ON the background of this gigantic world revolutionary wave which was putting flesh and blood on the nemesis of communism which had been haunting Europe for three-quarters of a century and, spreading from Ireland to India, was affecting imperialist and colonial countries throughout the world, the First Congress of the Communist International was called. At that moment, the Russian Bolsheviks were exceedingly hard pressed by the interventionary wars; nevertheless, they felt they could not postpone the Congress any longer. The World War was over. The opportunist socialists had already issued their call for the reconstitution of the Second International for February, 1919. It was time to act.

During the war, the socialist movement had progressed steadily to the Left. In France there had been formed a “Committee for the Resumption of International Relations” which was gradually being reinforced by Centrist elements headed by Longuet. This Committee also began to press forward for a full international congress of the socialists of all countries to be called despite hostilities. By 1916, the Right Wing, which was opposed to meeting with the Germans, was barely able to muster a majority. In June of that year, three French socialist deputies refused to vote for the war credits and, toward the end of the year, thirty-six deputies agreed to present in the Chamber interpellations on the War.

In Great Britain, the British Socialist Party (organized in 1911 from the former Social-Democratic Party which in turn had been the offspring of Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation in 1908), was split into two sections, the minority going with Hyndman to form a chauvinistic National Socialist Party and the majority swinging with MacLean to struggle against the War.

By 1916, in Germany, the Spartacus group was fully organized as separate both from the Majority Socialists and from the Independents. In January, 1917, the Independents also organized themselves as a distinct Party outside of the Majority Socialists, and took a stand against the War. The Serbian socialists from the start had refused to support their government, as had the Marxists in Bulgaria and Rumania. In Italy, the Socialist Party had taken a militant stand against the War. Indeed, before the War broke out, in 1914, the Socialist Party had led a general strike movement embracing two million workers. In Russia, both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks theoretically were against the War and refused to concur with the International Secretariat of the Second International in its sabotage of international congresses during the war period.

Left tendencies were naturally strong in the neutral countries not actually engaged in the hostilities, but suffering from the reactions of the War. In Sweden, the young socialists early came out against the War and for the proletarian revolution. In Denmark and Norway, also, the youth were extreme in their anti-militarist position. When the first International Conference of Socialist Youth Organizations was held in April, 1915, representatives were present from Germany, Holland, Russia, Bulgaria, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Switzerland.

Those parties that opposed the slaughter and favored international solidarity immediately began to bestir themselves to organize internationally. At first their ranks were weak and confused. At the international Women’s conference held in Berne, March, 1915, the predominant tone was one of pacifism rather than militant struggle. A conflict arose between Krupskaya, Bolshevik delegate, and Clara Zetkin of the German group, on the question of breaking sharply with the International Bureau of the opportunists. From the earliest days of the War, Lenin had advocated the formation of a new international, but the Bolsheviks then were in a small minority. Most of the delegates who came from Germany, France, England, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Poland, and Hungary were not able to adopt so early this extreme point of view. A similar situation prevailed in the aforementioned Youth conference and at the first Zimmerwald conference of the Socialist Parties.

The situation had changed a good deal by 1916, however, when those Socialist Parties which opposed the War and condemned the sabotage of the regular bureau came together in April at Kienthal. At this conference forty-three delegates arrived from Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Poland, Switzerland, Serbia, Portugal, Austria, and England. By now, the Left Wing, which called for a complete break with the International Secretariat and the formation of a new international, could count twelve delegates (three each from Russia, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland) and seven more moving in their direction. To the Bolsheviks, the anti-war formulations had a pacifistic color, but they were still a small minority on the question of turning the imperialist war into civil war.

At this point the International Secretariat began to make some effort to counteract the influence of the Zimmerwald-Kienthal group. It called a conference of socialists from neutral countries, but this was a distinct failure. When it tried to call an inter-Allied conference, Russian, British, and Italian socialists fought against it as being no international meeting at all. As the socialists swung to the Left, the governments commenced to bear down upon the revolutionary wing. Rakovsky, Trotsky, Friedrich Adler, Liebknecht, Luxemburg, Zetkin, Mehring, MacLean, Hoglund, and many others found themselves behind prison bars.

The advent of the momentous Russian Revolution soon changed the entire situation. At once the extreme Russian groups began to win great prestige, and the Bolsheviks took the leadership of the Left wing in the Zimmerwald grouping, which as a whole was swinging to the Left. The International Bureau essayed to counter this drift by calling an International Congress of all parties in Stockholm, but this did not materialize, in spite of the support of the Petrograd soviets which endorsed the idea. Among the Bolsheviks, only such Right Wingers as Nogin and Kamenev agreed to the Party’s attendance at Stockholm. The Spartacists, too, spurned the invitation.

Among the Zimrnerwaldians, however, confusion arose. The International Socialist Commission established at Zimmerwald to convoke a third Congress in May, 1917, put off its call from month to month, hoping that the Stockholm conference would materialize. Finally, the Zimmerwald meeting was held in September, 1917, and, although the parties of the Entente could not be present, as they could not reach Stockholm because of refusal of their governments to grant them passports, it was decided that the meeting should act decisively for all. At this conference the Bolsheviks scored heavy victories over the vacillating Centrists.

It had been the position of Lenin, with the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, that the Bolsheviks should no longer bother with the Centrist groupings to be found in the Zimmerwald Union, but should come out boldly for the new International and should organize it. He wanted to send delegates to the 1917 meeting only to secure information. Against this plan Zinoviev posed the argument that the Bolsheviks should send delegates in order to come to some agreement with the Spartacus Bund and that, after cementing an alliance with Liebknecht and the Left, they should openly break with the Centrist opportunists at the conference. In the Party conference, Lenin was defeated, and Zinoviev’s position prevailed. At the Zimmerwald meeting, under the pressure of the Bolshevik delegates, resolutions were passed against the Stockholm conference and in sympathy with Trotsky, now in jail under the Menshevik Kerensky regime in Russia. A Manifesto was adopted which called for an international general strike for peace and socialism.

Soon after the last Conference of the Zimmerwald Union adjourned, the Independent Socialist Party of Germany rushed a special delegate to Stockholm, general headquarters of the Zimmerwaldians, to beg for a postponement of the printing of the Manifesto on the ground that it would cause the Party to go underground in Germany, thus ruining the Socialists. The disgust that this action caused among the Bolsheviks only intensified their determination to end once and for all the farce of unity with the Centrists. Once the great October Revolution became an accomplished fact, and the Bolsheviks took power in Russia, they decided to call the Third International themselves, and not to use the machinery of the Zimmerwald Union. At the first Congress of the Third International, the Zimmerwald Union was formally dissolved with a statement that its task was accomplished.

The victory of the Russian revolutionists and the great chaos in the train of the World War helped to accelerate the splits in the ranks of the socialists and to swing the Left Wing rapidly towards communism. “Shortly after the Armistice, the Allies took steps to isolate the Bolsheviks in order to prevent the virus of Bolshevism from infecting the proletariat of the Allied countries. A steady stream of Bolshevik propaganda was flowing at this time through the Soviet embassies of Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries for distribution in France, England, and the United States.” (*1)

The invitations to the First Congress of the Third International were sent out by Soviet wireless in January, the written invitations not being received until after the Conference, and were signed by the Communist Parties of those countries which had been affected directly by the Russian Revolution as well as by the communists of German-Austria, the Balkan Revolutionary Socialist Federation, and by one delegate acting on his own initiative for the American Socialist Labor Party. The basis of representation was to be wide enough to include several types of trade unions, such as the American Industrial Workers of the World and the British Shop Steward organization, but the invitations were issued only to those groups that were in agreement with the announced program. This program called for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the smashing of the old state, the arming of the workers, and the disarming of the bourgeoisie. It announced as the function of the Dictatorship the ushering in of socialism. Finally, the call openly declared its purpose to smash the Right Wing of the socialists, to break away the socialist workers from their Centrist leaders, and to win over the revolutionary elements to the new Communist International. The program took pains to stress that “The interests of the movement in each country are to be subordinated to the general interests of the revolution from an international point of view.” (*2)

In spite of the haste in which it was called and the great difficulties entailed in reaching Moscow at the time, the First Congress of the Comintern held in Moscow March 2-6, 1919, was attended by groups representing nineteen different countries. Advisory delegates came from many other lands. Zinoviev was made Chairman, Angelica Balabanova, Secretary. This Congress accomplished one major object: the working out of a Communist Manifesto that would give a program of action to communists in all countries and lay the basis for a regular working Congress the following year.

.The Manifesto adopted started off with placing the blame for the World War on the shoulders of the capitalists, and stressed the need for the Proletarian Dictatorship to prohibit repetitions of such catastrophes. The document went on to point out that the Versailles Treaty could solve none of the vexatious problems of nationalities, that the independence of the petty states in Europe was completely illusory, since they were bound to become mere puppets of this or that superior imperialist power. Only the spread of the proletarian revolution could guarantee equal rights to all the peoples, as well as insure the liberation of the colonies.

Throughout the world at that time the question of democracy or dictatorship was agitating the labor and revolutionary movements. At the 1919 Berne Convention of the reconstituted Second International, this had been the chief subject of discussion, outside of the attempt to fix the responsibility for the War. Although the majority of this Congress had come out for democracy as against the type of dictatorship prevalent in Russia, a strong minority headed by Longuet and Adler stood firm in demanding a hands-off-Soviet-Russia policy, at least so far as negative criticism was concerned.

Understanding this situation, the Manifesto stressed the fact that communists also stood for liberty and democracy, but democracy for the toilers. Soviets were declared to be the best instrument to assure democracy, just as they were the best instrument to achieve the proletarian revolution. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat was the highest form of democracy yet worked out by humanity since the beginning of civilization.

The theses presented to the First Congress by Lenin averred: “14. Proletarian dictatorship is like the dictatorship of other classes in that it arises from the necessity of suppressing the armed resistance of the class that loses its political supremacy. The fundamental difference between proletarian dictatorship and that of other classes … is simply that the two last named dictatorships were a forcible suppression of the resistance of the majority of the population, the working masses, whereas proletarian dictatorship is a forcible suppression of the resistance of the exploiters … Hence it follows that proletarian dictatorship must inevitably bring with it not only a change in the forms and institutions of democracy, generally speaking, but also precisely such a change as will bring a hitherto undreamt of extension in practice of the use made of democracy by those who have been oppressed by capitalism, i.e., the working classes.

“And, in fact, those forms of proletarian dictatorship already worked out in practice--e.g., the Soviet Power in Russia, the Raete system in Germany, the Shop Steward’s Committees, and similar Soviet institutions in other countries, all signify, and in practice realize for the working classes—i.e., for the enormous majority of the population—the practical possibility of democratic liberty and privileges to an extent never before known, even approximately, in the best democratic bourgeois republics."(*3)

As a final point, the Manifesto called the Second International completely bankrupt. The Third International was to be not an International of words but an International of deeds. The communists were proud to stem directly from the old revolutionaries, from Baboeuf and the First international, and to carry forward the great traditions of Marx.

