The German revolution, XI: The communist left and the growing conflict between the Russian state and the interests of the world revolution

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In the previous article in this series, in International Review no 95, we showed how the capacity of the bourgeoisie to prevent the international extension of the revolution, and the reflux of the international wave of struggles, sparked off an opportunist reaction in the Communist International. This opportunistic turn by the CI met the resistance of those forces who were later to be called the communist left. The slogan of the 2nd Congress “to the masses” - rejected by the left communist groups - was already at the centre of the debate in 1920; and the 3rd Congress of the CI, held in 1921, was a vital moment in the battle of the communist left against the tendency to subordinate the interests of the world revolution to the interests of the Russian state.

The contribution of the KAPD

At the 3rd World Congress of the CI, the KAPD intervened for the first time directly in the debates, developing a whole range of criticisms of the CI’s entire approach. In its interventions in the sessions on the economic crisis and the new tasks of the CI, on the activities report of the ECCI, on the question of tactics and the union question, and above all in relation to the developments in Russia, the KAPD always stressed the leading role of revolutionaries; but in contrast to the concepts of the majority of the CI, the KAPD insisted that it was no longer possible to form mass parties.

While the delegates from Italy, who in 1920 had defended their minority position on parliamentarism so heroically against the CI, said very little on the developments in Russia and on the relationship between the Soviet government and the CI, it was the merit of the KAPD to have raised this question at the 3rd Congress.

Before we deal in more depth with the positions and the attitude of the KAPD, it should be stressed that in view of the new epoch, and the rapid unfolding of events, the KAPD was far from being a homogenous and united party. While the KAPD had the courage to start drawing the lessons of the new epoch in relation to the parliamentary and union question, and  saw that it was no longer possible to maintain a mass party, it also lacked a certain caution, circumspection and political rigor in the assessment of the balance of forces and in relation to the organisation question. Rather than using all available means to struggle for the defence of the organisation, it tended to take hasty decisions.

Not surprisingly the KAPD shared many confusions of the revolutionary movement of the time. Like the Bolsheviks they also thought the party would have to seize power. And according to the KAPD the post-insurrectionary state would be made up of the workers’ councils.

At the 3rd Congress the KAPD delegation addressed the question of the relationship between the state and the party in the following manner: “We do not for a moment forget the difficulties into which Russian Soviet power has fallen owing to the postponement of the world revolution. But we also see the danger that out of these difficulties there may arise an apparent or real contradiction between the interests of the revolutionary world proletariat and the momentary interests of Soviet Russia’ (Hempel, cited in Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-23, Volume 3, p. 393). “But the political and organisational separation of the 3rd International from the system of Russian State policy is the goal that we have to work towards, if we want to meet the conditions of revolution in Western Europe (Minutes of the Congress, p224).

At the 3rd Congress the KAPD tended to underestimate the consequences of the fact that the bourgeoisie had managed to prevent the revolutionary wave from spreading. They should have seen the implications of the fact that the international extension of the revolution had been thwarted. They should have taken up the argumentation of Rosa Luxemburg, who had already understood in 1917 that “in Russia the problem could only be posed. It could not be solved in Russia, it can only be solved internationally”. And they should have based themselves on the appeal of the Spartakusbund of November 1918, who warned that “if the ruling classes in your countries manage to strangle the proletarian revolution in Germany and in Russia, then they will turn against you with even bigger force (...) Germany is pregnant with social revolution, but socialism can only be accomplished by the world proletariat.” (Spartakusbund, November 1918). The KAPD did not place sufficient emphasis on the disastrous consequences of the failure of the revolution to extend. Instead it tended to look for the roots of the problems within Russia itself.

“The shining idea of a Communist International is and remains alive, but it is no longer tied to the existence of Soviet Russia. The star of Soviet Russia has lost much of its attraction in the eyes of revolutionary workers, to the extent that Soviet Russia is developing more and more into an anti-proletarian, petty-capitalist peasant state. It is no pleasure to say such a thing, but we have to know that the clear understanding even of the toughest facts, that the ruthless expression of such insights is the only condition for developing the atmosphere which the revolution needs to remain alive. (...) We have to understand that the Russian Communists, due to the conditions of the country, due to the composition of the population, due to the context of the international situation, had no other choice but to establish a dictatorship of the party, which was the only firmly functioning, disciplined organism in the country; we have to understand that the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks was absolutely correct despite all the difficulties, and that the workers of western and central Europe carry the main responsibility for the fact that today Soviet Russia, since it cannot rely on the revolutionary forces of other countries, is compelled to rely on the capitalist forces.

