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(also called the Comintern or the Third International), an international organization that existed from 1919 to 1943, founded in response to the tasks and requirements of the revolutionary workers’ movement during the first stage of the general crisis of capitalism. The Comintern was the historical successor to the First International and inherited the best traditions of the Second International, which collapsed after the start of World War I as a result of its opportunist degeneration and the betrayal of proletarian internationalism by the majority of Social Democratic parties belonging to it.
The collapse of the Second International prompted the Bolsheviks guided by Lenin to pose the question of creating a Third International that would be free of opportunism. This idea was discussed as early as Nov. 1, 1914, in a manifesto of the RSDLP Central Committee of that date, “The War and Russian Social Democracy.” A decisive and authoritative force in the international workers’ movement loyal to proletarian internationalism, the Bolsheviks under Lenin’s leadership launched a struggle to rally the left-wing groups in the Social Democratic parties. One of the most important factors contributing to the creation of the new international was Lenin’s elaboration of the ideological and political principles and the theoretical foundations of the communist movement: for example, his exposure of the imperialist nature of World War I and his demonstration of the need to turn the imperialist war into a civil war against the bourgeoisie of one’s own country; his teaching on a revolutionary situation; and his conclusion that it was possible and even inevitable for the socialist revolution to be victorious at first in a few countries or even in a single capitalist country, a conclusion first formulated in 1915.
An important contribution to the unification of the left-wing Social Democrats was the activity of Lenin and his companions at the Zimmerwald and Kiental conferences. Equally important were the formation of the Zimmerwald left as part of the Zimmerwald organization and the active promotion of Bolshevik ideas on the issues of war, peace, and revolution at the international youth and women’s conferences and at the conference of socialists of the Entente countries held in 1915. The Bolsheviks’ work in laying the foundation for the Third International brought increasingly tangible results as the working class became more active and gradually freed itself from nationalist war hysteria, along with broad strata of the workers who learned from their own experience that social chauvinism is the road to ruin.
Nevertheless, it was only possible to found the Communist International after the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, which had a great revolutionizing impact on the entire world and created fundamentally new conditions for the working-class struggle owing to the rise of the first socialist state in the world. At the head of this state stood Lenin’s Bolshevik Party. In the midst of the ensuing upsurge of the working-class and the national liberation movement Communist parties were taking shape in a number of countries. In 1918, Communist parties appeared in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, and Finland. At that time, other parties, too, upheld revolutionary internationalist positions, including the Bulgarian Workers’ Social Democratic Party (Narrow Socialists, or Tesniaks), the Internationalist Socialist Party of Argentina, the Left Social Democratic Party of Sweden, and the Socialist Workers’ Party of Greece. Communist groups and circles were formed in 1918 and 1919 in such countries as Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Italy, France, Great Britain, Denmark, Switzerland, the USA, Canada, Brazil, China, Korea, Australia, and the Union of South Africa.
In Moscow in January 1919 a conference was held on Lenin’s initiative and under his leadership, involving representatives of the Communist parties of Soviet Russia, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Latvia, and Finland, along with those of the Balkan Revolutionary Social Democratic Federation (Bulgarian Tesniaks and Rumanian Lefts) and the Socialist Labor Party of the USA. The conference discussed the question of calling an international congress of representatives of revolutionary proletarian parties; issued an invitation to 39 revolutionary parties, groups, and movements in Europe, Asia, America, and Australia to take part in the constituent congress of the new international; and drew up a draft platform.
The First (Constituent) Congress of the Comintern was held in Moscow on Mar. 2–6, 1919. It was attended by 52 delegates from 35 parties and groups in 21 countries. Participating in the work of the congress were representatives of the Communist parties of Soviet Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Finland, and several other countries, as well as the representatives of a number of Communist groups, for example, the Czech, Bulgarian, Yugoslav, British, French, and Swiss. The Social Democratic parties of Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and the USA, as well as the Balkan Revolutionary Social Democratic Federation, were also represented at the congress. The congress discussed and adopted the Comintern platform, which was elaborated on the basis of Lenin’s directives. The new epoch ushered in by the victory of the October Revolution was characterized in the platform as the epoch of disintegration of capitalism, the epoch of communist proletarian revolution. The task of the day was the conquest of power and the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship. The road to this lay through the rallying of all revolutionary forces, rejection of opportunism of every kind, and the international solidarity of all working people. In view of this, the congress recognized the necessity for the immediate founding of the Communist International.
One of the most important program documents of the Comintern was Lenin’s report and theses on bourgeois democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat, which he presented to the First Congress. In his report Lenin showed that bourgeois democracy, defended by the parties of the Second International under the guise of “democracy in general,” was always in essence a class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, a dictatorship of the minority; whereas the dictatorship of the proletariat, which suppresses the resistance of the overthrown classes in the interest of the majority, represents genuine democracy for working people.
The First Congress of the Comintern called upon the workers of all countries to unite on the principles of proletarian internationalism in a revolutionary struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish the proletarian dictatorship. It also called on them to oppose the Second International, which had been formally restored by its right-wing opportunist leaders at Bern in February 1919. The congress adopted a manifesto addressed to the proletarians of the world, which declared that the Communists, representatives of the revolutionary proletariat of Europe, America, and Asia, saw themselves as the successors and implementers of the cause whose program had been proclaimed by the founders of scientific communism, Marx and Engels, in the Communist Manifesto.
