Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 265–269.
Translation: Translation team organized by John Riddell.
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Bluden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018.
Copyright: © John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission
Comrades, as a member of the Executive, I listened to the debate on the report with growing amazement and no little relief. After all I had heard about harmful actions by the Executive, I was expecting that one comrade after another from Western Europe, Central Europe, and other countries linked with Western Europe – even if they are in the east (Laughter) – would take the floor, enumerate the Executive’s sins, parade all its errors here before the congress, and declare that they wanted to have nothing further to do with this monstrosity, this den of wolves. (Laughter) Instead of that, comrades, the debate has temporarily been bobbing around the naughty boys of the KAPD, who say we are bad while warding off our blows. Two comrades of the VKPD opposition spoke here. They came here by special request of the VKPD opposition in order to call the Executive Committee to account for its misdeeds, namely, for instigating putsches in Western Europe and, secondly, for imposing an outrageous dictatorship – nothing other than a Cheka-style special commission, to use the words of our former comrade Levi.1
I have heard nothing about any of these accusations. Comrade Neumann has the mistaken impression that those he represents sent him to Moscow to discuss the KAPD. Comrade Malzahn tell us that he was right to say, after the ‘Bakuninist’ putsch: ‘You were wrong.’ In this situation we must tell you of a Russian proverb, which states, ‘You can’t get away from this business so easily’. Since you do not criticise, we will ask questions. Comrades Neumann and Malzahn joined Levi in claiming that it was a Bakuninist putsch. We ask them today, was it really a Bakuninist putsch or was it a class struggle – if not of half a million, then still of two hundred thousand workers? That was the figure mentioned to us today.
The German delegation may wish to dispute this figure with them. I am simply asking, was this a Bakuninist putsch or not? And if it was not, what were they doing when they lent their names to protect Levi as he excommunicated the German party and trampled on the Executive’s reputation before the workers of Western Europe, when he presented the Executive as a handful of unscrupulous adventurers? It is not the Executive that is at stake here. The charges by Levi, a man who never fought in the trenches for the proletarian revolution, do not harm the Executive Committee. But you are proletarians, comrades. You want to remain members of the Communist Party. So I must tell you that you cannot take the easy way out. For months you stood with Levi, through thick and thin, in this kind of struggle against the International and your own party, and then you come here in order to say in friendly tones that the Executive made an error on the KAPD question and there were only two hundred thousand workers. That just won’t do. That won’t do, Comrade Malzahn. (Loud applause)
Malzahn: I could not cover every question in only ten minutes.
Radek: Comrade Malzahn, your responsibility was above all to say that you had committed a political error in declaring your agreement with Levi. That was your first responsibility.(Applause) Comrade Malzahn tells us that even Zinoviev said the theory of the offensive was stupid. That is what the Executive said to the bleeding German workers, who were defeated not during an offensive but as they were defending themselves against an ambush by Hörsing. It was our duty then to say that the theory of the offensive is wrong. But dear Comrade Malzahn, here is the resolution that Comrade Clara Zetkin presented in the Central Committee plenum on 7 April, a month after the struggles. What did she say about the offensive? Here is what she said:
Both the economic conditions as well as domestic and international political relations called for the VKPD to undertake intensified activity as well as for its offensive and action. The possibilities for such an initiative were also there.2
So, comrades, there it is. You had a chance to address this, Comrade Malzahn. If it was a sin, an error, to advocate an offensive – which I never did for a single day – well, I just established the fact that Comrade Zetkin sinned in the same way. You reproach us, who did not carry out an offensive, for not having reprimanded the German Zentrale. Our reply is that we must reprimand other comrades as well. Today neither the comrades who resigned from the Zentrale nor Comrade Zetkin believe that the policy of the offensive can be definitive. Well, that is no cause for joy. Comrade Malzahn, who spoke here on behalf of this current, has no cause to peck away at Comrades Thalheimer and Frölich for being the devils of the theory of the offensive. This theory was adopted by you all.
We will address these things specifically in the debate on tactics and strategy. But we must get this straight. We must hear what you say about the call in the Executive report for Levi’s expulsion. Where do you stand on that? For Levi was quite right in his speech to the Central Committee when he said:
Comrade Pieck told us that the facts of the March Action will not be taken up because it is solely and purely a question of ‘breach of discipline’. And I tell you that what is at stake here is solely the question of whether the March Action was correct. If it was, then I deserve to be thrown out. If, however, as I and many of my friends believe, the March Action was an error, then the others should be thrown out.3
We hear nothing from your side now about the Bakuninist putsch. Please, dear comrades, that just won’t do. You must speak plainly here. A decision must be taken here on the Executive report, which approves Levi’s expulsion. Yes or no?
