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. 373-402.
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.
Comrades, brothers and sisters: The topic of all the policy debates that we have conducted and will conduct here is actually a single question: the world offensive of capitalism against the proletariat and the proletariat’s measures for self-defence. Whether we are discussing the combat readiness of the French Communist Party, or the united front, or the workers’ government, the practical issue underlying these tactical questions is always and only the offensive of capitalism.
In discussing this offensive, we often define the question too narrowly, conceiving of it as directed mainly toward reducing wages and lengthening the working day. On the other hand, the Social Democrats divide the world revolution as a whole into two phases that are artificially kept apart: the proletariat’s offensive and capitalism’s counteroffensive. They regard this second phase as definitive for the foreseeable future, indeed as a victory of counter-revolution. In my opinion, therefore, we will best understand the situation and also the stance the Communist International should adopt by reviewing in broad strokes the development of the world revolution in the concrete forms it is displaying before our eyes. At the risk of presenting the most important events to you only as subject headings, I will nonetheless undertake this task.
The Russian revolution, which we discussed so extensively under the previous agenda point, was understood by the proletariat as an event of international importance. But there is no doubt that the world bourgeoisie understood to a much greater degree than the world proletariat that the Russian revolution was the first episode in an international offensive by the proletariat. It is enough to read the secret memoranda sent in 1917 and the beginning of 1918 by the leaders of the Central Powers [Germany and Austria-Hungary] to their governments. I refer here to the memorandum of Count Czernin, which shows that immediately after the March revolution, before the October victory, the leaders of the Central Powers understood extremely well that following on a period of war in which the bankruptcy of Social Democracy had enabled various bourgeois cliques to battle each other on the backs of the passive popular masses, the Russian March revolution had knocked a breach in the capitalist defences, and a new historical force had appeared on the world stage. In his memoirs, Ludendorff describes how Germany’s military situation compelled him to let the Bolsheviks through to Russia, although he recognised the danger, and how he therefore felt himself all the more obliged to crush the Russian revolution. It was world capitalism’s undoing that Ludendorff’s internal contradictions gave the Russian revolution a breathing space in which to get organised.
Comrades, after the defeat of Germany, the second wave of proletarian revolution began. The collapse of Germany and Austria, which threw the crowns of Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns into the street, into the mire, created a situation where the proletariat, worn down and exhausted by the war and Social Democratic politics, was required to take the power into its hands, because no other force was available that could try to grab hold of it. The Communist International has been much mocked for having had illusions about the world situation at the time of its formation. The former centrists, now members of the Second International, talk of how overoptimistic and short-sighted we were when the Communist International was founded, orienting its policies toward the victory of world revolution. Please permit me to read you a document written at almost the exact moment that the Communist International’s First Congress was convened. It was written by Lloyd George. This document was kept secret by Lloyd George and his people until its publication this year by the former Italian Prime Minister Nitti in his book, Europe Without Peace. In this secret memorandum sent to the leaders of the Versailles conference, Lloyd George says the following:
Today the situation is quite different. The revolution is still in its infancy. Russia is ruled by a fierce terror. Europe is filled with revolutionary ideas. The working class harbours a deep sentiment not of disrespect but of anger and rejection with regard to living conditions before the war. The population of all Europe views all the present political, social, and economic institutions with mistrust and estrangement. In some countries, like Germany and Russia, this disquiet has turned to open rebellion. In other countries, like France, Britain, and Italy, it is expressed through strikes and a certain disinclination to work. There is every indication of a longing not simply for higher wages but just as much for social and political change.
Under the pressure of the proletarian offensive, he then considered the living conditions of 1914 to be inhuman. We know the extent to which he has since changed his mind.
To a considerable degree, this discontent should be greeted with pleasure. We will never achieve enduring peace if we remain stuck on the goal of creating living conditions like those before 1914. With that approach we would risk driving the mass of the European population into the arms of the radicals, whose basic proposal for the rebirth of humanity consists of their desire to tear down entirely all the social institutions that presently exist. In Russia these people achieved victory. But the price of this victory was fearsome. Hundreds of thousands of inhabitants have lost their lives. Railways, cities, the entire Russian state structure is almost entirely destroyed. Nonetheless they have succeeded in many respects in keeping the Russian people reined in, and even more significantly, in organising a great army, whose soldiers appear to be well led, well disciplined, and by and large prepared to sacrifice their lives for their ideals.
Let another year pass by and Russia, inspired by fresh enthusiasm, will have forgotten its need for peace, because it has at its disposal the only army that has confidence in the ideals for which it is fighting.
And after this description, which is worth being made known to the broadest popular masses, Lloyd George portrays the immediate danger that capitalism then faced. This portrayal can serve as a legal indictment against the Social Democratic parties, above all in Germany. He says:
The greatest danger that I can perceive in the present situation is that Germany might be capable of placing its fate in the hands of the Bolsheviks, and of putting its riches, its spirit, and its magnificent organisational capacities at the disposal of these revolutionary fanatics, who dream that Bolshevism will conquer the world through armed force. This danger is no mere phantom. The present German government is weak; its commands little respect; its authority is scanty. Nonetheless it holds on. Its departure would mean calling in the Spartacists, for which Germany is not yet ripe. But the Spartacists always present an argument that never fails to strike home, namely, that only they will be capable of freeing Germany from the unbearable conditions into which it has been plunged by the war.
And he goes on to say:
If Germany goes over to the Spartacists, it is unavoidable that its fate will be closely linked to the Russian Bolsheviks. If that happens, all of Eastern Europe would be thrust into the stew of Bolshevik revolution, and within a year we would face almost three hundred million people, formed and trained by German generals and German instructors into a gigantic Red Army, armed with German machine guns and prepared at any moment to renew the assault on Western Europe.
Comrades, we will gladly give Lloyd George the German military instructors, but the picture that this most intelligent leader of the European bourgeoisie then had in mind is not something that would shock Clemenceau and the others. It is a photograph of the situation in which the world found itself in this second phase of the proletarian revolution, as the German revolution began. The capitalist world responded to this situation by combining a defensive stance in the West with the first capitalist offensive in the East.
If you take a look at the strike statistics for 1919 – and I will not tire you by reading out all the figures – you will see a wave of proletarian offensives not only in Germany but also in Britain and the United States. The British workers attained a wage increase in 1919 that was bigger than everything they achieved during the entire war, when their labour was absolutely indispensible to save Entente capitalism. During the war as a whole they won wage increases of not more than seven shillings per week and per person, but in 1919 alone they gained an increase of one pound sterling [20 shillings]. They shortened the working time of seven million people by three to four hours. In 1919, 60% – 80% of British workers began working eight hours a day or less. The British government responded to the demand for nationalisation of the coal mines by appointing the Sankey commission, which accepted the miners’ demands in principle. In the United States, one wave of strikes followed another. What is more – and this is important in characterising the situation – in this individualist country the railway workers were seriously considering a plan for nationalisation of the railways.
In Germany the bourgeoisie spent billions to keep the price of food low and thus ease the discontent of the working masses. ‘Socialism is on the march’, cried the Social Democrats and the government, and a ‘socialisation commission’ was hard at work in order to create the impression that the working class could achieve its goals by peaceful means.
Across all the Western countries of industrial capitalism, the bourgeoisie held to a purely defensive stance toward the working class, to avoid the danger that excessive resistance would drive the working class of West Europe and America into the arms of communism.
At the same time the bourgeoisie launched its first offensive, which we know as the Entente invasion of Soviet Russia. Comrades, this brought about the first great test of armed strength between the world proletariat and world capitalism. The Russian proletariat did not merely blast the first breach in the world capitalist system, but stood alone in this breach, fighting for survival, while the West European proletariat contented itself with improvements in its conditions. The only part of the Central European proletariat to launch a supportive attack was the Hungarian workers. They aimed to ease the pressure on Soviet Russia and liberate the Hungarian proletariat. Their attempt was defeated, and the Hungarian soviet republic was destroyed.
