Stalinism: Its Origin and Future. Andy Blunden 1993

The Isolation of the Revolution

I: 1924 – “Socialism in One Country”

The Fifth Congress of Comintern in June 1924, was dedicated to a sustained attack on Trotsky. On the one hand, this campaign reflected the desperation of the bureaucracy in the Party to rid itself of the representatives of the Revolution, in order to consolidate their positions of privilege. On the other hand, it reflected the contempt in which the bureaucracy held the perspective of world revolution. Far from wanting to make an objective evaluation of its errors in Germany, the Stalin group was already drawing conclusions of a quite different kind.

In April 1924 the first edition of Stalin’s Problems of Leninism had included the lines:

‘Is it possible to attain the final victory of socialism in one country, without the combined efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries? No, it is not. The efforts of one country are enough for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. This is what the history of our revolution tells us. For the final victory of socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, especially a peasant country like ours, are not enough. For this we must have the efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries’.[34]

In August 1924, a second edition was published, in which the above paragraph had been replaced by:

‘Having consolidated its power, and taking the lead of the peasantry, the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society. order to fully guarantee the country against intervention ... is the victory of the revolution necessary ... at least in several countries ...’[35]

The very foundation of Communism was turned on its head and not so much as an acknowledgment! What could be meant by ‘a socialist society’ built within the borders of an isolated backward country surrounded by capitalism? This humble ‘correction’ marked a fundamental reversal of the perspectives of the Russian Revolution.

As a result of this new perspective, the role of the Comintern was reduced to opposing foreign intervention against the USSR, rather than fighting for revolution in the capitalist countries. Ultimately the Comintern was to act simply as an instrument of Soviet diplomacy. This meant that the Communist Parties in various countries had to seek friendly relations with whatever influential sections of society they could, in the interests of ‘friendship with the Soviet Union’, irrespective of the interests or perceptions of the workers.

This change in the line of the Comintern was demonstrated in two events in the mid-1920s – the British General Strike in 1926, and the defeat of the upsurge of the workers in China in 1926-7.

In Britain, Stalin placed great store in the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Unity Committee, set up in April 1925 after a visit to the USSR by British trade union leaders. In order to curry favour with the right-wing leaders of the British TUC, the Communist Party put forward as its slogan for the General strike of May 1926, the call ‘All Power to the General Council of the TUC’. This slogan had the effect of leaving the TUC General Council in control of the strike. After 10 days, Prime Minister Baldwin told the trade union leaders “either take the power or call off the strike”. The TUC, of course, called off the strike. The Communist Party was caught completely off balance by this sudden betrayal as a result of its subordination to the leadership of the General Council. Its members had not been prepared to take the leadership. An historic defeat resulted from which the British working class did not recover for 20 years.

‘All Power to the Soviets’ was the slogan with which the October Revolution was made. In 1917 this was the means by which the Bolsheviks won the leadership of the Soviets, even though they had been in a minority when they raised the call. The slogan of ‘All Power to the General Council’ was a cruel parody of this slogan, for the British Communist Party had no perspective whatsoever of taking control of the General Council! On the contrary, the slogan was aimed at supporting the leaders of the TUC.

In China, Stalin’s diplomatic policy was to win over the bourgeois-nationalist movement, the Kuomintang, as ‘friends of the Soviet Union’. Consequently, the Comintern instructed the Chinese Communist Party to seek an alliance with the Kuomintang. Thus, the Chinese Communist Party’s policy was for a ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ in which the Kuomintang was to be an ally of the proletariat. But, after the death of Sun Yat Sen, the reactionary Chiang Kai-Shek assumed leadership of the Kuomintang. The Chinese workers came more and more into conflict with the Kuomintang. Throughout 1926, Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces had brutally suppressed workers’ strikes in Canton and attacked the peasants’ movement.

Despite this, the Comintern Resolution of November 1926 urged the Chinese Communists to enter the Kuomintang and said:

‘The apparatus of the National Revolutionary Government [i.e. the Kuomintang] offers a very real road to solidarity with the peasants ... and even certain strata of the big bourgeoisie may still march for a certain time with the Revolution’. [36]

In 1927, the Shanghai trade unions took control of the city, with the active support of Comintern representatives. Chiang Kai-Shek marched on Shanghai, and Stalin ordered that the workers of Shanghai should welcome Chiang’s forces and not resist. Zinoviev, Trotsky, Radek and others demanded that the Shanghai workers be warned that Chiang Kai-Shek would not tolerate workers’ power. But this was to no avail. As a result of Stalin’s policy, the workers of Shanghai were crushed and their leaders slaughtered – with arms supplied by the USSR!

