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article imageThe Communist International, a product of World War I

By Marina LAPENKOVA (AFP)     Oct 29, 2018 in World

The Communist International, or the Komintern as it was known in Russia, was born a century ago in the wake of World War I, when men who had lived through the hell of trench warfare thirsted for social justice and equality.

In 1914, Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin called on European labour movements to create a new organisation to replace the Workers International, which dissolved with the start of the conflict.

"Bourgeois morals and humanist values were turned on their head by World War I for the soldiers who spent years in bloody trenches," says Russian historian Alexander Kolpakidi.

The Komintern was created in 1919 in Moscow on the initiative of the Bolsheviks, who had come to power two years earlier following Lenin's arrival from exile in Switzerland.

It grouped communist parties from about 20 countries, and the Soviet Union promptly assumed a leading role, although all members were officially equals.

"The Komintern was a child of the First World War," historian Alexander Vatlin says. Once they returned home, former soldiers and prisoners of war were fertile ground for the seeds of revolutionary ideas.

As participants in the new communist movement, they borrowed heavily from their military experience: the Komintern had "commissars," a "staff" and imposed harsh discipline on its members.

"The workers and peasants learned to use weapons during the war," which is why the revolutionary movement had success in Germany and Hungary, says Vatlin.

After the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, Lenin wanted to see revolutions in other countries. One of the slogans of the era was "from world war to world revolution".

The Komintern served the idea of this world revolution.

Several international organisations were created: the International Federation of Trade Unions, unions for youth, women, and athletes, as well as humanitarian organisations. All of these were under the Komintern's umbrella and controlled by Moscow.

"The ideology of the Communist International was a sort of religion, with believers who sincerely sought to build a new world that would be ideal, happy, without poverty or military conflicts," historian Kolpakidi says.

"Initially created as a subversive organisation, the Komintern for Moscow effectively replaced the allies it lost during the Revolution during the inter-war period and was more and more put at the service of (Soviet) interests by Stalin," he says.

- Spy networks -

Trained in underground activities, Komintern agents set up spy networks everywhere in the world for the benefit of the Soviet Union, often under the umbrella of Komintern's associations.

They killed traitors, both real and imagined, who had been condemned to death by Stalin.

The Komintern also aimed to fight against Europe's colonial system and to help independence and liberation movements, creating new Soviet allies in the world.

A year before its dissolution in 1943, the Komintern had cells in Europe, the United States, Turkey, China, Iran and India.

Soviet leader Stalin dissolved it to create national resistance fronts against Nazi occupation, and Komintern members played a leading role in these movements.

Following World War II, the new leaders of the Socialist bloc were mostly former Komintern agents: Wilhelm Pieck and Walter Ulbricht of East Germany, Klement Gottwald of Czechoslovakia, Wladyslaw Gomulka in Poland, Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia, Georgy Dmitrov in Bulgaria.

Once the formation of the Socialist bloc in Europe was assured, the Soviet Union turned to other continents, financing revolutionary and liberation movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

"Soviet investments in the Komintern helped during the Cold War," Kolpakidi says. "It helped up until the breakup of the country in 1991."

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