Gregory Zinoviev 1921
Third Congress of the Communist International

Speech at Opening Session
June 22, 1921

Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (, pp. 74-82
Translation: John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Bluden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission

On behalf of the Third World Congress of the Communist International, we greet the many thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – now confined behind prison bars in many countries. In Germany we lost hundreds of comrades during the March Days. During recent weeks, four hundred comrades have been condemned either to jail or penitentiary, and about seven thousand others languish in prison.[1] In addition, we know that the jails of the Hungarian republic are not empty, and the same applies to those of Finland.[2] In the most democratic of bourgeois republics, in the United States for example, thousands of Communists are in prison.[3] In Britain, one of the leaders of our new party is behind bars, as well as many other British comrades who spoke of communism to the British workers.[4] In Czechoslovakia, a considerable number of workers are incarcerated, among them well-known Communist fighters: Muna, Zápotocký, Hula, and a number of others. They are with us in spirit and send us their greetings from behind prison walls.[5]

We are convinced that the hour is not distant when all the capitalist prisons, without exception, will be demolished by the insurgent people, and our brothers and the best sons of the international working class will be free and will take their places at the head of proletarian masses in assault against capitalism.

In the history of the Communist International, this was not an easy year. During this period, in a great many countries, we experienced armed struggle, and, in some of them, this took the form of major pitched battles. As you recall, no sooner had we closed the Second Congress of the Communist International than a proletarian mass movement utilising new forms of struggle began in Italy, the country that was then closest to proletarian revolution. The Italian workers demanded the handing over of factories and mills, and held possession of them for two weeks. They organised a red army and were ready to carry their struggle further.[6]

At that moment, the Italian reformists – the very ones who had honoured us with a visit, saying they wanted to belong to the Communist International – turned up in the camp of the bourgeoisie, betraying the cause of the working class. At the decisive moment, the Italian Confederation of Labour, led by experienced opportunists, did everything in its power to disperse the workers’ movement. The Italian centrists, with Serrati in the lead – who we still trusted the previous year – found nothing better to do than to portray this great proletarian movement as a peaceful, ‘trade-unionist’ union movement. The Italian workers had to learn the painful lesson that some of their leaders were no better than wreckers of their struggle.[7]

In December 1920, we registered an uprising of the Czechoslovak proletariat, partially armed and more than a million strong. Inadequately organised, this movement was quickly suppressed. But it toughened the Czechoslovak proletariat and enabled it to obtain the schooling needed to build a mass Communist Party, which is represented among us here for the first time. [8]

In the spring of this year, an uprising by the German proletariat embraced no fewer than hundreds of thousands. Although suppressed, it played no small role in the history of the German revolutionary movement. By toughening the proletariat and revealing a new Communist mass movement, it wrote golden words, despite its failure, in the history of liberation struggles. In addition to this great movement, we experienced many smaller uprisings by proletarians in different countries. All of these uprisings hardened our young Communist parties, giving them invaluable lessons, helping them to recognise their weaknesses and, in the future, to avoid the errors that ought not to be repeated. These experiences will also contribute to instilling in our parties a thirst for struggle and the consciousness that we should not rest content with peaceful propaganda. Rather our parties should lead one struggle after another in an assault against our capitalist foes.

Our enemies point to these mass movements, drawing the conclusion that during the past year the Communist International has suffered one defeat after another. Of course these short-sighted people, who cannot see farther than their nose, view the Italian, Czechoslovak, and German movements as defeats for us. We know that the entire chain of struggles by the international proletariat consists of such defeats. We know that the Russian proletariat also suffered a great many defeats of this kind before it achieved victory. We are also convinced that the struggle waged in Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Germany, although it did not lead to the victory of the international proletariat, nonetheless must be assessed as a giant step forward in the forging of our movement.

When our Second World Congress gathered, it seemed that world capitalism was going through something of an upturn. Now, as our Third Congress assembles, it is commonly believed that world capitalism is experiencing a difficult and lengthy crisis. There are millions of jobless in Europe and America, and many others are working only half-time. We see poverty growing in a great many countries. We see the admirable strike of British miners, unquestionably one of the most important developments in the history of international revolution. This strike displays a marvellous doggedness and heroism. It is all the more magnificent given that, at the decisive moment, the leaders of the old trade unions, as is fitting for these people, betrayed the British workers. Yet despite the inadequacy of support from other proletarian layers, beset on every side by enemies, the miners have already hung on for weeks in a strike that is unparalleled in the history of the British workers’ movement.[9]

