The Communist tradition: fighting imperialism

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 6, September/October 1980

Baku: Congress of the Peoples of the East (New Park Publications £2.10)

As the imperialist crisis threatens the whole world once again with a new and even more dangerous conflagration, as the imperialist countries ‘hot up’ the cold war against the Soviet Union and the communist movement, it is important for us to know the issues at stake. The working class of the imperialist countries led by their social democratic parties and trade unions have been brought up with the smug anti-communist ideology of the cold war – an ideology fostered by the relative prosperity of the working class of the imperialist nations in the post-war years. Now that that prosperity is being threatened by the worldwide crisis of the capitalist system, the working class will be forced to reassess its position – it will be forced to take sides.

The ruling class is well aware of this. That is why it has launched an anti-communist crusade. Here in Britain, in an imperialist nation which has brutalised and terrorised oppressed peoples throughout the world and which still, day in day out, brutalises and terrorises the Irish people, we have witnessed the obscenity of a Tory Prime Minister ably supported by the Labour Party hysterically denouncing the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The imperialist ‘democracies’ we are told stand for freedom and democracy whereas communism is the denial of freedom, is totalitarianism.

As the crisis deepens events will show the working class this is just the opposite of the truth. The ‘freedom’ the ruling class is speaking of is the freedom to exploit and brutalise the working class to maintain their profits both in Britain and throughout the world. Whereas communism stands for the freedom of oppressed peoples from imperialist domination and brutality, it stands for the freedom of all workers from a system which is driving millions into unemployment, poverty and despair. History has demonstrated that this freedom, the freedom of the vast majority of the peoples of the world from oppression and exploitation, demands the suppression of the imperialists and their supporters. That is the reason for the anti-communist crusade.

The October 1917 Russian revolution was a great victory for the working class and oppressed peoples throughout the world. It was vigorously and brutally opposed by the imperialists and their social democratic supporters in the working-class movement. A total of 14 countries led by the largest imperialist powers Britain, France, Japan and the USA intervened to crush the Soviet regime. They invaded the territory of the Soviet Union in the North, Far East and Soviet Central Asia. The intervening powers often with the aid of the Mensheviks (social democrats in Russia) established colonial terrorist regimes in the seized areas. Communists and trade unionists were subject to arrest and torture and placed in concentration camps; many were executed. A notorious example is that of the summary execution of the 26 Commissars who were the leaders of Soviet power in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. The Baku Commissars were seized by the British, and without trial or investigation were taken away and shot in a remote desert. The imperialist powers, in the words of that arch-reactionary and brutal imperialist Winston Churchill, wanted to strangle the Soviet regime at birth. They were directly responsible for a lengthy civil war and for the decimation and destruction of whole areas of what became the Soviet Union. It was only the strikes and demonstrations in January and February 1919 by British troops opposed to any continuation of the imperialist slaughter of the First World War that prevented the large scale intervention by British troops on Soviet territory planned by Winston Churchill and his imperialist friends. When the Sunday Times with characteristic smugness commenting on the Polish events states ‘If Communism kept its promises – prosperity, happiness, self-fulfilment and shared responsibility for everyone – we might all be prepared to give it a try’ (24 August 1980), we know it lies. It was precisely when communism offered a life free from the brutal oppression and exploitation of imperialism for the vast majority of mankind that the imperialists and their supporters wanted it to be destroyed at birth.

The Bolsheviks through their opposition to the First Imperialist War were the leading force in the creation of the Communist International in 1919 (Third International). The main parties of the Second International had betrayed the working class and through their support for the First World War were directly responsible for the slaughter of millions of workers and the decimation of vast areas of industry and land. The Labour Party in Britain supported the imperialist war. Three Labour Party MPs were in the war Government. In the spring of 1916, the Secretary of the Labour Party, Henderson, was party to, as a member of the Asquith Cabinet, the crushing of the Irish Uprising (Easter Rising) and the judicial murder of James Connolly, the Irish socialist. Both the Labour Party and the Independent Labour Party denounced the Irish Uprising of 1916.

