Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 561-569
Translation: John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Bluden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission
Zinoviev: Comrades, there has been a good deal of argument here over whether our policies have been oriented correctly regarding left and right. I have the feeling that this question is being judged too simplistically. It has been said that if we are carrying out a policy aimed against the Left, then we should immediately and much more energetically apply a policy against the Right. It is like an urge to place the matter on the scales of justice, as if it is a question of justice, or courtesy, or convenience.
If the question is posed as whether the Left poses a great danger because it really represents a significant force, then of course we must say that, compared to the centrist parties and half-centrist groups, the so-called Left, as an organisational force, is insignificant in size. But the question cannot be posed so simplistically; it does not concern organised strength. We cannot claim that those who are to the left of the Third International represent an enormous force and an enormous danger – if it is even possible to refer to a Left outside of the Communist International.
The question must be posed in terms of a tendency, and here I must go back once again to the Second Congress. During the Second Congress the so-called left danger did not represent a large organised force, but yet this tendency posed a major danger for the International.
Recall the trade-union question, where a group of comrades, headed by our late comrade John Reed and other British and American comrades, wanted to commit us to rejection of the trade unions. As an organised force, this danger represented hardly anything at all. But this was the most dangerous tendency. Where would we be today if we had given way on this question in 1920? Where would the Communist International be today? We would have helped Jouhaux and the other gentlemen of the Amsterdam International. It is wrong to say that we are threatened on the right by great dangers from half-bourgeois ideologies, but on the left only from small groups that are not organised. The question is whether this tendency is dangerous, if it gains a foothold in our ranks. In the course of events, a moment may arrive when it is much more dangerous for our movement.
Personally, I have learned a thing or two during this congress regarding the need not to underestimate this tendency. We must keep our eye on it, just as we did during the Second Congress. It is easy to explain the historical origin of this tendency. During the Second Congress we perceived a distinct sectarian danger. Comrade Bell was annoyed with my speech because I said that this danger still exists in Britain and the United States. The danger is created not by a desire of our party to be sectarian but by the broad historical developments that have brought it into being. Great economic factors are involved, such as the state of British industry, its monopoly position, and so on. But this issue also has much to do with our party’s understanding, and we must remind the British and American comrades of the continuing danger that they are still too far removed from the masses. That is shown by various experiences, as in the miners’ strike, and elsewhere. Here the party was not yet in a position actually to stimulate the movement politically. Given that Britain is certainly just as important as Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, how can we forget this danger? The Second Congress did all it could to bring comrades closer to the masses. During the last year, we have made some gains in this regard. But the Third Congress cannot avoid stressing its urgency once again.
Then there is the second danger, which also has historical roots. After the debates in the Executive and then the report on the Italian and German questions, can anyone deny that there is a danger that the clever bourgeois will provoke our new party into premature struggle? Looking at the Italian question, I can well understand why our Italian friends are so very sensitive. The blame lies with the Socialists and centrists, with Serrati. Terracini’s bad defence of the rather bad amendments flows from Serrati’s conduct. In 1920 Serrati and the entire Italian delegation was fully convinced that the situation in Italy was ripe for a great revolutionary movement. We asked Terracini, ‘Do you have the support of the majority of the army and of the peasants?’ Unfortunately, that was not yet the case. But it was precisely in Italy that we experienced events showing just how impregnated the party was with centrism.
In 1920, however, Serrati and the entire Italian delegation believed that we had the support of the majority of proletarians plus a large proportion of the peasantry and the army. That was the view of all the Italians, including Serrati. Now, however, the situation has changed, and we must start all over again. The working class must go through this crisis and undertake to redeploy its forces. That will probably take more than a year. There has been a regression in Italy. Considering this situation, I understand full well why the new Communist Party is now subject to another danger. In explaining this, we certainly do not intend to justify it. The danger must be looked in the eye. There is a danger of leading the party into striking a blow prematurely. It is centrism that has accomplished this – that we should now have such a danger in a movement like that in Italy.
