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Review: An essential resource on communism’s early years

April 13, 2015

John Riddell (ed.), To The Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921, Brill, Leiden & Boston, 2015, x + 1299 pp.

By Ian Birchall. The years following the Russian Revolution of 1917 were a high-point of working-class struggle and organisation. The first four congresses of the Communist International – those attended by Lenin (and from which Stalin was notably absent) remain a point of reference for many on the left. And yet it is only now that we are able to get a full picture of what occurred at those four congresses.

John Riddell has produced the complete proceedings of the Third Congress (1921) to join his previous volumes on the First, Second and Fourth Congresses.[1] Riddell and his team of collaborators have produced a work of a high standard of scholarship, with the translation carefully checked against sources in several languages.

There are copious annotations and supplementary documents, and the weighty volume clearly embodies an enormous quantity of labour. Riddell does not explain why the earlier volumes were published by Pathfinder, but the Third and Fourth Congresses were produced by Brill, but we may suppose that the circumstances did not make his task any easier. No historian, from whatever point on the spectrum, will be able to discuss the early years of communism without reference to these volumes, and no serious library can be without them.

The verbatim record of the plenary sessions of a twenty-one day congress may not sound like an appetising read. Few will get excited by the report of the Credentials Commission. And there is much in the language used that seems very remote from our own world. We do not (in the political circles I move in) refer to our enemies as “hyenas”. [1035] A sentence like “the party’s influence can spread among the broad masses of non-party and backward women workers and peasants” [1017] sounds both antiquated and patronising. And one can well imagine the response of a modern audience to Radek’s statement that “we are not hysterical women but men”. [237]

A living conference

Yet through the accumulation of detail Riddell succeeds in conveying the atmosphere of a living conference. Heated squabbles about maximum speaking times and delegates turning up late are all too familiar. But delegates were under great pressure; as well as the daily plenary session there were meetings of commissions to attend, as well as the many informal discussions in which the arguments were carried on. With no simultaneous translation available, it was necessary to follow contributions with translations (the conference had four working languages: German, Russian, French and English). Apparently Trotsky gave a three‑hour report in German, and then immediately followed this with his own translations into French and Russian, speaking for a total of nine hours non-stop. [134]

Phrases like “tumultuous, prolonged applause” may seem like clichés, but there is no doubt that the delegates felt a passionate sense of involvement in the debates. All the main votes were unanimous, but there was no absence of confrontation, and there were many sharp exchanges. Delegates did not tone down their remarks and showed little deference. Radek mocked Pannekoek, theoretician of ultra-leftism and also a scientist, calling him “an astronomer, gazing only at the stars and never at a living worker”. [268]

Historical turning point

Delegates were all too well aware that they were at a historical turning-point. As the Congress theses put it, the “imperialist bourgeoisie” was “preparing a new war, which will threaten to destroy human civilisation once and for all”. [914] That delegates can scarcely have envisaged the Holocaust and Hiroshima does not detract from their sense that history was on a knife-edge, and that failure could have catastrophic consequences.

The 1921 Congress came at a difficult time. 1920 had been a good year for the International. The Second Congress had been a success, drawing in increasing support for the besieged Russian state from a range of sections of the international labour movement. The Congress was followed later in the year by the establishment of mass Communist Parties in Germany and France.

But at the beginning of 1921 things started to turn sour. Economic difficulties in Russia led first to the Kronstadt revolt, then to the New Economic Policy and a retreat into “state capitalism”. And in March the German Communist Party launched the fateful “March Action”; responding to a provocation in Central Germany, the party launched a general strike without support outside its own ranks, leading to savage state repression and a catastrophic loss of membership. More generally, it was becoming clear that the balance of forces was shifting away from the working class and back towards the bourgeoisie.

Three possible responses

In broad terms, there were three possible responses to the recognition that the revolutionary wave was beginning to subside. The first was that of Paul Levi. Levi, a former leader of the German Communist Party, had played a prominent role at the Second Congress, when he had spoken seven times. But in the aftermath of the March Action he had been expelled for publishing a pamphlet criticising the Action as a “Bakuninist putsch”. He argued that “the existing contradictions did not immediately lead to open confrontation”. By the following year he was arguing that the defeat was definitive: “it is the bourgeoisies who have triumphed. Our brothers, for their part, have been beaten on all sides.”[2] Though absent from the Congress, where his expulsion was confirmed, Levi was constantly referred to. While history seems to have vindicated his position, he can be legitimately accused of fatalism. Things did not have to turn out the way they did, and a reasonable person, looking at the world in mid-1921, would have had good grounds for supposing that revolutionary opportunities were not yet exhausted.

