Third to Fifth Comintern Congresses

The Third Congress

The Third Congress met from June 22 to July 12, 1921 – only three month after the famine-stricken Soviet Land had concluded a peace treaty with Poland and a trade pact with the UK. Under the latter pact, the two countries had undertaken to curb all mutually hostile propaganda, and Soviet Russia in particular agreed to abstain from all propaganda that might provoke the Asian peoples to act against British interests. Either because of this, or because the question had been sufficiently dealt with just a year ago – or for both the reason – the national-colonial question was not placed on the agenda of this Congress. However, it was indirectly discussed in the thesis on the world situation and overall strategy and tactics. In Text II-6, we reproduce a paragraph from the said thesis which briefly but ably reaffirms and clarifies the Second Congress class line on national liberation movements. On the last day of the Congress a very short discussion of the “eastern question” was allowed, and this immediately drew a vigorous protest from colonial countries’ delegates and a few others like Andre Julien of the French delegation. Leading them was MN Roy, who said that “The method by which the eastern question is being discussed in this Congress purely opportunistic and more worthy of the Second International.” Pointing out the way the issue was side-tracked (as he felt), he ended his protest with the words: “… I call upon the Congress to entrust the eastern question once again to a properly constituted commission and consider it with all the seriousness it merits.”[1]

As was to be expected, the last-day, last-minute call did not have at least any practical effect on the Congress.

The Fourth Congress

Whereas the Third Congress was preceded by the crushing of the armed insurrection by German Communists (known as the “March Action”), the immediate backdrop to the Fourth (5 November – 5 December, 1922) was provided by Mussolini’s fascist regime coming to power in Italy just a month ago. With these setbacks in the West, importance of revolutionary East naturally came to be highlighted more and more. Meanwhile, UK-Soviet relations had already deteriorated considerably on account of Soviet involvement in the Turkish problem and there was little reason to take the stipulations of the trade pact too seriously. All this was reflected in the Fourth Congress: two full sessions were allotted to the eastern question and detailed theses on it were discussed and adopted. The main tactical slogans that emanated from this Congress were : (i) for advanced capitalist countries — united working class front against capitalist and fascist offensive, with workers’ government as the most appropriate form of this united front; and (ii) for colonial and semi-colonial countries — united anti-imperialist front to carry forward national liberation movements. In Documents section we reproduce extracts from the Theses on the Eastern Question and from Roy’s report on them (Text II-7 and II-8 respectively). These two documents have received less than adequate attention from historians and analysts, may be because there was no sensational “debate” as such in this Congress. But together they contribute the following insights into the class configuration in colonies and semi-colonies and the consequent tasks of the proletariat (this despite certain characteristic flaws and exaggerations of Roy) :

    1. The theses take note of “the development of native capitalism in the colonies and semi-colonial countries which are outgrowing the narrow framework of imperialist domination thanks to weakened “imperialist pressure” and increased inter-imperialist rivalries. Roy carries the theme further. According to him, there has been a veritable shift in imperialist policy, viz., allowing “sufficient industrial development” in “countries like India and China” so as to solve the problem of market. This represents another step toward Roy’s “decolonisation theory” which we shall have occasion to discuss in the chapter “The Sixth Congress of Comintern” in Part III of this volume.

    2. The alliance between the native bourgeoisie, feudal forces and imperialism is pointed out more clearly than in the past, and the economic basis as well as political reasons for the bourgeoisie’s departure form the scene of struggle explained. In the light of recent experience it is analysed why between the native bourgeoisie and the imperialist power there are both compromise and conflict, and why this compromise often turn into conflict and vice versa.

    3. As Roy explains, both the compromising “upper layer” and the weak “lower layer” of the native bourgeoisie are incapable of leading national revolutionary movements beyond a certain point. So it cannot be left to the bourgeois parties to organise the united anti-imperialist front and “we have to develop our parties … in Order to take the lead in the organisation of this front.”

