Alexander Vatlin

The Programme Discussion in the Communist International

Source: Revolutionary History, Volume 8, no 4; translated by Mike Jones from Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung 1998 (Berlin, 1998).

* * *

On 1 September 1928, Nikolai Bukharin, the Chairman of the Sixth Congress of the Communist International, announced amidst stormy ovations from the delegates the adoption of the Comintern’s programme. [1] This programme was intended to be the very quintessence of what constituted social theory on the eve of the final victory of the world proletarian revolution. Seven decades have passed, however, and the course of world history went in wholly other directions. The Communists had every reason to be ashamed of their programme and to allow it to sink without trace. On account of the obvious discrepancy between the aims and the results of the Comintern, political activists and researchers alike are reluctant to examine this angle of its history in more detail. [2]

This author does not set himself the task of illuminating the quest for theory by the ideologues of the international Communist movement in the time of its heroic decade - one would need to write a book on that. In the present text, we limit ourselves to attempting to describe the programme discussion within the general context of the evolution of the Comintern as ‘an institution previously unknown in the arena of international relations, which in its arsenal contained both global class themes and state-political interests as well as strategic war aims, and which was supported by various states’. [3]

The analysis of various aspects of the process in which the Comintern’s programme emerged helps us to understand the actual functional mechanisms of the organisation, the degree to which it influenced foreign Communists, and the framework through which it was dependent upon the will of the Bolshevik leadership. Behind the proposals of the participants in the discussion stood concrete political interests whose investigation is an important area of research for today’s scholar. The resolution of this investigation leads us again to the recognition of the main internal conflict within the Comintern throughout its history, an organisation whose reach stretched across the whole world whilst its feet stood firmly on Russian soil.

The Prehistory of the Programme Discussion.

After the heirs and interpreters of the Second International had declared that Marxism was not just a science, but also the one and only scientific world view, an increased attention to theoretical questions became the characteristic feature of the socialist labour movement. Party programmes had long existed, but only after the appearance of the Manifesto of the Communist Party did they go beyond the framework of election promises and journalistic pamphlets.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the theoretical baggage of the Second International reached a state of critical mass whose unforeseeable consequences resulted in the splintering of the previously monolithic socialist movement. The recognised leaders of the International, Karl Kautsky and Jean Jaurès, tried to impose a check on this process - though without success. The Mensheviks did not want to reunify with the Bolsheviks, nor did the ‘revisionists’ with the ‘orthodox’, or the ‘right’ with the ‘left’. The First World War proved to be a powerful catalyst for the differentiation of political ideas.

The seizure of power by the Russian Bolsheviks, who stood on the extreme left wing of the International, produced the collapse. The Bolsheviks hid neither their hatred of the ‘social traitors’, nor their aim of organising the International anew, cleansed of its hated opportunism. [4] The utter impossibility of ‘peaceful coexistence’ amongst the three socialist Internationals in the early 1920s demonstrated that this was a time of the sharpest ideological struggle for the opinion and the vote of the European worker - a struggle in which nobody was prepared to compromise.

The Communists put their hopes on proving that ‘the old capitalist “order” has ceased to function’ [5] - and this was also the basic tenor of the speeches on the new association of left-wing forces which the Russian Communist Party (RCP(B)) representative, Nikolai Bukharin, and the German Communist Hugo Eberlein gave at the First Congress of the Comintern. The submission of their theses was the first programmatic project of this organisation. [6] Here the attempt was made to ‘examine the capitalist system not just in its abstract form, but concretely in its character as world capitalism..., as something that is a single entity, as an economic whole’. [7]

The consideration of capitalism as a global system originated in the Marxist world outlook and was in itself nothing new. What was new was the idea produced under the impact of the First World War that unorganised capitalism had become capitalism based upon a state, and that the anarchy of capitalist production had shifted from the national to the global level. The manifesto written by Trotsky and approved by the congress defined the question in these words: ‘The only question is, what will be the vehicle of state-controlled production in the future: the imperialist state or the state of the victorious proletariat?’ [8] The thoughts of the Comintern’s creators were completely dominated by illusions in the existence of the necessary material preconditions of the new society. Moreover, these illusions soon became the absolute symbol of faith of every Communist, and consequently the search for theory was blocked for many decades. Trotsky continued to regard the manifestos he wrote for the First and Second Congresses as the basis for a ‘real’ Comintern programme. [9]

The lack of practical experience of those Communists of the ‘first hour’ led to the universalisation of the Bolshevik experiment, which subsequently became the Achilles’ heel of the entire Communist movement. Two weeks after the First Comintern Congress concluded, at the second session of the RCP(B), Bukharin stressed: ‘The programme of our party is to a high degree the programme of the international proletariat... Any revolution which follows after our revolution must learn from it.’ [10] This self-confidence was, in the first Comintern documents, a reflection of the aims of War Communism, and right to the end the Comintern never managed to free itself from this, even in the very last editing of its programme.

The first signs that the Comintern leaders were adopting a new way of looking at the world situation became apparent soon after the Bolsheviks initiated the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921. ‘Throughout the world, with the single exception of Russia, power continues to remain in the hands of the bourgeoisie... And now we are confronted in its full scope by the question: does development actually proceed even now in the direction of revolution?’, said Trotsky on 23 June 1921, and he drew a clear parallel with ‘our defeats and our disappointments’ in Russia. [11]

Trotsky’s speech at the Third Comintern Congress was like a cold shower, and it met with resistance from the foreign delegates. In the course of the discussion, the ‘Russian comrades’ were repeatedly accused of weariness, inattention and pessimism. The conflict over evaluating the ‘March Action’ added fuel to the flames. This was the armed uprising in Central Germany instigated by the German Communist Party on the advice of Moscow’s envoys. A series of older KPD leaders described the uprising as a putsch, and this led to the raising of fundamental questions over the infallibility of the ‘General Staff of the World Revolution’.

Having evaluated the situation, Lenin intervened bluntly against the leftist agitators on the eve of the congress by condemning the so-called theory of the offensive. Bukharin, however, fervently defended the leftist outlook, as did - somewhat reservedly - Zinoviev. According to Trotsky’s recollections, during the course of the congress ‘Lenin... assumed the initiative at that time to create the top nucleus of a new faction for the struggle against the ultra-leftists who were strong at that time. In our intimate conferences, Lenin flatly put the question of how to carry on the subsequent struggle should the Third World Congress adopt Bukharin’s viewpoint.’ [12]

An important moment of the congress was Karl Radek’s speech on tactics, in which he set out the Comintern’s new slogan: ‘We face the task of winning the broad masses to the ideas of Communism.’ [13] Here was posed for the first time the demand which would be indispensable in this context - the need to elaborate transitional slogans. Though these slogans clashed with the minimum programme of Social-Democracy, [14] they nevertheless stood in the tradition of the Second International.

The demand for transitional slogans in the Communist ideology of the early 1920s not only was a criterion of distinction between ‘left’ and ‘right’ in the Comintern, but also initiated the discussion of a programme. Up to that time, the need for the codification and systematic propagation of the Communists’ demands simply did not exist, as in the intoxication of the proletarian assault the attainment of the movement’s final aims seemed to be a matter of the near future. The ebbing of the revolutionary wave in the European countries, which the Comintern feared to recognise right up to the mid-1920s, signified a further crucial factor. In the epoch of the upsurge and the ‘immediate perspective’, the disagreements amongst the Bolshevik leaders did not disturb the collective work for the common cause. However, as the ‘tempo of the world revolution came to a standstill’ (as Trotsky put it) and the shining goal of Communism began to recede, the spirit of the theoretical ideological discussions of the cafés of the emigration returned to the Comintern and to the Politbureau of the Russian party.

The Work on the Programme at the Fourth and Fifth Congresses

The real discussion over the Comintern’s programme began in June 1922, when the Second Extended Plenum of the Comintern’s Executive Committee (ECCI), whilst making preparations for the Fourth Congress, took the decision to place the question of the programme on the congress agenda and to set up an appropriate 33-member commission. [15] Although it is difficult to state with certainty, it is nonetheless fair to conclude that the move on the part of the Communist International to resuscitate its theoretical work was a consequence of the closer contact with the Social-Democratic movement that would result from the former’s first attempt to establish a ‘united front from above’.

The shorthand report preserved from the sole session of the first convened Programme Commission meeting on 18 June 1922 turns out to be a fairly impressive document from the early days of the Comintern, as its leaders still did not fear to express their opinion openly on the most important questions. It is no wonder that this report was not published in the volume of programme material prepared by the ECCI apparatus for the Fifth Congress. [16]

Karl Radek was the first to speak at the session of 28 June. He was at the peak of his political career at this juncture. As the originator of the united front tactic, which, in spite of the initial rejection of Zinoviev and Bukharin, was approved by Lenin and Trotsky, Radek energetically intervened in the struggle for the leadership of the Comintern. From his standpoint, the Comintern needed no comprehensive programme, but ‘the elaboration of theses on the method of its construction and our concrete requirements in the period of transition’. [17] In other words, he tried to distance himself from attitudes that were only concerned with an immediate world socialist revolution, and he accordingly declared that longer-term perspectives had to be taken into consideration.