Evaluating the role the new international was to play, Lenin wrote in April 1919 that the Comintern “has gathered the fruits of the work of the Second International, discarded its opportunist, social-chauvinist, bourgeois, and petit bourgeois dross, and has begun to implement the dictatorship of the proletariat” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 38, p. 303). The First Congress of the Comintern, in Lenin’s words, “only unfurled the banner of communism, around which the forces of the revolutionary proletariat were to rally” (ibid., vol. 41, p. 274). It remained for the Second Congress to complete the formation of an international proletarian organization of a new type.
Between the First and Second Congresses the revolutionary upsurge continued to mount. In 1919, Soviet republics emerged in Hungary (March 21), Bavaria (April 13), and Slovakia (June 16). In Great Britain, France, the USA, Italy, and other countries, movements developed and spread in defense of Soviet Russia against the imperialist powers’ intervention. A mass national liberation movement spread in the colonies and semicolonial countries, such as Korea, China, India, Turkey, and Afghanistan. The formation of Communist parties continued. In May 1919 the Bulgarian Workers’ Social Democratic Party (Narrow Socialists) changed its name to Communist Party and joined the Comintern. From March 1919 to November 1920, Communist parties were formed in Yugoslavia, the USA, Mexico, Denmark, Spain, Indonesia, Iran, Great Britain, Turkey, Uruguay, and Australia. Among those declaring their adherence to the Comintern were the International Socialist Party of Argentina, the Socialist Workers’ Party of Greece, the Socialist Party of Rumania, the Left Social Democratic Party of Sweden, the Norwegian Labor Party, the Italian Socialist Party, the British Socialist Party, the Scottish section of the British Independent Labour Party, the Socialist Party of Luxembourg, and a number of revolutionary groups and trade unions in other countries. Under pressure from the revolutionary workers, a number of parties announced that they were breaking with the Second International, among them the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (ISDPG), the French Socialist Party, the Socialist Party of America, the Independent Labour Party in Britain, and the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland. The ISDPG and the French Socialist Party began negotiations for admission to the Comintern.
While admitting leftward-moving Social Democratic masses into its ranks, the Comintern could not permit individuals who had failed to break with the ideology and practice of reformism to penetrate its organizations. One of the chief tasks in forming new Communist parties was to make a decisive break with right-wing opportunism. At the same time a danger from the “left” appeared in many Communist parties, stemming from the youth and inexperience of these parties, which often tried to solve fundamental problems of revolutionary struggle too hastily, and by the infiltration of anarcho-syndicalist elements into the Communist movement. Lenin’s book “Left-wing” Communism—An Infantile Disorder played an exceptional role both in the struggle against the “left danger” and in the formation and activity of the Communist parties in general. This book, by generalizing the Bolshevik Party’s experience of strategy and tactics in the revolutionary struggle and showing its importance in world history, helped fraternal parties to assimilate this experience. Using the examples of the German, British, Italian, and Dutch workers’ movements, Lenin displayed the typical features of “left communism,” such as sectarianism, rejection of party spirit and party discipline, and denial of the necessity for working in mass organizations (trade unions and cooperatives), in parliaments, and in municipalities. Lenin probed the sources of left-and right-wing opportunism and emphasized the need for persistent struggle against both.
Opposing the sectarian narrowness of the left-wing Communists, Lenin urged the Communist parties “to learn how, with the maximum rapidity, to supplement one form (of struggle) with another, to substitute one for another, and to adapt our tactics to any such change that does not come from our class or from our efforts” (ibid., vol. 41, p. 89). In many ways Lenin’s book set the tone and content of the Second Congress of the Comintern, which opened on July 19, 1920, in Petrograd, continuing and completing its work in Moscow from July 23 to August 17. The Second Congress was more representative than the First: 217 delegates from 67 organizations (including 27 Communist parties) from 37 countries participated in it. Representatives of the French Socialist Party and the German Independent Social Democratic Party attended with a deliberative vote. The congress heard a report by Lenin on the international situation and the main tasks of the Comintern. Having analyzed the world situation as it had evolved up to that time, Lenin warned the Communist parties against, on the one hand, underestimating the intensity of the crisis of the capital system, and, on the other, having illusions that capitalism might collapse automatically as a result of the crisis. “The revolutionary parties,” said Lenin, “must now ’prove’ in practice that they have sufficient understanding and organization, contact with the exploited masses, and determination and skill to utilize this crisis for a successful, a victorious revolution. It is mainly to prepare this ‘proof’ that we have gathered at this Congress of the Communist International” (ibid., p. 228.)
One of the central tasks facing the young Communist parties, immature in ideological, political, and organizational respects as they still were, was to transform themselves into parties of a new type closely linked with the working class. The Twenty-one Terms (21 conditions for membership in the Comintern), which were adopted by the Second Congress, were meant to serve this purpose. Among these conditions were recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the primary principle of revolutionary struggle and Marxist theory; a total break with the reformists and centrists and their expulsion from the ranks of the party; a combination of legal and illegal methods of struggle; recognition of democratic centralism as the chief organizational principle of the party; and selfless fidelity to the principles of proletarian internationalism. These conditions were intended to protect the Communist parties from penetration not only by outright opportunists but also by elements whose inconsistency and inclination toward compromise with the betrayers of the proletarian cause made unity with them impossible. The centrist parties, which could not free themselves from Social Democratic ideology and could not accept the conditions of membership in the Comintern, held a conference in Vienna in February 1921 and founded the so-called International Working Union of Socialist Parties, better known to history as the Second-and-a-Half International. In 1923 it merged with the Second International (the Bern International) to form the Labor and Socialist International.
