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Hugo Oehler

Bankruptcy at 12th Plenum

Theses Fail to Give a Reply to the Burning Questions of the Day

(October 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 44, 29 October 1932, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The thesis of the 12th Plenum of the ECCI, published in the Daily Worker of October 20th (City Edition) once more gives us an Inside picture of the bankruptcy of Stalinism. A resolution with more mistakes and with a greater number of meaningless revolutionary phrases is difficult to conceive of. A thesis of the vanguard of the revolution must present the determining factors of the world situation. The C.I. thesis gives more space to secondary questions, leaves out some determining factors and does not deal correctly with the important factors which are taken up.

A Communist thesis for 1932 even though it leaves out the fact the Communist International is itself going through a profound crisis under the Stalin leadership must at least give an answer to the following problems: (1) the world crisis and the perspective. (2) the danger of Fascism in Germany. (3) the role of American imperialism in the present period. (4) the invasion of China by Japanese imperialism (5) the position of the USSR after 15 years and the relation of its contradictions to the imperialist contradictions. From this analysis, directives for the sections of the C.I. must be formulated. The C.I. thesis does not take up these points in their proper relationship.

The third year of the world crisis has long ago passed beyond the economic stage, and has reached a stage of open conflict between the imperialists, in China, in South America; and in Spain and Germany where revolutionary situations developed out of the crisis. The C.I. thesis says that the crisis is moving to new low levels. It says the end of capitalist stabilization is at hand.

In 1928 the C.I. introduced the “Third Period”, as the end of stabilization and the beginning of a period of revolutionary upsurge. In 1930 the C.I. swung to the Right. That is, the theoreticians of the C.I. moved to the Right as the crisis was moving the workers to the Left. Now in 1932, the C.I. in the 12th Plenum informs us that “the end of capitalist stabilization” is at hand. Compared to the Right zig-zag of 1930 (which dropped the form of the “Third period” but which retained the kernel of the Left zig-zag) this seems to be a return to the 1928 Left zig-zag. However, facts prove the opposite: that the Left shell of the present move is a cloak for a new Rightward shift in the Soviet Union by Stalinism presented by the recent bureaucratic decrees, the expulsions of the 12th Plenum and the growth of the reactionary element.

If, as the thesis says, we are confronted with the end of the period of capitalist stabilization, we would like to know: was capitalism in a condition of stabilization for the last three years of the world crisis? A crisis itself is a condition of the shaking of the economic equilibrium. It is the economic explosion of the accumulation of the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. Further, if the “Third Period” of 1928 ushered in the end of stabilization and in 1932 we again have the end of stabilization, then it follows that stabilization existed in between. This is a contradiction the Stalinists do not examine.

To pose the question in the fourth year of the crisis as the end of the period of stabilization is to use phrases instead of analysis unless the “analysis” means that after three years of crisis the condition is to become worse for capitalism, that the semi-open conflicts are to break out into open imperialist wars and revolutions. However, we will show that the thesis speaks differently on this point. We will take this phase up later.

If we are now at the end of stabilization what would you call the period of the crisis just before, where we have had the invasion of China by Japan, the revolutions “between” the United States and Great Britain in South America, the Spanish revolution, the Indian situation and above all the danger of Fascism in Germany? Was this the characterization of stabilization?

To draw an analogy we can say that the “Third Period” designed the second period as a period of stabilization, from 1923 or 1921 to 1928. In this period of stabilization we had the British General strike, the Vienna uprising and the Chinese revolution. Following this second period came the third period of revolutionary upsurges. The C.I.’s guess was a miserable failure. But history does not repeat itself. We are on safer ground, not due to Stalinism, but due to the Left Opposition.

