Reprinted from the Workers' Advocate Supplement,
vol. 1, #3, May 1, 1985.
A Turn in the General Line of the International Communist Movement
The Demagogy of Dimitrov and the Seventh Congress
A Congress of Euphoria
The United Front From Above At All Costs
How was the United From From Above to be Obtained?
Class Collaboration with the Bourgeois Liberals
Bourgeois Liberalism Feared the Revolutionary Movement More Than It Feared Apartheid
Social-Democracy Also Feared the Proletarian Revolution More Than It Feared Fascism
The Bolsheviks in the Fight Against the Kornilov Revolt
. The following notes discuss certain of the main features of Dimitrov's speech at the Seventh
Congress. They are to serve as an introduction to the further analysis of Dimitrov's report that
will be printed in a subsequent issue of The Workers' Advocate Supplement.
A Turn in the General Line of the International Communist Movement
. The first point to be noted is that the Seventh World Congress of the CI itself proclaimed that on various subjects it was providing new views, different from those of the past. It did this in a devious way. On one hand, it presented itself as simply following in the footsteps of the previous congresses and as upholding all the past activity of the ECCI (Executive Committee of the CI). On the other hand, it not only created the general impression that it was throwing out the former views, and that this change would solve all the problems facing the working class movement, but in various passages it actually asserted that it was providing a new line. It called for a change in the general orientation of the communists, including changes with respect to united front tactics, the assessment of social-democracy, the method of overcoming the split in the working class movement, the method of agitation on the questions of war and peace, the stand towards bourgeois democracy, and so forth. If one puts these passages together, one gets striking confirmation of the fact that this Congress marked a new general orientation and was intended to do so.
. In his remarks that concluded the Seventh World Congress, Dimitrov proclaimed that: "Ours
has been a Congress of a new tactical orientation for the Communist International." (Emphasis
as in the original.) To a certain extent, Dimitrov tried to present this as simply adapting the
communist tactics to meet the changed world situation. But, as we shall see, these changes
affected the basic line itself. They amounted to throwing aside the revolutionary Leninist
teachings, and they were destined to weaken the anti-fascist struggle and do great harm to the
communist movement. In this section we shall start by simply listing the main changes
proclaimed at the Seventh World Congress, all of which were harmful; this alone shows the
extensive nature of the changes made in the mid-1930's. Then we shall go into more detail on
some of the changes, while leaving others for subsequent articles in The Workers' Advocate
. ** The Seventh Congress centered its attention on the question of the united front. Dimitrov,
soon after declaring that the Congress had a new tactical orientation for the work of the CI,
stressed that: "The Congress has taken a firm decision that the united front tactics must be
applied in a new way." (Emphasis as in the original. ) As we shall see, this "new way" consisted
of the demand that united fronts from above be realized at all costs with the social-democrats
and, generally, the liberals. Everything else was condemned as "sectarianism", and all policy,
agitation and actions were to be reshaped according as to what facilitated such united fronts.
. ** In his "Speech in Reply to the Discussion," Dimitrov also stressed that there was a new view on social-democracy. He stated:
. "Comrades, in view of the tactical problems confronting us, it is very important to give a correct reply to the question of whether Social-Democracy at the present time is still the principal bulwark of the bourgeoisie, and if so, where? . . . The joint effect of all this has been to make it increasingly difficult, and in some countries actually impossible, for Social-Democracy to preserve its former role of bulwark of the bourgeoisie. . . . the self-criticism of those German comrades, who in their speeches mentioned the necessity of ceasing to cling to the letter of obsolete formulas and decisions concerning Social-Democracy . . . was correct." (See the passage entitled "The Role of Social-Democracy and Its Attitude Toward the United Front of the Proletariat.")
. Dimitrov went on to paint the astonishing perspective that "The process of revolutionization in
the ranks of the Social-Democratic Parties now going on in all countries" would lead everywhere
to the merger of the social-democratic and communist parties. He admitted only that "In a
number of countries this will be a more or less difficult, a more or less complicated and
prolonged process" so that "We must even reckon with the possibility that . . . some
Social-Democratic Parties and organizations will continue to exist for a time as independent
organizations or parties." Elsewhere, presumably, the process of merger would be even smoother.
. ** It is this utopia of the world-wide revolutionary role of social-democracy and of world-wide merger between social-democracy and communism that was behind Dimitrov's proclamation in his closing speech that the CI had now entered upon the path of ending the split in the working class movement. Referring to merger with social-democracy as "forming a single mass political party of the working class," Dimitrov declared this in large shining letters as one of the new points of the Seventh Congress:
"At this Congress we have taken the course of forming a single mass political party of the working class, to end the political split in the ranks of the working class, a split caused by the class collaboration policy of the Social-Democratic Parties." (Emphasis as in the original.)
. The social-democrats may have been guilty of class collaboration in the past, Dimitrov says in
essence, but that's a matter of ancient history.
. ** In the closing speech at the Seventh Congress, Dimitrov also declared that there was a new line in the struggle against imperialist war as well. He stated:
. "Ours is a Congress of struggle for the preservation of peace, against the threat of imperialist war.
. "We are now raising the issue of this struggle in a new way. Our Congress is decidedly opposed to the fatalistic outlook on the question of imperialist war emanating from old Social-Democratic notions. . . .
. "Today the world is not what it was in 1914." (Emphasis as in the original.)
. Here we see Dimitrov championing the catchwords, so familiar from the statements of the post-World War II period, about opposing "fatalism" and about the changes in the world "since 1914". And the "new way" of approaching the question of war and peace consisted in putting forth peace as the central slogan and throwing out the revolutionary content of the struggle against war. As Ercoli (one of Togliatti's pseudonyms) stated in the major report to the Seventh Congress entitled "The Preparations for Imperialist War and the Tasks of the CI":
"The slogan of peace becomes our central slogan in the fight against war." (VII Congress of the CI, Abridged Stenographic Report, Moscow, 1939, p. 415, emphasis as in the original)
. ** In his "Speech In Reply to the Discussion," Dimitrov also talks of the need for a new attitude to bourgeois-democracy. He stated:
. "Our attitude towards bourgeois democracy is not the same under all conditions. For instance, at the time of the October Revolution, the Russian Bolsheviks engaged in a life-and-death struggle against all political parties which opposed the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship under the slogan of the defense of bourgeois democracy. . . . The situation is quite different in the capitalist countries at present. . . . Now the toiling masses in a number of capitalist countries are faced with the necessity of making a definite choice, and of making it today, not between proletarian dictatorship and bourgeois democracy, but between bourgeois democracy and fascism.
. "Besides, we have now a situation which differs from that which existed, for example, in the epoch of capitalist stabilization. At that time the fascist danger was not as acute as it is today. . . .
". . . It was the mistake of the Communists in a number of countries, particularly in Germany, that they failed to take into account the changes which had taken place, but continued to repeat those slogans, maintain those tactical positions which had been correct a few years before, especially when the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship was an immediate issue. . ."
. Note that Dimitrov is calling for new "tactical positions" on the question of "bourgeois democracy", different from those of the Bolsheviks in 1917 or of the international communist movement at the time of capitalist stabilization. He says that the struggle against fascism and reaction requires this change, which he apparently regards as taking up the slogan of "defense of bourgeois democracy".
. At the end of these notes we shall refer to Lenin's stand with respect to Kornilov's attempt to
install a military dictatorship by overthrowing the bourgeois-democratic Kerensky government in
the months prior to the Great October Socialist Revolution of the Bolsheviks in 1917. Lenin did
not find it necessary to surrender the work for the socialist revolution or to glorify
bourgeois-democracy to be able to fight effectively against the Kornilovite danger. And it should
be noted that, contrary to Dimitrov's implication, the CI had long experience with the struggle
against fascist coups in a number of countries -- Italy, Bulgaria, Poland, etc. However we shall
leave the detailed refutation of Dimitrov deceptive arguments on bourgeois-democracy, his
reversion to stock opportunist sophistry, to a later article.
. ** There was also a new line on the liberal bourgeoisie. However, Dimitrov was careful in this case never to mention the capitalist parties by that name, "capitalist", but instead presented them as parties of the toilers. For example, he talked of an "anti-fascist people's front" of the toiling masses, but then added that it should include the Radical Party in France, which is the party of the liberal bourgeoisie. However, Dimitrov didn't call it a capitalist party, a party of the liberal bourgeoisie, but instead characterized it as a party of the working masses, albeit one "still under the influence of the bourgeoisie".
. Ever since the Seventh World Congress, this Congress and Dimitrov's speech has been widely cited as the advocate of unity with the liberals and the liberal bourgeoisie, and it is notable that neither Dimitrov nor any other prominent participant in the Seventh Congress ever challenged that interpretation.
