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The Comintern’s Great Turn of 1920-21: Part 1

September 8, 2020

From the Second World Congress to the March Action

See also Part 2: The Third World Congress and Its Outcome

Table of Contents

Part 1: From Second World Congress to ‘March Action’

      1. 1920: Year of Great Hopes
      2. Four Historic Conventions
      3. The German Party Turns Left
      4. The ‘March Action’

Part 2: The Third World Congress and Its Outcome

      1. The Contending Forces Meet in Moscow
      2. Disputes over National Parties
      3. The Main Congress Debates
      4. Profile of a Compromise
      5. The Comintern Broadens Its Scope
      6. School of Strategy



Following its consolidation as a global organization in 1920, the Communist International (Comintern) experienced triumphant growth, then a severe setback, a leadership crisis, and finally – at the Third World Congress – a sharp reorientation toward United Front strategy.

The story of this fast-paced and complex evolution is traced in the introduction to To the Masses, a study of the Comintern’s Third World Congress (June-July 1921), which carried out the necessary change of direction.

To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (John Riddell, ed.), was published by Brill and Haymarket Books in 2015. It presents the complete proceedings of the Third Congress, along with 33 appendices and full annotation, in a single 1,299-page volume. The book, first published in the Historical Materialism Book Series, is available from Haymarket Press for US$38.50.

The 16,000-word introduction is presented here for the first time on line. Copyright (c) 2014 John Riddell.

With special thanks to Mike Taber, who drafted the footnotes, edited the text, and advised on every aspect of the complete work.–JR 2020

Introduction to the Third World Congress: Part 1

Lenin at the Third World Congress

By John Riddell: ‘To the masses!’ – that was the call of the Communist International’s Third Congress, held in Moscow 22 June–12 July 1921, to supporters around the world. ‘The power of capitalism’, the congress appeal stated, ‘can be broken only if the idea of communism takes shape in the impetuous upsurge of the proletariat’s large majority, led by mass Communist parties, which forge indissoluble ties to the fighting proletarian class.’[1]

This appeal was the heart of a strategy developed by the congress in response to a sharp change in political conditions in Europe: from a time of tumultuous workers’ upsurge to a period in which the goal of socialist revolution appeared less imminent. The Communist International (Comintern) sought to develop a plan to prepare for revolution in a period in which it did not appear immediately on the agenda and the working class, although organised and combative, was in retreat.

Prior to the congress, the International’s several million members were divided on the nature of this shift and how to respond to it. As the congress convened, with more than 600 delegates from 55 countries in attendance, its outcome was still in doubt, and the majority of its participants favoured a course quite different from what was ultimately adopted. The record of three weeks of congress debates, presented in these pages, displays a global movement’s complex and shifting debate on the questions defining its future course – including many issues still posed today.

The multitude of viewpoints expressed in congress sessions were grouped around two alternative courses of action. A ‘leftist’ option aimed to galvanise workers into revolutionary struggle through the bold initiatives of a Communist minority. It was expressed most clearly in amendments to the Theses on Tactics and Strategy proposed by the German, Austrian, and Italian delegations. Other forces, led by V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky and termed by Lenin as the ‘Right’, sought to advance toward revolution by rooting Communists in the daily struggles of the working class.[2]

The decisions of the congress laid down a strategic line of march that has guided the actions of revolutionary forces into the twenty-first century. The legacy of the congress includes:

  1. A strategy seeking to win to communism a majority of the working class through committed involvement in workers’ daily struggles. This course was expressed in the congress call, ‘to the masses’, and formulated more precisely by Clara Zetkin (quoting Lenin) as, ‘Win over the masses as a precondition to winning power’.[3]
  2. A campaign to draw together the diverse expressions of anti-capitalist resistance in a ‘united fighting front of the proletariat’. This approach was expanded, six months later, to embrace alliances with non-revolutionary currents within the working-class movement in what became known as ‘the united front’.[4]
  3. A proposal to integrate into the International’s programme what later became known as ‘transitional demands’, that is, demands infringing on capitalist property rights and power, as part of ‘a system of demands that, in their totality, undermine the power of the bourgeoisie, organise the proletariat, and mark out the different stages of the struggle for proletarian dictatorship’.[5]
  4. An analysis of how fluctuations in the capitalist economy can promote anti-capitalist consciousness, taking the place of reliance on the expectation of capitalist collapse.[6]
  5. In a discussion marked by sharp antagonisms and many missteps, the congress sought, through frank debate and in a spirit of compromise, to promote principled unity of the diverse forces linked to the International.

The congress consisted of not just its plenary discussions and resolutions, fully recorded in these pages, but also a multitude of executive, commission, and special meetings held before it convened and while it was in session. The course of these consultations and deliberations is reflected in this volume by thirty-two appended documents, most published here for the first time in English. The present editorial introduction aims to provide a readers’ guide to this diverse material, knitting together discussion inside and outside the formal sessions and supplying necessary context. The introduction also reviews events during the fifteen months prior to the congress that gave rise to the dispute in the Moscow gathering and figured centrally in its discussions.


1a. 1920: Year of Great Hopes

The strategic disagreement in the Communist International, perceptible since its foundation in March 1919, emerged and widened because of a contradiction in workers’ experience during 1920. Following the Comintern’s Second Congress in June–July 1920, hundreds of thousands of revolutionary-minded workers joined its ranks, building a number of mass Communist parties, especially in Germany, France, and Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, however, the working class as a whole suffered severe setbacks, especially in the Polish-Soviet war and in the two non-Soviet countries closest to revolution, Italy and Germany. The postwar wave of worker radicalism was visibly receding. Communists diverged in their response to this situation. Some proposed launching their newly enlarged forces into an offensive before it was too late, while others favoured policies adapted to a less rapid pace of revolution. The story of the Third Congress must therefore be traced from the moment, fifteen months earlier, when a marked strategic divergence appeared in the Comintern’s leadership.

The Kapp Putsch in Germany

Third Congress discussion often referred to disagreements on the Communists’ conduct during a March 1920 workers’ mobilisation in Germany against a military coup led by Wolfgang Kapp. When right-wing army detachments seized Berlin that month and put to flight the Social Democratic–led government, the army command refused to defend constitutional rule, while workers across Germany rose up in a massive general strike. Within four days, the Kapp Putsch was defeated, but workers continued their strike, seeking effective measures against rightist violence. Armed workers controlled some areas, including much of the industrial Ruhr region. The army moved against them, and capitalist forces soon regained the upper hand. Revolutionary workers wondered why they had been unable to take advantage of their best opportunity since the German revolution of November 1918. In particular, four actions during the Kapp days by the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) came in for critical scrutiny:

  • When the general strike broke out, the Communist Party’s central leadership initially refused to support it on the grounds that strikers opposing the coup were defending a repressive bourgeois government.
  • In some areas, the KPD took part in or led alliances of workers’ organisations, including the pro-capitalist SPD, that for a time wielded effective power.
  • At one point, the KPD expressed conditional support for a trade-union proposal to form a government of all workers’ parties and trade unions.
  • During the final stage of the struggle, when the army was poised to crush workers’ armed detachments in the Ruhr, the KPD favoured a proposed agreement to avert a massacre and pacify the region without an army incursion.

