Palmiro Togliatti

Diversity and Unity in the International Proletarian-Communist Movement

Written: 1961
First Published: 1961
Source: Rinascita, December 1961
Translated: Unknown
Transcription/Markup: Steve Palmer
Proofread: Unknown
Copyleft: Internet Archive( 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons License.

The Communist International (Comintern), the organisational expression and executive headquarters of the international proletarian movement, was dissolved in 1943 through a decision taken by the Presidium of the organisation's executive committee. At that time the Presidium included prominent party leaders from the Soviet Union (Zhdanov and Manuilski), Austria (Koplenig), Bulgaria (Dimitrov and Kolarov), Finland (Kuussinen), France (Marty and Thorez), Germany (Pieck and Florin) and Italy (Ercoli). The decision to dissolve the Comintern was supported by other representatives of national partieswho were in the Soviet Union at the time (Bianco for Italy, Dolores Ibarruri for Spain, Lehtinen for Finland, Pauker for Rumania, Rakosi for Hungary). The U.S. Communist party had already decided to withdraw from the Comintern in November, 1940, and its decision had been approved by the Comintern Executive. The dissolution of the organisation was not questioned by any party. All of them approved of this step; all recognised it as the beginning of a new period.

It is also well known that as early as the Seventh Comintern Congress In 1935, and particularly in the years immediately following it, attention had been drawn to the need to give the national sections greater autonomy in carrying out the policy decided on by the congress - the need for the international executive body to function in a different manner, limiting its direct intervention in the affairs of individual parties. After 1935, in fact, there were no more of those 'enlarged Comintern Executive meetings, with delegates from all countries, which had formerly been held almost annually, or even twice a year - meetings which had played a generally useful part in working out policies for the whole movement, taking detailed account of local conditions...

In sharp contrast with this line, there followed the dissolution of the Polish (Communist) party - a mistaken and catastrophic decision. The circumstances of that decision would have to be examined in detail to discover how it was that in this case a method of control was used which was opposed to that necessary and correct method approved by the Seventh Comintern Congress and which, I believe, was directly linked with the tragic errors being committed at that time by the Stalinist regime.

As regard the general orientation of the organisation, it is true to say that the decision to dissolve the Comintern had been in the air for years before it was actually adopted ... I well remember a talk I had on this subject with Comrade Dimitrov when I returned to Moscow toward mid-1940, back from war in Spain and imprisonment in Paris. In concrete terms, he predicted the dissolution.

If it was put off until 1943, this, I believe, was primarily due to the way in which events developed. In the period between September, 1939 and June, 1941, the period of the Soviet - German non - aggression treaty, the dissolution of the Comintern could have appeared as a concession, made as a result of that treaty, to the authors of the "Anti - Comintern Pact." Our enemies -- and particularly the Social Democrats, who specialised in calumnies of this type - would have presented it in this light, in order to spread confusion among our ranks. Later, up to the victory of Stalingrad, the fortunes of war were not proving particularly favourable to the anti - Nazi coalition or to the Soviet forces, and the dissolution could, if mistakenly interpreted, have discouraged Communist militants and the proletarian masses. After the tide had turned at Stalingrad, this second risk no longer existed, and the decision was taken.

Having recalled these matters of fact, it is of interest to see what arguments were used to show that the decision was a correct one, dictated by the situation and the tasks which faced the proletarian movement at that time. In my opinion, no adequate analysis of this has ever been offered; and yet it seems to me necessary to undertake it, if we are to understand properly the situation and the tasks which face us today.

The starting point is the precise affirmation of the differences between the problems to be tackled and the tasks to be undertaken in various countries. The statement issued by the Comintern Presidium put it in these words:

"The profound differences in paths of historical development in all countries of the world, the diversity of social orders, the differences in levels and paths of social and political development, and finally the varying degrees of awareness and organisation within the working class - alL these factors bring about diversity in the problems faced by the working class in various countries."

This affirmation is not only correct, but manifestly so. But, then, was it not correct earlier? Is it not always correct? Did this diversity of problems and tasks, the result of diversity in conditions and paths of development, come about only at that moment of history when the decision to dissolve the Comintern was taken? Or is it not rather a permanent factor in the development of the movement? There can be no doubt about the answer: this is a permanent element in the international working-class movement at all stages of its evolution, even though at one time or another it may have greater or less importance.

