G. Zinoviev


The Second Wave of International Revolution

(22 December 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 73 [49], 22 December 1923, pp. 836–838.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, May 2023.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

When, in October of this year, the full scope of the impeding revolution in Germany became revealed, the Russian Party rose like one man. The manner in which the Russian Communist Party reacted to the prospect of revolution in Germany is of the very greatest importance. After two years of the New Economic Policy, the Party was called upon to decide what its attitude should be to the approaching revolutionary struggle in Europe. This was a severe political test. Would a regeneration of the tissue of the Party organism take place? Would some of the fatty deposit of „nepism“ be discarded?

The Russian Communist Party stood the test. Its answer was unanimous. [1] It reacted to the approaching revolutionary storm as a proletarian revolutionary party and one of the chief divisions of the Communist International should.

The pace of events has now slackened (November 1923). The proletarian revolution in Germany is again undergoing tremendous difficulties, and, as a result, depression is being felt among certain sections of our Party (especially among the youth). Rosy optimism is giving place to the blackest pessimism.

It is now obvious that in October we all somewhat overestimated the speed of events and under-estimated the difficulties which stood in the way of a victorious proletarian revolution in Germany. The periods will be longer than we at first expected, although they are now calculated in months instead of years. The most prominent representatives of revolutionary Marxism, beginning with Marx himself, have been liable to mistakes as to time intervals. At the beginning of the revolutionary events of 1918–19 in Germany, the greatest of revolutionary realists, Lenin, in a letter addressed to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee in October 1918, wrote:

“The crisis in Germany has only just begun. It will inevitably end with the passing of political power into the hands of the German proletariat. The Russian proletariat is following events with the greatest attention and enthusiasm. The most backward workmen of all countries can now see how right the Bolsheviks were in basing their tactics upon the prospect of the support of a worldwide workers’ revolution, and in not fearing to make many heavy sacrifices ... But the Russian proletariat is not only following events; it is also exerting every effort to assist the German workers ... During the last few days, world history has unusually accelerated its pace towards a worldwide workers’ revolution.”

Very much in the same way our Party, and in fact, all of us, estimated the situation in Germany during last October. We also believed that world history had unusually increased its pace towards the worldwide workers’ revolution.

Comrade Lenin, in concluding his pamphlet The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (November 10th, 1918), wrote:

“The foregoing lines were written on November, 9 1918. On the night of November 9–10, news was received from Germany that a successful revolution had begun, first in Kiel and other northern coast towns, where power passed into the hands of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates, and then in Berlin, where too power passed to the Soviets. The conclusion which still remained for me to write to the pamphlet on Kautsky and the proletarian revolution has row become superfluous.”

The above quotation shows how Comrade Lenin and all of us were at that time convinced that this final victory, the proletarian revolution in Germany, had been won.

Having studied Marx and Engels, we can understand why such a type of error (over-estimation of the pace of events and of time intervals) were for them unavoidable. These errors proceeded from those powerful qualities of Marx and Engels, which made them not only great scientists and theoreticians of socialism, but also great revolutionaries.

We, at the end of 1923, are of course not indifferent to the question of time intervals. Whether decisive events will take place a year or two earlier or later is important. Yet, from the historical point of view this question is a secondary one. Fundamentally, the estimates made by our Party and by the Communist International in October 1923 were and are correct. Important, and in fact, decisive factors are continuing to operate in favour of revolution in Germany. The path which the German proletariat and its Communist Party is now pursuing is a difficult and thorny one But ultimate victory is assured.

* * *

Looking back on the events which took place during September, October and November 1923 in Bulgaria, Poland and Germany, we are led to conclude that they mark the beginning of the second wave of international proletarian revolution. The first wave began in 1917 (with the great Russian Revolution) and ended somewhere about 1920, having spread to a number of European countries. The first wave began as a direct result of the world imperialist war Its elemental sweep was tremendous. There was a time when we were perfectly justified in believing that the wave was so powerful that it would sweep away the bourgeois power over the whole of Europe. But at the time of the first wave, the influence of the Communists was insignificant. The very word “Communism” was, practically speaking, heard in Europe for the first time in 1919. During the period 1917–1920, the Communist International was in its stage of formation, and the heroic uprising of the Spartacists in January 1919 was the uprising of a small minority. The wave of 1917–20 was unable to shake capitalism to its foundations. It was but the first reminder of death.

