Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International
Zinoviev: I declare the session open. Would all the delegates hand in the written reports on the situation in their parties as soon as possible. Up until now we have only received three reports, and we call on you to make the material available to us over the next two or three days.
Since the last full session several Commissions have been at work, but they have not yet finished. The Commission that was concerned with the National and Colonial Question has made the most progress and is in a position to give a report. We propose to the Congress that the National and Colonial Question should be discussed today. Is nobody against? That seems to me to be the case. We will therefore proceed with the discussion. Comrade Lenin has the floor as reporter.
Lenin: Comrades, I shall only give a short introduction and then Comrade Maring, the secretary of our Commission, will give an exact report on the changes that have been made in the Theses. After that Comrade Roy, who formulated the Supplementary Theses, will have the floor. Our Commission adopted both the former and the latter unanimously. You will see from the Theses that we have taken unanimous decisions on the most important questions, and I should like now just to make a few short remarks.
What is the most important, the fundamental idea of our Theses? It is the difference between the oppressed and the oppressor nations. We emphasise this difference – in contrast to the Second International and bourgeois democracy. It is especially important for the proletariat and the Communist International during the epoch of imperialism to establish concrete economic facts and to approach all colonial and national questions not from the abstract but from the concrete point of view.
Imperialism is characterised by the fact that the whole world is now divided into a large number of oppressed nations and a very small number of oppressor nations that are enormously rich and strong in the military sense. The enormous mass, more than 1,000 million, most probably 1,250 million, and thus if we estimate the population of the world at 1,750 million some 70 per cent of the world population belong to the oppressed nations which are either in direct colonial dependence, or appear as semi-colonial states like, for example, Persia, Turkey and China, or which, defeated by a great imperialist army, have fallen into marked dependency after the peace treaties. This idea of the difference between nations, their division into the oppressed and the oppressors runs through all the Theses, not only the first ones that I signed and which have already been printed, but also through Comrade Roy’s Theses. These were written predominantly from the point of view of India and the other great Asian peoples who are oppressed by Britain, and are thus particularly important for us.
The second main idea of our Theses is that, in the current world situation, after the imperialist war, the mutual relations between states, the world system of states, is determined by the struggle of the smaller number of imperialist nations against the Soviet movement and the Soviet powers with Soviet Russia at their head. If we overlook this question, we cannot pose correctly a single national or colonial question even in the most distant part of the world. It is only from this standpoint that the political questions of the Communist Parties, not only in the civilised but also in the backward countries, can be posed and answered correctly. Thirdly, I would like to emphasise the question of the bourgeois-democratic movement in the backward countries. This was the point that gave rise to some differences of opinion. We debated whether it is correct in principle and theoretically to declare that the Communist International and the Communist Parties have a duty to support the bourgeois-democratic movements in the backward countries, and the outcome of this discussion was that we came to the unanimous decision to talk not about the ‘bourgeois-democratic’ movement but only about the national-revolutionary movement. There can be no doubt of the fact that any nationalist movement can only be a bourgeois-democratic movement, because the great mass of the population of the backward countries consists of the peasantry, which is the representative of bourgeois capitalist relations. It would be utopian to think that proletarian parties, insofar as it is at all possible for them to arise in these countries, will be able to carry out Communist tactics and Communist policies in the backward countries without having a definite relationship with the peasant movement, without supporting it in deeds. But objections were raised that, if we say ‘bourgeois-democratic’, we lose the distinction between the reformist and revolutionary movement which has become quite clear in the backward countries and the colonies recently, simply because the imperialist bourgeoisie has done everything in its power to create a reformist movement among the oppressed peoples too. A certain understanding has emerged between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonies, so that very often, even perhaps in most cases, the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries, although they also support national movements, nevertheless fight against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes with a certain degree of agreement with the imperialist bourgeoisie, that is to say together with it. This was completely proven in the Commission, and we believed that the only correct thing would be to take this difference into consideration and to replace the words ‘bourgeois-democratic’ almost everywhere with the expression ‘national-revolutionary’. The point about this is that as communists we will only support the bourgeois freedom movements in the colonial countries if these movements are really revolutionary and if their representatives are not opposed to us training and organising the peasantry in a revolutionary way. If that is no good, then the communists there also have a duty to fight against the reformist bourgeoisie, to which the heroes of the Second International also belong. There are already reformist parties in the colonial countries, and on occasion their representatives call themselves Social Democrats or Socialists. This distinction is now made in all the Theses, and I think that our point of view is thus formulated much more precisely.
The next comment I wish to make is about peasants’ councils. The practical work of the Russian Communists in the former Tsarist colonies, in backward countries such as Turkestan and others, has posed the question of how communist tactics and policies are to be applied to pre-capitalist conditions. The most important characteristic of these countries is that pre-capitalist conditions still prevail there, and therefore there can be no question of a purely proletarian movement there. Nevertheless we have taken over the leading role in them and must take it over. Our experience has shown us that the difficulties there are truly enormous, but the practical results of our work have also shown that despite these difficulties it is possible to awaken independent political thinking and independent political activity even where there is almost no proletariat at all. This activity was more difficult for us than for the comrades in Western European countries as the proletariat in Russia is overburdened with tasks of state.
