Fascism in Germany. Robin Blick 1975

Chapter XVI: United Front From Below

The Müller... government [has] accepted the task entrusted to it by the bourgeoisie: to break up the rising movements of the workers, establish a fascist dictatorship and prepare for war, first and foremost against the Soviet Union. (S Gusiev, ‘On the Road to a New Revolutionary Rise’, Communist International, Volume 6, no 19, 15 August 1929, p 717)

The kicking out of Hermann Müller’s coalition government by finance capital was the first signal for the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship. (H Neumann, ‘The International Significance of the Reichstag Elections’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 10, no 69, 15 August 1930)

The formation of the Hermann Müller government on 6 June 1928 created a radically new political situation in Germany. For the first time since the break-up of the Stresemann ‘grand coalition’ in November 1923, the SPD was sharing office with its old liberal and Catholic allies. And we must go back to June 1920 for the last occasion on which a Social Democrat actually held the post of Chancellor (when, by coincidence, Müller was then also the leader of the government). Most important of all, the return to office of the Social Democrats opened up for the KPD the greatest opportunity to weaken and eventually to break the grip of reformism and centrism on the German working class since the crisis year of 1923. That it lamentably failed in this task was directly the outcome of the false policies being pursued by the leadership of the Communist International after 1923, and was not in any sense attributable to a lack of militancy, devotion or courage on the part of rank-and-file members and supporters of the KPD. In the course of the following five years, they were to furnish more than enough proof of their desire to fight the Social Democrats and so clear the road to the German revolution. We must repeat and insist: only the zigzags of Stalinist policy, forced on the KPD by the Moscow leadership of the Communist International, prevented them from doing so. For all the long-term advantages – and many of the tactical ones – lay with the Communist Party. The Social Democrats had not entered the cabinet as a result of backstairs dealings between the party leaders, but had been thrust into the government by an upsurge of working-class militancy and radicalisation that the republic had not witnessed since the stormy summer months of 1923. The Reichstag election of 20 May 1928 only confirmed the continued evolution of a revival in the workers’ movement that had been evident from the beginning of 1926, when millions of workers threw themselves into the KPD – SPD campaign to confiscate the princes’ property:

Reichstag Election May 1928 (December 1924 results in brackets)
PartyVotes (million)%Deputies
Econ Party1.4(1.0)4.5(3.3)23(17)
*Combined totals for Landbund, Bauern und Landvolk, Deutsche Bauernpartei

Therefore the two workers’ parties had gained both in absolute and relative terms as against the parties of the bourgeois centre and right. In a reduced poll (74.6 per cent in 1928, 77.7 per cent in December 1924) the KPD and the SPD increased their combined vote by approximately 1.7 million, while their share of the total poll rose from 35.0 per cent to 40.4 per cent – a level only exceeded twice in the entire history of the Republic (19 January 1919: 45.5 per cent; 6 June 1920: 41.6 per cent). The election returns of May 1928 not only reflected through the parliamentary prism the renewed combativity of the German proletariat, but the contradictory fashion in which this process of radicalisation was unfolding. On all previous occasions, an increase in votes for the KPD (or in 1919-20, the USPD) had been accompanied by a decline in electoral support for the SPD. Thus in June 1920, the USPD vote rose by 2.7 million in the National Assembly elections of January 1919, while the SPD lost 5.4 million, being divided roughly equally between working-class defections to the left, and middle-class shifts towards the bourgeois centre and right. A contrary trend was at work during 1924, following the defeat of the previous year. In December, the KPD lost 0.9 million votes on the May elections, while the SPD picked up 1.8 million. Now in 1928, we find both parties gaining simultaneously (though at a different tempo), a sure indication that the entire workers’ movement was becoming radicalised, attracting to its side previously passive or even hostile layers of the working population. The rates of growth of the two parties also tell us something about the changed political climate after 1928. While the SPD vote had increased by 15 per cent, that of the KPD was 20 per cent above the level recorded in the elections of December 1924. This could only have meant that the KPD was attracting hundreds of thousands of former SPD supporters and voters, while, at the same time, the SPD was more than making good its proletarian losses to the left by winning over a considerable section of the democratic petit-bourgeoisie that had deserted the party after the National Assembly elections of January 1919. Both tendencies worked to the advantage of the KPD, since they indicated that the party was becoming a powerful pole of attraction for workers on the left flank of Social Democracy, while a significant layer of the middle class, by voting for the SPD, had given indications that, as in the campaign for the princes’ referendum, they were prepared to align themselves with the workers’ movement against the parties of the big bourgeoisie and the ultra-right. And here it should be noted that the Nazis reached their all-time low, with a wretched 810 000 votes. How that total became multiplied eightfold within the space of 28 months cannot be explained simply in terms of the impact of the 1929 world economic crisis, which hit Germany harder than any other capitalist state. To argue thus is to concede that fascist movements on such a stupendous scale must inevitably arise under similar conditions of economic crisis, and that therefore there is little or nothing the workers’ movement can do to prevent the middle class going over en masse to the counter-revolution. This was certainly never Trotsky’s view. Analysing the Reichstag elections of 14 September 1930, when the Nazis scored their first spectacular triumph (6.4 million votes), he wrote:

For the social crisis to bring about the proletarian revolution, it is necessary that, besides other conditions, a decisive shift of the petit-bourgeois classes occur in the direction of the proletariat. This will give the proletariat a chance to put itself at the head of the nation as its leader. The last election revealed, and this is its principal symptomatic significance, a shift in the opposite direction. Under the impact of the crisis, the petit-bourgeoisie swung, not in the direction of the proletarian revolution, but in the direction of the most extreme imperialist reaction, pulling behind it considerable sections of the proletariat. The gigantic growth of National Socialism is an expression of two factors: a deep social crisis, throwing the petit-bourgeois masses off balance, and the lack of a revolutionary party that would today be regarded by the popular masses as the acknowledged revolutionary leader. If the Communist Party is the party of revolutionary hope, then fascism, as a mass movement, is the party of counter-revolutionary despair. When revolutionary hope embraces the whole proletarian mass, it inevitably pulls behind it on the road of revolution considerable and growing sections of the petit-bourgeoisie. Precisely in this sphere, the election revealed the opposite picture: counter-revolutionary despair embraced the petit-bourgeois mass with such force that it drew behind it many sections of the proletariat. [1]

So what had transformed the cautious optimism of the democratic petit-bourgeoisie in 1928 into the ‘counter-revolutionary despair’ of 1930 was not only the economic crisis (which should have worked to the even greater advantage of the KPD), but the reciprocal relations between the two parties of the German proletariat. To understand why the KPD failed to exploit the crisis in Social Democracy unleashed by its assumption of power in 1928, and further aggravated to near-breaking point with the onset of the depression a year later (when the big bourgeoisie launched its campaign to oust the SPD from the government and replace it with a ruthlessly anti-working-class alliance of the right-wing parties), to understand why almost the entire petit-bourgeoisie, in the space of three years, stampeded into the camp of fascist counter-revolution, and why even at the very nadir of its fortunes, the SPD still clung on to the bulk of its proletarian support, it is necessary to turn our attentions towards the crucial developments within the Soviet Union and the leadership of the Communist International over the period between the defeat of the German Revolution in October 1923 and the Sixth Congress of the Communist International, held in Moscow in the summer of 1928.

As the leading section of the Communist International the Soviet Communist Party carried an enormous historical responsibility on its already heavily burdened shoulders. Not only had it to confront daily the gigantic task of organising the proletarian dictatorship and nationalised economy of a vast and culturally backward multinational state debilitated by eight years of uninterrupted imperialist and then civil war. The international character of the Russian Revolution, a revolution which issued out of the crisis of a world system of capitalist economic and political relations, necessarily meant that the USSR could only be defended and strengthened against the pressures of imperialism by the methods of international revolutionary class struggle, by the revolution’s extension to the heartlands of advanced industrial Europe, principally Germany. This, as we have already noted, was the perspective of Lenin from the first days and weeks of Soviet power. And if we study closely the writings and speeches of Lenin and Trotsky in this period, we are immediately struck by their internationalist approach to even the most mundane or routine task confronting the Soviet government or party. Repeatedly they stress the indissoluble yet contradictory unity between the struggle to consolidate Soviet power and the socialist elements of the economy in the USSR, and the fight for proletarian revolution in Central and Western Europe. The highest expression of this unity of opposites was to be found in the pre-Stalinist activity of the Communist International, summed up and generalised in its first four congresses between 1919 and 1922.

The history of the Communist International after 1923 is one of the squandering, perverting and near-liquidation of the immensely rich practical experience and vast theoretical capital accumulated both before its foundation, in the work of the Bolsheviks, and, from 1919, in the activity of its national sections. Step by step, the Stalinist faction in the CPSU gained control of the leadership of the International, driving out its most experienced, gifted and devoted cadres, disorienting and corrupting those who remained, and elevating to its supreme leadership those who for the most part owed their promotion to subservience to the ruling clique in the Kremlin, and an uncritical readiness to accept and embellish each and every slanderous attack on the Trotskyist Left Opposition concocted by the Soviet Stalinists. Central to Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism is his theoretical explanation of how and why the main turns in Comintern policy after 1923 flowed not from an objective Marxist appraisal of the strategic revolutionary requirements of the working class in the country concerned, but from the tactical exigencies of the burgeoning Soviet bureaucracy. Trotsky was able to demonstrate in his many writings on the USSR and the Communist International that both the period of right-opportunism between 1925 and 1927 when Stalin’s faction drove key sections of the International into uncritical blocs with trade union and Social Democratic lefts (Britain) and left bourgeois nationalists (China), and the subsequent phase of ultra-leftism (that ended in 1934 with the adoption of the Popular Front and during which these same reformists were now deemed to be transformed from valuable allies of the proletariat into ‘social fascists’ and with whom no alliance of any description was permissible) the fundamental theoretical and material basis of Stalinist policy was the same. Whether pursuing a policy of the wildest adventurism, as in Germany between 1930 and 1933, and which made possible the victory of fascism, or the crassest opportunism, as was the case in the bloc between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek, which led directly to the massacre of the Shanghai proletariat in April 1927, the Stalinist faction in the CPSU and the leadership of the Communist International clung firmly to its leader’s policy of building ‘socialism in one country’, independently of the course of the class struggle in either the colonial world to the Soviet Union’s south and east, or in the advanced imperialist nations to the west.

The essence of Stalin’s nationalist revision of all Marxist teachings on the international nature of the class struggle was this: that provided further imperialist interventions were kept at bay, the USSR could, alone and unaided by socialist revolutions in the West, proceed to construct a fully developed socialist society. The world division of labour, the international nature of economic relations, the need for the backward Soviet economy to avail itself of the technological expertise and material assistance of culturally advanced countries such as Germany – all this was discarded as Stalin’s new nationalist doctrine became the official line of the CPSU and then the Communist International. Those such as Trotsky who continued to uphold the original internationalist perspectives of the Russian Revolution were slandered either as adventurists who wished to carry the revolution to the West by military means (the ‘export of revolution’, which in Stalinist parlance became identified with Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution), or alternatively (and sometimes simultaneously) as capitulators who had abdicated the struggle to develop a socialist-type economy in the Soviet Union. These fundamental differences over questions of internationalism and socialist construction in the USSR were to have a profound bearing on the course of the class struggle in the imperialist world, and nowhere more so than in Germany. After the great defeat of October-November 1923, the KPD was confronted with two central tasks. It had first of all frankly to acknowledge that an historic defeat had indeed been inflicted on the party and the working class, and secondly to learn the reasons why. Here the rise of Stalin’s bureaucratic clique in the CPSU played an especially pernicious role. Because of a unique conjuncture of political forces in the two parties, it was able to ally itself briefly with a faction on the Central Committee of the KPD which was widely regarded by Communist workers as a genuine left alternative to the centrist-inclined Brandler group which had so badly and tragically bungled the revolutionary opportunity in the autumn of 1923. In the early months of 1924, it should be remembered, Stalin had aligned himself with two other prominent ‘old’ Bolsheviks, Zinoviev and Kamenev (the so-called ‘Troika’), to block Trotsky’s fight against bureaucratism in the party and state apparatus. [2] Appearing before the party and the International as the custodians of orthodox Bolshevism – a claim that appeared substantiated to the majority of members by their long records in the party – Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev succeeded in having Trotsky condemned by the Thirteenth Party Conference in January 1924 as the leader of a ‘petit-bourgeois deviation’ in the CPSU. At once, the ‘Russian question’ became an issue for every section of the Communist International since the Troika now had to ensure that their line prevailed not only in the Soviet Union, but throughout the entire Communist movement. This meant that in the KPD, the major party of the Communist International (where an oppositional movement would prove most damaging to the prestige and position of the Stalin faction in the Soviet Union), a tendency had to be sought out which would uncritically support the ruling group in the CPSU and Zinoviev’s leadership on the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI). This task had acquired a double urgency in view of the fact that both Zinoviev and Stalin were directly implicated in the defeat of 1923. Zinoviev had been responsible for the directives sent to the KPD over the preceding months of preparation, and Stalin had dispatched a letter to the KPD Central Committee recommending the continuation of the party’s cautious united front policy which the developing crisis demanded should be rapidly terminated. [3]

A scapegoat was found – Brandler – and a new group brought into the top leadership which owed its promotion more to direct support from Moscow than the democratic decisions of the appropriate German party bodies. Trotsky was completely opposed to such a blatantly administrative and factional ‘solution’ to what was a far more deep-going and complex problem involving the entire history of the German workers’ movement. It could not be overcome by the removal of one leadership, however inadequate, and its arbitrary replacement by another, whatever its pretensions to revolutionary intransigence. Even though Trotsky made clear his political differences with Brandler (differences that continued to widen over the years) his principled defence of Brandler led to his name being linked with an alleged centrist, semi-Menshevik tendency in the Communist International as well as the CPSU. (Radek, who also opposed the removal of Brandler by Zinoviev’s ukase, was indeed in political sympathy with the deposed KPD secretary, an error quickly exploited by the Troika in its campaign against the entire Opposition, since Radek endorsed many of Trotsky’s criticisms of the Soviet party regime and political line.) Thus Trotsky became identified as a supporter of the German ‘right’, while Stalin and Zinoviev formed an episodic alliance with the KPD ‘left’ of Ruth Fischer, Ernst Thälmann and Arkadi Maslow, whose group was now given an enlarged representation on the Central Committee of the party. [4] The fruits of this unprincipled bloc were a grotesque parody of Bolshevism, a pseudo-revolutionary intransigence against Social Democracy that foreshadowed, albeit on a very embryonic plane, the ultra-leftism of the Stalinist Third Period.

Having disposed of Brandler, the ruling group in the Soviet party and the Communist International had to assert that no serious reverse had been suffered under its leadership in Germany, that the revolutionary crisis was continuing to develop, and that the revolutionary opportunity, far from being missed in the autumn of 1923, lay ahead in the near future. [5] This utterly false assessment of the political situation in Germany provided the sounding board to the mounting leftist rantings that reached a crescendo at the Fifth Congress of the Communist International held in Moscow in July 1924. In January 1924, at a conference of the International Red Aid, Zinoviev stated that ‘Germany is apparently marching towards a sharpened civil war’, while a month later the Praesidium of the ECCI declared in its resolution on the recent German events that the KPD ‘must not remove from the agenda the question of the uprising and the seizure of power. On the contrary this question must stand before us in all its concreteness and urgency.’ On 26 March, the ECCI advised the KPD that the defeat of October 1923 was ‘only an episode’ and that ‘the fundamental estimate remains the same as before’.

