Edgar Hardcastle

Hauling Down the Colours in Russia

Source: Socialist Standard, May 1935.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

“I raise my glass to the health of His Majesty the King of Great Britain.” – Maxim Litvinov.

The world gasped at the way the Bolsheviks played at royalism and flunkeyism when Mr. Eden visited Moscow, but the amazement soon passed and the incident is well-nigh forgotten by now. There are reasons, however, why it should be saved from oblivion.

Mr. Eden, Lord Privy Seal, was visiting Russia to explore Soviet views on international alignments. The Russians wanted to impress and flatter him, so they behaved in accordance with the prescribed code which governs diplomatic junketings. They provided for him and his party luxurious coaches on the railway, equipped with every comfort and convenience. Then, “as the train steamed into Moscow Station, Mr. Eden saw scores of Union Jacks linked with Red Flags adorning the snow-covered platform.” (Evening Standard, March 28th.

“On the platform itself a crack Soviet regimental guard was drawn up. They saluted as he alighted from his carriage.”

The Government newspaper, Izvestia, found in Mr. Eden a “brilliant mind.” Mr. A. J. Cummings, News-Chronicle correspondent, thought that Stalin was taken with the “engaging address of the .handsome Englishman,” and Mr. Eden “was certainly impressed with the friendliness and rugged strength “ of Stalin. (News-Chronicle, March 30th.)

On the night of March 29th, Mr. Eden was an honoured guest at the Opera House. Let Mr. Cummings describe the scene (News-Chronicle, March 30th): –

“The British Minister had a great popular reception. When he entered the imperial box, accompanied by M. Litvinov, M. Maisky, the Ambassador to Britain, and the British Ambassador, the vast proletariat audience rose to its feet en masse and applauded him for several minutes.
The applause continued through the playing of the national anthem by the orchestra, followed by the Internationale.”

At a banquet given by Mr. Litvinov, Russian Commissar for Foreign Affairs, the crowning point was that this representative of Communism toasted the Health of the King. The Daily Telegraph correspondent reports (Daily Telegraph, March 29th): –

“I raise my glass to the health of His Majesty the King- of Great Britain, to the prosperity and happiness of the British people, and to your very good health, sir.” The entire assembly rose and drank the toast.”

Altogether it was a splendid affair, marred only by one or two errors and omissions. Some of the Union Jacks were upside down – the British Communist Party must see to this. Also, Mr. Eden missed a splendid opportunity in not giving a photo of his handsome self to Stalin. After all, Hitler gave one to Sir John Simon.

The last comment is an unkind one from Hitler’s deputy Hess, who thought it in bad taste that the people who shot the Czar should toast the health of his cousin. The Communist Press, it may be noted, omitted to report these particulars of the Moscow visit.

Before leaving the subject, we may recall how fiercely the Communists denounced Sir Stafford Cripps for his support of the monarchy a year ago. The Labour Monthly (Feb., 1934) called it “kissing the toes of King George.” The Daily Worker, official organ of the Communist Party, told us (Jan. 9th, 1934) that Sir Stafford “cowers before the throne,” “kneeling obediently,” and that he was a “frightened booby.” In its issue of January 12th, under the heading “Cripps Fawns upon the King,” it had the following words : –

“Sir Stafford Cripps has now taken to openly fawning upon the monarchy, and bids fair to out-Tory the loyalest of diehard Tories in his sycophantic utterance in this regard.”

Sir Stafford and Mr. Pollitt ought to get along better in future now that they have in common almost the last thing that hitherto divided them.

The Meaning of it All

The incidents are not intrinsically important, and in other circumstances might be ignored as of little account. Behaviour of the same kind in 1918, when the Bolsheviks, knowing their military defencelessness, were accepting a dictated peace from the still undefeated German generals, would have been taken as an empty formula deceiving no one and creating no new situation. Yet actually at that time the Bolsheviks behaved with dignity and spirit, contrasting greatly with their behaviour now, when circumstances outwardly are so different. Russia is now a great power, with the biggest army and air force in Europe, moving – or so we are told – in a great triumphal progress of industrial development and political and economic consolidation. That is what gives the gesture of fawning over the representative of British capitalism its significance.

What we are witnessing is the disintegration of Bolshevism as an idea, as a propaganda force, as a living creed. The Russian Government, the outwardly all-powerful, is inwardly hesitant and uncertain. Instead of facing the world as a revolutionary force, sure of its power and ultimate victory, the Bolsheviks have lost their faith. They have come to terms with capitalism as an economic system. Now they are adjusting themselves to the world of capitalist diplomacy, military allowances, pacts of defence and offence, theories of the balance of power and so on.

Glance back at the various proclamations and resolutions of the Communists five, ten and fifteen years ago, and see what tricks time has played on them.

In the Statutes and Conditions of Affiliation to the Communist International (the so-called Twenty-one Points), adopted at the Second Congress, Moscow, 1920, we find set out in harsh, unmistakable terms, the creed which was finally buried to the strain of the National Anthem. In 1920, “heavy civil war” was the Communist road to power in all countries: the Communist International proclaimed “its duty to support, by all the power at its disposal, every Soviet Republic, wherever it may be formed.” It is a far cry from that belligerent utterance to the desertion in recent years of the German and Austrian workers, and to the pledge given to Roosevelt to renounce all propaganda in U.S.A.

