Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International
Zinoviev: Comrades, on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Communist International I declare the Second World Congress of the Communist International open. [Stormy, continuous applause, cheers. The orchestra plays the ‘Internationale’.] Comrades, our first words, the words of the workers of the whole world who are gathered here, must be dedicated to the memory of our best friends and leaders who have given their lives in the cause of the Communist International. You know that in the course of the last year there has been no country in which the blood of Communist workers and of the best leaders of the working class has not flowed. It is sufficient to recall the names of our Hungarian friends, it is sufficient to think of Comrades Leviné, Tibor Szamuely, Jogiches and many others who have followed the revolutionaries who fell at the very beginning of the German and Russian revolutions. In Finland, Estonia and Hungary hundreds and thousands of the best sons of the working class have lost their lives in this period. In opening this congress we want above all to honour the memory of our best comrades who have died for the cause of the Communist International.
I propose to the Congress that it rise in honour of the fallen comrades. [All rise. The orchestra plays the funeral march.] We want furthermore to remember today those comrades who are at the present moment languishing in the gaols of various bourgeois republics. We wish to remember our French friends, Comrades Loriot, Monatte and a number of others who were thrown into gaol shortly before the Congress. To the countless fighters of the workers’ revolution who are languishing in German, Hungarian, French, British and American gaols we send hearty greetings. The American Communist workers, who have been particularly cruelly persecuted in the last year, we shake fraternally by the hand. The Communist workers and revolutionaries in general are being literally starved out by the American bourgeoisie. Our friends there cannot find work, they are kept under lock and key. There is no cruelty that is not applied by the American bourgeoisie against the workers who are in the ranks of the Communists or the ranks of the IWW or other revolutionary organisations following the same path as the Communist International.
We express the firm conviction that the words that a French comrade spoke recently, after the arrest of Loriot, Monatte and others, will come true. He said: ‘Yes, we are living at a time when the ruling bourgeoisie, the “democrats”, and the so-called “socialists” are throwing the best leaders of the Communists into gaol; but we are convinced that the roles will soon be reversed and that the working class will soon put into gaol those who are at the moment sitting in bourgeois governments and will bring to power tomorrow those who are being thrown into gaol by the bourgeoisie today.’ [Applause.]
Comrades, it is only a year and a half since the Communist International was founded. It is completely understandable that it had above all to cross swords with the Second International, with which we entered into an immediate struggle. Both enemies and friends must recognise, faced with today’s Congress, which has become a World Congress in the literal sense of the word, faced with the fact that representatives from the whole of Europe and also from America are taking part, that our fight against the Second International has been crowned with success. Today we have a complete right to declare that the Second International has been beaten over the head by the Communist International. [Stormy applause.]
Comrades, what does this fact mean? What does it mean: ‘We have beaten the Second International'? The struggle between us and the Second International is not a struggle of two factions of one revolutionary movement, it is not a struggle of shades of opinion, not a struggle of different tendencies within a homogeneous class camp, it is in fact a struggle of classes. Certainly there are many of our class brothers in the ranks of the Second International. And irrespective of that our struggle against the Second International is not a struggle of factions within a class but something significantly greater.
The collapse of the Second International reflects the collapse of the bourgeois order itself. That is the hinge around which everything turns. We have beaten the Second International because the ‘Twilight of the Gods’ of capitalism has begun. We have beaten the Second International because nowhere in the world can the bourgeoisie execute the testament of the imperialist war, nor will it be able to do so. We have beaten the Second International because the League of Nations and the whole Entente and the entire bourgeoisie are powerless to do anything at all for the restoration of Europe’s economic life.
[The League of Nations was created by the victors of the First World War in 1919 to serve as an instrument of imperialist policy. Helped to prepare the outbreak of the Second World War. Lenin called it the ‘thieves’ kitchen’. The alliance of France, Russia and Britain that fought the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary in the First World War. It was also joined by Italy, Rumania, Portugal and the United States.]
We have beaten the Second International because the bourgeoisie is powerless to finish the tasks which stand imperiously before it and which it must solve if it does not want to take its historical departure.
Since the first shot in 1914 the Second International has tied its fate to that of the bourgeoisie. The social patriots of every country supported their ‘own’ bourgeoisie and their ‘own’ bourgeois ‘fatherland’.
So it went on until the end of the war. When it was over the Second International once more linked its fate to the bourgeoisie, this time with the group of bourgeois countries who had carried off the victory in the imperialist war.
You remember the first attempt to recreate the Second International when the imperialist bloodbath was over. You remember the conferences in Berne and Lucerne where the so-called leading part of the Second International ‘wished to be associated with’ the League of Nations. The leaders of the ‘resurrected’ Second International hung onto Wilson’s coat-tails. You remember, comrades, that at the Berne conference the Chairman, in opening this conference, greeted Wilson and set him alongside Jaures – an insult to the shade of the fallen tribune of the French workers. When the war was over the Second International wished to unite its fate with the bourgeoisie, and what is more with the section of the bourgeoisie it assumed to be the strongest – the League of Nations. That was its wish. Therefore the blows that the working class of the whole world and its vanguard, the Communist International, have dealt the bourgeoisie in the course of this year have also hit the Second International. The yellow Second International has indissolubly bound its destiny to the class that is sinking before our eyes. That is precisely why our victory over the Second International is of such great significance. It is, I repeat, not the victory of one faction of the workers’ movement over another, it is not the victory of one party over another. No, here we are concerned with something immeasurably greater: every organisation that tries to tie its destiny to the bourgeois class will itself sink. That is the historic meaning of the victory of the Communist International over the Second International. As a young class the working class is a rising star. It is rising to power while the star of the bourgeoisie, which has choked itself on the blood of the working class, is finally setting. The bourgeoisie has become decrepit and is decaying. And as the dying man grasps at the living, so the bourgeoisie clings to the half-dead Second International and strangles it in its deadly embrace. They are both perishing before our eyes. The bourgeoisie like its assistant, the yellow International, is near its end – in the historical sense a year counts as a minute – the death rattles of both are already to be heard. Soon the world will be freed from the bourgeois yoke, from all the organisations that have held the working class in spiritual imprisonment. Soon the international association of workers will be able to start calmly on the construction of a new world on the basis of communism.