With the working class in headlong political retreat under Seeckt’s military dictatorship, and the German bourgeoisie at last beginning to consolidate itself after years of turmoil and crisis, the ECCI, under Zinoviev’s direction, made no call for the KPD to change its tactics or policies: ‘The KPD must continue as hitherto to exert all its forces in the work to arm the working class.’ Arm the working class! That this advice could be given to a party driven into illegality, under conditions where any attempt at armed resistance to Seeckt’s rule would have been met by the most savage repressions imaginable, indicated just how rapidly the ruling clique in the Communist International was veering away from Leninist strategy and tactics. One need only recall Lenin’s tactical retreat at the time of the ‘July Days’ in Petrograd to see how little Zinoviev’s suicidal recipes had in common with Bolshevism. In the summer of 1923, when the maturing of the revolutionary crisis demanded that the KPD sever the united front with the SPD lefts and begin the preparations for the arming of the proletariat and the insurrection, Stalin and Zinoviev counselled restraint. Now, when the revolutionary opportunity had been missed, they demanded the arming of the proletariat and the rejection of the united front on the grounds that the revolution was still approaching. The question of the united front is the one that concerns us most here, since it had a crucial bearing on the outcome of the conflict between the Nazis and the German proletariat between 1930 and 1933, when the Stalinists – for the second time – banned the formation of a united anti-fascist front between the KPD and the SPD. The ECCI statement on the German events, dated 19 January 1924, had this to say on the united front tactic in Germany:

The leading strata of German Social Democracy are at the present moment nothing but a fraction of German fascism wearing a socialist mask. They handed state power over to the representatives of the capitalist dictatorship in order to save capitalism from the proletarian revolution... It is not just now that these leaders of German Social Democracy have gone over to the side of capital. At bottom they have been always on the side of the class enemies of the proletariat, but it is only now that this has been revealed to the masses in a glaring light, [6] by their completing the transition from capitalist democracy to capitalist dictatorship. This circumstance induces us to modify the united front tactics in Germany. There can be no dealings with mercenaries of the White dictatorship. This must be clearly grasped by all German Communists, and solemnly and loudly announced to the entire German proletariat. Even more dangerous than the right-wing SPD leaders are the left – the last illusion of the deceived workers... The KPD rejects not only any dealings with the SPD centre, but also with the ‘left’ leaders until they shall have shown at least enough manliness to break openly with the counter-revolutionary gang in the SPD presidium. The slogan of the united front tactic in Germany is now: Unity from below! ... The KPD must learn how to put this slogan of the united front from below into operation. [Emphasis added]

Thus even while Lenin lived – he died two days after the adoption of this resolution – the revolutionary tactics and strategy, principles and theory which will forever be associated with his name were being quite openly challenged by the Stalin – Zinoviev bloc. Social Democracy is no longer characterised as a bourgeois tendency within the workers’ movement, but as a ‘fraction of fascism wearing a socialist mask’. In other words, social fascism. The statement that Social Democracy had completed the transition from capitalist democracy to capitalist dictatorship was not only proved false in the light of subsequent developments in Germany (where far from serving as an instrument of capitalist dictatorship, the SPD found itself excluded from participation in the government for more than four years, and on at least one occasion – the attempted coup of May 1926 – ran the risk of being the victim of capitalist dictatorship itself), but in a general theoretical sense, in that no tendency which has its historical roots in the proletariat and depends for its survival on a measure of working-class support, can merge completely and permanently with an open military or fascist-type bourgeois dictatorship. The false propositions that Social Democracy had turned fascist (or to employ a term much abused by the Workers Press,corporatist’) and that it had fused totally and irrevocably with the military dictatorship of Seeckt (a dictatorship that terminated barely a month after this resolution was adopted, when Ebert lifted the state of emergency first proclaimed in September 1923) served to justify the abandonment of the united front tactic, and its replacement by the ‘united front from below’. Finally, an ultimatum was issued to the SPD lefts – break with your party centre and right, or we will refuse to form a united front with you. In other words, the KPD was instructed to form a ‘united front’ only with those workers and leaders outside its ranks who in advance gave undertakings to accept in toto KPD policy – a complete violation and travesty of the meaning and spirit of the united front as it was conceived by the Communist International in the years 1921 and 1922.

The Leninist United Front

Towards the end of 1921, the Communist International – not without some considerable inner resistance on the part of its sections – turned towards the tactic of a united front with the parties of the Second International, the centrist Vienna Union (the ‘Two-and-a-Half International’) and the reformist Amsterdam International Federation of Trade Unions. What had brought about this tactical change of line was not a reappraisal of Social Democracy, nor indeed any change of policy within the leadership of the reformist and centrist internationals, but the temporary recession of the postwar revolutionary wave in Europe. Fascism was on the offensive in Italy, and bourgeois reaction in its various forms in Germany, France and Britain. Every worker and every labour organisation, no matter what political tendency, had to bear the brunt of the capitalist attack on wages, working conditions, jobs and democratic rights then gathering speed across the continent. With a view to establishing a united front of all workers’ organisations against the bourgeoisie, the ECCI sent out to all the sections directives on how the campaign for the united front should be conducted. It stressed the two underlying principles that had to be observed in all united front activity. Firstly, that far from repelling those workers seeking unity with the Communist parties, but reluctant to break from their own leaders and organisations:

The ECCI is of the opinion that the slogan of the Third World Congress of the Communist International, ‘To the Masses’, and the interests of the Communist movement generally, require the Communist parties and the Communist International as a whole to support the slogan of the united front of the workers and to take the initiative in this matter. [7]

The second and equally important principle went to the root of all genuine revolutionary activity:

The principal conditions which are equally categorical for Communist parties in all countries are... the absolute independence of every Communist party which enters into an agreement with the parties of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, its complete freedom to put forward its own views and to criticise the opponents of Communism. While accepting a basis for action, Communists must retain the unconditional right and the possibility of expressing their opinion of the policy of all working-class organisations without exception, not only before and after action has been taken but also, if necessary, during its course [emphasis in original]. In no circumstances can these rights be surrendered. While supporting the slogan of the greatest possible unity of all workers’ organisations in every practical action against the capitalist front, Communists may in no circumstances desist from putting forward their views, which are the only consistent expression of the defence of working-class interests as a whole. [8]

The history of Stalinism is one of the violation of these two cardinal Communist principles, either through an ultra-leftist rejection of the united front, first in 1924, and then, with far more deadly repercussions, between 1928 and 1934; or an opportunist, uncritical bloc with the reformists, exemplified by Stalin’s combination with the TUC General Council during the British General Strike of 1926, and later by the liquidation of an already existing unprincipled united front into a counter-revolutionary alliance with the liberal wing of the ruling class – the Stalinist policy of the Popular Front, inaugurated officially by the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935, and never since abandoned. Nor was the united front in Lenin’s day conceived of simply as a manoeuvre to ‘expose’ the reformists. It was also a response to and acknowledgement of the profound, organic desire of the working masses for unity against the main class enemy. [9] The Leninist united front devised a form of struggle whereby this unity could be achieved while at the same time the fundamental differences in the workers’ movement could continue to be fought out without any one of its tendencies surrendering either its organisational independence or political principles. ‘March separately, strike together’, was the slogan under which the Communist International launched its world campaign for the united front with the centrist and reformist internationals.

The initiative of the ECCI did not fall on stony ground. Under pressure from their millions of proletarian members and voters, who were daily feeling the same lash of the capitalist offensive in the factories and mines, and on the dole queues, as did their Communist class brothers, the leaders of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals accepted the ECCI invitation and attended a joint conference of the three movements which opened in the Berlin Reichstag building on 2 April 1922. The discussion was always sharp, at times acrimonious and even verged on virtual civil war. Yet at the end of the day, all three delegations were able to put their names to a joint statement committing the reformists and centrists to a united plan of action with the Communist International against the capitalist offensive and for the defence of the Soviet Union. The agreed resolution called for united demonstrations in every country over the next month on the following demands:

Of course, the reformists immediately attempted to backtrack on these jointly-agreed demands once the question arose of putting them into practice, and this retreat obliged the Communist International both to denounce the reformists for breaking the agreement concluded at the Berlin conference, and to press on independently with such support as the Communist parties could muster amongst the rank and file of the reformist movement. The tactic of the united front was never intended, when first conceived, to bind the hands of revolutionaries simply because the leaders of other tendencies either refused to enter into such tactical agreements, or proceeded to break them when confronted with the resoluteness of the class enemy. As the ECCI statement on the Berlin conference made very clear:

... the united front is not and should not be merely a fraternisation of party leaders... With the leaders, if they want it so, without the leaders if they remain indifferently aside, and in defiance of the leaders and against the leaders if they sabotage the workers’ united front. [11]

And for a brief period in the early summer of 1922, following the breakdown of the arrangements to hold a world congress of the three internationals, the ECCI did recommend to the sections that they struggle to build a ‘united front from below’. But it should be remembered that this turn followed a period of repeated attempts to secure a united front with the leaders of the reformist and centrist internationals, an agreement which, when finally reached, was promptly violated.

And it is evident from the text of the document in question that this ‘united front from below’ had nothing in common with the versions of Zinoviev (1924) and Stalin (1928-33), as the following extract makes clear:

The proletariat without distinction of party has had the opportunity of convincing itself who is for the united front and who is against. The resistance of the leaders of the Second International has frustrated the attempt to organise the proletarian united front from above. That makes it a duty to rally all forces to organise the proletariat for the common struggle in opposition to the leaders of the Second International. Communist workers, it is your duty to spread the lesson of this first attempt to establish the united front among the broadest masses of the working class. Workers of the parties of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals! After this experience with your leaders it is your duty to do everything, to omit nothing, to show the leaders of your parties who have forgotten their duty that you will no longer tolerate sabotage of the united front... The slogan of the world workers’ congress will be the slogan of further struggle, but the experience of this first attempt has shown that to be successful it is necessary to break the resistance of the Social Democratic leaders... Fight the leaders of the Second International who are splitting the working class. Build the united front from below. [12]

There is not the slightest trace here of ultra-leftism. The workers in the reformist parties are called upon ‘from below’ to fight their leaders in order to drive them back into the united front which they had so shamefully deserted. It was not, as under Zinoviev and then Stalin, an administratively conceived manoeuvre to ‘capture’ the reformist-led workers from their already sufficiently ‘exposed’ leaders, but a tactical turn, a necessary prelude to a renewed offensive to force the leaders of the Second International back into the united front, thus bringing into struggle against capitalism (and, given a correct tactic and a favourable conjuncture, eventually against their own reformist leaders) millions of workers who would, without such a lead from their organisations, have remained on the periphery of the fight.

The Communist International did indeed return to the united front tactic later that same year, when at its Fourth World Congress, held in the shadow of the victory of Italian Fascism, it issued a challenge to the leaders of world reformism:

The Fourth Comintern Congress puts a plain question to the Second and Vienna Internationals: Are they willing, now that their policy has still further worsened the position of the working class, to offer their hand to establish the common front of the international proletariat for the struggle for the basic rights and interests of the working class? It asks the Amsterdam International whether it is willing to stop splitting the trade unions, stop excluding Communists from the unions, willing to help in a united front of the working class? ... As we said at the Berlin conference, the CI does not expect the parties of the Second International, the Vienna Labour Union and the Amsterdam trade union leaders to fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat, [13] which was and is our goal. But we ask them whether they want to fight against the dictatorship of capital, whether at least they want to use what remains of democracy to organise resistance to the triumph of that same capital which turned the world into a mass grave and is now digging new mass graves for our proletarian youth. The CI has spoken... It is now the turn of the Second International, the Vienna Labour Union, the Amsterdam Trade Union International and its Hague Congress to speak. [14]

With the leftwards shift in the German proletariat that gathered pace after the eruption of the Ruhr crisis in January 1923, the KPD was especially well placed to develop the united front tactic on a local and national scale, and it was pursued with great energy and success up until the summer of that year when with the general strike and the fall of Cuno, a sharpening of the attack on Social Democracy called for a new tactical turn. The failure of the Brandler leadership to make such a turn – a failure which was due in no small part to the role played by Zinoviev and, to a lesser degree, Stalin, who sent his letter to the KPD Central Committee at this crucial moment – was used in the early months of 1924 to cast doubt on the validity of the united front tactic generally. The formulation ‘united front from below’ was given a leftist interpretation, since it now ruled out negotiations with reformist leaders on principle, whereas the formula had originally applied to a situation which arose when the reformists had either already broken off or declined to enter a united front between the reformists and revolutionary organisations of the working class.

The Fifth Congress of the Communist International, held in July 1924, should have placed the German defeat right at the top of its agenda, not in order, in the manner of Zinoviev and Stalin, to hunt down, denounce and disgrace scapegoats, but, as Trotsky repeatedly insisted at this time, to prevent such a disaster occurring in the future. But the consolidation of the Stalin-led bureaucratic clique in the leadership of the Soviet party, drawing its strength from the moods of depression in the working class and the party following the defeat in Germany and the decline of the revolutionary wave throughout Europe, conspired to prevent such a discussion from taking place. The result was a congress conducted as if in a political and historical vacuum, in which Leninist formulas were eclectically interwoven with the leftist rhetoric in which Zinoviev and his supporters in the Communist International were so adept at this particular time. For the first time in an official Comintern congress resolution, Social Democracy was designated as a pro-fascist tendency, and not a reformist current within the workers’ movement which served the interests of the bourgeoisie by diverting the proletariat from the revolutionary struggle for power. In the resolution adopted by the congress on fascism, we read the following formulation, one that was put into cold storage for the duration of the right turn between 1925 and 1927, and then revived and given an even more leftist emphasis in the six years between 1928 and 1934:

As bourgeois society continues to decay, all bourgeois parties, particularly Social Democracy, take on a more or less fascist character... Fascism and Social Democracy are the two sides of the same instrument of capitalist dictatorship. In the fight against fascism, therefore, Social Democracy can never be a reliable ally of the proletariat. [15]

This utterly false characterisation of the relationship between fascism and Social Democracy was rendered all the more dangerous in this instance in that it was combined with an impeccable definition of fascism. [16]

Once again we can see the same idealist method being employed in the approach to Social Democracy. First it is dubbed ‘more or less’ fascist, then, for good measure, workers are told in suitably grave tones that it ‘can never be a reliable ally of the fighting proletariat’. But the Communist International was founded in 1919 for this very reason! Was it therefore necessary to ‘prove’ it yet again by abusing reformist leaders as fascists? The test of whether Social Democrats can prove reliable allies of the proletariat in its struggle against capitalism – an issue not in doubt amongst Communists – is repeatedly to summon them, through mass pressure from below, combined with direct appeals from above, to joint struggle on a limited and agreed set of demands, under the condition that neither party demands of the other that it surrenders its right to criticise its united front allies, or its freedom of action on issues where there is not and can never be any such agreement. The Fifth Congress recommended a different united policy from that pursued under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky – and, incidentally, Zinoviev – in earlier years. The sections of the Communist International were now summoned to ‘fight for the international united front under Comintern leadership’. [17] In other words, participation by other tendencies in this ‘united front’ was excluded from the outset, since, by definition, it was to be under the sole leadership of the Communist International and therefore no united front at all.

And as if this was not enough to bemuse the delegates and those they represented, another resolution, the Theses on Tactics, adopted a mid-way position between the already-quoted formulation on the united front, and that which had been current in the Communist International in 1921-23. Here the main purpose of the united front was characterised as a ‘struggle against the leaders of counter-revolutionary Social Democracy and... emancipating Social Democratic workers from their influence’, a view which was contrasted with a ‘right-wing tendency’ in the Communist International (a thrust primarily at Brandler) which ‘tended to interpret the united front as a political alliance with Social Democracy’.

Both are wrong. The united front is neither simply a struggle against the leaders of reformism, any more than it is an alliance with Social Democracy. It is a fighting bloc of two or more workers’ organisations which come together on certain basic class issues which affect them all and which agree to fight together for a limited time for a limited set of demands. In the course of the struggle for the united front, and during its operation, it will become possible for the Communists to convince workers following the reformists that their leaders do indeed fail to defend their class interests, but only in so far as the Communists prove themselves by their wholehearted commitment to the united front action that they are fighting for the class as a whole, and not simply in order to expose the reformist leaders. Along this sectarian path lies certain alienation of the reformist workers, and the consequent strengthening of Social Democracy. The same resolution underlined its eclectic character by then swinging over to the leftist position adopted in the resolution on fascism: that is, the ‘united front from below’:

The tactics of the united front from below are the most important, that is, a united front under Communist leadership concerning Communist, Social Democratic and non-party workers in factory, factory council, trade union, and extending to an entire industrial centre or area or industry. [18]

All very impressive on paper. But, a naive worker might ask, since you intend to form a ‘united front from below’ with Social Democratic and reformist trade union workers at every imaginable place, why not, instead of calling upon these millions of workers individually to place themselves under the leadership of the Communist Party (something they are obviously not prepared to do, since they have decided to remain with the reformists), why not address this demand to the organisations to which these workers belong, or owe their political allegiance? At the Fifth Congress, such a question would have received several answers, according to which resolution it was drawn from. After the Sixth Congress in 1928, there was only one permissible reply: the Social Democrats have turned social fascists, together with the organisations they lead, even down to their middle and lower officials, cadres, shop stewards and municipal councillors. Therefore, no unity with the social fascist traitors, but only a united front from below under the leadership of the Communist Party. We can see how – quite unconsciously – the ground was being prepared for this suicidal rejection of the Leninist united front in the period of leftism which followed the defeat of the German revolution and reached its apogee at the Fifth Congress of the Communist International.

Far more issues were at stake for the Troika at the Fifth Congress than an examination of the German defeat. Indeed, the fantasy was still sustained in defiance of all the evidence that the proletariat was still advancing towards the revolution! [19] Neither was there a serious appraisal of the application of the united front tactic in a period when large numbers of workers previously behind the Communist parties were drifting back towards the reformists. The central issue at the congress was the isolation and defeat of Trotsky and his real or suspected supporters in the other sections of the Communist International. This campaign of necessity had to take the form of a fight against Trotsky’s alleged attempts to ‘substitute Trotskyism for Leninism’. By a clever series of manoeuvres, the Zinovievists in the ECCI and the national sections were able quite falsely to link Trotsky with genuine centrist elements in the International, who had indeed been guilty of committing opportunist errors in their dealings with Social Democracy during the period of the application of the united front tactic in Germany and elsewhere. [20] Thus the so-called ‘Bolshevisation’ campaign was a two-edged weapon. While it directed justified blows at the centrists, it also served to undermine Trotsky’s standing in the Soviet party and the Communist International, thereby clearing the ground for the revision of Leninist principles and theory that was shortly to be undertaken by Stalin with his new nationalist policy of ‘socialism in one country’, which he first enunciated in October 1924.

