Source: New International, Vol. XXI No. 2, Summer 1955, pp. 98–119.
Translated: by Max Shachtman;
Transcribed & marked up: by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
With this issue we begin the publication of extensive extracts from a work of capital importance and interest. Although the original French edition of Alfred Rosmer’s book has already been translated and published in Italy, an English edition has yet to be issued. We are all the happier to be able to provide our readers with an English translation and although it is not possible, to our great regret, to publish the entire work in our pages for that would spread it over too long a period of time, the bulk of the book will, with the kind consent of the author, be printed here in substantial installments.
“The destiny of the Russian Revolution,” writes Rosmer in his preface, “the daily gymnastics of recent years which are designated as ‘Marxism-Leninism,’ pose important questions: Is Stalin continuing Lenin? Is the totalitarian regime only another form of what was called the dictatorship of the proletariat? Was the worm already in the fruit? Is Stalinism ‘a logical and almost inevitable development of Leninism,’ as Norman Thomas asserts? In order to reply, you must first know the facts, the ideas, the men, just as they were in the heroic days of the Revolution; a preliminary work of excavation is necessary, for they have been systematically buried under successive layers of varying falsehoods. My work is aimed at helping restore them as they were in truth. I will simply say: I was there; this is how it was. My intention is to facilitate the task of those who are interested in the history of those times by placing every fact in its true light, by giving every text its full sense.”
Alfred Rosmer comes to his task uniquely equipped. He is the only survivor among the founders of the Communist International who is in a position to write about the history of its early years out of intimate and direct knowledge, which he communicates with sympathetic understanding, objectivity and critical independence of judgment. The idea of justifying everything that was said and everything that was done, even in the “heroic days of the Revolution,” is alien to him. So is the practise of retailing, let alone inventing, malicious gossip about all sorts of trivialities, which is the stock-in-trade of a whole school of embittered turncoats and cheap jack sensationalists, and which always warps and shreds the great canvas of great events beyond recognition. The present work again justifies the exceptional reputation for intellectual integrity and historical scrupulosity which the author has had in the eyes of all who have known him from his earliest days as a syndicalist militant in the French General Confederation of Labor which he served for years before the First World War as editor of its then famous paper, La Vie Ouvrière, throughout his years in the Communist and then the Trotskyist movements, to the present day, where he continues an unflagging dedication to the cause of socialist liberty in his writings and his presidency of the Cercle Zimmerwald, the association of the French left-wing militants who remain pledged to the principles of internationalism.
The present translation is the work of Max Shachtman. – EDITOR.
In the pre-Congress discussions, the feeling that was dominant among all the delegates was a profound desire, a thought-out wish for agreement; for all of them the October Revolution and the Third International were a common possession. Nonetheless, there were but few who arrived all prepared to approve every point in the theses submitted to them; their content escaped the usual familiar classification, and the way in which the problems were dealt with were different, too. All the problems had to be taken up and examined from top to bottom.
For the syndicalists and the anarchists [Lenin’s] State and Revolution had greatly facilitated a synthesis of theoretical conceptions in their essential respects. But the dictatorship of the proletariat, until that time confined to the theoretical domain, was now posed concretely and even as the most urgent practical problem. This transitional period, however, this passage from capitalism to socialism, had never been gone into deeply, it had been shunted aside when it came up as an obstacle: you leaped from capitalist society right into an ideal city erected at leisure. Even syndicalist militants like Pataud and Pouget, in a book they had entitled Comment Nous Ferons la Revolution [How We Will Make the Revolution] had made no precise contribution to the transitional period even though they were committed to one by the very title of their work: a brief general strike; the regime collapses ... and after a few days of disturbance and a minimum of violence, the syndicalists would proceed peacefully to building the new society. All that remained in the realm of fairy tales. In Moscow, in 1920, we were face to face with reality. The bourgeoisie, even a bourgeoisie as weak as the Russian, does not let itself be beaten so easily; it, too, knew the practise of sabotage when it was menaced; it found support abroad, for the bourgeoisie of the entire world sped to its aid. Far from being able to begin working peacefully, the revolutionists were obliged to prepare for war, a terrible war, for the attack came from all sides. They had wanted peace. They had been generous and magnanimous toward their enemies; they had freed rebel generals on their word of honor; all had been in vain. The bourgeoisie imposed war upon them; the liberated generals violated their oath. All the material and moral resources of a country already exhausted and gutted by the war, had to be poured into war for three years. To count upon things happening otherwise and easier elsewhere was an unpardonable illusion. The fight would be still fiercer, the bourgeoisie being stronger everywhere.
Certain delegates who already imagined themselves in full accord with the theses submitted to the Congress were often among those who were farthest removed from them. To MacLaine, delegate of the British Socialist Party, who had boasted of being able to adhere to them unreservedly – he was in agreement on the role of the party, on participating in elections, in agreement on the struggle in the reformist unions – Lenin had replied: “No, it is not that easy, or if you believe it is, it is because you are still imbued with that socialist jabbering that was prevalent in the Second International but which always halted before revolutionary action.” In connection with the party, Trotsky said: “Of course it would not be necessary to convince a Scheidemann of the advantages and the necessity of a party; but in the party we aim to have there would be no place for a Scheidemann.” And Bukharin replied animatedly to a young Spanish comrade who, anxious to prove his communist orthodoxy, had exclaimed: “We are carrying on a pitiless struggle against the anarchists”:
“What does that mean – fight the anarchists? There are anarchists who have rallied to the dictatorship of the proletariat since October; others have come close to us and are working in the Soviets, in economic institutions. It is not a question of ‘combating.’ It is necessary to discuss cordially and frankly, even to work together if possible, and not turn from that unless you run into insurmountable opposition.”
IN MOSCOW I FOUND Jack Tanner again; up to 1914 he was the one who sent us Letters from London for La Vie Ouvriere; I had seen him in Paris during the war where he had come to work in a factory in the Paris suburbs.  He represented, along with Ramsay, the Shop Stewards Committees that had developed and taken on great importance in the course of the war as a reaction against the attitude of the majority of the trade-union leaders who had rallied to the government’s war policy. I was in full agreement with them. The fight inside the reformist unions was nothing new to them; they had always been supporters of it; and like myself they had up to then always been impervious to parliamentarism and the political party.
An active sympathy brought us close to other delegates even though certain differences persisted between them and us. John Reed and his American friends were in agreement with the Bolsheviks on the question of the party, but under no circumstances would they listen to a word on working in the reformist unions. Wijnkoop, delegate of the Dutch “Tribunists” (left-wing Social Democrats who took their name from their paper, De Tribune), separated himself flatly from the “leftists,” Pannekoek and Gorter; he found the mere presence in Moscow of “centrists,” of opportunistic socialists like Cachin and Frossard who had come for “information” intolerable. On every occasion he protested violently against their presence: “There is no place for them here,” he exclaimed.