Then, believing in a mythical ‘Left Kuomintang’ Stalin characterised the situation as ‘revolutionary’ throughout the whole of China, despite the demonstrable ebbing of the revolutionary tide following the defeat in Shanghai.

Under this policy, the Comintern encouraged an adventurist uprising in Canton which was brutally crushed at enormous cost. This uprising, according to Stalin, was to institute not workers’ power, but a ‘democratic dictatorship’ preserving capitalist property. This analysis flew in the face of the fact that the Canton workers were rising up against capitalist property!

Following this defeat, the Chinese Communist Party increasingly moved its attention to the countryside and abandoned its base in the urban working class.

The “Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry”

Stalin’s policy of collaboration during this period ran completely counter to the Bolsheviks’ own experience in making the Russian Revolution. How is it possible that the lessons of the Russian Revolution could be forgotten so quickly? It was possible because Stalin was driven not by the needs of the workers in China or Britain to learn from the Russian Revolution, and make their own revolution, but by the narrowly conceived diplomatic needs of the USSR.

Further, Stalin was more concerned with defeating the Left Opposition than in making a truthful assessment of the lessons of the Russian Revolution. In the service of his factional battle against Trotsky, the history of the Russian Revolution was falsified.

The false policy of collaboration with the bourgeoisie was accepted by the workers of China because of the authority that the leaders of the successful Russian Revolution held in the eyes of workers in all other countries.

The falsification perpetrated by Stalin was based on a misrepresentation of Lenin’s policy on the relation between the proletariat and the peasantry.

Before the War, Lenin had advocated the slogan of ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’, while Trotsky had advocated ‘dictatorship of the proletariat which leads the peasant masses behind it’. This old dispute, long since resolved by the October revolution, was used as a means of attacking Trotsky. Since in this case it was Lenin who came over to Trotsky’s position, and not vice versa, the history of the revolution itself had to be rewritten for the purpose of this factional struggle. The Chinese workers had to pay the price for this deception.[37]

The argument between Trotsky and Stalin over the policy in China was a major issue in the International, though Trotsky’s argument was rarely heard. Despite the suppression of Trotsky’s views, almost the whole of the delegation of the Chinese section in the USSR was won to Trotsky’s position. When Stalin clamped down on Oppositionists in 1929 most of the Chinese section were liquidated. The few who made it back to China found the conditions for political discussion even more difficult at home, with Stalin’s hacks firmly in control of the Party.

To the Brink of Counter-Revolution, 1926 – 1929

Trotsky’s unrelenting criticism of the Stalin line was not in vain. In December 1925, Zinoviev broke with Stalin over the policy of supporting the kulaks against poor peasants and wage-cutting and speed-up recently imposed on the factory workers. Trotsky defended Zinoviev on these issues, and defended Zinoviev’s right to defend his position in the Party.

Early in 1926, Zinoviev and Kamenev broke from Stalin and joined the Left Opposition, supporting Trotsky’s call for rapid industrialisation. Only by the provision of good, cheap industrial products could the workers win the support of the peasantry. Otherwise, once the pre-war stock of machinery was exhausted, the slow pace of industrialisation would lead to crippling shortages of industrial products. However, Stalin and Bukharin continued to advocate ‘socialism at a snail’s pace’ and collectivisation of agriculture was halted by the end of 1927.

‘Captive to its own policy, the government was compelled to retreat step by step before the demands of a rural petit-bourgeoisie. In 1925, the hiring of labour power and the renting of land were legalised, ... The rising tide of capitalism was visible everywhere. ... Retarding industrialisation and striking a blow at the general mass of the peasants, this policy of banking on the well-to-do farmer revealed unequivocally inside of two years, 1924 – 1926, its political consequences. It brought about an extraordinary increase of self-consciousness in the petit-bourgeoisie of both city and village, a capture by them of the lower soviets, an increase of the power and self-confidence of the bureaucracy, a growing pressure upon the workers, and the complete suppression of party and Soviet democracy’.

