Karl Radek
Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Speech in Discussion of the Eastern Question

November 23, 1922

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. 727-735.
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, we must examine the path we have trodden since the Second Congress with regard to our relationship to the movements in the East. You recall that at the Second Congress we advanced the thesis that the movement in the East had the greatest revolutionary importance, and that the Communist International had to support this movement. This position aroused a hullaballoo, not only in the capitalist world that had very good reason to fear our decision, but also in the parties of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals. You need only recall how Crispien and Hilferding told the Halle congress that we ascribed greater importance to the mullahs in Khiva than to any industrial proletariat or to a party like the independent German Social Democracy.[38]

Comrades, history has shown how right we were and how wrong were these gentlemen who talked with their West European arrogance about mullahs from Khiva. You recall how after the Congress of Peoples of the East in Baku people abused us for allying with the ‘Turks’. And what has been shown by experience, by history? The Peace of Versailles exists despite all of Hilferding’s protests, and Hilferding and his colleagues are now ready to join the government in order to act as lackeys of the Entente. Powerless pawns of history, the Hilferdings can only bemoan their misfortunes to the world.

But the revolutionary movement in Turkey, the struggle of the Turkish masses, to which we pledged our support, has torn up the Treaty of Sèvres. And while the entire Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals constitute a nullity compared to capitalism, this struggle in Turkey shook the entire West European balance of power. And thereby was the question answered whether these movements in the East are revolutionary in character, whether they are important in undermining capitalist power, or whether they are just a plaything of Soviet Russia’s foreign policy, which the Communist International is going along with.

After the importance of the Eastern question had been made plain to all, even for the blind, these gentlemen come with a new song. This time it is one of the chairpersons at our Second Congress, Paul Levi, now deceased as a Communist, who gives the cue for this melody. Now it is no longer that the Eastern peoples and the revolution in the East are of no importance. Rather the story now is: Look! The victory of Kemal Pasha is a victory for Poincaré. And by supporting Kemal Pasha, Soviet Russia was also supporting Poincaré. And Paul Levi says: See how far they have gone!

This move by Levi shows better than all his articles over German internal politics how he has personally landed on a slippery slope, and also how completely rotten is international Social Democracy. It does not grasp that different forces are at work in a great world-historical development. It does not grasp that the revolutionary struggle of Eastern peoples may be exploited and utilised by the quarrelling cliques of international imperialism, but that does not alter the revolutionary character of its struggle or relieve the world proletariat of its obligation to support the revolutionary currents in the East.

These petty hagglers of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals do not understand that the fact that capitalist powers try to convert the Eastern peoples into tools of capitalism is simply one more reason why the international working class is obligated to do all in its power to help the Eastern peoples to unite with the European and world workers’ movement in the struggle against world capitalism.

When Levi and company now say that the victory of Turkey is a victory for France, their prophecy comes two weeks too soon. The Lausanne conference will portray how the awakening East is opposed by a united front of world capitalism.[39] France wants to play the role in the East that Germany played before the war. France wants to confront Britain with a fairly large Turkish territory, but not in order to make this territory independent but rather to subject it to French expansion. That is why the French government, having helped Turkey defeat Greece, will now leave Turkey in the lurch.

France will take the same position as British imperialism regarding the capitulations and financial control over Turkey. Then we will see who was right: the revolutionary forces – the Communist International and Soviet Russia – who resolved to support the movement in the East through all the confusion, because in its core it is a revolutionary movement; or by contrast those whose fear and anxiety leads them at every point to lose perspective on what is coming next.

This brings me to my second point, which played a role in the reports of our Turkish comrades. Our thesis was that the exploited East must and will defend itself against international capital. That is why we support the exploited East. However, the Eastern peoples are now led by those who are not only not Communists but for the most part not even bourgeois revolutionaries. They are still headed by representatives of moribund feudal cliques, out of which the officer corps and bureaucracy in these countries has been constituted.

Our support for the Eastern peoples therefore raises the question of our relationship to these governing forces. The question is posed in practice by the persecution of Communists in Turkey and by the struggles waged in recent weeks by Wu Peifu in China against strikers. As Communists, we are able to express our position on these matters fully and with complete frankness. When we promised our support to the awakening East, we did not for a moment forget the class struggles that will take place there.

In the Communist Manifesto of 1847, Marx was writing not only for the German workers when he said: Support the bourgeoisie to the degree that its actions are revolutionary. He even called on the revolutionary forces in Poland to grant support to the wing of the Polish great landowners, the aristocracy, who took a revolutionary position in the peasant question.[40] What does this tell us? He knew very well that a bourgeoisie remains a bourgeoisie, that the Polish aristocrats remain aristocrats. He knew that the young workers’ movement will have to wage a class struggle against these alien and hostile classes. But he understood that the interests of this class struggle and of its future development at that historical moment demanded support for these classes, despite the class antagonisms.