It is a fact that Soviet Russia has to rely on the capitalist forces of Europe and America (...). Since Soviet Russia is forced today to rely on capitalist forces in the area of internal and external economic policy, how long will Soviet Russia remain what it is? How long and how will the RCP still remain the same RCP that it used to be? Will it be able to do this by remaining a governing party? And if - in order to remain a communist party -  it can no longer be a governing party, what do we think the further development of Russia would look like? (‘The Soviet Government and the 3rd International’, Kommunistische Arbeiterzeitung, autumn 1921).

While the KAPD had become aware of the dangers threatening the working class, it offered the wrong explanation. Instead of underlining that the lifeblood of the revolution, the activity of the soviets, was being cut off because the revolution had became more and more isolated; instead of seeing that this made it possible for the state to strengthen at the expense of the working class, leading to the disarming of the soviets, strangling the workers’ initiatives, and to the Bolshevik Party being more and more absorbed by the state - the KAPD tended to opt for a deterministic, and in reality fatalistic argumentation. By claiming, as the KAPD did, that “the Russian Communists due to the conditions of the country, due to the composition of the population, due to the context of the international situation had no other choice but to establish a dictatorship of the party”, it made it  impossible to understand how the working class in Russia, organised in its soviets, was able to seize power in October 1917. The idea of the rise of a “petty-capitalist peasant state” is also a distortion of reality, since it downplayed the danger of the consequences of the  international isolation of the revolution and of the  rise of state capitalism. These ideas, formulated in this text only as a first explanation, were later developed into a fully fledged theoretical explanation by the council communists.

The ICC has exposed the mistaken and unmarxist ideas of the councilists in relation to the development in Russia (see our articles in International Review 12 & 13, reproduced in our pamphlet October 1917, Start of the World Revolution, and our book on the Dutch left).

In particular we reject:

-the theory of a double revolution, which arose in some parts of the KAPD in 1921 with the reflux in the revolutionary wave and the emergence of state capitalism. According to this view,  a proletarian revolution had occurred in Russia in the industrial centres and at the same time there had been a democratic peasant revolution on the countryside;

-the fatalism which is hidden behind the idea that the revolution in Russia was necessarily going to succumb to the weight of the peasantry and that the Bolsheviks were predestined from the start to degenerate;

-the separation between different geographical areas (the theory of the meridian), according to which there are different conditions and means of revolution in Russia and in western Europe;

-the wrong approach to the question of trade relations with the west, because this gave rise to the illusion that money could be abolished immediately in one country and that it was possible to hold out or to even construct socialism in one country in the longer term.

We shall now go into the debate at that time and take up in a more detailed manner the positions of the KAPD, to show how much the groups of the communist left were searching for clarity.

The growing conflict between the Russian state and the interests of the world revolution

At a time when the CI was unconditionally supporting the foreign policy of the Russian state, the KAPD delegation put its finger on the real issue:

We all remember the incredibly strong propagandistic effect of the diplomatic declarations of Soviet Russia at a time when the Workers’ and Peasant Government did not have to take into consideration the need to sign trade deals... The revolutionary movement of Asia, which is a great hope for all of us and a necessity for the world revolution, can be supported by Soviet Russia neither officially nor unofficially. The English agents in Afghanistan, Persia, and Turkey are working very cleverly, and every revolutionary step of Russia undermines the implementation of the trade deals. Given this situation, who has to direct the foreign policy of Soviet Russia? Who has to take decisions? The Russian trade representatives in England, Germany, America, Sweden etc.? Whether they are communists or not, they have to practice a policy of agreement.

As far as the situation within Russia is concerned there are similar if not more dangerous effects.  In reality political power now lies in the hands of the Communist Party (and not in the hands of the soviets) (...) whereas the scarce revolutionary masses in the party feel that their initiatives are being inhibited and look at the tactics of manoeuvring with growing suspicion; in particular there is a big apparatus of functionaries, a growing influence of those forces who joined the Communist Party not because it is a Communist Party, but because it is a governing party’

Whereas most delegates more and more uncritically backed up the Bolshevik party, which was in the process of being integrated into the state apparatus, the delegation had the courage to point to the contradiction between the working class and its party on the one hand, and the state on the other:

Since the RCP has eliminated the initiative of revolutionary workers and eliminates it even more, since it has to offer more space to capital than previously, it has started to change its character despite all precautionary measures; however long it remains a governing party it cannot prevent the economic basis that it is founded upon as a governing party from becoming more and more shattered, which means that the foundations of its political power are becoming more and more limited.

What  would  happen to Russia, and to the revolutionary development in the whole world, once the Russian party was no longer a governing party, is a question that can hardly be overlooked. And yet things are moving in a direction, whereby if there are no revolutionary risings in Europe acting as a counterweight, it will become necessary for this question to be posed in all seriousness.  We have to pose the question very seriously: would it not be better to give up state power in Russia in the interest of proletarian revolution instead of clinging to it (...)

