Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International
Lenin opens the session Serrati has the floor to read out the Standing Orders:
1. The full sessions of the Congress take place between 11 and 3 o'clock and 6 and 9 o'clock.
2. Main speakers will have one hour to present their reports and will receive in addition one half hour to reply to discussion.
3. The same time will be available for the presentation of minority reports.
4. Speakers who raise points on standing orders will have two minutes in which to speak. They may do so only once.
5. Each delegate may speak twice on each question (the first time for ten minutes and the second time for five minutes)
6. Requests to speak must be handed in in writing.
7. Votes on any particular issue will take place on the request of three delegations with full voting rights.
8. Every motion (including motions on Standing Orders) must be placed in writing before the Bureau (in one of the two official languages). The mover will not be allowed to speak until this formality has been carried out.
Serrati reads out the agenda proposed by the Bureau.
1. The role and structure of the Communist Party before and after the conquest of power by the proletariat.
2. The trades unions and the works councils.
3. The question of parliamentarism.
4. The national and colonial questions.
5. The agrarian question.
6. Attitude to the new ‘centrist’ currents and conditions for entry into the Communist International.
7. Statutes of the Communist International.
8. The question of organisation (legal and illegal organisations, women’s organisations etc.)
9. The youth movement.
11. Any Other Business.
Reed: On behalf of 29 Comrades I propose changing the agenda to read as follows: 1. On the role of the Communist Party in the revolution; 2. Parliamentarism; 3. The trade union question. This is a very important matter for us. We must discuss the trade union question very thoroughly and have time to translate and study all the material on it. I move that English should be permitted as an official language in the discussion on this question.
Serrati: On behalf of the Bureau I ask the Congress to reject this motion. The comrades who today are demanding that the trade union question should be dealt with as the third item on the agenda were at first demanding that it should be dealt with first. The Executive Committee was fully conscious of the situation when it drew up the agenda. As far as the question of official languages is concerned we declare that we cannot permit English as an official language as this would make the debates too difficult. The English comrades can as it is speak English and everything will be done to provide an immediate translation.
Comrade Reed’s motion is put to the vote. It is rejected by a majority of 14 votes
Comrade Zinoviev has the floor on the question of the role and structure of the Communist Party before and after the conquest of power by the proletariat.
Zinoviev: Comrades, I must unfortunately discuss a question that is somewhat complicated in a language of which I do not have a thorough command. Exhaustive Theses on this question in all four languages are however available and I can therefore limit my present remarks to some of the more important of these theses.
We live at a time when all values are being re-evaluated and in which in many quarters such a question as the role and even the necessity of the party is being denied. It is very strange that even among workers in the advanced countries like Britain, America and France currents are to be seen that do not understand the role of their own political party, or even directly negate it. It is perhaps most characteristic of this difficult situation that such a question is thrown up. I see in this the climax of the crisis that the labour movement and socialism have been undergoing during the war. The fact that this question is raised at all in quite broad layers, and often in quite a sharp form, is the result and the expression of this crisis, of the bankruptcy of the Second International.
You know that a whole number of comrades who have contact with the mass movement and call themselves communists nevertheless negate or misunderstand the Party. We found the most exhaustive expression of their standpoint (or rather of their mood) in Comrade Pannekoek, whose pamphlet on this question we have published and will distribute today or tomorrow. You will find in this pamphlet a blind worship of the masses and the attempt to oppose them as such to the Party. I believe that Pannekoek’s pamphlet is on this question the best propaganda against the group that does not understand or negates the role of the Party, as does for example the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD) I together with Pannekoek.
[KAPD: Formed as the result of a serious split in the KPD in April 1920, the Kommunistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands took almost half its membership. The KAPD leadership Fritz Wolfheim, Otto Rühle and Meinrich Laufenberg took up an ultra-left position similar to that of the Dutch ‘Tribunites’, with whom they were associated, in opposition to participation in parliament or work in the reformist unions. Lenin tried to avert the split which seriously weakened the KPD at a critical moment. However, although the KAPD sent two delegates to the Second Congress, Otto Rühle and Otto Merges, they withdrew after a few days. The influence of the KAPD rapidly declined.]What is the Communist Party?
I declared in my Theses: the Communist Party is part of the working class, and moreover the most advanced, class-conscious and therefore most revolutionary part. One can reply to this: that is what it should be like, but it is not always. And that is true. Many parties that belonged to the Second International followed such policies, degenerated so far that in the end the best, the most conscious part of the working class really did not belong to them. And nevertheless I still believe that we must insist that the developing Communist Party organises the best and the most conscious part of the working class. In our opinion it is impossible to oppose the masses to the party in relation to this. You cannot oppose a man’s head to his rump, his right hand to his head. And the party is precisely the head of the working class. Organisation is the right hand of the proletariat in its struggle for emancipation.
In the Russian revolution we have seen masses of thousands, millions. We have worked step by step with them, suffered defeats, won victories. But step by step we have also been able to establish that the masses of the workers could only act successfully when they had a powerfully organised party at their head to show them the way.
Often the comrades who oppose the necessity of the Party feel that they are a ‘left’ opposition. In my opinion this is not the case. It is not an opposition on the left, but the opposite. In this mood against the party is expressed a remnant of bourgeois influence on the Party. The bourgeoisie drinks wine and gives the proletariat water. Every good bourgeois joins a political party as soon as he is 2 1. But to the workers he comes with propaganda against joining parties, and quite often he catches workers hook, line and sinker.
Even now, after three years of revolution, we can still see that quite big layers of the working class, even in Russia, can be caught with this line.
When the bourgeoisie propagandises against joining the party among the working class it is a completely conscious policy. It cannot go to the workers and tell them: ‘come into our bourgeois party’, for the workers would not follow them. So they lay down a ‘theory’ that says to the workers: ‘You do not need a party, you can make do with your trades unions and other organisations. You do not need to rack your brains over political theories.’ And since the bourgeoisie has powerful propaganda media in its hands, like the schools, the press and parliament, it has learnt to alienate quite a big part of the working class from the idea of the Party and talk them into the false idea that the worker needs no party.
The layers that struggle against the Party and think that they are on the left do not understand what is happening and are repeating the things with which the bourgeoisie has injected them over decades. One more thing. The comrades who think that in our epoch it is possible to fight without the leadership of the Party thus prove that they do not really understand the revolutionary epoch, that they mistake it. If they really grasped that we live in an epoch of obstinate, bitter class struggles, the first thing to strike them would be that in such an epoch we need a general staff, a centralised party. It is clear that, after the collapse of the Second International and the failure of a whole series of parties with the German Social Democrats and the French Party in the forefront, that the idea will occur to many workers at such a time that it is the party type of organisation itself that is bankrupt. It is often said that it is the party type of organisation as such that has suffered bankruptcy in this war. To this we reply as follows in point four of the Theses:
The Communist International holds tenaciously to the conviction that the collapse of the old ‘social democratic’ parties of the Second International can under no circumstances be presented as the collapse of the proletariat party type of organisation in general. The epoch of the direct struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat brings a new party into the world: the Communist Party.
And we insist on this too against the revolutionary syndicalists, whom we regard as friends and brothers, but who take up an erroneous position on this question. The bankruptcy of the social-patriotic parties, the bankruptcy of the Second International, is not the bankruptcy of the party type of organisation. One could turn the tables and say to the syndicalists: ‘Legien has suffered bankruptcy and the so-called “free”, the free yellow trades unions of Germany and the French syndicalists led by Jouhaux have after all also suffered bankruptcy.’ But we would not assume from that that the idea of trades unions is bankrupt. Neither can we say therefore that, because the Second International and a whole series of political parties have suffered bankruptcy, the principle of the party type of organisation is bankrupt. The ‘left’ master of confusion Rühle solemnly declared not long ago that the party type of organisation in general must undergo bankruptcy along with bourgeois democracy. Now this is simply stupidity. The soviet system does not exclude the proletarian party but on the contrary it presupposes a proletarian party; a party to be sure made of different stuff from the social democratic parties of the Second International, that is to say a true Communist Party that organises the vanguard of the working class and through it leads the whole working class to victory.