Obviously the peasants, who live under conditions of semi-feudal dependency, can grasp the idea of soviets and also carry out practical work in this field. It is also clear that the exploited masses, who are exploited not only by merchant capital but also by the feudalists and the state on a feudal basis, can apply this weapon, this type of organisation, under these conditions too. The idea of soviet organisation is simple and can be applied not only under proletarian conditions but also under feudal and semi-feudal peasant conditions. Our experiences in this area are not yet very extensive. But the discussions in the Commission, at which several representatives of the colonial countries were present, proved to us quite decisively that in the Theses of the Communist International we must take up the question that peasants’ councils, the councils of the exploited, are not only appropriate for capitalist countries but are also suitable for pre-capitalist conditions, and that it is the unconditional duty of the Communist Parties and those elements that are prepared to build Communist Parties to propagate peasants’ councils, the councils of the toilers, everywhere, including the backward countries and the colonies, and to make the practical attempt to set up councils of the labouring people immediately wherever conditions permit it.
This opens up for us a very interesting and important field of activity. Our general experiences are not yet particularly extensive, but we will collect more and more material, and there can be no doubt that the proletariat in the advanced countries can and must help the backward labouring masses, and that the development of the backward countries would change its present level as soon as the victorious proletariat of the Soviet Republics can reach out a hand to these masses and give them help.
There was a somewhat lively discussion on this question in the Commission, not only in connection with the Theses I have signed, but even more with those of Comrade Roy, which he will defend here and in which a few amendments were unanimously made.
The question was this: can we accept as correct the idea that the capitalist development of the economy is necessary for those backward peoples who are now liberating themselves and among whom now, following the war, progressive movements have developed? We have come to the conclusion that we have to deny it. If the victorious revolutionary proletariat organises systematic propaganda, and the Soviet Government come to its assistance with every means at its disposal, it is incorrect to assume that the capitalist stage of development is necessary for such peoples. We must not only build cadres and parties in all colonies and backward countries, we must not only immediately propagate peasants’ councils and try to make soviet organisations fit pre-capitalist conditions, but theoretically the Communist International must also declare and explain that with the help of the proletariat of the advanced countries the backward countries can arrive at soviet organisation and, through a series of stages, and even avoiding the capitalist system, can arrive at Communism.
What means will be necessary for this we cannot say in advance. Practical experience will tell. But it is established that the idea of soviets is accessible to all the labouring masses, even among the most isolated peoples, that these organisations must be adapted to pre-capitalist conditions, and that the work of the Communist Parties all over the world in this direction must begin immediately.
The last remark I would like to make here is about the role of the revolutionary work of the Communist Parties not only in their own countries but also in the colonial countries, and particularly among the troops used by the exploiting nations to hold down the colonial peoples.
Comrade Quelch of the BSP spoke about this in our Commission. He said that the ordinary British worker would regard it as treachery if he was to help the dependent peoples to rebel against English domination. It is correct that the jingoist and chauvinist mood of the labour aristocracy in England and America forms the greatest danger for communism and the greatest support for the Second International, and is the greatest treachery on the part of the leaders and workers who belong to such a bourgeois international. There was talk about the colonial question in the Second International also. The Basle manifesto spoke very clearly about it. The parties of the Second International promised to act in a revolutionary manner. But in the parties of the Second International there was no question of doing real revolutionary work to help the exploited and dependent nations in their revolt against the oppressing nations, nor even, I think, in most of the parties that have left the Second International and seek entry into the Communist International. We must say this openly, it cannot be refuted. We shall see whether the attempt will be made to refute it.
Because of these considerations we arrived at resolutions that were, without doubt, too long. But I think that they will nevertheless be useful and contribute to encouraging and organising really revolutionary work on the national and colonial question, and that is our main task.
Zinoviev: The secretary of the Commission, Comrade Maring, now has the floor.
Maring: Comrades, I am giving the report on the work of the Commission on the National and Colonial Question. The Commission checked over Comrade Lenin’s Theses and also Comrade Roy’s supplementary Theses. The following amendments and additions to Comrade Lenin’s theses were accepted:
The end of Thesis I to read ‘abolition of the classes’ instead of ‘annihilation’.
In the first sentence of the 3rd Thesis you can read: ‘The imperialist war of 1914 has shown all nations and all oppressed classes in the whole world with particular clarity, etc. [Reads the text of the Thesis] This sentence has been changed as follows: [reads it out].
The 4th Thesis (German Edition p. 52, 3rd line from the bottom) is to read ‘and labouring masses of every nation and country’.
5th Thesis (p. 52 line 16) strike out ‘masses around itself’ and add ‘and is to mass the oppressed peoples around itself. The same Thesis (line 20): ‘That there is no salvation for them outside of their connection with the revolutionary proletariat and the victory of Soviet power.'
6th Thesis, 10th line from the top: Instead of ‘the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement’ read ‘the revolutionary liberation movement’. In line 11 of this Thesis the words ‘workers and peasants’ are deleted.
In the 8th Thesis, 5th line from the top, for ‘without any basis’ read ‘on the basis.'
9th Thesis lines 7 to 11 are to read ‘to which the bourgeois democrats limit themselves, however much they call themselves “socialist”.'
