Max Shachtman

Nine Years of the Struggle of the Left Opposition

Anglo-Russian Committee
and the British General Strike

(June 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 23 (Whole No. 119), 4 June 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The crushing defeats suffered by the German proletariat in October 1923, by the Bulgarians in September of the same year, and by the Esthonians early in 1924, were dealt with by the delegates and the leaders of the Fifth Congress of the Comintern like so many transient episodes. Far from attempting to analyze the new situation that had developed as a result of these defeats, the leaders of the Fifth Congress, who had failed to see the revolutionary situation in Germany when it was rising before their very noses, now proclaimed that the armed struggle was only just ahead. After the German defeat had disclosed the beginning of a new and different situation, the Comintern leaders declared that “Europe is entering into the stage of decisive events ... Germany is apparently approaching a sharpened civil war” (Zinoviev, February 2, 1924) or “It is false that the decisive struggles have already been fought, that the proletariat has suffered a defeat in these struggles and the bourgeoisie has grown stronger as a result” (Stalin, September 20, 1924). The fact that a “democratic pacifist period” had begun, that the bourgeoisie had succeeded (on the basis of the Comintern’s defeats) in achieving a temporary “stabilization”, was vigorously denied by the Comintern spokesmen, and was only acknowledged by them a year and a half afterward, when the facts were already matters of indisputable record, and when the situation was again turning in a new direction.

The Swing to the Right

But in the process of calling a non-revolutionary period a revolutionary period, the apparatus people were compelled to hunt high and low for the faintest revolutionary manifestation, to exaggerate it all out of proportions, or even to manufacture revolutionary phenomena where they really did not exist. By inventions and exaggerations, they sought a justification for their prognosis which the actual course of the class struggle did not provide. That is, consequently, the period in which the most fantastic “victories” of the Comintern were heralded to the world, serving to deceive and bewilder the masses in general and the Communists in particular, and to lay the basis for the long swerve to the Right which marked the Comintern’s policy until 1928. It was during this period that the shrewd bourgeois politician, Raditch of Yugo-Slavia, was hailed in Moscow and abroad as the great peasants’ leader. This was the period in which every demagogue and scoundrel who required some rosy coloring in order to preserve his leadership over the masses, could get it without difficulty by applying to the Comintern apparatus. Raditch was not the only one. The kulak farmers of the American Northwest were hailed in Moscow as the next thing to Communists, as the inestimable partner in the notorious Farmer-Labor party movement. Macia, the head of the Catalonian petty bourgeoisie, was transported to Moscow for negotiations. Delegates from the Kuo Min Tang participated officially in the deliberations of the Communist International. They were prominent figures, together with the ragtag and bobtail of petty bourgeois politiciandom from India to London and back, in the “famous” Anti-Imperialist League. The so-called “Peasants’ International” was formed at that time, to embrace every political exploiter of the peasantry who needed the protection of “Moscow”, and to advance the unique slogan: “The emancipation of the peasantry is the work of the peasantry itself!”

Not the least prominent of the figures who made their pilgrimage to Moscow in those days were the leaders of the British trade unions, Purcell and Co. who visited the Soviet Union at the end of 1924 as an official delegation. The offensive of the British bourgeoisie against the workers’ standard of living was producing radical changes in the ranks of the proletariat, a more militant mood was already visible among them, they were moving towards the Left, and this process was reflected in the trade union leadership by the development of a “Left” wing, Purcell, Hicks, Swales, Cook and others, who found it easier to maintain their reactionary leadership over the masses by swinging along to the Left with them.

Out of this visit to Russia, the favorable report which the delegation published, the impression made by the Russian trade union delegation, to England, was born the Anglo-Russian Committee, representing the Councils of the two trade union centrals. Its original object, according to its founders, was the agitation for the establishment of world trade union unity in the struggle against the capitalist offensive. It did not take long before the Committee went far afield from this original object.

The Standpoint of the Opposition

In the course of the disputes that developed subsequently around the question of the Anglo-Russian Committee, the Stalinists, to cover up their own crimes and blunders, ascribed to the Left Opposition a number of fantastic views which it never held. Some of these deliberate falsehoods are repeated against the Opposition which was accused of wanting to split the British trade unions, of advocating that the Communists should not work within the reactionary trade unions, of opposing the united front, and of being opposed “in principle” to any negotiations with reformist leaders or to the formation of temporary blocs. All these absolutely unfounded accusations were made by the apparatus supporters in order to cover up their own capitulation to the British trade union fakers. As late as 1927, however, in their amendment to the resolution on the situation in England proposed to the Eighth Plenum of the E.C.C.I., comrades Trotsky and Vuyovitch wrote:

“The creation of the Anglo-Russian Committee was, at a certain moment, a thoroughly correct step. Under the influence of the Leftward development of the working masses, the liberal labor politicians, just like the bourgeoisie liberals at the commencement of a revolutionary movement, took a step towards the Left in order to retain their influence in the masses. To hold them here was entirely correct.”

