Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Theses on the Eastern Question

5 December 1922

I. The Growth of the Revolutionary Movement in the East

The Second Congress of the Communist International, on the basis of Soviet experience in the East and the growth of national revolutionary movements in the colonies, drew up a general statement of principles on the national and colonial question in the epoch of prolonged struggle between imperialism and proletarian dictatorship.

Since then the post-war political and economic crisis of imperialism has intensified and the struggle against imperialist oppression in the colonial and semi-colonial countries has grown considerably stronger.

Evidence of this can be seen in: i) the collapse of the Sevres treaty on the partition of Turkey and the possibility of the complete restoration of Turkey’s national and political independence; ii) the whirlwind growth of the national revolutionary movement in India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Morocco, China and Korea; iii) the hopeless internal crisis of Japanese imperialism, which is giving rise to the present rapid development both of certain elements of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and of independent class struggle on the part of the Japanese proletariat; iv) the awakening of the workers’ movement in all the Eastern countries and the establishment, in most of them, of Communist Parties.

These four facts indicate a change in the social basis of the colonial revolutionary movement; this change tends to intensify the anti-imperialist struggle and at the same time to challenge the exclusive control of this struggle by feudal elements and by the national bourgeoisie, who are prepared to compromise with imperialism.

The imperialist war of 1914-1918 and the subsequent protracted crisis of capitalism, and especially of European capitalism, has weakened the economic hold of the Great Powers over the colonies.

On the other hand, the same factors which have narrowed the economic basis and the political sphere of influence of world capitalism have also aggravated imperialist competition over the colonies and so disturbed the balance of the entire world imperialist system (the struggle for oil, Anglo-French conflict in Asia Minor, Japanese-American rivalry for domination of the Pacific, etc.).

It is precisely this weakening of imperialist influence in the colonies, together with the steadily growing rivalry between different imperialist groups, that has facilitated the growth of indigenous capitalism in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, a growth that is continuing to move beyond the narrow, restricting confines of the imperialist rule of the Great Powers. Up to now Great-Power capital has been trying to isolate the backward countries from world economic trade by insisting on monopoly rights to the super-profits from its commercial, industrial and fiscal exploitation of these countries. The demand for national and economic independence put forward by the nationalist movement in the colonies is in fact a reflection of the needs of bourgeois development in these countries. The progress of indigenous productive forces in the colonies thus comes into sharp contradiction with the interests of world imperialism, since the essence of imperialism is its exploitation of the different levels of development of the productive forces in the different sectors of the world economy in order to extort monopoly super-profits.

II. The Conditions of Struggle

The great diversity of national revolutionary movements against imperialism reflects the backwardness of the colonies and the different stages reached in the transition from feudal and feudal-patriarchal relations to capitalism. This diversity puts a special stamp on the ideology of these movements. Capitalism in the colonial countries usually originates and develops from its feudal base in mixed, incomplete and transitional forms, with commercial capital predominating; this means that the differentiation of bourgeois democracy from feudal-bureaucratic and feudal-agrarian elements frequently proceeds in a lengthy and roundabout manner. This is the main obstacle to a successful mass struggle against imperialist oppression, for in all the backward countries foreign capitalism turns the feudal (and in part also semi-feudal, semi-bourgeois) elites of these societies into agents of its rule (the warlords, the Tushuns, in China, the native aristocracy and the land tax-farmers – zamindars and talukdars – in India, the feudal bureaucracy and aristocracy in Persia, the capitalist plantation owners in Egypt, etc.).

For this reason, the ruling classes of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples become increasingly unable and unwilling to lead the struggle against imperialism as it develops into a revolutionary mass movement. Only among peoples like the nomads and semi-nomads, where the feudal-patriarchal system has not yet disintegrated to the point where the native aristocracy is completely split off from the masses, can representatives of the elite come forward as active leaders in the struggle against imperialist oppression (Mesopotamia, Morocco, Mongolia).

In the Moslem countries, the national movement is guided in its early stages by the religious-political slogans of the pan-Islamic movement, and this gives the Great-Power diplomats and officials the opportunity to exploit the prejudices and ignorance of the broad masses and turn them against the national movement (British imperialism dabbles in pan-Islamism and pan-Arabism and plans to transfer the Caliphate to India; French imperialism pretends to “Moslem sympathies”). However, as the national liberation movements grow and mature, the religious-political slogans of pan-Islamism will be replaced by political demands. This is borne out by the recent struggle in Turkey to remove temporal power from the Caliphate.

