Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International

Third Session
July 24

Serrati: The Commission we elected last night has finished its work and is prepared to report on it. Since the members of the Bureau have not yet appeared I propose to postpone the opening of the session.

The session is opened at 10. 00 am.

Serrati: We are beginning with a delay of two hours. But the Bureau proposes to undertake a division of labour that will make it possible to perceptibly shorten the debates. Five commissions, each consisting of 11 members, are to be elected to make themselves familiar with the various Theses. Every delegation is to have the right to propose one representative each for the Commissions. The Bureau will make its selection from the names proposed by the delegations. The Commission will fix upon a reporter, and the Congress will have the final say.

Pestaña: The Bureau’s proposal does not seem logical to me. I propose we leave it to the individual nationalities to determine themselves the membership of the Commissions.

Serrati: The Bureau would gladly fall in with your proposal if it was familiar with the majority of the delegates. But we are seeing many of them for the first time.

Angel Pestana

Pestaña: Since the Bureau admits that it does not know the members of the delegations sufficiently well, I think it would be more logical to leave to the delegations themselves the responsibility of determining the membership of the Commissions.

Serrati: The Bureau will not determine the quality but only the quantity. The quality will be determined by the individual delegations.

Pestaña: Is the question to be discussed?

Serrati: Certainly, and the Congress is to speak out freely on it. I propose to take the vote on the Bureau’s proposal.

The Bureau’s proposal is carried by a large majority

Serrati: I shall read out the resolution:

The Congress will be divided up into Commissions which are to discuss the Theses on the main questions on the agenda of the Congress.

Every Commission is composed of from 7 to 11 members.

Every national delegation has the right to nominate one member for each of the Commissions.

The Bureau makes the final choice of the membership of the Commissions.

Each Commission elects a reporter to report to the Congress on the decisions of the Commission in question.

The Commissions must work on the following questions on the agenda and make their proposals on the individual questions:

1. Parliamentarism.

2. Trades unions.

3. The national and colonial question.

4. The agrarian question.

5. Conditions for entry into the Communist International.

6. Statutes and the question of organisation (youth and women’s organisations).

7. The current international situation and the tasks of the Communist International.

Serrati: The Bureau has received the following declaration by the American delegation, addressed to the Second Congress of the Communist International:

In accordance with the decision of the Executive Committee of the Communist International and the desires of the American Communists themselves it is necessary to unite the two Communist Parties.

We therefore salute the formation of the United Communist Party comprising the Communist Labour Party and a considerable part of the Communist Party. But this unification is not complete.

Since the complete unification of the American Communist movement is an unconditional necessity, we, the representatives of the Communist Party and the Communist Labour Party, declare ourselves ready:

1. To work together at the Congress as a single group.

2. To ask the Executive Committee of the Communist International to instruct the elements who refuse to recognise a complete unification to unite on the basis of the Communist International. 3. To subordinate ourselves on the question of unification to the decision of the Executive Committee of the International. [Applause]

Signed for the Communist Party of America by L.C. Fraina and A. Stocklitzki, and for the Communist Labour Party of America by John Reed, J. Jurgis and A. Bilan. Both these organisations had been formed in September 1919 on the same day, in the same building in Chicago. Each claimed to represent the Third International in the USA. An agreement on unification worked out by the ECCI broke down early in 1920, and two delegations were accepted into the Second Congress of the CI. After the Congress had begun, a further delegate arrived, representing a unified body, which had, however, split again. Only in May 1921 did a final unification take place.

The following telegram has reached us from the International Socialist League of South Africa:

At the Annual Congress of the International Socialist League of South Africa, which took place on January 4, 1920 in Johannesburg, it was unanimously decided to affiliate to the Communist International. I entered into communication with the Socialist Labour Party of England and through their mediation with Comrade Rutgers of the Amsterdam Bureau, who advised me to send you this application for entry through his mediation. Herewith a resolution and decisions that will convince you that our policies are in complete agreement with those of the Communist Parties of Europe and the whole world. We will be glad to give further information in reply to your questions. [Applause]

Serrati: The various national delegations are asked to decide their members for the Commissions.

The Bureau has proposed to form a Commission to check credentials. That is Comrades Rosmer, Meyer, Bombacci, Bukharin, Radek and Rudnyansky.

The proposal is accepted by the Congress. The discussion on the role of the Communist Party in the proletarian revolution is continued.

Reed: I ask that the use of the English language should also be officially permitted by the Congress. The number of comrades with a command of the English language is larger than the number of comrades who speak other languages. We were promised an English interpreter, but we have not seen one.

Serrati: We will try to satisfy Comrade Reed as far as the interpreter is concerned. But as has already been explained to the comrade on several occasions, the Bureau cannot accept Reed’s proposal that the use of English as an official language should be permitted.

