Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

The New Economic Policy of Soviet Russia and
the Perspectives of the World Revolution

(Part II)

Criterion of the Productivity of Labour

There remains, however, a question which is important and fundamental for determining the viability of a social régime which we have not touched upon at all. This is the question of the economy’s productivity, not alone the productivity of individual workers, but the productivity of the economic régime as a whole. The historical ascent of mankind consists in just this, that a régime which assures a higher productivity of labour supersedes régimes with a lower productivity. If capitalism supplanted ancient feudal society it was only because human labour is more productive under the rule of capital. And the main and sole reason why socialism will vanquish capitalism completely and definitely is because it will assure a far greater volume of products per each unit of human labour power. Can we already say that our state enterprises are operating more productively than under the capitalist régime? No, we have yet to attain this. Not only are the Americans, the English, the French or the Germans in their capitalist factories working better, more productively than we do – this was the case even before the Revolution – but we ourselves used to work better before the Revolution than we do today. This circumstance might at first glance appear very damnable from the standpoint of appraising the soviet régime. Our bourgeois enemies and echoing them, naturally, also our Social-Democratic critics make every possible use of the fact that our economy’s productivity is so low. At the Genoa Conference the French delegate Colrat [7] in reply to Chicherin announced with typical bourgeois insolence that the Soviet delegation had generally no right to say a word about economic affairs in view of Russia’s actual economic condition. This argument appears at first glance crushing. But, as a matter of fact, it is merely evidence of abysmal historical and economic ignorance. Of course it would be splendid if we were able right now to prove the superiorities of socialism not by theoretical arguments drawn from past experience, but by material facts. That is to say, if we could show that our plants and factories assure thanks to their greater centralization and efficiency, higher productivity of labour than similar enterprises before the Revolution. But we haven’t attained this yet. Nor is it possible to attain it so soon. What we have now is not socialism as opposed to capitalism, but the labourious process of accomplishing the transition from one to the other, and, moreover, only the initial and most painful steps of this transition.

Paraphrasing the famous words of Karl Marx, one may say that we are suffering from the fact that our country still retains massive vestiges of capitalism amid only the, rudiments of socialism.

Indeed, the productivity of labour in our country has declined and so have the living standards. In agriculture, last year’s crops were approximately three-fourths of the average pre-war yield. The situation is even sadder in industry; our production this year is about one-fourth of the pre-war period. Our transportation system is operating at about one-third of its pre-war capacity. These are very sad facts. But how did matters stand during the transition from feudalism to capitalism? Was there a different situation at this time? Capitalist society, so rich and so boastful of its wealth and culture, also sprang from revolution, and a very destructive one at that. The objective historical task of creating the conditions for a higher productivity of labour was in the last analysis solved by the bourgeois revolution, or more accurately by a number of revolutions. But how did this take place? Through the most widespread devastation and through a temporary decline in material culture. Let us take as an illustration the case of France herself. Naturally M. Colrat, in his capacity of bourgeois Minister, is under no obligation to be acquainted with the history of his own passionately beloved fatherland. But we, on the other hand, are familiar with the history of France and the history of her revolution. It is immaterial, whether we turn to the writings of the reactionary Taine [8] or the socialist Jaurès; [9] in either case we can ascertain many graphic facts characterizing the horrible condition of France following her revolution. So vast was the devastation that after the Ninth of Thermidor [10], that is, five years after the outbreak of the revolution, the impoverishment of France did not abate but on the contrary became progressively worse. In the tenth year of the Great French Revolution when Napoléon Bonaparte was already First Consul, Paris with a population of 500,000 at that time received a daily supply of flour ranging from 300 to 500 sacks, whereas the minimum subsistence requirement of the city was 1,500 sacks. One of the main concerns of the First Consul was to keep a daily check on the flour deliveries. This was the situation – please note! – ten years after the beginning of the Great French Revolution. By that time the population of France had declined – because of famine, epidemics and wars – in 37 out of the 58 departments. Needless to say, the English Colrats and Poincarés of that day looked down upon the ruined France with the greatest contempt.

What does all this mean? It simply means that revolution is a very harsh and costly method of solving the question of society’s economic transformation. But history has not invented any other method. The revolution throws open the doors for a new political order, but does so through a wide-wasting catastrophe. In our country, moreover, the revolution has been preceded by war. We are not in the tenth year of our revolution – please note this, too! – but just at the beginning of the sixth year and our revolution goes far deeper than the Great French Revolution, which merely replaced one form of exploitation by another, whereas we are replacing a society resting on exploitation of man by man, by a society that rests on human solidarity. The shocks have been very severe, causing great havoc and breaking many dishes – and what first strikes the eyes are the overhead expenses of the revolution. So far as the greatest conquests of the revolution are concerned these are realized in life only gradually over a period of years and decades.

