Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/472-toward-the-united-front), pp. 265–287.
Translation: Translation by John Riddell.
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018.
Copyright: John Riddell, 2011, 2017. Republished here with permission.
Comrades, permit me first to deal somewhat more fully with the matter of the workers’ government. I am not sure whether we really have serious differences of opinion on this question, or whether it has perhaps simply not been fully explained and is perhaps partly a terminological question. This will become clear in the course of the congress and in drafting the resolution on questions of tactics, which will be taken up after those of the Russian revolution. For me it has nothing at all to do with the word ‘pseudonym’, which was quoted here. I am gladly prepared to give way in the quarrel regarding this word. But what is important is its meaning. I believe that I can best clear up the matter, comrades, by saying the following. Every bourgeois government is simultaneously a capitalist government. It is hard to imagine a bourgeois government that is not also a capitalist government. But unfortunately we cannot say the opposite. Not every workers’ government is a socialist government. This contrast is very profound. It deals with the fact that the bourgeoisie has its outposts within our class, but the contrary is not true. It is impossible for us to have outposts in the camp of the bourgeoisie.
Every bourgeois government is thus a bourgeois government, and even many workers’ governments can be bourgeois too in terms of their social content. But the contrary is not true. I believe that is the decisive point: there are workers’ governments and workers’ governments.
I believe that we can imagine four different kinds of workers’ governments (and that far from exhausts the list of possibilities). We can have a workers’ government that, in terms of its composition, is a liberal workers’ government, like that of Australia. There was an Australian workers’ government, and many of our Australian comrades said that the workers’ government slogan is incorrect because such governments have existed in Australia already and they were bourgeois. They were genuine workers’ governments, but their content was liberal. They were bourgeois worker governments, if I may use the term.
At present there are elections in Britain. It will probably not happen in these elections, but theoretically we can very well imagine a situation where a workers’ government comes to office that is similar to the Australian workers’ government and in its content is a liberal workers’ government. Given the present situation, such a liberal workers’ government in Britain could be the jumping-off point for revolutionising the country. That could happen. But the government itself is nothing more than a liberal workers’ government.
At present, we Communists vote in Britain for the Labour Party. That is equivalent to voting for a liberal workers’ government. Under current conditions, Communists in Britain have to vote for a liberal workers’ government. This tactic is absolutely correct. Why? Because it is objectively a step forward; because a liberal government in Britain is the best option to pave the road for the bankruptcy of capitalism. We have already seen in the Kerensky period that the position of capitalism was smashed, even though the liberals were agents of capitalism. Plekhanov said that the Mensheviks during the period from February to October 1917 were half-Bolsheviks. We denied that. We said they were not Bolsheviks at all, not even a quarter. We spoke in these terms because we were locked in fierce struggle with them and we perceived their betrayal of the proletariat. But objectively, Plekhanov was right. Objectively, the Menshevik government was most suitable to ruin capitalism’s game, to make their situation impossible. Locked in struggle against the Mensheviks, our comrades could not perceive this at that time.
We confronted each other in battle. We see only that they are betrayers of the working class. They are not opponents of the bourgeoisie, but when, for a period, they take hold of the bourgeoisie’s weapons, they can take many steps that are objectively directed against the bourgeois state. In Britain we support both the liberal workers’ government and also the Labour Party. The British bourgeoisie is right to say that the workers’ government will begin with Clynes and can finish in the hands of the left wing.
The second type is a Social Democratic government. Imagine that the unified SPD in Germany forms a purely ‘socialist’ government. That will also be a workers’ government (in quotation marks, of course). We can conceive of a situation where we would grant such a government a conditional credit, that is, conditional support. We can imagine that under certain circumstances a ‘socialist’ government can be a stage toward revolutionising the situation.
That is the second possibility.
A third type is the so-called coalition government, that is, a government composed of Social Democrats, trade union leaders, persons without party affiliation, and perhaps Communists as well. We can conceive of such a possibility. Such a government is not yet the dictatorship of the proletariat, but could be the starting point for it. If all goes well, we will manoeuvre the Social Democrats out of such a government, one after another, until power rests in the hands of the Communists. This is a historical possibility.
Fourth, I am thinking of a workers’ government that is really a workers’ government, that is, a Communist workers’ government, for the others are not true workers’ governments. This fourth possibility, in my view, is indeed a pseudonym for the dictatorship of the proletariat – a workers’ government in the full sense of the word.
But that far from exhausts the question. A fifth or sixth type may occur, and all of them can be a good starting point for a further revolutionising of the situation.
I fear that in the search for a rigorous scientific definition we might overlook the political side of the situation. For me, it’s not a matter of hair-splitting scientific definitions, but rather that we don’t overlook the revolutionary side of things. Often, you get the feeling that many comrades imagine that we need only join with the Social Democrats in order to have a workers’ government. In the process, this would overlook one thing: first we must overthrow the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie will not willingly give up its position; it will struggle for power.
We must not forget that in addition to the workers’ parties there is also a bourgeoisie that has been in power for decades and that does everything possible to struggle for this power.
In order to create a workers’ government in the revolutionary sense, one must first overthrow the bourgeoisie. That is the key point. We must not forget to differentiate between two things. The first is the way we carry out agitation, how we best address ordinary workers, how we can best enable them to understand their situation. In my view, the slogan of the workers’ government serves that goal well. There is also a second question, namely how events will develop historically, and how the revolution will actually take place.
Let us lift slightly the curtain of the future.
How will the revolution take place? We like to make conjectures, for example, that it will pass through all stages of the workers’ government, including the coalition government, and then the civil war. We are all fond of prophesying the future course of the revolution. But the fact is that the only thing we can predict is that our prophecies will not hit the mark. The revolution will very likely take place in quite another manner than we imagine. It will come through quite another door. We saw that in our Russian revolution as well. Five years ago we imagined that we might be forced to our knees by the blockade, by hunger, and the rest. We considered different eventualities, but that of the New Economic Policy and the revolution’s present course was not foreseen by anyone.