The resolutions on the national and colonial questions adopted by the Second Congress of the Comintern were of great importance on the level of principle. Proceeding from the fact that in the new historical epoch the national liberation movement was becoming an integral part of the worldwide revolutionary process, the congress formulated as a task of the Comintern the fusion into a single anti-imperialist movement of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat in the advanced countries with the national liberation struggle of the oppressed peoples. The rise of a socialist state and the leading role it played in the worldwide revolutionary movement opened up new possibilities for the peoples fighting for national independence and, above all, offered the prospect of a country’s transition to socialism bypassing the stage of capitalist development. In pointing to such a perspective, the congress’s resolution reflected Lenin’s idea of a close alliance between all national and colonial liberation movements and Soviet Russia. At the same time the congress indicated the need to combat petit bourgeois nationalist prejudices.
In defining the stand of the Communist parties on the agrarian question, the congress based itself on the Leninist principles of alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry and of the inevitable replacement of individual peasant farming by collective farming after the victory of the socialist revolution, emphasizing at the same time that in solving this problem the Communist parties must proceed “with great caution and circumspection.” (See Kommunisticheskii Internatsional v dokumentakh, Moscow, 1933, p. 135.) The congress adopted the Statutes of the Comintern based on the principle of democratic centralism and established the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) as its governing body. Lenin described the historical significance of the Second Congress thus: “First, the Communists had to proclaim their principles to the world. That was done at the First Congress. It was the first step. The second step was to give the Communist International organizational form and to draw up conditions for affiliation to it— conditions providing a real separation from the Centrists and from the direct and indirect agents of the bourgeoisie within the working-class movement. That was done at the Second Congress” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 44, p. 96).
In late 1920 and early 1921 the first postwar economic crisis began in many countries, and the bourgeoisie used it to launch the offensive against the working class. The class battles of the proletariat became defensive in character. It became apparent that a frontal attack on world capitalism would not succeed. A more thorough and better planned preparation for revolution was required. Thus the problem of drawing the broad masses of the working people into revolutionary struggle was posed in all its magnitude. In the Soviet republic, the Bolshevik Party turned to the NEP (New Economic Policy), the first step in carrying out Lenin’s inspired plan for building socialism in one country under the conditions of capitalist encirclement. Once again the Bolsheviks gave a model demonstration of how to work out a political line while taking into account the changing objective circumstances.
Under the new conditions, economics played the central role in the struggle between the two social forces in the world arena, capitalism and the Soviet state. “We are now exercising our main influence on the international revolution through our economic policy,” Lenin observed. “Once we solve this problem, we shall have certainly and finally won on an international scale” (ibid., vol. 43, p. 341).
The Third Congress of the Comintern was held in Moscow from June 22 to July 12, 1921, with the participation of 605 delegates from 103 parties and organizations (including 48 Communist parties) from 52 countries. It outlined a program for the reorganization of the Communist movement in conformity with the requirements of the new phase of world development. Draft theses on tactics, prepared under Lenin’s direction, were presented to the congress. These substantiated the necessity for the Communist parties to win over the majority of the working class. The delegates of the German, Austrian, and Italian Communist parties and some of the delegates of the Czechoslovak Communist Party criticized the theses from the “left” point of view and berated Lenin for being in “the right wing of the congress.” The “leftists” counterposed the “theory of the offensive” to Lenin’s line of struggle for the masses.
On July 1, 1921, Lenin delivered his celebrated speech at the congress in defense of the Comintern’s tactics. In the speech he explained how communist revolutionists should act when faced with a change in the real situation: they should not cling to outworn slogans, which had been conect in the past but which life itself had removed from the agenda, nor limit themselves to the general propositions of Marxism, but rather should analyze the new situation in a concrete way and change their tactics and political course accordingly. Lenin pointed out that in the situation that had arisen by mid-1921, those who demanded an immediate “offensive” against the bourgeoisie, right now, no matter what, were only urging the working class on to an adventure and could thus destroy the Communist Party. If the party were to heed such a call, it would inevitably prove to be a vanguard without the masses, a general staff without an army. Lenin showed that the leftists’ demand that the heaviest blows of the Communists within the working-class movement should be directed as before against the centrists was totally groundless theoretically and harmful politically. He observed that under the new conditions the young Communist parties, which had accumulated some experience in fighting centrism and right opportunism, should develop some knowledge of how to combat ultraleftism and sectarianism. They should demonstrate in practice that they are the vanguard of the working class by making compromises, when necessary, with other political trends and organizations in order to join the masses, to rally them around the correct political course, and to establish a united front of the working class. The most important task of the Communist parties in the new situation, Lenin pointed out, was to win over the majority of the working class. The congress stressed the importance of a struggle by the Communist parties for the immediate demands of the working class and other sectors of the toiling masses.
The Third Congress of the Comintern unanimously approved the theses on tactics drafted under Lenin’s direction. “More careful, more thorough preparation for fresh and more decisive battles, both defensive and offensive—that is the fundamental and principal thing in the decisions of the Third Congress,” he declared (ibid., vol. 44, p. 98). On the basis of the congress resolutions, the tactic of the united front was worked out. In December 1921 the ECCI presidium adopted extended theses on the workers’ united front.
