Leon Trotsky

The Third International
After Lenin

II. Strategy and Tactics in the Imperialist Epoch

(Part 2)

5. The Basic Strategical Mistake of the Fifth Congress

6. The "Democratic-Pacifist Era" and Fascism

7. The Right Leaven of Ultra-Left Policy

5. The Basic Strategical Mistake of the Fifth Congress

We have had, beginning with the end of 1923, a whole series of documents of the Comintern as well as declarations of its leaders on the subject of the “mistake in tempo” committed in the Autumn of 1923, all accompanied by the invariable references to Marx, who, you see, also had miscalculated in his dates. At the same time, they passed in deliberate silence over the question whether the “mistake in tempo” of the Comintern consisted in underestimating or, on the contrary, overestimating the proximity of the critical moment of the seizure of power. In conformity with the regime of double bookkeeping that has become traditional for the leadership in recent years, a blank space was left for either the former or latter construction.

It is not difficult, however, to draw the conclusion from the entire policy of the Comintern during this period that throughout 1924 and for the greater part of 1925 the leadership of the Comintern held the view that the high point of the German crisis was still ahead. The reference to Marx was, therefore, hardly in place. For while Marx, owing to his foresight, occasionally perceived the impending revolution closer than it really was, he never had the occasion of failing to recognize the lineaments of revolution when it stood directly before him or of subsequently stubbornly accepting the backside for the face of the revolution, after the latter had already turned its rear.

At the Thirteenth Conference of the CPSU, Zinoviev, upon putting in circulation the equivocal formula on the “mistake in tempo,” declared:

“The Executive Committee of the Communist International must say to you that should similar events repeat themselves, we would do the very same thing in the very same situation.” [4]

This promise had the earmarks of a threat.

On February 20, 1924, Zinoviev declared at a conference of the International Red Aid that the situation in the whole of Europe was such that “we must not expect there a period now, no matter how brief, of even an external pacification, any lull whatever; ... Europe is entering into the phase of decisive events. Germany is apparently marching towards a sharpened civil war ...” [5]

Early in February 1924, the Presidium of the ECCI said in its resolution on the lessons of the German events:

“The Communist Party of Germany must not remove from the agenda the question of the uprising and the seizure of power. On the contrary [!] this question must stand before us in all its concreteness and urgency ...” [6]

On March 26, 1924, the ECCI wrote to the German Communist Party:

“The mistake in the evaluation of the tempo of events [what kind of a mistake? – L.T.] made in October 1923, caused the party great difficulties. Nevertheless, it is only an episode. The fundamental estimate remains the same as before.” [7]

From all this the ECCI drew the following conclusion:

“The German Communist Party must continue as hitherto to exert all its forces in the work to arm the working class ... .” [8]

The great historical tragedy of 1923 – the surrender without a struggle of the great revolutionary position – was appraised six months later as an episode. “Only an episode!” Europe is still suffering today from the gravest consequences of this “episode.” The fact that the Comintern did not have to convoke a Congress for four years like the fact that the Left wing was crushed in one party of the Comintern after the other, is in the same measure a result of this “episode” of 1923.

The Fifth Congress met eight months after the defeat of the German proletariat, when all the consequences of this catastrophe were already manifest. Here it was not even the case of having to forecast something coming but to see that which is. The fundamental tasks of the Fifth Congress were: first, to call this defeat clearly and relentlessly by its name, and to lay bare its “subjective” cause, allowing no one to hide behind the pretext of objective conditions; secondly, to establish the beginning of a new stage during which the masses would temporarily drift away, the social democracy grow, and the communist party lose in influence; thirdly, to prepare the Comintern for all this so that it would not be caught unawares and to equip it with the necessary methods of defensive struggle and organizational consolidation until the arrival of a new change in the situation.

But in all these questions the Congress adopted a directly opposite attitude.

Zinoviev defined the import of the German events at the Congress in the following manner: “We expected the German revolution but it did not come.” [9]

In reality, however, the revolution had the right to answer: “I did come but you, gentlemen, arrived too late at the rendezvous.”

The leaders of the Congress reckoned together with Brandler that we had “overestimated” the situation, when, in reality, “we” had estimated it far too lightly and too late. Zinoviev reconciled himself very easily with this so-called “overestimation” of his. He saw the chief evil elsewhere.

“Overestimating the situation was not the worst thing. What is much worse, as the example of Saxony showed, is the fact that there are still many social democratic survivals left in the ranks of our party.” [10]

Zinoviev did not see the catastrophe, and he was not alone. Together with him the whole Fifth Congress simply passed over this greatest defeat of the world revolution. The German events were analyzed principally from the angle of the policies of the communists ... in the Saxon Landtag. In its resolution, the Congress lauded the ECCI for having

“... condemned the opportunistic conduct of the German Central Committee and, above all, its perverted application of the united front tactic during the Saxon government experiment.” [11]

This is somewhat like condemning a murderer “above all” for failing to take off his hat upon entering the home of his victim.

