Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Theses on Comintern Tactics

5 December 1922

1. Endorsement of the Resolutions of the Third Congress

The Fourth World Congress first of all affirms that the resolutions of the Third World Congress

1) on the world economic crisis and the tasks of the Communist International and

2) on the tactics of the Communist International have been completely borne out by the course of events and by the development of the workers’ movement in the period between the Third and Fourth Congresses.

2. The Period of Capitalist Decline

On the basis of its assessment of the world economic situation the Third Congress was able to declare with complete certainty that capitalism had fulfilled its mission of developing the productive forces and had reached a stage of irreconcilable contradiction with the requirements not only of modern historical development, but also of the most elementary conditions of human existence. This fundamental contradiction was reflected in the recent imperialist war, and further sharpened by the great damage the war inflicted on the conditions of production and distribution. Obsolete capitalism has reached the stage where the destruction that results from its unbridled power is crippling and ruining the economic achievements that have been built up by the proletariat, despite the fetters of capitalist slavery.

The overall picture of capitalist economic decline is not belied by the inevitable conjunctural fluctuations, typical of the capitalist system during periods of downturn as well as upturn. The attempts of bourgeois and social-democratic political economists to interpret the improvement which began in the second half of 1921 (in the United States, to a significantly lesser extent in Japan and Britain, and partly also in France and other countries) as a sign that the capitalist equilibrium has been restored stem partly from a desire to falsify the facts and partly from the lack of insight of these servants of capital. The Third Congress, which took place before the present industrial revival, foresaw that it must come sooner or later and even then characterised it as only a slight deviation from the basic trend of progressive decline of the capitalist economy. Already it can be safely predicted that if the current industrial revival proves in any way incapable of restoring the capitalist equilibrium or of repairing the extensive war damage, then the next cyclical crisis, which should correspond to the underlying trend of capitalist decline, will reinforce its effects and so greatly increase the revolutionary potential of the situation.

Capitalism to its very end will be at the mercy of cyclical fluctuations. Only the seizure of power by the proletariat and a world socialist revolution can save humanity from permanent catastrophe, caused by the existence of the modern capitalist system.

What capitalism is passing through today is nothing other than its death throes. The collapse of capitalism is inevitable.

3. The International Political Situation

The continuing decline of capitalism is also reflected in the international political situation.

The question of reparations is still undecided. While the Entente powers hold conference after conference, the economic collapse of Germany continues, threatening the existence of capitalism throughout Central Europe.

The catastrophic deterioration in Germany’s economic situation will either force the Entente to renounce reparations,’ which will hasten the political and economic crisis in France, or else lead to the establishment of a Franco-German industrial bloc on the continent: this will worsen Britain’s economic situation and its position on the world market and place Britain and the continent in political opposition to one another.

In the Near East, Entente policies have proved completely bankrupt. The Sèvres treaty has been torn up by Turkish bayonets. The war between Greece and Turkey, and the events connected with it, have clearly revealed how unstable the present political balance is. The spectre of a new imperialist world war is rising up. Imperialist France, having helped to ruin the joint work of the Entente in the Near East through its rivalry with Britain, is now once more being pushed by capitalist interests into a common capitalist front against the Eastern peoples. However, by doing this, capitalist France will yet again show the peoples of the Near East that the only way they can defend themselves against oppression is by joining with Soviet Russia and gaining the support of the revolutionary proletariat of the whole world.

Regarding the Far East, the victorious Entente powers tried at Washington to revise the Versailles treaty. However, they managed to gain only a respite by agreeing to restrict over the next few years the production of only one type of armaments, namely warships. They did not find any solution to their problem. The struggle between America and Japan continues and is inflaming the civil war in China. The Pacific seaboard is still a breeding-ground of major conflicts.

The example of the national liberation movements in India, Egypt, Ireland and Turkey shows that the colonial and semi-colonial countries are hotbeds of growing revolutionary upsurge against imperialist power. They represent inexhaustible sources of revolutionary energy, and in the given situation this works objectively against the existence of bourgeois control of the world.

