Lev Trotsky, Manifesto of the Communist International to the Proletariat of the Entire World. March 6, 1919
Original Source: Protokoll des IV. Kongresses der Kommunistiischen Internationale, Hamburg 1923, p. 1019.
Seventy-two years have passed since the Communist Party announced its program to the world in the form of a Manifesto written by the greatest teachers of the proletarian revolution, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Even at that time communism, which had barely entered the arena of struggle, was beset by the baiting, lies, hatred, and persecution of the possessing classes, who rightly sensed in it their mortal enemy. In the course of those seven decades communism developed along complex paths, periods of stormy advance alternating with periods of decline; it has known successes, but also severe defeats. But essentially the movement proceeded along the path indicated in advance by the Manifesto of the Communist Party. The epoch of final, decisive struggle came later than the apostles of social revolution had expected and hoped. But it has come. We communists, the representatives of the revolutionary proletariat of various countries of Europe, America, and Asia, who have gathered in Soviet Moscow, feel and consider ourselves to be the heirs and executors of the cause whose program was announced 72 years ago. Our task is to generalize the revolutionary experience of the working class, to cleanse the movement of the disintegrating admixtures of opportunism and social-patriotism, to mobilize the forces of all genuinely revolutionary parties of the world proletariat and thereby facilitate and hasten the victory of the communist revolution throughout the world.
Today, when Europe is covered with debris and smoking ruins, the most infamous incendiaries are busy seeking out the criminals responsible for the war. Behind them stand their professors, members of parliament, journalists, social-patriots, and other political pimps of the bourgeoisie.
For many years socialism predicted the inevitability of imperialist war, seeing its causes in the insatiable greed of the possessing classes of the two chief camps and, in general, of all capitalist countries. At the Basle congress, two years before the outbreak of war, responsible socialist leaders of all countries branded imperialism as originator of the impending war, and threatened the bourgeoisie with socialist revolution as the proletarian retribution for the crimes of militarism. Today, after the experience of the last five years, after history has laid bare the predatory appetites of Germany, and the no less criminal acts of the Entente, the State-socialists of the Entente countries continue together with their governments to expose the overthrown German Kaiser. On top of this, the German social-patriots who in August 1914 proclaimed the Hohenzollern diplomatic White Book to be the most sacred gospel of the peoples, are now, like vile toadies, following in the footsteps of the Entente socialists and accusing the overthrown German monarchy, which they had once slavishly served, as the chief criminal. They hope in this way that their own guilt will be forgotten and at the same time to earn the goodwill of the victors. But the light cast by unfolding events and diplomatic revelations shows up, alongside the toppled dynasties of the Romanovs, the Hohenzollerns, and the Habsburgs, and the capitalist cliques of their countries, the ruling classes of France, England, Italy, and the United States in all their boundless infamy.
English diplomacy did not raise its veil of secrecy up to the very moment when war broke out. The government of the financiers took care to make no unambiguous statement of its intention of entering the war on the side of the Entente in order not to frighten the Berlin Government. In London they wanted war. That is why they behaved in such a way that Berlin and Vienna counted on England’s neutrality, while Paris and Petrograd relied firmly on England’s intervention.
Matured by the entire course of events over decades, the war was un-leashed through the direct and deliberate provocation of Great Britain. The English Government calculated on extending just enough aid to Russia and France to keep them going until, themselves exhausted, England’s mortal enemy, Germany, was also crippled. But the power of the German military machine proved too formidable and demanded of England not token but actual intervention in the war. The role of tertius gaudens to which Great Britain, following ancient tradition, aspired, fell to the United States. The Washington Government reconciled itself the more easily to the English blockade, which unilaterally restricted American stock exchange speculation in European blood, since the countries of the Entente compensated the American bourgeoisie with fat profits for violations of ‘international law’. But Germany’s enormous military superiority compelled the Washington Government to abandon its fictitious neutrality. In relation to Europe as a whole, the United States assumed the role which England had taken in relation to the continent in previous wars and tried to take in the last war, namely: weakening one camp by helping the other, intervening in military operations only so far as to secure for itself all the advantages of the situation. According to American standards of gambling, Wilson’s stake was not very high, but it was the final stake, and it secured him the prize.
