November 13, 2017

Comintern and National & Colonial Questions: Fourth Congress

Fourth Congress 1922

5 November – 5 December
Theses on the Eastern Question

I. The Growth of the Revolutionary Movement in the East

The Second Congress of the Communist International basing itself on the work of Soviet administration in the East and the growth of the nationalist-revolutionary movement in the colonies outlined the principles of the national-colonial question in the period of prolonged struggle between imperialism and the proletarian dictatorship.

Since that time the struggle against imperialist oppression in the colonies and semi-colonial countries has become considerably more acute as a consequence of the deepening post-war political and economic crises of imperialism.

Evidence of this is served by: (1) the collapse of the Sevres Treaty on the partition of Turkey and the possibility of the complete restoration of the national and political independence of the latter; (2) the stormy growth of a national-revolutionary movement in India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Morocco, China and Korea; (3) the hopeless internal crisis of Japanese imperialism giving rise to the rapid growth of elements of a bourgeois-democratic revolution in the country and the transition by the Japanese proletariat to independent class struggle; (4) the awakening of the labour movement in all countries of the East and the formation of communist parties almost in all parts of the East.

The facts enumerated above indicate a change in the social basis of the revolutionary movement in the colonies. This change leads to the anti-imperialist struggle becoming more acute; this struggle is no longer being led exclusively by the feudal classes and the national bourgeoisie which is preparing to compromise with imperialism.

The imperialist war of 1914-18 and the prolonged crisis which followed it, particularly in Europe, have weakened the power of the great powers over the colonies. On the other hand, these same circumstances are narrowing the economic bases and spheres of influence of world capitalism, have rendered imperialist rivalry for the colonies more acute and in this way have disturbed the equilibrium of the whole world imperialist system (the fight for oil, Anglo-French conflict in Asia Minor, the Japanese-American rivalry for the domination of the Pacific Ocean, etc.).

It is precisely this weakening of imperialist pressure in the colonies, together with the increasing rivalry between various imperialist groups, that has facilitated the development of native capitalism in the colonies and semi colonial countries which are outgrowing the narrow framework of the domination of the imperialist great powers. Hitherto the capitalists of the great powers in maintaining their monopoly rights to secure super-profits from trade, industry and the taxation of backward countries have striven to isolate these from world economic intercourse. The demand for national and economic independence put forward by the national movements in the colonies serves to express the needs of bourgeois development in these countries. The growth of native productive forces in these colonies, therefore, causes an irreconcilable antagonism of interests between them and world imperialism, for the essence of imperialism consists in using the varying levels of development of productive forces in various parts of the economic world for the purpose of extracting monopoly super-profits.

II. Conditions of the Struggle

The backwardness of the colonies is reflected in the motley character of the national-revolutionary movements against imperialism, which in their turn, reflect the varying states of transition from feudal and feudal-patriarchal relations to capitalism. This variety of conditions makes its impression upon the ideology of these movements. To the extent that capitalism in the colonial countries arises and develops from feudal bases in hybrid, imperfect and intermediary forms, which gives predominance above all to merchant capitalism, the rise of bourgeois democracy from feudal-bureaucratic and feudal-agrarian elements proceeds often by devious and protracted paths. This represents the chief obstacle for successful mass struggles against imperialist oppression as the foreign imperialists in all the backward countries convert the feudal (and partly also the semi-feudal, semi-bourgeois) upper classes of native society into agents of their domination (military governors – Tuchuns – in China, the native aristocracy and tax farmers – the zamindars and talukdars – in India, the feudal bureaucracy in Persia, the agrarian-planter capital formations in Egypt, etc.).

For that reason the dominant classes in the colonies and the semi-colonial countries are incapable and unwilling to lead the struggle against imperialism in so far as this struggle tends to become a revolutionary mass movement. Only where the feudal-patriarchal system has not decayed to such an extent as to completely separate the native aristocracy from the mass of the people, as among the nomadic and semi nomadic peoples, can those upper classes take up the active leadership of the struggle against imperialist violence (Mesopotamia, Morocco, Mongolia).

