Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 1034-40
Translation: Translation team organized by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission
The Third Congress of the Communist International is over. The great army of the world Communist proletariat has passed on review. This has shown that communism, in the course of the past year, has grown into a force able to move the masses and threaten capitalism in a number of countries where previously it was still in its beginnings. At its founding congress, the Communist International, outside of Russia, was made up only of small groups. At its Second Congress last year, it was still seeking the path that would lead to mass parties. Today, not only in Russia, but in Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Italy, France, Norway, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria, broad masses have rallied to the banner of its parties.
The Third Congress calls on Communists in every country to continue down this path and to make every effort to gather many more millions of working men and women in the ranks of the Communist International. For the power of capitalism can be broken only if the idea of communism takes shape in the impetuous upsurge of the proletariat’s large majority, led by mass Communist parties, which forge indissoluble ties to the fighting proletarian class. ‘To the masses!’ – that is the call to struggle that the Third Congress transmits to Communists around the world.
These masses are coming to us, flocking to us. World capitalism is showing them more and more clearly and obviously that it can eke out its existence only while it increasingly ruins the entire world, while imposing on the masses increasing chaos, hardship, and slavery. For years, the bourgeois class and the Social Democratic lackeys of capitalism have cried out to the workers, ‘Work! Work!’ Now this cry is heard no more. The global economic crisis has thrown millions of workers onto the streets, and the cry for work is now a fighting slogan of the working class. And it will be achieved only on the ruins of capitalism, when the proletariat takes control of the means of production it has itself created.
The capitalist world stands on the edge of the abyss of war. The conflicts between the United States and Japan, Britain and the United States, Britain and France, France and Germany, Poland and Germany, the conflicts in the Near and Far East: all this is driving the capitalists to increased armaments. Alarmed, the capitalists face the question, ‘Is Europe once again taking the path to world war?’ It is not the prospect of the slaughter of millions that frightens them. Even after the War, through their blockade of Russia, they cold-bloodedly delivered over millions of people to death by starvation. What they fear is that a new war would drive the masses once and for all into the arms of world revolution, that this war would bring the final uprising of the world proletariat.
Just as before the World War, they are trying to bring about an easing of tensions through diplomatic manoeuvres. But moves to decrease tensions at one point only increase them at another. The negotiations between Britain and the United States on restricting the two countries’ naval armaments necessarily align them against Japan. The French-British rapprochement delivers Germany over to France, while handing Turkey to the British. The efforts by world capitalism to create some kind of order amidst growing world chaos results not in peace but growing unrest, growing enslavement of the defeated peoples by the victorious capitalists.
World capitalism’s newspapers now speak of global political détente and calm, because the German bourgeoisie has submitted to the Allies’ ultimatum and, in order to preserve its power, has delivered the German people over to the hyenas of the Paris and London stock markets. But the financial press is also full of reports of mounting economic collapse in Germany, of the unheard-of taxes that will rain down this autumn on the masses, already beset by unemployment, making every bit of food and every scrap of clothing enormously more expensive.
The Communist International bases its policies on a calm and objective examination of the world situation. Only by carefully observing the field of battle, only through sober understanding, can the proletariat achieve victory. In this spirit, the Communist International tells proletarians around the world that capitalism has so far shown itself to be incapable of providing the world with even the degree of stability that existed before the last war. For what it is doing now cannot bring consolidation or stability; it can only prolong your suffering and prolong capitalism’s death agony. The world revolution is marching forward. Everywhere the foundations of world capitalism are trembling. The second call that the world congress of the Communist International addresses to proletarians around the world is: ‘We are moving toward new, great struggles! Prepare for new battles!’
The world bourgeoisie is incapable of guaranteeing that workers receive jobs, bread, housing, and clothing, but it displays great capacity in organising war against the world proletariat. It has overcome its initial and deep disorientation and its deep fear of the workers returning from war. It has succeeded in herding them back once more into the factories and has suppressed their initial uprisings. It has been able to prolong its alliance with the Social Democratic and trade-union leaders, who betrayed the workers and thus split the proletariat. It has bent every effort to organise White Guard contingents against the workers and to disarm the proletariat.
Armed to the teeth, the world bourgeoisie stands ready not only to beat back every proletarian uprising, arms in hand, but when necessary to provoke premature uprisings, when the proletariat is still preparing for struggle, and crush them, before the proletariat has established a united and invincible fighting front. Against this strategy of the world bourgeoisie, the Communist International must counterpose its own strategy. In opposing the moneybags of capitalism, who sic their armed bandits against the organised proletariat, the Communist International has an unfailing weapon: the mass of proletarians joined in a single unified front.