In every country the situation is different. The revolution will probably take place quite differently in Germany than in Britain. That does not mean that we as conscious revolutionaries should not lift the curtain of the future. We are thinking beings, and we wish to lead the way for the working class. We must attempt to clarify things from every possible angle. But prediction is very difficult here. Looking at the workers’ government slogan from this point of view, as a specific question of how the proletarian revolution will take place, it seems very doubtful that the world revolution will necessarily step through the door of the workers’ government.
Yesterday our friend Radek said that the workers’ government is a possible form of transition to the dictatorship of the proletariat. I would like to say that it is only a possibility, or to be absolutely precise, this possibility arises only exceptionally. That does not mean that the workers’ government slogan is wrong. It is correct. When conditions are favourable, it will bring us great successes in agitation. But when we examine the question of the path forward, of whether the revolution will necessarily take this path, in my opinion that question cannot be resolved here. It is probably the least likely path. In countries with a developed bourgeoisie, we will win power only through civil war, and if we oust the bourgeoisie in this manner, there is unlikely to be any pause for a considerable period. It could happen, but there is no point arguing about it; all we can do is propose conjectures. The main thing for us is to perceive clearly all the fundamental possibilities along the path to revolution. There may be a workers’ government that is nothing more than a liberal workers’ government, as possibly in Britain, Australia, and elsewhere. Such a workers’ government may objectively be of use to the working class. It is right to agitate for such a workers’ government, and we can gain a lot from this. But what we must not forget in this process is our revolutionary perspective.
I have a nice quotation from the newspaper of the Czechoslovak minister Beneš. His paper, Cas [Time], writes on 13 September:
Using the slogan of struggle against unemployment, the Communist Party is consolidating the workers’ united front. One cannot deny the Communists’ resourcefulness. They understand how to present the same thing to workers in different forms. So, for example, the Communists at one time began agitating for the formation of soviets. When this brought them no results, they stopped doing that and a year and a half later started over again, using the disguise of united front committees. Certainly the proletarian united front could become an enormous force if based on progressive ideas.
And so on. I think this bourgeois is right. We would welcome receiving such praise more frequently. Yes, as Communists who are dealing with a working class that has been spiritually enslaved by the bourgeoisie for decades and centuries, we must bend every effort to enlighten our class, using every possible method. I have said that there may be a workers’ government that is in reality a bourgeois government, but there may also be a workers’ government that is genuinely revolutionary. We must attempt to enlighten the backward segments of the working class in various ways, and when it is easier, do this by means of the united front. But the content of our educational work must always remain the same.
One more thing, comrades. A soviet government does not always signify a dictatorship of the proletariat. Not at all. In Russia, during the Kerensky government, a soviet parallel government existed for eight months, and it was not a dictatorship of the proletariat. Nonetheless we advanced the demand for a soviet government.
That is why I believe, comrades, that we can continue to advance the slogan of a workers’ government, with the one proviso that we know exactly what it refers to. Woe betide us if in our agitation we permit for one moment the idea to crop up that there will necessarily be a workers’ government, that it could come about peacefully, that there is some organically fixed period that could replace the civil war, and so on. If such conceptions are held by any of us, and they are probably present somewhere, they must be decisively combated. The working class must be educated in such a way that we tell them: Yes, dear friends, in order to achieve a workers’ government, first we must overthrow and defeat the bourgeoisie!
That is what is most important about this slogan. If you want a workers’ government, fine, we agree on that, even with the Social Democrats. We say that they will betray you. But even so, we are for such a workers’ government, but only on the condition that it is ready to fight shoulder to shoulder with us against the bourgeoisie. If you are willing, we will take up the struggle against the bourgeoisie, and if a workers’ government arises from this struggle, it will rest on a firm foundation and will truly be a prelude to and beginning of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In and of itself, it is not a matter of the word ‘pseudonym’ – I gladly concede this word to Comrade Meyer. It’s rather a matter of having a clear position on this question. This is absolutely not some subterfuge through which we can trick the bourgeoisie into renouncing civil war. The International needs a good strategy, but this strategy cannot enable us to avoid civil war and to glide smoothly into the realm of a workers’ government. Such a process simply doesn’t exist. The decisive element is the struggle, which conquers the bourgeoisie. Once it has been conquered, various forms of workers’ government can occur.
In Britain, a workers’ government in the present situation could have an objectively revolutionary effect, and we will even give limited support to such a Menshevik-liberal workers’ government. But by no means does that avoid the class struggle; it is simply another form of class struggle. The existence of such a workers’ government does not mean that we can avoid the most effective form, that of civil war. Not at all. We know that under certain circumstances such a Menshevik-liberal workers’ government can turn against us in a manner even more bloodthirsty than a bourgeois government. Noske showed us that, as did our Mensheviks as well. It does not by any means signify a way to avert civil war. That is why I say, comrades, that this slogan is absolutely correct for agitation, provided that we really understand how to employ it in a revolutionary manner.
Take for example the slogan for a Blum-Frossard government in France. The Executive was responsible for that demand. We proposed it to comrades in the process of a discussion. Yet it was premature in France. Why? Because given the traditions of the party there, this was understood to be a parliamentary alliance. The Executive was entirely right, theoretically, to say we cannot reject the slogan of a workers’ government. It is an eventuality, a possibility, a revolutionary perspective, but given the specific conditions it was premature. It would perhaps have been better to begin the united front tactic around the eight-hour day. So people began right away to sniff around, saying, perhaps negotiations have already begun to unite the parties, and so on. We have to approach this practically, as things are.
Some of our friends among the Left perhaps also exaggerated a bit there. If I am not mistaken, it was our friend, Comrade Souvarine, who wrote, ‘In Russia there was also a period of a Martov-Lenin government.’ That is not correct. There was not such a period in Russia. But you have to understand that the overthrow of tsarism in Russia went halfway toward overthrowing the bourgeoisie. The February revolution was initially a bourgeois revolution, of course, but it was not entirely bourgeois in character. From the very outset it was a great people’s revolution, which carried the October revolution in its womb. From its very first day it had soldiers’ councils, but not like those that could be sent off home after a couple of months, the way Noske did, but councils that immediately grabbed Kerensky by the throat.
