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. 1080-1092
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.
Comrades, sisters and brothers: As you all know, there is a rather severe crisis within the Norwegian party. The crisis is expressed in the existence of two factions, locked in mutual struggle. One of the factions has a relationship with the International that is far from ideal – at least there are various events and facts that seem to indicate a crisis in relations between the Norwegian Labour Party and the [Comintern] Executive.
First of all, I would like to describe the two Norwegian factions in general terms. The existence of these factions has rather deep historical roots, which can only be understood in terms of the Norwegian Labour Party’s history. The first current, which at present has a majority inside the Labour Party, can be termed as partly syndicalist and partly reformist in tendency. The existence of these tendencies in the Norwegian Labour Party finds expression in the following trends.
The first is federalism. The syndicalist current promotes federalist trends. Earlier, when all the comrades of this current were combating the Social Democratic current, they utilised this syndicalist federalism as a sort of weapon to destroy the old Social Democratic organisation. At that time there was the centralised Social Democracy and the centralised trade unions and also the revolutionary opposition and especially the opposition in the trade unions. This latter opposition was based on the federalist principle.
It can be said that some of the leading comrades of this trade union opposition, who were students of the American current, the IWW, were a revolutionary federalist current. They applied the teachings of the IWW to Norway, and it cannot be said that this, in principle, was harmful. Exactly the opposite. It was a rather efficient tool to disorganise the old organisation and win strategically important posts inside the union movement.
But these same federalist tendencies – or their continuation – are still at work in a context where the majority adheres to us, the revolutionary current, and the Social Democrats are fully defeated and shattered. It follows that in the present period these federalist principles have been transformed into their opposite and have become erroneous. But this error is being committed by a current within our Norwegian party.
The second feature of this current is its emphasis on trade union struggle and the stress on unions in general. It is easy to understand why this is the case. The majority of the party comes from this trade union opposition. Our forces grew up on this basis, and that is why it is understandable that even now they assign a priority to the unions.
That is our comrades’ theoretical point of view. And that also explains the party’s distinctive and quite original structure. Until recent times – and even now – our Norwegian sister party is based on the unions. The unions entered the party en bloc, and for that reason we have the quite novel situation that we have non-Communists in a Communist party. That can be explained by the entire history of the Norwegian movement.
The third trend is the tendency to separate off politics from economics. That also can be readily grasped in terms of the party’s historical development. When the trade union struggle is regarded as primary, and the unions are viewed as the primary organisations, it is then theoretically and logically possible to maintain to a greater or lesser extent that economics is in one pocket, so to speak, and politics in another.
This point of view is absolutely wrong. We all know that politics is merely a concentrated expression of economics. Yet such a tendency is present within the current that I am now considering.
Then we come to the fourth point, also a characteristic of this tendency. That is the inability to manoeuvre. This is justified theoretically with formulations that sound very revolutionary. For example, it is said that you must have a firmly proletarian political line. You must not enter into any compromises; you must keep to a direct and straight path. There is no need to take advantage of the battles of different forces fighting each other within the bourgeoisie.
That sounds very revolutionary. In reality, however, this can be explained in the following manner. The current in question conceives of the capitalist order, the entire capitalist system, as something given, something frozen. In the framework of this system, you defend the specific job-related interests of the workers and do not concern yourselves at all for other layers that can be used as auxiliary forces in the struggle to destroy the capitalist system. This original point of view may superficially seem very revolutionary. But in reality, with your permission, it is rooted in a rather reformist conception of the course of history. Of course I do not maintain that all these thoughts are to be found fully formed in the minds of comrades of this tendency. But an objective analysis of all these developments, along with an analysis of other questions and tactical problems, lends support to my view.
The second current in the party, the second faction, arose historically from the development of the youth movement. Where the first current was based on the old trade unions and especially on the opposition that developed within them, the second current rests on the youth movement. This movement developed especially during the war as an extreme revolutionary movement. The characteristic feature of its tactical orientation, compared to that of the first faction, is a much greater emphasis on the need for political struggle. Compared to the somewhat apolitical tendency of the first current, the second faction emphasises the importance of politics and of winning political power. It can also be said that this faction is, from a Marxist point of view, more orthodox in its Marxism, paying much more attention to Marxist teaching.
