Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

The Fifth Anniversary of the October
Revolution and the Fourth World Congress
of the Communist International

Delivered Before the Active Membership
of the Moscow Organization [1]

October 20, 1922

Comrades, the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International will convene during a jubilee for the Soviet power, its Fifth Anniversary. My report will be devoted to these two events. The jubilee is of course a purely formal one; involving a date on the calendar, but events are not regulated by the calendar. The fifth anniversary of the Soviet power does not represent any kind of completed historical period, all the less so because in our revolutionary epoch everything is undergoing change, everything is in flux, everything is still far from static, nor will the finished forms be reached soon. Nevertheless it is quite natural for every thinking individual, all the more so a Communist, to strive toward an understanding of what has taken place, and to analyse the situation as it shapes up on this formal date on the calendar, on the fifth anniversary of the Soviet power and, therefore, also on the occasion of the Fourth World Congress of the Comintern.

The Tangled Skein of Capitalist Contradictions is Becoming
Unravelled, Beginning with Russia

Two day ago I happened to attend a party cell meeting at the former Bromley plant. One of the comrades there, a member of the cell, raised the following question: In what country would the proletarian revolution be most advantageous from the standpoint of Communist interests? After a moment’s reflection I replied that taking it so abstractly one would have to say that a revolution in the United States would be the most advantageous. The reason for this is quite easy to understand. This country is the most independent in the world, economically speaking. Its agriculture and industry are so balanced as to enable the country to lead, in the event, say, of a savage blockade, a wholly independent existence. Moreover it is the richest country in the world, disposing of the foremost industrial technology, holding in its hands approximately one-half, perhaps slightly less, of the visible gold reserve. It is a country concentrating in its hands the bigger half of world production in the most important branches. Naturally, were the proletariat of this country to take power into its hands, it would possess unsurpassed material foundations, and organizational and technical premises for socialist construction. The next country in order is – Great Britain, while Russia would come on this list if not the very last in the series (because there exists Asia, there is Africa), then at any rate very low toward the bottom of the list of countries within the borders of Europe. Yet history is, as you know, unravelling this tangled skein from the opposite end, namely from the end where Russia is located, a country which, in the cultural and economic sense, is the most backward among the major capitalist countries, a country which is extremely dependent in the economic and technological sense, and which, in addition, has been utterly ruined by the war. And if we were to ask ourselves today what are the political premises for the proletarian revolution in the United States, then naturally one may grant a possible course of events such as may extraordinarily hasten the conquest of power by the American proletariat. But if we take the situation as it stands today, then we must say that in this strongest, largest, and most decisive leading capitalist country, the political premises, i.e., premises on the plane of the creation of systematic party and class organizations, are the least prepared. One could devote an entire report to explain why history began unravelling the skein of revolution from such a weak and backward country in the economic sense as ours, but in that case I would be able to speak of neither the Fourth World Congress nor of the fifth anniversary of the Soviet power. It suffices right now that we have been compelled for these five years to pursue the work of socialist construction in the economically most backward country, while capitalism, mortally hostile to us, has been preserved in bourgeois countries far superior to us economically. This is the fundamental fact, and from it, naturally, stemmed the fearsome intensity of our civil war.

The Fundamental Lesson of the Russian Revolution

Here, if we wish to draw our fundamental conclusion, we must say in praise of our party that it has set a colossal example – for the proletariat of all countries – of how to fight for power and of how, after conquering it, to defend this power by means of the most resolute measures, applying wherever necessary harsh and ruthless methods of dictatorship, without flinching before any decisive measures in trampling upon bourgeois hypocrisy, when at stake is the securing of state power by the revolutionary proletariat. And this textbook of the Russian Revolution, which ought to be written, the workers of all countries will study in the course of the next few years or perhaps decades, because it is impossible to say how long the proletarian revolution will endure from its beginning to its termination: It is a question of an entire historical epoch. Whether we did or did not make mistakes during the civil war (and of course there were mistakes), we nevertheless did on the whole accomplish the most classic part of our revolutionary work. We have more than once spoken of the mistakes which conditioned our need to retreat in the economic sphere, a major retreat which is known among us as the NEP (New Economic Policy). The fact that we marched forward at the very beginning along a certain road, and then retreated and are now fortifying ourselves on certain positions, tends to disrupt in the extreme the perspective not only among our enemies but also among many of our friends. Correspondents sympathetic to us and many Communists, European and American alike, pose as the first question, both during the departure of our delegation to Genoa as well as today, the fact that many things have changed in Moscow (and there were many visitors to Moscow in 1919 and 1920) and that Moscow now resembles too much other European and American cities. And in general where is the guarantee that you Russian Communists will check the further development and head for Communism and not for capitalism? Where is the guarantee?

The general impression at a superficial glance is that the socialist conquests gained in the first period are now spontaneously and automatically melting and crumbling away and there does not seem to be a power capable of retaining them. It is possible, Comrades, to approach the question from the other end and say as follows: Let us for a moment forget that we proceeded along the line of the so-called War Communism and later retreated to the present position. Let us take the situation as it exists today and compare it with what it was on October 25, or on the eve of the 1917 revolution. If our foreign well-wishers or the European and American Communists were to submit us to a cross-examination, we would say: The railways, the mines, the plants and the factories were at that time in the hands of private owners. Enormous areas of the land and the country’s natural resources were in the hands of private owners. Today all the railways, the overwhelming majority, or in any case all of the most important plants and factories, all of the most valuable natural resources in the country are in the hands of the state, which is, in turn, the property of the working class, supporting itself upon the peasant masses. This is the fact which we have before us as the product of five years. There was an offensive followed by a retreat, but here is the balance sheet: As the product of five years, the most important means of industry and production and a considerable sector of agricultural production are under the direct supervision and management of the workers’ state. This is a fundamental fact. But what has produced the retreat? This is a very important question, because the very fact of the retreat tends to disrupt the perspective. How did we conceive the successive order, the course of nationalizing the means of industry and of the organization of socialism? In all our old books, written by our teachers and by us, we always said and wrote that the working class, having conquered state power, will nationalize step by step, beginning with the best prepared means of production, which will be transferred to the socialist foundations. Does this rule remain in force today? Unquestionably it does, and we shall say at the Fourth World Congress, where we will discuss the question of the Communist program: will the working class on conquering power in Germany or in France have to begin by smashing the apparatus for organizing the technical means, the machinery of money economy and replace them by universal accounting? No, the working class must master the methods of capitalist circulation, the methods of accounting, the methods of stock market turnover, the methods of banking turnover and gradually, in consonance with its own technical resources and degree of preparation, pass over to the planned beginnings, replacing accounting by a computation of the profitability or non-profitability of a given enterprise, replacing accounting by taking stock of the centralized means and forces, including the labour force.

This is the fundamental lesson which we must once again teach the workers of the whole world, a lesson we were taught by our teachers. If we violated this lesson, it was owing to conditions of a political character, owing to the pressures brought to bear upon us after our conquest of state power. This is the most important difference between the proletarian revolution as it has occurred in Russia and the revolution which will occur, say, in America. In that country, prior to the conquest of power, the working class will have to surmount the most colossal difficulties but once it has conquered power, the pressure on those fronts on which we were compelled to fight will be far less, because our country with its petty-bourgeoisie, its backward kulaks (well-to-do peasants), experienced the revolution in a different way and because our revolution caught the Russian bourgeoisie by surprise. By the very fact of the October revolution we taught the bourgeoisie to understand just what it has lost when the workers took power and it was only the fact of the revolution itself that impelled the bourgeoisie, the kulaks and the officers to organize. We smashed the bourgeoisie not so much prior to October 25 and during the night of October 25-26 as in the three years’ interval following October 25, when the bourgeoisie, the landlords and the officers fathomed what was involved and began the struggle against us with the aid of European capitalism. In Europe we have a process differing profoundly from that in our country, because there the bourgeoisie is far better organized and more experienced, because there the petty-bourgeoisie has graduated from the school of the big bourgeoisie and is, in consequence, also far more powerful and experienced; and, in addition, the Russian Revolution has taught them a good deal. In these countries therefore the preparation and the arming of counter-revolutionary gangs is now taking place parallel with the preparation and tempering of the Communist Party for this struggle, which will be far more intense prior to their October 25, but not afterwards. Only before. The fact that in our country, the day after the conquest of power, the plants and factories turned out to be the fortresses and citadels of the bourgeoisie, the main base upon which European imperialism was able to depend, this fact compelled us to resort to nationalization, independently of our ability or the extent of our ability to organize these enterprises with our own forces and resources.

