The Platform of the Communist International

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ICC Introduction

In parallel with our series 'Communism is not a nice idea, it is on the agenda of history', we are publishing a number of classic documents of the revolutionary movement of the 20th century relating to the means and goals of the proletarian revolution. We begin with the platform of the Communist International adopted by its founding Congress in March 1919 as the basis for adherence of all genuine revolutionary groups and currents to the new world party.

1919 was the zenith of the great revolutionary wave which came in the wake of the 1914-18 imperialist war. The October insurrection in Russia, the seizure of power by the workers' soviets under the leadership of the Bolshevik party, had ignited a flame which threatened to engulf the capitalist world. Between 1918 and 1920, Germany, at the very heart of world capitalism, experienced a series of revolutionary uprisings; mass strikes broke out in key industrial cities from Italy to Scotland and from the USA to Argentina; at the very time the CI was holding its Congress, news came through of the proclamation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic.

But at the same time, events just prior to the Congress had demonstrated the grave consequences that would ensue if this growing mass movement was not guided by a programmatically clear and internationally centralised communist party. The defeat of the Berlin uprising in January 1919, which had led to the assassination of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, was to no small extent the result of the inability of the fledgling KPD to lead the workers away from the traps of the bourgeoisie so that they could preserve their forces for a more propitious moment. The formation of the CI thus corresponded to the most urgent needs of the class struggle. It was the fulfilment of the work of the revolutionary left ever since the collapse of the Second International in 1914.

But far from being a leadership imposed from without, the CI was itself an organic product of the proletarian movement, and the clarity of its programmatic positions in 1919 reflects its close connection to the most profound forces at work in the revolutionary wave. By the same token, the later opportunist degeneration of the CI was intimately linked to the decline of this wave and the isolation of the Russian bastion.

The platform was drafted by Bukharin and the KPD delegate Eberlein, both of whom also had the responsibility of summarising its main points before the Congress. It is worth quoting from Bukharin's opening remarks because they show how the platform incorporated some of the most important theoretical advances made by the communist movement as it emerged from the wreckage of social democracy:

"First comes the theoretical introduction. It gives a characterisation of the whole present epoch from a particular point of view, namely, one that takes the bankruptcy of the capitalist system as its starting point. Previously, when introductions of this sort were composed, they simply gave a general description of the capitalist system. In the most recent period, in my opinion, this has become insufficient. Here we must not only give a general characteristic of the capitalist and imperialist system, but also show the process of disintegration and collapse of this system. That is the first aspect of the question. The second is that we must examine the capitalist system not just in its abstract form, but concretely in its character as world capitalism, and we should examine it as something that is a single entity, as an economic whole. And if we look at this world capitalist economic system from the standpoint of its collapse, then we have to ask ourselves: how was this collapse possible? And that is why we must analyse, first of all, the contradictions of the capitalist system" (proceedings of the First Congress of the CI, Report on the Platform).

Bukharin also goes on to point out that in this epoch of disintegration, "the previous form of capital - dispersed, unorganised capital - has almost disappeared. This process had already begun before the war and strengthened while it was underway. The war played a great organising role. Under its pressure, finance capitalism was transformed into an even higher form, the form of state capitalism".

From the beginning, then, the CI was founded on the understanding that by the very fact of developing into a world economy, capitalism had also reached its historic limits, had entered its epoch of decline. This is a striking rebuff to all the modernisers who think that "globalisation" is something new and, furthermore, has conferred a new lease of life on capitalism I But it is equally a sharp reminder to those revolutionaries (particularly in the Bordigist tradition) who profess descent from the programmatic positions of the CI and yet reject the notion of capitalist decadence as a cornerstone of revolutionary politics today. As for the notion of state capitalism, which Bukharin played a key role in elaborating, we shall have occasion to return to its significance in the context of our series on communism. Suffice it to say here that the International considered it important enough to include as a fundamental feature of the new epoch.

