Letter to Clara Zetkin and Paul Levi, April 16, 1921

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On the copy, Lenin made the following remarks: “This is my reply to Levi and Zetkin, 16/4, 1921”, “Keep in the archives. Make another 2 or 3 copies”, “Return”, “received 17/V—1921”.—Ed.


Comrades Zetkin and Levi:

Thank you very much for your letters, dear Friends. Unfortunately, I have been so busy and so overworked in the last few weeks that I have had practically no opportunity to read the German press. The only thing I have seen is the Open Letter,[1] which I think is perfectly correct tactics (I have condemned the contrary opinion of our “Lefts” who were opposed to this letter). As for the recent strike movement and the action in Germany, I have read absolutely nothing about it.[2] I readily believe that the representative of the Executive Committee defended the silly tactics, which were too much to the left—to take immediate action “to help the Russians”: this representative is very often too Left.[3] I think that in such cases you should not give in but should protest and immediately bring up this question officially at a plenary meeting of the Executive Bureau.

I consider your tactics in respect of Serrati erroneous. Any defence or even semi-defence of Serrati was a mistake. But to withdraw from the Central Committee!!?? That, in any case, was the biggest mistake! If we tolerate the practice of responsible members of the Central Committee withdrawing from it when they are left in a minority, the Communist Parties will never develop normally or become strong.[4] Instead of withdrawing, it would have been better to discuss the controversial question several times jointly with the Executive Committee. Now, Comrade Levi wants to write a pamphlet, i.e., to deepen the contradiction! What is the use of all this?? I am convinced that it is a big mistake.[5]

Why not wait? The congress opens here on June 1.[6] Why not have a private discussion here, before the congress? Without public polemics, without withdrawals, without pamphlets on differences. We are so short of tried and tested forces that I am really indignant when I hear comrades announcing their withdrawal, etc. There is need to do everything possible and a few things that are impossible to avoid withdrawals and aggravation of differences at all costs.

Our position in February and March was grave. This is a peasant country, with a peasant economy—the vast majority of the population. They vacillate, they are ruined and are disgruntled. But we should not be too pessimistic. We have made some timely concessions. And I am sure that we shall win.

Best regards and wishes.



  1. The “Open Letter” (“Offener Brief”) from the Central Committee of the United Communist Party of Germany to the Socialist Party of Germany, the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany, the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany, and to nil trade union organisations was published in Die Rote Fahne No. 11 on January 8, 1921. The letter urged nil workers’, trade union and socialist organisations in Germany to join efforts in fighting the growing reaction and the capitalist offensive against the working people’s vital rights.
    Although the workers came out in favour of the united proletarian front, the proposal for joint action with the Communists was rejected by the Right-wing leadership of the organisations to which the “Open Letter” was addressed.
  2. A reference to armed action by the proletariat of Germany in March 1921.
    The Left-wing majority of the CC of the United Communist Party of Germany, proceeding from the so-called “theory of the offensive”, whose supporters held that offensive tactics were the only correct ones in any situation, regardless of the concrete political conditions, pushed the workers towards a premature uprising. Making use of this, the German bourgeoisie provoked armed action at an unfavourable moment. An uprising broke out in several areas of Central Germany in March 1921. Despite the workers’ heroic action, the uprising was put down, because the majority of the working class had not been prepared for the action and had not taken part in the fighting.
  3. A reference to Béla Kun, then member of the Presidium of the Comintern Executive Committee.
  4. Paul Levi attended the Seventeenth Congress of the Italian Socialist Party as a representative of the United Communist Party of Germany. The congress was held at Livorno from January 15 to 21, 1921, and marked a split in the Party. Upon his return to Germany Levi came out in defence of the Italian Centrists headed by Giacinto Serrati. On February 24, 1921, after the Central Committee of the United Communist Party of Germany adopted a resolution against Serrati and his supporters, and welcomed the establishment of the Communist Party of Italy, five members of the Central Committee of the United Communist Party of Germany (Otto Braß, Ernst Däumig, A. Hoffmann, Paul Levi, and Clara Zetkin) withdrew from the CC, saying that they disagreed with the Central Committee.
  5. On March 29, 1921, Paul Levi wrote Lenin a letter to which the present document is a reply. Levi condemned the March action and declared that he was withdrawing from the Party leadership and would write a pamphlet setting out his views.
    In early April 1921, Levi issued a pamphlet entitled Unser Weg. Wider den Putschismus (“Our Way. Against Putschism”), in which lie called the struggle of hundreds of thousands of German proletarians a “Bakuninist putsch”. Levi urged the workers to condemn the Communists, alleging that they were responsible for the defeat of the uprising. On April 15, 1921, the Central Committee of the U.C.P.G. expelled Levi from the Party for a gross breach of the Party discipline and the harm done to the Party by the publication of his pamphlet, and demanded that he give up his parliamentary seat. On April 29, the Comintern Executive Committee endorsed the decision of the U.C.P.G. Central Committee expelling Levi from the Party. The question of the tactical differences which arose in connection with the March action was referred to the Third Congress of the Comintern, which confirmed Levi’s expulsion from the Party. Subsequently Levi went over entirely to Social-Democratic positions and carried on a light against the Communist International.
  6. A reference to the Third Congress of the Communist International, which opened in Moscow on June 22, 1921.