In Moslem countries the nationalist movement at first expresses its ideology in religious-political watchwords of pan-Islamism, which enables diplomats and officials of the great powers to exploit the prejudices and ignorance of the masses of the people to combat this movement (British imperialism’s gains of pan-Islamism and pan-Arabism, the British plan of transferring the caliphate to India and the gambling of French imperialism with its “Moslem sympathies”). With the growth and expansion of the national-liberation movement the religious political watchwords of pan-Islamism are substituted by concrete political demands. The struggle for the separation of temporal power from the caliphate which took place in Turkey recently is evidence of this.

This main task common to all national-revolutionary movements is to bring about national unity and achieve political independence. The real and consistent solution of this depends on the extent to which the national movement in any particular country is capable of attracting to itself the toiling masses and break off all connections with the reactionary feudal elements and include in its programme the social demands of the masses.

Being completely aware that the will of a nation for political independence in varying historical conditions can be expressed by the most diverse classes, the Communist International supports all national-revolutionary movements against imperialism. At the same time it does not lose sight of the fact that only a consistent revolutionary line of policy based on the active support of the masses, and the unreserved break with all advocates of compromise with imperialism in the interests of maintaining class domination, can lead the oppressed masses to victory. The connection between the native bourgeoisie and the feudal reactionary elements enables the imperialists to make wide use of feudal anarchy, the rivalry between various leaders and tribes, the antagonism between town and country, the struggle between the castes and national religious sects, etc. for the purposes of disorganising the popular movement (China, Persia, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia).

III. Agrarian Question

The majority of countries in the East (India, Persia, Egypt Syria, Mesopotamia) the agrarian question is of primary importance in the struggle for emancipation from the domination of the despotism of the great powers. Exploiting and ruining the peasant majorities in the backward nations, imperialism deprives them of the elementary means of existence while the low development of industry scattered among a few junctional points in the country renders it impossible for it to absorb the superfluous agrarian population which at the same time has no means of emigrating. The peasants remaining on the land are pauperised and converted into serfs. While in the advanced countries prior to the war, industrial crises served as regulators of social production, this function in the colonies is performed by famine. Vitally interested in securing the greatest profits with the least expenditure of capital, imperialism strives all it can to maintain in the backward countries the feudal usurious form of exploiting labour power. In some countries like India, it assumes the monopoly rights of the native feudal state to the land and converts the land tribute into feudal dues and the zamindars and talukdars into its agents. In other countries it extracts ground-rent through the native organisations of large landowners, as is the case in Persia, Morocco, Egypt, etc. The struggle for the emancipation of the land from feudal dues and feudal obstacles thus assumes the character of a struggle for national emancipation against imperialism and feudal large landownership (examples of this are the Moplah rising against the landowners and the British in India in the autumn of 1921 and the revolt of the Sikhs in 1922).

Only the agrarian revolution aiming at the expropriation of the large landowners can rouse the vast peasant masses destined to have a decisive influence in the struggles against imperialism. The fear of agrarian watchwords on the part of the bourgeois nationalists (India, Persia, Egypt) is evidence of the close ties existing between the native bourgeoisie with the large feudal and feudal-bourgeois landowners and their ideological and political dependence upon the latter. The hesitation and wavering of this class must be used by the revolutionary elements for systematic criticism and exposure of the lack of resolution of the bourgeois leaders of the national movement. It is precisely this lack of resolution that hinders the organisation of the toiling masses as is proved by the bankruptcy of the tactics of noncooperation in India.

The revolutionary movement in the backward countries of the East cannot be successful unless it is based on the action of masses of the peasantry. For that reason the revolutionary parties in all eastern countries must define their agrarian programme which should demand the complete abolition of feudalism and its survivals expressed in the forms of large landownership and tax farming. In order that the peasant masses may be drawn into active participation in the struggle for national liberation, it is necessary to proclaim the radical reform of the basis of land ownership. It is necessary also to compel the bourgeois-nationalist parties to the greatest extent possible to adopt this revolutionary agrarian programme.