The same Russian Communist Party, which is now in such a critical situation in relation to its role as a communist and as a governing party, is also the absolutely leading party of the 3rd International (...). This is where the tragic knot can be seen, where the 3rd International has been caught up in such a way that its revolutionary lifeblood is being strangled. The Russian comrades under the decisive influence of Lenin not only do not create a counter-weight in the 3rd International against the Russian state’s policy of regression, but they do everything to synchronise the politics of the International with this curve of regression (...) Today the 3rd International is a tool of the Soviet government’s reformist policy of entente.

Surely, Lenin, Bukharin etc are real revolutionaries to the bottom of their in their hearts, but they have become like the whole central committee of the party carriers of state authority, and they thus inevitably have submitted to the law of the development of a necessarily conservative policy’ (KAZ, ‘Moscow Politics’, autumn 1921).

At the ensuing extraordinary congress of the KAPD in September 1921 Goldstein said the following: “...Will it be possible for the CP of Russia to reconcile these two contradictions in some way or other in the long-term? Today the RCP shows already a double character. On the one hand since it is still a governing party in Russia, it has to represent the interests of Russia as a state, and on the other hand it has to and wants to represent the interests of  international class struggle’ (Extraordinary Congress of the KAPD, Sept. 1921, p. 59).

The German left communists were quite right to point out the role of the Russian state in the opportunistic degeneration of the Communist International, and to defend the interests of the world revolution against the interests of the Russian state.

However, as we said above, the first and principal cause of the opportunist turn of the International was not the role of the Russian state, but the failure of the extension of the revolution to the western countries, and the subsequent retreat of the international class struggle. Thus, whereas the KAPD tended to mainly blame the Russian CP for this opportunism, in reality the unprincipled “adjustment” to the social democratic illusions of the masses profoundly affected all the workers’ parties at that time. In fact, well before the Russian Communists, and in defiance of the policies of the CI at that moment, it was the leadership of the KPD in Germany itself which was the first to impose this opportunist turn after the defeat of January 1919 in Berlin, excluding the left, the future KAPD, from the party in the process.

In reality, the weaknesses of the KAPD itself were first and foremost the product of the disorientation resulting from the defeat and ensuing reflux of the revolutionary movement, particularly in Germany itself. Robbed of the authority of its revolutionary leadership, which had been murdered by Social Democracy in 1919, reacting with revolutionary impatience to the retreat of the revolution, which it long refused to recognise, and with an insufficient assimilation of the organisational traditions of the workers’ movement, German left communism, one of the clearest and most determined political expressions of the rising revolutionary wave, was unable (as opposed to the Italian Left) to cope with the defeat of that revolution. Which factors aggravated these weaknesses of the KAPD?

The weaknesses of the KAPD on the organisation question

In order to explore the reasons for the weaknesses on the organisation question in the KAPD we must go back somewhat.

We have to recall that as a result of mistaken organisational conceptions within the KPD, the Zentrale led by P.Levi had expelled the majority of the party at the October 1919 Party Congress because of its position on the union and parliamentary question. Those who had been expelled founded the KAPD in April 1920 following the gigantic struggles of the working class against the Kapp coup. This early split amongst communists in Germany, the result of a false approach to  the organisation question, led to a fatal weakening of the class. And the tragedy was that the left wing in turn - after having been expelled from the KPD - became an active defender of this mistaken concept.

A few months later we can see an illustration of this weakness, when the KAPD delegation to the 2nd Congress of the CI, O. Rühle and P. Merges, withdrew from the work of the congress and “deserted”. One year later, when being confronted with the ultimatum of the 3rd Congress of the CI, either to join forces with the VKPD or face expulsion from the International, the KAPD once again showed this great weakness in relation to the defence of the organisation. The expulsion of the KAPD from the CI provoked a lot of hostility and anger within the ranks of the KAPD towards the International.

On the one hand this was  to prevent the newly arising forces of the communist left from working together. The German and Dutch wing of the communist left did not manage to oppose the enormous pressure of the Bolshevik party and to build up together with the Italian left around Bordiga a common resistance from within the CI against its growing opportunism. Moreover, at the same time the KAPD had a strong inclination towards rash and hasty decisions, as the following statements of the KAPD show. 

How to react to the danger of degeneration of the Comintern?
Flight or fight?

 “In the future, Soviet Russia will no longer be a factor of world revolution; it will become a bastion of the international counter-revolution.

 The Russian proletariat thus has already lost control over the State.

This doesn’t mean anything else but that the Soviet government now has to become the defender of the interests of the international bourgeoisie (...) The Soviet government has to become a government ruling against the working class, after having joined openly the camp of the bourgeoisie. The Soviet government is the Communist Party of Russia. Therefore the RCP has become an opponent of the working class, because being the Soviet government it has to defend the interests of the bourgeoisie at the expense of the proletariat. This won’t last long; the RCP will have to undergo a split.