If we wish to investigate the roots of this negation of the Party, they are as follows: Its deepest roots lie in the fact that on this question we are faced with the effects of bourgeois ideology, that we have been infected by the propaganda the bourgeoisie have been broadcasting for decades saying that the workers can be ‘non-party’, that one does not need to have a political party and that the trades unions are sufficient. That is a concession to the ideology of the bourgeoisie, nothing else.
The second root lies in the fact that a whole series of old social democratic parties have turned in front of our eyes in the epoch of the imperialist war into parties that betray the cause of the working class. We say to our comrades from the ranks of the syndicalists, from the IWW and from the shop stewards’ movement that the sign of the times does not consist in the fact that we should negate the Party. The sign of the epoch in which we live, in which the struggles will become ever harder, ever more obstinate, consists in the fact that we must say: ‘The old parties have been shipwrecked; down with them. Long live the new Communist Party that must be built under new conditions.’ It will be exactly the same with parliamentarism. The betrayal of a whole number of social democratic parliamentarians has made a large part of the working class thorough-going opponents of parliamentarism. But it is already clear that the new epoch must bring forth new personalities, even in the bourgeois parliaments, comrades who emerge as fighters and by their deeds show the working class that there can be true Communists like Karl Liebknecht even in bourgeois parliaments. We will not convince people by the propaganda of words, but by deeds.
A whole series of parties are proving by their activity that a new, truly proletarian party can be built. In our Theses we have told the syndicalists that the propaganda against the necessity of an independent workers’ party that the revolutionary syndicalists and the supporters of the IWW carry out has objectively only contributed to the support of the bourgeoisie and the counter-revolutionary ‘social democrats’. To the extent that the syndicalists and industrialists agitate against the Communist Party, which they wish to replace exclusively by trades unions or some kind of formless ‘general’ workers’ union, they rub shoulders with open opportunists. After the defeat of the 1905 revolution the Russian Mensheviks preached for some years the idea of the so-called workers’ congress, which was to replace the revolutionary party of the working class. ‘Labourites’ of every kind in Britain and America preach to the workers the creation of formless workers’ societies instead of the political party and carry, out in fact completely bourgeois policies. The revolutionary syndicalists and ‘industrialists’ wish to fight against the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, but they do not know how. They do not realise that without an independent political party the working class is a rump without a head.
In comparison with the old, stuffy, counter-revolutionary ideology of the Second International, revolutionary syndicalism and ‘industrialism’ mean a step forwards. In comparison, however, with revolutionary Marxism, that is to say with communism, syndicalism and ‘industrialism’ mean a step backwards. The declaration of the German ‘Left’ Communists at their founding congress in April that they were founding a party, but ‘not a party in the traditional sense’, means a mental capitulation to the outlook of syndicalism and industrialism, which is reactionary.
I have spoken to good friends, revolutionary syndicalists, who ten us: ‘We will do everything you propose to us, we will form a soviet government and lead the working class against the bourgeoisie. But the trades unions will do all that. What then do you need a party for?’ I ask these friends: ‘If you really want to form a soviet government, you must immediately have a programme for this government, you must have a programme on the agrarian question, on foreign and domestic policy, you must explain to us what your attitude is going to be towards the middle peasants, how you are going to build up an army, what your programme for education is, and so forth. And as soon as you begin to formulate and establish exactly your attitude on all of these questions you immediately begin to develop into a party!’ We also say exactly the same thing to our non-party workers in Russia.
There are here many thousands of workers who are still non-party, but who support us and go along with us. We organise conferences of such non-party workers, we discuss all the complicated questions with them, we tell them: ‘We must solve the food question, the question of the war against Poland, we must have an answer on the agrarian question and on the question of education. Do you want to find this answer together with us? Yes? Then we want to discuss. If we have a common answer to all these questions then that is precisely a large part of the programme of the Communist Party. If we wish to unite the best elements then we need an organisation. This organisation is the Communist Party.'
We must also say the same thing to the comrades whom yesterday we adopted with full voting rights, who will and must develop into communists. We must tell them that the bigger the class party that we have the quicker and easier will be the path to victory. And since we already have the struggle to fight out, this party should work out its programme, not in the heat of battle, but now, day by day, and gather around itself the best, most conscious elements of the working class so that, when the decisive hour has struck, it can absorb the best elements. In every factory the best people should be members of our party. At first of course they will be in the minority, but since they have a clear programme, since they are the most clear-sighted, since the workers have confidence in them, they will when the hour strikes immediately become the leaders of the mass movement. The struggle that is being prepared is a monstrous struggle, whose real dimensions nobody has yet visualised. Only now are we beginning to understand how big this struggle will be that we have to fight out.
No formless workers’ unions, living from hand to mouth, can show the working class the correct path, but a party that embraces the best out of the working class, that in the course of decades organises itself and forms a firm nucleus. It is for us a matter of organising the vanguard of the working class so that they can really lead the masses in this struggle.
It is logically clear that the comrades who are against forming parties often, without realising it, take their starting point not from an epoch of merciless struggle but from an old peaceful epoch, in which almost all party work was merely propaganda (even if only bad propaganda). They do not understand that, although propaganda must and ought to make up a large part of our party work, it is not the only thing, but that deeds now matter, that the civil war is here, that we must have the revolutionary deed day by day, hour by hour, and cannot make a start with organisations that do not even themselves know today what they will say tomorrow on the acutest questions of proletarian politics.
We need a party. But what kind of party? And here we must say very clearly what we have to say to the elements on the right. We CIO not need a party like the parties of the Second International or a party such as some parties of the centre still are now. Such parties play objectively a reactionary role. It is clear that for example the German Social Democracy plays and has played not a revolutionary but a directly counter-revolutionary role in the true sense of the word. To prove that would be superfluous. It is clear that in Germany the struggle of the working class is now so difficult because there exists there a large, well organised, but bourgeois Social Democratic Party. We do not need parties that continue the worst traditions of the Second International, we do not need parties that have the simple principle of gathering as many members as possible around themselves, which become petty-bourgeois parties, in which the aristocracy of labour is organised, in which very often the bureaucracy of labour becomes a caste and only follows its own interests. We do not need parties which for example put up people who only joined the party yesterday as candidates in elections. We do not need parliamentary factions in which, instead of workers, we have 46 professors, 45 barristers, or more, and of which one must say: 45 barristers: proletarian revolution, you are betrayed! [Applause] We do not need the kind of parliamentary factions there are in Italy and Germany, in which there are people who, at the most important hour – we know this very well – will either stand on the side of the bourgeoisie or sit between two stools and sabotage our struggle. We must follow the social composition of our parties attentively, as if under a lens. We must watch out that anti-proletarian elements do not come to us. We must endeavour to have truly proletarian parties. It is understandable that at present a great number, and not the worst section of the workers – those workers that take the fight against the bourgeoisie honestly – are confused when they see parties like the Social Democratic Party, when they see parliamentary factions like the one in Italy. Italy has nearly reached boiling point. The working class is in favour of communism, but in parliament a man like Turati is still speaking in the name of the party, a man who has carried out bourgeois policies for years and is still doing so. Under these conditions it is understandable that currents arise which negate the party as such. The same is the case with the German Independents who have a parliamentary faction in which men like Henke in the main often say the same thing as Scheidemann but in slightly different words. It is understandable that there too quite good revolutionaries say: ‘Better no party at all than a party like that’. But when they say: ‘Better no party at all than a party like that’, this is an incorrect conclusion. ‘No’, we say, ‘if this or that party is bad, we should at all costs build a good party, we should organise ourselves at first as a minority, we should work step for step to win the best elements of the working class into our ranks.’
