Willy Münzenberg

The International Relief Action
of the World Proletariat, 1922

(28 October 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 93, 28 October 1922, pp. 709–710.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). 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.

Due to the resistance of the Social Democracy throughout the capitalist world, the earnest efforts of the Communist International to halt the ever-growing capitalist reaction and the misery of the working masses in every country with a united proletarian front, ended in failure. Today, more than ever, the working class is torn into many parties and groups. The inner conflicts have grown more bitter. Particularly in the Central European countries has the venomous anti-Communist campaign on the part of the Social Democratic leaders and press broken loose.

And yet, in spite of this unfortunate division in the ranks of the proletariat, the last year has brought with it a united action on the part of the workers of the earth, – the famine relief for the famished workers and peasants of Russia.

Due to the intensification of the political and economic crises in Central Europe (Germany, Czecho-Slovakia. Austria, etc.) and also to the fact that the coming Fourth World Congress of the Communist International has brought with it important and more imminent political and tactical questions on the order of the day, the Communist press is not able to devote as much attention to the famine relief question as it did up to th present. Some comrades may for this reason be led to believe that the relief campaign has come to an end altogether. This is a mistake. The famine relief campaign is still on, and as evidence of its strength we may point to the fact that in spite of the temporary abatement of the press-campaign, the successful results achieved in the various countries are almost unaltered. Indeed, the direct money returns to the Berlin headquarters have increased considerably during the past few months.

Firstly, the fact that the first elementary aid for the starving workers and peasants of Russia was furnished by the broad proletarian masses of Central Europe even before they were called upon to do so by any party or trade union organization. In Austria as well as in many factories in Germany, the workers organized collections for the starving Russian brothers on their own initiative.

A second telling feature of this campaign is its magnitude. It is the first time in the history of the international proletarian movement that an action of solidarity reaches beyond one enthusiastic outburst, beyond one collection, and stretches for months and years. It will soon be one year and a half that the International Workers’ Relief has been going on in an undiminishing tempo.

There is today no country in Europe which has not contributed its share towards the amelioration of the untold suffering on the part of the 40,000,000 starving Russians.

In every country of the Western hemisphere, famine relief committees were formed.

It is a characteristic fact that from the very beginning, the initiative for the organization and continuation of the famine relief campaign was taken up by the Foreign Relief Committee, which was created by the Communist International.

The Second and 2½ Internationals with all their parties, as well as the Amsterdam Trade Union International solemnly announced their support of the famine relief campaign in appeals and manifests.

In the months of July, August and September, some parties belonging to these Internationals showed signs of an effort to fulfill their promises. But after a few weeks most of them ran short of energy.

The Amsterdam Trade Union International persevered the longest. Only recently, this organization made a clothing shipment to Russia, worth 500,000 Dutch gulden.

But in proportion to their membership, and their boasted political power and influence, the Social Democratic parties gave but little, regardless of the fact that the appeals of the Trade Union International unequivocally pointed out that the question of supporting the Russian Soviet Republic was a matter of vital interest to the workers of all parties and tendencies, in every country, for the fate of Soviet Russia will determine the fate of the international proletariat.

The Communist parties and trade unions indisputably lead in famine relief work.

Only a few small, so-called “left-radical” groups considered the relief efforts of the international proletariat as a bit of detrimental philanthropy. These tiny, isolated groups exerted and could exert no pressure upon their respective governments to furnish effective relief to starving Russia. On the contrary, these confused phraseologists have shrunk into insignificant groups, and have become avowed anti-Russian and anti-Soviet agitators.

Within the various Communist sections too, some pessimistic voices could be heard. Individual comrades feared lest an extensive famine and economic relief campaign injure the usual party work and weaken the political revolutionary struggles of the workers. These comrades apparently forgot that the new economic orientation forced upon Soviet Russian by world-political forces, and the decisions of the III. World Congress of the Communist International, to create great mass parties, would also affect the methods of a solidarity action such as the famine relief-campaign. As soon as it became apparent that the process of the Proletarian Revolution would be a slower and more difficult out than was expected in 1918–1919, consistent conclusions had to be drawn for the political struggle as well as for the relief-action tor Soviet Russia.

The Central point of all aid to Soviet Russia on the part of the Western proletariat was, of course, political action, and constant, unyielding pressure upon the various governments for the recognition of and the resumption of trade with Soviet Russia. But with its sad, economic situation Soviet Russia cannot (and certainly could not under the weight of the famine catastrophe) wait until the political pressure of the individual parties is great enough to compel the bourgeois governments of the West to help her. On the other hand, every amelioration of her suffering, every gain in economic power, however slight, strengthens Soviet Russia’s position against the capitalist robbers of the West, enables her to reject any and all contracts particularly unfavorable to her (the Italian agreement), and to compel foreign capitalist exploiters to yield more (the recent English agreement).

From the very outset, the relief action started by the Communist International displayed the tendency to strengthen Soviet Russia’s economic position by aiding in her economic reconstruction, outside of the immediate famine relief furnished to the starving workers and peasants of the Volga region. Sceptics despaired and feared that he several hundred thousand Communists would never be able to furnish practical and effective relief to the famine sufferers; they considered the whole action as a mere agitatorial demonstration on the part of the Communist International.

What a mistake!

The relief action has proved that small parties and organizations can, through capable and well-organized propaganda, get non-Communistic circles to aid the famine relief campaign.

The results achieved by some Communist sections are astonishing. The small Communist Party of Holland (a few thousand members only) collected through its Relief Committee 400,000 gulden in cash, and 40,000 gulden worth of clothing, – or 440,000 gulden in all. The still smaller Belgian Communist Party collected about 300,000 Belgian francs, and shipped many carloads of clothing, etc.

All in all, about 2 million dollars (or 8 billion German marks), were collected through the Foreign Relief Committee and sent to the famine sufferers in Russia. With this money, 30,000 tons of food, medicaments, tools and machines were bought and shipped to Soviet Russia. Several hundred thousand people were saved from a hideous and sure death.

The famine relief action is still on. During the coming winter, 20,000 Russian children will be fed by the Foreign Relief Committee.

Of yet greater importance are the achievements of the Foreign Relief on the field of productive and economic reconstruction.

The Workers’ Relief has taken over many estates in Kazan, one estate near Moscow, and a large agricultural enterprise in Perm. Six months have passed and already excellent crops were taken in. Then there are the many fisheries on the lower Volga, smaller industrial plants, a shoe factory in Moscow, and building repairs, street paving, etc. that were taking over. At present there are about 25 to 30 thousand workers employed in the agricultural and industrial enterprises of the International Workers Relief in Russia.

The International Workers’ Relief Loan at present being launched, is guaranteed by the Russian Soviet Government, by special decree, and is intended to improve and extend the enterprises of the I.W.R. in Russia. No one believed that Soviet Russia could be saved through the famine or economic relief; no one was so naive as really to believe, that the political, revolutionary struggle of the Communist parties would be weakened by the economic relief campaign for Soviet Russia.

The proletarian economic relief for Soviet Russia must supplement the political support of Soviet Russia by the Communist parties, as an effective and practical aid.

Last updated on 2 December 2020