Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

Theses of the Third World Congress on the International Situation and the Tasks of the Comintern

Adopted unanimously at the Sixteenth Session, July 4, 1921


1. THE REVOLUTIONARY movement at the termination of the imperialist war and after this war is marked by an amplitude unequaled in history. In March 1917 Czarism is overthrown. In May 1917 a stormy strike struggle erupts in England. In November 1917 the Russian proletariat conquers state power. In November 1918, the downfall of the German and Austro-Hungarian monarchies. The strike movement sweeps over a number of European countries, constantly gaining in scope and intensity in the course of the succeeding year. In March 1919 the Soviet Republic is installed in Hungary. Toward the close of that year the United States is convulsed by turbulent strikes of steel workers, coal miners and railway men. In Germany, following the January and March battles of 1919, the movement reaches its apogee shortly after the Kapp mutiny in March 1920. In France the tensest moment in the internal situation occurs in May 1920. In Italy the movement of the industrial and rural proletariat grows incessantly and leads in September 1920 to the seizure of factories, mills, and landlord estates by the workers. In December 1920 proletarian mass strikes take place in Czechoslovakia. In March 1921, the uprising of workers in Central Germany and the coal miners’ strike in England.

The movement attains its greatest amplitude and highest intensity in those countries which had been involved in the war, and especially in the defeated countries; but it spreads to the neutral countries as well. In Asia and Africa the movement arouses or reinforces the revolutionary indignation of the multimillioned colonial masses.

This mighty wave, however, does not succeed in overthrowing world capitalism, not even European capitalism.

2. During the year that elapsed between the Second and Third Congress of the Comrdunist International a series of working-class uprisings and battles have resulted in partial defeats (the Red Army offensive against Warsaw in August 1920; the movement of the Italian proletariat in September 1920; the uprising of the German workers in March 1921).

The first period of the revolutionary movement after the war is characterized by the elemental nature of the onslaught, by the considerable formlessness of its methods and aims and by the extreme panic of the ruling classes; and it may be regarded by and large as terminated. The class self-confidence of the bourgeoisie and the outward stability of its state organs have undoubtedly become strengthened. The dread of Communism has abated, if not completely disappeared. The leaders of the bourgeoisie are now even boasting about the might of their state apparatus and have everywhere assumed the offensive against the working masses, on both the economic and the political fronts.

3. In view of this situation the Communist International presents to itself and to the entire working class the following questions: To what extent do these new political interrelations between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat correspond to the more profound interrelationship of forces between these two contending camps? Is it true that the bourgeoisie is about to restore the social equilibrium which had been upset by the war? Are there grounds for assuming that the epoch of political paroxysms and class battles is being superseded by a new and prolonged epoch of restoration and capitalist growth? Doesn’t this necessitate a revision of program or tactics on the part of the Communist International?


4. The two decades preceding the war were the epoch of an exceptionally powerful capitalist ascension. The periods of prosperity were marked by their intensity and long duration, the periods of depression, of crisis, were marked by their brevity. In general, the curve sloped sharply upwards; the capitalist nations were growing rich.

Having tested out the world market through their trusts, cartels and consortiums, the rulers of the world’s destiny took into account that this mad growth of capitalism must run up against the limits of the capitalist world market’s capacity – the world market which capitalism itself had created. And they tried to find a way out of this situation by a surgical method. The sanguinary crisis of the World War was intended to supersede an indefinitely long period of economic depression, and it all came to one and the same result, namely, the wholesale destruction of productive forces.

The war, however, combined the extremely destructive power of its methods with an unexpectedly lengthy time interval during which these were applied. As a result the war not only caused the economic destruction of “surplus” productive forces, but also weakened, shattered and undermined the fundamental productive apparatus of Europe. At the same time it contributed to the mighty capitalist development of the United States and to the feverish rise of Japan. The center of gravity of world economy has shifted from Europe to America.

5. The period of the cessation of the four years’ slaughter, the period of demobilization and of the transition from the state of war to the state of peace, inevitably accompanied by an economic crisis as a result of the exhaustion and chaos caused by the war, was regarded by the bourgeoisie – and with full justification – as its most dangerous period. And actually, during the two postwar years the belligerent countries became the arena of mighty movements of the proletariat.

One of the principal causes enabling the bourgeoisie to nevertheless preserve its ruling position was the economic upswing instead of the seemingly unavoidable crisis which marked the first few months after the war. This upswing lasted approximately one year and a half. Industry absorbed nearly all the demobilized workers. Wages, although they could not as a general rule catch up with the cost of living, nevertheless kept rising sufficiently to create the mirage of economic gains.

It was precisely this commercial-industrial upswing of 1919-20 which relieved the most acute phase of postwar liquidation, that caused an extraordinary recrudescence of self-confidence among the bourgeoisie and raised the question of the advent of a new epoch of organic capitalist development.

