Review: The Second and Third Internationals and the Vienna Union (1922)

This short book is a transcript of a long-forgotten meeting that took place in Berlin’s Reichstag in early April 1922. At the initiative the Austrian Social Democrats and their colleagues in what came to be known as the “two-and-a-half” International, representatives of the Second and Third Internationals came together to discuss possible joint actions and the holding of an international conference.

Everyone who was anyone on the international Left seemed to be there. From the old Second International, people like Britain’s Ramsay MacDonald, Belgium’s Vandervelde and even Georgia’s Tsereteli were present. Many of their representatives had participated in the international delegation that visited independent Georgia just 18 months earlier. The Communists sent Karl Radek as their main spokesman, backed up by such notables as Klara Zetkin, Bukharin and even the legendary Sen Katayama from Japan. The Vienna group included prominent representatives of the Russian Mensheviks, among them Martov.

Friedrich Adler opened the event with cautious optimism, but over the course of several sessions it was Radek’s voice above all that prevailed. Here, perhaps for the first time, we come across whataboutism as part of the Communist polemical toolkit. Both Socialist internationals come demanding that the Bolsheviks grant self determination to Georgia — an issue that comes up in every session. Radek’s replies are invariably along the lines of “What about Congo? What about Ireland?” As Tsereteli points in an appendix, this was the first time that the Bolsheviks publicly admitted that they had, in fact, invaded Georgia — they had not come to support a local workers’ uprising, as they had claimed during the previous year.

A century later, this short book still makes for compelling reading — and shows us the beginnings of the historic split between democratic socialism and Communism.

The full text can be found here.