The basic aim shared by all the national revolutionary movements is to bring about national unity and achieve state independence. The actual realisation of this aim depends on the extent to which the national movement in any particular country can break all links with reactionary feudal elements, embody in its programme popular social demands and so win the support of the broad working masses.

The Communist International, though well aware that in different historical circumstances fighters for national political independence can be very different kinds of people, gives its support to any national revolutionary movement against imperialism. However, it still remains convinced that the oppressed masses can only be led to victory by a consistent revolutionary line that is designed to draw the broadest masses into active struggle and that constitutes a complete break with all who support conciliation with imperialism in the interests of their own class rule. The bonds that link the indigenous bourgeoisie with the feudal-reactionary elements allow the imperialists to disorganise the mass movement by exploiting to the full feudal anarchy, the rivalry of different leaders, races and tribes, the antagonism between town and country, and the struggle between castes and national-religious sects (China, Persia, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia).

III. The Agrarian Question

In the majority of Eastern countries (India, Persia, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia), the agrarian question is of paramount importance in the struggle for liberation from the bonds of Great-Power despotism. By exploiting and ruining the peasant majority of the backward nations, imperialism deprives them of the basic means of existence, but the resulting surplus rural population cannot migrate and cannot be absorbed by industry, which is poorly developed and exists in only a few centres scattered around the country. The pauperised peasants remaining on the land become serfs.

While in the advanced countries before the war industrial crises acted as the regulator of social production, in the colonies this regulator is famine. As imperialism’s main concern is to obtain maximum profits for minimum capital outlay, it will support to the bitter end the feudal and usurious forms of exploiting labour power in the backward countries. In some countries, such as India, imperialism takes over the existing feudal state’s monopoly right to the land and turns the land tax into tribute to Great-Power capital and its bailiffs, the zamindars and talukdars; in others, it extracts its land-rent by acting through the existing organisation of great landowners, as in Persia, Morocco, Egypt, etc. The struggle to free the land from feudal dues and requisitions thus assumes the character of a national liberation struggle against imperialism and the great feudal landowners (examples are the Moplah rising against the landowners and the British in India in the autumn of 1921 and the Sikh rising in 1922). Only an agrarian revolution committed to the expropriation of the great landowners can arouse the vast peasant masses, who will be a key factor in the struggle against imperialism. The bourgeois nationalists’ fear of agrarian demands and their efforts to water them down in every possible way (as in India, Persia, Egypt) are an indication of the close connection between the native bourgeoisie and the great feudal and feudal-bourgeois landowners, and the former’s intellectual and political dependence on the latter. The revolutionary forces must use these hesitations and uncertainties to make a thoroughgoing criticism and exposure of the compromises made by the bourgeois leaders of the nationalist movements. It is precisely these compromises that hinder the organisation and rallying of the working masses, as is shown by the bankruptcy of the tactic of passive resistance (“non-co-operation” [the tactic pursued by Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress]) in India.

The revolutionary movement in the backward countries of the East will not succeed unless it bases itself on the activity of the broad peasant masses. This is why the revolutionary parties in all the Eastern countries must formulate a clear agrarian programme that includes the demand for the complete overthrow of feudalism and its institutions. To draw the peasant masses into an active struggle for national liberation, revolutionaries must advocate a radical change in the basis of land ownership, and as far as possible must force the bourgeois-national parties to adopt this revolutionary agrarian programme.

IV The Workers’ Movement in the East

The new workers’ movement in the East is a product of the recent development of indigenous capitalism. Until now even the hard core of the working class in these countries has been in a state of transition, from the small craft workshop to the large capitalist factory. Where it is the bourgeois-nationalist intelligentsia that involves the revolutionary movement of the working class in the struggle against imperialism, its representatives will initially take the lead in the organisation and activity of the newly-formed trade-union organisations. At first the proletariat does not take its actions beyond the limits of the ‘common national’ interests of bourgeois democracy (the strikes against the imperialist bureaucracy and administration in China and India). Often, as the Second Congress of the Communist International pointed out, the representatives of bourgeois nationalism, exploiting the political and moral authority of Soviet Russia and adapting to the class instinct of the workers give their bourgeois-democratic aspirations a ‘socialist’ or a ‘Communist’ guise, in order – though they may not themselves be aware of it – to divert the first embryonic proletarian groups from the real tasks of a class organisation (the Eshil-Ordu party in Turkey giving a Communist coloration to its pan-Turkism; some representatives of the Kuomintang in China preaching ‘State Socialism’).

