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“At the opening session of the Second Comintern Congress on 19 July 1920,
Zinoviev struck a solemn note: 

‘The Second Congress of the International
entered history at the same moment as it opened. Remember this day. Know
that it is the recompense for all our privations, for our hard, determined
struggle. Tell your children, and explain what it meant. Hold the imprint of
this hour in your hearts!’

Later he was to recall:

In the congress hall hung a great map on which was marked every day the
movement of our armies. And the delegates every morning stood with
breathless interest before this map. It was a sort of symbol: the best
representatives of the international proletariat with breathless interest, with
palpitating heart, followed every advance of our armies, and all perfectly
realised that, if the military aim set by our army was achieved, it would
mean an immense acceleration of the international proletarian revolution.

On this point, the foreign and the Russian delegates were in agreement.
During the discussion of an appeal drafted by Paul Levi and addressed to
the world proletariat on the subject of the Polish War, Ernst Däumig, one of
the four delegates of the USPD, declared: ‘Every kilometre which the Red
Army wins … is a step towards the Revolution in Germany.’ The Russians
modified the draft texts at the last minute to take into account what they
regarded as a new conjuncture of events. For this reason, the resolution which
Lenin drafted on tasks on 4 July which included the phrase: ‘However, it
does follow that the Communist Parties’ current task consists not in accelerating
the revolution, but in intensifying the preparation of the proletariat’ was
charged in the draft finally submitted to the Congress to: ‘The present task of the Communist Parties is now to accelerate the revolution, without provoking
it by artificial means before adequate preparation can have been made.’

All this seemed to prove to the Communists that the postwar revolutionary
wave, hitherto confined to the defeated countries, was in the process of
extending to the victorious ones, France, Britain and Italy. From this viewpoint,
the construction of real Communist Parties was becoming ever more urgent.
For an approaching revolution, an organisation, an instrument, a leadership
were needed very quickly. Lenin wrote:

The Second International has definitely been smashed. Aware that the Second
International is beyond hope, the intermediate parties and groups of the
‘centre’ are trying to lean on the Communist International, which is steadily
gaining in strength. At the same time, however, they hope to retain a degree
of ‘autonomy’ that will enable them to pursue their previous opportunist
or ‘centrist’ policies. The Communist International is, to a certain extent,
becoming the vogue. The desire of certain leading ‘centre’ groups to join
the Third International provides oblique confirmation that it has won the
sympathy of the vast majority of class-conscious workers throughout the
world, and is becoming a more powerful force with each day.

The requests of the centrist parties to join the International had to be examined
with the greatest caution. If they were accepted unconditionally, it would be
with the opportunist leaders at their head. The Bolsheviks thought that they
had nothing to expect from such leaders but ‘active sabotage of the revolution’,
as the experiences in Hungary and Germany had shown. There was not
enough time to eliminate them by a political struggle from within. It was
therefore necessary to take precautions in advance to prevent them bringing
problems into the International, ‘to put a lock … a solid guard on the door’,
as Zinoviev said.

This concern, plus the need to concentrate the Bolshevik experience within
a few points as an instrument of political clarification for parties joining the International, led the Russian Communists to propose to the Congress nineteen
conditions with which applicants were to comply. This applied both to existing
members and to parties applying for admission, whether they were centrist,
such as the USPD, which still included strong social-democratic currents, or
ultra-leftist, such as the KAPD. These nineteen conditions were modified by
the congress to become the celebrated ‘Twenty-One Conditions’, which
expressed the Bolsheviks’ conception of what a Communist Party should be. 

The first duty of Communists was to give a ‘genuinely Communist’ character
to their day-to-day agitation and propaganda. The objective of the dictatorship
of the proletariat must be presented to the working masses in such a way
that its indispensability would be clear from their day-to-day experience. Reformist and centrist elements were to be systematically dismissed – the word
is emphasised in the draft – from positions of responsibility in workers’
organisations, and replaced by tested Communists, workers promoted from
the rank and file if necessary. The activity of Communists could not be confined
within the limits approved by bourgeois legality:

In almost all the countries of Europe and America, the class struggle is
entering the phase of civil war. In these conditions, Communists can place
no trust in bourgeois legality. They must everywhere build up a parallel illegal
organisation, which, at the decisive moment, will be in a position to help
the party fulfil its duty to the revolution.

