Francisco Martins Rodrigues
(English translation of the first two chapters of the book, published in Lisbon, March 1985 and July 2008)
The Popular Front – the communists at the service of bourgeois democracy
“The proletariat will only conquer allies as long as it shows its force and that of its vanguard, the Communist Party. The petty bourgeoisie is used to respecting force”
The politics of the popular front was the great historic creation of the 7th Congress of the CI. Surprisingly enough, scarcely three pages of Dimitrov’s report are dedicated to it.2 Stranger still, no principled justification is found in them for the turn which led the communist parties to change so radically their attitude towards reformism and bourgeois democracy.
This does not mean, however, that Dimitrov, in his own manner, could not justify the new politics. All along the report, as if it was a question of absolute truths, a series of new points were introduced about the relations between classes in the epoch of fascism which led indirectly to the conclusion that the Leninist concept of the hegemony of the proletariat was not valid any more.
Therefore, our task consists in presenting the class premises on which the Dimitrovist politics of popular front is based, in order to measure their solidity in the light of Leninism. Class premises that can only be found if we go beyond the external appearance of arguments – stuffed with Marxist-Leninist expressions and with declarations of fidelity to the interests of the working class and the revolution into the internal logic of reasoning. Only then will we be in a position to discover why Dimitrov’s Bolshevik and “Leninist-Stalinist” professions of faith came out in political solutions so openly opportunistic as were the pacts with the bourgeois parties, the coalition governments, the dissolution of the revolutionary trade union trend, the fusion of the communist party with social-democracy, the enclosing of the class struggle of the proletariat within the limits of bourgeois democracy.
The People and Fascism
“Europe and the whole world, alarmed before the horror of the fascist dictatorship which had revealed its true character in Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Poland, perceived the first steps of a fatal aggression. A great uneasiness had taken hold of the minds and hearts of the peoples: ‘Where are we heading to? What must we do?’ The answer to this exceptionally important questions was given by the historic 7th Congress of the CI’.
This is how a revisionist writer introduces, in an already classical turn of style, a popular summary of Dimitrov’s report.3 He certainly portrays faithfully the new perspective which inspired this report, the class jump which is contained in it: the people as an entity facing fascism, the communists as the servants of the people in the common struggle against fascism, the struggle people/fascism taking the place of the struggle proletariat/bourgeoisie. This is the core of the Dimitrovist politics of the popular front, which allows us to classify it as anti-Leninist.
Let us expose before anything else an ambiguity that opportunism takes care to feed because it is essential for their survival. What is questioned in Dimitrov is not that he called the communists to head the antifascist struggle. No Marxist puts in doubt that the emergence of this new and virulent form of bourgeois reaction was bound to impose a radical change in the tactics of the Communist Parties. One could not consider bourgeois democracy and fascism at the same level. The proletariat was forced to pass to the defensive and to accept temporary compromises in order to confront the dreadful enemy which was rising in the camp of the bourgeoisie. The contradictions which put the bourgeois democratic strata in opposition to the state terrorism of finance capital had to be minutely explored. A new politics, which would widen the scope of alliances of the proletariat and would make a larger number of forces converge on that which they had in common against fascism, was a real necessity of the epoch. which the 7th Congress was called to provide for.
The abstract declarations against “antifascist frontism” are nothing but anarchist ineptitudes, useful to reaction. Antifascist struggle had become the determining direction of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat.
However, this new tactical orientation could not ignore the strategic line of differentiation and antagonism of the proletariat against bourgeois society as a whole. The politics of antifascist alliance could serve the revolutionary interests of the proletariat and thus those of all working people, only if it was inserted as a tactical, auxiliary instrument in its general and invariable struggle for independence and hegemony against all the bourgeois trends. Everything was still depending on the affirmation of the proletariat as a class “for itself”, because fascism, with all its train of dark innovations, was yet nothing more than a new form of the very same class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The class struggle under capitalism suffered a sharpening and a brutal polarization – and yet its general features were still the same.
Nevertheless, Dimitrov, unable to contest directly this position of principle which the CI had established since its 5th Congress and referring it in various passages of the report, combined it with an opposed perspective – the struggle against fascism as a fusion of conflicting class positions into a common democratic trend. This perspective, not given an express form in a single point of the report, is nonetheless delineated perfectly in the five new theses which form its political framework.
First, unity of action with social-democracy, on the pretext of its alleged displacement in a revolutionary direction.
Second, political support of the proletariat for the petty bourgeoisie, with the aim of “raising its revolutionary consciousness”.
Third, the identity of interests of the nation against fascism.
Fourth, the coalition governments with the democratic bourgeoisie as an alternative to fascism.
Fifth, and as a conclusion, the creation of the “united workers’ party” by the fusion of the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.
This set of positions which we will analyse later, defined an unconfessed new general framework of the class struggle in the epoch of fascism. A general framework which Dimitrov introduced under cover of criticism… of the “general schemes”.
In fact the five new theses of Dimitrov took for granted that a basic change in relation between classes had occurred. It was as if the conflict of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie that defines the capitalist regime had diminished in intensity in the presence of the new phenomenon of fascism. Certainly the class contradictions had not disappeared, the vacillations of the petty bourgeoisie continued to exist, as well as the differences between parties, etc. It was impossible to negate that without openly being a renegade to Marxism. But all this universe was now moving inside a new, more vast universe –, the great historic fight of the peoples against fascism. From this comes the necessity of imposing a pause in the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, in order to eliminate the obstacle which is interposing itself in the “normal” class struggle. This is the internal logic of the new politics that Dimitrov sought to transmit more than to formulate.
But this intuitive logic which presided at the birth of the popular front was nothing more, in the end, than a condensation of the rightist, Bukharinite and social democratic theses whose penetration into the communist ranks had been fought by the CI in the previous period.
It is not true that the CI had I underestimated the menace of fascism, as is generally affirmed. It simply denounced “the liberal construction of a contradiction between fascism and bourgeois democracy, as well as between the parliamentary forms and the open fascist forms of the bourgeois dictatorship”, as “a reflection of the social democratic influence on the communist parties”4. The CI criticized this form of “smuggling” which consisted in presenting fascism as “a new system” of relations between classes and not simply as a new form of bourgeois domination.5
It was this smuggling that Dimitrov introduced in subtle form, as we are going to see.
Democracy and Fascism
Apparently, Dimitrov did not deny that fascism was a new form of the bourgeois dictatorship. Fascism, he said, was the terrorist aggression of the bourgeoisie, which sought, in the assault against the workers’ movement and in war preparations, to save itself from the crisis. Although it showed the weakness of the workers’ movement, it also represented the weakness of the bourgeoisie itself, incapable of maintaining its dictatorship over the masses by its old methods of bourgeois democracy and of parliamentarism, as Stalin had observed.6.
However, having paid this testimony of fidelity to principles, he immediately gave a new approach to this question. Previously, the CI emphasized, above all, the common points, the organic connection between fascism and bourgeois democracy because only this would make it possible to understand the social roots of fascism that social democracy was engaged in mystifying as a gratuitous banditry, as a species of plague foreign to society.
Dimitrov went on to put stress precisely on the difference between the two regimes. “The coming of fascism to power is not the vulgar substitution of one bourgeois government for another, but the substitution of one state form of the class domination of the bourgeoisie – bourgeois democracy – by another form of his domination, a declared terrorist dictatorship”7. And he started from this evident distinction to blot out the essential thing, that is, that fascism sprang from all the pores of bourgeois democratic society in crisis, as a necessary solution for the bourgeoisie to be assured of the continuity of its class dictatorship. By concentrating attention on the difference between bourgeois democracy and fascism, a difference so strong that no one had doubts about it, he concealed what was more important to demonstrate: the links between them.
How was it that fascism came out? The responsibility, noted Dimitrov, fell in the first place to the bourgeois governments, whose reactionary measures had open the path and served as preparatory stages to the upsurge of the dictatorship. The social democratic leaders themselves were responsible, as they had concealed the bloody character of fascism, had not called for struggle against it, had not prepared the masses to recognise in fascism their enemy.8 And lastly, the communist parties were also responsible for hindering the fighting mobilization of the proletariat, due to their inexcusable underestimation of the fascist danger.9
This summation is generally seen as a heightened combination of critical inflexibility and of communist self-criticism. In fact, with this impartial distribution of responsibilities Dimitrov concealed the process of gradual growth of the fascist forces within democracy, nursed by it. He concealed the continuity and intertwining of the two regimes. By mixing up the lack of vigilance imputed to the communists with a counter revolutionary change of large sectors of bourgeois democrats, he transformed the deep process of class struggle that caused democrats to become fascists into a banal question of lack of coherence. In fact he outlined, although he took good care not to say it, an absolute line of separation between democracy and fascism, in order to lead more easily to the already programmed option: to enlist the communists in the service of liberalism.
When he still was a revolutionary, Kuusinen had commented in the 13th Plenum of the ECCI, using a suggestive image, in response to the rightist objections: “We do not say that bourgeois democracy is the same as fascism; also the egg is not the same as the hen”10. It was precisely this organic relation between the two regimes that Dimitrov made disappear. In his report fascism emerges as a monstruous degeneration, a cancer that devoured the democratic organism, due to the lack of vigilance of the “democrats”, of all of them: liberals, socialists and communists.
Cancer so foreign to the social tissue that it did not represent, in the final analysis, the interests of finance capital, but merely those of a tiny handful of the “most reactionary, most chauvinist, most imperialist elements of finance capital”, merely of the “ultra-imperialists”; a regime so foreign to bourgeois society that it was a “mediaeval barbarity”11.
This mechanical and impoverished vision of class struggle was not accidental. It was indispensable to Dimitrov for the purpose of laying the foundations of a new perspective of the essential unity of democratic forces against fascism, of the popular front as a lever to push the proletariat into the bourgeois democratic camp.
The Petty Bourgeoisie and Fascism
All the Dimitrovist politics of Popular Front rests on a new estimate of the alignment of the petty bourgeoisie facing fascism, and it acts as justification for a new attitude of the proletariat towards petty bourgeoisie. This is the hidden class framework that sustains all his unitarian antifascist ideology.
