Into The Mainstream by Tom O’Lincoln

The Fate of a World Movement

Lenin's internationalism is not a formula for harmonising national and international interests in empty verbiage. It is a guide to revolutionary action embracing all nations. Our planet, inhabited by so-called civilised humanity, is considered as one single battle-field where various nations and social classes contend. — Leon Trotsky[1]

Communists have always called upon the workers of the world to unite. In fact it is undoubtedly the most famous thing Karl Marx ever said, and few who claimed to stand in his tradition have failed to repeat it.

Yet slogans are one thing, and practice another. Marx himself lived in a time when capitalism was still a young and expanding system, achieving economic and social progress in one country after another. And it was doing so on a national basis. Industrial economies arose, agriculture was modernised, political democracy triumphed in much of Europe, and the key social and political structure associated with these changes was the nation state. The labour movement grew up on a national basis as well.

Marx sought to unify the workers across national barriers, with episodic success, but he was unable to build an on-going mass movement which did so. The International Workingmen's Association, or "First International", was a step toward such a thing, but it was never much more than a ramshackle federation of national organisations — ranging from the conservative British trade unions to the anarchists of southern Europe.

The Second International, in its turn, grew up as a federation of national parties. It was capable of passing grand resolutions about fraternal unity, but when the first World War put it to the test, all its national sections endorsed the war effort of their own bourgeoisie. The workers were sent by their leaders to slaughter each other on the battlefield. The international solidarity of the proletariat was exposed as something of a myth.

It might have seemed audacious indeed, then, for Lenin and the Russian Bolsheviks to attempt to launch a Third, or Communist International on March 4,1919. Yet the new movement's founders were convinced that for the first time, the workers of the world might truly be united in struggle. The project was not based on abstract sentiment, but on the analysis which Lenin and his followers made of their own revolution, its international significance, and the development of capitalism in their own time.

By the turn of the century, the prospects for any more nations to achieve industrial development were becoming increasingly poor. The industrial powers which already existed were carving up the world and sewing up the world market. They could so dominate the terms of trade that it was more and more difficult for new nations to join the industrial "club". Japan and Germany had just managed to do so, but only with extensive government intervention in their economies. In much of the world, moreover, direct colonial rule choked off any chance of independent economic development.

In addition, by the turn of the century capitalism as a whole was reaching the limits of a historic period of expansion. A tendency for profit rates to fall, which Marx had pointed to as a feature of capitalist crisis, was making itself felt throughout the world system in the first two decades of the new century. Expansion to new markets and sources of labour, which had staved off the problem for a time, was becoming more and more difficult once the great powers had completed their division of the world at the turn of the century.

Lenin concluded that solutions to the major problems confronting humanity — class oppression in the west, national and class oppression in the rest of the world — could not be achieved within individual nations, nor within a capitalist framework. The path forward for humanity was social transformation on a world scale, and the agency was the revolutionary proletariat.

In 1914, when he first addressed this message to whoever would listen amongst a labour movement disoriented by the World War, he was supported by only a handful of revolutionaries. Yet by 1919 he had an audience of millions. Nationalism had been discredited by the war, as had the old nationally-limited socialist parties, who had led the working class into the slaughter. And the war had led to revolution in Russia, making the Russian Bolsheviks an attractive model for militant workers c-very where.

The possibility existed of building a world movement based on the politics of Bolshevism, and Lenin considered it not only important but absolutely necessary to do so. Although the Bolsheviks held state power within the borders of a single nation, they did not believe they could maintain that power, let alone solve the terrible economic and social problems of Russia, within those national limits. Lenin argued that only an international revolution could save the Bolshevik regime from eventual collapse.

He was absolutely adamant on this point. Eight months before the revolution he had written that "the Russian proletariat cannot by its own forces victoriously complete the socialist revolution". Four months after it he said that "the absolute truth is that without a revolution in Germany, we shall perish". A year later he wrote that "the existence of I he Soviet republic side by side with imperialist powers for any length of time is inconceivable".[2]

The formation of the Communist International was therefore a matter of urgency. At the beginning, its prospects looked hopeful, for it was formed amidst a wave of revolutionary struggles across Europe which reached insurrectionary proportions in centres such as Berlin, Munich and Budapest. Important sections of the European labour parties came over to the new movement, and the "Comintern" bound them together into a single world party, with a centralist structure.