As a result of the policy of conciliation of the rich peasants:

‘in January 1928 the working class stood face to face with the shadow of an advancing famine. ... In that very month, the representatives of the Left Opposition were thrown into prison ... for their “panic” before the spectre of the kulak...’[38]

Owing to its numbers and its predominance in the economy, the support of the peasantry was essential to the success of the Revolution. Only by virtue of its control of industry, finance and trade could the workers deliver a solution to the problems facing the peasantry. Only by this means could the workers retain the support of the peasantry.

By allowing industry to stagnate and supporting the rich peasants, Stalin prepared the way for counter-revolution. The NEP encouraged social forces fundamentally hostile to the Revolution to grow and strengthen themselves. The influence of the NEP-men, civil servants and better-off peasants easily penetrated into the lower and middle-ranks of the Party and the Soviets.

Stalin’s blindness to the rising dangers resulting from his wrong policy brought the Soviet Union to the brink of counter-revolution. This imminent danger at last made it possible for the Left Opposition to have some success in their struggle within the Party.

By the end of 1927, the Left Opposition had secured the support of a significant section of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, including Kamenev and Zinoviev and many Old Bolsheviks.[39] Two-hundred Party members had participated in the drafting the Platform of the Left Opposition published in September 1927.

But such was the change that had taken place in the Party that Stalin was able to defeat the Opposition of this formidable line-up of Old Bolsheviks, and at the Fifteenth Congress of the Party in 1927, all the Oppositionists were all expelled and exiled to far-flung corners of the country.

The struggle of the Left Opposition had put a brake on Stalin’s disastrous policy. But instead of the Party gaining clarification through correction of its errors, an atmosphere of fear reigned in a party bereft of any theoretical understanding of the crisis in which it was gripped.[40]

II: The ‘Third Period’, 1929 – 1933

1929 saw the next in the series of abrupt turns which characterise this period in the history of the Soviet Union.

Stalin had brought the Soviet Union once again to the edge of an abyss through the threat of a counter-revolution led by the rich peasants and the petit-bourgeoisie. The failure to rebuild Soviet industry left the working class helpless before this danger. From late 1928, the NEP was abandoned and Stalin made an abrupt left turn.

Stalin launched an attack on the Right (Bukharin and others), borrowing his rhetoric from the platform of the Left Opposition. The target for the rate of growth of industry was upped to 20 and then 30 per cent, without any systematic plan or any regard to the relations between the different branches of industry. The problems resulting from this chaotic growth were solved by printing money, with the predictable runaway inflation. Forced grain seizures were instituted again, since the cities lacked industrial products to sell to the countryside. This only led to sowing strikes by the farmers.

Having lost the capacity to deal with crises by proletarian political means, Stalin answered with the policy of “liquidating the kulaks as a class”. The abolition of individual farming was announced in November 1929. A crash program of forced collectivisation brought two-thirds of agriculture under collectivisation by 1932. Ration cards were introduced instead of money, of which Stalin declared “socialism” had no need. Farm machinery and animals were destroyed by the farmers rather than hand them over to the state. The collective farms were placed under the control of party hacks lacking knowledge of agronomy, or any of the necessary materials or equipment, and facing the hostility of the peasants.

Under the policy of “liquidation of the kulaks as a class” and forced collectivisation, agricultural production fell drastically. Famine gripped the land. Only slowly, after several years did agricultural production begin to slowly improve, but it still remained at near-famine level.

Outside of Russia this period corresponds to a period of unparalleled crisis for capitalism. The Wall Street crash of October 1929 was followed by the Depression and widespread paralysis. Europe was racked by crisis with revolutionary upsurges in Spain, France and Germany.

The Soviet regime survived Stalin’s disastrous policies largely due to the paralysis gripping the capitalist world, preventing it from utilising the opportunity to attack the Soviet Union at its moment of greatest weakness.

This period was called the “third period”, which was supposed to be the “final” period[41] for capitalism. Stalin decreed that the world situation was again ripe for revolutionary offensive.

