|Partito Comunista Internazionalista
(Prometeo, nn. 2-4, 6-8 del 1946/1947)
|1 -||Anglo-Russian Committee (1926)|
|2 -||Russian Question (1927)|
|3 -||Chinese question (1927)|
|4 -||Tactics of the offensive and social-fascism (1929-1933)|
|5 -||Tactics of anti-fascism and the Popular Front (1934-1938)|
|6 -||The Spanish War, prologue to the Second World Imperialist War (1936-40)|
In March 1926 the Session of the Fourth Enlarged Executive took place in Moscow, and Bordiga finished his speech by stating that the time had come for the other parties of the International to pay back the Russian Party for what it had given to them in the ideological and political field, and expressly requested that the Russian question be put on the agenda of the following debates of the International.
If, from the formal point of view, this proposal had a favorable outcome, since at the Seventh Enlarged Executive as well as at the following plenary session of the Executive of the International, the Russian question was widely debated, substantially things were quite different, as all the parties of the International blocked the theoretical, political and disciplinary solutions previously given by the Russian Party. These resolutions fully the fundamental principles on which the Communist International had been built and were brought into the very core of the Russian revolution those substantial transformations, which lead to the ruthless repression against those who fought the revolution and to the concurrent overthrow of the Russia ruled by the workers’ Soviets, destined now to eventually become one of the essential instruments of the counter-revolution and of the preparation of the second imperialist conflict.
The truth is that, already in 1926, and thanks to the success of that “bolshevization” that Zinoviev had made triumph at the Fifth International Congress of 1924, the leading cadres of all parties had been radically changed. To the currents which in 1920, at the rise of the International, had organically converged towards the same revolutionary path affirmed in a decisive way in the triumph of Russian October, other tendencies had been substituted; and these tendencies, real trend-chasers who had followed the victorious chariot of the Russian revolution without making any contribution to the formation of the communist parties, who were snoozing at them waiting for their hour to shine, could only take up the call of the counter-revolution rising in Russia and give it a hand in the work then just sketched out of breaking up the militants of the International.
If we have recalled the proposals made by the Italian left, as expressed by Bordiga, to the VI Enlarged Executive of the International, we have done so in order to underline that this current was already aware of all the great events which were ripening and of their central point: the radical shift which was being prepared in the politics of Soviet Russia.
It was the last time that the Italian left could make itself heard at the very center of the International and of the Party: one year later, not only it, but every other current of Opposition was conclusively purged from the International and the condition for belonging to it became the recognition of the theory of “socialism in one country”, which represented a clear break with the principle of the programs on which the International itself had been founded.
The subjugation of the Comintern to the interests of the Russian State had now occurred, and the Communist parties of the various nations, instead of moving toward the one real goal of the revolutionary struggle against their capitalism at home, were simply used as pawns in the diplomatic game in which Russia was engaged in with the other powers and led, when these needs required it, to the most unsuccessful compromises with the forces of centrist opportunism and the bourgeoisie.
study, which has only an informative character on the tactics of the
Comintern from 1926 to 1940, and which cannot even begin to exhaust
such a complex question, must reduce itself to offering the essential
elements of this tactic in its fundamental stages, which we list here
1st- Anglo-Russian Committee (1926);
2nd- Russian Question (1927);
3th- Chinese question (1927);
4th- Tactics of the offensive and social-fascism (1929-1933);
5th- Tactics of anti-fascism and the Popular Front (1934-1938);
6th- Tactics of communist parties during the second world imperialist conflict.
1 – The Anglo-Russian Committee
In 1926, an event of great importance disturbed both the analysis of the situation, given by the Fifth Congress of the International (1924), and the policy that had followed in Russia and other countries. The world situation had been characterized by the formula of “stabilization”, which evidently did not exclude the possibility of a resumption of the revolutionary wave, but – because of the changes in tactics that it implied – far from facilitating the orientation of the International towards a resumption of the proletarian struggle, it was to make it a prisoner of tactical formulations and organisms, which cannot be modified or broken overnight.
In fact, the political process is not a patchwork of tactical expedients, in which the party can apply to each situation what mechanically corresponds to it as a doctor would after having diagnosed the disease. The party, a factor in the direction of historical evolution, cannot but be itself shaped by the tactics and politics it applies, and it will be able to intervene in a revolutionary situation only to the extent that it has been able to prepare for it in the phases which preceded it. In the absence of this preparation, it’s evident that the party, having become stuck in an unrelated political process, will be unable to take charge of the revolution and thus prevents itself from directing the proletarian struggle.
Now, when in 1924 there was talk of “stabilization”, it was evidently not limited to a purely statistical and technical examination of economic evolution, but, from the indisputable observation of the decline of the revolutionary wave that followed the defeat of the German revolution in 1923, arose a political discourse in perfect harmony with the tactical decisions of the International.
These decisions were based on the fundamental objective of maintaining communist influence on the masses. And since that, said unfavorable situation, contact with the broad masses was only possible through the development of political relations with the social-democratic organizations which benefited from the retreat of the revolution, the formula of “stabilization” involved the tactic of entryism into the leaderships of the social-democratic parties and trade unions.
When, in 1926, the gigantic strike of the English miners broke out, the International could thus only act consequently in the ways that these already established tactics permitted them. The trade-union leaders were quick to establish permanent agreements with the leaders of the Soviet trade unions, and the Anglo-Russian Committee was forced to exercise whatever role that the circumstances demanded.
The strike became general, and if all the economic analysis made by the Fifth Congress was obliterated, the same can’t be said for the tactics that emanated from it. The International not only found itself unable to reveal to the masses the counter-revolutionary role of the trade union leaders, but it had to maintain solidarity with them throughout the entire events of this important proletarian agitation in one of the world centers of capitalism.
In order to better grasp the tactics of the International in this matter, it’s be necessary to remember that, at the same time, the right-wing tendency of Bukharin-Rykov triumphed in Russia. This tendency had developed within the general framework of a tactic which, after having tied the fate of the Russian State to the fate of the world proletariat together, had proceeded to make the policy of the Communist parties dependent on the needs of that State. And Bukharin would then go on to justify the tactics used in the Anglo-Russian Committee by appealing to the “diplomatic interests of the USSR” (Executive of the International of May 1927)
Regarding this tactic, it is sufficient to recall that after the Anglo-French Conferences of Paris in July 1926 and Berlin in August 1926, at the Berlin Conference of April 1927 the Russian delegates, who had recognized the General Council as «the sole representative and spokesman of the trade union movement of England», pledged themselves «not to diminish the authority» of the trade union leaders and «not to concern themselves with the internal affairs of the English trade unions» after the open betrayal of the general strike by the Social Democratic leadership. And it is not unnecessary to mention that English capitalism, as soon as it can liquidate the general strike, will repay with its usual gratitude the Russian leaders who had been so prodigal to it, and that, directly in London, indirectly in Beijing, Baldwin’s government will go on the offensive against the Soviet diplomatic representations.
The magazine “Lo Stato Operaio”, published by the Italian Communist Party in Paris, in issue 5 of July 1927, in an article on “the Executive and the struggle against the war” (which is to say, the Executive of the International), polemicizing against the Russian opposition, writes the following on the Anglo-Russian Committee:
«This tendency (of the opposition, ed.) comes to light even better in the criticism of the meeting of the Anglo-Russian Committee. The Berlin meeting of the Anglo-Russian Committee must be considered and judged carefully without haste and without partiality. The time at which the ARC met in Berlin was internationally very serious. The British Conservative Government was preparing the break with Russia. The campaign for isolating Russia from the entire civilized world was in full swing. Was the delegation of the Russian trade unions well advised or ill-advised to make some concessions in order to not break with the delegation of the British trade unions at that time?”. This document raises the question of the tactics followed by the delegation of Russian trade unions at the meeting in Berlin, but, as we have seen, Bukharin was very explicit in stating that it was necessary not to break with the Anglo-Russian Committee for the sake of the diplomatic interest of the Russian State, a committee that served as a smokescreen for the trade union leaders to sabotage the general strike, while officially recognizing in it the «only representatives of the English trade union movement».
The same official documents unequivocally posed an issue: that a mighty proletarian movement would be sacrificed because the defense of Russian State matters required it.
Here, moreover, is a new confirmation of the role played by the ARC within the English movement. The magazine “L’Internationale Communiste” (issue 17 of 15-8-28) contains in an article by R.Palme Dutt on the plenary assembly of the Chinese Communist Party of February 1928 the following statements: «Here is a decisive turning point in the attitude of the Communist Party towards the masses. Until now the Party had criticized the movement directed by the reformists and acted as an independent agitator (and thus as its own ideological leader). From now on the task of the Communist Party is to fight the reformist leaders in order to put itself at the head of the masses».
And in an author’s note he adds: «It is sometimes said that we have passed from the slogan ’fight for leadership’ to that of ’change of direction’. This is not accurate. As a matter of fact, the slogan “change of direction” had already been implemented before the new tactic, even when this new tactic was being fought, and it only means one thing: the “right” of the Labor Party must be replaced at the head of the movement by the “left” of the same party. At present the party is fighting for its own interests, and not to correct the mistakes of the Labor Party. It is necessary to fight to regroup the masses behind the Communist Party and the elements associated with it (minorities, etc.). It is in this sense that the slogan “change of direction” is valid for the current period».
The Party’s role had thus been in 1926 to act as the “ideological leader” of the movement directed by the reformists and to “correct the mistakes of the Labor Party”. As for the “new tactic”, which will be just as deleterious to the proletarian movement as the opposite tactic of the Anglo-Russian Committee, we will discuss it again in the chapter devoted to the “offensive” and “socialism”.
2 – The Russian Question
In 1926-27 Russia went through a serious economic crisis. Since 1923-24, two opposing positions had been defended within the Russian Party: that of the Bukharin-Rykov Right who, breaking with the prejudicial conditions laid down by Lenin during the NEP (see “The Tax in Kind”), advocated support for the expansion of the capitalist strata, especially in the countryside; the other of the Trotskyist Left who, on the basis of Lenin’s formulations, tended towards the establishment of an economic plan that focused on strengthening the State and the socialist sector of the economy to the detriment of the private and capitalist sector.
The Russian party moved on to the fight against Trotsky; but the ruling bloc going from Bukharin-Rykov to Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev, while proceeding united in the fight against a so-called “Trotskyism”, did not reach a unity of views on what the solutions to the serious economic problems which the establishment of the NEP had given rise to actually were. The Right launched the slogan “peasants, get rich” which openly threatened the monopoly of foreign trade, but neither arrived at an economic and political plan clearly oriented towards the annihilation of the prejudicial conditions posed by Lenin in the NEP, nor differed clearly from the center then personified by Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev (to limit itself to the most important Russian leaders). As always, the Right had no need to define clear positions and relies above all on the direct impulse of events, which, in circumstances unfavorable to the revolutionary movement, can only be favorable to it. The essential thing for it is the struggle against the proletarian tendency, and for this purpose it uses the Center, which can carry out this counter-revolutionary task much better than the Right.
The years 1926 and 1927 saw a situation in which the different currents within the Russian Party did not confront each other with a view to particular solutions to be adopted in the face of the serious economic problems with which Russia was struggling with, with the debates being mostly concerned with general and theoretical questions. The practical solutions came later, at the XVI Conference of the Russian Party (1929) in which the first five-year plan will be decided. In 1926-27 the struggle is confined to the essential task of the hour: to disperse any proletarian reaction within the Russian Party. According to the report of the plenary meeting of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the Russian Party (see the Lo Stato Operaio of September 1927) the opposition is divided into three groups: 1st an extreme left group headed by comrades Sapronov and Smirnov; 2nd the group that accepts Trotsky’s hegemony and to which belong, among the best known, Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc; 3rd a group that strives to take an intermediate position between the opposition currents and the Central Committee (Kasparova, Bielincaia, etc.)
With regard to the first group the official document characterizes in the following points its analysis of the situation: a) the struggle within the party has a character of class struggle, between the working-class part of the party and an army of bureaucrats; b) this struggle cannot be limited to the interior of the party, but must involve the great masses without whose support the opposition cannot win; c) it is possible that the opposition will be defeated; it must therefore constitute itself as an active agent, which will defend the cause of the proletarian revolution in the future; d) the Trotsky-Zinoviev bloc does not understand this vital need and tends to compromise with the Stalin group, has no clear tactical line; having erred in signing the declaration of October 16, 1926 of obedience to the Party, it must trample on its own principles; the hesitations of Trotsky and Zinoviev must be denounced and unmasked like those of the Stalin group; e) In recent years the capitalist elements of production have developed more rapidly than the socialist elements; given the technical backwardness of the country and the low level of labor productivity, it is not possible to pass to a true socialist organization of production without the help of the technically advanced countries or without the intervention of the world revolution; f) The main error of the Party’s economic policy consists in the reduction of prices, which benefits not the working class, but all consumers, and therefore also the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie; g) the liquidation of party democracy and workers’ democracy, in 1923, is the prelude to the establishment of a democracy of wealthy peasants; h) in order to change this state of affairs, it is necessary to pass to the organization of large State enterprises with perfected production techniques for the transformation of the products of agriculture; i) the GPU, instead of repressing the counter-revolution, is fighting against the justified discontent of the workers; the Red Army threatens to transform itself into an instrument of Bonapartist adventures; the CC is a “Stalinist” fraction which, by initiating the liquidation of the party will lead to the end of the dictatorship of the proletariat; it is necessary to “restore” the Soviet system.
This current is deemed by the CC as “a group of enemies of the party and the proletarian revolution”.
The same CC states that it «is solidly constituted as an illegal fraction, not only in the sense of the Party, but in the very sense of the Trotsky-Zinoviev fraction. It turns out that one of the groups of this fraction, the Omsk group, had set as its program the preparation of a general strike throughout Siberia and the halting of the activity of the large electric companies in the region».
As for the Trotsky-Zinoviev group, the same document of the CC of the Russian Party writes: “The Trotsky-Zinoviev group is responsible for the most violent attacks on the CC and its political line, and for the most brazen fraction activity developed during 1927, openly breaking the solemn commitments made in the declaration of October 16, 1926. In recent times this group has concentrated its attacks against the party line in international politics (China, England) by speculating on the difficulties that have arisen in this field. It has responded to the preparation for war against the USSR with statements which represent a sabotage of the action which the Party is carrying out for the mobilization of the masses against the war and for resistance. A typical assertion is the characterization of the CC of the Party as a Thermidorian reaction, that the course of Party policy is “national-conservative”, that the Party line is one of “old peasants”, that the greatest danger threatening Russia is not the war but the internal Party regime, etc. These statements were accompanied by acts of violation of discipline and open fractionism: publishing of fraction documents, organization of fraction, circles, conferences, etc., Zinoviev’s speech against the CC at a non-party assembly, Trotsky’s attitude at the Executive meeting, accusation of “Thermidorism” brought by Trotsky against the Party at a meeting of the controlling CC, public demonstration against the Party at Smilga’s departure from a Moscow station. Finally, a petition campaign was organized against the CC by circulating a document signed by the 83 leading opposition figures. In addition, the Trotsky-Zinoviev group maintained a relationship with the extreme left group excluded from the German Party (Maslov-Fischer).
“All this shows that the Trotsky-Zinoviev group has not only violated all the commitments it made in the declaration of October 16, 1926, but: 1) has placed itself on a path which leads to being against the unconditional defense of the USSR in the struggle against imperialism; the accusations of Thermidorism hurled against the CC have the logical consequence of proclaiming the necessity of the defense of the USSR only after this CC has been overthrown; 2) it has placed itself on the path leading to the splitting of the Comintern; 3) it has placed itself on the path leading to the splitting of the Russian Party and the organization of a new party in Russia.”
As for the intermediate group, the CC of the Russian Party considers it «a group of vague opposition, probably out of the bafflement that has arisen in some less self-confident elements in the face of the serious difficulties of the moment».
This entire quotation allows us to understand the gravity of the situation existing in Russia at this time. Although there are obvious exaggerations in the way the points of view of the extreme left fraction and the Trotsky-Zinoviev fraction are presented, it’s obvious that not even what the hostile CC wrote allows one to conclude that the two opposing groups could be compared to the Mensheviks and the counterrevolutionaries.
As for the positions defended by the right, they undoubtedly represented the vehicle for a restoration of the bourgeois class in Russia according to the classical type of the reconstitution of an economy based on private property and enterprises. But history was to rule out this eventuality. In the phase of monopoly imperialism and State totalitarianism, the reversal of Russian politics would take place along the other path of the five-year plans, which we will discuss later, and State capitalism.
But, as we were saying, before reaching this decisive step, it was necessary to definitively win the battle against the various opposition groups, a battle which was actually directed against the Party itself and against the International, since it concerned the fundamental point of Marxist doctrine: the international and internationalist notion of communism.
The aforementioned resolution of the CC represented a “half-measure” because the issues were not definitively resolved. It was in December 1927, at the 15th Congress of the Russian Party, after the failure of the show of force attempted by the opposition with the demonstration in Leningrad, that the problems would be fully addressed.
The great battle of the XV Congress took place around the new theory of “socialism in one country” and the incompatibility of being a member of the Party and the International and the not accepting this thesis.
On this fundamental point the Seventh Enlarged Executive (November-December 1926) had expressed itself in these terms: «The Party starts from the point of view that our revolution is a socialist revolution, that the October Revolution represents not only the signal for a leap forward and the starting point of the socialist revolution in the West, but: 1) it represents a basis for the future development of the world revolution; 2) it opens up the period of transition from capitalism to socialism in the Soviet Union (the dictatorship of the proletariat), in which the proletariat has the possibility of successfully edifying, by means of a just policy toward the peasant class, a complete socialist society. This construction will be realized, however, only if the strength of the international workers’ movement on the one hand, and the strength of the proletariat of the Soviet Union on the other hand, are so great as to protect the Soviet State from military intervention».
Note how the realization of the “complete socialist society” no longer depends, as in Lenin’s time, on the triumph of the revolution in other countries, but on the ability of the international workers’ movement to “protect the Soviet State from military intervention”. Events have proven that it will be instead the two most powerful imperialist States, Great Britain and the United States, that will “protect” Soviet Russia.
Both at the 7th Enlarged Executive and at the other numerous meetings of the Russian Party and the Executive of the International, the Russian and international proletariat lost the battle. The consecration of this defeat came at the 15th Congress of the Russian Party (December 1927) when the incompatibility between membership in the Party and the denial of the “possibility of the construction of socialism in one country” was proclaimed.
But this defeat was to have decisive consequences both within Russia and in the international communist movement. Class struggle does not allow half-ways, especially in climatic moments, such as those of our epoch. The proclamation of the theory of socialism in one country, since it could not in practice be resolved by the extraction of Russia from a world in which – after the defeat of the Chinese revolution – capitalism was everywhere going on the counter-offensive and, by the very fact of breaking the necessary link between the struggle of the working class of each country against its capitalism and the struggle for socialism within Russia, was denying the proletarian class factor, had inevitably to admit another one, on which Russia was increasingly relying: world capitalism. Evidently, this transition of the Russian State was only possible under two conditions: 1) that the communist parties cease to pose a threat to capitalism; 2) that within Russia the principle of the capitalist economy – the exploitation of the workers – be re-instituted.
In this chapter we shall deal with the second point; in subsequent chapters with the first.
On the basis of a logic which we would like to call “chronological”, the opinion has been formed that the line of degeneration of the Russian State starts from the adoption of the NEP in March 1921 and inevitably arrives at the new course introduced after 1927.
This opinion is superficial and does not correspond to an analysis of events conducted according to Marxist principles.
It must be made clear that this economic maneuver was necessarily required by the events, by the insurmountable difficulties in which the proletarian dictatorship found itself, and it was possible precisely because it was carried out in a regime of proletarian dictatorship. This does not mean, of course, that the bourgeois economic forces didn’t increase and that the political balance of power didn’t tend to change: however, this change in the balance of power that favored bourgeois forces, brought about by NEP, could become dangerous and lethal for the proletarian dictatorship in Russia only if the international balance of power shifted, as it did, towards the prevalence of bourgeois reaction and the ebbing of the revolutionary wave. Otherwise the momentary recovery of the bourgeois forces would have been overwhelmed by the proletarian dictatorship which had maintained its political positions.