On this, the opening day of our congress, we have received news of the developing revolutionary movement in Italy – the strike of railway, postal, and telegraph employees. It is evident that Italy is entering another period of great struggles. In Germany, still reverberating with the latest verdicts of reactionary courts, a three-day general strike is under way. Bavaria is headed toward renewed revolutionary struggles. In France, a struggle is brewing inside the trade-union movement, one that will lead to the victory of the revolutionary current over the opportunists in the largest union federations.[10]

Our parties have grown enormously during the past year, as you can see by looking at the principal countries. In France, at the Second Congress, we had only a small group of supporters, functioning as propagandists and leaders of the country’s first Communist groups. At this congress there are representatives of a party in France that has 120,000 members and has brilliantly defeated the old opportunist party, which has now gone over to the camp of the Two-and-a-Half International. Look at Czechoslovakia. At the Second Congress there was a delegation of a small group of Communist propagandists. Here at the Third Congress, we have delegates of an organised Communist Party that includes more than 400,000 workers, including both the Czech and German comrades. Consider Britain: at the Second Congress we had delegates of eight comparatively small and isolated groups, often embroiled in quarrels; at the Third Congress we have delegates of a party with ten thousand members, who develop their political positions and stand ready to bring a conscious Communist influence to bear on the splendid proletarian mass movement that is now unfolding in Britain.

Consider the United States. At the Second Congress we had only individual groups, weakly represented. During the past year, we united all the Communist forces of the country into a unified party. It is persecuted and functions underground, yet it exerts a constantly growing influence on the incipient proletarian mass movement in the United States. So you see, comrades, that our party has been strengthened everywhere, in all countries. The white terror that sought to destroy our party in Yugoslavia did not achieve this, and could not achieve this, despite the aid of supporters of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals.

Yet we also suffered losses. At the Second Congress there was a delegation of a unified and numerous Italian party; at the Third Congress, by contrast, we have the delegation of a new and young Communist Party, which at present, including the youth, includes close to one hundred thousand members. Philistines believe that the Communist International has lost a very great deal in Italy, that it has suffered a great defeat. We have a different view. In Italy we lost some illusions, some negative quantities – forces that belonged to the Communist International only through a misunderstanding. We lost the groups that assumed you could belong to the Communist International without taking on serious obligations. All the better for the Communist International that it has lost this dead weight. We address a passionate appeal to the workers of Italy who have not yet joined the Communist International’s ranks, and we are confident that it will not be long before all Italian workers, with their splendid revolutionary temperament, will join our ranks.

But as for the gentlemen who betrayed the Italian workers’ movement at a time when workers there had taken possession of the factories and mills, these gentlemen who steal glances with one eye on Moscow and the other on Amsterdam – we have no need of these people. We do not believe it is a defeat for us that the negative quantities have left us. In Italy we have a young Communist Party, composed of devoted members dedicated to the proletarian revolution. To be sure, this young party is not yet large enough. However, we are firmly convinced that the future belongs to this party, and that the time is not distant when this young Communist Party of Italy will draw around it everything that is honest and revolutionary in the Italian proletariat. (Applause)

On an international level, the forces opposed to us have now unified. Last year representatives of the right-wing German Independents [USPD] and similar groups came to us, seeking to join the Communist International in order to sabotage the proletarian movement later on, as their co-thinkers do everywhere. We did not admit them.[11] Now they have come together on an international level, consolidated, and formed the Two-and-a-Half International. We have no reason to regret this development. All the timid, petty-bourgeois, opportunist, and semi-opportunist forces have come together in one spot, united in the Two-and-a-Half International, and freed us from forces that are vacillating, unreliable, and incapable of resistance. The Communist International can only gain by the fact that these forces do not belong to us but rather gather in another place, around another pole.

See what has become of the Second International. A year ago, at the time of our Second Congress, there were still grounds for uncertainty regarding the fate of the Second International. But now, comrades, we can see that the fate of this International is symbolised by that of its worthy president, Thomas. As the miners’ walkout began, Thomas, the president of the Second International and the outstanding figure in the Amsterdam International, betrayed them. The betrayal was so disgraceful and the workers’ indignation was so fierce that he had to go away for a time to the United States.[12]

Not so very long ago we read that this refugee president of the Second International, this worthy Amsterdam collaborator, was greeted, on leaving the steamer in the United States, with a hostile demonstration by the revolutionary American proletariat. Is that not symbolic, comrades, of the state of the Second International which, rotten at the roots, has become an organisation facing the proletariat with open hostility? We are now waging our main battle against the Amsterdam International, which unites the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals. This is where the decisive battle will take place.