When therefore we are asked what kind of party we need we must reply that we have a great number of parties that even want to join the Communist International and of which nevertheless we must say: ‘There you have an example of what a Communist Party should not look like. You should sound the alarm, convince the best part of the working class and purge the party, split it if necessary, and at any price build a truly Communist Party.'
I would like to add one more thing on the question of what kind of party we must have. We must also touch upon the question of organisation in general here.
What kind of party do we need looked at from the point of view of organisation? In each individual case we must accommodate ourselves to the respective circumstances. In the labour movement there are phenomena that emerge in every country, but there are also cases in which we must accommodate ourselves to the prevailing national conditions. I will not talk about these concrete cases. I only want to mention one point. There is a current against the principle of the strict centralisation of the party. There are circles that are in agreement with the need for a party, but not for a centralised party with iron discipline. This is found not only among intellectuals but also among a section of the IWW and the shop stewards. Let us consider the general question of whether or not we really need a centralised party.
People often talk about the experience of the Russian revolution. The most important experience of this revolution consists in the fact that if we had not had a centralised, military, iron-disciplined party, which we organised for twenty years, we would have been beaten twenty times over. That is the experience of the Russian revolution, and every simple worker, every member of our party will confirm it. That is what we have learnt.
You should not take this matter lightly. You should consider what a civil war really means. It is easy to say: ‘Now we start the civil war!’ But it is rather difficult to fight the civil war out, when you must wage it for one, two or three years, when you must send thousands of comrades to the front where thousands are killed, when you have to demand the greatest sacrifices from the members of the Party, when you have to make decisions of enormous importance within 24 hours or even 24 minutes, when you must have the absolute confidence of the workers to achieve anything at all. The fact that we now face a titanic struggle, that now the hour really has struck when the sword speaks against the bourgeoisie, gives us cause to say, in relation not only to the national parties but also to the International: ‘We need a centralised organisation with an iron military discipline.’ Only then will we achieve what we really need. In this respect we must learn from our enemies. We must understand that, in this extremely difficult situation, we can only win if we are really well and tightly organised. We will speak about this in more detail when we come to work out the Statutes of the Communist International and have to discuss the question on an international scale.
Often we hear some comrades say: ‘Yes, as long as we live under the bourgeois order, as long as we have not yet seized power, we do perhaps still really need the party, but when we have won the victory we will not need any party at all.’ I have discussed this with good German Communist workers, have heard their reflections and permit myself once more to appeal to the experience of the Russian Party. Just after we had seized power, after we had formed the government, the role of the Party did not become smaller, but grew from day to day. Never was the significance of the Party so great here in Russia as it is precisely now, after we have carried off the victory. On all important questions real supervision by the party is necessary.
Nowadays people like Kautsky come along and say: ‘There in Russia you have not got the dictatorship of the working class but the dictatorship of the party.’ You would think that this was a criticism of us. Not at all! We have the dictatorship of the working class and for that very reason we also have the dictatorship of the Communist Party. [Applause.] The dictatorship of the Communist Party is only a function, a characteristic, an expression of the dictatorship of the working class. What is our Party? You should not confuse it with other parties that are made up of barristers. It is made up of between 600,000 and 700,000 of the best workers, the vanguard of the proletariat. And it is clear that the affairs of the working class are well looked after by these, its best representatives. That is why the dictatorship of the proletariat is at the same time the dictatorship of the Communist Party. The supervision of the various organisations and the right to purge them belongs to the party. So it has to be during the proletarian revolution. The role of the party does not diminish after the victory, but on the contrary it increases.
The idea of soviets has captured the minds of workers all over the world. The working class is half consciously and half unconsciously of the opinion that humanity is moving towards the soviet system. That is correct. But the conclusion is often drawn from this that when we have soviets we do not need a party; the soviets are supposed to replace the Party, the Party is supposed to be absorbed into the soviets, the Party is supposed to ‘accommodate’ itself to the idea of the soviets. Here too we must call on the experience of the first victorious proletarian revolution. In 1917 in Russia we won the soviets, which for eight months were opposed to working class policies, so quickly precisely because we had a firm, powerful, determined party. And the influence of Communism is so strong in the soviets now because we have a strong party. The soviets do not exclude the Party. On the contrary the Party is their direct precondition. That is the leading force, the most important part, the head, the brain of these soviets. We wish also to tell the comrades quite clearly: Not only when we are speaking of the soviets, but precisely when we already have them, we need a strong Communist Party that will grow from day to day. People often reply to us: ‘Almost the whole of the working class is organised in the Soviets, but only a minority is organised in the Party, and so it will remain.’ So it will not remain, and even now it is already no longer true. In the epoch of the Second International it was often said: ‘The majority of the working class will never be organised within the Social Democratic Party.’ At that time it was correct. As long as power belongs to the bourgeoisie, as long as it rules the press, education, parliament and the arts, a significant part of the working class will be spoilt by the propaganda of the bourgeoisie and their agents and driven into the bourgeois camp. It goes without saying that the bourgeois press robs the party of a part of the working class. But as soon as freedom of the press exists for the working class, as soon as we have the schools in our hands, a time will come, and it is not so far off, when gradually, day by day, big groups in the working class join us in the party, until one day we will have the majority of the working class organised in our party. The perspective is already very different. We therefore need the party even when we have soviets.
The old, so-called classical division of the workers’ organisations into Party, trades unions and co-operative societies is now wrong. There is now another one: Party, soviets, trades unions. Perhaps there will be modifications and new forms. Perhaps this or that revolution will produce something new. This will probably happen, but as far as we can see at the moment, as far as the Russian revolution is an example, the present division runs thus: Communist Party, soviets, trades unions. We must spread Communism in the parliaments, in the trades unions and in the Party organisations. But the leading force, the spirit of the whole movement, is the Party.
Neither the soviet government nor the revolutionising of the trades unions excludes the Party. Perhaps people will tell us that we need a party if the unions are yellow but not if they are good, revolutionary; then we do not need a party. I say – no. Even if the trades unions are revolutionary, even if they are consistently communist through and through, as they are here, we still need the Party.
We have seen a graphic description from the IWW of how they imagine the future. They imagine the whole thing as a Central Council of trades unions at the centre and a whole number of individual trades unions on the periphery. Good. But by what means are they going to seize power? How are they going to form a Red Army? It is surely clear that there is no workers’ revolution without a Red Army? Will they perhaps set up a Red Army on a trade union basis, with an engineering workers’ Red Army parallel with a textile workers’ Red Army, and with a General Council of the Red Armies of all these trades unions? That is impossible. With a structure like that we could not even solve the problem of feeding the army.
We must have a state organisation and this can only be led by the party because a state political organisation is that which embraces the best elements of the working class of the whole country. We have trades unions in Russia which now go hand in hand with us. It was not always so. Before the October revolution the trades unions were in the hands of the Mensheviks; at the beginning of the July days the majority was with the Mensheviks. We formed Communist cells and then factions in the trades unions and now we have the great majority on our side. And nevertheless the role of the party has not diminished but increased. For, to the extent that they are Communist, these trades unions have subordinated themselves to the party, and that is the only way of doing it. Marx himself took this point of view when he said it was wrong to say that the Party only dealt with the political side of the movement and the trades unions the economic. This is not so. In the opinion of Marxism the Communist Party is an organisation that touches all sides of the workers’ movement without exception. It should be the guiding spirit of the soviets and the trades unions, the schools, the co-operatives and all organisations embracing the working class. That is real Marxism.
The Communist Party is not only a political organ, it does not only deal with political questions, it is not an electoral machine in the way the opportunists want it to be, it is an organisation to which the best part of the working class belongs, which guides all the social organs and the struggle of the working class in its full extent and in all its expressions. That is why we say to those here who think that formless workers’ unions can replace the Party: ‘You are not right.’ In this case too we need a Communist, Marxist Party to guide the trades unions, give them fresh blood, show them the way and be their guiding star.
