From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 14, 11 July 1931, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Of all the plenums or congresses that the Communist International has held, the Eleventh Plenum which recently met without announcement of its sessions or attention to its deliberations or results, undoubtedly occupies the lowest rung in the ladder of the Comintern’s history. The whole impression gained from the Plenum is that it met in a vacuum. Yet there are one or two spots of interest and instruction in its proceedings. Material points of interest in a vacuum? There is no contradiction here. As in natural science, there is no absolutely perfect vacuum. The same holds true of the Eleventh Plenum. The instructive point in this case is furnished – again the contradiction is only apparent – by an unwitting admission from Manuilsky, the main reporter.
“In what way,” he asks “does the higher stage of the present revolutionary upsurge as compared with preceding years express itself? In the fact that in a number of capitalist countries, and in a number of separate actions, the Communists are beginning to assume the independent leadership in the class battles.
“The Communists in China are not now carrying on a victorious Northern Expedition, occupying Shanghai and the other industrial centers, nor is Chiang Kai-Shek striking them in the flank at the moment of victory. The Communists are now independently, as a party directing the Chinese Red Army of peasants and workers against Chiang Kai-Shek, against all the counter-revolutionary generals and the united forces of the whole imperialist front. In the matter of winning the hegemony of the proletariat in the national-revolutionary movement they have made since 1926 a tremendous and decisive advance and have raised the revolutionary movement to a new height as a result of its class differentiation.
“The Communists in Europe are not at this moment leading general strikes on the scale of the English strike of 1926, which was betrayed at the decisive moment by the Purcells, Citrines and other leaders of the General Council ... Had the Communists given independent leadership to movements like the General Strike in Great Britain or the Northern Expedition in China, it would have implied that they had won the majority of the working class and toiling masses, and this would have resulted in the immediate victory of the proletarian revolution. This higher stage of the revolutionary upsurge is characterized by the revolutionization of the class battles and this is connected with the fact that the Communists have assumed independent leadership in these battles ... it may be asserted that every movement under Communist leadership will tend to rise to a higher stage, since its development will not be hindered by the heavy anchor of reformist officialdom, which drags the movement back.” (Inprecorr, June 10, 1931.)
There is surely an appreciable difference between the two “stages” in the second of which there are allegedly big advances and progress to record, and in the first of which there were in reality two of the most crushing and humiliating defeats ever experienced by an embattled proletariat – in England and China. What caused the difference? Why are the Communists “beginning” to assume “independent leadership” now?
Why didn’t the Communists give “independent leadership to movements like the General Strike in Great Britain or the Northern Expedition in China (which) would have resulted in the immediate victory of the proletarian revolution”?
From Manuilsky’s report, no other answer can be found than that the Communist parties have failed to adopt the directives of the infallible international leadership, which is directed in turn by the infallible General Secretary. Had Manuilsky refrained from invoking the past, matters would not have stood so badly for his conceptions, for god knows that the leadership of the various Communist parties is eminently incapable of executing intelligently any policy – right or wrong. Unfortunately for this religious legend, however, Manuilsky had to “strengthen” his case by a reference to the inglorious past – not of the Communists “in China” or the “Communists in Europe” but more directly of the “Communists” in the immediate, most intimate central apparatus of Stalin himself, in warmest collaboration with Bucharin.
The whole truth of the matter lies in the fact that Stalin, Bucharin bear the full responsibility for the failure of the Communists in England and China to put themselves at the head of the revolutionary movements. It was they who, abusing the immense power they had usurped, covered up a downright Menshevik policy with all the prestige and authority of the Communist International and the Russian revolution. It was they who laid down a rigid prohibition against the Communists wresting the leadership of the movement from the hands of its traducers, Purcell and Chiang Kai-Shek, Hicks and Cook and Wang Chin Wei.
In England during the turbulent period of the general and the miners’ strikes, when the classes were at sword’s points Stalin and Bucharin prevented the English Communist Party from acting as a party of the revolutionary proletariat and compelled it to function as the General Council’s watchdog against the outraged feelings of the workers stabbed in the back. During the strike, the British Communists were locked into one room with the “Left” wing of the General Council, with the Cooks and Co. and told to act harmoniously under the banner of the “minority movement”. Even after the open betrayal of the strike, the Communists of Britain were gagged in their criticism of the Purcells and Citrines by the stubborn maintenance of the Anglo-Russian “Unity” Committee and Tomsky’s declaration that the “Russians” (i.e. the Comintern) were “in hearty accord” with the British labor skates. The Anglo-Russian Committee recognized the principle of “non-intervention”, which meant that the Comintern formally renounced the right of the Communists to “intervene in British labor affairs”.
Who was it that demanded “independent leadership” for the British and world Communists on that occasion, that is, the liberation of the Communists from the strangulating yoke of the “Left” reformists and the creation of the possibility for action independent of Purcell’s control? The Left Opposition. Who denounced the Opposition and accused it of being the “enemy of the Soviet Union”, the “splitter of the labor movement”, “dual unionists”? The Manuilskys and all the other Kuusinens and Smerals.
In China, during the revolutionary forward march of 1925–1927, Stalin and Co. taught the Communists that the proletariat had to “do the coolie work” for the bourgeoisie, which proceeded to pay the Communists for their services in seas of blood. Stalin and Bucharin taught the world that the “anti-imperialist revolution” would be accomplished under the leadership of Chiang Kai-Shek. When the latter had mounted to power in Shanghai on the ladder held for him by Stalin and Manuilsky, the latter, nothing disconcerted, began to teach that the “agrarian revolution” would be accomplished under the leadership of Wang Chin Wei. They told the Communists to enter the bourgeois cabinet of Hankow, to defend the bourgeois dictatorship – with even worse consequences than resulted from the bourgeois ministerialism of Miller and his similars. Stalin sent telegrams to China to “curb the agrarian revolution”. The Chinese Communists were forced to stay in the bourgeois Kuo Min Tang as footmen to Sun Yat Senism, which they pledged themselves not to criticize. The proletarian red flag was renounced in favor of the bourgeois banner (“We will not surrender the blue flag of the Kuo Min Tang” cried Bucharin!).
The yesterdays have their profound importance, not merely for the academic historian, but because only by knowing the yesterday can today be understand and tomorrow be prepared for. At the foundation of today’s blunders lie the blunders of yesterday, which all of Stalinism’s frenzied veering to ultra-Leftism cannot eradicate. The error of the past left unacknowledged and uncondemned is the source of its own reproduction tomorrow. The most striking illustration of this truism is the policy of the Right wing today. Read its press; observe its actions. Like a dissipated old man it re-lives the disgraceful experiences it went through jointly with the Centrists who expelled it. Its feeble organism is nourished solely upon uncondemned errors.
The opportunist has a short memory – or rather, he prefers the working class to have a short memory. The revolutionist gains when the proletarian, is thinking of the past, is enabled to act for the future. Manuilsky’s unintentional confession has helped to refresh a memory which, if not glorious in achievement, is at least rich in the lessons of its tragedy.
Last updated on 5.1.2013