After our congress closes, the first world congress of red trade unions will take place here in Moscow. This congress will have enormous importance, because it will bring together, for the first time, unions that want to take up consciously the struggle against Amsterdam and demolish the last bulwark of capitalism. During the last year, the International Trade Union Council, founded during the Second World Congress, has united fifteen million unionised workers. We will endow this organisation with an even firmer foundation at the coming congress.[13]

Comrades, our congress faces an enormous and fundamental theoretical task: it will be called on, once again, to examine the global economic and political situation from every angle. Once again it will consider and test our tactics and strategy, toughen all our parties for a successful struggle against opportunism of every sort, against half-measures, against every form of centrism, which has unfortunately penetrated our ranks even in such tested countries of the classic workers’ movement as Germany. In this regard, our congress will find the strength to erect solid barriers against all currents that seek to undermine our solid Communist unity from within.

Our congress will find the necessary strength of purpose to counter decisively all those who try to import the poison of centrism and semi-centrism into our young Communist Party – no matter who they are and how great were their past services.

Our congress will mark out once again, more completely and specifically, a clear and definite line, which must be calculated not only in terms of a more rapid tempo of proletarian revolution but also for one that is slower, if it turns out that the revolution is taking this less desirable path.

Our congress will endow the Communist International with a more finished structure, given that our member parties and the Communist International as a whole face a great many highly important organisational questions. The congress will also draw a balance sheet of the work accomplished during the past year.

The provisional list that I have here shows that forty-three countries are represented at our congress. There will probably be fifty in all. Our gathering today is actually a gigantic world congress of the Communist proletariat. We will have the opportunity to utilise the experiences accumulated by our brothers in many countries. One of the main items on our congress agenda is examination of the internal and international situation of the Soviet republic, until now the only country in which power lies in the hands of the proletariat, which has sacrificed so much in this struggle and experienced such adversity. We are obliged to fully inform our brothers coming from every country about our suffering – and we do this most willingly. We will make known the real state of affairs, revealing both our strong and weak sides, and giving a picture of the heroic and superhuman struggle for power by the proletariat. Comrades from every country know well that the Russian Revolution represents a large part, if not half, of the world proletarian revolution. Everyone understands how important it is for workers of all countries that proletarian power remains inviolable in our country and that now, with the close of the Civil War and demobilisation of the Red Army, we are able at last to go over to peaceful economic construction.

Comrades, even now – before our congress has begun its work – it is encircled by the blind hatred of the world bourgeoisie. The entire bourgeois press is circulating an ocean of lies and slanders about our congress. I have been informed that the Polish bourgeois press has declared with malicious glee that only seventeen delegates have arrived in Moscow. But as you know, almost one thousand representatives are present from workers’ organisations of the entire world. Many more fairy tales will be invented. Nonetheless we have the right to affirm that we are sustained by the most advanced, honest, and revolutionary forces in the entire world.

The Second Congress worked out the Communist International’s statutes and basic principles of our strategy and tactics. We are confident that our Third Congress, following on this example, will hone the policies and structure of the Communist International. It will aid the sister parties of countries like Britain and the United States, where a strong workers’ movement is emerging but communism is still weak in penetrating the masses. Our congress will assist parties that are already supported by broad masses, like those in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and elsewhere, to coalesce their forces for glorious battles. We are confident that our congress will open the eyes of other parties to their errors and weaknesses and help them to rectify their course, cleanse the party of all opportunist forces, and toughen it, so that in every country – just as the Second Congress desired – we will have a section of a unified, fraternal, and Communist world party. (Loud applause)

I heartily welcome all comrades present here, and especially the delegations from countries of the Near and Far East. (Renewed applause and cheers)

Comrades, in the entire history of the workers’ movement there has never been a congress embracing so many representatives of the Near and Far East. Recall the congress in Baku, which took place after the Second Congress. Since then the Communist International has gained increased influence in the countries of the Near and Far East, and this authority grows with every day. The presence at our congress of numerous delegations from the Near and Far East is evidence that our organisation is not merely European; it is an international association of workers not merely of Europe but of the entire world. The presence of these delegations is evidence that the now imminent revolution is not merely European but global – a world revolution in the true sense of the word. That is why the delegates of the advanced proletarian parties of Europe and America must devote special attention to these delegates of the Near and Far East, provide them with the fullest support, join with them in fraternal alliance, and show the entire world that we are capable of uniting not just the advanced proletarians of Europe and America but also the numerous peoples of the Near and Far East.

We welcome all delegations with the cry: Long live the world revolution! Long live the Communist International! (Enthusiastic, prolonged applause and cheers)




1. In 1923 the KPD estimated that 6,000 had been arrested for their role in the March Action. Of these 1,500 were released after a few weeks of confinement. The rest were tried by special courts, which acquitted 500 and sentenced the remaining 4,000 to prison terms.

