The article below is the text of a paper presented at the Conference on the Centenary of the Comintern at the Russian National Library, Leningrad, April 2, 2019. It is also being published in Russian in the first issue of a new online journal to be produced in Russia, Советское Возрождение(Sovetskii Renessance - Soviet Renaissance). RedMed is thus bidding farewell to 2019, the Centenary of the foundation of the Communist International, with precisely a piece on the importance of its foundation and the subsequent fate it later met at the hands of the political representative of the Soviet bureaucracy, Stalin.
At the beginning, at the founding moment of the Third Communist International in its First Congress, on March 2-6, 1919, a Manifesto to the Workers of the World, written by Lev Davidovitch Trotsky was issued, stressing in its concluding part:
If the First International presaged the future course of development and indicated is paths if the Second International gathered and organized millions of workers; then the Third International is the International of open mass action, the International of revolutionary realization, the International of the deed.
Bourgeois world order has been sufficiently lashed by socialist criticism. The task of the International Communist Party consists in overthrowing this order and erecting in its place the edifice of the socialist order.
Workers of the World! in the struggle against imperialist barbarism, against monarchy, against the privileged estates, against the bourgeois state and bourgeois property, against all kinds and forms of class or national oppression-Unite!
Under the banner of Workers’ Soviets, under the banner of revolutionary struggle for power and the dictatorship of the proletariat, under the banner of the Third International- Workers of the World Unite!
At opposite end, at the final moment of the formal dissolution of the Third International by a decree of the Executive Committee of the Communist International on May 15, 1943, Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin in a statement justified the decision: “ We have overestimated our forces when we created the Communist International and we thought that we could lead the movement in all countries. It was our error. […] The principal motive of the dissolution is the impossibility to lead the activities of the parties in all the countries of the world from one international center in times of a world war, when some parties, like the German, the Italian etc. try to overthrow their governments and wage defeatist tactics, while another part of parties like our Party, the British etc. fully support their governments and look for their victory over the enemy”
Between the beginning and the end of the Comintern, its first Manifesto and the last statement, an unbridgeable gap opens where the whole drama of the 20thcentury was played- and its consequences are still with us.
An unstoppable stream of questions springs: Was it “an error” the founding of the Communist International in 1919? Was this decision based on an “over-estimation of forces” as already in the founding First Congress, Albert, the German delegate of the Spartakusbund and others had said? Is it impossible for a revolutionary International to function under the conditions of a world war? If it is so, then was an error that Lenin, at the beginning of the First World War, quite isolated and in exile, with very few forces supporting him, raised the necessity of a new International after the political bankruptcy of the Second International and the social-patriotic of its sections? Did he overestimated the few forces in Zimmerwald in 1915, when he advanced the line to transform the imperialist war into a civil war i.e. into an international socialist revolution with a new International as its necessary political instrument for the revolutionary mobilization of workers in unity above national borders and against nationalist hysteria? Last but not least, without this bold political re-orientation on an international scale was it possible the victory of the October Revolution in 1917 that has shaken the world as the first act of the world socialist revolution?
The “logic” of the arguments presented to justify the dissolution of the Comintern contradicts everything in the logic behind its foundation in 1919. But it is in full agreement with the line of the 7th(and last) World Congress of the Comintern in 1935 that had proclaimed the line of class collaboration with the “democratic” bourgeoisie, under the cover of the “anti-fascist struggle”. The 1943 official ending of the Comintern was more than an accommodation to the demands of collaboration with the imperialist Allies. It was the outcome of a long period of defeats and abandonment of the prospect of world revolution in the name of “Socialism in a single country” interlinked with the process of bureaucratization inside the isolated Soviet Union itself and the reduction of the Third International into a bureaucratic instrument of national Soviet foreign policy towards imperialism.
The 1943 decision was the prelude of the post war agreements in Yalta and Potsdam on the post war European and world order.
The first poisonous fruit was the tragic defeat of the Greek social revolution arising from the heroic antifascist resistance of the communist partisans of EAM-ELAS mass popular movement. It was interconnected and followed by diffusing all revolutionary situations in France, and Italy – a necessary precondition for the re-stabilization and re-construction of European capitalism and of the international post war world capitalist order. Soon, it was followed by the protracted, ferocious anti-Soviet, anti-communist “Cold War” of the imperialist West against the Soviet Union and its allies. The final result is unfortunately well known. Thus, it is not exaggeration at all to see the demise of the Third Communist International as the anticipation of the demise of the USSR itself in 1991.
The vital lessons to be learned from the Third International have to include all its trajectory, from its revolutionary beginnings to its inglorious end. Any serious discussion about the possibility and necessity for a new International in today’s conditions of global crisis cannot bypass this historical experience as a whole, not only its initial great achievements but also what made its ending irreversible.
