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John West

The Comintern Goes Back to Kautsky

Stalinist 7th Congress Throws Overboard All the Teachings
of Marx and Lenin on the State and Internationalism

(August 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 35, 24 August 1935, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In 1928, the Sixth Congress of the Communist International met to record the triumph of Stalin over the Marxist opposition, to consolidate the abandonment of internationalism, and to prepare for the utilization of the C.I. in the years ahead more and more directly in the reactionary interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy and against the interests of the world proletariat. Seven long years of disaster have demonstrated in the laboratory of history the role of the C.I. under Stalin: the structure which once stood dynamically at the head of the revolutionary movement has become solidified as the organizer of defeat, the agent of betrayal.

When an instrument which the working class has forged in the heart of its struggles, to serve its needs, abandons its progressive function and turns against the class that formed it, the working class cannot merely cast it off as a snake casts off its old skin in the new Spring. The instrument remains, and remains not as something dead and abandoned, but actively, as a weapon turned against its maker. Veiled with the glitter of former triumphs, it becomes a will-o’-the-wisp to turn aside great sections of the working class from the Marxist road, to confuse, blind, and sterilize them. Just so the Comintern. If it were merely dead, it could be forgotten. But it is not dead. It remains, with all its corrupting power still hidden to many by the coating of early glories, a tremendous obstacle on the path of the working class. The Seventh Congress meets, not to chant the death of the C.I., but in a desperate effort to patch up the rotting structure and thus to raise the barrier still higher across the path. This is the real meaning of the Seventh Congress: it meets, not to organize victory, but to consolidate its position as an obstacle, to attempt to prepare the last stages of the sacrifice of the international working class to Stalinism.

The Flowers of Stalinism

It is, therefore, not surprising to note, in the reports of the Congress, the incredibly low political level of the “discussions.” No effort whatever is made, or could be made, at serious political analysis. No opposition on any question is present. No criticism of the past – even such a past – is suggested, beyond mild scoldings about “sectarianism” or “over-zealousness” in the application of the C.I. line. Not one lesson is drawn from the world shaking events of the past seven years. Not one negative vote is recorded against the official resolutions. Any vitality still remaining in the delegates is devoted to 20-minute ovations for the “great leader and teacher of the world proletariat” and frequent singing of the Internationale. But it must not be supposed that this takes away from the significance of the Congress. Rather does it make clear the significance. It is only in such a soil that, the flowers of Stalinism can bloom.

* * *

The key to the significance of the present Congress can be given in three quotations from the proceedings:

  1. “The victory of socialism on a world scale in a brief historic period is assured if peace is maintained, thus making possible new victories of socialism’ in the U.S.S.R.” (Pieck, quoted N. Y. Times, July 29)
  2. “... Now the working masses are not choosing between the proletarian dictatorship and bourgeois democracy but between bourgeois democracy and fascism” (Dimitroff, quoted Daily Worker, Aug. 15)
  3. “In the present situation how should the toiling masses of Czechoslovakia fight for peace against fascism? They must fight with all means at their disposal for the preservation and deepening of friendly relations between Czechoslovakia and the U.S.S.R., for the carrying into practice the mutual assistance pact between Czechoslovakia and the S.U.” (Sverma, quoted Daily Worker, Aug. 19).

The Poison Spreads

The political content of these quotations must be carefully understood. They are theoretical acknowledgments of progressive steps in the degeneration of the Comintern which have already been taken in practice. Launched on the tracks of “socialism in one country,” the C.I. could not leave it at that. For the poisoning of one cardinal point of Marxian principle – in this case, revolutionary internationalism – meant that the poison would spread throughout the system. In the end no point can be left untainted. The abandonment of internationalism is not a minor “deviation” which can be merely “corrected.” It is a repudiation of Marxism. And it involves successively the repudiation of every other cardinal principle of Marxism. These quotations mark major stages in the spread of the poison.