Fascism, Dimitrov emphasized, was not the dictatorship of the petty bourgeoisie in revolt, seizing hold of the state machine, but the terrorist power of finance capital itself.l2 This thesis, indisputably correct, could appear at first sight a mere reaffirmation of the analysis of the CI in its polemics with Trotsky, Talheimer, Bauer and others, who saw fascism as a counter-revolution of the petty bourgeoisie. However, in picking up the formula of the CI, Dimitrov gave it a new meaning that modified its span.
Until then the CI had emphasized the social nature of fascism as a regime of big capital, but simultaneously also the active role that the petty bourgeoisie played in it, which explained its tremendous mass force. Fascism, the 6th Congress had concluded, was the “offensive of bourgeois-imperialist reaction’: “the terrorist dictatorship of big capital’, sustained by the despair of the petty bourgeoisie and of the intellectuals, as well as certain sectors of the workers, those which fascism managed to corrupt.13 The mass backing up of fascism, the 11th Plenum had said, lay in the ruined and declassed strata and in the “urban petty bourgeoisie, rich peasants, a large part of the students and of the clergy, of the military, etc.”14 As the 5th Congress had also emphasized before, “no doubt the petty bourgeoisie constitutes the material with which the tool of fascism was forged. But what is decisive is not the material of which the tool is made, but the aim it serves. And fascism is exclusively at the service of conservation and security of the class rule of bourgeoisie”.15
This idea, that the petty bourgeoisie was not the final cause nor the beneficiary of fascism, but was certainly its tool, was eclipsed in Dimitrov’s report. The petty bourgeoisie appears there merely as the victim of fascism, not as its active detonator.
The petty bourgeoisie, desoriented by the crisis, he said, had been led by the fascists, but would never have followed them if it had understood the real class character of fascism.16 Fascism had promised the salvation of the nation and played with the “sentiment of justice of the masses” with their revolutionary traditions, with everything that was “sublime and heroic” in the peoples’ past.17 Who would not absolve the petty bourgeois masses and their parties for their being led to deception?
The fact is, however, that this picture has nothing to do with reality. Dimitrov deliberately omitted the role of the petty bourgeoisie in Germany. Italy, Austria, Poland, etc., as the starting motor and fighting shock force of the fascist rise, fanaticized by the rancorous desire to subdue at all cost the menacing workers’ movement, to take revenge on the workers for the frustrations of the crisis, to banish the spectre of bolshevism. He tried to forget that fascism had been born as a petty bourgeois movement, only later capitalized by the big bourgeoisie as was inevitable. He presented the counter revolutionary movement of the petty bourgeoisie as a mere thrust for justice which had caused it to fall into the trap set by the fascists (as if the fascists were not themselves petty bourgeois militants, later payed up by the financial groups). He emptied the whole rich social process which gave birth to fascism, in order to be able to present the petty bourgeoisie with no guilt, on the side of the proletariat and merely a victim of its own candour.
Thus having whitewashed the petty bourgeoisie as to any responsibilities in the upsurge of fascism, Dimitrov went on to the next operation: it consisted in establishing the revolutionary character of the petty bourgeois opposition, and it was up to the proletariat to enhance it by means of its political support.
“We must accept these masses [the peasantry and the urban petty bourgeoisie] as they are and not as we would like them to be. It is merely in the course of the struggle that they will surpass their doubts and vacillations; only if we take an attitude of patience when facing their inevitable hesitations, and if the proletariat gives them its political support will they raise to a higher grade of revolutionary consciousness and of activity”.18
Thus Dimitrov concealed that petty bourgeois opposition to fascism, which had been arising as it was forced out by the new power and a part of the pillage and terror of the dictatorship fell onto it, was essentially different from the opposition of the proletariat because it was aimed at other objectives. It was the inconsistent opposition of the intermediate bourgeois strata, regretting the adventure in which they had become involved, fearful of the demons they had set free, but in no way interested in opening the doors to the still worse “adventure” of a revolutionary antifascist insurrection.
Entering the fight against fascism, because fascists had forced it on them with no other alternative, the petty bourgeoisie aimed merely at getting back to liberalism.
It was part of its class logic to harness the proletariat to this objective with diffuse promises of better social justice and more democracy, and above all with many demands for unity. The most enlightened leaders of bourgeois democracy could already foresee, beyond the controlled fall of the fascist regime, a new era of democratic splendor in which the workers would be more docile and respectful of the rules of the liberal game, after having made the experience of the merciless whip of fascism.
Its was precisely this duality of antifascist paths that should be revealed before the working class, in order to raise it to the understanding of its class tasks and to allow it a revolutionary use of the antifascist alliance. Only if the workers, and in the first place the communists, were aware of the difference between their antifascism and the antifascism of the democratic bourgeoisie, would they be able to intervene with independence in this new field of struggle, to manoeuver and to compromise, so that they could utilize them and not be utilized, so they could drive the antifascist movement into a revolutionary insurrection against the power of capital and not into a miserable “ameliorated” new edition of liberalism.
Dimitrov, however, took no care of raising the revolutionary consciousness of the workers: he led them instead to deal with “raising the revolutionary consciousness” of the petty bourgeoisie, that is to say, to put themselves in the tow of the petty bourgeoisie, and to gain their good will. We quote:
(1) “to patiently explain to the petty bourgeoisie on which side their interests are”;
(2) to develop “a resolute activity of the revolutionary proletariat for the defence of the demands of these social strata”;
(3) “to put an end to the disdain and the indifferent attitude” towards the parties of the petty bourgeoisie and “to approach them in a correct manner”.19
Political support of the proletariat for the petty bourgeoisie, defence of their demands, cooperation with their parties – this is, in blunt class terms, the essence of the Dimitrovist plan for the popular front. The objection raised then that it was a “bloc without principles with the petty bourgeois organizations” was fully justified.20
Nation and Fascism
The same logic which caused Dimitrov to counterpose (bourgeois) Democracy to fascism, in order to obtain a greater base unity, caused him to try to make use of the concept of Nation in order to isolate fascism. It was obviously easier to group forces together to fight the brutal and aggressive chauvinism of the fascists from positions of “democratic” nationalism than from the revolutionary internationalist platform of the proletariat.
But, since this could not be said, he took the precaution of defending himself with a wavering and eclectic argumentation, implying by subterfuges what he could not openly assume without breaking with Marxism.
Fascism had a great “force of ideological contagion” because it pretended to be the defender of the nation and inheritor of the “sublime and heroic” deeds of the past. Therefore, the communists should be able to contend for these values with fascism; they had to take into account the “particular national psychology of the popular masses”, “linking the present struggle of the working class to its traditions and to its revolutionary past” – in a word, they had to “acclimate” internationalism to this nationalist wind.
Thus Dimitrov obtained a justification for approaching nationalism obliquely, in a tortuous maneuver that is a true treatise about the soul of centrism.
Pay attention to the ambiguity of this argumentation: we are defending internationalism, but we do not spit on the national sentiments of the working masses; we are “irreconcilable adversaries” of the principle of bourgeois nationalism in all forms, but we are no supporters of national nihilism; we denounce the chauvinism of the bourgeoisie, but we also prove that the socialist revolution will mean the salvation of the nation and will open the road to better development.21
Conclusion: we are internationalists but that does not prevent us from being the most devout servants of the nation…
And in order to prop up the tottering argument, he helped himself to a long quote from Lenin in which he expressed great pride of his Russian nationality. Since Lenin himself was a patriot, why couldn’t Dimitrov be one also?
The fact that this manipulation could survive half a century without exposure shows the extent of the centrist marsh in which Marxism has sunk. Because, in this article, Lenin was speaking of the pride of the “conscious proletarians” of Russia for having in their country a working class which had been capable of creating a “powerful revolutionary mass party”22. He was not speaking of the “national honour of the people in struggle against the barbarous and savage fascists” as Dimitrov did.23 Further, Lenin opened this articles ridiculing the liberals, the “progressives” and even “Marxists” who “exalt in a thousand ways the liberty and the independence of the ‘fatherland: the grandness of the principle of national independence”.24
Lenin repeatedly pointed out to the Russian communists the duty of “combating in the most rigorous form in our midst, the smallest manifestations of Great Russian nationalism, because these manifestations, being in general a real betrayal of communism, are extremely harmful since they separate us from our Ukranian comrades”25 The patriotic sentiments which made Dimitrov vibrate so much were rightly classified by Lenin as “the most alive sentiments of the petty bourgeoisie”.26
The rigor with which Lenin had defined the communist position on the national question in no way allowed the liberal interpretation of Dimitrov. Let us take two examples:
“Marxists must defend the more resolute and consequent democratism in all aspects of the national question. But this is mainly a negative task. The proletariat cannot go much further in support of nationalism, because beyond that begins the ‘positive’ activity of the bourgeoisie, that aims to reinforce nationalism… To assist bourgeois nationalism beyond this range, strictly limited and situated in a well determined context, is to betray the proletariat and put it on the side of the bourgeoisie… Struggle against any kind of national yoke? Yes, without doubt. Struggle in favour of any kind of national development, in favour of ‘national culture’ in general? Certainly not”.27
“The national question can not be treated in an abstract and formal way, but must be based upon: 1) an exact appreciation of the concrete historic situation, above all the economic situation; 2) a very clear distinction between the interests of the oppressed classes, of the labourers, of the exploited, and the general idea of the people’s interests in general, which is nothing more than an expression of the interests of the dominant classes: 3) an equally clear distinction between the oppressed, dependent nations, which do not benefit from equal rights, and the oppressive, exploiting nations, which benefit from all the rights”.28
Dimitrov’s inovation when he delineated for the working class the task of struggling for the “salvation and progress of the nation”, for the “safeguarding of national culture”, for national pride” and against “national nihilism”, was to substitute the Marxist division of the nation – the camp of proletarian internationalism against the camp of bourgeois nationalism – with a new division – the camp of “people” nationalism against the camp of fascist chauvinism.
