First Congress of the Communist International

Letter of Invitation to the Congress

24 January 1919

First published: in Pravda and Izvestia on 24 January 1919, the Hungarian Voros Ujsag on the 30th, the Bremen Der Kommunist on 4 February. in Die Rote Fahne on 25 February 1919 and in Vol. XIII of Trotsky’s Works, Moscow 1926.
Written: by Trotsky;
Source: Theses Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congress of the Third International, translated by Alix Holt and Barbara Holland. Ink Links 1980;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

Dear Comrades,

The undersigned parties and organisations consider that the convening of the first congress of the new revolutionary International is urgently necessary. During the war and the revolution, not only has the complete bankruptcy of the old social-democratic parties, and with them the Second International, been glaring, not only has the incapacity of the intermediate elements of the old social democracy (called the ‘centre') to take effective revolutionary action become manifest, but it is further possible to see the outlines of the real revolutionary International taking shape at present. The very rapid rise of the world revolution, which constantly poses new problems, the danger of strangulation of this revolution under the hypocritical banner of the ‘League of Nations’, the attempts of the social-traitor parties to join together and further help their governments and their bourgeoisies in order to betray the working class after granting each other a mutual ‘amnesty’, and finally, the extremely rich revolutionary experience already acquired and the world-wide character of the whole revolutionary movement – all these circumstances compel us to place on the agenda of the discussion the question of the convening of an international congress of proletarian-revolutionary parties.

1. Aims and Tactics

Acknowledgment of the following principles, established in the form of a programme and drawn up from the programmes of the Sparcatus League in Germany and the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Russia, should in our view, serve as the basis for the new International.

1 The present period is that of the decomposition and collapse of the entire world capitalist system, and will be that of the collapse of European civilisation in general if capitalism, with its insurmountable contradictions, is not overthrown.

2 The task of the proletariat now is to seize State power. The seizure of State power signifies the destruction of the State apparatus of the bourgeoisie and the organisation of a new apparatus of proletarian power.

3 The new apparatus of power must represent the dictatorship of the working class and, in certain places, also that of the small peasants and agricultural labourers; it must, that is to say, be the instrument for the systematic overthrow of the exploiting class and its expropriation. Not false bourgeois democracy – that hypocritical form of domination of the financial oligarchy – with its purely formal equality, but proletarian democracy, with the possibility of realising the freedom of the toiling masses; not Parliamentarianism, but the self-administration of these masses by their elected bodies; not capitalist bureaucracy, but organs of administration created by the masses themselves, with the real participation of the masses in the administration of the country and in the activity of Socialist construction – that is the type of State the proletarian State should be. The power of the workers’ councils or the workers’ organisations is its concrete form.

4 The dictatorship of the proletariat must be the lever for the immediate expropriation of Capital, the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and its transformation into social property.

The socialisation (by this is meant the abolition of private property, which is handed over to the proletarian state and the socialist administration of the working class) of large-scale industry and the banks, its organising centres; the monopolisation of trade; the socialisation of big properties in the cities and large rural estates; the introduction of workers’ administration and the centralisation of economic functions in the hands of bodies representing the proletarian dictatorship – these are the essential problems of the day.

5 For the security of the socialist revolution, for its defence against its internal and external enemies, to help other national fractions of the fighting proletariat, etc., the complete disarming of the bourgeoisie and its agents, and the general arming of the proletariat, are necessary.

6 The world situation now requires the closest contact between the different parts of the revolutionary proletariat and the complete unity of the countries in which the revolution has triumphed.

7 The basic method of struggle is the mass action of the proletariat, including open struggle, arms in hand, against the state power of capital.

II. Relations with the ‘Socialist’ Parties

8 The Second International has split into three main groups: the avowed social-patriots who, throughout the imperialist war of 1914-1918, supported their own bourgeoisie and transformed the working class into the butcher of the world revolution; the ‘centre’, whose principal theoretician is Kautsky, and which represents a conglomeration of constantly wavering elements incapable of following a definite guiding line, and sometimes acting as real traitors; finally, the Left, revolutionary wing.

9 In relation to the social-patriots who everywhere, at the critical moment, fight the proletarian revolution arms in hand, only implacable struggle is possible. In relation to the ‘centre’, the tactic consists of detaching the revolutionary elements from it; criticism must be ruthless in order to expose its leaders. At a certain stage of development, an organisational break with the centre is absolutely necessary.