IV. The Labour Movement in the East

The young labour movement in the East is a product of the development of native capitalism during the last few years. Hitherto the working class in the East, even its fundamental nucleus, has been in a state of transition, on the path from small handicraft to large capitalist industry. In so far as the bourgeois-nationalist intelligentsia draws the revolutionary movement of the working class into the struggle against imperialism, this intelligentsia provide the leaders for the embryonic trade-union organisations and their sections in the first stages of their development. In the first stages, these movements do not extend beyond the limits of the “common national” interests of bourgeois democracy (strikes against imperialist bureaucracy and administration in China and India). Frequently, as was already shown at the Second Congress of the Comintern, representatives of bourgeois nationalism exploiting the moral and political authority of Soviet Russia, and playing to the class instincts of the workers, clothed their bourgeois-democratic strivings in “socialist” and “communist” forms, in order by these means, sometimes unconsciously, to divert the embryonic proletarian organisations from the direct tasks of class organisations (the Eshil Ordu in Turkey which painted pan-Turkism in communist colours, the “state socialism” advocated by some representatives of the Kuomintang in China).

In spite of this, the trade-union and political movement of the working class in the backward countries has made considerable progress in recent years. The formation of independent proletarian class parties in almost all the eastern countries is a remarkable fact, although the overwhelming majority of these parties must still undergo considerable internal reorganisation in order to free themselves from amateurity, sectarianism and other defects. The fact that the Communist International estimated the potential importance of the labour movement in the East right from the very beginning is a fact of colossal importance, as it is a clear expression of the real international unity of the proletariat of the whole world under the banner of communism. The Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals to this very day have not found support in a single backward country precisely because they play the part of “servants” to European and American imperialism.

V. The General Tasks of the Communist Parties in the East

While the bourgeois nationalists regard the labour movement merely from the point of view of its importance as a means for securing victory for themselves, the international proletariat regards the young labour movement of the East from the point of view of its revolutionary future. Under capitalism the backward countries cannot achieve modern technique and culture without paying enormous tribute in the form of barbarous exploitation and oppression for the advantage of the capitalists of the great powers. Alliance with the proletariat of advanced countries is dictated not merely by the interests of a common struggle against imperialism but also by the fact that only by a victory of the proletariat of the advanced countries can the workers of the East obtain unselfish aid in the development of their productive forces. An alliance with the proletariat in the West will lay the path towards an international federation of Soviet republics. The Soviet system, for the backward nations, represents the least painful form of transition from primitive conditions of existence to the highest culture of communism, destined to take the place of the capitalist method of production and distribution all over the world. This is proved by the experience of the development of the Soviet system in the liberated colonies formerly comprising the Russian empire. Only a Soviet form of administration is able to guarantee the consistent fulfilment of the agrarian peasant revolution. The specific conditions of agriculture in certain countries of the East (artificial irrigation) maintained in the past by a peculiar organisation of collective cooperation on a feudal-patriarchal basis and disrupted by predatory capitalism demand also a state organisation of such a type as would be able systematically and in an organised manner to serve public needs. As a consequence of special climatic and historical conditions the cooperation of small producers in the East is destined to play an important role in the transition period.

The objective tasks of colonial revolutions exceed the limit of bourgeois democracy by the very fact that a decisive victory is incompatible with the domination of world imperialism. While the native bourgeoisie and bourgeois intelligentsia are the pioneers of colonial revolutionary movements, with the entry of proletarian and semi proletarian peasant masses into these movements, however, the rich bourgeoisie and bourgeois landlords begin to leave it as the social interests of the masses assume prominence. The young proletariat of the colonies is still confronted by a prolonged struggle over a whole historical epoch, a struggle against imperialist exploitation and against its own ruling classes, striving to secure in its own hands the monopoly of all the advantages of industrial and cultural development and to maintain the masses of the toilers in their previous “primitive” state.

The struggle to secure influence over the peasant masses should prepare the native proletariat for the role of political leadership. Only after having accomplished this preparatory work on its own training and that of the social classes closely allied to itself will it be possible to advance against bourgeois democracy which, amidst the conditions of the backward East, bears a more hypocritical character than the West.

The refusal of the communists in the colonies to participate against imperialist oppression on the pretext of alleged “defence” of independent class interests is opportunism of the worst kind calculated only to discredit the proletarian revolution in the East. No less harmful must be recognised the attempt to isolate oneself from the immediate and everyday interests of the working class for the sake of “national unity” or “civil peace” with bourgeois democracy. The communist and working-class parties in the colonies and semi-colonial countries are confronted by a twofold task: on the one hand to fight for the most radical solutions of the problems of bourgeois-democratic revolution, directed to the conquest of political independence, and on the other to organise the workers and peasants to fight for their special class interests and to take advantage of the antagonism existing in the nationalist bourgeois-democratic camp. In putting forward special demands, these parties stimulate and release revolutionary energy which finds no outlet in bourgeois liberal demands. The working class in the colonies and semi-colonial countries must know that only by deepening and extending the struggle against the imperialism of the great powers can its role as revolutionary leader be fulfilled. On the other hand, the economic and political organisations and the political training of the working class and the semi-proletarian classes will facilitate and extend the revolutionary scope of the struggle against imperialism.

