A School of Revolutionary Strategy

Comrades, the internal causation and lawfulness of historical development was formulated for the first time by Marxist theory. The theory of Marxism, as Marx himself wrote in the introduction to his work Critique of Political Economy, established approximately the following proposition with regard to revolution: No social system departs from the arena until it has developed the productive forces to the maximum degree attainable under the given system; and no new social system appears on the scene unless the economic premises necessary for it have already been prepared by the old social system. This truth, which is basic for revolutionary policy, unquestionably retains all its meaning as a guide for us to this very moment. But more than once has Marxism been understood mechanically, unilaterally and therefore erroneously. Wrong conclusions may likewise be drawn from the foregoing proposition.

Marx says that a social system must leave the scene once the productive forces – technology, man’s power over nature – can no longer develop within its framework. From the standpoint of Marxism, historical society, as such, is an organization of collective man – man in the aggregate – for the purpose of increasing man’s power over nature. Of course this goal is not posed extrinsically by human beings, but in the course of their development they struggle for it, adapting themselves to the objective conditions of their environment and constantly increasing their power over nature’s elemental forces.

The proposition that conditions for a revolution – for a deep-going social revolution and not simply for superficial, though sanguinary. political overturns – conditions for a social revolution which replaces one economic system by another, are created only when the old social order no longer leaves room for the development of productive forces – this proposition does not at all mean that the old social order unfailingly collapses as soon as it becomes reactionary in the economic sense, that is, as soon as it begins to retard the development of the technological power of man. Not at all. For while the productive forces constitute the basic driving force of historical development, the latter nevertheless occurs not separate and apart from human beings, but through them. The productive forces – the means whereby social man dominates nature – take shape, it is true, independently of the will of any single individual and are only slightly dependent upon the common will of human beings alive today, because technology represents the accumulated capital inherited by us from the past, which impels us forward, and which under certain conditions also holds us back. But when the productive forces, when technology become too restricted within an old framework, say that of slavery, or feudal or bourgeois society, and when a change of social forms become necessary for the further growth of mankind’s power, then this is not accomplished automatically, like the sun rises and sets, but must be accomplished through human beings, through the struggle of human beings welded into classes. To replace a social class, governing an old society that has turned reactionary, must come a new social class which possesses the program for a new social order meeting the needs for the development of productive forces, and which is prepared to realize this program in life. But it by no means always happens when a given social system has outlived itself, i.e., has turned reactionary, that a new class appears, conscious enough, organized enough and powerful enough to cast down life’s old masters and pave the way for new social relations. No, this does not at all always happen.

On the contrary, more than once, it has happened in history that an old society exhausted itself, for example, the ancient slave society of Rome – and preceding it there were the ancient Asian civilizations whose foundation of slavery opened up no room for the development of productive forces. But within this outlived society there existed no new class strong enough to overthrow the slave-holders and institute a new, a feudal, system, because the feudal system was, compared to slavery, a step forward.

In its turn, within the feudal system there was not always to be found in the hour of need a new class, the bourgeoisie, to overthrow the feudalists and to open the road for historical development. It has more than once happened in history that a given society, a given nation, or people, or a tribe, or several tribes and nations, living under similar historical conditions, have run up against the impossibility of developing any further on a given economic foundation – slavery or feudalism – but inasmuch as no new class existed among them capable of leading them out to the main highway, they simply fell apart. The given civilization, the given state, the given society disintegrated. Mankind has thus not always moved upwards from below in a steady, rising curve. No, there have been prolonged periods of stagnation and there have been regressions into barbarism. Societies rose upwards, attained certain levels, but were unable to maintain themselves upon these heights. Mankind does not remain standing in one place, owing to class and national struggles its equilibrium is unstable; a society that is unable to move forward, falls back, and if no class exists to lift it higher, this society begins to fall apart, opening the road to barbarism.

For a clear conception of this extremely complex problem, the general abstract considerations I have just developed do not suffice, Comrades. Young Comrades with little experience in such questions should apply themselves to a study of historical works in order to master the factual material pertaining to the history of different countries and peoples, particularly and especially their economic history. Only then is it possible to attain a more concrete and clearer conception of the inner mechanics of society. This mechanics must be clearly understood in order to apply Marxism correctly to tactics, i.e., to the class struggle in practice.

Questions of Revolutionary Tactics

Some comrades have a far too simplified approach to the victory of the proletariat. There obtains today not alone in Europe but on a world scale a situation which permits us, from the standpoint of Marxism, to say with complete assurance that the bourgeois system has completely drained itself. The world productive forces cannot develop further within the framework of bourgeois society. On the contrary, what we have witnessed during the last decade is the falling apart, the disintegration of the economic foundations of capitalist society coupled with the use of machines for the destruction of accumulated wealth. We are now living in conditions of the most appalling and unprecedented crisis in world history, not simply a periodic “normal crisis” unavoidable in the process of the development of productive forces under capitalism, but a crisis which signifies that the productive forces of bourgeois society are falling apart and decomposing. There still may be ups and downs, but, in general, as I told the comrades in this very hall a month and a half ago, the curve of capitalist economic development swings through all the fluctuations, not upwards but downwards. But does this mean that the doom of the bourgeoisie is automatically and mechanically predetermined? No. The bourgeoisie is a living class which has risen on specific economic, productive foundations. This class is not a passive product of economic development, but a living, dynamic, active historical force. This class has outlived itself, i.e., has become the most fearsome brake upon historical development. But this must not at all be taken to mean that this class is prone to historical suicide, that it is ready to say, “Since the scientific theory of historical development finds me reactionary, therefore I leave the scene.” Of course, there cannot even be talk of this. On the other hand, the recognition by the Communist Party of the fact that the bourgeois class is condemned and subject to elimination, is likewise far from sufficient to assure the victory of the proletariat. No, the bourgeoisie must still be defeated and overthrown!

If the further development of productive forces was conceivable within the framework of bourgeois society, then revolution would generally be impossible. But since the further development of the productive forces within the framework of bourgeois society is inconceivable, the basic premise for the revolution is given. But revolution in and of itself signifies a living class struggle. The bourgeoisie, even though it finds itself in a complete contradiction with the demands of historical progress, nevertheless still remains the most powerful class. More than that, it may be said that politically the bourgeoisie attains its greatest powers, its greatest concentration of forces and resources, of political and military means of deception, of coercion, and provocation, i.e., the flowering of its class strategy, at the moment when it is most immediately threatened by social ruin. The war and its terrible consequences – and the war sprang precisely from the fact that the productive forces had no room to develop further within the frame. work of bourgeois society – the war and its consequences, I say, have confronted the bourgeoisie with the terrible threat of destruction. This has rendered its instinct of class self-preservation sensitive in the extreme. The greater the danger, all the more does the class, like the individual, exert its vital forces in the struggle for self-preservation. Let us not forget also that the bourgeoisie finds itself face to face with mortal danger, after having accumulated colossal political experience. The bourgeoisie has created and destroyed all sorts of régimes. Its development occurred under pure absolutism, under constitutional monarchy, under parliamentary monarchy, under a democratic republic, under a Bonapartist dictatorship, under a state bound up with the Catholic Church, under a state bound up with the Reformation, under a state separated from the Church, under a state persecuting the Church, etc., etc. All this varied and rich experience which has entered into the blood and marrow of bourgeois ruling circles has now been mobilized by them in order to maintain themselves in power at any cost. And they act the more resourcefully, cunningly, ruthlessly, all the more clearly their leaders take cognizance of the threatening danger.

From a superficial standpoint there appears to be some sort of contradiction here: We have brought the bourgeoisie for judgement before the court of Marxism, i.e., the court of scientific knowledge of the historical process, and found it obsolete, and yet at the same time the bourgeoisie discloses a colossal vitality. In reality there is no contradiction here at all. This is what Marxism calls the dialectic. The gist of the matter lies in this, that the different aspects of the historical process – economics, politics, the state, the growth of the working class – do not develop simultaneously along parallel lines. The working class does not grow parallel, point for point, with the growth of the productive forces, while the bourgeoisie does not decay nor wither away parallel with the growth and strengthening of the proletariat. No, history proceeds in a different way. Productive forces develop by leaps, now whirling forwards, now dropping back. The bourgeoisie, in its turn, developed through a series of shocks and impulses. So, too, has the working class. In a period when the productive forces of capitalism have run up against a blank wall and can go no further we see the bourgeoisie gathering in its own hands the army, the police, science, schools, church, parliament, the press, the White Guard gangs; tightening the reins and mentally saying to the proletariat, “Yes, my position is dangerous. I see an abyss yawning under my feet. But we’ll wait and see who plunges first into this abyss. Perhaps before I perish, even if such is to be my fate, I’ll succeed in casting you, the working class, into the abyss.” What would this signify? This would signify the collapse of European civilization as a whole. If the bourgeoisie, which is doomed historically, were to find sufficient strength, energy and power to defeat the working class in the impending terrible combat, it would signify that Europe is condemned to economic and cultural decomposition, as happened in the past to many countries, nations and civilizations. In other words, history has brought matters to such a pass that the proletarian revolution has become unconditionally necessary for the salvation of Europe and the whole world. History has provided the basic premise for the success of this revolution – in the sense that society cannot any longer develop its productive forces on bourgeois foundations. But history does not at all assume upon itself – in place of the working class, in place of the politicians of the working class, in place of the Communists – the solution of this entire task. No, History seems to say to the proletarian vanguard (let us imagine for a moment that history is a figure looming above us), History says to the working class, “You must know that unless you cast down the bourgeoisie, you will perish beneath the ruins of civilization. Try, solve this task!” Such is the state of affairs today.

We see that in Europe, after the war, the working class is trying semi-spontaneously, semi-consciously to solve the task set before it by history. And the practical conclusion which all the thinking elements of the working class in Europe and the whole world had to draw after the three years following the termination of the world war, reads as follows: Overthrowing the bourgeoisie, even though it has been condemned by history, is neither so simple nor so easy as it might have seemed.

Europe and the whole world are passing through a period which is, on the one side, an epoch of the disintegration of the productive forces of bourgeois society, and, on the other side, an epoch of the highest flowering of the counter-revolutionary strategy of the bourgeoisie. We must understand this clearly and precisely. Counter-revolutionary strategy, i.e., the art of waging a combined struggle against the proletariat by every method from saccharine, professorial-clerical preachments to machine-gunning of strikers, has never attained such heights as it does today.

