August Thalheimer 1922
Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Report on Programme

November 18, 1922

Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (, pp. 501–518.
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018.
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.

Comrades, you have before you four different draft programs: Comrade Bukharin’s, a Bulgarian programme, a German programme, and finally the action programme of the Italian party. I do not believe it is my task to choose from among the different drafts and perhaps praise the German draft in all its specific details as the one that must absolutely defeat all its competitors. It is a first draft that needs to be improved and expanded, with regard to both form and content. But I believe that is true of all the drafts before us; the German draft is not an exception. In their present form, the drafts provide a basis for a final text and an international discussion. I believe the final text can only be achieved through collective work. I agree completely with Comrade Bukharin that only the next congress can decide on the final programme. All we can do today is to introduce and prepare the definitive formulation. To this end it is necessary to define the points of difference, to the extent that they exist, briefly but quite precisely, and that will be the main subject of my presentation. I will not repeat the outstanding presentation of Comrade Bukharin in demonstrating the theoretical and programmatic bankruptcy of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals. But I will at least touch on this topic by expanding on it slightly.

First of all I would like to point out that Kautsky goes so far in his text on programme as to abandon the basis of Marx’s conception of the capitalist economy. Marx’s view centres on the concept that the purpose and regulative principle of capitalism is the production of surplus value. Kautsky has now suddenly come upon the thought that capitalism is directed by consumer needs. I believe that there can be no more complete and fundamental capitulation to bourgeois economics than this.

I will also touch briefly on the reform-socialist proposals that Kautsky proposes as the path to a socialist economy. Comrade Bukharin has quite rightly mentioned that we are not divided from Kautsky by a disagreement on the speed of transition from capitalism to socialism. Rather the key point is that we are convinced that this transition can begin only after the conquest of political power, while he says that this can take place before and without the conquest of power.

Now Kautsky’s revisions in all these points take him right back to Bernstein. All these reform proposals, these paths that Bernstein took, are now taken by Kautsky with the claim that they now represent true Marxism. I will seek to examine these points in practical rather than theoretical terms. What is the character of these proposals? They concern, first, the well-trodden path of municipal socialism, and, second, the path of guild socialism, a new and imported commodity.[1] And here, in order to demonstrate his newest old-Bernstein theses, Kautsky, who always poses as a particularly sensible theorist, lapses into total nonsense. Take guild socialism, for example. Guild socialism proposes that the trade unions can introduce socialism step by step, without the conquest of political power, and, so to speak, behind the back of capitalist society. Now we need only look at the condition of the trade unions, their financial status in a collapsing capitalist economy, to recognise that this is total fantasy. Given that the trade unions are now experiencing the greatest difficulties in maintaining their strike funds, we can hardly expect them to introduce socialism behind the back of capitalism.

A second beloved hobby-horse of reformism is municipal socialism, or municipalisation. Anyone who has a feel for conditions in the West knows that the outstanding feature is the bankruptcy not only of countries but also of municipal finances. The challenge facing the municipalities today is not to carry out a transition to socialism on their own, but rather to fend off the attacks of the capitalists, who want to privatise the municipal enterprises.

Now a third point. In order to make the transition as gentle as possible, they have proposed the taking over of capitalist property with compensation. As you all know, Marx once spoke of the fact that the British landowners could possibly be bought out with compensation.[2] But he did not mean that this could be done before the conquest of political power. He saw this road as open only after power had been won. Where do things stand in Europe today? Let us assume that power has been taken, and it is proposed to buy out the capitalists. Everyone knows that one of the first preconditions for socialist construction is to eliminate the enormous dead weight of debt that burdens the economy. These gentle methods of buying up capitalists are today just as much a utopia as Kautsky’s concepts of guild socialism or municipal socialism.

I would also like to point out another of Kautsky’s great feats, which has special interest for us here and now. This is the question of Kautsky’s conception of, first, the state bureaucracy, and, second, state capitalism or state socialism. In Kautsky’s view, there are only two states left where bureaucracy plays a major role. One of them is France, this ‘republic without republicans’. The second such state, Kautsky tells us, is Soviet Russia. It seems that to the extent that democracy has been introduced in Germany, the state bureaucracy has disappeared. The actual result of this view is that in Germany and other bourgeois democratic states the Social Democrats do not touch the bureaucracy – they leave it intact. In practice the Social Democrats’ entire policy boils down to appointing Social Democratic officials to serve beside the bourgeois ones.