The war has made mankind aware of the contradictions of the capitalist system in the shape of primitive sufferings, hunger and cold, epidemics, and moral savagery. This has settled once and for all the academic controversy within the socialist movement over the theory of impoverishment and the gradual undermining of capitalism by socialism. Statisticians and pedants of the theory that contradictions were being smoothed out have for decades been trying to dig out from every corner of the globe real or alleged facts testifying to the greater well-being of various groups and categories of the working class. It was assumed that the theory of impoverishment had been buried to the accompaniment of contemptuous jeers from the eunuchs of bourgeois professordom and the mandarins of socialist opportunism. Today this impoverishment, no longer only of a social kind, but also physiological and biological, confronts us in all its shocking reality.
The catastrophe of the imperialist war has swept away all the gains of the trade union and parliamentary struggle. For this war itself was just as much a product of the inherent tendencies of capitalism as were those economic agreements and parliamentary compromises which the war buried in blood and mud.
Finance capital, which plunged mankind into the abyss of war, has itself suffered catastrophic changes in the course of the war. The relation between paper money and the material foundation of production has been completely disrupted. Steadily losing significance as the means and regulator of capitalist commodity circulation, paper money has become an instrument of requisition, of robbery, and of military-economic violence in general. The complete debasement of paper money reflects the general mortal crisis of capitalist commodity exchange. In the decades preceding the war, free competition, as the regulator of production and distribution, had already been supplanted in the major fields of economic life by the system of trusts and monopolies; but the course of events during the war tore this role from the hands of these economic associations and transferred it directly to the military State power. The distribution of raw materials, the utilization of Baku or Rumanian oil, of Donets coal and Ukrainian wheat, the fate of German locomotives, trucks, and automobiles, the provisioning of starving Europe with bread and meat-all these fundamental questions of the world’s economic life are being settled not by free competition, nor by associations of national and international trusts and consortiums, but by the direct application of military power in the interests of its continued preservation. If the complete subjection of State power to the power of finance capital led mankind into the imperialist shambles, then through this mass slaughter finance capital has completely militarized not only the State but also itself, and it is no longer capable of fulfilling its cardinal economic functions otherwise than by means of blood and iron.
The opportunists, who before the world war appealed to the workers to practice moderation for the sake of the gradual transition to socialism, and who during the war demanded class docility in the name of civil peace and national defense, are now again demanding self-denial of the proletariat in order to overcome the frightful consequences of the war. If this sermon were to be obeyed by the working masses, capitalist development would celebrate its restoration in new, more concentrated and more monstrous forms on the bones of many generations, with the prospect of a new and inevitable world war. Fortunately for mankind this is no longer possible. State control of economic life, which capitalist liberalism resisted so strongly, has become a fact. There is no return to free competition, nor even to the domination of trusts, syndicates, and other economic monsters. There is only one question: Who shall henceforth take charge of nationalized production-the imperialist State or the State of the victorious proletariat?
In other words: Shall all toiling mankind become the bond slaves of a victorious world clique who, under the name of the League of Nations and aided by an ‘international’ army and ‘international’ navy, will plunder and strangle in one place and cast crumbs elsewhere, while everywhere shackling the proletariat, with the sole object of maintaining their own rule; or shall the working class of Europe and of the advanced countries in other parts of the world themselves take in hand the disrupted and ruined economy in order to assure its reconstruction on socialist foundations?
It is possible to shorten the present epoch of crisis only by means of the proletarian dictatorship which does not look back to the past, which respects neither hereditary privileges nor property rights, but takes as its starting-point the need of saving the starving masses and to this end mobilizes all forces and resources, introduces universal labor conscription, establishes the regime of labor discipline, in order in the course of a few years not only to heal the gaping wounds inflicted by war but also to raise mankind to new and unimagined heights.
