G. Zinoviev

Comrade Zinoviev’s Speech on the United Front

(9 June 1922)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 46, 9 June 1922, pp. 362–364.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, December 2019.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Comrades, I think that we can now not only draw the conclusions from what has already taken place, but we must also think of the future. But to decide the right path for the future, we must first examine the period just concluded, that is to say, review the first act of the fight for the united front. We must ask the question: Have we gained by it, and if so, in reality, what?

I think I can say, without exaggeration, that during the first act, the Communist International has gained most important results, and the greatest gain among them is that we Communists can no longer be held before the masses as so-called “splitters”. That is a fact. Of course, our adversaries will continue to declare that we are “splitters”, but to the average worker, after a half year’s fight for the united front, we are no longer the “splitters". And that is already a great step forward. We were indeed splitters at the beginning of the work of the Communist International. We could not have done otherwise We were obliged to split the old Socialist Parties, to save the best revolutionary elements of the working class and to form a rallying point tor the new Communist Party in every country. For a time, we had to come out as splitters, but no one of us regrets it. Those comrades, in France for example, who now regret the split, show that they are only half-Communists. The split was an historical necessity, it was a great step forward. But now, after the passing of two to three years, when we have firmly established our Parties everywhere, we must to the masses and work in such a manner that the simplest worker will understand us. The split for us was no end, but a means to win over the masses, and in my opinion is already half achieved. The masses begin to show a new attitude. They are now forced to see that the split was no selfish aim on our part, and that we are those who call and work for the unity of the revolutionary masses on one platform.

This we have gained; it is a victory the fruits of which one does not see immediately, for instance, in the shape of votes. Also during the the Conference we have gained a moral victory: such, for instance, was Radek’s speech, we can indulge in these rejoicings without any boasting.

That does not mean however that everything is gone smoothly with us. Not in the least. We must see the lessons quite clearly. The tactic of the united front was and is correct; we must recognize that. But when we now consider the results of the first act, the tempo of our struggle for the united front was a little too swift. That did not depend upon us alone, indeed, but on the march of history, however it is necessary we today admit it. The Genoa Conference was no Russian but an international affair, only a narrow minded fool cannot understand that. And we were obliged to exert ourselves to the utmost, to exercise pressure on the bourgeoisie gathered in Genoa.

The Commission of Nine is in fragments. Was it all in vain? Many comrades will see in it a disappointment, but that will only be the case with those comrades who do not understand the tactic of the united front dialectically. Also those comrades who wish to see in the united front an organic liaison and who continually wish to save the Communist International, must admit that. What is the united front? It is the fight for the winning of the masses over to Communism. So comrades, especially those of whom we say in Russia that they see two miles under the earth (there are such comrades a the French Party) say that the united front is opportunism. That, as we see however, is not the case.

The form will change; what we have had until now is but an episode. We have had a Commission of Nine, perhaps we shall be obliged to make attempts in yet another form, but the tactic of the united front, as a fight to win over the masses not yet adhering to Communism will continue and will take on special forms in each country.

One should also not undervalue the meaning of the Russian declaration before the Commission of Nine. This, in my opinion, is not fully realized in our agitation. The Russian Party, after mature consideration of the matter and conference with its brother parties made the following important statement: We are ready to form a united front, even if the Second and the 2½ Internationals withdraw their promises to support the Russian Soviet Government. Please don’t save Soviet Russia, she will save herself. The truly revolutionary proletarians will none the less help the first proletarian State.

Thus, after all these Russian watchwords are rejected, there remains, in the opinion of the Russian Party, room enough for a common fight. Through this declaration we say: the Russian questions are evidently important ones, in a certain manner ideal ones, but we are in such a phase of the struggle of the world proletariat that we should unite in the struggle for the eight-hour day, aid for the unemployed, and in the fight against the offensive of Capital. We should now make use of this declaration in the agitation throughout the world.

