Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

Summary Speech

Third Session, June 24, 1921

COMRADES! The first speaker in the discussion, Comrade Brand [1], made a very interesting speech on which I shall not dwell since I am in general agreement with it. I merely want to comment on his concluding remark. Now I assume that he didn’t fully express himself inasmuch as he was somewhat rushed by the chairman but his statement might lead to some misunderstanding. Comrade Brand said that we will conquer the bourgeoisie not with statistics but by the sword and he tried to underscore this eventuality by the fact that I delivered the report here. Let me state quite candidly that I have had a great deal more to do with the Red Army’s statistics than with its sword. [Laughter] If Comrade Brand and other comrades believe that I participated, so to speak, sword in hand in the battles of the Red Army, they have a too romantic conception about my functions. I have had a great deal more to do with counting up the number of boots, trousers, and – with your permission – drawers, than with wielding the sword. [Loud laughter] Generally speaking, I believe that there is no contradiction whatever between swords and statistics, and that statistics relating to military equipment play a very big role in war. Napoleon used to say: “Dieu est toujours avec les gros bataillons[2] – “God is always on the side of the heaviest battalions.” And statistics, as you know, also takes in the strength of battalions. Comrade Brand will recall that during our advance on Warsaw, we committed some errors in our statistics, failing to calculate exactly the distances and the forces, and not allowing sufficiently for the enemy’s power of resistance. In short, a good sharp sword and good statistics relating to swords and everything else connected with swords, go excellently together. [Applause]

Comrade Seemann [3] has picked up a remark of Comrade Brand’s and has repeated it in a much sharper form, declaring that what we need is not to demonstrate the necessity of revolution but to carry it out. This is in part correct, but in a certain sense it is also incorrect. We must prove to the workers what the essence of the revolution is and why it is possible, necessary and inevitable; whereas so far as the bourgeoisie is concerned we must carry it through by force. And I think that Comrade Seemann and others who spoke in the same vein are somewhat mistaken in deeming that the objective analysis of economic development has proved that the revolution is inevitable, as Comrade Sachs or Comrade Seemann put it, at some fixed point of historical development. After all, this is what the Social Democrats of the Second International have likewise always reiterated. This doesn’t interest us any more. We must set ourselves a goal and achieve it through a corresponding organization and tactic. Yes, just as it is impermissible to counterpose a sword to statistics, so is it impermissible to counterpose the subjective factors of history – the revolutionary will and the revolutionary consciousness of the working class – to the objective conditions. After all, the opportunists – the Hilferdings and the Kautskys and the Kautskyites – render automatic the process of mental and spiritual development, by introducing into their prodigious historical statistics only the objective factor, the will of the hostile class – which is for us an objective factor. And by virtually excluding the subjective factor, the dynamic revolutionary will of the working class, they thereby falsify Marxism, converting it into sophistry. But there is still another method of organizing the revolution methodologically – a method of revolutionary thinking, whose representatives were to be observed in large numbers on the soil of Russia, that is, the Social Revolutionaries, and especially their Left Wing. They generally scoffed at objective thinking. They scoffed at the analysis of economic and political development and the analysis of the objective, or philosophically speaking, immanent tendencies of this economic and political development; and the SRs counterposed to all this free will and the revolutionary action of a minority. Once we divorce the subjective aspect from the objective, such a philosophy becomes transformed into sheer revolutionary adventurism. And I believe that in the great school of Marxism we have learned to couple the objective with the subjective both dialectically and practically, i.e., we have learned to ground our actions not only on the subjective will of this or that individual but also on our conviction that the working class must follow this subjective will of ours and that the working class’s will to action is determined by the objective situation. That is why for our proofs we must utilize economic analysis along with statistics so as to accurately mark off our own road and to march along this road, sword in hand, prepared for decisive action.

Comrade Sachs [4] is of the opinion that the theses are not fitting as a document of the Communist International since they do not treat the decline and progress of European economy critically enough. I shall merely refer you to page 9 of the theses where this is formulated quite definitively. Furthermore Comrade Sachs is of the opinion that precisely the proletariat is the subjective factor of history, whereas the theses have failed to emphasize this subjective standpoint. I think that Comrade Sachs, who differs in his tendencies from most of the speakers who have taken the floor today, has this much in common with them, namely – both he and they haven’t read the theses. In thesis 34 we definitely state:

At bottom, the question of reestablishing capitalism on the foundations outlined above means the following: Will the working class be willing to make under the new and incomparably more difficult conditions (this seems to be subjective enough!) those sacrifices which are indispensable for reinstalling the stable conditions of its own slavery, harsher and crueler than those which reigned before the war?