Now comes the opposite view. In discussing state socialism and state capitalism, Kautsky suddenly discovers that this state bureaucracy is still there and is quite incapable of taking command of the capitalist enterprises. It is rigidly conservative and inert. Only the capitalist bureaucracy can take charge of these enterprises.

And what does that mean in practice today, in Germany and generally? It simply means alliance with Stinnes and his people, working hand in hand with them, and recommending the Stinnes bureaucrats as the professional layer that is to carry out socialisation. Kautsky already gave his theoretical blessing and justification for this, before the fusion of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, of the USPD and SPD. If a Stinnes government is formed today in Germany, with Social Democratic participation, and if this government seeks to hand over the still state-owned enterprises to private capital, Kautsky has already given this his theoretical blessing.

I wanted only to touch on these points, which seem particularly relevant in showing up the garish capitulation of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals in their theoretical dimension.

I will also expand somewhat on what Comrade Bukharin said about Marx’s epigones and their degeneration. In this regard, please note that the historical record shows the beginning of debates with these epigones of Marx in Germany and elsewhere in the Second International right after the outbreak of the first Russian revolution [1905]. The starting point was then the debate on the mass strike, and the battlefield broadened out from that. The main arena of struggle was the theoretical debate on the roots of imperialism and, linked to that, the political question of disarmament.[3] This is where the first theoretical clashes took place, laying the groundwork for what was to develop, on one hand, into the Marxist Centre, leading to the USPD and now the united SPD, and, on the other, what was to become the Communist Party of Germany.

Now an additional comment to underline what Bukharin said regarding the theoretical capitulation that found expression in the programme of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, above all in the Görlitz programme.[4]

Everything that Bukharin has referred to and stressed – banishing the theory of immiseration and of crises, and so on – all this is expressed with great clarity and precision in the commentaries written on the Görlitz programme. Kampffmeier, Bernstein, Stampfer. They all emphatically confirm this liquidation.

As to the points under debate, I will deal principally with the following questions:

  1. The section on fundamentals that explains imperialism theoretically in relationship with the theory of accumulation.
  2. The question of transitional measures, demands for stages, or however one may term them, prior to the conquest of power. I regard this as the central issue in successfully working out the programme both on a general level and in terms of the individual parties.[5]
  3. Short remarks on the economic transitional measures following the conquest of power, such as war communism and the New Economic Policy.
  4. The structure and form of the programme.

Let me pass directly to the first point, which concerns the theoretical foundations of imperialism. Of course we will not enter into a profound theoretical debate here. My concern is only that the question be clarified and that we start up the theoretical discussion that seems to me to be essential. Clearly, a decision can only be taken in such questions following a thorough theoretical discussion in writing and in other forms of debate. My goal is to define the question precisely and to emphasise its practical, theoretical, and programmatic importance. As I already mentioned, the programmatic, theoretical, and tactical disagreements in the old Social Democracy began precisely on the theoretical question of imperialism. Two questions are involved here. The main issue is whether imperialism is a necessary phase of capitalist development that is required, from a capitalist point of view. The second issue is explaining the theoretical basis for this necessity. In Germany, this was the acid test that divided the Marxist Left from the Marxist Centre. The overriding point on which this question turns is clearly that imperialism, in economic terms, is a problem of accumulation, of capital’s growth, of expanded reproduction. This expanded reproduction, growth of capital, and extension of capital into non-capitalist territories is a historical fact, which dates not just from the imperialist epoch but, as we know, from the very emergence of capitalism. From that moment on, the world is filled with colonial wars, colonial conquests, wars over trade, and so on.

So when we explain imperialism, it is not merely the fact of the projection of capitalist expansion into colonial regions, but of the particular form that this expansion takes today under imperialist conditions. This special form of expansion, these special conditions that mark capitalist expansion in the imperialist age were formulated by Comrade Luxemburg as follows:

The imperialist epoch consists of a struggle for what is left of the non-capitalist territories, for their redivision, and finally, related to that, the expansion of capitalist and political power.

These facts have long been known and are not in question. The task is to explain them, in particular with reference to judging whether this imperialist epoch with its catastrophes and crises is a historical accident or is inevitable. And linked to that is a political decision on whether it is possible to go back from this imperialist epoch, to turn the wheel back to the Manchester epoch, that of liberal capitalism, free trade, peace, pacifism. Or is there only a road forward, surmounting this imperialist epoch through revolution? Is there only the road forward to socialism? How we answer this question will also determine political tactics.

Let us assume that imperialism expresses the interests of only one sector of the bourgeoisie, while the interests of the bourgeoisie as a whole are quite compatible with Manchester methods. What does that tell us regarding tactics? It tells us that it is tactically possible to ally with one wing of the bourgeoisie against the other. Here we see the theoretical and programmatic foundation of the coalition policy. And an opposite assumption of course leads to an opposite conclusion.

