Nikolai Bukharin
Third Congress of the Communist International

Speech in Discussion of Tactics and Strategy

July 1, 1921

Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (, pp. 508-515
Translation: Translation team organized by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission

Comrades, the comrade who spoke before me, Comrade Malzahn, objected to the tone adopted by Comrade Heckert. However, Malzahn himself spoke in a similar tone. As a result, I am obliged to be as meek as a little lamb. (Laughter) In the present discussion of different positions and problems, in my opinion, we have quite often spoken of things that are truly obvious. So, for example, when Comrade Hempel of the KAPD spoke here of new methods of mass action, that is a quite obvious matter for us here. We discussed this theme in some detail even before the War. It is just as obvious that, as regards what has been said here about offensives in general, even Comrade Lenin recognises that there is no Marxist who could speak against offensives in general. It would therefore be perhaps desirable, to include that sentence by Comrade Lenin in the theses. (Laughter)

Trotsky: But only using the wording of Comrade Lenin: ‘Only asses could believe the contrary.’

Bukharin: In discussing the world situation as a whole, we must keep in mind that it is not at all excluded for the relative temporary equilibrium that seems to prevail in Europe to be suddenly disrupted, and for the situation in this or that country to suddenly change. In this regard, Comrade Lenin spoke of a number of things, and his remarks need to be interpreted somewhat – of course, to be interpreted strictly in the fashion of Lenin. Let me provide some examples.

In the first phase of our revolution, the Central Committee of our party sent instructions to all our agitators to protest against the shameless lies of the bourgeoisie, who claimed that we, the Bolsheviks, were for civil war. Those were our own instructions. And in the situation at that time, these instructions were entirely correct. Now if we take quite a different situation, for example, just before the October Revolution, this sentence and these instructions would be not only completely wrong but completely criminal. At that time, of course, we gave all our agitators instructions to carry out an uprising and engage directly in civil war.

Let us take a second example, which comes from after the winning of political power. During the [1918] Brest-Litovsk Peace, our party and Comrade Lenin, the recognised leader of our party, were for the Brest-Litovsk Peace, as you all know. Later, during the [1920] Polish events, the same Comrade Lenin was for the offensive, for a military policy. That was absolutely correct, of course. These examples show that the tactical line is something that is not fixed but is absolutely in motion, always determined by the specific position, specific conditions, and the specific conditions. If we can grasp that, we will be able to deliver a warning to comrades who find Comrade Lenin’s speech to be undialectical. (Laughter)

We all know very well that the future Executive, however it is composed, must heavily upbraid any party that, under certain circumstances, does not take the offensive. In other words, the general tactical line proposed in the theses by the Russian delegation cannot be used as justification for all conceivable future vacillations committed by opportunist forces inside the Communist Party. (Loud applause)

Now a few words about conditions in Germany. A certain entirely undialectical contradiction exists among the different comrades. On the one hand, it is said that we must study our errors very carefully, and, on the other, that we should talk only of the future. In my opinion that is not a contradiction but an absurdity. We must, should, and will talk about the conditions. Despite the various remarks of Comrade Malzahn, I will say a few words about the Levi affair, because it is by no means a personal matter but concerns a current. And we know very well that there is sill a certain political affinity between certain forces in the German party and Paul Levi. To continue to speak about the March Action now and going forward would be quite strange, since a great deal has been said already. Nonetheless, I would like to analyse certain passages of Levi’s most recent article, passages showing us that Levi has now developed into a quintessential Menshevik.

I will start with the question, ‘sect or party,’ which as you know plays a major role. When we look back on the past and recall what Levi did during the Second Congress, it is clear that during the congress he said that the Communist International should be pure, that it would be a crime against the Communist International to admit syndicalist trade unionists. If we do that – these were his very words – that action will amount to burying the International. (Shouts: ‘Hear, hear!’) That is what Paul Levi said during a session of the Executive. Now he has turned around completely. Now Levi is claiming that we were against mass parties and mass organisations of the proletariat. That is no dialectical contradiction. Rather it means that Levi is seizing hold of any argument in order to break free of the party. In the question of the relationship of masses to leadership, Paul Levi spoke out quite sharply against the KAPD, and rightly so, referring to this group’s lack of understanding of the role of leadership in a mass party. Now, however, an article by Levi expresses solidarity with a group within the Russian party, namely the so-called Workers Opposition, which is the embryo of the tendency that is fully developed in the KAPD.1 This appears in black and white in Levi’s last article. That tells us, once more, that Levi grasps at any tool to destroy the big workers’ party, the Communist Party. (Loud applause)

Let us take a third question, ‘the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat’. For us, this struggle is of course self-evident. Even Levi could not think otherwise. Taking his most recent article, we find the following on conditions in Russia:

It seems to us that creating the possibility of political struggle is all the more urgent, given that Russia has entered the phase of granting concessions.2

What is that supposed to mean? The text of the article as a whole indicates what it means. Levi says that the situation in Russia is not yet sufficiently clear. In his view, Russia today is undergoing a political and social crisis. The Communist Party needs to make a correction in order to find the right path. From what side will this correction come? From the side of the Social Revolutionaries, of course, from the side of the Mensheviks, that is, against the dictatorship. That is clearly specified here. Of course this signifies a blow against all the policies of the Russian party. This also has a certain relationship with what Levi said earlier against Moscow and Moscow’s dictates. Aside from that, these are psychological considerations. From a logical point of view, what we have here is the embryo of a conception that is directed against the dictatorship of the proletariat as such. (Loud applause) Of course, this is a fully Menshevik conception. To express it differently, this is the transition from the concept of the dictatorship to that of free democracy. There is no other way to interpret it.