Historical continuity and International
The foundation of the Communist International was neither an arbitrary decision by the Bolsheviks nor an error based on a gross miscalculation of the international relationship of forces. It was based not on an impressionistic assessment of the conjecture. The 1919 founding document, the Manifesto to the Workers of the World, provides an objective analysis of the general trends arising from the world war, and at the same time it situates them in entire historical development of capitalism and of the workers movement in the modern world. It claims its continuity with the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Marx and Engels, which stressed the growing interconnection of the world brought by capitalism, the historic role of the proletariat, the primacy of the international on the national struggles, of the common over the partial interests of the workers, the need of the proletarians of the world to unite.
The Third International did not arise by arbitrary choice or out of nothing or out of pragmatic convenience to serve foreign policy needs of Soviet Russia. It was born out of history and through history. It proclaims that it represents the continuity of the international struggle for communism that“proceeded by complex paths”, “with periods of stormy upsurge” and “periods of decline”, with successes and “cruel defeats”; the continuity as well “of the heroic endeavors and martyrdom of a long line of revolutionary generations from Babeuf- to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg”
Why an International?
The continuity expresses a necessity: the political necessity of an International is based on the world character of the modern social productive forces, of the social metabolism between humankind and Nature; the world character acquired by social, economic, political and cultural life, by an uneven and combined development, through the global expansion of capital.
Why an International of the working class? It is not an organizational device just for practical efficiency. It is the objectively necessary organization of an exploited class, which, because of its fundamental position in the production and reproduction of the conditions of social life under capitalism, it cannot emancipate itself from exploitation without emancipating the entire society from all forms of exploitation, oppression and humiliation of a human being by a human being. As Marx first established in 1844, it can act as a revolutionary class, leading the worldwide transition beyond class society, including to its own elimination, only by acting as a universal class.
The universality of its historical interests and aims, the scope of its taskdemands an International. More precisely a workers revolutionary International- not an administrative bureaucratic apparatus, as in the period of the bureaucratized Comintern, giving orders from above, according to national Soviet foreign policy needs, while ignoring not only the universal needs of the world socialist revolution but also specificity, the concrete conditions of a concrete situation, in each country and continent.
Historical discontinuity and International
The development of a workers revolutionary International necessarily expresses not only continuity but discontinuity as well. Discontinuity in two senses:
1. The struggle for the International passes through qualitatively different phases of historical development of capitalism and of the workers’ movement. The 1919 Manifesto of the Comintern re-states Lenin’s remarks on the qualitative differences between the Internationals:
- “The First International posed the foundations of the international proletarian struggle for Socialism.
- The Second International was a phase of preparation of the field to expand broadly among the masses the movement in many countries.
- The Third International recollected the fruits of the work done by the Second International, it has cut the bourgeois and petty bourgeois, opportunist and social-chauvinist gangrene, and started to realize the dictatorship of the proletariat ”
2. To “cut the gangrene” of opportunism and social-chauvinism was precisely the discontinuity par excellence, in the sharpest sense, between the Second and the Third International, between social democracy and communism, between the defense of the national bourgeois State and the beginning of the realization of the dictatorship of the proletariat, a “quasi-State of the Paris Commune type”, for the establishment of an International Republic of Councils-Soviets.
The discontinuity, the “cutting away of the gangrene”, the dividing line between the Second and the Third International proved to be not an automatic act, but a complex dialectical process that preoccupied the first four Congresses of the Comintern. The central question was: how to win to the world revolution for communism the masses of workers still following social democracy in Germany and Western Europe without blurring the dividing line, without becoming part of the opportunist “gangrene” threatening the life of the workers’ movement? Out of these debates came, together with a number of organizational principles, the tactics of the United Front and the program of transitional demands linking the immediate needs of the proletarian masses with the struggle for workers’ power.
Discontinuity meant a necessary organizational separation from the Second International, but it should not be limited to a formal split. It should involve a profound break of continuity in multiple levels:
- Political independence from the reformist bureaucracies, and their policies of opportunism, parliamentarian cretinism, adaptation to the bourgeois State and bourgeois nationalism both in war and peace
- no class collaborationwith the bourgeoisie and imperialism, but revolutionary class struggle for their overthrow
- no adaptation to bourgeois democracy and parliamentarianism but struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat, a higher form of a workers democracy of the self-organized, self-governing masses, for the withering away of the State in the transition to a world, classless, Stateless society. (It is not by accident that the two main documents voted in the founding First Congress of the Comintern are the Theses on “Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” written by Lenin and the “Manifesto to the Workers of the World” written by Trotsky)
- on organization: no bureaucratic but democratic centralism of the parties and of the International
- on the program: not a division between a limited “minimum” program of everyday trade union, parliamentary, social activism within the capitalist framework, and a “maximum” program, reserving the struggle for workers power and Socialism to an indefinite future but a transitional program uniting the everyday struggles with the perspective of the socialist revolution.