More than anything else communism was represented by the victory of the Russian revolution and the programme of the Communist International. It alone stood resolutely opposed to imperialist war. It alone stood for the freedom of oppressed peoples from imperialism. It alone stood for the freedom of workers from the profit system that had confronted the vast majority of mankind with poverty, crisis and war. The Communist International at its Congresses after the First World War called upon all workers from the imperialist nations to break with their social democratic leaders (and other opportunists) and unite with the oppressed peoples to overthrow imperialism.

 


“... the British socialist who fails to support by all possible means the uprisings in Ireland, Egypt and India against the London plutocracy – such a socialist deserves, if not to be shot, then to be branded with infamy, but in no case merits either a mandate or the confidence of the proletariat.”


 

As part of this stand the Second Congress of the Communist International called together a Congress of the Peoples of the East at Baku in September 1920 soon after Baku had been liberated by the Red Army. It was the first attempt to appeal to the exploited and oppressed peoples in the colonial and semi-colonial countries to carry forward their revolutionary struggles to hasten the downfall of world capitalism with the support of the workers in Soviet Russia and the workers of Europe and America. Britain was the dominant imperialist power at that time and the fight to destroy British imperialism was a major theme of the Baku Congress.

The manifesto of the Baku Congress, major extracts of which are reprinted below, shows us what the ‘freedom’ of British imperialism meant for the oppressed peoples of the East. It also shows us the foundation of the evolutionary and reformist ideas – non-violence and parliamentary democracy – of ‘socialist’ advance peddled by the Labour Party and trade union leaders. ‘Democracy’ at home, oppression abroad. Opportunism in Western Europe was founded on the super-profits of imperialism – the ability to bribe, in many different ways, the Labour leaders and other small privileged strata of the working class out of the extra-profits of imperialism squeezed out by the brutal oppression and exploitation of oppressed peoples. In an appeal to the workers of Europe the Baku Congress explained:

‘The war is over and now your masters and ours, who waged this war under the banner of justice and democracy, the banner of emancipation for the oppressed peoples, have thrown off the mask. In the cities of India the bayonet, the sabre and the machine-gun rule. In Amritsar your General Dyer was able to shoot down peaceful Indian citizens with machine-guns, and order them to crawl on their bellies. But in the British Parliament not one workers’ MP got up to demand that this murderer be sent to the gallows.’

The working class of Europe had to rid itself of its opportunist leaders and unite with the oppressed peoples against imperialism. Under the banner of the Communist International they could find the way.

‘World Imperialism must fall when the revolutionary impetus of the exploited and subjugated workers inside each country defeats the opposition of the petty-bourgeois elements and the influence of the numerically small aristocracy of labour, and unites with the revolutionary pressure of the hundreds of millions of people who previously stood outside history and were only regarded as its object.’ (Second Congress of the Communist International – Lenin)

Today this is more true than ever. The liberation movements have become more and more proletarian in character. Today they are leading the struggle to overthrow imperialism – in Iran, Ireland, Southern Africa, Nicaragua, El Salvador. They represent the vanguard of the struggle. The workers who are in the vanguard of the struggle in Britain and America are from the most oppressed layers of the working class – black and immigrant workers who suffer the dual oppression of racism and class exploitation. The working class in the imperialist nations is on the whole today politically backward. It has much to learn from the struggle of oppressed peoples. Revolutionary Communist parties will have to be formed. But they can only come into existence on the basis of the lessons and gains of the Communist International. For the working class of Britain the proceedings of the Baku Congress are a sharp reminder of its international tasks. Zinoviev’s opening contribution to the first session of the Baku Congress included a section taken from the Manifesto of the Second Congress of the Communist International. It must be our starting point.

‘The socialist who aids directly or indirectly in perpetuating the privileged position of one nation at the expense of another, who accommodates himself to colonial slavery who draws a line of distinction between races and colours in the matter of human rights, who helps the bourgeoisie of the metropolis to maintain its rule over the colonies instead of aiding the armed uprising of the colonies – for example, the British socialist who fails to support by all possible means the uprisings in Ireland, Egypt and India against the London plutocracy – such a socialist deserves, if not to be shot, then to be branded with infamy, but in no case merits either a mandate or the confidence of the proletariat.’