Following the general introduction, the platform focuses on the central issues of the proletarian revolution: first and foremost, the conquest of political power by the working class; secondly, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the economic transformation of society. On the first point, the platform affirms the essential lessons of the October revolution: the necessity for the destruction of the old bourgeois state power and its replacement by the dictatorship of the proletariat, organised through the council or soviet system. Here the platform was supplemented by the Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, drafted by Lenin and adopted by the same Congress.

The break from social democracy with its fetishism of democracy in general and bourgeois parliaments in particular was axed around this point; and the demand for the transfer of power to the workers' councils was the simple but irreplaceable rallying cry of the whole international movement.

The section on the economic measures is necessarily general; only in Russia had this become a concrete question (and, furthermore, one that could not be solved in Russia alone). It puts forward the bare essentials of the transition towards a communist society: the expropriation of the great private and state enterprises; the first steps towards the socialisation of distribution in place of the market; the gradual integration of small producers into social production. The series on communism will examine some of the difficulties and misconceptions that hampered the revolutionary movement of the day when it came to these problems. But the measures put forward in the CI platform were nevertheless an adequate point of departure, and their weaknesses could have been overcome given the successful development of the world revolution.

The section on "The Road to Victory" is also rather general. It is most explicit in its insistence on the need for internationalism and the international regroupment of revolutionary forces - and for a complete break with the social chauvinists and the Kautskyists, in stark contrast to the opportunist policy of the United Front after 1921. On other questions where the CI was to express dangerous confusions - parliament, the national question, the trade unions - the platform remains extremely open. To be sure, the possibility of using parliament as a tribune for revolutionary propaganda is asserted, but only as a subordinate tactic to the methods of mass struggle. The national question is not mentioned at all, but the whole tenor of the Congress' Manifesto is that the victory of the communist revolution in the advanced countries is the key to the emancipation of the oppressed masses in the colonies. On the union question, the openness of the platform is even more explicit, as Bukharin explains in his presentation:

"If we were writing only for Russians, we would take up the role of the trade unions in the process of revolutionary reconstruction. However, judging by the experience of the German communists, this is impossible, for the comrades there tell us that the position occupied by their trade unions is the complete opposite of the one taken by ours. In our country, the trade unions play a vital role in the organisation of useful work and are a pillar of Soviet power. In Germany, however, it is just the opposite. This was brought about, evidently, by the fact that the German trade unions were in the hands of the Yellow Socialists - Legien and Company. Their activity was directed against the interests of the German proletariat. That continues even today, and the proletariat is already dissolving these old trade unions. In place of them, new organisations have arisen in Germany - the factory and plant committees, which are trying to take production into their own hands. The trade unions there no longer play any kind of positive role. We cannot work out any kind of concrete line on this, and therefore we say only that, in general terms, to manage the enterprises, institutions must be created that the proletariat can rely on, that are closely bound to production and embedded in the production process ...."

We can take issue with some of Bukharin's formulations here (particularly on the role of the unions in Russia) but the passage is still a striking indication of the receptive attitude of the International at that moment. Faced with the new conditions imposed by the decadence of capitalism, the CI expresses a concern to give expression to the new methods of proletarian struggle appropriate to these conditions; and this is clear proof that its platform was a product of the high tide of the worldwide revolutionary movement, and remains an essential reference for revolutionaries today.

Platform of the Communist International

The contradictions of the world capitalist system, formerly hidden deep within it, have erupted with colossal force in a gigantic explosion: the great imperialist World War.

Capitalism sought to overcome its own anarchy by organising production. Mighty capitalist associations formed, such as syndicates, cartels, and trusts, replacing the numerous, competing entrepreneurs. Bank capital merged with industrial capital. The finance capitalist oligarchy came to dominate all of economic life; it used its organisation, based on this power, to achieve exclusive supremacy. Monopoly took the place of free competition. Capitalists in association replaced the individual capitalist; organisation replaced insane anarchy.

However, the more that capitalist organisation replaces anarchy within each country, the more acute become the contradictions, competition, and anarchy in the world economy. The struggle among the largest, best-organised predator nations led with iron necessity to the monstrous imperialist World War. Greed for profits drove world capital to fight over new markets, new spheres for capital investment, new sources of raw materials, and the cheap labour power of colonial slaves. Once the imperialist states had divided up the whole world among themselves and transformed the many millions of African, Asian, Australian, and American workers and farmers into beasts of burden, sooner or later a violent collision was bound to occur, revealing the true, anarchic nature of capital. Thus originated the greatest crime of all, the predatory World War.