Comrades, not only did Soviet Russia beat back the offensive of world capitalism, but also, in 1920, on the knife edge between the two previous epochs in the development of world revolution, on the edge of the shift in the economic conjuncture, Soviet Russia passed from defence to attack. The battle in Poland represented an attempt to make this transition. There is no need for me to indulge in fantasies about what it would have meant for the world situation if the Russian proletariat had been victorious at Warsaw. I need only recall the fact that at the very moment the Russian proletariat advanced to the attack, an offensive also began by the first large segment of the Western European working class, the Italian movement to occupy the factories. Imagine for a moment what would have been the impact of the extension of the first proletarian state’s boundaries past the Vistula and the conquest of power in Italy. It would have placed the agrarian countries of East and Southeast Europe between the pincers of two proletarian states, placing them at the disposal of Europe’s industrial proletariat. We need only ponder these possibilities, which were then very present in the situation, to get a grasp of the weight of the defeat of Soviet Russia and the Italian workers in 1920.
Soviet Russia’s military offensive on Warsaw and the proletarian offensive in Italy collapsed for different reasons. Soviet Russia was shown to be too weak militarily; the Italian working class was too weak politically. There is absolutely no doubt that this defeat was the turning point in the history of the first phase of proletarian revolution. Rudolf Hilferding later declared emphatically that it was the Independents [USPD] who fought the Battle of the Marne against the Bolsheviks. This learned spokesman for Austro-Marxism, who is now pursuing a post as a representative of capitalist Germany abroad, had no cause to take credit for the victory over Soviet Russia. The Red Army was repulsed not by the eloquence of the leader of Germany’s centrists but by the bayonets of the army of the Polish szlachta [gentry] and the cannons of French imperialism, which, to my knowledge, have not yet joined the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals. The collapse of the Red Army offensive near Warsaw and that of the Italian workers, which heralded the second phase of world revolution, came just as the fictitious boom, which had provided the basis for world capitalism’s concessions to the West European workers in 1919 and 1920, was ebbing away. The world economic crisis began.
I now come to this second phase. This change is based on a fact that will over time seal the defeat of world capitalism but temporarily very much strengthened it, namely, the celebrated shift in the economic conjuncture. Thanks firstly to the economic results of the war, which are now starkly apparent, and secondly to the results of the Versailles Treaty, world capital has reached the limits of its expansion. In every country an economic crisis is beginning, whose implications for world capitalism’s policy toward the proletariat is well portrayed in an intellectually prominent mouthpiece of British capitalism, the Westminster Gazette – as you know, it’s now the voice of Asquith. It says:
The working class can be quite sure of the fact that no force on earth can protect it from the reduction of its living standard, so long as there are hungry people struggling among themselves for the right to live. The existence of such people creates conditions under which it is quite impossible to establish any minimum standard of living.
That is what the Westminster Gazette wrote at the outset of the world economic crisis, and that is the basic reason why capitalism around the world is stronger. Because millions of workers in the Western industrial countries are unemployed – I'll speak of Germany in a moment – the ability of the employed workers to struggle is broken. The simple fact that workers who are unemployed can be played off against those with jobs breaks the offensive power of the trade unions and the workers’ will to struggle.
I am not going to lard my report with statistics. It’s hard to listen to figures. The Executive has commissioned an exhaustive report on the state of the capitalist offensive in different countries. It’s by a very qualified comrade, Z. Leder. We have unfortunately not yet published the report, because it was received too late, but we intend to publish it in all languages. I will use just a few basic figures to indicate the decisive changes.
Let us take the figures for Britain:
British capitalism is not satisfied with these results. The following memorandum comes not from an individual writer but from the authoritative voice of British capitalists, the British Industrial League. I quote from the London Economist:
It may be necessary to go even further. Unless business gets better, workers must be prepared to accept a wage that provides them with a standard of living lower than what it was before the industrial depression and even before the war. Moreover, in order to carry out these wage reductions without inappropriate conflicts, it is advisable that the movement be as extensive and unified as possible. (11 February and 11 March 1922)
In the United States, we see the same process all down the line. The employers are not content to reduce wages and cut working hours. A struggle is flaring up on a broad front in the West against the rights won by trade unions. In the United States we see the movement for the ‘open shop’. The trade unions are asked to give up the right to limit the work places to organised workers and exclude those who are not organised – a right they won through decades of struggle. During the strike of railway shop workers this year, we saw that the highest American courts are having recourse to the same tactic as with the Taff Vale decision in Britain, which at that time crippled the British working class. Trade unions were made liable for damages to the capitalists’ economic interests caused by the struggle.
In Britain a struggle is under way to completely eradicate the factory councils. A leader of the British capitalists summed up the situation as follows: We must settle whether the factories are going to be run by the employer or the soviets. And at the same time the British Conservative Party is taking a swing at the Labour Party through a parliamentary motion that forbids trade unions from using their resources to conduct political struggles.
I will not provide data on a number of other countries, like Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland, which do not offer anything fundamentally different, and I will speak separately about Germany. Clearly what we have here is a worldwide and very wide-ranging economic and political plan based on the results of the World War. World capitalism planned during the war to cope with its economic results through the integration of economic regions. On one side, the Middle Europe plan, the main pillar of German imperialism; on the other side Wilsonism. These were simply plans to create broad imperialist regions where the burdens of the World War could be apportioned, making it possible to surmount the war’s results. The Middle Europe plan collapsed along with German imperialism itself. Wilson’s plan to create a vast Anglo-American empire was the real basis for the idea of the League of Nations. This plan however shattered against the resistance of national capitalist groups.
Versailles represented a different plan, which aimed to load the costs of capitalist reconstruction on the defeated countries. This plan was wrecked by the resistance of Soviet Russia and the financial impotence of Germany. Given this situation, world capitalism had no option left for its reconstruction than to shift the burden of these costs onto the broad shoulders of the working masses of all countries. During the war we said that only the working class will be defeated in this war. Now world capitalism is saying, yes, capitalist reconstruction is possible only if the working class bears the cost. This has become capitalism’s all-encompassing plan. The more that the economic situation worsens, the clearer it is that, in contrast to the situation after the Napoleonic wars, world capitalism is not capable of overcoming its world crisis.
If you read Owen’s memorandum to Metternich, you will find that he poses the question of how Britain overcame the broad economic destruction, and answers that after the economic crisis of that time, Britain introduced machinery. This increased the productive forces, enabling Britain to overcome the crisis and develop into an economic power of the first rank. World capitalism is now faced with the need for massive resources to carry out its reconstruction. For a tenth of what the war cost Italy, that country could be delivered from its present tribute to Britain and the United States for coal, but the resources for that are unavailable. A second method to overcome the crisis would be to expand markets, but that is excluded. That is why the capitalist offensive is not just taking temporary advantage of a weakening of the working class; it is an ambitious plan for a decade.
If this offensive breaks down, world capitalism will be repulsed by the working class, at least in the decisive countries of Europe. Because the stakes are so high – a life-and-death contest – it obviously cannot be fought out using the weapons of strike on one side and, on the other lockout, wage reductions, and increasing the hours of work. And that brings me to the political forms of the capitalist offensive.
Comrades, at the Berlin conference of the three Internationals and in our general agitation we have often pointed out that world capitalism’s struggle to reverse the nationalisation of factories in Russia forms part of this broader offensive. Many considered this notion to be far-fetched. In addition, the interrelationship of Stinnes’s struggle for power with the world offensive of capitalism against the proletariat was also not well understood. Therefore permit me to describe briefly this side of the matter, which we do not often take up and which is the decisive aspect of the struggle for the preconditions for capitalism’s economic victory.
