Source: The Communist, May 7, 1921
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
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.
[Note.—The Third Congress of the Communist International, which will begin in June, is going to deal with very big controversies within the International. In order that our readers may be informed of the points at issue we print this important document of Zinovieff, which has been prepared on the instructions of the International Executive Committee as an official statement of their position. We have selected from the document the passages which deal with the two dominant questions—the question of Serrati in Italy, and of Levy in Germany.]
IT has lately become noticeable that a turning point is approaching in the development of several of the parties adhering to the Communist International. This consists in the fact that, among the exponents of several of the parties adhering to the Communist International, a tendency to create a Right Wing within the Third International is manifesting itself. This tendency becomes particularly dangerous at the present moment, when, as the result of a whole chain of circumstances, the rhythm of the development of the international proletarian revolution is somewhat slackening up. The Communist International must take note of this danger, and must take means to combat it from its very beginning.
At I the centre of all the discussions that are going on at present in all the larger sections of the Communist International lies, indubitably, the Italian question.
What precisely is it that has happened in Italy? It is the duty of every conscious upholder of the Communist International to acquire a clear understanding of the facts. The I.S.P. was one of the first to adhere to the Communist International, and for a long time was considered one of the best international parties. The Communists, and Centrists, and even all the Reformists, declared in Italy that they were for the Communist International. Thus matters went on until the Second Congress of the Communist International.
Until the Second Congress affiliation to the Communist International imposed practically no obligations on the parties adhering to us at the time. Affiliation was rather in the nature of a symbol. A given party, which declared- its solidarity with the Communist International, received from it all the support of its immense moral authority, assuming, on its side, however, practically no serious obligation. Thus it was with the I.S.P.
The situation changed after the Second Congress of the Communist International. The Second Congress elaborated the well-known twenty-one conditions. The Second Congress made every party understand that affiliation not only conferred rights, and popularity, but also imposed obligations. The principal condition set by the Second Congress was the expulsion of the Reformist and semi-Reformist elements from all parties adhering to the Communist International. As soon as this question came up for discussion, it was revealed that all is not gold that glitters. It came out in the I.S.P. that the majority was unwilling to break with “their” Reformists. Everywhere the same situation repeated itself. In each country where there were “Communists” of the indecisive Serrati type, they came to the Executive Committee of the Communist International and declared: “Our” Reformists are Reformists of a quite special brand, they are quite like the Communists, they practically are Communists. In other countries it is unquestionably necessary to expel the Reformists, but in our country the Reformists are fine revolutionary fellows, and in our country it is absolutely necessary to allow them to remain in the Party.
Already at the Second Congress of the Communist International Comrade Serrati, appearing as representative of the majority of the I.S.P., had made a whole series of ambiguous declarations which had induced painful reflections in all of us. And after the Congress Comrade Serrati behaved in such a way as to justify the worst suspicions that had been aroused in regard to him. He appeared in the rôle of the most ardent defender of “his” Reformists; nor did the prospect of a break with the Communist International give him pause, if only he might retain the declared Reformists in his Party.
Given such a state of affairs, the Executive Committee of the Communist International was forced to enter into sharp conflict with Comrade Serrati and his partisans. During the unfolding of the conflict we had to tell Comrade Serrati many bitter truths. Glancing back now over the past conflict we cannot retract a single word of ours against Comrade Serrati. For, in fact, what is it that Comrade Serrati has done? In the name of unity he preferred to alienate himself from 60,000 of the best proletarian Italian Communists rather than sacrifice 11,000 self-declared Opportunists. Despite all the sounding words that Comrade Serrati has pronounced in favour of unity, despite all his efforts to prove his own innocence, to every conscious worker supporting the Communist International one fact stands out clear and unalterable. At the Congress of Livarno Serrati had 97,000 votes, the Communists 60,000, the Opportunists 11,000, and Serrati allied himself with the Opportunists against the Communists. If Serrati united with the Reformists against the Communists, this was solely for the simple reason that he felt a greater affinity and sympathy with the Reformists than with the Communists. Before this supremely significant fact all the animated arguments fall concerning the pretended errors committed by the Italian Communists, or Executive Committee of the Communist International, which was said to have “driven” poor Serrati toward the Opportunists. In reality, Serrati was repulsed towards the Opportunists because he wanted to be. He came to be allied with Turati against the Italian Communists for the sole reason that he desired and sought that alliance. Whoever does not see this is simply a child, in politics.
