Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

Report on “The Balance Sheet” of the
Third Congress of the Communist International

Delivered at the Second Congress [1] of the Communist Youth International, July 14, 1921

THE THIRD CONGRESS of the Comintern, if one were to express its significance in a succinct formula, will in all likelihood be inscribed in the annals of the labor movement as the highest school of revolutionary strategy. The First Congress of our Communist International issued the summons to rally the forces of the world proletarian revolution. The Second Congress elaborated the programmatic basis for mobilizing the forces. The Third International in its sessions already came in contact with these forces, consolidated them and was thus confronted with the most important practical questions of the revolutionary movement. That is why the Third Congress became, as I put it, the highest school of revolutionary strategy. From the outset the Third Congress raised the question of whether the fundamental position of the Comintern at its First and Second Congresses was correct. And after a deep-going and all-sided review of historical facts and tendencies – for facts as such, separate and apart from historical tendencies, are of no great significance – the Congress came to the conclusion that this position was correct, that we do find ourselves in the era of the development of world revolution.

After the war the bourgeoisie laid bare its utter inability to bring the factors of economic development, i.e., the very foundations of its existence, back again into equilibrium. The entire attention of the bourgeoisie was centered on keeping the classes in equilibrium; and with great difficulty it did succeed for the last three years in preserving this unstable class equilibrium and that of its state superstructure. The Third Congress focused the attention of all fighters in the International precisely on the fact that in dealing with the question of tempo of development it is necessary to differentiate between economic factors, which are the deepest-seated foundations of society, and such secondary factors as politics, parliamentarianism, press, school, church, and so on. One must not delude himself that a class which is historically bankrupt in the economic sense loses instantaneously and, as it were, automatically the instruments of its rule. No, on the contrary, historical experience teaches us that whenever a ruling class, which has held power in its hands for centuries, comes face to face with the danger of losing power, its instinct for power becomes sensitive in the extreme; and it is precisely during the epoch of economic decline of the social order, which had been established under the rule of this class, that the ruling class reveals utmost energy and greatest strategical sagacity in maintaining its political position. This is deemed a contradiction by those Marxists who apprehend Marxism mechanically or, as the expression goes, metaphysically; and for them there really is a contradiction here. It is otherwise with those who apprehend history through its inner and dynamic logic, through the interplay of its different factors – through the interaction of the economic base upon the class, of the class upon the state, of the state, in its turn, upon the class and of the latter upon the economic base. For anyone who has not graduated from the school of genuine Marxism it will always remain incomprehensible just how the bourgeoisie on becoming transformed from a leading economic class, true, a class which exploits but which also organizes at the same time, into a completely parasitic class and into a force that is counter-revolutionary in the fullest sense of the word – just how this same bourgeoisie happens at such a time to be armed from head to foot with all the means and the methods of the class struggle, from the most hypocritical, democratic phrase-mongering to the most brutal and bloody suppression of the working class. Many of us imagined the task of overthrowing the bourgeoisie much simpler than it actually is, and as reality has now proved to us. Before us is a semi-decayed tree. Nothing would seem simpler than to simply pull it down. But with such an approach one cannot get very far in the swift flux of social events. By concentrating all its efforts during the last period not so much upon restoring the economic foundation as upon restoring class equilibrium, the bourgeoisie has scored very serious successes in the political and strategical sense. This is a fact, and it happens to be a fact that is quite gratifying to the revolution. For had the bourgeoisie succeeded in restoring the very foundation of its rule or had made even a single step forward in this direction, then we would have been compelled to say: Yes, the bourgeoisie has succeeded in restoring the mainstays of its class rule. The outlook for the future development of the revolution would in that case naturally be extremely dismal. But it happens that such is not the case; that, on the contrary, all the efforts of the bourgeoisie, all the energies expended by it in maintaining class equilibrium, manifest themselves invariably at the expense of the economic soil on which the bourgeoisie rests, at the expense of its economic base.