Radek was supported by foreign members of the commission. For example, Clara Zetkin appealed for the maximum flexibility of the programme, ‘so that it takes account of the everyday practical work of our party’. Bukharin came forward as an opponent of such a transition, as he believed that tactical questions should not be in the programme at all, but that, on the contrary, it should be a theoretical characterisation of the epoch and the maximum aims of the Communists, along with an outline of their ideological principles. His attitude had an antecedent, as in the autumn of 1917, Bukharin and Vladimir Smirnov proposed completely renouncing the idea of a ‘minimum programme’. This viewpoint was criticised by Lenin, and it found no support in the party leadership. [18]

With his hostility towards transitional slogans in the Communist movement, Bukharin remained isolated. Zinoviev, the President of the Comintern, did not include the question of the programme among his more pressing tasks: ‘One must first set up the party, then comes the programme.’ [19] The most important result of the session on 28 June 1922 was that it was clear that each side retained the conviction of the correctness of its arguments.

On the eve of the Fourth Congress of the Comintern, Radek began an effective campaign to promote his standpoint. He remarked: ‘All Communist parties are convinced by experience that it would be impossible for them to avoid having a generally valid way of approaching the character of the present epoch’, and, in addition, he called for attention to be given to ‘politically transitional slogans’ such as the united front and the workers’ government. [20] The majority of the foreign participants supported him in the programme discussion. Eugene Varga criticised Bukharin, declaring that his attitude would be equivalent to a ‘declaration of the bankruptcy of Marxism’. [21]

Behind Radek stood the leaders of the KPD, who already had an ‘Action Programme’ and strove to avoid any new split in the party by the posing of excessively sharp theoretical questions. On 4 September 1922, the foreign members of the Programme Commission met in session, at which a proposal by Thalheimer was advanced. [22] All the participants in the discussion at this meeting pronounced themselves in favour of the document being published as an appendix in the form of a manifesto with the inclusion of transitional demands. [23]

Bukharin, on the other hand, insisted on the ‘purity of the ranks’ and the selection of Communists according to strict doctrinal criteria. He succeeded in winning over the leadership of the Italian Communist Party, which, in a special circular of 16 September 1922, supported the preparation of a ‘relevant programme’ and in addition advised that transitional demands should be brought into the Theses on Tactics. [24]

The final decision on this question was taken during the Fourth Congress of the Comintern, which opened on 4 October 1922. In the meantime, Bukharin managed to complete the work on his draft programme, and it was distributed to the delegates along with the draft party programmes of the Bulgarian and the German Communists. In comparison with the platform approved by the First Congress, it had a longer section on the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its economic and political measures. At the same time, it did not touch on the question of the methods of struggle for the political seizure of power, as these depended on the concrete situation in each country.

Bukharin’s rejection of the inclusion of short-term slogans in the general programme was in part determined by his conviction that the victory of the world socialist revolution would be a question of some years, but certainly not one of decades. The unshakeable belief in the unavoidable breakdown of capitalism remained the decisive point of the ideological credo of the Communists, and this allowed them to proceed from other realities than those which are contained in Marxist theory. In consequence, there was a ‘blank spot’ in the Comintern’s draft programme in respect of the immediate perspective. The former version of the draft was rather more credible in that it was not predicated upon the idea of the complete victory of the proletariat. The practical innovations in respect of the united front tactic recognised the existence of various antipathies and sympathies within the working class. Bukharin was not prepared to grant this tactic a generally valid character, and thereby add grist to his rival Radek’s mill.

Precisely for that reason, the delegates to the Fourth Congress were not participants in the programme discussion. At the session on 18 November, Bukharin, Thalheimer and the Bulgarian Kabakchiev made contributions to the programme discussion, and each commented on the draft submitted by his respective party. By the way, Bukharin’s draft was an ‘original’ - not even the RCP(B) Politbureau had discussed it.

Bukharin began his speech by attacking the Social-Democratic theoreticians who, in his view, perverted Marxism in order to please their bourgeois masters. Empty polemical phrases - ‘purest stupidity’, ‘crazy opportunists’ - partially concealed not only the lack of counter-arguments in the Bolsheviks’ polemics with Kautsky, but also any awareness of the current positive developments across the world.

The second part of the talk dwelt on the experience of putting the Marxist doctrine into practice, and this meant in Russia, too. While he warned the delegates to see the NEP as a forced retreat, Bukharin insisted that, seen economically, it was the most rational policy. In the case of a relapse into War Communism, ‘the proletariat would be forced to erect a gigantic administrative apparatus’, which sooner or later would become a brake on the development of the productive forces in the country. [25] The hope that the party would recognise the approaching danger in time was only partly realised. A year later, Trotsky and other oppositionists made resounding criticisms of the bureaucratic degeneration of the party dictatorship, although this by no means led to a ‘self-purification’, but sharpened the struggle within the upper echelons of the RCP(B) many times over, and resulted instead in the subjection of the country under the yoke of Stalin’s totalitarianism.

Bukharin’s talk introduced yet one more thesis, which symbolised the political openness of Bolshevism in its heroic years. It concerned the ‘right of red intervention’ - the use of military forces to induce a proletarian revolution in other countries. By this, in that he deemed this principle important and worthy of mention in the programme, Bukharin reiterated his argument against the programme dealing with ‘purely tactical questions’ in the manner of the united front and the slogan of the workers’ government.

On this point, Thalheimer and Kabakchiev came forward to oppose him, because their parties’ programmes contained references to transitional and partial demands. Beyond that, however, they stressed more than once that Bukharin’s draft could be the basis for further work.

In fact, this draft had many more precisely elaborated aspects than the other proposals of the programme discussion. On the eve of the congress, one of its active participants, Bohumir Šmeral, expressed the generally prevailing opinion that ‘the question of the form and style of the programme can be best resolved, not by sticking together individual pieces and allowing all manner of colleagues to elaborate it, but if it is written down from start to finish by one of our suitably talented comrades’. [26] It was obvious that this should be one of the leaders of the Bolshevik party. But Lenin was already mortally ill, Trotsky excused himself on account of lack of time, and Zinoviev showed no particular interest in theoretical questions. So Bukharin became the only spare candidate for the authorship of the Comintern programme. His resistance to the majority over the question of transitional slogans actually paralysed further work in this area, and led to the nomination of other ‘talented comrades’.

Directly after the three contributions on the programme question, the RCP(B) leaders proposed to the congress presidium a break, in order that the Russian delegation could take a vote on the newly arisen situation. On 20 November, a special ‘five-man consultation of the Central Committee’ was summoned, at which Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Radek and Zinoviev took part. [27] The result of this consultation ended with a defeat for the revolutionary maximalism of Bukharin. The decision of the ‘five’, which was then also formulated as a congress resolution, emphasised the necessity of including partial and transitional slogans in the programme, taking into consideration the peculiarities of the various countries involved.

The RCP(B) leaders agreed with the schema proposed by Zinoviev for the next task - to obtain a general programme of the Communist International from the programmes of the national sections. The individual parties were charged with completing this work within three months - up to the next congress. In arranging it thus, none of the discussed drafts were taken as a basis, which caused Thalheimer to infer: ‘It is absolutely necessary to produce a general programme from scratch.’ [28]

The decision of the Third Extended Plenum of the ECCI in June 1923 to call into being a newly formed Programme Commission consisting of 14 members, was symbolic of the ‘new thrust’. Nevertheless, the revolutionary preparations in Germany in the autumn of 1923, the death of Lenin, and the outbreak of the succession struggle in the leadership of the RCP(B) postponed the real start of the work by exactly a year. The newly formed commission first met on 18 May 1924. There were then just a few weeks until the opening of the Fifth Congress of the Comintern.

During this time, 10 sessions took place, and each involved vigorous theoretical discussions, which were assisted by specialist lectures. Overshadowing the commission’s work, however, was the declaration of the German participants, Thalheimer and Rosenberg, that it would be impossible to adopt a completed version of the programme at the congress. They referred to the main problems still to be tackled, such as the characteristics of the new epoch, the role of the party under the new conditions, etc. Thalheimer quite correctly recognised this, and so the national sections did not return to the programme discussion. [29]

In turn, Bukharin all but accused the German representatives of sabotaging the work on the programme, considering that any delay would help the class enemy, and that in fact: ‘The flow of events will quicken even more... If the work is done, we will adopt the final programme. I am for that at least.’ [30] Eventually, the decision was left to the congress. To coordinate the report, a ‘working bureau’ was set up comprising Bukharin, Thalheimer and the Frenchman Dunois. [31]

In the course of the commission’s work, the discussion proceeded by oscillating between the ‘classical’ explanation of all problems and attempts to adapt the fundaments of Marxism to a changing world. Therefore the divisions within the proletariat were explained in the traditional way, namely, as a result of the bribing of a part of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the Hungarian reporter, Pepper (J Pogany), as he spoke about the situation in the capitalist countries, also saw generally valid causalities behind this process. Eugene Varga and Clara Zetkin declared that one had to take into account the peculiarities in the psychology of the different layers of the proletariat.

