Source: The Communist International, No. 4 (New Series), pp. 18-40 (9,222 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
To the distant and detached observer the full and bubbling life and activities of the Communist International may seem incomprehensible and confusing. He does not understand the historic inevitability, the fruitfulness and the inner meaning of the historic growth and development which is powerfully and consciously expressed in the Third International. Of course, it is a gradual day by day growth and development, and frequently accompanied by seemingly insignificant work and struggles. Its importance becomes manifest to the masses and to the world at large only from time to time, whenever important events and stages of development arise in the national sections, and when the revolutionary vanguard of the proletarians of the various countries makes an important advance. This growth and development becomes evident at the world congresses; here not only retrospective surveys of the development of the life and struggles of the Communist International are made, the tasks confronting the International are defined and the measures for their fulfilment determined on, but also the preparedness and strength of the movement of the world revolution is gauged and estimated.
The congresses of the Communist International are stupendous events. The number and variety of the phases of development of the countries represented at these congresses, the number of active participators, the length and variety of the agenda handled by the various commissions and delegations, the number and detailed character of the theses, resolutions, etc., which have to be elaborated and decided upon, astound the observer. Each succeeding congress shows a growth and not a diminution of these features. There is a tendency, however (for obvious reasons), to limit the number of delegates who only come merely to listen and to learn, and to concentrate on assembling working delegates.
Certain questions recur at every congress, as for instance the trade union and co-operative question, educational work, the organisation of the youth, work and propaganda among women, etc. A great deal of tedious and exacting preparatory work by the Executive, its secretariats, and various comrades and commissions, precedes the sessions. This work takes up many weeks during which hundreds of people are busily engaged seeking solutions for the basic problems. The printed reports of our world congresses have grown from a thin little booklet into a very thick volume, and yet these do not contain the reports of the meetings of commissions and delegations. Congresses alone cannot any longer cope with the storm and stress of the activities of the Communist International. They are supplemented and prepared for by meetings of the Enlarged Executive.
There are many, even in our own ranks, who fail to understand and appreciate the historic significance of the main features of the Communist world congresses as an expression of the historic development of the proletariat. If that is so, how can we expect an unprejudiced appreciation on the part of opponents and enemies who cannot and will not understand? All of them see the foam on the crest of the waves, but are unable to see the gigantic power which raised the wave whose foam crest arrests their attention. The growing length of the agenda and of the duration of our international congresses, with their protracted discussions, are interpreted as confusion, nay even helplessness, in the face of an exacting situation, as discrepancy between promising theory and unsatisfactory practice, as a substitution of numerous resolutions for the advertised liberating revolution, as incapacity to recognise “what is possible and most needed” and to concentrate the energies of the working masses on it, as incapacity to organise and regulate events, and so on.
Consciously or unconsciously, such criticism is based on a definite fact—the character of the world congresses by which the Second International endeavoured to unite the proletariats of all countries for uniform action in the pre-war period. It must be admitted that the organisation of these gatherings reached well-nigh perfection. Their preparation was in the hands of past masters in the art of organisation and direction, who did not neglect the decorative and propagandist sides of these functions. But the work and life of the Third International cannot be measured by the congresses of the Second International, as the former is, by its nature not a substitute and renewal of the Second International, but an organisation with a new historic life of its own. It goes without saying that we have still much to learn in connection with the organisation and effective staging of our world congresses, especially for the purpose of long distance propagandist effects. But it would be utterly wrong to imagine from the character, shortcomings and weak points of these congresses, that the Communist International lacks the stamina for a proper development of its forces.
There is a mighty pulsation in the Communist world congresses. They give you a sensation of ferment which demands to be put into shape, of contradictions which must be reconciled, of something which is in the making and which must be given a final and definite form. The atmosphere which pervades these congresses is pregnant with great creative possibilities. It is an environment in which the powerful historic process, whereby the old and obsolete sinks into oblivion and the new and vigorous comes to the surface, in which capitalism becomes extinct and Communism is born, culminates.
We have no control over the objective forces of development, but, as far as human consciousness, will and action is concerned, the Communist International will be the herald and determined champion of the future world order. Its congresses, its life and activities are evidences of its rapid development, and of the vital differences between it and the Second International.
The latter was the child of a period of evolution. It was content to explain capitalism and its most prominent features, the laws by which it is governed and the process of its development; to rally the workers of the capitalist countries and to prepare them for a change in the world order. But most of its influential leaders relegated the change to the dim and distant future, to be reached along the comfortable path of democracy and social reforms. This limited the activities of the Second International. Its development went on peacefully and steadily. It did not try to undermine the foundation of the bourgeois world order in the belief that what is necessary is also possible. The Second International considered this world order so firmly established, and so little affected by the volcanic forces under its surface, that it advised the proletariat to settle in it as comfortably as possible and to wait patiently for the time when things and men will become permeated with the idea of Socialism.
The questions which emerged one by one from the evolutionary period and the narrow fenced-in field of action of the Second International were settled at its congresses by discussions and resolutions. The more they stood in conflict with capitalist economy, the capitalist State and social order, the weaker was the influence of these resolutions, for the Second International was only a loose conglomeration of Socialist and proletarian organisations, and not a firmly-welded Party with a uniform and strongly centralised structure and strict discipline. The resolutions of its congresses were in the nature of “guiding principles” and not of binding obligations. The various national organisations treated these resolutions in an off-hand way, for they were not actuated by the desire and determination to carry them out faithfully. To carry them out would have meant a serious conflict with bourgeois society, and this is what these organisations tried to avoid. The spirit animating them was reformist and not revolutionary. Only on festive occasions did they indulge in revolutionary ideas which degenerated into hollow phraseology.