Lenin’s position, since 1917, has been based on these main considerations: 1) an absolute political intransigence which will lead the Bolshevik Party to take positions of the most open struggle against all bourgeois political formations, including those of the extreme social-democratic left. It is well known that, in January 1918, Lenin, after having analyzed the results of the elections for the Constituent Assembly not according to the vulgar criteria of parliamentary democracy but rather according to its opposite, to class criteria, having thus ascertained that the Bolsheviks were an arithmetical and global minority in the country, but were a majority in the industrial centers, proceeded to violently disperse the Assembly elected on the basis of democratic principles. 2) A shrewd economic policy which delimited the possibilities of the proletariat – and consequently of the class Party – in connection with the concrete possibilities offered by the modest degree of development of the forces and technique of production. Lenin’s program implied the simple “control of production”, which meant the permanence of the capitalists at the head of industries.
This apparent contradiction between an economic policy of concessions and an extremely intransigent general policy is inexplicable if one does not place oneself – as Lenin constantly did – on the international plane and therefore does not consider the Russian revolution in connection with the development of the world revolution. If, from the Russian national point of view, concessions in the economic field are unavoidable because of the country’s backward industrial development, from the political point of view instead – since the experiment of the proletarian dictatorship is a function of international events – the most intransigent policy becomes not only possible but necessary, since it is ultimately a single episode in the world struggle of the proletariat.
Lenin acted according to Marxist principles both in 1917, when he limited himself to the “control of industries”, and during the phase of war communism between 1918 and 1920, and when he announced in March 1921 the policy of NEP. The whole of his policy stems from an international approach to the Russian question, and the NEP itself will be considered inevitable because of the delay in the revolutionary rise of the world proletariat, while on the other hand the fundamental conditions will be specified under which the concessions contained in the policy of NEP will have to be strictly maintained.
It is well known that Lenin, by substituting the tax in kind (the peasant became free to dispose of the remaining product after the transfer of the share devolved to the State) for the system of requisitions (which deprived the peasant of any possibility of disposing of his product) and by authorizing the re-establishment of the market and of small industry, divided the Russian economy into two sectors: socialist and private. The first sector – the State sector – had to engage in a speedy race to reach the second one in order to defeat it in the economic field thanks to the superiority of the yield of work and the increase in production.
However, the qualification of socialist given to the State sector did not mean that the State form was sufficient to make the nature of this sector socialist. On a thousand occasions, Lenin insisted that the chances of success of the State sector resulted in no way from the fact that, instead of the private sector, it was the State that ran industry, but from the fact that this was a proletarian State closely linked to the course of world revolution.
Lenin established the NEP in March of 1921. It was in 1923-24 that the first results of NEP became apparent, and at the same time the struggle within the Russian Party showed that the predictions based on a development of the socialist sector to the detriment of the private sector were not confirmed by events. While Trotsky will advocate provisions destined to the development of the socialist sector and to the struggle against the resurgent bourgeoisie, especially in the countryside, Bukharin’s right wing will see no other solution to the economic problems than a greater freedom in favor of the capitalist elements of the Soviet economy.
In 1926-27 the struggle takes, within the Party and the International, the proportions we have already mentioned, which ends in a total defeat for the leftist elements, who will only be able to remain in the Party if they put aside the international and internationalist principle of the struggle for socialism.
Historical evolution does not obey formalistic criteria to such an extent that a restoration of the economic principles of capitalism could only be considered possible in Russia through the re-establishment of the classical form of individual property. Russia will find itself in 1927 and later more and more in a world situation characterized, as in the last century, not by the reflection of liberal economic principles in the private appropriation of the means of production and surplus value, but in another situation which knows State totalitarianism and the subjugation to it of all forms of private initiative.
After the defeat of the Left within the Russian Party, we do not witness – because of the indicated characteristics of the general historical evolution – a triumph of the Right, due to the fact that the solution of economic problems can only be obtained through a struggle against the capitalist stratifications which arose during the NEP.
But between the policy of the NEP and that which was to triumph later, of the Five-Year Plans, is there or is there not a solution of continuity? In order to answer this question, one must first consider that, as Charles Bettelheim demonstrates in his book Soviet Planning, the NEP had not achieved its objectives either in the political field, since it had led to a hypertrophy of the bureaucracy, or in the economic field, since instead of having ensured the victory of the socialist sector, it had led to a strengthening of the private sector, or finally in the more general economic field, since 1926-27 had seen a serious economic crisis in Russia.
In the presence of what Bettelheim qualifies as “the failure of NEP” the question arises over whether 1927 was to unavoidably mark the hour of reckoning and whether, because of the very unfavorable international circumstances, no further possibility existed of keeping the Russian State in the hands of the proletariat. But we must not concern ourselves with this problem, our task being mainly informative about the course of events.
The indisputable fact is that the re-establishment of the economic principle of capitalist exploitation is enshrined in the Five-Year Plans, the first of which will be decided at the 16th Russian Party Conference in April 1929 and approved by the 5th Congress of Soviets in May 1929; the basic point of these Plans is first the attainment and then the continuous surpassing of production indices taking as reference points both the period prior to 1914 and the results obtained in other countries. In a word, what will be the substance of the new Soviet reconstruction? The official documents make no mystery of it: it is about reconstructing an economy of the same type as the capitalist one, and it will be qualified as “socialist” the higher the heights reached by production will be.
The economic plan conceived by Lenin and approved at the IX Congress of the Russian Communist Party in April 1920 set the whole problem on the increase of consumer industry: this meant that the essential purpose of the Soviet economy was the improvement of the living conditions of the working masses. On the other hand, the theory of the Five-Year Plans aims at the highest development of heavy industry at the expense of consumer industry. The outcome of the Five-Year Plans in the war economy and in the war was therefore just as inevitable as the corresponding arrangement of the economy in the rest of the capitalist world.
Corresponding to the substantial change that will occur in the aims of production, which will be solely those of a constant accumulation of capital in heavy industry, another change will be made in the conception of “socialist industry” whose distinctive criterion will be established in the non-private and State form: the master State will become a God to whom will be immolated not only the sacrifices of the millions of Russian workers who will have to revitalize with zeal in the quantity and quality of production in order not to incur the accusation and condemnation of being “Trotskyists”, but also the corpses of the creators of the Russian revolution.
The economic principle of increasing exploitation of the workers proper to capitalism, will be re-instituted in Russia in parallel with the general laws of historical evolution that lead to an increasing and totalitarian intervention of the State. Even the Right leader Bukharin and his comrade Rykov will be executed. What triumphs in Russia is what will then triumph in all countries: State totalitarianism; and the consequence can only be the same in Russia: the preparation and the gigantic participation in the Second World War.
The Italian left, foreseeing from the very beginning the substance of the political evolution in Russia, did not allow itself – as Trotsky did – to be captivated by the State form of property in Russia, and as early as 1933 it raised the necessity of assimilating Soviet Russia to the capitalist world, foreshadowing the same tactics in the course of the imperialist conflict, where it would inevitably be led by the theory of “socialism in one country” and the theory of the Five-Year Plans.
3 – The Chinese Question (1926-27)
«If the English reactionary trade unions are willing to form with the revolutionary trade unions of our country [Russia] a coalition against the counter-revolutionary imperialists of their country, why would this bloc not be approved?» (Stalin at the joint session of the CC of the Russian Party and the Central Control Commission, July 1926). Trotsky rightly retorted, «if the reactionary trade unions were capable of fighting against their imperialists, they would not be reactionary».
If Chiang-Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang were willing to fight for the revolution.... But the piles of proletarian corpses that concluded the epic struggle of the Chinese workers were to prove lugubriously that Chang-Kai-Shek and Kuomintang could be nothing more than the executioners of the proletariat and peasantry of that country.
In his book “The Third International after Lenin”, Trotsky rightly characterizes the general situation in China in the following terms: «Land ownership, large and medium, is intertwined there in the most intimate way with urban capitalism, including foreign capitalism» (p. 277 of the Rieder French edition), «An extremely rapid internal development of industry based on the role of commercial and banking capitalism which has subjugated the country, the complete dependence of the most important peasant regions on the market, the enormous role and continuous development of foreign trade, the total subordination of the Chinese countryside to the city; all this confirms the unconditional dominance, the direct domination of capitalist relations in China» (op. cit. p. 305).
In a study that would be devoted to Trotskyism, the journal would explain the reasons that eventually lead Trotsky, despite his analysis that highlighted the determining relations of the entire Chinese economic order (including feudal and pre-feudal relations numerically far superior to capitalist ones) to absolutely inadequate tactical conclusions such as those of participation in the Kuomintang and throwing a series of democratic slogans which Trotsky defended against Stalin after the final defeat of the Chinese proletarian revolution, that is, after the failure of what the Comintern called “the Canton insurrection” (December 1927).
Our current, on the other hand, departing from an analysis in line with Trotsky’s, defended the fundamental thesis of non-adherence to the Kuomintang and, while it fought the Comintern’s tactic of the “revolutionary offensive”, it maintained in full its previous positions against “democratic slogans”, remaining firm on the thesis that the only slogan that should be raised on the question of State power was that of the proletarian dictatorship.
Indeed, events were to confirm that neither a revolutionary situation presented itself in China after 1927, nor could a democratic era of bourgeois independence and anti-imperialist China open up after and despite the revolutionary defeat of 1926-27.
It was in 1911 that the Manchurian dynasty abdicated in favor of the Republic and it’s also in this era that the Kuomintang is founded. The policy of Sun-Yat-Sen, the founder of the Party, even though he proclaimed anti-imperialist claims, for the “independence of China”, was nevertheless forced to limit himself to verbal declarations that did not worry foreign imperialists. History thus condemned China as unable to rise to the function of a great nation-State, and Sun-Yat-Sen is so convinced of this that, after China sided with the Entente in the first world war, in 1918 he turned to the victors to help China’s economic development, and tried to lean on the closest and at the time least intrusive imperialism, Japan, to loosen the grip of British imperialism that held the most important positions.
With capitalist relations dominating the interior of the country in the historical framework of capitalism’s financial imperialism, which does not leave any opening for colonial and semi-colonial countries to rise up and become truly independent nation States, the Chinese events begin in 1925, develop in 1926, and end with the violent suffocation of the so-called “Canton insurrection”.
Can these events, which take above all the form of a military march that starts in the South and goes from victory to victory towards the North, until it conquers the whole country, be characterized as a “democratic-revolutionary, anti-imperialist war of the Chinese bourgeoisie”? Obviously, in the course of these tumultuous events there were attacks against foreign concessions, but, apart from the fact that each time these attacks were never due to decisions of the Kuomintang leadership, but were the result of local initiatives which, in fact, as events got worse, were even disavowed by the central leadership of the Kuomintang – the question is rather different, and answering it correctly is a matter of characterizing it as a whole for what it really turned out to be instead of characterizing it according to episodes which had no real decisive effects in the overall scheme of things.
At the end of 1927 the victory of the counter-revolution was decisive, and this victory was unfortunately not short-lived, because twenty years later we find ourselves in the same situation where, despite the Japanese defeat, we do not see at all an affirmation in an autonomous State of the Chinese bourgeoisie, which, if it can dispute with France the rank of the IV or V among the five Greats, still cannot avoid the fact that China, after the defeat of the revolutionary movement of 1926-27, has been reduced to becoming an immense territory where all the foreign capitalisms fight for their share of the pie, but not on a front where the Chinese bourgeoisie stands against all of these capitalisms. Against Stalin and also against Trotsky, the answer of history is absolutely unequivocal; it was not, in 1926-27, a matter of a revolutionary anti-imperialist war susceptible to evolve into a purely proletarian and communist movement, but of a gigantic uprising of hundreds of millions of exploited people who could only find their leadership in the proletarian vanguard, which, by establishing the proletarian dictatorship in China, would then be intertwined with the development of the world revolution.
The role of Chang-Kai-Shek and of the Kuomintang could not be the one played by the French bourgeoisie in 1793, but only the same role that Noske and company had played in the most developed countries. From the very beginning they represented the defense line against the gigantic revolt of the exploited Chinese people and the Kuomintang was the effective instrument of the cruel and victorious resistance of the Chinese and world counter-revolution.
As for the Chinese bourgeoisie, like the bourgeoisies of India and other colonial and semi-colonial countries, its function was not to strive for national autonomy, but to fit in with the organization of the dominant imperialist and foreign bourgeoisies. Chang-Kai-Shek had to show a terrible brutality against the Chinese proletarians as soon as the circumstances (the ebbing of revolutionary flow) allowed him to do so, at the same time that an angelic genuflection capacity towards the most powerful foreign imperialisms.
Moreover, at the 7th Enlarged Executive at the end of 1926, the Chinese delegate Tang-Ping-Sian stated in his report about Chang-Kai-Shek: «He has a passive demeanor, in the full sense of the word, in the field of international politics. He is not willing to fight against British imperialism; as for the Japanese imperialists, under certain conditions, he is willing to establish a compromise with them».
And as Trotsky suggestively points out, «Chang-Kai-Shek made war on the Chinese militarists, agents of one of the imperialist States. This is not at all the same thing as waging war against imperialism» (Trotsky, op. cit., p. 268).
At the core of the struggle between the revolutionary masses and the counter-revolution, the war which the generals of the South and the North will wage will find, fundamentally, no other resolution besides crushing the insurgent proletariat and, secondly, of striving for the unification of China dispersed in a thousand provinces under a central authority. Central authority, we repeat, without any prospect of raising China to the level of a great national and independent State.
The imperialisms, on the other hand, did not prefer this or that general, but, conscious of the revolutionary reality in China and of the danger it represents for their class domination in the world, they will let the counter-revolutionary intervention of the International develop in full. After the interruption caused by the events of the war, the interweaving of capitalist relations will be re-established, starting from the metropolis, annexing the Chinese bourgeoisie and extending its domination over the immensity of the Chinese lands.
From the programmatic point of view, the International had, as its fundamental document, the Theses of the Second Congress (September 1920). The last paragraph of the 6th “supplementary” Thesis says: «Foreign domination constantly obstructs the free development of productive forces; therefore the revolution’s first step must be the removal of this foreign domination. The struggle to overthrow foreign domination in the colonies does not therefore mean underwriting the national aims of the national bourgeoisie but much rather smoothing the path to liberation for the proletariat of the colonies».
As we can see, the perspective that permeates many documents of the foundation of the International, which is also contained in the same Manifesto (when Marx speaks of the bourgeoisie opening its own grave by extending its rule to all countries) this perspective has not been confirmed by events. In fact, faced with a movement of the magnitude of that of China in 1926-27, which will see hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants in armed struggle, a movement that has the unquestionable connotations of the untameable forces of history, if the alleged goal of liberation from foreign domination had been likely to determine the events we would have witnessed a struggle of these masses that, under the direction of the indigenous bourgeoisie, would have come to a decisive clash against foreign imperialism, or this same movement which, overriding the primitive bourgeois leadership, would have assumed the force of a proletarian revolution intercalating with the world revolution.
Now not only did the collision against imperialisms not take place, but the historical function of the Chinese bourgeoisie turned out to be exclusively that of a powerful counter-revolutionary bastion to tame with the masses which had risen up with extreme violence, and this while foreign imperialisms could only rejoice at the excellent work done by their commissioners: the Kuomintang and all its tendencies, the right wing of Chang-Kai-Shek, the center of Dai-Thi-Tao, as well as the self-styled communist left directed by the delegates of the Communist International in China.
The Theses themselves do not limit themselves to formulating a perspective, but, after having formulated the guiding criterion for the analysis of historical situations, they determine guarantees which, needless to say, have been shamefully betrayed by the International.
As a guiding criterion, Point 2 of the cited “Theses” reads: «the Communist Party, as the avowed champion of the proletarian struggle to overthrow the bourgeois yoke, must base its policy, in the national question too, not on abstract and formal principles but, first, on a precise appraisal of the specific historical situation and, primarily, of economic conditions; second, on a clear distinction between the interests of the oppressed classes, of working and exploited people, and the general concept of national interests as a whole, which implies the interests of the ruling class; third, on an equally clear distinction between the oppressed, dependent and subject nations and the oppressing, exploiting and sovereign nations, in order to counter the bourgeois-democratic lies that play down this colonial and financial enslavement of the vast majority of the world’s population by an insignificant minority of the richest and advanced capitalist countries, a feature characteristic of the era of finance capital and imperialism».
As for the guarantees, Thesis 5 will say: «It’s necessary to wage a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations. The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if it is in its most embryonic form».
The application of these fundamental directives in the course of the Chinese events would certainly have determined a progressive clarification of some of the hypothetical elements contained in the Theses, which was moreover clearly foreseen in the first line of the 2nd thesis we have quoted, where it speaks of the necessity of basing analyses of the situation «on a precise appraisal of the specific historical situation and, primarily, of economic conditions». This notion could only lead to the recognition of the exclusively counter-revolutionary character of the Kuomintang and the lack of any historical possibility of it waging anti-imperialist struggle in function of the development of those economic forces (Thesis 6).
Our current, in violent opposition to the leadership of the International and to Trotsky’s tendency as well, maintained the thesis of non-adherence to the Kuomintang from the very beginning, qualifying this “People’s Party” for what it really was and for what it later cruelly revealed itself to be after the massacres of proletarians and peasants in 1927. It thus related to what Lenin said, in 1919, when he wrote: «The strength of the proletariat in any capitalist country is much greater than the proportion between the proletariat and the total population. This is because the proletariat economically commands the center and nerves of the whole system of the economy of capitalism and also because in the economic and political field the proletariat expresses under capitalist rule the real interests of the enormous majority of the laboring classes» (“Complete Works”, vol. XVI, pages 458, quoted by Trotsky in “The International after Lenin”). And as for the capitalist nature of economic relations in China, remember what we have already said marking our agreement with the analysis made by Trotsky.
Let us now take a brief look at the tactical approach of the International. It can be summarized in the formula of the “bloc of four classes” (bourgeoisie, peasants, urban petty bourgeoisie, proletariat), a formula which was expressly written in the resolutions of the International.
The review of the Communist International in its No. 5 of March 10, 1927 (note, just a month later Chang-Kai-Shek will unleash his white terror against the proletarians of Shanghai), contains a particularly striking article by Martinov. After premising that «the national liberation of China must necessarily, in case of success, turn into a socialist revolution, that the liberating movement of China is also an integral part of the world proletarian revolution, differing in this from the previous liberating movements which were an integral part of the general democratic movement”, after giving this movement, which is of “national liberation” only in the minds of the leaders of the International, a characteristic far more advanced than those that preceded it in the history of the formation of bourgeois nation States in Europe. Martinov arrives at the confusion that while «in Russia, in 1905, the initiative of the leadership emanated from the proletarian party” and «the Russian liberal bourgeoisie, during a certain time, dragged along in its wake striving at each temporary halt of the movement to conclude an agreement with the czarist autocracy», in China «the initiative emanates from the industrial bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intellectuals» and therefore «the Chinese Communist Party must strive to not create obstacles (emphasized by us) to the revolutionary army against the great feudal lords, against the militarists of the North and against imperialism».
For his part, Stalin, in a polemical article against the Russian opposition (see Stato Operaio of May 1927) wrote: «In the first period of the Chinese revolution, in the period of the first march to the North, when the national army approaching the Yang-Tze river went from victory to victory, a powerful movement of workers and peasants had not yet developed, and the indigenous bourgeoisie (excluding the “compradors”) marched together with the revolution. This was thus the revolution of a single front that extended to the entire nation (emphasized by us). This doesn’t mean that there weren’t contrasts between the indigenous bourgeoisie and the revolution. It only means that the indigenous bourgeoisie, by giving its support to the revolution, endeavored to exploit it for its own ends by directing its development essentially along the line of territorial conquests and sought to limit its developments in another direction».