These first contacts among delegates were very precious. We all learned a lot from one another. Our conversations and discussions lasted late into the night. They were cut off by expeditions to meetings, among workers and soldiers. One day Bukharin came to take some of us to a military encampment in the environs of the city. As we arrived near a high tribune, Bukharin cried: “There is our tank! – Do you know what the point is?” He explained it to us. When Yudenitch, moving in from Estonia, attacked in the direction of Petrograd, he advanced rapidly thanks to the tanks with which the English had equipped his army. The young recruits of the Red Army had never before seen this redoubtable engine; they felt it was a monster against which they were defenseless. An inevitable disorder, sometimes downright panic, followed. In the face of this powerful material weapon the Red Army could only resort to its special weapons. Among these, the most important was the tribute from which the Bolsheviks explained to the workers and peasants the meaning of the war that had been forced upon them. The soldiers knew why they were fighting!
In our little troop that day there was the Italian socialist Bombacci. He was a deputy and played at anti-parliamentarism even though he was not a Bordigist; but by means of an extreme leftist position that he never made specific, he did his share in isolating Serrati who was left without support (on his left). He was very handsome. A golden head. Beard and hair shone in the sun. On the tribune he displayed an impressive mimicry with sweeping gestures and movements of the whole body, sometimes plunging above the railing as if he were going to dive into space. He was always a great success and it was unnecessary to translate his words. We did not take him too seriously but would never have thought that he could end up on the side of Mussolini. Our long and serious discussions were not free of moments of relaxation. Then you could see a group of delegates running after Bombacci in the hallways of the Dyelovoy Dvor shouting, “Abasso il deputàto!”
With another of the Italian delegates our relations were less cordial and included no pleasantries: that was D’Aragona, secretary of the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro. His comrades of the trade-union organizations, Dugoni and Colombino, hardly showed up at our meetings; they left soon enough. It is no exaggeration to say that they had come more for the purpose of finding reasons for combating Bolshevism than for confirming the adherence that their party had given to the Third International. To try to justify their attitude, they said in private that the Italian workers would never endure he privations imposed upon the Russian workers by the October Revolution. But since D’Aragona had signed the appeal of the Provisional International Council of the Red Trade Unions, he was not always able to duck out and he had to submit to our questions. We posed them unsparingly because we were convinced of his insincerity; all he did was swim with the stream, like Cachin in France. When he found himself too harassed by us, he invariably went to look up Serrati who would rescue him from the corner into which we had driven him. 
IN THIS PRE-CONGRESS PERIOD, I had a supplementary assignment with the credentials commission. I had been designated by the Executive Committee to be a member of it, along with the Bulgarian Shablin, and Radek, then secretary of the Communist International.
Radek occupied a unique position in the International. He was a Pole, had been a militant above all in Germany, and now was more or less Russified. He had the reputation of a brilliant and informed journalist, but it was not rare to hear unkind remarks made about his behavior in groups where he had worked. In the course of intimate meetings of the commission, and later in the Executive of the Communist International I had the opportunity of knowing him well. After our first meeting at the Executive Committee, he had asked me to visit him in his office at the International which was then installed in the building of the former German embassy, the house where ambassador von Mirbach had been assassinated by the Social-Revolutionary Blumkin. He claimed he knew French but he did not speak it and our conversation took place in English. During a recent imprisonment in Germany, he had, he believed, perfected his knowldege of English. Perhaps he had learned to read it but his spoken language was frightful; yet he was the only one who didn’t notice it for he expressed himself with his customary assurance. For this first meeting he was extremely amiable and after having asked for some information on the French movement, he spoke of his recent works, notably a study on Bakunin. “In prison,” he said, “I re-read the principal writings of Bakunin and I became convinced that the evaluation that we social democrats made of him was in many respects mistaken. It’s a work that must be taken up again.” I had the impression that an unforeseen concession was to be made to syndicalism and anarchism which placed Bakunin among their great forerunners.
Returning to affairs in France, he asked my opinion about the leaders of the French Socialist Party, in particular about Cachin and Frossard and their information mission. He knew Francis Delaisi from his work on La democratie et les financiers, asked me about his present activity and about his position during the war, about the possibility of bringing him over to communism. I had to answer that I knew nothing about that. Delaisi had remained silent during the war whose oncoming and essential character he had nevertheless forecast in his brochure La guerre qui vient [The Coming War].
Our task, in the commission, was fairly easy; the delegates who turned in their credentials to us were almost all known; there were practically no contests except for an incident of little importance in connection with the French delegation. Jacques Sadoul and Henri Guilbeaux had taken part in the First Congress. Guilbeaux, regarded as the representative of the “French Zimmerwald left,” with deliberative vote; Sadoul, credentialed by the communist group in Moscow, had been admitted with a consultative vote. Should they both be included in the delegation? I was then the sole delegate with credentials from the Committee of the Third International. In my view Guilbeaux, by virtue of the action he had conducted in Switzerland, was qualified to receive a credential with deliberative vote, whereas Sadoul, who belonged to the Socialist Party and had only been an accidental joiner, should only have a consultative vote. Radek hardly liked this proposal – he detested Guilbeaux for personal reasons; he notified Sadoul accordingly and Sadoul sent us a vigorous protest. Guilbeaux and Sadoul were finally put on the same plane; delegates with consultative vote, which satisfied neither one of them.
ON JULY 16, 1920, the whole Congress left for Petrograd and held its session there the next day. It was in Petrograd that the revolution had begun; it was there that the Second Congress of the Communist International was to have its solemn opening. Smolny, that former college of young ladies of the nobility had become the headquarters of the revolution in October. When Lenin walked down the large hall where we had gathered, the English and American delegates, reinforced by a few more units, for they were not very numerous, surrounded him, forming a chain and singing, “For he’s a jolly good fellow!” – the traditonal testimonial which, among Englishmen, adds affection to admiration.
After a few brief speeches, the delegates, joined by militants from Petrograd, left in a cortege for the Field of Mars where the victims of the revolution were buried, then for the Tauride Palace, seat of the Duma and then of the Petrograd Soviet whose debates from March to November we had followed with such anxiety; few in number at the outset, the Bolsheviks had progressed rapidly to win the majority in it in September and to make Trotsky its chairman. It was the second time, twelve years apart, that Trotsky chaired the Petrograd Soviet; the first, the precursor, was the Revolution of 1905.
The meeting hall was similar to those in which the parliamentary assemblies of all countries meet (except in England which, as a sacrifice to tradition, allows itself the fancy of a rectangular hall in which grandiloquent declamation is necessarily banished); a highly-perched tribune, an amphitheater where the delegates were seated, and a gallery for the spectators. It is here that the inaugural session of the Congress took place. The address was delivered by Lenin. There can be no question, within the framework of this work, of giving a report, even summarized, of the works and decisions of this Congress, which was in reality the first Congress of the Communist International. The meeting of March 1919, had had the aim, above all, of proclaiming the Third International. Impatient to inscribe its ideas in deeds as quickly as he deemed it possible and necessary, Lenin had resisted the objections, notably those of Rosa Luxemburg and the German Communist Party, whose delegate, the only genuine one at the Congress – except for the Russians – had come with the formal instruction to oppose the proclaiming of a new International; it was too soon, proper preparations could not yet be made, said Rosa Luxemburg. On the other hand, this Second Congress had a remarkable representation. Delegates had come from all the corners of the earth and on its order of the day were inscribed all the problems of socialism and of the revolution. For this Congress as for the other two – those which met in the days of Lenin – I will confine myself to extracting the essential points of the debates and the theses and I shall endeavor to reconstitute the atmosphere in which they unfolded, to cast up the balance.
