Karl Radek

In the International

The Next Problems Before
the Communist International

(10 January 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. II No. 3, 10 January 1922, pp. 22–25.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2019). 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.


Shortly after the split of the German Independent Socialists at the Congress in Halle and after the forming of the United Communist Party of Germany, the latter sent an Open Letter to the Social Democrats, the Independent Socialists and the Trade Unions, proposing united action in the immediate actual interest of the German working-class. This step was received with great joy by the membership of the German Communist Party. But some of the leading comrades of the K.P.D. and of the International, however, were greatly surprised. Indeed, we had just propagated the breaking away from the Right Independents; we had just exposed them to the masses, as traitors and now we propose united action with the very same Scheidemanns and trade-union leaders who during the war had betrayed the proletariat to the bloody reeking capitalists! The demands which we put in our Open Letter were equally strange. Not a word was said of the dictatorship of the proletariat; even the actual demands were in no way exaggerated for agitation. On the contrary, they were unusually sober and modest. It was clearly to be seen that they were so formulated that no one could possibly have said that they were mere propaganda watchwords. The surprise of a number of leading comrades had its historical reasons, just as the approval of the Communist workers in Germany struck the right political chord.

This step was taken in January 1921 in view of the great economic struggles then approaching; and it seemed strange because here was a case where a certain situation called forth tactics which seemed to contradict the existing ones; at any rate they were new. On the other hand, however, it brought new hope to the Communist workers that these tactics would enable them to launch a new energetic campaign among their fellow workers. They felt that the split at Halle was necessary because they were convinced that the Dittmanns, Crispiens and Hilferdings were camouflaging their unwillingness to enter the revolutionary struggle with revolutionary phrases. But at the same time they felt that this split created a wide gulf not only between them and their party comrades but also between them and the great working masses. These working masses see that capital is everywhere taking the offensive against the proletariat and they therefore consider every split as a stab in the back and as a division of the working-class forces. And how were the Communists to overcome this estrangement? Were they to prove to the non-Communist workers the necessity for the struggle, for the dictatorship? But it was just because the non-Communist workers believed that further progress could be made with the former tactics, that they remained in the Social Democratic and Independent Socialist Parties? The only way to reach these non-Communist masses was to join them in their fight for their immediate needs and to support them in their immediate demands which they considered as indispensable. By assuming the duty of fighting for the masses in their daily struggles, the Communist Party would thus acquire a common ground for an understanding with the working masses, and the opportunity of showing the proletariat, more clearly than ever, the absolute necessity of fighting for the dictatorship. If, with the present disorder of capital, the working masses should start a fight for higher wages, which should anywhere approach the high prices, this practical struggle would not only show the clash of interests between the proletariat and bourgeois democracy, but it would at the same time prove the necessity for more far-reaching economic transition demands. The demand tor the control of production is an example. If carried out, this struggle would either compel the Social Democratic and trade-union leaders to go further towards the left under the pressure of the masses, or to quit; it would not be a question of “Dictatorship or Democracy”, which they always manage to confuse before the masses because the latter are not yet completely free from democratic illusions, but a question of working hours and bread, that is, questions which the worker can more easily grasp.

The bitter struggle which the Social Democrats and trade-union leaders immediately started against the new Communist tactics showed how proper these tactics were. The fact that the German Communist Party retreated one step and, instead of treating the Social Democratic and trade-union bureaucracy as traitors, proposed a common fighting front, and the fact that, instead of directing the struggle towards its final goal, the German Communist Party proposed to fight in common with the others for the immediate demands of all workers, disregarding all party lines, did not by any means weaken the German Communist Party; on the contrary, these facts strengthened it.

The Social Democrats beat back the first onslaught. But by means of it the German Communist Party fortified and extended its positions within the trade-unions, and it was able to sail on under favorable wind. Even the mistakes it committed in the March action and the losses it suffered as a result, were made good by this very Open Letter method. And there is not the slightest doubt but that the fight for a united workers’ front, which it is now carrying on in view of the great German crisis, will make the German Communist Party a great power among the German proletariat. The violent counter-attack carried on by the Social Democrats and the Independents with the aid of the entire capitalist press, and which they base upon the actual or imaginary errors committed by the Communist Party in the March action, proves beyond a doubt how perfectly well they know that with its new tactics the Communist Party wields a mighty weapon against them.


The tactics for a united workers’ front, like any other tactical move of a big party were not the result of doctrinaire calculations by individual men. This tactical move was not invented but found. After it was proposed by the headquarters of the K.P.D. at a session of representatives from all locals, it appeared that a number of provincial organizations of the party had already tried that method, as for example, the Communists of the Rhineland, Westphalia and Stuttgart. The move was thus based upon the practical needs of the German movement.