Capitalism also tried to overcome its contradictory social structure. Bourgeois society is a class society. In the largest "civilised" nations, capital wanted to conceal its social contradictions. It bribed its wage slaves at the expense of the plundered colonial peoples, thereby forging common interests between exploiter and exploited with respect to the oppressed colonies - the yellow, black, and red colonial peoples - and shackling the European and American working class to the imperialist "fatherland".

But continuous bribery, the very technique that made the working class patriotic and enslaved it psychologically, was transformed by the war into its opposite. Physical annihilation and utter enslavement of the proletariat; enormous hardship, suffering, and degradation; worldwide famine - these were the final pay-off for the "civil peace". This "peace" was shattered. The imperialist war was turned into a civil war.

A new epoch is born: The epoch of capitalism's decay, its internal disintegration; the epoch of the proletarian, communist revolution.

The imperialist system is collapsing. Turmoil in the colonies and in the newly independent small nations; proletarian revolts and victorious proletarian revolutions in some countries; disintegration of the imperialist armies; utter incapacity of the ruling classes to guide the destinies of nations any further - that is the true picture of conditions around the world today.

With all civilisation in ruins, humanity itself faces the danger of complete destruction. Only one force can save it, and that is the proletariat. The old capitalist "order" no longer exists; it can no longer endure. The end result of the capitalist mode of production is chaos, which only the largest productive class, the working class, can overcome. This class must establish a real order, the communist order. It must break the domination of capital, make wars impossible, destroy all national borders, transforming the whole world into a community that produces for itself, and make the brotherhood and liberation of the peoples a reality.

Against this, world capital is arming itself for the final battle.

Using the "League of Nations" and pacifist phrase-mongering to conceal its intentions, it is making a last attempt to paste the crumbling pieces of the capitalist system back together and rally its forces against the ever-growing proletarian revolution.

The proletariat must answer this outrageous new conspiracy of the capitalist class by conquering political power, directing that .power against the class enemy, and wielding it as a lever of economic transformation. The final victory of the world proletariat will mean the beginning of the real history of liberated humanity.

1. The conquest of political power

The conquest of political power by the proletariat means destroying the political power of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie's mightiest instrument of power is the bourgeois state apparatus with its capitalist army led by officers of the bourgeoisie and landed aristocracy, its police and security forces, its judges and jailers, preachers, government bureaucrats, and so forth. 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 counter-revolutionary officers, and the White Guards. It means arming the proletariat, the revolutionary soldiers, and the workers' Red Guard; removing all bourgeois judges and organising proletarian justice; abolishing the rule of reactionary government officials; and creating new organs of proletarian administration. The key to victory for the proletariat lies in organising its power and disorganising that of the enemy; it entails smashing the bourgeois state apparatus while constructing a proletarian one. Only after the proletariat has achieved victory and broken the resistance of the bourgeoisie can it make its former enemies useful to the new order, placing them under its control and gradually drawing them into the work of communist construction.

2. Democracy and dictatorship

The proletarian state is an apparatus of repression like every other, but it is wielded against the enemies of the working class. Its purpose is to break and eliminate the resistance of the exploiters, who use every means in a desperate struggle to drown the revolution in blood. The dictatorship of the proletariat, which openly gives the working class the favoured position in society, is at the same time a provisional institution. As the bourgeoisie's resistance is broken, and it is expropriated and gradually transformed into a part of the workforce, the proletarian dictatorship wanes, the state withers away, and with it, social classes themselves.

So-called democracy, that is, bourgeois democracy, is nothing but a veiled dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The highly touted general "will of the people" is no more real than national unity. In reality, classes confront each other with antagonistic, irreconcilable wills. Bur since the bourgeoisie is a small minority, it needs this fiction, this illusion of a national "will of the people", these high-sounding words, to consolidate its rule over the working class and impose its own class will on the proletariat. By contrast the proletariat, the overwhelming majority of the population, openly wields the class power of its mass organisations, its councils, in order to abolish the privileges of the bourgeoisie and to safeguard the transition to a classless, communist society.