Line 13 after the word ‘prejudices’ add in brackets ‘which appear in all possible forms, such as racial hatred, nationalist propaganda, anti-semitism’.
11th Thesis paragraph I should read ‘all Communist Parties must’ etc.
Paragraph 2 should read: ‘A struggle must necessarily be carried out against the reactionary and medieval influence of the clergy, the Christian missions, and similar elements.'
Paragraph 3 should read ‘a fight is necessary against Panslavism, and the Panasiatic movement, and similar currents.'
In paragraph 4 add after the words ‘to give’, ‘if possible to organise the peasants and all the victims of exploitation in Soviets.'
In paragraph 5, lines 2, 6 and 17 the words ‘bourgeois-democratic’ are to be changed to ‘revolutionary’.
Paragraph 6 line 5 should read ‘the imperialist powers with the help of the privileged classes’.
In Thesis 12 delete the whole sentence from ‘on the other hand’ to ‘appear’.
Comrade Roy’s Theses were thoroughly checked by the Commission and accepted in full, as Comrade Roy will inform the Congress. I think it is possible to introduce all these amendments into the Theses straight away.
Roy: Comrades, I have submitted to the Congress and the Commission some Supplementary Theses which I shall have to read out as they have not been printed. I shall start by reading these supplementary theses which are as follows:
1. One of the most important questions that faces the Second Congress of the Communist International is to establish exactly the mutual relations between the Communist International and the revolutionary movement in the politically oppressed countries dominated by their own capitalist system, like India and China. The history of the world revolution is living through a period which requires a correct conception of this mutual relationship. The great European war and its consequences have shown clearly that the masses of people in the oppressed non-European countries have, as a result of the centralisation of world capitalism, been indissolubly bound up with the proletarian movement in Europe, which found an expression during the war for example in the sending of colonial troops and numerous masses of workers to the front.
2. European capitalism draws its strength in the main not so much from the industrial countries of Europe as from its colonial possessions. Its existence depends on control of extensive colonial markets and a broad field of opportunities for exploitation. England, the bulwark of imperialism, has already suffered from overproduction for a century. Without the extensive colonial possessions that are essential for the sale of her goods and at the same time form the source of her raw materials, the capitalist order in England would long since have collapsed under its own weight. At the same time that British imperialism makes hundreds of millions of the inhabitants of Asia and Africa into slaves, it also keeps the British proletariat under the domination of the bourgeoisie.
3. The super-profits made in the colonies form one of the main sources of the resources of contemporary capitalism. The European working class will only succeed in overthrowing the capitalist order once this source has finally been stopped up. The capitalist countries try, not indeed without success, to restore their shaky position by extensive and intensive exploitation of human labour and the natural wealth of the colonies. As a result of the exploitation of the colonial population European imperialism is in a position to grant the labour aristocracy in Europe a whole range of concessions. While on the one hand European imperialism tries to force down the absolute minimum level necessary to keep the proletariat alive by the import of goods produced by the cheaper labour power of the workers of the colonial countries, it is on the other hand prepared to sacrifice the increased profits it could make in the home country in order to receive the super-profits it can obtain by exploitation in the colonies.
4. The loss of the colonies and the proletarian revolution in the mother countries will bring the downfall of the capitalist order in Europe. In consequence the Communist International must extend its field of activity. The Communist International must enter into much closer connection with the revolutionary forces that are at present participating in the overthrow of imperialism in the politically and economically oppressed countries. The collaboration of these two forces is necessary for the complete success of the world revolution.
5. The Communist International is the concentrated will of the world proletariat. Its task is the organisation of the working class of the whole world for the overthrow of the capitalist order and for the spread of communism. The Communist International is a warlike unity that must unite the revolutionary forces of every country in the world. The Second International, permeated through and through with bourgeois culture and led by a handful of political dilettantes, underestimated the whole importance of the colonial question. The world outside simply did not exist as far as they were concerned. They did not recognise the necessity of the collaboration of the revolutionary movement in Europe and the other parts of the world. Instead of supporting the revolutionary movement in the colonies both materially and morally, the members of the Second International themselves became imperialists.
6. The foreign imperialism violently forced upon the peoples of the East has without doubt hindered their social and economic development and robbed them of the opportunity of reaching the same level of development as has been achieved in Europe and America. Thanks to the imperialist policies whose efforts are directed towards holding up industrial development in the colonies, the native proletariat has only come into existence fairly recently. The dispersed local cottage industries have given way to the centralised industries of the imperialist countries. As a result the vast majority of the population was forced to engage in agriculture and export raw materials abroad. On the other hand we ban observe a rapidly growing concentration of the land in the hands of big landowners, capitalists and the state, which again contributes to the growth of the number of landless peasants. The vast majority of the population of these colonies lives under conditions of oppression. As a result of these policies the underdeveloped spirit of outrage that lives in the masses of the people can only find an expression in the numerically small intellectual middle class. Foreign domination constantly obstructs the free development of social life; therefore the revolution’s first step must be the removal of this foreign domination. The struggle to overthrow foreign domination in the colonies does not therefore mean underwriting the national aims of the national bourgeoisie but much rather smoothing the path to liberation for the proletariat of the colonies.