That is what communism stands for. That must be the declaration of the British working class. Workers of all lands and oppressed peoples unite!

David Reed August 1980

 


Communist International – 1919-1922

Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, Ink Links, London 1980 £17.50 hardback. Trans. A Holt & B Holland

The Second Congress of the Communist International, 2 Volumes, New Park Publications 1977 £3.50 each volume.

Readers who wish to study the programme and principles of the Communist International have now readily available the Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses published by Ink Links as well as the whole minutes of the proceedings of the Second Congress by New Park Publications. The importance of having the minutes of the proceedings as well as the resolutions etc can be seen on comparing the material on the National and Colonial Question at the Second Congress in both publications. The minutes have a total of 77 pages on the issue. The Resolutions ... has only Lenin’s preliminary draft theses of some 6 pages. This is of some interest and indicates the weakness of the editing of the Ink Links book.

The translators of the Ink Links book – indeed it appears all those involved in it – are not only hostile to the Communist International and Bolshevism but clearly have very little grasp of the principles at stake. With the snide arrogance and contempt of the privileged middle class, the translators tell us that they ‘cannot pretend to have really enjoyed doing these translations’ – we must assume then that they were well paid. The translators object to ‘ritual references’ to ‘imperialist aggression’ and ‘smashing capitalism’ – we are not surprised. They say that the women’s movement has taught them to consider the ‘politics of language’ – it has also obviously given them their class standpoint.

This brings us back to our starting point. It is not surprising that translators who object to language like ‘imperialist aggression’ will have very little understanding of the central importance of the struggle of oppressed peoples against imperialism. So we find the important supplementary theses of the Indian M N Roy on the National and Colonial Question accepted by the Second Congress simply left out. Lenin in commenting on Roy’s theses said ‘these were written predominantly from the point of view of India and the other great Asian peoples who are oppressed by Britain, and are thus particularly important for us’. They clearly have no importance for our translators. Lenin’s theses are not even given in the amended form accepted by the Congress. Alan Adler’s glossary speaks of Roy at the Second Congress ‘advancing ideas for co-operating with “bourgeois nationalists” in the independence struggle’, when, if anything, the opposite is the case. Perhaps nothing shows the contempt of all involved in the editing of the Ink Links book for oppressed peoples in struggle than the reference in the glossary to the Amritsar massacre. The large crowd which had assembled to hear nationalist speakers in defiance of an order prohibiting the meeting, and which was machine-gunned down by the murderer General Dyer, is referred to as an ‘unarmed mob’. How disgusting Ink Links. Fortunately the missing material and the correct information can be acquired from the Minutes of the Second Congress.

However, The Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos is well worth having if you totally ignore the introductions and glossary. The Communist International’s positions on the role of the communist party, on trade unions, on the national and colonial question, on women's oppression, on parliament, and on war and imperialism are the foundation for rebuilding the movement today. The Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos are priced at £17.50 which means that readers will have to get it from a library. However subscribers to Fight Racism Fight Imperialism can obtain it from RCG Publications for £8.50. We must hope that New Park Publications will see fit to printing the minutes of the other three congresses. Ink Links, we suggest, should get out of the habit of using unsympathetic editors for important material – they are not only annoying but usually very ignorant as well.

David Reed


 

Manifesto

On September 1, 1920, in the city of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, a congress of representatives of the peoples of the East was held. Our congress was attended by 1,891 delegates from the following countries: Turkey, Persia, Egypt, India, Afghanistan, Balochistan, Kashgar, China, Japan, Korea, Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Bukhara, Khiva, Dagestan, Northern Caucasia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkestan, Ferghana, the Kalmuck Autonomous Region, the Tatar Republic, and the Far Eastern District.

The Congress of the Peoples of the East was convened by the Communist International. Every peasant, every toiler, needs to know what the Communist International is. It is a union of workers and peasants, of the Communists of the whole world, which has set itself the aim of smashing the power of the rich and bringing about the complete equality of all.

The Communist International wants to put an end not only to the power of the rich over the poor but also to the power of some peoples over others. For this purpose the workers of Europe and America must unite with the peasants and other working elements of the peoples of the East.

