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The Comintern shows its face (1934)

The thesis of the Thirteenth Plenum of the E.C.C.I. on “Fascism, the Danger of War and the Tasks of the Communist Parties” is the C.I.'s latest attempt to show that it is keeping up with the times, though actually the document, with its hackneyed phrases and outworn doctrines, casts no new light either on the existing situation or on what is to be done. The “practical proposals” consist of the same old “turn to mass work”…the Communist parties have been turning to the masses any time these half dozen years, only to see the masses turning away from them; and the reason is not, as this thesis suggests, an insufficiently resolute application of the line, but the fact that the line is wrong. It is a commentary on the bureaucratic outlook of the C.I. that everything is supposed to be alright at the top, and all the errors are supposed to arise lower down, but, as the Workers Party has constantly pointed out, failure in practical work is proof of defective leadership.

Our analysis is further corroborated by what is laid down in the first article under the heading of mass work and the strengthening of the party. “That the content and language of agitation and the press must henceforth be addressed to the broadest strata of the proletariat and the toilers, showing the face of the Communist parties both in agitation and in mass actions, (demonstrations, strikes, and other mass actions)”. (Emphasis in text).

As far back as our first publication, “The Need For A Revolutionary Leadership” , we pointed out how the C.P. was concealing itself behind auxiliary organisations. Even now the Workers Weekly (13th April 1934), in commenting on this part of the thesis, remarks that “we must not confuse showing the face of the party with anarchist adventurism as a substitute for persistent [?] work”, The C.P. of A.'s idea of showing the face of the party is to have party bulletins in place of M.M. bulletins or of dole job bulletins issued by the unemployed, in other words, it is a continuance of petty sectarianism on minor issues, while on larger issues the face of the party still remains invisible.

The pretended acceleration of activity is, in fact, an attempt of the E.C.C.I. to save the faces of the parties and of the whole C.I., discredited as it has been by the German debacle. It is on this account that so much stress has been laid on the stand taken by Dimitrov, who thereby expiated the sins of the leadership. The calling of a Seventh World Congress is another face-saving device—but it is more than that. That the C.I. leaders want to avoid at all costs is the development of a strong Fourth International, which would make increasingly precarious the position of the Soviet bureaucracy. Hence the cheers for Dimitrov as a living proof that the C.I. can fight; hence the summoning of the Seventh Congress as an answer to the Trotskyists. We know, of course, that the Congress will be just as dull and unanimous as any of the Plenums. But meanwhile those bold revolutionary gestures permit the continuance of the very same policy, the maintenance of the very same doctrines, that landed the German workers in the morass and wrecked the Chinese revolution.

Naturally, though the control position and main errors remain the same (as they are bound to do, so long as the conception of “socialism in one country alone” is retained), there are changes in detail: the E.C.C.I. must persuade its followers that it is keeping abreast of the situation; but it will hardly succeed in persuading anyone else. The general situation is described in the thesis of the Twelfth Plenum (September, 1932) in the following terms:

“The end of relative capitalist stabilisation has come. But a directly revolutionary situation has not yet arisen in the important and decisive capitalist countries. What is taking place at the present moment is the transition to a new round of big clashes between classes and between States, a new round of wars and revolutions”.

The Thirteenth Plenum (December, 1933) informs us that: “The development of the general crisis of capitalism after the end of the relative stabilisation that was noted by the last (Twelfth) Plenum of the E.C.C.I., has already shaken the capitalist system to a far reaching degree all over the world—The tremendous strain of the internal class antagonisms in the capitalist countries, as well as of the international antagonisms, testify to the fact that the objective prerequisites for a revolutionary crisis have matured to such an extent that at the present time the world is closely approaching a new round of revolutions and wars”.

From transition we have passed to “close approach”. Now it does not take a Communist theoretician to recognise the gravity of the international situation this is admitted on all hands. But what about the approach of revolution? When the C.I. theorists talk about the “objective prerequisites” of revolution (i.e. the critical state of capitalist economy), they are trying to cover up their own failure to meet the crisis in a revolutionary manner and, indeed, the fact that they have hindered and misdirected the revolutionary urge of the masses.

