On the period preceding the reversal
in the line of the Communist International
at the Seventh World Congress of 1935

Between the Sixth and
Seventh Congresses

Reprinted from the Workers' Advocate Supplement
vol. 2, #6, July 15, 1986.


The Importance of the Experience of the Communist International
A Reversal at the Seventh Congress
Between the Sixth and Seventh Congresses

[On the General Line of the International Communist Movement
Between the Sixth and Seventh Congresses]

A Radical Change from the Sixth Congress
The Marxist-Leninist Line of the Sixth Congress
Following the Sixth Congress
On the Anti-Working Class Nature of Social-Democracy
On the Term "Social-Fascist"
The CI Against the Degeneration of United Front Tactics
"Class Against Class" Tactics
Problems in the Theoretical Foundation Given for These Tactics
The Black National Question in the U.S.
On the Relationship of Bourgeois Democracy and Fascism
On What the Seventh Congress Should Have Done
With Respect to the Rigidities
What the Seventh Congress Did
Solidifying the Rigidities and Turning Them into Ingrained Reformist Views
A Point on the Overall Characterization of the Sixth Congress Period
Notes - June 2008

. In this issue of the Workers Advocate Supplement we examine the line of the Communist International in the period preceding the major change of its line that took place in the mid-1930s, a change that was formalized at the Seventh Congress of 1935. Why are we continuing to carry extensive material on this question?

. Today a big clash is going on in left-wing movements around the world on what orientation to follow. Today, just as in the mid-1930s, opportunist forces are urging abandonment of revolutionary work, capitulation to liberalism and social-democracy, and liquidationist negation of Leninism in the name of united front tactics or of a struggle against fascism. These forces today often refer back to the line of the Seventh Congress and the experience of the mid and latter 1930s.

. We believe that Leninist united front tactics are essential to communist work. And we believe that the defense of Leninist united front tactics require repudiating the wrong orientation endorsed at the Seventh Congress of the CI. This wrong orientation undermined the world communist movement, weakened the struggle against fascism, and helped open the way for the development of revisionism.

The Importance of the Experience of the Communist International

. Furthermore, we believe that the experience of the Communist International is of great value for the study of revolutionary Leninism.

. The Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 ushered in a new stage of the world working class movement. It brought the working class to power in Russia, and it spread the influence of revolutionary Leninism around the world. All over the world revolutionary workers looked to Soviet power and to communism.

. Revolutionary Leninism showed the path forward for the left-wing elements around the world that were seeking to fight the betrayal of the social-democratic leaders who had gone over to the side of their own bourgeoisie in World War I. Leninism showed why the social-democratic treachery had taken place; it showed how there had been a prolonged corrosion in the old, Second International that led up to its political collapse into a tool of the bourgeoisie at the outbreak of World War I. The spread of Leninism was a call for the left-wing to separate from the opportunist leaders and form true proletarian parties. By rescuing the teachings of Marx and Engels from the distortions of the social-democratic leaders, and by adding new lessons to these teachings, it provided guidance and orientation to the revolutionary left.

. By 1919 the Communist International was formed. It had the task of hastening the separation of the class-conscious workers around the world from the social-democratic servants of the bourgeoisie. And it also took seriously that the revolutionary left didn't only have to separate from the social-democratic misleaders, but to repudiate the social-democratic traditions concerning strategy and tactics and concerning the methods of organizing the working class movement.

. Lenin and the CI leadership didn't want the CI to consist of parties indistinguishable from social-democratic parties but spouting communist phrases. Instead the CI immediately began a protracted process of reorganizing the parties that came over to it -- mainly consisting of the left-wings of social-democratic parties -- into parties based on the communist methods of organization and struggle.

. This process was not simply a process of writing down some good theses. Nor was it only a question of ensuring that leaders who genuinely wanted revolution come to the fore in the parties (although this, the separation from the reformist and centrist leaders, was an important part of the revolutionization of the parties). It involved a difficult process of parties, and the class-conscious workers around them, developing revolutionary methods of participation in the class struggle. And it involved gaining a deeper theoretical understanding of Marxism-Leninism.

. This orientation of the CI achieved solid results. The revolutionization of the masses in World War I and the immediate post-war revolutionary wave weren't just frittered away. Instead a world communist movement came into being. This communist movement, along with its red base area in the Soviet Union, were an important world factor. The bourgeoisie was alarmed at the prospect of additional proletarian revolutions, and a fierce world class struggle ensued.

. This struggle did not, however, proceed by way of an unbroken string of victories. In various places the revolutionary movement suffered many setbacks and zigzags. The communists often faced severe repression. The bourgeoisie and the social-democrats collaborated closely against the revolutionary workers. And by the 1930s, a growing world fascist offensive was the spearhead of the bourgeois attack on the organized working class movement.

A Reversal at the Seventh Congress

. In this situation, the Seventh Congress changed the orientation of the Communist International. In the name of the united front and the fight against fascism, it proclaimed a new orientation. In fact, it threw aside the Leninist lessons on the united front and the struggle against fascism. The new orientation consisted in large part of trampling on the former Leninist stands of the CI, and as a result it undermined the world communist movement.

. We have analyzed this change in a number of articles. Particular mention should be made of the May 1, 1985 issue of the Supplement which was devoted to repudiating the ideas of the Seventh Congress, and the April 15, 1986 issue which showed the negative effects of these ideas in the French working class movement of the 1930s.