Even the most decisive resolutions on important and contentious questions were mostly in the nature of a disguised compromise between the reformism they practised and revolutionary ideas. The left wing of the Second International strove passionately but in vain to draw attention to the signs of the approaching period of revolutionary struggles and to impregnate the “evolution” atmosphere with the impetuousness of revolutionary determination. The Second International was impervious to anything but “academic questions,” in fact, to anything but “storms in a teacup.” The flourishing period of imperialism favoured the perpetuation of reformism, the evasion of decisions on matters of principle and the postponement of the solution of old and new problems. The Second International lacked strong and compelling impulses and attributes which result from open struggle to abolish bourgeois class domination and for the liberation of the proletariat through the establishment of its dictatorship. In short, in its activities the Second International was a well-oiled apparatus for maintaining bourgeois “ law and order.”
What a different impression does one obtain when observing the surging activity in the Communist International. This is because this International is not only the daughter of a revolutionary period, but revolution itself. It is the daughter of the Russian Revolution, the first powerful precursor of proletarian world revolution. Had not the Russian proletariat conquered power, had not the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government of Soviet Russia been established—there could have been no Third International! It came into being not only because the country of proletarian dictatorship protects and supports the revolutionary parties and movements throughout the world, not only because the rallying call to the international revolutionary forces came from this country, but also for quite another reason. After the shameful bankruptcy of the Second International, the revolutionary action of the Russian proletariat was required to restore the confidence of the wage slaves of capitalism everywhere in the liberating power of international Socialism and in their own might and strength. Inspired by the great accomplishment of the Russian proletariat, the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat in other countries proceeded boldly and confidently under Russian leadership to establish the Third International.
“What is bred in the bone….” As a child of revolution, the Communist International must itself be the embodiment of revolution. It must “make revolution” in the historic sense taught us by Marx, Engels and Lenin. To further and to accelerate the proletarian world revolution is the life task of the Communist International and the historic justification of its existence. Its work must consist in rallying the exploited and oppressed of all countries and in training and developing them into sterling revolutionary forces capable of taking up a relentless struggle against capitalism, which is the classical form of the class domination of those who have over those who have not, of dead riches over living human beings. Although the conquest of power by the proletariat and the establishment of its own dictatorship is the climax of this struggle, it is by no means its conclusion. Therefore, the work of the Communist International will not end with the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It will be confronted with the more difficult task of leading the proletariat during the period of construction, during the gigantic work of transferring capitalist economy and of its entire social structure in the direction of Communism.
This means that the activities of the Communist International must be greatly extended, for its field is the whole world even from the geographical and ethnographical point of view. The Second International limited itself to organising and uniting the workers of the advanced capitalist countries, namely, the workers of the white race. The appearance of Sen Katayama at the Amsterdam Congress as the representative of Japanese proletariat eager to find the way to Socialism was regarded as an extraordinary event. His presence at this congress was interpreted as a pacifist symbol of international proletarian brotherhood standing above the conflicts between nations created by bourgeois greed for exploitation. It was not in the least regarded as the initiation of a determined campaign against capitalist exploitation and enslavement of the colonial peoples.
Against this, one should consider the fact that among the adherents of the Communist International there are 62 sections, some of whom comprise several nationalities and peoples as, for instance, the large sections of the Caucasus and of the adjoining territories. Its congresses are made picturesque and are given a special oriental charm not only by the presence of the representatives of the Southern and Eastern Soviet Republics (from the Crimea to Vladivostok), but also by delegations of Persians, Indians, Japanese, Chinese, Malays, in short, of all the peoples of the Near and Far East which capitalism has either already brought under its rule, or intends so to bring. These delegates (men and women) do not by any means attend these congresses for decorative purposes, neither are the women exotic “prima donnas” intent on treating the audience to an aria di bravura on the misery of their brothers and sisters and on their aspirations to freedom and equality. They are active working members of the Communist International, alert and energetic outposts of the proletarian world revolution. One of the main objects of the Communist International is—to encourage and support the awakening, the revolt and struggle of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples against capitalism, and against any form of slavery and exploitation. True to the spirit of the Communist Manifesto, it helps the native bourgeoisie in the Eastern countries when this bourgeoisie takes part in the revolutionary national struggles for the overthrow of capitalist imperialism. It does its utmost to bring to power exploited proletarian and peasant masses under the banner of Communism and revolution, and to endow them with strength to throw, off the yoke of foreign and native masters and tormentors.
Communist sympathy for the colonial slaves of the capitalist States is sheer hypocrisy, the Communist International with its colonial policy is nothing but a tool of the new Russian imperialism behind which the Bolsheviks try to conceal the bankruptcy of their revolutionary policy! Thus, echoing the words of the imperialists of all countries, the reformists, under the cloak of the “liberation of Georgia and Armenia,” work for the delivery of the rich oil wells of the Baku district to the big capitalist trusts, and MacDonald, their leader, the head of the pseudo-Labour Government of Great Britain, defends the colonial enslavement of India. Let them talk and abuse us. The Communist International fully realises all the consequences of its colonial policy. It is convinced that a complete victory of the proletarian revolution and the complete destruction of bourgeois capitalist domination and exploitation can only be achieved through world revolution.