In a superficial sense it could be argued that the leftist line prevailing in the Communist International from January 1924 until a year later did not correspond to the rightwards course being pursued within the Soviet Union by the Troika in the field of economic policy and on questions of party democracy and the fight against bureaucracy. But this is to miss the contradictory essence of the Thermidorian reaction then unfolding in the Soviet Union. Its most acute manifestations appeared at the core of the party organisation, and it was consequently against Stalin, the recently-appointed party General Secretary, that Lenin intended to direct his heaviest blows. But precisely because bureaucratisation was concentrated at the party centre, it assumed a highly contradictory form. The eroding of party democracy was carried through in the name of defending the party rank and file against ‘aristocrats’ such as Trotsky. The entrenchment of Stalin’s bureaucratic clique took place under the sign of a ‘Leninist’ struggle against bureaucracy. Casting itself – initially quite sincerely – in the role of the defender of Bolshevik traditions, the Troika depicted Trotsky as the leading spokesman for a ‘Social Democratic deviation’ in the party, in which role Trotsky was fast regressing to his alleged former Menshevik errors.

And this line was carried over into the Communist International, a manoeuvre greatly facilitated by Zinoviev’s chairmanship of the ECCI, from which position he was able to build up anti-Trotsky factions in most of the parties of the International (many of the Zinovievists soon found themselves out of favour when their patron temporarily broke from Stalin in the spring of 1926 to form a bloc with Trotsky – the Joint Opposition). This unity between the lines pursued by the dominant faction in the post-Lenin Communist International and Soviet party also expressed itself in another subtle fashion. Throughout 1924, and even into the early months of 1925, the ECCI tried to sustain the illusion that the working class was still on the offensive. This was in part a factional position directed against Trotsky (the leader of the ‘Social Democratic deviation’), who argued that, on the contrary, the immediate perspective was not one of a naked clash between the forces of proletarian revolution and fascist counter-revolution (in which the Social Democrats had been allotted by Zinoviev and Stalin the role of a left cover for fascism), but of the revival of Social Democracy on the basis of an easing of tensions between the classes. As the year drew on, more and more evidence piled up that Trotsky was correct, that the workers’ movement was in decline almost everywhere, that the reformists were not only regaining their grip on large sections of the proletariat who had moved towards Communism over the previous two to three years, but were even preparing to or had entered coalition governments with the liberal representatives of the bourgeoisie (France and Britain). Yet still Zinoviev, sustained by the Stalin faction in the Soviet party, refused to acknowledge this new situation, one which demanded different tactics towards reformism from those called for in Germany in the autumn of 1923. And if a real mass movement of workers could not be found by the Communist International, then substitutes for it had to be created. To adopt a long-term perspective that took into account the real level of the working-class movement was tantamount to conceding that Trotsky was correct in his estimation of the nature of the period through which the Communist International was passing, something Zinoviev, for factional reasons, was not prepared to do, no more than were his supporters around Stalin in the Soviet party apparatus. Thus began the search for forces outside the proletariat that could fill the vacuum created by the decline in working-class militancy after the defeat in Germany, the continued rule of Fascism in Italy, and the renewal of Social Democracy throughout Europe.

Organisations and leaders who briefly flitted across the Comintern stage in this period included the Peasants International (Krestintern) headed by the Pole Dombal, a movement whose size and influence was exaggerated out of all proportion as the specific weight of the Communist International declined in the major capitalist countries. In the United States, the Communist Party attempted to create the semblance of a mass movement by throwing its few and precious cadres into a campaign designed to boost and ‘capture’ the Farmer-Labour Party of the radical petit-bourgeois LaFollette. None of these opportunist ventures produced any tangible ‘results’ for the Communist International except confusion and a shameful mixing of banners and programmes. And what is especially significant is that this liquidationism proceeded at full speed at the precise time when the ECCI was proclaiming from the Kremlin rooftops its undying hostility to a Social Democracy that was turning fascist, and remonstrating with all those in the sections who still argued for the application of a genuine Leninist united front with the reformist workers’ organisations. Leftism, as is so often the case, provided the screen for a transition to opportunist positions. For what was the essence of Stalin’s Comintern policy between 1925 and the end of 1927? That in order to prevent an imperialist intervention from disrupting the USSR’s gradual progression towards ‘socialism in one country’, it was necessary to subordinate the parties of the Communist International to the strategy of building a series and network of blocs with reformist and bourgeois nationalist organisations, whose sole task it would be to restrain the imperialists from an invasion of the USSR. In Trotsky’s words, Stalin’s policy was to transform the parties of the Communist International from movements fighting for the proletarian revolution into ‘frontier guards of the Soviet Union’. The essential groundwork for this right-wing turn, one which ruined a pre-revolutionary situation in Britain, and a revolutionary one in China, had been laid during the period of ultra-leftism in 1924. In both instances, the Comintern leadership leaned for support on organisations and leaders whose entire outlook was hostile to the methods and goals of proletarian revolution. In the 1924 phase of leftism, this took the form of seeking artificially and administratively to accelerate the tempo of the class struggle, a method which had its tragic climax in the suicidal Estonian uprising of December 1924, while in the rightist phase of 1925-27, it was to restrain a working class now resuming the offensive by subordinating its Communist leadership to an unprincipled alliance with reformists (the TUC General Council in Britain) and bourgeois nationalists (Kuomintang in China). In both cases, the method of organisation and leadership was bureaucratic, and had its social roots in the growth of bureaucracy within the Soviet Union in conditions of economic backwardness, cultural poverty and imperialist encirclement. Trotsky summed up the dialectical relationship between these three crucial phases of the Communist International – the rightist errors in Germany in 1923, the year of leftism which followed, and the opportunist line of 1925-27 – in the following way:

The Left illusions of 1924 rose thanks to the Right leaven. In order to conceal the significance of the mistakes and defeats of 1923 from others as well as from oneself, the process of the swing to the Right that was taking place in the proletariat had to be denied and revolutionary processes within the other classes optimistically exaggerated. That was the beginning of the downsliding from the proletarian line to the centrist... which in the course of the increasing [capitalist] stabilisation, was to liberate itself from its ultra-left shell and reveal itself as a crude collaborationist line in the USSR, in China, in England, in Germany and everywhere else. [21]

Thus the formation of the Anglo-Soviet Trade Union Committee was conceived under the leftist schemas in force during the unfettered reign of Zinoviev, but applied in a thoroughgoing right-opportunist fashion in the period before, during and even after the betrayal of the General Strike by the Soviet trade unions’ British TUC partners. What had changed in the course of 1925 was not the method of leadership in the Communist International but a definite bedding down of the rising bureaucracy on the foundations of the more privileged elements of Soviet society – the technical experts, richer peasants (kulaks), highly-skilled workers, party and non-party officials and the like. This layer, like the labour bureaucracy in the capitalist countries, was either in the process of solving its own ‘social question’, or, in the case of the most privileged layers in the party, state and economy, had done so already. And as a satisfied social stratum, it acted as a conservative force within the Soviet Union and its ruling party, eschewing all political or social upheavals that might disrupt its own petit-bourgeois or even bourgeois conditions of life. Here too it began to exhibit, though necessarily in the guise of adherence to Stalin’s revisionist version of ‘Bolshevism’, all the ideological and psychological traits of its counterpart in the trade union and Social Democratic bureaucracies in the major capitalist countries. Inevitably, this stratum began to exert enormous pressure on the organisation and leading cadres of the Communist International, since this movement, while it remained true to its revolutionary principles, was a permanent and intolerable challenge to the untrammelled rule of the usurping bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. Just as had been the case in the Soviet party, Stalin became the instrument for the exertion of this pressure, for, despite his many weaknesses, Zinoviev found himself drawn towards Trotsky on a series of key issues: China, where the Communist Party had, on the instructions of the ECCI, liquidated itself into the bourgeois Kuomintang; Britain, where the Communist Party and its Minority Movement in the trade unions was functioning as little more than a mouthpiece for the TUC lefts with the slogan of ‘All Power to the General Council’; and on economic policy in the Soviet Union, where Stalin, now backed by his new theoretician Bukharin, was leaning on the kulak and the private trader and opposing Trotsky’s repeated demands for a planned policy of rapid industrialisation and voluntary collectivisation of private farming. The eclipse and final ousting of Zinoviev from the chairmanship of the ECCI, [22] a post he had held on Lenin’s proposal since its foundation in March 1919, was therefore a treacherous blow struck by the bureaucracy against the international working class and on behalf of the most reactionary anti-Soviet forces in the USSR. This progressive weakening and eventual destruction of the Communist International as a revolutionary factor in the life of the Soviet and world working classes was absolutely essential for the triumph of the Stalinist bureaucracy, and its leader could not afford to rest until its finest cadres had either been expelled, broken or murdered in the cellars of the Lubianka, along with the victims of Stalin’s purges in the CPSU.

Towards the Sixth Congress

Trotsky makes the theoretically acute observation that beginning with the false leftist line of 1924, each wrong orientation of the Communist International originated in the mistakes of the previous phase. Thus we have two interpenetrating processes. After 1924, Stalin’s bloc with the kulak and the private trader (justified on the basis of Bukharin’s theory that the rich peasant could be persuaded peacefully to ‘grow into’ socialism) provided the national foundations for the Communist International’s international policy of blocs with reformists and bourgeois nationalists. However it was not simply a question of a mechanical or automatic reflex projection of the Soviet line on to the Communist International, but also of such an opportunist turn being nourished by the leftist errors of 1924. The same process was at work on a national scale three years later, when recoiling at the last moment from the threat of a revolt against the Soviet power by the pampered and appeased kulaks, Stalin swung sharply to the left and demanded what amounted to enforced collectivisation of the peasantry and a crash programme of industrialisation. This leftist zigzag, just like those that had preceded it in the Communist International, had been prepared by the previous policy, one of steady retreat before restorationist elements in the town and country, and of continuous and mounting persecution of the Left Opposition, which had developed a programme to counter the crisis and to bring the Communist International back to its original revolutionary perspective.

What effect did Stalin’s abrupt about-turn on domestic economic issues have on the policy of the Communist International, which from 1925 until the last months of 1927, had been one of the right-opportunist blocs with reformists, bourgeois nationalists and petit-bourgeois radicals? Once again, the problem is more complex than might appear at first sight. It has almost become a truism today to say that the line of the Communist International was after Lenin’s death determined by the policies being pursued by the dominant faction in the Soviet bureaucracy. This can indeed be substantiated by referring to the ultra-leftist swing which began in the Communist International early in 1928 and gathered pace step by step with the increased tempo and ferocity of Stalin’s drive to ‘liquidate the kulaks as a class’. Likewise with the right turn towards the Popular Front and entry into the League of Nations (1934), which coincided with the completion of collectivisation, a slackening in the tempo of industrialisation, and the emergence of fresh recruits – several millions strong – to the Soviet ‘élite’, whose material basis had been created by the enormous economic and social changes wrought over the previous six years. But we have also to consider the Communist International as a force in its own right, led by cadres whose record of struggle in the workers’ movement in many cases went back over more than a quarter of a century. For all their political faults, they were not made of the stuff that lent them readily or willingly to becoming puppets of Stalin’s ruling clique. Indeed, not only the leading bodies of the Communist International, but those of its national sections had to be purged repeatedly before Stalin could trust the International to function as a servile tool of Kremlin diplomacy. Nor should we neglect the millions of workers who over the years joined the parties of the Communist International in order to make the socialist revolution in their own countries, and not simply to worship and applaud ‘socialist construction’ in the USSR from afar (as did in the Popular Front period so many middle-class liberals and radicals). The proletarian base of the Communist International in the major capitalist countries could not be expected by Stalin to submit knowingly to a line that spelt defeat and even physical destruction for themselves and their movement. Then we must also remember that what Trotsky says about the first two zigzags after 1923 also holds good for the third in 1928, when suddenly and without exception the national sections were found to have been harbouring hordes of right-wing deviationists who had unaccountably remained undetected over the previous three years. The opportunist line of that period now bore the same relationship to the ultra-leftist one that was to succeed it as did the centrist mistakes of the KPD in 1923 to the Zinoviev-inspired leftism of 1924. The policy of aligning the Communist parties with the reformists had not only led to serious new defeats (as in Britain), but had generated considerable hostility towards the Social Democrats among rank-and-file Communist workers. This thoroughly justified hatred for the reformists who had betrayed the General Strike of 1926 and crucified the miners right into the winter of that year, was not developed along Leninist lines by the adoption of correct tactics in relation to the reformist movement in Britain and other countries where it was strong; but perverted and exploited through a renewal, in an even more leftist fashion, of the sectarian formulas of 1924, which had been gathering dust in Bukharin’s office for the duration of the bloc with the TUC and the Kuomintang. While the basic and decisive impetus for the ultra-left turn towards the ‘united front from below’ and the theory of ‘social fascism’ came from the dramatic turn in the Soviet Union at the beginning of 1928, it was without the least doubt anticipated, supplemented and augmented by the dialectical relationship between the manifold stages and phases in the degeneration of the Communist International that began with the German defeat of 1923.

Nor, finally, should we for one moment underestimate the importance of the theoretical, programmatic and agitational activity of the Left Opposition. Although increasingly denied access to the party press and the right to address meetings of fellow party comrades, the Left Opposition tirelessly warned of the dangers implicit in the Stalinist course both nationally and internationally, which Trotsky described as one of clinging to ‘rotten ropes’ – the TUC in Britain, the Kuomintang in China, and the kulak, Nepman and bureaucrat in the Soviet Union. On the fate of each of these alliances, the Left Oppositions’ warnings were tragically confirmed, and with each reverse suffered by the Stalin faction, the pressure increased within it to execute a manoeuvre towards the left – not in order to return to the Leninist course of the pre-1924 period, which would have demanded the jettisoning of the Stalin – Bukharin theory of ‘socialism in one country’, but to cut ground from under the feet of the Left Opposition, and to disarm at least some of their criticisms by paying lip-service to the need for a firm proletarian and internationalist line.

Unless we take these secondary but by no means insignificant factors into account, we are in danger of arriving at a view of the Communist International which might appear to be formally correct, and in accordance with ‘orthodox’ Trotskyism, but which in practice tends towards schematicism. Thus we will be unable to explain or understand why, on 12 December 1927 – a full month before Stalin’s first report on the grain procurement crisis – two of Stalin’s budding henchmen, Heinz Neumann of the KPD, and the fellow Georgian Besso Lominadze, usurped the authority of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee by launching a disastrous revolt in the south Chinese city of Canton. The ‘commune’ was drowned in the blood of thousands of workers in a matter of hours, whilst its two chief architects made their way back to Moscow to report to their patron. Stalin’s reaction to the episode seems to suggest that by this time (early 1928) he had begun to consider a turn to the left in Comintern policy as a possible way of both outflanking the expelled Left Opposition and of undermining the position of Zinoviev’s successor in the ECCI, Bukharin. For in the bitter arguments that ensued in the unavoidable post-mortem on the fate of the Canton Commune, Bukharin received little, if any support from Stalin in his verbal onslaught on the two adventurers. [23]

Neither is it hard to see why Stalin adopted such a guarded attitude towards the Canton Commune adventure, since elements of his future ultra-leftist line can be detected in his Political Report of the CPSU Central Committee to the Fifteenth Party Congress, delivered on 3 December 1927 – that is, nine days before the Canton insurrection. Here we find Stalin repeatedly asserting, in complete defiance of the facts, that ‘only the blind and the faint-hearted can doubt that the Chinese workers and peasants are moving towards a new revolutionary upsurge’, and that ‘whereas a couple of years ago it was possible and necessary to speak of the ebb of the revolutionary tide in Europe, today we have every ground for asserting that Europe is obviously entering a period of new revolutionary upsurge...’. [24] What conclusions can be drawn from Stalin’s remarks on the situation in Europe and China? Firstly, he dates the ebbing of the postwar revolutionary wave at 1925, two years later than was actually the case – in the autumn of 1923, with the definitive defeat of the German revolution. But under Zinoviev (with whom Stalin was then allied against Trotsky) the official Comintern line was that the revolutionary wave was still in the ascendant, a false perspective that was silently abandoned early in 1925, when under the influence of Stalin’s new theory of ‘socialism in one country’, the Communist International began to establish ‘united fronts at the top’ with the reformists of the British TUC and the bourgeois nationalists of the Kuomintang. There then, in accordance with the new Comintern line, ensued a period of ‘stabilisation’, just when in Britain and China, the masses began to take the offensive against their class enemies, an offensive that clashed with and was finally blunted by the prevailing opportunist line of the Communist International. Yet precisely at this point, when the British and Chinese masses were still reeling from the blows inflicted on them as a direct result of Stalin’s rightist course, the architect of these defeats proclaims that a ‘new revolutionary upsurge’ has begun and in the very countries where the opposite trend is gathering momentum! This was leftism at its most infantile. Thus as in 1923, 1924, and 1925-27, the Comintern orientation was in violent conflict with the real, objective movement of the class struggle and the development of class consciousness in the proletariat and its Communist vanguard. The Communist International was to the right in 1923, when it should have been driving the KPD on towards the seizure of power, and to the left in 1924, when it should have applied the brakes and digested the lessons of the defeat of the previous autumn. It then swung back to the right during 1925 when, in China and Britain especially, historic class battles were in preparation. And finally, at the very close of 1927, Stalin began to push the line back towards and then quite rapidly beyond the Zinovievist leftism of 1924, with his empty chatter about ‘new revolutionary upsurges’, designed to conceal why the real upsurges of the previous two years had been beaten back and, in China, drowned in blood.