Nevertheless, the trade-union and political movement of the working class in the backward countries has made great progress in the last few years. The formation of an independent proletarian class party in almost every Eastern country is a significant step forward, even though the overwhelming majority of these parties have still a great deal of internal work to do in order to rid themselves of dilettantism, sectarianism and many other shortcomings. The fact that from the very beginning the Communist International realised the potential importance of the workers’ movement in the East is of tremendous importance, for it clearly reflects the genuine international unity of proletarians throughout the world under the banner of Communism. The Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals have so far failed to find a single supporter in any one of the backward countries, precisely because they are acting merely as ‘servants’ of European and American imperialism.

V. The General Tasks of Communist Parties in the East

While the bourgeois nationalists look at the workers’ movement from the viewpoint of its importance for their success, the international proletariat considers the new workers’ movement of the East from the viewpoint of its revolutionary future. Under capitalism the backward countries cannot share in the achievements of modern technical knowledge and culture without paying an enormous price in the form of savage exploitation and oppression by Great-Power capital. The workers in the East have to ally with the proletariat of the advanced countries, not only in the interests of their common struggle against imperialism, but because only the victorious proletariat of the advanced countries will give them disinterested aid in the development of their backward productive forces. Alliance with the proletariat in the West will pave the way to an international federation of soviet republics. For backward peoples the soviet system represents the smoothest form of transition from primitive conditions of existence to the higher Communist society which is destined to replace the entire capitalist world economy of production and distribution. This is borne out by the experience of the soviet system in the liberated colonies of the former Russian empire. Only the soviet form of government is able to ensure that the peasant agrarian revolution is consistently carried through. The specific conditions of agriculture in certain parts of the East (artificial irrigation), maintained in the past by a unique system of collective labour organised on a feudal-patriarchal basis but now undermined by capitalist greed, also require the kind of state organisation that can meet social needs in a planned and organised manner. In view of the special climatic and historical conditions, co-operatives of small producers will definitely play an important role in the transitional period throughout the East generally.

The objective tasks of the colonial revolution go beyond the bounds of bourgeois democracy because a decisive victory for this revolution is incompatible with the rule of world imperialism. The colonial revolutionary movement is at first championed by the indigenous bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intelligentsia, but as the proletarian and semi-proletarian peasant masses become more involved and the social interests of the ordinary people come to the fore, the movement starts to break away from the big-bourgeois and bourgeois-landowner elements. A long struggle still lies ahead for the newly-formed proletariat in the colonies, a struggle that will cover an entire historical epoch and will confront both imperialist exploitation and the native ruling classes, who are anxious to monopolize for themselves all the gains of industrial and cultural development and to keep the broad working masses in their former ‘pre-historic’ condition.

The struggle for influence over the peasant masses will prepare the indigenous proletariat for political leadership. Only when the proletariat has done this preliminary work in its own ranks and in those of the social layers closest to it can it challenge bourgeois democracy, which in the conditions of the backward East is even more inadequate than in the West.

The refusal of Communists in the colonies to take part in the fight against imperialist tyranny, on the pretext of their supposed ‘defence’ of independent class interests, is the worst kind of opportunism and can only discredit the proletarian revolution in the East. No less harmful, it must also be recognised, is the attempt to remain aloof from the struggle for the immediate everyday demands of the working class in the interests of ‘national unity’ or ‘civil peace’ with the bourgeois democrats. A dual task faces the Communist and workers’ parties of the colonial and semi-colonial countries: on the one hand, they are fighting for a more radical answer to the demands of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, directed towards the winning of national political independence; on the other hand, they are organising the masses of workers and peasants to fight for their own class interests, making good use of all the contradictions in the nationalist bourgeois-democratic camp. By putting forward social demands, Communists will stimulate and release revolutionary energy which can find no outlet in liberal bourgeois demands. The working class of the colonies and semi-colonies must be firmly convinced that it is only the overall intensification of the struggle against Great-Power imperialist oppression that can promote it to revolutionary leadership. On the other hand, it is only the political and economic organisation and the political education of the working class and the semi-proletarian layers that can increase the revolutionary scope of the anti-imperialist struggle.