The wage slaves of the capitalist States cannot be free and happy as long as the colonial slaves of capitalism, the serfs of landowners and the victims of patriarchal traditions and customs remain in their present state of misery and slavery. The colonies are a fertile ground and a sound foundation for capitalism. From them capitalism draws enormous excess profits by the old method of primitive accumulation, as well as by the most refined methods and tricks of modern production and speculation. They enable the capitalists to placate the contented “rebellious” proletarians of the home countries with sops in the form of small concessions. If the irresistible rebellion of the exploited in the colonial and semi-colonial territories tears out of the hands of the world bourgeoisie the fabulous wealth accumulated there, the latter lose the means and the inclination to fiddle about with “tariff concessions,” and social reforms. In the hearts of the bourgeoisie there will be nothing left for the “dear fellow nations,” (dear, but not in the endearing sense of the word) but grim determination and power to exploit. In the highly developed capitalist States, the last illusions of the working masses about the possibility of making bourgeois social order bearable, and of being gently and gradually transferred into a higher social order, have been shattered. Reformism is being undermined at the root, while the masses are realising the necessity for revolution and the will to revolution of the proletarian vanguard grows and becomes the will of the masses. The time has come for the “expropriation of the expropriators.”
There is no doubt whatever that the conditions created by the Russian revolution in the Union of Soviet Republics have brought home to the Communist International the enormous importance of the colonial question. Could the leading Russian comrades adopt an attitude of “benevolent neutrality” towards the attempts of the imperialist robber States (and above all of intriguing, conspiring Great Britain) to convert the adjoining belt of countries (from Turkey to China) into a rallying point for an attack on the Soviet regime? Could they allow these Powers to inundate Soviet Russia and its allied Republics with their journalistic, political and military agents and spies for the purpose of working up conspiracies and risings? From the first the leaders of the Bolshevik party considered the Russian Revolution as the beginning of the proletarian world revolution. It was but natural, therefore, that, while intent on world revolution, they fully appreciated the necessity to protect the achievements of the Russian Revolution from imperialist designs and malignant machinations. It is one of the chief merits of Vladimir Ilyitch Lenin that he fully recognised and exposed the historic connection between the colonial question and the continued existence of capitalism. Thereby he opened before the Communist International a wide and important field of activities bristling with new and difficult tasks.
In connection with two other questions, the Russian revolution has made the field of activity of the Third International much wider than that of its predecessor, namely, in connection with the peasant and national questions, which are, moreover, closely connected with the colonial question. In fact, the colonial question by its nature is to a great extent a national and peasant question. The attitude of the Second International towards these two problems, as well as towards colonial policy, to say the least was passive. On the other hand, the Communist International adopted a very positive attitude towards these questions because the Russian Revolution showed with great clearness the necessity of developing the utmost activity in these questions for the purpose of ensuring and facilitating the trend and work of the revolution. The fact that proletarian dictatorship was established in a country 80 per cent, of the population of which are peasants, that the economic and social structure of that country has undergone a change in the direction of Communism, and the very boldness of this achievement, showed the enormous importance of the peasant question. In such a gigantic country whose population, origin, languages, economy and culture are in themselves an International—a conglomerate of nationalities and various stages of historic development—the national question was bound to come to the surface with the advent of revolution. All honour is again due to Lenin that in both these questions the Russian Revolution policy and the Communist International adopted the right methods and tactics in theory as well as in practice.
In all more or less agrarian countries, agrarian crises of varying degrees of acuteness and duration are arising. In all these countries the peasantry is making efforts to organise itself into political parties and to gain political power. Both these phenomena indicate that in spite of spasmodic capitalist economic revival, bourgeois domination and exploitation, capitalism, and with it the entire bourgeois social order, have been deeply shaken. The former economic and social equilibrium has not been restored. On the contrary, a very painful state of uncertainty has taken its place. The thunder of world revolution is approaching nearer and nearer, although its progress is perhaps too slow for the fierce determination of the masses to free themselves.
In this fateful period the Communist International, as the leading world organisation of the proletariat, must give a direct answer to two very difficult questions: (1) in this struggle for power between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, will the small working peasants be the allies of opponents of, the revolutionary workers, and will the middle peasants be their bitter enemies or benevolent neutrals?; and (2) in transferring the methods of production in the direction of Communism, can the farms of the small and middle peasantry be brought into line with large scale collective farming? In other words, will be it possible after the conquest of power by the proletariat to enlist the sympathy and support of the small and middle peasantry in the work of economic and social construction, or will these elements sabotage and hinder this work by standing aside? In the Soviet Republics, proletarian dictatorship, which under the existing historic conditions considers these questions as vital revolutionary questions, has answered in the affirmative the first part of the question.