Lansing [2], the former US Secretary of State, in his book on the Versailles Peace remarks that Lloyd George is ignorant of geography, economics, etc. We readily incline to believe him. But for us it is absolutely incontestable that this same Lloyd George has stored in his head all the usages of duping and coercing the toilers, from the most cunning and subtle tricks to the bloodiest; he has assimilated the entire experience provided by English history on this score, and has developed and perfected all this in the experience of the last three stormy years. Lloyd George is in his own way a superb strategist of the bourgeoisie, threatened with historical ruin. And we must say – nowise minimizing thereby either the present or all the less so the future of the English Communist Party which is still very young – we must say that the English proletariat possesses no such strategists as yet.

In France the President of the Republic, Millerand, formerly a member of a working-class party, and Briand, the head of the government, who once used to propagate the idea of “General Strike” among the workers – both of them have used the French bourgeoisie’s entire rich political experience plus the experience which they themselves had gained in the camp of the proletariat – used it in the service of the cause of the bourgeoisie, as its skilled counter-revolutionary strategists. In Italy, in Germany, we see how carefully the bourgeoisie promotes from its ranks individuals and groups that concentrate the entire experience of the bourgeoisie’s class struggle for its own development, enrichment, consolidation and self-preservation.

The School of Revolutionary Strategy

The task of the working class – in Europe and throughout the world – consists in counterposing to the thoroughly thought-out counter-revolutionary strategy of the bourgeoisie its own revolutionary strategy, likewise thought out to the end. For this it is first of all necessary to understand that it will not be possible to overthrow the bourgeoisie automatically, mechanically, merely because it is condemned by history. On the highly complex field of political struggle we find, on the one side, the bourgeoisie with its forces and resources and, on the opposing side, the working class with its various layers, moods, levels of development, with its Communist Party struggling against other parties and organizations for influence over the working masses. In this struggle the Communist Party, which is actually moving steadily to the head of the European working class, has to manoeuvre, now attacking, now retreating, always consolidating its influence, conquering new positions until the favourable moment arrives for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. Let me repeat, this is a complex strategical task and the last World Congress posed this task in its full scope. From this standpoint, one may say that the Third Congress of the Communist International was the highest school of revolutionary strategy.

The First Congress convened after the war at a time when Communism was just being born as a European movement and when there was a certain justification for reckoning and hoping that the semi-spontaneous onset of the working class might overthrow the bourgeoisie before the latter succeeded in finding a new orientation and new post-war points of support. Such moods and expectations were by and large justified by the objective situation at the time. The bourgeoisie was terribly frightened by the consequence of its own war policy which, in its turn, had been imposed upon the bourgeoisie by the objective conditions. I dealt with this in my report on the world situation and will not repeat it here. In any case, it is unquestionable that in the era of the First Congress (1919) many of us reckoned – some more, others less – that the spontaneous onset of the workers and in part of the peasant masses would overthrow the bourgeoisie in the near future. And, as a matter of fact, this onset was truly colossal. The number of casualties was very large. But the bourgeoisie was able to withstand this initial onset and precisely for this reason regained its class self-confidence.

The Second Congress in 1920 convened at the breaking point. It could already be sensed that by the onset alone the bourgeoisie would not be overthrown in a few weeks or in one, two or three months; that needed was a more serious organizational and political preparation. But at the same time the situation remained very acute. You will recall, the Red Army was then advancing on Warsaw and it was possible to calculate that because of the revolutionary situation in Germany, Italy and other countries, the military impulse – without, of course, any independent significance of its own but as an auxiliary force introduced into the struggle of the European forces – might bring down the landslide of revolution, then temporarily at a dead point. This did not happen. We were beaten back.

After the Second Congress of the Communist International it became increasingly clear that the working class was in need of a more complex revolutionary strategy. We see the working masses, after acquiring a serious post-war experience, themselves moving in this direction, and as a primary result of this the Communist parties everywhere experience growth. During the initial period millions of workers in Germany threw themselves into frontal assaults upon the old order, almost without paying attention to the Spartacus League. What did this mean? After the war, it seemed to the working masses that now was the time to make demands, to press forward, to deal a blow – and there would be a change in many things, if not in everything. That is why millions of workers deemed it unnecessary to expend their energy on building the Communist Party. Meanwhile, last year saw the Communist parties in Germany and France – two of the most important countries on the European continent – transformed from circle-groups into organizations embracing workers by the hundreds of thousands. In Germany there are about 400,000; in France, between 120,000 and 130,000, which is a very high figure under the French conditions. This shows how deeply the working masses during this period became imbued with the realization that it is impossible to win without a special organization where the working class is able to weigh its experience and draw conclusions from it – in a word, a centralized party leadership. Herein is the great conquest of the period just elapsed – the creation of mass Communist parties, among which should be listed the Czechoslovak party, numbering 350,000 members. (After fusing with the German Communist Organization of Czechoslovakia this party will number about 400,000 among a population of 12 million.)

It would, however, be a mistake to expect of these young and just risen Communist parties that they immediately master the art of revolutionary strategy. No! Last year’s tactical experience testifies all too clearly to the contrary. And the Third Congress came to grips with this question.

The last World Congress, taken in its most general aspects, had two tasks before it. One was and remains: To cleanse the working class, including our own Communist ranks, of elements who do not want to struggle, who fear struggle and who use this or that theory in order to cover up their aversion from struggle and their inner inclination to conciliate with bourgeois society. The purge of the labour movement as a whole, and all the more so of the Communist ranks, of reformist, centrist, semi-centrist elements and moods is twofold in character: Where conscious centrists, case-hardened conciliators or semi-conciliators are concerned – they must be forthwith driven out of the ranks of the Communist Party and the labour movement; where it is a question of vague semi-centrist moods, such elements must be given firm guidance, subjected to influence and drawn into the revolutionary struggle. This is the first task of the Communist International – to purge the party of the working class of all elements who do not want to struggle and who thereby paralyse the struggle of the proletariat. But there is a second and no less important task: To learn the art of struggle, an art which by no means fans from the skies like manna for the working class or its Communist, Party. The art of tactics and strategy, the art of revolutionary struggle can be mastered only through experience, through criticism and self-criticism. At the Third World Congress we told the young Communists: “Comrades, we desire not only heroic struggle, we desire first of all victory. During the last few years, we have seen no few heroic struggles in Europe, especially in Germany. We have seen in Italy large-scale revolutionary struggles, a civil war with its unavoidable sacrifices. Of course, every struggle does not lead to victory. Defeats are inescapable. But these defeats must not come through the fault of our party. Yet we have seen many manifestations and methods of struggle which do not and cannot lead to victory, for they are dictated time and time again by revolutionary impatience and not by political sagacity.”

This was the axis of the ideological struggle that took place at the Third World Congress. I must, Comrades, make a reservation here to the effect that this struggle was not at all embittered or “factional” in character. On the contrary, the atmosphere at the congress was deeply comradely, serious and businesslike; and the ideological struggle was of a rigidly principled character and there was at the same time a businesslike interchange of opinions.

The congress was a big revolutionary-political soviet of the working class. And there, at this soviet, we, the representatives of various countries, on the basis of experience in these countries, on the one hand, verified, once again reaffirmed in practice and rendered more precise our theses concerning the need of purging the working class of all elements who do not want to struggle and who are incapable of struggle; and, on the other hand, we for the first time posed bluntly and in its full scope the following issue: The revolutionary struggle for power has its own laws, its own usages, its own tactics, its own strategy. Those who do not master this art will never taste victory.

Centrist Tendencies in Italian Socialism

The tasks of struggle with centrist or semi-centrist elements were delineated most clearly in the case of the Italian Socialist Party. You are acquainted with the history of this question. The Italian Socialist Party passed through an important internal struggle and a split even prior to the imperialist war. This cleansed the party of the worst chauvinists. Besides, Italy entered the war nine months later than other countries. This made it easier for the Italian party to conduct its anti-war policy. The party did not fall into patriotism but preserved a critical attitude toward the war and toward the government. This impelled it to participate in the anti-militarist Zimmerwald Conference [3], although its internationalism was rather formless. Later the vanguard of the Italian working class pushed the leading party circles still farther to the left and the party found itself inside the Third International – along with Turati who contends in his speeches and articles that the Third International is nothing except a diplomatic tool in the hands of the Soviet power, which, under the guise of internationalism, is waging a struggle for the “national” interests of the Russian people. Isn’t it monstrous to hear such pronouncements on the lips – with your indulgence – of a “comrade” in the Third International? The abnormality of the Italian Socialist Party’s adhering in its old form to the Communist International was most glaringly revealed during the large-scale mass action of last September. One must say that in the course of this movement this party betrayed the working class.

If one were to ask how and why did this party retreat and capitulate in the autumn of last year, during the mass strike, during the seizure of factories, plants, estates, etc., by the workers? If one were to ask what was the dominant element in this betrayal? Was it malignant reformism, or indecision, political light-mindedness or something else? To such questions it would be difficult to give an exact answer. The Italian Socialist Party came, after the war, under the influence of the Communist International, which enabled its left wing to express itself more vociferously than the right wing. This fully corresponded to the moods of the masses. But the organizational apparatus remained for the most part in the hands of the centre and the right wing. The party carried on agitation in favour of the dictatorship of the proletariat, in favour of the Soviet power, in favour of the hammer and sickle, in favour of soviet Russia, etc. The Italian working class en masse took all this seriously and entered the road of open revolutionary struggle. In September of last year matters reached the point of seizure of factories, plants, mines, large estates, etc. But precisely at the moment when the party should have drawn all the political, organizational and practical conclusions from its own agitation, it became scared of the responsibility and shied away, leaving the rear of the proletariat unprotected. The working masses were left exposed to the blows of Fascist gangs. The working class thought and hoped that the party which had summoned it to struggle would consolidate the success of its assault. And this success could have been sealed, such hope was fully justified, inasmuch as the bourgeois power was at that time demoralized and paralysed, unable to depend either on the army or on the police apparatus. It was only natural, I repeat, for the working class to think that the party standing at its head would lead to its conclusion the struggle that had commenced. But at the most critical moment the party, on the contrary, beat a retreat, beheading the working class and rendering it powerless. It then became definitely and absolutely clear that politicians of this sort had no place in the ranks of the Third International. The ECCI acted perfectly correctly in recognizing, after the split which presently occurred in the Italian party, that only the Left Communist Wing constituted a section of the Communist International. Therewith the party of Serrati, i.e., the leading section of the old Italian Socialist Party, found itself outside the Third International. Unfortunately – it might have been owing to exceptionally unfavourable conditions, or perhaps also owing to mistakes on our part – unfortunately, the Communist Party of Italy when it was formed drew into its ranks less than 50,000 members, while Serrati’s party kept about 100,000, among them 14,000 transparent reformists, constituting an organized faction. (They held their own conference at Reggio-Emilia.) Naturally, 100,000 workers, belonging to a Socialist party, are under no circumstances our adversaries. If we have been unable up to now to draw them completely into our ranks, then we are not entirely blameless here. The correctness of this thought is evidenced by the fact that the Socialist Party of Italy, which had been expelled from the Third International, sent three of its representatives to our congress. What does this mean? The ruling circles of the party had, by their policy, placed themselves outside the International, but the working masses compel them gain and again to knock on the doors of the International.

