The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
THE Seventh Congress of the Communist International held in Moscow last summer drew a sharp line under a period in the history of the international labor movement. In that period tactical errors and political intolerance towards all who refused to accept communist doctrine had crippled the aggressive force of labor and thereby contributed more than a little to the rise of fascism in Europe. Now the deliberations of the world conclave of communist leaders were devoted almost entirely to the problem of collecting the anti-fascist elements among the proletariat and the bourgeois groups and parties for a united offensive. The theoretical and tactical position of the Comintern alike in national and in international affairs was determined in every case by the necessities of this larger and more immediate aim.
This was more than a mere change in tactics. It involved a revision in the communist definition of fascism and indicated that the communists will fight the fascist menace not only with new weapons but with a new conception of ultimate aims. The reorientation was clearly outlined by the Bulgarian hero of the Reichstag Fire trial, Georgi Dimitrov, when he declared: "Fascism is not merely a change of government but the substitution of one form of bourgeois class rule for another, totally different in concept and aim. Fascism is the terrorism of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, most imperialistic elements of finance capital." With this statement of a choice between a lesser and a greater capitalist evil, communist theory undergoes a revision as portentous as that upheld by the Social Democrat Eduard Bernstein in 1889 when he struck his first blows against the traditional Marxist conceptions.
To make his meaning doubly clear, Dimitrov explained how this new concept would affect the tactics of labor. He said that the communists had made a mistake, particularly in Germany:
They did not see that conditions had changed when fascism first raised its head. They repeated the slogans that had been right a few years before. . . . Today we know that it is not a matter of indifference to us whether the bourgeoisie rules with democratic or with fascist forms. We stand for Soviet democracy but we will defend the democratic institutions which labor gained after decades of struggle to the last ditch. . . . Today the choice for the proletarian masses lies, not between proletarian dictatorship and bourgeois democracy, but between bourgeois democracy and fascism. In the period of stabilization before the danger of fascism became as acute as it is today, labor concentrated its attacks on democracy, not because it objected to its forms but because democracy, in its existing form, represented the interests of the bourgeoisie. . . .
In the opening session of the Congress on July 25, Wilhelm Pieck, who as one of the foremost members of the Executive Committee of the German Communist Party shared in the responsibility for its mistakes, spoke for the Executive of the Comintern:
In countries where remnants of parliamentarism and democratic liberties still exist, the proletariat, though bearing the heavy yoke of the capitalist system, nevertheless has the possibility, in however small a measure, of organizing to fight for its class interests. In countries with a fascist dictatorship, the proletariat is deprived of all, even the most fundamental, rights and possibilities of fighting legally for its class interests. For that reason we, the Communists, fight with all our strength for every smallest measure of democratic freedom. We fight hand in hand with all who are prepared to defend these rights. . . . From this point of view the Communists will fight without quarter for the maintenance of what still remains of bourgeois democratic rights against the fascist offensive.
The Comintern, in other words, has learned from past mistakes. Communists in other lands will not follow in the footsteps of their German comrades who supported National Socialist bills when the Nazis resorted to the familiar tactics of going Social Democratic demands one better in an effort to win the favor of the working masses. Today it seems incredible that the Communist Party of Germany should have voted in the Prussian Landtag in 1930, 1931 and 1932 with the National Socialists against the Socialists for increased unemployment and disability benefits. It is hard to believe that the communist press urged its followers in 1931 to put their signatures to a National Socialist petition for the recall of the Socialist-Democratic-Centrist government in Prussia; and that Communist Deputies in the Prussian Landtag at least five times backed Nazi votes of non-confidence against this same coalition government. French and English communists will not repeat the mistakes of their German comrades who, when Goebbels' Der Angriff organized a strike of Berlin's street car workers shortly before Hitler came to power, in an effort to embarrass the Social Democratic majority in the municipal administration, joined hands with labor's most inveterate foes. True, it was done with the idea of wresting the strike out of the hands of the Nazi leaders. That may have been clear to the party doctrinaire. The man in the street, the striking worker, saw only that Communists and Nazis were making common cause, that National Socialism must not be as black as it was painted since Communists voted for its measures and supported its actions. In 1933 these tactics bore bitter fruit when thousands of Communists and radicals fell into line behind the National Socialist régime. Had the Communist Party followed the example of the Socialist Workers Party (a secession group of left-wing Socialists and former Communists which made it its business to show the true nature and purpose of all such Nazi manoeuvers in the Prussian and Hessian Landtags) it would have avoided confusion in the minds of the workers. Who knows, it might have checked the triumphant growth of fascism in Germany and the rest of the world. The words "Social Fascist" as applied to Social Democrats have been deleted from the communist vocabulary. But the harm they have done can never be retrieved.
