Chapter 21
The Birth of the Communist International

On 2 March 1919 the Communist World Congress assembled. Two days later at this Congress the Communist International was inaugurated.

From Germany and Austria, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Switzerland delegates had arrived who represented a more or less organised trend in the working class movement of their respective countries. The Second International had nevertheless succeeded in forestalling Lenin. It had held a Conference at Berne from the 3 to the 10 February 1919 attended by about a hundred delegates from twenty-six Countries, and the shattered building of the Second International had been patched up somehow. So they were now in a hurry in Moscow in engineering a counter-Congress; it was therefore not possible to be too fastidious as regards admitting delegates.

Apart from the genuine delegates from Russia (Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, Stalin, Tchitcherin, Obolensky, Vorovsky), Germany (Albert=Eberlein), Austria (Grubor=Steinhard, Petin), Sweden (Grimlund), Norway (Stang), Switzerland (Platten), Finland (Sirola, Kusinen, Menner, Rahja) – Rakovsky was supposed to represent the Socialist Balkan-Federation, Guilbeaux the French adherents of Zimmerwald, and Angelica Balabanov the Zimmerwald Commission. The remainder of the thirty-five “national delegations” (of whom nineteen had decisive and sixteen consultative votes) were simply Soviet citizens of various nationalities. The old Reinstein “represented” the American Socialist Labour Party in whose ranks he had been active while an emigrant in America. The notorious Rudniansky “represented” the Hungarian Communists who had never heard of him; and Stalin’s protégé Klinger “represented” the Volga Germans as these were surprised to learn from the report. Fineberg, Sadoul, Gandlir, Dyorev “represented” alleged British, French, Czech, Bulgarian and Yugoslav “Communist groups” of which it was not clear whether they were supposed to exist in Moscow or in their native countries. At, all events they served the purpose of making the list of delegates appear somewhat more imposing and international.

Lenin very much desired, I should make use of the mandate given to me by the British Socialist Party when I left England and that I should take part in the Congress acting as a delegate of the British Socialist Party. I categorically declined stating that I was not empowered by the B.S.P. to represent them at a Congress to which their attitude was not even known. And I said that I generally deprecated the dressing up of a poorly attended conference as a World Congress. I was therefore present at the Congress only as a guest and refused also to take part in the debate on a question which we were eagerly discussing behind the scenes for fear I might afterwards find my name in the list of delegates as representing the B.S.P.

During the whole war I had violently criticised the Second International. I considered it to be as dead as a door nail and stressed the necessity of establishing a new International. That the initiative should come from Moscow seemed to me only natural in view of the events of the last two years. However, what I had in mind was an all-embracing honest representative International organised on democratic lines with full equality for its composite parts; I never envisaged a combination of sects and agencies under Russian hegemony.

At the very beginning of the war I had explained the weakness and failure of the Second International as a consequence of the uneven development of the Socialist working class movement in the various countries. While in Germany, Austria, and Belgium and in a few other countries strong Socialist Parties would send to the World Congress delegations democratically elected by the members, from Britain, America, Australia and many other countries there came – apart from the well-known representatives of Party Executives – holiday makers only superficially connected with the organisations they were supposed to represent and not recognising any responsibility to the membership. The result had been that decisions of international congresses in some countries were regarded as serious binding obligations, while in other countries such decisions would be applauded or smiled at as decorative demonstrations. It was this feature that finally turned the International into an empty pot that had to burst as soon as it was exposed to a real fire.

From these considerations I, however, did not draw the conclusion that the international working class movement should now don again its long discarded child’s dress and return to the form of organisation of the First International. The latter with its rigid centralised organisation had served its purpose in the early days of the movement: it had awakened the working class movement in countries hitherto unaffected and had guided its organisation. When the movement had reached a certain stage of maturity this centralised First International had burst like a ripe fruit shedding its seeds. Out of these seeds had grown up in every country an organised Socialist movement. In 1881 these had re-united in the federalist Second International based on autonomous centres of various countries.

But Lenin was now dreaming of an “International General Staff” that would command from above, solve all strategical and tactical problems of the movement in all countries, bring about a unification and turn the manifold Socialist organisations of the whole world into a stringently disciplined army ready to obey any order from Moscow. That this army was as yet composed mainly of paper soldiers did not make this scheme any more fascinating to me.

Eberlein and Bukharin had drafted a programme which was adopted by the Congress. It consisted of three parts – a political and an economic analysis were followed by a treatise entitled “The road to victory.”

“A new era has dawned,” it reads, “the era of the collapse of capitalism .... the era of the Communist Revolution of the proletariat... The old capitalist ‘order’ cannot exist any longer .... The workers .... must break the domination of capitalism, make wars impossible, abolish all state frontiers, transform the whole world into one community whose labour shall be for its own good, and realise the brotherhood and liberty of the peoples.