Lenin’s address was very significant of the man and his method. He seemed to ignore the solemnity of this meeting in this place. No grand phrases, even though the circumstances might well have justified them. There was great surprise when we saw that his speech was based on the book of the Englishman, John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Not that it was not an important work; of all the experts at the [Versailles] Peace Conference, Keynes had been the only one to see clearly, in any case, the only one who dared show, while there was yet time to remedy them, the disastrous consequences of the semi-Wilsonian peace to the economy of the new Europe. Lenin started with this book but he speedily readied what, I believe, was the essential thing to him. In this period, his mind was always dominated – as his book on “leftism” had shown – by the fear that the young communist parties regarded the revolution as something easy and even ineluctable, and the idea he insisted on was that it would be false and dangerous to say on the morrow of the world war that there was no longer a way out for the bourgeoisie. And following his usual method – which gives his speeches and writings a desultory appearance – after having formulated this warning, he returned to it, picked it up again, developed it in other words – variations on the same theme.
The members of the Bureau of the Congress delivered brief speeches. In Paul Levi’s, there was an unpleasant note. On two occasions, speaking of the Polish aggression, he used the word “schlagen” [to beat]. All of us were joyfully following the riposte the Red Army was giving Pilsudski’s aggression; Tukhachevsky’s audacious march upon Warsaw filled us with hope but what we were expecting from it was the uprising of the people – the revolution in Poland. But the tone of the speaker and the repeated “schlagen” revealed in Levi something of that chauvinism which is all too frequent among Germans in their attitude toward Poles and it was certain that his words on this score were not those of an internationalist.
In the afternoon a meeting was held on the vast square of the Winter Palace, so rich in memories. There Kerensky’s ministers had found their last refuge. A tribune had been erected before the palace from which you overlooked the crowd that had come to hear the speakers; you could not help thinking of that other crowd, which the priest Gapon had led in supplication before Nicholas II only to have him meet it with a fusillade. Gorky appeared among us for a minute. He was big, square-shouldered, solidly built. Yet, it was obvious that he was gravely ill and obliged to watch himself carefully; it was nevertheless pleasant to see his robust appearance. He had consistently fought the Bolsheviks and the October Revolution. Then, without completely renouncing his criticisms and reservations, he had rallied to the regime, devoting the greatest part of his activity to saving people unjustly persecuted, intervening among the Soviet leaders who had for so long been his friends. It was said that he was one of the authors of an original play whose premiere we were to see in the evening.
You could not have imagined a finer site for this open air theater than the one that was chosen. It was the peristyle and square of the Stock Exchange, and had great symbolic value. The decor was grandiose. The building, Greek in style as was, it seems, a universal custom, was surrounded by a long colonnade. It occupied the peak of a triangle formed here by Vassili-Ostrov between the two arms of the Neva. The view ran from the quays of the river with their marble palace all the way to the sinister Peter and Paul Fortress.
The stage was the peristyle which was reached by a high stairway. The vast crowd which had gathered to see the spectacle stood at ease on the huge square. In this exceptional framework was unfolded a succession of scenes depicting “the march of socialism through struggles and defeats toward victory.” The story began with the Communist Manifesto. The well-known words of its appeal appeared at the top of the colonnade. “Proletarians of all countries, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!” Light was furnished by powerful projectors installed upon structures anchored in the Neva. The “three taps” were given by the cannon of the Fortress. Then there came the Paris Commune with dancing and songs from the Carmagnole; the war of 1914; the leaders of the Second International prostrating themselves before their governments and before capitalism while Liebknecht took up the red banner that they had dropped and cried, “Down with the war!” The overturn of Tsarism was the subject of a unique achievement: automobiles filled with armed workers burst out of several places in the square and threw down the imperial edifice of the Tsar and his clique. A brief episode showed Kerensky soon replaced by Lenin and Trotsky, two large portraits surrounded by a red flag and lighted up with the full strength of the floodlights. The harsh years of the civil war found their symbolic conclusion in a Budenny cavalry charge annihilating the vestiges of the armies of the counterrevolution. At the end, a tremendous International rose into the night. An act of faith fittingly terminating a day charged with emotion.
BACK IN Moscow, the Congress promptly began its work. The Russian delegation was important due to the number and the worthiness of its members. It included: Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, Radek, Rykov, Riazanov, Dzherzhinsky, Tomsky, Pokrovsky, Krupskaya. The first point on the agenda was the role of the Communist Party. However, for a certain number of delegates it was the question of the political party itself that was posed first of all; they had never until that time belonged to a political party; all their activity had developed inside workers’ organizations. Jack Tanner had just said that from the tribune. He explained how, during the war, the Shop Stewards Committees had developed, the new importance they had taken on in opposing the policy of the trade-union leaders who were thoroughly committed to the war policy of the British government. The hard battle they had conducted during the war, not free of risk, had led them quite naturally to giving the factory committees a revolutionary program and to rallying to the October Revolution and the Third International from the very beginning. But their activity had always developed outside the party and in good measure against the party, some of whose leaders were the very men they were confronted with in the trade-union struggles. Their own experience of the past years could only strengthen their trade-union convictions: the most conscious and capable minority of the working class could orient and guide the mass of the workers only in the daily struggle for their demands as well as in the revolutionary battles.
It was Lenin who answered Jack Tanner, saying in substance:
“Your conscious minority of the working class, this active minority which should guide its activity, why, that’s the party; that’s what we call the party. The working class is not homogeneous. Between the upper stratum, that minority which has reached full consciousness, and the category to be found at the very bottom, the one that has not the slightest notion of it, the one from whose midst the employers recruit the scabs, the strikebreakers, there is a large mass of workers which we must be capable of involving and convincing if we want to win. But for that the minority must organize itself, form a solid organization, impose a discipline based upon the principles of democratic centralism; when you have that you have the party.”
A fairly similar dialogue on the basic question occurred between Pes-tana and Trotsky. Unlike Tanner, who represented only groups that were not yet numerous and were developing at the fringe of the central trade-union organization, Pestana could speak in the name of the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo. It did not include all the Spanish trade unions; there existed another trade-union center dominated by the socialist tendency, but the CNT could boast of numbering a million members at the time; it was solidly implanted in the industrial areas of the country, above all in Catalonia; it embodied exactly the anarcho-syndicalist tradition so deep-rooted in Spain. Also, Pestana spoke with more assurance than Tanner and in a more trenchant tone. Toward the party he had more than hostility – contempt. “But it is possible,” he conceded, “that in certain countries the workers want to unite in political parties; in Spain we do not need them. And history shows that revolutions, from the Great French Revolution onward, take place without a party.” Trotsky could not refrain from interrupting him: “You are forgetting the Jacobins!”