. Thus the Seventh World Congress, by its own assertion, provided "a new tactical orientation for
the Communist International" on a whole series of questions: the united front, social-democracy,
the method of overcoming the split in the working class movement, war and peace, bourgeois
democracy, and so forth. In fact, it marked a major turn in the life of the communist movement,
and its decisions affected all fronts of work. This will become even more apparent when we
discuss some of these changes in more detail, rather than simply listing them as above.
The Demagogy of Dimitrov and the Seventh Congress
. But before we go further into some of these orientations, we must take some time to point out the demagogical and disgusting method of discussion used by Dimitrov and other major speakers at the Seventh Congress. Dimitrov and company were not straightforward about their views, but engaged in the maximum amount of confusion-mongering and trickery.
. One of the basic methods used by Dimitrov in presenting the new line was to repeat revolutionary principles which had nothing to do with what he was proposing.
. For example, consider his description of what the united front should be. In his Report, Dimitrov says a number of things about the united front tactics which seem reasonable, simply better or worse repetitions of the ABC's of communist tactics. Thus he talks about militant struggle in defense of the interests of the working masses. He states that:
. ". . . The defense of the immediate economic and political interests of the working class, the defense of the working class against fascism, must form the starting point and main content of the united front in all capitalist countries.
. "We must not confine ourselves to bare ap peals to struggle for the proletarian dictator ship, but must also find and advance those slogans and forms of struggle which arise out of the vital needs of the masses, and are commensurate with their fighting capacity at the given stage of development. . . .
. "First, joint struggle really to shift the burden of the consequences of the crisis onto the shoulders of the ruling classes, the shoulders of the capitalists, landlords -- in a word, to the shoulders of the rich. . . ." (See the pasage "Content and Forms of the United Front.")
. Why, Dimitrov even goes on to emphasize that "The chief stress in all this must be laid on developing mass action locally, . . ." (He does, however, identify this with agreements that have been reached locally, rather than nationally.) And he states that pacts and agreements are only "an auxiliary means for realizing joint action, but by itself does not constitute a united front."
. But what was the reality behind Dimitrov's words?
. This reality can be seen by the example of France. Dimitrov himself says that he is theorizing on the experience of the French working class movement. He says, in his Closing Remarks:
. "We have not invented this task. It has been prompted by the experience of the world labor movement itself, above all, the experience of the proletariat of France. . . . the French workers, both Communists and Socialists, have once more advanced the French labor movement to first place, to a leading position in capitalist Europe, . . . ."
. But did the new methods of the united front in France, did the agreements negotiated with the French social-democrats, in fact promote effective, militant mass struggle to fight the capitalist offensive and the fascists, to shift the burden of the economic crisis onto the shoulders of the rich, and to purge the fascists?
. As a matter of fact, prior to the Seventh Congress, in order to obtain the pact with the social-democatic leaders, the Communist Party of France had to agree to omit trade union action from the agreement (so much for rank-and-file action to shift the burden of the crisis onto the shoulders of the rich) and to water down their tactics and actions, limiting even the number of demonstrations. Dimitrov should have discussed concretely the concessions the CP of France had made and the prospects for the struggle. Instead of this, he paints beautiful but meaningless pictures of some ideal, militant united front agreements with the social-democrats, agreements that defend the immediate economic and political interests of the working class, and on and on and on, a picture that has little if anything to do with the harsh reality.
. Or again, Dimitrov, discussing the tasks in France, talks big of the "purging of the State apparatus, the army and the police of the conspirators who are preparing a fascist coup." (Section II. C entitled "France") Why, if the new tactics could achieve this, wouldn't it show how backward, if not downright criminally sectarian, the old tactics were?
. But what was the reality? Thorez, speaking August 3, the very next day after Dimitrov's statement on purging the state apparatus of fascists, showed what these fine words became when one was bound hand in foot to the bourgeois Radical Party through the new line. Thorez, leader of the CP of France, identified the spirit of Dimitrov's remarks with the empty, bombastic declaration of a prominent Radical that the wonderful French army was already loyal to the French republic. Thorez stated:
. ". . . On July 14, in the demonstration of the People's Front, the Radical deputy, Rucart, vice-chairman of the Army Committee of the Chamber [French parliament], spoke in terms which I should like to be allowed to quote, so much do they harmonize with the thought expressed yesterday by our Comrade Dimitrov.
. "'The Republicans [supporters of the bourgeois-democratic republic as opposed to the monarchists and fascists] know that they can count upon the loyalty of the army -- the expression of public force, the army composed of the sons of the whole people -- to give the lie to all those who may endeavor to make of it a tool for the ambition of one man or for that of a handful of plotters. In the army, the navy and the air force -- officers, non-coms, soldiers and sailors -- they [the Republicans] salute the national forces constituted for the defence of liberty.'" (VII Congress of the CI, Abridged Stenographic Report of Proceedings, p. 212)
. If the French armed forces were actually so committed to liberty, there would have been little need to worry about a fascist coup in the first place and little reason to talk of purging the army. Yet Thorez blandly salutes the French army, instead of purging it, and confidently presents this as the spirit of Dimitrov's Report. Needless to say, no one contradicted Thorez, least of all Dimitrov in his Speech in Reply to Discussion.
. The same thing takes place with respect to the question of united front government in Dimitrov's Report. Dimitrov in his Report tends to give many formulations that basically repeat the formulations of previous CI congresses. Much (not all) of what he says therefore appears reasonable, if taken by itself.
. For example, Dimitrov assures one and all that he is not an opportunist and that the new line is not opportunist. Why, he agrees with all the past criticisms of opportunist distortions of the concept of "workers' government". He says, in the passage entitled "The Government of the United Front" in Sec. I of his speech, that "The Right opportunists considered that a 'workers' government' ought to keep 'within the framework of bourgeois democracy,' . . ." He says that in 1923, in the German provinces of Saxony and Thuringia, ". . . the Communists should have used their positions primarily for the purpose of arming the proletariat." He says that the communists must demand "control of production, control of the banks, disbanding of the police, its replacement by an armed workers' militia, etc."
. But once again the question arises: what did all Dimitrov's resonant-sounding phrases have to do with what was actually being planned and what actually ended up being done?
. Well, the discussion on united front government at the Seventh Congress was designed to pave the way for the CP of France to support a Popular Front government in France. Indeed, such a government did come to power next year, 1936, due in large part to the work of the CP of France.
. And what did this government do? It basically did none of the good things promised by Dimitrov. Yet neither Dimitrov nor the CP of France broke with the government on that account. They forgot all about the promises to oppose right opportunism.
. Indeed the French CP, far from overflowing the boundaries of bourgeois democracy, far from arming the workers, far from demanding control of production, control of the banks, disbanding of the police, and so forth, were concerned to do nothing that would frighten away the liberal bourgeois Radicals. Their rationale for not entering the first Popular Front government in 1936 was, in part, that their presence in the government would frighten the bourgeoisie.
. Dimitrov also makes use of other demagogical methods in his Report. For instance, he parodied the issues at stake and boiled them down to -- either mere repetition of the abstract truths of communism in splendid sectarian isolation, or the new line. His discussions of the history of the communist parties and the international movement are a masterpiece of garbling everything together. And he sidesteps one issue after another with empty rhetoric.
. One of the main difficulties in evaluating the new line of the Seventh Congress is penetrating
through all the camouflage and grasping what is actually being put forth.
A Congress of Euphoria
. One additional feature of Dimitrov's confusion-mongering deserves particular attention in and of itself.
. In our Party's study of the post-World War II period, we noted how the mistaken orientations were put forward under the guise of the most optimistic and euphoric assessments of the immediate prospects. Various stands which one might have imagined could only be defended as the most regrettable compromises forced by unfortunate circumstances were actually hailed as great advances and the key to unprecedented victories. For example, each new watering down of the line by the World Peace Council was hailed as the key that would unlock the door to millions upon millions of more sympathizers and block the road to war. And each new rightist stand to be spread in the world communist movement -- from petty-bourgeois nationalism to parliamentary socialism -- was hailed as the breakthrough that opened the doors to heaven.
. This type of official euphoria to justify opportunist stands makes its appearance in a big way at the Seventh Congress; it marks quite a contrast to the style of the previous World Congresses.
. The Seventh Congress met at a critical moment in the history of the world communist movement. A world clash of unprecedented proportions between communism and capitalism was in the making. Capitalism was in the midst of deep crisis and revolutionary forces were organizing, but at the same time the blight of fascism was spreading throughout Europe and elsewhere. The working class movement faced grave torments and the most severe trial. This called for a sober assessment of the tactics for and the state of the forces of the revolutionary movement: there had to be unbreakable confidence in the prospects of victory combined with the most practical and careful judgement concerning the next steps to be taken.