The national State, which imparted a mighty impulse to capitalist development, has become too narrow for the further development of productive forces. This makes still more untenable the position of the small States hemmed in by the major Powers of Europe and other continents. These small States, which arose at different times as fragments chipped from larger ones, as small change in payment for various services rendered, or as strategic buffers, have their own dynasties, their own ruling cliques, their own imperialist pretensions, their own diplomatic intrigues. Their illusory independence rested, before the war, on the same foundations as the European balance of power-the uninterrupted antagonism between the two imperialist camps. The war has disrupted this equilibrium. By giving an enormous preponderance to Germany in its early stages, the war forced the small States to seek salvation in the magnanimity of German militarism. When Germany was defeated, the bourgeoisie of the small States, together with their patriotic ‘socialists’, turned to the victorious Allied imperialists and began to seek guarantees for their continued independent existence in the hypocritical provisions of the Wilsonian program. At the same time the number of small States increased; out of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, out of parts of the former Tsarist empire, new State entities have been carved, which were no sooner born than they sprang at one another’s throats over the question of State frontiers. Meanwhile the Allied imperialists are constructing combinations of small Powers, both old and new, bound to themselves by the pledge of mutual hatreds and common impotence.
While oppressing and coercing the small and weak peoples, condemning them to hunger and degradation, the Allied imperialists, like the imperialists of the Central Powers a short while ago, do not stop talking about the right of national self-determination, which is today trampled underfoot in Europe as in all other parts of the world.
The small peoples can be assured the opportunity of a free existence only by the proletarian revolution, which will liberate the productive forces of all countries from the constraint of the national State, unite the peoples in closest economic collaboration on the basis of a common economic plan, and afford even the smallest and weakest people the opportunity of conducting their national cultural affairs freely and independently, without detriment to the unified and centralized European and world economy.
The last war, which was not least a war for colonies, was at the same time a war fought with the help of colonies. The colonial populations were drawn into the European war on an unprecedented scale. Indians, Negroes, Arabs, and Madagascans fought on the European continent- for what? For their right to remain the slaves of England and France. Never before has the infamy of capitalist rule been shown up so clearly; never before has the problem of colonial slavery been posed so sharply as it is today.
Consequently there has been a series of open insurrections, revolutionary ferment in all the colonies. In Europe itself Ireland reminded us by bloody street battles that it still remains and still feels itself an enslaved country. In Madagascar, Annam, and other countries the troops of the bourgeois republic had more than one revolt of colonial slaves to suppress during the war. In India the revolutionary movement has not subsided for a single day, and has lately led to the greatest workers’ strike in Asia, which the British Government met by ordering its armored cars into action in Bombay.
Thus the colonial question in its fullest extent has been placed on the agenda, not only on the order papers of the diplomats in congress in Paris, but also in the colonies themselves. Wilson’s program, at its best, is meant only to change the commercial label of colonial slavery. The emancipation of the colonies is possible only in conjunction with the emancipation of the metropolitan working class. The workers and peasants not only of Annam, Algiers, and Bengal, but also of Persia and Armenia, will gain their opportunity of independent existence only when the workers of England and France have overthrown Lloyd George and Clemenceau and taken State power into their own hands. Even now the struggle in the more developed colonies is more than the struggle for national liberation; it is assuming an explicitly social character. If capitalist Europe forcibly dragged the backward sections of the world into the capitalist whirlpool, then socialist Europe will come to the aid of liberated colonies with its technology, its organization, its spiritual forces, in order to facilitate their transition to a planned and organized socialist economy.
Colonial slaves of Africa and Asia! The hour of proletarian dictatorship in Europe will also be the hour of your own liberation!
The entire bourgeois world accuses the communists of abolishing freedom and political democracy. That is not true. Having taken power, the proletariat merely asserts the utter impossibility of employing the methods of bourgeois democracy, and creates the conditions and forms of a new and higher workers’ democracy. The whole course of capitalist development, especially during its final imperialist epoch, has undermined political democracy not only by splitting nations into two irreconcilable classes, but also by condemning the numerous petty-bourgeois and semi-proletarian strata, as well as the lowest strata of the proletariat, to permanent economic deprivation and political impotence.