Taking up the question of the party again in his reply, Trotsky proceeded first to answer Paul Levi who, with his customary haughtiness, had declared that that question had long ago been settled by the big majority of the workers of Europe and even of America and that a debate on it was hardly the sort of thing to raise the prestige of the Communist International.
“Without a doubt,” said Trotsky, “if you are thinking of a party like that of Scheidemann and Kautsky. But if what is in your mind is the proletarian party, then it must be stated that in the various countries this party is going through different stages of its development. In Germany, the classic country of the old Social Democracy, we see a powerful working class, highly cultured, progressing ceaslessly, embodying substantial remnants of old traditions. We note, on the other hand, that it is precisely those parties that claim to speak in the name of the majority of the working class, the parties of the Second International, that oblige us to pose the question: is the party necessary or not? Precisely because I know that the party is indispensable and because I am persuaded of the value of the party, and precisely because I see Scheidemann, on the one side and on the other the American, Spanish and French syndicalists who not only want to fight against their bourgeoisie but who, contrary to Scheidemann, want to decapitate it, I see that for this reason it is very necessary to discuss with the Spanish, American and French comrades in order to prove to them that the party is indispensable for the accomplishment of the present historical task, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. I shall try to prove to them, on the basis of my own experience, and not by telling them on the basis of the experience of Scheidemann, that the question was settled a long time ago. We see how great is the influence of the anti-parliamentary tendencies in the old countries of parliamentarism and democracy, for example, in France, I had the opportunity to see for myself, at the beginning of the war, that the first bold voices against the war, at the moment when the Germans were at the gates of Paris, were raised by a small group of French syndicalists. Those were the voices of my friends Monatte, Rosmer and others. There could be no question at the time of speaking of the formation of a communist party: such elements were much too few in number. But I felt myself a comrade among comrades in the company of Monatte, of Rosmer and of their friends, most of whom had an anarchist past. But what could there be in common between me and Renaudel who understood very well the need of a party?
“The French syndicalists are carrying on their revolutionary work in the trade unions. When I discuss this question with Rosmer, we have a common ground. The French syndicalists, in defiance of the traditions of democracy and its delusions, say: ‘We do not want any political parties, we are supporters of the workers’ unions and of a conscious minority within their ranks which advocates and applies the methods of direct action.’ What do the French syndicalists understand by such a minority? That was not clear even to themselves; it was a forecast of the coming development which, in spite of the prejudices and illusions, has not prevented these very syndicalists from playing a revolutionary role in France and from bringing together this small minority that has come to our international Congress.
“Just what does this minority signify for our friends? It is the elite segment of the French working class, a segment which has a clear program and an organization of its own, an organization in which all the questions are discussed, where decisions also are taken and where the members are bound together by a certain discipline. As a simple consequence of the struggle against the bourgeoisie, of its own experience and of the experience of other countries, French syndicalism will be led to create the communist party.
“Comrade Pestaña, who is the secretary of the big Spanish syndicalist organization, has come to Moscow because there are among us people who, in different degrees, belong to the syndicalist family; others are, so to speak, ‘parliamentarians’; others, finally, are neither parliamentarians nor syndicalists but supporters of mass action, etc. But what do we offer him? We offer him an international Communist Party, that is, the union of the advanced elements of the working class who have brought their experiences here, confronting them mutually, criticizing each other and after discussion, adopting decisions. When Comrade Pestaña returns to Spain, bearer of the decisions of the Congress his comrades will ask him: ‘What do you bring us from Moscow?’ He will present to them the fruits of our labors and will submit our resolutions to their vote, and those of the Spanish syndicalists who unite on the basis of our theses will be forming nothing but the Spanish Communist Party.
“We have received today a proposal for peace from the Polish government. Who can reply to such a question? We have the Council of People’s Commissars; but it must be submitted to a certain control. The control of whom? The control of the working class as a shapeless, chaotic mass? No, the Central Committee of the Party will be convoked, will examine the proposal and will decide. And when it is necessary for us to conduct the war, to organize new divisions, to assemble the best elements – toward whom do we turn? We turn toward the Party, toward its Central Committee. And it is the same thing for food provisioning, for agricultural problems, for everything else. Who will decide these questions in Spain? The Spanish Communist Party – and I am confident that Comrade Pestaña will be one of the founders of the party.” 
In Lenin’s eyes, the national question was scarcely less important than that of the party. The colonial and semi-colonial countries had been aroused by the Russian revolution; their struggle for independence appeared under favorable conditions, their imperialist oppressors emerging from the war all exhausted; it could be a decisive struggle, assuring their emancipation and weakening all the more the big imperialist powers. He was aware that on this point two different and sometimes opposite conceptions were to conflict at the Congress. Before the war he had already polemized on the subject with Rosa Luxemburg for whom socialism transcended national demands which were always more or less tainted with chauvinism. And he had reason to believe that that point of view would be held by a certain number of delegates. He had also taken it upon himself to draft the theses and was anxious to report on them to the Congress after the commission debates. Actually it was in the commission itself that the real discussion took place.
The Indian delegation was relatively numerous; it was headed by a capable man, Manabendra Nath Roy. His activity in India had earned him imprisonment and then expulsion. The October Revolution found him in Mexico and he had come to Moscow through Germany, stopping off and getting information in the course of his travels so that he arrived at the Congress fairly well instructed in the revolutionary world movement. On the struggle to be conducted against British imperialism, he had well-defined ideas. According to him, it was the Indian Communist Party which should take over its leadership. No doubt the Indian bourgeoisie had its program of national demands; but far from uniting with it in the struggle for indepenednce, it had to be fought in the same way as the British occupants because to the extent that it exercized a power of its own – it already possessed important plants in textiles and metallurgy – it was the enemy of the workers, an exploiter as harsh as the capitalists of the independent democratic nations.
Patiently Lenin replied to him explaining that for a longer or shorter period of time the Indian Communist Party would be a small party with but few members, having only weak resources, incapable of reaching, on the basis of its program and by means of its own activity, a substantial number of peasants and workers. On the other hand, on the basis of demands for national independence, it would become possible to mobilize large masses – experience had already demonstrated that amply – and it was only in the course of this struggle that the Indian Communist Party would forge and develop its organization to the point where it would be in a position, once the national demands were satisfied, to attack the Indian bourgeoisie. Roy and his friends made some concessions; they admitted that a common action could be envisaged under certain circumstances. Yet important differences subsisted and, reporting on his theses before the Congress, Lenin added to it Roy’s, forming a co-report.
The trade-union question was less well treated by the Congress – without scope and without benefit. Not that it was not discussed at length: the commission was still debating it at the very moment when the plenary session was going to deal with it and preliminary meetings had already taken place even before my arrival between Radek and the British syndicalists. Radek had been designated as the reporter and he was the one who drafted the theses even though he had no special competency in these matters. He approached a difficult problem with the mentality of a German Social Democrat to whom the subordinated role of the trade unions was something established and hardly worth while discussing. He would have repeated readily here what his friend Paul Levi had said with regard to the party: such a discussion is humiliating and hardly calculated to raise the prestige of the Communist International.
