The experience of the Communist International and its relevance today
To mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Comintern, it was decided to reproduce a speech made by Comrade Harpal Brar at the annual International Communist Seminar in Brussels in 2005. Unfortunately, no copy could be found as the webpage on which the Workers’ Party of Belgium had originally published it had been taken down. Coincidentally, however, the Spanish comrades of the Unión Proletaria just happened to send Comrade Brar a translation that one of their comrades had made of the speech. We were delighted and asked to be sent the English version. Unfortunately they did not have it as they had translated the speech from a French version of it that they had found on the website of some Haitian comrades. The long and the short of it is that what appears below is a retranslation from the Spanish into English. We have to apologise therefore that most of the quotations from Palme Dutt will inevitably not be exactly as he wrote them, but we trust that the content has nevertheless been faithfully rendered.
I have been charged with speaking to you on the experience of the Communist International (the Comintern) and its relevance for our struggle today. I have also been asked to address the differences between this Communist International and the First and Second Internationals. It is difficult to do justice in a brief presentation to such a vast subject. For this reason I will try to set out here a brief sketch of the main characteristics of these three organisations and their achievements. These three Internationals need to be considered as a whole in the course of the theoretical, organisational and political development of the working-class movement.
In 1913 Lenin set out three main periods of world history since the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848: “Since then world history has clearly been divided into three main periods: (1) from the revolution of 1848 to the Paris Commune (1871); (2) from the Paris Commune to the Russian revolution (1905); (3) since the Russian revolution.” He concluded: “Since the appearance of Marxism, each of the three great periods of world history has brought Marxism new confirmation and new triumphs. But a still greater triumph awaits Marxism, as the doctrine of the proletariat, in the coming period of history” (‘The historical destiny of the doctrine of Karl Marx’).
This acute prophecy was brilliantly confirmed four years later, during the October Revolution that was to initiate a new epoch, and the creation of the Comintern in 1919.
The Third (communist) International
“The First International laid the foundation of the proletarian, international struggle for socialism.
“The Second International marked a period in which the soil was prepared for the broad, mass spread of the movement in a number of countries.
“The Third International has gathered the fruits of the work of the Second International, discarded its opportunist, social-chauvinist, bourgeois and petty-bourgeois dross, and has begun to implement the dictatorship of the proletariat” (‘The Third International and its place in history’).
Although it was founded in March 1919, the purpose of setting up the Comintern was expressly proclaimed by Lenin in November 1914 when he wrote “The Second International is dead, overcome by opportunism. Down with opportunism, and long live the Third International, purged … of opportunism” (‘The position and tasks of the socialist International’).
The First Congress of the Comintern established in clear terminology the principles of revolutionary communism, emphasising the theory of Marxism in the era of the general crisis of capitalism and world proletarian revolution, the need to break with social chauvinism and centrism, and clarification of the difference between bourgeois democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Second Congress of the Comintern (July-August 1920) adopted the famous ’21 conditions for admission into the Communist International’. These included breaking with reformism, social pacifism and centrism, strict control over parliamentary groups and the need to ensure that the party press was subordinated to the party, consistent activity within mass organisations, support for national liberation movements, unconditional support for all Soviet republics against counter-revolutionary forces, democratic centralism and iron discipline within the organisation, a combination of legal and illegal work, propaganda and agitation among the armed forces, work in rural areas, periodic purges of membership, and the acceptance of the obligatory nature of the decisions of the Comintern.
Contrary to the Second International, the Comintern undertook the consistent objective of uniting the workers of the whole world, without distinction of colour or race; “The Communist International breaks for once and for all with all the traditions of the Second International for which, in reality, only people with white skin exist. The task of the Communist International is to liberate the workers of the whole world. In its ranks, the peoples of white, yellow and black races – the workers of the whole world – are fraternally united”.
The importance of the Second Congress of the Comintern can be seen from the fact that it adopted the Constitution and Rules of the organisation, as well as formulating theses on a vast number of important questions, including parliamentarism, syndicalism, the agrarian question, the national and colonial question and the role of the communist party.
As we have seen, Lenin’s conditions for admission to the Third International were very strict. The International, just like any country’s communist party, had to be kept free of opportunism, and each of these parties had to struggle unreservedly to win the working class for proletarian revolutionary politics.
Until 1914 it was possible for various opposing tendencies, from the Fabians to the Bolsheviks, to be part of a single International. It had always been possible to treat erroneous and opportunist tendencies as nevertheless tendencies within the working-class movement. The war of 1914, and even more the October Revolution, had the effect of placing these tendencies on opposite sides of the barricades.
When Henderson applauded the execution of the legendary James Connolly; when Scheidemann and Noske murdered Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, when the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries took the side of Kolchak and Denikin’s White Guards in order to wage war against the October Revolution, it would have been particularly ridiculous to treat social democracy merely as a mere erroneous tendency in the working-class movement and to seek unity with it. It had converted itself into an open agent of the bourgeoisie and a self-confessed enemy of the revolutionary proletariat, and it was as such that it had to be treated and confronted: i.e., as a mortal enemy of the working class.
Nevertheless, this does not in any way mean forcing out mass organisations that take a reactionary line nor an absolute ban on dealing with, or compromising with, the class enemy under any circumstances whatever.