A good illustration of this is given in the Communist Review (Great Britain) for March, 1934, in an article on “The I.L.P. and the Communist International” . The writer wishes to show that “the charges of the I.L.P. against the Comintern will not hold water” but “are simply a rehash of the slanders of the social democrats and of the lackey, Trotsky”. Thus, he says: “There is no contradiction between the Soviet peace policy and the interests of the international working class. Even if the Soviet peace policy only succeeded in securing the postponement of the outbreak of war for a short time, doing so it is, in the present developing revolutionary situation, giving the workers a breathing space to develop their forces in order to smash the war-mongers”.

No doubt the German and Austrian workers will appreciate the breathing space they have had! No, the fact of the matter is that the working class forces, in opposition to war or to any other operation of the ruling class, have been very much weakened, and the responsibility for this lies mainly at the door of the C.I. misleaders. They, of course, are prepared to lie their way out of any difficulty (as when they say that “the revolutionary indignation of the toiling masses and their readiness to overthrow the intolerable yoke of the exploiting classes, is growing more and more”). And in this way they hope to bolster up their theories—of social-Fascism, Socialism in one country alone, and the like—which have led to working class defeats.

The question of Fascism naturally receives a slightly different formation in the latest thesis—but only in the way of devising a few new abusive epithets for the C.I.'s opponents: not in the direction of learning anything from experience that would help in the workers' struggles. In the thesis of the Twelfth Plenum we read: “The bourgeois dictatorship continues to undergo transformation in the direction of the further strengthening of political reaction and the Fascisation of State, and in this is revealing a contraction of the basis of bourgeois rule and manifestations of fissures and disintegration. In most capitalist countries the big bourgeoisie are organising Fascist units for civil war, are making a system of political banditism, white terror, the torture of political prisoners, provocation, forging documents, the shooting down of strikers and demonstrators, the dissolution and suppression of the organisations of the workers. But while doing this, the bourgeoisie do not cease to utilise Parliament and the services of the social democratic party to deceive the masses. In Germany, in an atmosphere of sharpening antagonisms abroad and extreme tension in class relations at home, the Von Papen-Schleicher Government, with the help of the Reichswehr, the ‘steel helmets’ and the national-socialists, has established a form of the Fascist dictatorship, for which the social democrats and the Centre prepared the way. the further development of breakdown of this dictatorship (our emphasis) depends on the revolutionary struggle of the working class against Fascism in all its forms”.

The Thirteenth Plenum, coming after almost a year of Hitlerism, gives us the following: “Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinist and most imperialist elements of finance-capital. Fascism tries to secure a mass basis for monopolist capital among the petty bourgeoisie, appealing to the peasantry, artisans, office employees and civil servants who have been thrown out of the normal course of life, and particularly to the declasses elements in the big cities, and also tries to penetrate into the working class. The methods of parliamentarism and bourgeois democracy in general are becoming a hindrance to the capitalists both in their internal politics, (struggle against the proletariat) as well as in their foreign policy (war for imperialist redistribution of the world). Born in the womb of bourgeois democracy, Fascism in the eyes of the capitalists is a means of saving capitalism from collapse. It is only for the purpose of deceiving and disarming the workers that Social Democracy denies the Fascisation of bourgeois democracy and contrasts between democratic countries and the countries of the Fascist dictatorship in principle. On the other hand, the Fascist dictatorship is not an inevitable stage of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in all countries. The possibility of averting it depends upon the forces of the fighting proletariat, which are paralysed by the corrupting influence of social democracy more than by anything else”.

