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Maurice Spector

The Cult of the ‘Third Period’

(September 1929)

From The Militant, Vol. II No. 14, 15 September 1929, p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The “cloud by day and pillar of fire by night” that the Stalin E.C.C.I. conjures up to shield its disastrous ultra-left zig-zag, is the so-called “Third Period” invented in the theses of the Comintern Congress last July. Now in every Daily Worker contribution to the fraudulent “enlightenment campaign” this “third period” is invoked with deadly monotony as the latest all-sufficient, all-hallowing fetish before which the credulous party member must make the sign of the cross.

Insight into the motives for the invention of the “Third Period” may be gained from the study of a not dissimilar manoeuvre executed by the Zinoviev-Stalin leadership at the Fifth Congress (1924) at the beginning of the present crisis in the Soviet Union and the International. The German revolutionary situation of 1923 precipitated by the occupation of the Ruhr and economic collapse, the most favorable opportunity for the workers’ conquest of political power since the Russian, was lost not only by the impotent Brandler-Thalheimer strategy but the no less feeble direction of the E.C.C.I. Zinoviev repeated the laisser-faire policy that disgraced him in the crucial test of 1917. The sagacious Stalin advocated allowing the Fascisti to get power first! Following the debacle, the bureaucratic Zinoviev-Stalin bloc dominating the E.C.C.I. had to salvage their papal infallibility in the Comintern at all costs, particularly as they were entrenching themselves for the thermidorian falsification of the legacy of Lenin under the guise of a crusade against “trotskyism”. The slogan that was invented for this purpose was “Bolshevization”, ostensibly aimed at social-democratic traditions in the communist parties.

The Fifth Congress

The Fifth Congress was accordingly fixed up to look very “left” The E.C.C.I. proceeded to throw the blame for all that had gone wrong on the German leadership, on the objective situation, on the Russian Opposition, on the form of party organization, on everybody and anything but itself. The ultra-lefts whom Zinoviev had long patronized in, reserve displaced the Brandlers and Thalheimers. “Give us fifty such as Maslow,” said Stalin in a session of the International Control Commission, “and we will have no more anxiety on the score of the German Revolution”. The chameleon Varga, taking on protective coloration, helped Zinoviev to furnish the Congress with a suitably misleading estimate of the world situation. The significance of American intervention for the stabilization of Europe, for the revival of social-democracy, and as a source of future revolutionary upheavals, was completely missed. Armed insurrection was retained on the agenda as an immediate prospect and the putsch in Esthonia was a subsequent by-product.

But the “left course” did not endure very long. Like a bolt from the blue to the Congress itself, came the announcement that the Russian unions were negotiating a bloc with the British General Council for international trade union unity and resistance to the war danger. This orientation on unity with the Amsterdam bureaucracy was the entering wedge of the series of opportunist acts which was the yielding of the Right-Center bloc in the Russian party to the increasing pressure of outside capitalist stabilization and the internal pressure of the kulak, nepman and bureaucrat. At a time when the stabilization was again showing its weaknesses in Great Britain, when the revolution was developing in China, and a new stage of struggle between capitalist and socialist elements was opening in the Soviet Union, Stalin promulgated the slogan “Fire to the Left”, formulated the theory of “socialism in one country” with its implication of capitalist stabilization for decades, and came into sharp conflict with the Leningrad Opposition headed by the left centrist Zinoviev at the Fourteenth Party Congress (1925). The swing to the right of the Marxist line in the Russian party was thereupon automatically effected in the whole International. By means of such dishonest expedients as the Open Letter to the German Party, the Fisher-Maslow leadership was eliminated to cut the Leningrad Opposition off from a base in Western Europe, and the E.C.C.I. so unanimously elected at the Fifth Congress was bureaucratically re-constructed in the image of Stalin at successive plenums without mandate from any Congress and in violation of the statutes.

Juggling with “Periods”

Four years elapsed between the Fifth and Sixth Congresses, during which time the re-vamped E.C.C.I. was the obedient instrument and rubber-stamp of the ruling Right-Center (Rykov-Bucharin-Stalin) bloc. We have seen how the analysis of the international situation was made at the Fifth Congress to suit factional ends. This procedure was repeated at the Sixth Congress four years later, when Bucharin and Stalin did their juggling with the “periods”. The official Communist International (Vol. VI No. 9–10) recently smuggled in an editorial admission that “in 1926–7 ... on the basis of the partial stabilization of capitalism, a revolutionary crisis developed in the far West and East”. This is what the Communist Opposition, of course, said in those years when it was most important to say it. But for transparent reasons the theses of the Sixth Congress (1928) define the interval between the Fifth and Sixth Congresses, inclusive of 1926–7, the “second period of the post-war capitalism”, in a way to suggest that it was not a period of revolutionary possibilities. In the re-capitulation of the attributes of this “second period”, its architects conveniently “forget” to mention the facts of the Chinese Revolution, the British General Strike and the Viennese uprising. It is merely spoken of as a period of “relative stabilization, defensive struggles of the workers, successful socialist construction in the U.S.S.R. growing political influence of the Communist Parties, and inner consolidation of the Comintern.” Nine-tenths of this characterization is falsehood and the remaining tenth needs qualification.

The method of optimistic lying to maintain the prestige of the leadership and keep up the “morale” of the home populace is not Marxist but was habitually resorted to by the general staffs in their communiques during the late world war. The history of the “second period” was falsified to stifle discussion and prevent the heavy accounting that otherwise Stalin and Bucharin would have had to render. They would have had to explain why they failed to give the correct bolshevik leadership that would have utilized the revolutionary possibilities of this period to develop offensives for the overthrow of the stabilization. They would have had to admit that they displayed no revolutionary initiative but pursued such right wing and centrist policies that objectively helped to strengthen capitalism, that they staked nearly all on the Kuomintang bourgeoisie, undermined the independence of the Chinese Communist Party, and opposed the propagation of the Soviets. They would have been found guilty of transforming the British Communist Party and the Minority movement into adjuncts of the British General Council, incapable of offering any substantial resistance to the betrayal of the General Strike. Under the shadow of their regime, the Viennese uprising found the Communist Party helpless and bewildered, the Sacco-Vanzetti demonstrations developed really outside the orbit of the Comintern influence, the French Party after heroic proclamations against the American Legion, turned tail and retired for polite demonstration to a Parisian suburb and the Red Day organized by the Czech Party against Fascism was turned into a farce by the passivity of the leadership.

The extension of the political influence of the Communist parties and their inner consolidation during this period are equally myths. The machine man Piatnitski’s brochure Organization of the World Party establishes for the critical reader that the membership of nearly every communist party declined, as did their trade union influence, press circulation and political activity of the nuclei. The membership of the American Party, it may be recalled, fell from 16,325 in 1925 to 7,277 in 1928. The proceedings of the Sixth Congress will show that every “monolithic” party was rent by violent factional struggles that resulted in fresh splits in Czecho-Slovakia, the United States, Germany in addition to those which had already taken place in France, Holland, Belgium and the Soviet Union. The authors of the “second” and “third” periods equally misrepresent the real situation in the Soviet Union, where under their regime the growth of the restorationist elements culminated in a bloodless uprising of the Kulaks creating the grain crisis of 1927–8, and they omit to record the unparalleled development of bureaucracy in party and state apparatus.


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