariat in the countries where the workers have taken power are obviously different to the problems of that section of the International where power has yet to be achieved. It was one of the most important tasks of this congress to get to grips with this new economic policy and its rôle in the Soviet Republic and its place in the world revolution.
At the moment of its introduction there were many fears and misgivings in the ranks of the International, whilst our enemies proclaimed it to be the reversion to capitalism and the collapse of Communism. Twelve months’ actual experience has proven its value and revealed it as a very necessary part of the revolutionary development of the Soviet Republic, not an accidental part, but a necessary part, applicable in varying degrees to practically all countries after the taking of power by the proletariat.
The all-important task of the workers outside Russia was still the conquest of power. The period under review, however, was a period of universal and continuous retreat, of great losses in the membership of the trades unions, of the alliance of the Social Democrats with the bourgeoisie against the workers and the Communist International. In spite of these things, and although both the bourgeoisie and the Social Democrats have used even the famine in Russia as a weapon against the Communist International, and had spoken with a single voice in favour of the Social Revolutionary terrorists, the Communist International had done more than hold its own. It had made marked progress in a time when its enemies were predicting its decline and disruption.
Several outstanding political events of the year vindicated and proclaimed the Communist International as the real leader of the working class of the world. In 1921, at the Halle Congress, Comrade Zinovief declared to the German Right Independents that, in view of their refusal to accept the 21 conditions of the Communist International, they had thereby gone over to the bourgeoisie and to Noske. This declaration created an uproar among the Right Independents. But 1922 had seen the fusion of the Right Independents with the party of Noske. A swift and dramatic fulfilment of the prediction of 1921.
A further analogous and classic test of the tactics of the Communist International has been seen in Italy, a country now in the limelight of international events by virtue of its recent counter-revolutionary history. At the time of the Leghorn split in the Italian Socialist Party we warned those who turned away from the Comintern that they had the choice of two roads—either they follow the Reformist International and find themselves in the camp of the bourgeoisie; or they will confess their error and return to the Communist International. After terrible experiences and bitter defeats, the recent Rome conference of the Italian Socialist Party fulfilled the prediction of the Comintern, confessed their error, declared the Comintern to be right, and asked to be readmitted to our ranks.
A further important event again fulfilling the prediction of the Comintern is the amalgamation of the Second and the Two-and-a-half Internationals. It is important, because it unifies to a greater degree the activities of the counter-revolution. Comrade Zinovief declared that this amalgamation signifies a new period of White terror against the workers, the artillery preparation for a new onslaught of the international bourgeoisie. It paves the way to a new Gallifet, Noske, Mussolini, for new executioners of the working class. As if to immediately fulfil this prediction, the Hague Conference of “Peace” openly united with the bourgeoisie against the Communists, and the Ruhr crisis has found them in the camp of the imperialists denouncing the Communists.
In the midst of these dramatic events, the Communist International has attempted three important international campaigns, one in connection with famine relief in Russia, one in connection with the trial of the Social Revolutionaries, and the specially important campaign for the United Front. This campaign for the United Front did not proceed without hindrance from within the International. The experience has revealed how far we have rid ourselves of the practices of the Second International, how far the Communist International has progressed towards an International Communist Party.
It is fortunate for the International that this campaign did not involve the fate of hundreds of thousands of our comrades. Had the issue been more serious and the same inner resistance occurred in the ranks of the International, one hesitates to think of the magnitude of the tragedy which would have followed. Two parties, the French and the Italian, have hindered the International in action. To debate the issue at the hour of crisis when the call has gone forth from the central authority of the organisation is simply to turn the Communist International into a replica of the Second International. Debate as much as we like up to the time of decision, but when the decision is taken the International must act as one man. The French Party and the Italian one, along with the other parties of the International, have repeatedly affirmed their adherence to the 21 conditions of membership of the Communist International. Why, then, this failure to put them into practice?