“The Saxon experience,” insisted Zinoviev, “created a new situation. It carried a threat of beginning the liquidation of the revolutionary tactic of the Communist International.” [12]

And inasmuch as the “Saxon experience” was condemned and Brandler deposed, nothing else remained except to pass on to the next business on the agenda.

“The general political perspectives,” said Zinoviev, and the Congress with him, “remain essentially as before. The situation is pregnant with revolution. New class struggles are already unfolding again. A gigantic struggle is on the march ...” etc. [13]

How flimsy and unreliable is a “Leftism” that strains at a gnat and cooly swallows a camel.

Those who were wide awake to the situation and pushed the significance of the October defeat to the foreground, those who pointed out the inevitable subsequent lengthy period of revolutionary ebb and temporary consolidation (“stabilization”) of capitalism (with all the ensuing political consequences), the leadership of the Fifth Congress endeavored to brand as opportunists and liquidators of the revolution. This is what Zinoviev and Bukharin set as their main task. Ruth Fischer, who together with them underestimated the defeat of the previous year, saw in the Russian Opposition “the loss of the perspective of world revolution, the lack of faith in the proximity of the German and European revolution, a hopeless pessimism and the liquidation of the European revolution, etc.” [14]

It is needless to explain that those who were most directly to blame for the defeat howled loudest against the “liquidators,” that is, against those who refused to label defeats as victories. Thus Kolarov thundered against Radek who had the audacity to consider the defeat of the Bulgarian party as a decisive one:

“The defeats of the party were decisive neither in June nor in September. The CP of Bulgaria stands firm and is preparing itself for new battles.” [15]

Instead of a Marxian analysis of the defeats – irresponsible bureaucratic bluster triumphing all along the line. Yet Bolshevik strategy is incompatible with smug and soulless Kolarovism.

A good deal of the work of the Fifth World Congress was correct and necessary. The struggle against the Right tendencies, which sought to raise their head, was absolutely urgent. But this struggle was sidetracked, confused, and distorted by the radically false estimate of the situation, as a result of which everything was jumbled and those were classed in the camp of the Right who were able to see better and more clearly the events of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Had the Lefts of that time triumphed at the Third World Congress, Lenin would have been classed together with Levi, Clara Zetkin, and others in the Right wing on the same grounds. The ideological muddle engendered by the false political orientation of the Fifth Congress became subsequently the source of new great misfortunes.

The estimate adopted by the Congress in the political sphere was likewise carried over completely to the economic field. The symptoms of the economic consolidation of the German bourgeoisie, which were already manifest, were either denied or ignored. Varga, who always dishes up the economic facts to conform with the current reigning political tendency, brought in a report this time, too, that “... there are no perspectives of the recovery of capitalism.” [16]

But a year later, after the “recovery” had been belatedly rechristened “stabilization,” Varga painstakingly made the discovery after the event. By that time, the Opposition had already to bear up under the accusation of not recognizing the stabilization because it had the audacity to establish the commencement of it a year and a half before, while in 1925 it already discerned tendencies undermining this stabilization. [17]

The Fifth Congress perceived political processes and ideological groupings as they were reflected in the distorted mirror of a false orientation; and this also gave birth to its resolution classifying the Russian Opposition as a “petty bourgeois deviation.” History has corrected this mistake in its own fashion by forcing Zinoviev, the chief prosecuting attorney at the Fifth Congress, to admit publicly” two years later that the central nucleus of the Opposition in 1923 had been correct in all the fundamental questions at issue.

From the basic strategical mistake of the Fifth Congress necessarily had also to arise a lack of understanding of the processes occurring within the German and the international social democracy. At the Congress there were speeches only of its decay, disintegration, and collapse. Zinoviev had the following to say with regard to the last Reichstag elections in which the Communist Party of Germany received 3,700,000 votes:

“If on the parliamentary field in Germany, we have a proportion of 62 communists to 100 social democrats, then this should serve as proof to every one of how close we are to winning the majority of the German working class.” [18]

Zinoviev understood absolutely nothing of the dynamics of the process; the influence of the CPG during that year and the following years did not grow but declined. The 3,700,000 votes represented only an impressive remnant of the decisive influence that the party had over the majority of the German proletariat towards the end of 1923. This number would undoubtedly diminish in the subsequent elections.

In the meantime, the social democracy which was going to pieces in 1923 like a rotted mat of straw, began to recover systematically after the defeat of the revolution at the end of 1923, to start up and to grow, and chiefly at the expense of communism. Inasmuch as we had foreseen this – and how could one have failed to foresee it? – our forecast was attributed to our “pessimism.” Is it still necessary now, after the last elections in May 1928 in which the social democrats received more than 9,000,000 votes, to prove that we were correct when at the beginning of 1924 we spoke and wrote that there must inevitably follow a revival of the social democracy for a certain period, while the “optimists” who were already chanting the requiem over the social democracy were grossly mistaken? Above all, the Fifth Congress of the Comintern was grossly mistaken.

