Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/472-toward-the-united-front), pp. 205-213
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.
Comrades, I would like to note first of all that it is unusual that here in this international Communist world congress not a single speaker has taken up the international situation, which affects all parties. Almost every speaker without exception dealt only with the situation in his own party. Even our fiery comrade from the Berlin organisation, Comrade Ruth Fischer, dealt almost entirely with the affairs of the Berlin organisation, or at best with those of the German party. Yet we are, after all, now discussing the report of Comrade Zinoviev, which takes up the situation of the International as a whole. We could have expected our friends, the delegates of various sister parties, to follow up his analysis with a discussion focused on this overall situation. For as you all know, we have separate agenda items that take up the situation in the various individual parties, where these issues can be discussed in more detail. That means that we are still too Social Democratic, not accustomed to analysing the situation in its entire international scope. I would like to try here to analyse the policies of the Executive in the framework of the International as a whole, of groupings and tendencies seen in the International as a whole.
We are called on to answer the question of whether the Executive of the Communist International has acted correctly. This question breaks down into two main issues: (1) whether the International has correctly judged the different tendencies within it, whether its internal political policies have been pursued correctly and effectively; and (2) whether it has set the general tactical line well or poorly. Those are the two main issues on which we must provide answers.
I see various tactical currents and tendencies within the International. Let me enumerate them: First, the centrist tendencies; second, the half-reformist tendencies that, however, wear a ‘left’ mask and whose phraseology strikes a left pose; third, the various transitional formations that are partly syndicalist, partly reformist, or that incorporate both currents at the same time; and fourth, the true Lefts. By Lefts I understand the groupings that have made so-called left errors. And then we have the actual core of the International, which we hope is following a correct policy.
The centrist tendencies are represented in the activity of the International as a whole and also here at this congress in the most blatant form by the representatives of two parties: first, a part of the French party, and second, a part of the Norwegian party, a representative of whose majority has just spoken.
The French centrist tendencies are a relic of earlier Social Democratic ideology. They also wear a mask. Their mask consists of the fact that they accept everything that is asked of them. Establish Twenty-One Conditions, and they accept them all. Propose to them excellent resolutions on party activity; these excellent resolutions are immediately and unanimously adopted. (Laughter) It’s always like that. They approve everything asked of them by the so-called decrees of Moscow. Later of course they heap abuse on these Moscow decrees with all their Communist energy, but they sign everything that is asked of them. On the surface, that seems at first to be very loyal, but the great danger is that all this is just on paper. Good resolutions of this type are adopted, and then one does nothing whatsoever. The tangible deviations in policy are never formulated. No attempt is ever made to clearly formulate the alternative point of view.
One of the French comrades was quite right – it was perhaps one of the few correct points in his talk – when he said: We Lefts speak always to the matter at hand, while these Centrists take precautionary measures, and one can never grasp what they really want. That is what is most dangerous. When we examine the French centrists, we can define their policy as a struggle for the conquest of power, but only within the framework of the party. (Laughter) As regards the face that the party turns toward the masses, we are forced to say that no step has been taken that genuinely supports the workers’ movement in France. Its most important aspect is the struggle of the trade unions, which actually constitute the essence of the social life of workers in France. But this is carried out independently of the party. The party does not concern itself with that. That is visible in the work of all the districts, in the French party’s centre, and in its official publication, which, we must say to our French brothers, is not yet a Communist newspaper. L'Humanité has great possibilities to influence workers toward communism, but it is not yet a Communist paper. If the French comrades would concern themselves more with the life of the working class, we would be able to increase our influence among French workers considerably beyond its present level. There is also a well-defined pacifist current within this tendency of the French party, with a humanitarian colouration; its only virtue lies in carrying forward France’s bourgeois traditions.
One further point. Inside this current there is also an anti-Communist tendency, that is a tendency aimed directly against the discipline of the Communist International. That is one of the greatest dangers in the International, and we need to combat this rightist danger.
As for the Norwegian party, we have just heard one of the comrades from its right wing. What did he say? The name of the Norwegian paper, Social-Demokraten, is like any inscription: nothing more than a few letters that one arranges in some sequence. (Laughter) But why do we not call ourselves Social Democrats? Perhaps because of our love of particular letters? That’s the view of our Norwegian comrade. But we say that the name is a symbol that defines our line from the outset. We have put up with these Social Democratic newspapers for two years, and wouldn’t you say that their name is not without influence on their contents? We can show here – and we will do it – that the contents of these papers is also in part half-Social Democratic. You can read some articles in these papers directed against the Communist International that are quite nasty in tone.
That is the plain truth. And the comrade says here that this is a trivial matter; in January we will – after 21/2 years – straighten out the newspapers. I can only answer that this has already been promised many times but not carried out. And what of international discipline? The comrade omits that entirely. We have often said plainly that according to the decisions of the International, its Executive, and its earlier congresses, such a situation cannot be tolerated, and still we are told here that this is a trivial matter. Such is discipline. Once again – a mask. I will speak of this matter in a moment, but in another context.
