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Bolshevism and the Third International (1936)

Views: 822 From the February 1936 issue of The Socialist Standard By no means unanimous will be the interpretations placed on the programmes formed at the recent seventh World Congress of …

by World Socialist Party US



5 min read

From the February 1936 issue of The Socialist Standard

By no means unanimous will be the interpretations placed on the programmes formed at the recent seventh World Congress of the Communist International. The official Communist Parties, of course, hail these programmes as the highest expression of revolutionary political wisdom, calculated to promote the best interests of the world proletariat, at the same time aiding the “Socialist Fatherland” in its unparalleled task of building up Socialism within its borders. The Communist opposition parties, with Trotsky as their moving spirit, see in these programmes full justification for their claim that as a force making for world world revolution the Communist International is utterly dead. Groups like the Proletarian Party of America will no doubt continue in their role of reluctant apologists for the rank opportunism of the Communist International. Socialists, however, will content themselves with pointing out the non-Socialist character of these programmes. To Socialists it would indeed be strange of the Third International, whose fountain head is in Moscow, would devote its energies in the struggle to achieve Socialism. Russia is now busily engaged in administering capitalism, to which end it naturally uses its influence over the Third International. This fact is no secret to the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its companion parties in the United States, Canada and New Zealand. For years the Socialist Party of Great Britain, in face of bitter attacks from those who read Socialism into the Russian conditions, have consistently and uncompromisingly exposed the capitalist nature of Bolshevist economy.

Socialism means the common ownership of the instruments of production by the whole society. It is inconceivable without the fullest democracy. Bolshevism means the State ownership of the instruments of production administered by a dictatorial minority. Lenin regarded as chimerical the notion that the working class could democratically effect a Socialist revolution. From the very first he held the view that the working class was so politically immature that it had to be led by a small, resolute group of professional revolutionists. This party of professional revolutionists was in no way to be democratically responsible to the working class, but was to demand the utmost obedience from this class. As Rosenberg points out in his “History of Bolshevism,” the split in the Russian Social Democratic Party in 1903 was caused by Lenin’s insistence that the Party must be exclusive and guide with an iron discipline the infantile working class. Contrary to the belief of so many Communists, the Soviets played no part in Lenin’s theories for many years. It was not until the March Revolution in 1917, when the Soviets arose spontaneously, that he accepted them as an accomplished fact and proceeded to make use of them. Even as he worked with them he had every reason to believe that his party could gain control over them, which is precisely what happened.

The creation of the Red Army marked the end of the Soviets as democratic organs of administration. The Soviets were then reduced to the position of a shadow government, a position that they occupy to this day. A dictatorship of the Communist Party arose, governing Russia from one end of the land to the other. Centralised governmental organisations took over the function of managing production. One branch of State machinery after another was created, until a bureaucratic State apparatus arose more powerful than the Tzar’s. The passage in Lenin’s “State and Revolution” which demands that every workers’ revolution must begin by smashing the bureaucratic State machine was conveniently forgotten. A huge bureaucracy developed. The leading positions became increasingly filled by men adept at the game of what in America is called “boss-politics.” Freedom of expression within the party becomes ever more curtailed. So far did these developments proceed in Russia that already in 1921 an Opposition raised its head, sounding the warning that one form of tyranny was being supplanted by another.

In an industrially backward country like Russia, Socialism was unthinkable. When the Bolsheviks made so much to-do about building up Socialism they are simply cloaking material conditions with fine-sounding phraseology. State capitalism formed an integral part of Lenin’s theoretical system. It was not Socialism he contemplated for Russia, nor for that matter for Europe when he thought he saw a revolution impending there. What he called Socialism was nothing more or less than nationalisation. He could only envisage what we call Socialism as a later development still. Rosenberg quotes Lenin’s definition of Socialism: “Socialism is nothing else than the next step from the stage of monopoly State Capitalism. Or—alternatively: Socialism is nothing else than a capitalistic State monopoly worked in the interests of the whole nation and therefore no longer a capitalist monopoly.” (“History of Bolshevism,” p. 103.) This is not Socialism; it is purely nationalisation. It is capitalism. It is what exists in Russia to-day. There the fundamental relations of capitalism exist. The workers in Russia, like those of any other capitalist country, are divorced from the means of production. To live, they must sell their labour power for a wage, which on the average is merely sufficient for their maintenance. Production of commodities for exchange on the market, money, with its multiple functions in a commodity-producing society, interest payments on bond flotations, income tax laws—most of the usual social processes of a capitalist economy are in operation in Russia.