In such a situation, where the Mensheviks really represented a parallel government, it was correct to say that we want to form a coalition government. As you know, that did not come to anything. Instead, the outcome was civil war. We achieved our goal only arms in hand. We formed an alliance not with Martov but with the Left Social Revolutionaries, who represented the revolutionary part of the peasantry. In this context, the slogan was correct. But it would be incorrect to use this weapon in France today, saying it is the same as a government of Martov and Lenin.
Even our best friends have made small mistakes here. I do not believe that our discussion at this congress will lead to giving up the slogan of the workers’ government – especially not after the work of the commissions. This slogan remains correct as a way of getting a hearing from the masses. There is no doubt about that. The slogan is still correct, but we need to understand how to use it properly. It harbours the same dangers as the united front tactic. When you start talking about governments, it is logical that people think about parliamentary alliances with a division of ministerial posts, and so on. The difficulties here are even greater than with the united front tactic. But there is no reason to say that we must reject this slogan, simply because it is difficult, as suggested by our French comrades. They say: You see, our party is no good; we can’t do anything because we are too weak! If you are too weak, then you must become stronger. If you cannot swim, jump into the water – that is how you will learn to swim. We must stress the dangers so that we can counter them. We are living through a period that is still somewhat slack, and this has to create a danger of an opportunist infection. Comrade Radek is quite right to say, in this regard, that the danger right now lies to the right. The six sessions we have held so far must surely have convinced us of this.
We must follow a firm course in this matter. We must tell comrades: Yes, a workers’ government is all very well and good, but to establish a workers’ government we must first overthrow the now existing bourgeoisie, and for that we need a weapon. We must start by getting organised, and we must also understand that hard struggles lie ahead and that there is no other way to emerge victorious. With that, comrades, I will end this part of the report.
I will now speak about the most important parties. I will take them up in the same order as in my initial report.
So I will start with Germany. Comrade Ruth Fischer, who has shown that she does not look nearly as dreadful as some may have supposed, (Laughter) reproached us for the fact that the Third Congress exerted a somewhat negative influence on the German party. This criticism should really be addressed to the Third Congress and not to the Fourth. But fine, we are the continuators of the Third Congress and we can respond. I believe that the criticism is not accurate. Let us not exaggerate by saying that we saved the German party. It wasn’t us that saved it; the German proletariat itself set the party back on its feet. But to the extent that the Third Congress was involved, I believed it acted rightly. (‘Very true!’)
It is said that the Levi group was not handled correctly, that everything was lumped in together. Excuse me, but that is not correct. Do not forget that during the Third Congress even the best revolutionary fighters were in doubt on this question. Even in our Russian delegation there were differences of opinion on this, including among our best comrades. Many thought that Levi is after all quite a smart fellow and he will perhaps handle things better than some of his opponents. It turned out that this was not the case. The task and duty of the Third Congress was to ensure that when Levi went to Noske, he went alone, or at least with as small as possible a number of associates. Geyer and all these people do not count for a lot. We will not begrudge them to him. He is welcome to take a couple of Geyers with him. But there was a real danger that he might take with him a section of our party.
And in this regard the Third Congress did in fact help the German party somewhat in taking the correct position and saving the best forces for the revolution. So in this regard Comrade Ruth Fischer is not quite right.
As for the Rathenau affair, Comrade Radek has already stressed that we are in agreement with this criticism. When the murder of Rathenau occurred, we wrote the German party a confidential letter, during the campaign. We turned to our Central Bureau in Germany and expressed our view of the matter.
Please permit me to read a few quotations from this letter. It is dated 18 June, that is, while the battle still raged:
Now as to the party’s conduct. We have done all possible to follow the events in Germany. We have read your reports very carefully, and we thank you for writing in such detail. Your policy in the first days, as expressed in Rote Fahne [Red Banner], seems to us all to have been too weak. In the given situation, we should not shout ‘Republic, republic!’ We should rather from the outset demonstrate to the masses that present-day Germany is a republic without any republicans. At this time of upheaval, we should show the broad working masses that they should be concerned not so much about the republic as about their economic interests, and that the bourgeois republic is not only no guarantee for the proletariat’s class interests, but rather in the present situation is the best form for suppressing the working masses. We should not sound the same note as the Social Democrats and the USPD. The united front should never, never, never rule out the independence of our agitation. That is an absolute requirement, its sine qua non.
We are ready to negotiate with the SPD and USPD people, not as poor relations, but as an independent force, which maintains its own face, expressing the party’s point of view to the masses from A to Z.
I believe this quotation is enough to show that we made our German party aware of this weak side of the Rathenau campaign at that time. We went further. We asked if it would not be possible for the German party to act more assertively. Of course we were not so foolish as to say: You must immediately move into action, proclaim a strike, and so on. That must be determined by the party. But we did pose the question whether it would be possible for the party to immediately assert itself independently and forcefully. And I am convinced, to the degree that I can grasp the situation, that this was not possible; it would have led to a bloodbath. The German Central Bureau did not make this mistake. Despite all its other partial mistakes, it did make good use of the situation.
The quotation I just read says that we must never, never, never give up the independence of our agitation. And to say anything different from that would be simply the suicide of the Communist Party. (̰Very true’) For example, we wanted the British Communists to affiliate to the Labour Party, but we set a condition: the independence of their agitation. The Labour Party did not accept that, and we said, ‘Here we stand; we can do no other.’ The formation of the Communist Party aims above all to establish independence of agitation. The tasks of struggle come soon enough, but independence is the first task. We must always preserve our own face. We must never forget that this ragged bourgeois republic is nothing but a noose around the neck of the working class. How could Rote Fahne [Red Banner] use only the term republic! Now is the time to tell the workers: This cringing republic will strangle you; your proletarian interests are at stake. In this specific case we will fight against the nationalists together with the Social Democrats. But you must never forget what ‘republic’ means.