If Levi’s position represented the right of the political spectrum, the left took the form of support for what came to be described as the “theory of the offensive”. Its adherents basically argued that, in order to reverse the decline in working-class militancy, the Communist parties needed to go onto the attack. The danger was that the parties would substitute themselves for the absent working-class consciousness. As Clara Zetkin summed it up, the March Action, the most significant application of the theory, had shown that the German party leadership “thought that they could force the situation by a decision, cooked up in the test-tube by the party’s bodies, a decision that would bring about an immediate reorientation of the party masses, which had not been prepared inwardly, intellectually, and politically.” [544]

Advocates of the offensive were not all ultra-left fools and hotheads, though there were a few such among their number. In a difficult situation, in which revolutionary possibilities seemed to be receding, revolutionary will clearly had a role to play. The danger was a lurch into voluntarism.

Between fatalism and voluntarism

The Comintern leadership endeavoured to steer a course between right and left, between fatalism and voluntarism. The basis for this was a careful and sober analysis of the objective circumstances within which action had to be taken. This was given in Trotsky’s “Report on World Economic Crisis”, which effectively began the Congress after the formalities of the opening session. This masterly survey of the world situation has been published before,[3] but placed in the context of the Congress debates it acquires new force and significance.

Trotsky’s analysis insisted on the growing importance of the United States: “The economic centre of gravity is no longer in Europe but in the United States. Europe has decayed, and by and large it is decaying more and more.” [115] Here he identified a process which would only be fully apparent after the Second World War – the huge European colonial empires remained largely intact until 1945. But while he insisted that capitalism was in, and would remain in, deep crisis, he refused to pronounce on the timescale – “we cannot argue about the tempo of events, after history has betrayed us so infamously in this matter”. [126] And his conclusion was clearly directed against the more optimistic and voluntarist of the delegates: “the struggle will perhaps be prolonged and perhaps will not stride forward as feverishly as one might wish; the struggle will be difficult, demanding many sacrifices. Accumulated experience has made us more astute. We will be able to manoeuvre in and through this struggle.” [133]

Trotsky undoubtedly made mistakes – for example his assertion that “without the gold standard, capitalist economy cannot exist”. [125] But his general perspective, cautiously phrased as it was, was proven correct. Capitalism survived, but at a terrible price, with years of depression and the rise of fascism, and with repeated outbreaks of working-class resistance – Britain 1926, China 1927, France and Spain 1936. (The rebuilding of capitalism after 1945 was still far beyond the horizon.) From the comfort of hindsight we can speculate as to whether a better road was possible; there could scarcely have been a worse one.

Trotsky’s reminder of objective conditions provided an essential framework for the ensuing debates. But the delegates had come to discuss action, not prediction, and the discussion of “World Economy” soon segued into discussion of the Executive’s report and then five heated sessions (crammed into three days) on “Tactics and Strategy” which were the very heart of the Congress.

Sharp altercations

And while many other important issues came up, it was the March Action and the “theory of the offensive” that dominated. The events were in the very recent past, and often debate on principles became entangled with disputes as to what exactly had happened. There were sharp altercations about who exactly had said what precisely. Malzahn, of the German Communist Party and sympathetic to Levi’s position, responded to Zinoviev’s claim that half a million workers had participated in the March Action with a careful analysis that claimed that “200,000 to 220,000 workers took part in the strike”.[4] [260-2] Malzahn and Radek later clashed sharply about what Radek had actually said about the March Action, with Malzahn taunting him: “If you do not have the courage today to hold to your words, then please do not accuse us of cowardice, but attend to your own cowardice”. Radek responded indignantly: “What an outrage! I will never discuss with you again.” [505]

Divisions were apparent even among the Russian leadership. Trotsky was scathing about the “philosophy of the offensive”: “This celebrated philosophy of the offensive, which is completely non-Marxist, has arisen from the following curious outlook: ‘A wall of passivity is gradually rising, which is ruining the movement. So let us advance, and break through this wall! …. We are obliged to say frankly to the German working class that we regard this philosophy of the offensive as the greatest of dangers, and that to apply it in practice is the greatest of political crimes.” [578]