. Instead the Seventh Congress was responsible for some of the most absurd assessments. While claiming that the new line was necessary to oppose sectarianism which "finds expression particularly in overestimating the revolutionization of the masses, in overestimating the speed at which they are abandoning the positions of reformism, in attempts to leap over difficult stages and over complicated tasks of the movement" (Dimitrov's Report, Section III), it made the most incredible claims concerning what could be expected if only the new line were put in place.
. For example, at the same time as he denounces "self-satisfied sectarianism" for "overestimating the revolutionization of the masses," he made the most euphoric, complacent and absurd exaggeration of the revolutionization of the social-democratic parties and leaderships. According to Dimitrov, it was now the time for the amalgamation of the communist and social-democratic parties. Meanwhile Pieck, in his Report on the Activities of the Executive Committee of the CI to the Seventh Congress, declared nothing less than the end of the danger of reformism. "The era of the Second International in the ranks of the working class movement is over," he declared. "The situation in the capitalist countries, the position of world capitalism, which is unable to find a way out of its difficulties or to alleviate the want and hunger of the masses, shows that a new rise, a new blossoming of reformism is already impossible."
. The spirit of Dimitrov's speech and the Seventh Congress as a whole was that the problems in the past were all due to left sectarianism and would now all dissolve. If the communists faced great difficulties in penetrating the reformist trade unions, in stopping the fascist offensive, in training new members, in finding a common language with and arousing backward masses, or in any sphere, it was all due to this leftist sectarianism and now would all be solved.
. This euphoria appeared as well on the question of war and peace, where some truly astonishing assessments were made. It must be borne in mind that, at the time of the Seventh Congress, World War II was already casting its shadow before it. The world communist movement was openly discussing this, and the Seventh Congress itself devoted much time to questions that stemmed from this. Yet the Seventh Congress demanded that agitation must center on putting forward the peace slogan. In his "Report on the Preparations for Imperialist War and the Tasks of the CI," Ercoli (a pseudonym for Togliatti) declared that "The slogan of peace becomes our central slogan in the fight against war." (Ibid. , p. 415)
. Indeed, in his "Reply to the Discussion," he explained that:
. "Under such circumstances, we must in concluding the discussion on this point of the agenda of our Congress boldly put forward the following prospect: that it is not only possible to postpone war but that it is even possible to prevent the outbreak of a new imperialist war. But for this prospect to become real, our whole fight against war must assume a character differing profoundly from that which it had before." (Ibid. , p. 496, emphasis added)
. Thus the new line would even prevent the coming world war through agitation for peace in
general without the need to overthrow the bourgeoisie of key imperialist powers through
revolution or any connection to the revolutionary movement at all. And this incredible nonsense
was said in 1935! Just try to find an example of self-satisfied euphoria that can beat that! And yet
this new line was promoted under the pretext that it was the former, Leninist stand that
"attempt(ed) to leap over difficult stages and over complicated tasks."
The United Front From Above At All Costs
. Now let us proceed to one of the key aspects of the new line. The central theme of this line was the question of the united front. Dimitrov held that united front tactics were to be applied in a "new way." What was this way?
. We shall see this "new way" unfold if we examine the situation in the mid-1930's and how Dimitrov proposed to deal with it.
. Dimitrov described the difficulty facing the working class as follows:
. "Fascism was able to come to power primarily because the working class, owing to the policy of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie pursued by the Social-Democratic leaders, proved to be split, politically and organizationally disarmed, in face of the onslaught of the bourgeoisie. And the Communist Parties, on the other hand, were not strong enough to be able, apart from and in the teeth of the Social-Democrats, to rouse the masses and to lead them in a decisive struggle against fascism." (See "Is the Victory of Fascism Inevitable?" in Section I)
. This description brings up two basic aspects of the situation: the social-democratic parties collaborated with or would not fight the fascists, and the communist parties were not yet strong enough to rouse the masses in the face of social-democratic sabotage and diehard resistance.
. This was indeed a difficult and painful situation. As a result, the working masses were forced in various countries to go through the torments of fascism. At the same time, this experience was itself becoming a factor helping to arouse the world proletariat.
. How did Dimitrov propose to deal with this situation?
. He asserts that:
. "Was the victory of fascism inevitable in Germany? No, the German working class could have prevented it.
. "But in order to do so, it should have compelled the establishment of a united anti-fascist proletarian front, forced the Social-Democratic leaders to put a stop to their campaign against the Communists and to accept the repeated proposals of the Communist Party for united action against fascism." (Ibid.)
. Dimitrov had just explained that the social-democrats stubbornly stuck to the policy of class collaboration and it was necessary to organize the struggle "apart from and in the teeth of the Social-Democrats." He now closes his eyes and "leap(s) over difficult stages and over complicated tasks" by throwing aside his own description of the facts and concluding that the workers should have and could have compelled the social-democratic leaders to fight fascism. This is not an answer, but a sigh of regret or a terrified retreat from reality. It is reformist fantasy, no matter how much it poses as sober realism.
. Why didn't Dimitrov mention, either here or anywhere else in his Report, that fascism would also have been defeated if the workers had succeeded in breaking free from social-democratic class collaboration and had rallied around the fighting policy of the communists? Or that this was their task in order to defeat fascism after the fascist takeover. Indeed, this was how fascism was defeated in Albania. There it was a matter of the relation of the communists with the bourgeois nationalists, the Balli Kombetar (as the social-democrats were only a minor factor in Albania). The Albanian toilers never succeeded in forcing the Balli Kombetar into a united front with the Communist Party, but instead the CP of Albania (now called the Party of Labor) won the leadership of the masses through leading them in the anti-fascist national liberation war. Of course, this did not happen in a mechanical way, with the masses declaring directly for all the principles of communism as against bourgeois nationalism. The Albanian communists made effective use of united front tactics and of rallying the masses around the burning political task of the day: armed struggle against the fascist occupiers.
. Perhaps it might be said that the German communists had not yet succeeded in breaking the masses from social-democracy, so that some other path would have been needed to stop fascism. But, by the same token, the German social-democratic leaders had remained adamant against fighting fascism, so that the path of uniting with them in anti-fascist struggle had been similarly blocked. It is clear that Dimitrov had not found a key overlooked by the German communists. He was not giving a sober historical assessment, but instead giving his recipe for what should be done in the future.
. Dimitrov gives only one prospect for defeating fascism -- forcing the social-democratic parties, and their leaderships, to carry out an all-sided, militant and fighting proletarian policy and merging with them.
. There is no alternative in Dimitrov's Report. He discusses all sorts of possibilities: will the united front government be a necessary stage in the road to revolution? how soon will the social-democrats form a single party with the communists? what are the different types of demands that can be raised in uniting with the social-democrats? But he never raises what happens if the social-democratic leaders, despite everything, cannot be compelled to become good boys. And yet this last alternative is the usual situation facing the working class.
. The implication is crystal clear. One must come to terms with the social-democratic parties and leaders at all costs. Anyone who doesn't is a hopeless left sectarian. This is the "new way" united front tactics are to be applied. For Dimitrov, united front tactics and the very term "united front" apply only to united fronts from above with the social-democratic parties and their leaders (and the liberals, pacifists, etc. ) or to the process of bowing deeper and deeper to the right in order to remove anything that stood in the way of such agreements.
. This united front could allegedly be achieved immediately and without more ado. As Dimitrov says, emphasizing every word:
. ". . . The first thing that must be done, the thing with which to commence, is to form a united front, to establish unity of action of the workers in every factory, in every district, in every region, in every country, all over the world." (At the start of Section II)
. Ever since the CI was founded, it devoted all its efforts to establishing proletarian unity. It is clear that this unity can only be accomplished in the course of arousing the working masses in struggle. But now Dimitrov informs us that it is all very simple -- just begin with establishing a united front. Compel the social-democratic parties and leaders to take part in the struggle. The context makes it quite clear that when Dimitrov says "the first thing," this is not just an agitational turn of phrase. Indeed, as Dimitrov says a few paragraphs later, "And it ['unity of action by the proletariat in the individual countries and throughout the whole world'] is possible at this very moment." And if in fact it was not obtainable "at this very moment," this was allegedly the fault of the leftist sectarianism of the communists.
. Of course, it was possible at that very moment to use united front tactics. Such tactics are generally applicable, even at unfavorable moments. For example, even during the present ebb in the mass movement our Party is able to use Leninist united front tactics and this is one of the secrets of our success. But this is not the same thing as obtaining agreements with the opportunists, although such agreements cannot be ruled out in principle.