    4. In addition to reiterating the cardinal importance of agrarian revolution, the theses provide a very precise and concrete definition of proletarian hegemony in backward countries — “The struggle to secure influence over the peasantry should prepare the proletariat for the role of political leadership”. Only after “this preparatory work” is accomplished, the theses point out, “will it be possible to advance against bourgeois democracy. …”

Note : 1. Cited by G Adhikari, Vol. I, pp 266-67 from Third Congress of the Communist International, Stenographic Report (Russian, p 472.)

In the Fourth Congress deliberations we find the following reference. Whereas Zinoviev, the chairman of the Comintern was all praise for the work done in India, Karl Radek, the General Secretary, gave a more balanced assessment:

    “In India we have already an ideological centre; I must say that comrade Roy has succeeded in achieving a big piece of work during the last year in the Marxist interpretation of Indian conditons given in his admirable book and also in his organ.[2] In no other Eastern communist party has this kind of work been done. … However, it must be admitted that as yet we have not done much in connnection with the great trade union movement in India and the large number of strikes which convulsed the country…[3]

The Fifth Congress

Meeting between 17 June and 8 July, 1924, the Fifth Congress of the Comintern discussed — and adopted a lengthy resolution on — Zinoviev’s report, placed on behalf of the ECCI, on the activities and tactics during the period following the last Congress. In Text II-9 we reproduce two paragraphs from this resolution dealing with the national colonial question. Para 18 declared that the ECCI should maintain direct contact with national liberation movements as a whole, but Roy insisted that while supporting such movements, the ECCI’s direct contact should be with the revolutionary elements of the same (see Text II-10).

A “Report on the National Colonial Question” was also placed before the Congress by Dmitri Manuilsky, who headed the Colonial Commission constituted by the Fifth Congress. Roy was one of the members of the commission, and a debate which took place there was brought before the delegates both by Roy and Manilsky (see items 10, 11 and 12 of Text II).

Fifth Extended Plenum of ECCI

This plenum, held between 21 March and 6 April, 1925, was for India no less important than a regular congress. Among other things, the plenum sought to concretise the Fourth Congress guidelines on the colonial question. In a Colonial Commission constituted for the purpose, detailed reports were heard from countries like India, China, Egypt etc., and specific resolutions adopted on these countries, which were then endorsed by the Political Commission and adopted at the plenum. We reproduce in Text II-13 that part of the plenum resolution which deals with India. We also reproduce a section of a speech delivered by Stalin on 18 May, 1925, at the University of the Peoples of the East (Moscow), for it seeks to explain and extend the Fifth Plenum decisions on colonial countries, with special reference to India (Text II-14). The plenum resolution refers to the differentiation of the indigenous bourgeoisie and its political groupings, but does not say that a section of it “has already rallied to the side of imperialism”, as Stalin opines. The resolution, therefore, calls upon the Indian communists specifically to work within the Congress and the Swaraj Party and recommends that “All Nationalist organisations should be formed into a mass revolutionary party and an all-India anti-imperialist bloc.” On the other hand, Stalin’s analysis of a clear division in the Indian bourgeoisie leads him naturally to advocate “concentrated attack upon the reformist section” and the formation of a “revolutionary, anti-imperialist coalition” led by the proletariat in cooperation with the “revolutionary section of the native bourgeoisie”. Both the Plenum and Stalin, of course, stressed the consolidation of the communist party and ‘accepted’ the idea of a workers’ and peasants’ party.

How are we to assess the Comintern debates on national colonial question and which of the conflicting positions are we to support? Let us judge this question in the light of actual Indian experience during the period covered by Second to Fifth Congresses, i.e., 1920 to 1924.

Notes :

2. The book refers to India In Transition and the organ is The Vanguard of Indian Independence.

3. See Fourth Congress of the Communist International, Abridged Report – Communist Party of Great Britain, London, p 224