Quotation (1) states briefly the theory of socialism in one country, the keystone of the arch of Stalinism. What follows? Peace must be preserved. What then follows? The sections of the C.I. must be converted into peace propaganda agencies each sacrificing the interests of its national proletariat to the construction of socialism in the S.U. What follows? The interests of the Chinese, German, Austrian, French ... workers must be betrayed to Soviet nationalism. The cause of the proletariat will be advanced and the S.U. defended not, as Lenin demanded, by the overthrow of bourgeois states, by the drive of the international revolution, but by (a) “the independent construction of socialism in the S.U.” along with (b) the preservation of the status quo throughout the rest of the world in order to permit this socialist construction. That means, the preservation of the bourgeois governments, in their present relationships, in power, for only such preservation can maintain peace. Not international revolution, but pacifism and diplomacy, the classic “balance of power” methods of bourgeois politics, will protect the S.U. and the construction of socialism.

The Inevitable Conclusions

Quotation (2) draws the correct conclusion: Granted the basic line of socialism in one country, which prevents international revolution, for the sake of maintaining the status quo, the choice of the proletariat in this era is not between proletarian dictatorship and bourgeois democracy, but between bourgeois democracy and fascism. Therefore, the working class is led to support of bourgeois democratic governments, if only these governments “promise” to support the “peace policy” of the S.U. In other words, abandonment of internationalism logically leads to abandonment of the Marxian theory of the state, which holds that the bourgeois state is under all circumstances the political instrument of the bourgeoisie and consequently on all occasions the irreconcilable enemy of the proletariat and its party.

But with things as they are, peace may not be preserved even at this price. Again, therefore, with iron logic, the necessary conclusion is drawn in quotation (3). To “carry into practice the mutual assistance pact between Czechoslovakia and the S.U.” means precisely to support the bourgeois government of Czechoslovakia in war against Germany; and, since imperialist powers – notably Czechoslovakia’s ally – France – will be involved in such a war, to support likewise French imperialism. Thus, abandonment of the Marxian theory of the state leads, just, as inevitably as it led Social Democracy prior to the last war, to an abandonment of the Marxian position on war, to social-patriotism, and preparations for the betrayal of the proletariat of France and all other nations which happen to be, for their own purposes, in alliance with the S.U., to the war makers.

* * *

I wish in the remainder of this article to demonstrate further the extent to which the C.I. has abandoned the Marxist theory of the state and has accepted the Social-Democratic theory best stated by Kautsky. No question of principle can be more important: only by the clear and constant recognition of the class nature of the state, of the fact that the bourgeois state, in every form is its mortal enemy and must be destroyed, can a revolutionary party sustain a correct strategy in the class struggle. Any watering down whatever of this principle means, necessarily, betrayal.

Two Sources of Degeneration

We can trace consequences of the C.I. degeneration on this point from two directions:

1. “Defense of the democratic rights of the workers and toiling masses” is, under all circumstances, a correct revolutionary slogan; and leadership in such defense is an elementary duty of the revolutionary party. But how defend these rights, for example, when they are threatened by the oncoming of Fascism? The Marxist answers: They can be defended only by the offensive revolutionary struggle for workers’ power, only by the class organization of the workers, the fighting proletarian united front, the building of the workers’ militia, the overthrow of bourgeois rule.