If world capitalism wants to hurl the working class back to pre-1914 conditions and to force it to its knees, the leaders of world capitalism can certainly achieve this through a combination of struggles with the working class within each country and world-political struggles. The first precondition for achieving the plans underlying the world capitalist offensive was revealed in Genoa and The Hague. And in Britain the efforts of workers to achieve the nationalisation of the main branches of industry were parried. Last year the British workers were no longer fighting for nationalisation of the mines but fought simply to maintain their previous wage levels. And even in this struggle they were defeated. In the United States, the remains of the movement for nationalisation were swept away. In Germany, when it was a matter of halting the workers’ advance in 1919, they wrote ‘socialism’ on their placards; now they are close to selling off the railroads to private industry. The only state where industry is in the hands of the working class is Russia.
That is why the struggle against Soviet Russia, aiming to force us, through a financial boycott, to give up the factories, is not some special goal adopted by capitalism in order to obtain bigger profits in Russia. No, it is a fundamental component of capitalism’s world offensive. And yet more is involved. The capitalist world offensive requires that the German question be resolved in a form that permits, first, the salvation of capitalism on German soil, and, second, the provision of resources for capitalist reconstruction in the Entente countries. The policies of German capitalism, represented in their crudest form by Stinnes, seek a way out of conditions of catastrophe and have found it, at least in theory.
The solution consists of selling off state property, selling the mines and railroads, and also a big loan raised by Germany on the American and British markets. The financial plan of Stinnes aims to pay the interest on this loan and the reparations by easing the burden on industry and increasing it on the broad masses, as a way of renewing German capitalism’s accumulation. That may seem to be a purely internal German political question, unrelated to the world offensive of capitalism. But we need only note this policy’s interrelationship with that of France, in order to see that much more is at stake here.
The military wing of the French bourgeoisie and some of its industrialists are thinking of pursuing the offensive against the revolution through the occupation of the Ruhr, creation of a buffer state in the Rhineland, incorporation of the Ruhr coal and coke in French industrial territory, and also the separation of southern from northern Germany, and creation of a French vassal state of Austria and Bavaria, linked to France through the buffer state on the Rhine. Meanwhile, another wing of French industrial circles have quite a different idea in mind. Their concept is the creation of a Franco-German steel and coal syndicate, which would provide France with the necessary resources for reconstruction, while enabling Stinnes to push through his policies, overriding Germany’s present relationship of forces – and thus freeing France from the need for military adventures. The French press and the hangers-on of French foreign policy have said quite often what is at stake. Stinnes’s plan must be implemented. The German public sector must shrink; non-essential workers must be laid off; the intensity of labour must be increased; working hours must be longer. Unless this is done, there is no saving capitalism either in Germany or in France.
But Stinnes cannot carry this out all on his own. When he made his proposal to privatise the railways, he ran into stiff resistance. That is why implementation of the Stinnes plan requires an ultimatum from the French government, an order from the French to the German government. What the German Social Democrats will never accept when it is pressed on them by Stinnes, they and the German working class will swallow if it is posed by France as a precondition for peace. Comrades, if this plan is not carried through, it will certainly not be because of the resistance of the German Social Democrats. If it fails, it will be only because of the resistance of British capitalism, which is threatened by the creation of a Central European iron and coal syndicate, which would exert pressure on it, simultaneously with American capitalism. If the plan fails, it will be because of contradictions within the counter-revolution, not the resistance of the German working class, which at the moment is quite limited. The Stinnes plan, along with the economic trends it represents, is not limited to Germany alone.
Just read Mussolini’s speeches and programme before the victory of fascism. I'd like to read a couple of quotations that illuminate sharply the social and political issues here. Read Mussolini’s taxation programme, his economic and political plan, and you will see that the very forces at work in Germany and personified by the representative of heavy industry [Stinnes] are at work in Italy. Mussolini says in the fascists’ programme:
Amend social laws that restrict production. For a new tax system on a simpler, more rational, and more successful basis.
You will learn just what this new basis consists of when you hear Mussolini say the following:
We must finally have the courage to state openly the following truth, which contradicts demagogy. Today it is the working masses that carry the lightest tax burden, although they earn more than the middle class, which is overburdened by taxes. We must also not forget that restricting production with appalling direct taxes on capital also acts as an indirect tax on the lower classes, but in an even more dreadful form, since curbing capitalist enterprise results in joblessness and the reduction of wages. Nothing could be more mistaken than the demand to load the ‘rich’ down with taxes, in order to protect the poor.
Moving on to France, it is enough to take Caillaux’s book, Where Is France Going? Or articles by Caillaux and other French experts in the issue of the Manchester Guardian on reconstruction to see that their entire policy is based on burdening the working masses and, as much as possible, easing the load on the propertied to a degree that goes far beyond the bourgeoisie’s former fear of taxes.
Comrades, these plans of the bourgeoisie demand corresponding political measures. For in all Europe we see a pull to the right. The fall of Briand after the Cannes conference and the coming to power of Poincaré marked a shift in the external relationship of forces and in the framework of the National Bloc. Nonetheless there is no doubt that this shift arose from a determination to place the initiative, which was in danger of slipping away from the capitalists, into the hands of their most dynamic sector.
Consider the political significance of the current elections in Britain. Read the speeches being made by the Conservatives during the present election campaign and the responses by Lloyd George. At first glance this must seem like a madhouse. Lloyd George is pursuing a conservative policy, and the Conservatives propose the very same programme. Formally nothing has changed, but reaction’s real face is expressed in two slogans: first, that of Bonar Law, ‘Create order in the country’, and second, the simple fact that once the Conservative party was freed from Liberal influence, the most ruthless wing of the Conservatives took control. Although the government contains only a small number of diehards, there is no doubt that if the situation becomes more acute, this most reactionary wing of the Conservatives will take over. Bourgeois forces are consolidating in order to emerge from their overall decay and save what can be saved. Bonar Law’s first action was an attempt to get rid of the ministry of labour with the statement that the state should interfere as little as possible in the economy – a counterpart to Mussolini’s statement that in economic terms he is an old liberal, in the true sense of the word: No interference in the economy! That means giving capitalism the chance to utilise its superior strength ruthlessly against the working class.
Comrades, this same policy is given a much more conscious form by the counter-revolutionary conspiratorial organisations. It is a depressing fact that a reading of the underground circulars and writings of counter-revolutionary groupings clearly shows that they are a thousand times better informed about what we are doing and about our most recent thoughts on revolutionary strategy, even of small moves on the chessboard, than we are with respect to them. ('Very true!’)
Although it now rules within the law, counter-revolution has an illegal existence, which unites its most conscious forces. Only their deeds reveal the plan guiding this most purposeful sector of counter-revolution. There is not the slightest doubt that the German counter-revolutionary circles led by Colonel Bauer are closely linked to the Russian monarchists, with the Horthy regime in Hungary, and with Mussolini, and that they maintain links to the French militarist party that will one day be revealed in garish colours. If you observe the moves of this right wing of counter-revolution, you see clearly that in Central Europe there are three possible seats of proletarian revolution: industrial Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Italy. Their plan is therefore to erect a barrier between these three countries. Efforts to create a fortress of counter-revolution in Bavaria go hand in hand with those to subject Austria to counter-revolutionary rule.
The beginning of this process is seen in the Geneva treaty, the thrusting aside of Austria’s parliament, and the abolition of its weak army, which in Vienna was still made up of proletarian forces. As soon as the counter-revolution places the Wittelsbachs back on the [Bavarian] throne, the connection with Austria will be restored through Tyrol. The Hungary of Horthy will shift toward Central Europe. The victory of the fascists in Italy forms part of this policy, which partly results from conscious leadership and partly arises spontaneously from the politics of the situation. I believe it is important for the Communist International to understand the fascists’ victory and their character. I hope you will permit me to speak of this at greater length than would perhaps correspond to Italy’s importance. I hope that Comrade Bordiga will bring to bear his more intimate understanding of the facts to give us a more detailed picture and possibly correct what I say.
