Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 by John Riddell, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922

Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922

by John Riddell

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The proceedings of the last Comintern congress in which Lenin participated, at last available in English, reveals a Communist world movement grappling to reconcile the goal of unifying workers and colonial people in struggle with that of pressing forward to socialist revolution. The principle of national parties’ autonomy strains against calls for more


The proceedings of the last Comintern congress in which Lenin participated, at last available in English, reveals a Communist world movement grappling to reconcile the goal of unifying workers and colonial people in struggle with that of pressing forward to socialist revolution. The principle of national parties’ autonomy strains against calls for more stringent centralization. Debates range over the birth of Fascism, the decay of the Versailles Treaty system, the rise of colonial revolution, and women’s emancipation. Newly translated and richly annotated, the stenographic transcript of the month-long congress discloses a rich spectrum of viewpoints among delegates. Indispensable source material on early Communism is supplemented by an analytic introduction, detailed footnotes, more than 500 short biographies, glossary, chronology, and index.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Refreshingly, for a variety of reasons, this 1200-page compendium of 90-year-old proceedings makes for revitalising and pertinent reading.
Also pleasant is how skilfully this huge tome has been assembled to make it easy for a contemporary activist to use as a toolkit. If you have an interest in, say, the anti-colonial question there is a five-page summary in the introduction with all the relevant page references noted.
Also, there are 38 pages of biographies of the main players, a first-rate index and a chronology that situates the congress in its historical setting."
Barry Healy, Green Left Weekly, September 23, 2012

"Riddell has here pulled off an immense and masterful editorial effort, comparing past publications of these proceedings in the four main languages of the Comintern [...] and should earn the gratitude of generations of scholars for many years to come. [...] This magnificent volume offers one very fruitful route to consider again the correct strategy for the left to take in today’s own era of crisis and potential transition."
Alexander Marshall, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books, 1st of June 2012

Product Details

Haymarket Books
Publication date:
Historical Materialism Book Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 2.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Session 1 – Sunday, 5 November 1922

Opening Session

The People’s House, Petrograd

Opening. Election of the Presidium. Welcoming address. Telegrams of welcome. Greetings to political prisoners. Appeal to the workers and peasants of Italy. Appeal to the working people of Russia. Appeal to the Red Army and the Red Fleet. Appeal to the workers and Red Army soldiers of Petrograd [Saint Petersburg].

Speakers: Clara Zetkin, Zinoviev, Feliks Kon, Béron, Azzario, Katayama, Kolarov Convened: 9 p.m.