In all bourgeois countries the small peasantry, as well as a considerable section of the middle peasantry, have come into sharp conflict with finance capital. Hundreds, nay, millions of these peasants were expropriated, proletarianised and even pauperised by Joint Stock Companies, Trusts, Banks and big landowners. They are at last rebelling against this state of affairs. In the situation which has arisen, the old ingrained hatred of the peasantry against the bourgeois State with its bureaucracy, taxes and interference with individual life has become more acute. Also in the countries of bourgeois “freedom and democracy,” the oppressed and impoverished small peasantry looks upon the State as a hostile power, as an apparatus for exploitation and oppression in the hands of the “mighty.” Economically and politically they feel they are “shorn lambs,” so to speak. At the same time they are attached to their plot of land and their farms with all the fervour and ideology of property owners. Therefore, their attitude to the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat for power is not wholehearted, their sympathies waver between proletarian revolution and capitalist counter-revolution.
An important factor in the struggle for power between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is the side which the small peasants will chose to support. This will be the case in most capitalist countries, perhaps with the exception of Great Britain, where there are no peasant masses and where for this reason the agrarian question assumes a different form. The revolutionary struggle of the proletariat for the overthrow of the class domination of the bourgeoisie must everywhere assume the form of a final settlement between the exploited and oppressed and capitalism. Alliance with the small peasantry is one of the pre-requisites of a proletarian victory. In the face of fascism, revolutionary workers begin to realise that such alliance is necessary not only for great political campaigns and in the time of rebellion, but also for the solution of the food question for the urban and industrial population during civil war. This problem cannot be solved anywhere by the revolutionary land proletariat on the basis of the existing big agricultural enterprises. Hence, the importance of the co-operation of the small peasant after the establishment of the proletarian Power.
It behoves the Communist International to effect the union between the proletariat and the small peasantry for revolutionary co-operation in the overthrow of capitalism. For this purpose, its national sections must adopt a strong unequivocal agrarian policy, capable of defending with the utmost energy the interests of the small peasantry against big capital and the bourgeois State. At the same time, the sections must remain the leaders of the revolutionary proletariat and must do their utmost to develop economic and agrarian conditions, as well as the workers and peasants themselves in the direction of Communism. The agrarian policy of the Bolsheviks has revealed the enormous difficulties attending this question. It has served to guide and facilitate the work of the Communist International. It goes without saying that it could not provide all countries with suitable recipes for a Communist agrarian policy. For, in spite of international unity of interests and principles, an agrarian policy must be adapted to the specific conditions prevailing in the respective countries. For instance, the agrarian programme and the agrarian policy for Bulgaria and for the U.S.A. cannot be concocted after the same recipe. The best forces of the Communist International will have to be concentrated in drawing up satisfactory agrarian programmes and methods of successfully conducting a truly Communistic agrarian policy. Important problems cannot be settled in the twinkling of an eye.
The consequences of the monstrous imperialist slaughter of 1914, which the so-called peace treaties perpetuates, the clash of the economic and imperialistic interests of the various States and groups of States, the renewed preparations for fresh mad adventures, the tendencies and conditions of the economic and, political development in the period of imperialism: all these make it incumbent on the proletariat and its leaders to concentrate their attention on the national question in theory and practice. What a host of “national questions” was brought into being by the peace treaty of Versailles, with its off-shoots of St. Germain, Trianon, Neuilly! To mention only a few of them, there are the struggles for Memel and Upper Silesia and for the delimination of Czecho-Slovakia and Yugoslavia, the incorporation of Bessarabia into Roumania, the isolation of German-Austria from Germany and the colonisation of this victim of anti-national imperialism, which is going apace. The fierce rivalry between France and Great Britain for supremacy in the Balkans and in the Dardanelles, the competition of American and British trusts for the great oil reserves of the world, the intention of the greedy imperialist States to dismember and enslave China and Eastern Asia—raise complicated questions concerning national self-determination of peoples and nationalities, etc.
While there was still a spark of revolutionary spirit in the Second International, it rejected bourgeois patriotism, basing itself on the saying of the Communist Manifesto, “The proletariat has no country.” But this was only a showy declaration, for in practice the Second International was not at all inclined to adopt the principle proclaimed by Rosa Luxemburg after war was declared—“that the international solidarity of the proletarians of all countries is the supreme law.” It was at all times influenced by truly petty-bourgeois unrevolutionary considerations for “national peculiarities” and was never truly international. Therefore, its attitude towards the national question could not be anything but negative. In view of the economic and political complications resulting from the capitalist system, proletarian internationalism is the inevitable pre-requisite of a correct attitude towards the national question. By giving up its internationalism, the Second International was deprived of its capacity to understand and represent the national question in a Socialist, that is, in an historic sense. Instead of advancing social development, it was itself driven by the ebb and flow of bourgeois class interests and by “defence of the fatherland” psychology.
When the carnage let loose by capitalism compelled the Scheidemanns, Vanderveldes, Renaudels and Hendersons to realise the significance of the national question and demanded from them decisive and prompt action, the Second International became the champion of vulgar bourgeois patriotism and its Chauvinist leaders, to the sound of trumpets, drove the workers into the gigantic slaughterhouse of the capitalist world war. In their eagerness to compete with the patriotism of the bourgeoisie and to identify themselves with the bourgeois social order, they forgot that sentence of the “Communist Manifesto” which complements the above quotation and clearly defines the Communist attitude to the national question. It states that, in its revolutionary struggles for emancipation, the working class must become the nation by capturing political power. The leading reformists of the Second International failed as positively in replying to the question “What is to be done?” as they ignored the axiom that in the bourgeois world, proletarians, as the exploited class, have no country.
