Christian Rakovsky


Speech to the Fifteenth Party Congress

(December 1927)

First published in Report on the Fifteenth Party Congress, Communist Party of Great Britain, 1928.
Reprinted in Christian Rakovsky, Selected Writings on Opposition in the USSR 1923-30 (editor: Gus Fagan), Allison & Busby, London & New York, 1980.
Copyright © 1980 Allison & Busby and Gus Fagan.
Reproduced here with the kind permission of Gus Fagan.
Transcribed and marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Comrades! The sphere of international relations is that sphere which necessitates the greatest unity in the party. Our foreign enemy is the most dangerous of all enemies, both for our party and the proletarian dictatorship. [Voices: “That is way you are breaking up the party. You should have known this before! You should have remembered that on November 7th!”] Although we occupy one-sixth of the globe our enemy has five-sixths of it. In his hands there is state power, in his hands there is capital, in his hands there is a higher technology, in his hands there is a colossal amount of political experience in exploiting and oppressing the proletariat and the colonial and semi-colonial peoples.

The minority of the party made a statement at the August plenum [Voices: “Not the minority, but a handful!”] the essential part of which I must repeat today.

We will support unconditionally and without reservations the leading organs of the party and the Comintern in face of the foreign foe who will attack the Soviet Union, the proletarian government, the workers’ and peasants’ government. [Voices: “You do the attacking!” Noise, laughter. Voices: “Shame! shame! how low you’ve fallen!” “What about the Clemenceau thesis? You support the party like the rope supports the hanged man!”] Comrades, this is so, regardless of the common or individual fate of the minority. [Voices: “A handful! a handful! and not the minority!”] But in so far as the external danger is the greatest one we, as every communist, every party member, are in duty bound to give the signal about things unobserved or omitted, and the mistakes made by the party.

Comrades, first of all, allow me to throw some light on a legend which has been created in connection with my speech at the party conference of the Moscow Gubernia. [Voices: “Your counterrevolutionary speech ... And how about Kharkov?” Laughter] A mad, or, I should say, an idiotic thought was ascribed to me, namely that in my opinion we should retaliate on the provocations of Shanghai, Paris and London by a declaration of war. [Commotion] I will take the liberty to read from the uncorrected verbatim report the sentence which served, with absolutely no ground whatever, as the starting-point for the creation of that legend. I repeat, it is from the uncorrected verbatim report:

Comrades, when the opponent feels our weakness it does not do away with and does not postpone but hastens war. If we should tell the truth – no one hears us here – with a different correlation of forces, in a different situation, half of what has been done would have been sufficient to cause war long ago. When we were driven out of Peking, when we were provoked in London, when we were provoked in Paris – do you not think that, if our situation were different, this would have served as a cause for rebuffing these acts in a deserving revolutionary manner? I was asked here: “How, by war?” Yes, comrades, even by war – [laughter, commotion. Voices: “He has made some correction!”] – because we are a proletarian revolutionary state and not a Tolstoyan sect.

Yesterday, we could have read in Izvestia a statement by Comrade Cachin, Communist member of the French Parliament, that peace has been maintained only thanks to the “patience” of the Soviet government. We must tell the bourgeois world: “Your provocations are such that under different circumstances, were it not for our policy and our patience, they would cause war.” [Commotion]

When Comrade Rykov said in Kharkov that the complications in our foreign relations have become so accentuated that there was a time when we feared military encounters, he said essentially the same thing.

I will now return to the main subject. Having heard comrade Stalin’s speech and read the speeches of our other comrades of the committee, I have come to the conclusion that the cc repeats the same error at the Fifteenth Congress which was made at the Fourteenth on the international situation. What did we say at the Fourteenth Congress? The following was said in the resolution of that congress:

In the sphere of international relations, the consolidation and extension of the “respite”, which has become an entire period of so-called peaceful co-habitation of the USSR with the capitalist states, is obvious.

Scarcely a few months had passed after that estimation was given and we witnessed a stormy and rapid development of the Chinese revolution, ending in its defeat; subsequently we had the breaking-off of relations with Great Britain; later we had a conflict with France, and now we read every day about the inevitability, or, at any rate, the probability, of serious military complications in our immediate vicinity which may change the actual correlation of forces, making the situation rather unfavourable for us. [Levandovsky: “You are helping to bring that about.”]