Events are liquidating the Versailles treaty. However, its demise is not giving way to a general agreement among the capitalist states and to the abandonment of imperialism, but instead is leading to new contradictions, new imperialist alignments and a new arms race.

In the present situation the reconstruction of Europe is impossible. Capitalist America is unwilling to make sacrifices to reconstruct the European capitalist economy. Vulture-like, capitalist America watches the decay of capitalist Europe, intending to claim its inheritance. America will enslave capitalist Europe unless the European working class seizes political power, clears the world of the ruins of the war and starts to build a federal Soviet republic of Europe.

The recent events even in as small a country as contemporary Austria [When Austria had had to be rescued from sheer collapse, first by American famine relief and then by reconstruction loans floated under the auspices of the League of Nations] are important in that they are symptomatic of the political situation in Europe. By edict of Entente imperialism, this famous ‘democracy’, jointly defended by Christian Socialists and the leaders of the Two-and-a-Half International, has been eliminated by a single stroke of the pen in Geneva and replaced by the undisguised dictatorship of an Entente agent. Even the bourgeois parliament has in practice been abolished; its place has been taken by the Entente bankers’ own bailiff.

These events in little Austria, along with the recent fascist coup in Italy, [with his troops ready to march on Rome, Mussolini was asked to form a government on 29 October 1922] highlight the instability of the whole situation and demonstrate, better than anything, that ‘democracy’ is just an illusion, meaning in reality the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

At the same time the international political position of Soviet Russia, the only country where the proletariat has defeated the bourgeoisie and for five years retained power despite enemy attacks, has become considerably stronger. At Genoa and at the Hague the Entente capitalists tried to force the Russian Soviet republic to abandon the nationalisation of industry and undertake a burden of debt so great that Soviet Russia would have become a virtual colony of the Entente. The proletarian government of Soviet Russia proved strong enough to resist these arrogant demands. Amidst the chaos of the collapsing capitalist system of power, Soviet Russia stands firm, from Berezina to Vladivostok, from Murmansk to the mountains of Armenia, and is becoming a major power within Europe, and in the Near and Far East. Despite the capitalist world’s attempt to strangle Soviet Russia by a financial blockade, the country will move towards economic recovery, using its own economic resources. At the same time competition between the capitalist powers will force them to start separate talks with Soviet Russia. One-sixth of the world is under Soviet power. Even now the mere existence of the Soviet republic in Russia is a permanent source of weakness for bourgeois society and an extremely important factor of world revolution. The more Soviet Russia’s economy is restored and strengthened, the greater will be the influence of this pre-eminent revolutionary factor in international politics.

4. The Capitalist Offensive

Since nowhere, except in Russia, did the proletariat deal capitalism a decisive blow while it was weakened from the war, the bourgeoisie, with the help of the social democrats, was able to defeat the militant revolutionary workers, re-establish its political and economic power and launch a new offensive against the proletariat. All the efforts of the bourgeoisie to get the international production and distribution of goods running smoothly again after the upheavals of the war have been made solely at the expense of the working class.

The systematically organised international capitalist offensive against all the gains of the working class has swept across the world like a whirlwind. Everywhere reorganised capital is mercilessly lowering the real wages of the workers, lengthening the working day, curtailing the modest rights of the working class on the shop floor and, in countries with a devalued currency, forcing destitute workers to pay for the economic disasters caused by the depreciation of money etc.