Lenin himself, who insisted on extreme revolutionary purity within the revolutionary party and the revolutionary international, had no problem in doing business with a reactionary if this could prove useful or contribute to advancing the cause of the proletariat. Here is what Lenin had to say concerning the question of reaching an agreement with the French monarchists in 1918:
“When the German imperialist robbers in February 1918 threw their armies against the defenceless demobilised Russia, which staked its hopes on the international solidarity of the proletariat before the international revolution had completely ripened, I did not hesitate for a moment to come to a certain ‘agreement’ with the French monarchists. The French Captain Sadoul who sympathised in words with the Bolsheviks, while in deeds a faithful servant of French imperialism, brought the French officer de Lubersac to me. ‘I am a monarchist. My only purpose is the defeat of Germany’, de Lubersac declared to me. ‘That goes without saying’ …, I replied. But this by no means prevented me from coming to an agreement with de Lubersac concerning certain services that French officers, experts in explosives, were ready to render by blowing up railway tracks in order to prevent the advance of German troops against us. This is an example of an ‘agreement’ of which every class conscious worker will approve. We shook hands with the French monarchist, although we knew that each of us would readily hang his ‘Partner’. But for a time our interests coincided. To throw back the rapacious advancing Germans we made use of the equally rapacious counter interests of the other imperialists thereby serving the interests of the Russian and of the International Socialist Revolution. In this way we served the interests of the working class of Russia and other countries, we strengthened the proletariat and weakened the bourgeoisie of the whole world, we used the justified practice of manoeuvring, necessary in every war, of shifting and waiting for the moment when the rapidly growing proletarian revolution in a number of advanced countries had ripened.
“And despite all the wrathful howling of the sharks of Anglo-French and American imperialism, despite all the calumnies they have showered upon us, … I would not hesitate a single second to come to the same kind of agreement with German imperialist robbers should an attack upon Russia by Anglo-French troops demand it.”
To be in an international organisation composed of only the most advanced elements of the working class, and to be in such a party of the working class, gives you a forum in which you can work out the very best strategies and tactics for your revolution. But there is not a great deal of point in having perfect knowledge of the best possible strategy and the best possible tactics unless you actually put them into practice. To do this involves reaching out to the masses wherever they are to be found, on the one hand, and engaging in the day-to-day struggle for the achievement of progressive objectives in alliance with whoever will genuinely lend at least some weight to your side of the struggle, even where, as allies, they are far from ideal.
There is no way that Communists can expect mass organisations to be free of wrong thinking. If they were there would be no need for a Communist Party. After all Lenin’s fulminations against the labour aristocracy and their treacherous leadership of trade unions, there were those who would have expected Lenin to tell them that under no circumstances should Communists work in these reactionary trade unions. But in ‘Left-wing’ Communism, an infantile disorder, Lenin thoroughly disabused them of these idiotic views:
“In countries which are more advanced than Russia, a certain amount of reactionariness in the trade unions has been revealed, and was undoubtedly bound to be revealed much more strongly than in our country. … In the West … the craft-union, narrow-minded, selfish, hard-hearted, covetous and petty-bourgeois ‘labour aristocracy’, imperialistically-minded, bribed and corrupted by imperialism, represents a much stronger stratum than in our country. … Struggle must be waged ruthlessly to the very end … until all the incorrigible leaders of opportunism and social-chauvinism have been completely discredited and expelled from the trade unions. It is impossible to capture political power (and the attempt to capture it should not be made) until this struggle has reached a certain stage.
“But we wage the struggle against the ‘labour aristocracy’ in the name of the masses of the workers in order to attract the working class to our side. To forget this most elementary and self-evident truth would be stupid. But the German ‘Left’ Communists are guilty of just this stupidity when, because of the reactionary and counter-revolutionary character of the heads of the trade unions, they jump to the conclusion that … it is necessary to leave the trade unions!! To refuse to work in them!! To create new, artificial forms of labour organisations!! This is an unpardonable blunder equivalent to the greatest service the Communists could render the bourgeoisie” (Selected Works, Vol. 10, p. 92).
United front tactics
Contrary to the myths spread by social democracy and other agents of the bourgeoisie, the Comintern and the communist parties, taken in isolation, while adhering firmly to the principle of communism and combatting opportunism, have always borne in mind the need to create a broad united front in the struggle to overthrow capitalism.
During its Third Congress (1921), the Comintern did all it could to press for the formation of a united front of all working-class organisations, something that was contemptuously rejected by the social democrats of the Second International. Similar efforts were made throughout the period preceding the rise of fascism in Germany in 1933. After having deserted to the camp of the bourgeoisie in 1914, social democracy turned itself into a counter-revolutionary tendency, which at every stage, at every crucial juncture, was faced with a choice; either take the side of the working class or that of the bourgeoisie. Unfailingly it chose the latter.
There are those who today condemn the Comintern, and especially Joseph Stalin, for having followed a sectarian line vis-a-vis the question of social democracy, distancing itself from the latter and thus facilitating the victory of fascism in Germany. In support of their condemnation they habitually quote the statement made by Stalin in September 1924 when he said: “… social democracy objectively represents the moderate wing of fascism”, as well as the analysis made by the 10th Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) in July 1929, according to which in some countries social democracy had acquired the character of “social fascism which was increasingly serving the bourgeois as an instrument for paralysing the activity of the masses in the fight against the fascist dictatorial regime”. The Comintern reached this correct conclusion after the social democratic Prussian government of Braun and Severing had banned the historical working-class 1st May demonstration in Berlin and shot workers who had dared to demonstrate and to defy the ban.
Palme Dutt affirms that the use of the term “… had as its manifest objective to draw a parallel with the use by Lenin of the term ‘social chauvinism’ to describe the degeneration of … the social-democratic leadership during the First World War and identifying it as social chauvinism”, adding, nevertheless, that “there were defects in making this parallel, which made its use somewhat inappropriate”. Nevertheless, he continued by saying that “… in some countries, some sections of the social-democratic leadership came to have very close ties with fascism”. He continued by giving examples, cited below, of the close ties between the social-democratic leaderships of Hungary, Belgium and Finland on the one hand and the Nazis on the other. On the basis of what he had just written he concluded: “Therefore, in view of the fact the behaviour of the most powerful sections of the extreme right wing of social democracy, it was justifiable to say that it was acting as a parallel instrument of the bourgeoisie, alongside fascism, to rain blows on the militant working class and paralyse the fight of the working class against fascism.” And he adds, in his usual manner, that “nevertheless the use of this term was a political mistake”.
