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Subject essay: Lewis Siegelbaum

The Third or Communist International (typically abbreviated as Comintern) was founded in Moscow in March 1919 amidst proclamations of the end of the world capitalist order and the coming triumph of the revolutionary proletariat. That optimism was still evident at the Second Congress in July-August 1920 when G. E. Zinoviev, president of the Comintern’s Executive Committee, presented twenty-one “conditions” for membership and participation in the Comintern. These conditions, patterned on the Bolsheviks’ own practices of “democratic centralism” and unwavering hostility towards socialist parties affiliated with the all-but moribund Second International, were overwhelmingly approved by the delegates.

However, by the time the Third Congress met in June-July 1921, the revolutionary tide in Europe had receded and the Bolsheviks had embarked upon their New Economic Policy. The Congress approved theses concerning the methods of work among working women and the establishment of a Red International of Trade Unions (Profintern), perhaps tacit acknowledgment that the road to revolution would be more protracted than initially anticipated. In December, the Executive Committee issued theses calling for a “united front” of the proletariat that permitted limited cooperation with other socialist parties and trade unions but warned against capitulation to “Centrist and semi-Centrist ideology.”

The Comintern held four more congresses, the last of which, in 1935, adopted the Popular Front strategy of coalition-building with all “progressive forces” against fascism. Once a beacon to Communists throughout the world, the Comintern succumbed to its subordination to the dictates of the Soviet Communist Party and its determination of Soviet state interests, periodic purges of other Communist parties, mutual denunciation and arrest in 1937, and disbandment in 1943.

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