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From Communism to Anti-Communism

Andre Liebich
Svetlana Yakimovich

From the Revolution to the Comintern

Lenin with Comrades, May Day Rally, Moscow, 1919

Lars Lih

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The banners on the Kremlin wall read in Russian: “1 Интернационал”; “Да здравствует пролетариат Англии, Франции, Германии”; “Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь” – [“Ist International”; “Long live the proletariat of England, France, Germany”; “Workers of all countries, unite”]. Black and white photograph mounted on card; 16.5 x 22,5 cm.

1Over a year before the opening of the Second Congress of the Comintern, the true founding congress of the new organization of revolutionary socialist parties, a grandiose monument shows the millennial hopes placed on the new International. The first congress held in March 1919 had been a hastily arranged affair with only a few, rather unrepresentative delegations. Still, as the decorations here show, the Bolsheviks had not given up their hopes. These would only be fulfilled with the arrival of representatives of thirty-seven countries, including those of the large and important parties of France and Germany in summer 1920. The new Soviet Russia had been waiting to welcome them for more than a year.

2The mural at the center shows a St. George figure defeating a dragon, a curious image, as the icon is Christian in origin and one that had been much favored in tsarist Russia. On the left of the picture, Karl Marx is emblematic of the First International; the words “the future” can be made out in the lettering in this section. On the right of the picture, the Third International claims continuity with the worker organization of Marx’s time.

3The Second International is pointedly left out of the revolutionary filiation. This had been an impressive organization that united national Social Democratic parties, both large and small, since 1889. Yet, the Bolsheviks vociferously condemned the Second International because most member parties had supported their own government during the war and had not attempted to use the war as an occasion for revolution, as they had pledged to do at the Basel Congress of the Socialist International in 1912. Outraged by what they saw as a betrayal of revolutionary principle, the Bolsheviks and others called for a new International that would eliminate “opportunism,” the doctrinal disease they blamed for the debacle in 1914. The Third International or Comintern (kommunisticheskii internatsional) was the outcome of that call.

4At the same time, probably more than they were aware, the leaders of the new International took over from their shunned predecessor an ideal image of a militant and global revolutionary organization. By purging the member parties of “opportunists” and other defects, the new Communist International would embody the ideal that the old Social Democratic International had failed to live up to.

5The lettering on this side of the picture contains the words “under the banner.” Many countries of the world are named, giving the monument a global resonance. For example, Turkey, Egypt, India and China are mentioned at the top right in the futuristic font favored at this time. At the lower right, we find Ukraine and Belorussia, still thought of as independent countries. Banners, floral tributes, and military salutes all add to the solemnity of the occasion. Lenin is standing on the lower steps at the left.


Kevin J. Callahan, Demonstration Culture: European Socialism and the Second International, Leicester: Troubadour Publishing, 2010.

John Riddell, ed., Workers of the World and Oppressed People, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress of the Communist International, [vol. 2, The Communist International in Lenin’s Time], New York: Pathfinder, 1991.

Alfred Rosmer, Moscow under Lenin, Introduction by Tamara Deutscher, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973 [1st French edition, 1951].


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