Clara Zetkin
Third Congress of the Communist International


Speech in Discussion of Italian Question
June 29, 1921

Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (, pp. 371-374
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters and Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission

Comrades, surely there is no one among us who does not feel the gravity and responsibility of the decision that we must take on the Italian question. What is at stake here is not the fate of a few leaders – regardless of whether or not we like them, regardless of whether or not their policies provoke us to sharp protests and passionate struggle. What is at stake is not merely the political fate of thousands of workers belonging to the Socialist Party of Italy. This decision involves an element in the fate of Communist parties in every country, of the International as a whole, and beyond it, of untold millions of exploited and oppressed the world over. For it is the speed and unity with which workers around the world rally to the Communist International that will determine how long proletarians will be exploited and enslaved by capitalism, or whether they will finally achieve full humanity through communist liberation.

Comrades, this situation demands – not only in Italy but the world over – that a strong, united, and cohesive party take the leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. In the name of unity, the Italian proletariat has been prevented, until now, from deploying in united fashion against the bourgeoisie. And yet this unified advance is even more urgent than ever. The Italian bourgeoisie no longer parades in the glittering attire of democracy. In Italy, too, it has been shown that all the liberal phrase-mongering of the ruling and exploiting class is nothing but lies and deceit. In Italy, too, the ruling class speaks with the voice of military might, striking the masses with bloody violence. And this might must be broken by the unity of the revolutionary proletariat. But comrades, unity of the proletarian front must not be achieved at the expense of revolutionary clarity, revolutionary energy, and revolutionary action. Unity must never be won at such a price. That is why it is necessary to draw conclusions not only through fine resolutions but through living and forceful deeds.

We face a situation where, since the Livorno Congress, there is no unity of the party, no unity in the revolutionary battle lines. I am still of the opinion that it is supremely important for the Communist Party and the valuable forces that unquestionably are still to be found in the Unitarian camp to unite in a single mass party – but not by giving up the principled foundation and the tactical programme of struggle.

We have just heard Comrades Lazzari and Maffi assure us, with honest conviction, that the Italian Socialist Party is determined to take this path. But I must say frankly, comrades, that we have the right at this time to raise before the party as a whole the same question, to lay the same accusation that we put to Serrati before Livorno, namely: what has the entire party done since Livorno in terms of action to take the path to the Third International? I do not wish to list here the individual facts indicating that nothing has been done to carry out a firm Communist policy. I only want to highlight a single incident that brightly spotlights the failure until now to act as one must act in order to belong to the Third International now and in the future.

The fifty thousand lire that the Amsterdam International gave to the Italian trade-union federation: the Socialist Party of Italy did not call this gift by its right name, did not denounce it as it should have done from a Communist point of view.[1] What was the situation? These fifty thousand lire came from the hands of the same betrayers of the workers, the same social patriots who had waded for four years with the bourgeoisie of every country through the bloody ocean of world war. This money came from people whose hands dripped with the blood of twenty thousand slaughtered German proletarians. In reality, the fifty thousand lire were not an expression of fraternal international solidarity. They were something different: Judas’s piece of silver with which the red Moscow trade-union International was betrayed and sold for the benefit of the yellow Amsterdam trade-union International.

Comrades, the acceptance of this money did not arouse any storm of protest from the ranks of the Italian party. On the contrary. Avanti was pleased, greeting this event as an expression of international solidarity. In my opinion, this fact alone suffices for the International to declare: ‘This far, and no further!’ The Socialist Party of Italy has now arrived at its Rhodes, where it must jump.[2] The facts speak strongly. The party’s policies show one thing clearly now: As long as there has been no clean separation from the Turati forces, the Unitarian party in Italy will not be a vanguard force against the bourgeoisie; it will rather be a protective wall between the bourgeoisie and the revolutionary proletariat. (Applause)

The intentions may be good, indeed they are certainly good and even, in my opinion, outstanding. But political logic has its own laws. At this time there is no intermediate reformist camp between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Anyone who covers up for and endorses Serrati’s reformism is hindering the proletariat from massing together with full revolutionary understanding and readiness for action. I have said expressly that the same judgement must now be made of the party’s policies that was made earlier of Serrati as a person. By this I mean that the present congress of the Third International must arrive at an unequivocal decision. It must begin by stating that the break from the Turati forces must be carried out immediately, ruthlessly, and without evasions. Not in the way that one throws out individual leaders, one after another, who have been caught in the act, so to speak, stealing from the proletariat’s revolutionary cash box. No, the party must finish off with the opportunist current as a whole, or more properly, with the entire reformist policy.

Our congress must build a firm wall between the proletarian army and this pernicious current. Given how things stand, I do not think it advisable to present a harsh and deeply felt critique of the policies that our friends in Italy have carried out recently in an honest attempt to find a path to communism. But the congress must state unambiguously, in a fashion that permits no twisting or turning, what the practical policies are that we demand of the Socialist Party of Italy from this moment on, in order to be integrated organically into a unified Communist Party of Italy.

Comrades, in my opinion, the congress is not offering a pittance, as our Italian friends of the Socialist Party believe, when it provides these comrades with the opportunity to take part in working out this resolution. On the contrary, this is an action of self-evident fraternal fairness. But I must also say frankly that I consider it to be the fraternal, international duty of our comrades Lazzari and Maffi to make a contribution from their side to clarify the situation and promote understanding. We know that they are not authorised to make any statement here or to agree to anything.

We know that their coming congress will decide the question. However, we must ask one thing of them. Comrade Lazzari, Comrade Maffi, and all of you are present here as flesh and blood of the Italian proletariat, as witnesses, as a personification of its best traditions and its struggle. You must act as the honest, conscientious, and passionate translators of this congress’s decisions for your party and for the Italian proletariat. It is up to you to dispel the misunderstandings that have arisen among the masses and in your party during this debate. Given your laudable past, you will play the role of honest and reliable mediators in this situation. We have confidence that when you arrive back home, you will explain to your friends, the Italian workers, that the Communist International is acting not out of any petty motives, not out of dogmatism, not because we take pleasure in condemning, let alone in splitting. The Communist International carries out splits only in order to forge unity on a higher and more solid level. Workers of Italy: Learn from the situation! Learn, and draw the right conclusions! If you genuinely want to come to communism, separate yourselves nationally from forces with whom you no longer can nor should be united. And unite internationally with forces that ought to be united. You must choose! (Loud applause and cheers)




1. Fifty thousand lire were given by the Amsterdam International to the CGL under the guise of helping its struggle against Fascist reaction.

2. A reference to one of Aesop’s Fables, in which an athlete boasts that he once made a colossal long jump on the isle of Rhodes. One of his listeners challenges him to do so on the spot: ‘Here is Rhodes, jump!’