It won’t last long before the Soviet government will be forced to show its real face as a national-bourgeois state. Soviet Russia is no longer a proletarian-revolutionary state, or to put it more precisely Soviet Russia cannot yet become a proletarian-revolutionary state.

Because only the victory of the German proletariat through the conquest of political power could have prevented the Russian proletariat from its present fate, could have saved it from the misery and repression imposed by  its own Soviet government. Only a revolution  in Germany, and then  a western European revolution could have helped the outcome of the class struggle between Russian workers and Russian peasants in favour of the Russian workers.

The 3rd Congress submitted the interests of proletarian world revolution to the interests of a bourgeois revolution in a single country. The supreme organ of the proletarian International has submitted the International to the service of a bourgeois state. The autonomy of the 3rd International has thus been suppressed and submitted to direct dependence on the bourgeoisie.

The 3rd International is now lost for proletarian world revolution. In the same way as the 2nd International the 3rd International is now in the hands of the bourgeoisie.

Therefore the 3rd International will always prove its worth whenever it will be necessary to defend the bourgeois state of Russia. But it will always fail whenever it will be necessary to support proletarian world revolution. Its activities will be form a chain of continuous betrayals of proletarian world revolution...

The 3rd international is lost for the proletarian world revolution.

From being a vanguard for proletarian world revolution the 3rd International has become its most bitter enemy (...) It was because of the disastrous intertwining of the leadership of the state - whose originally proletarian character has been transformed over the past years into a totally bourgeois character - with the leadership of the proletarian International, in the hands of one and the same organ, that the 3rd International failed in its original task. Confronted with the alternative of bourgeois state policy and proletarian world revolution, the Russian communists voted for the interests of the former and they placed the 3rd International into its service’ (‘The Soviet government and the 3rd International taken in tow by the international bourgeoisie’, August 1921).

While the KAPD was right in denouncing the growing opportunism of the CI, while it detected the danger of the CI being strangled at the hands of the Russian state and being turned into its instrument, the KAPD made the mistake of considering these dangers as an already finished process.

Even if the balance of forces had already tilted in 1921 and the international wave of struggles was in reflux, the KAPD showed a dangerous impatience and an underestimation of the need for a persevering and tenacious struggle for the defence of the organisation. This is why the basic idea of the KAPD that the CI is “a tool of the Soviet government’s reformist policy of entente”, that “The 3rd International is now lost for proletarian world revolution. From being a vanguard for proletarian world revolution the 3rd International has become its most bitter enemy...” is exaggerated because premature at that time. Within the KAPD itself it led to the feeling that the battle for the CI was already over. The KAPD had sensed something which was to become true later, but the wrong estimate of the level of opportunism and degeneration that the CI had reached led to a global, indiscriminate rejection of the vital struggle against opportunism WITHIN the CI.

Although the ultimatum of the 3rd World Congress has to be taken into consideration in explaining the anger and outrage of the KAPD, this  should not hide the fact that the comrades of the KAPD withdrew in a precipitous manner from the battle and failed in their duty to defend the organisation.

Once again it was a tragedy to see how false and insufficient organisational concepts can have such a disastrous effect, and how much they undermine the impact of correct political positions. This highlights once again that a correct stand on the organisation question itself can become decisive for the survival of an organisation.

Another example of this weakness can be seen through the attitude of the KAPD delegation at the 3rd Congress. While the  KAPD delegation at the 2nd World Congress had left without any fight whatsoever, the delegation to the 3rd World Congress raised its voice as a minority and called for a special congress of the KAPD afterwards.

Although the KAPD delegation complained that the 3rd Congress had already started to put a brake on the debate by distorting the positions of the KAPD, by limiting speaking time, by changing the agenda, and by selecting participation at discussions (the KAPD delegation reported that it had been excluded from participation in a debate of the ECCI, which met during the Congress discussing the status of the KAPD), the KAPD delegation itself declined to take the floor during the debate on the status of the KAPD, because they said they “wanted to avoid being unwilling players in a comedy”. They withdrew from the debate under protest.

Instead of understanding that the degeneration of an organisation is a process, in which a long persevering struggle is indispensable; in which precipitous action needs to be avoided; in short, where it is necessary to lead a struggle like the Italian left did, the KAPD jumped to conclusions and condemned the CI very quickly instead of trying to continue to fight from within.

The same delegation declared the CI and the RCP to be “lost for the proletariat”. To some extent the overwhelming weight of the RCP had played a major role when the KAPD neglected the task of regrouping other delegates to form a fraction. Although there were some episodic contacts, no common line could be found between the Italian delegates and the KAPD, although the Italian left had stood up against the rising opportunism in the CI regarding the parliamentary question.