However, this timid attempt to consider the realities anew, to depart from the dogmas and schemas, put the Bolshevik kernel of the Comintern’s ideology into question. Bukharin closed the discussion about the differentiation within the contemporary working class by unequivocally ascertaining: ‘If we assert that the Social-Democracy as such represents an important counter-revolutionary factor, we must correctly evaluate the causes of this phenomenon.’ [32] The elaboration of tasks was in effect adapted to the ready-made answer - the Communist world outlook.

The authors of the Comintern programme found it more difficult where the classical authors of Marxism had left behind no ready-made recipe. Therefore, the opinions of the two main opponents on the character of fascism, Bukharin and Varga, were diametrically opposed. Bukharin considered that fascism was ‘a front with the bourgeoisie in a particular alignment, an alternative, in which the bloc of the bourgeois-democratic forces, in particular the Social-Democratic ones, can appear’, whilst Varga denied it any peculiarity. [33]

On 11 June 1924, a special session of the Programme Commission was devoted to this theme. In a fundamental speech, the Englishman JT Murphy further developed the ideas of Bukharin about the two forms of the ‘bourgeois united front’: that of the workers (that is, the Social-Democracy), on the one hand, and that of the fascist state form, on the other. Since they proceeded from a simplified doctrinal analysis of classes, the participants in the discussion all agreed that these forms differed simply in the methods of political struggle. ‘The precise functions are different, but the aim is the same..., between the Noske government and the fascists there is almost no difference’, stressed Bukharin. [34] Only after Hitler’s coming into power in 1933 was the Comintern forced, in 1934, to renounce the theories based on the slogan of ‘social fascism’.

The work of the Programme Commission on the eve of the Fifth Congress can be described as genuinely free. Whilst Communist ethics ruled out any doubts about the fundamental plan and precluded any revision of it, the compulsion towards adopting a ‘general line’ was not yet noticeable. Bukharin, who personified the Bolshevik party in the commission, undoubtedly played the first fiddle, although he often made tactical concessions. The KPD representatives insisted on a debate on the theory of the accumulation of capital, as represented by Rosa Luxemburg. The Bolshevik leaders, however, had no need for classical authors who, in addition, also criticised the fundamentals of the Russian Revolution, and Bukharin promised the German delegates a special session at which Luxemburg’s errors would be illuminated, although he proposed that this ‘sensitive’ theme would not be dealt with within the work of the Programme Commission. [35]

At the plenary session of the Fifth Congress on 27-28 July 1924, Bukharin and Thalheimer made contributions on the question of the programme. The delegates, however, received no new programme, so even Bukharin’s words that ‘our congress must adopt a distinct draft programme, which, nonetheless, will not be complete’, [36] turned out to be a pious hope. A good half of Bukharin’s appearance on 27 June consisted of an extremely vigorous criticism of the views of his opponents in the programme question - just like his lecture at the previous congress. Significantly, whilst in 1922 it was Karl Kautsky who was subjected to a public lashing, by 1924 the sharp polemics were being aimed at one of ‘their own’ - namely, the German Communist Boris Ronninger, who had been so reckless as to venture a critical analysis of Bukharin’s draft programme. The dispute took up many issues, and Bukharin could not help wondering why the editors of the KPD’s journal Die Internationale would publish ‘any old rubbish’ without prior censorship. [37] Notwithstanding the fact that the Ronninger’s expositions contained some sharp polemics, the delegates could not fail to observe the rough change in the style of discussion. Although a middle-ranking party official served as a scapegoat, Bukharin’s attacks were, however, aimed at the ‘old’ KPD leadership as a whole, because they were retarding the adoption of the programme. The entire congress was symbolised by the censuring of the ‘right errors’ of not only Brandler and Thalheimer, but also of Karl Radek, which had been dispatched to the ECCI by the KPD, and their opponents were thereby placed in a fairly advantageous position.

The Comintern as a whole, or, to be more accurate, the tendency of ‘democratic Communism’ [38] which in the early years was maintained above all by the leaders who emerged from the ranks of the European Social-Democracy, were bound to lose out. The ever-shrinking ‘us’ and the ever-growing ‘them’ in political discussion, and even in the framework of the programme discussion as well, was the reflection not only of the sharpening of the struggle within the RCP(B) itself, but also of the crushing of the Communists abroad, among whom one suspiciously sought out ‘deviators’ and ‘opportunist errors’. This led to the increasing pressure upon the Communist parties to ‘commit themselves’ to a common ‘world outlook’, because, as Bukharin pointed out in his talk at the congress, philosophical hesitations created fertile soil for political deviations. In this way, the history of Bolshevism was projected on to the whole Communist movement, which is why the concept of ‘Bolshevisation’ was soon elaborated.

The RCP(B) leaders, clinging on to the hope of a renewed revolutionary upsurge, found that the specifics of the European events on which they based their political struggle were continually drifting from their field of view. Although they stressed the international significance of the NEP experiment, they hindered the elaboration of any tactics for the Communist parties during the period of the ‘retreat’ until they actually seized power. On 27 June 1924, Bukharin stressed that the problems of the NEP would be the ‘most important part’ of his talk. He stated that the socialist economic forms established by the proletariat after their seizing power suppress the more backward economic forms - not officially, but ‘on the basis of the competition of the free market’. The latter was presented as ‘a completely new and special method of the class struggle’. Bukharin asserted that the NEP represented not a correction of War Communism, but its very opposite. [39]

In contrast to this, Thalheimer manifested a fairly cautious attitude towards the NEP, while he regarded War Communism as a ‘necessity of revolutionary strategy’. His contribution represented a detailed résumé of the work of the Programme Commission on the eve of the congress. Thalheimer stated that ‘the last question, namely, the principles of tactics and strategy, had not yet been addressed by the commission’, and their solution would depend on the arrangements of the congress in respect of other questions. [40]

The solution depended to an even greater extent on the interrelations within the leaderships of the Comintern and the RCP(B). The quelling of the ‘German October’ in 1923 and the subsequent changes amongst the leading cadre deprived the most important proponent of the minimum programme, Karl Radek, of his real power. Under these conditions, Bukharin returned to his original proposal. In his closing speech on the programme, which was probably the shortest in his political career, he described the amendments inserted by the Programme Commission and dismissed them as being of secondary character. The thesis of the ‘red intervention’ was removed from the project. However, this was the most important alteration: ‘We have expunged not only the further development of the tactic of the united front, but also the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government.’ [41]

This decision was not recorded in the minutes. At the next session, the tenth, of the Programme Commission, on 3 July, the matter was circumscribed by the establishment of a ‘subcommittee’, which was to elaborate a written proposal. [42] The German delegates tried again to put off the adoption of the draft, but without success. Apparently the delegates did not even have the text of the draft programme in their hands on 8 July when the vote on it took place, and it first came to light with the publication of the congress materials. All that happened was that Bukharin made some insignificant changes to his draft from 1922, [43] and this time he could get it accepted as the official and sole basis for discussion. The forceful way of resolving political questions was attractive in its simplicity, so that not even the most inveterate ‘liberals’ in the Bolshevik leadership took offence at its use.

The decision of the Fifth Congress on the question of the programme signified the final defeat of the ‘pragmatists’ who stood behind Radek and Thalheimer. They questioned the view that the victory of the world socialist revolution would be a matter of months or years. This group stressed the existence of a ‘transitional period’, in the usual radical phraseology, and the consequent necessity for Communists to elaborate a responsible tactic. The attempt to introduce it from ‘below’ without a prior decision of the Politbureau occasioned determined resistance in Moscow. And if the exemplary united front of 1921 was approved by Lenin and confirmed as the indispensable line for every Communist party, then the course in 1923 of a union with the ‘National Bolsheviks’ - exemplified in the Schlageter speech - was a personal initiative on the part of Radek. [44] The crushing of the ‘German October’ in the same year represented a pretext for the Politbureau of the RCP(B) to reduce the political influence of the ‘pragmatists’ in the KPD and the Comintern to zero. The hopes of the latter for revenge on the ideological front proved to be without foundation after the ‘revision’ of the ECCI of January 1924, and after the changes within the leading cadre at the KPD’s Frankfurt Congress in April 1924. [45]

It would be a simplification to claim that the ‘theoreticians’ under Bukharin’s leadership only stood for a continuation of the heroic period. Paradoxically, their attitude was less aggressive and put the accent more on the restructuring within their own group to bring about a ‘relative stability’, instead of seeking new methods for storming the bastions of capitalism. The Comintern programme became a key instrument in the ‘Bolshevisation’ of the national sections, and naturally the joint common denominator centred upon the final aims, rather than transitional slogans. The dogmatic theories in the discussion of the Comintern programme, produced by their victory in 1924, were manifestations of the same logic as the implantation of ‘Leninism’ in the ‘internal’ ideology of the Soviet Union. The loss of hope in the world revolution brought about in the leaders of the RCP(B) just as contradictory sentiments as the cultivation of the Lenin tradition. One could only await his embalming and his use as an idol.

