Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International: Theses

Theses on the Conditions under which Workers' Soviets may be Formed

1. The Soviets of Workers’ Deputies appeared for the first time in Russia in 1905, at a time when the revolutionary movement of Russian workers was at its height. Already in 1905, the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was taking the first instinctive steps towards the seizure of power. And at that time the Petrograd Soviet was strong only in so far as it had a chance of acquiring political power. As soon as the imperial counter-revolution rallied its forces and the labour movement slackened, the Soviet, after a short period of stagnation, ceased to exist.

2. When in 1,916, at the beginning of a new strong revolutionary wave, the idea began to awaken in Russia of the immediate organisation of Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, the Bolshevik Party warned the workers against the immediate formation of Soviets, and pointed out that such a formation would be well-timed only at the moment when the revolution was already beginning, and when the time had come for a direct struggle for power.

3 At the beginning of the February revolution of 1917, when the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies were transformed into Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, they drew into the sphere of their influence the widest circles of the masses, and at once acquired a tremendous authority, because the real force was on their side, in their hands. But when the liberal bourgeoisie recovered from the suddenness of the first revolutionary blows, and when the social traitors, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, helped the Russian bourgeoisie to take the power into its hands, the importance of the Soviets began to dwindle. Only after the July days and after the failure of Kornilov’s counter-revolutionary campaign, when the masses began to move, and when the collapse of the counter-revolutionary bourgeois coalition government became acute, did the Soviets begin to flourish again, and soon acquired a decisive importance in the country.

4. The history of the German and the Austrian revolutions shows the same. When the popular masses revolted, when the revolutionary wave rose so high that it washed away the strongholds of the monarchies of the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs, in Germany and in Austria the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies were formed with all the power of a force of nature. At first the real force was on their side, and the Soviets were well on the way to become the de facto power. But as soon as, owing to a whole series of historical conditions, the power began to pass to the bourgeoisie and the counter-revolutionary Social-Democrats, the Soviets began to decline and dwindled away to nothing. During the days of the unsuccessful counter-revolutionary revolt of Kapp-Luttwitz in Germany, the Soviets again resumed their activity, but when the struggle ended in the victory of the bourgeoisie and the social-traitors, the Soviets, which had just begun to revive, once more died away.

5. The above facts prove that for the formation of Soviets certain definite premises are required. To organise Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, and transform them into Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the following conditions are necessary.

(a) A great revolutionary impulse among the widest circles of workmen and workwomen, the soldiers and workers in general;

(b) An acute political and economic crisis, attaining such a degree that the power begins to slip out of the hands of the government;

(c) When, in the ranks of considerable masses of workers, and first of all in the ranks of the Communist Party, a serious decision to begin a systematic and regular struggle for the power has become ripe.

6. In the absence of these conditions, the Communists may and should systematically and insistently propagate the idea of Soviets, popularise it among the masses, demonstrate to the widest circles of the population that the Soviets are the only efficient form of Government during the transition to complete Communism. But to proceed to the direct organisation of Soviets in the absence of the above three conditions is impossible.

7. The attempt of the social traitors in Germany to introduce the Soviets into the general bourgeois-democratic constitutional system, is treason to the workers’ cause and deception of the workers. Real Soviets are possible only as a form of state organisation, replacing bourgeois democracy, breaking it up and replacing it by the dictatorship of the proletariat.

8. The propaganda of the Right leaders of the Independents (Hilferding, Kautsky and others), intended to prove the compatibility of the ‘Soviet system’ with the bourgeois Constituent Assembly, is either a complete misunderstanding of the laws of development of a proletarian revolution, or a conscious deception of the working class. The Soviets are the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Constituent Assembly is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. To unite and reconcile the dictatorship of the working class with that of the bourgeoisie is impossible.

9. The propaganda of some representatives of the Left Independents in Germany presenting the workers with a ready-made formal plan of a ‘Soviet system’, having no relation whatever to the concrete process of civil war. is a doctrinaire pastime which diverts the workers from their essential tasks in the real struggle for power.

10. The attempts of separate Communist groups in France, Italy, America and England to form Soviets not embracing the larger working masses, and unable, therefore, to enter into a direct struggle for power, are only prejudicial to the actual preparation of a Soviet revolution. Such artificial hot-house ‘Soviets’ soon become transformed, at best, into small associations for propaganda of the Soviet idea, and in the worst case such miserable ‘Soviets’ are capable only of compromising the Soviet idea in the eyes of the popular masses.

11. At the present time there exists a special situation in Austria, where the working class has succeeded in preserving its Soviets, which unite large masses of workers. Here the situation resembles the period between February and October, 1917, in Russia. The Soviets in Austria represent a considerable political force, and appear to be the embryo of a new power.

It must be understood that in such a situation the Communists ought to participate in these Soviets, help them penetrate into all phases of the social, economic and political life of the country; they should create Communist factions within these Soviets, and by all means aid their development.

12. Soviets without a revolution are impossible. Soviets without a proletarian revolution inevitably become a parody of Soviets. The authentic Soviets of the masses are the historically-elaborated forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat. All sincere and serious partisans of Soviet power should deal cautiously with the idea of Soviets, and while indefatigably propagating it among the masses, should proceed to the direct realisation of such Soviets only under the conditions mentioned above.