Then we have, in addition, the question of the dictatorship of the party. We Marxists – at least, we orthodox Communists – have always maintained that the dictatorship of a class can be expressed only through the dictatorship of the vanguard of that class; that is, the dictatorship of the class can be realised only through the dictatorship of the Communist Party. We have always rejected the entirely absurd concept that counterposes the dictatorship of the class to the dictatorship of the party. That is nonsense. And Levi was with us completely on that point. Now we find, in his most recent pamphlet, ideas regarding Russian affairs, but there are also conceptions that attempt to generalise the Russian experience. We read there:

Every dictatorship of the proletariat is a dictatorship of Communists, but not every dictatorship of Communists is a dictatorship of the proletariat.

So if there is a rift between the proletariat and the Communist Party, then the dictatorship of the Communist Party is not the dictatorship of the proletariat. In response, I would ask: how do we determine in this case the classes in the party? Is it possible, from a Marxist standpoint, to form a classless party? Yes or no? Obviously, as Marxists, our answer to this question must be ‘no’. There is no classless party. It follows that if the Communist Party is at the helm, it represents the interest of some class. What class? If it is a Communist Party, it represents the interests of the proletariat.

So what can be the meaning of this sentence of Levi’s? The sentence has and can have only one meaning, namely, a concept hostile to the party dictatorship. From a purely theoretical point of view, the following situation may arise: The proletariat becomes demoralised. The party governs. The party does not have the support of the entire proletariat, and perhaps not even the majority of the proletariat. Now tell me please, in such a situation, where a part of the proletariat has been declassed, does the ruling party not represent the interests of the proletariat? In such a case, who does represent the real interests of the proletariat? The party, of course, the ruling party. What then is the point of all this talk? The goal of this chatter is simply to develop the embryo of a line of thinking opposed to the dictatorship of the proletariat as such and therefore for bourgeois freedom, for democracy. This line of thought is absolutely clear.

We can observe that the embryo of such liberal concepts is also found in the KAPD. I have touched on this question deliberately because I consider this ideology and these symptoms very dangerous. In my opinion, this signifies the road to the Mensheviks and the road out of the Communist Party. (Loud applause) We must therefore draw the following conclusions: An energetic battle must be waged against such tendencies, or the remnants of such tendencies, in all parties, including the German party. Every formation, every group that crystallises out of such conceptions must be immediately dissolved. In my view, we must put an end to the opposition faction, as such, within the German party. (Loud applause)

I will now move on to another question, that of the KAPD. Comrade Hempel declares that we do not need leaders or theoreticians. This statement, in my opinion, stands as evidence that hatred of leaders is so strong in this party that it has made a poor choice of leaders. (Laughter) This party publishes various educational pamphlets and propaganda articles. Among the pamphlets we find one by their main theoretician, Hermann Gorter, Class Struggle and the Organisation of the Proletariat. This pamphlet presents the KAPD’s line of thinking and ideology much better than the speech of Comrade Hempel today. Gorter is not such an adroit diplomat as Hempel, although Gorter is a man of letters and Hempel an ordinary worker. By the way, we heard another ordinary worker today, Comrade Burian. Now let us listen to what Gorter says in this pamphlet.

The greatest weakness of the German and world revolution and one of the main causes of its defeats is the fact that it is not guided by a policy that is scientific, that is, historic-internationalist.

As we shall see, Gorter writes like a good Christian cleric. He continues:

In determining tactics and strategy, the question of productive and class relations in Germany, Western Europe, and America was not given priority and perhaps was not considered at all. The main responsibility here lies with the Russians – Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, etc. – and the entire Third International.

The idea expressed in this sentence is then developed in the pamphlet along various lines. That was from page 1. At the end of the pamphlet, Gorter writes as follows:

The Kronstadt proletariat revolted against you, against the Communist Party. You proclaimed a state of siege in Petersburg that was also aimed against the proletariat. (Given all your policies, you had no choice in the matter.) After doing that, did it not occur to you that it might be better to have a dictatorship of the class rather than one of the party? And that it would perhaps be better in Western Europe and North America to have a dictatorship not of the party but of the class? And that the ‘Lefts’ are perhaps right after all?

To wrap up, he writes:

If the Russian policies of party and leader dictatorship are still pursued here, after the disastrous results they have already produced, that is no longer a matter of stupidity but a crime. A crime against the revolution.