10 It is further necessary to ally with those elements of the revolutionary movement which, although they did not in the past belong to the Socialist Parties, today stand on the whole on the ground of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the form of council power. It is principally the syndicalist elements of the labour movement who are concerned here.

11 Finally, it is necessary to win over all those proletarian groups or organisations which, although they have not openly rallied to the revolutionary current, are nevertheless displaying a trend in that direction in their evolution.

12 Concretely, we propose that the representatives of the following parties, tendencies and groups should participate in the congress (fully-fledged members of the Third International will be parties of a different type which will place themselves wholly on its ground):

1 The Spartacus League (Germany).

2 The Communist Party (Bolshevik) (Russia).

3 The Communist Party of German Austria [Founded 3 Nov. 1918 in Vienna].

4 The Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party [Founded 14 Nov. in Budapest] .

5 The Finnish CP.[2]

6 The Polish Communist Workers’ Party [Founded 16 Nov. 1918 in Warsaw].

7 The Communist Party of Estonia [Founded in 1918].

8 The Latvian CP [Founded in 1918].

9 The Lithuanian CP [Founded in 1918].

10 The Byelorussian CP [Founded in 1918].

11 The Ukranian CP [Founded in 1918].

12 The revolutionary elements of the Czech Social-Democratic Party [3]

13 The Bulgarian Social-Democratic Party (Tesnjaki).

14 The Rumanian SDP.

15 The Left wing of the Serbian SDP.[4]

16 The Swedish Left SDP.

17 The Norwegian SDP.

18 For Denmark, the Klassenkampen group.

19 The Dutch CP.

20 The revolutionary elements of the Belgian Workers’ Party.[5]

21 and 22 The groups and organisations within the French socialist and syndicalist movement. [6]

23 The social-democratic Left of Switzerland.[7]

24 The Italian Socialist Party. [8]

25 The revolutionary elements of the Spanish SP.[9]

26 The revolutionary elements of the Portuguese SP.[10]

27 The British socialist parties[11] (above all, the current represented by MacLean).

28 Socialist Labour Party (Britain).

29 Industrial Workers of the World (Britain).

30 I.W. of Great Britain.

31 The revolutionary elements and workers’ organisations of Ireland.[12] 32 The revolutionary elements among the shop stewards (Britain).[13]

33 SLP (America).

34 The Left elements of the SP of America” (the tendency represented by Debs and the League for Socialist Propaganda).

35 IWW (America).

36 IWW (Australia).

37 Workers’ International Industrial Union (America).

38 The Socialist groups of Tokyo and Yokohama (represented by Comrade Katayama).

39 The Socialist Youth International (represented by Comrade Munzenberg).

III The Question of Organisation and the Name of the Party

13 The Third International’s basis is provided by the fact that in different parts of Europe groups and organisations of co-thinkers have already been formed which place themselves on a common platform and employ largely identical methods and tactics. These are, in the first place, the Spartacists and the Communist Parties of many other countries.

14 In order to achieve permanent liaison and methodical leadership for the movement, the congress will have to create a common fighting body, a centre of the Communist International, subordinating the interests of the movement in each country to the common interests of the revolution internationally. The concrete forms of organisation, of the delegations, etc., will be worked out by the congress.

15 The Congress will have to take the name of the ‘First Congress of the Communist International’, with the different parties becoming sections of the latter. At the theoretical level, Marx and Engels already considered the term ‘social democrat’ to be mistaken. The shameful collapse of the social-democratic International demands a break in that respect as well. Finally, the basic nucleus of the great movement is already constituted by a series of parties which have already taken this name. As a function of all these considerations, we propose to all fraternal organisations and parties to place on the order of the day the question of the convening of the international Communist congress.

With our socialist greetings.

The Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik): Lenin, Trotsky.
The Overseas Bureau of the Communist Workers’ Party of Poland: Karski.
The Overseas Bureau of the Communist Workers’ Party of Hungary: Rudnyanszky.
The Overseas Bureau of the Communist Workers’ Party of German Austria: Duda.
The Russian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Latvia: Rozin.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Finland: Sirola.
The Executive Committee of the Balkan Revolutionary Social-Democratic Federation: Rakovsky.
For the SLP (America): Reinstein.


2 Founded 29 August 1918 in Moscow by Finnish revolutionaries who took refuge in Russia after their defeat in the civil war.