The centralism was not, in those days, an obstacle to democracy. Extensive debates on major issues — union work, parliamentarism, relations with non-communist workers, national liberation struggles —took place in which Bolshevik views were openly challenged by leaders of such stature as Sylvia Pankhurst, Anton Pannekoek, and Amadeo Bordiga.

The Stalinisation of the International

THIS WAVE of working class radicalism declined by 1921, and the last serious attempt at a revolution in Germany was defeated in 1923, leaving only a single revolutionary party in power: the Bolsheviks. It was a situation which had not been anticipated by Lenin, who expected the leading role of the Russians in the Comintern to be temporary:

Leadership in the revolutionary proletarian International has passed for a time — for a short time it goes without saying — to the Russians. [3]

It would ... be erroneous to lose sight of the fact that, soon after the victory of the proletarian revolution in at least one of the advanced countries, a sharp change will probably come about: Russia will cease to be the model and will once again become a backward country... [4]

But with the ebb of the European revolution, Bolshevik leadership within the world movement became permanent and entrenched. This brought with it grave problems.

The Bolsheviks were struggling to hold together an embattled workers' state at home, to cope with the ravages of civil war. They had few resources to devote to leading the vast international movement they had created. Moreover, Russia was a backward country, its working class small and decimated by civil war. How could it lead a movement based on the large and culturally advanced working classes of Western Europe? Lenin noted the problem as early as 1921, when in discussing a Comintern resolution he wrote:

The resolution is an excellent one, but it is almost entirely Russian, that is to say, everything in it is based on Russian conditions. This is its good point but it is also its failing. It is its failing because I am sure that no foreigner can read it. . . and ... if by way of exception some foreigner does understand it, he cannot carry it out... we have not learnt how to present our Russian experience to foreigners. [5]

Russian leadership was therefore a distortion from the start, but while the Soviet regime continued to place world revolution at the centre of its perspective it was not a fatal one. In the mid-twenties, however, the internationalist perspective was gradually abandoned.

With the ebb of revolution in Europe, the prospects for salvation from the west for the embattled Soviets appeared increasingly doubtful. Within Russia, the state bureaucracy under Stalin's leadership gradually strengthened its grip on society. This bureaucracy was interested in its own power and privileges, which could only be jeopardised by new workers' revolutions abroad. Stalin began to develop a new theory, according to which Russia could build "socialism in a single country".

What did "socialism in a single country" mean in practice? In Russia, which had not even completed the capitalist stage of economic development, it meant the ruthless accumulation of capital by the state, and the ruthless exploitation of the workers and peasants in the interest of industrial development. To achieve these ends, a powerful repressive apparatus emerged.

Trotsky charged that the revolution had been "betrayed", but more accurately it had been transformed into its opposite by the pressures of political and economic reality. Lenin had been proved both right and wrong. Right in saying that the revolution could not survive unless it spread to the west; wrong in saying that in the age of imperialism no country could achieve an industrial transformation on a national basis. The Russian workers' state gave way to a dynamic state capitalism, which industrialised the society at the workers' expense.

Abroad, "socialism in a single country" meant the subordination of the Communist Parties to the national interest of the Soviet bureaucracy. The Chinese party was instructed to place its faith in Chiang Kai-chek because Chiang was Stalin's ally. It did so, agreeing even to disarm itself after seizing the city of Shanghai on his behalf, only to have Chiang turn on the Communists and massacre them. The British party was tied to the left wing of the trade union bureaucracy, because Moscow wanted to use the Anglo-Soviet Trade Union Committee to pursue its own diplomatic ends. The consequence was to give the more leftwing officials n radical image they did not really deserve, and even to build illusions in the TUC as a whole (the CPGB slogan was "all power to the General Council"). In the 1926 General Strike these illusions were to be cruelly shattered; worse, because they half shared them, the Communists were unable to provide a coherent revolutionary alternative to the official leadership of the struggle.