I see the victory of fascism not merely as a triumph of their arms, but as the greatest defeat that socialism and communism have suffered since the beginning of this period of world revolution. It is a greater defeat than that in Soviet Hungary. For the victory of fascism results from the present intellectual and political bankruptcy of Italian socialism and the entire Italian workers’ movement. The fascists represent bourgeois counter-revolution; that needs no further demonstration. Those who wreck workers’ organisations and maintain the power of the bourgeoisie are counter-revolutionaries.
If we stop short at the banal statement that the bourgeoisie has triumphed there, we would not understand something that will be extremely important for the German and Czechoslovak movements, perhaps as soon as in the next few months. ('Very true!’) The question is this: How was the victory of fascism possible; what is its base of support; and what does it represent that is new in the spectrum of European counter-revolution? We only need to ask whether Mussolini is equivalent socially and politically to Stinnes or Bonar Law, or whether he represents something different. I believe Mussolini is something different, even though his programme is just the same as that of Bonar Law and Stinnes. And his distinctive character is extremely important.
Let us recall who the fascists are and how they originated. Back from the war came the lower bourgeois layers – the intellectuals, druggists, school teachers, veterinarians, and so on, all of whom had played a social role in the war. (Intellectuals have always played a much greater role in Italy than in other countries. We need only recall that before the war our Italian sister party included about seventy university teachers; that shows how broad the intellectual layer is there.) They came back from the war as nationalists, disheartened that despite its victory, Italy had not obtained what the nationalist programme demanded.
Back they came to a country whose economy was entirely ruined, whose state is not capable of providing for them. They saw the growth of a revolutionary workers’ movement. This movement looked on them with hostility, not only because it is a workers’ movement, but because as supporters of intervention in the war they had battled against the Socialist Party. And the Socialist Party did all it could to turn away these layers – and not them alone, but even the disabled veterans. Many Socialist-led municipal governments abandoned the disabled veterans in 1919 because they had been in the war. The Socialist Party was not able to give active expression to the sentiment that something new was afoot and that one could not stay stuck in the old rut. When you review these facts, you understand the birth of fascism. Recall that in the December 1919 elections Mussolini received only four thousand votes in Milan, although he took a stand for control of parliament by workers’ councils, distribution of landed property to the peasants, and generalised nationalisation of industry. The fascists were then partly with D'Annunzio in Fiume [Rijeka], partly dispersed in little groups. Meanwhile, the tide of revolution swept through the country. It was not just a matter of strikes but of the complete dissolution of bourgeois Italy.
In preparing my report, I came across an article by the Polish counter-revolutionary writer Nowaczynski, who makes an interesting contribution to this picture of ruin. The article takes up the evolution of Italian literature in the years 1918-22. This article provides interesting evidence, and I tried to confirm the facts with Italian comrades and by checking literary reviews. It appears that following 1918, belles lettres in Italy were pacifist, social reforming, and pornographic – a sure sign of the bourgeoisie’s breakdown. After the victory over the working class, this literature became nationalist.
One of our diplomatic representatives abroad spoke of an Italian diplomat, who told him in 1920, ‘Well, we recognise that the revolution is winning. Let us hope it at least gives us the chance to continue our work’. That was the state of mind of the bourgeois Italian. Socialism was growing in strength, but this strength was frittered away. A bourgeois paper in Germany published a report on Mussolini’s decision to seize power to this effect: The reporter asked Mussolini, ‘Will you risk taking power illegally?’ Mussolini answered, ‘Legally or illegally, I will do it. The Socialists were defeated because their words did not lead to any deeds’. Mussolini sensed that his military organisations and the large following he had won to his side would turn against him if he did not seize power. It was the Socialist Party’s inability to lead the masses into struggle that gave birth to the fascists. When the workers occupied the factories, the Italian bourgeoisie was so powerless that Giolitti, the fox from Cuneo, said he could not send soldiers into the factories because that would result in his defeat in the streets. But with the aid of the Italian reformists, the workers were induced to leave the factories. At that point the Italian bourgeoisie no longer knew fear and shifted to the offensive.
But the question then is why they did not do this using its state apparatus, the carabinieri [national police], the bourgeois courts and bourgeois parties?
The bourgeois parties were in disarray. They had led the war and ruined the state and economy, and they had lost the confidence of the soldiers, officials, and petty bourgeois. But Mussolini and the nationalist petty-bourgeois intellectuals displayed a new will for power.
The fascists offered a new approach. They said: Socialism is not capable of doing anything new; we will mediate between workers and capitalists, forcing the capitalists to satisfy the needs of workers. But you workers must work. You must build the nation.
Rosa Luxemburg once said that the bourgeoisie’s best defenders are those who have illusions. Only the petty bourgeoisie nourishes illusions, and since Italian socialism had shown itself to be illusory, the fascists could counterpose to it the illusions of the petty bourgeoisie. They fell upon the workers’ organisations, which did not know how to defend themselves. In the cities and centres of industry the masses still held their own. But in the small towns and villages, where workers were dispersed, they fell victim to fascism. First it used armed force to conquer their organisations; then it took leadership of them. The worker masses in the industrial centres inwardly still rejected them. But there is no doubt that in the countryside and small towns, the workers were conquered not only by weapons but in part by the fascists’ demagogy. The first result of their assault was a growth of reformism.
In Livorno the reformists were still a small handful. At the last trade union congress, five hundred thousand votes were cast for a coalition with the bourgeoisie. Reformism emerged from the war defeated. But without a doubt, the fact that the proletariat did not know how to defend itself against fascism drove many of the workers into the reformists’ arms. Because the Socialist Party did not show the workers how to conduct a revolutionary defence against the fascists, many of the workers followed the reformists, who promised to protect them from the worst through a coalition with the bourgeoisie and participation in the bourgeois government. But they missed the key point. The reformists’ negotiations with the wing of the bourgeoisie that feared the fascists’ victory – not trusting them to administer the state – were one of the factors leading the fascists to speed up plans to overthrow the Facta government.
Comrades, the fact that fascism has now triumphed without the slightest resistance by the working class justifies us in saying that we have reached the low point in the course of events in Italy.
I have avoided criticizing specific comrades regarding these events – even though we should also not adopt the approach of the Roman senate, which would celebrate the return of a defeated general. But this we must say: if our comrades in Italy and the Socialist Party of Italy do not understand the reasons for fascism’s victory and for our defeat, fascism will long rule in Italy. Building an illegal organisation does not just demand courage, which is characteristic of Italian communism, but requires that fascism be politically defeated. Only if the Italian Communists are capable of inspiring in the working masses – despite all they have been through – a new confidence that socialism can bring victory, will they be soon capable of initiating the struggle against fascism.
The fascists represent the petty bourgeoisie, which has come to power with bourgeois support and will now be required to carry out the programme not of the petty bourgeoisie but of capitalism. And that is why this great counter-revolution is also the weakest of Europe’s counter-revolutionary powers. Mussolini arrives with his great train of petty-bourgeois intellectuals, and right away he runs into a government deficit of seven billion. He proposes programme of thrift and reduction of the bureaucracy. But behind him stand hundreds of thousands of those expecting posts in the government. Mussolini created an army of Blackshirts, and then, on the day when the king receives him and confirms him as prime minister, he says, ‘Now we have only one army’. But these people did not travel all over Italy because of Mussolini’s pretty face. They lived from their profession as White brigands. And if Mussolini relies only on the regular army and sends these people home, they will present their bill.
When Mussolini and the fascists helped the bourgeoisie suppress the working class, they absorbed all counter-revolutionary bourgeois forces. In fascism we see an agrarian wing and an industrial wing. And the struggle that the northern Italian industrial bourgeoisie must carry out against the southern Italian agrarians will lead to conflicts that will undermine fascism. Mussolini portrays a policy of the master race, of hostility to democracy. But by drawing the broad democratic masses into his movement, he has created within it a democratic wing.
