What Was the Third International?

In 1919, two years after forming the Soviet government in Russia, Lenin established the headquarters of the Third (Communist) International in Moscow. The Communist International (Comintern for short) is known as the “Third” because two other international socialist organizations of workers had previously been set up. These were the First (Workers’) Inter-national, organized in 1864 by Friedrich Engels, collaborator of Karl Marx, and the Second (Socialist) International, formed in 1889 with headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

Before it was dissolved in May 1943, the Third International was composed of representatives of communist parties, in over 50 countries. Theoretically, the Russian Communist Party was only one of these 58 communist parties. Actually, however, the Russian Communists played a dominant role in the Third International from the day it was organized. This was partly due to the fact that the Third International had its headquarters in Moscow. But most of all it was because the Russian Communist Party was the only one which, since 1919, had succeeded in establishing and maintaining political control of a country—and this country a great power.

The proclaimed objective of the Third International, as set forth in its. program, was to replace world capitalist economy by a world system of communism—through force and  violence if need be.

Changing role of Third International

In the early years of their regime the Soviet leaders used the Third International to promote world revolution (which among other things would give security to revolutionary Russia). There seemed to be hope of communist revolts in other countries, and Russia itself was diplomatically, economically, and militarily weak.

Finally, hope that revolutions would soon break out elsewhere grew dim, and the Soviet government turned its main efforts to the tasks of “building socialism” in Russia. Stalin and his associates thereupon used the Third International to advance their version of communism—or socialism—as opposed to the versions of Trotzky and other dissenting communists.

Later, when the rise of Germany under Hitler began to threaten both communism and Russia, the Kremlin openly used the Third International as an instrument of Russian foreign policy. For several years before 1939 communists everywhere filled the air with demands for a united front against the Nazi-Fascist menace. Many comrades had to scramble when signature of the Stalin-Hitler pact in August 1939 caught them out on a limb. From then until the Ger-man attack in June 1941 called for another flip-flop, the communist line in the Western democracies was to denounce the war as an imperialist scheme. But when Russia itself was invaded by Germany, communists called on all peoples to fight the Germans.

After the Red army had turned back the tide of Nazi con-quest, Russia’s diplomatic and military position was immensely strengthened and the Third International was no longer a useful weapon for the Soviet government. On the contrary, it threatened to become a serious stumbling block to effective collaboration between Russia and the Western powers. Con-sequently it was dissolved in May 1943 by its executive committee, which urged communists everywhere to join in the efforts of their respective nations to crush Germany.