Nine Years of the Struggle of the Left Opposition

The Ultra-Left Zig-zag in the Comintern and the “Third Period”

(July 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V. No. 30 (Whole No. 126), 23 July 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Continued from last issue)

The dissolution of this state of affairs, as we have seen from previous articles, was not long delayed. In almost less time than it takes to tell it, virtually all the leading spokesmen of the Sixth Congress were either crushed organizationally, expelled outright, or saved from expulsion by humiliating capitulation. Just as the leaders of the Fifth Congress lasted but a brief moment in the seats of power, so did the Sixth Congress “Bolsheviks” meet with a speedy end. Bucharin, the political leader of the Congress, the reporter on the program, the president of the Comintern, was denounced a few months later as the leader of the capitalist-restorationist tendency in the Soviet Union (no less!). Lovestone, Gitlow and Wolfe were unceremoniously expelled as agents of the American bourgeoisie. Roy, who had made a livelihood denouncing Trotsky as an agent of Chamberlain, found himself designated in exactly the same manner. Jilek and Co. in Czecho-Slovakia, Kilboom in Sweden, Brandler (and almost Ewert) in Germany, Sellier and Co. in France, and a host of others were expelled or withdrew from the Comintern.

The removal of any Right wing restraint made possible the climb to the heights of absurdity at the 10th Plenum in 1929, to the very peaks of the “third period”. In passing, it might be mentioned that even among the Right wing politicians there is a somewhat academic dispute about the origin of the “revision of Leninism” (from the Right wing standpoint). The American Lovestoneites, who tried to sell the Sixth Congress to the American party, declare that the “revision”’ began only at the 10th Plenum. The German Brandlerists, as well as M.N. Roy, declare that it began at the Sixth Congress. To the extent that this dispute is of practical importance, right is undoubtedly to be found more in the German than in the American sector of the Right wing. The 10th Plenum was the reductio ad absurdum of the Sixth Congress, with a number of novelties added by Stalin and Molotov on their own account.

It is sometimes hard to determine whether this Plenum should be examined from the standpoint of politics or the standpoint of farce. It is the plenum par excellence of the “third period”, the same “third period” which was at first denounced as an opportunistic idea by the Thaelmann-Neumann delegation to the Sixth Congress.

The “third period”, its proponents explained, was characterized by a constantly increasing radicalization of the masses, simultaneously in every country. There can be no fourth period, announced Molotov, for the third period ends with revolution. The present “heightened political sensitivity of the broad masses,” added Losovsky, “is a characteristic sign of the eve of a revolution”. Moireva, a member of the E.C.C.I., declared: “It is my opinion from the May events as well as from the recent Polish events that there were a series of elements in them that recall our July days. The fact alone that the Communist parties had to restrain the most advanced sections of the working class in their surge forward, speaks for a rapidly approaching revolutionary situation.” This extravaganza is illuminated only if it is remembered that our “July days” were the direct precursor of the insurrectionary October days in Russia. And it must further be remembered that all these fantasies were presented to the official Communist world as unshakable articles of faith more than three years ago!

Third Period and Social-Fascism

And from this “third period” with its incessantly rising radicalization of the masses in virtually every country in the world, in which France was solemnly announced to be at the head of the revolutionary list (in 1929!), flowed the theory of social Fascism, a disease of senile decay from which the Comintern is suffering to this day. With Stalin’s ingenious formula of 1924 in mind, Manuilsky now announced that “The fusion of the social democracy with the capitalist state is not merely a fusion at the top. This fusion has taken place from top to bottom, all along the line.” Improving on Lenin, Manuilsky announced that Noske back in 1918 was already a social Fascist.

The master strategist of the Hungarian revolution, Bela Kun, who destroyed that revolution by failing to understand the nature of the social democracy in 1918, now tried some ten years later to repair the damage by advancing an even worse interpretation: “Social-Fascism is the type of Fascist development in those countries in which capitalist development is more advanced than in Italy ... In this stage of development, social reformism dies out; it is transformed partly into social demagogic elements and partly into the element of mass violence of Fascism.”

From which Manuilsky drew the conclusion concerning the united front policy that “we have never considered it as a formula for everybody, for all times and people ... Today we are stronger and proceed to more aggressive methods in the struggle for the majority of the working class.” What the lesser functionaries had to contribute to the question may easily be imagined from these few quotations.

The official motivation for the establishment of the “third period” and all its commandments was false from beginning to end. But this does not mean that there was not a profound reason for the 180 degrees turn in the course of the Comintern. The reasons for the Leftward swing here already been sketched here. Centrism, bereft of any anchor in principles, possessing no platform distinctly its own, was driven to the Left by the pressure of events and criticism. Having no real foundation, it must base itself upon an artificially preserved prestige. In order to maintain the continuity of its prestige, that is, in order to explain away the head-over-heels turn to the Left, or more precisely, in order to justify the change without in any way leaving room for criticism of its proceeding course, the “third period” was called into existence.

A Convenient Theory

By its proclamation, the Centrists were able to justify the “united front from the top” with Chiang Kai-Shek and Purcell as well as no united front at all. Both were justified by one brilliant theory: the arbitrary establishment of periods”. In the “second period”, according to this convenient dogma, it was the essence of Bolshevism to maintain a united front with proved strike-breakers in return for their struggle (Ahem!) to defend the Soviet Union from British imperialism. In the “third period”, how. ever, all social democrats from Purcell down to the socialist worker in the shop had become Fascist and the Communist must therefore have nothing to do with them. Not to prolong the comparisons – which are obvious enough – it can be said that the “third period” formulae were the philosophy by which Centrism linked together the two mutually supplementary periods of its blunders, crimes and ideological disorder without prejudice to itself; at least, that was the intention of its artificers.

The “third period” was, and to the extent that the remnants of it still clutter the road, it still is, a milestone of Centrism’s road of bankruptcy and decay. The more than three years since its proclamation have witnessed new series of defeats added to those accumulated between 1923 and 1928. The Comintern’s isolation from the masses on the political field as well as in the trade unions – against which the Opposition advanced its own proposals in time against the antics of the “third period” politicians – has proceeded hand in hand with, an unprecedented ideological and moral degeneration in the ranks of official Communism, which could not be expected to continue over a long period without ending in a terrific crash, whether inside the Soviet Union or outside of it.

The accumulated effects of this ideological degeneration inside the Soviet Union, one of the most vital chapters in the history of the Russian revolution, have brought in their train the dangers of Thermidor and Bonapartism. It is with these that the next article will deal.

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