Meanwhile the revival of 1919-20 was not at bottom the beginning of the postwar regeneration of capitalist economy, but a mere prolongation of the artificial state of industry and commerce which had been created by the war.

6. The imperialist war erupted in the period when the commercial-industrial crisis, which even at that time had its origin in America (1913), began to loom menacingly over Europe. The normal development of the industrial cycle was cut short by the war, which itself became the most powerful economic factor. The war created virtually unlimited markets for the basic branches of industry, completely secure against competition. This reliable and insatiable customer was ever in want of goods. The production of the means of production was replaced by the production of the means of destruction. Primary necessities were devoured at C«verhigher prices by millions of individuals engaged not in production but in destruction. This process meant ruin. But by virtue of the monstrous contradictions of capitalist economy this ruin assumed the guise and form of enrichment. The state floated loan after loan, one issue of paper money followed upon another and the state budgets which used to carry millions began carrying billions. Machines and equipment became worn out and were left unrepaired. The land was poorly cultivated. The capital construction work in the cities and on the systems of communication was discontinued. Meanwhile the number of government bonds, credits and treasury bills and notes kept growing incessantly. Fictitious capital swelled in proportion as productive capital kept being destroyed. The credit system became transformed from a means of circulating commodities into a means of mobilizing national wealth, including that which is still to be created by future generations, for war purposes.

It was precisely because they feared a crisis which might prove catastrophic that the capitalist state continued after the war to follow the same policy as it did during the war, namely: new currency issues, new loans, regulation of prices of primary necessities, guarantee of profits, subsidies for grain and other forms of government subsidies for salaries and wages, plus military censorship and military dictatorship.

7. At the same time the cessation of hostilities, and the resumption of international relations, limited though it was, brought to the fore the demand for all sorts of commodities, from all parts of the globe. The war left huge stocks of unexpended products. Enormous sums of money were left concentrated in the hands of dealers and speculators who invested them wherever the greatest profits offered at the moment. Hence the feverish commercial boom, accompanied by an unprecedented rise of prices and fantastic dividends, while none of the basic branches of industry anywhere in Europe approached the pre-war level.

8. At the cost of the further organic dislocation of the economic system (growth of fictitious capital, depreciation of currency, speculation instead of economic rehabilitation) the bourgeois governments in league with the banking consortiums and industrial trusts succeeded in postponing the beginning of the economic crisis till the moment when the political crisis consequent upon demobilization and the first squaring of accounts was already allayed. Having thus obtained an important breathing space, the bourgeoisie imagined that the danger of crisis had been averted for an indefinite time. Supreme optimism reigned. It seemed as if the needs of reconstruction had opened up a lasting epoch of prosperity in industry, in commerce and e«specially in speculation. The year 1920 was the year of shattered hopes.

Manifesting itself first in the field of finances and next in commerce and finally in industry, the crisis began in March 1920 in Japan, in April in the United States (a slight fall of prices had already set in by January); it passed on in April to England, France and Italy; it reached the neutral countries of Europe, manifested itself in a mitigated form in Germany and in the second half of 1920 spread throughout the entire capitalist world.

9. Thus the crisis of 1920 – and this is the key to the understanding of the world situation! – is not a periodic stage of “normal” industrial cycle but a more profound reaction consequent to the fictitious prosperity during the war and the next two postwar years, prosperity based on ruination and exhaustion.

The normal alternation of booms and crises used to occur along the upward curve of industrial development. During the last seven years Europe’s productive forces have not been rising but falling abruptly.

The dislocation of the very foundations of economy has still to make itself felt throughout the entire superstructure. To achieve any kind of internal coordination, Europe’s economy must in the course of the next few years shrink and shrivel. The curve of development of the productive forces will drop from the present fictitious heights. Therewith the upswings can be only short-lived and of a speculative character to a large measure. The crises will be hard and lasting. The present crisis in Europe is a crisis of underproduction. It is the reaction of impoverishment against the efforts to produce, to trade and to live on the same capitalist scale as formerly.

10. Economically, the strongest country and the one least damaged by the war in Europe is England. Nevertheless even with regard to this country one cannot say that capitalist equilibrium has been restored after the war. True, thanks to her world organization and her position as victor, England has attained certain commercial and financial successes after the war: she has improved her trade balance and has raised the exchange rate of the pound and has recorded a fictitious surplus in her budget. But in the sphere of industry England has since the war moved backwards not forwards. Both the productivity of labor in England and her national income are far below the pre-war levels. The situation of the basic branch of her industry, the coal industry, is getting worse and worse, pulling down all other branches of her economy. The incessant paroxysms caused by strikes are not the cause but the consequence of the decline of English economy.

