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Sam Adams

Stalin Dissolves the Comintern

The Climax of Nationalist Degeneration

(June 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 6, June 1943, pp. 164–168.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The formal decision of the Presidium of the Communist International to dissolve that organization which, from the point of view of revolutionary internationalism, has long been dead, brings to mind a speech by Stalin at the Sverdloff University on June 9, 1925, in which he warned of the dangers of nationalist degeneration. Stalin prepared a reply to a number of written questions drawn up by the students of the university. Coming in the midst of the struggle with the Russian Left Opposition, these questions naturally concerned matters of domestic and international policy. For the first time, the theory of “socialism in one country” was formally introduced into the Russian party and the International.

The answers made by Stalin are interesting for several reasons. They disclose his evolution as a confused theoretician and thinker inside a degenerating revolutionary party, to the leader of a new type of state and class power. They reveal that this degeneration did not take place at once, but continued for a number of years in which the characteristic line is a zigzag from left adventurism to opportunism. The end result has been a complete counter-revolutionary degeneration. The characteristics of this counter-revolutionary development are unusual, for the background to this new political phenomenon arising out of the working class movement is the Revolution of 1917. They show that Stalin himself was quite unaware of the final results of his empirical policies, his rejection of theory and principle, and his rôle as the personification of the powerful Russian bureaucracy.

The students at Sverdloff put the following question to the general secretary: If the stabilization of capitalism should last for a long time, by what degenerations will our party be threatened? The question was obviously a natural response to the charges levelled against the epigone leadership by the Left Opposition in their struggle against the new nationalist theory introduced into the movement. Stalin’s reply is extremely interesting both in the way it aptly discloses the bases for nationalist degeneration and the inauguration of a new policy – the one which has been in effect for some years, epitomized by the recent decision to dissolve the Comintern. He said:

Does any such danger of degeneration exist?

The danger is, or, rather, the dangers are, real enough, and they exist quite independently of the stabilization of capitalism. The stabilization of capitalism makes them more tangible, that’s all. In my view there are three main dangers to reckon with:

a) The danger of losing sight of the socialist goal which is the aim of all the work of reconstruction in our country; this danger, therefore, is an intensification of the tendency to relinquish the conquests of the revolution.

b) The danger of losing sight of the international revolutionary goal – the danger of a short-sighted nationalism.

c) The danger that the party may lose its position as leader and, therewith, the possibility of the party becoming no more than a tailpiece to the state apparatus.

It would be of immense interest and importance to discuss all three dangers outlined by Stalin. But for the present discussion it is important only to be concerned with the second danger in this trinity. It must be remembered that in this discussion of nationalist degeneration, he was at the same time the advocate of a national socialist state. Yet, with seeming acuteness, he stated in reference to the second danger:

The distinguishing marks of this danger are a lack of trust in the international proletarian revolution; a lack of faith in its victory; the adoption of a skeptical attitude toward the liberationist movements in the colonial and vassal lands; the failure to understand that, in default of the support of the world-wide revolutionary movement, our country cannot make an effective stand against world imperialism ... to understand that the victory of socialism in one land alone cannot be an end in itself, but is merely a means which can be utilized for the development and growth of the revolutionary movement in other lands.

Should we follow this road, we should land ourselves in a quagmire of nationalism, degeneration and the complete surrender of the international policy of the proletariat. Those who are attacked by this sickness look upon our country not as part of a whole which goes by the name of “the international revolutionary movement,” but as the alpha and omega of this movement. Such folk imagine that the interest of all other countries should be sacrificed to the interests of our country.

In view of the developments in world politics in the last decades these remarks by Stalin sound like a grim joke. But let us get on. The “genial” general secretary continues:

Now it is abundantly clear that the first proletarian state can retain its position of standard bearer of the international revolutionary movement only on condition that it retains a consistently internationalist outlook and promulgates the foreign policy of the October Revolution. It is equally obvious that the adoption of the line of least resistance and of a nationalistic viewpoint in the domain of foreign affairs will lead to the isolation and decay of the country where the proletarian revolution gained its first victory.