On a purely theoretical plane, the question posed is whether the unrestricted expansion of capital and its accumulation is possible within the limits of capitalism, or whether this accumulation meets its limits within capitalism itself. To express it in the simplest way, is it possible for capitalism to grow and to extend itself without limit, or are there definite theoretical limits to this extension and growth? The theory of accumulation has been met with the objection that it is a kind of fatalism, focused on the point where capitalism automatically breaks down. This point where capitalism no longer has any space left for expansion and must automatically break down is a conceptual boundary, what the mathematicians would call a limit. But what’s at stake here is something rather different. Capitalism in its imperialist phase is compelled to sharpen class antagonisms and necessarily passes through the most extreme political and social disasters. It follows that what is decisive for the end of capitalism is not the theoretical endpoint but the period of severe crises brought about by imperialism.

In order to demonstrate this, I need to quote the passages on this point by Comrade Luxemburg. This is taken from her article replying to the critics of her book on accumulation:

Accumulation is impossible in a strictly capitalist environment. That is what causes, from the very inception of capitalist development, the drive for expansion into non-capitalist layers and countries, the ruining of crafts and the peasantry; the proletarianisation of the middle strata; colonialism; efforts to open new markets; and the export of capital. From the outset, only continual expansion into new spheres of production and new countries enables capitalism to exist and develop. But worldwide expansion leads to a clash between capitalism and the pre-capitalist forms of society. That means violence, war, revolution: in a word, disaster – the vital element of capitalism from its beginning to its end.[6]

At this point, Comrade Luxemburg asks whether capitalism’s objective limit will be reached. She asks whether it will really arrive. Here is how she responds:

Certainly that is only a theoretical fiction, precisely because the accumulation of capital is not merely an economic but also a political process.

Imperialism is as much a historical method of prolonging the existence of capitalism as it is the surest means of setting an objective limit to its existence by the shortest possible route. That does not mean that this end point will necessarily be reached. The mere tendency toward this final point of capitalist development finds expression in ways that give the final phase of capitalism the form of a period of disasters. (Akkumulation des Kapitals, page 425)

This is then explained in more detail:

The more ruthlessly capitalism uses military power internationally and at home to destroy the non-capitalist layers and to drive down the conditions of existence of all layers of workers, the more the daily history of world capital accumulation is transformed into a continual chain of political and social disasters and convulsions, along with periodic economic catastrophes, all of which make the continuation of accumulation impossible, while driving the international working class to rebellion against capitalist rule, well before capitalism comes up against the limits that it has created for itself. (page 445)

And now, comrades, let us hear a few words from the other side of the coin, those who fiercely resisted this theory from the start. Hilferding, whose Finanzkapital repeats this Marxist theory very concisely, says that capitalism can expand without limit. And so that the Austrian head of this school will not be left out, Bauer has developed a quite curious theory that capitalist growth is regulated by the growth of the population, and the working population in particular. This turns upside down Marx’s population theory, which says the exact opposite.[7]

Now I would like to indicate a few examples of the political results of this point of view. And I stress that there are many who reject the theory of accumulation but do not draw these political conclusions. That tells us nothing regarding their arguments, but does indicate a lack of consistency. I will cite those who have taken this theoretical starting point to its logical conclusion.

Let us start with Kautsky. We have an ongoing series of statements, from 1912 to 1922. On 26 April 1912, Kautsky wrote in Die Neue Zeit:

The armaments race has economic causes, but it does not reflect any economic necessity.

That certainly shows expert scholastic finesse.

In no way is it economically impossible to end it.

Here you have the key to theoretical key to the stand taken by the USPD and Kautsky during the war.

Bernstein spoke in the same vein at the Chemnitz party convention in 1912. It is significant that these two adversaries had already in 1912 encountered each other at the same spot. Bernstein said at Chemnitz:

I could say much to refute the notion that the disarmament we are demanding today is a reactionary utopia. It is no utopia. ... World history has often travelled on false paths.

That reminds me of the little story about an officer who sees a dove flying and cries out, ‘Look, the dove is flying all wrong’.

We want to intervene consciously in the process around the slogan, ‘Peace on earth, good will toward men’.

In 1912, Kautsky and Bernstein had already united in this spirit of good will.

Now Hilferding during the war. I have here a short excerpt from an article that Hilferding published in November–December 1916 under the title The Theory of Collapse: Reciprocity and Force as Tools of Trade Policy. Here are a few short quotations from it.

