Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

Summary Speech at the
Eleventh Party Conference [1]

December 1921

Comrades, the discussion on this question has assumed a somewhat academic character [2], in the worst sense of the word. It did not even enter my mind when I took the floor on Comrade Zinoviev’s report that there would be any dispute over it. I found valuable material on this question in the last issue of the Communist International in Pavlovsky’s article, which was published without any commentaries. And I think that the facts I cited are positively beyond dispute. This graph which I have sketched out roughly for the sake of illustration, this graph ... [Ryazanov [3] interjecting: You can’t get very far with each and every graph.]

I believe, Comrade Ryazanov, that you and I will get far enough with this one ... I say that although from 1920 up to May or June 1921, the curve of industrial development kept dropping, there then followed a movement which I called convulsive and spasmodic and which marks a certain upswing. The curve then drops again, starts climbing again and it may once drop again. But this line (pointing at the graph) sharply diverges from this line. Here we observe a decline in the course of twelve, thirteen or fourteen months. How does this decline express itself? Today there are, for example, a thousand workers, the next day are 999 or 998 or 997, and this decline continues systematically for 15 months. The 996th worker says to himself: “Tomorrow will come my turn.” Since there has been a decline, a certain number of workers have been laid off in the factory. A mood of complete uncertainty prevails among the workers. The capitalist is not dependent upon them, while they are completely at his mercy. This depressed mood did prevail among broad circles of workers. Now let us instead suppose that one more worker has been added to the factory. There are now 1,001 workers, then there are 1,002 workers, and so on. From the statistical standpoint this is an insignificant increase. From the standpoint of how the workers feel it is of enormous importance. They originally number 1,000. Then there are 1,001 of them, and then 1,002, and so on. This means the factory is booming, and the worker begins feeling some solid ground under his feet. Of importance is thus the very fact that a change in the conjuncture has occurred in the autumn of this year, because of the harvest, or because the strikes ended, or for any other reason you care to mention. If I had no statistics at my disposal, if I were confined in a solitary cell, but political and economic reports nevertheless reached me to the effect that the mood of the workers was such and such, the news was such and such, and then that there had been some increase in the number of workers, I would deduce that some things did change; that some sort of economic shift had taken place. Right now it is possible to dispute what will happen to this curve in the future. Certain fluctuations are observable here. These fluctuations prove that capitalist development either remains stagnant or is declining. My reference was solely to the fact that this is an uneven or downward line, that in it there are fluctuations, and that to fail to take them into account means to disregard those living impulses amid which the working class lives and fights.

Let me repeat, if I had no statistics at my disposal, I could even in that case have told what has happened. But statistics are available. I refer you to Pavlovsky’s article. Major changes have occurred in the textile industry. Nine-tenths of the spindles are or were in operation during August and September. In the spring only half of them were in operation. This is tremendous change. In America the blast furnaces, the coal industry, the metallurgical industry underwent most important changes in August and September. We are now living through a political reflection of these changes. Involved here is an impulse which may bring down the landslide of the labour movement. Will there be another crisis? I will give my answer after the impulse comes. Another crisis may not exert a demoralizing influence because the need of fusing ranks has made itself felt, because the need of unifying the political energy of the working class has made itself felt. Within certain limits the working class acquires an independent significance. It is impermissible not to take these impulses into account. Some comrades argue that this means the establishment of an equilibrium. What sort of equilibrium? If the present boom were ten times greater than is indicated at present, it would not reduce by a hundredth part those obstacles which bar the road to prosperity. Sokolnikov is not logical; he says that capitalism will not reach an equilibrium. I explained the conditions under which an equilibrium could be reached. If a million Europeans were to die from cold and hunger, if Germany were converted into a colony, if the Soviet power were to fall in Russia and the latter also converted into a colony, if Europe were to become a vassal state of America and Japan, then a new capitalist equilibrium would be restored. This would require, say, 50 years of incessant struggle, in the course of which we would be hammered, choked, mangled and finally strangled to death. Then a new capitalist equilibrium would arise. This is the perspective I painted.

A revival is now in progress. Prior to the war to which I made reference, this revival has to run up against new trenches. The first line of these trenches is constituted by the fantastically high prices. Within two or three months this revival will run up against new barricades – the violent disruption of equilibrium between Europe and America, the dismemberment of Europe, the devastation and isolation of Central and Eastern Europe, the state of siege, and so on. When capitalism, after attaining a certain semi-fictitious prosperity and after giving an impetus to the labour movement, runs head on against the barricades erected by the war, it turns toward the Soviet Union; it will turn ten times at the very first sign of deterioration. And in November there was an unquestionable lag of some sort, which Varga has cautiously characterized. This is a warning. In December there will be a new upward swing. The feverish decline which lasted for 15 months since May of last year, or even since April or March and up to June of this year, this feverish decline which came as a reaction to the entire war will not recur ...

Will the boom be gradual and systematic? No. Will there be a general upswing, punctuated by leaps? Quite possibly, but in no case will it be a rapid one. How long will it endure? It is impossible to foretell. But the change alone, the fact that from the cataracts we have passed over to the narrows, where the waters of economic development still swirl from side to side but there are no longer cataracts and the waters do not fall, this already constitutes a change, a colossal change. I was told that there is no lack of poverty, misery, unemployment and so on (I will not deal with unemployment in England). These comments of Comrade Sokolnikov evoked the following train of thought in my mind: Suppose I had said that in Moscow under Comrade Kamenev [4] the streets this year are cleaner than they were in 1918, and then suppose somebody else were to get up and say that Trotsky claimed that Moscow is a picture of perfect luxury and then proceeded to adduce all the statistics pertaining to Moscow’s filth and muck. My statement that the streets are cleaner than in 1918 would nevertheless remain a fact and it would be unfair to a soviet municipality to disregard it.