After the conclusion of the Fifth Congress, a lengthy pause occurred in the work on the programme. Although the resolution adopted on 6 July 1924 obliged the Comintern to establish a permanent commission in order to prepare a final draft programme in time for the next congress, this decision was never carried out. The Russian leaders of the Comintern - above all Bukharin and Zinoviev - became engulfed in the whirlpool of internal party conflicts. They alternated with each other in the party blocs and groupings of the RCP/All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) (A-UCP(B)) leadership, constantly played their Comintern ‘cards’, accusing their opponents of Menshevism, and of betraying the interests of the world revolution.

Positive programmatic work was out of the question under such circumstances. The foreign sections attentively followed the course of this struggle, although they had a clear understanding that the resulting victor would in the future assume the position of the chief ideologue of the international Communist movement.

In April 1926, Zinoviev, the Comintern President, remembered the necessity of elaborating a programme, and his proposals became known to Bukharin immediately through the ECCI member Pepper. [46] The representatives of the bigger sections in Moscow submitted proposals for the composition of the resuscitated Programme Commission - which was never to meet. Just as the regular world congress of the Comintern never took place in 1926; only after the leadership struggle in the A-UCP(B) had concluded with the victory of the ‘duumvirate’ of Stalin and Bukharin did the latter take steps to fulfil the promises he had previously given.

‘The Draft of Comrades Stalin and Bukharin Was Put Before the Politbureau...’

The relations between the Bolshevik party and the other sections of the Comintern changed fundamentally in 1928. Ten years earlier, one would hardly have been able to conceive that the preparatory work for the Comintern’s most important document would take place in secret, without taking foreign comrades into account. But the times of ‘equality’ and ‘fraternity’ were gone, and the Comintern’s apparatus was demanding iron discipline and subordination to the Kremlin hierarchy.

Yet the Comintern shrank from no effort to uphold the image of the ‘equality of rights’. Every question which had been decided in advance by the A-UCP(B) delegation to the ECCI then went along the formal route of discussion through the regular structures of the Comintern. [47] The question of the programme represented no exception to the rule.

On 12 January 1928, the Politbureau of the A-UCP(B) took the decision to form an internal Programme Commission consisting of Stalin, Rykov, Molotov, Varga and Bukharin. After a month, the ‘Senioren Konvent’ [48] of the Tenth Plenum of the ECCI took a special decision, which submitted a new variant of the draft programme to the members of the A-UCP(B) delegation. Later, at the July Plenum of the Central Committee, Bukharin reconstructed the course of events in these words:

For the execution of this decision, a commission was appointed by the Politbureau which, in turn, set up a sub-committee from among its ranks, consisting of comrade Stalin and me. We revised the draft once more and delivered it roughly in the form in which it is presented today. The draft was then endorsed by the Politbureau of our party and, after it was signed by the above two comrades, it was handed over to the report commission. [49]

Bukharin did not mention that the draft was 90 per cent the fruit of the work of himself and his assistants. On 15 March, he was released from all duties for two weeks, and he sent the newly produced document to Stalin, Molotov and Rykov on 3 April. In the covering letter, it was noted that the proposals would be presented as coming only from Stalin. [50] This was not by chance, because Stalin, the ‘master of the party’, enviously followed every success of Bukharin, the ‘darling of the party’ (as Lenin described him), on the ideological front. He was fully aware that the Comintern programme would not be any old political document.

In his legendary conversation with Kamenev in July 1928, Bukharin explained: ‘Stalin has spoiled my programme for me in many places... He is driven by a desire for recognition as a theorist. He thinks that this is the only thing he doesn’t yet have.’ [51]

Stalin’s plan of the structure of the programme significantly strengthened its ‘Russian’ accent. An emphasis was already clear in the introduction: ‘The existence of the USSR signifies the organic crisis of the world-wide capitalist system.’ [52] Stalin set out three categories of country: imperialist, colonial and ‘Soviet republics'; and in the section on the transitional period, he proposed the following stages of transition: War Communism, NEP and socialist construction. In this way, the General Secretary of the A-UCP(B) disclosed that he intended, even before the actual abolition of the NEP, to ‘commence socialism’ without the help of market mechanisms. While Bukharin still had hopes for the world proletarian revolution in the classical sense, Stalin needed a document ‘for internal use’, in order to emphasise once more the uniqueness of the socialist experiment in the USSR.

The differing outlooks of the two party leaders were not unknown to those around them. One of the first readers of the April draft, the old Bolshevik AA Dvorin, commenting on the Stalin’s proposals, wrote:

On the one hand, by devoting just one section of the programme to the USSR, we diminish its significance too much, whilst on the other hand, we limit the programme in time, as the significance of the USSR after the taking of power in two or three important countries will gradually change, while all other sections of the programme retain their full force. Moreover, by this means, the programme takes on a ‘Russian’ character all the more. We should avoid this. [53]

The draft programme was elaborated in haste during April by Bukharin’s apparatus - above all by his assistants among the ‘red professors’ Grolman and Idelson. The traces of obvious haste vanished from the original rough draft, and the ‘Russian leadership’ was repeatedly stressed. Bukharin insisted on the official recognition of his foster-children, even if it involved a dual paternity. In the minutes of the Politbureau session of 23 April 1928, a categorical note appears in order to ‘legalise’ the already accomplished: ‘Comrades Bukharin and Stalin propose a motion to elaborate the draft of a Comintern programme within a space of four days and to put it before the Politbureau.’ [54]

On 3 May, the Politbureau members did not succeed in making themselves familiar with the submitted document, and so it was first approved at the following session on 7 May. [55] It was decided to submit the draft to the ECCI above the signatures of Stalin and Bukharin, which, for the former, must have been a temporary satisfaction of his ‘desire for recognition as a theorist’.

The discrepancy between the original (April) draft and the one presented to the Comintern attests to the utilisation of the latter version. [56] Bukharin’s style, which by its structure and laconic manner, gave it the appearance of a shorthand report or verbal commentary, became a secondary feature. Although the drafts hardly differ regarding content, the revisions introduced over the course of a month or so allow certain conclusions to be drawn regarding the distribution of power in the leadership of the A-UCP(B) on the eve of the ‘great change’.

So the typical (for Bukharin) ‘Eurocentric’ description of the course of the world revolution vanished from the May draft:

The dismemberment of Europe, its relative unimportance in comparison with the powerful, fully-armed American imperialism, the ripeness of the crisis of the proletariat even in Europe, all this makes the slogan of the Socialist Soviet United States of Europe indispensable, as a transition to a Euro-Asiatic and then finally a world-wide union of the proletarian states. [57]

Besides that, a more elastic formulation about the federative links of the Soviet republics of the world appeared, as it was stressed that the ‘colonies liberated from the yoke of imperialism’ could unite with them. The main difference between the April and May drafts emerged, however, in the interpretation of the ‘fundamentals of the economic policy of the proletarian dictatorship’. It was really all about differing interpretations of the ‘Russian experiment’ and the NEP in particular. Bukharin’s statement repeated not only his thoughts expounded at the Fifth Congress about the use of the ‘lever of the market economy’ on the way to socialism, but also gave an explanation of them. The April draft stressed: ‘The victorious proletariat must find the correct relation between those spheres of production which can easily be centralised and directed in a planned economy, and such spheres that can only turn out to be a weight around its neck.’ It was emphasised that: ‘The latter must be subordinate only in part.’ [58]

Naturally, under the conditions of the ‘left turn’ which took place not only in the Comintern but also in the domestic policies of the USSR, such statements moved further and further from reality. Stalin consciously encouraged class struggle in the countryside by means of forced collectivisation, and he needed recognition of the thesis whereby the class struggle inevitably had to sharpen during the process of socialist construction. Something of the opposite was implied in Bukharin’s writings: ‘In the phase of the proletarian dictatorship, the class struggle takes on, to a decisive degree, the character of an economic struggle between two economic forms competing with each other, which, in the aforesaid phase, can also develop in parallel.’

Furthermore, Bukharin gave an elucidation of just that ‘growing into’, which soon represented the basis for the Stalinist fabrication of the ‘right deviationists’:

The proletariat must show particular attention and extreme care at the boundary between urban and rural sectors, so that the activity of the peasants is in no way undermined by personal motives, and so that these motives, by example and with the support of the collective agricultural production are step by step replaced by the motives of the cooperative farming. [59]

All the above ideas vanished from the draft programme that was presented to the ECCI. Stalin was aware of the power of his apparatus and was ready to engage in an open conflict with the Politbureau, while the ‘most able party theoretician’, as Bukharin was still considered, was in a process of steady decline.

