Third Congress of the Communist International by August Thalheimer 1921

August Thalheimer 1921

Third Congress of the Communist International
Speech in Discussion of the World Economic Crisis and the
New Tasks of the Communist International

June 24, 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. 150-151
Translation: Translation team organized by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission


The theses of Comrade Trotsky unquestionably have exceptional importance for orienting the Communist International’s course of action. To a certain degree, they even anticipate this course. It is therefore necessary to examine these theses, and the outlook they express, very carefully, with a critical eye. In this examination, there is a passage in Comrade Trotsky’s speech that strikes me as particularly important. He says, ‘During 1918 and 1919, we foresaw the onset of a time of revolution.’ If I remember correctly, he said that we then believed that the revolutionary overturn in Europe was coming in months, and now we must reckon it in years. I have the impression that if we then set our sights too short, now they are being set too far off. I do not mean this in the sense of wishing to say that it may not require years before the situation in a major country of Europe is sufficiently mature for the conquest of power. There is little purpose in carrying on about dates and deadlines. I mean it in the sense that, as best I can judge, the revolutionary substance of the crisis period in which we find ourselves is not expressed with sufficient clarity, that its critical character is not sufficiently emphasised. The theses very much leave the impression that this time of crisis is a period of – so to speak – capitalism’s smooth decay, and that, generally speaking, the main enemy of the world proletariat will experience a new, temporary upturn and recovery. In my opinion, this viewpoint badly needs a correction. It is true that a degree of social equilibrium might appear to have been established, including on a world level, but this equilibrium is extremely uncertain and unsteady, to the point where it can be destabilised by a relatively small jolt, unleashing a political and social crisis.

Comrade Trotsky has identified the aggravation of British-US relations as likely to cause a world-political crisis in a relatively short time. I see a number of other such causes of conflict. Among the most important is the relationship of Germany and France. As a disruptive force, it appears to me to be much more immediate than that of the British-US factor.

Comrade Trotsky explained in exemplary fashion the economic ways and means that the bourgeoisie was able to utilise to get through the initial dangers after the years 1918 and 1919, prolonging to some extent the methods of war economy: intensified inflation and increased government debt. Comrade Trotsky explained all that in his speech. However, it seems to me that the strategic conclusion he drew from his assumptions regarding the world economy do not correspond to these facts. The conclusions to be drawn here must be emphasised much more strongly, in my opinion, than is done in the theses. Specifically, the period of war in which we live has established an equilibrium that is very unstable. This period of war holds the seeds of sharpened social and imperialist conflict. This is indicated in Comrade Trotsky’s theses, but not with sufficient sharpness or clarity. It is true that no one can predict today with any certainty that this period of war will be a time of civil wars – that is, what forms the aggravation of social and imperialist conflicts will take. If we want to be cautious, as we should be, we can say that such an aggravation of social and imperialist conflicts is likely. But we must say it emphatically and clearly. (Applause)

Speech in Discussion of Tactics and Strategy

July 2, 1921


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. 539-542.


Comrades, to start with I must establish a few simple facts relating to the March Action. With regard to its effects, it is perhaps sufficient to cite a few facts. We now hold the leadership of the unemployed movement in Berlin. We hold the majority in the Hamburg unemployed council. In the elections among railway workers in Berlin, we received about 4,900 votes, compared to just over 5,000 votes for the USPD and SPD taken together. In the bindery workers’ union, where the SPD and USPD made common cause, we won a majority. A few more facts: In the federation of salaried employees, a meeting of officials decided by a vote of 69 to 63 to expel the Communist officials. This decision was reversed the following day by Leipart, the chair, because they were not strong enough to carry it out. Something similar happened in the shipwrights’ union. A motion against the Communists was rejected by a 75 percent majority.

As regards what Neumann said here, a few corrections. What he said about the telegram concerning Anna Geyer is correct. I have no intention of dropping the matter. The situation was that Anna Geyer committed a gross breach of trust. She took part in what happened in the Zentrale without protest and then passed on documentation to Paul Levi. (Shame!) She repeatedly carried out gross breaches of discipline. In my opinion, a Zentrale that lets itself be led around by the nose in this fashion is not worthy of leading the party. Comrade Neumann would have done better to keep quiet about the way Freiheit exploits such matters, for the question inevitably arises of how Freiheit gets hold of such documents and why they are useful to Freiheit. (Loud shouting) Caution was in order, because this is not the first such case.