Then we go on to develop the idea of how necessary accumulation is, intensified accumulation, how necessary is currency stabilization, and so on. And throughout, one and the same thought is expressed. Economic equilibrium is not something abstract or mechanical. It can be reestablished only through the handiwork of classes. But the classes rest on the economic foundation. The bourgeoisie has succeeded in the course of the three postwar years in maintaining an equilibrium. The bourgeoisie still remains at the helm of the state. How? As I have already said, by new issuances of paper currency and thanks to the fact that the bourgeoisie in Italy, France and Germany is dipping into the disrupted state finances in order to supplement wages in the form of lower bread prices and cheaper rents. Every piece of German merchandise dumped on the English market denotes an unpaid part of a German dwelling which is falling into ruin, a part of a German house which cannot be renovated. And so, to restore class equilibrium they are compelled to ruin the economy, and conversely, in seeking to restore the economy they are compelled to disrupt class equilibrium. It is a vicious circle. This is the central idea of the theses. Those who have failed to cull this idea from the theses should, at my request, read them over again carefully.

Comrade Seemann said that Soviet Russia can serve as a safety valve for capitalism and thereby disrupt the development of the world revolution. Well, things are not yet so terrible as to cause European or American capitalism to throw itself at Soviet Russia in seeking salvation from the plight into which capitalism has fallen as a consequence of unemployment at home. The situation is still far from being so terrible, and our country unfortunately is far too ruined to attract foreign capital on a scale capable of becoming a threat to the development of the revolution in America and Europe. This is absolutely excluded.