A long list of details could be given from the debates arising out of the examination of the parties, but in the main practically all of them arise from the fact that the Communist International, as in the case of all other organisations, has not tumbled down from above fully equipped according to some foreordained plan, but is made up of the raw material history has offered with much of its past experience and habits of the pre-revolutionary epoch, hampering its efforts to carry through the tasks of the era of revolution. In the clarifying process through which the elements taming into the International of Revolution have to pass, it is of interest and significance to observe that it is only as they pass through the fire of revolutionary experience that they finally rid themselves of the illusions of the past. The best equipped section of the International is certainly the Russian Communist Party, and can we wonder when we remember the colossal problems they have had to tackle or perish, and the marvellous feats they have accomplished. It was not until the German party had passed through great trials and suffered terrible punishment that it ceased to be in a state of crisis and a first-class problem for the International. It is through struggle and defeats that the Italian comrades are solving their problems. It will be through struggle, that the French and other parties will emerge to become real sections of the International Communist Party. At the same time, it must not be thought that their problems are purely French problems or that the Italian problems are purely Italian, and that the International must wait until every section has suffered defeats and bitter awakenings ere the Central Executive or the Congress of the International strives to bring them into line. Not by these means can we build an international party. It is through the daily effort to operate as an international party that we shall succeed in becoming such. Hence the importance of the survey of the year’s experience of the campaign for the United Front and the critical examination of the parties in their attempted application of it.
One thing is quite certain now. There is no opposition to the policy of the United Front in the International, although there are very few parties that have not come under the fire of criticism for actions which either submerged the identity of the International or placed it in the position of the Utopians of the Left. The application of the policy is not simple. It is full of complexities. The fight against the policy is over, and there is no need to dwell on it. The problems of its application cannot be so hurriedly dismissed. The principal danger throughout is that of the submergence of the party on the plea of unity.
This danger arises from a lack of thorough understanding the rôle of the party, and it is one to which we have to give special attention. The Communist Party of Great Britain came in for a little rough handling on this question by Comrade Radek, on behalf of the Executive Committee. The general election here has provided us with a fund of experience to test how far the party and its leaders have grasped the implications of the policy. Running throughout the party there appears to be the notion that the party exists only to become a Left Wing of the Labour Party, that we ought not even to criticise its leaders, that everything should be submerged to the idea of getting the Labour Party into power via Parliament. In addition, there are many pursuing a policy of hiding the fact that it is the Communist Party which is giving a lead; they object to programmes for the unions or other labour organisations going forth in the name of the party. I have heard since my return from the Congress the following expression repeated at meeting after meeting, “We are prepared to support any party standing for so, and so,” which seems to indicate an attitude which completely obscures the independent role of the Party. I have looked through the election material of members of the Party, and in some cases it would be difficult to discover from the printed matter issued that they were members of the Party. Had the Executive Committee of the Communist International received this election data before the Congress I am convinced that the critcism the Party received would have been much more stringent. We should neither aim at being a subterranean party existing to draft programmes on the quiet, or a Party which has for its goal the election of a Labour Government through a hush-hush policy. These things are not the application of the United Front policy, but political confusion.
It is to be regretted that our party is not the only one suffering from these defects. The debates on the Executive report and the capitalist offensive made that perfectly clear. Again and again, throughout the debates on the unions, the agrarian question, the problems of the parties, there was a recurrence to this central theme and its many manifestations. The essential conclusions of the debates were as follows:—(1) The opponents of the United Front Policy in the International were wrong in assuming they could carry out the tasks of the International without winning the majority of the masses to their support. (2) It was wrong for any of the supporters of the policy of the United Front Policy to assume that it meant that the Party had to lose its identity in the cry for unity. These parties were directed again to the theses issued by the Executive Committee, especially to paragraph 18, which reads:—
“The Executive Committee of the Communist International counts as a primary and fundamental condition, of general application to the Communist Parties of all countries, that every Communist Party which enters into any agreement with the parties of the Second or Two-and-a-half International should retain absolute independence for the expression of its views and the criticism of its opponents. . . While supporting the watch-word of the maximum unity of the working class organisations, Communists, in every practical action taken against the capitalist front, must not on any account refrain from putting forward their views, which are only the logical expression of the defence of the interests of the working class as a whole.”