Some of the centrist and half-centrist forces form a special category because they always appear behind a left mask.
We have two critics of our programme, who take up the agrarian and national questions. On the agrarian question, our friend Serrati criticises us very sharply from the left. He says, what kind of Marxism is it when a part of the land is given to the peasants, to the petty bourgeoisie? That is a concession to the petty bourgeoisie. We are genuine revolutionary orthodox Marxists, and we wage war on the petty-bourgeois scoundrels. It has a good ring. But experience has shown that it is only a cover. And I hope that Comrade Serrati too will not dispute that fact. In its kernel, it was somewhat rotten.
The same thing on the nationalities question. Here we also had a principled opponent – that was Levi. He said: Well, look at the nationalities question. Look at all the different concessions that you are making there! What is left of your orthodoxy? Nothing. And then we experienced the so striking evolution of Comrade Levi. He demonstrated before our eyes what lies hidden in the core of this business. It was just a mask, which bore orthodox features in order to hide the opportunist core. Our Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries are shouting from the rooftops that they oppose the New Economic Policy and defend the workers’ real interests. That is a ruse of war, and we will expose it.
Now let me speak of various specific things. Take the French comrades. The distinguishing feature of their politics is sheer passivity, as in not supporting any strike, and so on. But they have camouflage: the dangers of the united front. They say: Why should we negotiate with such scoundrels, who are not even socialists? You heard an example of that here from Comrade Duret, who stands more to the left. He spoke a few days ago against the expulsion of Verfeuil and company. He was and is to this day for the autonomy of the unions, and then he comes to us and accuses us of opportunism. A few days ago he was still against the expulsion of Verfeuil, who is nothing but a bourgeois rogue. And then Comrade Duret asks: What kind of an opportunist International is this, telling us to make a united front, to recruit Serrati, and so on? What does that tell us? It tells us, Comrade Duret, that in this International we have a reformist hangover in your very person, and that you are trying to use words to trick us. (Applause)
But we also read the French documents. We are very glad that the French party is on the road to recovery (Laughter), but there is more to politics than signs of recovery, and this business requires a bit of supervision (Laughter), as to how things will develop. We must have the test of practice and considerable evidence in life before we completely believe them. We know how people fluctuate this way and that, and when a comrade comes and speaks to us of the International in such a sharp tone, almost one of contempt, we say the same thing that Comrade Radek said to a comrade: You should display a little modesty, and first you must give us evidence of your own genuinely revolutionary activity.
As for Comrade Duret’s factual arguments, they can be laid out as follows. I have drawn out his most important points. The first argument is: Our party cannot carry out manoeuvres; it is incapable of manoeuvring. That was his first argument against the united front, and our friend Bordiga picked up on that. But in my view it is completely incorrect to think that the party is first constructed, right down to the last man, and only then begins to manoeuvre. That is not how it is done. For us, parties begin to manoeuvre when they are still unfinished, and only in the process of manoeuvring can genuine parties be built. However, if you wait until you have this party, and remain in a stance of expectancy in the eternal hope of one day acquiring this party, that signifies precisely the policy of passivity that you always criticise in the French party. You shake your finger at the centrist comrades and say: they are passive people who don’t want to do anything. But you yourself make the same error by waiting until you have the party. No, the party is forged through struggle, and that must be the case in France as well.
Comrade Duret has an additional argument: ‘The socialist opportunists are not willing to march together with us’. What a striking argument! If the Socialist opportunists are not agreeable to marching with you, you surrender your Communist innocence. What kind of argument is that? If they are not agreeable, then you must expose them, write against them, direct your agitation against them. That is your duty. That is raw material to be utilised fully in taking advantage of the sins of social-patriots. Here again – the same accursed passivity. You are too lazy; that is what I would like to say to you. (Applause)
The third argument, a quite humorous one, is that the united front is of course just right for Germany. That’s what opportunists always say. So during the war they said in Germany: Revolution in Russia? Of course! We're all for that. But in Germany? That is quite another question. That’s exactly what you are saying. In Germany the masses are organised; here they are not. So we can win the masses with the united front tactic in Germany but not here. Why? Where is the evidence – even a scrap of evidence – to sustain this argument? First, we are not dealing only with organised comrades, and that is exactly the same as in Germany. You need to win over the unorganised as well. And if you manage to win a few more organised comrades, and this process of accumulation continues, you will win the unorganised layers much more quickly. So what is your argument? In Germany that is called Klugscheisserei [being a smart-ass]. (Laughter)
Zinoviev: But that is unparliamentary language.