Peoples of the East! Six years ago there broke out in Europe a colossal, monstrous slaughter, a world war in which 35 million human beings were killed, in which hundreds of big towns and thousands of other centres of population were devastated, a war which ruined all the countries of Europe and subjected all its peoples to the torment of unheard-of want and unprecedented starvation... this war was fought not only for the countries of Europe, not only for the countries and peoples of the West, but also for the countries and peoples of the East. It was fought for the partition of the world, and chiefly for the partition of Asia, of the East. It was fought to decide who was to rule over the countries of Asia and whose slaves the peoples of the East should be. It was fought to decide whether the British or the German capitalists should skin the peasants and workers of Turkey, Persia and Egypt.

The monstrous four-year carnage ended in victory for France and Britain. The German capitalists were crushed, and along with them the German people were crushed, destroyed and doomed to starvation. Victorious France, almost all of whose adult population had been wiped out by the war and all of whose industrial areas had been devastated, was bled white by the struggle and left quite powerless after its victory. As a result of the colossal, barbarous slaughter, imperialist Britain emerged as the sole and omnipotent master of Europe and Asia. Britain alone in all Europe was still able to muster sufficient strength, for it had waged the war with other peoples’ hands, those of the enslaved peoples, the Indians and Negroes, it had waged the war at the expense of the colonies it oppressed.

Being left the victor and the omnipotent master of half the world, the British Government proceeded to carry out the objectives for which it had waged the war – to consolidate its hold on all the countries of Asia and to enslave, fully and finally, all the peoples of the East.

With no-one to hinder them, and fearing no-one, the handful of greedy banker-capitalists who are at the head of the British state, casting aside all shame, set about openly and brazenly reducing to slavery the peasants and workers of the Eastern countries.

Peoples of the East! You know what Britain has done in India, you know how it has turned the many-millioned masses of the Indian peasants and workers into dumb beasts of burden without any rights.

The Indian peasant has to hand over to the British Government a proportion of his crop so large that what remains is not enough to sustain him for even a few months. The Indian worker has to work in the British capitalist’s factory for such a miserable pittance that he cannot even buy the daily handful of rice he needs for subsistence. Every year millions of Indians die of hunger and millions perish in the jungles and swamps where they are engaged in heavy labour undertaken by the British capitalists for their own enrichment.

Millions of Indians, unable to find a crust of bread in their own very rich and fertile homeland, are obliged to join the British armed forces, to leave their homeland and spend their whole lives enduring the hard lot of the soldier, fighting endless wars in all corners of the world, against all the peoples of the world, upholding everywhere the ruthless dominion of Britain. While paying with their lives and their blood for the unceasing expansion of the wealth of the British capitalists, securing monstrous profits for them, the Indians themselves enjoy no human rights: the British officers who rule over them, insolent sons of the British bourgeoisie which has grown fat on Indian corpses, do not regard them as human.

An Indian dares not sit at the same table with a Britisher, use the same quarters, enter the same railway carriage, attend the same school. In the eyes of the British bourgeoisie every Indian is a pariah, a slave, a beast of burden, an animal which dare not have any human feelings or put forward any demands. Every demand, every expression of anger by the Indian peasants and workers when driven to extremities is met by ruthless mass shootings. Hundreds of corpses of those shot cover the streets of revolted Indian villages, and British officers force the survivors to crawl on their bellies, to amuse them, and to lick the boots of their enslavers.

Peoples of the East! You know what Britain has done in Turkey. Britain offered Turkey a peace by which three-quarters of Asia Minor, inhabited exclusively by Ottoman Turks, with all the country’s industrial cities, was to pass into the possession of Britain, France, Italy and Greece, while what remained of Turkish territory was to be burdened with such payments that the Ottomans would become permanent undischarged debtors of Britain.