The bourgeoisie and the working class are thus located on a soil which renders our victory inescapable – not in the astronomical sense of course, not inescapable like the setting or rising of the sun, but inescapable in the historical sense, in the sense that unless we gain victory all society and all human culture is doomed. History teaches us this. It was thus that the ancient Roman civilization perished. The class of slave-owners proved incapable of leading toward further development. It became transformed into an absolutely parasitic and decomposing class. There was no other class to supersede it and the ancient civilization perished. We observe analogous occurrences in modern history too, for example, the decline of Poland toward the end of the eighteenth century when the ruling feudal class had outlived its day while the bourgeoisie still remained too weak to seize power. As a result the Polish state fell. As warriors of revolution, we are convinced – and the objective facts corroborate us – that we as the working class, that we as the Communist International, will not only save our civilization, the centuries-old product of hundreds of generations, but will raise it to much higher levels of development. However, from the standpoint of pure theory, the possibility is not excluded that the bourgeoisie, armed with its state apparatus and its entire accumulated experience, may continue to fight the revolutin until it has drained modern civilization of every atom of every atom of its vitality, until it has plunged modern mankind into a state of collapse and decay for a long time to come.

By all the foregoing I simply want to say that the task of overthrowing the bourgeoisie which confronts the working class is not a mechanical one. It is a task which requires for its fulfillment: revolutionary energy, political sagacity, experience, broadness of vision, resoluteness, hot blood, but at the same time a sober head. It is a political, revolutionary, strategic task. Precisely in the course of the last year a party has given us a very instructive lesson in this connection. I refer to the Italian Socialist Party, whose official organ is called Avanti (Forward). Without subjecting to analysis the whole complex of tactical questions relating to the struggle and to victory, without any clear picture of the concrete circumstances of this struggle, the Italian party plunged into extensive revolutionary agitation, spurring the Italian workers – Avanti! Forward! The working class of Italy demonstrated that the blood circulating in their veins is hot enough. All the slogans of the party were taken by them seriously, they went forward, they seized factories, mills, mines, and so on. But very soon thereafter they were compelled to execute a terrible retreat and therewith became completely separated from the party for a whole period. The party had betrayed them – not in the sense that there are conscious traitors ensconced in the Italian Socialist Party, no, no one would say this. But ensconced there were reformists who by their entire spiritual makeup are hostile to the genuine interests of the working class. Ensconced there were centrists who did not and do not have any understanding whatever of the internal needs of a genuine revolutionary labor movement. Thanks to all this the entire party became transformed into an instrument of completely abstract and rather superficial revolutionary agitation. But the working class because of its position was compelled to accept this agitation seriously. It drew the extreme revolutionary conclusions from this agitation, and as a result suffered a cruel defeat. This means that revealed here was the complete absence of tactics in the broad meaning of the word, or, expressing the same idea in military terms, the complete absence of strategy. And now one can imagine – all this is, of course, pure theory and not an attempt to suggest such an idea to our splendid young Communist Party of Italy – it is possible, I say, to imagine that this party may proclaim: After such a terrible defeat, after such treachery on the part of the old Socialist Party, we Communists, who are really prepared to draw the most extreme conclusions, must immediately proceed to exact revolutionary revenge; we must this very day draw the working class into an offensive against the strongholds of capitalist society.

The Third Congress weighed this question theoretically and practically and said: If at the present time, immediately after the defeat consequent upon the treachery of the Socialist Party, the Comintern should set the Italian party the task of instantly passing over to an offensive, it would commit a fatal strategical blunder, because the decisive battle requires a corresponding preparation. This preparation, Comrades, does not consist of collecting funds for the party treasury over a period of decades, nor of adding up the number of subscribers to the venerable Social-Democratic press, and so on. No, preparation – especially in an epoch such as ours when the mood of the masses quickly changes and rises – requires not decades, perhaps not even years, but only a few months. To forecast time intervals is, in general, a very wretched occupation; but at all events one thing is clear: when we speak today of preparation, it has an entirely different meaning than it did in the organic epoch of gradual economic development. Preparation for us means the creation of such conditions as would secure us the sympathy of the broadest masses. We cannot under any conditions renounce this factor. The idea of replacing the will of the masses by the resoluteness of the so-called vanguard is absolutely impermissible and non-Marxist. Through the consciousness and the will of the vanguard it is possible to exert influence over the masses, it is possible to gain their confidence, but it is impossible to replace the masses by this vanguard. And for this reason the Third Congress has placed before all the parties, as the most important and unpostponable task, the demand that the majority of the toiling people be attracted to our side.

