Workers' Liberty #56


The Communist International

Remaking socialism: part two

In WL55 we printed the first part of Boris Souvaraine's history of the Communist International in which he outlined the collapse of the Second International when the bulk of its leaders backed their "own" governments in the First World War. Here he describes how a new International was shaped out of opposition to that war. Souvaraine was a founding member of the French Communist Party.

The Swiss and Italian socialist parties multiplied attempts to re-establish contact between international socialists, and determine a basis of common action against the war. In September 1914, the conference of Lugano confided to the Swiss party the task of re-establishing relations between the parties which were formerly linked in brotherhood, but who had now become belligerents or neutrals. Similar efforts were attempted by Troelstra. The Socialist Party of America suggested the reunion of a Congress at Washington undertaking at the same time its organisation and its cost. These prospects failed in consequence of the hostility of the French and Belgian parties.

The Swiss party attempted to assemble at Zurich the socialists of neutral countries. This resulted in another failure. At the same time the Italian Party sent Morgari to France, charged with the mission to request the International Socialist Bureau to meet. The 19 April 1915, Morgari had, at the headquarters of the Socialist Party in Paris, an interview with Vandervelde, the President of the ISB, and with the leaders of the party.

He found himself up against the systematic refusal of the French and Belgium Socialist-patriots. Renaudel declared that the International was the hostage for right and justice (sic). And in reply to Morgari, who stated that, in spite of opposition, the socialists who were faithful to socialism would find means of meeting, Vandervelde said, "We will prevent it."

It was thus apparent that all attempts to reconstitute the International from the elements which had betrayed it would be useless and sterile.

All that could be done was to call together the parties and the fractions which had remained socialist and internationalist. On 15 May 1915, the congress of Bologna decided to convoke an international conference in spite of the hostility of the official parties. On 11 June, a preliminary session took place at Berne, at which the nature and the object of the conference were established: it was agreed that this initiative on the part of the Italian and the Swiss parties was not taken with the intention of forming a new International. At this epoch only Lenin and the Bolsheviks had sufficient insight to discern the necessity of founding a third international. But their influence was not yet felt. Their help, however, was precious in the organisation of the conference.

From the 6 to 8 September the Conference was held at Zimmerwald which was the first manifestation of the life of the renascent international and which uttered the great call for peace. A few days before the meeting, Morgari had made a supreme attempt among French socialists to obtain their participation in the conference, or at least that they should send a delegate without mandate or vote who would exercise, as Morgari put it, the duties of "an honest spy", at the same time assuring them that only German "minority socialists" would be present. He only met with a fresh refusal, including that of Pressemane.

The conference, at which only Bourderon and Merrheim represented French socialism and syndicalism, issued a manifesto denouncing imperialism as the cause of the war, disclosed the real objects of the war on the part of the two capitalist coalitions (thefts of territory, grabbing of oil and mineral wealth, the conquest of markets and of ports, pillage and spoliation, the subjection of other races to bourgeois oligarchies) all this hypocritically baptised under the name of national defence; and called upon the proletarians of all countries to take united action on the basis of the class struggle, in order to impose peace.

The "majority socialists" of France and of Germany attacked the Zimmerwaldians with hatred and fury, covered them with insults and sarcasms, after first having attempted a conspiracy of silence. But the international and pacifist idea had made a start, and nothing could stop it. Not all the accumulated blame heaped upon it could prevent the awakening of the proletariat.

From 24 to 30 April 1916, a second Zimmerwaldian conference was held at Kienthal. Three French deputies, Brizon, Blanc, and Raffin Dugens, represented French socialism, passports having been refused to militant organised workers. The Kienthal Conference confirmed and solidified the Zimmerwaldian resolutions. It insisted on the fact that real peace could only come about as a consequence of socialism, and invited the proletariat to fight resolutely against the capitalist regime. But, while attacking the International Socialist Bureau, it did not go as far as to announce the necessity of breaking with it. At the same time as future action was decided on, a divergence of views made itself felt; among the Zimmerwaldians two tendencies appeared.

The left, whose interpreter was Lenin, looked upon the break up of the socialist-patriots as inevitable, and foresaw the necessity of founding the Third International.

The right held that joint action was still possible with repentant traitors.

The left was revolutionary. The right was merely pacifist. Events have irrefutably proved that the left were right in the position they took up: it was revolutions which ended the war, and it is quite clear that the world war will break out again if world revolution does not forestall it.

Although the left was in a minority at Kienthal it forced its views upon the third Zimmerwaldian Conference, which met at Stockholm in 1917. The resolution which was then passed called upon the workers of the world to join in the permanent struggle for the liberation of humanity. Two months later, the circumstances favouring, and their will inciting, the Bolshevists, forming the largest element of the Zimmerwaldian left, passed from theory to practice, and undertook the realisation of their programme.

The Bolshevist revolution has helped us to interpret socialist parties and men. The war had been the touchstone of their good will; the revolution was the touchstone of their will. The formal organisation of the Third International - it being practically in existence - is an inevitable consequence of this revolutionary will.

By taking the initiative of organising at Moscow the First Congress of the Third International, with the assent and the active help of the members of the commission elected by the Zimmerwaldian conferences, the Bolshevist Party accomplished a necessary task in agreement with all those international socialists who believe in the necessity of a proletarian revolution and who desire it.

What does it matter that men who subscribed to the action taken at Zimmerwald and at Kienthal are today opposed to the Third International, in which they fail to recognise the logical consequences of the ideas which they expressed in the past? At a given moment they did reflect the spirit of the advanced guard of socialism, others translate today its revolutionary and liberating aspirations; men pass away, ideas remain, become clarified, and find new interpreters.