In Berlin, the Second and the 2½ Internationals have recognized the fight for the eight-hour day. Was that not our moral victory? Can they really consistently unite the reformist standpoint with the eight-hour day? In no case. A reformist fight for the eight-hour day is, in the given conditions, impossible. It is impossible to defend in a reformist manner even the very modest program accepted by the Berlin Conference under the given historical conditions. It is impossible to reconcile it with a consistent reformism; absolutely impossible. And an honorable reformist must say to himself that these economic demands have a political effect.

But this slogan was really a poor-spirited manoeuvre, a dishonorable move on the part of the reformists. The recognition of these demands was really forced upon them by the masses and, under given conditions, can become revolutionary demands.

Now, Comrades, what does the future hold? Will we again fight for the united front and what will become of international Menshevism? There is the possibility that international Menshevism may probably wheel to the left. I am firmly convinced that the Second and the 2½ Internationals will be forced a dozen times by the march of history and the pressure of the masses to talk Bolshevik or half-Bolshevik, just as was the case at a certain time with the Russian Mensheviks. Plekhanov once said they are half-Leninist. The united front is the outcome of the existing relation of forces of the bourgeoisie and the working class. The Commission of Nine is indeed disrupted, but Capitalism remains strong. The bourgeoisie has thoroughly organized itself and the working class must also prepare itself. The fundamental phenomena are there; whether the Commission of Nine exists or not. And on the ground of these phenomena the fight for the united front must and will proceed; and on the ground of these phenomena we will experience the swing of the Second and the 2½ Internationals to the left. The whole objective situation is such that both these Internationals are compelled by the pressure of circumstances to make these movements, but that will not prevent them at certain moments from openly acting reactionarily as the only real saviors of the bourgeoisie. That we must clearly realize. Comrade Smeral said to me that between the immediate demands, on which the action of the Party during the present period depends, and our goal there exists the necessity of a link, and I fully agree with him. The immediate demands are the initial step to the masses and to the united front. They who do not understand that will never be good enough to lead a great mass-party. But our view of the struggle remains the same. On the one hand we have the small immediate demands, on the other the dictatorship. Is there nothing between the two? Between the gray prose of the partial demands and the poetry of the dictatorship of the proletariat? Is there no connection? This question crops up everywhere and we believe we are able to say to our comrades there must be such a connection. The masses now begin to fight for little things. They are not yet Communist, not yet revolutionary enough to fight for the dictatorship or to make a revolution. But they want a wider perspective; they want to see a goal that at the present time is more or less attainable and I believe that we have already slogans that can fill this role. The slogan of the Workers’ Government is such a one that serves quite well as a connexion between these two phases. The gray everyday demands and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Our comrades, including our French comrades must at last understand that. Take the situation in such countries as Italy and Czechoslovakia – we will later speak in greater detail about them – and we clearly see that such a situation exists there. We must fight for the eight-hour day against the offensive of Capital; we must fight for the small everyday demands. The might of the workers there is proportionally so great, that we may and must venture to put forward such claims as that of a Workers’ Government

The united front is not what is taking place in Saxony. That is one form of the united front although it is not identical with it. It is an exceptional situation. But our French friends will not understand that. They see in Saxony and Thuringia a sort of ministerialism. The Third Congress has sanctioned it. It is the slogan of the Workers’ Government, standing as a link between our program of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the small everyday demands, for which we must now mobilize the masses.

Certainly this tactic is not necessary everywhere. But we have in Saxony such an exceptional case. However we should not attempt to cloud the tactic of the united front because of the concrete shape it assumes. I think that at this stage we must take as our most important lesson what has already been said:

“Not only the intense fights for the small everyday demands, not merely propaganda for the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship, but also in between greater demands, as for instance the slogan of the Workers’ Government, and the slogan of the control of production in those countries where the working class is proportionately strong enough.”