That is why we are of the opinion that the Communist Congress must now say very clearly that sin ce we are faced with the proletarian revolution every worker must be conscious that not only before the seizure of power but also during and after the armed uprising, after we have seized power, we need a Communist Party which, in its composition, is a workers’ party, which does not take in petty-bourgeois elements. It can form temporary political alliances with the latter, but not within the Party. It cannot take in petty-bourgeois elements and form an alliance with them inside the Party. It must carry out parliamentary work in counter-revolutionary parliaments in the spirit of Karl Liebknecht, and send simple revolutionary workers into the parliaments and not skilled barristers who are only really skilled at defending the cause of the bourgeoisie. We must have a party that can always show the soviets the correct path every instant, in every difficult situation.
Comrades, just imagine for a moment that we had had a Communist Party during the Paris Commune in 1871. It is clear why we did not have one. The necessary, important preconditions for it were missing. But if at that time we had had a definite Communist Party, however small, the French working class would perhaps still have been beaten, but it is clear that a great number of the mistakes our French pioneers committed would not have been made. Of course we do not want to diminish the heroism of the Paris Commune, but we want to avoid its mistakes.
A great number of countries now find themselves in a situation where from one day to the next a full-scale uprising can break out. Unless we have everywhere at least a small but conscious Communist Party we will suffer great and unnecessary losses. We must make up for lost time. In countries like Britain and America, where we have no strong Communist Party and where the comrades struggle against a Communist Party this will in time be bitterly regretted. When the fight has begun you will see from the consequences how frivolous it was not to have forged the necessary weapons in time, to have missed out the very thing with which the working class could have been shown the way in time.
I think, Comrades, that I can close my remarks with this and say once more in summing up that, if we want to use the experience of the Russian revolution, we must adopt above all others the idea that we need a Communist Party, and what is more a centralised, an iron-disciplined party. There is no other way during the raging civil war through which we are living. There is no way apart from an iron party cast all in one piece. You should take from the Russian workers the thing that really deserves to be imitated. Certainly, our movement too has great weaknesses. We are conscious of them and do not at all want
to appear as schoolmasters. But I tell you this, that we forged this weapon day by day for twenty years, the Party, the Bolshevik Party, which then became the Communist Party. That is a good example. In the prisons, in Siberia, in exile, in foreign lands – the guiding star was always the Party. The best thing that we have injected into the Russian worker is the love of the Party. For the advanced Russian worker the Party is something sacred, the best system, dearer than his life, more beloved than anything else, the highest, the lodestar. And in this the working class of the whole world should follow that of Russia. [Loud and prolonged applause]
Ramsay (Shop Stewards): I am sorry that, despite all our reports and documents, the Communist International does not seem to be sufficiently informed of what the shop stewards movement really represents. I would remind you what a state of disunity the workers’ organisations were in when the shop stewards movement arose, what efforts the shop stewards movement has made to kindle a communist movement. Even now we are making every effort to do our best for the growth of the communist movement. All our propaganda and all our work is carried out in this direction, and we call on all our members and organisations that belong to the communist tendency to work in this direction.
McLaine (BSP): I suggest that point 6 of the Theses should be changed to add a final sentence which is of especial interest particularly for the British comrades.
[BSP: British Socialist Party. Affiliated to the Labour Party. Founded 1911 as result of a merger of the Social Democratic Party and other socialist groups. It conducted Marxist propaganda but remained small in membership. During the First World War it split over the issue of internationalism and in 1916 the Social chauvinists withdrew. The BSP greeted the Russian Revolution and in 1919 voted for affiliation to the Comintern. In 1920 it joined the newly formed Communist Party.]
We need guidelines on a point that is especially interesting particularly for Britain. In Britain there exists a large workers’ party which is not communist and which embraces various communist parties – the Labour Party. A discussion has arisen among the various parties in Britain on whether the communist parties should remain a part of this party which is not communist and not socialist and to which they are affiliated. The BSP has answered the question in the affirmative. The Labour Party is not socialist but it has at its disposal a large apparatus. It has the press at its disposal and has its representatives in parliament and on the town councils, and it would be suicide to exclude the possibility of propagandising in the trades union movement and everywhere through this big apparatus. The group I represent does not want to commit suicide in this way. We would like to have an appropriate instruction from the Communist International on this. Moreover I must emphasise that. the BSP have been all the more strengthened in their position by the fact that the Labour Party, which is not socialist and not revolutionary, has nevertheless been moving gradually more and more to the left. The fact that, under pressure from the masses, the right-wing leaders and their organisations are gradually disappearing is one more reason for remaining affiliated to this organisation. Before I finish my speech I should like to propose a motion that in all the countries where a non-communist workers’ party is the dominant factor in the labour movement the communist groups should remain affiliated to it in order to carry out propaganda in it for communist ideas and to guide the masses of workers into communist channels. This can only take place on condition that the Communist Party retains its freedom of action and carries on the work of propaganda. This motion is signed by both representatives of the BSP. Finally I would like to refer to the previous speaker’s remarks. I am glad to hear from the representative of the shop stewards movement that they are now determined to help the Communist Party. Up until now the shop stewards movement has had a negative and hostile attitude to the Communist Party. If it is now officially declared that that will no longer be the case and that the shop stewards undertake to help the Communists in future, that can only please the other Communist Parties, especially the BSP.
Pestaña (Spain): The trade union movement as such is much more important than you seem to assume, and moreover both trade union movements, not only the left but also the right. You must not judge them by their degree of separation from communism. Russia is the best example of this. What matters is the spirit of the trades unions, this spirit should be revolutionary. It has been claimed that one of the reasons why the workers do not want a revolutionary party is to be attributed to the influence of the bourgeoisie. It is too easy an explanation to believe that revolutionary currents such as for example syndicalism can simply be described as reactionary without any further ado. That is a mistake. It is also not correct that the leaders of the trades unions say they want to keep away from politics. They do not keep aloof from any work, it is not like that. There were times when the bourgeoisie in Spain pointed out that the working class should become involved in politics because that corresponds to the workers’ interests. The fact that I do not represent a political party makes my position difficult, and for that reason my policies can be misinterpreted. I have never said that the trades unions are an end in themselves. It depends what spirit guides them. I am not in agreement with the opinion that having created a Red Army that stands at its disposal is one of the merits of the Communist Party. That is not the case. I refer to the French Revolution which proves that one always has an army and a political party to help one to power. The main thing is that the trades unions as such are revolutionary and able to fight and are such organisations as will hasten the fight and the revolution.
Tanner (Shop Steward): Comrade Zinoviev placed the main emphasis in his report on the necessity of a Communist Party. This seems to me to be mistaken, as does the idea that the dictatorship of the proletariat coincides with the dictatorship of the Communist Party. What has now taken place in Russia cannot be a valid pattern for every country. In Britain for example the situation in general is completely different from the position as it was in Russia before the revolution. The shop stewards mean by dictatorship of the proletariat something very different from what is meant by it in Russia. By that they mean the dictatorship of a minority as represented by the shop stewards. You may not agree with that in particular, but we are of the opinion that we command a larger and a broader layer of class conscious proletarians than is the case in Germany. We are reproached by Comrade McLaine for being apolitical and for refraining from any political activity. That does not correspond with the truth. We are anti-parliamentarian, but that does not mean that we are apolitical. Comrade McLaine was glad that the shop stewards want to work with the BSP. He cannot claim that the BSP is the only revolutionary party in Britain. Very many of those who are now active in the shop stewards movement and in other economic movements opposed the building of the party because they believe and are convinced that it is a waste of time to be active in a political party. They are still in favour of the revolution. Now public opinion seeks to hold workers back from direct action and make them regard parliament as the means to effect their class interests. We were among the first to come out in favour of direct action, and not only for economic but also for political aims. Comrade Zinoviev said that one can only take an active part in the different areas of social and cultural life through a political party. One can also do this in other ways. I will only be able to give a final verdict on my attitude to the revolution when I have been back to Britain and once more compared British and West European conditions with those in Russia. I ask the Russians and the other representatives whether they have not also something to learn from the others, that is to say that one should also learn from the economic movement and the revolutionary movement of other countries and not simply teach them. I refer also to the fact that the political parties have learnt a great deal from other organisations, precisely on the question of direct action. Not long ago political parties opposed direct action. Recently at least their attitude has become different. Finally I would like to emphasise that the Second International collapsed because it was characterless and did not give clear guidelines. I am afraid that the Communist International is falling into the opposite extreme and becoming too dogmatic. All organisations should be given freedom of movement within their own country. The suggestion of using parliament as a means of fighting arouses misgivings in many people. The Communist International must create a wide, broad basis on which the individual parties can reach agreement on the important principled questions. Everything else should be left to each party itself.