Just the other day I chanced to run across a speech pertaining to this question which interests us. This speech was delivered by a French chemist Berthelot, son of the more celebrated chemist Pierre Berthelot, speaking as a member of the Academie des Sciences. Here is the idea put forward by him, and I cite from the text reported by Le Temps:

“In all epochs of history and in the domain of sciences, in that of politics and in that of social phenomena alike, it has been the splendid and terrible privilege of armed conflicts to speed with blood and iron the birth of new times.”

Of course, M. Berthelot was thinking principally of war. Essentially he is nevertheless correct; for wars, to the extent that they served the cause of revolutionary classes, have also greatly stimulated historical development. To the extent, however, that wars served the cause of oppressors – which has been most frequently the case – they have often given an impulse to the movement of the oppressed. Berthelot’s statement applies even more directly to revolution: “Armed conflicts” between classes that entail vast havoc simultaneously entail “the birth of new times”. From these considerations we infer that the overhead costs of revolution are not at all wasteful expenditures (faux frais as the French put it). But dividends cannot be demanded before the payments fall due. And we have to ask our friends to give us another five years. Then in the tenth year of the revolution, that is, in the year when Napoléon used to keep a strict tally of the sacks of flour for starving Paris, we shall be in a position to prove the superiority of socialism to capitalism in the economic field, not by theoretical arguments merely, but by hard facts. And we trust that by then eloquent facts will already be at hand.

But aren’t there, en route to these future successes, still dangers that our régime may suffer capitalist degeneration – precisely because of the extremely sorry state of our industry at the present time? The peasantry has harvested this year, as I have already said, about three-quarters of the pre-war crop; on the other hand, industry produced all told one-fourth of the pre-war output. Thereby the reciprocal relation between the city and country has been upset in the extreme, and greatly to the city’s detriment. Under these conditions state industry will be unable to supply the peasant with an equivalent product for his grain and the peasant surpluses thrown into the market will provide the basis for private capitalist accumulation. Naturally, at bottom such reasoning is correct; market relations have a logic of their own, regardless of what goals we may have in mind in restoring them. But here it is once again important to establish correct quantitative correlations. If the peasantry were to throw its entire crop into the market this would, in view of the fourfold weakening of our industry, entail the direst consequences for socialist development. But in reality the peasantry is producing in the main for its own personal consumption. Over and above this the peasantry must pay the government this year more than 350 million poods for the tax in kind. The peasant will throw into the market only the surpluses after his personal needs are met and the tax in kind is paid. This will hardly amount to more than 100 million poods in the current year; and further, an important, if not the decisive part of this surplus of 100 million poods will be purchased by the distributive co-operatives or by state institutions. The state industry thus stands counterposed not to the peasant economy as a whole, but only to one section of it, still insignificant, which is throwing its produce into the market. This section of the peasantry alone (or more accurately, only a fraction of this section) becomes a source for private capitalist accumulation. In the future this fraction will undoubtedly grow. But parallel with it there will also grow the productivity of the unified state industry. And there is absolutely no ground for concluding that the growth of state industry will lag behind the prosperity in agriculture. As we shall presently see the sagacious and profound criticisms of the gentlemen of the moribund Two-and-a-Half International are based principally either on ignorance or on misunderstanding of elementary economic relations in Russia, as they are shaping up in the concrete conditions of time and space.

On the Social-Democratic Criticism

On our Fourth Anniversary, that is, one year ago, Otto Bauer devoted a whole pamphlet to our economy. In this pamphlet Bauer recapitulates in a polite and oily way all that our more temperamental enemies in the Social-Democratic camp have been accustomed to say, frothing at the mouth, concerning our New Economic Policy. In the first place, he tells us, the New Economic Policy is “capitulation to capitalism”, but that’s precisely what is good and realistic about it, according to Bauer. (These gentlemen invariably see realism in falling on their knees before the bourgeoisie at the very first suitable occasion.) Bauer goes on to lecture us that the final upshot of the Russian Revolution could not possibly be anything else than the establishment of a bourgeois democratic republic, and he, Bauer, tells us that this is what he predicted as far back as the year 1917. Yet we seem to recall that in 1919 the “predictions” of these scrubby heroes of the Two-and-a-Half International were couched in a somewhat different tone. At that time they talked of the collapse of capitalism and the inception of a social-revolutionary epoch. But the biggest fool in the world will refuse to believe that if capitalism were approaching its doom throughout the world, its blossoming time would be at hand in revolutionary Russia where the working class is in power!