The second youth of the social democracy, exhibiting all the traits of doddering senility, is naturally not lasting. The demise of the social democracy is inevitable. But how long it will be before it dies is nowhere established. This, too, depends on us. To bring it closer, we must be able to face the facts, to recognize in due time the turning points of a political situation, to call a defeat a defeat, and to learn to foresee the coming day.

If the German social democracy still represents a force of many millions today, and this, too, within the working class, then there are two immediate causes for it. First, the defeat of the German party which capitulated in the Fall of 1923, and second, the false strategical orientation of the Fifth Congress.

In January 1924 the ratio between the communists and the social democratic voters was almost 2 to 3, but four months later this proportion fell badly to slightly more than 1 to 3; in other words, during this period, taken as a whole, we did not draw closer to the conquest of the majority of the working class but drew further away from it. And this despite an indubitable strengthening of our party during the past year which, with a correct policy, can and must become the point of departure for a real conquest of the majority.

We shall take the occasion later to dwell on the political consequences of the position adopted by the Fifth Congress. But isn’t it already clear that there cannot be serious talk of Bolshevik strategy without the ability to survey both the basic curve of our epoch as a whole, and its individual segments which are at every given moment of the same importance for the party leadership as railway curves are for the locomotive engineer? To open wide the throttle on a steeply banked curve is surely to run the train over the embankment.

Yet, only a few months ago Pravda had to acknowledge more or less distinctly the correctness of the estimate we made as early as the end of 1923. On January 28, 1928, Pravda wrote:

“The phase of a certain [!] apathy and depression which set in after the defeat of 1923 and permitted German capital to strengthen its positions, is beginning to pass.”

A “certain” depression which set in the fall of 1923 is first beginning to pass only in 1928. These words published after a delay of four years are a ruthless condemnation of the false orientation established by the Fifth Congress and also of that system of leadership which does not lay bare and illumine the errors committed but covers them up and thereby extends the radius of the ideological confusion.

A draft program which passes by without evaluating either the events of 1923 or the basic mistake of the Fifth Congress simply turns its back on the real questions of a revolutionary strategy of the proletariat in the imperialist epoch.

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6. The “Democratic-Pacifist Era” and Fascism

The capitulation of German communism in the Autumn of 1923, which removed the threatening proletarian danger with a minimum of civil war, inevitably had to weaken the position not only of the communist party but also of Fascism. For even a civil war in which the bourgeoisie is victorious undermines the conditions of capitalist exploitation. Already at that time, that is, at the end of 1923, we fought against the exaggeration of the strength and the danger of German Fascism. We insisted that Fascism would be relegated to the background while the political stage in the whole of Europe would be occupied for a certain period by the democratic and pacifist groupings: the Left bloc in France, the Labour party in England. And the strengthening. of these groupings would in turn provide an impetus for a new growth of the German social democracy. Instead of understanding this inevitable process and organizing the struggle against it along a n·ere, front, the official leadership continued to identify Fascism with the social democracy and to prophecy their joint collapse in an imminent civil war.

The problem of the interrelations between the United States and Europe was very intimately bound up with the question of Fascism and the social democracy. Only the defeat of the German revolution in 1923 made it possible for American capital to begin with the realization of its plans for the (momentarily) “peaceful” subjugation of Europe. Under these circumstances, the American problem should have been considered in its full magnitude. Instead, the leadership of the Fifth Congress simply passed it by. It proceeded entirely from the internal situation in Europe without even noticing that the long postponement of the European revolution had immediately shifted the axis of international relations towards the side of an American offensive upon Europe. This offensive assumed the shape of an economic “consolidation” of Europe, its normalization and pacification, and a “recovery” of democratic principles. Not only the ruined petty bourgeoisie but also the average worker said to himself: since the communist party failed to achieve victory, then maybe the social democracy will bring us not victory (nobody expects that of it), but a piece of bread through a revival of industry with the aid of American gold. It was necessary to understand that the vile fiction of American pacifism with the dollar lining – after the defeat of the German revolution – would and did become the most important factor in the life of Europe. Not only did the German social democracy rise again, thanks to this leaven, but to a great extent also the French Radicals and the English Labour Party.

As a counterpoise to this new enemy front, it should have been pointed out that bourgeois Europe will be able to exist and maintain itself only as a financial vassal of the United States and that the pacifism of the latter is tantamount to an endeavor to put Europe on hunger rations. Instead of making this very perspective the point of departure of the new struggle against the social democracy with its new religion of Americanism, the leadership of the Comintern turned its fire in the opposite direction. It imputed to us the asinine theory of a normalized imperialism, without wars and revolutions, placed on American rations.