The capitalist offensive, which has recently grown to huge proportions, is everywhere forcing the working class to defend itself. Thousands and thousands of workers in the major sectors of industry are taking up this fight. All the time the struggle is attracting new groups of workers who play a vital role in economic life (railwaymen, miners, metal-workers, public and municipal employees). So far the majority of strikes have not brought immediate results, but the struggle itself is creating among multitudes of previously backward workers an implacable hatred of capitalists and the state power that protects them. This fight, forced on the proletariat, is making it impossible for the social-reformists and trade-union bureaucrats to continue their policy of collaboration with the employers. It graphically demonstrates to even the most backward layers of the proletariat the inseparable link between economics and politics. Today every big strike is a major political event. Such strikes have shown that the parties of the Second International and the leaders of the Amsterdam trade unions, far from giving help to the working masses in their hard defensive fight, have openly abandoned them to the mercy of fate, and betrayed them to the employers and the bourgeois governments.

One of the aims of the Communist Parties is to expose this continual, unprecedented treachery and illustrate it by using examples from the day to day struggle of the working masses. It is the duty of every Communist Party to extend and deepen the countless economic strikes, wherever possible turning them into political strikes and actions. Obviously the Communist Parties must also, in the course of defensive struggles, aim to strengthen the revolutionary consciousness and militancy of the proletarian masses to such an extent that, given favourable circumstances, the struggle will turn from defence to attack.

As the struggle spreads, it is inevitable that the contradictions between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie will steadily intensify. The situation is still objectively revolutionary; even the smallest strike could become the starting-point of great revolutionary battles.

5. International Fascism

Closely linked to the economic offensive of capital is the political offensive of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. Its sharpest expression is international fascism. Since falling living standards are now affecting the middle classes, including the civil service, the ruling class is no longer certain that it can rely on the bureaucracy to act as its tool. Instead, it is resorting everywhere to the creation of special White Guards, which are particularly directed against all the revolutionary efforts of the proletariat and are being increasingly used for the forcible suppression of any attempt by the working class to improve its position.

The characteristic feature of ‘classical’ Italian fascism, which at present has the whole country in its grip, is that the fascists not only form counter-revolutionary fighting organisations, armed to the teeth, but also attempt to use social demagogy to gain a base among the masses: in the peasantry, in the petty bourgeoisie and even in a certain section of the proletariat. There is currently a fascist threat in many countries: in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, almost all the Balkan countries, Poland, Germany, Austria, America and even in countries like Norway. The possibility of fascism appearing in one or another form cannot be ruled out even in such countries as France and Britain.

One of the most important tasks of the Communist Parties is to organise resistance to international fascism. They must be at the head of the working class in the fight against the fascist gangs, must be extremely active in setting up united fronts on the question and must make use of illegal methods of organisation.

But the reckless promotion of fascist organisation is the last card in the bourgeoisie’s hand. Open rule by the White Guards also works against the very foundations of bourgeois democracy. The broadest masses of working people become convinced that bourgeois rule is possible only in the form of an undisguised dictatorship over the proletariat.

6. The Possibility of New Pacifist Illusions

The current international political situation is characterised by fascism, the state of siege and the rising wave of White Terror against the working class. However, this does not rule out the possibility that in the near future open bourgeois reaction may, in some very important countries, give way to an era of ‘democratic pacifism’. In Britain (where the Labour Party made gains at the last elections) and in France (where a period of rule by the so-called “Left Bloc” is unavoidable) this kind of ‘democratic pacifist’ transitional period is very likely and may in its turn give rise to a revival of pacifist hopes in bourgeois and social-democratic Germany. In the period between the present domination of open bourgeois reaction and the complete victory of the revolutionary proletariat over the bourgeoisie, there will be various stages and the possibility of various short-lived episodes. The Communist International and its sections must be aware of all these possibilities. They must know how to defend their revolutionary positions in any situation.

