M.N. Roy 1921
Third Congress of the Communist International

Theses on the Eastern Question[1]
July 12, 1921

Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 1181-87
Translation: John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Bluden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission


1.) The fact that, in spite of its general bankruptcy, European capitalism is still holding its own against the increasingly powerful attack of the proletariat in the Western countries proves that capitalism, as a world-domineering factor, has not yet reached such a state of decay that its immediate downfall is inevitable. Since the time that capitalism entered into its last and most highly developed phase – imperialism – its stronghold was no longer kept confined only in the industrially advanced countries of Western Europe. The innate contradictions of the capitalist system inevitably led to overproduction and its consequence, the recurring commercial and financial crisis; in imperialism was found a way out of this entanglement. Of course, it was a temporary solution bound to prove ineffective for saving the capitalist mode of production from collapse under its own contradictions. But the fact is that till today imperial expansion and exploitation do render strength to capitalism to maintain its position in Europe.

The great imperialist war shook the very foundation of the capitalist order in European countries, and had not these states had other sources to draw strength from, they would not be able to continue defending the right of capital till today as they are actually doing. These sources of strength lie in the imperialist character of present-day capitalism, which holds in its hands the entire economic, political, and military control of the whole world, and thus finds itself in a position to put up a stiff and continued resistance against the proletariat in its home countries. The existence and power of the European bourgeoisie do not depend wholly and exclusively on its ability to wring the greatest amount of surplus value out of the labour power of the workers in the home countries. The imperial right of exploiting the vast non-European markets and peoples has supplied and still supplies it with additional modus vivendi and a weapon to defend its position at home in spite of the apparent precariousness and impossibility of maintaining its power there for any length of time.

2.) As a result of the War, the world finds itself divided today into two great colonial empires, belonging to two powerful capitalist states. The United States of America endeavours to assume supreme and exclusive right of exploiting and ruling the entire New World, while Great Britain has annexed to its empire practically the entire continents of Asia and Africa. Then, continental Europe, owing to its utter economic bankruptcy and industrial dislocation, is bound to be an economic dependency of either of these two great imperialist states, which are preparing for another giant struggle for world domination. As far as the power of the American bourgeoisie is concerned, the European war has not affected it very much. On the contrary, the control of world finance, which has been for a century the monopoly of the British capitalists, had been to a great extent transferred to the hands of the American capitalists, who cannot be considered to have reached the period of decay and disintegration as yet. In order to consolidate its newly acquired world power, the American capitalist class inclines towards keeping temporarily away from the infectious ruins of Europe. Thus, the British bourgeoisie is the supreme ruler of the Old World and the backbone of the capitalist order.

Now, where lies the source of strength of the British bourgeoisie? Judging from the industrial conditions obtaining in the British Isles at the present moment, it would appear that if its resources were limited to the productivity of those islands and the power of consumption of continental Europe, the capitalist order in Britain would certainly stand on the very brink of collapse. But despite all its chronic contradictions and the difficulties it is having in reconstructing the industrial fabric of the home country on the prewar basis, the capitalist class of Britain proves to be quite firm in its power. It still succeeds in deceiving a part and coercing another part of the proletariat. The possession of the vast non-European empire, and the control over the newly created economic dependency to which continental Europe has been reduced, afford British capital a very wide scope of action, thus enabling it to maintain its position at home and incidentally securing its international power. Economic and industrial development of the rich and thickly populated countries of the East would supply new vigour to Western capital. There are great possibilities in these countries which will provide cheap labour power and new markets not to be exhausted very soon. Therefore the destruction of its monopolist right of exploitation in the vast Eastern colonial empire is a vital factor in the final and successful overthrow of the capitalist order in Europe.