The KPD’s conduct during the Kapp episode came under fire from many leaders in the party and the International. Karl Radek, who led collaboration of the Comintern Executive (ECCI) with the KPD, said that both its leadership’s initial abstention and its later conditional support of a united workers’ government reflected an underlying passivity. Béla Kun, former leader of the 1919 Hungarian soviet republic, denounced the ‘model of unity’ encompassing all workers’ tendencies as ‘counterrevolutionary’. Some ‘leftist’ critics of the KPD reacted by organising the Communist Workers Party (KAPD); others formed a left opposition within the KPD, represented at the Third Congress by Paul Frölich, Arkadi Maslow, and others.[7]

Lenin, for his part, expressed critical support for the KPD’s response on a united workers’ government, doing so in May and again in June 1920. However, the Second Congress (June–July 1920) did not take up the disputed aspects of the KPD’s response. A year later, in the Third Congress, the Kapp Putsch was cited by Comintern leaders to condemn the KPD leadership of the time, headed by Paul Levi, for rightist errors, inactivity, and support of the ‘workers’ government’ proposal – the same points made by the KAPD and the KPD’s own left opposition.[8]

The Second World Congress

Although silent on lessons of the Kapp Putsch experience, the Second Congress took a series of decisions establishing the programmatic and principled framework in which the Third Congress debates took place. Indeed, the Second Congress marked the International’s real foundation as a union of parties with tens of thousands of members and deep roots in workers’ struggles. Delegates and guests represented diverse currents, ranging from revolutionary nationalists of Asia to anarchists and left-wing Social Democrats of the West. The 1919 founding congress had not discussed the role of Communist parties; by contrast, the 1920 gathering placed the need to build such parties at the centre of the International’s strategy. Its resolutions, dealing with the nature and role of Communist parties, participation in trade unions and in parliamentary elections, peasant struggles against exploitation, and anti-colonial movements, were often cited in the Third Congress as the framework for its discussions.[9]

The Second Congress also grappled with a challenge posed by the International’s new popularity. The Comintern had become ‘rather fashionable’, one of its resolutions noted, and stood in danger ‘of being diluted by vacillating and irresolute groups’ – such as the Socialists of France and the Independent Socialists (USPD) of Germany – who were still steeped in the ideology and practices of the pre-1914 Socialist (Second) International. Seeking to challenge the grip of a bureaucratic layer of journalists, parliamentarians, and officials within such parties, the congress adopted twenty-one ‘conditions for admission’ aimed at enabling Comintern parties to carry out decisions in unified fashion under conditions of intense class conflict.[10]

Congress resolutions mapped out the foundations of a strategy for a protracted struggle for Communist hegemony in the workers’ movement. However, another theme was at work in the 1920 gathering: the hope of rapid victory resulting from the impact of war.

Polish-Soviet War

The strategy of taking the offensive, which inspired leftist forces heading into the Third Congress, was first formulated in 1920 in a quite different context, that of the Polish-Soviet War. In the spring of 1920, the Polish government had launched an attack on soviet Ukraine, taking its capital, Kiev. The Soviet Red Army repelled the invasion, crossed the frontier, and occupied much of Poland. During the Second Congress, Soviet forces were approaching the Polish capital, Warsaw, while the British and French governments tried to rush military aid to Poland’s rulers. Workers across Europe rallied to block imperialist intervention. The Second Congress adopted Paul Levi’s resolution calling for destruction of the capitalist state of Poland in the name of an ‘independent republic of Polish workers and peasants’. Victor Serge later recalled how Lenin, ‘in excellent spirits, confident of victory’, discussed the Soviet advance on Warsaw with delegates gathered informally in a side-room around a map of Poland, while Radek added, ‘We shall be ripping up the Versailles Treaty with our bayonets.’ Six months later, Radek told the KPD Zentrale that the Comintern Executive had believed German workers were so close to seizure of political power that, ‘if [the Red Army] held Warsaw, there would be no further need to advance all the way to Germany’.[11]

A year later, Trotsky spoke of the mood of those days: ‘You will recall, the Red Army was then advancing on Warsaw and it was possible to calculate that because of the revolutionary situation in Germany, Italy, and other countries, the military impulse – without, of course, any independent significance of its own but as an auxiliary force … – might bring on the landslide of revolution, then temporarily at a dead point. That did not happen. We were beaten back.’[12]

In the weeks after the Second Congress adjourned, the Soviet forces in Poland were repulsed and withdrew back to near the original frontier. An armistice soon followed, marking the end of a seven-year cycle of war and civil war in European Russia. Nonetheless, the Red Army’s Polish offensive inspired an article by Nikolai Bukharin in the Comintern’s world journal, headlined ‘The Policy of the Offensive’, which drew on precedents from the French revolutionary wars of the 1790s to make the case that Soviet military advances could spark revolution beyond Soviet borders.[13] In the run-up to the Third Congress, Bukharin’s formula was born to a new life in the theory developed by the German party’s majority leadership to justify its adventurist policy.

The Baku Congress

Grigorii Zinoviev

Three weeks after the Second Congress adjourned, the Comintern convened an unprecedented congress of fighters for national liberation from across Asia in Baku, Azerbaijan. The 2,050 delegates, a quarter of whom had no ties with the Communist movement, represented 37 nationalities. The optimism that inspired Bukharin’s article on the Polish war echoed through its sessions. When Grigorii Zinoviev, in the name of the Comintern, told delegates, ‘Brothers, we summon you to a holy war, above all against British imperialism’, he was greeted by thunderous applause, as delegates rose in cheers, brandishing sabres and rifles.[14]

But in Central Asia, too, a cycle of imperialist war was winding down. Over the next two years, Britain withdrew its armed forces, in stages, from Turkestan, Transcaucasia, Iran, and Turkey. In February–March 1921 Soviet Russia signed treaties with Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey. Most important, on 16 March, Russia and Britain signed a trade treaty, a decisive breach in the imperialist blockade of the Soviet republic, in which the two powers promised not to harm each other’s interests in Asia. During this period, pro-Soviet national liberation movements triumphed, with the aid of the Red Army, in most of the old tsarist empire’s territories in Asia. Beyond its frontiers, however, national liberation movements in 1920–1, although increasing in scope, were not yet strong enough to mount an assault on colonial and semi-colonial domination.