I will not return, owing to lack of time, to the speeches of comrades Rykov, Tomsky, and Bukharin in Kharkov, Leningrad, and Moscow. I will refer only to comrade Stalin’s speech, which, unfortunately, owing to acoustics I could not hear in full. [Laughter] I listened to it and I can quote only what I could hear. First of all, I find that comrade Stalin’s very formulation of the question was fundamentally wrong. On the one hand he enumerated the achievements of the last two years, including the liquidation of the Swiss incident, and, on the other, as if to balance this, he spoke of the defeat in China, the Anglo-Soviet rupture and the recent conflict with France. Comrades, I declare that these two magnitudes are not comparable, that even if we had in one sector of our international policy greater conquests than those we actually had, and, on the other, we had the breaking-off of relations with Great Britain, the conflict with France, a conflict concerning which there are different opinions even in the majority – the “Bolshevik” pictures it as an ante-room, as the first step, a real step towards the break – I say that this second sector easily balances the first. I say further that even if we had maintained diplomatic relations with Great Britain, even if we had not had the conflict with France – the defeat of the Chinese revolution created such an unfavourable situation for us, that we may say that it fully counter-balances all gains in our foreign affairs. [Commotion] Comrade Stalin quite correctly raised the question of the attitude of the working class, the international working class, to the Soviet Union. Yes, the working class is our bulwark, both in our party, the Comintern, and the government policy. All of us understand that the utilisation of the contradictions existing between the capitalist states, between bourgeois and petty-bourgeois groups in various capitalist countries, being one of the means of diplomatic manoeuvring, is of relative nature, compared with the basic factor, compared with the working class. But I must say that I do not share the optimistic prognosis and evaluation made by comrade Stalin. [Voices: “Of course.” Voroshilov: “If you did share it, you would not be in the opposition.”] In this connection, we have heard the following statement: “we record a constant growth of working-class sympathy for the Soviet Union”. In such a general form, it does not give us a correct idea of the changes transpiring abroad. It may mislead us. I say that if the sympathies towards us grow in latitude [Goloshchekin: “Ruth Fischer does not sympathize with us.”] but the activity of these sympathies declines, it is the most alarming feature in our international situation. Let us take Great Britain. We had a conflict with Great Britain in 1923 in connection with the Curzon note. We had serious dealings with Great Britain in 1924, and we also had a conflict with her in 1927. [Postychev: “And we will have one in 1930.“] Everyone who observes what is happening in Great Britain had to notice the passivity and indifference to our recent conflict with Great Britain, which ended in the breach of diplomatic relations. And this is the most alarming fact manifesting the growth of Social Democratic influence. Side by side with the increasing Communist votes, we must record [Felix Cohn: “The Vienna rising!”] a most alarming fact, namely, the decrease [Voroshilov: “What is your conclusion?”] in working-class activity. In face of this alarming fact, I cannot rest content with the statement of a general character concerning the growth of sympathy for us. What is now happening?

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the October revolution, we see a vicious ideological attack on the proletarian dictatorship by the bourgeois press. [Bukharin: “We see your demonstration on 7 November.”] One of our would-be friendly newspapers, the Chemnitz-Zeitung, in its weekly edition for Germans abroad (anyone who so wishes can buy it at the newspaper stand opposite the Kremlin), says (I say in advance that naturally I do not put my signature to the statement, but it is an alarming fact) that by the tenth anniversary of the October revolution, Soviet Russia is no longer spoken of as an ideological menace, but as any other state. [Commotion] The Soviet Union has ceased to be an ideological menace [Bukharin: “And that is why they do not invade us!”] for the capitalist states. [Commotion, shouts. Kaganovich: “Is the Chemnitz-Zeitung a bourgeois paper?” Rakovsky: “It is a bourgeois paper.” Goloshchekin: “Oh, is that what it is!” Laughter] It is a bourgeois paper, but I give you warning concerning this fact. [Commotion. Voices: “We were also given warning in 1917. We can do without these signalmen.”] This is a new phenomenon in our international situation. Never has the Soviet Union and the Communist Party been subjected to such an ideological attack as today. [Bukharin: “You are attacked!” Commotion, laughter]