In a short while it became evident that this move corresponded to condition in other countries. The Communist Party of Switzerland applied the same tactics. Even our Italian comrades, though only recently having broken away from the Socialist Party and having shown the most bitter opposition to Serrati, proposed to the Italian Socialist Party collections in common for the relief of Soviet Russia. But if it is possible for them to unite fronts with the Socialist Party in aiding Russian proletariat, why should they not attempt to form an united front against the Fascisti bandits? Serrati and his clique are no more to be relied upon as regards Russia than in the question of fighting the Fascisti. In both cases the Communist Party gains if it succeeds in taking the Socialist Party’s word and driving it into the struggle, as well as when in a practical question which is clearly understood by the masses, the Socialist Party unmasks itself by showing that its words are different front its actions. And how are things in Sweden? The bourgeoisie is divided and can form no capitalist government in spite of the fact that in the elections it received the majority of votes. The Social Democrats wanted to form a coalition government with the liberals, but the latter refused. The Social Democratic Party being the strongest party in the government had to take over the government, but it cannot remain in power if the Communists withdraw their support. The Swedish Communist Party only received one-seventh of the number of votes cast for the Social Democrats. The great majority of organized workers are followers of Branting. Were the Swedish Communist Party to aid the bourgeoisie in overthrowing Branting, then the Swedish working class would be spared the experience of the Branting government. Development and disillusionment would be slowed down. Indeed, the Social Democratic workers would blame the Communist Party for depriving them of the “better” conditions which the Social Democratic government might have brought them. But if the Communist Party supports the Branting government as long as the latter does not itself disappoint the workers by compromising with the bourgeoisie, then the influence of the Communist Party will grow.

In a number of countries the move for an united front was a necessary one. But if it is beneficial to the Communists on a national scale it is also admissible on an international scale. The Communist International and the Red Trade Union International proposed to the Amsterdam Trade Union International that the relief for Soviet Russia be organized in common. Have we lost anything by the refusal of the Amsterdamers? No! They have merely shown the worthlessness of their cry for proletarian solidarity. Shall we lose anything by proposing to them to unite against the new dangers of war as revealed by the Washington Conference? Let them reject! Then the workers in all countries will say:

“The Amsterdamers are lackeys of international imperialism and of the munition industries. They shout ‘No more war’, but when it is a question of united proletarian demonstrations, they creep into their holes.”

And what if we propose to them to fight together against the danger of the French imperialistic occupation of the Ruhr, and against the danger of the complete enslavement of Germany, which would make the German Proletariat the reducer of the wages of the international proletariat? And what if we propose a united demonstration for the recognition of Soviet Russia and a loan for the economic reconstruction of Russia without which the economic crisis and with it unemployment will only increase in all countries? If they reject these proposals, the workers of all countries will see that the Amsterdam Trade Union International and the Internationals 2 and 2½ are rejecting their immediate demands and interests, that they only wish to perpetuate the division of the working class, and that they voluntarily enter into coalitions with the bourgeoisie not because, as they said before, the divided working class makes it impossible to exert an united pressure upon the bourgeoisie and to establish workers’ governments in countries like Germany, England, Sweden instead of the capitalist governments, but because they themselves want this coalition. But should the Amsterdam Trade Union International and the Internationals 2 and 2½ accept our proposals, we shall then attempt with the aid of the working-masses to drive them forward step by step, and every half-hearted move will turn against them.

The new tactics offer such positive advantages and open such favorable vistas to International Communism and to the proletarian class-struggle, that they will become the common property of all the Communist parties If this is so, then it must be due to certain general changes having taken place in the international situation. I say changes because it is self-evident that in the years 1918–1920 we fought with quite different methods. Then, we not only did not propose any general united action to the Social Democratic parties (although we did so in isolated cases) but we did everything to affect a split within their ranks. Formerly we gave first place to general principles – the dictatorship, the Soviet government whereas now without having in the least changed our general demands, we give precedence to concrete transition demands. What do these changes consist of? There is only one answer to this question if we wish to understand and apply the new tactics correctly.


