M.N. Roy delivered this speech on November 22, 1922 at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in the discussion of the ‘Eastern Question’ and the report given by Dutch Communist Willem van Ravesteyn.
Speech in Discussion of the Eastern Question by M.N. Roy from International Press Correspondence. Vol. 2 No. 26. December 22, 1922.
The countries in the East can be divided into three categories First, those countries which are nearing to most highly developed capitalism. Countries where not only the import of capital from the metropolis has developed industry, but a native capitalism has grown, leading to the rise of a bourgeoisie with a developed class consciousness, and its counterpart, the proletariat, which is also developing its class consciousness, and is engaged in an economic struggle which is gradually coming into its political stage. Second, those countries in which capitalist development has taken place but is still at the lower level, and in which feudalism is still the backbone of society. Then we have the third grade, where primitive conditions still prevail, where feudal patriarchalism is the social order. How, then, for the countries under the heading of the colonial and semi-colonial countries, which can be divided into groups so apart from each other, a general program or a general line of tactics can be determined in order to help the development of the revolutionary movement in those countries? The task before us to-day in this Fourth Congress is to elaborate those fundamental principles that were laid down by the Second Congress of the Communist International. We are faced to-day with a concrete problem of how best we can develop the movement in those countries; we have the revolutionary movement in each. But since the social structure of those countries is different, naturally the character of the revolutionary movement in those countries is also different. In so far as the social character is different the program for those movements must be different, and the tactics must also be different.
With this in view all the Eastern delegations present at this Congress in cooperation with the Eastern section of the Communist International, have prepared a thesis which has been submitted to the Congress. In this thesis the general situation in the East has been laid down and the development in the movement since the Second Congress has been pointed out and the general line which should determine the development of the movement in those countries has also been formulated.
At the time of the Second Congress, that is on the morrow of the Great Imperialist war, we found a general upheaval of the colonial people. This upheaval was brought about by the intensified economic exploitation during the war.
This great revolutionary upheaval attracted the attention of the whole world. We had a revolt in Egypt in 1919, and one of the Korean people in the same year. In the countries lying between these two extreme points there was to be noticed a revolutionary upheaval of more or less intensity and extensiveness. But at that time these movements were nothing but big spontaneous upheavals and since those days the various elements and social factors which went to the composition of these movements have clarified in so far as the social economic basis has gone on developing. Consequently we find to-day that the elements which were active participants in those movements two years ago are gradually leaving them if they have not already left them. For example, in the countries which are more developed capitalistically the upper level of the bourgeoisie, that is, that part of the bourgeoisie which has already what may be called a stake in the country, which has a large amount of capital invested, and which has built up an industry, is finding that today it is more convenient for its development to have imperialist protection. Because, when the great social upheaval that took place at the end of the war, developed into its revolutionary sweep it was not only the foreign imperialists but the native bourgeoisie as well who were terrified by its possibilities. The bourgeoisie in none of those countries is developed enough as yet to have the confidence of being able to take the place of foreign imperialism and to preserve law and order after the overthrow of imperialism. They are now really afraid that in case foreign rule is overthrown as a consequence of the development of this revolutionary upheaval, a period of anarchy, chaos and disturbance, of civil war will follow that will not be conducive to the promotion of their own interests. That is to say the industrial development of the bourgeoisie needs peace and order which was given to most of these countries by foreign imperialism. The threat to this peace and order, the possibility of disturbance and revolutionary upheaval, has made it more convenient for the native bourgeoisie to compromise with the imperial overlord.
This naturally has weakened the movement in some of the countries but at the same time this temporary compromise does not fundamentally weaken the movement. In order to maintain its hold in those countries, Imperialism must look for some local help, must have some social basis, must have the support of one or other of the classes of native society. To-day it has found it necessary to repudiate the old methods of imperialist exploitation and it has given the native bourgeoisie or a certain part of the native bourgeoisie certain concessions in the political or economic sphere. These concessions have reconciled the native bourgeoisie temporarily, but they have opened a bigger vision before it. They have permitted a test of economic development and brought into existence a capitalist rivalry, because, in so far as industry grows in the colonial countries it undermines the basis of the monopoly of imperial capital.
