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Reaction in the Comintern

Following the defeat of revolutionary movements on International arena, within the Russian CP a conservative wing gained hand First, the Workers' Opposition of 1920-21, led by a leader of trade unions Shlyapnikov, and a revolutionary feminist Alexandra Kollontai, was crushed by the majority of the Russian CP, led by Lenin and Trotsky. The workers' opposition argued for an active participation of workers in the economic and political decisions, through trade unions and workers' councils. Then, in 1923 we get a theory of "socialism in one, separate country", advanced by Bukharin and Stalin. This was opposed to the theory of "permanent revolution" advanced by Trotsky. The conservative wing, led by Stalin, won the day.

(After the theory of "socialism in one country", we see theory of "peaceful co-existence of socialism and capitalism", which has transformed itself into a theory of "partnership for peace" between the USA and Russia, declared by the regime of Medvedev-Putin).

The decline in the world revolution affected the Communist International. Thus, the French Socialist Party, in 1920, split upon the decision of joining the Comintern. One part formed the CP, with 140,000 members, and another the Socialist party, with 30,000. In 1924, the CP=68,000 and SP=99,000. By 1932, the CP=15,000 and SP=137,000 members, i.e. in 12 years the positions of CP and SP in regard to the number of members were completely reversed!

How does one explain this? Maurice Thorez describes the situation in the Communist Party of France in 1930: “The number of members has fallen. Arbitrary decisions are taken at the top, and there is passive acceptance at all the lower levels; strangling of free discussion; silence and suspicion from those who do not co-operate; sealed lips; absence of any fruitful criticism – the atmosphere of a barrack… a caricature of a party, impotent and vegetating”. Julius Braunthal explains: “Maurice Thorez, arrested in 1929, believed that he had been betrayed by another member of the Central Committee, and that his colleagues had seized the opportunity to be rid of him by refusing to pay his fine”. Maurice Thorez spent 1 year in jail 

Togliati (an Italian communist) paints a similar picture: “Togliatti wrote [to Trotsky in exile] that he had the feeling that the Russians considered the congress (of Comintern) a burden which they were not strong enough to shake off. ‘The tragedy of the affair is’, he wrote, ‘that it is impossible to speak the truth about the life-and-death problems with which we are concerned. We cannot speak. In this atmosphere to speak the real truth would have the effect of a bomb explosion.”

The atmosphere of the Comintern and the indvidual Communist parties is oppressive, stifling.

Defeat of international revolutions

Defeat of revolutions in Europe pomoted conservative leadership in the Comintern and specifically in the Russian Communist Party. And the conservative leadership promoted the defeat of revolutions on the international arena. Two examples would be Germany in 1933 and Spain in 1936.

In 1929, world Economic Depression started in the United States. In 1932 in Germany, there were 6-8 million unemployed, i.e. around 1/3 of all working population. Real wages down 1/3 since 1929.

The German Social Democrats supported the Bruning Cabinet, apprehensive of the worse evil, Hitler and National Socialists. According to Braunthal, “the Bruning government … was a government of financiers, upper middle-class elements, the peasants, bureaucracy and army... in 1931, when Parliament was dealing with the question of funds for the construction of a second armored cruiser, the Social Democrats abstained (from voting) out of their concern not to endanger the Bruning government... they thus sanctioned the squandering of millions on a ridiculous national prestige project in the midst of a desperate economic situation when millions of unemployed were standing idle of the streets".

What was the policy of communists? The Sixth Congress of the Comintern in the summer of 1928 adopted the theory of a "third period" in the development of capitalism. This was a period "of rapid development of contradictions in the world economy" and of "maximum sharpening in the general crisis of capitalism", and hence would lead to new wars and revolutions. Moreover, the Congress saw the Social Democracy as "the strongest force of counter-revolution".

The Communist Party of Germany adopted an "ultra-left" position: “Thalmann (1886-1944)… supported the Moscow theory that there was no class difference between Bruning’s government and a fully evolved Fascist dictatorship, but only a difference in the degree and tempo of development... A resolution of the German Communist party’s CC in May 1931 accordingly declared: ‘In principle Fascist dictatorship is not an alternative to bourgeois democracy, for both mean dictatorship by high finance’…” To this Social-Democratic “Vorwarts” replied: “To think that the Hitler state will be no worse than the Republic under Bruning is to deceive yourselves… Despite the shortcomings of the Republic, you hold hundreds of meetings every day and your newspapers appear. Hitler’s state will rob you of all political rights and every opportunity for economic and social struggle”. The reality turned out to be worse.

