Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International

Evening Session of August 3

Labor-Achunde Salimov: Esteemed Comrades, we plenipotentiary representatives of Khiva greet you in the name of the toiling poor population of Khiva. The present Second Congress of the Communist International is the symbol of the unification of the toilers of the whole world. Therefore we congratulate you for having the opportunity to join together in this great assembly and we count it to be our especial good fortune to be able to be present here at this happy hour.

Comrades, at the time of the domination of the European capitalists Khiva was stifled by the political and economic yoke of their Tsars and parliaments, for they caused small nations like our own to languish in chains, and only granted freedom to the rich.

At present, with the aid of the Russian Soviet power, we the oppressed have drawn ourselves erect, liberated ourselves from the heavy hand of the oppressor and declared our country an independent Soviet Republic.

We sincerely believe that, with the help of the East which, thanks to the Russian Soviet power, has recently awoken, the toilers of the whole world will in the near future be liberated from the violators and capitalists, and that the peoples of the East will not let fall their weapons until the toilers of the whole world have united into a single family.

Long live the unity of the toilers of the whole world!

Long live the European proletariat and the vanguard of the world revolution, the Communist Party!

Long live the Communist International!

Long live the World Soviet Republic!

Long live the leader of the world revolution, Comrade Lenin, and Comrade Broido, who established the revolution in Khiva!

Long live the Communist Party of Khiva and the Soviet Republic of Khiva!

Walcher: Comrades, the speaker this morning pointed out the important fact that at the beginning of the revolution many of us believed that the trades unions had no tasks to fulfil in the future. He is however wrong if he believes that Comrade Rosa Luxemburg was also one of those who defended this conception. I must establish here that at the founding conference she explicitly turned against those who tried to solve the whole problem with the slogan: ‘leave the trades unions!’ On the matter itself, I would like to say that I am sceptical towards Comrade Radek’s report and the remarks of the following speakers, which indicated that unity in principle had been achieved in the Commission on the questions at issue. So many remarks were made in the Commission that indicate that the comrades in Europe and America are determined to carry out the struggle against the old, ossified trade union bureaucracy by setting up new trades unions and leaving the old ones. Many a remark that was made there breathed the spirit of the KAPD and sounded very familiar to me.

Conditions in England and America are certainly very complicated; but if the English comrades wish to stay in the trades unions and at the same time work in the shop stewards movement, then I cannot grasp why they spoke out against the Theses so sharply and emphatically from the start.

We have already pronounced the principle that Communists have the duty of building communist cells and carrying out propaganda in all organisations. The English comrades therefore have not just the right but the duty, irrespective of their activity in the trades unions, to be active according to our ideas in the shop stewards committees. If they nevertheless fundamentally oppose the Theses, that seems to me to prove that the English and American comrades approach the trade union question just as emotionally as they do the question of parliamentarism. In my opinion we must avoid considering this question emotionally, above all during the revolution. We cannot, as Marxists, ever forget that the trades unions did not become what they are today by some accident, but that we see before us the outcome of a reformist era of decades which gave rise to the trades unions growing together with capitalist society to an increasing degree. The objective revolutionary situation that we have before us today gives us the opportunity to revolutionise the old trades unions. If some comrades have doubts about this possibility, then they are overlooking the fundamental change in the objective situation, which today makes a duty out of what may have seemed utopian before the war. Comrades think that it takes too long, that the way is too hard. But every comrade after all should know precisely this, that we cannot fulfil our task without the millions that are in the trades unions, and that we absolutely must do this laborious work in the trades unions. The slogan ‘leave the unions!’ is an attempt to get round uncomfortable obstacles which does not, unfortunately, abolish them from the world.

I do not understand how those who say that the masses are ripe and that we could conquer the whole world can deny the possibility of winning the minds of the trade union masses. I say this is possible, we can and must do it. It is then further objected: ‘Well, we don’t need the great masses, revolutions are always the work of small minorities.’ I think that when they say this the comrades are thinking of a palace revolution like the one in Portugal or elsewhere. A revolution like the one we have to carry out can only be the work of the great masses.