The enduring achievement of the Baku congress lay in the impetus it gave to the formation of Communist movements across Asia. It heightened awareness in both the East and West of the role that the peoples of the East could play as a force in a world anti-capitalist movement – a perspective summarised in Zinoviev’s closing remarks at Baku: ‘Workers of all lands and oppressed peoples of the whole world, unite.’[15]

Upsurge in Italy

Zinoviev’s opening report to the Third Congress devoted extended analysis to events in Italy in the autumn of 1920. Even as the Baku congress met, workers across Italy, half a million strong, seized factories and began to organise production under the leadership of factory councils. Beginning in the metal industry, the strikes spread to the railroads, other industries, and the countryside, bringing the country to the brink of revolution. Leaders of the pro-socialist trade-union confederation, however, considered the movement to be nothing more than a struggle for immediate union goals, and the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), the Comintern’s section in Italy, refused to challenge them to go further. Party and union leaders alike took no steps to intensify the struggle or endow it with broader demands. The government was left free to liquidate the movement through wage increases and a promise of ‘workers’ control’, which was not implemented.

This outcome was demoralising for revolutionary workers. For revolutionary forces within the PSI, the relevance of the Second Congress theses to this disaster was obvious: the PSI had failed to lead because it remained tied to the outmoded structures and practices of pre-1914 socialism. In the view of the PSI left wing, the challenge of revolution demanded a new kind of party of the type sketched out in the Twenty-One Conditions and other Second Congress decisions, a party integrated into a disciplined world movement. In particular, the party’s left wing demanded that the PSI expel its openly reformist minority, led by Filippo Turati, which exerted a deadening influence on the party apparatus. Meanwhile, the PSI’s central leader, Giacinto Serrati, who had led the PSI into the Comintern, wrote of the world movement with increasing scepticism, finding various excuses to postpone application in Italy of the Twenty-One Conditions. The Comintern Executive argued vigorously for immediate application of the conditions, publishing its debate with the PSI in a hefty pamphlet translated into several languages.[16]

Soon, a revolutionary wing within the PSI coalesced around the former ‘Abstentionist’ faction led by Amadeo Bordiga, which had long opposed the PSI’s participation in elections. Supporters of the Turin newspaper Ordine nuovo, whose leaders included Umberto Terracini and Antonio Gramsci, joined in this left convergence; forces breaking from Serrati’s current made up a third component. Meanwhile, the Serrati forces, now taking the name ‘Unitary Communists’ (‘Unitarians’), avoided an open challenge to the Comintern and managed to retain the support of most pro-Comintern party members.

By the end of 1920, the pro-ECCI forces (the Communist Faction) had taken steps to prepare for a split. Structuring their supporters in branches and federations down to the membership level and functioning through their own publications,[17] they were headed toward a clean break with the Serrati-led majority. Although Zinoviev, on 9 January 1921, said that the Serrati wing would probably vote for the ECCI’s positions, Bordiga had already written in his faction’s newspaper that if in a minority, they would defy convention decisions.[18]


1b. Four Historic Conventions

During the year following the Second Congress, mass workers’ parties in Germany, France, and Czechoslovakia joined the Comintern, while a fourth such party, in Italy, left the Comintern’s ranks. These events – and their consequences – were to dominate the Third Congress discussions.

Halle (Germany)

In Germany, a convention of the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) in Halle, held 12–17 October 1920, resolved by 237 votes to 156 to accept the Twenty-One Conditions and join the Communist International. Formed in 1917 by members of the Social Democratic Party who rejected its support of World War I and collaboration with the capitalist class, the USPD in late 1920 embraced eight hundred thousand members and was ten times the size of the KPD. Following the Halle vote, its majority began a fusion process with the Communist Party, while its minority split off, keeping the name USPD. The USPD majority and the KPD joined forces in early December, creating a party of some four hundred thousand members that took the name United Communist Party of Germany (VKPD).

Karl Radek

The new party inherited the dispute that had been brewing in the KPD and in its relations with the ECCI since the Kapp Putsch. A new left wing had formed in the KPD in 1920, calling for a more ‘active’ policy, with bolder initiatives in workers’ struggles. Among its leaders were Ernst Meyer and Hugo Eberlein from the wartime Spartacus current; Frölich, who during the war had criticised Spartacus from the left; and Ernst Friesland (Reuter), won to communism as a prisoner of war in Russia. They received encouragement from Karl Radek, responsible for the ECCI’s relations with Germany, who accused unnamed elements in the German party leadership (presumably including Paul Levi) of ‘anti-putschist cretinism’ and ‘quietism’. August Thalheimer and Heinrich Brandler, also Spartacus veterans, swung toward this viewpoint. At a KPD congress in November, Radek openly attacked Levi, accusing him of ‘wanting to do nothing but educate Communists until the Party has white hairs on its super-intelligent head’.[19]

Paul Levi

At the December fusion convention, a draft manifesto, written by Levi and approved by the provisional Zentrale (Central Bureau), was set aside and replaced by a last-minute text by Radek. Referring to the numerical size and influence of the United KPD (VKPD), Radek’s text stated, ‘The VKPD is strong enough to go alone into action when events permit and demand this.’ The text was adopted, but Levi expressed his reservations publicly: the establishment of workers’ rule (‘proletarian dictatorship’) ‘cannot be the task of a small part of that class or of a single, isolated party, but only that of the broad masses of the proletariat, of the class as such’. Communists ‘must also be aware that they constitute only a fraction of the proletarian class….’[20]

Leftist pressure on the new party was further increased by the ECCI’s decision in December 1920, overriding unanimous and strenuous objections from the KPD leadership, to admit to the Comintern the extreme leftist KAPD as a sympathising organisation, granting it representation on the ECCI with consultative vote along with financial assistance.

Tours (France)

Two months after the Halle Congress, Comintern supporters in the French Socialist Party (SFIO) won a decisive victory at its 25–30 December 1920 congress in Tours. The ECCI had set its sights on winning the party almost in its entirety, even offering to weaken the Twenty-One Conditions (the party could keep its name, Socialist Party, for a time; it could preserve neutrality in the trade unions) in order to embrace revolutionary-minded forces influenced by centrism. The Comintern rallied 70 percent of congress delegates and, after the congress, 60 percent of the membership. The party was still headed by Louis-Oscar Frossard and Marcel Cachin, who had been distant from revolutionary views during the War; its newspaper was still L’Humanité, founded by Jean Jaurès.

Such a decisive Comintern victory inevitably swept into its new French section an ultimately incompatible spectrum of political traditions and outlooks. After the Tours Congress, tensions surfaced in the spring of 1921 around a threat of war. The French government sought to use military force to squeeze greater reparations payments out of Germany, calling up into the army a category of conscripts, ‘the class of 1919’. On 8 March it occupied part of the Ruhr industrial region on the east bank of the Rhine. The French Communists protested,[21] but leftist forces in the party and especially its youth organisation assailed the party leadership for passivity and excessive caution, in terms similar to those used by leftists in their criticisms of Paul Levi. The resulting tensions still riled the French delegation as it arrived in Moscow for the Third Congress.