At that moment this was our greatest responsibility. It seemed to us, from a distance, that our party had given itself over a bit too much into the hands of the leadership bodies. We in Germany are not poor relations. We are an independent party, and the party deserves victory. And because at that moment they wanted to have us, we then had the least possible cause to act like poor relations. It is clear that the strategy of the Scheidemann people at the outset of the Rathenau campaign consisted of isolating us somewhat. We had to understand that and could not renounce having a discussion with them. But at the same time we should have written in all our papers, sounding every trumpet, about what kind of people the Noskes are. And I believe this example is also of importance for all parties.
Now a few words about our Berlin organisation. I neglected in my initial report to inform you that during the period of this report we had a small conflict with the Berlin organisation, which was partly reflected in our press. Comrades, I believe I am speaking now in the name of the Executive when I say that this conflict was awkward in every sense, and we are absolutely prepared to do everything to avoid even the shadow of a conflict. The Executive is well aware of the weaknesses of many of our local organisations. The Berlin organisation, just like that of Paris, not to mention Petersburg, Moscow, and various others, have their weak sides. It cannot be said that the Busch Circus campaign showed a splendid side of our Berlin organisation. But we know that it is a proletarian organisation, and we do not want it thought that there is some ongoing difference of opinion. As far as we can see, there are nuances, which cannot be avoided in an organisation. At the time, we called on the Berlin comrades to come to us in person, in order to resolve this conflict as quickly as possible. That did not prove possible. In order to banish this conflict from the world once and for all, I must stress to the congress that we are convinced our Berlin organisation as a whole will in the future carry out great services for the party.
I will make one more comment on the speech of Comrade Fischer. If you will permit me, Comrade Fischer, your speech was distinguished by the fact that it included much that was right, but also much that was wrong. That is not so bad; as they say it happens in the best of families. You say, for example, that it was the illusion of the united front that enabled the SPD to capture the USPD. That is not correct. You are flattering the USPD. It was not captured; it wanted to be captured. And we should say that to the German workers. It is a political fact that the USPD wanted to be captured. Actually, they threw themselves around the SPD’s neck. And that fact is quite important in order to win the USPD workers. You also exaggerate in small matters, when you say that negotiations with the leadership bodies went on for weeks. The negotiations were somewhat protracted, but not they did not last for weeks. I believe it lasted for less than a week. But as I said, it is permissible to err in such small matters, provided that nothing serious goes wrong.
The German comrades say, especially in private discussions, that I have painted too glowing a picture of the German party, and that everything is not so perfect. Well, comrades, a great many delegates have been criticising me for exactly the opposite. So I do not think it is so terrible that I have portrayed the state of one party as somewhat too good and too beautiful. But it is a fact that problems that have been disputed in other parties for months have been resolved in the German party in a single week. After the March struggles, the Rathenau campaign, and the discussion in the German party, we can say without exaggeration that the German party has overcome the greatest difficulties and is on the road to becoming a genuine, serious Communist party, which now has a good understanding of how to manoeuvre. We have a real Communist Party here, truly capable of manoeuvring, and I say this not in order to compliment it but because this is my conviction. And this party will, I hope, soon encounter decisive events in Germany, perhaps earlier than many of us and many of the German comrades themselves think.
I now come to the French comrades. I regret that not every shade of opinion found adequate expression in the debate. Many kept silent, and that is not praiseworthy. Comrade Duret was quite right to say that when the chaps on the Left have something on their minds, they say it right away, frankly, and perhaps even with excessive candour. That is a good trait of the Left. But the comrades located somewhat more to the right keep silent. That is a bad business. If you considered only what was said in this hall, no one would get the idea that a centrist, half Social Democratic mood can be found within the ranks of the Communist International.
But we intend to speak not only about what was said here openly, but also about what was left unsaid. For only then will we obtain an accurate picture. I regret that it is not possible for me to pick out for discussion a speech made here by a comrade of the French Centre. Let us hope that this will be possible in the course of the congress.
As regards the speech by Comrade Duret, in my opinion Comrade Bukharin took him to task somewhat too harshly. It is true the Comrade Duret and his group made major errors in this campaign. But we must take into account that this group had 800 delegates at the Paris convention, including many good workers. Moreover, many comrades, including Comrade Duret, have acknowledged their errors quite sincerely and are trying to make amends. Given all that, we cannot dismiss all this with a joke and say that tomorrow he will do the same thing. If he does the same thing tomorrow, then pardon me, but the entire International will do battle against him. But when he says that we recognise our errors, then we have no cause to mistrust him. On the contrary, I am convinced that a large part of the former Renoult faction is truly loyal to the International, that it desires and will in fact genuinely make good the errors committed by this faction.
Nevertheless, his arguments must be examined somewhat more closely. Some of them have already been refuted. He said that the masses are organised in Germany but dispersed in France, and that the united front is therefore appropriate in Germany but not in France. I believe we must tell Comrade Duret here that he does not grasp at all what it means to win the majority of the workers. In their present amorphous and unenlightened state, they are like sand by the sea, a dispersed mass. That is our curse. We must educate and shape this formless mass, and this is much easier in France, precisely because France has no traditions. For workers in Germany to change their membership card, they have to go through a great inner struggle. In France that is not the case. When the Communist International was formed, we said that the Social Democracy is the greatest barrier to revolution. We can propose a thesis: the stronger Social Democracy is, the more difficult is the path of revolution. You in France have the good fortune that your Social Democracy was never that strong. You will therefore find it all the easier to win the masses, provided that you pursue genuinely revolutionary policies and build a genuine Communist Party.
It was also said that in France the united front was immediately interpreted as an electoral combination for political purposes. That may well be. But why did you not begin in the trade union arena, with economic struggles? Only Comrade Bordiga sees a principled difference here, and that is wrong. I ask you, why did you not take up the question of the eight-hour day? Now you come and say that your party is too weak, and so on. Why are you too weak? Because you have not handled this question correctly.