And if, for political reasons, we drove the property owners out of the factories, while being ourselves bereft of the possibility of even immediately gaining hold of these factories; if, for political reasons, we brought down the sword of dictatorship and of terror upon the stock market and the banks, it is self-evident that we thereby mechanically destroyed the apparatus in the service of the bourgeoisie and which the bourgeoisie employed for organizing the economy and for distributing the productive forces and commodities in the country. Insofar as we destroyed this apparatus at a single blow, we were, generally speaking, obliged to replace it with another – with the apparatus of centralized accounting and distribution. But such an apparatus had first to be created; we had to have it; but, naturally owing to all the preconditions, owing to our entire past, owing to our level of development and knowledge, we could not possibly create it. And so, because of the titanic and ineluctable aspects of the civil war as such, and because of the impossibility even for an advanced working class and all the more so for us, in a backward country, to create an apparatus of socialist calculation and distribution in the space of twenty-four hours – precisely because of this there arose the entire tragedy of our economy. War Communism, too, was not our program – it was imposed upon us. To the extent that there were fronts in the civil war, to the extent that we were compelled to destroy the enemy’s bases of support behind these fronts, i.e., the private capitalist enterprises of all categories, to that extent we were driven to manage the enterprises in a migratory and warlike manner. This was the epoch of War Communism and I shall not conceal that here, as is always the case, people tended to make a virtue out of necessity, i.e., in the same measure as War Communism was imposed upon us, the party workers and the leading party institutions tended to be carried away by inertia, in the sense of deluding themselves that we had here a complete solution of the tasks of socialist economy. But if we draw the balance sheet, we must say that the offensive and the retreat in the domain of economy had been dictated by the requirements of the civil war, which were absolutely imperative, and which cut across our economic conditions and the degree of our economic adaptation, or lack of adaptation. In other words, essentially both our offensive along the line of War Communism as well as our retreat along the line of the NEP were historically unavoidable in part and as a whole; and only on the basis of this historic necessity is it possible and necessary to analyse our subjective errors – both as a party and as a state power.

The Overhead Expenditures of the Revolution

There remains, Comrades, the most important question of all. As a result of five years, the workers’ state, as I said, disposes, after our retreat, of the most important means of production, and wields power. This is a fact. But there also is another fact – namely that we represent today one of the poorest countries in Europe. Yet it is quite obvious that socialism has meaning only to the extent that it assures a higher productivity of labour. Capitalism in its day superseded feudalism, while the latter superseded slave economy. Why? Because each succeeding economic order was more profitable in the socio-technological sense than the order it shunted aside; and socialism will naturally acquire its practical and not theoretical justification only on the condition that it supplies a greater quantity of goods per each unit of labour power for the satisfaction of social needs. And this is the chief argument employed against us. It was made use of even by the French representatives at Genoa; and Colrat, the French economic expert, repeated it in a crude and insolent form: “Don’t you dare teach us socialism when your own country is in a state of complete disorganization.” We would have preferred to provide in the last five years proofs of empirical character that is, show Europe an economy superior to the one which we obtained in 1917. This does not happen to be the case, but this is already ascribable entirely to the expenditures incurred by the revolution itself. Not a single revolution was ever accomplished without a lowering of the country’s economic level; and one of the conservative bourgeois historians of the French Revolution, Taine, so highly esteemed in the Third French Republic, has affirmed that for eight years following the Great French Revolution, the French people remained poorer than they were on the eve of revolution. This is a fact. Society is so shot through with contradictions, that it is capable of reaching a higher stage of development only through an internal class struggle. Society is so constituted that an internal class struggle in the fully unfolded form of civil war implies a lowering of economic levels. But, at the same time, of course, (every school boy knows this today), it was precisely and exclusively the Great French Revolution that created in France those governmental, juridical and cultural premises which provided the sole basis for the development of capitalism there, with all of its prowess, its technology and its bourgeois culture. In other words, what I wish to say is that the five-year period (and we must say this to all our critics, malicious and well-meaning alike who employ this argument) does not provide a historic scale by means of which it is possible to weigh the economic results of the proletarian revolution. All that we see up to now in our country are the overhead expenditures in the production of the revolution. These are expenditures for the revolution itself. And naturally, since these expenditures had to be covered from inherited capital, which, in turn, had been disorganized and devastated by the imperialist war, it therefore follows that we see in our country many more ruins of capitalism than results of socialist construction. The scale is far too small. This is what we must repeat once again at the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International. Five years in relation to the task of superseding capitalism by socialism, a task of the greatest historical magnitude – five years could not naturally bring about the necessary changes and what is, naturally, most important these five years constituted the period when socialism – as I said in the beginning – was being built or attempts were made to build it in the most backward country. The Great French Revolution, on the other hand, unfolded in the most advanced country on the European continent, a country that had attained a higher level than any other, with the exception of England across the Channel. In our country, the state of affairs assumed a far less favourable turn from the very beginning.

Here, Comrades, are in rough outline, those arguments which we shall develop in our party’s name at the Fourth World Congress where we are bound to ask our European and American comrades and at the same time ourselves, too: How do matters really stand with regard to the chances for the development of the European revolution? Because it is perfectly self-evident that the tempo of our future construction will in the highest measure depend upon the development of the revolution in Europe and in America.