It was pointed out here that Comrade Lenin had said in one of his speeches at the Congress that a small party, too, could under certain conditions carry with it the majority of the working class and lead them. This is absolutely correct. The revolution is a combination of objective factors which are independent of us and which are the most important, and of subjective factors which are more or less dependent on us. History does not always, or more correctly, history almost never functions in such a way as first to prepare the objective conditions, as, for example, you first set the table and then invite guests to sit down. History does not tarry until the corresponding class, in our case the proletariat, organizes itself, clarifies its consciousness, and steels its will, in order then graciously to invite it to accomplish the revolution on the basis of these socially and economically mature conditions. No, things happen in a different way. The objective necessity of revolution may already be completely at hand. The working class – we speak only about this class because we are now interested only in the proletarian revolution – may, however, not yet be fully prepared, while the Communist Party, may, of course, embrace only an insignificant minority of the working class. Comrades, what will occur then? There will occur a very prolonged and sanguinary revolution, and in the very course of the revolution the party and the working class will have to make up for what they lacked at the outset.

Such is the present situation. And therefore if it is true – and it is true – that under certain conditions even a small party can become the leading organization not only of the labor movement but also of the workers’ revolution, this can happen only on the proviso that this small party discerns in its smallness not an advantage but the greatest misfortune of which it must be rid as speedily as possible.

Attending the Congress are certain comrades who represent the tiniest parties, for example, the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD). This party is revolutionary, even very revolutionary, of this we have no doubt whatever. And if the revolution consisted in the KAPD’s manifesting its superb revolutionary will in action, and if such a demonstration sufficed to bring the German bourgeoisie to its knees, the revolution would long have been an accomplished fact in Germany. But the demonstrative action of a single revolutionary sect is not enough. The representatives of the KAPD have said what Comrade Lenin, too, admitted, namely: that a small party can rise to the leading role. And that is really so. But in that event such a party cannot be a small sect, which engages in a struggle with a much bigger revolutionary party, the party of the working class, and which sees in its own small numbers a great historical superiority. Such a party can never become the leading party of the working class. This is the whole gist of the matter.

And so, the Third Congress proclaimed as the task of the hour preparation. Coincident with this it was compelled to whisper to certain groups and certain comrades and sometimes also to shout at them to fall back a little, to carry out a strategic retreat, in order to undertake, by intrenching themselves on a certain political line, preparations for a real offensive. Now, Comrades, was this counsel which has become converted into an order really necessary? Or does it perhaps already mark the beginning of the Third International’s downfall, as some claim? I believe that there was an urgent necessity to give this counsel to certain groups, certain organizations and certain comrades. For, I repeat, among certain groups – and I am referring not only to the KAPD but to much bigger parties and to tendencies within big parties – there was evident a genuine will to revolution, something which had not been discernible in Western Europe for a long while. In this respect we can register a great, a colossal step forward from the First Congress to the Third. We have big parties with a clearly expressed will to revolutionary action, and without such a will it is impossible to make a revolution – in the sense in which a party is able, in general, to make a revolution. But among certain groups, certain journalists, and even certain leaders, there prevailed views concerning the. methods of this revolution that are far too simplified. You are probably aware that there was advanced the so-called theory of the offensive. What is the gist of this theory? Its gist is that we have entered the epoch of the decomposition of capitalist society, in other words, the epoch when the bourgeoisie must be overthrown. How? By tl offensive of the working class. In this purely abstract form, it is unqu ona7correct. rtain individuals have sought to convert this theoretical capital into corresponding currency of smaller denomination and they have declared that this offensive consists of a successive number of smaller offensives. Thus arose the theory, whose clearest exponent is the Vienna journal Communism – the theory of pure offensive owing to the revolutionary character of the epoch.