Livorno (Italy)

As the Italian Socialist Party approached its January 1921 congress in Livorno, its members were grouped in three factions divided above all by issues posed in the Comintern’s Twenty-One Conditions. Alongside the Communist Faction (Bordiga) and the Unitary Communists (Serrati), the right wing led by Turati organised itself as the Socialist Concentration. A fourth, smaller current led by Antonio Graziadei and Anselmo Marabini agreed with the ECCI’s stand but sought to reconcile the Communist Faction with the Serrati current, or at least its left wing. The Communist Faction demanded that the PSI immediately expel all participants in Turati’s factional conference in Reggio Emilia in October and implement the Twenty-One Conditions fully and immediately. The ECCI fully backed the Bordiga faction’s ultimatum. Serrati responded that the PSI would indeed implement the conditions, but in its own way and its own time, and that immediate expulsions would be premature. The PSI, Serrati said, was asking only that it be granted the same consideration that the ECCI had shown to the French party; he accused the ECCI of acting in discriminatory fashion.

On the eve of the Livorno conference, Radek, as ECCI representative in Germany, was in agreement with the VKPD Zentrale on the need ‘to keep Serrati, but we had definitely to demand of him that the Turati people be excluded’.[22] However, when Levi, as VKPD representative, reached Livorno, he encountered just-received instructions from Moscow ‘stating that the new decision of the Executive was: sharp struggle against Serrati’. Negotiations between Serrati and the ECCI representatives in Livorno (Mátyás Rákosi and Khristo Kabakchiev) and Serrati’s discussions with Levi came to nothing. Graziadei proposed to the Communist Faction that it soften the wording of its expulsion ultimatum; this was refused.[23]

The Livorno Congress lasted through a full week (15–21 January) of tumultuous proceedings. When Kabakchiev rose to present the ECCI’s message, he was booed by the Unitarians; when he said those not voting for the Communist Faction’s motion would be expelled from the Comintern, there were sarcastic cries, ‘Viva il papa [pope]’. Kabakchiev argued that the situation in Italy was ripe for revolution; in case of delay, the bourgeoisie would move to attack. By opposing expulsion of the reformists, he said, Serrati was blocking the revolution. Unitarian delegates countered that the ECCI was misreading the objective situation.[24]

The congress vote gave the Unitarians a comfortable majority, with 98,028 mandates; the Communists received 58,783 and Turati’s Socialist Concentration, 14,695. The Left thereupon walked out and organised itself as the Communist Party of Italy (PCI); the ECCI immediately recognised it as the Comintern’s Italian section. The remainder of the congress pledged its loyalty to the Comintern and resolved to appeal its expulsion to the Third Congress.

The split cost the Comintern most of its proletarian base in Italy. In the trade-union congress held two months later, the PCI’s support was 23 percent. During its campaign for the 15 May parliamentary elections, the PCI aimed its main fire against the Socialists; the Communist vote, however, was less than a fifth that of the PSI. The discrepancy in membership was persistent: in late 1921, PCI membership was 43,000; that of the PSI, 107,000.[25]

Far from advancing to socialist revolution after the Livorno Congress, Italy was gripped by increasingly murderous violence against the workers’ movement by Fascist forces led by Benito Mussolini. Starting in the northern countryside and then spreading into the towns, the Fascist attacks were a one-sided civil war, breaking up workers’ and peasants’ organisations, dissolving socialist municipal administrations, and killing Socialist and Communist activists. Despite widespread unemployment caused by an economic crash, workers often responded with strike action and formed anti-Fascist alliances on a local level. However, Fascist gangs, made up of full-time fighters, financed by leading capitalists, and assured of neutrality or support by the police and army, had military superiority sufficient to beat back such spontaneous and isolated resistance.

The national union organisations failed to respond to the threat, while the PSI relied on the very state agencies that were backing the Fascists. The Communist Party recognised the danger and formed anti-Fascist fighting units, but it took no steps to unite against the threat with workers aligned with non-Communist currents. Bordiga, the dominant voice in the PCI leadership, opposed defence of ‘bourgeois legality’, which he saw as compatible with fascism. By the time of the Third Congress, workers had independently organised a national anti-Fascist defence league, the Arditi del Popolo (People’s Commandos), but the Arditi were opposed by both the PCI and PSI.[26]

Prague (Czechoslovakia)

The Comintern’s emergence in Czechoslovakia resembled the pattern in France, although it was shaped by a quite different political landscape. Czechoslovakia was pieced together in 1919 by the Versailles Treaty from territories with Czech, German, Slovakian, and Ruthenian populations, each with their own socialist parties. The Czechoslovak Communist Party emerged from a fusion and regroupment process embracing roughly four hundred thousand members.

In 1920, revolutionary forces gained a majority in the Czech Social Democratic Party, whose right wing responded by splitting the movement. Two-thirds of local organisations sent delegates to the September party congress organised by the Left. The congress gave overwhelming support to the Marxist Left, a current led by Bohumir Šmeral, that included both revolutionary and centrist forces. While favourable to the Comintern, the Marxist Left did not endorse the Twenty-One Conditions and stressed the need to guard party unity and continuity with the prewar Social Democracy. In early November, the ECCI called on the Czech Left party to take the name Communist and to unify with pro-Comintern forces of other Czechoslovak nationalities.[27]

The right-wing splitters held their own congress at the end of November, claiming to represent the party’s continuity. A legal war ensued over ownership of party property and assets. The rightists called in the police, who on 9 December evicted the Left party from its headquarters in Prague. Left unions called a protest strike, which grew to embrace about one million workers across the country, who seized factories and formed councils in some locations. The strike was broken after a week by military repression.

The strike heightened the impression among many revolutionary-minded workers that the party was ill-equipped to lead in the social confrontation that now seemed imminent. The resulting debate raged on even as the party slowly moved toward Comintern affiliation. Membership discussion of the Twenty-One Conditions began in February; the Central Committee adopted the conditions in March; they were then endorsed by a 96 percent vote in a party referendum. A 14–16 May 1921 congress in Prague, including representatives from Slovakia and Ruthenia, voted almost unanimously to join the Comintern. The still-separate German-speaking Communists, who organised at a 12–15 March gathering in Reichenberg (Liberec), were a bastion of leftist criticism of Šmeral and his party.[28]

The debate in Czechoslovakia, as in Italy, France, and Germany, focused on objective conditions. All agreed that theirs was a revolutionary epoch, but would its climax come quickly – perhaps in months – or only after longer preparation? Šmeral wrote in April that the party was transitioning from a time of immediate assault to a war of position, a formulation criticised at the Third Congress by Radek and later utilised by Gramsci.[29] Šmeral’s report to the May congress elaborated on this theme: he called for drawing the masses into the struggle and avoiding adventures, while criticising the ECCI for harmful interventions in Italy and Germany. The Reichenberg Communists published excerpts from the report in German, a slanted selection aimed at arousing mistrust in Šmeral. It was this version that circulated among Comintern leaders in Moscow and was cited by Lenin in the Third Congress.[30]