This is typical of Palme Dutt’s discussion method – according which it is impossible to deny that the characterisation of social democracy as social fascism was correct but yet, on the other hand, it has to be admitted that to so describe it was a mistake! What is certain is that, as an objective intellectual and a communist, Palme Dutt manifestly considered that the Comintern’s analysis was correct, while, being subjected to heavy pressure by Khrushchevite revisionism, he was obliged to denounce this correct characterisation as a political mistake. Our opinion is totally confirmed in various sections of Palme Dutt’s book, for instance on page 212 where he writes that “ … the basic line of … the social-democratic leadership [was] collaboration with capitalism, tolerance of the government of fascist paramilitary and extra-legal organisation, the banning of organisation for the defence of the militant working class and directing the principal offensive, including a police offensive, against the left”.
And further on he continues by saying that at the very time that the seriousness of the growing fascist menace was beginning to manifest itself, the communists were the first to “… advocate unconditionally, time and time again, as from the summer of 1932, a united front of the working class, both at leadership and base level, of social democrats and communists for the purpose of preventing the fascist offensive. It was the social-democratic leadership who refused the united front”.
In April 1932 Severing declared: “The social-democratic party is strongly inclined to see Mr Hitler’s Nazis share government responsibility.” And Vorwärts, the party organ, was writing in the same newspaper “It is a feature of political perspicacity to allow the Nazis to come to power before becoming a majority”. Only the communists opposed this line and wrote in their newspaper, Rote Fahne, on 28 April 1932, “We will do everything possible to close to Hitler the path to government”. Nevertheless the communists, being in a minority, were impotent as far as on their own preventing the rise of the fascists to power was concerned.
There is no doubt that social democracy collaborated with imperialism in facilitating the rise to power of fascism. Clara Zetkin was absolutely right when, in her presentation on fascism presented in July 1923 to the extended Executive Committee of the Communist International, she said: “Historically, fascism is the punishment of the proletariat of western and central Europe for having failed to pursue the revolution initiated in Russia”.
German social democracy suppressed by armed might the German proletarian revolution of November 1918 and murdered Karl Liebnecht and Rosa Luxemburg. It went on, as we shall see, to do everything possible to put obstacles in the way of the revolutionary struggle and to frustrate every attempt to build a united front that might have been able to prevent the Nazis from coming to power. Under the influence of, and pressure from, Khruschevite revisionism, Rajni Palme Dutt, in his work The International, which is in other ways excellent, accuses the Comintern and Stalin of sectarianism, yet is nevertheless obliged to add the following:
“The Hungarian Social-Democratic Party signed an official secret treaty on December 22, 1921, with the White Guard dictatorship pledging cooperation and support of ‘the Magyar standpoint’ in return for legality, and thereafter served as an agency for passing on to the police reports of activities or of names of members of the illegal Communist Party. The Chairman of the Belgian Labour Party, De Man (who in 1928 in a stirring address ‘Beyond Marxism’ had called for ‘the substitution of the sentiment of justice as the basis of socialism in place of class interest’ and had proclaimed ‘Marxism is dead! Long live socialism!’) was later, after the invasion of Belgium, found to have been a Nazi agent; his last act in 1940 was to dissolve the Labour Party. Varjonen of Finland was a member of the fascist ‘Brotherhood in Arms’ during the Second World War, preached a march of conquest and rapine ‘as far as the Urals’, repeatedly visited Hitler Germany, and after the armistice became the Secretary of the Finnish Social-Democratic Party. The Braun-Severing Prussian Social-Democratic Government boasted in an official memorandum in 1932 that it had ’caused more deaths on the Left than on the Right‘” (page 210).
Consequently, in the light of the above, it cannot be incorrect to characterise social democracy as social fascism; it cannot be incorrect to denounce the opportunist elements within the working-class movement. If, with reason, Lenin described in his day social democrats as social chauvinists and social imperialists (socialists in words and imperialists and chauvinists in deeds), why would it be wrong to characterise the social democrats of the 1920s and 1930s as social fascists (socialists in words but fascists in deeds)? That is what in practice they are because they have done whatever possible to facilitate the rise of rule of fascism.
Nonetheless, Palme Dutt considered that the Executive Committee of the Communist International was wrong on this question not because the social democrats were not social fascists, but because “it provided an easy weapon to the enemies of communism enabling them to spread intentional misunderstandings…that it was intended to apply to the millions of ordinary members of social-democratic parties. In this way, social democratic workers would be put off just at the time when it was important to dissipate their prejudices and hostility and gain their cooperation”.
This is all the more strange for the following reasons:
1. The ECCI did not give a directive to the effect that any communist encountering a rank and file member of a social-democratic party should scream ‘social-fascist’ in his face.
2. One cannot recoil from exposing the truth just because some section of the masses does not much like it. When the masses are steeped in the ideology and culture of the bourgeoisie via the relentless propaganda of the bourgeois media and education system, the truth expressed by communists is often found at first to be jarring and offensive. The masses, however need to be helped to seize that truth so that through understanding it they will fight more effectively and steadfastly in pursuit of their own class interests.
3. It is precisely during this same Congress in 1928, during which the Communist International supposedly got it wrong by defending the ‘leftist’ slogan of class against class, that the attention of the working class was called to the dangers of fascism and war and on the need to organise the mass of workers from every possible organisation against these dangers.