Let me wrap up my comments on the French question with a few words regarding Comrade Rosmer. Earlier he quoted my words that a party that does not have weight in the factories and has not created a factory council movement cannot be taken seriously. Rosmer said that the first condition is correct, but not the second. He said we must take into account the objective difficulties, which could not be overcome. However, I must insist – and this is a very important question – the factory council movement is the characteristic movement of our period. True, there are objective obstacles that cannot be overestimated. In Britain, in many regions, the Shop Steward Movement quietly went to sleep. This shows that no revolutionary mass movement yet exists in that country. But we must be explicit: Wherever we have serious revolutionary strength among the masses, this will in short order result in such a movement.
I am totally convinced that if our sister party in France truly regains its health, within half a year it will be able to make a start toward a genuine factory council movement. For strikes are taking place, like the one in Le Havre, strikes that last three or four months. In Le Havre the masses were almost entirely unorganised. At first the party did nothing. Given such an outstanding strike, a party like ours, whose official publication has two hundred thousand readers, can make a start toward a factory council movement in short order. So I believe it is not good to strike such a passive, quietistic note, saying, ‘It is hard; there are obstacles’. Of course there are obstacles, but a great deal depends on us. That’s why I believe I must stand by that sentence.
I have one more comment on Comrade Duret’s talk. He said that when the Centre split, the danger existed that part of them would come to us and contaminate us. He is quite right in this. When the Center wanted to join us, we rejected them, and they then joined together and said they would form a separate International. That was the Two-and-a-Half International. Then came the split, and then the majority of these forces joined with the Second International. But some of these people are going to come knocking at our door once again, and then we must be cautious, close the door again firmly, and flourish the Twenty-One Conditions once again before their nose. Indeed, there’s no way around it, we must say that Twenty-One Conditions are not enough for these people. We will have to present them with Forty-Two Conditions. (Hilarious agreement) Otherwise these people will gulp down everything, and the next day we will have the same internal struggle all over again.
I now come to Italy.
This is among the most important questions before the congress. The party led by Comrade Bordiga inspires the conviction that it is fundamentally a healthy, revolutionary, workers’ party, which has achieved a great deal. Nonetheless we are often forced to combat it both theoretically and politically. That is a painful matter, but there is no escaping it; our duty to the party demands nothing less.
Comrade Bordiga started this off by arguing against our theses regarding winning the majority of the working class. He said the formulation was too vague, and that no one could grasp what we were getting at. He demanded that we should eliminate everywhere from the resolution that we wanted to win the majority.
That was the subject of the first set-to between Comrade Lenin and Comrade Terracini. I must concede that I have some sympathy with Terracini; we thought that Comrade Lenin was a bit too rough with him. Since then the fascists have triumphed, the Italian Socialist Party has split, and many other world events have taken place. And now Comrade Bordiga strides onto the stage, opens his mouth, and says, ‘Majority is a vague formulation!’ I must now admit that Lenin was right. These comrades appear to fear the majority. Bordiga says here in total seriousness: How are we to estimate this majority? Our resolution says that Communists must establish their influence over the majority of the working class. How will we know that we have a majority? We cannot just call in an accountant. But we are not going to insist that Comrade Bordiga produce a certificate signed by an Italian accountant or by Mussolini affirming that communism in Italy has a majority. I believe that the trade unions will serve as an initial criterion, and we will find other measures that will indicate when we have a majority. That does not mean that we will engage in serious struggle only when we have the organised majority of the workers. Bordiga said that this is some kind of pedantry. In his view, the Executive shifts: today to the right, tomorrow to the left. In my opinion there is an error here of the type that must be eliminated, and if the party does not do this, it is lost.
In fact, what can we expect of a party that does not even understand that our main goal is to win the masses? That is no vague formula. Bordiga reproaches me for having said that many parties have increased their influence even as they decreased numerically. But that is a fact. Influence is the key factor here. It is impossible to organise the majority of the working class; that will be possible only after the proletariat seizes power. Even in Russia we are only beginning now, after five years of revolution, to encompass the majority organisationally.
That is not yet possible in other countries. But even now, the Communist Party can establish its influence. Yes, there are parties that have lost ground numerically and have nonetheless asserted their influence, and that is the key factor here. Let me give you an example from a distant country, New South Wales [Australia]. We have a party there with five hundred members. After we accepted it into the Communist International, its numbers grew to nine hundred or a thousand. But this little party brought the trade unions there – a quarter of a million members – fully into the Profintern, with great discipline and enthusiasm. That is a good example. We are not saying, ‘Please, organise the majority’. We fully understand how to value the initiative of minorities. This group of nine hundred workers is surely outstanding to be able to influence 230,000 workers. The question is simply that the Communists do assert this influence. This is more than just a mash. Bordiga said he’s for winning influence, but to what purpose? For the Communist programme, yes. But never for a mash. (Interjection: ‘Not for a brew, either’.)
Yes, we are in favour of winning them for the revolution. But if Comrade Domski thinks that all 230,000 workers of New South Wales have read Bukharin’s programme plus the draft programmes of comrades Thalheimer and Kabakchiev, that is not correct. The workers know very well what they want, namely, to overturn the bourgeoisie, and for now that is quite enough.
Now a few words about the Italian trade unions. Recently I read an article probably written by Comrade Terracini regarding the fascist trade unions. The fascists are forming their own fascist trade unions in Italy – a genuinely novel and important development. They want to become a mass organisation. And how do the workers respond? Let me give you an example. In one large factory, the owner drove out all the workers and announced that he would only hire workers who have a fascist union card. The workers thought that over a bit and then got themselves fascist cards and were hired back into the factory. After a short time, elections were held there for the factory committee. The fascists got one per cent of the votes, and the overwhelming majority of those elected were Communists. That was an ingenious move by the worker masses. They understood what was at stake. They decided to bring the card, but to remain revolutionary, and to outfox the violence. At a time when the fascists are taking over unions or founding new ones, what is our task? Of course we must go in the fascist trade unions and win them. But what do our friends do? They write articles explaining the nature of fascism, of syndicalism, and of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The articles contain many definitions that are quite sound, but something is missing: the living spirit, the living masses, and the simple statement that we must go into the unions in order to grab the bourgeoisie by the scruff of the neck. The lack of this single precept spoils the whole sermon. I believe this article was reprinted in Inprekorr. You should read it. Do you see there a living slogan from which the ordinary worker can learn how to penetrate the enemy’s fortress? Not at all. And that is a leaden weight burdening our otherwise splendid and brave Italian Communist Party.
