Communist International
Changes Policy!

Half-Turn to Genuine United Front
Must Be Completed and Actually Carried Out

(March 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 17, 8 March 1933, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Communist International has at last spoken on Germany!

The Communist International has at last made a turn in policy
on the united front with the social democracy!

The alarm signal sounded by the Left Opposition in the ranks of the Communist movement, the increasingly critical situation in Germany, the hopelessness of the previous position of the Stalinist faction – all this forced the Comintern to speak out It has been compelled to come out of its disastrously sectarian retreat in favor of a united front with the social democratic party to smash the forces of Fascism.

This is what is revealed by the Moscow cablegram from Walter Duranty to the New York Times of March 7, 1933. We quote directly:

“The Communist International has reversed its policy of Communist party exclusiveness of recent years and has reverted to a ‘united front of all workers’ parties’ under a manifesto issued January 22 and published in the newspaper Pravda today. That is the Comintern’s answer to Adolf Hitler’s success and the ‘unparalleled campaign of provocation and terror against the whole working class of Germany.’

“The manifesto, signed by the executive committee of the Comintern, instructs Communist parties throughout the world, first, to arrange a joint program of action with Second International and other labor organizations – that is, combined staff work; second, to form committees immediately for joint action with workers and other parties – that is, combined field work.”

In its editorial comment, the Times, representing the most perspicacious bourgeois minds, observes that this is the “policy advocated by Trotsky.” “M. Trotsky, from his exile on Prinkipo Island, iu Turkey, a year ago advocated cooperation between the German social democrats and Communists”.

From January 22nd to March 6th

The first question which rises in the reader’s mind is the unexplained reason why six weeks was allowed to elapse between the alleged date of the issuance of the “united front manifesto” of the Comintern (January 22) and its first public appearance (March 6) in the Communist press – at least in the Moscow Pravda. Was the Communist world – outside the immediate ranks of the Executive Committee – of the Comintern – aware of the existence of the manifesto? If it was not, what reason was there for withholding it from attention all during the recent period, when the official Communist press continued to advance the idea that the “united front with the socialist traitors” was a species of “Left social Fascism” peculiar to the “Trotskyist vanguard of the counter-revolution”? If the Communist parties were aware of the existence of the manifesto, why was it not made public in the last six weeks (in fact, it has not yet been printed in the American party press), or, if it was available but “not ready for release”, why was it not referred to in the press, or, at the very least, why wasn’t the change in policy which it represents reflected in the line of conduct of the parties? How could the responsible general staff of the world revolution permit itself the costly luxury of keeping under cover so vitally important a document for a period of six weeks during which events of paramount significance were beating down upon the heads of the German proletariat like a thunderstorm? And why, when it is finally made public, does the Communist public have to look for it in the columns of the bourgeois Times which, not for the first time, is in advance of the Daily Worker in its reports of developments in the Soviet Union and the Comintern?

The Comintern manifesto and the Pravda editorial do not go unreported in the Daily Worker, to be sure, even if a day later than the Times. On page 4 of its March 8 issue (page one is occupied with the more vital question of the “demands of the small bank depositors”), the Daily Worker first publishes a Moscow radiogram from its own correspondent about the peculiarly dated Comintern appeal. The American Communist Party maintains a permanent representative (more than one) in Moscow; it even has its own newspaper correspondent there, who is said to have been a dramatic critic, one Buchwald. But the advantages one would expect from such representation do not seem to accrue to the Daily Worker in such crucial questions as the present.

It is not difficult to surmise the truth about this suspicious gap between the “date of issue” and the “date of publication”. The manifesto on the united front was withheld until the last moment (assuming that it was really written January 22), until the plebiscitary elections of the Hitler-Hugenberg regime showed so crushingly that the past policy of the “united front from below’’ had not succeeded in tearing away any appreciable section of the socialist masses who continue to follow the Social Democratic Party of Germany, had not succeeded in establishing that genuine united front, solid and mobile, which is the essential prerequisite for the victorious struggle against Fascism.

By this, at least two extremely serious blunders were added to the already over-long record of Stalinism:

  1. Precious, irretrievable time has been lost, during which Fascism has been strengthening its points of support, has been gaining in insolent confidence, has been proceeding virtually unhampered to strike blow after blow at the working class – precious time during which the Communist party has remained passive and impotent.
  2. The Second International (and the German social democracy which paved the road for Fascism is a part of it) has been allowed to take the formal initiative in calling for negotiations with the Communist International for the purpose of establishing a united front. That the yellow reformist International reeks of hypocritical demagoguery in its appeal and conveniently avoids mention of the treacherous role which it and its German section have played in the Fascist march to power, does not change the fact that in the eyes of the socialist masses in particular, the prestige accruing to the initiator of the united front goes to the social democracy – thanks to the insufferable blundering of Stalinism.