Bourgeois democracy puts the primary emphasis on purely formal declarations of rights and freedoms, which are beyond the reach of working people, the proletarians and semi-proletarians, who lack the material resources to exercise them. Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie uses its material resources, through its press and organisations, to deceive and betray the people. In contrast, the council system, the new type of state power, assigns the highest priority to enabling the proletariat to exercise its rights and freedom.

The power of the councils gives the best palaces, buildings, printing plants, paper stocks, and so forth to the people for their newspapers, meetings, and organisations. Only thus does real proletarian democracy even become possible. 

Bourgeois democracy, with its parliamentary system, only pretends to give the masses a voice in running the government. In reality the masses and their organisations are completely excluded from real power or participation in state administration. Under the council system the mass organisations govern, and through them the masses themselves, since the councils involve a constantly increasing number of workers in administering the state. Only in this way is the entire working population gradually integrated into actually governing. Therefore the council system rests on the mass organisations of the proletariat: the councils themselves, the revolutionary trade unions, the co-operatives, and so on.

Bourgeois democracy and the parliamentary system widen the .gulf between the masses and the state by separating legislative and executive power and by means of parliamentary elections without recall. Under the council system on the other hand, right of recall, the unification of legislative and executive powers, and the character of the councils as working bodies all serve to connect the masses with the administrative organs of government. This bond is further strengthened by the organisation of elections in the council system on the basis of production units, not artificial geographic districts.

Thus, the council system puts into practice true proletarian democracy, democracy by and for the proletariat and against the bourgeoisie. This system favours the industrial proletariat as the best organised, most politically mature, and leading class, under whose hegemony the semi-proletarians and small farmers in the countryside will make gradual progress. The industrial proletariat must utilise its temporary advantages to tear the poorer petty-bourgeois masses in the countryside away from the influence of the large peasants and the bourgeoisie and to organise and educate them as fellow workers in the construction of communism.

3. Expropriation of the capitalists and the socialisation of production

The breakdown of capitalist order and work discipline make 'it impossible to return to production on the old basis under the existing relationship of class forces. Even when they are successful, workers' struggles for higher wages fail to bring the desired improvements in the standard of living, as soaring prices on all basic necessities wipe out every gain. The workers' living conditions can he raised only when the proletariat itself, and not the bourgeoisie, controls production. The powerful struggles for higher wages by workers in every country, through their elemental driving force and tendency to become generalised, clearly express the desperate situation workers face. These battles make it impossible for capitalist production to continue. The resistance of the bourgeoisie prolongs the old society's death agony and threatens to destroy economic life completely. In order to break this resistance and to expand the productive forces of the economy as rapidly as possible, the proletarian dictatorship must expropriate the big bourgeoisie and landed aristocracy and transform the means of production and distribution into collective property of the proletarian state.

Communism is now being born amid the rubble of capitalism; history leaves humanity no other way out. The utopian slogan of reconstructing the capitalist economy, advanced by the opportunists as a way to put off socialisation, only prolongs the process of disintegration and creates the danger of complete collapse. Communist revolution, on the other hand, is the best and the only means by which society can preserve its most important productive force, the proletariat, and thereby save itself.

The proletarian dictatorship most definitely will not divide up the means of production and distribution; on the contrary, its purpose is to subordinate production to a centralised plan.

The first steps toward socialising the whole economy include: socialisation of the system of big banks, which now direct production; take-over by the proletarian state power of all of the agencies for economic control by the capitalist state; seizure of all municipal enterprises; socialisation of branches of production dominated by cartels and trusts, as well as those where seizure is practical because capital has been concentrated and centralised; nationalisation of agricultural estates and their transformation into socially operated agricultural enterprises.

As far as the small enterprises are concerned, the proletariat must gradually combine them, depending on their size.