Let us turn to Lenin. In his writings we can find clear confirmation of this assertion. From the year 1908, for example, we have his well-known work Inflammable Elements in World Politics, in which he examines the development of the revolutionary working-class movement in the light of international events. First, he defines the general situation which is taking shape; but even in doing so, he does not fotget the importance of local variations:

"The struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie is being intensified in all the advanced capitalist countries, but because of the diversity of historical conditions, of political systems and of the forms assumed by the working-class movement, this tendency shows itself in varying ways... The international revolutionary movement does not and cannot proceed at the same pace and in the same ways in all countries. The complete utilisation of all the possibilities in all fields of action depends on the class struggle waged by the workers in individual countries, each country making its own original contribution to the movement as a whole." (...)

Similar statements, emphasising the variety of ways of revolutionary development at different times and in different countries, can be found in all of Lenin's writings... Let us see how he presents the problem of reconciling the differences within the movement with the tasks of an international directing centre - writing, not during the period of the Second International, but in 1920, when the Comintern had already been founded, with sections in almost all European countries, and was about to hold its second congress. In that chapter of Extremism in which he sums up his argument against left-wing sectarianism he writes:

"What matters most of all today is that the Communists of each country should take account not only of the fundamental doctrinal Questions involved in the struggle against opportunism and left-wing dogmatism but also of the particular character which that struggle must assume in each individual country ... Everywhere there is growing resentment against the (Social Democratic) Second International, either because of its opportunism or because of its inability to create an effectively centralised international headquarters which could coordinate international proletarian tactics in the struggle for a world Soviet Republic. It must be realised that such a centre cannot under any circumstances be set up according to a stereotyped model... As long as differences exist - and they will last a long time, even after the dictatorship of the proletariat has been achieved on a global scale - the unity of international Communist tactics does not demand the elimination of differences and the suppression of national peculiarities..."

(...) In the light of such an explicit affirmation, made in 1920, what are we to make of the decision to dissolve the Comintern, taken in 1943?

Did it mean that in the 24 years of the organisation's existence Lenin's precepts had not been followed, or that it was impossible to apply them as long as an international ruling centre was in existence? Such an interpretation would be completely mistaken. It may be - in fact, it is certain - that a study of the history of the Communist International would reveal mistaken decisions, incorrect judgements, failures to act; sometimes the Comintern failed to take account of local conditions and imposed its decisions as mechanically generalised directives ... But this was not usual: on the contrary, the careful study of local conditions was a rule followed, more or less, by the Comintern's executive bodies. We must conclude, then, that the decision to dissolve the Comintern was not based on the need to take account of the diversity of situations.

Dig deeper, and we shall find in the Comintern's own 1943 resolution a hint of the answer. That resolution speaks not only of "profound diversity" but also of "insuperable obstacles" which "long before the war" were already blocking the way to a solution of the movement's problems "by means of an international centre." It adds that the form of organisation and cooperation chosen by the First Comintern Congress had become "even a hindrance to the further strengthening of the national workers' parties."

"Obstacle" ... "hindrance" - here is a new idea which goes beyond the mere acceptance of diversity and national peculiarities. And we can rule out the possibility that the problem thus raised might have been of a technical or organisational nature; in that case, it could have been solved. No: this was a political problem, and the Comintern resolution says so, openly if succinctly.

First, it emphasises that the differences between conditions in various countries had become particularly acute because of international developments, and especially as a result of the war which had divided the world into two hostile camps ... One part of the Communist movement (in Fascist or Fascist-allied countries) had to follow the old defeatist line. Another part had to fight for victory over Fascism, and this was to be in the first place a military victory, to be obtained through a "national mobilisation of the masses." This mobilisation, however, "can better and more profitably be brought about by the vanguard of the workers' movement in each country within the framework of the individual state." (Rinascita's emphasis).

Without doubt, this last formulation was the most important one, giving as it did concise indications of the tactics and strategy to be followed in tackling the completely new tasks arising out of the war ... It was no longer merely a question of the Communists' role in the war against Fascism and Nazism, but of their participation in the governments of the liberated countries - and that not just as a subsidiary force but as a motive force and sometimes even a commanding force ... The study of paths of transition and approaches to the revolution had to be translated in terms of the struggle for a new type of democracy, and this struggle itself had to be adapted to conditions undergoing profound transformations. It became impossible to direct or control from a single centre such a complicated process at a time when some Communist parties were forming governments in People's Democracies, when the collapse of colonialism was finding it most grandiose expression not so much in the independence of India as in the victory of the Chinese revolution, when the forces of capitalism and imperialism were gathering themselves for that global reaction which became the Cold War.