7. The Situation Within The Labour Movement

At the same time as capitalist attacks are forcing the working class onto the defensive, the parties of the centre (the Independents) are drawing closer to and even fusing with the open social-traitors (the social democrats). During the revolutionary upsurge even the centrists, bowing to the pressure of the masses, declared themselves for the dictatorship of the proletariat and moved towards the Third International. But as soon as the wave of revolutionary feeling subsided even temporarily, these centrists ran back to the social-democratic camp, which in reality they had never left. Those people who during the mass revolutionary struggles held a vacillating position are now renouncing the defensive fight and returning to the camp of the Second International, which was always consciously counter-revolutionary. The centrist parties and the entire centrist Two-and-a-Half International are in a state of disintegration. The best of the revolutionary workers who were briefly in the centrist camp will in time come over to the Communist International. In some countries (Italy) this has already started to happen. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of the centrist leaders, who are at present allying themselves with Noske, Mussolini, etc., will turn into hardened counter-revolutionaries.

From an objective viewpoint, the fusion of the parties of the Second and the Two-and-a-Half Internationals can only benefit the revolutionary workers’ movement. The idea of a second revolutionary party outside the Communist camp is losing credibility. Now only two groups will contend for leadership of the majority of the working class: the Second International, which represents the influence of the bourgeoisie within the working class, and the Third International, which has raised the banner of socialist revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat.

8. The Trade-Union Split and the Preparations for White Terror Against the Communists

The fusion of the parties of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals was undoubtedly caused by the need to prepare a ‘favourable atmosphere’ for a systematic campaign against the Communists. Part of this campaign is the deliberate agitation by the leaders of the Amsterdam International in favour of a split. The Amsterdam leaders are avoiding any fightback against the capitalist offensive whilst continuing their policy of collaboration with the employers. They are systematically trying to eliminate Communist influence in the trade unions in order to make sure the Communists put no obstacles in the way of collaboration. Since, however, in many countries the Communists have already won a majority in the trade unions, or are about to do so, the Amsterdam leaders are prepared to use the tactic of forcing expulsions and formally splitting the union movement. Nothing is more effective in undermining the strength of proletarian resistance to the capitalist offensive than a split in the trade unions. The reformist trade-union leaders are well aware of this. But since they realise that the ground is slipping from under their feet and that they cannot avoid their imminent bankruptcy, they are anxious to split the unions, the strongest weapon of proletarian class struggle, so that the Communists will be left with only the fragments and splinters of the old trade-union organisations. The working class has not seen such a malicious betrayal since August 1914. [the parties of the Second International had then abandoned their previously militant opposition to war and joined the patriotic chorus]

9. The Task of Winning the Majority

In these circumstances the main directive of the Third World Congress is still completely valid: to achieve an increase of Communist influence among the majority of the working class and to involve its most decisive sections in struggle.

It is now even more important than it was at the time of the Third Congress to realise that with the present precarious equilibrium of bourgeois society a severe crisis may quite suddenly break out as the result of a major strike, a colonial rising, a new war or even a parliamentary crisis. This is precisely why tremendous importance accrues to the “subjective factor”, i.e., the level of consciousness, militancy and organisation of the working class and its vanguard.

To win the majority of the American and European working class – this was and is the key task facing the Communist International.

In the colonial and semi-colonial countries the Communist International has the following two tasks:

1) to establish the nucleus of a Communist Party, representing the interests of the proletariat as a whole;

2) to give full support to the national-revolutionary movement against imperialism, to become its vanguard and within this national movement to initiate and develop a social movement.

10. The United Front Tactic

There is consequently an obvious need for the united front tactic. The slogan of the Third Congress, “To the masses”, is now more relevant than ever. The struggle to establish a proletarian united front in a whole series of countries is only. just beginning. And only now have we begun to overcome all the difficulties associated with this tactic. The best example is France, where the course of events has won over even those who not so long ago had opposed this tactic on principle. The Communist International requires that all Communist Parties and groups adhere strictly to the united front tactic, because in the present period it is the only way of guiding Communists in the right direction, towards winning the majority of workers.

At present the reformists need a split, while the Communists are interested in uniting all the forces of the working class against capital.