The prosperity and independence of the nations which were plunged into the world war should have induced the Second International to explain to the workers the positive and historic meaning of their being without a country. It was its duty to make them realise the necessity of international solidarity for the purpose of making their respective countries their own by tearing the political power out of the hands of the ruling minority and by establishing the rule of their own class—the rule of the overwhelming majority of the nations. Ebert and Co. failed ignominiously to do this. They induced the proletarian masses to believe that the capitalist State was their country and that in the interests of the Empire it was justified in oppressing and exploiting national minorities and to expropriate and enslave large populations. They concealed the fact that the workers can secure a fatherland only through revolutionary struggle, proletarian dictatorship, and the establishment of the Communist social order. Had they done their duty, the bourgeois imperialist war would have been converted into proletarian civil war for the destruction of the exploiting bourgeois State. National independence and free development can only be secured through the new type of State power—workers’ dictatorship.
The reformist leaders of the Second International shrank from this solution, owing to their lack of confidence in the destructive, and constructive and liberating power of the proletariat and of Socialism. With slavish submission, they sacrificed to bourgeois dictatorship the very ideals which served them as the pretext for their betrayal of the workers at the outbreak of war—national independence and peace among nations. They deluded the confiding proletarian masses into believing that the rough but effective methods of revolution can be substituted by clever clauses in a treaty drawn up by the expert representatives of Entente imperialists in the “League of Nations.” The war and the Peace Treaties have exposed the total impotence of this bourgeois caricature of the proletarian international and the imperialist designs hidden behind pacifist phraseology. By its very nature the “League of Nations” is unable to prevent the state of war existing between bourgeois national states and to solve the national question. Nothing would be changed even if the ardent desire of the reformist leaders, that the States, which are still outside this congregation of capitalist saints, (especially Germany) be included into the League of Nations, were to be fulfilled.
The deliberations and decisions of the League of Nations on national questions had precisely the same result as all other national and international conferences of Ministers, diplomats, politicians and great financiers. They leave all the problems arising out of the existing conflicts untouched, and in some instances made them even more complicated. This “peacemaker” and “advocate of all nations” understands to perfection the S.O.S. of the capitalist syndicates of the various States for complete domination (without competition) over territories which provide raw material, cheap labour and markets, as well as the imperialist call for submarines, long range guns, aircraft, bombs and poison gases. But it turns a deaf ear to the humble and stammering bequests of the conquered and subjected nations for right and justice. It is impervious to these demands, for it is deaf and blind to the just demands of the enslaved and exploited classes.
Nevertheless, the Second International, which has been galvanised into some semblance of life, continues to pretend that the League of Nations will unravel the complicated national questions. The significant attempts of the Austrian Social-Democrats (forced on them by the conglomerate of nationalities which constituted the Hapsburg dual monarchy) to solve the national question in theory and in practice ended after all in opportunism and made no impression whatever on the attitude of the Second International towards this question. The national policy of the latter is in theory a bourgeois-pacifist game of hide and seek, and in practice an anti-labour defence of capitalist interests. This is borne out by the shameful and mendacious decisions of the Hamburg “Unity Congress” on the national question, “fraticidal war” between the German and Czech social democracy in Czecho-Slovakia, occupation of the Ruhr, and reparation questions, etc. The national policy of the British Labour Government under the leadership of MacDonald strikingly shows how the Second International is wallowing in a morass of contradictions. The inspired champion of national self-determination, the passionate advocate of pacifism, in his capacity of head of the government regards the alliance with French imperialism sacrosanct in spite of the fact that it aims at the colonisation of Germany. With the support of the Conservative and in the face of Liberal and some Labour opposition, he secured the passage of a resolution in the House of Commons in favour of a considerable increase of the air fleet. He demonstrated his belief in the “liberty and independence of nations” by sending a “large armed force to India for manoeuvres.” He approves of the perpetuation in that country of the oppressive measures against national and social movements and allows workers on strike and rebellious peasants to be shot down.
Thus we see that in the national question the heritage received by the Communist International from the Second International was nothing but a waste of tares and weeds, and not a fertile field yielding rich harvest of ideas.
The Second International could not serve the Communist International except as a warning. The latter had to go back to Marx and Engels to define its position as a revolutionary international in connection with the manifold national questions of the times. Since the summer of 1914, these questions have been springing up like mushrooms on the blood-drenched soil of the capitalist State. The revolution also had a share in forcing them into the foreground, but the revolution provided also the means and possibilities to solve them. It brilliantly vindicated the revolutionary proletarian attitude on the national question as laid down in the “Communist Manifesto.”
What the Communist Manifesto briefly outlines has been thoroughly elaborated by Lenin, who based his deductions on actual historic facts and experiences of the times. He gave to revolutionary policy on the national question a combination of firmness of principles and aims with the flexibility of “realpolitiken,” and it is to this that the first Workers’ and Peasant State of the world owes its firm establishment and the “Union of Socialist Soviet Republics” its existence.