The expulsion of the KAPD from the CI meant a weakening of the position of the Italian left at the 4th Congress, when the Communist Party of Italy, under the leadership of Bordiga, was forced by the CI to fuse with the Italian Socialist Party. Thus the ‘German’ and ‘Italian’ Left always found themselves fighting in isolation against the opportunism of the CI, unable to lead a common struggle. But the current around Bordiga had grasped the need for a tenacious fight in defence of the organisation. For example when Bordiga in 1923 was thinking of writing a manifesto announcing a break with the CI, he finally withdrew the draft, because he was convinced of the need to continue his fight within the CI and within the Italian Party.

At the extraordinary conference of the KAPD in September 1921 the KAPD hardly dealt with the assessment of the balance of forces on a world scale. The party was able to see, as Reichenbach put it at the conference, that “in times where external factors, factors due to (the weight) of capital, or confusion, lack of clarity in the class, slow down the pulse of the revolution, to the extent that the belief in revolution recedes, then the proletarian party of combat, which is the carrier of the idea of revolution, will be smaller in size. But this doesn’t mean that it will disappear’ (p. 27). But the KAPD did not draw the conclusions regarding the immediate tasks of the organisation. The majority of the party still considered revolution to be immediately on the agenda. Sheer will seemed more important than an assessment of the balance of forces. Moreover a part of the KAPD was to start the adventure of the foundation of the Communist Workers International (KAI) in spring 1922.

This incapacity to grasp the retreat of the class struggle finally played a decisive role in the incapacity of the KAPD to survive after the wave of struggles went into reflux and when the rising counter-revolution imposed new conditions.

Mistaken answers from Russia:

the incapacity of the communists to draw the right lessons

Despite all its shortcomings and its wrong conclusions, the KAPD did have the merit of posing the problem of the growing conflict between the Russian state, the working class and the CI,  even if it was unable to offer the right answers. The communists in Russia, on the other hand were to have the greatest difficulties in understanding the nature of this conflict.

Because of the growing integration of the party into the state apparatus they could only develop a very limited view of the problem. Lenin, who had synthethised the lessons of Marxism on the question of state and revolution in 1917 in the clearest manner, had at the same time had been part of the state leadership since 1917, and he brought these growing contradictions and difficulties to the fore.

Today, bourgeois propaganda takes great pains to present Lenin as the father of Russian totalitarian state capitalism. In reality, of all the Russian communists at the time, Lenin, with a brilliant revolutionary intuition, came closest to recognising that the transitional state which arose after the October revolution does not really represent the interests and politics of the proletariat. From this Lenin concluded that the working class must struggle to impose its policies on the state, and must have the right to defend itself against that state.

At the 11th party conference in March 1922 Lenin observed with great concern: “Well, we have lived through a year, the state is in our hands, but has it operated the New Economic Policy in the way we wanted this past year? No. But we refuse to admit that that it did not operate in the way we wanted. How did it operate? The machine refused to obey the hand that guided it. It was like a car that was going not in the direction the driver desired, but in the direction someone else desired, as if it were being driven by some mysterious, lawless hand” (volume 33, March/April 1922, 11th party conference).

Lenin had also defended this concern, in particular against Trotsky, during the trade union debate in 1921. On the surface, the issue was the role of the trade unions within the proletarian dictatorship; in reality, the central question was whether or not the working class should have the right to engage in its own class struggle to defend itself against the traditional state. According to Trotsky, since the state is by definition a workers’ state, the idea of the proletariat defending itself against the state is an absurdity. Thus Trotsky, who at least had the quality of following the logic of his position to its conclusion, openly advocated the militarisation of labour. Although he was not yet able to clearly recognise that the transitional state was not a workers’ state (a position later developed and defended by Bilan in the 30s), Lenin insisted on the necessity for the workers to defend themselves against the state.

Despite this correct concern on the part of Lenin, it is evident that the Russian communists were unable to achieve any real clarity on this question. Lenin himself, like other communists of the time, continued to consider the enormous weight of the petty bourgeoisie in Russia to be the main source of counter-revolutionary potential and not the bureaucratised state. “At the present moment the enemy is not the same as it was yesterday. The enemy is not the scores of White armies... The enemy is the grey day to day running of the economy in a country dominated by small peasants with a ruined big industry. The enemy is the petty bourgeois element; the proletariat is fragmented, split, exhausted. The ‘forces’ of the working class are not unlimited... The influx of new forces from the proletariat is weak, sometimes very weak (...) We still will have to put up with the inevitable slow-down in the growth of new forces of the working class” (‘New times, old mistakes in new form’, Lenin, 20.8.1921, volume 33, German edition).

The reflux of the class struggle - oxygen for state capitalism

After the defeats of the working class internationally in 1920 conditions for the working class in Russia were to worsen considerably. More and more isolated, the workers in Russia faced a state, headed by the Bolshevik Party, which was more and more  imposing its violence on them, as in Kronstadt in 1921. The crushing of the revolt in Kronstadt led to the strengthening of those forces in the party who were aiming at the strengthening of the state at the expense of the working class and who also sought to chain the CI to the Russian state.