The activity of Hungarian emissaries of the ECCI provided a further irritant in the Czechoslovak debate. In March 1921, Béla Kun convened a meeting with reluctant Czechoslovak party representatives in Berlin. Rákosi and Gyula Alpári toured Bohemia urging local leaders to oppose Šmeral, impelling leaders of its party to lodge a collective protest with the ECCI.[31]


1c. The German Party Turns Left

The exiled Hungarian leaders, writing in the Vienna-based German-language journal, Kommunismus, had emerged in 1920 as the main voice of a leftist current within the Comintern. After the Second Congress, when the Comintern began to flesh out the ECCI into an effective apparatus, member parties were reluctant to withdraw central leaders from party responsibilities for a Moscow assignment. The exiled Hungarian comrades, however, were available, and their drive to ‘activate’ the Central European comrades overlapped with the leanings of Zinoviev, Bukharin, and, to some extent, Radek, the most authoritative Bolshevik leaders carrying day-to-day responsibility for Comintern work. The ECCI’s impatience for party initiatives in action was on full display in its response to a major initiative by the German party, its 8 January 1921 ‘Open Letter to German Workers’ Organisations’ (see Appendix 1a).[32]

In the Open Letter, the VKPD proposed to join with all workers’ parties and trade unions in united action to sustain the incomes of working people, rein in prices for workers’ necessities, and secure their supply of foodstuffs, noting that these were immediate and basic demands that all currents in the workers’ movement claimed to support. The Open Letter proposal was drawn up by Radek and Levi, but they did not originate it. As Radek candidly admitted to the German leadership, ‘If I were in Moscow, this idea would never even come to me’.[33] The initiative came in fact from the VKPD local organisation in Stuttgart, responding to the yearning for unity among non-Communist workers. Late in 1920, a meeting representing 26,000 Stuttgart metalworkers called for joint struggle for a short list of basic demands; the appeal was published 10 December 1920. It was the first formulation of the united front policy that the Comintern was to adopt a year and eight days later.

Ruth Fischer

Leaders of all major German workers’ organisations rejected the Open Letter, but the Communists carried their appeal to the ranks, where it gained significant support. The trade-union leadership felt compelled to issue its own list of demands, which the VKPD then supported, demanding concerted action. The Communist initiative was opposed, however, by the KAPD; by Ruth Fischer, Maslow, and their leftist opposition within the VKPD; and – within the ECCI’s Small Bureau (its day-to-day leadership body) – by Zinoviev and Bukharin (see Appendix 1b). The Bureau condemned the Open Letter, but the decision was set aside, on Lenin’s insistence, and the matter was referred to the Third Congress.[34]

Only two weeks after the Open Letter’s publication, Paul Levi and his closest collaborators exited the VKPD leadership. The immediate issue was not German policy but the implications of the split in Italy. Reporting to the German Central Committee on February 24, Levi criticised the ECCI’s conduct in Livorno, insisting that ‘it was possible in Italy to separate the right wing from the party without losing the masses’. Even if that meant tolerating Serrati in the International, Levi said, ‘the price was not too high’. He also protested that the ECCI should not be carrying out splits in Comintern member parties.[35]

Ernst Meyer

Rákosi, representing the ECCI, rallied a majority of the German party’s Central Committee for its Italian policy. Praising the Livorno outcome, he told the German leaders that the German and French parties were too large and needed to be cleansed or trimmed down. The ECCI envoy seemed to be announcing an international Livorno-type offensive against all those with views similar to Levi. Radek, addressing the Zentrale a few days later, conceded that the outcome in Italy had been somewhat unfavourable. The real issue, he said, was Levi’s supposedly hostile attitude to the ECCI and its policies. This argument appears to have been decisive in enabling Rákosi to win the Central Committee vote 28 to 23. Levi, Zetkin, and three supporters quit the Zentrale. A new team took the helm, including Meyer, Thalheimer, Eberlein, and Brandler, determined to steer the German party toward bolder initiatives in action.[36]

The events in Germany during the six weeks that followed became the main focus of discussion at the Third Congress. While the new leadership struggled to turn the party onto a more radical course, at about the beginning of March, an unanticipated and unusually authoritative ECCI delegation arrived in Berlin. Its members included Béla Kun; his Hungarian colleague Jószef Pogány; and August Guralski, a veteran of the Jewish Bund in Ukraine and recent recruit to the Bolshevik Party. All three were identified with the Comintern’s leftist wing. This mission, barely mentioned in the Third Congress, had a major impact on the events in Germany debated there.

There is no record of who sent the ECCI envoys or why. The VKPD delegate to the ECCI, Curt Geyer, though resident in Moscow, was unaware of the mission. The decision was likely taken by Zinoviev, perhaps with his close collaborators, although there is no evidence that Lenin or Trotsky was involved. When the envoys departed, Levi’s resignation was as yet unknown in Moscow. A 14 March letter by Radek reflects his thinking just after the mission departed (see Appendix 2a).[37]

The mission appears to have been an attempt to respond to three simultaneous crises in Germany’s international relations:

  1. A threatened French occupation of a sector of the Ruhr region, the heart of German heavy industry, which did in fact take place on 8 March.
  2. Demands by the Allied powers that Germany disarm rightist militias, which were protected by Gustav von Kahr’s far-right government in Bavaria.
  3. A struggle between Polish and German militias for control of an industrial region, Upper Silesia, which threatened to escalate into war between the two countries.

Zinoviev may have suggested that the three envoys do what they could to encourage opposition to Levi, a task for which they needed no urging. But on arrival, finding that Levi had already been replaced, they busied themselves by urging a more active policy on German leaders of all currents. A few weeks later, Levi summarised what Kun had told him:

Russia finds itself in an extremely difficult situation. It is unconditionally necessary for the burden on Russia to be relieved by movements in the West, and, for this reason, the German Party must immediately step into action. The VKPD now counted half a million members, and this would make it possible to put one and a half million proletarians on the streets, enough to overthrow the government. The struggle should, therefore, immediately begin with the slogan: overthrow the government.

