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The Comintern’s Twenty-One Conditions, 1920

April 20, 2022

Editor’s Note on the 21 Conditions

During 1920, a wide range of socialist parties and currents were considering affiliation to the newly formed Communist International. Many of these formations were still mired, in their policies and practices, in the weaknesses of the Second International, which had collapsed at the outset of the World War in 1914.

Capitalism in Europe was still deeply shaken by the impact of world war and post-war crisis.

When the Communist International gathered for its first full congress in July 1920, many delegates raised the need to establish criteria for membership in the new International.

Giacomo Serrati – a leader of the centrist current in the Comintern’s Italian section – told the Congress that no tool yet existed – no “sincerometer” – to measure the sincerity of would be Comintern members.

Lenin retorted that “we already have an instrument for defining tendencies,” referring no doubt to the program of Marxism.

Nonetheless, the congress set up a commission to draft written standards. The result was a short list, the “Twenty-One Conditions,” which proved to be instrumental in the International’s subsequent expansion and consolidation. The first 19 conditions were drafted by Lenin; Theses 20 and 21 were developed in a commission during the World Congress. The Twenty-One Conditions appear here on line for the first time in searchable form.


The text below, a new translation, utilizes the original Russian text of the Twenty-One Conditions (RGASPI fond 489, delo 16 ). The following previous English translations have also been consulted.:

  1. John Riddell, ed., Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples Unite: Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress, 1920, New York: Pathfinder, 1991, vol. 2, pp. 665–71.
  2. Alan Adair, ed., Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, London: Ink Links, 1980, pp. 92–97.
  3. Marxists.Org, Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist Internationalfirst published by New Park, London, 1977.

Theses on the Conditions of Admission to the Communist International

The First Congress of the Communist International did not draw up precise conditions for admission to the Communist International. When the First Congress was convened, there were in most countries only communist trends and groups. The Second Congress of the Communist International meets under different conditions. At the present time there are in most countries not merely communist trends and tendencies, but communist parties and organisations.

The Communist International is now often approached by parties and groups that only recently belonged to the Second International, which wish to join the Communist International although they have not, in fact, become communist. The Second International has been definitively smashed to pieces. The intermediate parties and the ‘centre’ groups, which realise the hopelessness of the Second International, try to lean upon the Communist International, which is becoming more and more powerful. They hope, however, to retain an ‘autonomy’ that will permit them to continue their previous opportunist or ‘centrist’ policies. The Communist International is becoming rather fashionable.

The desire of some leading ‘centrist’ groups to join the Communist International is an indirect confirmation of the fact that the Communist International has gained the sympathy of the overwhelming majority of class-conscious workers all over the world and is becoming more powerful each day. The Communist International is threatened by the danger of being watered down by vacillating and irresolute forces that have not yet fully discarded the ideology of the Second International.

Moreover, to this very day there remains in some large parties (Italy, Sweden, Norway, Yugoslavia, among others), whose majorities have adopted the standpoint of communism, a significant reformist and social-pacifist wing that is only waiting for the opportunity to raise its head again, to start active sabotage of the proletarian revolution and thus to help the bourgeoisie and the Second International.

Not a single communist may forget the lessons of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. The fusion of the Hungarian communists with the so-called ‘left’ social democrats cost the Hungarian proletariat dear.

Consequently the Second Congress of the Communist International considers it necessary to establish quite precisely the conditions for the admission of new parties and to point out to the parties admitted to the Communist International the duties incumbent on them.