In its public declaration, the Second International asserted weeks ago that it “has always been ready to negotiate with the Communist International with a view to common action as soon as this body is also ready”. In our Monday’s issue (simultaneously with the Pravda publication but, of course, unaware of it), we stated that the Comintern must now declare:

“The C.I. is prepared to negotiate with the Second International for the elaboration of a concrete program of action against Fascism. The German Communist Party is prepared to sit down for a joint discussion of the problem with the Executive Committee of the German social democracy and its party.”

With this we were only repeating what the Left Opposition has stubbornly insisted upon for the last few years, particularly in connection with the situation in Ger many. Against our point of view the Stalinists never tired of launching their most envenomed diatribes. Up till yesterday, we were denounced as traitors and counter-revolutionists for defending the idea of a united front from organization to organization, the leadership not excluded. The united front, retorted the Stalinists, can be concluded “only from below”.

We cannot sit down, they protested, with the murderers of Liebknecht and Luxemburg, with the “social Fascist leaders”.

At the recently concluded 12th Plenum of the Comintern, the “historic leader of German Communism”, Ernst Thaelmann polemized against those in the party who inclined in our direction:

“The tactical conclusions which have been drawn from the false estimation of the role of the S.P.G. in the above-mentioned article are substantially on a par with the proposals of the Berlin district leadership (of the party) – proposals which were made to the Social Democratic party with a view to the holding of joint demonstrations, and which were rightly rejected by the Central Committee of our party, and corrected in the case of Berlin.” (Communist International, 1-15-1933, page 35.)

The article to which Thaelmann referred declared that “the demand of the Berlin-Brandenburg district leadership to the Iron Front movement, to hold a joint demonstration against Fascism, is most appropriate here.”

“In this,” replies Thaelmann, “we see the continuation of the false judgment of the role of the S.P.G. The proposal made by the leaders of the Berlin district to the Iron Front was sharply criticized by us, because it expressed an over-estimation of the degree of maturity attained by the social democratic workers, and an underestimation of our own power among the working class, for the organization of widespread demonstrations of the united front from below, coupled with a surrender in the face of certain sentimental feelings in favor of unity which are to be met with.”

And again, attacking Trotsky who “wants, in all seriousness, to see the Communists going hand in hand with the murderers of Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg,” who demands “negotiations between the leaders of the Communist Party of Germany and the Social Democratic Party of Germany” – Thaelmann proclaimed solemnly: “This policy would mean that we would abandon our correct Bolshevik policy.’’ (Ibid., page 36)

Less than two weeks ago (February 27, 1933 – and the Comintern manifesto was dated January 22, 1933!) Bedacht still wrote in the Daily Worker:

“The more the Communist party united front with the social democratic workers is cutting into the strength of social democracy (see the last elections! – S.), the more do the Brandlerites and the Trotskyites shout for a united front with the social democratic leaders ... Bolshevik tactics made the Communists the strongest single party in Berlin. Bolshevik tactics caused the inner disintegration (?!) of the social democratic party.”

The Significance of the Turn

The blows of the International Left Opposition against this light-minded Neronian fiddling while the Fascist torch was being applied, coupled with the blows which the Fascists themselves were dealing, have now compelled a turn in the policy of the Communist International.

The Left Opposition enthusiastically welcomes the turn! But to our regret, it is impossible to welcome it unreservedly. In the latest turn of the Stalinists, in the right direction though it is, we detect all the features which inevitably characterize the turns of the Centrist bureaucracy: half-heartedness, obscurity, covering up the traces in the interests of the theory of infallibility and apparatus prestige, ambiguity.

“The Communist International”, Buchwalds’ radiogram quotes from Pravda, “much earlier offered to all workers’ parties (!) the proposals to create joint fighting front against the onslaught of the capitalists.” Much earlier than who or what? Is the reference to the “united front from below”, to the bureaucratic ultimatism of the demand for the “united front under Communist party”? If a repetition of the past policy is all that the turn signifies, then it would be a miserable dressing up in the trappings of a more guarded phraseology of the bankrupt policy of yesterday. From the Pravda quotations given us by Buchwald, however, it appears (one must look for a clear statement with a microscope) that the Comintern has finally addressed itself directly to the social democracy.

“The Communist International is for setting forth direct and comprehensible claims. It offers to act and not concoct joint declarations. In its appeal, the Comintern deprives the social democracy of the possibility of claiming that the Communists are against unity in the question is about unity for struggle ... The German social democracy is now confronted with the question of whether they come to an agreement with the followers of the Communist party (only the followers? – S.) and advance the fight against the Fascist dictatorship.”

Just what does this pompous ambiguity signify concretely? In the same issue, the Daily Worker’s Internatoinal Notes report a “united front declaration” which the socialist leaders prevented the Communist representative, Torgler, from reading at the Socialist demonstration in Berlin on February 7. The declaration read as follows:

“During the past few weeks it (the C.P.) has repeatedly appealed to the Socialist party, the Free and Christian trade unions to join in calling upon the working class to oppose Fascism and the employers. In this hour of the greatest peril, the Communist party again calls upon the workers organized in the Socialist party, the Free and Christian trade unions at once to join us in beginning the fight against Fascism.”