European Communism Must Conquer the Working Class

In order to answer the question concerning the stage that has been reached today by the revolutionary movement of the European and the American proletariat, above all by the former, it is necessary to dwell briefly on the Third World Congress of the Comintern which took place last summer. At that time, too, I was assigned by the Moscow organization to make a report to the Moscow comrades, appraising the Third Congress as a new stage, as inaugurating a new stage in the development of the revolutionary proletarian movement. This stage also began with a certain and very important retreat. And these two retreats of ours, the one, on the economic field and the other, on the political field in Europe are linked intimately with each other, because our War Communism could have unfolded without a retreat into complete socialism and communism on one condition, namely; that the proletariat of Europe seized power in 1920 and 1921. Had that happened, not only would hostile pressure from the outside have ceased, but we would have obtained inexhaustible resources for technical, organizational and cultural assistance. We may say that War Communism objectively imposed upon us essentially by the imperative requirements of the civil war was at the same time subjectively justified insofar as it was linked up with hopes for a swift flow of the revolution in Western Europe, which would lift us up and propel us forward at a far faster pace than we could attain on our own rather pathetic cultural foundations. The revolution in the West was retarded and the revolution took this into account at the Third Congress last year, some 15 or 16 months ago. The revolution also took into account the nature of its future methods of action. The signal for a review of the international tasks of Communism was given by the March 1921 events in Germany. You will recall what happened. There were calls for a general strike, there were sacrifices by the workers, there was a cruel massacre of the Communist Party, internally there were disagreements on the part of some, and utter treachery on the part of others. But the Comintern said firmly: In Germany the March policy of the Communist Party was a mistake. Why? Because the German party reckoned that it was directly confronted with the task of conquering power. It turned out that the task confronting the party was that of conquering not power, but the working class. What nurtured the psychology of the German Communist Party in 1921 that drove it into the March action? It was nurtured by the circumstances and the moods which crystallized in Europe after the war. Do you recall the year 1919? It was the year when the entire structure of European imperialism tottered under the impact of the greatest mass struggle of the proletariat in history and when we daily expected news of the proclamation of the soviet republic in Germany, in France, in England, in Italy. The word “soviets” became terrifically popular; everywhere these soviets were being organized. The bourgeoisie was at its wits’ end. The year 1919 was the most critical year in the history of the European bourgeoisie. In 1920 the tremors (we can state this today in retrospect) subsided considerably but still remained extremely turbulent, so much so that it was possible to cherish hopes for a swift liquidation of bourgeois rule, within a few weeks or months. What were the premises for the proletarian revolution? The productive forces were fully mature, so were the class relations; the objective social role of the proletariat rendered the latter fully capable of conquering power and providing the necessary leadership. What was lacking? Lacking was the political premise, the subjective premise, i.e., cognizance of the situation by the proletariat. Lacking was an organization at the head of the proletariat, capable of utilizing the situation for nothing else but the direct organizational and technical preparation of an uprising, of the overturn, the seizure of power, and so forth. This is what was lacking. This became tragically clear in September 1920 in Italy. Among the Italian workers, as workers of a country that had suffered most cruelly from the war, and as a young proletariat without the superiorities of an older proletariat but also without the latter’s negative features – conservatism, old traditions, etc. – within this proletariat the ideas and methods of the Russian Revolution met with the most powerful response. The Socialist Party of Italy, however, did not clearly take into account the full content of these concepts and these slogans. In September 1920 the working class of Italy had, in effect, gained control of the state, of society, of factories, plants and enterprises. What was lacking? A trifle was lacking – a party was lacking, which would, resting upon the insurrectionary working class, have engaged in an open struggle with the bourgeoisie for those remnants of material forces still in the latter’s hands, destroying these forces, seizing power and thus consummating the victory of the working class. In essence the working class had already conquered or virtually conquered, but there was no organization capable of definitively consolidating this victory and so the working class found itself hurled back. The party split into segments, the proletariat was smashed; and since then, throughout 1921 and 1922 we have been witnessing the most frightful political retreat of the working class in Italy under the blows of consolidated bourgeois and petty-bourgeois gangs, known as the Fascists.

Fascism is the revenge, the vengeance exacted by the bourgeoisie for the dread it had experienced during the 1920 September days and at the same time it is a tragic lesson to the Italian proletariat, a lesson on the meaning of a political party that is centralized, unified and knows what it wants; that is cautious in choosing conditions, and resolutely ruthless in applying the necessary means when the hour for it strikes. Comparing events of such a type as the September days in Italy with those in our own country we must and should learn over and over again to value our party which has to function under incomparably more difficult conditions, because it is functioning under the conditions of a backward and low cultural milieu, where the peasantry predominates.

In the March 1921 events of Germany we had a picture diametrically opposite to what happened in Italy. In 1919 the German working class engaged in a number of cruel and bloody battles, the same thing happened in 1920, and during the January and March days of 1920 the German working class became convinced that heroism alone, that readiness to venture and to die was not enough; that somehow the working class was lacking something. It began to take a more watchful and expectant attitude toward events and facts. It had banked in its time upon the old Social Democracy to secure it the socialist overturn. The Social Democracy dragged the proletariat into the war. When the thunders of the November 1918 revolution rolled, the old Social Democracy began to talk the language of social revolution and even proclaimed, as you recall, the German republic to be a socialist republic. The proletariat took this seriously, and kept pressing forward. Colliding with the bourgeois gangs it suffered crushing defeats once, twice and a third time. Naturally this does not mean that its hatred of the bourgeoisie or its readiness to struggle had lessened, but its brains had meanwhile acquired many new convolutions of caution and watchfulness. For new battles it already wants to have guarantees of victory. And this mood began to grow increasingly stronger among the European working class in 1920-22, after the experiences of the initial assault, after the initial semi-victories and minor conquests and the subsequent major defeats. At that moment, in the days when the European working class began after the war to understand clearly, or at least to sense, that the business of conquering state power is a very complicated business and that bare hands cannot cope with the bourgeoisie – at that moment the most dynamic section of the working class formed itself into the Communist Party. But this Communist Party still felt as if it were a shell shot out of a cannon. It appeared on the scene and it seemed to it that it needed only shout its battle-cry, dash forward and the working class would rush to follow. It turned out otherwise. It turned out that the working class had, upon suffering a series of disillusions concerning its primitive revolutionary illusions, assumed a watch-and-wait attitude by the time the Communist Party took shape in 1920 (and especially in 1921) and rushed forward. The working class was not accustomed to this party, it had not seen the party in action. Since the working class had been deceived more than once in the past, it has every reason to demand that the party win its confidence, or, to put it differently, the party must still discharge its obligation of demonstrating to the working class that it should follow and is justified in following the party into the fires of battle, when the party issues the summons. During the March days of 1921 in Germany we saw a Communist Party – devoted, revolutionary, ready for struggle – rushing forward, but not followed by the working class. Perhaps one-quarter or one-fifth of the German working class did follow. Because of its revolutionary impatience this most revolutionary section came into collision with the other four-fifths; and already tried, so to speak, mechanically, and here and there by force to draw them into the struggle, which is, of course, completely out of question. The party incurred the risk of shattering itself not so much against the resistance of the bourgeoisie, as against the resistance of the four-fifths or two-thirds of the working class itself. But at that moment the International sounded the alarm, proclaiming a new stage. In the course of 1919 and 1920, the period of spontaneous revolutionary movements, the conquest of power was really feasible. Given even a small Communist Party in Germany, say, with one or two hundred thousand Communists, the chances for the conquest of power were there. But following the disillusionment of the working class, once the bourgeoisie succeeded in recovering its wits, in entrenching itself and restoring its state apparatus, and once the working class assumed a more cautious and dilatory position, the appearance of one hundred or two hundred thousand Communists no longer sufficed. And the need instead arose for the Communists to conquer, in experience, in practice, in struggle, the confidence of the working class under the new conditions. And this is exactly what the Third Congress proclaimed. In this connection, we had heated clashes with the German comrades here in Moscow. Later at their own Convention, following the world gathering, they actually shifted over to a new track, and criticized us a little bit, arguing that even granted that a new stage was beginning, it was not at all in accordance with the expectations of the Russian comrades, who were swinging a little too far to the right, and so forth and so on. If we were to ask ourselves: What was, in essence, the beginning of this new stage? Did it begin with the March events in Germany? Then we would have to answer in the negative. No, it began with the criticism of the March events. The March events came as the consummation of the initial epoch of chaotic assault which failed to bring victory because there was no Communist Party in Europe. And the March movement and the March policy came already as an abortion of this epoch. And so, with the criticism of the Communist Party’s March policy, a new epoch opened up in the development of the Comintern, an epoch, which at first glance contains much that is, so to speak, prosaic, namely – agitation, propaganda, organization, conquest of the confidence of the workers in the day-to-day struggles. Some comrades told us: And where is the guarantee that this organizational-agitational-educational work will not degenerate into the very same reformism, along the road travelled by the Second International? No guarantees are handed us from the outside. The guarantees arise from our work, our criticism, our self-criticism and our control. But there are objective guarantees – much more serious. They are inherent in the situation of capitalism itself and in the existence of one country under a workers’ government.

