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Heroic wager: The decision to form the Communist International

March 3, 2019

100 years ago today, on March 4, 1919

This post is Part 2 of a reader’s guide to the proceedings of the Comintern’s founding congress. See also Part 1, “How the Comintern Was Founded.”

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‘Workers of all Countries, Unite’: Delegates at March 1919 Congress

By John Riddell: Each of the early Comintern gatherings unfolded in a surprising way, but the founding congress was unique in its unpredictability. After an initial decision to postpone forming the new movement, the delegates changed course abruptly during the third day of debate and launched the Communist International.

This decision is the outstanding event in the 1919 congress, whose entire proceedings and related documents are available in a fully annotated edition from Pathfinder.


1WCFounding the Communist International: Proceedings and Documents of the First Congress: March 1919, ed. John Riddell, New York: Pathfinder, 2012 (1987).[1] See also Part 1 of this study.


As of the projected opening day of the congress in Moscow, March 1, only two delegates had managed to break through the imperialist blockade against the Soviet republic and reach the site of deliberations. Both these delegates held that it was too soon to launch the new International, and one – Hugo Eberlein from Germany – was categorical in his opposition.

A preliminary gathering that day gave way to these objections, resolving that “the conference will not formally be the founding congress of the Third International” (Founding the Communist International 63 [2012]; 39 [1987]).[2] The new plan was limited to adopting a platform, electing an administrative bureau, and issuing a call for affiliation.

But the opening session on March 2 did none of this. After brief remarks by Lenin and adoption of rules of procedure, the conference heard national reports. Lenin chaired, as he did throughout the event. Only a few dozen delegates were present.

National reports

Nowhere else in Comintern congresses do we find extensive time dedicated explicitly to informational reports on this kind. Certainly, delegates did sometimes use their speaking time to this purpose, but such interventions usually did little to advance the debate. Yet, at the March 1919 gathering, the third of the proceedings was dedicated to such national reports.

Perhaps the reports served as a way for delegates, who had never met before, to take each other’s measure and approach a common assessment of the world situation. Perhaps the reports served to fill time until more delegates had arrived.

Leonie Kascher

Leonie Kascher

Did the congress really needed to hear two descriptions of the workers’ movement in Switzerland, which lagged behind the vanguard of European struggle? Perhaps so, given that Fritz Platten and Leonie Kascher represented divergent strategical visions, whose differences cropped up repeatedly in subsequent years. Reports on France and the United States were based on experiences now at least two years in the past, before the delegates’ departure for Russia, but they were nonetheless cogent and insightful.

Many delegates submitted written reports, which fill 51 pages of Founding the Communist International.

Moshe Freylikh wrote an impressively detailed history of the workers’ movement in East Galicia, a majority-Ukrainian region with large Jewish and Polish populations, formerly Austrian and now claimed by Poland. In the 1920s, the region became a major focus of the foreign policy of Soviet Ukraine. (377-86; 273-79)

Gaziz Yamylov provided a sweeping overview of the Communist movement’s rapid growth among the colonized and traditionally Muslim peoples of tsarist Russia. In a recent two-month period, he said, the Central Bureau of Communist Organizations of the Peoples of the East had distributed no less than two million pieces of literature in nine Asian languages. Whatever the precise press runs, the foundations were clearly being laid for the massive Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East held the following year. (395-7; 286-88)

Bukharin 2

Nikolai Bukharin

The many unfamiliar references in these reports demanded extensive endnotes, which make up 130 pages of the completed book. During their compilation, my editorial colleagues kidded that I was attempting to compile an encyclopedia.

Convinced of the event’s historic character, the Russian Communist Party sent many of its most authoritative leaders: Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Grigorii Zinoviev, Nikolai Bukharin, and the main congress organizer – Georgii Chicherin, Commissar of Foreign Affairs. All spoke in the first two sessions; Trotsky and Zinoviev offered searching portrayals of challenges Communists faced in the Red Army and in Soviet civilian life.