Although capitalism would remain viable even if the entire world was marked by almost the same degree of capitalist development, imperialism presupposes the existence of great economic disparity.

Further on:

The working class can support only a trade policy based on reciprocity.

And finally:

Free trade is counterposed to imperialist trade policy and thus to imperialism itself, and is thus an inevitable demand of proletarian struggle.

Further on:

In this framework colonial policy loses its importance. It does not matter to whom the colonies belong politically. From a purely economic point of view, the development of the British colonial empire has benefited all other economies, and they are spared the costs of acquisition and development.

What is at the bottom of this? The very thought that we mentioned before, namely that imperialism can be overcome through a backward development to free trade, and the resulting theoretical consequences. The working class should not struggle forward toward socialism but backward. It must ally with the appropriate layers of the bourgeoisie.

And the most perfect flowering of this theory, comrades, is an article by Hilferding written early in 1922, in which he demonstrates that the time of imperialist contradictions is over, and that we are at the dawn of an era of broad imperialist harmony. This is entirely consistent with his starting point of 1912. Hilferding says:

The capitalist economy possesses two means of increasing profits: competition and agreements. The more developed capitalism is, the more competition is replaced by agreements. The same holds true for the international politics of capitalist states. ... The recent war left two predominant centres of power. It also demonstrated how pernicious the war was. Successes can only be reached if there is a change of method, putting agreement in the place of struggle.

Agreement: that is the advice that Hilferding offers the capitalists in 1922, based on his analysis of the world situation.

Comrades, this question of how to explain imperialism theoretically plays a role not only in Germany but also on Russian soil. I suggest that the Russian comrades in particular take note of this. It was the legal Marxism of Tugan-Baranovsky, Struve, and Bulgakov, who put forward the theory that capitalism possessed an unlimited capacity for accumulation. I would like to briefly discuss the origins of this theory. For Marxism in Russia, then in its formative stage, it was a matter of showing that capitalist development in Russia, contrary to the views of the Narodniks, was possible and necessary. These Marxists proved their point, but they somewhat overdid it.

Interjection: Lenin as well?

Thalheimer: Yes, Lenin as well. They demonstrated that capitalism was limitless and eternal. And in the process, they provided theoretical proof that socialism is impossible. And here, comrades, is the analogy to the situation in Germany. Tugan-Baranovski, Struve, and Bulgakov all landed in the camp of the bourgeoisie. There are other cases as well, but in my view they are based on theoretical inconsistency.

The reason I am raising this question in such detail and precision is that I believe this is far from a secondary question. It is a central theoretical issue. The criticisms raised against this theory in Germany and by the Austro-Marxists in Austria must in my opinion be refuted. Comrades who reject this theory – and that includes a number of Russian comrades – have the responsibility to discuss the matter theoretically. Not here and now, but they must do it.

I now come to the question that is decisive for the drafting of the overall programme as well as that of the individual parties, and this is where I have a sharp disagreement with Comrade Bukharin. This is the question of transitional demands, demands for stages, and the minimum programme. Comrade Bukharin’s position is we must separate off these specific transitional and temporary demands from the programme as such. He puts them in a chambre séparée [separate room], which he calls the action programme. Here sinful behaviour is permitted.

Bukharin: But admission is free!

Thalheimer: Admission is free. Good, we will throw open the doors and see whether what is done there is programmatically permissible.

Interjection: What do you consider permissible?

Thalheimer: That’s exactly the point. In Germany too we have had objections against including in the programme transitional demands, which apply to the period before the conquest of power. Just like Comrade Bukharin, these comrades sniffed out a certain danger of opportunism. We must therefore check very carefully whether it is possible to separate tactical principles from the other principles and goals. We must make a distinction here. I am not talking here about specific day-to-day demands but tactical principles. And in my opinion, to seek a safeguard by separating tactics from principles and goals is a serious error which in fact opens us up to the very dangers that we are trying to eliminate. (‘Very true’ from the Germans)

We need only consider the history of the Second International and its collapse in order to recognise that it is precisely this separation of tactical principles from goals that opened the door to their descent into opportunism. How did this begin in Germany? With the Bernstein-Kautsky debates on tactics. The final goal was not challenged. Further, the difference between us Communists and the reform socialists can be summed up today in terms of the final goal: we want socialism and communism, and they do not. How do we show that this is true? We do so by saying that the tactics, the road that these people are following, is a different road. That is the decisive evidence.