Clara Zetkin: Comrades, sisters and brothers: On behalf of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, I declare this Fourth World Congress to be in session. We are convening on the day of the fifth annual celebration of the greatest world-historical event of our time, when the proletarian World-revolution arose bold, determined, and victorious, in the form of the Russian Revolution, and dealt the world bourgeoisie its first decisive defeat. The Fourth Congress of the Communist International is now in session. (Applause)
Comrades, on behalf of the Expanded Executive of the Communist International, I propose Comrade Zinoviev as chair of this congress. (Applause) I call on Comrade Zinoviev to take the chair. (Loud applause)
Zinoviev: The Congress will now elect its presidium. In accordance with the decision of the expanded plenary session of the Executive and by special agreement with all delegations to the World Congress, we propose the following list of members of the Presidium:
Béron and Henriet (France); Carr (USA); Katayama (Japan); Kolarov (Bulgaria); Leckie (Great Britain); Lenin and Trotsky (Russia); Marabini (Italy); Neurath (Czechoslovakia); Scheflo (Scandinavia); Warski (Poland); Zetkin (Germany).
We will proceed to a vote on this motion. Those against, please raise your hands. The Presidium is elected unanimously. I ask all its members here present to take their places.
Comrades, I have been given the honourable task of delivering the opening address. So many events and memories crowd in on us today that truly one does not know where to begin. Certainly, we want to give an account of what has happened in the land conquered by the Russian working class, and of what is happening in the Soviet Republic that has withstood enemy fire for five years. We are opening the Fourth World Congress of the advanced proletarians of fifty-two countries. Comrades, I believe that we can truly say that seldom do we have the occasion to experience events of such great and historic significance.
It goes without saying that our first words must be dedicated to those who during the past five years fell in the struggle, to ensure that the banner of the Communist Party would not be wrested from the hands of the vanguard in different countries, who for the moment in a great many states make up only a heroic minority. The number of our fallen comrades is beyond reckoning. In our country alone, they must be reckoned in the thousands.
By chance, I received today a small handbook dedicated to a contingent that fell in the defence of a single Soviet city – in defence of our Petrograd. This handbook is dedicated to a contingent of Schlüsselburg [Shlisselburg] workers, who fell along with other contingents in defence of our beautiful Petrograd. What weight does Schlüsselburg have compared to all Soviet Russia – let alone the territory of the entire world, where our comrades live and struggle? It is only a little corner, a little factory town, a single large factory. And an entire handbook is devoted to the contingent of this large factory, which, in 1919, stood before the walls of Petrograd. It lists the dozens and dozens of Schlüsselburg workers who fell, gun in hand, defending a city of Soviet Russia. Comrades, imagine how many, how countless are those who have fallen in the proletarian struggle, if we consider the ‘collective Schlüsselburg’ – when we take into account the workers of all Russia, the communists of the entire world.
I recently saw another book. One of our Moscow comrades tried to lay the basis for a collection of biographies of outstanding comrades who fell during these years. Simply listing the names in small type would take up an entire book of hundreds of pages. And that includes only the names of comrades of whom our party and the Soviet government had knowledge. Yet we know that many thousand nameless heroes, whose names are still unknown to history, perished in battle under the Soviet banner.
In Germany during these years, there was not a single city, not even a single major square in the large cities, that was not covered with the blood of workers that fought for the banner of communism. In the initial attempts at a workers’ uprising in Hungary, countless thousands of brothers perished, and many of them still languish in prison. Only two weeks ago, 170 communists were arrested in Budapest. In Finland, so close to us, where the workers made an initial attempt to rise up, many thousands died, and even now many thousands are in prison.
In the Balkans, in Romania, our entire party was taken from its congress directly to prison, and, on the way, many were shot. In Greece, the bourgeois revolution sent a large number of communist fighters to prison, and only a part of them were freed by rebel solders – the same soldiers who, let it be known, disarmed their own bourgeois officers with the cry ‘Long Live Lenin!’ on their lips. In America, during these years, many of our best workers landed in prison. Even now, the American bourgeoisie can hand out sentences of twenty years in jail for membership in the Communist International. In Italy, our comrades have been conducting a civil war for several years, with varying success. And you must surely know that, at the very moment when our Fourth World Congress opens, the Italian working class is literally at the mercy of the Fascist bands, whose leaders, it must be noted, come from the ranks of the former socialists. As we have seen throughout this revolution, these renegades from socialism are particularly embittered and pitiless hangmen of the working class, agents of the bourgeoisie, settling accounts with the proletariat in the most atrocious manner.
Comrades, let us turn our thoughts back to the beginning of our revolution and draw the balance sheet of the first five years of great and noble struggle by the working class of the world for the victory of proletarian revolution. In so doing, our thoughts turn above all to our best comrades, our best leaders and brothers, who are no longer among us, who fell in the cause of communism in Soviet Russia and the entire world. We hold in eternal memory the first fighters for proletarian World-revolution. (All rise. The orchestra plays the funeral march.)
Comrades, five years have passed since the day when the workers of this city, where the Fourth World Congress has just opened, overthrew the bourgeoisie and took the government into their own hands. During these five years, every day was a lesson for the proletariat of our country and the entire world. The last year was, in many respects, decisive for the Communist International. Fifteen months passed between the Third and Fourth Congresses. And, during these fifteen months, the destiny of the Communist International in the coming period was, in a certain sense, decided. Obviously, from a historical point of view, the victory of the Communist International is assured. Even if our organisation of struggle were to vanish from the earth under the blows of reaction, as happened to the Paris Commune and the First International, the Communist International would be born again and would ultimately lead the proletariat to victory. But the question before us is whether the Communist International as it now exists, our generation of fighters, will succeed in carrying out the historical mission that the Communist International has set for itself.