A central premise

Lenin’s brief opening remarks laid out the gathering’s main theme:

The world revolution is beginning and growing in intensity everywhere…. All that is needed is to find the practical form to enable the proletariat to establish its rule [“dictatorship of the proletariat”]. Such a form is the soviet system…. The mass of workers now understands it thanks to Soviet power in Russia, thanks to the Spartacus League in Germany, and to similar organizations in other countries, such as, for example, the shop-stewards committees in Britain. (71-2; 47-8)

Zinoviev went so far, two months later, as to predict that within a year all Europe would be Communist. (39; 23)

Eberlein

Hugo Eberlein

A more sombre picture, however, was drawn by the German delegate Hugo Eberlein, who appears as “Albert” in the congress record. The workers’ and soldiers’ councils set up during the German November revolution had created a Social Democratic-led government, he reported, which moved quickly to restore bourgeois authority and crush the councils. Eberlein continued:

The whole country was divided into two camps: on one side stood the representatives of capital, who fought for the [bourgeois-dominated] national assembly, and on the other stood the Spartacus League demanding the [workers’] council system and the dictatorship of the proletariat. All struggles were waged around this axis, and you all know how they went. (79-80; 53)

In Founding the Communist International, a lengthy editor’s footnote at this point fills in specifics not well known to present-day readers. Soon after taking office, the SPD-led government set up rightist armed contingents, the Freikorps, which for two months had been raging across Germany, crushing in succession the strongholds of workers’ councils. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were among the first of countless victims. Reinforced by this fascist-like terror, the SPD and bourgeois parties won a decisive majority in the new parliament and formed a pro-capitalist government. (451-2; 326-7)

Eberlein saw Germany’s economic collapse as the best assurance that workers could regain the initiative, “fighting for the world revolution shoulder to shoulder with workers everywhere.” (88; 59)

Delegates’ impressions

Captain Jacques Sadoul. Captain Jacques Sadoul, the French officer sentenced to

Jacques Sadoul

The delegates’ meeting place, the Mitrofan’evsky Hall in the Kremlin, gave evidence both of former tsarist grandeur and civil-war austerity. “Wonderful imperial carpets covered the floor,” recalls French delegate Jacques Sadoul. “It was cold, very cold, in the hall. The carpets strove, though in vain to make up for the heaters that blew terrible gusts of frigid air at the delegates….”

“Moscow lacks fuel. The congress delegates shiver. Moscow has been on meager rations the last two years. International comrades do not always eat their fill.” Delegates notice, Sadoul adds, that “the fare of the people’s commissars is not different than that – so lamentably frugal – served in other Soviet eateries.”

Russian delegate Vatslav Vorovsky compared the modest gathering with the imposing Second International congresses of old: “Instead of the theoreticians, hoary with age … here, with a few exceptions, were gathered new people, whose names were still little known and whose young faces did not yet carry the marks of recognized leadership.”

As for the mood of the occasion, Sadoul noted “Lenin’s never-ending and resonant laughter, which makes his shoulders shake and his belly quiver … Trotsky’s piercing irony; the sublime Bukharin’s mischievous jocularity; Chicherin’s mocking humour…. The boisterous gaiety of the beer drinkers – Platten, Eberlein, Gruber – and Rakovsky’s subtle wit, more Parisian than Romanian.”

The British journalist Arthur Ransome remarked that “business was conducted and speeches were made in all languages, though where possible German was used…. This was unlucky for me …. Fineberg spoke in English, Rakovsky in French, Sadoul also. [Mikola] Skrypnik… refused to talk German and said he would speak in either Ukrainian or Russian, and to most people’s relief chose the latter. Lenin sat quietly listening, speaking when necessary in almost every European language with astonishing ease.” (35-36; 20-21)

A platform for the new International

The foundational document proposed as a basis for recruitment to the new International, an eight-page “Platform” drafted by Bukharin, was presented toward the end of the second day of sessions. Although Bukharin’s reputation among Marxists has grown over time, thanks in large part to Stephen Cohen’s biography,[3] few of his writings are available in English; Bukharin’s speech on the platform is a useful exception. The platform resolution itself and other Congress decisions are available in Marxists Internet Archive.

Seeking to generalize from the Russian revolution in 1917, the platform defines the basis of workers’ power:

The conquest of political power does not mean merely a change of personnel in the ministries. Instead, it means destroying the enemy’s state apparatus; seizing real power; disarming the bourgeoisie, the counterrevolutionary officers, and the White Guards.

