Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

A School of
Revolutionary Strategy

The Third World Congress of the Communist International

Part II

The Strategy of the German Counter-Revolution and
the Leftist Adventuristic Elements

Let us review from this point of view the entire history of the German revolution. In November 1918, the monarchy fell and the proletarian revolution was placed on the order of the day. In January 1919, there occurred the sanguinary revolutionary battles of the proletarian vanguard against the régime of bourgeois democracy; these battles recurred in March 1919. The bourgeoisie quickly oriented itself and elaborated its own strategy: it proceeded to crush the proletariat, section by section. Therewith the best leaders of the working class perished – Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. In March 1920, after the Kapp-Lüttwitz attempt at a counter-revolutionary overturn had been swept away by the General Strike, there was a new partial uprising, the armed struggle of the workers in the Ruhr coal basin. The movement terminated in a new defeat and countless fresh victims. Finally, in March 1921, there came a new civil war – once again partial in character – and a new defeat.

When in January and March 1919, the German workers engaged in a partial uprising, suffered defeat and lost their best leaders, we said, recalling our own experience, that these were the “July Days” of the German Communist Party. All of you remember the July Days in Petersburg in the year 1917. Petersburg at that time out-distanced the rest of the country, and rushed ahead by itself; it did not have sufficient support in the provinces, while in Kerensky’s army there still remained backward regiments that could be employed to crush the movement. But in Petersburg itself the crushing majority of the proletariat was already with us. The July Days in Petersburg became the premise for October. It is true that we, too, did some foolish things during July. But we did not elevate them into a system. The January and March battles of 1919 were viewed by us as the German “July”. But in Germany what came next was not “October” but March 1920 – a new defeat, let alone other and smaller partial defeats and the systematic massacre of the best local leaders of the German working class. I say, when we observed the March movement of 1920 and later the March movement of 1921, we could not help but say: No, there are too many “July Days” in Germany, what we want is – October.

Yes, it is necessary to prepare the German October, the victory of the German working class. And it is here that the questions of revolutionary strategy rise before us in their full scope. It is perfectly clear and obvious that the German bourgeoisie, i.e., its leading clique, has completely unfolded its counter-revolutionary strategy: It provokes separate sections of the working class into action; it isolates them in each province, it lies in ambush with rifles cocked and always aims at the head, at the best representatives of the working class. In the streets or in the police cells, in an open battle or during alleged attempts to escape, at the hands of courts martial or in the clutches of an illegal gang, there perish by ones and twos, by the score, by the hundred and by the thousand those Communists in whom the best experience of the proletariat is embodied. This strategy is rigidly calculated, cold-bloodedly executed, and it encompasses the entire experience of the ruling class.

And under these conditions, at a time when the German working class as a whole instinctively senses that one cannot cope with such an enemy with bare hands, that needed here is not merely enthusiasm but cool calculation, lucid appraisal, serious preparation, and while the working class expects this from its party, it is instead informed from above that: It is our duty to pursue only the strategy of the offensive, i.e., attack under all conditions because, you see, we have entered the epoch of revolution. This is approximately the same thing as an army commander’s saying: “Since we are at war, it is therefore our duty to assume the offensive everywhere and at all times.” Such a commander would be unfailingly smashed even with a preponderance of forces on his side. But that is not all, there are to be found “theoreticians”, like the German Communist Maslow, who in connection with the March events talk themselves into something really egregious. Maslow says: “Our opponents indict our March action for something which we consider to be to our credit, namely: that the party upon entering the struggle did not ask itself whether the working class would follow it or not.” This is a verbatim quotation!

From the standpoint of subjective revolutionism or of Left SRism, this is superb, but from the standpoint of Marxism this is – monstrous!

Adventuristic Tendencies

“Revolutionary duty demands that we launch an offensive against the Germans,” proclaimed the Left SRs in July 1918. We’ll be crushed? But it is our duty to march forward. Do the working masses object? Very well. In that case, it is possible to throw a bomb at Mirbach [6] so as to compel the Russian workers to engage in a struggle in which they must unfailingly perish. Moods of this sort are very strong within the so-called Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD). This is a small group of Proletarian Left SRism. Our native Left SRs have – more accurately they had – their deepest roots among the intellectuals and peasants. But apart from this social distinction, the political methods remain identical. This is an hysterical revolutionism capable of applying at any moment the most extreme means and methods without taking either the masses or the general situation into account. It is impatience in place of cool calculation. It is intoxication with revolutionary phrases. All this wholly characterizes “The Communist Workers Party of Germany.” At the congress one of the speakers, talking in the name of this party, said approximately the following: “What can you expect? The working class of Germany is permeated through and through (he even said verseucht, diseased) with philistinism, with middle-class ideology, petty-bourgeois spirit. What then can you do about it? Without economic sabotage, you will not get them out into the streets ...”

And when asked what he meant by this, he explained that no sooner did the workers begin living a little better than they become contented and do not want a revolution. If, however, the mechanical operation of production is interrupted, if factories, plants and railroads, etc., are blown up, this acts to worsen the condition of the working class and consequently renders it more capable of revolution. Bear in mind that this is spoken by a representative of a “workers” party. This is indeed absolute scepticism!