Owing to the dire straits of the Russians at the time and the urgent need of the delegates to return home and begin to work, the Congress did not last long. The seeds of the Manifesto, however, began to bear fruit in 1919-1920. In Italy, the Socialist Party decided by executive vote to join the Third International, as did the Norwegian Party. The Bulgarian “Narrows"’renamed themselves “Communist Party” and affiliated, as did also the Dutch “Tribune” group headed by Roland Holst and Anton Pannekoek. The Hungarian Communist Party in 1919 united with the Socialist Party and declared in favor of the Third International. In Greece the socialists declared their adherence. In Sweden, the Left Socialist Party signified its intention to join the British Socialist Party likewise.

At the same time, under the pressure of events, minorities were springing up in all the Socialist Parties demanding a communist position and forcing their parties either to abandon the Second International or to adhere to the Third. In France, the split was growing steadily; in 1919, a plurality came out for the position of trying to fuse both the Second and the Third Internationals, a minority favored the Second, and a still smaller minority favored the Third. The following year, the majority of the French Socialist Party swung over to the Third International at the Congress of Tours, even such avowed Centrists as Longuet stating their willingness to join. This placed before the Leninists a genuine problem of how to keep out those who were Centrists and who yet thought their place was with the Comintern.

The situation in Germany was more complicated. The Independent Socialist Party advocated a fusion of both the Second and the Third International, and seceded from the Second. The Spartacus group adhered to the Third International, although its delegate had spoken at the First Congress against its immediate formation. To the Left of the Spartacus group were two other groups that also had been members of the Zimmerwald “Left.” There was the group of Bremen Left Radicals headed by Paul Froelich and the International Socialist group of Germany led by Julian Borchart. The Liebknecht Spartacists had been more conservative than these other two. We have already noted the conflict between the Bolsheviks and the Spartacists at the Women’s International Conference at Berne, at the First Congress, and elsewhere. The fact is that the Spartacus group was still close to the old socialists. They did not break thoroughly with the old Party and did not unite with the other Left groups, preferring to stay closer to the Independent Socialist Party. The result of this policy was that, on the one hand, eventually large numbers of the Independent Socialist Party broke away from that organization and joined with the Spartacists to form the United Communist Party. On the other hand, the influx of these older socialist types eventually led to the formation of serious Right Wing deviations that were to prevent the German communists from reaching the level of the Russian Bolsheviks.

In America, the Socialist Party split. A majority of the membership went with the Third International but found themselves out of the Party. The minority, who retained the name, “Socialist Party,” also voted to affiliate with the Third International, but with such reservations as would have emasculated the program of the communists and would have transformed the Third International into another Centrist grouping.

The Swiss Socialist Party at first had voted to join the Third International, but later reconsidered the matter and finally voted down the proposition. The Austrian Social-Democratic Party opposed both the Second and the Third Internationals. In the Spanish Socialist Party, a bare majority advocated purification of the Second and unity with the Third, while an extremely strong minority clamored for outright affiliation with the Third. The Scotch Independent Labor Party voted to adhere to the Third.

Certain trade unions also decided to affiliate with the Communist International. The Spanish C.N.T. was one, the Italian Syndicalist Union, another, and the I.W.W. retained a friendly attitude. The French trade union movement split, the Syndicalist forces joining hands with the communists to win the majority of the unions and forming the Unitarian Confederation. This development was to give the Comintern several problems concerning the relationship of communism to syndicalism and of the Third International to the Red Trade Unions. As with the problem of Centrism, so with these; they would be left to the Second Congress for solution.

The Third international was the product of a world in which capitalism was disintegrating and revolution was rampant; but what was not sufficiently appreciated was the fact that world capitalism was breaking down not so much in the most developed countries but rather in its weakest links. The world revolution, hence, had not broken out according to some scheme, first in Germany and last in Russia, but first in the agricultural countries where the proletariat, whether skilled or unskilled, had been a victim of the cruel super-exploitation which was the lot of all the toilers in such countries. Thus, if considerable numbers of the Bolsheviks were made up of skilled workers, this had no great deleterious effect upon the revolutionary ardor of the masses, since, under conditions such as existed in Russia, as in Asia and other colonial and agrarian regions, even the skilled layers would be moved to revolutionary action.

The situation was quite different, however, once the movement was developed in the Western industrial countries, where the skilled workers long had been bribed by the privileges of imperialism. There the material conditions of the skilled were not such as would induce these workers to understand or to follow the ruthless rigorous policies of Bolshevism. Or even if the skilled worker were suffering from the post-war conditions, psychologically he was still living in the past, with the illusion that the good old times presently would return. A new generation might have to grow up, protracted crises might have to create worse conditions, and vast new machinery might have to be introduced rendering skill forever useless, before countries with a heavy layer of skilled workers might be ready for proletarian revolt. Even where the proletarian of such a country did see the handwriting of revolution on the wall, often he did not react in time.

Thus, in the Communist International, the working men in the colonial countries, such as China, or in the countries where oppression was very heavy, were able to move towards Leninism; elsewhere the process took longer than was originally anticipated. The workers who espoused Leninism theoretically should have been mostly unskilled industrial workers, able to take care of themselves and to articulate their needs. Unfortunately, this was not always the case. The first to reach the Third International were frequently intellectual elements and skilled workers who had been rendered desperate by the post-war economic and political disarrangements. If considerable bodies of the unskilled entered, they generally followed in the train of the other elements who had been coached in the organizations of the Second International or elsewhere, and who could not, without the greatest struggle, understand the essence of revolutionary communism.

Thus, we might say, the Third International was a sort of half-way point between the best that the Second International could produce and the future International, which alone really could solve the important world problems of revolution. The Third International was the product of the time when imperialism was breaking, but when the weakest links of capitalism comprised not the important but rather the unimportant countries of the world. Whenever the time is reached that the revolution finds its field of action, not in an agrarian Russia or a colonial China, but in an industrial England, Germany, or the United States, then the International will become entirely different from the one created by Lenin with the material at hand. The Third International only began the real awakening of the basic layers of the unskilled proletarians in industrial countries. The final International will see precisely these layers take the leading role and dominate all the others.

The inadequacy of the Third International, the fact that its heart was not of Western industrial Europe but rather of agrarian semi-Asiatic Russia, showed itself in the losing fight that would be made within its own ranks to take the Western parties that came to the Comintern and really Bolshevize them. No sooner was the process started than the International began in fact to break up. This was a sign that the world proletariat would have to go through some further training before being ready for the final struggle.

However, all this was to become manifest later; at the time of the First Congress, there was no thought of this. It fervently was believed that the revolution would be successful throughout all of Western Europe, that the former revolutionary socialists would be transformed more or less easily into revolutionary communists. From the very beginning, the Communist International became a scene of splits and fusions which continued year in and year out, with this difference, however: in the splits of the early days, various groups broken from divers political tendencies came towards communism. To reach communism they had to find a common ground with other communist elements. However, these split-off groups were not hardened and experienced enough to meet the oncoming events. Before they could become Bolshevized, capitalism had taken them in hand and revealed them in their true colors as Left Centrists. New splits began in all the parties of the Comintern. These last splits were in the main not of leftward moving groups going towards Leninism, but frightened people who had discovered what Leninism really meant and who wanted to retreat before it was too late.

In spite of these historic defects, the International legitimately started out with great prospects. The leaders of the Bolsheviks could count two factors promising much in their favor: first, the unprecedented power at their disposal, and second, the unique objective situation in which they found themselves.

That the Russian Revolution had put into the hands of the communists an unprecedented power which the other Internationals had never possessed was of the highest importance. The Russian workers actually had seized the power of a vast stretch of the globe inhabited by over one hundred and sixty-five million people and controlling untold natural resources and wealth. The communists now had the opportunity to use this power in the Soviet Union, both economic and military, in order at given moments to change the whole history of the world in favor of communism.

The favorable objective’ position of the communists can be appreciated best by contrasting their environment with that before the War. Prior to the War, neither revolutionary situations nor actual revolutions could have been created by the activity of the Socialist revolutionary Parties throughout the world. No matter how well or how tirelessly these Parties worked, the bourgeoisie was too strong, the level of activity of the masses, generally speaking, too low for the revolutionary Parties in and of themselves to change much the objective scene. Basically, the revolutionary situations had to develop by themselves, from the objective contradictions in capitalist society. Thus the role of the Socialist Parties had to be a more or less quiescent one, in which the activity was mainly that of day-to-day propaganda and organization rather than of the planning of insurrection.

However, when, during, and after the War, these objective contradictions caused revolutionary situations to arise, by that time the subjective factor, namely the revolutionary Party, had become so powerful as to be able to mature revolutionary situations in a number of countries into actual revolutions. In other words, before the War, conditions in most countries were not revolutionary, and no action of political revolutionists could make them so. After the War, in many countries, so weak had imperialism become, so near was the situation to a revolutionary one that the action of a strong revolutionary organization with a correct policy could be the very factor to precipitate a crisis; or, if the situation was already revolutionary then the proper action of a strong party of the proletariat could cause it to mature into an actual outburst of insurrection; or, finally, once the revolution had started, the very presence of such a Party might mean the difference between success and failure of the revolution. These were the qualitative changes that had taken place in world politics.

During the first revolutionary post-war wave, there was a possibility for the advanced proletariat with the correct policy in many countries to disintegrate the capitalist armies, to ruin the prestige of the ruling classes, to expose the petty bourgeoisie, and to activize the masses to a high degree. For the first time in history, the communists had to some degree the ability to pick their time and place of battle, and to prepare their forces accordingly in advance. The Communist Party in one country or another could have been the decisive force, both in stimulating the exploited and oppressed masses with the understanding of the impossibility of living in the old way, and in helping to make the ruling class unable to govern as of old. Since the War, the old power and might of the ruling classes had been irretrievably broken. Further the experience of 1918 to 1923 weighed heavily on the memory of the ruling class, for they had been unable to govern in many countries during that period. Finally, the Soviet Union, with its tremendous economic and political weight, could have thrown its forces at times so as to help break the economic and political power of different sections of the international bourgeoisie at critical moments.