Neither are class distinctions wanting. On this point we may quote Rosenberg:

Official Soviet statistics published in 1930 show that deposits amounting to 722 millions of roubles were credited in the books of the Russian Savings Bank. Of this only 91 millions belongs to workmen, 205 millions to employees and Government officials, 134 millions to “special” workers, i.e., members of professions, manual workers, etc., and only 46 millions to peasants as individuals. To these figures must be added 246 millions belonging to “legal” persons, behind which designation were concealed chiefly Collectives and other co-operative societies. This statistical panorama serves admirably to reveal the multiplicity of classes in modern Russia no less than the fact that in standard of living and opportunity for saving, the workers are by no means favoured above the rest. (p. 237.)

As industrialisation proceeds and the social wealth increases, these class divisions will become sharper. Capitalism may differ in form as between different countries, but its basic relations and consequences are the same everywhere. By erecting a string central government, keeping Russia unified, and establishing an embracive State capitalism which hastens industrial development, the Bolsheviks may have helped on social development in Russia. But this is quite another thing from saying that Russia is building up Socialism.

The American millionaire, Hearts, and others of his class who see their privileged position menaced by the Communist International, ought to be reassured upon reading the reports coming from the Seventh Congress in Moscow. For America, the Congress has in view such startlingly revolutionary measures as the creation of a Farmer-Labor Party, which is to “. . . win a majority of elective posts in the local, state and Federal Governments, levy a special tax on capital to obtain funds for social insurance and relief, cancel the Supreme Court’s right to make laws, and democratise the Senate.” Apparently some delegates to the Congress have the sagacity to see in these measures little difference from the reforms advocated by the Democratic Party. In a speech at the Congress on August 15th, Dmitroff called upon the American Communists to support Roosevelt in order to “prevent reactionary, anti-new deal finance capital from setting up a Fascist Government.” (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, August 17th, 1935.)

The Communist International has always been used to serve the needs of Russia’s domestic policy. The sudden somersaults that mark the history of the Communist International reflect changes that occurred in the economic policies inside Russia. From 1918 to 1921, when Lenin felt that the Russian Revolution would fail unless the revolution occurred in Europe, the tactics of the Communist International were shaped accordingly. The European Communist parties were ordered to preserve their independence and to expel all irresolute members. Proclamations were couched in flaming revolutionary language. By 1921 War Communism, so-called, brought things to such a pass that Lenin was forced to retreat by way of the New Economic Policy. Moreover, it became clear that the European Revolution was not imminent after all. With compromise at home went compromise abroad. The Third International ordered a United Front with the Social Democratic Parties of Western Europe. Finally, in 1928, when Stalin entered upon his course of so-called “building up Socialism in one country,” all attempts seriously to influence the European Labour Movement were abandoned.

The Communist International to-day serves chiefly to keep alive the fiction that the Soviet Union is ruled by the working class, who are engaged in building up Socialism. It is largely by means of this fiction that the ruling power in Russia secures the support of the working masses. These masses are told that they are building up Socialism and that on some fine day not too far in the future theirs will be a paradise on earth. This fable must be maintained if the Government’s standing with the workers is not to be damaged. The Third International aids in perpetuating this fable by propagating it among sections of workers in other countries. Because they believe Russia is leading the way to Socialism for the international working class, these sections lend their sympathy and support to the Soviet Union. In France the workers are even told that in the event of a war with Fascist Germany the French workers should fight in the trenches and abstain from subversive propaganda behind the lines.

Socialist refuse to be carried away by the Bolshevist myth. They will continue to point out the capitalist nature of Russian conditions. They well explain to the workers everywhere that they have nothing but death and untold suffering to gain by engaging in the next capitalist shambles—even of one of the belligerents happens to be Russia.

Frank Marquart (Worker’s Socialist Party of the United States)

Tags: Bolshevism, Classic Archive, Frank Marquart, Lenin, Socialist Standard, Soviet Union, Third International

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