Comrades, in the course of this year the idea of ‘democracy’ has faded away before our eyes and is now at its last gasp. I think that the most significant document of the first, founding Congress of the Communist International, indeed the most important document of the Communist movement in recent years generally, is the Theses on Bourgeois Democracy that were adopted by the First Congress. The workers of the whole world and the enlightened part of the peasants and the soldiers have studied them. And the course of events in the last 15 to 16 months has confirmed step by step the correctness of the analysis that the First Congress of the Communist International gave in the evaluation of bourgeois democracy contained in these Theses. When, in the eyes of the whole world, the American bourgeoisie abolished all its own laws and all constitutional guarantees for the working class – it went so far that the Communists, elected on a legal basis according to all the rules of the parliamentary art, are not allowed into parliament but thrown into prison – when America, that classical country of bourgeois democracy, step by step violated the foundations of democracy, this was a visible lesson of how very correct the Communist International was to point out in its programme and in its theses the real historical role of so-called democracy.
Comrades, we have before us the World Congress of the Communist International. At this Congress is represented the vanguard, ready for battle, of workers from all over the world. We will pose to the Congress a number of questions which at present are being disputed inside the international communist movement. We have brought to the Congress a whole number of workers’ organisations which cannot yet be called completely communist and are still crystallising. The international situation of the working class after the long war and the desperate crisis is such that many workers’ organisations are standing at the crossroads; their voice is breaking, as happens in a young man. They have not yet finally established their tactics, they have not yet chosen their final path. We have called upon to work together with us all those workers’ organisations of which we are convinced that they honestly want to fight against capitalism. We will talk to them as to our companions in struggle and in suffering, as to our class brothers who are ready together with us to give their lives for the liberation of the working class. We will not do the same as the Second International, which only knew how to laugh at and persecute revolutionaries with opinions different from their own, which showed a Janus face: to the right – a sweet smile, to the left – spitefully gaping jaws. We are firmly convinced that life educates. The imperialist war taught the workers much. The honest revolutionary elements of syndicalism, anarchism, industrialism and the shop stewards will go over to the side of communism and are already doing so. Our business is to help them to do this faster.
On the other hand there are taking part in our Congress the representatives of the USPD, the French Socialist Party and the Italian Socialist Party who only recently – finally – left the ranks of the Second International.
[The Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany, formed in 1916-1917 when the Social Democratic Party split. Included centrists led by Kautsky as well as the revolutionary tendency of Luxemburg and Liebknecht. After the ‘Spartacists’ formed the Communist Party in January 1919, a current developed in the USPD which favoured affiliation to the Third international. At its Halle Congress in October 1920, the USPD voted to accept the conditions for entry into the Third International and a united Communist Party was formed. The rump of the USPD continued to function as a centrist party until it returned to the SPD in 1922.
In 1919 the right-wing leadership had taken part in efforts to revive the Second International. During the war the left wing had adhered to Zimmerwald and it called for affiliation to the Third International. At the party congress in February 1920 a large majority voted against affiliation to the Second International but an equally large one voted not to affiliate immediately to the Third. At the Tours Congress a majority favoured affiliation and formed the Communist Party.
The party formally broke with the Second International in March 1919 and at its Bologna congress in October declared support for the Third International but without taking action against Turati and the right wing.]
We are glad to form a communist alliance with the honest revolutionary workers who are in the ranks of these parties.
Comrades, you know that, as the Communist International has grown stronger, about ten big old parties – I shall not list their names – have left the ranks of the Second International. Already a new stage is now beginning: we see that the old parties are not only leaving the Second International but also making immediate attempts to join the Communist International. A number of representatives of these parties are, as I have already said, present here. The Communist Congress will openly broach all the sensitive questions in front of the French and German workers. Under no circumstances will the Communist Congress permit intellectual dishonesty, nor will it make the slightest concessions on principle. The basic questions of the proletarian revolution must be posed sharply. We need clarity, clarity and once more clarity. We will not permit the Communist International simply to become a fashion. The questions on the agenda interest millions of workers. We will put in front of the German workers who belong to the USP13 and the French workers who belong to the French Socialist Party our point of view on all the acute questions of the day. We will wait until the enormous majority of the French and German workers carry out the necessary purge of their ranks and are then able to join the ranks of the Communist International, so that no one can think that this is simply ballast for the Communist International, but that they come to us in order, in common and unanimous work together with us, to carry out the fight against the bourgeoisie.
We intend to lay the Statutes of the Communist International in front of the present Congress. We assume that, just as the Communists, in order to beat the bourgeoisie in their own country, need above all a centralised, powerful, strong party cast all in one piece, so too the time has come to take in hand the creation of such an organisation on the international scale. We are fighting against the international bourgeoisie, against a world of enemies who are armed to the teeth, and we must have an iron international proletarian organisation that is able to beat the enemy everywhere, which must be able to give any one of its troops the greatest possible help at any given moment, which must elaborate the most powerful, flexible and mobile forms of organisation it possibly can in order to face fully armed the enemy it has to fight. In the draft Statutes of the Communist International we quote a sentence from the Statutes of the First International Working Men’s Association, whose leaders were Marx and Engels. In these Statutes Marx and Engels say: ‘If the struggle of the working class has not yet been crowned by success, then this is the case among other things because the workers lack international unity, tight international organisation and mutual support on an international scale.’ Indeed, comrades, that is a simple truth. But we have had to wait for over fifty years, to experience the four years of the bloodbath and all the terrors that humanity has lived through in recent times, for this simple thought not only to be grasped by a few or by individual groups, but for it to enter the flesh and blood of millions of workers. We are firmly convinced that this idea at present has really become the property of the masses. We know that, for victory over the bourgeoisie, it is necessary to make a reality of this simple, elementary idea referred to by the First International, the first International Working Men’s Association, whose traditions and principles we now adopt on many questions in order to turn them into reality. There are present here representatives of the workers and women workers of Petrograd who were the first to begin the uprising in October 1917. I say to you: comrades, today a great historical event is being accomplished in Petrograd. The Second Congress of the Communist International entered history the moment this session was opened. Keep this day in your memory. Know this: that this day is the recompense for all your privation and your courageous and steadfast struggle. Tell your children of this day and describe its significance to them! Imprint this solemn hour on your hearts!