Between the Sixth and Seventh Congresses

. In this issue we turn to the period immediately preceding the change in line of the CI. The controversy over the Seventh Congress of the CI has generally involved sharp disagreements over the assessment of the period from the Sixth Congress of the CI in 1928 to a year or two before the Seventh Congress.

. The supporters of the negation of Leninism at the Seventh Congress have had to throw aside most of the previous history of the CI. According to them, this was basically a period of dogmatism and isolation. Although in fact they are opposed to the basic orientation of all the previous CI congresses, they center their attack on the Sixth Congress and the period following the Sixth Congress.

, On the other hand, supporters of Leninism have generally had a different assessment of the Sixth Congress period. Our Party believes that the CI led the revolutionary class struggle during this period, accomplished a good deal under difficult conditions, and followed a generally correct, Marxist-Leninist line. At the same time, we believe that there were certain problems in certain views of the CI leadership on delicate tactical questions. We have described these problems as "rigidities" in order to indicate their nature as a certain narrowness, or a somewhat mechanical approach, in applying correct overall principles.

. Why are we examining these rigidities?

. *** The examination of this period, including what problems actually existed, refutes its negation by the supporters of liquidationism.

. *** The rigidities were one of the sources of tensions inside the CI. The way the world situation developed, the correction of these rigidities became more important as the thirties wore on. Some changes, some adjustments in the stand of the CI were necessary. This has some relevance to the question of how the change in line of the CI was imposed, because it was not effective to simply repeat the old without some adjustment.

. *** The rigidities from the Sixth Congress period were not corrected and clarified by the CI. From the point of view of theoretical questions, the Seventh Congress reinforced the rigidities; however the Seventh Congress looked at them from the rightist point of view, and it took matters to the point of flagrant trampling on Marxist-Leninist principle.

. *** Finally, perhaps the most important reason of all for studying the rigidities of the Sixth Congress period is to facilitate study of the contributions of the work of the CI in this period. We believe there is a great deal of value from this period, and various documents from this period are important, first and foremost being the Sixth Congress documents themselves. When one knows where the errors made during this period tended to lie, it is easier to extract and study the good and inspiring work that is of value for today. And even the rigidities of the Sixth Congress period themselves concern issues that often come up today. So their study too has value for work today.

. Below we reproduce a document on the Sixth Congress period which was originally produced for internal discussion in our Party in connection with materials on the Seventh Congress. It has been edited and revised for publication. <>

On the general line of the
international communist movement
in the period between the Sixth and
Seventh World Congresses of the CI


. As we have seen, the Seventh Congress declared that it was presenting a new orientation for the international communist movement. In this, it was correct. The Seventh World Congress did mark a change, a turning point in the general line for the world communist movement. Unfortunately, this was a change for the worse, an abandonment of the revolutionary Leninist teachings.

A Radical Change from the Sixth Congress

. At the Seventh Congress and in its resolutions, there were also occasional declarations that the new orientation wasn`t really new, that it was in the spirit of the Sixth World Congress (of 1928), and so forth. These declarations are simply a ruse.

. For example, the Resolution of the Seventh Congress entitled "The Tasks of the Communist International in Connection with the Preparations of the Imperialists for a New World War", which is subtitled "Resolution on the Report of Comrade Ercoli", goes through the pretext of "confirming the decisions of the Sixth Congress on the struggle against imperialist war. . ." (emphasis as in the original). Yet no one could have any doubt of the fundamental difference between declaring "the slogan of peace" the "central slogan", as Ercoli declared, and the emphatic denunciation of pacifism by the Sixth Congress. On one question after another concerning the struggle against imperialist war, the two Congresses gave obviously different views.

The Marxist-Leninist Line of the Sixth Congress

. Our view is that the the Sixth World Congress of the CI, held from July 17 to September 1, 1928, put forth a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist line in accord with the Marxist-Leninist tradition of the CI. Moreover, on various questions, it gave a detailed exposition of the communist stand that is not available elsewhere.

. For example, our Party has made use in our denunciation of reformism of the explanation given by the Sixth Congress of the difference between transitional demands in a period of rising revolutionary turmoil and partial demands at other times. We have also made use in various articles in the Workers' Advocate of the analysis of the Sixth Congress on national-reformism in the oppressed countries. And our entire Party also had the occasion of studying part of the resolution "The Struggle Against Imperialist War and the Tasks of the Communists" from the Sixth Congress in connection with the Internal Bulletin in 1980 on revolutionary work in the anti-draft and anti-nuclear movements.

. This is not to say that Sixth Congress had no weaknesses on this or that particular issue.

. Perhaps there was also a weakness in finding the way to explain its correct theses to the parties.

. But despite these questions, the basic line of the Sixth Congress was consistent and Marxist-Leninist.

Following the Sixth Congress

. There is also the question that a certain awkwardness, a certain mechanical approach, appears in dealing with certain tactical questions in the period following the Sixth Congress.

. One of the difficulties in comprehending the nature of these rigidities is that it is not the question of a wrong, unrevolutionary stand and of gross errors, but of the approach to delicate tactical issues that come up in implementing a correct stand. The CI and its parties made advances in their work in this period in the face of difficult conditions; this is clear, for example, in the history of the CPUSA, for its work flourished in this period. The consolidation of the parties in this period probably had much to do with subsequent successes. At the same time, there was also the severe setback of the Hitler takeover in Germany, which however cannot be blamed on errors of the CP of Germany. Thus the vexed questions of this period generally require judging carefully the concrete situation of the times, because the tactical matters in question depend very much on the time and place.