Then in the period from 1928 to 1934, when Stalin made an all-out attempt to industrialise Russia, the Communist Parties were instructed to launch a frontal offensive against the bourgeoisie, and also against the social-democrats, who were denounced as tools of the bourgeoisie. Within the International, Stalin had to carry out a purge to ensure subservience to this radical turn in policy:

Of the 275 persons at various times elected to leading bodies of the International, not a single one was elected at all seven Congresses held between 1919 and 1935, nor even at six out of the seven. Of the five members of the "small bureau" elected by the Executive Committee after the Second Congress in 1920, only one — Alfred Rosmer, pioneer Trotskyist — physically survived the purges of the thirties. [6]

The sudden left turn involved a number of suicidal actions, but most disastrously it involved the theory of "social-fascism", according to which the social-democratic and labour parties were the left wing of fascism itself. Such an orientation made unity against the real fascist threat impossible, and paved the way for Hitler to take power over the bodies of a divided labour movement.

The German debacle led to a major new stage in Comintern policy. Georgii Dimitrov elaborated the so-called "United Front Against Fascism", soon to become the Popular Front which called for an alliance with the "democratic" or "patriotic" bourgeoisie — i.e. that section of the capitalist class which was prepared to oppose fascism, at least for the moment. The aims of the alliance were to fight fascism and defend bourgeois democracy, and the struggle for socialism was separate from these aims and explicitly postponed to a later stage.

To a tactical alliance against the common foe, no reasonable person could object. However, the Popular Front quickly emerged as a policy of subordinating the class struggle to what became a long term alliance. In their efforts to woo the bourgeoisie, the one-time internationalists of the CPs indulged in enthusiastic patriotism: in France they sang the Marseillaise and waved the tricolour; in America they carried pictures of Lenin and George Washington side by side. Even more serious: they began to oppose strikes, and working class militancy generally, for fear of upsetting the alliance with sections of the bourgeoisie.

In France the Popular Front formed a government, supported by a coalition of the Socialists, the CP, the Radicals and even the association of "Masonic Employers". It was quickly put to the test by a massive strike wave. The new government opposed the strikes and the Communist Party, which had put forward the accurate slogan, "the Popular Front is not the revolution", told the strikers: "The present situation... cannot be protracted without danger to the security of the people of France."

Looking back with pride on this dismal episode, CP leader Thorez later commented: "The Communist Party had the courage to proclaim: it is necessary to know how to end a strike." [7]

In the same year, the Spanish Popular Front swept to power on the crest of a wave of grassroots struggle. A fascist revolt led by Francisco Franco set out to crush this upheaval, but was thrown back in sections of the country by a virtual insurrection of the workers and peasants.

The country was plunged into a civil war, in which the USSR supplied aid to the anti-fascist forces — but at a price. The Spanish CP, originally a very small organisation, was able to use its Soviet connections to transform itself into a major force. Aided by the Russian secret police, it led moves to liquidate workers' organisations which refused to subordinate the class struggle to the alliance with pro-Republican sections of the bourgeoisie. Countless revolutionaries were killed, and organisations to the left of the CP eventually smashed. The result was a fatal weakening of the one force that could have defeated Franco: the independent struggles of the working class. [8]

The Popular Front was temporarily suspended in 1939-40, when Stalin concluded his non-aggressive pact with Hitler. For a brief interlude, the CPs were instructed to wage struggles of every sort, and British and French preparations for war were vigorously denounced. However the strategy was renewed with a vengeance once Germany invaded the USSR and Stalin once again sought an alliance with the western powers.

In the course of the Second World War, the CPs everywhere restrained workers' struggles. The war was the most extreme form of the Popular Front — an explicit alliance with the western ruling classes against Hitler — and therefore demanded the most severe dampening of the class struggle, through no-strike pledges and the like. The CPs defended this policy on the grounds that stopping fascism was an over-riding priority, and in this view they were supported by many workers. Yet after the war, with fascism totally defeated, every effort was nevertheless made to continue the wartime collaboration with the bourgeoisie. In 1945, when Churchill proposed a postwar coalition with Labour, the British Communist press headlined the story: "All-Party National Government is Essential After the Election." [9]

The French party for its part raised the slogan, "One State, one Army, one Police Force"[10] and CP deputies in the Assembly voted for a resolution praising the role of French forces in Indochina. [11]

The Basis of Stalinist Mass Support

THE ROLE of the CPs in the period from the late twenties through to the postwar period, the years 1928-34 apart, was designed first and foremost to effect an alliance between Moscow and the CPs on the one hand, and the social-democrats and sections of the bourgeoisie on the other. The independent struggles of the working class were subordinated to that end. The Communist Parties had become faithful agents of Soviet foreign policy. But why?