It will be said: ‘Yes, the masses are ripe, but the leaders are to blame.’ This conception results in the assumption: ‘The thing to do is to remove the leaders, and everything is well’. The whole tactics of the German Independents in the trades unions is based on placing their supporters in individual leading positions. In the process revolutionary activity in the masses themselves is neglected. The Wolffheims and the Rühles on the other hand say: ‘Even if the bureaucracy were to be removed, nothing would in fact be changed’. The English comrades, too, argue the same way in their Theses.

That is a remarkable contradiction. On the one hand, the leaders are to blame, and on the other, it is unimportant whether the leaders are there or not. In Germany the Wolffheim-Rühles have put it to a practical test. It is our duty to warn urgently against following in their footsteps. We have had hard struggles on precisely this question, and the split in the KPD had its origins mainly in the attitude towards the trade union question. We have not one, but a hundred, proofs of the fact that the trade union bureaucracy will festively greet the day that the Communists leave their ranks. I personally had to fight for a long time for my membership of the metal workers’ union. We will not give the trade union bureaucracy that pleasure. Our comrades know that would be just like uncoupling the locomotive from a train and driving around with it, but leaving the train itself to its fate. It has also been pointed out very correctly not only in the Theses but also in the speakers’ remarks, that in the trades unions we have not only to carry out communist propaganda, but also to protect all the interests of the working class and to make an energetic stand on every question. Precisely in the trades unions – my own experience has proved this to me – the more selflessly and energetically the communist becomes the champion of all the cares and needs of his colleagues, the more easily he wins the confidence of the masses.

Now I could have wished that what Comrade Radek said about sabotage and passive resistance could have found a place in the Theses. After the experiences that we have had of sabotage as a weapon in the trade union struggles, it seems to me to be very much to the point. There are of course situations in which we are forced to use sabotage; but in general it is unsuitable, and we should warn against its use.

I should like to say a word more about the position of the works councils. The Theses before us say, quite correctly, that the division of labour between the works councils and the trades unions is the result of historical development. But Comrade Radek has said that any attempt to hand the works councils over to the trades unions is counter-revolutionary. In principle this proposition seems to me to be correct. But in the current situation in Germany it is possible for it to give rise to misunderstandings. That is to say, for months past in Germany, the question has to be fought out whether the works councils should be brought together as independent organisations or whether they should be incorporated into the trades unions. The fight was led by the trade union bureaucracy on the one hand and the works’ council centre on the other. We supported the left Independents in their efforts to bring together the works councils as independent organisations, but these efforts have been unsuccessful until now, for reasons that I do not wish to go into here. I will only say that it is the case in this fight, and that it was previously the case, that one half of the USPI) stood on one side and the other half stood on the other side, that they cancelled each other out, and that what it came down to in practice was that the trades unions, leaning on the right wing of the USPD, were able to impose their views.

Now the fight can be considered as closed, and we can say that Legien emerged as the provisional victor from it, for the trade union federation of the old German trades unions adopted its guidelines unanimously, and it has already been announced that a national congress of works councils is to take place shortly. Our comrades are prepared to participate in it and to carry on the fight against Legien in this arena. The Legiens aim to make the works councils into organs of the collaborationist Arbeitsgemeinschaft, but we are certain that they will not succeed. We will try to stop them by rigidly holding together our comrades everywhere, by bringing our comrades in the works councils too together in factions. And if they make themselves the attorneys for all the needs that arise for the working class out of the decay of the capitalist order, then we are certain that we will succeed in turning the works councils and trades unions into organs which will quite consciously direct their impetus against capitalist society and will consciously stand up for Communism.

Nicola Bombacci

Bombacci: I should like to say a few words about why I cannot accept Comrade Radek’s Theses. Nothing that has been said here corresponds either with the historical development of the trades unions or with the historical movement in general. I fear – and, moreover, I would like you to direct your eyes to Western Europe that in Radek’s Theses one can see a danger that the trades unions must replace the Party. I emphasise that the thought is clear enough to me not to conceive the sense of the Theses in such a way that the Party is to be replaced by the trades unions without further ado. But the tendency is such. I absolutely dispute that the trades unions have any revolutionary functions at all. I refer to the examples of America and Western Europe. Especially in Russia, although one has a trade union movement there, it has not fulfilled a revolutionary function. It was a sort of intermediary between the working class and the bourgeoisie, and therefore it would be a mistake to ascribe any revolutionary role to the trades unions, and it would be all the less permissible to give the trades unions the opportunity to replace the Party.

I would like to say that the trades unions also provide a rostrum for propaganda. In parliament this propaganda is limited to turning towards a certain number of people, while in the trades unions it turns to the whole working class. During the war a new tendency arose in Italy which wants to found a new party out of the trades unions. In Germany too, during the Kapp days, the trades unions said: ‘If power is handed to us, we will exercise that power on behalf of the trades unions.’ In all these manifestations I see a dangerous symptom. In Italy too there is talk of setting up a labour party. That is not the task of the trades unions. The trades unions should not be permitted to exercise political functions. The trades unions have carried out reformist political functions. The trades unions have carried out reformist activity, and they are not equal to revolutionary tasks. I should like to draw the attention of the English and American comrades to this danger. I refer to Italian experiences, where the attempt was made to unite the various movements, but where this did not succeed.

What does the Communist Party face in the trades unions? The example of Italy shows that some of the trades unions were syndicalist and some were reformist. It is a question, above all, in the trades unions of replacing the opportunist leaders with Communists, so that the leadership in the trades unions too is a communist one. To the trades unions themselves I should not like to ascribe any political role.

Lozovsky: Comrades, the question of the trades unions and their significance for the resolution that we are considering is extremely important, not only for this Congress, but also in the struggle that is now being played out in every country.

In my opinion many of the comrades who have spoken on the trade union movement are labouring under a great error, since they consider the trade union movement from a false standpoint.

Thus, for example, Comrade Bombacci has just spoken about the trade union movement and claimed it is absolutely impossible to win the trades unions, for example in Italy, for the communist movement.

Other comrades, mainly the Americans and the British, have, after testing the trades unions in their countries, also come to quite pessimistic conclusions. They declare that the trade union movement cannot be utilized for the social revolution.

When we pronounce the words ‘trade union’ and ‘trade union movement’ do we understand by that the trades unions themselves or the leaders? If we have only the leaders in mind, then it is clear that it is not they that will form the material for the social revolution. But if we speak of the trades unions and the trade union movement, we want to talk about the masses who are to be found in these organisations. And if the pessimistically-minded comrades inform us that it is absolutely impossible to win the trades unions, and if on the other hand it were true that the trades unions in France and Italy are and win always remain reformist trades unions, then they must tell themselves that the social revolution in these countries is not possible at all, for the modern trade union is not a small organisation, but a mass organisation embracing millions of workers. And if it is true that we cannot win this organisation, then we must despair of the world revolution.

Simultaneously, however, Comrade Bombacci tells us that the revolution is making progress in Italy, and that its realisation is only a question of a few weeks. On the strength of that, I ask him: ‘With whom will you make this revolution? And who will make it? What will the trades unions do in the revolution? What role will they play?’ The comrade must give us an answer to these questions. In any case, it cannot be claimed that one can count on these organisations.

We cannot quote as an example the Russian trades unions, which are scarcely three years old. They were in fact only born in 1917. They are still very young.

If we turn to the old capitalist countries, particularly America or Germany, where the trades unions have existed for a long time, or England, where they have been in existence for a century, we have seen in the course of recent years and months that millions of workers have entered the trades unions and have transformed them.

It is not the leaders who come under consideration here. We have to drive them out. The question is to win the masses. Any tactic that aims to make the most advanced elements of the proletariat leave the trades unions is a reactionary tactic, an admission that we are so weak that we are unable to win the masses.

Comrades, the more difficult the task is, the greater the efforts that have to be made to carry it out. We must go into the trades unions and win them. If we have an already constituted trade union, like the metalworkers’ trade union in Germany, should we build a new one by its side? If, as in England, we have a firmly constituted trade union movement, must we then form a new one?

It can be seen clearly from this that some comrades who appear in their speeches to be revolutionary, in reality propose a reactionary tactic which must be rejected. A communist who understands the situation and hopes and believes that the mass of workers will go hand in hand with the communists, says: ‘Join the trades unions and win them for our cause! That is a major precondition for the conquest of power and the overthrow of the bourgeois state!'

Here arises the question of the works councils, which takes different forms in different countries. I asked a German comrade: ‘How many workers have you organised in these works councils in Germany?’ He answered: ‘We had 17 million.'

There has also been talk here about the shop stewards committees in Britain. These are not factory committees, as in Russia, or works councils, as in Germany. They are groups of workers who are of a like wind who have come together and formed committees that are called shop stewards’ committees. They form communist or revolutionary factions in the works. When people talk to us about shop stewards’ committees, we reply that we are dealing here with quite a special question, since their position has nothing in common with the position of the works councils in Germany and of the factory committees in Russia.

We must reach agreement on this question. If you are trying to tell us that a communist or vanguard faction must be built in the trades unions, then do so. But if you want to organise works councils outside of the trade union committees that embrace all workers, then we reply that you are wrong, to form them outside of the trades unions. Many say: ‘The trades unions are reactionary, therefore a counter-organisation must be set up outside the trades unions.’ No, this organisation must be formed inside the trades unions themselves.

If you form works councils as organisations standing outside the trades unions, you will have the mass of trade union workers against you. But if you organise in the works and the factories works councils that carry out the same work as the trades unions and which, through their work, transform and shake up the trades unions, then through your persistence, your work and your propaganda you will in the end revolutionise the trades unions. That is a result that cannot be achieved by speeches, but by deeds. And these deeds must be carried out by the soviets, by the works councils. Only from this standpoint can the work of the works councils be understood , only in this way can one understand why they must be organised.

Before the October revolution we transformed the factory committees, not by verbal propaganda, but by deeds. We will yet transform the trades unions before the social revolution, for the trades unions must become the organ of this revolution. If we do not win the trades unions before the decisive battle, if we cannot utilise trade union discipline in every country for the social revolution, we will be beaten. These trades unions must he won before the social revolution, so that they can form the basis for the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is the experience that one can draw from the Russian revolution.

A few words more on the international movement. We have discussed The prospects for an international trade union organisation with some American comrades. They said that the organisation that has been created is not sufficiently revolutionary. Here in Moscow we have created the basis for a new organisation.

We have discussed with the English comrades for six days and six nights. Where did our differences of opinion lie? I will tell you. The same comrades that today accuse us of not being revolutionary enough were unwilling to subscribe to the point on the dictatorship of the proletariat. They told us that the state must be overthrown. We asked them, which state? They said the bourgeois state must be overthrown. We told them that we want a revolution but we do not want any ambiguities.

These are the differences of opinion that have prevented the shop stewards’ committees and the IWW from joining in the declaration that we have signed. I hope that this declaration will be adopted in the minutes of the Congress. Signed by the representatives of seven countries, it contains three important sections.

1. We create an organisation now that is directed against the Amsterdam International.

2. This organisation is based on the dictatorship of the proletariat, on the violent overthrow of bourgeois society.

3. The main elements of the vanguard cannot leave the workers’ trades unions, but must win them.

Grigory Zinoviev

Those who feel too weak to fight to win the trades unions do not share this point of view. We, however, believe that the labour movement in every country is progressing with giant steps and driving the workers to the social revolution. It depends on the communists doing all they possibly can to win the trades unions (which today are still opportunistically minded) and utilising trade union discipline for the greater good of the social revolution.

I have not said everything that I wanted to say, but it is about all I could say in the short time I have been given.

Zinoviev: The Presidium proposes to close the discussion and proceed to the vote. There are still 16 speakers on the fist. We have had a main report and two co-reports, which have explained the points of view sufficiently. The Commission has had six sessions of five hours each, and the question has also been gone into sufficiently in the literature.

John Reed

Reed: I have no objection to the list being closed, but I am opposed to a closure of the discussion. The discussion is being closed on purpose in order to avoid a discussion with the English and American delegation on this point. In the Commission sessions, Comrade Radek avoided discussing the trade union question, because there were differences on principle there, and today he has declared that there were no differences present. All this proves that a discussion is necessary, even if it is to last all night, for the matter has not really been discussed at all here.

Karl Radek

Radek: Reed’s speech is not distinguished by excessive fear of distorting the truth. The whole description of the state of affairs in the Commission is an objective untruth. In the Commission we had the following situation: for two sessions we could not get a thought out of Comrade Reed for love or money. Finally Comrade Reed and his comrades produced some theses. In these theses the point of view was developed that trade union organisations must be demolished on principle. He defended in principle the standpoint of the destruction of the trades unions.

Thereupon I declared that there was a difference in principle between his theses and ours. Consequently there did not seem to be any purpose in a point by point discussion. Comrades Murphy and Fraina were also present in the Commission. One could perceive in their remarks a factual content that was not available in Reed’s speeches. Yesterday we had a session on this question. The American and English delegates were of the opinion that we had reached an agreement, that there were no differences on principle. Reed’s standpoint was dropped. Reed personally did not propose a single motion. Even though the other point of view did not exist, the English and American comrades had two co-reporters today. And if after that Reed has the cheek to say that the discussion is being broken off because of fear of the great light of John Reed, then that is impudence. He has time to discuss until tomorrow morning. Other people do not have the time.

MacAlpine: I ask that the discussion should not be closed, but only the speakers’ list. What Radek took two hours to say was reproduced in a translation of twenty minutes. It is very strange that people are so economical with their time here in Russia. I urgently ask for another six or seven hours for the discussion, and that the English-speaking comrades should be given the opportunity to speak out.

Will Gallacher

Gallacher: Radek should stand up for himself here. There was a bad translation in the Commission too. People did not want to give us enough time to discuss the Theses. And we English-speaking comrades have the impression that people just want to push through the Theses. We therefore ask for a discussion to be opened and for Comrade Reed to be given the opportunity to set forth his point of view.

Zinoviev: We have had six sessions of the Commission. All day today we have had discussions in the plenum, and now we are told: ‘You want to shut us up, you do not want to stand up for yourselves, and so on.’ But we do not go on speaking until we collapse. Seven speakers have spoken. Three speakers were from the Anglo-American group, three speakers were supporters of Radek’s Theses, and the seventh speaker was Bombacci, who took up a position that is pretty close to that of the English. The discussion was shared absolutely correctly. The English-speaking comrades had half or more of the speakers. That is why I think that our English friends are wrong to speak so heatedly here. After we have discussed so much, they now declare that we have been disloyal towards them. It is unheard-of to take up such a standpoint after they have been treated in this way. I propose we take a decision to end the discussion.

Tanner: I insist that we are given the right to speak and that the speakers’ list is not closed now. In the Commission we were promised that the question would be discussed exhaustively, since it is one of the most important questions. The Theses, the motions and the proposals before us had not been translated, and the members of the Commission scarcely had the opportunity to take cognisance of them. It took two and a half days to discuss the question of accepting the French socialists and the USPD. And for that reason this question, which is much more valuable, ought to be dealt with in greater detail.

Radek: I have never heard of a group disavowing its own reporters. The Anglo-American group sent forward two reporters. After they have spoken, Tanner comes and says that their arguments were not developed. Does Reed think that one has to take two days over developing his ideas? It is not a question of long discussions here. Reed, after all, is not an independent political party and an independent tendency. The tendency he represents was defended by the Anglo-American reporters. If they did not send Reed forward as a co-reporter, then they have proved that they did not see in him the representative of an independent tendency. They had the opportunity to discuss their standpoint here. It was Fraina and Tanner who spoke on behalf of this group. If it is claimed here that it is not true that Reed demanded withdrawal from the trades unions, then I have here the Theses that he proposed.

In them, it says: ‘The trade union apparatus must be destroyed, just as we must destroy the bourgeois state.'