Comrades, the analogy between the political struggle of the working class and military operations has been much abused. But up to a certain point one can speak here of similarities. In civil war one of the two contending sides must inescapably emerge as victor; for civil war differs from national war in this, that in the latter case a compromise is possible: one may cede to the enemy a part of the territory, one may pay him an indemnity, conclude some deal with him. But in civil war this is impossible. Here one or the other class and therefore our strategy had of necessity to consist in a victorious offensive. We were compelled to liberate our periphery from the counter-revolution. But on recalling today the history of our struggle we find that we suffered defeat rather frequently. In military respects we, too, had our March days, speaking in German; and our September days, speaking in Italian. What happens after a partial defeat? There sets in a certain dislocation of the military apparatus, there arises a certain need for a breathing spell, a need for reorientation and for a more precise estimation of the reciprocal forces, a need to offset the losses and to instill into the masses the consciousness of the necessity of a new offensive and a new struggle. Sometimes all this becomes possible only under the conditions of strategic retreat. The soldiers – especially if they are the soldiers of a class-conscious revolutionary army – are told this point-blank. They are told, we must surrender such and such points, such and such cities and areas and withdraw beyond the Volga, in order there to consolidate our position and in the course of three or four weeks or maybe several months, reorganize our ranks, make up our losses and then pass over to a new offensive. I must confess that during the first period of our Civil War the idea of retreat was always very painful for all of us and produced very depressed moods among the soldiers. A retreat is a movement. Whether one takes ten steps forward or ten steps backward depends entirely on the requirements of the moment. For victory it sometimes is necessary to move forward, sometimes to move backwards.

But to understand this properly, to discern in a move backwards, in a retreat, a component part of a unified strategic plan – for that a certain experience is necessary. But if one reasons purely abstractly, and insists always on moving forward, if one refuses to rack his brain over strategy, on the assumption that everything can be superseded by an added exertion of revolutionary will, what results does one then get? Let us take for example the September events in Italy or the March events in Germany. We are told that the situation in these countries can be remedied only by a new offensive. In the March days – and I say this quite openly – we did not have behind us one-fifth or even one-sixth of the working class and we suffered a defeat, in a purely practical sense, that is: we did not conquer power – incidentally, the party did not even set itself this task – we did not paralyze the counter-revolution, either. This is undeniably a practical defeat. But if we were to say today in accordance with the foregoing theory of offensive: only a new offensive can remedy the situation, what do we stand to gain thereby? We shall then have behind us no longer one-sixth of the working class but only that section of the former one-sixth which has remained fit for combat. Indeed, following a defeat there is always to be observed a certain depression, which doesn’t, of course, last forever but which does last a while. Under these conditions we would suffer an even greater and much more dangerous defeat. No, Comrades, after such a defeat we must retreat. In what sense? In the simplest sense. We must say to the working class: Yes, Comrades, on the basis of facts we have become convinced that in this struggle we had only one-sixth of the workers behind us. But we must number at least four-sixths, or two-thirds, in order to seriously think of victory; and to this end we must develop and safeguard those mental, spiritual, material and organizational forces which are our bonds with the class. From the standpoint of offensive struggle this signifies a strategic retreat for the sake of preparation. It is absolutely unimportant whether one calls this going leftist or going rightist. It all depends on what one means by these words. If by leftism is understood a formal readiness to move forward at any moment and to apply the sharpest forms of struggle, then this, of course, signifies a rightward trend. But if the words “left party” or “left tendencies” are understood in a more profound historical sense, in a dynamic sense, in the sense of a movement which sets itself the greatest task of the epoch and fulfills it through the best means, then this will constitute a step forward in the direction of the left, revolutionary tendency. But let us not waste our time over such philological scholasticism. From those who cavil over words and who say the Congress has made a step to the right, from them we demand that they give us a precise definition of what they mean by right or left.

There is no need for me to dwell on the fact that some extremely clever comrades have advanced a hypothesis, according to which the Russians are chiefly to blame for the present “rightist tendency,” because the Russians have now entered into trade relations with the Western State and are greatly concerned lest these relations be disrupted by the European revolution, and similar unpleasantries. I did not hear this hypothesis myself, so to speak, firsthand but malicious rumor has it that there are also extant theoreticians of historical development who extend their loyalty to the spirit of Marx so far as to seek economic foundations for this rightist Russian tendency as well. It seems to me, Comrades, that they have wandered into a blind alley. For even from a purely factual standpoint we would, of course, have to recognize that the revolution in Germany, in France, in England, would bring us the greatest benefits, because our rather tenuous trade relations with the West will never provide us with such aid as we could receive from a victorious proletarian revolution. The revolution would first of all free us of the necessity of maintaining an army of several million in our country which is so economically ruined; and this circumstance alone would bring us the greatest relief and at the same time the possibility of economic restoration.