Balabanova: Comrade Reed, this is the third time you have raised this proposal. The question has already been decided.

Zinoviev: Comrades, I must report to you on the work of the Commission that we elected yesterday. The Commission consisted of the representatives of eight countries: Germany, Russia, France, England, America, Italy, Holland and Bulgaria. The representatives of the shop stewards’ movement and the revolutionary syndicalists were also present. I am delighted to be able to tell you that the resolution was adopted unanimously. [Applause]


I shall tell you the alterations upon which the Commission decided, and must warn you in advance that the stylistic work still has to be done. The Commission elected a small editorial commission of three who have, however, not been able to complete their work. That is a matter of purely stylistic alterations.

The Commission has first of all decided another Introduction to the Theses, since the Introduction was written before the Congress and we now want to formulate it differently. The new Introduction is to read as follows. [Comrade Zinoviev reads out the new Introduction]

We have decided the third Thesis, which deals with the confusion of the concepts party and class, and in which exclusively Russian examples were quoted, to quote a whole series of parallel examples from the workers’ movement of different countries.

Paragraph five deals with our differences of opinion with the revolutionary syndicalists and the supporters of the IWW. This paragraph was also adopted unanimously. It was decided to insert two more sentences. The first is intended to point out that for us not the general strike but the armed uprising is the ultimate means. And this is one more reason for us to have a rigidly disciplined party.

It seems to us that many comrades from the ranks of the revolutionary syndicalists, the IWW and perhaps even of the shop stewards'

movement underestimate the significance of a rigidly disciplined party because many of them imagine that the folded-arms tactic, the general strike, is what comes into question as our ultimate method of fighting. This is not the case.

Our most extreme method of fighting is the armed uprising, and precisely that requires the organisation of revolutionary force, a military organisation and for that reason a centralised party.

And we have decided to insert that once more to make it comprehensible for any worker who is a revolutionary syndicalist.

The best section of the syndicalists has always declared that the role of the revolutionary minority (la minorité initiative) is very large in the revolution. This is very true. We take them at their word and say that, since it is true, they should grasp that a revolutionary minority that is Communist-minded is precisely a Communist Party. This argument is therefore also inserted.

Then the Commission spoke a considerable extent about paragraph six, which was also criticised on many sides yesterday. Paragraph six deals with the question of our relationship to non-party organisations. In order to avoid misunderstandings we decided not to use the word ‘non-partisan’ but to put the expression ‘non-party’ in its place. But that is only a stylistic alteration. The discussion in the commission showed us that this is a very important point on which we will have to reach somewhat deeper-going agreement.

Several comrades thought that this was a question of neutral trades unions. That is not the case. We are decisively against the neutrality of the trades unions and declare that it is simply impossible. We are dealing with something completely different here.

We need a rigidly disciplined party. But we also need a party that always has contact with the masses. The most important thing that we have to say to the Communists of every country is that at every stage of the struggle they must have close contact with the masses of workers, which can be achieved in many ways, by way of co-operation with non-partisan, non-party organisations, groups and conferences. A few examples will show best what we have in mind here.

In Britain the organisation called ‘Hands Off Russia’, which is winning a great deal of influence, is making itself felt. This is a non-party movement that has nonetheless laid hold of the masses. In our opinion the Communists should unquestionably take part in such a movement. They should play the leading role in it and give this movement its direction. Also national and international conferences of the ‘Victims and Invalids of the World War’ have recently been called. We are dealing here with millions of people who are organising themselves, even if only temporarily, on this basis. Should the Communists stand aside here? On the contrary! We must influence these organisations.

A third example, which we take from Austria, is the housing question. It is becoming very acute in Vienna and the workers are becoming very agitated. We have in Vienna a workers’ council which, however, is in the hands of the social patriots. The social patriots do not wish to meet the workers’ needs. Great agitation therefore reigns in Vienna and other towns, and perhaps temporary loose organisations of proletarian tenants could arise. Should the Communists stand aside here? Not at all. Although we have a Communist Party organisation in Vienna, we should and must support such a non-party alliance and guide it in order thus to lead people to communism.

