June 22-July 12 1921
EXTRACTS FROM THE
THESES ON THE WORLD SITUATION AND THE
TASKS OF THE COMINTERN ADOPTED BY THE THIRD
4 July 1921
Thesen und Resolutionen, iii, p. 7
The revolutionary movement at the end of the imperialist war and after it was marked by an amplitude unprecedented in history. ... It did not, however, end with the overthrow of world capitalism, or even of European capitalism.
During the year which has passed between the second and third congresses of the Communist International, a series of working class risings and struggles have ended in partial defeat (the advance of the Red Army on Warsaw in August 1920, the movement of the Italian proletariat in September 1920, the rising of the German workers in March 1921).
The first period of the post-war revolutionary movement, distinguished by the spontaneous character of its assault, by the marked imprecision of its aims and methods, and by the extreme panic which it aroused among the ruling classes, seems in essentials to be over. The self-confidence of the bourgeoisie as a class, and the outward stability of their State organs, have undeniably been strengthened. The panic fear of communism has abated, even if it has not altogether disappeared. The leaders of the bourgeoisie are even boasting of the power of their State machine and have gone over to an offensive against the workers in all countries both on the economic and the political front.
Consequently the Communist International puts to itself and to the entire working class the following questions: To what extent do the new relations between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat correspond with the real relation of forces? Are the bourgeoisie really about to re-establish the social equilibrium destroyed by the war? Are there reasons for thinking that after the political upheavals and class struggles a new and prolonged epoch of the restoration and expansion of capitalism is about to open? Does it not follow from this that the programme and tactics of the Communist International should be revised? . . .
The period of demobilization, when the massacre that had been prolonged for four years had ceased, the period of transition from a state of war to a state of peace, inevitably accompanied by an economic crisis arising from the exhaustion and chaos of war, rightly appeared most dangerous in the eyes of the bourgeoisie. In fact in the two years following its end the countries which had been ravaged by war became the scene of powerful proletarian movements.
The fact that a few months after the war it was not the apparently inevitable crisis but economic recovery which set in was one of the chief reasons why the bourgeoisie retained their dominant position. This period lasted about a year and a half. Industry absorbed practically all the demobilized workers. Although as a rule wages did not catch up with food prices, they rose enough to create a mirage of economic gain. It was precisely the favourable economic circumstances of 1919- 1920 which, by ameliorating the most acute phase of liquidation of the war, encouraged the self-confidence of the bourgeoisie, and raised the question of the opening of a new epoch of organic capitalist development. At bottom, however, the recovery of 1919-1920 did not mark the beginning of the restoration of capitalist economy after the war; it only continued the artificial prosperity created by the war....
At the cost of the further organic dislocation of the economic system (increase in fictitious capital, currency depreciation, speculation instead of rehabilitation), the bourgeois governments, acting in concert with the banks and the industrial trusts, succeeded in staving off the outbreak of the economic crisis until the political crisis brought about by demobilization and the first post-war squaring of accounts had subsided. Having gained a substantial respite, the bourgeoisie imagined that the danger of a crisis had been averted for an indefinite time. They became extremely optimistic. It seemed that the needs of reconstruction would open a prolonged era of industrial and commercial prosperity and above all of successful speculation. The year 1920 shattered these hopes. . . .
Thus the crisis of 1920, and this is essential to a correct understanding of the world situation, was not an ordinary phase of the 'normal' industrial cycle, but rather a profound reaction to the fictitious prosperity of wartime and the two years after the war, a prosperity based on destruction and exhaustion. The normal sequence of boom and crisis used to occur on a rising curve of industrial development. During the last seven years, however, European production, instead of rising, has fallen steeply. ...
In these circumstances periods of prosperity can only be of short duration, and largely speculative in character; crises will be prolonged and severe.
The present crisis in Europe is a crisis of under-production. . . .
The illusory character of the boom is most evident in Germany. Over a period of a year and a half, in which prices increased sevenfold, production steadily
declined. Germany's ostensibly successful participation in post-war international trade was paid for both by squandering the country's basic capital and by a further decline in the working classes' standard of life. . . .
The German workers are becoming the coolies of Europe. . . .