(3) In order to make clear the policy of the International to the masses, and to rally them to our side in the struggle, we have to utilise every means of approach, both the direct and the indirect appeal, to approach their present leaders at the same time as the masses with our proposals for the defence and prosecution of the interests of the workers both as a means to rally the masses and to expose clearly the character of their leadership. The demand for a Workers’ Government is not a demand which should smother the Communist Parties, but a slogan to rally the masses against capitalism by means of which the Parties can reveal the true character of the conquest the workers have to achieve. (4) The demand for the Workers’ Government is not of universal application. The Workers’ Government is not an historical necessity, but an historical possibility. Nor is the Labour Government a pseudonym for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, but a possible means leading to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. (5) The form of a Workers’ Government is not necessarily the Parliamentary form, nor does it follow that a Soviet Government is necessarily a true Workers’ Government. We must not be confused by forms or labels. Our aim is the Dictatorship of the proletariat and the defeat of the bourgeoisie. Comrade Zinovief summed up the situation admirably as follows: “We will say to the workers: Do you want a Workers’ Government, if so, well and good, we are ready to come to an agreement even with the social democrats, though we warn you that they are going to betray you. We favour a Workers’ Government, but under the one condition that you be ready to fight with us against the bourgeoisie. If this is your wish, then we will take up the fight against the bourgeoisie; and if the Workers’ Government results from the struggle, it will stand on sound principles, and will be a real beginning to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”
There is nothing here which justifies reformist opportunism or the lowering of the Communist standard for the purpose of getting a seat in Parliament either as an unemployed candidate or a Labour Party candidate.
One other important phase of the struggle which has a direct bearing upon the condition of our Party, as well as upon many others in the International, is the struggle for the factory committees. At the moment they are in the forefront of the German movement. Comrade Zinovief stated in his report that no Communist Party could be a bona-fide Communist Party without it had succeeded in establishing nuclei in the factories, the mines, etc.; no movement could be considered a bona-fide workers’ movement that did not succeed in establishing factory councils.’
To this statement I took exception, not so much with regard to its assertion concerning the parties, but with regard to the creation of factory councils. With nearly 2,000,000 unemployed in Great Britain, among whom are the best elements upon whom we had to depend for the formation of factory councils, it was not to be expected that the factory committees would be the natural outlet for those who were left in the factories. The very attempt to form factory committees would lead to dismissal. Only when Germany was free from unemployment or the situation very revolutionary did we find factory councils playing an important rôle. Comrade Zinovief admitted the difficulties, but insisted that they must be overcome.
The need for making the factories and workshops the most important centres for our Communist activity and the importance of establishing Party nuclei within them cannot be over estimated. I am inclined to think, after several weeks’ renewal of contact with the Party and an examination of its election records, along with the records of other party activities, that the party has lost contact in this direction. There are no party nuclei in the factories. We must ponder over this part of the report and ask ourselves whether this lack of contact with the factories has not something to do with the marked tendencies towards formal democracy in our ranks. The attitude of “We are prepared to support any party which stands for, etc. . . ” haunts me. We have got to have those party nuclei in the factories, and pave the way to the factory councils.
The same issues were raised in the debate on our work within the unions, and again let it be understood that it is not a question of formal organisation, but of the means to revolutionise the masses. Even when allowance is made for unemployment, there are far more workers in the factories, etc., than there are unemployed, or even than in the trades unions. This issue was raised as sharply in the Red International Congress as in the Comintern Congress. And here let me dispose of the notion which has been running through the minds of many party members in this country as in others—that there is any intention or ever was any intention of winding up the Red International of Labour Unions. The Red International is necessary to the international working class movement. It has increased its influence, and will increase its influence the more sharply the revolutionary issues are brought to the forefront of the experiences of the masses. It is a necessary rallying centre for the revolutionary unions of the world in their struggle against Amsterdam and their progress towards Communism.