7. Two movements can be discerned which are growing further and further apart with every day that passes. One of them is the bourgeois-democratic nationalist movement, which pursues the programme of political liberation with the conservation of the capitalist order; the other is the struggle of the propertyless peasants for their liberation from every kind of exploitation. The first movement attempts, often with success, to control the second; the Communist International must however fight against any such control, and the development of the class consciousness of the working masses of the colonies must consequently be directed towards the overthrow of foreign capitalism. The most important and necessary task however is the creation of Communist organisations of peasants and workers in order to lead them to the revolution and the setting up of the Soviet Republic. In this way the masses of the people in the backward countries will be brought to communism not by capitalist development but by the development of class consciousness under the leadership of the proletariat of the advanced countries.
8. The real strength, the foundation of the liberation movement, will not allow itself to be forced into the narrow framework of bourgeois-democratic nationalism in the colonies. In the greater part of the colonies there already exist organised revolutionary parties which work in close contact with the working masses. The Communist International must make contact with the revolutionary movement in the colonies through the mediation of these parties and groups, for they are the vanguard of the working class. At present they are not numerous, but they express the will of the working class and lead the revolution behind them. The Communist Parties of the various imperialist countries must work in the closest contact with the proletarian parties of the proletarian countries and through them support the revolutionary movement in general both materially and morally.
9. In the first period the revolution in the colonies will not be communist; if however from the very start the communist vanguard emerges at its head the revolutionary masses will be brought on to the correct path along which, through the gradual gathering of revolutionary experience, they will reach the hidden goal. It would be a mistake to try to solve the agrarian question straight away according to purely communist principles. In the first stage of its development the revolution in the colonies must be carried out according to the programme of purely petty-bourgeois demands, such as distribution of the land and so on. But from this it must not be concluded that the leadership in the colonies can be allowed to fall into the hands of the bourgeois democrats. On the contrary, the proletarian parties must carry out an intensive propaganda of communist ideas and found workers’ and peasants’ councils at the first opportunity. These councils must work in the same way as the Soviet Republics in the advanced capitalist countries in order to bring about the final overthrow of the capitalist order throughout the whole world.
For the more precise information of the Congress I have the following to add. I would like to draw the Congress’s attention particularly to these very important questions. I am glad to have the opportunity for the first time to participate seriously in a discussion on the colonial question at a congress of the revolutionary proletariat. Until now the European parties have given far too little attention to this problem, for they were always occupied with their own affairs and usually passed over the colonial questions, although they are at the present moment of very great importance for the international movement. Since the war the colonial question has become a matter of the greatest importance. Britain is now one of the greatest colonial powers in the world and has an enormous significance, an enormous strength and a strong social position as a result of its colonial possessions. Although the same cannot now be said of Germany, since Germany no longer has any colonial possessions, the question does not, nevertheless, have an exclusively British significance. The German comrades too, therefore, have to give this question their attention as it has become an international question. The economic relations between Europe and the colonies have now become the foundation of capitalism. The surplus value that was in previous ages produced in England has now in part been invested in the colonies. Moreover the surplus products that were produced in Britain itself have been taken to the colonial market. In this way Britain has so ordered her production that she can produce food for no more than three months of the year. Britain has always exploited her workers in the most brutal manner. The same system of exploitation, expropriation and the suppression of the human being in the worker is now applied in the conquered countries. British India alone has a population of no less than 315 million. Apart from British India, England exploits many other millions of coloured peoples in the colonies.
If the Communist International understands clearly that it must take this matter to heart, then the second question, how the colonial movement can best be encouraged and developed, still remains to be solved. Until recently there were in the colonies only national-revolutionary movements of the middle class, whose only wish was to supplant the ruling foreigners in order themselves to exploit their own proletariat. If we do not look at the matter in too doctrinaire a manner, if we look at it somewhat more closely here at the Congress, then one can estimate correctly the great value to the Communist International of the national-revolutionary movement among the peoples of the East Indies also. Great changes took place in India during and after the war. Whereas earlier British capitalism had always prevented the development of industry in British India, this has no longer been the case in recent years. Industry has developed at a greater pace in recent years in British India than anyone can imagine here in Europe. If one considers that in the same period that the industrial proletariat in British India increased by 15 per cent the capital invested in British owned industry increased by 2,000 per cent, one can form some impression of the rapid development of the capitalist system in British India. This is also true of Egypt, the Dutch East Indies and China. The same development that is taking place in British India is also to be noted in these countries. In recent years there has been a new movement among the exploited masses in India that has spread very quickly and expressed itself in mighty strike waves. This mass movement does not stand under the control of the revolutionary nationalists. It develops independently, although the nationalists try to use this movement for their own purposes. One can say of this mass movement that it is at all events revolutionary, although no-one would say that the workers and peasants who form this movement are also clearly class-conscious. This is evident day by day in the forms it takes. Comrades, I think that at this stage of the revolutionary mass movement the field of work lies open for the Communist International. It is only a question of taking the correct measures to harvest the fruits of work among these masses very quickly. Naturally a revolution by these masses would not at the first stage be a communist revolution, naturally revolutionary nationalism will play a role in the first stage. But at any event this revolutionary nationalism too win lead to the collapse of European imperialism, which is of enormous significance for the European proletariat.