And the very strength of fascism also represents the occasion for its death. Because it is a broad petty-bourgeois party, it was able to combat us on a broad front and muster up enthusiasm. But for this very same reason it will not be able to carry through the policies of Italian capitalism without provoking revolts in its own ranks. A few years ago, Comrade Serrati protested against our agrarian programme. But now the resurrection of the Italian party will be dependent on whether we are able to organise peasants against fascism. If our Italian Communist friends want to have a small, pure party, I must tell them frankly that a small, pure party can be readily accommodated in prison. There it can cultivate its spirit in a purified environment. But if the Italian Communist Party wants to become powerful, it will have to mobilise the proletarian and petty-bourgeois masses against fascism. Theoretical resolutions on the united front and reflections on fascism are not enough. Yes, even the heroism of a small band of Communists is not enough. We must be the masses’ cry for liberation.
Comrades, the capitalist offensive is now unfolding with growing strength in both economic and political spheres. This whole offensive poses of course the question: What are its prospects? Are we faced here with a wave of counter-revolution, taking over from the wave of revolution, as was the case in 1849? Have we passed through the entire cycle of revolution and counter-revolution? That is the basic question, and answering it is a precondition for all of our future policies. And here we must note that counter-revolution’s victory in 1849 was based on the economic upswing brought about by the opening of the California gold mines.
I will not delve into this; you can find it in the third volume of Marx’s papers. The European counter-revolution triumphed because it drew profits from the capitalist upswing, pressing it to make a compromise with the agrarians and provide some bread to the young working class, which diverted proletarians from thought of an uprising. The wave of counter-revolution now flowing over the world is best characterised as not based on a period of generalised economic upturn but rather as an attempt to use instruments of power to halt an economic decline. We need only consider the present situation of the British government to see that counter-revolution not only provides no solution but on the contrary aggravates the situation. It is enough to mention the most basic facts. British capitalism is challenged to end unemployment in conditions of a crisis in the Orient that it can delay but not resolve, as well as of increasing American competition, contraction of the British market, a catastrophic decline of the [German] mark, and sharpening conflict in India. The Conservatives will try to use force to halt this evolution, but they will only speed it up.
They will reinforce the chaos. In this regard Lloyd George is quite right to say, ‘You will only smash up everything’, opposing from his bourgeois point of view a victory of either the Labour Party or the Conservatives. Consider the policies of French reactionaries. Without a doubt they have temporarily strengthened France, but at the cost of producing a situation where one can say that France and Britain are effectively at war in the Orient. The Entente and European peace were saved only because both powers, on the edge of the abyss, pulled themselves together and stepped back.
But a compromise between British and French imperialism has become even less likely now that the most radical wing of British imperialism has triumphed, even though it poses as friendly to France. And as for Germany, there is no doubt that the collapse of the Wirth government and the coming to power of Stinnes will immensely aggravate the contradictions. Counter-revolution cannot provide bread or peace. That is why the present counter-revolutionary offensive, despite its ruthlessness, has no hope of success. Its duration will depend on the extent to which we are capable of going over to a counteroffensive. Its social basis is definitely narrow. It has neither the striking power nor the connections and foundations to wage a lengthy and victorious war.
Comrades, this brings us to the third aspect of our topic: the question of the working-class resistance. Comrades, even we Communists cannot say that we immediately understood the signs of the times. Last year, when the capitalist offensive was already in full swing, we were still striving to overcome the dispute about the proletarian offensive. But there is can be no doubt that we were the first to understand the signs of the times and to take the field to initiate proletarian resistance – and, where possible, to go over to a counteroffensive. It all began back in January 1921, with our policy of the Open Letter in Germany. This was only an empirical step, as was shown by the March events, which would have been impossible if we had thought through to the end the situation that led us to the Open Letter. Since the Third Congress we have understood the objective situation more and more thoroughly. When the Communist International launched the united front tactic, it showed that it is capable of leading not only the proletariat’s advance but also its defence.
Comrades, what are our plans for defence? Clarifying its foundations simultaneously provides an answer to our policy questions. The period of proletarian offensive was characterised by broader and broader masses joining in the assault against capitalism. Recall the mood of the proletariat in Germany in 1919, when not only Communists and Independents but also workers in the Scheidemann party [SPD] were convinced in the workplaces that socialism was on the march and that the only disagreement with Communists concerned method. Recall that in Britain in 1919 broad masses were thinking in terms of socialism, and that because of a foreign-policy question, support for Soviet Russia, Britain in the summer of 1920 was close to a mass strike. There is thus no question that what characterised the period of offensive by the working masses was a conscious struggle for power.
What characterises the world we now live in is that although world capitalism has not overcome its crisis, and the question of power is still objectively the core of every question, the broadest masses of the proletariat have lost the belief that they can conquer power in the foreseeable future. They have been forced onto the defensive.
Comrades, we combat the notion of coalition with the bourgeoisie, and we are right to do so. However, we observe that what is posed today is not a coalition of Social Democracy, of the workers’ parties, with the bourgeoisie. Rather the workers’ parties and even some of the liberal parties are being kicked out of all the bourgeois governments. And even given this fact, the working class in its majority remains passive. How else can we explain the response to the Social Democrats’ declaration at Görlitz that they were prepared to ally with Stinnes? Every worker understood that this was a capitulation by the Social Democracy. And to be sure, in some localities groups of workers came into motion. But there was no storm of protest by the German workers. The feeling in the working class that its strength is disappearing is perhaps the strongest reason why the unification of the Independents and the SPD took place so smoothly. (Germans: ‘Very true’) The workers are convinced that their power has vanished. That is why even the Independent workers, who were against coalition with the bourgeoisie, are now ready to unite with the Social Democrats, in order to cling to the last scrap of power.
This situation is thus that the idea of a struggle for power is for the moment not present among the broadest worker masses. Rather the entire situation has forced them backwards, and the great majority of the working class feels powerless. Given these facts, the conquest of power is not on the agenda as an immediate task. That is a historical fact. And if Communists answer every question, even that of state administration of dentistry, by saying that only under the dictatorship of the proletariat will teeth be extracted without pain, (Laughter) well, repeating that may possibly have propagandistic value, but it does not alter the fact that our own comrades, Communist workers, are convinced that the struggle for power is not possible at this time – even though we know that, sooner than some suppose, many states will tremble before a struggle for proletarian dictatorship.
From this it flows that – even leaving aside the question of the united front tactic – if we are going to pose only the political tasks that tie us to the broadest worker masses, we must above all conduct a struggle around questions that have the greatest immediate relevance to the broad working masses: questions of wages, hours of work, housing, defence against White danger, against the war danger, and all the issues of working people’s daily life. Communism does not consist of sticking one’s head in the sand and saying that it is not appropriate for such a good Communist as me to bother with things like this. Simply in order to hold to the banner of communism the workers we have already won, we must concentrate our struggle around these questions. Only in the broadening, deepening, and heightening of these struggles will a struggle for [proletarian] dictatorship arise.
The worker sees in the factory and in every strike that he cannot struggle for the most immediate and vital goals unless he does this together with the other workers.
And not just that. He sees that workers in their masses are united on these questions, without regard to their party affiliation. And because that is so, the Communist Party’s politics must explain how to deal with the fact that the workers put forward the same demands but are politically divided. Comrades, if we do not succeed in speaking to the masses as supporters of the conception of a proletarian united front, we will shrink down to a little handful. What gives our workers the strength to stay with the Communist Party in this period, indeed to draw new masses around them, is not merely our goal, not only the growing understanding of their most advanced layers that a proletarian dictatorship is necessary, but also the feeling that we are the unifying force in the working class. Never did I feel that more strongly than at the end of 1920, when I attended the unity convention in Berlin and spoke to comrades there. We split off all the forces from the Social Democracy that were prepared on the basis of their previous experience of revolution to embrace the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat. The workers who could not take that step perceived only the split. Meanwhile, the entire situation had temporarily driven our final goals into the background of the masses’ consciousness. Given this, our comrades believed that propaganda regarding the final goals and the split, no matter how indispensable and vital, cannot win over new and broad masses of workers.