And so, this hypothesis is entirely worthless. And in this respect it nowise differs from that other claim to the effect that the Russian Communist Party allegedly insisted on artificially provoking a revolution in Germany in March – so that Soviet Russia could cope with her domestic difficulties. This assertion is just as nonsensical. For a partial revolution, an uprising in any single country, can extend us no aid whatever. We are suffering from the destruction of the productive forces as a result of the imperialist war, the Civil War and the blockade. Aid can come to us only through shipments of large-scale auxiliary technical forces, through the arrival of highly skilled workers, locomotives, machines, and so on. But in no case from partial and unsuccessful uprisings in this or that country. That Soviet Russia will be able to maintain herself and to develop only in the event of the world revolution – this, Comrades, you can read in literally everything that we have ever written. You can convince yourselves that fifteen years ago we wrote that by force of the inner logic of the class struggle in Russia, the Russian revolution would inescapably bring the Russian working class to power; but that this power can be stabilized and consolidated in the form of a victorious socialist dictatorship only if it serves as the starting point and remains an integral part of the world revolution of the international proletariat. This truth retains its full force to this very day. And for this reason Russia, like every other country, can be interested only in the internal logical development of the revolutionary forces of the proletariat; and not at all in artificially speeding up or retarding the revolutionary development.

Some comrades have expressed the fear that by formulating the question in the way we did, we are pouring water on the wheels of centrist and passive elements in the labor movement. These fears, too, seem to me absolutely groundless. In the first place, because the principles on which our activity is based remain those which were adopted by the First Congress, which were elaborated theoretically in detail by the Second Congress and which were confirmed, expanded and filled with a concrete content by the Third Congress. These principles determine the entire activity of the Communist International. If during the epoch of the First and Second Congresses we condemned the reformist and centrist tendencies theoretically, then this no longer suffices today. Today we must elaborate a revolutionary strategy in order to overcome in practice these tendencies condemned by us. This is the whole gist of the question. And in this respect, too, some Communists have an oversimplified, and therefore incorrect approach. They imagine that revolutionary results can be obtained by incessantly repeating that we remain irreconcilable foes of any and all centrist tendencies. Of course, we remain such. Every step toward reconciliation with the passive tendencies of centrism and reformism would signify the complete disintegration of our entire movement. The question lies not in this but rather in what course of action we ought to pursue to demarcate ourselves theoretically and organizationally from all centrist tendencies wherever they might appear. This is ABC. It would be ludicrous to engage in a dispute over this within the Communist International. Differences of opinion could arise only over the question of whether we ought to eject the centrist elements from this or that party right away, or whether it is more expedient to wait a while and give them the opportunity to develop in a revolutionary direction. Such practical differences of opinion are unavoidable in every vigorous party. But the principled recognition of the need to conduct a mortal struggle against centrism is the precondition for the revolutionary development of the forces of the Communist Party and of the working class. This is not in question. To consider this question to be on the same plane with practical questions of revolutionary strategy – this can be done only by those who have not yet fully understood just what constituted the core of the revolutionary questions at the Third Congress.

Our opponents in the centrist camp will, of course, try to turn to their own advantage what we have said. They will say: Look, in such and such places they advanced the slogans for a decisive offensive but now the Third Congress has proclaimed the necessity of a strategic retreat. It is natural and unavoidable for one side to seek to gain some advantage from every step taken by the other side. That is how matters stand in this war, too. When, during the Civil War, Denikin or Kolchak used to retreat we always wrote in our agitational leaflets: Look, instead of crossing the Volga, the enemy has withdrawn to the Urals. We wrote it in order to raise the morale of the warriors. But if on the grounds that our opponents will interpret our move as a retreat, we were to conclude that we ought not to make this or that move, we would then sacrifice what is really essential for the sake of second-rate and formalistic considerations.