The worker-Socialists have thereby shown that their mood is revolutionary and that they want to be with us. But they sent people who have by their conduct revealed that they failed to assimilate the ideas and methods of Communism. By this the Italian workers belonging to Serrati’s party showed that while being in their majority revolutionary in their moods, they had not yet attained the necessary political clarity.

There came to our congress the aged Lazzari. Personally, he is very likeable, unquestionably an honest man, an old fighter, an irreproachable individual, but in no case a Communist. He is completely under the sway of democratic, humanitarian and pacifist views. He argued at the congress: “You exaggerate Turati’s importance. You generally incline to exaggerate the importance of our reformists. You demand of us that we expel them. But how can we expel them when they submit to party discipline? If they provided us – said Lazzari – with a fact of openly opposing the party, if they joined the government against our decision, if they voted for the military budget against our instructions, then we could expel them. But not otherwise.”

We called his attention to Turati’s articles which are directed wholly against the ABC of revolutionary socialism. Lazzari objected that these articles did not constitute facts, that they have freedom of opinion in the Italian party, and so on. To this we again answered him: “By your leave, if to expel Turati you need an accomplished fact’, i.e., his accepting a portfolio from Giolitti then it is unquestionable that Turati who is a clever politician will never take this step. For Turati is not at all a shoddy careerist whose sole concern is to obtain a portfolio. Turati is a case-hardened conciliator, an irreconcilable enemy of the revolution, but in his own way, an ideological politician. He wants to save at any cost the bourgeois-democratic civilization’ and therefore to defeat the revolutionary tendency in the working class. When Giolitti offers him a portfolio – and this probably happened more than once in secluded places – Turati makes approximately the following reply: My acceptance of the portfolio would constitute the very “fact” referred to by Lazzari. The moment I accept the portfolio I would be caught up on this “fact” and driven out of the party. But the moment I am driven out of the party, I won’t be of much use to you, either, my dear godfather Giolitti. For you need me only so long as I am connected with a large workers’ party. It follows therefore that after I am expelled from the party you would boot me out of the Ministry.”

That is approximately how Turati reasons, and he is correct, he is much more far-sighted than the idealistic and pacifistic Lazzari.

“You overestimate Turati’s group,” said Lazzari. “It is a small group. As the French say, a negligible quantity.”

To this we replied, “And do you know that while you take the floor at the Moscow International with the demand that you be admitted into our ranks, Giolitti is calling Turati on the phone and asking: ‘Are you aware, dear friend, that Lazzari has gone to Moscow and that he might make there in the name of your party some dangerous commitments to the Russian Bolsheviks?’ Do you know what Turati answers to this? In all likelihood he says, ‘Don’t worry, my bosom friend Giolitti, our Lazzari is a quantité négligeable, a negligible quantity.’” And he is infinitely more correct than Lazzari.

Such was the dialogue between us and the vacillating representatives of a considerable section of the Italian workers. It was finally decided to put an ultimatum to the Italian Socialists: They must convene within three months a party conference, expel at this conference all the reformists whose roll-call was taken by themselves at their Reggio-Emilia Conference, and unite with the Communists on the basis of the decisions of the Third Congress. What the immediate practical results of this decision will be, it is impossible to say exactly. Will all the followers of Serrati come over to us? I doubt it. But this is hardly desirable. Among them there are some we have no use for at all. But the step taken by the congress was correct. Its aim is to win over the workers to us, by effecting a split in the ranks of the vacillating leaders.

Italian Communism – Its Difficulties, Its Tasks

Among the delegates of the Italian Communist Party and also among the representatives of the youth there were to be found, however, some very incensed critics of this step. The Italian Communists, most of whom deviated to the left, criticized the congress most sharply for having “opened the doors” to the Serrati-ites, opportunists and centrists. This expression – ”you opened the doors of the Communist International“ – was repeated scores of times. We pointed out to them, “Comrades, you have as yet about 50,000 workers while the Serrati-ites have about 100,000. After all, it is impermissible to rest contented with such a result.” They disputed the figures a little, pointing out that there had been mass departures from the Socialist Party, which is quite possible. But their chief argument ran as follows: “The Socialist Party as a whole, and not its leaders alone, is reformist, opportunist.” We asked, “How and why, then, did they send Lazzari, Maffi and Riboldi to Moscow?” The young Italian Communists gave me an answer that was quite vague, “You see, the whole point is that the Italian working class as a whole is gravitating toward Moscow and is pushing the opportunists in this direction.” This is an obviously forced explanation. If the situation were such that the Italian working class as a whole was surging toward Moscow, it had a widely opened door to get to Moscow, namely: the Italian Communist Party, adhering to the International. Why then did the Italian working class choose such a roundabout way to Moscow, keep pushing Serrati’s party instead of simply joining the Communist Party of Italy? It is quite obvious that all these objections of the Left Communists were spurious, arising from an insufficient understanding of the basic task – the need of winning over the vanguard of the working class and first of all, those workers, by no means the worst types, who remained in the ranks of the Socialist Party of Italy. It was precisely these workers who brought Lazzari to Moscow. The mistake of the “lefts” stems from a special kind of revolutionary impatience which causes one to lose sight of the most important preparatory and preliminary tasks and which invariably brings the greatest harm to the interests of our cause. It seems to some “lefts” that since the immediate task is to overthrow the bourgeoisie, therefore is it really worthwhile pausing along the road in order to engage in negotiations with the Serrati-ites, open the doors for workers who follow Serrati, etc., etc.? And yet that is the chief task today. And it is not at all a simple task. Needed here are negotiations as well as struggle as well as exhortations: involved here are new unifications and in all likelihood new splits. But some impatient comrades wanted simply to turn their backs upon this problem and consequently also upon the worker-Socialists. Let those who are in favour of the Third International come right into our Communist Party. On the surface this seems to be the simplest solution of the problem but in reality it skirts the question, for the latter precisely consists in knowing how, and through what methods to attract the worker-Socialist into the Communist Party.

This task cannot be solved automatically by “shutting the doors” of the International. After all, the Italian workers know that the Socialist Party, too, belonged to the Third International. Its leaders made revolutionary speeches, summoned to struggle, called for the Soviet power and precipitated the September strike, the seizure of factories and plants. Then they capitulated, failing to join the battle when the workers were engaged in fighting. Today the vanguard of the Italian proletariat is mentally digesting this fact. The workers see that a Communist minority has separated from the Socialist Party and has addressed itself to them with the same or virtually the same speeches which they heard yesterday from Serrati’s party. The workers say to themselves, “We must wait, we must see what this means, we must examine ...” In other words they are demanding perhaps not very articulately or consciously but in the nature of things very persistently that the new, Communist Party prove itself in action, that the leaders demonstrate in practice that they are made of different stuff from the leaders of the old party and that they are inseparably bound up with the masses in their struggle, no matter how harsh may be the conditions of this struggle. It is necessary by word and deed, by deed and word to conquer the confidence of tens of thousands worker-Socialists who still remain at the crossroads but who would like to be in our ranks. If we were simply to turn our backs on them, allegedly in the name of immediately overthrowing the bourgeoisie, then we could cause no little harm thereby to the revolution. And meanwhile, precisely in Italy the conditions are very favourable for the triumph of the proletarian revolution in the rather near future.

Let us imagine for a moment – this is only by way of example – that the Italian Communists, say, in May of this year were to summon the Italian working class to a new general strike and an insurrection. Suppose they said: “Since the Socialist Party, whose ranks we have left, proved itself bankrupt in September, it therefore follows that we, Communists, must now erase this blot at any cost and lead the working class immediately into the decisive battle.” From a superficial standpoint, this might actually seem to be the duty of the Communists. But that is really not the case at all. According to elementary revolutionary strategy, such a summons would be a piece of insanity and a crime, in the given conditions, because the working class which had, under the leadership of the Socialist Party, cruelly burnt its fingers in September, would not believe it possible to successfully repeat this experience in May under the leadership of the Communist Party with which it had not yet had the opportunity to become really acquainted. The Socialist Party was guilty in the main of “calling” for a revolution without first drawing all the necessary conclusions, that is, it really made no preparations for the revolution, failed to explain to the advanced workers the questions bound up with the conquest of power, failed to purge its ranks of those who did not want the conquest of power, failed to select and train reliable cadres of fighters, failed to create assault groups capable of handling weapons and capable of seizing weapons at the necessary moment ... In brief, the Socialist Party called for the revolution but did not prepare for it. If the Italian Communists were now simply to call for revolution they would be repeating the mistake of the Socialists – only under far more difficult conditions. The task of our sister party in Italy is to prepare for the revolution. That is to say, first of all conquer the majority of the working class and organize its vanguard in a proper way. Anyone who curbed the impatient section of the Italian Communists and said to them: Before calling for the uprising you must first win over the worker-Socialists, cleanse the trade unions, elect Communists there in place of opportunists to responsible posts, conquer the masses – he who said this might superficially appear to be dragging the Communists back but in reality he would thereby be pointing out the real road to the victory of the revolution.

The Fears and Suspicions of the Extreme “Left”

All of the foregoing, Comrades, is ABC from the standpoint of serious revolutionary experience. But there were some “left” elements in the congress who saw in this tactic a shift “to the right”. And some young revolutionary comrades, lacking in experience, but brimful of energy and readiness to struggle and self-sacrifice, literally felt their hair stand up on their heads when they heard the first critical and admonitory speeches of the Russian comrades. Among these young revolutionists there were some, who, I am told, kissed the Soviet soil upon crossing the frontier. And although we still work our soil far too poorly to make it worthy of such kisses, we nevertheless appreciate the revolutionary enthusiasm of our young foreign friends. They think it a shame and a disgrace that they have been so laggard and haven’t as yet accomplished their revolution. They came with these feelings into the hall of the Nikolayevsk Palace – and what happened? Russian Communists took the floor there and not only failed to demand an immediate summons to insurrection but, on the contrary, issued all sorts of warnings against adventures and insisted upon attracting the worker-Socialists, upon conquering the majority of the toilers on the basis of careful preparation.

