Comintern logo
Comintern logo
During its existence (1919–43) the Third International, or Communist International (Comintern), was an umbrella organization of the world's Communist Parties. Its stated mission was to coordinate all Communist activities independent of the Soviet Union.

In time, however, the Comintern was made to serve the objectives of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and, thus, the goals of the Soviet Union. Placing its headquarters in Moscow reinforced this process.

The Comintern came into being in March 1919 in response to what Lenin perceived as a critical need. The socialists who had gathered under the framework of what was known as the Second International were undisciplined.

Several of the socialist parties in the various nations had supported their nations' entry into World War I and continued to support that effort. These socialist parties were thus seen as supporting bourgeois institutions rather than advancing the socialist cause.

Having just completed the first stages of seizing the Russian government and beginning a civil war that would last for another four years, Lenin and the Russian Communists believed that socialists must be devoted to worldwide revolution with their actions according to a prescribed party line. That line was defined by what were known as the 21 Points. Any Communist Party had to obey all of these directives in order to become part of the Third International.

The 21 Points included the requirements for member organizations to take the name Communist Party while removing members who did not accept the points, to subscribe to the philosophy of liberating colonies, to use the combination of both illegal and legal methods (as required), to change its internal rules to conform to Comintern policy, and to obey all Comintern directives. These points were drafted by Lenin in combination with the Comintern's first head, Gregory Zinoviev.

The Second Congress of the Comintern was held in 1920, with subsequent congresses in 1921, 1922, 1924, 1928, and 1935. Membership included the Communist Parties of Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, Czechsolovakia, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Spain, the United States, Yugoslavia, and the parties of Japan and various Asian and South American Nations.

The official language of the organization at the beginning was German. Significantly, by the 1930s Russian became the official language. The Comintern was organized into several departments: Cadres (which maintained files on all members and worked very closely with NKVD, the secret police), Propaganda and Mass Organization, Administration of Affairs, Translation, Archives, and Communications. While not stated, one of the most important functions of the Comintern was to gather information that was then sent to Soviet intelligence organizations.

Comintern poster
Comintern poster

The leaders of the Comintern's national sections were the individuals leading various national parties in the interwar period. Those who survived the purges of the 1930s and World War II became the leaders of the Eastern European states that became Communist in the aftermath of the war.

These included George Dimitrov, head of the Comintern from 1935 to 1943 and leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party; László Rajk and Mátyás Rákosi of Hungary; Klement Gottwald of Czechoslovakia; and many in the mid to higher levels of the new Communist governments.

This international staff were regarded by the Soviets with great suspicion. In the period of the purges (the second half of the 1930s), many Comintern staff disappeared. The most prominent of those arrested was Béla Kun, who had led the Hungarian Soviet in 1919, but many others perished as well.

The height of this purge of foreigners was in the years 1937 to 1938, after which it eased significantly. Maintenance of party discipline was extremely important, and directives concerning activities, organization, and other changes were conveyed from this headquarters to all of the Communist Parties.

Even when Communist Parties were banned and had to go underground (as happened in Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, and Yugoslavia), they still had to report to Moscow. Comintern activities also included funding the parties.

Up until 1935 and the Seventh Comintern Congress the Comintern was opposed to cooperation with other socialist parties. Then the policy shifted with fascism being defined as the enemy. In addition to the Comintern's support of the popular fronts, its most significant effort was creating an army to fight for the republic in the Spanish civil war.

The Comintern recruited, transported, and organized (politically as well as militarily) the volunteers who would form the International Brigades. Over 30,000 volunteers would be sent to Spain in this effort.

In 1939 the Soviet Union and Germany signed a nonaggression pact. From the beginning of World War II in September 1939 until the June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, the war was referred to as an imperialist conflict, and members of the Comintern were told not to oppose the fascists.

During the interwar period the Comintern (as well as communism and the Soviet Union in general) was feared by nearly all nations. The Comintern was regarded as the international arm of the Soviet Union. It was for this reason that to please his Western allies it was disbanded in 1943 on Stalin's orders. It revived in another form in 1947 as the Communist Bureau of Information (Cominform). Cominform's function was the same as the Comintern: to extend control over all international Communist Parties; it was abolished in 1956.