Just as Stalin’s policy of collaboration during the period 1923-27 was driven by the demands of domestic policy, the characterisation of the “third period” also reflected the requirements of domestic politics – an attack on the Right and war against the kulaks .[42]

Catastrophe in Germany

In Europe, the Comintern adopted ultra-left positions. The reformist parties were branded by the Communist Party as ‘social fascists’. ‘Red unions’ were set up outside and in opposition to the mass trade unions. Under the slogan of ‘class against class’, the Communist Parties engaged in all kinds of adventurist activities which only served to sow further confusion. The revolutionary tide had risen in the late twenties and revolutionary opportunities were lost as a result of the inability of the Comintern to operate a united front tactic. Just as the tide began to ebb under the impact of the Depression, this adventurist policy led to disastrous defeats.

With its long tradition of Social-Democracy and militant working class organisation and the advanced economy, the German working class was still regarded as the most powerful in the world. The chronic economic and social crisis which had gripped Germany since 1918 was again preparing to pass from a pre-revolutionary situation to a revolutionary situation. Both the Communist Party and the Socialist Party had about two million members. And Germany was, in 1931, the key to the whole international situation: would Fascism or Communism triumph in Germany?

In Germany, the Comintern’s policy of ‘united front from below’ – “we invite you to join our united front, on condition that you accept that your leaders are social fascists” split the German working class, and paralysed it before Hitler’s onslaught.

The divisive policy of the Comintern was justified by ultra-left logic like the following 1931 statement of Rote Fahne, the paper of the German Communist Party:

‘Fascism is the military organisation of the bourgeoisie which leans upon Social Democracy for active support. Social Democracy, objectively speaking, is the moderate wing of Fascism’.

The Left Opposition strived to deflect the German Communist Party from this disastrous course:

‘For us, the Communist Party represents the subjective factor, for Social Democracy is an objective obstacle that must be swept away. Fascism would in reality fall to pieces if the Communist Party were able to unite the working class and by that alone, transform it into a powerful revolutionary magnet for all the oppressed masses of the people.

‘But the policy of the Communist Party since the September elections has only made its inconsistencies more profound: the empty talk of “social fascism”, the flirtations with chauvinism, the imitation of genuine fascism for the purpose of petty market competition with the latter, the criminal adventurism of the “Red Referendum” [instigated by Hitler to overthrow the Social-Democratic government, and supported by the Communist Party!] – all this prevents the Communist Party from becoming the leader of the proletariat and the people. .. [what is required is] ‘a practical system of measures – not with the aim of merely “exposing” Social Democracy (before the Communists), but with the aim of actual struggle against Fascism’.[43]

But the Comintern line of equating the Social-Democrats with the Nazis, even to the extent of encouraging physical attacks on Social-Democrat meetings by Communists, opened the way for Hitler to come to power in January 1933. An explanation of Trotsky’s policy of United Front is contained in the excerpt from Germany, What Next?, reproduced below.

In October 1931, the Communist Party spokesperson in the Reichstag had stated: ‘Once they [the fascists] are in power, the united front of the proletariat will be established and it will make a clean sweep of everything!’. In the event, the Stalinists learnt the hard way the difference between fascism and social-democracy. Very soon all the working class organisations in Germany were smashed, including both the Communist Party and the Socialist Party.[44]

1933 marked, in Trotsky’s view, a turning point in the life of the world Communist movement. To have brought about the defeat and smashing of the German working class would be crime enough. But for Trotsky this was not the final straw. After having brought about this disaster with its mistaken policies, the Comintern did not seek to explain how it had made such an error, but declared that its policy had been correct! Despite the efforts of the International Left Opposition, no section of the Comintern challenged this assessment. Under these circumstances, Trotsky drew the conclusion that there was now no longer any possibility of winning the Comintern back to a Marxist, revolutionary perspective. It was lost forever for the purposes of revolution. As a result, for the remainder of his life Trotsky devoted his efforts to the building of a new, Fourth International.

Although denying that it bore any responsibility for the German defeat or making any analysis of that defeat, the Comintern did change its policy. By 1935 the Comintern had changed its international line from the ultra-left “social fascism” line to the right-wing “popular front” line.

Whereas, up until 1933 it could be said that the Comintern attempted to make revolutions, but ineptly; after the defeat in Germany it adopted a policy of opposing workers’ revolution.

III: The Years of Retreat, 1933 – 1936

Inflation which reached a run-away peak at the beginning of 1933, was halted from 1934 and bread-cards were abolished in 1935. In production of electrical energy, the USSR now ranked third in the world behind Germany and the US. It was fourth in coal production, and the third biggest steel producer, and was the largest producer of tractors in the world.