Now a few words about Spain. I found Comrade Acevedo’s speech very interesting. The most important thing he said was that major successes have been achieved in Spain through the united front tactic. The Spanish comrades were against the united front tactic, and one of them voted with Renoult against it in the Expanded Executive session. Now experience has shown that our comrades in Spain have achieved a great success compared to the syndicalists and anarchists. That should be a model for us. I suggest that our friends in the French party take this as their example.
I now come to Czechoslovakia. Enough has been said in reply to Comrade Vajtauer, and I will not slog through that again. I will only say that Comrade Neurath’s demonstration of the emptiness of the opposition’s programme does not dispose of the matter. Yes, they are helpless, and it is easy to get a grasp of this situation. It is even possible to prove scientifically that they are followers of Proudhon, although that by no means proves that many of them have ever read Proudhon, or even ever heard his name. That does not dispose of the matter, which we must see very concretely, in life, as it actually is.
As you know, our comrades in the Czechoslovak party’s Central Bureau reproach us for having made an error in reversing the expulsion of the opposition, and many German comrades supported them in this. They say that by this action we undermine the authority of the Czechoslovak Central Bureau. I do not believe this. I trust that the authority of the Czechoslovak centre and the Czechoslovak party is great enough that it will not be undermined, even if they have made such an error. I believe that Comrade Vajtauer’s speech contributed to raising its authority and showing the workers what is at stake here.
Comrades should not come here with a number of articles, as Comrade Kreibich has done, who says, ‘we are competent and they are second-rate’. This is no way to educate workers. I do not know what will be the outcome of our debate. I will not anticipate the decisions of the commission; the unexpected may happen. For certainly when comrades do not conform to the decisions of the Executive, there is no choice but to break with them. So this all could lead to a very unfortunate outcome. Nonetheless the International has done rightly in inviting these comrades and bringing the matter before the world congress. If they are expelled, it will be by the International, not by the party leadership. That will ensure that it cannot be said in Germany and elsewhere that we expel left-wing workers without giving them a hearing. No, everyone – Italians, Germans, indeed, all comrades – should see that it is possible to hold on to such comrades. When we expelled Verfeuil, Fabre, and others of the Right, it was quite straightforward; that is the purpose of our Clause 9. But even workers who unknowingly do homage to Proudhon should not be immediately expelled. They should be tolerated for a time, and the effort should be made to win them over. Do not forget that all this happened barely a month before the world congress – as if fired from a pistol. Why should we be hasty? It was our obligation to present this to the International. We had the impression that they represented something much worse than Proudhonism. And I hope that once the International has spoken, workers who are truly international in spirit will hesitate twenty times before they break with the party.
Many German comrades say that our Executive’s handling of the Czech question sounds a bit like the KAPD story. But I maintain that we handled the KAPD matter quite correctly. We expelled them only after every attempt had been made, and they had become a quite hopeless group. Only as the best forces among them were coming over to our United Communist Party did the International speak. Now they are just a group of harmless people, of interest from a historical point of view but not in terms of politics. But what did our esteemed Levi do? He acted in a different fashion. He was in a hurry. When many workers said they did not agree on this or that question, he broke with them. The Spartacus League [KPD] made the error of going along with Levi on this question. Levi thereby revealed himself as a bourgeois aristocrat who viewed the workers merely as an object and did not have a comradely word for the workers in order to educate them regarding their errors.
The Czech Central Bureau wanted to commit the same error that was made with the KAPD. It was a similar error. So we raised a warning hand and said: Wait, comrades, the Fourth Congress is coming. We hope that the best forces will come back. If they do not return, there will have to be a break. In the meantime, the matter has become somewhat more complicated than we imagined. It’s a question not of authority but of something far more important: the interests of the party as a whole, of the International as a whole. This is not just an affair of the Czechs. I hear that in Berlin some comrades have been quite consciously fanning the flames somewhat over this question. I will express no opinion on that, but without a doubt there is some unease. It is not just a Czech question but an international one, concerning our relationship to worker groups of this type. And I believe we must all make efforts at this congress to resolve the question in such a manner that these workers, despite all their errors, stay with us. As for those who, in the fashion of some philosopher like Vajtauer, do not lay high value on the International, there is nothing to be done. But I hope that the majority will see the question in a different way. At the decisive moment they will recall that we are not the kind of International that Vajtauer has portrayed, but rather that there is only one proletarian International and this fact carries weight with every worker. I believe that these workers share this outlook and will come back to us.
I now come to Poland and the speech of our Comrade Domski. I cannot quite forgive our Comrade Domski for a major political mistake that he made even before the Third Congress. It was Domski who wrote an article during the Russian-Polish war that said that bringing socialism to Poland with the Red Army and the bayonets of the Soviet government was not a Communist policy.
Domski: I did not write that.
Zinoviev: Comrade Domski, I have known you for a decade, and I know that you find it very hard to remain silent when you are being criticised. Nonetheless, I ask you to hold your peace. You took this position first in a letter and then in Rote Fahne, and we characterised it then as nationalism of the purest sort. Every proletarian with healthy common sense will say that if the bourgeoisie is holding down the proletarians of a country with bayonets, they will be very lucky indeed if a Red Army, be it Hungarian, Russian, Italian, or even French, can help out the proletarians of a neighbour country. That is the healthy conception of every worker. (Applause) Comrade Domski is obviously no nationalist. It was just a relic of Polish Socialist Party ideology. The Polish intelligentsia is infested with nationalism, and good bit of it survives even among very good comrades. Comrade Domski made this mistake fifteen months ago. I do not say this in order to chop off his head, so to speak. If he has something to teach us today, we will gladly be taught, but we will not forget that he made this major political error.