Therefore, the temporary compromise between native and imperial bourgeoisie cannot be everlasting. In this compromise we can find the development of a future conflict.
Then, in that second group of countries where usury and trade capital, feudal bureaucracy and feudal militarism are the leading social element and the leaders of the national movement, this compromising imperial policy has been introduced, but it has not given such satisfactory results as in the other countries because the interest of the feudal bureaucracy and the colonial feudal lords are not so easily comparable as is the case between the imperial and the native bourgeoisie. Therefore we find that in the last year the struggle in Turkey, the nationalist struggle in Turkey, took the forefront of all the colonial struggles.
But the latest events in Turkey show us the weakness of this as well, because we know that a national struggle cannot develop consciousness of political nationhood, cannot grow in a people, so long as the social economics of that particular people are bound up with the feudal patriarchal system. Unless the bourgeoisie come into existence and become leaders of the society the national struggle cannot take place with all its revolutionary possibilities. So in all these countries, in proportion as the bourgeoisie is developing, the national struggle has become intensified. From this point of view, although we know there is danger of the colonial bourgeoisie always compromising with the imperial bourgeoisie, we must always on principle stand for them; that a bourgeois national movement in the colonial countries is objectively revolutionary, therefore it should be given support; but we should not overlook the fact that this objective force cannot be accepted as unconditional, and that particular historical reasons should be taken into consideration, the bourgeoisie becomes a revolutionary factor when it raises the standard of revolt against backward, antiquated forms of society – that is, when the struggle is fundamentally against the feudal order, the bourgeoisie leading the people. Then the bourgeoisie is the vanguard of the revolution.
But this cannot be said about the new bourgeoisie in the Eastern countries, or most of them. Although the bourgeoisie is leading the struggle there, it is at the same time not leading it against feudalism. It is leading the struggle against capitalism. Therefore it is a struggle of the weak and suppressed and undeveloped bourgeoisie against a stronger and more developed bourgeoisie. Instead of being a class war it is an internecine war so to say, and as such contains the elements of compromise.
So, the nationalist struggle in the colonies, the revolutionary movement for national development in the colonies, cannot be based purely and simply on a movement inspired by bourgeois ideology and led by the bourgeoisie. And we see how that in every country all these leading factors – the liberal bourgeoisie in the most advanced countries, and the feudal military cliques in the second group of these countries – are gradually trying to make some compromise with the imperial overlord and imperial capitalism.
This position brings us face to face with a problem as to whether there is a possibility of another social factor going into this struggle and wresting the leadership from the hands of those who are leading the struggle so far.
We find in these countries where capitalism is sufficiently developed that such a social factor is already coming into existence. We find in these countries the creation of a proletarian class, and where the penetration of capitalism has undermined the peasantry, bringing into existence a vast mass of poor and landless agrarian toilers. This mass is being gradually drawn into the struggle which is no longer purely economic, but which assumes every day a more and more political character. So also in the countries where feudalism and the feudal military clique are still holding leadership, we find the development and growth of an agrarian movement. In every conflict, in every struggle, we find that the interests of imperial capital are identical with the native landowning and feudal class, and that therefore when the masses of the people rise, when the national movement assumes revolutionary proportions, it threatens not only the imperial capital and foreign overlordship, but it finds also the native upper class allied with foreign exploiters.
Hence we see in the colonial countries a triangular fight developing, a fight which is directed at the same time against foreign imperialism and the native upper class which directly or indirectly strengthens and gives support to foreign imperialism.