It thus turns out – if we draw the corresponding conclusions for the village – that the advanced peasants of Germany ought to set villages on fire, let loose the red cocks throughout the country and in this way revolutionize the rural population. Here one cannot help but recall that during the very first period of the revolutionary movement in Russia, in the Sixties, when the revolutionary intellectuals were completely powerless to express themselves in action, when they were squeezed in by their circle existence and continuously ran up against the passivity of the peasant masses – precisely at that time, certain groups (the so-called Nechayevites [7]), came to the conclusion that fires and arson constituted the real revolutionary factor of Russia’s political development.

It is perfectly obvious that this sort of sabotage directed essentially against the majority of the working class is an anti-revolutionary measure which brings the working class into a hostile clash with a “workers” party, whose numbers are hard to estimate. But in any case, this “workers” party counts no more than 30-40,000, while the United Communist Party has, as you all know, about 400,000 members.

The congress raised the question of the KAPD quite bluntly, presenting this organization with the demand that it hold a convention within the next three months and either merge with the unified Communist Party or definitely take its place outside the Communist International. From many indications the KAPD in the person of its present anarcho-adventuristic leadership will not submit to the decision of the International, and thus finding itself outside our ranks will probably try to form a “Fourth International” together with some other “extreme left” elements. A few notes on the same little pipe were blown at the congress by our own Kollontai. It is no secret that our party remains for the time being, the core of the Communist International. Meanwhile Comrade Kollontai painted the situation in our party in such colours as to make it appear that, give or take a month, the working masses, with Comrade Kollontai at the head, will have to make a “third revolution” in order to establish a “genuine” soviet system. But why only a third revolution and not a fourth? After all, the third revolution in the name of a “genuine” soviet system occurred last February in Kronstadt. There are extreme leftists in Holland, too. Perhaps in other countries as well. I do not know whether all of them have been accounted for. But in any case their number is not excessive and a “Fourth International”, should it arise, runs the least danger of becoming very large numerically. Naturally, it would be sad to lose even a small group, because there undoubtedly are good worker militants in its ranks. But if this sectarian split is ordained to occur then we shall have in the next period not only the Two-and-a-Half International on our right but also International Number Four on our left – where subjectivity, hysteria, adventurism and revolutionary phrase-mongering will find expression in a completely finished form. We will thus obtain a “left” scarecrow of which we shall make use in order to teach strategy to the working class. Everything, as you see, has two sides: positive and negative.

Leftist Blunders and the Russian Experience

But within the United Communist Party, too, there were anti-Marxist tendencies which revealed themselves quite crassly in March and afterwards. I have already cited the astonishing article of Maslow. [8] But Maslow is not alone. In Vienna there is published a magazine Kommunismus, an organ of the Communist International in the German language. In the July issue of this magazine, an article devoted to the situation in the International states approximately the following:

“The principal characteristic of the present period of the revolution lies in this, that we are now compelled to conduct even partial battles, including economic ones, i.e., strikes, with the instrumentalities of the final battle, i.e., with arms in hand.”

Here, Comrades, is strategy turned topsy-turvy! At a time when the bourgeoisie is provoking us into partial sanguinary battles, some of our strategists want to elevate battles of this sort into a guiding rule. Isn’t this monstrous! The objective situation in Europe is profoundly revolutionary. The working class senses it and throughout the post-war period it rushed impetuously into the struggle against the bourgeoisie. But it gained victory nowhere except in Russia. The working class then began to understand that it faces a difficult task and started to build the apparatus for victory – the Communist Party. Along this path it has marched with seven-league boots during the last year. We now have genuine mass Communist parties in Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria ... The growth has been enormous! What is the next task? It is for these parties to conquer as quickly as possible the majority of industrial workers and the decisive section of rural workers and even of the poor peasantry, just as we had conquered them before October – otherwise there would have been no October. Certain unhappy strategists say instead that since the epoch today is revolutionary, therefore we are duty-bound, at every opportunity, to wage the struggle, even a partial one, with the methods of armed insurrection. The bourgeoisie couldn’t ask for anything better! At a time when the Communist Party is growing at a splendid rate, and its wings are becoming extended more and more over the entire working class, it is the aim of the bourgeoisie to provoke the most impatient and combative section of the workers to plunge prematurely into battle – without the support of the basic mass of the workers – in order, by defeating the working class piecemeal, to undermine the proletariat’s faith in its own ability to conquer the bourgeoisie. Under these conditions, the theory of always taking the offensive and waging partial battles with the methods of armed uprising is so much grist to the mill of the counter-revolution. That is why the Russian party, supported by all the maturer elements at the Third Congress, firmly told the Comrades of the left wing: You are superb revolutionists and you will fight and die for the cause of Communism, but that is not enough for us. We must not only fight, but conquer! And for this it is necessary to master more fully the art of revolutionary strategy,