Two years ago the new attitude would have been rank heresy. Now it was adopted with the unanimous approval of the Comintern Executive and the acclaim of all of the 600 delegates. Times have indeed changed. In the early days of the revolution, Moscow lived in a permanent state of fear of a united capitalist offensive. It was a fundamental dogma that international capital could not and would not tolerate the existence of a Soviet nation in its midst. In the Seventh Congress of the Russian Communist Party held in December 1917 (Germany had just forced Russia to accept the shameful peace of Brest-Litovsk) Lenin declared:
Under no circumstances can international imperialism, bound up as it is with the power of world capitalism, live in peace with the Soviet Union. The conflict is inevitable. That being the case, the Soviet Union has the difficult task of developing the Russian revolution into a world revolution. Unless the revolution breaks out in Germany we are lost.
The German revolution came -- and was defeated. But the Soviets still live. International capital underestimated its own strength or overestimated that of the bolsheviks. After its first unsuccessful attempts at invasion, it ignored the Soviet Union, finally made its peace with Moscow, and entered upon economic and political relations with it. Out of this development the Trotsky-Stalin conflict was born. The former insisted on the maintenance of the banner of the permanent world revolution as the indispensable prerequisite for the development of communism in the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. There is a widespread impression that the idea of the world revolution is a Trotskyist invention. That is not the case. In the "ABC of Communism," that text book of communist theory compiled by Bukharin and Preobrazhensky and endorsed by Lenin, we find the statement: "The Communist Revolution can be victorious only as a world revolution. . . In a situation where the workers have won only a single country, economic construction becomes very difficult. . . For the victory of communism the victory of the world revolution is necessary."
Joseph Stalin had no quarrel with these opinions when they were formulated. Nor does he deny today that a Sovietized Europe would give a tremendous impetus to the development of the U.S.S.R. He takes the position, however, that the immediate needs of his country require a different course. "We have proved," he declared in 1926, "that it is possible for the working class to seize power [in one nation] and reconstruct a capitalist into a socialist state."
No one knows better than Stalin the difficulties which beset a "socialist oasis in a capitalist desert." Though he has never expressed himself on this point, it is obvious that Stalin no longer believes in the possibility in the near future of a world revolution brought about by agitation. Stalin prides himself on being a realist and seeing things as they are. His course is charted along the line of least resistance. To him the Soviet Union is the one great existing achievement of the working class. It was created out of the blood and toil of Russian workers and peasants. It was built at the price of fearful sacrifice. To Stalin, responsible head of the Russian nation, the U.S.S.R. is the one shining jewel in the crown of the international working class, its one great accomplishment. To preserve it has become the end and aim of his existence. The world revolution and its significance for the workers of other nations fades away beside the enormousness of this task. It may be, indeed, that he believes that a prosperous contented Russia will do more to popularize communism in other lands than all the leaflets, pamphlets and books inspired and financed by outside sources. The satisfied customer has always been the best advertisement.
Each new phase in the development of Soviet Russia was reflected in the changing tactics of the Communist Parties in other lands. In the first period the world revolution was the touchstone of all their activity. Since then the character and methods of their work have been adjusted again and again to fit Moscow's changed international status. Moscow continued to subsidize the national sections, but much less liberally. The Comintern continued to dictate party politics in other nations; but in many cases, as for instance in Germany from 1930 to 1933, its influence was calculated to prevent rather than to encourage revolutionary uprisings.