It is not hard to see why Moscow wanted foreign agents. But why should mass workers' parties, embodying a fair proportion of the working class vanguard, be content to play this role for an entire historical period? Most writing on this question suggests that the millions of Communists, many of them working class leaders, were essentially morons who could be manipulated by any clever commissar. It is important to dispel this elitist myth.

The strong attraction which so many workers — and not only Communists — felt for Russia had a sound basis at first. Russia was the home of the first workers' revolution. As such it was subject to the most vicious attacks from capitalist governments and newspapers. Militant workers naturally learnt to rally to the defence of the Soviet regime, and to reject horror stories about it circulated by establishment sources.

With the rise of Stalin, the revolution was lost, and a regime of terror was imposed. But reports about this terror were quite understandably seen by militants as a mere continuation of the same old slanders. Communists in most countries now had over a decade's experience of being lied about by the same sources. Why believe what they said about Russia now?

In the 1940s, wide sections of western society were enthusiastic about the role played by the Soviet Union in the war, and the Communist Parties recruited massively on this basis. And in the postwar period, Communist governments came to power in a third of the world, replacing fascist and other vile regimes, and beginning reconstruction.

If the western daily press published horror stories about the new societies, it made little impact on many militant workers. They only concluded that the bosses were up to their usual lying tricks, and that defence of the "socialist bloc" was an urgent priority.

As for the policies which emanated from Moscow, they all seemed to have a certain logic. This even applies, up to a point, to the insane ultraleftism of the period 1928-34. As part of his policy of frontal offensive for the CPs, Stalin announced that the labour and social-democratic parties were "social-fascist", and were to be attacked the same as the bourgeoisie. This approach was exceptionally destructive, and many militants knew it. Yet the reason that it could be sold at all to the rank and file of the CPs was that to some extent it reflected real experience.

The Communist Parties had been formed through splits in the social-democratic parties, and Communist militants retained feelings of hostility to social democracy. It was the social-democratic parties who had led the workers into World War I, it was they who had stifled the revolutionary upheavals that followed the war, and it was they who had murdered Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. To Communists who knew of all that, the description "social-fascist" could have a certain appeal.

The strategies that went with it divided the German working class and led to the triumph of Hitler, so Communists everywhere began to question them. But right at this point the Comintern itself took a new turn, in die Popular Front.

The Popular Front meant collaboration with a section of the capitalist class, but that did not seem entirely unreasonable to many militants for whom Hitlerite fascism appeared as a terrible danger, which overrode other considerations. And in the aftermath of Hitler's defeat, the rise to power of Communist regimes in a dozen countries termed a triumphant vindication of the policy.

It is true that various twists and turns of Soviet policy over the years caused unease among the rank and file. Partly the unease was contained within bureaucratic structures, which we will examine in another chapter. Partly also it was contained by a sophisticated ideological smokescreen. This too will be examined later. But there was another important factor. Workers felt a strong loyalty to their party, even if they were uneasy about its policies. This is often dismissed by writers as a blind faith, but the reality is more complex.

Intellectuals (including writers of Communist history) are generally trained to think in individual terms; moreover, society gives them the opportunity to make good on the basis of their individual achievement. Workers, by contrast, must more often rely on solidarity to accomplish their goals. This solidarity tends to take on an organisational form, often that of a political party. Building a party demands struggle and sacrifice, so once it is built, workers are reluctant to abandon it. James Cannon, an American Communist leader who did abandon his party to support Trotsky, explained workers' party loyalty this way:

An intellectual dilettante is capable of joining a party without attaching any great significance to such an action, and of leaving it at the first disagreement... The worker, on the other hand, who as a rule will not join a party unless he means business, will not leave it at the first disappointment or when the first doubt enters his mind. No, the worker clings to his party and supports it until all his confidence and hopes in it are exhausted. This is the great factor which underlies the extraordinary tenacity with which thousands of militant workers stick to the Communist Party. Superficial intellectuals are inclined to regard these workers as incurable idiots. Not so. This sentiment of seriousness, devotion, sacrifice, tenacity — horribly abused and betrayed by the Stalinist fakers — is a sentiment that in its essence is profoundly revolutionary. [12]