11. France, Belgium, Italy are irreparably ruined by the war. The attempt to restore the economy of France at the expense of Germany is savage looting, coupled with diplomatic blackmail; and it is being accomplished through the further ruination of Germany (coal, machinery, cattle, gold), without, however, bringing salvation to France. This attempt causes heavy damage to the entire economy of continental Europe. France has gained far less than Germany has lost. Despite the fact that the French peasant have, through superhuman exertions, recovered for agriculture large tracts of the devastated regions; despite the fact that whole branches of industry were greatly developed (chemical industry, war industries) during the war, France is heading for economic ruin. State debts and state expenditures (on militarism) have climbed to insupportable heights. At the close of the last economic upswing, French currency had dropped 60 percent. The revival of French economy is obstructed by the heavy losses in manpower caused by the war, losses which are especially grave owing to the low birth rate in France. The economies of Italy and Belgium are in much the same position.

12. The illusory character of prosperity is most strikingly evidenced by Germany. While prices increased sevenfold in a year and a half, the country’s production has continued to decline sharply. Germany’s seemingly triumphant participation in the postwar world market is being paid for at a double price: the squandering of the nation’s basic capital (the destruction of her productive transport and credit systems); and the progressive lowering of the living standards of her working class. The profits gained by German exporters represent pure loss from the socialeconomic standpoint. Under the guise of exports Germany is being auctioned off at cheap prices. The capitalist masters are securing for themselves an ever-increasing share of the ever-decreasing national wealth. The German workers are becoming the coolies of Europe.

13. As the political pseudo-independence of the small neutral countries rests upon the antagonisms between the great powers, just so do they eke out their economic existence in the interstices of the world market, whose essential nature used to be determined before the war by England, Germany, the United States and France. During the war the bourgeoisie of the small neutral European countries made fabulous profits. But the ruination of the belligerent countries of Europe has brought economic disorganization to neutral countries as well. Their debts have increased, their currency exchange has dropped. The crisis deals them blow after blow.


14. The development of the United States during the war is in a certain sense the diametrical opposite of Europe’s development. The participation of the United States in the war was in the main that of a quartermaster. The United States did not directly experience the destructive effects of war. The indirect destructive effect on its transport, agriculture, etc., was far weaker than in England, let alone France or Germany. On the other hand, the United States fully exploited the fact that European competition had either been eliminated entirely or had become extremely weak; and developed a number of its most important branches of industry (oil, shipbuilding, automobiles, coal) to heights it had never anticipated. Today most of the countries of Europe are dependent on America not only for their oil and grain, but also for their coal.

While prior to the war America’s exports consisted chiefly of agricultural products and raw materials (making up more than two-thirds of the total exports), her main export at present consists of manufactured goods (60 percent of her export trade). While America before the war was a debtor country, she is today the world’s creditor. Approximately one-half of the world’s gold reserve is concentrated in the United States and the gold continues to flow in. The leading role on the world money market has passed from the pound sterling to the dollar.

15. However, American capitalism, too, has lost its equilibrium. America’s extraordinary industrial expansion was determined by an exceptional combination of world conditions, namely, the elimination of European competition, and, what is most important, the demands of the European war market. If ruined Europe as a competitor of America is unable to regain her pre-war position on the world market even after the war, then, on the other hand, Europe as a market for America can preserve only an insignificant part of her former importance. Meanwhile United States economy has become an export economy to an incomparably greater extent than prior to the war. Its productive apparatus, super-developed during the war, cannot be operated at full capacity for lack of outlets. Individual branches of industry are becoming converted into seasonal industries, operating only part of the year. The crisis in the United States constitutes the beginning of a profound and lasting economic disorganization resulting from the European war. This is the result of the fundamental disruption of the world division of labor.

16. Japan has also exploited the war to improve her position on the world market. Her development, far more limited in scope than the development of the United States, is of a hothouse character in a number of branches of industry. While Japan’s productive forces proved adequate for conquering a market depleted of competitors, they proved inadequate for retaining that market in the struggle with the more powerful capitalist countries. Hence the acute crisis which commenced precisely in Japan.

17. The transoceanic countries which export raw materials, including the purely colonial countries (South America, Canada, Australia, China, India, Egypt and others), have in their turn utilized the rupture of international ties for the development of their native industries. The world crisis has now spread to these countries as well. The development of national industries in these countries is in its turn becoming a source of new commercial difficulties for England and for Europe as a whole.

18. In the sphere of production, commerce and credit – and moreover not merely in Europe but on a world scale – there is, in consequence, no ground whatever to speak of any restoration of a stable equilibrium after the war.

Europe continues to decline economically, and the destruction of the foundations of European economy is still to make itself felt in the next few years.

The world market is disorganized. Europe needs American products, but has nothing to offer in return. Europe suffers from anemia, America – from plethora. The gold standard has been overthrown. The depreciated currencies of European countries (reaching in some cases 99 percent) presents almost insurmountable obstacles to the world exchange of commodities. The incessant, sharp fluctuations of the rate of exchange have converted capitalist economy into an orgy of speculation. The world market remains without a universal equivalent.