The first experiment in applying the new tactics within the international workers’ movement was the Conference of Three Internationals (the Third, Second-and-a-Half, and Second), held in Berlin in 1922. However, Lenin regarded the agreements on joint action concluded at this conference as having been won at too great a cost, because the Comintern delegation, which included Clara Zetkin, N. I. Bukharin, and K. Radek, had made excessive political concessions to the representatives of the other internationals, going far beyond the essential unity in action. The leaders of the Second and Second-and-a-Half Internationals frustrated the implementation of decisions adopted at the conference.
The Fourth Congress of the Comintern opened in Petrograd on Nov. 5, 1922, and then continued and completed its work in Moscow from November 9 to December 5. It was attended by 408 delegates from 66 parties and organizations, from 58 countries. The congress continued the discussion of a number of problems that had been reviewed at the Third Congress. In a report dealing with the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution and the prospects of world revolution, Lenin expounded on the need for the Communist parties not only to know how to take the offensive in a period of upsurge but also to learn how to retreat when the revolutionary wave subsides. Using the example of NEP in Soviet Russia, he showed that a temporary retreat may be used to prepare for a new offensive against capitalism. The prospects of world revolution would be much better, Lenin argued, if all the Communist parties really learned to understand the organization, method, structure, and content of revolutionary work. He said the foreign parties “must assimilate part of the Russian experience” (ibid., vol. 45, p. 293). He especially emphasized the need to assimilate the Bolshevik experience in a creative way.
The congress centered much of its attention on the fascist danger presented by the establishment of fascist dictatorships in Hungary and Italy. It stressed that the workers’ united front was the chief means of combating fascism. The slogan of a “workers’ government” (later broadened into that of a “workers’ and farmers’ government”) was advanced as a means of rallying into a united front the broad masses of working people who were not yet ready to fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat but were already capable of participating in the economic and political struggle against the bourgeoisie. The congress also urged the necessity of fighting for unity within the trade union movement, which was deeply divided. Under the conditions existing in the colonial and dependent countries, the congress explained, the specific way to apply united-front tactics would be through the anti-imperialist united front, which would bring together all the national patriotic forces capable of struggling against colonialism.
The year 1923 was a year of great revolutionary events, bringing the postwar revolutionary upsurge to a climax. The proletarian movements in Germany, Bulgaria, and Poland, which ended in defeat, showed the weakness of the Communist parties in those countries. The task of strengthening them politically, through their mastering of Leninism and their assimilation of all that was international and universally significant in Bolshevism, assumed great urgency. This task, which was called Bolshevization of the Communist parties, had to be carried out under difficult conditions. As capitalism began to achieve a partial stabilization, the right-wing leaders of social democracy and of the reformist trade unions became more active, intensively promoting the ideas of class collaboration within the workers’ movement (including the theory of “political and economic democracy,” which allegedly developed under capitalism, and the theory of “organized capitalism”). Within the Communist parties not only right-wing elements but also left-sectarian, Trotskyite elements raised their heads.
In January 1924, Lenin died. This was a great loss to the world Communist movement. After Lenin’s death, Trotsky and his followers openly opposed the Leninist theory that it is possible to build socialism in one country and tried to impose upon the RCP (Bolshevik) and the whole Comintern the line of artificially “instigating” world revolution without taking into account the balance of class forces and the level of mass political consciousness in different countries. A resolute struggle against Trotskyism was waged. The fact that the Bolshevik Party upheld the Leninist course of building socialism in the USSR and defended Leninism against Trotskyism was a major victory for the international Communist movement.
The Fifth Congress of the Comintern was held in Moscow from June 17 to July 8, 1924, attended by 504 delegates representing 49 Communist parties, one people’s-revolutionary party, and ten international organizations. It has gone down in history as the congress of struggle for the Bolshevization of the Communist parties. The theses adopted as the main document of the congress stressed that the forging of genuinely Leninist parties was the central task of all Comintern work. The congress singled out the features of a genuinely Bolshevik party: a mass character (the slogan “To the Masses” raised by the Third Congress held true); the ability to maneuver, ruling out all dogmatism or sectarianism in the techniques and methods of struggle; loyalty to the principles of revolutionary Marxism; democratic centralism; and monolithic unity of the party, which must be “molded all of one piece.” (See Kommunisticheskii Internatsional v dokumentakh, Moscow, 1933, p. 411.) “Bolshevization,” said the resolutions of the fifth enlarged plenum (with nonmember participation) of the ECCI in April 1925, “is the ability to apply the general principles of Leninism to the given concrete situation in one country or another” (ibid., p. 478).
The course taken by the Comintern made it possible for each Communist Party, using its own practical experience of struggle, to become a national political force able to operate independently in the specific conditions of its own country and to become the true vanguard of the workers’ movement there. But in implementing this course, certain distortions occurred. For example, the congress tried to formulate methods for applying the united-front tactics that would hold true for all parties. Unity of action was permitted only from below; negotiations at the top with other parties and organizations were permitted only in cases where unity from below had already been achieved. Such stereo-typing of tactics, as the Comintern itself noted in its later documents, limited the initiative of the parties and prevented them from bringing their actions into accordance with the specific circumstances. This was an expression of an oversimplified approach to the tactics of the workers’ united front—regarding it only as a method of agitation and not as a method for the practical realization of unity in action within the working-class movement.
The Fifth Congress theses contained an incorrect formulation on the lack of any essential difference between social democracy and fascism. Later this substantially hurt efforts at practical unity in action. One of the factors giving rise to such manifestations of sectarianism was the bitter struggle conducted by the leaders of the Social Democratic parties and the Socialist International against the country of soviets and against Communist parties, as well as the savage persecution of Communists by Social Democratic governments.