The resulting “dictatorship of the proletariat” is “a provisional institution”:

As the bourgeoisie’s resistance is broken, and it is expropriated and gradually transformed into a part of the work force, the proletarian dictatorship wanes, the state withers away, and with it, social classes themselves.

The “road to victory” requires a break with the “centre” – the wavering forces that “flirt with … sworn enemies.” On the other hand, a bloc is needed with forces that, “although not previously part of the Socialist party, now for the most part support the proletarian dictatorship in the form of council power.” Revolutionary syndicalists are cited as an example, but more importantly, the Platform also pledges to “support to exploited colonial peoples in their struggles against imperialism.” (335-45; 241-48)

A bumpy road to global solidarity

Rutgers

Sebald Justinus Rutgers

Immediately following Bukharin’s report, the Dutch delegate Sebald Justinus Rutgers called attention to wording in the draft platform that seriously undercut its commitment of support to colonized peoples. The text stated that capitalist rulers “are strangling the proletarian revolution in Europe with their war machines and with brutalized, barbaric colonial troops.”

This offensive wording was based on a concern shared by many workers. The French army was threatening to attack workers in struggle in Soviet Russia, France, and French-occupied Germany with Black troops levied in Africa, troops with whom the workers shared neither language, nor culture, nor political traditions. Denunciations of this capitalist tactic often played on racist stereotypes.

Rutgers declared that no one familiar with the brutality of Dutch and other colonialist armies would accuse soldiers recruited from the oppressed populations of “barbarism.” He proposed a substitute wording accusing the capitalist rulers of punishing Russian and German workers “with the same ruthlessness with which they proceeded against the colonial peoples.” (186-8; 131-3) However, no correction was made in the final text.

An extensive footnote in Founding the Communist International summarizes the issues at stake. (475-7; 342-44) Workers did in fact succeed in finding common ground with French army troops levied in Africa. These troops proved in fact to be quite prone to resistance and munity, including when deployed in Soviet Russia. The Comintern adopted a strong statement in 1921 calling on its members to rally soldiers from the colonies to the joint struggle against colonialism, and this was done to good effect. Imperialist governments soon abandoned plans to use colonial troops against European workers.

The Manifesto of the Founding Congress included a commitment to colonial freedom: “Colonial slaves of Africa and Asia: the hour of proletarian dictatorship in Europe will also be the hour of your liberation.” The Founding volume includes yet another lengthy footnote pointing out that this sentence fell short of subsequent Comintern declarations of support to colonial subjects as agents of their own liberation and essential contributors to the worldwide socialist struggle. (500-1; 358-9)

Context is vital here: Congress delegates thought it likely that workers’ victory in Europe would be consummated within months – before the revolt in the colonies had time to mature. Despite its misjudgment on this point, the Manifesto was widely understood as a pledge of active support to colonial freedom fighters, as Claude McKay, a delegate of the African Blood Brothers, reported to the 1922 Comintern congress.[4] This confidence was confirmed by Comintern actions and decisions at its Second and Baku congresses in 1920.

Indeed, at a time when most critics of colonialism still spoke only of its reform, the Soviet republic and the Comintern were the first influential forces on a global scale to commit themselves unequivocally to colonial freedom.

‘International of the deed’

Following an eloquent survey of the global class struggle, the Manifesto concluded with a call to action, saying in part:

If the First International foresaw the road that lay ahead and indicated its direction; if the Second International assembled and organized millions of proletarians; then the Third International is the International of open mass action, the International of revolutionary realization, the International of the deed.

Socialist criticism has sufficiently denounced the bourgeois world order. The task of the international Communist Party is to overthrow this system and construct n its place the socialist order. (323; 231)

Bourgeois democracy vs. workers’ rule

Lenin’s report and resolution on bourgeois democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat was to become the sole document of the Founding Congress widely known among subsequent Communist generations. In part, this was because writings of all other early Comintern leaders, and Comintern documents in general, were placed under ban once Joseph Stalin gained ascendancy in the 1930s, leaving the Complete Works of Lenin as the only readily available source.

