Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 1

Summary Speech

Delivered Following the Report and Discussion at the Second Congress of the Communist Youth International

THE SEVEREST reproaches were leveled at the Third Congress by the Italian comrades. These reproaches were directed mainly against the Congress resolution on the Italian Socialist Party. Comrades Tranquilli and Polano [1] proceed from the assumption that this resolution muddles up the situation in Italy, that it will introduce confusion into the minds of Italian workers, without yielding any practical results in the future. In the opinion of Comrade Tranquilli, one can expect nothing from the Italian Socialist Party since not only its leaders – who are pacifists and reformists – but also the masses who follow these leaders are not revolutionary. I think that this approach to the Italian Socialist Party is false to the core. This party, hitherto united, has split, as you know, into three wings: the reformists who number about 14,000; the “unity” wing who number approximately 100,000; and the Communists – some 50,000. Comrade Tranquilli says that approximately 40,000 members dropped out of the Socialist Party and that it now counts in its ranks not more than 60,000 members, one-half of whom are members of municipal councils. I don’t know just how exact these figures are; the last figure seems to me a little dubious.

I ask myself: Why has this party sent its delegation to Moscow? Its leaders are opportunists; the masses who follow it – likewise. True the party used to belong to the Communist International. But last September it took a reformist position. The ECCI has ruled that in Italy the Communist Party alone constitutes a section of the Third International. Thus the Socialist Party had itself expelled from the ranks of the Comintern. Serrati and his friends did not doubt that the Third Congress would uphold the decision of the ECCI, and yet they did send delegates to this Congress. To this it ought to be added that the reformists now play in the administration of the Socialist Party an even more important role than they did prior to the split. The reformist leaders, Turati and Treves [2], are acquiring a strong influence over the Socialist Party. They enter into negotiations with Giolitti. In this period the Socialist Party has undergone a clear evolution to the right. Its parliamentary fraction becomes even more reformist than it was prior to the last elections. Turati, the genuine leader and inspirer of the party, begins baiting the Communist International with gibes and calumny.

How then to explain the fact that the representatives of this party appear in Moscow? The explanation offered by our young Italian comrades does not satisfy me. If the non-party masses regard the Communist International with such enthusiasm as to propel even Socialists to Moscow, then why don’t these masses join the Communist International? I can’t understand such supercircuitous politics on the part of the Italian workers. I believe that you are mistaken. The Italian working class is revolutionary, but its non-party masses are not sufficiently clear in their thinking, and it is precisely for this reason that they do not join the Communist Party. For this selfsame reason they do not exert sufficiently powerful pressure on the Socialist Party. The distance between Rome and Moscow is very great. And if the party leaders want to demonstrate that they are for Moscow; if they deem it necessary to lavish praise on Moscow, where, incidentally, they were not accorded a very warm reception; if they do all this, as you say, in order to deceive the masses, then it only goes to prove that the masses themselves have compelled these leaders to engage in such hypocrisy. Not the masses who are with the Communist Party, nor the non-party masses, but the rank-and-file members of the Socialist Party itself. You cite statistical data and you say that among 100,000 members of this party there are only 60,000 toilers, of whom some 30,000 are members of municipal councils or employes and so on. If this last figure is not exaggerated, one would have to admit that these employees who are shoving Lazzari and Maffi [3] to Moscow are not of the worst sort, and that we ought to try to attract them to us.

An assertion has been frequently repeated here to the effect that the doors have been left open to the Italian Socialist Party. Obviously the impression is that the doors are left wide open for anyone to enter. In reality the situation is somewhat more complex. We have stipulated that for two or three months the doors remain closed, and then the Italian Socialist Party must convene a party congress and discuss a number of questions publicly. First of all it must expel the reformists from its ranks. You may ask: Which ones? This is self-evident. Those who do not avow themselves as Communists, those who arranged the conference in Reggio-Emilia. This condition is quite specific. You know better than I do how great the influence of Turati and Treves is in the Italian Socialist Party. If our resolution compels the centrist and pacifist elements in the party to dissociate themselves from Turati and Treves, it would mean the complete capitulation of the party as a whole. The centrist elements have demonstrated that they lack any kind of policy. They can only be led by the nose – either by the Communists or by the reformists. Their most characteristic trait is their lack of character. And this is especially characteristic of Italy, where the revolutionary movement is very spontaneous in nature.

When parties who have been expelled from the Third International come to us and say: We wish to return to you; we reply: If you are prepared to accept our platform and to drive political saboteurs out of your midst, we shall not refuse to admit you. Does this really frighten you, Comrades? Cite an instance, tell me of a different method whereby we can attract workers who still follow these leaders. You say that we ought to wait until the next action when the Socialist Party will expose itself by its periodic treachery, and then the masses will come over to us. You presuppose, therefore, that the Italian party is incapable of drawing any lessons from experience. There is no need of waiting for the next treachery in order to get rid of these creatures. We created the International precisely in order to safeguard the Italian proletariat against a new September ordeal, against new disillusions and new sacrifices. This, Comrades, is precisely the meaning of the resolution of the Third Congress of the Comintern. We must expand the basis of our actions, of our activities.