Comrades, the persecution of Communists in Turkey is part of a class struggle that has just begun to develop in that country, not only between the working class and the young bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy, but also in the camp of these ruling layers.

It is no secret that the main responsibility for the persecution of Communists lies with ministers of the interior Rauf Orbay and Refet Pasha, who are both for a compromise with the Entente and were opponents of the sultan. It is no secret that the deposition of the sultan in Turkey unleashed a struggle.[41] The question now is whether the revolutionary forces in the ruling class will capitulate to the reactionaries or not. If they capitulate, then the role of Kemal Pasha is finished, haggling over the fate of Turkey will resume, and the Turkish people will be sold for baksheesh. If they do not capitulate, they will have to counterpose the resistance of the masses to the impact of the clergy, the reactionary pashas, and all the corrupt forces.

It is not clear which side will win, but we do not regret for a moment that we told the Turkish Communists that their first task after organising themselves as a separate party is to support the national liberation movement in Turkey. At stake here is the future of the Turkish people as a whole – whether the way for them will be cleared or whether they will become the slaves of world capitalism. If the pashas sell the Turkish people, if the entire burden of the capitulations, financial control, and all the rest on falls on the Turkish peasants, then they will understand that it is the Communists and the young working class who have fought for their interests, and they will unite around the Communist Party.

And even in this moment of persecution, we tell the Turkish Communists: Do not in the present situation forget the immediate future. The task of defending Turkish sovereignty, which has great international revolutionary importance, is not over. You should defend yourself against your persecutors, you should return blow for blow, but you should understand that historically the moment for the liberation struggle has not arrived; you will still have to travel a considerable way with the revolutionary forces that are even now only beginning to crystallise out in Turkey.

Or take the situation in China. Remember the course of events, comrades. When Wu Peifu went into battle with Zhang Zuolin, he had behind him the line of the Yangtze River and its arsenals, but he did not control the northern railways, which were held by people in the pay of Japan. What did he do? He turned to the young Communist Party of China for support. They gave him commissars, who kept a firm hold on the railways for his troops, who were waging a revolutionary struggle there.

Anyone who fights in China against Japanese imperialism is fighting for China’s revolutionary development. Because the Communists understood that, they created in the working class a sense of their independence and importance. Later, the workers made their demands on Wu Peifu and in part achieved them. Through this support and by carrying their historical obligations to the revolutionary bourgeois forces, our comrades succeeded in establishing themselves among the working masses of North China.

The Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals constantly tell us: You fools, don’t you understand that the Enver Pashas and Wu Peifus will always betray you, again and again. To this we reply: Worthy gentlemen of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, so long as there is a petty bourgeoisie – and you are part of it – it will waver between capitalism and the working class. And you, who call yourselves socialists, have already betrayed the working class a thousand times. Still we come to you, after each betrayal, and try to win you to the united front, which you resist. And the joke of the story is that you are driven into it. Whether you want to or not, and despite your betrayals, you will be obliged to march with us once again and serve our cause.

Remember the events in Germany! Did not the German Social Democracy, who had brought the Lüttwitz people to power, then fight during the Kapp putsch side by side with the Communist workers?[42] True, at a later stage they betrayed once again. But nonetheless this struggle, which they were compelled to fight together with us, was a service to the working class, for obviously a Kapp government would have been much worse than what we have now. All the more are betrayals and turnabouts possible in the East, where the government is in the hands not even of the petty bourgeoisie but of a moribund feudal class. They will try a thousand times to sell themselves to this or that faction of world capitalism; they will try a thousand times to betray the revolutionary interests of their country, but the joke of history is that der Bien muss – they've got no choice.[43] They must fight, because in the long run a compromise with imperialism is impossible.

The pashas can of course conclude a compromise, in order to assure themselves of a good life, but when they try tomorrow to dupe the Anatolian peasants, in order to pay for the compromise, they will discover that it was not in vain that history subjected the Turkish peasants to twelve years of war. The peasant is now a different person from what he was before the war.

A Social Revolutionary publication, which certainly does not write flatteringly of Soviet Russia, prints a letter from Constantinople. Describing the impact produced by the victories of Kemal Pasha, it says: There were two cries on the streets, where tens and hundreds of thousands of people were gathered, ‘Long live Kemal Pasha’, and ‘Long live Soviet Russia’. The masses knew that the French had helped as well, but no cries rang out for France. For they felt instinctively that France acted because of diplomatic considerations, sometimes for Turkey and sometimes against. But Soviet Russia, despite centuries of struggle between tsarism and Turkey, had rejected tsarism’s imperialist policies and wanted to establish fraternal relations with the Turkish people. And this fact has sunk roots in the consciousness of the Turkish people. It leads down the road of victory.