These monumental achievements of the planned economy were made at great cost. Life for ordinary workers remained extremely grim. Piece-work payment was introduced. Then came the Stakhanovite movement, an extreme form of piece work payment in which individual ‘star’ workers were encouraged to perform superhuman feats, which other workers were then obliged to emulate.

On 20 August 1935, Stalin declared the “final and irrevocable triumph of socialism” in the Soviet Union. The cynicism of this deception perfectly complements that of the capitalists when they tell the workers that after all they already live in the best of all possible worlds under capitalism. And what a feat of imagination was required of the VIPs who visited the USSR, and would return to the West and praise the joys of life under “existing socialism”! The American author, Lincoln Steffen penned on his return from the USSR, the famous words: “I have seen the future, and it works”.[45]

The defeat of the German workers had shocked workers across the whole world. The smashing of their strongest section in Europe had also been a huge blow to the Comintern. But the Comintern had not seen the catastrophe in Germany as a result of their own misleadership. Instead it began to despair of the capacity of the working class as a revolutionary force.

Comintern policy was based on the thesis that it was above all necessary to ensure the defeat of fascism in order to avoid the danger of a fascist attack on the Soviet Union. Similarly, a revolution in Europe, or at least the support of the Soviet Union for such a revolution, would place the Soviet Union in danger of an imperialist attack. Consequently, following the victory of Hitler in 1933, the Comintern went from advocating revolution, but incompetently, to actively opposing revolution, in the interests of ‘peace and stability’.

In October 1934 the Chinese Communist Party abandoned the Soviet in Kiangsi, and began the Long March, marking its decisive and irreversible turn away from the urban workers to the peasantry. It was during this period that Mao Zedong won the leadership of the CCP. Mao was trained in the Stalinist school, but he never visited Moscow before 1949. Whilst he never criticised Stalin to the day he died, the victory of the Chinese Revolution under Mao was possible only by means of pragmatic ‘interpretation’ of Stalin’s directives from time to time. Under Mao’s leadership, the CCP never again implemented Stalin’s policy of alliance with the Kuomintang, despite a united front against the Japanese during the War. The USSR was still providing the Kuomintang with arms when civil war broke out between the Kuomintang and the Communists in 1945. Mao represented to a certain extent the independent nationalist aspirations of the Chinese people. However, in his orientation towards the peasantry, rather than the urban working class, Mao transformed Stalin’s orientation from a tactic to a strategy.

In France,[46] the social crisis was heightened by Hitler’s triumph. The historic change of the Comintern line began in July 1934 with a proposal to the French Socialist Party to form a ‘united front’. Not only did the two parties resolve to jointly oppose the fascists, but they also resolved to abstain from attacks and criticism of each other.

In October 1934 the petit-bourgeois Radical Party was invited to join the Front, which became a reality in July 1935. From now on “popular front” was to be the centrepiece of Stalinist tactics. The “red unions” were abandoned, and thereafter Communist Party members participated in the mainstream trade unions.

The popular front[47] meant forming a bloc between the working class and the “progressive bourgeoisie”. This bloc was based on agreements and diplomatic pacts between the leaders, behind the backs of the masses. The basis of the pact was supposed to be mutual support in the face of the ‘common enemy’, fascism. Individual bourgeois politicians were lauded in exchange for their support for ‘progressive’ policies; but in exchange the working class had to abandon all socialist demands – no seizure of factories, no Soviets, no public attacks on capitalism, no socialist policies.

This policy of the “People’s Front”[48] had the effect of disarming the French working class in the face of a revolutionary crisis which could have turned the tide against fascism had a correct, revolutionary policy been followed.

In Spain, the Comintern acted purely and simply as executioners of the Spanish revolution. Factory committees and soviets were disbanded and occupied property handed back to its capitalist owners. Those who opposed this policy such as the POUM (Partido Obrera de Unificacion Marxista) and the anarchists, were gunned down by GPU assassins. Indeed, the Stalinist agents never fought Franco, spending all their energies murdering opponents of the Comintern line. Reduced to the role of supporters of a powerless “progressive bourgeoisie”, the Spanish working class was paralysed in the face of Franco.

The defeat of the Republicans in Spain was a tragedy, despite the self-sacrificing support of thousands of workers (generally members of the Communist Party) who came to Spain to fight in the International Brigades. Fascism now ruled in Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal and openly proclaimed its intention to conquer the world.