. Nor is it the same thing as creating a situation where "unity of action" can be said to prevail among the proletariat. Individual successes cannot be described as establishing the general "unity of action" of the proletariat; for example, consider Lenin's description of a demonstration in Rome where the proletariat followed the communists against the fascists. He said that this was an example of winning the majority of the proletariat, but described it as doing so "only partially, only momentarily, only locally". ("A Letter to the German Communists, August 14, 1921", Collected Works, Vol. 32, p. 522)
. To assert that a durable unity of action of the entire proletariat was possible all over the world at that very instant in 1935 was absurd. In general, to assert that the unity of action of the proletariat can be established at will at any instant is equally absurd.
. Yet Dimitrov is talking precisely of a decisive and durable "unity of action" (which he does not
call winning the majority of the proletariat to communism, a concept he avoids talking about,
probably regarding such talk as sectarianism). He is not simply talking of united front tactics. The
German CP used united front tactics, but he criticized them severely. The CI in general used
united front tactics before the Seventh Congress; but Dimitrov is calling for something different.
Furthermore, it is clear that, to stop fascism when the bourgeoisie is intent on installing it in
power, one needs a solid unity of action, not just individual successes. No, it is precisely a solid,
durable unity of the proletariat as a whole which Dimitrov is saying is obtainable in an instant,
obtainable via major united fronts from above with the social-democratic parties and leaders.
How was the United Fromt From Above to be Obtained?
. But how was one to achieve these major united front agreements from above, this complete unity of action, in the face of social-democratic splitting activity and class collaboration? What could the communists do that was so dramatically different from what they had already been doing?
. The implication of Dimitrov's Report was clear: they must make one concession after another. They must sell the communist tactics and organization off piece by piece. And in fact, under the new line, the communist parties would have to sell various forms of the mass struggle; fractions in the trade unions; opposition to opportunist politics; revolutionary agitation; support for the liberation struggle of the colonies, etc.
. Dimitrov suggests throughout his Report that it suffices for the communists to merely (merely!) shelve the revolution, as if it were something affecting only the future and could be safely left to the future. He apparently believed that it was only the future insurrection that divided the social-democrats and the communists, at least now that the fascist offensive had radicalized the social-democratic parties and leaders, so that both social-democratic and communist parties could enthusiastically unite on the immediate tasks. So, by raising the banner of bourgeois democracy, by leaving revolution out of mass agitation, by adapting to the prejudices of the petty-bourgeoisie, unity could be achieved right away, with the revolution left over as a future issue.
. This idea of Dimitrov's is expressed most clearly in his denigration of socialist revolution and embrace of bourgeois democracy, which will be dealt with in a subsequent article. But it is also expressed, in more veiled form, in his description of the united front.
. Thus let us examine more of Dimitrov's passage where he says that unity of action is possible "at this very moment". On the surface, this passage apparently simply reiterates, in better or worse fashion, the ABC's of united front tactics, namely, that the masses must be united in the struggle against the class enemy even though they still have not adopted the slogan for revolution. But the meaning of a passage depends on the context, as well as the words.
. Dimitrov states:
. ". . . The establishment of unity of action by all sections of the working class, irrespective of their party or organizational affiliation, is necessary even before the majority of the working class is united in the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and the victory of the proletarian revolution.
. "Is it possible to realize this unity of action by the proletariat in the individual countries and throughout the whole world? Yes, it is. And it is possible at this very moment. The Communist International attaches no conditions to unity of action except one, and that an elementary condition acceptable for all workers, viz. , that the unity of action be directed against fascism, against the offensive of capital, against the threat of war, against the class enemy. This is our condition."
. Dimitrov here is talking about the general unity of action of the proletariat, not individual united actions, as we observed at the end of the last section. This is one of the reasons why this passage is not simply the ABC's of united front tactics.
. We would note that the development of durable unity of action of the proletariat, whenever the proletariat has developed beyond a certain point, is generally not independent of its revolutionary sentiments and party affiliations. If the proletariat is not in a militant mood, if revolutionary sentiment is not building up, it is rarely likely that it will be able to sustain powerful class battles. We must win the majority of the working class for communism if we wish to speak of a united proletariat, of ending the split in the working class movement. The question of the slogan for revolution is one thing, but the question of whether the struggle takes on revolutionary features, overflows the bounds of normalcy is another. A proletariat that is still enchained to reformist normalcy will not unite with the revolutionary proletariat in major class clashes. Or, to be precise, such unity will only take place as the proletariat throws off the reformist chains.
. This brings us to perhaps the basic point. Dimitrov talks of whether the majority of the working class is united for the victory of the proletarian revolution. But Dimitrov never distinguishes in his Report between conscious unity behind the slogans for the revolution and the question of revolutionary versus reformist methods in the class struggle. For Dimitrov, the revolution is always some far off goal. There is never the question of developing the revolutionary movement at the present moment.
. Once one understands this view of Dimitrov, the above passage becomes in his hands, whatever it would be in someone else's, the simple demand that the revolution be set aside. Revolutionary work is simply the future insurrection itself, and why interrupt the present class struggle by interjecting it? In fact, the social-democrats and the communists were sharply divided on the question of struggle against or collaboration with the bourgeoisie. This question was the vital question for the immediate struggle and not just for the ultimate day of insurrection. The question of revolutionary versus reformist methods permeates every aspect of the ongoing class struggle.
. Lenin stressed that the difference between communism and social-democracy concerned every sphere of work, not just the day of insurrection. He held that:
. ". . . The Scheidemann [social-democratic rabid social-chauvinists] and Kautsky [social-democratic centrists and phrasemongers] gang differ from us not only (and not chiefly) because they do not recognize the armed uprising and we do. The chief and radical difference is that in all spheres of work (in bourgeois parliaments, trade unions, co-operatives, journalistic work, etc. ) they pursue an inconsistent, opportunist policy, even a policy of downright treachery and betrayal.
. "Fight against the social-traitors, against reformism and opportunism--this political line can and must be followed without exception in all spheres of our struggle." ("Greetings to Italian, French and German Communists," Oct. 1919, emphasis as in the original)
. This is why it was and is impossible to achieve unity with the social-democratic parties and leaders simply by dealing with the immediate issues. But the new line made failure to immediately achieve the united front unthinkable. Thus began the process of selling the class struggle and the communist organization to the social-democrats (and even the liberals) in exchange for agreements or the illusion of agreements.
. This process of unprincipled concessions has a certain momentum of its own. Whatever Dimitrov, Stalin and other proponents of the new line may originally have felt was the acceptable limits to concessions, there was a constant pressure to go further and further downhill as time went on. By the time of the Seventh Congress, in order to achieve united front agreements with the French social-democrats, the concessions had gone very far indeed. On one hand, the methods of struggle were to be limited to what was acceptable to the social-democrats. On the other hand, things went so far that Dimitrov sanctioned the liquidation of trade union fractions.
. Communist fractions in the trade unions were one of the basic parts of the organization of the parties of the CI. Yet Dimitrov, in order to justify the agreements the French CP had reached with the French social-democrats just before the Seventh Congress, brushed their liquidation aside with a sweep of the hand. He didn't discuss the utter seriousness of this concession, point to any exceptional circumstances that might justify taking such a step temporarily, or deal with what measures should be taken to ensure that it wasn't simply a major step on the liquidationist road (apparently no such preventative measures were taken). He didn't discuss any way to achieve the purposes of trade union fractions in some other form.
. Instead Dimitrov connected the liquidation of the trade unions to his acceptance of the idea of "the independence of the united trade unions of all political parties." This is usually called "trade union neutrality," and the CI had pointed for years to the fraud of so-called "trade union neutrality" and its real meaning as dependence on bourgeois politics. Even the Second International, in the days before its bankruptcy, had dealt with this issue. Lenin pointed out, with reference to the Seventh Congress of the Second International in Stuttgart, that it had resolved the issue of "trade union neutrality":
. "The resolution on the relations between the socialist parties and the trade unions is of especial importance to us Russians. . . . And the Stuttgart resolution--as Kautsky rightly observed and as anyone who takes the trouble to read it carefully will see--puts an end to recognition of the 'neutrality' principle. There is not a word in it about neutrality or non-party principles. On the contrary, it definitely recognizes the need for closer and stronger connections between the unions and the socialist parties." ("The International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart," Collected Works, vol. 13, p. 78)
. In a separate article, entitled "Trade Union Neutrality," Lenin stressed that:
. "Our whole Party, consequently, has now recognized that work in the trade unions must be conducted not in the spirit of trade union neutrality but in the spirit of the closest possible relations between them and the Social-Democratic Party. It is also recognized that the partisanship of the trade unions must be achieved exclusively by S. D. work within the unions, that the S. D. 's must form solid Party units in the unions, . . . " (Collected Works, vol. 13, p. 460)
. By accepting trade union neutrality in principle, Dimitrov showed the full opportunist nature of his bartering with the social-democrats. Dimitrov showed the essence of the new line -- covering up the abandonment of real work with fine phrases -- by pontificating that he would accept trade union neutrality but not the dependence of the trade unions on the bourgeoisie. He told the Seventh Congress:
. ". . . We are even prepared to forego the idea of creating Communist fractions in the trade unions if that is necessary to promote trade union unity. We are prepared to come to terms as to the independence of the united trade unions of all political parties. But we are decidedly opposed to any dependence of the trade unions on the bourgeoisie, and do not give up our basic point of view that it is impermissible for trade unions to adopt a neutral position in regard to the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie." (From near the end of Section V.)