In my considered opinion, Comrades, one of the most important reasons why there is an underestimation of the difficulties of the revolutionary struggle and revolutionary victory in Europe, is to be found in the actual course of the proletarian revolution in Russia and partly also in Hungary. We had in Russia a bourgeoisie, belated historically and weak politically, a bourgeoisie greatly dependent upon European capital and with weak political roots in Russian soil. On the other hand, we had a revolutionary party with a great tradition and heritage of underground struggle, trained and tempered in combat, consciously utilizing the entire past experience of revolutionary struggles in Europe and throughout the world. The position of the Russian peasantry vis-à-vis the bourgeoisie and vis-à-vis the proletariat, the character and mood of the Russian army after the military débâcle of tsarism – all this made the October revolution unavoidable and greatly facilitated the victory of the revolution. (Although this did not at all eliminate future difficulties but, on the contrary, prepared them on a colossal scale.) Because of the relative ease with which the October revolution was accomplished, the victory of the Russian proletariat did not present itself commensurately to the leading circles of European workers as a politico-strategic task, and this aspect of it was not adequately assimilated by them.

The next experience in the conquest of power by the proletariat occurred on a smaller scale but nearer Europe – in Hungary. The circumstances there unfolded in such a way that the Communists gained power almost without any revolutionary struggle. Thereby the questions of revolutionary strategy in the epoch of the struggle for power were naturally reduced to a minimum.

From the experience of Russia and Hungary not alone the working masses but also the Communist parties of other countries acquired first of all the knowledge that the victory of the proletariat was inevitable and then they directly passed over to acquiring knowledge concerning the difficulties which flow from the victory of the working class. As touches the strategy of revolutionary struggle for the conquest of power, it presented itself to them as something exceedingly simple, as something that could almost be taken for granted. It is not at all accidental that certain prominent Hungarian Comrades, who have rendered big services to the international, reveal a tendency to simplify in the extreme the tactical questions facing the proletariat in a revolutionary epoch; and to replace tactics with a slogan of waging an offensive.

The Third World Congress said to the Communists of all countries: The course of the Russian Revolution is a very important historical example but it is by no means the political rule. And furthermore: Only a traitor could deny the need of a revolutionary offensive; but only a simpleton would reduce all of revolutionary strategy to an offensive.

The Positive and Negative Sides of the French Communist Party

Over the policy of the French Communist Party we had a less stormy discussion, at any rate during the sessions of the congress itself, than took place over the German policy. But during sessions of the ECCI there once occurred a rather heated dispute among us over questions of the French labour movement. The French Communist Party was formed without the external and internal paroxysms that gripped the German party. In consequence there still remain within the French party unquestionably strong centrist moods and old methods of parliamentary socialism. In its recent past the French proletariat has experienced no revolutionary struggle – a struggle that would have revived its old revolutionary traditions. The French bourgeoisie emerged victorious from the war, and was thus enabled until recently to throw, at pillaged Germany’s expense, isolated sops to privileged sections of the French working class. Revolutionary class struggle in France is just beginning to take shape. Prior to the first serious battles the French Communist Party gained the possibility of utilizing and assimilating the revolutionary experience of Russia and Germany. Suffice it to recall that in Germany the civil war was already blazing when the Communists still comprised only a handful of Spartacists; but in France, on the contrary, there has been no open post-war revolutionary struggle, and in the meantime the Communist Party of France already embraces in its ranks 120,000 workers. If we take into consideration that there are in France revolutionary syndicalists who “do not recognize” parties although they do support the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat; if we take into consideration that the organization in France was never as strong as in Germany, then it becomes apparent that these 120,000 organized Communists carry not less but probably more weight in France than do 400,000 members in Germany. This is shown most clearly by the fact that in Germany there are to be found to the right of these 400,000, the parties of Independents and of Social Democrats who possess jointly many more members and sympathizers than do the Communists, while in France to the right of the Communists there is only the insignificant split-off group of the followers of Longuet and Renaudel. In the trade-union movement of France the relationship of forces is on the whole likewise undoubtedly more favourable for the left wing. But on the other hand, the general relationship of class forces in Germany is undoubtedly more favourable for the victory of the revolution. In other words, in France the bourgeoisie still continues to depend mainly upon its own apparatus – the army, the, police, etc.; in Germany the bourgeoisie depends primarily upon the Social Democracy and the trade-union bureaucracy. The French Communist Party has every opportunity of gaining the complete and indivisible leadership of the labour movement before the decisive events occur. But to do so, French Communism must divest itself once and for all of the ancient husk of political conventionalities and equivocations, more rigid in France than anywhere else. The French party stands in need of a more resolute approach toward events; its agitation must be more energetic and irreconcilable in its character and in its very tone; it must take a severer attitude to any and all manifestations of democratic parliamentarian ideology, intellectual egotism and careerism. During the discussion of the French party’s policy by the ECCI, it was brought out that the party had committed such and such mistakes; that the Communist deputies in parliament not infrequently engaged in excessive “discussions” with their bourgeois enemies instead of appealing to the masses over the heads of these enemies; that the party papers must speak a great deal more in a simpler and sharper revolutionary language so that the most oppressed and downtrodden French workers would here feel a response to their sufferings, their demands and their aspirations. In the course of this discussion a young French Comrade took the floor and in an impassioned speech, which met with the approbation of a part of the assembly, shifted the criticism of the party’s policy to a totally different plane. This representative of the youth said:

“When the French government entertained designs, early this year, to seize the Ruhr province from the Germans, and announced the mobilization of 19-year-olds, the party did not summon the draftees to resist, and thereby revealed its utter bankruptcy.”