3.) In view of the fact that the power of international capital is rooted all through the globe, anything less than a worldwide revolution would not bring about the end of the capitalist order and the triumph of the proletariat in Europe. The struggle of the European proletariat must be aided by the revolutionary action of the toiling masses of other lands subjugated by the same power, that is, capitalist imperialism. In its struggle to get out of the inevitable vicious circle, capitalism developed itself into imperialism, thus bringing extensive markets and huge armies of colonial workers under its domination. By converting the peasants and artisans of the subject countries into an agricultural and industrial proletariat, imperialism brought into existence another force which is destined to contribute to its destruction. This being the case, the overthrow of the capitalist order in Europe, which to a great extent rests on its imperial extension, will be achieved not alone by the advanced proletariat of Europe, but with the conscious cooperation of the workers and other revolutionary elements in those colonial and subject countries, which afford the greatest economic and military support to the imperial capital and which are the most developed economically, industrially, and politically.

4. Therefore, the Communist International, in its task of mobilising the forces of world revolution, should not limit its field of activity only to the countries of Europe and the United States of America. While undoubtedly it is the proletariat of the industrial countries of Europe and America which stands at the vanguard of the armies of the world revolution, the historical phenomenon should not be overlooked that the toiling masses of the most advanced non-European countries are also destined to play a role in the act of freeing the world from the domination of imperialist capital. This historic role of the masses of the most advanced non-European countries consists of: (1) raising the standard of revolt against foreign imperialism simultaneously with the revolutionary action of the Western proletariat; and (2) fighting the native landowning class and bourgeoisie. Thus attacked from both sides, imperialism will have no possible way out of the vicious circle of its own creation. Deprived of the possibility of creating new markets by economically developing countries like China, India, etc., it will not be able to recover from the effects of overproduction in the home countries.

The great countries of the East have become an integral part of the capitalist world; battles against capitalism have begun and are going to be fought there. This is the result of the historic development of imperialism.


5.) The point of view that the peoples of the East – given that, in general, they are not on the same economic and political level with those of the West – can be conceived of as something uniform, with identical problems to solve, is erroneous, since it lacks the foundation of fact. It is a mistake to think that a uniform policy can be formulated to guide the activities of the Communist International in all the countries beyond a given geographical limit. The Eastern countries vary greatly in their political, economic, industrial, and social conditions. Consequently, the different Oriental peoples have different problems to solve. Therefore, a certain definite line of policy and tactics cannot be laid down to be followed rigidly in all Eastern countries. The conditions obtaining in the various countries should be carefully studied in order to ascertain which social class is historically and circumstantially destined to be revolutionary in the present moment as well as in the immediate future, since in such a revolutionary social class is to be found the natural ally of the Western proletariat in its fight for the overthrow of the capitalist order of society. Or, in other words, in order to mobilise the anti-imperialist forces effectually in the Oriental countries, the Communist International has to look for and base its activities on that social class which historically does belong or is destined to belong to its own ranks.

6.) Whereas, in the Muslim countries of the Near and Middle East, the religious fanaticism of the ignorant masses and the anti-foreign sentiments of the landowning middle-class counterrevolution can be counted upon as a force for the undermining of imperialism, these elements no longer possess the same significance in a country like India, owing to the radical economic and industrial transformation that has taken place there in the last two decades. Imperial capital has just touched the surface of the Near and Middle Eastern countries. The economic structure of the society is still predominantly feudal and the influence of the clergy is strong. But in India, which a considerable time ago was brought fully under the control and exploitation of capital, mainly imperial and partly native (the latter has been growing very fast in the last years), feudalism has been destroyed not by means of a violent revolution but by its long contact with modern political and economic institutions, which are the reflex of the most highly developed capitalist state. There has come into existence in India a native bourgeoisie, which more than thirty years ago began its historical struggle for the conquest of political power from the foreign ruler, and a proletariat, including a huge landless peasantry, which is growing in number and class consciousness in proportion to the rapid industrialisation of the country.

