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How front-line parties took the lead in Lenin’s Comintern

January 5, 2015

By John Riddell. The article posted here analyzes the leading role played by German, Italian, and other parties outside Soviet Russia in shaping the decisions of the Communist International’s Fourth Congress, held in Moscow in November-December 1922.

A much-condensed version of this text was first published here in 2011 under the title “The Comintern in 1922: The periphery pushes back” and proved to be one of the most popular items on this blog. The full version posted here presents the factual material on which the previous article was based. The present text is based on the introduction to Toward the United Front, my edition of the Comintern’s Fourth Congress, published in 2011.

First published in the current issue of Historical Materialism (vol. 22, no. 3-4), the text is posted here by permission of Brill Academic Publishers. The article is copyright Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2014. Subscriptions to Historical Materialism are available until 1 February 2015 at a discount price of US$63.

Introductory passages are posted below; the full text, which covers 50 pages, is provided at the bottom of this page in PDF format.

Summary

PA76The Fourth Congress of the Communist International, held in November–December 1922, shows evidence of member parties outside Soviet Russia taking initiatives and exerting significant influence on central political questions before world communism. On at least three issues, all related to united-front policy, non-Russian delegates’ pressure substantially altered Comintern Executive Committee proposals to the Congress. A central role in this process was played by leaders of the German Communist Party. The record of the Congress, newly available in English, also contains many calls for increasing the authority of the Comintern Executive. Still, the influence of non-Russian delegations, in a context of frequent division among leading Bolsheviks, suggests that influence of front-line parties was significant and possibly growing in 1922, little more than a year before the Comintern took a sharp turn toward Russian-dominated bureaucratisation.

Introduction

The Fourth Congress of the Communist International, held in Petrograd and Moscow between 5 November and 5 December 1922, was the last to take place in the lifetime of V.I. Lenin. Held only a year before the first signs of Stalinist degeneration took hold, the Congress provides the most mature expression of the world movement that Lenin had led in founding three and a half years earlier. The proceedings of the Congress appeared in 2011 in a Historical Materialism Book Series edition, thus enabling an English-language readership to have a close look at the often-fractious Congress debates. The record shows that, in comparison with previous congresses, front-line parties played an increased role in revising Executive Committee proposals and shaping the Congress’s outcome. Although the Congress heard many appeals to heighten the Comintern Executive Committee’s authority, the course of debates reveals a significant counter-current, through which decisions were shaped by experiences in national struggles.

This assessment of the Fourth Congress runs counter to the opinion of many Comintern historians, who hold that the Russian Communist leadership had decisive and overriding influence in shaping the world movement from its earliest days….

The proceedings of the Fourth Comintern Congress are not a new archival discovery. They have been in plain view for ninety-two years, in the form of a published 1,060-page German-language stenographic transcript. This record has been utilised extensively in several major Comintern histories. There is much in the proceedings to sustain the textbook interpretation regarding Bolshevik dominance, particularly with reference to Comintern organisational structure. Yet when read from the vantage point of policy decisions, rather than assertions of organisational principle, this record shows substantial evidence of front-line parties’ influence on strategic policy decision.

Complete Text in PDF Format:

The Comintern in 1922

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