Thus we see that the lack of an international revolutionary outlook threatens us with nationalism and with dissolution.

Thus Stalin in 1925; an utterly different man, a man still living close to the years of the victorious revolution. Lenin had died only a short time before. The internationalist character of the revolution was still fresh in the minds of millions. Stalin has already prepared the doom of the Soviet state, but he still speaks the language of a partial internationalist; he still remembers some of the most obvious of Lenin’s lessons. Eighteen years later, the final danger of which he spoke were something which had occurred. Hardly a single vestige remains of the heroic revolutionary period of 1917–24.

* * *

Of course, there are much better sources for understanding the inner significance of internationalism and the specific place of the Russian Revolution and the Communist International in history. We were prompted to go to Stalin, in order to show that even this source was fully aware, at least verbally, of the danger of national degeneration. The dire forecasts contained in his address have become the reality; its significance lies in the fact that he who warned of this degeneration has himself become the apostle of the new nationalism which has brought such ruin to the former Soviet Union and such distress to the once glorious Comintern and the international working class.

The theoretical premises contained in the statement of the erstwhile Presidium are themselves of no great importance. What else could these little people say? They were given their orders; they carried them out. In order to dress up the dissolution in its proper “Marxistical” phraseology, we were given a miserable attempt at historical references to antecedent experiences of the First and Second Internationals. So we are told that the First and Second Internationals were born, developed and died. Conditions brought about the formation of these bodies; conditions compelled their dissolution. Thus the present misleaders of Stalin’s international were merely following historical precedent. We shall return to this soon enough. First, however, let us consider the question of the action. What does it actually mean? Why did Stalin do it now?

The Degeneration of the Comintern

As an international of revolutionary socialism, the Comintern has been dead a long time. The International ceased to be that the moment that the doctrine of socialism in one country became its main theoretical premise. The degeneration, however, did not follow a single downward curve; it was a zig-zag development, itself expressive of the contradictions inherent in an international dominated by a single party which had state power and which traveled the road of nationalism and opportunism. Its primary function has been as an agency of the Russian Foreign Office, as an adjunct of Stalin’s GPU. It is therefore correct to say that in reality nothing has been changed by the decision: the sections of the CI will continue to function as before.

Two obstacles lay in the path of the Stalinist betrayers: The Russian Left Opposition and the Bucharinist Right Opposition. Employing the reserves of the latter against the Left Opposition, Stalin took the offensive in the new civil war fought on Russian soil to determine whether the rising new class power would prevail over the internationalists. Having defeated the Left Opposition, Stalin next turned against the Right. In each of these struggles, the new bureaucratic power swayed left and right, depending upon the economic and political needs of the moment.

Within the period of these struggles, the Comintern had experienced a series of catastrophic defeats. Beginning with Germany in 1923, the “organizers of defeat” led the international from disaster to disaster: England, China, and the Third Period. Each defeat served to push further into the background the revolutionary elements and the revolutionary élan of the movement; conversely, it strengthened the revisionist and counter-revolutionary direction.

Stalin, it has been said, always regarded the Communist International as an expensive luxury. Quite obviously this had no bearing on the international under his domination. The international which Stalin regarded with disfavor was the Comintern under Lenin and Trotsky. His Comintern was an indispensable weapon for the defense of his new state. Stalin’s Russia, as a non-capitalist state, could not meet the competition of world imperialism with weapons which are peculiarly adaptable to the needs of the bourgeois powers. Military power to offset the danger of intervention was insufficient, because Russia could not hope to cope with a united capitalist attack. Foreign policy in Russia was dictated by the necessity to maintain peace, to balance off the powers, one against the other, or to make an alliance with the strongest nation or group of imperialists. At the same time, in case none of these alternatives succeeded, Stalin would be able to use his trump card, the sections of the Comintern which were completely subservient to him, and prepared to carry out any and all policies emanating from the Kremlin. In the meantime, the Comintern parties were usefully employed in propagating the aims of the Foreign Office.