Then there was another aspect of Stalin’s report to the Fifteenth Congress, one that has remained unaccountably neglected by those (such as Theodore Draper) [25] who have hunted high and low for the origins of the ‘Third Period’ in the Communist International. One of the central propositions of ‘Third Period’ Stalinism was the repeated assertion that all governments, whatever their political complexion, were rapidly turning, or had already turned, fascist.

Thus at the Tenth Plenum of the ECCI, held in June 1929 when the ‘Third Period’ was in full swing, Kuusinen only developed the line first tentatively advanced by Stalin at the Fifteenth CPSU Congress, when he declared that ‘along with the fascisation of the bourgeois class rule there goes on also the process of the fascisation of the reformist trade union bureaucracy and of the parties of the Second International. Reformism and Social Democracy develop into social fascism.’ [26] While R Gerber of the KPD wrote shortly afterwards in the Comintern organ that the party’s ‘conciliators’ (that is, those who supported, or refused to fight, Bukharin’s Right Opposition) denied ‘the obliteration of all differences within the reaction’ and therefore the transformation of reformism into ‘social-fascism’. [27] These notions, first evolved in the initial leftist phase of the Communist International in 1924, and obligatory between 1928 and 1933 (and in fact, some way into 1934), were definitely being revived by Stalin as he felt his way towards a left turn in the Communist International at the end of 1927. When in his Fifteenth Congress report he spoke of a ‘brutal pressure of the fascisised governments’, [28] he had in mind not only Italy and Poland (the latter being a doubtful case) but Britain, France and Germany, where right-centre bourgeois-parliamentary coalitions were in office, and where the trade union and political workers’ movement, while certainly under pressure from the ruling class, was enjoying full bourgeois legality. This abuse of the term ‘fascism’ was to become one of the hallmarks of Third Period Stalinism, when it was applied indiscriminately to Social Democratic, liberal, conservative and genuinely fascist governments alike. Finally, as another harbinger of the new line that was to emerge in the new year, there was the sharper edge to Stalin’s remarks on Social Democracy, [29] striking a tone that had not been heard in official Comintern circles since the winding up of the Zinovievist leftist line more than two years before; and his false optimism about the degree and depth of disenchantment with Social Democracy that was present in the broad masses of workers:

Facts like the British General Strike... the obvious differentiation that is taking place in the British working-class movement whereby the workers are moving to the left while the leaders are moving to the right, into the camp of avowed social imperialism, the degeneration of the Second International into a direct appendage of the imperialist League of Nations [into which Stalin took the USSR in October 1934 – RB], the decline of the prestige of the Social Democratic parties, the universal growth of the influence and prestige of the Comintern and its sections... all these facts undoubtedly indicate that Europe is entering a new period of revolutionary upsurge... revolutionary energy has accumulated in the depths of the working class and is seeking... an occasion... to break to the surface and hurl itself upon the capitalist regime. We are living on the eve of a new revolutionary upsurge both in the colonies and in the metropolises. [30]

This last reference to an alleged mass radicalisation of the British working class proved to be a broad hint that a new line was already in preparation for that country, where the Communist Party had been faithfully and enthusiastically pursuing the opportunist policy towards reformism that had aided the TUC in its betrayal of the General Strike 18 months previously. For when the Ninth ECCI Plenum began its first session on 9 February 1928, it at once became clear that a gentle, yet unmistakable leftist breeze was blowing through the corridors of the Comintern headquarters. Under the newly proclaimed slogan of ‘class against class’, the CPGB was launched towards the line that was soon to become mandatory for all sections of the International. Feeding on the previous three-year history of adaption to Social Democracy, and exploiting the monstrous betrayals perpetrated by the TUC General Council, lefts as well as rights, the Plenum’s call for a sharper tactic against the Labour Party won the immediate backing of Palme Dutt, who had in fact been agitating for such a turn – quite possibly in the foreknowledge that it was coming for some time before the Plenum, in his own journal, Labour Monthly. Undoubtedly a move to the left was called for (Trotsky had been demanding it two years earlier, and been expelled for his pains), but as was always the case in Stalinist manoeuvres, the shift proceeded on false theoretical premises and largely for factional purposes. Thus in the resolution on the ‘English Question’ we find the following schematic formulation on the new relationship that was said to be evolving between the capitalist state and the reformist-led organisations of the British working class:

The policy of the British ruling classes is designed to draw the major workers’ organisations – the Labour Party and the trade unions – into their sphere of influence, despite the resistance of the working class. The leaders of these organisations... are doing their best to transform them into subsidiary organisations of the bourgeois state and the employers’ organisations... This integration of capitalist bourgeoisie and reformism is accompanied by the development of the struggle between the right wing and the revolutionary workers.

From this analysis that the Labour Party was fast losing its proletarian character, the resolution concluded that the CPGB had ‘to change its attitude to the Labour Party and Labour government, and consequently to replace the slogan of a Labour Government by the slogan of a revolutionary workers’ government’. [31]

That the bourgeoisie seeks to subordinate to itself the organisations of the proletariat – especially the trade unions – is not in dispute. But the Plenum resolution went further than this. It claimed that the main agencies in this process were the leaders of the labour movement, and that it was not simply a question of a ‘sphere of influence’, but of the trade unions’ actual ‘transformation into subsidiary organisations of the bourgeois state’, of the ‘integration of capitalist bourgeoisie and reformism’. Now the classic and only correct definition for a modern imperialist state where all the independent organisations of the working class have been destroyed (for there can be no other way of achieving this ‘integration’, as the example of Italy should have already taught the drafters of this resolution) is the fascist corporate state. Yet the schema put forward by the Ninth Plenum was one of the reformist leaders actually administering this regime on behalf of the capitalist state and the employers, and that instead of the rise of such a regime driving even the most craven of reformists into opposition (as Trotsky insisted would occur in Germany, where far from accepting the services of the Social Democrats, the Nazis jailed and murdered them alongside the Communists), the Ninth Plenum presented them as ‘doing their best’ to liquidate the very organisations from which they derived their role as reformist collaborators with the bourgeoisie. Once again, as the examples of Italy and Germany (and now Chile) prove, however good this ‘best’ might be, it is never good enough to earn reformists an honoured or even subordinate role in the operation of the fascist corporate state. For this exacting task, other social and ideological types are required, absolutely ruthless oppressors of the proletariat who have been trained for their murderous work by years of counter-revolutionary struggle against the entire workers’ movement and its leaders, reformist no less than revolutionary. How important this theoretical error was for the subsequent development of the class struggle in Germany will become evident when we trace the evolution of the ‘new line’ from the Ninth Plenum through to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International.

The formulations employed by Stalin at the Fifteenth Congress were sufficiently tentative to permit a manoeuvre back towards the right should the factional struggle in the Soviet Union or considerations of international diplomacy demand it. But this was less true of the line promulgated just over two months later at the Ninth Plenum, though even here it should be noted that the CPGB had not been unequivocally committed to its policy of 1929, which demanded calling the Labour Party and TUC fascist organisations. Indeed, the door had been left ajar to the reformists, since the English Resolution, belying much of its cheerful idiocy about the prospects of a ‘revolutionary upsurge’ in Britain, declared that as ‘large sections of the masses still support the reformist leaders, it is absolutely essential to propose a united front locally and nationally, in order once more to expose the Labour Party and trade union leaders who prefer unity with the capitalists to unity with the revolutionary workers’. [32]

When we bear in mind that these proposals for a sharper line against Social Democracy were intended initially only for the British party, then it is almost certainly correct to say that up to and during the Ninth Plenum, Stalin’s policy options in the Communist International were still open. What dramatically solidified this fluid situation, driving Stalin along the road to a break with Bukharin and to the rapid adoption of far more ultra-left policies than could have possibly been anticipated from either the Fifteenth Congress or the Ninth Plenum, was the long-festering crisis in Soviet agriculture, which after several years of Stalin’s denying its existence, starkly confronted the Soviet regime in the early weeks of 1928.

A report dispatched by Stalin on 13 February 1928 (that is, while the Ninth Plenum was still in session) ‘to all organisations of the CPSU’, enables us to date with some precision the change of line on agrarian policy. After frankly admitting that as compared with January 1927 the state cereal procurements were down by 128 million poods to 300 million poods – a catastrophic shortfall – Stalin revealed that the CPSU Central Committee:

... found it necessary to issue on 6 January 1928, a third directive, the first two having failed to produce the required quotas of cereals, one quite exceptional both as to its tone and as to its demands. This directive concluded with a threat to leaders of party organisations in the event of their failing to secure a decisive improvement in grain procurements within a very short time. [33]

The left turn in domestic policy begins from the promulgation of this emergency directive, since it almost at once brought Stalin’s centre faction in the party into conflict with the right tendency led by Bukharin and supported by Rykov (Lenin’s successor as Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars) and Tomsky, head of the Soviet trade unions. Stalin had exploited this rightist group’s pro-kulak sympathies in his fight against the Left Opposition, and in doing so had encouraged openly restorationist tendencies in the countryside. Now he found that in order to continue to defend the bureaucracy which had raised him to supreme power in the party and the state, he had to hit out at the extreme right, whence came a new and sinister threat to overturn the property relations established by the Russian Revolution, and from which the bureaucracy drew its material and political privileges. As events were soon to reveal, Bukharin, and especially at this stage Rykov, favoured a continued policy of full-scale retreat before the kulaks, one which, as the Left Opposition had pointed out, rendered impossible the conversion of the surpluses of the rich peasants into funds for laying the foundations of a modern industrialised Soviet economy. In the early months of 1928, the nature of Stalin’s left turn in domestic policy was both empirical and tentative. He also had to cope with the united resistance of Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov (who reportedly stalked out of a Politbureau meeting on hearing Stalin’s emergency proposals to deal with the grain crisis) and not least, the embarrassing similarity between his own strictures on the parlous state of Soviet agriculture and the warnings the now-expelled Left Opposition had been issuing on this very question for the previous two years. He therefore had to move circumspectly, feeling his way towards a new course as the pressures in the International and the economy for a new line mounted and became fused.

The battle had already been joined in the KPD, where Brandler, who had enjoyed something of a comeback under the discreet patronage of Bukharin, had just published in the Comintern organ a centrist Programme of Action for Germany. It nevertheless managed to say some correct things about certain developments in the SPD that were not at all to the liking of the ECCI, now that it had taken up Stalin’s new line on the struggle against Social Democracy. In relation to the SPD left, Brandler stated it was:

... the more or less expressed rejection of the coalition government and the purely parliamentary opposition, and, at the same time, the rejection of revolutionary mass action. In the present, when the policy of coalition is becoming more and more difficult [this was of course written when the right-wing parties were dominating successive German cabinets to the total exclusion of the SPD – RB], the left wing of the SPD attains an increased importance. It reflects two things: one, the opposition of the masses to the coalition government, and secondly, the attempt of a certain section of the party bureaucracy to stifle this opposition by a verbally radical policy... With regard to the trade unions, it is also necessary to transform the bureaucratically administered central and professional unions into democratic industrial unions, directed by the members and organised on the basis of factories. [34]

Naturally, Brandler’s observations on the SPD produced vehement accusations that the exponent of the ‘Saxon mistake’ was proposing a revamped version of the same centrist manoeuvre with the Social Democratic left. Nor were his views on trade union tactics welcomed, as they jarred with the new line that the unions were fast becoming instruments of capitalist dictatorship and oppression, and that the time was approaching when fresh ‘organs of struggle’ would have to be built up – under Communist leadership ‘from below’ to supersede and even to destroy the unions led by the reformists. Already implicit in the Ninth Plenum resolution on the English question, this line became explicit in the course of the preparations for the Fourth Congress of the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU), held between 17 March and 3 April 1928. As the head of the RILU (the Communist rival to the reformist Amsterdam-based trade union international, the IFTU) Lozovsky had a vested interest in accelerating the disintegration of his rivals, and so he took up with obvious relish the new line that the reformist unions were becoming tools in the hands of the employers and the capitalist state:

We have now entered into a phase of development of the class struggle in which the reformist trade unions and employers’ organisations are not two warring parties but are one party, which reaches agreement in the measure that the dissatisfaction of the masses accumulates... This assimilation of the trade union apparatus into the bourgeois state bears an extremely varied character, but in general it indubitably presents a growing alliance between the Amsterdam organisations and the bourgeois state, a continually increasing alliance between the trade unions and the employers’ organisations. Before our very eyes is going on a process of fusion of the Amsterdam union with the employers’ organisations and the transformation of those unions into organisations for strike breaking. [35]

Even more ominous, in view of the line that was soon to be forced on all sections of the Communist International (that the reformist trade unions had turned fascist, and therefore had to be deserted by Communists to form new ‘red’ unions) was Lozovsky’s assertion (as early as March 1928, it should be noted) that in the United States, where the trade unions were suffering a substantial loss in membership:

... such a slogan as ‘save the unions’ is out of place. It does not say anything, it confuses the issue, it distracts the workers’ attention from important questions [sic!], it sows the illusion that the present AFL is an advantage for the American workers. Where did this slogan come from? It is a desperate slogan arising from an over-evaluation of the importance of the fascist AFL and the misinterpretation of the united front. [36]

This abstentionist position on the fight to defend trade unionism in the United States marked a definite shift towards the ultra-left line of forming breakaway ‘revolutionary’ unions in countries such as Germany, where in 1931, after a series of reverses in the strike movement, the KPD launched ‘red’ unions parallel with those of the ADGB. This adventurist tactic flowed from the false analysis of the relationship between the reformist bureaucracy and the capitalist state made by Lozovsky and codified at the RILU Congress:

The rule of the reformist leaders in the trade unions is leading more and more and more to the destruction of the difference between the organisations which came into being as organs of the class struggle [Lozovsky had in mind here the ADGB unions in Germany – RB] and bourgeois [that is, company] unions working for industrial peace. [37]

The resolutions and discussions at the RILU Congress shared the same eclectic and schematic character that Trotsky detected in the proceedings of the Comintern congress which followed it. The cloudiness and ambivalence of many of the formulations could well have concealed deep disagreements within the Comintern leadership over the questions of the united front, Social Democracy and fascism, and the degree to which the ‘leading lights of the trade union machinery’ had become fused with ‘the apparatus of the bourgeois state’, to quote from the main policy resolution of the congress. This transitional and contradictory nature of the RILU Congress is well illustrated by its observations on the united front:

The tactics of the united front and unity which have justified themselves during the last few years [sic – the British General Strike! – RB] must be continued... at the same time it is essential to fight most determinedly against the subordination of the class struggle to formal unity [as indeed was done through the bloc between the Soviet and British trade union leaders – RB]... In view of the evolution undergone by the leaders of the Amsterdam International, the main slogan should be unity from below at the point of production. This does not exclude the possibility of negotiations, which after the break-up of the Anglo-Russian Committee (which was a model of the united front from above and below) are remoter than ever... Thus unity from below must be given first place... [38]

So that which had been prescribed only for the British party at the Ninth ECCI plenum back in February now became mandatory for every section of the Communist International. The ‘new line’ was taking shape as in the USSR tensions mounted in the CPSU Politbureau between supporters and opponents of Stalin’s left turn in agricultural policy. A new leftist nuance can also be detected in the thesis Measures for Fighting Fascism in the Trade Union Movement, adopted by the RILU Congress on reports by Monmousseau (the leader of the French Communist-dominated trade union federation, the CGTU), Redens and, it should be noted by those who quite wrongly credit him with always having opposed the Stalinist theory of ‘social fascism’, Georgi Dimitrov. As at the Fifth Comintern Congress four years previously, also held in a period when a leftist line predominated in the Communist International (only on that occasion, it was shortly to be abandoned for the opportunist policy of 1925-27, while the RILU Congress inaugurated a far longer and more devastating period of adventurism), the main characteristics and role of fascism were correctly defined:

Fascism represents a special system of class domination of the bourgeoisie in the epoch of imperialism and social revolution... For the class movement of the proletariat of all countries, fascism is a constant and growing danger. For fascism, the possession of the trade unions, the destruction of the class trade union movement is a vital necessity, just as the dictatorship of the proletariat is unthinkable without a class trade union, so, too, the fascist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie is impossible without the break-up of the class trade union movement. Fascist terror is directed against any genuine working-class movement, and against any economic struggle. [39]

Therefore, one must deduce from this analysis that by its very nature, the fascist offensive against the trade unions and the entire organisations of the proletariat must bring it into conflict with the leaders and cadres of even the most moderate wing of the workers’ movement, since as the resolution states, fascism requires the total destruction of the trade unions in order to establish its own regime securely. And of course this is what precisely did happen in Italy, where by 1926, all class trade unionism had been driven underground and the reformist union leaders either hounded into exile, jailed or placed under police surveillance. Those responsible for the drafting of this resolution, of vital importance for every trade unionist faced with the threat of fascism and the destruction of his organisations, were fully aware of the experience of Italy, since they called upon workers in that country to ‘leave the fascist corporations, [and] join the General Confederation of Labour’, even though that reformist body had been long since outlawed by Mussolini and was working in conditions of total illegality. Yet this same resolution, after making the entirely justified observation that ‘by their anti-working-class policy, the reformist Amsterdam bureaucracy is clearing the way for fascism in the trade union movement’ (though even here, there is a certain ambiguity about the word ‘in’, which is used rather than ‘against’), goes on to lump together fascism and reformism after the fashion of Zinoviev and Stalin in 1924:

... thus reformism is actually taking up the same stand as fascism. The line of demarcation between its ideology and the ideology of fascism is tending to disappear more and more, and the reformist bureaucracy is being transformed into the instrument of fascism in the trade union movement... working in the united front with fascism. Part of the leaders of the reformist trade unions are already in open and full ideological and political union with fascism (Italy [sic! – RB], Bulgaria, Hungary, etc). The other part is on the way to fascism (Jouhaux, Thomas [with whose social fascist CGT the Stalinist CGTU merged in 1936 during the Popular Front period – RB], Grossman [ADGB], etc. The more the masses in the reformist unions move to the left and become revolutionised, and the more they resist the treacherous policy of the reformist bureaucracy, the more... will the leadership of the trade unions move to the right – towards fascism. [40]

The decisive turn had been made on the very eve of the Sixth Comintern Congress. The trade union bureaucracy had allegedly either already transformed itself into an instrument of fascist repression, or was fast doing so. Given this utterly false analysis, there could obviously be no question of any serious approaches being made to reformist organisations for a united front against fascism when these very bodies were serving as the vehicle for the fascist attack on the working class. The RILU Congress, despite its lip-service to the continuation of the old united front policy, therefore foreshadowed the decisions of the Sixth Congress on this question, as well as its revival of the 1924 theory of ‘social fascism’, since it was at the Sixth Congress that the crucial decision was finally made to scrap the united front tactic of the previous three years and to go over exclusively to the ‘united front from below’.