I come now to the objections of Comrade Pogany. [5] He has found in our theses an inconsistency and a deficiency, and they are on pages 4 and 14. The contradiction, in his opinion, consists of this: We first say that prosperity has tended to weaken and mitigate the revolutionary explosions and then we go on to declare that the artificial prosperity will not retard the revolution but, on the contrary, will in a certain sense aid its development. Yes, the pseudo-prosperity of the past and the pseudo-prosperity of the future are evaluated quite differently by me. Comrade Pogany finds in this an inconsistency. But there is none here. For my analysis of prosperity is made in its historical context, in the concrete historical setting of the entire world and of the individual states. Comrade Pogany’s mode of thinking is at least in this question somewhat automatic and to employ the old terminology, somewhat metaphysical, inasmuch as he thinks that crises like prosperity always call forth one and the same tendencies. This is absolutely false. In the first place, such an interpretation of the theses leads to countless fallacies. He says that the theses want to do two things: first, wait for an Anglo-American war; second, wait for a period of prosperity. But it was not I who introduced, so to speak, prosperity into our tactics; I did not open the doors to prosperity and invite it to come in and change the situation. It is out of the question. What do our theses say? They say that we are living through a profound and acute crisis, which has acted to produce an intensified offensive by the capitalist class against the proletariat. The proletariat is nowadays everywhere on the defensive. Our task is to extend this defensive struggle of the proletariat on the economic plane, to deepen it, to enlighten the consciousness of the embattled proletariat by clearly and precisely formulating the conditions of struggle, to invest it with political forms and to transform it into the struggle for political power. This is our task, and it is self-understandable. Furthermore, I have stated in my report, and together with Comrade Varga I have written it into our theses, that should an improvement in the situation occur within the next two or three months, or half a year from now, then it is axiomatic that this will happen only provided the revolution does not erupt in the meantime. If it does erupt, then together with Comrade Pogany we shall not, of course, contravene this event, but shall on the contrary participate in it might and main. But let us pose the question: What if this doesn’t happen, Comrade Pogany? What if instead of the revolution an improvement occurs in the economic situation? Comrade Varga points in his pamphlet to many symptoms of this improvement; and even were the case such that it would not be possible to speak at present of improvement, then it is nonetheless necessary to establish that the tempo of deterioration is being retarded. This we know for certain. Prices are no longer failing as precipitately as hitherto. The financial market is under much less strain, and here and there one can perceive minor and superficial indications of an improvement in production. To be sure, they are very insignificant. It is quite possible that only a tiny zigzag is involved and that the development will soon move backwards again. But it is also possible that a more serious improvement will ensue. This depends not upon me, nor on Comrade Pogany, nor on the resolutions of the Congress. This is truly an external, automatic occurrence independent of our will. Does it herald the coming of a new epoch of economic development? In no case. Comrade Pogany thinks that should a revival take place within the next three months in the English market, export and production, then one would have to cast away all hope of a direct development of the revolution, the conquest of political power. We don’t think so. There is a great difference between the prosperity which came directly after the war, and the prosperity that is in prospect today. After the war the working class was still full of illusions. The working class was still disorganized like the bourgeoisie. A universal disorganization of classes reigned. Only a small minority of the bourgeoisie was clearly aware of its aims, while an equally small minority of the working class – the Communist group – was likewise aware of its aim. The great masses were wavering. Under these conditions it was extremely important whether upon returning from the war the worker would remain unemployed or would receive a fairly decent wage, whether he would get cheap or expensive bread because he matched his demands with his hardships and bloody sacrifices on the field of battle. The bourgeoisie created, through major financial concessions and at the cost of the further dislocation of the economic foundation, conditions which kept the masses in a mood of indecision for two years. Manifestly, entire layers of the workers nevertheless split off, but on the whole the existing regime has remained intact up to the present day. But now unemployment has caused great privations among the masses. The Communist parties which were in process of formation are crystallized; the disillusionment and disenchantment of the masses proceeds with giant strides and we are now conducting the struggle on the basis of the crisis and we shall continue to conduct it on this basis. It is not excluded that in the course of this struggle and this crisis we may come to power in this or that country. But if this struggle does not lead to positive results – to victory – then (and this is stated in the theses) the pseudo-prosperity will in no case act to stupefy the workers. On the contrary, every worker will, at the first signs of prosperity, recall all the disenchantments which he has suffered, all the sacrifices which he has borne and he will demand recompense for all this, including the wage cuts and the crisis. This is grounded historically, economically and psychologically. As regards the bad music, which Comrade Pogany overhead in my speech – to the effect that I am waiting for a new war and prosperity – I am not sure whether my voice is not musical enough, whether Comrade Pogany’s ear is insufficiently musical or whether perhaps the acoustics are poor. [Laughter] In any case there is some sort of discrepancy between my organ of speech and Comrade Pogany’s organ of hearing. I propose to no one to wait for a war between America and England. Had I known that this date – the year 1924 – would lead anyone into temptation, I would, of course, have renounced this accursed number in as much as it plays no role whatever in my conclusions. I adduced it merely for the sake of illustration. I was analyzing the question of economic equilibrium and I asked: How do matters stand in this connection in the international relations between the states? And I said that we had already lived through an armed peace on the eve of 1914, when everybody was preparing for war. But it then entered no one’s mind that the tempo would be so rapid and no one felt certain that the conflict would inevitably occur within two or three or four years. This inevitable conflict is not a mathematical point in historical development; it continues to exert influence on the modern groupings of the European states, as well.

Comrade Thalheimer [6] has repeated this selfsame charge that I allegedly seek to keep the revolutionary energy of the proletariat in reserve until the – outbreak of war in 1924. This has a rather peculiar ring. Then he said that I orient myself, so to speak, upon the peaceful disintegration of capitalism. He plainly stated that the theses take their orientation from this. Here, too, I shall refer to thesis 34 in which just the opposite is written. It states that so far as the automatic disintegration of capitalism is concerned, it is possible to restore the equilibrium, but that this process takes place precisely through the medium of the class struggle, and that therefore the equilibrium may not be restored.

The indemnity question was likewise analyzed in this connection. We were told that German indemnities must serve as a means of restoring the stability of Entente capitalism. Absolutely correct, but first the indemnities must be paid. And in order to pay them, the German proletariat must produce not only for itself, not only for the profits of its bourgeoisie, for its state, but also for these reparations. This implies an intensified exploitation which in turn implies a sharpening of the class struggle, but by no means the restoration of equilibrium.

The question, which is raised by many comrades abstractly, of just what will lead to revolution: impoverishment or prosperity, is completely false when so formulated. I have already tried to prove this in my report. One Spanish comrade told me in a private conversation that in his country it was precisely the prosperity which came to Spanish industry through the war that produced a revolutionary movement on a large scale, whereas previously stagnation had prevailed. Here we have an example that is not Russian but Spanish – an example from the other side of Europe. Comrades! Neither impoverishment nor prosperity as such can lead to revolution. But the alternation of prosperity and impoverishment, the crises, the uncertainty, the absence of stability – these are the motor factors of revolution.

