November 24, 2017


Palmiro Togliatti
Co-Report of Comrade Ercoli (Italy)
Social Democracy and the Colonial Question, 1928

It is of interest to observe this coincidence which is in fact not accidental. For ourselves, for the Communist international, there is nothing new, nothing extraordinary, in the fact that we place on the agenda of one our international sessions the revolutionary movement in the colonies. This has always been the case. At the I. Congress, Comrade Lenin declared that the Party which does not study the revolutionary movement in the colonies, which does not carry on a revolutionary struggle in the colonies for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, which does not systematically and practically support the revolutionary activity in the colonies, is not a revolutionary party, but a party of idlers and traitors. 

At the II. Congress we dealt with the revolutionary movement in the colonies from the general theoretical .and political point of view. The nine years of our existence are at the same time nine years of continuous, systematic and intense efforts not only to investigate and solve accurately the problem of the revolutionary movement in the colonies from the theoretical point of view, but for the purpose of its practical leadership, to support anti promote it and accelerate its final victory. We could say, and in fact we must say, that one of the most important characteristic features of the general political orientation of the C.I. consists precisely in the connection that we have succeeded in establishing between the development of the struggle of the proletariat in the big capitalist countries against class oppression and class rule and the development of the struggle for the liberation Of the peoples in colonial and semi-colonial countries which are oppressed and exploited by imperialism.

You probably remember that during the first years of our activity in this sphere, the Social Democratic gentlemen made fun of us, of these poor Communists who were so foolish to declare that the struggle of the emir of Afghanistan or the struggle of Kemalism against the British Empire had a revolutionary significance and could support in any great degree the struggle of the proletariat in the ruling countries against capitalism; they laughed at the stupid Communists who attributed greater importance to the mullah of Kiva than to a Social Democratic Party in an advanced capitalist country.

Today the tone of the Social Democrats has changed. They do not make fun of us any more. On the contrary when they are touching this part of our activity, they do so with a certain bitterness, declaring that it is only we, the Communists, and the bourgeoisie who have any colonial policy, while they have none. This change is- not without profound significance.

It might be said that we, too, at this Congress are not dealing with the revolutionary movement in the colonial countries in the same way as we did for example at the IV. or V. Congress. The characteristic features of the internal contradictions in the capitalist world, the maturing of new international conflicts and the preparation for war against the U. S. S. R., the country from which the first rousing appeal was issued for the revolt of the ,oppressed peoples throughout the entire world - the first symptoms of the second series of imperialist wars - these facts cast strong reflections on all problems of the revolutionary movement in the colonial and semi-colonial countries which show up these problems today even for us in a different manner and with a very special acuteness.

Great crises are developing. We feel that the revolt of the colonial peoples is one of the greatest factors in these crises and that in the immediate future it can play a most decisive political and revolutionary role. These are the reasons why our debates on the colonial problems acquire such great importance. It might be said that in this sphere we have really entered upon the period when each day, each moment in fact, our principles and our general political lines are being-transformed into the action of millions of men in revolt, a struggle, the outcome of which may, decide the fate of the capitalist regime and the proletarian movement in the entire world.

But if we feel the immense significance at the present time of the development of the revolutionary movement in the colonies, the bourgeoisie, as well as its helpmate, the Social Democracy feels it also, - and is getting into action.

However, it would be entirely incorrect to say that Social Democracy did not have a colonial policy after the war. On the contrary, not only did it have a colonial policy in a general sense, - in that it always recognised the necessity of dealing with colonial problems in a positive manner - but it has had a very special, concrete colonial policy in each country - one which consisted in allying itself with or directly participating in the colonial enterprises of the bourgeoisie.

What is new- is that formerly the Social Democracy always felt somewhat ashamed to show up this aspect of its activity; it concealed it as something which one does `but does not mention; while now it displays its attitude on colonial questions without any embarrassment whatsoever. From this point of view the recent Brussels Congress marked a real step in the development of the international Social Democratic movement. The Brussels Congress, which took a definite colonial stand in the fullest sense of the word, which submitted the colonial problems to a special commission presided over by a so-called British Socialist who had been imperialist Governor of the Colony of Jamaica[5] , - this Congress had no precedent in the history of the abdication of the principles of Socialism and the class struggle, or in the history of open, deliberate and avowed betrayal, of the ideal of the emancipation of the workers and oppressed peoples of the entire world.

And there are reasons which cause the Social Democracy to display its colonial policy to the fullest extent.

The first of these reasons is, as the Social Democrats themselves admit, that the social democratic parties and leaders are today closer to power; consequently, they must demonstrate that they are ready to take upon themselves all kinds of responsibilities, not only the responsibility of being at the head of a portion of the working class in the big capitalist countries in order to check their struggle against capitalist exploitation, but also the responsibility of ruling a colony in the interests of imperialism and, by all possible means if necessary, to defend imperialism against the liberation movements of the colonial people.

The second reason, which perhaps is the most fundamental one, consists, in the fact that the colonial revolution is growing and approaching like a storm that cannot be checked. The Social Democracy well knows that when this storm breaks down with all its force upon the capitalist world, it too will be hopelessly swept aside. It therefore feels the necessity, I cannot say of stopping the revolutionary movement, which would be impossible, but of attempting to check it, to ward off the storm. It is with this in view that the Social Democracy goes to so much pains to teach the imperialists: of the different countries the best methods of barring the way to Revolution.

Have you not read what Leon Blum said on the revolutionary movement in the colonies? Dealing with the role played by the Communist agitators in this movement, he is forced to recognise that this role consists in nothing more than telling the colonial peoples the truth about imperialism and capitalism. The Communists open the eyes of the colonial peoples to the comparison "between their daily handful of rice and the fabulous profits of the companies which distribute their annual dividends which are greater than their capital". They make it clear that "these profits come from or at least are dependent upon their labour and that by their hard labour they enrich the distant, idle and unknown shareholder who has never risked anything more than his wretched money". The result is that the colonial peoples, says Leon Blum, are revolting against "us" and against the Socialists, against the good and faithful servants of colonial imperialism.

This then is the real danger for Social Democracy, the approaching colonial revolution. It is -this danger which forces it openly to adopt a colonial policy.

That is also why the struggle between us and Social Democracy on this field is becoming more bitter, and why social democracy is attempting to mask itself more cleverly than heretofore, and is preparing new weapons to fight us with and to give a stronger support to imperialism.. This is why we must fundamentally understand the position of the social democrats, know what they are saying and what they are doing in order to unmask them before the working class and show up their true colours to the oppressed peoples of the entire world.

Comintern Thirtieth Session
Moscow, 15th August 1928 (Morning)