Another fact is adduced, namely, that the currencies are whirling in a mad dance, the financial structure is disorganized and this, naturally, provides a basis for the revolution. But this development has its own zigzags, its own changes. Sokolnikov says that the conclusion from my speech is such as to lead to speculations on war. If it were my view that all indications point to the establishment of harmony and of equilibrium, then war would be sheer suicide. What means one chooses for doing away with oneself is a matter of indifference. Sokolnikov has labelled this as my logic. If capitalism is establishing equilibrium and I say that the entire policy should be directed toward war, then it simply means that I wish to cut my own throat with a razor, that I prefer to end matters in a bloody way. This is the philosophy of Comrade Sokolnikov.

But I said nothing of the sort. I pointed out that the trend toward extending us recognition is a significant fact in and by itself. It is not yet of historical significance, but it is of some symptomatic importance. If we gain recognition then it will have a historic significance, but there is only talk about it as yet and no one knows what the conditions for recognition are. When negotiations begin I will vote to send Sokolnikov to the conference; he is an excellent diplomat. When it comes to selecting a delegation to negotiate our recognition I would cast my vote for including in this delegation Comrade Sokolnikov who is in an anti-war mood and peaceably inclined, but at the same time I would warn that in a week or two Comrade Sokolnikov might inform us that Lloyd George and Briand are demanding nothing more nor less than that we banish the Comintern from Russia. [Radek interjecting: “To Riga.”]

To Riga or to Revel – that’s unimportant. That’s the first minor demand. Secondly, that we yield the oil-bearing regions in the Caucasus and the industry in Petrograd to an English cartel – another trifle. England entrenched in Petrograd, and as mistress of the Caucasus, too. In the third place, that we dismantle the Red Army in view of universal disarmament proclaimed at Washington. Three minor demands, and therewith we might be told – in so many words, or by hints supplemented by deeds along our western frontiers – that if we find these conditions for agreement unacceptable, why then the French troops are ready to move into action, there is an excellent drill-ground in Karelia, a blow against Petrograd is being prepared from the north ...

Hence I draw the conclusion that while conducting these negotiations and utilizing to the utmost the supremely difficult position of capitalism, we ought to be on guard. Because the final phase of negotiations will be the most acute – when in order to make us more accommodating the threat of military intervention may be employed. And if this fails to have its effects, they may then employ intervention itself. Comrade Sokolnikov says that “my whole perspective is calculated for war, to wit, an offensive war.” You have hit the bull’s eye with your “to wit”. In the party I am in complete agreement with the Central Committee in whose opinion it is the height of folly to make a slogan today out of the idea of offensive war. At the congress of the soviets, at each gathering of Red Army men, and at an authoritative party conference I have repeatedly declared that our policy is the policy of fighting for peace. But the fight for peace implies under the present conditions a strong Red Army. The approach of negotiations for recognition does not weaken this necessity but renders it all the more imperative. And the revival of the revolutionary movement in Europe, which places the bourgeoisie in an even more acute position, aggravates the possibility of the war danger.

Comrades, we have no political differences of any sort here. An attempt was made to transform into an ideal economic doctrine the propositions and arguments of an economic character which I had adduced. This attempt was made by Comrade Sokolnikov.

None among us talks about any kind of equilibrium. On the contrary, if anything may be charged against me it is this, that in the spring of this year, when the crisis was still very profound and unquestionable, I took a rather long-term view of the revolutionary perspectives. I maintained that there were no grounds for expecting an early revolutionary development. But today, on the contrary, I am wholly convinced that a turning-point has come, and especially that an impulse has resulted precisely from the economic revival. The cessation of the crisis and the incipient economic revival in the most important industrial countries will bring us politically closer to the possibility of a revolutionary mass movement. Should the deterioration continue in the future along the same course as in the last year and a half – which I consider improbable, impossible and economically unfounded – in that case, in my opinion revolutionary development would be retarded. Should developments proceed, as they are now doing, that would suit us perfectly. The bourgeoisie stands to gain economically a hundred times less than we shall gain politically. This is the gist of the matter.

To come back to Zinoviev’s theses, I consider that they should be approved wholeheartedly and unanimously. This action of approval will become known to the entire Communist movement in Europe. There may be doubts among some elements here and there, along with prejudices, spurious, irrational objections, and so on. Having weighed them it is necessary to overcome them by our unanimous adoption of the theses. The conference will thus aid the genuine Communist elements in the world working-class movement to shift their policy to an absolutely correct track.


1. This speech, listed as a “summary” in the original Russian text, was actually a second speech, not previously scheduled but delivered by Trotsky at the December 1921 Conference.

2. Many of the speakers at this conference produced elaborate charts, tables, graphs, etc., in this way shifting the debate to an abstract consideration of economic theory. It is this that Trotsky had in mind by his reference to “the academic character” of the discussion.

3. D.B. Ryazanov, born in 1870, was the outstanding Marxist scholar and historian in the Russian revolutionary movement. Joining the Marxist movement as a young man, he early underwent imprisonment and exile. He collaborated in many of the famous Russian and German party publications. Ryazanov joined the Bolsheviks after the February revolution. Up to February 1931, when he was expelled from the party, he remained director of the Marx and Engels Institute. Stalin persecuted him ruthlessly for his outspoken support of the Trotskyist opposition, driving him to death in Siberian exile. [Ryazanov was actually imprisoned in 1931 for an indefinite period and died in a Siberian prison camp in 1938. – TIA]

4. The Moscow Soviet was at the time under the chairmanship of Kamenev.

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

History of the Communist International Section

return return return return return

Last updated on: 19.1.2007