Rakosi (Hungary): Soviet Hungary encountered conditions which were, in every respect, more developed than those encountered by Soviet Russia. The Hungarian workers were more intelligent, the country more centralised, the railways more developed, the roads in a better condition and agriculture at a higher stage.
In every respect we stood closer to the Western countries than we did to Soviet Russia. Our experiences confirm however in every point the correctness of the Russian conception of the Communist Party. As long as our Communist Party, following the Russian pattern, was strictly centralised and strictly disciplined and its members were only accepted after certain tests and treated very strictly, our party like the Russian represented the vanguard of the working class. As soon as the party amalgamated with the Social Democrats and thus took into itself the backward part of the proletariat and a large part of the petty bourgeoisie, the party lost this significance.
Moreover, during the setting-up of the dictatorship there arose a monstrous shortage of class-conscious, independent workers. It became necessary to employ all the useable forces of the united party in the different soviets. Thus the party was completely exhausted. So we were forced, even on political questions where we had to appeal to the whole proletariat, to turn to the trades unions which embrace it in its entirety. There thus arose more or less the situation that the IWW people or the shop stewards want: the trade union was also fulfilling the functions of the Party. It emerged that with the dictatorship an enormous change in the function and the tasks of the trades unions came about. The trades unions had to fulfil a whole series of new tasks such as the re-organisation of production, the restoration of work discipline and so forth. They were so heavily engaged in the absorption of a flood of new members that they could not even fulfil these tasks in a satisfactory manner.
After the setting up of the dictatorship new difficulties and shocks will inevitably follow, partly because the trades unions are not in a position to solve correctly the enormous number of pressing questions that face them in the very first hours of the revolution, which gives rise to a certain disruption. We in Hungary were forced by the weakness of the Party to give, in addition to these tasks, political tasks like the formation of the Red Army, education, the distribution of food and suchlike, to the trades unions. But it emerged that these questions could not be solved by them. They did indeed take on these tasks, but in no area did they achieve a satisfactory solution to them. Not only because they were mostly reactionary – there were some trades unions which were revolutionary even before the dictatorship – but also because they were not created to solve political questions. After a few months we were faced with the absolute necessity of forming a strong new Communist Party. We were thus forced, besides the difficult tasks that the dictatorship brought with it, to fulfil another task that had already been solved in Russia before the dictatorship by the presence of a Communist Party.
We were forced to build up in a very short time a party which, in every respect, had to follow the Russian pattern. Internal collapse and the military defeats brought this attempt to nothing. I must however repeat once more that the experience of the Hungarian Soviet republic confirms the Russian experience in every respect. When we diverged from it we committed mistakes and had to pay for them with enormous sacrifices. Later, when we started on the re-organisation of our forces, we saw the greatest weakness of the rule of the soviets in Hungary in the fact that we did not possess a stronger and better disciplined party during the dictatorship. Since then we have started on the organisation of a strictly centralised party with iron discipline. I am convinced that the new party will continue along the lines followed by the Communist Party in Russia in a new Hungarian Soviet Republic, and will support and strengthen the Russian experience.
Wijnkoop (Holland): I am told that I should speak German. I would have preferred to say what I have to say in English as it refers to what the British comrades have said. I do not think it would be wise of the Congress to vote for Comrade McLaine’s addendum. There is nothing about these matters in Comrade Zinoviev’s Theses, and I dare say the British comrades are very glad that there is nothing about them in the Theses, as this permits them to fight out their own affairs in their own country. Now Comrade McLaine comes along and says: We want the International Congress to confirm that we can go into the Labour Party, and one knows that the BSP wishes to remain in the Labour Party. Now I say we should not do that here. It is very difficult to decide, as Comrade Lenin said in his pamphlet Left Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder. Therefore I want to leave it to the British comrades for the very reason that they are trying to achieve their own Communist Party in England. Comrades Ramsay and Tanner have spoken very well on this question, and they know that the question of the Labour Party can create many problems for unity.
Should the International Congress pronounce in advance in favour of the BSP remaining in the Labour Party, this will mean either that the British Communist Party will not come into being or that it will come into being without the BSP. Neither would in my opinion be a good thing. The Communist Party will have to come into being in Britain with the help of the BSP, and agreement should be reached on the conditions in Britain itself. If we are to accept such an incisive resolution on the British question here you will first of all have to discuss the whole affair, and it will be difficult to broach here the whole story of the special conditions of the Labour Party. I would not like to comment on something else Comrade Tanner said here. My party does not share Comrade Tanner’s point of view, but I would nevertheless like to say that I listened to Comrade Tanner because in his words I detected the desire to come into the Communist International. Comrade Tanner warned us not to be too dogmatic, and he is quite right. In the pamphlet that I mentioned Comrade Lenin warned us not to be too dogmatic on the left. He said that in reality pure dogmatism was only phraseology, and we should avoid phraseology. If you do not accept dogmatism on the right, you must not do so on the left. Comrade Tanner has correctly drawn our attention to the fact that conditions in other countries are very different from those in Russia. The Russian comrades know this very well. We have said often enough that, however difficult it was, the Russian revolution was still easier than the revolution in other countries is going to be. Construction is a different thing from a revolution. You should not follow the Russian example in a doctrinaire way. You should learn from the Russian revolution, but you should not simply impose the Russian pattern on the conditions of Western Europe or America. Comrade Tanner said that we should not be dogmatic but a little flexible and pliant. This is the only way to achieve an International that will and must bring together the really revolutionary groups.
Levi: When we are speaking about the nature of the Party we must start from the contradiction between the Party and the class, which relate the one to the other as subject to object, or as the kernel to the shell, which together form the fruit. If we then ask how the Party is different from the class, we can only say that one thing in particular characterises the Party as such, and that is its clarity; its clear head, its clear aim, its clear and sharply defined nature and its clear, sharply defined programme. If this uniform conception of the sense and the aims of the Party is what we have in mind, then I agree completely with Comrade Zinoviev when he says in his theses: ‘Only if the proletariat has as its leader an organised and tested party, with strongly marked aims and a concretely worked out programme for the next step not only in the area of domestic but also of foreign policy, will the conquest of political power appear not as a coincidental episode but as the starting point to the lasting communist construction of society by the proletariat.’
Just as the kernel withers without the shell, so too the Party must wither and become a sect if it neglects to find ways by which it can penetrate into the life of the revolutionary masses. And I think that, to the extent that we here are communists, we are in agreement that a party must be clear and decisive. We do not need to discuss that here. The main question for us is how we find the way to the masses, and I am of the opinion that we must try all the ways that lead to the masses. These are the trades unions, workers’ councils where such organisations arise, the parliamentary battlefield and even non-party organisations to the extent, at least, that they grow out of the subsoil of social life, out of the social and economic stratification of society. It is because of these reservations that I think I must differ from the main speaker when he says in point six of the Theses: ‘The Communists support in every way the formation of broad, non-party organisations of workers besides the Communist Party. The Communists take as their most important task the systematic work of organisation and education within these broad workers’ organisations. But precisely in order to frame this work correctly and to prevent the enemies of the revolutionary proletariat from taking over these broad workers’ organisations, the advanced Communist workers must always form their own, independent, closed Communist Party.'