We wanted to know what sort of resistance he had in mind.

“The party did not summon the 19-year-olds to refuse to submit to the mobilization order.”

We asked what he meant by this “refusal to submit”. Did it mean not to appear voluntarily until a gendarme or a policeman came to the flat? Or did it mean actively resisting a gendarme or a policeman, arms in hand?

This young Comrade, who made a very good impression upon all of us, immediately exclaimed: “Of course, we must go through to the very end, we must resist arms in hands ...”

This answer revealed how hazy and confused still are the conceptions of revolutionary tactics in the minds of some elements. We then engaged in a discussion with our young opponent: Among you in France under the tricolour of the imperialist army there are today, as the French say, several “classes”, that is, draft ages. Your government deems it is necessary to call up one more “class”, the 19-year-olds. This “class” (or draft age) numbers in the country, let us say, 200,000 youths, among whom there are, let us suppose, from 3,000 to 5,000 Communists. They are dispersed, unorganized; some are in the villages, others in cities. Let us grant for a moment that the party does actually summon them to resist, arms in hand. I don’t know how many agents of the bourgeoisie will be killed in the process, but it is a certainty that all the Communists will be plucked out of the class of 19-year-olds and exterminated. Why don’t you summon those draft ages who are already in the army to stage an insurrection? After all, they possess arms and are assembled in the army’s ranks. You don’t do it because you evidently understand that the army will not fire against the counter-revolution until the working class in its majority demonstrates in action its readiness to struggle for power, in other words, until the proletarian revolution begins. How then can You demand that the revolution be made not by the working class as a whole but by the “class” of 19-year-olds? If the Communist Party – let us also grant this for a moment – were to issue such an order it would be the best possible gift for Millerand, for Briand, for Barthou, and all other candidates for the role of hangmen of the proletarian revolution. Because it is perfectly self-evident that once the most daring section of the youth is destroyed, the more backward section of the working class would be terror-stricken, the party would find itself isolated and its influence would be impaired for months, if not for years. Through such methods, that is, through an impatient application of the most drastic forms of revolutionary struggle, at a time when conditions have not yet matured for a decisive collision, one can obtain only negative results, and even bring about a revolutionary abortion instead of a mighty revolutionary birth.

We have a classic example of a completely unprepared call for mass action in the attempted general strike of May 1920. As you all know, the idea of this strike was treacherously “supported” by the syndicalists and the reformists. Their aim was not to allow the movement to slip out of their hands and thereby make it all the easier for them to wreck it at the first opportunity. They succeeded completely. But in behaving so treacherously, these people remained true to themselves. One couldn’t expect anything else from them. Yet the opposing side, the revolutionary syndicalists and the Communists, failed completely to prepare the movement. The initiative came from the railway unions which had been won over for the first time by the left wingers, with Monmousseau at the head. Before the left wingers had succeeded in any way consolidating and securing the most important positions, before they had even properly surveyed the situation, they hastened to summon the masses to a decisive action under slogans that were muddled and ambiguous, and with the treacherous “support” from the right. In every respect this was an unprepared attack. The results are well known: Only a small minority took part in the action; the conciliators blocked any further extension of the strike; the counter-revolution took full advantage of the manifest weakness of the lefts and was enabled to extraordinarily strengthen its own positions.

Light-minded improvisations of this sort are impermissible in the movement. The situation must be appraised far more seriously; the movement must be prepared and co-ordinated persistently, energetically, in all spheres, in order later, when the signal is given, to lead it firmly and resolutely. But for this, it is necessary to have a Communist Party which unifies the experience of the proletariat in all its fields of struggle. Naturally, the mere presence of a party does not eliminate mistakes. But the absence of a party, as the directing vanguard, makes mistakes unavoidable, converting the struggle as a whole into a series of improvisations, experiments and adventures.

Communism and Syndicalism in France

The relationship between the Communist Party and the working class in France is, as I stated, more favourable than in Germany. But the party’s political influence over the working class, which has greatly increased thanks to the radicalization of the party, still remains in an inadequate form in France, especially with respect to the organizational side. This is to be seen most clearly in the question of the trade unions.

In France the syndicates (trade unions) are to a lesser extent multi-millioned organizations than they are in Germany or the Anglo-American countries. But in France, too, the numerical strength of the trade unions has greatly increased in recent years. The relationship between the party and the class assumes, first of all, the form of the party’s relations to the trade unions. This alone, this simple formulation of the question already shows how incorrect and how anti-revolutionary and how dangerous is the so-called theory of neutrality, the theory of complete “independence” of the trade unions from the party, and so on. If trade unions are, by their tendency, the organization of the working class as a whole, then how can this working class remain neutral toward the party or “independent” from it? After all, this would signify the neutrality of the class, that is, its complete indifference toward the revolution itself? Yet, on this basic question, to this day, there is still lacking necessary clarity in the French labour movement and, above all, this clarity is lacking within the party itself.