When the Turkish people refused to accept such a peace, which would have destroyed them, the British occupied Constantinople, a holy place to Moslems, dispersed the Turkish Parliament, arrested all the popular leaders, shot the best of them, and exiled hundreds of others to the island of Malta, where they were imprisoned in the dark and damp dungeons of an ancient fortress. Now the British rule the roost in Constantinople: they have taken from the Turks everything that could be taken. They have taken banks, money, factories, railways, ships, they have closed all the approaches to Asia Minor, thereby depriving the Turks, who are without factories of their own, of the possibility of receiving any goods from Europe. There is now in the whole of Asia Minor not one piece of material, not one fragment of metal. The Turkish peasant is obliged to go about without a shirt and to plough the soil with a wooden plough.

Peoples of the East! What has Britain done to Persia? After crushing a peasants’ revolt against the Shah and the landlords, shooting or hanging thousands of Persian peasants, the British capitalists have restored the overthrown rule of the Shah and the landlords, taken from the peasants the landlords’ land they had seized and thrust the peasants back into serfdom, making them once again rayats, slaves without rights of the mulkadars.

Peoples of the East! What has Britain done to Mesopotamia and Arabia? It has, without any ado, proclaimed these independent Moslem countries to be its colonies, driven from the land the Arabs who have owned it for centuries, taken from them the best, most fertile valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates, taken the best pastureland, which the people need in order to survive, taken the very rich oilfields of Mosul and Basra, and, stripping the Arabs of all means of livelihood, is trying to force them through hunger to become its slaves and its workers.

What has Britain done to Palestine? There, at first, acting for the benefit of Anglo-Jewish capitalists, it drove Arabs from the land in order to give the latter to Jewish settlers; then, trying to appease the discontent of the Arabs, it incited them against these same Jewish settlers, sowing discord, enmity and hatred between all the communities, weakening both in order that it may itself rule and command.

What has Britain done to Egypt? There the entire native population has for eight decades groaned beneath the heavy yoke of the British capitalists, a yoke even heavier and more ruinous for the people than was that of the Egyptian Pharaohs who built their huge pyramids with slave labour.

What has Britain done to China? That enormous country, Britain, together with its partner, imperialist Japan, turned into a colony and, exploiting and oppressing its 300 million people and poisoning them with opium, it is with its own and Japanese troops putting down with unheard-of cruelty the revolutionary ferment which has begun there. Restoring the old despots whom the people had overthrown, it strives with all its strength to prevent the many-millioned Chinese people from winning their freedom, and keeps them as before under its yoke of despotism, oppression and poverty, so as the better to be able to exploit them.

What has Britain done to Korea, to that flourishing land with a thousand-years-old culture? It has handed over Korea to the Japanese imperialists for them to tear to pieces, and they are now with fire and sword making the Korean people submit to the British and Japanese capitalists.

What is Britain doing to Afghanistan? By bribing the Emir's government it has kept the people in maximum subjection, in the greatest poverty and ignorance, trying to reduce this country to a desert, in order that this desert may guard India, which Britain oppresses, from any incursion from without.

What is Britain doing with Armenia and Georgia? There by means of its gold it keeps the peasant and worker masses under the yoke of the hated Dashnak and Menshevik governments it has bought, which terrorise and oppress their own peoples and drive them to fight against the peoples of Azerbaijan and Russia who have freed themselves from the bourgeois yoke.

Oppression and ruin, want and ignorance among the Eastern peoples serve as sources of enrichment for imperialist Britain.

British capital feels cramped in Europe, it has grown, and cannot find places for investment: besides, the European workers, enlightened by revolutionary consciousness, have become bad slaves: they are not willing to work for nothing, they want good wages. In order that capital may have elbow-room, in order that it may bring in a good profit, in order that the European workers may be thrown a sop so as to hold back the growth of their revolutionary mood, in order that it may be possible to bribe the leading strata of the worker masses, British capital needs fresh land, fresh workers – rightless and unenfranchised slaves.

And the British capitalists think they have found these fresh lands in the Eastern countries, and these rightless and voiceless slave-workers in the peoples of the East.