What I am saying is that the specific disagreement between us and the reform socialists is not the fact that we put demands for reforms, demands for a stage, or whatever you want to call them in a chambre séparée and keep them outside of our programme. Rather the difference is that we link transitional demands and slogans very tightly with our principles and goals. This linkage is of course no guarantee in itself, any more than having a good map guarantees that I will not lose my way. As if I do not need to know how to read the map! Comrade Lenin recently said regarding Russia that it has to focus above all on the essentials of how to read and write. This is true of the Communist parties of the West in a different sense: we have to learn to read reality.

Radek: And also learn to struggle!

Thalheimer: That is just the point. In my opinion, therefore, the opportunist danger is located on precisely the opposite side from where Comrade Bukharin sees it. The danger lies in the roads that lead from a given starting point to socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

If we leave large parts of this road without illumination, there is a danger that in the dark patches (Interjections: ‘Bukharin’)[8] many errors will be made. I was particularly interested in what Bukharin said regarding the text from the Italian Communist Party. They said they were against the transitional demands because they should not be elevated into a credo.

There is quite a number of such transitional demands and measures that should become a credo for the individual parties.

Comrades, the question of transitional demands and a minimum programme is not new. It was fought out even here, in Russia, and I believe it is worthwhile to read the documents that relate to this. It was in the autumn of 1917 that the Russian party took up the question of its programme. At that time the Russian party was close to the conquest of power, and this fact was then rather clear. The question arose whether the party should maintain only its maximum programme and throw out the minimum programme. I believe it is important to quote what Comrade Lenin said about this. Please forgive me that this quotation is somewhat lengthy. Comrade Lenin said:

In fact our entire programme would be a worthless scrap of paper if it did not provide for every eventuality in every stage of the struggle, giving assistance through applying rather than not applying the programme. Given that our programme formulates society’s historical development from capitalism to socialism, it must also sketch out all the transitional stages of this development, that is, it must always indicate to the proletariat the course of action appropriate to the goal of approaching socialism. That means there should be no situation when the proletariat must abandon its programme, or when the programme abandons the proletariat.

From this flows the practical conclusion that there must not be a time in which the proletariat, placed in power by the course of events, would not be capable and obliged to take specific measures to realise its programme, specific transitional measures of a socialist character. The assertion that the socialist programme could fail us at some moment under the political rule of the proletariat conceals within it another, unconscious contention: that the socialist programme as a whole can never be realised.[9] ...

From the general or theoretical part of the programme we shall now turn to the minimum programme.

Here we at once encounter the ostensibly ‘very radical’ but really very groundless proposal of Comrades N. Bukharin and V. Smirnov to discard the minimum programme in toto. The division into maximum and minimum programmes is out of date, they claim. Since we speak of a transition to socialism there is no need for it. No minimum programme; simply a programme of measures for the transition to socialism.

Such is the proposal of these two comrades. For some reason, they have not ventured to offer their own draft (although, since the revision of the party programme was on the agenda of the next congress of the party, they were really under an obligation to work out a draft). It is possible that the authors of the ostensibly ‘radical’ proposal have themselves halted in indecision. ... Be that as it may, their opinion should be examined.

War and economic ruin have forced all countries to advance from monopoly capitalism to state monopoly capitalism. This is the objective state of affairs. In a revolutionary situation, during a revolution, however, state monopoly capitalism is directly transformed into socialism. During a revolution it is impossible to move forward without moving towards socialism – this is the objective state of affairs created by war and revolution. It was taken cognisance of by our April Conference, which put forward the slogans, ‘a Soviet Republic’ (the political form of the dictatorship of the proletariat), and the nationalisation of banks and syndicates (a basic measure in the transition towards socialism). Up to this point all the Bolsheviks unanimously agree. But Comrades Smirnov and Bukharin want to go farther, they want to discard the minimum programme in toto. This is contrary to the wise counsel of the wise proverb, ‘Do not boast when riding to battle; boast when you return from it.

Brandler: Hear, hear! (Laughter)

Thalheimer: [Still quoting from Lenin]

We are riding to battle, that is, we are fighting for the conquest of political power by our party. This power would be the dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasants. In taking power, we are not at all afraid of stepping beyond the bounds of the bourgeois system; on the contrary, we declare clearly, directly, definitely, and openly that we shall step beyond those bounds, that we shall fearlessly march towards socialism, that our road shall be through a Soviet Republic, through nationalisation of banks and syndicates, through workers’ control, through universal labour conscription, through nationalisation of the land, confiscation of the landowners’ livestock and implements, etc. In this sense we drafted our programme of measures for transition to socialism.

