Clara Zetkin

Hail to the Third Socialist International!


Source: The Communist International, Vol. I, No. 3, 1919;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for in August, 2002.

The celebration of the last of May is the only serious attempt of the second socialist International to pass from words to deeds and to weld the proletarians of all countries in common unified action of wide import and impressive force. This attempt was not destined to reap complete success, and the fate of the May celebration was a significant forerunner of the ignominious failure of the Second International at the outbreak of the world war. Still, the May celebration has poured strong currents of rousing, kindling life into the masses of the exploited and oppressed, currents of a new life that has transformed innumerable hopeless sufferers into ardent fighters.

For in it works the might idea of international solidarity that knits the slaving toilers of the whole world together. And this idea is no airy dream of the imagination. It is a living reality, the expression of the identical conditions of existence that the rule of Capital creates all over the earth for the overwhelming majority of the enslaved, exploited workers; it is common knowledge drawn from common need that must lead to common will, to common action. Thus the idea of the international brotherhood of the world proletariat is on essential part of the great idea of liberation, that light on the way of the enslaved in their struggle against capital. Like the idea of liberation itself, it is at once the motive power and the aim that is to be realised in practice, and, therefore, it also shares its fate: to win amid struggles, amid seeking and groping, amid blunderings and defects; slowly, much too slowly, for the fiery impatience of our hearts that long for an International that is to unite liberated mankind.

More than seventy years have gone by since the communist manifesto summoned us to turn the idea of the international solidarity of all the exploited into a powerful act of liberation!

Workers of the world, unite! This idea caught at hearts and called forth wills, and yet it took nearly two decades before it found tangible expression in the formation of the International Workmen’s Association In London in 1864. But few years of action more granted to the first International, but weak were its material resources. Soon after the fall of the heroic Paris Commune the organization collapsed. Yet in the short span of its existence it achieved immortal, imperishable deeds. It made the idea of international solidarity, the common property of all workers’ associations that were desirous of leading the proletariat from want and darkness to freedom. The forms of the first International had become too narrow for the nascent, growing life that was the soul of the organisation and that had been aroused by it in all countries. The form passed, the life, the soul remained and continued to act all over the world.

And nearly two decades were to pass again before this life, this idea of the international solidarity of the world proletariat could become embodied in a union of fighting workers. In 1889, the second International was proclaimed at the international socialist and workmen’s congress in Paris. No longer did it unite merely small, weak workmen’s organizations in the first stage of their development, it was the proud league of socialist parties and professional organisations, young, and vigorously pushing ahead. It seemed to knit together a life full of inexhaustible, indomitable inner and external force, to give this life a common direction, a common aim, true to the principles of international socialism. One international congress after the other confirmed it by important, enlightening, unifying discussions, by wisely worded, stirring resolutions, by brilliant, overwhelming demonstrations. It seemed that the tremendous material and moral power accumulated in the second International was bound to turn into a mighty action against capitalism.

But the second international confined itself to remaining a mere workshop for the concoction of fine resolutions. Never was the common will, the total power of the united proletarians clenched into a mighty fist for carrying these resolutions into being. In spite of its lustre the Second International did not even accomplish the most urgent of economic reforms that ought to have been the corner-stone of the protection of labour, – the legal eight hours’ working day. And although its activity was determined by its belief in the high mission of parliamentarism, of bourgeois democracy, in no country had it brought about even the establishment of a true, full political democracy. And when its power and its worth were put to the test of tests it failed ignominiously. When the world war broke out it shrank from opposing the golden international of the power-maddened imperialists, the red International of the proletariat longing for freedom and resolved to fight for it.

The second International could not even say, with Francis I: “All is lost, except honour”. It lost its honour first of all, for it was defeated without showing fight. Loaded with shame it perished on the battle-fields where German proletarians and French proletarians murdered one another with the blessing of German social democracy and the united socialist party of France. The grand body of the Second International, its glittering pompous garments contained but a small, weak and timorous soul. A soul that over its joy of the earthworms of reform had lost its craving for the golden treasures of socialism. A spirit that failed to understand that the epoch of slow social evolution had been replaced by a period of stormy revolutionary progress. A will that preferred trading with bourgeois society for small concessions rather than fighting it for a high stake. The spirit, will and activity of the Second International in their main outlines had been minted by its “jewel” German social democracy. The decay of German social democracy, which concealed an opportunist bourgeois policy of reforms with socialistic phrases, was the chief cause of the death of the Second International. No attempts at galvanisation after the Stockholm or Bern pattern can resuscitate it.

But the idea of international solidarity did not perish with the Second International in the fratricidal war. It lived on in the proud “no” with which the social democrats in the Russian Duma and in the Serbian Skuptchina, and later on in the Italian Parliament, refused to grant the war credits to their governments, it added wings to the tenacious peace agitation of the British Independent Labour Party. While the patriotic war songs of the German, French, British and Austrian social democrats intermingled with the death-rattle of dying proletarians, with the cries of pain of the wounded, the idea of solidarity rose again to be the finger-post of the working masses in their struggle onward. It rose, bleeding from the mire, with countenance drawn and haggard with pain, covered with dirt and yet resplendent with sublime, immortal life. At the Women’s International Socialist Conference at Bern in March, 1915, it pointed out to the socialists, true to their principles, to the proletarians aroused from their torpor, the path they ought to take. It called out to them: enough talk, it is time to act. United be your will, united your action!