Among the Germans we see something similar. Consider the Kapp Putsch. What was the situation? When the counterrevolution surfaced, this acted as a spark for the entire working class. The working class took a united stand against the counterrevolution, prepared to struggle, and was on the very edge of taking power. Suddenly the trade-union bureaucracy, the old Social Democracy, and the Independents [USPD] acted to ruin the chances of the working class. The counterrevolution was saved, and Scheidemann and the bourgeoisie were once again in the saddle. The proletarian party had missed its chance.
Certainly, when the core of the revolutionary German workers see this situation and experience such a crisis, it is quite understandable that even there a portion of the working class will resort to an attempt at launching the struggle somewhat too soon and will grow somewhat impatient. To repeat: the responsibility for setting these events in motion lies basically with the social patriots, the real betrayers of the working class. We, the Communist Party, must recognise who is mainly to blame. But we must then not overlook this danger that, although created by the centrists, places us in mortal peril. That is the heart of the matter.
We cannot judge the situation simplistically in terms of are you for the Right or for the Left. Of course, the rightists are our true enemies. They are the bourgeois agents in our camp; it is their aid that enables the bourgeoisie to hang on. If the Amsterdam International were not on the side of the bourgeoisie, we would have victory sewn up by now. The working class must overcome this obstacle. The enemy is the rightists. But that does not mean we should underestimate the danger posed by the leftist tendency. We do not say, like Comrade Roland-Holst, that since the leftists are revolutionaries, ready for any sacrifice, imbued with ideals, good comrades ready at any moment to give their life for the proletarian revolution, therefore this danger is not so great. It is precisely because they are our friends and comrades, because they work and labour at our side, that any error they make – any major, significant error – can be extremely dangerous for the Communist International.
That is the reason for the passionate polemic against the so-called left wing. You must understand that this is done as an expression of love. There is a Russian saying: I love you from the bottom of my heart, and that is why I will shake you the way one shakes fruit down from a pear tree. (Laughter) That must be our attitude when Lenin or other comrades speak against comrades who have committed ‘leftist blunders’ – and that has the ring of a parliamentary understatement. This is not like measuring gold on a scale, saying, ‘You have spoken a quarter of an hour against the Left and only five minutes against the Right, which proves you are guilty of a rightist deviation.’ It takes only half a second to say that the entire Right is made up of bourgeois agents. A great deal more time and effort is needed to patiently examine the mistakes that our movement makes out of inexperience and because of the difficulties we face in this transitional period. We must keep that firmly in mind.
I heard, for example, that the comrades of the Italian Socialist Party are now saying that Lenin has provided them with new arguments against the Communist Party of Italy. In fact, we confirmed the expulsion, saying that for now you do not belong to the Communist International and that you must fulfil your duty to drive out the bourgeois agents. The Italian Communist Party is a full member of the Communist International. We discuss with this party in friendship, sometimes perhaps with passion, regarding errors that are in the air, errors that can be made if you are not sufficiently on the alert and fall for the provocations of a very clever and well-organised bourgeoisie. How can this possibly serve the centrists? When advanced by comrades who fought against centrism, who are real Communists, such accusations carry great weight. When advanced by Serrati or one of his supporters? It is mere hypocrisy for one of them to assert that they are sticking with Turati because Terracini has made some errors regarding the movement’s tempo.
I will now take up the German question. First, let me note with regard to the March Action that we are rather close to a solution that can perhaps be adopted unanimously. Let me quote a passage from a motion presented over the signatures of Franken, Neumann, Malzahn, and Zetkin:
Despite the erroneous outlook underlying the March Action and the flawed manner in which it was conducted, the Third Congress of the Communist International assesses it as a struggle that demonstrates a will to action and, thereby, is a step forward. The congress expresses its conviction that the VKPD must devote its full energy, through intensified and consistent activity in every field of work, to leading the struggles that arise out of present conditions inside and outside Germany and that may well break out at any moment.
Comrades, we can take satisfaction in noting that we are close to a unanimous decision in this heatedly disputed question, whose clarification was the goal of this congress. We must recognise this fact. Compare our Russian theses with the Zetkin amendment and even with the amendments proposed by the VKPD delegation: there are still some disagreements, but we are close to our goal. That has to be recognised. It would be pointless for me to try to determine who made concessions in this process. We came here for the purpose of analysis, not to prove who was right or to aggravate even more the situation in Germany. We are in fact quite close to a unanimous decision, and that will be a most important outcome of our congress.