The Second Congress of the Communist International lays down the following conditions of membership of the Communist International:

  1. All propaganda and agitation must have a really communist character and correspond to the programme and decisions of the Communist International. All the party’s publications must be run by reliable communists who have proved their devotion to the cause of the proletariat. The dictatorship of the proletariat must not be treated simply as a current formula learned by rote. Propaganda for it must be carried out in such a way that its necessity is comprehensible to every ordinary worker, every woman worker, every soldier and peasant, from the facts of their daily lives, which our press must observe systematically and utilize day by day.The periodical and non-periodical press and all the party’s other publishing institutions must be fully subordinate to the party leadership, regardless of whether, at any given moment, the party as a whole is legal or illegal. The publishing houses must not be allowed to abuse their autonomy and pursue policies that do not fully correspond to the policies of the party.In the columns of the press, at public meetings, in the trade unions, in the co-operatives – wherever the members of the Communist International can gain admittance – it is necessary to denounce not only the bourgeoisie but also its accomplices, the reformists of every shade, systematically and pitilessly.
  2. Every organisation that wishes to affiliate to the Communist International must regularly and methodically remove reformists and centrists from every responsible post in the workers’ movement (party organisations, editorial boards, trade unions, parliamentary factions, co-operatives, local governments) and replace them with tested communists, without worrying unduly about the fact that, particularly at first, ordinary workers from the masses will be replacing experienced’ opportunists.
  3. In almost every country in Europe and America the class struggle is entering the phase of civil war. Under such conditions the communists can place no trust in bourgeois legality. They have the obligation of setting up everywhere a parallel organisational apparatus which, at the decisive moment, can assist the party to do its duty to the revolution. In every country where a state of siege or emergency laws deprive the communists of the opportunity of carrying out all their work legally, it is absolutely necessary to combine legal and illegal activity.
  4. The duty of propagating communist ideas includes the special obligation of forceful and systematic propaganda in the army. Where this agitation is obstructed by emergency laws, it must be continued illegally. Refusal to carry out such work would be tantamount to a betrayal of revolutionary duty and would be incompatible with membership of the Communist International.
  5. Systematic and methodical agitation is necessary in the countryside. The working class will not be able to win unless it has the backing of the rural proletariat and at least a part of the poorest peasants, and has, through its policies, secured the neutrality of at least a part of the rest of the rural population. Communist work in the countryside is taking on enormous importance at the moment. It must be carried out principally by revolutionary communist workers of town and country who have connections with the countryside. To refuse to carry this work out, or to entrust it to unreliable, semi-reformist hands, is tantamount to renouncing the proletarian revolution.
  6. Every party that wishes to belong to the Communist International has the obligation to unmask not only open social-patriotism but also the duplicity and hypocrisy of social-pacificism, to show the workers systematically that, without the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, no international court of arbitration, no agreement on arms limitation, no ‘democratic’ reorganisation of the League of Nations will be able to prevent new imperialist wars.
  7. The parties that wish to belong to the Communist International have the obligation of recognising the necessity for a complete break with reformism and ‘centrist’ politics and of must conduct education on the need for this break among the widest possible circles of their party membership. Consistent communist politics are impossible without this. The Communist International unconditionally and categorically demands the carrying out of this break in the shortest possible time. The Communist International cannot tolerate a situation where notorious opportunists, such as Turati, Kautsky, Hilferding, Hillquit, Longuet, MacDonald, Modigliani, etc., have the right to consider themselves as members of the Communist International. This could lead only to the Communist International becoming something very similar to the wreck of the Second International.
  1. In countries whose bourgeoisies possess colonies and oppress other nations, the parties must have a particularly marked and clear attitude on the question of the colonies and oppressed nations. Every party that wishes to belong to the Communist International is obliged to expose the tricks of its ‘own’ imperialists in the colonies, to support every liberation movement in the colonies not only in words but in deeds, to demand that the imperialists of their countries be thrown out of the colonies, to cultivate in the hearts of the workers in their own country a truly fraternal relationship to the working population in the colonies and to the oppressed nations, and to carrying out systematic propaganda among their own country’s troops against any oppression of colonial peoples.
  2. Every party that wishes to belong to the Communist International must systematically and persistently develop communist activities within the trade unions, within councils in factories and mills, and in the consumer co-operatives and other mass workers’ organisations. Within these organisations it is necessary to organise communist cells that are to win the trades unions etc. for the cause of communism by incessant and persistent work. In their daily work the cells have the obligation to expose everywhere the treachery of the social patriots and the vacillations of the ‘centrists’. The communist cells must be completely subordinated to the party as a whole.