They believed that they had to talk to workers about what the workers are thinking and feeling, how they are oppressed by unemployment and lack of food, indeed how they go hungry even when they are working. For the working masses, the idea of a united front means gathering the working class for a struggle against the suffering inflicted on them by capitalism in its disintegration.
The second question was, given the need for a united front, how was it to be implemented? Should it be by addressing the broadest masses of the proletariat with the call: Struggle with us under the banner of communism? Should we tell the workers that we reject all negotiations with the trade unions and leadership bodies?
It takes little thought to see that the idea of trying to achieve a united front in this manner is total nonsense. The Social Democratic workers know that their party is against the dictatorship [of the proletariat]. But they believe that the Social Democratic Party defends their interests, and that is why they still belong to it. Given that these workers are convinced that Scheidemann, Grassmann, Renaudel, and Jouhaux want to fight for the eight-hour day, they will say to us: Yes, quite right, we must fight together, but have you talked about this with Scheidemann, Renaudel, and Henderson?
Should we reply by telling them that Scheidemann is a traitor? If they agreed with us in this judgment of Scheidemann, we would not have to preach to them about that, they would be with us. But this judgment is precisely what divides us. That is why, despite this opinion, if we want a united front we must negotiate with the leaders of the Second International. The difference between the Second and the Communist International does not lie in the fact that we are for the dictatorship of the proletariat, while they are determined to fight for socialism with the methods of democracy. No, it is that they do not want to fight at all, not even for a crust of bread. When they have compromised themselves, when we have shown the masses in life that they do not want to fight and why they do not want to fight, then the road to the united front will be open.
Many comrades will say at this point that since we know this, we should avoid strengthening the illusions of the proletariat if it is only in order to then refute them. But this is not a matter of strengthening illusions, but rather of refuting them. They must be refuted not with words but with deeds. There are some odd birds in our party that are afraid the Social Democrats will not allow themselves to be exposed, but will perhaps struggle. I do not think there is anyone of sound mind that would not welcome it if the Social Democrats wanted to struggle. And when the Social Democrats reproach us, saying: ‘You come to us hiding a dagger. You want to embrace us in order to crush us’, we reply, ‘That depends on you. Show that you want to fight, and then we will travel at least a part of the road with you’. We do not fear that in the least.
When we came to the conference of the three executives, it was not with the intention of executing a manoeuvre and some dances that would make it clear that we were good dancers and the others were not. We came to organise the proletarian united front if possible from above, in order to enable the working class if not to move immediately to a counteroffensive, then at least to defend its positions. This plan failed. And not on the question of a world workers’ congress. If you analyse the situation, you will see that it failed because the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals counterposed to our plan for defence their plan for capitulation.
Comrades, the Russian question played a very great role here. And I must therefore spend a little time on this. It seemed to many comrades that the Social Democrats were engaged in a manoeuvre to utilise our struggle against the Mensheviks – who are members of the Two-and-a-Half International – to drive the latter away from the Communist International. Comrades, I do not overestimate the intellectual calibre of the Social Democratic leaders. It is possible that they were only carrying out a tactical manoeuvre. But the facts are what they are, even if this is not reflected in the mind of someone like Wels.
With regard to the Russian question, the Social Democrats of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals demanded from us that we legalise – I'm speaking not of how they presented it but what the content was – legalise the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries, and then they would support Soviet Russia. What did that signify? What is Soviet Russia fighting for? Soviet Russia is fighting to keep the factories and the land in the hands of the workers’ state. What is the programme of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries? The Mensheviks have now presented their programme in great clarity in articles by Martov and Dan: it is a return to capitalism and the abandonment of nationalised production. Martov formulates this position as follows: ‘End the obstacles for capitalist development in Russia!’ Thus the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals are willing to support Soviet Russia only if Soviet Russia legalises the parties that want to compel Soviet Russia to capitulate. And they pursue this goal in part through an alliance with Entente capitalism. We got the impression during the Genoa conference that these people were too stupid and blind to see that Soviet Russia is fighting so that the international working class will not be thrown back to the starting point of the revolution, back to 1914, when the factories were in the hands of capitalism in every country of the world, when there was not yet a proletarian state. The Mensheviks’ current statement shows that it is not just stupidity and blindness; it is their programme. Halt the struggle for socialism in Russia because, as Martov puts it, world revolution has been thrown back all down the line.
And what was the position of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals regarding defence of the elementary basic interests of the West European proletarian? When we called for a struggle for the eight-hour day and against reductions in wages, they of course did not openly tell us ‘no’. They told us they would not work with us unless we dissolved the Red International of Labour Unions. What does that mean? It means that until the Communists have given up the struggle against the trade union bureaucracy that sacrificed the eight-hour day internationally, carried through the lengthening of work shifts in Germany, betrayed the struggle of British miners on Black Friday, and is not only retreating all across the line but has already capitulated. When negotiations were broken off in Berlin, this meant socially and politically that we came with a plan for a defence campaign, and our opponents demanded of us that the Communist International and the portion of the working class supporting it should abandon the struggle. These were the social concepts that were starkly expressed around the question of a world workers’ congress. The leaders of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals were not prepared to struggle, and that is why the attempt to establish a united front from above broke down.
Comrades, the question we now face is whether we should abandon our efforts to establish the united front not only from below but from above. Our answer is that not only are we not giving up this plan, but we will redouble our efforts to bring it to reality. The Social Democratic leaders know very well that the beginning of such a campaign will have as its first result a break of their coalition with the bourgeoisie. They will have to quit the coalition before they get thrown out. And then, when Stinnes, Bonar Law, and Poincaré are in office, the whole situation will be so clear that they will have to rally their own forces to begin the struggle. And we must know that they will use every means to defend themselves against that, but we must work to create circumstances where they will be compelled to retreat from this stand. If they were able in May to sabotage the first attempt to create an inclusive united front, this is because we were not able to conduct a strong agitation for this idea among the masses. When our Berlin organisation was not able to bring delegations from five hundred factories to the Reichstag, it was clear that no matter how loud the proclamations in Rote Fahne, it would leave Wels cold. Things went better in the Rhineland and in Eberfeld, but the impact of events in the outlying regions is felt more slowly than those in the centre.
In France, the French comrades sabotaged this policy, even though without it they would decline not merely to the level of a political sect, but to one of political dilettantes.
In Italy, our friend Bordiga came upon the devilishly clever idea of a united front in the trade unions but not in politics!
When we talk of a struggle for the united front, we must first of all admit to ourselves that we have not yet conducted it as a unified Communist force. We have only taken the first steps in that direction.
Further, if our pressure was too small, we must increase and heighten it. But we may still not succeed all at once, on an international level, in inducing the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals to go with us, all the more in that they are now unifying. But that does not mean that we should reject negotiations at the leadership level. We should orient to the countries where the pressure is greatest. Our opponents have set up a barrier, and we will break through it frontally at the point where the pressure of the working masses is greatest. Of course we do not know whether this will succeed on an international scale. If it does not succeed, so much the worse for the Second International. For that would show that it is ordained to perish, that it does not understand how to jump off the bourgeoisie’s wagon and will crash down with this wagon into the abyss. This will take a great deal of work and time, but it is the only way to bring the masses into struggle and to the banner of communism.
In my concluding section, comrades, permit me to speak briefly regarding the slogans raised in struggle.
Our activity begins with the demand for wage increases, maintenance of the eight-hour day, and building the factory council movement. But these demands are not enough. Not only Communist workers but those with no party affiliation understand and will demand that they be paid one thousand marks a day, if they are unable to live on five hundred. But they will see that raising nominal wages is no solution. In the first stages of the struggle these demands are sufficient, but the more that the struggle expands, the more it will be necessary to raise political and organisational slogans. This is the moment at which we go over from defence to attack.