And this is the fundamental issue of the thing that we have to find out – How the native bourgeoisie and the native upper class, whose interest conflicts with imperialism or whose economic development is obstructed by imperial domination, can be encouraged and helped to undertake a fight? We have to find out bow the objective revolutionary significance of these factors can be utilised. At the same time we must keep it definitely in mind that these factors can operate only so far and no further. We must know that they will go to a certain extent and then they try to stop the revolution. We have already seen this in practical experience in almost all the countries. A review of the movement in all Eastern countries in the fast few years would have helped us to develop our point, but the time at our disposal will not permit that. However, I believe most of you are fairly well acquainted with the development of the movement in those countries. You know how the movement in Egypt and India has been brought to a standstill by the timidity, the hesitation of the bourgeoisie, how a great revolutionary movement which involved the wide masses of the peasantry and the working class and which constituted a serious menace to imperialism, could not produce any very serious damage to imperialism simply because th leadership of this movement was in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
The bourgeoisie was divided into two parts – the upper layer, which was developed industrially and owning big industrial and commercial interests interlinked with imperial capital, found it dangerous for their extension, and therefore went over to the imperialists, thus constituting itself a positive obstruction to the revolutionary nationalist movement weak social background. Did with its not have the determination [… movement. With its weak social background it did not have the determination], the courage, to put itself at the head of this big revolutionary movement to lead it forward, and the movement consequently, betrayed and misled by these elements has come to its present period of depression.
Then, on the other hand, we have the example of the Turkish struggle. This struggle is contemporary and you know how the imminent victory of the Turkish people had not been carried on to its logical consequences by the feudal military clique which stands at its head today. The ultimate victory of the Turkish people, the complete political and economic liberation of the Turkish nation, has been and is going to be compromised in order to safeguard the interests of the small feudal military clique which has found it convenient to sell itself to one group of imperialists as against another group. That clique found it convenient to ally with one group of imperialists against another. This might lead to the aggrandisement of this group and to the enthronement of Mustapha Kemal Pasha in place of the Sultan who was largely in the hands of British Imperialism, but it does not solve the Turkish national problem in any way. And we know that while two or three months ago the revolutionary elements all over the world were hailing the victories of Mustapha Kemal Pasha, we now have the news that Kemal in a free Turkey, freed by the efforts of the revolutionary workers and peasants, is brutally persecuting the latter. Hence it is proved that although the bourgeoisie and the feudal military clique in one or other of these countries can assume the leadership of the nationalist revolutionary struggle, there comes a time when these people are bound to betray the movement and become a counter-revolutionary force. Unless we are prepared to train politically the other social element which is objectively more revolutionary to step into their places and assume the leadership, the ultimate victory of the nationalist struggle becomes problematical for the time being. Although two years ago we did not think of this problem so clearly, this tendency remained there as an objective tendency, and today, as a result of that, we have in almost all Eastern countries communist parties, political parties of the masses. We know that these communist parties in most of these countries cannot be called communist parties in the Western sense, but their existence prove that social factors are there, demanding political parties, not bourgeois political parties, but political parties which will express and reflect the demands interests aspirations of the masses of the people, peasants and workers, as against that kind of nationalism which merely stands for the economic development and the political aggrandisement of the native bourgeoisie. The existence of these communist parties in these Eastern countries and their historic role becomes more significant when we look at the matter from the other point of view, when we look at it from the point of view, that on account of the misfortune that the bourgeoisie came into the field in the colonial and semi-colonial countries a little too late (150 years later), they are not going to play the role of liberators, because they will and can go so far and no farther. Therefore the nationalist revolutionary movement in these countries where millions and millions must have national liberation – must free themselves economically and politically from Imperialism before they can progress further – is not going to be successful under the leadership of the bourgeoisie.
Therefore we find the necessity of these communist parties, which at the present moment cannot be called more than nuclei, are destined to play a big role in so far as they will assume the leadership of the national revolutionary struggle when it is deserted and betrayed by the bourgeoisie. They will be able to carry on the struggle for liberation against Imperialism. They alone will be in a position to lead the colonial peoples and oppressed nationalities to the conquest of complete political and economic independence.
These parties are historically destined for and socially capable of this task because they are based on the objectively most revolutionary factors, viz., the peasants and workers – the factor which has no interest in common with Imperialism and whose social position and economic conditions cannot be improved in any way so long as these countries are under capitalist Imperialism.
It is under the leadership, therefore, of a political party representing the workers and peasants, that the national revolutionary struggle can come to final victory.