Then there came the ebb 1921–22, and the first half of 1923, was a period of extreme and world wide reaction, the capitalist offensive, the disintegration of Social-Democracy, the suppression of the old trade unions and the enfeeblement of the working class. At the last meeting of the Enlarged Executive Committee of the Communist International, it was felt, if not actually foreseen, that a new revolutionary wave was approaching. The slogan of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government and the resolutions on the agricultural and national questions proceeded from this presentiment of fresh revolutionary struggles. That this second wave of the international proletarian revolution has already begun is now perfectly clear. The events in Bulgaria, Poland and Germany, whatever their immediate outcome may be, have proved that the bourgeoisie have not subdued Europe, and that new revolutionary struggles are not far distant. The second revolutionary wave, is distinguished from the first revolutionary wave (1918–20) by the fact that international Communism is now asserting a far more powerful and organised influence upon the march of events. The sweep of the movement which began in the second half of 1923 has so far been less widespread than that of 1917–20, which was directly connected with the imperialist war. Blit the element of organisation and communist conscience among the proletarian vanguard is today undoubtedly stronger The experience accumulated during these years by the advanced section of the proletariat of the world will reveal its influence in the near future. We shall witness events which the wiseacres would have declared utterly impossible We shall certainly see the great Social Democratic parties, who are now playing a counter-revolutionary role, collapsing like houses of cards, and workers who now place their trust in the social democrats, passing en masse into our camp.

It is true that the movement in Bulgaria and Poland has been crushed It is true that General Seeckt triumphs in Germany Nevertheless, the events that took place in Bulgaria, Poland, and Germany during September and October 1923 mark the beginning of the second wave of the international proletarian revolution. The pace of events is still not swift enough, our revolutionary impatience is therefore only natural. But speaking objectively, events are moving with unusual swiftness. Less than two months elapsed since the Bulgarian uprising was suppressed in blood before the Bulgarian Communists were again on their feel, and in the elections, conducted under the violent control of the Tsankov Government, the bloc of Communists and peasants gained important victories. That which the Russian workers and peasants after their defeat in 1905 required several years to perform, is being performed in Bulgaria in a few weeks. The same, in all likelihood, will take place in Germany. The workers will recover from the blows of reaction much quicker than many think. One need not be a prophet to foretell that in the Winter and Spring a new mass outbreak of the revolutionary movement in Germany is inevitable.

The second wave of the international proletarian revolution has begun. It rose higher in Germany than anywhere else. It did not however reach the height necessary for the victory of the proletariat and has now begun to subside. But it will inevitably rise again.

The second wave is still not the “World November”, but it is a gigantic step towards the “World November”. The second wave of the international proletarian revolution is already beating heavily against the edifice of European capitalism. The edifice will surely crumble.

We shall err many times more in questions involving the time intervals, since there are no scientific instruments for determining such questions with exactitude. The Marxian method is a powerful weapon in our hands, but it cannot save us from over-estimating the pace of events and from inaccuracy in matters of time. But fundamentally we have not erred, do not err, and shall not err.

Whatever the immediate outcome may have been, the events of September and October 1923 mark an important stage in the preparation for the final victory of the international proletarian revolution.

* * *


1. “Well informed” gossips have spread the legend that serious differences existed within the controlling organs of the Russian Communist Party regarding the German Revolution. Very knowing Social Revolutionary and Menshevik readers, analysing various articles in our press, arrived at similar conclusions. As a matter of fact, after mature examination, every decision, without exception, connected with the events in Germany, was adopted completely and unanimously. The same complete unanimity prevailed within the Executive Committee of the Communist International, which came to its decisions on the German events after careful examination in conjunction not only with the German Party, but also with representatives of many other closely concerned sections of the Communist International.

Last updated on 3 May 2023