In our parliamentary fraction, until now, no current has held hegemony. For a number of reasons – especially the fact that revolutionary parliamentary activity is so completely novel – this second current has made a number of errors in this field, including some major ones. The errors were strongly criticised by the Executive at the time, and we cannot dismiss this.
The overall situation in the party is therefore as follows. The first faction contains disparate forces, some with syndicalist inclinations, others inclined to reformism. And a third tendency within this first faction combines, in a sometimes quite original manner, the inclination toward reformism with the syndicalist framework.
The second faction is also far from homogenous. It contains comrades who must be called very good Marxists, and also some opportunist forces.
It is thus often possible for the first grouping to combat the second, objectively from a reformist standpoint, while using revolutionary phraseology. This whole combination of different currents, tendencies, groupings, and sub-groupings inside our Norwegian party is rather hard to characterise concisely. In my opinion, that is why the problem is so difficult. By and large the two factions are as I have described them. The first faction has the support of the majority in the party leadership. There have been many cases of tactical and political errors of different kinds, and also the theoretical errors from which they arise.
I would like to say a few words on these specific errors. First, that of federalism. It has been blatantly expressed in the party’s relationship to the Communist International. We are on the way to a constantly increasing centralisation. Our congress has already taken a decision on the organisational question, taking a step that clearly expresses our course toward increasingly pronounced centralisation. That is the opinion of almost all delegations, almost all sister parties. The Norwegian sister party, however, has a different view.
When we had a dispute between the Executive and the Norwegian party, its main publication printed an official statement, which was supposed to clarify the position of the Central Committee on the relationship of the Communist International’s national sections to the International as a whole. This article contained various harsh formulations that clarify our Norwegian sister party’s approach to its relationship with the Communist International. With regard to the dispute, the official publication of the Norwegian Labour Party, Social-Demokraten, wrote the following, and I quote:
It is regrettable that an international organisation intervenes in an internal party dispute, as the Communist International has done in this case.
What does this signify? It means that the Norwegian sister party regards it as regrettable development when the Communist International Executive gets involved in the internal affairs of the party. This formulation could not be more blatant.
Elsewhere, the same declaration of the Norwegian publication states:
A specific faction has attempted to drag the Executive Committee into internal Norwegian party affairs, thus succeeding in undermining the authority of the International.
From these lines we can conclude that it is to be regretted if any component of a party appeals to the International. This is a very clear point of view that can be formulated in this way: The Communist International can take various decisions, and the congress can lay down these decisions, but the Communist International must not get involved in the internal affairs of the party. This is an application of blatant federalism inside our international Communist organisation, a federalism beyond criticism. Of course we must all strongly protest this.
Or take another case.
Our commission invited the Norwegian comrades many times, and we asked them many questions. Among these questions, we posed sharply to several Norwegian comrades the question of their party’s relationship with the Communist International. In response, they expressed doubts as to whether the Communist International really ought to get involved in the internal affairs of the national sections in such a ‘rough’ fashion.
Then we have a very regrettable matter that is related to our present congress. That is the so-called Tranmael case. Previously there had already been various misunderstandings and minor disputes between the Norwegian Central Committee and the Executive. We therefore asked that the outstanding representative [Tranmael] of the current that holds a majority in the Central Committee be sent to this congress. We expressed this request to the Norwegian party three times. First Zinoviev sent a telegram, then the Executive, and then the Executive once again, when the Norwegian delegates were already here.
This request of ours, expressed officially in the name of the Communist International Executive, was rejected by the Central Committee majority, and personally by Comrade Tranmael. Of course, various reasons were provided: technical reasons, internal political reasons, and various others. We do not see this matter as in any sense normal. There is a precedent in our relationship to the French Communist Party. But as you know, one of the leaders of the French Communist Party majority, Comrade Cachin, did decide to take part in the congress. The Tranmael case is therefore unique in this regard. Repeated requests, letters, appeals, and demands by the Executive that the party’s outstanding representative be sent here did not receive a positive response. This has aggravated the situation considerably.