The events were to cruelly prove, through the unleashing of terror beginning in April 1927, that the “revolution of the single front of the whole nation” was in reality the subjection of the insurgent masses to the direction of the generals, and that finally there was sharp, strident, violent opposition between the “military march to the North under the direction of the Kuomintang” and the class struggles of the Chinese workers and peasants. All the Comintern’s pussyfooting was ultimately summed up in the directive that Martinov had specified: “do not create obstacles to the national army” (see quotation above).
Finally, as to the tactical approach of the International, let us recall Tan-Pin-Sian’s statement to the Seventh Enlarged Executive: «As soon as Trotskyism arose, the Chinese Communist Party and Communist Youth immediately adopted, unanimously, a resolution against it».
It is well known that under the label of Trotskyism were included all the tendencies that opposed the direction of the International. If we have quoted this quote, it is to prove that the Chinese Party had been vigorously “purged” in order to carry out, with full success, its counter-revolutionary policy.
The second half of 1926 and the first quarter of 1927 were characterized by a the peak of militancy of the events in China. During the whole of this period – which is purely revolutionary – the International violently opposes the tendencies which are manifested in the bosom of the proletarian vanguard towards the constitution of the Soviets; it stands firm on the directive of the bloc of four classes.
The Russian delegation in China, which lived in direct contact with the events, wrote a letter addressed to the Center in Moscow, in which it criticizes the policy of the Chinese Party and from which it appears with how much counterrevolutionary vigilance the tactical arrangements which were to lead to the collapse of this great movement were carried out. It reads: «According to the report of the Chinese Communist Party of December 13, 1926 on the dangerous tendencies of the revolutionary movement, the statement states that ’the greatest danger consists in this: that the movement of the masses will progress to the left’» (emphasis added).
On the question of the relations between the Party and the masses, we can deduce what they were from this passage:
«The relations between the Party leadership, the workers and the peasants were formulated in the best possible way, by Comrade Petrov, a member of the CC, on the occasion of the examination of the question of recruiting students for the special course (Communist Workers’ University of the East). It would have been necessary to obtain the following distribution: 175 workers and 100 peasants. Comrade Petrov told us that the Central Committee decided to designate only students and intellectuals».
On the peasant question: «At the December Plenum (1926, ed.) of the CC, with the participation of the representative of the EC of the International, a resolution concerning the peasant question was adopted. In this resolution there is not a single word about a program and the agrarian struggle. The resolution only responds to one of the most irritating questions, the question of peasant power, and it responds to it negatively: it says that the word of peasant power must not be launched in order not to frighten the petit-bourgeoisie. From this, it follows that the Party’s organs ignored the armed struggles of the peasantry». (They did not, in fact, ignore it, since they pushed the armed peasants into the arms of the Kuomintang generals, ed.).
On the question of the labor movement: «More than a million organized workers are deprived of central leadership. The trade unions are detached from the masses and, for the most part, remain staff organizations. Political and organizational work is replaced always and everywhere by compulsion, and the main fact is that reformist tendencies are growing inside as well as outside the revolutionary trade union movement. Friendly familiarity with the entrepreneurs, participation in the benefits, participation in the increase of labor productivity, subordination of the unions to the entrepreneurs and the bosses, these are the usual phenomena».
On the other hand, they refused to defend the economic demands of the workers. Being afraid of the elementary development of the workers’ movement, the Party allowed compulsory arbitration in Canton and later in Hangzhou (the very idea of arbitration belongs to Borodine, the official delegate of the Comintern). Particularly serious is the fear of the leaders of the Party of the non-industrial workers’ movement. After all, the overwhelming majority of the organized workers in China were non-industrial workers.
The CC’s report to the Plenum of December 1926 says: «It is extremely difficult for us to define the tactics with respect to the middle and petty-bourgeoisie, because the strikes of the artisans and the strikes of the clerks are nothing but conflicts within the same class. And since both sides in the struggle (i.e. the entrepreneurs and the workers) are necessary for the single national front (the front of the revolution, as Stalin says, see quote above), we can neither support one of the two contenders, nor remain neutral».
On the army:
«The characteristic of the Party’s demeanor toward the army was given by comrade Tchou-En-Lai in his report. He says to the members of the Party: ’go to this national-revolutionary army, strengthen it, elevate its fighting capacity, but do not conduct any independent work in it.’ Until recent times there were no cells in the army. Our comrade political advisers were exclusively concerned with the political-military work of the Kuomintang».
And further on: «The CC Plenum of December took the decision to create cells in the army, cells formed only of commanders with the prohibition of soldiers entering them».
The noose tied around the nooses of the masses of insurrectionary Chinese workers is solid and, unfortunately, indestructible. The whole movement is incorporated in the framework of the unity of all, exploited and exploiters, for an insubstantial war of “liberation”. At the bosom of the “purged” Party the proletarians are shoved all the way to the back, behind the intellectuals, in the unions it is proclaimed that the struggle between capitalist entrepreneurs and proletarians is a conflict “within the same class”, the armed peasants must be disciplined into the “national” army, while the “communist” cells are reserved for officers.
The noose was ready. It was pulled in Shanghai on April 12 of 1927, when Chang-Kai-Shek unleashed white terror against the masses.
Before discussing the events that follow, it’s necessary to highlight the spontaneous coupling, which should be defined as natural (to use terminology employed by Engels in his study on the course of the class struggle), between the movement of the masses and the Communist International. This is in order to answer to the many builders of revolutions, parties and Internationals that are swarming everywhere in other countries, and that in Italy fortunately do not come to light, who would like to suggest that in light of all this, that it’s clear that the Left made the mistake of not separating from the International before, and founding another organization.
The Chinese revolutionary movement is part of the same historical complex that had its origin in the Russian revolution and the Communist International. The precedents (the German defeat of 1923 and the events within the Russian party that followed) explain why this counter-revolutionary direction had become an inescapable historical necessity. And this same counter-revolutionary direction didn’t have to directly evoke the antagonistic force likely to overthrow it, but only to determine the premises for a much more distant reconstruction of the international organization of the proletariat, so distant that even today the historical possibilities do not present themselves, nor can they be determined by revolutionary militants.
The violent actions of Chang-Kai-Shek on April 12, 1927 closes the phase of the greatest revolutionary intensity in China. The Eighth Enlarged Executive of the International of May 1927 and the Plenum of the CC of the Chinese Party of August 7, 1927 would inaugurate a turning point in the tactics of the International.
When the situation goes to the left, as it did until April 1927, the bloc of the four classes repressed the masses under the discipline of the Kuomintang. The situation changes, it goes to the right, the International will go to the left, and in the two meetings mentioned above one can already see premonitions of what would be come to be known as the Canton “insurrection” of December 1927.
The united Kuomintang flows into the anti-worker terror of April 1927. A split is made in the “People’s Party” and a left-wing Kuomintang is formed in Ou-Thang. The Communists even enter the government while Stalin will proclaim that the «core of the Chinese revolution consists in the agrarian upheaval». The CC of the Chinese Party in the previously mentioned session declared that «we are in the presence of an economic, political and social situation favorable to insurrection, and that since it is no longer possible to start revolts in the cities (Chang-Kai-Shek, thanks to the Comintern’s tactics, was in charge of enforcing this impossibility), it is necessary to transport the armed struggle to the countryside. It is here that the hotbeds of the insurgency are to be found, while the city must be an auxiliary force». And said CC concludes: «it is necessary, wherever this is objectively possible, to immediately organize insurrections».
The result of this turn, characterized on one hand by an analysis that affirms the existence of a revolutionary situation while at the same time denying that it exists in the urban centers, and on the other hand by the participation of the communists in the government, was not long in manifesting itself through the terror of the left Kuomintang against the peasants who continued the struggle.
Thus we find ourselves at the “insurrection” of Canton in December 1927. The political evaluation that preceded this “insurrection” will be found in the Plenum of the CC of the Chinese Party of November 1927, about which the resolution of the Jiangsou Province of the Chinese Communist Party of May 7, 1929, provides interesting indications.
We recall that the sacrifice of the masses to the Kuomintang had led to the violent crushing of the labor movement in the cities, that the sacrifice of the peasant masses to the left Kuomintang had led to a similar violent repression of the peasants in the Hounan. And on that route we thus approach the final chapter of December of 1927.
Was it really an “insurrection”? The Ninth Enlarged Executive of the International which was to be held shortly thereafter, in February 1928, made «comrade N. responsible for the fact that there was no elected soviet in Canton» (underlined in the text of the resolution). In the communist movement there could be no doubt that the soviets appear only in the course of a revolutionary situation and that therefore either political conditions exist which create them, and then they can only be elected (apart from the formal and trivial question of the election, what matters is that they’re the spontaneous product of the movement of the masses in upheaval), or they do not exist and what exists is artfully constituted bodies that do not correspond in the slightest to a real possibility of the exercise of power by the proletariat that are then titled “Soviets”.
But, in fact, all we were witnessing was the maturing of the new turning point of the International, whose primitive elements are found in the 8th Enlargement and in the meeting of the CC of the Chinese Party of August 1927. The “insurrection” will be decided by the central organs precisely when the pre-requisites for its success no longer exist. It is only then that there’s will talk of a Soviet, of that most crucial word which had been strictly forbidden at the height of the revolutionary offensive of the masses, in the second half of 1926 and the first quarter of 1927. The proletarians of Canton (it should be noted that it was precisely the least proletarian city in China) were struggling against all the tendencies of the Kuomintang, and the “insurrection” was limited to a single center, historically isolated (since the revolutionary movement was obviously declining), and thus the only possible result was its quick defeat. In the meantime, the International gave itself a third counter-revolutionary medal (after those of Chang-Kai-Shek and Hunan) since a mortal blow was given to the revolutionary aspiration of the Chinese masses who now convinced themselves of the impossibility of the realization of their Soviet power.
Here, in the tactics followed in Canton, we have an anticipation of the tactics that will be followed in all countries from 1929 to 1934, the tactics of the “revolutionary offensive” of which we will speak in the next chapter. Our current at that time could only limit itself, on the one hand, to pointing out that the proletarian movement could only encounter, even in colonial China, the violent opposition of every landowning classes in the country and of all their political formations, on the other hand, to emphasize that the reasons for the immediate defeat weren’t due to the fact that proletarian power was impractical, but to the fact that these directives were given not when the objective conditions for revolutionary victory existed but precisely when they had already been sacrificed by the counter-revolutionary tactics of discipline to the Chinese bourgeoisie.
Beginning in 1928 the situation in China will take a leap backwards. Fragmentation will become even more serious than that which existed before the revolutionary movement of 1926-27, the generals will rule their own established zones as warlords, and “Communist China” will also arise. These are among the most backward regions of China where, alongside with the rudimentary forms of the primitive economy, persists the necessities of an even more intense exploitation of the masses than in other zones. The “communist” ruling clan will establish, together with the payment in kind of wages (a real market does not exist and the current system is that of barter), the compulsory conscription extended to the whole population, since the army has not only the military task of defending “the communist country”, but also the other economic and social task of sharing the products. At the current moment we cannot exclude the possibility of seeing a mobilization of the masses in defense of these extra-reactionary regimes, if the evolution of the capitalist world were to go through a phase of conflict between the United States and Russia in the Asian territories.
In the situation that opened up after the “Canton Insurrection” a violent controversy was established between our fraction and Trotsky. The respective fundamental positions are not new, but they were continuations, regarding the Chinese question, of the divergences which were determined at the IV and V Congress of the International. In the new circumstances which evidently no longer permitted the launching of the slogan for the proletarian dictatorship, Trotsky maintained that a transitional slogan must be raised in the question of power: that of the Constituent Assembly and of a democratic constitution in China. Our current, on the other hand, argued that if the non-revolutionary situation did not allow the fundamental slogan of dictatorship to be raised, if, therefore, the question of power no longer arises in an immediate form, that does not mean that the Party’s program should be reaffirmed in its entirety on the theoretical and propaganda level, while the retreat could only be carried out on the basis of the immediate claims of the masses and their corresponding class organizations.
In the course of all this controversy, voices reached our current that an opposition had been determined within the Trotskyist organization itself, but there was no possibility of establishing links with these militants; for while the possibilities of communication are being extended, the forms of cloistered solidification of non- and counter-revolutionary organizations are also being extended, and these will form a wall against the establishment of links between the forces of the revolution.
We have endeavored to give – within the narrow limits of an article – the most documented report on these formidable events which, taking place in an extremely backward economic environment, had shown the revolutionary possibilities of the proletarian class even in faraway China. As in England, a highly developed country, with the Anglo-Russian Committee, so also in China the International showed itself to be the decisive instrument of the counterrevolution, since it alone had the authority and the possibility to counter a revolutionary movement of incalculable historical importance, which ended in a disastrous failure of the communist movement.
4 – The Tactic of the Offensive and Social-Fascism
In the bosom of the socialist parties of the Second International, both before 1914 and when, in the immediate post-war period, between 1919 and 1921, communist parties were founded in all countries, we saw the reformist right and the revolutionary left hold complete opposite positions to each other in the organizational field of the political positions, with the former holding a position of unity and the latter looking to split away from the former. In Italy, it was the abstentionist fraction that – in strict accordance with the decisions of the 2nd Congress of the Communist International of September 1920 – took the initiative to split away from the “old and glorious Socialist Party”. While all the currents of this party, reformist right and maximalist left, including Gramsci and the Ordine Nuovo, were for unity “from Turati to Bordiga”.
The Communist International – under Lenin’s leadership – correctly followed Marx’s method in building the fundamental organ of the proletarian class: the class party. This can only arise on the basis of a rigorous definition of a theoretical program and of a corresponding political action which finds in the organization of the Party, exclusively limited to those who adhere to this program and to this action, the instrument capable of determining that shift of situations which is allowed by the degree of their revolutionary maturity. The fact that both the right wing and all the other intermediate political currents are for unity should not be surprising since, in the end, they act on a line the seeks the preservation of the bourgeois world. On the contrary, the Marxist left can only aim at the revolutionary takedown of this bourgeois world by realizing its principles in the ideological, theoretical and organizational field through that decisive split which determined the historical autonomy of the proletariat.
At the core of the Third International, the process is manifested in a different way. The influence, at first, and later the capture of this organization by capitalism is accomplished through the expulsion from its core of every current that does not submit to the counterrevolutionary decisions of the leading center. The fact that determines this modification is the presence of the proletarian State which – in the present historical phase of State totalitarianism – cannot tolerate any stumbling block, obstacle or opposition. If it is true that the bourgeois-democratic State can still tolerate those discussions or oppositions which, since they take place at the periphery of its activity, will never be able to disturb the evolution determined by the center found in the process of development of financial monopolism. On the other hand, as regards both the degenerating proletarian State and the bourgeois State of fascist type (resulting from the most advanced stage of the struggle between classes compared to the democratic one), the dictatorship of the ruling center is achieved by the exclusion of any possibility of opposition tendencies acting even in a peripheral field.
It is well known that, at Lenin’s time, the Russian Party experienced an intense activity of discussions within it, and that, until 1920, even organized fractions could exist within it. But this was then the period in which the adaptation of the politics of the proletarian State to the needs of the world revolution was being laboriously sought. Then the question was reversed and it became a matter of adapting the Party’s policy to that of the State, which was more and more obeying the changing and contradictory contingent necessities of its alignment with the general cycle of the historical evolution of the international capitalist regime into which it was about to be incorporated.
The ruling center must have absolute, monopolistic power over all organs of the State; it begins with expulsions from the Party, and ends with the summary execution not only of those who adamantly oppose the established course of the counterrevolution but even of those who attempt to save their lives by abjuring their previous opposition. Despite the capitulations, the different oppositions within the Russian Party are annihilated by violence and terror. Trotsky, for his part, remains steadfast in his uncompromising opposition to Stalin; but, as he traces over the course of the Russian Revolution the pattern of the French Revolution, he considers that the reversal of the function of the Russian State from revolutionary to counter-revolutionary can only be realized with the appearance of the Russian Bonaparte. Until this appearance, since the intense industrialization of Russia was impossible and a military attack of the rest of the capitalist world against Russia presented itself as inevitable, the conditions also exist for “straightening out” the International both from within and, when this proves impossible because of the purge regime in full swing in the International, also through the left-wings of the socialists.
The Italian Left, on the contrary, in strict connection with the same positions of Marx, Lenin and with the indicated procedure followed for the foundation of the Party in Livorno, never engaged in either Zinoviev’s way of capitulating to Stalin or Trotsky’s way of straightening out the International, but from the starting point of programmatic opposition in the political field it carried on the consequent fractionist course, constantly raising the problem of the substitution of the counter-revolutionary political body with a revolutionary one which remained in the orientation of the world revolution.
In a word, the socialist parties of the Second International were progressively corrupted by the force of inertia of the historical forces of bourgeois preservation which tried to attract in their circle the Marxist and proletarian tendency by keeping it chained in the core of a “United Party”. On the contrary, in the communist parties, because of the existence of the “proletarian” State, bourgeois pollution could only be achieved first through disciplinary elimination, and then through the violent extermination of every tendency which did not adapt itself to the changing needs of the counter-revolutionary evolution of this State: of those oriented towards the left as well as of the others towards the right; after the trial of Zinoviev there will be also that of the rightists Rykov and Bukharin.
On the political level, while the process of development of the reformist right follows a logical sequence which allows us to find the principles of the betrayal of 1914 and of Noske in 1919 in the theoretical assault of Bernstein and revisionism of the end of the last century, as far as the degenerative course of the Communist International is concerned, we will see a succession of political positions in violent contrast with each other. Trotsky sees, at the dawn of the “third period”, which we will be giving particular attention in this chapter (at the time of the Sixth Congress in 1928), a likelihood of a leftist orientation which would “straighten out” the International developing; our current, on the other hand, sees it as an episode of this whole developing process which was to lead the communist parties to become one of the essential instruments of world capitalism, a process which was destined to reach its completion unless it was broken by the victory of the fractions of the Marxist Left within the communist parties.
Moreover, our current did not conclude that, from the ever-increasing distance between the degenerating politics of the International and the program and interests of the proletariat, new parties had to be formed. The fact that this distance was widening while the historical process did not lead to an opposing reaffirmation of the proletarian class, urged us to not throw ourselves into adventures of the kind Trotsky proposed, which went so far as to advocate, after Hitler’s seizure of power in January 1933, entryism into the opposition of the socialist parties. Our fraction continued to prepare the conditions for proletarian recovery through a real understanding of the evolution of the capitalist world, into whose orbit Soviet Russia had also entered.
We have already seen, in the chapter devoted to the Chinese events of 1926-27, that the characteristic of the tactics of the International is given not only by opportunist positions, but by positions which are violently opposed to the immediate and finalist interests of the proletariat. The International cannot remain halfway, it must go all the way: the needs of the counter-revolutionary evolution of the State which is at its core demand it, which, after the triumph of the theory of “socialism in one country”, after having broken with the interests of the world proletariat, it could not simply remain suspended in mid-air, and had to go directly and violently to the side of the preservation of the capitalist world, against the interests of the workers.
When revolutionary possibilities existed in China, up to March 1927, the politics and tactics of disciplining the proletariat to be complacent towards the bourgeoisie were advocated; when these possibilities no longer existed, we turned to insurrectionism in Canton in December 1927; thus bringing to completion that political course which was to lead to the crushing of the Chinese proletariat.
In 1928 the gigantic economic crisis matures, breaking out in America the next year and from that spreading to the whole world. In 1928, the International’s tactics were still imbued with the criteria that was followed in England with the Anglo-Russian Committee and in China with the bloc of four classes.