The Situation of International Capitalism

The situation of capitalism itself is likewise a question on which we dwelt in detail at the Third Congress and on which we will in all likelihood also dwell at the Fourth Congress in discussing the questions of tactics. The issue comes down to this: Is the European and world capitalism disintegrating, or has it given proof of its viability? Is it restoring its equilibrium? The problem on the whole is a very big one, and I will touch only upon its most general features, which are unconditionally indispensable for understanding the destinies of the revolutionary movement in Europe and throughout the world. In 1920 the world economy experienced a fearsome crisis, such as had never been known in the history of capitalism. This crisis erupted in the spring of 1920 in Japan and in America and then suddenly leaped over into Europe, seizing all of Europe by the middle of 1920 and plummeting to incredible depths and acuteness by the early part of 1921. The Third Congress convened precisely at the moment when the crisis had seized the whole world, when there were five to six million unemployed in the US, about two million in England, and so on. Industry and trade declined by comparison with 1913 at different rates in different countries, but, on the whole, the proportions of the decline were enormous. And so, many comrades pictured the situation as follows. Here we have the crisis of capitalism consequent upon the war. And it is the final and fatal crisis which must continue to disintegrate economic life more and more, until as a result of this crisis there issues the proletarian revolution, civil war, and conquest of power. Hence – out of this psychology – sprang the tactic of the March days in Germany. This 1920 crisis was regarded as the final and decisive and fatal crisis of capitalism. On this question there occurred among us an ideological struggle not only with European comrades but also a flurry in our own ranks. When I made a chance remark to the effect that this crisis, like every other crisis, is bound to be superseded by a revival, I recall that a certain number of comrades, first and foremost, N.I. Bukharin and Comrade Sokolnikov vehemently rose up in arms against me. Today, however, Comrades, the Comintern has issued as an official document for the Fourth World Congress, an economic report by Comrade Varga, which is based entirely on this, that the breaking point of the economic conjuncture took place in the latter part of 1921 and terminated in the first half of 1922. And how could it have been otherwise? Those comrades who denied that an economic revival was unavoidable, were taking their point of departure from a purely economic outlook with regard to the decay of capitalism. At this point it is necessary for me to recall in the most general way two or three theoretical truths indispensable for our understanding of the situation as it has arisen.

The productive forces of capitalism have developed, one may say, from the infancy of capitalism up to the World War. The lines of development tend, from a certain standpoint, to diverge, the productive forces expand, rising to ever higher and higher levels; and as we learned from Marx, from his Capital [2] (this fact was also known to the pre-Marxist bourgeois economists but it was Marx who explained it) the development of capitalism takes place not along a straight line or evenly, but through oscillations, crises and revivals, with all the intermediate transitional phases. Every eight or nine or ten years world capitalism and together with it the respective national capitalisms pass through stages of boom, lag, depression, crisis, cessation of crisis, revival, boom, and so on. This line charting the ascent of capitalism and of its productive forces thus represents not a straight but a wavy line and each wave embraces a span of approximately nine years on the average for the last 150 years. First comes a boom, and then a crisis follows. What does this mean? We say that the crisis destroys the superfluous productive forces while the boom regenerates the productive forces, increasing them. And what is the end result? The end result, say for 150 years of capitalism, is that all of the countries have become richer. What does this mean? It means that, on the whole, the boom of the productive forces surpasses the crisis, i.e., that the sum-total of booms produced a surplus which was not destroyed by crises. Or else capitalism could not have developed. But does an identical boom follow each given crisis? No. The curve of capitalist development does not represent a uniformly rising graph, but a rise which occurs as follows: In the beginning, it is virtually horizontal. The productive forces show almost no growth, say, for a period of 50 years, if we take the interval up to 1849. Next, beginning with 1849 the curve begins to move sharply upwards, up till the early Seventies. From 1873 to 1895-96 there is retardation – the productive forces develop very gradually.

Then from 1896 to 1913 the curve whirls violently upwards almost up to the eve of the last war. Further, this curve vibrates up and down all the time, like a tightly strained string. These are the periodic waves in each decade. When capitalism develops on the same level, i.e., remains almost unchanged, it means that the booms are approximately balanced off by the crises. When capitalism develops stormily upwards, the productive forces expand, the nation grows richer – it means that the booms by far surpass the crises, the booms become more prolonged, the crises are more in the nature of transitory and brief retardations. In the epoch of capitalist decline, the productive forces are decomposing, as has been by and large the case in the epoch which began after the war, which has endured to this very day and which will continue to endure for a long time to come.

This means that in the epoch of decline the crises strike deeper than the booms: the crises surpass the booms. Can capitalism develop without cyclical fluctuations, without the transitions from boom to crisis? No. Just as the human organism (I have repeated this tens of times) continues to breathe until death, so the heartbeats of capitalism continue – in the infancy and in maturity and on the deathbed alike. Its heart continues to beat but the heartbeats are not the same. When a man is dying his heart beats in an entirely different way from a healthy man’s, and from this, by taking the pulse, it is possible to determine his condition. Similarly it is possible to determine whether capitalism is ascending, or resting on one and the same level, or disintegrating. In 1920, and even earlier in 1913, there occurred an unmistakable breaking point. I have already said that in the course of 17 to 18 years, from 1896 to 1913, capitalism made an extraordinary upward leap but it was then stymied by the struggle of capitalist countries on the world market; it became constricted in the national states and hence arose the imperialist war of 1914. The governments, the diplomatic staffs, the bourgeoisie, the military circles became all the more jittery and precipitated the conflict through the sanguinary deed in 1914 because of the lag that occurred, beginning with 1913, on the world market. This lag signified a profound breaking point and had there been no war, capitalist stagnation would have set in anyway in 1914; the development of capitalism would have started its downward plunge, continuing to fluctuate all the while. The imperialist war was the product of the stormy development of capitalist forces in the course of these 17 most remarkable years in the history of capitalism. The war created an artificial market and seemed to sweep the crisis away. The war laid the basis for utilizing the engines of destruction; it opened up the method of ruining all nations. After the war, in 1919, during the most critical period, the bourgeoisie continued its wartime policy. Throwing all caution to the wind, it kept issuing paper currency, and continued the system of piling up national debts. It supplemented the workers’ wages either with cheap rents or with an assortment of privileges; it accepted the 8-hour working day. All this flowed not from the position of capitalism, but from the political position of the bourgeoisie as a class. This economic strategy saved the bourgeoisie in 1919, for it bribed the labour aristocracy, splitting the proletariat into a democracy and an aristocracy of labour. The bourgeoisie artificially extended prosperity into 1919, disorganized its state finances and its economic foundation but paralysed the revolution. However, the laws of economic development, which could be checked only temporarily, made themselves felt by 1920. A crisis ensued which assumed monstrous forms, with millions of unemployed in Europe and America. To some comrades it seemed that this crisis, which began in 1920, was the final crisis of capitalism; and that on the basis of this crisis the working class was bound to come to power through an insurrection. Hence flowed the March events in Germany. We fought against this view. We knew that the crisis would be followed by a revival and there was the greatest danger that the Communists, upon bumping their heads against this revival, might say that the soil for the revolution had been exhausted since a revival had set in and capitalism was restoring its equilibrium. We fought against such a mechanical point of view, and I hope that there will be no need for us to fight any longer at the Fourth World Congress. If we are told: “And where are the guarantees (we once again meet up with the demand for guarantees) – where are the guarantees that capitalism will not restore its equilibrium through cyclical oscillations?” then I would say in reply: “There are no guarantees and there can be none.” If we cancel out the revolutionary nature of the working class and its struggle and the work of the Communist Party and of the trade unions, that is, if we cancel out that for the sake of which we exist and act, and take instead the objective mechanics of capitalism, then we could say: “Naturally, failing the intervention of the working class, failing its struggle, its resistance, its self-defence and its offensives – failing all this, capitalism will restore its own equilibrium, not the old but a new equilibrium; it will establish the domination of the Anglo-American world in which the entire economy will pass into the hands of these countries and there will be a temporary alliance between the United States and Great Britain, but presently this equilibrium will once again be disrupted.” The automatic interplay of capitalist forces, inherent in its nature, operates in this direction wherever there are superfluous forces. Take the Central European theatre – Czechoslovakia. The latter has preserved her industry almost intact. In old Austria-Hungary this industry supplied 60,000,000 people and today it is supplying Czechoslovakia – 8,000,000 Czechoslovaks and 3,000,000 Germans. At all events, this highly integrated industry serves a small number of people – a dozen million or so and what was once the main section of Austria-Hungary’s industry has remained virtually intact. And so, Czechoslovakia, precisely because she has preserved her old integrated industry, is unable to emerge from conditions of crisis. This means that a destruction of the superfluous productive forces is taking place. When will the crisis in Czechoslovakia cease? When it has brought industry into equivalence with the market, with the buyer, if no market is found in the neighbouring countries.