Why was Dimitrov led to abandon Marxism-Leninism on the national question? Because the hysterical offensive of fascist chauvinism, its campaign against “the communist renegades from their fatherland”, awoke profound echoes in the petty bourgeoisie. In order to attract the petty bourgeois forces to a common front with the proletariat it was necessary to reassure them, withdrawing to positions acceptable to them.
Incapable of putting forward clearly, because of his class compromises, that the “force of ideological contagion of fascism” came from the collaboration which petty bourgeoisie gave to it, Dimitrov, in bringing the nationalist mentality to the working masses, found no other weapon to oppose to the racist and paranoiac chauvinism of the fascists than the “progressive” recuperation of the values of nationalism.
In this, as in everything else, instead of aiming at a more resolute break between proletarian ideology and petty bourgeois ideology, he aimed at the “popular” fusion between both. Thus he opened the path for the integration of the proletariat into the camp of the nation, that is, of the bourgeoisie.
Proletariat and petty bourgeoisie
The revolutionary people, made up of workers and petty bourgeoisie, united in the struggle for democracy and for the salvation of the nation – this is the ideological mortar with which Dimitrov constructed his politics of the popular antifascist front. A mortar foreign to the Marxist principle of the proletariat- bourgeoisie class struggle.
– How is it possible? – will say those who stick to the appearance of words in order to avoid the chain of reasoning. – Didn’t Dimitrov say, in a very clear way, that “only the revolutionary activity of the working class will make it possible to put to use the conflicts which inevitably arise in the camp of the bourgeoisie in order to undermine the fascist dictatorship and overthrow jt”29? Didn’t he untiringly insist on the necessity of grouping together the proletariat in a “single, fighting army struggling against the offensive of Capital and fascism “30?
No doubt. But that which he gave with one hand, he took with the other. A truly revolutionary activity of the proletariat against fascism would have as its only support criticism of the other antifascist classes, demarcation from them, political independence – exactly what Dimitrov suppressed. What Dimitrov called the “revolutionary activity of the working class”, and since then came to be understood as such by the communist parties, is the occupation of the front lines of the common antifascist struggle, is the role of servant and shock force of the general (that is, bourgeois) antifascist movement.
“It is up to the proletariat to play the principal role in the people’s struggle” – this “advanced” formula which the centrists and revisionists have been loudly repeating for half a century as proof of their Leninism, is perhaps his greatest falsification of Leninism, since it omits, under a radical appearance, the question of hegemony. Hegemony of the proletariat, the uncomfortable word which Dimitrov forgot to use, even a single time, in his report.
Lenin had denounced over and over how the Mensheviks, under sound phrases about the “revolutionary action of the proletariat”, actually denied the proletariat the role of leader of the revolutionary process and reserved for it the showy but subordinate role of motor in the service of the liberal bourgeoisie; this was the consequence of leading the proletariat to fight “in the vanguard” of the political demands of the liberal bourgeoisie.
To prepare the revolution, Lenin had said, is in the final analysis to raise the proletariat to differentiate itself as a class facing all the bourgeois parties. The political independence of the proletariat does not depend only on the existence of a workers’ party. It depends on the capacity of this party in “revealing to it, in theory and practice, all the facets of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie”31.
It was exactly this revelation of the “facets of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie” that Dimitrov did away with when he concealed the counter-revolutionary role which they played in the rise of fascists; when he invented a revolutionary alignment of social democracy and of the petty bourgeois parties, in order to justify a bloc with these forces; when he rescued the values of Democracy and the Nation. Under the pretext of better isolating fascism, he compromised in fact all possibility of the differentiation of the proletariat as a class and he took away all the revolutionary capacity from the politics of the popular front. The phrases about the “revolutionary activity of the working class” cannot hide this fact.
“We are a party of the class”, “a revolutionary party”, but we are ready for common action with the other classes and the other parties; we have a final revolutionary objective, but we are ready to struggle in common for the immediate tasks; we have revolutionary methods of struggle, but we are prepared to support the methods of struggle of the other parties.32
With this typically centrist formulation in the closing speech of the congress, Dimitrov tried to make believe that the proletariat could put itself at the service of the demands of the petty bourgeoisie without renouncing the defence of its own revolutionary interests; could adopt the reformist methods of action of the other classes without giving up its own revolutionary methods of struggle; could support the liberalization of the bourgeois regime without abandoning the struggle for the revolution.
This was a complete falsification of Leninism. Lenin accepted the need for all kinds of compromises and tactical maneuvers, struggles for reforms, etc., only as long as they favoured, in each moment, the raise of the revolutionary consciousness of the proletariat, its preparation for the decisive combat. Lenin did not deny “the necessity, the absolute necessity for the vanguard of the proletariat, for its conscious part, for the communist party, to maneuver, to come to agreements and compromises with various groups of proletarians, with various parties of workers and small owners”. But he emphasized, the question is how to aptly this tactic in order to raise and not to lower the general level of consciousness of the proletariat, of its revolutionary spirit, of its capacity to struggle and to win”33.
Dimitrov actually broke up the Leninist unity between tactics and strategy. On the one side there remained a rhetorical fidelity to principles: on the other side, the politics of the possible in times of fascism. We are revolutionaries, but as long as conditions for revolution do not exist, we are going to be reformists…
Life would proceed to prove the failure of these politics. Lowering the political intervention of the proletariat to a level acceptable to the petty bourgeoisie, within the bounds of the popular front, the communist parties imprisoned the workers’ movement, and with it the whole popular movement, within the limits of bourgeois democracy, castrating it, preventing it from rising up again. When the politics of the united front was carried to its final consequences, it was clear that the proletariat had lost along the road its most precious assets, the consciousness of its own interests, and political independence.
And thus, the politics of Dimitrov not only blocked the way for revolutionary struggle, which he had promised for after the fall of fascism, but also compromised everywhere the very same antifascist movement which he was so anxious to reinforce.
Again the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie
If the petty bourgeoisie does not come to us, what remedy is there except us going to it, in order to avoid the “fatal isolation” of the proletariat in the face of fascism? This is, in reality, the final argument which secretly inspires all the reasoning of Dimitrov and which until today continues to make itself heard, in a more candid or a more elaborate form, as the basis of the anti-fascist (or anti-monopolist, anti-imperialist, anti-war, etc.) politics of unity. “Our times are the times when the proletariat has to amalgamate politically with the petty bourgeoisie in order to prevent isolation and to lead the struggle to success” – this is the general understanding, although often kept secret.
It is here, around this point, that we find the line of demarcation between a revolutionary policy of alliances, in the spirit of Leninism, and the centrist, opportunist and capitulatory policy of Dimitrov.
Lenin made it all too clear that, in order to be revolutionary, the whole proletarian politics must base itself on the struggle for hegemony, for demarcation, for independence. Exposing “the obscene fear of isolating, the proletariat from the petty bourgeois people”, he explained that the proletariat has to learn precisely to isolate itself from the fluctuations of the petty bourgeoisie, in order to educate it and to avoid being held back by it.34 To a Menshevik, worried about the need of bringing the party to the level of the “consciousness of the broad popular masses”, Lenin answered: “What are the broad popular masses? They are the unconscious proletarians and the petty bourgeois elements, full of conformist, nationalist, reactionary, clerical, prejudices, etc.” To put ourselves at their level would make us unfit as a revolutionary party. It is certain, he admitted, that the pressure of these masses can impose limits upon our action, due to considerations of opportunity. We will not be able to do all that we would like to. “But we are not going to respect this backward consciousness: we will fight it with all the means of persuasion, of propaganda, and of agitation”.35
This point of view, which questions all the politics and the ideology of “people’s unity” adopted by the communist parties since the 7th Congress of the CI, springs from a proven fact: the petty bourgeoisie, as an auxiliary branch of the capitalist system of exploitation of the proletariat and semi-proletariat, has contradictions with this system which must be used, but does not have revolutionary interests.
Hence the Leninist idea that the only fruitful teachings in the school of class struggle is the need to place the petty bourgeoisie in the presence of the consummated fact of the independent, revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. The petty bourgeois vacillations have never been surpassed with “political support” nor with “patient explanations” as Dimitrov wished for, but by force. The petty bourgeoisie will always fall, in the final analysis, to the side of the strongest force.
Those were not “sectarian” ideas, as Dimitrov later made believe. They were based on the Leninist principle that, before the seizure of power, all the alliances, agreements or compromises of the proletariat with the petty bourgeoisie should forcibly have a limited, temporary, contingent character. Lenin exhaustively emphasized this idea on the occasion of the 2nd Congress of the CI, precisely in order to fight back the opportunist illusions which were arising in the young communist parties.
“It is completely out of the question that the petty bourgeois or semi-petty-bourgeois toiling mass may solve this extremely complicated political problem beforehand – to be with the working class or with the bourgeoisie. The hesitations of the non-proletarian toiling strata are inevitable; it is inevitable that they suffer by themselves the experience of things in order to be able to compare the leadership of the bourgeoisie with that of the proletariat”.36
“In every capitalist country, there exist, side by side with the proletariat (or its advanced part that became aware of its revolutionary tasks and is willing to fight for them), quite a few strata of toilers, unconscious of their proletarian, semi-proletarian, semi-petty-bourgeois position, who abide to the bourgeoisie and bourgeois democracy (including the “socialists” of the 2nd International); misled by the bourgeoisie, these strata do not trust their own forces nor the forces of the proletariat, they are not aware that they can provide for their essentials by expropriating the exploiters.
“These strata of toilers and of the exploited are potential allies to the vanguard of the proletariat and that assures it a stable majority in the population; but the proletariat can only win these allies by means of the instrument of state power, that is, after having overthrown the bourgeoisie and demolished its state apparatus”.37
“The proletariat will only win these strata of the population (semi-proletarians and small peasants) to itself after having won, after having conquered the state power, that is, after having overthrown the bourgeoisie, liberated all the toilers from the yoke of Capital and shown in practice the benefits granted by the proletarian power (the benefits of the emancipation from the yoke of the exploiters”.38
There is an obvious conclusion. If the petty bourgeoisie and the strata between it and the proletariat can be won to the side of the latter only after the bourgeoisie has been overthrown – this necessarily shows the limited character of these alliances before the conquest of power. And thus the whole Dimitrovist logic of the popular front falls to the ground.