From this it followed that the task of the hour was the creation of that sort of tested Party which Leninism implied. The Third International, therefore, saw as its chief task not so much to transform the objective circumstances which were revolutionary enough, but to change the subjective factor, the lack of will and science in the working class as manifested in the lack of a genuine Party. Just here, however, a certain uneven development was to play havoc with the Third International. The contradictions of world capitalism were to create revolutionary situations faster than they could create Parties capable of solving the problems favorably for the workers. The building up of the Party, or subjective element, was slower than the creating of revolutionary situations due to the breakdown of society. To put it another way, the rate of breakdown of the old social order was faster than the rate of building up the elements of the new; thus breakdowns occurred without the proper facilities being present to reconstruct on a new basis. Politics was lagging behind economics: economically the world was ready for collective socialized ownership of the means of production and distribution, but politically men’s ingenuity had found no means as yet of bringing this about and of releasing the productive forces.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that there was an uneven development politically among the different sections of the working class. For the Russians, for example, the creation of the Party was relatively easy, just as the conquest of power for them was comparatively simple. But for the Western industrial workers, the creation of a real Communist Party is extraordinarily difficult, as difficult in proportion as the accomplishment of the revolution itself. If, later, we shall find the Russian Bolshevik Party breaking down, this will be a sign that in Russia the workers are able to win power smoothly enough but find it infinitely harder to grow into socialism. In the West, however, once the party is built and workers have taken power, there can be no such degeneration, but the speedy smashing of capitalism. The Russian Bolsheviks were able to solve the problems in genuine communist fashion temporarily, and for a long time they strove to mold the other Parties to their liking, but in the end not only were to fail, but, in their failure, they themselves were to sink back to the level of the Centrist Europeans.

To materialists, this sort of situation can come as no surprise. Always they have postulated the fact that mind limps after matter, that material changes develop for some time before psychological reverberations become attuned to the new interplay of forces. Just as it is the material forces that decide and mold the minds of men, however, so, in the long run, the political understanding of the proletariat will catch up with the new events.

Not only did Russia need the world revolution to rescue it, but Russia could also succor the world revolution if the forces were utilized properly. The world revolution had in Russia its greatest reservoir of strength and power, which could become decisive in any engagement. Naturally, all this presumed that Russia was directed by communist forces with a genuine revolutionary policy. The recognition of the qualitative changes that had taken place in world politics should have been the cornerstone of the strategy of the Communist International. But should the leading groups in Russia no longer maintain a revolutionary attitude, should they succumb to capitalist pressure and embrace nationalism, abandoning the world revolution for their own presumed safety, then it might well result that the enormous weight and power in the hands of the now degenerate Communist Party would be used not to further evolution, but to destroy it, not to build world soviets, but to prevent them. The Russian Revolution could become a great force to prevent and to crush the world revolution. This in turn would lead to the collapse of the Russian revolution and would force the proletarians to begin all over again, although from a higher plane.


The Manifesto of the First Congress clearly had striven to mark off the Communist International from the socialists, but a great deal of confusion still existed. All sorts of socialist centrists were demanding admission, adapting themselves to the revolutionary currents of the times and to the fact that Soviet Russia had been able to break the steel ring of capitalist intervention around her. One of the chief tasks of the Second Congress which met in Moscow in August 1920 was the organizational one of eliminating those who were really not communists and of giving definite form to the Comintern. The principal polemics and resolutions, therefore, pertained to the questions of conditions of admission to the International and of parliamentarism and democracy. There was also a problem of what to do with the syndicalistic unions that had joined in the First Congress. This would give rise to a thorough discussion on the trade union question and on the approach to the masses.

In its statutes, the Congress of the Comintern declared: “The aim of the Communist International is to organize armed struggle for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and the establishment of an international Soviet republic as a transition to the complete abolition of the capitalist state. The Communist International considers the Dictatorship of the Proletariat an essential means for the liberation of humanity from the horrors of capitalism and regards the Soviet form of government as the historic necessary form of this dictatorship… . The Communist International breaks once and for all with the traditions of the Second International which, in reality, only recognized the white race. The task of the Communist International is to emancipate the workers of the whole world.” (*4)

The Congress then set seriously to work to deal with the problem of centrist applications for membership. It affirmed that one of the chief duties of the communists was intransigent war against opportunism and centrism. "No communist must forget the lessons of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. The Hungarian communists paid dearly for their unity with the so-called social-democrats of the Left ." (*5) In order to keep out such pseudo-communists, the Congress worked out twenty-one conditions to be put to every party desirous of affiliation. The following conditions were included.

The propaganda of the Party must be thoroughly communist. The press must be edited by reliable communists and must be controlled by the central executive. Special attention must be given to the detailed and particular denunciation of the reformists. All reformists in the Party must be removed from any post they may have, and communists must replace them. Since the class struggle in almost every country of Europe and America was declared to be reaching the threshold of civil war, all Parties must do illegal work. Especially important was steady and persistent work in the armed forces of the capitalist governments.

Systematic work also must be conducted in agricultural districts, especially among agricultural laborers. On every side social pacifism must be fought. All centrist leaders, many of them at the head of the Parties asking for admission, must be expelled. All Communist Parties worthy of the name must carry on a fight for colonial independence, the first duty in this struggle devolving upon the workers of the imperialist countries whose capitalists were the oppressors of the given colonies.

The conditions also demanded that revolutionary fractions be formed in all the reactionary trade unions and other mass organizations of the workers. A bitter struggle must be launched against the Yellow Trade Union International. In the Party, iron discipline must prevail on the basis of the principles of democratic centralism. “The chief principle of the latter is the elective nature of the lowest unit, the absolute authority of all the decisions of higher units upon the one immediately beneath and a strong party central organization whose decrees are binding between party conventions."(*6)

Every effort must be made to cleanse petty bourgeois elements from the ranks of the Party. Special attention must be given to the character and work of the parliamentary groups which have great tendencies to commit acts of collaboration with the capitalist enemy and to carry on their work only in parliamentary debates. All parties would have to change their names, to take the name Communist Party of their respective country. Each must draw up a communist program for submission to the Executive of the Communist International. They must pledge themselves to give aid to the Soviet Republic in every possible manner.

The resolutions of the Communist International were to be binding upon all the Parties. On the other hand, the Communist International was to be bound to regard the national peculiarities of each country in its various decisions. However, an end was to be made to the platonic internationalism of the Second International, where the center was hardly more than a post office box and where international discipline and solidarity never had existed. The Comintern was to be really a world Communist Party, and the same discipline and close co-operation would exist internationally as had existed in Russia.

Each party desirous of affiliation to the Comintern was required to publish all the documents of the Congresses and Executive. It was to call a Congress within four months after full discussion of the conditions. Two-thirds of the executive committee was to be made up of revolutionary workers who had called for affiliation to the Comintern before the application for admission actually was made. All the leading members of the Party who were opposed to the conditions were to be expelled from the Party. In this way, the Communist International undertook to guarantee that its composition would be thoroughly communist in character.

The Second Congress took note of two mistaken tendencies in its own ranks. The first was a tendency to become conciliatory to the centrist socialists who were posing as being “almost” communists. This was the chief danger and had to be ruthlessly fought. The second danger was “Leftism,” which consisted of super-revolutionary phrases, refusal to work in parliaments, refusal to work in reactionary unions, refusal to build a strong disciplined party leading the masses, etc. This “Leftist” danger, however, was not the main one, and the Comintern, after declaring that it considered the anti-parliamentarism of the Communist Labor Party of Germany, the Swiss party, the Dutch party, the I.W.W., and the Shop Steward movement misguided and wrong, nevertheless urged them to affiliate on the ground that the question of parliamentarism was after all not decisive, since all of them believed in direct revolutionary action as the main method of work of revolutionary workers.

The question of the communists’ relation to parliamentary activity came in for a great deal of discussion at the Second Congress, for various reasons. In the first place, in their break with their old socialist past, many of the new parties had to learn the rudimentary lessons of revolutionary work in bourgeois parliaments. In the second place, some former socialists, in extreme reaction to the opportunists, had begun to deny the efficacy of parliamentary action at all. These in combination with former anarchists and syndicalists caused a heated polemic to arise. An elaborate thesis was worked out on this subject.

The Second Congress pointed out that at the time of the First International, socialists had looked on parliamentarism as a method of using bourgeois parliaments for the purpose of agitation. They had not hoped for any effective results from their parliamentary work, outside of propaganda. Under the Second International, conditions had changed and many social reform measures had been obtained through parliamentary action which gave the illusion that the capitalist State eventually could be turned into a workers’ State by such action alone. But in the present era, marked by the instability of parliaments, such tactics were out of the question. “Parliament at present can in no way serve as the arena of a struggle for reform, or for improving the lot of the working people, as it was at certain periods of the preceding epoch.” (*7) The center of gravity of all revolutionary work would have to be outside of the parliament.

The thesis declared that parliamentarism is the rule of the bourgeoisie and cannot be a form of communist society nor can it be a form marking the transition from capitalism to workers’ rule. “Parliamentarism cannot be a form of proletarian government during the transition period between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and that of the proletariat. At the moment when the accentuated class struggle turns into civil war, the proletariat must inevitably form its state organization as a fighting organization which cannot contain any representatives of the former ruling classes. All fictions of the ‘national will’ are harmful to the proletariat at that time…. The only form of proletarian dictatorship is a Republic of Soviets.” (*8)

Since bourgeois parliaments must be smashed in favor of soviets, parliamentary activity could be only of a sort to destroy parliaments from within. The capitalist parliament could not be ignored, since its destruction was part of the political struggle for the seizure of power. The fundamental method of destroying the capitalist State was that of mass action, but it was not incorrect to try to utilize all legal and bourgeois democratic positions to accomplish the same end. Work in the capitalist parliaments was precisely such legal work as could be engaged in favorably. Where a communist was elected to parliament, he could use the platform to put forth revolutionary propaganda to expose the chicanery and fraud of capitalist democracy and to provide a center for the ideological unification of the masses, as Karl Liebknecht had done by his parliamentary work during the War. Parliamentary activity was also a good way to reach the backward strata of the masses who retained illusions about capitalist democracy.

Of course, electoral campaigns were not to be carried on with the view to securing the maximum number of votes, but rather to launch issues and to use parliamentary positions to push forward the mass work. Where communists were in the majority in local government bodies, their duty was to carry on revolutionary opposition against the central government to arm the masses in their district, to aid them economically in every possible way, to expose capitalist democracy, and to develop revolutionary propaganda. In some cases they were to substitute workers’ councils, or soviets, for the municipal administration to which they had been elected.

Sometimes it might be necessary to boycott a parliament. The Bolsheviks themselves had done this to the Bulygin Duma of 1905, and afterwards. But this was not because of any general principles to this effect, but rather because of concrete circumstances whereby the mass movement could be furthered best by open denunciation of the type of parliament for which they were asked to vote. However, to substitute for this concrete policy some general principle borrowed from anarchism as to the impossibility of doing revolutionary work in parliament was childish extremism that failed to take real situations into consideration. The whole question ought to be considered of relatively secondary importance, moreover, and no splits should occur on this question alone. Here was a question on which communists could agree to disagree and yet remain within the framework of one Communist Party, as strict as that might be.

Because of the danger of opportunism in parliamentary work, the Second Congress put forth detailed instructions on revolutionary parliamentarism. The candidates for office in election campaigns must be reliable men, carefully selected. They were to be always under the direct control of the center of the Party and ready to resign at all times. Careerists and adventurers ruthlessly must be eliminated, and every opportunity given to place actual workmen in parliament. The parliamentary deputy had to combine legal with illegal work, and the Party must never permit a division of labor to occur where some leaders would have the legal posts and be perfectly safe, while others did the dangerous illegal tasks that would place them in jail or perhaps worse. On the contrary, the deputy had to head all labor demonstrations of importance and must expose himself in dangerous situations, so that all workers would see that the communists did not make parliamentary activity their chief work, that it was subordinate to the tasks of mass action.