Lenin’s central thought was that the soviet system achieves a much higher level of democracy for workers and peasants than that found in parliamentary capitalist states. “The substance of Soviet government,” Lenin said, “is that the permanent and only foundation of state power, the entire machinery of state, is the mass-scale organization of the classes oppressed by capitalism…. It is the people … that are now drawn into constant and unfailing, moreover, decisive participation in the democratic administration of the state.” (See Lenin’s Theses and Report.)

The resulting brief resolution, moved by Lenin, called for explaining the superiority of the soviet system, extending the soviets’ scope, and building a stable Communist majority within them.

A change of course

Steinhardt Karl

Karl Steinhardt

Toward the end of the third day of debate, Fritz Platten of Switzerland took the floor to read a motion to reopen the question of immediately launching the new International. The resolution was signed by Christian Rakovsky (Balkan Federation), Karl Steinhardt (Austria), Otto Grimlund (Sweden), and Endre Rudniánszky (Hungary).

We do not know exactly what brought about this change of course. Certainly, one factor was that, as Eberlein stated in opening the third session, “the remaining delegates have now arrived,” including all nine who were expected from abroad. Moreover, some of the latecomers from abroad argued strongly against delay in founding the International.

Among the latecomers was Karl Steinhardt (Gruber), a central leader of the newly formed Austrian Communist Party. At the end of the previous session he had told delegates:

We arrived here an hour ago after a seventeen-day trip of incredible difficulties…. We traveled the whole way like hobos, on coal cars, locomotives, couplings, in cattle cars, on foot through the lines of Ukrainian and Polish robber bands … always driven by the single burning desire: we must get to Moscow and nothing will stop us from getting there! (191-9; 134-9)

The enthusiasm that greeted Steinhardt’s speech was heightened as delegates learned of the message he brought: his party favoured immediate formation of the International. Perhaps his arrival tipped the scales on this issue.

The surprise resolution stated that immediate foundation was “all the more necessary” in the light of the attempt of a February 3-10 conference in Bern, Switzerland, to revive “the old opportunist International…. A sharp break is therefore required between the revolutionary proletariat and the social traitors.”

Discussion on this proposal was opened by Eberlein, who reiterated the German party’s view that it was too soon to launch the International. He denied that the Social Democrats’ Bern conference was a relevant consideration. In his view, there were three barriers to launching the International:

  • The call for the Moscow meeting had not proposed launching as an option.
  • The prospective member groups had in most cases not considered such a proposal.
  • The Communist movement across Europe was in an extremely early state of formation.
Osinsky_valerian-2

Valerian Obolensky

In response, Zinoviev stressed that the resolution was supported by new arrivals (Rakovsky, Grimlund, and Steinhardt) and that the existence of workers’ rule in a large country (Russia) provided a sufficient basis to proceed. “If we hesitate, we lose all credibility,” Zinoviev stated.

After nine further speeches, the delegates voted unanimously, against a single abstention by the German delegation (Eberlein), to found the new International. Eberlein then pledged to work on his return to win the German party to affiliate, which it did in short order.

Further resolutions and statements

During the final two days of debate, Trotsky presented the proposed Manifesto of the Communist International, the most immediately influential document of the congress.[5]

Three other resolutions were presented and adopted on questions of a primarily conjunctural character:

  1. Our Attitude toward the Socialist Currents and the Bern Conference. Presented by Platten and Zinoviev.
  2. The International Situation and the Policy of the Entente. Presented by Valerian Obolensky (N. Osinski).
  3. The White Terror. Presented by Yrjó Sirola.

In addition, the Congress heard three brief statements of special political importance:

  • A declaration and a resolution on the Zimmerwald Association, an international movement of anti-war socialists formed in 1915. The many Zimmerwald leaders present in Moscow dissolved the movement and transferred its papers to the Communist International.[6]
  • A message from Socialist groups in Japan, the only direct input to the congress from outside Europe and Soviet Asia. In it, the Japanese comrades protested their government’s armed intervention into Soviet Russia.
  • A short resolution “On the Need to Draw Women Workers into the Struggle for Socialism.” The statement, drafted and submitted by Alexandra Kollontai, was adopted; it was the only specific reference during the congress to the role of women in the revolutionary.