He found unreserved support among other Social Democratic members of the commission, among whom Walcher showed himself to be one of the least understanding, ignoring or wishing to ignore the characteristics of the trade-union movement in a country like England, for example, where it had solid traditions and a long history. So that invariably Tanner, Murphy, Ramsay, John Reed were found on one side, not in agreement on all points but agreed to reject as inadequate texts which, at bottom, were confined to reiterating those that were favored in the Second International. On the other side stood Radek and the Social Democrats, sure that they possessed the truth. The discussions lasted for hours without advancing a foot. Still, in spite of the new importance attributed to the role of the party, to the recognized necessity of a central organism to conduct the revolutionary struggle after the example of the Russian Communist Party, the role of the trade unions in the capitalist countries and their role in the construction of the socialist society remained considerable. They could not be unaware of this in Moscow, for it was not rare to hear recriminations and criticisms of the Russian trade unions and of the way in which they acquitted themselves of their tasks, of their inadequacy, criticisms which the trade-union leaders did not let pass unanswered. New problems were posed; in the course of the war factory councils had arisen in several countries. What was to be their particular assignment? What was to be their relationship to the trade unions?
When I came to the commission, it had already held several sessions but I could just as well have believed that it was the first. The Social Democrats were so convinced that they possessed the truth that they confined themselves to formulating their viewpoints, decided in advance to pay no attention to the remarks of their antagonists. Radek listened with a distracted ear, reading the voluminous packages of newspapers brought him by the couriers of the Communist International. When he was finished the session was ended to start again at his fancy. In the course of a plenary session of the Congress, we were notified that the commission would meet as soon as the session ended. That was usually around midnight; the discussion was started again up to two or three in the morning, then we would go off to bed sure of having wasted time. Even that part of the theses on which I was in agreement with Radek – the struggle inside the reformist unions and opposition to all splitting – was formulated so brutally, so summarily, that it could only wound and certainly not convince. When the resolution was brought before the Congress, John Reed looked me up. He was greatly moved:
“We cannot go back to America with such a decision,” he said to me. “The Communist International has no supporters and sympathy in the trade-union world except among the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and you are sending us into the American Federation of Labor where it has nothing but hidebound adversaries.”
BESIDES THE THESES on the national question, Lenin was charged with the theses dealing with The Tasks of the Communist International. He attached equal importance to them since actually they again took up and concretized the conclusions and decisions of the Congress, placing them within the framework of the situation of each country. The commission designated to study them was so large that its sessions already looked like a small congress; they were held from 10 to 4 without interruption.
One morning, ten o’clock having already passed, we were still at the hotel when someone came to tell us that Lenin reminded us that the meeting was to begin at 10 o’clock in the Kremlin. Needless to note, we were pretty abashed as we took our places around the table. Zinoviev and Radek had given us bad habits; with them there was always a certain disruption of the timetable and we were unaware that for Lenin and for Trotsky – who were like each other in this respect too – the time was the time. The next day we were all in our places at 10 o’clock. But this time it was Lenin who was missing. He arrived a good quarter of an hour later, made his excuses, and it was his turn to be abashed: he lived at that time in Gorky, thirty versts from Moscow, an automobile breakdown had held him up – and the discussion was resumed at the point where it had been left off.
The theses, drafted by Lenin, offered a convenient means of discussion. We took paragraph by paragraph, discussing, correcting, amending or simply ratifying the proposed text. The specter of “leftism” was present here too. We were asked to condemn by name the organs and organizations which were afflicted with it, like the magazine Kommunismus of Vienna and also the bulletin published in Holland by the West European Bureau of the Communist International in which “leftism” had been occasionally manifested. I pointed out that we could not put on the same plane a magazine edited by Austro-Balkan communists and the Bulletin of the Communist International; if the latter was to be mentioned we would have to blame the leadership of the International since it bore the responsibility for it. That appeared to me to be so obvious that I did not imagine that a discussion could develop on the point and after all it was only a detail. But Zinoviev insisted, Paul Levi supported it: the Bulletin must also be blamed. “All right,” said Lenin, “we will vote. – But where is Bukharin?” he cried. “He must be found.” Bukharin was brought back – he disappeared frequently. Lenin said to him: “Sit down over here, next to me, and don’t budge.” The commission divided exactly in half: same number of votes for and against. Lenin had followed the operations without taking sides; he reserved his vote; he threw the balance to our side.
An infinitely more important matter then took the attention of the commission. That was the Italian question. The Italian Socialist Party was so profoundly divided that it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that each one of its delegates represented a tendency. Isolated in his delegation, Serrati alone made vain efforts to keep together all these divergent elements. The right tendency included the best known and no doubt the most educated leaders, Turati and Treves; it was absolutely hostile to the Third International. On the extreme left were Bordiga and his friends, warm partisans of the CI but abstentionists; Bombacci represented an inconsistent left; Graziadei took up abode on the peaceful terrain of theory; old Lazzari, secretary of the party, was not there but I had met him during one of his trips to Paris and had heard him speak of the New International without sympathy: “Adherence is not yet won,” he said. It appeared clear that if the Italian Socialist Party had voted adherence to the Third International it was because its leadership had been unable to resist the strong pressure coming from the ranks of the party, the workers and peasants. Abandoned on all sides, Serrati remained alone to receive all the blows.
But there was still another tendency. It had no delegates to the Congress and it was precisely the one about which it was said in the theses we were discussing that it expressed exactly, in its writings and its activities, the conceptions of the Communist International. That was the group of l’Ordino Nuovo of Turin, whose best known militants were Gramsci and Tasca.  When we reached the paragraph concerning Italy, we noted that there was no Italian delegate present. None of them wanted to come. Precisely because of their divergences of view, nobody considered himself authorized to speak in the name of the party. We had to ask Bordiga to expound and concretize the position of l’Ordino Nuovo – which he did very honestly even though he started out, as always, by delineating his differences. The details that he contributed confirmed the editor of the theses in his intention to give the “investiture” to l’Ordino Nuovo and the commission approved it unanimously.