Finally I direct an urgent appeal to all the delegates to the Congress under no circumstances to refuse the support that the colonial peoples of the revolutionary proletariat of British India are now offering, and I hope that the Congress will take my views very seriously into account. I hope that comrades will be moved by my Theses to oppose their views to mine, that they will use the opportunity that offers itself to them to create greater clarity among the communists of Europe and America through debate. [Applause]
Reed: In America there live ten million Negroes who are concentrated mainly in the South. In recent years however many thousands of them have moved to the North. The Negroes in the North are employed in industry while in the South the majority are farm labourers or small farmers. The position of the Negroes is terrible, particularly in the Southern states. Paragraph 16 of the Constitution of the United States grants the Negroes full civil rights. Nevertheless most Southern states deny the Negroes these rights. In other states, where by law the Negroes possess the right to vote, they are killed if they dare to exercise this right.
Negroes are not allowed to travel in the same railway carriages as whites, visit the same saloons and restaurants, or live in the same districts. There exist special, and worse, schools for Negroes and similarly special churches. This separation of the Negroes is called the ‘Jim Crow system’, and the clergy in the Southern churches preach about paradise on the ‘Jim Crow system’. Negroes are used as unskilled workers in industry. Until recently they were excluded from most of the unions that belong to the American Federation of Labour. The IWW of course organised the Negroes, the old Socialist Party however undertook no serious attempt to organise them. In some states the Negroes were not accepted into the party at all, in others they were separated off into special sections, and in general the party statutes banned the use of Party resources for propaganda among Negroes.
In the South the Negro has no rights at all and does not even enjoy the protection of the law. Usually one can kill Negroes without being punished. One terrible white institution is the lynching of Negroes. This happens in the following manner., The Negro is covered with oil and strung up on a telegraph pole. The whole of the town, men, women and children, run up to watch the show and take home a piece of the clothing or the skin of the Negro they have tortured to death ‘as a souvenir’.
I have too little time to explain the historical background to the Negro question in the United States. The descendants of the slave population, who were liberated during the Civil War, when politically and economically they were still completely underdeveloped, were later given full political rights in order to unleash a bitter class struggle in the South which was intended to hold up Southern capitalism until the capitalists in the North were able to bring together all the country’s resources into their own. possession.
Until recently the Negroes did not show any aggressive class consciousness at all. The first awakening of the Negroes took place after the Spanish-American War, in which the black troops had fought with extraordinary courage and from which they returned with the feeling that as men they were equal to the white troops. Until then the only movement that existed among the Negroes was a semi-philanthropic educational association led by Booker T. Washington and supported by the white capitalists. This movement found its expression in the organisation of schools in which the Negroes were brought up to be good servants of industry. As intellectual nourishment they were presented with the good advice to resign themselves to the fate of an oppressed people. During the Spanish War an aggressive reform movement arose among the Negroes which demanded social and political equality with the whites. With the beginning of the European war half a million Negroes who had joined the US Army were sent to France, where they were billeted with French troop detachments and suddenly made the discovery that they were treated as equals socially and in every other respect. The American General Staff approached the French High Command and asked them to forbid Negroes to visit places used by whites and to treat them as second-class people. After the war the Negroes, many of whom had received medals for bravery from the English and French governments, returned to their Southern villages where they were subjected to lynch law because they dared to wear their uniforms and their decorations on the street.
At the same time a strong movement arose among the Negroes who had stayed behind. Thousands of them moved to the North, began to work in the war industries and came into contact with the surging current of the labour movement. High as they were, their wage rates trailed behind the incredible increases in the prices of the most important necessities. Moreover the Negroes were outraged by the way all their strength was sucked out and the terrible exertions demanded by the work much more than were the white workers who had grown used to the terrible exploitation in the course of many years.
The Negroes went on strike alongside the white workers and quickly joined the industrial proletariat. They proved very ready to accept revolutionary propaganda. At that time the newspaper Messenger was founded, published by a young Negro, the socialist Randolf, and pursuing revolutionary propagandist aims. This paper united socialist propaganda with an appeal to the racial consciousness of the Negroes and with the call to organise self-defence against the brutal attacks of the whites. At the same time the paper insisted on the closest links with the white workers, regardless of the fact that the latter often took part in Negro-baiting, and emphasised that the enmity between the white and black races was supported by the capitalists in their own interests.
The return of the army from the front threw many millions of white workers on to the labour market all at once. The result was unemployment, and the demobilised soldiers’ impatience took such threatening proportions that the employers were forced to tell the soldiers that their jobs had been taken by Negroes in order thus to incite the whites to massacre the Negroes. The first of these outbreaks took place in Washington, where civil servants from the administration returning from the war found their jobs occupied by Negroes. The civil servants were in the main Southerners. They organised a night attack on the Negro district in order to terrorise the Negroes into giving up their jobs. To everybody’s amazement the Negroes came on to the streets fully armed. A fight developed and the Negroes fought so well that for every dead Negro there were three dead whites. Another revolt which lasted several days and left many dead on both sides broke out a few months later in Chicago. Later still a massacre took place in Omaha. In all these fights the Negroes showed for the first time in history that they are armed and splendidly organised and are not at all afraid of the whites. The results of the Negroes’ resistance were first of all a belated intervention by the government and secondly the acceptance of Negroes into the unions of the American Federation of Labour.