The communist deputy must not consider himself a “legislator” separate and apart from the people. His function was not to bolster up capitalism or to worry how to make bills correspond to the law of the land. He must be ready to be used in all sorts of work, before factory gates, in the countryside, etc. In parliament he had to consider himself an outpost of the proletariat inside the camp of the enemy. He was to speak plainly so that workers could understand him. Not expert lawyers calling themselves communists, but plain workers should take the floor of parliament and speak their minds, denouncing the reformists and challenging capitalism. (*9)

The problem of the relation between parliaments and soviets also came up for solution since, on the one hand, some of those against any parliamentary action were for setting up soviets immediately, at all times; on the other hand, there were those who believed some sort of combined form might be possible. The Second Congress then went into the question as to when and under what conditions soviets of workers deputies should be formed.

The Communist International declared it was foolish to build paper soviets under stable capitalist conditions. This was being tried by American communists and had to be stopped. On the other hand, only traitors could conceive of soviets’ being formed peacefully, and working hand in hand with parliaments. “Soviets without a revolution are impossible. Soviets without a proletarian revolution inevitably become a parody of Soviets. The authentic soviets of the masses are the historical elaborated forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (*10)

Before soviets could be formed properly, the following conditions had to appear on the social horizon: First, there must be a great revolutionary impulse among the workers and peasants. Second, there must be such an acute political and economic crisis that the power is beginning to slip out of the hands of the government. Third, it must be a time when the masses are plainly and seriously considering a struggle for power. In short, only at the beginning of a movement that was patently a deep revolutionary one inevitably culminating in a clash for power should soviets be built, for soviets were precisely organs adapted to the conquest of power in such circumstances.

The Russian Revolution had greatly stirred up the colonial peoples, especially of Asia. Already the first Congress of the Comintern had issued an appeal to the colonial peoples and subject nationalities. Even before then, Lenin had declared: “Victorious Socialism must necessarily realize complete democracy, and, consequently, it must not only achieve complete equality of nations, but also realize the right to self-determination of the oppressed nations, that is the right to free political separation.” (*11)

In the midst of the War, when the question of oppressed nations was on the lips of every democrat, Lenin had enunciated the position of the revolutionary socialists on this important matter. The proletariat would have to distinguish between oppressed and oppressor nations and fight now for the freedom of national minorities and colonies, not postponing the solution of this question until after socialism had arrived. The situation in France over the Dreyfuss affair showed how closely civil war could be bound up with the national question. On the other hand, the socialists of the oppressed countries had to adopt a class line and to unite with the workers elsewhere and not succumb to nationalism. They had to remember that often the struggle for national independence can be used by imperialist powers for their own purpose.

It should be borne in mind that the goal of socialism was not the division of humanity into petty states and individual nations, each one eking out a miserable existence, but rather the fusion of nations. None the less, “Just as humanity can only arrive at the destruction of classes through a transitional period of the dictatorship of the oppressed class, so also humanity can only arrive at the inevitable fusion of nations through a transitional period of complete freedom of all oppressed nationalities, that is, their freedom of separation.” (*12)

Three types of countries had to be distinguished in relation to the question of national self-determination. In the imperialist countries, the workers had to fight against their bourgeoisie and in behalf of the colonial and nationally oppressed groups. In such countries as the Balkans and the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, the bourgeois democratic revolutions must be intimately connected with the national liberation question. In the colonies and semi-colonies, the socialists would have to support in the most decisive fashion the revolutionary elements of the bourgeois-democratic national emancipatory movements in their countries, and assist them in rebellion and, if need be, in revolutionary war, against the oppressing imperialist powers.

By the time of the Second Congress, the communists were able to develop these Leninist ideas further. The Comintern went to great lengths to expose the program of the League of Nations and to declare that the Balkanization of Europe that was being effected was no solution whatever to the national question, but was bound to bring further wars and to make the petty countries, set up at Versailles, the vortex of international intrigue and diplomatic pretexts for war.

The Second Congress also had before it the experiments that had been undertaken in Soviet Russia; it emphasized that the Russian Revolution had demonstrated how valuable the federation idea was as a transition to fusion of all nationalities. The Soviet was establishing a federation of republics which was able to solve both the problem of international solidarity and that of national development and freedom. The Congress further declared: “Petty bourgeois internationalism means the mere recognition of the rights of national equality and preserves intact national egotism. Proletarian internationalism, on the other hand, demands: (1) the subordination of the interests of the proletarian struggle in one country to the interests of that struggle on an international scale; (2) the capability and the readiness on the part of any one nation which has gained a victory over the bourgeoisie, of making the greatest national sacrifices for the overthrow of international capitalism.” (*13)

In dealing with the liberation movements in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, Lenin was careful to point out that not every such movement would the proletariat have to support, but only those bourgeois movements for liberation which were really revolutionary, which were not opposed to the communists’ enlightening and organizing the peasantry and the great masses for revolutionary purposes. When this was not possible, communists must counter these movements, such as, for example, was represented by Pan-Islamism or Pan-Asia. (*14)

Naturally, the question would have to arise whether the colonial movements for freedom would result in the formation of capitalist regimes in the backward colonial countries, or whether these nations could skip capitalism and go directly to communism. The answer of the Leninists was that, not only was the formation of peasant soviets possible and applicable to countries in a pre-capitalist stage of society, but that by no means was capitalism inevitable in such lands; colonies could move directly to socialism if the proletarians of the advanced countries were in a position to aid them.


As we have already remarked, a number of trade unions had decided to join the Third International at the First Congress, but the relations to the trade union movement, particularly its revolutionary sections, had to be definitely cleared up. The arrival in Russia of British, Italian, and other trade union delegates for the purpose of studying conditions in that country in 1920 served as a starting point for negotiations for the creation of a new and revolutionary trade union center. Many Italians already had joined the Third International, while in England, too, there was a considerable shifting taking place to the Left. Not only was there the Shop Steward movement, but there had been formed the famous Triple Alliance of the railroad, miners, and transport workers for mutual support and mutual action; it was these militant groups that had sent a delegation to Russia for investigation and report.

Thus, on the tenth of June, 1920, there was possible a conference between the representatives of the British Trade Unions (Williams and Purcell), those from the Italian Federation of Labor, including its metal and agricultural sections (D’Aragona, Bianchi, Colombina, and Dugoni), and the spokesmen of the Russian trade unions (Tomsky, Losovsky, Tsiperovitch, and Schmidt), together with the delegate of the Comintern (Zinoviev). (*15) It soon was discovered that differences existed among them on several questions, namely, on the relations between the future trade union center and the Third International, on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and on the relations to the Amsterdam Federation of Trade Unions, reformist international trade union center. However, all three groups found it possible to agree that a new revolutionary trade union center should be formed, that an international congress of Left trade unions should be convoked, and that a committee should be set up to work closely with the Third International.

In July of the same year there were also present in Moscow representatives of the Italian, Spanish, Bulgarian, Jugo-Slav, and French trade unions, British Shop Steward committees, the syndicalists and labor unions of Germany, the I.W.W. of America and of Australia. New discussions were held with them, and here differences arose on further points involving not only the relation to the Third International and the question of the proletarian dictatorship, but also the general question of the relation of politics to economics and of the necessity for a political party for the proletariat. Together with this, there were other issues raised concerning the proletarian government and the soviet system and the matter of splitting off from or conquering the mass unions. These problems touched the very foundations of the trade union movement.

On the question of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the Italians were willing to agree to its necessity, but would not ask the unions to take a stand on it. The German syndicalists would not consider dictatorship in any form. The American and English representatives were not averse to a dictatorship, not through a party, however, but only through the industrial unions. Finally, the syndicalists agreed on a resolution which called for “(1) Recognition of revolutionary class struggle as a fundamental principle. (2) The violent overthrow of the State and capitalism by adopting the dictatorship of proletarian organization as a temporary and transitional measure for the attainment of Communism.” (*16) The other representatives concurred with the Russians’ resolution, which was along Leninist lines.

On the relation of politics to economics, the German and the American delegates were opposed to all “politics,” by which they meant primarily parliamentarism; the British Shop Steward delegates did not go so far. The Russians, and with them the others, even the Spanish delegate, Pestana, stood not only for the intimate connection of union with party, but for the subordinate position of the unions to the party. However, Pestana did point out that in Spain such a relation could not arise, since the unions were strong and the political party weak. Pestana therefore opposed the subordination of the unions to the party in Spain. Neither the British nor the Americans were opposed to co-operating with the Communist Parties; only the German syndicalists were in deadly opposition.

At this conference, the syndicalists also expressed their antagonism to the formation of a proletarian state. They declared they were against all States, although they had stood for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. They were also opposed to soviets. On this latter point the Russians pointed out that the question of the exact form of organization to supplant the bourgeois parliament would have to be decided concretely in each country, and by no means were soviets to be considered the sole and universal formula to the exclusion, for example, of industrial councils.

It was on the question of direct affiliation to the Third International that the Leninists received a formal defeat. The original plan of the Third International had been to form a trade union section directly connected and subordinated to it, as one of its departments. On this, all the delegates except the Bulgarians opposed the Russians. Finally, it was decided to form an independent body, but to maintain reciprocal representation between the two Internationals.

The subject that raised most discussion was that of the tactics of the communist revolutionary elements within the trade union movement in connection with the old mass unions. The question was: Should the old unions be split or captured? Both the Germans and the Americans favored splitting from the reformist unions and forming new ones to destroy the old. The communists, however, advocated not the destruction but the conquest of the trade unions. On this question, the communists refused to make any compromise, since it meant the life and death of the new international, and a split occurred with the elimination of the out-and-out syndicalists.

In the end, the representatives of the principal unions from Russia, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, and Jugo-slavia, and of important minorities from France and Georgia, signed a declaration calling for the formation of a new revolutionary trade union center that would help abolish the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and would set up the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It condemned the tactics of the advanced revolutionary elements in leaving the existing unions. Finally, it set up a committee to function as the International Council of Trade Unions, to act in agreement with the Third International, and to prepare for a forthcoming international congress.

Since to the groups actually present there were to be added the whole of the trade union movements in Esthonia, Norway, and Finland, and the revolutionary unions of Germany, Austria, Ireland, Holland, and some in Canada and America, the new trade union center presented a promising future. The next year was held the congress that organized the Red International of Labor Unions. So long as the communists maintained an international policy, they had some chance of keeping their trade union organization alive; the moment they degenerated to Russian nationalism, they would lose most of their adherents.