With the formation of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite opposition bloc in the ACP (Bolshevik) and the increasing activity of the Trotskyists in the other Communist parties, the Comintern fully supported the position of the Central Committee of the ACP (Bolshevik) and characterized Trotskyism as “a variety of Menshevism” combining “ ‘European opportunism’ with ‘radical left’ phraseology, which often conceals plain political passivity” (“V rasshirennyi plenum IKKI, mart-apr. 1925,” ibid., p. 481). The seventh enlarged plenum of the ECCI in December 1926 was especially important in the ideological defeat of Trotskyism. In J. V. Stalin’s report at that plenum and in the plenum’s subsequent resolution, the nature of Trotskyism as a petit bourgeois social democratic deviation in the international workers’ movement was exposed. Trotskyism increasingly revealed its counterrevolutionary essence in its further struggle against Leninism and against the CPSU. The Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928 characterized the political content of the Trotskyist program as counterrevolutionary.
The resolute ideological and political campaign against Trotskyism in the ranks of the Comintern helped to solidify the Communist parties on Leninist positions. In this struggle an active role was played by such representatives of the ACP (Bolshevik) as J. V. Stalin, D. Z. Manuil’skii, V. G. Knorin, I. A. Piatnitskii, and E. M. Iaroslavskii, and such representatives of the other Communist parties as G. Dimitrov, P. Togliatti (Ercoli), M. Thorez, P. Sémard, B. Smeral, O. Kuusinen, Y. Sirola, E. Thälmann, V. Kolarov, and S. Katayama.
The Sixth Congress of the Comintern was held in Moscow from July 17 to Sept. 1, 1928. In attendance were 515 delegates from 65 organizations (including 50 Communist parties) from 57 countries. The congress pointed to the approch of a new, “third” period in world revolutionary developments since October 1917 —a period in which all the contradictions of capitalism were sharply aggravated, as witnessed by the signs of an impending world economic crisis, developing class battles, and a new up-surge of the liberation movement in the colonial and dependent countries. Consequently the congress confirmed the tactic projected by the ninth ECCI plenum in February 1928 and subsequently expressed in the formula “class against class.” This tactic envisaged intensified struggle against social democratic reformism and oriented the Communist parties toward preparing for the possible rise of a severe sociopolitical crisis in the capitalist countries. However, this tactic was based exclusively on the perspective of the proletarian revolution as the immediate task of the day, and it underestimated the danger of fascism, which might take advantage of the crisis for reactionary purposes. Moreover, in many cases this tactic was applied in a sectarian way.
The congress called on the Communists and the working class to intensify the struggle against the danger of a new world war. It unanimously affirmed the need for all Communist parties to defend the Soviet Union—the first land of socialism and the only one at that time. The congress theses on the struggle against the war danger declared: “The defense of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics against the international bourgeoisie corresponds to the class interests of the international proletariat and constitutes its sacred duty” (ibid., p. 810). Declaring the absolute and active support of the Comintern and all Communist parties for the national liberation struggle of the peoples in colonial and dependent countries, the congress urged the defense of the Chinese revolution against the imperialist interventionists. At the same time, under the impact of the Kuomintang betrayal of the 1927 Chinese revolution, the congress erroneously assessed the national bourgeoisie as a force that was no longer capable of participating in the struggle against imperialism.
The Sixth Congress adopted the Program of the Comintern, which provided a scientific definition of capitalism, especially at the stage of its general crisis, marked out the different periods the revolutionary movement had passed through in the ten years since the October Revolution, and explained the goals of the world Communist movement. The Program emphasized the great importance of history’s first socialist state to the revolutionary struggle throughout the capitalist world and specified the mutual international obligations of the Soviet Union and the world proletariat. However, on certain tactical questions the incorrect positions mentioned above were also reflected in the Program. By working out the problems of strategy and tactics in the international Communist movement, the Comintern, with the active participation of the ACP (Bolshevik), helped the Communist parties to overcome the mistakes resulting from the increased activity of right-wing deviationists in these parties, such as N. I. Bukharin and his supporters in the ACP (Bolshevik), J. Lovestone in the US Communist Party, and H. Brandler in the German Communist Party. These elements overestimated the extent to which capitalism had been stabilized and tried to argue that an “organized capitalism” was possible; they made other opportunist mistakes as well.
Given the consequences of the world economic crisis of unparalleled destructiveness from 1929 to 1933, the intensified aggressiveness of imperialism, and an assault upon democracy that went as far as actual fascism, the Communist movement was faced with new tasks. In this period, the Communist parties in a number of countries emerged as influential forces. A solid Marxist-Leninist core had been formed in these parties, centering on M. Thorez and M. Cachin in France; A. Gramsci and P. Togliatti (Ercoli) in Italy; E. Thälmann, W. Pieck, and W. Ulbricht in Germany; G. Dimitrov and V. Kolarov in Bulgaria; O. Kuusinen in Finland; W. Foster in the USA; J. Lénski in Poland; J. Diaz and D. Ibarruri in Spain; and W. Gallacher and H. Pollitt in Great Britain. Changing conditions confronted the parties with problems that had not been foreseen in previous resolutions of the Comintern. Moreover, certain tactical directives and recommendations of the Comintern proved to be inappropriate. The tragic experience of Germany, where fascism seized power in 1933, was a harsh lesson for the entire international workers’ and Communist movement. The experience of antifascist struggle proved that for a successful outcome there had to be unity of all the democratic forces, of the broadest layers of the population, and above all of the working class.