Comrade Trotzky entitled his speech on the international economic situation and the tasks of the Communist International, which he delivered before the Third Congress of the Communist International, The New Stage. What does, according to him, this new stage consist of? It merely means that during the war and in the first post-war period, that is in the demobilization period which lasted almost up to the conclusion of the Peace of Versailles, there was still the possibility of overthrowing the bourgeois capitalistic governments, in spite of the weakness of the Communist parties. The great mass of armed workers streaming back from the war were full of desire to win better living conditions, and the capitalist government machine was so shaken that It might easily have collapsed at their onslaught, even if the working class had not made the seizure of power their immediate goal. The bourgeoisie survived the demobilization crisis firstly because the Social Democrats and the trade-union bureaucrats everywhere rushed to its aid, and secondly because of the temporary post-war boom caused by the enormous demand for goods by the war-starved world, which lasted until the Summer of 1920. After the demobilization crisis passed, a new and general onslaught by the working class depended upon the further dissolution of the world economic system, upon the intensification of the political disputes which had not been settled by the Versailles Peace, and upon the dying out of the illusions created by the democratic revolution of 1918 and by the events of 1918–1920. The new stage was manifested in the fact that from the middle of 1919 on we could no longer count upon an international explosion within a definite space of time, but rather upon a new and slow ripening process of the world revolution. We had adopted this view as early as in the fall of 1919, that is, from the time of the letter to the K.P.D. convention at Heidelberg in September 1919. The view that the world revolution would be a long process, could not at once be adopted by every Communist Party, because the world situation was overshadowed by the catastrophic situation in Central Europe, by the victorious armed struggle of Soviet Russia against the Allies and by the general situation. Occurrences like the Kapp putsch in the Spring of 1920 and the victories of Soviet Russia over Poland, had a tendency to accelerate the process of development. Such occurrences are at present also possible, because the entire situation in Central Europe is analogous to a volcano, and because on the basis of the new economic policy, Soviet Russia will be come a more powerful factor. Such occurrences would indeed accelerate the process of development, but they would not alter the general character of the present stage, which may be designated as follows: the victory of the proletariat on an international scale will follow only as a result of very long struggles carried on in most varying ways. This view was finally adopted by the Communist International and is expressed by the idea of “The New Stage”.

A number of tactical and strategic deductions followed. The first deduction is that the immediate task before the Communist International is not a general onslaught, but the organization of the army for the general onslaught, and drilling and manoeuvring it, which does not at all exclude the possibility that in individual countries general battles may take place overnight.

The first problem of the new stage was therefore to form parties which should consciously agitate and carry on Communist. propaganda, intensify every local struggle of the proletariat, make it more general and transform it into a revolutionary struggle. This could be achieved partly by splitting off small Communist groups which in the process of the struggle would gain influence among the working masses and partly by working within the Social Democratic parties which they would finally conquer or succeed in splitting. The Communist parties of the various countries were thus formed in either of these ways according to the situation in the particular country. First they were to assimilate the main Communist principles themselves and then popularize them among the masses; the idea of civil war, for instance, the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of the Soviet government. What happened however, was that although as early as the middle of 1919, the necessity for starting concrete agitation on the basis of immediate and uncompromising transit on demands became apparent, the Communist parties entered upon this task very timidly and unsystematically. Some of them considered this an unnecessary weakening of our agitation. Moreover we must not forget that every intensification of the world situation roused the hope of the young Communist elements for an early revolution and a quick victory. This hope gave rise to putschist tendencies; tendencies which sought to spare themselves the lengthy task of winning the masses, and attempted to win the final victory with a revolutionary minority.

The Second Congress of the Communist International accomplished the main task in the adaptation of the new tactics by the Communist parties for the new stage and for the problems which it raised, although its essentials were not as well understood as they are now. The Second Congress obligated the parties of the Communist International to lead the fight for the winning of the working masses on the basis of the mass organization of the proletariat. It pledged them to begin with the immediate needs of the proletariat. It recommended to them to make to make use of all the legal means that are still left us by the capitalist democracy (parliamentary action for example) and at the same time to fortify themselves by developing the illegal organizations. In the much abused 21 conditions it drew the line between the Communist Parties and those parties which pretended to be Communistic but which in reality only sought to sabotage the work of Communism. The theses dealing with the functions of the party crowned the work of the Second Congress, which could be characterized as follows:

Formation of Communist parties for the preparatory work for the world revolution; drawing the line between these parties and the confused half-communistic, haff-syndicalistic elements on the one hand, and the confused half-centrist parties on the other; and the setting of politically and organically well disciplined and sound parties to work among the great masses of the proletariat on the basis of the latter’s daily demands.

The work of the Second Congress and its results in Germany, Italy and France – the splits in Halle, Tours and Livorno – formed the prerequisite for the next task. Communist parties were created.