In order to overcome the prejudices of the syndicalists of France a concession was made by the R.I.L.U. Congress. Instead of insisting upon the unions affiliated to the R.I.L.U. having an organisational contact with the Communist Party in the respective countries, this is now optional. This has been taken by some to mean no contact with the Communist parties whatever. This notion we must combat with all our might. The best way of ensuring the unity of action between the two organisations is for the Party membership to push ahead with its nuclei organisation within the Red International, as in every other organisation, demonstrating by organised work that the Communist International is the actual leader of the proletariat in all its struggles.
The debates on the Executive report covered briefly practically all the tactical problems of the parties of the international. The essentials of the debates which I have indicated formed the basis of all the discussions concerning the parties for which there is not space to deal in detail. The Executive Committee’s report was agreed upon as confirming the leadership during the interval between the Third and Fourth Congresses and the Decisions of the Third Congress.
The reports on this section of the Congress proceedings were the most interesting of all. The leaders of the International took the floor, and how gladly we greeted our Comrade Lenin’s return. In his usual business-like way he proceeded straight to the subject to hand, though warning us that he intended to limit himself to only one part of the subject under discussion, viz., The New Economic Policy in Russia. In his speech to the Fourth Congress he disposed of the critics of the Russian Revolution in such a way that we feel that any subsequent attack can only be the result of an absolute refusal to face facts. Comrade Lenin’s speech along with the speeches of Comrades Clara Zetkin, Trotsky and Bela Kun constitute a masterly survey which leaves little more to be said about the fundamental features and the unfolding of the Russian Revolution.
Comrade Zetkin’s speech ought to have come first. She gave the historical setting of the revolution in relation to the European working class movement. She illustrated the effect of the development of imperialism during the latter part of the nineteenth century, showing how it had created a new political orientation within the ranks of labour away from the path of revolution to reformism; and how it propounded the theory that revolution was not necessary to secure the emancipation of labour. Then came its collapse with the imperialist war of 1914-18 and its revival under the banner of capitalist reconstruction, holding out hopes of better times for the workers by peaceful collaboration with the capitalists. Throughout the whole of its history it had been actively eliminating the will to revolution.
Into this atmosphere the Russian Revolution came like a thunderbolt to begin the process of liquidating throughout the world the revisionism, and reformism which had so long ensnared the workers. The Russian proletariat struck the first mighty blow of the world revolution against capitalism. Its progress through the varying tempos of the world revolutionary developments had provided the working class with tremendous lessons, demonstrated the necessity for the dictatorship of the proletariat, the use of force, the supreme need of the party of revolution, the necessity of knowing how to use the peasantry to aid the proletarian revolution, how to advance and how to retreat.
Comrade Lenin took up the theme of the New Economic Policy, and placed it once and for all in its correct revolutionary setting. He referred to his analysis of the Russian situation in 1918, when he declared that for Russia to advance to State capitalism under the dictatorship of the Proletariat would be a marked advance for that country. And, here he incidentally referred to the discussion of the programme of the International and the necessity for all parties not only to consider plans of advance, but also plans of retreat. The volition of the revolution had taken them further than it was possible for them to consolidate. In February, 1921, they were nearer a rupture with the masses of the population than at any time since the beginning of the Revolution. They had gone too far. The masses had sensed that before they had taken the measure of the situation. Hence the New Economic Policy.