In connection with this, Communists must carry out systematic agitational
and propaganda work within the army, and create Communist cells in it.
Refusal to carry on such activity, which would be partly illegal, was considered
as incompatible with membership of the International. The Communist Parties
must develop systematic agitational work directed at the working people of
the countryside, relying upon workers who had preserved their rural
connections.

One of the most important tasks facing Communists consisted of a
determined break from both the social-patriotism of the reformists and the
social-pacifism of the centrists. Communists must systematically demonstrate
to the workers that, ‘without the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, no international arbitration courts, no talk about a reduction of armaments, no
“democratic” reorganisation of the League of Nations will save mankind from
new imperialist wars’. The break from the reformists and the centrists must
be carried through ‘imperatively and uncompromisingly’ in every party,
particularly in respect of notorious reformist personalities like the Italian
Turati. At the same time, the Communist Parties must resist the imperialist
undertakings of their own bourgeoisie, and ‘must support – in deed, not
merely in word – every colonial liberation movement’. 

The ninth condition returned to the themes which were developed in the
polemic against the ultra-leftists. It instructed the Communist Parties to work
within the trade unions, by establishing cells within them that were ‘completely
subordinate to the party as a whole’. It was these cells – later to be called
‘fractions’ – which ‘by their sustained and unflagging work, win the unions
over to the communist cause’ and ‘unmask the treachery of the social-patriots
and the vacillations of the centrists’. Within the unions, it was necessary to
fight against ‘the yellow Amsterdam International’, and the International
must do all that is possible to break the unions from Amsterdam, and strengthen
‘the emerging international federation of red trade unions which are associated
with the Communist International’. 

Communists must use bourgeois parliaments as platforms for revolutionary
agitation, but must ensure the reliability of the parliamentary groups by
purging them of unreliable elements, and subordinating them to the Party’s
Central Committee. The publishing and press departments of the Party must
be under the control of the Central Committee. 

In matters of organisation, Communist Parties must be organised in
conformity with the principle of democratic centralism. The thirteenth condition
laid down:

In this period of acute civil war, the communist parties can perform their
duty only if they are organised in a most centralised manner, are marked
by an iron discipline bordering on military discipline, and have strong and
authoritative party centres invested with wide powers and enjoying the
unanimous confidence of the membership. 

Moreover, the leaders of Communist Parties needed to ensure the integrity
of the rank and file by carrying out a periodic purge, which in the case of
parties which carried on legal activities, meant systematically removing
dubious members.

The fifteenth condition laid down that Communist Parties were obliged
‘selflessly to help any Soviet republic in its struggle against counter-
revolutionary forces’.

The last four conditions spelt out the immediate requirements for parties
that were either actual or prospective members of the International. They
were to revise their former programmes to meet both national conditions and
the decisions of the International, with the revisions being ratified by the
ECCI. The decisions of the International’s congresses and the ECCI were to
be strictly followed. Every party which wished to join must call itself ‘the
Communist Party of the country in question (Section of the Third International)’,
in order to bring out clearly the difference between the Communist Parties
and the old Socialist or Social-Democratic parties which had betrayed the
working class. Lastly, they were all to convene their own congresses at the
end of the World Congress in order to put on record that they accepted these
conditions.

These were draconian conditions, and they were further strengthened at
the congress. They implied for every party of social-democratic or centrist
origin, whether in the International or not, as well as for the ultra-left groups
which wanted to join or to remain in the International, an early split on their
part, as the Bolshevik leaders were well aware. Trotsky declared:

There is no doubt that the proletariat would be in power in all countries, if
there were not still between them [communist parties] and the masses,
between the revolutionary mass and the advanced groups of the revolutionary
mass, a large, powerful and complex machine, the parties of the Second
International and the trade unions, which in the epoch of the disintegration,
the dying of the bourgeoisie, placed their machine at the service of that
bourgeoisie… . From now on, from this congress, the split in the world
working class will proceed with tenfold greater rapidity. Programme against
programme; tactic against tactic; method against method.

To be sure, no Communist underestimated the negative consequences of any
split in the workers’ movement. However, convinced as the Communists
were that the world was in a period of ‘sharp civil war’, and that the time
of the seizure of power was near, at least in the most advanced countries,
they decided, without a real preliminary discussion, to apply these conditions.”

– Pierre Broue, The German Revolution, 1917-1923. Translated by John Archer and edited by Ian Birchall and Brian Pearce. Brill: London & New York, 2005. pp. 422-427

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