Now Russia pledges her military aid to French capitalism and seeks a similar capitalist-military pact with British capitalism.

The Forgotten “Twenty-One Points”

In 1920 the “Twenty-one Points” of the Third International demanded of affiliated parties that they: –

“Renounce not only avowed social-patriotism, but the false and hypocritical social-pacifism as well. They must systematically demonstrate to the workers that without the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, neither international arbitration nor conferences regarding the limitation of armaments, nor the “democratic” reorganisation of the league of Nations will be capable of saving mankind from new imperialist wars.”

More recently, in 1929, the British Communists were demanding “repudiation of the League of Nations as a capitalist and imperialist institution.” (See Class Against Class.) Now Russia is encouraging all the illusions it formerly rejected.

In 1920, Communist parties had to pledge themselves to denounce the imperialist colonial policy of their governments and “to support, not in words only, but in deed, the movement for colonial independence.” Now it is reported that, in order to get British support, the Russian Government has offered to renounce all propaganda in India, as they did two years ago in U.S.A.

Fifteen years ago the Communists were pledged to carry on illegal propaganda among the troops of their respective countries. Now the Russian Government is depending on French troops for aid against Germany in the event of war, the latter, incidentally, using armaments which the Russian Government aided them to provide.

The Communists, of course, are not at loss for an answer to these charges. They say that it is all a pretence on the part of Stalin and Litvinov, all part of a policy of super-bluff, the fine flower of Communist cunning. But why is it that fifteen years ago the Bolsheviks had no need of this bluff, and that now, when their strength is seemingly so much greater, they have to adopt it? To deceive the capitalists? Surely they are not so blinded to reality as to imagine that it will.

What has really happened is that the ideas which moved the men who obtained power in 1917 do not reside in those who are the Government in Russia to-day. The old Bolsheviks, rightly or wrongly, saw the world as a battleground of the class struggle with the workers just about to achieve revolutionary victory. The new Bolsheviks see the world, including Russia, as an international Tammany Hall, where groups of governments form and break up, manoeuvre and pull wires, bluff and threaten, flatter and blackmail, and occasionally go in for the open gangsterism of war.

The fact that Russia used to side with Germany against France and England, and now sides with England against Germany, is just one more move in the game, due to a revised estimate of the comparative strengths and future policies of the various groups.

Three Dead Dogmas

The change also marks the burial of three dogmas which were at one time pillars of the Bolshevik doctrine. The first, a common post-war belief all over Europe and America, was that British capitalism was finished, “gone phut,” played out, and only waiting for the other bandits to plunder and despoil it. Class Against Class devoted page after page to proving this, leading up to the statement that, in that year (1929), we were witnessing “the struggle of a decadent Empire, torn with economic and social conflicts . . . . “

The second theory was that Britain had one over-riding foreign policy, which was to contrive, directly and indirectly, by treaties, armed force, finance, and all other means, to “encircle Soviet Russia with a ring of hostile states,” preparatory to achieving the final destruction of that country. In Communist eyes this aim was vital and so deep-rooted as to verge on mania, over-riding even the desire for profit.

The third Bolshevik dogma was that Britain and America were soon about to go to war in a final death struggle. “Hence it is no exaggeration to say that British-American rivalry and preparations for war are the dominating factors in the interrelations between the capitalist powers to-day.” (Class Against Class, page 13.)

How do these three pillars of Bolshevik policy look to-day? Is British capitalism finished? Is the Empire in ruins? Have the wealth and power of the British ruling class been wrested from them by internal revolt and external pressure? The answer is obviously not, since not only Russia but France and Italy both seek the aid of British capitalism. The only collapse has been that of the believers in the collapse theory.

Is the one dominating object of British foreign policy to crush Russia with German, French, Polish, etc., aid? Obviously not, since the Russians appear to believe that they can deflect that policy into other channels merely by singing the National Anthem and toasting the King’s health, and promising not to encourage disloyalty to the Crown in India.

Lastly, are British and American capitalism about to enter the war for which they are supposed to have been preparing since 1929? Again, obviously not. Indeed a search through current Communist literature shows that the Communists have completely forgotten it.

In abandoning the principles it formulated in 1920, and the dogmas on which it fed in the following years, the Bolshevik movement has accommodated itself to capitalism and proved by its own evolution that the original assumptions of the Communist Party were wrong.

A Glory that has Departed

The truth is – and the sooner the workers who admire Bolshevism recognise it the better – that the fervour and confidence of the early days of Bolshevism is a glory that has departed. They believed then that they had a conquering idea which would give them the mastery of the world and usher in Socialism.

They were wrong, for two reasons. The first was their hopeless misreading of the working class outside Russia, leading them to suppose that the workers were about to overthrow capitalism. The second was their equally mistaken notion that Socialists in command of the State forces can thereby transform a non-Socialist population into a spearhead for Socialist construction and Socialist world-propaganda.

Of those who shared the early Bolsheviks’ general aim – Socialism – and who recognised the integrity and sincerity of the Bolshevik leaders and party, the S.P.G.B. was almost alone in recognising at the time their inevitable failure. That failure has already corrupted the Bolshevik movement as a force for Socialism, and its repercussions will continue for many years to hamper the growth of Socialist movements elsewhere. The year 1935 marks a milestone in the process of disintegration, which will leave behind a harvest of capitalism where the early Bolsheviks thought they were planting seeds of Socialism.