Finally came England and the Labor Party. The Communists should join it, said Lenin; but there he ran into the general and absolute hostility of the British. Zinoviev supported Lenin; so did Paul Levi, in a tone that expressed a German’s disdain both for retrograde and declining England and for its minuscule communist groups; Bukharin with cordiality and comprehension. But all these weighty assaults did not shake the British who, moreover, found reinforcement from the Americans, and from the Hollander Wijnkoop. As chairman of the commission, I was supposed to speak last, but the same arguments, on both sides, had been repeated so often that there was nothing to add. Sure of accommodating the desire of everybody, I said I agreed to yield and that we could go on to the vote. “No, no,” said Lenin, “you must never yield the floor.” So I summarized the arguments put forward by the British, which were also my own. Lenin had the clear majority of the commission on his side but as he felt that the opposition to his views remained serious he wanted the question brought before the congress, and even though I had expressed myself against this particular point of his theses, he asked me to take on the report of the commission to the plenary session
The debate was followed by the Congress with great attention and a certain curiosity, because the Englishmen had decided to have their standpoint defended by Sylvia Pankhurst. She was one of the daughters of the famous feminist who had conducted a “revolutionary” agitation to obtain the vote for women, but the only one of her family to pass from feminism to communism. She edited a weekly paper, published brochures, and had turned out to be an active and excellent propagandist. The speech she delivered was a speech for a mass meeting and for a Congress, the speech of an agitator. She spoke with fire, moving about dangerously on the narrow tribune. We did not have a good defender in her. Even the sentimental argument of refusing to enter into a party discredited in the eyes of the workers, of finding there leaders who had betrayed during the war – which was after all not a negligible argument – was drowned in abundant declamation. Lenin’s theses won but the minority remained impressive.
I HAVE SAID NOTHING yet about a question on which, however, a good deal was to be said later on, that of the “conditions for admission into the Communist International.” There were twenty-one of them. The Russian communists had drafted them with meticulous care; in this way they meant to reply in advance to the criticisms aimed at the method they followed in constituting the Communist International. These draconian conditions formed a barrier so solid that the opportunists would never be able to cross it. That this was an illusion they would quickly perceive. They had, to be sure, a good knowledge of the workers’ movements of the countries of Europe; they also knew their leaders, they had met them in the Congresses of the Second International. But what they did not know and could not know was how far the maneuvering skill of these men trained in the practises of democratic parliamentarism could go. They had more tricks in their bag than the suspicious Russians could imagine. For example, the secretary of the French Communist Party, Frossard, was able to teach them a lesson in the art of evasion for two years. Rosa Luxemburg who knew these people thoroughly because she had spent her life as a militant in the German Social Democracy where she was easily able to follow the life of the parties of the neighboring countries, in 1904, had written an article published by Iskra (in Russian) and by Die Neue Zeit (in German) which might have put the authors of the theses on the 21 conditions on their guard if only their recollection of it were fresh. “In the first place,” she wrote, “the idea that lies at the basis of extreme centralism – the desire to close the road to opportunism by articles of the statutes – is radically false ... The articles of the by-laws can dominate the life of little sects and private clubs, but an historic current passes right through the mesh of the most subtle paragraphs.” A criticism in anticipation – and all of the subsequent life of the Communist International was to confirm its correctness.
In the course of one of the Congress sessions, a big lad of about twenty approached me. He was French, had just arrived in Moscow, and wanted to talk with me. It was Doriot. He told me his story. It came down to a few words: he had been prosecuted and sentenced to a few months in prison for an anti-militarist article. Instead of going to prison, he had decided to escape, preferring residence in Moscow to a prison cell of the Santé. His political education was fairly sketchy but in those days he was reserved, modest and assiduous. He lived two whole years in Moscow, returned to France to take the secretaryship of the Communist Youth, was elected a deputy in 1924. His break with the Communist International, where the “good Communist Right” was on his side – he had refused to follow Stalin in his “leftist” turn of the “Third Period” of the Communist International – might have allowed him to form and organize a healthy opposition. But during his brief and brilliant career he had learned to maneuver; he had become too quickly a perfect politician and he had been contaminated too heavily by Stalinism to be able to undertake an unselfish task. He wanted to be a “leader,” and it was easy for him to move over, like so many others, from Stalinism to Hitlerism.
THE CONGRESS CONCLUDED with the same solemnity that marked its opening. This time the scene was Moscow; for its final session the Congress met in the Great Theater, The delegates were there in mass. A long table went all across the hall and behind it sat Zinoviev and the members of the Executive Committee. The vast hall was filled with a joyful and attentive crowd: militants from the party, the trace unions and the Soviets. The meeting after all was for them. At the Kremlin, the discussions had all taken place in German, in English, in French; it was time to speak in Russian. The speech was delivered by Trotsky. It was the manifesto of the Congress, but a manifesto of a different character from what is usually meant by the word. It was divided into five big parts. Trotsky first described the general situation of the world, the international relations after the Versailles Treaty; it was a dark tableau but one that the countless victims of the war were beginning to see. Then he passed over to the economic situation. General impoverishment and disorganization of production which an effort was being made to remedy by resorting to state intervention. But in point of fact, the intervention of the state into the economy could only compete with the pernicious activity of the speculators by accentuating the chaos of capitalist economy in the epoch of its decline. In this period of decline, the bourgeoisie has completely abandoned the idea of conciliating the proletariat with reforms. There is no longer a single great question that is being settled by the popular vote. The whole state machinery is turning more and more clearly back to its primitive form: detachments of armed men. It is necessary to defeat imperialism in order to let humanity live.
In contrast to this agonizing regime, Soviet Russia has shown how the workers’ state is capable of reconciling national requirements and the requirements of economic life, by eliminating chauvinism from the former and liberating the latter from imperialism.
On the basis of this broad exposition Trotsky then summed up the debates and explained the decisions, with these words as his conclusion:
“In all his activity, be it as the leader of a revolutionary struggle or as organizer of clandestine groups, as secretary of a trade union, as deputy, as agitator, cooperator, or as combatant on the barricades, the communist always remains faithful to himself, a disciplined member of his party, an implacable enemy of capitalist society, of its economic regime, of its state, of its democratic falsehoods, of its religion and of its morality. He is a devoted soldier of the proletarian revolution and the tireless herald of the new society. Workers and working women! On this earth there is but one banner under which it is worthwhile living and dying, the banner of the Communist International.”
The man, his words, the crowd that heard him, all contributed a moving grandeur to this final session of the Congress. The speech had lasted a little over an hour. Trotsky had delivered it without notes. It was marvelous to see how the speaker organized this vast subject, enlivened it with the clarity and power of his mind, and to observe on all faces the impassioned attentiveness with which his words were followed. Parijanine – a Frenchman who had been living in Russia a dozen years – came to me, gripped with a potent emotion: “Let’s hope that it’s properly translated!” he said to me, expressing in this way something more than the concern of a faithful translator – the fear that something of this grandeur might go lost.
THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE met the day after the Congress. It was to examine the practical consequences of the adopted decisions and resolutions, to take measures relating to their application. The first point of the order of the day was the designation of the chairman and the secretary. The reelection of Zinoviev to the chairmanship went without saying but that was not the case with the secretaryship: the Russian delegation asked for the removal of Radek. The first secretary of the Communist International had been Angelica Balabanov; Radek had replaced her at the beginning of 1920; so that he had held this position for only a short time. Nevertheless, his candidacy, which he maintained, was defended by several delegates, notably by Serrati. A discussion began; it was fairly short because it only repeated a debate that had taken place in the Executive Committee a few days before the meeting of the Congress.