- on strategy: a decisive break from all strategies of reformism, gradualism and all Menshevik “theories of stages” for the strategy of permanent world socialist revolution
- on Marxist theory and method: to follow Lenin’s path, who , at the same time, in 1914-15 when he declared the bankruptcy of the Second International and the need for a new International, called for a break from the Kautskyite “economic materialism” and the mechanical, so called “Marxist orthodoxy” of social democracy, by boldly turning into a renewal of non-dogmatic materialist dialectics.
It is obvious that the Statement by Stalin, in 1943, justifying the formal dissolution of the Comintern is a rejection of every single principle on which the Third Communist International was founded.
In 1914 and in 1943, in three decades, in one generation’s time, the workers movement had the bitter experience of the demise of two workers Internationals...
The Second International has collapsed into social chauvinism at the beginning of the First World War and betrayed the German and European Revolution after the Great War. The Third International was born out of the October Revolution, the first act of world revolution, and then succumbed to the defeats of the world revolution, and to bureaucratization, to be transformed into a new factor for defeats before and after its own liquidation.
For a new International
All the objective historical reasons that made a political necessity the existence of a revolutionary International of the world working class exist also today and even much more developed, and urgent.
Globalization of capital and integration of the world economy and politics are infinitely more advanced than in Marx’s or Lenin’s days. The implosion of capital globalization in 2007-2008 followed by a world financial meltdown and a Third Great Depression, the worst in the history of capitalism produced world-wide social devastation, dangerously escalating imperialist wars, mass migration movements, rise of xenophobia, racism, and fascism, successive mass popular mobilizations in all Continents, revolts and revolutions. There are enormous threats for humanity, but also unprecedented possibilities for a new “assault to heaven”, from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.
But victory is a strategic task. It needs a conscious collective leadership, armed with an elaborated perspective, strategy, tactics, program, organization, fighting in today’ globalized conditions on a world scale. In other words, a revolutionary International is urgently needed.
Learning from all past experiences, the International can be built based on historical continuity and discontinuity.
Lenin rightly had stressed: “Motion is the unity of continuity (of time and space) and discontinuity (of time and space). Motion is a contradiction, a unity of contradictions.”
Continuity with all history of revolutionary struggle for the universal human emancipation, communism. Above all continuity with the 1917 October Revolution, which was not solely a Russian but a world historical Event, the beginning of a worldwide, non-linear transition beyond capitalism and beyond all antagonistic class societies. Because of the world character of the source, the dynamics, the contradictions, the consequences of the October Revolution, the historical cycle that it had opened has not been closed, despite the regressions of 1989-91. The revolutionary International has to be built in an uncompromising confrontation with historical defeatism, pessimism, and disorientation produced by these regressions, in a permanent revolutionary struggle against capitalist restoration and re-colonization of the former Soviet space (and China) by imperialism.
We cannot also ignore discontinuity. We cannot ignore 1914 and the bankruptcy of Social democracy, what made necessary 1919 and the founding of the Communist International, why Comintern was liquidated in 1943- or, politically even before, as it was sacrificed in the altar of the bureaucratic dogma of “socialism in a single country”. The dividing line between Bolshevism and Menshevism was and always is the attitude towards the world socialist revolution.
We cannot ignore the revolutionaries who fought from the start against these liquidationist tendencies , in the Bolshevik Left Opposition and later by founding the Fourth International, precisely for thecontinuity, the permanence of the revolution until the completion of the transformation of the world that started in October 1917 in Soviet Russia. A task still in front of us.
A revolutionary International capable to face victoriously the present challenges of History cannot be built on historical amnesia. We cannot mechanically delete the past and restart from zero. A hundred years, the most epic and tragic century in humanity’s History, has not passed in vain. Revolution has to overcome, - in the dialectical sense of Aufhebung- “to supersede, terminate, maintain and simultaneously to preserve”the past of communism and of world revolution.
We can achieve this leap forward by fighting to grasp and change History as Present, always from the standpoint of a future both necessary and open. A future where as the immortal hymn of the Internationale by Eugene Pottier says
L’Internationale sera le genre humain
- the International will be the united and free humankind.
March 29, 2019
 Leon Trotsky, The First Five Years of the Communist International, New Park Publications 1973 Vol. One p.53-54
Quoted by Daria Mitina in 100 ans de la Comintern, speech in the Centenary meeting organized by the Christian Rakovsky Balkan Socialist Center and RedMed web network, Istanbul February 10, 2019
 The First Five Years of the Communist International op. cit. p.43
 op.cit p. 53
 Karl Marx, Introduction of the Critique of Hegel’ s Philosophy of the Right and the State
 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works vol.29, 1962.
 Vi. I. Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, Collected Works Progress-Moscow 1981 vol. 38 p. 256
 See op. cit. p.108