Certain extreme lefts even decided that not everything was above-board here. Semi-hostile elements like delegates from the so-called Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (this group has a consultative vote in the International) began reasoning to the effect that up to recently the Russian Soviet power did actually entertain hopes of a revolution in Europe and did shape its policies accordingly, but that later its patience became exhausted and it began concluding trade agreements and developed through its People’s Commissariat of Foreign Trade a large-scale world commerce. Commerce, on the other hand, is a serious business requiring tranquil and peaceful relations. It has long been known that revolutionary convulsions are harmful to commerce, and from the standpoint of Comrade Krassin’s [4] Commissariat we are, you see, interested in postponing and retarding the revolution as long as possible. (General laughter) Comrades, I am very sorry that your friendly laughter cannot be transmitted by radio to certain extremely leftist comrades in Germany and Italy. The hypothesis concerning the opposition of our Commissariat of Foreign Trade to revolutionary disturbances is rendered all the more curious by the fact that as recently as March of this year when tragic battles broke out in Germany, with which I shall presently deal – battles which terminated in a cruel defeat of a section of the German working class – the German bourgeois and Social-Democratic newspapers, and in their wake the press throughout the world began howling that the March uprising had been provoked by orders from Moscow, that the Soviet power, in difficult straits at that time (peasant mutinies, Kronstadt, etc.), had issued, to save itself, you see, an order to stage uprisings regardless of the situation in every given country. It is impossible to invent anything sillier than this! But no sooner had the Comrade Delegates from Rome, Berlin and Paris arrived in Moscow, than a new theory arise, but this time at the opposite and extreme left pole – according to this theory, we not only fail to “order” uprisings to be staged immediately and independently of the objective situation, but, on the contrary, we are infatuated with our beautiful trade turnover and are interested in postponing the revolution. Which of these two diametrically opposed stupidities is sillier, it is not easy to decide. If we were to blame for the March mistakes – insofar as it is possible to speak here of blame – then it was only in the sense that the International as a whole, including our own party, has up to now failed to carry on enough educational work in the sphere of revolutionary tactics, and for this reason failed to eliminate the possibility of such mistaken actions and methods. But to dream of completely eliminating mistakes would be the height of innocence.

The March Events in Germany

In a certain sense the question of the March events occupied at the congress the central place. And this was not accidental. Among all the Communist parties, our German party is one of the most powerful and best prepared theoretically. And as regards the order of revolution – if it is permissible to express oneself in this manner – Germany stands in any case in the front rank.

As a defeated country, Germany’s internal conditions are the most favourable for revolution. The numerical strength and the economic role of the German proletariat are entirely adequate to assure victory to this revolution. It is only natural for the methods of struggle applied by the German Communist Party to assume an international significance. Beginning with 1918, major events in the revolutionary struggle have transpired on Germany’s soil, and the positive and negative aspects can be analysed here from living experience.

What was the content of the March events? The proletarians of Central Germany, the workers in the mining regions, represented in recent times, even during the war, one of the most retarded sections of the German working class. In their majority they followed not the Social Democrats but the patriotic, bourgeois and clerical cliques, remained devoted to the Emperor, and so on and so forth. Their living and working conditions were exceptionally harsh. In relation to the workers of Berlin they occupied the same place, as say, did the backward Ural provinces in our country in relation to the Petersburg workers. During a revolutionary epoch it happens not infrequently that a most oppressed and backward section of the working class, awakened for the first time by the thunder of events, swings into the struggle with the greatest energy and evinces a readiness to fight under any and all conditions, far from always taking into consideration the circumstances and the chances of victory, that is, the requirements of revolutionary strategy. For example, at a time when the workers of Berlin or Saxony had become, after the experience of 1919-20, far more cautious – which has its minuses and its pluses too – the workers of Central Germany continued to engage in stormy actions, strikes and demonstrations, carting out their foremen on wheelbarrows, holding meetings during working hours, and so on. Naturally, this is incompatible with the sacred tasks of Ebert’s Republic. It is hardly surprising that this conservative-police Republic, in the person of its police agent, the Social Democrat Hörsing [5], should have decided to do a little “purging” there, i.e., drive out the most revolutionary elements, arrest several Communists, etc.

Precisely during this period (the middle of March), the Central Committee of the German Communist Party arrived firmly at the idea that there was need of conducting a more actively revolutionary policy. The German party, you will recall, had been created a short while before by the merger of the old Spartacus League and the majority of the Independent Party and thereby became confronted in practice with the question of mass actions. The idea that it was necessary to pass over to a more active policy was absolutely correct. But how did this express itself in practice? When the Social-Democratic policeman Hörsing issued his order, demanding of the workers what Kerensky’s government had more than once vainly demanded in our country, namely: that no meetings be held during working hours, that factory property be treated as a sacred trust, etc. – at this moment the Central Committee of the Communist Party issued a call for a general strike in order to aid the workers of Central Germany. A general strike is not something to which the working class responds easily, at the party’s very first call – especially if the workers have recently suffered a number of defeats, and, all the less so in a country where alongside the Communist Party there exist two mass Social-Democratic parties and where the trade-union apparatus is opposed to us. Yet, if we examine the issues of Rote Fahne, central publication of the Communist Party, throughout this period, day by day, we will see that the call for the general strike came completely unprepared. During the period of revolution there were not a few bloodlettings in Germany and the police offensive against Central Germany could not in and of itself have immediately raised the entire working class to its feet. Every serious mass action must obviously be preceded by large-scale energetic agitation, centring around action slogans, all hitting on one and the same point. Such agitation can lead to more decisive calls for action only if it reveals, after probing, that the masses have already been touched to the quick and are ready to march forward on the path of revolutionary action. This is the ABC of revolutionary strategy, but precisely this ABC was completely violated during the March events. Before the police battalions had even succeeded in reaching the factories and mines of Central Germany, a general strike did actually break out there. I already said that in Central Germany there existed the readiness to engage in immediate struggle, and the call of the Central Committee met with an immediate response. But an entirely different situation prevailed in the rest of the country. There was nothing either in the international or the domestic situation of Germany to justify such a sudden transition to activity. The masses simply failed to understand the summons.

Nevertheless, certain very influential theoreticians of the German Communist Party instead of acknowledging that this summons was a mistake, proceeded to explain it away by propounding a theory that in a revolutionary epoch we are obliged to conduct exclusively an aggressive policy, that is, the policy of revolutionary offensive. The March action is thus served up to the masses in the guise of an offensive. You can now evaluate the situation as a whole. The offensive was in reality launched by the Social-Democratic policeman Hörsing. This should have been utilized in order to unite all the workers for defence, for self-protection, even if, to begin with, a very modest resistance. Had the soil proved favourable, had the agitation met with a favourable response, it would then have been possible to pass over to the general strike. If the events continue to unfold further, if the masses rise, if the ties among the workers grow stronger, if their temper lifts, while indecision and demoralization seize the camp of the foe – then comes the time for issuing the slogan to pass over to the offensive. But should the soil prove unfavourable, should the conditions and the moods of the masses fail to correspond with the more resolute slogans, then it is necessary to sound a retreat, and to fall back to previously prepared positions in as orderly a manner as possible. Therewith we have gained this, that we proved our ability to probe the working masses, we strengthened their internal ties and, what is most important, we have raised the party’s authority for giving wise leadership under all circumstances.

But what does the leading body of the German party do? It gives the appearance of pouncing upon the very first pretext: and even before this pretext has become known to workers or assimilated by them, the Central Committee hurls the slogan of the general strike. And before the party had a chance to rally the workers of Berlin, Dresden and Munich to the aid of the workers of Central Germany – and this could perhaps have been accomplished in the space of a few days, provided there was no leaping over the events, and the masses were led forward systematically and firmly – before the party succeeded in accomplishing this work, it is proclaimed that our action is an offensive. This was already tantamount to ruining everything and paralysing the movement in advance. It is quite self-evident that at this stage the offensive came exclusively from the enemy side. It was necessary to utilize the moral element of defence, it was necessary to summon the proletariat of the whole country to hasten to the aid of the workers of Central Germany. In the initial stages this support might have assumed varied forms, until the party found itself in a position to issue a generalized slogan of action. The task of agitation consisted in raising the masses to their feet, focusing their attention upon the events in Central Germany, smashing politically the resistance of the labour bureaucracy and thus assuring a genuinely general character of the strike action as a possible base for the further development of the revolutionary struggle. But what happened instead? The revolutionary and dynamic minority of the proletariat found itself counterposed in action to the majority of the proletariat, before this majority had a chance to grasp the meaning of events. When the party ran up against the passivity and dilatoriness of the working class, the impatient Communist elements sought here and there to drive the majority of the workers into the streets, no longer by means of agitation, but by mechanical measures. If the majority of workers favour a strike, they can of course always compel the minority by forcibly shutting down the factories and thus achieving the general strike in action. This has happened more than once, it will happen in the future and only simpletons can raise objections to it. But when the crushing majority of the working class has no clear conception of the movement, or is unsympathetic to it, or does not believe it can succeed, but a minority rushes ahead and seeks to drive workers to strike by mechanical measures, then such an impatient minority can, in the person of the party, come into a hostile clash with the working class and break its own neck. [1*]


Trotsky’s Footnotes

1*. Paul Levi, former Chairman of the Central Committee of the German Communist Party, has come forward with a criticism of the Party’s tactic during the March events. But his criticism is so absolutely and impermissibly disorganizing in character as to injure and not benefit the cause. The internal struggle led to the expulsion of Levi from the Party and this expulsion was approved by the Congress of teh International. – L.T.


1. This sub-heading comes from the New Park edition.

2. Robert Lansing was an American lawyer and diplomat. He was appointed Secretary of State when W.J. Bryan resigned on June 8, 1915. Lansing was a member of the American commission to negotiate the peace at Paris, 1918-19.