In this new situation no one thought it possible to turn the clock back and set up again a single centre of organisation and direction. The formula of the autonomy of individual parties imposed itself; and this we adopted, gradually affirming it in a more and more explicit way, while at the same time rejecting - at first merely in practice, and then also in written resolutions - the concept of the "guiding state" and of the "guiding party," in so far as it raised the question of centralised direction in other ways.

The new international centre set up in 1947, the Cominform, was merely a clearing-house of information, designed to prevent parties drifting apart and help them to exchange experiences. However, even this was abandoned, because its very existence seemed to set limits on the affirmation of party autonomy[1]...

In the People's Democracies there was often a mechanical imitation and application of the Soviet example; in the capitalist countries (the Communists) did not always in maintaining and extending the progress made in the immediate post-war years through policies and mass actions adapted to the new situation. The recognition of the autonomy of individual parties was therefore linked with the affirmation of correct political principles, as they emerged from the decisions of the Twentieth Congress - it was not just the convenient solution of a difficult problem of organisation.

It would be a mistake not to recognise that the system of party autonomy has also had its negative aspects and has at times presented dangers, even serious ones. There is, first, the danger of isolationism, with each party turning in on itself in blind provincialism. Such provincialism can show itself in many ways, in the weakening of the internationalist spirit ... or in that particular form of presumption which can lead one to make oneself the centre of the universe, seeing oneself as entrusted with the task of subjecting the other sections of the movement to superficial criticism - without having any profound knowledge of the conditions of their development. We can fight this danger, and eliminate it, by emphasising the internationalist education of each single party, while at the same time multiplying its contacts with other parties ... And we can fight it also by appealing to that sense of responsibility which, during the best years of the Communist International, always inspired the criticisms directed against individual parties[2].

We help the whole international movement to make progress insofar as we ourselves make progress and prove by example the correctness and effectiveness of the positions we have taken up in doctrine and practice. This does not exclude mutual criticism, when necessary. Above all, it does not exclude - it even demands - the holding of meetings and conferences, at which various opinions can confront one another, and at which common policies can be worked out for whatever subjects and to whatever extent may be necessary. The Rome conference of 1959 offers a very positive example of this...

When the Cominform was set up, we were at a turning-point in international affairs. The war-time alliances were breaking up, and the Cold War was beginning. During the years of the Cominform's existence errors were committed which had unfortunate consequences in one country or another. At the international conference of Communist parties which took place in 1947, and which set up the Cominform, the emphasis was placed, with the necessary vigour and authority, on the decisive change which was then taking place in the international situation. This was necessary if we were to meet the imperialist attack with a struggle on a vast front, throughout the movement and throughout the world. It has been said, however - and it is true - that a certain dogmatism showed itself at that conference, as a result of which, for example, criticism was directed against the search for various ways of transition to socialism. Comrade Thorez recalled this in a recent speech, and we ourselves have often told how, within our own party, these criticisms led to hesitation and duplicity with regard to the development of our own advance toward socialism - a path which we continued to pursue vigorously. But these negative elements - the expression of a lack of understanding and of mistaken viewpoints connected with the cult of personality - had much less effect than the impulse given to the movement for action against the Cold War, against the attempts to change it into a fighting war and against the whole imperialist policy...

Another decisive moment in the development of the Communist movement came with the Twentieth Congress. On the one hand, the congress emphasised the need to adapt our positions to new conditions, thus joining battle with the dogmatists; on the other hand, by affirming that war can be avoided it placed at the centre of our action the problem of how to avoid it ... Since then, this has been the central and decisive theme which the  proletarian movement has faced and debated...

The thesis of the avoidability of war and of peaceful coexistence can, indeed, be interpreted in different ways. There can be a static conception which reduces the task to the maintenance of the status quo and does not seriously face the problem of the future, because of a fundamental reluctance to accept the thesis that war can be avoided because imperialism, without having changed its nature, is yet no longer capable of doing what it would like to do, since the global pattern of forces has been and is being profoundly changed to its disadvantage. This is a mistaken conception, but one can understand how it can arise in those sections of the proletarian movement which find themselves directly subjected to continual pressure and provocation from an aggressive and insolent imperialism - as the great Chinese People's Republic is confronted with U.S. imperialism, for example...