The theory that there is a complete and unconditional division of labour between the party and the trade unions and that they must practice mutual and absolute non-intervention is precisely a product of French political development. It is the most extreme expression of it. This theory is based on unadulterated opportunism. So long as the labour bureaucracy, organized in the trade unions, concludes wage agreements, while the Socialist Party defends reforms in parliament, the division of labour and mutual non-intervention remain more or less possible. But no sooner are the real proletarian masses drawn into the struggle and no sooner does the movement assume a genuinely revolutionary character, than the principle of non-intervention degenerates into reactionary scholasticism. The working class can gain victory only if there stands at its head an organization which represents its living historical experience, and is capable of generalizing theoretically and directing the entire struggle in practice. On account of the very meaning of its historic task, the party can include only the most conscious and active minority of the working class. The trade unions, on the other hand, seek to embrace the working class as a whole. Those who recognize that the proletariat urgently needs the ideological and political leadership of its vanguard, united in the Communist Party, thereby recognize that the party must become the leading force inside the trade unions as well, that is, inside the mass working-class organizations. Yet there are comrades in the French party who haven’t assimilated this elementary truth and who, like Verdier, for example, wage an irreconcilable struggle to keep the trade unions “inviolate” from the influence of the party. Clearly these Comrades have joined the party only through a misunderstanding, because a Communist who denies the tasks and duties of the Communist Party in relation to the trade unions is no Communist at all.

Naturally this does not mean that the trade unions become subject to the party organizationally, or from the outside. The trade unions are organizationally independent. Within the trade unions the party wields the influence it gains by its activity, by its ideological intervention, by its authority. But to say this is to say that the party must strive in every way to increase its influence over the trade unions; it must deal with all the questions arising in the trade-union movement; it must give clear answers to them and carry out its views through the Communists functioning in the trade unions, without in the least violating the organizational autonomy of the unions.

You all know that the so-called revolutionary syndicalist tendency used to wield considerable influence over the trade unions in France. Revolutionary syndicalism, despite its denial of the party, was essentially nothing but an anti-parliamentary party of the working class. The syndicalist party always waged an energetic struggle for its influence over the trade unions; and never recognized the neutrality or independence of the trade unions in relation to the theory and practice of the syndicalist party. If we leave aside the theoretical mistakes and excesses of French syndicalism and consider its revolutionary essence, then it is unquestionable that this essence found its full development precisely in Communism.

The core of revolutionary syndicalism in France was constituted by the group around the newspaper La Vie ouvrière (Workers Life). I came in close contact with this group during the war. At the centre of this group stood Monatte and Rosmer. Adhering to it from the right were Merrheim and Dumoulin. Both of them later became renegades. Rosmer made the natural transition from revolutionary syndicalism to Communism. Up to now Monatte holds an ambiguous position, but after the Third World Congress and the Red Trade-Union Congress, Monatte took a step which fills me with serious misgivings. Together with Monmousseau [9], secretary of the Railway Workers’ Union, Monatte has published a protest against the Comintern resolution on the trade-union movement and refused to join the Red Trade-Union International. It must be said that the very text of this protest by Monatte and Monmousseau provides the best possible argument against their middle-of-the-road position. Monatte announces that he has left the Amsterdam Trade-Union International because of its close ties with the Second International. Absolutely correct. But the fact that the overwhelming majority of trade unions are affiliated either with the Second or with the Third Internationals is the best possible proof that neutral or apolitical trade unions do not exist and generally cannot exist, all the less so in a revolutionary epoch. Whoever breaks with Amsterdam and refuses to join Moscow runs the risk of creating a Two-and-a-Half Trade-Union International.

I firmly expect that this unfortunate misunderstanding will be cleared up and that Monatte will take his rightful place inside the French Communist Party and the Third International where he belongs by virtue of his entire past.

Perfectly understandable and correct is the discreet and lenient attitude of the French CP toward the revolutionary syndicalists, in an attempt to draw them closer. But completely incomprehensible is the indulgence shown by the party in its toleration of the obstruction of Comintern’s policy by its own members, such as Verdier. Monatte represents the tradition of revolutionary syndicalism; all that Verdier represents is muddle-headedness.

But above the questions of personalities and groups there stands the question of the party’s guiding influence over the trade unions. Without in the least infringing upon their autonomy, which is wholly determined by the day-to-day needs of practical work, the party must nevertheless put an end to all disputes and vacillations in this important field and demonstrate in action to the French working class that it possesses at long last a revolutionary party, capable of giving leadership in all spheres of the class struggle. In this connection the decisions of the Third Congress, despite the temporary confusion and conflicts that may be evoked in the next few months, will exercise a great and most highly beneficial influence over the entire future course of the French labour movement. Only on the basis of these resolutions will a correct inter-relationship between the party and the working class be established, and failing this, there is not and there cannot be a victorious proletarian revolution.