Comrades, in dealing with this report, there are many questions to be discussed. Many comrades will be speaking, and I must ask them to please be specific on their view of the Italian question. Delegates of the Socialist Party of Italy are with us here. It is very important that they hear from us what we think about this question. It is here, on the Italian question, that a decision must be made on the entirety of the politics we pursued during the previous year.
In his speech, Zinoviev demonstrated that our course is toward the masses, but that does not mean that we want mass parties at all costs. Scheidemann’s party is a mass party, as is the Labour Party in Britain. We want revolutionary mass parties. And the comrades who say the Executive showed in Livorno that it has taken a sectarian path – and five comrades left the German party’s Zentrale under this slogan – these comrades now have a duty. Given all the documentation presented here regarding Serrati’s party, its course of action, and its development from Moscow to Amsterdam, they must say here what is the sectarian policy that we followed toward the Italian party. Choose: it’s either us or Turati. Did we not act in Livorno in accord with the decisions of the Second Congress, which pointed the way to mass revolutionary parties? If we acted wrongly in Livorno, then was that not also true in Halle? (Loud applause) Then didn’t we have the duty in Halle to accept Hilferding and Dittmann, who led much broader masses than Serrati and his group?
Comrades, we face a wide range of issues that have not yet been even touched, such as the policies of the French Communist Party, the situation in the Balkans, and the parties there. The Executive and the Presidium separated the discussion on its report from that on strategy and tactics deliberately, in order not to create the impression that we in some way feared to take responsibility and sought to evade criticism. What the Executive did was the minimum of what we wanted to do. We had very poor communications with the individual parties, but still, the discussion here of what the Executive did should not be general but rather specific, point by point. Give us or do not give us your approval, for the Executive intends to follow the same path in the future as in the past. And that means a struggle against all centrist and half-centrist tendencies in the International, disciplining the Communist parties into united parties of struggle, and, simultaneously, a struggle against every attempt to launch the mass Communist parties into premature actions that would diminish their mass character. (Loud applause) The congress must take a stand on all these questions.
Finally, a few words on the KAPD, which has taken up a disproportionate amount of time in our discussion. We were witness here to quite an amusing spectacle. Comrade Roland-Holst, featured by the KAPD in an issue of Der Proletarier on the ‘Dutch school’, rejects that title, while pleading on behalf of the school’s founders, Pannekoek and Gorter. We have a small country with no great revolution, she says, and it is therefore no surprise that the comrades sometimes write things that have a curious ring. Comrades, we could cite other reasons. One of them is an astronomer, gazing only at the stars, and never at a living worker, while the other is a philosopher and, what is more, a poet. (Laughter) When Comrade Ceton took the floor to make a statement on behalf of the Dutch party against the Dutch school, my heart was with him. And when we see the KAPD comrades take the floor here with a sectarian fury that speaks only to the issues of their sect, we realise how great is the damage caused in comrades’ minds by such a Dutch production. The fact that we have to polemicise here against a large number of speakers indicates that a tendency finds expression in this Dutch school that will crop up wherever there are beginnings of a Communist movement.
We must fight out a battle here, in this congress, in this room, over whether the Communist International was right to follow the course pursued during the last year. Is it right to say now, after a waiting period: no more fooling around; you have to choose now between the Dutch school and the Communist International. Comrades, your decision on the Executive report is also a decision on all the other points. If the decision is made here as it must be made, then under the other points we will simply apply the finishing touches. All our past work took place in this framework, on the path indicated here, namely: To the masses and with them into the revolutionary struggle. (Loud applause and cheers)
1 The Cheka (Special Commission) was the security force and revolutionary tribunal established in 1918 to defend the Soviet republic. In his ‘Our Path Against Putschism’, Levi wrote: ‘The ECCI works more or less like a Cheka projected beyond the Russian frontiers – an impossible state of affairs.’ See Fernbach (ed.), In the Steps of Rosa Luxemburg: Selected Writings of Paul Levi (Historical Materialism Book Series, 2011), p. 164.
2. Zetkin’s resolution was published in Die Rote Fahne, 10 April 1921.
3. A reference to Levi’s speech to the Central Committee on 4 May 1921, appealing his expulsion. It was published subsequently as a pamphlet under the title, Was ist das Verbrechen? Die Märzaktion oder die Kritik daran? (Berlin 1921). For the English text, see ‘What Is the Crime? The March Action or Criticising It?’ in Fernbach (ed.), In the Steps of Rosa Luxemburg, pp. 166–205.
Updated on February 14, 2019