Russian bourgeois “democracy” proved unable to protect Russia against the predatory intentions of the other imperialist States by a continuation of the imperialist war. On the contrary, it placed the safety of Russia into jeopardy. The proletarian revolution saved Russia. While the Russian workers assumed State power with the support of the peasantry and established their dictatorship in the Soviet Government, the revolution roused the social forces of the country and almost out of nothing produced armies of fighters for the independence of the newly-created State. The peasants flocked into the “Red Army” determined never to give back the land to its former owners. And proletarians filled its ranks because they needed the Soviet power in order to destroy the domination of the exploiters and to put an end to the oppressive economic power of the bourgeoisie through Communism.
The emancipation of the socially enslaved and exploited elements from age-long class domination enabled Soviet Russia to frustrate all the attempts of the imperialist States and of the world bourgeoisie to destroy the new workers’ and peasants’ state by violence, blockade, diplomatic tricks, financial machinations, etc., and to make its existence secure. Russia solved the national question as a social question, for it gave autonomy to and abolished the racial and religious disabilities of the many nationalities which the Muscovite power had brought under its sway and had exploited and oppressed.
When the revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ State had proved its vitality in the struggle against the capitalist powers and proved to be unconquerable, it turned its attention towards constructive work, and at the same time proclaimed in its territories the right of all nations (including small national minorities) to self-determination. The end of the class domination of the bourgeoisie and of the aristocracy over the proletariat and the peasantry was also the end of the domination of the nationally strong over the nationally weak. The Soviet social order created the political prerequisites for the future Communist order by such revolutionary economic and social measures as, for instance, the nationalisation of land. The constitution of the “Union of Socialist Soviet Republics” has brought into being a new Soviet Great-Russia which, notwithstanding strict centralisation in questions of State, has granted a liberal autonomy to the various nationalities and peoples contained in it. The little Republic of the German Volga Commune has autonomous rights of which the States federated in the much vaunted “democratic” Ebert-Seeckt Republic may be justly envious.
And what is the result of the Bolshevik national policy? Outwardly, a Great-Russia has come into being whose free and atuonomous component parts are much more firmly welded together than was the case under the military and knout regime of Czarism—a Great-Russia which holds together much better than the bloodstained colonial empire of Great Britain or of any other colonial power. The Union of Socialist Soviet Republics has proved itself strong enough to protect its independence and revolutionary institution against its capitalist enemies. It has compelled its enemies finally to recognise it de jure. It repulsed Curzon’s provocative attempt to violate its rights and interfere in its home and foreign policy, and to force from it big concessions to British capitalists. It will deal in the proper fashion with the shameless provocation of Stresseman—the pigmy Curzon who acts at the behest of Poincare and the magnates of the heavy industry.
In spite of its mixture of nationalities, the revolutionary transformation of its economic and social conditions and the long years of civil war, the “Union of Socialist Soviet Republics” is, internally, the most firmly established State in the world. Although surrounded by enemies to a greater extent than any other country, the Union of Soviet Republics is the only country which has considerably decreased its armed forces, having sent hundreds of thousands of its citizens in the army back to the plough and to the bench. This characteristic fact does not only proclaim Soviet Russia’s determination not to draw the sword except in the service of freedom and revolution, but is also a sign of the calm strength and determination of a great people not to allow the achievements of the revolution to be tampered with.
Let us now consider the result of the Bolshevik national policy in its application to the various peoples and nationalities of the Soviet Union. By conferring autonomy this national policy encouraged the economic, political and social development of the new autonomous Republics. It revived the true culture of these nationalities which lay dormant for many centuries, and overcame traditions which helped to keep these peoples in bondage. For instance, the Soviet social order in the Caucasus and elsewhere succeeded in abolishing the blood feuds between nationalities, peoples and races—a relic of the past. It provided an outlet for national and racial peculiarities in the movements for social development in which it gives these nationalities scope. The national policy of the Bolsheviks has created in the remotest parts of this gigantic State and among its wildest and most backward peoples desire for union and for collaboration in lieu of the former seclusion, surliness, hatred, internecine struggle and struggles against the oppressive and, predatory central power. The seed sown there fell on good ground.
In the “Union of Soviet Republics” all the nationalities are engaged in fruitful and joyful activities, and one cannot help marvelling at the pristine freshness and natural impetuosity of these nationalities. It is as if they were determined to make up for all their former lost opportunities. Of course, the results of the national policy are not the same everywhere. Frequently, old traditions and customs are an obstacle in the way of social revolution. Step by step the impetuous new displaces the tenacious old. Step by step characteristic feature of all this is the determination to develop and to go forward at all costs. The desire for international unity is stronger than all the national peculiarities of the Soviet conglomerate of nationalities. It is an historic fact of considerable significance that this will to international unity is not limited to the nationalities within the Soviet Union, but is meant to include the proletarians and exploited of the whole world. The common aim and the common desire of all are—maintenance and development of the Soviet order and overthrow of the capitalist order. The national peculiarities develop in the warm sunlight of internationalism into active revolutionary forces.