If millions and millions move into struggle, with ranks closed, the bourgeoisie’s tricks will fail and its violence will be impotent. The railway trains on which the bourgeoisie wishes to send its White Guard troops against the proletariat will stop rolling. Portions of the White Guard will be gripped by panic. The proletariat will seize their weapons and use them to fight against other White Guard formations. If the proletariat succeeds in entering struggle in unity, capitalism and the world bourgeoisie lose the most important precondition for struggle, namely their hope of victory – which they have only regained thanks to the betrayal by social democracy and the splintering of the working masses. The road to victory over world capitalism passes through winning over the hearts of the working-class majority.
The Third World Congress of the Communist International calls on Communist parties in every country and Communists in the trade unions to apply all their strength to freeing the broad working masses from the influence of the Social Democratic parties and the traitors of the trade-union bureaucracy. In this difficult time, in which each day brings the working masses new hardships, such a goal can be achieved only if Communists in every country show that they are vanguard fighters for the everyday needs of the working class. They must lead the struggle to lighten the increasingly unbearable burdens that capitalism loads on the backs of the working masses. The task is to show the greatest possible number of workers that only the Communists are struggling to improve their conditions, while the Social Democrats and the reactionary trade-union bureaucrats, rather than take up the struggle, are quite willing to see the proletarians die of hunger.
The betrayers of the proletariat and the agents of the bourgeoisie will not be defeated through theoretical debates about democracy and dictatorship. Rather, they will be defeated by taking up the questions of bread, of wages, of the workers’ clothing and the workers’ housing. And the first and most important field of struggle in which they must be defeated is that of the trade-union movement, in the struggle against the Amsterdam trade-union International and for the red trade-union International. This is a struggle to seize the enemy fortresses planted in our own camp. It is a struggle to form a front of struggle against which world capitalism can only fail. Keep your organisations free from centrist currents and build their will to struggle!
Only in the struggle for the most basic essentials of life of the working masses can we establish the unified front of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie and end the splintering of the proletariat, which alone enables the bourgeoisie to continue to exist. But this proletarian front will be strong and militant only if it is held together by Communist parties, unified and strong in spirit and iron in their discipline. The Third World Congress of the Communist International turns to Communists everywhere with the call, ‘To the masses!’ and ‘Establish the unified proletarian front!’. But at the same time it also tells them, ‘Keep your ranks free from forces capable of disrupting the militant spirit and discipline of the world proletariat’s shock troops, the Communist parties.’
The congress of the Communist International approves the expulsion of the Socialist Party of Italy until such a time as it breaks with the reformists and expels them from its ranks. In this decision, the congress expresses its conviction that in order to lead millions and millions of workers into battle, the Communist International must free its ranks from reformists, whose goal is not a victorious proletarian revolution but reconciliation with capitalism and its reform. Armies that tolerate leaders seeking reconciliation with their opponents will be betrayed and sold out to the enemy.
The Communist International also turned its attention to the fact that a number of parties that have expelled the reformists still contain currents that have not definitively overcome reformism’s spirit. If they are not seeking reconciliation with the enemy, nonetheless these currents’ agitation and propaganda does not prepare the struggle against capitalism energetically enough. They do not pursue with sufficient vigour and determination the work of winning the masses to revolution. Parties that are not capable in their daily activity of breathing the revolutionary spirit of the masses, of working with passion to strengthen the will to struggle of the impetuous masses – such parties will let favourable opportunities for struggle pass them by. They will allow spontaneous proletarian struggles to fizzle out, as was the case with the factory occupations in Italy and the December strike in Czechoslovakia.
The Communist parties must develop a fighting spirit. They must train themselves to be a staff capable of quickly assessing favourable situations for struggle. When there is a spontaneous movement of the proletariat, their prudent and courageous leadership of the struggle must gain every particle of advantage that is to be gained. ‘Be the vanguard of the working masses moving into struggle; be their heart and their brain!’ That is the call of the Communist International’s Third Congress to the Communist parties. Being a vanguard means marching at the head of the masses, as their bravest, most far-sighted, and most level-headed component. Building such a vanguard is the only way these parties can be capable of establishing the proletariat’s unified front and, what is more, leading it to victory over the enemy.
The enemy is strong because he has ruled for centuries, and this has bred in him an awareness of his power and a determination to retain it. The enemy is strong because he has learned over centuries how to split the proletarian masses, hold them down, and vanquish them. The enemy knows how to wage civil war victoriously. The Third World Congress of the Communist International therefore warns Communist parties everywhere to keep in mind the danger lodged in the fully developed strategy of the ruling and possessing class and the deficient, still only emerging strategy of the working class struggling for power.