Not a Right Turn but a Serious Preparation
for the Conquest of Power

I will not deal with the Communist parties of other countries because my report is by no means intended to include the characterization of all the organizations adhering to the Communist International. It is my purpose simply to present to you, Comrades, the basic lines of its policy as unfolded and fixed by the last World Congress. For this reason I have characterized those parties which provided the maximum material for elaborating the tactical line of the International for the period ahead.

Needless to say, the congress did not propose to “suspend” the struggle against centrists and semi-centrists, as some leftist Comrades groundlessly feared. The entire struggle of the Communist International against the capitalist régime runs up against, in the first instance, its reformist, conciliationist entrenchments. These are the first positions that must be captured. On the other hand, it is impossible to wage a struggle against the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals without purging our own Communist ranks of centrist tendencies and moods. No one disputes this. [2*]

But this struggle against the right, an integral part of our basic struggle against bourgeois society, can be conducted successfully by us only provided we are able to overcome within a minimum time those leftist blunders which arise from inexperience and impatience; and which betimes assume the shape of dangerous adventures. In this respect the Third World Congress accomplished a great work of education which turned it, as I said, into the highest school, the university of revolutionary strategy.

Apropos of our resolutions, Martov [10], Bauer and other armchair strategists of the little citizens have started talking about the decomposition of Communism, the foundering of the Third International, and so on. From the standpoint of theory this chatter merits only contempt. Communism is not and never was a dogmatic, time-setting program of the revolution. Communism is the living, dynamic, growing and manoeuvring army of the proletariat which in the course of its activity takes into consideration the changing conditions of struggle, inspects its own weapons, gives the blade a new edge, if it has become blunted, and subordinates all its activities to the need of preparing the revolutionary abolition of the bourgeois order.

That we took up the tactical questions so carefully, so painstakingly and so concretely at the Third Congress represents by itself a tremendous step forward. It attests that the Third International has emerged from the phase of ideological and organizational self-determination and has come, as a living, guiding mass organization, face to face with the questions of direct revolutionary action.

If among the younger and less experienced comrades in this hall, anyone were to draw a pessimistic conclusion from my report to the effect that the International is in an unfavourable position and that it is hard to defeat the bourgeoisie because of the prevalence of so many mistaken views and methods among the Communist parties, then this would be a completely false conclusion. In the epoch of abrupt changes in world politics, in the epoch of profound social shocks and convulsions, in brief, in the revolutionary epoch in which we live, the training of revolutionary parties takes place at an extraordinary speed, especially if there is a mutual exchange of experience, reciprocal control and a common centralized leadership – all of which is expressed in and by our International. Let us not forget that the strongest Communist parties of Europe are – literally! – only a few months old. In our epoch a month is equivalent to a year, and some months are equivalent to as much as a decade.

Although at the congress I was a member of the so-called “right wing” and took part in criticizing the pseudo-revolutionary leftism – which, as I tried to show you, is extremely dangerous to a genuine growth of the proletarian revolution – I left the congress in a far more optimistic mood than I came to it. My impressions, derived from an exchange of opinions with delegations from our sister parties of Europe and throughout the world, might be summed up as follows: During the last year the Communist International has taken a giant stride forward both ideologically and organizationally.

The congress did not and could not issue a signal for a general offensive. It formulated the task of the Communist parties as the task of preparing an offensive; and in the first instance, as the task of winning over ideologically the majority of the toilers of city and countryside. This does not at all mean that the revolution has been “postponed” for an indefinite number of years. Nothing of the sort. We speed up the revolution and, what is more important, we assure its victory through a deep-going, all-sided and careful preparation of the revolution.

Naturally, it is impossible in any sense whatever to reduce the revolutionary policy of the working class and the military work of the Red Army to a common denominator. I am fully aware of this. And it is especially “risky” for me even to attempt comparisons in this field, because of the almost traditional danger of being suspected of a “militaristic” bent of mind. The German Cunows and the Russian Martovs have already long ago proclaimed that I am seeking to replace working-class politics and economics by “commands” transmitted through a military “machine”. Nevertheless, having secured my rear by these prefatory remarks, I shall chance making a certain military comparison which seems to me not unfruitful for the purpose of clarifying both the revolutionary policy of the proletariat and the functioning of the Red Army.

Whenever it became necessary for us on any one of our many fronts to prepare for decisive operations, we would begin by sending there fresh regiments, Communists assigned by the party, supplies of munitions and so on. Without adequate material means there naturally could not even be talk of launching a decisive struggle against Kolchak, Denikin, Wrangel and the rest.

And so, the material conditions for decisive actions are more or less at hand. Upon arriving at the front we learn that the High Command of the front has fixed the date of a general offensive, say, for May 5, which is, let us suppose, three days hence. In the sessions of the Revolutionary Military Council, at the front, in the staff, in the Political Department, we proceed to discuss the conditions under which the decisive battles will take place. We learn that on our side there is a certain preponderance of bayonets, swords and artillery while the enemy has considerable superiority in aviation; but on the whole, the material superiority is on our side. Our soldiers are more or less adequately clothed and booted; the communications are secure. In this respect the situation is therefore quite favourable.