But is it not true that the very same Lenin had already pointed out in Left-Wing Communism the capacity of the Bolsheviks “to link themselves, to come close to, even to amalgamate themselves, up to a certain point, with the broad masses of the labourers, above all with the proletarian mass, but also with the mass of the non-proletarian labourers?”39 Wasn’t the politics of the popular front after all a mere new application of this idea of fusion, up to a certain point, of the proletariat with the non-proletarian masses?
This objection, unfailing on the lips of those who see Lenin’s thought as a kind of magician’s hat, where one can pick up whatever one wishes for, only shows the inability of the opportunists to reason in Leninist terms.
Lenin never turned away from the goal of the independence and hegemony of the proletariat. Pointing out as one of the foundations of the discipline of the Bolsheviks their capacity to dissolve themselves up to a certain point into the broadest masses, he was not supporting any kind of fusion of revolutionary politics with reformist politics, as his falsifiers hurriedly deduce. He did not have in mind any kind of “mixed” popular front politics, a la Dimitrov nor any such hint is found in the whole of Lenin’s work and action.
The meaning of the quotation from Left-Wing Communism offers no doubt: acting daily among the proletarian and semi-proletarian masses, even among the petty-bourgeois toiling masses, over the immediate demands that can mobilize them against the power of Capital, the communist party must approach them always and only from the angle which mostly favours the liberation of the proletariat from the dominant reformist ideology. Neither to fall out of the actual political movement of the masses, nor to submit to its spontaneous reformist dynamics, but to mix up with it in order to assert the line of the proletariat and to lead it through the zigzags of class struggle on the road to revolution.
It was this general Leninist line which the 7th Congress rejected, without daring to openly say so. It is this rejection which today the Soviet revisionists most clearly undertake, as they come out in defence of Dimitrov:
“The Congress rejected the widely supported standpoint that in all the stages of the revolution it is necessary to aim the main blow at the intermediate political forces. This principle had proved to be inconsistent, from all points of view. The communists declared explicitly that the intermediate forces and strata could play a very useful role in the struggle against fascism and for democracy”.40
However, to recognize or to deny the “very useful” role of the intermediate forces in the struggle against fascism had always been out of the question. The point was knowing whether the use of these forces as reserves of the proletariat required the paralysation of their natural instability. The point was: if the proletariat gives up criticism, demarcation and the struggle for hegemony in order to show good will for unity, doesn’t it become automatically a reserve of the bourgeoisie, a servant in someone else’s war?
It was this plain fact that Dimitrov tried to blur with his exhortations for unity.
But insisting on the demarcation of the revolutionary proletarian politics in contrast to reformism didn’t hamper in fact any kind of united struggle against fascism and war? Wasn’t it an utopian, untimely, sectarian and ineffective position in the new conditions?
This is a false question, which upsets only those who, like Dimitrov, see the struggle against fascism as an exception to the “normal” class struggle and abdicate Marxism in panic.
Even if the proletarian vanguard went on declaring openly its decision to overthrow the capitalist regime and to persist in unbending opposition to reformism and social democracy, this would not alienate the common front of struggle of the broad masses of the workers, semi-proletarians and petty bourgeoisie. These masses would necessarily be led to oppose fascism because their economic interests and their liberty were brutally stricken by it. It left them no alternative but to resist. They only lacked the revolutionary will to do so.
By the simple fact of changing its tactics and concentrating the struggle on the resistance to the rise of fascism (or on the overthrow of its dictatorship, in case it was already installed), the communist proletariat would have automatically set up the political basis for a broad front of struggle for common objectives.
But the common struggle against fascism did not mean that the proletariat had to confine itself to the framework of the bourgeois democracy and of its values in order to get closer to the petty bourgeoisie. On the contrary. Only if the proletariat was in such a position as to undertake the anti-fascist struggle as the concentrated expression of its class struggle; only if it unfurled against fascism its revolutionary banners, whole and not truncated – only then all of its fighting energies would be aroused. Only in this way would it fully assume the place of vanguard and would it attract to its side and drag in its wake the vacillating, cowardly and calculating petty-bourgeois democrats.
The choice for the proletariat was not then, contrary to what Dimitrov said, between bourgeois democracy and fascism, but between revolutionary struggle or reformist struggle against fascism. The false alternative which he bound the communists to – “if you don’t want Naziism, you should accept bourgeois democracy” – was his way of hiding the true alternative which they were faced to: revolutionary anti-fascism to do away with capitalism, or reformist anti- fascism to patch it.
With his concept of popular front, Dimitrov expressed in fact the deep feelings of the petty-bourgeois masses, spurred on and frightened by fascism, demanding, with much more energy than in periods of “democratic normalcy”, the complete political subordination of the proletariat to their narrow, impotent and egoistical objectives. The capitulation to reformism is the essence of the politics of the popular front of the 7th Congress of the Communist International.
Notes to the Portuguese edition:
1 Manuilski, Dimitri, Les partis communistes et la crise du capitalisme. Bureau d’Editions, Paris, p. 127.
2 Dimitrov, G., A luta contra o fascismo. Ed. Bandeira Vermelha, Lisbon, pp. 55-57.
3 Kiuliovski, Ilia, Jorge Dimitrov sobre a Frente Única. Ed. Estampa, Lisbon, pp. 11-12.
4 Agosti, Aldo, La Terza Internazionale. Rome, tome III, p. 207.
5 Degras, Jane, La Internazionale Comunista. Feltrineli, vol. III, p. 260.
6 Dimitrov, id., pp. 25-26.
7 Id., p.28.
8 Id., pp. 28-29.
9 Id., pp. 39-40.
10 Degras, Id.. tome III, p.317.
11 Dimitrov, Id., pp. 27-30.
12 Id., p.27.
13 Programa da IC, aprovado no 3º Con gresso. Ed. Maria da Fonte, Lisbon, pp. 36-
14 Manuilski, Id., p. 55.
15 V Congreso de la Internacional Comunista. Ed. Pasado y Presente, vol. I, p. 310.
16 Dimitrov, Id., pp. 27-28.
17 Id., pp. 29, 94.
18 Id., p.42.
19 Id., pp. 56-57.
20 Institute of Marxism-Leninism (Moscow), A Internacional Comunista. Ed. Avante, Lisbon, tome III, p. 59.
21 Dimitrov, Id., pp. 96-97.
22 Lenine, Oeuvres, tome 21. Ed. Moscow, p. 101.
23 Dimitrov, Id., p. 97.
24 Lenine, Id., p. 98.
25 Lenine, Id., tome 30, p. 306.
26 Lenine, Id., p. 275.
27 Lenine, Id., tome 20, pp. 27-28.
28 Lenine, Id., tome 31, p. 146.
29 Dimitrov, Id., p. 44.
30 Id., p. 41.
3l Lenine, Notas dum publicista (Aug. 1907).
32 Dimitrov, Id., p. 155.
33 Lenine, Oeuvres, tome 31, p. 70.
34 Id., tome 12, pp. 409-410.
35 Id., tome 19, pp. 560-561.
36 Id., tome 30, p. 274.
37 Id., tome 30, p. 281.
38 Id.. p. 351.
39 Id.. tome 31, pp. 18-19.
40 A Internacional Comunista (IML, Moscow), id., tome III, p. 46.
The Pact With Social-Democracy
“As the influence of social-democracy becomes greater, the danger of fascism becomes more serious. In order to obtain success in the struggle against fascism and the war, it is necessary that all the sections of the International intensify their activity in the sense of tearing the workers away from the influence of the social-democratic parties.”
- Kuusinen, 19331
In the centre of Dimitrov’s report and of the new policy of the 7th Congress of the CI is the idea that it would be possible to immediately join together the various working class parties for the struggle against fascism and against the war and that all the political activity of the communists should subordinate to that end. Let us remember how Dimitrov placed the question:
“The working class of the capitalist countries is still lacking one thing: the unity of their own ranks”. “Is it possible to realize this unity of action of the proletariat in the different countries and in the whole world? Yes, it is possible. And immediately.” “The establishment of the unity of action of all the detachments of the working class in the struggle against fascism” is “the immediate central task of the international movement of the proletariat.”2
How was that immediate unity of action of all the detachments of workers to be realized? What had made it possible?
Agreements from above
The perspective of immediate unity of action of all the detachments of the workers was something completely new in the policy of united front followed by the International until then. The CI had always oriented the united front in the direction of uniting broader and broader contingents of the proletariat under the leadership of its communist vanguard, freeing them from the influence of social-democracy and the other petty-bourgeois currents in the workers’ movement.
Dimitrov approached the question of the united front in a new way, as he himself stressed. He took the division of the workers as communists, social-democrats, Catholics, etc., as a given fact which had to be accepted at that time, under the circumstances; he set forth the idea that the communist party was only one among several workers detachments and he passed on therefore to regard the unity of action on the basis of agreements, as a coalition of the parties’ forces.
Because of that, although reaffirming the principle that unity is achieved, first of all, at the base and through action, he added to it a new idea that completely changed the tactics of the united front:
“It is necessary to work in order to achieve agreements, short term as well as long term ones, about actions carried out in common with the social-democratic parties, the reformist trade unions and the other organizations of the workers.”
And he pointed out the necessity of signing “pacts” and creating “Commissions of contact between the leaderships of the Communist and Socialist Parties”, following the example that was already in force in France.3
It is indisputable that this policy of pacts and agreements with the social-democratic leadership introduced a reversal of the policy of the united front that had been followed since the previous congress. Stalin and Molotov, at the culmination of the struggle against the opportunism of Bukharin, had indicated to the CI the path of the united front at the base as the means of facing the treachery of social-democracy. This tactics did not exclude the proposals of common action to the base and the intermediate structures of the SDP and of the reformist trade unions but only after confronting them with a unitary mass current and as a means of helping to enlarge that current. It resorted to challenges to the social-democratic leadership only as a form of unmasking them better in the face of an advancing movement. It excluded on principle any understanding with the yellow bosses of the SDP and of the trade unions.