3. The Zimmerwald Conference was called early in 1915 on the initiative of the Italian and Swiss Socialist parties for the purpose of uniting the oppositional elements of the world Socialist movement. Later in the year the conference was held in a little Swiss mountain village of Zimmerwald. The majority of the participants were Left-Centrist in tendency and these “moderates” laid down the line of the conference. The Zimmerwald decisions were for this reason not at all consistently Marxist in character, but, on the contrary, nebulous and semi-pacifist. In his autobiography, Leon Trotsky gives the following account and estimate of Zimmerwald:

“The days of the conference, September 5 to 8, were stormy ones. The revolutionary wing, led by Lenin, and the pacifist wing, which comprised the majority of the delegates, agreed with difficulty on a common manifesto of which I had prepared the draft. The manifesto was far from saying all that it should have said, but, even so, it was a long step forward. Lenin was on the extreme left at the conference. In many questions he was a minority of one, even within the Zimmerwald left wing, to which I did not formally belong, although I was close to it on all important questions. In Zimmerwald Lenin was tightening up the spring of the future international action. In a Swiss mountain village, he was laying the cornerstone of the revolutionary International.”

4. L.B. Krassin (1870-1926) became active in the Russian revolutionary movement in the early Nineties. He played an important role in the early days of the Bolshevik party (1903 to 1906), serving several times as member of the Bolshevik Central Committee. The defeat of the 1905 revolution first found him with the “extreme left” (Bogdanov’s sectarian Vpered group), and then drawing away altogether from the revolutionary movement. He devoted himself to his profession, becoming one of the most prominent Russian engineers. With the October 1917 Revolution, Krassin started moving back to the revolutionary ranks. He held various government posts, serving as Soviet Ambassador to Britain and later to France. At the time referred to by Trotsky in the text Krassin held the post of Commissar of Foreign Trade.

5. Hörsing was one of the infamous galaxy of German Social Democrats, Noske and Severing in particular, who in positions of government power, succeeded in provoking sections of the German working class into precipitate actions which were then crushed in blood by use of police and troops. At the time of the movement of the miners in Central Germany, Hörsing held the post of Regierungspräsident.

The Strategy of the German Counter-Revolution and
the Leftist Adventuristic Elements

Let us review from this point of view the entire history of the German revolution. In November 1918, the monarchy fell and the proletarian revolution was placed on the order of the day. In January 1919, there occurred the sanguinary revolutionary battles of the proletarian vanguard against the régime of bourgeois democracy; these battles recurred in March 1919. The bourgeoisie quickly oriented itself and elaborated its own strategy: it proceeded to crush the proletariat, section by section. Therewith the best leaders of the working class perished – Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. In March 1920, after the Kapp-Lüttwitz attempt at a counter-revolutionary overturn had been swept away by the General Strike, there was a new partial uprising, the armed struggle of the workers in the Ruhr coal basin. The movement terminated in a new defeat and countless fresh victims. Finally, in March 1921, there came a new civil war – once again partial in character – and a new defeat.

When in January and March 1919, the German workers engaged in a partial uprising, suffered defeat and lost their best leaders, we said, recalling our own experience, that these were the “July Days” of the German Communist Party. All of you remember the July Days in Petersburg in the year 1917. Petersburg at that time out-distanced the rest of the country, and rushed ahead by itself; it did not have sufficient support in the provinces, while in Kerensky’s army there still remained backward regiments that could be employed to crush the movement. But in Petersburg itself the crushing majority of the proletariat was already with us. The July Days in Petersburg became the premise for October. It is true that we, too, did some foolish things during July. But we did not elevate them into a system. The January and March battles of 1919 were viewed by us as the German “July”. But in Germany what came next was not “October” but March 1920 – a new defeat, let alone other and smaller partial defeats and the systematic massacre of the best local leaders of the German working class. I say, when we observed the March movement of 1920 and later the March movement of 1921, we could not help but say: No, there are too many “July Days” in Germany, what we want is – October.

Yes, it is necessary to prepare the German October, the victory of the German working class. And it is here that the questions of revolutionary strategy rise before us in their full scope. It is perfectly clear and obvious that the German bourgeoisie, i.e., its leading clique, has completely unfolded its counter-revolutionary strategy: It provokes separate sections of the working class into action; it isolates them in each province, it lies in ambush with rifles cocked and always aims at the head, at the best representatives of the working class. In the streets or in the police cells, in an open battle or during alleged attempts to escape, at the hands of courts martial or in the clutches of an illegal gang, there perish by ones and twos, by the score, by the hundred and by the thousand those Communists in whom the best experience of the proletariat is embodied. This strategy is rigidly calculated, cold-bloodedly executed, and it encompasses the entire experience of the ruling class.

And under these conditions, at a time when the German working class as a whole instinctively senses that one cannot cope with such an enemy with bare hands, that needed here is not merely enthusiasm but cool calculation, lucid appraisal, serious preparation, and while the working class expects this from its party, it is instead informed from above that: It is our duty to pursue only the strategy of the offensive, i.e., attack under all conditions because, you see, we have entered the epoch of revolution. This is approximately the same thing as an army commander’s saying: “Since we are at war, it is therefore our duty to assume the offensive everywhere and at all times.” Such a commander would be unfailingly smashed even with a preponderance of forces on his side. But that is not all, there are to be found “theoreticians”, like the German Communist Maslow, who in connection with the March events talk themselves into something really egregious. Maslow says: “Our opponents indict our March action for something which we consider to be to our credit, namely: that the party upon entering the struggle did not ask itself whether the working class would follow it or not.” This is a verbatim quotation!

From the standpoint of subjective revolutionism or of Left SRism, this is superb, but from the standpoint of Marxism this is – monstrous!

Adventuristic Tendencies

“Revolutionary duty demands that we launch an offensive against the Germans,” proclaimed the Left SRs in July 1918. We’ll be crushed? But it is our duty to march forward. Do the working masses object? Very well. In that case, it is possible to throw a bomb at Mirbach [6] so as to compel the Russian workers to engage in a struggle in which they must unfailingly perish. Moods of this sort are very strong within the so-called Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD). This is a small group of Proletarian Left SRism. Our native Left SRs have – more accurately they had – their deepest roots among the intellectuals and peasants. But apart from this social distinction, the political methods remain identical. This is an hysterical revolutionism capable of applying at any moment the most extreme means and methods without taking either the masses or the general situation into account. It is impatience in place of cool calculation. It is intoxication with revolutionary phrases. All this wholly characterizes “The Communist Workers Party of Germany.” At the congress one of the speakers, talking in the name of this party, said approximately the following: “What can you expect? The working class of Germany is permeated through and through (he even said verseucht, diseased) with philistinism, with middle-class ideology, petty-bourgeois spirit. What then can you do about it? Without economic sabotage, you will not get them out into the streets ...”

And when asked what he meant by this, he explained that no sooner did the workers begin living a little better than they become contented and do not want a revolution. If, however, the mechanical operation of production is interrupted, if factories, plants and railroads, etc., are blown up, this acts to worsen the condition of the working class and consequently renders it more capable of revolution. Bear in mind that this is spoken by a representative of a “workers” party. This is indeed absolute scepticism!

It thus turns out – if we draw the corresponding conclusions for the village – that the advanced peasants of Germany ought to set villages on fire, let loose the red cocks throughout the country and in this way revolutionize the rural population. Here one cannot help but recall that during the very first period of the revolutionary movement in Russia, in the Sixties, when the revolutionary intellectuals were completely powerless to express themselves in action, when they were squeezed in by their circle existence and continuously ran up against the passivity of the peasant masses – precisely at that time, certain groups (the so-called Nechayevites [7]), came to the conclusion that fires and arson constituted the real revolutionary factor of Russia’s political development.

It is perfectly obvious that this sort of sabotage directed essentially against the majority of the working class is an anti-revolutionary measure which brings the working class into a hostile clash with a “workers” party, whose numbers are hard to estimate. But in any case, this “workers” party counts no more than 30-40,000, while the United Communist Party has, as you all know, about 400,000 members.

The congress raised the question of the KAPD quite bluntly, presenting this organization with the demand that it hold a convention within the next three months and either merge with the unified Communist Party or definitely take its place outside the Communist International. From many indications the KAPD in the person of its present anarcho-adventuristic leadership will not submit to the decision of the International, and thus finding itself outside our ranks will probably try to form a “Fourth International” together with some other “extreme left” elements. A few notes on the same little pipe were blown at the congress by our own Kollontai. It is no secret that our party remains for the time being, the core of the Communist International. Meanwhile Comrade Kollontai painted the situation in our party in such colours as to make it appear that, give or take a month, the working masses, with Comrade Kollontai at the head, will have to make a “third revolution” in order to establish a “genuine” soviet system. But why only a third revolution and not a fourth? After all, the third revolution in the name of a “genuine” soviet system occurred last February in Kronstadt. There are extreme leftists in Holland, too. Perhaps in other countries as well. I do not know whether all of them have been accounted for. But in any case their number is not excessive and a “Fourth International”, should it arise, runs the least danger of becoming very large numerically. Naturally, it would be sad to lose even a small group, because there undoubtedly are good worker militants in its ranks. But if this sectarian split is ordained to occur then we shall have in the next period not only the Two-and-a-Half International on our right but also International Number Four on our left – where subjectivity, hysteria, adventurism and revolutionary phrase-mongering will find expression in a completely finished form. We will thus obtain a “left” scarecrow of which we shall make use in order to teach strategy to the working class. Everything, as you see, has two sides: positive and negative.

Leftist Blunders and the Russian Experience

But within the United Communist Party, too, there were anti-Marxist tendencies which revealed themselves quite crassly in March and afterwards. I have already cited the astonishing article of Maslow. [8] But Maslow is not alone. In Vienna there is published a magazine Kommunismus, an organ of the Communist International in the German language. In the July issue of this magazine, an article devoted to the situation in the International states approximately the following:

“The principal characteristic of the present period of the revolution lies in this, that we are now compelled to conduct even partial battles, including economic ones, i.e., strikes, with the instrumentalities of the final battle, i.e., with arms in hand.”