We have a finished event before us, sublime in its simplicity. What could be simpler? The workers of the various countries unite to free themselves from the yoke of the rich. And what could at the same time be more sublime? Comrades, do you not hear the wings of victory beating? Our Earth shall be free. Wage slavery shall be abolished, communism shall triumph ...
Comrades, at the end of my speech I would like to remind you that, in a few months, fifty years will have passed since the first great historical uprising of the European working class which pointed the way for us and for you. I speak of the Paris Commune. I speak of the heroic uprising of the Paris proletariat which, despite all its weaknesses and mistakes (we shall endeavour to avoid them) contributed a golden page in the history of the international proletarian movement and showed us the way that millions of toilers are now taking.
I permit myself to express the hope that by the fiftieth Jubilee of the Paris Commune we will have the Soviet Republic in France. [Loud, stormy applause.]
Comrades, in an article that was written immediately after the founding Congress of the Communist International and carries the title The Perspectives for the International Revolution I said, somewhat over-zealously, that when perhaps only a year had passed we would have already forgotten that a struggle had been carried out in Europe for Soviet power, since this struggle in Europe would already be over and it would have carried over into the rest of the world. A bourgeois German professor has seized hold of this sentence and a few days ago I read an article in which he takes malicious pleasure in quoting this passage and saying: Soon the Second Congress will open. More than a year has passed. It does not look as if the complete victory of the Soviet power has yet come about.
Hereupon we can calmly reply to this learned bourgeois: that is how it really is; probably we allowed ourselves to be carried away; in reality not one year but probably two or three years will be needed for the whole of Europe to become a Soviet republic. But if you yourself are so modest as to regard a reprieve of a year or two as unheard – of good luck, we can only congratulate you on your modesty; and we can express the certainty that, give or take a year or two – we will hold out for a while yet – we will have the international Soviet republic whose leader will be our Communist International.
Long live the working class of the whole world! Long live the Communist International! [Continuous stormy applause.]
Zinoviev: The Congress will proceed to the election of the Presidium. Comrade Bukharin has the floor on behalf of the Executive Committee.
Bukharin: On behalf of the Executive Committee of the Communist International the following candidates are proposed for the Presidium: Levi (Germany), Rosmer (France), Serrati (Italy), Lenin and Zinoviev (Russia).
Zinoviev: Are there any other nominations for the composition of the Presidium? No. The Presidium will be made up as proposed by the Executive Committee of the Communist International: Levi (Germany), Rosmer (France), Serrati (Italy), Lenin and Zinoviev (Russia) have been elected.
Comrades, a whole number of organisations wish to greet our Congress, but we must economise on our time. On behalf of the Executive Committee I propose to give the floor to the representative of the Russian Federative Soviet Republic which today has the great good luck to welcome the Congress on to its territory, to the Chairman of the All Russian Executive Committee, Comrade Kalinin. [Applause.]
Kalinin: Comrades, on behalf of the workers and peasants of Soviet Russia I welcome the Second World Congress of the Communist International. Comrades, members of the Communist International! The Communist Party of the Bolsheviks and the Russian working class have not been pampered in the past by legality and parliamentarism. The last few decades were years of hard, direct struggle by the working class against Russian Tsarism. In this dark period the Communist Party of the Bolsheviks never lost hope that the moment was not far off when the workers would rise under their leadership and overthrow Russian Tsarism and the Russian bourgeoisie. In the last three years, comrades, the Russian working class and the Russian peasantry have made countless sacrifices, they have had to overcome monstrous difficulties and prove the ability to fight unreservedly for the ideals of humanity. And, comrades, this three-year fight has steeled the Russian working class and peasantry and taught them to stand up and fight directly for the interests of the working class. It gave us the opportunity to set up our invincible and renowned Red Army which is at the moment dealing hard blows at the enemy on the Polish Front.
Comrades, the Russian worker and even the backward Russian peasant is better enlightened by the developing struggle against the Russian bourgeoisie and international capital, in which he is participating more and more, than by books and speeches. If earlier it had to be explained to the workers and peasants in propaganda that it was necessary to overthrow the world bourgeoisie too if one wanted to overthrow the Russian bourgeoisie, it is at present clear to every Russian worker and peasant that we are not only fighting against the bourgeoisie of Russia, against the Tsarist landowners – we could have finished them off long ago, we would have had peace long since – but behind their backs stands the world counter-revolution supporting them decisively. And thus it is completely natural that the Russian working class and the mass of the Russian peasants direct their gaze with the greatest attentiveness to the oppressed classes of the West and the oppressed masses of the East. They are awaiting the moment when the oppressed classes in unity with the Russian peasants and the Russian workers will plunge into the direct struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
From the bottom of my heart I wish that the opening of the Second Congress of the Communist International may become the beginning and the pledge of the direct struggle of the oppressed masses of the East and oppressed classes of the West, of the direct struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Long live the Second Congress of the Communist International!
Zinoviev: The first item on the agenda is the report of the Executive Committee, the second is the reports of the parties concerned. The Executive Committee has decided with regard to items one and two to confine itself to distributing written reports. Some of the reports of the individual parties have been presented, some are going to be presented. Thus all delegates will be able to familiarise themselves with the written reports. We will proceed to the third item on the agenda: The current international situation and the fundamental tasks of the Communist International.
Comrade Lenin has the floor for the report. [Loud applause. All present rise and applaud. The speaker tries to speak, but the applause and cries in all languages continue. The ovation goes on for a long time.]
Lenin: Comrades, the Theses on the International Situation and the Fundamental Tasks of the Communist International have been published in all languages and offer nothing materially new (especially for the Russian comrades), for in the main they only extend a few basic features of our revolutionary experience and the lessons of our revolutionary movement to a number of Western countries, to Western Europe. For that reason I shall dwell in my report somewhat longer, even if in brief outline, on the first part of my subject, on the international situation.
The economic relations of imperialism form the basis of the international situation as it now presents itself. In the course of the twentieth century a new, highest and final stage of capitalism has taken shape. You all know of course that the most characteristic and essential feature of imperialism is the fact that capital has reached enormous dimensions. Giant monopolies have taken the place of free competition. An insignificant number of capitalists have, on occasion, been able to concentrate entire industries in their hands. These have passed into the hands of combines, cartels, syndicates and trusts, frequently international in scale. Thus entire industries, not only in individual countries but all over the world, have fallen into the hands of monopolists either in relation to finance or on the basis of property rights or with reference to production. On this basis there developed an unprecedented domination by a small number of great banks, financial tycoons and magnates who turned even the freest republics into financial monarchies. This was quite openly recognised before the war even by such by no means revolutionary writers as, for example, Lysis in France.