The 13th ECCI plenum in November and December 1933 took note of the mounting threat of fascism in the capitalist countries and placed special emphasis on building a united workers’ front as the primary means of combating this danger. However, a new tactical line corresponding to the new conditions of revolutionary struggle had yet to be developed. As it evolved it took into account the experiences of the armed struggles of the Austrian and Spanish proletariat in 1934, of the French Communist Party’s fight for a united workers’ and popular front in France, and of the antifascist struggle of Communist parties in other countries. This line was definitively formulated by the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, preparations for which proceeded in an atmosphere of the broadest possible collective discussion of the problems at hand.
The Seventh Congress of the Comintern was held in Moscow from July 25 to Aug. 20, 1935. At this time the Comintern included 76 Communist parties and organizations, of which 19 were sympathizing organizations. It had 3,141,000 Communists in its ranks, of whom 785,500 were from capitalist countries. Only 26 organizations functioned legally; the remaining 50, which had been driven underground, were suffering harsh persecution. Taking part in the congress were 513 delegates representing 65 Communist parties, in addition to a number of international organizations, such as the International Red Aid (MOPR), the Communist Youth International (KIM), and the Red Trade Union International (Profintern). E. Thälmann, then imprisoned in fascist Germany, was elected honorary chairman of the congress. The following questions were discussed: (1) report on the work of the ECCI (W. Pieck reporting); (2) report on the work of the International Control Commission (Z. Angaretis reporting); (3) the fascist offensive and the tasks of the Comintern in the struggle for a united workers’ front against fascism (G. Dimitrov reporting); (4) the preparations for imperialist war and the tasks of the Comintern (P. Togliatti reporting); (5) the results of socialist construction in the USSR (D. Z. Manuil’skii reporting); and (6) elections for the governing bodies of the Comintern. The work of the congress was conducted in an atmosphere of businesslike and thorough discussion and constructive criticism and self-criticism.
The historical significance of the Seventh Congress was primarily that it projected a clear strategic and tactical line for the Communist parties in their struggle against the fascist offensive and against the unleashing of a new world war. The congress defined the class essence of fascism in power as “an openly terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital” (Rezoliutsii VII Vsemirnogo Kongressa Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala, [Moscow] 1935, pp. 10–11). The congress stated that the advent of fascism to power did not represent the ordinary process of one bourgeois government succeeding another but the replacement of one form of bourgeois class rule—parliamentary democracy —by another, an openly reactionary, terrorist dictatorship. In contrast to the post-October period of revolutionary upsurge, when the working class was faced with the choice of socialist revolution or bourgeois democracy (with support for the latter signifying in fact a desertion to the side of the class enemy), the political crisis of the early 1930’s posed a different set of alternatives—either fascism or bourgeois democracy.
In this situation, the question of what attitude to take toward social democracy had to be viewed differently. The fascist offensive had produced important shifts within the social democratic movement itself. The line of uncompromising struggle not only against its openly reactionary right-wing leaders but also against the centrists, a line that at one time had been absolutely correct, had to be revised in the light of new situations. What was needed now was to bring together all those who for one reason or another were willing to oppose the dangers of fascism and world war that were hanging over the heads of all peoples. The tactics of the Communist movement had to be brought into accordance with the new tasks of the day. There had to be a definitive end to sectarianism, which remained one of the impediments to unity of action by the working class. The change of line carried out by the Seventh Congress of course did not mean the abandonment of the ultimate aims of the movement, the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat and for socialism. The struggle for democracy strengthened the positions of the proletariat within the common democratic front; it helped to build and consolidate the alliance between the working class, the peasantry, and all the toiling masses; and consequently it helped to form the political army of the socialist revolution.
Having analyzed the problems facing the Communist movement in the new situation, the Seventh Congress defined the tactic of the united workers’ and popular front, the bases for which had been formulated by Lenin as early as at the Third Congress of the Comintern. The first task of the international workers’ movement was to build a united workers’ front. The congress emphasized that for unity of action, there were “no prior conditions except one—an elementary one, acceptable to all workers . . . that unity of action should be aimed against fascism, against the offensive of capital, against the threat of war” (G. Dimitrov, “Nastuplenie fashizma i zadachi Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala,” in his Izbr. proizv., vol. 1, Moscow, 1957, p. 395). To be sure, such a broad and flexible approach to the question of the united workers’ front did not mean reconciliation with opportunism represented by the right-wing leaders of social democracy.
Closely connected with the problem of the united workers’ front was the new approach to the question of unity in the trade union movement on both the national and the international scale. The congress came to the conclusion that the trade unions led by the Communists had to either join the reformist unions or unite with them on a platform of combating fascism and the offensive of capital. The congress also gave a more flexible formulation to the question of political unity within the working class. The principles of the popular front were developed at this congress. What they involved was the unification of broad layers of the peasantry, the urban petite bourgeoisie, and the working intelligentsia on the basis of the united workers’ front—that is, bringing together precisely those layers of the population that fascism was trying to attract by frightening them with the bugaboo of “the Red menace.”
A prime means of building the popular front, the congress noted, was a consistent struggle in defense of the particular demands of the revolutionary proletariat and interests of these strata. The congress worked out the question of a popular-front government, regarding it as the power in the hands of a broad class coalition that was directed against fascism and war. Under favorable conditions this form of power could develop into the democratic dictatorship of the working class and the peasantry, which in turn lays the foundations for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Great contributions in working out the problems of the popular front were made by G. Dimitrov, the representatives of the ACP (Bolshevik), and the French, Spanish, and other Communist parties.
