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Nigel Harris

Communist summit: slogans and petty nationalism
in place of a world class alliance

Keep off my patch – the Moscow brand
of ‘internationalism’

(26 June 1969)

From Socialist Worker, No. 128, 26 June 1969, pp. 2–3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DELEGATES OF 75 Communist Parties have been meeting in Moscow. The last such conference – of 81 parties – was held in 1960.

That was the last time when the divisions within the Communist movement still permitted all the parties to meet together.

Since 1960, the public split between Russia and China has made it possible for many other parties to develop political positions in opposition to Moscow’s. As a result, the Russians have had the greatest difficulty in calling another conference. and it has taken five years of sporadic negotiations (including two postponements) to achieve it.

Russia would clearly not permit China to attend, and China would not agree to do so. Therefore automatically a number of other parties would not attend, not because they agree with China but because they do not want to agree with Russia.

Thus, the ‘75 Communist Parties’ is a little misleading. Many of the 75 are of no importance, except in Moscow’s propaganda, or if the Russians want an ‘independent’ spokesman for their views, or to get a majority vote through.

In practice, Moscow chooses to rely on orthodox diplomacy to achieve its foreign policy ends rather than local Communists.

At the conference, one must rather look to see which are the important parties. In Europe, Moscow can rely on its loyalists – pre-eminently East Germany and Bulgaria, with Poland; Hungary, with more reservations; Czechoslovakia, by courtesy of the Russian army.

It could not rely on Rumania, but the Rumanians did come to the conference. Albania, China’s closest ally, was of course absent.

The Italian and French parties were there, but critically. In Asia, the only loyalist is satellite Mongolia.

All the other governing parties – China, North Korea, and the centrepiece of Moscow’s revolutionary rhetoric, North Vietnam – stayed away. So also did the important Japanese party, and most of the south-east Asian parties.

And from India came only the right-wing Dange group. From Latin America, the Chileans came, but the much more important Cubans sent only an observer.

In terms of numbers, the conference may even have represented a minority of Communists. But the breakup of the unity of the Communists, originally embodied in the Communist International (Comintern), is not simply a conflict between different national parties.

The Cold War supplied the cement which most recently held the alliance together, and it also held in place loyal Stalinist leaderships in each individual party. But now, just as the relationship between Moscow and each party has changed, so also have the relationships within each party.

Some parties have split – into three fragments in India and Japan, or into two, in Finland or Norway. In others, despite losses, a centrist leadership has been able to hold different factions together by political balancing acts.


Take for example, the French Communist Party, uneasily marooned between ‘liberal’ (or social democratic) groups and a strongly entrenched Stalinist faction. The first prompted the party to condemn the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia; the second neutralised much of the condemnation by following the Russian criticisms of Duhceck’s policies.

Even the governing party in Rumania seems divided between a more and a less ‘national communist’ faction.

Thus, at the conference, there could be no simple alignments. Only by default could the issue become nationalism versus Moscow’s ‘internationalism’, independence versus unity on Moscow’s terms.

By default, the cause of national independence from Russian foreign policy brings into temporary collaboration parties pursuing quite contradictory strategies – the Chinese Maoists, the Dubcekite Czechs, the Rumanian Stalinists, the Italian social democrats.

Even that stronghold of Chinese ‘dogmatism’, Albania is now prepared to defend the arch-revisionist, Yugoslavia, against Russia.

But the alliance is necessarily temporary. Neither internationally nor at the Moscow conference could there be a real political alliance in opposition to Moscow, not even one of the ‘non-aligned’ as between Russia and China. This disunity within the opposition obviously gives Russia its trump card.

With such diversity, the minimum level of agreement inevitably became either platitude (we must all unite against imperialism) or reactionary (the defence of the existing frontiers of the Soviet Union is the mark of a true proletarian socialist).

If the press reports are to be believed, not one delegate presented to the conference the case for proletarian internationalism and offered the concrete tasks which flow from it for 1969. For the Russians, ‘internationalism’ means ‘support of the existing socialist society by all fraternal parties’ (Brezhnev, June 7), which, unwrapped, means defence of the Soviet Union against, for example, China.


For Rumania’s Ceaucescu, ‘internationalism’ means the essentially bourgeois principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of another state. Ironically, Husak, the new trendy Stalinist of Czechoslovakia, trumped Ceausescu by declaring that to discuss the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia (as all the rebels wanted to do) constituted interference in the internal affairs of another party.

So for the rebels, the minimum platform possible came in affirming their absolute independence in formulating policy. Britain’s John Gollan dotted the ‘i’s with his unequivocal declaration: ‘Each party is sovereign. It alone, through its highest authority, its national congress, can decide its policy, its activities and its role’.

Few of the delegates can have remembered Lenin’s criticisms of the Second international and its failure to prevent war in 1914 precisely because each party was responsible only to itself.

As a result of this lack of any coherent socialist position, the conference seems to have neglected all the important issues. Certainly, John Gollan raised the issue cf the need for a unified struggle against the new ‘super corporation’ of capitalism, but it was only ‘an issue’, not the centrepiece

Underlying Gollan’s position is a commitment to the ultimate necessity of winning a parliamentary majority, and this is the centrepiece domestically. Zhivkov of Bulgaria went so far as to criticise some of the rebel parties for giving up the class struggle in favour of purely electoral strategies.

Gollan replied that ‘struggle’ was indeed the heart of the party’s strategy, but it must lead to an ultimate Parliamentary majority. Unfortunately, the ‘ultimate’ tends to dictate how the present ‘struggle’ is seen and fought

But parliamentary politics means also that the Moscow conference is a conventional foreign policy assembly, rather than a meeting of a class alliance. Issues such as Moscow’s hysterical chauvinism over the Chinese island of Chenpao loom much larger than the interests of the proletariat.

And when they do. Communists lose their class bearings so that both Stalinist Russia and Dubcek’s managerial market economy become possible runners as the model for socialism.

Of course, socialists cannot say ‘a plague on all your houses’. We must support the right of national self-determination against Russian oppression, but – unlike some of the rebel Communist Parties – we cannot see this as the same as the struggle for socialism.


Concretely, the conference will assist Moscow’s image. Despite the reservations and qualifications, the Russians will be able to present their policies as having been sanctioned by the movement.

The Russians did get in a verbal condemnation of China, and did present a discussion of Czechoslovakia.

More specifically, the conference is pledged to a day of protest against the Vietnam war on July 20. The day is unfortunate, since it is the anniversary of the signing of the Geneva agreernents when North Vietnam was sold out by Russia and China. Even so, as a gesture of opposition to the war it is feeble, amazingly too little and too late.

The conference has achieved little of interest to socialists. It has been a holding operation in the Sino-Soviet dispute, and has incidentally underlined the absence of reliable Russian supporters throughout Asia.

Nothing will change in terms of the individual Communist Parties. There is, it seems, nothing for them to be ‘international’ about, except slogans.

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Last updated: 15 January 2021