Like the dawn precursing the sunrise did this Bern Conference herald the Third Socialist International. The conferences at Zimmerwald, Kienthal and Moscow have drawn up its birth certificate, but the strongest evidence of its existence is furnished by the activity of the new International. To be sure, this existence is not yet regulated by rules and statutes. But it is bound by something infinitely higher; infinitely more binding: by the principles of International Socialism. To turn these principles from lip-service into action such is the historical task, the raison d’etre of Third Socialist International. This it is that distinguishes it from its predecessor.

The idea of the international solidarity of the proletarians of all countries that has made the socialists set themselves courageously and self-sacrificingly against the madness of the fratricidal world war, this idea by its action has welded together the Third International. Amid the storms and flames of the world revolution it now binds it together still more closely, more insolubly. The disgrace of the unprincipled world war policy of the second International has to sink into nothingness before the glory of the true socialistic policy of world revolution upheld by the Third International. By means or the world revolution the Proletariat must rise once more from its deep fall during the world war to the heights of conscious fulfillment of its historical mission. The world revolution is the touchstone upon which the Third International must prove its right to existence. For in defiance of all negators of world revolution, of all sceptics, we already hear the roaring of the storm of world revolution.

For the revolution heroically begun in Russia has established and strengthened itself. By means of sabotage and white terror the propertied minority and its intellectual following tried to destroy the work of revolutionary socialism. With their power concentrated in the soviets the proletarians and landless peasants broke their resistance. The Red Army victoriously repulsed the foreign troops, which as hirelings of international imperialism were expected in union with the counter revolutionaries to throttle the young socialist republic. The latter did not succumb in the struggle, not withstanding its having been robbed of its richest grain stores and cut off from the coal and petroleum districts, from all connection with the seas. Nay, the “bolshevik savages” even succeeded in alleviating the blackest misery of the masses, by means of far-reaching reforms and social provision in laying the foundation for a new economic order and, in particular, as regards public education, achieving work that, according to civilisation, the unquestionable testimony of Maxim Gorki, stands unprecedented in history.

In Germany the revolution has swept the crown off the head of the monster of capital. Now the struggle against the monster itself is at its hottest. For the German proletariat it is no longer a question of more or less political democracy and social reform in a capitalistic state. The aim of the struggle is the annihilation of capitalism itself, is the realisation of socialism. With violence and bloody terror the class dictatorship of the exploiter, exercised by the “proletarians” Ebert, Scheidemann and Noske opposes this aim. It is a deep tragedy in the German workers’ struggle for liberation that proletarian upstarts, would-be social democrats with bombs and rifles in hand place themselves before the capitalistic order as its protectors. But this handful of political jugglers will be swept away soon enough by the impetus of the revolutionary storm, irresistibly rushing on and preceded by the foaming billows of the strike movement.

The triumph of the proletariat in Hungary speaks with fiery tongues to the slaves of capitalism in all countries. With wonderful speed the revolution burst through the shell of national discord and exhibited its real kernel as class struggle between the indigent and enslaved producers and the idle pleasure-seeking ruling appropriators of social wealth. Overnight the Social Democratic party of Hungary “re-learned” its lesson and took its course to the left, and on its way to Damascus it met and joined the communists whom but a short time ago conjointly with the bourgeois democracy it had fought against and persecuted bitterly for the sake of preserving the national state.

The establishment of the socialist soviet republic in Hungary will increase the fears and the rage of the propertied minorities and their advocates in all countries, more than ever will they put their trust in the trinity of the rifle, the maxim gun and the trench mortar. Yet the daring action of the Hungarian proletarians simultaneously strengthens the self-reliance, the fighting spirit and the creative will of the sweated and exploited working masses. It will stimulate the course of the revolution in places where it already rushes on to the fight against bourgeois rule. It will help to unchain revolution in places where imperialism believes to have overcome socialism. In the Allied countries also the appallingly glorious flames of revolution will burst forth out of the volcano of class contradictions. Already the earth is shaking with the blows of labour movements that continuously gain in strength, clearness of aim and resolution.


“The day will come!”

The idea of the International brotherhood of the proletarians of all countries asserts itself victoriously in the gigantic struggle of world revolution. The world revolution is the essence and the goal of the Third International. The Second International had for its ambition to achieve a world manifestation of the fighting proletarians. The victory of the world revolution has to be the title of honour of the Third International. For this victory we have to arm ourselves on the 1st of May, our eyes unswervingly turned towards our goal, our hearts full of glowing self-sacrifice, our will strong and dauntless. We lower our flags in sign of mourning for the heroic victims of the revolution, we nourish them joyously in the victorious battle, we carry them firmly and resolutely ahead in the last holy war of the workers. The greetings on the occasion of the May celebrations resounding in all corners of the world can only be: “Hail to the world revolution! Hail to the Third Socialist International!”


Last updated on 29.2.2004