The “insurrection” in Canton was still only an episode, which, as we have seen in the previous chapter, was even criticized – albeit in hushed tones – at the Enlarged Executive in February 1928. The events were to show, however, that this was by no means an incidental episode but a foreshadowing of what was to come in the tactics of the “third period” that would only be established in the following year. In the meantime, in France, the tactic of “republican discipline” (which went by the name of “Clichy tactic”) was applied and led the communists to ensure the election of socialist and radical-socialist senators against the right wing of Poincaré and Tardieu; in Germany the policy of the “popular” referendum against concessions to princes; while the Italian Party – in correlation with the policy followed in the first period of the Aventine in June-November of 1924 – launched the directive of the “Antifascist Committees” (a bloc that postulates the adhesion of socialists, reformists and all opponents of fascism). On the other hand, the CC of the Party wrote in a letter addressed to our current and published in issue no. 4 of August 1, 1928 of Prometeo (foreign edition): «We must also take the lead (underlined in the original) in the fight for the republic, but we must imbue this fight with class content at once. Yes, we must say, we too are for the republic guaranteed by an assembly of workers and peasants». The Italian republic has come and it – as we all know – is “guaranteed” by the assembly of workers and peasants, who in the barracks of Montecitorio watch anxiously over the success of the reconstruction of capitalist society after the upheavals caused by the war and the military defeat.
In 1928 the International remained within the framework of the tactics of 1926 and 1927 and acted as the left wing of the political blocs of bourgeois democracy.
Then it changes radically.
Let’s begin by examining the theoretical aspect of the new tactics, which would be progressively decided by the 9th Enlarged Executive (March 1928), by the 6th World Congress of the International and by the simultaneous 4th Congress of the Red Trade Union International in the summer of 1928, by the 10th Enlarged Executive of July 1929 and finally by the 11th Enlarged Executive of 1931.
In the “Theses on the Role of the Communist Party in the Proletarian Revolution” the 2nd Congress of the International had warned: «The concept of the party and that of the class must be kept strictly separate». The “tactic of the third period”, after having completely distorted the criteria of class delimitation, goes so far as to demagogically identify the class as those within the Party.
In the economic and social field, Marxism defines the proletarian class as the wage-earning worker in the capitalist regime and considers all those who live off their wages as part of it.
The transformation is now radical: those who compose most of the class are the part of the workers affected by the massive economic crisis, that is, the unemployed to whom the Nazi demagogy is also addressed. The Party, consequently, does not establish a plan of total mobilization of the proletariat, but limits its action to the mobilization of the unemployed. Correspondingly, unorganized workers are thus considered more conscious than the workers in the trade unions, and the “Revolutionary Trade Union Opposition” is founded, while any work in the trade unions led by “social-fascists” is neglected. The proletariat is thus split in two: the part controlled by the Party, which includes the vanguard, is separated from the rest of the working class and launched into offensive actions, which offered the best conditions for the success of capitalist repression.
In the political field, the new tactic does not aim to hit the capitalist class as a whole, but it isolates a section of its forces – social-democracy – which will be called “social-fascist”. In Germany, where at that time the main evolution of world capitalism was taking place, where the liquidation of the democratic staff was being prepared to be replaced by the Nazi one while the corresponding modification of the structure of the capitalist State was underway, the Comintern instead of preparing the proletariat’s class action against capitalism, called the masses to fight “social-fascism” in isolation as enemy number one, even making the Communist Party a supporter of Hitler’s attack for this end. And when Hitler took the initiative of a “popular” referendum to overthrow the Social-Democratic government of Prussia, the Party was in fact aiming at the same goal, since it didn’t intervene in the referendum in a general action against the capitalist class, but remained within the framework of the struggle against “social-fascism”.
On a more general political level, the Party’s policy is synthesized in the formula of “class against class”. The proletarian class is now defined as those in the Party and all organs annexed to it (Revolutionary Trade Union Opposition, Anti-Imperialist League, Friends of the USSR and the many other peripheral organizations): everything outside the Party and its annexes (and don’t forget that all the Marxist currents had been expelled from the Comintern) is the bourgeois class or more specifically “social-fascism”. The mass organizations no longer derive from the base of the capitalist economy but result from the initiative of the Party, while the union fractions are practically eliminated and for they lack a reason for existing, for the unions – acting outside the orbit of the Party, – are “social-fascist” organizations.
It is in this period that the great deity of the “political line of the Party” arises. How far removed we were from Lenin’s time when the tactical positions of the Party were subjected to the verification of events and a frantic attempt was made to determine their validity! By now the “political line” was consecrated as a divine institution and it became a crime not only to question its infallibility, but also not understanding its real hidden meaning. This was absolutely impossible, since the “political line of the Party” obeyed only the ever-changing specific needs of the Russian State to its new role as an instrument of world counter-revolution, and the only one who could reflect its vicissitudes was the executive center at the head of this State. As a result, there were repeated and abrupt turns of events which regularly left those Party leaders who, because they had not completely abandoned the faculty of reasoning and reflecting, showed that they were not “true” Bolsheviks, since they refused to defend today the total opposite of what they said yesterday with the same amount of passion.
One could, on the basis of a superficial analysis, consider that the successes achieved in the field of industrialization in Russia, the economic and therefore military strengthening of the Russian State and the simultaneous unleashing of the “revolutionary” offensive in other countries should have led to a violent retaliation against the Russian State by capitalism. Not only this did not happen, but shortly after Hitler’s rise in Germany, the United States officially recognized Russia, which – according to the statements of the Comintern leaders themselves – was a very important diplomatic victory, while the doors of the League of Nations – what Lenin accurately described as “the society of brigands” – opened to the entrance of Soviet Russia. This was the logical epilogue of the course followed by Comintern policy.
In fact there was a very close link between the successes of the five-year plans (made possible also thanks to the help of capitalism, which imported raw materials into Russia in exchange for grain exports, while bread rations were in extreme lack) and the policy of the “revolutionary offensive”. In Russia the “colossal victories of socialism” were actually the result of the intensified exploitation of the proletariat, and in other countries the proletarian class was made to be – thanks to the tactics of the “third period” – completely unable to fight back the capitalist offensive. And Russia’s victory in the field of industrialization and in the diplomatic field, along with Hitler’s conquest of power in Germany, were two aspects of the same course: the victorious course of the counter-revolution of world capitalism, both in Russia and in all other countries.
Let us now turn to a brief analysis of the official documents of the Comintern and the events that characterize the tactics of the “third period”. Why “third”? The Sixth World Congress specifies it the following way: 1st period (1917-23), between the revolutionary victory in Russia and the revolutionary defeat in Germany. That of the “acute crisis” of capitalism and the revolutionary battles; 2nd period (1923-28). That of the “capitalist stabilization”; 3rd period (which began in 1928 and was to end in 1935, when the change away from “social-fascism” to the Popular Front took place). That of the “radicalization” of the masses.
Let us begin by pointing out that this schematization of the situations has nothing to do with Marxism, which does not distinguish “periods” but represents the process of development that strictly ties situations together and in which the Marxist criteria of the struggle of the classes allow us to see the favorable and unfavorable fluctuations. These fluctuate, in the period from 1917 to 1927, from the revolutionary victory in Russia, and its reflection in the founding of the Communist International, - victory of international and internationalist principles – to the negation of this very principle, when, in the footsteps of the defeat of the revolution in China, the national and nationalist theory of “socialism in one country” will triumph.
The classification of the Sixth Congress left, for example, in the first period of the revolutionary advance the November 1922 in Italy, an event that had an exceptional importance not only for the Italian sector but for the entire political evolution of the capitalist world.
As for the characterization of the “third period”, the Sixth Congress will characterizes its analysis in the following way:
«War is imminent. Whoever dares to deny this imminence is not a “Bolshevik”. War not only between imperialisms (at this time the fundamental constellation is presented in the framework of the violent opposition of England and the United States), but also the war of all imperialisms against Russia: both England, which will see in it the “precondition for its further struggle against the American giant”, and the United States, which, if it has no urgent interest in overthrowing “socialism in Russia”, cannot but aim at extending its dominion in this country as well, would be “inevitably” led to it.
«The aggravation of the class struggle. “The proletariat does not remain on the defensive, but goes on the offensive”.
«The masses are all the more “radicalized” the more disorganized they are.
«The new role of social democracy that became “social-fascist”».
In 1926-27 social democracy is an ally to whom (see the Anglo-Russian Committee) the Comintern abandons the direction of the proletarian movements. Now it’s enemy number one. The Nazis unleash the offensive in Germany: the Party will not set up a plan of struggle against capitalism and on the basis of class struggle, but exclusively against “social-fascism”. At the same time, since the mass trade union organizations are framed as being a “social-fascist” organizational apparatus, it follows that it is necessary to abandon the masses there and move on to the construction of another organization: the “Revolutionary Trade Union Opposition”, which defends “the political line of the Party”.
Note the flagrant contradiction existing between the two theses: that of the revolution and that of the war. He who admits only one of them is a heretic. Therefore, the Marxist is a heretic by definition, by virtue of the materialist interpretation of history, which immediately notes that if one of those thesis is true, the other cannot but be false since such a thesis can only be based on the the reverse of what is actually observed in such situations in the course of the historical process that lead the war to its opposite: revolution.
The events proved that, point by point, the cornerstones of the new tactic were to be completely refuted. Indeed:
The war was not at all imminent in 1919 and when it broke out in 1939, the constellations were completely different, with England becoming the ally of the United States and these two imperialisms – the richest imperialisms – becoming in turn allies of the “socialist country”.
It wasn’t the working class that went on the offensive, but capitalism, which obtained its successes in Hitler’s victory in January 1933 and finally in the unleashing of the Second World Imperialist War.
We did not enter a “social-fascist” era, in Germany it’s just plain fascism that ultimately triumphs. Capitalism temporarily liquidates social democracy, except to call it back in the course of the war, when, in cahoots with democrats and national-communists on one side, fascists and national-socialists on the other, the capitalist world will plunge into the war of 1939-45.
Let us now turn to a brief summary of the most important facts, which characterized the “tactics of the third period”.
We have already indicated that the predominant political fact was Hitler’s coming to power in January 1933. There were many other political events in which this tactic had the chance to show its “virtues”, but, within the limits of a single article, we’ll limit ourselves to the essential, that is to say the events in Germany. It was in September 1930, only five months after German capitalism had dismissed the coalition government headed by the Social Democrat Mueller, that the fascist advance began. Contrary to what occurred in Italy in 1921-22, German Nazism followed a predominantly legalitarian tactic. The democratic mechanism is perfectly suited to achieve the conversion of the capitalist State from democratic to fascist, something that does not surprise a Marxist at all and that even the current national-communist and socialist dupes in government in Italy and elsewhere know. Instead of attacking the proletarian class-based strongholds, as the fascists did in Italy, with violence and under the protection of the democratic police, the German Nazis employ the method of the progressive legalitarian dismantling of the State apparatus of the leading positions held by their accomplices: the parties of democracy and German Social Democracy. This fact alone, of the possibility offered to capitalism of not having to necessarily resort to the extra-legal violence of fascist squads, is proof the profound modification which has taken place in the situation, in which the threat of the proletarian class party no longer acts.
This reality was, naturally, reversed by the Comintern. In an article by Ercoli (Stato Operaio, September 1932) we read among other things: «the first difference (between the Nazi assault in Germany and the Fascist one in Italy – editor’s note), the most important one, the one that immediately jumps to the eye, is the one between the period in which the March on Rome took place and the present period. At that time we were at the end of the first postwar period and on the eve of the period of stabilization of capitalism. Today we are at the heart of the third period, at the heart of an economic crisis of unprecedented breadth and depth, of a crisis that has had and has its most serious manifestations precisely in Germany... Secondly, it is necessary to stop the attention on the line of development of the mass movement». “Downward line” (in Italy), while in Germany «the decisive fights are still ahead of us and the mass movement is developing on an upward line, in the direction of these decisive fights». In reality the decisive fights of the masses lay neither ahead nor behind and just a year later Hitler was handed the government by Hindenburg. The Party, which a few days earlier had organized a “colossal” demonstration at the Sportpalast in Berlin, was to completely fall apart on the same day of Hitler’s rise to power.
The essential moments of the Nazi advance are: August 9, 1931, the plebiscite against the Social Democratic government of Prussia, a plebiscite requested by Hitler.
The elections for the presidency of the Reich on March 13, 1932. On the level of electoral tactics the question of the party’s intervention both in the plebiscite organized by the Fascists and in the elections with a candidate of its own, against Hindenburg and Hitler, can offer no doubt. The Communists could not lend themselves to the Social Democratic maneuver and had to intervene; but there were two ways of intervening. The Marxist way of turning these two electoral manifestations into opportunities to spread propaganda aimed at mobilizing the proletariat on a class basis against the capitalist regime, which meant engaging in a fight against the evolution that was taking place in the capitalist State from democratic to fascist, an evolution that could only be fought by the proletariat and its party against all capitalist forces (democratic and fascist) which were solidly united in their support of Nazism; and the way that comes from the “tactic of the third period”, consisting in detaching these two electoral manifestations from the real process in which they were embedded by making them two episodes of validation of the “political line of the party” which no longer fights the bourgeois class but only one of its forces: “social-fascism”. The plebiscite organized by the fascists to overthrow the Prussian social-democratic government of Braun-Severing becomes the “red plebiscite” to be used as a validation of the “party policy”. In the presidential elections the masses are called upon to vote against Hitler and Hindenburg and for the party leader Thälmann, but not for the proletarian dictatorship. Rather, it was for the realization of the “program of national emancipation”. Now, since that, in said elections, there were so many episodes in the transformation of the bourgeois State from democratic to fascist, the Party’s participation, which didn’t struggle against capitalism but against “social-fascism”, could only lead to facilitate the said transformation of the State. That is to say, in the first case it was a question of realizing the expulsion of the socialists from the Prussian government, and in the second case of entrusting the Party with the objective of “national emancipation”. It is therefore clear that the Party was taking a position competing with that of the Nazis, and if the events of the time led to the victory of Nazism, nothing excludes that in the present situation the same program will be raised by the “unified socialist party” of Germany which, under the hegemony of Russian imperialism, speaks of “national emancipation” against the same “national emancipation” that Anglo-Saxon imperialism wants to achieve for its own profit.
As for the party’s policy in the social field, it also came from the above-mentioned criteria of the struggle against “social-fascism”, of the multiplication of skirmishes, of the “politicization of strikes”.
Wherever the catastrophic economic crisis creates a movement of resistance by the workers and specially of the unemployed, the party immediately intervenes to make it an episode of “revolutionary” agitation with the result always being the minority getting machine-gunned while the rest of the demoralized working masses observe the victorious advance of the capitalist offensive. The most characteristic episode of this tactic occurred in the demonstration of May 1, 1929 in Berlin, when Zörgiebel – the social-democratic police chief, and a worthy successor of Noske – was able to kill thirty three workers without any mass involvement, as the masses didn’t participate in the demonstrations against “social-fascism” in the slightest.
While the Nazi movement moved forwards in gigantic steps, “L’Internationale Communiste” in its issue of May 1, 1932, after the presidential elections, noted «the peculiar recoil of the party in the industrial regions, a recoil which is manifested precisely in those regions where the National Socialists have achieved a series of great victories».
But that is not why the drum of demagogy will be silent. Thälmann declares, «we will sow disintegration in the camp of the bourgeoisie. We will widen the breach in the ranks of social democracy and increase the process of effervescence in the bosom of this party. We shall form still deeper breaches in the Hitler camp».
This tactic, which, as we have seen, is ultimately one of competing with Nazi policy, receives no other justification from the International than the evocation of the role previously played by the Social Democrats. The Stato Operaio issue of July-August 1931, in an article intended to justify the policy of the German party, writes: «Who accuses the Communists of being the allies of Fascism?.. They are the police ministers of Prussia, the executioners of workers, and Mr. Pietro Nenni, a fascist from the beginning. These considerations are enough to judge the cause».
When Hindenburg, on January 30, 1933, handed power over to Hitler, we witnessed in essence the replication in Germany of that victory of international capitalism which had been consecrated in Russia in December 1927, when the “theory of Socialism in one country” triumphed. A simple inversion of terms in the same formula. In Russia socialist nationalism, in Germany national-socialism. Thus were established the premises that kickstarted the path of the world towards the second world imperialist war, after the intermediate stages of Ethiopia and Spain.
The defeat inflicted on the international proletariat in Germany does not arouse much of a reaction within the International against the tactics followed by the Comintern. Manuilski rejoiced at this and declared at the plenary meeting of the Executive of the International (see the Stato Operaio issue of February 1934): «The attitude on the German question was a touchstone for the degree of Bolshevization of the sections of the Communist International, for their Bolshevik temperament, for their ability to face head-on the abrupt turns of the situation. It must be recognized with satisfaction at this Plenum that the Sections of the Comintern have passed this test with honor. Reflect on what would have happened if these events had occurred a few years ago when the Bolshevization of the Parties of the International was being accomplished through continuous crises. They would undoubtedly have provoked a profound crisis in the Comintern». It’s impossible to be more cynical and at the same time so explicit about the meaning of “Bolshevization”. Manuilski tells us unequivocally: it is the full success of Bolshevization that immunizes the International from any reaction against the success of the tactics of competing with Hitler’s offense in Germany. After this decisive test, the Comintern proved itself perfectly suited for the next phase of warmongering policy in Spain, right before it became the accomplice of the democratic and fascist forces in the course of the Second World Imperialist War.
The events in Germany were to accentuate the gap between Trotsky’s political positions and those of our current, a gap which had already manifested itself not only on international questions in Trotsky’s criticism of the Comintern’s policy during the German events of 1923, a criticism which Bordiga judged insufficient (see “The Trotsky Question” by A. Bordiga), but also – as we have seen in previous chapters – on the Russian and Chinese questions.
Trotsky, tracing on the German situation the tactics followed by the Bolshevik Party between 1905 and 1917, and particularly the tactics applied in September 1917 at the time of Kornilov’s threat against Kerensky’s government, started from the premise that Social Democracy was historically a force of opposition to the fascist attack, and concluded that a united front should be advocated to oppose the Nazi attack. And our current was accused by Trotsky of “Stalinism” because it repeated, with respect to the German situation in 1930-33, the policy followed by the Party of Italy in 1921-22, which consisted of a united trade-union front for partial claims resulting in a mobilization of the working class, as a whole, against the capitalist class. On the other hand, as far as the question of power is concerned, for us the central position of the Proletarian Dictatorship had to remain unchanged and could not know any substitute. Trotsky not only did not accept the controversy with our current, but, intolerant of its criticism of the International Opposition, he could find no other solution than the administrative one of our expulsion from said International Opposition, sanctioned in 1932. Trotsky did not understand that it was not possible to judge the evolution of the capitalist State of 1930-33 according to the evolution which had been determined in the period preceding the First World Imperialist War. If before the capitalist State evolved according to the democratic procedure, this depended on the historical particularities of the period. In the period of financial imperialism, and where the struggle between the classes had reached its culminating point, the State was led – by the new historical circumstances – to evolve in a totalitarian and fascist direction, and all the political forces of capitalism could only favor and contribute in solidarity to this outcome. The result was that social democracy, although destined to be one of the victims of this process, could only be a factor in its development, while only the proletarian class and its class party could determine the rupture of this course of the capitalist State. This course could be explained not by historical precedents but by the dialectics of the struggle between classes in its most advanced phase.
The International, founded for the triumph of the world revolution, thus establishes the “tactics of the third period”, which facilitates and supports the triumph of Nazism in Germany. The path that had begun in 1927 continues tragically and only the scattered patrols of the Italian left remain in the barricades to defend Marxist positions.
5 – The Tactics of Anti-Fascism and the Popular Front (1934-38)
Hitler’s coming to power (January 30, 1933) did not immediately bring about a radical change in the Comintern’s tactics, which continued to focus on the formula of anti-fascism that we examined in Chapter 4.
The Second International launches a proposal to boycott German products and invites the Comintern to participate in an international campaign designed to raise the indignation of the “civilized world against Nazi tyranny”. The Comintern refused, but did not present any objection in principle, which it could hardly have done since in 1929, at a time when the tactic of alliance with social democracy had not yet been abandoned, it was the Comintern that proposed a vast international action for the boycott of Fascist Italy. And at that time it was the Second International that hesitated to go through with it, thus providing the pretext for the use of the same method by the Comintern after the advent of Hitler in power.
