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. 890-896
Translation: John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Bluden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission
Comrades, first I must express heartfelt thanks for my unanimous election. I must also stress that this is not a matter of confidence in me as an individual but rather of confidence in the party in which many of us have for decades had the honour of fighting. Over the next year our party will continue doing everything in its power to be deserving of the great trust in us that the Communist International has expressed today.
Comrades, we have reached the end of the Third Congress of the Communist International. When we addressed our first manifesto to Communists of every country at the end of 1917 , calling on them to found a Communist International, we were mocked around the world as a group of dreamers. It was said that if we did actually form such an International it would be a nine-day wonder rather than a solid organisation. But now, comrades, we’ve had the First Congress, in which truly only a handful of Communist revolutionaries managed to find their way together. Then we had the Second Congress, in which a number of significant parties met here under the banner of the Communist International. And now we have experienced the Third Congress, which has shown us that, despite all inadequacies and all defeats, our workers’ association has grown enormously during the last year. We have become a gigantic organisation, the strongest world organisation of the proletariat, at least in Europe and soon, we hope, in the United States.
Comrades, it was not that easy for us to take decisions during this congress on the urgent questions before us. We had to struggle to reach the truth and achieve a correct position. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that we convened our congress in what was quite definitely a transitional period, in which it has become evident that the revolution is unfortunately not developing as rapidly as every honest revolutionary would and should desire. The situation in Europe is varied, and our sister parties face quite disparate conditions.
We in the Executive sensed, as did many in the different parties, that this was precisely the time, at the beginning of a transitional period, to come together and fraternally consider the situation, examining all the difficulties. This was the time to correct the errors we had committed and adopt a clear and precise line for the future. That is why we found it difficult during the congress to resolve the most important questions. Nonetheless, all the key votes were unanimous. And I believe we have the right to say, comrades, that our unanimity is not of the kind that prevailed in the Second International. Ours is no superficial, parade-ground unanimity. If it had turned out during the congress that we were divided by major differences of opinion, we would of course not have concealed this. Instead, we would have had a clear tendency struggle, and that might well have been reflected in the votes.
Our unanimity is not that of a lazy compromise, but the unanimity of an international organisation of struggle, aware that it is surrounded by a world of enemies, that it must forge unity in struggle, and that it must never permit the minor differences of opinion in our ranks to give rise to even a hint of a rift. Our unanimity is the true accord of the global revolutionary proletariat, of the class-conscious proletarians of the entire world.
What we have set down in our resolutions is truly the common opinion of forces in the proletariat that, Communist in thought and feeling, are prepared to struggle for communism. We have discussed three major questions: tactics and strategy, trade unions, and organisation. Our resolution on tactics and strategy did not shy away from talking frankly of our errors. By the way, that is how the Russian Bolshevik Party has acted for decades, without worrying over whether enemies would rub their hands with malicious glee. We have had to criticise many theoretical formulations. We spoke against the theory of the offensive, not because we do not want to conduct a genuine offensive, but rather precisely because we want to better prepare an offensive. We criticised the theory of the offensive during the Third Congress, while during the year to come, before the Fourth Congress, we want to prepare a genuine offensive and, in many countries, carry out a genuine offensive of the revolutionary proletariat against our enemy, the bourgeoisie. (Loud applause)
Comrades, the central concept of our resolution on tactics and strategy is to alert all our sister parties, particularly those in Europe, to something that they must already have realised on their own: that they face an enemy of quite a different sort than what the Russian party faced during the October Revolution. In Europe and the United States you face an enemy that is smarter and better organised than what we faced in Russia. You have an enemy armed to the teeth, clever and cunning. They have good strategists, who have also learned something from the Russian Revolution. They are now arming their sons, while making every effort to ensure that the proletariat remains disarmed.