We have already raised these slogans at the Second World Congress, based on our general analysis of the decay of capitalism and the tasks of the proletariat. I examined them in my report at the Third Congress. We proposed first of all the slogan of control of production. This demand is needed to give workers a perspective, showing them that the proletariat is capable of halting economic disintegration.
It shows them a perspective of economic reconstruction that leads out of the chaos. The struggle for this demand will lead to the question of state power, because the bourgeoisie will do all possible to block reconstruction carried out at their cost.
The Communist parties must therefore not merely advance the slogan of control of production from time to time in an article or some congress, but make it a central factor in their movement. They must succeed in showing the workers that if we do not utilise control of production in the factories and workplaces to take hold of the power, the economic chaos will grow worse every day. Control of production is a slogan that shows the masses a way forward, an idea guiding them through the next period. Suppose that we raise a slogan against taxes, namely that the bourgeoisie should carry the burden through seizure of material assets, this slogan is left hanging in the air unless bodies of proletarian control exist that are capable of rooting the slogan in reality.
Comrades, these questions will be discussed on a broad scale by the Communist parties as part of the question of our programme. Some comrades of the International may believe, for example, that the notion of confiscating material assets is just a German specialty, but given the escalating devaluation of the currency in France, Italy, and a number of other countries, this issue can become the starting point of proletarian struggles. In such a struggle we will be met by bourgeois violence. This raises the need for a slogan regarding our relationship to armed force. The demand that armed power be concentrated in the hands of the workers, organised in trade unions, is closely related to the proletariat’s defensive struggles and will arise spontaneously everywhere.
And I now come to a question that plays a major role in our struggle against the capitalist offensive and to which Comrade Zinoviev gave considerable attention in his presentation on tactics: the workers’ government. Comrade Zinoviev offered an abstract classification of the possible forms of a workers’ government. I agree with this attempt at classification. I would expand it only with reference to the forms of workers’ and peasants’ governments possible in countries like Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, and so on.
It is important for us here to replace the abstract classification with the question: What do the worker masses – not just the Communists – think of when they talk of a workers’ government? I will limit myself to the countries in which this concept has already won a response: Britain, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. In Britain they think of the Labour Party. Communism does not have mass influence there. In the countries where capitalism is in decomposition, this concept is closely bound together with the united front. Workers think that united front means that when there is a strike in the factories, Communists and Social Democrats do not fight each other but work together. The idea of a workers’ government has the same meaning for the working masses: they think of a government of all workers’ parties.
What are the stakes for the masses here, both practically and politically? This question demands an answer. And how do we approach this question? If we look into the question of how likely it really is for such a workers’ coalition government to come into being, we can come up with a thousand stimulating answers. We can say that the workers’ government is not inevitable, but possible. Or, following Comrade Zinoviev, we can say paradoxically that it is not inevitable but is probably the most improbable. The question will be decided politically by whether Social Democracy will stand by the bourgeoisie right to its death. If that is the case, then a workers’ government is possible only as a dictatorship of the Communist proletariat. We cannot decide the policies of Social Democracy. The question we must decide when we go to the masses in our struggle against the capitalist offensive is whether or not we are prepared to struggle for a workers’ coalition government and create the preconditions for it.
Supposedly theoretical calculations can only confuse this question for the masses. In my opinion, in our struggle for the united front, we should say frankly that if the Social Democratic worker masses force their leaders to break with the bourgeoisie, we are ready to take part in a workers’ government, provided this government is a vehicle for class struggle. But, let me stress, only if the Social Democracy is prepared to fight together with us. Imagine that we had a situation where chickens fell fully roasted from the skies, where nothing had changed in the German state: Stinnes had the coal; the monarchists had the army, and Scheidemann had only Wilhelmstrasse. Imagine we too were invited to Wilhelmstrasse, and our Comrade Meyer appears, dressed in tails, (Laughter) taking by the arm Comrade Ruth Fischer, who is bristling, (Laughter) and escorts her into the Reich Chancellery. If such historical conditions existed, such a proposal would run into a hitch, as follows. First of all, a lieutenant with ten men would appear and remove comrades Meyer, Scheidemann, and Ruth Fischer, and that would be the end of the workers’ government.
But the struggle against the capitalist offensive is not a matter of parliamentary coalitions but a platform to mobilise the masses and wage struggle. What’s at issue is whether the Social Democrats will continue to rot in the coalition; or whether they will be heaved out and will sit in some quiet corner complaining; or whether we will help the masses to compel them to take up the struggle. It could be countered that there’s no reason for us to cudgel our brains over what they will do. If it were just a matter of the Social Democratic leadership, we would certainly prefer to just let them rot. But if it is a question of mobilising the Social Democratic worker masses, we must have a positive programme. To what degree does this contradict the dictatorship of the proletariat and civil war? The contradiction is similar to that between the porch and the front door. ('Very true!’) If the house is locked, we can also get in through the wall or down the chimney.
Urbahns: Blood has flowed down that chimney.
Radek: This is the first time I've heard that the proletariat prefers to build its barricades on the roof. Even if the bourgeoisie in some country hands over the government to the Social Democracy and the Communists, and the Hungarian example shows us that this is not excluded, this will lead to a period of fierce struggles. There can also be a situation similar to Germany on 9 November , when the bourgeoisie simply vanished. They may find themselves in a situation where they hand over power to us in the hope that we will not be able to hold it. Whether we come to power through civil war or through a breakdown of the bourgeoisie, workers’ government will lead to civil war. The working class will not be able to stay in power without civil war. Not that we Communists believe that we cannot live without civil war, the way Tom Sawyer got the Black man to believe he would be freed by an underground gang, when in reality the doors stood wide open. It’s not that we would say we refuse to accept power without a civil war, that without a civil war we will simply be miserable (Laughter) but for the simple reason cited by Comrade Zinoviev: the bourgeoisie may break down at this or that moment, but ultimately it will not surrender power without a bitter struggle.
If the Social Democrats are not capable of struggle, then we will advance right over them. If a workers’ government comes into being, it will be only the starting point for a struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie will not tolerate a workers’ government, even if it is democratically constituted. The Social Democratic worker simply has no choice. He must become a Communist and wage civil war to defend his rule. I therefore believe that in practice, as events unfold, we are will not be threatened by major dangers of getting stuck in the mud. Provided, of course, that it’s a matter of genuine class struggles, not of parliamentary governmental combinations in small isolated regions like Brunswick or Thuringia, where we can take part in the government without civil war – not that I am saying that such questions count for nothing. The workers’ government slogan is important to guide us. It conceives of the united front as a unified political goal. The moment when workers come together to fight for the workers’ government and control of production will mark the beginning of our counteroffensive. For our offensive begins when we no longer limit ourselves to defending what exists and what is passing away, but rather struggle for new conquests.
The Communists cannot bring this offensive about artificially. The great error of the March battles  was the attempt to substitute our own party’s will to struggle for the struggle of the broad masses. Our will to struggle must find expression in the way we appeal to the masses and organise them. It is characteristic of the state of the workers’ movement that even in the countries where we have the best Communist Parties, our Communist agitation is abstract in nature and is not carried forward by the passion of masses who are convinced that they are fighting for goals that can really soon be achieved.
It all gives the impression of pure agitation. Comrades, we don’t want our discussions to die of anaemia; we don’t want our congresses to sink to the level of a party caucus, in which discussion is limited to theoretical tendencies of development. To avoid that, our parties must in fact pursue a different practical political course – different not in terms of its political line but in terms of the energy of their struggle. And in discussing the capitalist offensive, comrades, we must recognise that to carry out a change before we can break through to the non-Communist masses.