With the coming to power of National Socialism in Germany, and the imminence of a Japanese invasion after the conquest of Manchuria, world communism faced a new set of conditions. As against this new danger for Russia, every other consideration dwindled to insignificance. At present, Stalin's formula for the protection of his land against invasion on the west by Germany and Poland and on the east by Japan, actually runs counter to the interests of the world revolutionary movement. What Soviet Russia wants today is not a revolutionary Europe but a Europe so stable and so solidly entrenched in the traditions of democracy and liberal government that it can resist the spread of the virus of National Socialism and fascism. Three years ago the Comintern discouraged a united front and a revolutionary uprising in Germany, refusing to read the handwriting on the wall that presaged the coming of the Nazi régime. Today it fears a revolution in France would be a signal for a new offensive by Germany, Italy and -- who knows? -- Great Britain, against the Soviet Union. In this extremity the Communist International has lost faith in the ability of the world's laboring masses to protect the Soviet state. It places its reliance instead on an anti-fascist People's Front and on military alliances with the governments of France and Czechoslovakia, to be followed, if possible, by similar treaties with the governments of Rumania and Jugoslavia to complete the iron ring about the Third Reich. It is with this background in mind that one must evaluate the Congress of the Comintern and the whole problem of a labor movement in an explosive world.
Until fascism made its appearance as a serious factor in European affairs, the position of the labor movement in questions of foreign policy, arms and war, was fairly clear. There were two distinct conceptions, the pacifist one of the parties of the Socialist (Second) International and the revolutionary anti-militarism of the Communist (Third) International.
The Socialist Parties looked to the League of Nations for the preservation of peace. They heralded every new international agreement -- the Kellogg Pact and all the other non-aggression pacts which condemned war and threatened the peace violator with international sanctions -- as a step in the direction of the Brotherhood of Man. They favored disarmament and considered the reduction of arms a practical approach to this millennium. They stood for a policy of conciliation and understanding between nations and demanded the abrogation of all treaty regulations which stood in the way of such understanding. They promised to mobilize the working class against war. In 1922 the peace conference of socialist trade unions held in the Hague resolved to meet the threat of war with a general strike against the aggressor. It was understood, however, that the Social Democracy of any nation would support its government in a war of national defense. Consistent with this stand, the Social Democracy must vote for armaments to the extent required for the safety and security of the nation. The Swiss party was the only one in Europe which denounced all armaments and repudiated the obligation to come to the defense of a capitalist system. But in the end it too -- in the spring of 1935 -- voted in convention to defend the nation in case of aggression by a fascist power and to provide the necessary means for this defense.
So much for socialist theory. In practice these fundamentals were variously applied. In Germany a socialist government (1918-1920) maintained an army in the Baltic region against revolutionary Russia and gave financial aid out of state coffers to counter-revolutionary Tsarist regiments. In later years the Socialist Party as a party in the Reich Government, and still later as a friendly and tolerant supporter of the bourgeois régime, voted for the military budget although there was no immediate fascist menace in view.
In France, Paul Boncour, as a socialist member of a bourgeois government, worked out a plan of national defense based on the mobilization of the entire strength of the nation in case of war, and the Socialists in Parliament were instrumental in securing its adoption. This plan was a revival of the Jaurès idea of the "armed nation," providing a short term of service in a people's militia, which the bourgeoisie had refused to entertain before the World War. In its reincarnation it became a thing Jaurès never dreamed of. But it was acceptable to the Chamber of Deputies and made rearming palatable to the French people. The socialist and labor parties of Great Britain, the Scandinavian countries, Belgium, Holland, Spain and other nations of Western Europe which had members in the governments or exerted influence in the parliaments, habitually voted for military budgets or, at least, offered no fundamental objections.
In practical aspects of foreign policy, in the matter of the Versailles Treaty and in questions of national security, there was no real agreement between the parties of the various countries. Each solved these matters in accordance with national interests, i.e., in accordance with the interests of its capitalist class. In the realm of foreign policy, the Second International was little more than arbitrator between the various national units.
Both in theory and in practice the Communist International opposed the Social Democratic point of view. While the policy of the latter was based on the conception of national defense, the former saw proletarian Russia engaged in an irreconcilable conflict with the capitalist nations of the world. The foreign policy of capitalist nations, the communists maintained, is determined not by the interests of the masses, but by the competitive struggle of one ruling class against the other. The working class, they said, has no interest, direct or indirect, in this conflict of national capitalist groups. They repudiated the League of Nations, peace pacts and arms reduction programs as instruments used by world capital to still the fears of credulous souls. To them, peace machinery served the dual purpose of deceiving and disarming the masses and upholding the special interests of the most influential national groupings. The only real guarantee of peace, they insisted, lay in the strength of the organized working class and in its readiness to act in self-defense. Opposition to armaments was a matter of principle because armaments were imperialist tools and were the ultimate protection of the rulers against the oppressed.