The Russian state was aspiring more and more to a ‘normal’ position amongst the other capitalist states.

The orientation of the Russian state towards recognition by the other capitalist states

Already in spring 1921 the German bourgeoisie had secretly made contact with Moscow in order to explore the possibility of rearming the Reichswehr (after the signing of Versailles treaty) and of modernising the Russian armaments industry once the civil war had come to an end. Above all, German heavy industry, which had modernised its equipment during WW1, was eager to co-operate with Russia. Aeroplanes were planned to be manufactured by Albatrosswerke, submarines by Blöhm & Voss, guns and shells by Krupp. The Reichswehr was to train Red Army officers, making it possible for German troops to train on Russian soil.

At the end of 1921 the Soviet state proposed a general conference to settle relations between Soviet Russia and the capitalist world, involving all the European powers and the USA. But by then secret negotiations between Germany and Russia had long been underway. Of course on the Russian side these negotiations were not led by the CI but by leaders of the state apparatus. At the Genoa conference, Chicherin, the leader of the Russian delegation, talked about the vast potential of Russia’s untapped resources, and the possibility that they could be developed and made available through the co-operation of western capitalists.  While the Genoa conference broke up, Germany and Russia had concluded in nearby Rapallo a secret agreement - which - as E.H. Carr writes, “was the first major diplomatic occasion on which either Soviet Russia or the Weimar republic had negotiated as an equal”. But Rapallo was  more than that.

During the winter 1917-18 the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was only signed after the German offensive against Russia because it was the aim of the Bolsheviks to protect the isolated workers’ bastion against the offensive of German imperialism. The treaty had been imposed on the Russian working class, and it was only signed after a wide and open debate in the Bolshevik party. However, this principle was to be broken with the signing of Rapallo. Not only did the treaty signed by Russian state representatives involve secret arms deals, but at the 4th World Congress in November 1922 it was not even mentioned!.

The instruction of the CI to the CP in Turkey and Persia “to support the movement in favour of national freedom in Turkey (and in Persia)” in reality led to a situation where the respective national bourgeoisies could massacre the working class much easier. The interests of the Russian state, which required firm links with these states, had prevailed.

Step by step the CI was subordinated to the needs of the foreign policy of the Russian state. Whereas in 1919, at the time of the foundation of the CI, the whole orientation had been the destruction of capitalist states, from 1921 on the orientation of the Russian state was more and more clearly towards stabilisation in foreign affairs. The failure of the world revolution to spread had given enough space for the Russian State to claim its position.

At the common conference of the ‘workers’ parties’ which met at the beginning of April 1922 in Berlin, to which the CI had invited the parties of the 2nd and 2 ½ Internationals, the CI delegation tried above all to look for support for the diplomatic recognition of Soviet Russia, for the establishment of trade relations between Russia and the west, and for help for Russia to reconstruct. In 1919 the 2nd International had been denounced as the butcher of the revolution; in 1920, at the 2nd Congress, 21 conditions of admission had been adopted in order to delineate the CI from and fight against the 2nd International. Now, on behalf of the Russian state, the CI delegation sat at the same table with the parties of the 2nd International. It had become obvious that the Russian state was not interested in the extension of world revolution but aimed above all at strengthening its own position. The more the CI was taken in tow by the state, the more clearly it turned its back on internationalism.

Within Russia: cancerous growth of the state apparatus

The orientation of the Russian state towards recognition by the other states went hand in hand with the strengthening of the state apparatus within Russia.

The ever increasing integration of the party into the state, the growing concentration of power in the hands of an ever more concentrated and limited circle of ‘ruling forces’, the growing dictatorship of the state over the working class were now being accelerated by the single-minded and systematic efforts of those forces who aimed at the expansion and fortification of the state apparatus at the expense of the working class, at the strangling of working class life.

In April 1922 Stalin was nominated General Secretary of the party at the 11th party congress. By then Stalin occupied three important posts at the same time: he was head of the Peoples’ Commissariat for Nationality Questions, of the Peoples’ Commissariat for Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, and he was a member of the Politburo. By being appointed General Secretary, Stalin could quickly take over the day to day running of the party, and he managed to make the Politburo dependent on the General Secretary. Already at an earlier stage, Stalin had been appointed head of the ‘purging activities’ in March 1921 at the 10th party congress[1]. In March 1921 some members of the Workers’ Opposition group had asked the ECCI to “denounce the suppression of autonomy, of workers’ initiative, and the fight against members who had divergent opinions... The united forces of the party and union bureaucracy, by taking advantage of their power and their position, breach the principle of workers’ democracy” (Rosmer, p. 110) But after the RCP put pressure on the ECCI, the ECCI rejected the complaint of the Workers’ Opposition group.