Radek, on the other hand, while rejecting the theory of the “offensive”, made a defence of the March Action which some comrades had justified in terms of the theory. He claimed that the German Communist Party “has shown the masses through its March Action – however many errors it may have made – what a lie it is to say that, as the Communist International’s section in Germany, it is unwilling to struggle. It has shown its will to struggle, thereby making it possible for the broadest masses of impatient proletarians, above all the unemployed, to join its ranks.” [335-6]

Another German delegate, Friesland, insisted that the March Action had not harmed the party: “We did not lose any influence with the German working masses; on the contrary, our influence is growing from day to day, despite the errors.” [524] Friesland was reporting from a difficult situation in the aftermath of the Action, and he may not have intended to deceive, but his claims did not stand up to an examination of the facts. The Communist Party lost at least half, and perhaps two thirds of its membership; equally important, its credibility with SPD members had been undermined, something that would bear bitter fruit in 1923.[5]

Thorough-going debate

Some historians have claimed that the Congress’s treatment of the March Action was a “cover-up”.[6] The documentation produced by Riddell does not support this position. The debate was extensive and thorough-going, with a range of positions being vigorously presented. All the dirty linen was piled up on the Congress floor. When Zetkin ran out of time in the debate on the theory of the offensive, it was Zinoviev himself who moved that she get an extra fifteen minutes. [545] Earlier she had spoken for an hour and a quarter in defence of Paul Levi. [283-302, 307] And Zetkin herself summed up beautifully the position that revolutionaries must not stifle criticising for fear of aiding their enemies: “For if we take as a criterion the way our opponents utilise the written or oral statements that we make as Communists, we must never write a line or open our mouths, because our opponents will twist everything and suck honey from every blossom”. [300] It is a sentiment that retains its full validity today.

But if there was no cover-up, there certainly was a compromise. As Lenin explained: “It is, of course, no secret that our theses are a compromise. And why not? Among Communists, who are already holding their Third Congress and have worked out definite fundamental principles, compromises under certain circumstances are absolutely necessary.” [465] At a meeting between the German delegation and Bolshevik leaders a “peace treaty” was drawn up. [1169]

To examine the exact terms of the compromise it would be necessary to study the theses and other documents provided in this volume. But at the risk of oversimplification, it can be said that the Congress did not condemn the March Action, but did reject the theory of the offensive. The Commission on Tactics and Strategy described the March Action as a “step forward” because “(1) thousands of workers struggled courageously; and (2) the party placed itself at the head of the struggle”. [798-9] Clearly this was untrue, and it set a dangerous precedent; revolutionaries need to recognise defeat for what it is. It would be easy to draw parallels with the confusion shown by German Communists at the time of Hitler’s accession to power.

On the other hand what was done was done; the German Communists were striving to hold their party together in the face of vicious repression. To have designated the March Action as a defeat would only have reinforced the demoralisation in Germany. And a split, either in the German party or in the International, would have been a serious blow to the movement. Of course, in retrospect we can look back with knowledge of the various participants’ subsequent development (carefully chronicled in Riddell’s excellent Glossary) and pronounce that the departure of comrade X or comrade Y would have been no great loss. But such judgments were not possible at the time.

Lenin at his best

What was important was to make sure that nobody, in Germany or elsewhere, saw the March Action as a model to be imitated. Hence the importance of condemning the theoretical justifications for it, and a clear explanation of the need to avoid such adventurist tactics. A document from the Executive insisted that “when the vanguard of the proletarian army is forced into battle in isolation, it must avoid an armed confrontation with the enemy. For only the masses can enable the masses to triumph.” This bore the individual signatures of members of the Executive, including that of Béla Kun, who as an emissary of the International in Germany bore part of the responsibility for the March Action fiasco. [1039‑40]

Riddell includes among his appendices some extracts from Clara Zetkin’s recollections of her conversations with Lenin, including his justification for the compromise and his suggestions for how Levi could be brought back into the movement. These recollections deserve careful study; they show Lenin at his best, revealing his sensitivity to the complex dynamics of a real movement.[7]

I would thus in general go along with Riddell’s assessment of the compromise: “While leaving some issues undiscussed or postponed for later clarification, it served a necessary goal – too often neglected in the socialist movement – of preserving the unity of revolutionary forces that was indispensable for further steps forward and providing a principled and broadly agreed basis for their further united action and discussion.” [39]

Conflicting demands of unity and clarity

However, this judgment might be complemented by one of Zetkin’s most acute observations: “Unity of the proletarian front must not be achieved at the expense of revolutionary clarity, revolutionary energy, and revolutionary action. Unity must never be won at such a price. That is why it is necessary to draw conclusions not only through fine resolutions but through living and forceful deeds.” [371] As Zetkin saw, the demands of unity and clarity often came into conflict; there was no predetermined formula, only a permanent balancing act. Decisions could be made only in the process of action.