That both of these formulations are marked more by moral demonstration than by economic analysis is a state of affairs to which we have become accustomed. What is noteworthy is that the second sinks into even deeper confusion than the first. For democracy is simply a method which the ruling class uses or does not use, as occasion demands. But what about “the forces of the fighting proletariat?” It is the existence of working class organisations (unions and parties) that distinguishes bourgeois democracy from “terrorist dictatorship”; it is the breaking up of these organisations that is the leading task of the Fascist forces. But for the C.I. to recognise that would mean the abandonment of its sectarian position and the making of concessions to “social Fascism”. By “the forces of the fighting proletariat” the C.I. understands any disorganised mass accepting the leadership of the Communist parties. Hence, the leaving of “the peasantry, artisans, office employees and civil servants”, and even sections of the proletariat to be taken in by Fascist demagogy; hence the failure to establish a solid anti-Fascist front. And now the only way the C.I. can cover its tracks is by intensified denunciation of the Social Democrats. “Social Democracy”, we are told, “continues to play the role of the main social prop of the bourgeoisie also in the countries of open Fascist dictatorship. In the majority of countries, however, it is already in the process of disintegration”.

The main social prop of the bourgeoisie is disintegrating; it should not be long before bourgeois rule falls down. Moreover, “Trotsky, the lackey of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, is unsuccessfully trying to prevent the Social Democratic workers coming over to the side of Communism by his despicable attempts to form a Fourth International and by spreading anti-Soviet slanders”.

Trotsky, we see, is unsuccessful; the Social-Democratic workers are coming over to Communism; once more the prop is cracking. After this irresponsible chatter, it is not surprising to find that, “Revolutionary development is simultaneously hindered and accelerated by the Fascist fury of the bourgeoisie. The questions as to how soon the rule of bankrupt capitalism will be overthrown by the proletariat will be determined by the fighting preparedness of the majority of the working class, by the successful work of the Communist parties in undermining the mass influence of social-democracy”.

The E.C.C.I. has no longer the effrontery to say, as was said by its Polit-Secretariat in its “Guide to the Twelfth Plenum” , that “the sections of the C.I. must direct the chief blow against Social Democracy”, but clearly its position has not changed; it simply has the additional task of .. [?] greatly contributed, and thus preparing the way for further defeats—which can only be averted by a speedy growth of the Fourth International.

The position has not changed on the United Front (there is only the new excuse that social democracy “refused the offers made by the Communist parties for united working class action”), or on the Soviet Union. “It is necessary increasingly to popularise the living example of the land of the Soviets (emphasis in text) and explain to the toilers and the exploited masses in all capitalist countries—how the Soviet proletarian state, which is at the same time an organisation of the power of the proletariat as well as the dominating productive organisation of society, constantly increases the social wealth and thereby the welfare of all the toilers, whereas every bourgeois state, by becoming more and more a social economic parasite, devours and exhausts the economic forces of the people”.

The thing that needs explaining, and that the above lyrical outburst fails to explain, is how it comes about that this economic development has such slight repercussions on other countries and that the Russian toilers remain in their aloofness as an aristocracy of labour instead of reaching out the hand of solidarity to workers abroad and assisting them in their struggles.

It is just because of these unexplained facts that the declaration of the thesis that the hand of the Soviets, by its proletarian policy, “is winning more and more the confidence of the toilers of the whole world and of the oppressed nations”, is false. The world's workers have much less confidence in the U.S.S.R. than they had even a few years ago. They were considerably interested in the first Five Year Plan. But what of the Second? Has it been under weigh for a year, and if so, what are the results of the first year's working? Or did it take five years after all, as the capitalist press alleges? The C.I. and the C.P.'s tell us nothing of this, but indulge in vague talk of the “ever increasing” order. This fact alone largely contributed to the loss of working class confidence.

But still more does the presentation of the Soviet Union as a good example. The thesis goes on “It is necessary to unfold before the toilers of each country a programme which, basing itself on the experience of the great triumph of the Soviet workers and collective farmers on all fronts of the class struggle and social construction, should, while making allowance for the peculiar conditions of the different countries, show what the Soviet Power will give them in their own country”. (emphasis in text).

There is not twopence worth of organising force, let along revolutionary internationalism in all this boasting. Nor are the masses likely to be dazzled by the revelation that: “The Soviet Power is the State form of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants, which ensures the growing over of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into a socialist revolution (China, etc.)”

The whole thesis is a travesty of revolutionary leadership: it shows not merely the intellectual bankruptcy of the C.I. but its positively mischievous character at the present stage of working class struggle.

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