Instead of leaving the initiative for nominating their delegates in the hands of the local party units, as the integration of the party into the state advanced, these nominations were taken over by the leadership of the party and thus the state. Elections and votes within the party on a local party unit level were no longer desired, since the power of decision was placed more and more in the hands of the General Secretary and the Org-bureau which was headed by Stalin. All the delegates for the 12th party congress in 1923 were nominated by the party leadership.

If we underline the role of Stalin here, it is not because we want to reduce the problem of the state to one person - Stalin - and thus limit and underestimate the danger flowing from the state. The reason is that the state, which had arisen out of the very survival-needs of capitalism itself, which had absorbed the Bolshevik Party into its structures, and which was now stretching out its tentacles to the CI, had become the centre of counter-revolution. But counter-revolution was not an anonymous or purely passive activity of unknown, faceless, invisible forces. It was to take shape concretely in the party and state apparatus. Stalin, the General Secretary, was an important force pulling the strings of the party on different levels - in the Politburo, in the provinces, and he became the driving force behind those forces who were fighting against any revolutionary residues in the party.

Within the Bolshevik Party this process of degeneration provoked resistance and convulsions that we have dealt with more specifically in our articles in International Review nos. 8 & 9.

Despite the above-mentioned confusions, Lenin was going to be one of the most determined opponents of the state apparatus. After Lenin was hit by a first stroke in May 1922 and a second on March 9 1923, he drafted a document - later to be known as his Testament - in which he demanded the replacement of Stalin as General Secretary. Thus Lenin, who had worked together with Stalin for years, broke with him and declared war upon him. However, being paralysed in bed, fighting against his agony, this break and declaration of war was never published in the party press, which by then was in  the firm grip of the General Secretary himself - Stalin!.

At the same time it was no coincidence that Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin defended the typically bourgeois concept of the need for a ‘successor’ to Lenin, according to which a triumvirate composed of these three members should constitute the leadership. It was against this background of a power struggle by the ‘triumvirate’ within the party that a group of opponents to this trend issued a “Platform of the 46” in the summer of 1923, criticising the strangling of proletarian life in the party, which for the first time since October 1917 had refused to make any calls for world revolution on May 1st 1922.

In the summer of 1923 a number of strikes erupted in Russia, in particular in Moscow.

At a time when the Russian state was strengthening its position within Russia and was striving for recognition by other capitalist states, the process of degeneration in the CI after the opportunist turn at the 3rd Congress was to accelerate, due to the pressure of the Russian state.

The 4th World Congress: submission to the Russian state

By adopting the policy of the United Front, in December 1921 through the ECCI, and  at the 4th Congress in November 1922, the CI was about  to throw overboard the principles of the 1st and 2nd congress, during which the CI had insisted on the need for the sharpest demarcation and fight against Social Democracy.

To justify this policy, the CI argued that with the current balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat “the broadest masses of the proletariat have lost belief in their ability to conquer power in any foreseeable time. They are driven back to the defensive....  the conquest of power as an immediate task of the day is not on the agenda” (cited in Carr, op cit,p 439) .

Therefore it was necessary to unite with the workers who were still under the influence of Social Democracy:

‘The slogan of the 3rd congress, ‘to the masses’ is more valid than ever (...) The tactics of the united front is the offer of a united struggle of communists with all workers, who belong to other parties or groups(...)  Under certain circumstances communists must be ready to work together with non-communist workers’ parties and with workers’ organisation in order to form a workers’ government’.(Theses on tactics, 4th Congress).

It was the German KPD which was the first party to push for this tactic - as we shall see in the next article in this series.

Within the CI this new opportunist step, which pushed the workers into the arms of Social Democracy, met with the fiercest resistance from the Italian left.

Already in March 1922, once the theses on the united front had been adopted, Bordiga wrote in Il Comunista:  As far as the workers’ government is concerned, as ask: why do we want to ally with the Social Democrats? To do the only things that they know how to, can and will do, or to ask them to do what they don’t know how to, cannot or will not do? Are we to say to the Social Democrats that we are ready to collaborate with them, even in parliament and even in this government baptised as a ‘workers’ government? In this case, that is to say if we are asked to elaborate in the name of the Communist Party a project of a workers’ government in which communists have to participate along with the socialists, and to present this government to the masses as ‘anti-bourgeois’, we reply, and we take full responsibility for this reply, that such an attitude is opposed to all the fundamental principles of communism. To accept this political formula would in fact mean tearing up our flag, on which it its written: there can be no proletarian government which is not formed on the basis of the revolutionary victory of the proletariat” (Il Comunista, 26. 3. 1922).