How does the capitalist world regard our party controversy? I have several interesting documents. [Commotion] Here is a copy of a publication of the Research Institute of London Chamber of Commerce. It is devoted to the Soviet Union – [commotion] – it has no author’s signature, but as can be seen from the document itself, it was undoubtedly written by a British spy who says that he had the opportunity unofficially to observe for two years what is going on in the Soviet Union. I should draw your attention to the fact that this was published in December last year. [Commotion] What do we find here? It says: “From an investigation of Russia it follows that the destiny of the country is at the present time shaping itself on two diametrically opposed factors. On the one hand, doctrinaire communism still tries to hold on to the ideals and principles of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 – [laughter, commotion] – whereas, on the other hand, the stubborn facts of life compel everyone, with the exception of the biggest communist fanatics, to accept one by one the principles on which Western civilization is based.” [Commotion]

Comrades, I have no time to deal here with everything the bourgeois papers write. But I shall quote a paper which is frequently quoted by comrade Bukharin – the Arbeiter Zeitung – a labour paper published by Otto Bauer. [Voice: “There is a touching affinity between you and Bauer!”] It will suffice to read only the beginning. [Commotion, cries of indignation] In the issues of 16 and 20 November we read:

The criticism of the Opposition hitherto undoubtedly hampered Stalin in adopting a consistent course, without having to look backward to the utopian illusions, along a more realistic path in the sphere of economic and foreign policy.

The same thing is said in the issue of the 20th. At the same time there is the American tribute. [Bukharin: “That’s weak, it’s weak!” Sol’ts: “In general, you have to look to the bourgeois press to confirm the correctness of your position.”] I have before me the New York Times, which says that to keep the opposition means to keep the explosive matter which lies beneath the capitalist world. [Laughter, commotion, shouts, protests, and indignation]

It is an alarming coincidence. Here we are told that we must fight the opposition, and abroad we also hear it is necessary to fight the opposition. [Commotion. Voices: “Your friends, Ruth Fischer and Maslow, say abroad that it is necessary for you to undermine the party!”]

Another point, comrades, the majority, or, at any rate, many of the reactionary newspapers say that whatever is done against the opposition is all right but inadequate. [Kossior: “Don’t you read anything else but bourgeois newspapers?”] I have before me the Temps of 8 November, where, in connection with comrade Stalin’s replies to questions of the international workers’ delegation, it is said:

Despite the deceptive surface, the Soviet machine cannot seriously develop and Russia cannot expect its rescue by any other means but the final destruction of the proletarian dictatorship. [Commotion]

I have presented here only an insignificant part of what is written day in and day out. I quoted those which say that “it is all right but inadequate”, and those which say “we need more convincing proof”. [Sol’ts: “You gave us the bourgeois point of view!”] What is there alarming about this phenomenon? The newest phenomenon in our international situation, the arrogant attempts of world imperialism to interfere in our inner party controversy to throw their weight on the side of the majority. The characteristic feature of the present situation is the deterioration of our international position. At the same time, the whole effort of world imperialism, based on the right leanings in the party, the whole effort of the world bourgeoisie, consists in the aim of isolating us ideologically from the world proletariat – [commotion] – to divorce us ideologically from the world proletariat. Comrades, all of us in the party remember Lenin’s advice – [Voice: “You do not remember, you have forgotten it! Mensheviks! Agents of the world bourgeoisie!”] – that it is necessary for us to manoeuvre in foreign affairs. We are sometimes reproached by the capitalist states for playing on their rivalries. [Commotion] However, they themselves play the same game against each other. We must do it to a still greater extent. We are a proletarian state, living under extreme and incomparable difficulties. But in the manoeuvring, it is necessary to take two main points for our departure. First of all, we must know the limits of the manoeuvres. [Voice: “What do you intend to do in the future? Why don’t you tell us about that?”] Comrade Tomsky complained in Leningrad that the opposition interfered with the Politbureau in adopting necessary and logical decisions. He said that in order to manoeuvre freely we must get rid of the opposition. [Voices: “Quite right!” Commotion] I ask you if the left wing of the party is to be expelled ....

[Voices: “Get out of the party and be done with it. Away with the Mensheviks. It is not a left but a Menshevik wing.” The Congress insists on his removal. “Down, down!” Commotion. Chairman rings the bell.

Chairman: “Who is in favour of allowing comrade Rakovsky to continue his speech?”


Last updated on 18.10.2011