The debates were enlivened by the presence at the Congress of the KAPD (Workers’ Communist Party of Germany), a grouping of ultra-lefts who had been expelled from the Communist Party at Levi’s instigation. They did not have full voting rights, but although there were only five of them they claimed more than their fair share of speaking time. They had been invited because the International hoped to win at least some of them into the ranks of the German party (though Lenin stated that he now regretted supporting the invitation to them [1099]). But they also served the function of clarifying the debate by arguing against some of the most basic principles of the International. There was no point winning unanimous votes if the arguments were not carried, and the arguments could not be had properly without the presence of an opposition. The KAPD argued that a united front approach was opportunist, [452] and even called for “clearing the old counterrevolutionary trade unions out of the way”. [639]

Zetkin’s appeal to Paul Levi

Riddell has added a number of appendices containing letters and other documents which illuminate the debates and draw out some of the subterranean conflicts; some come from the Comintern archives and many have never been previously available in English. There is a quite appalling letter from Béla Kun to Lenin defending the March Action and claiming that Clara Zetkin is “suffering from senile dementia”; he suggests that since she is too old to contribute to the movement she should commit suicide. [1089] This is followed by Levi’s appeal against expulsion, standing by his critique of the March Action and responding to criticisms; this was apparently not circulated to delegates. [1090-96] In a letter to Zinoviev Lenin argues that Levi could be readmitted after six months. [1100] Then there is a letter from Zetkin to Levi, written at the start of the Congress. She explains that the mood is changing – “At first we were treated like dead dogs, but now they wag their tails at us as if we are living creatures.” And she urges Levi to seek reconciliation: “I implore you, in the interests of our cause, not to slam the door of the party violently and unwisely. You should keep a low profile for now, at least until I return with more precise information. I know this is a difficult sacrifice, but you must do this for the cause. After having jumped so bravely into the abyss, because you wanted to save the party, you must also now summon up the self‑control to wait for a time and be silent, although there is nothing more dreadful than waiting.” [1151]

But though the March Action was a central preoccupation of the Congress, it was far from the only major issue to be debated. The German Communist Party had also launched an initiative which, though overshadowed by the furore about the March Action, was potentially of much greater significance. In January 1921 it published an “Open Letter”, addressed to the main trade unions and workers’ parties. This raised a number of defensive demands – wages, unemployment, cost of living, food supplies – and called for united action; it went on: “We do not ask the recipients of this letter whether they recognise these demands as justified. We take that for granted. Instead we ask then whether they are prepared to undertake immediately a determined struggle for these demands”. [1061-63]

First move to united front

In retrospect this appears clearly as a first move towards the strategy of the united front, which would be a central theme at the Fourth Congress in 1922. But initially it caused considerable confusion, not only in the German party but in the International. Riddell has found in the Comintern archives minutes of a meeting of the International’s Executive (from which Lenin was absent) where the Open Letter was discussed. Zinoviev dismissed it as “more a literary fantasy than a mass movement”, while Bukharin called it “an opportunistic blabbering of Levi”. [1064, 1066] This contrasts very sharply with a letter from Lenin to Zinoviev just before the Congress which states that “the tactic of the Open letter should definitely be applied everywhere” and that “all those who have failed to grasp the necessity of the Open Letter tactic should be expelled from the Communist International within a month after its Third Congress.” [1098-9]

Certainly the Open Letter had a significant influence; as Malzahn reported: “The best measure of the extent of our trade-union influence is the fact that the union bureaucrats felt that their power was threatened and responded by dismissing union staffers and expelling Communists. That did not harm us, but rather contributed to increasing the party’s reputation and influence.” [501]

Founding of labour Interntional

There was also extensive discussion of trade-union activity. The Congress coincided with the founding conference, also in Moscow, of the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU). (The fact that Alfred Rosmer, the most sensible speaker on trade-union matters, did not intervene in the Congress was doubtless because he was too busy organising the RILU conference.) This was intended to provide an alternative leadership to the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), to which the main unions in most European countries were affiliated.