The communist parties in the colonies and semi-colonial countries in the East, which are still in a more or less embryonic stage, must take part in every movement that gives them access to the masses. At the same time, however, they must conduct an energetic campaign against the patriarchal and craft prejudices and bourgeois influences in the labour unions, in order to protect these embryonic organisations from reformist tendencies and in order to convert them into mass fighting organisations. They must exert all their efforts to organise the numerous agricultural labourers and artisans of both sexes on the basis of defending their immediate everyday interests.

VI. The United Anti-Imperialist Front

While in the West amidst the conditions of the transition period, which is a period of organised accumulation of strength, the watchword of the united labour front was put forward, in the colonial East it is at present necessary to put forward the watchword of a united anti-imperialist front. The expediency of these tactics is dictated by the prospects of a prolonged struggle against world imperialism demanding the mobilisation of all revolutionary elements. This mobilisation becomes all the more necessary from the fact that the native ruling classes are inclined to make compromise with the foreign capitalists directed against the fundamental interests of the masses of the people. Just as the watchword of the united labour front in the West facilitates the exposure of the social-democratic betrayal of the interests of the proletariat, so the watchword of the united anti-imperialist front will facilitate the exposure of the wavering and hesitation of certain bourgeois-nationalist groups in the East. This watchword will also help to develop the revolutionary will and to make more definite the class consciousness of the masses of the toilers and bring them into the front ranks of the struggle, not only against imperialism but against all survivals of feudalism.

The labour movement in the colonies and semi-colonial countries must first of all secure for itself the positions of an independent factor in the common anti-imperialist front. Only on the basis of the recognition of this independence and the maintenance of complete independence is a temporary agreement with bourgeois democracy permissible and necessary. The proletariat must support and put forward partial demands such as independent democratic republic, abolition of all feudal rights and privileges, and enfranchisement of women, etc. in view of the fact that the present correlation of forces does not permit it to carry out its Soviet programme. At the same time it must strive to put forward such demands as will assist in establishing the closest possible contact between the peasantry and semi-proletarian masses and the labour movement. To explain to the masses of the toilers the necessity for an alliance with the international proletariat and the Soviet republics is one of the most important tasks of the tactics of the anti-imperialist front. The colonial revolution can be victorious and defend its gains only in conjunction with the proletarian revolution in the advanced countries.

The danger of an agreement being arrived at between the bourgeois nationalists and one or several of the rival imperialist powers in the semi-colonial countries (China, Persia) or in countries striving to secure political independence by exploiting the rivalry between the imperialists (Turkey) is greater than in the colonies. Such an agreement would signify an irrational division of power between the native ruling classes and the imperialists, and under the cloak of formal independence will leave the country in the same position of a buffer semi-colonial state subordinate to world imperialism.

Recognising the permissibility and inevitability of partial and temporary compromises for the purposes of securing a respite in the revolutionary struggle against imperialism, the working class must, however, irreconcilably resist every attempt at avowed or tacit division of power between the imperialist and the native ruling classes aiming at the preservation by the latter of their class privileges. The demand for a close alliance between the proletariat and Soviet republics serves as the banner of the united anti-imperialist front. Simultaneously with the advocacy of this demand, a most determined struggle must be conducted for a most democratic political regime, in order to undermine the power of the most politically and socially reactionary elements, and preserve the freedom of organisation for the toilers in their struggle for their class interests (the demand for democratic republics, agrarian reforms, reforms of taxation, the basis of wide self-government, labour legislation, the protection of child labour, the protection of mothers and infants, etc.). Even in independent Turkey, the working class does not enjoy freedom of organisation, and this may serve as a typical example of the attitude of the bourgeois nationalists towards the proletariat.

VII. The Tasks of the Proletariat on the Pacific Coast

The necessity for the establishment of an anti-imperialist front is dictated also by the constant growth of imperialist rivalry. This rivalry has today assumed such acute forms, that a fresh world war, the arena of which will be the Pacific Ocean, is inevitable unless an international revolution forestalls it.