Therefore the restoration of equilibrium does not always represent growth but sometimes a decline as well, and one way or another an equilibrium is re-established which has been disrupted by the spontaneous growth of capitalist forces and, in addition, by wartime and political events. Within ten or fifteen years some sort of new political equilibrium will be thus created on the bodies and bones of hundreds of thousands and millions of working men and women, if the latter continue to docilely submit to the elemental interplay of capitalism. In other words, Czechoslovak capitalism must, in order to conquer the foreign market, pay wages as low as possible to the workers. And should the workers tolerate this, then Czechoslovak capitalism will restore its equilibrium within such and such limits; but if the workers resist, they will thereby disrupt the action of capitalism toward the restoration of economic equilibrium. In other words, we have here action and reaction; we have here the dialectic of historical forces and the outcome will be determined by the correlation of these contending historical forces.

And so, our viewpoint was, that we need have no fears of an economic revival, nor be fearful lest it terminate the revolutionary epoch. We said that if we do not succeed in achieving the revolution prior to a new economic revival – not some kind of blossoming of capitalism, of which, assuredly, there cannot even be talk – but a new oscillation of the conjuncture within the framework of this minor ten-year cycle – if we do not succeed in achieving the proletarian revolution in Europe, the industrial revival will not come as a blow hurling us back but as an impulse propelling us forward. Why? Because, we argued, following the initial defeats suffered by the working class (and the war itself was the greatest of defeats), and afterwards in 1918-1920-1921 in face of the huge reserve army of unemployed, moods of apathy and exhaustion must unavoidably set in among the working class. But an economic revival, even such a small one as would make factory owners add out of the reserve army a single worker to each thousand workers would, on the contrary, make itself felt. Because the thousand workers employed in this factory begin to feel more secure and already begin to press forward. A tiny change in the conjuncture tends to alter the situation. Naturally, this does not take place mechanically. In Europe we witness during the initial stages, seemingly just the opposite phenomenon, but this falls wholly within this same historical framework. As a matter of fact, we are now witnessing in Europe the continued offensive of capitalism. In America this offensive is already slackening, and even giving way to concessions. In European industry the revival is very feeble. In England, in France and in Italy it is hardly perceptible, or altogether imperceptible. On the other hand, owing to the peculiarities of her economy and of her international position, Germany is experiencing market phenomena whose sign is negative. When a bourgeois crisis raged throughout the world, in Germany there was to be observed a feverish revival, which signified only a different form of the country’s ruination. Germany was being sold on the auction block at cheap prices. Germany was compelled to throw her commodities on foreign markets at a loss for her national wealth, even though the upper capitalist crust coined profits. This riddle is very easily explained economically. I shall not dwell upon it. Today, on the contrary, when other countries – Japan, England, France – are in the midst of a revival, Germany is confronted with the threat of growing unemployment for reasons that are perfectly clear. In 1919, 1920 and 1921, and especially in 1920 when the crisis was frightful, and the danger of the proletarian revolution was still very great, the bourgeoisie did not dare, for political reasons, to take the offensive against the workers, and for economic reasons the situation was so desperate that wage cuts of 10 or 15 or 20 per cent made little change in the basic market conditions. But when substantial stability became manifest and the first symptoms of a break in the conjuncture arrived and when the crisis ceased to unfold, then the bourgeoisie began immediately to pass over to the offensive. In the competition on the world market a difference of 5 to 20 per cent is of great moment. For this very reason the workers were driven to resist. And so, the initial effect of a certain feeble improvement in the economic conjuncture found its expression in an offensive, in an intensified pressure of capitalism upon the workers, but concurrently the resistance of the workers likewise increased, because the class struggle had become aggravated extensively and intensively. In America capitalism is outrunning the others on the road of concessions and thereby it indicates to us the path of the movement’s future development, i.e., not a defensive struggle by the workers but an offensive by them on the basis of this altered conjuncture. But, Comrades, how does this altered situation affect the revolution? Does it mean that the proletariat will conquer power on the basis of this improved conjuncture? It would be absolutely false to make such predictions. This is possible, but there are no guarantees other than the correlation of forces, which keep constantly changing, because these living forces are in conflict, because they grow, group, regroup, merge, and so on. It is quite possible for the industrial revival to last a year or two – a very pathetic revival which does not correspond to the general decline of economy owing to its lack of equilibrium, owing to the currency chaos, owing to high tariffs and tariff walls with which all the states even the United States are surrounded, and owing to the diplomatic instability of militarism. All this does, of course, correspond to the decaying state of capitalism. Hence the pathetic nature of the revival. But there is a difference between a pathetic revival and a most profound crisis and the former affects the organization and the struggle of the working class. The impulse has already been given by this revival. It is an impulsion toward a mass movement – and this is especially apparent in France. In that country there was almost complete stagnation, but today one strike after another is tending to become stubborn in character.

The Future Tactic of the Communist Parties

Whether or not this impulsion will lead to the seizure of power, we cannot tell. This depends upon innumerable factors, above all, naturally, insofar as the question is posed politically, it depends upon tactics, the future political tactic. And it is with this future political tactic, that I shall now deal, once again in briefest outline. The Third Congress centred its attention upon the German party with its March policy which compelled the International to review all the circumstances and to issue new slogans, fix new signposts and proclaim that the task of the European Communists did not consist in conquering power today or tomorrow but in winning over the majority of the working class and thereby creating the political premise for the conquest of power. The German Communist Party has assimilated this lesson very well. Hence sprang the tactic of the united front. What does “hence sprang” mean? The meaning is quite plain. If we consider that the party is on the eve of the conquest of power and the working class will follow it, then the question of the united front simply doesn’t exist. But if we have a situation in which the Communist Party calls for a general strike, as was the case in March 1921 in Germany, and the party is followed by one-fifth or one-sixth of the entire working class, while the other four-fifths remain partly passive and partly profoundly hostile; and if we become convinced that a certain interval must elapse, perhaps several years, before the conquest of power ... Let me recall parenthetically that at the Third World Congress Comrade Lenin remarked: “Comrades, our own position is of course bad, but if you require another year or two, we can wait.” And at that time the German comrades and a number of Italian comrades regarded this as almost a betrayal of the proletarian revolution. Yet almost two years have since elapsed and we shall be obliged to extend another moratorium for two more years, or in any case until the next congress ... To resume, if the situation is such as to require two or three years of preparatory work for the conquest of power, it is then necessary to ponder over what will happen in the interim to the working class, which has its own immediate tasks: the struggle against the offensive of capitalism, the onset of reaction, and so on. But the working class is divided. It would of course be splendid if the working class were ready to instantly follow the Communists. But such is not the case. And in the current struggle we witness a split among the labour organizations and the old organizations place the blame for this split on the Communists. And so, the Communists reply, “So far as we are concerned we are ready for the conquest of power, but insofar as you Independents, and you non-party workers pose such and such tasks for yourselves, to that extent we are willing to enter with you into a united front for the struggle against the bourgeoisie.” In Germany, after the March events, this tactic was adopted by the Communist Party as a whole; and it has been applied successfully. The dialectic of history, however, sometimes acts to turn our own slogans against ourselves. The slogan of the united front, raised by the Comintern in Germany, has unquestionably gained great popularity among the German workers. But with what results? It immediately produced the unification of the Scheidemannists and the Independents against us; and the picture you see in Germany is that of the united Social Democrats supporting the government’s savage onslaught upon the Communists, who are being virtually converted into an illegal party. There occur street clashes and attacks in which the monarchist counter-revolution employs a united front against the Communist minority of the proletariat. And some French Communists, like Daniel Renoult, see in all this an argument against the united front, claiming that we had allegedly helped the Scheidemannists unite with the Independents. Let us not deceive ourselves. At the beginning the unification signifies an influx of material forces for the Social Democracy. But if we approach this unification from a longer range view, then it constitutes a colossal political gain for us because the intermediate formation in the shape of an Independent Party and of the Two-and-a-Half International, which served as a buffer between the worker-Communists and the Social Democrats, muddled up the real relations and tended to direct the minds of a certain section of workers along pseudo-oppositional channels. When we have, on the one side, only the Social Democracy tied up with the bourgeois state, and on the other side only the Communists remaining in the opposition, then the attractive power of the Communist Party must increase to the maximum; and we shall unquestionably witness in the next period the growth of the German Communist Party’s ideological influence, after the working class has taken the unification of the Social Democrats and the Independents into account, even if roughly. In France we undoubtedly lag politically behind Germany. I am referring to the Communist Party itself. This lag found its expression in the fact that the French Communist Party, the vanguard of the working class, repeated only recently, only last month, the March mistakes of the German Communist Party, even though on a smaller scale.