The last item of business was an organizational report by Platten, which proposed Moscow as the provisional centre of the new International. Leadership was entrusted to an Executive Committee made up of one representative from the party in each of the “most important countries”; it was to choose a five-member Bureau. Anticipating some delay before full-time delegates from abroad could arrive in Moscow, the resolution authorized the host party – the Russian Communists – to carry out executive functions on an interim basis.

A moment of optimism

Founding the Communist International includes four long-available assessments of the event by Lenin along with less familiar appraisals by Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, and Kollontai.

The best-known of Lenin’s commentaries was written six weeks after the congress, at a moment when workers’ governments based on councils existed in Hungary and Bavaria. It was a highpoint of optimism regarding the prospects of the new International. Lenin’s article, “The Third International and Its Place in History,” states:

The Third International has gathered the fruits of the work of the Second International, discarded its opportunist, social-chauvinist, bourgeois and petty-bourgeois dross, and has begun to implement the dictatorship of the proletariat….

The movement of the proletariat for the overthrow of the yoke of capital now rests on an unprecedentedly firm base in the shape of several Soviet republics, which are implementing the dictatorship of the proletariat and are the embodiment of victory over capitalism on an international scale….

A new era in world history has begun.

But the Bavarian and Hungarian soviet regimes did not long survive. During the year following the congress, Europe’s capitalist rulers recovered their confidence and restabilized their rule, at least temporarily, west of the Soviet frontier.

Meanwhile, the Comintern focused its efforts on a task not even mentioned at its founding conference: drawing together its supporters in each country in mass combat-ready Communist parties. During the next 18 months, the new International won the affiliation of a mass Communist youth movement and of mass workers’ parties in several European countries and , while taking initial steps to launch the Communist movement in oppressed and colonized nations of Asia and Africa.

As capitalism restabilized, the task of revolutionary party-building came to the fore, and in this respect the Comintern’s progress fulfilled the optimism of its founders.

Notes

[1]. Acknowledgements in Founding the Communist International list 70 collaborators around the world who provided translation or research assistance. Aside from myself, the main translators were Bob Cantrick and Robert Dees (German) and Sonja Franeta (Russian). Dees also did research for the book’s annotation. Bruce Marcus and Mike Taber took charge of copy-editing. Steve Clark provided editorial advice and, together with Mary-Alice Waters and Jack Barnes, reviewed the introduction.

[2]. Founding the Communist International, first published in 1987, is now available in an upgraded 2012 second printing with identical text but improved page design and new page numbering. In the present article, references are given to both printings, with the 2012 printing’s page number coming first.

[3]. Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography 1888-1938, New York: Oxford, 1973.

[4]. Riddell, ed., Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress, Chicago: Haymarket, 2012, pp 808-9.

[5]. Regarding Trotsky’s authorship of the Manifesto, see note 16 to “The Founding of the Communist International, Part 1

[6]. The Zimmerwald International Socialist Committee was established by a conference of anti-war socialists in Zimmerwald, Switzerland, in September 1915. It held international conferences thereafter. The left wing of the Zimmerwald movement (Zimmerwald Left) was a direct precursor of the Comintern. For documents of the Zimmerwald movement, see Riddell, ed., Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International: Documents 1907-16; the Preparatory Years, New York: Pathfinder, 1984.

11 Comments
  1. robertmcmaster0955 permalink

    Clever clogs the lot. Just not what was needed. Generals that were good in Opposition. They liked being in Opposition. They were comfortable being in Opposition. What was needed were sergeants. The mechanics who would lead the fighting to take and hold state power. Lenin understood this at Brest. To take, make and master the institutions of state power with the forces to hold that.

    The Comintern leaders were guilty of arrogance towards the less enlightened. Who were yet the only force that could deliver focused power. Trotsky led these forces through the Red Army. But the Comintern did not provide or allow the local leadership that could take and hold Poland, Hungary and Germany for the revolution. The Comintern leaders were too busy trying to ‘control’ the locals and so pissed away the opportunity. A scissors-gap between the leadership and the base emerged. Was permitted to emerge. Maybe if they got out of Moscow and tried leading from the front. Somewhere.