This domination by a handful of capitalists reached its full development when the whole globe had been divided up, not only in the sense that the various sources of raw materials and means of production had been seized by the capitalists, but also in the sense that the preliminary division of the colonies had been concluded. About forty years ago the population of the colonies was scarcely more than 250 million held in subjection by six capitalist powers. Before the war in 1914 the population in the colonies was already assessed at 600 million, and if such countries as Persia, Turkey and China, which are in the position of semi-colonies, are taken in addition, we reach the round figure of a thousand million people who are enslaved through colonial dependence by the richest, most civilised and freest countries. And you know that apart from being directly political and legal, this colonial subjection also involves a whole series of relations of financial and economic dependence and means a whole series of wars which cannot really be called wars because they so often degenerate into butchery, when European and American imperialist troops armed with the most perfected weapons of destruction slaughter the unarmed and defenceless inhabitants of the colonial countries.
It was from this division of the whole world, from this domination by the capitalist monopolies, from this universal power wielded by a very small number of great banks – from 2 to 5 in each state, no more – that the imperialist war of 1914-1918 inevitably sprang. The war was waged for the re-division of the whole world. The war was waged to decide which of the two groups of world powers – the English or the German – was to have the opportunity and the right to pillage, enslave and exploit the whole world. And you know that the war decided this question in favour of the British group. As a result of this war we have an immeasurable sharpening of all the contradictions of capitalism. At a stroke the war relegated some 250 millions of the world’s population to what amounts to colonial status, that is to say Russia, whose population is put at around 130 million, and Austro-Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria with no fewer than 120 million. 250 million people in countries which in part, Eke Germany, are among the most advanced, enlightened and cultured and stand technically at the pinnacle of modern progress. Through the Versailles Treaty the war has forced such conditions upon them that advanced nations have fallen into colonial servitude, misery, starvation, ruin and loss of rights. They are bound by the Treaty for many generations into the future and placed under circumstances such as no civilised nation has yet lived under. Thus you have a picture of the world that shows that after the war a population of at least 1,250 million is suddenly subjected to the colonial yoke, to the exploitation of a brutal capitalism. This capitalism once boasted of its love of peace, and perhaps it had some right to do so fifty years ago when the world had not yet been divided up, when the monopolies did not yet rule, when capitalism still had room for comparatively peaceful development without enormous military conflicts.
Now, after this peaceful epoch, the yoke becomes enormously more oppressive. We can already see the return to an even worse colonial and military subjugation than before. For Germany and a whole number of the defeated nations the Versailles Treaty has created conditions which make economic existence physically impossible, deprive them of rights and humiliate them.
How many nations profit from this?
In order to answer this question we must recall that the United States of America, the only country to profit fully from the war, which was transformed from a country burdened with debts into a country to which everybody owed money, has a population of no more than 100 million. The population of Japan, who also made great profits by standing aside from the Euro-American conflict and seizing the enormous continent of Asia, is some 50 million. The population of Britain who, next to these countries, made the biggest profits, is about 50 million. And if we add the neutral states who also enriched themselves during the war we have in round figures 250 million.
Thus you have in a few short strokes a picture of the world as it has emerged after the imperialist war. A population of 1,250 million in enslaved colonies; countries like Persia, Turkey and China whose living bodies have been dismembered; countries defeated and turned into colonies. No more than 250 million people five in those countries that have maintained their former position, but they too have become economically dependent upon America and were, during the war, also militarily dependent upon her, for the war involved the whole world and did not permit a single state to remain really neutral. Finally we have a population of no more than 250 million in those countries in which, of course, only the ruling class, the capitalists, profited from the division of the world. The sum total, some 1,750 million people, equals the Earth’s total population. I wanted to remind you of this picture of the world since all the fundamental contradictions of capitalism, of imperialism, that lead to revolution, all the fundamental contradictions in the labour movement that have led to the bitter struggle against the Second International that the Comrade Chairman spoke of – all this is connected with the division of the world’s population.
Certainly these figures illustrate the world economy only in crude outline. And comrades, in reality exploitation by finance capital on the basis of this division of the world’s population has grown even greater.
Not only have the defeated colonial countries fallen into this state of subjugation, but also within each victorious country all the conflicts are taking sharper and sharper form, all the contradictions of capitalism are becoming more acute. I shall give a few examples to sketch what I mean.
Let us take the national debt. We know that the debts of the most important European countries grew no less than sevenfold between 1914 and 1920. I shall quote from another economic source of especially great significance. This is Keynes, the British diplomat and author of the book The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Keynes took part in the peace negotiations at Versailles on behalf of his government and observed them directly from a purely bourgeois point of view; he studied the matter thoroughly step by step; he took part in the discussions as an economist. In the process he arrived at conclusions that are more cogent, graphic and instructive than any that a revolutionary communist could draw because they are drawn by an avowed bourgeois, an implacable enemy of Bolshevism. Like the petty-bourgeois Englishman that he is, he distortedly imagines this Bolshevism to be ferocious and brutal. He has come to the conclusion that, thanks to the Treaty, Europe and the whole world are heading for bankruptcy. He has resigned. He has thrown his book in the government’s face saying: ‘What you are doing is lunacy.’ I shall quote figures from Keynes’s book which by and large show the following.
How do the reciprocal debts of the great powers relate to one another? I shall convert British pounds sterling into gold roubles at a rate of ten gold roubles to one pound sterling. And now we see that the United States has assets of 19,000 million while they have no liabilities at all. Before the war it was indebted to Britain. At the last Congress of the Communist Party of Germany, in his report of April 14, 1920, Comrade Levi correctly referred to the fact that there are now two powers in the world that can act independently: Britain and America. Only America is absolutely financially independent. Before the war it was a debtor, now it emerges as a creditor. All the other world powers are debtors. Britain is reduced to a position where her assets are 17,000 million and her liabilities are 8,000 million. She is already half-way to being a debtor. In addition these assets include some 6,000 million of these assets owed by Russia. The military supplies received by Russia during the war are counted as part of her debt. When recently Krassin, as the representative of the Russian Soviet government, had the opportunity of talking to Lloyd George on the question of the debts, he made it extremely plain to the scholars and statesmen who lead the British government that they were suffering under an illusion if they assumed they were ever going to receive any of these debts. The British diplomat Keynes has already seen through this illusion. It is not merely, or rather not at all, a question of the Russian revolutionary government being unwilling to pay the debts. No government could have paid them, as they are the usurious interest for what has already been paid twenty times over. The very same bourgeois, Keynes, who certainly has no sympathies with the Russian revolutionary movement, says: ‘It is obvious that these debts cannot be taken into account.’