The popular front policy followed by Stalin after 1934 has since become a permanent feature of Stalinist politics. This policy ignores the fact that the working class has interests fundamentally antagonistic to those of the bourgeoisie. Even a temporary pact or alliance formed with a section of the bourgeoisie should be made openly and clearly. Any compromise to the independence of the working class, let alone a secret pact, sets a lethal trap for the workers.

The Moscow Trials, 1936 – 1938

By 1936, all Stalin’s real opponents had been isolated or deported, and he was firmly in charge. Despite everything, the economy had at least reached a level of stability and steady growth. But rather than easing political restrictions, Stalin launched a frenzy of political witch-hunting that was unprecedented in history.

The assassination of Sergei Kirov in December 1934, formed the pretext for a series of trials in which all the surviving leaders of the October Revolution were accused of preposterous crimes. All the accused were executed. Many confessed ‘for the good of the Party’. Otherwise confessions were extracted under torture. Those who did not confess were shot anyway.

In the First Moscow Trial, in August 1936, the principal accused were Zinoviev and Kamenev, who had supported Stalin against Trotsky in 1923 – 1927, then joined the Left Opposition, later returning to Stalin during the “third period.” When Kamenev’s ‘interrogator’ told Stalin that Kamenev had refused to confess, Stalin let him know that torture was to be used, and not to come back without Kamenev’s confession. Mikhail Tomsky, the leader of the trade unions since before the Revolution, committed suicide while awaiting trial. Zinoviev and Kamenev were shot.

In the Second Trial, January 1937, the principal accused were Pyatakov (a member since 1912, and a Central Committee member since the Civil War), and Radek (a leading Bolshevik since 1904). They were executed, as were Sokolnikov, Bubnov and Smilga (Central Committee members in October 1917), and Serebryakov (a Central Committee member since the Civil War).

In the Third Trial, in March 1938, the accused were the leaders of the Red Army and Bukharin, as well as Rykov, Yakovleva and Rakovsky, all leading Bolsheviks and Central Committee members since the Revolution.

The top Army leaders were not put on trial, they were simply shot. The first victims were Marshals Tukhachevsky, and Putna, the two leaders capable of leading the Army in War, and Gamarnik, Feldman, Yakir, Kork, Eideman and Primakov – together the entire top leadership of the Soviet Armed Forces. According to the official Soviet history, between May 1937 and September 1938 victims of the Trials included:

‘nearly half the regimental commanders, nearly all brigade commanders, all commanders of army corps and military districts, members of military councils, heads of political directorates, the majority of political commissars in army corps, divisions and brigades, almost one-third of regimental commissars and many military instructors’.

According to Khrushchev, of the 139 members and candidates of the Central Committee elected at the 17th Congress in January 1934, 98 were arrested and shot. Of the 1,966 delegates to the Congress 1,108 were arrested. 80% of these delegates had been members of the party since before the Revolution.

Of the 21 Central Committee members at the time of the October 1917 Revolution, six had died in the course of the struggle.[49] Alexandra Kollontai had been abroad as an ambassador since 1923. Trotsky, in exile since 1927, was among the accused in each case. While volunteering to appear and defend himself, he was condemned in his absence and was assassinated in Mexico in 1940. The rest had been exposed as ‘saboteurs’ and ‘traitors’ and executed. Only Stalin remained.

Not only had Stalin murdered the entire leadership of the Revolution, but in order to protect himself against the last remaining threat to his power, he had destroyed the Red Army – the army that had defeated the armies of 14 imperialist powers, the army built by Trotsky, the only force capable of stopping the advance of Fascism.[50]

Estimates of the total number of Soviet citizens killed during Stalin’s terror are unreliable but vary from one to two million, and the population of the labour camps is estimated variously from 7 to 12 million.

This period of frenzied witch-hunting in the CPSU was matched by equally frenetic purging of all the sections of the Communist International. All remnants of independent working leadership in the Comintern sections were expunged.