And so in 1917 when Otto Bauer still retained his virginal Austro-Marxist faith in the durability of capitalism and of the Habsburg monarchy, he wrote that the Russian Revolution must end in the establishment of a bourgeois state. Socialist opportunism, however, is always impressionistic in politics. Startled by the revolution and gasping for breath in its waves, Bauer admitted in 1919 that capitalism was collapsing and the social-revolutionary epoch was at hand! But inasmuch as now, God be praised, the tide of revolution is once again ebbing, therefore our oracle hastily falls back upon his prophecy of 1917; for, as we already know, he has fortunately two sets of prophecies on tap and can turn on whichever seems to suit the occasion. (Laughter) Bauer goes on to reason as follows:

“What we see being restored (in Russia) is thus a capitalist economy, dominated by a new bourgeoisie, resting upon millions of peasant households – a capitalist economy to which legislation and state administration are willy-nilly compelled to adapt themselves.”

Do you realize now what our soviet Russia represents? A year ago this gentleman was already proclaiming that Soviet economy and the soviet state were dominated by a new bourgeoisie. This leasing of enterprises, poorly equipped and employing, as I said, about 50,000 workers – as against the million workers in the best state enterprises – this, according to Bauer, is “a capitulation of the Soviet power to industrial capital!”

In order to back up these assertions, silly as they are cynical, with the necessary historical justification, Bauer asserts: “After prolonged hesitation, the Soviet government has at length (!!) decided to recognize the tsarist foreign debts.”

In brief, one capitulation after another!

Since many comrades will, not unnaturally, be hazy about the details of our history, let me remind you that as far back as February 4, 1919 we made the following proposals by radio to all the capitalist governments:

  1. – We offered to recognize foreign debts incurred by Russia.
  2. – We offered to pledge our raw materials, as guarantees for payment of debts and interest.
  3. – We offered to grant concessions – at their convenience.
  4. – We offered territorial concessions in the shape of military occupation of certain areas by Entente troops or by those of its Russian agents.

All this we offered by radio on February, 4, 1919 to the capitalist world in return for their leaving us in peace. And in April of the same year we repeated our proposals in even greater detail to the unofficial American plenipotentiary – what was the fellow’s name? (Laughter) Yes, Bullitt, that was the fellow. Well, Comrades, if you compare these proposals with those which our representatives rejected at Genoa and at the Hague, you will see that our trend has not been toward enlarging concessions, but rather toward more firmly defending our revolutionary conquests. Today we do not recognize any debts; we neither pledge nor are willing to pledge raw materials as guarantees; we are quite chary on the question of concessions; and on no account are we willing to tolerate occupation troops on our territories! There have been a few changes since the year 1919.

We have already been informed by Otto Bauer that the trend of this entire development is toward “democracy”. This pupil of Kautsky and this teacher of Martov lectures us as follows: “It has been once again confirmed that an overturn in the economic foundation must be followed by another overturn in the entire political superstructure.”

It is perfectly true that between the economic foundation and the political superstructure there exists in part and on the whole precisely the interrelationship indicated by Bauer. But in the first place, the economic foundation of soviet Russia is by no means altering in the manner pictured by Otto Bauer, nor even in the manner desired by Leslie Urquhart, whose exactions on this matter, we must acknowledge, bear far more weight than Bauer’s. And secondly, to the extent that the economic basis is really changing in the direction of capitalist relations, these changes are occurring at such a rate and such a scale as to exclude the danger of our losing political control of this economic process.

From a purely political standpoint the issue still boils down to this, that the working class in power offers such and such important concessions to the bourgeoisie. But this is still a far cry from “democracy”, that is, from the transfer of power into the hands of the capitalists. To attain this goal the bourgeoisie would require a successful counter-revolutionary overturn. And for such an overturn it must dispose of corresponding forces. In this respect we have learned a little from the bourgeoisie itself. Throughout the Nineteenth Century the bourgeoisie did nothing else except alternate between repressions and concessions. It made concessions in favour of the petty bourgeoisie, in favour of the peasantry and the upper layers of the working class, while at the same time mercilessly exploiting the toiling masses. These concessions were either political or economic or a combination of both. But at all times these were concessions made by a ruling class which kept firm hold on state power. Some of the bourgeoisie’s experiments in this field seemed at first quite venturesome – the introduction of universal suffrage for instance. Marx designated the legal limitation of the working day in England as the victory of a new principle. Whose principle? The principle of the working class. But as we are well aware, there still remained a long road to travel from a partial victory for this principle to the conquest of political power by the English working class.