In relation to France Keynes quotes figures that give assets of 3,500 millions but liabilities of 9,500 million. And this was the country of which the French themselves said that it was the world’s moneylender, for her ‘savings’ were colossal; the colonial and financial robbery that brought them a gigantic capital enabled them to lend thousands and thousands of millions, especially to Russia. Gigantic revenues were thus gained. And despite all this, despite her victory, France has fallen into the position of a debtor.
An American bourgeois source quoted by Comrade Braun, a Communist, in his book Who Must Pay the War Debts? (Leipzig 1920) determines the ratio of debts to the national wealth as follows: in England and France they form over 50 per cent of the total national wealth, in Italy the ratio is expressed as from 60 to 70 per cent and in Russia as 90 per cent. But as you know these debts do not disturb us, for we followed Keynes’s excellent advice shortly before his book appeared, and annulled all our debts. [Stormy applause.].
Here however Keynes only displays a common petty-bourgeois idiosyncrasy; in advising annulment of all debts he says that France of course will only gain by it and Britain will not lose very much since in any case there is nothing to be had from Russia. As is only fitting, America will lose, but Keynes counts on American ‘generosity’. In this respect our views diverge from those of Keynes and the rest of the petty-bourgeois pacifists. We think that if we are to manage to annul the debts we will have to put our hopes elsewhere and work in a direction other than faith in the ‘generosity’ of the capitalists.
From these few figures it is evident that the imperialist war has created a situation that is impossible even for the victorious countries. This is also indicated by the enormous disparity between wages and price rises. The Supreme Economic Council, a body that is supposed to protect the bourgeois order internationally from the rising revolution, adopted on March 8 of this year a resolution that ended with an appeal for order, industriousness and thrift, on condition, of course, that the workers remain the slaves of capital. This Supreme Economic Council, the organ of the Entente and of the whole capitalist world, presented the following summary.
On average, food prices in the United States have risen by 120 per cent while wages have only risen by 100 per cent. In Britain food prices have gone up 170 per cent, wages by 130 per cent; in France food prices by 300 per cent and wages by 60 per cent (I am quoting the figures from Comrade Braun’s pamphlet mentioned above and the Supreme Economic Council’s figures from The Times of March 10, 1920).
Clearly, under such conditions the growth of workers’ resentment, the growth of revolutionary moods and ideas and the growth of elemental mass strikes are inevitable, for the workers’ situation is becoming intolerable. The workers are convinced by experience that the capitalists have immeasurably enriched themselves in the war and are loading the burden of its costs and debts onto the workers. We recently learnt by cable that America wishes to deport another 500 Communists to Russia in order to get rid of these ‘dangerous agitators’.
If America deports not 500 but 500,000 Russian, American, Japanese and French ‘agitators’ it would make not the slightest difference, for the disparity between wages and prices, about which they can do nothing, would still remain. They can do nothing about it because private property is strictly safeguarded there, because in their country it is ‘sacred’. Only in Russia has the exploiter’s private property been abolished. The capitalists can do nothing about these disproportionate prices but the workers cannot live with the old wages. This misery cannot be fought with the old methods. No individual strikes, no parliamentary struggle, no vote can achieve anything here, for ‘private property is sacred’ and the capitalists have piled up such debts that the whole world is enslaved by a handful of people while the living conditions of the workers become more and more intolerable. There is no way out apart from the abolition of the ‘private property’ of the exploiter.
In his pamphlet Britain and the World Revolution, valuable extracts from which were published in our Bulletin of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs of February 1920, Comrade Lapinsky points out that the export prices of British coal were twice as high as expected in official industrial circles.
Things have gone so far in Lancashire that share prices have risen 400 per cent. The banks’ net profits were at least 40 to 50 per cent, and even then it should be noted that in establishing the banks’ net profits the bank directors can juggle the figures by syphoning off the lion’s share of the net profits as repayments, commissions, etc. Here too, therefore, undeniable economic facts show that a tiny handful of people have grown unbelievably wealthy, that they live in unprecedented, excessive luxury, and that at the same time the poverty of the working class is constantly growing. We must also underline the circumstance that Comrade Levi brought out very graphically in his report, that is to say the change in the value of money. Money is everywhere becoming valueless as a result of debts, the issue of paper money, etc. The same bourgeois source that I have already quoted, the statement of the Supreme Economic Council, calculated that the fall in the value of money in relation to the dollar comes to almost a third in England, two thirds in France and Italy and as much as 96 per cent in Germany.
This fact proves that the mechanism of the international capitalist economy is falling apart completely., The trading relations on which the supply of raw materials and the sale of products rest under capitalism can no longer be maintained, particularly when a single country dominates a whole number of other countries as a result of the change in the value of money. Not one of the richest countries can continue to exist and to trade, because they cannot sell their products and obtain raw materials.
Thus we see America, this richest of all countries, to which all countries are subordinate, unable either to buy or sell. And the same Keynes who waded through all the fire and the water and the confusion of the Versailles negotiations is obliged to acknowledge this impossibility despite his obstinate determination to defend capitalism, despite his hatred of Bolshevism. As I have said, I do not think that there is a single communist or any kind of revolutionary appeal that can compare in its power with Keynes’s lines where Keynes describes Wilson and ‘Wilsonism’ in practice. Wilson was the idol of the petty bourgeois and the pacifists of the Keynes variety, and of a whole number of the heroes of the Second and also of the Two-and-a-half International who swore by the ‘Fourteen Points’ and wrote ‘scholarly’ books on the ‘roots’ of Wilson’s policies, in the hope that Wilson would save the ‘social peace’, reconcile the exploiter with the exploited and bring about social reforms. Keynes has shown graphically what a fool Wilson made of himself, and how all these illusions fell to dust at the encounter with the businesslike, experienced and practical policies of capital personified by Clemenceau and Lloyd George. The working masses are seeing more and more clearly as a result of their living experience, and the learned pedants can now even read in Keynes’s book, that the ‘roots’ of Wilson’s policy were only sanctimonious, petty-bourgeois phrase-mongering and a complete inability to grasp the class struggle.