Allowing pacts and agreements from above, and this at a time in which the social-democratic leaderships had just been confirmed as managers of imperialist capital and accomplices of fascism, Dimitrov swept all the previous policy aside and deprived of meaning the watchword of unity of the rank-and-file in the course of action.
In the new dynamics created through the search for agreements, it is easily understood that his guarantees that the policy of the united front was faithful to the aim of “causing the masses to move from positions of reformism to the side of revolution” and would continue to persist in an “fierce struggle against social-democracy as far as its ideology and practice of conciliation with the bourgeoisie was concerned”, had been emptied of all content and became merely verbal pledges, innocuous declarations of principles. A new way of understanding the united front was to subordinate the whole policy to negotiation and to the search for an understanding with the class enemies. He transformed the policy of the united front, from an element of revolutionary tactics, into an element of opportunist tactics of coalition of “workers” parties.
Dimitrov had already expressed and applied this idea, that “realism” was to seek a united front through negotiation from above with the petty-bourgeois parties, in Bulgaria (which led him to be criticized and removed from the leadership of the party in 1929). It was the same idea that he expressed with complete clearness since he began to work on the wording of the theses for the 7th Congress in June 1934:
“Any and all gestures made towards the leading organs of the social-democratic party must not be considered opportunist any more”. “It is advisable not to blame the leaders of social-democracy for everything, but to indicate also the responsibility of the social-democratic workers”4 (referring to the advance of fascism).
The search to achieve agreements with the social-democratic leadership – this is how Dimitrov saw the new policy of united front.
Support for the social-democratic governments
Dimitrov extended this new attitude even to the countries where the social-democratic parties were in power. Although asserting that the communists would continue to maintain a “completely negative” position towards those governments, Dimitrov stated that this must not be seen as an unsurpassable obstacle for the united front and that “in this case also the united front is perfectly possible and indispensable”.5
What would this consist of? The communist parties would not be limited in the future to denouncing the anti-worker policy of the social-democratic governments, but they would also demand of them that they put into practice the positive part of their programs. Thus they would have a starting-point to subsequently launching a campaign for the united front among the social-democratic masses.
In Belgium, for example, they would say “Minister Vandervelde, we support the demands in favour of the workers contained in your platform, but we take them seriously, we want actions and not deceitful words”… [Vandervelde was a leader of the Second International who went over to the camp of the imperialist bourgeoisie since World War I, for which he had been denounced by Lenin]. In the same way, in Sweden, in Norway, in Czechoslovakia, the communist parties had a basis for action in the struggle for the realization of the promises made by the SDPs.6
In England, where Labour had lost the government to the Conservatives, after successive betrayals to the working class, the Communist Party should say to the workers: “You want a Labour government? So be it… We are ready to support your struggle for the formation of a new labour government. But we demand that it defends the most urgent economical and political interests of the working class and of all the labourers”. “The English communists are ready to present themselves in common with the organizations of the Labour Party for the next parliamentary elections against the ‘national government’.”7 This would be the most fruitful way to free the workers of illusions, according to the line that was already being applied in France.
In this case also, as in the previous, in the name of tactical flexibility, Dimitrov introduced an entirely new policy towards social-democracy. The CI had never defended that the communists should limit themselves to simple propaganda against the social-democratic governments. It had always oriented the communist parties in order to expose to the class the contradiction between the promises of social-democracy when it was the opposition and its own acts when it came into the government. However it had always used that as a part of its work of agitation and propaganda, which was aimed at leading the masses in the direction of the revolutionary watchwords of the communist party and to free them from reformist hopes. The CI had always maintained that the tactics of the communists in assuming as their own the social-democratic promises only had a revolutionary application when the working masses in ascent were in a position of extracting from the yellow leaders promises unrealizable in the framework of capitalism, thus narrowing more and more the field of manoeuvre of social-democracy and ripening the conditions for a revolutionary crisis.
Now, by limiting the range of communist demands to the “positive part”, of the programs of the social-democratic governments, by making the communist parties the most consistent fighters for the realization of the social-democratic promises, Dimitrov pushed them to the role of left appendages of social-democracy. In the name of a “more effective” agitation among the social-democratic masses, the CPs would tie them to the truncated, illusory watchwords of the SDPs, unable, even in the best of cases, of going beyond the limits of the bourgeois order. The CPs would be shutting the masses within the paltry reformist horizon in which they were tied up by social-democracy. The communists would, under the false radicalism of “we want deeds”, be urging on the expectation in the backward masses that finally they would obtain the promised reforms from a “socialist” government.
Critical support and positive pressure on the social-democratic governments – here is the second element of the new tactics of Dimitrov’s united front.
Liquidation of the revolutionary trade union current
Trade union activity, which had always been the most fertile soil for the application of the policy of the workers united front, deserved only some scanty five pages in the report. In them Dimitrov exposes the same thesis that permeates the whole document: although in the past reformist chieftains had created the division, with their policy of collaboration with the bourgeoisie and of discrimination against the CPs, the communists should make a shift towards trade union unity on the national and international level. Their objective would be to obtain through the unification of the existing trade union organizations, single trade unions of the class in every country and a single Trade Union International based on class struggle.8
This idea of the unification of the existing trade union organizations was a complete reversal of the line which was followed by the RTUI (Red Trade Unions International) since the 10th Plenum of the ECCI, of July, 1929. As a matter of fact that plenum, in line with the resolutions of the 6th Congress of the CI, pushed forward the direct struggle of the trade union movement against the reformists, putting an end to the dependent expectation that had been permeating into the communist trade union activity. The task of asserting the direct influence of the Communist Party over the majority of the working class through its transmission belts: trade unions, factory committees, strike committees, etc., making a “direct call to the working class, to the social- democratic workers and to the workers with no party, to the organized and unorganized workers” – this task had been put on the order of the day. The passive tactic of pressuring the union chiefs and hoping for the gradual transformation of the trade unions from within had had its time.
The appropriate action was to direct the activity of the revolutionary trade union current in winning over the affiliated workers, for the purpose of putting the yellow leaders out and breaking with trade union legalism, which was more and more mixed with bourgeois legatity.10
Enlivened by this policy, the RTUI decided in its 5th Congress, in August 1930, to strengthen the revolutionary trade union opposition as a potential nucleus of a new trade union structure, to create revolutionary nuclei at factory level, to compete with their own slates in the trade union elections, to answer back the persecution by the yellow chiefs with the creation of red trade unions, where and only where the revolutionary trade union opposition had already gained strong mass implantation. 11
It was the application of this line of open struggle with social-democracy that allowed the RTUI, during the years of the great crisis, above all in 1932, to lead large strikes, demonstrations of unemployed workers and acts of open rebellion, through which the most active part of the proletariat left the old reformist trade unions and joined the revolutionary organizations.
Dimitrov said nothing in his speech about this rich experience, that opened up broad prospects for breaking up the reformist trade union current. This was because his whole new policy of the united front demanded a general agreement with social-democracy. For that reason, the 7th Congress, instead of giving a new impulse to the RTUI, audaciously correcting its vacillations and manifestations of passivity and narrowness, criticized the “sectarian presumption” of the communists who were insisting on carrying forward the revolutionary trade union current in confrontation with the reformists, assured the reformists that “the communists do not defend at all cost the independent existence of the red trade unions”12, condemned the German experience, with the argument that “everything was concentrated around the revolutionary trade union Opposition which, as a matter of fact, was aimed at replacing the trade unions”13 and exalted the French experience of compromise with social-democratic trade unionism.
Dimitrov condemned, by silence or by explicit criticism, the whole previous orientation of the RTUI, aimed at the defeat of reformism as the condition for trade union unity. And, in place of it, he proposed another path, trade union unification through agreement with social-democracy. When he declared that the change toward trade union unification would be “an essential stage in the consolidation of the united front”14, he was calling the attention of the congress towards the necessity of making concessions to social-democracy on the trade union question in order to allow the negociation of a global political agreement between the CP and the SDP.
In fact, the trade union front was the most sensitive point in the relations between the CP and the SDP, because within it the daily struggle for direct influence over the broad proletarian masses was played out. The social democrats, that saw their union hegemony threatened by the advance of the communists, demanded, as a condition for any agreement, the dissolution of the Red Trade Unions International and of the independent trade union current. And this was what Dimitrov and the 7th Congress gave them. From the 7th Congress on, the CI limited its whole trade union policy to negotiation with the Socialist Workers International and with the social-democratic chiefs, trying to fusion into a single trade union organization. The class current was dismantled, the red trade unions were integrated into the reformist trade unions, and in the end the Red Trade Unions International was dissolved (in 1937).
The “conditions” enunciated by Dimitrov for the unification – the struggle against capital, the struggle against fascism, democracy within the trade unions – had only a value for bargaining. But that was not important, since the unification was decided from the beginning in the way the social democrats wanted it, that is, by the capitulation of the independent trade union policy of the communists.
The threat foreseen by the 12th Plenum of the ECCI became real with the turn of the 7th Congress. The warning that “the principal danger at the present stage” is “opportunist capitulation before the reformist trade union bureaucracy, by the anxiety to obtain unity at all costs”15 proved true.
The “revolutionary rise” of social-democracy – an invention
How were the CPs going to call the SDPs to united action against fascism and the threat of war? How would something impossible until then suddenly become possible? That was happening, Dimitrov stated, because within social-democracy had arisen “a trend of revolutionary elements…, eager to support the realization of a united front with the communists and increasingly joining the positions of the revolutionary class struggle,” “a left trend (without quotation marks) of social- democrats, of workers on the verge of becoming revolutionaries”.16
This idea, presented in a still undeveloped form in the report, passed as a mere and more emphatic reaffirmation of the difference that the CI always made between the social-democratic leadership and their rank and file workers. But it assumed definite shape in the closing speech of the debate, as a new global appraisal of the role of social-democracy.