2. The Hungarian soviet government, established in March 1919, was overthrown by troops from Romania and other countries on 1 August. A reign of counterrevolutionary terror ensued; an estimated 5,000 were executed, 75,000 jailed, and 100,000 forced to flee the country.

In January 1918 workers in Finland, granted independence from Russia following the October Revolution, organised a Red Army and declared a proletarian republic. The Red Army was able to seize most of southern Finland, but it was defeated by counterrevolutionary forces. The number of victims of the ensuing white terror is uncertain, but some estimates are that 10,000 were summarily shot[0] and over 100,000 were sent to concentration camps, where some 12,000 died of disease or starvation.

3. Between November 1919 and January 1920 over 10,000 [0]suspected Communists and anarchists, primarily foreign-born, were rounded up, in what became known as the Palmer Raids, named after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. More than 500 were subsequently deported.

4. A reference to Albert Inkpin, the CP’s national secretary, who was arrested on 7 May 1921 for circulating pro-Soviet propaganda, thereby ‘doing, or attempting to do acts calculated to cause sedition and disaffection among the civilian population’. He was sentenced to six months in prison. By the end of June at least seventy leading CP members had been arrested. 5. Following the December 1920 political strike in Czechoslovakia, over 3,000 Communists and working-class militants were arrested; they were released later in 1921.

5. Following the December 1920 political strike in Czechoslovakia, over 3,000 Communists and working-class militants were arrested; they were released later in 1921.

6. Beginning at the end of August and continuing through the end of September, over half a million workers, led by the metalworkers, seized factories throughout Italy, creating a revolutionary situation in the country. Workers began to organise production under the leadership of factory councils, and in many places workers organised Red Guards to defend the seized factories. The strikes spread to the railways and other workplaces, and many poor peasants and agricultural workers carried out land seizures. The Italian Socialist Party and the trade-union federation refused to see the movement as anything more than a union struggle, however, and the movement eventually foundered.

7. On 10 September 1920, at the height of the Italian factory occupation, the CGL’s directive council declared its opposition to the movement’s revolutionary dynamic: ‘The objective of the struggle shall be the recognition by employers of the principle of union control over industry. This will open the way to those major gains which will inevitably lead to collective management and socialisation, and thus organically solve the problem of production.’ (Spriano, The Occupation of the Factories 1975 [London: Pluto, 1975], p. 89)

In the end, the CGL leadership negotiated an agreement with the government calling for workers’ control and major wage increases, in exchange for workers leaving the factories and going back to work. The promised concessions were never carried out, however. The failure of the movement led to widespread demoralisation within the working class. Fascists stepped up their recruitment and carried out an escalating wave of attacks against the organised workers’ movement. They were able to seize power two years later.

8. On 9 December 1920 the government of Czechoslovakia seized the People’s House in Prague, headquarters of the Left Socialist (future Communist) Party and its newspaper, Rudé právo. A general strike was called in response, observed by one million industrial and agricultural workers, which called for the resignation of the government and issued a series of revolutionary demands. In a number of places workers’ councils were set up, as industrial workers seized factories and agricultural workers occupied large estates. The government responded by declaring a state of emergency, and workers were fired upon in several centres. After a week the strike was broken.

9. The British miners’ strike began when coal owners locked out miners following expiration of a temporary wage agreement on 31 March. Some 1.2 million miners turned the lockout into a strike to protest the owners’ planned wage cuts and extended working hours. Authorities responded by declaring a state of emergency, moving police and the army into the coalfields.

Leaders of the transport and rail workers’ unions had promised solidarity strike action. But in a move widely seen as a betrayal, on 15 April (‘Black Friday’) the leaders of these unions called off the scheduled solidarity strike, leaving the miners in the lurch. The strike lasted until 29 June.

10. A reference to the struggle in the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) between the right-wing leadership and a left wing led by revolutionary syndicalists. The left wing would be driven out later in the year, and would form the Unitary General Confederation of Labour (CGTU).

11. Prior to the Comintern’s Second Congress in July – August 1920, the still-united USPD sent a delegation to Russia to discuss the party’s affiliation to the Comintern. The delegation consisted of Artur Crispien and Wilhelm Dittman from the party’s right wing, and Walter Stoecker and Ernst Däumig from its left.

12. James Henry Thomas was a British labour leader, treasurer of the Second International, and head of the Amsterdam trade-union International. In May 1921 he travelled to the United States to attend the annual convention of the American Federation of Labor in Denver, held 13 – 25 June.

13. The International Council of Trade and Industrial Unions was the forerunner of the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU, also referred to as the Profintern, based on its name in Russian). The International Council was founded on the eve of the Comintern’s Second Congress in July 1920. The RILU’s founding congress was held in Moscow 3 – 19 July 1921, overlapping with the Comintern’s Third Congress.