Comrade Malzahn complained yesterday that Comrade Heckert had spoken somewhat too harshly. I heard only one part of Heckert’s speech, but it is clear that he spoke with some vehemence about the situation in Germany. And I must say that Comrade Malzahn too was not gentle in this regard. But it is not really that important who was harsh or gentle. The question is how we go forward from here. Malzahn referred to a statement by me that our task was not to wallow in the March Action but to determine what comes next. That is the question now before the congress. There is only one possible answer: Under no circumstances must we have yet another split in the ranks of the German Communist Party. I really do not know whether our party can bear yet another split. There are truly no grounds for that, after we have come to the point where we are able to unanimously adopt the theses proposed by our Russian delegation. That is why the congress must strive for agreement.
The German question is not national but to the highest degree international in character. The ailments in Germany are international ailments. That is why we have every interest, on behalf of the congress as a whole, to strive for agreement. True, we are well aware that nothing is achieved by empty words about unity. If conditions were such that unity was impossible, empty words about unity would be pointless. But is the situation in Germany really such that unity is impossible, and that there are disagreements that cannot be bridged? Based on the entire discussion, I say ‘no’. The fact that we are now demanding unity of the German delegation reflects not pacifist delusions but the dictates of internationalism that must be and will be carried out by both groups.
This is not mere talk about unity. On the contrary, we are also providing the foundation on which this unity can be based. The theses that we have placed before you and that almost all delegations have approved in principle provide this foundation. We therefore propose to the German comrades who adhere to this foundation a unity that is not just formal but genuine, not just a unity in words but a genuine unity, and we are convinced that this unity will be carried through in life. The Zentrale has recognised, in many regards, the errors that it made. The opposition has stated, through Comrade Zetkin, that it now recognises the great historical significance of the struggle. That is the most important thing.
I would now like to take up Heckert’s speech. You will recall how the conclusion of his speech was received here – with much appreciation. Why was this? Do you really believe that the entire congress agreed with Comrade Heckert in his sharp polemic against Comrade Zetkin? I do not think so. The congress agreed only in part. Why was the entire congress, with all its heart, on the side of this comrade, when the main issue, the March Action, was at stake? Because behind this comrade there is a proletarian struggle that was a great struggle; because despite all the serious errors, we are convinced that it was a great struggle, in which broad masses took part, hundreds of thousands of proletarians; because the best proletarians of Germany linked up with this struggle with great sacrifices of life and limb. That is why we all feel that, despite every error, there is something here that we must support with all our soul. If that has now been understood by both sides, then I believe we have overcome the main obstacle. It is clear that there can be no talk of a Bakuninist putsch here. It’s a question of serious errors. We must stand by this experience and put an end to taking a certain pleasure from seizing on everything that supposedly shows the weakness of our party after the March movement. Certainly our party has many great weaknesses. They should not be concealed. But still they should not all be self-righteously collected, both what was true and what was untrue, in order to show that the party is finished, as Levi’s pamphlet does from its very first line. All that is over.
It was a movement whose weak points must be recognised, but the strong sides of the movement must be cherished and supported and not portrayed as if the party were finished. Then we will have built a bridge that makes unity possible.
The International must have certain organisational assurances that the majority of the Zentrale will carry out the congress decisions conscientiously, that it will recognise the mistakes not only on paper but in life and will attempt to overcome them. We are convinced that the comrades will do this. We also demand organisational guarantees from the opposition group. A faction has been formed, and it must cease to exist as a faction. There must be no party within the party. It is absolutely excluded that we would tolerate something like this in the Communist International. If the comrades really want to conscientiously carry out the decisions of the Communist International, their first decision must be to dissolve this group and put an end to factional war.
I must now inform you that one of our representatives delivered a letter to me yesterday that informs me that Däumig is organising meetings of the opposition. I do not know if that is true. I am aware that accusations are often made in the heat of battle that prove, on closer examination, not to stand up to scrutiny. So we must take this with a grain of salt. But after you have recognised your errors before the congress and it has come to a conscientious decision, we must have guarantees that there will be no ongoing factional war.