And that is why we say, from the point of view not of Soviet Russia but of the Communist International, don’t try to scare us! We are placing our bets not on the transitory policies of this or that clique, but on the great historical stream that brings together the West European working masses and the awakening masses of the East.

Comrades, I'd now like to say a few words about the reports and what was said here regarding the state of our parties in the East and their work.

As always, comrades, I'd like to begin by saying you should not have too rosy a view of the situation. Do not exaggerate your strength. The Chinese comrade says here: We have sunk roots across all China. I must reply: Dear comrades, it is good to feel enough strength at the beginning to get the work under way. But you must look the facts in the face. Our Chinese party has developed quite separately in each of the country’s two parts.

The comrades working in Canton [Guangzhou] and in Shanghai have made very little headway in linking themselves to the working masses. We struggled with them for a whole year because many believed: How can a good Communist get involved in such everyday matters as strikes. Many of our comrades there locked themselves in their room to study Marx and Lenin, as they had once studied Confucius.

That was the situation a couple of months ago. How is it possible that the cause of revolution, which has already taken a blow with the fall of Sun Yat-Sen, is suddenly such a strong force? In the North, where the party is quite weak and enjoys support only among the railway workers, how can it represent great power? Comrade Thalheimer gave us a quotation from Lenin, in which he said: Don’t boast of your victory before the fact. That is an excellent saying, one to learn and understand, just like the proverbs of the Chinese sages of old.

The first task of the Chinese comrades is to focus on what the Chinese movement is capable of. Comrades, you must understand that in China neither the victory of socialism nor the establishment of a Soviet republic is on the agenda. Unfortunately, even the question of national unity has not yet been historically placed on the agenda in China. What we are experiencing in China is reminiscent of the eighteenth century in Europe, in Germany, where the development of capitalism was still so weak that it had not yet given rise to a single unifying national centre.

When you speak of the tuchuns, the military governors; when you proclaim: Here we have Sun Yat-Sen and there Wu Peifu – what does that tell us? It means that capitalism is beginning to develop in a whole number of different centres. With a population of more than 300 million people, without railways – how can it be any different? We have wide perspectives, which you should advocate with all the fire of your youthful Communist convictions. Despite that, our task consists of unifying the real forces taking shape in the working class with two goals: first, organising the young working class, and second, establishing a proper relationship between them and the objectively revolutionary bourgeois forces, in order to organise the struggle against European and Asiatic imperialism.

We are only beginning to understand these tasks, and that is why, comrades, we must be aware that to become stronger we have to establish a concrete programme of action. The Communist International tells the Communist parties of the West: Go to the masses! So too, what we say to you is: Get out of the Confucian scholars’ reading rooms and go to the masses! Not only the masses of workers, not only the coolies, but also the massive peasant population that has been stirred up by these events.

I will move on to Japan and India. In both countries the relationship of forces is quite similar. In both Japan and India there is quite a strong working class. Both countries are experiencing a severe social crisis, in which different layers of the bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy are contending for power, and in neither country do we yet have a mass Communist movement. That is a fact. Look at the appeals that Comrade Katayama assembled in the most recent issue of Kommunistische Internationale regarding the situation in Japan, which are extremely interesting.[44] In these appeals, published legally by different groups of workers, you find an entire spectrum of viewpoints from Tolstoyism over to syndicalism and communism and including even the most elementary social reform. And I must say that in this choir of voices, that of communism is the weakest.

Why is this? Previously, we were still uninformed about the mood of the workers, who are going through a period similar to the British Chartists.[45] We did not succeed in building bridges to the specific tasks that are now before them. These consist of organising the working class as a power that can intervene in the class struggle in Japan, above all to establish democracy.

I do not believe that developments in Japan will simply repeat those in Britain. One hundred years have passed, and obviously the pace of developments in Japan will be more rapid. The entire history will be compressed, and as a result even in this bourgeois revolution now being prepared in Japan, soviets will arise, not as organs of power but as organs unifying the working class. But now we have to form trade unions and advance a sensible programme that presents the working class with immediate tasks. And the immediate task is to lead the working class into struggle as an organised force.