All these matters have a principled cause. It is of course not because of the personal fault of Comrade Tranmael, but rather expresses the entire political atmosphere and orientation that has until now prevailed in the Norwegian party – perhaps not among the masses of workers who belong to this party, but certainly and completely in the party’s leading bodies. It expresses this federalist tradition, and it is the deep roots of this tradition that make the problem so difficult. That is why we should be very patient in seeking to overcome this crisis and change this tactical political orientation.
This same tendency toward a bad relationship with the Communist International was revealed in a failure to carry out various of the International’s directives – or, better said, in a delay in carrying out these directives. This applies, first, to the question of party organisation. It is clear from what I said earlier that we must reorganise the party. Under present conditions we need a fully united party, and a party is not united when it includes non-Communists, who have joined the party quite automatically together with other comrades. That is why, when Comrade Zinoviev first represented the Communist International Executive in Halle , he personally concluded a ‘treaty’, and of course treaty is in quotation marks, with the representatives of the Norwegian sister party, and personally with Comrade Tranmael, that the party must be reorganised.
Since then, much time has passed, and the Norwegian party reorganisation is proceeding only very slowly. Even today the task has not yet been carried out. Of course it is objected that there are very great obstacles in Norway: transportation is difficult, the party’s financial conditions are poor, there are longstanding traditions, and so on. We acknowledge all these difficulties, but we have counterposed to the Norwegian comrades two examples in the life of our party. We went through two great reorganisations in Russia: first, the cleansing of our party, and, second, the reorganisation of our trade unions. And we carried out both within a few months.
We expelled 170,000 members from the party. That was a huge task, which took place across the enormous distances of Soviet Russia. And nonetheless we accomplished this task within a few months. And then the trade union reorganisation! After we began our so-called new course, our New Economic Policy, we immediately recognised that the earlier situation in our unions, where all workers employed in a factory automatically belonged to the union, was absolutely untenable under the New Economic Policy. For obviously the New Economic Policy and, along with it, the expansion of privately owned factories, required that the recruitment of members to the unions take place not automatically but in a more organic way. This massive organisational task, which placed our unions on a totally new basis and involved their full reorganisation, was carried out within a few months, and our unions have several million members. And we have a completely ruined transportation system, bad finances, hunger, and all the rest. And still we carried out these two reorganisations in a relatively short period of time.
Given all this, we asked our Norwegian comrades: Why can you not speed up the tempo of your reorganisation, and carry out this work, whose absolute necessity is not disputed by anyone, with more dispatch? During a number of tough discussions, we went so far as to characterise the conduct of our Norwegian comrades as unconscious sabotage of the Communist International’s decisions. I will not express myself so harshly here, but it is clear that the affair has dragged on too long, and therefore our resolution demands that the Norwegian party throw its full energy into the party reorganisation and complete it in the shortest time possible.
Then there is the question of the party’s name. It seems very strange that the party majority, with its syndicalist coloration, has so long postponed the renaming of the party. From a formal point of view, the Second Congress of the Communist International resolved to eliminate all references to ‘Social Democratic’. Since then we have written a number of letters to the Norwegian sister party. But despite the passage of two years, the old name is still in place. Comrades, you have heard Comrade Meyer say from this platform that the question of the name is a minor matter. How do we view the question? We have already had several precedents around the name question – I recall the Vella case in the Italian party, for example. We are quite well aware how important this question of the name is, and our enemies also understand it. I quote from the publication of Norway’s right-wing Social Democrats, ‘Arbeider-Politiken’ [Worker Politics], where we read the following in an article published 8 September this year:
‘Social-Demokraten’ is an expression of the confusion within the Communist party of Norway.
The right-wing Social Democrats thus consider the word ‘Social-Demokraten’ as an accurate expression of the confusion inside our Norwegian sister party. The commission therefore proposes that the question of a change of name be settled as rapidly as possible. For us it is not a triviality but an important political matter.
Now I will move on to a rather important question, that of general policy. As I have said, there is a divergence between two factions. The difference between them can be expressed in the following way. The first faction, the majority, says: We are a genuinely proletarian party and must wage the class struggle against the entire bourgeoisie. We are against manoeuvres, and so on. The second faction, the minority, led by Comrade Scheflo, says: Of course we must fight against the entire capitalist order, but we must differentiate between different sectors of the bourgeoisie, particularly between the big capitalists and landowners, on the one hand, and different sectors of the peasantry on the other. The Executive have given political support to the second tendency, and therefore I too will defend it here.