The Programme Commission summoned by the ECCI presidium had neither the time nor the courage earnestly to revise the draft. Stalin did not appear at any of its three sessions, while Bukharin held forth in monologues, in which he explained his thoughts about the fundamental changes. [60] The commission members summoned to Moscow did not even have the possibility properly to read through the document presented to them, and so were forced to trust in the authority of the Russian leader. Each of the commission’s 45 alterations were of an editorial or supplementary character and concerned neither the structure nor the fundamentals of the draft presented to them. [61]

The draft was adopted on 25 May, and it was published shortly afterwards in the Comintern’s periodicals. [62] The ECCI materials on the discussion of the draft in the USSR that gathered dust in the archives show that it bore an improvised and ostentatious character. The participants - in their majority social-science teachers or researchers in Marxism - kept very closely within the framework of the admissible. However, in their remarks on the USSR, there was none of that blustering praise which comprised the social life of the country at the time of the ascending ‘cult of the personality’.

The document itself was a long way from stylistic perfection and internal harmony, and this gave sufficient cause for criticism. Litvinov, an employee of the Goslitisdat state publishing house, wrote:

The draft refers to topical issues, and here and there reminds one more of a leading article in Pravda than of the programme of the world Communist party. In the draft, the possibility of revolutions in other countries besides the USSR occupies far too little space. [63]

Clara Zetkin intervened to oppose the standpoint that considered the Soviet Union to be the ‘most important component of the international revolution’, quite rightly observing that the main potential would be concentrated in countries where this revolution had not yet taken place. [64]

Critical remarks directed at the ‘Russian character of the programme’ also rang out at the July Plenum of the A-UCP(B) Central Committee, where the question of the programme was a separate point on the agenda. N Ossinsky, who had participated in the elaboration of the draft, attempted to explain the problems in a rather mild fashion:

If one speaks of the Russian character of the programme, then I say: politically it is not ‘Russian’ but perhaps ‘Muscovite’, if one assumes that from here we'll be unable to see some new phenomena which are about to emerge far away from here. [65]

One can find in this discussion, even if in a tentative form, the question of the progressive degrading of the Comintern and the transformation of its central apparatus into a sub-department of the Russian party leadership.

The A-UCP(B) leaders precisely understood that the documents of Trotsky and Zinoviev’s Joint Opposition also intimated these sentiments. In his speech at the plenum, Stalin trenchantly put this question:

It appears that certain comrades consider that in its inner substance the draft programme is not quite international, because, they say, it is ‘too Russian’ in character... But what can there be bad in that? Is our revolution, in its character, a national and only a national revolution, and not pre-eminently an international revolution? If so, why do we call it a base of the world revolutionary movement, an instrument for the revolutionary development of all countries, the motherland of the world proletariat? There were people amongst us - our oppositionists, for instance - who considered that the revolution in the USSR was exclusively or mainly a national revolution. It was on this point that they came to grief. It is strange that there are people round about the Comintern, it appears, who are prepared to follow in the footsteps of the oppositionists. [66]

The characteristic style of Stalin’s argumentation was the first direct indication that if one spoke of the ‘Russian character of the programme’, this was directed against the party as a whole. On the eve of the congress, this was practically an administrative prohibition against discussing this matter - hardly any of the A-UCP(B) Central Committee members would have risked bringing upon themselves the suspicion of having Trotskyist links.

In his speech at the plenum, Bukharin concentrated on analysing ‘all the abominations of Social-Democracy’. The analogy here is obvious: if the greatest enemy of Bolshevism within the country were the oppositionists who had infiltrated the party, then the greatest enemy of the Comintern was also to be found not so far away, within the labour movement itself. The empty attacks on the parties of the Second International prevented the theoreticians from assembling a rational analysis of the situation. Any positive mention of the Social-Democrats brought on the risk of one’s excommunication.

It was enough for the Profintern leader Lozovsky to mention the existence of a positive potential among the Social-Democrats for him to be rebuffed by Bukharin. [67] The latter obviously did not take into consideration the specifics of the political struggle in the democratic countries of Europe where the workers enjoyed the possibility of comparing this or that platform and this or that trade union leader for themselves. By downgrading for tactical considerations its own programme to the level of an anti-Social-Democratic pamphlet, the leaders of the Comintern isolated themselves with an ‘iron curtain’ from the significant numbers of European workers who observed with some interest the social experiment in the East, but who at the same time were not ready to break from their own parties.

So the voices of those in the Communist movement who, without weakening their criticism of Social-Democracy, called for a sober consideration of the social-political roots of reformism, were ignored: ‘The masses of the proletariat, the working masses... stand in fear of the revolution and the sacrifices associated with it. They rather hope for civil peace with the class enemy than to trust in their own revolutionary strength.’ [68] The Dutch Communist A De Vries argued in the press and in his contribution to the Sixth Congress, using Austria as an example, the absurd thesis that the leaders of the Social-Democracy were bought off by the bourgeoisie with the surplus from the colonies. [69] Without observing the reality of class relations in interwar Europe, the Bolshevik leadership prophesied for ‘international Menshevism’ the same fate that had overtaken their former party comrades in Soviet Russia.

On 16 July 1926, the A-UCP(B)’s Comintern delegation declared that the adoption of the programme at the congress would be unavoidable. [70] Superficially, this decision was profitable for Bukharin - as compensation for the concessions in the economic sphere that he made at the July Plenum of the Central Committee. [71]

The Question of the Programme at the Sixth Congress

On 17 August 1928, delegates from 57 countries gathered in the Hall of Columns for the opening of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern. The fact that for the first time the congress was not taking place in the Kremlin spoke for itself. The ‘world revolution’ was now no longer the cardinal point of the Bolsheviks’ ideology and politics, which were more and more turning into Stalinism. At the congress itself, the programme discussion demonstrated the strong influence of the ‘Russian factor’, although there were other factors at play.

Above all, the absence of a large part of those leading ideologues of the Russian party who, in their time, belonged to the ‘General Staff of the World Revolution’, but who had supported Zinoviev and Trotsky in 1926-27, caught the eye. The regroupment of leading cadres included not only the left, but also the right. Thus Thalheimer, one of Bukharin’s co-reporters at the Fourth and Fifth Congresses, presented his proposals on the draft programme, but was admitted neither to the congress itself nor to the work of the commission. [72] There were even calls for the proposals of oppositionists regarding the draft programme to be excluded as a whole from the Congress material, such as those of the German delegate Hermann Duncker, although these proposals were rejected after Clara Zetkin and Bukharin raised objections. [73]

The discussion in the Programme Commission as a whole exhibited a more open and sharper character than the remarks made during the congress plenary sessions. The promise to publish the material produced by the commission remained, not exactly by chance, unrealised after Bukharin’s departure from the Comintern. [74] The conclusion of the programmatic work did not permit, in spite of all the appeals, [75] a free and frank discussion amongst those who were developing monolithic modes of thought. The official theoreticians of the ECCI were conscious of the fact that one wrong word could terminate a career. Under the conditions in which the struggle over the leadership in the A-UCP(B) had not yet been decided, everyone paid attention to the conjunctural shifts, and everyone had to navigate his own way through the nuances of the game, which intermittently appeared when the programme was discussed.

As is known, this fate also befell the discussion of the programme in the Communist press. In a survey elaborated by the ECCI on the evening prior to the opening of the congress, a predominance of comments by A-UCP(B) members was noted, precisely at a time when the foreign sections defined themselves through their orientation towards the official proposals. In the press of the Communist parties, the discussion was practically absent - except in Pravda, which began to publish a special discussion paper to debate the programme.

According to the statement of the ECCI apparatus, four-fifths of the comments were articles on the transitional period, although at the same time criticism of the ‘mechanical transference of the Russian experiment to other countries’ was expressed. [76] The belief in the ‘left doctrine’ predominated, which for the party activists ranged over the typical area of the glorification of civil war. War Communism was therefore regarded as an unavoidable stage of the revolution, while the NEP belonged to the peculiarities of the Russian revolution. In preparing his strategy of the ‘great turn’, Stalin obviously based himself on precisely this ideology.

The pressure from the left was perceptible in respect of yet another point, whereby the foreign Communists set the tone. This concerned the further intensification of the struggle against Social-Democracy. The Germans Lenz (Winternitz) and Günther demanded that not only the leaders but the whole organisation should be classified in the category of ‘counter-revolutionary forces’, whilst the Pole Spiss found the stress on its ‘fascist character’ inadequate. [77] Having initiated the ‘left coup’ within the Comintern, Bukharin found that he had to use his political co-workers to curb the latent destructive energy of the new tactic. [78]

The differing evaluations of Social-Democracy give a striking impression when one compares the amendments of the German and the Italian delegations to the draft programme. While the former laid stress on the particular dangers of the left wing of Social-Democracy and assumed that the movement as a whole ‘draws close to fascism in its ideology’, the latter criticised this thesis: ‘The error which we identify in the draft programme is a too general use of the word “fascism,” which in contrast to the Social-Democracy represents the sole and general method of the “open” dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.’ [79]

At the second session of the Programme Commission at the congress, on 1 August, Bukharin appealed for the concretisation of the programme. He motivated this appeal by mentioning the growth of the national sections and the difficulties of the tasks facing them. The other method of approach, to give each party member a free hand in determining his own clearly defined tasks, was not addressed at all. It was a result of the simplistic conception that society could be run like a huge mechanism and that each little screw and each cog could be controlled. In many respects, this expressed the spirit of the times, which was permeated by the belief in the unlimited possibilities of science and technology.