. Here Dimitrov first accepts trade union neutrality, and then tries to sound orthodox by saying that he is against the trade unions being neutral in the class struggle. This is just acrobatics. The independence of the trade unions from the political party of the class-conscious workers inevitably fosters opportunism and standing aside from the political struggle, which in turn affects the very conduct of the economic struggle itself. The CI taught for years that alleged independence from parties inevitably meant dependence on bourgeois politics. Lenin pounded this home as well, and pointed out that the way out of neutrality was precisely the formation of revolutionary groups in the unions and close connections with the proletarian party. He wrote:
. ". . . A truth most strikingly confirmed by the war should be brought home to the masses, namely, that so-called 'neutrality' is bourgeois deception or hypocrisy, that in fact it means passive submission to the bourgeoisie and to such of its particularly disgusting undertakings as imperialist war. . . . Special Social-Democratic groups must be formed within all such organizations ['the industrial organizations of the working class, office employees, etc. ']; . . . " ("Tasks of the Left Zimmerwaldists in the Swiss Social-Democratic Party," Collected Works, Vol. 23, p. 144)
. Dimitrov devotes his effort to liberal phrasemaking rather than real work. Furthermore, note how the momentum for one concession after another builds. Dimitrov's passage justifying abandoning the trade union fraction was written to justify the French, but it is stated for all countries. One suspects that this concession then became a minimum demand which every reformist everywhere could demand of the communists, if he so chose: abandon your fraction and accept trade union neutrality (or "independence") -- the French have already done so and your Dimitrov declared that you too will be willing to do so.
. Thus the "new way" that united front tactics were to be interpreted is clear. United front tactics were now to mean the formation at all costs of major agreements from above with the social-democratic parties and their leaders and the liberals. These agreements, the united front from above, were no longer a part of united front tactics, as appropriate, but were to be regarded as the very touchstone of real united front work as opposed to sectarianism. No longer would such agreements be judged by revolutionary criteria, but the revolutionary criteria would be judged by their appropriateness for such agreements.
. This was to mean making tremendous concessions to bring about the united front from above,
since there was no other way to entice the social-democrats and liberals. These concessions
would mean not just changing the tone of the struggle against opportunism, as is sometimes
necessary, but would amount to toning down the class struggle to what was acceptable to the
social-democrats and liberals. The fancy words and slick demagogy to the contrary, it would not
be a united front in support of sharp class struggle, but a struggle and organization watered down
to what was acceptable to the hoped-for allies. And one of the tasks of the Seventh Congress was
to work out methods of agitation that might not frighten away these hoped-for allies and to tar the
revolutionary methods of work to be discarded as "sectarianism."
Class Collaboration with the Bourgeois Liberals
. It should also be noted that the new line demanded not only the united front from above at all costs with the social-democrats, but also a firm alliance with the liberals. Therefore, concessions were to be made to them also, as well as to the social-democrats. Thus the scope of concessions kept widening. Any talk of real social measures to aid the working masses was a fraud if these measures had to be designed in a way that wouldn't frighten the liberals.
. In his Report, Dimitrov demanded alliance with the liberals through a perversion of the idea of a "people's front". Dimitrov carefully distinguished in his Report between his version of the united front of the working class (which he regarded basically as the alliance from above with the social-democrats) and his version of the "broad people's anti-fascist front" (which, in his view, included or is even mainly the alliance with the liberals).
. Dimitrov begins by talking militantly of a people's front of the working class, peasantry and the basic mass of the urban petty-bourgeoisie. This is not a bad idea at all, and it is only too bad that, as we shall soon see, that Dimitrov really has something else in mind. But Dimitrov postures militantly, and presents himself as for an alliance of the working masses, stressing that the formation of such a people's front of the working masses
"is a particularly important task. The success of the entire struggle of the proletariat is closely connected with the establishment of a fighting alliance between the proletariat on the one hand and the toiling peasantry and the basic mass of the urban petty bourgeoisie constituting a majority of the population of even industrially developed countries, on the other." (See the passage "The Anti-Fascist People's Front" in Section II of his Report.)
. Here it sounds as if Dimitrov is talking about the necessity for the proletariat to lead the other toiling masses -- in other words, the basic ABC's of communist tactics. The pre-Seventh Congress united front tactics of the CI had always dealt with the peasantry and urban petty-bourgeoisie.
. But you know our Dimitrov's way of talking at the Seventh Congress. It turns out that Dimitrov, by a sleight of hand, actually is referring also to, or even primarily to, bourgeois organizations and parties. Look how Dimitrov makes the transition from the working masses to bourgeois organizations in this passage, a few paragraphs later, where he goes on to stress that:
. "In forming the anti-fascist people's front, a correct approach to those organizations and parties to which a considerable number of the toiling peasantry and the mass of the urban petty bourgeoisie belong is of great importance.
. "In the capitalist countries, the majority of these parties and organizations, political as well as economic, are still under the influence of the bourgeoisie and follow it. . . . They include big kulaks (rich peasants) side by side with landless peasants, big business men alongside of petty shopkeepers, but control is in the hands of the former, the agents of big capital. . . . Under certain conditions, we can and must bend our efforts to the task of drawing these parties and organizations or certain sections of them to the side of the anti-fascist people's front, despite their bourgeois leadership. Such, for instance, is today the situation in France with the Radical Party, . . ." (Ibid. , emphasis added)
. But what are the parties that are under the control of the agents of big capital? Isn't this a euphemism for the capitalist parties? For example, the Democratic Party in the U.S. is under the control of agents of big capital, and pursues the interests of the capitalist class, yet it appeals to and hoodwinks wide sections of the petty bourgeoisie and part of the working class. And indeed, in his Report, Dimitrov, while pretending to oppose both Democrat and Republican, already has several hints about supporting the Democrat Franklin Roosevelt for reelection as president, while after the Seventh Congress the CI never rebuked the Communist Party of the USA or its leader Browder for the policy of alliance with the Democratic Party.
. Lenin long ago pointed out that the class nature of the British Labor Party couldn't be determined simply by its working class following and that it was actually a "thoroughly bourgeois party". (See the "Speech on Affiliation to the British Labor Party" at the Second Congress of the CI. ) And here Lenin was talking about the British Labor Party, which had a direct organizational base in the trade unions and had the avowed goal of bringing together the working class. How much more does this apply to ordinary bourgeois parties, such as the Democratic Party and the French Radicals? (And, for that matter, even fascist parties, parties of the most reactionary elements of the bourgeoisie, have, if they are mass parties, some following among the petty-bourgeoisie.)
. Indeed, it is crystal clear that Dimitrov is referring to bourgeois parties because he himself is careful to call for alliance with the Radical Party (also sometimes called Radical-Socialists, but it was not the social-democratic party but the liberal party) and including it in the anti-fascist people's front. And the Radicals were a notorious do-nothing party of corrupt parliamentarians, a party whose role was to enable various liberal mayors and other politicians to enter the French Chamber (parliament) and exploit it as their private preserve. Yet this talk of the Radicals was not a slip of the tongue by Dimitrov, but was fully verified by the talk of the French delegation at the Seventh Congress about their new rapprochement with the Radicals.
. It is one thing to take account of the differences between the bourgeois liberals and the bourgeois reaction. It is quite another to prettify the liberals as anti-fascist fighters, to bring them into the anti-fascist front, to prettify their parties as organizations of the working masses, and to insist that "the success of the entire struggle of the proletariat is closely connected with the establishment of a fighting alliance" with the liberal parties.