Our sister parties in Europe will therefore have to wage a much more difficult struggle. And for this reason alone – an important reason indeed – we must draw a simple conclusion, namely that the preparation of proletarian struggles in Europe must also be more robust and more painstaking than was the case in Russia or during the last two years in Europe. The enemy is stronger and more cunning, and we must therefore better prepare our struggles. That is the central concept, very plain and simple, but very important for every Communist worker around the world. And we must go out now with this concept to the entire world, to all the parties, and impress it on the mind of every ordinary worker, drawing from it all the necessary practical conclusions.
In my opinion, there are two things that put the stamp on our Third Congress. First, the resolution on tactics and strategy, which explicitly criticises many errors, calls on us to undertake more thorough preparations. It appeals to all parties for greater caution and better preparation of every struggle. Second, our congress is characterised by the answer the congress unanimously gave to the Socialist Party of Italy. Initially, it was the Executive that expelled this party from the Communist International. The Third Congress has ratified this expulsion. Of course, that does not mean that we wanted to calmly and casually break with hundreds of thousands of Italian workers. No, we will struggle passionately to draw into our ranks the workers who belong there. But the congress stated clearly before the entire world that the things done by the Socialist Party of Italy do not have a place in any way in the Communist International. As you know, this faction calls itself Communist and Unitarian. And we say that it is neither Communist nor Unitarian. For the sake of twelve thousand reformists it broke with sixty thousand Communist workers. What kind of unitary politics is that? They are no Communists, because for the sake of the reformists they walked out of the Communist International.
As you see, these people even call themselves Communist, and yet they are actually more like the last Mohicans in the centrist camp. The Communist International had to say clearly and frankly whether such people can belong to us or not. As you know, some voices were raised before the congress suggesting that we were perhaps in the wrong, and that such people do in fact belong in our ranks. The Third Congress spoke on this question with complete clarity. It said: he who is not with us is against us. The Communist International believes firmly and resolutely that such elements cannot belong to it, and that we must bypass the leaders while struggling to bring these workers into our ranks.
This complex of decisions shows the true face of our congress. We have quite openly criticised various errors – which you may call leftist or whatever – that were harmful to our cause. At the same time we have made clear that half-centrist forces have no place in our ranks. Here is a line that is entirely clear and will, I trust, be understood by every ordinary worker.
We also brought clarity to the trade-union question. It was said quite correctly that the resolution of this congress breathes the same spirit as that of the Second Congress. We want to continue along these lines. We have not limited ourselves to proposing abstract guidelines. Simultaneously with our congress, the first world congress of the trade unions is meeting, and – what is even more significant – during that conference important ties have been established within the largest branches of industry. They will now initiate a decisive and weighty economic struggle against the bourgeoisie and the Amsterdam International.
In addition, comrades, there is the youth congress, which is still meeting and which will obviously contribute a great deal to improving the training and organisation of our dearly beloved youth vanguard for its future struggles. There was also a women’s conference, which preceded our congress.
We adopted today a resolution on the organisation question that, I hope, will aid greatly in strengthening the party. The section on the obligation to be active is of great importance, in my opinion, and must not be overlooked. In the past, our parties were really much too loose and not organised strictly enough. Ordinary workers must know how they are to take part in the party’s legal and illegal work. The section on the obligation to be active must be explained everywhere. In all the smaller meetings, it must be brought home to workers that they have to take part in this work. That will signify a great step forward.
Comrades, right in the final days, as our work was coming to an end, we received a great deal of news from Europe that showed us, once more, how acute is the overall situation in Europe and that we must be prepared at any moment for a collapse of the present balance of forces. You need only consider the telegram from Rome, which says that 50,000 or more workers came together, without regard to party distinctions and under Communist leadership, in struggle against the Fascists. Two days earlier, Serrati’s party concluded a military pact with the Fascists, one of whose conditions was the disarming of Italian proletarians. And then 50,000 workers rise up in Rome, go onto the streets, form battalions of war veterans, and declare a holy war against the bourgeoisie.
