Gregory Zinoviev 1921
Third Congress of the Communist International

Summary to Discussion of Executive Committee Report
June 29, 1921

Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (, pp. 395-399
Translation: John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Bluden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission

Because of illness, I will speak only quite briefly and limit myself to a few remarks. That will be all the easier for me given that – despite a very extensive discussion – in my opinion there was far too little criticism of the Executive itself. You should criticise us more than you did. And since you refrained from that, it will be easier for me to be brief.

On the Italian question, after the speeches of Comrades Gennari, Rákosi, Lenin, Trotsky, Rakovsky, and others, I have nothing to add. I am fully in accord with them. I am pleased to note that Comrade Zetkin also, at least on this question, spoke in approval of the Executive’s conduct. In this regard I’d like to draw Comrade Zetkin’s attention to the following quotation. In the journal Sowjet, issue 3 of 1 June, published by Paul Levi with the aid of a number of comrades, we find the following on Italy on page 84:

Well, the election results indicate a defeat of the Communist Party of Italy and an overwhelming victory of the Socialist Party of Italy: 121 seats for the Socialist Party; 16 for the Communists. Such a defeat can only be termed catastrophic. But it is a defeat not only for the Communist Party of Italy but also for the Executive, the Communist International, and the VKPD.

As you see, there are entirely too many defeats in this little quotation, but nonetheless –

Interjection: The article is by Kurt Geyer!

Zinoviev: Yes, by Kurt Geyer, who regards himself as part of the Communist International, who resigned from the Zentrale together with Comrade Zetkin and the other comrades, and who is still in solidarity with this group. I hope that Comrade Zetkin will succeed in convincing Kurt Geyer that he is mistaken. When a new Communist Party receives four hundred thousand votes and sixteen seats, surrounded as it is by enemies, that is in no sense a defeat. And it is no more a defeat for the Communist International than when, after the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, Scheidemann receives millions of votes. Clearly, such judgements represent a stab in the back of the Communist Party of Italy. It is also clear that after this congress, this kind of thing will definitely not be tolerated. Of course I cannot speak for how the new Executive will address this question. But in my opinion, after this congress takes a decision on the Italian question, which I hope will be unanimous, no member of the Communist International will be permitted to publish articles like that. (Applause)

Comrades, I believe that on the Italian question, more than on any other, the Executive enjoys the unanimous support of the Third Congress. We are very pleased to note this. As has been said, the Italian question was the most important political issue this year. It turned out that Comrade Zetkin was wrong in her evaluation of this question, and the Executive was right.

I must stress this all the more given that in her speech Comrade Zetkin insisted that she was right when she left the Zentrale because of the Italian question. As you will recall, she said that the Executive’s representative, Comrade Rákosi, made this or that statement about Livorno. He is supposed to have said that Livorno was an example for other parties. Comrade Zetkin could not stand for that and had to draw attention to the danger, and she did so by resigning from the VKPD Zentrale.

In my opinion, this position is untenable. First of all, there are ways to draw attention to the danger without having to resign from the Zentrale. Comrade Zetkin did not send a single letter to the Executive, although she was a member of it. I believe she was in Moscow much later than Rákosi and took part in all the Executive discussions, and still we never encountered great, principled differences. It was at her insistence that I went to Halle. When I returned from Halle, if I am not mistaken Comrade Zetkin was still here. So she knew very well that the Executive is not at all for sects but for mass parties.

If Comrade Rákosi really said what has been attributed to him, Comrade Zetkin is still wrong, because when she and an entire group left the Zentrale, this threw the party into a severe crisis. And that is why we say that the Executive was right to disapprove of this step, especially as it turned out that we acted quite correctly on the Italian question. I do not know what Rákosi may have said, but I would like to remind you of a sentence spoken yesterday by Lenin: fifty-eight thousand Communist workers in a country like Italy is not at all too few and is a very good start toward a mass party. Of course you could seize on this sentence as well and say that Lenin, too, is a man who wants a sect. Comrade Zetkin is quite wrong in this regard, and I hope that she now recognises this herself.

As for the KAPD, I would like to add this: The KAPD comrades say that it no easy matter for them to decide whether to leave the Communist International. We believe that, and the decision in this matter is not easy for us either. However, we must demand that the KAPD, just like every other party, submit to international discipline. That is the only issue here. The comrades tell us we must tolerate opposition, but they conduct themselves as if they are unwilling to tolerate any opposition from the International. They want to impose their position on the Communist International. That is the only possible meaning of the statement that their programme must remain ‘inviolable’. That is to say, ‘Do whatever you want, decide whatever you want; we could care less about your decisions’. Over time, such a situation is untenable. We have shown rather a lot of patience in this matter. We want the comrades to stay in the congress and, moreover, we want to grant the party at least two to three months’ time so that all the workers in the KAPD can come to a decision. But we consider it to be our absolute duty to pose this choice to the KAPD workers in the name of the International.