The only correct conception is that which makes the programme for peaceful coexistence a programme of action, of struggle against imperialism and of the progress of socialism throughout the world - in Communist-ruled countries through a continual increase in economic, political and social strength; in capitalist countries through an advance of the working-class in order to undermine and destroy the power of the bourgeoisie; in colonial or ex-colonial countries through the total destruction of colonialism in all its forms. This is, in substance, what is laid down in the resolution of the 81-party meeting in 1960, which formed the basis of the 22nd-Congress decisions. That resolution was worked out by a conference at which a widely-ranging debate took place, and the conference itself had been preceded by the confronting of various opinions in two important international meetings, in Bucharest and Moscow.

How was this debate popularised and used to give all parties and all militants the possibility of taking up correct attitudes on the questions at issue and thus of acting on them? It admitted that this was not done in the best way if in our own ranks, for example, there were comrades who were shocked by the dissensions which came to light during the 22nd Congress. However, all should realise that the present state of the movement, its present structure, and the very respect for party autonomy which we have affirmed, all demand that, when such tremendous political forces are involved, the discussion cannot be conducted as it could be in the past, or as it can be within a single party ... We must preserve an acute sense of our responsibilities ...

Take the case of the leading group of the Albanian party. We have already referred in passing to the unworthy way of conducting a polemic which the main spokesman of this group has adopted. But anyone who has been in Albania recently knows that it is not only a matter of a polemic of inadmissible insolence and vulgarity but of actions aimed at damaging the prestige of the Soviet Union and its leaders in the eyes of the people. What has an ideological debate in common with the grotesque ceremony in which the foundations of a great building, to be constructed: with Soviet aid, were solemnly destroyed in the presence of a large crowd. This was done because the foundation stone had been laid by Comrade Khrushchev, who, as is the custom, had sealed in the foundations a commemorative parchment; that parchment was taken out, torn to pieces, and the pieces thrown to the winds. We need not speak of other actions, even more serious and extreme ... in them all sense of responsibility is lost; they seem instead to show the clear intention of making an agreement impossible and of bringing about a split.

The present organisational structure of the Communist movement is, then, the result of a long process which, starting from the Seventh Congress and the dissolution of the Communist International, has led to the autonomy of all parties -whether this be in order to take account of the particular problems in each country, as Lenin prescribed; or in order to emphasise the possibility of various paths to socialism; or, finally, in order not to confuse the separate tasks of party and government in Communist-ruled countries. It is a form of organisation which certainly calls for the debates necessary to make progress in doctrine and practice. It is a form of organisation which also demands the working out of a common position on the movement's fundamental problems, its general objectives, in order thereby to attain unity. If this unity did not exist, or ceased to exist, the struggle against imperialism, for peaceful coexistence and socialism, would come to nothing, petering out in sterile particularism. Each party must make its contribution to maintain and strengthen that unity.

If we are to make that contribution effectively and correctly, it is important to realise that the movement is now stronger than ever before ... We possess an almost incalculable strength, expressed first of all in the historic achievements of the Soviet Union and its ruling party - the axis of an ever-spreading movement. That movement includes entire states and nations, from the Chinese Republic to the People's Democracies, each of which acts in full independence and autonomy, but each of which are united in the struggle for peace and social progress. There are shortcomings; there are, especially in countries still capitalist, weaknesses, deficiencies and errors to be overcome. Let us together pledge ourselves to the earnest task of finding them and overcoming them... a task from which we shall emerge with strengthened unity.


[1] To describe this autonomy, the term "polycentrism", understood as the absence of a single centre, has been used in our party. This has given rise to a polemic based on a misunderstanding - i.e., on the interpretation of polycentrism as meaning the existence of regional centres of direction for large zones. This has never been our intention. However, it must be honestly admitted that an attempt in this direction was made, in 1956, just after the 20th Soviet C.P. Congress. The proposal did not come from the Italian Communists: but they, together with the French Communists, did try to see if it could be implemented - always, let it be understood, remaining within the framework of the necessary reciprocal exchange of information and experience - and desisted, in agreement with the French comrades, in face of the difficulties involved. (Togliatti's footnote)

[2] The address delivered by Enver Hoxha on the occasion of a recent anniversary cannot be considered an example of criticism or debate worthy of Communists. Vulgarity and insults prevailed, and there was no attempt at argument. The leaders of the Soviet C.P. have become a clique of traitors to Marxism; the leaders of the League of Yugoslav Communists are a bunch of criminals; the friendly observations made by us after the Albanian party's congress are "Rome's sentence of excommunication", and so on. This is not the way one carries on a discussion. This is the way one talks when addressing an open enemy - or when one is trying to break up the movement. (Togliatti's footnote)