In consequence of all this, two conditions, two fundamental circumstances have arisen of iron necessity: on the one hand the impoverishment and want of the masses has risen to an unprecedented degree, and that among 1,250 million people, that is 70 per cent of the total world population. This affects the colonial countries and the dependent countries whose inhabitants have no legal rights, whose administration has been handed over to the brigands of finance as a 4 mandate’. And moreover the Versailles Treaty has enslaved the defeated nations for all eternity, just like those secret treaties affecting Russia which, it must be admitted, have the same real force as the bits of paper that say that we owe so many thousands of millions. We have the first case in history of legal backing for the plundering, enslavement, subjugation, impoverishment and starvation of 1,250 million people.
On the other hand the workers in all the creditor nations have found themselves in a situation that is intolerable. The war brought about an intolerable sharpening of all the contradictions of capitalism. This is the source of the deep revolutionary ferment that is constantly growing. For during the war men were placed under the constraint of military discipline, were driven to their deaths or threatened with summary punishment. Conditions during the war gave no opportunity to see economic realities; writers, poets, priests, the whole press dedicated themselves to the glorification of war, and it is only now, when the war is over, that the revelations begin. German imperialism is unmasked with its Brest-Litovsk Treaty, the Versailles Treaty is unmasked which was meant to be a victory for imperialism but turned out to be a defeat. Amongst other things, the example of Keynes shows us that thousands and hundreds of thousands of people from the petty bourgeoisie, from among the intellectuals, in short from the ranks of the most highly developed and educated people in Europe and America must take the same path that Keynes trod when he resigned his office and threw into his government’s face a book that unmasked it. Keynes shows what is going on in the consciousness of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people and what will go on as soon as they realise that all the speeches about a ‘war for freedom’ and so on were uninterrupted deceit, that in the final analysis only a very small number of people enriched themselves and the rest were ruined and reduced to slavery. Even the bourgeois Keynes says that it is vital for the salvation of British lives and the British economy to renew free trading relations between Germany and Russia. But how is that to be achieved? By cancelling all debts, as Keynes suggests! The learned economist Keynes is not alone in holding this idea. Millions will come to and reach this idea. And thousands of people will listen when the bourgeois economists say that there is no way out apart from cancelling the debts. And therefore ‘Damn the Bolsheviks’ (who cancelled the debts), let us appeal to America’s ‘generosity'! I think that such an economist and agitator for Bolshevism deserves to be sent a message of thanks in the name of the Congress of the Communist International.
If on the one hand the economic conditions of the masses are becoming intolerable, and if on the other hand the disintegration Keynes describes has set in and is growing in the insignificant minority of all-powerful victor nations, then we can see clearly the maturing of the two preconditions for the world revolution.
We now have before us a more or less complete picture of the whole world. We know what it means to have 1,250 million people robbed of the means of existence and dependent on a handful of the rich. But when on the other hand the League of Nations offered the nations a Covenant that declared an end to war and forbade anybody to disturb the peace, when this Covenant, the last hope of the world’s labouring masses, came into force, it was one of our greatest victories. So long as the Covenant was not in force they said: a country like Germany cannot be subjected to any special conditions. Wait until the Covenant comes out, then you will see how all will be well. And when the Covenant was published the most rabid opponents of Bolshevism had to repudiate it! When the Covenant started to become operative it became apparent that a tiny group of the richest countries Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Orlando and Wilson – had sat down to thread the new relations together. When they put the machinery of the Covenant into operation there was a complete breakdown.
We saw this in the war against Russia. Weak, ruined and crushed, a backward country, Russia proved to be the victor against the world, against the League of the richest and most powerful states dominating the whole world. We had no forces that even in the slightest degree equalled theirs, and yet we were nonetheless the victors. Why? Because there was not a shadow of unity between them, because each power worked against the other. France wanted Russia to pay her debts and threaten Germany. Britain wanted Russia to be divided up. Britain attempted to lay her hands on the Baku oilfields and conclude Treaties with the Russian border states. And among the official British documents there is a book where there are listed with the most extraordinary conscientiousness the names of all the states (there are 14 of them) who six months ago, in December 1919, promised to occupy Moscow and Petrograd. Britain based all her policies on these states, gave loans of millions to these states. Now however all these calculations have come to nothing and all the loans are gone with the wind.
Such are the conditions created by the League of Nations. Every day this Covenant exists provides splendid propaganda for Bolshevism, for the most influential supporters of the capitalist ‘order’ show that on every issue they are putting a spoke in one another’s wheels. A furious wrangle is raging between Japan, England, America and France over the division of Turkey, Persia, Mesopotamia and China. The bourgeois press in these countries is full of furious invective and bitter reproaches against their allies for snapping up the booty in front of their noses. We see complete discord among the leaders of this tiny handful of the richest countries. For 1,250 million people it is impossible to live in the way that the most ‘progressive’ and civilised capitalism is trying to make them live, and that is 70 per cent of the population of the entire world. The tiny handful of the richest countries, England, America and Japan (who had the opportunity to plunder the Eastern, Asiatic countries, but can have no independent financial and military power without the support of another country), these two or three countries are not able to restore order in the world economic situation and are pursuing policies which are undermining the policies of their partners and participants in the League of Nations. It is from this that the international crisis arises, and these economic roots of the crisis are the main reasons for the brilliant successes of the Communist International.