The restoration of the gold standard in Europe cannot be achieved except by an increase in exports and a decrease in imports. But this is just what ruined Europe is in no condition to do. America, in her turn, defends herself against the artificial European exports (dumping) by raising her tariff.

Europe continues to remain a madhouse. Most of the states have passed prohibitive measures relating to the import and export of certain commodities and have multiplied their custom duties. England has introduced prohibitive custom duties. German exports as well as the entire economic life of Germany are at the mercy of a gang of Entente speculators, especially Parisian speculators. The former territories of Austria-Hungary are now criss-crossed by a dozen custom borders. The net of Versailles gets more and more tangled from every side.

The exclusion of Soviet Russia from the world market as a consumer of manufactured goods and as a supplier of raw materials has contributed in a very high degree to the disruption of economic equilibrium.

19. The reappearance of Russia on the world market cannot produce any appreciable changes in it in the period immediately ahead. The capitalist organism of Russia has always been, with regard to the means of production, completely dependent on world industry, and this dependence particularly with regard to the Entente countries became still further intensified during the war when Russia’s industry was almost completely mobilized for war purposes. The blockade has at a single stroke cut off all these vital ties. It was entirely out of the question for this exhausted and utterly ruined country to organize during the three years of incessant civil war a number of new branches of industry, without which the old branches faced inevitable ruin through the wear and tear of their basic inventory. In addition to this hundreds of thousands of the best proletarian elements, comprising a large number of the most highly skilled workers, had to be drawn into the Red Army. Under these historical conditions, surrounded by the iron ring of blockade, carrying on incessant warfare, suffering from the terrible heritage of ruin – no other regime could have maintained the country’s economic life and created a centralized administration. But it is undeniable that the struggle against world imperialism was carried on at the cost of the further deterioration of the productive forces in many of the basic branches of the economy. Only now, with the relaxation of the blockade, and with the establishment of sounder transitional forms in the interrelations between the city and the country, has the Soviet power received the opportunity of exercising a gradual and unwavering centralized direction of the country’s economic revival.


20. The war which brought about the destruction of productive forces on a scale unequaled in history has not brought the process of social differentiation to a standstill; on the contrary, the proletarianization of broad intermediate classes including the new middle estate (employes, functionaries, and so on) and the concentration of property in the hands of tiny cliques (trusts, consortiums, and so on) have for the last seven years made monstrous progress in the countries that have suffered the most from the war. The Stinnes question has become the main question of the economic life of Germany.

The soaring of prices on all commodities, coincident with the catastrophic depreciation of currency in all the belligerent European countries, signified in and of itself a redistribution of the national income to the detriment of the working class, the functionaries, the employes, the small rentiers, and generally all categories with a more or less fixed income.

Thus while in relation to her material resources Europe has been thrown back for a number of decades, the process of the aggravation of social contradictions has not only not retrogressed or been suspended but has, on the contrary, acquired an exceptional acuteness. This cardinal fact is of itself sufficient to dispel all hopes of a lasting and peaceful development under the forms of democracy: the progressive differentiation (“Stinnezation”) on the one side, and on the other, proletarianization and pauperization on the basis of economic decline, predetermine the intense, convulsive and fierce character of the class struggle.

In this connection the present crisis is merely continuing the work of the war and of the postwar speculative boom.

21. The rise of prices in agricultural products, while creating an illusion that there has been a general enrichment of the village, has in reality increased the welfare of the rich peasants. The peasants have indeed succeeded in paying off their debts with cheap paper currency, debts which they had contracted when currency was at par. But husbandry does not consist solely of paying off mortgages.

Despite the enormous increases in land prices, despite the unscrupulous abuse of the monopoly of primary necessities, despite the enrichment of big landowners and village kulaks, the decline of Europe’s agriculture remains self-evident. We witness in many places a reversion to more extensive forms of agriculture, the conversion of arable lands into pastures, the slaughter of cattle, three-field farming. This decline was also caused by the scarcity of labor, the depletion of herds, the lack of artificial fertilizers, the dearness of manufactured goods; and in Central and Eastern Europe also by the deliberate curtailment of agricultural production, which came as a reaction to the attempts made by the state to seize control of agricultural products. The large, and partly also the middle peasants, are creating strong political and economic organizations to protect themselves against the burdens of reconstruction; and they are trying to take advantage of the bourgeoisie’s difficult position to extort from the state tariff and taxation measures beneficial only to the peasantry as the price of their support against the proletariat. All this hampers capitalist revival. A split arises between the urban and the rural bourgeoisie, which impairs the strength of the bourgeois state.

Coincident with this, large sections of the poor peasantry are becoming proletarianized, the village is becoming a breeding place of discontent, the class-consciousness of the rural proletariat is growing stronger.