Racial consciousness grew among the Negroes themselves. At present there is among the Negroes a section which preaches the armed uprising of the Negroes against the whites. The Negroes who returned home from the war have set up associations everywhere for self-defence and to fight against the white supporters of lynch law. The circulation of the Messenger is growing constantly. At present it sells 180,000 copies monthly. At the same time, socialist ideas have taken root and are spreading rapidly among the Negroes employed in industry.
If we consider the Negroes as an enslaved and oppressed people, then they pose us with two tasks: on the one hand a strong racial movement and on the other a strong proletarian workers’ movement, whose class consciousness is quickly growing. The Negroes do not pose the demand of national independence. A movement that aims for a separate national existence, like for instance the ‘back to Africa’ movement that could be observed a few years ago, is never successful among the Negroes. They hold themselves above all to be Americans, they feel at home in the United States. That simplifies the tasks of the communists considerably.
The only correct policy for the American Communists towards the Negroes is to regard them above all as workers. The agricultural workers and the small farmers of the South pose, despite the backwardness of the Negroes, the same tasks as those we have in respect to the white rural proletariat. Communist propaganda can be carried out among the Negroes who are employed as industrial workers in the North. In both parts of the country we must strive to organise Negroes in the same unions as the whites. This is the best and quickest way to root out racial prejudice and awaken class solidarity.
The Communists must not stand aloof from the Negro movement which demands their social and political equality and at the moment, at a time of the rapid growth of racial consciousness, is spreading rapidly among Negroes. The Communists must use this movement to expose the lie of bourgeois equality and emphasise the necessity of the social revolution which will not only liberate all workers from servitude but is also the only way to free the enslaved Negro people.
Fraina: The last speaker talked about the Negroes as an oppressed people in the United States. We have at the same time two other kinds of oppressed people: the foreign workers and the colonial inhabitants. The terrible suppression of strikes and of the revolutionary movement in general is in no way a result of the war, it is much more a more forceful political expression of the earlier attitude towards the unorganised and unskilled workers. These workers’ strikes are suppressed violently. Why? Because these workers are in the main foreigners (they form 60 per cent of the industrial proletariat), who are in fact in the same position as a colonial population. After the Civil War (1861-1865) capitalism developed at a great pace. The West, which had been underdeveloped until then, was opened up by the construction of the overland railways. The investment capital for this development came from Europe and the Eastern states. The immigrants however were the human raw material who were developed by imperialist violence in exactly the same way as the inhabitants of backward colonial countries. The concentration and monopolisation of industry, all these typical preconditions of internal imperialism, grew up before the United States could develop its foreign imperialism. The terror that the colonial population had to face was no different from the terror that workers had to face who migrated to the United States. Thus in 1912 the coal miners in Ludlow went on strike. The miners were driven out of their homes with the help of soldiers and quartered in huts. One day, while the men were fighting the army some miles away, a troop of soldiers surrounded the huts and set light to them, and hundreds of women and children perished in the flames. Under these conditions the class struggle in the United States often becomes a racial struggle. And just as a Negro revolt can be the signal fir a bourgeois counter-revolution, and does not represent a proletarian revolution, so too the same thing can happen in a revolt of the immigrant workers. The great task is to unite these movements among the Americans into a revolutionary movement.
The whole of Latin America must be regarded as a colony of the United States, and not only its present colonies such as the Philippines etc. Central America is under the complete control of the United States through her forces of occupation. The same control is however also exercised in Mexico and South America, where it has a two-fold expression: first of all through economic and financial penetration, which has increased since the expropriation of German business in these countries, and secondly through the application of the Monroe Doctrine, [Proclaimed in 1823 by President Monroe, the Doctrine pledged opposition to colonisation of the Americas by European powers. Used in late 19th and 20th centuries to establish US imperialist domination over Central and Southern America.] which has changed from being originally the defence of America against the monarchist system into being the tool of the hegemony and the strengthening of United States imperialism over Latin America. A year before the war President Wilson interpreted the Monroe Doctrine in such a way that it became a way for the American government to prevent British capitalists from obtaining new sources of oil in Mexico. In other words – Latin America is the colonial basis of imperialism in the United States. While the economic circumstances of the countries of the rest of the world become shakier and shakier, United States imperialism strengthens its position by throwing itself into the exploitation and development of Latin America. It is absolutely necessary to fight against this imperialism by starting revolutionary movements in Latin America, just as it is necessary to proceed against British imperialism by setting up revolutionary movements in its colonies.
The movement in the United States did not previously pay any attention to the movement in Latin America. As a result the latter reached back to Spain for its ideology instead of to the United States. The movement in Latin America must free itself from this backwardness as well as from its syndicalist prejudices. The American Federation of Labour [Bureaucratised trade union federation led by Samuel Gompers, described by Trotsky as ‘that old watchdog of capitalism’. In the period after the First World War its leadership campaigned against nationalisation and supported the victimisation and witch-hunting of militant unionists in the IWW and other left organisations.] and the reactionary Socialist Party strive to build all-American organisations, but not for revolutionary purposes.