. The period between the Sixth Congress of 1928 and the adoption of new orientations in 1934-35 may be called the Sixth Congress period. During this period one of the major issues was to continue the process of overcoming social-democratic methods and traditions and to direct the work of the parties on truly communist foundations. The Executive Committee of the CI (ECCI) helped the parties correct a number of errors of various sorts. In his report to the Seventh Congress, Dimitrov made a huge fuss about the alleged great errors that presumably characterized the work of the communists prior to the Seventh Congress. But most of the examples he gave are things that were already dealt with and corrected in the Sixth Congress period or even earlier.

. But there were also some rigidities or mechanical conceptions in the ECCI itself. Since we are dealing here with the general line of the world movement here, we are concerned with certain views of the ECCI or in harmony with the ECCI, and not those views and practice of individual parties that the ECCI fought against.

. The Internal Bulletin of Sept. 30, 1983 briefly referred to this issue as follows:

. ". . . there were also some rigidities in the views of the ECCI itself in this period. It appears that these stemmed in general from a somewhat rigid or mechanical idea of how the revolutionary process would unfold.
. "The 6th Congress had pointed out that a 'third period' in the post-World War I world had begun. Stated very briefly, the first period was the postwar revolutionary upsurge, the second period was the partial and temporary stabilization of capitalism, and the third period marked a deepening of the crisis of capitalism. The social-democrats and bourgeois mocked at this assessment, but the CI was proved correct in the most dramatic manner with the arrival of the Great Depression, as signaled by the big crash of 1929.
. "However, the way the crisis affected the course of the revolutionary struggle was by no means straightforward. The CI was right about the beginning of a new period, but it seemed to have had certain rigidities in the way that it thought the revolutionization of the masses would take place and in its conception of the speed of this process. This involved a certain 'leftist' narrowness on certain tactical issues. This caused certain difficulties."

. Now let us give a few examples of the rigidities. On all the issues we shall deal with, we shall first see that the CI maintained a firm, revolutionary stand on the overall issue. And then we shall go into certain problems the CI had in dealing with certain delicate tactical issues that came up in implementing their stand. We shall begin with the CI's steadfast stand against social-democracy and certain rigidities that came up with respect to the use of the term "social-fascist".

On The Anti-Working Class Nature of Social-Democracy

. In the Sixth Congress period, the CI paid close attention to the way that the social-democrats sabotaged the struggle against the bourgeoisie and took part in repression against the revolutionary movement.

. The social-democrats, as servants of the bourgeoisie, found their hands tied in dealing with the fascists, but they bared their fangs at the militant proletariat. However mild-mannered and liberal they might be to the bourgeoisie and the fascists, they were tyrants and oppressors in their stand towards the workers. The social-democratic leaders organized mass expulsions of militants from the trade unions; they fingered class-conscious workers to the police in certain countries with reactionary regimes; and, where the social-democrats were in power, they did not shrink from ordering the police to smash communist demonstrations. As developed political trends, social-democracy, and reformism in general, didn't then (and don't now) consist of mild-mannered and flabby pursuit of goals that the communists pursue militantly: instead social-democracy joined in the capitalist attacks on the working masses, provided ideological cover for the bourgeois offensive, threw aside all principles of proletarian democracy inside the trade unions and other mass organizations, and so forth.

. (However this does not mean that any party or grouping could be judged solely by whether it had the term "social-democrat" in its name. Most of the original sections of the CI, for example, were formed from the left-wings of the social-democratic party of the particular country. But the movement to the left of social-democratic workers and groupings consisted of their abandoning the social-democratic politics for class struggle, even if these groupings still bore the term "social-democrat" in their name for the time being.)

On the Term "Social-Fascist"

. The social-democrats dreaded the revolution more than fascism and played a particularly despicable role in clearing the way for the fascist rise to power. The term "social-fascist" (meaning socialist in words but fascist in deeds) was used to summarize the indictment of this reactionary role of the social-democrats. Our Party agrees with the assessment of the Sixth Congress period on the social-fascist nature of social-democracy. We have never had any sympathy with the neo-revisionists who were horrified at the term "social-fascist". We have repeatedly denounced the idea that the social-democrats and reformists are simply luke-warm revolutionaries and have instead pointed to the stand of opportunism on the side of the bourgeoisie.

. At the same time, there is also the question of how to expose the evil deeds of social-democracy and reformism to the masses of workers. Our Party has had a careful attitude to the use of the term "social-fascist" and similar such terms. Terms such as "social-fascist" are powerful, emotional terms. Their use at random can create an obstacle to breaking the masses away from the influence of reformism and winning them to communism.

. For example, consider the present political situation in the U.S. Given the support of the liberal Democrats for beefing up the CIA, Pentagon, police etc, given their role in the fascization of the state, one could rail at the liberals as "liberal-fascists" and so forth. But would this help the strength of revolutionary agitation in the present situation? It is a fraud to talk of building an independent political movement of the proletariat unless there is a fierce and unrelenting struggle against the liberal Democrats, but the terms used in this struggle have to be well-chosen so that they help enlighten the working masses.