During the very same February sessions at which the Presidium of the ECCI – four months prior to the Congress – declared that the armed insurrection “stood concretely and urgently” on the order of the day for the German party, it also gave the following estimation of the situation in France, which was just at that time approaching the “Left” parliamentary elections:

“This pre-election fever also affects only the most insignificant and weakest parties and dead political groupings. The socialist party has been aroused and stirred back to life under the rays of the approaching elections ...“ [19]

At a time when a wave of petty bourgeois pacifist Leftism was quite obviously ascending in France, carrying away broad sections of the workers and weakening both the party of the proletariat and the Fascist detachments of capital; in a word, in face of the victory of the “Left bloc,” the leadership of the Comintern proceeded from a directly opposite perspective. It flatly denied the possibility of a pacifist phase and, on the eve of the May 1924 elections, spoke of the French Socialist Party, the Left banner-bearer of petty bourgeois pacifism, as an already “dead political grouping.” At that time we protested against this light-minded estimation of the social-patriotic party in a special letter addressed to the delegation of the CPSU. But all in vain. The leadership of the Comintern stubbornly persisted in considering as “Leftism” its disregard of these facts. Hence arose that distorted and sordid polemic, as always in recent years, over democratic pacifism which brought so much confusion into the parties of the Comintern. The spokesmen of the Opposition were accused of pacifist prejudices only because they did not share the prejudices of the leadership of the Comintern and foresaw at the right time that the defeat suffered by the German proletariat without a struggle (after a brief strengthening of the Fascist tendencies), would inevitably bring the petty bourgeois parties to the fore and strengthen the social democracy.

We have already mentioned above that Zinoviev, at a conference of the International Red Aid some three or four months before the victory of the Labour party in England and the Left bloc in France, declared in an obvious polemic against me:

“In practically the whole of Europe the situation is such that we need expect no period now, no matter how brief, of even an external pacifism, or any kind of lull ... Europe is entering into the stage of decisive events ... Germany is apparently heading towards a violent civil war ...” [20]

Zinoviev, to all appearances, had completely forgotten that back at the Fourth Congress in 1922 I was successful, despite rather stubborn opposition by Zinoviev himself and Bukharin, in introducing at a commission an amendment (considerably modified, it is true) to the resolution of the Congress; this amendment speaks of the impending approach of a “pacifist-democratic” era as a probable stage on the road of the political decline of the bourgeois state and as a first step to the rule of communism or – Fascism.

At the Fifth Congress, which met already after the rise of the “Left” governments in England and France, Zinoviev recalled – very appropriately – this amendment of mine and proclaimed loudly as follows:

“At the present moment the international situation is characterized by Fascism, by martial law, and by a rising wave of the white terror against the proletariat. But this does not exclude the possibility that in the near future the open reaction of the bourgeoisie will be replaced in the most important countries by a ’democratic-pacifist era.”

And Zinoviev went on to add with satisfaction:

“This was said in 1922. Thus the Comintern, a year and a half ago, definitely predicted a democratic-pacifist era.” [21]

It’s the truth. The prognosis which had so long been held against me as a “pacifist” deviation (as my deviation and not that of the historical course of development) came in very handy at the Fifth Congress during the honeymoon weeks of the MacDonald and Herriot ministries. That is how, unfortunately, matters stood with prognoses in general.

We ought to add that Zinoviev and the majority of the Fifth Congress construed too literally the old perspective of the “democratic-pacifist era” as a stage on the road of capitalist decay. Thus Zinoviev declared at the Fifth Congress: “The democratic-pacifist era is a symptom of capitalist decay.”

And in his conclusion he said again: “I repeat that precisely the democratic-pacifist era is a symptom of the decay and the incurable crisis.” ([22]

This would have been correct had there been no Ruhr crisis and if evolution had proceeded more smoothly without such an historical “leap.” This would have been doubly and trebly correct had the German proletariat achieved the victory in 1923. In that case, the regimes of MacDonald and Herriot would only have meant an English and French “Kerensky period.” But the Ruhr crisis did break out and posed point-blank the question of who was to be the master in the house. The German proletariat did not achieve the victory but suffered a decisive defeat and in such a way as was bound to encourage and consolidate the German bourgeoisie to the highest degree. Faith in the revolution was shattered throughout Europe for a number of years. Under such conditions the governments of MacDonald and Herriot by no means implied either a Kerensky period or generally the decay of the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, they would and could become only the ephemeral precursors of more serious, more solid, and more self-assured bourgeois governments. The Fifth Congress failed to understand this because by failing to estimate the extent of the German catastrophe and by reducing the latter merely to a question of the comedy in the Saxon Landtag, it remained unaware of the fact that the proletariat of Europe was already in a political retreat all along the front, and that our task consisted not in an armed insurrection but in a new orientation, in rear-guard engagements, and in the strengthening of the party’s organizational positions, above all in the trade unions.