It was an extremely important matter, for the question that was unexpectedly posed was this: with whom is the Communist International to be made? With what parties? What groups? What revolutionary tendencies? Who is to be admitted and who rejected? Only those socialist parties that voted to join while retaining in their ranks opponents of the Communist International? Or only the new groupings that had been formed during the war on the very foundation of adherence to the Third International? The Russian Communist Party had adopted an intermediate solution: its theses on admission to the Communist International, the 21 points, were to be at once a guarantee against the opportunists, a barrier prohibiting their entrance, and a means of facilitating the indispensable selection among the members of the old socialist parties.
To everybody’s surprise, Radek had raised a question that was believed settled and he had taken a position flatly in opposition to the decision of the Russian Communist Party. The Congress is going to meet, he said. Who is allowed to participate in it? Certainly not these new organizations which, although constituted on the basis of adherence to the Third International, include above all syndicalists and anarchists, but only the delegates of parties, socialist or communist, who are alone qualified to designate delegates. Serrati and Paul Levi immediately supported him; the operation had undoubtedly been prepared in advance; the Italian Socialist Party and the German Communist Party were, outside of the Russian Communist Party, the two important parties of the International. Radek might have thought that their intervention in his favor would be decisive. But he had made a poor calculation. Bukharin reminded him of the position taken by the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party, of the text of the appeals launched by the Communist International to the workers of all countries. With the opportunists, he said, we have nothing in common; with the sincere and tested revolutionists who have voted adherence to the Third International we want to discuss amicably; we ourselves have made revisions in our program that became necessary; we have thrown away, in Lenin’s expression, our dirty social-democratic linen in order to build communism on a new foundation; we want to continue our efforts to lead the syndicalists and anarchists to carry out in their own way the operation that will enable them to join us in the new Communist Parties that are now being formed. Bukharin had concluded by saying that he could not understand why Radek had brought up again the decisions taken by the Russian Communist Party and by the International.
“What are the English delegates from the Shop Stewards and the Workers’ Committees doing here? What is Pestana doing? What is Rosmer doing? Why were they called if we were resolved to close the doors of the Congress to them?”
It was so obvious that Radek was unable to find any other recruits for his maneuver at the last minute; he remained with Levi and Serrati. I have spoken of them elsewhere. What I said about them explains their attitude, especially in the case of Paul Levi. He detested the anarchists and syndicalists as a bloc, “oppositional” elements who did not cease to haunt him. Serrati’s motives were different. He found it inadmissable that the International should welcome cordially the syndicalist and anarchist groupings at a time when it continuously formulated various demands with regard to an impressive party like his own.
That is where we left it at that session of the Executive Committee but naturally there was a conclusion that had to be drawn from the debate and the conclusion was, according to the Russian delegation of the Communist International, the removal of Radek from the secretaryship; the debates had only emphasized its inevitability. The decision was not adopted right away, however. To replace Radek, the Russian delegation proposed a Russian communist, Kobietsky. We did not know him. John Reed, who did not know him either, asked for a postponement of the decision. He had received, he said, information that had to be checked; in Kobietsky’s political past there were compromises that made him undesirable, above all in a post of this importance. It was not hard to see where John Reed had obtained his information. Radek was hanging on grimly. But Zinoviev remarked that the nomination by the Russian delegation was a guarantee and the matter was settled. After the experience with Radek in the secretariat, the selection of a man who was not so brilliant but more reliable was obvious.
Another important decision was taken on the same day. On the initiative of the Russian delegation, every delegation was asked to appoint a representative who would remain in Moscow and would participate directly in the work of the Communist International. A permanent liaison would thus be achieved, assuring good reciprocal information between the Communist International and its sections. For me, this decision was welcome. I had started on my trip not in order to go to a Congress, but to study on the spot the Bolshevik revolution and the Soviet regime it had installed – something that the Congress had hardly permitted me to do. Now I would have the opportunity. In addition, I was anxious to follow the work of the Provisional International Council of the Red Trade Unions. There I felt more at ease and was sure of doing useful work. The tactic defended energetically by Lenin against the “leftists” in his Infantile Sickness, and approved by the majority of the Congress might have seemed contradictory. The Communists, the revolutionary workers, were asked to remain in the reformist trade unions, and on the other hand, the road toward a Red Trade Union International was being openly laid down. The reformist leaders of the Amsterdam International Trade Union Federation did not fail to say so and even to shout it, and along with them the bourgeois press. We were denounced as splitters. But the contradiction was only apparent. The splitters did not come from our side as the events were soon to prove. There certainly was a split but it was provoked by the reformist leaders the very moment they felt they were losing the majority. They would not allow the masses of trade unionists to express themselves at any cost, to decide freely and in conformity with democratic rules when they feared the loss of the leadership of the trade-union organization. Their tirades against “all dictatorships,” and for democracy, were nothing but words. In actual fact they were resolved to use all means to keep the positions they had been able to keep or get hold of thanks only to the war. I have already had occasion to show the point to which Lenin showed himself inflexible on the trade-union tactic: you had to fight and remain where the workers were, which meant almost everywhere in the reformist trade unions, since the reformist leaders had succeeded in keeping the leadership in spite of their attitude during the world war. However, in the unions as in the Social Democratic parties, more or less substantial minorities were fighting under the banner of the Third International to win the organization by leading the majority of the members to rally to the conceptions they were openly defending.
If our activity did not always unfold the way we wanted it to, the responsibility for that was of two sorts. On the one hand, there were inside the minorities impatient people and so-called “theoreticians” who wanted to have a trade-union organization of their own without further waiting; their blunder or their mistake could only facilitate the game of the reformists who rejoiced at finding such adversaries before them. On the other hand, in the leadership of the Communist International there was not always an understanding of exactly what our task consisted of; its importance was not grasped; all attention was concentrated on the development of the young Communist parties. Yet, if the reformist leaders in the trade unions were vulnerable, it was only on the condition that the blows were struck at the right place, for they were full of shrewdness and ruse. It was on their side that you found falsehood and dissimulation. However, most of the time nothing more was done than to fire insults at them, which they undoubtedly deserved but which were ineffective. In connection with a meeting in London of the General Council of the Amsterdam Trade Union International, the Executive Committee of the Communist International had decided to launch an appeal, jointly with the Provisional International Council, addressed to the workers of all countries and to the British workers in particular. Zinoviev and I were each assigned to prepare a draft which would serve as the basis for the final text. But our two drafts were so dissimilar in form and foundation that there was nothing left to do but adopt one or the other. While I set myself to grouping together all the grievances of the workers in a way that might impress and convince, reminding them of the past activity of the Amsterdam leaders, emphasizing how little internationalist this Federation was – chauvinism raged there to such a point that the nations adhering to it remained classified as allies or enemies, as in the war days – Zinoviev confined himself to firing a volley of insults, sometimes in pretty bad taste, against “Messrs. Yellow Leaders,” etc. You had to be ignorant of the workers’ movement and of the British workers to imagine for a single moment that an appeal of this sort could win us any adherents or simply sympathy, or facilitate the task of the revolutionary minorities. Zinoviev proposed to try to combine the two texts but it was impossible. The appeal reproduced exactly his authorship and I was greatly annoyed to have to put my signature to it.
