Congress of
Second International

(September 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 42, 9 September 1933, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“The whole program and policy of the world socialist movement”, begins the cablegram sent to the New Leader (August 26, 1933) by Abraham Cahan from Paris, “are being examined in the face of the calamity that has overtaken Germany by the special conference of the Labor and Socialist International meeting here.”

What a significant change there is between this and the keynote struck at the last congress of the Second International a bare two years ago in Vienna!

Today – what a difference! – exclaimed the president of the International, Emile Vandervelde, comparing its status at the Vienna congress with that which prevailed on the eve. of the world war.

“Despite the Communist split,” he wrote with lyrical jubilation in the organ of the Austro-Marxists (Der Kampf, July-August 1931), “the International of 1931 represents numerically an incomparably greater power than that of 1914. There is hardly one of its large parties which has not at least once participated in the government in one form or another. It is a socialist, the head of the foreign office of the British empire, who will next year act as chairman of the disarmament conference. It is leaders of socialist governments, Branting here, Stauning there, who have for the first time introduced comprehensive, unilateral reductions of the military expenditures of their countries. It is socialists who, at the head of the Prussian government, stand in the front line of the struggle for the defense of the republican achievements. And as socialists have been, under changing circumstances, in the government in Belgium, in Finland, in the Baltic States, in Austria and in the majority of the German lands, it might be said without exaggeration that the majority of the members of the Executive of the Socialist Labor International are former or future ministers This is certainly proof of mounting power.”

In place of all these “proofs of mounting power”, an unmistakable mood of depression has settled upon the upper circles of the Second International. It has missed becoming complete despair only because of the unquenchable hopes kept alive in the breasts of the social democratic statesmen that the portals of their respective bourgeois ministries have not yet been closed to them for aye. No intoxicating paeans of victory were sung in Paris. The vocabulary of triumph made way for the vocabulary of defeat.

Nenni, as if recalling Vandervelde’s greetings to the Vienna assembly, remarked rather maliciously about the “comrades who used to come to international congresses as ministers of state, and who are now emigrés”. The Russian Menshevik Abramovitch, whose wisdom is held in doubt even by his confrères in view of his questionable achievements before and after the 1917 revolution, declared that “the German capitalists knew the socialists would not fight”. The Czech Menshevik Winter spoke off-handedly of the “collapse of the German party” (only yesterday it was the backbone of the Second International!). The secretary of the International, Fritz Adler, casually mentions in the course of his report that the German “Social Democracy was crushed”. Even the most hopeful among the delegates, the same Vavdervelde who still presides over the International and yearns to transfer his presidency to the cabinet of His Royal and Puissant Majesty, King Albert of Belgium, can pump nothing more inspiring from the wells of his eloquence than the proclamation that “the International still lives despite all disasters”!

Of major disasters, there has been no lack for the Second International since August 1914, when it passed – ministers and intendants – into the camp of imperialism. That it has been able to survive as a movement embracing millions of workers is due not to any inherent powers of its own, nor even to the support of a bourgeoisie frightened by the prospect of the social revolution. The principal source of strength of the social democracy since the Russian revolution and the end of the world war has been drawn from the degeneration of the Communist International induced by the policy and the regime of world Stalinism.

If Stalinism has succeeded In maintaining its stranglehold on the official Communist movement only by living parastically off the defeats of the proletariat which it helped to multiply for the last ten years – the social democracy, in turn, has been able to prolong the breathing spell it gained after the failure of the first spontaneous, and unsuccessful, post-war revolutionary wave, by a parasitic living off the blunders and crimes of Stalinism. Its strength has been essentially the weakness of its principal contender for the support of the proletarian masses. “Our policies and successes may not be perfect, but those of the Communists are worse” – that is the beseeching note that has formed the motif of the pleas of the social democratic statesmen for years past.

Each time that a new impulsion swept tens and hundreds of thousands of socialist workers away from their old moorings and set them on the road towards Communism at a lively pace, they encountered a perfectly harmonious united front between the reformist and the Stalinist leaders standing in the way of their progress. Stalin, Brandler and Zinoviev did as much as mortals could to extend the lease of life of the German (and international) social democracy by the course they pursued in 1923. The powerful Leftward movement of the British proletariat in 1925–1926 was brought to an abrupt halt and turned backward – not so much by Purcell, Citrine and Swales, as by Stalin, Bucharin and Tomsky who propped up these tottering pillars of British capitalism. The widespread mood for struggle engendered by the terrific crisis of world capitalism, did not strengthen the Communist movement by an influx of socialist militants; instead, the latter were violently repulsed by the strategists of the Third Period and driven back into the reformist camp.

