Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39


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In the Russian party, this ended not with the banning of factions, but with the anti-Trotsky campaign. According to E. Thereafter it spoke exclusively with the official voice of the central committee or of the Politburo. The majority had the right to set priorities and to structure activity, including when, where, and what was open to debate.

When it was democratic and sensitive to minority rights, these majority rights were not questioned. Once a decision was taken, no discussion was to be allowed thereafter. As the right to dissent was attacked, so of course was the right to public debate over differences.

Revolution: The Human Future

These rights were so ingrained in the Communist movement that it took years for them to be curtailed. But this Zinovievist practice is today accepted as Leninist operating practice by many sincere revolutionary groups unaware of its origins at the Fifth Comintern Congress. Democratic centralism Confusing Zinoviev with Lenin has left lingering distrust about Leninist democratic centralism, which is centralized, disciplined action democratically decided upon despite tactical or political disagreements.

There is no need for discipline if there are no disagreements, or for democracy if it is restricted to discussion that does not come to conclusions or engage in collective action. Leninist democratic centralism was organized to give combat for revolutionary politics against other political tendencies, and to meet the centralized, disciplined power of the state and the employers with an effectively strong, disciplined opposing force capable of achieving victory. Democratic centralism is not rigid, but changes with circumstances: tight discipline, even command, in unified combat; totally free discussion in the absence of immediate action.

At its best, the discipline of Leninist parties prioritize collaboration for the overcoming of differences, personalism, moralism, and individualism. There is an emphasis on education and training to raise the political level of all members and to develop their potential for leadership in the working class. The high level of disciplined functioning, of cadre creation, can only exist by commitment to the basic traditions, theory, and program of the movement, and by loyalty to comrades and the organization.

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Leninism places tremendous emphasis on the subjective factor. Under specific historical circumstances, when objective conditions for revolution are mature and a prerevolutionary situation opens, the subjective factor is decisive. The history of the revolutionary movement had confirmed that the key to success is a politically experienced revolutionary party with mature leadership and a disciplined, educated cadre capable of becoming the leadership. Zinoviev made and replaced party leaderships at will, basing his decision not on competency, but on considerations of personal loyalty.

Purges and expulsions for dissent created a submissive membership trained to accept the changing twists of CP politics, no matter how bizarre. Effective revolutionary leadership requires a collaborative collective with a division of labor, drawing upon different individual strengths and talents, but taking collective responsibility for the organization and the leadership team.

Leninist norms of leadership and cadre were lost in the crackup of the Comintern, preserved only in small groups on the margins of the radical movement. A process should never be confused with a conclusion; its internal contradictions do not lead to one inevitable outcome. While Zinoviev in initiated a process of strangling the still revolutionary, democratic culture of the Communist parties, its completion took the rest of the decade.

But when they became completely subservient to Zinoviev, entirely reliant on Moscow, they were propped up by the Comintern. The PCF was the party that Trotsky was most identified with, where he had the most personal prestige and authority. If support for Trotsky could be eliminated in the PCF, it could become a model to be repeated throughout the Comintern. Trotsky pioneered the Third International effort to bridge the historic gap between left-socialists and syndicalists.

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He overcame the political distrust of these antagonistic traditions by building common revolutionary program and activity in opposition to imperialism and war. The authoritative French revolutionary syndicalists influenced by Trotsky—Alfred Rosmer, Pierre Monatte, Albert Bourderon, and Alphonse Merrheim—were central in gathering international support from syndicalists and anarchists in forming the Third International.

At the January PCF Congress at Lyon, where Treint had been demoted due to his incompetence, there was no discussion of the conflict in the Russian party, and no Trotskyist faction. In the next month, Treint learned to use the Russian conflict for his own career.

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When the theory of social-fascism was adopted, Treint was overeager to prove himself to Zinoviev. Unlike Zinoviev he believed his own ideological inventions. We felt subsidies from Moscow would not only deprive us of our independence, they would lead the party to forget the importance of individual effort by its members.

Membership and support declined dramatically, while the bureaucratic apparatus expanded rapidly.

The Bolshevization of the PCF was a disaster in every respect. When Treint and Girault went they yielded their places. It had succeeded in turning the party into the monolith Zinoviev desired, and it did so faster than anyplace else. It was a disaster in that it drove out militant, independent thinking, revolutionary workers, and reduced the specific weight of Communism in the French working class. It was a tragedy in that its success opened the door to Stalinization and set the French working class back for generations.

The German party Outside of Russia the most important Communist Party was that of Germany, whose working class was the best organized, the most militant and disciplined, with the strongest revolutionary tradition and potential. Confirming Bolshevik perspective, revolution broke out in Germany in November , with workers councils larger, stronger, more radical and widespread than in Russia.