And now an example from the Russian revolution. Our party is reasonably strong, yet nevertheless we organise conferences of non-party workers and even non-party peasants. These conferences have great importance for us. There are groups of workers who say with pride: We are not party members. We take such a worker at his word and say to him: you are not a party member, but you are a proletarian. We want to organise a conference of all the non-party members in this factory or in this district or of the town. Do you want to take part in such a conference? He says yes. Such a conference takes place. What questions will it deal with? The most acute questions, the food question, the question of the Polish war, the debt question, and so forth. Should we stand aside there? Not at all. We go into such a conference, we take part in it, we organise the communist nucleus for it and thus we lead into our Party today masses of workers who yesterday were non-party. This is one of the best kinds of contact with the masses. These conferences are loose organisations, perhaps semi-organisations, although they enjoy great privileges here by reason of our decrees. They can for example elect Inspectors who have the same rights as state Inspectors in many matters. It can perhaps be organised in other ways, but this example is very important. We recommend this Thesis to the attention of those Parties which, like the American and the British Party and some others are still very young and still unfortunately have very little contact with the masses. It is very important to grasp that a much closer contact with the workers and the poor peasants can be achieved in this way. We think that there is still a great deal to be done in this respect in every country, even in Germany, in order to take up not only the best but also the broadest layers of the proletariat into the party and to lead them to communism.

Only small changes have been undertaken in the other Theses. For the British and American Comrades it is very important to know that where we speak of the Labourites and say: ‘The Labourites of every kind in Britain and America preach to the workers the creation of formless workers’ organisations instead of political parties’, we have put ‘yellow Labourites’. We are not talking about the shop stewards here but the Hendersons. The yellow Labourites spread opposition to party-building or they form vague parliamentary-political associations, as we put it. The Labour Party is precisely such a vague association. At least, the Hendersons want their party to look like that.

These are the most important alterations that we have carried out. We have decided to deal with McLaine’s addendum separately. He has given his agreement to this. We will deal with the position in the British party, and perhaps that in the American also, in a special Commission, and give the British and American comrades a precise answer on this question.

This is what the work of the Commission looks like, and, as I have emphasised, the Commission accepted the resolution unanimously.

I would like to say a few words about some of the arguments that were raised against my speech yesterday and have not yet been refuted. First of all the objection of the Spanish syndicalist Comrade Pestaña. He says: yes indeed, if there is to be a party at all, then, as it was in France, it will be as the result of the revolution. The Jacobin Party was, after all, only born as the result of the French revolution. Comrade Pestaña meant by this that we should now also proceed in the same way when faced with the proletarian revolution. He raises the perspective of the party only as a result of the revolution. Is that correct? I think not. If it really were so – and it is not – is it then really an argument in favour of posing the question, now in 1920 when we have to fight against a whole world of bourgeois parties armed to the teeth, as if we are only to build a party ‘as the result’ of the revolution? But what do we do during the revolution? Who will organise the best ranks of the workers at the beginning of the revolution? Who will prepare, work out the programme, spread it? I think we must tell every worker, and every revolutionary syndicalist who takes the proletarian revolution seriously – and I know that Comrade Pestaña is one of those comrades who take the cause of the revolution seriously – that the conclusion we draw from this must be that we do not wait for the revolution to come and surprise us, and for a party to crystallise out as a result, but that we begin to organise the Party now, without wasting a single hour.

Comrade Pestaña goes on to say that it was not the Communists who made the revolution in Russia, but the people. That is correct. We do not at all want to deny that the people made the revolution, if you can talk of ‘making’ revolutions. But the Communist Party is the best section of the working people, no more, but no less. And that is no small thing, to be an organised nucleus, that precedes the masses of the people, collects the best people round it, and leads the masses of the workers forward.

I would also like to say something about the ‘autonomy’ that was discussed yesterday. We heard from various sides yesterday that the decision on this or that question should be left to the parties of the countries in question and that their autonomy should not be tampered with. I think these are the echoes of the kind of autonomy the Second International propagated. We must say this openly. Of course there must be a certain autonomy for every party, there can be no objection to that. But there is autonomy and autonomy. We know that the revisionists adopted the slogan of autonomy fifteen years ago and that they always press this line, not only on an international scale but within their own party, where they say that every town, Berlin, Leipzig, must be autonomous. The experience of our Russian revolution teaches us that if we have that conception we do not have a party but a number of parties. It is like that in France now. People there say ‘the Paris party’ or ‘the Lyons party’, and so on. That is the technical expression. That is autonomy in the sense handed down by the Second International We do not need a party in which every town is ‘autonomous’, we need a party that is centralised on a national as well as an international scale.

I know very well that if we now create statutes for the Communist International that are based on the principles of centralism, this does not mean that we already have a uniform revolutionary International. We still have to fight for that. And it goes without saying that sometimes you have no choice but to submit. It is often better to submit to the common whole and to make mistakes than it is to introduce the kind of ‘autonomy’ that means splitting the working class. In the statutes of the First International Marx said: if we remain wage slaves, if the struggle of the working class has remained unsuccessful so long, it is because we are so disunited, because the workers do not understand that we must have a united organisation. During the last fifty years a whole historical epoch has passed. The imperialist war has shown us, and every worker understands today, that the fate of the working class in each country is bound up with the fate of the working class of all countries. The war has shown us that only too vividly. It is a matter now of drawing the correct conclusions and persuading the masses so that they understand that such a centralised international organisation is needed.

