Chapter 3. Grandfather of Eurocommunism
From the rejection of nationalism to the policy of forming “National Fronts”
In 1943 Stalin dissolved the Third Communist International, the “Comintern,” the alliance of revolutionary parties created by Lenin. In doing so he was at least solving one of the political contradictions he had inherited from the first Party leader and had consistently followed. This too was anticommunist —which no bourgeois democrat ever believed, much less thanked him for. Stalin’s explicit rejection of the project of world revolution was always considered a tactical ruse — which would make it the most ineffectual trick of world history! And the foundation of an “Eastern bloc” from countries occupied by the victorious Red Army is still regarded today as irrefutable proof of the “expansionist drive for world revolution” of Russian communism. These gigantic “misunderstandings” of Stalin are an expression of the unbroken imperialist will to treat the Soviet power, no matter what, as a disturbance of all “normal” world politics.
It was the Comintern’s founding idea that national states, whether governed by bourgeois parties alone or in coalition with social democrats, are the born enemy of communism. The insight that the imperialism of such states can only be broken from within, by the uprising of a revolutionary proletariat that realizes it is damaged by its rulers’ foreign policy interests — which are only intensified by military defeats — this was one more reason for the Bolshevist Party, victorious in its own country, to promote the alliance of revolutionary parties. The Bolsheviks had to fear for the very existence of Soviet power as long as the most important imperialist states were intact — which the latter had just forcibly demonstrated by their support for the “White” counterrevolution. For their part, the parties allied with the Bolsheviks recognized that it was their own cause that had won its first great victory in the October Revolution, and were accordingly interested in helping to consolidate this success. Their common wish was for world revolution, no more and no less.
In terms of this purpose, it was not particularly significant that the communists did not succeed at once in extending their Russian success to other countries. Failure by itself is no argument; and if a failure is due to mistakes that were made, one must eliminate these mistakes and try again — as long as one keeps to the purpose one has set oneself. But this “simple” view of things was not taken by the Bolsheviks and their General Secretary. They considered their success exemplary, by no means merely with respect to practical questions such as the best way to agitate impoverished war-weary peasants or rundown a czar, but in a more fundamental sense. They thought highly of their Lenin for his “genius” in hitting on precisely the right moment for subversion, namely the unique constellation of conditions which made a successful revolution possible. And this was just what the foreign comrades were supposed to learn from the experiences of the Russian revolution; after all, their failure “proved” that they were “evidently” lacking this “sense of what is feasible.”
This manner of “explaining” success and failure involves a strange game with the logical category of possibility. It sounds as if one is analyzing an existing political situation and looking for points where effective intervention makes sense. But, in reality, the interest in what is “possible” and “feasible” consists in an utterly empty idea of dependency: the very situation a revolutionary party wants to subvert is declared to be the condition on which the possibility of success supposedly depends. “The situation” in which revolution succeeds ends up appearing to be the cause for its success.
This false reasoning may be harmless if, in the course of their struggle, communists consider “the situation” to be “revolutionary” and then, like Lenin, do what must be done for the breakthrough. In this case the notion that one is acting in accordance with given conditions for success cancels out in practice. But as an “explanation” for a failure this idea is always fatal; it amounts to the brilliant insight that the thing was just not possible. This message can be filled with any “evidence” one pleases, for it transforms every identifiable difficulty into an impossibility. This may provide consolation — which is stupid enough for communists who have failed. But, above all, such a “lesson from history” contains the discreet hint that one had attempted to do the wrong thing in the first place. It ultimately boils down to a criticism of the intention, a criticism which is strictly opportunistic. When an overthrow fails this is due, from this point of view, not to this or that weakness on one’s own side and the enemy’s strength, but to the fact that the whole undertaking was altogether too revolutionary for “the situation.”
The Bolsheviks were masters of this idea of subordination and accommodation — even though they themselves had not at all submitted to any conditions. In their case the thing had worked out right, which confirmed their notion of having brilliantly grasped a “revolutionary situation” and made them proud of having accomplished a “historic mission” in accordance with all Marx’ and Engels’ supposed “predictions.” The fact that this “empirical” view instead boils down to a gigantic justification of political opportunism, the ultimate antirevolutionary standpoint, became more and more apparent in their Comintern policy as time went by — even though Lenin had held some correct views in the name of this mental attitude. For example, he had criticized the rather whimsical hopes of revolution held by some West European left extremists by pointing out the necessity of first waging their battle properly and not just enthusiastically declaring it was already basically won … In any case, Stalin only urged his foreign comrades emphatically to “learn from history” the lesson contained in this way of thinking per se: that their failure to overthrow society proved they had not addressed their politics to what was possible nor recognized their tasks properly; for them, revolution was simply not “on the agenda.”