In those countries where history provided the opportunity, the working class utilized the regime of political democracy in order to organize the fight against capital. The same thing will happen in those countries where conditions for the workers’ revolution have not yet matured. But the broad intermediate strata in the countryside as well as the town are being hampered by capitalism, and are behindhand in their historical development. The peasant in Baden and Bavaria who still cannot see beyond the spire of his village church, the small French wine producer who is being ruined by the large-scale capitalists who adulterate wine, and the small American farmer fleeced and cheated by bankers and Congressmen-all these social strata, thrust by capitalism out of the main stream of development, are ostensibly called on, under the regime of political democracy, to run the State. But in reality, on all the important questions which determine the destinies of the peoples, the financial oligarchy make the decision behind the back of parliamentary democracy. That was true above all on the question of war; it is true now on the question of peace.
When the financial oligarchy think it advisable to get parliamentary cover for their acts of violence, the bourgeois State has at its disposal for this purpose all the manifold instruments inherited from centuries of class rule and multiplied by all the miracles of capitalist technology-lies, demagogy, baiting, calumny, bribery, and terror.
To demand of the proletariat that like meek lambs they comply with the requirements of bourgeois democracy in the final life-and-death struggle with capitalism is like asking a man fighting for his life against cut-throats to observe the artificial and restrictive rules of French wrestling, drawn up but not observed by his enemy.
In this realm of destruction, where not only the means of production and exchange but also the institutions of political democracy lie in bloody ruins, the proletariat must create its own apparatus, designed first and foremost to bind together the working class and to ensure the possibility of its revolutionary intervention in the further development of mankind. This apparatus is the workers’ Soviets. The old parties, the old trade unions, have in the persons of their leaders proved incapable of carrying out, even of understanding, the tasks presented by the new epoch. The proletariat has created a new kind of apparatus, which embraces the entire working class regardless of occupation or political maturity; a flexible apparatus capable of continual renewal and extension, of drawing broader and broader strata into its orbit, opening its doors to the working people in town and country who stand close to the proletariat. This irreplaceable organization of working-class self-government, of its struggle, and later of its conquest of State power, has been tested in the experience of various countries and represents the greatest achievement and mightiest weapon of the proletariat of our time.
In all countries where the masses have wakened to consciousness, Soviet’s of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies will continue to be built. To strengthen the Soviets, to raise their authority, to put them up in opposition to the State apparatus of the bourgeoisie – this is today the most important task of the class-conscious and honest workers of all countries. Through the Soviets the working class can save itself from the disintegration introduced into its midst by the hellish sufferings of war and of hunger, by the violence of the possessing classes and by the treachery of its former leaders. Through the Soviets the working class will be able most surely and easily to come to power in all those countries where the Soviets are able to rally the majority of the working people. Through the Soviets the working class, having conquered power, will manage all spheres of economic and cultural life, as is the case at present in Russia.
The collapse of the imperialist State, from the Tsarist to the most democratic, is proceeding simultaneously with the collapse of the imperialist military system. The multi-millioned armies mobilized by imperialism could stand firm only so long as the proletariat remained obediently under the yoke of the bourgeoisie. The breakdown of national unity means also an inevitable breakdown of the army. This is what happened first in Russia, then in Austria-Hungary and Germany. The same thing may be expected to occur in other imperialist States. The revolt of the peasant against the landlord, of the worker against the capitalist, and of both against the monarchical or democratic bureaucracy, inevitably brings in its train the revolt of soldiers against the army command, and subsequently a sharp split between the proletarian and bourgeois elements of the army. The imperialist war, which pitted one nation against another, has passed and is passing over into civil war which pits one class against another.
The outcry of the bourgeois world against civil war and red terror is the most monstrous hypocrisy yet known in the history of political struggle. There would be no civil war if the clique of exploiters who have brought mankind to the very brink of ruin had not resisted every forward step of the working masses, if they had not instigated conspiracies and assassinations, and summoned armed assistance from without in order to maintain or restore their thievish privileges.
Civil war is forced on the working class by its arch-enemies. Unless it renounces itself and its own future, which is also the future of all mankind, the working class must give blow for blow. The communist parties, which never conjure up civil war artificially, try to shorten it as much as possible whenever with iron necessity it does break out, to reduce to a minimum the number of victims and, above all, to assure victory to the proletariat. Hence arises the necessity of disarming the bourgeoisie in time, of arming the workers, of creating a communist army to defend the proletarian power and the inviolability of its socialist construction. Such is the Red Army of Soviet Russia which arose to defend the conquests of the working class against all attacks from within and without. The Soviet Army is inseparable from the Soviet State.