Comrades, we come now to the question of the revolutionary crisis as the basis of our revolutionary activity. But here we must deal above all with two widely-held errors. On the one hand the bourgeois economists always present this crisis, in the elegant English phrase, as mere ‘unrest’. On the other hand however revolutionaries sometimes try to prove that there is absolutely no way out of the crisis. This is a mistake. There are no absolutely hopeless situations. The bourgeoisie is behaving like an impudent robber who has lost his head; it is committing folly after folly, thus aggravating the situation and hastening its own downfall. All this is the case, but one cannot ‘prove’ that the bourgeoisie has absolutely no possibility of lulling some minority or other of the exploited by means of some small concessions or suppressing the movement or uprising of some section of the oppressed and exploited. The attempt to ‘prove’ ‘absolute’ hopelessness in advance is empty pedantry or juggling With concepts and words. Only experience can provide a real ‘proof of this or similar questions. The bourgeois order is now undergoing an exceptional revolutionary crisis all over the world. We must now ‘prove’ through the practice of the revolutionary parties that they are sufficiently conscious, that they possess sufficient organisation, links with the exploited masses, determination and understanding to utilise this crisis for a successful and victorious revolution.
The preparation of this ‘proof’ is the main reason why we have gathered here for this Congress of the Communist International.
I would like to quote the leader of the British ‘Independent’ Labour Party, Ramsay MacDonald, as an example of how strong opportunism still is in the parties which seek to join the Communist International, how far the work of many of the parties is still removed from the preparation of the revolutionary class to exploit the revolutionary crisis. In his book Parliament and Revolution, which deals with the very basic questions that concern us now, MacDonald describes the state of affairs in more or less the spirit of the bourgeois pacifists. He recognises that the revolutionary crisis exists, that the revolutionary mood is growing, that the masses of the workers sympathise with soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat (he is speaking of Britain, mark you) and that the dictatorship of the proletariat is better than the present dictatorship of the British bourgeoisie.
But MacDonald remains a thoroughgoing bourgeois pacifist and compromiser, a petty bourgeois who dreams of a government that stands above the classes. Like all the liars, sophists and pedants of the bourgeoisie, MacDonald recognises the class struggle as a fact to be written about. MacDonald is silent on the experience of Kerensky, of the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries in Russia, on the similar experiences in Hungary and Germany and so on, the experience of the formation of a ‘democratic’ government allegedly above the classes. MacDonald lulls his party and the workers who are unfortunate enough to think that this bourgeois is a socialist and that this philistine is a leader with the following words: ‘We know that all this (i.e. the revolutionary crisis, the revolutionary ferment) will pass ... will settle down.’ The war inevitably provoked the crisis, but after the war it will all ‘settle down’, if not all at once.
And the man that writes this is the leader of a party that wants to join the Communist International. We have here a revelation – all the more valuable for its extreme frankness – of what can be seen no less often in the leading layers of the French Socialist Party and the German Independent Socialist Party, and of the fact that it is not only a lack of understanding but an unwillingness to utilise the revolutionary crisis in a revolutionary way, or in other words it is a lack of understanding how and of willingness to carry out a revolutionary preparation of the Party and the class for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This is the basic fault in many parties that have now left the Second International. For this particular reason I am spending a greater amount of time on the Theses that I have put before the Congress, in order to define if possible more exactly and more concretely the tasks of the preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
One further example. A new book against Bolshevism was recently published. Unusual numbers of such books are now appearing in Europe and America, but the more books that appear against Bolshevism the stronger and quicker sympathies for it will grow among the masses. The book I am talking about here is Otto Bauer’s Bolshevism or Social-Democracy. Here the Germans are graphically shown what precisely the Mensheviks are whose contemptible role in the Russian revolution is well enough known to workers all over the world. Otto Bauer has supplied us with a thoroughly Menshevik pamphlet although he tries to conceal his sympathy with Menshevism. It is now necessary to spread a precise knowledge of Menshevism in Europe and America, for it is the generic term for all those allegedly socialist, social-democratic and other tendencies that are hostile to and oppose Bolshevism. It would be boring if we Russians described to the Europeans what Menshevism is. Otto Bauer has really shown it in his book, and we thank in advance all those bourgeois and opportunist publishers who publish it and translate it into different languages. Bauer’s book is a useful if rather unique supplement to the text books of communism. Take any paragraph, any argument you like in Bauer’s book and you will see in it what Menshevism looks like, how it is the same fundamental outlook that the representatives of socialism, the friends of Kerensky, Scheidemann, and so on, have translated into deeds. This is a task that could usefully and successfully be set at ‘examinations’ to test whether somebody has assimilated communism. If you cannot solve this task you are not yet a communist and it would be better if you did not yet join the Communist Party. [Applause.]
Otto Bauer has expressed the essential content of international opportunism in an excellent manner in a single phrase for which, if we had a free hand in Vienna, we would erect a memorial for him while he is still alive. ‘To use force in the class struggle in modern democracy,’ says Bauer, ‘would be violating the social relationship of forces.’
No doubt you think this sounds strange and incomprehensible? Here you have an example of what Marxism can be reduced to, to what banality and defence of the exploiters revolutionary theory can be reduced. It takes the German variety of the petty-bourgeois outlook to create the ‘theory’ that the ‘social relationship of forces’ are number, organisation, place in the process of production and distribution, activity and education. If the village labourer or the urban worker commits an act of revolutionary violence against the landlord and the capitalist, this is not at all the dictatorship of the proletariat, not at all an act of violence against the exploiters and oppressors of the people. Nothing of the kind. It is ‘violating the social relationship of forces’.
Possibly my example is somewhat humorous. But by the very nature of modern opportunism its struggle against Bolshevism turns to humour. The most urgent and useful task for Europe and America is to divert the working class and all its more thoughtful members into the struggle of international Menshevism (the MacDonalds, Otto Bauers and Co.) against Bolshevism.
We must ask how the persistence of this current in Europe is to be explained and why this opportunism is stronger in Western Europe than it is here. This is the case because the more advanced countries made and make their culture possible at the expense of thousands of millions of oppressed people, because the capitalists of these countries make more profits than just from plundering the workers of their own country.
Before the war it was calculated that the three richest countries Britain, France and Germany – made from 8,000 to 10,000 million francs each year from their capital investments abroad alone, not counting what they made from other sources.