Now comrades, this necessity of organising Communist Parties in these countries brings us to the program and tactics of these Communist Parties. I should point out the necessity that while the Communist International is discussing the problem of a programm it should pay serious attention to this, in view of the fact that to develop the program of the International in the Eastern countries is more complicated. It is more complicated because (unfortunately it is to be confessed) our comrades of the Communist International so far have devoted very little time to the study of these questions.
Before we can have a program on this question, develop a line of tactics which could be adopted by the Communist Parties in Eastern countries, it is necessary that the various sections of the International pay a little more attention to and study these questions a little more carefully. It should not be gratuitous work on their part, because capitalism – the power of the bourgeoisie, in their own countries is today very closely interlinked with the situation in the colonial countries; because imperialism today is trying to save itself by developing colonial countries industrially. During the war imperialism, particularly British imperialism, found it necessary to slacken its monopoly rights over the economic and industrial life of the backward colonial countries. So, a country like India, which was maintained as an agricultural reserve, as a source of raw material for British industries for more than 150 years, was allowed sufficient industrial development during the war. The dislocation of the capitalist equilibrium in Europe, forces Imperialism to look out for new markets by which the equilibrium of world capitalism can be re-established. They are trying to find this in the colonial countries by developing industrially countries like India and China: they are trying to find the solution of the problem that way. Depending on the resources in the colonial countries, imperialism tries to carry its offensive against the European Proletariat to a crushing victory. We must not lose sight of this tendency. We may argue this way: Well, this cannot be done because imperialism means that colonial countries should be left in a backward state economically so that the goods manufactured in the metropolitan countries can be sold there. Yes, but that is a very mechanical way of looking on these things. We must not forget that if the coat tail of the Chinaman is lengthened by a few inches the textile production of the world will have to be doubled. By industrial development the standard of living of 400 million Chinese can be raised and thus the textile production of the world doubled. Industrial development of China does not necessarily mean the contraction of production in the home countries. These countries when they are industrially developing must have machinery, etc. which they cannot produce by themselves, and so while perhaps in certain kinds of goods the colonial market can be limited and reduced, yet so far as machinery is concerned they must be extended.
Then again that part of the production of England and other countries which used to be sold in central and Western European markets must find new consumers, and this can be done in the colonial countries by developing the power of consumption.
So, you see the readjustment of imperial capital with the native capital in the colonial and semi-colonial countries will play a big part in the wide scheme of capitalist offensive. In order to be able to fight the capitalist offensive in European countries we must coordinate our forces with the movement in the colonial and semi-colonial countries.
The experience of the last two years in coordinating our forces with the bourgeois nationalist parties in these countries shows that through the medium of these parties we can utilize the bourgeois revolutionary parties to the greatest extent.
This leads us to the question of the united anti-imperialist front. Side by side with the United Labour Front in the western countries we must organise the united anti-imperialist front in the colonial and semi-colonial countries. The object of this anti-imperialist United Front is to organise all the available revolutionary forces in a big United front against imperialism. The organisations of this front, the experience of the last two years has shown us, could not be realised under the leadership of the bourgeois parties. So we have to develop our parties in these countries in order to take the lead in the organisation of this front. Just as the tactics of the united proletarian front leads to accumulation of organisational strength in the Western countries and unmasks and discloses the treachery and compromising tactics of the Social-Democratic Party by bringing them into active conflict, so will the campaign of the united anti-imperialist front in the colonial countries liberate the leadership of the movement from the timid and hesitating bourgeoisie and bring the masses more actively in the forefront, through the most revolutionary social elements which constitute the basis of the movement, thereby securing the final victory.
International Press Correspondence, widely known as”Inprecor” was published by the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) regularly in German and English, occasionally in many other languages, beginning in 1921 and lasting in English until 1938. Inprecor’s role was to supply translated articles to the English-speaking press of the International from the Comintern’s different sections, as well as news and statements from the ECCI. Many ‘Daily Worker’ and ‘Communist’ articles originated in Inprecor, and it also published articles by American comrades for use in other countries. It was published at least weekly, and often thrice weekly. A major contributor to the Communist press in the U.S., Inprecor is an invaluable English-language source on the history of the Communist International and its sections.
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