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Self-guided tours of revolutionary history

December 29, 2012

By John Riddell. The following five study guides are designed for use by any group of readers, anywhere in the world, to enable them to organize participatory study sessions on the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (1922) without the assistance of a teacher.

The readings are available in John Riddell, ed., Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922, Leiden: Brill 2012; Chicago: Haymarket, 2012. Many of the texts are available online at Marxists Internet Archive. For more information on text availability, please contact this website. — JR 

The five topics are:

  • For an anti-imperialist united front
  • United front and workers’ government
  • The Comintern’s struggle for social hegemony
  • Toward an alliance with working farmers
  • Women at the Fourth Comintern Congress

Each participant in the group should make a brief presentation on one of the proposed readings. The presenter can either adopt the voice of the Fourth Congress speaker or summarize the speech in her own voice. Presenters should consult their speaker’s biography (Toward the United Front, pages 1217-1255). An open discussion period will follow. If there are more than ten participants, the session can divide into breakout groups.

For examples of presentations given at study sessions in Toronto, see “Colonial Peoples at the Fourth Comintern Congress” and “How Workers Rallied to Aid the Early Soviet Republic.”

The readings for each study session, taken together, total between 25 and 35 pages.

Copies of the book are available from Haymarket Press, Chicago. For more detailed study outlines, or for advice in planning study sessions, please contact me by placing a comment on the web page for this article.

In the following notes, the numbers preceding speakers’ names refer to page numbers in “Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922.” Names are followed by the speaker’s country of origin.

For an anti-imperialist united front

On the suggestion of pioneer Indian Communist M.N. Roy, the congress voted for efforts to construct a united front against colonial and semi-colonial rule. Tan Malaka described how such an alliance had been realized with anti-imperialist Muslim forces in Indonesia. Tahar Boudengha reported on the obstacle posed by a “Communist Party” in Algeria made up of European settlers who supported colonial rule. Otto Huiswoud introduced a resolution for a united Black freedom struggle in both hemispheres. William Earsman described the difficulties faced by Communists in Australia in countering white racist sentiments among many workers there. The relevant resolution is included for reference.

  • M.N. Roy (India) 686-94
  • Tan Malaka (Indonesia) 261-65
  • Tahar Boudengha (Tunisia) 700-5
  • Otto Huiswoud (Suriname, U.S.) 800-07
  • William Earsman (Scotland, Australia) 716-19
  • Resolution 1180-90

United front and workers’ government

The united front discussion sprawled across the entire congress. These excerpts highlight introductory remarks by Comintern President Gregory Zinoviev, who held an intermediate position in this debate. Ernst Meyer and Karl Radek spoke for those in the congress favouring aggressive use of united front policy; Ruth Fischer and Amadeo Bordiga for those who favoured caution in this area. The portion of the resolution on tactics taking up this question is included for reference.

  • Gregory Zinoviev (Russia) 125-30
  • Ernst Meyer (Germany) 136-41
  • Ruth Fischer (Germany) 144-49
  • Amadeo Bordiga (Italy) 178-85
  • Karl Radek (Poland) 392-395; 399-402
  • Resolution 1157-62

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 and on the anti-imperialist united front.

Alfred Rosmer, Hertha Sturm, and John Garden speak on the union movement; Henri Lauridan and Arthur Henriet on cooperatives; Nadezhda Krupskaya on educational work; Richard Schüller on youth; and Willi Münzenberg on aid to Soviet Russia.

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

Toward an alliance with working farmers

The Comintern sought an alliance between the working class and all exploited, oppressed, and alienated layers of society, including non-employed working people. In the Fourth Congress, the main discussion of this task concerned workers’ alliance with the peasantry. Our selections focus on three issues: (1) General policy toward the peasantry (Eugen Varga, reporter on this question; Renaud Jean) (2) Peasant policy in the Soviet union (Clara Zetkin and Ivan Teodorovich–note their disagreement regarding the role of “indigenous village communism”); (3) Working people’s access to the land and what is now called food sovereignty (William Joss).

  • Eugen Varga (Hungary) 739-50
  • Renaud Jean (France) 750-57
  • Clara Zetkin (Germany) 324–28
  • Ivan Teodorovich (Russia) 757-63
  • William Joss (Scotland) 763–65
  • Agrarian Action Program 954–59

Women at the Fourth Comintern Congress

Women won the right to vote during the years 1917-21 in North America and many major countries of Europe, marking the beginning of women’s achievement of citizenship. In other respects, they were still denied equality before the law and basic human rights. In Soviet Russia, by contrast, women had achieved full legal equality, and many social programs had been launched to help women advance toward genuine liberation.

When the Communist International (Comintern) was launched in 1919, it took over the traditions of the socialist women’s movement led by German revolutionary Clara Zetkin, which had been the first component of the global revolutionary movement to call for struggle against the imperialist world war of 1914-18.

Revolutionary socialists in Zetkin’s lifetime sought to advance the emancipation of women as a component part of workers’ struggles for socialist revolution. They criticized “bourgeois feminists” for seeking only those reforms that would benefit upper-class women, while ignoring the suffering of women workers.

At the Comintern’s Third Congress in 1921, Zetkin and her collaborators secured adoption of three resolutions mapping out a campaign to set up a global network of committees for revolutionary work among women. The Comintern’s executive committee established a secretariat for work among women, headed by Zetkin, which began publication of an ambitious journal, called The Communist Women’s International.

This program encountered much apathy and resistance from Communist parties internationally. When the Fourth Congress convened a year later, the women’s secretariat requested that a day’s session be devoted to explaining and motivating the 1921 decisions. The Congress presidium agreed to give the floor to four representatives of women’s secretariat and to consider a resolution instructing parties to implement the 1921 decisions.

The Fourth Congress resolution was adopted, and – to a considerable degree – it was carried out. Tens of thousands of women were organized in the revolutionary women’s committees. However, beginning in 1925, as the Comintern fell into the grip of Stalinism, its commitment to women’s emancipation declined, and the women’s structures were progressively dismantled.

  • Clara Zetkin 837-52
  • Hertha Sturm 852-63
  • Sofia Smidovich 864-68
  • Varsenika Kasparov 868-70
  • Comments by the chair; resolution 870-73
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