If words have any meaning, this “united front appeal” is simply a rephrased “united front from below” all over again!

The workers in the ranks of the reformist organizations must indeed be appealed to, they must be called upon to fight for the united front. That goes without saying. But unless the Communist party offers directly to the Social Democratic party and the trade unions a proposal for united front negotiations with a concrete fighting program – the agitation in the reformist ranks is confined to a Communist recruiting campaign which is in no sense a substitute for the united front.

The Communist International has been forced to make a turn, but thus far the turn is one of words only, and “clever”, “diplomatic” words at that.

“The about-face of the Stalinists is inevitable,” wrote Trotsky a year ago. “More than once in the past it has happened that the Stalinist bureuacracy, having spoiled paper in hundred tons in polemics against counter-revolutionary ‘Trotskyism’, thereafter made an abrupt about-face and tried to fulfill the program of the Left Opposition – in truth, sometimes after hopeless delays ... The correctness of our position will become apparent in action with each passing day. When the ceiling overhead bursts into flame, the most stubborn bureaucrats must needs forget about prestige. Even genuine privy councilors, in such situations, jump out of windows in their underwear. The pedagogy of facts will come to the assistance of our criticism.”

The pedagogy of facts, the intransigent, unyielding, persistent blows of the Left Opposition, have forced a turn in the Stalinist policy. The turn is in the right direction, but it cannot be over-emphasized that it is inadequate, incomplete, cowardly – in a word, typically Stalinist. The way to complete the turn is not to be overwhelmed by enthusiasm and to swallow everything uncritically, but to strike twice as hard for the views of the Left Opposition. It is only by acting in this manner in the past that the Left Opposition contributed its share even to the partial turn which has now been effected.

What Must the Party Do Now?

The Communist worker, whose passive resistance to the old Stalinist policy was not the least factor in forcing a change, will be remiss in his revolutionary duty if he fails to drive ahead now. The turn must be completed; it must be made concrete; the bureaucratic loopholes (and there are far too many of them already apparent) must be plugged up.

What is to be done now?

First: the party membership, the Communist workers, are our first concern, for without a clear-headed party, which understands what it is doing and why, even the best policy is worth very little. Therefore, it is imperative that the turn be elucidated, the reasons for it made clear, the blunder of yesterday revealed and condemned to prevent its recurrence, and bureaucratic prestige sacrificed in the interests of clarity. The party, which has been so horribly disoriented and miseducated, must be re-oriented and re-educated: in a word, it must be re-armed.

Second: the turn must be made genuine and concrete. We have not the slightest reason to doubt that the party leadership will content itself with the issuance of a formal appeal to the social democracy, equivocally couched, with a good deal of “united front from below” babble smuggled in. Then, if and when it is ignored or rejected by the social democratic leaders, the Stalinist leaders will retire to their old positions, “proving” the “hopelessness” of any “united front with the leaders”. The correct and only procedure is to address a formal and public appeal to the social democratic party, through its executive committee; ditto to the trade unions; to propose in this appeal a public meeting (before the eyes and under the control of the working class) of the representatives of both movements to discuss a concrete program of action against Fascism. At the same time, to call upon the reformist masses to demand that their leaders accept the Communist united front proposal, that their leaders agree to meet, discuss, work out a fighting program), and act with the Communists. Therein and only therein lies the true significance of a “united front from below” as distinguished from the Stalinist conception of yesterday (and to a certain extent of today), as well as from the Chiang Kai-Shek and Anglo-Russian Committee “united fronts from above.”

Third: outside of Germany, in the other capitalist countries, the Communist party must approach the social democracy and the trade unions in the same manner, demanding a united front to mobilize the masses in France, England, the United States and elsewhere for an international movement of struggle against Hitlerism and solidarity with the German proletariat.

These are elementary preliminaries. The latest events have only fortified the standpoint and the confidence of the Left Opposition. Our vigilance will not be diminished for a moment; our irreconcilable opposition to Stalinism will not be moderated; our role will not be reduced. On the contrary.

“Should the Communist party be compelled to apply the policy of the united front, it will almost certainly permit the attack of Fascism to be beaten off,” Trotsky wrote in 1932. “In its own turn, the serious victory over Fascism will clear the road for the dictatorship of the proletariat. But even at the helm of the revolution, the Communist party will still bear within itself many contradictions. The mission of the Left Opposition will not at all be completed. In a certain sense it will only begin. In the first place the victory of proletarian revolution in Germany would signify the liquidation of the bureaucratic dependence of the Communist party upon the Stalinist apparatus”.

Even though much water – and blood – has flowed since this was written, and invaluable time criminally squandered by a bureaucracy jealous of its prestige, it remains essentially true, Fascism can still be conquered. The proletarian revolution may still be put at the top of the order of the day in Germany, and consequently throughout Europe. The Left Opposition, the Bolshevik-Leninists stands at the watchposts of the world revolution!

Wed., March 8, 1933

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