The fact that Bukharin, as Secretary of the ECCI, gave the main political report to the congress helped to mask from many of the assembled delegates the violent factional struggle that had only days before erupted inside the Soviet Politbureau over Stalin’s new policy towards the kulaks. [41] Valiantly mouthing the leftist clichés that had recently become the stock-in-trade of Comintern functionaries and journalists, the future leader of the Right Opposition facilitated his own destruction by propagating tactics which a year earlier he would have condemned out of hand as adventurist:

The change in the objective situation [sic!] compelled us to change our tactics. It was a proper reaction to the altered state of affairs... The change in the attitude of our British party was determined by the change in the objective situation, by the new organisational methods of the Labour Party, by the new relationships that arose between our party and the Labour Party... The political pivot of this change is our changed attitude towards the Social Democratic parties... United front tactics must, in most cases, now be applied only from below. No appeal to the central committees of the Social Democratic parties. In rare cases appeals may be made to local Social Democratic committees. In the main, we must appeal only to the Social Democratic masses, to the rank-and-file Social Democratic workers. [42]

But others were more anxious even than Bukharin to prove their leftist pedigree, especially in the KPD delegation, [43] where Ernst Thälmann was emerging as the leader, if not the most articulate spokesman, of those favouring an even harsher line against Social Democracy. This became clear in the discussion on Bukharin’s report. Fritz Heckert, a future Stalinist henchman, proved how conversant he was with the new line on fascism and Social Democracy when he told delegates (many of whom had, like Heckert himself, been working closely with left reformists and centrists in their own countries over the previous three years) that:

... reformism has... a strong tendency towards fascism in countries where the situation for capitalism is critical. It is only a small step from reformism which had developed in industrial peace, to fascism, to the defence of an aggressive foreign policy and strict measures against the revolutionary elements of the country. Thus we see that reformism has undergone a change and that we are compelled to accentuate our struggle against it. [44]

This theme was taken up by Dimitrov, the future darling of the Popular Front liberals and clergymen, who in 1928, far from seeking to build ‘broad peoples’ alliances’ with all manner of opportunist and pro-imperialist elements, was anxious to ingratiate himself with a Stalin faction in the CPSU which was already preparing to ditch Bukharin to clear the way for the development of a far more leftist line in the International. Dimitrov’s performance was even more obsequious in that he slanderously linked Trotsky to the activities of the ‘social fascists’:

By its role of agent and pace-maker of social fascism among civil servants, it [Social Democracy] does great harm and the struggle against it must be continued with unabated energy. Trotskyism found no followers in the Communist Parties of the Balkans and among the proletariat. Its champions in the Balkans were the social fascists and the most shameless renegades of the Communist movement. [45]

By far the most important and significant contribution came from Ernst Thälmann, leader of the most powerful section of the Communist International outside the USSR. His formulations on the question of fascism and Social Democracy were not only far harsher than anything uttered by Bukharin (or any other delegate for that matter), they also gave ample warning of the new leftist line the KPD was about to adopt on the recently-formed government of Social Democrat Hermann Müller:

In this government the Social Democrats are the driving factor in the war preparations against the Soviet Union... The development of reformism into social fascism is a phenomenon of which one can give various examples in the various countries... In Germany, reformism is the bourgeoisie’s best support, and will continue to be so in the coming years [sic!] if the Communist movement does not grow even stronger than it is now... This development of reformism into social fascism [46] is closely connected with the growing war preparations of the bourgeoisie and the growing war danger. The SPD is not only a fighting organisation working against the revolutionary proletariat and the proletarian revolution, it is engaged in preparing for joint action with the bourgeoisie in the ideological and military sphere.

Then for good measure Thälmann, who led the parade of delegates mounting the speakers’ rostrum to voice their approval of the expulsion of Trotsky from the Communist International at the end of 1927, went on:

We can declare at the Sixth Congress that for the first time in three years the KPD is in the pleasant position of being able to say that the renegades of ultra-left [sic!] Trotskyism have been finally beaten. They have been dissolved partly into petit-bourgeois nothingness, and partly they have landed into the ranks of Social Democracy; we need not waste a single word here about them. [47]

The main event of the congress was intended to be the presentation and adoption of the Comintern programme, which Bukharin had been busy drafting for the previous two or three months behind closed doors. However, a conflict flared up over Bukharin’s theses The International Situation and the Tasks of the Communist Parties, which had failed to reflect the changing line on the struggle against left Social Democracy. [48] There also appears to have been considerable and more open controversy on the vexed question of the relations between Social Democracy and fascism, which after 1923 was always a barometer of changes in the party and Comintern line. In the draft programme, fascism and Social Democracy were, as in 1924, lumped together quite arbitrarily. After quite correctly pointing out that fascism and Social Democracy were two alternative forms of rule for the bourgeoisie, which varied according to circumstances, the programme declared, in complete violation of this view, that ‘Social Democracy itself, particularly at critical moments for capitalism, not infrequently plays a fascist part’. [49] And if that indeed was the case, what need had the bourgeoisie of the other variety of fascism, if the ‘social fascist’ could do the same job? In Germany, this became the line of the KPD. The Müller government was ‘introducing the fascist dictatorship’, and nobody else. Therefore the ‘main enemy’ was not the bourgeois parties, nor the paramilitary monarchist leagues, nor even the Nazis (who even as the congress debated and approved the line that led to the defeat of the German proletariat, were perfecting the tactics and strategy that, with the aid of the reformists and Stalinists, were to lift them to power less than five years later).

Thus Ernst Schneller of the KPD, in a speech on the struggle against the danger of imperialist war, listed the following organisations as comprising the ‘fascist movement’ in Germany: the Red Cross, the Young Christian Organisations, the Christian and Nationalist Women’s organisations, and the Stahlhelm. Only the Nazis were missing! Commented the suicidally myopic Schneller: ‘It is characteristic also for Germany that certain relations between the fascist and reformist movement are becoming even closer because they are marching towards the same goal.’ [50] The KPD seems to have been very agitated about the dangers implicit in a joint Red Cross – SPD invasion of the USSR, or of a bloc between the ADGB and Catholic Women against the Red Front Fighters League (the paramilitary body of the KPD, which was banned after May Day fighting in Berlin in 1929), but it seems to have viewed with remarkable equanimity the prospect of a counter-revolutionary and anti-Soviet alliance between the Nazis, the Reichswehr and the Ruhr industrialists.

As we have said, there was some discussion in the commission on the Comintern programme about the relationship between fascism and Social Democracy, and here Bukharin seems to have been forced to give a little more ground to the hard-line leftists:

First of all there is not the slightest doubt that Social Democracy reveals a social fascist tendency, secondly this is merely a tendency and not a complete process, for it would be a mistake to lump Social Democracy and fascism together. Nor must this be done in analysing the situation or in laying down Communist tactics. Our tactics do not exclude the possibility of appealing to Social Democratic workers and even to some minor Social Democratic organisations, but we cannot appeal to the fascist organisations. [51]

But despite Bukharin’s desperate attempt to salvage a few fragments of the old line from the wreck it had suffered both before and at the congress, it was no good. The helm was over to the extreme left, and the entire Comintern boat was heading full speed towards the still partially submerged rocks of German fascism.

What effect did the new line have on the policy and internal life of the KPD, which now found itself working in a country ruled by ‘social fascism'?

To answer this question, it is necessary to recapitulate briefly on developments in the German party since 1924, when the Zinoviev-backed left ousted the disgraced Brandler – Thalheimer right at the April 1924 Ninth KPD Congress. Both men were promptly ‘exiled’ to Moscow and assigned to routine duties in the Comintern apparatus – a convenient method later frequently used to silence critics of the Comintern line or leaders of the national sections. Even with their main rivals out of the way, all did not go smoothly for the new Fischer – Maslow – Thälmann leadership. The collapse of Zinoviev’s ultra-leftist perspectives, accelerated in Germany by the KPD’s poor showing at the December 1924 Reichstag elections, brought great pressure to bear on the party Central Committee for the adoption of a more realistic line, one that took into account both the obvious consolidation of the bourgeoisie that had taken place throughout the year, and the equally self-evident recuperation of the SPD. In fact, the rightwards swing so disturbed Maslow that he departed from his previous radicalism and started to call for a policy of ‘defence of the republic’ against the monarchist right, which in the spring of 1925 grouped itself behind Hindenburg’s presidential candidature. How easily yesterday’s – or today’s – super leftists can be transformed into tomorrow’s opportunists is illustrated by the case of Maslow, since he rapidly went beyond calling for a united front of the two workers’ parties in defence of democratic rights to a demand for what was in effect a ‘Popular Front’ alliance between the KPD, the SPD... and the Catholic Centre – presumably on the grounds that this last party, although both bourgeois and clerical, was an upholder of the Weimar Republic, and could therefore perform a useful role in an anti-monarchist bloc. Once again, we can see how a leftist deviation fed its mirror opposite. And the process of interaction did not end there, for once Maslow’s views on this question became known to the party, numerous workers in the militant Ruhr region and the KPD Berlin stronghold of Wedding revolted against this even more opportunist version of Brandlerism, and rapidly provided a base in the party for a new ultra-left consisting of Arthur Rosenberg and Werner Scholem.

Tensions that were just beginning to emerge within the ruling Troika, between Stalin on the one hand and principally Zinoviev on the other, led to another intervention by Moscow in the affairs of the KPD (which at no stage since the end of 1923 had been permitted to develop its own internal party life and train its cadres in the way that Lenin and Trotsky had favoured in the early years of the Communist International). Differences over tactics for the run-off ballot in the Presidential elections now found Zinoviev ranged with KPD ‘moderates’ against an ultra-left who argued, like Iwan Katz, that it would be a betrayal of the party to vote for the SPD candidate Braun in the second ballot, rather than split the republican vote and risk letting in Hindenburg. This question was thrashed out in Moscow, on 2 April, 1925, at a session of the ECCI Presidium – in the presence of both Zinoviev and Stalin. Katz put the position of the German ultra-left, declaring demagogically that ‘our comrades see in the Ebert party the worst enemy of the working class, a corrupt group of the bourgeoisie’, and that anyway the monarchist danger had receded since the collapse of the Hitler putsch. It was a reformed Zinoviev who put the case for supporting the SPD candidate. Gone was the bluster of 1924, with its rash talk of an approaching proletarian revolution, and Social Democrats becoming transformed into fascists:

We cannot at all accept the point of view that the choice, republic or Monarchy, is immaterial to us... Bourgeois democracy is generally more favourable than monarchy for our class struggle even if this democracy is a very poor one... We started with the perspective of an imminent fight of the proletarian revolution against bourgeois democracy, [but] the moment the revolutionary wave declines, the difference between bourgeois democracy and monarchy is of great importance... The situation is like this: the Social Democrats got eight million votes, we got two million, the Nationalists 11 million, the so-called republican bloc has 13 million, the monarchists 11 to 11.5 million – everything hangs by a thread. If a monarchist candidate is elected, the Social Democrats and the [liberal] bourgeoisie will try to hang the responsibility on us... The greatest danger is that the broad strata of the working class will be estranged from us... I believe that our slogans must be very simple; only the most popular demands should be put forward... In the first election, we tested out forces; in the run-off, we must take into account the final result... You can learn these tactics by reading Lenin. [52]

And in reply to Katz’s noisy abstentionism, Zinoviev coolly answered:

We live encircled by enemies. We need brains; if we lose, the working class will have to bear the capitalist yoke 25 years longer. In Britain we voted for MacDonald; people like Engels and Lenin had studied the English question for decades to find a road in Britain. You don’t understand what kind of enemies we have. [53]

Zinoviev’s iron logic did not carry the day, possibly because Stalin, who was already discreetly backing the German ultra-left against Zinoviev’s supporters in the KPD, refused to commit himself to either side. As a result, the opportunity was missed to make a principled united front proposal to the SPD, who had still to decide whether to run Braun again in the second ballot. Of course, when Braun eventually stood down in favour of the Centre Party candidate Marx, the KPD had no alternative but to run Thälmann once again, since there could be no question of voting for an openly bourgeois candidate, however sincere his protestations of democratic and republican loyalties. Hindenburg’s narrow victory – by a smaller margin than the votes given to Thälmann – put the KPD in the invidious position against which Zinoviev had warned in the April Plenum. The SPD and the bourgeois democrats – and following their lead, countless historians of the period – have sought to place the blame for Hindenburg’s victory, and by implication all that ensued from it, up to and including the Nazi triumph eight years later, on the KPD. Perhaps if the full truth were known, part of the responsibility should fall on Stalin, not to speak of the German reformists, whose capitulation to their liberal bourgeois allies on the second ballot made it that much easier for the KPD ultra-lefts to maintain their abstentionist position on the defence of democratic rights against the monarchist threat.

A similar, though not identical, dispute erupted over tactics in the Prussian parliament, which was delicately balanced between republicans and monarchists of various hues. Here Thälmann, who had until now been linked with the Maslow – Fischer group, switched over to Rosenberg’s new ultra-left faction, voting against a resolution moved at an extended Central Committee meeting in Hamburg on 9-10 May 1925, which stipulated that ‘in a situation where our party is arbiter between the right and the so-called left, it is permissible, and even under certain conditions, mandatory, to make a left coalition against a right coalition’. This resolution shows how wrong it can be to schematise on the history of the Communist International. In the Soviet Union, Stalin was cementing his bloc with the future Right Opposition – Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky – insuring himself against a possible split with Zinoviev and Kamenev, who were growing restless with Stalin’s repeated retreats before restorationist forces in both town and country. Yet in the KPD, we find the roles briefly reversed. Stalin’s man, Thälmann, has moved towards, though not fused with, the extreme ultra-left of the party, while a section of Zinoviev’s supporters in the KPD were now voting for policies which carried with them undoubted opportunist implications. [54] Then followed another zigzag, one organically aligned with developments in the CPSU. Stalin dispatched his trusted ECCI trouble-shooter Manuilsky to straighten out the affairs of the recalcitrant German party, none of whose many factions, tendencies and cliques (other than those congealing around Thälmann, Pieck and Ulbricht) could be relied upon to obey the ruling groups in the Soviet party without hesitation or reservation.

The extreme ultra-lefts had served their purpose to apply pressure to the old leadership of Maslow and Fischer (just as they in their time had served Zinoviev in his feud with Brandler). Now the time had come to reconstruct the KPD along lines more amenable to the Stalin faction in the USSR. (This was the period when Neumann began to attract Stalin’s attention as a future leader of a ‘tamed’ German party.) Despite Manuilsky’s intriguings, the KPD proved obdurate. It had deep roots in the proletariat, and was justly proud of a revolutionary heritage that reached back through Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, Bebel, the younger Kautsky and Wilhelm Liebknecht to the founders of Marxism itself. The bureaucratic pressure being applied from Moscow only intensified the factional splinterings in the party as intellectuals and workers alike struggled vainly to fight their way out of the crisis into which the bureaucratic clique in the CPSU had plunged their once powerful and combative movement. At the Essen Party Congress in February 1927, there emerged no less than 10 separate groupings, ranging from supporters of the still-exiled Brandler and Thalheimer on the far right, through the bureaucratic centre of Ulbricht and Pieck, and the pro-Stalin clique of Thälmann, Neumann, Schneller, Philip Dengel and Heinrich Susskind, to the Zinovievist wing of the pro-Left Oppositionists, led by Fischer, Maslow and Urbahns, and the ultra-left, worker-based factions of Hans Weber (Palatinate), Paul Kotter (Wedding), Ernst Schwarz (mainly Berlin) and the most ultra-left of them all, the philosopher Karl Korsch. Only after the Essen Congress was Manuilsky able to report to Stalin that his mission had been accomplished – that of expelling from the KPD all those who stood to the left of the official Comintern line. The cliques of Ulbricht and Thälmann had seen to it that precious few delegates attended the Congress who were not committed to voting for whatever Manuilsky proposed. Stalin’s German pupils were learning their lessons in bureaucratic manoeuvring well. But in warding off this powerful challenge from the assorted groups of lefts and ultra-lefts, the KPD centre had been compelled to lean more than it liked on the old right – which of course was precisely the dilemma that confronted Stalin after his break with Kamenev and Zinoviev and during his ensuring bloc with Bukharin. As a result, the KPD Central Committee came under the control of a pro-Bukharin right that was only finally ousted and broken up towards the end of 1928, as similar blows were being landed on their counterparts in the CPSU.