The Communist movement in the United States in particular and the Communist International in general must intervene actively in the movement in Latin America. The movement in the United States and in Latin America must be regarded as one single movement. Our strategy and tactics must start from the standpoint of an American revolution involving the whole of America. The fundamental task of the Communist International, the realisation of which alone will secure the world revolution, is the annihilation of United States imperialism; and its annihilation will only be made possible by a giant revolutionary movement embracing the whole of America, where every national unit subordinates itself to the common problems of the American revolution.
Radek: At every Congress of the Second International numerous protests were raised against the brutality of imperialist governments in colonial countries. Even now the colonial question is discussed endlessly at Conferences of the Second International, and we see how Huysmans, Henderson and Company dish out independence left and right to different nations, even when they do not even demand it. If it was simply a question of trumpeting protests about imperialist policies out into the world and ‘recognising’ the independence of colonial peoples, our task would be a very simple one. But in the area of the practical struggle in the colonial countries we are setting foot in completely new territory. Here it is not simply a question of sketching the foundations of communist policies, of sucking them out of our fingers, but of developing them out of a study of concrete colonial conditions. It is a question of taking practical steps to support the struggle in the colonies. Comrade Lenin quotes a statement by Comrade Quelch who declared in the colonial commission that if an uprising were to break out in India the jingoist press would succeed in influencing a section of the British workers into sacrificing themselves to suppress the uprising. If all that Quelch is pointing out is that there is among British workers a strong imperialist current, then that is a matter of fact. But if this fact is supposed to lead our English comrades to a passive posture towards a colonial revolt, and to saying that, because of this mood, they can do no more than pass protest resolutions, then one could say that the Communist International will first of all have to teach its members the ABC of politics. If British workers, instead of opposing bourgeois prejudices, support British imperialism or tolerate it passively, then they are working for the suppression of every revolutionary movement in Britain itself.
It is impossible for the British proletariat to liberate itself from the yoke that capitalism has laid upon it without stepping into the breach for the colonial revolutionary movement. When the time comes for the British workers to rise against their own capitalist class, they will face a – situation in which Britain can, at the best, cover 30 per cent of her food needs out of her own production. They will face a situation in which American capitalism will try to blockade proletarian Britain. For even if the American capitalists’ ships will not be able to cut off the food supplies of proletarian Europe for any length of time, since the Americans must sell, it is none the less very possible that the British capitalists will be in a position for a year or two to buy up American wheat in order to stop it going to Britain. In this situation the fate of the British revolution will depend on whether the peasants and workers of Ireland, India, Egypt, etc. are accustomed to seeing the servants of the British imperialists in the British working class. The Labour Conference at Scarborough passed an important resolution in which it demanded the independence of India and Egypt. Not a single Communist stood up to tell the Conference that the MacDonalds support the British bourgeoisie fooling British workers when they talk about the independence of India, Ireland and Egypt. It is simple hypocrisy and swindling that these same people, who could not even rise to the level of characterising General Dwyer as a common murderer in Parliament on the occasion of the Amritsar bloodbath, pretend to be the defenders of colonial independence. We greatly regret that our party comrades who are in the Labour Party did not tear the mask off these swindlers’ faces. The International will not judge the British comrades by the articles that they write in the Call [The Call was the paper of the British Socialist Party. The Workers’ Dreadnought was the paper of Sylvia Pankhurst’s ultra-left group, the Workers’ Socialist Federation.] and the Workers Dreadnought, but by the number of comrades who are thrown into gaol for agitating in the colonial countries. We would point out to the British comrades that it is their duty to help the Irish movement with all their strength, that it is their duty to agitate among the British troops, that it is their duty to use all their resources to block the policy that the British transport and railway unions are at present pursuing of permitting troop transports to be shipped to Ireland. It is very easy at the moment to speak out in Britain against intervention in Russia, since even the bourgeois left is against it. It is harder for the British comrades to take up the cause of Irish independence and of anti-militarist activity. We have a right to demand this difficult work of the British comrades.