But we must not boast when riding to battle, we must not discard the minimum programme, for this would be an empty boast. (‘Hear, hear!’) We do not wish to ‘demand anything from the bourgeoisie’, we wish to realise everything ourselves, we do not wish to work on petty details within the framework of bourgeois society.

This would be an empty boast, because first of all we must win power, which has not yet been done. We must first carry out the measures of transition to socialism, we must continue our revolution until the world socialist revolution is victorious, and only then, ‘returning from battle’, may we discard the minimum programme as of no further use.

Is it possible to guarantee now that the minimum programme will not be needed any more? Of course not, for the simple reason that we have not yet won power, that socialism has not yet been realised, and that we have not achieved even the beginning of the world socialist revolution. ...

We must firmly, courageously, and without hesitation advance towards our goal, but it is ludicrous to declare that we have reached it when we definitely have not. Discarding the minimum programme would be equivalent to declaring, to announcing (to bragging, in simple language) that we have already won.

No, dear comrades, we have not yet won.

We now come to some further remarks that clarify this and, I believe, provide us with a basis for our continuing debate on programme. Comrade Lenin continues:

We do not know whether our victory will come tomorrow or a little later. (I personally am inclined to think that it will be tomorrow – I am writing this on 6 October 1917 – and that there may be a delay in our seizure of power; still, tomorrow is tomorrow and not today.) We do not know how soon after our victory revolution will sweep the West. We do not know whether or not our victory will be followed by temporary periods of reaction and the victory of the counter-revolution – there is nothing impossible in that – and therefore, after our victory, we shall build a ‘triple line of trenches’ against such a contingency.

We do not know and cannot know anything of this. No one is in a position to know. It is therefore ridiculous to discard the minimum programme, which is indispensable while we still live within the framework of bourgeois society, while we have not yet destroyed that framework, not yet realised the basic prerequisites for a transition to socialism, not yet smashed the enemy (the bourgeoisie), and even if we have smashed them we have not yet annihilated them. All this will come, and perhaps much sooner than many people think (I personally think that it will begin tomorrow), but it has not yet come.

Take the minimum programme in the political sphere. This programme is limited to the bourgeois republic. We add that we do not confine ourselves to its limits, we start immediately upon a struggle for a higher type of republic, a Soviet republic. This we must do. With unshakable courage and determination we must advance towards the new republic and in this way we shall reach our goal, of that I am sure. But the minimum programme should under no circumstances be discarded, for, first of all, there is as yet no Soviet Republic; secondly, ‘attempts at restoration’ are not out of the question, and they will first have to be experienced and vanquished; thirdly, during the transition from the old to the new there may be temporary ‘combined types’ (as Rabochy Put correctly pointed out a day or two ago) – for instance, a Soviet Republic together with a Constituent Assembly. Let us first get over all that – then it will be time to discard the minimum programme.

And in conclusion, it reads:

The same in the economic sphere. We all agree that the fear of marching towards socialism is the most contemptible treason to the cause of the proletariat. We all agree that the most important of the first steps to be taken must be such measures as the nationalisation of banks and syndicates. Let us first realise this and other similar measures, and then we shall see. Then we shall be able to see better, for practical experience, which is worth a million times more than the best of programmes, will considerably widen our horizon. It is possible, and even probable, nay, indubitable, that without transitional ‘combined types’ the change will not take place. We shall not, for instance, be able to nationalise petty enterprises with one or two hired labourers at short notice or subject them to real workers’ control. Their role may be insignificant, they may be bound hand and foot by the nationalisation of banks and trusts, but so long as there are even odds and ends of bourgeois relations, why abandon the minimum programme? As Marxists, advancing boldly to the world’s greatest revolution, but at the same time taking a sober view of the facts, we have no right to abandon the minimum programme.

By abandoning it we should prove that we have lost our heads before we have won. And we must not lose our heads either before our victory, at the time of victory, or after it; for if we lose our heads, we lose everything.[10]

Comrades, Lenin wrote this on 6 October 1917, in a situation of which he said, ‘We are on the eve of the proletarian dictatorship, our victory, but we are not yet there. We are still in today’. And in a world framework, comrades, we are justified in saying that the victory of world revolution is certainly not for today. It is perhaps not for tomorrow, not tomorrow in the way the word was used in 1917. On a world scale, it must be said that the period from today’s conditions to the achievement of world proletarian dictatorship is certainly measured in years, perhaps in decades, and certainly in decades if we consider not only the territories of developed capitalism but also the surrounding colonial and half-agrarian regions. For such a long stretch, lying before us, we must have clear signposts. What should be the nature of these signposts, these basic rules?