In the same speech in which Stalin in 1924 defined social democracy as “the moderate wing of fascism”, he continued by saying “… it should not be forgotten that the Amsterdam Federation [of reactionary trade unions] brings together no fewer than 14 million organised workers. To imagine that it would be possible to bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat in Europe against the will of these millions of workers would be a serious mistake; it would signify a departure from the path of Leninism and going towards inevitable defeat. As a result, the task consists of winning over the millions of workers for the revolution and communism, liberating them from the influence of reactionary trade union bureaucracy or, at least, persuading them to adopt an attitude of benevolent neutrality towards communism”.
Consequently we can see that the line of the Comintern and that of Stalin himself was on the one hand to denounce social democracy as a counter-revolutionary agent of imperialism, and on the other hand to win over to the camp of communism the millions of workers under social-democratic influence. There can be no doubt that this was the correct line. That this correct line was unable to prevent the rise to power of Nazism in no way proves that it was wrong. Victory does not depend solely on the correctness of the line, but on the balance of forces. The power of the German bourgeoisie and the support given to it by social democracy turned out to be too strong for the revolutionary proletariat led by the German Communist Party to be able to overcome them. What proves the correctness of the German Communist Party’s line is that its prestige among the masses grew from year to year. And this is precisely one of the reasons why the German bourgeoisie hastened to throw its weight behind fascism.
It was necessary to confront a revolutionary situation which was developing very rapidly, and the German government resorted to fascism, summarily liquidating all pretension of being a democratic power. To take up the words of Palme Dutt, fascism “arose in countries beset by intense class contradictions, where there was a potential revolutionary situation, but where there did not yet exist a revolutionary working class that was sufficiently developed to be in a position to effect a victorious socialist revolution; where the social-democratic leadership was able to maintain its hold over the majority of the working class in order to come to the rescue of capitalism and block the path to revolution, …; and where the discredited capitalism regime was capable, as a result, of using a heterogeneous bunch of demagogues to shout seemingly radical slogans but that were chauvinist and racist; a bunch who were in reality financed by big capital with the aim of mobilising a reactionary ‘mass movement’ composed of various disillusioned and frustrated elements coming mostly from the middle strata but also from the most backward section of the workers, with the aim of waging war against the organised labour movement and thus preparing the way for the installation of a terrorist dictatorship of the most aggressive and reactionary sections of big capital”.
The Enlarged Executive of the Communist International in July 1923 similarly gave an preliminary analysis of the character of fascism – a phenomenon first observed in Italy in the aftermath of the first world war, where the bourgeoisie organised a gangster offensive against working class organisations in response to a wave of workers’ occupations of factories that was first sold out by reformist social democrats. This is what the Enlarged Executive had to say:
“Fascism is a characteristic phenomenon of decay, a reflection of the progressive dissolution of capitalist economy and of the disintegration of the bourgeois state.
“Its strongest root is the fact that the imperialist war and the disruption of the capitalist economy which the war intensified and accelerated meant, for the broad strata of the petty and middle bourgeoisie, small peasants and the ‘intelligentsia’, in contrast to the hopes they cherished, the destruction of their former condition of life and especially their former security. The vague expectation which many in these social strata had of a radical social improvement, to be brought about by reformist socialism, have also been disappointed. The betrayal of the revolution by the reformist party and trade union leaders … has led them to despair of socialism itself. The weakness of will, the fear of struggle shown by the way in which the overwhelming majority of the proletariat outside Soviet Russia tolerates this treachery, and under capitalist whips drudges to consolidate its own exploitation and enslavement, has robbed these small and middle bourgeois, as well as the intellectuals, brought into a state of ferment, of their belief in the working class as the mighty agent of a radical social transformation. They have been joined by many proletarian elements who, looking for and demanding action, feel dissatisfied with the behaviour of all political parties. Fascism also attracts the disappointed and declassed, the rootless in every social stratum, particularly ex-officers who have lost their occupation since the end of the war…
“The old allegedly non-political apparatus of the bourgeois state no longer guarantees the bourgeoisie adequate security. They have set about creating special class-struggle troops against the proletariat. Fascism provides these troops”.
In its turn, the 7th Congress of the Comintern in 1935 gave a brief definition of fascism as “…the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, chauvinist and imperialist elements of finance capital.”
Neither the Comintern nor the German Communist Party, through either their theoretical analysis or their practical activity, facilitated the Hitlerites’ rise to power. This responsibility must be directly imputed to the German bourgeoisie, to the bourgeoisie of imperialist democracies, including those of Great Britain, France and the US, and to the collaboration of German social democracy.
Even as late as the November 1932 elections in Germany, the combined votes of the working class reached the figure of 13,241,000 as against 11,729,000 for the Nazis. There was a fall in the Nazi vote of more than 2 million compared to the previous elections. During the 1932 election, while the social democratic vote fell by half a million, that of the Communist Party grew by the same amount. The signs of a fall in the electoral chances of Nazism and of a rise in those of the Communist Party alarmed the German bourgeoisie, which led, via President Hindenburg, to Hitler being hauled up from above into power even though the Nazis had no parliamentary majority. Nevertheless, the German social-democratic leadership spurned the repeated calls of the Communist Party, directly made during this crucial period to the social democratic executive and the executive of the Federation of Trade Unions, for the formation of a united front on a national scale against Nazism – in July 1932, in January 1933 after Hitler’s installation in power, and in March 1933 following the Reichstag fire.
Wels, the chief of the German social-democratic party, resigned from the Executive Committee of the Second International because of the ‘tales of atrocities’ that the latter was spreading against Hitler! The leadership of the social-democratic trade union announced its intention of cooperating with Nazism, proclaiming that the Nazi ‘revolution’ was a triumphant prolongation of the 1918 revolution and that the common enemy was communism! He went as far as to invite workers to participate in Hitler’s 1st May meetings. On 17 May 1933, the whole of the social-democratic party in the Reichstag (the communist leaders had been jailed) voted in favour of a government resolution and joined in a unanimous acclamation in honour of Hitler. Far from Nazism compensating them for their cooperation, the social democrats were dragged to the Nazi dungeons and concentration camps. “The Leiparts and the Grassmans”, declared Dr Ley, the chief of the Nazi’s German Labour Front “can profess their devotion to Hitler, but it’s better to have them in jail.”