“The triumph of the proletariat consists ... in destroying the bourgeois state machine and creating a proletarian machinery of state. The Proletarian State, like any other State, is an apparatus of repression .... Its aim is to break down the resistance of the exploiters .... The dictatorship of the proletariat .... is a temporary arrangement. In proportion as the resistance of the bourgeoisie is broken, the bourgeoisie is expropriated and gradually becomes a part of the working class, the dictatorship of the proletariat will disappear, the State will wither away and classes will cease to exist ... Bourgeois democracy is but the veiled dictatorship of the bourgeoisie .... Bourgeois democracy with its parliamentary system only deludes the masses of the people into believing that they participate in the government of the State .... The Soviet system realises true proletarian democracy, democracy for and within the proletariat as against the bourgeoisie. The industrial proletariat enjoys under this system a privileged position.”

The belief in the imminent world revolution which finds expression in this program, was at that time universal in our ranks. And it was destined to be further stimulated in the following weeks by the Revolutions in Hungary and Bavaria, which raised the banner of the Soviets victoriously for a while in those two backward peasant countries, thus naturally awakening great illusions in Russia.

The “dictatorship of the proletariat” pronounced in this program is here still perceived in a Marxist manner, as a short transitional period that will reach its natural end with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the overcoming of its resistance. The Soviet System being opposed to bourgeois democracy is described as the means to be adopted internationally for the realisation of true proletarian democracy. Yet at this juncture in Russia the Soviet System was already withering away, while the State, based on Party dictatorship, that according to theory ought to have been “withering away” was growing stronger and stronger and began to show the tendency of becoming a totalitarian bureaucratic police state.

If, in the political sphere, contradictions between theory and practice were already evident, the economic part of the program exhibited an astounding naivety and confusion of thought.

“The dissolution of the capitalist order and the capitalist discipline of labour “makes the restablishment of production on a capitalist basis impossible. The proletarian dictatorship must carry through the expropriation of the big capitalists and landowners and transform the means of production and distribution into the common property of the proletarian state.

“As the first steps of the socialisation of the entire economic resources the following may be mentioned: The socialisation of the machinery of the great banking institutions which at present control production; the seizure through the government of the proletariat of all the economic institutions managed by the State; the taking over of all municipal enterprises; the socialisation of syndicates and trusts as well as of those industries where the concentration and centralisation of capital permits it; the socialisation of landed estates and their conversion into socially managed agricultural concerns ....

“In the domain of distribution the proletarian dictatorship must replace commerce by a just distribution of products. To attain that the following measures need to be taken: Socialisation of wholesale businesses; taking over by the Proletariat of the entire State and municipal machinery of distribution; control of the large co-operative societies whose organisation will yet play an important economic part in the period of transition; and gradual centralisation and conversion of all these bodies into a homogenous whole, carrying out a national distribution of products

“All qualified technicians and experts are to be made use of when their political opposition has been broken ... The proletariat will not oppress then but ... will give them ... the opportunity for unfolding their creative capacities. The proletarian dictatorship will abolish the distinction between manual and intellectual labour .... and in that way will unite science and labour, ....

“The proletariat must .... place the large houses at the disposal of the local Workers’ Soviets and settle the working class in bourgeois residences ....”

Eberlein had shown me the draft before the sitting. I was disgusted and criticised this economic part of the program severely. I ridiculed the naive conception that the capitalist countries, because of a “breakdown” of labour discipline would not manage to re-establish their peace production on a capitalist basis. It was then already obvious that the great technical progress made during the war would have certain effects in the industrial sphere though one could not yet foresee in detail the mechanisation and rationalisation that was soon to follow, not the consequences that would accrue from the rapid increase in production without a simultaneous corresponding increase in the purchasing power of the people.

The practical proposals aroused my indignation still more.

“So you wish to start with the nationalisation of the banks!” I exclaimed. It seems that Hilferding’s Finance-capital lies undigested in your stomach? You try and take over the banks before controlling production. Then you will have an enormous inflation, you will drown in paper money the printing of which will cost more in the end than its face value.”

“Eberlein did not find any tangible arguments in defence of his program and I pressed my attack mercilessly.

“So the State and municipal enterprises are to be expropriated’ by the proletarian State, and then the co-operatives (probably because they are to ‘play an important part in the transitional period'?) shall be thrown into one pot with private and state enterprises and boiled into a ‘homogenous’ broth: What important part then will remain for the co-operatives to play? What you are here proposing is a dangerous and undemocratic super-centralisation and bureaucratisation. This may, unfortunately, develop in an economically backward country with undeveloped co-operatives and municipal institutions; but surely that cannot be regarded as an ideal for advanced countries. If the whole International is going to ape every foolery that we are committing, every manoeuvre resulting from our backwardness, then good night!”

Lenin had noticed our excited discussion he joined us and asked me: “What are you rebelling against?”