. What does a general plan of alliance with the liberals mean? It means making a mockery of all
talk of social measures to aid the workers and peasants, for such measures would upset the liberal
bourgeoisie. And indeed this was the history of the Popular Front with the Radicals in France. It
means making a mockery of all talk of stern measures against fascism. And indeed this was the
result of the Popular Front with the Radicals. It means abandoning the class analysis of fascism
because this might offend the bourgeois liberals, and it means surrendering altogether the task of
building the independent movement of the working masses, giving up the work to win the
working masses away from the bourgeoisie, and instead lapsing into, nay, running towards, class
collaboration. And indeed this was the poison that began to corrode the French Communist Party
as it pursued the Popular Front with the Radicals.
Bourgeois Liberalism Feared the Revolutionary Movement
More Than It Feared Apartheid
. Thus we have seen that Dimitrov presents matters as if the bourgeois liberals were fighters against fascism. He bases his tactics on the view that the liberals will fight reaction and are an important section of the anti-fascist fighters. It is implied that the working class must put aside its class struggle because it hindered a people's front with such anti-fascist fighters as the liberals.
. But what does the actual experience of the anti-fascist struggle show? Were the bourgeois liberals anti-fascist fighters?
. The bourgeois liberal prefers milder forms of bourgeois rule than fascist reaction. But liberalism as a political trend fears the revolution more than it fears reaction. Liberalism aims at maintaining capitalist exploitation and at holding the masses down; this gives it something in common with the reaction. Like the reaction, it appeals to the exploiters and tries to prove to the bourgeoisie that it is the best representative of its interests. And when the bourgeoisie inclines to a new offensive against the masses, liberalism adapts itself to this offensive and even argues that it can carry it out more efficiently than the clumsy, heavy-handed reaction.
. This is why the basic stand of the bourgeois liberal is high-sounding phrases about democracy, about the constitution, about the love of humanity, and, in practice, taking part in the bourgeois repression of the masses. Today for example, the liberal Democrats appeal for votes from the masses by talking about how they oppose Reaganism, while in Congress they pass one police-state and militarist measures after another, one austerity measure after another, one anti-immigrant measure after another. This was also the typical method of the liberal of the 1930s.
, The French Radicals proved in the 1930s that they were no anti-fascist fighters. They constantly refrained from acting against the fascists, while harshly imposing one austerity measure after another on the working masses. Needless to say, they saw no need to support struggle against Franco's fascist revolt in Spain either. And, after the outbreak of World War II, it was fine with them to see the communist organizations in France banned, the main trade unions disbanded, communist militants carted off to prison, etc.
. Then France fell. Faced with the occupation of France by the German Nazis, what did the Radicals do? Many prominent Radical leaders rushed to join the Nazi puppet government of Marshall Petain, which was allowed by the Nazis to administer one part of France.
. The sorry collapse of French Radicalism in the face of fascism was by no means an exception to the general history of bourgeois liberalism nor the particular history of the French Radicals. Consider, for example, the role of Italian liberalism in the rise of the fascist Mussolini in the 1920s.
. During a crucial part of Mussolini's drive for power, the Italian Prime Minister was Giovanni Giolitti. Giolitti was a longstanding liberal: why, he had even taken a neutralist stand in World War I. In terms of contemporary American politics, he could be compared to Ted Kennedy or George McGovern, but it would perhaps be better to go back 50 years and compare him to Franklin Roosevelt, as both Roosevelt and Giolitti spent long years as the head of state.
. As a liberal, Giolitti saw himself as a representative of the bourgeois order. Faced after World War I with a revolutionary crisis and the mass upsurge of the Italian workers, Giolitti saw the need to repress the rising revolutionary movement. For this reason, under Giolitti, the government kept fostering the fascist bands, paying retired army officers to organize these bands, looking the other way when these bands looted and killed, etc. Naturally, Giolitti himself engaged in all the proper liberal-labor talk to hoodwink the reformist leaders of the Socialist Party of Italy and the main trade unions. This use of liberal deception was how he maneuvered with the reformists to sabotage the Italian general strike and factory takeover of 1920. The working class movement was to be called off and trust placed in the promises of Giolitti to introduce working class participation in management of the factories through government legislation.
. Meanwhile Giolitti kept waving the big stick behind his back.
. Giolitti was not himself for a fascist takeover. Indeed, he was one of the major figures of the bourgeois opposition to fascism during the early days of Mussolini's rule. But, as Prime Minister, he not only hadn't fought the fascists, but he had found them useful as a tool to murder revolutionaries and smash the revolutionary movement. The result of Giolitti's activity as Prime Minister had been to pave the way to power for Mussolini. And, in his later activity as a leader of the bourgeois opposition to fascism, he was still more against the masses rising than he was against Mussolini.
. Of course, not all liberals are as "left" as Giolitti. Consider the present-day opposition to the brutal, bloody rule of Pinochet in Chile. A bourgeois liberal opposition to Pinochet has developed, led by the Christian Democratic Party. These liberals worked for the original takeover by Pinochet and continued to support his bloody rule for a number of years. But when the mass upsurge began to shake the Pinochet tyranny, the Chilean bourgeoisie began to fear that the anti-fascist struggle would lead to revolution and one section of the bourgeoisie began to support liberal opposition as an alternative to revolution.
. Thus there can be no illusions in the anti-fascist fervor of liberalism. But the precise character of any particular liberal group cannot be deduced from general principles, but must be determined concretely. Some liberals and liberal groups pass over to fascism at certain times; other liberals never endorse fascism, although their activity facilitates fascism either directly by fostering fascist groups or through their activities in subverting the mass movement. Other liberals resist fascism to this or that degree, but with the aim of ensuring that capitalism is preserved and the struggle stays within narrow bounds. And there are cases of working masses who really want to fight, although they are under the influence of liberal political affiliations; this case however is unstable, since either they will eventually give up their liberalism or their struggle. The exact stand of the liberal groups is important in determining the tactics towards them.
. Lenin himself dealt with the particular example of the French Radicals in the pre-World War I period in his brief article "On France" of 1913 (see Collected Works, vol. 36, pp. 253-255). This is an example which is quite typical of liberal bourgeois parties. In this article Lenin protested against "the remarkable act of spinelessness on the part of Gustave Herve", who went over from semi-anarchism to advocating alliance with the bourgeois Radicals for fear of what Lenin called "the present reactionary wave of chauvinism, nationalism and imperialism in France." Lenin pointed out that it was the Socialists (he wrote this prior to World War I, before the Socialist Party went bankrupt and betrayed the working class) who were fighting against the reaction and working for a "proletarian bloc". Meanwhile the liberals were wavering and, in fact, various liberals were supporting or even campaigning for reactionary measures.
. Lenin distinguished between the liberals and the reactionaries. He pointed out that ". . . the Socialists have never refused to support the Radicals to the extent that they oppose the reactionaries." (Emphasis in the original) But this does not require the workers to line up with the Radicals. And only by exposing the Radicals could the class-conscious workers detach truly democratic elements from them.
. Lenin stressed:
, "How can there be a bloc, then, with this shameless bourgeois party of Radicals and 'Radical-Socialists'? Only by agitation against it among the masses can the French Socialists detach all democratic elements from that party, thereby obliging some part of it to go left, towards democracy."
. And he pointed out that it was precisely such agitation that would, incidentally, cause many Radicals to think twice about voting for reactionary measures.
. He wrote:
, "The only serious support for democracy and the Republic in France (as everywhere else) is the masses, the masses of workers and with them also the small peasants, and not the parliamentary politicians, buffoons, careerists and adventurers of the bourgeois parties, who declare themselves 'Radical-Socialists' one day, only to sell out democracy and country the next day . . ."
. And then followed World War I. In this war it was the French Radical leader Clemenceau who was the ultra-chauvinist who campaigned against the government on behalf of an even tougher policy of war to the bitter end and iron suppression of the rebellious workers. And the bourgeoisie granted Clemenceau leadership of France to carry out the ultra-militarist program. It can hardly be thought that the later experience of the French Radicals was any great surprise.
. Thus the bourgeois liberals have various stands, from justifying fascism to wringing their hands
over it, but they have never been known as fighters against reaction. The class-conscious workers
need special tactics to deal with the liberals, but the aim of these tactics is not to cement the
working masses to the liberal bourgeoisie, but to build the unity of the working masses by
winning the masses away from liberalism and to a real struggle. Even when the working masses
and the liberals find themselves fighting on the same side, it is the aim of communist tactics to
ensure the independent mobilization of the working masses and to win them away from illusions
in the liberals.
Social-Democracy Also Feared the Proletarian Revolution
More Than It Feared Fascism
.. As we have seen, the new line of the Seventh Congress centered on the view that social-democracy had become progressive and pro-working class. It held that the only way fascism could be defeated was through an all-encompassing united front from above with the social-democrats; and it strove for this united front at all costs. Further, it held that the political unity of the working class would be restored through merger of the social-democratic and communist parties, and that such mergers would come quite soon.
