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10062Brian Pearce on the Third Period

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  • bobgould987
    Oct 17, 2004
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      This book review by Brian Pearce is pertinent to the discussion on
      election strategy.

      It is from http://les1.man.ac.uk/chnn/CHNN16SOR.html

      In Search of Revolution

      Matthew Worley (ed), In Search of Revolution — International
      Communist Politics in the Third Period, I.B. London: I B Tauris,
      2004, ppxii & 379, ISBN 1-85043-407-7.

      With two introductory essays, one by the editor and the other by John
      Callaghan, this book assembles articles by several specialists on the
      history of the following communist parties: German, British, Italian,
      French, Yugoslavian, Latvian, Portuguese, Spanish, American,
      Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Chinese, Indian, South African and
      Brazilian - during the Comintern's so-called Third Period, between
      the Sixth (1928) and Seventh (1935) World Congresses. The
      contributors are Norman LaPorte, Aldo Agosti, Stephen Hopkins,
      Geoffrey Swain, Carlos Cunha, Tim Rees, James Ryan, John Manley,
      Stuart Macintyre, Kerry Taylor, Patrician Stranahan, Allison Drew and
      Marco Santana.

      For those who approach the history of communism in a spirit of
      mockery, the Third Period has presented an easy target, with its way-
      out sectarianism and over-the-top wishful thinking. This reviewer
      once heard a lecturer speaking of the 'folly' of the communists in
      those years, and getting a rebuke from Gerry Healy, who interjected
      that 'some heroic things' were done at that time. As a trotskyist,
      Healy was no apologist for the Third Period policies, but he resented
      such a dismissal of actions like 'Bloody May Day' in Berlin in 1929,
      when communists asserted the workers' right to demonstrate in the
      streets, challenging the ban imposed by the social-democratic police
      chief Zörgiebel. Heroism and folly can, of course, coincide, as in
      the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, and neither rules out
      the other.

      It is well-known that the ending of the Third Period in 1934-5 was
      welcomed by many communists, but not so well-known that its inception
      had also been welcomed by many. A British communist is quoted here
      (p65) on how the turn to the left 'accorded completely with our mood
      of frustration and despair… our desire for something short, sharp and
      spectacular to end the hopeless stalemate of our existence'. The
      policies of the 'Second Period', such as the Anglo-Russian Trade
      Union Committee, had got the party nowhere, fast, and had left some
      workers wondering what a communist party was actually for. When the
      old leadership was evicted in 1929, a group of YCLers, singing the
      Internationale, put special gusto into the line: 'And at last ends
      the age of Cant.' Cant was also the name of one of the ousted 'right-
      opportunist' members of the central committee.

      Among the merits of these articles is their testimony to how
      widespread this mood was at the end of the 1920s. They also show
      that, if this mood among sections of the rank and file was encouraged
      rather than restrained by the Comintern leadership, the reason was
      that a sharp leftward turn in the international movement,
      shipwrecking right-wing elements, corresponded to the political needs
      of the dominant faction in Moscow at that time. The fight against
      the 'Right' in the Russian Communist Party was
      being 'internationalised'. The articles show how Moscow utilised for
      this purpose the impatient and ambitious leaders of the communist
      youth, especially by training them in the new spirit at the
      International Lenin School.

      Some historians of the revisionist tendency, keen to play down the
      role of Moscow in the world movement, have emphasised the occasions
      when a particular communist party modified its ultra-left line, and
      have presented them as proofs of that party's independence. However,
      we are reminded here that it was 'not by accident' (p11) that the
      centre's warning in 1930 to the parties to keep a focus on workers'
      partial demands coincided with Stalin's 'Dizzy with Success' letter.
      The British CP's Harry Pollitt deserves credit not for a non-existent
      defiance of Moscow but for adroitly taking advantage of the
      opportunities offered by modifications in Moscow's outlook and
      divisions among what the Germans called the 'High Comrades'. These
      articles will give little comfort to anyone trying to create an image
      of the CPGB which will appeal to 'democratic socialists' (social-
      democrats?), an almost cuddly image of a party essentially engaged in
      exemplary trade-union work, for its own sake, and ignoring the noises-
      off that came from some place abroad — about which the less said the

      Despite some local and momentary successes, the effect of the Third
      Period policies was, on balance, to cripple the movement on the world
      scale. Even where, as in Germany, the party gained members in those
      years, this progress was accompanied by sharpening hostility between
      them and the majority of the organised and politically conscious
      workers. Did the Third Period have any positive results for the
      communists? In one way, perhaps. Its 'sectarianism… by promoting an
      outrageous sense of political and moral superiority, stiffened
      Communists' will to tackle unfavourable circumstances' (p239). What
      were left of the communists by 1934 were 'highly disciplined, hard
      and driving, prepared by their formative experiences for the
      hostility they would encounter when shifts of policy would require
      them to endure it (p266) — as was to happen, notably, during the
      period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939-41.

      When, at the Seventh World Congress in 1935, the communists in
      certain imperialist countries (France and Great Britain) were given
      permission - encouraged, even - to play the patriotic card, this
      seemed to the less well-informed to be something new in principle. In
      fact, however, the communists in Germany (an imperialist country, in
      Lenin's sense, if ever there was one) had been incited to 'go
      nationalist' already in the Third Period. The article on the German
      Communist Party by Norman LaPorte is one of the best in this
      collection, and it describes well the KPD's fatal striving to compete
      with the Nazis in the propaganda of revanchisme.

      As part of the process of conditioning the USSR for full-scale
      stalinism, a war scare had been whooped up there from 1927 onward,
      with France presented as the immediate threat to the workers'
      fatherland, and so a key feature of the Third Period was activity to
      bring down 'the Versailles system'. The German social democrats, with
      their policy of 'fulfilment' of the peace treaty, were therefore
      the 'social-fascists' par excellence. However, connected features of
      the Third Period, not mentioned in this book, were alliance with
      Croat separatists and intensified support for Bulgarian irredentism,
      both aimed at destabilising Yugoslavia, a main pillar of
      the 'Versailles system'.

      Among my personal relics of the Third Period is a speech by Thorez in
      the French Chamber of Deputies in 4 April 1933, published by the
      French CP as a pamphlet and purchased by me at the party's Paris
      bookshop in the summer of that year. It bore the title Alsace-
      Lorraine under the Yoke. Making his contribution to the fight
      against 'Versailles', and speaking two months after Hitler had come
      to power in Germany, Thorez called for the Alsatians and Lorrainers
      (a nation, he claimed, according to Stalin's criteria) to be given
      the right to separate from France. The demand for autonomy within
      France which had been raised by a section of the population of 'the
      three départements' was 'not sufficient'.

      Perhaps history's principal verdict on the Third Period must be that
      its most important consequence was the disarmament, and worse, of
      Europe's working class before the onset of German imperialism in its
      fascist form. The Third Period was initiated in Moscow, and Moscow
      itself paid dear in June 1941 for what had seemed to its decision-
      makers a good idea at the time.

      Brian Pearce
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