. It is likely that the term "social-fascist" could have had good use in the Sixth Congress period in branding various social-democratic leaders when they committed acts that were despicable and fascist even in the eyes of rank-and-file social-democrats. For example, when social-democratic ministers ordered the police to shoot down demonstrators, and the streets ran red with the blood of murdered workers, ordinary workers under the influence of social-democracy might well have themselves cursed these leaders and called them fascists. At such a time the communists might well have been able to make good use of the curses thrown at the social-democratic leaders by the rank-and-file workers.

. An example of this occurred in Russia, several months prior to the October Socialist Revolution of 1917. During the "July days", when the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries supported the Provisional Government's mass repression against the workers, peasants, and Bolsheviks, many ordinary workers and soldiers cursed the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries as "social-jailers" (socialists in words, but jailers in deeds).

. But in the Sixth Congress period it seems that the terms "social-democrat" and "social-fascist" became almost interchangeable at times. (This is not the case in the documents of the Sixth Congress itself.) This must have interfered to a certain extent with approaches to social-democratic workers and made united front tactics more difficult. The effect of this shouldn't be exaggerated, but at the same time it probably did cause certain difficulties.

. (However, it should be noted that the communist parties did not start attacking rank-and-file workers under the influence of social-democracy with all sorts of names. This caricature of the Sixth Congress period is reformist fantasy: the communist leadership acted promptly to stop any such absurdity as calling ordinary workers "little Zorgeibels" after the social-democratic chief of police who ordered the shooting down of the communist May Day demonstration in Berlin in 1929.)

. Furthermore, the terms "social-democrat" and "social-fascist" were used pretty interchangeably in some theoretical literature during the Sixth Congress period, including various discussions during, and documents of, ECCI plenums. This, to certain extent, was a hindrance to political clarity. The social-democratic parties and leaders, despite their bourgeois deeds and their sabotage of the anti-fascist struggle, occupied quite a different political position than the various groupings of fascism. (To be precise, the typical or general case was that the social-democratic parties and leaders occupied a different political position. There were some cases of social-democratic groups that were hardly more than direct appendages of fascist regimes.)

The CI Against the Degeneration of United Front Tactics

. The ECCI in the Sixth Congress period dealt with encouraging various parties to invigorate the work for the united front from below. It faced the situation that various parties had fallen to varying extents into a stereotyped form of united front tactics. This stereotype regarded united front tactics as mainly attempts to obtain agreements with the reformist-dominated mass organizations through work within them, or work within the Labor Party in Britain, etc.

. In fact, generally speaking, even the work of these parties had advanced over the years. The fact that these parties now accepted the necessity to apply united front tactics was helpful to them. But the consolidation of a stereotyped and ultimately rightist approach prevented further advance and threatened what had already been achieved. It was necessary to revitalize the work and to move these parties forward to a better appreciation of united front tactics.

"Class Against Class" Tactics

. The ECCI dealt with this by urging a change in emphasis in united front work. It laid stress on the united front from below, and it pushed various parties to step up the open exposure of the social-democrats and other reformists (the spirit to wage such struggles had waned under the stereotyped approach to united front tactics), etc. This was a good part of what was called "Class Against Class" tactics. And it had various notable successes, such as getting the CP of Britain to come out openly in elections against reactionary Labor Party leaders and to step up its own independent work (although the ECCI did not hold that the time had come to cut off all work inside the Labor Party).

. This was described as shifting the weight in united front tactics to the united front from below. For example, the Six Congress of the CI stated:

. "37. These tactics, while changing the form, do not in any way change the principal content of the tactics of the united front. The intensification of the struggle against social-democracy transfers the weight of importance to the united front from below, but it does not relieve the Communists from the duty of drawing a distinction between the sincere, but mistaken, social-democratic working men, and the obsequious social-democratic leaders cringing at the feet of imperialism. On the contrary, it makes it more obligatory for them to do so. Nor is the slogan `Fight for the Masses!' (including the masses following the lead of the bourgeois and the Social-Democratic Parties) repealed by this. It must become the object of attention in the work of the Communist International more than ever before. . . ." (From "Theses of the Sixth Congress on the International Situation and the Tasks of the CI", Section VI, "The Tactical Line and Principal Tasks of the CI", emphasis and parenthetical remark as in the original)

. It can be seen that the Sixth Congress period did not ignore the rank and file worker under opportunist influence.

Problems in the Theoretical Foundation Given for These Tactics

. The Sixth Congress gave a number of reasons for transferring weight to the united from below. This included the intensifying capitalist offensive, the rightward swing of the social-democratic parties, and the leftward swing of the masses.

. However, it should be noted that the stereotyped forms of united front tactics were not the correct way in any period to utilize the united front from above or united front tactics in general. The CI had always opposed such a view of united front tactics, as can be seen, for example, in the discussions at the 4th and 5th World Congresses of the CI. And from the practical point of view, the stress on the united front from below was important in fighting the stereotyped forms of united front work that had spread to a certain extent in the years preceding the Sixth Congress. As well, the intensifying situation at the time of the Sixth World Congress undoubtedly made the rectification of these tactics even more urgent. But there were certain limitations in the way this was described theoretically.

. For one thing, the idea seems to have spread that the utilization of united front appeals from above depended on how far to the right the social-democratic parties were. Thus it was said that the social-democrats were further to the right in the "third period" than earlier in the mid-1920's, and this was why the emphasis in united front work had to switch to work from below.