The position and the attitude of social-democracy in relation to the bourgeoisie, Dimitrov assured, “had changed or are in the way to change”, since, due to the crisis, “the most well-off strata of the working class, which are called the aristocracy of the workers.., are revising more and more their past opinions about the usefulness of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie”; “a process of revolutionary rise is taking place inside the social-democratic parties of all countries”; “the continuation of its old role of prop of the bourgeoisie is becoming more difficult and in certain countries completely impossible for social democracy”.17
We must stress once more the enormous political consequence of this thesis (that Dimitrov did not even try to line out with any examples). If the whole upper stratum of the working class renounced class collaboration, if social-democracy began a revolutionary rise in all countries and tended to stop being the prop of the bourgeoisie – this meant that it was necessary to substitute the policy of the breaking up of social-democracy for the policy of alliance with it, beginning with its left wing. In order to justify the new policy of alliance with social-democracy, Dimitrov had to invent a non-existent “revolutionary rise”.
The truth that history undoubtedly confirmed is that there was no revolutionary ascension of the social-democracy, neither any fundamental change in the alignment of the aristocracy of the workers. The assertion of the 6th Congress was still valid: “The working class aristocracy, bought off and corrupted by imperialism, which constituted the leading cadre of the social-democratic parties… placed itself, in the moment of decisive class battles, on the side of the class enemy of the proletariat”.18
What was new – and Dimitrov could not ignore it – was a growing pressure within the working masses of the SDP to reach an agreement for unity with the communists on a social-democratic-reformist basis, in the hope that thus new fascist victories similar to those in Germany and Austria could be avoided. Far from being a “revolutionary rise”, it was a purely defensive reaction, that was aimed at reinforcing the reformist camp with the concurrence of the communists. There was not any renunciation, on the part of the workers aristocracy, of collaboration with the bourgeoisie; there was a strengthening of the bourgeois-democratic current among the intermediate masses, frightened by the advance of fascism.
No doubt, the CPs should have taken advantage of this movement to the extent that it favoured the united front of resistance to fascism. But they could only have done this if they were clearly conscious of its limits. This means that they would have to maintain the political initiative and revolutionary resolution, renewing the proposals of united action to the social-democratic workers, renewing at the same time the unrelenting denunciation of the saboteur attitude of the leaders and apparatuses of the social-democracy. Only this combined offensive could have accelerated the evolution of the vacillating and non-revolutionary social-democratic rank and file, transforming its evolution into a large movement towards the left; could have aggravated the disagreements in the higher spheres of social-democracy (as moreover the 13th Plenum had foreseen)19; and could have consummated the rupture that was lining up in the social-democratic camp.
With the invented thesis of the “revolutionary rise” of social-democracy and the consequent turn toward a coalition with it, the CPs were incapable of deepening the breach in the SDPs and, on the contrary, helped to repair it. They obtained immediate and false success at the cost of the strengthening of social-democratic reformist illusions within the working masses and of the consequent weakness of the revolutionary current of the workers.
But is it not true that, by contacting the SDP in order to attempt at all cost an agreement of action against fascism, Dimitrov did not renounce the principled criticism that the CI had always made of social-democracy? Didn’t he clearly reaffirm that “social-democracy opened up the path to power for fascism… disorganizing and dividing the ranks of the working class?” Didn’t he vigorously condemn the “reactionary splitting role of the leaders of social-democracy” and “the “social-democratic policy of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie”20?
Let us examine this objection, which is usually invoked in behalf of Dimitrov. It is true that his report is full of criticisms to social-democracy. It was impossible to omit them, at a time when the results of their successive betrayals were felt in the advance of fascism. What is significant is that Dimitrov, forced to criticize social-democracy, neutralized the criticism under an avalanche of conciliatory arguments, that worked as an offer of compromise.
Look at his critics to social-democratic parties for not having taken advantage of their participation in the government (in Germany, in Austria, in Spain) in order to dissolve the reactionary forces, to purify the army, to expropriate the large landowners, etc., etc. (To inexperienced or unwary communists it will appear to be a principled criticism. But to discuss what social-democracy should or should not have done, from the revolutionary point of view, was to take it rather as a vacillating workers’ party and not as a bourgeois party. Instead of revealing that justly these successive services given to the bourgeoisie against the proletariat had offered the yellow leaders access to ministerial positions, in order to continue their treachery to the class on a higher level, Dimitrov argued as if something else was to be expected from these governments. In criticizing the bad social-democratic governments, he left implicit the idea that other better ones could arise.
Look, on the other hand, to the guarantees lavished on social-democracy by Dimitrov, that the communists only wanted to enlarge their influence, not “for a narrow party interest,” but because they wished to strengthen the united front; that the communists did not attack social-democracy as such, but only criticize the enemies of unity; that the communists are better than the democratic-bourgeois parties as allies to social-democracy (!!); that the communists do not represent a threat for the petty-bourgeoisie, do not aspire to the dictatorship of the proletariat now but only defend freedom, that they are not dictators neither do they want to command anything, etc., etc.22
This whole heart-breaking series of explanations to social-democracy, in order to try to obtain an agreement from it, caused the CPs to retreat from their own revolutionary position and to move towards the bourgeois-democratic position. It involved a guarantee that the workers would stop fighting for themselves, and would put themselves at the service of the anti-fascist coalition, that is, bourgeois democracy. Formally intended to the rank-and-file of the SDP, this declaration contained in fact a clear offer of truces and of compromise to the social-democratic leaders for an anti-fascist marriage through a strategic retreat of the CPs.
Stating that “the international proletariat suffered heavily from the consequences of the split of the workers’ movement”, Dimitrov asked: “Isn’t it clear that the common action of the adherents of the parties and organizations of the two Internationals – of the CI and of the 2nd International – would make it easier for the masses to answer back the fascist push and increase the political weight of the working class?”23
Now, no one ever had doubts about the advantages of unity. What mattered was to show where the obstacles for the unity of action came from, to explain the social causes that were making the unity of the two Internationals impossible. Dimitrov’s call for unity could not change the class nature of social-democracy. The only thing that he achieved with this mirage of unity was to drag the communists towards abandoning their own revolutionary positions.
The anti-sectarian battle
It has been said for 50 years that one of the main merits of Dimitrov was the courage with which he declared war on the sectarianism that weakened the communist ranks and made them incapable of a bold policy of united front against fascism. It is time to situate this anti-sectarian campaign, since then permanently in the center of the life of the communist parties.
“In the present situation – Dirnitrov said – it is sectarianism, self-sufficient sectarianism, as we qualify it in the draft resolution, that above all hampers our struggle for the realization of the united front.”24 The central task of the communists was thus “to extirpate all the vestiges of sectarianism,” this “enrooted vice”, that was blocking their political influence and that “represents at the present time the major obstacle to the application of the true Bolshevik mass policy of the communist parties”.25 It was necessary to put and end to the “isolation from the real life of the masses,” to put oneself into the “school of the masses”, “to put an end to the schematism and to the limited doctrinaire spirit,” not to take desires for realities, conforming oneself to the objective situation, etc.
It has been truly said that the anti sectarian campaign launched by Dimitrov was an authentic revolution in the life of the CI, a line of separation between two distinct epochs. Only the meaning of that “revolution” was not what was normally attributed to it. What brought it about that was new? In demanding that they over throw as “sectarianism” all that hampered the immediate realization of the united front, Dimitrov deprived the communists of their own revolutionary criteria and subordinated them to the spontaneous pressure of the movement which, as a whole, was leading to a coalition between communists and socialists. The “anti-sectarian” battle of the 7th Congress had a decisive role in preparing the communists to accept as good what they used to criticize before on the basis of principled positions.
In “discovering” the “enrooted vice of sectarianism” in the international communist movement, Dimitrov distorted all the fundamentals of the mass line practiced until then. In reality, the communists already knew that it was necessary to be united with the masses, to avoid the isolation of the vanguard, to delineate the tasks corresponding to each stage of the revolution, to choose the forms of struggle suitable to the state of the movement, etc. But they also knew that unity with the masses could not be absolutized: the denunciation of the class collaboration of social-democracy would necessarily appear “sectarian” to the backward working masses, but none the less it had to be done; the denunciation of the collusion of the liberal bourgeoisie and of the Church with fascism could not be concealed, although it might necessarily appear “sectarian” to the broad masses dominated by democratic-reformist and religious prejudices; neither could the criticism of pacifism be stopped, although if might appear “sectarian” and even “insane” to millions of toilers frightened by the threat of war, etc.
In a word: it was inevitable that a policy of defence of the revolutionary interests of the proletariat might appear on certain occasions to be “rigid”, “sectarian”, “narrow”, to the eyes of the broad masses who would only be taught in the class battles. The communists had to look for the slogans, the forms of action, the initiatives that might contribute better towards moving the masses towards the tasks that life demanded of them. They could not, in the name of the struggle against sectarianism, put themselves in the tow of the spontaneous consciousness of the movement.
But it was this adaptation that Dimitrov came to demand of them. To condemn “sectarianism” as the highest evil of the CPs at a time when an overwhelming pressure of reformism and of pacifism was exerted on the masses was equivalent to levelling the movement to the most backward positions. This explains the easy popularity obtained from then on by the “struggle against sectarianism” as the permanent central task in the communist movement. In the name of “contact with the masses” the criteria of principle were rescinded, and all the opportunist concessions and adaptations were justified.
Lenin and the unity of the workers
The idea that the policy of the united front would consist of subordinating everything to winning the majority of the working class was presented by Dimitrov and by the theses of the ECCI for the 7th Congress as though it corresponded to the positions defended by Lenin in the 2nd Congress of the International.
However, Lenin had raised the question there in a very different way, which should be recalled. The task, in order to attain the victory of socialism, Lenin had said, consisted in “bringing over not only the whole proletariat or its overwhelming majority, but also the whole mass of toilers and of those exploited by capital, leading them behind the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat, of its communist party”.26
And why was it necessary to bring over and lead behind? Lenin had not left any doubts:
“To suppose that the majority of the workers and of the exploited are able, in the conditions of imperialist slavery, under the yoke of the bourgeoisie, to gain a consciousness, convictions, and an absolutely clear and completely proven socialist character’ is ‘to idealize capitalism’ and bourgeois democracy”.