We addressed this question in our resolution, because it plays a rather important role in Norway. Of course, if we assume that we should defend only the interests of the working class arising from employment, and that we do not need to bother with the broad layers of working people that could form a reserve to be utilised in time or revolution, then the stance of the first tendency is entirely justified. But that is not the situation in Norway. We already see the beginnings of fascism there. We demand that our party set the goal of the socialist transformation of society, that is, of revolution. There are sharp contradictions between different layers of the bourgeoisie.
A sector of peasants is already voting for us, while another sector, the wealthier peasants, are dominated by a radical bourgeois party. It is absolutely necessary for us to constantly broaden our base. That does not mean that we should recruit these peasants into our party, but that we should utilise them in our war of manoeuvre against the entire capitalist order. We should not rest content with layers that are already for us. We should conduct a policy capable of splitting the ‘Venstrepartiet’ [Left Party], a radical bourgeois and also a peasant party, in order to win layers of the peasantry that are now for the bourgeoisie to our side. That is our duty. It is no sin against Marxism but rather the practical application of Marxist teaching to the present situation in Norway.
This is quite an important question. In our discussions with the Norwegian comrades in the commission, everyone noted what an important political role this question plays in Norway. It should therefore be addressed in our resolution.
But on the other hand, we must tell comrades of the Scheflo tendency that while their parliamentary activity has been conducted on the basis of a generally correct political orientation, they have made some major mistakes. The greatest of these was the parliamentary fraction’s support for compulsory arbitration. During a period of conflicts between the employers and the workers, our comrades voted in parliament in favour of compulsory arbitration. By this action, our comrades gave their approval to the great power possessed by the capitalist class. Various motivations have been offered. The factual situation was genuinely rather complicated. The comrades said that arbitration of this sort, established in law, would counter the worsening of working-class conditions. But objectively it was a major error – especially because there is an old tradition in Norway to fight very hard against this procedure. I remember how a few years ago there was even a general strike in Christiania [Oslo] against forced arbitration. So we should say once again that this was an error, and not deny it. But at the same time we must say that utilising the contradictions among forces within the bourgeoisie is correct. It is absolutely Marxist and Communist.
Let me now take up the question of the journal Mot Dag [Toward the Dawn]. Comrade Zinoviev has already talked of this, and also Comrade Meyer, in another context. This is a group of Communist academics – a closed group, in the sense that a new member can join only with the agreement of the existing members of the group. And we know well that all such groupings are always the embryo of a faction. And since this faction already, as an embryo, has a wrong tactical orientation, the congress and the Communist International should combat this disoriented tendency and also take some organisational measures.
The commission voted unanimously in this matter, deciding that the group cannot exist in this closed form. That does not mean that there should be no academic group at all, only that it should be an open group, so that every Communist student can belong to it and it can represent, so to speak, an open Communist student cell.
As for this group’s journal, we decided that it is not to exist as a loose journal that is not subordinated to the party. In the commission, we quoted various articles from the journal – for example, one by the editor, which called our entire German sister party an intellectual clique. Of course this cannot be tolerated. The dissemination of such false rumours about our Communist parties is obviously quite impermissible.
In our early drafts we proposed two options: either cease publication of this journal or transform it into a party publication. The Norwegian comrades told us that they favour the second option, and we made this concession.
Now I come to the Communist press and the official publication. Regarding the content, we will say here only that the Norwegian comrades should carry out in their press, their official publication, what was decided by previous congresses of the Communist International. Even the appearance of Social-Demokraten is quite unusual. As for its contents, you can find everything there; everything is up for discussion; and there is almost nothing that presents a firm political line. There is discussion of the relationship to the International, discussion of Central Committee decisions, discussion of every conceivable question – a permanent discussion. Discussion is a good thing but should not be taken too far. The party should carry out a defined and clearly delimited policy. But there is no trace of that in our official publication. Therefore we would like to stress once again that our Norwegian press and above all the main publication should carry out the decisions of the Communist International and of our previous congresses.