The ruling bourgeoisie doled out concessions, retaining all the while complete control over the debit and credit sides of the state ledger. Its ruling politicians decided which concession could be granted not merely without endangering its secure hold on power, but on the contrary, for the sake of strengthening bourgeois rule. We Marxists have said more than once that the bourgeoisie has exhausted its historical mission. Meanwhile it still retains power in its hands to this very day. This means that the interrelation between the economic foundation and the political superstructure by no means proceeds along a straight line. We observe a class régime maintaining itself for a number of decades after it had come into an obvious conflict with the needs of economic progress.

What theoretical grounds are there for asserting that concessions granted by the workers’ state to bourgeois relations must automatically entail the replacement of the workers’ state by a capitalist state? If it is true that capitalism has exhausted itself on a world scale – and this is unquestionably true – then this goes to prove the progressive historic role of the workers’ state. Concessions granted by the workers’ state to the bourgeoisie simply represent a compromise dictated by the difficulties of development, but this development itself is predetermined and assured by history. Naturally if our concessions were to grow boundlessly, multiplying and accumulating; if we began leasing ever newer and newer groups of nationalized industrial enterprises; if we began granting concessions in the most important branches of the mining industry or railway transport; if our policy were to continue sliding downward on the gravity chute of concessions for a number of years, then a time would inevitably arrive when the degeneration of the economic foundation would bring with it the collapse of the political superstructure. I speak of collapse and not of degeneration because capitalism cannot wrest power from the hands of the Communist proletariat otherwise than through a fierce and merciless civil war. But whoever poses this question thereby presupposes that the rule of the world and the European bourgeoisie will remain virile and everlasting. This is what it all boils down to in the end. By recognizing, on the one hand, in their Sunday articles that capitalism, especially in Europe, has outlived itself and has become a brake upon historical progress; and by expressing, on the other hand, assurance that the evolution of soviet Russia must inevitably end up in the triumph of bourgeois democracy – the Social-Democratic theoreticians fall into a most wretched and banal contradiction, quite worthy of these dull and pompous muddle-heads. Our New Economic Policy is calculated for specific conditions of space and time: it is the manoeuvrist policy of a workers’ state still living in a capitalist encirclement and banking firmly on revolutionary developments in Europe. To operate with absolute categories of capitalism and socialism and with “adequately” corresponding political superstructures – in deciding the destiny of the soviet republic – shows an utter inability to understand the conditions of a transitional epoch. It is the hallmark of a scholastic and not of a Marxist. One must never exclude from political calculations the factor of time. If you grant that capitalism will continue to exist in Europe for another century or half a century and that soviet Russia will be driven to adjust herself in her economic policy to capitalism, then the question resolves itself automatically. For by granting this you presuppose in advance the collapse of the proletarian revolution in Europe and the inception of a new epoch of capitalist renascence. On what possible grounds? Since Otto Bauer has been able to discover miraculous symptoms of capitalist resurrection in the life of present-day Austria, then it goes without saying that soviet Russia’s doom is predestined. But we still fail to see any miracles, nor do we believe in miracles. From our standpoint the perpetuation of the European bourgeoisie’s rule for a number of decades would under existing world conditions signify not a new blossoming of capitalism but the economic decay and cultural disintegration of Europe. That such a variant of historical development could drag soviet Russia also into the abyss cannot, generally speaking, be denied. In that case, whether our country would pass through the stage of democracy or suffer decay in some other form – is a second-rate question But we see no reason whatever to enrol under the banner of Spengler’s [11] philosophy. We firmly count upon the revolutionary development of Europe. The New Economic Policy is simply our adaptation to the tempo of this development.

Otto Bauer himself, apparently senses uneasily that the régime of capitalist democracy by no means follows quite so directly from the changes which have occurred in our economy. For this reason he very touchingly pleads with us to assist the capitalist tendency of development as against the socialist tendency. Bauer writes, “The reconstruction of capitalist economy cannot be effected under the dictatorship of the Communist Party. The new course in economics demands a new course in politics.” Isn’t this touching to the point of tears? The same individual who has rendered such wonderful economic and political assistance to the flowering of Austria ... (Laughter) This man urges us: “Take notice, for God’s sake, capitalism cannot possibly flourish under the dictatorship of your party.” Just so. And it is precisely for this reason, saving the presence of all the Bauers, that we maintain the dictatorship of our party! (Loud laughter, applause)

In our country concessions to capitalism are doled out by the Communist Party, as the leader of the workers’ state. At the present time our press is conducting an extensive discussion on the question of granting a concession to Leslie Urquhart. Should it be made or should it be withheld? This discussion is intended to clarify both the concrete material provisions of the contract as well as to appraise this contract from the standpoint of its role in the overall system of Soviet economy. Perhaps the concession is too sweeping? Mightn’t capitalism sink its roots, through this concession, too deeply into the very heart of our industrial economy? These are the pros and cons. Who decides them? The workers’ state. Naturally, the NEP contains an enormous concession to bourgeois relations and to the bourgeoisie itself. But it is we who determine the limits of this concession. We are the masters. The key to the door is in our hands. The state is in and of itself a factor of huge importance in economic life. And we haven’t the slightest intention of letting this factor slip out of our hands.

The World Situation and the Revolutionary Perspectives

Let me repeat: The Social-Democratic prophecy concerning the consequences of our New Economic Policy derives entirely from the conception that the proletarian revolution in Europe is hopeless for the next historical period. We cannot prevent these gentlemen from remaining pessimists at the expense of the proletariat and optimists for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. This happens to be the historical calling of the epigones of the Second International. As for ourselves, we see no reason to cast doubt on or to modify the analysis of the world situation as formulated by us in the theses adopted by the Third Congress of the Communist International. In the eighteen months that have since elapsed capitalism has not moved a step closer to restoring its equilibrium, completely upset by the war and the consequences of war. Lord Curzon, the English Minister for Foreign Affairs, speaking on November 9, the birthday of the German Republic gave a rather good summary of the world situation. I don’t know how many of you have managed to read this speech and so I propose to quote a passage from it, which merits citation. Says Curzon:

“All the powers have emerged from the war with weakened and broken energies. We (English) are ourselves suffering from a heavy burden of taxation which weighs upon the industry of our country. We have a great number of unemployed in all branches of work ... As regards France, her indebtedness is immense and she is not able to obtain the payment of the war indemnities ... Germany is in a condition of political instability and her economic life is paralysed by an appalling currency crisis ... Russia still remains outside the family of European nations. It is still under the Communist flag “ – Curzon, it appears, is not at all in agreement with Otto Bauer (Laughter) – ”and continues to carry on constant propaganda all over the world“ – which is entirely untrue (Laughter) – “Italy”, continues Curzon, “has passed through a number of shocks and governmental crises” – has far from passed through! I would say, Italy is still passing through (Laughter) – “The Near East is in a condition of absolute chaos. The situation is a terrible one.”

Even we, Russian Communists, would be hard put to it to carry on better propaganda than Curzon all over the world. “The situation is a terrible one.” On the fifth anniversary of the soviet republic, this is the – assurance we get from one of the most authoritative representatives of the strongest European power. And he is right: the situation is terrible. And – let us add – it is necessary to find a way out of this terrible situation. The one and only way out is revolution.