Zetkin confirmed Levi’s account. Béla Kun told Lenin that these reports were lies, but his own account confirms them in broad outline (see Appendix 2e).[38]

Kun’s insistence on the need for the German party to launch immediate confrontational action is not found in statements by ECCI leaders at that time, which focus on countering Levi’s policies. Kun’s initiative most likely reflects the synergy of his encounter with the new leftist VKPD leadership, already inclined toward launching a confrontational action, as well as with the leftist faction led by Friesland, Maslow, and Fischer and with the KAPD. The subsequent March Action disaster was termed by historian Marie-Luise Goldbach ‘an industrial accident incidental to factional intrigue in the party, exacerbated by the Moscow emissary’. Pierre Broué suggests, ‘[T]he most likely explanation is that Kun acted on his own initiative, in the conviction that he would have the support and approval of the ECCI.’[39]


1d. The March Action

The new course of the VKPD Zentrale found expression in its statement on the reparations crisis published 4 March. Neither rejection nor acceptance of the Allied demands will help the working class, the Zentrale declared; ‘help will come only from a direct struggle to overthrow the German bourgeois government.’ The new line was presented to a Central Committee meeting held 16–17 March. Brandler, reporting on party tasks, predicted a rapid escalation of the external and domestic conflicts pressing on the German state, expressed confidence that the VKPD could rally three million workers in struggle for its demands, and called on the party to move into action. He then addressed a just-published announcement by Otto Hörsing, governor of Prussian Saxony, that large police contingents were about to occupy this Central German industrial region, which was a stronghold of the VKPD and revolutionary working class. Brandler suggested that the VKPD might be able to initiate a general strike in the region, perhaps after the 25–28 March Easter holiday.[40]

No specific decision was taken, but the mood of the meeting was suggested by Frölich’s statement, reported by Radek to the Third Congress, ‘Previously we waited, but now we will seize the initiative and force the revolution.’ And even as Brandler spoke, Die Rote Fahne had already responded on 17 March with its own appeal calling on German workers to ‘emerge from their passivity…. The proletariat must smash the invading forces….’[41]

Béla Kun

According to historian Sigrid Koch-Baumgarten, publication of this appeal was the first move by a group of Communists acting outside the official leadership bodies and confronting them with one fait accompli after another. The group, convened by Kun, included the three ECCI emissaries; three of the more leftist Zentrale members; two representatives of the KAPD, which had decided to attempt a national uprising; and a member of the syndicalist General Workers Union of Germany (AAUD). Possessing effective control of the VKPD’s main newspaper, Die Rote Fahne, through Ernst Meyer and Frölich, the group pressed for a more radical, confrontationist course than that favoured by the Zentrale. In the days that followed, the ECCI team sent Guralsky to Central Germany and, it seems, Pogány to Hamburg to help direct the party’s intervention in these major arenas of combat. Another provocative article in Die Rote Fahne, several times cited in the Third Congress, was written by Béla Kun and published 18 March. It seized on rightist threats in Bavaria as the occasion to declare, ‘Every worker must flout the law and take up arms, wherever he can find them.’ Despite a protest from the Zentrale majority, Die Rote Fahne continued to write in this vein.[42]

On Saturday 19 March, Hörsing’s heavily armed detachments marched ostentatiously into the industrial towns of Central Germany, supposedly to suppress ‘thievery’. Although the operation’s real and evident purpose was to disarm and intimidate revolutionary workers, police contingents at first avoided confrontation. The regional VKPD’s 18 March appeal to workers to strike if police entered their factories thus remained without effect. Nonetheless, local VKPD leaders called strikes beginning Monday, 21 March, and the walkouts spread quickly. On 22 March, Max Hoelz, the leader of a small armed workers’ detachment formed during the Kapp struggle and a KAPD member, addressed a meeting of several thousand workers in Eisleben calling on them to begin armed resistance. When workers exited the meeting, police moved in to make arrests. A running battle ensued, and armed resistance continued the next day. Armed or semi-armed contingents of workers embraced some 2,500 workers in total, 400 of them led by Hoelz. However, the insurrectionary movement did not spread beyond the region; within ten days it was crushed by militarised police with murderous brutality.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the VKPD’s military wing in Central Germany, headed initially by Guralsky and then by Eberlein, planned bombings and kidnappings designed to expand and intensify the armed conflict. With the local political leadership opposed and technical means lacking, not much came of these efforts except heated subsequent controversy.

In Hamburg, the VKPD launched its own action, with KAPD support. Several hundred unemployed workers occupied a dock works on 23 March demanding jobs, supported by a demonstration of two thousand workers. The police fired on the workers, killing 22 and wounding 42. By the end of the day, the movement was defeated. That night, the German government declared a state of siege and suspended civil liberties in Prussian Saxony and Hamburg.

The following day, 24 March (Thursday), the VKPD declared a general strike across all Germany. The VKPD appeal focused on the war danger in Upper Silesia and the nationwide threat of repression and counterrevolution. The slaughter of workers in Central Germany and Hamburg received only the briefest mention. The appeal’s demands ranged from ‘jobs to the jobless’ and ‘organisation of production by workers’ and union committees’ to ‘obstruct transport of troops and weaponry’. The timing was awkward – the day before the Easter holiday. The strike was opposed by the SPD and the rump USPD as well as by almost all their members.[43]

In the Central German district of Halle-Merseburg, where walkouts were already widespread, the strike was widely observed. Walkouts took place in parts of the Ruhr district. Elsewhere, the strike had little success. In session 5, Heinrich Malzahn of the German opposition estimated that strikers totalled only two hundred thousand – just over half the party’s pre-March membership – a figure not challenged in the congress. Due to the strength of opposition among workers, the strike took on the character of a fratricidal struggle. Indeed, in many instances, Communists battled non-Communists among the workforce; in some cases workers were cleared out of the workplace by force. These fratricidal clashes received one mention in the congress, when the KAPD delegate Sachs, defending the VKPD’s strike initiative, said that ‘during the March Action broad masses turned against those in struggle, not only with words but by wielding iron bars in the factories to drive out those who called for a strike’. Even the VKPD’s own initial assessment of the March Action, adopted by its Central Committee 7–8 April, presented it as a struggle within the working class (see Appendix 2b). By the end of March the movement was defeated; the VKPD officially called off the strike on April 1.[44]

Legacy of defeat

The repression that crushed the March Action was sweeping and harsh. Six thousand workers were arrested and four thousand sentenced to jail terms, including eight to life imprisonment; there were four death sentences. About 150 members of the VKPD were killed. Thousands of revolutionary workers were dismissed from their jobs. Social democratic union leaders campaigned against VKPD ‘putschism’, ousting Communists from many of their positions of union influence. Distrust of the VKPD was now widespread even among radical non-Communist workers. Amid the dislocation caused by defeat and repression, the party’s membership, as measured by dues payments, fell to about 180,000 in mid-1921, roughly half the level of early in the year.[45]

August Thalheimer

The VKPD majority leadership, however, hailed the action as a success and promised more of the same. In a pamphlet published by the Zentrale 4–5 April, Thalheimer wrote:

The March Action as an isolated initiative would be a crime against the proletariat. To this degree our opponents are right. However, the March offensive as introduction to a series of increasingly intense actions is a liberating deed.