Why has the labor bureaucracy become so conservative? In most cases it consists of weak creatures who live on a moderate scale, whose existence is nowise marked by luxury; but they have grown accustomed to stable living conditions. They have no fear of unemployment so long as they can keep themselves within the framework of the normal party and trade union life. This tranquil mode of existence has also exerted its influence upon the psychology of a broad layer of workers who are better off. But today this blessed state, this stability of living conditions, has receded into the past; in place of artificial prosperity has come impoverishment. Prices are steeply rising, wages keep changing in or out of consonance with currency fluctuations. Currency leaps, prices leap, wages leap and then come the ups and downs of feverish fictitious conjunctures and of profound crises. This lack of stability, the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring in the personal life of every worker, is the most revolutionary factor of the epoch in which we live. And this is quite lucidly stated in the theses. In them we refer to the crisis as such, and also to prosperity. On page 13 we say:

The instability of living conditions which mirrors the universal instability of national and world economic conditions is today one of the most important factors of revolutionary development.

This applies equally to the period of crisis as well as the periods of prosperity. This also covers the political conditions under which the working class lives. Before the war it had grown accustomed to the Prussian regime. This was, true enough, a frame of iron, yet a wholly reliable one. One knew that this could be done, while that was prohibited. Today this regime of Prussian stability has vanished. Before the war a worker earned 3 marks a day. But these marks had a clear ring, with them one could buy something. Today the worker receives (I don’t know exactly) 20 or 30, 40 or 50 marks a day, but he gets little for them. True, there used to be a German Kaiser, but by way of compensation you knew that you wouldn’t be killed on the streets if you were out on strike. In the most extreme case you’d be thrown in jail. Today, however, you might get shot while taking a stroll as a free citizen of the republic. This absence of stability drives the most imperturbable worker out of equilibrium. It is a revolutionary motor power. Remarks were made here to the effect that both the theses and I center our attention exclusively on the conflict between England and America, while ignoring all other conflicts. This is completely false. The theses deal clearly and specifically with everything that was said by Koenen [7] concerning the mutual relations between France and Germany. Even the recent capitulation and everything connected with it is treated on page 10. There it is stated:

Germany’s capitulation in May on the question of indemnities signifies a temporary victory for England and is the warranty of the further economic disintegration of Central Europe, without at all excluding the occupation of the Ruhr province by France in the immediate future.

Everything Comrade Koenen said has already been said in principle by the theses. Obviously, we cannot in the question of international politics center all our attention on the looming year of 1924. We must meet with open eyes every eventuality, we must study each day’s events and prepare energetically. And I believe that precisely in the sphere of international relations we have before us the greatest perspectives in the sense of attracting the proletariat to our side. Which is the most important thing. To conquer power and supremacy one must first conquer the proletariat. What is the position of the Second and 2½ Internationals on this question? I must call your attention to a minor example, the polemic between the Vorwärts [central organ of the German SP] and the Belgian newspaper Le Peuple. I don’t know whether this controversy has been adequately utilized in Germany. This polemic between two party organs who belong to one and the same Second International over the most burning and vital question – German reparations – is instructive to the highest degree for every German, Belgian and French worker. At the moment Briand was threatening to occupy the Ruhr province, Le Peuple, the Belgian yellow Socialist sheet, asked its German comrades the following questions:

We have seen, wrote Le Peuple, the German workers conduct themselves courageously in the days of the Kapp putsch. Why then are they silent now? Why don’t the labor organizations from one end of Germany to the other express their will clearly to prevent the occupation of the Ruhr province and its operation under military control?.

This means: Since my government, the Belgian – together with the French – will crush you, the German worker, in case your government is remiss in its payments of fixed indemnities to the French government, it follows that it is your duty, German worker, to make a revolution against your bourgeoisie, and compel it to pay indemnities so that my bourgeoisie be not compelled to crush you. [Laughter] This smacks of turning revolutionary duty into a football, and kicking it around like clowns in a circus. Your duty is to subordinate your bourgeoisie to mine lest I be compelled to go to war against yours. [Applause]

In reply to this, the Vorwärts wrote:

Each one of these questions we return in full to the Belgian labor organizations. After all, it is not our armies that must be kept from advancing.