The main objection by Comrade Bukharin is that we cannot include specific daily demands in the overall programme, because these specific demands are only short-term. They can change from week to week, from month to month. And secondly, these specific daily demands also differ greatly from one country to another. They therefore cannot be brought together in a single framework. To this I reply that we do not need to bring the specific daily demands, in all their detail, into the general programme or into the national programmes either. But we do have to lay down tactical guidelines, tactical principles – methods, if I may put it that way – out of which all these specific individual demands can be safely and unambiguously derived.

And, comrades, it is not only such problems of the transition that differ from country to country and from week to week and month to month. There is a whole variety of such transitional issues, major issues that are general in character, that must absolutely be dealt with in a Communist programme. And in my opinion, a general programme of the Communist International that remains blank for this considerable stretch of the long road has very little value for the parties of the West. (‘Very true’ from the Germans) During the coming period the main emphasis will be on staking out this transitional period. Let me mention a few such transitional issues that in my opinion definitely belong in such a communist programme. I include here the question of control of production, of state capitalism, of guidelines for each party’s tax and financial policy. (‘Very true’) The parties face these questions every day, although the specific form varies.

Bukharin: Aha!

Thalheimer: True, but guidelines must be there from which practical conduct can be deduced. For example, take the Erfurt programme. It includes guidelines for tax policy, which today of course are outdated. You will not deny, Comrade Bukharin, that tax and financial conditions of the different countries, including Germany, varied over the years, and yet such a guideline is important, useful, and necessary.

A second important point in the transition, comrades, is our relationship to bourgeois democracy. Comrade Bukharin’s draft programme contains an outstanding critical evaluation of bourgeois democracy. But considering the Communist International as a whole, the array of its parties from India to Soviet Russia, is this enough?

Bukharin: No.

Thalheimer: Far from it! You must have a guideline, first from the Communists’ stand on democracy in conditions where bourgeois democracy does not yet exist, that is, conditions where we must fight against absolutist and feudal forms of rule. Second, we must have a guideline for Communists’ conduct in a situation like that in Germany, where it is a question of defending the republic against monarchist attacks. And third, we need a guideline for communists’ conduct in a situation like that of November 1918 in Germany, where it was a question of smashing democracy and going over to the dictatorship [of the proletariat]. In my view all these transitional phases must be indicated, in their broad lines rather than in detail. The fact that this is feasible is shown in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. Have a look at the last section, which takes up the Communists’ relations to other parties – to bourgeois democracy, to the petty bourgeoisie, and so on. A few brief sentences indicate the basic stance, and our programme must do this as well. A programme – and here I will recall a statement of Comrade Luxemburg, which seems to me to be very timely – must guide us with respect to all significant transitional phases. A programme that leaves us in the lurch in such phases, or one that can be used in some situations but not in others, is of little political value.

I also believe that Comrade Bukharin has not been consistent. His rejection of transitional demands would lead him logically to protest vehemently against the Bulgarian programme, and also against our German one. He will certainly have to make that good.

It has quite correctly been said here that both war communism and also the NEP were forced on us by imperious circumstances. They were not the product of finished plans drawn up in advance but were actions taken out of necessity. And these necessities reflected in both war communism and the NEP result from conditions that are not specifically Russian but general in character. So I now ask, how do these factors apply to Western Europe?

Trotsky has correctly developed the thought – as has Comrade Bukharin also, in exemplary fashion – that there is a contradiction between the requirements of civil war and economic necessities. War communism is above all a result of civil war. If we foresee – and we do indeed foresee – that we in the West will also have to pass through a period of civil war after the conquest of power, we also believe that this period will probably be shorter, and we may then assume that such a war communism will perhaps be less significant in the West than in Russia. Of course we cannot make detailed predictions, but we should establish that during a period of civil war, all economic requirements have to be subordinated to the necessities of war.

Then as to the NEP in the West. The needs of small peasants exist in the West as well, although not to the same extent. But I’d like to point out that we are accustomed to the view that Russia is carrying out a specific economic policy, and Germany, on the other hand, will have a specific economic policy. We forget that at the time that Germany faces this question, it will not stand alone, but rather will likely be part of a German-Russian economic bloc. What does that mean? It means that for the German economic realm these petty bourgeois masses of Russia come into the picture, and for Russia the industrial side is strengthened.

As far as we can see, this policy leads Russia forwards, but for the West it will probably be a retreat from what could actually be achieved there.