Ebbs and Flows in the Decay Stage

To talk constantly about the end of stabilization and revolutionary upsurge is to replace Marxian analysis with Stalinist phrases. The “beginning” of stabilization is just as dangerous for capitalism as the “end” of stabilization. Because this mechanical schema does not fit the facts of the dialectic stages and its cycle. Because the cycle of capitalism has reached the decay stage. The whole period is a period of wars and revolutions, but within this period there are ebbs and flows.

In this decay stage, favorable situations for the seizure of power will exist and have existed in the periods of ebbs as well as flows. A Marxist must present strategy for the party and the class in the decay stage, but this can only be done providing the ebbs and flows, that is, the general direction of the whole in the downward curve of decay capitalism, as well as the parts to the whole, are presented. In other words, the whole period is a period of revolutionary possibilities and in either periods of ebbs and flows within the whole period these revolutionary possibilities are transformed into realities. To take advantage of these realities means to know the direction, the ebb or flow, so that proper tactic can be formulated. This the Stalinists are failing to do and have failed to do.

What Is the Perspective?

After three years of crisis and depression what is the perspective? Are there still possibilities for ebbs and flows in the economy of capitalism, or will the whole future from now on be downward? On the contrary, ebbs and flows are ahead, but different kinds of ebbs and flows than we had in the growth stage of capitalism.

The reorganization and readjustments are proceeding not only in the United States but in other important links at the expense of the working class, the peasantry and the weaker section of the exploiters. The failure of the Stalinist leadership to take advantage of the favorable revolutionary situations since the 1923 German revolution as well as the present German situation has not only enabled the capitalist class to obtain a worthwhile breathing spell, but has weakened our forces.

Considering all these factors together, one cannot at this stage lay down a definite perspective of a worse condition as the only variant ahead, as the C.I. does. On the contrary, one possible variant, far from excluded, is the possibility of a short upturn. Not a return to prosperity or the end of capitalist stabilization, which was not stable for the last three years. It will be one of the brief flows in the downward curve of decay capitalism. This holds the upturn within definite limitations. Every process as well as every major stage, of birth, growth and decay has within it its ebbs and flows. Growth has its dynamic flows and difficult ebbs but decay has its turbulent flows and prolonged spasmodic ebbs.

A short upturn solves nothing for the workers – the way towards which the social reformer is looking and hoping. For the capitalist, it prepares the way for greater explosions or greater accumulations of contradictions.

Crises and depressions, unless transformed to deeper levels of revolutionary situations, always put the workers on the defense, drive them to lower standards and scatter their organized forces. Upturns have the opposite effects upon our class. Upturns release a certain economic pressure but at the same time usher in the workers into the new conditions with no economic gains, which means relatively worse conditons. The released pressure and worse conditions creates a contradiction, this time for the capitalists which drives the workers into the counter-offensive. Signs of this are already at hand in isolated examples especially the miners’ strike in Belgium and the miners’ strike in Illinois, embryonic signs but nevertheless signs.

Did Stalinism Forget America?

In considering the role of American imperialism this thesis seems to think that such an imperialism is of little importance in world politics. The proper elevation of the role of American imperialism, in a C.I. resolution today, must place it as the leading imperialist power of world capitalism, as the dominating economic power that has in the past and continues in the present to take the determining role in the struggle against the extension of the October revolution. The role of American imperialism, in Europe, in Asia, in South America as well as its relations to the Soviet Union must be an elementary consideration for a thesis that makes up the world problems of the vanguard.

The Main Danger in Germany

The danger of Fascism in Germany is not posed in its proper relationship. The resolution uses enough ink in speaking of Fascism and Germany but does not pull out the determining factor – THE DANGER OF FASCISM IN GERMANY. Instead, the thesis turns the problem upside down and tells us that the main enemy is the social democrats. It says, “Only by directing our main blows against social democracy, this social mainstay of the bourgeoisie.”