Here, Comrades, is strategy turned topsy-turvy! At a time when the bourgeoisie is provoking us into partial sanguinary battles, some of our strategists want to elevate battles of this sort into a guiding rule. Isn’t this monstrous! The objective situation in Europe is profoundly revolutionary. The working class senses it and throughout the post-war period it rushed impetuously into the struggle against the bourgeoisie. But it gained victory nowhere except in Russia. The working class then began to understand that it faces a difficult task and started to build the apparatus for victory – the Communist Party. Along this path it has marched with seven-league boots during the last year. We now have genuine mass Communist parties in Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria ... The growth has been enormous! What is the next task? It is for these parties to conquer as quickly as possible the majority of industrial workers and the decisive section of rural workers and even of the poor peasantry, just as we had conquered them before October – otherwise there would have been no October. Certain unhappy strategists say instead that since the epoch today is revolutionary, therefore we are duty-bound, at every opportunity, to wage the struggle, even a partial one, with the methods of armed insurrection. The bourgeoisie couldn’t ask for anything better! At a time when the Communist Party is growing at a splendid rate, and its wings are becoming extended more and more over the entire working class, it is the aim of the bourgeoisie to provoke the most impatient and combative section of the workers to plunge prematurely into battle – without the support of the basic mass of the workers – in order, by defeating the working class piecemeal, to undermine the proletariat’s faith in its own ability to conquer the bourgeoisie. Under these conditions, the theory of always taking the offensive and waging partial battles with the methods of armed uprising is so much grist to the mill of the counter-revolution. That is why the Russian party, supported by all the maturer elements at the Third Congress, firmly told the Comrades of the left wing: You are superb revolutionists and you will fight and die for the cause of Communism, but that is not enough for us. We must not only fight, but conquer! And for this it is necessary to master more fully the art of revolutionary strategy,

In my considered opinion, Comrades, one of the most important reasons why there is an underestimation of the difficulties of the revolutionary struggle and revolutionary victory in Europe, is to be found in the actual course of the proletarian revolution in Russia and partly also in Hungary. We had in Russia a bourgeoisie, belated historically and weak politically, a bourgeoisie greatly dependent upon European capital and with weak political roots in Russian soil. On the other hand, we had a revolutionary party with a great tradition and heritage of underground struggle, trained and tempered in combat, consciously utilizing the entire past experience of revolutionary struggles in Europe and throughout the world. The position of the Russian peasantry vis-à-vis the bourgeoisie and vis-à-vis the proletariat, the character and mood of the Russian army after the military débâcle of tsarism – all this made the October revolution unavoidable and greatly facilitated the victory of the revolution. (Although this did not at all eliminate future difficulties but, on the contrary, prepared them on a colossal scale.) Because of the relative ease with which the October revolution was accomplished, the victory of the Russian proletariat did not present itself commensurately to the leading circles of European workers as a politico-strategic task, and this aspect of it was not adequately assimilated by them.

The next experience in the conquest of power by the proletariat occurred on a smaller scale but nearer Europe – in Hungary. The circumstances there unfolded in such a way that the Communists gained power almost without any revolutionary struggle. Thereby the questions of revolutionary strategy in the epoch of the struggle for power were naturally reduced to a minimum.

From the experience of Russia and Hungary not alone the working masses but also the Communist parties of other countries acquired first of all the knowledge that the victory of the proletariat was inevitable and then they directly passed over to acquiring knowledge concerning the difficulties which flow from the victory of the working class. As touches the strategy of revolutionary struggle for the conquest of power, it presented itself to them as something exceedingly simple, as something that could almost be taken for granted. It is not at all accidental that certain prominent Hungarian Comrades, who have rendered big services to the international, reveal a tendency to simplify in the extreme the tactical questions facing the proletariat in a revolutionary epoch; and to replace tactics with a slogan of waging an offensive.

The Third World Congress said to the Communists of all countries: The course of the Russian Revolution is a very important historical example but it is by no means the political rule. And furthermore: Only a traitor could deny the need of a revolutionary offensive; but only a simpleton would reduce all of revolutionary strategy to an offensive.

The Positive and Negative Sides of the French Communist Party

Over the policy of the French Communist Party we had a less stormy discussion, at any rate during the sessions of the congress itself, than took place over the German policy. But during sessions of the ECCI there once occurred a rather heated dispute among us over questions of the French labour movement. The French Communist Party was formed without the external and internal paroxysms that gripped the German party. In consequence there still remain within the French party unquestionably strong centrist moods and old methods of parliamentary socialism. In its recent past the French proletariat has experienced no revolutionary struggle – a struggle that would have revived its old revolutionary traditions. The French bourgeoisie emerged victorious from the war, and was thus enabled until recently to throw, at pillaged Germany’s expense, isolated sops to privileged sections of the French working class. Revolutionary class struggle in France is just beginning to take shape. Prior to the first serious battles the French Communist Party gained the possibility of utilizing and assimilating the revolutionary experience of Russia and Germany. Suffice it to recall that in Germany the civil war was already blazing when the Communists still comprised only a handful of Spartacists; but in France, on the contrary, there has been no open post-war revolutionary struggle, and in the meantime the Communist Party of France already embraces in its ranks 120,000 workers. If we take into consideration that there are in France revolutionary syndicalists who “do not recognize” parties although they do support the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat; if we take into consideration that the organization in France was never as strong as in Germany, then it becomes apparent that these 120,000 organized Communists carry not less but probably more weight in France than do 400,000 members in Germany. This is shown most clearly by the fact that in Germany there are to be found to the right of these 400,000, the parties of Independents and of Social Democrats who possess jointly many more members and sympathizers than do the Communists, while in France to the right of the Communists there is only the insignificant split-off group of the followers of Longuet and Renaudel. In the trade-union movement of France the relationship of forces is on the whole likewise undoubtedly more favourable for the left wing. But on the other hand, the general relationship of class forces in Germany is undoubtedly more favourable for the victory of the revolution. In other words, in France the bourgeoisie still continues to depend mainly upon its own apparatus – the army, the, police, etc.; in Germany the bourgeoisie depends primarily upon the Social Democracy and the trade-union bureaucracy. The French Communist Party has every opportunity of gaining the complete and indivisible leadership of the labour movement before the decisive events occur. But to do so, French Communism must divest itself once and for all of the ancient husk of political conventionalities and equivocations, more rigid in France than anywhere else. The French party stands in need of a more resolute approach toward events; its agitation must be more energetic and irreconcilable in its character and in its very tone; it must take a severer attitude to any and all manifestations of democratic parliamentarian ideology, intellectual egotism and careerism. During the discussion of the French party’s policy by the ECCI, it was brought out that the party had committed such and such mistakes; that the Communist deputies in parliament not infrequently engaged in excessive “discussions” with their bourgeois enemies instead of appealing to the masses over the heads of these enemies; that the party papers must speak a great deal more in a simpler and sharper revolutionary language so that the most oppressed and downtrodden French workers would here feel a response to their sufferings, their demands and their aspirations. In the course of this discussion a young French Comrade took the floor and in an impassioned speech, which met with the approbation of a part of the assembly, shifted the criticism of the party’s policy to a totally different plane. This representative of the youth said:

“When the French government entertained designs, early this year, to seize the Ruhr province from the Germans, and announced the mobilization of 19-year-olds, the party did not summon the draftees to resist, and thereby revealed its utter bankruptcy.”

We wanted to know what sort of resistance he had in mind.

“The party did not summon the 19-year-olds to refuse to submit to the mobilization order.”

We asked what he meant by this “refusal to submit”. Did it mean not to appear voluntarily until a gendarme or a policeman came to the flat? Or did it mean actively resisting a gendarme or a policeman, arms in hand?

This young Comrade, who made a very good impression upon all of us, immediately exclaimed: “Of course, we must go through to the very end, we must resist arms in hands ...”

This answer revealed how hazy and confused still are the conceptions of revolutionary tactics in the minds of some elements. We then engaged in a discussion with our young opponent: Among you in France under the tricolour of the imperialist army there are today, as the French say, several “classes”, that is, draft ages. Your government deems it is necessary to call up one more “class”, the 19-year-olds. This “class” (or draft age) numbers in the country, let us say, 200,000 youths, among whom there are, let us suppose, from 3,000 to 5,000 Communists. They are dispersed, unorganized; some are in the villages, others in cities. Let us grant for a moment that the party does actually summon them to resist, arms in hand. I don’t know how many agents of the bourgeoisie will be killed in the process, but it is a certainty that all the Communists will be plucked out of the class of 19-year-olds and exterminated. Why don’t you summon those draft ages who are already in the army to stage an insurrection? After all, they possess arms and are assembled in the army’s ranks. You don’t do it because you evidently understand that the army will not fire against the counter-revolution until the working class in its majority demonstrates in action its readiness to struggle for power, in other words, until the proletarian revolution begins. How then can You demand that the revolution be made not by the working class as a whole but by the “class” of 19-year-olds? If the Communist Party – let us also grant this for a moment – were to issue such an order it would be the best possible gift for Millerand, for Briand, for Barthou, and all other candidates for the role of hangmen of the proletarian revolution. Because it is perfectly self-evident that once the most daring section of the youth is destroyed, the more backward section of the working class would be terror-stricken, the party would find itself isolated and its influence would be impaired for months, if not for years. Through such methods, that is, through an impatient application of the most drastic forms of revolutionary struggle, at a time when conditions have not yet matured for a decisive collision, one can obtain only negative results, and even bring about a revolutionary abortion instead of a mighty revolutionary birth.

We have a classic example of a completely unprepared call for mass action in the attempted general strike of May 1920. As you all know, the idea of this strike was treacherously “supported” by the syndicalists and the reformists. Their aim was not to allow the movement to slip out of their hands and thereby make it all the easier for them to wreck it at the first opportunity. They succeeded completely. But in behaving so treacherously, these people remained true to themselves. One couldn’t expect anything else from them. Yet the opposing side, the revolutionary syndicalists and the Communists, failed completely to prepare the movement. The initiative came from the railway unions which had been won over for the first time by the left wingers, with Monmousseau at the head. Before the left wingers had succeeded in any way consolidating and securing the most important positions, before they had even properly surveyed the situation, they hastened to summon the masses to a decisive action under slogans that were muddled and ambiguous, and with the treacherous “support” from the right. In every respect this was an unprepared attack. The results are well known: Only a small minority took part in the action; the conciliators blocked any further extension of the strike; the counter-revolution took full advantage of the manifest weakness of the lefts and was enabled to extraordinarily strengthen its own positions.

Light-minded improvisations of this sort are impermissible in the movement. The situation must be appraised far more seriously; the movement must be prepared and co-ordinated persistently, energetically, in all spheres, in order later, when the signal is given, to lead it firmly and resolutely. But for this, it is necessary to have a Communist Party which unifies the experience of the proletariat in all its fields of struggle. Naturally, the mere presence of a party does not eliminate mistakes. But the absence of a party, as the directing vanguard, makes mistakes unavoidable, converting the struggle as a whole into a series of improvisations, experiments and adventures.