Comrades, the main importance of this economic policy for the parties of the West is that it establishes in the programme our relationship to the middle layers – the small peasants, small traders, and small craftsmen. In my view we should not set things down in the programme unless there is an economic requirement. But we should include in the programme the concept that concern to protect these layers may in some circumstances have to be subordinated to the requirements of civil war.

Now a remark concerning the Bulgarian programme.

In both our programme and the Bulgarian one, the demand is advanced for unification of poor craftsmen and tradesmen into cooperatives after the seizure of power. I would like to add one point here: these cooperatives will play a somewhat different role in industry – with poor craftsmen – then they do in agriculture. Let us consider a country like Germany with somewhat developed industry. Historically speaking, the moment will soon come to integrate these small industrial layers into large-scale industry. The situation with poor and middle peasants is different. With them the concept of cooperatives will extend over a much longer period, and these cooperatives will be somewhat different in character from industrial cooperatives.

To conclude, let me speak briefly of the programme’s structure. I would like merely to note that by and large I agree with the proposal made by Comrade Bukharin. In our programme we did not take up the analysis of the capitalist epoch. We began by analyzing imperialism. We have come to the conclusion that such an analysis of the capitalist epoch is necessary and must be added.

I would like to add that it seems to me essential to take into consideration Comrade Varga’s proposal to preface the programme with an analysis of pre-capitalist methods of exploitation. If we really want a world programme of communism, this must also be looked into.

Finally, on structure. Comrade Bukharin issued a reprimand regarding the length of the programme. Comrades, we too are dissatisfied with its length. But what happened to us was like the French bishop who wrote his friend, ‘I am sending you a long letter, because I do not have enough time to write you a short one’.[11] We did not have time to draft a short programme. It is absolutely necessary to keep it short, perhaps even shorter than that of Bukharin. I base myself here on a statement by Engels on the question of programme. He said that a programme should be as brief as possible and must leave much to be explained orally. In addition, it should be simple and as understandable as possible. Here too we concede that the German programme needs much improvement.

Comrades, to conclude I would like to say that we should protect our Communist programme with strong armour, as regards principles and goals. But we should not believe that we achieve that by leaving a large part of the road that we must travel without illumination or – differently stated – by omitting a large part of the road from our roadmap.

Comrade Bukharin and many other comrades fear that if this part of the road is included, we may not succeed at the crucial moment in leaping over it. Well, comrades, I would like to point out that our Russian comrades, when they retained their minimum programme on 6 October 1917, succeeded in making this leap very quickly. I am convinced that providing us with a programme that can lead us to victory is really not dependent on omitting this signpost. (Loud applause)


1. Guild socialism, advanced primarily in Britain in the early twentieth century, advocated worker self-government of industry through national worker-controlled guilds.

2. Thalheimer is probably referring to the following passage in Engels’s ‘The Peasant Question in France and Germany’: ‘As soon as our Party is in possession of political power it has simply to expropriate the big landed proprietors just like the manufacturers in industry. ... We by no means consider compensation as impermissible in any event; Marx told me (and how many times!) that in his opinion we would get off cheapest if we could buy out the whole lot of them’. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 27, p. 500.

3. See, for example, Rosa Luxemburg’s The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions (1906) and Peace Utopias (1911) in Luxemburg 1970, and The Accumulation of Capital (1913).

4. The Görlitz programme, adopted by the SPD in September 1921, was an openly revisionist document, committed to Germany’s capitalist Weimar state as ‘the state form irrevocably established by history’.

5. The concept of ‘transitional demands’ was explained by the Third Congress Theses on Tactics in these terms: ‘In place of the minimum programme of the centrists and reformists, the Communist International offers a struggle for the specific demands of the proletariat, as part of a system of demands that, in their totality, undermine the power of the bourgeoisie, organise the proletariat, and mark out the different stages of the struggle for proletarian dictatorship. Each of these demands gives expression to the needs of the broad masses, even when they do not yet consciously take a stand for proletarian dictatorship.’ To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (Historical Materialism Book Series, 2015), p. 936.

6. See Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), pp. 145–6.

7. Bukharin is referring here to Luxemburg’s discussion of Bauer’s population theory in Chapter 4 of her Anti-Critique, a defence of The Accumulation of Capital.

8. This interjection is found in the Russian but not the German text.

9. Neither of the preceding two paragraphs appears in either the Russian or English editions of Lenin’s works.

10. Text taken from Lenin Collected Works, vol. 26, pp. 170–3.

11. The quotation is commonly attributed to the French philosopher Blaise Pascal in his Lettres Provinciales (1656).


Last updated on 5 January 2021