German Social-Democrats tried a United Front against fascists: "in November 1931, the Social Democratic leaders, deeply worried by the enormous increase in the strength of the Nazi movement, tried to approach the Communist party to suggest a joint struggle against this danger". But the newspaper of the German CP, "Rote Fahne" replied: "Bruning's Fascism is not a jot better than Hitler's Fascism... and our chief attack is against Social Democracy".

In 1932, the SPD controlled a large military organization called "Reichsbanner". Established in 1924, in 1932 the organization has 3 million members. "The hard core of the Reichsbanner was a hard-hitting highly trained military-style elite - the Schufo ('defense units') - which claimed a strength of 400,000 men. Thus the Social Democrats were vastly better prepared to fight off an action by the forces of reaction than they had been at the time of the Kapp putsch", in 1920.

These "defense units" could fight the paramilitary Nazi formations, the S.A. and the S.S. So what happened? "The Social Democratic leaders shrank in deadly fear from the prospect of the carnage of civil war". In fact, having to choose between violence and living under the Nazi regime, the SPD chose the later. Brauthal says in defense of SPD: "Men like Severing, Hilferding, Breitscheid and Stampfer were totally imbued with the humanitarian traditions of Socialism and every fibre in their being was against bloodshed". They didn't want "a bloodshed", so they got a concentration camp: "Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, drew the correct conclusion from the Social Democrat's passive tactics when, on the day after the coup (in Prussia) he noted in his diary: 'The Reds are beaten. Their organizations are putting up no resistance... The Reds have missed their chance and it will not come again'."

On July 31, 1932 there were the Reichstag elections. "Compared with the presidential elections three months earlier, the Nazis gained the support of a further 300,000 voters; their total vote, which was 13,732,000, was nearly twice what they had obtained in the election of September 1930. In the Reichstag... they were now the strongest party. The Social Democrats, on the other hand, lost 600,000 votes (their total was 7,951,000) while the Communist vote increased by more than 600,000 to a total of 5,278,000". It thus appears what the Social Democrats lost was gained by Communists.

On 30 January 1933 "Hindenburg abandoned state power to Hitler". The socialist workers were ready to respond: "on the afternoon and evening of 30 January spontaneous and violent mass demonstrations of workers took place in German cities. Delegations from factories and delegations of area officials of the (SPD) party from all parts of the country arrived on the same day in Berlin in expectation of battle orders". However, during the night of January 30th discussions of SPD party leaders took place and "arguments for prudence and hesitation overcame those in favor of going into battle immediately". What does it mean "to go into action against Hitler"? It only means overthrowing the legal government, starting a revolution. Social Democrats had no nerve for this. They covered themselves with all kinds of legal excuses: "On Breischeid's advice the party leaders postponed organized active resistance to the Fascist threat until such time as it was unanimously determined that there had been a clear breach of constitution. They hoped that such a moment would not come. They trembled at the thought of civil war".

Then a Nazi, Wilhelm Frick, was appointed the Minister of the Interior. "Social Democratic and Communist newspapers were banned... labor leaders forbidden to speak and labor meetings stopped by government officials immediately they began, or else simply broken up by Nazi storm-troopers with police connivance. Republican policemen were dismissed en masse and replaced by Nazis".

Reichstag fire

Reichstag set on fire, 1933

On February 27, 1933 there was the Reichstag fire. The Communists were accused by the government and banned. The Social Democratic press was suppressed. A meeting to celebrate the 50-th anniversary of Karl Marx's death was broken up. Freedoms of press, of association were suppressed. Postal secrecy was suspended.

Undoubtedly, this was a coup d'etat. But, according to Braunthal, "it was too late for active resistance". Organizations were paralyzed, the leaders were arrested, "together with many hundreds of the key men of their parties, their printing presses were closed, their leaflets confiscated and their election meetings broken up by Nazi storm-troopers". The 81 communist M.P.'s were disqualified from Reichstag. Hitler was given unlimited power through "an enabling law".

The Social Democratic Party of Germany tried to "adopt" itself to the fascist dictatorship. They resigned from the Labor and Socialist International. They expelled the Berlin Socialist Youth, which began illegal work. They refused any association with those party members who went to Prague "to organize the fight against Hitler from abroad".

The trade union leaders, associated with Social Democrats, sent a submissive letter to Hindenburg, on 10 March, 1933, begging him to protect the trade union property and their members. But "the heritage of the old Germany as well as the dignity of the new" (words used in the letter to address Hindenburg) was deaf to their supplications. "On 2 May the S.A. occupied trade-union premises and arrested top trade-union officials... A few days later the government confiscated all trade-union property and finances... On 22 June 1933 the Social Democratic party was also banned. Its property was confiscated and its members of Parliament were disqualified". Thus, first, the Communists were suppressed. Then, the Trade Unions. Then, the Social Democrats. This reflects on the level of their threat to the Nazi regime. 