“And how was your agitation conducted prior to the offensive? How long did you carry it on? In what ways and under what slogans? How many Communists were detailed to the divisions to lead the agitation? Let us take a look at proclamations, circulars, articles in your army newspapers, your placards and your cartoons. Does every soldier in your army at your front know who Wrangel is? Does he know with whom Wrangel is tied up? Who is backing Wrangel and from whom his artillery and planes come?”

The answers we get are not definite enough. Agitation had, of course, been carried on; explanations concerning Wrangel had, of course, been made. But some regiments had arrived only a day or two days ago, from the centre or from the other fronts and precise information is still lacking concerning their political moods and their morale.

“In what manner were several thousand Communists mobilized by the party assigned to divisions and regiments? Were the character and composition of each particular section taken into account in assigning the Communist elements? Were the Communists themselves sufficiently prepared in advance? Was it made clear to each group to just what section it had been assigned and what the peculiarities of this section were? Or what the special conditions of political work there were? Finally, has each company been assured of the presence of a Communist cell which is itself ready to fight to the bitter end and which is capable of leading the others forward?”

We learn that this work had been carried out only in rough outlines, without paying the necessary attention to the concrete conditions and special requirements of political agitation in the army as a whole, and in each regiment in particular. The agitation was not of a concentrated and intense character, meeting the actual needs of the direct preparation for battle. This was likewise apparent from the newspaper articles and the appeals to the troops.

“Finally, what measures have been taken to check the commanding staff and the commissar personnel? Many commissars had been killed in previous battles and accidental replacements for them had at first been made. Have the necessary replacements of commissar personnel been made? How do matters stand in relation to the commanders? Do they enjoy sufficient confidence? Have authoritative and energetic commissars been attached to those commanders who have as yet been little tested? And lastly, are there perhaps among the commanders, recruited from among former tsarist officers, those whose families are either abroad or in territories occupied by Wrangel?”

It would be quite in the nature of things for such commanders to try to be captured, and this could have fatal consequences for the outcome of separate operations. Has the commanding staff been checked from this standpoint? Has the commanding staff been replenished? Has it been strengthened? No? In that case, sound retreat!

It is necessary to cancel the offensive.

So far as the material aspects are concerned, the moment is propitious, the superiority of forces is on our side, the enemy has not succeeded in completing his concentration. This is beyond dispute. But preparations in the sphere of morale are of no less importance than material preparations. Yet this morale preparation has been carried out superficially and carelessly. Under these, conditions it is preferable even to surrender part of the territory to the enemy, to retreat twenty or thirty versts, to gain time, to postpone the offensive for two or three weeks in order to carry the preparatory political and organizational campaign through to the end. If that is done, success is assured.

Those among you, Comrades, who have worked in the Red Army, and there are many in this hall, know that this illustration is no invention of mine. We made more than one strategic retreat solely because the army had been inadequately prepared in moral and political respects for decisive battles. Yet the army is a coercive organization. Once orders are issued, everyone is obliged to go into battle. Those who resist are subject to harsh military penalties. Failing this, there is no army and there can’t be one. But in the revolutionary army the chief motor force is political consciousness, revolutionary enthusiasm, the undertaking on the part of the army’s majority of the military task it faces and a readiness to solve this task.

How much more does this apply to the decisive revolutionary battles of the working class? There cannot even be talk here of coercing workers into revolution. There is no apparatus of repression here. Success can rest only upon the readiness of the majority of the toilers to take a direct or indirect part in the struggle and help bring it to a happy conclusion. [3*] In its character the Third Congress was this: It was as if the Communist International in the person of its leading representatives had arrived at the front of the world labour movement, preparing to engage in the decisive battle for power. And the congress asked:

“Comrade Communists of Germany, Italy, France and elsewhere! Have you won the majority of the working class? What have you done to make every worker understand what is at stake in the struggle? Have you explained this in clear, simple and precise language to the toiling masses, including the most backward ones? What did you do to verify whether these backward layers understood you? Show us your newspapers, pamphlets, proclamations. No, Comrades, this is still not enough. This is still not the language which attests to genuine ties with millions of toilers ...

“What measures did you take to correctly apportion Communist forces among the trade unions? Have you reliable cells in all the important organizations of the working class? What did you do to check the commanding personnel’ in the trade unions? What did you do to effectively cleanse the workers’ organizations of all dubious, unreliable and, all the more so, obviously treacherous leaders? Have you organized a far-reaching intelligence network in the enemy’s camp? No, Comrades, your preparations are inadequate, and in some respects you haven’t even posed properly the task of preparation....”

Does this mean that the decisive struggle is postponed for decades or even for a number of years? Nothing of the sort! In the case of a military offensive, the necessary preparations can sometimes be completed in the space of two or three weeks, and even less. Disjointed divisions, shaky in their moods and with unstable commanding and commissar staffs, can be, through a correspondingly intense preparatory work, transformed in ten to fifteen days into a mighty army, firmly welded by unity of consciousness and will. It is far more difficult to unite the proletarian millions for the decisive struggle. But our entire epoch facilitates this work in the extreme, provided we do not swerve aside to the right or stumble to the left. It would not be wise to speculate how long this preparatory work will take, whether only a few months or a year or two, or even more. This depends upon many circumstances. But it is unquestionable that in the present situation our preparatory work is one of the most important conditions for bringing closer the revolution and its victorious consummation.

