Socialism and ‘The Third International’
The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands for the International Organisation of the Working Class for the achievement of Socialism throughout the entire Capitalist World. It is not sufficient, however, for parties to call themselves Socialist or Communist to arouse our desires to affiliate with them. To be worthy of the name and to be useful in the struggle for Socialism, every party must be based upon a recognition of the class struggle and the line of action necessary for the workers to achieve victory over the capitalists.
The so-called Second International we long ago recognised as an anti-Socialist body, and therefore refused to affiliate with it. In the pages of the “Socialist Standard” we have exposed the opportunism and compromise of that body. The confusion and reformism exhibited in their International Congresses showed that it must be opposed and exposed, and the pages of this journal will testify to our criticism of the Bebels, Hyndmans, Millerands and Kautskys, who composed the leadership. We not merely exposed the leaders, but showed that the constitution and composition of the Second International were opposed to Socialism. We did not wait for the lessons of “wartime betrayals,” but while people like Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg were active within it, we laid down reasons why it could not function for Socialists. The parties composing it were not Socialist, and the policy it pursued was therefore anti-Socialist.
The war gave added evidence to our criticism of the jingoistic and capitalist nature of it. Since the war the Noskes and Scheidemans, the MacDonalds and the Brantings have shown the entire capitalist character of this alleged Socialist International.
The fact the largest unit of it is the British Labour Party, which in no sense even claims to be Socialist, shows how little this International is entitled to be called Socialist. The German Social Democrats have supplied further evidence of the need for untiring Socialist hostility to this mockery of an International.
Those who seceded from the Second International took action following the war to form a “fighting” International—the so-called Third, or Communist, International. It is generally supposed to be a real live revolutionary body such as every revolutionary should join. We propose, therefore, to examine its claims for support. Our previous remarks about the “Second” International should be borne in mind, because it will be shown that, despite all the Moscow denunciations of the “Second International,” the two bodies possess sufficient in common to make joint action between them possible, not only in conference, but as allies in government.
Soon after the conquest of power by the Bolsheviki, the call for an International Congress at Moscow was issued. It was signed by Lenin and Trotsky for the Russian Communist Party and by eight other organisations. Amongst these latter was Lenin’s Secretary, Boris Reinstein, who signed for the Socialist Labor Party of America, without their consent or endorsement. Whether the other signatures had the backing of their organisations is not known.
The unsound position taken up at the inception of the 3rd International may be gathered from this call or manifesto.
“As a basis for the new International, we deem necessary the recognition of the following clauses, which we shall consider our platform and which have been worked out on the basis of the programme of the Spartacus Group in Germany and the Communist Party in Russia:-
“1. The present is the period of dissolution, and the collapse of the entire world system which will mean the entire collapse of European culture if capitalism with its unsolvable contradictions is not destroyed.
“2. The problem of the proletariat consists in immediately seizing the power of the State. This seizure of the power of the State means the destruction of the State apparatus of the bourgeoisie and the organisation of a new proletarian apparatus of power.” The notion that Capitalism was collapsing in 1919 permeated the entire policy of the new “International.” The framers of the manifesto knew little of the actual state of affairs outside Russia, and evidently thought the end of the war was the death knell of the system. Thus the passage quoted tells the workers that the problem is the immediate seizure of the power of the State. The danger of such advice was easily proved by the small bodies on Russian lines that arose throughout the world, and adopted these mottoes of “seizing power” and “now is the time,” “the revolution is just around the corner.” The great mass of the workers were in no mood to seize power and would not know what to do with it if they did. The majority of workers were ignorant of their class interests, and were still saturated with the ideas of their masters. To tell them to seize power was not the message of Socialism, for before they can seize power with advantage to themselves the workers needed Socialist education—an understanding of the system under which they lived and the forces controlling it. To tell the workers of the world to seize power at once was to invite them to be crushed by the forces of the State, whose death-dealing power had so recently been shown on the battlefield.
The other idea preached in the quotation given, that the workers were to destroy the State apparatus is a further indication of the sensational but worthless policy of the 3rd International. The State machine—that is, the instrument of government and the forces controlled through it—could not be dispensed with by a class rising to power in modern capitalist countries until Socialism had been established with the abolition of classes and the consequent dying out of the State.
Engels has well stated the attitude towards the State machine in his Introduction to Marx’s “Civil War in France,” where he says of the State:-
“At the very best it is an inheritance of evil, bound to be transmitted to the proletariat when it has become victorious in its struggle for class supremacy, and the worst features of which it will have to lop off at once until a new race grown up under free social conditions, will be in a position to shake off from itself this State rubbish in its entirety.”
The idea of the immediate destruction of the power of the State is an anarchist policy. Lenin himself has opposed it, for in his criticism of the International of Youth (“Class Struggle,” May, 1919) he says: “Socialists are willing to utilise the present government and its institutions in the struggle for the liberation of the working class, and also insist upon the necessity of so using the government in the creation of a suitable transition form from Capitalism to Socialism. This transition form, also governmental, is the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
The manifesto of Moscow goes on to lay down its method:-
“The fundamental means of the struggle are mass action of the proletariat even to armed and open warfare with the State power of capital.”
This became the accepted policy of Communists throughout the world, so that in a short time most of them had driven themselves underground into secret societies through such an insane programme. Some of their followers, such as the Spartacans in Germany, attempted to carry out this suicidal policy of armed and open warfare with terrible results to those concerned.
Mass action meant in Communist circles the “spontaneous upsurge of the proletariat.” One of the leaders of the Moscow International, Louis Fraina, defines mass action in his “Revolutionary Socialism” (p.196) as “the instinctive action of the proletariat, gradually developing more conscious and organised forms for certain purposes.”
“Organisations,” says Fraina (the International Secretary of the C.P. of U.S.A.), “have a tendency to become conservative,” and he relies upon the workers “acting instinctively under pressure of events.”
This mass-action nonsense preached by Moscow is the very thing relied upon by our masters. The only sound action for Socialism must be guided by the workers’ intelligence and knowledge. The blind instinctive actions of the workers are dangerous to workers’ welfare, and are easily worked upon by capitalist orators and intellectuals in war time and peace time. Mob action is not the action to overthrow Capitalism and establish Socialism. Socialism depends upon organisation plus knowledge. Armed warfare by workers while capitalists control the forces of government is a policy both useless as well as suicidal. The advocacy of such a policy is reactionary, and provides the capitalists with excellent opportunities for butchery of the insurgents. To propose such a method as the 3rd International and its sections did, especially in view of the minority of workers in their ranks, was directly opposed to workers’ interests. It betrayed the illusions which the 3rd International suffered and which still are general with that body.
A further examination of the policy of this so-called revolutionary International will be made in our next issue.