At the 4th congress the Italian party declared:  “ The Communist Party of Italy does not agree to taking part in organisms that are made up of different political organisations_It will thus avoid participating in common declarations with political parties when these declarations contradict its programme and are presented to the proletariat as the result of negotiations aimed at finding a common line of action... to talk about a workers’ government... amounts to denying in practise the political programme of communism, ie the necessity to prepare the masses for the struggle for the dictatorship of the  proletariat’ (Relazione del PCI al IV Congresso dell’Internaionale Comunista, November 1922).

But after the exclusion of the KAPD from the CI in autumn 1921, and when the most critical voice against the degeneration of the Comintern was silenced, the Italian left once again had to defend the position of the communist left on its own.

At the same time an additional aggravating factor has to be taken into consideration. In October 1922 Mussolini’s troops seized   power in Italy, which led to a worsening of the conditions for revolutionaries. The group around Bordiga obviously had to take a position on the rise of fascism. Being absorbed by this question, the Italian left had far less time to focus on the unfolding degeneration of the CI and the Bolshevik party.

At the same time the 4th Congress created the conditions for a further submission of the CI to the interests of the Russian state. Mixing up the interests of the Russian state and the interests of the CI, the chairman of the Comintern, Zinoviev, said this in relation to the stabilisation of capitalism and the termination of attacks against Russia: “We may now say without exaggeration that the Communist International has survived its most difficult time, and is so strengthened that it need fear no attack from world reaction” (cited in Carr, op cit, p 439). 

Since the perspective of the conquest of power was no longer immediately on the agenda, the 4th Congress gave the orientation that apart from united front tactics, the working class should focus on the support for and defence of Russia. The resolution on the Russian revolution highlights the extent to which the CI analysed the situation through the spectacles of the Russian state and no longer from the point of view of the international working class. The problem of the reconstruction of Russia was pushed into the foreground:

The 4th World Congress of the CI expresses its greatest gratitude and highest admiration to the toiling masses of Soviet Russia that they have been able (...) to defend the acquisitions of the revolution up until today against all enemies from within and from without.

The 4th World Congress observes with great satisfaction that the first workers’ state in the world (...) has fully proven its vitality and its force to develop. The Soviet state has  come out of the horrors of the civil war strengthened. The 4th World Congress observes with satisfaction that the policy of Soviet Russia has created and strengthened the most important preconditions for the construction and development towards a communist society: i.e. the Soviet power, the Soviet order, i.e. the dictatorship of the proletariat. Because this dictatorship alone.... guarantees the complete overcoming of capitalism and paves the way for the realisation of communism.

Hands off Soviet Russia! Legal recognition of Soviet Russia! Each strengthening of Soviet Russia means a weakening of the world bourgeoisie’ (Resolution on the Question of the Russian Revolution).

The degree to which the CI was under the thumb of the Russian state half a year after Rapallo also became visible when, against the background of rising imperialist tensions, the possibility was considered that Russia could establish a military bloc with another capitalist state. Although the CI still asserted that such an alliance would serve the purpose of overthrowing a bourgeois regime, in reality the CI had more and more become a tool of the Russian state: “I assert that we are already great enough to conclude an alliance with a foreign bourgeoisie in order, by means of this bourgeois state, to be able to overthrow another bourgeoisie... Supposing that a military alliance has been concluded with a bourgeois state, the duty of the comrades in each country consists in contributing to the victory of the two allies”. Bukharin, cited in Carr, op cit, p. 442), A few months later the CI and the German KPD were to put forward this perspective in relation to an alliance between the ‘oppressed German nation’ and Russia. In the confrontation between Germany and the victorious countries of WW1 the CI and the Russian state took sides with Germany, calling it a victim of French imperialists interests.

Already in January 1922, at the ‘First Congress of the Toilers of the Far East’, the CI had proclaimed the need for co-operation between communists and ‘non-communist revolutionaries’ as the key orientation. The 4th Congress now decided in its theses on tactics  to support to the best of their capacities the national-revolutionary movements which are directed against imperialism”; at the same time it rejected firmly “the refusal of the communists of the colonies to take part in the struggle against imperialist violation under the pretexts of the abandoning of a supposed ‘defence’ of autonomous class interests. This is the worst type of opportunism, which can only discredit proletarian revolution in the East’ (Guidelines on the Eastern Question).

Thus the CI contributed to a major weakening and disorientation of the working class.

Once the culminating point of the revolutionary wave had been reached in 1919, once the international extension of the revolution had been prevented, permitting the Russian state to strengthen its position and subordinate the CI to its interests, the bourgeoisie felt stronger internationally and drafted plans in order to deal a final blow against that part of the working class which had remained most combative - the proletariat in Germany. We shall therefore examine the events of 1923 in Germany in the next article.       


























[1] After the membership of the Bolshevik party had increased in 1920 to 600,000, between 1920-21 some 150,000 members were expelled from the party. It is obvious that not only careerists were expelled but also many workers’ elements. The ‘purging commission’ headed by Stalin was one of the most powerful organs in Russia.


History of the workers' movement: