The Comintern (from Communist International), also known as the Third International, was an international Communist organization founded in March 1919 by Lenin and the Russian Communist Party (bolshevik), which intended to fight "by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State." The Comintern represented a split from the Second International in response to the latter's failure to form a unified coalition against the First World War, which the Third Internationalists regarded as a bourgeois imperialist war.
The Comintern held seven World Congresses, the first in March 1919 and the last in 1935, until it was dissolved in 1943. Groups coming from the tradition of Left Communism today recognise only the first two congresses, and groups coming out of the Bolshevik Leninist or Trotskyist movement recognise the decisions of the first four only. Communist Parties of the Stalinist or Maoist persuasion, however, recognize all seven congresses.
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Origins of the Communist International
The origins of the Communist International are to be found in the split in the workers movement that surfaced in 1914 with the beginning of the First World War although divisions between revolutionary and reformist minded elements had been developing for some considerable time. For example as far back as 1899 reformist or right wing elements in the socialist movement had supported the entry of French socialist Millerand into the government of the day. On the other hand revolutionary or left wing elements were fiercely to this development. Also of importance was the literary controversy over the publication of Bernsteins Evolutionary Socialism which espoused a reformist path to socialism which received powerful criticism from, among others, Karl Kautsky and the young Rosa Luxemburg.
The Russian Revolution of 1905 had the affect of radicalising many socialist parties as did a number of General Strikes in pursuit of universal suffrage in Western European countries. at this point the Second or Socialist International appeared to be a united body that was growing at every election and in every advanced country. Karl Kautsky, aptly dubbed the Pope of Marxism, was at his most radical as the editor of the hughly influential Die Neue Zeit (New Times) the theoretical journal of the massive Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Germany which was the flagship of the International.
However by 1910 divisions were appearing in the left of Social Democracy, as the Marxists who dominated the International described themselves, and left wing thinkers such as Rosa Luxemburg and the Dutch theoretician Anton Pannekoek were becoming ever more critical of Kautsky. From this point onwards then it is possible to speak of there being a reformist right, a centre and a revolutionary left within the International. Interestingly, from the point of later events, both the Menshevik and Bolshevik wings of the Russian Social Democracy were counted amongst the revolutionary left wing. Although the quarreling groups of emigres were not held in high regard by the leaders of the international and were unknown to the general public.
World War I was to prove the issue which finally and irrevocably separated the revolutionary and reformist wings of the workers movement. For despite passing by massive majorities resolutions that the Socialist international would call upon the international working class to resist war should it be declared within hours of the declaration of war almost all the socialist parties of the combatant states had declared their support for their won countries. The only exceptions being the socialist parties of the Balkans, Russia and tiny minorities in other countries. The socialist parties of the neutral countries for the most part continued to argue for neutralism and against total opposition to the war.
As before the war the divisions wthin the socialist movement were between a revolutionary left, a reformist right and a centre which wavered between the two opposite poles. Amngst the most vociferous opponents of the war was Lenin the leader of the Bolshevik faction of Russian socialists who observing the collapse of the Socialist International declared that a new Third International had now to be constructed to take its place. It was Lenin who now condemned reformist socialists as Social-Chauvinists (socialist in their words but chauvinist in their deeds) as well as much of the centre, which often opposed the war but refused to break party discipline and therefore voted war credits, as social-pacifists. This latter term being aimed in particular at Ramsay MacDonald) the leader of the Independant Labour Party in Britain who did in fact oppose the war on grounds of pacifism but did nothing to resist it.
A central policy of the Comintern was that Communist parties should be established across the world to aid the international proletarian revolution. They also shared the idea of democratic centralism, which essentially boils down to the principle that all decisions must be made democratically and all voices must be heard in the process, but party members should not continue to dispute a decision after it has been adopted.