Bukharin: Comrade Zinoviev says I am using an unparliamentary language. I must admit I was speaking somewhat frivolously. (Laughter) But I am no parliamentarian.
Now, comrades, please permit me to pass over to another category in our world of riches, namely that of what can be called a transitional stage to the left and the reformists, both at the same time. Here Comrade Vajtauer is a typical representative. He says: I am with the Left. There is a left opposition. I differentiate among the different forces inside the Czech left opposition, and I select Comrade Vajtauer as the one who is devoting all his energy to turning this left opposition into an ideology: ‘I maintain that all criticism should come not from the right but from the left’. To start with, what Comrade Vajtauer is proposing has nothing in common with communism but a great deal in common with petty-bourgeois Proudhonism – from beginning to end.
There are some oddballs in the workers movement. In Germany, for example, a certain Dr. Bernstein proclaimed that the struggle against capitalism should be conducted with a childbearing strike: no woman should bear a child, because without children militarism could not exist (Loud laughter). Now Comrade Vajtauer comes and proposes building into the programme a method that will break the backbone of capitalism through one single action: No one should buy from capitalists who act mercilessly toward the working class.
That is just brilliant. I do not know what Comrade Vajtauer proposes for the struggle against capitalists who are not merciless toward the workers. This terminology is philanthropic, as if Comrade Vajtauer was of the female gender (Laughter) and also of aristocratic origin. (Laughter) But comrades, this is actually a serious matter. That is not Marxism. It is theoretically false from beginning to end. The theoretical proposition here, that workers are exploited more by commercial capital than by productive capital, is so appalling, that I would advise Comrade Vajtauer to sign up for the initial course in a Marxist preparatory school. (Laughter) I do not mean to say by this that the theory is first-class. (Renewed laughter) The point is that the theoretical basis is completely false. The policy is absurd, and not just absurd but opportunist, entirely opportunist. Instead of proposing a mass uprising, strikes, and the like, this provides fresh milk for the bourgeois world, not for the revolutionary proletariat. And then people will say: This International that carried out the Russian October revolution is really so peculiar! Comrades, this cannot be taken seriously. The serious side of it is that such absurd thoughts have a certain echo, such that even our friend Bordiga applauded during Vajtauer’s entire speech. What does that tell us? That in this internal political manoeuvring, people are acting in a quite incorrect way. Of course I am not saying they do this consciously, but whether it is done consciously or unconsciously is absolutely secondary. What is decisive here is the objective effect.
What I have said about Comrade Vajtauer can be generalised.
I hear that Vajtauer is a philosopher. But far from being an embodiment of pure reason, his philosophy is the dialectical negation of this reason. (Laughter) The question here is whether or not the Executive acted rightly. The Executive grasped at once that some honest working-class forces were involved.
Where France was concerned, the Executive carried out an energetic struggle against the right wing and demanded its expulsion. Regarding the Centre, however, it advised patience – of course only to a certain degree. Was this correct? Yes, it was correct.
In the Czech question, we knew that behind the foolish ideas of Comrade Vajtauer stood a number of workers. What did we do? We exercised caution. The Czech party was asked to attempt to let the workers aligned with these foolish ideas stay in the party. It was asked to try. And now you must decide here whether that was correct.
I would also like to say a few words over the so-called left errors, taking up first of all the talk by Comrade Ruth Fischer. Her main error is to exaggerate certain dangers. In some cases her criticism was correct, and Comrade Radek, who certainly does not belong to the Left, has said here – not officially but semi-officially – that this criticism was justified. The error begins when Comrade Ruth Fischer says that here we have reformism and revisionism in full bloom. That is an exaggeration. That is a quite undialectical evaluation of situations and actions that are quite concrete. That is their error, and we want to say it candidly. A second important error I noted in Comrade Ruth Fischer’s speech was the following sentence, which I noted down: ‘Organisational strength is a relic of Social Democratic thinking.'
By no means is that a relic of Social Democratic thinking. We must not frame our political stance on the basis that organisation means very little to us, at the very moment when the entire bourgeoisie is adopting new organisational forms. Fascism is not merely an organisational form that the bourgeois had in the past; it is a newly discovered form that is adapted to the new movement by drawing in the masses. Among other things the bourgeoisie understands that it too requires a mass party, something that Bordiga unfortunately does not grasp. It is an entirely new organisational form. Of course we do not want to say that organisational forms count for nothing. No, exactly the opposite. Of course the masses are the decisive factor, their action is decisive, but at the centre of it is the organisational form, and that is true not only of a Social Democratic party but of any party of struggle. (Interjection: ‘Very true!’)
Now the third point. Comrade Fischer says that quite a struggle was carried out against the German party because of its putschist policy, and that this has resulted in a somewhat depressed mood. Quite possible! But in life, as we know, not everything can be determined and outlined in advance. And it would be much worse for the party if we had not carried out an energetic struggle against putschism.