Now a few words on the Czechoslovak question. Comrade Burian said that there was no tendency struggle within the Czechoslovak party. That is correct in the sense that our Czechoslovak sister party is not yet organised in a fully distinct fashion, and the tendency struggle is therefore somewhat indistinct. Comrade Bell’s sectarian statement here that Šmeral is a bourgeois opportunist only shows Bell’s inadequate knowledge of the Czechoslovak movement. We have many criticisms of Šmeral, but it is quite obvious that to describe comrades like Šmeral as bourgeois is an exaggeration. Such exaggerations do not strengthen the struggle against the centrist current; they weaken it. So I must say that we will perhaps have a few issues to discuss with Šmeral. For it is quite true that the Czechoslovak party, although a good proletarian mass party, is still only beginning the process of clarification – in the Communist sense of the word – within the party itself. (Objections from delegates of the Czechoslovak party)
I believe, Comrade Burian, that my judgement of the situation is accurate. But perhaps I am mistaken, and that the party’s consolidation will soon be complete. You have now truly carried out the first stage of this consolidation. You have broken free from the Social Democrats and the overtly centrist forces. Only two months ago, you were still in a common Central Committee with the Social Democrats. You should not be blamed for that; it is the peculiar way that the Czechoslovak party developed. The first stage, breaking free from the Social Democracy and the overtly centrist forces, has been completed. Now we enter a new stage. We join with you, Comrade Burian, and with Šmeral and the other Czechoslovak comrades, in wishing with all our heart that this stage goes as smoothly as possible, without calamities and without new splits. But we are convinced that you still have a great deal to go through in the party.
And actually this tendency struggle is now expressed rather distinctly. Yesterday, Comrade Burian said there is no tendency struggle. But here I have an issue of the Vienna ROSTA, in which I find a resolution adopted on 12 June at a mass meeting in Komárno. The resolution reads:
This assembly demands the immediate convocation of a unification congress in order to found the united Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. It expresses its mistrust of all those who through a policy of postponement are compromising the party’s capacity for action, and we demand their exclusion from the party. The task of cleansing the party must be carried out with all speed, regardless of personal considerations. Only in this way can the Czechoslovak CP function as a section of the Third International and lead an energetic and successful struggle for the liberation of the proletariat.
So, comrades, a large mass meeting of more than ten thousand workers took up this question and adopted the resolution that I just read to you. We cannot just say that Czechoslovakia is a heaven with angel choirs and no tendency struggle. The tendency struggle is merely not yet fully defined. We hope to work out, together with the Czechoslovak delegation, a series of measures that will enable this magnificent mass party to become a genuine proletarian party. We hope that the party succeeds in taking to heart the experiences of other parties and in overcoming as quickly as possible, with as few calamities as possible, everything that has to be overcome. This does not involve more political heat, but there is still much in the party that needs to be surmounted. Our Czechoslovak delegation will recognise that themselves. The more resolute and determined you are in recognising these weaknesses, the easier it will be for you to surmount everything that must be surmounted.
Comrades, it goes without saying that we must not return in our congresses to the habits of the Second International. We must not seek unanimity at all costs; we must not put on a show or congratulate each other. We must say openly and clearly the way things are. Nonetheless, in my opinion, we must do all we can in an attempt to reach unanimity in our Communist ranks.
Based on the entire debate we have carried out here, I believe that a unified line can be perceived even in the most difficult issues facing the movement. Some will ask: Is this really a shift to the right, as many here have said? That is stupid stuff. Anyone who was present at the Second Congress will remember that at this foundational event we had much to criticise with regard to the so-called Left. Nonetheless, what we worked out at the Second Congress was by and large a blow against the Right and against centrism. And I believe that our decisions here at the Third World Congress will also be a deadly blow against these gentlemen. (Loud applause and cheers)
96. Zinoviev is probably thinking of the convention of Czech Comintern supporters held in May 1921, which changed their party’s name from Left Social Democratic to Communist, adopted the Twenty-One Conditions, and applied to join the International. The split from the reformist faction had taken place earlier, however, in September 1920.
97. A reference to the publication of the Russian Telegraph Agency’s Vienna branch. ROSTA was a precursor of Soviet news agency TASS.