This ‘global method of approach’ even distinguished Bukharin’s conception of the programme’s structure. He proposed considering the proletarian revolution, the uprisings in the colonies and the national liberation struggle ‘not as mechanically distinct parts, but in their correlation and in the combined effect of all these processes, which characterise the process of the world revolution as a whole and in general’. [80] A component of this balance sheet was the ‘drawing near of the second epoch of imperialist wars’, in which the Comintern theoreticians saw the chance for a further revolutionary transformation of the world. [81]

The attempt of some Programme Commission members to let the history of humanity begin in 1917 met with Bukharin’s decisive resistance:

In the event that we do not consider our movement as the continuation of the best that went before us, and do not have the whole inheritance from Marx, Engels and all revolutionary movements behind us, we will be accused of being a completely new formation which has come from Asia and ruined everything in the world. [82]

But with that he also threw all the knowledge accumulated by people outside the Marxist canon upon the ‘midden of history’. [83] An explicit exception was made for the formation of Rosa Luxemburg’s theory of crisis; however, attentive comrades-in-arms - Sultanzade, the representative of Persia - accused Bukharin of thereby taking up Hilferding’s views.

Without a synthesis of scholarly world knowledge, the programme’s theoretical innovations hung in the air. The characterisations of political opponents in the Comintern that were inserted into it had incomparably greater significance. The fourth and the fifth sessions of the Programme Commission were wholly devoted to the evaluation of fascism. The participants in the discussion, who only had the Italian variety of fascism in view, contrasted it with the Social-Democratic methods of influencing the masses, but not with parliamentary politics as a whole. Bukharin repudiated the perspective of a complete takeover of bourgeois democracy by fascism, agreeing with the Czech delegate P Reiman.

More realistic were those views promoted by Lominadze and Varga which prophesied that parliamentary politics in all imperialist countries would be unavoidably permeated by fascism. The majority of the commission’s members agreed with the thesis of the ‘bankruptcy of parliamentary politics’ in the contemporary epoch, even if without a rigid accordance with the ideas about fascism. In enumerating the characteristics of the ‘bankruptcy’, Bukharin narrowly avoided making a slip of the tongue: ‘For that very reason, spuriously and falsely, the question arises in the party’s ranks, of whether under these circumstances we must not defend bourgeois liberties.’ [84] This important comment was in obvious contradiction with the leitmotiv of the ‘left turn’. And the Comintern did return to it later, after Hitler’s rise to power had already amply demonstrated the anti-democratic potential of fascism.

Vigorous arguments broke out again at the commission sessions of 10 and 11 August in a debate over the name of the transitional epoch after the victory of proletarian revolution. Lominadze, who was conversant with the succession struggle in the Politbureau - he referred to the decision of the July Plenum of the A-UCP Central Committee - called for the programme to be completed by the following allusion: ‘After the seizing of power by the proletariat, the class struggle will intensify tremendously, and this intensification is also unavoidable in the further course of socialist construction.’ Furthermore, he denied the necessity of the NEP during the transitional period for highly developed countries - ‘another way to the construction of socialism’ would be possible there. [85]

Although Stalin interceded at the plenum on behalf of the idea of the irrevocability of the NEP for all countries, it was an open secret that Lominadze’s function was to reconnoitre the battlefronts. Bukharin took up the declaration of war, and in so doing he intervened vigorously against the adoption of the thesis of the intensification of the class struggle:

This danger can be acute if we make some mistake. However, altogether I believe that layers of the bourgeoisie and the peasantry will come over to our side all the more, and not the opposite... The basic tendency of the transitional period is not the intensification of class contradictions, but their lessening. And therefore there will be no third revolution here, but instead the Communist society. [86]

However, the radical collectivisation campaign, begun after the crushing of the ‘right deviation’ in the leadership of the A-UCP(B), was actually a declaration of war against the majority of the population. This entered the history books as the ‘Stalinist revolution from above’.

On account of the dramatic events of the ‘corridor congress’ in the background, the discussions on the programme in the plenary sessions looked fairly boring. On 9 August, Bukharin held a speech before the congress delegates on this question, although the Programme Commission had only just begun to debate the fourth chapter. [87] His speech contained no new impulses and called to mind, above all, those popular formulations which were obligatory in the dictionary of the international Communist movement for half-a-century: ‘the programme of the proletarian world dictatorship’, ‘the world city and the world village’, ‘the non-capitalist road of development’.

Again and again, Bukharin returned to the theme that preoccupied him the most at that time: the fate of the NEP. Under the pressure of his opponents, he certainly recognised the ‘probability’ of War Communism after the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, although he refused to recognise its ‘unavoidable nature’. In the highly developed countries, ‘the forces of the proletariat will be gigantic, and it will have a broad range of possibilities when organising an economic periphery. By this means follows the possibility of a fundamentally different policy. Today we do not yet know precisely what it would be. Hopefully not that of War Communism.’ [88] It is characteristic that not one single representative of the AUCP(B) intervened in the plenary discussions. [89] The ‘Russian question’ was consciously pushed into second place. Without this the discussion lacked vigour, so much the more because the overwhelming majority of the speakers were members of the Programme Commission, and therefore had already had the opportunity to express themselves. The arguments over such concepts as finance capital, integral socialism or materialist dialectics were abandoned to scholasticism; the fighting spirit of the organisation was totally absent because of that, yet it was also geared up for a radical overturn.

The ‘domestic tasks’ granted to the delegations of this or that party were devoted to the problems of the respective country, only seldom were real international problems given space in the discussion. In any event, fascism was examined somewhat more precisely in the discussions. Two extremes clashed here: the desire to discern the tendency towards a fascist seizure of power in all countries without exception, which arose out of the crisis of capitalism, and the rather more differentiated attitude to describing the specificity of fascism as one of the methods used for the preservation of bourgeois power.

Semard, the French delegate, spoke out against identifying fascism with any reactionary regime that happened to be convenient for the argument. The Italian Serra (A Tasca) also made a contribution in this vein. In opposition to this, the German delegate Philipp Dengel expounded on the latter’s understanding, and in so doing he asserted in particular that the ‘ideological approximation of reformism to fascism had already long ago become a reality’. [90] Under the impact of the discussion, Bukharin rectified and redefined his attitude to the programme question in his concluding speech. From general phrases about the bankruptcy of parliamentarianism, he came to the analysis of the ‘mechanism of fascism’, and thus recognised the mass character of this movement. The thesis that the fascist danger would only be really serious in lesser states, in which the authoritarian-feudal remnants were still powerful, was rejected. ‘The backwardness of this or that country and the lack of colonies is not of decisive significance; it is the ruin of this or that capitalist system that serves as the precondition for fascism.’ [91]

The narrow framework of the programme discussion was given by the experience of the Bolshevisation of the Comintern, whereby the memory of the fate of the opposition in the A-UCP(B) played a not unimportant role. It was precisely in the internal party altercations where arguments based upon the examining of authorities began, the pulse of the real life was lost behind the accumulation of quotations. All attempts to get away from the given canon slowly ended. The struggle for the purity of the Communist world outlook had changed into a party inquisition. [92]

One episode summed this up. Dengel, in his speech, mentioned that Lenin had supplemented Marxism, and this did not go unnoticed. Bukharin stated that ‘to supplement’ meant ‘to introduce something completely new’, [93] and other interpretations were synonymous with the fall of man. The result of a decade’s evolution of the international Communist movement was, in practice, a ban on the development of theory, and its replacement with recitation and interpretation of the ‘classics’. Through this style, the spiritual life of the Comintern approached that of the ‘order of knights’, as Stalin used to call the Bolshevik party. [94] At this juncture, this style guaranteed the influx of leftist elements and allowed the establishment of a rigid, vertical structure in the movement. After the end of the ‘Sturm und Drang’ period, however, the negative consequences increasingly outweighed the positive ones, and led the Communists into the blind alley of a fruitless dogmatism.