It was the position of the Comintern that the relative strength of capital and labor in each country must determine the weapons to be used against the capitalist class. It is significant that the national Communist Parties were warned against the belief in the universal effectiveness of the general strike. They were instructed to act in accordance with the principles laid down by the Socialist International Congress of 1907 which resolved to give no aid to imperialist Powers in case of war and to use the discontent of the masses to accelerate the overthrow of the system. It reiterated, in other words, what had once been fundamental socialist policy: that revolution is the only cure for war. In addition, the Communist International made it the duty of the international labor movement to support the U.S.S.R. in any war waged against it by a capitalist state. The same policy was to be followed in a conflict between suppressed colonies or nationalities and their imperialist oppressors.
The victory of National Socialism in Germany sent these ideas to the scrap heap. A new factor arose to upset all previous calculations. The labor movement, pacifists, and refugees from the German speaking lands, all suddenly saw that fascism must be destroyed before it paved a way for world dictatorship and put an end to all hopes of liberation. Hitlerism and war became almost synonymous conceptions. Hitlerism meant revenge for past wrongs, conquest, and the ultimate subjection of all Europe. Given time, German industry would with its superior productivity and unquestioned authority, become invincible. Official Nazi propaganda would whip the German people into a frenzy of patriotism. The Nazis would be playing with marked cards in a war game of their own choosing. Thus they reasoned, these antifascists, and they saw their only way out in a united offensive of the democratic nations of Europe against Hitler's Germany. The European working class -- to protect itself against fascist barbarism and to save the culture of centuries -- must be prepared to make a supreme sacrifice in a great crusade. In Europe two years ago, the writer found revolutionists of all shades of opinion advocating such a preventative war by the democratic Powers as the most promising method of combating Hitlerism. Such a policy might have had a fighting chance so long as Germany was unprepared for war.
Who would deny the fascination of such logic! Nevertheless, it met the determined opposition of other revolutionary elements who called it defeatism. They maintained that a working class which -- impatient, or counting the cost of any other course too great -- would turn to capitalism to defeat the fascist menace, was digging its own grave. Can labor, they asked, look to the bourgeoisie to fight its battles? Is it true that war between a fascist and a "democratic" nation is a war of democracy against fascism? Is it not true that all these nations are on the road to dictatorship? Such wars as will be fought will arise from imperialist competition for territory, possessions, trade and markets. They declared that "Democracy versus Fascism" as the slogan of the next war was as misleading and dishonest as "A war to end war" was twenty years ago. They warned the forces of labor against steering their course by a bugaboo. They insisted that Germany's military power had been overrated. No people could fight and win against a background of concentration camps. What guarantee had the working class of the "democratic" nations that their governments would not adopt Germany's methods tomorrow?
To a great extent all this was and is speculative. Nevertheless, the idea of a preventative war against fascism is still strong in many of the parties of the Second International and is plainly discernible in their reaction to every-day political problems. In Czechoslovakia, for instance, the two Social Democratic parties (Czech and German) reacted to Hitler by affiliating more closely to the respective bourgeois parties and by adopting programs for greater militarization. In Switzerland, the possibility that German troops might tramp to France over Swiss territory brought a complete reversal of socialist attitude. Up to the time of the February uprising in Vienna, the Austrian Social Democracy looked to France and the Little Entente for protection from the dangers of National Socialism on the one hand and from Heimwehr fascism with its close alliance to Mussolini on the other.