    History grants only a few good opportunities. The successful overturn of power in Russia with the inauguration of a new state power with the force to maintain it. That was the cat’s meow. The possibility of momentum presented. To put arms in the hands of workers and pour them into the neighboring states. To mobilize local militants, shatter the old institutions, build soviets, appoint commissioners. But the Comintern issued only words, not rifles. And failed along the line. The opportunity was lost, things settled down.

    And the Comintern was quite happy being an apparatus that milked being ever in Opposition. Never amounted to a hill of beans after that except to destroy Spain.

    • Robert, my view used to be somewhat similar to yours. But intensive work on the documentation forced me to reconsider my views. I explained this experience on my blog in article that you will find here. https://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/the-comintern-in-1922-the-periphery-pushes-back/
      The greatest setback in the Comintern’s early years was certainly in Italy, and it was a case of a failure to act by the central leadership when faced with fundamental errors by front-line leaders.

      • robertmcmaster0955 permalink

        I’m not trying to rattle your cage here comrade. There will never be a collective genius as was the Third International. They pointed the way forward. They just did not lead the way forward. They got stuck by the branding of their past. They could not seize the moment as Lenin and Trotsky did at critical moments.

        Just as the Levellers failed to consolidate power in the regiments. As the Blanquists failed to deliver armed power. As the Mackenzie and Papineu rebellion fizzled. Wyatt at the gates of London. Wat Tyler. The Chartists. All lacked Bolshevik toughness.

        A few hundred tough Soviet militants, well armed, to protect Liebknecht and Luxembourg. Battle hardened workers infiltrating Poland, arming the local militants, deploying them to battle. The Soviet Union got showboat General McLellan’s but needed Grant, Sherman and Sheridan. Guys with grit. Guys who would never quit. The International left Poland, Finland, the Baltics. How weak can you get? Got no militant workers in these spots? Rise up. We are not Russians, we are revolutionary workers and we fight with you as you will presently do elsewhere. Stand up and fight, damned you. This is your time.

        Didn’t happen.

      • Hi Robert– The policy you are advocating here had a great deal of support in the early Comintern, and particularly in the ranks of the German Communist Party. It even had a name, which I translated as “The Theory of the Offensive.”

        The German party undertook such an offensive in March 1921. It did not lack in bold and courageous fighters (see the Hamburg uprising). But the offensive lacked support in the working class, and the party suffered a severe defeat.

        This experience was discussed at great length in the Comintern’s 1921 World Congress. I suggest you go to the proceedings of that congress (the book is called “To the Masses”). You will then be able to argue your views on the basis of facts — the only way to do it convincingly.

        The experience of 1923 is often cited as a counter-example. There is no documentary collection in English. You can go to Pierre Broue’s history of the German revolution and also, of course, Trotsky’s comments in “Lessons of October,” which is on line.

      • robertmcmaster0955 permalink

        I’m no fan of any version of heroic proletarian voluntarism. Trotsky got that right when building the Red Army. The 1921 uprising didn’t lack for working class support. The Freikorps didn’t have anything behind it. The uprising failed due to bad military leadership. They didn’t know their business. From a military perspective this get classed alongside Winfield Scott lumbering up Queenston Heights with his amateur comedy soldiers. The only lesson available is Don’t Do Foolish Things Like This. If they’d had a few Michael Collins in Hamburg could have turned different. Phil Sheridan would have been really nice. Tough guys with grit. Knew their business.

        The Comintern leaders were out of their depth on such matters. But they should have known this. There could and should have been created an experienced military staff to provide expertise in all types of combat – street, guerilla, regular formation. To gather up weaponry, resources, forwarding officers, fighters, material to each place of opportunity. As best as could be done. To enhearten the locals, stiffen and focus their resolve. “Here comrades, we present as Red Army fighters to fight and die alongside you. We bring weapons as we could and experienced commanders”. You get my drift.

        Instead, we got a lot of bossy, interfering apparatchiks essaying demoralization out of Moscow. And the CHEKA. What was needed was everything in between.