The disagreements which had shown themselves in the trade union conferences, in the course of which the Leninists had lost the communistic syndicalist elements, found a sharp echo within the ranks of the Communist International itself. As usual, it was the Germans who gave the Bolsheviks their chief theoretical battles; but this time the German “Communists,” only recently emancipated from Kautskyianism and rank opportunism, were to attack from the Left, although with arguments that strangely resembled those in the books of Kautsky. In a special brochure, Lenin was forced to take issue with the German Communist Labor Party, with the Dutch Leftists, and with similar tendencies to be found in an especially ludicrous form in the United States.

The Communist Labor Party of Germany took up the Centrist cry of Rosa Luxemburg that the Leninists had created a Party attached to but over the masses. There existed under Lenin not the dictatorship of the masses but the dictatorship of the leaders, not the dictatorship of the class but of the Party. This was also the opinion of Kautsky. In his tractate, Lenin had to call attention to the fact that the slogan “Down with Leaders” was nonsense, that the statement that political parties were no longer necessary was the acme of absurdity. The negation of the Party and of Party discipline was equivalent to disarming the proletariat, to capitulating to petty bourgeois lack of organization which must end every proletarian revolutionary movement. To reject the Party meant to attempt to jump from capitalism to the final stage of communism and to deny the long hard process of struggle during which the bourgeoisie must be crushed by the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

The second question which the Leftists raised concerned work in the reactionary trade unions. In a large number of countries, the “revolutionists” had decided that they no longer could sit in the same room with the traitors who led the workers’ movement. Having just broken from the Socialist Party, these elements never had learned how to do revolutionary work among backward workers; now that they were faced with this task, they concealed their ineptness by leaving the scene and abandoning the workers to the bureaucrats, all the while shouting about the purity of their revolutionism. In Germany, indeed, the people who so left the trade unions were often genuine, impatient revolutionists, but this was not so in other countries where weaklings posing as communists, unable to prove their worth in given situations, took to flight.

On this question the Second Congress had categorically avowed: “All voluntary withdrawals from the industrial movement, every artificial attempt to organize special unions without being compelled thereto by the exceptional acts of violence on the part of the trade union bureaucracy… …. represents a great danger to the communist movement.” (*17) In his polemic against the childish “Leftists,” Lenin stressed the point that it was silly to wait until all the trade unionists became revolutionists before the revolution would be ripe, and that a certain conservatism in the trade unions was always to be found. This existed even under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. To believe that the unions should be treated as though they were political revolutionary organizations and that no worker should be allowed to join unless he subscribed to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat or that, in turn, no communist could join a union unless that body had affirmed its adherence to such a principle was a crime. Even under the soviets, to try to make communist bodies out of trade union organizations was “like trying to make a four-year-old girl a mother. At best, it would be a silly joke, a foolish trick—at its worst, an abuse of, and sordid crime against nature.” (*18)

“A greater lack of sense and more harm to the Revolution than this attitude of the left revolutionists cannot be imagined. Why, if we in Russia, after two and one-half years of incredible victories over the Russian bourgeois and the Entente, had demanded that entrance into the Trade Unions must be conditional upon the ‘acceptance of the dictatorship,’ we should have committed a stupid act, impaired our influence over the masses and helped the Mensheviki. For the whole of the communist problem is to be able to convince the backward, to work in their midst and not to set up a barrier between us and them, a barrier of pedantic childishly ‘left’ slogans.” (*19)

This viewpoint also was emphasized in the theses and resolutions adopted at the Third Congress of the Comintern. At the same time, the theory that the unions were to be neutral in the class struggle was declared to be fallacious, the correct view being that every protracted struggle of the unions was bound to have great political reverberations, just as every political decision of social importance was bound to affect the unions. The Russian revolution had been full of the harmful effects of such “neutrality” as exemplified by the attempt of the railroad workers’ union executive to be “neutral” in the fight between Kerensky and the Bolsheviks. However, all this did not mean the communists could not work in the reactionary unions, but rather that, since the action of the unions could have such fateful effect, this was all the more reason to work within them to move them in the right direction.

Also, it was possible that splits would occur, no matter what the communists did, since the trade union bureaucrats would expel all those who were a menace to them. However, the communists were to work so carefully that, when they were expelled, large numbers of workers would go with them, and thus the basis for a powerful union could be laid that would free the workers from the agents of the employers in the unions. The communists were to go into the reactionary unions, not with abstract propaganda for communism or with artificial issues, but with practical concrete questions that the workers would recognize as beneficial to them.

The issues that communists were to force prominently in the unions were the struggles for better conditions, industrial unionism, amalgamation of various unions facing the same employers and meeting the same conditions, democracy within the unions, militant action in strikes, determined effort to organize the unorganized, and similar matters. At the same time, the communists had to strive for solidarity of the workers, leading to the general strike and to workers’ control over production, and also had to push political issues such as the struggle against war, against reaction, in behalf of Soviet Russia, and for a workers’ government in their respective countries. The unions were to work closely with the Communist Party.

Then, too, there was the task of organizing the unorganized workers, a task which properly belonged to the communists, especially in periods of violence and upheaval. In the course of this work it might happen that entire unions would be controlled by communists; thus the question of the relation between the Party and the unions became a vital one.

The Third Congress of the Comintern reiterated the Leninist position that “The Party must learn how to influence the unions without attempting to keep them in leading strings.” (*20) The communists must exercise no choking control but rather lead through ability, teaching the workers in the unions the lessons of revolution by leading them in the sort of direct action to which the union was accustomed. “Under ‘direct action’ we mean all forms of direct pressure of the workers upon the employers and the state: boycott, strike, street demonstrations, seizure of the factories, armed uprisings and other revolutionary activity, which tend to unite the working class in the fight for Socialism.” (*21)

The attitude of the Left communists at the Second Congress in refusing to work in reactionary organizations did not confine itself to the trade unions, but was enunciated as a general principle. The German Leftists declared the revolution was at hand, that the only thing needed was independence of action and the masses would follow. This was essentially a putschist, and Blanquist point of view. They completely underestimated the need for preparation for the insurrection and the role of the Party in that preparation. They substituted their subjective wishes for the political reality and constituted a most dangerous factor in the German movement at that time. To the German Leftists, evidently, everything would be settled immediately at the barricades. There was no need for dull, routine, day-to- day, practical work.

It must be confessed that this attitude of the German Leftists of the Communist Labor Party variety sprang from deep sources and should have served as a warning to the Comintern of the dangerous Right Wing tendencies that their official Party, the United Communist Party, a fusion of Spartacists and Independent Socialists, was displaying. Indeed, Lenin recognized that very point and made every effort to retain the Communist Labor Party within the ranks of the Comintern and to persuade them eventually to fuse with the Communist Party. But the errors of the Leftists were too far-reaching to permit such fusion. The Communist Labor Party, after launching an open attack against the Russian Revolution, itself deteriorated steadily in an anarchistic and syndicalistic direction.

The German Leftists at least were rooted in the German scene and numbered several hundred thousand members and supporters in the early days. Similarly was it with the situation in Italy, where the Leftists had raised the sharpest struggle against the fatal error of the communists in not separating themselves soon enough from the Right Wing and Centrists. But in other countries, Leftism took on a ludicrous coloring indeed and showed that the communists of these nations were simply part of the lunatic fringe rather than deeply rooted in the social life of their nations. In spite of all their screaming for the revolution, without making the slightest serious preparations for it, they showed themselves to be not parties of a class but circles of intellectuals copying the worst aspects of the intellectualism of a handful of workingmen. In many places this became the popular impression of communists. Lenin fought these phrase-mongers with especial vigor. The whole aspect of the Second Congress was one in which the Bolsheviks were trying to force the communists of the world to root themselves in the class relations of their country and to appeal to the masses. This was to be emphasized greatly in the Third Congress; organizational guarantees to insure it were to be taken.

In the course of their general argument, the Leftists had opened fire against participation in bourgeois parliaments by revolutionists. Lenin had to call them to task and to plead that they view the situation more realistically. Questions of participation in parliament were questions of tactics. The Bolsheviks at times had participated in and, at other times, had boycotted parliament. But what the Leftists had to realize was that the European revolution was going to prove a far more difficult job than had been the case in Russia. Certain specific conditions which had existed in Russia were not present in Western Europe, and a repetition of those factors was not probable. These special conditions were the possibility of connecting the Soviet revolution with the end of the War, the possibility of making use of the deadly struggle of two sets of world plunderers who could not unite against the soviets in time, the possibility of withstanding civil war because of the gigantic extent of the country, the poor means of communication, the lack of food supply, and, finally, the existence of a broad bourgeois revolutionary peasant movement.

In short, the European revolution was not a single act, but a long process with many a zig-zag curve. The idea that communists would advance in a single straight line always upward and forward was nonsense. The forefront fighters of the proletariat would have to be prepared to make many retreats and many compromises, compromises not in the sense of abandoning principles as the opportunists were doing, but in the sense of utilizing compromise but temporarily, only to push forward the revolution later, which were the tactics of the Leninists. Under such circumstances, the ability cleverly to maneuver was absolutely essential. Above all, communists had to be realists if they were to accomplish the task of world revolution.

Wrote the Master: “It is not at all difficult to be a good Revolutionist once the Revolution has broken out-when all and everyone joins the Revolution from mere enthusiasm, because it is the fashion, sometimes even from considerations of personal gain. It costs the proletariat labor, great labor and I may say excruciating pains, after the victory to rid itself of these pseudo-Revolutionists. But it is far more difficult, and yet more valuable, to know how to be a Revolutionist, even when conditions are yet lacking for direct, general, truly mass and truly Revolutionary action; to be able to defend the interests of the Revolution by propaganda, agitation and organization, in non-Revolutionary institutions and oftentimes in downright reactionary surroundings, among masses incapable of immediately understanding the necessity for Revolutionary methods. To be able to find, to sense, to determine the concrete plan of still incomplete Revolutionary methods and measures, leading the masses to the real, decisive, final, great Revolutionary struggle—this is the chief problem of modern Communism in Western Europe and America.” (*22)


From the time of the Second Congress to his death, Lenin bent all his energies to building solid and capable revolutionary parties throughout the world. The First Congress had worked out the general principles; the Second Congress had given form to the organization, excluding the worst Centrist elements; the Third Congress was to set to work actually to create an army for revolutionary work. Lenin made no attempt to conceal the fact that his international army was woefully weak, and, with the Third Congress, we find the utmost attention paid to the thorough reorganization of the Parties. Only through such reorganization could the resolutions on mass work really be put into effect. The Theses on Organization, therefore, are really the heart of the work of the Third Congress.

I The Third Congress of the Comintern met from June 22 to July 12, 1921, in Moscow. By this time, the world revolutionary wave had subsided somewhat, with the defeat of the movement in Germany and the introduction of the New Economic Policy in Russia. The post-war crisis of 1920 had ended, and European capitalism was reviving. The first question that arose in the minds of the delegates was whether this revival signified the falseness of the whole theory of the Communist International to the effect that the present was an era of wars and revolutions. Would capitalism be restored? Was revolution to be postponed indefinitely? Could Soviet Russia endure? Already, in practically every country, pessimism was entering into the ranks of the newly formed Communist Parties, and many Centrist elements were deserting what they considered a lost cause. In Germany, Levi was expelled, (*23) and later Brandler; in France, Froissard, and later Souvarine and Treint; in Italy, Turati, and later Serrati. In practically every country there arose deep schisms and factional struggles.