The exiled German Socialists in particular carry on a tireless propaganda for an active and unified policy by the Powers against the Third Reich. The leaders feel that such an alignment would not only have prevented Germany from rearming, but would give the Nazi régime something to think about before undertaking the venture of another world war. It is hardly surprising that these parties should be sharply critical of the tolerant attitude of the British Government and the pacifist British Labor Party, which is also an affiliate of the Second International. Richard Kern (pseudonym of a noted Social Democrat theoretician living in Paris) comments on this situation in the April 1935 Zeitschrift für Sozialismus, of Basel, as follows:
It is the fault of British labor that the Socialist Parties of Western Europe did not take the lead in their respective nations in 1933 and 1934 in the movement against National Socialist aggressions. At that time such an offensive could have been undertaken with a fair chance of success against the as yet inadequately armed Reich and would have given the Socialist Parties leadership in their respective countries. . . . Ours is the choice between militant self-defense and capitulation. And since it cannot be the sense of a socialist policy to capitulate before the greatest and most dangerous force for fascism, resistance alone remains, and that in the only form which holds out hope for success -- military superiority.
By and large this may be taken as an expression of opinion as it exists in the German socialist movement. Its leaders favor the creation of a constellation of military powers so superior to Hitler and the Nazi military machine as effectively to discourage their war enthusiasm. They greeted the Russo-French alliance with approval, even forgetting their old hatred for the Soviet régime, and openly favored a policy of high-pressure militarism for those nations antagonistic to Hitler.
In this chorus of yeas, the negative position taken by the British Labor Party is the more irritating to its brother parties since these feel, and not without reason, that other considerations are prompting the Labor Party to condone the Nazi terrorists. British laborites, they claim, are taking their cue from the traditional policy of Great Britain in foreign affairs, that of maintaining a balance of power on the continent. Britain has aimed to prevent a close alliance against the Reich under French leadership, as she has sought to check the rise of Russia by maintaining an ever-present German menace. So it was that Great Britain built up her empire.
These accusations are not without a certain justification, although England's labor leaders are sincere in their opposition to war. In 1914 men like George Lansbury managed to reconcile votes for naval and military budgets with religious pacifism. Only a few isolated members of the Independent Labor Party, among them Ramsay MacDonald, persevered in their anti-war position. The British unions not only supported the government in the war; they carried on an aggressive campaign against German goods, backing up their industrialists in "patriotic" efforts to drive the Germans out of the world market. But the truth is that British labor is motivated by neither pacifism nor nationalism in its stand on sanctions. The Trade Union and Labor Party congresses of September 1935 voted for punitive measures against the Italian Government because they believed that a victorious Mussolini would give a new impetus to international fascism. Fascism is regarded as the greatest danger to an independent labor movement at the present time. It seems reasonable to assume that the English workers have learned their lesson and will be less tolerant in their acceptance of Nazi aggressiveness than they were in the past.
Like the British Labor Party, the Socialists of France (S.F.I.O.) are vehemently anti-militaristic, but from a wholly different point of view. Leon Blum, their leader, has declared that Germany's armament policy must be deprived of the moral justification it received when the other nations of Europe armed in defiance of peace treaty restrictions. He is the outstanding representative of the idea that Germany's opponents must disarm, at the same time inviting the Reich to participate in their agreements. Political and economic sanctions would be applied in case of refusal to go along. The French party arrived at this position as a result of practical rather than idealistic considerations. It accepts the necessity of national defense but knows that the French people, in their present temper, will not consent to the burden of increased armaments. It feels that France cannot hope to compete with the Reich when it comes to the building of a super war machine.
While negotiations were under way between France and the Soviets for a mutual defense alliance, the Communist Party of France continued to act in accordance with accepted party doctrine: opposition to capitalist militarism in peace time and to imperialist governments in time of war. But long before these negotiations took on concrete form, the discerning eye might have noticed the first signs of a coming reorientation. In the debate on the 1934-35 budget last February and March, the Communist Deputies in the Chamber spoke with feeling on minor matters. The measure to grant free railroad fares to soldiers on leave drew their fire. But in the discussion of the major issues -- military credits and the extension of compulsory military service -- they remained silent. Only when the rank and file rose in revolt against the new measures did the Party launch an active campaign.