I must also deal with the defects, which this phase revealed to us. Friedrich Adler said a month ago, when we demanded the convocation of the Commission of Nine: It is no sabotage but a defect in the readiness for action of the Second International. I think, comrades, we ourselves must look for such faults in our own organization, and this is especially advisable at the present time. We have not understood how to arouse the masses; we have not understood how really to mobilize all our Parties, we have not understood, in the factories, and workshops, how to make our fight a mass fight, and even more we have had to witness the tragic play of the Communist International appearing as not a perfectly united body. To my knowledge, this is the first time this has occurred in the history of the Communist International. We have indeed had cases, where different persons have attempted to ruin and discredit the Communist International; but this was the first time that – after a decision had been made by the International – entire Parties did not do what their Communist duty demanded of them. That is an important lesson. The Communist International is a disciplined, centralized organization. That was formerly our pride, our pride, our boast, our honor, that we were not as the Second and the 2½ Internationals. We had not at this time any direct revolutionary struggle. It was no question of an uprising; smaller matters were at stake, and nevertheless a great lack of unity was shown. If we once make a decision and show such a lack of discipline, then the Communist International is lost. We must admit that. This is no light matter, no jest, nor a more or less witty expression. The French and Italian comrades must realize that if the Communist International makes a decision, neither one nor another section are able to sabotage it. They must see that through this the Communist International will become a mere propaganda society and not a fighting organization.

That we must realize once and for all, and it is a most important lesson. The tactics of the united front we already said in our first Thesis not only enable us to win over new masses, to find out our strength as against the Second and the 2½ Internationals, but also to look info the depths of our own party. Therefore I believe it to be most important to speak out plainly what took place upon this occasion. We have looked thoroughly into our sections and we are an international fighting organization. We must state frankly that in this circumstance we have had a rather sad experience, Comrades, you remember, our February Session, when the great majority, – only three parties voted against it, although they approved it in general – approved the tactics of the united front, and what has resulted from it After the February decision, we were no longer in discussion but in action, indeed not in armed action, but nevertheless in a very important political and international action, which the workers were following attentively, and which our enemies were all watching closely. – What has this shown? That individual parties have fallen away, have not participated in this action, but have thwarted it and with every step delivered arguments to our enemies. In the Berlin Vorwärts, in the German Social Democracy, in the English Labor Party, everywhere it was, “Yes, but your French party, doesn’t it do the same?” What answer can we give? And among ourselves, it is the truth, that the French party has thwarted our action, even if from another standpoint. Imagine, if such a tradition should grow in the Comintern, that it makes decisions and in reality does something quite different. What then is the difference between the Comintern and the Second and the 2½ Internationals. It will not always be a question of the united front, it will also one day be a question of more important decisions, upon which heads will be at stake. We must therefore show our parties, which in the main are still young parties, that when we make international decisions, these have a meaning. We cannot allow another tradition to develop. We cannot overlook this lesson: The stage of development of our parties when at work in action is of very great importance.

In Norway the Party is also in such a position that it embraces the majority of the workers, not indeed a majority of the working class but a majority of the organized workers and this feeling has given birth to the ideology which says, “We have a majority. Why then a united front?” And the Party has developed a tendency which is more or less against the united front. The Norwegian Party as a party has not thwarted our action. We cannot make the same accusation as against the French Party; it has not publicly thwarted it. The case of Lian is an exceptional case, and I only mention it for the information of the comrades. Yes, there exists in the Norwegian party such a tendency, and it is the greatest error that they can make. They say, “We have a majority”. But which majority have you? Have you the majority of the whole working class. No. You have the majority of the vanguard, but you have not the majority of the working class itself and the united front is a means of gaining it. It is not a question of only the advance guard but the great working mass itself. And if you have them, you only have them giving you their ballots but not fighting for Communism. And even more on the part of the French comrades is this attitude an error. They also say we have a majority. Now, which majority have you. It is not even proved that you have the majority of the political vanguard; it would then have been impossible to witness the sorry phenomenon of the most vulgar anarchists, the twin-brothers of Scheidemann, getting a majority in the revolutionary unions. Now, how is this? You have the majority of the working class and yet the leadership of the revolutionary unions is in the hands of these gentlemen? Comrade Frossard promised that after St. Etienne things would be different.

