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The New International, January 1943

N. Lenin

Archives of the Revolution

A Letter to German Communists



From The New International, Vol. IX No. 1, January 1943, pp. 26–28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In March 1921 the German Communist Party launched an armed uprising, provoked partly by the bourgeoisie and the social democracy and partly by ultra-leftist leaders of the party and the Communist International. This “March Action” failed utterly, and produced a crisis and a split in the party. Paul Levi, the former leader of the party, made a trenchant public criticism of the “March Action policy,” the theory of the “offensive at all costs,” and of “action to electrify the masses,” which had taken hold of most of the party. The continuation of these policies and theories by the ultra-leftist leadership at the head of the party during and after March would have meant breaking the neck of communism in Germany. The crisis was exacerbated by the kind of unbridled and unintelligent struggle against deviating tendencies which Lenin felt compelled to decry as the transformation of a wisely-conducted and necessary political struggle into an irresponsible “sport,” which threatened to drive out of the party thousands of militants and many able leaders. At the same time a conflict of views developed between the German party, and especially its right wing, and the leaders of the International over the KAPD (Communist Workers Party of Germany). This ultra-leftist group had been admitted into the International as a “sympathizing organization,” a status which the German Communist Party representatives vigorously challenged.

The Third Congress of the International sought to sustain the formal authority of the official party and its leftist leadership, in order to protect it from the vigorous and often telling attacks of Levi, but at the same time it repudiated the policy and theories behind the “March Action,” a repudiation which Lenin and Trotsky virtually forced upon a reluctant leftist Congress with half-concealed threats of a split in the International. One of the prices demanded by the German leaders for swallowing this repudiation was the political head of Levi. Far from agreeing to this price, Lenin continued his attempt to build a bridge back to the International for Levi, whom he regarded as a talented man whose political criticism was not far from right. The attempt failed. The German party leaders would have none of it and went out of their way to make its realization impossible. On the other hand, Levi revealed more and more the traits of political instability and even dilettantism which tainted even his criticism of the “March Action.” These traits pulled him ever closer to the social democracy, in whose ranks he finally ended up. It is of course idle speculation to wonder what would have happened in the case of Levi had the German party leaders shown the same wisdom in dealing with such matters as is reflected in this letter to the German Communists which Lenin addressed to them in 1921 at their critical Congress in Jena. – Editor

The Communist Party in Germany is in a difficult situation. On the one hand, the international situation in Germany has intensified the revolutionary crisis and pushed the revolutionaries to the immediate taking over of power. On the other, the German and international bourgeoisie having drawn experience from events in Russia, and being admirably organized and armed to the teeth, has thrown itself with hatred against the revolutionary German proletariat.

Since 1918, the German revolutionary movement has followed a difficult and tempestuous course. But it marches forward no less.

One can assert that the German working masses have already taken a step to the left.

The difficult situation of the VKPD [United Communist Party of Germany] is complicated by the opposition from the KAPD [Communist Workers Party of Germany] and the Levi-ists.

For what it is, we allowed the KAPD to participate in the Congress of the Communist International. We consider that so long as parties are not yet solidly organized, semi-anarchist elements can be useful.

In Western Europe the transition from revolutionary mentality to revolutionary activity is a very slow and tedious process. The anarchist tendencies, and the contradictions that arise within these very tendencies, must be left to develop themselves. But there should be limits to this tolerance.

In Germany, we have tolerated the semi-anarchist elements for a very long time. The Third Congress of the Comintern at last has given them a time-limit. If they exclude themselves from the CI, so much the better. We must let them die a natural death. The infantile malady of radicalism will pass, and as the communist movement grows so will it totally disappear.

We all act inconsiderately in the polemics we wage against Paul Levi. Nothing suits him better than to continue the dispute with us. After the decisions of the CI we must forget him and concentrate all our forces to a peaceable objective activity without polemic, without dispute, and without return to the past. I consider that Comrade Radek, by his article appearing in July in Nos. 14 and 15 of the Rote Fahne, and entitled The Third International Congress, the March Movement, and the Future Tactics of the Party, has erred against the decisions adopted unanimously by the Congress. This article is specially directed not only against Paul Levi, but against Klara Zetkin. However, Klara Zetkin has herself, so as to seal the party unity, concluded during the Third Congress an agreement with the Central Committee of the VKPD which has been sanctioned by us all.

Radek has pushed things to inaccuracy when he implies that Klara Zetkin “wished to hold up all general action of the party until the day the great masses would be with us.” In writing such words, he has rendered Paul Levi a signal service. For the latter has no other object than to see the party more and more divided and, finally, to expel Klara Zetkin. Radek has given a striking example of how the left wing can aid Levi.