The “boycott” of German products, since it implies the incorporation of the proletarian movement into the bosom of “anti-fascist” capitalism, remains fully within the logic of social-democratic policy, which since 1914 had appealed to the working masses to throw themselves into the war between the capitalist States by making common cause with that imperialist alliance which claimed to be fighting “for freedom and civilization”. The class which, both in the field of production and in the field of international trade, could decide to boycott or not a given sector of the world economy, was evidently the bourgeois class. The appeal to this class by Social Democracy was nothing new, but the confusion which already reigned in the ranks of the proletarian vanguard was made evident by the fact that the Trotskyist movement, which was moving towards the entryist tactics – that is to say, of joining the socialist parties in order to reinforce their left wings – and the SAP (Sozial Socialist Party), born from the conjunction of the left-wing currents of the German Communist and Socialist parties, adhered to this campaign.
We have already said that the Comintern had not taken a direct and class-based position against the proposal of the Second International. And that’s rather natural if one takes into account that the whole tactic of “social-fascism” had been ultimately a tactic of competing with Nazi movement rather than destroying it, and that the advent of Hitler implied a better organization of Russian-German economic exchanges. In correspondence with the increasing intervention of the State also in the economic field, special provisions were made by Hitler for a State guarantee in favor of industrial groups that received orders from Russia and had to wait a very long time for payment.
On the international level, Russian diplomacy acted on a peripheral line and Litvinov met with the Italian and German delegations at the Conference of Disarmament in Geneva, to support the “pacifist” thesis of disarmament by plans, of immediate realization, against the French thesis, equally “pacifist” and based on the formula of the pre-eminence of the notion of security (i.e. trying to guarantee that the victors of Versailles remained on top) over the notions of arbitration and disarmament.
It was at this time that Mussolini conceived the idea of the Four-Power Pact (France, Germany, England and Italy); the idea of the Four Greats, which would be taken up by the arch-democratic Byrnes in 1946 and supported by the Labourite Bevin, although the actors had changed.
The Four-Power Pact signed in Rome on June 7, 1933 states: “The High Contracting Parties agree to consult on all questions which appertain to them and to pursue within the framework of the League the policy of effective cooperation between all Powers with a view to the maintenance of peace”. The Pact is signed for ten years and contains the hypothesis of a revision of the treaties. This hypothesis had already become a reality, since, after the moratorium proclaimed in 1931 by Hoover, at the Lausanne Conference in 1932 – when there was still a “democratic” government in Germany – Germany was explicitly released from the payment of reparations.
It is well known that Hitler dismantled the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles one by one, not through parliamentary-type consultations, but through major twists and turns. Four months after the signing of the Four-Power Pact, Hitler left the League of Nations and held a spectacular plebiscite. This system of the “fait accompli”, of the “fist on the table” fully responded to the needs of the accentuated preparation of the masses for war and Hitler was forced to resort to it by the fact that the German economy could find no other way out of the situation than an immediate intensification of war industry. And, for this, it was necessary a contemporary and plebiscitary adhesion of the masses. The “democratic” powers temporarily left it at that, waiting for the international situation to reach the point of saturation needed for the unleashing of World War II.
But the essence of the Four-Power Pact consisted above all in a maneuver of distancing Russia from Europe and at the same time in an orientation of support to Germany so that it would overflow not towards the French-English West, but towards the Russian East and particularly towards Ukraine.
It is in these particular international contingencies that the new tactics of the Comintern of anti-fascism and the Popular Front mature: Russia is oriented towards the “democratic” powers. In the fall of 1933, the United States de jure recognized Russia, and the Rundschau wrote an article entitled: A victory of the USSR – A victory of the world revolution.
On the political level, the first symptom of the change of tactics is seen in the Leipzig trial in December 1933. The Dutch anarchist Van der Lubbe, who had set fire to the Reichstag building on February 27, 1933, one month after Hitler had seized power, was to be tried. The Comintern and the Second International immediately unleashed an obscene demagogic campaign: it’s Fascism, Nazism, that has destroyed the sanctity of German democracy; a counter-trial will be organized in the epicenter of the most conservative capitalism, in London; a “Brown Book” will be published by the anti-fascists and Hitler, who magnificently grasped the real meaning of this filthy world farce, will add additional notes to the sacred universal indignation against this attack on the seat of bourgeois democracy: the foreign press will be admitted to the Leipzig trial where one of the defendants, the centrist Dimitrov, will conclude by saying, «I demand, in consequence, that Van der Lubbe be condemned because he acted against the proletariat». And the Nazi judges “avenge” the proletariat, since Van der Lubbe is sentenced to death and then executed, while the other centrist defendants will be acquitted and washed of the “infamous accusation”.
In the shadow of all this international outrage, meanwhile, Hitler’s ferocious repression of the German proletariat develops. While the campaign around the Leipzig trial reached the height of its publicity, only a few lines are devoted to the simultaneous Dessau trial (November 28, 1933), reduced to an insignificant episode of news: «Ten death sentences were pronounced by the Court of Dessau against communists accused of having killed a Hitlerite paramilitary soldier».
We have seen, in the 4th Chapter devoted to the “social-fascism” tactic, that Hitler followed tactics different than that of fascism in Italy in 1921-22, and thus his actions largely revolved around a legalitarian plan of progressively dismantling the German democratic institutions of his social-democratic accomplices. Thus an incredible opportunity was presented to Marxist revolutionaries to set up an international action aimed at arresting the hand of the Nazi executioner who fell on the anarchist Van der Lubbe responsible for having set fire one of the fundamental institutions of capitalism, which moreover had served so well to facilitate Hitler’s rise to power! But Marxist revolutionaries had been reduced to the small circle of the Italian Left current which imposed the struggle on class bases both against the victorious Nazism and against the succumbing democracy in Germany, as even Trotskyists ran to the defense of of social democracy by deciding to join the socialist parties.
As we have said, it’s on the international level and on the level of the particular and specific interests of the Russian State that the new tactics of the Comintern are based on. The formula of “social-fascism” will be succeeded by its complete opposite, the formula of anti-fascism, of the democratic bloc, of the defense of democracy, of the struggle against the factionists (the fascists), a tactic which passes through the defense of the Negus of Ethiopia, the anti-Francoist struggle, and finally falls into the establishment of voluntarism through the movements of the “Resistance” in the course of the Second World Imperialist War.
In Russia, in 1932, the first Five-Year Plan had achieved complete success. Realized in four years instead of five, it had, in heavy industry, surpassed the goals set at the beginning. In the first chapter of this examination of the Comintern’s tactics, we pointed out that if we cannot imagine any opposition between the first plans conceived by Lenin in 1918 and the considerations of principle which induced Lenin to make the retreat which goes by the name of the NEP, on the other hand an opposition of principle exists between Lenin’s first economic plans, the NEP, and Stalin’s five-year plans. Following in the footsteps of Marx and his schematizing on the capitalist economy, Lenin’s idea on the indispensable planning of the economy was based on the development of the consumer industry to which the development of productive industry had to adapt itself to. The NEP itself is based on this consideration of principle, and there would have been no need to carry it out if the objective had been not the elevation of the living conditions of the workers, but the other one of a purely capitalist type – of an intense accumulation for the development of heavy industry. Lenin would have had no need to make concessions to the peasants and the petty-bourgeoisie – economic and political elements not useful but harmful to the achievements of large-scale industry – but these concessions were necessary in order to keep the orientation of the Soviet economy on the line of a constant improvement of the living conditions of the workers. Stalin broke with Lenin’s Marxist principles both on the internal economic terrain in Russia, when he instituted the five-year plans which could only reach the heights of industrialization through an intensified exploitation of the workers, and on the political terrain with the expulsion from the Comintern of every tendency that remained on the international and internationalist level by opposing the theory and the national and nationalist policy of “socialism in one country”.
The first Five-Year Plan thus meets with total success. Following in the footsteps of his capitalist cronies in all countries, Stalin embarks on the Second Five-Year Plan (1932-1936) claiming that it is now a matter of realizing objectives that in reality have completely different aims to those declared. Since its rise to power, capitalism has always said that the improvement of the general living conditions of the workers depends on the development of the economy and that the greater the amount of production, the greater will be the share reserved for the workers. When the Second Five-Year Plan was being prepared, Stalin said the same thing: heavy industry had been reconstructed, it was now a question of reconstructing the other branches of the Soviet economy and consequently of improving the standard of living of the workers. It was in the course of the Second Five-Year Plan that the new deity, Stakhanov, was born; the essence of socialism became a race for the maximum output of labor and at the same time for the strengthening of the economic and military possibilities of the Soviet State, on the altar of which every demand of the workers regarding wages had to be sacrificed.
This economic orientation does not find any possibility of Marxist push-back from within the Russian Party, and when, at the end of 1934, Nikolayev resorts to an assassination attempt on the Secretary of the Leningrad Party, Sergei Kirov, a ferocious repression befalls the “Leningrad Center”. Stalin, anticipating the procedures that Nazis and democrats will apply during the Second World Imperialist War, goes on to enact reprisals. No trial and 117 people shot. In the meantime, Litvinov joined, in Geneva, a motion that condemned terrorism and supported “Marxist” arguments according to which Marxism and terrorism are irreconcilable. Russia, in order to finance the second plan and obtain the essential raw materials must export wheat. By virtue of the invoked prospects of improvement of the workers’ conditions, the CC of the Russian Party abolishes on January 1, 1935 the bread charter and the rationing of agricultural products. Thus the workers were forced to increase their work effort so that their salaries would allow them to obtain supplies on the free market, since the “proletarian” State no longer guaranteed – through the State warehouses – the control of basic necessities.
It is therefore by force of considerations inherent to the Soviet State on the international level, and in growing opposition to the interests of the Russian workers, that the change in the Comintern’s tactics matures.
The cruel Chinese defeat of 1927 had definitively dragged the Communist International into the vortex of betrayal: only those who wanted to fight for the national and nationalist program of “socialism in one country” could now belong to the International of the Revolution. The others, the internationalists, were first expelled and then, in Russia and Spain, massacred; in other countries they were put on the Index, and insofar as the connivance of the Communist Parties with the apparatus of the bourgeois State was accentuated – this “democratic State” was asked to prove by deeds its “anti-fascist” virtues by abandoning all prevarication and employing repressive violence against the “Trotskyists”. Everyone who opposes the counter-revolutionary direction of the International is accused of “Trotskyism”. As in the epoch that followed the liquidation of the First International, the political scene was now occupied by a single signifier which not only increases the dispersion of the movement and adds to its ideological confusion but tends to polarize the attention of the few revolutionary proletarians who survived this tragic massacre around an absolutely inoffensive banner.
In 1866-70 everyone was called an anarchist, Marx included, and it’s known that Marx’s proposal to move the headquarters of the First International from Europe to America was due to his conviction that the new historical situation determined by the defeat of the Commune did not contain the possibility of maintaining an international organization of the proletariat. Its maintenance could only favor the victory of anarchist tendencies against those which were truly proletarian and revolutionary. After 1927 the epithet in vogue was that of “Trotskyist”. Worst of all, Trotsky himself fell into this trap and let the international organization of the Opposition qualify itself as “Trotskyist”. When Marx had said that he was not a Marxist, he wanted to show that the theory and politics of the proletariat are enucleated in the course of the class struggle, that they constitute a method of knowledge and interpretation of history, not a set of biblical verses to be recited after employing all the sacraments necessary to establish the will of the creator. And Trotsky – definitively breaking with what had been the division of Marx, Engels and Lenin, on the fundamental problem of the construction of the Party of the proletarian class – noted that Hitler’s victory nullified the possibility of “straightening out” the Communist International and after an analysis of the situation where an exposé on the Comintern replaced the Marxist understanding of reality, he launched himself into entryist adventures in the left-wings of the Socialist parties. On the political level he gets stuck in the historical hypothesis that not Stalin but Hitler is the super-Wrangel that will concentrate the attack of international capitalism against a Russia that’s been brought to ruin by the impossibility of the realization of the five-year plans. While this political scheme was to be fully denied by the events, the concentration of the proletarian vanguard on the defense of the Russian State, brought to disaster by Stalin, made the political noise that Trotsky and his organization made in every country completely harmless: not only could Stalin, from the moment he had been able to bend the Russian proletariat over and force it to endure intense exploitation, carry out the five-year plans, but the Soviet State, incorporated into the system of world capitalism, was to know not disaster but victory in the course of the 1939-45 war. By seeing everywhere – even in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia – an episode of the struggle of world capitalism against Russia, when this Russian State was by then – in the same way as the democratic and fascist States – an instrument of the world counter-revolution, Trotsky, who had been one of the greatest leaders of the October Revolution, had become completely impotent in his fight against capitalism; and the epithet of Trotskyist affixed to everyone was an additional element of the ideological confusion in which the proletariat lay; and all the more so since Trotsky and his organization saw growing revolutionary success in the fact that their political merchandise saw great successes in newspaper publicity.
After the outbreak of the world economic crisis of 1929, the Comintern completely reversed terms of the political maneuver that led to the immobilization of the proletarian class: first alliance with the trade-union leaders and Chang-Kai-Shek, then the struggle against “social-fascism”. Although the terms change, the substance remains the same. And, in the course of these two phases of the tactics of the progressive dismantling of the proletarian class both in Russia and in other countries, the Comintern relies on a multiplicity of subsidiary bodies which foster the ideological and political dispersion of the proletariat. In the course of the first period these subsidiary bodies are polarized around the slogan of anti-fascism, in the course of the second period – that of social-fascism – the polarization is made around the formula of the struggle against war and the defense of the USSR.
After Hitler’s victory, we move towards the tactics of the Popular Front and the social-fascists of yesterday become “progressive democrats” of today. But the evolution of the economic and political situation demanded a corresponding advance on the road to the inclusion of the working masses in the capitalist State. Until 1934 the Comintern found in all peripheral bodies a good-enough vehicle for advancing its counter-revolutionary positions; from 1934, when the capitalist world can find no other way out of the formidable economic crisis which devastates it besides preparing for the second world imperialist conflict, it must go further and make the masses accept as their objective the modification of the form of government of the bourgeois class. The movement of the masses must be reunited with and welded to the capitalist State, and this is the new tactic of the Popular Front, whose experimental center is first in France and then in Spain. It is not at all surprising that the Soviet State, which had decisively and definitively broken with the interests of the Russian and international proletariat in 1927, can so casually make such radical and contradictory changes, and that the Comintern’s policy follows the same line. Mussolini had already made it clear, in 1923, when he boasted of having been the first to de jure recognize the Russian State, that this didn’t commit him to making the slightest modification to his fiercely anti-communist policy. Hitler reiterated the same thing after taking power.
In fact, the point of welding between the politics of the bourgeois States is on a class basis, and in this respect the conjunction is perfect between Stalin’s anti-communist policy and that of all the other capitalist governments which re-establish “normal” relations with the Russian State which has become a “normal” State of the international capitalist class. The reflection in the international field of this anti-communist policy, which is common to both democratic and fascist States and as well as to the Soviet State, is one that formally is expressed in contradictory terms, while substantially the line followed is the same and tends towards the outcome of the imperialist conflict where all “ideals” will be magnificently commercialized to stuff the brains of the workers to manage to get all the proletarians of different nations to slit each others’ throats in a grand new imperialist conflict.
Marx, in “Critique of the Gotha Program”, refutes the Lassallian idea of the existence of a single reactionary bourgeois class, because Lassalle’s simplistic analysis led not only to the impossibility of understanding the intricate social process that capitalism manages to polarize to its advantage, but also the impossibility of welding the proletarian movement to those purely capitalist forces that do not belong to a category qualified as “conservative”. Those who are moving along the line of Lassalle, who conceived a statist socialism based on Bismarck, are the political forces who claim that they want to “correct” the abuses of capitalism when in fact they ensure the success of these abusive forms, the only forms that can exist in capitalism in its historical phase of decadence, the phase of imperialist and monopolist capitalism.
Despite the fact that in Germany and Italy these forces are called fascist, while in France they are called socialist and communist, the political program is the same, and if Blum can’t carry it out, while Hitler above all obtains indisputable successes in State interventionism, this depends on the different particularities of the two capitalist States and on the place they occupy in the process of the progression of capitalism in its international expression.
As for the contrasting formal expression of a process which is international and unitary, as for the fact that one State is called fascist and the other democratic, that bourgeois domination is exercised in one country under one particular form, in another country under another form, the matter presents no difficulty of understanding for Marxists. The bourgeois class, which is a whole, a whole of which we cannot – unless we leave the straight path of Marxism – separate one section from the whole and to present in opposition against the whole, has seen, in the period of development coinciding with the end of the last century, a clash between its political and social forces of right and left (the conservative and the democratic), but in the historical phase of its decline it can only use the old division into right and left for the purposes of propaganda and the interests of its domination over the proletariat.
Both the Popular Front of France and Nazi Germany are on the same plane imposed on capitalism by history, and if one resorts to anti-fascist ideology while the other resorts to Nazism, the aim is the same: to frame the masses under the firm discipline of the State in order to launch them into war massacres. The relations between the different bourgeois States have no fixed character since they’re dependent on their evolution in the international field and on the impossibility of the intervention of an element of conscious and voluntary guidance of the different bourgeoisies. Churchill is an example of how one can remain consistently and fiercely anti-communist while very easily going from fighting to being allied to Russia or Germany.
In this becoming of the unitary process of the State in the imperialist phase of capitalism, we witness the fact that certain States find in the States opposed to them for the defense of their interests the political material that facilitates the mobilization of the masses away from their class-based goals and into their station wagon of war. In January 1933, in correspondence with Hitler’s rise to power, we see the realization in France of a government formula that seemed as leftist as could be, given the contingencies of the moment, while Daladier is called to government by a parliament that had known, in 1932, an electoral victory of the left.
As for the politics of the Russian State and the corresponding tactics of the Comintern, they were everywhere counterrevolutionary but took on contradictory expressions over time. It is that of “social-fascism” in l930-33, because the objective of international capitalism is then concentrated in the victory of Hitler. Once this terrible defeat was inflicted on the German and world proletariat, and this victory was solidly established, the objective shifted to other countries and particularly France. The result is the policy that will be specified in the formula of the Popular Front, a policy that will do the business of both French and German capitalism, as well as the capitalisms of all other countries. The idea of fatherland will be positively invoked by both sides, since it is clear that on both sides of the barricade there is now only one aim: to threaten “national integrity” with war.
The essence of the new tactic is therefore the integration of the proletariat into the respective State apparatuses, while the constant changing of international objectives of capitalism is what really determines the anti-fascism or pro-fascism of the Soviet State and the formal expression of the Comintern’s tactics: alliance with social democracy, then “social-fascism”, then the Popular Front.
We have seen in the first parts of this chapter, in what the essence of the Comintern’s new curve-ball from “social-fascism” to “anti-fascism” consisted. The economic crisis which first appeared in New York in 1929 and then spread to all countries had found no other solution after 1934 than the preparation of the second imperialist war. In correspondence with the economic reality that imposed on capitalism the need for the radical solution of war, the communist parties had also to become extreme, having become instruments of counterrevolution and accomplices of the other bourgeois forces, whether they be fascist, socialist or democratic. If previously the communist parties oriented their moves towards an inevitable defeat, now they channel their energies into the outlet of their respective capitalist States.
Just as the theory of social-fascism had no direct bearing on countries not threatened by a fascist attack, and its international character resulted from the fact that Germany – where this tactic was of decisive importance – was at that time the pivot of world capitalist evolution, so did the new anti-fascist tactic have no direct impact on the countries where fascism was firmly established (Germany, Italy), but it was of great importance in France at first, and then in Spain, i.e. in the two countries where not only where the classes there engaged in furious struggle, but where an apparatus for keeping international order was being developed, which was to work to its full capacity during the 1939-45 war.