In general, Comrades, the International is a wonderful institution. And the training one party gives to another is likewise irreplaceable. But generally speaking, one must say that each working class tends to repeat all the mistakes at the expense of its own back and bones. The International can be of assistance only in the sense of seeing to it that this back receives the minimum number of scars, but in the nature of things scars are unavoidable. We saw this almost the other day in France. In the port of Havre there occurred a strike of 15,000 workers. This strike of local importance attracted the nationwide attention of the working class, by its stubbornness, firmness and discipline. It led to rather large contributions for the benefit of the strikers through our party’s central organ, l’Humanité; there were agitational tours, and so on. The French government through its police chief brought the strike to a bloody clash in which three workers were killed. (It is quite possible that this happened through some assistance by anarchist elements inside the French working class who time and again involuntarily abet reaction.) These killings were of course bound to produce great repercussions among the French working class. You will recall that the March 1921 events in Germany also started when in Central Germany the chief of police, a Social Democrat, sent military-police gangs to crush the strikers. This fact was at the bottom of our German party’s call for a general strike. In France we observe an analogous course of events: a stubborn strike, which catches the interest of the entire working class, followed by bloody clashes. Three strikers are killed. The murders occurred, say, on Friday and by Saturday there already convened a conference of the so-called unitarian unions, i.e., the revolutionary trade unions, which maintain close relations with the Communist Party; and at this conference it is decided to call the working class to a general strike on the next day. But no general strike came out of it. In Germany during the (so-called) general strike in March there participated one-quarter, one-fifth or one-sixth of the working class. In France even a smaller fraction of the French proletariat participated in the general strike. If one follows the French press to see how this whole affair was carried out, then, Comrades, one has to scratch one’s head ten times in recognizing how young and inexperienced are the Communist parties of Western Europe. The Comintern had accused the French Communists of passivity. This was correct. And the German Communist Party, too, had been accused prior to March of passivity. Demanded of the party was activity, initiative, aggressive agitation, intervention into the day-to-day struggles of the working class. But the party attempted in March to recoup its yesterday’s passivity by the heroic action of a general strike, almost an uprising. On a lesser scale this was repeated the other day in France. In order to emerge from passivity they proclaimed a general strike for a working class which was just beginning to emerge from passivity under the conditions of an incipient revival and improvement in the conjuncture. How did they motivate this? They motivated it by this, that the news of the murder of the three workers had produced a shocking impression on the party’s Central Committee and on the Confederation of Labour. How could it have failed to produce such an impression? Of course, it was shocking! And so the slogan of the general strike was raised. If the Communist Party were so strong as to need only issue a call for a general strike, then everything would be fine. But a general strike is a component and dynamic part of the proletarian revolution itself. Out of the general strike there arise clashes with the troops and the question is posed of who is master in the country. Who controls the army – the bourgeoisie or the proletariat? It is possible to speak of a protest general strike, but this is a question of utmost importance. When a dispatch comes over the wires that three workers have been killed at Havre and when it is known that there is no revolution in France but, instead, a stagnant situation, that the working class is just beginning to stir slightly out of a condition of passivity engendered by events during the war and post-war period – in such a situation to launch the slogan for a general strike is to commit the greatest and crudest blunder which can only undermine for a long time, for many months to come, the confidence of the working masses in a party which behaves in such a manner. True enough, the direct responsibility in this case was not borne by the party; the slogan was issued by the so-called unitarian, that is, revolutionary trade unions. But in reality what should the party and the trade unions have done? They should have mobilized every party and trade-union worker who was qualified and sent them out to spread this news from one end of the country to the other. The first thing was to tell the story as it should have been told. We have a daily paper, l’Humanité, our central organ. It has a circulation of approximately 200,000 – a rather large circulation. But France has a population of not less than 40 million. In the provinces there is virtually no circulation of the daily newspapers. Consequently, the task was to inform the workers, to fell them the story agitationally, and to touch them to the quick with this story. The second thing needed was to turn to the Socialist Party, the party of Longuet and Renaudel with a few questions – no occasion could have been more propitious – and say: “In Havre three worker strikers have been killed; we take it for granted that this cannot be permitted to go unpunished. We are prepared to employ the most resolute measures. We ask, what do you propose?”

The very posing of these questions would have attracted great attention. It was necessary to turn to Jouhaux’s reformist trade unions: which are much closer to the strikers. Jouhaux feigned sympathy for this strike and gave it material aid. It was necessary to put to him the following question: “You of the reformist trade unions, what do you propose? We, the Communist Party, propose to hold tomorrow not a general strike but a conference of the Communist Party, of the unitarian revolutionary trade unions and of the reformist trade unions in order to discuss how this aggression of capitalism ought to be answered.” It was necessary to touch to the quick the hearts of the broadest working masses who yesterday refused to listen to us and who followed Jouhaux. Renaudel and the others. It was necessary to swing the working masses into motion. Perhaps a general strike might have come out of it, I do not know; maybe a protest strike, maybe not. In any case it was far too little simply to announce, to, cry out that my indignation had been aroused, when I learned over the wires that three workers had been killed. It was instead necessary to touch to the quick the hearts of the working masses. After such an activity the whole working class might not perhaps have gone out on a demonstrative strike but we could, of course, have reached a very considerable section. However, instead there was a mistake, let me repeat, on a smaller scale than the March events. It was a mistake on a two by four scale. With this difference that in France there were no assaults, no sweeping actions, no new bloody clashes but simply a failure; the general strike was a fiasco and by this token – a minus on the Communist Party’s card, not a plus but a minus. This is quite obviously and largely connected, Comrades, with the fact that our French Communist Party has generally been lagging behind in its internal life. It adhered to the Comintern at the Tours Convention in 1920, but the heritage of the old Socialist Party, the heritage of extensive parliamentary culture, of French republican conditions, of the tradition of the Great French Revolution – all this cannot be shaken off easily. I will not, Comrades, go into those complex interrelations which have existed during the past period between the Comintern and the French Communist Party; and whose task it was to reduce the number of scars on the backs of the vanguard section of the French workers. As a result of these relations and interventions, discussions over here and experiences on the spot over there – five grouping have crystallized inside the French Communist Party. These groupings are now convening in Paris at the Convention of the French Communist Party. We still don’t know the results. However, to characterize the gist of what we should like to achieve, I must say a few words about the groupings themselves. The left grouping consists of those elements who held the revolutionary standpoint during the war, and played a major role in the French party’s adhesion to the Comintern. Next there is the centre which probably embraces the majority of the workers because the latter have not yet received a full Communist education and they joined the Comintern together with their old local and national leaders. Then there is the right wing. These are the avowed enemies of the Comintern. Their leader is Verfeuil, who was expelled from the party by the Seine Federation and by the Comintern.

