Clara Zetkin
Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Speech to Opening Session

November 5, 1922

Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (, pp. 77–8.
Translation: Translation by John Riddell.
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018.
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.

When the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat, the Communist International, gathers to review results and prospects, it always honours the memory of those who have fallen on the battlefield. Already, with sadness and pride, we have paid tribute to the dead, dear to our memory. It is no less our duty to honour the untold thousands that suffer in prisons and penitentiaries because they dared to resist the bonds that tie the proletariat.

In Romania, Yugoslavia, and Greece, the prisons are overflowing. Proletarians and communists are harassed, persecuted, and tormented.

The same is happening in Hungary, where the Horthy dictatorship still has the upper hand. And in Poland? Comrade Dombal, elected by small peasants to the Sejm, was condemned to many years of forced labour, despite his parliamentary immunity and on the basis of laws of now-destroyed tsarism, which stand in contradiction to the laws now in force. During the election campaign more than five hundred communists were thrown in jail. In Poland’s borderlands the proletariat is shamefully repressed, and those accused of political crimes are judged by military courts on the basis of martial law. And Poland calls itself a democracy!

Consider the states bordering on the Baltic Sea. In the jails of Finland languish brave men and women from the time of the revolution that was brutally overthrown by Mannerheim in alliance with von der Goltz, leader of the German mercenaries.

In Estonia our unforgettable comrade Kingissepp breathed his last, a victim of bourgeois revenge. Victims of political prosecution fill the jails to overflowing.

In Latvia Comrade Klavs-Klavins has been condemned to death, and many jailed comrades await their judgement by White courts.

Let us look at Germany, headed by a president [Ebert] who still calls himself a Social Democrat, even though there is hardly a principle of the old Social Democratic programme that he has not betrayed and trampled underfoot. Look at Germany, where even today communists, revolutionary fighters from the time of the Munich council republic three years ago, still sit in the fortresses and prisons of Bavaria.[1] The anguished cries for help of these victims of White terror continually break through the prison walls, yet the leaders of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals show no sympathy and express no support – they who had so much to say about the trial of the Social Revolutionaries, who are outposts of counter-revolution in Soviet Russia.[2]

Not all the victims of last year’s March struggles, by any means, have been released from prison. The brave revolutionary fighter Max Hoelz is behind bars, and the broad proletarian masses demand his freedom.[3] And all this despite the fact that the bourgeois-Social Democratic coalition government has decreed an amnesty – which, to be sure, is being exposed more and more as insolent mockery of the revolutionary proletariat. Recently proletarian blood flowed once again in the streets of Berlin – the blood of those fighting not for their own ultimate goal but to protect the bourgeois republic from military-monarchist reaction.[4] Abominable deeds of violence are met by neither punishment nor atonement. The Leipzig trial of those who killed Rathenau simply rewards political murder.[5] And Germany has a Social Democratic minister of justice!

In France the heroic sailors of the Black Sea Fleet are still behind bars – they who refused to fight against Soviet Russia, the workers’ and peasants’ republic. During the great strike in Le Havre, conducted with such self-sacrifice, workers’ blood flowed, and many revolutionary workers landed in prison.[6]

In Italy the fascists destroy trade union and cooperative centres, murder revolutionary workers, and scourge all believers in freedom. But for the counter-revolution that is not enough: bourgeois class justice, the infamy of bourgeois injustice, completes what fascism has begun.

Britain, democracy’s motherland and paragon, imposes judicial terror across Ireland and throughout its overseas territories and colonies. In South Africa hundreds of workers who defended their essential rights in this year’s great strikes languish in jail. In India, in Egypt the ruling British bourgeoisie’s judiciary exerts its authority brutally against national revolutionaries who defend the freedom and independence of their homeland against the rapacity of British imperialism; against proletarian revolutionary fighters who seek freedom for the exploited from every form of servitude, including to the bourgeoisie of their own nation.[7]

In the United States, revolutionary proletarians and Communists are persecuted, mistreated, deprived of their rights, and exposed to the worst knavery and violence, with a sophisticated barbarity that knows no equal.

The bourgeois states’ judicial terror and their persecution and imprisonment of proletarian fighters has become a widespread international phenomenon. What does that show us? It shows us that proletarians are increasingly weary of exploitation and servitude, that they increasingly demand and struggle for their human rights. What is more, it shows us that the ruling class is deathly afraid, and from this fear is born their thirst for revenge. True, the bourgeoisie seems strong and yet, despite everything, it feels the foundations of its class rule swaying and trembling under the blows and pressures of irresistible revolutionary historical forces. Thus it brings to bear all its cunning and might to defend its rule through the fraud of democracy and the scorpions of its class justice.

And yet – despite everything, this bourgeoisie would be unable in the present historical moment to defend its power with its own means. Only too clearly, the decay of the capitalist economy and the dissolution of the bourgeois order announce the approaching end of a world ruled and exploited by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie would be finished as a ruling class, had it not found allies in the reformist leaders of workers in each country. It is they who erect a wall protecting bourgeois class rule, and it is they who carry the full measure of responsibility for the fact that thousands and thousands of the best sons and daughters of the proletariat are convicts and prisoners, unable to apply their energies to the struggle to overcome capitalism.