The conclusions of the Seventh Congress on problems of the national liberation movement were also of great importance. Rejecting the leftist views, which in essence underestimated the overall national and anti-imperialist tasks of the revolutions in the colonial countries, the congress made it clear that the stage of national liberation struggle directed against the imperialist oppressors was inevitable for the majority of the colonial and semicolonial countries. The chief slogan proposed by the congress for the oppressed and dependent peoples was to build an anti-imperialist united front that would include all the national liberation forces. This slogan represented a consistent continuation and development of the Comintern policy on the national and colonial question worked out under Lenin’s leadership.
One of the central questions raised at the Seventh Congress was that of the struggle against the outbreak of a new world war. Observing that the redivision of the world had already begun, that the chief warmongers were the German and Italian fascists and the Japanese imperialists, and that the Western imperialists were encouraging fascist aggression, the congress emphasized that in the event of an attack on the USSR, the Communists would call upon the working people “to work for the victory of the Red Army over the armies of the imperialists by all means and at any cost” (Rezoliutsii VII Vsemirnogo kongressa Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala, [Moscow] 1935, p. 44). In the name of the Communists of the whole world, the congress declared that the USSR was the bulwark of the peoples’ freedom and that the victory of socialism in the USSR continued to have a revolutionizing effect on the toiling masses in every land, instilling confidence in their own strength and convincing them of the necessity and the practical possibility of overthrowing capitalism and building socialism. In the event of fascist aggression, the congress asserted, Communists and the working class would have to “stand ... in the front ranks of those fighting for national independence and to carry the war of liberation through to the end” (ibid., p. 42). Having refuted the slanderous assertion that the Communists wanted war because it would bring revolution in its train, G. Dimitrov, in his concluding speech to the congress, advanced the proposition that “the toiling masses can, through their militant actions, prevent an imperialist war” (V bor’be za edinyi front protiv fashizma i voiny, Moscow, 1939, p. 93). This possibility, which did not exist at all in 1914, Dimitrov explained primarily by the existence of the USSR and its policy of peace.
The congress elected the governing bodies of the Comintern —the ECCI, the International Control Commission, the Presidium, and the Secretariat of the ECCI. The outstanding revolutionary internationalist G. Dimitrov was elected general secretary of the ECCI.
The Seventh Congress of the Comintern was a milestone in the further evolution of the forms of unity within the international Communist movement. In view of the increased political maturity and geographic spread of Communist activity, the congress felt it was possible and necessary to make changes in the methods and forms of Comintern leadership. The congress proposed that the ECCI “avoid, as a rule, direct interference in the internal organizational affairs of the Communist parties” (Rezoliutsii VII Vsemirnogo kongressa Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala, [Moscow] 1935, p. 4). It was established that the ECCI should concentrate on working out basic political and tactical principles of general international significance. Soon after the Seventh Congress, on the initiative of the ACP (Bolshevik) Central Committee representatives to the Comintern, the Secretariat of the ECCI adopted a number of important resolutions along these lines.
In carrying out the decisions of the congress, leading figures from various Communist parties worked in the Comintern leadership in a spirit of mutual confidence and comradely collaboration. The principle of collective leadership was realized in practice. When problems involving the work of a particular party were discussed, the representatives of that party took an active part in the discussion. Sometimes such discussions were of a critical nature. The conclusions and recommendations arrived at were always the fruit of cooperative efforts by all participants.
During this period certain negative phenomena related to the Stalin personality cult occurred within the Communist movement.
After the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, the Communist parties of France, Spain, China, and several other countries, working in the spirit of its decisions, enriched the world Communist movement with the valuable experience of their struggle to broaden their connections with the masses and to establish and consolidate the Popular Front. In France the victory of the Popular Front (founded in 1935) in the parliamentary elections of April and May 1936 not only removed the danger of a fascist coup but also made possible the introduction of a number of progressive reforms. In Spain the enormous potential of the Popular Front (founded in January 1936) as a force for mobilizing the masses in the struggle against fascism and for carrying out profound social transformations was disclosed during the national revolutionary war waged by the Spanish people against the fascist insurgents and Italian and German interventionists from 1936 to 1939. In China the Communists bent their efforts toward the creation of a united anti-Japanese front of all patriotic forces in the country on the basis of collaboration between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang. In Brazil the National Liberation Alliance was formed in 1935, uniting the democratic forces and assuming the leadership of the armed antifascist struggle that broke out in the fall of that year.
The Communists intensified their struggle for the working class and all democratic forces to close ranks on a world scale. For the purpose of restoring the unity of the trade union movement the Communist-led Red Trade Unions, which belonged to the Red Trade Union International (Profintern), began to join the general union confederations of their countries, and in 1937 the Profintern (Red Trade Union International) ceased to exist. In the 1930’s the Communists were active in the developing antiwar movement among democratic-minded strata of the population (for example, at international workers’ and peasants’ congresses, writers’ congresses, and congresses of journalists, cultural figures, athletes, women, and young people) and in the movements of solidarity with the Spanish, Chinese, and Ethiopian peoples fighting for freedom and independence.