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution, Georgi Dimitrov declared “the historical line of division between the forces of fascism, war and capitalism, on the one hand, and the forces of peace, democracy and socialism on the other hand, has become realised in attitudes towards the Soviet Union, and not the formal attitude towards Soviet power but rather the attitude towards a Soviet Union that is pursuing its actual existence for the last 20 years”.
Judging by this touchstone, German social democracy continued to be the loyal servant of imperialism, as well as a mortal enemy of communism and the Soviet Union. Even during the war after the Nazis had invaded the Soviet Union and the latter was supposed to be an ally of the democratic western imperialists, the German social-democratic party failed to renounce its anti-communism. Its executive committee declared in July 1941: “From the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea, the world’s most powerful armies are committed to the battle. If one of the two were able to secure a rapid victory it would become undefeatable in the continents of Europe and Asia. Only by mutually exhausting each other can Anglo-American democracy’s power be converted into the dominant factor in the remoulding of a new world”.
The role of social democracy in disarming the working class, in destroying the working class revolution when objective conditions were ripe following the First World War, in supporting reaction in the name of ‘democracy’ and in its direction of the greater part of its offensive against the proletariat, is not limited to Germany. The same happened with its refusal to join in a united front with the communists, thus opening the doors for fascism. This happened in Italy and France, to give but two examples. In France 110 of the 188 socialist deputies voted to give special powers to Petain to set up the fascist Vichy regime. To take up the words of Palme Dutt: “… fascism was the consequence of the backwardness of the socialist revolution in western and central Europe following the First World War, when the objective conditions were calling for socialist revolution as the only decisive solution … but at the time the working class movement was neither strong or prepared enough, was to be disorganised and paralysed by reformism, and as a result was to allow the initiative to pass to the side of capitalism. Fascism can be described as the aborted product of a failed pregnancy of the proletarian revolution.”
In the light of the foregoing, it can be affirmed with complete confidence that characterising social democracy as ‘social fascism’ is correct. Moreover, despite this characterisation, the Communist International and the German Communist Party never stopped pursuing the line of a single united front to prevent the rise to power of fascism.
In spite of the long history of social-democratic betrayal of the working-class movement, once the Hitlerites had gained power and rewarded the social democrats for their collaboration by throwing them into fascist jails, the 7th Congress of the Communist International which took place in the summer of 1935 decided to soften a little its criticism of the social-democratic leadership and sought unity in the interests of the fight of the working class against fascism. But this was no use. Effectively, it is odd that the detractors of the Communist International, which they had previously accused of sectarianism in regard to the decisions of the 6th Congress, made a 180 degree turn accusing the Comintern of a rightist deviation for seeking unity of the working class in the struggle against fascism and war, a unity which it had pursued throughout its whole existence.
In its pursuit of unity the Communist International had not forgotten its principles. In his presentation to the 7th Congress of the Comintern in August 1935, Dimitrov stated: “The Communist International imposes no conditions to unity of action except one, and this is an essential condition acceptable to all workers, i.e., that the unity of action must be directed against fascism, against the capitalist offensive, against the threat of war, against the class enemy. This is our one condition”.
And that precisely was the problem. Social democracy has never been willing to fight against capital and against the class enemy. Because of this, in the ultimate analysis, it is willing to consent to the rise of fascism to power rather than to join the ranks of the proletariat in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.
The role of the ‘democratic’ imperialist countries
As for the democratic imperialist powers, they had done everything possible to rearm Germany, to free it of the shackles of the Treaty of Versailles and to help the Hitlerites gain power as the only possible bastion against Bolshevism. By means of the Anglo-German naval accord of 1935, Great Britain carried on reducing to nothing the disarmament stipulation of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1936 Germany was allowed to occupy the Rhineland. Vast sums of money were invested in Germany by US imperialism with a view to building up its economy. At the same time that they were adamantly refusing to engage in conversations with the Soviet Union on the question of collective security against the war being prepared by Nazi Germany, Great Britain and France concluded the Munich accords with Hitler towards the end of September 1938 in an attempt to direct Hitlerite aggression eastwards towards the Soviet Union. In his speech to the 18th Party Congress in March 1939 Stalin correctly referred to the Munich accords in the following terms:
“It might be thought that districts of Czechoslovakia were ceded to Germany in consideration of an enterprise devoted to launching a war against the Soviet Union, yet now the Germans are refusing to carry out their promises, sending them to Hades.”
The inter-war period
The years that separate the First and Second World Wars can be divided into three distinct periods. First there was the revolutionary impulse that followed the war and lasted until 1922. Then came the relative stabilisation of capitalism, which lasted from 1923 to 1929, and finally came the period of gigantic cataclysms that lasted from 1929 until the outbreak of the Second World War.
Instead of regarding the second period of relative stabilisation as temporary and transitory, social democracy described it as an essential characteristic of capitalism following the First World War, in an attempt to sow illusions among the masses regarding the durability of capitalism. Eminent social-democratic theoreticians described capitalism and capitalist stabilisation in glowing colours. Hilferding, one of German social democracy’s main theorists, declared at his party’s congress in Kiel in 1927 that “we are in a period of capitalism when, as a whole, it has overcome the period of free competition and the sway of the blind laws of the market, and we are arriving at a capitalist organisation of the economy … at an organised economy”, and that, “in reality, organised capitalism means in principle the suppression of the principle of free competition by the principle of socialist planned production”.
