Karl Radek

The Results of the First International Campaign
for the Proletarian United Front

(June 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 44, 2 June 1922, pp. 327–328.
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.

The break-up of the Commission of Nine marks the close of the first phase of our worldwide struggle for the proletarian united front This campaign has taught us a number of lessons (both of a general political nature and an international organizational character) which it behooves us to go into carefully, because the campaign just ended was only the first one and the struggle is to continue.

How is the united to be established – from below or from above?

The first question we had to answer when the problem of an united front came into the foreground was, In what way will we urge this united front, from below or from above?” This way of putting the question is even now repeatedly met with in discussions on the united front In this connection, the opinion is advanced that the break-up of the Commission of Nine is due to the fact that we approached the matter too much from above instead of carrying our idea into the masses. This attitude bears the earmarks of immaturity and ignorance. If we had been faced with the alternative of either moving Wels, Renaudel and Henderson, or the hundreds of thousands of workers behind them, our choice would have been easy indeed. Or does anybody really doubt that every Communist would not prefer association with the Social Democratic proletarians to connection with the Social Democratic leaders?

When we decided to sit down at one table with Wels and MacDonald, we did so because the workers behind them were still under their spell and inaccessible to us unless we sat down at one table with their leaders. It goes without saying that if the development continues in the same direction and the economic situation of the proletarian masses goes from bad to worse, great sections of the workers will leave the camp of the Social Democratic leaders and join our ranks. But the tactical task we applied ourselves to when unrolling the problem of the united front was this, “How can we unite the proletarian masses in a struggle for their immediate interests before they have parted company with their leaders and come to us?” With this end in view we did what had to be done and sat down at one table with the Social Democratic leaders.

Hence the correct way of formulating the question is this, “What is the net result of our endeavor to approach the Social Democratic masses through a conference with their leaders upon our activities amongst the Social Democratic workers?” We believe that the result can only be called favorable. Did not the leaders of the Social Democracy, of the Second International, under the very eyes of the workers’ masses wreck every attempt to unite these very same masses; did they not help the bourgeoisie to weather the breakers of the Genoa Conference; did they not prevent labor from closing its ranks within the coming months when the condition of the working class will undoubtedly grow still worse! All that remains to be done is to hammer these political results of the Berlin Conference and the first session of the Commission of Nine into the consciousness of the broad masses. It must be stated, however, that so far only very little has been done in this respect both by the Communist International and its national sections. I will only mention the two most important parties. The Communist Party of Germany appealed to the masses merely through its Press and did not simultaneously issue popular handbills which would have spoken to millions of workers, not to speak of the French Party which did even publish the official documents on our struggle for the united front. All means at our disposal must now be concentrated in an attempt to approach the masses of non-Communist workers (and not merely) by means of handbills) to tell them what conclusions must be drawn from the three months of struggle.

And these conclusions are not only the fact that the leaders of the Second International sabotaged the united front but also that the masses permitted them to do so. Now it is rather easy to censure merely the former, but it would be committing a serious blunder if we were to persuade ourselves that it is merely the leaders who are sabotaging, while the workers behind them are fired with enthusiasm for the united front. If such were the case, we could afford to make light of the leaders and their sabotage. But unfortunately it is not; for though broad sections of labor feel the want of unity, they are not prepared to enter upon a struggle for it. This passive friendship for the united front is the outcome of the weariness of the masses resulting from their dissatisfaction with the party strife which appears to be quite futile to them. The united front means to them, “Quit warring against each other”; but not, “Come on with the struggle!” Hence our demand and appeal to the masses to ignore the leaders of the Second International does not signify that these masses are already with us; it imposes the task of going among them and rousing to struggle there masses only very small sections of whom are inspired by militant sentiments.

Is our appeal to the broad masses after the collapse of the Commission of Nine to be interpreted as meaning that we will not continue our attempts to build up the united front from above and in spite of all that has happened? For an answer (and to show the variety of the problem) it will be sufficient to point out that in Saxony despite the breakdown of the Commission of Nine we did not abandon our negotiations regarding our attitude towards the Government. We did not succeed internationally in compelling the leaders of the Social Democratic Parties to cease sabotaging the united front because the pressure from below was not everywhere the same. This fact, however, should not keep us from advancing in the same direction and trying to compel the leaders of the Second and Two-and-a-Half to defend together with us the interests of the workers – wherever and whenever this is possible, whether in a state, a province or a municipality. Ana every time success crowns our endeavor it will be of the utmost importance for the future united front on an international scale. If, for instance, Saxony gets a labor government supported by the whole working class and the government is consequently compelled to struggle for the vital interest of labor, it will convince the workers throughout Germany that a united front is possible and is the best manner of defending their interests. Every gap made in the wall behind which the Second International seeks to shelter its adherents from the Communist International tends to facilitate the final surrender of the stronghold.

Our work which will require a long time to accomplish (and then only provided our comrades do not take things too easily!) does not consist of shouting, “From below! From below!” What counts is whether one understands how to work from below. This demands careful study of the immediate interests of labor, to which interests our agitation must be adapted. But that is not all – the ability to turn agitational successes to account on the organizational field is just as essential. That however is an art which has been developed least of all in the ranks of the Communist Parties. Their one great failing is a certain schematism of thought; they fondly believe in the possibility of making an organized Communist of every worker who favors the attitude of the Communist International. Hence they are averse to loosely knit formations enabling us to get together greater masses even if they have not yet decided upon final rupture with their parties.

Finally, it must be understand that a real collaboration of all Communist Parties is the prerequisite for the struggle for the united front One of the lessons to be gathered from the last months’ campaign is that such collaboration is still wanting. It would be childish to deny that. The attitude of the French Party, aiming as it did at sabotaging the endeavors of the Executive Committee, will be made the subject of a searching inquiry and of serious measures by the Executive before the tribunal of our French comrades. The French comrades will have to state what they prefer – a centralized International or a pile of sand. The resistance offered by the French comrades to the decisions of the Enlarged Executive Committee gives rise to the question whether or not it was not necessary to wait with the struggle for the united front till we had first convinced the French comrades. Could we have afforded to tarry, it would most certainly have been better to discuss the matter at length and do away with all misunderstandings. But unfortunately it is not always possible to wait for the struggle till everything and everybody is ready for it The struggle itself is the best teacher, we are convinced that every Communist who can survey and understand the first phase of the struggle for the united front is more than ever persuaded of the necessity for the decision advocating our entering upon that struggle.

Last updated on 27 December 2019