On the other hand, the universal impoverishment of Europe, rendering her incapable of purchasing the necessary quantities of American grain, has led to a heavy crisis in farming across the ocean. We are observing the ruination of peasants and small farmers not only in Europe but also in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia, South Africa.

22. The position of government and private employees has, owing to the fall in the purchasing power of money, worsened as a rule much more sharply than the position of the proletariat. Torn out of their former stable conditions of existence, the middle and lower functionaries are becoming factors of political unrest which undermine the stability of the state apparatus they serve. The “new middle estate” which, according to the reformists, represented the bulwark of conservatism, tends, in the transitional epoch, to become a rather revolutionary factor.

23. Capitalist Europe has completely lost her dominant economic position in the world. Yet her relative class equilibrium had rested wholly on this world rule. All the efforts of European countries (England and partly France) to restore former conditions only tend to intensify the instability and chaos.

24. While in Europe the concentration of property is taking place on the soil of ruin, in the United States the growth of concentration and the growth of class contradiction have reached their peak on the basis of feverish capitalist enrichment. The sharp fluctuations in the conjuncture, resulting from the general instability of the world market, impart to the class struggle on American soil an extremely intense and revolutionary character. The period of upswing unprecedented in the history of capitalism is bound to be followed by an extraordinary upswing of the revolutionary struggle.

25. The emigration of workers and peasants across the ocean has always served as a safety valve to the capitalist regime in Europe, and it invariably increased during the epochs of prolonged depressions or after the defeats of revolutionary movements.

At the present time America and Australia are putting evergreater obstacles in the way of émigrés from Europe. The safety valve of emigration has been shut off.

26. The vigorous development of capitalism in the Orient, especially in India and China, has created there new social foundations for the revolutionary struggle. The bourgeoisie of these countries, its capitalist core, has become even more intimately tied to foreign capital and thus constitutes an essential instrument of foreign domination. Its struggle against foreign imperialism – the struggle of a weaker competitor – is by its very nature only halfhearted and semi-fictitious. The development of the native proletariat paralyzes the revolutionary-nationalist tendencies of the colonial bourgeoisie. But concurrently, in the person of the conscious Communist vanguard, the multimillioned peasant masses obtain a genuinely revolutionary leadership.

The combination of military-national oppression of foreign imperialism, of the capitalist exploitation by foreign and native bourgeoisies, and the survivals of feudal bondage are creating favorable conditions in which the young colonial proletariat is bound to develop swiftly and take its place at the head of the vast revolutionary movement of the peasant masses.

The revolutionary peoples’ movement in India and in other colonies is today as much an integral part of the world revolution of the toilers as is the uprising of the proletariat in the capitalist countries of the old and the new worlds.


27. The general state of world economy – above all the decline of Europe – predetermines a period of the gravest economic hardships, convulsions, crises of a general and partial character, and so on. International relations, as they have emerged from the war and from the Versailles Peace, are rendering the situation even more hopeless.

While imperialism was engendered by the needs of the productive forces to eradicate the framework of national states and to convert Europe and the rest of the world into one economic territory, the result of the dog fight between the hostile imperialist powers was to pile up in Central and Eastern Europe a whole number of new boundaries, new custom barriers and new armies. In the state-economic sense, Europe has been thrown back to medievalism.

The soil which has been exhausted and ruined is now being called upon to sustain an army one and a half times as large as that of 1914, that is, in the heyday of “armed peace.”

28. The policy of France who today dominates the European continent falls into two parts: first, the blind rage of a usurer ready to strangle his insolvent debtor; and second, the greediness of predatory heavy industry which is – with the aid of the Saar, Ruhr and Upper Silesian coal basins – seeking to create conditions for industrial imperialism to supersede bankrupt financial imperialism.

But these efforts run counter to the interests of England. The latter’s task is to keep German coal away from French ore, the coupling of which is one of the most indispensable conditions for the regeneration of Europe.

29. The British Empire is today at the peak of its power. It has retained all its old dominions and has acquired new ones. But it is precisely the present moment that reveals that England’s dominant world position stands in contradiction to her actual economic decline. Germany, with her capitalism incomparably more progressive in respect to technology and organization, has been crushed

30. The antagonism between Japan and the United States, temporarily veiled by their joint participation in the war against Germany, is today openly developing its tendencies. As a result of the war Japan has come closer to American shores, taking possession of islands in the Pacific which are of great strategical importance.

The crisis of Japanese industry, following its rapid expansion, has again aggravated the problem of emigration: thickly populated and poor in natural resources, Japan is compelled to export either goods or human beings. In either case she collides with the United States: in California, in China, and on the little island of Yap.

More than half of her budget is being spent by Japan on her army and navy. In the struggle between England and America Japan has in store for her the same role on the sea as that played by France on land during the war with Germany. While Japan is today profiting from the antagonism between Great Britain and America, the final struggle between these two titans for world domination will be fought out primarily on Japan’s spine.