Now we can see how poorly equipped was the KPD to exploit the favourable new political situation created by the formation of the Müller government in June 1928. Not only were its political perspectives false to the core; its best cadres, many being close comrades of the party’s martyred founders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and pioneers of the Spartacist League, had been hounded from the party or gagged by decree of the ECCI. At the base, the party gathered around itself the finest of the German proletariat; but at the top, all was confusion, theoretical backwardness, rampant bureaucratism, servile fawning on Stalin. Only a drastic change of course, one that not merely repudiated the anti-Leninist tactics and programme adopted at the Sixth Comintern Congress, but initiated a serious study of the social and theoretical roots of this degeneration in the KPD, the International and the CPSU, could hope to save the party and the entire German proletariat from disaster. This was the moving principle behind the work of the Trotskyist opposition in the USSR, and its truth was to find tragic confirmation in the events of the succeeding five years.

Appendix I: Fascism and Social Fascism, 1922-24

Mussolini’s victory over the Italian working class compelled the Comintern leadership to ask and answer some basic questions concerning the role of fascism, its class basis, and its relationship to the reformist wing of the labour movement. If initial mistakes were made in this respect, then they were attributable not to a false method, but the uniqueness of the problem. Never before in the history of world capitalism had the working class been defeated and crushed by a movement that stole with such facility and to such devastating effect the political, organisational and tactical weapons of its enemy. The plebeian nature of fascism was recognised from the outset. At first, this led to a falsely optimistic perspective of its inevitable internal disintegration, with deluded workers and rural poor ‘sobering up’ as they began to taste the bitter fruits of fascism in power, as distinct from the demagogy of fascism in opposition. Thus the Manifesto to the Italian Workers, passed at the Fourth Comintern Congress on 5 November 1922, declared that ‘these elements will soon realise how deceptive were the promises which attracted them into this counter-revolutionary adventure and turned them into an army of the landlords against their kindred’. Mistaken too was the Comintern’s belief that Italian fascism was ‘primarily a weapon in the hands of the large landowners’ and the ‘industrial and commercial bourgeoisie’ were ‘following with anxiety the experiment of ferocious reaction, which they regard as black Bolshevism’. The big industrialists of the Confindustria were as eager as the agrarians to place Mussolini in power so that he could continue his bloody work of destruction against the workers’ movement. These, however, were errors of emphasis, and flowed in part from a lack of experience in dealing with the phenomenon of a mass-based counter-revolutionary movement. But one error the Communist International at this stage did not lapse into was that of bracketing together fascism and Social Democracy. While the Communist press throughout the International scourged the reformist leaders of the CGL and the PSI for refusing to wage a resolute fight against fascism, and especially for their betrayal of the September 1920 strike movement, whose defeat cleared the road for the rise and triumph of Mussolini, with two notable exceptions it never identified capitulation before fascism with fascism itself. The two instances where this was done (referred to in Draper’s long article on the subject in Survey, no 84) followed reports (that proved to be false) that the PSI fraction in the Italian Parliament had agreed to support the newly-formed government of Mussolini. The story, which appeared in Izvestia of 12 November 1922, was headed ‘Social Fascists’, and it was used again on 28 December in an article attacking the PSI and CGL leaderships (in the case of the trade union leaders, who were vainly seeking a modus vivendi with the fascist regime, one can understand, but not agree, with the use of the term). Draper suggests that this, the first known use of the term, was probably the brainchild of a headline writer in the offices of Izvestia, and that therefore its employment did not signify a new theory of fascism and Social Democracy. The first instance of a responsible Comintern leader equating the two movements occurs after the defeat of the German revolution, when at a session of the ECCI convened to discuss the recent events in Germany, Zinoviev took the fateful step of declaring that Italian Social Democracy had become a wing of fascism:

What are Piłsudski and the others? Fascist Social Democrats. [The future Polish dictator was a renegade from the Polish Socialist Party – RB] Were they this 10 years ago? No. But they have become fascists precisely because we are living in the epoch of revolution. What is Italian Social Democracy? It is a wing of the fascists; Turati is a fascist Social Democrat... You may hurl insults at [Ramsay] Macdonald: You are a traitor, a servant of the bourgeoisie, but we must understand in what period we are living. International Social Democracy has now become a wing of fascism.

Which if true, meant that in Britain the CPGB had just helped to elect a fascist government, since following Lenin’s recommendations in ‘Left-Wing’ Communism and also the line of the Communist International up to that time, the British party had called and worked for the victory of Labour Party candidates at the December 1923 general election, only running its own where they had either won the support of the local Labour Party, or did not jeopardise the victory of the Labour candidate. But Zinoviev never thought the consequences of this new theory through to the end, which would have been to withdraw all electoral support from the Labour Party, abandon the affiliation campaign being conducted by the CPGB, break off all united front relations with the reformist and trade union leaders, and proceed to build a ‘united front from below’ under the exclusive leadership of the 3000-strong Communist Party (these of course did become CPGB tactics for the duration of the ‘Third Period’). Zinoviev’s theory was, however, after a delay of some eight months, taken up and developed from another quarter much nearer home. Stalin was just as anxious as his Troika ally to prove that under their leadership no serious reverse had been suffered by the European working class, and that therefore the decisive revolutionary struggles lay in the future. (Thus in July 1924, Stalin declared quite unequivocally that ‘Germany is more pregnant with revolution than any other country in Europe... If a revolutionary upheaval commences anywhere in Europe it will be in Germany. Only Germany can take the initiative in this matter...’ [55] It is important to remember that this false analysis not only preceded, but helped to prepare the sharp turn to the right embodied in Stalin’s pronouncement, made some four months later, that socialism could be built in ‘one country’ – that is, the USSR – without revolutionary breakthroughs in the advanced imperialist West.) And as such, this theory of fascisation of reformism was an attack on Trotsky, who in a series of articles and speeches in the spring and summer of 1924, had examined in some detail and breadth the new political situation that emerged in Europe after the German defeat, and the possible consequences this could have for relations between Europe and the United States. Trotsky argues that following the recession of the revolutionary threat, the European bourgeoisie now felt able to lean to the left, on the right flank of the workers’ movement, rather than to the extreme right, on the armed fascist gangs, as it had done during the previous years of crisis. In his speech of 21 June 1924 (Through What Stage Are We Passing?) he takes issue with loose definitions of fascism, and especially with wrong appraisals of its role:

On the most casual grounds it is sometimes said that fascism is developing or that fascism is advancing. If some strikers are arrested somewhere, this fact is interpreted quite often as the establishment of a fascist regime, though the bourgeoisie arrested strikers before fascism existed. We have to think this out, comrades: what is fascism? How does it differ from a ‘normal’ regime of bourgeois violence?

Once again, it is necessary to point out that Trotsky’s appraisal of fascism at this time was conditioned by its concrete manifestations, first of all in Italy, where even in 1924 Mussolini had not succeeded in destroying the workers’ movement (this was done only in 1926) let alone parliament. Consequently Italian fascism displayed some of the characteristics of a transitional regime, which after blunting the offensive of the proletariat, regressed towards more normal forms of bourgeois rule. Thus Trotsky asks:

Can a fascist regime exist for an indefinitely prolonged period? Fascism is the fighting organisation of the bourgeoisie during and in case of civil war. That’s what fascism is. It plays the same role for the bourgeoisie as the organisation of armed uprising plays for the proletariat ... [therefore] can fascism last a long time? No! If the bourgeoisie keeps hold of power, as happened in Italy in 1920, as happened in Germany last year, then, having made use of fascism’s bloody work, it strives to broaden its base, to lean upon the middle and petit-bourgeoisie, and once again re-establishes reality. The bourgeoisie cannot exist for long in conditions of fascism, as the proletariat cannot exist for years in a state of armed uprising.

We can, with all the advantages that historical hindsight gives us, see that Trotsky was wrong. He saw only one side of fascism – its combat role in the armed struggle against the revolution. But fascism also became a system of rule. It did succeed, for a whole variety of reasons, in passing over from the phase Trotsky describes so well to that which he considered to be impossible, namely the consolidation of a fully-blown fascist regime in which the bourgeoisie finds itself allotted a subordinate political role. It may well, as Trotsky says, yearn for a return to the saner days of parliamentary democracy, but the fascist plebeians have other plans. And moreover, as the main governing party, they possess the means to implement them. Just as Mussolini’s regime was in a state of flux when Trotsky made this speech, so were Trotsky’s views on fascism. And it could not be otherwise, seeing that he was grappling with a process and movement that lacked all historical precedents. (Trotsky was to correct and greatly to enrich his analysis of fascism over the following 10 years, beginning with his speech on the Polish question to a session of the ECCI in July 1926, where he paid a great deal of attention to the plebeian aspects of fascism, especially those that bring it into political conflict with the bourgeoisie, and lead to the latter’s exclusion from the state.) But as in 1922, Trotsky never fell into the trap equating fascism and Social Democracy (even though the fascist regime in Italy continued to tolerate the activities of the reformists – as it did those of the PCI). He correctly saw the two movements as clear alternative methods of bourgeois rule, and spoke of the ‘replacement of the fascist by the Menshevik’ as being ‘in accordance with the laws of historical development’ – though again it must be said that history knows of no case where the bourgeoisie has persuaded a fascist regime to make way for a reformist one, though there are several examples of the reverse process. Stalin never mentioned Trotsky by name, but it is obvious that his article ‘Concerning the International Situation’ – Stalin’s first on this theme since the revolution seven years previously! – was directed against Trotsky’s contention that Europe was passing through a period of bourgeois pacifism in which Social Democracy, and not fascism, would be brought forward to share the political power with the parties of the ruling class (the Labour-Liberal coalition in Britain, the ‘Left bloc’ in France). Stalin thought differently:

Some people think... that while the decisive battles were in progress, the bourgeoisie needed a fighting organisation, needed fascism; but now that the proletariat is defeated, the bourgeoisie no longer needs fascism and can afford to use ‘democracy’ instead, as a better method of consolidating its victory. Hence the conclusion is drawn that the rule of the bourgeoisie has become consolidated, that the ‘era of pacifism’ will be a prolonged one, and that the revolution in Europe has been pigeonholed. This assumption is absolutely wrong. Firstly it is not true that fascism is only the fighting organisation of the bourgeoisie. Fascism is the bourgeoisie’s fighting organisation that relies on the active support of Social Democracy... These two organisations do not negate, but supplement each other, they are not antipodes, they are twins. Fascism is an informal political bloc of these two chief organisations, a bloc, which arose in the circumstances of the postwar crisis of imperialism, and which is intended for combating the proletarian revolution. The bourgeoisie cannot retain power without such a bloc. It would therefore be a mistake to think that ‘pacifism’ signifies the liquidation of fascism. In the present situation, ‘pacifism’ is the strengthening of fascism with its moderate, Social Democratic wing being pushed into the foreground. [56]

We should note parenthetically that in a report to the Central Committee of the CPSU delivered on 17 June 1924, Stalin also detected ‘open’ fascism in the policies of orthodox bourgeois politicians in France and Britain, while in Italy, he saw its approaching collapse:

... during the last year we have had occasion to witness a number of attempts at the open fascisation of internal policy in the West European countries... Leaving aside Italy, where fascism is disintegrating, attempts to fascise European policy in the main countries, France and Britain, have miscarried, and the authors of these attempts, Poincaré and Curzon, have, to put it plainly, come a cropper... [57]

For Stalin, ‘fascism’ was a term employed to abuse any government or political leader of whom the Soviet government disapproved. Significantly, in view of the evolution of Stalin’s pro-German foreign policy during and even after the Nazi rise to power, he did not apply this abusive epithet to the German government. Instead, while avoiding any characterisation of the Berlin regime, he wrote of the ‘superhuman struggle of the German people against Entente oppression’. [58]

Under the 1924 Zinoviev – Stalin schema, fascism becomes the product of the fusion of the counter-revolutionary combat unit of the fascists and the organisations of the reformists. In Germany, this would have meant that the SPD or the ADGB had actually joined forces with the Nazi SS or SA in order to fight the KPD! In such a ‘bloc’ (which existed purely in the minds of those who devised and propagated this lunatic theory) Social Democracy merely represented the ‘left’ or ‘moderate’ wing or ‘face’ of fascism. How this ‘bloc’ of fascism and Social Democracy worked out in practice had already been demonstrated in Italy a matter of weeks before Stalin’s article appeared in the CPSU theoretical organ Bolshevik. When the Italian Parliament met on 30 May 1924, the secretary of the PSI, the ultra-right-wing Social Democrat Giacomo Matteotti, took the floor on behalf of his party and courageously hurled a torrent of invective at the fascist regime, whose parliamentary representatives now dominated the chamber. He accused the fascists of rigging the recent elections and intimidating voters, and called upon the chamber to declare the results invalid. It was of course a speech couched within the framework of Social Democracy, but the manner of its delivery aroused the fury of the fascists and their allies. Ending his speech, he remarked to fellow socialists amidst the howls of hatred and abuse: ‘Now you can prepare my funeral oration.’ If Stalin’s theory held any water at all, then Matteotti was either suffering from morbid depression or delusions of grandeur. In the event, he proved to have a sounder comprehension of the real nature of fascism than Stalin, for all the latter’s pretensions to Marxist orthodoxy. The next day, Mussolini wrote in his Il Popolo d'Italia that Matteotti should not be answered with verbal abuse, but something more substantial and permanent. On 10 June, the socialist was kidnapped by five black-shirted thugs (with whom, according to Stalin’s theory, he was in a ‘bloc’), brutally beaten up and then stabbed to death as he screamed for help. His body was buried in a wood near Rome, and only found two months later. This story must be told, not in order to idealise either Matteotti or the political views which he defended both against the fascists on the right and the Communists on the left. It was none other than Matteotti who prior to Mussolini’s victory advised workers attacked by the fascists to ‘stay at home; ignore all provocations. Even silence and cowardice are heroic.’ But here lies the irony and the contradiction which Trotsky grasped, but Stalin either failed to see or chose to ignore. Matteotti told the workers to stay at home and to hide, yet when the battle was lost, he found himself driven, by forces he could not properly comprehend, to risk and lose his life in a genuinely heroic gesture of defiance towards the fascist regime.

Had the current staff of the Workers Press been at hand to comment on Matteotti’s reformist, and indeed treacherous activities before Mussolini’s seizure of power, and after it up to the events of 30 May – 10 June 1924, then in all probability they would have dubbed him a ‘corporatist’ (not a tall order, in view of the fact that Workers Press has applied this adjective, which for a Trotskyist denotes a supporter of the corporate state and therefore of fascism, to nearly every tendency in the British workers’ movement bar themselves). And this same editorial staff (acting, as the masthead of their paper indicates, under the direction of the Central Committee of the Workers Revolutionary Party and its secretary, G Healy) would also in all likelihood have blacked out all news of Matteotti’s murder, as they did the killing of his modern counterpart in the Six Counties SDLP, Paddy Wilson. He was also hideously stabbed to death, with 30 thrusts of a knife, on the night of 26 July 1973, by fascist or – if Workers Press will permit – corporatist-minded thugs as part of their campaign to terrorise the Catholic working class and break the back of their opposition to the rule of British imperialism in a part of the Irish nation. The news of such crimes as the murder of Paddy Wilson, and in 1924 of Matteotti, would indeed have proved highly embarrassing to those who contend then, and do so again, now, that under the impact of a deepening capitalist crisis and intensified pressure from the ruling class, Social Democrats and reformist trade union leaders become transformed into fascists (Zinoviev, Stalin) or ‘corporatists’ (Workers Press). If we wish to trace the historical and theoretical antecedents of this type of pseudo-revolutionary ranting, then we need look no further than the January 1924 speech of Zinoviev and Stalin’s article of September of the same year. And, it should be remembered by those who to pride themselves on their intransigence towards Stalinism, both were directed against Trotsky. Indeed, we can find further evidence that this was so in the resolution ‘On Comrade Trotsky’s Actions’, approved by a plenary session of the Central Committee of the CPSU in January 1925, when Zinoviev and Stalin were still in a bloc against Trotsky. Here we still find Trotsky being presented as right deviationist, since he rejected the Troika’s views on the relationship between fascism and reformism, which were of course of an ultra-left nature:

On basic questions of international politics (the role of fascism and Social Democracy, the role of the USA, the duration and nature of the ‘democratic pacifist era’, whose assessment by comrade Trotsky in many ways coincides with that of the Social Democratic ‘centre’), comrade Trotsky adopted a stand different from that of the CPSU and the whole Comintern...