Hitler’s victory in Germany, guaranteed by the policies forced on the German Communist Party, impelled the adoption of the policy of collective security. Collective security thenceforth became the main political agitational activity of the international. Collective security, the Stalinists insisted, would secure peace. Reckoning on the failure of this policy, however, Russian diplomacy was busily engaged in seeking to obtain advantageous political and military alliances. The signing of pacts with the various powers was integral to the main foreign policy. The mounting danger of war found Russia traveling from a military alliance with France and Czechoslovakia to the Hitler-Stalin pact. Between these two poles of diplomatic achievement, Russia was near a military alliance with the Allies. Lack of faith in the prospect of the Allies in the war led to the pact with Hitler, which in turn gave the signal for the war to begin. In this way, Stalin had hoped to ward off involvement in the conflict while the imperialist powers wore themselves out in a fruitless endeavor to destroy each other. But Stalin miscalculated. When the German general staff concluded that it was impossible to storm and take the British Isles, the attack on Russia was a certainty.

During the hey-day of the alliance with fascism, Stalin embarked on his expansionist program. In rapid succession we had the division of Poland, the seizure of the Baltic countries and the war with Finland. When the Wehrmacht crossed the Russian borders, that phase of Russian diplomacy ended (in defeat) and a new one commenced. This time Stalin turned to a complete military and political alliance with Allied imperialism.

Effects of the Decision

The “dissolution” of the Comintern becomes more understandable with the foregoing background. As long as Stalin held hands with the brown-shirted murderers, the Comintern served a useful function. It must be remembered that no parties existed in the Axis countries – at best there were only the phalanxes of the GPU. Stalinist parties, however, were to be found in almost every country making up the United Nations. Their strength and influence was not great, but they had tremendous nuisance value and did, in fact, cause considerable embarrassment to the Allied war effort before Russia became a full-fledged member of the alliance. Thus, while the Stalintern had a useful job to perform in the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact, the situation was considerably altered by the logic of the war.

For Stalin, the formal dissolution of the Comintern was a cheap price to pay to the Allies for the considerable aid given him to prosecute the war on its main front. Self-interest controls the conduct of all the members of the Allied camp. Keeping Russia in the war is absolutely indispensable to the United States and Great Britain. Obtaining material aid and the opening of other fronts is the only way to take the pressure off Stalin’s army. Thus the national interests of these powers dictates the policy of mutual aid.

The decision on the Comintern was therefore no loss to Stalin. On the contrary, it was of considerable gain. Since there were no organizations in the Axis countries, the decision could in no way affect events in this quarter. But he likewise has nothing to fear from the formal action as it affects matters in the Allied countries. First of all, the parties, after a decade and more of conditioning, will remain the devoted and obedient servants of the Kremlin, no matter what formal decision is taken in Moscow. Secondly, the policies of the parties are in complete accord with the needs of Stalin and they are in complete conformity with the essential interests of the bourgeois states. In a real sense, then, nothing has been changed by the decision – the commentators from all camps notwithstanding.

The Stalinist parties have received another slight impetus in their current nationalist degeneration, in pursuit of their chauvinist and strike-breaking rôles. They remain the worst enemies of the world proletariat.

* * *

The most crucial question involved in the decision of the Presidium is proletarian internationalism. When we say that nothing has been fundamentally changed by the Kremlin action, we merely mean that its formal action will not alter the fact that Stalin will continue to control his parties, which remain consistently subservient to his interests. The need for the recreation of the Socialist International, however, has been with us for a long time. It would be foolish to say that the existence of Stalinism has not hurt the idea of internationalism; it would be just as foolish to believe that the decision of the Presidium is not another blow against this same tenet of Marxism

For example, in its decision, the epigone Presidium presented the following “theoretical” argumentation for the dissolution:

But long before the war it had already become increasingly clear that to the extent that the internal as well as the international situation of the individual countries became more complicated, the solution of the problems of the labor movement of each individual country through the medium of some international center would meet insuperable obstacles.

The deep difference in the historical roads of development of each country of the world; the diverse character and even the contradiction in their social orders; the difference in level and rate of their social and political development, and finally the difference in the degree of consciousness and organization of the workers, conditioned also the various problems which face the working class of each individual country.