The fundamentals of the economic situation had not altered since 1918, and they took up the theses enunciated then, and elaborated them with a greater certainty and completeness. They were now witness to an all-round revival. The famine had been a terrible blow. Nevertheless, with the introduction of this policy the peasants had liquidated the famine and paid their taxes. The light industries had made and were making rapid progress. The revival of the heavy industry was their greatest problem. Without substantial State aid these could not revive. There had been much talk concerning the concessions. But these concessions up to now existed mainly on paper. There was much cry, but little wool. Capitalism refused its loans, the workers and peasants of Russia were culturally backward—they were isolated. Yet they were winning in spite of errors.
There has been much talk about our errors, and apparently by people who have little reason to be noisy concerning errors. There is one great difference between the errors of the Bolsheviks and the errors of the bourgeoisie and their followers in the Second and Two and a-Half Internationals. The Bolsheviks say 2 plus 2 equals 5. Now, that is an error that can be corrected. But our opponents say 2 plus 2 equals a burning candle.
Much has been said about our famous rouble. Very well. Since the introduction of our New Economic Policy we stabilised the rouble for a period of three months. In 1922 we have stabilised it for a period of five months. The progress is in the right direction and compares very favourably indeed with the dancing exchanges of the capitalist countries of the West. We shall stabilise the rouble, and we shall revive the heavy industry, even if there be no loans from the capitalist countries, although it may take a longer period. Already we have saved 20,000,000 gold roubles for our heavy industries. We need many millions more. We shall get them by persistent work and economy. By these means the proletarian State will be strengthened, and the path to Communism assured.
The rôle of the New Economic Policy is therefore perfectly clear as a transition measure for securing the willing co-operation of the peasantry with the town proletariat in those countries where agriculture is backward or has assumed forms of a peasant proprietary character. It is therefore not simply a measure forced upon Russia, but an historical necessity in many countries, if not, indeed, for every country, pending the growth within the new social order of the economic foundations of higher forms of agricultural or industrial organisation leading on to Communism.
Comrade Trotsky developed this theme as follows. He said: “The possibilities of the upbuilding of the socialist economic system, when the essential conquest of political power has been achieved, are limited by the degree to which the productive forms have been developed, the general cultural level of the proletariat, and the political situation, national and international.”
On the international situation there arose an interesting controversy. The subject of the capitalist offensive can hardly be disassociated from the international crisis of capitalism, nor can the struggle against the Versailles Treaty. Comrade Trotsky, in a too-brief survey of the international situation (having devoted the greater part of his speech to the Russian revolution), argued that capitalism is in a state of constant crisis, whilst the working class is not ready to end the crisis by seizing power. The crisis is not maintained at the same tempo. It had its ups and downs which would continue for some time. Within that period we should witness a period of Wilsonism in Europe under the pacific leadership of the Social Democratic Labour Parties, either in alliance with Liberals or without such an alliance. During this period we should have to guard against this social pacificism entering the ranks of the Communist International. The dangers from the Right were more pressing under these circumstances than any danger from the left. This does not mean that capitalism is finding a solution to its problems. The nineteenth century was the epoch of concessions to the working class. 1914 ushered in the epoch when these concessions could no longer be made. The forces of production had outgrown the old framework and the capitalists could find no solution to their problems. The period of pacifism could only be short lived. It was the last flicker of a candle burning itself out.
Comrades Friedlander, of Austria, and Ravenstem, of Holland, challenged this diagnosis of the situation, and argued that, rather than a period of pacifism, the whole tempo of the revolution would be quickened by the violent action of the reactionary movements which had manifested themselves most powerfully in recent days. The rise of Facism in Italy, Germany, and other countries, the aggressive attitude of the French Government, the ascendency of the reactionaries in Britain in the form of the Conservative, government, etc. Everything, they declared pointed to more violent actions and crises rather than to the possibilities of any pacific period.