31. The last great war was – in its origin, its immediate causes and in its principal participants – a European war. The axis of the struggle was the antagonism between England and Germany. The intervention of the United States extended the framework of the struggle, but it did not divert it from its fundamental course. The European conflict was settled by the resources of the whole world. The war, which in its own way settled the contest between England and Germany and to that extent also the conflict between the United States and Germany, not only failed to solve the question of interrelations between the United States and England but has, for the first time, posed it in its full scope as the basic question of world politics, just as it posed the question of interrelations between the United States and Japan as one of the second order. Thus, the last war was a European prelude to a genuine world war which is to solve the question of who will exercise the rule of imperialist autocracy.

32. But this constitutes only one of the axes of world politics. There is yet another axis. The Russian Soviet Federation and the Third International were born as a result of the last war. The combined forces of the world revolution are arrayed wholly against all the imperialist combinations.

Whether the alliance between England and France is going to be maintained or broken is, from the standpoint of the interests of the proletariat and of securing peace, worth just as little as the renewal or the non-renewal of the Anglo-Japanese alliance, as the entry or the non-entry of the United States into the League of Nations. The proletariat can in no case see a guarantee of peace in the transient, predatory and perfidious combination of capitalist powers, whose policy turns to an ever-increasing extent around the antagonism between England and Amefica, fostering that antagonism and preparing a new sanguinary explosion.

The conclusion of peace treaties and trade agreements by certain capitalist countries with Soviet Russia does not at all mean that the world bourgeoisie has renounced the idea of destroying the Soviet Republic. We have here only a change – perhaps a temporary one – of forms and methods of struggle. The Japanese coup in the Far East [1] may perhaps serve as an introduction to a new phase of armed intervention.

It is absolutely self-evident that the more protracted the world proletarian revolutionary movement is in its character, the more inevitably will the bourgeoisie be impelled by the contradictions of the world economic and political situation to engage in another bloody denouement on a world scale. This would signify that the task of “restoring capitalist equilibrium” after the new war would have for its basis conditions of economic havoc and cultural savagery in comparison with which the present state of Europe might be regarded as the height of well-being.

33. Despite the fact that the experience of the last war has furnished fearsome proof that “war is a miscalculation” – a truth which exhausts all of bourgeois and socialist pacifism – the process of economic, political, ideological and technical preparation for a new war is going on at full speed throughout the capitalist world. Humanitarian and anti-revolutionary pacifism has become an auxiliary force of militarism.

The Social Democrats of every variety and the Amsterdam trade unionists, who are trying to instil into the world proletariat the idea that the workers ought to adjust themselves to those economic and international-state norms that have arisen as a result of the war, are thereby rendering the imperialist bourgeoisie irreplaceable services in the matter of preparing a new slaughter which threatens to completely destroy civilization. by force of arms. But in the person of the United States, which economically subjected both Americas, there has now risen a triumphant rival, even more menacing than Germany. Thanks to its superior organization and technology, the productivity of labor in U.S. industry is far above that of England. Within the territories of the United States 65-70 percent of the world’s petroleum is being produced, upon which depends the automobile industry, tractor production, the navy and the air fleet. England’s age – long monopoly in the coal market has been completely undermined; America has taken first place; her exports to Europe are increasing ominously. In the field of the merchant marine America has almost caught up with England. The United States is no longer content to put up with England’s world transoceanic cable monopoly. In the field of industry Great Britain has gone over to the defensive, and under the pretext of combating “unwholesome” German competition is now arming herself with protectionist measures against the United States. Finally, while England’s navy, comprising a large number of outdated units, has come to a standstill in its development, the Harding administration has taken over from Wilson’s administration the program of naval construction intended to secure the preponderance of the American flag on the high seas within the next two or three years.

The situation is such that either England will be automatically pushed back and, despite her victory over Germany, become a second-rate power or she will be constrained in the near future to stake in mortal combat with the United States her entire power gained in former years.

That is just the reason why England is maintaining her alliance with Japan and is making concessions to France in order to secure the latter’s assistance or at least neutrality. The growth of the international role of the latter country – within the confines of the European continent – during the last year has been caused not by a strengthening of France but by the international weakening of England.

Germany’s capitulation in May on the question of indemnities signifies, however, 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 and Upper Silesian basins by France in the immediate future struggle, then the former, the bourgeoisie, would undeniably in the final analysis establish a new capitalist equilibrium – one based on material and spiritual degeneration – by means of new crises, new wars, progressive pauperization of entire countries and the steady dying out of millions of toilers.

But the present state of the world proletariat furnishes the least justification for a prognosis of this kind.