Communism and Syndicalism in France

The relationship between the Communist Party and the working class in France is, as I stated, more favourable than in Germany. But the party’s political influence over the working class, which has greatly increased thanks to the radicalization of the party, still remains in an inadequate form in France, especially with respect to the organizational side. This is to be seen most clearly in the question of the trade unions.

In France the syndicates (trade unions) are to a lesser extent multi-millioned organizations than they are in Germany or the Anglo-American countries. But in France, too, the numerical strength of the trade unions has greatly increased in recent years. The relationship between the party and the class assumes, first of all, the form of the party’s relations to the trade unions. This alone, this simple formulation of the question already shows how incorrect and how anti-revolutionary and how dangerous is the so-called theory of neutrality, the theory of complete “independence” of the trade unions from the party, and so on. If trade unions are, by their tendency, the organization of the working class as a whole, then how can this working class remain neutral toward the party or “independent” from it? After all, this would signify the neutrality of the class, that is, its complete indifference toward the revolution itself? Yet, on this basic question, to this day, there is still lacking necessary clarity in the French labour movement and, above all, this clarity is lacking within the party itself.

The theory that there is a complete and unconditional division of labour between the party and the trade unions and that they must practice mutual and absolute non-intervention is precisely a product of French political development. It is the most extreme expression of it. This theory is based on unadulterated opportunism. So long as the labour bureaucracy, organized in the trade unions, concludes wage agreements, while the Socialist Party defends reforms in parliament, the division of labour and mutual non-intervention remain more or less possible. But no sooner are the real proletarian masses drawn into the struggle and no sooner does the movement assume a genuinely revolutionary character, than the principle of non-intervention degenerates into reactionary scholasticism. The working class can gain victory only if there stands at its head an organization which represents its living historical experience, and is capable of generalizing theoretically and directing the entire struggle in practice. On account of the very meaning of its historic task, the party can include only the most conscious and active minority of the working class. The trade unions, on the other hand, seek to embrace the working class as a whole. Those who recognize that the proletariat urgently needs the ideological and political leadership of its vanguard, united in the Communist Party, thereby recognize that the party must become the leading force inside the trade unions as well, that is, inside the mass working-class organizations. Yet there are comrades in the French party who haven’t assimilated this elementary truth and who, like Verdier, for example, wage an irreconcilable struggle to keep the trade unions “inviolate” from the influence of the party. Clearly these Comrades have joined the party only through a misunderstanding, because a Communist who denies the tasks and duties of the Communist Party in relation to the trade unions is no Communist at all.

Naturally this does not mean that the trade unions become subject to the party organizationally, or from the outside. The trade unions are organizationally independent. Within the trade unions the party wields the influence it gains by its activity, by its ideological intervention, by its authority. But to say this is to say that the party must strive in every way to increase its influence over the trade unions; it must deal with all the questions arising in the trade-union movement; it must give clear answers to them and carry out its views through the Communists functioning in the trade unions, without in the least violating the organizational autonomy of the unions.

You all know that the so-called revolutionary syndicalist tendency used to wield considerable influence over the trade unions in France. Revolutionary syndicalism, despite its denial of the party, was essentially nothing but an anti-parliamentary party of the working class. The syndicalist party always waged an energetic struggle for its influence over the trade unions; and never recognized the neutrality or independence of the trade unions in relation to the theory and practice of the syndicalist party. If we leave aside the theoretical mistakes and excesses of French syndicalism and consider its revolutionary essence, then it is unquestionable that this essence found its full development precisely in Communism.

The core of revolutionary syndicalism in France was constituted by the group around the newspaper La Vie ouvrière (Workers Life). I came in close contact with this group during the war. At the centre of this group stood Monatte and Rosmer. Adhering to it from the right were Merrheim and Dumoulin. Both of them later became renegades. Rosmer made the natural transition from revolutionary syndicalism to Communism. Up to now Monatte holds an ambiguous position, but after the Third World Congress and the Red Trade-Union Congress, Monatte took a step which fills me with serious misgivings. Together with Monmousseau [9], secretary of the Railway Workers’ Union, Monatte has published a protest against the Comintern resolution on the trade-union movement and refused to join the Red Trade-Union International. It must be said that the very text of this protest by Monatte and Monmousseau provides the best possible argument against their middle-of-the-road position. Monatte announces that he has left the Amsterdam Trade-Union International because of its close ties with the Second International. Absolutely correct. But the fact that the overwhelming majority of trade unions are affiliated either with the Second or with the Third Internationals is the best possible proof that neutral or apolitical trade unions do not exist and generally cannot exist, all the less so in a revolutionary epoch. Whoever breaks with Amsterdam and refuses to join Moscow runs the risk of creating a Two-and-a-Half Trade-Union International.

I firmly expect that this unfortunate misunderstanding will be cleared up and that Monatte will take his rightful place inside the French Communist Party and the Third International where he belongs by virtue of his entire past.

Perfectly understandable and correct is the discreet and lenient attitude of the French CP toward the revolutionary syndicalists, in an attempt to draw them closer. But completely incomprehensible is the indulgence shown by the party in its toleration of the obstruction of Comintern’s policy by its own members, such as Verdier. Monatte represents the tradition of revolutionary syndicalism; all that Verdier represents is muddle-headedness.

But above the questions of personalities and groups there stands the question of the party’s guiding influence over the trade unions. Without in the least infringing upon their autonomy, which is wholly determined by the day-to-day needs of practical work, the party must nevertheless put an end to all disputes and vacillations in this important field and demonstrate in action to the French working class that it possesses at long last a revolutionary party, capable of giving leadership in all spheres of the class struggle. In this connection the decisions of the Third Congress, despite the temporary confusion and conflicts that may be evoked in the next few months, will exercise a great and most highly beneficial influence over the entire future course of the French labour movement. Only on the basis of these resolutions will a correct inter-relationship between the party and the working class be established, and failing this, there is not and there cannot be a victorious proletarian revolution.

Not a Right Turn but a Serious Preparation
for the Conquest of Power

I will not deal with the Communist parties of other countries because my report is by no means intended to include the characterization of all the organizations adhering to the Communist International. It is my purpose simply to present to you, Comrades, the basic lines of its policy as unfolded and fixed by the last World Congress. For this reason I have characterized those parties which provided the maximum material for elaborating the tactical line of the International for the period ahead.

Needless to say, the congress did not propose to “suspend” the struggle against centrists and semi-centrists, as some leftist Comrades groundlessly feared. The entire struggle of the Communist International against the capitalist régime runs up against, in the first instance, its reformist, conciliationist entrenchments. These are the first positions that must be captured. On the other hand, it is impossible to wage a struggle against the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals without purging our own Communist ranks of centrist tendencies and moods. No one disputes this. [2*]

But this struggle against the right, an integral part of our basic struggle against bourgeois society, can be conducted successfully by us only provided we are able to overcome within a minimum time those leftist blunders which arise from inexperience and impatience; and which betimes assume the shape of dangerous adventures. In this respect the Third World Congress accomplished a great work of education which turned it, as I said, into the highest school, the university of revolutionary strategy.

Apropos of our resolutions, Martov [10], Bauer and other armchair strategists of the little citizens have started talking about the decomposition of Communism, the foundering of the Third International, and so on. From the standpoint of theory this chatter merits only contempt. Communism is not and never was a dogmatic, time-setting program of the revolution. Communism is the living, dynamic, growing and manoeuvring army of the proletariat which in the course of its activity takes into consideration the changing conditions of struggle, inspects its own weapons, gives the blade a new edge, if it has become blunted, and subordinates all its activities to the need of preparing the revolutionary abolition of the bourgeois order.

That we took up the tactical questions so carefully, so painstakingly and so concretely at the Third Congress represents by itself a tremendous step forward. It attests that the Third International has emerged from the phase of ideological and organizational self-determination and has come, as a living, guiding mass organization, face to face with the questions of direct revolutionary action.

If among the younger and less experienced comrades in this hall, anyone were to draw a pessimistic conclusion from my report to the effect that the International is in an unfavourable position and that it is hard to defeat the bourgeoisie because of the prevalence of so many mistaken views and methods among the Communist parties, then this would be a completely false conclusion. In the epoch of abrupt changes in world politics, in the epoch of profound social shocks and convulsions, in brief, in the revolutionary epoch in which we live, the training of revolutionary parties takes place at an extraordinary speed, especially if there is a mutual exchange of experience, reciprocal control and a common centralized leadership – all of which is expressed in and by our International. Let us not forget that the strongest Communist parties of Europe are – literally! – only a few months old. In our epoch a month is equivalent to a year, and some months are equivalent to as much as a decade.

Although at the congress I was a member of the so-called “right wing” and took part in criticizing the pseudo-revolutionary leftism – which, as I tried to show you, is extremely dangerous to a genuine growth of the proletarian revolution – I left the congress in a far more optimistic mood than I came to it. My impressions, derived from an exchange of opinions with delegations from our sister parties of Europe and throughout the world, might be summed up as follows: During the last year the Communist International has taken a giant stride forward both ideologically and organizationally.

The congress did not and could not issue a signal for a general offensive. It formulated the task of the Communist parties as the task of preparing an offensive; and in the first instance, as the task of winning over ideologically the majority of the toilers of city and countryside. This does not at all mean that the revolution has been “postponed” for an indefinite number of years. Nothing of the sort. We speed up the revolution and, what is more important, we assure its victory through a deep-going, all-sided and careful preparation of the revolution.

Naturally, it is impossible in any sense whatever to reduce the revolutionary policy of the working class and the military work of the Red Army to a common denominator. I am fully aware of this. And it is especially “risky” for me even to attempt comparisons in this field, because of the almost traditional danger of being suspected of a “militaristic” bent of mind. The German Cunows and the Russian Martovs have already long ago proclaimed that I am seeking to replace working-class politics and economics by “commands” transmitted through a military “machine”. Nevertheless, having secured my rear by these prefatory remarks, I shall chance making a certain military comparison which seems to me not unfruitful for the purpose of clarifying both the revolutionary policy of the proletariat and the functioning of the Red Army.

Whenever it became necessary for us on any one of our many fronts to prepare for decisive operations, we would begin by sending there fresh regiments, Communists assigned by the party, supplies of munitions and so on. Without adequate material means there naturally could not even be talk of launching a decisive struggle against Kolchak, Denikin, Wrangel and the rest.