Britain, which is a country of barely forty million people, only one-fortieth of whom constitute the group of oppressors and exploiters, while the remaining 39 million are oppressed and exploited workers and farmers, wants to rule over half the world and to hold in slavery the 800 millions of the peoples of the East. One British bourgeois capitalist, having already forced 39 British workers to work for him, wants to force to work for him, in addition, 2,000 workers and peasants in Persia, Turkey, Mesopotamia and Egypt. Thus, 2,040 hungry and tortured people, enjoying none of the good things of life, are to work all their lives long for one idle parasite, a British capitalist. One million such exploiters, British bankers and industrialists, want to reduce 800 millions of the peoples of the East to slavery. And it must be said that they know how to achieve their aim – they have neither shame, nor conscience, nor fear; they have nothing but savage greed and unlimited thirst for gain. The ruin, hunger, blood, suffering and groans of 800 million people mean nothing to them. All that matters is profit, all that counts is gain! And in pursuit of this profit and gain the British imperialists have taken a tenacious grip on the throat of the peoples of the East, and are preparing a dark future for them. A future of utter ruin, permanent slavery, rightlessness, oppression and unlimited exploitation – this is what is in store for the peoples of the East if the present government remains in power in Britain, if imperialist Britain keeps its strength and stabilises its rule over the Eastern countries. A miserable handful of British bankers devour hundreds of millions of peasants and workers in the East.

But this shall not be!

In the face of the British capitalists, the rulers of imperialist Britain, there is rising up the organised might of the peasants and workers of the East, united under the red banner of the Communist International, under the red banner of the union of revolutionary workers, who have made it their aim to liberate the whole world and all mankind from every form of exploitation and oppression.

The First Congress of representatives of the Peoples of the East loudly proclaims to the whole world, to the capitalist rulers of Britain: This shall not be! You dogs shall not devour the peoples of the East, you wretched handful of oppressors shall not reduce to everlasting serfdom hundreds of millions of Eastern workers and peasants. You have bitten off too big a piece, more than you can chew, and it will choke you!

The peoples of the East have long stagnated in the darkness of ignorance under the despotic yoke of their own tyrant rulers, and under that of foreign capitalist conquerors. But the roar of the world-wide conflict, and the thunder of the Russian workers’ revolution, which has released the Eastern people of Russia from the century-old chains of capitalist slavery, has awakened them, and now aroused from their sleep of centuries, they are rising to their feet.

They are waking up and are hearing the call to a holy war, to a ghazavat: this is our call! It is the call of the First Congress of representatives of the Peoples of the East, united with the revolutionary proletariat of the West under the banner of the Communist International.

Peoples of the East! You have often heard the call to holy war, from your governments, you have marched under the green banner of the Prophet, but all those holy wars were fraudulent, serving only the interests of your self-seeking rulers, and you, the peasants and workers, remained in slavery and want after these wars. You conquered the good things of life for others, but yourselves never enjoyed any of them.

Now we summon you to the first real holy war, under the red banner of the Communist International. We summon you to a holy war for your own well-being, for your own freedom, for your own life!

This is a holy war for the liberation of the Peoples of the East, for the ending of the division of mankind into oppressor peoples and oppressed peoples, for complete equality of all peoples and races, whatever language they may speak, whatever the colour of their skin and whatever the religion they profess.

Into the holy war to end the division of countries into advanced and backward, dependent and independent, metropolitan and colonial!

Into the holy war for the liberation of all mankind from the yoke of capitalist and imperialist slavery, for the ending of all forms of oppression of one people by another and of all forms of exploitation of man by man!

Into the holy war against the last citadel of capitalism and imperialism in Europe, against the nest of pirates and bandits by sea and land, against the age-old oppressor of all the peoples of the East, against imperialist Britain!

Peoples of the East! In this holy war all the revolutionary workers and all the oppressed peasants of the East will be with you. They will help you, they will fight and die along with you.

It is the First Congress of representatives of the peoples of the East that tells you this. Long live the unity of all the peasants and workers of the East and of the West, the unity of all toilers, all the oppressed and exploited. Long live the battle headquarters of this united movement – the Communist International! May the holy war of the peoples of the East and the toilers of the whole world against imperialist Britain burn with unquenchable fire!

We wish to thank New Park Publications for permission to reprint the extracts of the Manifesto of the Baku Congress.

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