In connection with the question of the “era,” a polemic arose over Fascism, no less distorted and unscrupulous. The Opposition maintained that the bourgeoisie advances its Fascist shoulder only at the moment when an immediate revolutionary danger threatens the foundations of its regime and when the normal organs of the bourgeois state prove inadequate. In this sense active Fascism signifies a state of civil war on the part of capitalist society waged against the rebelling proletariat. Contrariwise, the bourgeoisie is forced to advance its Left, the social democratic shoulder, either in a period that precedes that of the civil war, so as to deceive, lull, and demoralize the proletariat, or in a period following upon a serious and lasting victory over the proletariat, i.e., when it is forced to lay hold of the broad masses of the people parliamentarily, among them also the workers disappointed by the revolution, in order to reestablish the normal regime. In opposition to this analysis, which is absolutely irrefutable theoretically and which was confirmed by the entire course of the struggle, the leadership of the Comintern set up the senseless and over-simplified contention of the identity of the social democracy with Fascism. Proceeding from the incontestable fact that the social democracy is no less servile towards the foundations of bourgeois society than Fascism and is always ready to volunteer its Noske at the moment of danger, the leadership of the Comintern entirely expunged the political difference between the social democracy and Fascism, and together with that also the difference between a period of open civil war and the period of the “normalization” of the class struggle. In a word, everything was turned on its head, entangled and muddled up, only in order to maintain the sham of an orientation upon the immediate development of the civil war. Just as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened in Germany and Europe in the Fall of 1923; an episode – and that was all!

In order to show the course and the level of this polemic we must quote from the article by Stalin On the International Situation [23]:

“Many believe,” Stalin said, polemizing against me, “that the bourgeoisie came to ‘pacifism’ and ‘democracy’ not out of necessity but of its own free will, of free choice, so to speak.”

This basic historico-philosophical thesis which it is positively embarrassing to dwell upon, is followed by two principal conclusions:

“First, it is false that Fascism is only a combat organization of the bourgeoisie. Fascism is not merely a military-technical category [?!].”

It is incomprehensible why the combat organization of bourgeois society must be considered a technical and not a political “category.” But what is Fascism? Stalin’s indirect answer reads: “The social democracy is objectively a moderate wing of Fascism.”

One might say that the social democracy is the Left wing of bourgeois society and this definition would be quite correct if one does not construe it so as to over-simplify it and thereby forget that the social democracy still leads millions of workers behind it and within certain limits is constrained to reckon not only with the will of its bourgeois master but also with the interests of its deluded proletarian constituency. But it is absolutely senseless to characterize the social democracy as the “moderate wing of Fascism.” What becomes of bourgeois society itself in that case? In order to orient oneself in the most elementary manner in politics, one must not throw everything into a single heap but instead distinguish between the social democracy and Fascism which represent two poles of the bourgeois front – united at the moment of danger – but two poles, nevertheless. Is it still necessary to emphasize this now, after the May 1928 elections, characterized at one and the same time by the decline of Fascism and the growth of the social democracy, to which, incidentally, the communist party in this case, too, proposed a united front of the working class?

“Secondly,” the article continues: “it is falser that the decisive battles have already occurred; that the proletariat has suffered a defeat in these battles; and the bourgeoisie has become consolidated as a result. The decisive struggles have not yet taken place at all, even if [?] only because there have not been real Bolshevik mass parties as yet.”

So, the bourgeoisie could not consolidate itself because there have been no struggles as yet, and there have been no struggles “even if only” because there has not yet been a Bolshevik party. Thus what hinders the bourgeoisie from consolidating itself is ... the absence of a Bolshevik party. In reality, however, it was precisely the absence – not so much of the party as of a Bolshevik leadership – that helped the bourgeoisie to consolidate itself. If an army capitulates to the enemy in a critical situation without a battle, then this capitulation completely takes the place of a “decisive battle,” in politics as in war. Back in 1850 Engels taught that a party which has missed a revolutionary situation disappears from the scene for a long time. But is there anybody still unaware that Engels, who lived “before imperialism,” is obsolete today? So, Stalin writes as follows: “Without such [Bolshevik] parties no struggles for the dictatorship are possible under the conditions of imperialism.”

One is, therefore, compelled to assume that such struggles were quite possible in the epoch of Engels, when the law of uneven development had not yet been discovered.

This whole chain of thought is crowned, appropriately enough, by a political prognosis:

“Finally, it is also false ... that out of this ‘pacifism’ must arise the consolidation of the power of the bourgeoisie and a postponement of the revolution for an indeterminate period of time.”

Nevertheless, such a postponement did result, not according to Stalin, it is true, but according to Engels. A year later, when it became clear even to the blind that the position of the bourgeoisie had become stronger and that the revolution was adjourned for an indefinite time, Stalin set himself to accuse us of refusing to recognize stabilization. This accusation became particularly insistent in the period when the “stabilization” already began to crack anew, when a new revolutionary wave drew near in England and China. And this whole hopeless muddle served to fulfill the functions of a leading line ! It should be remarked that the definition of Fascism and its relations to the social democracy contained in the draft (Chapter 2), despite the ambiguities deliberately introduced (so as to tie up the past), is far more rational and correct than the schema of Stalin quoted above, which was essentially the schema of the Fifth Congress. But this insignificant step forward does not solve the question. A program of the Comintern, after the experiences of the last decade, cannot be left without a characterization of the revolutionary situation, of its origin and disappearance, without pointing out the classic mistakes committed in the evaluation of such a situation, without explaining how the locomotive engineer must act at the curves, and without inculcating into the parties the truth that there are such situations in which the success of the world revolution depends upon two or three days of struggle.