The same resolution linked Trotsky with ‘the Italian social fascists’, an indication not only of the depravity of those who drafted and voted for the resolution, but of the stubbornness with which the Troika clung to this formula. What practical, tactical conclusions flow from this theoretically illiterate analysis of fascism? Obviously that since reformism and the armed squads of fascism (SA, SS, Arditi, etc) are one, then there can be no question of a bloc with the reformist organisations and their leaders against this same fascism. A more moderate version of this leftist line had indeed been tentatively and inconsistently applied in the Communist International throughout 1924, only to give way to an openly opportunist united front tactic with the reformists the next year. And of course, it was invoked and applied with far more severity from the Sixth Congress of the Communist International to a full year after Hitler’s victory in Germany. The theoretical and tactical ground work for this monumental defeat had therefore been laid during the months after the previous great reverse of October 1923, and flowed directly from it. Here is a superb confirmation of the Marxist dialectic of history. On its conscious side on both occasions was the fight of Trotsky for theoretical clarity, the only possible basis for a correct revolutionary line in Germany and internationally. In 1924 he was almost alone in declaring frankly to the Soviet party and the entire Communist International that there had been a defeat in Germany of such proportions as to shape the course of the class struggle in Europe for the next half decade and more. This perspective became an integral political foundation of the work of the Left Opposition, which, in its turn, found its highest theoretical expression on the international plane in the years between 1930 and 1933 in the fight to reorient the Communist International, and principally the KPD, back towards the revolutionary strategy and tactics of Leninism. The inner unity of these two periods of the Left Opposition, the first in 1924, and the last in 1933, together with the complementary struggle against Stalinist right-opportunism in China and Britain between 1925 and 1927, and the campaign for the revival of Soviet democracy and a planned industrialised economy in the USSR, was consummated after the German debacle with Trotsky’s call for the foundation of a Fourth International. That is why the 1924 polemics on the nature and role of fascism have to be grasped from this standpoint, one of the never-ending struggles not only to build a revolutionary leadership, but to equip it with the most advanced revolutionary theory.

Appendix II: Stalin and the KPD

The first open indication that Stalin had begun to search for a new leadership in the KPD to support his recently adopted policy of forming blocs with reformists abroad, while creeping towards ‘socialism in one country’ at home, came with the publication in Pravda on 3 February 1925 of a conversation between Stalin and Herzog of the KPD Central Committee. No longer were the Social Democrats falsely categorised and abused as the ‘moderate wing of fascism’. Instead we have the mild formulation that ‘the Social Democrats must be pilloried not on the basis of planetary questions, but on the basis of the day-to-day struggle of the working class for improving its material and social conditions...’ Stalin was also playing a cunning game in emphasising his devotion to the principles of democratic centralism and the rights of party minorities – something he was busily engaged in repressing in the CPSU. But here, in the KPD, it was a case of undermining the existing Zinovievist, leftist leadership, one that obstructed Stalin’s sharp turn towards the right in the Communist International and its largest non-Soviet section: ‘Some comrades think that strengthening the party and Bolshevising it means expelling all dissenters from it. That is wrong, of course.’ Eight months later, when Stalin made his next recorded pronouncement on the affairs of the KPD, we find him striking a different note. True, there is an even greater emphasis on the need to approach the reformists with great sensitivity (in violent contrast to the line of three years later), but now we find Stalin celebrating the triumph of the bureaucracy over the very principles he demagogically upheld in his talk with Herzog:

Undoubtedly, the removal of the ‘ultra-lefts’ has improved the position of the KPD. The ‘ultra-lefts’ are people alien to the working class. What can Ruth Fischer and Maslow have in common with the working class of Germany? [59]

This was the same group whose assumption of the leadership of the KPD after the 1923 fiasco was hailed by Stalin as representing the ‘decisive’ victory achieved by ‘the revolutionary wing in the KPD’ and as ‘sealing the victory of the revolutionary wing in the principal sections of the Comintern’. [60] ‘The result of the removal of the “ultra-lefts” has been that new leaders of the Communist Party have come to the fore from the workers... [61]

Stalin’s rejection of the KPD Zinovievists (on whose support he had depended in the struggle against Trotsky in 1924) became even more marked in 1926, when the Soviet bureaucracy’s turn towards a domestic alliance with the Nepman and kulak, and, internationally, with the reformists and bourgeois nationalists, drove their champion, together with Kamenev, towards a bloc with their former enemy Trotsky. Stalin now deemed the main enemy in the KPD to be not the Brandler right (ideologically in sympathy with Stalin’s new ally Bukharin, who was soon to become Zinoviev’s successor as head of the Communist International), but the Fischer – Maslow ‘ultra-left’: ‘Either the KPD breaks the resistance of the “ultra-lefts"’, Stalin declared in January 1926 ‘... or... it will make the present crisis chronic and disastrous for the party. Hence the fighting against the “ultra-lefts” in the KPD is the immediate task.’ [62] Stalin intervened in the troubled affairs of the KPD yet again some two months later at the German Commission of the Sixth Plenum of the ECCI, when once more his purpose was to protect the Thälmann ‘centre’ leadership from its left critics. Using the crudest anti-intellectual demagogy, he heaped praise on the ultra-Stalinist Thälmann faction as true representatives of the German proletariat, on the entirely spurious grounds that it was composed largely of former industrial workers. By contrast, there was the left faction, made up of ‘conceited’ and ‘puny intellectuals’ who, according to Stalin, considered it sufficient ‘to have read some two or three books, or to have written a couple of pamphlets, to... lay claim to the right of leading the party’. Other qualities than interest in Marxist theory were called for, said Stalin – blanket endorsement of the ‘general line’: ‘You may have written whole tomes on philosophy, but if you have not mastered the correct policy of the KPD CC, you cannot be allowed at the helm of the party.’ As for Marxist theory, that was of little consequence. It was a problem that would take care of itself:

It is said that theoretical knowledge is not a strong point with the present CC. [In the case of Thälmann, this was an understatement – RB] What of it? If the policy is correct, theoretical knowledge will come in due course. Knowledge is something acquirable; if you haven’t got it today, you may get it tomorrow. [63]

The idea that theoretical knowledge might have some bearing on arriving at a correct policy was anathema to the bureaucratic minds of Stalin and his supporters. All wisdom – and theory – began with the ‘correct’ or ‘general line’, which issued forth from the infallible brains of the ECCI apparatus and their manipulators in the Kremlin. Where the German ‘lefts’ sinned was in their continuing to repeat, in 1926, a period of right opportunism, what they had been allowed and even encouraged to say – against Trotsky – in 1924, the year of leftist adventurism. Such independence of spirit had to be ruthlessly squashed, and Stalin cared not how this was done: ‘... about the Ruth Fischer group... I consider that of all the undesirable and objectionable groups in the KPD, this group is the most undesirable and the most objectionable.’ [64] However the defeat of the old KPD left was no easy matter, as it enjoyed considerable prestige amongst the proletarian members and supporters of the party, and was in fact nourished in its leftism by the deep (and justified) hatred for Social Democracy amongst the most advanced workers of the KPD. The expulsion of the Fischer – Maslow group therefore was not simply a reactionary blow struck by Stalin against an important section of the party leadership, one that with all its failings (and Trotsky, who entered into a bloc with this tendency at a later juncture, was fully aware of them) had an important contribution to make to the struggle for socialism in Germany. Stalin’s war on the KPD lefts drove away from the party and into the political wilderness hundreds and indeed thousands of the finest proletarians to have rallied to the banner of Communism. First the purge of the Spartacists, now of the lefts – this was the logic of Stalin’s bureaucratic regime in the Communist International, and of the zigzag centrist course pursued under its leadership.


1. LD Trotsky, ‘The Turn in the Communist International and the Situation in Germany’ (26 September 1930), The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (New York, 1971), p 59, emphasis added.

2. Lenin had been the instigator of this campaign, when he proposed to Trotsky a year earlier that they should form a bloc to cleanse the party of the bureaucratic methods personified by Stalin. Lenin’s prolonged illness, and then his death in January 1924, rendered their alliance stillborn, and the battle was only joined in earnest towards the end of 1923 with the letter submitted to the Central Committee of the CPSU by 46 prominent party members – the Platform of the Forty-Six – and Trotsky’s series of articles in the party press on the dangers of bureaucratism, subsequently published under the title The New Course.

3. The letter was couched in the most opportunist terms, inveighing against any rupture with the reformists, whose continued support was seen as a prerequisite for the eventual victory of the revolution: ‘Should the Communists (at a given stage) strive to seize power without the Social Democrats? That, in my opinion, is the question... If today in Germany the power... falls, and the Communists seize hold of it, they will fall with a crash. That in the “best” case. At the worst, they will be smashed to pieces and thrown back... Of course, the Fascists are not asleep, but it is to our interest that they attack first; that will rally the whole working class around the Communists... In my opinion, the Germans must be curbed and not spurred on.’ (Quoted in LD Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin (New York, 1957), p 322)

4. The Ninth KPD Congress was held in Frankfurt in April 1924, when the party had just emerged from the illegality imposed on it by Seeckt’s military rule. Out of the 118 delegates, only 11 were committed supporters of Brandler, the party’s General Secretary. The newly-elected KPD Central Committee was made up of 11 ‘lefts’ (who were in turn divided amongst themselves, as was soon to become clear) and four supporters of the ‘centre’ including Klara Zetkin and the future Stalinist Wilhelm Pieck. In a letter addressed to the Congress, the ECCI had openly backed the ‘lefts’ (Fischer, Maslow, Thälmann) by endorsing their ultra-left rejection of the united front tactic: ‘In Germany it is essential for us to use the united front tactic only from below, that is to say, we will have no dealings with the official Social Democratic leaders. The tactics of the united front from below must, however, be pursued honestly, consistently, and to the end.’ The letter also anticipated the decisions of the congress when it confidently declared that ‘the triumph of the left wing of the KPD is of tremendous significance for the fate of the German revolution’. Within a year, when the helm had been swung by the Stalin faction hard over to the right, the German ‘left’ was to be given an altogether different evaluation, save for a handful around Thälmann who proved their subservience to the ruling faction in the USSR by shifting their political stance in accordance with every twist and turn in the Comintern line.

5. Trotsky had no time for this empty-headed radicalism. He insisted that a defeat be given its correct name, and that a new orientation be worked out for the KPD which took into account the impact of this defeat on the consciousness of the various layers of the German working class. Once again, as so often in the past, it was a question of making a transition from one period and phase of struggle to another, in which new opposites had been established and needed to be grasped consciously before the party could begin to make good the losses of the previous reverse. This was the central theme of several speeches made by Trotsky in the wake of the German defeat. Thus in his address to the Military Science Society on 29 July 1924, he warned against the blind optimism then still in the ascendant in the Communist International: ‘It is clear that the bourgeois regime which has been restored in Germany, following the abortion of the proletarian revolution, is of durable stability... But if we close our eyes to the experience of these events, if we do not use this experience to educate ourselves, if we continue passively to make mistakes like those already made, we can expect to see the German catastrophe repeated, and the consequent dangers for the revolutionary movement will be immense.’ (LD Trotsky, Problems of Civil War (New York, 1970), p 21) And in a speech given a month earlier, he scourged those who denied that the KPD was in temporary decline and had lost a large proportion of its mass support in the working class, and that a considerable period of recuperation would be required before the KPD could once again regain the political initiative: ‘It would be absurd to shut one’s eyes to this: revolutionary politics are not the politics of the ostrich... The German proletariat suffered last year a very big defeat. It will need a definite and considerable interval of time in order to digest this defeat, to master its lessons and to recover from it, once more to gather its strength; and the KPD will be able to ensure the victory of the proletariat only if it, too, fully and completely masters the lessons of last year’s experience.’ (LD Trotsky, Through What Stage Are We Passing? (London, 1965), p 37)

6. Glaring for workers who already adhered to the KPD certainly, but not for those many millions who still clung to the SPD, despite its treacherous record since the foundation of the Republic (and indeed, since August 1914) as was proved by the Reichstag election results of May 1924, which gave 3.7 million votes to the KPD, but six million to a party that according to Zinoviev had not only gone over completely to capitalist dictatorship, but had become a ‘fraction of German fascism’. Lenin dealt with this classic leftist-subjectivist error in his ‘Left-Wing’ Communism, where he writes: ‘... we must not regard what is obsolete to us as something obsolete to a class, to the masses.’ (VI Lenin, ‘"Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder’, Collected Works, Volume 31, p 58)

7. ‘Directives on the United Front of the Workers and on the Attitude to Workers Belonging to the Second, Two-and-a-Half, and Amsterdam Internationals, and to Those Who Support Anarcho-Syndicalist Organisations’, adopted by the ECCI, 18 December 1921, emphasis added.

8. ‘Directives on the United Front...’, emphasis added.

9. Drawing on the experience of the revolutionary struggle in Russia before the revolution, the directive pointed out that despite their ceaseless fight against the Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks ‘often came to an understanding with the Mensheviks... The formal break with the Mensheviks took place in the spring of 1905, but at the end of 1905, the Bolsheviks formed a common front with the Mensheviks... and these unifications and semi-unifications happened not only in accordance with changes in the factional struggle, but also under the direct pressure of the working masses who were awakening to active political life and demanded the opportunity of testing by their own experience whether the Menshevik path really deviated in fundamentals from the road of revolution... The Russian Bolsheviks did not reply to the desire of the workers for unity with a renunciation of the united front...’ – as did the Stalinist KPD leadership in 1929-33.

10. The Second and Third Internationals and the Vienna Union: Official Report of the Conference (London, 1922), p 85.

11. ‘ECCI Statement on the Results of the Berlin Conference’, April 1922.

12. ‘ECCI Statement on the Meeting of the Committee of Nine’ [being a body set up by the Berlin conference to organise the united front of the three Internationals], 24 May 1922, emphasis added.

13. Unlike the WRP, which has as its main strategic aim the adoption of a full socialist programme of nationalisation by the Labour Party – in other words, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.

14. ‘Open Letter to the Second International and the Vienna Labour Union, to the Trade Unions of all Countries and to the Hague Trade Union and Cooperative Congress’, 4 December 1922, emphasis added.

15. ‘Resolution on Fascism’, adopted by the Fifth Congress of the Communist International, July 1924, emphasis added.

16. The question of fascism, Social Democracy and social fascism in the early years of the Communist International is discussed at greater length in a note at the end of this chapter.

17. ‘Resolution on Fascism’, adopted by the Fifth Congress of the Communist International.

18. ‘Theses on Tactics’, adopted by the Fifth Congress of the Communist International, July 1924.

19. ‘The prospects for the German revolution, as outlined by the ECCI in the autumn of 1923, remain unchanged... by its very nature the international position of the German bourgeoisie and Social Democracy remains hopeless... The internal crisis may come to a head very quickly.’ (’theses on Tactics’, adopted by the Fifth Congress of the Communist International, July 1924)

20. ‘The Congress... observes that the opposition in the RCP [Russian Communist Party] was supported by groups in other parties, in the Polish, German and French parties, etc; this, like the RCP opposition, is a manifestation of a right (opportunist) deviation in these parties, and was condemned as such by the Fifth Congress of the Communist International... The congress resolves... to endorse the resolutions of the Thirteenth Conference and Thirteenth Congress of the RCP, which condemned the platform of the opposition [the ‘Forty-Six'] as petit-bourgeois, and its conduct as a threat to the unity of the party and consequently to the proletarian dictatorship in the Soviet Union.’ (Resolution of the Fifth Comintern Congress on the Russian Question) Thus support for the Soviet Left Opposition was not merely branded as right opportunism, but deemed tantamount to threatening the existence of the Soviet Union itself. And here it should be noted that Zinoviev’s leftist course at this time enabled the Troika to depict Trotsky (who was arguing for a sober policy that would favour the eventual revolutionary regroupment of the shattered ranks of the German proletariat) as a rightist seeking to ‘de-Bolshevise’ the RCP and the Communist International and subvert it with his own brand of ‘Menshevism’.

21. Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, p 124.

22. Zinoviev was removed from the leadership of the Communist International by decision of the CPSU Central Committee at its session of October 1926, where Trotsky and Kamenev were removed from the party Politbureau. Bukharin became the new Comintern Chairman. The composition of the ruling body of the Comintern between its congresses, the Presidium of the ECCI, had undergone drastic changes in personnel since the death of Lenin, reflecting the violent oscillations of the factional struggle in the CPSU. At the last congress at which Lenin spoke – the fourth, in December 1922, Lenin and Trotsky were elected to the ECCI, while on the Presidium sat Zinoviev and Bukharin from the Soviet party. The rise to power of the Troika in the USSR greatly influenced the composition of the ruling bodies elected at the Fifth Congress less than two years later. Now the Soviet representation on the Presidium was doubled to include not only Kamenev, who had been active in the work of the Comintern from its early days, but the third member of the Troika – Stalin, who had never even so much as attended either a Comintern congress or written on its problems in any of the party or Comintern organs. The Soviet fraction in the ECCI was equally dominated by opponents of Trotsky – Zinoviev, Bukharin, Stalin, Kamenev – with Trotsky now relegated on purely factional grounds to the position of candidate. The break-up of the Troika was also faithfully reflected in the Presidium and ECCI membership. At the Sixth Plenum of the ECCI in the spring of 1926, Kamenev (now in opposition with Zinoviev, and shortly to form a bloc with Trotsky) was removed and on came Kuusinen and Lozovsky, both firm Stalin men; and from the KPD, Remmele, who joined Thälmann, elected by the ECCI after the Fourth Congress. Then in the autumn of 1928 there began a purge of Bukharinites, which reached its climax with the removal of their leader from the chairmanship of the Comintern on 3 July 1929, by a decision of the ECCI on the ‘recommendation’ of the CPSU Central Committee. Six years later, at the Seventh and last Congress of the Comintern (where under Dimitrov’s guidance, the line was mapped out that prepared counter-revolution in Spain and France), a squad of utterly depraved and subservient Stalinists was elevated to the body that, in Lenin’s day, had been staffed by the finest leadership that had ever stood at the head of the world workers’ movement. Of the Presidium elected after the Fourth Congress in 1922 (12 full members, three candidates), only two – Kuusinen and the Bulgarian Kolarov – survived the successive waves of purges to serve Stalin after the Seventh Congress. Just as the Stalinist bureaucracy destroyed Bolshevism in the USSR, so it devastated the international movement founded by Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev to carry the Russian revolution to every corner of the globe.

