G. Zinoviev

The Tactics of the
Communist International

(1 November 1921)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. I No. 4, 1 November 1921, pp. 29–30.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, January 2019.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The decisions of the Third World Congress of the Communist International are being interpreted in every possible way. Not only opponents but even certain of our friends have still to understand the significance of the Third Congress. And yet all Communists must clearly comprehend the role and significance of the Third Congress and its position in the fight for the emancipation of the world proletariat in order to be able to intelligently take part in the present struggle.

The importance of the work of the Third Congress lies in the fact that the Communist International has adapted its tactics to a new situation. The Communist International follows the same general path as before. But it must take into account new obstacles; where it is necessary, it slackens its pace, avoids the abysses, to-day retreats in order to better organize the attack for the morrow, holds back the advance guard where the main body of the army is too far to the rear.

The organization impulse has, in the two years of the existence of the Communist International, without any doubt grown enormously. There is no doubt that the communist parties in 1921 represent a greater organized force than in 1919. But the masses’ impulse of spontaneity in the struggle, the unconquerable, elemental impetus of exaltation has become weaker in these two years. The enemy has grown stronger during this period; the bourgeoisie has consolidated its forces, has organized.

It has recovered from its disintegration of the after-the-war period, has regrouped its forces and again faces us as a serious, in certain places, threatening opponent. The social-democrats, supporters of the Second and the 2½ Internationals, have, during 1919–1921, done all in their power to make possible the bourgeoisie’s consolidation. In the period when the the bourgeoisie was helpless, during the months when the capitalist leaders were trembling in every limb, when the bourgeois parties were swaying like reeds in the wind, almost everything was dependent on the subjective factor, on the degree of the working class’ preparedness, on the revolutionary will and decision of its parties and trade-unions. In these decisive moments the social democrats of the Second and 2½ Internationals threw all their weight into the scale-pan of the bourgeoisie. On account of that we will only be able to attain that which we could have won in 1919 with a single blow, by the expenditure of enormous efforts. On account of that the Third Congress of the Communist International had to adapt its tactics to the new conditions.

No step must be taken at the present time which permits the enemy to exercise his influence upon the working masses! Capitalism is ruling today with the assistance of the yellow trade unions, with the assistance of Amsterdam and of the Second and 2½ Internationals. For that reason, if for no other, the trade unions must be conquered and freed from the influence of the “yellows”. The quicker the intensification of the general revolutionary crisis, the easier will it be for us to pass to the final decisive conflict

The new tactics of the Communist International are characterised by the following:

To the masses ... down into the depths of the proletarian and semi-proletarian masses. Participation in the minor daily struggles, even if carried on for the most insignificant improvement of the standard of living. Participation in all workers’ organizations from the workers’ councils to the athletic clubs and musical societies. Persevering propaganda for the ideas of the dictatorship of the proletariat in all these organizations. Conquest of the majority of the working class for Communism. Systematic, determined, and persistent preparation of the working masses for the coming struggles. Careful work in the creation of illegal organizations. Patient, indomitable work for the arming of the workers. The establishment of strong, independent communist parties, purified of opportunists, centrists and semi-centrists. Above all ... Conquest of the trade unions.

The Third Congress, in its further development of the decisions of the Second Congress of the Communist International, wanted to say this and only this. The Third Congress was able to draw the necessary, practical conclusions from the changed situation and it adapted the tactics of the communists to the new conditions. It was able to call and prepare the parties for positive work corresponding to the altered circumstances. That was its great significance.

Before the Congress, the labor movement of the whole world was in a very difficult and complicated position. The communists must always clearly give themselves account of the complications in a given situation in order to find news methods of contact with the masses. Instead of doing this the impatient “left” is acting in a manner that threatens to destroy tne entire built-up organized party apparatus, without through their activities drawing the masses io them. On the contrary, through this procedure the danger arises that the masses may eventually be driven into the camp of the social-patriots and centrists.

The Third Congress of the Communist International was unconditionally duty bound to correct these errors and, in so much as it was unavoidable, to fight the “left” tendency determinedly. A number of comrades, among them the leaders of the VKPD (German United Communist Party), have, no doubt, made only one mistake: they falsely estimated the situation. In so far as the do not persist in their error and openly give up the false “Theory of the Offensive” (and we have all the reason in the world to maintain that a rather important number of the German comrades have really disavowed this error), the matter can be considered as settled and it only remains for the Communist International to turn to account and draw the lessons from these mistakes. But as long as there are comrades and groups of comrades in Germany (the group of comrade Maslow) and probably in other countries who raise these committed errors to the level of a theory and make of it a pearl of creation, who persist in this “leftism”, the Communist International will be constrained to carry on the most determined struggle against this tendency, which is very analogous to Russian Otsoviam. In general the international working-class is without doubt at present experiencing a pause between two revolutionary waves. The elemental mass uprising, which began at the end of the imperialistic war and shook Europe for two years, has at the present time here and there come to a standstill At all events, it hat taken on new forms, in a number of countries the bourgeoisie has gone over to the offensive, against the workers. Bourgeois reaction at its worst is now raging. Fascism, the Orgesch and similar White Guard bourgeois organizations will, of course, not save capitalism from destruction, but the necessary antecedents for the formation and flourishing of these organizations were not present previously and have only now arisen, when the strengthened bourgeoisie has put us here and there on the defensive.