The Third Congress carefully analyzed the situation and pointed out that, although the proletariat was losing some of its too easily won positions, and had experienced some temporary setbacks, nevertheless, it was “an undoubted mark of our time that the curve of capitalist evolution proceeds, through temporary rises, constantly downwards, while the curve of revolution proceeds through some vacillations constantly upwards.” (*24) All this but reaffirmed the conclusion that the basic task before the communists was to try in a revolutionary manner to win the majority of the workers to their side. The most vigorous struggle must be launched against the Centrists, not only outside the Comintern’s ranks and now crystallized in the new Vienna Union of Socialist-Centrist Parties, but against every Centrist tendency within. “The character of the transition period makes it imperative for all Communist Parties to be thoroughly prepared for the struggle. Each separate struggle may lead to the struggle for power. Preparedness can only be achieved by giving to the entire Party agitation the character of a vehement attack against capitalist society.” (*25)

The Comintern meeting then set itself to discuss the Leninist Theses on Organization. The Theses declared that, while no absolutely infallible form of organization existed, forms changing with the needs of the times, yet general principles holding true for all capitalist countries were possible. Everywhere the Communist Party was to consider itself the vanguard of the working class and must affirm the necessity of leadership and close association to the masses. Organic unity within the Party could be attained only through the principle of democratic centralism. “Democratic centralism in the Communist Party organization must be a real synthesis, a fusion of centralism and proletarian democracy. This fusion can be achieved only on the basis of constant common activity, constant common struggle of the entire party organization. Centralization in the Communist Party organization does not mean a formal and mechanical centralization, but a centralization of communist activity, that is to say the formation of a strong leadership, ready for war and at the same time capable of adaptability.” (*26)

The Congress went on to point out that the Communist Parties were still under bourgeois influence, that within them was to be found a division of labor between the members and the functionaries, in which the latter were turning into bureaucrats substituting formal democracy for the living association of common endeavor, while the members were relegated to passive positions. This dualism had to be fought by any means.

Mere adoption of communist programs was not enough. “Regular participation on the part of most of the members in the daily work of the Party is lacking even today in the lawful Communist Parties. That is the chief fault of these parties, forming the basis of constant insecurity in their development…. The art of Communist organization lies in the ability of making use of each and every one for the proletarian class struggle; of distributing the Party work amongst all the Party members, and of constantly attracting through its members ever wider masses of the proletariat to the revolutionary movement; further it must hold the direction of the whole movement in its hand not by virtue of its might but by its authority, energy, greater experience, greater all-round knowledge and capabilities. A Communist Party must strive to have only really active members, and to demand from every rank and file party worker that he should place his whole strength and time, in so far as he can himself dispose of it, under existing conditions, at the disposal of his Party and devote his best forces to these services."(*27)

With the social-democrats, the Party was an instrument primarily for election campaigns. It was composed of large branches organized on a residential territorial basis and engaged mainly in educational activity. The Communist Parties, on the other hand, would have to be entirely remodeled on a nuclei and fraction basis. Wherever there were gathered together three or more communists, there should be organized a nucleus based either on a given shop or a given industrial or territorial area. Hence there were to be three forms of nuclei: the shop nucleus, the street nucleus, and the transition nucleus based on several factories in a given industrial area.

The nuclei were to be small; thus they easily could function illegally. The smallness of the unit lent itself to the training of every member and to the checking up of all work. Thus could be established that flexibility and mutual confidence that only common living associative effort could produce. The leadership should come from the best material, the ones who best could perform the concrete dangerous jobs under the communist policy, the ones tested and refreshed in the struggle.

The most important nuclei were the shop nuclei in a given factory, plant, works, or industrial unit. Their function was to make every factory a communist stronghold and to carry out all the political activity possible among the workers of the given place. One of the chief tasks of the nucleus was the building up of a shop committee for struggle for better conditions at the point of production and eventually for workers’ control over the factories. They were to concentrate their efforts also to unionize the shop and to initiate a militant policy in the union thus formed. But the shop nucleus was not to confine itself to trade union or economic questions. Above all, it must be a political unit of a revolutionary party; it must issue a paper if possible; it must distribute political leaflets and lead the workers in all sorts of demonstrations to expose and overthrow the State.

The street nuclei were not as important as the shop nuclei, although they too had considerable tasks to perform. One of their main duties was concentration on the factories in their given neighborhoods in an effort to form nuclei in every plant and productive unit within their jurisdiction. They also were to assist the shop nuclei in such matters as the distribution of the shop paper, which could not be done by the members working in the factory itself. The street nuclei also should help to organize the transition unit in a given industrial area, which unit was to include a number of similar shops not yet providing their own shop nuclei.

Besides, the street unit had the job of organizing struggles in the workers’ quarters, the mobilization of the women in the fight against the high cost of living or against war, the creation of tenants’ leagues for the reduction of rents, the work among the capitalist-led organizations in workers’ neighborhoods, the carrying on of open air meetings and of various demonstrations. Of great importance, too, was the work of the street unit in regard to unemployment. Naturally, the workers in the shop nuclei could not take the lead here and, as the unemployment crisis grew worse at different times, the street nuclei had to take charge.

The reorganization of the old parties on the new nuclei basis meant a veritable revolution in the lives of the communists. It signified that the Party no longer was to be an opportunist organization with loose control and with simple educational and parliamentary functions. The Party was to be engaged in tireless, day-to-day, practical tasks in preparation for the winning of the masses for the seizure of power. All members now were to be active and trained for leadership in the various departments of work that opened up. The Communist International was to be Bolshevized. No Party with such a method of operation could fail to carry on a revolutionary policy; no revolutionary party could carry on its multitudinous and variegated tasks without such a structure.

The work of the Communist Parties also was to be systematized into a definite division of labor. A number of departments and committees were to carry on special work. The principal fields of activity were placed in the hands of departments which had representatives in every district, section, and unit of the Party. Such departments were the agitation and propaganda departments, the women’s work department, the Negro work department, the trade union work department, the organization department; in various localities, other departments were added according to the nature of the work. Besides these, there were committees on anti-militarist work, on work among the co-operatives, on work among the various groups of foreign-speaking workers in a given country, on anti-imperialist work in behalf of the colonies, on work among the youth, in the clubs, and in other associations of the working class and other strata of the population.

The communists had the duty of penetrating into all associations of the working class, wherever they could do work and carry on revolutionary activity. Where such organizations did not exist, the communists were to try to create them on a broad basis, with a given concrete program of struggle. Thus, the Party would be a central ganglion connecting a myriad of organizations with a uniform policy and coordinating all phases of the battle against the capitalist State. The leaders of such a Party, naturally, had to be tested elements with a wide and varied experience, capable of effective performance in any branch of the service.

Within the broad organizations of the working class, the communists were to come together and organize a fraction to be composed solely of these revolutionists for special work in the given organization. Fractions did not have the power of nuclei, which were the basic political units of the Party where dues were collected, tasks assigned, elections held, and general control exercised. The fractions had the special purpose of working out concrete tasks in a given specific field, of determining and carrying forth a revolutionary policy in all the mass organizations with which they were connected. Thus, there were trade union fractions, club fractions, co-operative fractions, etc., which were the levers which moved the big wheels of the mass organizations in turn to stir the entire class into action at given moments.

When operating properly, the Communist Party would embrace several important social functions. First, it would serve as the general scientific staff of the working class, made up of advanced class-conscious theoreticians, working in different fields of activity, but capable of comprehending the problem of their class as a whole and of connecting their particular activity with the basic needs of the international proletariat. Second, the Party, embracing as it should the active members of the proletariat and the most courageous elements, represented the vanguard of the class; that is, it was made up of troops eager for the battle and the first to take the most dangerous posts in the fight. Third, the Party, when properly formed and functioning, was the driving force in the ranks of the workers, moving them in the proper direction and stiffening up their ranks in struggle. This was the ideal of the Third International under Lenin.

The aforementioned plan of organization was worked out in detail, and instructions were drawn up for each department. One of the main tasks was that of agitation and propaganda. The Socialist Parties had stressed propaganda rather than agitation, the Communists were to emphasize the latter. (*28) Communism would not arise from book-reading, it would arrive only through the bitter experiences of the mass of workers unable to read much and dependent on life itself to teach them. Instead of mulling over abstract treatises on the value of socialism, therefore, the communist had to occupy himself above all with the concrete problems of the proletariat and, through these problems, propound to the workers the general theory.

Under the Socialist Party, the press generally had been uncontrolled, sometimes the official organ being the private property of a few. Such a situation was intolerable among communists. Not only ownership but the whole character of the paper must be changed. “Our papers must not serve for the satisfaction of the desire for sensation or as a pastime for the general public. They must not yield to the criticism of the petty bourgeois writers or journalist virtuosos in the striving to become ‘respectable."’ (*29)

The editorial staff no longer was to be composed exclusively of intellectuals who had never been engaged in actual struggle and who made writing their profession. The paper above all was to be administered and written by the active workers at the scene of struggle.

This was in line with the general theory of the Leninists, that there was to be no bourgeois division of brain and brawn in the communist ranks. While no distinction was made between communist intellectuals and communist workers, yet the intellectual was to be proletarianized and the proletarian intellectualized. The intellectual had to learn by doing, through performing concrete tasks, both the dull and routine and the dangerous ones; he had to show his mettle before he could rise towards leadership. The workers who had accomplished these tasks should be taken out of the factories and, wherever possible, out of the work shops, and made into general leaders of the Party.

Of very great importance was the anti-militarist struggle which the opportunist socialists had never carried on. Nuclei had to be formed within the armed forces of the State, but by no means must the anti-militarist agitation be of a pacifist nature, since such agitation only assisted the bourgeoisie in its efforts to disarm the proletariat. “Intensive agitation must therefore be directed not against the military training of the youth and workers, but against the militaristic regime, and the domination of the officers. Every possibility of providing the workers with weapons should most eagerly be taken advantage of.” (*30)

In regard to work among the State forces, the Third Congress called attention to the fact that the lawful parties were not preparing sufficiently for illegal work, for the time when democracy would come to an end, and they would be driven underground. The lawful parties, for example, had done little in the matter of combating secret service men in their ranks. The Leninists favored harsh treatment of spies and agents provocateurs found in their ranks. This was not a variation of anarchist individual terror, but mere self-defense.