I have taken fully into consideration how extremely difficult it is to defend the strategy of temporary retreat at a Youth Congress. For if anyone is conscious of the right and of the inner necessity of waging an offensive, it is, of course, the young generation of the working class. If such were not the case, our affairs would be in a pretty bad shape. I believe, Comrades, that it is precisely you, the young generation, who are destined to accomplish the revolution. The present revolution can continue to unfold for years and decades. Not in the sense that the preparation for decisive battle in Germany will last for decades. No, but the same thing can happen there that happened to us in Russia. By force of historic conditions we gained victory very easily, but then we were compelled for three years uninterruptedly to wage the Civil War. And even now we are not at all certain that war does not threaten us in the Far East with Japan; or, for that matter, in the West. Not because we seek war, but because the imperialist bourgeoisie keeps changing its methods. At first it fought us with military methods, then it entered into trade relations with us, but now it may again resort to implements of war. How the developments will unfold in Germany and France it is rather difficult to say. But that the bourgeoisie will not surrender suddenly is beyond any doubt. Nor is it subject to doubt that the revolution will one day conquer throughout Europe and throughout the world. The perspectives of the revolution are boundless, and the final phase of the struggle may endure for decades. But what does this signify? It signifies that precisely the young generation, you who are assembled here, have been summoned by history to bring our struggle to its conclusion. Some work will perhaps be left over even for your children. Let us not forget that the Great French Revolution and all of its consequences lasdfor several decades.

Thus the tactical education of the Communist youth is a question of first-rate importance. In our time the young generation is bound to mature very early, because the wear and tear of human material is proceeding at an extremely rapid rate. We observe this in Russia; it is also to be observed in Germany; and in the future, this will manifest itself even more strikingly. For this reason it is of utmost importance for the Youth International to take – as is actually the case – an extremely serious attitude toward tactical questions. It is of utmost importance for the youth to review and criticize our tactics, and even, if need be, find them to be not leftist enough. It must not, however, view our tactics as a manifestation of some accidental moods within a single party or group but must analyze them in context with the aggregate tasks of the revolutionary movement as a whole. Concerning our resolution on the organization question someone might say: Mind you, it is stated here that the number of subscribers to Communist newspapers must be increased and that correspondents and collaborators for the Communist press must be recruited in the workers’ districts. It is said here that it is necessary to concentrate on the work of expanding our organizations, and of consolidating Communist nuclei in the trade unions. Aren’t all these piddling activities, activities which smack horribly of the Social-Democratic parties prior to the war? Yes, that is so, provided one tears this question out of its historical context, provided one fails to understand that we are living in an epoch that is revolutionary in its objective content and that we represent the working class which is every day becoming more and more convinced that it can secure the most elementary conditions of its existence only through revolution. But if one forgets all this along with the fact that we are engaged in a mortal combat with the Social-Democratic and centrist parties and groups for the influence over the working class, then, of course, one will get an entirely distorted conception of the tendencies, tactics and organizational principles of the Third Congress.

Today we are mature enough not to bind ourselves in all our actions by our formal opposition to reformists and centrists. The revolutionary task confronts us today as a practical task. And we ask ourselves: How ought we arm ourselves? What front should we occupy? At what line ought we intrench ourselves for defense? At what moment should we pass over to the offensive?

We are expanding our organizations. Whether this expansion take«s place in the field of publishing newspapers, or even in the field of parliamentarianism, has meaning today only insofar as this creates the conditions for the victory of the revolutionary uprising. As a matter of fact, how could we possibly secure, in the stormy epoch of mass proletarian uprisings, the unity of ideas and slogans without an extensive network of correspondents, collaborators and readers of the revolutionary newspapers? And whereas newspaper subscribers and correspondents to its newspapers are important for a Social-Democratic party as a precondition for its parliamentary successes, for us Communists the selfsame type of organization is of importance as a practical premise for the victory of the revolution.