“Just look at this precious nonsense,” I said. “This is supposed to be a program for the International. Here, look, they want to nationalise trading! What do you say to this as a Marxist?”

“That has been written by Bukharin?” Eberlein defended himself.

“I shall write your name into the speakers’ list, you can open the discussion on the economic part,” Lenin proposed to me slyly.

“Very much obliged,” I laughed, “but I'm not a delegate. As a guest I cannot speak in the discussion.”

“Well, let us call Bukharin,” Lenin proposed, “perhaps the three of you may find a better formula.”

Bukharin was soon found. After a heated controversy he was forced to admit that socialisation of trading” was nonsense, and that the system of distribution depended on the system of production. He promised to alter this in the committee. But when I saw the alteration I was horrified. Instead of “Socialisation of trading” was inserted “Socialisation of wholesale businesses!”

“We have accepted your amendment” Bukharin said to me beaming.

“This authorship I must reject,” I exclaimed, “I am really innocent of that. You yourself had better take the responsibility. For, you know, I am still a Marxist.”

Thus inaugurated the Third (Communist) International immediately started hostilities against the Second International recently patched up at Berne. A fierce fight commenced which still rages on today. Though there really was no lack of actual facts and vulnerable points to attack the Second International, they preferred in Moscow from the very outset to use the weapon of lies and slander.

However, in spite of the readiness armed insurrection against the bourgeoisie ascribed to the opposition in the Berne International the same resolution continues:

“The Congress of the Communist International considers the International which the Berne Conference endeavours to regenerate to be a yellow strikebreaking"(!) “International ... The Congress calls upon the workers of all countries to take up the most energetic struggle against the Yellow International, and to preserve the broad masses of the people from the ‘International’ of falsehood and deceit.”

In a lengthy resolution on the attitude towards the Socialist Parties and the Berne Conference it is brazenly asserted that

“the attempt ... to force a resolution of the Berne Conference would cover armed intervention in Russian affairs failed owing to the efforts of the opposition.”

Of course amongst the Soviet citizens that formed nine tenths of the Moscow World Congress only very few were in a position to read foreign papers regularly; it was therefore easy to palm off on them any story about the Berne Conference.

It was amusing that in the same resolution all non-interventionists were pictured as revolutionaries ready for immediate action:

In this victory of the Berne opposition over the flatly chauvinist elements we see indirect proof of the sympathy of the West European proletariat with the Russian proletarian Revolution and of its willingness to take up arms against the imperialist bourgeoisie!!!”

However in spite of the readiness for armed insurrection against the bourgeoisie ascribed to the opposition in the Berne International the same resolution continues:-

“The Congress of the Communist International considers the International which the Berne Conference endeavours to regenerate to be a yellow strikebreaking” (!) International .... The Congress calls upon the workers of all countries to take up the most energetic struggle against the Yellow International, and to preserve the broad masses of the people from the “International of falsehood and deceit.”

And the Berne Conference with the aid of “delegates” such as Rudniansky, Reinsten, Klinger and the like! was condemned as non-representative:

“Composition of the Berne Conference obviously shows that the revolutionary proletariat of the world had nothing in with this conference.”

Rather much hysteria for one resolution – I was really glad not to be a delegate and not to share in any responsibility for this.

It is true, the Berne Conference had well deserved severe criticism, nay, a sharp rebuke. Particularly Branting’s presidential address and the behaviour of the French delegate Albert Thomas whose chauvinism knew no bounds had been a disgrace to the international Socialist movement. Soon however the British delegation under the leadership of Arthur Henderson and Ramsay MacDonald had taken the lead; they pushed aside all theoretical and historical differences and concentrated the attention of the delegates on the main object of the Conference – the exertion of pressure on the Paris peace negotiations and the democratisation of the League of Nations about to be established. With that end in view the Conference had adopted a “Charter of Labour” intended as guidance to the International Labour Office so that the description “strikebreaking International” seemed particularly ridiculous. A serious analysis of the ideas expressed in the majority- and minority-resolutions of the Berne Conference on principle matters and political problems – such as democracy and dictatorship – might have been of value; and certainly this would have been more dignified than the flood of abuse indulged in.

From its very birth the Communist International showed those distasteful features which are now so familiar in their developed form. Instead of honest struggle of ideas against the petty – bourgeois, anti-revolutionary tendencies noticeable in certain circles of the international working class movement – a campaign of vilification and slander. Instead of sincere support of the working class struggle for its emancipation – manoeuvres serving the changing momentary interests of Russian foreign policy. Instead of an honest lead to the Left Wing – disruption of all working class organisations and corruption of real or self-styled working class leaders and the crowning of the whole edifice: Undermining of the Socialist idea of morality; employment of imposters and adventurers; demoralisation of the youth; and shattering of the ideal of liberty in the working class.

Thus the Communist International proved incapable of kindling the revolutionary tendencies in the international working class movement.