We are very pleased to publish the below presentation, which was made by the Toronto-based historian John Riddell to a February 26 webinar organised by the International Manifesto Group, with which Friends of Socialist China works closely, marking the 175th anniversary of the publication of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
In his contribution, John explains that it was the 1917 revolution in Russia and the creation of the Soviet state that truly internationalised the core message of the Manifesto. Taking China as his focus, he notes that some 50,000 Chinese migrant workers in Russia joined the Red Army to defend the revolution from internal and external threats. Eight Chinese delegates joined the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East, held in 1920, whilst the much smaller and less well-known Congress of the Peoples of the Far East, held two years later, attracted 42 Chinese participants.
These congresses were pivotal in introducing and popularising the programme on the national and colonial questions adopted by the Communist International (Comintern) at its second congress in 1920. This programme, John shows, found practical expression in the work of International Red Aid and the ‘Hands off China’ movement, initiated following a 1925 massacre of workers in Shanghai. Citing the work of Chinese Marxist scholars Cheng Enfu and Wang Jun, John recalls Lenin’s statement that, “the interests of the proletarian struggle in any one country should be subordinated to the interests of that struggle on a world-wide scale, and, second, that a nation which is achieving victory over the bourgeoisie should be able and willing to make the greatest national sacrifices for the overthrow of international capital.” (Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions for the Second Congress of the Communist International, Collected Works, Volume 31) Despite “missteps and errors”, John concludes, the Comintern made a significant contribution to the Chinese revolution.
John is the founding Director of the Communist International Publishing Project and a member of our advisory group. A lifelong socialist activist, he is one of the world’s foremost scholars of the early Comintern. Joining him on the panel, which was chaired and introduced by Professor Radhika Desai, were:
- Professor Cheng Enfu of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences;
- Sara Flounders, Contributing Editor of the US communist newspaper Workers’ World and a key anti-war organiser for decades;
- Professor Alexander Buzgalin of Moscow State University;
- Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER coalition and a central leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation in the US;
- Frank Chapman, Executive Director of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and Central Committee member of the US communist group Freedom Road Socialist Organisation; and
- Xin Yuzhou, a member of the Communist Youth League working in the International Department of the Communist Party of China.
The full event can be viewed on YouTube.
“Workers of the world, unite!” This celebrated call, first voiced by Marx and Engels almost two centuries ago, continues today to resound worldwide in the struggles of working people seeking political and social liberation. To be sure, at first the Communist Manifesto’s appeal was heard only in Europe and European settlements overseas. However, following the Russian revolution of 1917, the Manifesto’s call for universal workers’ unity quickly gained a hearing in every part of the globe.
The principles of the Communist Manifesto found expression in the global struggle to defend the newly established Soviet republic from a host of invading anti-Soviet armies, including a contingent from Canada. The Soviet republic’s defenders included about fifty thousand Chinese workers resident in Russia, who joined in the Red Army to defend the Russian soviet republic.
Two years later, in 1919, the Communist International was launched as a vehicle to unite working people worldwide and carry the message of the Communist Manifesto to every continent.
As our colleague Cheng Enfu has pointed out, the International set its strategic goal as nothing less than “the overthrow of international capital and the establishment of workers’ power throughout the world.”
A year later, in 1920, the Communist International rallied two thousand delegates from Central Asia and the Middle East at a historic congress convened in Baku, Azerbaijan.
The International’s call for the Baku Congress appealed to all victims of colonialism the world over to join in the struggle for “complete equality of all peoples and races, whatever language they may speak, whatever the color of their skin and whatever the religion they profess.” The Baku Congress called for “liberation of all humanity from the yoke of capitalist and imperialist slavery, for the ending of all forms of oppression of one people by another … and of all forms of exploitation.”
The Baku Congress rallied close to two thousand delegates, mostly from the Mideast and central Asia. Significantly, it numbered eight Chinese delegates among its participants. Two years later, a similar congress of delegates from the Far East and Central Asia, convened by the Communist International in 1922, included 42 Chinese delegates.
In 1925, Chinese anti-colonial demonstrators in Shanghai were assaulted by imperialist military forces stationed in the city. Dozens of protesters were killed and many more wounded. Horror at this colonialist atrocity spread not only in China but across Russia, Europe, and beyond. In response, a formidable solidarity movement sprang up on several continents. The resulting “Hands Off China” campaign gathered significant support worldwide. These efforts were coordinated by a solidarity organization called International Red Aid, led by members of the Communist International. Red Aid gathered significant material assistance and funds, which were sent off to the embattled people of China.
The central leader of Red Aid, the German Communist Willi Münzenberg, declared its goal in these words: “We want to form a holy alliance, we, the white, yellow, black, and differently coloured underdogs… for the liberation of all those who suffer.”
Workers’ meetings in Europe were addressed by Chinese socialists. In Beijing a rally of 100,000 Chinese workers greeted a European socialist speaker with passionate enthusiasm. In this manner, the central concept of the Communist Manifesto – Workers of the World Unite! – won an expanded audience on a global scale.
Enfu Cheng and Jun Wang have drawn our attention to the underlying principle of internationalism, namely that “the interests of the proletarian struggle in any one country should be subordinated to the interests of that struggle on a worldwide scale” and that “a nation which is achieving victory over the bourgeoisie should be able and willing to make the greatest national sacrifices for the overthrow of international capital.”
As Enfu Cheng and Jun Wang have pointed out, the application of this internationalist principle by the Communist International was marked by missteps and errors. Nonetheless, they state, the Communist International provided material support in various forms as well as systematic theoretical and strategic guidance to the Chinese revolution.
The ideas of the Communist Manifesto live on today, finding expression in struggles against oppression and for liberation in every country and on every continent. It is thus with joy that we join together today in giving expression to the core ideas of communism’s great Manifesto.
 . John Riddell, ed., Founding the Communist International: Proceedings and Documents of the First Congress, March 1919, New York: Pathfinder, 1987.
 Enfu Cheng and Jun Yang, “The Chinese Revolution and the Communist International,” Third World Quarterly, vol. 41, no. 8, pp. 1338–1352.
 John Riddell, ed., To See the Dawn, Baku 1920, New York: Pathfinder, 1993.
 Riddell, ed., To See the Dawn, pp. 231–32.
 Riddell, ed., To See the Dawn, p. 242; John Sexton, ed., Alliance of Adversaries: The Congress of the Peoples of the Far East, Chicago: Haymarket, 2018.
 Riddell, “International Red Aid,” at johnriddell.com, https://johnriddell.com/2021/07/29/international-red-aid-1922-1937/.
 Enfu Cheng and Jun Yang, ibid.