There is also an extreme left wing which is a conglomeration of anarchist and reformist prejudices among two or three leading members; its worker followers are simply affected by revolutionary impatience. These are splendid elements who need education. The task consists in compelling the centre to break with the right wing, to unite with the lefts, on the basis of the program and tactics of revolutionary Communism, and create a Central Committee capable and desirous of guiding the party in this spirit. And therewith it is necessary to secure in this Central Committee, a majority of workers connected with the mass trade-union movement, something which has never existed in France. In France the field of the trade-union movement is one thing and the field of high politics is something else again. And when the Comintern demanded that these two fields be closely interlinked, the Communist Ernest Lafont [3], a lawyer, a deputy and a party member, declared: “This is a silly demand. What can we lawyers tell the workers about the field of trade-union movement?” But if you lawyers have nothing to tell the workers in the field of the trade-union movement, then we must tell you that, generally speaking, you have the wrong address. For the legal profession there are other institutions outside the Comintern. If you do find yourselves here, it means that you must decide questions of the labour movement and a labour movement without the trade unions is no labour movement at all. To us this is so elementary that it is embarrassing to mention it at a workers’ gathering, all the more so at a party meeting. But in France it is necessary to wage a struggle against prejudices, left over from the old democratic culture. At the Fourth Congress we shall have in the case of the French party, in the shape of several different and still contending tendencies, approximately the same thing that we faced at the Third Congress in the case of the German Communist Party. At that time, last year, the Comintern played a major role insofar as it accelerated the process of restoring party unity, and rendering the greatest service to the party’s capacity for action. I think that the French Communist Party proposes after approximately a year and a quarter’s delay, to do what was done in March by the German Communist Party.

In Italy the situation is even more acute. Following the September 1920 events the Communist wing, approximately one-third of the old Socialist Party, split away, while the old Socialist Party consisting of the then centre and right wing continued its existence. Under the onslaught of the bourgeoisie which placed the executive power in the hands of the Fascist gangs, the reformists shifted more and more to the right, seeking to enter the government, whose executive organ was and remains the Fascist gangs. This led to a split in the Socialist Party between the right wing and the so-called Serrati group, wherewith Serrati’s party announced at its Convention that it adheres to the Comintern. We shall have at the congress two parties: our Italian Communist Party and the party of Serrati – who having made a wide circle – now wants to join the Communist International. The majority of this party is undoubtedly striving for genuine revolutionary activity. Here we have a certain similarity with the French situation. In France the prospect is to effect a unification of the left wing and the centre, but both the left wing and the centre belong formally to the same party. They are merely two tendencies, not to say two factions, whereas in Italy they are two different parties. It will of course be no simple matter to amalgamate them, for the task is to amalgamate the proletarian rank and file of these two parties and at the same time to assure a firm revolutionary Communist leadership. It therefore follows that both in France and Italy the task today is largely internal, organizational, preparatory and educational in character, whereas the German party can and must now pass over, as it is doing, to an agitational counter-offensive, taking advantage of the fact that the Independents and the Social Democrats have united and that the Communist Party now remains the sole opposition party.

The Situation in England and France

A few words on England. Here our Communist Party still remains a successfully functioning educational and propaganda society but not a party, capable of directly leading the masses.

In England, however, the situation is taking shape or tending in a direction favourable to us, outside of the Communist Party’s framework – within the working class as a whole. Today we received a cable that Lloyd George’s government has resigned.

This was the only government older than ours. (Laughter) We were considered to be the least stable among all the governments. This is Lloyd George’s polite gift to our jubilee, so as not to hurt our feelings. (Laughter) It obviously means new elections in England. And new elections imply a struggle between the three basic groupings, which are: the Tories, the Unionists, and the Independent Liberals. What Lloyd George does personally is a subsidiary question. He may go either with the Tories or with the Independent Liberals, clasping the Labour Party’s right hand. His personal career is all that is involved here. Essentially the struggle will occur between the three groupings, and therewith chances are by no means excluded that a coalition of the Labour Party and the Independent Liberals may turn up in power. What this means hardly requires comment. The appearance of the working class in power will place the entire responsibility for the government’s actions upon the Labour Party; and will give rise to an epoch of English Kerenskyism in the era of parliamentarianism, providing a favourable environment without parallel for the Communist Party’s political work. Should the Tories win (I hesitate to weigh the odds, but let us here assume they are favourable), it would only signify a worsening of the country’s domestic situation; it would tend to sharpen the Labour Party’s opposition and would thereby bring about new elections very quickly, because elections in England can take place within a month or a few months, as has happened more than once in the past. In other words, the stability of the domestic political situation, which had been enhanced by the coalition headed by Lloyd George, is relegated to the museum with Lloyd George’s departure; and England is experiencing shocks and oscillations which can play only into our hands.

In France the policy of the National Bloc headed by Poincaré resembles that of Lloyd George and doesn’t differ from the latter by an iota, although one London correspondent informed me today that the opinion in England is that Lloyd George’s policy is as far removed from Poincaré’s as heaven is from earth; and that unlike Lloyd George who enjoys a great popularity in Russia Poincaré enjoys a great animosity. To this my answer was that Lloyd George justifiably vies with Poincaré for animosity so far as our working masses are concerned. He was extremely astonished and promised to make this discovery known in the English press. (Laughter) In France the bloc headed by Poincaré has two more years to run before its formal demise; and it is unquestionable that power in France will then be assumed by the “Left Bloc” whose leader Herriot [4] paid us a visit here in Moscow. He will be the Prime Minister. There is no other candidate except Caillaux whom Clémenceau exiled from France as a traitor because Caillaux wanted to terminate the war. Caillaux has to be first pardoned which can be done only by a new parliament and then he may owing to his influence turn up at the head of the government. But the most likely candidate at the present time is Herriot who is preparing the background and the conditions for a new policy, for French Kerenskyism, because the assumption of power by the “Left Bloc” signifies a government of Radicals and Socialists, who will undoubtedly enter the Bloc. Once again the situation is exceptionally favourable for the Communist Party because today the Socialists and the Radicals and Jouhaux are fighting the National Bloc, but on the morrow only one party will fight the new Bloc. If a “Left Bloc” materializes because the ancient hulk of the National Bloc has become decrepit, then the Communist Party will appear as the sole opposition party and, in consequence, such a change will be most advantageous to us. In the two main countries of Europe – England and France – a change of régimes is now in process; England is in the midst of, while France is preparing for, a liquidation of the régime that grew out of the war and the victory won by these countries; and there is now taking place an internal gyration, the most violent disruption of the stability of these states that had to be reconstituted or semi-reconstituted after the war and this opens up broader perspectives for the Communist Party. All these are the positive factors which we are taking into account. Nevertheless, Comrades, everything I said leads to the conclusion that we still remain in Europe in the period of preparation, the period of organizing an internal review of the Communist parties, the period of their tempering and their struggle for influence over the working masses. This means that we, the soviet republic, must allow the Communist parties of Europe another year or two or three for preparatory work toward the conquest of power. This preparatory work is more difficult than in our country because the enemy there is more expert and intelligent; and we witness in all European countries the creation of counter-revolutionary Fascist gangs, which we did not have in our country. Fascism is a duplicate, unofficial government, which is ceded place and honour by the official government. This unofficial government is not hampered by any fictitious democratic norms; it stages massacres, it kills. Fascism has ceased to be a purely Italian phenomenon. Fascism is spreading in all countries. In Germany it is constituted by the Orgesch organization and gangs, who merely employ a different label. In France Fascism bears the Royalist label. As you know, in France there is a Royalist Party headed by Leon Daudet, son of the novelist Alphonse Daudet. Leon Daudet is a malicious buffoon. What does he want? He wants to restore, by the grace of God, one of the Capets. [5] This is an archaic program for the French Republic but the whole point is that Daudet fights the Republic as a royalist, and has no need of respecting the norms of the republic, the norms of democracy. He organizes gangs that are at his disposal for pogroms, and the bourgeoisie says: “Here is my man.”

