KOREA COLUMN 25
The International Communist Movement Part 2
As said in the last column the early years of the Communist International (1919-23) marked the highest point reached in the history of working class political organisation.
But the defeat of the European Revolution, and the isolation and consequent degeneration in Stalinism of the Russian Revolution was to have a devastating affect on the fundamental role and policies of the Comintern .
The key development was the adoption by Stalin and the Russian leadership of the policy of ‘Socialism in one Country’. Lenin, Trotsky and the entire Bolshevik leadership, like Marx and Engels before them, regarded socialist revolution as an inherently international process and saw the Russian Revolution as the first step in an international revolution without which it could neither build socialism nor survive. In 1924, Stalin, in the wake of the failure of the German Revolution, abandoned this internationalist tradition and opted for the view that it would be possible to complete the building of socialism in Russia alone, provided only that military overthrow by Western Capitalism could be avoided.
This had a profound impact on the policies of the Comintern and its member parties. Initially, the first task of these parties had been to pursue the revolution in their own country, thus simultaneously serving the interests of their own working class and of the Russian Revolution. Now the main task became to prevent a military attack on the USSR and this in turn meant the Communist Parties making alliances with various nationalist and reformist forces who, while totally untrustworthy from the point of view of workers’ revolution, could at least be induced to oppose war on Russia.
The first fruits of this shift to the right were seen in the British General Strike of 1926. In
1925 the Russian Trade Unions, on orders from Stalin, had formed an alliance with ‘left’ British trade union leaders, in what was called the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee, to oppose British intervention in the Soviet Union and this alliance started to have a big effect on the whole attitude of the British CP to the reformist union leaders, silencing criticism of them and reducing the ability of Communist trade unionists to act independently. At just this time the British working class and its trade unions, led by the miners, moved into a massive confrontation with the government and the ruling class, which culminated in the all out General Strike of May 1926.
After only nine days, however, this General Strike was called off and abjectly betrayed by the same left union leaders with who the CP had been in alliance. Moreover, the British CP had been prevented by the Comintern brokered alliance from warning the working class of the unreliability of these leaders or preparing its militants to act independently in the event of a sell-out. Thus the British working class suffered a defeat that set it back for a generation and the Comintern was complicit in it.
A fundamentally similar but even worse catastrophe followed in China in 1927. In the years 1925-7 the Chinese working class, especially in Shanghai and Canton, rose in a huge wave of revolt against the imperialist and feudal warlord hold on China and young Chinese Communist Party grew massively. But the line of Stalin’s Comintern was that the CP should not only ally with, but also subordinate itself to, the bourgeois nationalist Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek, because Chiang was seen as a potential defender of the Soviet Union. In 1927, however, Chiang turned on his communist allies and literally put them to the sword. It was a disaster that led directly to Mao’s turn to the countryside and the peasantry and from which Chinese working class socialism has still not really recovered.
In the process of pursuing these disastrous policies other changes were occurring in the nature of the Comintern. To justify the tactics in China, Stalin reverted to the old Menshevik and social democratic line that the colonial countries were not ready for socialism and that in such circumstances Marxists had to support the ‘progressive’ national bourgeoisies. At the same time all opposition and democratic debate was eliminated from the international communist parties whose leaderships became ever more compliant servants of Moscow.
When, in 1928-29, Stalin embarked on forced industrialisation and collectivisation of agriculture – a state capitalist course which crushed the Russian workers and peasants - he needed to cover his tracks with left sounding phrases and slogans. Transferred to the international sphere, as they automatically were, these pseudo left slogans produced a sectarian policy of denouncing the Social Democratic Parties as ‘social fascists’ and rejecting any alliances, even with other working class parties and even against Nazism.
This phoney leftism had even more terrible consequences than the previous rightist strategy in that, by dividing and confusing the German working class in the crucial years of 1929-33, it greatly assisted the rise to power of Hitler. [ I shall deal more fully with the question of fascism in the next column].
Faced with the direct military threat posed by Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Comintern did a further about turn. From opposing even a workers’ united front it moved to establishing alliances with ‘democratic’ bourgeoisies in what became known as the Popular Front. Put to the test in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) this meant Communists repressing the spontaneously developing Spanish Revolution in the name of unity with sections of the Spanish bourgeoisie against Franco. In practice this not only stopped the revolution but also demobilised the Spanish working class and so aided Franco’s victory.
Meanwhile another force was at work in international communism. If socialism in one country was possible for Russia it was possible for lots of other ‘single’ countries. On this basis the idea of separate national roads to socialism gradually took hold in the various CPs. For a long time this remained subordinate to loyalty to Russia, but as the power of Moscow waned in the fifties and sixties so the nationalist reformist tendencies in the Stalinist parties came to the fore until they became more or less indistinguishable from Social Democracy.
The overall historical effect of Stalinism on the struggle for international socialism, therefore, was a) to preside over a series of catastrophic defeats which ensured the survival of capitalism and the victory of fascism, and b) to transform a movement for world proletarian revolution into a movement for international counter revolution and bourgeois reformism. Thankfully, today, the ability of Stalinism to block workers’ struggle and obstruct genuine socialism is enormously reduced.
22 June 2007