Now two ‘personal’ questions.
There are two comrades in Norway who have been the cause of disputes in the party, which also found expression in the meetings of our commission in which Norwegian comrades participated. These are comrades Karl Johanssen and Halvard Olsen.
Here is the Johanssen case. He is a quite new member of the party who was previously a bourgeois journalist. He started up an offensive inside the party against the revolutionary workers’ movement. This has created an unusual situation. A former bourgeois journalist, one of the most active collaborators of our sister party’s main publication, writes articles that, by and large, direct harsh criticism at the Communist International. We look at this gentleman as an agent within our Norwegian sister party.
We have already decided conditionally – the Executive put this in a conditional form – to expel this gentleman. The Norwegian comrades have told us that it is a personal case that should not be decided by the congress. We now propose to the congress to expel him outright. And if we look at the overall situation, comrades, we have discovered such tendencies on many sides, and when they are put together, they must be viewed as a dangerous development. It is particularly dangerous to have such a direct agent of the bourgeoisie in our ranks. We have already seen that in Italy and then in France, and now again here among the Norwegian comrades. Speaking on the basis of our entire rich experience, we ask that this fellow be thrown out.
The other case concerns Halvard Olsen. He is a veteran worker and longtime party functionary. In the past he was a loyal comrade, but he has really committed very serious errors. He broke party discipline at the congress of the metalworkers’ union in Norway. He voted against the candidate of our Norwegian sister party and in favour of the syndicalists and right-wing socialists. He made various statements at this congress that are certainly not Communist. The party expelled him, but we want here to follow the same approach that we did in the Czechoslovak matter. We make a distinction between the bourgeois journalist Karl Johanssen and the worker Comrade Halvard Olsen. We want to give him the possibility to turn over a new leaf. We therefore consider it correct to take this comrade back into our ranks. That does not mean, however, that we will tolerate further mistakes and stupidities from him. If he repeats his earlier errors again and again, the Executive will expel him. But we cherish the hope that he will improve. We therefore propose, in the name of the commission, to resolve this matter by reinstating Comrade Halvard Olsen in our ranks. The Executive will base its subsequent decisions on how this comrade conducts himself.
Comrades, I will conclude this report by reading out the draft resolution on the Norwegian question. This draft was adopted by the members of the commission. We kept the personal matters out of this draft. Nothing is said with regard to what I have told you about the Tranmael case and so on. We have made major concessions to our Norwegian comrades regarding the party’s reorganisation, the deadline for changing the name of our party papers, and so on. We therefore hope that this resolution will be adopted unanimously and will thus contribute to overcoming the crisis within our Norwegian party. The draft resolution reads as follows:
After having heard the report of the Norwegian commission, the congress resolves:
1. To inform the Central Committee of the Norwegian sister party of the need to carry out more precisely the decisions of the International, both of its congresses and its executive bodies. Party publications and resolutions and decisions of its leading bodies should leave no doubt that it is acceptable for the International to intervene in the internal affairs of the national sections.
2. The congress instructs the party to carry out its reorganisation on the basis of individual membership within a period of at most one year following its next national congress. Periodic reports will be made to the Executive – at least once every two months – informing it of the practical measures and results of the work in this arena.
3. Regarding the content of the press, the party is obligated to carry out immediately the decisions of earlier world congresses and the directives contained in the Executive’s letter of 23 September this year. The Social Democratic name of the party newspapers must be changed within three months reckoned from the last day of the Comintern congress.
4. The congress confirms that the Executive was correct in pointing to the errors of party representatives in parliament. The congress considers that communist deputies in Parliament are obviously subject to party supervision and criticism by the party’s press. But this criticism must always be factual and comradely.
5. The congress considers it permissible and necessary, in the struggle against the bourgeoisie as a whole, to make use of contradictions among the different layers of the Norwegian bourgeoisie, especially that between large-scale capitalism and the big landowners, on one side, and the peasantry, on the other. The struggle for the peasantry must be one of the prime tasks of the proletarian party in Norway.
6. The congress confirms again that the parliamentary fraction and the party’s publications must be completely and unconditionally subordinated to the party’s Central Committee.
