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How workers rallied to aid the early Soviet republic

December 29, 2012

The following brief talk on work by the Communist International to gather material aid for the Soviet Republic was given by Suzanne Weiss at the fourth Toronto study session on Toward the United Front, a 1,300-page edition the Fourth Communist International Congress (1922).

The study session, entitled “The Comintern’s Struggle for Social Hegemony,” surveyed Comintern work in unions, cooperatives, education, youth organizations, and on material assistance to Soviet Russia. The presentation, taking up a speech by Willi Münzenberg, is followed by a brief biography and a description of the study session. For more information on this program, see Self-Guided Tours of Revolutionary History. More information on Toward the United Front is available here.  – John Riddell

International Workers’ Aid for Soviet Russia

By Suzanne Weiss

Willi Münzenberg spoke to the Fourth Comintern Congress as head of International Workers’ Aid, a vast campaign to gather material support for the Soviet republic. Thirty-three years old, he had been a founding leader of the Communist Youth International.

The Workers’ Aid campaign was the Comintern’s most successful united-front effort at that time.

There had been a famine in Russia the year before. The workers’ aid campaign had raised millions for famine relief and economic reconstruction, equal to about half the Soviet investment fund that year.

MunzenbergThe campaign drew support above all from workers – but also from those with more resources, Münzenberg said. “We are now raising a million-dollar loan in order to provide funds for our enterprises in Russia.” Workers Aid equipped and managed its own factories there. “This loan project found a response in substantial layers of the middle class” – even some bankers.

Some comrades see here a danger of petty-bourgeois backsliding, Münzenberg said. True, famine relief and economic aid is very tricky, but every method of struggle has its dangers.

Many workers in Europe wanted to emigrate to Russia. Workers’ Aid opposed that, he said. “It would not be a form of support for Russia, but a way to ease the crisis in the capitalist countries.” But some trained workers, whose skills were unavailable in Russia, were brought there under the control of and in agreement with the Russian trade unions.

When Münzenberg spoke, famine relief was over; the Soviet economy was recovering. Yet he called for continued economic aid, to help buy industrial tools for Russia. Why? The main reason, Münzenberg said, is to make it possible “to approach the broadest masses, whose ideas are still very rudimentary and who are otherwise hard to reach” with Communist ideas.

Some comrades object that the aid campaign is restricting the parties’ revolutionary political struggle by taking away our best comrades and that it makes the party look like a charity.

“These objections reveal that comrades do not know how to apply the united front policy,” Münzenberg said. “The economic aid campaign provides us with a hundred starting points where we can pose the Russian question and, flowing from that, revolutionary question in general. There are thousands of workers and party comrades who are inactive. It enables us to work with the broad masses in daily political struggle and to discuss proletarian revolution.”

Another way to defend Soviet Russia, he said, was to press capitalist governments to recognize Soviet Russia and for conclusion of favourable trade relations with it. Of course, carrying out our own revolution would help even more.

Have you ever taken part in anything like Workers’ Aid to Soviet Russia? I have. When Washington made war against the Nicaraguan revolutionary government in the 1980s, there was a movement on this continent to provide political and economic support to the Nicaraguan people. Here in Canada, it was called “Tools for Peace,” and it won major trade-union support.

Another example is the Viva Palestina effort to break the siege of Gaza.

There will be other campaigns like this, and Münzenberg has good ideas on how to carry them out in the context of winning social hegemony.

Biography of Willi Münzenberg

Münzenberg, Willi (1889–1940) – factory worker; active in socialist youth in Germany and (from 1910) Switzerland; secretary of antiwar Socialist Youth International 1915–19; co-founder German CP 1918; secretary of Communist Youth International 1919–21; leader of International Workers Aid and of a vast communist cultural enterprise; 4WC delegate; opposed Stalin ultraleft course 1932; refused to go to USSR during Stalin purges; expelled from CP 1937; organised anti-Stalinist communists in France 1939; victim of political assassination, probably Stalinist in character.

Toward the United Front, p. 1240, © John Riddell, 2011.

Guide for study session on the Comintern’s struggle for social hegemony

The early Communist International’s strategy, in a word, was to win hegemony in the working class, and for the working class to win hegemony among the exploited and oppressed as a whole.

Hegemony (“preponderant influence”) covers a lot of ground. So too did the Comintern, whose spin-offs included organizations for revolutionary women, anti-colonial solidarity, sports, defense of political prisoners, revolutionary peasants, radical films, and more.

This study session takes a look at some such areas of work that were discussed in the Fourth Congress (1922): trade unions (the most developed area of Comintern work), cooperatives, educational activity, youth, and aid to Soviet Russia. The suggested readings give us a picture of the richness and diversity of working-class culture at that time.

The readings focus on workers in imperialist countries, where the Comintern was then more fully developed. Activity in the colonies is better reflected in the study sessions on women, anti-colonial struggle, and the united front. Here are the suggested readings; page numbers are from Toward the United Front:

609–12 Alfred Rosmer (France–unions)
586–91 Hertha Sturm (Germany–unions)
596–600 John Garden (Australia–unions)
824–28 Henri Lauridan (France–cooperatives)
830–834 Arthur Henriet (France–cooperatives)
883–87 Nadezhda Krupskaya (Russia–education)
791–96 Richard Schüller (Germany–youth)
639–49 Willi Münzenberg (Germany–aid for Soviet Russia)

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