Developments in the United States during the war were in certain respects the opposite of those in Europe. . . . Before the war it exported primarily agricultural products and raw materials which accounted for two-thirds of its total exports. Now, on the contrary, it exports primarily industrial products which account for sixty per cent. Before the war America was a debtor country; now it has become the creditor of the entire world. About half of the total world's gold reserve has been concentrated in the United States, and gold continues to flow steadily towards America.
The determining role of the pound sterling on the world market has passed to the dollar.
But even American capitalism has been shaken out of its equilibrium. The immense expansion of American industry was determined by a singular combination of circumstances, by the absence of European competition, and above all by the European demand for war supplies. Ruined Europe has not been able even after the war to regain its position as a competitor with America on the world market, while as a market for American goods it cannot have anything like the importance which it had formerly. ... In the United States the crisis is the beginning of a deep-seated and lasting disruption of the economy resulting from the war in Europe. That is the result of the destruction of the former world division of labour.
Japan also profited from the war to expand its place on the world market. Its development was incomparably smaller than that of the United States and in a number of industries has a purely hothouse artificial character. While its productive forces were great enough to win markets deserted by competitors, they are insufficient to retain them in the struggle with more powerful capitalist countries. Hence the severe crisis, which in fact began in Japan. . . .
Thus whether we examine production, trade, or credit, and not only in Europe but on all world markets, we find no reason to affirm that any stable equilibrium is being restored. Europe's economic decline continues, but the full extent of the destruction of the foundations of European economy will be revealed only in the years to come. The world market is disorganized. Europe needs American products but has nothing to offer in return. Europe is suffering from anaemia; America from plethora. The gold standard has gone. The depreciation of European currencies (which has in some cases reached ninety-nine per cent) presents the most serious obstacle to international trade. The unceasing and violent fluctuations in the exchanges transform capitalist production into wild speculation. The world market has no universal standard of value. The gold standard can be re-established in Europe only by increasing exports and reducing imports. But ruined Europe is incapable of making this change. America, on the other hand, is protecting itself against European dumping by raising its tariff barriers. Europe remains a lunatic asylum. Most of the countries prohibit exports and imports and multiply their protective tariffs. England is taking measures against German exports and the entire economic life of Germany is at the mercy of a gang of Allied speculators, particularly the French. The territory of Austria-Hungary has been cut by a dozen tariff barriers. . . .
The disappearance of Soviet Russia, both as a market for industrial products and as a supplier of raw materials, helped appreciably to shatter the world economic equilibrium. Russia's return to the world market cannot in the near future make any great change. . . .
The war, which destroyed productive forces to a degree unprecedented in history, did not arrest the process of social differentiation. On the contrary, the proletarianization of the large middle strata, including the new middle class (employees and civil servants, etc.) and the concentration of property in the hands of small cliques (trusts, cartels, consortiums, etc.) have made enormous progress in the last seven years in the countries which suffered most from the war. . . .
Thus in regard to material resources Europe has been set back decades, while social tensions have become more acute; far from being arrested, their growth has been greatly accelerated. This cardinal fact is by itself enough to belie any hope of prolonged and peaceful development on a democratic basis. Progressive differentiation on the one hand, and, on the other, proletarianization and pauperization caused by economic decline will give the class struggle a tense, bitter, and convulsive character. In this respect the crisis only continues the work of the war and post-war speculative boom. . . .
The fall in the purchasing power of money has hit public and private employees more severely as a rule than the proletariat. The lower and middle ranks, their security shattered, have become an element of political unrest which undermines the structure of the State they serve. The new middle class, which, according to the reformists, was the pillar of conservatism, may rather become during the epoch of transition a revolutionary factor.
Capitalist Europe has finally lost its predominant economic position. That was the foundation of its relatively stable class structure. All the efforts of the European countries (England and to some extent France) to restore that situation can only aggravate the chaos and insecurity.
While in Europe the concentration of property has been based on general impoverishment, in the United States both this concentration and the greater acuteness of class antagonisms have reached an extreme degree on the basis of a feverish expansion of wealth. The sudden changes in the economic situation because of the general uncertainties of the world market give to the class struggle in America an extremely tense and revolutionary character. A period of capitalist expansion unprecedented in history is bound to be followed by an unusual outburst of revolutionary struggle.