Using the united front tactic means that the Communist vanguard is at the forefront of the day to day struggle of the broad masses for their most vital interests. For the sake of this struggle Communists are even prepared to negotiate with the scab leaders of the social democrats and the Amsterdam International. Any attempt by the Second International to interpret the united front as an organisational fusion of all the ‘workers’ parties’ must of course be categorically repudiated. The attempts of the Second International to absorb workers’ organisations further to the left and call this a united front (the ‘fusion’ of the social democrats and Independents in Germany [in 1922]) in fact simply provide yet another opportunity for the social-democratic leaders to betray new masses of workers to the bourgeoisie.

The existence of independent Communist Parties and their complete freedom of action in relation to the bourgeoisie and counter-revolutionary social democracy is the most important historical achievement of the proletariat, and one which the Communists will in no circumstances renounce. Only the Communist Parties stand for the overall interests of the whole proletariat.

In the same way the united front tactic has nothing to do with the so-called ‘electoral combinations’ of leaders in pursuit of one or another parliamentary aim.

The united front tactic is simply an initiative whereby the Communists propose to join with all workers belonging to other parties and groups and all unaligned workers in a common struggle to defend the immediate, basic interests of the working class against the bourgeoisie. Every action, for even the most trivial everyday demand, can lead to revolutionary awareness and revolutionary education; it is the experience of struggle that will convince workers of the inevitability of revolution and the historic importance of Communism.

It is particularly important when using the united front tactic to achieve not just agitational but also organisational results. Every opportunity must be used to establish organisational footholds among the working masses themselves (factory committees, supervisory commissions made up of workers from all the different parties and unaligned workers, action committees, etc.).

The main aim of the united front tactic is to unify the working masses through agitation and organisation. The real success of the united front tactic depends on a movement “from below”, from the rank-and-file of the working masses. Nevertheless, there are circumstances in which Communists must not refuse to have talks with the leaders of the hostile workers’ parties, providing the masses are always kept fully informed of the course of these talks. During negotiations with these leaders the independence of the Communist Party and its agitation must not be circumscribed.

Obviously, the united front tactic has to be applied differently in different countries, according to the concrete conditions. Still, where the objective conditions in the most important countries are ripe for a socialist transformation, and where the social-democratic parties with their counter-revolutionary leaders are deliberately seeking to split the working class, the united front tactic will be of decisive importance for the whole epoch.

11. The Workers' Government

The slogan of a workers’ government (or a workers’ and peasants’ government) can be used practically everywhere as a general agitational slogan. However, as a central political slogan, the workers’ government is most important in countries where the position of bourgeois society is particularly unstable and where the balance of forces between the workers’ parties and the bourgeoisie places the question of government on the order of the day as a practical problem requiring immediate solution. In these countries the workers’ government slogan follows inevitably from the entire united front tactic.

The parties of the Second International are trying to rescue the situation in these countries by advocating and forming a coalition of the bourgeoisie and the social democrats. The recent attempts by certain parties of the Second International (e.g. in Germany) to take part in this kind of coalition government secretly, whilst refusing to be openly involved, are nothing but a manoeuvre to pacify the indignant masses, just a more subtle deception of the working masses. In place of a bourgeois/social-democratic coalition, whether open or disguised, Communists propose a united front involving all workers, and a coalition of all workers’ parties around economic and political issues, which will fight and finally overthrow bourgeois power. Following a united struggle of all workers against the bourgeoisie, the entire state apparatus must pass into the hands of a workers’ government, so strengthening the position of power held by the working class.

The most elementary tasks of a workers’ government must be to arm the proletariat, disarm the bourgeois counter-revolutionary organisations, bringing control over production, shift the main burden of taxation onto the propertied classes and break the resistance of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.