The Washington conference was an attempt to obviate this danger, but as a matter of fact it succeeded only in rendering the antagonisms between the imperialists more profound and acute. The recent conflict between Wu Pei-fu and Chang Tso-lin in China was a direct consequence of the failure of Japanese and Anglo-American capitalism to harmonise their interests at Washington. The new world war which menaces the world will affect not only Japan, America and England, but also other capitalist powers (France, Holland, etc.) and threatens to be even more destructive than the war of 1914-18.

The task of the communist parties in the colonial and semi-colonial countries on the Pacific Coast is to conduct an extensive propaganda to explain to the masses the oncoming danger, to call upon them to take up an active struggle for national liberation and to teach them to regard Soviet Russia as the bulwark of all the oppressed and exploited masses.

The communist parties in the imperialist countries, America, Japan, England, Australia, Canada, in view of the threatening danger must not limit themselves merely to a propaganda against war, but must exert all their efforts to remove all the disruptive factors from the labour movement in their respective countries and to prevent the capitalists taking advantage of national and racial antagonisms. These factors are: the immigration question and cheap coloured labour.

The system of indentured labour to this very day is the main system of recruiting coloured workers for the sugar plantations of the Southern Pacific to which workers are transported from China and India. This fact has compelled the workers in the imperialist countries to demand anti-immigration laws against coloured workers as is the case in America and Australia. These prohibition laws deepen the antagonism between white and coloured workers and break and weaken the unity of the labour movement.

The communist parties of America, Canada and Australia must conduct an energetic campaign against anti-immigration laws and must explain to the masses of the proletariat in these countries that these laws, by arousing national hatreds, in the last recourse only damage them.

On the other hand, the capitalists desire to repeal the anti-immigration laws in order to maintain the free import of cheap labour, and thus force down the wages of the white workers. This attempted offensive of the capitalists can be successfully averted only by the immigrant workers being absorbed in the existing white labour unions. At the same time the demand must be put forward for raising the wage of coloured workers to the level of white workers. Such tactics will expose the plans of the capitalists and at the same time clearly show to the coloured workers that the international proletariat has no racial prejudices.

In order to carry out these tactics, the representatives of the revolutionary proletariat of the countries on the Pacific should gather at a pan-Pacific conference in order to work out correct lines of actions and to decide on the proper forms of organisation for the purpose of uniting all the proletarians among the races of the Pacific.

VIII. The Task of the Communist Parties in the Home Countries

The great importance of the colonial revolutionary movements for the cause of the international proletarian revolution makes necessary an intensification of the work in the colonies, particularly by the communist parties of the imperialist countries.

French imperialism is basing all its calculations on the suppression of the proletarian revolutionary struggle in France and Europe by using its colonial slaves as the fighting reserve of the counterrevolution.

British and American imperialism continues to divide the labour movement by maintaining on its side the aristocracy of labour by promises of a share in its super-profits obtained by the exploitation of the colonies.

Every communist party in the countries possessing colonies must undertake the task of organising systematic ideological and material assistance to the labour and revolutionary movement in the colonies. They must carry out a persistent and determined struggle against the quasi-socialist, colonising tendencies prevailing among certain categories of well-paid European workers in the colonies. European communist workers in the colonies must strive to rally around themselves the native proletariat and gain its confidence by concrete economic demands (equal pay for white and native workers, protection of labour, labour insurance, etc).

The formation of exclusive European communist organisations in the colonies (Egypt, Algeria) is a concealed form of colonialism and is an aid to imperialist interests. The formation of communist organisations on national lines is a contradiction of the principle of proletarian internationalism. All parties belonging to the Communist International must unceasingly explain to the masses of toilers the importance of the struggle against imperialist domination in the backward countries. The communist parties working in the imperialist countries should set up a special colonial committee of their ECs for this purpose. The aid rendered by the Communist International to the communist parties of the East must be expressed in the first place by helping to establish a press and the publication of journals and periodicals in the native languages. Special attention must be given to work among the European labour organisations and among occupational troops to the colonies. The communist parties in the imperialist countries must not allow a single opportunity to slip by to expose the predatory policies of their imperialist governments and their bourgeois and opportunist parties.

(Ibid., 546-59)