Comrade Radek, who gave a masterly survey of the international situation, said that these comrades were looking too closely at the immediate situation. Comrade Trotsky looked over a much longer period, and, he did not differ with him. It is true that the capitalist offensive is extending and intensifying along the whole political and economic front, and its climax has not yet been reached. The question arises: What prospect of success has such an offensive? This wave of counter-revolution is not the outcome of a period of general economic revival, but represents an attempt to effect the forcible arrest of economic decay. The counter-revolution cannot bring bread and peace. We have, therefore, to do now with an offensive, which has no prospect of victory, however ruthless it may be. The social basis of this counter-revolution is very narrow. It lacks the élan, it lacks the affiliations, and it lacks the foundation which would render possible a long and victorious campaign.
Comrade Trotsky followed the discussion with a long article in the Congress paper, called the Bolshevik, in which he answered that there is hardly any ground for the categorical assertion that the proletarian revolution in Germany will be victorious before the internal and external difficulties of France will bring about a governmental and parliamentary crisis. Elections would return the Left bloc. The repercussion would deal a heavy blow at the conservative government in England, strengthen the opposition of the Labour Party, and in all probability lead to a crisis, elections, and a victory for the Labour Party, either alone or in league with the Independent Liberals. The social democrats of Germany would immediately quit their semi-opposition, and begin the “linking up of the great democracies of the West,” bring Scheideman back to power, etc. That such a regime could only be short-lived was obvious. To us the bourgeoisie is not a mere stone precipitated into the abyss, but a live historical force which struggles and resorts to manuvres, and we must be prepared to grasp all the methods they employ, and understand all the measures they adopt if we would finally precipitate them into the abyss.
Following on this diagnosis of the situation Comrade Radek again developed the application of the policy of the United Front, and analysed again the demand for a Workers’ government, and in the process making perfectly clear that we had to face the situation as stated in the words of Clara Zetkin: “The aims and trends of any historical development are plainly to be seen. But the tempo depends mainly upon the subjective energies of the historical process, upon the revolutionary consciousness and activities of the proletarian masses.” “In the estimate of this factor so many imponderabilities are concerned that it is impossible to prophesy confidently concerning the tempo of the world revolution.” But whether slow or quick, it is the duty of the Communist International to be in the forefront of the fight leading to the conquest of power.
I do not propose to deal with these questions in this survey of the Congress. With regard to the first problems, in no case was there the introduction of entirely new issues. The theses presented were in the main an elaboration of the theses of the Second and Third Congresses, more especially the Second Congress. To attempt, to summarise them here would take too much space. An abridged edition of the Congress proceedings is prepared, and it will be better to follow the reports therein than to attempt to further condense them into an article.
With regard to an examination of the parties, many came under close scrutiny, chief of which were the French and Italian parties. In both cases agreements were arrived at with the delegations to bring the parties more in line with the requirements of the Communist International, the constitution of which both parties had repeatedly affirmed. In both cases there were questions of political confusion, the ridding of the parties of social democratic notions carried forward from the parties of the Second International. In the case of the Italian party, led by Bordiga, who had not yet rid himself of the absentee philosophy arising from his earlier anti-parliamentary outlook. The full story of the Italian and French party developments are worthy of special articles for the study of every member of the party here.
Comrade Schuler, on behalf of the Y.C.I., gave an interesting report of the struggles of the Youth to build up their International. And it should be mentioned that our party did not shine in that report. We were told that the Youth had to work hard to persuade the party of the necessity of developing the Youth movement, and that it had been impossible to get an article in our party organs dealing with the organisation of the Youth. This attitude of indifference to the Youth has been a characteristic of quite a number of the parties of the adult International. Nevertheless, the Youth International has established itself and grown in power. Its tasks were defined at its second congress as follows: (1) To defend the economic needs of the Youth; (2) To educate the Youth systematically in the Marxian doctrine; (3) To carry on anti-militarist campaigns among the young workers in and outside the bourgeois armies.
Since the Second Congress great strides had been made in these tasks. The Young Communist Press reflected better to-day than at any time previous, the daily struggles of the young workers, whilst we can safely say that the Young Communist Leagues of Germany, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and Denmark are becoming real militant organisations. It is interesting to note that the Communist Youth organisations in France and Czecho-Slovakia have been suppressed by the State, whilst the adult parties have remained quite legal.