Such a workers’ government is possible only if it is born out of the struggle of the masses and is supported by combative workers’ organisations formed by the most oppressed sections of workers at grassroots level. However, even a workers’ government that comes about through an alignment of parliamentary forces, i.e., a government of purely parliamentary origin, can give rise to an upsurge of the revolutionary workers’ movement. It is obvious that the formation of a genuine workers’ government, and the continued existence of any such government committed to revolutionary politics, must lead to a bitter struggle with the bourgeoisie or even to civil war. The mere attempt by the proletariat to form such a workers’ government will from its very first days come up against extremely strong resistance from the bourgeoisie. The slogan of a workers’ government therefore has the potential to rally the proletarians and unleash revolutionary struggle.

In certain circumstances, Communists must declare themselves ready to form a workers’ government with non-Communist workers’ parties and workers’ organisations. However, they should do so only if there are guarantees that the workers’ government will conduct a real struggle against the bourgeoisie of the kind already outlined. The obvious conditions on which Communists will participate in such a government are:

1 Communists participating in such a government remain under the strictest control of their Party;

2 Communists participating in such a workers’ government should be in extremely close contact with the revolutionary organisations of the masses;

3 The Communist Party has the unconditional right to maintain its own identity and complete independence of agitation.

For all its great advantages, the slogan of a workers’ government also has its dangers, as does the whole tactic of the united front. To avoid these dangers and to confront now the illusion that the stage of ‘democratic coalition’ is inevitable, the Communist Parties must be aware of the following:

Every bourgeois government is simultaneously a capitalist government, but not every workers’ government is a truly proletarian, socialist government.

The Communist International must consider the following possibilities:

1 A liberal workers’ government, such as existed in Australia and is possible in Britain in the near future.

2 A social-democratic ‘workers’ government’ (Germany).

3 A workers’ and peasants’ government. Such a possibility exists in the Balkans, Czechoslovakia, etc.

4 A social-democratic/Communist coalition government.

5 A genuine proletarian workers’ government, which can be created in its pure form only by a Communist Party.

Communists are also prepared to work alongside those workers who have not yet recognised the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Accordingly Communists are also ready, in certain conditions and with certain guarantees, to support a non-Communist workers’ government. However, the Communists will still openly declare to the masses that the workers’ government can be neither won nor maintained without a revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie.

The first two types of workers’ governments (the workers’ and peasants’ and the social-democratic/Communist governments) fall short of representing the dictatorship of the proletariat, but are still an important starting-point for the winning of this dictatorship. The complete dictatorship of the proletariat can only be a genuine workers’ government (type 5) consisting of Communists.

12. The Factory Committee Movement

No Communist Party can consider itself a serious and well-organised mass Communist Party unless it has strong Communist cells in the factories, mills, mines, railways, etc. In present-day conditions a workers’ movement cannot consider itself a systematically organised mass proletarian movement unless the working class and its organisations can set up factory committees to form the backbone of the movement. In particular, the fight against the capitalist offensive and for control of production is hopeless unless the Communists command a firm foothold in all the factories and the workers have set up in the workplaces their own fighting proletarian organisations (factory committees, workers’ councils).

Congress therefore considers that one of the major tasks facing every Communist Party is to strengthen its influence in the factories and to support the factory committee movement or take the initiative in starting such a movement.

13. International Discipline

Now, more than ever, the strictest international discipline is necessary, both within the Communist International and in each of its separate sections, in order to carry out the united front tactic at the international level and in each individual country.

The Fourth Congress categorically demands that all sections and all members keep strictly to this tactic, which will bring results only if it is unanimously and systematically carried out not only in word but also in deed.

Acceptance of the twenty-one conditions involves carrying out all the tactical decisions taken by World Congresses and by the Executive Committee, the organ of the Communist International between World Congresses. Congress instructs the Executive Committee to be extremely firm in demanding and seeing that every Party puts these tactical decisions into practice. Only the clearly defined revolutionary tactics of the Communist International will ensure the earliest possible victory of the international proletarian revolution.

Congress decides to attach as an appendix to this resolution the text of the December theses (192 1) of the Executive Committee, which are a correct and detailed explanation of the united front tactic.