Comrade Schueller [4] said that we need only dynamic actions, that only through them will we conquer the masses. He said that the masses have created the apparatus of revolution. This is correct, but in Italy there have been plenty of actions; all the recent years in Italy have been filled with political strikes, with uprisings in cities, villages and in the army, etc. The entire country seethed with rebellion. But it is not enough to interminably repeat the words “dynamic action.” It is necessary to utilize these actions in laying the foundation of the revolutionary organization, in selecting the most resolute elements. It is necessary to center all efforts on the work of preparation. Which is precisely what was not done. There were actions, but there was no preparation for actions. This is what the comrades refuse to understand.

Comrade Polano said that it is necessary to break completely with reformist parties. But it was you, Comrade Polano, who told us that out of 100,000 members of the Socialist Party only 60,000 remained. Picture to yourself the fact that these 40,000, on dropping out of their party, did not join your party. The split that has occurred in the party has put them in a skeptical frame of mind, they are watching and waiting. And those who remained in the party have delegated Lazzari, Maffi and Riboldi [5] to go to Moscow. If we were now to say to them: We want no dealings with you; what impression, in your opinion, would this make upon the former party members, upon these 40,000 who have become skeptics? They inform us of their desire to join the International, but we tell them: No, we want no dealings with you. Will this facilitate your task of conquering the working masses for the Communist International? In no case! This would only reinforce the conservatism of the working masses and those selfsame members of municipal councils would form a bloc against you, against Moscow; because to refuse admittance into the International to those workers who wish to join is to deal them the cruelest insult. It is characteristic of a worker, in general, and of the Italian Socialist Party, in particular, that a worker always cherishes confidence in the organization which has awakened and educated him. This organizational conservatism has its positive as well as its negative side. If we repel a worker from us, we thereby strengthen the negative side of his organizational conservatism. No, by such a policy you will never gain the majority of the Italian proletariat. Never! Here you speak in the spirit of sectarianism and not in the spirit of revolution.

The same Comrade Schueller also said: Before us are theses on tactics; we accept them as disciplined soldiers of the proletarian army, but they were likewise accepted by Lazzari and Serrati and considerable satisfaction will be derived from them even by Levi. But Comrades, what does this prove? We cannot reject these or other theses simply because they happen to please such and such an individual. If the theses are good, it remains for us only to congratulate ourselves that they were also adopted by Lazzari. And if they are bad, then it is first of all necessary to bring proof of that. Comrade Schueller said that we need actions, but if you read the theses over, you will become convinced that they express this same idea with a clarity of thought nowise inferior to Comrade Schueller’s, even though he has expressed himself admirably. But Comrade Schueller is wrong in one thing. What we lacked was not actions, but the preparation of action.

I repeat, why are you so alarmed over the fact that Lazzari and Smeral [6] find our theses excellent? One of two things is possible: either Smeral has actually drawn closer to us, or he is a hypocrite. I don’t believe in the latter supposition; I think that he is acting sincerely. But let us grant for a moment that he did approve our theses out of hypocrisy; if such were the case, why would he do it? Because he assumes that the masses who follow him are gravitating toward Moscow. As a matter of fact, let us suppose that Smeral is as much of a Machiavelli as Serrati – I can’t say this of Lazzari, but in Serrati, why, there is a real Machiavelli for you – and so let us suppose that these Machiavellis say: Up to now we have reiterated that the Third International was making big mistakes, but now we must admit that it is acting correctly. What does this signify? This signifies that the masses who follow them are now for us. This signifies that they no longer have any arguments against us, that they can no longer hinder their masses from streaming into our ranks. You say that we have stripped them of all their weapons. Perhaps, but they themselves remain. Serrati remains. Smeral is coming to us. And don’t we remain ourselves in the International, too? If Smeral demonstrates that he does not abide by the tactics of the Third International, we shall scarcely be scared of breaking with him after we have broken with the centrist and reformist parties. I cannot for the life of me understand what you are afraid of.

Laporte: [7] Since Smeral agrees with the theses, it follows that the theses are no good.

Trotsky: Dear Comrade Laporte, this is precisely what you must first prove. You must prove that the tactics proposed by us are incorrect.

Laporte: I would prove it if I were granted the time.

Trotsky: I would gladly listen to you on this question. But if it is really true that we, i.e., the entire Communist Party, have advanced theses which are permeated with the spirit of opportunism, with the spirit of Smeral, then in that case it is impermissible to speak of our having left the doors open for Smeral and Serrati. After all, Smeral and Serrati will not be alone, they will be together with all of us. And if we are bad Communists, it means that our whole Communist family is bad and that there is no need of being afraid of these two.