The Zentrale’s pamphlet also stated:

The party’s slogan must therefore be: Offensive, offensive, whatever the cost, by every means, in every situation that offers serious chances of success.

On 7 April, the Central Committee adopted by a 26 to 14 vote theses that stated: ‘Workers have been aroused out of stagnation and idle submission…. The final result has been to deepen and broaden the effectiveness of propaganda for communism’ (see Appendix 2b). The theses acknowledged that the March Action represented a conflict within the working class, and insisted that its method must be continued, presenting a theoretical justification that became known as the ‘Theory of the Offensive’.[46]

Clara Zetkin

Theses for the minority were introduced by Zetkin at the 7 April plenum (see Appendix 2c). Agreeing that conditions had been present for ‘intensified activity’ and an ‘offensive’, she insisted that the proper response lay in the method of the Open Letter and the demand for Germany’s alliance with Soviet Russia. Her theses, which strongly condemned the March Action in its entirety, were defeated by a vote of six for, forty-four against. The party leadership undertook to tighten discipline, ousting many minority supporters from positions of influence. Nonetheless, within a few weeks, even while asserting the Theory of the Offensive and without any encouragement from the ECCI, the party began to return to the method of the Open Letter, urging united action to implement the union federation’s official demands, building support for victims of oppression, and seeking unity in May Day actions.[47]

On 12 April, Paul Levi published his condemnation of the March Action as a pamphlet, ‘Our Path: Against Putschism’. Basing himself on Marx’s writings against Bakunin, Levi described ‘putschism’ as setting the revolutionary nucleus against the working class, in the spirit of ‘who is not for us is against us’ – a theme found in many articles in the VKPD press. Levi provided many examples where Communists had fought factory workers in order to drive them from their workplaces. He also strongly attacked the ECCI’s conduct in Germany and elsewhere, terming it at one point ‘a Cheka projected beyond the Russian frontiers’. He omitted a good deal of damning material – Kun’s role, for example, and Eberlein’s dynamiting initiatives in Central Germany – but still, Levi’s pamphlet was a stinging, frontal attack on the party’s leadership and conduct. The public nature of Levi’s article, as well as its tone, caused outrage among many party members. Three days later, the Zentrale expelled Levi from the VKPD for ‘gross disloyalty and severe damage to the party’.[48]

Reaction in Moscow

On receiving initial news of the March struggles, the ECCI in Moscow greeted the fact that German workers had gone into battle ‘in an attempt to bring to an end the rule of the German exploiters’ for the first time since 1919. ‘You acted rightly!’, the ECCI stated. ‘Prepare for new struggles.’ [49]

A letter by Lenin to Levi and Zetkin, sent 16 April, struck a different note (see Appendix 2d). While declining to state an opinion on the March Action, Lenin said, referring to Béla Kun, ‘I readily believe the representative of the Executive Committee defended stupid tactics,… [he] is very often too leftist.’ Written before receiving news of Levi’s pamphlet, the letter urged Levi not to publish his critique but rather to seek rectification through the ECCI and the coming world congress. Delivery of Lenin’s letter was blocked by an ECCI representative in Berlin. On Lenin’s insistence, it was finally forwarded in mid-May. Meanwhile, a pamphlet by Radek, completed 18 April, gave further evidence of a shift in the ECCI. While directing its main fire against Levi, it made several criticisms of the VKPD leadership’s conduct, including its failure to focus the action ‘on the demand for withdrawal of Hörsing’s measures and for arming the workers’ guards’. On 29 April, the ECCI, in backing Levi’s expulsion, said this action was correct ‘even if he were nine-tenths right’. The statement declined to express an opinion on the March Action and referred the question to the coming World Congress.[50]

On 3–5 May, the VKPD Central Committee drew up theses for the World Congress, reasserting in more guarded form the need to ‘move from the defensive to the offensive’. The theses stated that ‘despite inadequacies the VKPD’s March Action was an initial step to break with the past and … to win the leadership of the masses.’[51]

About that time, Zinoviev announced to the world movement that the World Congress was being held earlier than originally planned, primarily in order to grapple with a right-wing current that had emerged, he said, in Italy (Serrati), Germany (Levi), and Czechoslovakia (Šmeral). In fact, however, the Bolshevik leaders of the Comintern were divided in their assessment of the International’s tasks, as Radek explained to the Russian delegation to the congress only one day before the congress opened. The disagreement had arisen, he said, because ‘neither Lenin nor Trotsky was in a position to follow the course of this work’. They had objected to the actions of Zinoviev, Bukharin, and Radek, ‘demanding that we pay more attention to the left danger’ (see Appendix 3h).[52]

Trotsky later explained his and Lenin’s outlook as follows:

There was danger at that time that the policy of the Comintern would follow the line of the March 1921 events in Germany. That is, the attempt to create a revolutionary situation artificially…. That mood was the prevailing one at the congress. Vladimir Ilyich [Lenin] came to the conclusion that, following this course, the International would most certainly go to smash.[53]


For Further Reading

Selections from the Third World Congress proceedings posted in the Marxists Internet Archive.

Lenin’s Comintern Revisited”: A collection of studies of the early Communist International posted on this blog.


[1]. Quoted from the post-congress ECCI appeal, p.1034. See also pp. 234 (Zinoviev) and 269, 417, 442 (Radek).

[2]. For the amendments, see pp. 1041–58. This introduction avoids the term ‘ultraleft’, which was not used in the Third Congress, and uses instead the words ‘leftist’ or ‘left’ found in the congress text. For Lenin’s use of the term ‘Right’, see his letter of 14 August 1921, pp. 1078–80.

[3]. The concept ‘to the masses’ was first voiced at the congress by Zinoviev in his opening report: ‘The main slogan is to make sure that we attain the majority and reach the masses.’ See p. #234. For Zetkin’s formulation, quoting Lenin, see p. 1142.

[4]. See p. 1036; Riddell (ed.) 2011b, Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (hereinafter 4WC), pp. 1164–73.

[5]. See p. 936. See also Fourth Congress discussion, Riddell (ed.) 2011b, 4WC, pp. 34–6, 509–15, 631.

[6]. See pp. 440–42 (report), 919–20 (theses).

[7]. See Broué 2005, p. 389 (Radek); Kommunismus, 1, 12–13 (3 April 1920), pp. 349–50 (Kun).

[8]. Lenin 1960–71, Collected Works (hereinafter LCW), 31, pp. 109, 166; below, pp. 205–6, 209–10 (Zinoviev), 423 (Radek).

[9]. For the record of the first and second congresses, see Riddell (ed.) 1987, Founding the Communist International (hereinafter 1WC) and Riddell (ed.) 1991, Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920 (hereinafter 2WC).

[10]. See ‘Conditions for Admission’ in Riddell (ed.) 1991, 2WC, 2, pp. 765–71.