The Communist Parties of the colonial and semi-colonial Eastern countries are still in a more or less embryonic stage and must take part in every movement that gives them access to the masses. At the same time they must campaign hard against patriarchal-craft prejudices and bourgeois influence in the workers’ unions in order to safeguard these rudimentary trade unions from reformist tendencies and turn them into militant mass organisations. They must make every effort to organise the numerous agricultural labourers and farm-girls and the craft apprentices of both sexes around the defence of their everyday interests.

VI. The Anti-Imperialist United Front

The workers’ united front is the slogan advanced in the West during the transition period, characterised by the organised gathering of forces. Similarly in the colonial East at the present time the key slogan to advance is the anti-imperialist united front. Its expediency follows from the perspective of a long-drawn-out struggle with world imperialism that will demand the mobilisation of all revolutionary elements. This mobilisation is made all the more necessary by the tendency of the indigenous ruling classes to make compromises with foreign capital directed against the fundamental interests of the mass of the people. Just as in the West the slogan of the workers’ united front has helped and is still helping to expose the social democrats’ sell-out of proletarian interests, so the slogan of an anti-imperialist united front will help to expose the vacillations of the various bourgeois-nationalist groups. This slogan will also help the working masses to develop their revolutionary will and to increase their class consciousness; it will place them in the front ranks of those fighting not only imperialism, but the remnants of feudalism.

The workers’ movement in the colonial and semi-colonial countries must first of all establish itself as an independent revolutionary factor in the common anti-imperialist front. Only when its importance as an independent factor is recognised and its complete political autonomy secured can temporary agreements with bourgeois democracy be considered permissible or necessary. Similarly, the proletariat supports and advances such partial demands as an independent democratic republic, the abolition of all feudal rights and privileges, the introduction of women’s rights, etc., in so far as it cannot, with the relation of forces as it exists at present, make the implementation of its soviet programme the immediate task of the day. At the same time the proletariat seeks to put forward slogans which further political links between the peasant and semi-proletarian masses and the workers’ movement. Explaining to the broad working masses the need for unity with the international proletariat and the Soviet republics is one of the most important functions of the anti-imperialist united front. The colonial revolution can triumph and defend its gains only if accompanied by a proletarian revolution in the advanced countries.

The danger of a deal between bourgeois nationalism and one or more of the rival imperialist powers is much greater in the semi-colonial countries (China, Persia), or in the countries gaining state independence thanks to inter-imperialist competition (Turkey), than it is in the colonies. Every such agreement means a wholly unequal division of power between the indigenous ruling classes and imperialism; though it may be disguised as formal independence, it leaves the country exactly as before – a semi-colonial buffer state, the puppet of world imperialism.

While the working class may and sometimes must make partial and temporary compromises to gain a breathing-space in the revolutionary struggle for liberation from imperialism, it must be absolutely opposed to any attempt by the indigenous ruling classes to maintain their class privileges by agreeing to open or tacit power-sharing with imperialism. The demand for a close alliance with the proletarian Soviet republic is the key-note of the anti-imperialist united front. This slogan must be accompanied by a determined struggle for maximum democratisation of the political system, which will deprive the most politically and socially reactionary elements of their popular support and will give the workers’ organisations the freedom to fight for their class interests (the demands for a democratic republic, agrarian reform, a reform of the tax system, the organisation of the administrative apparatus on the basis of popular self-government, labour legislation, the restriction of child labour, maternal and child welfare, etc.). Even in independent Turkey the working class does not enjoy freedom of association, which is a good indication of the bourgeois nationalists’ attitude to the proletariat.

VII. The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Pacific

The continuous, steady growth of imperialist rivalry is another pressing reason for organising an anti-imperialist front. This rivalry has now become so intense that a new world war, this time in the Pacific, is inevitable unless international revolution forestalls it.