The founding of the RILU, enabling the involvement of the strong syndicalist currents in several European countries, was a step forward. At the same time it was constantly stressed that Communists should remain in the existing trade unions – the ultra-left KAPD slogan “Out of the Unions” was generally rejected. But there was a certain element of triumphalism in the approach to the IFTU, generally referred to as the “yellow Amsterdam International”. In the Call for the Congress (doubtless drafted by Zinoviev) there was a prediction of the “imminent and complete collapse” of the IFTU [62]. In fact the IFTU had 24 million members in 1921, rather more than the RILU; it was to survive until World War II, whereas the RILU was marginalised and eventually wound up in 1937.[8] In Zinoviev’s opening speech the IFTU was described, rather optimistically, as “the last bulwark of capitalism”. [80]

Yet the treatment of the Amsterdam International was problematic. Repeatedly it was referred to as “yellow”. This was not simply in opposition to the “red” of the RILU, like the contrasting colours of rival football teams. The word “yellow” (from the French jaune) clearly bore the meaning “scab”. Now it was undoubtedly true, as the “Organisation Theses” put it, that “we have the opportunity every day to present simple motions, resolutions, and clear speeches exposing and characterising the unreliable and traitorous activity of the Amsterdam leaders as ‘yellow’”. [987]

But it is one thing to denounce treacherous leaders; quite another to call mass workers’ organisations “scab” unions. To do so would undoubtedly be a barrier to united action. Yet this seems to have been little questioned, apart from one very sensible contribution from the Scottish foundry worker and shop steward Thomas Bell, who declared: “As for Amsterdam, we must not forget how dangerous it is to make it into a fetish. That is certainly not the case in Britain. We have found that the best method of criticism is not to lay too much weight on criticism itself. The best method is to go into the national unions and attack the Amsterdam International from there by overturning the reactionary leaders, which will make it possible to withdraw this union and its support from the Amsterdam International.” [758]

Transitional demands

Activity in the unions and around the Open Letter necessarily raised the question of the sort of demands that were to be made. In his speech on “Tactics and Strategy” Radek called for the development of “a specific system of actions and transitional demands. Their characteristic feature is that they aim not at refashioning capitalism but at heightening the struggle against capitalism. This is not the minimum programme of the social patriots. Nor is it a specific programme regarding what our dictatorship will do on the day of its victory. It comprises all the demands that mobilise the broad masses for the struggle for this dictatorship”. [441-2]

Such an approach to “transitional demands” obviously represented an awareness of the dynamics of struggle. Yet the concept was not without its problems. The theses on Tactics and Strategy approved by the Congress optimistically claimed that “the revolutionary essence of the present period consists precisely in the fact that even the most modest subsistence needs of the working masses are incompatible with the existence of capitalist society. It follows that even the struggle for quite modest demands expands into a struggle for communism.” [938] But history shows that it is impossible to predict what exactly is compatible with capitalism’s continued existence. All we can do is probe the limits of the system and take advantage of the crises that may ensue.

The Congress also discussed work among women and youth. The debate on women was introduced by the tireless Zetkin. While stressing the importance of mobilising working-class women, she was against separate organisation for women. She called for the establishment of women’s committees, so called “because they carry our work among women, but not because we consider it important that they consist only of women. On the contrary. We welcome it when the women’s committees include men.” [785] Work among youth was also vital since, as Trotsky pointed out, so much of the older generation had been physically exhausted by the war or poisoned by reformism. [776]

It is no surprise that the interventions by Lenin and Trotsky were among the most valuable. They made no attempt to conceal the difficulties ahead and rejected facile solutions. As Trotsky said: “It is a big complex world, and it is quite a task to figure things out.” [581] What is striking, alongside their clarity and firmness, is a certain modesty; they were not totally submerged in the current struggles, but were able to situate the present in the broader sweep of history. Thus Trotsky explained the significance of the Russian Revolution: “Yes comrades, we have erected a bulwark of the world revolution in our country. The country is still very backward, still very barbaric. It offers a picture of poverty. But we are defending this bulwark of the world revolution, given that at present there is no other. When another stronghold is erected in France or in Germany, then the one in Russia will lose nine-tenths of its significance; and we will then stand ready to go to you in Europe in order to defend this other, more important stronghold. Comrades, it is absurd to believe that we consider this Russian stronghold of the revolution to be the centre of the world.” [379]

And Lenin described the thinking of the Bolsheviks on taking power: “We thought that either the international revolution will come to our assistance, and in that case our victory will be fully assured, or we will do our modest revolutionary work in the conviction that even in the event of defeat we shall have served the cause of the revolution by enabling other revolutions to profit from our experience.” [657]

In the presence of Lenin and Trotsky Zinoviev was generally on his best behaviour; what he would do after Lenin departed from the scene was a different story. But to note the superiority of Lenin and Trotsky is not to indulge in hero-worship, but rather to recognise a weakness of the movement. A revolution that depends on one or two outstanding individuals is easily beheaded, as was shown in Germany with the murder of Luxemburg.