“Only after the vanguard of the proletariat, supported by the whole class, which is the only revolutionary class, or by its majority, has overthrown the exploiters, has crushed them, has freed the exploited from slavery and immediately bettered their conditions of existence at the cost of the expropriated capitalists, only after a severe class struggle and in the very course of it, will it be possible to realize the training, the education and the organization of the largest toiling and exploited masses around the proletariat, under its influence and leadership”.27
Lenin spoke of winning the majority, but as a process that depends on the revolutionary integrity of the minority. Fighting the idea that the communist party, as a minority, should not take the leadership of the revolution, Lenin said also in that Congress:
“In the epoch of capitalism, when the working masses are subjected to continuous exploitation that hinders the development of their human capacities, the most characteristic feature of the workers’ political parties resides precisely in the fact that they can only reach a minority of their class. The political party gathers only a minority of the class, in the same way that in any capitalist society the truly conscious workers are only a minority of its class. It is urgent then to recognize that only this conscious minority can lead the broad working masses and bring them along with them.”28
We have here two obviously antagonist conceptions of the united front of the workers. For Lenin, the key to unity of the workers is in elevating the consciousness and revolutionary capacity of the vanguard, so that it becomes capable of bringing over to it the majority of the class, and behind the class, the large masses of the toilers. For that very reason, Lenin never wasted time explaining the advantages of unity, neither did he spread dreams of a broad general unity of the workers. Working for the hegemony of the proletariat, under the leadership of its vanguard, was to work for unity. Unity (as was confirmed in the summer of 1917 with the conquest of the majority of the Soviets to the side of the Bolsheviks) would come as the product of hegemony.
For Dimitrov, the problem is posed in an inverse manner. On the pretext that the threat of fascism and of the war demanded a quicker way for the unity of the workers, he sacrificed the principle of hegemony and caused the communist vanguard to step back towards the path that was more acceptable to the masses. This is the significance of his fight against “sectarianism”.
Condemnation of the “class against class” line
In order to make the parties accept this “new manner” of understanding the united front of the workers, it was necessary to reject the policy followed by the CI since the previous congress. But as this would involve a direct attack on Stalin, the first one responsible for that policy, Dimitrov chose to discredit it indirectly, in the name of denouncing sectarianism.
The line approved by the 6th Congress, he said, had been correct, but its application had been distorted: the struggle against sectarianism “had not even been initiated”.29 And he spread an unending series of errors that would have been committed:
“… sectarianism has slowed the growth of the communist parties to a remarkable extent, has hampered the realization of a truly mass policy, has impeded the utilization of the difficulties of the class enemy in order to strengthen the positions of the revolutionary movement, and has weakened the efforts to cause the broad proletarian masses to pass over to the side of the communist parties. The revolutionary maturation of the masses was overestimated, skipping stages was attempted, frequently the leadership of a narrow group of the party was substituted for the leadership of the masses, the strength of the traditional links of the masses with their organizations was underestimated, the tactics and the watchwords were standardized for all countries, the effort to win the confidence of the masses was scorned, the struggle for the partial demands of the workers was disdained, etc., etc.30
The practices which Dimitrov enumerated as sectarian were in reality so many other veiled accusations of leftism aimed at the policy of “class against class”. Only insinuating that idea could he have his turnover accepted without incurring the accusation of rightism.
Here is not the place to give the account of the policy of “class against class” and the errors that it had eventually contained. Anyway, it is necessary to say that the image of a movement suffocated by sectarianism and paralyzed by leftism is a gross distortion of reality.
If it had been that way, how to explain the great struggles, strikes, etc., involving millions of workers, carried out in the years of the great depression by the CPs of Germany, the United States, Czechoslovakia, France, Poland, Romania, Spain? How to explain the continual increase of the mass influence of the KPD (CP of Germany) before the Nazi coup (from 10.6 to 16.8% of the votes between 1928 and 1932)? How could it have been possible that the CPs, almost everywhere subject to iron clandestinity (there were only 16 legal parties), had grown from 65 to 76 and the number of communists (without counting the Soviet party) had increased by 300 thousand?31
In order not to weaken his anti sectarian campaign, Dimitrov did not say that since 1928 the ECCI had maintained a persevering struggle on two fronts, in the first place against right opportunism, but also against the leftist and sectarian tendencies that had arisen in the parties due to the radicalisation of the class struggle and to the treachery of social-democracy.
The 6th Congress and the plenums of the ECCI had carried out energetic criticism to the communists who were resisting the tactics of the united front of the workers, who were refusing to work in the reformist trade unions and were tending to shut themselves into small red trade unions without a mass base, who were identifying social-democracy as fascism and were considering the social-democratic masses in the same level as their yellow chiefs, who were substituting abstract propaganda of revolution for the partial slogans of the day, or who were allowing themselves to be pulled toward putchist adventurism.32
If during that period leftist and adventurist tendencies prevailed in certain parties, as was the case of the CP of China, this was not in any way a general characteristic of the movement.
What occurred in that period was a brutal twist to the right of social-democracy, in the tow of the reactionary bourgeoisie, and this should have been emphasized by Dimitrov in order to explain the general orientation of the policy of “class against class”. As the meeting of the Presidium of the ECCI in February, 1930, had correctly observed, “the sharper the crisis of the capitalist system, the faster the leaders of social-democracy are transformed into an accessory element of the financial oligarchy, the more active and direct becomes the role of social-democracy in the defence of the capitalist system, in the repression of the revolutionary movement of the masses of workers and of the colonial peoples, as well as in the preparation of war against the Soviet Union”.33
This objective situation not only justified but also demanded an intensification of the struggle against social-democracy by the CI. The argument, hinted at by Dimitrov and later repeated in chorus by all the revisionists, that the “rigidity” of the communists in 1928-1934 had accentuated the division of the workers movement and had favoured the ascent of fascism, puts the question upside down in order to find social-democracy not guilty.
Stalin and the left of the CI were correct when they denounced German, Polish, Austrian, and English social-democracy as social-fascist, when they roused the communist against the temptation of an alliance with the social-democratic “left” wings, that functioned as Trojan horses of capitulation near the CPs, when they insisted that, in the existing conditions, the united front could only be obtained by unity at the base and in action.
Stalin had been right to center the fire of the internal struggle in the CI on the rightist and conciliatory tendencies that were obstructing the direct dispute for the workers movement and were trying to impose a negotiation with social-democracy. If the vacillating and capitulationist tendencies of Bukharin, Droz, Tasca, Ewert, Togliatti, and of Dimitrov himself, which had affinities with the positions then defended by Trotsky, had not been denounced and beaten in 1929-1933, the full capacity of the communists for the struggle against fascism and the war would have been emptied and the imperialist assault against the Soviet Union would have been unloosened much sooner.
It was that ruthless resistance to the reactionary offensive and to its social-democratic servants that Dimitrov condemned under the banner of “anti-sectarianism”.
Who gave the victory to the Nazis?
In order to make room for the new policy of entente with social-democracy, Dimitrov had to sweeten and dilute the account of the causes for the victory of nazism. This task, which was the main political task of the 7th Congress – to analyse the process of class struggle that led fascism to power in the country with the strongest workers’ movement and where there existed the most profound revolutionary crisis in Europe – was reduced in the report to some scattered criticism of the “splitist reactionary role of the leaders of German social-democracy”, diminished by the parallel criticism of the communists, who were also allegedly guilty of sectarianism and of lack of vigilance against nazism.34
With this discretion and this division of the responsibilities in equal parts, Dimitrov opened the doors to the mystifying campaign with which social-democracy has ever after tried to conceal its traitorous history and to throw the principal responsibility for the rise of fascism onto the “sectarian blindness” of the communists.
What the 7th Congress should have analysed directly in order to draw out the lessons was the class politics that the SDP in power carried out in massacring the demonstrators of the 1st of May 1929 in Berlin in putting the reactionary Hindenburg in the presidency, in rejecting the call for the united workers front launched by the communists when the Bruning government fell, in May 1932; in surrendering without a fireshot during the coup d’état of von Papen, despite possessing a force of 90 thousand armed men; in rejecting the communists’ proposals for a general strike when Hitler ascended to power, contraposing with calls for “calm and commonsense”; in declaring obedience to Hitler when thousands of workers were imprisoned and massacred; in participating in the Nazi festivals for the 1st of May; in finally expelling the Jews from the SDP… in a dreadful succession of betrayals, in order to try to save, even by surrender, their legal existence, and their parliamentary, trade union and administrative posts.
Rummaging excessively in this “painful” past did not suit Dimitrov, because that would require reaffirming the antagonistic line of demarcation between communism and social-democracy. Therefore he resorted to the subterfuge of putting the past behind one’s back with soft censures and lamentations. For Dimitrov it was “not tactical” acknowledging that German social-democracy had been transformed into a openly counter-revolutionary party after the bloody repression that it had carried out against the workers during the revolutionary events of 1918 and 1923 and that the adjective of “social-fascist” which had been given to it by the KPD was completely deserved and the only appropriate one.
Dimitrov wanted to be forgotten the accurate assessment of the 12th Plenum of the ECCI, when it emphasized that, “for social-democracy, the question of the ‘lesser evil’ is posed not as a choice between democracy and fascism, but a choice between fascism and proletarian revolution. Social-democracy chooses the fascist dictatorship as the lesser evil as compared with the dictatorship of the proletariat”.35
However this was precisely what had been occurring. Facing the shift of millions of workers towards the camp of communism during the years of the great depression and facing the perspective of a confrontation between communism and nazism, German social-democracy had chosen to resolutely support nazism, as a barrier to the threat of revolution.
Only in this framework would the 7th Congress be able to have made a correct analysis of the errors of the German communists. Tactical errors, as the participation in the plebiscite in Prussia (demanded by the Nazis in order to try to overthrow the social-democratic government), could not obscure the fact that the communists had been the only ones to fully engage in the struggle against the rise of nazism, bringing into being, since 1930, the street fights against the bands of the SA (Nazi Assault Detachments), launching, despite the sabotage of the SDP, mass anti-fascist actions and actions of unity, such as the Anti-Fascist Congress of Unity, of July, 1932, in Berlin, insisting on proposals of common action, which were always rejected.