Then, early in May, Premier Laval went to Moscow. When the official statement announcing the mutual defense pact was given out, it was accompanied by an official communiqué which contained the following statement: "Above all the duty falls on them [the French and Russian Governments], in the interest of maintaining peace, not to allow their national defense to weaken in any sense. In this regard Mr. Stalin understands and fully approves the national defense policy of France in keeping her armed forces at a level required for security." The bourgeois press in France accepted Stalin's declaration with sincere appreciation. It commented warmly on the praiseworthy attitude of this most influential man in the Communist International, who "sacrificed sterile principle to the needs of the state" and indicated that this was only the first of a series of similar concessions. It was generally taken for granted that the communiqué would end communist opposition to military expenditures and conscript service.
The communist press was apparently taken completely by surprise. For once, Peri, foreign expert of Humanité, had nothing to say. After all, only two weeks previously the Communists had proposed a merger to the French Socialists, asking only that the S.F.I.O. promise never to vote for war credits or a military budget. After a few days, Vaillant Couturier, the most effective communist propagandist in all France, ventured an explanation. Stalin's statement was a matter of routine. Nothing had been changed. The Communist Party would continue to fight two year conscript service, armaments and war. The Communist Party would not recognize the sanctity of the "Union Sacrée" (civil peace), in peace time or in war. But on the same day Humanité editorialized as follows:
The Communists do not object to the army as such. They do not repudiate the conception of a fatherland. They demand for the working masses the right to fight for their flag, for their fatherland. Until that time comes they will protect the material and cultural wealth of the nation. . . . We have a definite concept of international class defense and we apply it to actual conditions. The Soviet Union is our bulwark that we will protect against all enemies, against French and German Hitlerism, at the moment the two greatest dangers. That our Comrade Stalin, requested to do so by M. Laval, should have declared his approval of French armament measures -- what could be more natural? Should he have expressed disapproval? Surely this is not to be taken seriously.
Stalin's word to the wise was sufficient. For the present the Communist Party prefers to take an equivocal position. It will vote for warships and arms -- but will not alter its anti-militarist position. Said Socialist Leon Blum:
Stalin's statement, reduced to its simplest terms, involves consequences which the Socialist Party has at no time been willing to accept: the obligation of national defense under any and all circumstances, unquestioning approval of the government's military preparations and what amounts to approval of the government thesis of "Security through military preparedness." Indeed, the Stalin formula leads in a direct line to a conception the dangers of which were clearly envisaged by the recent conference of the Second International, the concept of the "Union Sacrée" of the last war under which the workers, faced with the danger of invasion, are drawn into war preparations.
We have here the highly entertaining spectacle of a socialist leader criticizing communism from the Left! But things move rapidly in Europe and already a new situation has arisen. The Communist Party, in conformity with its new policy, advocated the idea of a Leftist government of Communists, Socialists and Radical Socialists, and including even right wing politicians if their republicanism was beyond question. The Socialists went along with serious misgivings. On the other hand, the left wing of the bourgeois-liberal Radical Socialist Party, under Daladier, was all for the idea of a Front Commun, chiefly because it meant that communism would abandon its negative attitude on national defense. For a while Edouard Herriot, President of the Radical Socialists and leader of its right wing, held out against this new alliance. He conquered his reluctance, however, when it became evident that the activity of the Front Commun had driven Laval so far to the right that coöperation between the government and the fascist groups seemed all but certain.
This may or may not have been the case. The suspicion was fortified by the Premier's toleration of the increased militarization of the Croix de Feu and other fascist leagues. Fascist troopers fully armed with machine guns, airplanes and all other paraphernalia of war were allowed to conduct public manoeuvers on a large scale. Not until October, when the Radical Socialist Congress met to discuss its new problems and the left wing demanded the suppression of these menacing demonstrations, did Laval issue his "decrees for the protection of the Republic." Neither the Right nor the Left paid much attention to them, but they served their purpose in that they gave Herriot the chance to repudiate any move to set up a Leftist government in place of Laval's and openly to renounce any intention of taking the Premier's post.
Unquestionably the idea of an anti-fascist bloc originated in Moscow where it appeared to Russian statesmen as the policy most likely to safeguard the Franco-Russian alliance. That it would give the French Communist Party an excuse for a new departure into a pro-armament policy was merely by the way. Moscow felt that its understanding with Laval was a makeshift affair at best. The fact that the French Premier had put off the discussion of that instrument month after month while he flirted with Berlin had given rise to serious calculations. It is not generally appreciated that the agreement still awaits ratification by the French Chamber of Deputies. On November 18 the Premier let it be known that this formality would be attended to as soon as the Chamber should meet.