In the course of this period (1934-38) the particular character of the political evolution in which we are still immersed in becomes apparent for the first time. Contrary to what generally happened in all countries and particularly in 1898-1905 in Russia, when the impetuous strikes generated the affirmation of the class party, the powerful Austrian, French, Belgian and Spanish movements not only did not determine the affirmation of a proletarian and Marxist vanguard, but leave the Italian communist left, which remained faithful to the revolutionary postulates of internationalism against the anti-fascist war and of the destruction of the capitalist State and of the founding of the proletarian dictatorship against the participation or the influence of the State in an anti-fascist direction, in fatal isolation.
Parallel to the success of the maneuver that was supposed to lead the capitalist State to tighten its tentacles on the masses and its movements, we witness the detachment between these movements and the vanguard, if not the total non-existence of the latter. The events confirm in an unequivocal way the thesis masterfully developed by Lenin in “What Is To Be Done?”, that the socialist consciousness cannot be the spontaneous result of the masses and their movements, but is rather the result of the importation in their very core of the class consciousness elaborated by the Marxist vanguard. The fact that this vanguard is unable to influence situations of great social tension, in which huge masses take part in an armed struggle, as was the case in Spain, does not alter in any way the Marxist doctrine, which does not consider that the proletarian class exists because a social and political bloc passes to the armed struggle against the one in power, but it only directs the proletarian class if its objectives and postulates are those of the developing social agitation. In the case where the masses go into struggle for objectives which, not being theirs, can only be those of the capitalist enemy, this social convulsion is but a moment in the confused and antagonistic development of the capitalist historical cycle which – to use an expression of Marx – has not yet matured the material conditions of its negation.
Marxist analysis allows us to understand that if social-fascism was a tactic that was inevitably meant to facilitate and accompany Hitler’s victory in January 1933, the tactic of anti-fascism was even more critically the case, because its objective went far beyond and from falsely siding with the masses in their struggle, still nonetheless explicitly against the capitalist State, it passed, with the tactic of anti-fascism, to advocate the integration of the masses in the core of the anti-fascist capitalist State.
It is not strange that, in the face of such a powerful and formidable capitalist organization comprising democrats, social-democrats, fascists and communist parties, the resistance of the Austrian proletariat in February 1934, which at times took on heroic aspects, was not capable of even putting a dent to the evolution of world events that had been definitively consecrated by the violent degeneration of the Soviet State, which had become, under the leadership of Stalin, an effective instrument of world counterrevolution.
On February 12, when the proletarians of Vienna rebelled, it was the very Christian Dolfuss who had the cannons aimed at the workers’ city of Vienna, the “Karl Marx” district, but behind these cannons stood the Second and Third International. The former had constantly restrained the proletarian reactions against Dolfuss’ plan of corporatist organization, the latter, which had previously excelled in mounting international demonstrations set up on purely artificial bases, let the proletarians be slaughtered and took care not to launch an appeal to the proletarians of all countries to show their solidarity in favor of the Austrian proletariat.
In the first days the organs of the Belgian and French socialist parties try to appropriate the heroism of the Vienna insurgents, but a few days later the synchronization is perfect.
Bauer and Deutsch, the leaders of the Schutzbund (the paramilitary organization of Austrian social-democracy) in a February 18 interview with the organ of Belgian social democracy, “Le Peuple”, stated:
«For many months our comrades had endured provocations of all sorts, always hoping that the government would not push things to the brink so that a final collision could be avoided. But the last provocation, that of Linz, brought the exasperation of our comrades to a boiling point. It is known, in fact, that the Heimwehren had threatened the governorship of Linz with resignation from their functions and with the decapitation of all municipalities with a socialist majority. It is understood that on Monday morning, when the Heimwehren attacked the Linz People’s House at gunpoint, our comrades refused to allow themselves to be disarmed and defended themselves energetically. In consequence, the Central Directorate of the Party could only obey this signal of struggle. That is why it launched the order for the general strike and the mobilization of the “Schutzbund”. This purely proletarian explosion was not at all in the political line of Austrian and international social democracy. They were perfectly aligned on the front of a diplomatic action of the left-wing French government, whose foreign minister Paul Boncour wanted to make the Austrian workers’ movement serve the interests of the French State: this was meant to hinder Hitler’s expansionism and was supported – at that time – even by Mussolini who, in July 1934, when Dolfuss was assassinated by the Nazi Pianezza, made the inconsequential (for Hitler) blunder of sending Italian divisions to the Brenner Pass.
«A few days before the insurrection in Vienna, on February 6, 1934, Paris was the scene of important events. The political scene had for some time been soiled by all the scandalous pornography about collusion between financial adventurers, high State officials and government personnel, particularly those of the left-wing parties. There is no need to point it out: the so-called proletarian parties – the socialist and communist parties – are thrown into this scandalistic fray and the proletarians will be uprooted from the revolutionary struggle against the capitalist regime, to be dragged into the struggle against some financial adventurers and mainly against Stavisky. The right wing of Maurras and Action Française takes the lead in a struggle against the government presided over by the radical Chautemps who, on January 27, gives way to a more pronounced left-wing government headed by Daladier and where Frot, who had until recently been a militant in the SFIO (French Socialist Party, French Section of the Workers’ International), occupied the post of Minister of the Interior. The Prefect of Police Chiappe, also compromised in the Stavisky scandal, was chosen by socialists and communists as a scapegoat, and was dismissed from the Police Prefecture and transferred to the “Comédie Française”. This was the occasion chosen by the Right for a demonstration in front of Parliament where they demanded the resignation of the Daladier government.
«Daladier yields, resigns, in spite of Leon Blum’s advice to resist, and on February 9 two counter-protest demonstrations take place: one called by the Communist Party in the center of Paris where the arrest of Chiappe and the dissolution of the Fascist Leagues are demanded, the other called by the Socialist Party and held in Vincennes where the flag of “defense of the republic threatened by the Fascist uprising” is raised. The memory of the struggle against “social-fascism” was not yet definitively extinguished, but if there are two distinct demonstrations, there is nevertheless a single uniformity: it is no longer a question of affirming the autonomous class positions of the masses, but of directing them towards that modification of the form of the bourgeois State which will be realized only two years later when, following the elections of 1936, we will have the government of the Popular Front under the direction of the head of the SFIO, Leon Blum.
«But immediately after these two separate demonstrations, another united demonstration takes place, that of the CGT with similar slogans to those of the two parades that had preceded it. In effect, through the general strike, it will be demanded that “the sectarian, riot provoking people” be repressed because “the offensive that has been projected for some months against political freedom and democracy has broken out».
The Communist Party, which still held a dominant position in the industrial center of Paris, did not use it to direct operations and allowed the socialists and the CGT to lead the initiative. As for the CGTU, which had long ceased to be a trade union organization capable of organizing the masses for the defense of their partial demands and had become an appendage of the Communist Party, it did not come into the open even when preparing the general strike, which was a complete success.
In the meantime, the socialist-communist grouping and a governmental evolution that became more and more pronounced to the left became more precise.
On July 27, 1934 a pact of unity is signed between the Communist Party and the Socialist Party, on the basis of the following points: a) defense of democratic institutions; b) abandonment of the strike movements in the struggle against the full powers of the government; c) workers’ self-defense on a front that will also include the socialist radicals.
And in the international field the new orientation of the foreign policy of the Russian State is accentuated, which triumphantly enters the League of Nations.
Here is what Ossinsky’s theses of the First Congress of the Communist International in March 1919 say: The revolutionary proletarians of all the countries of the world must wage an implacable war against the idea of Wilson’s League of Nations and protest against the entry of their countries into this League of plunderers, exploiters and counter-revolution.
Here is what fifteen years later, on 2-6-1934, the organ of the Russian Party, Pravda, wrote: «The dialectic of the development of imperialist contradictions has led to the result that the old League of Nations, which was to serve as an instrument for the imperialist subordination of the small independent States and colonial countries, and for the preparation of anti-Soviet intervention, has appeared, in the process of the struggle of the imperialist groups, as the arena where – Litvinov explained this at the recent session of the Executive Central Committee of the Soviet Union – the current interested in the maintenance of peace seems to triumph. Which perhaps explains the profound changes which have taken place in the composition of the League of Nations».
Lenin, when he spoke of the League of Nations as a “society of plunderers”, had already taught us that this institution should serve to maintain “in peace” the predominance of the victorious States sanctioned at Versailles.
But Pravda’s articles were nothing but rhetoric. In fact Litvinov immediately and radically changed his position. From supporting the German and Italian theses for progressive disarmament, he passed to the open declaration that it was not possible to find a guarantee of security, and he supported the French thesis which, by making the realization of disarmament depend on the proclaimed impossible security, sanctioned the policy of arms development.
At the same time another radical change of course occurred with the Sarre question. The Communist Party, which had previously struggled with the word of the “Red Sarre at the core of a Soviet Germany”, advocates, on the occasion of the plebiscite, the status quo and that is, the maintenance of French control over this region.
Laval, the foreign minister of the Flandin Cabinet, comes up with the plan of isolating Germany. He couldn’t claim this nationalist achievement for himself at the trial where he was condemned to death: but it’s certain that he, a thousand times more and better than his nationalist and chauvinist cronies in the French Resistance, attempted the realization of the defense of the “French homeland” against Hitler. If France has been definitively degraded to the role of a vassal and second-rate power, this is due to the characteristics of the current international evolution, while all the hubbub around the defense of the “land of liberty and revolution” could only have one objective, however, which was fully achieved: the massacre of the French and international proletariat. The Third French Democratic Republic, born under the baptism of the alliance with Bismarck and the extermination of 25,000 communards at Père la Chaise, finds its worthy and macabre epilogue in the Popular Front, solidly based on the radical republican-socialist-communist trinity.
The essential points of Laval’s maneuver to isolate Germany are: 1) The meeting with Mussolini in Rome on January 7, 1935. 2) The meeting with Stalin in Moscow on May 1, 1935.
In the first one, there was an attempt to solve the Italian demands in Ethiopia through compromise, which had to be accepted by the English minister Hoare.
In the second, Poincaré’s move, which was to lead to the Franco-Russian alliance in the war of l9l4-17, will be renewed, and on the occasion of the new Franco-Russian pact Stalin declares that he fully realizes the necessity of the policy of armaments for the defense of France.
On July 14, 1935, at the demonstration of the Bastille to honor the birth of the bourgeois republic, the communist leaders, next to Daladier and the socialist leaders, wear a tricolor scarf; the red flag is united to the tricolor, while against the “fascist danger” Joan of Arc and Victor Hugo, Jules Guesde and Vaillant are evoked, and we go so far as to speak of the “Austerlitz sun” of the Napoleonic victims. We have already said why all this chauvinism was inconclusive and ineffective since France, like Italy, Spain and all the other former powers outside the current Big Three, had to play the role of giving away concessions while being occupied by this or that great power; let us now add that when war broke out in September 1939 between France and Germany, the pact of May 1935 was not applied by Russia.
But all these are secondary questions in the face of the essential which is the class struggle on a national and international scale. And on this class front, the Bastille Manifestation, its precedents and the events that resulted from it were of capital importance not only for the French proletariat but also for the Spanish and international proletariat.
When, in March 1935, Mussolini went on the offensive against the Negus of Ethiopia, everything was ready to unleash an international campaign based on the application of sanctions against “fascist Italy”. A simultaneous action against Mussolini and the Negus was not even to be considered by the socialist and communist parties. Both of them are fighting in defense of the Negus’ feudal regime, which is, at the same time, a magnificent defense of Mussolini’s fascist regime. In fact, Mussolini could not have found better justification for the formation of that atmosphere of national unity favorable to his Ethiopian campaign than in the application of deliberately harmless sanctions.
Leon Blum proposed to the League of Nations, the supreme bulwark of “peace and socialism”, the arbitration of the conflict and wanted to entrust Litvinov, who, at that time, was President in office; after the Laval-Hoare compromise failed, the League of Nations sided, in its overwhelming majority, against Mussolini. Needless to say, the Italian “emigrés” aligned themselves with this action in defense of the Negus and British imperialism: at the Brussels Congress of September 1935, a motion was voted whose sloppy and servile terms show how far – one year after would come the Spanish War and four years after another World War – the masses had already arrived in joining the bourgeois bandwagon. Here is the text: “To Mr. Benes, President of the SdN” [League of Nations]
The Congress of Italians which, in the present circumstances, has had to meet abroad to proclaim its attachment to peace and freedom, bringing together hundreds of delegates of the popular masses of Italy and of Italian emigrés in a single will to fight against the war, from Catholics to liberals, from Republicans to socialists and communists, notes with the greatest satisfaction that the Council of the SdN has clearly separated, in condemning the aggressor, the responsibilities of the fascist government from those of the Italian people; affirms that the war in Africa is the war of Fascism and not that of Italy, that it was unleashed against Europe and Ethiopia without any consultation with the country and in violation not only of the solemn commitments made to the SdN and Ethiopia, but in violation also of the sentiments and true interests of the Italian people; confident of interpreting the authentic thought of the Italian people the Congress declares that it is in the duty of SdN, in the interest of both Italy and Europe, to erect an unbreakable dam to the war and undertakes to support the measures that will be taken by the SdN and the workers’ organizations to impose the immediate cessation of hostilities”.
The Comintern disciplined to the decisions of the SdN. Here was a result from which Mussolini could only be victorious.
In the meantime, the atmosphere was being prepared that would lead to the dispersion of the formidable strikes in France and Belgium and to the crushing of the powerful insurrection of the Spanish proletariat in July 1936, in the imperialist and anti-fascist war.
At the end of 1935, the French Parliament, in a session qualified as “historic” by Blum, was unanimous in its acknowledgment of the defeat of Fascism and of the “reconciliation” of the French people. At the same time, the strikes of Brest and Toulon are attributed, by the same united front of all the “reconciled”, to the action of “provocateurs”; and in January 1936 Sarraut – the same one who in 1927 had stated “communism, here is the enemy” – will benefit from the fact that, for the first time, the communist parliamentary group abstains from voting on the ministerial declaration. The attack against Blum in March 1936 pushes the Communist Party to launch the formula of the fight “against the Hitlerites of France”, a formula that will later be held against it, after the signing of the Russian-German treaty in August 1939.
On March 7, 1936, Hitler denounced the Treaty of Locarno and remilitarized the Rhineland. In the backlash that ensues in the French Chamber, the chauvinist fury displayed is as sensational as it is inconsequential in its international repercussions.
The events forced French capitalism to use the reaction to Hitler’s fait accompli only in the field of domestic politics and the Communist Party excelled in this action: recalling the time when the French legitimists fled France during the revolution, it speaks of the “emigrants of Coblentz, of Valmy”, evokes again “Napoleon’s Austerlitz sun”, and went as far as to make use of the words of Göthe and Nietzsche about “Germany still submerged in the state of barbarism” without hesitating to falsify Marx himself whose phrase “the German resurrection will be announced by the crowing of the French rooster” whose meaning changes in its social and class context of the French proletariat to the national and nationalist camp of France and its bourgeoisie.
Russian diplomacy strengthened the patriotic position of the French Communist Party at the same time that it remained very cautious – as did England – about the response to Hitler’s coup. Litvinov limits himself to declaring that «the USSR would associate itself with the most effective measures against the violation of international commitments” and to explaining that «this attitude of the Soviet Union is determined by the general policy of struggle for peace, for the collective organization of security and the maintenance of one of the instruments of peace: the League of Nations». Molotov is even more cautious, and, in an interview with the “Temps”, says: «We are aware of France’s desire to maintain peace. If the German government were also to testify to its desire for peace and respect for treaties, particularly those concerning the League of Nations, we would consider that, on this basis of the defense of the interests of peace, a Franco-German rapprochement would be desirable».
The leaders of the French Communist Party reasoned in this way: Russia is in danger; to save her we’ll use our capitalism as a shield.
And with the usual shameless demagogic spirit they did not hesitate to support this theory by referring to Lenin’s action; Lenin himself who in 1918, in order to save Russia from the attack of all the capitalist powers, called for the proletarians of every country against the capitalism of their own country in a revolutionary attack aimed at its destruction. The contrast between the two positions is as fundamental as the contrast between revolution and counter-revolution.
It is in this atmosphere of national unity, of reconciliation of all French people, of struggle against the “Hitlerites of France” that the wave of strikes matures, beginning on May 11 at the port of Le Havre and in the aviation workshops of Toulouse. The victories of these two first movements is then combined by the immediate extension of the strike to the Paris region, to Courbevoie and Renault (32,000 workers), on May 14, to the whole Parisian metallurgy on the 29th and 30th. The demands are: the increase of wages, payment for the days of strike, workers’ vacations, collective agreement. The strikes lasted for a long time, extended first to the mining North and then to the whole country, and took on a new aspect: the workers occupied the workshops despite the appeal of the Confederation of Labor, the Socialist and Communist Parties. One appeal reads that they were
resolved to keep the movement within the framework of discipline and tranquility, the trade union organizations declare themselves ready to put an end to the conflict wherever the just working-class demands are met.
But how different were these from the Italian factory occupations, in September 1920! In Paris the red flag and the tricolor wave together, and in the workshops there was only dancing: the atmosphere had nothing of a revolutionary movement. Between the spirit of national unity that animated the strikers and the radical weapon of the occupation of the workshops there was a stark contrast. However, the facts leave no possibility for misunderstanding: both the Confederation of Labor, which had already reabsorbed the CGTU back into it, and the Socialist and Communist Parties had no initiative in these huge strikes. They would have opposed them if this had been possible, and it is only the fact that they have spread to the whole country that imposes on them declarations of hypocritical sympathy for the strikers.
The fact that the bosses are archly disposed to accept the demands of the workers does not determine the end of the movements. A decisive blow is needed. The May elections had given a majority to the left-wing parties and among them to the Socialist Party.
So here we are at the Popular Front: well before the deadline set by parliamentary procedure, Blum’s government was formed on June 4. The Delegation of the Left, the parliamentary body of the Popular Front, in an order of the day, «notes that the workers defend their bread in order and discipline and want to keep to their movement a claiming character from which the Croix-de-Feu (Colonel La Roque’s paramilitary movement) and the other agents of reaction will not succeed in detaching them». Humanité for its part publishes in its headlines that «order will ensure success» and that «those who go outside the law are the bosses, those Hitler’s agents that do not want the reconciliation of the French and push the workers to go on strike».
the night of June 7 to 8, what will later be called the “Matignon
agreements” (the residence of Prime Minister Blum) is signed and
a) the collective agreement;
b) the recognition of the right to join a trade union;
c) the establishment of union delegates in the workshops;
d) the increase in wages from 7 to 15% (which is then 35% since the work week has been reduced from 48 to 40 hours);
e) paid vacations. This agreement would have been signed even earlier if in some factories those who were called “reactionaries” had not proceeded to the arrest of some directors.
On June 14, Thorez, the head of the French Communist Party, launched the formula that would make him famous: «We must know how to end a strike as soon as the essential demands have been achieved. It is also necessary to reach a compromise in order not to lose any strength and above all not to facilitate the panic campaign of the reaction».
After two weeks French capitalism succeeds in extinguishing this powerful movement, powerful not because of its class significance, but because of how extensive it was, the importance of the occupational demands, and the extent and degree of the means employed by the workers to achieve success.
The pseudo-proletarian organizations which had had no responsibility in the unleashing of the movement were the very ones who would take it upon themselves to put an end to it. The French Communist Party had to play a role of the first order in stifling any revolutionary possibility which might have had arisen, and it succeeded in doing so to astonishing effect by contemptuously defaming the few workers who tried to make the occupation of the factories converge with a revolutionary approach to the struggle as “Hitlerites”. And in this alone consisted the tactical problem that the French Party had to solve.