. But united front tactics, including appeals from above, were discussed by the CI in the immediate post-World War I situation. At that time the social-democratic parties had their hands dipped in the blood of the workers uprisings that they were suppressing. The united front appeals were not made out of any analysis that there was something left in the social-democratic leaderships, but as a way of influencing the masses in these parties.

. Thus, although the CI leadership in the Sixth Congress period fought against certain stereotypes in the application of united front tactics, stereotypes that would have led to rightist degeneration, the theory it put forward on the united front was not quite correct. This theory contained elements that fed a certain mechanical or stereotyped way of considering united front questions. According to this method of thinking, united front appeals depend on whether the social-democratic parties are regarded as more or less to the right or left.

. Furthermore, this led to the idea that if a social-democratic party was in crisis due to the leftward movement of the masses, then it would be a mistake to make a united front appeal from above at that time. It was held, correctly, the communist parties should step up their work to win over the base at such a time, but it was held that recognition of the treachery of the social-democracy leaders ruled out any united front appeals from party to party at such a time. In fact, the question is more complex. It is true that rightist united front tactics might help get a social-democratic party out of its crisis and give it more credibility among the workers. But, depending on various circumstances, precisely when a social-democratic party is in crisis might be the time when correct united front appeals would help disintegrate further the influence of reformist and centrist leaders. And the decision to use such appeals has more to do with analysis of the views and temper among the rank-and-file than with belief in whether these parties are more or less to the right than they were at some other times.

. It appears, therefore, that there was a certain rigidity on the question of united front agreements from above. It never reached denial on principle of the united front from above. The overall policy followed strengthened the work of the communist parties and increased their confidence to stand by themselves. But certain issues did arise.

. It should also be noted that the policy in practice towards appeals from above was actually less rigid than might appear from the theory concerning such appeals. During the Sixth Congress period, it seems that a complex and confusing terminology existed concerning what type of appeals were regarded as appeals from above. Appeals to various levels of the social-democratic parties below the top leadership were not necessarily regarded as appeals from above. Even appeals to the top leadership, if held to limited objectives, were not necessarily regarded as the united front from above. On one hand, this allowed more flexibility than might appear at first sight. On the other hand it makes it harder to comprehend what is being referred to as work from below; one must be sure to examine the practice of each party concretely, and not just rely on the theoretical terms used at the time.

. Actually, the CI leadership during the Sixth Congress period generally didn't do much theoretical elaboration of united front tactics; yet there were a number of issues left over from previous Congresses of the CI. It appears that while correct work was often done in practice, various confused views often prevailed theoretically. To a certain extent, this resulted in rigidities in considering how and when united front appeals from above could be made. It should be stressed, however, that this did not prevent the CI and various parties from making a number of such appeals during the Sixth Congress period, particularly against imminent fascist threats.

The Black National Question in the U.S.

. One question which particularly dramatically illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the Sixth Congress period is the black national question in the U. S. This is discussed in detail in the November 15, 1986 issue of The Supplement, which is entirely devoted to the article "More on the path for the black liberation struggle/The History of the CPUSA and the CI on the Right to Self-Determination".

. During the Sixth Congress period the CPUSA, with help from the CI, dramatically stepped up its work against the oppression of the black people and its work to organize the black working people. It achieved good results, and it firmly established the tradition that American communists must fight with all their might against the oppression of the black masses.

. The Sixth Congress and the 1928 and 1930 resolutions of the ECCI played a major role in this development.

. The 1928 resolution of the CI stressed work among the black people and against their oppression. It provided concrete direction for this work, and it sought to motivate the CPUSA not just to do this work, but to really put sufficient effort into it. It also raised the issue of the self-determination of the black nation in the black belt South in a basically correct fashion. It vigorously defended the right to self-determination, but didn't advocate secession and instead called for orienting the black people's movement as part of the proletarian revolution in the U.S.

. The 1930 resolution continues this work and sought to ensure that communist work with respect to the black people remained at a high level. But it also had the weaknesses of a certain national fetishism. A mechanical view of the question of self-determination lead it to this national fetishism. In the CPUSA and the CI in this period, advocacy of work among the black people became linked, to a certain extent, to some of this national fetishism.

. Here we see a dramatic example both of the positive features of this period and of how a certain rigidity impeded its work. It is not clear if the national fetishism was that much of an obstacle in that period: it kept getting discarded in practice despite periodic moralistic breastbeating in the CPUSA over the party not carrying out this national fetishism among the masses.

. Yet the theoretical errors that were introduced by this national fetishism played a bad role later on in the history of the U.S. communist movement. The difficulties these rigidities can give rise to, if not corrected, can be seen by the fact that this national fetishism later on played a negative role both in the struggle against Browderism after World War II and in the Marxist-Leninist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. (See the Nov. 15, 1985 Supplement.)

. This national fetishism presumably was something of a "left" rigidity when it was taken up by the CI during the Sixth Congress period. It was an attempt to carry over various principles about the right to self-determination without properly taking the concrete conditions into account, and it presented itself as a way to really hit U.S. imperialism. But this national fetishism, in and of itself, was not inherently leftist. In the later history of the U.S. communist movement it fit in well with blatant rightism. Indeed, the neo-revisionists of the 1960s and 1970s took up national fetishism as a rationale to support the black bourgeoisie and as a shield for their other rightist positions.