In other words, not all of the cabalistic obscurity about the “united front from below” has succeeded in eliminating infinitely more effective and genuine united front “from above”: between the social democratic leaders and what passes for a general staff in the ranks of Stalinism. The former have exerted all their strength to pull back the Leftward movement of the masses into the reformist swamp; the latter have left no means unused to push back into the same swamp the workers moving towards Communism. A more harmonious and more disastrous division of labor has rarely been seen in the history of the proletariat. And it is only by understanding the tragic significance of this process that one can explain how the corpse of 1914 was able to revive and to grow so strong in the past decade.

The Second International did not revive, it goes without saying, as a revolutionary proletarian organization, it became an objective obstacle to the revolution. Nor did its revival even as the numerical addition of national petty bourgeois parties of labor take place along an unbroken line. Quite the contrary. Even in the course of its rejuvenation, it passed through more than one convulsing crisis. Many of them afforded the Communists the opportunity of extending on to a world scale that which was accomplished in one country in 1917: the final historical liquidation of social reformism. Under the stunning blow of the German catastrophe, the Second International is passing through such a crisis at the present time. That is why the former and future ministers of state assembled at Paris conducted their affairs in so lugubrious an atmosphere.

The classic party of reformism, the German social democracy has been mercilessly crushed and its leading staff scattered by the Fascist club despite all the assurances it gave of its anxious servility. The “great” Austrian social democracy, praises for whose cheap Viennese bread and municipal apartment houses were sung all over the world, clings piteously to the sword-belt of Chancellor Dollfuss and prepares to resign itself to the fate of its German brother party like a doomed criminal in the death cell. The French socialist party is split into two independent parts, the Center of Leon Blum and Co. and the Right wing of “future ministers”, Renaudel and Marquet who are even now negotiating with Deladier for places in the Cabinet. (With genuine French delicacy, the Renaudel wing still remains, as a pure formality and a concession to socialist public opinion, inside the same party as Blum and Auriol, while carrying on what has become more than a flirtation with Daladier, in spite of the stern, forbidding decisions of party congresses. A true-to-life Continental triangle, a French ménage a trois!)

Matters are, if anything, worse in England. First, the defection of ministers MacDonald and Thomas, and then the definite disaffiliation of the strong Independent Labour Party from the Second International, have not strengthened the position of the Second International in Britain. What is left is the Labour Party. And as the Menshevik correspondent of the New York Forward, Ivanovitch, observes, with a considerable amount of injured justification, “It should be kept in mind that the English and the other European socialists grew up in such sharply different spiritual circumstances that they were never able to find a common language. To the European socialists, the Englishmen were always too cold-blooded about important theoretical and principled questions, they were too great opportunists, conciliators, and short-sighted practicalists.” And the parties mentioned constitute most of what is of real consequence in the Second International.

The day of miracles having passed it is futile to look towards the Second International for a genuinely progressive movement. The working class of the world can march forward only by casting it off, by accelerating its disintegration, by driving it and its whole ideology out of its ranks. But in marching forward, the socialist workers are instantly confronted with the problem: Whither shall we go?

The answer is not so simple as it was a decade or more ago. In those days, the break with reformism led almost directly to the Communist International. At the present time, what has changed in the situation is precisely the fact that the discreditment of the Second International goes hand in hand with the bankruptcy of the Stalintern. The workers repelled by international reformism are not attracted by international Stalinism. At the present time, the existence of distinct and irreconcilable currents in the Communist movement makes imperative a qualification of the general slogan: On to the Communists!

The Leftward moving socialist workers are confronted with the choice of a decadent Stalinist apparatus and – the Left Opposition, the Inheritor of all that is revolutionary and progressive in Marx and Lenin. In many of the organizations which have hung between the Second International and Communism, the choice is even now being made. These include the British I.L.P., the German Socialist Workers’ Party, the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Holland, the Norwegian Labor Party and groups of a similar trend. Among them the ideas of the Left Opposition, the impulsion towards a new banner, a new program and a new organization, are making irresistible advances. Tomorrow, the same choice will occupy the thoughts of thousands, tens of thousands and more socialist workers as they realize more acutely the truth of Luxemburg’s judgment that the Second International is a stinking corpse. The importance of the Paris Congress of the L.S.I. does not lie in the frustrated thwarted aspirations or the revived hopes of the former and future ministers of the bourgeoisie. It lies only in the powerful subterranean movement of the reformist workers to the Left, a movement which has already broken through the bureaucratic crust in full force at some points. The situation dictates the most assiduous and comradely attention of the Left Opposition. The union of the truly revolutionary socialist militants and the regenerated sections of the Communist parties strangled by the Stalin machine, is the guarantee of the tremendous future which lies ahead. The unbesmirched banner of the Left Opposition will be the proud standard of the coming movement!

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