25. The emigration of workers and peasants has always acted as a safety valve for the capitalist regime in Europe. It rose during periods of prolonged depression and after the defeat of revolutionary movements, but now America and Australia are putting more and more checks on immigration. The safety valve is no longer working.
The vigorous development of capitalism in the East, particularly in India and China, has created new social bases there for the revolutionary struggle. The bourgeoisie of these countries tightened their bonds with foreign capital, and so became an important instrument of its rule. Their struggle against foreign imperialism, the struggle of a very weak rival, is essentially half-hearted and feeble in character. The growth of the indigenous proletariat paralyses the national revolutionary tendencies of the capitalist bourgeoisie, but at the same time the vast peasant masses are finding revolutionary leaders in the person of the conscious communist vanguard. The combination of military oppression by foreign imperialism, of capitalist exploitation by the native and the foreign bourgeoisie, and the survival of feudal servitude creates favourable conditions for the young proletariat of the colonies to develop rapidly and to take its place at the head of the revolutionary peasant movement. The popular revolutionary movement in India and in other colonies has now become as integral a part of the world revolution as the uprising of the proletariat in the capitalist countries of the Old and the New World.
The general world economic situation, and above all the decline of Europe, will give rise to a long period of grave economic difficulties, of shocks, of partial and general crises. The international relations established as a result of the war and the treaty of Versailles make the situation even more difficult. Imperialism was born of the pressure of the productive forces to abolish national frontiers and to create a single economic territory in Europe and in the world. The result of the conflict of hostile imperialisms has been to create in central and eastern Europe new frontiers, new tariffs, and new armies. In the economic and political sense Europe has relapsed into the Middle Ages. Its exhausted and devastated territory has now to support armies one and a half times as large as in 1914, that is, at the height of the 'armed peace'.
French policy on the European continent has two aspects: one, testifying to the blind rage of the usurer ready to strangle his bankrupt debtor, and the greed of rapacious heavy industry out to create with the help of the coalfields of the Saar and the Ruhr, and of Upper Silesia, the requisite conditions for industrial imperialism to replace bankrupt financial imperialism. The second tendency is directed against England. England's policy is to keep German coal apart from French ore, but the union of these two is one of the most important prerequisites of European reconstruction.
The British Empire seems to be at the height of its power. It has maintained its former possessions and gained new ones. But it is precisely now that the contradiction between England's predominant position in the world and its real economic decline becomes apparent. Germany, where capitalism is incomparably more advanced in technology and organization, has been laid low by armed force, but a triumphant rival more dangerous than Germany has arisen—the United States, in the economic field the master of both Americas. Because of its better organization and technology the productivity of labour in American industry is substantially greater than in England. ... In the industrial field Great Britain has gone over to the defensive, and on the pretext of fighting cut-price German competition is shielding itself with protectionist measures against the United States. While England's navy, which has a great many obsolete units, has been arrested in its development, Harding's Government has taken up Wilson's programme of naval construction which in two or three years will give naval mastery to the American flag. England therefore will either be automatically pushed into the background and, despite its victory over Germany, become a second-class power, or it will in the near future be forced to engage all the forces it has acquired in the past in a life-anddeath struggle with the United States. It is with this in mind that England is maintaining its alliance with Japan, and trying by a policy of concessions to gain French support or at least French neutrality. France's growing importance in Europe in the past year is due, not to a strengthening of France, but to a weakening of England. Germany's capitulation last May on the question of war indemnities represented however a temporary victory for England and entails further economic decline for central Europe, without excluding the possibility that in the near future France will occupy the Ruhr and Upper Silesia.
The hostility between Japan and the United States, temporarily disguised by their joint participation in the war against Germany, is now in full swing. Japan has drawn nearer to the American coast by getting strategically important islands in the Pacific. The Japanese industrial crisis has made the question of emigration more acute. Japan, a country with a dense population and poor in natural resources, must export either goods or men, and in either case it comes into collision with the United States. . . .