An Italian correspondent recently asked me to appraise the present world situation. I gave the following and, incidentally, rather banal answer: “The bourgeoisie is no longer capable of ruling“ – which is, as we have just heard, confirmed in the main by Lord Curzon – ”while the working class is still incapable of seizing power. This is what determines the ill-starred character of our epoch.” Such was the gist of my remarks. Three or four days ago a friend sent me from Berlin a clipping from one of the latest issues of the Freiheit just prior to its demise. Its heading is Kautsky’s Victory Over Trotsky. (Laughter) It states that the Rote Fahne cannot summon up sufficient courage to speak up against my capitulation to Kautsky – although, as you know, Comrades, Rote Fahne has not usually been backward in attacking me, even when I was right. Still, that story pertains to the Third World Congress and not to the Fourth. (Shouts of approval and laughter) Well, I had said to the Italian journalist: “The capitalists are already incapable of ruling, while the workers are not yet capable of ruling. This is the character of our epoch.” Whereupon the Freiheit, of blessed memory, commented as follows: “What Trotsky advances here as his own view is the opinion earlier expressed by Kautsky.” And so I am virtually guilty of plagiarism. This is a high price to pay for a banal interview. I am obliged to tell you that giving interviews is not a very pleasant occupation, and that here in Russia we are never interviewed of our own free will but always upon the strict orders of friend Chicherin. You will note that in the era of the New Economic Policy, wherein we have renounced excessive centralism, a few things have nevertheless remained centralized in Russia. At all events, all the orders for interviews are centralized in the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. (Laughter) And since interviews are obligatory, one naturally trots out his choicest and stalest stock of commonplaces. Let me confess that in this particular case I never regarded the statement that our epoch was transitional in character to be an original invention of my own. Now I learn, if Freiheit can be trusted, that the spiritual father of this aphorism is none other than Kautsky. If this were actually so it would be a punishment too severe for my interview. For everything that Kautsky is now saying or writing has the one and manifest purpose of demonstrating that Marxism is one thing while a quagmire is something else again. Yes, I did say and I now repeat that the European proletariat, in its present state, is incapable of conquering power, right now, at this given moment. This is an incontestable fact. But why is this so? Precisely because the broad working-class circles have not as yet rid themselves of the decomposing influence of ideas, prejudices and traditions, whose quintessence is Kautskyanism. (Laughter) This is exactly and even exclusively the reason for the political division within the proletariat and for its inability to conquer power. This was the simple idea expounded by me to the Italian correspondent. To be sure, I did not mention Kautsky’s name. It should have been obvious to any intelligent person just against whom and against what my remarks were directed. Such is my “capitulation” to Kautsky.

The Communist International has not and cannot have any reason for – capitulating to anybody, either in point of theory or in point of practice. The Third Congress theses on the world situation characterized the basic traits of our epoch quite correctly as those of the greatest historical crisis of capitalism. At the Third Congress we stressed how indispensable it was to distinguish sharply between the major or historical crisis of capitalism and the minor or conjunctural crises, each of which is a necessary stage of a commercial-industrial cycle. Let me recall that there was an extended discussion on this topic both in the commissions of the congress and especially during the plenary sessions. As against a number of comrades we defended the viewpoint that in the historical development of capitalism we must differentiate sharply between two types of curves: the basic curve which graphs the development of capitalist productive forces, growth of the productivity of labour, accumulation of wealth, and so on; and the cyclical curve which depicts a periodic wave of boom and crisis, repeated on the average every nine years. The correlation of these two curves has not been elucidated up to now in Marxist literature – nor to my knowledge, in general economic literature. Yet the question is of utmost importance both theoretically and politically.

In the middle Nineties the basic curve of capitalist development climbed steeply upwards. European capitalism passed its pinnacle. In 1914 a crisis broke out, which marked not merely a periodic cyclical oscillation, but the beginning of an epoch of prolonged economic stagnation. The imperialist war was an attempt to break out of the impasse. The attempt failed and the profound historical crisis of capitalism became aggravated. However, within the framework of this historical crisis, cyclical ups and downs are inevitable, that is, an alternation of booms and crises – but with this profound difference that, in contrast to the pre-war period, the cyclical crises are extremely acute in character, while the booms are far more superficial and feeble. In 1920 there ensued – on the basis of universal capitalist decay – an acute cyclical crisis. Some comrades among the so-called “lefts” held that this crisis must uninterruptedly deepen and sharpen up till the proletarian revolution. We, on the other hand, predicted that a break in the economic conjuncture was unavoidable in the more or less near future, bringing a partial recovery. We insisted, further, that such a break in the conjuncture would tend not to weaken the revolutionary movement but, on the contrary, to impart new vitality to it. The cruel crisis of 1920, coming in the wake of several years of revolutionary ferment, weighed heavily upon the working masses, temporarily engendering in their ranks moods of passive expectation and even hopelessness. Under these conditions an improvement in the economic conjuncture would certainly raise the self-confidence of the working masses and revive the class struggle. Some of the comrades seriously thought at that time that this prognosis mirrored a deviation toward opportunism and a tendency to find excuses for postponing the revolution indefinitely. The minutes of the Jena Convention of our German party bear clear imprints of the echoes of these naïve views.

Let us try, Comrades, to realize where we would be today had we accepted and sponsored a year and a half ago this purely mechanical “leftist” theory, the theory of a commercial-industrial crisis growing steadily worse! Today, no one of sober mind would deny that a break has occurred in the conjuncture. In the United States, the most powerful of all capitalist countries, there is an obvious industrial boom. In Japan, Britain, and France the improvement of the economic conjuncture is much more feeble, but here, too, there has been a break.