Now as to his teaching. I have already criticised what Comrade Domski said about the question of a majority. We are quite aware that we do not yet have the majority in Poland. We cannot use the elections just held by Pilsudski as a barometer. We know that Pilsudski is a swindler, and the bourgeoisie rigged the elections. We know that well, but we also know that we are very close to the majority. We do not have it yet, and we must work to secure it.
He also says that the united front is perhaps good for other countries but is not suitable for Poland. This is the same ideology that we encountered here today: ‘The Executive can act in dictatorial fashion in all other counties and apply the united front there. But my country is something quite different; circumstances there are quite unusual; the working class is different and so too is the party’.
In my opinion, it’s especially in a country like Poland that the united front is most suitable. You are illegal, but that should not deter you. I see in the Polish Socialist Party’s official publication in Warsaw an article with the headline, ‘Long live the workers’ and peasants’ government’. I can read that to you in Polish. What does that mean? It means that the slogan of a workers’ government finds an echo in the deepest soul of the masses among both workers and peasants. You have said that we engage in this demagogy because the slogan offers success among the working masses. Comrade Domski says we should oppose the workers’ government and the united front. I say, on the contrary, that if it is already so popular among the masses that even the social traitors use it on a daily basis, that is all the more reason for us to advance the united front slogan. We must keep this slogan before their eyes every day. We know that the Polish worker and the Polish peasant are not for a bourgeois government but for a workers’ government. We must say to the social traitors: Even though you are traitors, we propose to you the establishment of a united front and a workers’ government.
That should be the theme of our agitation. Certainly there are special features in the Polish situation, but these characteristics compel us to make the greatest use of the united front precisely in this country.
The Polish comrades also gave me a speech by Comrade Slusarski, a representative of the Polish opposition, who unfortunately did not take the floor. Comrade Domski told me personally not to confuse him with Comrade Slusarski and not to think their positions are the same. Comrade Slusarski said the following in his speech to the party conference:
When Comrade Lenin says, ‘We will not retreat another step’, I gladly believe that this is his sincere intention. But unfortunately that is impossible. The real dictator of Russia is the peasant.
We face the question of the Communist International’s relationship to this policy. The Soviet Russia seeks to use all means to buttress its policy. In this regard the social mediators and opportunists can exert great influence on government policy. The united front tactic creates contact with the opportunists and makes it possible for them to exercise this influence.
Those are the worst accusations that can be raised against the Soviet government. (Interjection: ‘Levi’) I do not believe that Slusarski has much in common with Levi. He has probably long since overcome this error, and if this is not the case, I hope he will do so tonight, at the latest. (Laughter) But this is said in Levi’s spirit. So, Comrade Slusarski, you can see what a slippery slope you are on.
You criticise from the ‘left’, and quite quickly, almost in the twinkling of an eye, you are with Levi. That is a very dangerous course. This error must be corrected as quickly as possible.
Now for a few words about Norway. I said that in Norway there are twelve newspapers that are all named Social-Demokraten. Comrade Haakon Meyer informs me that there are forty newspapers, probably all called Social-Demokraten. Our party in Norway is strong, and that is precisely why we must make stringent demands. As we listened to the short speech of the young academic Comrade Meyer, we noted immediately that the comrades were in error. Part of the Mot Dag group is good, but another part does not accept the party’s authority. They are simply young academics, of whom it can be said that up to 25 years of age they are rabid revolutionaries, then at 26 years they change, with 30 years they are well-positioned lawyers, and then they turn against the working class. We fear these academics. Those who have truly learned something should subordinate themselves to the party, go to the workers, and assist them in their liberation struggle. It just won’t do that after a year and a half in the movement they decide that the Communist International is not independent enough. We must insist that the situation in Norway be sorted out, and I hope that this will happen.
Now a few words about Comrade Varga’s speech. He demonstrated quite thoroughly that it’s better to be well-fed than to be hungry, that bread is better than hunger, and that the legend of hunger must be done away with. But that is not what is at issue. First of all, it was not a myth; the hunger was quite genuine, and we had to say that to the working masses. Now things have begun to improve, and here I agree with Comrade Varga, of course we must tell the working class that the Russian worker is no longer going hungry and that his conditions are improving daily. But we will not boast; we will wait until that fact is firmly established. We will go to the workers with facts and figures. We will improve the conditions of our workers step by step and explain this to workers of other countries. But the disagreement is not about that; it concerns something else. In Russia there is no longer hunger. But we cannot hide the fact that in other countries the dictatorship of the proletariat may bring hunger in its wake. It is a bitter truth, but can we reject saying it to the workers? There is no way to escape it. We must say things to the workers as they are. In Russia we had five dreadful years; in other countries it could be rather shorter. The dictatorship [of the proletariat] may also come without hunger, and that depends on various factors. But in some countries it will probably bring hunger. The desire not to say this to the workers is simply opportunism and inner uncertainty. We cannot tell the workers that tomorrow they will have it great, with meat and a good house. Along this road we will simply be beaten by the reformists. It’s not a matter of telling workers in other countries that there is no longer hunger in Russia. It’s a matter of saying how it will be for them as well, and this must be said unhesitatingly. The worker knows life and will accept the inevitable. And we, who act as a vanguard of the working class, must say this frankly to their face.
Now a few words on Comrade Landler’s speech. I would have liked to have spared the congress this uninspiring debate, but that did not succeed. Comrade Landler has presented matters as if I had fought against the emigration as such. Comrades, you heard my speech – did I really say that? I said our Italian friends would probably not now escape the need to create a centre in emigration. The Finns did this, and earlier, we Russians did so as well. I know how to value an emigration, one that concerns itself with revolutionary struggle. Never will we speak of an emigration as Ebert did, when he talked about foreign ‘groups’.
But Comrade Landler, your shot was wide of the mark; you missed the target. There is a type of emigration that ruins the movement, that poisons it, and we had such an experience with a portion of the Vienna emigration, whose representative in the person of Comrade Landler now says that I am a diplomat. And just what is this diplomacy? I must say that it is shameless of Comrade Landler for him and his friends to damage our cause and now to accuse me of diplomacy.