On 2 March 1919, at Moscow, the Congress of the Communist Parties (named thus to distinguish them from the reformist socialists) decided to constitute themselves into the Third International, and founded the "Communist International'', the official name of this new organisation.

This Congress further decided:

That the definite constitution of the Communist International would be the work of the next Congress (the present formation being only provisional).

That the direction of the CI is confided to an Executive Committee composed of a representative of each affiliated party.

That the parties adhering to the CI before the Second Congress takes place have a right to a seat on the Executive Committee.

Thus the First Congress of the Communist International was careful not to impose too rigid conditions on the parties whose affiliations they invited, and reserved the definite foundation of the Third International for this purpose, with the co-operation of all the adherent groups.

The Communist International, its programme and forces

We do not presume to give a complete exposition of, or to study deeply, the problem of the International, but only to emphasise its essential points, and rapidly to translate in concise form the ideas proclaimed by the Communist International. These are defined with vigour and clearness in the manifesto and in the resolutions of the First Congress.

The CI declares that the hour of the "final struggle" between proletariat and bourgeoisie, as expressed by the Communist Manifesto of 1848, has arrived.

It assigns to us the following task: "To gather up the revolutionary experience of the working classes, to rid the movement of the unhealthy blend of opportunism and social-patriotism, to unite the forces of all the truly revolutionary parties of the world proletarians, and thus to pave the way for and to hasten the Communist revolution all over the world." It imputes the responsibility for the war to the capitalist regime and to the conscious will of the governing classes of Russia, Germany, Austria, England, France, Italy, and the United States, a responsibility which is amply proved by the Russian diplomatic archives.

The CI sees in the consequences of the war surprising revelations of the contradictions of the capitalist regime, the condemnation, without appeal, of the theory denoting "the progressive steps of capitalism towards socialism", upheld by the reformists. These latter contested the Marxist theory of the "pauperisation of the masses" as being the provocative cause of revolution; war amply demonstrates this pauperisation, this material impoverishment to which physiological poverty must be added.

Besides this, the state ownership of the economic life inevitably accomplishes its ends. It remains to be seen who will be master of state-owned production, the bourgeois or the proletarian state. If the working class does not wish to pay tribute to the capitalist clique, it must "seize hold of economic life, even though it be disorganised and destroyed, in order to ensure its being rebuilt on a socialist basis". In order to "shorten the time of crisis through which we are passing" we must establish, "the dictatorship of the proletariat which does not look backward, nor does it take count of hereditary privilege or right of property, which, contemplating solely the salvation of the starving masses, mobilises to that end by every means in its power, decrees the necessity of work for each individual, institutes discipline as an urgent need of the workers, in order not only to heal in a few years the horrible wounds made by the war, but finally to raise humanity to great and undreamed of heights."

The Communist International repudiates as a snare so-called bourgeois "democracy". Facts prove that, in all fundamental questions on which the destiny of man depends, it is a financial oligarchy which rules, by virtue of, "the weapons of falsehood, demagogy, persecution, calumny, corruption and terror, which centuries of slavery have placed at their disposal and which the privileges of capitalist technique have multiplied."

Bourgeois democracy has but one aim - to disarm the exploited by giving them the illusion that they dispose of legal methods by which they can impose their claims.

The Communist parties should endeavour to create that proletarian democracy which would abolish classes in abolishing economic privileges; their political expression must be soviets, that is to say Workers' and Soldiers' Councils, a new type of proletarian organisation which will be self-governing These soviets represent political power; the organisations of industry and of production being vested in professional syndicates that are in direct touch with the technical organs of power of the soviets. Such are the principal outlines of the Communist International defined in detail by the voted resolutions.

In short, these are the terms of the Manifesto itself:

"If the war of 1870 dealt a blow to the First International by the revelation that behind its revolutionary and social programme there was no organised force of the masses, the war of 1914 has killed the Second International by demonstrating that over and above the powerful administration of the workers were parties subservient to bourgeois control.

"If the First International foresaw and prepared the way for approaching developments, if the Second International collected and organised the proletarian millions, the Third International is the International of the action of the masses and of revolutionary realisation."

The principles, the programme and the appeals of the Communist International have been systematically hidden from the masses by bourgeois speakers and their press and by social opportunists.

In France the facts are still unknown to the masses, and the prominence of the opportunists is due to this ignorance. But where facts were known and advertised the socialist workers' organisations joined the Third International, which gathered together the elite of the proletariat of the world.

In the space of a few months, in spite of obstacles opposed to the delivery of the message, in spite of the difficulties placed in the way of its propagandists, the Third International is grouping the whole of the organisations of the revolutionary proletariat. And the rallying of those who are still waiting to affiliate is only delayed because the masses are deceived by their leaders.

In France, the active forces of the workers' syndicates, and of the Socialist Party, are already affiliated to the Third International, and these forces grow daily in numbers. We have reason to believe that the hour is not far distant when their influence will pervade the whole organisation.

"We recognise one another," said the Communists assembled at Moscow, "as the continuators of the direct efforts, and of the heroic martyrdoms accepted by a long series of revolutionary generations, from Babeuf down to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg." May those workers and socialists who recognise one another as the continuators of the work undertaken at the commencement of the last century by the first militant Communists march under the banner of the Communist International, and recognise as their rallying point the purple standard on which shine the sickle and the hammer crossed, the emblem of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Russia.

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