The March events in Germany revealed a great danger: that the front ranks of the working class, the Communist vanguard of the proletariat, may be forced by the enemy into battle before the broad masses of proletarians have mobilised. The Communist International rejoiced that hundreds of thousands of workers across all of Germany, indeed, around the world, hurried to assist the Central German workers who were under attack. For the Communist International, the spirit of solidarity displayed in the uprising of proletarians across the country represents the path to victory. The Communist International welcomed the fact that the United Communist Party of Germany took the leadership of the working masses who rushed to defend their endangered brothers.
But the Communist International also has the duty to tell workers everywhere frankly and emphatically: Even when the vanguard is not in a position to avoid a struggle, and this struggle has the potential to hasten the mobilisation of the entire working class, the vanguard must still not forget that it must not be drawn into any decisive struggle when it is alone and isolated. When the vanguard of the proletarian army is forced into battle in isolation, it must avoid an armed confrontation with the enemy. For only the masses can enable the proletariat to triumph over the armed White Guards. If the overwhelming majority does not mobilise, the vanguard must not confront the armed foe as an unarmed minority.
The March struggles also offer us another lesson that the Communist International brings to the attention of the world proletariat. The broad masses of workers must be prepared for the coming struggles through ongoing, increasingly intense, and extensive daily revolutionary agitation. Struggles must be begun with slogans that the broad masses of proletarians can grasp and understand. Against the strategy of the enemy, we must counterpose a superior and intelligent strategy of the proletariat. The vanguard’s will to struggle, courage, and determination is not enough. The struggle must be prepared and organised in a fashion that engages the broad masses. They must see it as a struggle for their vital interests and mobilise for it.
As world capitalism becomes more and more imperilled, it will increasingly seek to thwart the future victory of the Communist International by striking at its front ranks without engaging the broad masses. This dangerous plan must be countered by comprehensive agitation by the Communist parties to arouse the masses, energetic organisational work to consolidate their influence on the broad masses, and sober evaluation of the field of battle. This enables us to adopt effective tactics: avoiding battle when the enemy forces are superior and attacking when the enemy is divided and the masses are united.
The Third World Congress of the Communist International is well aware that only experience in the struggle will enable the working class to develop Communist parties capable of attacking the enemy with lightning speed, when he is vulnerable, and evading him, when he has the upper hand. That is why proletarians everywhere have to gather all the lessons learned at great cost by the working class in each country, studying and making good use of these lessons internationally.
The working class and the Communist parties of every country must prepare not for a period of quiet agitation and organisation but for major struggles that capitalism will impose on the proletariat, aiming to defeat workers and burden them with all the costs of capitalist policies. In this struggle, the Communist parties must develop strict discipline in struggle. Their party leaderships must soberly and thoughtfully weigh the lessons of struggle, carefully survey the field of battle, and unite bold plans with cold calculation. They must forge their tactical plans for battle through intellectual labour by the entire party, taking into account criticisms from the membership. But all party units must unhesitatingly carry out the line of the party. Every word and deed of every party unit must be directed to this goal. The parliamentary fractions, the party’s publications, and the party’s organisations must unwaveringly carry out the orders of the party leadership.
The world review of the Communist vanguard is over. It has shown that communism is a world force. It has shown that the Communist International still has to form and build great proletarian armies. It has shown that great battles await these armies, and that we intend to triumph in these battles. It has shown the world proletariat how to prepare for victory and how to achieve it.
It is now the task of Communist parties in all countries to enable these decisions, representing the experiences of the world proletariat, to become the common understanding of Communists everywhere, so that Communist proletarian men and women can be effective as leaders of hundreds of thousands of non-Communist proletarians in the coming struggles.
Long live the Communist International!
Long live the world revolution!
Onward to the work of preparing and organising our victory!
The Executive of the Communist International: Germany: Heckert, Frölich. France: Souvarine. Czechoslovakia: Burian, Kreibich. Italy: Terracini, Gennari. Russia: Zinoviev, Bukharin, Radek, Lenin, Trotsky. Ukraine: Shumsky. Poland: Warski. Bulgaria: Popov. Yugoslavia: Marković. Norway: Schefflo. Britain: Bell. United States: Baldwin. Spain: Merino-Gracia. Finland: Sirola. Netherlands: Jansen. Belgium: van Overstraeten. Sweden: Kilbom. Latvia: Stuchka. Switzerland: Arnold. Austria: Koritschoner. Hungary: Béla Kun.
The Executive of the Youth International: Münzenberg, Lékai.
Moscow, 17 July 1921.
1. This manifesto was drafted by Trotsky and adopted after the congress by the ECCI.