The unanimous acceptance of the resolution that expresses the historical significance of the role of the Communist Party in the proletarian revolution, the unanimity which we shall, I hope, achieve at the Congress itself, is of great historical importance. Socialism has been through a terrible crisis. There is ferment everywhere. There are various groups in every country; the workers are seeking the correct path. We must not persecute the workers who are not yet completely with us, as the Second International did, we must not laugh them out of court as soon as leftward tendencies become noticeable, as happened in the Second International. On the contrary, we must take such comrades into our ranks, study the questions with them, discuss with them, and uncover their mistakes so that they can be cured of them. This fact is the best proof that the Communist International is a viable organism. This is precisely its essence, that it embraces all the revolutionary elements of the working class, whether yesterday they were syndicalists, whether they belonged to the shop stewards movement, as long as they are comrades who understand what revolutionary struggle means, who are for the dictatorship and who have shown that they want to fight together with us. They must be in our ranks. Then they will become clearer on every question as each day passes.

If we carry out these guidelines in our daily lives and turn every word into deeds, that will mean that we are finally starting to build a really international, united Communist Party, and that is what we ought to be. We should be one single Communist Party with departments in different countries. [Applause] That should be the meaning of the Communist International. When the Russian Communists, who were the first to do so, changed their name from Social Democrats to Communists, someone among us suggested that we should not call ourselves the Communist Party of Russia, but simply the Communist Party. We ought to be a single party that has its sections in Russia, in Germany, in France and so on, a party that proceeds completely consciously and systematically. Only then will we achieve the concentration of our forces, only under these preconditions will every group of the international working class at any given moment always have the highest possible support of other countries. We must say this clearly and distinctly to the comrades.

Now there is still in the Communist International, within the parties affiliated to us, a foreign body that does not belong to us. I mean the reformists. We say that in every speech and will go on repeating it until an end has been put to it. At the beginning of the imperialist war the phrase was coined: The enemy is at home. That meant the bourgeoisie. As long as we still tolerate a reformist wing in a party that calls itself Communist, as for example the Italian Party, as long as we have complete reformists, that is to say bourgeois ideologists, in our ranks, we must sound the alarm and declare that the enemy is at home. [Applause]

That is why we say to the Italian comrades: Your enemy is at home, you must drive him out.

Since we are on our way to victory the reformists want to sneak into our ranks. They have a good nose, these gentlemen. They can smell their defeat, and when you throw them out of the window they come back in through the door. [Applause] Often they sign our resolutions and remain as they were. They remain reformists, they remain champions of the cause of the bourgeoisie in the camp of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie only exists today with the help of the social patriots, who do not understand that the bourgeois class is our enemy. The bourgeoisie could not last six months if it did not have these social-patriotic gentlemen, if we did not have the yellow International in Amsterdam, if we did not have people who sit in the workers’ parties and the trades unions to sabotage our struggle.

An ordinary worker from Helsinki in Finland who worked illegally under the White terror in Finland for a year and a half recently told me how difficult the struggle is there and how, nevertheless, the Finnish workers organise. At the same time he said that at home every ordinary revolutionary worker knew that when the time came the first job would be to break with the White social democrats and the second job would be to settle accounts with the traitors. [Great applause] The bourgeoisie will have its turn soon enough, their hour will strike. But first of all we must settle accounts with these traitors to the working class who bear the guilt for the fact that thousands of our comrades were slaughtered and that the White terror rages everywhere.

This Finnish worker’s simple feelings are true political reality, unlike the results of the bad diplomacy of some of our worthy comrades. Twenty-five years ago Turati wrote a good workers’ anthem, and even today he is probably a good father, but should we for that reason let this saboteur of the proletarian party into the party? Perhaps Hilferding will again he so good as to admit that the bourgeoisie must be thrown out. Should we therefore entrust to this treacherous social Patriot and social pacifist the editorship of our organ?

No. It is not good enough. It is the simple Finnish worker who is right, who has grasped the situation very well after everything he has suffered in his own person during these terrible years. We want to tell our comrades openly and clearly, although it is perhaps very tragic for many an old comrade who has to break with old friends, there is nothing to be done about it; a new epoch in history has begun. To this best part of the old leadership we say that you must understand that a new epoch has dawned. You must say: ‘We were mistaken, we are coming to join you, we want to lead the proletarian revolution onwards with you now.'

That would be the significance of a unanimous acceptance of the Theses on the important role of the Communist Party in the coming, growing, approaching proletarian revolution.

Great applause. Break.