We will have more to say on this question and on the question of parliamentarism, but it is important here today to show the British comrades from the shop stewards movement who want to support the Communist movement how childishly they are behaving, how they are throwing away an opportunity to fight, if they do not participate in parliament. The peasants of India have no way of knowing that our shop stewards are fighting against their oppression. But if someone, without making a long speech, was to call things by their right name in parliament, quite certainly he would be thrown out by the Speaker of the House, and Reuters would tell the world that a traitor had been found in the British parliament who had called a murderer – a murderer. British capital, based on a strong bourgeoisie, cannot be overthrown only in London, Sheffield, Glasgow and Manchester, it must also be beaten in the colonies. They are its Achilles heel, and it is the duty of the British Communists to go to the colonies and to fight at the head of the rising masses of the people and to support them. We scarcely know of a single case in the old International where a Social Democratic Party made itself the champion of the liberation of the colonial peoples. When the Hereros were being driven in their thousands into the desert, the German Socialists abstained from voting because they declared that they did not know the causes of the revolt and had no opinion on the matter. It is the duty of the Communist International to create an atmosphere in which it is not possible to take part in the Congress here without proving that one has helped the revolt in the colonies practically. This is one of the biggest and most important life-or-death questions for the Communist International. Just as in every country we must try to win for our struggle those petty-bourgeois elements who are driven in the direction of the working class, the Communist International must be a beacon to light the way to the rebellious peoples in Asia and Africa. The Communist International must beat world capitalism not only through the popular masses of Europe but also those of the colonies. Capitalism will draw not only economic but also military support from the colonial peoples. The social revolution in Europe will have black troops to deal with yet. The duty of the Communist International is to proceed to deeds. The Russian Soviet Republic has taken this path, and if in Britain our painstaking work in the East, our conscious agitation for the formation of soviet organisations in Turkestan and in the Caucasus, and stretching out the first feelers to Persia and Turkey, are thought to be things that the Soviet Republic does in order to make difficulties for the British, then that is a misunderstanding of the foreign policy of the Soviet government. It is part of the programme of the Communist International, it is Soviet Russia fulfilling her duties as part of the Communist International. We do not regard the agitation in the East as a makeshift expedient in the fight against European capitalism, we regard it as a struggle we have a duty to carry out in the lasting interests of the European proletariat. This assistance does not consist in building artificial Communist Parties where there is no basis for them. It happens when we help these people. Comrade Lenin has pointed out that there is no theoretical necessity for every nationality to pass through the stage of capitalism. All the people who today are capitalists have not come to capitalism through the stage of manufacture. Japan passed straight from feudal conditions to the culture of imperialism. If the proletarian masses in Germany, France and Britain succeed in winning socialism, then we will go to the colonial peoples not only with the most modern means that capitalism has left us, but also with the production methods that socialism will create. We will help them to find a direct path from feudal barbarism to a form of production where they can apply the resources of modern technology without having to go through the stages of craft production and manufacture. We stand at the beginning of a new epoch. European capitalism fears the awakening of the oriental peoples; it talks about the ‘yellow peril’, and one can say that as long as capitalism exists there will be a yellow peril. The proletarianised peasants of China or Turkey, who are being skinned alive, will have to emigrate to seek work, will have to defend themselves in great mass migrations. But communism has no yellow peril to fear, it can reach out its hand to all oppressed peoples, for it brings them not exploitation but fraternal aid.
Rosmer: I move the closure of the list of speakers.
Wijnkoop: I do not think that the list can be closed now. The matter is important, at least for the future. The debate has not even started. Perhaps there will be no debate.
Serrati: I note that another twelve speakers have put their names forward. Perhaps Comrade Wijnkoop is right. I can see that the debate is taking a direction in which we are encountering a series of separate questions. What we have to do here is deal with the questions in general. I think we should adjourn the question until tomorrow and close the list of speakers in the sense that we ask the individual comrades to consider the question in general and not go into details.
Guilbeaux: I suggest that we close the session now but not the list of speakers. The question is very important and it is absolutely necessary for all the representatives of the colonial peoples to report to the Congress. The time available for each speaker could be cut, but the comrades should not be prevented from speaking.
Maring: I would like to insist that Comrade Serrati’s motion should not be accepted. It would not be good if the representatives of the colonies were not given an opportunity to say a few short words on the movement. Comrade Serrati himself knows that not one of the Italians was represented at the Commission today. It is very surprising that he should make such a proposal.
Radek: I am opposed to the proposal from the Presidium. I understand that those present are orientated on the question. But in the discussion you cannot start from the standpoint that one or the other person is acquainted with things. It is the political significance of the colonial question that we are concerned with here. We have a political interest in the fact that workers will read the minutes of the Congress and see that the representatives of the oppressed colonial peoples spoke here and took part in our discussions. It is impossible to set up general rules of communist tactics for everybody, but even a simple worker can contribute a lot to the depiction of conditions in his own country. It is a question of everybody saying what he knows, and the more concretely he speaks the better. I see that the representatives from Ireland want to speak. It is very important for British imperialism to see that there are elements there that are allied to us and want to fight with us.
I do not want anybody to think that suggested we should not have a discussion. Most of all I must state that I did not make my proposal either in the name of the Bureau or in the name of the Italian delegation. We have already spent ten minutes here talking about the question of the blacks in Chicago. We cannot split the question up into its smallest parts, we must summarise it in very clear and very concrete speeches. I would not like anybody to think that I am opposed to the representatives of the backward countries, as they are called in Comrade Lenin’s Theses, speaking. If I have proposed the closure of the list of speakers, then it is because all the representatives of the backward countries – China, Persia, Korea, Japan and Turkey – have already been entered. If there are still more comrades from backward countries who put their names forward we will have the histories of all the different nationalities in the world to listen to here. I propose, however, that we close the session and wait and see whether we close the list or keep it open.
Wijnkoop: I propose that we vote on Comrade Serrati’s motion. We will see in the next session how we are to proceed.
Serrati: I withdraw my motion.
Rosmer: The discussion will be continued tomorrow morning in the full session. There will be a further full session the day after tomorrow at 10.00 a.m.
The session is closed at 2.30 a.m.