MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Events



Third Period

The ultra-left policy of the Comintern following the end of the New Economic Policy in 1928 up to the adoption of the Popular Front policies in 1934.

In December of 1927, the Russian Communist Party held it's Fifteenth Congress. Prior to this Congress, the Stalin faction of the Party had supported the contuation of the New Economic Policy. The N.E.P. had resulted in an enrichment of better-off sections of the Russian and Ukrainian peasantry (the Kulaks), because of the deregulation of prices for grain. An embryonic new bourgeoisie was also growing up on the basis of the market relations introduced under the N.E.P., and gaining increasing influence both within the Party and in the state apparatus. Industry had become undercapitalized, and prices were rising, leading to growing political instability.

The Left Opposition had opposed the continued marketization of agriculture, and since 1924, had repeatedly called for investment in industry, some collectivization in agriculture and democratization of the Party.

The Fifteen Congress passed resolutions that supported for some of the planks of the Opposition’s platform, and on paper, the Congress’ views appeared very left, politically. The Left Opposition was expelled but the Congress adopted much of the economic policies of the Opposition, thus ending any remnant of workers’ democracy within the Party.

The policies of industrialization and collectivization, however, were carried out in a ruthless and brrutal way, via the use of the security and military forces, without the direct involvement of the working class and peasantry itself; without seeming regard for the social consequences, including mass starvation of much of the peasantry and impoverishment of the working class in the cities.

At the same time, the crisis of capitalism was coming to a head; the Communist International, at it's Sixth Congress, had also made a turn to the “Left”. The Comintern viewed capitalism as entering a final death agony; it's “third” period of existance: the first one being capitalism during it's rise prior to World War I, and the second being the short period after the crushing of the post-war revolutions when it seemed to have stabilized.

This meant that a decisive and final revolutionary upheaval was also afoot and the sections of the Comintern had to make ready for the immediate advent of socialist revolution. As part of this theory, the Comintern demanded that its national sections carry out attacks on other groups within the workers’ movement that did not see the Comintern as leading the Revolution. This meant extreme polemical and even physical attacks against Social-Democratic workers and others; the chastizing and expulsion of any Communist advocating a United Front with other working class parties. It meant expelling Socialist workers from unions and other working class organisations where the Communist Party had control, and pulling Communist Party members out of the mass trade union to set up “Red Unions”, thus splitting the workers' movement in two. The policy also meant initiating armed uprisings, regardless of the political standing of the Communist leadership in a country and their prospects of leading a successful uprising.

This policy followed the defeat of the Communist Party in China during the 1925-1927 revolution. The Cominern simply refused to recognize the smashing of its section in China, and called for the immediate setting up of soviets and armed rebellion. [See Leon Trotsky: Draft Criticism of the Communist Interniational].

As part of this turn, all forces of ideological opposition were to be expelled from within the ranks of the Communist Parties (supporters of Leon Trotsky, for example).

The formal institution of the Third Period occurred at the 9th Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (E.C.C.I.) in February of 1928. This helped in dovetailing the “Left” of the Russian Communist Party with that of the Comintern itself.

All the insurrections failed, wherever they took place and the attempt to set up “Red Unions” only isolated Communists even further from the masses of workers.

The ultra-left rhetoric of the “Third Period” nevertheless resonated with the mood of many militant workers, especially following the 1929 Wall Street Crash, which plunged millions of workers into unemployment and even starvation. In many countries, the Communist Parties grew as a result of the “Third Period” policies, but the splitting effect of the policy on the working class as a whole, undermined any progress that may have resulted from the expansion of the Communist Parties.

The policy came to an abrupt end with the inauguration of Popular Front in the period beginning in 1934. The adoption of the Popular Front policy was driven in large part by the application of the Third Period in Germany, which had allowed Hiter’s Nazis to come to power and smash all working class organisations. The sudden 180 ° change of policy caused considerable confusion among those workers who had been drawn in by the ultra-left rhetoric of the “Third Period”.

Submitted by David Walters