It goes without saying that alms of at least 5,000 million from this hefty sum can be thrown to the labour leaders and the labour aristocracy in all imaginable forms of bribes. The whole thing amounts to bribery anyway. It can be done in thousands of different ways: by improving the cultural facilities in the great centres, by creating educational facilities, by providing thousands of jobs and official positions for the leaders of the Co-operative Societies and the trades unions and for parliamentary leaders. And all this goes on everywhere modern civilised capitalist relations exist. These super-profits of thousands of millions form the economic basis on which opportunism in the labour movement is built. In America, Britain and France we encounter much more obstinacy on the part of the opportunist leaders, the leading layers of the working class, the aristocracy of labour. They put up the strongest opposition to the Communist movement. For that reason we must be prepared for the fact that the liberation of the European and American workers’ parties from this evil will be much more difficult than it was here. We know that since the formation of the Communist International we have already achieved enormous successes in the process of curing this disease, but we have not yet finished the job; the purging of the workers’ parties, the revolutionary parties throughout the world, from bourgeois influence, from the opportunists in their own ranks, is far from complete.
I shall not go into detail on how this should concretely be done. This is what the Theses I have already published deal with. My aim is only to point out the deep economic roots of this phenomenon. This disease is protracted, its cure has taken a long time, longer than the optimists could have hoped for. Opportunism is our main enemy. The opportunism in the upper layers of the working class is not proletarian but bourgeois socialism. The practical proof of this is the fact that the leaders who belong to the opportunist tendency inside the workers’ movement defend the bourgeoisie better than the bourgeoisie itself. Without their support the bourgeoisie could not defend itself against the workers . This is proved not only by the history of the Kerensky government in Russia but also by the democratic republic in Germany led by its social-democratic government and by Albert Thomas’s relations with his bourgeois government. It is proved by the corresponding experiences in Britain and the United States. Here is our main enemy and we have to defeat this enemy. We must go away from the Congress with the firm resolve to carry on this struggle right to the end in every party. That is our main task. In comparison with this task the correction of the mistakes of the ‘left’ trend in Communism will be an easy one. In a whole series of countries we can observe the phenomenon of anti-parliamentarism, which is less a product of the petty bourgeoisie than of a few advance guards of the working class who spread it out of contempt for the old parliamentarism, out of a justifiable, correct and downright urgently needed contempt for the behaviour of the parliamentary leaders in Britain. France, Italy, in all countries. It is necessary for the Communist International to give practical hints on this, to acquaint the comrades more fully with the Russian experience, with the significance of the really proletarian revolutionary party. Our work lies in the fulfilment of this task. But then the struggle with the faults of the proletarian movement will be a thousand times easier than the struggle with the bourgeoisie which, in the guise of the reformists, has found its way into the old parties of the Second International and carries out all their work not in the proletarian but in the bourgeois spirit.
Finally, comrades, I want to raise one more point. The Comrade Chairman has already spoken of the fact that the Congress truly deserves the name of a World Congress. I believe that it has a particular right to call itself that because there are among us not a few representatives of the revolutionary movement in the backward colonial countries. It is only a modest beginning, but the important thing is the fact that the beginning has been made. The unification of the revolutionary proletarians of the advanced capitalist nations with the revolutionary masses of the countries which have no or almost no proletariat, with the oppressed masses of the Eastern colonial countries, this unification will follow on from the present Congress. And cementing this unification – and I am convinced that we will do so depends on us. World Imperialism must fall when the revolutionary impetus of the exploited and subjugated workers inside each country defeats the opposition of the petty-bourgeois elements and the influence of the numerically small aristocracy of labour, and unites with the revolutionary pressure of the hundreds of millions of people who previously stood outside history and were only regarded as its object.
The imperialist war helped the revolution; the bourgeoisie withdrew soldiers from the colonies and the backward countries to take part in the war. The British bourgeoisie impressed upon the Indian peasants that it was their duty to defend Great Britain as soldiers against Germany. The French bourgeoisie impressed upon the soldiers from the French colonies that they, the Negroes, had to defend France. They taught them how to use arms. This is extremely useful knowledge: we can be very grateful to the bourgeoisie for it and thank them on behalf of all Russian peasants and workers and of the Russian Red Army in particular. The imperialist war dragged all the dependent peoples along with it into world history. One of our important tasks is to consider how to lay the foundation stone of the organisation of the Soviet movement in the non-capitalist countries. Soviets are possible there too; they will not be councils of workers but councils of peasants or of labouring people.
This will require a lot of work; mistakes will be inevitable; we will encounter many difficulties along this path. The main task of the Second Congress will be to work out practical guidelines so that the work, which has up to now been taking place in an unorganised way among hundreds of millions of people, can become organised, unified and systematic.
A little more than a year has passed since the First Congress of the Communist International, and in this time we have defeated the Second International. The ideas of soviets are not now spread only among the workers of the civilised countries, known to them and understood by them. Workers all over the world laugh at those super-clever people, among whom there are not a few who call themselves socialists, who learnedly or half learnedly condemn the ‘soviet system’ as the systematic Germans love to express it, or the ‘soviet idea’, as the British guild socialists love to say. This philosophising about the ‘soviet system’ or the ‘soviet idea’ not infrequently clogs the vision and the understanding of workers. But they cast this pedantic conflict aside and seize the weapon that the soviets give them. The understanding of the role and the significance of the soviets has now spread to the countries of the East.
A start has been made on the soviet movement throughout the East, throughout Asia.
The principle that the exploited should rise against their exploiters and form soviets is not too complicated. This will become clear to hundreds of millions of the oppressed and exploited masses throughout the world through the experience that we have made in two and a half years of the Soviet Republic in Russia and since the First Congress of the Communist International. If we in Russia now are not seldom forced to reach compromises and to wait, since we are weaker than the international imperialists, we nonetheless know that we are defending the interests of 1,250 million people. We are still held back by old prejudices and old ignorance, but they are disappearing by the hour. We are defending and representing more and more forcefully 70 per cent of the population of the Earth, the labouring and exploited masses. With pride we can say: at the first Congress we were only really propagandists. We sketched the basic ideas, the call to struggle to the international proletariat. We asked merely: where are the people to feel capable of taking this path? Now the advanced proletariat everywhere is on our side. Everywhere there are proletarian armies, even if they are poorly organised and in need of reorganisation. And if our comrades internationally help us to create a unified army, no shortcomings can hold us back from our intention. This work is the cause of the proletarian world revolution, the work of creating the world Soviet Republic. [Long continuous applause. The orchestra plays the ‘Internationale’.]
Zinoviev: Comrade Lenin’s speech will not be translated into the other languages during the session. The written translation of his speech will be distributed among the delegates. [Thereupon he gives the floor to Comrade Rosmer.]