[11]. Riddell (ed.) 1991, 2WC, 1, pp. 134–9; Serge 2012, p. 126; Drachkovitch and Lazitch (eds.) 1966, p. 285.

[12]. Trotsky 1972a, 2, p. 8.

[13]. Bukharin, ‘Die Offensivtaktik’, Kommunistische Internationale, 15 (1920), pp. 67–72.

[14]. Riddell (ed.) 1993, p. 78.

[15]. Riddell (ed.) 1993, p. 219. The slogan had previously been highlighted by Lenin; see LCW, 31, p. 453.

[16]. Comintern 1921a, 1921b; For Lenin’s view, see ‘On the Struggle of the Italian Socialist Party’, LCW, 31, p. 377–96.

[17]. See Terracini’s remarks in session 7, p. #320. In the same session, Rákosi referred to the pre-congress Communist Faction as the ‘Italian Communist Party’ (p. 317).

[18]. Spriano 1967, 1, 104–5.

[19]. Wilde 2011, pp. 179–84; Radek, ‘Die KPD Deutschlands während des Kapp-Putsches’, Kommunistische Internationale, 12, pp. 164–6; Broué 2005, p. 464.

[20]. Broué 2005, pp. 464–5. Quotation from VKPD manifesto is from Radek, below, pp. 4243–5.

[21]. The French party newspaper L’Humanité reported on 9 May 1921 on a party-organised anti-war demonstration of 100,000 held the previous day. Police attacked the protesters, killing one and wounding fifty.

[22]. Quoted from Levi in Fernbach (ed.) 2011, p. 100; for Radek’s confirmation, see Fayet 2004, p. 366, n. 178.

[23]. König 1967, pp. 144–7.

[24]. Spriano 1967, 1, pp. 111–13.

[25]. König 1967, pp. 150–2.

[26]. Natoli 1982, pp. 67–113. See also Behan 2003. For Zinoviev’s December 1922 correction of the Arditi error, see Riddell (ed.) 2011b, 4WC, pp. 1053–4.

[27]. Firsov 1975, pp. 350–8.

[28]. Firsov 1975, pp. 363–4; Suda 1980, pp. 46–9.

[29]. See p. 409 and Firsov 1975, pp. 365 and 371.

[30]. See p. 221 (Zinoviev), including n. 72; 409 (Radek); p. 664 (Lenin); Firsov 1975, pp. 371–6.

[31]. Borsányi 1993, pp. 258–9; Firsov 1975, pp. 366–7.

[32]. ‘Action’ here translates the German word Aktion, which often carried a confrontational meaning absent from its English cognate. For Lenin’s comment see Appendix 2d, p. 1086–7; for Open Letter see Appendix 1a, p. 1061–3.

[33]. Drachkovitch and Lazitch (eds.) 1966, p. 292.

[34]. Reisberg 1971, pp. 47–68; Broué 2005, pp. 468–73; Drachkovitch and Lazitch (eds.) 1966, p. 292.

[35]. Fernbach 2011, pp. 105, 109.

[36]. Fernbach 2011, p. 108; Koch-Baumgarten 1986, p. 107; during the congress, Rákosi confirmed his remarks (p. 326), responding to Zetkin (p. 292); see also Drachkovitch and Lazitch (eds.) 1966, pp. 286, 291.

[37]. See Appendix 2a, pp. 1071–2. Koch-Baumgarten quotes an undated letter from Radek to the German leadership, written, she says, a few days after the 22 February ECCI discussion on the Open Letter (Appendix 1a). By her account, after summarising the pressures bearing down on Soviet Russia, Radek wrote, ‘It is therefore our duty to intensify the struggle across Europe, and anyone who fails to do all possible to achieve this goal is nothing but a traitor.’ Koch-Baumgarten 1986, p. 118.

The Archiv der sozialen Demokratie, indicated by Koch-Baumgarten as holder of this letter, is unable to find it. Inquiries with Koch-Baumgarten and other German researchers in this field have not turned up any trace of the letter.

[38]. Levi, ‘Letter to Lenin’, in Fernbach (ed.) 2011, p. 207; Kun, ‘Letter to Lenin’, Appendix 2e, pp. 1088–90; compare with Radek, ‘Letter to VKPD leaders in Berlin’, Appendix 2a, pp. 1071–72.

[39]. For the ECCI’s view, see appendices 1b and 2a, and also the alternative record of its 22–23 February 1921 sessions published in Goldbach 1973, pp. 135–43. Quotations are from Goldbach, p. 91 and Broué 2005, p. 494.

[40]. Weber 1991, pp. 73–80.

[41]. See p. 429 (Radek); Koch-Baumgarten 1986, p. 152.

[42]. Koch-Baumgarten 1986, pp. 151–6, 222; Angress 1963, pp. 138–9. See also below, p. 428, including n. 26.

[43]. See VKPD Zentrale general strike appeal in IML-SED 1966a, 7, 1, pp. 445–7.

[44]. See pp. 262 (Malzahn), 559 (Sachs); Appendix 2b, p. 1074.

[45]. For casualty and membership estimates, see Koch-Baumgarten 1986, pp. 315–18, 446–7; Wilde 2011, p. 218. By September 1922, dues-paying membership had recovered to 224,389. For VKPD Theses on the March Action, see Appendix 2b, pp. 1072–8. See also Malzahn’s comments, pp. 504–5.

[46]. Zentrale der VKPD 1921, pp. 6, 22–3.

[47]. For Zetkin’s theses, see pp. 1079–86. On the party’s return to the Open Letter, see Peterson 1993, pp. 82–6; Reisberg 1971, pp. 137–40; Thalheimer 1994, p. 79.

[48]. The Cheka was the Soviet security force and revolutionary tribunal. For Levi’s view of putschism, see Fernbach (ed.) 2011, pp. 119–65, especially 147–9 and 159–64. Levi refers to Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, ‘The Alliance of Socialist Democracy and the International Working Men’s Association’, Collected Works (hereinafter MECW), 23, pp. 454–580. Re Levi’s expulsion, see IML-SED 1966, pp. 456–8. For a comment by Zetkin on the meaning of ‘putschism’, see p. 299.

[49]. Degras 1971, pp. 217–18.

[50]. For Appendix 2d, see pp. 1086–7. Radek 1921, quoted in Reisberg 1971, p. 134. Regarding hold-up of Lenin’s letter, see Reisberg 1971, p. 133. ECCI April 29 statement in Degras 1971, pp. 218–20.

[51]. Die Internationale, 3, 7, pp. 239–43.

[52]. Zinoviev, ‘Vor dem III. Kongress der Kommunistischen Internationale’, Kommunistische Internationale, 16 (1921), pp. 1–12; Appendix 3h, pp. 1035–7.

[53]. Trotsky 1972b, p. 33. See also Trotsky 1936, pp. 87–91.


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