The entire course of events for the past quarter of a century, as well as the accumulated experiences of the Communist International, have convincingly proved that the organizational form for uniting the workers as chosen by the First Congress of the Communist International, and which corresponded to the needs of the initial period of the rebirth of the labor movement, more and more outlived itself in proportion to the growth of this movement and to the increasing complexity of problems in each country; and that this form even became a hindrance to the further strengthening of the national workers’ parties.

Using the “language” of Marxism, the bureaucrats dress up their lies with the cloak of false objectivity and logic. But it is a lie nevertheless. It is only necessary to recall the history of the formation of the Third International to expose this new falsification. At its founding Congress, the Communist International clearly stipulated the reasons for its formation. It was based on world conditions not unlike the present. The “internal as well as the international situation of the individual countries” was “complicated,” and “the solution of the problems of the labor movement of each individual country through the medium of some international center ... (met) insuperable obstacles.”

At the same time there also existed a “deep difference in the historical road of development of each country of the world.” Their characters were “diverse” and even their social orders were “contradictory.” The Comintern of Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Rakovsky and Bucharin understood that capitalism developed “unevenly,” that the degree of class consciousness and class organization of the workers in all countries were different and that their problems were different.

In his explanation of the formation of the Communist International, Lenin wrote:

The Third International was in reality created in 1918, after the protracted struggle with opportunism, and “social chauvinism,” especially during the war, had resulted in the formation of a Communist Party in various countries. The formal recognition of the international dates from the first congress of its members held in Moscow in March 1919. The most prominent feature of the Third International, namely, its mission to carry out the principles of Marxism and to realize the ideals of socialism and the labor movement, manifested itself immediately in that this “third international association of working men” has to a certain extent become identical with the League of Socialist “Soviet” Republics.

As if in anticipation of the present decision of the Presidium of the Comintern, Lenin wrote:

Any Marxist, nay, anyone conversant with modern science, if asked whether he believed in the probability of a uniform, harmonious and perfectly-proportioned transition o£ various capitalist countries to the dictatorship of the proletariat, would undoubtedly answer that question in the negative. In the capitalist world there had never been any room for uniformity, harmony and perfect proportions. Every country has brought into prominence now one, then another, feature or features of capitalism, and of the labor movement. The rate of development has been varied.

In the early years of the Communist International, this was the prevailing theory. Difficulties of communication, objective difficulties of functioning, uneven development of capitalist countries, different tactics for different parties, varying rates in the growth and activities of the national parties, had nothing whatever to do with the necessity for the existence of the international organization of the revolutionary socialists of the world. It only stressed the nature of the problems which had to be overcome, and the general difficulty of ushering in the new society of genuine freedom and security for the whole of mankind.

These concepts hold true to this very day and will remain true until the final triumph of socialism.

* * *

In his criticism of the draft program of the Communist International adopted at the Sixth Congress in 1928, Trotsky spoke of the historical place of the three internationals. He wrote:

The basic principles of revolutionary strategy were naturally formulated since the time when Marxism first put before the revolutionary parties of the proletariat the task of the conquest of power on the basis of the class struggle. The First International, however, succeeded in formulating these principles, properly speaking, only theoretically, and could test them only partially in the experience of various countries. The epoch of the Second International led to methods and views according to which, in the notorious expression of Bernstein, “the movement is everything, the ultimate goal nothing.” In other words, the strategical task disappeared, becoming dissolved in the day-to-day “movement” with its partial tactics devoted to the problems of the day. Only the Third International reestablished the rights of the revolutionary strategy of communism and completely subordinated the tactical methods to it. Thanks to the invaluable experience of the first two internationals, upon which shoulders the third rests, thanks to the revolutionary character of the present epoch and the colossal historic experience of the October Revolution, the strategy of the Third International immediately attained a full-blooded militancy and the widest historical scope.