Consequently, the revolutionary movement in India today does not rest on the religious fanaticism of the ignorant masses, which is fast losing its potentiality owing to the economic transformation of the society. Nor does it rest on petty-bourgeois sentimental nationalism, which is built on the imaginary unity of interest of the entire people, not taking into consideration the class division which is becoming more and more clearly defined every day. In India and other countries of the same political and economic condition, the liberal bourgeoisie, which stands at the front of the national-democratic movement, is a revolutionary factor insofar as it carries on its historic struggle against the imperial ruler for the right of exploiting native resources and native labour. But this revolutionary character of the bourgeoisie is temporary, since as soon as foreign political domination is overthrown by a mass revolt, it will turn against the working class and will use all violent measures in order to thwart the further march of the revolution in the name of representative government and national defence. It is also possible that the weak native bourgeoisie will find it more profitable to sell itself out to its imperialist peer in return for such change in the political administration of the country as will provide it with wider scope and opportunity for developing as a class. Thus, the rapidly growing proletariat including the masses of landless peasantry is the principal social class which constitutes the foundation of the revolution in an Oriental country like India.

Therefore, the activities of the Communist International in the economically and industrially advanced countries of the East should consist of the formation of such political parties as are capable of developing and directing the revolutionary movement according to the objective conditions. Such parties will be the apparatus of the Communist International – through them, the peoples of the East will be unified in their respective countries to fight against foreign imperialism, and they will lead the fight further on for economic and social emancipation of the working class against the native bourgeoisie, as soon as it takes the place of the foreign exploiter.

7.) The bourgeoisie of the subjected and dominated countries will serve temporarily the purpose of a weapon against imperialism, but it cannot be relied upon. In the East the forces of world revolution – the forces on which the activities of the Communist International should be based – are to be found in the poor peasantry in those countries where feudalism still exists and among the proletariat and agrarian workers in those where machine industry has been introduced and the major portion of the population has been brought directly under the domination of modern capitalism, either foreign or native. The first stages of the revolution all over the East are bound to be a great upheaval against foreign imperialism, but it will be headed by the most revolutionary social class according to the economic development of the respective countries. Therefore, in organising this upheaval, different tactics will have to be adopted in different countries.

For instance, in India, a country directly ruled by foreign imperialism and needing political independence for free social development, it has not been practicable to unify the entire people, or at least a sufficiently large portion of it, in a movement for political liberation on the basis of bourgeois nationalism. Foreign imperialism exploits the masses through the agency of the native bourgeoisie and the impotent relics of feudalism. Therefore, a movement led by the bourgeoisie and actuated by bourgeois economic and political ideology naturally fails to attract the masses to its standard, since it cannot inspire confidence among them. It does not show them a way out of their present miserable existence. But until and unless the masses of the subject population take an active and conscious part in the revolutionary movement, foreign imperialism cannot and will not be overthrown only by the action of the bourgeoisie, even if it may succeed in rallying a certain section of the people behind it temporarily fired by sentimental enthusiasm. And it is only the historic struggle for economic emancipation which will unify the exploited class to which belongs the great majority of the people in the subject countries, including even the lower strata of the bourgeoisie.

8.) Religious-political movements like pan-Islamism cannot any longer be counted upon as a force against imperialism. Today, under the domination of imperialist capital and thanks to the progressiveness of the rising native bourgeoisie, the so-called Muslim world has become a thing of the past – it has ceased to be a social unit. It exists only in the imagination of fanatics, and the idea serves the ambition of the ruling dynasties and classes of the Muslim countries. Thus, pan-Islamism, which once had a certain revolutionary character, insofar as it could foment a mass upheaval, finds itself resting today only on the most reactionary and counterrevolutionary elements. The khans, mullahs, and even the progressive Muslim merchants and capitalists of the East find in the bankrupt idea of pan-Islamism a very convenient means of exploiting the ignorant masses. Such being its character at the present moment, pan-Islamism stands more on the side of imperialism than for the cause of liberation. In the economically and industrially backward countries of the Near and Middle East, the poor peasantry and handicraft workers should be organised to fight against imperialism and its henchmen, the native landlords and the merchant class.




1. The text, ‘Draft Theses on the Oriental Question Presented to the Third Congress of the Communist International’, is taken from an English original found in Comintern archives, RGASPI, 490/1/6. Minor corrections have been made on the basis of a comparison with the Russian text in Narody Dal'nogo Vostoka (1921), columns 337 – 42.