As can be seen, by equating ‘organised capitalism’ with ‘a planned socialist economy’, Hilferding had pronounced that Marxism was somewhat redundant. Equally, Tamov, the chief theoretician of German syndicalism, declared at a Congress in Breslau of the Federation of German Trade Union that “as the main ideology of the working-class movement, Marxism has been overtaken”. He went on saying that “Marx and Engels were typical of the first epoch” of capitalism, but that, for modern capitalism “it is Ford who is typical”.
Naphtali, another German syndicalist theoretician, stated: “the cyclical development, under which there was a regular alternation of prosperity and crisis on which Marx and Engels wrote, is only relevant in the initial period of capitalism”.
Another representative of German syndicalism affirmed: “One must not lose sight of the fact that the working class is part of the capitalist system, and that overthrowing this system would involve its own overthrow and, as a result, the major historical duty of the working class, is to obtain, through the regulation of its place within this system, the improvement of the whole social structure, which, once more, means the improvement of its own situation”.
The hallucinatory apostasy which constitutes the essence of this last statement is hardly surprising in view of social democracy’s desertion to the camp of the imperialist bourgeoisie.
The views quoted above, the tender faith in the permanence of capitalism, were by no means exclusive to German social democracy. These illusions, these expressions of backtracking, were common to all the parties of the Second International during the period of stabilisation that preceded the Crash. Vandervelde, the leader of Belgian social democracy, in the course of welcoming the bankers’ Manifesto of 1926, expressed the opinion that the concepts of finance capital and of social democracy converged. “the language of the financiers’ International is not very different to that of the Socialist International”.
In Great Britain, the Labour Party and the trade-union leadership did everything they could to promote the superiority of Ford over Marx.
By contrast with these illusions of the parties of the Second International, the Comintern had already analysed and given evidence of the transitory and precarious nature of the period of relative stabilisation and the arrival of a new period, the third, i.e., the period of gigantic cataclysms. Here is what the Comintern had to say: “This third period, in which the contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the contraction of the markets becomes particularly acute will give rise inevitably to a new series of imperialist wars … which will inevitably lead – via the continued development of the contradictions within capitalist stabilisation – to a capitalist stabilisation that will become each time more precarious and to a severe intensification of the general crisis of capitalism … In the final instance, the contradictions within the development of capitalist stabilisation lead inevitably to the present period of ‘stabilisation’ which is going to evolve into a period of gigantic cataclysms.” With the Wall Street crash of 1929, which by 1931 had turned into the most devastating world economic crisis that humanity had ever known, with 50 million people unemployed in the capitalist world, and the launch of Japanese imperialism’s war offensive, the Comintern’s prediction had proved so correct that the US Senate investigation committee seriously asked itself whether the world economic crisis could be by any chance a communist conspiracy.
Once again the Comintern’s analysis had demonstrated the superiority of the science of Marxism-Leninism over the pseudo science of capitalism and social democracy.
The dramatic expansión of fascism
The dramatic expansion of German fascism after 1930-1932, is to be explained by the fact that the world economic crisis undermined not only the whole basis of stabilisation and of the Weimar Republic, but also the position of social democracy that had aligned itself so closely with it. The economic crisis and Brüning’s starvation regime revealed for once and for all the extreme bankruptcy of all social democracy’s promises and fairy tales regarding democratic progress towards peace and prosperity for all under the conditions of capitalism.
As disillusion with social democracy spread, class conscious workers went over to communism while backward workers went over to fascism. Between 1930 and 1932, while Social Democracy lost 1,338,000 votes, Communism gained 1,384,000. As social democracy faded, debilitated and discredited, unable to resist any longer the increasing advance of communism, and with the consequent polarisation of society into two clearly defined hostile camps, German capitalism needed new methods and new tools.
Confronting an unprecedented economic crisis, the bourgeoisie had a desperate and urgent need to thwart the social gains of the 1918 upheavals in terms of wages, working hours and social legislation, gains that had provided the principal basis for the influence of social democracy within the proletariat. In place of these concessions wrested in the early years of revolution, capitalism determined to subject workers to economic pain. In order to achieve this objective, bearing in mind that there was a powerful communist party in existence, with great influence and which was growing all the time within the working class, and in view of the decline of the influence of social democracy, German capitalism was going to need new and undisguised forms of dictatorship. Without further ado, social democracy was expelled from the federal government and exchanged during the summer of 1930 by the Brüning dictatorship governing without parliament through decrees and exceptional measures, but with the support of the social democrats.
It was from this period on that the overwhelming majority of German capitalists and landowners completely transferred their loyalty to national socialism which hitherto it had only partially been supporting – as the instrument of its terrorist dictatorship. If social democracy had been prepared to ally itself with communism with a view to forming a common front of resistance to the hunger offensive of Brüning’s dictatorship, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that the capitalist offensive could not have succeeded. But in the name of the politics of the ‘lesser evil’, social democracy supported the Brüning dictatorship’s hunger decrees and its attacks on workers. By acting in this way, it was reinforcing capitalism, debilitating the workers’ front, disorganising the proletarian ranks – thereby making it a plaything of fascism. This disorganisation of proletarian forces during the critical period from 1930 to 1932 meant that the initiative and discontent generated by hunger and unsatisfied basic needs, which would normally have strengthened the proletarian camp, instead strengthened that of fascism.
The obstinate refusal by social democracy to cooperate with communists when this was needed opened the way for the victory of fascism because that refusal made it impossible to create a united front of the working class that would have been the only chance to beat the Hitlerites. The attitude of social democracy arose directly from its line of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie and its confidence in the bourgeois state, a line in which it persisted even under the conditions of dictatorship under Hindenburg, Brüning and Von Papen, declaring them to be the ‘lesser evil’. On the contrary, these forms of dictatorship were simply preparing the ground for the complete victory of fascism and the destruction step by step of the resistance of the working class. When their work was done, they handed over state power to the Hitlerites. Hindenburg was installed as president with the support of social democracy. Less than a year later he had appointed Hitler as Chancellor yet, even after the Hitlerite victory, social democracy refused to oppose the Nazi regime for the following reason: it having taken power by ‘legal’ means and was therefore a ‘lesser evil’ that an ‘illegal’ Nazi terror.