Daudet’s party differs from other parties in not being bound even by the superficial prejudices or fictions of democracy. Daudet knows how to prepare incendiary attacks, killings, bloodlettings and so on. Unless my memory fails me, the French press has, since the war reported on five or ten occasions rumours about appointing Leon Daudet – this malicious buffoon, this French Purishkevich [6] – as Minister of Internal Affairs. And this is no joke at all. Today this is premature, but we have here a figure around whom the corresponding elements are rallying, selected elements who will play the chief role for the Republic on the other side of the barricades. Similarly in all other countries. I leave aside England, the English parliament and the French parliament. What are the churches in England alone worth! Not for nothing has Lloyd George said that the Church is the central power station of all parties, holding in its grip all the leaders of the working class. And, in addition, you have the auxiliary storm-troop gangs for purposes of direct assault. This gives you some inkling of the colossal difficulties amid which the Communist parties will have to pick their way even after they conquer the majority of the working class. But they have not yet conquered this majority. They must still conquer it. Consequently we are facing a protracted process. The struggle of the European and world proletariat for power is very arduous and spun-out but – with a correct policy – it is absolutely assured, absolutely certain. Parallel with the struggle there will occur the grandiose process of our socialist accumulation, our socialist construction at home.

From Hit-and-Miss Work to Systematic Construction

From this standpoint we must make a transition in all relations from a migratory way of life to stable and settled forms, from hasty hit-and-miss work to systematic and methodic work. We have all sinned on this score. We must pass from our absolute universality – and in this I am in complete agreement with Comrade Bukharin – over to specialization. We must start to perfect our knowledge in all fields and most important of all we must wage war against a type created by our history during the last five years. It is the type of individual who is capable of everything, knows everything, supervises from the sidelines, and issues directives to everybody. I lived in emigration in Vienna for several years and the Viennese have a word which I believe is not to be found in any other language. This word is “kibitzer”. Make note of it. It will come in handy. It applies to a man who when, for example, two others are playing a game of chess, will unfailingly sit himself down and always knows the best move that ought to be made; but when you sit down to play with him, he turns out to be a first class botcher. This, of course, applies not alone to chess but to anything you please, to questions of technology, as well as to tool shops and so forth.

Among us this “kibitzer” disease is very widespread. And it flows, I repeat, from our entire situation. All of us were thrown hither and thither becoming jacks of all trades but masters of none. And we had to put up with this nomadic way of life. It was unavoidable. But to the extent that a prolonged preparatory work is under way in the West to attain discipline and to conquer confidence while we in our country are at work conquering the economic life, to the same extent the transition to systematic and methodical work plays a colossal role and there comes to the fore the crucially important question of reproducing our party, of replenishing and regenerating its ranks, of making good the losses.

Education of the Youth – A Life-and-Death Question for Our Party

In that very same nucleus of the former Bromley factory where I spent several hours, I was struck by the fact that the party there was held together chiefly by the older cadres, that is, by workers of the older generations. The fact is that the generation that grew up in 1916-17 is apparently hardly attracted to us. The Bromley workers told me that young proletarians who have now reached the age of 21 or 22 or 23, and especially the 24-year old show little interest in politics. Among them there is apathy, a certain indifference – drunkenness and card playing are more prevalent than among the older and younger generations, and the youngest generation which is now 17 or 18 or 19 years old constitutes the most auspicious and responsive element. This new generation has matured already within the framework of a stable Soviet power. As a whole it thinks of itself only in soviet terms; it seeks leadership, it is more cultured, it tends to group around our clubs, it gravitates toward culture. This is the generation that the party can completely take into its own hands.

It is a new generation which has grown up under the conditions of the soviet régime, and it mirrors these conditions. And so we must assure the restoration of our party’s basic capital. I say this not at all for the sake of turning a high-sounding phrase. I say that the question of educating the youth is now a life-and-death question for our party.

At the Fourth Congress of the Comintern where we shall once again assay the international situation, where we shall once again have to grant a deferment to the European revolution, we shall say that during the year and a half that has elapsed since the Third World Congress, we have kept firmly on our own feet, and we shall maintain ourselves because, in the first place, we have learned how to wield state power, how to manoeuvre with it and manipulate it; and secondly, because we have learned and are learning how to dispose of our party’s basic capital.

The purge proved most beneficial. This is perfectly clear and indisputable today. It has restored the party’s political confidence in itself, but at the same time it has restricted and pared down our party by eliminating the stray elements and thereby diminishing the party cadres. Meanwhile the task of our country still remains gigantic. A new state power will not appear on the European horizon before a certain and rather considerable number of months have elapsed, and maybe even a certain, though not large, number of years. And our work will of course proceed under better conditions than those of the last five years. Nevertheless we are not insured against new relapses of capitalist fury against us up to and including the restoration of the war fronts. All this flows precisely from the dialectic of the class struggle. Right now the intensification of the revolutionary movement in Europe might prove to be a signal for an assault against soviet Russia. In practice the incipient proletarian power in Germany – and history will still apparently unravel its tangled skein from Russia through Germany to the West – has posed before us tasks which go far beyond the limits of our domestic construction. To this end it is imperative for us to renew our party cadres, create a mighty reserve of youth. And while we shall once again say to the Communist parties: “You, European Communists must go to the masses before the question of conquering power confronts you point-blank; you must learn to correct your mistakes; you must learn to conquer the masses,” then to our own party, we say: “Before us is a young party which we must conquer in order to hold the soviet fortress in our own hands until the proletarian revolution conquers Europe, and later the whole world.”


1. This sub-heading stems from the New Park edition.

2. The reference here is to the passages in Capital dealing with crises, in particular pp. 87 and 211 in Volume II, and Chapters XXX to XXXV in Volume III.

3. Ernest Lafont, lawyer, journalist, deputy, was a typical parliamentarian Socialist and at the same time, a typical representative of a French centrist current. During the first World War Lafont was a chauvinist. In 1920 he started getting radical. At the Tours Convention he remained with the majority, joining the CP. After the Fourth World Congress, he refused to accept the decisions adopted, particularly on the question of the trade union movement, and was shortly expelled.

4. Herriot was the leader of the French Radical Socialist Party. At that time he was a fervent promoter of the “Left Bloc” and advocated the recognition of the Soviet Union. After the victory of the “Left Bloc,” Herriot served as Premier (from July 1924 to April 1925) and extended recognition to the Soviet Union in October 1924.

5. Capet was the family name of the French dynasty that ruled in the Eighteenth Century.

6. Purishkevich was a notorious Russian reactionary, anti-Semite, leader of the Black-Hundred gangs and organizer of pogroms. In the Czarist Duma, he was one of the Black-Hundred monarchist leaders.

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