Conscious of the world-historical character of their tasks, the enlightened workers, from the very beginning of their organized socialist movement, strove for association on an international scale. The foundation stone was laid in London in 1864 in the shape of the First International. The Franco-Prussian war, from which the Germany of the Hohenzollerns emerged, undermined the First International, while at the same time it gave an impetus to the development of national workers’ parties. In 1889 these parties came together at a congress in Paris and created the organization of the Second International. But the center of gravity of the workers’ movement during this period remained wholly on national soil, wholly within the framework of national States, founded upon national industry and confined within the sphere of national parliamentarianism. Decades of reformist organizational activity created a generation of leaders the majority of whom recognized in words the program of social revolution but denied it by their actions; they were bogged down in reformism and in adaptation to the bourgeois State. The opportunist character of the leading parties of the Second International was finally revealed, and it led to the greatest collapse in world history at a moment when the march of events demanded revolutionary methods of struggle from the working-class parties. If the war of 1870 dealt a blow to the First International, disclosing that there was as yet no resolute mass power behind its social-revolutionary program, then the war of 1914 killed the Second International, disclosing that the working masses, though welded together, were dominated by parties which had become transformed into subsidiary organs of the bourgeois State!
This applies not only to the social-patriots who have today gone over openly to the camp of the bourgeoisie, who have become their favorite agents and the most reliable hangmen of the working class; it also applies to the amorphous, unstable socialist center, which is now trying to reestablish the Second International, that is, to re-establish the narrowness, the opportunism, and the revolutionary impotence of its leading elites. The Independent Party of Germany, the present majority of the Socialist Party of France, the Menshevik group of Russia, the Independent Labor Party of England, and other such groups are actually trying to fill the place occupied before the war by the old official parties of the Second International by coming forward, as before, with ideas of compromise and unity, using all the means at their disposal to paralyze the energy of the proletariat, to prolong the crisis, and thus make Europe’s calamities even greater. The struggle against the socialist center is the indispensable premise for the successful struggle against imperialism.
In rejecting the timidity, the lies, and the corruption of the obsolete official socialist parties, we communists, united in the Third International, consider that we are carrying on in direct succession the heroic endeavors and martyrdom of a long line of revolutionary generations from Babeuf to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
If the First International predicted the future course of development and indicated the roads it would take, if the Second International rallied and organized millions of proletarians, then the Third International is the International of open mass struggle, the International of revolutionary realization, the International of action.
The bourgeois world order has been sufficiently lashed by socialist criticism. The task of the international communist party consists in overthrowing that order and erecting in its place the edifice of the socialist order.
We summon the working men and women of all countries to unite under the communist banner under which the first great victories have already been won.
Proletarians of all countries! In the struggle against imperialist savagery, against monarchy, against the privileged estates, against the bourgeois State and bourgeois property, against all kinds and forms of social and national oppression-Unite!
Under the banner of workers’ Soviets, under the banner of revolutionary struggle for power and the dictatorship of the proletariat, under the banner of the Third International-proletarians of all countries, unite!
Signed in Moscow, 6 March 1919, by:
MAX ALBERT [Hugo Eberlein] for Germany
N. LENIN for Russia
K. GRUBER for German Austria
A. RUDNIANSKII for Hungary
OTTO GRIMLUND for Sweden
FRITZ FLATTEN for Switzerland
B. REINSTEIN for the United States
C. RAKOVSKII for the Balkan Federation
J. UNSHLIKHT [Iurovskii] for Poland
YRJO SIROLA for Finland
SKRYPNIK for the Ukraine
K. GAILIS for Latvia
HANS POGELMANN for Estonia
HAIKUNI for Armenia
G. KLINGER for the Volga German colonists
ZHALYMOV for the Eastern peoples of Russia
HENRI GUILBEAUX for the French Zimmerwald Left
Source: Communist International (Petrograd), No. 1 (May, 1919), p. 127.