To all its parties the Communist International says: To the masses! Embrace them more extensively and more intensively! Forge an impervious bond between them and yourselves. Assign Communists to the most responsible and dangerous posts in all the strata of the working class. Let them conquer the confidence of the masses! Let the masses together with them drive out of their ranks the opportunist leaders, leaders who vacillate, leaders who are careerists! Employ every minute for revolutionary preparation. The epoch is working in our favour. Have no fear that the revolution will slip out of your hands. Organize and consolidate – and you will thereby speed the hour which will become the hour of the truly decisive offensive and the party will not only issue the command “Forward March!” but will actually lead the offensive to its victorious conclusion!

Trotsky’s Footnotes

2*. From the speeches of Comrade Kurt Geyer on the Third Congress which I have received, I note that this representative of the opposition not only tumbles in to centrism, but is cognizant of it himself. His starting point is that the Third Congress has fixed a new historical perspective and has therewith rendered tactics less dependent on expectations of revolution in the next period. From this Geyer concludes that the tactical differences between the Third International and the centrists are becoming – mitigated. This conclusion is absolutely fantastic! The Third International is a combat orgqanization which keeps marching towards its revolutionary goal no matter what changes in circumstances occur. The Two-and-a-Half International does not want a revolution and is built by a corresponding selection of leaders and semi-leaders, of groupings and tendencies, of ideas and methods.

At the moment when Geyer certifies that the differences between Communists and Independents are becoming softer, the Independents, with far more justification, certify the softening of differences between themselves and the Social Democrats. If this were drawn to its logical conclusion, we would get the revived program of the old Social Democracy, as it used to be prior to August 1914, with all the consequences flowing therefrom. While we reject the dogmatic scheduling of the revolution for the weeks and months immediately ahead – whoch in practice give rise to “putschist” tendencies – in our struggle against “putschism” we remain true to our fundamental task, that of building a revolutionary, dynamic and irreconcilable Communist Party which stands opposed to all reformist and centrist groupings withing the proletariat. Kurt Geyer dogmatically relegates the revolution to the dim future and hence draws conclusions to the effect that there is a rapprochement with the centriksts. There iks every reason to fear that such a “perspective” will lead Geyer and his co-thinkers much further astray than they themselves suppose today. – L.T.

3*. One jokesmith at the Congress “refuted” me by raising an objection to the effect that it is impermissible to command the working class, as one would an army. And that’s just it. And the burden of my whole argument was that even the Red Army could not be commanded in the same manner as certain politicians have tried to command the working class. – L.T.


6. Mirbach was the German Ambassador to Soviet Russia after the conclusion of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. The Left Social Revolutionaries assassinated him in the summer of 1918 in order, in this way, to provoke war with Germany.

7. The Nechayevites were the followers of S.G. Nechayev (1847-82), an anarchist and terrorist at one time associated with Bakunin. He was a “fanatic of conspiracy.” He rejected class consciousness and mass movements as unnecessary, holding that a handful of bold and determined leaders could accomplish the revolution.

8. Maslow was one of the leaders of the German Communist Party at the time. Together with Ruth Fischer and Hugo Urbahns he headed the opposition to the Brandler leadership and gained the majority at the Frankfurt Convention of 1924. When the struggle broke out in the Russian party after Lenin’s death, Maslow lined up against the Russian Left Opposition led by Trotsky. Later, upon Maslow’s expulsion from the Comintern, he flirted for a while with the Trotskyist movement only to slide into the ranks of its opponents.

9. Monmousseau was a syndicalist who was educated on the ideas of the La Vie Ouvrière group. One of the leaders of the French trade union opposition during World War I. Later, together with Rosmer and Monatte, Monmousseau belonged to the “Committee for the Third International.” In 1918 to 1921 was one of the leaders of the revolutionary wing in the General Confederation of Labor (CGT). When the split occurred, he became secretary of the CGTU. Subsequently he was a pillar of Stalinism in the French labor movement.

10. L. Martov (J.O. Tsederbaum) (1873-1923), the ideological leader of Menshevism, began his career by working with Lenin in 1895 in the Petersburg “League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class.” Collaborated with Lenin in founding Iskra and the theoretical magazine Zarya. Lifelong break with Lenin dates back to 1903. During the period of the October Revolution, Martov occupied a “left” position in Menshevik ranks, remaining in the Second Congress of the Soviets after the departure of the Right SRs and the Mensheviks. But shortly thereafter, he became irreconcilably opposed to the Soviet regime. Permitted to emigrate, he left for Berlin where he founded the central publication of the Mensheviks in emigration (Sotsialistichesky Vestnik).

First 5 Years of the Comintern (Vol.2) Index

History of the Communist International Section

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Last updated on: 19.1.2007