On the Relationship of Bourgeois Democracy and Fascism

. The Sixth Congress period had a correct overall line on the question of bourgeois democracy and fascism. The ECCI was never guilty of refusing to fight for the democratic liberties of the toilers, and it also refused to bow down to the bourgeois-democratic form of capitalist domination.

. The social-democrats opposed using revolutionary methods against fascism. Instead they told the working class that the way to oppose fascism was to rally behind the liberal bourgeoisie and the bourgeois-democratic state. But this meant to sabotage both the struggle against fascism and the struggle for socialist revolution.

. During the Sixth Congress period, the CI opposed this treachery of the social-democrats. But there often appears certain difficulties in the way this social-democratic treachery is dealt with.

For example, the 13th Plenum of the ECCI in December 1933 stated that:

"It is only for the purpose of deceiving and disarming the workers that social-democracy denies the fascization of bourgeois democracy and makes a contrast between the democratic countries and the countries of the fascist dictatorship in principle." (See the passage entitled "Fascism Born in the Womb of Bourgeois Democracy" in the theses entitled "Fascism, the Danger of War and the Tasks of the Communist Parties".)

. It is by no means clear what is meant when the passage denies a contrast "in principle" between the bourgeois-democratic regimes and the fascist regimes. In both cases, there is still a bourgeois dictatorship; but it would have been better to say this, if this was what was meant. On the other hand, the distinction between bourgeois-democracy and fascism has many implications for the forms and methods of the class struggle and is one of the most important political conditions facing the proletariat in the capitalist countries.

. The CI correctly rejected the social-democratic defense of the liberal bourgeoisie and the bourgeois republic. It correctly laid stress on the revolutionary struggle of the masses as the barrier to fascism. It understood that the growing economic and political crisis led increasingly to the question: bourgeois reaction or revolution.

. But there was a tendency to be somewhat rigid in how this was posed. The CI leadership understood that bourgeois "moderates" shared with the fascists the desire to hamstring the workers' movement and that the liberals and bourgeois republicans thus helped pave the way for the fascists, but it sometimes talked about this in ways that appeared to denigrate the political differences between these trends or to suggest that the alternatives of revolution or reaction would present themselves straightforwardly at all times. Yet the communists had to be very attentive to these differences in order to discredit both bourgeois trends. And they had to be attentive to the fact that important struggles (and even decisive struggles, struggles that lead to revolution) may well start with the masses apparently having limited and restricted aims.

. The CI had to combine imbuing the masses with the desire for revolution with remaining very attentive to any of the forms in which the masses went into action against reaction. The CI had to lead the struggle of the class-conscious workers against bourgeois-democratic illusions. And it had to stay sensitive to when the desire for struggle arose even among masses who were under the influence of bourgeois-democratic illusions; the CI had to show the parties how to utilize the fact that, as the struggle against fascism sharpens, the working masses tend to break out of the bounds of their original standpoint, particularly if there is active communist work among the militant masses.

. It appears that the CI leadership, in its struggle to defeat the vicious social-democratic treachery of tying the working class to the tail of the "lesser evil" among the bourgeoisie, sometimes gave awkward formulations. Thus the CI did expose that the social-democrats and the bourgeois republicans were betraying the masses to the fascists, but the ECCI also gave such formulations as the one we have quoted about there being no difference "in principle" between bourgeois democracy and fascism.

. The somewhat mechanical approach affected practical work and not just general theses.

. For example, in this period the CP of France correctly stood against petty-bourgeois democratic illlusions in the French bourgeois Republic or the Radicals (French liberal party). It did not give in to the widespread democratic phrasemongering in France. And it fought for the rights of the working class.

. But in denouncing the yoke of the bourgeois state, and opposing democratic phrasemongering, the CP of France appears to have tended to lay stress on the argument that the bourgeois Republic was "bourgeois-democratic" or "democratic" (terms it used rather interchangeably) and then to have denounced this "democracy". By identifying "democracy" with the defense of the bourgeois Republic, this terminology must have created some confusion on how to handle the struggle for democratic rights and the anti-fascist struggle. Although the particularities of the practice of the French CP are not necessarily exactly identical to that of other communist parties, particularly because of the revolutionary phrasemongering that was typical of all left-wing French parties at that time, nevertheless this stand of the French CP probably reflects the general awkwardness on the question of democracy at that time.

. Undoubtedly militant workers understood that the communist parties wanted a mass fight against reaction, whatever the particular form of agitation on bourgeois democracy and fascism used by the communist parties. And the communist parties maintained the stand of socialist revolution and an accurate assessment of the role of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state in fascization. But a certain awkwardness on the issue of democracy may have constituted an obstacle to approaching the widest masses and perhaps also gave rise to certain difficulties in formulating tactics.

On What the Seventh Congress Should Have Done With Respect to the Rigidities

. The rigidities were a hindrance to the work of the CI; nevertheless in general this work advanced. But with the changing world situation, and the added tactical complexities which resulted from the fascist offensive, it became all the more important to remove the rigidities. It was necessary to reach out to the broadest masses against the imminent fascist threat, and it was necessary to indicate the exact limits of tactical flexibility. The rigidities on united front tactics, on the relationship of bourgeois democracy and fascism (or of socialist revolution and the struggle against fascism), on the tone and method of approach to the social-democratic rank-and-file in exposing the social-democratic leaders, etc. more and more became central issues.