23. One former anonymous Comintern official relates: ‘They had no reason to tremble for their careers when Bukharin, who had learned about the Canton insurrection only from the wires published in the newspapers [thus confirming that the whole suicidal undertaking had been launched behind the back of the leading organ of the Comintern, a higher authority than either the Chinese Party or even the CPSU – RB], was shouting at them during the secret session of the Comintern in Moscow. In back of them stood a mightier man who gave the two boys a thorough scolding but did not permit any harm to come to them. [Not at any rate until the onset of the great purge, in which both Neumann and Lominadze – now bitter opponents of their former protector – shared the fate of so many other functionaries and leaders of the Comintern – RB] A year later, Bukharin was finished in the Comintern and a new leadership instituted. Heinz Neumann returned to Germany, became a deputy in the German Reichstag, and one of the mighty in the KPD.’ (Ypsilon, Pattern for World Revolution (New York, 1947), p 191) This account, which is corroborated by other independent versions of the Canton Commune episode, bears out Trotsky’s own judgement on the motives behind the staging of the insurrection, namely that it ‘was an adventure of the leaders in an effort to save their “prestige"’. And he also makes the telling observation that the emergence of putschist moods in the Chinese Communist Party, hypocritically condemned by an ECCI resolution on the Canton commune, were ‘a reaction to the entire opportunist policy of 1925-27, and an inevitable consequence of the purely military command issued from above to “change the step” without an evaluation of all that had been done, without an open revaluation of the basis of the tactic, and without a clear perspective.’ (LD Trotsky, ‘The Chinese Revolution’ (June 1928), The Third International After Lenin, p 200) All of which holds good for the leftist turn that was to gather pace throughout the Communist International during the early part of 1928, and nowhere more so than in Germany.

24. JV Stalin, ‘Political Report of the CC of the CPSU’, Works, Volume 10, pp 290-93.

25. Cf T Draper, ‘The Strange Case of the Comintern’, Survey, Volume 18, no 3, Summer 1972. This is a near-exhaustive inquiry into a most important subject, presumably carried out by its author as part of his research into the history of the Communist Party of the United States, which Draper is currently engaged in writing. Nevertheless, Draper’s long essay on the origins of ‘social fascism’ is not without its errors and omissions. He picks up Stalin’s December speech reference to the onset of a ‘new revolutionary upsurge’ (p 104), but not his associated claim that ‘the policy of the bourgeois governments’ was gradually becoming ‘fascisised’ (JV Stalin, ‘Political Report of the Central Committee’ (3 December 1927), Works, Volume 10, p 288). Equally surprising, in view of Draper’s otherwise copious textual references, is his categorical assertion, made on two separate occasions, that Stalin ‘never used the term [social fascism] himself, still contenting himself with repeated references to Social Democracy’, and that he ‘always used the more respectful term “Social Democracy” without an intimation that it was becoming something else or something worse’ (T Draper, ‘The Strange Case of the Comintern’, Survey, Volume 18, no 3, Summer 1972, pp 126, 128). In Stalin’s ‘Report to the Sixteenth Congress of the CPSU’ (27 June 1930), we can read the following classic Third Period formulation: ‘Will many workers be found today capable of believing the false doctrines of the social fascists? ... the best members of the working class have already turned away from the social fascists.’ (JV Stalin, Works, Volume 12, p 260)

26. O Kuusinen, ‘The International Situation and the Tasks of the Comintern: Report to the Tenth Plenum of the ECCI’, June 1929, International Press Correspondence, Volume 9, no 40, 20 August 1929, p 847.

27. R Gerber, ‘The Face of German Social Fascism’, Communist International, Volume 6, no 21, 15 September 1929, p 800.

28. Stalin, ‘Political Report of the CC of the CPSU’, Works, Volume 10, p 289.

29. Stalin’s speech must have left the scribes of the official Comintern organ in a quandary since it contained much that was old as well as a little that sounded new. One writer solved the problem thus: ‘As earlier so now the central slogan of our party is the united front. But... in so far as we have a strong rightward movement of the upper ranks of Social Democracy, all the weight of the struggle for the united front must be transferred below, in which the attacks against the Social Democratic leaders must be carried on with double and triple energy.’ (’the Comintern’s Militant Task’, The Communist International, Volume 5, no 2, 15 January 1928, p 30) Bukharin, as chairman of the ECCI, could scarcely afford to be either pre-empted or outflanked by Stalin, and so at the CPSU Congress he took up and even embroidered on the theme of a sharper struggle against Social Democracy, obviously never guessing for one moment where it would eventually lead him: ‘Never before has the gulf between us Communists and the Social Democrats been so great from top to bottom as now. We must attack the Social Democrats still more resolutely than ever before along the whole line of front.’ (Report of the ECCI to the Fifteenth Congress of the CPSU)

30. Stalin, ‘Political Report of the CC of the CPSU’, Works, Volume 10, pp 290-91.

31. ‘Resolution on the English Question’, Ninth Plenum, ECCI, 18 February 1928.

32. ‘Resolution on the English Question’, Ninth Plenum, ECCI, 18 February 1928, emphasis added.

33. JV Stalin, ‘First Results of the Procurement Campaign and the Further Tasks of the Party’, 13 February 1928, Works, Volume 11, p 13.

34. H Brandler, ‘Contribution to a Programme of Action’, Communist International, Volume 5, no 3, 1 February 1928, p 68.

35. A Lozovsky, ‘Problems of Strike Strategy’, Communist International, Volume 5, no 5, 1 March 1928, p 113, emphasis added.

36. A Lozovsky, ‘Results and Prospects of the United Front (For the Fourth RILU Congress)’, Communist International, Volume 5, no 6, 15 March 1928, p 146, emphasis added.

37. ‘Theses on Lozovsky’s Report’, Fourth RILU Congress, July 1928 (London, 1928), p 12.

38. ‘Theses on Lozovsky’s Report’, Fourth RILU Congress, July 1928, pp 20-21, emphasis in original.

39. ‘Measures for Fighting Fascism in the Trade Union Movement’, Fourth RILU Congress, p 51, emphasis added.

40. ‘Measures for Fighting Fascism in the Trade Union Movement’, Fourth RILU Congress, pp 52-53, emphasis added.

41. The real relationship of forces at the congress is well depicted by a supporter of Bukharin in the ECCI apparatus: ‘The Congress was a comedy worthy of the pen of Gogol, Bukharin acted as president and made the big programmatic speech... But in the halls and corridors a flood of dirty rumours against Bukharin was spreading, such as I have never experienced in the Comintern. It was really in the halls and corridors that a change of regime was manoeuvred while Bukharin himself was proclaiming the principles of Communism at the meetings.’ ('From the Papers of Comrade X’, in Ypsilon, Pattern of World Revolution, p 118) Shortly after the close of the congress, in an unpublished article ‘Who Leads the Comintern?’, Trotsky wrote that ‘the leadership of the Sixth Congress seemed Bukharin’s. He gave the report, put out the strategic line, put forward and carried through the programme... and opened and closed the congress... And yet everybody knows that in fact Bukharin’s influence on the congress was virtually nil.’ Togliatti, who ventured to cast doubts on the new formulas regarding fascism and reformism, admitted in a private conversation that ‘it is impossible to speak the truth about the most important, the most vital problems. We cannot speak. In this atmosphere, to tell the real truth would have the effect of an exploding bomb.’ Even Maurice Thorez, who was soon to begin his climb to the summit of the French party machine as Stalin’s loyal executor, expressed misgivings about the theory of ‘socialism in one country’. Five years of increasingly bureaucratic misleadership had reduced the once powerful and respected Communist International to a shambles. No mass revolutionary movement could have withstood the succession of left and right zigzags and changes of leadership imposed on the Communist International from the Kremlin. Trotsky takes up these and allied questions in his classic Marxist analysis and history of the post-Lenin Communist International, ‘The Draft Programme of the Communist International’ (published in The Third International After Lenin).

42. NI Bukharin, ‘Report to Sixth Comintern Congress’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 8, no 41, emphasis in original.

43. The pro-Stalin faction in the KPD was quicker off the mark than any other section in backing the ‘new line’ and giving it even more leftist emphasis. On 1 June 1928, there appeared in the KPD theoretical organ Die Internationale an article by Josef Lenz which contended, as Zinoviev and Stalin had done four years previously, that Social Democracy was ‘developing tendencies in the direction of social fascism’, an opinion which won approval from an unsigned article in the Communist International 10 weeks later. Also written at this time, and indicating the eagerness with which the KPD ‘left’ followed – and helped to accelerate – the slide of the Communist International towards a fully-blown theory of social fascism, was an article in the 15 June number of the Comintern organ, entitled ‘The White Terror and the Social Democrats’. Apart from a highly significant reference to the Volksstaat as being ‘the organ of the Saxon social fascists’, the article upbraids the Prussian Social Democrats for allegedly forming an alliance with an anonymous ‘white terror’ against the KPD. Yet this harsh line was contradicted by another contributor to the organ a month later, who in analysing the Reichstag elections of May 1928, grouped the SPD together with the KPD as a workers’ party. The article was also noteworthy in that unlike so many others being written on Germany at this time, it drew attention to the possibility of a revival in the fortunes of the Nazis: ‘It is absurd to regard the German fascists as finished.’ (’the Lesson of the German Elections’, Communist International, Volume 5, no 14, 15 July 1928, p 311) An altogether different approach was adopted on the same theme by Hermann Remmele, a supporter of the Thälmann faction in the KPD, in the next issue. He grouped the SPD with the ‘bourgeois left parties’, and reserved for the KPD the distinction of being the sole workers’ party in Germany. And he added, in tones that boded ill for the KPD centre and right, that ‘the line of battle between Menshevism and Communism is becoming more sharply defined. The task of winning over the workers from the ranks of the Social Democrats necessitates the use of different methods and conditions from those that were customary years ago. On this account the Communist Parties were obliged to examine their relations to the Social Democrats and make certain changes.’ Remmele obviously had his own party in mind when he said this, for he went on to criticise ‘supporters of the right group within the party, who expect much from an alliance with the “left wing” as a means of winning over the masses’ (Communist International, Volume 5, no 15, 1 August 1928, p 353).

44. F Heckert, ‘Report to Sixth Comintern Congress’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 8, no 41, p 814.

45. G Dimitrov, ‘Report to Sixth Comintern Congress’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 8, no 41, p 847.

46. Only one delegate seems to have had the temerity to imply that all was not well with the new theory of ‘social fascism’. Ercoli (Palmiro Togliatti), while conceding that there was an ‘ideological connection between fascism and Social Democracy’ and even in some cases an ‘organic connection’ where Social Democracy ‘in certain cases and under certain circumstances’ used ‘frankly fascist methods’, warned that ‘one must beware of excessive generalisations, because there are [also] serious differences. Fascism as a mass movement is a movement of the petit-bourgeoisie and middle bourgeoisie dominated by the big bourgeoisie and the agrarians; more, it has no basis in a traditional organisation of the working class. On the other hand, Social Democracy is a movement with a labour and petit-bourgeois base, it derives its force mainly from an organisation which is recognised by enormous sections of the workers as the traditional organisation of their class.’ (International Press Correspondence, Volume 8, no 53, 23 August 1928, p 941) And Togliatti knew this better than almost anyone else present at the congress, since his own party, together with the entire Italian labour movement, ‘social fascist’ as well as revolutionary, had been smashed by the genuine fascists. This speech proved to be Togliatti’s last as a secret supporter of Bukharin’s. His supple spine and elastic principles enabled him to make the transition to the Third Period – and then back again in 1935 to the right opportunist line he always preferred.

47. E Thälmann, ‘Report to Sixth Comintern Congress’, International Press Correspondence, Vooume 8, no 50, 16 August 1928.

48. Stalin gives the following account of this episode, which if true, confirms that differences over domestic policy had already spilled over into the International: ‘How did the disagreements in this sphere [that of ‘driving the Rights out of the Communist Parties’ – RB] begin? They began with Bukharin’s theses at the Sixth Congress on the international situation. As a rule, these are first examined by the delegation of the CPSU. In this case, however, that condition was not observed. What happened was that the theses, signed by Bukharin, were sent to the delegation of the CPSU at the same time as they were distributed to the foreign delegations at the Sixth Congress. But the theses proved to be unsatisfactory on a number of points. The delegation of the CPSU was obliged to introduce about 20 amendments to the theses... In order that the fight against Social Democracy may be waged successfully, stress must be laid on the fight against the “Left” wing of Social Democracy... It is obvious that unless the “Left” Social Democrats are routed it will be impossible to overcome Social Democracy in general. [The core of Stalin’s policy at the time of the British general strike in 1926 had been an unprincipled bloc with these same lefts on the TUC General Council – Hicks, Cook and Purcell – RB] Yet in Bukharin’s theses the question of “Left” Social Democracy was entirely ignored.’ (JV Stalin, ‘The Right Deviation in the CPSU’, speech to the Plenum of the CC and Central Control Commission of the CPSU (April 1929), Works, Volume 12, pp 21-23)

49. Programme of the Communist International, 1 September 1928 (London, 1932), p 13.

50. E Schneller, ‘Report to Sixth Comintern Congress’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 8, no 58, 1 September 1928, p 1016.

51. NI Bukharin, ‘Report to Sixth Comintern Congress’, International Press Correspondence, Volume 8, no 59, 4 September 1928, p 1039.

52. G Zinoviev, Die Monarchistische Gefahr und Taktik der KPD (Berlin, 1925), p 6.

53. Zinoviev, Die Monarchistische Gefahr und Taktik der KPD, p 11, emphasis added.

54. The beginning of Zinoviev’s fall from grace in the ECCI dates from December 1924, when the putsch he ordered in Estonia – partly it appears to restore sagging confidence in his leftist line that the revolutionary wave in Europe was still in the ascendant – ended in fiasco with several hundred Communists killed. Working initially through the exiled Hungarian Béla Kun, Stalin began to build up an anti-Zinoviev bloc in the Presidium of the ECCI. The methods employed were the same as those used to undermine Trotsky’s position in the CPSU: ‘A Stalin faction is being organised in the Comintern. They attempt to cut off Zinoviev from his contacts abroad. Important documents and information are kept from him. His secretaries are sabotaged... Much malicious pressure is applied to the “impure” [a term used to describe former Comintern leaders currently out of favour – RB]. Stalin has their complete sympathy. He uses every opportunity to demonstrate to the foreign comrades his contempt for the Comintern regime of Zinoviev... He comes out for democracy and solidarity within the Comintern. He opposes Zinoviev’s system of building up and dismissing leaders... Bukharin goes along with Stalin on every single question and is instrumental in creating an atmosphere of confidence in the Comintern for him.’ ('From the Papers of Comrade X’ (a former Comintern official), in Ypsilon, Pattern for World Revolution, p 102) This eye-witness account of the split developing early in 1925 between Stalin and the ECCI chairman helps to explain the complexities of the factional struggle in the KPD. As in the USSR, Stalin did not select his (what usually proved be temporary) allies on the basis of principles, but expediency. He was perfectly capable of making demagogic attacks on bureaucracy if in doing so he could win over its past victims to a factional bloc against his current opponents. This was the device he exploited in his campaign against Zinoviev in the ECCI, which in Germany led to a fleeting alignment with the new, anti-Zinoviev ultra-left against the pro-Zinoviev group on the party Central Commttee of Maslow and Fischer.

55. JV Stalin, ‘Speech Delivered at a Meeting of the Polish Commission of the Communist International’ (3 July 1924), Works, Volume 6, p 279.

56. JV Stalin, ‘Concerning the International Situation’ (20 September 1924), Works, Volume 6, pp 294-95.

57. JV Stalin, ‘The Results of the Thirteenth Congress of the CPSU’, Works, Volume 6, p 247.

58. Stalin, ‘Concerning the International Situation’, Works, Volume 6, p 299.

59. JV Stalin, ‘Interview with the Participants in the Conference of Agitation and Propaganda Departments’ (14 October 1925), Works, Volume 7, p 242.

60. Stalin, ‘Concerning the International Situation’, Works, Volume 6, pp 304-06.

61. Stalin, ‘Interview with the Participants in the Conference of Agitation and Propaganda Departments’, Works, Volume 7, p 242.

62. JV Stalin, ‘The Fight Against the Right and “Ultra-Left” Deviations: Speech to the Presidium of the ECCI’ (22 January 1926), Works, Volume 8, p 2.

63. JV Stalin, ‘Speech Delivered in the German Commission of the Sixth Enlarged Plenum of the ECCI’ (8 March 1926), Works, Volume 8, pp 116-17.

64. Stalin, ‘Speech Delivered in the German Commission of the Sixth Enlarged Plenum of the ECCI’, Works, Volume 8, p 120.