It is during the period between the Third and Fourth Congresses that this question has been answered. The Third Congress ended its work at a moment when the offensive of worldwide capitalism and reaction began to display unprecedented and resolute strength. It became clear to us at the Third Congress that a number of unreliable sympathisers were beginning to leave us. As the Third Congress ended, the enemies of the Communist International predicted, if yet not its death, then its weakening and downfall. It was under the fire launched against us during these fifteen months by the capitalist offensive that it became clear whether our young and in part still weak international Communist Party could stand firm at its post.
More than fifty-six parties belong to the Communist International. Among them are parties whose membership is larger than was that of the Communist Party of Russia before the overturn five years ago. But there are also many parties that have not yet gained strength, have not taken on their final form, and have still to surmount their initial difficult times.
For fifteen months, the forces of international capitalism and Menshevism, united in the Second International, have been attacking the different parties of the Communist International. All efforts of the bourgeois world and its accomplices – the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals – aimed during this time to get at our parties, break individual detachments out of our ranks, and destroy the Communist International. These were critical months for the Communist International.
Even in the most difficult moments, we are not given to self-deception or exaggeration regarding our strength. Communism’s great strength is that it can always speak the truth, even if that truth is a bitter one. If the condition of the Communist International did indeed correspond today to the hopes of our opponents, it would be unworthy of us to hide our weakness from the Fourth Congress. We must say what is. And so we shall. And, when we look back on the road we have travelled and count up the forces on which the Fourth Congress can rely, we are fully justified in saying that the Communist International has survived its most difficult times and gained such strength that it need fear no attack of world reaction. For it was in this year – a year of systematic offensive by capitalists internationally, a year in which the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals fused, a year of hunger in Soviet Russia, a year of endless privation, in which the working class absorbed almost unremitting defeats, showed that the Communist International has laid a firm foundation. It is alive and, to the horror of its enemies, it will live on. (Applause)
During this year, other decisive events took place. The platform of the Communist International’s programme and tactics, as formulated by our most important congresses, our highest authoritative bodies, has also stood the test and been proven correct.
You recall the recent events in Germany. Not so very long ago, the speeches at the celebrated Halle Congress faded away. After the famous vote at Halle, we said, in the name of the Communist International, that for the right-wing Independents who had rejected the Twenty-One Points, only one path lay open – that leading to Social Democracy and to Noske. When we made that statement, there was a great commotion among the right-wing Independents. They said that our statement was a malicious fiction. Now the deed is done. The Communist International’s prophecy has been fulfilled. The right-wing Independents stand in Noske’s ranks, the ranks of the hangman of the working class.
The Communist International had a similar and highly significant experience in the testing of its policies in Italy, the focus, so to speak, of world events today. When the split took place in Livorno, we said to those who did not wish to go with the Communist International: ‘Two roads are open to you: either go with the reformists and the Second International and take your place in the bourgeois camp, or acknowledge your error and return to the ranks of the Communist International’. I do not know what individual leaders of the Italian Socialist Party think regarding the lessons of the Italian events. But I am quite familiar with the stand of the immense majority of Italy’s Socialist workers. In their overwhelming majority, they recognised their error and the correctness of the Communist International’s viewpoint. They are coming back into our ranks. Needless to say, we welcome them as brothers. (Applause)
Comrades, these two examples from the international workers’ movement provide all honest class-conscious proletarians of the world with clear proof that the Twenty-One Conditions adopted by the Second Congress are no invention, no subterfuge, no dogma, but, rather, represent the overall consciousness of the proletariat fighting to break free of the chains of capitalism. The tactics of the Communist International are correct and have been tested in life. We follow a defined, clear path. We know where we are headed and where we are leading the international proletariat. And so – despite losses, large or small (for that is not entirely ours to determine) – we will, over a period of time, be it long or short, lead the international proletariat – and we guarantee it – to a conclusive victory over the bourgeoisie. (Applause)
One of the most important developments of the recent period is the unification of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals. The Communist International’s prophecy has been fulfilled. The workers’ revolutionary struggle can only gain from this unification. The Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals are as alike as two peas in a pod. Both organisations are counter-revolutionary. For the revolutionary proletariat, it is always advantageous for there to be fewer disguises and fictions. We can only gain when our struggle unfolds in a simple and defined framework.
Two camps – two terrains. On one side, the Second International, the International of the Noskes, the International of the social traitors; on the other side our fraternal alliance of the entire world, our association of workers of all countries, which bears the name Communist International.
We must state plainly that the fusion of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals is, among other things, a preparation for white terror against the workers fighting for their freedom. Perhaps these words of ours will evoke the same animosity as was the case with regard to our statements in Halle and Livorno. Before the workers of the world, we take responsibility for our statement: the unification of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals merely draws up the artillery of a new and desperate offensive of the world bourgeoisie against revolutionary workers. The fusion of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals prepares the ground for new Galliffets, Noskes, Mussolinis, and other hangmen of the working class. In this way, the leaders of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals are objectively carrying out a new task of the world bourgeoisie.
The question of our attitude to the fusion of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals relates not only to internal party policies and tactics but to world politics.
All the objective preconditions have ripened for the victory of proletarian revolution in all the decisive countries. All that is lacking for the working class is the so-called subjective factor – sufficient class organisation and consciousness. That is why Social Democracy plays a very great role in the present period.

Meet the Author

John Riddell has translated and edited seven volumes of documents of the Communist movement in the era of the Russian revolution. Two further Brill volumes now in preparation will complete this ambitious project.

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