. The Seventh Congress faced the task of orienting the communists to the tasks posed by the world fascist offensive against the working class and toilers. The struggle between the revolution and the bourgeoisie was expressing itself in the development of a gigantic clash with fascism. This required sober tactics to rally the maximum forces of the toilers against fascism. It also required communist insight that saw that the struggle against fascism did not eliminate the issue of socialist revolution, but instead meant that the masses would approach the revolution from another direction, so to speak. The bourgeoisie was the class force behind fascism, and the struggle against fascism not only brings the masses into struggle, it inspires a tremendous hatred for the bourgeoisie and, when victorious, may well immediately place the issue of social rvolution on the agenda.

What the Seventh Congress Did

. The Seventh Congress did stress that a great conflict with fascism was in the making. But it utterly failed in dealing with the rigidities from the Sixth Congress period. It did not understand the issues at stake. Instead it simply cursed leftism and sectarianism in order to justify abandoning the fundamental Leninist principles that were upheld in the Sixth congress period. It did not correct rigidities, but gave them a rightist turn -- in effect, it took mechanical thinking further and solidified it as ingrained rightist views.

Solidifying the Rigidities and Turning Them into Ingrained Reformist Views

. Consider the question of the speed of revolutionization that would follow from the deepening of the crisis. Dimitrov appears to criticize rigidities on this question and blame them on sectarianism. He says, in Section III of his Report, that:

. "Sectarianism finds expression particularly in overestimating the revolutionization of the masses, in overestimating the speed at which they are abandoning the positions of reformism, . . ." (From the passage on "Consolidation of the Communist Parties")

. However, in fact, the Seventh Congress did nothing to put forward sober assessments of the development of the struggle. It promoted the most wild, euphoric assessments. Dimitrov boasted that the use of the new line would allow "at this very moment" the formation of united fronts with the social-democratic leaders and the immediate creation of the unity of the proletariat all over the world. Pieck complacently proclaimed the end of reformism. And Togliatti (Ercoli) declared that the new line of the Seventh Congress could stop the coming world war.

. The only thing Dimitrov wasn't wildly optimistic about was the prospect of the masses leaving the social-democratic parties. And his utter skepticism on this point, which he promoted in the guise of sober realism, was actually nothing but the flip side of his wildly optimistic assertions that the social-democratic parties were not only being revolutionized, but were on the path of merging with the communist parties.

. All these euphoric assessments were no longer simple rigidities, but ingrained reformist fantasies that promised the greatest and easiest victories if only Leninist principle was abandoned.

. Consider the issue of the relationship of democracy to revolution. The Seventh Congress laid stress on being extremely rigid on this. Dimitrov laid down the line that the fight on democratic issues requires throwing out the question of revolution; every other issue was to be thrown aside except for the contrast of bourgeois democracy versus fascism.

. This did not amount to solving the rigidities of the Sixth Congress period concerning the struggle against bourgeois-democratic illusions nor its awkwardness in formulating the relationship between the democratic issues and the revolution, but absolutizing these rigidities. Only Dimitrov absolutized them not in the midst of struggle for revolution but in order to conclude that revolutionary work should be put off to the distant future.

. Consider the question of the united front. The Seventh Congress didn't correct rigidities on the use of the united front from above, but instead championed and consolidated the opportunist, stereotyped view that united front tactics mean primarily and above all major agreements with the social-democratic parties and leaders. It did not show how to utilize correct agreements for the sake of the revolution, but demanded that everywhere and all the time united front work must be chopped down to the limits needed to come to terms with the social-democrats.

. This did not amount to correcting the wrong idea that use of united front appeals from above depends on a certain belief in the more rightist or leftist nature of social-democracy in a certain period, but absolutizing this view and turning it to the right. Dimitrov held that united front work was only real when combined with firm belief that social-democracy was basically pro-working class and pro-class struggle.

. Consider the term "social-fascist." The Seventh Congress didn't show how to preserve the content of the criticism of social-democracy while adjusting the tone as needed in order to better approach those masses still under social-democratic influence. No, the Seventh Congress simply threw out the criticism of social-democracy. This didn't correct any rigid idea of what a relentless fight against social-democracy should be, but accepted the most rigid view and concluded from it that the struggle to win the masses from social-democracy is sectarianism.

. And so it was from one question to another. From the theoretical point of view, the Seventh Congress did not correct rigidities but seized on them, exaggerated them, cast them in iron, but always looked at them from the rightist side. From the practical point of view, the Seventh Congress replaced certain difficulties in the work to build up truly communist parties with abandonment of the Leninist communist principles.

A Point on the Overall Characterization of the Sixth Congress Period

. In order to justify its rightist stands, the Seventh Congress portrayed the the Sixth Congress period as a time of rampant sectarianism. This is simply not true. Even the rigidities of the period can't be presented as simply rampant sectarianism. But furthermore, a serious assessment of the Sixth Congress period requires more than an assessment of the rigidities. There were hard-won successes; there was progress in the face of major difficulties. And the shortcomings in the work too have to be examined seriously, not used as a pretext to throw out the work to build proletarian parties of the new, Leninist type.

. Dimitrov confuses everything in his portrayal of the Sixth Congress period. In his typically frivolous fashion, while he condemned this period up and down, he portrayed the CI leadership as infallible, and his criticism was always directed at various parties. But, we may recall, the question of the rigidities is first and foremost a question of the ECCI and various views that came up that were generally in harmony with those of the ECCI.