The Third Congress considered fully the need for organization of both the women and the youth. In regard to the women it declared: “The Third Congress of the Communist International maintains that the conquest of power by the proletariat, as well as the achievement of Communism in those countries where the capitalist State has already been overthrown, can be realized only with the active participation of the wide masses of the proletarian and semi-proletarian Women.’’ (*31) By 1920, an International Secretariat for work among women had been started, not because the communists believed in special organizations for women, but because of special conditions affecting them and of the necessity for special methods of work. The thesis declared:

“Being earnestly opposed to the separate organization of women into all sorts of parties, unions, or any other special women’s organizations, the Third Congress, nevertheless, believes that in view of: (a) the present conditions of subjection prevailing not only in the bourgeois-capitalist countries, but also in countries under the Soviet system, undergoing transition from capitalism to communism; (b) the great inertness and political ignorance of the masses of women, due to the fact that they have been for centuries barred from social life and to age-long slavery to the family, and (c) the special functions imposed upon women by nature-childbirth, and the peculiarities attached to this, calling for the protection of her strength and health in the interests of the entire community, the Third Congress therefore considers it necessary to find special methods of work among the women of the Communist Parties and establishes a standard of special apparatus within the Communist Parties for the realization of this work.” (*32)

Similarly, the Communist International gave full consideration to the organization of the youth. From the start it had valued the youth organizations which had been among the first to break from the old Socialist Parties, to fight the War, and to take a revolutionary stand. There was this difference between the special apparatus for working out methods for work among women and work among the youth: the women’s work was but a department of the Comintern; the youth work was made into a special organization with its own heads and own political functions. Not that the youth organizations were young people’s parties, rivals to the Communist Parties. On the contrary, the Young Communist Leagues were subordinate politically to the Communist Parties, but they were not to be subordinated organizationally.

This latter was an extremely wise policy, not only because of the special problems of the young, but because it gave a guarantee to the youth that they would not be swamped by older elements, that they would have the opportunity to work out problems for themselves, that they could use the flexibility and adaptability and independence of youth to the best advantage to themselves and to the working class as a whole.

Sending delegates to the Comintern and abiding by its decisions, the Young Communist International nevertheless was to be of a broader nature than the regular Parties. It was not to be limited to professional revolutionaries, but rather was to develop a full program, including sports, social activities, and so forth, that would appeal to youth. It would be responsible for carrying out tasks especially pertaining to youth. It was to undertake educational work among the small children, who were to be organized into Pioneer associations. Above all, it had serious responsibilities towards anti-militarist work which was left to a considerable extent in its hands. It was to take an important position in physical defense work and in all fighting and demonstrations of such a character.

All this rendered the Young Communist Leagues entirely different from the Socialist Leagues of the day, which were made up mostly of students, carrying on no real economic struggles for the youth, entrenched in no factory or point of production, neglecting all serious anti-militarist work, and concentrating entirely on education of an academic character. The Third Congress stressed that “The fundamental difference between the Young Communist organizations and the young centrist and social-democratic organizations lies in their participation in all political problems; in the work and construction of Communist Parties, and in the active participation in revolutionary struggle.” (*33)

One further important question the Comintern considered, the question of internal struggles and factional fighting. The Third Congress declared that the way to win the confidence of the membership and to secure discipline was not to crush all differences of opinion that might arise on various questions, but to allow full discussion in the Party where such questions arose within the general framework of the Party Program. In line with this, the Third Congress affirmed: “In order to study the general and political situation and to gain a clear idea of the state of affairs in the Party it is necessary to have various localities represented on the Central Committee whenever decisions are to be passed affecting the life of the entire Party. For the same reason, differences of opinion regarding tactics should not be suppressed by the Central Committee if they are of a serious nature. On the contrary, these opinions should get representation upon the Central Committee.” (*34) This policy reiterated the belief of Lenin that objective events are constantly changing, thereby forcing new decisions. Where the Party is new and weak, factions are often inevitable. (*35) That the factions do not result in splits may be because the Party is doing important work, and each member feels a certain responsibility not to break off this work without grave reasons. In the case of a new Party in the formative stages, splits are generally disastrous, and all sides tend to avoid them unless they believe there is absolutely no other possibility of changing the wrong line of the organization.

Even in older and more tested organizations, factions are inevitable because of the lack of unity among all layers of the working class, and because of the influence of other classes upon sections of the Party. So long as the factions have a difference of policy within the general framework of communism, these differences can be tolerated and adjusted in the course of struggle. As we have seen, the Comintern provided that minority groups should be represented even in the leading executive body of the Party, the Central Committee which had full power of control between conventions. The theory of the monolithic party, in the sense of the rejection of all toleration of differences of opinion, had not been introduced. The follow-the-leader idea was to arise later, in the period of degeneration of the Comintern.


Lenin’s Theses on Organization came as a bomb shell upon the Parties affiliated with the Comintern. Although they had joined the Communist International, they were only just weaned from socialist centrist tendencies. Now they found that before they could really understand the Leninist method of work, they would have to re-organize their ranks completely. The re-organization stripped bare all the revolutionary phraseology of the so-called communists and exposed them as having had really no preparation for revolutionary struggle.

Naturally, the various Parties resisted these Theses. The resolutions of the Third Congress were adopted unanimously and then systematically sabotaged. At the Fourth Congress, the instructions were repeated. At the Fifth Congress, in 1924, it was reluctantly admitted that in practice the re-organization “has hitherto not been pushed with sufficient energy.” (*36)

At the Fourth Congress, held in 1922, Lenin, in one of the last speeches he was ever to make, undertook to estimate the situation as follows: “At the Third Congress of 1921 we adopted a resolution concerning the organizatory upbuilding of the Communist Parties, and concerning the method and the substance of their work. It was a good resolution…. Everything in the resolution has remained a dead letter…. Foreigners … first of all have to learn how to understand all that we have written about the organization and upbuilding of the Communist Parties which they have subscribed to without reading and without understanding it. You foreign comrades must make this your first duty. This resolution must be carried into effect.’’ (*37)

At the Fifth Congress, in 1924, also it had to be mournfully declared that “The Period between the Fourth and Fifth congresses of the Communist International has shown that the opportunist tendencies in the Communist movement are stronger than could have been expected. A number of the sections of the Comintern had grown out of the very heart of the Second International and had brought with them unsuppressed remnants of Social-Democratic traditions. Right deviations can acquire a dangerous character, as our Communist parties become mass organizations.” (*38)

As a matter of fact, so vigorously did the Parties sabotage the resolution on re-organization that, before it could become effective, large splits had occurred in almost every country. Its execution at the very best was a haphazard and fitful process, in the course of which many of the Parties shrank to a small percentage of their former bloated membership. In the end, it was given up in fact. The failure to accomplish the re-organization of the Party was only part of the general failure of the Communist Parties, outside of the Russian, to attain the level of Leninism that had been reached in the course of the Russian Revolution.

Among the worst was the situation in the American Communist Party. With a membership entirely out of touch with the mass of workers of the country, with internal, factional fighting rendering the organization futile, with nineteen foreign federations striving for power and setting up as their leader any puppet who could speak English, the American Communist Party was the greatest possible antithesis to the kind of Bolshevik Party the Leninists meant to create. Thus, when degeneration struck the center of the Comintern, it found decay already present in the American groups. However, we leave this matter here to treat it in extenso later.

The complete failure to re-organize the quondam Socialist Parties into genuine Bolshevik organizations was an ominous sign that these so-called Communist Parties were Socialist reformist Parties at heart, essentially unchanged. This manifested itself clearly in the functioning of these Parties in mass work. The time had now come when the Communist Parties had to apply themselves to the task of winning workers and proving their worth.

Already the Third Congress had laid down detailed instructions on how to realize the slogan “To the Masses.” The next Congress, held in November-December, 1922, developed this idea of mass work still further. The Fourth Congress, commemorating as it did Five Years of the victorious Russian Revolution, started its proceedings with the statement that “The Fourth World Congress reminds the proletarians of all countries that the proletarian revolution can never be completely victorious within one single country, but that it must win the victory internationally, as the world revolution.’’ (*39)

The stability of the Russian Dictatorship depended upon the increased power of the world communist movement. To attain this increased power, these Parties had seriously to address themselves to winning over the masses. One of the best ways to accomplish this was through the tactics of the united front. The question of the united front, therefore, was the chief one to disturb the Fourth Congress of the Comintern.

A united front may be defined as the coming together of various organizations for the purpose of combining their forces for common struggle on a concrete issue or set of issues. For communists, the united front is not a mere maneuver, but an absolute necessity for the working class. Without a united front the workers cannot resist the employers’ attacks. The workers divided cannot win and, if the communists are to lead the workers in their struggles, they must know how to unite them on the specific issues of the day. These issues form the common denominator which binds together all the divergent groups.

Naturally, within the united front, the Communist Organization maintained its entire independence and right to criticize. Otherwise the revolutionary organization would be giving up its right to work out a revolutionary policy. The fact that other organizations differed on essential questions with the communists posed before the latter a difficult problem. On the one hand it was necessary to create united fronts with the broadest possible basis; on the other hand it was imperative for the communists to unmask the various other agencies within the united front, to expose their shortcomings and their limitations, and to destroy their influence. Thus, the communists had before them a dual task, namely, to unite the workers and, at the same time, to win them away from organizations with a non-revolutionary policy. There was the task of mobilizing the broadest strata of the working class; there was also the task of revolutionizing them. The problem was dialectically to connect these two tasks so that instead of being antithetical they became part of one whole.

That the united front implied the divided rear was a truism; while the different organizations that came together were willing to agree on a common struggle for a concrete point, they often disagreed on methods and on aims. Were the groups really alike they would have come together not in a united front, where they touched each other at one given point, but in a complete fusion. Thus the united front was not a compact of uncritical friends, but rather an alliance in which the communists watched their allies as they would their enemies, one in which the communists had no illusions concerning their more or less temporary fellow-travelers.

In all united fronts lay the danger that the communist elements would form not only a united front but a united front and rear, in which they would become the rear and be used by their allies as coolies for aims against the working class. For this reason it was absolutely necessary to secure that kind of united front that would avoid all secret diplomatic maneuvers and would place the issues squarely before the masses. The united front should not be a parliamentary bloc but should be one of actual physical struggle. The united front should not be a round table discussion with leaders only. “United front tactics from above alone is the method that the Communist International categorically and resolutely repudiates.” (*40)

Nor should the united front be formed with indefinite general aims; it must be definite, concrete, and limited in time and subject matter. It should be pointed out, however, that the united front for specific daily demands also could lead directly to the struggle for the State. This had happened in Russia where the soviets represented a united front body of various organizations for the seizure of power. Thus, the united front could lead to the formation of a workers’ government.

In working out rules whereby communists could prevent their becoming the tail of reformists, the Fourth Congress declared: “The most important thing in the tactics of the United Front is and remains the agitational and organizational unification of the working masses themselves. The real success of the United Front tactics is to come from ‘below,’ from the depth of the working masses themselves. At the same time, the Communists should not decline, under given circumstances, to negotiate with the leaders of the workers’ parties in opposition to us. But the masses must be constantly and completely kept informed of the course of these negotiations.” (*41)

The united front was not only a method of uniting masses for struggle, but a means of reaching workers otherwise unattainable. This was particularly true in such countries as the United States where the communists were isolated from the masses and were weak. Nor was the united front merely to be employed as tactics where the communists were uninfluential. The history of the Bolshevik Party showed that they made united fronts even on the day of the conquest of power.