7. The Mot Dag group, a closed association, is dissolved. Obviously, it is quite permissible for there to be a Communist student group, open to every Communist student and under full supervision of the Central Committee. The journal Mot Dag will become a party publication, with the condition that its editorship is selected by the Central Committee of the Norwegian Labour Party in consultation with the Communist International Executive.
8. The congress accepts the appeal of Comrade H. Olsen. Since he is a veteran and loyal comrade and worker and was always a very active party staffer, the congress restores his rights to membership, while stating definitely that his conduct at the metalworker union congress was incorrect.
9. The congress resolves to expel Karl Johanssen from the ranks of the Communist International and the Norwegian Labour Party.
10. In order to establish stronger links between the Norwegian party and the Executive and to overcome conflicts with as little friction as possible, the congress instructs the incoming Executive to send a representative with full powers to the next party convention.
11. The congress instructs the Executive to draft a letter explaining this resolution.
12. The above resolution and the letter from the Executive are to be printed in all party publications and made known to all party branches before the election of delegates to the next party convention.
Bukharin: That is our resolution. I ask you all to support it. (Loud applause)
20. Of the two currents identified here, Bukharin’s ‘first tendency’ is the party majority led by Martin Tranmael. The ‘second tendency’ is the minority more closely aligned with Comintern policies, led by Olaf Scheflo.
21. The Norwegian Labour Party’s parliamentary fraction had applied a united-front approach to Venstre (Left), a left-bourgeois party with a following among small peasants and some workers, which was then in government. In February 1922, the Labour Party deputies voted in favour of Venstre’s law for compulsory arbitration of wages, in order to prevent the defeat of the Venstre government. The leader of the fraction, Scheflo, headed the Labour Party current that fully accepted Comintern policies, while the party majority, headed by Tranmael, stood closer to the party’s Social-Democratic and syndicalist heritage. The majority held that in Norway the united front could not be applied through coalitions with other parties, and attacked support of Venstre as opportunist. The May – June ECCI conference disagreed with Tranmael’s current on application of the united front but also criticised the parliamentary fraction’s conduct toward Venstre.
22. The Labour Party was federated in structure and included trade union affiliates, some of whose members were not Labour Party supporters.
23. A cleansing ('purge’) of the Russian CP membership was begun in July 1921, aimed at excluding careerist, corrupt, or ‘passive’ officials. According to a March 1922 press report, 136,386 members, close to 20% of total membership, were excluded by year-end. Schapiro 1960, p. 232. The trade union reorganisation was launched by the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions in February 1922, based on a resolution drafted by Lenin. See Lenin Collected Works, vol. 33, pp. 184 – 96.
24. The party’s name was ‘Norwegian Labour Party’. According to Point 17 of the Twenty-One Conditions, adopted at the Second Congress, ‘Every party that wants to belong to the Communist International must bear the name: Communist Party of such and such country (Section of the Communist International)’. See Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991), vol. 2, p. 770.
25. In 1920 Norway’s capitalist parties enacted a law, against Labour Party opposition, to set wages through compulsory arbitration. The judicial decision on wages expired in March 1922, in conditions of increased unemployment, smaller union membership, and insistent calls from employers for significant wage reductions. Leaders of the labour federation demanded continuation of compulsory arbitration and called on the Labour Party, which held the deciding votes in parliament, to support its renewal. Labour Party deputies followed the unions’ bidding. Subsequently, decisions of the renewed compulsory arbitration tribunals reduced wages by about thirty per cent and halved vacations, to one week. See E.W. Bull and Trond Hegna, ‘Die Entwicklung der Arbeiterbewegung in Norwegen 1921 – 22’, in Inprekorr, 2, 216 (9 November 1922), pp. 1514 – 16.
26. Mot Dag, a publication launched in September 1921, was initially independent of the Norwegian Labour Party, but its members joined the party as a group in March 1922. Mot Dag published articles critical of the party’s parliamentary tactics, which it considered opportunist, and of Comintern policies. ‘Levi group’ refers to the Communist Working Group (KAG) in Germany, led by Paul Levi.
27. See Inprekorr, 2, (31 October 1922), pp. 1444 – 6.