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7. The Right Leaven of Ultra-Left Policy

After the period of turbulent high tide in 1923, began the period of a long-lasting ebb. In the language of strategy this meant an orderly retreat, rearguard battles, the strengthening of our positions within the mass organizations, the re-inspection of our own ranks, and the cleansing and sharpening of our theoretical and political weapons. This position was branded as liquidationism. The latter concept, as well as other concepts of the Bolshevik lexicon in late years, met with the grossest abuse; there was no longer any teaching and training but only the sowing of confusion and error. Liquidationism is the renunciation of the revolution, the attempt to substitute the roads and methods of reformism for the roads and methods of revolution. The Leninist policy has nothing in common with liquidationism; but it has just as little to do with a disregard of the changes in the objective situation and with maintaining verbally the course towards the armed insurrection after the revolution has already turned its back upon us, and when it is necessary to resume the road of long, stubborn, systematic, and laborious work among the masses in order to prepare the party for a new revolution ahead.

On ascending the stairs a different type of movement is required from that which is needed to descend. Most dangerous is such a situation as finds a man, with the lights out, raising his foot to ascend when the steps bkfore him lead downward. Falls, injuries, and dislocations are then inevitable. The leadership of the Comintern in 1924 did everything in its power to suppress both the criticism of the experiences of the German October and all criticism in general. And it kept stubbornly repeating: the workers are heading directly for the revolution – the stairs lead upward. Small wonder that the directives of the Fifth Congress, applied during the revolutionary ebb, led to cruel political falls and dislocations!

Number 5-6 of the Information Bulletin of the German Opposition, March 1, 1927, stated:

“The greatest mistakes of the Lefts at this party congress [the Frankfurt Congress in the spring of 1924, when they took over the leadership], consisted in their not speaking relentlessly enough to the party of the gravity of the defeat of 1923; in their not drawing the necessary conclusions, in not explaining to the party, soberly and without embellishment, the tendencies of relative stabilization of capitalism, and in not formulating a corresponding program for the impending period with its struggles and slogans. It was entirely possible to do this and to underscore sharply the theses of the program, as was correct and absolutely necessary.”

These lines were to us an indication at that time that a section of the German Left, who participated during the Fifth Congress in the struggle against our alleged “liquidationism,” had seriously understood the lessons of 1924-25. And this brought us subsequently closer on the basis of principle.

The key year of the sharp turn in the situation was the year 1924. Yet the recognition that this sharp turn had occurred (“stabilization”) followed only a year and a half later. It is hardly astonishing, therefore, that the years 1924-1925 were the years of Left mistakes and putschist experiments. The Bulgarian terrorist adventure, like the tragic history of the Esthonian armed uprising of December 1924, was an outburst of despair resulting from a false orientation. The fact that these attempts to rape the historical process by means of a putsch were left without a critical investigation led to a relapse in Canton towards the end of 1927. In politics not even the smallest mistakes pass unpunished, much less the big ones. And the greatest mistake is to cover up mistakes, seeking mechanically to suppress criticism and a correct Marxian evaluation of the mistakes.

We are not writing a history of the Comintern for the last five years. We bring here only a factual illustration of the two strategical lines at the fundamental stages of this period, and at the same time an illustration of the lifelessness of the draft program for which all these questions do not even exist. We cannot, therefore, give here a description, however general, of the inextricable contradictions which befell the parties of the Comintern, placed between the directives of the Fifth Congress on the one hand and political reality on the other. Of course, not everywhere were the contradictions resolved by such fatal convulsions as was the case in Bulgaria and Esthonia in 1924. But always and everywhere the parties felt themselves bound, failed to respond to the aspirations of the masses, went about with eye-flaps, and stumbled. In the purely party propaganda and agitation, in the work in the trade unions, on the parliamentary tribune – everywhere the communists had to drag the heavy ball and chain of the false position of the Fifth Congress. Each party, to a lesser or greater degree, fell a victim of the false points of departure. Each chased after phantoms, ignored the real processes, transformed revolutionary slogans into noisy phrases, compromised itself in the eyes of the masses and lost all the ground under its feet. To crown all this, the press of the Comintern was, then as now, deprived of every possibility of assembling, arranging, and publishing facts and figures on the work of the communist parties in recent years. After the defeats, mistakes, and failures, the epigone leadership prefers to execute the retreat and to deal with opponents with all lights turned out.