From this criterion, Comrades, the Third Congress is a gigantic step forward as compared to the First and Second Congresses. At that time, especially in the era of the First Congress, one could still hope that the bourgeois state apparatus had been so disorganized by the war as to enable us to overthrow the bourgeois domination through a single spontaneous revolutionary assault. Had this happened, we would, of course, have had occasion to congratulate ourselves. But this did not happen. The bourgeoisie managed to withstand the assault of the spontaneous revolutionary mass movement. The bourgeoisie succeeded in retaining its positions; it has restored its state apparatus, and has kept a firm hand on the army and the police. These are indisputable facts and they confront us with the task of overturning this restored state apparatus by means of a thought-out and organized revolutionary offensivean offensive in the historical sense of the word, an offensive which includes temporary retreats as well as interludes for preparation.

The task of the Communist Party consists of applying all the possible methods of struggle. Were there no need of this, were the proletariat able to overthrow the bourgeoisie by a single tempestuous assault, there would be no need at all for the Communist Party. Both the fact that on a world scale this task is now posed as a practical task and the fact that the Third Congress has, after prolonged and rather heated discussion, arrived at a unanimous formulation of this task – this, Comrades, is the supreme fact of our epoch, the fact that an International Communist Workers Party exists which is able to elaborate practically and adopt unanimously a strategic plan for the annihilation of bourgeois society. And if you are dissatisfied with some things – in my opinion unjustifiably so – you must in any case incorporate your dissatisfaction within the framework of this great fact, this great victory. If you do so, then criticism emanating from the Youth International will serve not as a brake but as a progressive factor.

It is possible that the greatest decisive battles may take place by next year. It is possible that the period of preparation in the key countries may endure until the next Congress. It is impossible to predict the date and duration of political events. The Third Congress was the highest school of strategic preparation. And it may be that the Fourth Congress will issue the signal for the world revolution. We can’t tell as yet. But this we do know: We have taken a big step forward, and we shall all depart from this Congress more mature than when we came to it. This is amply clear, and not to me alone, I hope, but to all of us. And when the hour of great battles strikes, a very great role will be played in them by the youth. We need only recall the Red Army in which the youth played a decisive role not only politically but in a purely military sense. As a matter of fact, what is the Red Army, Comrades? It is nothing but the armed and organized youth of Russia. What did we do when we had to launch an offensive? We appealed to the organizations of the youth, and these organizations would carry out a mobilization. Hundreds and thousands of young workers and peasants came to us and we incorporated them as nuclei into our regiments. That is how the morale of the Red Army was built. And if we get the same type of youth in the Communist International – as we shall – if in the days of decisive battles the youth streams into our ranks in organized regiments, then you will be able to use for the benefit of the labor movement that which now separates you from the “old” International – not so much in spirit as in maturity of mind.

Comrades, during the most perilous days of the Russian Revolution, when Yudenich stood beyond Petrograd, and during the hard days of Kronstadt, when this fortress almost became converted into a fortress of French imperialism against Petrograd, it was the Russian worker-peasant youth that saved the revolution. In the bourgeois newspapers you can read that we brought up Chinese, Kalmuk and other regiments against Yudenich and Kronstadt. This is, of course, a lie. We brought up our youth. The storming of Kronstadt was indeed symbolic. Kronstadt, as I said, was about to pass into the hands of French and English imperialism. Two or three days more and the Baltic Sea would have been ice-free and the war vessels of the foreign imperialists could have entered the ports of Kronstadt and Petrograd. Had we then been compelled to surrender Petrograd, it would have opened the road to Moscow, for there are virtually no defensive points between Petrograd and Moscow. Such was the situation. To whom did we turn? Kronstadt is surrounded by sea on all sides, and the sea was blanketed with ice and snow. Nakedly exposed one had to move on ice and snow against the fortress amply equipped with artillery and machine guns. We turned to our youth, to those workers and peasants who were receiving military education in our military schools. And to our call they staunchly answered, “Present!” And they marched in the open and without any protection against the artillery and machine guns of Kronstadt. And as before, beyond Petrograd, so now on the Baltic ice there were many many corpses to be seen of young Russian workers and peasants. They fought for the revolution, they fought so that the present Congress might convene. And I am sure that the revolutionary youth of Europe and America, who are much more educated and developed than our youth, will in the hour of need display not less but far greater revolutionary energy; and in the name of the Russian Red Army, I say: Long Live the International Revolutionary Youth – the Red Army of the World Revolution!


1. The Communist Youth International held its first Congress illegally in Berlin in November 1919.

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Last updated on: 20.1.2007