There is nothing to meet my reservation in this thesis, and it seems to me that something on these lines must be said, so that the formation of factions of workers and non-party workers’ organisations does not simply become a game, and so that we do not make up new organisational forms that do not grow purely and simply out of economic and social necessity. We must be careful in the highest degree in the formation of new organisations, and where such organisations exist we must avoid spreading them arbitrarily and unconditionally. In saying this I am thinking particularly of Germany, where the trades unions have grown to almost 9 million members and where despite that there were comrades who went so far in the drive for new types of organisation that they tried to mislead us communists into abandoning this big field of work.
I am also of the opinion that we should proceed most carefully with the formation not only of new non-party but also of new party organisations. In this respect we will have to draw many lessons from our history in Germany, from the experience of the German Communists. For that reason too, the question that the British comrades have raised will indeed have to be decided by this Congress.
I am completely of the opinion – and we in the Western European Secretariat stand on this point in complete opposition to the Amsterdam Bureau – that the BSP absolutely must remain in the Labour Party, through which it has a connection with the masses.
[The Western European Secretariat was set up in Berlin in the autumn of 1919 to publish information about the Soviet regime and coordinate the work of Communist Parties. A leading part in its formation was taken by Karl Radek. It seems to have acted independently of the International and to have had little, influence. After the dissolution of the West European Bureau in Amsterdam it took over the functions of that body. The Amsterdam Bureau was set up in February, 1920 to carry on propaganda tor the Communist International in Holland and the Anglo-Saxon countries. It came under the control of the ‘ultra-lefts’ and was closed down in May.]
But one must be especially careful in the creation of new formations that call themselves ‘non-party’. I believe that there are delegates at this Congress who diverge from us Communists on the question of, how far it is necessary to form non-party organisations instead of party organisations with clear aims. I shall leave it to better qualified comrades like the Spanish comrade to answer this question, but I must say that, on the basis moreover of a certain experience, I cannot be optimistic about the result. It seems to me that the controversy between communism on the one hand and the view of the Spanish comrades on the other is not at all in line with the tasks of this Congress, and is not in the interest of what the world today demands of the Communist International: a clear, uniform line. This is not strengthened by the fact that, instead of showing a uniform clear line, we are here discussing questions that the majority of the Western European working class solved decades ago.
On the contrary, the task of the Congress is to tell the British comrades not to scorn the non-party organisations and not to leave the Labour Party. The Congress must show once and for all a uniform clear line for all similar cases.
McLaine: In view of the late hour (10 pm) I move that we adjourn the continuation of the debate until the next session.
Serrati: On behalf of the Bureau I move that we continue the session and ask the commission to explain Comrade Zinoviev’s Theses point for point.
Comrade Serrati’s motion is put to the vote and passed.
Serrati: The Italian delegation fully adopts all of Comrade Zinoviev’s Theses because, by analysing Corporatism,’ Syndicalism, Industrial Unionism, Anarchism and Relativism and bringing out the petty-bourgeois spirit of these currents, they fight for the cause of the proletariat, for centralisation and discipline in the name of the establishment of the dictatorship by the Communist Party. But we find that the formulation of some of the Theses is not clear, for example on the question of the middle peasants. The content of this expression must be established more exactly, otherwise we will run into the danger of Possibilism. For those whom we call middle peasants often form the most backward element.
[Serrati uses the word Korporativwesen, but it is not mentioned in the resolution and its meaning is not clear. Relativismus: another term introduced into the debate by Serrati. The Possibilistes were the reformist wing of the French socialist movement at the end of the nineteenth century whose chief figure was Paul Brousse. They aimed for what was ‘possible’ by reforms within capitalist society and, after the style of the Fabians in Britain, emphasised ‘municipal socialism’ – locally owned gasworks, transport, etc. They had some success in local elections in Paris and other towns. Their official name was Fédération des Travailleurs Socialistes – Federation of Socialist Workers. They later joined with other reformist groups in the Parti Socialiste Français and became part of the SFIO in 1905.]
As far as Point 6 is concerned we agree with Comrade Levi’s point of view. The Communists must apply all their energy to build not neutral but Communist organisations, although they have a duty to work in the former as well. Comrade McLaine has asked us to permit the BSP to remain in the Labour Party. But in this case I am personally in agreement with the representatives of the Shop Stewards who regard the Labour Party as a political party. During the war it took a purely political direction, as was proved by Henderson’s activities. And if we permit the Communists to remain in such organisations we are opening the door wide – open once more to Possibilism.
Another point in the Theses says that Communists can also join neutral or even reactionary organisations, for example Christian trades unions. But a Christian trade union is not under any circumstances neutral. To join it means you are a Christian. Then the Congress must also deal with the question of the entry of Communists into the Freemasons, which are a very model of the kind of organisation where the spirit of’ petty-bourgeois radicalism and political opportunism reigns supreme. We ask the Congress to forbid Communists to enter such organisations.
Lenin: Comrades, I should like to make a few comments on the speeches of Comrades Tanner and McLaine. Comrade Tanner spoke of the fact that he and the others were for the dictatorship of the proletariat, but that by that they meant something other than we do here. He said that by the dictatorship of the proletariat we actually mean the dictatorship of the organised and class-conscious minority.
Now it is precisely one of the main characteristics of workers’ political parties that, under the conditions of capitalism where the masses of workers are always exploited and are not in a position to develop their human abilities, they can only include the minority of their class. A political party can only comprise a minority of the class in the same way that really class-conscious workers only form the minority of workers in any capitalist society. Therefore we are forced to recognise that the great mass of workers can only be led and guided by the conscious minority. If Comrade Tanner says he is against the Party but in favour of a revolutionary minority of the most determined and class-conscious proletarians leading the whole proletariat, then I say that in reality there is no difference between our points of view. What is the organised minority? If this minority is really class-conscious and able to lead the masses and give an answer to every question that stands on the agenda, then it is actually the Party. If comrades like Comrade Tanner, who are particularly important for us because they represent a mass movement, which you could scarcely say of the BSP, want a minority that will fight with determination for the dictatorship and educate the mass of workers along these lines, then what they want is a party. Comrade Tanner has spoken of the fact that this minority should lead and organise the whole mass of workers. If Comrade Tanner and the other comrades from the Shop Stewards Movement and the IWW recognise – and we see every day in every discussion with them that they really do recognise – that the conscious Communist minority of the working class can lead the proletariat, then they must admit that this is the meaning of all our resolutions. Then the only difference between us is that they avoid the word ‘party’ because among the British comrades there is a kind of prejudice against the political party. They probably think that a political party is something like the parties of Gompers and Henderson, the professional parliamentarians, the traitors to the working class. If by parliamentarism they mean the present British or American variety of parliamentarism, then we are also opposed to it. We need new, different parties. We need parties that really have constant contact with the masses and are able to lead the masses.
Now I come to the third question that I want to touch on here. Comrade McLaine was in favour of the Communist Party of Britain remaining in the Labour Party. I have already expressed my opinion on this question in my Theses on entry into the Communist International. I left this question unanswered. But after discussing the question with several comrades I have come to the conclusion that remaining in the Labour Party is the only correct tactic. And then Comrade Tanner comes along and tells us not to be too dogmatic. This expression is entirely out of place h ere. Comrade Ramsay says: ‘Let us British comrades decide the question ourselves.’ What kind of International would this be if a small group could come and say: ‘Some of us are in favour, some of us are against. Let us decide for ourselves.’ What then do we need an International for, and a Congress and a discussion? Comrade McLaine spoke only of the role of the political party. But the same applies to the trades unions and to parliamentarism. It is true that the great mass of the best revolutionaries is against affiliation to the Labour Party because they do not accept parliamentarism as a method of struggle. For that reason it would perhaps be best to refer this question to the Commission. It should discuss and study the question, it should whatever happens be decided by the present Congress of the Communist International. We cannot say that this only affects the British Communists. Our general opinion on the correct tactic must be expressed.