As the time for the Second Congress of the Communist International drew near, the objective Italian situation was being rendered ever increasingly revolutionary. The crises became more acute, the struggle of the Italian workers blazed up with mounting passion. In a whole, series of discussions (sittings) with the Italian delegates we tried to impress on Serrati and his partisans the fact that the Party must prepare itself for the decisive battle, that it must not let the moment pass, and give the Italian bourgeoisie the opportunity to strengthen itself (bring up reinforcements). Shortly after the Second Congress of the Communist International, the struggle of the Italian workers blazed still higher. There commenced the memorable movement of the workers who, by revolutionary means, occupied the factories and the workshops, and then proceeded to the formation of district armed forces for a Red Guard of workers. This magnificent movement might have developed independently without the passivity of the Party and the betrayal by the Italian Reformists. The leader of the Italian bourgeoisie, Giolitti, in close alliance with the leader of the Italian opportunists, D’Aragona (friend of Comrade Serrati), broke the back of this marvellous movement of the workers. The Italian Reformists committed an act of blackest treachery against the Italian workers. But this same Serrati found nothing better to do than to justify D’Aragona, and to present the matter as if this movement of the revolutionary Italian proletariat had been merely a strike movement, a narrow question of professional unionism, with nothing in common with the beginning of a direct revolutionary struggle.
There is, as is known, a crisis in the United German Communist Party. Whether this crisis has touched only the leaders of the Party or, whether the large masses of adherents are also affected, is difficult to say as yet. Let us hope that the malady has stricken only the leaders. The direct occasion of these manifestations of discontent in Germany against the policy of the Executive Committee of the Communist International was the Italian issue. A part of our German followers were discouraged at seeing that at the Congress of Leghorn the supporters of the Communist International were in the minority. Comrade Serrati’s leaving the Communist International, our German comrades explained by the excessive intransigence of the Executive Committee, not comprehending that to renounce the exclusion of the Reformists of the I.S.P. would have been equivalent to a complete capitulation in principle on the part of the Third International. Levy speaks of “mechanical” schisms, provoked by the Executive Committee of the Communist International, and allows himself to repeat the Menshevik accusations against the Communist International.
Alas, there are even among Communist folk who love to be always in the majority, and who do not understand that the interests of the revolutionary proletariat sometimes imperiously, demand that the minority make firm and immovable declaration to the majority: “Here I stand, I can do no other.” This is exactly the situation which has been created for our friends, the Italian Communists.
In Germany the defence of Serrati has been taken up by Comrade Levy, member of the Central Committee of the United German Communist Party. On the basis of all the documents and information at our disposal, we, the members of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, have come to the unanimous conclusion that Comrade Levy before, and at the Congress of Leghorn, and after it also, has been systematically sustaining Comrade Serrati against the Italian Communists, and consequently against the Executive Committee of the Communist International. We are convinced that events in Italy have only served as a pretext for Comrade Levy. In reality, the opposition which he has been making to the Executive Committee of the Communist International has been provoked by our general policy and by our method of judging events in Germany. Comrade Levy attempted to form a Right Wing in the United German Communist Party, and, therefore, it is perfectly natural that he should essay to do the same thing in the international camp, particularly in Italy. Comrade Levy had already made weak attempts to organise a Right Wing of the Communist International on the eve of the Second Congress, and then at the Congress itself. Those attempts were not crowned with success at that time, and we hope that neither will they be now.
The first step is always the most arduous. It is difficult to commit the first great error in policy. But now that Comrade Levy has succeeded to creating a first group, taking its stand on this mistaken platform, this group will inevitably seek to oppose the Executive Committee of the Communist International on every issue.
1. The above title was given by the transcriber. In The Communist these excerpts were published under the heading “Zinovieff’ Letter”—Transcriber.