The Communist parties then had the task of starting the struggle for winning over the majority of the proletariat. It is self-evident that this struggle on their part cannot merely consist of parrot-like repetitions of the various watchwords like the dictatorship of the Proletariat or that of the Soviet system of government, but it is the duty of these parties to participate in every struggle of the proletariat, to explain to the proletariat its own experiences step by step and to attempt to extend its battle front more and more and to broaden the goal it is fighting for. It is in this way that the Communist policy takes root in the practical struggles of the proletariat for its immediate demands. From this it follows that these demands may often be identical with with those of the other parties which seek the support of the proletariat, and which in the question of revolution are separated from us by an abyss.

The nature of the so-called reformist parties during the epoch of the social revolution consists not only of proposing reforms wherever the overthrow of capitalism becomes a real historical question; not only of their reformist utopianism, but in the fact that they themselves do not take their Utopia seriously and that they are in no way disposed or willing to fight even for reforms. The difference between the Communist parties and the reformist parties is therefore not only a difference in the final goal of the two, that is, not only in the question of “Reform or Revolution”, but also in the fact that the leaders of the reformist parties are not at all willing to fight.

As far as the Social Democratic leaders are concerned, the outward approach towards these parties in the practical struggles for immediate demands will in no way lead to an actual approach. But it is different with the organized workers of the Social Democratic party and the trade unions. They are still suffering from reformist illusions and they are still afraid of the revolutionary struggle, but they are compelled to fight for an improvement of their conditions which are ever growing worse. And this struggle exceeds the limits of a struggle for reforms and leads to the collapse of capitalism; this struggle becomes one for power. The working masses which start out in this fight, blinded by reformist illusions, will in the process undergo a radical change. Of course, it is also possible that under the pressure of the radicalized masses the Social Democratic leaders may be compelled to go towards the left and that the sincerer elements among them will finally realize that reformism means the rejection of every struggle. The joint struggle of the Social Democratic and Communist parties for the immediate interests of the working class may lead to splits within the Social Democratic parties, and may, under certain circumstances, even lead to their adopting Communist principles. It is also very possible that in the countries where the Social Democratic parties have a deep foundation as mass-organizations, the Communist parties may be unable to win over the majority of the working class before the coming to power of the Social Democrats. Only after their experiences with the Social Democratic governments, will the majority of the working class be convinced of the necessity for adopting the Communist policy.

These questions came up with the developments in Germany after the Second Congress of the Communist International, and the party answered them with the struggle for a united front. This move raised a second question, namely, the question of slogans for local fights. It was clear that the local struggles broke out with local watchwords which set the fighting proletariat against the capitalist order. What were these watchwords therefore to be? Were they to be a program of reforms which we should seek to realize under the capitalistic system, or were they to form a fighting program which sought to smash the power of capitalism and increase the power of the working class? This question is easily answered. We Communists can only put up a fighting program against capitalism, and not a program of this reform. Our watchwords must of themselves reach out towards higher aims. In forming these watchwords we are not to be concerned with the question whether these harmonize with the interests of the capitalist class, but we are to consider whether they correspond to the interests of the proletariat and to the highest degree of its class consciousness and willingness to fight. Objectively speaking, our watchwords are formed out of the crisis of world-capitalism. Even the most modest demands which would bring the working-class human living conditions endanger the present capitalist social order. The utopianism of the reformists consists m the very fact that most of their demands cannot be realized under the capitalist system which is doomed to death. The capitalist system can be restored only over the corpses of millions of workers. If the working-class wants to live, however, capitalism must die.

Thus the new questions put by the development of Communism on the basis of the new stage, reduce themselves to the question of the struggle for winning over the majority of the working-class not merely by the method of effecting further splits and divisions among the Social Democratic parties, but also by organizing a battle front in common with them; not only by means of propaganda carried on for the final goal, but also by means of fighting for the immediate transition demands.

But the development of the Communist parties does not proceed according to a previously thought-out scheme; so that these parties undertake new tasks as soon as the old ones are accomplished. The same party which through its experience had revealed the new tactical problems to the International, that is, the problem of a united proletarian front in the struggle for transition demands, committed a number of errors in March of this year. These errors revived some old tactical questions. The errors committed by the V.K.P.D. in the March action consisted firstly of the fact that although since the fall of 1919, that is, since the party convention at Heidelberg, this very party entertained the theoretical opinion that we were facing a new campaign in which the seizure of power was not an immediate aim, the same party led a partial struggle which was forced upon it, as if it were the final struggle. It resorted to armed insurrection where the situation called for a general strike at the most. This error had its historical reasons. The masses that left the U.S.P.D. wanted to test themselves as to whether they were Communistic. They rushed into action. While the members of the Spartacus League had been disillusioned in their fight with the K.A.P.D. (as if it were possible for a minority to seize power in Germany) the left mass of the U.S.P.D. workers had not yet forgotten the teachings of the old school. They could get rid of their putschist ideas only after they had made them part of their own experience. After the K.P.D. entered into the struggle as a slight minority, its extreme elements sought to avoid the inevitable defeat by starting a series of terroristic acts which only repulsed the masses from the party. In view of the situation and in view of the limited freedom of action of a minority, these mistakes were converted into a theory of the offensive which was based upon the general rising curve of the revolution and upon the idea of the minority as a determining factor which by setting an example, draws the majority into the struggle. Due to these errors the Third Congress was convoked sooner than was expected and was assigned the task of cancelling the errors that had been made and of emphasizing to all the Communist parties that their immediate task lay in the struggle for the winning over of the majority of the working-class. The Congress defined the conditions under which this struggle will proceed as follows:

“Taking into consideration the fact that in Western Europe and America the working masses are organized into trade unions and political parties and that therefore spontaneous action can not be expected except in rare, isolated cases, it is the duty of the Communist Party to seek to extend its influence within the trade unions and by increasing the pressure upon the other parties which depend upon the working masses for support, to open the general struggle for the immediate interests and demands of the proletariat. And in case the non-Communist parties are forced to join in this struggle, the task of the Communists will be to prepare the working masses beforehand for a possible betrayal on the part of the non-Communist parties at a later stage of the struggle, and to intensify the situation as much as possible in order to be able in time to lead the struggle independently. (Compare with Open Letter of the V.K.P.D., “Which may be the starting point for similar actions”.) Should the pressure exerted by the Communist Party within the trade unions and in the press not prove strong enough to draw the proletarian masses into the fight as one united front, then it will be the duty of the Communist party to attempt to lead a large part of the proletariat into the struggle independently.”

The Congress also defined its position in the matter of transition demands which it acknowledged to be perfectly correct in principle. But since the attention of the Congress was particularly called to the errors and lessons of the March action, it could pass neither concrete international decisions upon international actions as based upon the tactics of the Open Letter, nor could it treat the question of transition demands in detail. That is why these questions seemed to be new ones when they came up in the treatment of the tax question by the K.P.D. The question of a possible united action with the Amsterdam International and with the Internationals 2 and 2½ thus seemed to be a new one to some of our comrades. But in reality they are only concrete logical deductions from the theses of the Third Congress.


The new stage in which the Communist development finds itself now has been going on since 1919. The problems put to us by this stage of development have been solved step by step in the same form in which they were put to us, that is, the solutions, like the problems, depended upon concrete and very often upon contradictory and chaotic events. These new problems are not only neither contradictory to the old ones nor to the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Soviets, but they point the only way in which we can possibly reach this goal, in the midst of the concrete situation which followed the demobilization crisis. In many respects this way is different from the one we intended to follow, the latter being based upon the experiences of the Russian Revolution. The Russian revolution took place during the war which drove all conflicts to a point in the least possible time, and thus contracted the span between the bourgeois and the proletarian revolution to the period between March and November. Because of the weakness of the Russian bourgeoisie, reformism, which was deeply rooted only in the working masses of those countries with an old bourgeois-democratic development, also remained weak in Russia. And as soon as we were able to shatter the Russian bourgeoisie, we were also in a position to smash the Russian bourgeoisie, we were also in a position to smash Russian reformism or Menshevism. The way towards the European revolution is very much longer; so much the more so towards the world revolution. The victory over the bourgeoisie and with it over reformist ideology and the reformist organizations, is so much the more difficult. The struggle therefore required methods that were not used in the Russian revolution. In principle this was recognized by us very early (see my pamphlet, printed in November 1919: The Development of the German Revolution and the Problems of the Communist Party, or Lenin’s pamphlet entitled: The Infantile Diseases of Communism, published in the spring of 1920). But the new methods cannot have a practical theoretical basis because they arise out of the concrete situation in a particular country. Only then can they be objectively examined and generalized by the Communist International. The theoreticians of the International 2½ on the one hand and the confused left Communists on the other consider these new methods as an opportunistic degeneration of the Communist International. We shall not tamper with the illusions of the heroes of the International 2½. “He who has worries has his booze.” We shall be only too glad if this estimate of the transformation of the Communist International will lead the Social Democratic and the trade-unions leaders to join us in the fight for the immediate aims of the proletariat and will make them resolve to fight. Experience will show that this intermediate stage of development will lead to the next one, that is to the struggle of the international proletariat for power, to the struggle which is becoming more and more necessary if the proletariat is not to be completely enslaved. The present stage is the preparatory stage for the great struggle that is coming.

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