The united front indeed offered an excellent arena for the communists to engage in a life-and-death, hand-to-hand, close struggle with opportunists and centrists of all shades, since, in the united front movement, all sections were faced with the same tasks, and the masses could see clearly which group, in a given situation, evolved the correct analysis, who was the real fighter and who was not. The united front in communist theory was a struggle of tooth-and-claw, without which the masses could not be torn from their false leaders.

Moreover, the united front tactic was a method by which the character of the communists was rounded out, their ability tested, their revolutionary science put to the proof. Only through the most intimate contact with the opportunists and centrists of all kinds could the communist thoroughly understand all the relations of forces in the ranks of the workers.

That the communists were not afraid to confer with their worst enemies in the interests of the working class was seen in April, 1922, when there gathered together the representatives of the Second, Third, and Vienna Union ("Two-and-a-half") Internationals. The meeting had been called by the Vienna Union. The delegates from the Third International proposed that the agenda confine itself to the following concrete points: 1. defense against the capitalist offensive; 2. struggle against reaction; 3. preparation of the fight against new imperialist wars; 4. assistance in the reconstruction of the Russian Soviet Republic; 5. the Treaty of Versailles and the reconstruction of the devastated regions. (*42)

Evidently the Second International had not come for such a purpose. Before it would agree to a united front with the communists, the latter would have to satisfy three conditions: First, the communists must release the political prisoners in Russia; second, they must free Georgia; third, they must abandon their nuclei tactics and independence of action. Here we see a classic situation of the sabotage of the opportunists of the Second International to the united front. It was obvious that should the debates embrace the conditions presented by the Second International, a united front would be impossible, for the communists would retort (as they did) that the socialists had shot them down by the thousands and had turned over the workers of the world to the capitalists. The communists had come with no conditions, they had not tried to bring before the conference the crimes of the opportunist socialists; all they asked was that the groups should unite in common action on concrete questions so that the capitalists of the world should be defeated.

In regard to the history of Georgia under the Mensheviks, Radek, the delegate from the Third International, made an interesting expose of the entire situation. He read a declaration from the Menshevik Foreign Minister of Georgia at the time, Gegetchkori, to General Alexiev, at a Conference with the representatives of the White armies of the South, in which the socialist had proudly declared, "We have suppressed the Bolshevists in our country, we have given shelter to your White officers." (*43) Also, on the invitation of this socialist Georgian government claiming independence, arrived the German troops, under General von Kress, who were greeted with bursts of enthusiasm by the socialists. When the Germans were forced to withdraw, the Georgians admitted the British, under General Thomson, who installed their army at Batoum. Radek then read from the book written by the Menshevik Dschugeli, which had affirmed. “At the command of General Thomson the Social-Democratic Party and the Government were to pull down the red flag from the Government House.”

Radek concludes with the point that, in the period when the Georgian Mensheviks, such as Tseretelli and Jordania, were supporting Kerensky, they never had proposed the independence of Georgia; the moment the Bolsheviks gained control, the others immediately allied themselves with the bourgeoisie of their country to break away. Jordania, indeed, had declared in a speech: “We cannot remain neutral, and if we have to choose between Eastern fanaticism and Western civilization, we decide in favor of Western civilization.” (*44)

The fact of the matter is that the opportunists and Centrists came to this International Conference, not in order to find means of struggling against the new capitalist offensive, but to struggle against alleged Russian imperialism. Unless the communists would relinquish their principles, there could be no united front. This was the import of their declarations. And, in fact, no united front was obtained. Soon thereafter the Vienna Union fused with the Second International to form the Labor and Socialist International. It now became plain that even to bring about the united front, the most rigorous struggle against the opportunists would have to be made on all sides. The slogan of the unity of the workers in concrete questions would become an excellent method to expose the deliberate lack of unity of the workers under the reformists.

However, one important united front was established. The aforementioned Conference had agreed to try to bring the Amsterdam Trade Union International Center and the Red International together for joint discussions. When this second Conference was held, it was found that, while the general leadership was opposed to united actions with the Russians, the British trade union movement was willing to participate. This was due to several factors. In the first place, the British officials were not as yet afraid of the small and timid Communist Party of Great Britain. It was otherwise on the continent itself. Secondly, Britain already had begun commercial relations with Russia, and the trade union leaders, following their masters, saw no reason why labor should not now permit the same relations. Accordingly there was formed an Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee. “The driving force in this campaign were the British trade unionists and Socialists who saw in the Russian market a chance for the revival of British industry and who were worried by economic depression and by the specter of big strikes ahead.” (*45) Nothing constructive came out of the work of this Anglo-Russian Trade Union Unity Committee and, after the British General Strike of 1926, it passed out of existence, giving place to violent polemics within the communist’s ranks.

The Fourth Congress of the Comintern analyzed five varieties of workers governments. First, there was the Liberal Workers Government, such as existed in Australia and was likely to be formed in Great Britain in the near future. Second, there was the Social-Democratic Workers Government, such as had been formed in Germany. Third, the possibility existed of a Workers and Peasants Government in the Balkans. Fourth, there was a Workers’ Government in which communists participated, such as existed when both Bolsheviks and Left Social-Revolutionaries held cabinet seats after the October Revolution. Finally, there was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat which the Communist Party alone could embody.

The Congress went on to declare: “The first two types are not revolutionary workers’ governments, but a disguised coalition between the bourgeoisie and the anti-revolutionary groups. Such workers’ governments are tolerated, at critical moments, by the weakened bourgeoisie, in order to dupe the workers as to the true class character of the State, or with the aid of the corrupt leaders to divert the revolutionary onslaught of the proletariat, and to gain time.

“The communists cannot take part in such governments. On the contrary, they must ruthlessly expose their true character to the masses. In this period of capitalist decline, when the main task is to win the majority of the proletarians for the proletarian revolution, such governments may serve as a means to precipitate the destruction of bourgeois power.” (*46)

The application of this policy was to be seen clearly in England when, before the Labour Party took power, the communists supported that Party against the Liberals and Conservatives, even though the Labour Party would have nothing to do with Communist Party affiliation and was even expelling communist individuals to be found in its ranks. But when the Labour Party took office and the first Labour Government was formed, the Communist Party openly broke from the Labourites, to concentrate their attack upon this government as a form of collaboration with the employers.

If we now review the history and work of the first four Congresses of the Communist International, we see the Leninists desperately striving to take advantage of the first great revolutionary wave to spread the revolution. This was for them a categorical imperative, if the Russian Socialist Soviet Republic were to survive. We find, however, that there was a deep abyss between the Russian Party and other Parties which were groping their way to communism. The Western Communist Parties were unable to redress their ranks in a revolutionary manner soon enough to take advantage of the many opportunities weakened capitalism offered to them.

As the first revolutionary wave came to an end in Western Europe by 1923, these immature communists begin to succumb to the capitalist pressure around them. This pressure, moreover, affected not merely the outside Communist Parties, but the Russian as well, especially after the death of Lenin. As the Russians controlled the Communist International, this only intensified the collapse of that body, since there could be no adequate resistance from the other semi-communist organizations. The fact is, a stable Communist International is impossible unless the advanced workers in the important industrial countries of the world are ready for communism.


1. M. Fainsod: International Socialism and the World War, p. 182.

2. The same, p. 205.

3. Lenin’s theses are given in R. W. Postgate: The Bolshevik Theory, Appendix III, pp. 211-212.

4. Theses of the Communist International, Second Congress, p. 4.

5. The same, p. 8.

6. Theses presented to the Second Congress of the Communist International, pp. 13-14.

7. Theses of the Communist International, Second Congress, "The Communist Party and Parliamentarism,” p. 2.

8. The same, p. 3.

9. How different these rules were from the practice of the reformists can be seen when we find, for example, that even the Labour Party of Great Britain, supposedly based upon the trade unions, had only 13 workers direct from the trades out of its 142 members elected to Parliament in the elections of 1922. (See W. P. Maddox: Foreign Relations in British Labour Politics, p. 20.)

10. Theses of the Communist International, Second Congress, "When and Under What Conditions Soviets of Workers Deputies Should Be Formed,” p. 12.

11. V. I. Lenin: “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination” in Labour Monthly, Vol. X, No. 2, p. 421 (July 1928).

12. The same, p. 425.

13. Theses of the Communist International, Second Congress, “Theses on National and Colonial Questions,” p. 10.

14. See V. I. Lenin: “Speech on the Colonial Question” in Communist Review, Vol. I, No. 2, pp. 87-91. (Feb., 1929.)

15. See A. Losovsky: The International Council of Trade and Industrial Unions, p. 28 and following.

16. Losovsky, work cited, p. 31

17. Theses of the Communist International, Second Congress, "Theses on the Trade Union Movement,” p. 11.

18. V. I. Lenin: "Left” Communism, an Infantile Disorder (Toiler edition), p. 31.

19. The same pp. 35-36.

20. Theses of the Third Congress of the Communist International, p. 137.

21. The same, p. 143.

22. V. I. Lenin: "Left” Communism, an Infantile Disorder, p. 78.

23. Lenin’s attitude towards Levi is given in his “Letter to the German Communist Party” (1921) printed in Labour Monthly, Vol. I, No. 4, p. 349. (Oct., 1921.)

24. Theses of Third Congress of the Communist International, p. 32.

25. The same, p. 54.

26. Theses of Third Congress, p. 77.

27. The same, pp. 78-79.

28. The difference between the two has been explained as follows: propaganda is the dissemination of the general scientific views of Communism to a few; agitation is the stimulation of the masses to action on given concrete points.

29. Theses of the Communist International, Third Congress, p. 101.

30. Theses of Third Congress, pp. 91-92.

31. The same, p. 156.

32. The same, pp. 162-163.

33. Theses of Third Congress, p. 86.

34. The same, p. 108.

35. See above, p. 832 and following.

36. Theses and Resolutions Adopted by the Fifth World Congress of the Comintern, printed in the Communist International, Dec. 1924-Jan. 1925, No. 7, p. 60.

37. Fourth Congress of the Communist International, pp. 118-119.

In the report made by Zinoviev for the Executive Committee of the Comintern and printed in the volume cited above, there is pictured the full situation in the various affiliated bodies at the time, from which it can be seen how far away the various so-called Communist Parties were from Leninism.

38. Theses and Resolutions Adopted by the Fifth World Congress of the Comintern, work cited, p. 23.

39. Resolutions and Theses of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, p. 22.

40. Theses, and Resolutions of the Fifth Congress of the Communist International, p. 26.

41. Resolutions and Theses of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, p. 31.

42. See The Second and Third Internationals and the Vienna Union, Official Report, p. 18.

43. The same, p. 69.

44. The same, pp. 69-70.

45. L. Lorwin, Labor and Internationalism, p. 322.

46. Resolutions and Theses of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, p. 33.