But the formation of a temporary bloc with reformists moving to the Left, and the establishment of clearly limited objects and tasks for such a bloc – explaining plainly to the masses its true nature and limitations and preserving intact the freedom and independence of the Communists – -is one thing. What the Right-Centrist leadership of Stalin-Bucharin actually did was quite another.

The original basis for the Anglo-Russian Committee was its existence as a “purely trade union bloc” for the-achievement of international trade union unity. This aim was hardly set down in the Comintern than it was extended far beyond its original framework. To it, and to its reformist side in particular, were immediately attributed virtues and capacities that could lead not only to confusing the advanced workers throughout the world, but to the downright catastrophe which the British revolutionary movement and the Soviet Union actually suffered before very long.

Entirely forgetting the fact that the British labor leaders represented another class, that they were its staunchest pillars (pushed momentarily to the Left by the discontentment of the masses), the Comintern apparatus commenced an international campaign in behalf of Purcell and Co., which brought the latter infinitely more prestige and profit than it did the Soviet Union or the Comintern. With the initiative and aid of the C.I., Purcell was toured throughout the world as the great apostle of proletarian unity in the struggle against capitalism. When he came to the United States, the Communist party and the T.U.E.L. were transformed into advertising agencies for a Purcell tour. Our press heaped unbounded praise upon his undeserving head, his name was shouted from the Communist housetops, his report on the Soviet Union was hailed as a revolutionary classic. After his appearance at the A.F. of L. convention, he was depicted as the St. George of the international class struggle fighting valiantly against the dragon of Gompersian reaction in the labor movement. To be sure, the American party leaders were only aping their confreres in the other parties, who, in turn, merely took orders from Stalin and Bucharin – but this did not make matters any better. And about whom were these eulogies sung? About a man who, though one of the founders of the English Communist Party, deserted it for the flesh-pots of bureaucratic trade union comfort, who sat in the General Council, a renegade Communist shrewd enough to go so far as to wave a red flag once in a while if it would help him retain control over the British working class. If that was not clear then – and the warnings of the Opposition made it clear if nothing else did – it should have become clear a short time afterwards.

The Stalinists and the A.R.C.

Purcell only typified the English half of the A.R.C.; he was even its most radical representative. Yet this committee was not only touted around the world by the Comintern apparatus, but the most extravagant virtues and aims were attributed to it. In July 1926, Stalin declared that the task of the Committee was “the organizaion of a broad movement of the working class against new imperialist wars in general and against an intervention in our country, especially on the part of England, the mightiest of the imperialist states of Europe.” In the same spirit, the official theses of the Moscow party committee announced that “The Anglo-Russian Committee can and will undoubtedly play an enormous role in the struggle against all possible interventions directed against the U.S.S.R.”; and further – something we always thought the Comintern alone could be: “it will become the organizatory center that embraces the international forces of the proletariat for the struggle against every endeavor of the international bourgeoisie to begin a new war.”

These two quotations suffice to plumb the depths of the Stalinist conception of the A.R.C. The Committee was no longer a temporary bloc with limited, concrete, immediate aims corresponding to the daily interests of the proletariat in a given situation. It had become, or “will become” the organizing center of the proletariat against imperialist war and intervention against the U.S.S.R. In this manner, the Stalinist course in the Anglo-Russian Committee only follow consistently from the reactionary conception of “socialism in one country”. According to it, Russian could build up its own nationally isolated socialist economy, “if” only foreign intervention could be staved off. With this in mind, an idea that must end in converting the Comintern into a Soviet border patrol, came the hunt for “anti-interventionists”. The “trade union bloc” with Purcell and the other trade union bureaucrats quickly became a political bloc between the reformists of England and the Russian party bureaucracy, not for a moment, but for a long period of time. The Opposition, on the contrary, which had never conceived the Committee as anything but a momentary agreement with the British labor leaders on a limited basis, as a step in mobilizing the reformist masses behind the Communists, declared: “The more acute the international situation becomes, the more the A.R.C. will be transformed into a weapon of English and international imperialism.”

Theories are the condensed generalizations of preceding experience. They are verified not only by the past but by the present and the future, because events do not merely repeat themselves, but repeat themselves in a different manner and under different circumstances. Let us see how the two conceptions stood the test of events.

(Continued in next issue)

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