Consequently it can be seen that the work of weakening the resolve of the working class to resist was carried out not by fascism but by social democracy.
The headlong drive to war
With the 1929 crash and the depression which followed it, it became clearer than ever that the imperialist countries were being propelled towards a brutal confrontation. The relative stability of capitalism had given way to a period of gigantic cataclysms. The First World War had not solved any of the contradictions between the different capitalist countries. Apart from its failure to gain control of colonies and markets, Germany was burdened by the heavy weight of war reparations and was searching greedily for an opportunity to satisfy its desire for vengeance against rival imperialist powers. At the same time, all the imperialist countries were united in their hatred of the socialist Soviet Union. With the rise of fascism in Germany, the whole world was involved in the development of an extremely complicated situation. While the Soviet Union tried to ensure that the imperialist powers would not unite to wage war against it, the supposedly democratic imperialist countries did everything possible to direct German aggression against the Soviet Union. In pursuing this policy, Great Britain and France, and to a lesser extent the US as well, refused to take seriously Soviet efforts to ensure collective security against the imminent aggression of the Nazis. The Munich accords demonstrated to the Soviet Union in a palpable manner that the imperialist democracies were going to do everything to push Nazi Germany to attack her. The Soviet Union turned the tables by signing the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, which left the Germans free to attack Poland, a country within the sphere of French and British influence, thereby obliging Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany.
The Soviet Union signed the non-aggression pact with Germany with the aim of gaining sufficient time to be able to reinforce its defences. As far as the Nazis were concerned, they concluded the pact because they knew that the Soviet Union would be a tough nut to crack. As a result they wanted to subdue other countries, adding to German resources those of all the victims of their aggression for when at the right time they would embark on war against the Soviet Union.
Starting with Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, the Nazis followed their course to conquer practically the whole of western Europe. With the defeat of France in five weeks in the spring of 1940, and with the expulsion of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, Hitlerite Germany had become the owner of Europe and was ready to invade the USSR. This attack materialised on 22 June 1941. Encouraged by their victories in western Europe, the Hitlerites believed that Soviet resistance to the fascist hordes would dissolve in six weeks. They were to be painfully disabused.
Already in 1934, with the Hitlerites in power in Germany and with the reactionary western imperialist circles publicly speculating about a war to be launched by Germany and Japan against the Soviet Union, Stalin, addressing the 17th Congress of the CPSU(b), issued a word of advice to the bourgeoisie about the consequences of such a war in unequivocal words as follows: “The bourgeoisie should be in no doubt that numerous friends of the Soviet working class in Europe and Asia will do everything possible to deal a blow in their oppressors’ rear if they launch a criminal war against the fatherland of the working class of all countries. And let not those bourgeois gentlemen reproach us if some of those governments which are so close and so appreciated and are today happily in power ‘by God’s grace’ might not be there by the end of the war … It is difficult to doubt that such a war against the USSR would lead to the complete defeat of the aggressors, to revolution in numerous European and Asian countries, and to the destruction of the bourgeois and landlord governments of those countries”.
This brilliant prophecy was fulfilled with the appearance of people’s democracies in Eastern and central Europe and by the victories of the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese revolutions in the Far East, which were to lead to the formation of a powerful bloc of socialist countries covering a third of the world’s territory and comprising a quarter of its population.
The victory of the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War against the Nazis was not fortuitous. It had been prepared over a very long period. In his address to the First General Conference of Executives of Soviet industry in February 1931, Stalin advanced the following reasoning to explain why it was not possible to put the brakes on the pace of industrialisation in the Soviet Union.
“To slacken the tempo would mean falling behind. And those who fall behind get beaten. But we do not want to be beaten. No, we refuse to be beaten! One feature of the history of old Russia was the continual beatings she suffered because of her backwardness. She was beaten by the Mongol khans. She was beaten by the Turkish beys. She was beaten by the Swedish feudal lords. She was beaten by the Polish and Lithuanian gentry. She was beaten by the British and French capitalists. She was beaten by the Japanese barons. All beat her — because of her backwardness, because of her military backwardness, cultural backwardness, political backwardness, industrial backwardness, agricultural backwardness. They beat her because it was profitable and could be done with impunity. …
“Such is the law of the exploiters — to beat the backward and the weak. It is the jungle law of capitalism. You are backward, you are weak — therefore you are wrong; hence you can be beaten and enslaved. You are mighty — therefore you are right; hence we must be wary of you.”
“We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall go under.”
Under the glorious banner of Marxism Leninism and under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party led by the legendary JV Stalin, the Soviet Union continued for 10 years to close the gap that separated it and the advanced capitalist countries, a heroic feat that helped the Soviet people to effect the extraordinary feat of defeating Nazi Germany practically on her own.
Far from falling apart as the Nazis and democratic imperialists had hoped, the Soviet Union, overcoming initial reverses following the Nazi attack, turned the tables during the four years of war and expelled the Nazis from the whole of Soviet territory and drove them back to Berlin. The Fuhrer committed suicide just as the Soviet army was raising the red flag on the roof of the Reichstag. The battles of Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, Leningrad and Berlin will forever remain an eloquent reminder of the heroism of soldiers as much as Soviet civilians. In, finishing off the Nazis practically on their own, the Red Army and the Soviet people liberated humanity from the scourge of Nazism. The magnitude of the Soviet effort can be gauged by the fact that in November 1942, out of 256 German divisions, 179 were fighting on the Soviet front, the rest serving principally to garrison occupied Europe while the British forces in north Africa only faced 4 German and 11 Italian divisions. In spite of their repeated promises, Great Britain and the US did not open the second front against Germany until June 1944, at a time when it had become clear that the Soviet Union was on the way to defeating Germany single-handedly.