Finding itself in a cruel and constantly growing contradiction with real factors, the leadership has had to cling ever more to fictitious factors. Losing the ground under its feet the ECCI was constrained to discover revolutionary forces and signs where there were no traces of any. To maintain its balance, it had to clutch at rotten ropes.

In proportion as obvious and growing shifts to the night were going on in the proletariat, there began in the Comintern the phase of idealizing the peasantry, a wholly uncritical exaggeration of every symptom of its “break” with bourgeois society, an embellishment of every ephemeral peasant organization and a downright adulation of “peasant” demagogues.

The task of a long and stubborn struggle of the proletarian vanguard against the bourgeoisie and pseudo-peasant demagoguery for influence over the most disinherited strata of the peasant poor was being more and more displaced by the hope that the peasantry would play a direct and an independent revolutionary role on a national as well as on an international scale.

During 1924, i.e., in the course of the basic gear of the “stabilization,” the communist press was filled with absolutely fantastic data on the strength of the recently organized Peasants’ International. Dombal, its representative, reported that the Peasants’ International, six months after its formation, already embraced several million members.

Then there was enacted the scandalous incident with Radic, who was the leader of the Croatian Peasants” Party and who, en route from Green Zagreb, thought it advisable to show himself in Red Moscow in order to strengthen his chances to become minister in White Belgrade. On July 9, 1924, Zinoviev in his report to the Leningrad party workers on the results of the Fifth Congress, told of his new “victory”:

“At this moment important shifts are taking place within the peasantry. You have all probably heard of the Croatian Peasants’ party of Radic. Radic is now in Moscow. He – is a real leader of the people ... Behind Radic stands united the entire poor and middle peasantry of Croatia ... Radic now has decided in the name of his party to join the Peasants’ International. We consider this a very important event ... The formation of the Peasants’ International is an event of the greatest importance. Certain comrades did not believe that a large organization would grow out of it ... Now we are getting a great auxiliary mass – the peasantry ...” [24]

And so forth and so on, and more of it.

The leader, LaFollette, corresponded, on the other side of the ocean, to the “genuine people’s leader,” Radic. The representative of the Comintern, Pepper, in order to set the “auxiliary mass” – the American farmers – into motion at an accelerated tempo, drew the young and weak American Communist Party onto the senseless and infamous adventure of creating a “Farmer-Labor party” around LaFollette in order to overthrow quickly American capitalism.

The glad tidings of the proximity of the revolution in the United States based on the farmers filled the speeches and articles of the official leaders of the ECCI at that time. At a session of the Fifth Congress, Kolarov reported:

“In the United States the small farmers have founded a Farmer-Labor party, which is becoming ever more radical, drawing closer to the communists, and becoming permeated with the idea of the creation of a workers’ and peasants’ government in the United States.” [25]

No more, no less!

From Nebraska came Green – one of the leaders of LaFollette’s organization – to the Peasants’ Congress in Moscow. Green also “joined” something or other, and then, as is customary, he later assisted at the St. Paul conference in laying low the communist party when it made a feeble attempt to proceed to the realization of Pepper’s great plans – the same Pepper who was counsellor to Count Karolyi, an extreme Left winger at the Third Congress, a reformer of Marxism, one of those who slit the throat of the revolution in Hungary.

In its issue of August 29, 1929, Pravda complained:

“The American proletariat en masse has not even risen to the level of consciousness of the need for even so collaborationist a party as the English Labour Party is.”

And about a month and a half previously, Zinoviev reported to the Leningrad party workers:

Several million farmers are being voluntarily or involuntarily pushed by the agrarian crisis all at once [!] to the side of the working class.[26]

“And to a workers’ and peasants’ government!” immediately added Kolarov.

The press kept repeating that a Farmer-Labor party would soon be formed in America, “not a purely proletarian, but a class” Farmer-Labor party for the overthrow of capitalism. What the “not a proletarian, but class” character was supposed to mean, no astrologist on either side of the ocean could possibly explain. In the long run it was only a Pepperized edition of the idea of a “two-class workers’ and peasants’ party,” of which we will have occasion to speak again in greater detail in connection with the lessons of the Chinese revolution. Suffice here to remark that this reactionary idea of non-proletarian but class parties arose entirely from the pseudo-“Left” policy of 1924 which, losing the ground from under its feet, clutched at Radic, LaFollette, and the inflated figures of the Peasants’ International.

“We are now witnessing,” retailed the academician of commonplaces, Miliutin, “an extraordinarily important and significant process of the splitting away of the peasant masses from the bourgeoisie, of the peasantry on march against the bourgeoisie, and of the increasing strengthening of the united front between the peasantry and the working class in the capitalist countries in struggle against the capitalist system.” [27]

In the course of the whole year of 1924, the press of the Comintern did not weary of telling about the universal “radicalization of the peasant masses,” as though something independent could be expected from this, in most cases, only imaginary radicalization of the peasants in a period when the workers were obviously moving to the Right, when the social democracy grew in strength and the bourgeoisie consolidated its position!

We encounter the same failing in political vision towards the end of 1927 and the beginning of 1928 with regard to China. After every great and deep-going revolutionary crisis, in which the proletariat suffers a decisive and long-lasting defeat, the spurts of ferment still continue for a long time among the semi-proletarian urban and rural masses, as the circles spread in the water after a stone has fallen in. Whenever a leadership ascribes an independent significance to these circles and, contrary to the processes within the working class, interprets them as symptoms of an approaching revolution, bear well in mind that this is an infallible sign that the leadership is heading towards adventures, similar to those in Esthonia, or Bulgaria in 1924 or Canton in 1927.

During the same period of ultra-Leftism, the Chinese Communist Party was driven for several years into the Kuomintang, which was characterized by the Fifth Congress as a “sympathizing party” [28], without any serious attempt to define its class character. As we proceed, we find that the idealization of “the national revolutionary bourgeoisie” became greater and greater. Thus, in the Orient, the false Left course, with its eyes shut and burning with impatience, laid the foundation for the subsequent opportunism. It was Martinov himself who was called upon to formulate the opportunist line. Martinov was all the more reliable a counsellor of the Chinese proletariat for having himself tailed behind the petty bourgeoisie during the three Russian revolutions.

In the hunt after an artificial acceleration of the periods, not only were Radical, LaFollette, the peasant millions of Dombal, and even Pepper clutched at, but a basically false perspective was also built up for England. The weaknesses of the English Communist Party gave birth at that time to the necessity of replacing it as quickly as possible with a more imposing factor. Precisely then was born the false estimate of the tendencies in English trade unionism. Zinoviev gave us to understand that he counted upon the revolution finding an entrance, not through the narrow gateway of the British Communist Party, but through the broad portals of the trade unions. The struggle to win the masses organized in the trade unions through the communist party was replaced by the hope for the swiftest possible utilization of the ready-made apparatus of the trade unions for the purposes of the revolution. Out of this false position sprang the later policy of the Anglo-Russian Committee, which dealt a blow to the Soviet Union, as well as to the English working class; a blow surpassed only by the defeat in China.

In the Lessons of October, written as early as the summer of 1929, the idea of an accelerated road – accelerated through friendship with Pummelled and Cook, as the further development of this idea showed – is refuted as follows:

“Without the party, independently of the party, skipping over the party, through a substitute for the party, the proletarian revolution can never triumph. That is the principal lesson of the last decade. To be sure, the English trade unions can become a powerful lever of the proletarian revolution. They can, for example, under certain conditions and for a certain period, even replace the workers’ Soviets. But they cannot play such a role without the communist party and certainly not against it, but only provided that communist influence in the trade unions becomes decisive. We have paid too dearly for this conclusion as to the role and significance of the party for the proletarian revolution to renounce it so lightly or even to have it weakened.[29]

The same problem is posed on a wider scale in my book Whither England? This book, from beginning to end, is devoted to proving the idea that the English revolution, too, cannot avoid the portals of communism and that with a correct, courageous, and intransigent policy which steers clear of any illusions with regard to detours, the English Communist Party can grow by leaps and bounds and mature so as to be equal in the course of a few years to the tasks before it.

The Left illusions of 1924 rose thanks to the Right leaven. In order to conceal the significance of the mistakes and defeats of 1923 from others as well as from oneself, the process of the swing to the Right that was taking place in the proletariat had to be denied and revolutionary processes within the other classes optimistically exaggerated. That was the beginning of the down-sliding from the proletarian line to the centrist, that is, to the petty bourgeois line which, in the course of the increasing stabilization, was to liberate itself from its ultra-left shell and reveal itself as a crude collaborationist line in the USSR, in China, in England, in Germany, and everywhere else.

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4. Pravda, Jan. 25, 1924.

5. Pravda, Feb. 2, 1924.

6. Pravda, February 7, 1924.

7. Pravda, April 20, 1924.

8. Pravda, April 19, 1924.

9. Pravda, June 22, 1924.

10. Pravda, June 24, 1924.

11. Pravda, June 24, 1924.

12. Pravda, June 24, 1924.

13. Pravda, June 24, 1924.

14. Pravda, June 25, 1924.

15. Speech of comrade Kolarov at the Fifth Congress.

16. Pravda, June 28, 1924.

17. Whither England?.

18. Pravda, June 22, 1924.

19. Pravda, Feb. 7, 1924.

20. Pravda, Feb. 2, 1924.

21. Pravda, June 22, 1924.

22. Pravda, July 1, 1924.

23. Pravda, Sept. 20, 1924.

24. Pravda, July 22, 1924.

25. Pravda, July 6, 1924.

26. Pravda, July 22, 1924.

27. Pravda, July 27, 1924.

28. Pravda, June 25, 1924.

29. Trotsky, Works, Vol.III, part 1, p.9.

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