This is said by the same Vorwärts and the same Social-Democratic leaders who in their day supported the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. One can talk about these creatures before the Belgian and the French and also the German working class only with a dog whip in hand.

Comrades, the revolution flows along three channels and of one of them we were reminded by Comrade Roy. The first great channel of revolutionary development is dying Europe. Europe’s social equilibrium, and above all that of England, has always been based on the preponderant position of Great Britain and of Europe throughout the world. This preponderance is forever gone. Fluctuations may take place. But the preponderance of Europe is a thing of the past and so is the preponderance of the European bourgeoisie, and that of the European proletariat as well. This is the first great channel of the revolution.

The second is the feverish development of America. We have here a great and feverish upswing, created by conditions which can never be stabilized, nor repeated, i.e., a great upsurge which must inevitably be followed by a great crisis and a great depression. These ups and downs, these unprecedented ups and downs of a great nation, of a great society, are a mighty revolutionary factor, and the possibility is not at all excluded that the revolutionary development of the United States may proceed at a genuinely American tempo today.

The third channel – the colonies. During the war, when the European countries were cut off from the world market, the colonies developed quite energetically in the capitalist direction. This was of no especially great economic significance for the world market. The Indian, Chinese and Japanese capitalisms do not play in it a decisive or prominent role. But for the revolutionary development of Japan, China and India, the development of capitalism, its already attained level of development, does play a decisive role. In India, a backward proletariat exists. But how great a role the proletariat can play in such a country with its semi-feudal agrarian relations – this you can gather from all of Russia’s modern history. The proletariat will play there a role which will be absolutely incommensurate to the stage of capitalist development and even to the numerical strength of the workers; for the peasantry of India or China has no other possibility, no other center of concentration than the young proletariat capable of struggle. And so, the colonial struggle is the third important channel of the revolutionary movement. They must not be counterposed to one another, for the movement flows parallel along these three channels, and they reciprocally influence one another all the time. And it is impossible to tell in advance when the movement will become sharpened in one or another. But, in general, the objective conditions, the automatic elements in history, are working splendidly in our favor. I hope that in life as well as in my speech the subjective factor is not being restrained nor smothered as so many comrades fear but, on the contrary, that the objectively-revolutionary is acting hand in hand with the subjectively-revolutionary, and that, both of them together are accomplishing splendid work.

A proposal has been made that the Congress refer the theses back to the Commission. It is, of course, necessary for the Commission to go over the theses again, and revise them in the light of the discussion that has taken place here. But nevertheless I ask the Congress to accept our theses in principle as the basis, before they are sent back to the Commission. [Stormy applause]


1. Brand – a prominent Polish Communist, one of the delegates from Poland to the Third Congress.

2. This favorite quotation of Napoleon is taken from Voltaire’s letter to a friend (1770): “It is said that God is always to be found on the side of the heaviest battalions.”

3. Seemann – member of the KAPD (See On the Policy of the KAPD, Note 1, Section IV), whose delegation was seated with consultative votes at the Third Congress.

4. Sachs – another KAPD delegate.

5. Pogany – one of the leaders of the Hungarian Communist Party. At the Third Congress together with other Hungarian delegates, Pogany was among the “Lefts.” Later with the Right Wing. Adventurer and careerist. Trotsky characterized him as “the consummate type of man who knows how to adapt himself, a political parasite.” Representative of CI in USA where he used the name “Pepper.” (See Author’s 1924 Introduction, intro.htm.)

6. Thalheimer – one of the closest collaborators of Rosa Luxemburg in the Spartacus League. After the formation of the German Communist Party Thalheimer became one of its leaders and the editor of the party’s central organ Rote Fahne. In the early ’twenties Thalheimer with Brandler became one of the leaders of the Right Wing of the Communist Party – whose counterpart in America was the Lovestone group. The Brandlerites were expelled from the CI in 1929 and survived for a while as a centrist movement headed for the camp of the bourgeoisie (where they finally landed). [While it may be the case the the Brandlerites adopted centrist politics, it is not the case that they ended in the camp of teh bourgeoisie. At the end of the 1940s Brandler returned to Germany – Thalheimer had died in Cuba in 1948 – and established a political current which still still exists today and has some influence in oppositional trade union circles. – TIA]

7. Koenen – one of the leaders of the German Communist Party; delegate to the Third Congress.

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Last updated on: 16.1.2007