The dedication of the CP rank and file was also strengthened by the conditions that workers faced. They had been battered by repeated defeats, and they faced devastating levels of unemployment during the thirties. From the vantage-point of the crisis-ridden capitalist west, the successes of Soviet industry seemed impressive. And to workers who felt rather powerless in the face of very difficult economic conditions, Stalinist dogma offered some of the consolations of religion. Religion, Marx had once commented, was the "sigh of the oppressed creature". To workers who lacked confidence in their own ability to change the world, Stalinism played that role. Rank and file Communists came to believe their parties were the annointed agents of history, as Arthur Koestler explained:

You could resign from a club and from the ordinary sort of party if its policy no longer suited you; but the Communist Party was something entirely different; it was the vanguard of the Proletariat, the incarnation of the will of History itself. Once you stepped out of it you were extra muros and nothing which you said or did had the slightest chance of influencing its course. [13]

Postwar Militancy

SUCH A triumphant view of the party's historic role appeared tenable for a short time after the Second World War. Hadn't Communism triumphed in a dozen countries? Wasn't the Soviet Union becoming a major world power? Weren't the parties in the west growing in strength?

But the immediate postwar period was a historic high point of the world movement. From that point it began to fragment. In some countries the parties began a historic decline, while in others they retained their mass character. But all over the western world, they began to be transformed politically and organisationally.

The war was followed by a short balmy period of east-west detente, during which neither Russia nor America wished to start hostilities. Russia was recovering from the effects of the war, while the US was

busily engaged in extending its economic penetration throughout the west. During this period the wartime Popular Front was maintained. The CPs were able to enter coalition governments in France, Austria, Belgium, Iceland, Italy, Chile and Finland. Wherever they were in Government, they maintained a pattern of support for more production and opposition to strikes.

Yet it was a time of ferment among the working class. After the sacrifice of the war period, workers everywhere waged intense class struggles, most notably in Italy where the end of the war led to the seizure of Milan and Turin by organised workers. The Communist Parties, however, helped the bourgeoisie to ride out the storm. The Indian CP leader Togliatti collaborated with the allies in disarming the workers, in France Thorez lectured workers on labour discipline, and in Britain when troops were used to break a go-slow on the Surry docks, the Daily Worker simply reported the events without comment. The detente between Russia and the West was the central concern of the parties —the class struggle would have to wait.

But the uneasy international peace could not last. Notwithstanding cold war rhetoric, neither side had actually set itself the goal of world conquest, but neither Russia nor the US was satisfied with the way the world had been divided up at Yalta and Tehran. In 1947 President Truman announced the "Truman Doctrine" which aimed at containment of Communism. In the same year the Marshall Plan was announced. The US would pump economic aid into Europe, but it would do so at the price of political subservience. As part of the deal, CP ministers were to be ejected from European governments.

Stalin responded vigorously, moving first to tighten up Soviet control in Eastern Europe.

Throughout Eastern Europe, the Communist Parties had remained in coalition with social democrats and others, and much of industry had remained in private hands. Now industry was nationalised, and the CPs lightened their grip on state power. In Czechoslovakia a carefully controlled mobilisation of the workers was used to force the non-Communists out of government. Elsewhere, the mere presence of Soviet troops was enough to discourage resistance. [14]

The Comintern had been dissolved in 1943 as a good-will gesture to the west, but now it was partially revived. The Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) was established in October 1947, consisting of nine parties: Russia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, France and Italy. Other parties in the west got their "information" indirectly, through the French and Italians, or from Soviet propaganda organs.

The main aim of the Cominform was to tighten up discipline, especially among the western parties, who were to turn sharply left and cease cooperation with their local bourgeoisie. They were also to be more critical of the social democrats.

One party refused to fall into line. The Tito regime in Yugoslavia rebelled against attempts to subordinate its economic development to Soviet needs. It saw its future instead in continued cooperation with the west, and in fact the International Monetary Fund was invited in to play a major role in Yugoslav development.

The Cominform hurriedly moved its headquarters from Belgrade to Bucharest, and denounced the Yugoslav "nationalists". By late 1949 it was calling them fascists. In the rest of Eastern Europe a series of trials and purges of "Titoists" tore through the ruling parties, leading to the jailing and execution of many top leaders. The fear haunting the Kremlin was that Tito's example might prove infectious. Other Eastern Bloc states might attempt to become independent of Moscow and other parties, especially the big ones in France and Italy, might attempt to steer an independent course. This, at the beginning of the cold war, was to be avoided at all cost.

In the short term, the purges and vilification worked, and all the parties denounced Titoism. But in the long term, the example of Tito was to prove more and more attractive.