What was the policy of communists upon Hitler taking power? On 30th January they declared a general strike. However, this did not materialize as it was not supported by the Social Democratic party. But the time for a general strike has passed. This was a time to put up a desperate fight. There were reasons to believe that some sections of the Social-Democratic party would support the Communists: "during the same evening (30th January) a joint conference of executives of the General Federation of Trade Unions, the Social Democratic party, the S.P.D. Parliamentary party and the leaders of the Reichsbanner and the 'Iron Front' decided in principle to go into action against Hitler". They were held only by the cowardly leaders of the SPD.

After the call of the Communist leaders, on January 30th, for a general strike went unheeded, "the Communist party made no further attempt to fight; like the Social Democrats it remained passive".

* * *

The Communists showed themselves passive during revolutionary situation in 1923, incapable of independent action from orders from Comintern. Later, the leadership of the German Communist Party became even more passive. Right-wing communist Nicolai Bukharin lost his position as chairman of Comintern in 1929, to be replaced by such Stalinists as V. Molotov, and later by D. Manuilsky. 

While the Social Democrats covered themselves with pretext of legality, the Communists covered themselves with a pretext of orders from Moscow: "the Praesidium of the Communist International 'noted' at its meeting of April 1, 1933: 'That the political line and the organizational policy followed by the Central Committee of the German Communist party up to and during Hitler's coup was perfectly correct'." And the newspaper "Pravda" was full of Stalinist fanfare: "The rousing success of the German Communist party in its Bolshevik tactics..." 

In defense of their lack of initiative in starting a resistance to Hitler, the leaders of the German Communist Party wrote: "The big step into the final battle must only be taken when the conditions of victory exist". But the conditions for victory have existed, first, in the increasing number of people who were voting for Communists. Second, it was better to die fighting, then to perish in concentration camps. This thought belongs to Winston Churchill who took England into war with Germany in 1939, and put up a desperate fight.

Let's note that Julius Braunthal also blames the communists for Hitler coming to power, but his analysis is different: "the heaviest responsibility for the tragedy of German Socialism [only "German", and only "Socialism"?] lay with the Communist International... It was its historic error to perpetuate and deepen the split in the German labor movement. The split paralyzed Socialist strength when it should have been reshaping the German state [which state: capitalist?]; it weakened the left wing of the Social Democrats who were seeking social and political transformation [read: reform]... it forced the Social Democrats on to the slippery slope of accepting an alliance with the bourgeoisie as the lesser evil in an attempt to escape the greater". Hence, Braunthal blames the communists for following an independent line of social-democrats, which forced the later into an alliance with the Bruning government. 

The end of two Internationals

War is a supreme test for organization. The war pressures either break an organization, or leads it to power. An example of the first case we see in the fate of Labor and Socialist International: “when war tensions in Europe grew still sharper in the autumn of 1938 the (Socialist) International began to disintegrate”. There were divisions on policy to be adopted. Different parties within the Socialist International represented interests of different national bourgeoisie, and hence pursued different policies towards Hitler and looming war: “The differences on major policy between isolationist parties in the International – the Oslo bloc [favoring neutrality in the coming war] – and the parties which favored armed resistance to the Fascist offensive, were, in the nature of things, insurmountable.” Last meeting of the Bureau of the Labor and Socialist International took place on April 3, 1940: “the Socialist International’s [1940] May Day manifesto had nothing to say about all these events”, i.e. Hitler’s and Stalin’s invasion of Poland, the USSR war against Finland, etc.

The individual Socialist parties also ceased to exist, for the same reason. Leon Blum writes: “The simple truth is that from the Munich onwards the French Socialist party had fallen into two parts because of the dispute about the basic problem in public life. It was this dispute which reduced it to silent impotence. Anxious to preserve the appearance of unity, the party avoided taking any clear-cut line of action and even avoided making any clear-cut declaration for that would have revealed its inner divisions and would undoubtedly have led to an actual split… Thus the party dragged out its existence in mistrust and humiliation for nearly two more years until at the end it very existence was scarcely noticed any longer”.

The war also broke the Communist International. Or, to be more precise: the war has finished that which was already dead. Milovan Djilas, in his "Conversations with Stalin", writes that the intention to break up the Communist International first appeared when the USSR invaded the Baltic states, following the 1939 treaty with Hitler. Stalin and Molotov saw the Comintern as a hindrance to their opportunist policy. Brauthal writes that Stalin dissolved the Comintern in 1943 to “strengthen his position with Churchill and Roosevelt”, i.e. for the same reasons that the USSR suppressed the revolution in Spain.

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