What does that tell us? It tells us that Europe is still in a revolutionary situation. The news from Berlin regarding the outbreak of a strike among municipal workers shows that there is more than enough inflammable material present. It shows that we were right in saying that the situation in Europe remains revolutionary. That is why we must prepare better, in order to strike more effectively. We have said that a revolutionary must possess not only fire in his heart, but a hand that is strong and an eye that is sure, in order to reduce our defeats to the minimum. Every blow against the bourgeoisie must be considered ten times before it is struck. But when we strike the blow, it must find the enemy’s heart.
The organisational unification that we have arrived at here will assist us in achieving a genuine international fraternisation of the revolutionary proletariat. No bombastic phrases here, but nonetheless we must attempt during the coming period to actually achieve a degree of genuine international coordination, rather than just talk about it. We must attempt to knit together the revolutionary parties, and to bring the parties in Central Europe closer together. Central Europe should be defined here in the broadest sense possible, to include Italy and the Balkans, as well as – of course – Czechoslovakia.
The new Executive must do all in its power to bring these parties closer together. These parties must attempt, in every way possible, to strengthen their ties, and to prepare truly common demonstrations and truly decisive struggles. That should be the meaning of our decisions. We will not proceed merely propagandistically. We will also set about – cautiously but also irresistibly, energetically, doggedly, and tenaciously – to truly prepare the struggles that are now approaching.
The congress has honoured our country and our party once again by leaving the headquarters of the Executive here. We hope that this is only provisional. For this year, it will still be in Moscow, but for the following year we earnestly desire that it should be in Berlin, in Paris – and we should be very happy if it is in Milan. We are even prepared, comrades, despite the rather poor air and the very wet climate, to vote for London next year. (Laughter)
Comrades, when you take your leave from us in the next few days, the thoughts of us Russian revolutionaries will be turned, deeply moved, to the struggle that you are approaching. Yes, we still have to endure difficult times in Russia, very true, and our people, our working class, endures a great deal. But we are justified in saying, comrades, that the most difficult period is now behind us. It lies in the past, and after only a period of exertion we will lead the proletariat of our country, with firm steps, to complete victory.
But all of you, comrades, are going to countries ruled by the capitalists, under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, where thousands of our best brothers are languishing in prison, where hundreds are shot each day. You all run the danger of soon being imprisoned or perhaps suffering even worse for the cause of communism. We must impress on the ordinary worker, who today perhaps does not yet belong to our party but will join it tomorrow, that each of us is determined to give all that he has for the party. (Loud applause)
We should educate the youth and the adult workers in the belief that there is nothing higher and more sacred in the world than a Communist Party, a Communist world party, the Communist International. (Loud applause) And come what may, comrades, even though destiny may demand even greater sacrifices from us than we have made so far, however trying the struggle may be – and it will be trying – we will live and die with a single call: Long live the Communist International! (Prolonged loud applause and cheers. The members of the congress rise from their seats and sing the ‘Internationale’)
98. As indicated in the Serbo-Croatian edition of the Third Congress proceedings (Bosić et al. (eds.) Komunistička internacionala: stenogrami i dokumenti kongresa (Gornji Milanovac: Kulturni centar, 1981), the allusion to 1917 was a mistake. Zinoviev is presumably referring to the Bolshevik Central Committee appeal of 24 December 1918, calling on revolutionary forces around the world to build a Third, Communist International. The text of that appeal can be found in Riddell (ed.), The German Revolution and the Debate on Soviet Power (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1986), pp. 441 – 3.
99. A reference to the Second Congress resolution, ‘Theses on the Trade-Union Movement, Factory Committees, and the Communist International’. In Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!, vol., 2, pp. 625 – 34.
100. The antifascist demonstration of fifty thousand in Rome on 8 July 1921 was in fact sponsored by the Arditi del Popolo, a fighting organisation for anti-Fascist defence that arose independently of the Communist and Socialist parties. The CP and SP leaderships were not involved in organising the demonstration.
101. In early July 1921 the Socialist Party began negotiations with the Fascists to reach a ‘pacification pact’, which would be signed on 3 August.
102. In early July 1921 eighty thousand Berlin municipal workers voted to go on strike for higher pay. The strike was averted following negotiations between the workers’ representatives and the Berlin Municipal Council.