Japan is spending more than half its budget on the army and navy. In the struggle between England and America, Japan will have to play at sea the part played on land by France in the war against Germany. Japan is profiting momentarily from the antagonism between England and America, but the decisive struggle between these two giants for the domination of the world will be fought out at its cost.
The last great war was European in origin and the chief belligerents were European. The axis of the struggle was the antagonism between England and Germany. American intervention merely widened the frame of the struggle but did not change its basic character; the European conflict was resolved on a world scale.
The war which in a fashion resolved the differences between England and Germany and between the United States and Germany, not only failed to settle the relations between the United States and England, but, on the contrary, brought them for the first time into the very foreground as the fundamental question of world politics. It made the question of the relations between the United States and Japan secondary.
The last war was thus the European prelude to the real world war, the war to decide which imperialism shall predominate.
But that is only one axis of world politics. There is a second. The Russian Soviet Federation and the Third International were born of the last war. The group formed by the international revolutionary forces is hostile in principle to all imperialist groups. The maintenance of the alliance between England and France or its disruption is, from the standpoint of the interests of the proletariat and the securing of peace, in the same category as the renewal or denunciation of the Anglo-Japanese alliance, the entry of the United States into the League of Nations or its refusal to enter; the proletariat can see no security in the ephemeral, fraudulent, rapacious, and perfidious alliances of capitalist States whose policy, revolving more and more around the Anglo-American antagonism, makes it more acute and prepares a new bloody conflagration.
The conclusion by some capitalist countries of treaties of peace and commercial agreements with Soviet Russia does not mean that the world bourgeoisie have abandoned the idea of destroying the Soviet Republic. It is probably no more than a temporary change in the forms and methods of struggle. . . .
It is absolutely clear that the more slowly the world proletarian revolutionary movement develops, the more inescapably will international economic and political antagonisms drive the bourgeoisie into seeking a new decision by force of arms.
That would mean that the attempt to restore capitalist equilibrium after the new war would be made amidst economic impoverishment and cultural desolation in comparison with which the present European situation would seem the height of well-being. . . .
In the last analysis the question of restoring capitalism on the foundations outlined above can be summarized in this way: Is the working class ready, in the incomparably more difficult conditions of today, to make the sacrifices required to restore stable conditions for its own slavery, more harsh and more cruel than those which prevailed before the war? To restore European economy and to replace the productive apparatus destroyed during the war, an immense amount of new capital is necessary. That can only be created if the proletariat is ready to work harder at much lower wages. This is what the capitalists are asking and this is what the treacherous leaders of the yellow International are recommending—first help to rebuild capitalism, and only then fight for an improvement in the workers' lot. But the European proletariat is not ready to sacrifice itself. It demands an improvement in its lot, which is at present absolutely incompatible with the objective possibilities of capitalism. Hence the endless strikes and uprisings and the impossibility of restoring European economy. For many European countries—Germany, France, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Poland, the Balkans—currency stabilization requires, first of all, getting rid of debts which it is beyond their capacity to pay, that is, declaring themselves bankrupt. But this means giving a powerful impulse to the class struggle for the division of the national income. Currency stabilization means further reducing State expenditure at the cost of the masses (abandoning the minimum wage and price control); it means preventing the import of cheap goods from abroad, and increasing exports by reducing the cost of production, that is, again, primarily by intensifying the exploitation of the working masses. Any serious step to restore capitalist equilibrium shakes the equilibrium of classes, already disrupted, and gives a new impetus to revolutionary struggle. The question whether capitalism can be regenerated thus becomes a question of struggle between living forces, between classes and parties.
If, of the two primary classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, one, the proletariat, abandons the revolutionary struggle, the other will in the end undoubtedly achieve a new capitalist equilibrium, an equilibrium of material and moral decay by means of new crises, new wars, the impoverishment of whole countries and the death of millions of workers. But the frame of mind of the international proletariat provides absolutely no ground for such a prognosis.
The elements of stability, conservative in their social import, have lost much of their authority over the minds of the working masses. If social-democracy and the trade unions still preserve some influence over a considerable part of the proletariat, thanks to the organizational machine they inherited, that influence has already been deeply undermined. The war changed not only the state of mind but the very composition of the proletariat, and these changes are wholly incompatible with prewar organizational gradualism. . . .