So first Gorter says that for agrarian Russia the only correct policy is a dictatorship of the party. Naturally that does not apply to the developed capitalist countries of the West. Consequently, it is a crime against the International and the revolution to mix up these two different things. Then, on the last page, he says that mistakes have been made in Russia, and that KAPD policies must be applied in Russia as well. (Protests from the KAPD representatives) Dear comrades of the KAPD: it’s written here in black and white. Let me cite a Russian proverb. It says, ‘The crocodile is as long from tail to nose as it is from nose to tail.’ (Laughter) That goes for politics as well.

The final page of Gorter’s pamphlet refutes completely what he said on page 1. So there is no difference between Russia and North America, and vice versa. Then Gorter tells us about the trade unions, and that to impose the relationships of agrarian Russia on distant countries is a bankrupt policy. The trade unions are outmoded institutions and are therefore of no use.

KAPD representatives: That is not true.

Bukharin: Dear comrades, that is written here in black and white. Tell me, why should we not apply exactly the same policy to the parties? The parties, too, arose previously; they too arose in an earlier period. You respond that this is why the Social Democracy is of no use. That means, it follows, viewing the question by analogy, that the old trade unions were also useless. What has happened to the parties must also have happened to the trade unions. Either the one or the other. And if you apply the line of reasoning you have developed for the parties to the trade unions as well, the picture becomes quite clear. The old trade unions really had quite different functions, which by no means justifies the entire theory of the trade unions presented by Comrade Hempel in his speech today. We carried out a theoretical and practical struggle with the trade unions in Russia and in other countries. We always fought against those views on the trade-union question. We said that the unions are mass organisations of the proletariat, which must be educated toward the final struggle together with the party, together with the other party organisations. You have not offered any counter-argument.

Gorter relies here on quite a curious argument. Completely distorting the matter, he declares:

Our modern Western European and American world is cartelised, imperialist, and based on banking capital. In such a world, capital is no longer organised by trades but rather by enterprises.

So, not by trades but by enterprises. That is completely wrong. It is not a matter of enterprises, or even branches of production, but by various combinations of production branches. What Gorter says is complete nonsense. Suppose it were true, what would that tell us, according to Gorter? It would mean that we should also consolidate our trade unions. Gorter provides no other evidence, and neither does Comrade Hempel. You cannot say that new epochs demand new organisations. New organisations are all very good, but experience teaches us that the old organisations should not be given up. The sentence about organising by enterprise is wrong, factually speaking. All you can conclude from that is simply that the trade unions should be organised in the same fashion as production is. If you are satisfied with such generalities, why not apply this to the party as well?

The arguments about the relationships among the parties and between the leadership and the masses are just as weak. Gorter says that the party was able to win in Russia because the proletariat was small. In other countries, capitalism is enormously large and the enemy is much bigger and stronger, and therefore we do not need any leadership or party in the strict sense of the word, but rather entirely different organisations. I must reply that the entire argumentation is completely wrong. The party and the leaders cannot be counterposed one to the other. If we have a large party, it must have a central committee. What does ‘central committee’ mean? It means simply the leadership.

The [chair’s] bell has given me a signal. So in conclusion I will say only this to the comrades of the KAPD: You maintain that you are good Communists, as stated by your theoretician, who considers himself a representative of a proletarian party that is better than us. Any halfway intelligent person tries to establish the social causes of the crisis [in Russia]. How did this crisis find expression? Simply through an attempt at a peasant vendee aiming to overthrow the proletariat.3 You do not want to recognise that, and still you say, ‘We are a more proletarian party than you.’

KAPD representatives (raising objections): That’s a slander!

Bukharin: That is no slander. It’s written here in black and white. What other sense could these words have?

Radek: No sense at all. It’s nonsense. (Laughter)

Bukharin: In my view, we must tell the comrades that these goals and these ideas unite the KAPD fully with its most hated enemy, with Paul Levi. You stand on the same theoretical foundation as Paul Levi.

KAPD representative: And what about in practice?

Bukharin: Given that your practice is rather different from your theory, that shows you to be complete muddle-heads. That is why we call on the KAPD comrades not to let themselves be led astray in this fashion by their leaders. Their leaders must not write such things, otherwise we will have to finish off with the entire party. (Loud applause)


1. The Workers Opposition was a group within the Russian CP that led by Alexandra Kollontai, Aleksandr Shlyapnikov, S.P. Medvedev, and others. Formed in September 1920, it called for trade-union control of industrial production and greater autonomy for CP fractions in the unions. After its position was rejected by the Tenth CP Congress in March 1921, the Workers Opposition subsequently raised criticisms of measures adopted introducing the NEP. Following its censure at the party’s Eleventh Congress in March–April 1922, the Workers Opposition ceased organised activity.

2. Levi, ‘Von den Konzessionen’, published in Unser Weg (Sowjet), 6 (15 July 1921), pp. 167–72. ‘Concessions’ here refers to Soviet Russia’s willingness, under the New Economic Policy, to permit limited foreign investment projects, subject to government control.

3. Vendée is a department in northern France that was a centre of royalist and peasant insurrection against the French Revolution from 1793 to 1795.