Almost simultaneously, strikes broke out in Belgium. They began at the Port of Antwerp and then spread throughout the country. The manifesto immediately launched by the Belgian Workers’ Party is significant: «Port workers, don’t commit suicide. There are people inciting you to stop work. Why? They are demanding a wage increase. We are not saying anything different in this regard at a time when the Belgian Transport Workers Union is discussing its policy of wage increases. And we will not be thrown a curve-ball by irresponsible people. We don’t want to see the same disastrous consequences in Antwerp that occurred after the Dunkirk strike. We have a regulation that must be respected. Those who incite you to strike do not care about the consequences. Port workers, listen to your managers. We know what your wishes are. Onwards with our union! Don’t strike unreasonably. We’ll still discuss things with the bosses today».
Despite a similar appeal from the Trade Union Commission (the equivalent of the Confederation of Labor), on June 14 the Miners’ Congress was forced to accept the situation and gave the order to strike. The day before, the organ of the Socialist Party communicated its agreement with the government decisions to avoid the occupation of the workshops.
On June 22, in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Van Zeeland, who presided over a coalition with the participation of the Socialists, an agreement was signed where the following was established: a) a 10% wage increase; b) 40-hour week for unhealthy industries; c) 6 days of annual vacation.
The Belgian Communist Party uses what little influence it has among the masses to profit from a tactic similar to that followed by the French Party: it blocks the strike along the Workers Party and the Trade Union Commission which monopolize the leadership of the movement. It had no initiative in starting the strikes and all its activity consisted in demanding that the government intervene in favor of the strikes.
As for the results, these were far inferior to those obtained by the French workers. But, in both countries, these union successes, moreover ephemeral, far from signifying a resumption of the autonomous and class struggle of the proletariat, favor the development of the maneuver of the capitalist State which, thanks to the arbitration of conflicts, succeeds in gaining the confidence of the masses and it will use this confidence to tighten the net of its hegemonic control over them.
The sanctioning of State authority in the labor contract represents not a victory but the defeat of the workers. In reality this contract is but an armistice in the class struggle and its application depends on the relations of force between the two classes. The mere fact that State intervention is accepted radically reverses the terms of the problem since the workers thus entrust their defense to the fundamental institution of capitalist rule: the class unions are now replaced class collaborationist unions intertwined with the officials of the Ministry of Labor who control the application of the law.
The French and Belgian strikes precede by just one month the outbreak of social unrest in Spain and the opening of the imperialist war in that country. We will explain the course of these events in the next chapter.
6 – The Spanish War, prologue to the Second World Imperialist War (1936-40)
The phase of the progressive degeneration of the Soviet State and of the communist parties was inevitably to end with a front-line participation in the imperialist massacre, first localized in Spain (1936-39), and later extended to the whole world (1939-45). This degenerative process began, as we have seen, in 1926 with the establishment of the Anglo-Russian Committee, and it was Bukharin who clearly expressed the substantial and radical change that had taken place in the programmatic terms of the policy of the Russian State and the International.
Between the United Front and the Anglo-Russian Committee the break in continuity is unequivocal, brutal. The first is framed in the classical terms of the capitalism-proletariat antagonism (the proletariat acting through the class party and the revolutionary State). The divergence between the French, Austrian, and German oppositions, and specially between the Italian left and the leadership of the International remains within the frameworks of the problem of the tactics to be followed to foster the development of class action and the Party. The second one, the Anglo-Russian Committee, is framed in Bukharin’s formula, who declares that its justification lies in the defense of the diplomatic interests of the Russian State. Diplomatic, since it is not a matter of a military battle limited to specific events, but of a whole political process. The programmatic approach is no longer within the framework of “capitalism-proletariat”, but within the framework of “capitalist State-Soviet State”. This new opposition is obviously not, nor could it be, a simple modification of formulations which nevertheless express a substance similar to the previous one. The very criteria of the definition of the capitalist State and the proletarian State are no longer of a Marxist character, but of a positivist and rationalist character, imposed by the evolution of the situation.
Previously, the notions of class and capitalist State were unitary, dialectical and descended from the analysis of the relations of production. Starting in 1926, the Comintern proceeded to a disassociate itself from the notion of class and the problem no longer consisted in an action aimed at the destruction of the State that embodies capitalist domination, but in an action aimed at supporting or undermining a specific capitalist force (deemed as capitalism par excellence). And which capitalist force? The one that comes into conflict with the “diplomatic” interests of the Soviet State at that particular moment in the evolution of international events.
At the time of the Anglo-Russian Committee the contours of this policy radically opposed to the previous one weren’t well defined yet, but the problem was already clear: we have a divergence between the defense of the interests of the English proletariat, engaged in a gigantic class battle, and the interests of the Russian State which is counting on England to strengthen its weak positions in the antagonistic evolution of States on the international field. If the endorsement given to the trade unionists, who were presented to the English proletarians as the leaders of their strike and the defenders of their interests, results in the opposite result to the one intended, since the English government moves on to the struggle against the Russian government, this does not alter in any way the fundamental alteration which has taken place in the policy of the Comintern and which is specified in the period of “social-fascism” when it moves on to the struggle against social-democracy specifically, separated from the rest of the capitalist apparatus. It no longer moves from the class objectives of the German proletariat to deduce from them a tactic of simultaneous struggle against social democracy and fascism, and since the former is elevated to the rank of enemy number one, it slips into a position of merely competing with Hitler’s maneuver for the legalitarian dismantling of the positions held in the German capitalist State by democrats and social-democrats. In this case the “diplomatic” benefits were not lacking for the Russian State, and the cruel defeat of the German proletariat was accompanied by a marked improvement in economic relations between Russia and Germany.
After social-fascism comes the Popular Front and the Spanish Civil War first, and finally the World War. The process of reversal undergone by the communist parties and the Soviet State goes even further than the limits reached by the tactics of social-fascism, since now it’s a matter of welding the workers to the apparatus of the capitalist State, peacefully in France, by force of arms for the first time in Spain, then in all countries.
The new policy is not presented in the coherent aspect of a struggle against the capitalist political force, the expression of the bourgeois class as a whole, but along the contradictory line which raises, in turn, social democracy or fascism to the rank of enemy number one, according to the needs of the evolution of the Soviet State in the international situation of the moment.
First modification, and then falsification and inversion later on, are not limited to the characterization of the capitalist class, but they also affect the characterization of the proletarian State in the new binomial of capitalist State-proletarian State, which replaces that of capitalism-proletariat. The proletarian State is no longer the one that identifies its fate with that of the world proletariat, but the one in which the defense of the workers of all countries is personified. Until 1939 the proletarians of every country saw their interests united with the diplomatic successes of the Russian State; from 1939 to 1945 the proletarians gave their lives for the military successes of this State. The situation for the Russian proletariat is just as tragic: first the intensive exploitation in the name of socialism, then their massacre under the same banner. Ultimately, therefore, the assessment of the events we have been dealing with must rise to a much higher plane than that limited to the tactics of the communist parties, and must concern itself not with the formal and organizational aspect of the relations between the proletarian State and the class party, but with the concrete type of these relations that history has presented, for the first time, with the victory of October 1917 in Russia. The proletarian State and the class party are converging instruments of the struggle of the revolutionary proletariat, and the hypothesis of their separation must be rejected as reactionary. It is only necessary to draw from the formidable Russian experience the lessons to establish their organic convergence in view of the future revolution. This is the central problem which we think our study should devote itself to, starting from the policy followed by the Russian State already in the heroic period when Lenin was at its helm, because our enlightened admiration for the great revolutionary does not prevent us from categorically affirming that the source of the degeneration and reversal of the Russian revolution is to be found in the insufficient solution of the problem of organic relations between the revolutionary State and the class party, in other words, the problem of the policy of the proletarian State on a national and international scale, an insufficiency in turn ineluctably linked to the fact that this question arose for the first time in October 1917.
In order to understand the Spanish events it is necessary to refer first of all to the fundamental element of the Marxist understanding of things, to the essential point of what the French call the “démarche” of thought. To separate the essential from the accessory.
Is it because in the republican and anti-fascist camp there is talk of socialism, because hundreds of thousands of proletarians take up arms in the name of socialism, that we can affirm the existence of the real conditions for this struggle? In our premise we have indicated that the struggle between the fundamental classes, between capitalism and the proletariat, has been taking place, since October 1917, on a higher level than previously before, and it imposes on the proletariat the need to impose its revolutionary State: it must centralize on the proletarian front the social movements which take place even outside its geographical borders; but in the phase of its degeneration it can proceed to a similar centralization only through a radical modification which brings it back to its original position. Otherwise it becomes the main axis of the politics of counter-revolution, as happened first in anti-fascist Spain, then in the democratic countries when the partisan movement arose in the course of the second imperialist war.
The essential role in the anti-fascist sector of Spain was played by the Russian State, rather than the Spanish Communist Party, which was so small it barely existed.
Our analysis of the events will show that only because of the central fact imposed by the events – the war – was it possible to proceed to class-based and to determine the position of the revolutionary proletariat accordingly, while achieving such class-based objectives was impossible through merely accessory means, such as the elimination of the boss from the factories, the absence of the traditionally bourgeois parties from the government, and even, in the days of the most heated social tumult, of the elimination of the government itself.
If we succinctly show a film of the Spanish events, it’s not because we intend to put forth the thesis that a different tactic of the Communist Party or of any other political formation could have determined a different outcome of the situation, but we do it only to demonstrate, in the first place, that all the “workers’ initiatives” were ultimately just the only form through which the capitalist class could exist – in those specific circumstances – (and it existed politically and historically even if physically absent in the factories or cleverly concealed in the anti-fascist government, because it achieved its fundamental objective of preventing the affirmation of the proletarian class on the question of war and the State), and secondly to highlight the elements of an evolution that – albeit in less pronounced forms – spread to other countries after the world war and expressed itself in the liquidation of the bosses from nationalized industries, either temporarily or definitively.
The fact that the Italian left is the only current that survived after the cruel slaughter that, after the dress rehearsal in Spain in 1936-39, extended to the whole world in 1939-45, wasn’t due to coincidence. Socialist and communist parties could only exercise a fiercely counter-revolutionary role as situations reached the end point of their evolution. But Spain also represented the grave of Trotskyism and the colorful schools of anarchism and syndicalism.
Trotsky, the giant of “maneuverism”, had even given a theoretical justification of the possibility for the proletariat to wedge itself into the democracy-fascism antagonism, stating that the historical inability of democracy to defend itself from fascism and the historical need to oppose it could create the condition for an intervention of the proletariat, the only class capable of bringing the anti-fascist struggle to its revolutionary conclusion. It was therefore inevitable that Trotsky would take a place in the forefront in defending and increasing the “revolutionary achievements” obtained in the factories and fields or in the organization of the fighting army.
The anarchists, for their part, if in the early days they could avoid compromising their “anti-State purity”, were to find in these events the chosen land for their experiments in “free communes”, “free cooperatives”, “free army”. All these “freedoms” ended in the other “freedom”, the fundamental one: that of waging the anti-fascist war.
The foundation of the Party in Italy was accompanied by a clear stance not only on the fundamental problems of the time, but also on what arose as a reflection of the development of the fascist offensive: the democracy-fascism dilemma – said the Party – falls within the framework of the bourgeois class and the opposition of the proletariat can only fight for its own class-based objectives. The struggle for these objectives, even during the legalitarian or extra-legalitarian attack of fascism, imposes the simultaneity of the struggle against democracy and against fascism. The firm position of our current was confirmed by the whole development of the Spanish events, which, in a long and exhausting war of about three years, saw the opposition of two armies within their respective State apparatuses, both capitalist: Franco’s army relying on the classical structure of the bourgeois State, and the Madrilenian and Catalan army, whose bold peripheral initiatives in the economic and social field could only be part of a counter-revolutionary evolution, because at no time was the problem of the creation of a revolutionary dictatorship posed. There were many occasions presented by the Spanish events to refute the positions defended by Trotsky: the same military battles won by the anti-fascist government did not show a situation favorable to the autonomous assertion of the proletariat, but a condition to strengthen its link with the anti-fascist capitalist State, since only through the efficiency of the latter could success against Franco be guaranteed; an irrefutable argument, since participation in the war was admitted in the first place.
The confirmation of the Marxist position against all anarchist and syndicalist schools could not be brighter. In fact, especially in the first period of the events following the establishment of the military fronts, from August 1936 to May 1937, the conditions were the most favorable to the realization of the anarchist postulates. Faced with the disintegration of the State apparatus, specially in Catalonia, the flight and elimination of the masters, all spontaneous initiatives had free rein. And the anarchists were in the vast majority at the head of the army, trade unions, agricultural and industrial cooperatives, the same embryonic State network of Barcelona. The failure can not thus be attributed to a lack of objective conditions, while the pretext always invoked to justify the failure, namely the support given to Franco by Mussolini and Hitler, can not be invoked by anarchists, since they asked, in response to the fascist intervention in Spain, not a struggle of the proletariat of other countries against their respective democratic governments, but rather that those proletarians pressure their capitalist governments so that they’d intervene militarily in favor of republican Spain or at least that they send weapons for the success of the anti-fascist war.
As we have said, class-based objectives clearly delineated from those of the bourgeoisie could only be carried out in function of the central problem: that of the war. This is what our current did, and when, in August 1936, at a meeting of the Central Committee of the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) – a party of the extreme left in Catalonia – our delegate, who was present as an observer, expressed his opinion that it was necessary to propagate not the idea that the workers and soldiers in the Franco regime must be massacred, but the opposite idea of fraternization, the leaders of this “Marxist” organization categorically affirmed that such propaganda deserved the death penalty.
How could the anti-fascist war in Spain be qualified as imperialist, when it was not only impossible, but inconceivable, to determine the imperialist interests in antagonism, since it involved two armies from the same country? It’s certain that the Spanish events posed, as far as the characterization of the war that developed there was concerned, a problem that Marxists had never seen before. But if fitting historical precedents could not be found, the Marxist method of analysis nevertheless made it possible to affirm that, although it was true that conflicting specific and imperialist interests could not be detected in the Franco-Popular Front duel, the imperialist character of both Franco’s war and that of the Popular Front was indisputably revealed by the fact that neither of them was based on the dictatorial and revolutionary organization of the proletarian State. The same thing was true for Catalonia in the autumn of 1936: the decay of the previous Catalan State, not being overcome by the institution of the proletarian State, could only know a (moreover transitory) phase during which the persistence of the bourgeois class in power asserted itself not physically and directly, but thanks to the inexistence of a proletarian struggle directed to the foundation of the proletarian State.
In the two cases, of the characterization of the war and of the Catalan State, the imperialist nature of the former, the capitalist nature of the latter, does not result from the external elements (the stakes of the war, the apparatus of coercion of the State), but from the substantial elements that are condensed in the lack of an affirmation of the proletarian class, which in Spain is not able – not even through its sparse minority – to pose the problem of power. It has already been said that the proletariat derives from the negation of the negation of capitalism, from a negation that implicitly contains the affirmation of the opposite.
The Popular Front remains in the state of simple negation of Franco and it was necessary to set up the negation of the Popular Front itself in order for the proletarian class to assert itself. This process of negation is not evidently imposed on the formal and formalist, rationalist level, but results dialectically from the theoretical and political clarification of the proletarian class. Only the establishment of the objectives of this class sets the course of the revolutionary struggle against Franco’s State, against the State of Barcelona and Madrid, and against world capitalism. It is also on this level that the general strike that broke out in response to Franco’s attack is situated.
Let us now turn to a brief exposition of the most important facts.
Unlike other countries Spain did not have a bourgeois revolution. The feudal organization of Spanish society annexed important territories across the sea, thus providing the opportunity for the clergy and the nobility to accumulate enormous wealth. The capitalist mode of production that was established in the mining and industrial centers of the country did not lead to the fall of the dominant feudal castes, but – contrary to Russia, where the czarist State and the bourgeoisie were not confused and remained distinct, even if rarely in opposition – in Spain these castes and the State adapted to the needs of the industrialized economy, located only in certain centers. When, at the end of the last century, the time came for the old Spanish colonies to begin industrializing, the ties were broken and the empire fell apart.
On the other hand, unlike England, Spain did not proceed to an intense industrialization of the country in connection with the possibilities offered by the possession of the colonies so that, when in Europe we have the formation of the powerful capitalist nation-States, the Spanish bourgeoisie is deprived of any possibility of affirmation in the field of international competition.
The nobility and clergy not only remained the holders of landed estates but also became owners of mining companies, banks and industrial and commercial enterprises, while the areas of highest industrial development, Catalonia and Asturias, came largely under the control of foreign capital, mainly English.
These historical precedents structured Spanish bourgeois society in a peculiar way in which the development of industrialization is arrested by the persistence of ties to the feudalism of old. The workers’ movement, in which both at the time of the First International and today is largely made up of anarchists, is so affected by this that until today the conditions for the establishment of a party based on Marxist concepts have not been met. The social upheavals that have occurred there find in these objective conditions the premise to draw a climate with a lot of struggle, but the impossibility of a radical modification of the archaic social structure of the bourgeoisie condemns the proletariat to remain on the sidelines with its own class goals. Marx noted as early as 1845 that a revolution that would take three days in another European country would take nine years in Spain. Trotsky, for his part, explained the intervention of the army in the social field as resulting from the fact that it – like the clergy and the nobility – tended to conquer, without ever being able to achieve it, a position of social dominance alongside the other two existing castes. In a word, therefore, the non-existence of historical conditions for the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the nobility determines the historical non-existence of conditions for an autonomous and specific struggle of the proletarian class and excludes the hypothesis that Spain can play the role of epicenter of the international revolutionary upheavals.
In 1923, in relation to the disasters of the Moroccan campaign, Primo de Rivera took power and the regime he established was wrongly qualified as fascist. No revolutionary threat justified the establishment of a fascist-type dictatorship and, in fact, the corporatist framework entailed the participation of socialists in the consultative bodies, in the Equal Commissions established for the regulation of labor conflicts, and Largo Caballero, secretary of the General Union of Workers under socialist control, was even appointed as State Councilor. Under De Rivera the Spanish bourgeoisie tries in vain reorganize the State on a modern, centralized basis along the lines of other bourgeois States. This attempt failed and, in the midst of the great world economic crisis that broke out in 1929, capitalism found itself having to face a difficult and complex social situation. The De Rivera type of State is no longer appropriate because the situation does not allow the arbitration of labor conflicts, as powerful mass movements are inevitable. The conversion that was taking place at that time, and which responded to the interests of capitalist domination, was judged by all the political formations, with the exception of ours, as the advent of a new regime imposed by the revolutionary maturation of the masses.
In January 1930 De Rivera was liquidated. Another general, Bérenguer, takes his place to ensure the transition to the new government. In San Sebastian, in August 1930, the pact between the successors was concluded and, after the municipal elections that gave a majority to the Republicans in 46 out of 50 capitals, when the first threat of a workers’ movement (the railroaders’ strike) appeared, in February 1931, the monarchist Guerra took the initiative to organize the departure of King Alfonso XII.
A period of intense social conflicts opened up, as we said. These conflicts are inevitable due to the extreme weakness of the Spanish bourgeoisie at the outbreak of the world economic crisis. But the bourgeoisie, unable to avoid these conflicts, shows great sagacity in preventing their revolutionary developments. The proclamation of the republic is not enough to avoid the immediate outbreak of the telephone strike in Andalusia, Barcelona, and Valencia. The movement of the peasants of Seville takes violent forms: the left-wing government massacres thirty peasants and the reactionary Maura, Minister of the Interior, congratulates the socialists for their attitude in defense of order and the republic. Alongside the UGT (the union organization controlled by the socialists), the CNT (National Confederation of Workers controlled in a monopolistic form by the anarchists) also strictly remains within the limits of wage demands and states that these movements, unable to find an outlet, couldn’t have found a way to direct the fight against the republican State.