The Washington conference was an attempt to avert this threat, but in fact it only deepened and sharpened the contradictions of imperialism. The recent struggle between Wu Pei-fu and Chang Tso-lin in China was a direct result of the failure of the attempt by Japanese and Anglo-American capitalism to reconcile their interests at Washington. The new war threatening the world will involve not only Japan, America and Britain, but also the other capitalist powers (France, Holland, etc.), and threatens to be even more destructive than the 1914-1918 war.

The task facing the Communist Parties of the colonial and semicolonial countries bordering on the Pacific is to organise an intense propaganda campaign that will make the approaching danger clear to the masses, will call them to an active struggle for national liberation and will insist on an orientation to Soviet Russia as the bastion of all the oppressed and exploited masses.

In view of the coming danger, the Communist Parties of the imperialist countries – America, Japan, Britain, Australia and Canada – must not merely issue propaganda against the war, but must do everything possible to eliminate the factors that disorganise the workers’ movement in their countries and make it easier for the capitalists to exploit national and racial antagonisms.

These factors are the immigration question and the question of cheap coloured labour.

Most of the coloured workers brought from China and India to work on the sugar plantations in the southern part of the Pacific are still recruited under the system of indentured labour. This fact has led to workers in the imperialist countries demanding the introduction of laws against immigration and coloured labour, both in America and Australia. These restrictive laws deepen the antagonism between coloured and white workers, which divides and weakens the unity of the workers’ movement.

The Communist Parties of America, Canada and Australia must conduct a vigorous campaign against restrictive immigration laws and must explain to the proletarian masses in these countries that such laws, by inflaming racial hatred, will rebound on them in the long run.

The capitalists are against restrictive laws in the interests of the free importation of cheap coloured labour and with it the lowering of the wages of white workers. The capitalists’ intention to take the offensive can be properly dealt with in only one way – the immigrant workers must join the ranks of the existing trade unions of white workers. Simultaneously, the demand must be raised that the coloured workers’ pay should be brought up to the same level as the white workers’ pay. Such a move on the part of the Communist Parties will expose the intentions of the capitalists and at the same time graphically demonstrate to the coloured workers that the international proletariat has no racial prejudice.

To put this into practice, representatives of the revolutionary proletariat of the Pacific countries must meet together at a Pacific conference in order to work out the correct tactics and the best organisational methods for securing the real unification of the proletariat of all races in the Pacific.

VIII. The Tasks of the Metropolitan Parties Regarding The Colonies

The immense importance of the colonial revolutionary movement for the cause of international proletarian revolution means that work in the colonies, especially by the Communist Parties of the imperialist powers, must be stepped up.

French imperialism bases all its calculations on the suppression of proletarian revolutionary struggle in France and Europe by using its colonial workers as a reserve army of counter-revolution.

British and American imperialism still continue to divide the workers’ movement by winning the labour aristocracy over to their side with the promise of a certain share in the super-profits drawn from colonial exploitation.

Every Communist Party in a country that possesses colonies must undertake to organise a campaign for ideological and financial solidarity with the proletarian and revolutionary movement in the colonies. The pseudo-socialist colonialist tendencies of some categories of well-paid European workers in the colonies must be firmly and stubbornly opposed. European worker-Communists in the colonies must strive to organise the indigenous proletariat and to win its confidence by raising concrete economic demands (raising the level of native workers’ pay to that of the European workers, labour protection, social insurance, etc.). The formation of separate Communist organisations of Europeans in some colonies (Egypt, Algeria) is a hidden form of colonialism and furthers imperialist interests. Any attempt to build Communist organisations on ethnic lines contradicts the principle of proletarian internationalism. All the parties of the Communist International must continue to explain to the broad working masses the vital importance of the struggle against imperialist domination in the backward countries. The Communist Parties working in the Great-Power countries must set up permanent colonial commissions, consisting of Central Committee members, to work on these lines. The Communist International must assist the Communist Parties of the East, starting with help in setting up a press and bringing out periodicals and papers in the local languages. Special attention must be given to work among the European workers’ organisations and among the occupying troops in the colonies. The Communist Parties in the Great-Power countries must not miss a single opportunity to expose the predatory nature of the colonial policies adopted by their respective governments and by the opportunist bourgeois parties.