How long this boom will last and what heights it will reach – that is another question. We must not for a moment forget that the improvement of the conjuncture takes place amid the decay of international and especially of European capitalism. The root causes of this decay are not affected by conjunctural changes of the market. But on the other hand, the decay does not cancel out the conjunctural changes. We should have been compelled today to re-examine theoretically our fundamental conception as to the revolutionary character of our epoch, had we made a year and a half ago a concession to the “lefts” who lumped together the historical crisis of the capitalist economic system with the conjunctural cyclical oscillations of the market; and who demanded that we adopt a purely metaphysical outlook to the effect that a crisis, is under any and all conditions, a revolutionary factor. Today however, we have no reason to revise or modify our position. We did not judge our epoch to be revolutionary because the sharp conjunctural crisis of 1920 swept away the fictitious boom of 1919. We adjudged it to be revolutionary because of our general appraisal of world capitalism and its conflicting basic forces. Lest this lesson be wasted, we ought to reaffirm the theses of the Third Congress, as fully applicable at this very hour.

The basic idea underlying the decisions of the Third Congress was as follows. After the war the masses were seized by revolutionary moods and were eager to engage in open struggle. But there was no revolutionary party capable of leading them to victory. Hence the defeat of the revolutionary masses in various countries; hence the depressed moods, the passivity. Today revolutionary parties exist in all countries, but they rest directly only upon a fraction of the working class, to be more precise, a minority of the working class. The Communist parties must conquer the confidence of the crushing majority of the working class. Upon becoming convinced through experience of the correctness, firmness and reliability of Communist leadership, the working class will shake off disillusionment, passivity and dilatoriness – and then the hour for launching the final assault will sound. How near is this hour? We make no predictions on this score. But the Third Congress did fix the task of the hour as the struggle for influence over the majority of the working class. A year and a half has elapsed. We have unquestionably scored major successes, but our task still remains the same: We must conquer the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the toilers. This can and must be achieved in the course of struggle for the transitional demands under the general slogan of the proletarian united front.

Today the world labour movement is confronted with an offensive by capitalism. At the same time, even in countries like France where the labour movement a year or some eighteen months ago was passing through a period of utter stagnation, we now clearly witness increasing readiness of the working class to offer resistance. Despite the extremely inadequate leadership, strikes are becoming more frequent in France. They tend to assume an extremely intense character which is evidence of the growing fighting capacity of the working masses. The class struggle is thus gradually deepening and sharpening. The capitalist offensive finds its complement in the concentration of state power in the hands of the most reactionary bourgeois elements. Simultaneously we witness, however, that while heading for sharper class struggles, the bourgeois public opinion with the tacit semi-approval of the ruling cliques, is paving the way for a new orientation – an orientation to the left, in the direction of reformist and pacifist deceptions. In France, where the ultra-reactionary Nationalist Bloc, headed by Poincaré is in power, there is being simultaneously and systematically prepared the victory of the “Left Bloc” which will naturally include the Messrs. Socialists. In Britain, the general elections are now taking place. Because of the collapse of Lloyd George’s coalition government they came sooner than expected. The outcome is still unknown.

There is a likelihood that the previous ultra-imperialistic grouping will be returned to power. But even if they do win, their reign will be short. A new parliamentary orientation of the bourgeoisie is being clearly prepared both in Britain and France. The openly imperialist, aggressive methods, the methods of the Versailles Treaty, of Foch, Poincaré, and Curzon, have obviously run into a blind alley. France cannot extract from Germany what Germany hasn’t got. France in turn is unable to pay her debts. The rift between Britain and France keeps widening. America refuses to renounce collecting payments on the debts. And among the intermediate layers of the population, especially among the petty bourgeoisie, reformist and pacifist moods are growing stronger and stronger: an agreement ought to be reached with Germany, and with Russia; the League of Nations should be expanded; the burden of militarism should be lightened; a loan from America should be made, and so forth and so on. The illusions of war and defencism, the ideas and slogans of nationalism and chauvinism, together with the subsequent hopes in the great fruits that victory would bring – in brief, the illusions which seized a considerable section of the working class itself in the Entente countries are giving way to more sober reactions, and disillusionment. Such is the soil for the growth of the “Left Bloc” in France, and of the so-called Labour Party and the Independent Liberals in England. Naturally, it would be false to expect any serious change of policy consequent upon the reformist-pacifist orientation of the bourgeoisie. The objective conditions of the capitalist world are today least suited to reformism and pacifism. But it is quite probable that the foundering of these illusions in practice will have to be experienced before victory of the revolution becomes possible.