In June 1931 the elections give an overwhelming majority to the left-wing parties and Zamora gives way to Azaña, who excludes the right from the government. Parallel to a worsening of the social tension, on the one hand the government shifts more and more to the left, and on the other hand the repression of the movements intensifies. On October 20, 1931, the Azaña-Caballero Ministry declares that the young republic is in danger and passes the Defense Law which, in its chapter on compulsory arbitration, outlaws unions that fail to give two days’ notice before calling a strike. The UGT, which is in government, takes an open stance against “anti-republican” strikes, the CNT maintains its neutrality in the face of the violent and terrorist action of the leftist government, and the two days mentioned in the law are not enough for the union leaders to prevent the outbreak of revolts. The CNT, however, managed to keep all strikes under its control and limited itself to not taking the reigns of those that were outside the framework of republican legality.
At the beginning of 1932, after the government with socialist participation had obtained the unanimous approval of the Cortes for the way in which it fought the strikes, in August 1932 the right-wing forces began to reorganize. But the moment wasn’t yet right for it, the atmosphere was still too socially explosive and Sanjurjo’s coup to seize power failed.
In September 1932, agrarian reform is finally voted in. The concessions made to the peasants who become “owners” are such that they will have to wait 17 centuries before being released from the commitments contained in the act of purchase. In January 1933 the repressive action of the government reaches its peak: striking workers are massacred in Malaga, Bilbao, Zaragoza. After these adventures, and when a certain fatigue was manifested among the masses, the conditions for a new change of government personnel arose: on September 8, 1933 Azaña resigned, the new elections of November 19, 1933 gave a majority to the right-wing parties, and the Lerroux-Gil Roblès government was formed under the influence of the landowners. When, in October 1934, the Asturian insurrection broke out, the right-wing government did nothing but follow in the footsteps of its left-wing predecessors and the movement was bloodily repressed. The socialists had declined any responsibility for this “wild” form of struggle and the anarchists themselves had ordered the resumption of work.
During the pause of social tension (tragically interrupted by the insurrection of Asturias) that goes from September 1934 to February 1936 are the right-wing governments at the helm of the bourgeois State and repression is exercised mainly on a legalitarian level: at the time of the elections of February 16, 1936, there’s 30,000 political prisoners.
In connection with the international atmosphere which soon we’ll see the great movements in France and Belgium, a period of even greater social tension than that of 1931-33 opens up in Spain, and as a result the Spanish bourgeoisie calls its leftist servants to power. In this more heated social climate, the anarchists themselves are aligned with the needs of the new situation: the fierce abstentionists of yesterday, in a rally in Zaragoza, after solemnly reaffirmed the apolitical nature of the CNT, leave their members free to vote for whoever while the Regional Committee of Barcelona, two days before the elections, makes open propaganda in favor of the Popular Front under the pretext that it advocates amnesty.
The elections of February 16, 1936 mark an overwhelming success for the Popular Front that obtains the absolute majority in the Cortes. It is composed of the republican left of Azaña, of the dissident radicals of Martinez Barrios, of the Socialist Party, of the Communist Party, of the Syndicalist Party of Pestaña and of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (the POUM, a result of the unification of the Right Oppositionist Workers and Peasants’ Bloc of Barcelona directed by Maurin, and of the Trotskyist tendency directed at that time by Andrea Nin). The electoral program contains: general amnesty, repeal of regressive laws, decrease of taxes, policy of agrarian credits.
After the elections, the Azaña government is formed with only representatives of the left. But in the indicated situation of aggravation of the social tension, the bourgeoisie could not limit itself to the concentration in a single government; its other forces remained in waiting and already in April 1936, on the occasion of the commemoration of the foundation of the Republic, the right-wing parties organized a counter-manifestation that was qualified as a “revolt”. At the session of the Cortes, Azaña declares:
«The government took a series of measures and removed or transferred the fascists who were in the administration. The right-wingers are panicking, but they will not dare to raise their heads again».
We are less than three months from the “insurrection of the sectarian Franco”: the Communist Party, enthusiastic about Azaña’s declarations, votes for confidence in the Government.
In the first days of July 1936, Lieutenant Castillo, a member of the Popular Front, is assassinated and, in retaliation, the monarchist leader Sotelo is also killed. The Popular Front and all the parties that comprise it express sacred indignation at the accusation launched by the right wing of being responsible for the assassination, and Council President Quiroga has to resign because a phrase in his speech could have been interpreted as encouraging the authors of the assassination.
From Morocco Franco launched his offensive, whose initial targets were Seville and Burgos: two agrarian centers, the first of which, having experienced the most violent but inconclusive peasant uprisings, offered the best conditions for the success of the coup.
It was thus in the very bosom of the State apparatus under the complete control of the Popular Front that Franco’s enterprise could be meticulously organized, and its preparations could not escape the attention of the leftist and extreme leftist ministers. What is more, the first reaction of these parties is obviously conciliatory. The radical Barrios, who had already presided in 1933 over the conversion of the government from the left to the right, tried to repeat the operation in the opposite direction and if it did not succeed it was not because the compromise was excluded in principle, but because the social atmosphere did not allow it.
In response to Franco’s attack a general strike is unleashed on July 16 which is completely successful, especially in Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, in Asturias, while Franco’s two points of support, Seville and Burgos, are firmly held by the putschists.
One of our critics wasn’t wrong to ask us: but finally, for you all the events before and after the general strike count for nothing, the general strike itself being nothing more than a temporary outbreak of measles? In fact, as far as the proletarian movement is concerned, the general strike was nothing more than a lightning explosion of the class consciousness of the Spanish proletariat: only in those few days we witnessed not an armed struggle between two bourgeois armies but a fraternization of the strikers with the proletarians relegated to the army, who, making common cause with the insurrectionary proletarians, disarmed, immobilized or eliminated the ruling body of the army itself..
Immediately the democratic and anti-fascist State tries to remain in control of the situation: in Madrid the hierarchy is established through the “Enlistment Offices” controlled by the State, in Barcelona in a less immediate way: Companys (leader of the Catalan left) declares, in agreement with the leaders of the CNT, that «the State machine must not be touched because it can be of some use to the working class» and the two bodies destined to ensure the first State control were immediately created; in the military field the “Central Committee of the Militias”, in the economic field the “Central Council of the Economy”. The Central Committee of the Militias comprised 3 delegates from the CNT, 2 delegates from the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation), 1 delegate from the Republican Left, 2 Socialists, 1 delegate from the League of “Rabasseres” (small tenants under the control of the Catalan Left), 1 delegate from the Coalition of Republican Parties, 1 delegate from the POUM and 4 representatives of the Generalitat of Barcelona (the defense counselor, the general commissioner of public order and two delegates from the Generalitat without a fixed State post). All the above-mentioned political formations ensured the continuity of the capitalist State in Catalonia from July 1936 to May 1937, and it is superfluous to add that the overwhelming majority held by the workers’ organizations was presented as a guarantee of the subjection of the bourgeois class to the demands of the proletarian movement.
Meanwhile, from the beginning of the events, Zaragoza falls into the hands of Franco and the proximity of this military center allows Barcelona to present the necessity of military victory against “fascism” as the supreme “necessity of the moment”, to which everything must therefore be subordinated.
The Spanish Communist Party, which takes a front line position in the anti-fascist war, cannot tolerate misunderstandings, and it is in Moscow that its function as a counter-revolutionary spearhead is brutally revealed. Here is what the following infamous communiqué says: «The Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union rejected the appeal for pardon of those sentenced to capital punishment on August 24 by the Military College of the USSR, in the trial of the unified Trockist-Zinovievist center. The verdict has been carried out». L’Humanité, in its issue of 28-8-36, comments: «When the accused approved Vyshinsky’s indictment and asked to be shot, they only expressed their conviction that they could no longer expect any mercy. They reasoned coldly: we wanted to assassinate you, you are killing us: it is right. These sixteen murderers remained until the very end fierce enemies of the Communist Party, of the State and of the Soviet people, and their death purged the atmosphere of the socialist country that they plagued with their presence». For his part, Prosecutor Vyshinsky concluded his indictment thus: «I demand that every last one of these mad dogs be shot».
It is these same murderers of the Russian proletariat who put themselves in the vanguard of the anti-fascist war and unleashed the offensive to respond to the intervention of Hitler and Mussolini in favor of Franco with a similar intervention from the other countries in favor of the “legitimate republican” government.
In the midst of the Spanish events, when the general strike had not yet ceased, and on the other hand the strike in France was developing, the head of the government of the French Popular Front, Leon Blum, considering that the opening of the Pyrenean border could establish a dangerous contact between the strikers of the two countries, decided to close it. In August 1936, it is Blum himself who takes the initiative of the constitution of the “Committee of non-intervention in Spain”, with its headquarters in London and representatives of the governments of all countries, fascist and democratic, Russia included.
The role of this “Non-Intervention Committee” was to avoid international complications, while each “High Contracting Party” industrialized the corpses of the proletarians who had fallen in Spain to make them serve the success of the world counterrevolution: in Russia to massacre the real leaders of the October Revolution, in the fascist countries to prepare the climate for world war, in France to make the workers’ movement move away from their class objectives. In fact, it is well known that the main slogan launched by the Communist Parties and the Socialist Left was: “airplanes for Spain!”
Military events in Spain have had their ups and downs. Both the defeats and the military victories in the anti-fascist war are used in the progressive elimination of all extra-legal initiatives and in the reconstruction of the classic hierarchy of the anti-fascist State. The defeats because they were presented as resulting from the lack of a strict military discipline around the ruling center, the victories because they were presented as confirmation of the usefulness of a firm centralization around the military staff.
As for the anarchists, they abandoned, shred by shred, their program. At first, immediately after the conclusion of the general strike of July 1936, they responded to the first attempts to incorporate the workers in an organic form in the Militias controlled by the Generalidad with the words “militia yes, soldiers no”, but they soon abandoned this position, faced with the necessities of the military struggle, to dislodge the fascists from Zaragoza. They then renounced their opposition to the core program of the far left government presided over by Caballero: the establishment of the Single Command extended to the entire territory of the anti-fascist sector with the capitals of Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona. The needs of the military struggle fully justified on a strategic level the need for centralization in a single command, and the anarchists came to participate, through their representatives who became ministers, in the Caballero government, the Caballero who is presented as the Spanish Lenin (an expression that has historically tolerated every such insult): the same Caballero remained in 1936-37 perfectly consistent with the position that had earned him the appointment as Councilor of State under the regime of De Rivera!
As we have said, in the period from the liquidation of the general strike of July 1936 until May 1937, while the Madrid State could afford to maintain even the previous police apparatus of the “Civil Guards”, in Catalonia the classical State apparatus of the bourgeoisie went through a “vacation” during which control over the masses was established indirectly through the “Central Committee of Militias” and the “Council of Economy”. This transitional phase is followed by the elimination of any element, even peripheral, that disturbs the smooth functioning of the anti-fascist capitalist State. In October 1936, Caballero launched a decree for the militarization of the militia, and the CNT, in its resolution of October 14, decreed that it would not be possible to demand respect for working conditions, for working hours, for wages nor for overtime, in all industries directly or indirectly connected with the anti-fascist war, which practically means in all industrial enterprises.
Thus we are on the way to May of 1937. On the 4th of this month, under pressure from the Stalinist Comorera, head of the PSUC (Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia), the Generalitat of Barcelona decided to take back direct control of the Telephone Company: this was the signal of a general action aimed at eliminating all management not directly framed by the antifascist State. A general strike broke out spontaneously: all the political formations proclaimed their innocence in this “crime”, and it was with bullets and machine guns that the movement was bloodily repressed. It is suggestive that Franco, even though important groups of proletarians had abandoned the front and gone down to Barcelona, did not take advantage of the occasion to unleash a military offensive: he left his anti-fascist comrades to it because their success depended on his own. The operation succeeds in full: all peripheral initiatives are eliminated after the violent repression of the strike movement of May 1937. The Negrin Government of the resistance “until the end” was then formed, in which the last hopes of all sectors of the anti-fascist movement were placed. It was this Government which, after abandoning Madrid, and after the intermediate step of Valencia, moved first to Barcelona and then to Paris, leaving to the socialist Besteiro the task of negotiating with Franco for the conclusion of the war during the spring of 1939.
It should be noted that, with its usual skill and cynicism, the Spanish bourgeoisie proceeded, after the strike of May 1937, to liquidate some of the elements that had been at its service at the critical moment of July 1936. This is the case of Andrea Nin, Minister of Justice in the first antifascist government in Barcelona. He was transferred to Madrid, and was then taken by “irregular” elements (the Stalinist International Brigades) to be assassinated in circumstances that have never been clarified. This is also the case of the anarchist Berneri, arrested by the Barcelona police, who, following the technique of fascist punitive expeditions, had previously made a home visit to ensure that the victim was unarmed. Instead of being taken to prison, Berneri is assassinated; the anarchists protest but do not even dream of breaking the solidarity that binds them to the antifascist government.
We have spoken of the International Non-Intervention Committee. It had fully succeeded in avoiding both the possible international complications arising from the Spanish war and the possibility of an autonomous intervention of the international and Spanish proletariat in the course of these events. We would like to point out that Russia, which left to the communist parties the task of protesting against the policy of the very committee in which it participated, did not take an initiative of open armed intervention in Spain until after the fall of Irún on September 1, 1936, and its consequences (the establishment of the centralized government headed by the “sinister” Caballero) had given it the necessary guarantees. The decree on the militarization of the militia and the “union handovers” of the CNT to complete, totalitarian discipline of the anti-fascist war were issued on October 14, 1936, and it was on the same date that the Soviet ship “Zanianine” landed in Barcelona. Needless to say that on the one hand all the measures that ensured the subsequent strike of May 1937 would be crushed were already in place, and on the other hand, the open intervention of Russia in the Spanish war was even more self-interested than that of Hitler and Mussolini, since all the weapons were being bought with gold by the anti-fascist government of Caballero first, then Negrin.
The Spanish tragedy ended in the spring of 1939 with a total victory for Franco. A few months later, on September 3, the second world imperialist war broke out. The events that preceded it were: the Munich Compromise of September 1938; the Russian-German pact of August 1939.
After the remilitarization of the western bank of the Rhine, which we discussed in chapter 5, and the absorption of Austria in the winter of 1938, it was the turn of the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Hitler defends and takes the reigns of the irredentist movement in the Sudetenland, which occupies the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia. England sends one of its delegates, Runciman, for the examination of the question and the report that this drafts is favorable to the claims of the Sudetenland. France, bound by a pact of mutual assistance with Czechoslovakia, takes at first a hostile position to the Sudeten movement, but then resigns itself to participate in the Conferences of Godesberg and Monaco, where the four Greats of the time (Germany, Italy, France, England) sanction a compromise that gives satisfaction to Hitler.
The controversy surrounding “Munich” has not yet died down. Russia, and with it the Communist Parties, claim that Munich represented the conclusion of the policy of the imperialist States of isolating the “country of socialism”. The French and British political personalities participating in the Munich Agreement, Daladier and Chamberlain, argued instead that this compromise allowed them to gain a year and thus prepare for war against Hitler. The latter, for his part, proclaimed that the agreement was part of his policy of “peaceful” and non-war reparation of the injustices enshrined in the Treaty of Versailles.
If one takes into account the what actually followed, it becomes indisputable that the thesis of using a year for the better preparation of a Franco-English war does not hold up, since in 1940, when, after the Polish campaign, Hitler launched the Blitzkrieg against the West, no obstacle stood in the way of his resounding victory. Similarly, the thesis of Russia and the Communist Parties is confirmed as false, since the Munich Compromise did not determine the isolation of Russia. Russia maintained diplomatic relations in view of a military alliance with France and England until August 1939; in this same August it was Russia that broke off these negotiations on its own initiative and, while the allied delegates were still in Moscow, established the economic and military agreement with Germany. In June 1941 the military alliance with France, England and America was formed and remained in force until the end of military operations in July 1945.
The Munich Compromise is explained by the different considerations from those supported by the imperialists who then had to move to the unleashing of the war. On the European level, it is certain that it responds to the needs of the inevitable German predominance in the framework of the intersection of the two industrial and agrarian basins (the Germanic one and the Balkan one) corresponding in turn to the connection of the two great waterways of the Rhine and the Danube. On the level of an eventual construction of the European economy, the Munich compromise represents a rational solution that capitalism tends to give to the natural needs of the structure of this continent. With regard to the antagonistic development of the bourgeois States of Europe and its repercussions on the international scene, the compromise had to come up against insurmountable obstacles, because neither Russia could adapt to being definitively eliminated from Europe, nor could the United States tolerate the establishment of a German hegemony, which could thus threaten its positions not only in Europe but also on other continents.
Having achieved a solution to the Danube problem in Munich, Germany moved towards a similar solution to the Polish problem. Meanwhile, France and England sent their military missions to Russia with a view to concluding a military alliance. As we have said, these missions are still in Moscow when the bomb of the Russian-German treaty drops.
Up until this moment, on August 23, 1939, Russia advocated in the diplomatic field punitive measures against “the aggressor” and it was Litvinov who defined the aggressor as those who, in violation of contractual commitments, invaded another country. The aggressor – Litvinov specifies – must benefit from the automatic economic and military support of the League of Nations. And it is evident that Hitler, with his attack against Poland, was in the specific conditions contemplated by Soviet diplomacy.
But, suddenly, the doctrine of being against the aggressor is completely abandoned, Russia pledges to give no support to Poland, which will be invaded a few days later, and receives in return not only a part of Poland, which it will hasten to occupy at the end of September, but also the Baltic countries and Bessarabia.
The Russian-German agreement has the same fate as the Munich Compromise. About two years later, on June 21, 1941, it’s torn apart by further events: Hitler invades Russia. Once again, to explain this event, the interpretations of the contenders are not enough. Not that of the Russians that they had thus gained two years to prepare for war, since the Blitzkrieg was just as violent and rapid in Russia as it had been in May-June 1940 in the campaign in the West, and on the other hand it would have been better to face Germany in 1939 when the Franco-English threat still existed and Poland had not yet been eliminated. Nor does the German argument hold water, since it was clear – and current events confirm this – that if a compromise was possible with France and England in order to prevent an overflow of German power towards the East, this compromise was absolutely impossible with Russia because of its age-old interests in Eastern Europe.
On another level, the Russian-German treaty had its full effects: in the Axis countries, in Germany and Italy, it strengthened the front of the fascist deception for the war against the international plutocracy; in the democratic countries, and especially in France, it determined the political fracture that was to facilitate first the German military victories, and then the establishment of the military occupation regime.
The French Communist Party, which until September 1938 had was in a bloc with the government for the defense of the fatherland in the name of the fight against Hitlerism and Fascism, and which had then passed to a violent opposition against the Munich Compromise presented as the “prize to the aggressor”, radically changed its tone, highlighted the imperialist objectives of France and England, but did not speak either of the equally imperialist objectives of Germany and Italy, or of the imperialist significance of the war that was developing in the meantime.
The leader of the French Communist Party, Maurice Thorez, defected and was able to reach Russia thanks to the support of the German authorities who facilitated his passage, and the French and Belgian Communist Parties asked the German occupation authorities for permission to publish their newspapers. Events precipitated, Hitler invaded Russia on June 21, 1941 and as a result there was a new radical change in the policy of the Communist Parties. They now move on to the organization of the Resistance and partisan movements.
The Italian bourgeoisie gave Fascism to the proletariat because it could not conclude its revolutionary struggle after the First World War. This same bourgeoisie, in compensation for the frenzied participation of the workers in the second imperialist conflict, has given the Italian proletariat a regime which aggravates the conditions of exploitation imposed by Fascism itself.
The open betrayal of the communist parties, which participated in the anti-fascist war, can today rely of the support of one of the most powerful imperialist States in the world to hinder the rebirth of the proletarian movement, but this betrayal can not eliminate the antagonisms on which capitalist society is based. These antagonisms not only persist but tend to worsen, and the Italian Left can serenely look back on its past struggle against capitalism and opportunism: it was the first to raise its voice against the deviations of the International, it has followed all the storm of events without ever deflecting, and it takes up the flag of internationalism and class struggle to continue its fight, whatever the difficulties to be overcome and the path that must be taken to reach the final victory.