I agree with a good number of Levi’s criticisms on the March movement (of course, excluding from the very first the appellation of “putsch” given by him to this movement).

But Levi has given to his criticism a noxious form. And he who preaches prudence and balance so much to others has acted like a schoolboy in throwing himself hastily and blindly into the fray, so that he lost when he could have gained.

By the series of stupid errors he has made, Levi has drawn away attention from the very thing that is of importance, that is, the commission of the terrors committed during the March movement and their correction. These errors are very instructive.

To make good and correct these errors, which no one considered pearls of Marxism, it was necessary at the Communist International Congress to place oneself on the right wing. Otherwise the line of the Congress would have been false. It was my duty to do this so long as I found myself in the presence of comrades who only enunciated words about reformism and centrism and who did not wish to recognize the mistakes made in March. Such people transform revolutionary Marxism into a caricature, the fight with centrism is a sport.

The German communists could do no better than to put an end to internal discussions as soon as possible, and to forget the case of Paul Levi on the one hand, and the KAPD on the other, and to set themselves resolutely to positive work.

The resolutions adopted at the Third Congress represent a huge step forward. It will be necessary to make every effort to put into practice what has been decided.

Communists should, to begin with, promulgate their principles before the whole world. That is what the First Congress did. Further, the work of building up the organization of the Communist International had to be done, the fixing of the conditions of admission, and the establishment of a clear line of demarcation between communists and centrists, that is, between communists and all those direct or indirect agents of the bourgeoisie who still find themselves mixed up with the workers’ movement

That was also the work of the Second Congress. The Third Congress could at last begin definite work. We have throughout the whole world a communist army, which, it is true, is still badly educated and organized. We must work at perfecting it. It must acquire experience in the various tactical operations and the lessons that can be learned from them must be examined with the greatest honesty.

The stumbling block in the international situation of the communist movement, during the year 1921, is found precisely in the fact that certain of those who belong to the elite of the Communist International have not quite understood the task that confronts them, that they have somewhat exaggerated the fight against centrism, and that they have rather overstepped the line of demarcation that separates fighting from sport, and they have reached a point where there is a risk of compromising revolutionary Marxism.

They have not broken bounds to a very great extent, but the dangers of their exaggeration is immense.

If this exaggeration had not been combated, the Communist International would undoubtedly have perished. No one in the world is in a position to prevent the victory of the Communist International over the Second International and the “Two-and-a-Half” International, so long as the communists themselves do not hinder victory. To exaggerate the fight against the centrists means to save centrism, to strengthen its position and to increase its influence over the proletariat.

In the period that has elapsed between the Second and Third Congresses, we have learned to wage a war against centrism that is crowned with success in relation to the international movement. That has been proved by facts. This fight – the expulsion of Levi and of Serrati’s party – we shall pursue to the very end. But what we have not learned is to fight against misplaced exaggerations in the battle against centrism. However, we have recognized this shortcoming, and precisely because we have recognized it we shall be able to free ourselves from it. Then we shall be invincible, for without the support of the proletariat itself (through the medium of the capitalist agents operating in the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals) the bourgeoisie of Europe and of America will not be able to maintain power any longer.

The essential task is the conquest of the masses of the proletariat. It is true we do not conceive of the conquest of the majority in the same manner as the champions of petty bourgeois democracy united in the Two-and-a-Half International. If in the month of July 1921, at Rome, the whole proletariat – including the workers belonging to the reformist unions and Serrati’s party – support the communists in the struggle against the fascisti, this fact is equivalent to the conquest of the majority of the working class for our cause.

Such a fact, it is true, does not yet signify a decisive conquest. It was only a partial victory, but in point of fact it was a conquest of the majority. This conquest is going on throughout the whole world without anyone being able to stop it. We want to prepare the fight in this sense in a systematic and profound manner, giving to it all the necessary reflection. We let pass no serious occasion for using the revolutionary situation the bourgeoisie is creating at this moment. We must learn to estimate at their correct value the occasions which are offered to us for fighting in concert with the proletariat.

Thus will victory be assured us. Our tactics and strategy, seen from the international standpoint, are far from being up to the level of the bourgeoisie, for which the experience gained in Russia has been a warning. But we are incomparably richer in numbers. We shall be able to acquire the art of strategy and tactics.

In conclusion, permit me to express the wish that the Jena Congress puts an end to the petty squabbles between the left and the right. A truce to the disputes that are rending the party! Down with all those who in one way or another are prolonging this fight. Let us consecrate our energies to perfecting the party organization and gaining a more and more intimate contact with the masses. Let us work for the perfecting of working class strategy.

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