. What did the history of the struggle against fascism show? Were the social-democratic parties and leaders really militant fighters against fascism, to say nothing of allegedly being pro-working class and ready to merge with the communist parties to form new, united revolutionary parties?
. As the Seventh Congress took the example of France as its model, it may be useful to see what happened to the French social-democrats, whose party was the SFIO (for French Section of the Workers' (Second) International).
. The SFIO ministers in the Popular Front government were quite happy to restrict themselves to some mild reforms and to fail to carry out even the promises of the Popular Front program. Indeed, it was the social-democrat Blum, then head of the government, who announced the "pause" in implementing the Popular Front program in February 1937, whereby the government instituted austerity measures and gave up even the pretext of working to carry out its own program and instead called a "pause". Needless to say, the Popular Front government didn't encourage, but on the contrary put a damper on the activity of the working masses against the employers. As well, the social-democrats didn't push through any measures that would have really smashed the fascist bands or purged the French bureaucracy and army of fascism.
. It was also Blum who didn't just consent to the strangulation of the anti-fascist fighters in Spain, but who was an initiator, international leader and organizer of the campaign for "non-intervention" in Spain, whereby the bourgeois-democratic countries not only refused to send aid to the Spanish Loyalists (opponents of Franco), but embargoed military supplies to Spain, supposedly as a way to force Nazi Germany and fascist Italy to stop aiding Franco by setting a good example.
. But there was more to come. The bankruptcy of the SFIO was fully displayed after the fall of France to the Nazis, when France was divided into one area directly administered by the German Nazis and another region administered by the Nazi puppet regime of Marshall Petain. The majority of its parliamentarians voted on July 10, 1940 to give dictatorial powers to Marshall Petain, as he set up the pro-nazi Vichy regime. Prominent leaders of the SFIO accepted positions in the Vichy government, including Paul Faure, who had been Secretary of the SFIO, Spinasse, who had been minister of commerce in Blum's Popular Front government, and the trade union leader Rene Belin.
. Despite this, the SFIO, like other parties and trade unions, was suppressed and various leaders arrested. But, Dimitrov to the contrary, the repression of social-democracy by the fascists did not convert social-democracy into militant fighters. Instead, the SFIO went to pieces, some leaders going over to fascism while another section of it eventually reorganized and resisted fascism, albeit in the social-democratic manner -- loyal to Anglo-American-French imperialism and serving as an anti-communist buffer to prevent proletarian revolution.
. Dimitrov had claimed, at the Seventh Congress, that the working class should have forced the German social-democratic party and leaders to fight. He had implied that it was just the sectarianism of the German communists that had prevented the working class from accomplishing this transformation of social-democracy, and the new line adopted at the Seventh Congress was supposed to eliminate this sectarianism and ensure united action with social-democracy as a whole in defeating fascism. And the French communists were supposed to be model in implementing the new line.
. But it seems that half a decade of the new line with respect to French social-democracy did not prevent it from either working to impose austerity on the French workers, or helping to strangle the Spanish anti-fascist fighters, or seeing many of its leaders go off and join the pro-Nazi Vichy regime.
. This treachery of the French social-democrats was not something new to the history of world social-democracy. One can recall the Conciliation Pact of 1921 of the Italian social-democratic leaders with Mussolini, where they dealt with his drive to power and his armed smashing up of working class political organizations and trade unions by signing an agreement with him to avoid violence. This served them as another reason to advise the working class to refrain from rising in armed resistance to the fascist hordes, while the fascists promptly ignored the pact and continued terrorizing one town after another.
. It might be worthwhile to take a brief look at the experience of German social-democracy and its role in facilitating the rise to power of Hitler. What was the real reason that they had not united with the communists to fight against Hitler's takeover?
. The German social-democratic leaders, in face of the crisis that was building up in Germany and the rise of communist strength, were more concerned with avoiding revolution and the mass rising of the working class in struggle then with fighting the fascists. The German social-democratic leaders wished to keep their opposition to fascism well within the bounds of bourgeois politics and bourgeois maneuvering.
. Thus the German social-democratic leaders refused united front proposals that were made by the German communists at various crucial moments. For example, the German communists had been willing to throw themselves into battle against the illegal action of the reactionary German government (not yet the Hitler government) in July 1932 of removing the Social-Democratic government of Prussia, the must powerful province of Germany, but the social-democrats preferred not to raise the working class in struggle and instead went through various futile legal maneuvers. The German communists also proposed, after Hitler's rise to power at the beginning of 1933, to organize joint action with the social-democrats, such as a general strike, but the social-democrats still refused, preferring to believe that Hitler would have to rule constitutionally.
. Thus, consider the attitude to the Nazis of Severing, a major Social-Democratic leader, who as Prussian Minister of the Interior (i.e. police-chief) had been involved in shooting down communist May Day demonstrations in 1929 and in banning the Red Front Fighters League. In mid-1932 he stated that "The Social Democratic Party, no less than the Catholic Party, is strongly inclined to see Herr Hitler's Nazis share the Government responsibility." (Cited in Dutt's Fascism and Social Revolution, p. 149) What an anti-fascist strategy! The social-democrats believed they could tame Hitler by having him take power as part of a coalition, before he had a majority.
. When Hitler came to power on Jan. 30, 1933 the social-democratic leaders continued this line. They declared that Hitler had come to power in a constitutional fashion, and hence he would have to rule that way. Therefore the working class shouldn't rise up to fight him, but should preserve all the necessary legalities.
. Various leaders of the social-democratic party and trade unions tried to reach an accommodation with Hitler. Thus, just before the dissolution of the social-democratic trade unions, their leader Leipart wrote to Hitler, begging him to come to an agreement, stating:
. "The social tasks facing the trade unions must be carried out, no matter what the government regime may be . . . they are prepared to collaborate with the employer's organizations . . . recognize government control . . . They offer help to the government and parliament [i.e. the Hitler-controlled Reichstag] with their knowledge and experience." (Cited in 1933 in Fritz Heckert's article "Why Hitler in Germany?" in the C. I. Journal, vol. 10 #10)
. The political leaders of the German Social-Democratic Party weren't any better. Well after the Hitler terror had begun, on May 17, 1933, the parliamentary group of the German social-democrats joined in a unanimous acclamation of Hitler (the Communist Party had already been expelled from the Reichstag) and voted for the government resolution. (Dutt, p. 150) And Wels, leader of the German Social-Democratic Party, spoke in the Reichstag, just prior to the dissolution of his party, proclaiming that:
. "The social-democrats are those who helped to promote Hitler to his present position. . . . The social-democrats fully subscribe to the program of foreign policy outlined by Hitler in his declarations." (Cited by Heckert, op. cit.)
. Indeed, Wels had even resigned from the executive of the Second International in protest against "atrocity stories" against Hitler. Of course, this hardly meant that the Second International was seriously mobilizing against Hitlerism.
. With the leadership of the German social-democrats firmly in the hands of such advocates of conciliation of Hitler, it can be seen why no united front came into existence between the communists and social-democrats to fight Hitler. It can also be imagined what kind of concession would have been necessary to achieve a united front. The social-democratic leadership regarded a united front not as a way to fight Hitler, but simply as a way to stop criticism of themselves, and this was the only type of united front they were willing to accept.
. As a result of the attempt of various German social-democratic leaders to come to terms with Hitler, another section of social-democratic leaders separated from them. They were forced underground or into exile by the Hitlerite repression. But they advocated opposition to Hitler in the social-democratic fashion, and they still obstructed the development of the anti-fascist struggle. The gulf between the social-democratic leaders and the social-democratic workers at the base was wider than ever.
. It can be seen that the fate of German social-democracy was remarkably close to the later fate of French social-democracy. The new line of Dimitrov had made little difference. In both cases the social-democratic parties went into crisis, with one section of leaders going over to fascism or to frenzied attempts at reaching accommodation with fascism. In both cases another section of leaders had to reorganize the party.
. Thus the basis of Dimitrov's tactics, that social-democracy had changed its nature, was a fraud.
Just as before, social-democracy acted to subvert the working class struggle and subordinate the
working masses to the bourgeoisie.
The Bolsheviks in the Fight Against the Kornilov Revolt
. The new line of the Seventh Congress flew directly in the face of Leninism. Dimitrov did his best to create the impression that the communist movement had no experience of struggle against reaction -- at least, not successful experience -- and so new tactics were needed. In fact, such experience did exist. There was the experience of the long struggle of the Bolsheviks against the dictatorial regime of the tsars. And as well, the Bolsheviks also had experience of the struggle against a reactionary coup aimed at a bourgeois-democratic state. And it is particularly this latter experience of the fight against the Kornilov revolt which it will be quite worthwhile to go into at this point, for it refutes one after another of the theses put forward by Dimitrov.