A voice from the floor: The theses are not clear enough.

Trotsky: It would of course be much simpler to throw all the vacillating elements out of the window and say: We shall remain a little sect, but by way of compensation we shall be absolutely pure. On the one hand, you always insist on revolutionary actions; but on the other hand, you want the party to consist of chemically pure elements only. These demands are contradictory. Because revolutionary actions are impossible without masses, but the masses do not consist solely of absolutely pure elements. This is beyond dispute. The masses are yearning for revolutionary action, but they have not yet lost faith in Smeral. Whether they are right or wrong is something else again, but the fact is they still continue to trust Smeral. We are consequently faced with the following alternative: either to reject Smeral together with the masses, or to accept him together with the masses. And since Smeral accepts the theses of the Third Congress, I assume, Comrade Laporte, that the mistake in this dispute is being made not by Smeral but by you. You are not striving to expand your base. Tactics cannot be unilateral, they must allow for maneuver, in order to attract the masses. It is a very complex task. But you say: No, I shall remain with my own family, the masses are not pure enough for me; I shall wait until the masses dribble into our party in little homeopathic doses.

Insofar as I am able to understand your tendency you are yearning for a more dynamic policy. If we were living in an organic epoch of slow and gradual development, I might perhaps agree that your tactic corresponds to the character of the epoch. But in our time, when the greatest events are taking place, the masses become educated through these events. And we must adjust ourselves to the situation, because a moment may arrive in Italy, perhaps on the morrow, when the Communist Party will be bound to act as a mass party. Serrati and Lazzari who have broken with the reformists will not have any personal or party influence and they will enter the Communist Party together with the masses that have compelled them to come to us. And should they then display anti-Communist tendencies, you would be able to throw them out of the party.

It seems to me that, this exhausts all the objections which have been made here by certain comrades. No, they have accepted our theses not only as disciplined soldiers of the proletarian army, they have also accepted them out of inner conviction. This applies especially to the Italian comrades. The latest events in Rome demonstrate that the Italian proletariat is not completely disillusioned, that it still has revolutionary élan. On such foundations one can permit himself a bolder tactic, a tactic which does not flinch from embracing ever greater masses of workers. Furthermore, you ought not to forget, Comrades, that the Italian party is not isolated, that there exists the ECCI which takes into consideration the experiences of all parties. If some Socialist group which has entered your party becomes a menace to you, even if you turn out to be in a minority – which incidentally is absolutely excluded – you could always appeal to the ECCI.

As regards the developments in Italy in the immediate future, I think that while our tactics in respect to the Socialist Party will not bring it completely into our ranks, they will nevertheless not remain unfruitful but will provoke a split. One thing is certain, namely: Within the Italian Socialist Party, the Left Wing will inescapably crystallize and demand the expulsion of the reformists. The Right Wing of the party will raise objections to this and as a result there will be a split in the party. You may say that the elements which split from the Socialist Party will not be pure enough for us. But in that case we could once again take up in the ECCI the question of admitting them into the Third International. You insist that between you and them there is nothing in common. But we would never have been a Communist Party if we had counted only on those workers who individually wanted to follow us. No, by such methods you will never attract the majority of the working class in Italy. The ECCI will help you to conquer a large faction of the Italian Socialist Party. We thus shall perhaps have in our ranks also some members of municipal councils. But they will only prove useful to you since, upon conquering power, you will need them in organizing food supplies, and so on. I hope that a few months from now I shall be able to congratulate you for having acquired several tens of thousands of workers and several hundred good municipal councilors.


1. Polano – leader of the Italian YCL; member of the Executive Committee of the Youth Communist International. Polano and Tranquilli represented the youth at the Third Congress.

2. Treves – an Italian reformist who played an important role in the split of the Italian Socialist Party. Colleague of Turati.

3. Maffi – prominent Italian Socialist, delegate of the Italian Socialist Party to the Third World Congress. After that Congress, Maffi returned to Italy and advocated unconditional acceptance of the CI’s decisions.

4. Schueller – one of the leaders of the German YCL who worked in that period in the Executive Committee of the Communist Youth International as its secretary.

5. Riboldi – leader of the Left Wing of the Italian Socialist Party who was one of its three delegates to the Third World Congress. Like Maffi, Riboldi became a staunch advocate of entry into the Communist International.

6. Smeral – leader of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. An old participant in the labor movement. Congenital Right Winger. Under the pressure of the Czech workers, Smeral joined the Communist Party together with the Left Wing of the Czech Social Democracy. Smeral even in Lenin’s day (1920-23) did not hesitate to avow his opportunist tendencies. He received full scope for his proclivities when Stalin usurped power.

7. Laporte – leader of the French YCL who criticized the policies of the Comintern from the “left” in that period. Laporte like most of the youth leaders at the time suffered from the disease of leftism.

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Last updated on: 20.1.2007