Meanwhile in the west the parties moved into a phase of militant struggle. In France they launched an intense campaign against the Indochina war, and in Italy an attempted assassination of Togliatti was answered by a three-day general strike which reached insurrectionary proportions in some places. These struggles in the industrialised countries, in turn, occurred against the background of Communist-led armed struggle in Asia: in China and Vietnam where it was victorious, and in the Philippines and Malaysia where it was eventually suppressed. The victory in China was followed by the events in Korea, where the cold war became a hot war.

For a brief moment it seemed as if the final turning point in the international class struggle was at hand. Strike levels were high and Communism seemed to be everywhere on the march. The western ruling classes appeared to be on the defensive. Even the growing repression by governments, and the growth of right wing extremist organisations, could be perceived as part of the class polarisation which is typical of a revolutionary period.

Leading Soviet economists predicted that the postwar boom would soon give way to a new depression, and not many of their western colleagues were prepared to dispute the prediction. The final crisis of capitalism seemed near, and the general offensive ordered by Moscow might appear justified.

In reality, the offensive had come two years too late. The strikes of the late forties were militant enough, but they were the tail end of the postwar strike wave. The victory in China proved to be the end of the main wave of Communist territorial expansion. The western economies were about to enter a prolonged boom which, together with a sustained anti-communist drive by employers, governments and media, would lay the basis for a conservatisation of the working classes and a sharp decline in Communist influence.

Moreover, the Communist offensive itself had a built-in limitation; it took on sectarian and sometimes over-ambitious features. The parties stressed the politicisation of strikes, in a period when the majority of workers were largely concerned with immediate economic issues. In Australia, the CPA attempted to challenge the Labor Party in an all-out assault, at a point where its strength did not justify the move.

Finally, the CPs paid the price of their own previous class collaboration. For several years they had discouraged strikes, and preached class peace. Now with no warning the militants were flung into intense, sometimes suicidal struggles. The political grounds for the sudden shift were far from clear to the rank and file.

By the early fifties, the offensive was grinding to a halt. Government repression and rightwing extremist groups combined to take a heavy toll on the party members and supporters, and there were attempts in some places to outlaw the Communist Parties altogether. Membership fell off, drastically in some cases, and those Communists who did not leave the party bore permanent scars from the bitter isolation which followed.

Towards "Polycentrism"

THE FIRST Soviet hydrogen bomb was exploded in 1953. It was to prove a turning point:

...the development of a situation of— more or less — nuclear stalemate between Russia and the West means that the international communist movement no longer plays any significant role in the defence of Russia. Of course the parties still play a useful public relations role, but they are not needed to lead struggles or even to contain them. A power that relies on the threat of mass destruction has no interest in the politics of mass mobilisation." [15]

The world-wide "balance of terror" ran parallel to a final recognition on all sides that the balance of power in Europe had been consolidated. The division of the continent between the two great power blocs was final and would be challenged by neither side. The CPs were no longer needed by the Russians as a Trojan horse within the opposing camp; indeed, overly aggressive behaviour on their part might jeopardise the emerging relationship of "peaceful coexistence" which the nuclear parity between Moscow and Washington had made both possible and necessary. Consequently, the Soviet Union called on the Communist parties to move away from their frontal attacks on the bourgeoisie and from their hostility to pro-western social democratic parties; they were to move closer to the latter and to "heal the split in the working class." [16] If this were done, Khrushchev told them in 1956, they could attain their aims through parliament:

The parliamentary means of achieving socialism are now possible. The right wing bourgeois parties are more often suffering setbacks. It is possible therefore for the working class and its allies, the real majority of the population, to take possession of parliament and transform it from an instrument of capitalist rule into an instrument of the working class and its allies. [17]

There is no doubt that the mass of Communists in the west accepted this new course with relief, after the failure of the previous offensive. Even so, the new policies were not easy to put into practice. The previous period of frontal assaults had left the parties very isolated indeed, and certainly the bourgeoisie did not trust them for a minute. The social-democratic parties, attacked only yesterday by the Communists as class traitors, were also naturally suspicious of new CP offers of collaboration.

It would be a slow and difficult task, which was not made any easier by the events of 1956.