I hope and wish that we obtain this majority but this is at present only a wish and not a reality. Never count your chickens before they are hatched. And so we will wait until Comrade Frossard’s Syndicalist chickens are really with us. Comrades, there is yet another point against our French comrades. It appears that in France the reformist party of Renaudel obtained more votes than we did in the North at the last departmental elections. And then they come and say, “we have a majority". It is an optical illusion on the part of our French comrades. The united front aims to obtain a real majority of the working masses.

I pass on to Italy. We will have to speak about this in detail later. What has the situation there proved? In Italy there is a so-called Alleanza del Lavoro. When this was being founded, the Italian Party said it would not participate in the founding conferences, because that would mean the united front on the political field. Now the Alleanza is established. In the first place it is an ambiguous affair. The reformists want to make it a thing of no meaning. The working masses want a rallying point in this form. The first thing that we need is also to have a voice in the Alleanza. But our Italian Party has such a strategy, that, although they have 500,000 members in the Unions, they have no voice in the Alleanza, because they did not join it at the right time. Now they must fight for the representation of Communist trade union organs in the Alleanza ... The reformists evidently will not permit this and they must now fight for what in the beginning they could have had without any struggle. They had been invited as a political party. They explained, “As a political party we do not wish to.” That is theoretically ridiculous and impossible of defense. How can a Marxist maintain that this powerful economic struggle which is now spreading does not concern a political party. What kind of a political party is this? In the first place, it is theoretically helpless for a Marxist, and taken politically it is also helpless. Now we are, in consequence of incorrect strategy, in the position of having not a single representative in the Alleanza. And why is this. Because the tactic of the united front was not clear to our comrades. They did not decides on it in time, and our Italian friends have thereby shown a lack of discipline.

What was our experience? We were always being written, “We feel ourselves to be soldiers of the revolution”. And then they write twenty articles against the united front, they say it is Millerandism, they abuse the masses against the Comintern, and then talk to us of “soldiers of the revolution". That is no discipline but the contrary. Have the French comrades such a bad opinion of us as to think we are satisfied to dangle the word discipline before their noses and to say “What a disciplined party!” When, twenty years ago, we were together with the Mensheviki in the party – twenty years ago it was the united party and we were in the minority – we acted so, and said we submit to discipline, but we always undermined the whole position and we were right. (Voice: “But you didn’t talk about Kreibich: But the Mensheviks did!”) That is a reminiscence. After fifteen to twenty years one can relate it. But to do it against the Comintern is a different thing.

Now, what next? Is the united front at an end. It has only just begun. We must probably pursue this tactic for a number of years yet, until we have won over the majority of the workers. The forms will be various and unfortunately, I can give Comrade Radek no guarantee that after a time he will not have to meet with Vandervelde again. (Radek: “That’s why I treated him so politely.”)

He behaved very politely and so did Bukharin, although at the reception the latter displayed a little too much temperament. (Bukharin: “That was my deceased brother.”)

Thus everything is possible in this poor old world in which we live. It is yet possible that we – until we have all the workers on our side – must return to such forms as we already had, it is also possible that the struggle will go quite differently. We have begun the fight for the united front from above and from below. Now it is quite clear that we can arrive at no great results from above. This campaign is only adapted to win the masses to fight from below for the real struggle, through this preliminary fight from above. We will not weep because The Commission of Nine was broken up. We will do without such a Commission when the fight for the United Front begins again in all factories, workshops and towns. And the more the Second and the 2½ Internationals grumble at us, the more contentedly will we fight for the eight-hour day, for the small everyday demands, and later raise the slogan of the Workers’ Government and the dictatorship of the proletariat. What we had before was a small prologue. The real fight tor the united front will take place in the workshops and factories, where the masses are. The second lesson is the need for greater solidarity, not of words but of deeds, in the fight for the united front. Certainly such parties as the French and the Italian are absolutely necessary components of the Comintern. We must do everything to bind these parties as fast and as firmly as possible to the Communist International, but if that is only possible at the price we paid during elapsed period, that would be a tragedy. This price the Communist International cannot pay.

Our slogan must now be: Through the united front of the Communist International to the united front of the working class and through this to victory over the social patriots and with it victory over the bourgeoisie.

Last updated: 29 December 2019