Ten times between 1935 and 1939 the ECCI presented the Labor and Socialist International leadership with a concrete program of united action by the Communist and Social Democratic movements in the struggle against fascism and war. Twice in 1935, in Brussels and in Paris, ECCI representatives Thorez and Cachin met with leaders of the Labor and Socialist International. However, these efforts did not meet with the desired response from the right-wing Social Democratic leaders. The position of the Labor and Socialist International and the Socialist parties caused the international working class to remain divided under conditions in which fascism was on the offensive and the danger of a new world war was growing.
As a result of Comintern activity between the two world wars, the world working-class movement as a whole met World War II better prepared than it had been for World War I. Although the split in the working class and the policies of the Western powers hindered the averting of the new war, the influence of the working class on the nature, course, and consequences of World War II was much broader and more substantial than in 1914–18.
The great patriotic and international feat of the CPSU and the Soviet people in the war against fascism, the heroic antifascist struggle of the Communists of Poland, Yugoslavia, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Mongolia, Albania, Greece, Rumania, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, China, Korea, Vietnam, Spain, Germany, Finland, and Japan, the self-sacrificing work of all the Communist parties in the anti-Hitler coalition countries presented a weighty contribution by the international Communist movement to resolving the fate of the postwar world. However, with the growth of the world Communist movement (from 400,000 in 1917 to 4.3 million in 1939) and the heightened level of political maturity and greater complexity of the tasks of the Communist parties, the organizational form chosen by the First Congress of the Comintern, which corresponded to the needs of the initial phase of the Communist movement, was no longer adequate.
The variety of situations in different countries and regions of the world that resulted from the general nature and specific features of World War II changed the position of the Comintern as the sole guiding center for the entire Communist movement. Some Communist parties had to function inside the aggressor countries and others in countries that were the victims of aggression. Some still functioned legally in countries with imperialist governments that were fighting against the fascist powers; others were driven underground by governments that had capitulated to the aggressors. Some were in colonies occupied or threatened with occupation by fascist-bloc states; others were active in colonies outside the immediate theater of the war. The Communist parties had to pay particular attention to the situation in their own countries and all the peculiarities of domestic and foreign policy pursued by this or that state. As a result, it was no longer practicably possible to guide the world Communist movement from a single center, nor was it advisable, for the danger would arise of schematized tactics and decisions being imposed that did not correspond to the specific circumstances of a country.
In addition, in order to preserve the maximum possible unity of action of all the national and international forces willing to fight against fascism, it was necessary to clear away everything that might interfere. In particular, the myth of Moscow’s intervention in the internal affairs of other countries had to be buried once and for all, to remove any grounds whatsoever for the slanderous charge that the Communist parties did not function independently but “on outside orders.” For all these reasons, the Presidium of the ECCI in May 1943 decided to dissolve the Comintern, a measure that was approved by all of its sections.
Among the great historical services rendered by the Comintern were its defense of the doctrine of Marxism-Leninism from debasement and distortion by the opportunists of both the right and the “left”; its accomplishment of a real fusion between Marxism-Leninism and the working-class movement on an international scale; its development of Marxist-Leninist theory, strategy, and tactics under the conditions of the first stage of the general crisis of capitalism and the building of socialism in the USSR; its aid to the advanced workers’ vanguard of many countries in rallying together into genuine proletarian parties; its aid to these parties in mobilizing the toiling masses to defend their political and economic interests and to combat fascism and imperialist wars; its consolidation of the international unity of the working class; its struggle for the advancement and victory of the national liberation movement; and the major role it played in preparing the way for the historic revolutionary transformations accomplished during and after World War II. The Communist parties, which stood at the head of the working class as popular democratic and socialist revolutions unfolded in a number of countries, had been through a school of inestimable importance, the Comintern. Their great political experience and close ties with the first land of socialism, the Soviet Union, made it possible for them to carry out democratic and socialist transformations successfully. This led to the formation of the mighty world socialist system, which now exerts a decisive influence on the whole course of world history in the interests of peace and socialism.
The Comintern experience shows that the strength and effectiveness of the Communist movement are determined by its loyalty to proletarian internationalism. The Comintern raised high the banner of internationalism and promoted internationalist ideas throughout the world. After the dissolution of the Comintern the forms in which the fraternal parties maintained connections changed, but the need to preserve, develop, and strengthen the principles of proletarian internationalism in every possible way remains a task of the highest importance. It is a vital necessity for the Communist movement. Internationalism is built into the very foundations of the movement as a worldwide force expressing the fundamental interests of the working class and all working people. Internationalism is opposed to national hostility and race hatred, which are advantageous to the exploiting classes. The assertion and expansion of internationalism are the surest guarantees against the fragmentation of the Communist movement into separate contingents and against the danger of different sections of the movement isolating themselves within a limited national or regional framework.
At the present stage, as was noted by the International Conference of Communist and Workers’ Parties in 1969, the defense of real socialism is an inseparable part of proletarian internationalism. A correct internationalist policy by the Communist parties is of primary importance to the destiny of the entire working-class movement and the whole of mankind. The traditions of the Comintern and the tremendously rich political experience it accumulated continue to be of service to the Communist parties in their struggle for peace, democracy, national independence, and socialism, in their struggle for the unity of the international Communist movement on the basis of Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism, and in their struggle against right and left opportunism.
In the new circumstances that have arisen in the postwar period, the Leninist ideas and principles of the international Communist movement have been developed further in the documents of the International Conferences of Communist and Workers’ Parties in 1957, 1960, and 1969, in the resolutions of Congresses of the CPSU, in the Program of the CPSU, and in the Marxist-Leninist program documents of the fraternal parties.
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B. N. PONOMAREV