What should be done instead? The question was not difficult; in fact, Stalin was most interested in the answer. It had started in Russia, the revolution that all communists want. So here was their task, one which did not ask too much of communist parties that had been unsuccessful up to then. What was required was anti-imperialist struggle with a more modest goal than world revolution that would crush the class states along with their imperialist interests: a “struggle” against :the anti-Sovietism of the bourgeois states. The reason why the victorious Bolsheviks had been so very keen on communist successes in other states — their interest in more secure conditions for building socialism — thus became the purpose the foreign revolutionaries were supposed to adopt. This task could certainly be attended to without a “revolutionary situation” existing. From now on revolution was thus struck from the communist catalogue of tasks; in order to restrain an imperialist government from anti-Soviet ventures, an overthrow would really not be the choice means. This was first made clear to the parties which actually reckoned they had chances for revolution in their countries. The plans of the German communists were puzzled over and confused so vigorously at the Comintern level that in 1923 nothing decent happened at all. The Chinese communists were ordered to submit to Chiang Kai-shek until he was able to take the offensive against them; the revolts which were then instigated on Stalin’s advice had actually no chance of success. Declared enemies could hardly have proceeded more effectively. For Stalin and his Party, all this only confirmed the “assessment” they had of the prospects of success for socialism outside their own country.
However, the “more modest” anti-imperialist goal dictated by Stalin, of trying to gain support for good relations with the Soviet Union, was not taken care of by the Comintern parties much more successfully. And that was by no means due to the circumstances against and under which they had to fight, but to the contradictory nature of this task itself.
These parties had split off from the Second International and opposed social democracy, because they maintained the position of “proletarian internationalism” opposed to national foreign policy, because they refused to participate under the “roof” of a national state, because they were fighting democratic reformism, etc. They were now supposed to support peaceful relations between their governments and the Soviet Union and involve themselves accordingly in national politics without revolutionary ambitions, even entering into alliances with the social democrats, and so on. That surprised the rank and file, and certainly cut no ice with their bourgeois and social democratic adversaries; masquerading did not make them into partners.
These pro-Moscow souls were not just masquerading, they also outdid themselves in self-betrayal. With their offers to participate and form alliances they quite explicitly gave priority to the party antagonisms existing within the anticommunist camp over the antagonism they wanted to establish between themselves and the other parties — and left it to the others to emphasize their anticommunism. They wanted to be opportunists, and thereby only kept on arousing suspicions as to the sincerity of their opportunism.
This was all the more so as they could not even keep up one pragmatic line, but were occasionally also urged to attack social democracy as the chief enemy, as if their greatest problem in the midst of capitalism was to settle accounts with false friends and “traitors,” as Stalin was doing in Russia. Later on, the common opposition of the democrats against the fascists was the loftiest goal for the Comintern. And communist ministers of Popular Fronts most dutifully saved bourgeois conditions, e.g., in France, from striking workers who had mistaken the communist participation in the government for the beginning of the end of the class state. The “time” was not supposed to be “ripe” for revolution. But Stalin thought it was just fine for communist fighters to bleed in Spain for the difference between fascism and a leftist-liberal republic that did not even permit a transition to communism, and these communists evidently had nothing better to do either.
At the same time Stalin himself, on a quite different level, took care of the task he had assigned to the allied communist parties: he pursued foreign policy. From one government to another he courted recognition — which important states granted in 1924 —, trade relations, nonaggression pacts and peace in general. He tried to make clear to the bosses of imperialist nations that revolutionary Russia could be a fine partner. The fact that this interference in the regular diplomatic competition between states contradicted the existence of a Moscow-controlled Comintern, which was still considered an agency of subversion and subscribed in its program to the international solidarity of enemies of the state, was made clear to Stalin by the rulers he was courting: they would close down an official Soviet mission for unseemly intrigues.
For a short while the Second World War helped. The General Secretary did not chalk up the fact that his state became the main victim of Germany’s unsatisfied imperialism as a glorious failure of his foreign policy of trying to appear acceptable to all his enemies — most recently to the Nazis themselves. He of course saw it even less as the penalty for having “neglected” to promote world revolution, which the founders of the Third International had still understood to be the only real guarantee for the survival of “socialism in one country.” Stalin utilized the antifascist military alliance as a ticket of admission to the circle of democratic imperialist states.
The allied communist parties were now instructed likewise to join with every kind of antifascist group, and to be content with playing the part of the best democrat. This made the Comintern an anachronism in two ways. As an international association of opposition parties it disturbed the democracies which Stalin no longer wanted to oppose politically. And as fully integrated pillars of national United Fronts (when they were allowed to be), the foreign communists themselves were burdened by the last remnants of internationalism and the duty to be pro-Soviet which their organization still symbolized. The dissolution of the Comintern was only logical — as was the victory of bourgeois patriotism in the remaining hammer-and-sickle parties. This patriotism was all that could become more radical when the bourgeois partners took the liberty of calling off their national unity with the communists.
It was time for this break when the alliance forced by the world war on the Soviet Union and the imperialist democracies came to an end. The initiative was once again taken by the enemies of communism. This left Stalin with the defensive position, namely that of a major military power: an East bloc instead of world revolution. These were Stalin’s last words on this matter.
Today, the freedom-loving world powers are of course just as outraged by this position of Stalin’s as they would have been by a world revolution of internationally organized communists. The only difference is that with a world revolution these world powers would no longer exist.