3 These Left elements were organised into competing groups: Alois Neurath’s German social-democratic group, and the Left wing of the Czech social democrats led by former ‘social-chauvinist’ Bohumir Smeral (1880-1941). The Czech Communist group established a short-lived Communist Party in May 1919.

4 The leaders of the Serbian Social-Democratic Party were considered to be ‘on the Left’ in spite of the somewhat pro-Allied attitude of their representatives Kaclerovic and Popovic at the third conference of the Zimmerwald Association in Moscow. There was also a left-wing minority in the Croat Party and Communist groups in Budapest and Moscow.

5 This refers essentially to the Socialist Young Guard, whose bastion was the Brussels Federation led by War Van Overstraeten (born 1891).

6 The formulation was cautious as the situation was complex: the group closest to the Bolsheviks was the ‘Loriot group’, which came out of the Zimmerwald Left and was the nucleus of the left-wing minority in the Socialist Party; but it was also necessary to take into account the anarcho-syndicalist Trade-Union Defence Committee, whose organiser, Raymond Pericat, launched the newspaper L'Internationale a few weeks after the appeal and founded a ‘Communist Party’ at the end of May. In addition there were the revolutionary syndicalists around Monatte and Rosmer who were once more engaged in publishing La Vie 0uvriere, as well as those elements radicalised by the war who set up the Republican Association of Ex-Servicemen and the Clarte groups. The different French groups joined together in the Committee for the Resumption of International Relations, which became the Committee for the Third International in May.

7 This term actually embraced different groups: Fritz Platten, from the left of the Party, attended the Congress, but so did Katscher, delegated by the anarcho-Communist group Die Forderung. Other proto-Communist nuclei were organised around figures such as Jules Humbert-Droz and Jakeb Herzog.

8 The rise of the labour movement in Italy was one of the most spectacular in Europe and the Party leadership had adopted a ‘maximalist’ attitude.

9 These forces were still very scattered: mention should be made of Mariano Garcia Cortes’s Nuestra Palabra (Cortes had worked for the German Embassy), Daniel Anguiano Mangada, who had been in contact with Trotsky in 1916, and above all the Madrid Young Socialists. The attraction of the Third International was also very strong inside the C.N.T.

10 This organisation, founded in 1875 by Gneco and the Portuguese internationalists under the influence of Paul Lafargue, had dwindled into a tiny group even before the war. In fact there was no trace of a left-wing tendency within the PSP, whose October 1919 conference refused to take a position on the question of affiliation to the Third International, and no member of the PSP participated in the founding of the Communist Party (1921), which was created by anarcho-syndicalists.

11 The highlighting of Maclean was to have its own irony: Maclean, the only British socialist known to the Bolsheviks for his working class internationalism during the war (for which he suffered imprisonment) was never to join the CPGB. The principal organisations involved in unity discussions towards the formation of the CPGB were the Independent Labour Party (which in its majority remained centrist), the British Socialist Party (the lynch pin of the whole operation but with a right wing which left it to remain within the Labour Party), the Workers’ Socialist Federation (Sylvia Pankhurst’s small but vigorous and proletarian group which could never agree with the BSP leaders and the International leadership on the twin questions of parliamentarianism and affiliation to the Labour Party), the Socialist Labour Party (a cadre organisation of De Leonist lineage which was inflexibly hostile and sectarian towards the BSP in particular and most other organisations as well, but which was able to provide the early CP with four of the latter’s early leaders – MacManus, Bell, Murphy and Paul), the South Wales Socialist Society, and even, for a time, the National Guilds League. Of those forces which finally made up the initial membership of the CPGB, the majority came from the BSP, the largest minority from those who had broken from the SLP.

12 Homage to the two organisations founded by James Connolly (1868-1916), the Irish Socialist Republican Party and the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. Both were being severely hit by repression but were still in existence.

13 It was in the shop stewards’ movement during the war that men who were later to become leaders of the CPGB (Murphy, MacManus, Gallacher) made their names.

14 Founded in 1901, the SP had, since November 1918 been going through a severe crisis when its Slav federation in Chicago formed (without splitting) the League for Communist Propaganda, led by Rozin and Rutgers, while its Latvian federation in Boston founded the paper Revolutionary Age, edited by Louis Fraina, an ex-member of the SLP who had joined the SP. In February 1919 this paper published a manifesto of the ‘left section’ of the Party, which included as one of its best known members the journalist John Reed (1887-1920).