Now I shall deal with Comrade McLaine’s arguments concerning the British Labour Party. We must say openly that the Communist Party can be affiliated to the Labour Party if it is free to criticise and to conduct its own policies. That is the most important thing. If Comrade Serrati talks about class collaboration, then I say this is not class collaboration. If the Italian comrades tolerate opportunists like Turati and Co., that is to say bourgeois elements, in the Party, that really is class collaboration. In the case of the Labour Party it is a question of the co-operation of the advanced minority with the great majority of British workers. All trade union members participate in the Labour Party. It is a very unusual formation of a kind that is not found in any other country. It comprises some 6 to 7 million workers in all the trades unions. They are not asked to state their political beliefs. Prove to me, Comrade Serrati, that we will be prevented from exercising our right of criticism there. Only if you prove that will you be able to prove that Comrade McLaine is wrong. The BSP can openly say that Henderson is a traitor and still remain in the Labour Party. This is the collaboration of the vanguard of the working class with the backward workers, the rear-guard. This is so important for the whole movement that we absolutely insist that the British Communists must form a link between the Party, that is the minority of the working class, and the remaining masses of the workers. If the minority does not understand how to lead the masses and make contact with the masses, it is not a party; it is worthless, whether it calls itself a party or a National Shop Stewards’ Committee. As I understand, the British shop stewards have a National Committee, a central leadership, and that itself is a step towards the Party. So if it is not disproved that the British Labour Party consists of proletarians, then this is the collaboration of the vanguard of the working class with the backward workers, and if this collaboration is not developed systematically, the Communist Party is worthless, and in that case there can be no question of the dictatorship of the proletariat. If the Italian comrades have no convincing arguments we will shortly have to make a final decision on the question, and on the basis of what we know we will have to conclude that affiliation is the correct tactic.
Now Comrade Tanner and Comrade Ramsay come along and say that the majority of British Communists will not accept that. Must we then inevitably agree with the majority? Not at all. Perhaps if they have not yet understood the correct tactic we can wait. Even the existence of two parties would be better than leaving the question of the correct tactic unanswered. Naturally they will not claim on the basis of the experience of all the participants in the Congress and of the arguments that have been brought forward that a unified Communist Party can be formed in every country. That is impossible. What we can do is speak our opinion openly and issue guidelines. We must study the question of the British delegation in a special commission and then say that the correct tactic is affiliation to the Labour Party. If the majority is against that we should organise the minority separately. That will be training. If the great mass of British workers still believe in the old tactic, we will test the results at our next Congress. We cannot say that these are purely British questions – that is copying the worst habits of the Second International. We must speak our minds openly. If the Communists in Britain are not agreed and a mass party cannot be built, then a split is inevitable.
Trotsky: Comrades! It may seem fairly strange that three-quarters of a century after the appearance of the Communist Manifesto discussion should arise at an International Communist Congress over whether a party is necessary or not. Comrade Levi has underscored just this aspect of the discussion, pointing out that for the great majority of the Western European and American workers this question was settled long ago, and that in his opinion a discussion of this question will hardly help to clarify the standpoint of the Communist International. For my part I proceed from the assumption that there is a rather sharp contradiction between the march of historical events and the opinion expressed here with such Marxist magnanimity to the effect that the broad masses of workers are already excellently aware of the necessity of the party. It is self-evident that if we were dealing here with Messrs.
Scheidemann, Kautsky or their English co-thinkers, it would, of course, be unnecessary to convince these gentlemen that a party is indispensable to the working class. They have created a party for the working class and handed it over into the service of bourgeois and capitalist society.
But if what we have in mind is the proletarian party, then it is observable that in various countries this party is passing through different stages of its development. In Germany, the classic land of the old Social Democracy, we observe a titanic working class, on a high cultural level, advancing uninterruptedly in its struggle, dragging in its wake sizeable remnants of old traditions. We see, on the other hand, that precisely those parties which pretend to speak in the name of the majority of the working class, the parties of the Second International, which express the moods of a section of the working class, compel us to pose the question whether the party is necessary or not. just because I know that the party is indispensable, and am very well aware of the value of the party, and just because I see Scheidemann on the one side and, on the other, American or Spanish or French syndicalists who not only wish to fight against the bourgeoisie but who, unlike Scheidemann, really want. to tear its head off – for this reason I say that I prefer to discuss with these Spanish, American and French comrades in order to prove to them that the party is indispensable for the fulfilment of the historical mission which is placed upon them – the destruction of the bourgeoisie. I will try to prove this to them in a comradely way, on the basis of my own experience, and not by counterposing to them Scheidemann’s long years of experience and saying that for the majority this question has already been settled. Comrades, we see how great the influence of anti-parliamentary tendencies still is in the old countries of parliamentarianism and democracy, for example France, England, and so on. In France I had the opportunity of personally observing, at the beginning of the war, that the first audacious voices against the war – at the very moment when the Germans stood at the gates of Paris – were raised in the ranks of a small group of French syndicalists. These were the voices of my friends – Monatte, Rosmer and others. At that time it was impossible for us to pose the question of forming the Communist Party: such elements were far too few. But I felt myself a comrade among comrades in the company of Comrades Monatte, Rosmer and others with an anarchistic past.
But what was there in common between me and a Renaudel who excellently understands the need of the party; or an Albert Thomas and other gentlemen whose names I do not even wish to mention in order not to violate the rules of decency.
Comrades, the French syndicalists are conducting revolutionary work within the unions. When I discuss today, for example, with Comrade Rosmer, we have a common ground. The French syndicalists, in defiance of the traditions of democracy and its deceptions have said: ‘We do not want any parties, we stand for proletarian trades unions and for the revolutionary minority within them which applies direct action.’ What the French syndicalists understood by this minority – was not clear even to themselves. It was. a portent of the future development, which, despite their prejudices and illusions, has not hindered these same syndicalist comrades from playing a revolutionary role in France, and from producing that small minority which has come to our International Congress.
What does this minority mean to our friends? It is the chosen section of the French working class, a section with a clear programme and organisation of its own, an organisation where they discuss all questions, and not alone discuss but also decide, and where they are bound by a certain discipline. However, proceeding from the experience of the proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie, proceeding from its own experience and the experience of other countries, French syndicalism will be compelled to create the Communist Party.
Comrade Pestaña says: ‘I don’t want to touch this question – I am a syndicalist and I don’t want to talk politics, still less do I want to talk about the party.’ This is extremely interesting. He does not want to talk about the Communist Party so as not to insult the revolution. This means that the criticism of the Communist Party and of its necessity appears to him within the framework of the Russian Revolution as an insult to the revolution. That’s how it is, for in the course of development the Party has become identified with the revolution. It was the same in Hungary.
Comrade Pestaña, who is an influential Spanish syndicalist, came to visit us because there are among us comrades who to one degree or another take their stand on the soil of syndicalism; there are also among us comrades who are, so to speak, parliamentarians, and others who are neither parliamentarians nor syndicalists but who stand for mass action, and so on. But what do we offer him? We offer him an International Communist Party, that is, the unification of the advanced elements of the working class who come together with their experience, share it with the others, criticise one another, adopt decisions, and so on. When Comrade Pestaña returns to Spain with these decisions his comrades will want to know: ‘What did you bring back from Moscow?’ He will then present them with the theses and ask them to vote for or against the resolution; and those Spanish syndicalists, who unite on the basis of the proposed theses, will form nothing else but the Spanish Communist Party.