Early in 1956 Nikita Khrushchev delivered a "secret speech" to the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU. The speech, which soon became public knowledge around the world, told the truth about the horrors of the Stalin regime. Khrushchev did not make these revelations out of moral outrage: those who felt moral outrage had been purged years before. The totalitarian style of government associated with Stalin had to be modified for purely practical reasons: it was unsuited to the modern,

sophisticated economy which Russia was now developing. You can force people to do manual labour by terror tactics, but you cannot use the same methods to improve productivity in a technologically advanced enterprise.

Khrushchev also used his speech as a factional weapon. To secure his position as Stalin's heir he wished to mobilise the lower levels of the bureaucracy against his rivals at the top. The lower levels had been kept in a continual state of fear under Stalin, and were happy to support the man who promised a liberalisation.

But while de-stalinisation was necessary, it also brought with it serious dangers. Stalin had been a symbol of the monolithic quality of the world movement, so attacks on him could get out of hand, and indeed they did. As early as 1953, the year of Stalin's death, building workers in East Berlin had sparked a substantial rebellion in East Germany, and there had been strikes in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Rumania. However these events, coming at a point where the cold war was still very intense, had little impact on the parties in the west.

In 1956 the lid blew off. Strike struggles forced a change of leadership in Poland, then in October student demonstrations in Hungary were followed by mass strikes. The Hungarian strikes became an insurrection, with workers' councils being established in the major enterprises. A brutal armed intervention by Soviet forces was required to restore order.

The events of 1956 caused grave unrest in and around the western Communist Parties. They had received no advance warning of Khrushchev's secret speech, but had been left to read the news in the gloating establishment press. Apparently the Russians, now that they had the bomb, did not much care how their actions affected the parties in the west. It was galling for the CPs, especially ones like the French and Italians who commanded millions of votes, to be treated in such a fashion.

Injury was added to insult with the Soviet invasion of Hungary. An uproar resulted among Communists and their supporters. Intellectual and artistic figures, such as Picasso in France, protested against the invasion. More significantly, the French party could not carry the pro-Soviet line in the trade unions under its control. The British Communist paper found its Budapest correspondent, Peter Fryer, sending reports which sympathised with the Hungarian rebels. Even in America denunciations of the invasion appeared in the CP press, and it took a year before orthodoxy was restored.


In the aftermath of these events, the parties began to take a hard look at their position. As early as the immediate post-war period the Italians had begun to think in terms of an independent course, and now all the bigger CPs began to chafe at the bit. The "Russian connection", which had not been an asset for some years, had now become a massive liability.

The parties began to take to its logical conclusion the Soviet suggestion to heal the rift with the social democrats and the local bourgeoisie. In order to ingratiate themselves, they began to distance themselves from the USSR. The example of Tito assumed a sudden appeal, and Italian Communist leader Togliatti declared:

There is coming into being... a polycentric system, corresponding to the new situation ... The solution that today probably most nearly corresponds to this new situation may be that of the full autonomy of the individual movements and Communist Parties. [18]

At the same time, the CPs were loosening up the old authoritarian internal regime. There had already been a tendency in this direction since the end of the war, as the tight organisational forms required for underground resistance activity gave way to more relaxed structures suited to broadening the parties' membership base. But 1956 gave a great impetus to the process. The crises of that year raised issues about which debate could not be easily suppressed, and at the same time, if the CPs were to improve their "democratic image" in the eyes of western public opinion, these debates had to be survived without massive purges. Limits on internal discussion were eased. At a Central Committee meeting of the PCI in November 1961 there were calls for restoring factional rights. These calls were resisted but in the same month, the party's youth newspaper published a reference to Leon Trotsky as "one of the most original figures of the October revolution", leading to considerable controversy. [19]

In order to make themselves acceptable to the bourgeoisie in each country, the parties began to indulge in fervent nationalism. As usual the Italians took the lead, declaring:

Italy's national independence is something extremely precious for all Italians. And we Communists ... are convinced that we are among the most stubborn and inflexible supporters of national independence. [20]

Partly the nationalism is genuine. But partly it is a cover for something even more remarkable: a shift from the former pro-Sovietism to acceptance of the NATO alliance. The Spanish party has stated:

In accordance with the realities of the present international situation, we are prepared to accept the presence of US bases until an international agreement is reached to remove all foreign bases from all countries without exception. [21]

Twice in the sixties world events accelerated the polycentric tendency. In the early years of the decade, Peking split openly and decisively with Moscow.