As for the comrades in prison, they of course enjoy the highest esteem among us all. The first word at this congress in Petrograd at the ceremonial opening session was a manifesto to the comrades that are in prison, not the last of which are our imprisoned Hungarian brothers. It goes without saying that I support the portion of Comrade Landler’s motion that greets our brothers in prison and mourns the fallen. Of course I am for this. But I cannot support the second part of his motion, which would give credentials to two more emigrants and would once again form a commission at this congress to review the Vienna business. What is that about? The comrades who fell in Hungary in the struggle for communism will always be sacred to us. But it is not right to speak in name of the dead in this manner. That sort of thing was customary among the Social Revolutionaries. We say that everyone who fell in the liberation struggle is sacred to us, but you should not speak in the name of the dead. That is my advice to Comrade Landler. Only the International as a whole may speak in the name of the dead – not an individual person. And the Vienna gossip should not be linked up with these things. They are quite different matters and should not be mixed up together.
Comrade Landler tells us that there are four thousand Communists in Hungary. I hope that there are even more. But I would like to know the opinion of these four thousand comrades on whether they are for the Executive of the Communist International or for the Vienna gossip, which Comrade Landler has so cleverly interpreted for us. I hope they will be for us and not for the Vienna gossip.
Comrade Landler spoke in the name of those who are in prison in Hungary. Unfortunately we are not in a position to talk to these comrades. Still, we may be successful in freeing them from Horthy’s claws and bringing them to Moscow, and then we will talk to them. But we have people here that were condemned in Hungary to death or life imprisonment and got out of Hungary’s prisons. We saved them and brought them to Russia. What do these comrades say? Are they for Comrade Landler? No, they are against him, against the Vienna gossip and for the International. We have truly done all in our power to put the matter to rest. It was great fun for the Two-and-a-Half International. All of you – the German, French, British, and all comrades – will remember how they came out with this in their papers and damaged us. It was a feast for these people, a Wiener schnitzel for Friedrich Adler. (Laughter) That was Comrade Landler’s doing, and now he said it really was not enough, and we should do it all over again. We are against this kind of commission. The International guarantees you that we will work to put things right, but only if you do not come here with more emigration stories but devote yourself to the work. All respect to the emigrants that support the movement, but down with the emigration that provides raw material for the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals – we have had enough of that.
By and large, that wraps up my response. I’d only like to touch on one brief matter. Comrade Radek said yesterday that danger threatens us from the right, not the left. I’d like to stress these words and express full agreement. It’s not a matter of the good will of comrades or the group, but of the objective conditions. We must be very clear. Worse times are coming, and yet even worse times. We will build the Communist International and maintain it as a vanguard of the proletariat, but only on the condition that we are clear that we need a genuine international organisation, which will combat every trace of opportunism not only with words but with deeds. Today I said in a commission that we sometimes hear our friends say that they agree ‘in principle’ with everything that the Executive does. But that is precisely the catch: they only agree ‘in principle’. I must quote here from Bismarck, who once said, ‘We old diplomats always say that we are in favour of something in principle, when we are actually opposed to it’. We can’t do that kind of thing in the Communist International. Whoever is against the policies of the Communist International should please indicate that clearly now. And who is in favour, please take your stand for it with fire, strength, and spirit. Then we will build a genuine Communist International, despite the darkness of the world, an International that will seize the first opportunity to lead the working class to the assault and to victory. (Loud applause)
53. See comments by Ernst Meyer, Toward the United Front, p. 140, and Radek, p. 167.
54. Zinoviev’s conception of the types of workers’ governments was incorporated into the Theses on Tactics, Toward the United Front, p. 1161, after an amendment presented on pp. 1098–99 and other changes.
55. Zinoviev is referring to the course of united-front negotiations with the leadership bodies of reformist-led parties and trade unions.
56. On 15 October 1922, the ultra-right Bund für Freiheit und Ordnung (League for Freedom and Order) called a demonstration at the 4,000-seat Circus Busch in Berlin. Police rejected calls for the action to be banned. The rightists attacked a workers’ counterdemonstration, wounding a considerable number.
57. The strike in Le Havre lasted from June to October, 1922.
58. See Third Congress Theses on Tactics in Adler 1980, especially pp. 277–8 and Bordiga’s comments above, p. #112.
59. The exchange between Terracini and Lenin took place on 1 July 1921 at the Third Comintern Congress. See To the Masses, pp. 457–65 and 465–73.
60. The German play on words juxtaposes ‘Brei’ and ‘Bräu’.
61. See Der Fascismus im arbeitfreundlichen Gewande, Inprekorr, 2, 190 (28 September 1922), pp. 1255–6.
62. The KAPD, formed as a left-wing breakaway from the German CP in April 1920, was admitted to the Comintern as a sympathising section in November 1920. The Third Comintern Congress, held June–July 1921, ended this status and instructed the KAPD to join the German CP. The KAPD then left the International.
63. At the Heidelberg congress of the German CP on October 20–24, 1919, Paul Levi led the majority in driving out the ultraleft forces that founded the KAPD in 1920. The Comintern leadership sought to heal the breach, initiating relations with the KAPD that continued until the summer of 1921. The German CP was then known as KPD (Spartacus League), indicating its continuity with the Spartacus League that had been its main founding component.
64. When the Red Army repelled the Polish invasion of Ukraine in the spring of 1920 and approached the pre-invasion demarcation line, disagreement arose in the Russian CP leadership on whether Soviet forces should halt at this border or advance into Poland. Among Bolshevik leaders who initially opposed the advance into Poland were Radek, Trotsky, and Stalin. The decision was taken to advance, which led, after initial gains, to a defeat and withdrawal of Red Army forces.
65. ‘Vienna emigration’ refers to Hungarian communists who fled to Vienna after the overthrow of the Hungarian soviet republic in 1919.
Last updted on 6 January 2020