35. The elements of stability, of conservatism and of tradition, completely upset in social relations, have lost most of their authority over the consciousness of the toiling masses. While the Social Democracy and the trade unions still continue in most cases to exercise an influence over a considerable section of the proletariat, thanks to the organizational machines they have inherited from the past, this influence is, in its turn, completely bereft of stability. The war has modified in the extreme not only the moods of the proletariat but also the very composition, and these modifications are utterly incompatible with the organizational gradualism of the pre-war days.

Among the summits of the proletariat in most countries the formal ruling position is still held by the labor bureaucracy, whose numbers have greatly swollen, whose ranks remain tightly knit, whose own habits and methods of domination are being constantly elaborated, and who are tied by thousands of threads to the institutions and organs of the capitalist state.

Then comes the section of workers who are more favorably situated in industry, who occupy or look forward to occupying some administrative post and who constitute the most reliable support of the labor bureaucracy.

And next is the older generation of Social Democrats and trade unionists, skilled workers in the main who have become attached to the organizations through decades of struggle and cannot make up their minds to break with them, despite all the sellouts and betrayals. In many industries, however, skilled workers have become intermixed with the unskilled laborers, predominantly women.

There are millions of workers who have directly passed through the school of war, who have become accustomed to handling weapons, and who are now for the most part prepared to turn these weapons against the class enemy – but only provided the indispensable conditions for success obtain, namely, serious preparation and a firm leadership.

Millions of new workers, particularly women workers, drawn into industry during the war, have brought with them into the proletariat not only their petty-bourgeois prejudices but also their impatient aspirations for better conditions of life.

Millions of young working men and women who have grown up amid the tempests of war and revolution are the most receptive to the ideas of Communism and are burning with the desire to act.

Finally, there is the gigantic army of unemployed, for the most part declassed and semi-declassed elements, whose ebbs and flows illustrate most strikingly the process of capitalist economic disintegration and who represent a constant menace to bourgeois “law and order.”

All these layers of the proletariat, so diverse in origin and character, have been and are being drawn into the postwar movement neither simultaneously nor homogeneously. Hence the fluctuations, the flows and ebbs, the offensives and retreats in the revolutionary struggle. But the overwhelming majority of the proletarian masses is being rapidly welded together by the shattering of old illusions, by the terrible uncertainty of existence, by the autocratic domination of the trusts, by the bandit methods of the militarized state. This multimillion-headed mass is seeking a firm and lucid leadership, a clear-cut program of action and thus creates the premises for the decisive role which the closely welded and centralized Communist Party is destined to play.

36. The position of the working class has perceptibly worsened during the war. Certain groups of workers have prospered. Families in which several members could hold war jobs in factories succeeded in maintaining and even improving their living standards. But on the whole wages could not keep up with the soaring cost of living.

In Central Europe the proletariat has been doomed to evergreater privations since the war. In the Allied continental countries the decline of living standards has been less abrupt, until recently. In England, in the last period of the war, the proletariat by means of an energetic struggle had arrested the process of lowering the living standards.

In the United States some layers of the working class have improved their position; others retained their former levels, while still others had their living standards lowered.

The crisis has descended upon the world proletariat with terrific force. Wage cuts have exceeded the fall in prices. The number of unemployed or semi-employed has reached dimensions unprecedented in capitalist history.

The sharp fluctuations in personal living conditions not only produce extremely negative effects on the productivity of labor but also act to exclude the possibility of restoring class equilibrium in the basic sphere – that of production. 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.


37. The war was not directly terminated in the proletarian revolution. The bourgeoisie has with some justification recorded this fact as a major victory for itself.

Only petty-bourgeois blockheads can construe the bankruptcy of the program of the Communist International from the fact that the European proletariat did not overthrow the bourgeoisie during the war or immediately after it. That the Communist International bases its policy on the proletarian revolution does not at all mean either dogmatically fixing any definite date for the revolution or issuing any pledges to bring it about mechanically at a set time. The revolution was and remains a struggle of living forces waged upon given historical foundations. The world-wide disruption of capitalist equilibrium by the war creates conditions favorable to the basic force of the revolution, which is the proletariat. All the efforts of the Communist International were and remain directed toward taking full advantage of this situation.

The differences between the Communist International and the Social Democrats of both groups do not arise from our alleged attempt to force the revolution on a fixed date whereas they are opposed to utopianism and putschism; the difference lies in this, that the Social Democrats obstruct the actual development of the revolution by rendering, whether as members of the administration or as members of the opposition, all possible assistance in restoring the equilibrium of the bourgeois state, whereas the Communists are exploiting every means, every method, every possibility for the purpose of overthrowing and abolishing the bourgeois state through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In the course of the two and a half years that have elapsed since the war, the proletariat of various countries has exhibited so much energy, such readiness for struggle, such a spirit of self-sacrifice as would have more than sufficed to bring victory to the revolution, provided there had been at the head of the working class an International Communist Party strong, centralized and ready for action. But during the war and immediately thereafter, by force of historic circumstances, there stood at the head of the European proletariat the organization of the Second International which has become and which remains an invaluable political weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie.