36. . . .
The crisis fell on the proletariat of the entire world with a terrifying force. Wages fell more than prices. The number of unemployed and semi-employed is greater than it has ever been in the history of capitalism. The frequent changes in living conditions exercise a very unfavourable influence on the productivity of labour and make it impossible to establish class equilibrium on a firm basis, that is, on the basis of production. Uncertainty in the conditions of life, reflecting the general economic instability, national and universal, is the most revolutionary factor at work at the present time.
The war did not end directly with a proletarian revolution. With some justification, the bourgeoisie regard this as a major victory. But only petty-bourgeois blockheads can interpret the fact that the European proletariat did not overthrow the bourgeoisie during the war or immediately after it as the failure of the Communist International's programme. The line of the Communist International is not set for the appearance of the proletarian revolution on a certain date fixed dogmatically beforehand, or by a mechanical policy of carrying through the revolution within a given time. The revolution was and is a struggle of living forces in given historical conditions. The destruction by war of capitalist equilibrium throughout the world creates favourable fighting conditions for the forces of social revolution. All the efforts of the Communist International were and are designed to exploit this situation to the full.
The differences between the Communist International and the social-democrats of both groups do not consist in our having fixed a date for the revolution, while they reject utopianism and putschism. The difference is that the social-democrats obstruct real revolutionary development by doing all they can, whether in the government or in opposition, to help re-establish the stability of the bourgeois State, while the communists take advantage of every opportunity and of every means to overthrow or to destroy the bourgeois State.
In the two and a half years which have passed since the end of the war, the proletariat of many countries has shown more energy, militancy, and devotion, than would have been required for a victorious revolution if at the head of the working class there had been a strong international communist party centralized and ready for action. But for a number of historical reasons it was the Second International which stood at the head of the proletariat during and immediately after the war, and that organization was and still is an invaluable political instrument in the hands of the bourgeoisie. . . .
It cannot be denied that the open revolutionary struggle of the proletariat for power is at the present moment slackening and slowing down in many countries. But after all it could not be expected that the post-war revolutionary offensive, once it failed to win an immediate victory, would follow an unbroken upward curve of development. Political movements also have their cycles, their ups and downs. The enemy does not remain passive; he fights. If the proletarian attack is not crowned with success, the bourgeoisie pass at the first chance to the counter-attack. The loss of some positions, won without difficulty, is followed by a temporary depression among the proletariat. But it is equally undeniable that the curve of capitalist development is downwards, with a few passing upward movements, while the curve of revolution is rising although it shows a few falls.
Capitalism can be restored only by infinitely greater exploitation, by the loss of millions of lives, by the reduction of the standard of living of other millions below the minimum, by perpetual uncertainty, and this makes for constant strikes and revolts. It is under this pressure and in these struggles that the mass will to overthrow capitalist society grows.
The chief task of the communist party in the present crisis is to direct the defensive struggles of the proletariat, to broaden and deepen them, to link them together and, in harmony with the march of events, to transform them into decisive political struggles for the final goal. But if events develop more slowly and a period of recovery follows in a greater or lesser number of countries the present economic crisis, that would not in any way mean the beginning of an 'organic' epoch. So long as capitalism exists, recurrent fluctuations are inevitable. They will characterize capitalism in its death agony as they did in its youth and its maturity. . .
Whether the revolutionary movement in the forthcoming period advances more rapidly or slows down, in either case the communist party must remain the party of action. It stands at the head of the fighting masses, formulating clearly and vigorously the watchwords of the battle, exposing the evasive slogans of socialdemocracy, designed for compromise. Throughout the changing course of the struggle, the communist party strives to consolidate its organizational footholds, to train the masses in active manoeuvring, to arm them with new methods aimed at open conflict with the forces of the enemy. Utilizing every respite to assimilate the lessons of the preceding phase, the communist party strives to deepen and extend class conflicts, to co-ordinate them nationally and internationally by unity of aim and action, and in this way, as spearhead of the proletariat, to sweep aside every obstacle on the road to its dictatorship and to the social revolution.