For this correct slogan and the correct method of carrying into practice, the C.I. Congress substitutes – “The defense of bourgeois democracy against fascism” (cf. Pieck, “we defend parliamentarism and democracy against fascism” Daily Worker, July 27; Gorkitch, “Real united front work has recently begun (in Jugoslavia). Its aims must be to establish a united anti-fascist people’s government which will support the Macek government if it takes the necessary firm steps against fascism.” (Daily Worker, Aug. 14) But this means, in effect, support of the class enemy – for a bourgeois democratic government is, like a fascist government, simply one form of bourgeois class dictatorship. To support the class enemy under any circumstances means always to weaken one’s own forces, to disarm the proletariat bolh materially and ideologically. It means to do precisely what the Social Democracy did in Germany, where its support of the democratic Weimar government prepared the way for Hitler. Bourgeois Democracy and Fascism It is of course true that the question of what “kind” of bourgeois dictatorship – democratic or fascist – is not indifferent to the proletariat (as Pieck stated in his opening address). But what the proletariat is interested in keeping or gaining is not bourgeois democracy as against fascism, but certain of the rights which the proletariat still has under democracy and loses under fascism. However, the democratic rights themselves, when threatened by Fascism in the era of the decline of capitalism, can be kept only by a revolutionary struggle, only, that is, by the overthrow of bourgeois class rule in whatever form it appears, and the establishment of workers’ rule. Bourgeois democracy, left to itself, “defended” by the proletariat, necessarily is transformed by finance-capital to fascism; and thus the defense of bourgeois democracy, far from protecting democratic rights, is the sure way to guarantee the victory of fascism, and the concomitant loss of actual democratic rights. The only defense of democratic” rights in the present era is the revolutionary struggle for socialism.

Thus the C. I. doctrine can serve only to weaken, disarm, and disorient the proletariat, to prevent the real struggle against fascism.

2. The United Front is of course an indispensable tactic in the revolutionary struggle. But the United Front must be aggressive, militant, fighting, an instrument by which the revolutionary party gains leadership over the masses, joins the working masses in common action, with no sacrifice of program or principle. On occasion, the United Front can even include, as subordinate allies under working class leadership, sections of other glasses. But the C.I., after sabotaging throughout the Third Period every kind of United Front, now reverses itself to sanction a United Front policy even more disastrous than no policy a,t all. “The proletarian United front and the antifascist People’s Front are closely connected with each other by living dialectics,” says Dimitroff, “and the development is from one to the other.” This theme is repeated in 50 speeches at the Congress – e.g. Lenski: “The immediate perspective in Poland is the broadest People’s Front becoming a decisive factor in the maturing revolutionary crisis ...”

What is this People’s Front, which is to include “all anti-fascist elements”? It is the logical development of the C.I. conception of a proletarian United Front as carried out, for example, in France. The United Front is, for the C.I., to be purely negative and defensive in character – against war and fascism, in defense of – bourgeois democracy against fascism. The united front represents not a fighting structure for common struggle in action, but a capitulation to social-democratic reformism. Consequently it is only natural that the United Front can “broaden out” into a People’s Front including Daladier and the others, whose “anti-fascist” character is shown in their rapid efforts to hide whenever they smell a fascist.

The “People’s Government”

3. To complete the picture: The defense of democracy and the People’s Front both, again quite logically, lead to – support of or entry into a “People’s government” or a “united anti-Fascist government.” Upton Sinclair himself would feel at home at many of the sessions of the Seventh Congress. A government of the new Labor Party in the U.S.; affiliation with the British Labor Party in Great Britain (cf. speeches of Foster, Browder, Dutt, Pollitt); Florin “favors the slogan: Give us a government of the anti-fascist People’s Front” (Daily Worker, Aug. 7); Gorkitch will support the Macek government; and Dimitroff, “great helmsman of the Comintern,” sums up “the new realism”: “... a renunciation of the formation or support of the government of the united front or People’s Front would be impermissible pedantism.” Dimitroff’s dialectics go further. In fascist countries, “where a bourgeois-democratic revolution develops, a people’s front government can become the government of a democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants.” And the latter, no doubt, a workers’ dictatorship, and so to socialism in two countries. And the whole process, mind you, by dialectic evolution, without the painful tasks of revolutionary class struggle.

What wonder, then, that we shall be asked to support the next imperialist war? Do not Dimitroff and the others prove to us that support of democratic France and England and Czechoslovakia is the high road to socialism?

And what wonder, then, that so often during the Congress there is mention of organic unity with the Social Democracy? Kautsky himself went no further from Lenin on the key question of the state, on the key slogan, “Class against class”; and it was here that there arose the dividing line that called for the formation of the new party and the new international – the Leninist International. The Seventh Congress turns back, back to Kautsky and his fellow renegades. There is no longer any real obstacle in basic principle to keep Social Democracy and Stalinism apart.


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