The D Day landings were more an effort to prevent the Red Army liberating western Europe than a contribution to the defeat of Nazism. If one listens to imperialist myths, one gets the impression that it was Anglo-American imperialism that defeated Nazi Germany. The truth, however, is that the Red Army and the Soviet people made the most decisive contribution to the defeat of Nazism. The price of this victory was terrible for the Soviet Union. 27 million Soviet citizens, including 7.5 million soldiers, lost their lives. By comparison, the US only lost 300,000 men, and the losses of the British empire reached the number of 353,652 men, with not more than 224,723 for Great Britain. To this number one must add 60,000 dead from the civilian population.
Furthermore, a third of Soviet territory and economic resources had been devastated. 1,710 towns and 70,000 villages had been completely destroyed, 6 million houses and buildings had been demolished; 31,800 industrial sites had been razed to the ground; 98,000 collective or state farms had been destroyed, at the same time that its livestock, i.e., a total of 64 million animals, had been stolen or killed by the Germans. This is the price that the socialist Soviet Union and the Soviet people had to pay as a result of the betrayal by social democracy of socialism, particularly German social democracy, which put down the 1918 German revolution, restored the bourgeoisie to power and facilitated the rise of Nazism, thus creating a monster that, at the end of the day, had to be confronted and defeated by the Soviet Union.
Hardly had the Soviet Union finished fighting the Nazis than it found itself facing another war – the cold war – launched by US imperialism, with the full support of social democracy, which joyfully joined in with imperialism’s fight against the USSR and the other countries of the socialist camp.
The lessons to be learnt
The history of the three internationals, which we have briefly reviewed above, demonstrates clearly that our movement advanced with giant steps so long as it remained faithful to the principles of Marxism Leninism and proletarian internationalism. It equally demonstrates that it suffered serious losses when it departed from those principles. In his speech to the 17th Party Congress in January 1934, Stalin, after raising the question “To what does our party owe its superiority?” continued by way of an answer: “To the fact that it is a Marxist party, a Leninist party. To the fact that in its work it has been guided by the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin. There can be no doubt that as long as we remain true to these teachings, while we possess this compass, we will achieve success in our work.
“Yes, comrades, our successes are due to the fact that we have worked and fought under the banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin. From this … the conclusion; we must remain true to the banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin.”
The successes of the First and Third Internationals and the collapse of the Second can only be explained by the fact that while the First and Third Internationls had adhered perfectly to the banner of Marxism, the Second had distanced itself from it, had sold itself to class collaboration and discredited itself completely. Drawing lessons from this, we must make an effort to be loyal to the banner of Marxism, the banner of Leninism and the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.
The Comintern was dissolved in June 1943 because it had fulfilled its historic mission and attained its objective, in view of the maturity acquired by the communist parties in the different countries; the growing complexity of the international situation and of the struggle in the different countries individually. It cannot be doubted that considerations of maintaining the anti-fascist front on a world scale did much to influence the decision to dissolve the Comintern. There is nothing shameful about this because at the time the preservation of the Soviet Union was extremely important, not only for the Soviet people, but also from the point of view of the whole of humanity. In this context, and especially in the light of the fall of the USSR in 1991 thanks to three decades of Khrushchevite revisionist betrayal, one cannot resist recalling the following words of Stalin at the 7th Enlarged Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, during his controversy with the counter-revolutionary ‘left’ Trotskyist opposition in the CPSU(b): “What would happen if capital succeeded in smashing the Republic of Soviets? There would set in an era of the blackest reaction in all the capitalist and colonial countries, the working class and the oppressed peoples would be seized by the throat, the positions of international communism would be lost.”
It is clear, now that the Soviet Union has disappeared, that the blackest period of reaction has commenced, that the working class and oppressed peoples have been effectively seized by the throat and that imperialism is recolonising the oppressed nations. The peoples of the former Soviet Union and the peoples of the east European democracies have been reduced to hunger and poverty. The working class of the western imperialist countries is subject to constant attacks. Anglo-American imperialism has launched a predatory war of Hitlerite dimensions against the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan. If as a result of the collaboration between the ‘democratic’ imperialist countries and the Hitlerite fascists the USSR had been eliminated at the beginning of the 1940s, this period of black reaction would have commenced 60 years earlier, with incalculable painful consequences for the people of the world. This is why one cannot superficially condemn the leadership of the Soviet Union for having approved the dissolution of the Comintern.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that while the leadership of the CPSU(b), the most prestigious party of the international communist movement, continued to be revolutionary, as it undoubtedly was during Stalin’s lifetime, the relations between the different communist parties rested on the correct principles of proletarian internationalism and the communist movement spoke with one voice, and it was in its capacity as a potent world movement that it opposed imperialism. Only the arrival of Khrushchevite revisionism at the head of the CPSU(b) and the Soviet state brought deviations from the principles of fraternal solidarity and proletarian internationalism, deviations that carried in their wake such misfortune and ruin for the proletariat and the peoples of the world.
Finally, the question that most frequently comes to the mind of all persons present at this Seminar would be: is it possible, either now or in the very near future, to set up a new Communist International following the line of the Third International and resting on the principles of democratic centralism. Our party’s view [i.e., that of the CPGB-ML]is that the conditions do not exist for the creation at present of such an organisation. Equally, our party considers that there do exist considerable possibilities for revolutionaries to get together regularly with a view to exchanging experiences and to cooperate closely around important questions, from problems of war and peace to the struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of imperialism. We will be capable of doing this so long as we practise fraternal solidarity, as long as we “firmly consolidate this life-giving principle among all the workers of all countries”.