. When we shift our attention to the individual parties, we see there were errors and difficulties (and not all difficulties were the results of errors) of various types. Perhaps the fundamental issue facing the parties was learning how to Bolshevize their forms of organizations and methods of struggle, of learning how to really apply communist, Leninist methods. To do this, they had to overcome right as well as left errors, and to a certain extent the rigidities came up in the attempt to correct rightist errors and non-communist methods of work. The fight against this rightism was serious and difficult.

. (And, it may be noted, there was certain sectarianism among the parties, but it couldn't all simply be said to be leftist sectarianism. For example, a sectarian attitude to the struggle for certain partial demands, for example, to certain economic struggles, was often based on an underlying rightist conception that only could conceive of the use of reformist demands in such a struggle. To solve such sectarianism by simply cursing leftism is a prescription for fiasco. The social-democratic parties had all sorts of rightist and leftist sounding reasons for taking a sectarian attitude to various struggles, and the struggle against the traditions inherited from these parties required more than simply shouting about left sectarianism. And, it may be noted, the CI fought hard during the Sixth Congress period against this sectarianism. ) As well, it should be noted that transforming the parties required not just setting forward some good theses and getting them passed against rightist or leftist opposition. No, it required a whole process of building up the parties. The parties had to find the way to learn how, in practice, to organize; they had to develop new communist traditions to replace the former social-democratic traditions in the working class movement; they had to learn how to activate the rank and file of the party and the party's basic organizations and teach them to have self-motion in taking up political issues. This process came up against conscious opposition from opportunists, but it also had to deal with sincere and dedicated communists who didn't understand, or only partially understood, what the correct method of approach was. Thus various problems that came up in this period are often hard to classify neatly as right or left precisely because they had not yet solidified as definite lines.

. One of the difficulties facing the CI in the Sixth Congress period was how to train the parties and how to train large masses of new communists. One of the main problems may well have been the development of methods to really explain the communist methods and theses to the communists. It is one thing to exhort the parties to do this or that type of work; it is another to find a common language with the parties that allows one to deal with the barriers in this or that type of work.

. The Seventh Congress had no magic answer to these problems. Or, to be precise, it had no serious answer, just magic prescriptions. It simply asserted over and over that rightist stands would by themselves solve all the difficulties. One striking example is where Manuilsky, in his pamphlet The Work of the Seventh Congress, asserts that the liquidation of the communist fractions in the trade unions will solve the question of how to carry out lively communist work in the trade unions by forcing the party members to stay among the masses. This was not an answer, but a reformist turn of speech gone wild. It was nothing but liquidationist mocking of party organization. <>

Notes - June 2008


(WAS) The Workers' Advocate, and Workers' Advocate Supplement, which carried additional materials including many of the longer theoretical articles, were publications of the Marxist-Leninist Party of the US. The MLP, which was founded on Jan. 1, 1980 and dissolved in November 1993, stemmed from the anti-revisionist movement of activists who wanted to push forward the mass struggles and root them in the working class, saw Marxism as an essential guide for the revolutionary struggle, and rejected the sell-out reformism of the official pro-Soviet communist parties. It was opposed to both Soviet revisionism and Trotskyism. Its roots went back in the mass movements of the 1960s, such as the anti-racist, anti-war, student, women's, and workers' movements, and the WA itself was published from 1969 to 1993. The cause of anti-revisionist communism is upheld today by the Communist Voice Organization, and the Communist Voice is a theoretical journal which is a successor to the Workers' Advocate. (Return to text)

(WAS of May 1, 1985) This issue contained the articles "In defense of Leninist United Front Tactics: On the backward turn in the line of the international communist movement at the Seventh Congress of the CI in 1935"; and Against the Trotskyist critique of the 7th Congress. (Return to text)

(The Sixth Congress line was Marxist-Leninist) At the time this article was written, the MLP, while polemicizing against various aspects of Stalinism, believed that socialism was being built in the USSR during this period and right up until the Khrushchovite regime that came about sometime after Stalin's death. Later theoretical work and study of Soviet history by the MLP and, later, the Communist Voice Organization led to the conclusions that the historic Bolshevik revolution had begun fading away sometime in the 1920s, and that not socialism, but state-capitalism was consolidated in the USSR in the 1930s. This was the economic base for the Soviet communist party becoming a revisionist party, and Stalinism ending up as a new form of revisionism; and its why the Soviet regime became oppressive. Most of this was still a matter of the future at the time of the Sixth Congress, but it failed to see the decline of the revolution and the danger confronting the Soviet Union.

. The tragedy of the decline and death of the Bolshevik revolution would eventually rebound on the entire world movement. However, this article, as even a perusal of the subheads will show, was concerned with the line of the world communist movement for work in the capitalist world, not with the views given by the Sixth Congress on developments in the Soviet Union. No doubt, if we were to rewrite this article today, we would bring out more starkly some of the contradictions of the communist movement in this period. Yet overall, the line put forward for struggle in the capitalist world was revolutionary, and in some countries marked a major advance of the revolutionary working class movement. Thus this period has great interest with respect to the study of communist tactics in the class struggle, and this article's overview of it and discussion of the problem of rigidities retains its importance. (Return to text)

Last changed on July 13, 2008.
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