Comrades, we have the honour and duty of sending our most cordial fraternal greetings to all those – whoever they may be, in whatever so-called homeland they may be suffering (Applause) – who were upright and strong enough to struggle, and who are surely in no way responsible for their failure to triumph. We send them our passionate good wishes, believing that they who had the courage to take up the struggle against a world of foes will also be strong enough to hold their head high, despite their enemies’ thirst for vengeance. We greet them in the firm conviction that their liberation will result not from compassion, justice, or other fine things to which the bourgeoisie gives lip service, but simply and only from the deeds of the revolutionary masses, who drive forward with irresistible impetus, sufficient over time to break down the gates of any dungeon.

We express our conviction that such a struggle for the liberation of revolutionary fighters will not be merely an act of solidarity but will also pay a debt owed to the vanguard fighters, because we left them alone in struggle with the enemy. We greet our imprisoned brothers and sisters in the conviction that they will stand firm in thought and will, even if the day of their liberation should come only when the victorious banner of proletarian revolution with the soviet star waves over each country and the entire world.



1. A government of workers’ councils was established in Bavaria on 7 April 1918; German Communists held its leadership 13–27 April. Counter-revolutionary forces overthrew the councils on 3 May, executing hundreds of workers and imprisoning many more.

2. In February 1922, Soviet authorities announced the forthcoming trial of forty-seven leading members of the Socialist-Revolutionary (SR) party for terrorist conspiracy against the Soviet state. At the conference of executives of the Second, Two-and-a-Half, and Communist Internationals in April, Social Democratic leaders insisted on clemency for the accused SRs, and Bolshevik delegates gave an undertaking that SR defendants would not be executed. This concession was sharply criticised by Lenin. The trial (June–August 1922) ended in death sentences against fourteen accused, but these sentences were later revoked or suspended. See Lenin Collected Works, vol. 33, pp. 330–4.

3. The March Action in 1921 began as a defensive response to police occupation of workers’ strongholds in central Germany; the KPD tried unsuccessfully to broaden it into a national anti-government general strike. Max Hoelz was the leader of a workers’ fighting contingent. Many leaders of the KPD, including Zetkin and Levi, considered the party’s tactics during this action to have been adventurist and ultraleft. The dispute was taken to the Third Congress, which endorsed many of the criticisms. For the Third Congress positions in defence of Hoelz and on the March Action, see Riddell (ed.), To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (Historical Materialism Book Series, 2015), pp. 941–42, 951, and 952.

4. On 15 October 1922, the ultraright Bund für Freiheit und Ordnung (League for Freedom and Order) called a demonstration at the 4,000-seat Circus Busch in Berlin. Police rejected calls for the action to be banned. The rightists attacked a workers’ counter-demonstration, wounding a considerable number.

5. German Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau was assassinated by members of the extreme-right Organisation Consul on 24 June 1922, an act that provoked massive protests. Two assassins committed suicide when found by police. The third was tried and let off with fifteen years in prison, of which he served five.

6. In April 1919, sailors of the French Black Sea Fleet, which had been dispatched to support France’s war against the Soviet republic, mutinied and raised the Red flag. The fleet was quickly sent home, the sailors repressed, and their leaders jailed. The French CP secured the election to parliament of two prominent leaders of the mutiny, André Marty and Charles Tillon, while they were still incarcerated.

Le Havre metalworkers went on strike 20 June 1922 in opposition to a ten per cent wage reduction. Strong local and national support enabled the strike to continue through the summer. In late August, heightened government repression led to a citywide general strike that shut down the docks. By 24 August, more than twenty thousand workers were on strike. On 26 August, the departmental prefect, Lallemand, ordered cavalry to charge the crowds of workers in the street. Troopers fired, killing three workers and seriously wounding one. The crowds stood their ground and did not disperse, but that evening most union leaders in Le Havre were arrested. On Sunday, 27 August, the CGTU called a nationwide general strike for Tuesday. The CGT refused support on the grounds that it had not been consulted. The 29 August strike failed, breaking the momentum of the struggle, although Le Havre metalworkers stayed out until October 10.

7. Britain’s war against Irish independence ended in 1921; the Irish Free State was established in December 1922, without the six counties of Northern Ireland. In India, a mass protest movement in 1919 against British imposition of the repressive Rowlatt Act was met by repression, notably in the Amritsar massacre, in which British troops killed hundreds of peaceful protesters. Britain also suppressed a national revolution in Egypt in 1919, leaving 800 Egyptians dead. Britain declared Egypt ‘independent’ in 1922, but retained effective control.

Miners and other workers in Transvaal declared a general strike in March 1922 against reductions in wages and living standards, in particular through the replacement of white workers by much lower-paid Blacks. The strike movement developed into a general uprising, which was put down at a cost of 154 lives. Four workers were executed. Despite efforts by the CP to promote racial unity and equality, the white workers’ movement defended the colour bar and a ‘white South Africa’, while some workers engaged in sporadic attacks on Black workers.


Last updated on 5 January 2021