The Polish Communist Party (KPP), for instance, which had originated from Rosa Luxemburg’s SDKPiL, and which had supported Trotsky against Stalin in the 1920s:

‘Stalin, for his part, came to regard the KPP as the most dangerous surviving centre of Trotskyism and opposition to his own authority in the international communist movement. In the late 1930s, he summoned its leaders to Moscow, arrested them, and put several of them to death, together with hundreds of lesser members of the Party who simply disappeared. The KPP was abolished by the Comintern, on Stalin's instructions, in 1938’.[51]

While all the best revolutionary leaders of the Communist International were falling victim to Stalin’s terror, Stalin was pursuing a policy of appeasement with the capitalists. This policy of appeasement included an attempt to conclude a military pact with Britain. In order to assist Stalin in securing this pact, Communist Parties in the British Empire were instructed to follow a conciliatory line. The Communist Party of Australia ran a campaign in support of the “Anglo-Soviet” pact, with the line that Britain was ‘sated for the present with colonies’.

Because of Stalin’s support for the Popular Front government in France, the Communist Party in Vietnam was instructed to withdraw from the Indochinese Congress formed to press demands for national independence. Implementation of this treacherous policy entailed further purging of the Vietnamese Party’s ranks and by 1941, the only member of the Vietnamese Communist Party who had been active since the 1920s was Ho Chi Minh.

The Stalin-Hitler Pact, 1939 – 1941

Following the defeat of the Spanish revolution in March 1939, Stalin changed from seeking a pact with “democratic imperialism” against the fascist powers, to seeking an agreement with fascism. On August 23 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed a non-aggression pact, and within a week carved up Poland between them. Over a million Poles were deported to Siberia and the Asian Republics and the Baltic States, which had tasted national independence for but 20 years, were annexed.

On February 10, the Pact was sealed with a trade agreement under which the USSR supplied Hitler with 900,000 tons of oil, 100,000 tons of cotton, 500,000 tons of iron ore, 300,000 tons of scrap iron and other essential materials. In a speech on November 25, 1939 Hitler said:

‘As long as Stalin is in power, it is certain that [the USSR] will adhere to the Pact made. Her political attitude may change after years of building up her internal strength, particularly if Stalin is overthrown or dies’, [adding that his only fear was that Stalin] ‘might be replaced by some extremists’.[52]

After Germany invaded France and Holland, Molotov assured Soviet citizens that “the friendly relations between Germany and the USSR were based on the fundamental interests of both countries”.[53]

Between December 1939 and April 1941, the ambassadors of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Belgium, Norway and Greece, were expelled from Soviet territory as their countries were overrun by Germany, and on April 24, 1941, the USSR gave full diplomatic recognition to the Vichy collaborationist government of Nazi-occupied France!

All the Communist Parties in the West by now mindlessly and cynically followed every twist and turn of the Comintern line. The Communist Party of Australia was no different.

The CPA had gained considerable prestige as the most militant opponent of fascism. The CPA’s attacks on the ALP for being too soft on the ultra-right, for instance, and their support for the Spanish Republicans and the International Brigades had won the respect of a very wide spectrum of people.

How did the loyal cadre of the CPA now sell the Stalin-Hitler Pact to their supporters? They sold the pact as part of a campaign against the imperialist war. By this means they actually gained considerable support from the most militant sections of the working class.

On November 7 1939 the CPA proclaimed:

‘The declaration [of the Comintern] defines the War in Europe as an unjust, reactionary imperialist war. It calls upon the workers of the world to struggle against the war. ...The ruling circles of England, France and Germany are waging war for world supremacy. This war is the continuation of the many years of imperialistic strife in the camp of capitalism. ...They want to divide anew, for their own advantage, the sources of raw materials, food, gold reserves and the huge masses of people in the colonies ...’

This anti-war line of the CPA, as it happened, coincided with a resurgence of struggle by the working class as it recovered from the Depression. The Menzies government was divided and discredited over its support for Japanese imperialism. Opposition to conscription and the introduction of war-time regulations was growing.

Under these conditions, the CPA’s policy of opposition to the war as an ‘imperialist war’ found a response in the working class. In June 1940, the Party was declared illegal and its leaders driven underground. When two CPA members were interned in May 1941, 50,000 workers struck in their defence.

Meanwhile, KGB agents all over the world conducted a campaign of assassination against the Left Opposition; Trotsky’s son, Leon Sedov was murdered, as were a number of his closest collaborators, such as Rudolf Klement. On 20 August 1940 Trotsky was assassinated by the Stalinist agent Ramon Mercador in Mexico. [54]