38. In Germany at the end of 1918 and at the beginning of 1919 the power was actually in the hands of the working class. The Social Democrats – the majority faction, the Independents, and the trade unions alike – used their whole apparatus and all their traditional influence for the purpose of returning this power into the hands of the bourgeoisie.

In Italy the stormy revolutionary movement of the proletariat has for one and a half years kept swirling over the country, and it was only thanks to the petty-bourgeois impotence of the Socialist Party, to the treacherous policy of its parliamentary fraction, to the cowardly opportunism of the trade union organizations, that the bourgeoisie found itself enabled to repair its apparatus, to mobilize its White Guards and to assume the offensive against the proletariat which had thus been temporarily disheartened by the bankruptcy of its old leading organs.

The mighty strike movement in England was shattered again and again during the last year by the ruthless application of military force, which intimidated the trade union leaders. Had these leaders remained faithful to the cause of the working class, the machinery of the trade unions despite all of its defects could have been used for revolutionary battles. The recent crisis of the Triple Alliance [2] furnished the possibility of a revolutionary collision with the bourgeoisie but this was frustrated by the conservatism, cowardice and treachery of the trade union leaders. Were the machinery of the English trade unions to develop today half the amount of energy in the interests of socialism it has been expending in the interests of capitalism, the English proletariat could conquer power with a minimum of sacrifice and could start a systematic reconstruction of the country’s economic system.

The same applies in a greater or lesser degree to all other capitalist countries.

39. It is absolutely incontestable that on a world scale the open revolutionary struggle of the proletariat for power is at present passing through a stoppage, a slowing down in tempo. But in the very nature of things, it was impossible to expect that the revolutionary offensive after the war, insofar as it failed to result in an immediate victory, should go on developing uninterruptedly along an upward curve. Political evolution, too, has cycles of its own, its ups and downs. The enemy does not remain passive, but keeps . If the offensive of the proletariat is not crowned by victory, the bourgeoisie seizes the very first opportunity for a counter-offensive. The loss by the proletariat of some of its easily won positions produces a temporary depression in its ranks. But it remains equally incontestable that in our epoch the curve of capitalist development as a whole is constantly moving – through temporary upswings – downwards; while the curve of the revolution – through all its fluctuations – is constantly moving upwards.

Since the restoration of capitalism presupposes a great intensification of exploitation, the annihilation of millions of lives, the degradation of other millions below subsistence levels, and the perpetual insecurity of the proletariat, it follows that the workers will be driven again and again to engage in strikes and to rise in revolt. Under this oppression and pressure, and in the course of these battles, the will of the masses to abolish the capitalist system will grow and become tempered.

40. The fundamental task of the Communist Party in the current crisis is to lead the present defensive struggles of the proletariat, to extend their scope, to deepen them, to unify them, and in harmony with the march of events, to transform them into decisive political struggles for the ultimate goal.

But should the tempo of development slacken, and the current commercial-industrial crisis be superseded by a period of prosperity in a greater or lesser number of countries, this would in no case signify the beginning of an “organic” epoch. So long as capitalism exists, cyclical oscillations are inevitable. These will accompany capitalism in its death agony, just as they accompanied it in its youth and maturity. In case the proletariat should be forced to retire under the onslaught of capitalism in the course of the present crisis, it will immediately resume the offensive as soon as anyamelioration in the conjuncture sets in. Its economic offensive, which would in that case inevitably be carried on under the slogan of revenge for all the deceptions of the war period and for all the plunder and abuses of the crisis, will tend to turn into an open civil war, just as the present defensive struggle does.

41. Whether the revolutionary movement develops in the next period at a swift or slow tempo, the Communist Party must in either case remain the party of action. It stands at the head of the struggling masses; it firmly and clearly formulates its fighting slogans, exposing and sweeping aside all the equivocal slogans of the Social Democracy which are always based on compromise and conlationism. Whatever the shifts in the course of the struggle, the Communist Party always strives to consolidate organizationally new bases of support, trains the masses in active maneuvering, arms them with new methods and practices, designed for direct and open clashes with the enemy forces. Utilizing every breathing spell in order to assimilate the experience of the preceding phase of the struggle, the Communist Party seeks to deepen and extend the class conflicts, to coordinate them nationally and internationally by unity of goal and unity of practical action, and in this way, at the head of the proletariat, shatter all resistance on the road to its dictatorship and the socialist revolution.


1. The reference here is to the coup in May 1921 through which the Far Eastern republican government in Vladivostok was replaced by a White Guard government. The coup was engineered with the support of the Japanese troops.

2. “The Triple Alliance” or the “Big Three” refers to the bloc formed in England by the three biggest unions – the transport workers, the railroad workers and the miners.

First 5 Years of the Comintern (Vol.1) Index

History of the Communist International Section

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Last updated on: 16.1.2007