Many comrades have the impression that the Communist International can only flourish rosy-cheeked at a moment when the revolutionary tide is rising and the proletarian masses are on the attack.
The Communist International is not only the party that will conquer power but also the party of the struggle for power. That is why it is nonsense to think we're suffering through some kind of hangover in which the party cannot fight. This would make the Communist International a parasite of proletarian world revolution, instead of a fighter. We must avoid a mood of disappointment and of waiting for the revolution. Our slogan must be struggle for every inch of ground. All our discussions have a common purpose, namely to grasp that we can build Communist parties only subject to the condition that this is done not in some room where resolutions are written and studied but by carrying out our duties in the practical struggle, in the proletarian united front, in struggle over the questions posed to us today by history. And anyone who sees a contradiction between the line of united front and the process of unifying and strengthening the Communist parties understands nothing about the tasks of the Communist International. We must have solid parties in order to sustain the united front, just as we must fight for the united front in order to have strong parties. (Loud applause)
7. In April 1917, a group of Russian revolutionists in Switzerland – Bolsheviks except for a few members of the Bund – received permission from German authorities to travel by train through Germany to neutral Sweden, from which they proceeded to Petrograd. Among the forty travellers were Lenin and Radek.
8. The Russian text reads, ‘shortened the working day by three to four hours’.
9. In the two battles on the Marne River, fought in 1914 and 1918, the French army turned back advancing German forces.
10. In the Taff Vale case (1900 – 1901), the British House of Lords ruled that a union could be held liable for economic loss caused to employers by decisions of its leaders in industrial disputes, effectively making strikes illegal. The ruling was nullified in 1906 by the passing of the Trades Disputes Act.
11. During a European journey in 1837, British utopian socialist Robert Owen obtained an interview with the Austrian foreign minister, Metternich, and laid before him proposals for social reform through producers’ cooperatives. Owen later explained that his presentation was based on two memorials presented to European governments in 1818.
12. The Genoa conference (10 April – 19 May 1922) was convened to discuss economic reconstruction in Eastern Europe, and especially measures to improve relations with Soviet Russia. The inclusion of Russia among the thirty-four invited governments was a significant gain for the Soviet republic. However, negotiations broke down over French and British insistence that Russia fully pay the debts incurred under tsarism before 1914 and fully restore nationalised foreign-owned property.
It was during the conference (16 April) that Russia and Germany signed the Rapallo Treaty to normalise relations and strengthen economic and military cooperation.
An attempt was made to overcome the Genoa deadlock at the Hague conference (26 June – 20 July 1922), with equally negative results.
13. The Cannes conference of the five main Allied powers met 6 – 13 January 1922 to formulate a response to Germany’s failure to pay reparations as demanded. During the conference, on 12 January, the French government headed by Briand fell. He was replaced as premier by Poincaré, who demanded greater intransigence in imposing reparations. The conference agreed on temporary adjustments of reparations payments, but most issues were left unresolved.
14. Postwar Austria, as delimited by the Paris peace treaties, was economically unviable – cut off by tariff barriers from traditional markets, barred from seeking economic integration with Germany, and burdened by reparations. By 1922, the Austrian currency had collapsed; the government, deeply indebted to foreign powers, was bankrupt; and much of the population was destitute. In August 1922, Austria appealed for help to the League of Nations, which demanded in return full control of Austrian national finances. The Austrian government accepted this condition, which was embodied in a protocol adopted by an international conference in Geneva on 4 October. The League appointed a Commissioner-General to take charge of Austrian finances; control of Austria’s currency was transferred to a League-supervised bank; and eighty-four thousand public employees were dismissed. Austria obtained additional loans of US$130 million during the League’s trusteeship, which lasted until 1926.
15. Possession of the city of Fiume, on the northern Adriatic, had been disputed at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference by Italy and newly constituted Yugoslavia. While negotiations continued, in September 1919, an Italian nationalist militia detachment led by D'Annunzio seized the city. Fiume retained de facto independence until 1924, when the territory was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia.
16. See Serrati’s comments in the Second Congress, Riddell (ed.), Workeres of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991), vol. 2, pp. 653 – 4.
17. Radek is probably thinking of volume 3 of Marx’s Theories of Surplus Value (Marx 2000). The California gold rush is also briefly mentioned in Chapter 35 of the third volume of Marx’s Capital.
18. After Turkish nationalist forces completed the reconquest of Anatolia in September 1922, they advanced into the Allied-occupied region of the Straits, approaching the British garrison at Chanak (Çanakkale) on the south shore of the Dardanelles. French and Italian contingents withdrew, but the British held firm and made preparations for war, declaring that Turkish forces would not be permitted to cross the Straits and re-enter Constantinople (Istanbul). British resolve soon weakened, and on 3 October they began negotiations with Turkish representatives in Mudanya, on the south shore of the Sea of Marmara. On 11 October, the British signed an armistice that conceded the essence of Turkish demands, including Turkish occupation of Constantinople.
19. Wirth, who headed a coalition government with the SPD, had resigned as chancellor of Germany the day before Radek’s speech, on 14 November 1922. He was replaced on 22 November by Wilhelm Cuno, leading a government considered to represent leading figures in German industry such as Stinnes.
20. Proponents of the ‘theory of the offensive’ feared that ‘at the decisive moment, the party would not be capable of revolutionary action; concern regarding a premature uprising was downgraded’. Radek reflected this thinking in a letter to some German CP leaders in March 1921 in urging the need for ‘incessant pressure for action, to impart to the Communist masses the idea that they need engage in action’. This approach found support during 1920 – 21 among members of the ECCI’s inner leadership, including Zinoviev, Radek, and Bukharin, and among German party leaders who spearheaded the March Action in 1921; it was rejected by the Third Comintern Congress in June – July 1921.
21. On 8 January 1921 the KPD addressed an open letter to other German workers’ organisations, calling for united action for immediate demands of the workers’ movement, including defence of workers’ living standards, self-defence against violent rightist attacks, liberation of workers in political detention, and renewal of trade relations with the Soviet Union.
22. The March Action in 1921 began as a defensive response to police occupation of workers’ strongholds in central Germany; the KPD tried unsuccessfully to broaden it into a national anti-government general strike. Max Hoelz was the leader of a workers’ fighting contingent. Many leaders of the KPD, including Zetkin and Levi, considered the party’s tactics during this action to have been adventurist and ultraleft. The dispute was taken to the Third Congress, which endorsed many of the criticisms.
23. The foreign-policy question that sparked a labour upsurge in 1920 was the British government’s plan to aid Poland in its war against Soviet Russia.
24. Stinnes was a leader of the right-wing DVP (German Peoples’ Party). The SPD’s Görlitz convention of September 1921 accepted the possibility of joining in a governmental coalition with the DVP, which had not previously been an SPD coalition partner.
25. At the Berlin convention of 4 – 7 December 1920, the KPD (Spartacus League) and the pro-Comintern majority of the USPD joined to form the VKPD (United Communist Party of Germany).
26. Radek is referring to the Conference of the Three Internationals held in Berlin, 2 – 5 April 1921.
27. On Black Friday (15 April 1921), leaders of the British transport and rail workers’ unions broke their pledge of unity with the mine workers’ union by rejecting strike action in support of the miners’ struggle against wage reductions.
28. Galloping inflation in Germany made it impractical to finance the government through taxes calculated in currency. Workers’ organisations, including the SPD, responded in 1921 – 23 by demanding ‘confiscation of real values’ as a means of taxing the rich. The KPD advanced a radical version of this demand.
29. Wilhelmstrasse, a street in central Berlin, was the administrative centre of the German state, housing the Reich Chancellery.
30. On 9 November 1918, a workers’ and soldiers’ revolution brought down the imperial German government, and power passed momentarily into the hands of workers’ and soldiers’ councils. However, an SPD-USPD provisional government organised a rapid transition to parliamentary capitalist rule.