The following parties and movements were invited to the First Congress of the Communist International:
- Spartacus League (Germany)
- The Communist Party (Bolshevik) Russia
- The Communist Party of German Austria
- The Hungarian Communist Workers' Party
- The Finnish CP
- The Polish Communist Workers' Party
- The Communist Party of Estonia
- The Latvian CP
- The Lithuanian CP
- The Belarusian CP
- The Ukrainian CP
- The revolutionary elements of the Czech social democracy
- The Bulgarian Social-Democratic Party (Tesnjaki)
- The Romanian SDP
- The Left-wing of the Serbian SDP
- The Social Democratic Left Party of Sweden
- The Norwegian Labour Party
- For Denmark, the Klassenkampen group
- The Dutch CP
- The revolutionary elements of the Belgian Workers Party
- The groups and organisations within the French socialist and syndicalist movements
- The social-democratic Left of Switzerland
- the Italian Socialist Party
- The revolutionary elements of the Spanish SP
- The revolutionary elements of the Portuguese SP
- The British socialist parties (particularly the current represented by MacLean)
- The Socialist Labour Party (Britain)
- Industrial Workers of the World (Britain)
- The revolutionary elements of the workers' organisations of Ireland
- The revolutionary elements among the shop stewards (Britain)
- The Socialist Labor Party of the United States
- The Left elements of the SP of America (the tendency represented by Debs and the League for Socialist Propaganda)
- IWW (United States)
- IWW (Australia)
- Workers' International Industrial Union (America)
- The Socialist groups of Tokyo and Yokohama (Japan, represented by Comrade Katayama)
- The Socialist Youth International (represented by Comrade Munzenburg)
For a party to join the Comintern, it had to accept the Twenty-one Conditions, which were intended to delimit revolutionary communists from the reformist and centrist forces which sought to join the Comintern in the wake of the success of the Russian revolution.
The First Four World Congresses of the Communist International
The first Chairman of the Comintern's Executive Committee was Grigory Zinoviev, from 1919 to 1926 (when he was dismissed after falling out of favor with Stalin, who already held considerable power by this time). Nikolai Bukharin led the Comintern for two years, until 1928, until he too fell out with Stalin. Bulgarian communist leader Georgi Dimitrov headed the Comintern in 1934 and presided it until its dissolution.
From the Fifth to the Seventh World Congress
Several international organizations sposored by Comintern:
- Red International of Labour Unions (Profintern)
- Red Peasant International (Krestintern)
- International Red Aid (MOPR)
- Communist Youth International
- Red Sports International (Sportintern)
From the Last Congress to Dissolution
The last Congress of the Comintern was held in 1935 and officially endorsed the Popular Front against fascism. This policy argued that the Communist Parties should seek to form a Popular Front with all parties that opposed fascism and not limit themselves to forming a United Front with those parties based on the working class. There was no significant opposition to this policy within any of the national sections of the Comintern; in France and Spain in particular, it would have momentous consequences.
As the Seventh World Congress officially repudiated the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism as the purpose of the Comintern, Leon Trotsky was led to state that it was the death of the Comintern as a revolutionary International – and therefore a New International needed to be built. Trotsky also argued that the Stalinist parties were now to be considered reformist parties, similar to the social democratic parties (but also playing a role as border guards for the Russian state).
As a result, in 1938 the Fourth International was founded in opposition to the Comintern. The communists of the Fourth International believed that the Third International had become thoroughly bureaucratized and Stalinized, and was no longer capable of regenerating itself into a proper revolutionary organization. In particular, they saw the calamitous defeat of the communist movement in Germany (at the hands of the nazis) as evidence that the Comintern was effectively irrelevant and fully under Stalin's control.
At the start of World War II, the Comintern supported a policy of pacifism and non-intervention, arguing that this was an imperialist war between various national ruling classes, much like World War I had been. However, when the Soviet Union itself was invaded in 1941, the Comintern switched its position to one of active support for the Allies.
After the Comintern
In 1947 the Cominform, or Communist Information Bureau, was created as a substitute of the Comintern. It was a network made up of the Communist parties of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia. It was dissolved in 1956.
While the pro-Moscow Communist parties of the world no longer had a formal international organisation, they still looked to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or CPSU, for leadership, and had periodic meetings in Moscow. The most notable of these was in 1962 when the Sino-Soviet split became public for the first time. There was especially close coordination between the CPSU and the Communist Parties of the Warsaw Pact.
- Anti-Comintern Pact
- List of left-wing internationals
- List of Communist Parties
- List of members of the Comintern
- World Communist Movement