In India we have an intellectual centre. It must be acknowledged here that what Comrade Roy has succeeded in creating in recent years – a Marxist orientation to Indian reality, presented in his outstanding book and in his newspaper – represents a very great labour. No Communist party of the East has carried out intellectual work on its own; this work deserves the strongest support of the Communist International. But in practice, during the present flare-up of strikes, we have made no progress with India’s large trade union movement.[46] We have not found a way under the British occupation to utilise the rights that it is compelled to provide. The reception received by Comrade Roy shows that legal possibilities exist there. We have not succeeded in taking even the first practical steps as 47a workers’ party. And all this tells us that ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’.[47] And when comrades complain here that there is not yet great interest in their work, I must reply that interest in parties is tied to their deeds.

It has been explained for the twentieth time at a congress that there are many workers in Iran. These are things that we learn not from a congress but from a geography textbook.

Comrades, let me express the hope that we will succeed at this congress in steering the work that you and our Eastern division have achieved onto a practical track, so that we are able at the next congress to report on practical organisational achievements. If that happens, then the International will be aware not only of the great importance of the Eastern question but also that you are carrying out work that is in step with its great importance.

Comrades, the world situation has changed since the time of the Second Congress. At that congress our political line in the East was oriented toward immediate and broad revolutionary uprisings. This was not made explicit, but all the delegates from the East felt it.[48] As for the present world situation, we find ourselves around the world in a period where the revolution is gathering its forces. This has an impact on the situation in the Eastern countries as well. If we are to play a revolutionary role in these countries in the coming period, we must set the goal of accomplishing a vast organisational, political, and intellectual labour.

Of course the revolutions of the East will not wait until our comrades in every country have learned that revolution does not signify reading and digesting the theses of the Communist International but carrying out practical revolutionary work among the masses. But when great events develop in the East similar to those in Turkey today, where we are weak and unorganised, then they will take place without us and we will not be able to influence them in a revolutionary direction. Therefore the slogan of this congress in the Eastern question must be to go to the tormented masses of the East, to work for their education, and to create solid bastions of the Communist International in the East that are capable of carrying out practical work for the struggle before us and of influencing the broad masses. And then, after we have gathered the workers around us, we must go to the peasants and craftsmen and become the leaders of a future people’s party. (Loud applause)



38. At the Second Congress, attended by Crispien, Baba Akhunde Samilov presented greetings from working people of Khorezm (Khiva), an independent Soviet republic recently formed in Central Asia. Social Democratic opponents of the Comintern made much of its alliance with Islamic revolutionists, some of whom were clerics, in Khiva and elsewhere in Asia. The Comintern developed its views on this alliance at the Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku in 1920. See Riddell (ed.), To See the Dawn: First Congress of the Peoples of the East (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1993).

39. The Lausanne conference convened 20 November 1922 to resolve the international crisis provoked by the victory of the Turkish independence movement and the collapse of the Treaty of Sèvres. After much negotiation, a treaty was signed 24 July 1923, recognising Turkish sovereignty over all the territory of the present-day Turkish republic. Turkey accepted certain measures for demilitarisation of the Straits, which were revoked in 1936. Turkey was thus the first defeated power of the World War to shake itself free of the imposed peace treaty and achieve a new agreement consistent with its basic demands.

40. See Marx and Engels Collected Works, vol. 6, p. 518.

41. On 1 November 1922 the Turkish Grand National Assembly declared the office of sultan abolished, and on 17 November, the deposed sultan Mehmed left Constantinople aboard a British warship and went into exile in Italy.

42. After the November 1918 revolution, the SPD-USPD government appointed the German general Walther von Lüttwitz to command army forces in Berlin. In this capacity he organised the brutal suppression of a workers’ uprising in January 1919, during which soldiers under his command murdered Liebknecht and Luxemburg. In March 1920, Lüttwitz joined with Wolfgang Kapp in a right-wing military coup that briefly overthrew the republican government that included the SPD. The coup was defeated by united workers’ resistance encompassing both SPD and KPD.

43. The joke is German dialect humour, first recorded in 1597, about a foreigner talking of bees supposedly as large as sheep. How then can the bee fly into its hive? ‘Der Bien muss’ – the bee just has to do it.

44. See Kommunistische Internationale, 23 (1922), pp. 54 – 62.

45. The Chartists were a mass working-class movement in Britain from 1838 into the 1850s, which demanded universal manhood suffrage and other democratic reforms.

46. See M.N. Roy, ‘The Indian Trade Union Congress’, in Inprecorr, 2, 1 (3 January 1922), p. 4; and ‘The Railroad Strike in India’, in Inprecorr, 2, 3 (10 January 1922), pp. 295 – 6.

47. The quoted words are in English in the German text.

48. The orientation to immediate revolutionary uprisings in the East was made explicit in the Comintern’s 1920 Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East, in which Radek participated. The congress called on Asian peoples to ‘go forward as one man in a holy war’ for the ‘liberation of the peoples of the East’. To See the Dawn, p. 231.