Clara Zetkin 1921 Third Congress of the Communist International

Speech in Discussion of the
World Economic Crisis and the
New Tasks of the Communist International
June 24, 1921

Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (, pp. 154-156
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission

Published: To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 ( pp. 154-156.

Comrades, Comrade Trotsky’s talk and the theses have been criticised for pre-empting to some degree the discussion on tactics and strategy. I cannot share this criticism. My view is that we may be grateful to Comrade Trotsky for having provided the basis for our discussion on tactics in a very careful, comprehensive, and objective way, and for having organised this discussion in the first place. And indeed he did so as a real student of Marx, getting to the bottom of all social events and social struggles.

I do not wish to go into the details of his report; I simply want to emphasise strongly what seem to be the main points of the report, as well as of the theses. I cannot resist the feeling that both Trotsky’s report as well as the theses are being considered far too much in terms of the tendency struggle on tactics and strategy rather than according to their purely objective scientific importance and thrust.

What is this thrust? Comrade Trotsky demonstrated and clarified all of the various kinds of tendencies of the current capitalist economy. He demonstrated the fundamental difference between capitalism’s earlier crises and the current one. All his analyses culminated in what I believe to be his persuasive conclusion that regardless of whether the capitalist economy develops along this or that path, it is doomed. It is reaching limits that by the capitalist economy’s very nature cannot be transcended. It must be smashed; it must be replaced by communism.

Comrade Trotsky emphasised with abundant clarity the role of the state in capitalist society’s attempts to rebuild, despite its present state of disintegration. This role is such a striking international phenomenon that no one can ignore the way the capitalists are using and misusing the government in order to rebuild the capitalist economy.

I cannot accept unquestioningly Comrade Thalheimer’s view that a French-German conflict lies closer, in all probability, than an English-American conflict. I can see that the possibility of such a conflict certainly exists, but on the other hand I also see contrary tendencies that are working to bring about an agreement at the proletariat’s expense in the conflict between the French and German exploitative cliques. At the moment, the latter tendencies seem to have attained the upper hand. In my view, such an agreement between the French and German bourgeoisie is exactly what will do damage not just to the German proletariat, but also to the French proletariat, thereby containing within itself far greater dangers than a quick, acute crisis. The danger of such an agreement demands of the German, French, and world proletariat that it display greater understanding and more activity and proficiency in the struggle.

Comrade Trotsky emphasised quite correctly, in my opinion, that we should not rely on an automatic development of the capitalist economy to lead inevitably to its downfall. No, the social factor, the will of the fighting proletariat, must decisively and increasingly intervene in the course of historical development. But in my opinion Comrade Trotsky also indicated that the Communist Party’s revolutionary activity as leader of the proletariat must take place precisely on this economic basis. It would therefore be misguided to expect that a rapid escalation to an acute crisis will be unleashed, so to speak, in a single torrent. Therefore we must not rely solely on the proletariat’s enslavement and impoverishment to be the decisive factor. If enslavement and impoverishment could play this role, then the decisive struggle of the proletarian masses would have already taken place during the War. In those days, too, we hoped that an explosive outburst against the predatory imperialist World War would lead to a breakthrough. But that did not happen.

What do we see in Germany with regard to colossal unemployment? Up to now our experience is that, although we have wrestled mightily for the soul of the unemployed in order to turn them into the vanguard of the revolutionary struggle, they have not entered into the struggle to the extent anticipated.

I do not want to speak any further about this question because in my opinion it belongs to the topic of tactics and strategy. Besides, we have one great proof that we should not expect too much from the escalation of impoverishment and enslavement alone. Consider the horrific situation of the proletariat in Austria. Where is the revolutionary outrage? Above all, where is the revolutionary will to act of the broadest masses who suffer this misery? I am the last one to deny that the unemployed can play an outstanding role in the struggle under certain conditions. We must fully appreciate their importance and also actively utilise them. But, comrades, it is also necessary to take into account, as Comrade Trotsky explained, that there may also be temporary periods of improvement in the economy. And we must therefore not be discouraged or afraid, as though we were facing the consolidation of capitalism. Rather, we must then cling to our firm conviction that it is only illusory, and that the task in those periods is to bring to bear the entire revolutionary energy, the entire will, the entire strength of the Communist Party. I understood Trotsky’s talk to be a powerful rejection of any passivity of the Communist Party and the proletarian masses. Quite the contrary. Regardless of whatever happens, under all circumstances there is only one road for the proletariat and for the Communist Party: the road that leads directly to the conquest of political power, to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This must be intensified to the utmost everywhere through a willingness to struggle at every hour and under all circumstances. (Loud cheers and applause.)