The time is urgent as never before for the closest working arrrangements between the Youth organisations and the adult parties. The Communist International therefore declares, “That the United Front of the young and the adult workers for a common struggle against capitalism and reaction is an absolute necessity, and calls upon its parties and the entire working class to stand for the interest and demands of the working class youth as well as for their own, and to make them the subject of their daily struggle.”
Four comrades, led by Comrade Zetkin, reported on this question of work amongst women, and again our party came in for severe criticism. But first let Comrade Zetkin address a few words as introduction, for she says the work of the Women’s Secretariat is misunderstood by our own comrades in the International.
“They misunderstand the work of the Communist among the women and the tasks of the national sections and of the International in this connection. This, with some, the remains of an old view, with others it is wilful prejudice because they do not sympathise with our cause and even partly oppose it. The International Women’s Secretariat is not, as many believe, the union of independent organisations of the women’s movements, but a branch of the Executive of the Communist International. It conducts the activity not only in constant co-operation with the Executive, but under its immediate leadership: It has nothing to do with any feminist tendencies. It exists for systematic Communist propaganda amongst women.”
Having made the position clear as to the task of the women’s section, it will be well for us to reflect on the criticism of our party.
“In England, organisation for conducting systematic agitation among the feminine proletariat is altogether lacking. The Communist Party of England excused itself by its weakness, and has continually refused or postponed the setting up of a special body for systematic agitation among the women. All the exhortations of the International Women’s Secretariat have been in vain. No Women’s Secretariat was established; the only thing that was done was to appoint a woman comrade as general party agitator. Our women comrades have organised various meetings for the political education of women out of their own feeble means. . . . The British section of the International cannot remain indifferent to the fact that millions of proletarian women are organised in suffrage societies, trades unions of the old type, in consumers’ co-operatives and in the Labour Party.”
Need I quote more? Comrade Hertha Sterm supplemented these observations, and there is no doubt that we have to be up and doing. Without the women, no revolution can hope to be successful. There are big possibilities here. Time and again the working women of this country have shown themselves capable of great actions, in rent strikes, in evictions, in strikes and in general agitation. Harnessed to the party they can be a power not to be despised. We are striving to make amends for our shortcomings. Since the Congress, the Party Executive has appointed a comrade to immediately get to work with the formation of the Women’s Secretariat of the Party.
The discussion on the programme of the International revealed a sharp division in the ranks of the leaders of the International on the question as to whether temporary measures should appear in the programme of the International. In this discussion, Bukharin opposed Varga and Thalheimer of Germany. This is an issue upon which every party will have to make itself clear during the ensuing months. So far, only a few parties have submitted programmes for consideration and incorporation in the International programme. All parties are now instructed to have their programmes in the hands of the Executive Committee of the International three months before the next Congress, when the complete programme of the International will be formulated. Meanwhile, the programmes that have been submitted will be printed and issued throughout the International for discussion.
I will content myself, therefore, with a statement of the most important difference. Bukharin takes the following position with regard to the insertion of temporary demands in the programme “Temporary measures, such as the policy of the United Front, the slogan of the Workers’ Government, should not be put in our programme. These slogans are required by the present defensive situation of the proletariat; to put them in our programme is a retreat from our offensive.” Thalheimer opposed as follows: “The present period of transformation is one of the most important on the way to revolution. In this period the Comintern must not fail in its duty. The inclusion of immediate demands is theoretically admissable so long as the theories upon which the demands are made are correct. Shortly before the October revolution, Comrade Lenin himself favoured the adoption of a programme of minimum demands.”
These are the starting points for the development of the arguments of the respective positions. We shall have to return to this subject again, sufficient for the moment to set the party thinking on these issues.
