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Inglorious End of the Comintern

Twenty years ago the working class of a war-weary world were presented with what claimed to be a quick way out of their submerged position. A new International had been formed in Russia under the guidance of the Bolshevik leaders which was to cut adrift from the old bad reformist Second International. Its birth was heralded by vituperation of the persons and the parties forming the Second International, and one of the central charges against the latter was that they had entered willingly into the war. All wars were stigmatised as attempts to further the imperialist ambitions of capitalists of different capitalist nations. The new group, the Third International, was to be genuinely representative of working-class aspirations and opposed to all capitalist interests.

But time has had its little joke, and the Third International has been disbanded so that the interests of the capitalist democracies may not be hindered in another great war.

The Comintern has succumbed to the needs of Russian foreign policy in World War No. 2. The ideas on which it was based – chief among them being the illusion that the workers of the world in 1919 were ready for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism – have long since been abandoned. Why then did the organisation outlive the ideas which once inspired its adherents? The answer in brief is that it was an instrument of foreign policy of the Russian State. Whatever the Russian Government pursued from time to time was blindly and enthusiastically supported in each country by the Communist Party there. If this instrument once had its uses to the Russian Government, there came a time, with the rise of the German military power, when new conditions demanded a new instrument. In 1935 the Russian sought safety by entering the League of Nations (formerly denounced as a thieves’ Kitchen) by aiming at an alliance with Powers that might have the strength and the interest to oppose re-armed Germany. To aid this policy of contact with the democracies the Russian Government also, in 1936, introduced a new “democratic” constitution. The continued existence of the Comintern was however an obstacle to the policy of alliances. Powerful groups in Britain, France and America continued, even after the outbreak of the war in 1939, to fear the “subversive” activities of the Moscow-directed Communist parties. This last act of formally burying the Comintern is designed to remove this obstacle. As the Manchester Guardian (May 24th) remarks, “it is plain that the dissolution has been ordered to improve relations between Russia and the other Allies, the United States in particular.”

During recent years, and particularly since the German invasion in 1941, Nationalist feelings has been officially encouraged in Russia by every possible means, and internationalism has been less and less featured in Russian Government and Comintern propaganda. The dissolution of the Comintern, which makes the delayed burial of Lenin’s theories of international working-class action, therefore comes fittingly just after a May Day manifesto used in Moscow which directed its appeal to the “patriots” of the European countries, urging them to unite against the Fascist enemy. Marx’s famous appeal, “Workers of all Lands, Unite,” thus gives place to an appeal to the workers of one group of countries to unite in the name of patriotism against workers in other lands.

We do not assume that this will be the end of the British Communist Party. If, helped by this new departure, they can increase their membership and influence inside trade unions, and possibly the Labour Party, they will be able, more effectively than before, to give support to policies in line with those of the Russian State. Freed from the incubus of being openly directed from Moscow, the British Communist Party may well be able for a time to gain members and influence by a reformist programme, and thus rival the I.L.P. in its heyday.

The dissolution came like a bolt from the blue to the Communist Parties of the world, who were not consulted beforehand. It was endorsed by the leaders of the English Communist Party without consulting the membership. The sheepish membership, both high and low, accepted the verdict of virtual death. Thus the Third International died, as it was born and lived, a dictatorial organisation incapable, for this very reason, of solving any of the basic problems of the working class.

The tragic side of the final phase is the fact that the aspirations of the myriads of genuine adherents to the working-class movement for freedom are buried in this grave of hopes and illusions.