Now regarding Comrade Bordiga. He opened by saying that he accepted the spirit of the united front tactic. That was said in a noble, idealistic, and spiritual manner. But Comrade Bordiga, your spirit lacks substance. (Laughter) We need a spirit that is not so ephemeral but rather something more tangible. The main error of Comrade Bordiga is that he rejects the living dialectic in an attempt to grasp the unknown using fixed categories. First we want to take account of every eventuality, he says, and then we will work out various protective measures to ensure that we commit no sins. (Laughter) But life is complicated and nothing can be determined in advance. So Comrade Bordiga stands around in his big galoshes (Laughter), as we used to say in Russia – that is, in total perplexity.
Comrade Bordiga also speaks of flexibility and eclecticism. He uses these words as synonyms. What does that tell us? Comrade Bordiga regards what the Russian party considers its greatest acquisition as nothing but lack of principle and petty-bourgeois cynicism. That of course is a major error. You can’t make it through life’s hardships with such an approach. Then, continuing his remarks against the united front tactic, Comrade Bordiga says the party must come first, and only then the action of the party. That is exactly the error of which I just spoke.
Comrade Bordiga also uses his spiritual capacities to explain international discipline in a peculiar fashion. He tell us: I am a centralist. Indeed, I am against a federated central body formed of representatives of parties. I am for an absolutely centralised Executive. Then we come to his ‘but’: We are not soldiers, and the International is not a barracks, and military regulations cannot be applied mechanically to the International. What he is demanding in reality is greater autonomy of the national parties. Comrade Bordiga has spoken much about dialectical contradictions, but what he is presenting here is not contradiction but sheer nonsense. It is decked out in a little cloak of much finer texture. International discipline cannot be interpreted in this fashion – as meaning that the International has full power but we are autonomous and will do whatever we like.
I have a few more things to say. Look at the situation in Italy. Everything cries out for a unification of proletarian forces. In Italy the most important challenge is that of organisational unity with the Socialist Party. And Comrade Bordiga comes here and says not a word about this important challenge. His entire speech is an attempt, in the manner of Bergson, to establish an abstract philosophy of action, that represents no action whatsoever. But not a word about the concrete problems. Here we see once again the result of this insubstantial spirit that is not in fact a sound tool of proletarian struggle. These are relics of an entirely dogmatic and sectarian point of view. The Italian party, which has accomplished much, has also committed errors with regard to the agrarian question, the Arditi del Popolo [People’s Commandos], etc. All the errors the Italian party has committed are results of and are logical expressions of the errors found in the speech of Comrade Bordiga.
Comrades, as regards the conduct of our international organisation’s Executive toward these matters, we have corrected these left errors not from the standpoint of ‘right’ or ‘left’ but of a correct proletarian policy. This policy does not need to be left or right; it needs only to conform to the concrete situation in which the proletariat of one or another country finds itself. Therefore I call on you to adopt the policies of the Executive as your own and to continue to pursue these policies until we have on our side the real power – the proletariat as a whole. (Applause)
1. See Serrati’s remarks in the Second Congress, Riddell (ed.), Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings of the Second Congress, 1920 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991), vol. 2, pp. 653 – 4.
2. The ‘concessions’ referred to here consist of the Soviet government granting self-determination and broad-ranging national rights to the subject peoples of the tsarist empire, policies criticised by Luxemburg in 1918. Levi had published Luxemburg’s comments in 1921, but no record is available of a statement by him on this question.
Levi did write on the national question in the context of Germany’s subjugation under the Versailles Treaty. ‘[T]his is the most burning question for all those middle strata in Germany,’ Levi wrote in his 1921 pamphlet, Unser Weg (Our Path). Communists should advance ‘slogans that signify to those middle strata a solution of their national pains’, he stated. Alliance with Soviet Russia ‘would have been such a slogan’, under which workers could unite with middle strata ‘in a struggle against the junkers and the bourgeoisie’, who betray the country to the ‘Western bourgeoisie’. (Historical Materialism 17, p. 117.)
3. The proceedings record Fischer as having referred to an illusion embraced by Social Democracy that ‘organisational strength ... could be the main factor in defeating the counter-revolution’.
4. Bukharin is referring to the struggle at the Third Congress (1921) against the ultraleft tactics employed by the German CP in the March Action.
5. The arditi were élite shock troops or commandos in the Italian army during the 1915 – 18 war. In June 1921, a veterans group of arditi in Rome launched the Arditi del Popolo (ADP) as a defence organisation against fascist assaults. Other ADP groups sprang up throughout Italy. Politically unaffiliated and ideologically heterogeneous, the groups defended all workers’ parties and organisations, and usually met in the People’s Houses – local headquarters of the workers’ movement. The ADP quickly grew to about 20,000 members in 144 branches, many of which were led by SP or CP members.