Thus far we have dealt solely with the Entente. But it is perfectly evident, that if the Radicals and Socialists assume power in France while the Labourite opportunists and the Independent Liberals form the government in Britain, this would provoke in Germany a new influx of conciliationist and pacifist hopes. It would seem plausible that an agreement could be reached with the democratic governments of Britain and France; that a moratorium on and even a cancellation of payments could be obtained; that a loan from America might be arranged with the co-operation of Britain and France, and so on. And who is better qualified than the German Social Democrats for reaching an agreement with the French Radicals and Socialists and the British Labourites?

Of course, the events may take a sharper turn. It is not excluded that the reparations problem plus French imperialism, plus Italian Fascism may drive matters to a revolutionary culmination, depriving the bourgeoisie of the opportunity to move its left flank to the fore. But there are too many indications that the bourgeoisie will be driven to resort to a reformist and pacifist orientation, before the proletariat feels itself prepared for the decisive assault. This would signify an epoch of European Kerenskyism. Of course it would be preferable to skip over it. Kerenskyism, and on a world scale at that, is none too tasty a dish. But the choice of historical paths depends upon us only up to a limited extent. Under certain conditions we shall have to accept European Kerenskyism too, just as we accepted Russian Kerenskyism in its day. Our task will then consist in transforming the epoch of reformist and pacifist deception into a prelude to the conquest of power by the revolutionary proletariat. In our country Kerenskyism lasted about nine months all told. How long will it last in your countries, if it is destined to arise at all? It is of course impossible to reply to this question at the present time. It depends on how quickly the reformist and pacifist illusions are liquidated, that is to say, it depends to a large measure on how skilfully your Kerenskys are able to manoeuvre, for in contrast to our breed they at least know how to add and multiply. But it also depends on the energy, resoluteness and flexibility with which our own party is able to manoeuvre.

It is perfectly obvious that the epoch of reformist-pacifist governments would be the season for a growing pressure by the working masses. Our task would then consist in mastering this pressure, getting to the head of it. But to achieve this, our party must enter the epoch of pacifist deception completely purged of pacifist and reformist illusions. Woe to the Communist Party which finds itself to a greater or lesser extent engulfed by the pacifist wave! The inevitable shipwreck of pacifist illusions would at the same time signify the shipwreck of such a party. The working class would find itself compelled once again as in the year 1919 to look around for a party which never tried to deceive it. That is why the inspection of our ranks and cleansing them of alien elements is a cardinal task for us in this epoch of revolutionary preparation. A French comrade, Frossard by name, once said: “Le parti c’est la grande amitié.” (The party is a great friendship.) This phrase has been frequently repeated. And it is of course impossible to deny that the phrase itself is quite attractive and in a limited sense each one of us is ready to accept it. But one must firmly bear in mind that the party does not spring full-born as a great friendship, but becomes transformed into a great collaboration through profound struggle, externally and, if need be, internally, through the cleansing of its ranks; through a careful and, if need be, ruthless selection of the best elements among the working class who are devoted heart and soul to the cause of the revolution. In other words, before it can become a great collaboration the party must pass through a great selection! (Ovation)


7. Colrat, friend of the arch-reactionary Poincaré, held the post of Minister of Justice in the 1923 French Cabinet.

8. Auguste Taine was a prominent French historian and literary critic of the Nineteenth Century. A popularizer and vulgarizer of Hegel’s historical outlook, Taine gained fame by his writings on English literature and on the epoch of the French revolution.

9. The reference here is to Jaurès’ writings on the Great French Revolution in the History of Socialism of which Jaurès was the editor.

10. The Ninth of Thermidor, 1794, was the day on which the Revolutionary Jacobin. Convention was overthrown and the counter-revolution set in.

11. Spengler was a popular reactionary writer in Germany who wrote in 1920-21 a number of books on the decline of Europe that created a sensation at the time. In these writings Spengler advanced the view that European culture was doomed. His writings express, on the one hand, the pessimism of the outlived ruling class; on the other hand, his philosophy is heavily spiced with the ruthlessness and arrogance of a Prussian feudalist. Spengler’s “philosophy” was widely used by the Nazi propaganda machine.

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