China rejected the Soviet proposals for peaceful coexistence with the west, fearing that a deal between the two superpowers would leave Peking out in the cold. The Chinese especially feared that nuclear detente would prevent China from developing an independent nuclear weapons program. In addition, they believed the Russians were attempting to use aid programs to reduce them to satellite status. The real issues were therefore those of Chinese national interest, but they were translated into different terms within the world movement. China denounced Khrushchev's theory of a peaceful transition to socialism, and his belief in the possibility of removing the threat of war without removing imperialism. The appeal was to the most leftwing elements in the CPs. There was also an appeal to those of the older cadres who felt Stalin had been badly done by in 1956.

Some exceptions (including Australia) notwithstanding, the numbers of cadres which China could win to its breakaway splinter groups were small. The main importance of the Sino-Soviet split for the western CPs was the shattering of Russia's position as unquestioned leader of the world movement. Yugoslavia's defection in the 1950s had been a problem, but Yugoslavia was a small country. Now the Communist leaders of the world's most populous nation were defying Moscow. In the aftermath, major parties like the Japanese moved to a neutral position in the Sino-Soviet dispute, and even ruling parties like the Rumanians began to take their distance from the USSR.

The final blow, however, was delivered by the events in Czechoslovakia in 1968. In that country both polycentrism and liberalisation had been pursued by the Dubcek government, Alarmed, the Soviets first tried indirect pressure and then sent in the tanks. The Communist Parties in the west hastened to denounce the Russian action. The Italians expressed strong disapproval, and the French criticised the invasion, while in Australia the Communist Party held public meetings to campaign against the Soviet intervention.

Not all the membership of the CPs was in favour of this sort of public criticism. Some workers and union officials in particular were uneasy. They quite rightly drew the connection between the anti-Sovietism and the accommodation to the bourgeoisie they saw taking place in their own countries, and were open to the alternative argument which linked pro-Sovietism with a working class stand. Minority currents emerged, often encouraged by Moscow, and a number of splits took place — one of the more substantial being in Australia.

The parties were undeterred. The trend away from Russia, and toward accommodation to the bourgeoisie, was pursued with renewed vigour, and by the seventies it was finding a fairly finished theoretical expression in the ideas of "Eurocommunism", which will be discussed in the Australian context below.

In this chapter I have sought to sketch the development of the world Communist movement through three periods: first its revolutionary period under Lenin; second, the transformation of the CPs into instruments of the Soviet bureaucracy under Stalin; third, the break-up of the Stalinist monolith in the postwar period. In what follows I'll trace the same general development within the Australian party, concentrating on the fragmentation and decline of the CPA after World War II.

1. Leon Trotsky, On Lenin, London 1971, p. 143.

2. Quoted in Max Shachtman, "The Struggle for the New Course", introduction to Leon Trotsky, The New Course, Ann Arbor 1965, p.125.

3. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Moscow 1962, Vol.29, p.310

4. V.I. Lenin, Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder, Moscow 1970, p.506.

5. Lenin, Collected Works, Moscow 1962, Vol.33, p.430-32. In this section I have greatly oversimplified the extent to which the seeds of the stalinisation of the Comintern were sown in the early and mid-twenties. Cf. E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, London 1973, Vol.3, passim.

6. Ian Birchall, Workers Against the Monolith, London 1974, p.11. Much of this chapter is influenced by Birchall's account.

7. Quoted in F. Claudin, "The Split in the Spanish Communist Party", New Left Review, No.70, p.79.

8. Cf. Felix Morrow, Revolution and Counterrevolution in Spain, London 1963, passim for details.

9. Birchall, op. cit., p.33.

10. Ibid., p.29.

11. Ibid.,pA\.

12. James P. Cannon, The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, New York 1972, p. 145.

13. Arthur Koestler in R. Crossman, ed., The God That Failed, London 1965, p.58.

14. For details on Czechoslovakia, including the real role played by the workers in the Communist take-over, see Chris Harman, Bureaucracy and Revolution in Eastern Europe, London 1974, p.45-48.

15. Birchall, op. cit., p.13.

16. Basic Questions of Communist Theory, Sydney 1957, p.17.

17. Quoted in the Guardian, 23/2/56.

18. Quoted in Birchall, op. at., p.l 16.

19. Quoted in ibid., p.l 17.

20. PCI Bulletin, December 1974, p.53.

21. Santiago Carrillo, quoted in Tribune, 6/10/76.