It must be made very clear here that small property owners will not be expropriated under any circumstances, nor will proprietors who do not exploit wage labour be subject to any coercive measures. This layer will gradually be drawn into socialist organisation by example and experience, which will show it the advantages of the new system. This system will free the small farmers and the urban petty bourgeoisie from the economic yoke of usury capital and the landed aristocracy, and from the burden of taxation (in particular by cancelling all government debts).

The proletarian dictatorship will be able to accomplish its economic task only to the degree that the proletariat can establish centralised agencies to administer production and introduce workers' management. To that end it will have to use the mass organisations that are most closely linked to the production process.

In the sphere of distribution, the proletarian dictatorship must replace the market with the equitable distribution of products. To accomplish this the following measures are in order: socialisation of wholesale firms; takeover by the proletariat of all distribution agencies of the bourgeois state and the municipalities; supervision of the large consumer cooperatives, which will continue to play a major economic role during the transitional period; and gradual centralisation of all these institutions and their transformation into a single system distributing goods in a rational manner.

In the sphere of distribution as in that of production, all qualified technicians and specialists should be utilised, provided their political resistance has been broken and they are capable of serving the new system of production rather than capital.

The proletariat will not oppress them; for the first time it will give them the opportunity to develop their creative abilities to the utmost. Capitalism created a division between manual and intellectual labour; the proletarian dictatorship, by contrast, will foster their co-operation and so unite science and labour.

Along with the expropriation of the factories, mines, estates, and so on, the proletariat must also do away with exploitation of the population by capitalist landlords. It must place the large buildings in the hands of the local workers' councils and resettle workers in the bourgeoisie's houses, and so forth.

During this time of great upheaval, the council power will have to steadily centralise the entire administrative apparatus, while also involving ever broader layers of the working population in direct participation in government.

4. The road to victory

The revolutionary epoch requires the proletariat to use methods of struggle that bring all of its strength to bear. That means mass action and its logical consequence, direct confrontations with the bourgeois slate machinery in open battle. All other methods, such as revolutionary utilisation of bourgeois parliament, must be subordinated to this goal.

In order for this struggle to be successful, it will not be enough to split with the outright lackeys of capital and the hangmen of the communist revolution, the role played by the right-wing Social Democrats. It is also necessary to break with the centre (the Kautskyites), who abandon the proletariat in its hour of greatest need and flirt with its sworn enemies.

On the other hand, a bloc is needed with the forces in the revolutionary workers' movement who, although not previously part of the Socialist party, now for the most part support the proletarian dictatorship in the form of council power. Certain forces in the syndicalist movement are an example of this.

The revolutionary movement's growth in all countries; the danger of its being strangled by the league of capitalist states; the attempts of social-traitor parties to unify their forces by founding the Yellow "International" in Bern, the better to serve Wilson's League of nations; and moreover, the absolute necessity of co-ordinating proletarian actions: all these considerations make it essential to establish a truly revolutionary and proletarian Communist International.

The International, which puts the interests of the international revolution ahead of so-called national interests, will make mutual aid among the proletariat of different countries a reality. Without economic and other forms of mutual assistance, the proletariat cannot organise the new society. By the same token, in contrast to the Yellow social-patriotic International, international proletarian communism will support exploited colonial peoples in their struggles against imperialism in order to hasten the ultimate downfall of the world imperialist system.

At the beginning of the World War, the capitalist criminals claimed that they were only defending the common fatherland. But the bloody deeds of German imperialism in Russia, the Ukraine, and Finland soon showed its actual predatory nature. Now the Entente countries are being exposed, even before the backward layers of the population, as international bandits and murderers of the proletariat. In concert with the German bourgeoisie and social patriots, and mouthing hypocritical rhetoric about peace, they are strangling the proletarian revolution in Europe with their war machines and with brutalised, barbaric colonial troops. The White Terror of the bourgeois cannibals defies description. The working class's victims are without number. It has lost its best Liebknecht and Luxemburg.

The proletariat must defend itself against this terror no matter what the cost. The Communist International summons the whole world proletariat to this final battle. Weapon against weapon! Power against power'!

Down with capital's imperialist conspiracy!

 

Long live the international republic of proletarian councils!