The thesis clings to the theory of “social-Fascism” and tells us most learned and wanted wisdom – that the bourgeoisie is the main enemy of the proletariat in Germany. This is not told to school children but to the vanguard of the proletariat. Abstract thinking is essential but there are times when abstract thinking and presentations become the worst enemy for advancing the workers cause. Or more often it is a cheap substitute for lack of knowledge as to what to do. The latter is the case with the Stalinists The danger of Fascism in Germany and its international historical importance is brushed over with meaningless phrases.

The Far East Conflict

The Manchurian situation is treated in an equal bankrupt fashion. The thesis says, “The chief hot-bed for breeding a new imperialist war is the Pacific.” “Japanese imperialism, in alliance with France and with the actual support of England, is converting Manchuria into its colony and has thus put the armed struggle for the partition of China and intervention against the USSR on the order of the day.” In this sentence the United States, which the thesis correctly says, “is pursuing its imperialist aims in the Far East” is put on the basis as struggling against a line-up of Japan “in alliance with France” and “actually supported by England.” This is not the line up in the Far East, even though interests ran parallel for a time.

All facts point to a much more complicated imperialist as well as Soviet Union problem. To pass this problem off in such a “simple” way and at the same time fail to show its relations to the danger of Fascism in Germany is to fail to present the contradictions of world capitalism in their proper relationship.

The Position of the Soviet Union

The question of the position of the Soviet Union is the most disgraceful part. To cover up our weak points, to hide from the world proletariat our true conditions, when the whole capitalist world knows these difficulties, is to lull to sleep the only class that will defend the Soviet Union, disarming them and helping the enemy. The thesis says referring to the Soviet Union, “That country has completely established itself in the position of socialism; the second five year plan provides for the final abolition of classes and the conversion of the whole toiling population of the country into active and conscious builders of a classless society.” The internal difficulties due to objective conditions of a backward country industrializing the country, with world capitalism fighting this industrialization, and the subjective difficulties of the wrong theory of socialism in one country, combined with the effects of the world crisis upon the Soviet Union, have placed our fatherland in a most difficult position. The policy of Stalinism is accelerating the difficulties.

Directives for the United States

The resolution ends by giving such directives in the coming period. With the end of capitalist stabilization the thesis gives the following directives for the United States. Even though we grant that the tempo toward revolutionary upsurge in the United States will be slower than the other countries the directives are inadequate and wrong for this period, for any period. They say, “For social insurance, against wage cuts, for immediate assistance for the unemployed. For equal rights for the Negroes and self-determination in the Black Belts. For assistance for the ruined farmers. For the defense of the Chinese people and the Soviet Union”.

The thesis, you will remember speaks of “the end of capitalist stabilization”, and “the development of the revolutionary upsurge and preparation for the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Not that the upsurge will be even, or everywhere at once, but that in the present period the general direction for the whole, is toward revolutionary upsurge. No sooner do they tell us this, when we are ready to prepare for action to fit this, that is action to fit the end of capitalist stabilization and revolutionary upsurge, than the fifth section of the thesis presents the directives. And here they are:

“The general task of the Comintern and its sections in the present period is to wage a concrete struggle: (1) Against the capitalist offensive. (2) Against Fascism and reaction. (3) Against the impending war and intervention in the Soviet Union.”

The directives contradict the first part of the thesis. The directives are DEFENSIVE struggles against the capitalists. If the first part is true: “the end of capitalist stabilization and revolutionary upsurge are ahead”, then the “general tasks” are not correct. And if the general tasks are correct for the coming period, defensive struggles, then the first part of the thesis is incorrect. There will be defensive struggles in the period of preparation for revolutionary upsurge, that is sure, but the general tasks, means to point to the main line of march and preparations.

The economic analysis of the Left Opposition of world capitalism, on the contrary, points to a period ahead where we must now inform the party and the class to prepare the battle-lines to transform the present and past several years of defensive struggles into offensive struggles of the proletariat against the capitalist. First for immediate demands to be developed with the tempo and to conform to the strength or weakness of the link to a higher stage of an offensive for the overthrow of the capitalist rule.

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