A principled analysis of the action of the KPD would have revealed that its main error was not the “arrogance” that Dimitrov blamed it for, but, on the contrary, the insufficient determination to assume its revolutionary responsibilities, to break up more boldly the social-democratic influence in the working class, to obtain solid support amongst the peasantry who were misled by the Nazi demagogy, and to prepare themselves in time to confront the Nazi assault with arms, relying on their own forces. The essential error of the KPD was again the dependence on social-democracy, a certain illusion on the behaviour of the social-democratic leaders.
The German experience had proved that, in the new epoch of the rise of reaction and of the accelerated march towards the imperialist war, there was no room for any policy of coalition with social-democracy, and that more necessary than ever was to fight and isolate social-democracy, as the condition for liberating the revolutionary forces of the proletariat. In presenting the question upside down, Dimitrov deprived the communists of the clear-sightedness for facing the tasks that awaited them and opened the doors of the parties to the penetration of opportunism.
In defence of opportunism
The defenders of Dimitrov and of the 7th Congress have never been able to satisfactorily explain the nearly total omission of the struggle against right opportunism which was made there, and this at a time in which the reactionary and reformist pressure was exerted on the parties with extreme intensity.
In the presence of spreading fascist terror, which nothing seemed capable of detaining, it was inevitable that discouragement, the search for bourgeois-democratic protection, and the tendency towards compromise and capitulation inundated the CPs. Signs of this were frequent in the positions taken by the leaders of the CPs of France, of Spain, of the U.S., and were increasing in the whole communist movement.
The 7th Congress was called to launch a great battle against opportunism, as the condition for preserving the revolutionary integrity of the CI. What was essential was to arm the communists in order that they would pass the historical test which was imposed on them by the greatest crisis of the capitalist system.
However no traces of this battle are to be found in Dimitrov’s report. The danger of opportunism disappears, submerged in the obsessive campaign against “sectarianism”. It is not important, Dimitrov said, to know which of the two dangers, sectarianism or opportunism, is “in general” the most important. There are dangers of opportunism, he concedes, that will tend to grow while the new policy of the united front is applied, but there is above all sectarianism, which has taken root and this is the major obstacle to unity of the workers. Conclusion: “in general,” he is not interested in knowing which of the two is more dangerous: in substance, he is interested in combating sectarianism and leaving opportunism in peace for now… Let’s put an end, Dimitrov claimed, “to the sport chasing after imaginary deviations and deviationists”.36. This was good news to the opportunists, anxious to make room in the parties for their tendency for conciliation and capitulation.
In 1920, in an entirely opposite situation, when the revolutionary rise subsequent to the war and to the October revolution nourished in the young communist movement an explosion of leftism, Lenin, in setting out to fight against this “infantile disorder of communism”, had not forgotten to emphasize:
“If the revolutionary section of the proletariat is not prepared in a more serious and profound manner to expel and annihilate opportunism, it will be absurd even to think about the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
“Bolshevism developed, grew stronger and was tempered, above all and first of all, through fighting opportunism.” “This was, naturally, the principal enemy of Bolshevism inside the workers movement. it is still the principal enemy at the international level.”.37
On the contrary, in 1935, in the threshold of a new imperialist war, when the tendencies towards capitulation were stronger still than those which had preceded World War I, Dimitrov claimed that the hunting down of “imaginary deviationists” should be ended and that he himself believed above all in eliminating “self-sufficient sectarianism” and “communist arrogance”… The abyss which separates Dimitrovism from Leninism is exemplarily condensed in this contrast.
But it could not be any other way. If the task which was delineated for the parties was to unite “all the detachments of the working class, in the same common struggle against fascism,” forgetting the nature of petty-bourgeois reformism, it was inevitable that the struggle against opportunism would have appeared to Dimitrov as an obstacle to unity and a useless sport. The danger of opportunism had to disappear from Dimitrov’s field of vision when he undertook a shift of the communist policy towards the right, towards the camp of petty-bourgeois, anti-fascist democratism. Nothing is more difficult for an opportunist than to detect opportunism…
The struggle against opportunism disappeared in Dimitrov’s report because his new united front for the coalition with social-democracy was the very expression of the opportunism which was overwhelming the communist movement.
Old tendency of capitulation
What was the meaning of the search for pacts and agreements with social-democracy, the dissolution of the revolutionary union current, the self-criticism for the previous “sectarianism”, and the abandonment of the fight against opportunism? It meant that the CI was renouncing the open war of pulling the workers away from social-democratic influence, acknowledging to social-democracy its own territory and proposing a pact of mutual assistance against fascism. The policy of the united front had been until then a policy of war against social-democracy; it was becoming a policy of peace and cooperation.
This great strategic shift, which put Leninism upside down (Lenin had agreed to occasional truces, but never allowed peace with opportunism) was the culmination of an old tendency of making the united front a policy of alliance with social-democracy, a tendency which the leadership of the CI had denounced repeatedly as a threat of opportunist degeneration.
Some quotations from the documents of the CI become necessary in order to strip naked the roots of Dimitrov’s thinking:
“At the present time an opportunist degeneration directly threatens some parties of the CI. The correct watchword of the 3rd Congress ‘To the masses!’ was applied for two years in many countries in such an incorrect way that we ran the risk of substituting a policy of conciliation with counterrevolutionary social-democracy for the independent tactics of communism.” (Thesis on Bolshevization of the 5th Enlarged Plenum of the ECCI, July 1924).38
“In some of the more important countries for the workers movement, the representatives of the right tried to distort the tactics of the united front and of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government, interpreting it as a narrow political alliance, as an organic coalition of ‘all the workers parties, that is, as unity of the communists with social-democracy. For the CI, the tactics of the united front had as its principal objective to fight the leaders of counterrevolutionary social-democracy and to free the social-democratic workers from their influence; the right interpreted it as the equivalent of political unity with social-democracy.” Thus, the tactics of the united front “threatens to be transformed, from a Bolshevik and revolutionary method, into an opportunist tactic and a source of revisionism”, which “could lead to the degeneration of the communist parties”. (Resolution on Tactics of the 5th Congress of the CI).39
“The Cl does not see any reason to revise its assessment of the objective role of social-democracy and especially of the social-democratic leaders, including those of the ‘left’… Undoubtedly, in the future as up until now, the majority of them will sabotage the united front”… “Today as well as yesterday, the CI considers that the tactics of the united front is not more than a method for carrying out to the end the revolutionary agitation amongst the masses, in order to mobilize them and to win the majority of the workers for the cause of the CI.” (6th Plenum of the ECCI, March of 1926).40
Still in the days before the 7th Congress, the ECCI verified in summing up the previous period, that in the framework of the capitalist stabilization, the right opportunists had more and more lost sight of the revolutionary perspective and that they were trying “to replace the tactics of the united front with a capitulationist policy towards the social-democratic parties” and “to form an undifferentiated bloc with the treacherous chiefs of soclal-democracy.”41
This tendency for capitulation, which had not been allowed to grow in the parties during the period of stabilization of capitalism, turned into a true capitulationist panic with the rise of Hitler to power. To throw overboard all the whims of winning the class to social-democracy, to conclude a defensive accord with it at whatever price – this was the frantic watchword of the right wing of the CI, which Dimitrov undertook to cover politically with attractive colourings, from the tribune of the 7th Congress. The “new way” of looking at the united front was actually the adoption of the opportunist theses which the CI had been fighting and which won out by submerging all the opposition, playing with the panic caused by the rise of fascism.
The danger which was encircling the communist movement was discerned by Stalin since 1928, in prophetic words:
“When some of our communist milieu negate the usefulness of the watchword of ‘class against class’ in the electoral campaign (in France), or declare that they are against the presentation of an independent slate by the Communist Party (in England), or that they do not want to enliven the struggle against the ‘left wing’ of social-democracy (in Germany), etc., etc., this means that within the communist parties there are people that are striving to adapt communism to social- democracy”… “The victory of the right deviation in the communist parties of the capitalist countries would signify the ideological collapse of the communist parties and an enormous reinforcement of social-democracy”.42
Undoubtedly this was the result of Dimitrov’s new policy, approved by the 7th Congress of the CI.
Notes to the Portuguese edition
1 Jane Degras, La Internazionale Comunista, ed. Feltrineli, III, pp. 309-310.
2 J. Dimitrov, A luta contra o fascismo, ed. Bandeira Vermelha, Lisboa, pp. 151, 47-49, 115.
3 Id., pp. 53-54.
4 J. Arsénio Nunes, Da politica “classe contra classe” as origens da estratégia antifascista, Análise Social, pp. 66-67.
5 Dimitrov, p. 70.
6 Id., pp. 70-76.
7 Id., pp. 60-61.
8 Id., p. 80.
9 Aldo Agosti, La Terza Internazionale, III, p. 31.
10 Id., p. 38.
11 Id., p. 191
12 Dimitrov, pp. 158-159.
13 Id., p. 78.
14 Id., p. 76.
I5 Agosti, III, p. 295.
16 Dimitrov, pp. 46, 90.
17 Id., pp. 125-126.
18 Programa da IC aprovado no 6.° Congresso, ed. Maria da Fonte, Lisboa, pp. 14-15.
19 Agosti, III, p. 506.
20 Dimitrov, pp. 39, 45-46.
21 Id., pp. 38-51.
22 Dimitrov, pp. 49-52.
23 Id., p. 47.
24 Id., p. 103.
25 Id., p. 161.
26 Lenine, Oeuvres, ed. Moscovo, t. 31, p. 188.
27 Id., p. 189.
28 Id., p. 242.
29 Dimitrov, pp. 102-103.
30 Id., pp. 104-105.
31 Degras, III, pp. 372, 375.
32 Agosti, III, pp. 274-275, 378, 79 1-792.
33 Id., p. 177.
34 Dimitrov, pp. 39-40.
35 Agosti, III, pp. 328.
36 Dimitrov, p. 161.
37 Lenine, t. 31, pp. 25-26.
38 V Congreso de la Internacional Comunista, ed. Pasado y Presente, t. II, p. 185.
39 Id., pp. 52-54.
40 Degras, II, p. 283.
41 Agosti, III, p. 791.
42 Staline, Questions du leninisme, ed. Pequim, p. 315.