What the Bolsheviks had not anticipated was the difficulty of building a revolutionary party and leadership in the midst of revolution itself, and that social democracy would ally with the army high command to be the chief organizer of the counterrevolution. This action of the Social Democratic Party of Germany SPD in —19, which deployed Freikorps , armed counterrevolutionary detachments, to crush the Communists, divided the working class with a line of blood.

Despite this, in the years up to , the German workers engaged in one courageous battle after another in an ongoing revolutionary process, and built the Communist Party of Germany KPD into a mass party. The most complete, objectively revolutionary situation developed in out of the wild inflation that reduced the living standards of the working class and petty bourgeoisie to misery and starvation. In this context France invaded and occupied the Ruhr region. A dense network of factory councils emerged in the spring and early summer of , led by the KPD, which now had a majority of the working class behind it.

The party leadership, including Brandler and Thalheimer, were paralyzed by these rapid developments and asked the Russian party to send Trotsky to Germany to help lead the revolution. The Russians turned the request down for factional reasons.

Revolution's other world : communism and the periphery, 1917-39, Ken Post

But the Russian leadership, already conservative and bureaucratic, procrastinated, temporized, and could provide no revolutionary lead of their own, letting the greatest opportunity for revolution and the salvation of the Russian workers state pass away. The final defeat of the German Revolution was catastrophic, ending the period of world revolutionary upheaval that had begun in The wreckage of the European revolution demoralized the international working class, making it susceptible to the great lie of twentieth century socialism: that Stalinism was the continuation of the Russian Revolution, and retained some facsimile, however disfigured, of socialism.

In Russia, rationales that had justified substitutionism, and holding out until the German Revolution bailed them out, were over. The Russian Revolution was for the foreseeable future isolated in one backward country. The bureaucracy used this opening to further weaken remaining control that workers had over Soviet economy, politics, and life.

Radek was associated with Trotsky, while Brandler and Thalheimer supported the Troika, but since Trotsky had objected to the scapegoating of local leaders who were only carrying out Comintern policy, saddling Brandler with responsibility for defeat could also be used to tie Trotsky to the failure. The fate of the German party and revolution were now subordinated to the factional needs of the Russian bureaucracy. The Comintern dismissed Brandler and his closest associates, and installed a leadership allied with Zinoviev.

The new leadership had their own native, ultraleft politics. They had at the Third and Fourth Congresses opposed both Trotsky and Lenin as right-wing opportunists for their opposition to the March Action, and their support for joint struggles with Social Democrats. The new leaders—Ruth Fischer, Arkadi Maslow, Arthur Rosenberg, Werner Scholem, and Hugo Urbans—maintained that united front activity had distorted the revolutionary politics of the party, undermining its Bolshevism and causing its defeat.

Their false ideas on this question. Zinoviev in invented three myths: the cult of Lenin, Trotskyism, and Luxemburgism.


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Her organizational weakness was that the German SPD banned factions, and had she organized one she faced expulsion. The Luxemburg myths, created for the purging of the KPD of its democratic culture and cadres educated and trained by Luxemburg and her disciples, are still repeated by anti-Stalinists miseducated by histories that accepted these Zinovievist fables as Leninist gospel. The anti-Luxemburg campaign in the Comintern was as destructive to its political future as the anti-Trotsky campaign. The process was begun by Zinoviev and his allies, but in the German party, it took years to accomplish.

In , 30 percent of the active membership supported the Left Opposition. In , there were still ten factions in the party. But by then, fewer than 40, of the , members of remained, and of these, many were to be expelled in the next two years. The KPD of , despite its weaknesses, was the greatest revolutionary party since the Bolsheviks.

Five years later, its transformation made it unable to effectively stop the rise of the Nazis; this dual tragedy, of Stalinism and Nazism, was the greatest blow the international movement suffered, and is yet to be overcome. Running in opposition to the war, the Socialist Party of America SPA in got its highest vote, averaging 25 percent in the northeastern cities.

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Following the war, a major strike wave swept the country; the high point was , marked by the Great Steel Strike and the Seattle General Strike, and followed by the formation of local labor parties across the country. Diverse currents of socialists, syndicalists, and anarchists regrouped in the process of forming a revolutionary party. But the CPUSA was more factionalized than any other party because it also arose out of a large number of foreign-language federations.

Less than 10 percent of the membership belonged to English-speaking branches.

Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39 Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39
Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39 Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39
Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39 Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39
Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39 Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39
Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39 Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39
Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39 Revolution’s Other World: Communism and the Periphery, 1917–39

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