On 14 August, the congress adopted the draft programme as a whole and soon after decided the steps towards adopting its final version. The working method of the Programme Commission evidently did not allow it to complete the work in the allotted time-span, therefore Bukharin had already proposed, on 11 August, to shorten the commission’s session and to select a small group and empower it to conclude the matter. Apart from Bukharin, the group comprised the Swiss Humbert Droz, the German Lenz and the Ukrainian Skrypnik as co-authors. Stalin happened to be in the Caucasus, therefore Molotov, his closest co-thinker at that time, was nominated for the commission. The ‘small commission’ worked in a dacha in the village of Archangelsk, near Moscow. On 25 August, the delegates returned to the congress session with the final version of the draft. [95]

The size of the draft increased by the day, this went above all into the account of the individual ‘sections’ (trade union, anti-colonial movement, the woman question, etc) and individual national leaderships. Bukharin expanded the beginning of the shortest chapter on ‘the precise exposition of Social-Democratic infamies’, but he received no majority. He found just as little support for the ‘outline of events which characterise the process of the world revolution’ which he presented.

The critical arguments were directed against further inflating the text, which was often treated more as a kind of bible than as the Communists’ manifesto. Moreover, ‘a programme may be in danger of becoming obsolete within a few years’, and therefore care was taken to prevent it being concrete. [96] Bukharin saw his personal authority undermined, and he turned again to the ‘Russian delegation’. On 25 August, the A-UCP(B) delegation at the congress took the decision:

We believe the reinstatement of the parts of the text in which the revolutionary events are specified, and the enumeration of all the transgressions of Social-Democracy, which were accepted by the majority decision of the sub-commission, as desirable, but grant the members of the A-UCP(B) in the Programme Commission the right to express themselves freely, and to vote at their discretion. [97]

This ensured the success of Bukharin’s line during the vote on 27 August. The Programme Commission declared in favour of an extension of the discussion in the plenary session of the congress; however, the energy of the delegates simply no longer sufficed. Bukharin declared that the delaying of the work of the congress had been caused by the need to elaborate this document. [98] On the closing day of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, on 1 September 1928, he made a short concluding speech, in which he gave reasons for the latest additions. Thereupon the programme was adopted unanimously, whereupon the delegates sang the ‘Internationale’.

The Fate of the Comintern Programme

In the course of the talks prior to the Sixth Congress, voices had been heard calling for the Comintern programme to be a new bible - a bible of Communism, an source of knowledge suitable to the task of fundamentally transforming the world. Similar comparisons in respect of the final version seem to be not so far removed from the truth. The indistinct positions of the holy scriptures, where one could find indirect answers to any question as required, as is well known, assumed abstract features.

The ‘partial and transitional slogans’ which Bukharin had not wanted to have been inserted in the programme back at the Fourth Congress, and by which one perhaps would have been able to assess to what extent the Communist movement was democratic and who its main allies and enemies were up until the hypothetical victory of the world revolution, were absent in the voluminous text. The tactic of the united front was altogether mentioned just once, the slogan of a ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’, as a synonym for the dictatorship of the proletariat, was wholly expunged. Consequently, the fundamental question for all political forces - with whom and with what methods do we come to power? - arose from the actual circumstances in the individual countries, and the answer - the winning of the masses - would remain a pious wish.

Not only did the spiritual opponents of the Comintern refer to the programme, but also its left-wing critics who, not long ago, had stood at the helm of this organisation. In his exile in Alma Ata, Trotsky wrote a critical commentary that outdid it by far in volume. It contained a crushing criticism, not only of the new theory of ‘socialism in one country’, but also of Stalin and Bukharin’s orientation for the international Communist movement. [99] But Trotsky was unable to propose a positive alternative to it. His conception demanded a return to the heroic tasks of Lenin’s time, thus demanding that the Left Opposition look backwards, not forwards.

The public declaration of Radek and Smilga, who had been exiled in Siberia, noted a ‘mechanisation of the spiritual life in the Communist International’, which in their eyes was a result of the bureaucratic derailment of its Moscow staff. The programme was drowning in scholasticism, while the party ‘needs a document which not only answers how Communist policy should be after the taking of power, but also asks the question of how one achieves the latter’. [100]

Undoubtedly, the theoretical level of the programme was sacrificed for the momentary interests and pressures of the internal power struggle in the A-UCP(B). Without a free discussion involving the participation of ‘unorthodox’ Marxists from the sister parties abroad (which in the late 1920s were purged more rigorously than the Soviet one), the preparation of the programme symbolised the ‘Diktat of Moscow’.

The greatest absence in the programme was the lack of guidance for the activities of the Communist parties. It failed to present any comprehensive, simple and understandable model for the world of the twentieth century, as Marx and Engels had done in the middle of the preceding century. Without a new model that was able to withstand the competition from other models of interpreting the world, the Communists lost the ‘charisma’ of their movement. The successes of this or that Communist party were brought about by external factors, whether the economic crisis for the KPD, or the danger of fascism for the PCF - but none of them succeeded in winning the battle of ideas on the democratic plane. The weakness of the theoretical basis of the Communist movement was partly compensated by ideological drill, although this could only lead to the formation of a particular caste of ‘party cadres’ and not to any breakthrough into the masses.

The programme discussion in the Comintern, just like the programme itself, can also be numbered among the forgotten sides of the history of this international organisation. The leaders of the ‘later’ Comintern consciously forgot this, in order to avoid calling to mind once more the dilapidated theoretical fundaments of the Communist movement. In the decade following the dissolution of the Comintern, its legitimate and illegitimate heirs from the left-wing sections of the Western political spectrum skipped this difficult period, as they preferred to nourish themselves on the roots of the ‘classics’ or from the exotic shoots of the post-Comintern, Maoism and Titoism.

Superficially the programme became the textbook for the actions of the world-wide Communist movement, but its actual influence on the development of the individual parties was almost zero. Moreover, its rambling and drab form, the length of its text, the use of jargon and the apologetics for the USSR resulted in its propagandist impact being minimal. It was no accident that, immediately after the end of the Sixth Congress, the A-UCP(B) Politbureau discussed whether to elaborate a commentary on the programme. [101] The changing world had already outlived the old schemas, and the admissibility of constructing new ones was already established at the dawn of Bolshevism. What typifies messianic movements is that the moment they reveal their dogmas for the development of the world, they openly demonstrate that their intellectual potential is exhausted.

Up to the dissolution of the Comintern, its leaders made no attempt to revise or to renew the programme. The Stalinist regime had no need of it, just as little as it needed a new party programme under conditions where the tasks of today determined the characterisation of those of yesterday. Any kind of programme or prognosis complicated the self-comprehension of an infallible leader - the apparatchiks of the A-UCP(B) Central Committee knew this only too well. A dictator needs no ‘eternal truths’ that are not his own.


1. The programme appeared in German in 1928.

2. Comintern documents on the programme discussion have been used in historical research as factual evidence, but not as an object of research.

3. AA Ulunian, Comintern and Geopolitics: The Balkan Frontier 1919-1938 (Moscow, 1997), p 41, in Russian.

4. Lenin made this clear in the tenth section of his ‘April Theses’.

5. First Congress of the Communist International: Protocol of the Conference of 2-19 March 1919 in Moscow (Petrograd, 1921), p 76, in Russian.

6. FJ Firsov, ‘Bukharin in the Comintern’, in Bukharin: Human Being, Politician, Scholar (Moscow, 1990), p 178, in Russian.

7. First Congress of the Communist International, p 81.

8. Documents of the Communist International 1919-1932 (Moscow, 1933), p 56, in Russian.

9. LD Trotsky, Criticism of the Programme of the Communist International (Moscow, 1993), in Russian [LD Trotsky, The Communist International After Lenin (London, 1974), pp 61-64].

In his Foreword to the French edition of 1929, Trotsky wrote: ‘the manifesto of the Second Congress, in particular, had in all its aspects the character of a programme'; in a quick search that was the only reference I found - translator’s note.

10. Second Session of the RCP Protocol (Moscow, 1959), p 37, in Russian.

11. Third World Congress of the Communist International: Stenographic Protocol (Petrograd, 1922), p 26, in Russian.

12. Trotsky, The Communist International After Lenin, p 68.

13. Third World Congress, p 210.

14. These slogans read:

‘In place of the minimum programme of the reformists and centrists, the Communist International puts the struggle for the concrete needs of the proletariat, for a system of demands which in their totality disintegrate the power of the bourgeoisie, organise the proletariat, represent stages in the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship...’ - Third World Congress, p 190.

15. Documents of the Communist International, p 1.

16. On the Programme Question of the Communist International: Materials (Moscow, 1924), in Russian.

17. Russian Centre for Preserving and Research into Documents of Contemporary History, 492/1/180, sheet 20.

18. VI Lenin, ‘On the Revision of the Party Programme’, Collected Works, Volume 26, pp 149-78.

19. Russian Centre, 492/1/180, sheets 28-29.

20. See On the Programme Question, pp 5-6.

21. On the Programme Question, p 16.

22. On the Programme Question, pp 25-31.

23. Russian Centre, 495/50/4.

24. Russian Centre, 491/1/39, sheet 1.

25. See On the Programme Question, pp 77-78.

26. See On the Programme Question, pp 12-13.

27. VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 54, p 348 (in Russian); On the Programme Question..., p 104.

28. See On the Programme Question, p 105.

29. Russian Centre, 492/1/9, sheet 1.

30. Russian Centre, 492/1/9, sheets 4-5.

31. Bukharin opposed the proposal to select only RCP(B) representatives to this bureau: ‘I am opposed to the inclusion of more Russian comrades. From outside it will look bad.’ - Quote originally in German, Russian Centre, 492/1/9, sheet 7.