My work in the Communist International was less absorbing, even though I was assigned to represent Belgium and Switzerland which had been unable to leave a permanent delegate in Moscow. I had established contact in the course of the Congress with their delegates the principal ones among whom were, for Belgium, Van Overstrateten, serious, competent, one of the founders of the party whom the Zinovievist “Bolshevization” of the Communist International alienated from Communism in 1927; and for Switzerland Humbert-Droz who abused the confidence that had been placed in him. A pastor in London at the beginning of the world war, he had been persecuted there for his opposition to the war; after returning to Switzerland he contributed to bringing together the Zimmerwaldians, organized propaganda work in favor of the Third International, edited an excellent review. Contrary to all expectation he approved not only the “Bolshevization” but Stalinism as a whole, including the “Moscow Trial.” It was only during the second world war that he was to separate himself from a party that had become altogether different from the one he had helped create.
LIKE ALL THE SOVIET INSTITUTIONS, trade-union or political, the Third International had a rest home for its workers. It was a pretty vast estate – the former property of the Grand Duke Sergey, governor of Moscow – situated at Ilinskoye, twenty versts from the city on the road to Klin. The main building was impressive in its dimensions but ordinary; others, smaller in size, were scattered throughout the park. The work of the Congress and the long discussions had exhausted the delegates; those who remained in Moscow went off to rest at Ilinskoye. I made a short trip there which enabled me to take some interesting observations. First the contrast between the exterior and the interior. The interior furnishings were simple, even poor. Everything had been taken for the war; beds were nothing more than a straw mattress spread over planks, and the menu as usual was of extreme sobriety. But what a cordial and pleasant atmosphere! Everything contributed toward it: it was summer and to save on light an hour of “daylight saving” had been instituted, so that the pleasant evenings were prolonged. After dinner we all assembled in the principal building. Imagination, fancy, the artistic gifts so common among the Russians enabled them to improvize the most ingenious entertainment. And above all else there were the songs, those incomparable popular Russian songs which, coming from the nearby villages, rose into the night.
One morning, I met M. whom I had not seen again since my arrival on Soviet soil, since the trip from Yamburg to Petrograd when he tried to persuade me that it was proper to use the parliamentary tribune for Communist propaganda. His wife joined us shortly. She was Kollontay’s assistant in the section devoted to work among the women, hence an important person in the Soviet “hierarchy” (nobody, of course, would have been well advised in those days to use such a term; the Fascism of Mussolini was needed to implant it and Stalinism to welcome it). But she was not at all disposed to find that all was for the best in the Soviet Republic. Quite the contrary, she criticized a good deal and unsparingly. It is only at a distance away that such a thing should be surprising. In those days you could speak freely: no embarrassment, perfect comradeship. During my stay in Moscow I saw M. and his wife again and again. They had a room at the Metropole Hotel and no matter how late at night you came home from a meeting or at times from the theater, you could always see light in their window and be assured of getting a glass of tea from them – even if a weak one – and sometimes a bonbon to sweeten it with, but always a harsh denunciation of the insufficiencies of the regime. It was a home not to be frequented by a vacillating communist, but the ones of those days were well tempered.
A TELEPHONE CALL from Trotsky informed me that he had just received the French translation of the Manifesto of the Congress. It made up into a sizable brochure that was to be published simultaneously in Petrograd and in Paris. The translation appeared to him to be faithful; nevertheless he would like to go over it with me. The checking took several evenings. On those days, instead of returning to work to his secretariat after dinner, he remained at the Kremlin. For me it was an opportunity to resume my questioning bearing now more precisely on several subjects I wanted to go into more deeply, and naturally on the Congress itself. I also questioned him about persons. I knew some of them very well but many others I knew only by name. Of the latter he gave me biographies that I always found to be flattering when I got the chance to check on them; he knew very well all those with whom he worked in the Central Committee of the Party and in the Soviet institutions. If there were some he did not like and whom he judged severely, it was never for personal reasons but because they were inferior to their task or discharged it badly; there was never anything petty in his remarks. “Were you ever seriously perturbed about the outcome during the long civil war?” I asked him one day. “What was the toughest moment?”
“Brest-Litovsk,” he said right away, replying first to the second question. “The party was deeply troubled, excited. Lenin was almost alone at the beginning to accept the need of signing the treaty without discussion. There was fear of a split, of fierce internal struggles which might have had disastrous consequences for our Revolution in the state that Soviet Russia was in at that time ... The civil war presented dangers of a different kind. When we found ourselves pressed simultaneously from the East and the West and the South, when Denikin threatened Tula, it is certain that we could not help asking ourselves with a feeling of anguish if our red Army might not succumb under this triple assault. For my part, the feeling of confidence never left me. I was in particularly favorable circumstances for judging the situation: I knew exactly what you could ask of our army, and thanks to my incessant trips to the front and throughout the country I also knew what the armies of the counter-revolution amounted to. They were better equipped than ours: Yudenitch even had tanks at his disposal for the attack on Petrograd. But I knew their fundamental weakness: the peasants could see standing behind them the proprietors of the lands they had seized. Even those among them who were not too sympathetic toward us then became allies on whom we could count.”
1. He is today the president of the Amalgamated Engineering Union.
2. How D’Aragona and his friends behaved upon their return to Italy is shown by the following lines:
“After haying announced the revolutionary apogee in the victorious occupation of the factories, their deflation became suddenly and ineluetably manifest. It did not take them long to record that the Russian myth no longer warmed the heart. The members of the socialist mission who had gone to Moscow the foregoing July and who on their return to Italy had been very careful not to report their deep disillusionment out of fear of the Red extremists, now found their courage again and spoke of and proclaimed the enormous mistake made in applying the doctrines of Lenin in Russia. To the interviews granted the newspapers to this effect by Mr. D’Aragona, the general secretary of the General Confederation, were added the publication of a much more effective arraignment, the documented report of the two heads of the metal workers’ organization, Messrs. Colombino and Pozzani, presented in a volume in which was described the destruction by the Bolsheviks of the whole vast machinery of production.” – Domenico Russo, Mussolini et le fascime, p. 45.
3. This optimistic forecast was not to be realized. Upon his return to Spain, Pestana was one of the syndicalist leaders – the majority – who withdrew the decision of adherence which they had given to the Third International in 1919. But the story does not end there for Pestana. He did not join the Spanish Communist Party but ten years later he founded a “Syndicalist Party” which never counted more than a handful of members and more intellectuals than workers, most of them former militants of the CNT who had broken with the anarcho-syndicalist organization. As for the anti-parliamentarian, elected to the Cortes in 1936 by the voters of Cadiz, he died, a deputy, two years later in Valencia.
4. “The Ordine Nuovo group constituted a veritable faction in the Piedmont region. It carried on its activity among the masses, knowing how to establish a close connection between the internal problems of tbe party and the demands of the Piedmont proletariat.” Gramsci, Correspondence Internationale, July 18, 1925.
Last updated on: 30 January 2016