I do not understand what will be left of the trades unions after the trade union apparatus has been destroyed. Moreover, you should consider the fact that we shall not take any final decisions during today’s session. I shall not make a winding-up speech. The matter will go back to the Commission, since an extension of the discussion is not a resolution of the matter.

Zinoviev: Nobody has asked for the floor. A vote will now be taken. All those in favour of the Bureau’s proposal to break off the discussion and take a vote on the Theses, please raise your hands. Those in favour of closing the discussion, please raise your hands with the red cards. 50 are in favour and 25 against. The discussion is closed. [Reed wants to make a statement.]

We come to the vote on the Theses. If various groups want to make statements on the vote, I shall give them the floor for two minutes.

Reed: On behalf of the American delegates I should like to say that we refuse to vote on these Theses.

Tanner: On behalf of the English delegates I declare that if the bureau does not think the matter is so important, we refuse to participate either in the vote or in the Commission.

Serrati: I declare that I shall vote for Comrade Radek’s Theses. I have not proposed any motions, but I think that they will be important in the life of our organisation. At the next Congress we will see what sort of motions we will propose. The question of the American delegation can be organised in the same way. I do not, it is true, agree completely with Comrade Radek’s thoughts, for I do not think it is possible to change the directives of the AF of L. It is an organisation that has not changed in 25 years and is becoming more and more reactionary. It is impossible to fight against that. I shall however vote for the Theses as they correspond with the line of our Party. And we have always supported them, with the exception of the question of the organisation of the Red Trades Union International. This organisation should not be dependent on the Communist International, but should represent something independent that goes fraternally alongside it.

Radek: I think there is a misunderstanding here. Comrade Serrati did not know that it is a matter here of the final vote, but thought that it was a question of referring motions back to the Commission, as has been done in all other questions, and as I announced.


Wijnkoop: When Radek was speaking I understood that he meant to say that we would vote on these motions and not on his Theses. I am sorry that, after Comrade Radek has introduced the matter in this way, further development is impossible and the discussion is broken off in this way. The way I understood the discussion, comrade Radek himself proposed that a vote should not yet be taken on the Theses. If he had said that the Theses would only be voted on as a basis, then there would be no difference as compared with the procedure that was observed with the other Theses. However, I thought that he was trying to make a difference here. I think that some other members also thought, when they voted to close the discussion, that a session of the Commission would take place here at six o'clock, at which the discussion, which has been rejected here, would be continued. Since, however, the vote is to take place without discussion, I do not think we are in a position to cast our votes on such a question.

Angel Pestana

Pestana: I protest against the incorrect way the discussion is run. Nothing is being translated into French for us. The trade union question is of great importance, indeed, it is the most important question of the Congress. Consequently I shall not vote.

Zinoviev: The question is of voting for the Theses as a basis. The question goes back to the Commission and will be dealt with again there. I should also like to point out that one should be sparing with threats to withdraw from the Congress, firstly because nobody is frightened of threats and secondly because that will not do at a communist Congress.

Maring: Comrades, I believe that this matter can be sorted out. It was done this way with the colonial question, too. The matter was referred back to the Commission. If complete unity had not been achieved there, the Commission would have to have re-appeared before the Congress. Thus, if the Trade Union Commission does not come to complete agreement – and I do not see any possibility of it at the moment – then the question will come back from the Commission to the Congress. If that is the way it goes, I can state my agreement with the agenda proposed.

Zinoviev: We come to the vote. All those in favour of the Theses read out by comrade Radek and in favour of the motions going back to the Commission, and, should no agreement being reached, coming back here once more, please raise your hands. [Vote. ] The proposal is adopted by 64 votes against 13 abstentions. The Bureau has the following proposals to make: We must have an accurate text of all our resolutions. We have four big groups, and we ask the groups in question each to elect a responsible comrade to take the text in hand, to check them, and to produce the final text in all four languages. Tomorrow at 11 o'clock there is a plenary session to deal with the agrarian question, tomorrow afternoon the organisation question.

End of the session.