Clara Zetkin’s role

The other remarkable figure of the Congress was Clara Zetkin. In the debates on the March Action she fought tenaciously, arguing largely the same case that Levi had argued. But at the same time she showed great tactical skill in staying within the bounds of what was permissible within the discipline of the International.

In this connection Riddell has dug out a fascinating anecdote. In the debates about the March Action there were sharp clashes between Zetkin and another member of the German delegation, Fritz Heckert. But a few days later it was Zetkin’s birthday, and the job of presenting a large bouquet of roses to the veteran fighter was given to none other than Heckert. The person behind this was Lenin himself, who told Heckert: “Comrade Heckert, you pursued a wrong policy in Germany, for which you have good reason to be angry. Clara merely told you the truth about your policy; maybe not all her words were appropriate, but yesterday you, too, attacked her bitterly and unjustly. Make up for it with a bouquet of roses today.” [651]

Even in a longish review it is impossible to cover more than a small part of the contents of this volume. There is much else that will interest readers, for example discussions of the situations in France, Czechoslovakia and Italy – where the International was badly informed about the growing threat of fascism. There are contributions from the philosopher György Lukács on “partial actions” and from Manabendra Neth Roy on the Eastern Question, reports from Australia, a resolution on Palestine and a disagreement among American comrades – including the legendary Big Bill Haywood – about the relative merits of the Industrial Workers of the World and the American Federation of Labor. [715-8, 726-9] There are also useful practical suggestions on organisational tasks and the preparation of demonstrations, as well as the interesting suggestion that political posts should be rotated, so that editors took on administrative jobs and political secretaries became editors. [829]

There are many ways this volume can be used. Some will read it right through to try and recreate the atmosphere of a heroic period; other will browse the more exciting passages, or use it as an invaluable work of reference. There are no easy lessons here, but an appreciation of the concrete experience of struggle can help prepare us for the very different, yet also similar, struggles that lie ahead of us.


[1] J Riddell, (ed.), 1987, Founding the Communist International: Proceedings and Documents of the First Congress, March 1919, New York 1987; J Riddell, (ed.), 1991, Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920, two volumes, New York 1991; J Riddell (ed.), Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International 1922, Chicago 2012.

[2] David Fernbach [ed.], In the Steps of Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Writings of Paul Levi, Leiden, 2011, pp. 208, 296.

[3] In L Trotsky, the First Five Years of the Communist International, volume I, see

[4] His estimate largely coincides with that of a more recent historian. See Sigrid Koch‑Baumgarten, Aufstand der Avantgarde, Frankfurt am Main, 1986, p. 228

[5] Koch‑Baumgarten, Aufstand der Avantgarde, pp. 323, 319-21.

[6] For example T Cliff, Lenin volume IV, London, 1979, pp. 110-21 – a whole chapter is entitled “The Great Cover-Up”. Pierre Broué is even more savage in his judgment, calling Radek’s report on Tactics and Strategy “wretched”, “repugnant” and “dishonest”, claiming that it aimed to recue those responsible for the German disaster, namely the Executive and their emissary Béla Kun. (P Broué, Histoire de l’Internationale Communiste, Paris, 1997, p. 232.)

[7] C Zetkin, Reminiscences of Lenin, at

[8] For the definitive history of the RILU see Reiner Tosstorff, Profintern: Die Rote Gewerkschaftsinternationale 1920–1937 , Paderborn, 2004.

Ian Birchall’s review is scheduled to appear in Revolutionary History, a journal with 43 published volumes. It is published here with kind permission of RH and Ian Birchall. Riddell’s volume, now available only in a library format, will be published in a popular edition by Haymarket Books in February 2016. 

Revolutionary History has published several volumes of documents related to Comintern’s Third Congress, including, “Germany 1918-23,” “The Comintern and Its Critics,” and “August Thalheimer and German Communism.”

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