Today we have received a proposal from the Polish government to conclude peace. Who decides such questions? We have the Council of People’s Commissars but it too must be subject to certain control. Whose control? The control of the working class as a formless, chaotic mass? No. The Central Committee of the party is convened in order to discuss the proposal and to decide whether it ought to be answered. And when we have to conduct war, organise new divisions and find the best elements for them – where do we turn? We turn to the Patty. To the Central Committee. And it issues directives to every local committee pertaining to the assignment of Communists to the front. The same thing applies to the agrarian question, the question of supplies, and all other questions. Who will decide these questions in Spain? The Spanish Communist Party – and I am confident that Comrade Pestaña will be one of the founders of this party.
Comrade Serrati – to whom it is, of course, unnecessary to prove the need of a party, for he is himself the leader of a large party – asks us ironically: ‘Just what do we understand by a middle peasant and a semi-proletarian? and isn’t it opportunism for us to make them various concessions?’ But what is opportunism, comrades? In our country the power is in the hands of the working class, which is under the leadership of the Communist Party and which follows the lead of the party that represents it. But in our country there exists not only the advanced working class, but also various backward and non-party elements who work part of the year in the village and the other part in the factory; there exist various layers of the peasantry. All this has not been created by our party; we inherited it from the feudal and capitalist past. The working class is in power and it says: ‘Now I can’t change all this today or on the morrow; I must make a concession here to backward and barbaric relations.'
Opportunism manifests itself whenever those who represent the toiling class make such concessions to the ruling class as facilitate the latter’s remaining in power. Kautsky reproaches us because our party is seemingly making the greatest concessions to the peasantry. The working class, in power, must hasten the evolutionary process of the greatest part of the peasantry, helping it to pass over from a feudal mode of thinking to communism; and must make concessions to the backward elements. Thus I think that the question for which a solution has been found that appears opportunist to Comrade Serrati is not at all a question that lowers the dignity of the Communist Party of Russia. But even if such were the case, even if we had committed this or that mistake, it would only mean that we are operating in a very complex situation and are compelled to manoeuvre. Power is in our hands but just the same we had to retreat before German imperialism at Brest-Litovsk and, later, before British imperialism. And, in this particular instance, we are manoeuvring between the various layers of the peasantry – some we attract to us, others we repel, while a third layer is crushed by us with an iron hand. This is the manoeuvring of the revolutionary class which is in power and which is capable of committing mistakes, but these mistakes enter into the Party’s inventory – an inventory of the Party which concentrates the entire experience accumulated by the working class. That is how we conceive of our Party. That is how we conceive of our International.
Souchy (Free Workers Union, Germany): In drawing up Theses for the international labour movement we cannot start from theoretical preconceived assumptions, but must recognise the tendencies that are emerging in the labour movement in various countries and attempt to develop them further and in a more revolutionary way. Our theories should be nothing more than the conscious continuation of the tendencies and forms of struggle that arise in the fight of the working class against the bourgeoisie. In Britain that is the shop stewards’ movement, in America the IWW and in Norway the Works Councils. These are all tendencies that are born out of the conditions of the struggle between capital and labour.
It is wrong to try to guide these movements into different paths starting from a theoretical standpoint, saying that these movements are not communist. If we leave the empirical path and take the doctrinaire path we cannot create an international of struggle. For this reason I would not like to theorise so much as to discuss precisely those tendencies that have emerged during the revolution. We must take notice of these tendencies and attempt to develop them. We must try to grasp the soul of the living workers’ movement which has not arisen from the heads of individual theoreticians but has sprung from the heart of the working class itself. If I appear here as the representative of the syndicalists, and have no desire to go into the arguments of the Russian comrades, I must attempt to prove, since syndicalism has been called a semi-bourgeois movement here, to prove that this is not the case. I shall nevertheless have to proceed to the area of theory in order to deal with the theories expounded here.
Thus Comrade Zinoviev claims that the bourgeoisie tells the working class not to organise itself politically and that, if the tendency is present in syndicalism not to organise the workers into a party, it must be traced back to the fact that these prejudices, which derive from the bourgeoisie, determine that tendency in syndicalism. This does not correspond to the facts. What does the bourgeoisie say, for example, about the syndicalist movement, about the IWW and similar movements? Comrade Zinoviev, do you believe that the bourgeoisie would approve of the industrial movement and not attempt to proceed against it in the same way that it does against the political parties? The bourgeoisie does not want the proletariat to found political parties. Does the bourgeoisie want the proletariat to found industrial movements? Not at all.
We can see from the persecution of the syndicalists in every country that this movement is as much feared by the bourgeoisie as any political movement. For this reason we cannot accept the point of view that the industrial movement is not so dangerous for the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, as can be proved from examples, the syndicalist movement is just as damaging to the bourgeoisie as the political revolutionary movement, – even if political parties as such are not feared by the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, political parties are rooted in the bourgeoisie. If we consider the French revolution, we can see that the Jacobins, in whose footsteps the bourgeoisie trod, encouraged the idea of forming political parties. Not the idea of forming industrial parties but that of forming political parties is an inheritance from the bourgeoisie. If we want to juggle with theory I could very easily prove this to you.
Comrade Zinoviev further says that we do not simply want to adopt the old parliamentarism but new forms of it. Here too I do not want to throw light on the question from the theoretical standpoint but to go back to the tendencies that exist in the modern workers’ movement. It must be admitted that the parliamentarian tendency is more and more disappearing among revolutionary workers. On the contrary, a strongly anti-parliamentary tendency is evident in the ranks of the
advanced part of the proletariat. Look at the shop stewards’ movement and the Spanish syndicalists – they are anti-parliamentary. The IWW are absolutely anti-parliamentary. And not only that. You will say that the syndicalists are absolutely insignificant in Germany. But there are over 200,000 of us. I must point out that the idea of anti-parliamentarism is penetrating more and more in Germany, not only through the influence of syndicalist theories but through the revolution itself. We must take notice of this. Most communists in Germany today are anti-parliamentary. We must consider the question in this light and not try, from a doctrinaire theoretical standpoint, to smuggle parliamentarism in by the back door, saying it is good for agitational purposes, when you have just drummed it out of the front door.
Comrade Trotsky has dealt with the most important points in his speech. Comrade Zinoviev says that the trades unions have no programme for the day following the outbreak of the revolution. He pointed out that the trades unions were not in a position to solve the economic and social tasks. Now I should like to ask what are the chosen organisations that are to reorganise the economic life of a society; some bourgeois elements that come together to form a party, who have no contact with economic life, or the elements that stand at the roots of production and consumption? Everybody must admit that only those organisations that stand in the closest contact with production are called upon to organise economic life and take it in hand. There can be no doubt – we can see it in Russia too – that a gigantic role in economic life devolves upon the trades unions.
Ramsay: I shall be as brief as possible. I speak here as a communist who rejects the standpoint of the BSP and does not recognise affiliation to the Labour Party. I have ascertained that only the BSP represents this point of view. The various other groupings are all against participation in the Labour Party. I think it would be a tactical mistake to give guidelines on this question from here, for you would have to be familiar with the whole situation in Britain to be able to establish that here and give guidelines, and what is more to give the BSP or any other party the right to affiliate to the Labour Party or not. This would do great damage to the British party, for the whole British working class is sick and tired of the tactics of the Labour Party.
Serrati: It has been moved that we close the debate. All those in favour please raise your hands. All those against, please raise your hands. The motion has been carried. The Bureau proposes to nominate a commission this evening to decide this point on the agenda. We propose Comrades:
Fraina, United States of America
Ramsay and McLaine, England
Zinoviev, Executive of the CI
Comrade Levi is proposed in place of Comrade Meyer
All those in favour of this Commission are asked to raise their hands. [The vote takes place] Who is against? [The vote takes place] The Commission is elected. The comrades on the Commission are asked to remain here a few more minutes.
The session is closed.