Until very recently there was little effort by the international radical and labor movement to reorient its position on war. There was a great deal of discussion in German émigré circles and organs but it got nowhere. But now things have begun to move in earnest. The Labor Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Party of France exchanged views for joint action against war. Otto Bauer, Austrian Socialist leader, Theodore Dan, leader of the Russian Mensheviks, Jean Zyromski, leader of the left wing of the French Socialists, presented a thesis on war -- substantially endorsed by Friedrich Adler, secretary of the International -- to the world socialist movement for consideration and action. The authors of this document hope that a united policy will save labor from the destructive effects that attended the last war. It assumes that the next conflict will find Hitler and his allies arrayed against the Soviets and declares that only "a decisive defeat of German fascism and the establishment of the proletarian revolution in the Reich can save the international labor movement from destruction."
The Socialist Workers Party of Germany and the Trotskyite organizations share the belief that only governments under workers' control can be relied on to wage a fight to the finish against fascism and for the defense of the Soviet Union. They insist that Russia would not have had to resort to alliances of such dubious value if the unfortunate tactics of the communists in the past had not so weakened the labor movement that it cannot be relied upon to protect the U.S.S.R. They call attention to the consequences which may arise out of these alliances in the engagement of the Russians in the defense of capitalist, imperialist enterprises.
These accusations are fully justified. If the socialist parties undermined the future of the labor movement during and after the World War by their negation of all that had once been fundamental to socialist thought, it is equally true that the parties of the Third International made mistakes no less serious in their effects. That they were errors in tactics and methods did not mitigate their destructiveness. Speakers at the Comintern Congress admitted this freely. The amount of political self-immolation a communist leader can express in public without losing standing with his followers has always been one of the miracles of the movement. Men with the standing of Pieck, Dimitrov, Ercoli and others admitted that the Party had "isolated itself from the masses" by splitting trade unions; that it had confused the masses by "refusing to differentiate between socialists and the fascist bands of supercapital;" that they had "been sectarian in their application of united front tactics," had "adapted themselves too slowly to world events," had "underestimated the fascist danger," and "followed out a destructive policy toward the peasant and middle classes." There were contrite references to the "inflated language of our literature" which "even Party functionaries find it hard to understand." All this and more was said at the Congress last summer. How many were expelled from the Party for less in the last ten years! And it is a moot question indeed whether Social Democracy would have gone so far to the Right had it not been for the pressure of these errors and mistakes on the part of the Left.
The Communist International, founded by Lenin, was based and built on the collapse of the socialist movement in the World War. Its parties had proved themselves broken reeds for the peoples of the earth to lean upon. The onslaught of war had shown that the Social Democracy in almost every land was more concerned with national interests than in the job of international socialism. The Third International was founded by those elements which felt that the old organization had not kept faith with the working class.
The Seventh Congress of the Communist International has now committed its member parties throughout the world to a program which comes perilously close to that of the pre-war movement. Panic-stricken by the danger that Nazi Germany presents to the land of the Soviets, the old program of struggle against imperialist war has been rudely dumped overboard and a new concept of "justifiable war" has become the law of the communist movement. It is understandable that concern for the U.S.S.R. should vitally affect radical policy. But by the edict of the recent Congress the communist parties abroad become to a great extent the foreign legions of the Soviets.
Does that mean that the time has come for the creation of a Fourth International, as propagated by the adherents of Leon Trotsky? Under normal conditions, in a period less laden with war and fascist dynamite, the question might be answered in the affirmative. Under present conditions a new International is from the outset doomed to failure. Where are the parties which would support it? Small groups and scattered individuals, without influence or political meaning. At best, a Fourth International would be the plaything of political isolationists and doctrinaires.
Theses and theoretical discussions are necessary. But they mean very little by themselves. The situation cries for mass parties and mass movements, for organizations so all-inclusive that there is room in them for all class-conscious elements, industrial and agricultural, together with the progressive anti-fascist elements of the lower middle class. Nothing less than that will be big enough and powerful enough to call a halt to fascism and war. Unless this united front of all progressive elements comes, and comes soon, the workers of the world will have to tread again the path of 1914.