In this analysis, Trotsky has only reechoed the thoughts contained in the Manifesto of the First Congress of the Communist International. That is, he maintained a strict adherence to the thoughts of the founders of the new world organization of which he was one of the initiating spirits. He closely paraphrased the analysis made by Lenin when the latter wrote:

The First International laid the basis for the international struggle of the proletariat for socialism.

The Second International marked a period of preparation, a period En which the soil was tilled with a view to the widest possible propagation of the movement in many of the countries ...

The importance of the Third Communist International in the world’s history is that it was the first to put into life the greatest of all Marx’s principles, the principle of summarizing the process of the development of the socialist and labor movement, and expressed in the words, the dictatorship of the proletariat [the democratic workers’ state – Editor].

There is an interesting parallel of historical events in the case of the Comintern. The First International, which had as its task the propagation of the theoretical principles of Marxian socialism, floundered in the crisis created by the Franco-Prussian War and the defeat of the Paris Commune. The International Workingmen’s Association, the arena in which the theoretical struggles within the labor movement were fought out, reached its climax when the objective events had made clear that the international had outlived any further usefulness to the workers. And Marx and Engels did not hesitate to adopt a decision that led to its inevitable dissolution. While they had overestimated the rate of development of the revolutionary mass movement, they were certain that the future of capitalism must give rise to conditions demanding the recreation of an international proletarian organization.

The capitalist crisis which served as a background to the dissolution of the First International was a crisis of growth. It preceded the imperialist rise in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. The growth of mass production was accompanied by the rapid development of the national labor and socialist organizations throughout Europe and thus the reestablishment of the international was guaranteed. This body enjoyed an enormous growth and influence, but developing in the “Victorian” era of capitalist growth, it bent before the pressures of opportunism and adaptation. Moreover, it never really embraced the internationalist doctrine of Marxism. When the crisis of the imperialist war of 1914 came, the Second International broke like a reed in the wind. The national parties of this great body rallied to the support of their respective ruling classes. The collapse of internationalism led to its death – not its formal organizational, or even political, death – as the international of the working class. It remained in existence, and does to this day, but its functions are not unlike those of a decade or two ago: a left prop of dying capitalism. In the post-war period, when the struggle of the classes gave abundant evidence that capitalism might be finally destroyed, when the question of state power was posed, social democracy entered into the service of imperialism for the purpose of maintaining its existence and rule.

The war was the life and death problem for the Second International. In this case, a formal adherence to the idea of internationalism was insufficient to ward off the influence of national chauvinism. The international succumbed to the virus of nationalism. Capitalist growth militated against integration of the national parties into a genuine world organization in which the interests of the international working class would be regarded paramount to the interests of any national party. This historical parallel is continued in the case of the Communist International.

The Communist International was born out of the conditions created by the First World War, the victory of the October Revolution and the chaos of the post-war period. In its unequivocal acceptance of the theory, practice and spirit of Marxism, it reacted violently to the nationalist degeneration of the Second International. Internationalism was the great spirit which emanated from the Comintern. It was fortified by Lenin’s incessant hammering that under no circumstances was it permissible for the international to deviate from this unchangeable principle. That is why he always emphasized the international character of the Russian Revolution, continually stressing the point that if the international working class did not come to its aid, the new Soviet state would perish, either by the assault of imperialism, or by nationalist degeneration.

Lenin’s fear, alas, did come true. The Soviet state did perish, not as a result of the direct assault of imperialism, but by nationalist degeneration which began with the adoption of the theory of socialism in a single country. If this process of degeneration and decay has taken a long time, it is to be explained by the peculiar state of international relations and the relationship of class forces in Russia and the capitalist world. The Communist International was transformed from its position as the leader of the world working class to an appendage of Stalin’s regime a long time ago. But it has taken another war to disclose this fact to millions.

The present great task of the revolutionary socialists the world over is not unlike that of the internationalists in the war of 1914–18. It is to revive the spirit of socialist internationalism, to recreate the new, the Fourth International of socialism. The objective conditions for the realization of this goal are overripe. It is only necessary for the true Marxists to proceed with vigor against all the great obstacles which stand in their way. This task is the order of the day!

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