32. Russian Centre, 492/1/9, sheet 8.

33. Varga claimed:

‘Before fascism came to power, it was a normal democratic popular movement. Once it had succeeded in coming to power, it changed itself into a wholly normal bourgeois dictatorship, distinct only by the history of its origins.’ - Russian Centre, 492/1/9, sheet 37.

34. Russian Centre, 492/1/9, sheet 92.

35. Russian Centre, 492/1/180, sheet 30.

36. Fifth World Congress of the Communist International: Stenographic Report (Moscow, 1925), p 486, in Russian.

37. Fifth World Congress, p 490.

38. Hermann Weber, Demokratischer Kommunismus? (Berlin, 1979), pp 290-305.

39. See Fifth World Congress, p 502.

40. Fifth World Congress, p 549.

41. Fifth World Congress, p 971.

42. Bukharin, Thalheimer, Varga, Sommer, Amadeo Bordiga, Pepper and Manabendra Roy were members of the sub-committee. See Russian Centre 492/1/180, sheets 29-30.

43. A short introduction was added to the draft, the subheadings were altered, and a number of definitions were introduced which moderated the apocalyptic vision of the capitalist breakdown. So the final chapter showed that ‘the process of decay of capitalism does not cease, although in the course of this decay, tendencies towards a partial establishment of a capitalist recovery arise, and a further impetus to the productive forces’. See Fifth World Congress, p 72.

Before the Social-Democracy was included among the ‘counter-revolutionary forces’ in 1924, the term fascism was appended to it. In the draft, the united front tactic and the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ government were described as indispensable components of Communist policy in the whole pre-revolutionary period, but their characteristics were omitted.

44. In an attempt to combat the growth of right-wing German nationalist forces during the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923, the KPD made various concessions to German nationalism. Radek gave a strangely appreciative speech marking the death of Leo Schlageter, a young German nationalist saboteur who was executed by the French in 1923 - editor’s note.

45. The Ninth Congress of the KPD, held in Frankfurt during 7-10 April 1924, saw the party’s leadership being taken over by leftist and ultra-leftist elements. The group around the former leader Heinrich Brandler was totally routed - editor’s note.

46. Russian Centre, 495/50/9, sheet 1.

47. Alexander Vatlin, ‘Die Russische Delegation in der Komintern: Machtzentrum des internationalen Kommunismus zwischen Sinowjew and Stalin’, Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung 1993 (Berlin, 1993), pp 82ff.

48. Learned elders.

49. Russian Centre, 17/2/375, sheet 41.

50. Russian Centre, 493/1/42, sheets 9-10.

51. Quoted in Alexander Vatlin, Trotsky and the Comintern 1923-1933 (Moscow, 1991), p 43, in Russian.

52. The model of the draft programme proposed by Stalin, Russian Centre, 493/1/42, sheet 87.

53. Russian Centre, 493/1/42, sheets 87, 94.

54. Russian Centre, 17/3/684, sheet 7.

55. Russian Centre, 17/3/686, sheet 7.

56. The May draft, Russian Centre, 493/1/44.

57. Russian Centre, 493/1/42, sheet 48.

58. Russian Centre, 493/1/42, sheet 55.

59. Russian Centre, 493/1/42, sheet 61.

60. Stenographic report of the commission session, Russian Centre, 493/1/46.

61. The ECCI Programme Commission alterations, Russian Centre, 493/1/47, sheets 303-11.

62. See Die Kommunistiche Internationale, no 23/4, 13 June 1928, pp 1317ff (in German).

63. Russian Centre, 493/1/91, sheet 68.

64. Clara Zetkin, ‘Some Critical Comments on the Programme of the Communist International’, Kommunisticheski Internatsional, no 25-26, 1928, p 48, in Russian.

65. Russian Centre, 17/2/375, sheet 56.

66. JV Stalin, Writings, Volume 11 (Moscow, 1949), p 151, in Russian.

67. In his speech on the Comintern programme, Bukharin all but accused the Central Committee members of liberalism with regard to Western socialists:

‘I take the liberty of doubting that the comrades present at this plenum are really aware of the complete vileness of the theoretical, as well as the practical-political, decline of the Social-Democracy.’ - Stenographic report of the commission session, Russian Centre, 493/1/46, p 41.

68. Clara Zetkin, Collected Works, p 50, in Russian.

69. A De Vries, ‘The Social Democracy in the Draft Programme’, Kommunisticheski Internatsional, no 27-28, 1928, pp 35-38, in Russian.

70. Russian Centre, 508/1/61, sheet 1. At the July Plenum of the A-UCP(B) Central Committee, the Ukrainian delegation proposed to take the programme as a basis, to revise it and endorse it at the next ECCI plenum.

71. S Cohen, Bukharin: A Political Biography, 1888-1938 (Moscow, 1988), pp 351-53, in Russian.

72. According to a German publication, in the course of the work of the Programme Commission, Thalheimer’s proposals were dismissed wholesale as a ‘symbol of the right deviation’: Russian Centre, 493/1/456, sheet 72.

73. Russian Centre, 493/1/425, sheets 25-29.

74. See the editor’s foreword, Sixth Congress of the Comintern: Stenographic Report: Third Edition: Programme of the World Revolution (Moscow/Leningrad, 1929), p 6, in Russian.

75. The protocol of the first bureau session of the congress Programme Commission on 31 July 1928 noted that ‘comrade Bukharin stressed the necessity of an adequately free discussion, in order to guarantee a many-sided revision of the programme’: Russian Centre, 493/1/422, sheet 3.

76. Russian Centre, 493/1/422, sheets 15-16.

77. Russian Centre, 493/1/422, sheets 22, 61.

78. Ercoli (Palmiro Togliatti), ‘On the Question of Fascism’, Kommunisticheski Internatsional, no 27-28, 1928, in Russian.

79. Russian Centre, 493/1/422, sheet 57.

80. Russian Centre, 493/1/422, sheets 166-67.

81. Bukharin even stressed that ‘after the war we will we forced to write a new programme’: Russian Centre, 493/1/422, sheet 168. By an irony of fate, it was precisely political considerations during a time of war that caused Stalin to dissolve the Comintern in 1943.

82. Russian Centre, 493/1/432, sheet 161, in German.

83. In one of his speeches, Bukharin said of the theory of the economist Kondratiev: ‘The attempt to plot long cycles reminds me of Babylonian astronomy..., childish invention.’ - Russian Centre, 493/1/432, sheet 157.

84. Russian Centre, 493/1/441, sheet 139.

85. Russian Centre, 493/1/453, sheets 20, 64-65.

86. Russian Centre, 493/1/456, sheets 66-67.

87. Russian Centre, 493/1/447, 450.

88. See foreword, Sixth Congress of the Comintern, p 27.

89. The A-UCP(B) member Solomon Lozovsky spoke in the name of the Profintern during the programme discussion.

90. Sixth Congress of the Comintern, p 45.

91. Sixth Congress of the Comintern, p 144.

92. So the speech of the Indonesian delegate Alonso, which contained a series of proposals regarding the programme question that approximated to those in the Trotskyist platform, was not even included in the stenographic report: Sixth Congress of the Comintern, pp 57-58, 121.

93. Sixth Congress of the Comintern, p 130.

94. In July 1921, Stalin referred to the Soviet Communist Party ‘as a sort of Order of Knights of the Sword within the Soviet state’: Works, Volume 5, p 73 - editor’s note.

95. Russian Centre, 493/1/476, sheet 2. After a special decision of the Politbureau, Molotov was released from his day-to-day work during this time: Russian Centre, 17/3/700, sheet 1.

96. Russian Centre, 495/1/464, sheet 330.

97. Russian Centre, 508/1/67, sheet 1.

98. See foreword, Sixth Congress of the Comintern; Speeches on the USSR and the A-UCP(B), Concluding Works (Moscow/Leningrad, 1929), p 132, in Russian.

99. LD Trotsky, Collected Works, p 184, in Russian. One must acknowledge Trotsky’s clear-sightedness, because he traced which way the direction of the ideological discussion in the USSR was determined:

‘But we view with utmost calm the prospect of the cheap theoretical scorpions that this time too may descend upon us. Incidentally, it is quite likely that the authors of the draft programme, instead of putting into circulation new critical and expository articles, will prefer to resort to further elaboration of the old Article 58.’ - Trotsky, Collected Works, p 132 [The Third International After Lenin, p 174].

Article 58 was a section of the Soviet penal code that permitted action to be taken against counter-revolutionary elements. It was often invoked by Stalin against political opposition within the Soviet Communist Party - editor’s note.

100. Russian Centre, 326/1/22, sheets 52-53.

101. Russian Centre, 17/3/708.