  3. Every party belonging to the Communist International has the obligation to wage a stubborn struggle against the Amsterdam ‘International’ of Yellow trade union organisations. It must expound as forcefully as possible among trades unionists the idea of the necessity of the break with the Yellow Amsterdam International. It must support with every means at its disposal the International Association of Red Trades Unions affiliated to the Communist International, at present in the process of formation.
  4. Parties that wish to belong to the Communist International have the obligation to review the individual composition of their parliamentary fractions, to remove all unreliable elements from them and to subordinate these fractions to the party leadership, not only in words but also in deeds, by calling on every individual communist member of parliament to subordinate the whole of his activity to the interests of really revolutionary propaganda and agitation.
  5. The parties belonging to the Communist International must be built on the basis of the principle of democratic centralism. In the present epoch of acute civil war the communist party will be able to fulfil its duty only if it is organised in as centralist a manner as possible, if iron discipline reigns within it, and if the party centre, sustained by the confidence of the party membership, is endowed with the fullest rights and authority and the most far-reaching powers.
  6. The communist parties of countries in which the communists carry out their work legally must from time to time undertake purges (re-registrations) of the membership of their party organisations in order to cleanse the party systematically of the petty-bourgeois elements within it.
  7. Every party that wishes to belong to the Communist International has the obligation to give unconditional support to every soviet republic in its struggle against the forces of counter-revolution. The communist parties must carry out resolute propaganda to prevent the transport of war material to the enemies of the soviet republics. They must also carry out propaganda, whether legal or illegal, with every means at their disposal among troops sent to strangle workers’ republics.
  8. Parties that have still retained their old social democratic programmes are required to change those programmes as quickly as possible and to work out a new communist program corresponding to the particular conditions in the country and in accordance with the decisions of the Communist International. As a rule the programme of every party belonging to the Communist International must be ratified by a regular congress of the Communist International or by the Executive Committee. Should the Executive Committee of the Communist International reject a party’s programme, the party in question has the right of appeal to the congress of the Communist International.
  1. All decisions by congresses of the Communist International and by its Executive Committee are binding on all parties belonging to the Communist International. The Communist International, acting under conditions of the most acute civil war, must be built in a far more centralist manner than was the case with the Second International. In the process the Communist International and its Executive Committee must, of course, in the whole of its activity, take into account the differing conditions under which the individual parties have to fight and work, and take generally binding decisions only in cases where such decisions are possible.
  2. In this regard, all parties that wish to belong to the Communist International must change their names. Every party that wishes to belong to the Communist International must bear the name Communist Party of this or that country (Section of the Communist International). The question of the name is not just a formality, but a highly political question of great importance. The Communist International has declared war on the whole bourgeois world and on all Yellow social-democratic parties. The difference between the Communist parties and the old official ‘social-democratic’ or ‘socialist’ parties that have betrayed the banner of the working class must be clear to every ordinary toiler.
  3. All the parties’ leading publications in every country are required to print all the important official documents of the Executive Committee of the Communist International.
  4. All parties that belong to the Communist International or have submitted an application for membership are required to call a special congress as soon as possible, and in no case later than four months after the Second Congress of the Communist International, in order to consider all these conditions. In this connection all party centres must see that the decisions of the Second Congress are known to all their local organisations.
  5. Parties that now wish to enter the Communist International but have not yet radically altered their previous policies must, before they join the Communist International, see to it that no less than two-thirds of the members of their central committee and of all their most important central institutions consist of comrades who even before the Second Congress of the Communist International spoke out unambiguously in public in favour of the entry of the party into the Communist International. Exceptions are permissible only with the agreement of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. The Executive Committee of the Communist International also has the right to make exceptions with regard to the representatives of the centrist tendency mentioned in thesis 7.
  6. Party members who reject on principle the conditions and theses laid down by the Communist International must be expelled from the party. This applies also to delegates to the special party congress.

Editor’s Note: The present translations is based on documents of the Second World Congress found in RGASPI fond 489, delo 16 and the corresponding texts in and in Riddell, ed., Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite, (New York: Pathfinder, 1991), pp. 765–71..


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