And so, the material conditions for decisive actions are more or less at hand. Upon arriving at the front we learn that the High Command of the front has fixed the date of a general offensive, say, for May 5, which is, let us suppose, three days hence. In the sessions of the Revolutionary Military Council, at the front, in the staff, in the Political Department, we proceed to discuss the conditions under which the decisive battles will take place. We learn that on our side there is a certain preponderance of bayonets, swords and artillery while the enemy has considerable superiority in aviation; but on the whole, the material superiority is on our side. Our soldiers are more or less adequately clothed and booted; the communications are secure. In this respect the situation is therefore quite favourable.

“And how was your agitation conducted prior to the offensive? How long did you carry it on? In what ways and under what slogans? How many Communists were detailed to the divisions to lead the agitation? Let us take a look at proclamations, circulars, articles in your army newspapers, your placards and your cartoons. Does every soldier in your army at your front know who Wrangel is? Does he know with whom Wrangel is tied up? Who is backing Wrangel and from whom his artillery and planes come?”

The answers we get are not definite enough. Agitation had, of course, been carried on; explanations concerning Wrangel had, of course, been made. But some regiments had arrived only a day or two days ago, from the centre or from the other fronts and precise information is still lacking concerning their political moods and their morale.

“In what manner were several thousand Communists mobilized by the party assigned to divisions and regiments? Were the character and composition of each particular section taken into account in assigning the Communist elements? Were the Communists themselves sufficiently prepared in advance? Was it made clear to each group to just what section it had been assigned and what the peculiarities of this section were? Or what the special conditions of political work there were? Finally, has each company been assured of the presence of a Communist cell which is itself ready to fight to the bitter end and which is capable of leading the others forward?”

We learn that this work had been carried out only in rough outlines, without paying the necessary attention to the concrete conditions and special requirements of political agitation in the army as a whole, and in each regiment in particular. The agitation was not of a concentrated and intense character, meeting the actual needs of the direct preparation for battle. This was likewise apparent from the newspaper articles and the appeals to the troops.

“Finally, what measures have been taken to check the commanding staff and the commissar personnel? Many commissars had been killed in previous battles and accidental replacements for them had at first been made. Have the necessary replacements of commissar personnel been made? How do matters stand in relation to the commanders? Do they enjoy sufficient confidence? Have authoritative and energetic commissars been attached to those commanders who have as yet been little tested? And lastly, are there perhaps among the commanders, recruited from among former tsarist officers, those whose families are either abroad or in territories occupied by Wrangel?”

It would be quite in the nature of things for such commanders to try to be captured, and this could have fatal consequences for the outcome of separate operations. Has the commanding staff been checked from this standpoint? Has the commanding staff been replenished? Has it been strengthened? No? In that case, sound retreat!

It is necessary to cancel the offensive.

So far as the material aspects are concerned, the moment is propitious, the superiority of forces is on our side, the enemy has not succeeded in completing his concentration. This is beyond dispute. But preparations in the sphere of morale are of no less importance than material preparations. Yet this morale preparation has been carried out superficially and carelessly. Under these, conditions it is preferable even to surrender part of the territory to the enemy, to retreat twenty or thirty versts, to gain time, to postpone the offensive for two or three weeks in order to carry the preparatory political and organizational campaign through to the end. If that is done, success is assured.

Those among you, Comrades, who have worked in the Red Army, and there are many in this hall, know that this illustration is no invention of mine. We made more than one strategic retreat solely because the army had been inadequately prepared in moral and political respects for decisive battles. Yet the army is a coercive organization. Once orders are issued, everyone is obliged to go into battle. Those who resist are subject to harsh military penalties. Failing this, there is no army and there can’t be one. But in the revolutionary army the chief motor force is political consciousness, revolutionary enthusiasm, the undertaking on the part of the army’s majority of the military task it faces and a readiness to solve this task.

How much more does this apply to the decisive revolutionary battles of the working class? There cannot even be talk here of coercing workers into revolution. There is no apparatus of repression here. Success can rest only upon the readiness of the majority of the toilers to take a direct or indirect part in the struggle and help bring it to a happy conclusion. [3*] In its character the Third Congress was this: It was as if the Communist International in the person of its leading representatives had arrived at the front of the world labour movement, preparing to engage in the decisive battle for power. And the congress asked:

“Comrade Communists of Germany, Italy, France and elsewhere! Have you won the majority of the working class? What have you done to make every worker understand what is at stake in the struggle? Have you explained this in clear, simple and precise language to the toiling masses, including the most backward ones? What did you do to verify whether these backward layers understood you? Show us your newspapers, pamphlets, proclamations. No, Comrades, this is still not enough. This is still not the language which attests to genuine ties with millions of toilers ...

“What measures did you take to correctly apportion Communist forces among the trade unions? Have you reliable cells in all the important organizations of the working class? What did you do to check the commanding personnel’ in the trade unions? What did you do to effectively cleanse the workers’ organizations of all dubious, unreliable and, all the more so, obviously treacherous leaders? Have you organized a far-reaching intelligence network in the enemy’s camp? No, Comrades, your preparations are inadequate, and in some respects you haven’t even posed properly the task of preparation....”

Does this mean that the decisive struggle is postponed for decades or even for a number of years? Nothing of the sort! In the case of a military offensive, the necessary preparations can sometimes be completed in the space of two or three weeks, and even less. Disjointed divisions, shaky in their moods and with unstable commanding and commissar staffs, can be, through a correspondingly intense preparatory work, transformed in ten to fifteen days into a mighty army, firmly welded by unity of consciousness and will. It is far more difficult to unite the proletarian millions for the decisive struggle. But our entire epoch facilitates this work in the extreme, provided we do not swerve aside to the right or stumble to the left. It would not be wise to speculate how long this preparatory work will take, whether only a few months or a year or two, or even more. This depends upon many circumstances. But it is unquestionable that in the present situation our preparatory work is one of the most important conditions for bringing closer the revolution and its victorious consummation.

To all its parties the Communist International says: To the masses! Embrace them more extensively and more intensively! Forge an impervious bond between them and yourselves. Assign Communists to the most responsible and dangerous posts in all the strata of the working class. Let them conquer the confidence of the masses! Let the masses together with them drive out of their ranks the opportunist leaders, leaders who vacillate, leaders who are careerists! Employ every minute for revolutionary preparation. The epoch is working in our favour. Have no fear that the revolution will slip out of your hands. Organize and consolidate – and you will thereby speed the hour which will become the hour of the truly decisive offensive and the party will not only issue the command “Forward March!” but will actually lead the offensive to its victorious conclusion!

Trotsky’s Footnotes

2*. From the speeches of Comrade Kurt Geyer on the Third Congress which I have received, I note that this representative of the opposition not only tumbles in to centrism, but is cognizant of it himself. His starting point is that the Third Congress has fixed a new historical perspective and has therewith rendered tactics less dependent on expectations of revolution in the next period. From this Geyer concludes that the tactical differences between the Third International and the centrists are becoming – mitigated. This conclusion is absolutely fantastic! The Third International is a combat orgqanization which keeps marching towards its revolutionary goal no matter what changes in circumstances occur. The Two-and-a-Half International does not want a revolution and is built by a corresponding selection of leaders and semi-leaders, of groupings and tendencies, of ideas and methods.

At the moment when Geyer certifies that the differences between Communists and Independents are becoming softer, the Independents, with far more justification, certify the softening of differences between themselves and the Social Democrats. If this were drawn to its logical conclusion, we would get the revived program of the old Social Democracy, as it used to be prior to August 1914, with all the consequences flowing therefrom. While we reject the dogmatic scheduling of the revolution for the weeks and months immediately ahead – whoch in practice give rise to “putschist” tendencies – in our struggle against “putschism” we remain true to our fundamental task, that of building a revolutionary, dynamic and irreconcilable Communist Party which stands opposed to all reformist and centrist groupings withing the proletariat. Kurt Geyer dogmatically relegates the revolution to the dim future and hence draws conclusions to the effect that there is a rapprochement with the centriksts. There iks every reason to fear that such a “perspective” will lead Geyer and his co-thinkers much further astray than they themselves suppose today. – L.T.

3*. One jokesmith at the Congress “refuted” me by raising an objection to the effect that it is impermissible to command the working class, as one would an army. And that’s just it. And the burden of my whole argument was that even the Red Army could not be commanded in the same manner as certain politicians have tried to command the working class. – L.T.


6. Mirbach was the German Ambassador to Soviet Russia after the conclusion of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. The Left Social Revolutionaries assassinated him in the summer of 1918 in order, in this way, to provoke war with Germany.

7. The Nechayevites were the followers of S.G. Nechayev (1847-82), an anarchist and terrorist at one time associated with Bakunin. He was a “fanatic of conspiracy.” He rejected class consciousness and mass movements as unnecessary, holding that a handful of bold and determined leaders could accomplish the revolution.

8. Maslow was one of the leaders of the German Communist Party at the time. Together with Ruth Fischer and Hugo Urbahns he headed the opposition to the Brandler leadership and gained the majority at the Frankfurt Convention of 1924. When the struggle broke out in the Russian party after Lenin’s death, Maslow lined up against the Russian Left Opposition led by Trotsky. Later, upon Maslow’s expulsion from the Comintern, he flirted for a while with the Trotskyist movement only to slide into the ranks of its opponents.

9. Monmousseau was a syndicalist who was educated on the ideas of the La Vie Ouvrière group. One of the leaders of the French trade union opposition during World War I. Later, together with Rosmer and Monatte, Monmousseau belonged to the “Committee for the Third International.” In 1918 to 1921 was one of the leaders of the revolutionary wing in the General Confederation of Labor (CGT). When the split occurred, he became secretary of the CGTU. Subsequently he was a pillar of Stalinism in the French labor movement.

10. L. Martov (J.O. Tsederbaum) (1873-1923), the ideological leader of Menshevism, began his career by working with Lenin in 1895 in the Petersburg “League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class.” Collaborated with Lenin in founding Iskra and the theoretical magazine Zarya. Lifelong break with Lenin dates back to 1903. During the period of the October Revolution, Martov occupied a “left” position in Menshevik ranks, remaining in the Second Congress of the Soviets after the departure of the Right SRs and the Mensheviks. But shortly thereafter, he became irreconcilably opposed to the Soviet regime. Permitted to emigrate, he left for Berlin where he founded the central publication of the Mensheviks in emigration (Sotsialistichesky Vestnik).


Source: Marxist Internet Archive