The Russion revolution and the Bolshevik national policy gave to the Communist International clear and definite directions on the national question. Unlike the policy of the Second International, this policy has a positive character and is full of revolutionary possibilities. I believe that this policy, based on the Soviet system, has hastened the advent of the type of State of the near future, determined by the present development of the capitalist system. This development has produced the supernational colonial State, the “Empire,” which transcends national boundaries. By its historic nature it is twofold, for it is an affirmation and at the same time a negation of the national, and international in world economics and world politics. To reconcile these contradictions the “League of Nations” was established. But this is an abortive institution built up of capitalist national refuse, lacking revolution. The “League of Nations” cannot solve the task imposed on it, because it contains within itself all the contradictions which it is supposed to overcome. In those parts of the world where the revolution has destroyed the bourgeois order and has placed power into the hands of a proletariat inclined towards Communism, the economic and political development takes the form of the new super-national type of State, the “Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.” As the contradictions of its social foundation have either been solved or are on the way to solution, such a State is the strongest vindication of internationalism, the creative synthesis between it and nationalism. It does not need an international corrective, but an international pioneer who will break down the resistance which capitalism still offers to its progress. This pioneer is the Communist International—the leader of the proletariat on the road to world revolution, the pre-requisite of the World League of Socialist Communist Soviet Republics.
The results of the Bolshevik national policy are restful islands in the turmoil of the national phenomena created by world capitalism in the process of its collapse. These results are the guiding stars of the world Communist movement. The Communist International must give definite directions to its various sections on the treatment of the national question. Our Parties must find definite solutions for the many problems connected with this question. The reparation demands of the Entente to Germany, the Irish struggle for independence, the national movements, and struggles of colonial peoples or of countries threatened with colonisation, etc., etc.—everyone of these problems must be studied and appreciated according to their influence on mass psychology. In taking into account this mass psychology the sections of the Communist International while not ignoring the capitalist present must not forget the Communist future which can only be achieved through world revolution.
By a positive revolutionary attitude to the national question, Communist parties can get into touch with large masses other than the proletariat. As yet Communists have not done much in this direction. Some of our sections “are afraid” to come into conflict with strong, bourgeois-patriotic convictions. Others are, consciously or unconsciously, still influenced by the negative attitude of the Second International, and fear that by insisting on a more positive attitude towards the national question, we shall get a repetition of what took place in the Second International—bourgeois patriotism and betrayal of working class interests. The fear of failure, of losing one’s Communist bearings in the chaos of contradicting phenomena, is the cause of the greatest mistake of all—passivity, which is the worst enemy of revolution for which even the most plausible radical reasons are not an excuse. The Communist International must not limit itself to general directions to its sections, but must encourage and urge them to accept a positive policy on the national question. It is a revolutionary path with a revolutionary aim of world wide significance.
This article has already assumed such proportions that I refrain from dealing in detail with other activities of the Communist International. On this subject I will limit myself to a few cursory remarks. On the eve of the proletarian revolution, the question of the middle class claims the attention of the Communist movement. It is a supplementary question to the peasant question and presents problems of its own, for example, the problem of civil servants and intellectuals. Both these questions may become important factors in the dissolution and destruction of the bourgeois State, and of bourgeois social order, as well as important factors in revolutionary construction after the assumption of power by the victorious proletariat. This can only be the case, however, if Communists take up the right attitude towards these problems and develop the necessary activities. The Russian revolution has thrown light on the question of civil servants and intellectuals, and has emphasised its importance for the transition period from capitalism to Communism.
In connection with these problems we have to deal with various forms of differentiation between “manual and brain work.” This differentiation has been accentuated by capitalism to such an extent that it makes the already difficult question of the relations between masses and bureaucracy still more acute during the transition period. This problem will not be completely solved until we have a society of free human beings with equal rights and obligations and no class distinctions whatever. For it is only by the abolition of private ownership of the means of production that labour power will cease to be a purchasable commodity and. will become the expression of free individual effort for the welfare of society as a whole. During the transition period the social contrast between manual and brain work is bound to be the cause of acute conflicts.
There are two ways of making this problem less acute and of hastening its solution. In the course of the revolutionary process the workers, as the chief actors in this process, are given an opportunity to raise their cultural level. Their ranks yield an ever-growing crop of “civil servants” and “intellectuals.” The workers themselves begin to appreciate the importance of this kind of work. On the other hand, “civil servants” and “intellectuals” begin to realise the enormous significance and the liberating character of the revolutionary change not only for the workers but also for themselves. This results also in a correct appreciation of their part of the difficulties connected with such a process. Raving become participators in this process, they do their bit in the constructive work of the masses willingly and joyfully. To put s it briefly: “civil servants” and “intellectuals” cease to exist as separate groups or “castes.” The tasks of the Communist International in connection with this process of development are numerous and difficult, for in the period when the proletariat is struggling for State power; it must divide its attention between social and political activities. In all capitalist countries the State apparatus is in the hands of civil servants and intellectuals who are ardent champions of imperialism and the mainstay and driving power of fascism.
Our revolutionary times demand that the Communist International should assume the leadership of the large non-proletarian section of the population. The Communist International has also greatly extended and intensified Communist work and propaganda among the proletariat. In this connection one has only to compare the agenda of international congresses and the subjects with which the sections, of our international and their leaders have to deal with the questions occupying the attention of the Second International. A comparison of the agenda of the First and Second Congresses with the agenda of the Fifth Congress of the Communist International itself is also instructive. What a testimony of growth! The Communist International has drawn into the orbit of its activities everything connected with the historic life of the proletariat as a fighting class, everything which indicates the growth of proletarian strength and can benefit revolution: trade union and co-operative movement, women and youth movement, educational work and sports, solidarity in rendering help wherever needed, etc., etc.