. First, let us recall what the Kornilov revolt was. Kornilov was a reactionary tsarist general, retained by the Provisional Government after the Feb. revolution of 1917 that overthrew the tsar. The Kornilov revolt took place between the February and October revolutions, during the period of the bourgeois-democratic Kerensky regime.
. Kerensky himself, on behalf of the reformists supporting the bourgeois Provisional Government, at first welcomed the Kornilov plot for a military dictatorship and encouraged it. At the last movement, however, he vacillated again and opposed the Kornilov plot.
. The Bolsheviks made use of the fight against Kornilov to invigorate the revolutionary movement. The defense of Petrograd against Kornilov brought forth a mass upsurge of the working class. The Bolsheviks did not ignore the difference between the reformists and the Kornilovites although they knew that Kerensky had conspired with Kornilov, nor did they surrender to illusions in Kerensky. They did not shrug their shoulders at Kornilov and take a passive stand, nor did they abandon their course for a socialist revolution.
. Since the struggle against the Kornilov revolt provides a good example of the Bolshevik attitude to many of the questions confused by Dimitrov and the Seventh Congress, it will be worthwhile to examine a somewhat lengthy quotation from Lenin on the struggle against Kornilov. It is not being suggested that this will provide a stereotyped pattern that answers all the questions of the struggle against fascism under all conditions. But it does provide an example of how Leninist tactics work out in one concrete situation, shows various complexities that can arise, and refutes many of Dimitrov's opportunist dogmas.
. Lenin, discussing the Kornilov revolt, wrote the following in his letter "To the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.":
. "The Kornilov revolt is a most unexpected (unexpected at such a moment and in such a form) and downright unbelievably sharp turn in events.
. "Like every sharp turn, it calls for a revision and change of tactics. And as with every revision, we must be extra-cautious not to become unprincipled.
. "It is my conviction that those who become unprincipled are people who . . . slide into defencism or . . . into a bloc with the S.R. s [Kerensky was an S.R. ], into supporting the Provisional Government. Their attitude is absolutely wrong and unprincipled. . . .
. "Even now we must not support Kerensky's government. This is unprincipled. We may be asked: aren't we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing line here, which is being stepped over by some Bolsheviks who fall into compromise and allow themselves to be carried away by the course of events.
. "We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky's troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness. There is the difference. It is rather a subtle difference, but it is highly essential and must not be forgotten.
. "What, then, constitutes our change of tac tics after the Kornilov revolt?
. "We are changing the form of our struggle against Kerensky. Without in the least relaxing our hostility towards him, without taking back a single word said against him, without renouncing the task of overthrowing him, we say that we must take into account the present situation. We shall not overthrow Kerensky right now. We shall approach the task of fighting against him in a different way, namely, we shall point out to the people (who are fighting against Kornilov) Kerensky's weakness and vacillation. That has been done in the past as well. Now, however, it has become the all-important thing and this constitutes the change.
. "The change, further, is that the all-important thing now has become the intensification of our campaign for some kind of 'partial demands' to be presented to Kerensky: arrest Milyukov, arm the Petrograd workers, summon the Kronstadt, Vyborg and Helsingfors troops to Petrograd, dissolve the Duma, arrest Rodzyanko, legalize the transfer of the landed estates to the peasants, introduce workers' control over grain and factories, etc., etc. We must present these demands not only to Kerensky, and not so much to Kerensky, as to the workers, soldiers and peasants who have been carried away by the course of the struggle against Kornilov. We must keep up their enthusiasm, . . . The 'Left' S.R. s must be especially urged on in this direction.
. "It would be wrong to think that we have moved farther away from the task of the proletariat winning power. No. We have come very close to it, not directly, but from the side. At the moment we must campaign not so much directly against Kerensky, as indirectly against him, namely, by demanding a more and more active, truly revolutionary war against Kornilov. The development of this war alone can lead us to power, but we must speak of this as little as possible in our propaganda (remembering very well that even tomorrow events may put power into our hands, and then we shall not relinquish it). . . . We must relentlessly fight against phrases about the defense of the country, about a united front of revolutionary democrats, about supporting the Provisional Government, etc., etc., since they are just empty phrases. We must say: now is the time for action; you S.R. and Menshevik gentlemen have long since worn those phrases threadbare." (Collected Works, vol. 25, pp. 285-9, emphasis as in the original.)
. The Kornilov revolt, just as the fascist offensive in various countries, necessitated a temporary change of tactics. The example of Bolshevik tactics shows how flexible tactics are combined with the determined upholding of the revolutionary struggle.
. First of all, we see that the struggle against the reactionary Kornilov caused a change in the tone and form of agitation against Kerensky. The Bolsheviks could not simply go ahead with the former way of exposing Kerensky. They had to concentrate attention on the struggle to beat back the Kornilov plot.
. But this did not mean abandoning the content of the criticism of Kerensky. Not only did Lenin stress that not a single word of criticism of Kerensky should be renounced, but the task was to press home to the masses Kerensky's complete incapacity to deal with the Kornilov plot.
. In this regard, we see an example of the falsity of Dimitrov's propaganda that a fascist threat means that the immediate issue is bourgeois democracy or fascism, and that the socialist revolution must be put aside. The issue was not supporting Kerensky or the Provisional Government, but mobilizing the masses against the Kornilov threat. Lenin did not call for revising the attitude to the Provisional Government on the grounds that it was better than Kornilov, but for using the struggle against Kornilov to push forward the revolutionary movement. It was precisely the mass mobilization, not the Kerensky government, that was the real barrier to Kornilov. And the intensification of the struggle against Kornilov would lead to an upsurge of the revolution and exposure of the hollowness of Kerensky and the opportunists.
. Lenin points out that, in the particular circumstances around the Kornilov revolt, it was not correct to agitate on the relationship between the fighting Kornilov and the coming Bolshevik assumption of power. But, nevertheless, it was essential to maintain the strategy leading to the socialist revolution, and in fact the struggle against Kornilov was bringing Russia even closer to socialist revolution.
. This is particularly significant as the revolutionary process never proceeds in a straight line. As the revolution mounts, so does the counterrevolutionary frenzy of the bourgeoisie, and its seeks for such saviors as military dictators, fascists, and so forth. If one has to wait for a "pure" revolution, which proceeds nicely after the stage of pure bourgeois democracy has been reached and all possible threats from the right to bourgeois democracy have been defeated, then such a revolution will never come. There was Kornilov in Russia, the Kapp putsch in Germany, the rise of the fascists in Italy, and so on and so forth. The Kornilov phenomenon, which at first sight looks so particular to Russia and to the Russia of a particular time and circumstances at that, actually is a rather general phenomenon, which has regularly come up in times of revolutionary crisis.
. There are other issues too that are clarified by Lenin's views. He is particularly contemptuous of the empty phrases which flowed from the opportunists in such abundance. Instead of actual fighting Kornilov, the Mensheviks and other opportunists used the occasion to feed the people on verbal flourishes. How this reminds one of the empty phrases which Dimitrov and company wanted to use as the basis of united front politics with the social-democrats. How it reminds one of Thorez praising the liberal politician Rucart for fancy phrases about the loyalty of the French armed forces to democracy when in fact the army, and the republican institutions in general, were honeycombed with reactionaries. Revolutionary communist policy is to teach the people to distrust fancy phrases and to look at what is actually being done in the world.
. And the fight against Kornilov shows the need to get rid of petrified or rigid tactics. It was only by adjusting immediately to the burning political task of the moment -- the fight against Kornilov -- and by knowing how to adjust the various fronts of work in light of this task that the Bolsheviks were able to push forward the revolutionary movement.
. Thus, on one front after another, the struggle against Kornilov provides a refutation of
Dimitrov's theses: it shows that the issue isn't choosing between the existing
bourgeois-democratic state and the fascist threat, but developing the revolutionary movement
against the fascists; that the work for the socialist revolution cannot be set aside; that the struggle
against social-democracy has to continue just as vigorously as ever, but with different forms; that
deeds, not fancy words, are what count; and that the revolutionary Leninist principles fully apply
to the fight against reactionary or fascist coups. <>
(WAS) The Workers' Advocate, and Workers' Advocate Supplement, which carried additional
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Marxist-Leninist Party of the US. The MLP, which was founded on Jan. 1, 1980 and dissolved in
November 1993, stemmed from the anti-revisionist movement of activists who wanted to push
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workers' movements, and the WA itself was published from 1969 to 1993. The cause of
anti-revisionist communism is upheld today by the Communist Voice Organization, and the
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