As regards how the movement was brought to an end, Neumann is spreading reports that we have heard quite often, but which do not gain in accuracy through repetition. He claims that the majority of the Zentrale was for breaking off the struggle and let itself be terrorised by Eberlein. Here are the proceedings from 30 March, according to which Comrade Brandler spoke as follows:

Just as the action was begun in united fashion, so too it must be brought to an end in unity. There appears to be a misunderstanding that I am advocating an end to the struggle as early as today. That is not the case. Although the decision on this question will be communicated only in two or three days, nonetheless we must clarify the issue no later than today, so that we will be able to adopt an appropriate orientation to our comrades and districts.

Then comes Thalheimer, the ‘theoretician’:

Given that a majority is against calling off the action, I will not oppose giving these comrades one or two days to arrive at a common approach regarding the position taken here on the need to end the movement, in order to be able to carry this out in a unified and concerted manner.

Our opinion was that even though there was strong disagreement, calling off the action had to be carried through by the party in a unified fashion.

Radek: Very true!

Thalheimer: Neumann also recounted another myth about an appeal that was drafted in advance. I do not need to speak to that, because it is truly pure fiction.

Now, as regards amending the theses. Comrade Lenin went after the amendments with all the energy that we so admire, but I had the impression that he was energetically bashing down open doors. The general position of the German delegation is that we are in agreement with the basic thrust of the theses. That is expressed in the fact that we have not introduced any counter-theses. However, we consider that in a number of cases the emphasis and balance must be shifted. Specifically, the balance between right and left must be shifted toward the left, because we do not see any serious left danger in the International.

Comrade Lenin said that we have settled accounts with the Right, that there is nothing further to be gained by struggling against the Right, and it is time to begin another chapter. Unfortunately, we have not yet disposed of the Right. We have not yet achieved that even in the Russian party. The overall situation in the International is and will probably remain such that it will be necessary to wage an ongoing struggle against both right-opportunist and left aberrations. The question is which danger is the greater and which is the lesser. Comrade Lenin said that we have approved the expulsion of Levi, and that is a political fact. Serrati is outside the International, and that is also a political fact. We have given the KAPD an ultimatum, with a deadline, and that also is a political fact. And we have defeated the antiparliamentary current in the Italian movement,[1] and that also is a political fact. We can only conclude that the left danger cannot be particularly great.

Now as to the basic thrust of the amendments we are proposing. As Comrade Lenin sees it, their basic thrust is that we have reservations regarding the viewpoint that we must form large revolutionary mass parties and that the majority of the working class and of all layers of working people must be for communism in order to launch the assault against bourgeois society. But that is not the situation.

The programmatic point of view of the German party, as advanced in the past and also here, can perhaps be explained with reference to the way it is already set down in the Spartacus League programme. I will read this passage. In the programme of the Spartacus League, adopted at the end of 1918, we read:

The Spartacus League will never take over governmental power except in response to the clear, unambiguous will of the great majority of the proletarian mass of all of Germany, never except by the proletariat’s conscious affirmation of the views, aims, and methods of struggle of the Spartacus League.[2]

Thus we never opposed this programmatic position. Rather we have demonstrated in action that we thoroughly agree with the viewpoint presented here in the Spartacus League programme. Our criticism of the draft was based on concern that its text would give opportunist forces an opening to develop an assessment of the possibilities for struggle in purely arithmetical, statistical terms. That is why we proposed to take out the term ‘majority’ and in its place say simply ‘working class’. What does that mean? It means nothing less than half of the working class, and, in fact, a good deal more.

Now another passage. In the section on Czechoslovakia, we did not delete the reference to the party’s task of attracting still broader masses. Rather, here too we sought to shift the balance, to make an adjustment, by saying that the party indeed has this task, but above all it has the task of educating the broad masses that support it and, through its propaganda, to have an impact on them and lead them into the coming struggles.

That is the general point of view underlying our amendments, a point of view that we believe needs to be taken into account. Indeed, it must be taken into account, given that a number of parties and delegations have given us their support. Comrade Lenin was quite right in saying that the theses now before us are a compromise – in a Communist framework, of course. Now we have a range of additional forces that do not want to shift the line out of this framework but rather seek, within this framework, to adjust it. In my opinion, therefore, the final outcome must definitely take into account this relationship of forces. (Loud applause)


Notes

1. A reference to Bordiga’s Communist Abstentionist faction, which was one of the components that united together in the Communist Faction at the November 1920 Imola conference. Bordiga’s current dropped its abstentionist position after the Comintern’s 1920 Second Congress.

2. Luxemburg, ‘What Does the Spartacus League Want?’ at https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1918/12/14.htm