Of course, this does not mean that the revolution is over, as Hilferding and Co. think; it does not mean that 1919–1920 was the highest point of the revolutionary movement and that we now face a period of quiet, in which the workers must employ the moderate trade-union, or what amounts to the same thing, social-democratic tactics. Not at all. In 1908–09 the Stolypin reaction in Russia reached the climax of its success. The Mensheviki predicted that the revolution was over, that, in order to fight a constitutional monarchy, we should become a moderate, reliable, stylish, “European” social-democratic party. We Bolsheviki were fighting the left tendency, but we did not forget for a moment that the tasks set by the revolution of 1905 were not yet liquidated, that new combustible material was accumulating, and that social evolution was unavoidably bringing on the new revolution, which would be much more powerful than that of 1905.

We now see the same process on an international scale. The German Social-Democracy has issued the draft of a new program which clearly demonstrates that the German Social-Democracy has openly transformed itself from a socialist party into a bourgeois democratic party of peaceful reform. The German Social-Democratic “leaders”, born blind, carefully avoid even the words “class struggle” in the draft of their new program. They fear the class struggle as the devil the sign of the cross. The are firmly convinced that the bourgeoisie has completely overcome all the difficulties of the after-the-war period, and that the bourgeois regime will rule for another hundred years and will become more and more “reformed” and “democratic”. The German Independent Social Democracy and the entire 2½ International, inspired by it, proceeds from the same standpoint. When Crispien at the Halle Congress compared the present-day situation with that of Europe in 1849, he desired to say that, as at time, the revolutionary movement of today reached its final conclusion in 1919. The Italian reformists and Serrati have exactly the same opinion. The question is here presented in a manner that in many ways reminds one of the attitude of the Russian Mensheviki during the above-mentioned years of reaction. Martov and Dan at that time put the question, “what are we experiencing 1847 or 1849?” Without an instant’s hesitation they answered, “1849, of course”. 1847 meant to them the instant just before the beginning of the revolution; 1849, the end of the revolution. The Bolsheviki were mistaken in their estimation of the tempo, as they conjectured that the new revolution would begin much sooner than in reality it did. No one could know that the counter-revolution in Russia after 1905 would last a complete decade. The Bolsheviki could not exactly predict if the then uncertain equilibrium would last 2 or 4 or 10 years. As Marxists, however, they could foresee, and did foresee that the second revolution was unavoidable. In this connection they were in the right when they disavowed the “Hypothesis of 1849”.

We see the same thing now. Since we are no prophets, none of us can say exactly how many months or years will pass before the victory of the proletarian revolution in the first of those important countries which really determine the fate of the World Revolution. One thing, however, we know exactly, and the new analysis of Europe’s economic situation at the Third Congress has again completely convinced us of it:

The revolution is not over. We are not very far distant from the period in which new conflicts will begin, which will shake Europe and the whole world in a much greater degree than the sum total of all previous struggles.

On the basis of the most moderate analysis of all the principal factors in its development, the Third Congress of the Communist International came to the unshaken conclusion that the Revolution is not very far off ...

In the flourishing period of the counter-revolution in Russia, during 1907–1911, the Bolsheviki said. “The objective situation is much more revolutionary. The problems of the revolution are not yet solved.” Our principal canon, our leading star, upon which our entire program, all our tactics were based, was the inevitability of a new revolution. At the present time there exists an uncertain equilibrium. But just because of that, because the new revolution is inevitable, we, the party, we, the advance guard of the working class, throw our entire weight in the scale-pan of the revolution. Sooner or later, our scale-pan will become heavier and we will win.

The problem on an international scale was stated in this manner by the Third Congress of the Communist International. Anyone who, even in the slightest degree, renounces the idea of the new revolution ceases to be a communist. He goes over to the camp of the Second or 2½ International. He is no longer our comrade. In this sense the struggle against the right still remains our principal one. But in order not to turn our preparation for the victorious proletarian revolution into a manner of speech, we must carry on the same battle of ideas against the ‘left” tendency that the Bolsheviki in their time carried on against the Otsovists.

This comparison is not a splitting of hairs. The air is filled with the germs of Otsovism. The Neo-Otsovism had to arise in such a difficult, painful period as that which the international labour movement is now passing through. Only when the most advanced section of the communists will be in a position to draw the necessary conclusions from the lessons of the past, will we, as it were, be able to reduce the overhead costs and diminish the internal conflict in the Communist International.

This, and only this, is what the Third Congress of the Communist International meant by its struggle against the so-called “left”. When comrade Hoglund (in the Politiken, No. 119) writes that the Executive of the Russian Communist Party represented a “moderate” tendency at the Third Congress, that the “main thought of this tendency is, in short, that the world revolution will be a long-lasting period of revolutionary struggles and that our tactics, because of this, will have to be adapted to a rather long period and must not be based on the expectation of a revolution in the immediate future”, he mingles the correct with the incorrect. Even before the victory of the Russian Revolution the communists knew that the world revolution will be a long-lasting period of revolutionary struggles; the Zimmerwald Left had already said that in 1915. As far as this is concerned, we do not need to accommodate ourselves all over again to a longer period. The estimate of this period’s length can remain as before.

Last updated: 14 February 2019