I also owe Comrade Marković a few remarks, since he polemicised rather vigorously against my report. He said I was wrong if I had reservations about centrist remnants in the Yugoslav sister party, and he referred to this party’s past. We are familiar with the glorious past of this party and of many of its leaders, most of whom have fallen, unfortunately. We never doubted that for a moment. I must explain what induced me to make those statements. When the delegation of the Yugoslav sister party arrived here, I had a discussion with them. About fifteen comrades were present. After this discussion, it was clear to us that Comrade Marković, who is, I believe, chair of the delegation, did not share our point of view on either the Italian or the German question, but rather opposed it. Mind you, Comrade Marković said in his speech to the congress that he now considers the March Action to have been a step forward. However, in our first discussion he took Levi’s position. I am very glad that on this issue Marković, too, has ‘taken a step forward’.

My previously mentioned statement, which perhaps seemed incomprehensible to some comrades, was based precisely on the fact that Comrade Marković had quite serious reservations regarding the Executive’s conduct on these two important issues – Italy and Germany – and made no secret of it. Of course he has every right to express a different point of view, but it was also my right to say that I feared that on these so decisive questions the party still lacked clarity on principles. If this is not the case, I can only congratulate the Yugoslav sister party. I have always considered it to be one of the best proletarian parties, and I hope that it will continue in the future to struggle in the front ranks of the international proletariat.

I cannot avoid saying a few words about an issue on which Comrade Zetkin maintained silence in her speech, namely that of our representatives abroad. In her opinion, we did not always make a good choice of representatives, or rather, we always chose them badly. In this regard, she coined the phrase, ‘irresponsible’ representatives. Comrades, given the present situation, in which our friends, whom we send on missions to various parties, are being abused and denounced – by Levi as ‘Turkestaners’, by Serrati as ‘éminences grises’, and Turati also comes up with various compliments – I believe it is my duty to make a statement on behalf of the Executive. Obviously, we do not have at our disposal any infallible representatives, and we ourselves are poor sinners and are not completely infallible. All of us, including our representatives, have made various blunders and errors. But there is no basis for speaking of irresponsible representatives. Here I must express myself in parliamentary fashion: I am saying that this kind of statement should not be made. The comrades whom we sent out to various countries did all that they could for the party. They ran various risks, and obviously they acted according to their conscience as revolutionaries. We never received a single official protest, either from a party, or a group, or an individual – not even from Comrade Zetkin. After we have suffered a defeat, it is easy to come forward and say, ‘You acted irresponsibly’. It is easy to posture after the event as the wisest of men. Obviously, the Executive takes responsibility for the representatives that it sends abroad. The Executive is responsible, just as the International is responsible for the Executive. We ask all the parties to be so good as to allocate better forces to the future Executive than are presently available. This may improve the quality of its envoys in countries abroad, and also of its administration and political leadership. But we must protest that the hurling of abuse of this kind in the present period, as Levi did, is truly irresponsible. In such a situation, such language should not be used against veteran, tested revolutionaries, who may make errors as we all do, but who have repeatedly demonstrated that they would put their hand in the fire for the proletariat.

Comrades, I have come to the end of my remarks. Because of the incident with the French comrades, I must once again state explicitly that the March Action will be taken up thoroughly in the discussion on questions of tactics and strategy. The German questions on which you are now asked to express your confidence in us concern three important factors. The first is, Halle – the split of the USPD and the unification of the Communist Party. The second is the expulsion of Levi. The third is the March Action and the political turmoil. This third factor will be taken up mainly under tactics and strategy. The issues posed now for a vote relate to the second point, the split and the consolidation of the party; Levi’s departure and our expulsion of him; and the reprimand of the Zetkin group.

I believe we have shown that we have done everything possible in the given situation to avoid aggravating the conflicts. In our opinion, the comrades of the German opposition should not stamp about so much in the past but should think more of the future. We of the Executive have done everything possible to give these comrades, who do not have decisive vote at the congress, the opportunity to present their point of view here, which they have done and will continue to do. But we strongly urge the comrades to grasp something that the KAPD comrades must also understand. They must realise that Levi was perhaps their friend, but the Communist International and the proletarian revolution must be for them a greater friend. That is why we are convinced, comrades, that the German party will return home strengthened from this congress. It will shake off those who, like Levi, broke discipline and stabbed the party in the back. We will all learn from the mistakes made in struggle in Germany, where perhaps the fate of world revolution will now be determined. We hope to have a unified revolutionary party in Germany, marching in step with the Communist International, and recognising the binding character of everything decided here. (Loud applause)