Of course, some of these branches of work were by no means neglected by the Second International. But most of them were considered secondary and unimportant, and were left to be managed by the Parties and organisation of the various countries instead of being given international importance. One must say that on these fields of proletarian life and activities one generally met the notice: “rubbish heap”—for the refuse of every variety of petty and big bourgeois ideas and aspirations, a hotch-potch of the most variegated illusions and confusions. It is only when political or economic conditions were exceptionally bad that the Second International deigned to discuss “the question.” It lacked the main attribute of a workers’ organisation—the will to revolution, as an immediate aim. It concentrated all its energies on the development of large national Social-Democratic parties with restricted political activities which degenerated into parliamentarism pure and simple and lost all revolutionary impulse. Therefore, there was no real connection in these parties between “politics” and other aspects of proletarian life.
This applies to a great extent even to such an elementary historic phase of revolutionary life as the trade union movement. Its value and its relation to the political party was for a long time a contentious question in the Second International. Party movement and trade union movement were not welded together as part and parcel of the revolutionary movement. They ran parallel to each other as two in dependent movements. This was greatly due to the fact that after the collapse of the Chartist movement in Great Britain, trade unions became strong organisations imbued with the craft and compromising spirit, while socialism only formed small, weak and scattered parties, and in Germany the anti-Socialist laws and the reactionary association law caused a split in the social democracy. The false theory of “trade union” neutrality triumphed. This separation of the two movements made trade unions an easy prey to opportunism. But as proletarian class parties and trade unions are of the same origin, opportunism also invaded the Socialist parties. When the prominent German trade union leader Doemburg concluded an impassioned oration on relations between trade unionism and social democracy with the famous remark: “The Party and the trade unions are one,” he was right in the sense that they were one in the morass of opportunism and reform. This applies not to Germany alone.
How different are conditions in the Communist International in connection with the various forms and events of proletarian life. All these forms and events are made to harmonise with the activities of the Communist Parties, and the union between the latter and the proletariat is becoming stronger every day. The Communist International personifies the unity of a powerful and extensive fighting apparatus whose component parts intertwine nationally and internationally in joint action. The driving power of this apparatus is the world proletariat’s will to revolution as an immediate aim. Trade union, co-operative, women’s and youth movements, cultural and educational work, etc., are only the emanation of this will in various directions and forms and on various fields. All these movements culminate in the one aim—to rally, to prepare and mobilise the working masses for revolution.
We cannot afford to lose a single moment or a single opportunity.
A crisis within the Communist International would have incalculable consequence for the proletariat. Therefore, every branch of activities with its manifold tasks must be carefully studied, separately as well as in connection with Communist activities as a whole, in order that they might be put to a good use. We must not miss a single opportunity of leading the workers into the decisive struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. We have already given the reasons for active interference by the Communist International in the question of revolutionising petty and middle bourgeois and peasant sections of society, as well as colonial peoples. Its tasks and obligations gain in magnitude. To cope with them successfully one must have a good knowledge and appreciation of the smallest details as well as of the big and important matters connected with the workers’ movement, and also of their interrelation. The demands which the important events of the last few years make on the Communist International cannot be always regulated once and for all according to statutes, clauses and agenda items.
Some questions crop up again and again in various forms and claim the attention of the Communist International. They do not come before it in proper sequence allowing sufficient time for their discussion and solution. On the contrary, they frequently take the Communist International unawares and insist on being dealt with at once. For all these questions are the outcome of the ever-changing events and rapid progress of our epoch. Thus decisions made to-day are perhaps of no avail to-morrow. For whatever bourgeois sages and their reformist echo may say about the stability of capitalism, the Communist International lives and works in an epoch of revolution and for revolution.
Its activities are as wide and as varied as the world. Therefore, its methods and tactics must also be varied. Our revolution is a world revolution with definite tasks and aims. This is reflected in the Communist world congresses. It became the custom to call the meeting of the Second International “The Parliament of Labour.” There was an unconscious, profound meaning in this simile, for its represents exactly the nature of the Second International, and it shows to-day how obsolete this institution is for present working class aspirations. It is as obsolete as parliamentarism itself, in spite of MacDonald’s attempts to rejuvenate it in Great Britain through the reformist Labour Government. Who would dream of calling the congresses of the Communist International “the parliament of labour?” It would be more appropriate to compare them to the war council of a gigantic army whose battlefield is the capitalist world.
It is a war council the like of which has never existed before. In the midst of the present struggles it prepares the ground for the future. It rallies to its banner all the vital historic forces for the purpose of destroying the old bourgeois order based on exploitation and oppression. But it also rallies forces for the construction of the Soviet State and for the establishment of the Communist social order. The Communist International teaches the proletariat, among other important lessons of the Russian revolution, the close connection between the process of destruction and the process of construction, and also the great difficulties not only of the seizure of power, but of its maintenance and right application. But these difficulties do not frighten the revolutionary proletariat. The stern demands of history make it incumbent on all proletarians to get rid of their chains, and not only to conquer the world but to change and rejuvenate it. Under the leadership of the Communist International they will accomplish this. The revolution, whose champions they are, is a conqueror as well as a rejuvenator. It is at the same time the Titan of destruction and of construction, the mighty embodiment of human will to power and action.
Last updated on 23.8.2007