        Nobody could have done better at what they were good at than the Bolshevik Comintern leaders. But nobody is good at everything and this lot let the historic opportunity evaporate. A want of alacrity when it was needed most. No sense crying over spilled milk but best not do that again.

      • Robert, what you are writing is fantasy. You must engage with the factual record and provide evidence. Otherwise, there is no point in continuing this exchange.

      • robertmcmaster0955 permalink

        Please to read “How violence became the midwife of the Weimar Republic and to whom it served”. Published yesterday at Sputnik Germany. Valtin’s “Out of the night” gives first hand flavour. As a military historian what I wrote is standard fare. This side came up short. Analyze. I could elaborate in detail but… The party did not not need more generals. It needed sturdy sergeants. Close discussion.

  2. geoff1954 permalink

    John these two articles represent an important contribution to making the most of the very valuable material that has been assembled in the Comintern Publishing Project. Again those who are using this material today — an those who will do so in the future — owe you a sincere thanks for your efforts. Bravo!

  3. geoff1954 permalink

    I confess I have never heard the argument Robert MCMaster has put forward here. Perhaps John is right that it is similar to, “The Theory of the Offensive.” But to me it sounds more extreme, a version of the idea of “minority violence” that some of us heard in the Fourth International in the early 1970s.

    If Robert’s view is a politically accurate one, we should also ask if Trotsky should have tried to mobilize the Red Army to prevent the rise of Stalinism.

    I’m reminded of Lenin’s remark in his report to the Extraordinary Conference of the RCP(B) in March 1918: “…politics begin where millions of men and women are; where there are not thousands, but millions, that is where serious politics begin…”

    I suggest a re-reading of the entire report which in many ways is a completely adequate answer to the theory Robert McMaster has put forward.

    For example:

    “The German revolution has the misfortune of not moving so fast. What do you think? Must we reckon with the revolution, or must the revolution reckon with us? You wanted the revolution to reckon with you. But history has taught you a lesson. It is a lesson, because it is the absolute truth that without a German revolution we are doomed—perhaps not in Petrograd, not in Moscow, but in Vladivostok, in more remote places to which perhaps we shall have to retreat, and the distance to which is perhaps greater than the distance from Petrograd to Moscow. At all events, under all conceivable circumstances, if the German revolution does not come, we are doomed. Nevertheless, this does not in the least shake our conviction that we must be able to bear the most difficult position without blustering.

    “The revolution will not come as quickly as we expected. History has proved this, and we must be able to take this as a fact, to reckon with the fact that the world socialist revolution cannot begin so easily in the advanced countries as the revolution began in Russia—in the land of Nicholas and Rasputin, the land in which an enormous part of the population was absolutely indifferent as to what peoples were living in the outlying regions, or what was happening there. In such a country it was quite easy to start a revolution, as easy as lifting a feather….

    “Of course, an intellectual, or a Left Bolshevik, can try to talk his way out of difficulties. He can try to talk his way out of such facts as the absence of an army and the failure of the revolution to begin in Germany.”

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/7thcong/01.htm

  4. Hello. You may be mildly interested to learn that I’ve scanned the six-volume Soviet academic work “The International Working-Class Movement: Problems of History and Theory” which you’ve cited two or three times in your Comintern volumes.

    * https://archive.org/details/IntWorkingClassMovVol1 – The Origins of the Proletariat and Its Evolution as a Revolutionary Class

    * https://archive.org/details/IntWorkingClassMovVol2 – The Working-Class Movement in the Period of Transition to Imperialism (1871-1904)

    * https://archive.org/details/IntWorkingClassMovVol3 – Revolutionary Battles of the Early 20th Century

    * https://archive.org/details/IntWorkingClassMovVol4 – The Socialist Revolution in Russia and the International Working Class (1917-1923)

    * https://archive.org/details/IntWorkingClassMovVol5 – The Builder of Socialism and Fighter Against Fascism

    * https://archive.org/details/IntWorkingClassMovVol6 – The Working-Class Movement in the Developed Capitalist Countries After the Second World War (1945-1979)

    • Hello Thomas. Thank you for this extremely important reference and all your efforts to make this material available. I have found the six-volume series to be a valuable and easily accessible source for working-class history into the early 1920s..

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