Probably the most important development arising out of the Congress arises from the decisions taken concerning the Executive Committee. It was decided, that the time had arrived to make a further stride in the direction of the International Communist Party. This consists in the reorganisation of the Central Executive on the basis of a centralised party. Instead of the Executive consisting of a number of representatives of various parties, the Executive has now to be elected by the International Congress. “It shall consist of the President, 24 members and 10 substitutes.” This is the most important blow at the federaldstic notions in the International, which is followed up by the ruling that “no binding mandates are permitted, and such will be declared invalid, because such mandates contradict the spirit of an international, centralised, proletarian world party.”
In future, delegates sent from the various countries will go to the Congress, not simply to express the point of view of a particular party, but to be members of an international congress surveying and contributing to the solution of the problems of the International as a whole. It has been a habit of the majority of the delegates to survey the International from a national point of view rather than the reverse, just as it is a habit here for members of the party to start off their observations, “Well, so far as we on the Clyde are concerned . . . ,” “We in the provinces are of the opinion, etc. . .” I for one shall be, glad when we can drop the name Communist Party of Great Britain, Communist Party of Russia, etc., and we can speak clearly and act in the name of an International Communist Party. But even in this case it is “a long way to Tipperary.” We have to grow into it and step by step eliminate the things which impede our steps and take such measures as will positively build the organisation we require as the most effective instrument of the international working class.
By centralisation the International does not mean losing contact, and the experience of the last year has seen the development of means for more lively contact than hitherto. During the year the E. C. convened what were called enlarged executive committees. Their value has been thoroughly appreciated, and the Fourth Congress determined that there should be regular meetings of the enlarged Executive every four months. This enlarged Executive shall consist of (1) 25 members of the E.C.; (2) of three additional representatives from each of the following parties: Germany, France, Russia, Czecho-Slovakia, and Italy, also the Y.C.I. and, the Red International of Labour Unions; (3) of two additional representatives from England, Poland, America, Bulgaria and Norway; (4) one representative from each of the other countries that are entitled to vote.
In addition, in order to make the International more and more an efficient organ of struggle, the Congress ruled that “it is desirable for the purpose of mutual information and for coordinated work that the more important sections of neighbouring countries shall mutually-exchange representatives.“
Again, let no member of the party think that careerists are going to stand much chance in the Communist International. “The Congress, in the most decisive manner, condemns all cases of resignations tendered by individual comrades of the various central committees and by entire groups of such members. The Congress considers such resignations as the greatest disorganisation of the Communist movement. Every leading post in a Communist Party belongs not to the bearer of the mandate, but to the Communist International as a whole. The Congress resolves: Elected members of central bodies of a section can resign their mandate only with the consent of the Executive. Resignations accepted by a party central committee without the consent of the Executive Committee are invalid.”
These important decisions begin to operate now. The new Central Committee of the International was elected at the Congress, whilst, in the selection of the Executive, toleration was shown to the old arrangement, the Central Executive now represents the International as a whole. The next Congress will see little toleration for the federalism of the past. With these important steps towards the International Communist Party, the Congress closed on December 3rd.
We had had four weeks of constant meetings, discussions, self-examination. For detailed consideration of problems there has been no Congress to surpass it. To convey all in an article for a magazine is impossible. But to sum up: The Congress reviewed the work of the last fifteen months and found the leadership of the Executive to be good. It examined the decisions of the Third Congress in the light of this experience, and found them correct. The details of tactics in relation to the organisations of labour and the particular problems with which they had to deal had received detailed attention. Many parties of the International had been closely examined with a view to helping them in their efforts to become more efficient sections of the International. Bold measures have been initiated in the reorganisation of the International in terms of an International Communist Party. And the preliminary discussions of the programme of the Communist International have given a lead to the parties to complete the process of formulating the work to be accomplished. A great work and a great Congress, contributing greatly to the one cause which is worthy of all the efforts that have been put forth—the triumph of the working class in world-wide Communism.